Eli Bell is the only son of a police chief inspector and a forensic scientist. He's grown up wonky in a world that only deals with the straight and narrow -- and his new boyfriend isn't helping.
Rob Hawkes is six feet of muscle, tattoos, and arrest warrants. A career criminal and a former guest of Her Majesty's Prison Service, he'd rather hit Eli's parents than sit down to dinner with them. One wrong move, and Rob could destroy Eli -- and his family -- without a second thought.
But this isn't what it looks like.
Rob's not in control here -- and Eli's the one to blame.
The Suzuki roared off as Eli headed up the path. The kitchen curtain distinctly twitched and he rolled his eyes before letting himself in. "I'm home!" he yelled, and -- surprise, surprise -- Dad materialised in the kitchen doorway.
"You're later than we expected."
Eli shrugged. "Stopped at Rob's for lunch first. It was a long trip back."
"Hm." Dad's eyes were raking him. A spark of irritation lit in the back of Eli's head -- what was Dad expecting, him to return with a black eye and an arm in a cast? Should he strip off and show the lack of bruises?
... Although on reflection, that would be a bad idea. Given that Rob had left a really impressive bite-mark on Eli's inner thigh last night.
"Eli!" Mum. Thank God. "There you are, dear -- how was your trip?"
She appeared from the living room, and drew him into a brief hug before holding him at arms' length and giving him the same visual inspection that Dad had. The irritation got stronger, but Eli blew out his cheeks and tried to stay pleasant. "It was really good."
"Have fun, did you?"
"Yes," Eli said. "Got to meet Rob's aunt and cousins. Loads of snow too, so we had a snowball fight on Boxing Day. Danny -- his brother -- me and Danny ganged up on Rob so he got trounced."
Dad looked like he was biting his tongue; Mum smiled, and tugged Eli into the kitchen.
"Samuel, dear, don't just stand there, pop the kettle on," she scolded mildly, sinking into the chair opposite Eli's usual one. "I'm glad you had a good time, dear. Your aunts missed you, though, we'll have to pop up to see them again at the weekend. And your presents are on your bed, you should open them tonight, Jenny's bringing Flora over..."
Eli's heart jumped. The present! Rob's present -- that would convince even Dad. "Look," he said, dumping his bag on the table and rummaging inside. The envelopes were bent and creased, but he found the cheque and slid it across the table to Mum with a beaming smile. "Look what Rob got me."
The reaction was instantaneous.
"Where did Hawkes get that kind of money?"
"It's for --"
"Is this for college?" Dad interrupted. He was holding the cheque between finger and thumb as though it were a dead rat. "Did he give you this to go to college?"
"Eli, I have said time and again that if you want to go to art college, your mother and I will support you and pay the fees -- I certainly do not want you taking money from a criminal!"
"Dad! He's not a fucking criminal!"
"Language! And yes he is, Eli! When was the last time he was earning steady money -- where on earth could he have gotten this amount of money legally?"
"I -- it doesn't matter where it came from, it's for --"
"This is criminal proceeds, Eli, there's no question about it -- it's probably drug money, at the very least, and I will not have my son accepting money from a drug dealer to go to college!"
"He's not a druggie! For God's sake, he's done something really nice for me, it's for --"
"I will not have it!" Dad thundered. He was breathing heavily through his nose, his face bulging scarlet over his collar. He was obviously due to go on shift, dressed up to the nines in his brass and white shirt, and the cheque was fluttering, his hand was shaking that hard. "I will not have you accepting criminal money! That is final!"
"You can't fucking stop me accepting his money!" Eli bellowed back.
The rip of paper was louder than the detonation of the atomic bomb.