Ollie pulled into his parking space and cursed when he found Mrs. Dennison had commandeered his solar-charging outlet again. A long cord went from the solar shade above his space right up the wall and into her apartment.
Something inside him snapped. Ollie couldn’t take it anymore. The solar was free, but he’d asked her not to jack his power. It drained the reserves, and some days his car barely charged enough to get him to work and back. And today was cloudy, so he needed every ounce of energy he could get out of the station.
He parked and stormed over to the charging post. While ripping the plug out of the socket felt good, it wasn’t enough. He’d asked her a dozen times. He’d threatened to have the code people out for her illegal extension cord. He’d filed a complaint with the apartment house, and she still had her damn shit plugged into his charger.
Captain Greyson could ask Ollie to stick his neck out. Lieutenant Huda could walk all over him. But Ollie would be damned if Mrs. Dennison and her damn sunlamps would push him one more inch. Ollie marched over to the wall, grabbed the part of the extension cord that hung down from an upper window, and pulled. Mrs. Dennison was on the second floor, but he could hear something crash and then several more dull thuds and an ominous bang. Feeling very satisfied, Ollie went back to his car and plugged it in. A quick check of the levels told him that he was at 17 percent charge. Fuck.
Well, he wasn’t going anywhere tonight. He’d be lucky to get enough charge to run the car through tomorrow comfortably.
A door slammed, and Ollie wasn’t surprised when Mrs. Dennison came around the corner looking ready to claw his eyes out. She raised herbs and shit for her magical charms and Wiccan jewelry, and that was fine with him, but not on his charging station.
“I’ll file a complaint! Do you have any idea how much damage you did? That is my workplace, and you damaged hundreds if not thousands of dollars in equipment. I’m going to get you fired.” She stopped several feet away from him. Even mad as a wet hen, she wasn’t about to get too close to him. First, attacking a police officer was stupid. Second, Ollie was built well, and she was about 110 pounds of nothing.
“I tripped and caught myself on the cord, which is why there are codes against having extension cords out windows. I’ve told you that before,” Ollie said. Right now he wanted a fight, and if she called the station, that would give him a great one. “And if you are running a business out of a residence, that is a whole new issue.” He took a step forward.
“Don’t you dare bully me,” she snarled at him. “I will have your job for this.”
“You go for it and try,” Ollie suggested. “And while you’re at it, you can keep your plugs out of my outlets.” Ollie walked away.
“It’s not like you pay for it, asshole.” She chased after him. Thank God he had the parking space nearest the building, so his front door was close. He was ready for a drink and a lot of loud music—something that might disturb her chi or whatever the hell she called it.
“Hey!” Darla Canterbury called out. “We’re all neighbors. Let’s be nice to each other.” She hurried over. Maybe she’d lived in some happy-happy place in her last apartment, but around here everyone pretty much ignored one another when they weren’t throwing around blame. Being nice was not high on the agenda.
“He destroyed my workstation!” Mrs. Dennison nearly shrieked. For a woman in her forties, she had a mean shriek. Usually that tone came out of teenagers at rock concerts.
Mrs. Canterbury smiled soothingly. “I’ll help you get it back in order. I was watching out the window, and he did trip. He looks like he’s had a hard day, so let’s cut him some slack, okay?”
Ollie was shocked. Then again, Mrs. Canterbury was married to a retired cop, so maybe he shouldn’t be surprised she stuck up for him.
Mrs. Dennison stopped at the low rail that marked the beginning of Ollie’s apartment line. Stepping over the threshold would make her a trespasser, and maybe she knew Ollie was angry enough to arrest her.
Mrs. Canterbury threw an arm around the woman’s shoulders. They were a study in contrasts. Mrs. Dennison was blonde with delicate features and a tiny frame. While Mrs. Canterbury was about the same age—midforties—she was tall and broad-shouldered with long black hair and a mix of ancestors that must have included some damn attractive Africans and Indians. “I bet you’re frustrated. I’ll help you clean up the mess. What do ya say?”
Ollie glanced up, and Mr. Canterbury stood leaning against the third-story railing. A handsome man a few years older than his wife, Mr. Canterbury looked like he was somewhere in his forties. Gray was showing at his temples, but he was one of those square-jawed masculine men who kept their striking looks well into old age. Ollie had no idea if the Canterburys had children, but if they did, those must be gorgeous kids. They were probably out breaking hearts in college.
Mrs. Canterbury urged Mrs. Dennison up the stairs, and Travis Canterbury came down. Ollie considered heading into his apartment, but that seemed rude when Mr. Canterbury had made such deliberate eye contact. The man’s wife had lied for Ollie; the least he could do was have a friendly conversation.
Mr. Canterbury stopped on the last step and leaned against the rail. “Hard day?”
“To say the least,” Ollie admitted.
Mr. Canterbury offered his hand. “Travis.”
“Ollie. Oliver Robertson. We met when you were moving in.”
“We introduced ourselves, anyway,” Travis said. “No offense, but you look like you caught a hard case.”
Ollie rubbed his face. “Yeah, it happens. You know the job. Anyway, thank your wife for intercepting the shrew. When she tells people she’s a witch, she should tell them she means that in more than one way.” It was horribly un-PC, but in Mrs. Dennison’s case, it was also true.
Travis chuckled. “She’s sometimes hard to take. Between the sage and the marijuana she burns, my house smells like a smoke shop. She’s not good at respecting other people’s boundaries, but I think that has less to do with her religion than the fact she’s a bitch.” Travis stopped and gave Ollie a curious look, and that was when Ollie realized he’d been staring at a married man.
Okay, that was a new level of awkward. Ollie turned to study his front door instead of Travis’s broad shoulders. Travis chuckled again.
“True. She’d be a bitch even if she were Buddhist.” Ollie headed toward his apartment and stopped at the sight of an advertisement hanging from his doorknob. The Bridle Club. Artistically arranged leather implements made it pretty clear what they were promoting. Ollie froze. Either everything in his life had just taken on a sexual overtone, or he was really having trouble getting his head screwed on straight.
“Some of the families are angry about those. They say it’s a shade club and don’t want that garbage hanging from their doors,” Travis commented.
Ollie held the paper, and a tremor went through his body. It was like some sort of omen, only Ollie didn’t believe in omens. He believed in facts.
Travis didn’t seem to notice anything, because he kept right on talking. “I don’t have a problem with the control clubs. My wife and I enjoy playing, and a club is a good way to work out frustration, especially if you have a committed partner and you’re spicing things up with a new setting. But when I was on the job, I hated the shade clubs. Let some nineteen-year-old wander into the wrong one, and he or she would get so turned around that reality wasn’t reality anymore, ya know?”
Ollie nodded. He did know. For a time Ollie stared at the ad, and the weight of the paper seemed to hold him in place.
“I had a case once—a twenty-two-year-old right out of university,” Travis said softly. Something in his tone broke the spell the paper had over Ollie, and he looked up at his neighbor. “Some asshole had violated her redlines so many times that she didn’t know where they were anymore, and he’d convinced her that she wanted more. She’d signed a twenty-four-seven contract as a pet, never allowed to stand up. When we raided his place for drugs, we scooped her up, and it took the psychologists a good two weeks to get her to admit she hadn’t wanted any of it. She was so ashamed of what he’d made her do that she would have rather clung to him than face the real situation. I almost wrung that guy’s neck.” Travis grimaced, and the hatred practically radiated off him.
“Was she okay in the end?” Ollie asked. For some reason, he needed to know the girl had gotten her head back on straight. Dominating was a dangerous business, and in control clubs where sex was all negotiated, that danger was attractive—it was a spice that made sex more exciting. But the shade clubs were different.
“Sorta,” Travis said. “She filed charges against him, but I’m pretty sure she planned to avoid sex for the next sixty years. She was one of those cases that hit me.”
Ollie nodded. He didn’t have anything to add to this conversation. For a time they stood in silence, and then Travis cleared his throat.
“If you ever want to talk about whatever’s eating you, you know where my apartment door is. This job is hard. Don’t make it harder by trying to carry the load all yourself.” Travis silently studied Ollie for a good minute before he turned and headed back up the steps.
When he was halfway to the second floor, Ollie called his name. Travis turned.
“How high up were you before you retired?” Ollie blurted the question out, almost before he realized he was going to ask it.
Travis gave him an odd look. “Plenty high. I could have been captain, but I refused to leave the field. My place was out there investigating leads with my team, not stuck watching through some damn vid feed.” He came down several steps. “But there’s nothing you could say that would shock me. If you want, you could come upstairs and have a couple of drinks, and we can talk about your hard day.”
Ollie wanted to do that, but he wanted it too much. Lusting after a married man was not Ollie’s normal MO, and he was afraid the shit at work had left him too off balance. He wanted someone on his side. Travis gave off a supportive vibe, and Ollie wished he worked for the department because Ollie would trust Travis at his back. He wasn’t sure he could trust the captain who was using him or the lieutenant who was out to get him or even his fellow officers who wanted to stay out of the line of fire.
But no matter how much he wanted some strong shoulder to lean on, he had to handle this on his own. He could not violate operational security on two active cases—the investigation into the kidnappings and the internal review of Lieutenant Huda’s actions.
“No, thanks. Besides, I don’t think your wife wants to hear some old war stories from a couple of cops.”
“Don’t kid yourself. Darla’s got more stories than both of us put together.”
“She was a cop?” Ollie asked. She seemed too caring to be a cop.
“She was a dispatcher,” Travis said. “She heard crap that would make my toes curl, and she was helpless to stop any of it as long as she was on the other end of a vid or a phone. Sometimes when the bad guys were high enough or stupid enough, they even committed crimes in front of the camera, and she got to see it. She may be soft and tender on the outside, but inside that woman has a core of steel. You can trust her to handle whatever you’ve got to say and keep it confidential.”
“That’s a kind offer…” Ollie let his voice trail off. Something here wasn’t right. Yeah, cops stuck together, but this was a little over the top. Ollie’s feelings were too unpredictable for him to spend too much time with a very attractive male. In Ollie’s experience, anxiety and stress never led to good choices. The very fact that he found Travis attractive was the best reason to run like hell. He put on an apologetic expression. “It was a hard day.”
Travis leaned against the rail. “Look, Darla’s always telling me I come on too strong, more like one of those shade Doms than an in-control and sane sort. So feel free to tell me to fuck off if you want, but you’re putting out some sub vibes, and it bothers me to see someone spinning out of control.”
Sub vibes. Fuck.
Yeah, that was exactly what Huda had said when he insisted Ollie had to be the one to go under. Apparently he reeked of submission. The worst part was that Travis was the sort Ollie would want under better circumstances.
“I can take care of myself, thanks.” Ollie put a whole lot of unhappy in his voice.
Travis raised his hands in surrender. “No problem. You can take care of yourself, and I don’t doubt that, but if you need some relief, Darla switches, and she always loves to have playtime as the Domme. No sex, of course. I mean, that’s my wife—but we do have some fun toys.” Travis offered him a kind smile, a sort of come-hither expression that made Ollie yearn for some connection.
Ollie’s face got hot as his imagination turned to what it would be like to feel Travis’s hands holding him down. Great.
One neighbor hated him, and the other thought he needed babying. Ollie’s life couldn’t get any better. “Fuck off,” he said before he headed into his apartment. He didn’t need to play, especially not with this new job coming at him like a freight train. What he needed were a few beers, some loud music, and a night of killing electronic zombies. That would make him feel better. Without another word to Travis, Ollie went into his apartment and slammed the door.