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“Let’s try other music.” This tune wasn’t quite as slow and had a more pronounced beat. Positioning Nick’s hands, then his own, Todd leaned forward far enough to brush a light kiss over Nick’s cheek. He whispered into Nick’s ear, “Listen to the music and try to follow it… and me… and relax… and—”
“Have fun, damn it!” Nick grinned, pressing his head close to Todd’s, his tongue swiping a wet path over Todd’s ear.
“Anyway, launch is in a few hours, and there’s a party in the formal ballroom after that,” Todd said. He snickered when he got his foot out of the way of Nick’s just in time. “Don’t look down.”
Todd hustled Nick out of their suite, and they headed toward the main deck. They could have watched the launch from the small balcony off their room, but Todd wanted to see everything. He’d never understood why launches were always at night, but once they reached the main deck and the companionway that ringed it, he understood immediately.
Slave porters were moving along the deck, lighting small oil lamps and cranking Faraday lights that were hung in strings along the rail. The engines hummed. Todd could feel the vibration under his feet. He glanced sideways at Nick, took his hand, and pulled him closer to the rail so they could lean over and look.
Nick’s face split into a brilliant smile when he looked out. The river was dark, lights from the boat reflecting off the water. He turned and leaned back against the rail, facing Todd and looking up.
“That is worth this whole trip,” Nick said, motioning to the upper part of the boat.
Todd twisted around and followed Nick’s gaze with his own. The steam stacks were ringed with polished metal—it looked like brass, from the coloring. Red and black streamers flowed in the gentle breeze. The horn blared, and Todd could feel how the engines rumbled, their power ramping up.
Nick looked down, then back up at him, and grinned. “Wow.”
“Yeah,” Todd agreed.
“Okay, now I get why you are so fascinated with these boats and wanted to see this for yourself,” Nick said.
Other passengers cheered and waved to people seeing them off on the pier as the paddle wheels came to life and the boat began its journey. As it pulled away from the shore and docks, it picked up speed until, once in the center of the river, Todd could actually feel a slight breeze from its movement on his face.
He twined his fingers through Nick’s and tugged him in for a light kiss. “This is how I always imagined it would be,” he said. He’d dropped his voice so it was low and husky. It had the desired effect on his young mate. Nick sucked in a breath.
Nick pressed close, shivering, his lips curled into a smile against Todd’s mouth. “This is pretty amazing,” Nick said softly.
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“Kevin destroyed all our evidence. How are we going to find out what happened?” Val asked. They sat at the table, and he was finishing a second cup of coffee. “From what we learned so far, I’m having a hard time believing it was Tom who started that fire. I want the end of the story.”
“I agree. That article you read, the one written by one of the surviving students, you said she disputed Tom being at fault,” Wyatt said.
“Yeah.” Val put his coffee cup down with a soft clunk. “Think she’s still alive?”
“I suppose it’s possible. If not, maybe we can track down a relative who might be able to shed some light on things.” He stood up, taking his phone. “I have to call Lily. We were supposed to meet her yesterday, and I want to make sure she’s all right and let her know we’re okay.”
It took them some serious searching, putting both training and skills to good use. Wyatt had years of experience researching and ferreting out useful bits of data from the most mundane sources. He was constantly impressed and surprised by Val’s ingenuity and downright creativity when it came to hunting facts and people on the internet. Val found sites and resources Wyatt would never have thought existed, let alone gone to while trying to locate someone.
They ended up spending a day at the police museum and city hall searching records, even enlisting Lily’s aide. She was able to aim them at documents kept at the museum and a local university containing a great deal about the woman who’d written the article as well as other pieces that had appeared in newspapers over the years. The woman had mounted a campaign to bring the story of what really happened to light, but it never seemed to happen.
It took considerable effort on all their parts, but finally there was a solid trail to be followed. While it didn’t lead to the little girl who grew into the woman who’d written the article, they did have a clear picture of who she was.
“Molly and her brother Dennis, who was three years older, survived the school fire,” Val said, reading Wyatt the notes and timeline they’d put together. “Molly was really an amazing woman. She grew up and married a Tony Petite a few years before we got into World War Two. He was in the Navy and stationed in Hawaii. They not only lived through Pearl Harbor, but she also survived the 1946 tsunami. He wasn’t in Hawaii at that time.”
“That is one lucky woman. She lives through a fire that killed more than survived, the bombing of a naval base, and a tsunami.” Wyatt settled in a chair. He’d bought some large pads of paper with adhesive strips on the back and watched as Val stuck them to the wall, making lists and drawing arrows from one thing to the next.
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Clint nearly jumped out of his skin when someone’s strong arm snaked around his waist and pulled him back against a firm body. Warm breath blew in his ear along with the words, “You left the door unlocked again. I could be the neighborhood whack job here to bludgeon you to death after defiling you.”
“You scared the crap out of me!” Clint yelped, trying to squirm away, but it was useless. “You’re the guy on this street with all the big guns.” Behind him Griff chuckled and used one finger to move Clint’s hair away from his neck. He pressed a soft kiss to the spot. Clint glared down at the dogs. “And you two! You need watchdog lessons.”
Griff let go of Clint, turned him, and shook him by the shoulders for a second. “Lock the goddamn doors. Even if someone smashes through the storm door, you’ll at least hear them.” He raised his eyebrows and leaned away from Clint, letting him go. “For me. Please.”
“What you really don’t want is some moron busting up the storm door since you’d have to help me replace it,” Clint muttered.
Griff pointed up. “Hey, I happen to have a deep appreciation for that door. Notice I’m tactfully not mentioning how delightful you are when you work on a construction project?” Clint burst out laughing. Griff’s blue-gray eyes twinkled, and the corners crinkled in the way Clint loved when Griff smiled. “Sorry I’m late,” Griff said, leaning down to pet the dogs.
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Stephen del Mar
C. J. Anthony
Lily G Blunt
L M Somerton
Draven St. James
Hayley B James
Julie Lynn Hayes