Nineteen-year-old Joe has been living on the streets since escaping from a sex-trafficking ring. When a blizzard hits the city, he takes a chance, accepting Derek Clarke's offer of a place to stay for the night. It wouldn't have happened if Derek hadn't been doing a stake-out in the alley at just the right time and taken pity on Joe.
The blizzard leaves the two men housebound for the next few days, and they begin to bond as Derek teaches Joe some of what being a private detective involves.
Loath to let Joe return to the streets when the weather clears, Derek offers him a job as his apprentice, while allowing him to continue staying in his guestroom.
Can their relationship grow from friendship to more, in spite of traumas in their pasts, or will Joe's fear of physical commitment ultimately drive them apart?
Derek turned on the TV, keeping the sound just above audible so it wouldn't disturb Joe's reading. He found a local news channel that was giving a special update on the weather. Among the stories was one about two deaths from hypothermia as a result of the blizzard -- a homeless man, and a girl who was barely sixteen. Their bodies had been found in downtown alleys.
He wasn't aware that Joe had been watching until the young man swore softly. "They could have been me, if you hadn't come along."
"I'm afraid so."
"It's not fair, damn it."
"No, it's not," Derek agreed, wishing there was something more he could say. Instead, he turned off the TV. "I'm going to find something to read, too," he told Joe. "After I let Sherwat out."
At the word 'out', the dog was off the sofa, making a dash into the kitchen.
"We could take him for a walk, maybe," Joe said.
"We could, if I can find some old boots of mine that will fit you and a jacket, although you'll probably swim in it."
Joe snorted. "That would be nothing new."
Derek found things that would work, saying when Joe donned the winter jacket, "You look like a kid wearing his big brother's hand-me-down."
"I'm not a kid," Joe grumbled.
"Nope, but you don't look nineteen, either. Are you sure you are?" Derek kidded.
"Yeah. The one thing I managed to escape with, other than the clothes on my back, was my wallet. Not that it had anything in it but my learner's permit. They stole my money. I was supposed to take my driving test to get my driver's license, but I got stupid before that happened."
"You got conned by an expert, Joe. It wasn't your fault. By the way, and maybe you don't know, did the men running the trafficking ring ever get arrested?"
"They did. It was the one bright spot in my life back then. I was dumpster-diving and found an old newspaper with a story about it. Well, I guess it was the same ring. It must have been because I recognized the name of one of the men who was arrested." He shook his head. "That, I'll never forget. Brock Weldon."
"Good to know," Derek replied as he hooked the leash to Sherwat's collar and opened the front door. "This could be interesting," he said as he surveyed the steps down to the sidewalk. "We'll let dog here blaze the trail. From the look of it, a few cars have made it down the street so we'll walk in the ruts instead of plowing through close to two feet of the stuff on the sidewalk."
"I don't think I've ever seen this much snow," Joe said as he trailed behind Derek and the dog.
"In all your nineteen years," Derek teased.
"Hey, you're not that much older than me," Joe replied. "If I figured right when you were telling me how you became a detective, you're only twenty-six."
"True. Good memory."
"It was only a few hours ago. Jeez."
Derek chuckled as they made it out to the street, where walking was easier as long as they stayed in the middle. When they got to the alley between a row of houses, they waited while Sherwat took care of business. Being a good dog owner, Derek picked up after him. He started for the curb, knowing there was a Dumpster where he could leave the plastic bag behind the first house. That wasn't happening he realized. No one had driven down the alley, meaning the snow was almost calf high, and deeper where it had formed drifts. He tied the bag around the dog's leash to dispose of when they got home, and they kept walking.