Trust Me If You Dare

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December 2010, Samhain Publishing

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Novermber 2011, Samhain Publishing

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Trust Me If You Dare

An excerpt from the second Romano and Albright novel

It was boiling hot on the sidewalk, but Dan's shirt managed to look crisp. He wore a handsome pair of black loafers today, no biker boots, and except for the fact that he was remarkably good-looking, he was just another New Yorker. Jeans and a tailored Egyptian cotton button-down, sleeves rolled sexily to the elbow. He'd done something to his hair in the last few minutes--smoothed it. He moved in a loose gait, ambling down the sidewalk. The frenetic pace of only a few minutes ago...where had that gone? He had slipped into some new character. Such a chameleon, my man Dan. Who was he really?

I kept the easy pace. It felt good to stretch my legs.

"Have you ever been to Zippos?" Dan pressed the button at the crosswalk and we waited for the light.

"Costume Emporium? Sure. They rent for Halloween."

"Yeah. They also offer large-scale rentals for local theatres--and they rent to the TV studios. They build some costumes, they tailor and they have a line in with some of the soaps. Like Days. Kendal worked for Zippos."

Zippos was one of those landmarks in New York City that you could easily pass without ever noticing. Behind the tacky street-level storefront crouched a massive red brick warehouse. The faded paint of last century's advertising still showed on the red brick bordering the alley. Giant second- and third-story windows faced the street. Inside, the entire building was overstuffed with dusty costumes and worn theatrical supplies.

"I remember the magnet. That's neat and tidy." And only three blocks from her apartment. "She must have been thrilled to land that job with Gun."

Some people do enjoy the notoriety that surrounded celebrities. Even minor ones. Not that there was anything minor about Gunter--to be fair, it would have been fun to be his assistant, although one would have their hands pretty full. Especially if one was gay and young and good-looking. Gun would be all over that. He'd dig the power play. Those flashy, long-lashed eyes would coax and wink and flutter--and then bam he'd be bending you over the nearest furnishing. I had no trouble imagining Gunter chasing some frantic secretary around the desk. A male secretary.

Someone like Stephen Taylor. He was the right combination of prim, dapper, adoring and stupid.

Gunter would definitely hit that.

Dan's voice called me from my musing. "Estelle got Kendal the job."

"You said." Estelle Rosenstein, the woman with big teeth, big jewelry, a crass laugh and a brutal handshake. She was a top agent in New York and a force of nature. Estelle had found Stephen his job too. That was her job, I guess, to find other people jobs. I glanced at Dan. She'd hooked Detective Dan up with the residents of Chez Gay as well. "Lot of that going around. Kendal must have felt like the shop girl who hit the big time."

"By all accounts she did. Until last weekend when she went loco."

We arrived. The plain sign on the door announced that Zippos had wheeled and dealed in costume and fripperies since 1981.The year I was born. Almost thirty years of selling fat suits and top hats. That had to wear.

"Here's the drill. You're a fussy costume designer--"

"Oh, please."

"And I'm Dan Green."

I couldn't help it. I smiled. "Again with the Green?"

"Always." Dan's finger touched my wrist and a bolt of lightning scrambled my thoughts. His voice was husky. "You used to like Dan Green."

I very much liked Dan Green. "Somewhat."

"I think he turns you on." He flashed that dimple. "Okay, I'll walk in behind you. Kendal is staying here, or she hooked up with someone here. You said uniform. Zippo's or NBC. Those are the most likely places she could grab a uniform--I doubt she whipped it together--or stole it. It's a good time to check, before she comes back." Which was why he'd driven like a bat out of hell. "You can say you're here to see the facility. Say that you want to make a donation."

I stepped back. "Lie? I'm not sure--"

"Just ask them to see the back. Tell them whatever you want. You need three hundred top hats or something."

"Well...I...do need a tux." At the very least, I could get measured. Maybe try one on. That would ease the shame of missing work. This was Poppy's fault after all.

I looked dubiously at the silver lamé draping the storefront and wondered if they even had a black tux for rent. My money was on something colorful and theatrical--something retro with spats. Or spots.

"Tux." Dan's smile softened. "That's a good idea." He took his sunglasses off, tucked them into the placket of his shirt, and his dark-chocolate gaze rested on my mouth. For the first time all day, he focused on my lips, licking his own, and my stomach flipped over the right way. "I can't wait to see you in black tie. Gold cuff links. The whole shebang. Shiny shoes. Bow tie. Jesus. Do you have any silk boxers? We should get you some. Let me get you some."

He moved closer and his index finger stroked my neck. The heat of the sidewalk was forgotten. Smog? Sweat? Carsick? Huh? Dan's finger circled lazily on my skin, and I was lost. His voice grew unreasonably husky. "What will they say, Ce, when we dance together? I want to do that. I want to hold you in my arms, in front of the entire damn world. Would you do that? Would you dance with me?"

Enthralled, I could only nod like an idiot, but the thought--he was just so beautifully comfortable with us.

His lips brushed my ear. "Just the two of us? I'd like that. I'd like it a lot."

"Yeah. Me too, actually."

"You'll let me lead?"

I swallowed. "Maybe."

"Always." He grinned, and his hand cupped my neck for just a moment. He winked and his dimple was so deep I wanted to fall inside his smile and never find my way out. He just...unhinged some locked door inside me...and then he stepped back and checked his fucking watch. "So, make this thing at Zippo's count. Give me enough time to poke around and see if Kendal's shacking up there. Easy breezy."

"Lemon squeezie," I croaked, desperate to stop my dick from hardening anymore while I stood like a lovesick puppy on the sidewalk. I cleared my throat. "Let me just give a heads up to Poppy."

copyright 2009-17, l.b. gregg