Books & Badges – Chapter Eighteen


Russell looked down at his phone for seemed like the millionth time since he had texted Theodore. The man had read it more or less instantly, but it’d been nearly twenty minutes without another response. Either Russell was overthinking it again, or he had genuinely upset Theodore. He wasn’t sure which was more likely–he didn’t Theodore well enough to figure that out–but he hated the way it made him feel.

Russell: I’m sorry. We haven’t known each other long enough for me to start checking up on you as soon as your shift ends and I shouldn’t be doing wellness checks. I’m sorry.

Theo: Oh, gosh, I’m so sorry. I just forgot to respond. You’re fine, Russell. You didn’t do anything wrong.

Russell blew out a harsh breath. “Thank God,” he whispered.

Russell: That’s okay

Theo: Work was tolerable. Hip wasn’t great, but I managed. Books make it fun.

Russell smiled. Theodore definitely worked in that book store because he loved books. There was doubt about that.

Russell: I’m sorry your pain was a little worse today. I’ll make sure to wake you up next time.

Theo: You were sleeping, too.

Russell: I’ll set an alarm

Theo: Brilliant

Theo: Next time, huh? Presumptuous.

Russell’s heart skipped an odd little beat in his chest. Maybe that had been too presumptuous. Maybe–

Theo: What about tomorrow night?

Russell: I’d love to, but I’ve got a thing tomorrow with my brother. Friday?

Theo: Counter for Saturday? Vera and I always talk about our weeks on Friday. Which probably sounds lame and stupid, but it’s tradition.

Russell: I don’t think it’s stupid at all. I think it’s healthy. I’ll see you Saturday. Eating in or out?

Theo: In? But maybe… after Vera goes to sleep?

Russell’s brow furrowed. Did Theodore regret introducing him to Vera? He considered asking, but he didn’t want to push it. There was no reason to push it, not now, and especially not over text.

Russell: Saturday it is then. Should I eat beforehand?

Theo: Probably. Unless you… want to eat at, like, nine. Vera goes to bed at 8:45

Russell: Only if you’re teaching me to cook when I get there

Theo: I can do that.

Russell: It’s official, then. This Saturday, you, me, and some glorious recipe I’m learning.

Theo: Perfect. See you then, Russell.

Theo: Get off your phone. The city needs you.

Russell snorted.

Russell: City only needs me if there’s a homicide. But you’re right. You have more interesting things to do then keep me from paperwork.

Theo: You’re a dork.

Theo: See you Saturday.

Russell smiled, shaking his head as he slid his phone back onto his desk. He’d ask about the Vera thing eventually, but for now, he just wanted to be happy that Theodore trusted him enough to be able to call him a dork without apologizing afterward.

With Theodore, that was definitely something.


On Saturday, Russell pulled up to Theodore’s place at nine PM and texted him rather than risking a knock on the door. Nearly a minute later, Theodore pulled open the door. “I can’t believe you actually came.”

“Was I not supposed to?” Russell asked, head cocked to the side.

Theodore shook his head. “No. I’m just used to being stood up.”

“And then it somehow always being your fault, right?” Russell asked. Theodore offered a small nod. “I’m not like that. I will never be like that.”

“Yeah,” Theodore said quietly. He cleared his throat and took a step backward. “Well, come on in.”

Russell stepped inside, closing the door behind him. “So… what’re we making?” he asked as he kicked off his shoes.

“I wasn’t prepared to make that decision for you.”

“Us. It’s a decision for us, since you’re teaching me.”

After a moment, Theodore nodded. “I guess.”

“What do you have ingredients for that you enjoy making?” Russell asked.

“Goulash. I-I like making goulash, but Shane–”

“What’s that?”

“You–? Okay. Elbow macaroni, cheese, beef, onions, garlic, some italian seasoning. Goulash.”

“Totally down for that,” Russell said.

“You… are?”

“One hundred percent. You had me sold at cheese. And macaroni, of course.”

“You’re not just saying that to please me?”

“No. Me and mac and cheese have watched some great TV shows together.”

Theodore chuckled. “Yeah, okay. Come on. I’ll teach you how to make goulash.”


Seated on the couch in the living room, Russell stuffed another forkful of goulash into his mouth, letting out a mildly embarrassing sound. “Okay, so, I could never make this without you holding my hand and making it stir things, but God, do I love this.”

Theodore chuckled. “I’m glad you like it.”

“Oh, I love it. Think we can do this thing where you hold my hand and make it cook things more often?”

“You really wanna… keep doing that?”

“Long as you want to? Definitely.”

“Then… yes,” Theodore said.

“Awesome.” A pause. “I’m also super sorry for that food-induced moan.”

Theodore laughed, shaking his head. “Don’t be.” His cheeks turned pink. “You aren’t allowed to respond to this next part, but it’s the sexiest sound I’ve ever heard come out of a man.”

One corner of Russell’s mouth lifted. “I really can’t respond at all?”


“Okie dokie. No response.” A pause. “Oh, that’s so hard to do, Theo.”

Without looking at him, Theodore bumped his shoulder against Russell’s arm. “Maybe I’m testing your self-control.”

“Is self-control a good thing, or a bad thing?”

“Depends on the situation. Shane was always in control.”

Russell let out a nearly distressed whimper. “Theo.”

Theodore chuckled softly, turning to press a kiss to his shoulder. “You can say one thing.”

“I think the fact that you think it’s sexy, and that you said it outloud, is a good thing. That’s a thing non-‘damaged goods’ are able to say about people that they’re… technically dating now? And like I said, you aren’t damaged. Stuff like this? Simple little stuff, but it can help show you that you aren’t damaged, that you’re just fine the way you are.”

Theodore seemed to mull that over for several seconds. “Maybe you’re right. I’m no expert in… any of this. Also, technically dating?”

“I wasn’t sure how to phrase it without it getting under your skin.”

“I think… dating works. I’m okay with dating.”

Russell smiled. “Awesome. Me, too.”

Theodore wrapped his arms around one of Russell’s. “I, umm… feel like I should tell you that–although I really liked cuddling with you–I can’t do that again.”

“Because of the hip pain, or because of something… Shane-related?”

“Me not being able to kiss you this morning when I wanted to was Shane-related. This is totally hip-related. My mattress and my pillows–they’re supposed to help with the pain. Or, at least, they aren’t supposed to help make it worse. The couch tragically doesn’t have those qualities when used for more than, like, an hour,” Theodore said.

“Okay. No more couch cuddling, especially if it lasts more than an hour. I can manage that,” Russell said. “You wanted to kiss me?”

“I thought about it, when I saw you look at my lips. But I knew I couldn’t. I don’t know if it’s because Shane would always use kisses to sign his ‘apologies’, or if it’s because it still feels like betrayal of him, but… I couldn’t.”

“I’m not expecting you to kiss me,” Russell said. “And, uh, at no point am I going to force you to kiss me. It’s important to me that you know that, or try to understand it.”

“I’ll do my best.” Theodore pulled away from him, clasping his hands between his knees. “What do you wanna do now? Watch Nurse Jackie?”

“Yeah, we could do that. But I’m gonna make you stand up in an hour and take a little walk around the house, just to make sure your hip doesn’t stiffen up too much,” Russell said. “Or… not make, but I’m gonna suggest it in an hour.”

“I like that idea. That works for me,” Theodore said.

“Great.” Russell cleared his throat as Theodore grabbed the remote from the coffee table. “You sure you don’t want any of this?”

“I ate supper with Vera. I’m not hungry.”

“You’re sure?”

Theodore offered a smile. “I’m sure, thank you.” He turned back to the television and turned it on. “I’m just going to get us settled up with an episode of Nurse Jackie, and I’ll stand up in an hour like a good boy.” He cleared his throat. “Though I’d love if you pretended you didn’t hear those last two words.”

“Can I ask a question first?”


“Did he use to call you that, so you’d like to avoid it? Or do you just not like the way it sounds?”

Theodore stayed silent for a moment. “He used to call me it, usually when I stopped arguing for my side of a fight. I guess it was… even more proof he could defeat me if he ended it with ‘good boy’.”

Russell nodded, doing his best to keep his body relaxed, his expression neutral. The idea of some sick bastard like Shane treating him like shit pissed him off to no end, but he feared anger would set off every red flag Theodore was simply waiting for him to hit. “Well, I’ll make sure I never call you it, then. It’ll never be my goal to condescend you or try to… defeat you. That’s not who I am–not with you, not with anyone else.”

Rather than responding, Theodore laid his head on Russell’s shoulder. Russell smiled, reaching up to lay a hand on the side of Theodore’s head. He didn’t need a verbal response. That spoke much more than words could say, anyway.

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Books & Badges – Chapter Seventeen


Much later in the morning, close to six, Theodore awoke with a start. He sat up quickly, hand coming down on a surface much more solid than his bed. His eyes landed on the ‘are you still watching’ message on the television before drifting down to Russell, who stared back up at him.

“You okay?” Russell asked, his voice rough with sleep.

“Umm…” Theodore passed a hand through his hair. “Yeah, I’m good.”

Russell cleared his throat, rubbing at his eye with the heel of his palm. “What’d you see?”

“Do… you care?”

“ ‘Course I do. I’m not him.”

Theodore let out a harsh breath as he lay back down, dropping his head to Russell’s chest again. The couch was suddenly much more uncomfortable than before, but that was fine. Russell was warm and comforting, and he liked that, especially when Russell wrapped an arm around his shoulders again. “I’m sure you think it was a nightmare about Shane, but it wasn’t. I wouldn’t be able to lie here with you if it had been.”

“Makes sense,” Russell mumbled. He cleared his throat again. “What was it?”

“When I was a kid, I was terrified of the monster in my closet. Totally not a real monster, I hope, but it scared the hell outta me. I still have nightmares every couple months,” Theodore said. “Which I know is stupid, but…”

“Not stupid. You can’t control what your mind fears, what… your subconscious fears.”

Theodore closed his eyes, laying a hand over Russell’s steady heart. “Thank you.”

“No problem.” Russell rubbed a hand up and down Theodore’s arm, leaving goosebumps as he went.

“Do you… wanna go home?” Theodore asked.

“Do you want me to?”

“I don’t know. I need to go to bed. Like, an actual bed. Only… forty-five-ish minutes until Vera wakes up for school, but I can’t be on the couch anymore.”

Russell nodded. “Then I’ll head on home, ‘less you think you need me here,” he said.

Theodore pushed himself up to meet Russell’s eyes. “Would you mind staying here?”

“On the couch?” Russell asked. Theodore nodded. “No, I wouldn’t mind. I sleep on my damn couch more often than my bed, anyway. And your couch is much more comfortable.”

Theodore smiled. “You can thank my dad for that.”

“I might just have to take you up on that.” Russell reached out and gave Theodore’s arm a reassuring squeeze. “I’ll be here if you need me. And if you don’t, I’ll still be right here.”

“Thank you.”

“No problem.” Russell’s eyes flickered to Theodore’s lips, but they didn’t linger there long. Theodore wished he could act on that, wished he could be impulsive and kiss Russell goodnight like he wanted to. But he knew better. He wasn’t ready for that. Hell, as it stood, he didn’t feel as though he’d ever be ready for that.

Instead, he pushed himself up and climbed over Russell. “Do you need anything?” Theodore asked. “A blanket, more pillows?”

“Nah, I’m good. I’m a warm sleeper.”

Theodore snorted. “Yeah, I noticed. You know where the bathroom is, so… you don’t have to hold it on the couch just to keep your word.”

Russell chuckled, rolling onto his side. “Good to know. Goodnight, Theo. Get yourself some sleep.”

Theodore reached out and gave Russell’s arm a tentative squeeze. “Night, Russell.”


Little more than an hour later, Theodore woke up late and to the smell of eggs. He climbed out of bed and made his way to the kitchen, surprised to see Russell at the stove. Vera sat on the counter, a bowl in her lap.

“Morning,” Theodore greeted.

“Morning, Daddy,” Vera said, kicking her heels against the cupboard door beneath the counter. “Russell’s making pancakes and eggs for us, Daddy.”

“I see that.” Theodore walked up to the counter and leaned over to look at the pan. “It doesn’t look burnt,” he said before he could stop himself.

Russell laughed. Relief sank into Theodore’s bones. “Yeah, I Googled it, and my friends that know how to cook are speed dials one and two.”

“You’re adorable.”

Russell smiled down at him. “Thank you.”

“Maybe while you’re teaching us self-defense, I’ll teach you how to cook some, y’know, basic meals so you can survive off more than freezer food and fast food.”


Hesitantly, Theodore laid a hand on Russell’s back. “I need to take a shower. Can you…?”

“I’ll watch her. And I’ll do you the added bonus of not burning your house down.”

“Greatly appreciated, thank you. I’ll be back in, like, five. Just…” Theodore cleared his throat. “I’m putting a lot of trust into you here, Russell. Please don’t betray that.”

“You have my word. Vera’s safe with me,” Russell said, his voice low but far from intimidating. It sounded… reassuring, comforting. Those were two words that hadn’t even been in Shane’s vocabulary.

“Thank you,” Theodore whispered. Russell nodded and gave his arm a gentle squeeze. “Be good, Vera. Kick him if he starts acting shifty.”

Vera grinned. “Okay, Daddy.”

Theodore headed back to the hall, turning to look back at them. Vera was smiling, occasionally ‘helping’ Russell with the eggs. Vera had never really liked Shane. He had been in her life since she was a month or two old, but she had never much cared for him, despite acknowledging that he was technically one of her dads, by marriage rather than adoption. Shane hadn’t wanted to father a child that wasn’t biologically his, so adopting her had been out of the question. Vera hadn’t liked that much, either.

Theodore didn’t blame her, couldn’t blame her. Not liking Shane had clearly been incredibly intelligent of her.

But she liked Russell. That was something.


Theodore lifted himself onto his stool behind the register at work. Before he even had a chance to pretend that he was comfortable, Gina drummed her hands against the counter. “Good morning,” Theodore greeted.

Morning. How was your date?”

“God, it sounds so odd to call it that.”

“Do you want me to call it something different? I will if it makes you more comfortable.”

He shook his head. “No, that’s okay. I… enjoy Russell’s company. It was definitely a date.” He laid his cane over his thighs, clearing his throat. “I don’t know. I had… fun, and he’s a gentleman. He’s a good guy. He basically reserved the entire restaurant for the period of time we were gonna be there so I wouldn’t be anxious around a load of other people. Then we came back to my house, he met Mom–and he was really nice to her, even though she asked him if he was an asshole. We started watching a TV show together, we cuddled on the couch. Christ, Gina, I fell asleep snuggled up to him, with his arm around my shoulder. Asleep.

Gina smiled. “Theo, that’s awesome.”

“Is it? I worry I’m moving too fast.”

“Some people have sex on the first date and others don’t want to hold their date’s hand on the first date. Both are okay. As long as you aren’t uncomfortable–as long as he isn’t forcing you to do something that makes you uncomfortable–I don’t think you’re moving too fast at all.”

“Okay,” Theodore whispered. “Okay. That’s enough talking about me, though. Talk about you. We won’t have customers in here for at least another twenty minutes.”

Gina nodded. “I don’t have any fancy dates with hot detectives to talk about.”

“I totally never said he was hot.”

“You totally didn’t have to. Like I didn’t see you talking to a super cute guy about Beautiful Creatures, like, right before you started talking about the detective?”

Theodore’s cheeks warmed. “Okay, so he’s cute. Very cute. But stop turning the conversation to me.”

She grinned, crossing her arms over the counter. “Okay, okay. Hmm… Oh! I’m adopting a dog this weekend.”

“Aww, Gina, that’s great. What kind of dog?”

“The shelter thinks she’s part Boxer, but all I know is she’s adorable and she’s so sleeping on my bed every night.”

Theodore chuckled. “That’s what I’d do. A warm body to snuggle with that’ll pretty much love you no matter what.”

For the briefest of moments, Gina acted like she was going to direct the conversation back to him because of that particular comment. Instead, she nodded. “Yeah, that’s pretty much one of the benefits I see of it. Otherwise, I’m just really excited to have a dog again. I haven’t had one since I was, like, God… eight? Nine? It’ll be great to get back into exercising, too. Taking her on walks and runs. She’ll keep me in shape, and I’ll keep her well-exercised.”

“All damn good things.”

“Right? Ugh, she’s so cute. My phone’s in my car, but I’ll show you a picture of her on lunch break,” Gina said.


She straightened herself back out, drumming her hands against the counter. “Coffee?”

“Coffee would be great.”

“Awesome. The usual?” she asked. Theodore offered a nod. “Okie dokie. Back in a few.”

“All righty.” Theodore shifted on his stool once Gina had turned away. He touched his cane to the floor, using it to better support his bad hip as he lifted it off the seat for a few seconds. God, he shouldn’t have spent so many hours on the couch with Russell. He’d been comfortable–most of the time–but the couch was far from good for his hip. After the accidents, his parents had bought him a new mattress and several very good quality pillows that would make sleeping with the injury a little easier. The mattress and the pillows, if nothing else, were a million times more comfortable than the couch. Theodore, however, hadn’t been smart enough to tell Russell he couldn’t actually sleep on the couch–especially on his side–without it hurting.

Theodore had gotten pretty good at suffering in silence in his time with Shane. Tragically, it now seemed to be carrying over into his time with Russell.

He let out a heavy sigh. He hoped it didn’t continue as his time spent with Russell grew. Russell, as it stood, wasn’t Shane. For now, he was nothing like Shane. Theodore understood his own apprehension toward the man, but for now, there was no reason to hide simple things like that from him. It wouldn’t even take much to just tell him that sleeping on the couch for several hours, cuddled up against Russell–despite how warm he was–just… had to be out of the question.

As long as he convinced himself that Russell wouldn’t care, he’d be able to relay that without any issue. Now it was just time to do some serious self-convincing before he saw Russell again. “Easier said than done, Theodore. Easier said than done,” he whispered.


Russell: How was work?

Theodore stared down at his phone as he walked out to the parking lot with Gina. Russell had texted him pretty much exactly when his shift had ended, and Theodore was pretty damn sure Russell himself was still at work.

Theodore: How do you know I’m off work?

Russell: I just added eight hours to when you said your shift started

Russell: I didn’t mean to come off as creepy or stalkerish. My ass is still behind a desk. You were just walking with a bit more of a limp this morning, and I figure that’s my fault for letting you sleep on the couch. I just wanted to make sure you made it through the day okay. That’s it

Theodore let out a breath. Russell knew exactly what part of that question had put Theodore at a place of unease, and instead of defending it or telling Theodore he was just being sensitive, he had apologized, diffused, and followed it up with concern.

Russell was a little too perfect when it came right down to it. Shane had been nice and charming in the beginning, but he had definitely never hit Russell levels of perfection.

So what the hell was Russell trying to cover up for?

Theodore flinched as Gina touched his arm.

“I’m sorry. You okay?” Gina asked.

Theodore nodded. “Just… thinking about Russell. And not in the cute way you think.”

“What’s up?” Rather than responding, he held his cell phone out to her. “He’s good at handling your apprehensions. That’s good, right?”

“He’s too perfect. What is he hiding?”

“Oh, Theo,” Gina whispered. “You… Look, when a guy comes along and doesn’t treat you like shit, you’re pretty much going to think he’s perfect. I do the same. He doesn’t have to be hiding something for him to do his best to comfort you and reassure you.”

“It feels like he does. Feels like… he does have to be hiding something.”

“Then I guess you’ll have to ask him what he’s hiding.”

“I can’t do that. He’d be angry. And he sure as hell wouldn’t tell me.”

“You know neither of those two things, just like you don’t know that he’s hiding anything,” Gina said. “I understand why you think he is, why you think he has to be hiding something, but if he is, that something isn’t that he’s like Shane.”

“How the hell do you know that?”

“Because guys like Shane crack,” Gina said. “When you first started dating Shane? He told me I couldn’t come over to the house anymore, because he was allergic to cats, and I could carry allergens from my cats into your house. I asked him why it mattered, since he didn’t live with you. He told me that what did or didn’t matter wasn’t any of my business anymore. People like Shane crack around people who aren’t you in the beginning. Not your parents, because they’d be too close. Not your siblings. But people like me. We’d only been friends for half a year. He wormed me out as much as he could, because he knew that, eventually, I’d see him for what he was, and he couldn’t risk me telling you.”

“Jesus,” Theodore whispered. “I-I had no idea about that.”

“That was his goal,” Gina said. “You know, sometime, tell this Russell guy about me. I’m your best friend, you run a lot of things by me… Stuff like that. If he’s like Shane? He’ll confront. Having someone who can influence you besides him? He wouldn’t like that if he were like Shane.”

“Maybe I’ll do that,” he said quietly. “Thanks, Gina.”

“No problem, Theo. You deserve good. A good life, a good kid, a good guy. Maybe that’s Russell, maybe it’s not. But I won’t let another bastard treat you the way Shane did, I promise you that.”

“Thank you.”

She patted him on the back. “No problem, Theo.”

A/N: The ‘Letters from a Madman’ edit has been killing me these last few days, so getting to take a break to skim through this chapter was such a cute, happy little break. I can’t wait to be done with this edit and back to writing my #Rheo ship 😭

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Books & Badges – Chapter Sixteen


Russell pulled his car into Theodore’s driveway and shifted it into park. Letting out a slow breath, he dropped his hands to his lap and turned to look at Theodore. “Did you have a nice time tonight? I know it was just supper, but I didn’t want to add too many other things on top of it and risk stressing you out or anything of the sort.”

Theodore turned away from the window, a little smile gracing his face. “I really enjoyed myself, Russell. Thank you for giving me that,” he said. “And… you? I hope I wasn’t too boring.”

Russell chuckled. “Theo, I’ve sat in a dark, quiet room with you so you could manage to sleep for a while, and I wasn’t bored. You aren’t a boring person.”

“Yeah, I’ll just have to take your word on that one.”

“Well, even that works for me. Long as you know I think you’re plenty interesting.”

“I… think the same of you,” Theodore said.

Russell smiled softly. “Thank you.” He cocked his head to the side. “Do you want me to stay in the car, or may I walk you up to the house?”

“My mom’s inside.”

“Does she not know you went on a date?”

“No, she does. But I don’t know if you really wanna meet my mom.” Theodore winced. “That sounds terrible. My mom’s a wonderful person. I just mean, like, isn’t meeting the parents a milestone of some sort?”

“It can be, usually with supper, in my experience. But if you don’t want me to meet her right now, I’ll begrudgingly sit in the car.”

Theodore smiled faintly, and Russell couldn’t help but smile right back at him. “Yeah, okay, I’ll let you walk me back up to the house.”

“Awesome.” Russell shut off the car and pushed open his door. “Stay there? I’m gonna be gentlemanly and open your door, too.”

Theodore snorted. “Yeah, okay. I’ll behave and wait right here.”

“Not behaving,” Russell said. “I don’t have control over you. I don’t want control over you.”

After a moment, Theodore nodded. “Okay. By my own choice, I’ll wait right here,” he said.

“Perfect,” Russell whispered. He slid out of the car and closed the door. He was doing everything he could to balance his behavior. He truly had enjoyed supper with Theodore, but he had felt like he was holding a lot back. He hadn’t wanted to pressure him into any conversations or actions.

He just wanted the night to be fun and simple for Theodore. Calm. Relaxed.

He never wanted Theodore to feel like he was like Shane in any way, shape, or form.

Russell rounded the car and pulled open the passenger door. He held out a hand, which–after a moment–Theodore accepted. He got out of the car, touching his cane back to the ground. “How’s your hip?” Russell asked as he closed the door.

“Good. It’s… it’s all right. Those chairs were pretty nice.”

“Good. I did my best to make sure of that.”

Theodore snorted. “Thanks for not lying when you do weird, potentially manipulative things to get something. It’s… not something Shane would’ve been honest about.”

“In that case, I have one more honesty bomb for you.”

“Is it a good honesty bomb?”

“I would say… no. It’s super sad that I can’t cook worth a damn.”

Theodore cocked his head to the side. “So you paid for the food you brought over?”

“Psh, ‘course not. I don’t break promises. I did, however, help two of the detectives at the station with paperwork specifically so they’d make me food to bring to you and Vera. It’s not money. It doesn’t count.”

“That’s still totally cheating,” Theodore said. He smiled. “But it’s a good loophole. Congrats.” He elbowed Russell in the side. “And I’d say the food was well worth the trade, right?”

“Oh, one hundred percent. Though, it wasn’t the food. It was the supper. You and Vera. That was… that was what made it worth the trade,” Russell said, hoping to God that wasn’t crossing any boundaries with Theodore.

Theodore smiled at him. “Your sweetness scares me,” he whispered.

“I promise you it will not turn on you. What you see here is exactly what you get. I’m not a… I’m not a violent bastard. I never will be,” Russell said.

Theodore wrapped him in a hug. Russell let out a slow breath, embracing the man as he closed his eyes. “This is all so… strange, new, and difficult for me.”

“Oh, I can only imagine, Theo.”

“I-I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I enjoy being around you. I enjoyed having you at the house for supper. I really enjoyed having super with you tonight. But every single time you do something for me, I’m waiting for you to hold it against me. Every time you’re nice to me, I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop or for you to hold it over my head. I-I don’t know what to do, here.”

“Do you want to keep seeing me?” Russell asked.

“Yes,” Theodore whispered.

“Then we’ll figure it out.” Russell rubbed a hand down Theodore’s spine. “We’ll figure something out to help calm your nerves. Just… give me some time. I’ll figure it out.”

“Thank you.”

“No problem, Theo.” Russell cleared his throat. “What do you say we head on up to the house?”

Theodore nodded, taking a step away from him. “Are you tired?”

“No, why?”

“After my mom leaves, do you want to stay and watch a movie?”

“I would love to,” Russell said softly.

A tiny smile turned up one corner of Theodore’s mouth. “Really?”


Theodore nodded. “Okay. Let’s go… introduce you to my mom, then.”

“Are you sure you’re still all right with that? I won’t be mad if you don’t want me to meet her. I’ll take you up to the door, and then I’ll come back to the car and wait until she leaves to come back in for a movie. As long as you feel safe and comfortable, it doesn’t bother me,” Russell said.

“I want you to come inside. She hated Shane from the very beginning. She always said there was something undeniably off about him. I wanna know what she thinks of you,” Theodore said.

Russell snorted. “Comforting. Come on, then.” He held out a crooked arm. After simply staring at it for several seconds, Theodore looped his own arm through it. Helping to support Theodore, Russell walked him up to the house. The man still had his cane with him, but Russell was pretty sure the majority of Theodore’s weight had been shifted over to his Russell’s arm rather than the cane.

Russell was fine with that. Whatever helped Theodore feel more stable and confident in his step.

Theodore opened the front door and stepped inside. Russell followed suit, closing the door behind them. A woman walked into the foyer as they were kicking off their shoes, seemingly surprised to see that Russell had come inside. “Hey, Mom. This is Russell, the detective I went out with tonight,” Theodore said.

Russell stuck out a hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

She smiled, accepting his hand. “You, too. I’m Bonnie.”

“Good to meetcha, Bonnie.”

She nodded, dropping her hand. “What kind of detective are you, Russell?”


“That… must be terrible. Working murders?”

“It definitely isn’t easy,” Russell agreed, “but it allows me to give justice to the wronged, and it allows me to give people comfort on what is probably the worst day of their lives. Knowing I’m doing a good job at it makes the darkness of it worth it.”

Bonnie nodded, crossing her arms over her chest. “Are you an asshole?”


“What? I’m asking the man an honest question.”

Russell chuckled softly. “Don’t worry about it, Theo. It’s okay.” He cleared his throat. “As far as I know, I’m not an asshole. Since I graduated college, the only people who have honestly called me an asshole have been criminals when I’m arresting them. I–personally–think that’s a pretty good asshole to not an asshole ratio.”

“Hmm. We’ll see. I’m keeping my eye on you.”

“Please do. I don’t plan to harm Theo or Vera, but if I ever do, whoop my ass. I would deserve it,” Russell said.

Theodore grabbed his hand, tugging him back a tiny step before releasing his hand. “Okay, Mom. You’ve had your fill for the night, yeah?”

“For now. I plan to interrogate the heck outta this boy if you ever bring him for supper,” Bonnie said.

“Yeah, okay, Mom.”

“Well, it was nice meeting you, Russell, but it appears I’m being shooed out.”

“If you’d stop being embarrassing, I wouldn’t have to shoo you,” Theodore said.

Russell chuckled. “It was good to meet you, too, Bonnie.”

“Can you go wait in the living room, Russell? Please?” Theodore asked.

“Sure can.”


Russell headed into the living room and sat down on the couch. He heard the front door open and close, and a few minutes later, Theodore came back inside and sat down beside him. “So?”

“I’m sorry about my mom,” Theodore said.

“Sorry? You don’t have to be sorry, Theo.”

“I… don’t?”

“God, of course not. Your mom loves you. She’s just trying to make sure you’re okay, that you’re safe. You don’t have to be upset with her for that, either. I’m sure not.”



Theodore shook his head, clasping his hands between his knees. “Shane hated my mom, absolutely hated her. Every time she did something he didn’t like, I… was expected to apologize.”

“Well, to me? You don’t have to apologize for someone else’s behavior. You can’t control your mom. She’s not, say, a well-trained dog. And again, even if you could control her, I’m not upset with her. I’m not angry at her for protecting her son, not at all,” Russell said. He reached out, brushing a few of the longer strands of Theodore’s hair back from his forehead. “The only thing you’ll ever have to truly apologize to me for are your actions, your words. And I don’t mean the things Shane probably made you apologize for. I mean actual, genuine, terrible things. Okay?”

“Okay,” Theodore whispered. Almost cautiously, he leaned forward and wrapped his arms around Russell, resting his head on the detective’s chest. Russell hugged him back, closing his eyes as he gently dropped his chin to rest on the man’s head. “Do you still wanna watch a movie?”

“If you aren’t tired, I’m still definitely game for that,” Russell said.

“Then… I’m also game for that,” Theodore said. He lifted his head, eyes locking with Russell’s. “Russell?”


“Are you… sure you want to… be seeing me?”

“Pretty sure, yeah. Why?”

“I’m… damaged goods.”

Russell’s heart beat just a little faster, his temperature growing just a little warmer. “You’re not damaged goods. That’s the kind of disgusting bullshit people like Shane say to keep their victims in line, to keep them from leaving,” he said. “You aren’t damaged goods. You’re a human being who has been through hell. You’re a human being who, despite that hell, is going out of his way to raise a wonderful daughter. You’re doing great, Theo. You’re not damaged, you’re just healing.”

Theodore watched him for a long moment before letting out a breath. “God, I wish I could bring myself to believe that.”

“I know. And someday, maybe you’ll be able to. That wound’s still a little too fresh for you to simply… be over it. Not to mention that I’d be a monster if I just expected you to be over it. You have to heal, and that can be a long process. I’m not going to sit here and shame you for it or tell you to hurry it up. You have to take the time you need to heal, and I’m not going to force you to do that any differently.”

“I… I wish it wasn’t so hard to believe you’re genuine.”

“I understand why it’s hard for you. I won’t push that, either.”

Theodore sighed, though it didn’t seem to be out of irritation. “I know I asked you in for a movie, but… do you mind if I hug you just a little longer first?”

A little smile tugged at one corner of Russell’s mouth. “I don’t mind at all,” he said. Theodore leaned over and wrapped him in a hug again. Russell returned it, resting his chin on the man’s head. “I know you’ll never really let your guard down, and that’s okay. I respect and understand that. But I do want you to know that if you ever need me for… just about anything, I’m here. Okay?”

“I’ll do my best to remember that.” Theodore cleared his throat. “Can you… lean back? Against the arm rest?”

“You want to cuddle?”

“Maybe.” Theodore pulled away. “Is that okay?”


Theodore offered a smile. “Great. Umm… what do you wanna watch?”

“Anything that piques your interest.”

“You’re a big help.”

“I try.”

Theodore snorted, reaching out to grab the remote. Russell shifted, leaning back against the pillow propped up on the arm rest. Once Theodore had turned on the television and switched it over to Netflix, he lay down, hesitantly dropping his head to Russell’s chest.

After a moment, Russell wrapped an arm around Theodore’s shoulders. “You’ll… let me know if my arm is too much?”

“I’ll let you know,” Theodore said.

“Awesome,” Russell whispered. He turned his head toward the television, watching Theodore flip through the movies and shows they could choose from. “You really don’t care that I like women, too?”

“No. It’s not my business to care about the people or gender you find attractive. You like what you see in me–I guess–and I like what I see in you. That’s all that matters to me. I mean… on your end. I kind of also have to take in if you’re an asshole, how you treat those around you, how you act in public versus in private… You get the point.”

“I do,” Russell assured. “Still, thank you. Since I opened my eyes to the part of myself that also likes men, I’ve had a hard time finding a guy that doesn’t care and who wants to do more than sleep together. Same with the women I’ve been with since I came out. I can get one or the other, but finding both qualities in one person hasn’t been easy for me.”

“All the good ones must’ve been sucked up into relationships this year.”

Russell chuckled. “Yeah, that must be the case. Thank God you’re out of one, then, huh?”

Theodore tilted his head back against Russell’s chest, offering a little smile. “Yeah, thank God. I… I still can’t believe I’m out, you know?”

“I can only imagine.”

“Y-you know how I said Vera had a bad dream? That’s why I didn’t respond?”

“Yeah. You didn’t really want me to care about that at the time.”

“I know. I’m sorry about that.”

“You don’t have to be.”

After a moment, Theodore nodded. “Her bad dreams are about Shane. She has a lot of them where he comes back to the house, comes back to hurt me.”

“Does he ever hurt her in the dreams?”

“No, thankfully. I-I never let him… I never stopped him from hurting me. I couldn’t. But I didn’t let him lay a hand on her. I think I would’ve killed him if he had tried. Despite everything she ever saw, I think that keeps her from seeing him hurting her in the dreams, and for that, I’m thankful,” Theodore said. “Do you… do you think that fear will ever go away? The dreams?”

“I don’t know. She’s young, and there’s a chance it could fade, at the very least. But I… I don’t know. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. I figure I’ll have to try and take her to a psychologist who can help her and who can answer that question. I should… probably do that sooner than later.”

“Does your insurance cover it?”

“The first two sessions, yes. Outside of that… no.” Theodore cleared his throat, shifting on the couch. “But I’ll figure it out. She’s my baby girl. I’d do anything for her.”

“You’ll definitely figure it out,” Russell agreed. “Theo?”


“Did you really enjoy our date?”

“I did. Why?”

“Just making sure. I want to know that… you’re comfortable, you know? That’s important to me.”

“Well, I am currently very comfortable,” Theodore said.

Russell chuckled. “Good.” He laid his free hand on Theodore’s cheek, pressing a kiss to the top of his head. Theodore let out a soft sigh, though his body was tense. Russell understood why that conflict of emotions battled within the man, and he had no intention of drawing attention to it, not unless Theodore did it first. “You go ahead and choose a movie or TV show. We’ll watch whatever you want to.”

“Are you sure?”


Theodore nodded against his chest, flipping through their options again. “Have you ever seen Nurse Jackie?”

“I have not. Would you like to watch it?”

“Always wanted to. Shane hated hospital shows.”

“Well, good news, I love hospital shows. Long as you promise not to watch any episodes without me, fire it up.”

Theodore laughed. “Deal.”

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Books & Badges – Chapter Fifteen


Tuesday night, after work, Theodore waited for his mom to come to the house to babysit Vera. The idea of going on an actual, genuine date with Russell made his heart race and his stomach twist, but he was doing his best to keep it together. He wanted to move on. He wanted to show himself that he was worth more than someone like Shane.

As it stood, Russell had treated him rather well. If that wasn’t better than Shane, he wasn’t sure what–or who–was.

Finally, when his mom got to the house, Theodore unlocked and opened the door. “Well, don’t you look nice,” she said, her head cocked to the side. “You said you were going to the bar. Dress pants, a tie, and a very nice button-up are the things you’re choosing to wear to the bar?”

Theodore offered a smile. “What if I said yes?”

“Then I’d call you a liar.”

Theodore let out a breath. “Between you and me, I’m going on a date.”

His mother smiled. “Theo, baby, that’s great.”

His shoulders relaxed. “It is?”

“Of course it is. If you’re ready to try and start… living your life again, if you’re ready to be able and try to move past all that bad stuff? Of course that’s great. If even one date with a good man helps make you happy, it’s really great.”

Theodore smiled softly. “Thanks, Mom.”

She nodded. “Are you nervous? You look nervous.”

“I’m scared it’s too soon.”

“But you’re not sure?” she asked. He only shook his head. “Well, you look very nice tonight, so I say go. You can always leave early.”

“He’s picking me up. I don’t… I haven’t gotten back around to driving again.”

“That’s okay. Tell you what, if you wanna leave early and he won’t take you, you call me. I’ll put Vera in the car and come getcha.”

Theodore smiled. “Thanks, Mom. Really, I appreciate that.”

She touched a hand to his cheek. “You’re my baby boy. I gotta make sure you’re taken care of.”

“Thank you.” He cleared his throat. “So, umm… call me if you can’t find something or if you or Vera need anything. I’ll answer. Otherwise, I’ll be home in about three hours.”

“All right, sweetheart. Have fun, okay?”

“I’ll do my best, Mom.” Theodore pressed a kiss to her cheek before pulling open the front door. Though he had heard Russell’s car pull up, he hadn’t heard the door open or close. Regardless, Russell stood at the front of it, leaned back against the hood, eyes on Theodore.

Theodore swallowed, stepping outside. He reached back and pulled the front door closed. “Good evening,” he greeted.

Russell smiled softly. “Evening. How are you?”

“I-I’m good. How are you?”

“Also good. Do you need a moment, or may I open the passenger door for you?”

“You can–Yeah, you can do that.”

“Okay,” Russell whispered, pushing himself away from the car. He walked over to the passenger side and opened the door. Theodore drew in a deep breath and made his way down the steps, fingers tight around his cane. He hadn’t wanted to bring it, but Vera had insisted. In the long run, he also knew it was better to have it with him, but he hated bringing it everywhere he went. He wasn’t even thirty yet, not for another year or so. Having to walk with a cane made him feel… unbelievably old.

To say the least, it wasn’t a feeling he enjoyed.

“Thank you,” he said, his voice quiet as he slid into the car.

“No problem. All good?” Russell asked. Theodore nodded, pulling his leg a little further from the door as Russell closed it. Through the windshield, he watched the man walk around the front of the car, looking damn good in that suit. Russell slid into the driver’s seat, pulling the door shut behind him. After he buckled his seat belt, he looked over at Theodore. He flashed a smile. “I’m the boring kind of cop that’s not going to back up until yours is on, too.”

“Oh, shoot, sorry. I-I’m just… I’m nervous,” Theodore said, the words tumbling out before he had a chance to stop it.

Russell only smiled. “That’s okay. I’m nervous, too.”

“You are?”

“Very. Dates normally don’t go my way. The whole bisexual thing has really only gone well so far with a couple of women, and I just wasn’t interested enough for a second date. Or… a date at all. One of those gals is just nice to, umm…” Russell cleared his throat. “Well, I won’t go into detail on that one. But I’m nervous. That’s the main takeaway. You aren’t alone.”

Theodore reached over the center console, hesitating. “You won’t be mad if I touch your hand… will you?”

“God, no.”

He nodded, dropping his hand to cover Russell’s before he could stop himself again. He gave the detective’s hand a squeeze. “Thank you. Knowing that you’re nervous, too? That makes this feel a little… lighter, easier.”

That familiar soft smile came back to Russell’s face. “No problem, Theo.” He laid his free hand over Theodore’s, encompassing his cold, clammy hand with nothing but warmth. “Are you ready? Or do you wanna sit and talk a while longer? I’m okay either way. I made sure our reservation time accounted for a bit of nerves.”

Theodore offered a smile. “I’ll put on my seat belt and be ready to go. Thanks, Russell. Again.”

“No problem, Theo.”


Their reservations were at a simple but very nice restaurant, though all the tables directly around them were empty. After their waiter gave them their menus and walked back toward the kitchen, Theodore turned his attention to Russell. “I’m rather suspicious of you.”

Russell snorted before lifting his head. “For which reason?”

“This is a nice place, and I’m assuming you didn’t take me somewhere that had terrible food.”

“I didn’t. You’re right.”

“So why are there so many empty tables?”

“I… don’t know that you want an answer to that.”

“I think I do.”

Russell cleared his throat. “I wanted to play it safe and make sure that you didn’t feel too on edge. My sister manages this place. She made sure we were the only ones seated in this section for the next hour and a half.”


“Invasive,” Russell said. “I should’ve asked you if that was something you wanted, but I was worried you wouldn’t give me a straight answer, anyway. I just don’t want tonight to be terrible for you.”

Theodore reached across the table, touching two fingers to the back of Russell’s hand. “Russell, I was going to say that’s about the nicest thing a man’s ever done for me. Thank you.”

Russell’s shoulders relaxed as a smile came back to his face. “No problem, Theo.” Theodore nodded once, pulling his hand back to himself. “So, I want you to know that you don’t have to skim that whole menu and then order, like, a four-dollar salad, okay? You can get whatever you want here, no matter what it is, and I will not be angry with you. I will not hold it against you later. It’s important to me that you do your best to understand that, even though I know it’s difficult for you.”

“I-I’ll do my best,” Theodore assured. He cleared his throat, eyes falling to the menu in front of him. “You’ve eaten here before, right?”


“What… do you recommend?”

“Well, I really like the steak. I’m pretty sure that’s my favorite thing on the menu,” Russell said. “But the chicken breast is good, and the salmon is good. It’s the battered fillet, so… no eyes.”

Theodore snorted. “Good to know. What about sides?”

“I always get fries with the steak, even though my sister tells me I should try and be classier,” Russell said.

Theodore chuckled. “Your sister sounds like a hater.”

“Man, she totally is, she just won’t admit it.”

“How rude.”

“God, I know. Rudeness is her speciality,” Russell said.

Theodore lifted his eyes to Russell’s face. “Sibling jabbing aside, is she the one with the niece you bought the book for?”

Russell smiled. “Yeah, she is.”

“What’s your niece’s name?”

Russell’s smile widened, eyes brightening. “Abby. She’s… God, light of my life, you know?”

“I do. Vera’s the light of mine,” Theodore said. “Hopefully this Abby knows how great of an uncle she has?” He was damn proud of himself for managing what he hoped was a compliment without blushing or syking himself out of it. Russell deserved compliments. He was too good of a guy not to have them thrown at him every day.

“I think she knows,” Russell said. He smiled. “And thank you. I hope Vera knows how great of a father she has.” A pause. “Well, that’s a lie. I don’t have to hope for that. I’ve spoken to her about you. I already know she knows it. She sees you as… a warrior, a protector. She’d be right.”

Heat rose to Theodore’s cheeks, but he still managed to shake his head. “No, I’m no protector, and I’m certainly no warrior. I… I let Shane–” “Theo, you didn’t let that bastard do anything. He took what he wanted to take, and he did what he wanted to do. It was a systematic approach to forcing you into submission, forcing you to believe you were garbage and that you deserved what he was doing and saying to you. You, in no way, let that happen. That is not your fault,” Russell said. “And as far as I’m concerned, you are a warrior. You are a protector. He sent you to the hospital, and you fought back against every single thing he had ever done to keep you quiet, and you sent the cops back to that house to make sure Vera would get as far away from him as possible. That sure as hell makes you a warrior in my eyes.”

A/N: I love these two SO damn much, and I have no idea what I’ll do with my life after this book is over, lmao

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Books & Badges – Chapter Fourteen


Russell managed to wrap up the case early Sunday afternoon, not counting paperwork. The killer, however, had been arrested and read his rights, and he now sat in a holding cell at the station, waiting to be transferred to county tomorrow morning.

Russell sat at his desk, working his way through the paperwork in question. Final interview and interrogation notes, reports, signing off on the used warrants and forensic reports. It wasn’t the most fun part of the job by any means, but he had no real issue simply getting by. It was his job to do it, and Russell was damn good at following orders.

Russell looked down as his phone dinged with a text. Upon seeing Theodore’s name on his screen, he set his pen down and grabbed his phone instead.

Theodore: Question

Russell: Answer

Theodore: Are you at work?

Russell: Yeah, wrapping up paperwork. Why? Everything okay?

Theodore: Yeah, I think so

Theodore: Sorry, yes. It’s fine.

Russell frowned and selected the call option instead. He pressed his phone to his ear, waiting. After three rings, Theodore answered, though he didn’t offer a verbal response. “Theo?”

“Yeah, I’m here.”

“Great. What’s going on?” Russell asked.

Theodore cleared his throat. “It’s not a big deal, Russell. I’m sorry.”

“You don’t have to be sorry for anything. What’s up?”

He sighed. “Umm… it’s nothing, but a car like yours is driving around on my street. They’ve gone past the house four times already. I thought it might be you, but if you’re doing paperwork, it better not be you.”

“It’s not. But if it looks like mine, it should be a detective patrolling the block.”

“Isn’t that… a cop’s job? In a cruiser?”

“Depends on what they’re looking for,” Russell said. “There was an attempted break-in on that block not too long ago. It should be the detective working that case.”

“Really?” Theodore asked.

“Really, really. You’re safe, I promise,” Russell said softly. “And Theo?”


“If you ever think something’s wrong, you can contact me. A text or a call… I don’t mind either way. If I’m by my phone, I’ll answer it. Okay?”

Theodore stayed silent for a moment. “Are you sure?”

“I’m certain.”

“Okay.” Theodore cleared his throat. “Russell?”


“I have a hard time buying the… nice guy act.”

“For me, it isn’t an act, but I understand what you’re getting at,” Russell said.

“Yeah. I have a hard time believing it isn’t an act. So… I’m putting a lot of trust into you right now, but if it gets broken… I can’t talk to you anymore. This soon after everything with Shane, I can’t afford any second chances.”

“I know. And if I break your trust, feel free to just get rid of me, okay? I know you can’t believe me on this, and I understand that, but I won’t hold any grudges. None of your fears or inabilities are your fault. They were forced onto you. You with me?” Russell asked.

“I think so.”

“Good,” Russell whispered. “Very good.”

Theodore cleared his throat. “Thank you. For, uh… everything. Again.”

“No problem.”

“I’ll let you get back to work. Good luck with paperwork. Talk to you… later?” Theodore asked.

“Yeah, thanks. Talk soon, Theo.” Russell waited a moment before a little smile came to his face. “You’re still on the line. Would you like me to hang up first?”

“Yes, please.”

“Okay. Enjoy your day off, Theo.”

“I… was gonna say ‘you, too’, but I guess I’ll have to settle with, ‘I’ll do my best’. Talk to you later.”

“Yeah, talk to you later, Theo,” Russell confirmed. He pulled his phone back and ended the call, setting the device back down on his desk. Theodore seemed to be doing his best to answer questions without hesitation or a breakdown of those questions. Despite the man’s fear that Russell considered everything he did or said a burden or waste of time in some sense, ‘doing his best’ was a plus.


The next morning, with his own paperwork wrapped up, Russell went back to helping Emelia and Andrew go through the paperwork for their cold case. Police interviews, interrogations, missing persons reports, suspicion persons reports, APBs, BOLOs, photographs of the crime scene, printed off screen grabs from surveillance photos.

To say the least, there was a lot to go through.

“Coffee,” Andrew mumbled, pushing himself to his feet. “Anyone want a refill?”

“I’m good,” Russell said.

Emelia held out her mug. “Thanks, babe.”

Andrew smiled. “No problem.”

Once he walked away from the desks, Emelia glanced up at Russell before going back to the file. “So, you’ve been quiet this morning.”

“Do you want me to be super loud? That can be arranged,” Russell said.

She laughed softly, shaking her head. “No, I’m just not used to it. ‘I’m good’ is the most you’ve said in at least the last hour.”

“I’m just thinking, I guess.”

“Thinking about anything you’d like to talk about? Or is it all something that has to stay in your head?” she asked.

“I’m, umm, not sure, actually. I guess I’d like to talk, but at the same time, I don’t know how much I’m willing to talk about.”

“Okay, I get that. Well, I’m always here for you. You have to know that.”

“I do. More or less.” He cleared his throat. “Can I ask you something? And you have to answer it without being, like, super judgmental.”

“I think staying level-headed is generally regarded as one of my good qualities,” Emilia said. “Ask away.”

Russell nodded, though she wasn’t looking at him. “If the guy I… currently like is still recovering from an abusive relationship, should I put the brakes on and tell him it’s too soon? Or is it okay to let him figure it out?”

“Tell him that it’s too soon for him, or that it makes you uncomfortable to go on dates with him so soon?”

“I think it’s too soon for him,” Russell said.

Emilia nodded. “Have you already asked him if he thinks it’s too soon?”


“And what did he say?”

“That he can’t let his ex continue to ruin his life from behind bars.”

Emilia nodded. “Do you want my suggestion?”


“Unless it makes you uncomfortable or anything like that, go for it. Date him. If it’s too soon for him, he’ll know. He’s the only one that can know.”

“But… what if he doesn’t know?” Russell asked. “As far as I can tell, this ex of his is one of the only–if not the only–person he’s ever been in a relationship with. How will he know if he’s ready?”

“I wish I had an answer to that one, Russ, but I… don’t. Andy’s the only person I’ve been with, too,” she said. “I think if it’s too soon for him, one way or another, you’ll both know. But right now? If he wants to move on, he’s either going to try moving on with you or with someone else. I guess–if I were you–I’d weigh which option you prefer.”

Russell nodded. “Thank you.”

“No problem, Russ. I hope everything works out for you. You deserve it.” He smiled. “Me, too. Thanks.” He wasn’t so sure that he deserved anything to work out for him, but the idea that it was possible was a damn nice one, if nothing else. That had to count for something.

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Books & Badges – Chapter Thirteen


Theodore woke up on his couch around eleven the next morning. He turned his head to the side, eyes landing on Russell. The man was asleep on the floor, arm shoved beneath the pillow tucked under his head. Theodore sat up, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his palms.

He vaguely remembered hearing something outside last night and being too on edge to fall asleep. Russell had offered to stay at the house with him, just to make sure everything was okay.

And Russell, the damn saint that he was, had slept on the floor, like he wasn’t an adult whose back and neck would most likely raise hell once he was awake.

Theodore dropped his hands back to his lap. “Russell?”


“You slept on my floor.”

Russell cracked open one eye. “Appears so,” he mumbled, voice rough. He closed his eye. “Do you want me off the floor?”

“That is… totally up to you.”


Theodore cleared his throat, dropping his feet to the floor. “It’s a little after eleven. Are you hungry?”

“If we keep hanging out, you’ll learn I’m always hungry.”

Theodore chuckled. “Okay. Let’s get you something to eat, then.” Russell sat up with a groan, one hand moving to the back of his neck. “Sore?”

“Yeah, but that’s more or less my perpetual state of life. Spend a lot of hours hunched over a desk and paperwork.”

“I can only imagine.” Theodore pushed himself to his feet and walked over to Russell, sticking out a hand. “Come on, old man.” Russell chuckled and slapped his hand into Theodore’s. Theodore tugged him to his feet before looking down at their hands. Russell’s grip was strong, his skin soft, his hand warm.

Theodore released his hand like he’d been burned, green eyes snapping up to Russell’s face. “I’m sorry.”

Russell only smiled. “It’s okay. Who would I be if I was angry that a cute guy held my hand for a couple of seconds?” He walked past Theodore, lightly bumping his shoulder with his own. “Come on. Let’s go find something for food.”

Theodore turned to watch Russell walk to the kitchen. He felt like an idiot for the heat that rose to his cheeks, but he couldn’t help it. Cute. Russell thought he was cute. That was a compliment he hadn’t heard in a long damn time. When he was with Shane, it was like people could see the man’s ownership over him. Men barely looked at him, much less called him cute.

Theodore headed for the kitchen, grabbing his cane on the way. “Hey, Russell?”


“Can I ask you something and you tell me… if you think it’s too soon?”

“Of course.”

“Or if you think it’s idiotic?” Theodore asked.

“Also of course. What’s up?”

“How, umm…? What would you think if I asked you out to supper?”

“Well, my first thought would be that it’s a date. Would you like me to think of it as one while I answer your other questions?” Russell asked.


“Okay. Well, I don’t think it’s idiotic. And… when you say ‘too soon’, I have two thoughts. Which one are you referring to?”

“Probably both, but I guess I’ll start with, ‘Is it too soon in our… current friendship’?”

“No. You can take someone out on a date the very day you meet them,” Russell said.

Theodore nodded. Even he knew that much, but his mind didn’t quite feel up to functioning at full capacity this soon after waking up. “Okay. What about with, umm, Shane? Is it too soon to start taking guys out on dates again?”

“Only you can decide that,” Russell said. “So, when you ask yourself that question, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?”

“Well, Gina’s still kinda stuck in my head right now, so I guess the thing that comes to mind is that I can’t let him ruin my life from behind bars,” Theodore said.

“And what happens when you try to think outside of that? Is there anything else there on it? Or is it just Gina’s voice? Either one is totally okay and completely reasonable.”

“I-I don’t know that there is anything past that. I mean, except for all of the thoughts of me worrying. I guess that’s there pretty presently.”

“I can only imagine. You’ve been through a lot of shit, Theodore. Worry is to be expected.” Russell turned to face him, a box of pancake mix in his hand. “Mm?”

“Sure,” Theodore said, his voice soft.

“Awesome.” Russell turned back around, setting the box on the counter. “When it comes to those worries, are there any of them I can help with? Or do you need to work through them on your own?”

“Umm… maybe a bit of both? I’m not sure,” Theodore said. “And I don’t wanna risk making you uncomfortable.”

“Ah, hit me with your best shot.”

Theodore nodded, watching Russell go through the cupboards and drawers, getting the bowls and measuring utensils he needed. It took him a few tries to find whichever one he was looking for at any given moment, but he didn’t complain or get pissy. He just… looked, found, and moved on to the next one.

“How many angry exes do you have?”

“As far as I know, none. I’ve dated a couple women. I’ve only recently come out as bisexual, now that I’m not holding that against myself for being… different,” Russell said. “Which, if you aren’t okay with that, you don’t have to ask the rest of your questions.”

“I’m gay. I like men. Why… would I not be okay with that?”

Russell chuckled, though it held much less humor than usual. “You would be totally surprised by the shit I put up with when people find out sometimes. I’ve yet to actually go on a date with a guy that doesn’t end it when he finds out I also like women.”

“That’s shitty. I’m sorry, Russell.”

“Ah, that’s okay. I mean, it’s not. But, like, I’m okay,” Russell said. He looked back at Theodore, throwing out a charming smile. “But thank you.”

“No problem.” Theodore cleared his throat. “So you’ve… never had a boyfriend?”

“Nope. Just several guys I’ve gone on half a date to a full date with.”

“What about girlfriends?”

Russell nodded. “I’ve had three actual girlfriends since graduating college. Otherwise, I focus most of my attention on work.”

After a moment, Theodore nodded, though Russell was busy stirring together ingredients for pancakes. “Are you a workaholic?”

“Eh. I do my best to devote as much time and personal resources as I can to the job when I have a case on my desk. I don’t want to be lazy when I’m trying to find someone’s killer, you know? Otherwise, no, I’m not a workaholic,” Russell said.

“Are you working a case right now?”

“I am.”

“So… you can balance a personal and social life between your job, even when you’re on a case?” Theodore asked.

“Oh, of course. If I think the person at the other end of that social life is worth it, anyway,” Russell said.

For the second time that morning, heat climbed up Theodore’s neck and to his pale, freckled cheeks. Russell considered him ‘worth it’. That was more than he’d ever gotten with Shane.

Which sounded absolutely pathetic, but Theodore had long since been aware of how pathetic and naive and just plain stupid he was.

“Do you… want a boyfriend?”

“Of course. I want someone I can start a life with. Whether that’s kids or animals or just me and him–or me and her–doesn’t matter. I just want to take the next step in my life, and now that I’m happy with my body, with my mind, with my job…” He lifted his shoulders. “The next step for me is a partner, and not in the criminal sense.”

Theodore chuckled. “Well, that’s good to know,” he said quietly. “Russell?”


“With all of, umm, that in mind, will you let me take you out to supper next week?”

“I sure will. I would love to go out to supper with you,” Russell said. He turned to face Theodore. “I don’t wanna be blunt, okay? I don’t want you to feel like I’m trying to shame you or anything like that. But right now, are you able to take someone out to supper? Or shall I take you?”

Theodore cleared his throat. “You’re talking money, right?”

“I am.”

“I… get paid Friday.”

Russell nodded. “How about I take you out? You can get the next one.”

“The next one?”

Russell smiled. “Yeah, assuming you don’t get sick of me after date numero uno.”

Theodore chuckled, a faint smile coming to his face. “I’m okay with that idea. I’ll take you out for date number two. So… the place is also your choice for the first date.”

“Do you have a preference?” Russell asked.

Theodore shook his head. “It, umm… wasn’t my job to be picky about what I was willing to eat or where I was willing to go. It was Shane’s way or the highway, literally.”

Russell’s expression softened, but Theodore was glad not to see pity in his eyes. He looked sad and a little angry, but there wasn’t that familiar hint of, ‘aww, poor Theo, couldn’t hold his own against the big, bad Shane’ that he was used to seeing in everyone else’s eyes.

“I know that’s not something you’ll work through instantaneously, by any means, but I do want you to know that, when you’re with me, you’re allowed to have an opinion and a voice. And I won’t kick you out of the car for having them,” Russell said.

Theodore offered a smile. “Thank you.”

“No problem. So, if you can, uh, mind telling me if there’s any food you don’t enjoy all that much?”

Theodore swallowed roughly. He knew Russell wouldn’t hit him or charge him or scream at him, but somewhere in the back of his mind, he still worried. How could he not? “I… was never really a fan of sushi?”

“Okay. No sushi. Got it.”

“I, umm, don’t really enjoy seafood in general. I can only do fish if they’re those breaded, beer-battered fillet things that probably aren’t even fish by the time they’re done being processed.”

Russell chuckled, nodding. “Okay. No seafood unless I take you to a restaurant with kid’s menu options.” He smiled. “Don’t worry. I’m not a huge fan of any of that, either. If I can see that it has a tail or eyes, I don’t want it,” he said. “Anything else?”

“I-I don’t think so.”

“Mmhmm. No seafood, then. I’m sure I’ll find something that works just fine,” Russell said. “What about places? Are there any places you don’t want to go specifically due to bad memories? Bad days? Anything like that?”

Theodore bowed his head, rubbing the back of his neck. “Umm… you know that Italian place that opened up a year or two ago?”

“I think so.”

“I can’t go there again. Like… ever.”

“New Italian place is off the list, I promise,” Russell said.

It was unbelievable how calmly Russell said things, how much he acted like the limitations didn’t bother him in the slightest, like they weren’t extra trouble. Shane would’ve held them against them for the next decade, and even that was probably on the short end of things.

“You’re sure it’s no trouble?” Theodore asked.

Russell reached out and squeezed his arm. “I promise you that it is no trouble at all. And if you think of anything or anywhere else you need on the no-go list, you let me know. All right?”

Slowly, Theodore nodded. “Okay. I will, umm, be sure to keep that in mind.” He cleared his throat. “But for now… pancakes?”

Russell flashed that charming, easy smile of his. “Pancakes.”

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Books & Badges – Chapter Twelve


When it came right down to it, ‘Friday after work’ had come far too quickly for Russell. He was closing in on the monster that had murdered that young girl, Tia Harrison. He was certain he was closing in on the man responsible. As it stood, he had a man named Max Hill in his sights for the murder.

Max had known Tia in high school. From what Russell had gathered from teachers and former friends, Max had had a crush on Tia for the longest time. She had been a shy gal, calm and quiet. She kept to herself, did her homework, read her books, did track and field from seventh grade and all the way through senior year of high school. She had been a good student with only a friend or two.

But Max had wanted her. Desperately, one of Max’s old friends had told him. But desperation had apparently turned darker when Tia turned him down as her date to the prom. It wasn’t even that she had anything against him–prom simply wasn’t something she was interested in.

Russell figured that Max had allowed that anger to fester inside of him for years before finally snapping the next time they saw each other. Russell was about four hours away from being able to get a warrant for Max’s credit and debit cards. The night Tia had died, she had been at a bar. Witnesses had seen her leave with a man she hadn’t come in with. He had been relatively tall–maybe six-foot or so, according to some witnesses–and had dark hair. He was white, and he’d been wearing a hoodie.

Russell couldn’t say much for the hoodie, but Max was also white with dark hair, and he was also right around six feet tall. He had questioned Max, but unsurprisingly, he hadn’t gotten much out of the man.

Now, though, Max’s trash was in the forensic lab, a few select things being tested for his DNA so it could be run against the DNA they had found on Tia’s face, which had definitely come from her killer.

Once they had a match, he could get a warrant to look at Max’s recent payments. If Russell was right, it would connect him back to the bar on the same night as Tia, at the same time as Tia.

That was all he needed.

But… that could wait. It wasn’t like he could help the DNA processing move along. It wasn’t his job, and he’d have no idea where to begin if it was. He’d leave that up to the professionals, and he would enjoy supper with Theodore and Vera.

Russell smoothed his hands over his suit before knocking on the front door.

Theodore pulled it open, free hand wrapped around his cane. “You look… very nice,” he said softly.

Russell smiled. “Sorry. The suit’s daunting, I know. I said I’d come after shift, and I still ended up being late. I didn’t want to make food wait on me running home to change,” he said.

“No, that’s okay. You look nice.”

“Thank you. You look nice, too.”

“Ah, yes, these are my ‘nice enough for Fridays at work’ jeans,” Theodore said.

Russell laughed, walking inside once Theodore stepped aside. He kicked off his shoes and shrugged out of his suit jacket. “Is everything ready? Or do you need help finishing up a few things?” he asked.

“No, I’ve got it. Not much left to do, so I can handle it. Thanks, though,” Theodore said.

“No problem. Let me know if that changes. I’m always happy to help.”

Theodore smiled at him. “Thank you. Uh, you can hang out in the living room if you want. I’m just going to finish up a few things in the kitchen, and then food will be ready.”

“Perfect. Where’s Vera?”

“Living room. She’s drawing. I, umm… I figured you wouldn’t mind.”

“Do you really trust me enough for that? Or are you trying to prove something to yourself? Because I don’t want to make you worried or scared, Theo,” Russell said.

“It’s okay. She’s promised me that she’ll punch you in the balls if you do anything she doesn’t like. I advised her to kick instead.”

Russell grinned. “A kick is more effective. I’ll teach her some good ol’ fashioned combat skills. You know, when she’s done drawing.”

That soft, timid smile came back to Theodore’s face. “Thanks. Maybe you could teach both of us sometime.”

“I will. If you want to learn self-defence, I’ll teach you anything and everything I learned in Academy. And I can teach Vera simplified versions of all of it. I’m serious,” Russell said.

Theodore watched him for a moment. Slowly, he nodded. “Maybe. I, uh… Let’s see how a second supper goes first. Then we’ll look into… self-defense classes with a detective. Does that sound okay?”

“Yeah, of course. Whatever works best for you, Theo. I’ll make sure it works for me.”

“You’re sweet. Thank you.” Theodore cleared his throat and took a small step back. “I’ll be in the kitchen. My daughter has permission to kick you in the nuts if you do anything shifty.”

“Deal.” Russell walked into the living room once Theodore turned to head back to the kitchen. “Hey, Vera.”

Vera lifted her head, a smile coming to her face. “Hi, Russell.”

Russell draped his suit jacket over the back of the couch before sitting down on the floor in front of Vera’s coloring book. “What’re you working on?”

“A fish. Daddy likes fishies.”

“Oh, yeah? Do you guys have any fish?”

Vera nodded. “Daddy has a goldfish. He used to have a really, really big tank, but Father broke it.”

“He broke it?”

“Yep. With a baseball bat.”

Russell expression softened considerably. “I’m sorry to hear that. I bet that was scary.”

Vera nodded. “Father was scary. Daddy made me safe, though.”

“I’m glad your daddy was here to protect you. He’s a really good guy.”

“He is. Very… good.” Vera lifted her head again. “Are you a good guy, Russell?”

“I sure try to be, yeah.”

“You seem good. Daddy says Father used to seem good, too.”

Russell cleared his throat. “Do you remember… when Father seemed good?”

Vera shook her head. “No. I was a baby. Daddy says I was only… two months old when he met Father.”

“Oh, I didn’t know that.”

“Daddy keeps stuff quiet. He doesn’t like to com… complain.”

“Yeah, I’ve noticed that.” Russell shifted as Vera went back to coloring in the goldfish in her coloring book. Though hers was more of a glitter pen fish than anything resembling a goldfish. Russell had a feeling Theodore would love it that way. “Does your daddy normally cook for you?”

“Mm. We do frozen stuff since he got hurt. Frozen is okay. Daddy doesn’t have to move around as much if it’s frozen.”

Russell nodded. “Right. You let your dad know that I’m totally okay with frozen food, too, okay? But after I leave.”

Vera smiled. “Okay.” A pause. “Russell?”


“Are you and my daddy dating?”

“No. We are, uh… we’re acquaintances.”

“What’s that mean?” Vera asked.

“It means that we have met each other, but we don’t know enough about each other to be friends yet. So we’re nice to each other, but we aren’t quite friends,” Russell said.

“Oh. Okay. Will you be friends?”

“If your dad wants to be, totally. I just wanna make sure I respect your dad’s boundaries. He’s a little… nervous around new people. I’m still new people.”

“Even though you’re a cop? Dad says cops like you have shields to fight away bad guys and monsters, and that I shouldn’t be afraid of them.”

“He’s right, yeah. I think me being a cop is the only reason your dad lets me inside for food, especially around you.”

“Mm. Maybe.” Vera met his eyes again. “Can I see the shield you fight the bad guys with?”

“Of course. It’s much smaller than you might think. I have to keep it on me at all times, so it needs to be small enough that it doesn’t get in my way,” Russell said, looking down as he unclipped his badge from his belt. He handed it over to Vera. “There you go.”

“What’s it say here?”

“Detective Steele.”

“Is that you?”

Russell nodded. “Mmhmm. My last name’s Steele.”

“What about this part?”

“That’s Rustin Police Department. That’s where I work.”

“I live in Rustin,” Vera said.

Russell smiled. “Yeah, you sure do.” He lifted his head as a throat cleared off to his left. Theodore stood behind the couch, one hand resting on it. “Hey.”

A smile came to the other man’s face. “Hey. Supper’s ready. You can keep the detective talk going once we sit down if you want. I don’t mind.”

Vera sat up and handed Russell’s badge back to him. “Thanks for keeping Rustin safe from the monsters.”

Russell reached out and squeezed her shoulder. “You’re very welcome, sweetheart.” Vera jumped up to her feet and bolted for the kitchen.

“Walk, baby girl. I don’t need my little helper falling and getting hurt.”


Russell pushed himself up and made his way over to the couch. “How’s your hip?”

“Not as terrible as yesterday. I sat down at work today, so… that helped,” Theodore said.

“Good. Taking it easy isn’t always a bad thing.” Russell tucked his badge into one of the pockets of his dress pants.

“I know. It’s just that, somehow, adjusting to doing this on my own is harder than I was ready for. Which makes… no sense at all, since Shane wasn’t exactly big in the helping department.”

“Change is hard. Even if it’s changing from living with someone like Shane to living with just your daughter.”

“Yeah,” Theodore said quietly. He cleared his throat. “Umm… thank you for just talking to her. To Vera. She’s not used to men just… listening and responding to her. So thank you.”

“No problem. She deserves it.” Russel flashed a smile. “You deserve the same. Just, you know, for the record. You deserve the same.”

“Thanks,” Theodore whispered. “Come on. We should go ahead and get some food in our systems. Then, umm, then we’ll start thinking about those self-defense lessons.”

“Yeah, sure thing. Lead the way.”


Russell looked away from the television as Theodore pushed himself to his feet. “You okay?”

Theodore offered a little smile. “Yeah. I just need to get Vera to bed.”

“Can… you handle that?” Russell asked. “I’m not underestimating your ability to push yourself, but is it pushing yourself to your limits, or past them?”

“Probably past them, but she’s my little girl. She’s not to the age where I’m going to let her stay out here if she falls asleep out here. She wakes up in her bed. That’s all.” Theodore leaned his cane against the couch and walked over to the chair, where Vera was curled up and sound asleep.

“And I imagine I can’t help in any way?” Russell asked.

“I’ve got her. Thanks, Russell.” Theodore scooped her up, adjusting his hold on her once he shifted his weight to better balance it between his hips. Russell looked back at the television, deciding it was his best option to keep his mouth shut and not push the topic any further. He respected Theodore for still doing everything he could for his daughter, but it didn’t mean Russell couldn’t see the little winces when he moved too much or lifted too much.

Several minutes later, when Theodore came back into the living room, he stopped behind the couch and laid a hand on Russell’s shoulder. Russell turned to look at him, one eyebrow raised. “How, umm…? Do you want to leave?”

“Do you want me to leave?” Russell asked. Theodore didn’t respond. The questions that forced him to put his wants and needs first seemed to be the most difficult for him to verbally answer. When he did actually answer him, it always took him longer to get to that answer. Russell didn’t exactly have a hard time understanding why. “Okay, let me try that again. Uh, let’s see… are you tired?”


“Do you… need to take a shower?”

Theodore glanced up before shaking his head. “No.”

“Do you want to watch a movie with me?”

Theodore stared at him for a moment before nodding. “Yes. I would… I’d like that.”

Russell smiled. “Okay, then I’ll stay. Come, sit.”

Theodore patted his shoulder before rounding the couch. A hand on his cane, he sat back down beside Russell. Letting out a breath, he dug the heel of his palm into his hip. “Thank you… for coming over tonight. My friend at the bookstore–her name’s Gina–says that… I shouldn’t let Shane continue to ruin my life from inside a prison cell. Having you over here is, umm, apparently a good step in that new motto.”

“She’s right, and I’m glad I could help,” Russell said. “You’re still pretty on edge about the whole thing, aren’t you?”

“A little, yeah. I feel like an idiot for it, but… yeah.”

Russell shook his head. “No, you’re not an idiot. You’re a man that has every right to be suspicious of other men. There’s nothing stupid or idiotic about your leariness around other men, me included. You’ve been through a lot, Theo. You both have. You’re allowed to feel suspicious of the other men around you. And you can do it without letting Shane ruin your life.”

Theodore smiled at him. “Thanks, Russell.” He leaned forward and grabbed the Xbox controller from the coffee table. After switching over the channel on the television, he turned on the gaming console. “Were you actually serious about teaching me and Vera self-defense?”

“Of course. If it makes you feel safe in even the slightest sense, I’m more than willing to teach it to you. You should both be able to defend yourselves.”

“Because… you think we’re in danger?” Theodore asked.

“Oh, gosh, no. I hope you two are never in danger again. But in that same vein, I think pretty much everyone should learn at least some semblance of self-defense, even if it’s only a couple moves. If, God forbid, someone ever comes up behind you–or even up to you from the front–a little bit of knowledge in self-defense can help keep you safe. That’s not a bad thing. It’s better to be prepared for the unlikely, just in case.”

“Yeah,” Theodore said quietly. “I think I want you to teach us a little bit. I don’t know when or… or how much I want to know about self-defense, but I think we both need it. I think… maybe I can sleep easier at night if I know that both of us have the know-how to defend ourselves, God forbid it comes to a point again where we need that know-how.”

Russell nodded. “I’ll teach you, then. I’ll teach both of you. And if you’re ever uncomfortable with something you’re learning or something she’s learning, you just have to let me know, and I’ll stop. I won’t teach either of you anything that you don’t want to know or that you don’t want her to know.”

“Thank you,” Theodore whispered.

“No problem.” Tentatively, Russell reached out and patted Theodore’s knee. “You just let me know when you’re ready to start learning it. I’ll make time. Until then, what do you say you pick out a movie for us to watch, hmm?”

“Yeah, I can do that. Thank you.”

Russell smiled. “No problem.”

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Books & Badges – Chapter Eleven


Just after midnight, Theodore pushed himself to his feet as Russell’s car pulled into the driveway. Russell climbed out, the engine still running, the headlights bright against the garage door. “What’re you doing out here, Theo? Jesus, I–”

“I’m sorry. I lied. There was no noise.” Theodore held out a plate of cookies. “I didn’t know how to apologize over text. By the time I read your texts, it had been several hours, and I… didn’t know how to apologize without making you feel I was only doing it because I can’t stand up for myself.”

Russell took a tentative step toward him, eyes on the plate rather than Theodore. “What’ve you got there?”

“Cookies. I went with chocolate chip. I figured it was harder to pick a cookie someone hates if you go with chocolate.”

Russell’s eyes flickered up to his face, but he didn’t come any closer. “You read all but my last two texts as soon as I sent them.”

“Yeah, okay, ‘read’ is the wrong word. I couldn’t respond to them for several hours. Kids. Th-they need you most right when you’re in the middle of other things. Vera had a nightmare. I had to stay in her room for a bit, let her know she was safe,” Theodore said.

Russell came up the drive. “Is she all right? The nightmares–”

“You don’t have to worry about my kid or what she sees in her sleep, Russell. She’s fine. I’m taking care of her.” Russell almost looked… hurt as he took a step away from Theodore. “I think that came out wrong.”

“Nope. I get it.”

“It’s just… this is the first time it’s truly just been me and Vera. Ever. Letting other people know what’s going on in her head or in mine is… I don’t know. Dangerous. I can’t let people in again.”

“Like I said, I get it.”

Theodore cleared his throat. “Anyway, I’m sorry for not responding, and I’m sorry it made you feel like you’d totally ruined my night or… however it made you feel. I don’t want to cancel Friday’s plans.”

“You don’t want to let people in.” A pause. “Which is understandable, but keeping supper plans is… quite the contradiction.”

Theodore offered a smile. “Me making supper for you makes us even.”


“Then I don’t owe you anything for making us supper.”

“You don’t owe me anything in the first place. It was a meal I offered to bring on my own time. I made that decision,” Russell said.

“Maybe, but… it still feels like I owe you. I don’t want to be in anyone’s debt anymore. I was always in Shane’s debt.”

Russell stepped forward and grabbed two cookies from the plate. He held them up. “We’re even. Night, Theo.”


“I’m sorry, Theo. I’m not going to make you cook me supper so we’re even. That’s not a way of life I believe in. Forcing someone to make me a meal so we’re even is… the opposite of who I am. So we’re even. Try to get some sleep.”

Theodore’s brow furrowed as Russell turned and walked back to his car. “I-I already told Vera you were coming over for supper. She’s real excited, Russell.”

Russell laid a hand on the top of the door, tilting his head back. “Do you want me not to worry about her and how she’s doing, or do you want me to care about her feelings?”

“I don’t know how to answer that,” Theodore whispered.

“Look, Theo, I’ve got absolutely nothing against you. I’m just trying to respect your wishes here, and I’m trying to make sure you don’t feel like you owe me anything, because you don’t. I don’t operate on making deals with people so they owe me things. That’s not who I am,” Russell said. “So without telling me that you’re making supper for me to make sure we’re even, please let me know if you want me to come over for supper on Friday.”

Theodore drew in a deep breath, letting it out as slowly as he could manage. “I would love for you to come over for supper on Friday. Not to make us even. Just… to have you over for supper.”

“All right. I’ll see you on Friday after I get off work.”

“Okay,” Theodore whispered.

Russell walked back over to him and stole another cookie from the plate. He flashed a smile. “This one’s for the drive back home.”

“You can take the whole plate. That’s why I made them.”

“All of them?”

That’s why I made them,” Theodore repeated.

“Mm.” Russell set the cookies in his hand back on the plate, taking the plate from Theodore instead. “Well, then I’ll bring this back Friday.”

Theodore smiled. “Sounds perfect.”

Russell smiled right back at him. “I’ll see you Friday. Thanks for the cookies.”

“No problem. I’ll see you then.”


Theodore sat behind the counter at the bookstore, hands toying with his cane every now and then. It was a relatively slow day, and he was more than happy with that. He was rather certain that the slowness was the only reason he was willing to actually sit down instead of forcing himself to stay on his feet.

If nothing else, that was a plus.

Theodore raised an eyebrow as Gina laid a hand on the counter. “Hello.”

“Hey. You skipped coffee this morning,” Gina said.

Theodore grabbed his travel mug and held it up for her to see. “Sorry. I brought my own today.”

“Hmm.” Gina crossed her arms over the counter. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong. I just…” Theodore sighed. “I was worried you’d immediately know I had something stupid on my mind.”

“I doubt it’s stupid. What’s up?” she asked.

Theodore set his coffee mug back on the shelf beneath the counter. “That, umm, detective. His name’s Russell, and I invited him over for supper again. How… stupid do I have to be to start inviting men over for supper on a consistent basis?” he asked. “I even had the chance to let him turn me down, which he… thought he was doing for my benefit, but instead, I told him that Vera was already excited that he was coming over again.”

“And was she excited?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t told her yet.”

“Using your daughter to get yourself a date?” Gina asked. “I think you’ve evolved to your final form, Theo.”

“N-no, not a date. Just…” Theodore shook his head. “I don’t know what the hell it is.”

“Okay, that’s okay. You don’t have to know. Hell, Theo, it doesn’t have to be anything. It’s just what it is, you know?” she asked. Theodore offered a shrug. He didn’t know, not really. Russell definitely liked men. Whether he was gay or not, Theodore didn’t know, but no straight man would ever look him up and down the way Russell had several times now. “Why do you think it’s stupid?”

“Date or not, I’m still inviting a man into my house. I just got rid of one abusive man. Should I really be going out of my way to make it worse now? To… find another one?”

Gina’s expression softened. “It’s totally reasonable for you to have that fear, Theo. But for what it’s worth, assuming everyone’s an abuser makes sure they never have the chance not to be in your head. Even if they never lay a hand on your or Vera.”

“After what happened, isn’t it better to be cautious?” Theodore asked.

“That depends, I guess. I think it’s okay to be cautious to a point, but you shouldn’t let it stop you from living your life. Now, I’m not telling you that you have to march outta here and go find a boyfriend, but… you shouldn’t let what that fucker did ruin you,” Gina said. “You can be cautious. You can play it safe. That’s okay. But don’t let it stop you from living. The nightmare with Shane is over. The… main event, anyway. He’s behind bars. He can’t hurt you and Vera. Don’t let him keep destroying your life from inside a prison cell.”

“I wish it was that easy.”

“I know, Theo. I know. I wish it could be easy for you, too. You deserve for something to be easy in your life, just this once.” Gina offered a smile. “But, hey, I’ll always be here to talk to you. And if any other guy ever starts treating you like shit, you let me know, and I’ll beat his ass.”

Theodore smiled. “Thanks, Gina. Thank you for always being the one I can count on.”

“No problem. It’s what I’m here for. You know that.” She leaned across the counter and punched his shoulder. “I’m always gonna be here for you. That’s all there is to it.”

“I know you are. And it’s appreciated. Always has been, and… hopefully always will be.” Theodore sighed. “So I’m not an idiot for inviting him over again? I didn’t ask him on a date. It’s not… I don’t want it to be a date. But let’s say he’s a… kind acquaintance. Does it make me stupid?” he asked.

“Well, let’s see. Has he treated you well?” Gina asked. Theodore nodded. “And how about Vera? How did he treat her?”

“He let her show him all of her drawings. I mean, like, all of them. They’re mostly oddly shaped people and scribbles, but he treated each one like it was a piece of art. Shane… would never, not even when he was still pretending he wasn’t the worst person in the entire fucking world.”

“See? Date or not, having a guy in your life that’s not like Shane in any way, shape, or form, is a good thing, Theo. It’s a step up. It’s progress. You don’t have to be dating him for it to be progress.”


“Really. Theo, the only positive male figure you have in your life right now is your dad. Of course adding another one is progress. Of course it’s a good thing. Even if he’s only ever just a friend, it’s a good thing.”

Theodore smiled. “Thanks, Gina. This has… This was helpful. Thank you.”

“Never a problem. You’re welcome.” She pushed herself away from the counter. “I gotta get back to work, but I just needed to know everything was okay. See you after shift?”

“For what?”

“I can drive you home so you don’t have to take the bus.”

“Oh, no, that’s okay. I’ll manage.”

“Theo, come on. Until you’re good to handle driving again, I have no issue driving you to and from work whenever we work together. I can only imagine that’d be less stressful for you,” Gina said.

“Possibly, but it feels like it’s asking too much. And before you say it, yes, I know I didn’t ask it, you said it. I know. But still.” He cleared his throat. “You have to let me pay you gas money at the end of every week.”

“Fine. If that makes you feel less terrible about it, that works for me.”

“Great. Thanks, Gina.”

“Sure thing, Theo. I’ll see you after shift.”

I don’t know about you, but midnight cookie plate is one of my favorite scenes I’ve ever written in a romance book. Ugh, I just love ’em so much

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Books & Badges – Chapter Ten


Home from a potential homicide he had responded to–which had turned out to be nothing but an early Halloween prank–Russell stripped out of his suit and changed into his pajamas. On the drive home, he had decided a shower could wait until later on that morning. For now, he just wanted to sleep.

He climbed into bed and tugged the sheets over his shoulder, shoving one arm under his pillow. He closed his eyes, a little smile coming to his face. If nothing else, supper the night before with Theodore and Vera had been a success. They had liked the food–he’d need to thank Emilia and Andrew for that again–and neither of them had been absolutely terrified of his presence there at the house.

That definitely had to be something.


“Steele, I’ve got a homicide on my desk. Do you want it?” Lieutenant Marcus Kane asked.

“You’ll let me work one without a partner?” Russell asked.

“Might as well. What good are you to the station if I just make you sit at your desk all day?”

Russell smiled. “Not a bad point.” He pushed himself to his feet. “What kind of homicide?”

“Dead gal,” Marcus said, heading back toward his office. Russell followed. “They found her body in the ditch. She’s in one piece, she’s clothed, but she’s been beaten. That’s about the extent of what I know so far.” He grabbed a folder from his desk and held it out to Russell. “Homicide officers responded this morning around four, forensics took their pictures, and she’s since been moved down to the morgue. I’m sure you could find out more from them than you can from me.”

“Great.” Russell held up the folder. “Thanks, Loo.”

“Yep, you’re welcome, Steele. Good luck. And let me know if you need help. We’ll find a temp for you to work with until one of our own is ready for promotion. Or I can place you with an officer.”

“I’ll handle it alone for now, but I’ll let you know.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

Russell walked out of the office and back to his desk. He grabbed his coffee mug and dropped into his chair. Andrew and Emilia weren’t in yet–or, if they were, they were out questioning people rather than going through more paperwork–so he’d talk to them to thank them for supper whenever they got to the station.

Sipping at his coffee, he set the folder down and flipped it open. As of an hour ago, the victim was still unidentified. She was bruised, bloody, and beaten, but she was still recognizable. He’d probably be able to run her face through the system and find a driver’s license or non-driver’s ID, depending on what type of person she was.

Russell turned on his computer. After logging in, he scanned the picture into the computer and set it up to run against the driver’s license and non-driver’s IDs in Rustin. He’d let it run while he went down to the lab to speak to forensics–two birds with one stone and all that.

He headed to the lab, coffee cup in hand. He knocked on the door, smiling when Adriana lifted her gaze to his face. “Hey. I’m officially working that homicide from this morning. Young-ish gal found in a ditch?”

“Ah, right.I don’t have a lot yet. I had evidence from yesterday that still needed to be gone through,” she said. “But, this is what I do have.” She held a thin stack of paper out to him, only two or three pieces. Russell crossed the room and grabbed it from her. “She was stabbed a couple of times. If the killer was squatted over her when they did it, the spatter on her shirt suggests that the killer may have been around five-six or so.”

Russell lifted his eyes to her face. “Think we might be looking at a female killer?”

“I don’t know. I swabbed the victim’s face, neck, hands, arms… The works. I’m checking for DNA that isn’t hers. If we luck out, something turns up and can–at the very least–tell us if our killer is male or female.”

“All righty, works for me. What else? Autopsy, blade type? What’re we looking at?”

“Measurements show that you’re looking for a five-inch clip blade as the murder weapon.”

Russell nodded, eyes settled on the papers in his hands. “She was stabbed five times?”

“Yeah. Outside of that, she was beaten. The stabs were all, well, stabs. No scratches with the knife, no defensive wounds. Just stabbings.”

“No hesitation wounds?”

“No, none that I could identify.”

“Hmm.” Russell cleared his throat. “Anything else?”

“I’m still working on the report from the crime scene, and then I’ll get into fingerprints, potential DNA… evidence. And then I’ll let you know.”

“Great.” He lifted the papers. “Thanks, Adriana.”

“Sure thing, Russ.”

Russell headed back upstairs and sat down behind his desk. It had been a while since he’d been given a case, especially since he’d been partnerless. Most of the time, Emilia and Andrew threw him a bone and let him help them with cases, but that was about the extent of it. Though he always hated when a homicide rolled through, he was still pretty damn happy to be working again.

Working an actual job would always be a plus in his book.


So, gossip.”

Russell lifted his head as the bartender set a beer down in front of him. “Gossip about what?”

“How’d your date go?”

Russell snorted, shaking his head. “Not great. He stalked my phone and found out guys aren’t the only thing I’m interested in.”

She frowned, crossing her arms over the counter. “I’m sorry to hear that, Russ. He’s a bastard. Doesn’t deserve you anyway.”

“Thanks, Jenny.”

“Mmhmm.” She raised an eyebrow. “I get off shift at two. If you’re interested.”

Russell chuckled. “Sorry, Jenny. I just got a new homicide to work. You know I’m not good at balancing. As soon as it’s solved, though? I’ll treat you to supper, and then to a bed.”

Jenny smiled. “Sounds like a plan.” She patted his arm, pushing herself away from the counter. “Back in a bit for more gossip. Let me check on a few regulars.”

“Sure thing, Jenny.” Russell pulled his phone from his pocket as it vibrated with a text. Theo.

Theodore: Hey, it’s me. Uh, Theo. Vera wanted me to thank you again for supper.

Theodore: And me. Suppose I wanted to say thank you again from myself too.

Russell smiled. Theodore was cute, even over text.

Russell: Well, you’re both very welcome. Having supper with you two was a real pleasure

Theodore: I’m glad you think so.

Theodore: So… how would you feel about another one?

Russell: I think I’d feel great about another one.

Theodore: Really?

Russell: Really

Theodore: That’s great. When are you free?

Russell let out a breath. If he stuck to his usual habits of working a case, he wouldn’t be free again until it was solved. Tomorrow, a week from tomorrow, in a month or two, in half a year. It was impossible to know how long the case would take to work, how long it would be before he allowed his schedule to clear up again.

But maybe just this once, he could ease up long enough for supper for one night. It wouldn’t kill him. It wouldn’t halt progress on the case. It was just one night.

Russell: What works best for you? I can almost always make free time in the evenings

Theodore: How does Friday sound?

Russell: Friday sounds great

He could make Friday work without feeling too guilty. He’d be able to spend the entire weekend working on the case in exchange for one night of supper with a… friend. Not exactly a bad deal, when it came right down to it.

Russell: Am I bringing more food without spending a dime?

Theodore: No, no, I’m cooking this time.

Russell: Are you sure? I don’t mind bringing something

Russell was pretty sure he’d be able to convince Emelia and Andrew into helping with food again. Despite their protests, they had both seemed happy that he was eating with anyone, even if it hadn’t been a date.

Theodore: You made food the first time. I’ll make it the second.

Theodore: Maybe you can get the odd numbers. You know, if Vera wants you over for a third supper.

Russell smiled. He didn’t even mind that Theodore was using Vera as his pawn for things he–hopefully–wanted. Theodore had had it rough for many years, and he had no reason to just up and trust Russell like he was one of the good guys. Or, more appropriately, like he wasn’t one of the bad guys. Theodore didn’t know enough about him to know that his kindness was genuine, that it wasn’t a ploy to trick him into anything before Russell turned on the evil bastard personality instead.

So if Theodore needed to say Vera wanted something in order to validate whatever he was saying or doing, so be it. If it meant supper with the cute bookstore guy and his daughter, he’d take what he could get.

Russell: Handling every odd numbered supper works perfect for me. Love me an odd number

Theodore: Oh, really? You love odd numbers?

Russell: I do now

Russell cleared his throat. Those three words looked oddly needy by themselves, but they weren’t meant to be.

Russell: That came out wrong

Russell: I don’t eat a lot of actual FOOD. Actual food meals with actual people is nice. That’s all I meant

Russell: I’m sorry that probably made you uncomfortable as hell. Phrasing isn’t my best attribute

Russell watched the little check mark appear at the bottom of the messages. Theodore had read them, but he wasn’t attempting to respond. Russell sighed, setting his phone on the bar. Well, if nothing else, he’d be able to keep his streak of being terrible with men, friends or otherwise. Andrew was about the only guy he’d ever managed not to accidentally chase off.

Russell: I’m sorry. You can cancel Friday’s plans if you want. Not my intention to make you uncomfortable in any sense, so uh

Russell: just let me know

Russell watched his screen for what felt like an eternity. When the check mark never appeared, he locked his screen and pushed his phone closer to his beer. He grabbed the bottle and took a sip. Might as well move things along so he could get his ass home and try to sleep. He had a case to work tomorrow, and sleep would come in handy.

He’d worry about whatever Theodore had to say in the morning.


Russell had just sat down on his bed when his phone dinged with a text.

Theodore: I heard something outside.

One corner of Russell’s mouth scrunched up. It had been almost five hours without a response, and when he finally got one, it was about a damn raccoon?

Russell: It’s probably the raccoon. You need better garbage cans.

Theodore: Probably. I’ll go out and check.

Russell hated the little skip of his heart that followed the words. What if he was wrong? What if someone was really after Theodore? What if someone was really outside the man’s house?

Russell: No, stay inside. I’m on my way.

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March 2nd, 2020

Hey, guys!

Thank you so much for a great February! With 98 visitors, the website hit 796 views, which is just over 300 more than we hit in January!

Announcement-wise, I only have three things to go through.

One, The Hacker is now available in its entirety here on the website.

Two, there’s a new voting poll available! This is for the premise of book six in the Carer-Baxter crime series.

Three, this month is Ashes in the Light’s first birthday! It was my first release last year, and it’s still in desperate need of reviews. I’m giving out free PDF copies of the book in exchange for reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, or both. Ashes in the Light is a paranormal story following Aurora Cole as she moves into a new house, a farmhouse that’s the haunted talk of the town.

If you’re interested in reading Ashes in the Light exchange for a review, shoot me an email with the form below (you only have to fill in your name and email). Thank you!