By Bestselling Author Tal Bauer
A U.S. marshal running from his past.
A trial that can plunge the world into war.
Federal Judge Tom Brewer is finally putting the pieces of his life back together. In the closet for twenty-five long years, he’s climbing out slowly, and, with the hope of finding a special relationship with the stunning Mike Lucciano, U.S. Marshal assigned to his D.C. courthouse. He wants to be out and proud, but he can’t erase his own past, and the lessons he learned long ago.
But a devastating terrorist attack in the heart of DC, and the subsequent capture and arrest of the terrorist, leads to a trial that threatens to expose the dark underbelly of America’s national security.
As Russia beats the drums of war, intent on seeking revenge, and the United States struggles to contain the storm before it races out of control, secrets and lies, past and present, collide in Judge Tom Brewer’s courtroom. With the world’s attention fixed on Tom and this case, he suddenly discovers he may be the only person who can put everything together in time to stop the spark of a new world war.
Simultaneous knocking—banging, like an invading horde was at his door—and a ceaseless rattle of his doorknob broke over his radio belting out Britney Spears on Saturday morning.
Mike threw open the door with a glare, leaning against the heavy wood.
Kris Caldera, his best friend, stood in the entrance, his perfect face curved into a pout, lips pushed out, long eyelashes batting slowly. He held up a key like it was an indictment. “My key doesn’t work.”
Mike held up another key. “I changed my locks. Here’s your new one.”
Kris snatched it out of his hand as he strutted into Mike’s townhome. He was dressed for Paris, for Milan, an haute couture fashion model gracing his apartment with color and style. Shining boots, polished to a high gloss, pointed at the toe and with a heel that was just on the wrong side of scandalous. Tight twill pants, a sunny button-down. A skinny tie, shades of blue competing for dominance. A long Gucci trench coat, and Gucci sunglasses perched on his perfectly spiked hair. Mike swore Kris accented the harsh angles of his face with makeup, dusted his cheekbones with bronzer until they looked like they could cut diamonds. He knew Kris wore eyeliner and mascara. Kris was two years older than Mike, a year away from forty, but he’d cut Mike if he ever said that aloud.
Kris was a walking stereotype. He knew every Tony-winning musical by heart and could belt out Bette Midler, Celine Dion, and Idina Menzel. He was sass on heels, deadly with his tongue, and went through men like a ravenous black widow. Mike had met him his first week in DC, after he’d transferred out of the hellhole he’d been working in before. They’d spent the whole evening at a bar trading barbs, verbal repartee that tried to draw blood. Mike wanted to take him home, wanted to unwrap him and devour him, wanted all that sass to shred him to pieces. He’d practically begged. Kris had refused. “You’re too young for me, sweetie.”
They were best friends from that moment on.
Kris stopped in Mike’s foyer, staring at his living room as his perfectly sculpted eyebrows slowly rose. He flicked a hand out to Mike, pushing one slim hip out. “Did you forget to tell me you’re moving?”
Everything from Mike’s kitchen was in the living room, stacked in boxes and bags and piled in haphazard stacks. Half his shelves in the living room were bare, emptied of Silvio’s crap. His hall closet looked like it had been ransacked, jackets and clothes heaped on the floor and spilling onto the hardwood.
“I moved Silvio out.”
Kris pulled his head back, just slightly. His lips pursed. He was being good, so far. Holding his tongue. Waiting.
Mike sighed. Kris would let him have it eventually. “I came home and found him banging some other dude in the kitchen.”
Kris’s manicured hand flew to his neck, his long fingers spread over his throat and across his collarbone. His eyes flared, Spanish fire blazing bright. He blinked, ridiculously long lashes fluttering over his creamy cheeks. “I never liked that bitch,” he finally snapped. “I told you he was no good.”
“I told you he was a f*ckboy.”
“I told you you have the sh*ttiest taste in men.”
Mike grinned. “I know.” He reached for a sledgehammer, leaning against the wall of his entranceway.
Kris gave him a flat glare. “What’s that for? Did you keep one of his sh*tty polyester shirts? Going to whack it to broken threads? I might actually help you with that. Let me grind it beneath my heel.”
Laughing, Mike headed for the kitchen. It was just empty cupboards and bare granite now. His eyes lingered on the spot Silvio had leaned, his elbows braced on the stone, getting drilled by Tall & Swarthy. “It’s time for a remodel.”
“Oh, honey, you know I don’t do manual labor. You called the wrong friend.”
“You’re keeping me company. And your seat is over there.” He pointed to his barstool and a mixing bowl filled with ice he’d set up beside it, perched on his end table. A bottle of vodka rested in the ice and a Martini glass sat beside the bowl.
“Lovely, darling.” Kris sashayed his way across the living room, picking through piles of crap and tossing his jacket over a stack of boxes. He poured a straight vodka Martini as Mike spun slowly in his kitchen, one last survey. It was all coming out. Every last scrap.
“You could at least take your shirt off while you’re being super masc.”
Mike laughed and peeled his t-shirt off. He flung it at Kris, who batted the sweaty, dusty fabric down, grimacing and glaring like Mike had spilled paint on his clothes. He brushed his pants, flicking imaginary dust away.
“Ready?” Mike heaved the sledgehammer over his shoulder.
“Mmm hmmm.” Kris lifted his glass and winked at Mike. “Let’s see it, big boy.”
The kitchen was rubble in under an hour.
Granite cracked and smashed, turning to dust. The cupboards splintered, breaking apart into shards. Wreckage and rubble built around his feet. Only his sink and his fridge remained, stainless steel islands in a sea of dust and ruin.
Kris clapped slowly as Mike stood in the center, breathing hard. “Great job, Fred Flintstone. What are you going to do with the mess you made?”
Kris deigned to help him with the rubble, picking through the wreckage and plucking all the medium-sized pieces into bags and boxes that Mike hauled out to the dumpster. He went back to his Martini as Mike swept and vacuumed, and then made Mike wipe down his boots. Only when he was satisfied with Mike’s cleaning was Mike allowed to collapse onto his couch.
“Did that feel good?” Kris poured another drink and brought it over to Mike. He perched on the armrest.
“Yeah, that did feel good.” Getting over Silvio was easy when Silvio acted like the biggest bitch inside DC. Anger had a way of speeding up the breakup process. Silvio was just a mistake. Another one. Another in a long line of mistaken boyfriends and bad decisions.
“I assume we’re going out tonight? You’re going to f*ck your way through DC again, until you fall head over heels for another f*ckboy?”
Mike scrubbed his face, stalling. Why was it always the same? Why did he always end up like this? Alone, pissed off for one reason or another, and left to wonder why he seemed like the only guy to want something real. Mike took another drink. “I… think I need to change how I date.”
Kris almost fell off the arm of the couch. He pressed his hand to his chest, feigning a heart attack as he blinked fast. “I hear the cries and wails of f*ckboys from Virginia to Pennsylvania. Lamentations. Bottoms going unfilled.”
“Jesus, Kris. Am I that bad?”
“After a breakup? Honey, you put Madonna and Coco Chanel to shame. I think there’s a mass f*ckboy alert when you go out. Some bottom booty call, making them all a’tizzy. They come flocking, holes already lubed. They’re hoping to catch you in their nectar—”
“Okay, okay. Look, I’m not doing that anymore.”
“Really?” Kris couldn’t fit another ounce of disbelief into that single word, he really couldn’t.
“It hasn’t f*cking worked, has it? Here I am again… alone. The last thing that I want to be is alone.”
Kris sat back and crossed his legs, one foot bouncing delicately. Silence strained the living room. “You are a hot mess.”
He looked down.
Kris took pity on him. “You want the gay fairy tale, Mike. You want Prince Charming and happy ever after. But, Prince Charming is not going to come wrapped up in the boys you’ve been fooling with.”
Mike sagged into his couch cushions with a sigh.
“You’re a good guy. A really good guy. Why do you keep wasting time with twenty-four-year-old flight attendants and wannabe models? They’re not good enough for you, honey.” Kris smoothed his hair, tucking wayward strands off his forehead. “You need someone who thinks you are their Prince Charming. Not the pretty face and attached d*ck that comes with a credit card.”
He stayed quiet, twirling the glass back and forth, making ripples in the vodka. “I don’t know if that guy exists, Kris. I’ve been looking for him. Where is he?”
“He’s for damn sure not a f*ckboy!” Kris sat back. “I cannot believe these words are passing my perfect lips, but…” He sighed. “Why don’t you take a break from the scene? Focus on yourself for a while. I mean, do you have any idea what your Prince Charming is like? What you really want? ‘Cause you’re not happy with what you’ve had.”
“I do know what I want.” Mike could picture it, could imagine life with the man of his dreams. He wanted a partner, a real partner, an honest-to-God relationship. He wanted to find The One, the man he’d marry. He wanted someone to love.
Faces blurred together, his exes and his hookups, a haze of haughty smirks and sneers, flashing eyes and slit-eyed glares. Sarcasm, biting tongues, ferocity when provoked. He loved Kris like a brother, but Kris wasn’t the kind of man he dreamt about night after night.
“He’s kind,” he finally said. “I want someone kind. Gentle. Loving.” Memories kept rushing by, a harsh counterpoint to his actual desires. Nights spent alone, or watching his partner texting all night long. Distance, when all he wanted was closeness. He could count the good times with Silvio, the moments where they seemed to be really close and not trying to shred each other with sass and sarcasm that flayed too close to the bone. “Affectionate. He wants me. Really wants me.”
Days he wanted to talk about his work, the cases he saw. The law, politics, and the world they lived in. Being laughed off, or ignored, or talked over. Being told he was boring. “He’s smart. We talk about things. Maybe we’ll stay up all night talking sometimes.”
The truth was, he wanted someone so out of his league his mystery man might as well be a satellite orbiting the earth. And Mike was an ant. He wanted someone intelligent, grounded, and with a heart of gold. Someone who wanted to hold his hand and cuddle with him, watch movies on Friday nights, and sleep in on Sundays. Someone gentle with his heart, with his dreams. Someone who wanted him to be their whole world, the way he would be Mike’s.
“Does that sound like a f*ckboy?” Kris’s voice was gentle.
Mike shook his head.
“You’re looking in all the wrong, places. You want Prince Charming, but you’re looking in a swamp. Get away from the bars and the apps. I know God isn’t your thing, but there are gay men’s groups at some of the churches, and the center has volunteer gigs you can join. There’s a lot for gay men to do, Mike, other than troll for a hookup or look for The One at the club.”
“I know.” He squeezed his eyes shut, rubbing them with his fingers. “We already are doing that, though. I mean, we’re in the league. And we volunteer. That’s how we met Billy and Aaron.”
“Do more. This is our culture. It’s not just bars and clubs and hookup apps. If you want to find someone special, go look for him where you think he’s hiding.” Kris tilted his head. “And, be the kind of guy you want to attract. You’re a good guy. Stop settling for less. Quality attracts quality.”
“That’s not true and you know it.”
“The flakes will stop hassling you when you stop feeding them your d*ck.” Kris stood, brushing off his pants. “Doctor Caldera prescribes a cleanse, Deputy Marshal Lucciano. A cleanse of the scourge of f*ckboys.” He pointed at Mike, tapping the tip of Mike’s nose with every word. “No more f*ckboys.”
“Yes, doctor.” Mike smiled.
“C’mon.” Kris snapped. “We’ve got to get you a new kitchen. And tonight, you’re taking me to the Kennedy Center. Madame Butterfly is playing. I’ll culture you, even if it kills me.”
“Yes, my queen.” He winked as he stood, and Kris tsked at him as he grabbed his trench coat.
Mike sighed, blowing air out of his hollowed cheeks. “We need to stop by the clinic, too.”
Kris whipped around, his eyebrows disappearing beneath his spiky fringe. True concern poured from his gaze.
“Silvio was banging the guy bare. I don’t know how long he was cheating, but if he was going bare, then I need to get checked.”
Kris turned away and shoved his arms through his trench coat sleeves, bunching the fabric and viciously tugging on the lapels. He took a long time straightening it, smoothing his shirt front, facing away from Mike. When he finally turned back, his expression was back to his haughty indifference, but Spanish fire still smoldered in his gaze. “I never liked that bitch.”
“I will listen to you from this day forward about any man.” Mike pressed his hands together and bowed, as if bowing to a master.
“You’re damn right you will. Now go shower and change. We’ve got a busy day.”
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tal Bauer is an award-winning and best-selling author of LGBT romantic thrillers, bringing together a career in law enforcement and international humanitarian aid to create dynamic characters, intriguing plots, and exotic locations. He is happily married and lives with his husband and their Basset Hound in Texas. Tal is a member of the Romance Writers of America and the Mystery Writers of America.
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