Man of Mystery [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Madeleine Urban
eBook Category: Gay Fiction/Romance
All Alan wants is a little escape from his daily life as a house husband and father, and his favorite mystery novels provide it. But after a vicious showdown over the books with his strident and controlling wife, his headlong flight takes him into the path of an oncoming car. But it's not Alan who wakes up in the hospital--it's Terrence Whitehead: Man of Mystery, a drifter who makes his way by taking advantage of the kindness of others.
His escape takes him from Los Angeles to New York with the help of a handsome meal ticket, Jared. Terrence and Jared's deal to exchange sex for transport moves them along from the tables in Vegas to relaxing spas and fancy hotels, and while Jared finds himself falling in love, Terrence knows somehow that it has to end... and when it does, who will survive the clash of his two worlds? The brave, outgoing Terrence? Or quiet, withdrawn Alan?
eBook Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspinner Press, Published: 2008, 2008
Fictionwise Release Date: June 2009
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21 Reader Ratings:
"Hey, Dad, look! It's one of your mystery books!"
Alan's head shot up from where he was reading a food label in the grocery store. "Where?"
Bobby pointed across the way to the trademark red eye-catching cover of a hardback book on an end-cap display. "Is it a new one?"
"I don't know," Alan said distractedly, squinting to try to make out the title on the lurid cover. "Here," he said, handing his five-year-old the box of whole grain cereal he'd been examining. "Pick out some cereal while I look."
He walked down the aisle, getting more excited as he got closer. He grabbed the hardback book and looked at the title, eyes wide and excited. "Headlong Flight, a Terrence Whitehead: Man of Mystery novel," Alan said under his breath, opening the cover to avidly read the dust jacket. He loved these books; they provided him with entertainment and dreams that let him break free of the daily tedium of his settled life.
Bobby pushed the small plastic basket along in the floor to get to Alan. "I'm done with the shopping, Dad," he said, happily toting a lurid blue box with a tiger on it.
"That's great, champ, thanks," Alan said, obviously focused on the book. He tore his gaze away to grin down at his son. "It's a new one."
"Good! Then you can read it and I can play my Nintendo at night!" Bobby declared.
"Is that so? Mommy might have something to say about that," Alan said with a laugh, scooping Bobby up and flipping him to carry over his shoulder. He pushed the basket to the nearby checkout lane, listening to his son giggle the whole way. It was going to be a great day.
Idly stirring the skillet with one hand, Alan held the hardback book in his other, reading closely. He dropped the wooden spoon to turn the page and brushed his fingers against the skillet. Swearing under his breath, Alan shook his hand and stuck his fingers in his mouth, but didn't look away from the book even though the food in the skillet sizzled dangerously.
"Dad? Dad!" a young voice piped up.
"Yeah?" Alan answered absently around his sore fingers, still reading.
"Dad, is our dinner gonna be burnt like breakfast was?"
Alan blinked and finally looked up from his book. Seeing the blackened mess in the skillet, he sighed and pulled it off the burner and dropped the whole thing into the sink. Closing the novel--his finger marking his place--he stooped over and picked Bobby up. "How about McDonald's, sport?"
"Yay! Chicken nuggets!" Bobby cried.
Alan grinned in return. He walked through the house and picked up his keys, toting Bobby and the book the whole way. A Happy Meal and the Playplace would go a long way toward keeping Bobby amused while he kept reading his book. They'd made it out to the driveway when a car pulled into the drive. Frowning, Alan stuck his keys in his pocket and went to meet it; it was just his luck that Danielle would come home a little early for a change. Now he wouldn't get to read at all.
She got out of the car and gave Bobby a big hug. "Where are you going, Alan?"
"We're having chicken nuggets, Mommy!"
Danielle turned a faintly disapproving look on Alan, which deepened when he stuck his book behind his back. "A new book, is it?" Her face tightened a little and then she sighed. "All right, McDonald's it is."
Alan relaxed and opened the back door of Danielle's car for Bobby, buckling him into the booster-seat before getting in the passenger side. "Thanks, Danny," he said quietly as she restarted the car.
"We'll discuss this later," she promised a bit darkly before brightening to talk to Bobby.
Alan's hands tightened around the novel, and he just looked blankly out the window. He should have known when he bought the book. He should have known she wouldn't like it, just like she hadn't liked the six others that preceded it. * * * *
He was changing over the laundry when Danielle entered the small utility room and shut the door. "Alan."
The brunette looked up and saw the look on his wife's face. He knew exactly what was coming. "C'mon, Danny, it's just one dinner at McDonald's." Why did she have to do this?
"Preceded by two days of Frosted Flakes, pudding packs, and no housework," Danielle finished, crossing her arms. "We've had this discussion."
"Yes, we have, and I still think you're overreacting. It's just a damn book."
"If it's just a damn book, then why is the house a wreck? Why is there burnt food in the sink in the kitchen? Why don't I have clean clothes for work tomorrow? Alan, I don't ask a lot, but this is irresponsible."
"Irresponsible?" Alan stared at her. Didn't she trust him to do anything?
"Look, Alan, I know it sounds harsh. But just try to see it from my point of view, please? Why is it that you find more enjoyment in a fantasy than you do in your real life? Those stupid books--they're not even real mysteries. The main character is a playboy who goes all over the country fucking around, only he thinks he's being followed by gangsters or something."
Alan frowned. "That's not true." They were mysteries, with a healthy dose of suspense. Just because there was sex thrown in...
Danielle sighed and laid her head back against the wall. "C'mon, Alan. When was the last time we had sex?"
Alan fell slightly ill. He'd tried to avoid it, because the truth was he'd never really been interested in sex. Until now, it had never been an issue. "What's that got to do with this?"
"A hell of a lot, really. If I didn't know better, I'd say you're cheating on me. 'Cause I'm sure not getting laid."
"Danny," Alan objected. "We're married, for God's sake! I'm not cheating with anyone."
"Look, I don't ask a lot. I work all day and sometimes all night. I love my job. And when we got married, you said you were okay with that," Danielle said.
"I'm still okay with that," Alan insisted. It was his own life he wasn't okay with, but he'd never get her to understand that. All she saw was her high-powered job as a lawyer.
She continued to forge ahead, getting louder. "And all I asked was that you raise our son and keep up the house. Make sure he eats well. Keep the laundry caught up. It's not that difficult, Alan, and most of the time, you're fine. But every time one of these books comes out...."
"What are you saying, Danny? That I'm unfaithful to you with a book?"
"No, Alan, I just think you're being selfish, childish, and immature. What if something happened to Bobby because you were jacking off, so wrapped up in one of those books?" Danielle asked, voice rising sharply.
Alan literally flinched. "That's an awful thought," he hissed. He put Bobby before himself every time. "I love Bobby more than anything."
"More than anyone, too, including me," Danielle nearly yelled. "Except when you get one of these books. I really worry about this, Alan. Really. I've thought about putting Bobby in day school. I won't have him neglected just because you think a dirty sex book is more important than he is!"
Upset and hurt, Alan withdrew as she backed him against the door. "That's not true!" How could she attack him like this? "Don't you trust me at all?"
"You need to give up these adolescent fantasies, Alan. You're a father and a house-husband with a high school education who married the first woman who asked. You're not a playboy man of mystery and you never will be!" Danielle insisted. "You either straighten up, or I'm ending this marriage and taking Bobby with me."
Horrified by her heartless words, Alan yanked open the back door and fled out into the yard. Danielle's strident voice followed him, ordering him to return. In the past, he always had, cowed like a pet dog, giving in to what she wanted regardless of what he wanted. But this time, scared to death by her threats, he headed off at a lope, barefoot in jeans and a T-shirt, across the back yard, through the neighbor's yard, and out to the alley, speeding up as he ran down the twisting lane leading away from Danielle. He had to get somewhere safe to think. He had to get someone to help.
The driver didn't see Alan run out of the alley and into the busy street. With a shrill scream, she hit her brakes, but the bumper still hit his knees from the side and knocked him down. His head smacking on the asphalt left him stunned as other cars stopped and people gathered around him. All the different voices made him dizzy. Alan passed out just as he heard the ambulance's siren. * * * *
When he opened his eyes, he just as quickly closed them again. Then he carefully reopened one, sliding it up and down and from side to side, trying to see as much around him as possible. Then he carefully did the same with the other eye before deeming it safe enough to move. No one was in the hospital room with him. Lucky. Maybe he could get out of this mess. He threw off the sheet and threw his legs over the edge, standing up ... and just as quickly sinking back down, dizzy and weak, cursing quietly. They must have drugged him. Something to keep him quiet and docile until they could find out who he was. He hadn't been carrying any ID for just that reason. That would slow them down.
Taking a deep breath, he steadied himself and walked to the bathroom, did his business and found some clothes. He was sure they weren't his, but they would serve until he could get more. He got dressed and slipped out of the room. He had to get out of here before she found out what had happened. He had to get on the road. First order of business was to get out of the suburbs. If she found him quickly, there'd be hell to pay. At least if he gave her a merry chase he might have a chance--a chance to live, a chance to be himself, a chance to do what he needed to do to make a difference in his life. Once outside, he hitched a ride into the city, riding in the back of a pickup truck driven by an older woman who chuckled and waved once he jumped out and flashed her a charming smile.
Now in an upper-class shopping district, he started evaluating his options. He was going to have to depend on the kindness of strangers, but that wasn't new. He'd found over the years that most people were still innately good and willing to help others. And even though he was penniless and homeless (at the moment), he certainly wasn't helpless. He knew he could go a ways on the power of his smile. He'd used it many times before. He watched traffic crawl down the high-priced street, fancy stores down each side, measuring people in vehicles for their suitability. He passed on a couple of women who winked at him as he leaned casually against a light post. While they offered interesting diversions, he'd be in far more trouble accepting help from them than he was in already. Several high-powered businessmen drove by, not even noticing him, caught up in their own worlds. Finally he saw the perfect choice.
It was a car that exuded class, power, money, and sex--a Mercedes SL65 AMG, silver-blue and stunning. The sleek lines caught his eyes and held them, and he flushed with heat just looking at it. He grinned. You knew it was a high-class car when a guy got a hard-on just looking at it. The driver's side window was down to let in the sunshine and let out the curling smoke from a cigarette set casually between two long fingers sprinkled with blond hair.
He stood up and threaded through the stopped traffic. He paused at the driver's-side door and looked in, hand braced on the window sill, already talking before he got a good look. "I need your help."
Bright green eyes turned his way, measuring him through the window. Chiseled cheekbones and chin covered by carefully trimmed scruff and sun-bleached hair brushing the collar of a linen shirt. It was a mature face. It was a lady-killer's face. The driver raised an eyebrow and set the smoke between his pursed lips. He pulled out a tooled leather wallet and slid a folded bill between the other man's fingers, then tossed his wallet onto the console.
The man outside chuckled. "Thanks, but actually, I need a ride." Green eyes looked back his way and the man moved his chin, looking him up and down again, taking in the worn jeans, bare feet and T-shirt. His lips twitched. The hitcher grinned. "Looks like I can pay you," he said pertly, holding up the folded bill. The driver snorted and jerked his head to the passenger-side door.
Grinning, the man outside straightened and walked around the car, opening the door and climbing in. The door closed with a solid thunk, a sound like a vault door that gave you a feeling of weight, security, and quality. Traffic started moving again and the driver held his peace until they made the freeway; he smashed out the cigarette in the ash tray and sent the window rolling up with the touch of a button. "Where to, stranger?" a raspy, dark voice asked.
The brunette smiled, looking out his side window as the car moved along, eating up the asphalt. "New York City," he answered.
The driver's eyes shifted from the road to his passenger, giving him another long, lazy, amused tip-to-toe look. "I assume you're paying?" he drawled.
Long fingers held out the folded bill casually and the driver laughed, a full, deep sound that filled the car without echoing. "Keep it. I'm sure we'll come up with something." He turned the car toward Interstate 15. "I'm Jared. What your name?" he asked.
Crossing his legs at the ankle and kicking back comfortably, the passenger answered, "Terrence."