When Peter Brandon, a gifted young artist awakens from a coma of three years, he learns that his lover, Phillip, was brutally murdered and no one brought to justice for the crime. With the help of Andrew Connor, his physical therapist, he slowly regains his strength, but it is not until he visits Phllip's graveside and receives an affirmation that his dead lover is somehow guiding him to the truth, that he feels the need to get on with his life.
Through mutual friends, he meets Jeff Stevens, an ex-cop now a PI, and together they discover that Phillip was not the victim of a random gay-bashing, but of a deliberate act to silence him. They unravel a web of lies, deceit and a friend's treachery. During their investigation, Peter and Jeff find a mutual attraction for each other, a situation that is thrown into jeopardy in their final face off with Phillip's killer.
A prequel to the Nick Fallon Investigations series but can be read as a stand alone.
Laguna Beach, California
Andrew Connor stretched out in the new king size bed he and his partner David Angelo had just purchased the week before. He rolled over and put his arm around the still sleeping David, spooning into his warm muscular butt. Andrew could not remember when he had been happier. He and David had been living in their townhouse in Laguna Beach for only a couple of months. The previous three years they had rented rooms from their friend, Rob Braden-a situation that had become almost comically tense in the last year or so ever since Rob had finally decided to marry Maggie, his long-suffering fiancÃ©e of five years. Maggie really didn't want to throw Andrew and David out; she merely wanted Rob all to herself after waiting so long for him to finally commit. They couldn't really blame her for that. Andrew smiled, remembering the look on Maggie's face when they announced that the purchase of their townhouse had, at last, been approved.
"She didn't know whether to say 'Congratulations' or 'Good Riddance'," David had laughed afterwards. Rob had introduced Andrew and David to each other almost four years earlier. At the time, David was a struggling architectural student living with his parents in San Clemente, and Andrew had only recently become a licensed physical therapist. Andrew's parents lived in Fresno, so he roomed with an old college friend in a tiny condo in Tustin.
David and he were grateful when Rob mentioned he had a couple of rooms he was going to let out in his rambling old house in Newport Beach. An elderly great-aunt of his had died and left her entire estate to Rob, the only relative that had ever bothered to visit her in her dotage. Everyone thought Rob would sell the place, but he had fond childhood memories of the house and had decided to move in, despite the fact it was far too big for one person.
"I'd rather have you guys there. I know you won't trash the place when I'm not around," was Rob's way of inviting David and Andrew to move in. The arrangement had worked well, for close to three years.
David had known Rob since grade school and his friend had not been fazed at all when he came out to him early in their friendship. Rob had made sure none of the other kids made it difficult for his buddy and had even embarrassed him, several times, by trying to "fix him up" with guys Rob suspected of also being gay. Rob was a big guy with a mellow easy-going personality which, along with his "little boy lost looks" David swore he cultivated unashamedly, made him a magnet for women eager to mother him-and marry him. He was also a party animal, and it was at one of his impromptu get-togethers to celebrate his recent recovery from a cycling accident that he had made a point of 'fixing up' Andrew and David.
When Andrew arrived, looking tan and handsome in a white polo shirt and khaki shorts, Rob had immediately dragged him over to where David stood talking to Maggie. Maggie had rolled her eyes as Rob, all smiles and slightly tipsy, introduced Andrew as "The guy with the great hands I told you about."
"I hope he told you they were being used strictly for therapy," Andrew had laughed, taking David's warm hand in his.
"Yeah, he told me you worked wonders after the accident. And by the way, he's right..." David had smiled into his eyes, "you do have great hands."
They had found a private spot away from the other guests and talked for hours. Andrew could immediately feel the allure of David's easy charm, and found himself smiling a lot while they talked. There was no doubt David was using all of that considerable charm on him, and he fell for it hook, line and sinker. As the party wound down and Andrew said he had to go due to an early morning appointment, David had kissed him gently on the lips and asked for a date for the next evening. They were inseparable from that time on.
They took a weekend trip to Mexico together and after the first time they made love, David asked Andrew to move in with him. Despite the fact neither one had a lot of money, they planned on getting their own apartment as quickly as possible. When Rob offered them his home, it had seemed like the icing on the cake, particularly as Rob's job as a special events coordinator took him out of town a lot, with the result they had the place to themselves most of the time. Now that they had their own home, things were even better.
Andrew stroked David's chest, trailing his fingers through the warm covering of curly hair, pausing to circle each nipple with his forefinger. He really didn't want to get out of bed even though he had a big day ahead of him with a new patient at the hospital, and a meeting with the patient's mother prior to the first session.
Eve Brandon had called him two days earlier saying she needed a physical therapist for her son Peter, and that Dr. Hamilton had recommended Andrew to her at the hospital. The regular therapist had taken off suddenly for a new position out of state, and the hospital staff had been filling in until a replacement was found. Andrew had called Ed Hamilton to thank him for the referral and the doctor had apprised him of the situation.
"It's a really sad case," Hamilton told him. "The boy's been in a coma for the last three years. There's very little possibility of anything changing really, but Eve-Mrs. Brandon, clings to the hope that eventually he'll wake up. Initially, we set up a regimen of passive exercise and massage to prevent the muscles from atrophying. She's insisted on keeping it going through the years, despite the fact that there's little chance of recovery."
"What caused the coma?"
"He was beaten half to death by 'persons unknown' as the police put it. They never did find out who did it. It was an obvious hate crime. The police report stated that there was no sign that their attackers intended to rob them."
"Yes, Peter's friend Phillip was attacked too. I'm afraid he didn't make it. He was dead at the scene."
"Jesus..." Andrew drew in a sharp breath as he recognized this part of the story. "Wait a minute-what did you say the last name was?"
"Brandon, Peter Brandon."
"Yeah, I remember reading about this. They never did find the bastards who attacked them, did they?"
"No...and it was especially hard on Eve. Her husband, Paul, had died of a heart attack a little more than a year before this incident and she had moved in with Peter and Phillip at their insistence. Terrible really, Peter was an extremely promising artist; already had a couple of exhibitions in town, and there was word of some New York dealers interested in his work. Eve won't part with any of it now, though she's had many offers."
"And there's no hope at all he may wake up eventually?"
"I'm afraid not. It's a miracle he's still alive really. Anyway Andrew, she's looking forward to meeting you. I've told her you're just the man for the job."
Andrew frowned as he remembered the conversation with Dr. Hamilton. What a god-awful thing to happen. Now, he could help but feel slightly guilty about his earlier euphoria. David stirred, and turned to face Andrew, his morning wood pushing between his lover's thighs.
"Good morning, my pretty," he murmured.
Andrew smiled and placed a lingering kiss on David's mouth. As their bodies meshed, all thoughts of getting out of bed were quickly forgotten.
Later, over some hastily prepared coffee, David asked, "So what's on your agenda, today?"
Andrew, never tired of taking in David's dark good looks, courtesy of his Italian heritage, found himself wishing they could take the day off together. David's job in a high-powered architect's office in Newport Beach demanded he work long hours, even some weekends, but the money was good and he was highly thought of by the owners of the company.
"I have my first appointment with that coma patient I told you about-Peter Brandon. You know, the one who was beaten up in LA about three years ago? I have to meet his mother first. I guess she feels it necessary to explain what she expects, though Ed Hamilton filled me in on the history. He was one of the doctors initially on the case."
"Nice of Ed to recommend you."
"Yes, it was. Apparently, he liked the work I did at the children's clinic, after that school bus accident."Andrew was referring to the physical therapy he had given to several school children after their bus had careened off the road into a ditch on the Laguna Canyon Road. None of the children had been seriously hurt, but some had required therapy for a time afterwards.
David nodded, then said reluctantly, "Okay kiddo, got to go." He rose and picked up his briefcase. "See you around seven o'clock..." He gave Andrew a quick kiss, then dashed out the door with a cheerful "Bye!"
With some time to spare before his meeting with Mrs. Brandon, Andrew cleaned up in the kitchen, then wandered into the large sunny living room they had fallen in love with when they first saw their new home. Located on a sloping vacant lot two blocks east of Pacific Coast Highway, and high enough to have an ocean view over the roof tops below, the townhouse was one of only six terraced units. The builder had gone bankrupt and the units had been placed on the auction block.
David had heard about them through one of the senior partners at the office and immediately they had put in a bid. To their amazement, they were successful in securing the exact unit they wanted. It had stretched their joint finances but they considered it a worthwhile investment. David's parents had given them some starter furniture until they were in a position to furnish it to their own taste.
Andrew walked out onto the deck, inhaling the fresh scent of jasmine that grew in abundance nearby. Leaning on the deck railing, he looked out across the tops of the carefully maintained trees that lined the street below, to the blue of the ocean beyond. He lifted his face to the warmth of the morning sun and considered himself a lucky man.