Published by Dreamspinner Press 4760 Preston Road Suite 244-149 Frisco, TX 75034 http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/ This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental. Witness Copyright © 2010 by L.A. Gilbert Cover Art by Anne Cain [email protected] Cover Design by Mara McKennen All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without the written permission of the Publisher, except where permitted by law. To request permission and all other inquiries, contact Dreamspinner Press, 4760 Preston Road, Suite 244-149, Frisco, TX 75034 http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/ ISBN: 978-1-61581-424-4 Printed in the United States of America First Edition April, 2010 eBook edition available eBook ISBN: 978-1-61581-425-1 .
Witness WITH a small sigh, Ben reached over blindly to turn off his clock radio. He had been more or less awake for some time, dozing lightly, waiting for the annoying chatter of traffic news and weather reports to tell him it was time to get up and get ready for work. Pulling back the duvet, he sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed. Rubbing his face briskly and giving his stubble a scratch, he yawned widely and stretched the kinks out of his neck. He made his way over to the window, leaning his hands on the sill as he looked up at the sky to contemplate his options. It didn’t look like it would snow. “A quick run, or a go at the weights?” he asked himself. The weather report had said brisk and then cold with a chance of sunshine. Despite it being far too early for sunshine, he chose to go for a quick run. He loved how fresh the air smelled first thing; there was no better way to wake up. And anyway, he knew he’d hit the weights in the evening after work. “Once or twice around the park, then.” Boycotting the shower and pulling out a pair of sweats, T-shirt and a warm sweatshirt, he made his way down the stairs and to the front door, where he crouched to tie the laces to his running shoes. Pulling one leg up at a time to touch his heel to the back of his thighs, he deemed himself loose enough and, locking the door behind him, set out at a jog down the quiet street. - 1 - .
L.A. Gilbert BEN looked up at the building. Not the flashiest of apartment blocks, but he’d seen worse. He buzzed next to where “Roger” had been written in what seemed a shaky hand. The call he’d answered had been from a Roger Townsend, an elderly gentleman, said to be the owner of the building that he rented out to various tenants. Ben let out a surprised little laugh when he spotted the smiley face drawn next to the name. “Okay, definitely an odd one. Sweet, but odd.” He heard a crackle, and then said gentleman’s voice blaring out over the speaker. He jumped a little and blinked in surprise. He wouldn’t have put that voice with the spindly handwriting. “This is Officer Jenkins.” “Yes?” Instead of sighing in frustration as he usually might, he smiled a little. “You called the police, Mr. Townsend. About a noise coming from your apartment. You thought you had an intruder?” The dispatcher had told the guy to leave his apartment and wait for the officer; he should be down here waiting to let Ben in. “Oh yes! I’ll buzz you in and meet you on the stairs!” This time Ben couldn’t hold back a small groan as he pushed open the door. The department was well used to these types of calls. - 16 - .
Witness BEN was relieved to be going home. His shift had ended earlier than usual today, and he was grateful. He slumped down into the driver’s seat and ran a hand over his face; he was pretty sure he could feel the beginnings of a migraine. He’d go for a run tonight, a good long one, and clear his head. He’d had one bad call after another. One woman in her late sixties had her purse snatched, and had been knocked over and hurt in the process. Not only had they not been able to catch the guy, but he’d learned later, when he went to the hospital to take her statement and get a better description, that the poor woman had died from the head wound she’d received. Then he’d had some spoiled rich kid scream at him about his stolen car. It had quite literally taken all of his strength not to knock him out, particularly after having tried to find the family of the purse snatch victim—Emily Holden—so that he could give them the bad news, only to discover that she had lived all alone, with no family to speak of. That had resonated with him. In fact, it had hit him like a brick wall. It gave them a commonality he didn’t want to think about. All his other calls had felt insignificant in comparison, like this last one. He was parked outside of an office building. Someone had apparently been fired and not taken it well. Well, that was what their goddamn security guards were for, surely? He just hadn’t been able to shift what felt like a lead ball sitting in his stomach. It had been a long time since he’d felt this down. Sighing - 31 - .
Witness IT HAD been a long time since Ben had to get ready for a date. He’d decided on black jeans, polished boots, and a light blue button-down shirt. He took a deep breath and blew it out slowly as he regarded his reflection. He looked good, he supposed. The shirt pulled across his biceps if he bent his elbow too far—maybe he should subtract a few pounds off the weights?—but that would be okay as long as he didn’t flex. And seeing as he wasn’t a show-off asshole, that shouldn’t be a problem. He did, however, wish that he’d checked his wardrobe to see if his “going out” clothes still fit him all right. As well as the shirt stretching a tiny bit over his upper arms and chest when he moved, he’d lost about an inch off his waist. Luckily this was easily resolved with a belt. He deliberated on changing the shirt, then decided against it. Sharon had once commented that it brought out his eyes. And while he couldn’t really see what she was going on about, he’d take anything he could get that worked in his favor tonight. His hair could have done with a cut; it was by no means long, just not as short as he usually kept it. He touched it up a little with some gel, just to keep it in order, and decided that he actually didn’t look half bad. “Well, Mud, how’d I look?” His cat lay curled up fast asleep on his pillow. She didn’t so much as stir. “Yeah, thanks.” - 43 - .
Witness “SO WHEN you said big….” Reece leaned forward against his seatbelt, looking through the windshield. Despite the darkness, he could easily see the large house coming into view. It was lovely, two floors with a porch and a large yard. “You meant—” “Big, yes.” “It must have been great growing up here.” “Oh yeah. You see those yellow rose bushes? They’re not budding right now, but my mother planted those, and around the back there’s a twenty-six-year-old fort.” “You had a fort?” The idea of Ben playing in a fort as a kid made Reece grin. Ben nodded. “My dad made it. It’s like a tree house, but not very high off the ground. He was always terrified that I’d fall or hurt myself.” “I guess after losing your mother….” Reece said softly. “Yeah, he was always protective of me.” “That’s nice.” Reece smiled. “I’m glad you had that.” “Are you close to your folks?” Reece lifted his shoulder in a shrug. “I don’t see them as often as I should, but I guess you could say I have a good relationship with them.” - 57 - .
L.A. Gilbert MAN, was he going to spoil his cop tonight. Reece pulled on his brakes and then tucked his bike under the porch of Ben’s house. He was supposed to be seeing him later that night, but Darren had told him to go celebrate his sale with Ben, so he thought he’d surprise him. He’d sold a photo. It was nothing overly artistic or too amazing, just an old man sitting on a bench feeding some ducks. The photo wasn’t new, either; he’d taken it a couple of years ago when wandering through a park with his camera and had gotten lucky. The lighting, shadow, even the fucking ducks were perfect. He’d always kind of liked it; there was something peaceful about it. Now it would be used for a life insurance leaflet. And he felt pretty goddamn good about that. It turned out that pimping his portfolio out to magazines and design companies did occasionally pay off. He’d thought that perhaps he’d have to sit and wait on the porch for Ben to finish his shift, but apparently he was already home, if the truck in the drive was anything to go by. He knocked on the door and waited. After a little while, with no answer, he looked at the truck in the drive and knocked again. Could he let himself in? They’d been seeing each other for a couple of weeks now, but were they at that place yet? Would it seem presumptuous? He opened the door and poked his head in, calling for Ben. When he still got no answer, he let himself in and closed the door behind him. That was weird, usually Ben answered right away. He’d certainly never leave the door unlocked if he was out. - 80 - .
Witness “THESE are amazing, Reece.” Ben lay reclined against Reece’s headboard, naked except for the sheets bunched around his waist and the portfolio in his lap. “You just want to get laid again,” Reece called from his bathroom. Ben grinned but shook his head as he turned another page of one of the massive portfolios Reece had brought to show him. They were beautiful, intriguing, some of them sad, but all amazing. At least to him. He couldn’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t want to buy Reece’s photos; he would. But then, he was biased. “I’m pretty sure I don’t have to flatter you to get a repeat performance.” It had been a long time since he’d let another guy top him. But when they’d been kissing in his bed, slowly undressing, he’d felt Reece’s hands stray downward to caress his behind, a question rather than a grope. He’d raised a brow, and Reece had asked the question. “Let me?” His voice husky and his eyes most definitely smoldering. And Ben had found that rather than just letting Reece take control, he’d actually wanted him to. And goddamn but it had felt right. It’d never been his favorite thing, but he’d never been head over heels for any of the guys he’d slept with. He felt that perhaps he was a top by - 97 - .
L.A. Gilbert REECE pulled his things out of the back of the cab and leaned through the window to pay the driver. When the cab pulled away, he gathered his belongings and made his way up to the porch of Ben’s house. He’d just gotten back from a shoot for a travel magazine—a shoot that actually required travel. It had been on the West Coast, in Los Angeles. It had been fantastic, and he’d gotten some good work done, but he’d cursed the timing. He’d been recommended to the magazine by an agency he’d previously worked for. After attending a rushed meeting with his portfolio, they’d offered him the three-day job. Darren had given him the time off without a fuss, and Reece had been ecstatic. At least until he’d discovered that it required him being away on Ben’s birthday. Originally, he’d intended to turn the job down, but Ben had insisted he go, and that they’d have dinner with Ted and Sharon as soon as he got back. Now he was back. He’d only been gone a few days, but he’d missed Ben. It had surprised him to realize what a firm fixture Ben had become in his life. He’d called him, of course, to wish him happy birthday earlier that morning, and to promise he’d make it up to him, but he’d still felt like he’d dropped the ball in their relationship. It was the first birthday between them, and he didn’t want this to set the tone for how things would be between them. Ben wouldn’t come second to anything, and so he’d hauled ass out of there, rushed and gotten an - 110 - .