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Being an openly gay detective in Birmingham comes with its share of problems. For one, the pay is awful. For another, Jake always gets stuck with the crappy undercover jobs. Like posing as a prostitute to catch the new crime boss in town—a man notorious for rough sex with pretty young rentboys.
Jake’s latest op is fraught with difficulties, all of them men. Like his partner, Mac, who he’s secretly fancied for months. And his new client, Graham, who he keeps sleeping with for reasons far beyond maintaining his cover. And of course there’s the target, Frank Warren, who’s much harder to lure than anyone had anticipated.
The longer the op drags on, the tougher it gets for Jake to juggle his own needs with those of the job. They may be closing in on Warren, but Jake’s heart—and his sense of right and wrong—are slipping through his fingers. Mac is there to back him up, but is he really the man Jake needs? Tough to know among all those lies Jake's been telling himself and everyone else.
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Vice came in always at the door of necessity, not at the door of inclination.
“How the fuck did I get landed with this?” Jake knew he was grumbling to Mac again, but he felt like grumbling, dammit. His back ached from so much standing, his feet hurt from being pinched into cowboy boots that were at least a size too small, and most of all he was bored. Bored bored bored. Bored of standing on the same street corner half the night, bored of staring at the same brick wall, bored of having nothing to read and no one to talk to—except for the occasional stolen moment with his partner. They’d replaced his mobile phone with a cheap, app-less throwaway because his own was police issue and too easy to spot, and he could hardly pull out a newspaper or a book. The punters weren’t keen on intelligence when it came to choosing rentboys.
He knew the answer to his question, anyway. He’d got landed with this the same way he got landed with so many other undercover jobs: because he was the only openly gay copper on the local force. He didn’t exactly shout it from the rooftops, but he was a member of the Gay Police Association, he went on the occasional Gay Pride march, and most unavoidable of all, his senior officers knew. It had seemed important when he’d first joined the force not to hide his true nature, but times like tonight left him wishing he’d been more discreet. Then someone else might be propped against a lamppost in nothing more than jeans and a flimsy T, acting as bait for the target they had in mind. A particularly nasty target called Frank Warren, who’d muscled in on the local drug scene a few months back and flooded the streets with cheap cocaine. A target who’d so far eluded their every attempt to catch him and who took great delight in taunting them.
His latest effort had been to infiltrate the school which was only yards from the police station’s front door and get about a third of the pupils there hooked. Jake’s inspector hadn’t seen the funny side of that, or of the conversation he’d had with the school’s headmistress, and had put Jake to work. Jake, because the only thing they really knew about Frank Warren was that he liked good-looking young men and preferred to buy them in.
If Jake had kept his mouth shut about being gay, someone else could have been kicking his heels on this street corner. Someone like Paul McKee, known to one and all as Mac. Mac, who provided backup on these undercover ops; who was a decent mate; who was standing here listening with the utmost patience to his latest rant. He’d be perfect in the role. He was handsome enough in a strong-jawed, manly way, and he looked terrific in jeans and cowboy boots. Sadly, Mac wasn’t Frank Warren’s type, and he himself was. He scowled and kicked the lamppost. “So go on, then. Why do I get landed with all the really crap stuff?”
“Because you’re jail bait. The inspector would hardly pick you if you looked like Quasimodo.” It was a serious enough reply, but made with the hint of a twinkle in Mac’s blue eyes. A twinkle that Jake knew well and could respond to, even when his feet hurt and he felt like shit.
He chuckled. “That your way of saying I’m good looking?”
“Dunno if I’d go that far, sweet pea. Too many compliments and you’ll get a swelled head.”
“Yeah, yeah.” He wasn’t sure his head was most likely to swell if Mac kept on looking at him like that. He’d had the hots for his sort-of-partner for months, but wisely kept his mouth shut. Mac had a reputation as a ladies’ man, and their friendship—and Mac’s support on these undercover assignments—was too valuable to risk.
A car dawdled along the opposite side of the street, slow and purposeful enough to catch both men’s professional attention.
“What’s this?” Mac muttered. “Don’t tell me it’s our Frank?”
But Jake shook his head as the car’s front window wound down. “No, I’ve seen this one hanging round before. He was at the corner shop last night, giving me the eye. Looks like he plucked up the courage to come back. You’d better make yourself scarce. I guess I’m back to work.” He raised his voice to yell at Mac for the punter’s benefit. “Told you you couldn’t afford me, you cheapskate!”
Mac took the hint. “Call yourself a rentboy?” he snarled back. “I could pay off half my mortgage with what you’re charging.” He spat dangerously close to Jake’s left boot and marched off.
Briefly Jake wished his own mortgage was as miniscule as that, but the last thing he needed at a time like this was the distraction of money worries. He gave his partner’s retreating back the finger before crossing the street to lean in at the car’s open window. “Something I can do for you?”
As he’d suspected, the man wasn’t Frank Warren, who was red-haired, had a snub nose a revolver would’ve been proud of, and tended not to run his errands himself. This guy was dark with a moustache, dressed for the office in a shirt and tie, and clearly nervous. Jake was trained to watch without appearing to and saw the guy fiddle with his tie, fiddle with his collar, and fiddle with the place where his wedding ring had obviously been only minutes before. Oh great, one of those. Happily married with about four kids, but liked to play away from home from time to time. Jake despised the type, but hoped he didn’t let it show.
The man glanced in his rear-view mirror and cleared his throat. “Er, yeah, possibly, I mean, how much do you, well, you know . . .”
Jake decided to take pity on him. If nothing else, he could get in the guy’s car, sit down, and get the weight off these blasted boots for a minute or two. “Hundred quid an hour for the full thing, thirty for a blowjob.”
The prices were set deliberately high to scare off as many punters as possible. Jake needed to be out on the street attracting Frank Warren, not having to make umpteen excuses to umpteen different men as to why he couldn’t, after all, take their money and give them sex. Mostly, it had worked. Only three or four men had put their hand in their pocket and come out with cash as well as their dicks. Sure enough, the man’s eyebrows rose and his Adam’s apple dipped.
“That’s a bit high, isn’t it? No wonder the last bloke walked off.”
Jake shrugged. “Take it or leave it, mate. I don’t fuck for nothing.” Drive away, drive away now, he prayed in spite of his feet, but nobody Up There was listening tonight.
“Okay, a hundred it is. Hop in,” said the bloke, and Jake had no option but to hop.
# # #
“Nice place,” the bloke said ten minutes later, sprawling on the sofa and bouncing up again as the broken spring made its presence felt.
“Thanks.” Jake glanced round the dingy bedsit the squad had provided in case Frank Warren took the bait. The paint was yellowed, the wallpaper peeling, the units in the tiny kitchenette a depressing shade of beige. As bedsits went, it was okay, he supposed—in his student days he’d slept in worse—but it was just a bedsit with living, sleeping, and cooking facilities jammed into one small space and an even smaller bathroom next door. Great for sardines, perhaps, but not for an adult human male or two. “I’ve got my own place in town. I just rent this for work.”
“That makes sense. You wouldn’t want to take clients to your home, I suppose.”
“Yeah. Fancy a beer?”
Jake fished a couple of cans out of the microscopic fridge, popped the tabs, and handed one across.
An awkward silence ensued: Jake’s brain froze, and he couldn’t think of a single intelligent thing to say. He took refuge in the beer, drinking it faster than he’d normally like, and wondered if Mac was moored up outside. It would have been tight. His partner would have had to leg it back to his car, start the engine, and drive it out of its hiding place, all in the short time between Jake crossing the road and getting into the punter’s car. Tight, but not beyond Mac’s capabilities. His partner might love his beer and fish-and-chips, but he’d won the squad’s cross country race three years on the trot, and there were no bulls in muddy fields to contend with here.
The punter drifted to the room’s only window and lifted the grubby net curtain to peer outside. Jake knew from experience there wasn’t much to see—a high brick wall, a barrage of dustbins, a graffiti-encrusted gate—but the squad hadn’t picked the place for its scenic value. Rather, it was close to where Jake plied his trade. Apartments in decent areas were a twenty-minute drive away, whereas here he could be back on duty in under half an hour.
In spite of the drab surroundings, the view seemed to fascinate his guest. He peered this way and that, then pointed to an illuminated dot in the distance. “Is that Selfridges? I’ve been getting my bearings, and you ought to be able to see it from here.”
Jake took his turn at the window, gazing where the man’s finger indicated. Sure enough, the small, metallic gleam above the rooftops could well be Selfridges’ distinctive metal discs. “You could be right. I’d never noticed before.”
“That’s because you’re looking without seeing.”
More likely it was because he’d spent a total of about two hours in the place since the department had rented it for him, and precious little of that involved staring out of windows. He didn’t bother to explain, since punters tended not to like a smart-arse, but squinted at the guy out of the corner of his eye. For the last few minutes, he’d had the nagging feeling they’d already met, but couldn’t remember when or where. Could it be the fleeting glimpse from the corner shop the night before? Or was it the similarity to Mac’s blue eyes and short, dark hair? Probably not, since a brief glance revealed nervous tics—the constant fiddling with curtains, hair, and tie, the nervous energy imbuing his every move. Not Mac’s rugged stoicism, then, but nervy Edward, the love of his life who’d turned out to be anything but. Even his moustache was like the one Edward had grown.
You really know how to pick them, he thought with a downward pull of his mouth, but at least the resemblance helped to settle his mind. Despite Edward’s shortcomings, he’d been a very attractive bloke, and anyone who looked anything like him was likely to float Jake’s boat. He’d been wondering whether it was too late to put the guy off, and if not, which excuses to use. But attraction flickered like a cramp in his belly, and he thought perhaps he could go with the guy after all. He nodded towards the bed. “D’you want to . . . ? It’s not much, but the sheets are clean.”
“Oh yeah.” The guy peeled off his jacket and slung it towards a nearby chair. “I thought you’d never ask.”