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Satin



K.C. Wells





SMASHWORDS EDITION





Copyright notice



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.



Satin (A Material World #2)

Copyright © 2017 by K.C. Wells

Cover Design by Meredith Russell



Cover content is being used for illustrative purposes only and any person depicted on the cover is a model.



The trademarked products mentioned in this book are the property of their respective owners, and are recognized as such.



All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including 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.



Acknowledgments



Thank you to my wonderful team – Jason, Helena, Daniel, Sharon and Will.

A huge Thank You to Meredith Russell, for yet another wonderful cover.





But this one is for Daniel Parry.

From its beginnings as we sat in Soho, eating pasta and working out the plot,

to its end, when he got me to look again at a very important scene.



You ROCK.

Thanks, babe, and welcome aboard.



Table of Contents



Copyright

Acknowledgment

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

Epilogue

What’s next from A Material World? Exclusive excerpt

Available titles

Who is Tantalus?

About the author



Chapter One


“Any sign of him?” Detective Constable Joel Hunter muttered under his breath as he retook his seat next to his partner.

DC Tricia Mortimer chuckled. “If there had been, don’t you think I’d have got you out here? The call of nature would’ve had to wait.”

After half an hour at the Paradise club and no sight of Tony Rose, Joel had figured he was safe to nip to the toilets. Besides, Trish was right: if the club owner had made an appearance, she’d have probably hissed so loudly into her mic, she’d have split his eardrum. Not that they were to apprehend Rose if he turned up—they were simply to call in if he did. The drugs squad would make the arrest.

Rose had been top of the Met’s hit list of undesirables for a long time. One way or another, he was going down, and his drugs network with him.

“Is CID sure he’s on his way here?”

Joel shrugged. “They’ve got that many coppers watching Rose, I think they’ve covered all eventualities.” He and Trish were working with a drugs task force in an undercover operation. Thus far it had been two long weeks of surveillance, and he hoped it was coming to an end. Sooner or later, Rose had to put a foot wrong, and then that would be that. There were police officers watching Rose’s every move, at his home and the various clubs he owned, and Joel had spent long hours at several locations. Not that Joel could complain about that evening’s venue. It was his first stint at the nightclub, and his colleagues had already told him it would be a pleasant stakeout.

Once he’d seen the interior of the club, Joel had to agree.

It wasn’t a huge space: there were maybe twenty round tables arranged on the main floor, with a bar to the rear, and a raised stage to the front, complete with lush burgundy velvet curtains and a gleaming black piano. Each table seated three or four people, and in the centre of each was a small table lamp with a gold shade, dripping with gold tassels around its edge. The chairs were comfortable, and that was a definite plus in Joel’s book: he’d been in far too many places where the seats appeared designed to be as uncomfortable as possible, undoubtedly so that you wouldn’t want to sit too long in them.

The lighting was subdued, with wall lights covered in the same gold shades, set against a heavy brocade wallpaper in red and gold. Tasteful prints—not too many of them—adorned the walls, and while the stage was empty, soft music played in the background. All in all the club had a rich feel to it. Most of the tables were occupied, and the patrons talked in low voices, some eating, everyone drinking, while waiters dressed in black circulated, moving gracefully like they were on casters.

Joel and Trish’s table was near the rear, far enough back that they could see most of the club, including both sets of doors.

“Isn’t it time for another act?” Joel wanted to know. They’d walked in during the last ten minutes of the previous artist, a guy who’d sung songs by Frank Sinatra.

Trish rolled her eyes. “We’re not here to watch the show, remember? Want another coke?”

Joel laughed quietly. “Why not? Let’s push the boat out.” He knew better than to drink while on duty, even if he was on a stakeout.

Trish signalled a waiter and gave her order in a low voice. When he left them and headed toward the bar, she twisted around in her chair to follow him with her gaze.

“I’ll tell Sam,” Joel teased. “I saw you ogling that guy’s arse.”

Trish arched her eyebrows. “How do you know I wasn’t checking him out for a concealed weapon?” Joel snorted. “And you can tell Sam whatever you like. After all this time, she knows better than to believe a word you say.”

“Yeah, I forgot you’ve got her well and truly hoodwinked.”

Trish buffed her nails. “What can I say? She loves me.” She leaned closer, her chin resting on her laced fingers. “And speaking of lurve… Been on any good dates recently?”

Here we go again.

Joel scowled. “We’re not discussing this.”

Trish pouted. “Aw, but we haven’t talked about your love life—or the lack of it—for so long.”

“That’s because you’ve been too busy flaunting your wedding plans,” Joel retorted. “You’ve been torturing anyone who’d listen.” He was joking, but he knew Trish well enough to know how she’d take it.

Trish’s face softened. “Only six weeks now. Can you believe how quickly the time has flown?”

Joel knew what she meant. He wondered whether it was a function of growing older that time seemed to speed up. Then he had to smile to himself. Listen to me. Growing older. I’m only thirty-four. To hear me you’d think I was this ancient wreck.

“You’re still coming, right?” Trish’s question broke through his musings. “To the wedding, I mean?”

Joel chuckled. “What—and miss the chance to see Sam make an honest woman of you?” He gave their surroundings a glance. Still no sign. “Is everything ready? The flowers, the dresses, the church?” No sooner had the words left his lips than he regretted them.

Sure enough, Trish’s serene smile faltered.

“I’m sorry. I forgot.” Joel cursed himself. The church had been the one part of Trish and Sam’s plans that hadn’t worked out. The one they’d originally picked out was a beauty, with a tall spire rising majestically through the tree tops, and bells that rang out their happy chorus.

Apparently, the bells weren’t allowed to ring for a pair of lesbians. At least, that was Trish’s theory. Joel thought it more likely that the main reason was they didn’t live in the correct diocese. Add to that, the church was always fully booked for weddings.

“It’s fine,” Trish huffed. “It’ll be a beautiful wedding. The venue is amazing.” She speared him with an intense gaze. “And don’t think I didn’t notice how you deflected attention away from your love life to mine.”

“That’s because there is genuinely nothing to tell. I haven’t been on a date since Gail.” And that had been six months ago.

“I don’t get it.” Trish paused when the waiter approached their table with the drinks. As he walked away, she gave Joel a frank glance. “You’re a good looking guy. And that’s coming from me, so you must be bloody gorgeous to women who actually fancy men.” She cocked her head to one side. “So how come you’re still single?”

“Who says I’m not happy being single?”

Trish snorted. “Because you keep going on dates, that’s why. Sometimes you even manage three or four dates with the same woman. Then just when I think you’ve cracked it, you break up with her.”

Joel regarded Trish for a moment. They’d been partnered for a year, and he really liked their working relationship. Trish spoke her mind, and he was fine with that, but this was the frankest Trish had gotten with him. Then he reasoned that their relationship was more than that of mere colleagues. Somewhere along the line they’d become friends. Because Joel knew none of his fellow coppers had received an invitation to Trish’s wedding.

That thought was enough to help him make up his mind to share a partial truth.

“It seems I don’t have what it takes to keep a woman’s attention,” he admitted in a low voice.

Trish blinked. “And what does that mean when it’s at home?”

He sighed. “I’m boring, apparently. A boring conversationalist, boring in bed…” He uttered the remarks casually enough, but they still stung. Of course, it wasn’t the whole truth, but he wasn’t about to admit that.

Trish raised her eyebrows. “You’re obviously having the wrong conversations.” She grinned suddenly. “Now, I know someone who is dying to go on a date with you.”

Joel narrowed his gaze. “If you say Aaron again, I’ll forget I’m a gentleman and do something you’ll regret.” It had to be the third time she’d brought up the subject. Aaron worked in forensics, and Joel had only met him once. Which clearly had been enough for Aaron, because he’d started badgering his friend Trish to set the two of them up on a date.

Trish studied him closely. “Are you dismissing the idea because he’s a guy or is it something else?”

Joel stared at her. “What do you think? It’s the ‘he’s a guy’ thing. Wrong sex.”

Trish leaned back in her chair and took a long drink of coke. “Mm-hmm. The only reason I keep suggesting Aaron as a possible date is that I see you when you’re people-watching, mister.” She wagged a finger at him, smiling wickedly.

Joel took a drink and gazed toward the stage where the pianist was arranging music on the stand. “No idea what you’re talking about.”

Trish smothered a snort. “Don’t you bullshit me.” She tapped him on the arm, and when she had his attention, she pointed to her eyes. “These miss nothing, mate. They especially don’t miss it when your attention is drawn toward a tight arse rather than a pair of tits.”

“You see too much.” Okay, so he and Trish were close, but he wasn’t about to discuss this. “Change the subject.”

Trish pouted again. “Aw, but we haven’t finished talking about Aaron.”

“Yes, we have. Change. The. Subject.”

She sighed. “Fine.”

A hush had fallen over the tables, and he glanced up. A single spotlight fell on the burgundy velvet curtains that parted slightly, and a slim figure in a long, halter-neck, red satin dress emerged. She paused at the microphone stand and lifted the mic to her lips.

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I hope you’re all having a good time?” Her softly spoken words were greeted with appreciative calls and whoops. “Oh, that’s good. Well, I’m Satin.” She gestured to her tight fitting dress. “Kind of appropriate, right? I’m here to sing for you, so sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.”

Joel gazed at her with interest. Satin had shoulder-length, glossy, chestnut brown hair, parted in the middle. Joel squinted to get a better look, because from that distance the only impression he got was that her makeup was subtle. I really need to get my eyes checked. The dress clung to her torso, before spreading out in a wide skirt from mid-thigh downward. The bodice crossed at the neckline, leaving a slit of flesh visible from her collarbone to her waist. Satin had curves that were barely there, but a bigger cleavage on her slight form would have been wrong. Her arms were well toned, her hips slim.

The first notes from the piano told Joel exactly what to expect, and sure enough, Satin launched into Someone To Watch Over Me. Hairs rose up on his arms as Satin’s velvet voice filled the air.

“God, she can sing.” The pathos and emotion in her voice made it so easy to believe that she was seeking that one guy who she couldn’t forget. Joel listened, spellbound, as the piano’s notes and Satin’s clear, rich voice wove a beautiful harmony, riveting all who were ensnared by its power and seductiveness. The way she clutched the mic between her clasped hands, pouring herself into the song, bringing every line to life, spoke to him. It was as if she lived and breathed the music.

Every Time We Say Goodbye gave way to The Man That Got Away, and every note rang out. There was something about her, something that fascinated him and drew him in, until he was lost to everything else. He sat there, clinging onto every word, until—

Trish gave a cough. Then repeated it.

Joel surfaced, leaving behind the dreamlike state that had enveloped him, to find Trish regarding him with amusement.

“I hate to bring you back to the land of the living, but we’re out of here.”

“What?” His gaze darted to the stage, where Satin was taking a bow. “She can’t be finished. She only just got started.”

Trish shook her head. “She’s done four songs. What planet have you been on?” Then she tapped the phone on the table in front of him. “We just got word. Rose has gone to his place, most likely for the night, judging by the company he had with him.”

Joel scowled. “Another wasted night.” Was it too much to hope for one lucky break?

“Oh, I don’t know.” Trish’s eyes twinkled. “You seemed to be enjoying yourself. Plus it gave me the opportunity to tease you a little. I’m never one to turn down the chance to do that.” She got to her feet. “I’ll go pay the bar bill, then we can leave.”

Joel returned his attention to the stage, just in time to see Satin disappearing through the curtains. He caught a glimpse of red satin gleaming in the lights, then a swish of velvet took her from his sight.

What is it about you? There was something about Satin, more than the fantastic voice, only for the life of him, Joel couldn’t put his finger on it.

When Trish came back to the table, Joel had made up his mind. “I think I’ll sign up for another stakeout here. You okay with that?”

Trish sighed. “Fine. You can explain to Sam why I’m sitting in a bar and not cuddled up with her on the couch.” She grinned. “You do know she teaches karate, right?” Trish sauntered toward the door. “I’ll bring popcorn.”

Joel followed, his thoughts still focused on the singer.

Stakeouts had suddenly become a lot more interesting.



Chapter Two


Joel stuck his head around his Detective Inspector’s office door. “Good morning, sir.” It was part of his ritual to greet his boss, especially as most mornings they were some of the first officers to arrive at the station.

DI Jameson glanced up from his desk. “Joel. Glad you stopped by. You’re off the surveillance team.”

“Oh?”

“And before you ask, that’s not because you cocked up. On the contrary, the head of the drugs squad is pleased with your performance. But a lot went down last night, culminating in Rose’s arrest.” Jameson grinned.

“Seriously? That’s great.”

Jameson nodded. “We got Rose and three other members of his network, bang to rights, at his casino. Enough evidence to put him away for a long time—providing his slippery lawyer doesn’t get him off. Though even he would have a hard time explaining away the video footage.” He leaned back in his chair with a contented sigh. “God, it’s great when everything works out like it should.” He peered at Joel. “So, back to normal duties for you. And well done. This’ll look good on your record when you go for your sergeant’s badge.”

“Thank you, sir.” Joel withdrew and headed for the main office of the Criminal Investigation Department. Once there, he helped himself to coffee, then sat at his desk, feeling oddly subdued.

He was pleased Rose was off the streets. That was a no-brainer. But he’d enjoyed the stint at undercover work. It had been his first experience, and he definitely wanted to do more of it. Joel had made the move to CID after ten years working the streets as a constable. He’d loved being on patrol, but had been ready for a change when a colleague had suggested joining CID.

After five years as a detective constable, it was starting to feel like another change was on the cards. Joel liked the idea of specializing, and the undercover work had given him a taste for maybe Drugs or Vice. He knew his boss would be right behind him: Jameson was a good, solid officer who ran a tight ship, and was keen to see his officers advance.

Besides, Joel’s dad would be over the moon to see him promoted.

This is what happens when you come from a family of coppers. They want you to get as far as you can.

“Have you heard?”

Joel broke from his internal meanderings and smiled at Trish. “Yeah. Great news.”

She smirked. “Yeah, right. I’m betting there’s a part of you that’s gutted.”

He frowned. “About what? Bagging Rose? That’s the best news I’ve heard in months.”

“Wasn’t talking about Rose.” Trish’s eyes gleamed. “I was referring to a certain club? Going there was getting to be a habit.”

He knew what she meant. They’d spent a total of four nights at the Paradise club during the last two weeks, and he’d looked forward to those times. By now he knew all the acts, and Satin was still heads above the rest when it came to talent. And Joel was still no closer to working out exactly why Satin proved so fascinating to him.

Not that he was likely to get any further, now that the surveillance was over.

Joel couldn’t work out which news depressed him more—the end of the stakeouts, or the fact that he no longer had an excuse to visit the club.

Except did he really need an excuse? Now there’s an idea…

“I’d love to know what you’re thinking about right now.”

Joel glanced across the desk to where Trish was sitting, still smirking at him. “I don’t have to tell you everything. Allow me some mystery.”

She laughed. “Yeah, but you had this little smile just then. Very intriguing.”

Joel grinned. “Drives you nuts, right? Well, tough. I’m saying nothing.” He gestured to her side of the desk. “And you’ve got paperwork to do, so don’t let me stop you.”

“Bastard,” she muttered, before opening a folder and commencing to read its contents. “I’ll get it out of you, don’t you worry.”

Joel doubted that. There was no way he was about to share these plans with Trish. He wasn’t even sure why he wanted to return so badly, but he knew she’d have her own theories. And he had a pretty good idea what they might be.

Damn Trish’s intuition.


~ 0 ~


By ten-thirty, Joel had come to the conclusion that Thursday was Satin’s night off, because there had been no sign of the singer since he’d arrived at eight. Damn. The evening had been pleasant, but Joel knew he hadn’t come to hear the acts so far.

He’d come to hear Satin.

The club was about half full, and the air was filled with the hum of voices, as usual. All the waiters were hurrying to and fro, taking orders and serving drinks.

Joel finished his beer and stood up to put on his jacket. Just then the pianist took up position once more, and the spotlight hit the curtains. Half-interested, Joel stood by his chair, watching to see who was on next. When a familiar figure emerged in a just as familiar red satin dress, Joel shrugged off his jacket and sat quickly, his gaze glued to the stage.

Satin took the mic from its stand. “Good evening. Are you having a good night so far?” When a chorus of positive responses resounded, she beamed. “Great. Then I hope you’ll enjoy the next few songs.” The pianist began to play, and she launched into what Joel recognized by now as her theme song, Maybe This Time.

It wasn’t until she was halfway through the number that Joel was struck by a realization. Maybe what appealed to him so much was her choice of material. Yes, they were all torch songs, but the same undercurrents ran beneath them all—the theme of not being able to hold onto love, of being a loser when it came to matters of the heart, of wanting to find that special someone.

It could have been Joel up there, pouring his heart out through song. Satin’s words mirrored his deepest longings. He hung onto her every note, captivated by both her voice and the lyrics. It was as if she was singing only for him.

When her act came to an end, Joel rose to his feet and applauded until his hands were warm, relieved that he wasn’t the only one to do so. The curtains closed but the pianist remained, playing quietly.

Suddenly Joel was in no mood to go back to his empty flat. When a waiter approached, he ordered a final beer and then relaxed in his comfy chair, letting the soft strains of the piano waft over him.

Maybe he was kidding himself when he said he wasn’t interested in finding someone. Maybe he only said as much to cover his disappointment when successive dates failed to bring him what he truly sought—someone who understood him, who filled a void in his life that thus far he’d been great at denying even existed. Maybe—

“May I join you?”

Joel jerked himself back into the moment at the sound of the soft voice, and looked up to find—

Satin. At his table. What the hell?

Then he remembered his manners.

Joel lurched to his feet. “Please.”

Satin smiled and sat on the chair facing him. She gestured to a passing waiter. “A lime and soda, please.” Then she brought her attention back to Joel. “I didn’t think I’d see you in here again.”

He blinked. “Excuse me?”

Satin smiled. “Well, I thought you were done here. Your lot carted off my boss last night, right?”

Joel played dumb. “You’ve lost me.”

“You are a copper, aren’t you? Here on stakeout?”

He gaped, his inclination to lie forgotten. “How did you know?”

She laughed. “Oh, come on. That woman who was with you. No way was she your girlfriend or your wife. I figured she had to be your partner, because the two of you had absolutely no chemistry together.”

Joel smirked. “Very perceptive. As far as she’s concerned, I have the wrong plumbing.”

“Does that mean I have the wrong plumbing too?”

He frowned, uncertain of her meaning.

Satin smiled. “Besides, who do you think tipped off the police about Rose’s nasty little operation?” Her eyes sparkled.

Joel was back on more familiar ground. He thought back on the file notes. “Well, it wasn’t you. The anonymous caller was male, for one thing.”

Satin laughed. “Correct.”

That one word had the hairs standing up on the back of Joel’s neck. Because that was definitely a masculine voice…

“Ross Dauntry, at your service.” Ross extended a hand over the table, and Joel stared at it in confusion for a moment, before shaking it briefly. Ross cocked his head to one side. “You did know there was a guy under all this, didn’t you?”

Joel regained his composure. “I do now.”

Ross burst into a peal of laughter. “Call yourself a copper? You’re supposed to notice these things.”

Joel studied the man in front of him. Ross was maybe in his mid-twenties, his build slight. The makeup was subtle, a hint of pink on those high cheek bones, a touch of bronze on the eyelids to accentuate those deep brown eyes, and a touch of red lip gloss on full lips. His hair….

Joel had to know.

“Is that real?” He pointed to Ross’s glossy brown hair. Because if it was a wig, it was bloody good.

Ross smiled. “Every shaft and follicle.”

Joel shook his head. “My sister would kill for that hair.”

“Thanks for the compliment. Beer shampoo works wonders.” Ross winked.

Joel gazed at the red satin dress. “The outfit is amazing.”

Ross smoothed his hands over his abs and down his thighs. “I choose all my dresses. I don’t wear padding, so it has to look right without making me look like a guy in a frock.”

Joel peered at the upper half of the dress. “Do you have inserts or something?” Because Ross wasn’t flat up top. There was definitely curvature there.

He smiled again. “It’s all me under here. I work very hard on my pecs.”

It was then that Joel realized he sounded like a copper. “I’m sorry. I’m asking a lot of questions, aren’t I?”

Ross chuckled. “I figured it was part of the job. Ask away.” He leaned forward, chin resting on his laced fingers. “I thought I’d seen the last of you when we heard the news, so when I saw you from the stage, I was curious. I wanted to know what you were doing here. Unless you’re still on duty, officer… ?” His smile displayed white, even teeth.

“Hunter. Joel Hunter. And no, I’m not on duty.” Before Ross could ask about his presence at the club, Joel pressed on. “Are you a drag queen then?”

“God, no.” Ross straightened in his chair. “I’m a female impersonator.”

“Is there a difference?” Joel’s knowledge of such things was pretty sketchy.

Ross grinned. “Unlike a drag queen, I have talent.”

Joel winced. “Ooh, meow. Does that mean you don’t lip sync?”

Ross nodded. “I look after this voice. I don’t smoke—hell, I don’t even like spending time in a smoky atmosphere—I drink lots of water, I don’t talk too much, and I avoid songs that use the extremes of my vocal range. Drag queens are a whole other matter. Most of them are gay men, whereas you don’t have to be gay to be a female impersonator.” His eyes twinkled. “But you do have to be good at it.”

Joel laughed. “And you are very good at it.” Now that he was up close, it was a little easier to discern Ross’s gender. “You make a very beautiful woman.”

Ross’s smile lit up his eyes. “Why, thank you. I work bloody hard at it.” He tilted his head. “So, if you’re not here in an official capacity…. ”

Joel went with the truth, or at least part of it. “I came to hear you sing.”

Ross opened his mouth to speak, but shut it as the waiter approached with his drink.

Joel took advantage of the opportunity to ask the question that had been on his mind since Ross had brought it up. “So, are you gay?”

Ross sipped his drink before responding. “Yes, I’m gay.” He gazed steadily at Joel. “And you?”

“Straight. Definitely straight.” Joel’s heartbeat sped up a touch.

Ross smiled. “I’m intrigued that you felt the need to add the definitely part.” He leaned back. “So tell me, what rank are you?”

Back on safer ground, Joel breathed more easily. “Detective Constable.”

Ross nodded, not breaking eye contact. “And does a Detective Constable ever get time off to get a coffee somewhere?” Warm brown eyes focused on him.

It took a moment for Ross’s meaning to sink in, and the ground beneath Joel didn’t feel so safe anymore. “Is that…?” He swallowed. “Is that your way of asking me out?”

“What if it is?” Ross’s gaze didn’t waver.

Holy fuck. Joel’s heart pounded. “But… not a date, right?”

Ross gave him a gentle smile. “Only if you want it to be.”

Joel was struggling to get his head around the situation. Because it sounded very much like a date to him.

“Maybe it’s just two friends meeting for a coffee,” Ross suggested quietly.

“But we’re not friends.”

Ross’s smile didn’t falter. “Not yet. Maybe I’d like us to be.” Another tilt of the head. “Would that be so bad? Having me as a friend?”

Joel knew there was nothing wrong with being friends. Nothing at all.

Then why is my heart hammering?

“It’s just a coffee.” Ross clasped his hands together and rested his chin on them again. “Come on. Saturday midmorning. Coffee. What have you got to lose?”

That was a good question. Inside Joel’s head was a whirling mass of chaotic thoughts. Say no. Tell him you’re busy. Say anything as long as it’s not yes.

“Yes,” he blurted out. The instant the word left his lips, Joel froze. Did I really say that?

Ross beamed. “Great. Meet me at ten-thirty at Camden Coffee? It’s just down the road from the railway station.” He bit his lip. “If you wait just a minute, I’ll go get my phone so we can swap numbers. I don’t exactly have anywhere to put a mobile in this getup.” Before Joel could say a word, Ross got up from his chair and walked gracefully toward the side door next to the stage.

Joel stared after him, his pulse racing. Why did I say yes? It was as if his mouth was on autopilot. He told himself Ross was right, that it was just a coffee.

Then why does it feel like so much more?

“Here.” Ross handed him a phone. “Put your number in, and then I’ll send a text.”

It felt like he was in the middle of a dream. Joel stared at the phone, conflicted. “Usually I only give my number to friends.”

“And if I want to be your friend?” Ross regarded him closely. “Unless you have so many friends that your social life is simply chocka. You can never have too many friends.”

Joel gave an internal snort. He could count his true friends on the fingers of one hand.

It can’t hurt. Can it? Joel entered his number and handed back the phone, feeling dazed.

Ross’s fingers danced over the keys. “That’s it. I’ve just set up your phone to receive a year’s notifications from Gay Times magazine.” When Joel gaped at him, Ross’s eyes sparkled with good humour. “Gotcha.”

It took a second or two for Joel to see the funny side. Too long. If that’s how I react to a joke, I really need to chill the hell out. He fixed Ross with a pointed stare. “That’s okay. I’ll get my own back.”

“We’d need to be friends for that to happen,” Ross said practically.

That was when Joel stopped fighting it. What the hell. It’s just coffee.

Ross glanced toward the bar. “Looks like they’re about to take last orders. Can I get you another beer?”

That galvanized Joel into action. “No, thanks. I’d best be off home. I’m up early tomorrow.”

Ross nodded. “You need to catch more bad guys.” He held out his hand. “I’ll see you on Saturday. By the way, if you fancy brunch, they do great bagels. I can highly recommend them.”

Joel shook his hand. “I’ll bear that in mind.”

Ross didn’t release his hand right away. “I’m glad you came back.” His tone was earnest.

Joel couldn’t respond, because in that moment he wasn’t entirely certain if he was glad or not. A set of very different adjectives came immediately to mind. Dazed. Confused. Apprehensive. And one that he couldn’t quite account for….

Excited.

Ross released his hand and took a step back. “I’d better go too. I need to get cleaned up before I leave here.”

“You don’t dress like this outside the club?”

Ross’s eyes gleamed in the lamplight. “No, because that would make me a cross dresser. Outside of the club, I’m just plain Ross.”

“I’ve never seen you in anything other than this outfit, but I’d still hazard a guess that you’re certainly not plain.” Joel couldn’t believe the words that kept slipping from his lips, because they didn’t sound like him. Not at all.

Ross smiled. “My, don’t you have a silver tongue? Flattery will get you everywhere, Detective Constable Hunter. Now I’m really looking forward to Saturday.” He walked off, pausing at the stage door to glance once in Joel’s direction, before disappearing behind it.

For the second time that night, Joel stared after him, his heartbeat still racing.

What the fuck have I done?



Chapter Three


Joel pushed open the glass door of Camden Coffee to the sound of a tinkling bell, and stepped inside, instantly registering the full aroma of freshly brewed coffee. He glanced around the small interior, but there was no sign of Ross yet. Hardly surprising, unless he too made a habit of arriving ten minutes early. There were a couple of small tables that were unoccupied, so he sat in one of the strangest looking chairs he’d ever seen. It was circular, with a flat seat that cut into it, almost like a cone on its side, and supremely comfortable.

This is a mistake. The thought hadn’t left him alone for the previous two days. He still had no clue what had possessed him to agree in the first place. What on earth am I doing, going for a coffee with a complete stranger, who happens to be gay? What’s got into me?

Not for the first time, he secretly harboured the idea that Ross had used some sneaky Jedi mind trick on him.

“What can I get ya, love?”

Behind the counter that took up one corner of the cafe, stood a middle aged woman, with grey curly hair and a cheerful expression.

Joel returned her smile. “I’m waiting for someone. But I have been told to try your bagels.”

She chuckled. “Aw, bless ya. Well, give me an ’oller when you’re ready to order. There’s cake too, if you’ve more of a sweet tooth. Got a new one in just today. Chocolate and Nutella.”

Oh God. If Joel had one weakness, it was cake. Not that he let himself indulge all that often, and when he did succumb, his local gym saw more of him.

He glanced over at the glass cabinet on top of the counter, with different kinds of cake set out, and suddenly foresaw more nights at the gym in his immediate future.

“That sounds wonderful. I might take you up on that.”

Behind him, the bell above the door tinkled, and the woman beamed at the latest arrival. “Hey, sweetheart. About time you got your arse in ’ere. Where have you been?”

The slight figure in a denim jacket and jeans, hair scraped back into a man bun, approached the counter, and the woman leaned across it to kiss his cheek. “Hi, Maggie. Yeah, I’ve been busy. Nice to know you missed me.”

Joel jerked up his head at the sound of that voice, just as the slight man turned to survey the cafe. Ross’s eyes lit up at the sight of Joel. “Hey, you’re early.” He took a quick look toward the rear of the café. “It’s a lovely day. Want to sit outside? There’s a patio out back.”

“Sure.” It was a beautiful mid-September’s day, with clear skies and a warm breeze. Joel stood and walked over to where Ross was waiting.

“I’ll be back inside in a minute when I know what we’re ordering,” Ross told Maggie as he leaned across and grabbed a menu.

“Take your time, love. We’re not exactly heavin’, right?” She beamed at him. “Your friend ’ere might be persuaded to sample some cake.”

Ross laughed. “Working on him already?” He led Joel through the sliding patio doors to a narrow paved courtyard. At the far end were a couple of trees, and potted shrubs and plants, but the main area was taken up with four round glass tables, from the middle of each rose up a tall pole with a square dark blue parasol on top. One of the tables was occupied, so Ross took the one farthest from the door, next to a small, trickling fountain.

“This is really nice.” Joel liked that the patio was unseen from the exterior: you had no idea that it even existed. He sat with his back to the dark brown painted fence, and took the menu Ross proffered. “Sounds like you’re a regular here.”

Ross smiled. “I don’t live that far away, just on Leighton Road. I like to come here once a week. Maggie used to run this place with her husband Dave, but he died a year ago. I think the cafe saved her, to be honest. It kept her busy.” He leaned back. “So… is this a first? Being asked out for a coffee by a guy? Because your reaction on Thursday was sort of… mixed.”

Joel had no clue how to answer.

He studied Ross, who wore a white, slim fitting shirt, the top two buttons undone, untucked from his worn pale jeans. There was little difference between the Satin persona and the young man sitting opposite. Ross had a creamy, clear complexion, his glossy hair pulled tight against his scalp. There was muscle definition in his upper arms, chest and thighs: that much was obvious even on first glance.

“Do I look so different?”

Joel couldn’t miss the amusement in Ross’s voice.

“Not really. You clearly work out.”

Ross smiled. “Now and again. I owe this physique more to my career choice than a life spent in a gym.”

Joel couldn’t think how being a singer would result in the well-toned man he saw before him. His facial expression must have betrayed his confusion, because Ross chuckled. “I trained as a dancer. Ballet, jazz, tap, modern. I still keep up with the odd ballet class, because one of these days, I aim to dance with a ballet company.”

Joel could see how Ross’s lean form would be perfect for ballet. “So how did you end up singing?”

Ross shrugged. “It pays the bills—well, some of them. I’ve always sung, right from when I was old enough to borrow my mum’s hairbrush and use it as a mic, prancing about in front of her mirror.”

Joel laughed. “Go on—what did you sing?”

Ross flushed. “We can talk about that once we’ve ordered some coffee. How do you like yours?”

“Americano, black, no sugar.”

Ross grinned. “Let me guess—you’re sweet enough?”

“Oh, I wouldn’t describe myself as sweet. I just get my sugar intake from other sources.” Joel gave a half smile. “Such as, a slice of chocolate and Nutella cake.”

Ross’s eyes widened. “A man of taste. I may join you.” He rose to his feet. “I’ll be right back.” With that, he re-entered the café.

Joel took a moment to breathe. So far, it was going better than he’d anticipated. Not that he’d had much idea what to expect. Ross appeared laid-back and easy to talk to. But still, a stranger had asked him out, and no matter how many times Ross denied it, Joel still had the impression that he’d been asked out on a date.

Why did he ask me? Did I give him the impression that I was interested? He didn’t want to think that something he’d done—even unconsciously—had somehow given Ross the idea that Joel’s interests lay in men. It was bad enough that Trish had apparently noticed something: that conversation still laid heavy on his mind. Am I that obvious, or was she just teasing?

God, he hoped it was the latter.

When movement caught his attention, Joel looked up as Ross retook his seat facing him. Instinctively, Joel made the first move, rather than wait to see what direction Ross took.

“So, this singing that you’re obviously embarrassed to talk about…”

Ross laughed quietly, covering his mouth. “Oh God. I was six, okay? What makes it worse is that I swear my mum has video of me doing it. I have visions of turning on the TV one of these days, and seeing me on the screen, because she’s sent it to one of those shows that pays for embarrassing videos.”

Joel laughed out loud. “Now you have to tell me.”

Ross bit his lip. “Say You’ll Be There, by the Spice Girls.”

And just like that, Joel had this image in his head of a cute little boy, be-bopping along, shaking everything he had and pouring out the song into a hairbrush. He did his best not to grin, but God, it was difficult. He cleared his throat. “Did you, er, do all the high kicks?”

Ross snorted. “Man, I did the kicks, the sashaying, the whole works.”

Joel had to know. “Who was your favourite Spice Girl?”

Ross flushed. “Baby. She was cute.” He shook his head. “First and only time I fell for a blonde.”

“Your mum must be very proud to have such a talented son.” As soon as he’d said the words, Joel knew he’d put his foot in it. Ross’s face clouded over, and the skin around his mouth tightened.

“If I’d just been a singer, then maybe, but no. I had to go and be a dancer. A boy who wanted to do ballet. God forbid. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, I was gay.” Ross scowled. “Did you ever see that film, Billy Elliott?” Joel nodded. “Remember the ending, when his family go to watch him when he’s older, and he’s performing on stage? Remember how supportive they all are? Well, that’s bullshit. That’s not reality. At least, it wasn’t in my case.”

Joel waited, remaining silent. It was clear whatever was coming hurt Ross a great deal.

“I think if it had been a case of me wanting to become some world famous dancer, then yes, maybe she’d have been proud. But a gay ballet dancer was apparently one stereotype too many.” He gave a shrug. “That was fine. At least I knew where I stood. I caught the first train to London. Did as many jobs as I could find. Went to dance classes.” Ross raised his chin and met Joel’s gaze head on. “I’m not saying it was easy, but I survived.”

Joel doubted it was as simple as that. “How old are you, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“Twenty-six.” He gave a faltering smile. “See? I’m made of sterner stuff than you might think when you first see me.”

Joel had to agree. There was an inner strength to Ross that he was only seeing now.

Ross expelled a long push of air. “Sorry. I don’t know why I told you all that. Not something I usually do, believe me.”

Joel smiled. “Maybe you trust me. I am a police officer, after all, and everyone knows you can trust a policeman.” He waited for a second or two, and then grinned. To his relief, Ross laughed.

“Oh, I don’t know about that. I’ve met some very dodgy coppers in my short time.”

Joel thought back on Ross’s earlier words. “You said singing pays some of the bills. Do you have more than one job?”

He nodded. “I teach dance at several high schools, as part of their enrichment programmes. I go in with one popular song, show them some moves, then put them into groups where they work out a performance. The kids with the most promise, I help them put together a routine with more complicated moves. They have one lesson per week for six weeks. Then I change groups and/or schools.”

“Sounds like it could be fun.”

Ross’s face lit up. “Oh, it is. Some of those kids are really talented, and we always have a laugh. But you know what I like best? When there are kids who sit out at first, telling me they’re clumsy, or they’re not flexible or graceful enough. They’re the best students, because when you show them just how much they can do, when you help them to believe in themselves, even for a little while? That’s amazing.” He shook his head. “You often get kids who’ve been bullied because of the way they look, their size, their lack of sporting prowess. To build them up, even a little, makes it worthwhile.”

“’Ere you go, gents.” Maggie bustled across the courtyard, carrying a tray laden with two huge white mugs, and two slices of the most delicious-looking cake Joel had ever encountered. She set the tray down on the table and patted Ross fondly on the shoulder. “Yell if you need anything, sweetheart.”

As she left them to it, Joel watched her departure with a smile. “She likes you.”

Ross inclined his head toward the patio doors. “She’s one special lady. She and Dave let me use their spare room for a year when I first moved to London. I was only allowed to leave when she knew I had someplace permanent to stay, and I was making enough money to live on. She found me a room in a shared house, and she gave me a few hours’ work in the cafe when I needed it. And when Dave died, there were quite a few people just like me who stood by his grave and wept along with her, people they’d helped over the years.” He straightened and looked Joel in the eye. “Okay. Enough about me. Tell me about Detective Constable Joel Hunter.”

“What do you want to know?” Joel took a forkful of cake and moaned. “God, this is amazing!”

“Isn’t it?” Ross took a mouthful and sighed in contentment. He swallowed, and gazed at Joel. “How long have you been with the police?”

“Since I was nineteen. It was what I always wanted to do. My dad was a sergeant, and my granddad too.” He smiled. “I guess it runs in the family.”

“But you’re a DC? Have you been one for long?”

“Not really. I was happy being the bobby on the beat, you know? Getting to know a neighbourhood, the people who lived there… But after ten years, there was less need of beat work, and more serious crime taking place. I made the decision to apply to CID, and became a DC.”

“Do you think you’ll stay a DC? Or are you looking for promotion?” Joel chuckled, and Ross cocked his head to one side. “What did I say?”

“I was only recently thinking about change. I can take my sergeant’s exam anytime I’m ready. Maybe it’s finally time.” Joel took a sip of coffee and sighed with pleasure. “That’s good.” He regarded Ross with a smile. “Seems I’m not the only one who’s good at getting others to talk.”

Ross laughed. “And maybe we’re just two guys in desperate need of coffee and a decent conversation.”

“Now that makes sense.” Both of them fell silent while they devoured the cake. When every last crumb had vanished, and not a drop of coffee was left, Joel pushed away his plate. “That was delicious. I could eat that all over again.” He gave Ross a rueful smile. “Only then I’d have to go to the gym to work off those inches I’d feel sure were forming around my middle.”

Ross looked him up and down. “I don’t think you have anything to worry about.”

Joel peered at him. “I think that was a compliment.” Ross’s only response was an enigmatic smile. Time for another change of topic. “Can I ask you something?”

“Sure.”

“Your dress. Why satin?”

Ross let out his breath slowly. “There’s something about the feel of the fabric next to my skin, something… sensual. But more than that, when I wear those dresses—and I have a collection of them—I feel more… confident.” He paused for a moment. “If I’m going someplace where I’m out of my element, or I feel nervous, or apprehensive… then I wear something satin next to my skin. No one else sees it, because it isn’t for anyone else. It’s for me.”

“Such as what?”

Ross shrugged. “Satin underwear, a slip, something that could be hidden.”

“Are you wearing satin now?” Joel joked. Ross gave the impression of quiet confidence, had done since he’d walked into the café.

To his surprise, Ross hesitated for a moment, and then nodded.

“But… why? We were just meeting for a coffee, right?”

Ross lowered his gaze.

“Ross?” Joel’s hairs were prickling his arms again.

Finally Ross looked up. “I spotted you the first night you came to the club. I watched you from that stage the next three times, and I thought you looked… interesting. When the police arrested Rose, you want to know what my first thought was? ‘Well, damn, no more cute copper.’ Because I wanted to talk to you, to find out more about you.”

Joel stared at him, his throat suddenly tight.

“And when you came in on Thursday? Initially I was over the moon, because, hey, you were back. But it took me forever to work up enough courage to walk over to your table. And I left it until right at the last minute too.”

“Yeah, I was actually about to leave when you appeared on stage. I thought you weren’t performing that night.” Joel didn’t know what to make of Ross’s revelations.

Ross nodded. “See, I had to say something. Coffee was the first thing that came into my mind.” He sagged in his chair, as though the confession had robbed him of all his energy. “Are you sorry you came now?”

Joel took a moment to regain his composure. He knew what Ross was saying—that Ross felt at least the tiniest bit of attraction toward him—but right then his brain didn’t seem able to compute that part. So he went with as much honesty as he could muster.

“No, I’m not. I had a laugh, some great coffee, and some amazing cake. Those are all pluses in my book.”

Ross sat upright, his eyes focused on Joel. “Okay, then here’s the million dollar question. Would you consider doing it again sometime?”

Oh. God.

Joel blinked. He swallowed, unsure of how to respond. What surprised the hell out of him when he opened his mouth to say no, was that his first words were, “Maybe? We’ll see.”

Ross’s face brightened. “Seriously? I can live with that.” He grinned.

Whatever else he’d been about to say was lost when Ross’s phone pinged. He pulled it from his jacket pocket and sighed. “And that’s my signal to go. My roommate wants to know where I am.”

“Roommate?” For one absurd moment, Joel’s stomach clenched.

Ross nodded. “I share a flat with Helena. She’s a singer too, but I’m not in her league.” His chest swelled. “She sings in musicals in the West End.” Then his attention returned to his phone. “But she’s a little ditzy sometimes, and right now that means she’s locked herself out. Again.” He stood up and held out his hand. “Thank you for joining me. It was great.”

Joel shook his hand, aware yet again of that dazed feeling stealing over him. Why does he have this effect on me? When Ross released it, he gave Joel one last smile and made a run for the patio doors. Joel re-entered the café just in time to see him waving goodbye to Maggie, before exiting the main door.

Maggie stared after him, shaking her head. “That boy.” She turned to stare at Joel. “Are you two friends?”

Joel gazed at the glass door. “It appears so.” He glanced at Maggie and smiled.

“Then you watch out for him,” Maggie told him sternly. “He needs a good friend, that one.” Then her eyes sparkled. “And if you can find him a boyfriend, even better, because he needs someone to love. Someone who’ll stick by him.”

What came to Joel’s mind were the songs Ross sang.

What if they weren’t just torch songs?

What if they were a reflection of what lay on his heart?

Joel took a deep breath. “I’ll see what I can do.”



Chapter Four


When Ross turned the corner onto Leighton Road, he spotted Helena leaning against the railing in front of their flat. Her shopping bags were at her feet and her arms were crossed, head down. As he got closer, she raised her chin and gave him a look that was a mixture of embarrassment and annoyance. Helena grabbed her bags with one hand and then straightened, holding up a warning finger. “Not a word, or I’ll make your balls into a necklace.”

Ross winced. “Ouch. I wasn’t going to say anything.”

Helena merely arched her eyebrows. “Yeah, right. Ross foregoes the chance to take the piss out of his poor, forgetful roommate. Someone call The Guardian. This is front page stuff.”

Ross chuckled and got out his key. “Anyone would think this was something you do frequently.” He paused for effect. “Which of course it is, but let’s not dwell on that, right?” He held open the door for her, and Helena stepped past him into the hallway. “How many times is this now?” He held his breath and waited for the explosion, knowing full well he could diffuse that with a couple of well-chosen words.

She barged past him into the kitchen. “I thought you weren’t going to men—” Her voice began to climb.

“Now now, remember your throat.” He grinned. “What will happen if tonight’s the night that Celinde Shoenmaker comes down with laryngitis, and her understudy can’t go on because she strained her voice yelling at her cheeky but well-meaning roommate? Who’s gonna play Christine?”

Helena snorted as she unpacked the shopping. “Well, it certainly won’t be Moira Taylor. She couldn’t sing her way out of a paper bag, and that vibrato of hers would shake all the windows in the theatre.”

“God, you can be a catty bitch.” Ross shrugged off his jacket and placed it over the back of one of the dining chairs.

Seconds later Helena followed him, uttering a low growl when she saw the chair. “And you were obviously brought up in a house with no hooks or hangers.” Helena yanked the jacket free and took it to the tiny cupboard that served as their cloakroom. Then she went back into the kitchen.

“Blah blah blah.” It was a common refrain. Ross contemplated having another coffee before his dance practice. Strictly speaking he should be drinking lots of water, but the Americano had given him a taste for it. He filled the kettle and glanced over his shoulder. “Making coffee. Want one?”

“I’ll have green tea, please.” Helena closed the cabinets in their small but functional kitchen and leaned against the fridge, the largest object in the room. “And where have you been? I didn’t expect you to be home so quickly. I was anticipating waiting for a lot longer.”

“I went for a coffee.”

“Oh, is that what they’re calling it these days?” Her eyes twinkled.

“Funny girl. I went to Camden Coffee to meet that copper I told you about.” Ross set out two mugs.

She stilled. “The one who was in the club?”

“The same.” When Helena remained silent, he turned to look at her. “What?” He spooned coffee into one of the mugs. She was still quiet. “Go on, you know you’re dying to say something.”

“Just be careful, all right?”

He opened his eyes wide. “It was just a coffee!”

Helena nodded slowly. “Mm-hmm. And the last guy was ‘just a burger.’ The one before him was ‘just a film’… That’s how it always starts with you, darlin’. An innocent coffee, a visit to the cinema, but soon it’s passionate fucking, followed by ‘Why doesn’t he call / text me anymore?’”

“Wow, you don’t mince your words, do you?” He wasn’t about to tell her she was wrong. He couldn’t do that. He was well aware of his track record.

“I’m sorry, Ross, but it’s always the same. You meet some guy who’s only out for all he can get—namely, your delectable bod—whereas you fall head over heels in love with him. Everything comes to an abrupt end, resulting in you crying Prosecco-flavoured tears into your pillow because you’ve drunk yourself to sleep.” She tilted her head. “Is that a fair analysis?”


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