A Bar Called Once by Daniela Jeffries—Five years after Lana, the love of her life, left her for a man she hardly knew, Ryssa threw herself into her work as a private detective. But when she realizes women are being abducted from the bar where she and Lana met, her investigation leads her to Lana’s husband as the prime suspect.
Black Suede, Red Velvet by Freddie Milano—Black Suede is one of the most exclusive clubs in town, and one with a lot of secrets. The owner, Fujimoto, is suspected of drug trafficking, and James Tachibana goes undercover to get enough evidence to bring in the kingpin—and starts to get too close to Kana, Fujimoto’s favorite escort.
Cold, Bitter, Dark by Douglas P. Wojtowicz—Several years ago Deacon met Mishelle, a trans woman working as a prostitute. Much has changed since, but the two remain friends, and while Deacon wishes they could be friends and lovers, he’s in no hurry to risk what they’ve got. Then Mishelle comes to him for help with a kidnapped girl, and Deacon learns too late he may never get a chance to say everything he wished he had.
Mr. X And The Blackmailed Female by Edale Lane—Mr. X is a celebrated and highly successful private detective in 1890s, and somewhat notorious for the mysterious way no one ever sees him, but must instead go through his assistant, Miss Stetson Goody—who is really Mr. X. It’s a scheme, and a life, that’s always worked perfectly for Stetson—until Lady Ashton shows up with a blackmail problem.
Orpheus Rising by Andrea Speed—Manu Collins is a private detective investigating a murder, who stumbles into the fact that Ralph Rundle, the richest man in the city, is involved in human trafficking. He frees some of the victims, but finds himself at a very dangerous crossroads: does he go after the man himself? And if he does, what does this mean for both his life, and his relationship with his boyfriend, Eric?
Sweetbrier by Helena Maeve—As the Battle of Britain rages, a small town on the Welsh coast grapples with strife of its own—a guesthouse hosting cowardly Londoners and rich men too cynical to join the war has just become the scene of a suspicious death. Veteran-turned-detective Rahul Khan has no desire to get involved, but his curiosity is piqued when police hasten to dismiss the case—and snared further by Mark, one of the misfit residents of Sweetbrier House…
ase 01: A Bar Called Once
Investigator: Daniela Jeffries
“I can’t believe we did this again.”
Lana pulled her pants on quickly, the diamond ring on her left hand sending flashes of light skittering throughout the dim room. The sun was just beginning to come up, orange beams filtering in through the closed blinds, and the ring caught every bit of it.
“Jesus, L,” I said as I shielded my face. “That thing is blinding. Would you mind taking it off next time?”
“Shut up, Ryssa,” Lana replied. “There isn’t going to be a next time.”
I chuckled. “You say that every time.”
“I mean it this time.”
Lana sat on the edge of the bed, pulling her leather boots on, and I watched as the bones in her spine rippled with each movement. Her brown skin was completely unmarred by any imperfections, something I had always marveled at, seeing as how my own body was a veritable atlas of scars and broken bones that never quite healed correctly. I rubbed my hand over her left side—she froze as I skimmed across the bandage there.
Still incredibly sexy, I thought. I planted a kiss on the white gauze, and, as if she could hear my thoughts, she suddenly reached out and unhooked her bra from the bedpost, latching it on without my assistance. It was made of black lace.
“Why are you putting that on?” I whined. “I wasn’t finished with you.”
“I’m finished with you,” she said firmly. “And I’m getting married. This has to stop.”
“Why? We can share you,” I giggled at the thought. “He might be into it.”
Lana tossed an annoyed glance at me over her shoulder. “He won’t be into it. He can never know about any of… this.”
“This.” I felt the smile slide off my face. “What, exactly, is ‘this’?”
“Don’t do that.” Lana got off the bed. “You know what I mean.” She roved around the room, picking up things that had been scattered the night before. “It’s not about you, specifically, it’s about me…”
“Liking pussy?” I supplied.
“He knows that. He just doesn’t know that I still… like yours… in particular. Shit, you knocked my purse over.”
“Nice subject change, but don’t blame that one on me,” I said. “I believe you threw it across the room before you jumped in my bed.” Lana had dropped down onto her hands and knees and she was scooping up lotions and lip-gloss with one hand while rummaging under the bed with the other. I peered at her over the side of the mattress. “What are you reaching for under there?”
“My sweater. I thought I saw you kicked it under here last night when we were… got it!” She pulled the camel-colored cashmere sweater out, and then shook it. She frowned. “When was the last time you cleaned under there, Ryssa? It’s covered in dust bunnies.”
I shrugged. “Not too many articles of clothing end up under there. I generally don’t have girls on my floor ripping off their sweaters while begging me to kiss them from their navel to their—”
“I got it,” Lana interrupted me. “Look, this was my fault entirely. I showed up last night, I got trashed, I was feeling weird and scared about the wedding. I shouldn’t have come. I’m sorry.”
“I didn’t mind,” I said, reaching above my head to stretch, long and luxuriously like a cat. Just as I knew it would, the blanket fell off of me. Lana’s eyes roved over my exposed body, from my red-painted toenails to the tips of my corkscrew curls. “And you don’t look sorry.”
“I am.” She put the sweater on, and then stood directly in front of me, all six-feet and two inches of her. “I really am sorry. John can never know about this.”
“Ugh, don’t say his name.” I shuddered. “‘John.’ What kind of a name is that, anyway? He sounds as dull as dirt. At least life with me is always interesting.”
“Yeah, too interesting.” Lana’s hand went to her side briefly, lightly touching the wound there, and then she reached her hand in her pocket. She pulled out a small white book of matches and rolled it around in her hand, rubbing the engraved letters on the front and worrying at the cardboard corners until I placed my hand over hers. My hands always seemed so tiny when I touched her.
“Where am I going to find another tall, sexy girl that’s willing to put up with someone that works my hours?” I asked. “Models and detectives go together like peanut butter and jelly. Both sleep all day and are out all night, both love a good whiskey ginger, both appreciate the usefulness of a trench coat.”
“Little Bit,” Lana whispered softly. She’d started calling me by the affectionate nickname from the moment we’d met and she had towered over me by a full twelve inches. She pushed the matchbook into my hand, then took a step back. “Maybe you’ll meet her at the bar. The same place you found me.”
I turned the matchbook over, looking at the silver words that extended across it in curly, script letters: A Bar Called Once.
When I looked up she was gone.
Case 03: Cold, Bitter, Dark
Investigator: Douglas P. Wojtowicz
My name is Deacon, and I’m bleeding from a hole put in me by a sniper.
Rule number one when you’ve gotten a gunshot wound to the torso: do not panic. Of course, blood loss and the wave of pain that hits do tend to make firm resolve to maintain control slip through your fingers, kind of like the slick, sanguine red stuff does when you’re holding your hand over the hole. I knew just enough about anatomy to know that I didn’t risk peritonitis from a perforated intestine, but exsanguination made my head feel like a helium balloon bouncing on the end of a stick in a stiff breeze.
Mishelle’s slender, strong fingers worked with manic swiftness to pack some gauze in place to fasten with a swathe of duct tape she’d temporarily stuck to her forearm. The cloth she used was actually part of her blouse, torn just beneath her ribs. Her deep, coffee brown-black eyes were rimmed red, a mix of tears and irritation from the dust kicked up as bullets perforated the walls of this dingy old cabin. Her Adam’s apple rose and fell as she swallowed to keep her cool. My gaze slithered down to her exposed midriff, and the slope of her abdominal muscles before they disappeared into her jeans.
“Anyone ever tell you you’re beautiful when you’re…”
Mishelle cut me off with a cold hard glare. Her stare chilled me to the bone in angry reproach, but when she spoke, her voice crackled with worry for me. Any fury bubbling inside of her was reserved for the man who shot me. “Even bleeding to death, you’re flirting.”
“The sign of a good…” I was interrupted by my own grunt as she pushed hard on the gunshot wound. She pressed down hard on the swathe of tape to keep the bandage tight against my side. “Sign of a good leader is maintaining morale.”
“Leadership,” she spat out, repeating me. She glared at me from under corkscrew icicles of amber. Her curls cascaded down into bangs, which only served to frame that sweet, dark gaze of hers. “This is why I don’t follow you.”
No, I followed her lead here. For both the girl she asked me to help rescue, and for her herself.
Car doors slammed outside. I was so caught in the moment, I hadn’t heard it pull up. I didn’t need too much evidence to know who was here or to know his mood.
Angry and hostile with his face taped closed after I’d opened it with the front sight of my pistol, it was Bruno.
“Deacon! Mishelle! I’m giving you one chance! Give me my property, and I’ll let you live!”
Mishelle looked at me. The “property” he referred to was the young transgender woman, Carlie, who watched us together. She had on a winter coat, as well as the wrap of an old army blanket from the back seat of my car.
Mishelle’s eyes glistened sadly as she touched my cheek. “I’m sorry I got you into this.”
I pulled her in tight for a quick kiss, something that I did not think I’d ever get, one I’d waited six years for. “He’ll only get Carlie over my dead body.”
Mishelle’s worry intensified across her fine features, but I cupped her cheek. “Death ain’t coming for me today, sweetheart.”
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