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Tuesday, 15 January 2013

The Low Between by Vivien Dean

It was supposed to be simple.

All struggling actor Carlo Baresi had to do was pick up a man in a taxi, drive him to the location he specified, then report where he’d taken him. The only problem is, the man isn’t who he claims to be...and they both know it.

Bookstore owner Joe Donnelly has a reputation for helping those in need, but this plan has been a bad one from the second he stepped in. Discovering someone has switched out the taxi driver is one more complication he doesn’t want, especially since Carlo is the kind of distraction that can get a man in serious trouble if he’s not careful.

But the men have something in common other than their mutual attraction. They’re both loose ends, struggling to find out what is really going on.

And murder is always complicated, even when you’re on the same side...

Genres: Gay/Nostalgic Contemporary (1950s-Era)/Mystery/Detective/Suspense/Thriller
Heat Level: 2
Length: Extended Novella (38k words)

Read a short excerpt...

...Though he’d been expecting a full address, Carlo edged into the street without complaint. His pulse pounded through his palms, his eyes fixed on the road ahead. Maybe this could be salvaged. After all, he was nobody. He’d never even spoken to Joe directly. Recognizing Joe didn’t have to be the end of the world. All he had to do was fulfill his end of the deal, and Mr. Stout would be happy.

“This rain’s going to slow us down,” Joe commented.

“No worries,” Carlo said. “Nobody’s nuts enough to be out at this time of night to get in our way.”

“Nobody but us, anyway.”

Carlo laughed, mostly because he was meant to. “You warm enough back there?”

“I don’t think I’ll be warm again ’til June.”

He’d always liked the sound of Joe’s voice. The first time he’d heard it, Joe was coming out of the backroom of his bookstore with a comforting arm around an elderly woman whose face had been swollen from tears. Carlo had been on his knees, thumbing through some play collections on the bottom shelf in search of a monologue to memorize for an audition. At the unfamiliar deep rumble, he’d glanced up, then stared at the man for the several seconds he was in view before he and the woman disappeared into the stacks.

Eavesdropping told him the guy was the owner. Returning a couple times a month when he got matinee shifts at the theater filled in a few more details, but Carlo never forgot the swift heat that had consumed him that first time he’d heard and seen Joe Donnelly.

Joe wore his auburn hair short, like he’d been in the military, which, considering he had to be in his thirties, was probably a given, but his dark blue eyes couldn’t hide whatever painful history he was trying to forget. The melancholy was etched at the corners of his mouth, and though he had a smile to rival Van Johnson’s, Carlo had only ever seen it once. From what he could tell, Joe buried himself in the store. He always worked in the same white shirt, the sleeves rolled up to expose his powerful forearms, the cotton straining across his wide shoulders.

Carlo couldn’t resist sneaking a peek into the rearview mirror. Now that he was out of the rain, Joe had opened the top button of his trenchcoat and pushed its collar out of the way. The shirt beneath was black.

“Eyes on the road,” Joe said.

The wheel jerked in Carlo’s startled hands, his foot automatically tapping the brake, but he obeyed without question. A sigh came from the backseat.

“How long you been driving, kid?”

His face flamed, and his petulant chin tilted up. He hated being called a kid. “I have my license.”

“That wasn’t what I asked.”

He couldn’t make trouble or draw attention to himself, no matter what Joe provoked in him. His shoulders slumped. “Six years.”


His gaze snapped back to the mirror, but Joe hadn’t even moved. “What?”

“You heard me. I call bullshit. You’re twenty, tops.”

“I’m twenty-two.”

“Which is still bullshit. You haven’t been behind that wheel since you were sixteen.”

“Oh. No. That’s when I got my driver’s license.”

“I wasn’t talking about that.”

“I kind of figured that out,” Carlo grumbled. A light was turning yellow ahead. He started slowing before Joe tried giving him driving lessons again.

“So? How long?”

“Two years.”

“You like it?”

What was with the twenty questions? “It’s all right.”

“Not as good as acting, though.”

The car leapt forward as his foot slipped off the brake, but by the time he’d regained control and come to a stop at the now-red light, the cold muzzle of a gun was pressed to the back of his head...

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