The older man swiveled and looked out the window, drumming the fingers of his right hand on the desk.

"You're out of your fucking mind, Jesse."

The younger man sighed. They'd had this discussion before.

"I've explained why I want out." He paused, waiting for the other to look at him. When Sid turned his chair back toward the desk, he continued. "You know I'm grateful for what you've done for me."

"I fucking made you!"

"Yeah, well, to a point. But right now I can't help thinking your objections are mostly due to the loss of your commission."

"You're not my only client, kid. I'll do just fine."

"Good. And so will I."

"But where'll you go?"

It was Jesse's turn to look out the window. A faint smile on his face, he said, "There are universities everywhere. Maybe it'll be somewhere in the boonies."

Sid's shoulders drooped. "I think you really mean it this time."

"I've meant it every time. I've just let you talk me out of it before."

"You have bookings, commitments, you know."

"Yeah. For about six months. I'll honor them. Just don't sign me up for anything new. I'll be finished in the Spring. And that'll give me time to decide where I'm going, apply, and all that shit."

"You know, Jesse, if you leave the business, there's no way you can come back. People have short memories."

"Believe me, I won't want to."

"Your sainted mother will be turning in her grave."

"What do you mean, 'sainted'? I'm not Catholic and you're Jewish!" And, Jesse thought, more bitch than saint.

Sid cocked his head to one side and raised his eyebrows. "Well, it was worth a try."

Chapter 1

Ray Stonesifer was enjoying the walk. On this last Saturday in April the weather was spring-like. The sun was bright and a few puffy little clouds dotted the blue sky. It would have been a Hallmark day if it hadn't been for the chilly breeze which reminded the residents of Colby County that snow in May wasn't unheard of.

Although he ran as often as he could at a local gym, he didn't often just go for a stroll. Nor was he doing so that morning. He had a mission, the result of a phone call he'd received from Brody Cox a couple of days before.

"Hi Brody." Ray wondered why Cox was calling. He knew Brody's family owned flower shops in Colby and Higgins. His parents had used Petal Pushers for their flower needs all his life. He remembered Brody from high school, though Brody had been several years behind him. He knew Brody had been in the Marines and was now a student at Colby State. His partner, Dave Cromer, had been Ray's classmate at Higgins High. But these days he didn't feel he really knew either of them well.

"I hear you're looking for an apartment," Brody said.

He was, but after making the announcement to his parents earlier in the week that he was moving out, he'd told only his friend and former mentor, Jim Grant. But Jim could have told his partner Jake, and word does get around the gay community in Colby.

"Yeah, I am. Decided it was past time for me to get a place of my own."

"I can understand that. And that's the reason I'm calling. If you're not looking for anything too fancy, I know of a place. Are you considering staying in Higgins?"

"I was leaning toward Colby, but Higgins is okay."

"Well, the place where I used to live is available. And it's cheap. Mrs. Brill, the landlady, doesn't charge a lot of rent, and in return she expects her tenant to take out the trash, keep the sidewalks shoveled in the winter, and a few things like that. She's a sweet old gal, she's hard of hearing, so she never complains about noise, and she minds her own business."

"Sounds interesting, Brody. Is the place furnished?"

"Well, I understand there's some furniture in it, but you might want to buy your own as you get time. I bought second-hand stuff when I moved in there and left most of it when I moved out. Joe, have you met him? He's the guy who moved in after me. He had to replace some of it - which he may have taken when he moved in with Micah. So you'd probably better plan on buying some things."

"I think I can manage that, especially since you say the rent's low." Ray was thinking that with the salary increase that came along with his promotion to sergeant plus the money he'd been saving while living at home, he could afford to furnish an apartment. And he already had a recliner, a computer desk, PC, flat screen TV, and stereo he could bring from his parents' place. "Want to give me the address?"

Brody told him where Mrs. Brill's house was. It was on a street not too far from his parents' home.

"Should I call for an appointment?"

"I don't think you'll need one. She's almost always there. You might tell her I gave you her name. She'll be impressed that you're a cop, but there's no harm in her knowing that I sent you."

"Great! I'll go over there Saturday morning and check it out."

"Like I said, it's nothing fancy. But it's quiet and comfortable. And it has a nice view of her back yard."

"Thanks for the tip, Brody. Say 'Hi" to Dave for me."

"Will do."

It was just after ten o'clock when he arrived at the address he was seeking. The two-story house looked as if it might have been built in the 1920's, but it appeared to be well-maintained. The big old maple trees on either side of the front walk had baby leaves just beginning to show. A forsythia was radiantly yellow at one corner of the house, and a dogwood sparkled with white at the other. This was spring at its best, Ray decided.

He was halfway up the walk when the front door opened and a guy stepped out, pulling it shut behind him. He was about the same height as Ray, an inch over six feet, and thinnish. His shaggy dark-brown hair was clean, but it looked almost fashionably unkempt. He apparently hadn't shaved for two or three days. As the two men came closer together, Ray saw that the other man had pale, grayish-blue eyes and high cheekbones. A blue bandanna folded into a strip about two inches wide was wrapped around his head. He wore a gray tee, faded jeans, sneakers, and an old blue hoodie which he was in the process of zipping when he looked up and saw Ray.

"Hi," the guy said. "Can I help you?"

"I'm, um, here about the apartment?"

"Oh, sorry, buddy. It's rented." And the guy really did look sorry. "I'm the new tenant."

"Oh, well." Ray cast about in his mind for something else to say. "Um, thanks anyway."

The stranger gave him a beautiful smile. God! He was gorgeous. Scruffy looking, but you just knew he'd clean up well.

There was an awkward moment when apparently neither could think of anything to say.

"I'm about to go for a run," the stranger said, almost apologetically.

"Watch out for traffic," Ray said. As a policeman, he'd too often seen what happened when a runner darted into a street without looking right and left.

"Yeah." He gave Ray a graceful little wave and jogged away.

Ray watched the guy's back for a moment. Then he turned and headed for home. He had made a list of rentals that had been advertised in the Colby Courier but he hadn't brought it with him.

Oh, well, he thought, it would be more convenient to live in Colby since that's where I work. It hasn't been a long commute from Higgins, but gas prices being what they are, Colby would be better.

* * *

When he got back to the house he'd lived in all his life, his mother said, "Where've you been dear? I didn't hear you go out."

"I was checking out an apartment a couple of blocks over, but it's already rented."

"You know, sweetheart, there's no reason to move out. I thought you were comfortable here."

When he was at the police academy, his parents had converted the third floor for him. If you didn't mind sloped ceilings and dormers, it had a lot of space. There was a bath but no kitchen. He made do with a microwave and a mini-fridge. And he'd lived there from the time he'd come back to Colby County as a cop.

Finally, though, the lack of privacy had become too much. His parents were comfortable with his being gay. He'd come out to them when he was a teen, and they'd always been supportive. But since there was no separate entrance to his living space, they, especially his mother, always kept track of his coming and going. And, despite their accepting attitude, he'd never been comfortable bringing guys back to his place, having to run the gauntlet, introducing his potential fuck partner to his folks.

When he received his promotion to sergeant, he'd told his folks that he was going to look for a place of his own. His mother had been unhappy about it. But later that evening, his father had said, "It's about time, Ray."

"What, Pops, you want me out of here? Why didn't you say so?"

"Oh, no, son! I've just thought for a long time that you needed your own space. Any young man does. I've often wondered . . . well, let's not go there. But I'm happy with your decision. And I'll help your mother come to terms with it."

So Ray grabbed the list he'd copied from the newspaper, made a few calls to line up some inspections, got in the SUV he'd recently made the final payment on, and headed for Colby.

* * *

He found something suitable in Colby that afternoon. It was one of two upstairs apartments in a four-unit building in an area some distance from the CSU campus. The owner, who wouldn't rent to university students, was happy to find that his new tenant was a policeman.

After work that week he bought a king-size bed with matching dresser and night stand. He also bought a sofa and matching chair, a couple of end tables, and a coffee table for the living area. There was an eating area between the living room and kitchen, but he decided that temporarily at least he would eat at the bar, for which a couple of stools had been left by the last tenant - or he could eat off the coffee table and watch TV.

It wasn't deluxe, but it was his.

There was still the stuff to move out of his parents' house. He'd need some help with that. One of his work buddies might be willing. Then he thought of Blake Bellamy.

He wasn't sure how to get in touch with him. He'd heard Blake had moved in with Adam Craig, so he looked in the CSU directory he kept by his phone and punched in the professor's number. It was a weekday evening, so he should be at home.

"Adam Craig."

"Dr. Craig, this is Ray Stonesifer. How are you, sir?"

"I'm fine, Ray, thank you. And I should say 'sergeant.' Congratulations."

"You heard about my promotion?"

"Word gets around quickly."

"Thanks for the good wishes."

"You're most welcome. So what can I do for you?"

"Actually, sir, I'd like to speak with Blake if he's there."

"Sergeant, I'm not one of your superiors. You and I know each other through Tom and Adrian's group as social friends. Please call me Adam."

"Oh, right. Adam."

He heard a chuckle on the other end.

"Here's Blake."

"Congratulations, sarge!" Blake said.

"Thanks, man. How have you been? Haven't seen you in a while."

"Good, good. And you're right. Last time I saw you was when you helped me pull that stunt on Adam on New Year's."

"It must have worked. I'm glad you two are together."

"He says he'd already figured out how he felt about me, but I think seeing you and me together, especially when we came in with your arm around me - well, that was just the nudge he needed. I owe you!"

Ray heard Adam saying something in the background, but he couldn't make out what it was.

"So, Ray, what's up?"

"I'm calling to ask a favor."

"What do you need?"

"I've finally found an apartment, and I was wondering if you could help me with the move."

"Sure, dude. Glad to. When?"

"Are you free this Saturday?"

There was a pause at the other end. Blake was apparently conferring with Adam.

"No problem. Adam wants to know if he can help, too."

"Tell him thanks, but there's not really all that much to do. I've got a TV, a recliner, my computer, the computer desk, my clothes, and some boxes of books and DVD's and stuff."

"Let's see, you live in Higgins, don't you?"

"Yeah, but you don't need to drive out here. I'll come and get you if you'll give me your address."

Blake supplied the information. Ray thanked him. And they hung up.

* * *

It took three trips in the SUV to move the big stuff, the things Ray needed help with. As he told Blake, he could always stop by his folks' place and take the boxes as he had time.

"Let me spring for lunch," he'd said.

"Okay," Blake said, fishing his cell phone out of his jeans pocket. "Just let me call Adam."

"Where do you want to go?"

"A burger would be fine."

So they went through the drive-up line at BK and took the food to Ray's new place. They sat on the stools and had burgers, fries, and sodas at the kitchen counter.

Ray raised his cup of cola and said, "Thanks for the help. And thanks for being the first person to share a meal with me in my new digs."

"I hope you'll be happy here, dude. And that you find a good man to share it."

"Thanks, Blake."

They talked a while, catching up. Blake told Ray the story about the inscription on the flyleaf of the old book Adam had bought and about their trip to New York to meet the man who'd written it. Ray was impressed with Adam's "detective work" in identifying "Sonny Boy," who'd written the note in the book.

Then Blake talked a bit about how happy he was with the forty-year-old Adam.

"He worried a lot at first about the age difference, but I think I've finally convinced him it doesn't matter."

A few minutes later, Blake picked up a fry, dipped it into his catsup, and then let it dangle as he asked, "So, how has your life changed since you made sergeant? Are you getting any?"

Ray chuckled. "Not very damn much. The last sex I had was in the cab of a pickup."

Blake grinned and shook his head. "That's just sad, man."

"I think that may have been the last straw, the thing that finally got me off my ass and convinced me to find this place."

"So now gay Colby had better look out. There's a new stud on the loose!"

"It takes more than just having an apartment. The pool of unattached gay guys isn't really that big. And you'd be surprised how many don't want to get involved with a cop."

"That sucks, man!" Blake said.

Later, when Ray drove him back to Adam's house, Blake said, getting out of the SUV, "Tell ya what I'm gonna do, Ray. I'll keep my eyes open. See if I can fix you up with somebody."

"You make it sound like I'm really hard up."

"Well, aren't you?"

"Maybe you're right," Ray said with a wry grin. "Say 'hi' to the prof for me. I'm glad you and Adam seem to be working out so well. And thanks, man. I appreciate the help and it was good to get caught up."

Instead of going back to the apartment, he headed for the mall. He'd realized while eating take-out with Blake that he needed dishes, pots and pans, a toaster - all kinds of kitchen stuff.

* * *

It was a mid-May Saturday night at Nellie's. Ray was beginning to feel more at home in his new apartment. The new furniture had been delivered and most of the boxes were unpacked. So he'd decided to drop by Colby's only gay bar and see what was going on. He walked the mile from his apartment to the bar so he wouldn't have to worry about driving home afterward.

The University's spring term was over. The seniors were graduated and gone. The first summer term would start on Monday. It should have been quiet, but the place was surprisingly busy. There were no empty booths, so Ray took a stool at the bar and ordered a Boston Lager.

As he sat there sipping his beer and watching the busy scene, someone slipped onto the next stool. About Ray's height. Blond. Early twenties. Obviously a CSU student. After placing his order with the bartender the younger guy turned to Ray, looked him up and down, grinned, and said, "You're the cop, aren't you?"

Ray looked the guy straight in the eye and said, "Yeah, and you're the slut, right?"

Unfazed, the younger man said, "Bernie Caldwell. And let's just say I know all about making guys feel good." He raised an eyebrow. "You know, I have a thing for older men, especially redheads."

Before Ray had a chance to reply, a large hand came down on Caldwell's shoulder.

"Get lost, kid. This guy's with me."

Ray looked up. And up. The voice had come from a head the top of which had to be at least 6'5" from the floor. The head had black hair, brown eyes, and a pronounced five o'clock shadow.

The last time he'd seen it had been when the two had made out in the guy's truck a while back.

"Spike! Good to see you, man! What's it been, three months?"

Bernie wasted no time getting away, and Spike took over the stool he'd been sitting on.

"Yeah. Look, there's a booth about to be available over there. Why don't you go grab it? I'll get a beer and come join you. Or were you waiting for someone?"

"Nope. I'll go hold the booth." As he walked through the crowd of customers, he felt his cock begin to chub up. Spike seemed to have that effect on him. He slid into the booth and thought back to the last time he and Spike had been at Nellie's. This evening might turn out much better than that one had.

After a brief wait, Spike showed up with a mug of draft and a double-sized order of onion rings.

"So, did you find a place to live?"

The only other time the two men had seen each other Spike had said he was staying with friends.

"Nope. I'm still living with my buddy and his wife."

He didn't volunteer further information, so Ray didn't pursue the topic.

As they had done on the previous occasion, however, the two talked easily. This time Ray learned that Spike had graduated from college in California with a degree in sociology but that he'd never actually worked in the field.

"I hadn't figured out what I wanted to do when I grew up," he said with a grin. "And I don't think I know yet."

It turned out he'd done all kinds of things in the past five years. He'd been assistant manager of a McDonald's, a tutor at one of those places that, for a stiff fee, will tutor kids who aren't doing well in school, a summer worker keeping the trails clear in a national park.

"Hell," he'd said with his infectious smile, "I even shoveled shit on a dude ranch for a while."

"What are you doing in Colby?"

"I'm working for Brown, handling packages in their warehouse. For the moment."

Spike changed the subject by asking Ray about his work. He remembered that Ray had been promoted to sergeant not long before their previous meeting and asked how the new rank and responsibilities were going.

They had another beer and kept on talking.

Ray thought he could feel heat radiating from Spike's body, despite the fact that Nellie's AC was blasting to mitigate the heat from all those bodies on what had turned out to be a warm night for May. As they chatted, he studied the other man. Spike wasn't handsome, but his face was expressive and his eyes kept changing from amber to brown and back.

Although he'd never seen Spike with his clothes off, Ray was pretty sure the guy's burly body would be well covered with dark hair. He was a bear. A really nice bear.

When Spike suggested a third beer, Ray said, "Like it or not, I'm a cop. I'm guessing you're driving your truck tonight. And if that's true, you shouldn't be having more beer."

Spike smiled. "Are you concerned about having to arrest me, sergeant? Or did you have something else in mind?"

"Well, this time I have a place we could go. My apartment's a lot more comfortable than your truck. At least for some activities."

"Why," Spike said, doing his best Southern belle imitation, "I'd just love to see your new apartment!"

* * *

The big guy turned out to be a gentle, caring lover. He seemed to derive great satisfaction from making his partner feel good. He slowly petted, stroked, kissed, and licked Ray, who reveled in the pampering.

"Honey, your skin is so pale and white it looks like marble," he'd said. "But marble's cold, and you're soft and warm. Soft in a good way, that is. I can tell you work out."

When, after what seemed like hours of delicious foreplay, Ray was on the verge of screaming, Spike took the lube from the bedside table and began to put it on his pucker.

"Grab some latex, baby, and suit up. I've never been fucked by the law before. Well," he chuckled, "not literally."

Ray paced himself, wanting to prolong the experience of being inside Spike for as long as possible. He loved looking down into the smiling face, the warm, brown eyes. He loved the way Spike could use his ass muscles to tease and stimulate Ray's dick.

When, much too soon, he released into the condom, he collapsed onto the big hairy chest and nuzzled into the fuzz there. Spike smelled faintly of cedar or pine or something evergreen. It was nice. He could easily have drifted off.

After he'd caught his breath, though, he asked, "It's your turn. Which end of me do you want?" He was a little disappointed when Spike asked for his mouth. But he gave the big bear the best blow job he knew how to deliver. Spike's moans and his constant caressing of Ray's head made clear that he was happy.

Ray went to sleep happily, snuggled in Spike's arms. When he woke up, he was lying with his back to his friend, and he could feel Spike's morning hardness poking his butt.

He rolled over to find Spike awake.

"I'll make us some breakfast, but would you fuck me first?"

"Yeah, I've already peed, so I'm rarin' to go."

"Well, let me pee. Don't go 'way."

As he had been earlier, Spike was solicitous, worried that he'd hurt Ray with his big cock, making sure that Ray was well stretched and ready to take him. He was so gentle that Ray had to beg him to do it faster and harder and deeper. Thus urged, Spike began to vary his position, being sure to hit Ray's sweet spot often, speeding up and slowing down, driving him crazy.

They came almost simultaneously. That had never happened to Ray before. In fact, no one had ever fucked the cum out of him before.

When Spike pulled out, he removed the condom, tied it off, and put it in the wastebasket near the night stand. Then they snuggled together and went back to sleep.

It wasn't until about ten o'clock that they got up, showered, and dressed together.

After Ray had fixed breakfast and Spike was preparing to leave, he said, "Thanks, big guy. This has been a sweet time. Can we do it again soon?"

Spike kissed Ray's forehead. "Sorry, buddy. I don't think that will be possible. I'm leaving later in the week."

Deeply disappointed, Ray asked, "But why?"

Spike smiled. "Don't like working for Big Brown. Not much impressed with northwestern Ohio. I guess it's time to move on."

Ray wrote his cell number on a slip of paper and handed it to Spike. "I don't have a landline yet. But I always have the cell with me except when I'm in the shower. Call me, huh?"

"I'm not very good about that kind of thing, baby. But you take care. Watch out for the bad guys."

They hugged and kissed, and Spike was gone. Big guy, he said to himself, whatever it is you're looking for, I sure hope you find it.

That day the new apartment seemed empty. Ray didn't feel like unpacking the last of the boxes. He turned on the TV, watched the Tigers play somebody for a while, and turned it off.

Later he couldn't even remember who the opponent had been.