Simon…Eight Months Earlier...
The smell of burned human flesh still lingered in my nose.
One of the worst parts of the job I loved was having to deal with what happened to the human body after death. With so many different and disgusting outcomes, I changed my concept of human to carbon goo when there were no signs of life.
How Paul Wainwright did his job as coroner, I would never be sure. Having witnessed a few autopsies, I was certainly in no rush to do that again.
Especially not with the smell of Chas Robbe’s brains still in my nose.
Shutting the car off and running a hand over my face, I looked up at my little red brick house. The near perfect picture of suburban life. My sanctuary. The place I was safe and comfortable and got to hear Cameron chatter on about her adorable first graders and how frustrated Ryder was or how Bebe walked into the door frame, again.
With a smile, I climbed out and headed for the front door. Maybe it was time to talk to her about our own little Ryder or Bebe.
The key unlocked the knob and I walked into the house. It smelled—cold.
My hackles went up. Cameron always cooked, unless we had made plans to go out to dinner. I didn’t remember that being the case tonight.
I found my pretty Cameron sitting in the wingback chair facing the door. Her face was grim and sad.
All of my detective instincts kicked in. I noticed she was wearing sneakers and had her purse on the floor next to her.
“Cameron? What’s wrong?”
“I’ve been trying to figure out a way to talk to you about this.”
My heart plunged to the floor.
“I need some time, Simon. I’m faking this. I’m not happy, not like I was at first.”
My heart sank. “Time…I don’t understand. I didn’t—”
“This is all me, Si. I’ve lost me. I don’t know who this suburban hausfrau is, with pearls and social schedules. I want to find out who I am again.”
For one of the very first times in my life, I had absolutely nothing to say—no words of pleading, no anger, nothing hateful, nothing loving. There was just nothing.
The silence hung in the air between us for a long time. I looked at my shoes, then looked up. I glanced at Cameron’s purse and shoes and cursed that I hadn’t seen this problem.
After a long time, I finally let out a sigh. “I guess…you’re leaving right now?”
“For me,” she said. “This is me at my most selfish, Simon. I need to do this for me. I love you, but I don’t love our life right now.”
“Can’t we talk this out? Go to counseling? Get a mediator?”
She seemed honestly surprised. “Counseling? You’d agree to that?”
“Of course. I love you too and I want us to succeed.”
In a rush of movement, she grabbed her purse and made for the door. “I need to go.”
“Where are you going? Do you have a place to stay?”
Cameron held the screen door open as she was leaving and stopped. She heaved a breath. “I can’t tell you. Not yet. I put an official notice of separation in with a lawyer. If I can’t come back, we’ll be able to make the divorce quick and easy.”
“I don’t want to divorce you, Cameron.”
She half turned her head to look at me. “You don’t know me, Simon. I don’t know me. I’ll call you.”
The screen door thumped shut as she walked down the stairs and out to her car. I stared, watching her back down the driveway and disappear around the corner.
Her bags were in the trunk. This wasn’t a spur of the moment decision. She wouldn’t have been wearing her shoes if it was. She wouldn’t have rushed past me when I offered to go to counseling.
The house was cold.
The smell of Chas Robbe’s brains still scorched my nose.
* * *
Nick lifted his beer off the counter. “To the dead! May they continue to put bread on the table.”
Paul eyeballed him. “That’s damn morbid.”
Nick gave him the stink eye. “Says the man who challenged a doctor to a bone sawing contest. I’m not toasting the cause, or the guilty, or the crimes.”
Killian leaned forward. “You know what? Just stop. This is going the wrong way, really fast.”
Nathaniel jerked his thumb at Killian. “He’s right, you know. He knows about things going wrong.”
Killian stared hard at Nathaniel. “Look, just because I got my dick stuck in a Chinese finger puzzle—”
I snorted into my beer and made an instant mess. As I desperately tried to mop it up, I glanced over at Killian and could tell the others weren’t kidding. “Kay. You put your penis into a Chinese finger puzzle. What the hell is wrong with you?”
“Cece dared me.”
I stared hard at him. “You were hard, too, weren’t you?”
He coughed, and I couldn’t stop laughing. “You two do not have to prove you’re the kinkiest fuckers in town every single time, you know? It’s a Chinese finger puzzle, for God’s sake. Not a Chinese dick puzzle.” I paused. “How’d you get out?”
“I had to cut it off.”
“Oh, no. No no.” Nick held up a finger. “You do not get out of this that easy. Tell him what happened.”
Killian sighed. “I kept pulling on it. I just wanted to get my finger out. Except I was up and tugging on it was not the way to go. I had to keep pulling on it until I came and then it was still stuck because of the size and—”
I was laughing so hard I was pretty sure I was going to fall off the stool. Killian just glowered.
“Cece had to get scissors,” Nick supplied, trying not to laugh himself, “because she was laughing so hard she couldn’t help him to slide it off. They had to cut it down the middle, and then unweave it to finally free him.”
“And of course, Cece told Emmy,” I said and ticked off the gossip list, “who told Morgan and Nathaniel, who shared it with Paul and Tracy and Nick. Franz and Victor also know.” Killian coughed again. I just shook my head. “Seriously, Kay. You don’t have to take her every dare and you don’t have to make even a Chinese finger puzzle into a sex toy.”
Killian sipped his beer. “She’s so much fun, though. I mean, it’s just unrestricted kink all the time. She’ll try anything, do anything…” He sighed. “She’s perfect.”
Nathaniel and Nick made gagging noises. I couldn’t disagree.
I really enjoyed the Thursday night beers with the men who were seated around the table with me. Even though there were quite a few of the regulars missing, that wasn’t unusual. They all had lives that had to be led.
I’d met them through chance, over the past two or three years, but they’d all become good friends. Thursday night beers at Downbound in a restricted bar upstairs was one of the best ideas…well, who knew who started it. But all of these men were involved with the kink scene somehow, even if a step removed.
I had become the trusted police presence in the little community they had. They liked me, and I didn’t judge them for being kinky. It wasn’t really my thing, but no one deserved to be left out in the cold because they liked to tie each other up once in a while.
Or most of the while, in Killian’s case.
I chuckled. Killian adored his wife and would do anything she asked of him. Including putting his dick in Chinese finger puzzle.
Their stories about the perils, pitfalls, and pure pleasure about the kink community had helped float me along for the past eight months. I’d managed to get past the first two weeks decently. The next two hurt more than just about anything, but slowly, I was getting used to Cameron being gone.
She’d sent me copies of all the paperwork she’d had set up in case she’d decided to make this permanent. She’d left me everything in the house except her mother’s heirlooms and her clothes. There was just nothing there of her anymore. She’d finally relented and sent me her address after four months.
I had only driven by just once.
I couldn’t resent her. I couldn’t even try to hate her. I’d loved her too long and too hard to do that. The house was cold and empty and boring without her. If she had simply talked to me, I would have done anything to keep her happy—how had I missed so much?
But with these guys and their significant others, I was starting to feel a modicum of normality. Just a touch of it. Better than lying in bed every night staring at a blank ceiling, counting sheep and thinking about the gorgeous body that wasn’t next to me.
I missed her. A little less each day, but I still missed her. It was more resignation now that she wasn’t coming back than anything else.
“Haven’t heard from her, eh?” Killian asked.
Shaking my head, I poked the foam on my beer. “Nope. Just a weekly voicemail to let me know she’s all right and hasn’t decided yet.”
“Mmm.” Killian sipped his beer as Paul, Nathaniel, and Nick started talking about something else. “I don’t think that’s what her last voicemail said, was it?”
“Are you listening to my messages?”
“Nah, it was the way you screwed up your face and looked completely displeased with everything when you said voicemail.”
The bubbles replaced the small hole I’d made in the foam. “She’s been seeing someone. She’s dating around. She’s still not sure, but she’s dating to find out.”
“I’m sorry, man. I’m really sorry.”
“And I don’t know how to get beyond this. If she comes back, I’ll be mad. If she doesn’t, I’ll be mad. If she divorces me, I’ll be mad. If she makes me her backdoor man, I’ll be mad. I’ll be there, but I’ll be mad.”
“And she won’t talk to you in person at all?”
A slow shake of my head answered his question. “I’ve left her a voicemail every week asking her to go to counseling with me, and there’s never an answer. I’m at a total loss at this point.”
“You know what I think?”
My gaze slid over to his, skeptically. “What’s that?”
“You need a little kink to help you forget.”
If I had rolled my eyes any harder, I would have sprained them. It was close this time. “Your answer to everything is sex.”
“Where did I say sex?” Killian shrugged. “I said kink. There’s a difference. Look, just pick a house or a club and I’ll get you in. You don’t have to do anything at all. Just get a drink and watch. You’ll be contributing to someone else’s kink and it will help you get your mind off what’s going on.”
“House or club? Remember you’re talking to an officer of the law.”
“I’m also talking to my friend, who isn’t going to tell anyone about the kink clubs or training homes. Darien will have your balls mounted over his door like lucky horseshoes.”
“My balls haven’t brought me any luck lately. Someone else should try them.” Sighing, I ran a hand over my face. “Okay. Fine. You pick one for me. I’ll go if only to prove you wrong.”
“There’s nothing to prove, just a night where your mind will not be focused on what you don’t have but what you can’t presently touch.” He smiled. “I’ll call my father-in-law tomorrow and get you a pass for Sadique House.”
My eyes went wide.