Now available through Decadent Publishing
& all booksellers
A novella by Danica St. Como
Pissed off, crabby, and contemplating getting a guard dog, Wallis Gardner is goddamned tired of being laid up with a gunshot wound while her men—blond, blue-eyed Austin Cooper and dark-haired, grizzly bear Michael Gallo—finish the job they’d all been working on with the Bureau of Criminal Investigations.
An anonymous tip sends her partners on a futile chase, leaving Wallis to deal with the massive cast on her leg and the creepy new tenant in the small cottage at the edge of her property. When Austin and Michael return, the welcome home party leaves them all exhausted but satisfied before a call comes in with yet another missing girl.
Unprotected, Wallis finds herself dancing at the end of a killer’s blade. But with life and love on the line, this is one dance she intends to lead.
Warning ~ This Book Contains Sexually Explicit Male/Female/Male Ménage a Trois
and Male/Male Scenes Described in Graphic Detail)
In addition to being available at www.decadent.com, Blade Dance is vailable from:
Amazon, B&N, ARe, BookStrand, CTR, Smashwords, and within a couple of weeks after release it will pop up on Sony, Kobo, Apple bookstore, iPad, Library Direct and Diesel.
It’s my favorite shirt. Why did I wear my favorite shirt? The blood stains will never wash out.Theo didn’t try to hide the light blue button-down shirt among his personal belongings. One never knew when one might be stopped for traffic violations, even bogus violations. That’s how stupid people got caught. He glanced around the burger joint’s empty parking lot then snuck behind the building. He lifted the filled-to-the-top refuse container lid, checked out the contents, chose a likely candidate.
Since the shirt is ruined, might as well use it to wipe the blade clean.
Once the waxed paper and cardboard containers were emptied from a grease-laden burger bag, he folded and rolled the shirt so the blood was on the inside of the cotton bundle, then carefully slid it into the bag. He did the same with his bloody Latex gloves, but stuffed that bag deep in the opposite corner of the refuse container. He’d scoped out the Dumpsters in the area, checked out when the trash was picked up early in the morning, prior to the restaurant opening for business. Before anyone would think to file a missing person report.
People are so stupid. They always wait to make the missing person call. They always believe the person will show up, late and apologetic, and no one wants to be embarrassed. The police won’t let concerned family or friends file a report immediately, for the same reason. It all works for me. Every delay means I’m further removed from the situation. No association, whatsoever.
He returned to his vehicle, pulled another pale blue button-down shirt from his luggage. It was his blue day, after all, mustn’t interfere with the proper order of his life. After he’d fastened the last button, he tucked in the tails properly, took a deep, calming breath, and settled into the driver’s seat. He counted to five. Assuring himself that all the doors were locked and the seatbelt was correctly fastened, he counted to five again then moved the gear selector into D for drive.
No one could see him, but he smiled nonetheless.
I love it when a plan comes together.
The universe conspired to piss off Wallis Gardner. Her men were still on assignment. Not only did she miss them, but she was left to struggle with the goddamned mail from the goddamned mailbox. Several days’ worth of letters and one parcel were spread all over the ground as evidence, as she tried to balance on her goddamned crutches. The fiberglass cast, reaching from mid-thigh to mid-calf, acted as an awkward anchor, which didn’t help her current frame of mind.
Where are Michael and Austin when I need them? It didn’t matter that the perp who shot up her leg was dead. The bastard had done enough damage before his demise. Her Kevlar vest hadn’t helped. The guy’s first .9mm round snapped her right tibia and fibula; the second bullet shattered her right knee. As least the asswipe only took out one leg, not both. When the hail of returned gunfire came to an end, "suicide by cop" was the unofficial verdict. It would have been justifiable homicide by Wallis, if he hadn’t taken me out first, and if the SWAT guys hadn’t taken him out, second.
She pictured her men tramping through the goddamned woods in goddamned upstate New York—blond, blue-eyed Austin Cooper, second of their ménage a trois, partner to dark-haired, grizzly bear Michael Gallo, their third. Actually, second and third positions were interchangeable. Members of the elite Bureau of Criminal Investigation in upstate New York, the specialized detectives had been called out, again.
Everyone was tracking down leads on the most recent missing woman, the third in three months. Maggie Stowe, a young mother with a toddler, had gone missing in broad daylight. She’d never returned after leaving home to do her grocery shopping. At least the baby had been home with her granny. The color photo in the news of the little blonde, blue-eyed girl, dressed in frilly pink, absolutely broke Wallis’s heart. In the middle of the day, and no one saw anything. How is that possible? Wallis shook her head. The other two victims had been taken at night—one after her four-to-midnight nursing shift ended, the other on her way home from a club after she and her friends closed the place. All within a radius of thirty miles.
Ever cautious, the authorities didn’t mention that the cases might be connected, that the auburn, the red, the strawberry blonde hair color might be coincidence. The posing of the bodies might have been accidental. The other abuse to the victims—well, the investigators would keep the news quiet. Wallis’s gut told her, and her men agreed, the cases were so connected. Just as her gut told her the latest missing woman was already dead. Austin had learned from the grandmother that the victim’s husband was currently deployed in Afghanistan. What a nightmare waits for the poor guy at home, while he’s on foreign soil, in a foreign country, risking his life and limb to protect our freedom—so shit like this doesn’t happen. His wife and child should be safe. She couldn’t imagine what would happen to her if one of her men went missing. Or was killed, even in the line of duty. Her heart bounced under her rib cage like a tennis ball at the thought. Independent as she was, the three of them belonged together, were so much a part of each other’s lives. The thought of losing either man had chills racing up and down her spine.
A Chevy Traverse in gunmetal gray rolled up as Wallis took another swing at her mailbox with one of her crutches. The mailbox was bolted to an arrangement of pipes that swiveled, so it could swing 360 degrees. The idea, as she’d learned as a child, was to prevent the box from being torn out of the ground by giant-bladed iron snow plows during the winter. The otherwise efficient arrangement was aggravating the pure livin’ hell out of her.
The passenger window slid down, and the driver leaned across the front seat toward her. "Ma’am, I’ll hold the mailbox if you want to beat it to death."
"That would be lovely, thanks. I can’t pick up the mail and still balance on these goddamned crutches. The stupid box keeps swinging away from me. The results…." She pointed to the ground. "…are obvious."
With no traffic in sight, the man parked in the middle of the farm road, walked around the front of the smallish SUV to the mailbox. A plastic grocery store bag hung from his fingers. He retrieved catalogues, sale flyers, letters, and a small, flat box imprinted with a smiley grin from where they lay scattered on the ground. He took the rest of the mail from inside the box, neatly arranged the items in the bag then held the handles open so she could slide her arm through.
Well, isn’t he the gentleman?"Thanks. I’d be here all fucking day trying to pick it all up, after I killed the fucking mailbox."
"I was going to stop, anyway." He reached into his shirt pocket, took out a precisely folded sheet of paper, and shook it open. "I’m looking for Primrose Lane, just past the main Gardner farmhouse. Since there’s a shortage of street signs in this part of the country, I wonder if you could point me in the right direction."
"Are you Theodore Carroll?"
He cocked his head, looked surprised. "Theo, please. Theodore sounds so formal."
She nodded, directed a thumb over her shoulder. "Gardner House, behind me. I’m Wallis Gardner, your neighbor. Make a right turn into that gravel drive, which is Primrose Lane. The cottage is behind those trees. The realtor asked me to keep an eye out for anyone who looked lost and confused."
Wallis maneuvered the crutches, balanced on her good leg and held out her hand.
He looked at her hand for a moment, acted unsure about making physical contact, but finally shook it. "That’s, hmm, awfully friendly."
"You’re in farm country. Not many neighbors, so we kinda-sorta watch out for each other." Well now, that was a limp-wristed hello. What do I have, girl cooties? No need for him to know I’m his landlady. That’s what the realtor is paid to do, take care of all the rental arrangements. Less aggravation for me.
"Good to know. I’m a city boy. Never lived this far from town before."
She gave the once-over to his short, sandy hair, trendy, tortoise-shell eyeglass frames, light yellow button-down shirt, khaki Dockers, and brown loafers. It appeared that his socks matched his shirt. He had the whole Justin-Timberlake-as-the-guy-next-door appearance under total control.
"That could be a problem, if you plan on hanging out through the winter. Central upstate weather is no joke. It gets harsh up here. Are you planning to stay?"
His expression suddenly changed, and his gaze darted around. Fidgeting, he didn’t directly respond to her look. "Hmm, well, ah, not sure yet. Sorta depends on my research, I guess." "Research?" His uneasiness didn’t abate as he shifted from one foot to the other. "I’m a math and science tutor, elementary grades. Saved up my pennies, decided not to tutor through the summer."
"I see. A budding Hemmingway?" Oh, goody, an academic pain in the ass. All brain, no doubt, with little or no common sense.
He shuffled, gave a wan smile. "Nothing quite so grand, I’m afraid. Apparently I’m distantly related to the English author, Lewis Carroll, y’know, the whole Alice in Wonderland thing. I thought I might research the connection, maybe write a book on my findings."
"Well, good luck. Surprisingly, we have high-speed internet out here, thanks to a communications tower just a couple of hills away. Otherwise, we’d still be using two soup cans and a waxed string. There’s a Wi-Fi router at the cottage. So, if you have a laptop, you’re good to go."
"I do. Thanks."
"Yep. Well, thanks again for the help. Catch you later."
Even with her casted leg suspended between the crutches, her wrecked knee shot bolts of pain up her body, killing any desire to be more sociable. She waved goodbye, leaving Mr. Carroll to find his own way to the cottage.
Wallis turned toward the long line of stone pavers that led to the big Federal-style residence, the clapboard siding done in soft butter with cream trim. She still had a problem calling the ten-bedroom monstrosity a farmhouse. But, in truth, it anchored the two-thousand-acre farm parcel, which included several small cottages for managers and farm hands, in addition to the barns and outbuildings. Mr. Carroll would inhabit one of the cottages, just a couple of hundred yards from the main house.
She thought it ludicrous that her tenant, an educator, wasn’t aware that his supposed ancestral namesake, Lewis Carroll, was actually the pen name of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, who’d been childless. So, Theodore would have to be a Dodgson, not a Carroll. So, right off the bat, he was a bullshitter, which bore watching. As a tutor, he should know this stuff. Or, possibly, he thought she was a total asshole Philistine who wouldn’t know the difference. Either way, not a good sign. She hoped he’d be gone at the end of the summer.
In front of the cottage, Theo continued to sit in his vehicle, considering how kind fate was. Could this be any more perfect? She’s alone, on crutches, in the middle of nowhere, no close neighbors. And she’s very beautiful—Sandra Bullock beautiful, with strawberry blonde hair. It would be perfect if she had blue eyes, not green. Oh yes, quite pretty, but her language was offensive. And she shouldn’t wear such tight shorts. Anyone might see her become aroused. I’ll deal with those things, later. Once I’m in charge, she’ll shape up and fly right.
He rolled and dragged his luggage up the front steps of the cottage, and used the key he’d gotten from the real estate agent after the rental agreement had been signed. Dear Mrs. Finnegan, that old cow with her fake blonde hair. She made it perfectly clear that she had better things to do than deal with my needs, couldn’t meet me here in person to open up the house. I’d show her what a mistake it is to ignore me, but she’s too old, and not my type. I can’t spend the effort on her, plus it would ruin my timing.
The two-bedroom dwelling was relatively spacious, as such things went, and well-kept. He’d lucked out—the little country home was actually perfect. He hated disorganization, and everything appeared to be neat and orderly. Soft colors of mostly pale gray and ivory made the rooms feel light and airy. The furniture was comfortable but sparse, upholstered in pale floral fabrics, with light-colored wood trims. Crowded rooms with bright colors or busy patterns were disruptive to his psyche, made him edgy, uncomfortable. He avoided hotels and motels whenever possible, but sometimes he had little choice.
He lifted the luggage to the bed he’d chosen as his. Counted to five. Unzipped the bag. Laid out his shirts, in alphabetical order. Pale tints of blue, gray, green, lilac, melon, olive, pink, tan, yellow. Even though it wasn’t technically pastel, he’d been forced to add white to make the numbers work out correctly. Pastel socks to match pastel shirts. Five pair of tan Dockers, to change out every other day. Ten Hanes tagless white V-necked undershirts, ten pair of Hanes tagless white jockey shorts. Two pair of white-striped pale blue pajamas, because five was too many. One extra pair of brown tassel loafers. He never wore sneakers, which he considered too plebeian.
Theo placed his folded clothing neatly in the dresser, then placed the extra shoes on the floor next to it, perpendicular to the wall. Counted to five. Brought his zippered bag of personal items into the bathroom.
Pump bottle of hand sanitizer. Soap. Shampoo. Toothpaste. Toothbrush. Electric shaver. Aftershave. Deodorant. He lined up the items in order of size, from large to small. He counted to five. Used one squirt of hand sanitizer, no more, no less, then rubbed his hands together for thirty seconds.
Precision was essential to civilization; otherwise, humans were no better than apes. A pile of five fresh, folded towels—light grey, to match the walls and subway tiles—sat on the other side of the vanity. Luckily, the number worked, as well as the color. He sniffed, approved. No heavy perfume odor.
Next, he brought in the grocery bags, arranged everything on the kitchen counter before he put them away. Ten boxes of macaroni and cheese. Ten boxes of frozen peas. Ten cans of Beefaroni ravioli. Ten seedless navel oranges. Two boxes of Cap’n Crunch. Two gallons of whole milk. Two packages of Double-Stuf Oreo cookies, thirty cookies in each. One jar of real mayonnaise.
He counted to five. Then, boxes in the cupboard, arranged in rows, like sizes with like sizes, large to small. Cans lined up, labels forward. Peas in the freezer, identifying labels facing the same way. Mayo in the door of the refrigerator. Milk containers, on the fridge shelf, side by side. Oranges in the produce bin.
There, all settled. He had food for ten days, breakfast, lunch, dinner. Snacks. Three cookies, with eight ounces of milk, between breakfast and lunch. One orange between lunch and dinner. Three cookies, eight ounces of milk, after dinner. Theo had checked the odometer on the way out, so he knew it was exactly seventeen-point-two miles from town. I can treat myself to a meal in town, if it pleases me. He kept a stash of cash in small, used bills. He always relieved his victims of whatever money they had, but never credit cards or ID. After all, they won’t be needing the cash, and I don’t need to be caught with the cards.
His comfortable trust fund and thrifty nature cushioned him from needing the money, but it amused him to take it. It also confused the stupid cops when he took the cash, left everything else then threw the handbags where the investigators were sure to find them. Was it a snatch n’ grab gone wrong or a homicide? Robber or killer? So easy to bamboozle them, the detectives, the investigators, with all their fancy training, all their fancy, specialized equipment.
He returned to the bedroom, unzipped the bulging front pocket of his luggage. Without disturbing the lacy curtains more than necessary, he aimed the binoculars toward his neighbor’s house. He’d spent a goodly amount on the high-tech Zeiss opticals, so he expected clarity. The farmhouse was large, with many rooms, but drapes covered each tall window. That was disappointing.
What does she need that huge house for, anyway, just for her? But dark will come, soon enough. At least she doesn’t have a dog.
I should have a dog.
Wallis finally got situated on a kitchen chair, leaned her crutches against the table. Using her thumbnails, she began to peel an orange, cussed as the juice sprayed everywhere. She’d forgotten a paper napkin, so she stretched far enough to grab a kitchen towel.
If I had a dog, at least I’d have company. And a better alert system than yelling, "Who the hell’s out there? I have a gun, and I’ll use it!"
She had a gut feeling that the new tenant, temporary though he might be, was going to be a supreme pain-in-the-ass. He obviously hadn’t thought far enough ahead to get his cover story straight. It had been her experience that people who lied for the sake of lying, without checking the lies for accuracy, usually spelled trouble with a capital T.
Heaving a huge sigh, she continued to feel sorry for herself and her nonexistent dog. My leg is fucked up, I’m stuck here alone, and I miss my guys.
Thinking of her men produced a sigh of a different kind. Also a flush to her cheeks, as well as an equally warm flush to her girl parts.
Knowing Wallis would be chomping at the bit, Austin had sent a text message. A strong lead on the missing woman had been phoned in to the crime hotline, so the captain had turned the boys around even as they were heading back home. They’d reversed course, then that freakin’ lead sent the searchers miles deeper into the mountains, farther from her.
Austin and Michael should be here, with me. Waiting on me. Feeding me. Loving me, as they do so well. As unreasonable and selfish as those thoughts were, she indulged in a rare pity party.
The searchers still held out hope, but Wallis knew such hope was futile. The woman was dead. Wallis could feel it in her gut—and her gut was never wrong. She’d learned not to share her feelings with others, not even her own teammates. They’d only become depressed and dejected, which didn’t help them do their jobs.
Especially Michael. Her doom-and-death observations, no matter now unintentional the effect, could easily trigger the depression, the flashbacks, the restlessness, the insomnia, that had finally driven him from the slopes of Aspen, where he’d been a Search and Rescue first-responder. She’d lost count of how many nights she’d held him, her big, strong man, rocked him in her arms as if he was a child, while tears of silent rage soaked them both. He hadn’t suffered an episode in over a year, for which she was eternally grateful. Regardless of how accurate her instincts proved, she’d learned to keep thoughts of death to herself.
Austin wasn’t as stoic. He usually vacated the bedroom, left Michael in Wallis’s embrace, then camped upstairs in one of the guest rooms for the night. A former firefighter, he had his own demons to vanquish. Wallis had progressed from being a fledgling SWAT to joining the State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation, but she hadn’t the years in the field that her men did.
We’re a motley crew, aren’t we? She sighed. Yeah, maybe so, but we’re also a good, solid, ass-kickin’ team.
When dusk faded and full dark encroached, Theo crept toward the farmhouse. He panicked and scuttled back into the shadows when a security lamp on the big barn behind the house flickered to life, going from pale bluish-white to bright yellow as the lamp heated up. He was forced to increase his periphery to avoid the well-lit areas to the side and rear of the house. The absence of street lights allowed him to walk along the shoulder of the road until he passed the troublesome mailbox and turned onto the front walk. He’d nearly reached the front steps when the porch light came on. He scrambled madly to reach the dark side of the house.
Already annoyed, he became more so when he realized that the design of the structure prevented easy peeking. Greenery was planted along the foundation all the way around the house. Such landscaping had proved helpful in the past for hiding, but this was American holly, the spiny leaves of which could shred skin as well as catch and rip fabric. He couldn’t imagine anyone using holly for landscaping around the foundation of a home, for Christ’s sake.
There she is. A quick glimpse of Wallis, crutching her way down a hallway toward the kitchen at the back of the house, was the best Theo could manage. She’d bypassed a nightgown or pajamas in favor of a long, black T-shirt that reached to mid-thigh. He couldn’t see any intimate parts, but preferred to imagine she was naked underneath. There was a faint stir in his groin as he snuck back to the cottage. It would be a long, frustrating process before he could manage a release—if he could manage at all.
Bitch. You want me. You know it. Why are you making things so difficult?
The raucous blast of air horns shot Theodore from dead sleep to full panic, and he crashed from bed to floor. He counted to five. Twice. When nothing attacked, he uncurled himself, flew to the window in time to see a long, dark red truck slide to a dusty halt in Wallis’s driveway, behind the coppery-colored Dodge Journey, which he’d assumed was her vehicle.
Two large, powerfully built men—one blond, one dark—jumped from either side of the truck cab. The blond one called out, "Yo, Wallis, baby. Where are you, sexy creature? Sweetheart, are you naked?"
With adrenaline still pumping, Theo’s fury grew, directed at the intruders. Who are they? What right did they have to speak to her like that?
He straightened his twisted pajamas, grabbed the binoculars. Wallis came out to the front landing, hair all mussed, still clad in the T-shirt, legs naked, as she balanced precariously on her crutches. The muscled blond man took the two front steps in one stride, grabbed her, lifted her off the ground, and left the crutches to crash to the stone steps. She wrapped her arms around the man’s neck, kissed him wildly. Theo had been correct—as her shirt rode up, it was obvious that she wasn’t wearing panties.
The dark Goliath tapped the blond’s shoulder then took Wallis into his own bear-hug embrace. After kissing him soundly, she threw her head back and laughed.
The sound carried to Theo’s open window, chilled his blood. His heart hammered in his chest, his breath came in ragged gasps. He unzipped another pouch on the front of his luggage, struggled with an inhaler he’d sworn not to use, took two deep hits. Taking the inhaler with him, he returned to the window.
The blond man grabbed Wallis’s crutches and handed them over, which allowed her to vanish into the interior of the house after he delivered an open-handed swat to her butt. The men retrieved rolling luggage from the crew cab of the giant four-wheel-drive truck, each of their suitcases twice the size of Theo’s. They also disappeared into the house.
As Theo’s breathing came easier, his sense of outrage continued to develop. He didn’t think there was any chance the men were relatives. She’s just like the others. A cock-tease. A ho. She can’t drop me like this, before I even got a chance to show her what a great catch I am. She’ll pay for this. Oh, yes, she’ll pay dearly.
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