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Release Blitz: Love Kills Twice by Rien Gray

Title: Love Kills Twice

Series: Fatal Fidelity

Author: Rien Gray

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: 01/18/2021

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: F/NB

Length: 39500

Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, contemporary, assassin, artist, bi, dark, pan, nonbinary, interracial, murder-for-hire, murder, ex-military, guns, sexual tension

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Description

She needs an assassin.
They’re the best in the business.
Falling in love was never part of the deal.

Desperate to escape her abusive husband, Justine hires a contract killer. Campbell’s services come at a high price, and their dark, seductive charisma leads Justine right into their bed. Hiding an affair while Campbell designs the perfect murder has Justine walking a tightrope of stress, but each time the two of them sleep together, it’s harder not to get attached. Campbell struggles with their own traumatic past, convinced that the truth will drive Justine away.

There’s a faint hope that things could work, save for one problem: Justine’s husband wants her dead too.

Revenge is easy—heartbreak could cost both of them everything.

Excerpt

Love Kills Twice
Rien Gray © 2020
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One
Justine

I always imagined hiring an assassin would go differently.

There would be at least one dark alley, a furtive phone call, an exchange in cash⁠—of course it’s cash—and the curse of waiting afterward, whether for the police to arrive or finding out my money went to a fraud.

Instead, I’m sitting in Ortolana, one of the nicest restaurants in Chicago, trying to decide if ordering a rare steak is too on the nose. The server eyes me with refined impatience since my dining companion made their choice in a few brisk words: black coffee, the yellowtail collar, no appetizer.

If this is one of the last meals I ever eat because I had my husband killed, I’m indulging in the steak.

“Anything else for you, ma’am?” the server asks, mouth tight.

I smile. Better to be remembered as polite, if I’m remembered at all. “No, thank you.”

When he disappears with our order, they⁠—Campbell⁠—give a minute shake of their head, amusement a glint in gray eyes. “Not gunning for a tip, is he?”

“Maybe I don’t look like I have money.” To be fair, the fifty thousand dollars I’d spent a decade saving was about to go to the person across from me. “Or he thinks you’re the one who’s paying the check.”

From the outside, it must seem like a date. I’d delved to the back of my closet for a slinky black dress that’s been kissing mothballs since Richard and I attended his holiday office party. My makeup is just this side of sultry, but that isn’t for Campbell’s sake. Painting confidence on my skin with a nice red lipstick and dark eyeshadow is what I needed before I could walk out of the house: a sharp, composed mask.

Their suit is a breath away from black, but in any shift of light, the true cobalt of the linen shines through. Campbell eschews a tie, leaving the top two buttons of a crisp white dress shirt open without any adornment. It bares a triangle of sun-touched skin and the sharp edge of their collarbones.

I deal in paintings, but Campbell is more of a classic statue: sculpted jaw, full mouth, and cheekbones that could blunt a chisel. An aquiline nose adds to the effect, and Campbell’s chestnut hair is tamed in a professional cut. It’s an older style, with an understated elegance.

If we passed on the street, I would have let my gaze linger, but nothing about Campbell says “killer.” Maybe my assumptions are lost in that fictional back alley, chasing black leather gloves and silenced pistols.

“I’m not what you expected, am I, Justine?”

The question snaps me back to the present, and I’m not sure how long I’ve been staring at Campbell⁠—or exactly when they caught me. “Sorry. I’m not doubting your…qualifications.”

A tease of blue plays across each shoulder when Campbell laces their fingers together. “What surprises you the most?”

I cut my teeth on a hundred answers, starting with the locale and ending with the fact that they look more like an executive than an assassin, but the devil is in the details. “The coffee, I think. It’s almost seven at night.”

Campbell’s smile is a half-inch flash of teeth. “I tend to operate at night, but I can rarely indulge in caffeine.”

Nights, of course. This dance around the obvious is practically a farce, but it’s not like I want to announce my true intentions to the Friday night crowd. Our booth is in the corner, but it’s not soundproofed. “Why not?”

“It can make your hands shake.” They gesture to punctuate the point. “Which is a problem when I’m working. For a business dinner, not so much.”

Our server returns with the drink in question, setting an elegant cup on a saucer in front of Campbell. Despite a kneejerk longing for wine, I’m glad I stuck to water. I need to keep my wits about me.

When Campbell brings the coffee to their lips, it’s a fluid movement, surgical in its precision. I wonder what those hands can do⁠—will do⁠—to Richard. A gun would be easiest, I guess, but that’s far beyond the only way to kill someone.

He’ll never hit me again. He’ll never cheat on me again. He’ll never treat me like an ignorant girl, oblivious to nights at the university getting longer and our bed getting colder. I won’t be trotted out like a trophy in front of his fellow professors, who chuckle at his brilliance without having the first clue that I funded both of his degrees. I might even have friends in the future, ones he won’t drive away inch by humiliating inch.

“You really are sure about this,” Campbell says softly, setting their cup back down. Porcelain touches porcelain without a sound.

“Of course I am.”

Acid clings to my tongue, eating at the accusation, but they take it in stride with another fleeting smile. “That’s part of the reasons I take my clients out to dinner, Justine. To make sure there are no doubts. Once I accept a contract, I don’t stop until it’s done.”

A wave of embarrassment douses me, tightening my throat. “Right. I’m sorry. It feels like I’ve been taking everything personally lately.”

At least, according to Richard.

“You keep apologizing, but you don’t have to.” The shine in their eyes isn’t amusement this time; it’s something else, unreadable. “At this point, I’m beyond being offended. And you’re paying me a considerable amount of money.”

“That doesn’t mean I want to offend you, no matter how impossible it might be,” I say.

What I want to say is that I can’t remember the last time I had a night out like this, or the last time someone looked at me as more than an accessory. Campbell is watching my every move, but what should be terrifying is only leaving me hungry for the attention.

They kill people for a living. Why doesn’t that scare me?

“I do appreciate good manners,” Campbell comments, but their gaze flickers over my shoulder. “Tuck your elbow in.”

“Why?” The question is instinctive, but I listen anyway, bringing my arm in against my side.

Out of the corner of my eye, the server reappears with a covered silver platter, swiftly delivering it to our table. He removes the polished lid, announcing our entrees with theatrical detail, but my eyes aren’t on the food. They’re on Campbell, waiting for an answer.

I don’t get one until the server is out of sight.

Campbell smooths a silken napkin across their lap, then takes the provided pair of chopsticks in hand with the ease of long practice. “Considering the angle he took from the kitchen, he wouldn’t have been able to see you there with the tray in the way. It’s a design flaw in an otherwise lovely restaurant.”

I raise an eyebrow, picturing a comedy of errors that ends with eighty dollars of wagyu beef in my lap. “He would have knocked into me?”

They hum in agreement, then turn their chopsticks to sharper purpose, peeling a portion of crispy fish clean from the bone. It gleams, white and bare. “I thought I’d save you the trouble.”

Unease coils in the pit of my stomach. Meeting Campbell hadn’t set me on edge, but something about them reading the server’s approach in a blink and warning me with casual detachment does. That kind of reflex hangs the word “danger” in my mind like a neon sign. They’re a predator, surrounded by unknowing prey.

I glance down at my steak, then summon the will to pick up my fork as if I eat with professional killers every night of the week.

“It’s normal to be nervous.” Campbell tucks a bite of yellowtail between their teeth. It vanishes quietly. “As long as you’re set on what you want to do, you can be as nervous as you like.”

I must be radiating anxiety, but it still feels like they read my mind. “Details would help me relax.”

Even on a twisting stomach, the steak is the perfect amount of decadence, butter, and salt. I cut into another piece, juices spilling free under the serrated edge.

“What kind of details would you like?” they ask.

“When is this happening?” My eyes fall on their near-empty cup of coffee. “Not tonight, I know, but when?”

“Depending on the complexity of his schedule, my window is three weeks.” Their chopsticks dart around a fragile fin, seeking a thread of meat hidden underneath. “That includes scouting, alibi, and execution.”

I pause with my next bite halfway to my mouth. Execution bleeds with meaning, visceral and full, but it’s not inaccurate. “Your alibi or mine?”

“Yours,” Campbell confirms. “It wouldn’t do for you to be too close to any accidents.”

An accident. That’s probably what they’ll put in the paper. Richard is well known enough to earn an article, if not a front-page one.

I nod. “Do you need anything from me?”

“Once payment is settled, a copy of any of his keys that you can get ahold of. The same with his schedule.” Their gaze pierces me through. My blood turns to ice, but my heart beats faster. “Is your husband predictable, Justine?”

What I hear is will it be easy?

A smile rises to my lips unbidden. “Very.”

The rest of dinner passes in silence, save for an occasional comment on the food. It’s nice enough that I almost forget why we’re here, snapping to reality as our plates are cleared and the check arrives. Campbell does pay, using a couple of large bills. Once our server is gone again, they retrieve an envelope from inside their jacket. It’s already open when they offer it to me, revealing a packet of papers.

“What’s this?” I frown, prying out what’s inside.

They keep the envelope.

“The contract for the painting you’re about to purchase, of course.” Campbell’s expression is open but empty, like a door leading to an elevator shaft. “Your money has to be invested properly.”

I unfold the packet revealing an agreement of sale contract, the same sort I see ten times a week at the gallery. As I scan each page, lines of familiar legalese jump out. It’s legitimate, or would be if Campbell actually had a painting that I wanted to buy.

“Don’t tell me you’re a lawyer too,” I say.

Campbell shakes their head. “No, but I have a very competent one. She keeps a lot in order for me.”

It’s perfect. There are a dozen other contracts like it in my desk drawer, and the number for an offshore account jumps off the page, waiting for my transfer to put it out of reach and otherwise untraceable.

“But how did you know I…” When we spoke on the phone, Campbell never asked what I did for a living. “This is too fitting.”

“I don’t show in person before looking someone up.” They produce a pen, handing it to me. “And I had to make sure you could actually pay me.”

If I had my way, I’d be making art and not selling it, but only the latter had made enough money to fund Richard’s master’s. His current salary isn’t enough for us to trade places, even with a shot at tenure approaching. My paints are stored in a cool, dry place, but I haven’t touched them in years. Almost ten.

My weekends might be free enough for a canvas or two soon.

“You’ll have twenty-four hours to deposit the money in the account listed there,” Campbell says. Did they take my quiet, bitter musing as hesitation? “If you don’t, I’ll assume you’re calling things off.”

My signature ends with a flourish, and I wait for the ink to dry before folding the contract again. “I’ll send it as soon as I’m home.”

“Excellent.” They rise to their feet, a signal to do the same. “It was a pleasure, Justine. Once everything clears, I’ll be in touch.”

Campbell extends their hand, and I offer mine, surprised they want to shake on it. Instead, they bring my fingers to their lips, kissing the top of them. Shock ripples through me, heat lingering on my skin when Campbell lets go.

“Thanks,” I answer, breathless.

With a step back, they establish a professional distance again. Campbell brushes a nigh-invisible wrinkle from one suit cuff. “Fortin is an interesting last name. Are you going to keep it?”

That’s a question I hadn’t considered. Instinct tells me I should, to play the part of the grieving widow. Fortin has gotten me a lot farther than Zhang ever did in the art world, even with how popular Chinese art is.

Anger spits out a thousand spikes and snarls. He’s already taken so much from me. The idea that I might stay beholden to Richard, even after he dies, throws a red veil across my vision. Then I breathe, and it’s gone.

“I’ll let you know when I figure that out,” I say.

Campbell holds my gaze, then nods before turning away. I check my purse for a split second to make sure I have everything, but when I look up again, they’re already gone.

I better send that money before they think I’ve lost my nerve.

Purchase

NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

Rien Gray is a queer, nonbinary writer who has worked in ghostwriting, TTRPGS, and video games. They have a treasured (and ever-growing) collection of LGBTQ+ history books as well as a deep, abiding love for Greek myth. Rien has an upcoming short story in Neon Hemlock’s Baffling Magazine. They live in Ireland.

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Release Blitz: Inheritance Of Shadows by A.L. Lester

Title: Inheritance of Shadows

Series: Lost in Time

Author: A. L. Lester

Narrator: Callum Hale

Publisher: A. L. Lester

Release Date: December 2020

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 3 Hours 20 Minutes

Genre: Romance, Fantasy, Mystery, Paranormal, Romantic Suspense, Historical, 1920s, Rural, Farming, UK, England, British

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Synopsis

It’s 1919. Matty returns home to the family farm from the trenches only to find his brother Arthur dying of an unknown illness. The local doctor thinks cancer, but Matty becomes convinced it’s connected to the mysterious books his brother left strewn around the house.

Rob knows something other than just Arthur’s death is bothering Matty. He’s know him for years and been in love with him just as long. And when he finds something that looks like a gate, a glowing, terrifying doorway to the unknown, it all starts to fall in to place.

Matty’s looking sicker and sicker in the same way Arthur did. What is Rob prepared to sacrifice to save him?

The answer is in the esoteric books…and with the mysterious Lin of the Frem, who lives beyond the gate to nowhere. It’s taken Matty and Rob a decade and a war to admit they have feelings for each other and they are determined that neither social expectations or magical illness will part them now.

A stand-alone 35k novella introducing the Lost in Time Universe.

Excerpt

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Meet the Author

Writer of queer, paranormal, historical, romantic suspense. Lives in the South West of England with Mr AL, two children, a badly behaved dachshund, a terrifying cat and some hens. Likes gardening but doesn’t really have time or energy. Not musical. Doesn’t much like telly. Non-binary. Chronically disabled. Has tedious fits.

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Release Blitz: Forecast by Casey Cox

Title: Forecast

Series: 99 Daddies Book 3

Author: Casey Cox

Publisher: Self-published

Release Date: 16 Jan 2021

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 66k

Genre: Romance, New Adult

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Synopsis

Forecast: (noun)

A calculation or estimate of future events, especially coming weather.
See also: Liam “I’m Always Right” Wright.

Not your typical Daddy. Not your typical boy.
Not your typical fake relationship.

Hudson Madden looks like the kind of guy you don’t want to piss off—he’s a walking wall of muscle, brightly tatted ink up both arms, and low grunts. But underneath it all, he’s a gentle giant. One who can’t find what he wants because of the assumptions people make:

He must be an alpha.
He must be a dominant Daddy.
He must be looking for a sweet, passive boy.

The truth is more complicated. Haunted by memories of a former lover, and interested in exploring types of sex that aren’t easily defined, Hudson is happy to harbour his innocent crush on the local weatherman.

Until said weatherman crush walks into Hudson’s gym and turns his life upside down.

Liam “I’m Always Right” Wright. It might be a cute catchphrase, but when it comes to love, Liam is always wrong.

Liam hasn’t got time for love. He’s got his sights set on the big time, becoming a prime time meteorologist on a major national TV station. He’ll do anything it takes to get the promotion, even if it means entering into a fake relationship to improve his chances.

A quick-fix, no-mess solution.

So why does it feel so right when Hudson looks at him, spends time with him, and gets to know him in a way that no one ever has?

Will Hudson be able to break down his walls and let Liam in? And when forced to choose between his career and love, will Liam be able to make the right choice?

FORECAST

Forecast is a Daddy-lite fake relationship MM romance featuring a gentle giant of a Daddy, and an ambitious weatherman.

Come along for the ride and enjoy some crazy/sexy/cool shenanigans involving tantra, multiple orgasms, a heartfelt list of 18 favorite things, a crew of sassy friends, lots of LOLs, and all the feels on the way to a heartwarming HEA.

Forecast is the third book in the 99 Daddies series. Each book in the series will contain overlapping characters and storylines, so you may enjoy them more by reading them in order.

99 DADDIES

99 Daddies is a hilarious, entertaining, and heartwarming contemporary / new adult Daddy/boy MM romance series.

Escape to Daylesford, the (fictional) Daddy capital of America. If you love steamy and complex Daddy/boy dynamics, May-December gay romances with a twist, sweet and sassy MM age gap romances—and chasing those guaranteed HEAs—you’ll love it here.

So come along and meet the 99 Daddies of Daylesford. Who will be YOUR favorite?

Excerpt

“Hello?”

My ears pricked up at the familiarity of that voice.

I snapped my head around and there he was, not on all eight TV screens as I was used to seeing him, but just one person standing right in front of me, on the other side of my front desk.

Liam “Am I Seeing This Right?” Wright.

“Oh, hey, look, Hudson, it’s that guy you always make us turn every TV screen over to wa—”

My elbow found Zander’s side, and thankfully, that just so happened to be where his shut the fuck up button was located.

“Hello,” I said in as normal a voice as I could muster.

What the hell was happening here? How was it that Liam Wright was standing right in front of me, looking all sorts of weatherman-gorgeous? He must have come directly from the studio, because he was wearing the same outfit he’d had on earlier in the evening.

Suddenly, I wished that the counter wasn’t so high so that I could look down and get a better view of his amazing…

I snapped myself out of that inappropriate, unprofessional thought by saying, “How—how can I help you?”

I tried to smile. I think I might have been smiling. I couldn’t tell. I couldn’t feel my face, or my feet, or my hands, anymore.

This was precisely the reason why I had avoided approaching him six times before. I was turning to mush.

“I’d like to join the gym,” he said. His voice just sounded so familiar, which I guess made sense, since I’d been hearing it every day on the news for the last eighteen months. “Oh, and I’ll need a personal trainer as well.”

Was it possible to be both floored and speechless at the same time? The answer to that question was a resounding hell yes. Trust me, it was coming from a guy who was on the floor, unable to speak.

“We can definitely arrange that,” I said after a much-too-long silence. My eyes were glued to him as my hand tapped around the counter, desperately searching for the paperwork and a pen.

“Here you go,” I said, once I had finally found them. I looked down and was surprised to see my hands trembling. I quickly pulled them back and placed them firmly on the counter.

Why the hell was I shaking?

I mean, I had seen the guy in the flesh six times before. Although now that I thought about it, every time I had seen him, I’d started to shake and feel a little light-headed. I’d just assumed that was because Porter was around, and he tended to have a mildly nauseating effect on people.

“Do you have a trainer available? I’d like to start as soon as possible. Preferably tomorrow morning, please,” Liam said as he looked up from the paperwork he was filling out.

“Yes, of course,” I said, and then my brain left my head because the next words out of my mouth were, “My name is Hudson Madden. I’m the owner of Elite Fitness, and I would love to turn you on…”

Shitty shit, shit, shit!

I cleared my throat. “Take you on.”

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Meet the Author

Casey Cox is devoted to delighting readers with sassy, sweet and sometimes steamy tales of gorgeous, good-hearted and complex men chasing their HEA.

Casey lives on the east coast of Australia, loves the beach and is a proud paw-parent to two utterly adorable French Bulldogs named Ralphie and Lilly. Find out more on Casey’s Website.

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Release Blitz: Out In Winter by Lane Hayes

Title: Out in Winter

Series: Out in College, Book 8

Author: Lane Hayes

Publisher: Lane Hayes

Release Date: January 11, 2021

Heat Level: 4 – Lots of Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 32k

Genre: Romance, Bisexual, Friends to Lovers, College romance, Humor, Jock, Age Gap

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Synopsis

The grad student, the jock, and some winter fun…

Drew

My new job at the bistro is fun. The owners are good guys, and the staff is made up primarily of boisterous water polo players. I know nothing about the sport except there’s a Speedo involved, and Liam likes to wear his everywhere. Yes…Liam—the chatty, handsome, utterly charming waiter I can’t seem to stop thinking about. Ugh. Note to self—do not fall for another younger man.

Liam

Getting Drew to notice me hasn’t been easy. He’s a little intense, and he knows how to keep his distance. Something tells me he’s not immune—he’s just stubborn. Maybe a weekend of bonding on the ski slopes will win him over. And if I can get him to come out in winter, I might be able to convince him that we have a chance at something special.

Out in Winter is a low-angst MM, bisexual romance starring an oh so serious grad student, a goofball water polo player, and a little winter magic. This story is part of the Out in College series, but each book can be read as a stand-alone.

Excerpt

The stunning winter wonderland panorama was dotted with impossibly tall evergreens flocked with snow and the pristine hills glistening in the morning sun. It was so quiet, I could almost imagine we were alone in the world. That was precisely the kind of thought that freaked me out sometimes. But not today. Today the idea seemed…promising. Maybe even cleansing, like a new start.

“It’s beautiful,” I said reverently.

“This is one of the reasons I like coming out here early. The light is so brilliant. It looks like a postcard or the photo in the dictionary next to the word ‘hope.’ ”

“That’s a nice thought.”

We shared a smile; then he adjusted his goggles and inclined his head meaningfully. “Ready?”

“Yeah, but…you go first.”

“C’mere.” Liam crooked his finger.

I shuffled forward until I stood beside him with our skis pointing in the opposite direction, expecting him to impart some advice about the terrain or maybe remind me how to stop. Both might have been helpful, actually.

“What is it?”

“Hold on to my sleeve. Stay still. That’s perfect.” He stroked my chin before leaning in to press his lips to mine. “You taste like cherry ChapStick. I like.”

I grinned. “Thanks. So do you.”

He kissed me again, twisting his tongue with mine and leaving me breathless. “Mmm. I’m making it my personal quest to make sure you get down this mountain safely and that you have fun doing it.”

“Good luck with that,” I sighed, aware that my voice had taken on a dreamy quality.

“I don’t need luck. I’m an expert,” he bragged playfully. “I’m going to give you a couple of tips. Listen up.”

“I’m listening.”

“Bend your knees and stay loose.”

“Like this?” I bent my knees and wiggled my arms like a rubber band.

Liam chuckled. “Something like that. We’re gonna take it slow, moving from side to side, making wide turns. I’ll go first. Follow me and remember to keep your gaze forward.”

“As opposed to?”

“Looking at your skis. You don’t look at your feet when you’re walking, so don’t look at your skis when you’re skiing. It’ll fuck with your balance. Ready?”

“Yeah.” I licked my lips and nodded.

Liam glided smoothly down the incline, veering sharply to the right. He stopped with a flourish, sending a plume of powdery snow skyward before raising his poles triumphantly. I snickered at the silly display. He made it seem fun and relatively easy. All right, then. I could do this.

I grasped my poles in a vise grip and dug into the snow, propelling myself forward. I aimed my skis in Liam’s general direction and honestly, it felt pretty damn good. I was in control, a cool breeze on my face, and a light wind at my back. Best of all, I appeared to be closing in on my correct destination. A hot guy was waiting for me in front of a huge pine tree with—

Oh, fuck.

I couldn’t stop. I picked up speed and barreled forward, trying to remember his advice. Knees bent. Check. Don’t look at your skis. Check. Stay loose…

Nope. Not possible.

I was wound so tight my head felt like it might pop off. Every muscle in my body was rigid as I zoomed closer to Liam…and the tree. It occurred to me as my life began to flash in front of my eyes that if I turned downhill, I could avoid the tree and move in the right direction. I might not have control of my skis, but Liam seemed to know what he was doing. No doubt he’d catch up easily and offer tips on how not to kill myself along the way. A comical vision of him doing circles around me while I tumbled into a giant snowball flashed in my head.

And that might have been when things went sideways.

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Meet the Author

Lane Hayes loves a good romance! An avid reader from an early age, she has always been drawn to well-told love story with beautifully written characters. Her debut novel was a 2013 Rainbow Award finalist and subsequent books have received Honorable Mentions, and were winners in the 2016, 2017, and 2018-2019 Rainbow Awards. She loves red wine, chocolate and travel (in no particular order). Lane lives in Southern California with her amazing husband in a not quite empty nest.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Instagram | Bookbub

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Audio Blitz: The Man From Milwaukee by Rick R. Reed

Title: The Man from Milwaukee

Author: Rick R. Reed

Narrator: Donald Davenport

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: July 20, 2020

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 7 hrs and 10 mins

Genre: Horror/Thriller, LGBTQIA+, horror, mental illness, grief, virgin/first time, Jeffrey Dahmer, HIV, AIDS

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Synopsis

It’s the summer of 1991 and serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer has been arrested. His monstrous crimes inspire dread around the globe. But not so much for Emory Hughes, a closeted young man in Chicago who sees in the cannibal killer a kindred spirit, someone who fights against the dark side of his own nature, as Emory does. He reaches out to Dahmer in prison via letters.

The letters become an escape—from Emory’s mother dying from AIDS, from his uncaring sister, from his dead-end job in downtown Chicago, but most of all, from his own self-hatred.

Dahmer isn’t Emory’s only lifeline as he begins a tentative relationship with Tyler Kay. He falls for him and, just like Dahmer, wonders how he can get Tyler to stay. Emory’s desire for love leads him to confront his own grip on reality. For Tyler, the threat of the mild-mannered Emory seems inconsequential, but not taking the threat seriously is at his own peril.

Can Emory discover the roots of his own madness before it’s too late and he finds himself following in the footsteps of the man from Milwaukee?

Excerpt

The Man from Milwaukee
Rick R. Reed © 2020
All Rights Reserved

Headlines

Dahmer appeared before you in a five o’clock edition, stubbled dumb countenance surrounded by the crispness of a white shirt with pale-blue stripes. His handsome face, multiplied by the presses, swept down upon Chicago and all of America, to the depths of the most out-of-the-way villages, in castles and cabins, revealing to the mirthless bourgeois that their daily lives are grazed by enchanting murderers, cunningly elevated to their sleep, which they will cross by some back stairway that has abetted them by not creaking. Beneath his picture burst the dawn of his crimes: details too horrific to be credible in a novel of horror: tales of cannibalism, sexual perversity, and agonizing death, all bespeaking his secret history and preparing his future glory.

Emory Hughes stared at the picture of Jeffrey Dahmer on the front page of the Chicago Tribune, the man in Milwaukee who had confessed to “drugging and strangling his victims, then dismembering them.” The picture was grainy, showing a young man who looked timid and tired. Not someone you’d expect to be a serial killer.

Emory took in the details as the L swung around a bend: lank pale hair, looking dirty and as if someone had taken a comb to it just before the photograph was snapped, heavy eyelids, the smirk, as if Dahmer had no understanding of what was happening to him, blinded suddenly by notoriety, the stubble, at least three days old, growing on his face. Emory even noticed the way a small curl topped his shirt’s white collar. The L twisted, suddenly a ride from Six Flags, and Emory almost dropped the newspaper, clutching for the metal pole to keep from falling. The train’s dizzying pace, taking the curves too fast, made Emory’s stomach churn.

Or was it the details of the story that were making the nausea in him grow and blossom? Details like how Dahmer had boiled some of his victim’s skulls to preserve them…

Milwaukee Medical Examiner Jeffrey Jentzen said authorities had recovered five full skeletons from Dahmer’s apartment and partial remains of six others. They’d discovered four severed heads in his kitchen. Emory read that the killer had also admitted to cannibalism.

“Sick, huh?” Emory jumped at a voice behind him. A pudgy man, face florid with sweat and heat, pressed close. The bulge of the man’s stomach nudged against the small of Emory’s back.

Emory hugged the newspaper to his chest, wishing there was somewhere else he could go. But the L at rush hour was crowded with commuters, moist from the heat, wearing identical expressions of boredom.

“Hard to believe some of the things that guy did.” The man continued, undaunted by Emory’s refusal to meet his eyes. “He’s a queer. They all want to give the queers special privileges and act like there’s nothing wrong with them. And then look what happens.” The guy snorted. “Nothing wrong with them…right.”

Emory wished the man would move away. The sour odor of the man’s sweat mingled with cheap cologne, something like Old Spice.

Hadn’t his father worn Old Spice?

Emory gripped the pole until his knuckles whitened, staring down at the newspaper he had found abandoned on a seat at the Belmont stop. Maybe if he sees I’m reading, he’ll shut up. Every time the man spoke, his accent broad and twangy, his voice nasal, Emory felt like someone was raking a metal-toothed comb across the soft pink surface of his brain.

Neighbors had complained off and on for more than a year about a putrid stench from Dahmer’s apartment. He told them his refrigerator was broken and meat in it had spoiled. Others reported hearing hand and power saws buzzing in the apartment at odd hours.

“Yeah, this guy Dahmer… You hear what he did to some of these guys?”

Emory turned at last. He was trembling, and the muscles in his jaw clenched and unclenched. He knew his voice was coming out high, and that because of this, the man might think he was queer, but he had to make him stop.

“Listen, sir, I really have no use for your opinions. I ask you now, very sincerely, to let me be so that I might finish reading my newspaper.”

The guy sucked in some air. “Yeah, sure,” he mumbled.

Emory looked down once more at the picture of Dahmer, trying to delve into the dots that made up the serial killer’s eyes. Perhaps somewhere in the dark orbs, he could find evidence of madness. Perhaps the pixels would coalesce to explain the atrocities this bland-looking young man had perpetrated, the pain and suffering he’d caused.

To what end?

“Granville next. Granville will be the next stop.” The voice, garbled and cloaked in static, alerted Emory that his stop was coming up.

As the train slowed, Emory let the newspaper, never really his own, slip from his fingers. The train stopped with a lurch, and Emory looked out at the familiar green sign reading Granville. With the back of his hand, he wiped the sweat from his brow and prepared to step off the train.

Then an image assailed him: Dahmer’s face, lying on the brown, grimy floor of the L, being trampled.

Emory turned back, bumping into commuters who were trying to get off the train, and stooped to snatch the newspaper up from the gritty floor.

Tenderly, he brushed dirt from Dahmer’s picture and stuck the newspaper under his arm.

*

Kenmore Avenue sagged under the weight of the humidity as Emory trudged home, white cotton shirt sticking to his back, face moist. At the end of the block, a Loyola University building stood sentinel—gray and solid against a wilted sky devoid of color, sucking in July’s heat and moisture like a sponge.

Emory fitted his key into the lock of the redbrick high-rise he shared with his mother and sister, Mary Helen. Behind him, a car grumbled by, muffler dragging, transmission moaning. A group of four children, Hispanic complexions darkened even more by the sun, quarreled as one of them held a huge red ball under his arm protectively.

As always, the vestibule smelled of garlic and cooking cabbage, and as always, Emory wondered from which apartment these smells, grown stale over the years he and his family had lived in the building, had originally emanated.

In the mailbox was a booklet of coupons from Jewel, a Commonwealth Edison bill, and a newsletter from Test Positive Aware. Emory shoved the mail under his arm and headed up the creaking stairs to the third floor.

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Meet the Author

Real Men. True Love.

Rick R. Reed is an award-winning and bestselling author of more than fifty works of published fiction. He is a Lambda Literary Award finalist. Entertainment Weekly has described his work as “heartrending and sensitive.” Lambda Literary has called him: “A writer that doesn’t disappoint…” Find him at http://www.rickrreedreality.blogspot.com. Rick lives in Palm Springs, CA, with his husband, Bruce, and their fierce Chihuahua/Shiba Inu mix, Kodi.

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Meet the Narrator

Donald Davenport. I am a screenwriter, author, educator and podcaster. I am also a film producer and director. donalddavenport.com

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