Rafe Colman's likes his life. He has a nice home, a good job, and a wonderful dog. But he's exhausted by living a lie. When his home is vandalized because of his perceived German ancestry, he can't even share the irony with friends.
Officer Ben Morgan falls for Rafe's dog first, but it isn't long before he's giving her owner the eye. He thinks they have more in common than the search for Rafe's vandals, and he's willing to take a chance and find out.
If life in 1955 is tough on a cop in the closet, it's even tougher on a refugee who's desperate to hide his roots and fit in. Rafe knows from tragic experience how vicious prejudice can be. Every second with Ben is stolen, every kiss fraught with danger.
When Ben's partner threatens to ruin everything, Rafe and Ben have to fight to protect what they have, in Secret Light...
Excerpt: “Officer Morgan. This is a surprise.” Rafe stepped back to let him in and Mooki went berserk, circling their ankles and nearly tripping them up.
“Good evening, Mr. Colman. I thought I’d stop by to see how you’re doing.” Morgan fidgeted with his keys. He had competent-looking hands with square fingers. For a moment, Rafe got lost looking at the fine hairs on the backs of his knuckles.
“Please come in.” Rafe backed out of the way. Morgan had seemed larger in his uniform -- but even without it, his was an intimidating presence. “What can I do for you?”
“This isn’t an official call or anything. I wanted to let you know the detectives have a possible lead on this. Probably nothing will come of it, but we’re keeping our fingers crossed.”
“I see. No matter. Damage done.” Rafe motioned his visitor toward the kitchen, where he planned to retrieve another beer. His bottle opener was still on the counter, and he picked it up, holding it thoughtfully before speaking. Should he offer something? Was that proper?
“Would you care for some refreshment? I was about to have another beer.”
“Would you care for some refreshment? I was about to have another beer.”
“Thank you. That would be just great.” Morgan lifted a hand to his tie but asked permission before he loosened it. “May I? I’ve just come from taking my mother to mass.”
“Make yourself comfortable. You took your mother to church? What a gentleman. You must make her very proud.”
“She’s an old-fashioned girl.” He shrugged off the compliment. Ben stuffed his tie into his pocket and took a beer -- served in a glass with the perfect amount of foam. “She doesn’t like to go without family. After my father died…”
“You go every Saturday night?” Ben nodded. Rafe couldn’t help but smile. “You are a very good son, Officer Morgan.”
“Please, call me Ben. I see you were able to begin the cleanup process.”
“Ah, yes. Thanks to fine police investigation, they completed the insurance report on Thursday and gave me permission to have things hauled away. I am apparently covered for arson.”
“I believe your partner thought I did it myself.”
Ben stopped in the act of bringing his glass to his lips. “You think?”
“My brand-new car was elsewhere when my garage burned. I don’t blame him, but he isn’t a very subtle man.”
“No. He’s not. I’m sorry about that.”
“I did point out that if I wanted sympathy, I’d hardly put heil Hitler on the door.”
“Well, now…” Ben smiled. “You could be a spy of some sort.”
“You may laugh, but there was a time I passionately wanted to spy for the US against Germany. I had the language; I was familiar with the countries involved.”
“But you said your heart…?”
“Yes. I didn’t even know I had a problem, actually, until they told me. I rarely suffer from it. Occasional shortness of breath and palpitations, which I’d always attributed to overexertion or nerves. I was far too young to serve as a spy, but I imagined myself in the role. Then the war ended.”
“You might have made a good spy.”
“I would have been a great spy. I’m an excellent liar.” Before Rafe had a chance to regret saying that to a police officer, he changed the subject. “Follow me if you’d like more comfortable seating.”
Ben followed, and Mooki tagged along with them into the living room, her tapping toenails silenced as soon as they left the wood floor and crossed over the Oriental rug.
Was it his imagination, or was Rafe nervous? Ben supposed it was the normal reaction of having a policeman in one’s home. It was his experience that even his relatives acted out of character; they watched what they said around him.
The fastidious Rafe -- who poured beer into pilsner glasses and provided cocktail napkins for his guests -- sat in a wing chair, inviting Ben to take up a comfortable position on the couch. Ben placed his beer on a coaster on the coffee table between them.
“This is a nice place.” Ben glanced around. “Two bedrooms?”
“Three.” Rafe shrugged. He took a pipe from the table next to him and held it up. “Do you mind?”
Ben shook his head. “I like it, actually.”
Ben watched Rafe’s hands with interest. The act was precise and practiced. Rafe packed his pipe, then removed a
wooden match from a box bearing the name of a local, swanky restaurant, which he struck and allowed to flare for a second. He pursed his lips and drew a number of puffs to ignite the tobacco, after which Rafe blew out a thin stream of smoke with a deeply satisfied sigh.
“I work from home sometimes, and it’s ideal to have an office here.”
“It will be ideal for a family someday.” Ben watched him carefully when he said it, but it drew not a flicker of response. “I take it there’s no imminent Mrs. Rafe Colman?”
“I’m afraid not,” came the easy reply. “For all my immense personal charm, I have no luck keeping a young lady happy for long. Perhaps it’s because I can’t keep my eyes in my head.”
“That could make a girl unhappy.”
“There are just so many lovely girls. Don’t you find?” Smoke billowed into the air. Ben felt uncomfortable all of a sudden, as though Rafe was able to see right through him. As if Rafe was filling the air with smoke to create a barrier between them.
“Girls are always ready to throw themselves at a man. What can one do?”
“Poor man,” Ben said, a little too sharply.
Rafe blinked. “I’m sorry. I don’t ever seem to say the right thing with you, do I?”
“Maybe it’s me.” Ben looked into his glass. Should he go?
“I make a very fine living saying the right thing to everyone. For the most part, it’s like a running tap. It seems to shut off when you’re around.”
Ben sipped his beer to hide his pleasure at this. He liked keeping people off balance; it was in his nature to poke at things to see what the result might be. He’d been told his curiosity was discomfiting, but it didn’t stop him. He thought he was more a stickler for honesty than most. “That or I’m some idiotic, prickly bastard who shouldn’t be around people much.”
“No. That’s not it.” Rafe’s face registered something like regret. “I think you may be like one of those polygraph machines. You should be a detective, not a policeman.”
“As a matter of fact, I’m working on that.”
“Does that mean you will wear horrible, shiny suits and gum shoes?”
“Certainly. I’ve been reading detective stories all my life, and I’d be disappointed not to.”
In the silence that fell between them, Ben found himself thinking about Dashiell Hammett and how Rafe reminded him of Nick Charles -- elegant and effortlessly appealing -- whereas he had more in common with Sam Spade. Sam Spade had seen things. He knew things -- about life, about people -- that made him an outsider and, at the same time, the ultimate chameleon. A neutral man in a black-and-white world. He wondered if Rafe would agree with the comparison.
Colman drew him. He was urgently attracted to the dapper Austrian. He’d come there that evening to poke at Colman, to drop the tiniest hint that they might have something more in common than a crime scene. To convey in some perfectly harmless way that he’d admired Colman’s composure, and more, that he felt connected to him somehow, that he might have liked -- might imagine -- Colman felt that too.
Nothing short of survival held him back.