Excerpt for Sharp Edge of Moonlight by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


SHARP EDGE OF MOONLIGHT



by Robert Appleton



Copyright @ Robert Appleton 2011


Smashwords Edition


All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

This book is a work of fiction. Characters, names, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


First published (as Claire de Lune) in 2011



* * * *




A murder investigation at an interstellar beauty pageant draws two detectives into a deadly mystery.

Detectives Rappeneau and Thorpe-Campbell are from different worlds. One’s a debonair number-cruncher with a posh accent, the other’s a hard-edged burn-out a hair’s breadth away from suspension. They’d settle for a week of eye candy and full body massages. But there’s been a vicious murder at the famous lunar resort of Pont de Rêves. And with a half-billion-credit purse up for grabs, this year’s pageant is the focus of a hundred worlds.

One contestant, Evelyn Lyons, has been attacked and her assailant killed. Surely a simple case of a stalker gone mad. But the closer Rappeneau gets to her, the more convinced he is that she’s hiding something. His meticulous character sparks with her wild, sassy nature, and the heat is on.

But their forbidden romance isn’t the only thing set to ignite in Pont de Rêves. Sebastian’s infatuation with demure Claire Williams, a mysterious beauty with a dark secret of her own, threatens to put all four of them in harm’s way.

A deadly trail of interstellar conspiracy, monstrous assassins and hot bikini wax is more than anyone bargained for in this incendiary action mystery. Get ready for some serious heat on the dark side of the moon.


* * *



Table of Contents


Title Page

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

About the Author






Chapter One



Inner Colonies Moon (Lunar One)

La Mere Tranquilitatis

Pont de Rêves, Year 2213


“Is there anything more I can do for you, monsieur?

Sebastian glanced at the blonde flight attendant, her large breasts ready to burst the silver buttons on her tight blue uniform jacket, and grinned at the familiar stirring in his loins.

“Thanks.” His smile, always a perfect barometer for his interest in a woman, lifted. None too discreetly, he eyed her trim figure and was trying to imagine how good it would feel to nestle between her long legs, when jet lag suddenly kicked in. He sneaked his hand over his mouth to mask a yawn. Though every man’s perfect fantasy was well stacked, her overdone mascara was a bit of a turn-off, he decided. She was trying too hard.

He kept his place in the queue for the spacecraft’s exit. Seventeen hours on a sterile shuttle from Earth was bloody murder. Perdition in a cube. All he wanted was to escape and hadn’t the energy even to think about her kind of lift-off. Besides, the coming week offered plenty of welcome opportunities.

Her full glossy lips formed a seductive pout. “Have a pleasant stay, monsieur.”

He winked, then had to duck and weave through a phalanx of gaudy, wide-brimmed hats, which sucked at his patience. This new hoity-toity fashion irritated him in the extreme. For some ridiculous reason, both men and women now boasted designer sombreros whenever they went on holiday. The fad had become an epidemic. For Sebastian, if you had to go retro, a good old Panama or fedora was ample headwear anywhere temperate.

“Watch where you’re going,” he grumbled as a coarse brim scythed the back of his neck. When the offender ignored him, Sebastian kicked the goon’s luggage trolley sideways off its wheels.

The man swiveled. “Was that you, old chap?”

His polite Queen’s English had a curious twist of nasal French.

“No, it was that woman, arm-in-arm with the hulk who just passed.”

“You’re Thorpe-Campbell, are you not?” The man squared up in front of Sebastian, arms akimbo. His cold charisma hinted at harshness and depth. Beneath his oversized hat, a wave of gelled blond hair skimmed his brow. He was a handsome guy in his late twenties, with small but penetrating blue eyes. Sebastian thought the absurd Hawaiian shirt and white trousers suited the loudmouth.

“Well?” the toff said.

Sebastian glared back. “Detective Thorpe-Campbell. And you are?”

“Gerard Rappeneau.”

“Detective Rappeneau?”

The arrogant fool blinked a few times. “I’m afraid we’re partners on this one, old boy. Men in the moon and all that.” He removed his hat and tucked it under an arm. Hand extended, he added in a lower voice, “Ever kick anything of mine again and I’ll write you up on the spot. Savvy?”

Amused, Sebastian stroked his chin before shaking his new partner’s hand. “Whatever you say.”

Rappeneau righted his trolley and the two made their way into the terminal, headed for the back of the queue.

Sebastian frowned as he tromped down the long polymer gangway encased in a tunnel of double-glazed, reinforced safety glass. Bright sunlight reflected off the shuttle’s silver tail outside, blinding him. He shook his head. Jetlag, asshole new partner, and now no scenery to make amends. On a scale of one to ten, this day hadn’t got past T-minus.

The black gangway rose in front of him, a long, shallow incline toward a tiny oasis ahead. He sucked in a deep breath and whispered on the exhale, “Le Pont de Rêves.” He breathed in again, hoping to inhale the perfume of paradise, but Rappeneau’s deodorant was strong and expensive—and insufferably bourgeois.

He rolled his eyes. “Where you from, Rappeneau?”

“Born in Dieppe, fashioned at Oxford,” came the terse, rehearsed reply.

“You’re a Renny.” Sebastian didn’t think twice about using this derogatory nickname for a member of that snotty subculture. Rich folk perpetuating Victorian English customs generally made him want to throw up.

“If you’re referring to my proper manner, then yes, you could call me a Renaissance man.” He blew his nose into an expensive handkerchief embroidered with his initials. “But you needn’t worry, I don’t look down on anyone as a rule, not unless they get under my feet.”

“How’d you end up out here?”

“God only knows. We were both sent to Coventry, as it were, for what would amount to more than a mere indiscretion, I imagine. And this is our joint Coventry—the one place we can’t possibly step on their toes. The Bureau I mean. A not so well earned vacation? Am I right?”

“That’s one way of putting it.”

“So what were you banished here for?”

Sebastian wasn’t sure how much he ought to admit, but his unwanted partner had a natural, infectious air of forthrightness, as though he would be willing to tell all or listen to anything. “Falsifying evidence to get a conviction, coercing witnesses, same old shit. ICLA cleared me of all charges, not that that means a goddamn to those suck-baits in the bureau. You know how it is—”

“Not really. Pray tell.”

“Oh, you know, in the old days they used to kick ass and close ranks to protect their own and ensure the job gets done. Now’days it’s kiss ass, save ass, and burn anyone who dares to step over the line to get a conviction.”

“So you did it? Falsified evidence?”

Sebastian paused, considered his answer carefully. “My C.O. gave me this assignment to get me out of there. I nearly killed the last person who asked me that.”

“Apologies. No offence, mate.”

“No foul. You sound pretty green, friend. If I was you, I’d stay that way, keep to the straight and narrow.”

Rappeneau grinned. “Straight, yes, but not so narrow, or so I’m told.” He cleared his throat.

“Ah. Let me guess—the C.O.’s daughter?”

“Top marks, old boy. But that was the one they didn’t find out about.”

“Ha! You’re kidding.”

“Nope. I was the C.O. on this one, I’m afraid. Two new rookies in four months. Insatiable little trollops. Sleep with anyone to get ahead. Next thing I knew, one had found out about the other, and I was hauled before an inquest quicker than you can say ménage a trois.” Rappeneau moved up with the line of excited tourists. “This is my first assignment back. Parole, tight leash, do or don’t come back kind of deal.”

Sebastian looked across the active terminal. “Same here. Strange place to send two guys on a short leash, though. I mean it’s not like we can exactly grow a conscience up here.”

“I was thinking the same thing. They messed up the roster on that, pure and simple. But this is the one place you daren’t get caught tackle-out.”

Sebastian pondered that for a moment as reflections of colored lights rolled over the steel-rimmed archway.

The scale of Pont de Rêves was bigger than Sebastian had imagined. Its luxuriant seventy acres was a strange, yet tasteful mix of Monte Carlo and Kew Gardens. The massive transparent dome reached over two thousand feet high, he estimated. In the center, twin hotels resembled sleek silver beehives, dozens of stories tall. His gaze drifted to the drooping palm trees and marble statue of the goddess Selene that somewhat hid the famous bridge itself, Pont de Rêves (a.k.a. Bridge of Dreams). Bronze, sensually concave over the green water like the curve of a woman’s back, it seemed secretive somehow, out of place, a Trojan centerpiece to a science-fiction snow globe. Sebastian squinted to see three models posing for a photo shoot on the left bank of the lagoon, but they were too far away to appreciate.

Under the X-ray scanner and on through passport control, he marveled at how smoothly Gerard Rappeneau moved. The man was like vichyssoise in human form; even his skin had a creamy pallor. He was also an effortless hit with the airport staff, both male and female. Sebastian assured himself it just was the accent, nothing more.

“Campbell-san, I take you to hotel,” insisted a young Japanese man dressed in khakis, pawing Sebastian’s luggage. His tricycle taxicab waiting for them seemed more like a golf cart than anything a respectable lawman would stoop to travel in.

“It is our first time here,” explained Gerard. “We wish to explore on the way, if you don’t mind. There’s a good fellow. Chug along now, will you?”

The driver shrugged, but refused to let go of Sebastian’s rucksack.

“Oh, for Christ’s…” Sebastian yanked it off the little man’s shoulder, then issued impolite directions, involving the sun and dark body cavities. When that didn’t work, he threw the cabbie a five-credit disc and suggested he choke on it. Unabashed, the man peddled away, flipping them off in response.

“Let it go.” Gerard hoisted his bag and headed down the main road walkway toward their hotel. “Did you know these paths are composed entirely of moon dust, so one can walk in his bare feet as if it were a sandy beach? It’s supposed to be a prescribed relaxant upon arriving on the moon. Something in the act of perambulation is therapeutic. Are you for it?” Gerard kicked off his shoes and sighed as he curled his toes in the dust.

“Mm, any more tips like that, let me know.” Sebastian closed his eyes as he walked through the cool dust, luxuriating in its restorative power. “That’s just the ticket.”

Gerard chuckled. “But where we’re going, old chap, relaxation might be a little hard to come by.”

“Brother, you can say that again.”

Sebastian gazed up at the dark blue ribs of the giant dome that encased the town like an unfinished scaffold to the gods. The tinted material was non-reflective and appeared almost invisible from the ground. Amazing, the sheer technological brio of fashioning something so massive, when none of the materials for its construction existed within hundreds of thousands of miles. He’d read somewhere it had taken nine years and four trillion credits to complete. Three corporations had initially footed the bill. Those were now one major conglomerate—Pacintic.

“Do you know how they came up with that name?” Gerard pointed to the billboard logo across the lane. “‘Pacintic… Because we can…’”

A convoy of three taxicabs filed by, one cab pipping its horn to tease Sebastian and Gerard as the beauties inside waved.

“Um, what was that?” Sebastian’s smile lingered. Definite opportunities for fun. He flicked a cheeky salute and forced himself back to their discussion. “Pacintic? No, I’ve no idea. You?”

“It’s sublimely simple. They merged the three oceans of Earth into one word, to signify, with customary humility, their galactic alliance. Pacific, Indian, Atlantic…Pacintic.”

Sebastian curled his bottom lip and nodded, pretending interest, his shameless mind still occupied with the coming week’s perks.

The air filled with dizzying smells of beer and wet bark as they passed a tennis court and small poolside casino. Feminine giggles tickled them from every private bar or poolside party, as if part of some come-hither tease.

“Have you noticed how quiet the music is?” Gerard stuffed his straw sombrero into a trash receptacle. “It’s not like your regular hoi polloi resort. Johnny Boy Bermuda has to behave himself. No unnecessary din, no harassing the crumpet poolside. Speaks for the clientele, though, no buts about it. You’ll not find lads and their ladettes in tow up here. No, sir, up here its play nice an’ keep everything to granny’s liking…or else.”

“Exactly. So what are we doing here?” Sebastian kicked at a pile of moon dust. “Security’s tighter than a cold sphincter. There’s been—what?—four violent crimes in the history of this place? Like you say, the money comes up here, and they’re vetted by Langley and the Omicron Bureau, not to mention our boys. Their security outfit must be pretty efficient.”

“And you don’t suppose somebody up there just likes you?” Gerard gave his new partner a nudge and pointed ahead along the path.

“Somebody up there shits—” Sebastian stopped in his tracks. His eyes widened and he let out a nervous laugh. “Oh my God.”

In the middle of the pale dust stood a Polynesian goddess, a small white placard in her hand, hiding her midriff. Sebastian didn’t bother to read the names printed in black as they approached. He was more interested in her green one-piece swimsuit, accenting her long, lightly tanned legs and curvaceous hips, along with high, pointy breasts poking toward him. Long ebony curls tumbled forward over a sleek shoulder as she tilted her bonnie face. Glazed cherry lips curved into the loveliest smile he had ever seen.

“Hi. Welcome to the Selene pageant.” Her soft, accented voice worked magic on his tired body. “May I help you?”

An elbow landed in Sebastian’s ribs. Gerard blurted, as if stumbling out of a daydream, “That’s us. We’re they. I mean we…are…them.” He pointed at the names on the cardboard sign. “Detectives Rappeneau and Thorpe-Campbell at your service, ma’am. And I have only one question for you—what will you do with the winnings? Because from when I’m standing, there can be no other outcome.”

The woman laughed, a quick, girly tinkle. “Thank you, but I’m not a contestant. They are all confined to the hotel during the pageant. My name is Antonia. I’m just here to show you around the complex and provide you with whatever you would like—” Her pause crackled with three-way chemistry. Her dark almond-shaped eyes studied Rappeneau before scanning Sebastian. “So if you’ll follow me, gentlemen, I’ll show you to your rooms.” She turned and they followed, like dogs in heat. “This is your first visit to Pont de Rêves?”

Sebastian dragged his thoughts out of her cleavage. “Yes, I’ve been pretty much everywhere else in the inner colonies, but this is the one place I always wanted to—”

“Are you a past contestant, Antonia?” Gerard butted in. “Forgive me, but I’ll not have it that there are ten more deserving women alive anywhere, let alone a hundred. Please tell me you’ve competed here before.”

“Afraid not,” she said warmly. “I did audition once. But to make the final hundred, you have to be as close to perfection as Nature has ever gotten. Trust me, our girls this year are not for mortal eyes. Goddesses all. If you are going to watch them, we advise sunglasses and a sedative…just in case.”

They all laughed. Antonia guided them through another two security checkpoints, asking them to show their Inner Colony Law Agency IDs to the armed guards. The fronts of the twin hotels danced with shimmering turquoise light from the swimming pools. Well-designed maroon-and-gold awnings atop a series of grey pillars formed their elegant entrances, while sculpted ornate hedges, fashioned into various shapes of mythical Greek characters and creatures, lined the mile-long, semi-circular promenade. Again, moon dust covered the entire ground except for a few patches of lawn. Straw hats dotted the dust and the evergreens, but Sebastian warmed to the fact that most of the women wore little else. Amazingly little else.

He cleared his throat.

“Gentlemen, store your shoes in these lockers. Everyone who enters the foyer must wear a pair of official hotel slippers to protect the exquisite carpets.” Antonia turned, displaying a luscious, heart-shaped ass, and indicated a rack to their left with all shoe sizes, but in one color, dark blue velvet.

“How much do you know about the Selene Pageant, gentlemen?” Antonia strutted toward the mahogany front desk, her extraordinary butt the object of all male glances.

“I skimmed through the brochure,” Sebastian replied. “And I’ve watched the broadcast a couple of times…well, the swimwear part, that is.”

She nodded and turned to Gerard. “And you, Detective?”

Sebastian noted her eyes widen as she looked at his partner. She tossed her hair off her shoulder for the first time—that most feminine of gestures. Ah, hell.

And to top it off, Gerard reached forward and caressed her upper arm with his flat knuckles. “Just making sure you’re real, my dear,” was his sickening excuse. To Sebastian’s surprise, she bought it. Her smile grew to a giggle and her double blink sealed the deal.

First round to the Renny.

“Here you go, gentlemen.” She handed them each a keycard with a flashing orange light in the top right corner. “When you slip it into the lock”—she glanced at Gerard—“hold it by the centre pads on either side, like this, with your thumb and forefinger.” After demonstrating the action, she added, “The first time you use it, it reads your fingerprints, and no one else can use it until it’s wiped clean by the staff. So please, make sure your hands are washed and dried.”

“That has to be the sexiest description of opening a door—” started Gerard.

Irritated, Sebastian interrupted, “So, you were telling us about the pageant?”

“Follow me, gentlemen. I’ll give you a brief overview on the way. Is that all right?”

“Fine,” said Sebastian.

“Suits me,” replied Gerard. “Everything but the ‘brief’ part.” He winked, and she pretended not to notice.

She led them up the main staircase with sky-and-navy carpet, cold silver banisters, and along an endless, plush corridor, the walls decorated with classical paintings. All the while, she recited the beauty contest litany.

“As you may know, the Selene Award is given once every two years. Women from all the registered colonies are eligible, aged eighteen to thirty-six. Initial tryouts are held during the month of March at designated outposts across the frontier, as well as at Selene Modeling Academies on Earth, Mars, and Phtia. Applicants must audition in swimwear, eveningwear, sportswear, lingerie, live interview, and nude performance capture. All auditions are recorded on holographic disc.

“Judges then choose the final top hundred applicants for the official pageant, held right here, where all categories are then repeated. The actual pageant lasts a week, starting from tomorrow, August first. Each category will be performed live before an expert judging panel. The nude performance capture is not available for broadcast and is conducted in private, under strict monitoring.”

Sebastian made a mental note of her emphasis on the words “strict monitoring.”

She continued, “The final line-up of five contestants will parade across Pont de Rêves in a variety of fashion ensembles endorsed by the major bidding companies. This year, the prize is a lucrative modeling and endorsement contract, as well as a purse of five hundred million credits. The outright winner will be crowned Selene on the steps of Apollo Fountain, in front of the bridge, and her award will be presented this year by His Majesty King Henry the Eleventh of Great Britain.

“I think that about covers it, gentlemen. If there’s anything else you’d like to know, buzz either the main desk or myself using the holo-com on your bedside walls. Yours is Room One-S, Mr. Thorpe-Campbell, and you are in One-T, Mr. Rappeneau. Other than that, I believe Ms. Lyons is waiting for you with security personnel in Room Four-H. At your convenience, gentlemen. Good day.”

She smiled, then slipped away.

Gerard leaned toward Sebastian. “Did you catch most of that, Thorpey?”

“I think so. You?”

“Hmm? Oh, I’ve caught something, old boy. And I aim to return it at the earliest possible convenience.”

Sebastian narrowed his eyes. “See you in fifteen.”

“Right-o.”

Sebastian worked the keycard into the slot, then shoved open the heavy wooden door. One-S was a functional, moderately comfy box of a room. Probably the cheapest in the hotel. He scanned the baby blue walls, sans decoration, then the stain-free beige carpet. A double bed and a pine writing desk under the tinted porthole window were the only furnishings. The bed itself had silver sheets and eight blue pillows.

Sebastian immediately piled them all on the floor. He’d never been able to sleep with even the slightest elevation. Rest, yes; sleep, no.

“It’s some psychological malarkey,” had been his father’s diagnosis.

Good enough for Sebastian. Next, he unlocked the desk drawer and shoved his passport, spare money belt, and his electronic ICLA mission dossier inside. Then he realized he’d forgotten the poor victim’s name. He laid the dossier flat on the desk and keyed in his password: GILDA. The screen lit up and he scanned the info.

Case File #371002. Det. S. Thorpe-Campbell, Pont de Rêves, La Mere Tranquilitatis.

Death of unknown male. Attempted murder of Ms. Evelyn Lyons, finalist at the Selene

Pageant, Pont de Rêves.

Lyons, Evelyn K.

Born: 2190, Yordan Moon, the Borodin System

Parents: Lyons, Benjamin S. & De La Cruz, Esperanza P. (both deceased)

Education: Raft Senior School and College (2201-08), Yordan; Administrative Assistant Kuiper Wells Mining Association, Yordan Head Office (2208-)

Languages: English, partial Spanish, Gaelic

Marital status: single

Natural Profile: 5’7”, blonde hair, grey eyes, no known surgery or medical conditions


Sebastian studied her photo for a few moments. Though the image was far too bright, over-exposing the left side of her face, she was clearly a beauty. More Scandinavian-looking than anything. Very young-looking. From the icy look in her eyes, he knew it wasn’t her audition photo. Probably a bit of a bitch. He logged off and placed the dossier back in the drawer.

The digital bedside clock read 11:14. Already late morning. He remembered he hadn’t had a wash on the flight, so he splashed his face with cold water from the tap. Marvelous. He changed into a cool white cotton shirt and glanced in the mirror. After a pluck at his waistline, he decided he had to tone up during Selene week.

“No wonder Antonia didn’t look twice.”

Emptying his rucksack, he picked out a decent aftershave, his bureau issue Mephisto-49 Kruger pistol and gun belt, with more than enough clips to last him a week in paradise, and his brass penknife. He patted his trouser pocket for his ID. Check.

His loose shirt hid the belt and weaponry. Check.

He looked in the mirror again. Longish black hair, stylishly disheveled; light stubble, just enough to strike a match on; hazel eyes with bags the size of spud sacks under them; boyish features on a pale, roundish face—both rounder and paler than he’d like. Groan. Check.

Gerard knocked first.

“Would you prefer Thorpey or Sebastian?” he asked as Sebastian opened the door.

“Sebastian. And you? Gerard or Dickhead?”

He laughed. “Your call. Most people find me an insufferable son of a bitch out of the blocks. But I’ll make you a bet, Sebastian—fifty flat credits says by the end of this week, we’ll be chums.”

Sebastian lifted an eyebrow. “Oh?”

“We’re cut from the same cloth, that’s why.” He pointed toward the elevator and they set off. “Anyone will tell you I’m good for two things: reading people and backtracking evidence. Put me in an unspoiled crime scene and I’ll give the case so close a shave that its skin pimples. Show me a suspect and I’ll give him his rights or his sky-cab fare on the spot. But anything else, well…they don’t keep me in an office for nothing.”

“So if I took a swing at you, you’d be defenseless?”

“Good Lord, no, but I wouldn’t be much use in a drawn-out fight. Just don’t have the physical tenacity for it. Might sound a bizarre thing for a new partner to say, but I’m not into ego-pumping, and you might as well know what I’m about right off the bat. I’m a pen ’n’ pieces man. Forensics up to the gills. Have been ever since the academy. S.W.A.T., to me, is what one does, armed with rolled-up magazine, to an annoying insect.

“But you, sir, are a man of action. Remember the incident at the airport? Petulant though it was, your reaction was unique, and it told me a great deal about your character. For instance, you despise this assignment in principle, but not in light of its perks. That’s an easy one, old boy. You have a rash temperament that often lands you in hot water. And despite our comparable solid frames and physiques, you didn’t recoil for an instant when I confronted you. That suggests either self-confidence or a macho fear of cowardice. Then there was the sarcastic quip when you blamed it on someone else—arrogance, but also restraint, in that you didn’t follow through. So you see, my dear Sebastian, we’re already well acquainted.”

Ping. The elevator shimmied as it stopped and called out, “First…floor.”

“You’re an odd duck, Rappeneau. There’s no arguing that.” Sebastian slapped his hand against the electric eye as his partner entered the cubicle. “But there’s nothing wrong with a man telling it the way it is. C’est la vie. One thing, though—you’ve just admitted we’re nothing at all alike, then you say we’re cut from the same cloth. A little contradictory, wouldn’t you say?”

“Wait and see, sir. Just you wait and see. We’ll be sipping Bolshoi brandies poolside before the week’s out.” He paused, made way for an overweight maid and her squeaking trolley. “That name…Thorpe-Campbell. Not the Thorpe-Campbells, by any chance?”

Sebastian sighed, desperate to change the subject. “Once upon a time.”

“As in Charlie Thorpe-Campbell, the orbital runner?”

“My great-granddad.”

“Indeed.” Gerard studied him before adding, “Impressive. Tough legacy to live up to, old boy. Very harsh. Did I mention my old man was one of the co-founders of Osterman Aeronautics?”

“Never heard of it.”

“Strictly second tier contracts. But he’s worth something like four hundred million. Not that I’ll see a single credit. What with those fresh riots breaking out in France—some say a third revolution’s in the offing—it’ll make things dicey for Osterman. And that’s why he said, after I’d flunked out of Oxford, that I should sod off and do something with my life rather than sniffing around his coffers indefinitely. So here I am. And there’s why we’re both cut from the same cloth, my dear chap. Sons…sons relegated to the shade.”

The lump in Sebastian’s throat told him what he already knew, that he’d pent up this frustration for years and the Renny had just run rings round him. Gutless in a fight, perhaps, but at least Rappeneau was brave enough to admit his shortcomings. To say exactly what was on his mind, bluntly, and to a new partner. Insufferable, yes, but the man was also right. Sebastian had never been extraordinary like his ancestors—record breakers, pioneers, deep space explorers—nor had he ever managed to come to terms with the fact. His own father had worked himself to death building the Martian oases colonies. No regrets. Or none that he’d ever spoken of.

But why couldn’t Sebastian settle into a regular-type job? Why couldn’t he just knuckle down and take pride in his law enforcement work without bending the rules to prove himself? Admirable work. Did a Thorpe-Campbell have to do something that extraordinary with his life? What defined extraordinary anyway?

Knock, knock.

Four-H.

A uniformed security guard opened the door, blinked at the detectives’ IDs, while the other guard propped up a wall. Inside smelled of sweet tropical perfume, a variation on pineapple. A scantily clad woman sat on the bed, all white legs and arms, with golden locks cascading onto hunched shoulders. Her tiny hands were clasped between her thighs, and her knees fidgeted as her eyes darted around the room. Her leopard-skin bikini seemed wholly inappropriate for someone who’d recently survived a murder attempt. Chewing her bottom lip, she eyed Sebastian and Gerard from beneath a wounded frown.

“Miss Lyons, I’m Detective Rappeneau. This is Detective Thorpe-Campbell.” Gerry turned to the two security men. “If you wouldn’t mind waiting outside. Thanks ever so much.”

“If you need anything, Miss—” one of them started.

“Very kind,” Gerry interrupted, closing the door behind them. “Miss Lyons, how are you feeling?”

Surprised to find the room only a little larger than his, Sebastian decided the gold taps on the sink and full-size holographic booth for communicating across space were more than he needed. On second glance, the small Jacuzzi in the far corner and mini-bar would have been nice touches, especially if Miss Lyons completed the additions.

“How am I feeling? Didn’t you say you were a detective?” The scorn in her controlled, sonorous voice cut. “You’ll have to do better than that, Rappeneau.”

Gerard smiled and opened his mouth to reply.

“Perhaps you’ll do better.” Her gaze swerved to Sebastian. As though his answer were unimportant, she stood and walked over to the dressing table, then dabbed on lavender eye shadow. “Well?”

Gerry and Sebastian shared a quizzical look.

“Well, what?” Sebastian’s tone was curt, authoritative. Forget the addition.

“You guys aren’t the quickest bowls in the over, are you?”

“Excuse me?”

“See what I mean? You guys never played cricket? ” She sighed and adjusted the strap of her bikini top, bouncing her luscious tits. “Oh, for God’s sake, sit down!”

Amusement twinkling in his eyes, Rappeneau motioned to Sebastian, then the bed. “After you, old boy.”

Evelyn Lyons burst out laughing, a deep, infectious sound that shook her entire shapely frame. Sebastian ordered all his body parts to behave. He was here to work, not get laid. At least not yet.

“Old boy! I haven’t heard that in years.” She glanced over her shoulder at him and grinned, her perfect upper teeth pressing down on her lower lip. With his jaw clenched tight, Gerry didn’t seem to know whether to laugh along with her. “And you said it genuinely,” she went on, “without affectation. How bizarre. And here I was about to say what a stud you were. If only I’d known you were gay!”

Sebastian dipped his head and stifled a laugh with the side of his fist against his mouth. To his genuine surprise, his unflappable aristocratic partner stormed out.

Evelyn doubled up in a fit of hilarity, and Sebastian couldn’t help but join in. Her laugh was so infectious, and Gerry’s bourgeois persona needed mocking. More than that, Gerry had just been given a taste of his own medicine, a sour dose of forthrightness thrust down his gullet. Evelyn’s tears smeared her mascara down her creamy cheeks.

“You seem able to take care of yourself.” Sebastian handed her a tissue. An electric zing shot up his arm when her fingertips brushed against his, a reaction he hadn’t experienced in quite some time. It took him a moment to refocus on Evelyn’s words.

“Oh, he asked for it,” she replied, swiping away at her face. “Antonia buzzed me a few minutes ago, gave me the heads-up on a smooth-talking Renny who needed putting in his place.” She glanced up, her large grey eyes twinkling. “Sorry, couldn’t resist.”

“But I thought they hit it off—Antonia and Gerry.” He realized he’d settled on neither Gerard nor Dickhead, but a more vulnerable compromise. Gerry, that name sounded about right. Fey, old as leather bindings, yet easy to like.

“’Course she likes him. Who wouldn’t?” Evelyn wiped at her eyes with a damp cloth she’d plucked from a plastic container, then dried them with a towel. “But she’s already engaged to a guy from Fra Mauro Four, a dancer. I just wanted to see what Gerry was made of.” She swung her long legs to the side, pivoting on the stool, and faced him full on. Her perceptive expression glued him to the bed. “You guys are all the same, you know. Indestructible as you like when your crosshairs are on a girl, but as soon as you take a hit, it’s bloody murder.”

“You were a bit harsh. After all, he came up here to help you. He’s travelled light-years to look after you. And the best you can do is insult his manhood.” He realised he wanted her to feel rotten. For Gerry.

She paused to stare at herself in the mirror. “I’ve been a bitch, haven’t I.” It wasn’t a question. She almost sounded proud. “God, I could’ve been killed! I should be cowering, shivering in a corner or something. But I’m afraid that’s just not me, Detective Thorpe-Johnson.”

“Thorpe…Sebastian.”

“But I promise I’ll behave from now on. If you bring Gerry back in, I’ll apologize at once.”

Sebastian left the room and returned alone a minute later.

“Well?” she said.

“He’s on his way downstairs, I’m afraid. Said it’s too hostile in here. Leopard-skin bikini, claws and all that. And if you want to apologize, he’ll be in the restaurant just before lunch.” Sebastian winked on his new friend’s behalf.

She frowned for real this time. “Hey, who’s hustling who?”




Chapter Two


The windowless terracotta-tiled dining room was half empty. Gerry had found a table opposite the giant, arboreal shape of Artemis the huntress outside. A few stray leaves lay about his feet under the table. He reckoned they’d been trampled inside because Pont de Rêves had never known a gust of real wind. It’s a bubble, and weather in a bubble is always fine, always predictable. That is until…

Evelyn Lyons scurried down the staircase and left her security chaperon gap-jawed at the entry. Her short black skirt and tight, low-cut purple T-shirt, a perfect accent to her creamy skin, made Gerry shift in his chair. She was not skinny like many of the contestants he’d seen. No, Evelyn had curves. Luscious full curves his hands itched to palm. Long, permed hair bounced and tumbled about her shoulders as she glanced back, grinned, and leapt the final three steps. She gave the security guard a tomboyish bow, then blew him a kiss. Everyone in the dining area stopped for a moment to watch. It was like a tornado had touched down to suck all propriety from the foyer.

Gerry looked down in time to avoid her searching glance. What the hell was she? Beautiful, yes, but what was with the Saturday matinee playtime routine? Some kind of trauma side effect perhaps—denial? The woman could have been toast two days ago. Easily! Sliced up by a deranged John Doe with no apparent motive. Gerry refolded his serviette six times before she reached the table.

“Hi. How are you?” Her raspy voice sang out, soft and sexy. “I want to apologize about before. That was out of line. Can I sit?”

He stood. “I was just about to… Please.” He was too late to hold a chair out for her. She had already sat and was digging through the menu, reacting to each selection.

“No, no, friggin’ weird, not bad, hmm, ooh, nice, yuck, no, no…okay, I’ll have the ham and cheese omelet, with a glass of orange juice.” She glanced at him; a warm smile lit her eyes. “What about you?”

Gerry realized this luncheon date had been a mistake. He cleared his throat and snatched up his own menu. “For a drink, how about a cordial?” He felt sure she wouldn’t get the subtle English pun. “And the tart looks good.” Perhaps she’d cotton on to that. If not, “Then the Knickerbocker—”

“Okay, this is getting weird,” she interrupted. “You wouldn’t have buzzed me down for lunch if you didn’t fancy me, so what’s with all the insults? I’ve already apologized about before. So look, my elbows are on the table. I never wear a napkin. It’s plainly obvious I don’t know a thing about etiquette. So stop sniveling and order already, Detective.”

Gerry opened his mouth but nothing came out. He glanced at his watch. 12:51. As soon as they finished, he’d go over her statement, make sure she hadn’t omitted anything, and that would be that. Sayonara. Evelyn Lyons was just too infuriating, too uncouth for words. He didn’t know how she wound him up so easily, but he couldn’t wait to get out.

“I’ll have what you’re having,” he said.

“’Kay. Won’t be a sec.” With a sensual thrum of a sigh, she rose to her feet, then strutted over to the wooden counter.

“She’s bad news,” Gerry murmured to himself. “A wiser man would steer well clear, keep well”—his breath caught as she bent forward to pick up a loose credit disc she’d dropped, and her large breasts pressed down against the elastic fabric of her top—“away.” The cleavage was tantalizing and, together with her young face, potently virginal. One would never imagine she had such a roughshod, border colony demeanor. “Christ, they should turn the heating down.” He raised his hand to loosen his collar. He didn’t have one.

Senses back in place, he stood and waved to Antonia as she sauntered along the promenade, a man’s folded suit tucked under her arm. She smiled at him, but didn’t wave back. Gerry realized he couldn’t care less.

He only saw white.

Evelyn Lyons’ determined poise fell whenever she glanced sideways. It was subtle, and one had to watch closely. But Gerry caught it as she reacted to the first loud ping of clashing glasses at a nearby table and again when she noticed Antonia outside. It was the Evelyn beneath—less lioness, more doe in the bourgeois savannah. He’d always been good at reading people and this girl, he was certain, had secrets. She had survived a murder attempt, yes, but that attacker now lay in the morgue.

Why was she still paranoid? She had every right to be jumpy, true, but it was nonetheless at odds with her pattern of behavior thus far. The nonchalance, the abrupt, coarse conversation, the swagger, the childlike running down the stairs away from her chaperon; there was an air of performance about it. For Gerry’s benefit? Was there something about the attack, or her being here in the pageant, that she didn’t want the authorities to know? Something not yet finished? He reached into his pocket and retrieved his notepad and pen.

She sat down and said he’d looked foxy from over there. He immediately wrote the word down for posterity—a Selene finalist calling him a “fox”? A moment not to forget. But what was she playing at really? Sharp as an icicle a minute ago, now she was paying him fuzzy compliments? No one was that mercurial. Were they? Narrowing his eyes, he scribbled before his previous entry: “sly as a...”


* * *


Sebastian couldn’t believe the underground corridors and storage compartments on the basement level were so pristine. All carpeted, with shiny metal walls and bright tubular lights along every ceiling, they were better kept than his communal living quarters on Tharsis Rise had ever been. The uniformed security guard showed him into a small side office opposite a bay containing four forklift trucks. The blinds on the windows were closed. Inside, a thin, elderly woman with dyed auburn hair shook his hand.

“Grace Peters,” she said with a smoker’s rasp. “Doctor, Selene finalist.” Sebastian swallowed. She smirked. “You don’t have to throw up just yet, Detective. I meant I was a Selene finalist…once upon a time. Only way they’d ever hire me in a place like this. I know the breed. These girls have very particular ailments during pageant week—stress management, malnutrition, over-exercising, hormones going off like Chinese fireworks. Who better to keep them in check than an old broad who’s been through it and eaten the T-shirt? Sorry, that was my bulimia joke.” She paused. “Well, don’t all laugh at once.”

“Detective Thorpe-Campbell. Jetlagged, not really in the mood.”

“Don’t worry; you’re not my type either. Too vertical.” Silence. “Okey-dokey,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Here we are then.” She whipped the white blanket off the table behind her. “Hunkus extinctus.

Sebastian whisked a handkerchief from his pocket and held it over his nose as he approached the dead body; the rancid smell was somewhere between detergent and pork gone south. An unusual amount of dark body hair covered the muscular man, who was around six-two in height. He’d probably had a lot of facial hair, too, but something large and powerful had staved his face in. No identifying features remained except for a few broken teeth embedded in the gooey mess.

“Still no ID?”

“Nope. ’Fraid not. We can play dot-to-dot with dental records when there’s partial jaw damage, but this one has nothing left to smile about.” Grace Peters grinned, while Sebastian shook his head at her gallows humor. “But we’ve had plenty to work with,” she went on. “Fingerprints, hair fibers, DNA, even two toes missing on the right foot—a birth defect. But everything has drawn a blank. Homo horizontus is one mysterious hunker. You might call him the missing link of this investigation, in more ways than one.”

Sebastian studied the corpse. “There must be some record of him arriving here, passing through security, something on file.”

“I’ve triple-checked. We even did a grid sweep scan for every person currently alive in Pont de Rêves. Everyone’s accounted for. The figures tally.” She turned to the balding security guard. “And you were going to interrogate the airport staff?”

“It’s in progress, Doctor,” came the reply. “Captain Kraczinski is overseeing the questioning, and I think even Mr. Brandywine is present. So far, nothing to report.”

Sebastian eyed the guard suspiciously. “Who gave them the authority to question anyone? Security personnel have the power to detain, but unless an ICLA officer is present, anything they say is inadmissible. You know that.”

“Yes, sir.”

“So what—”

“It’s above my pay grade, sir. You’ll have to ask the captain. But from what I understand, Mr. Brandywine has the final word on any matter under his jurisdiction.”

His jurisdiction? What the hell is this?”

The man cocked an eyebrow. “This is Pont de Rêves, sir. We ain’t no flophouse resort.”

“Thank you. I can find my own way back from here.” Yawning, Sebastian waved him away. “If I need you, I’ll let you know.”

The man didn’t budge. “I was ordered to stay with—”

“It’s okay”—Sebastian read the man’s nametag—“Officer Clarke. I’m in charge now. I can take it from here.”

“But, sir, I could get in trouble—”

Standing tall, Sebastian retrieved his notebook from his pocket and glowered at the man. In doing so, he lifted his shirt, revealing his gun belt. “Oh, yeah? From whom? Does he outrank me? What’s his name and rank? I’ll give you to the count of three before you find out just how far down that pay grade your ass can go.”

The count didn’t reach two before Clarke slammed the door on his way out.

“Oh, you’re gonna fit right in.” Grace Peters slouched forward, fists on hips. “Two minutes in, already butting heads with the creep in the keep.”

“Who? Kraczinski? Or Brandywine?”

“Eh? Take your pick. I daresay neither of them would fare well in a beauty contest.” She winked, then covered the body. “Just watch yourself, Detective. There are lawmen with more clout than you who’ve left this place badge-less. It’s better you find it out now than later—Pont de Rêves works in mysterious ways, always has. But as long as the pageant goes smoothly and the pool lights keep on shining, no one interferes.

“If you ask me, that’s the way it should stay. Nothing ever happens to our folks. And when you consider what it’s like in other colonies, that’s not something to be sniffed at. My advice is to file your statements, write your report, and get back to Dodge. Coz from the way you just threw your weight around in here, you won’t just be washed out, you’ll be hung out to dry before the week’s out.”

“Duly noted. Anything more you can tell me about the body?”

She sighed and shook her head. “He’ll have no use for tobacco any time soon. Oh, and he’s hung like a derby winner.”

Sebastian escaped before she had a chance to double-check the latter.


* * *


“It’s all in my statement. What makes you think I’m lying?” Evelyn Lyons had grown as irritable as Gerry. “Wait. Don’t answer that. I’ll bet you’re one of these human lie detectors who can glean a person’s whole life story from the dilation of her pupils. Am I right?”

Gerry waved to the waitress, asking for the check.

“What are you doing?” Evelyn snorted. “There’s no check. I’ve already paid. So you can consider yourself a chump and cheap. You’re making real progress, Detective.”

That was that. He’d endured the disastrous meeting long enough. Any more catty remarks like that and he might have to finish what John Q. Cadaver had started. He’d gotten precisely nothing out of her that wasn’t in her clean-cut—too clean by half—preliminary statement. Someone called Captain Kraczinski had taken it a few hours after the incident. Gerry couldn’t buy that the attacker had simply appeared out of nowhere, unseen, to slice up one of the hottest-tipped contestants in the pageant. In such a secured location. This eclectic bubble on the moon? He crossed out the word “balderdash” and wrote “bullshit” in its place.

“You said you’re one of the favorites to win, Ms. Lyons? How do you know? Is that from the bookies?”

She stood up to leave, scraping the chair over the tiles as she backed out. “I just meant that to reach the finals, I feel like I’m already one of the favorites. Any more insults?”

He sighed and hated what he had to ask. “I realize we don’t exactly see eye to eye—”

“Or anything to anything.”

“But I have to ask that you return to the crime scene with me. We like to be as thorough as we can in the first forty-eight hours. It isn’t ideal, I know—these security goons are as forensically aware as a pack of pottering pigeons…in their own poo. But I have—”

She chuckled, loudly at first, then the laugh burrowed deeper, muffled by the delirious clenching of her entire frame. Gerry thought she’d keel over from lack of oxygen. Tears streamed from her eyes.

“Ms. Lyons? Are you all right?” He went to touch her, but she pushed him back and sank forward, still laughing, with her hands braced on her knees.

He’d never seen anything like it. It was as though the entire traumatic experience of the past few days—leaving her home colony for the first time, her new celebrity status being thrust upon her, surviving a vicious murder attempt—now gushed out at his joke. A childish, alliterative pun that just had popped into his head.

“Oh, you kill me,” she said. “It’s that accent…and…your haughty way with words.”

Gerry felt the sudden urge to stand up for her outburst, to protect her from mocking eyes. He turned to face each spectator in turn, staring them down as though they were flames of embarrassment he ought to extinguish.

“Okay, you’d better come with me.” He took her hand and led her across the foyer, down a carpeted corridor with signs on the wall:

Casino This Way

Jackets and Eveningwear Only

Her laughter stopped as the left hand wall opened up to the grassy promenade. They were in an arched enclave before the casino doors. A long depression in the lawn and the moon dust suggested a red carpet had been recently removed from the casino entrance.

“This was where it happened?” Gerry knelt to inspect the lawn.

“Yes.”

“I know this is hard, but please, take as long as you want. I’d like you to go through what happened in as much detail as you can—blow by blow. It’s all in your statement, yes, but there’s no substitute for re-enacting a crime at the actual crime scene.”

He studied her as her poise returned like hardening wax.

Like the Selene statue.

The goddess was her shell, the lunar persona the contest would see and admire, Gerry concluded. The real Evelyn Lyons had exposed herself by trying too hard not to care. The act was in the inaction. If she had appeared distracted, disturbed, upset by the attempt on her life, he would not have questioned it. That would have been normal behavior, but now he’d seen her duality. A rather amateur attempt at indifference. He sensed the reason behind it would also reveal itself…if he listened closely enough.

Sebastian joined them as she began her account. He insisted she go on as if he was not there.

“Okay, it was like this—I’d just given up after a lousy hour at the slots. Jemima what’s-her-name, from Rhode Island, kept cashing in on the machines I’d struck out on. Bitch. So I was in a foul mood to begin with when I left through here”—she pointed to the casino’s varnished oak doors to her right—“and I said goodnight to the doorman. He was a little old for me, but still cute, suave. That was some time after ten. He closed the doors, and I’d no sooner walked ten steps than a big, hairy ape lunged at me, full-on.

“I think he tripped over something because his knife stabbed into the wall here.” She pointed to a clear stab mark just below the word “Eveningwear” on the sign behind her. “His full weight crashed on top of me. It crushed my shoulder against the wall, and I think I banged my head as well. It was an insane few seconds. The bastard hissed, I remember that—hissed and snarled like a rabid dog. I had hold of his fist over the knife handle, but he wouldn’t let go. I broke three nails trying to cut through his knuckles, trying to prize them loose. Then snap, he yanked me back by my hair, and my dress tore as it snagged on the corner of the sign. Yeah, right where it says ‘Eveningwear only.’”

Gerry acknowledged the irony with a flick of his eyebrows.

“So anyway,” she went on, “half my dress tore off, and this only made the ape more furious. He stabbed again and again, like this.” Evelyn hammered her fist down through the air. “Exactly like an ape would use a knife, or somebody out of his mind.”

“Check, and check,” Sebastian said from out of nowhere.

She glanced round to him and spit out, “Invisible means you don’t talk.”

He shrugged and shook his head at Gerry.

“To cut a long story short—”

“No, pray don’t,” pleaded Gerry, holding up his hand to stop her. “Tell me everything. The details are the clues. I might not be a Sherlock Holmes, but I’m a bloodhound at heart. Go on, Evelyn.” He found it strange how much he liked that they were on first name terms.

She took a deep breath, then pulled her T-shirt down to cover her exposed hipbones and belly button. “Yeah, the details. What do you want to know? That as well as trying to put the knife into my neck, he pressed down on my tits so hard I cried, then he kneed me in the stomach until I let go of his hands. I think he even head-butted my shoulder. The only thing I did, I think, was bite a chunk out of his beard. But at least he squealed.”

Gerry watched her lips tremble. She lost eye contact. Realizing his fists had clenched, he tried to settle himself and shifted his weight to his other knee. No use. Fucking animal. Fucking shit security. How could they let this happen to a defenseless, innocent, little—he checked himself at “innocent”—and right under their noses?

“Didn’t anyone hear?” Sebastian asked. “The doorman must have—”

“Ha! That’s a laugh. There wasn’t a soul in sight anywhere. I’m telling you. Selene week, here, at the heart of everything Selene, almost in the shadow of the goddamn statue…and no one sees a thing.”

“Did you scream, ma’am?” Sebastian pulled his hands out of his pockets.

“Actually no, no, I didn’t. I’ve no idea why.” She pondered it for a second. “Why didn’t I scream? You’d think it would be the first instinct—self-preservation. Wow, that’s actually…pretty dumb.”

“Don’t beat yourself up, miss,” Sebastian reassured her. “Not everyone will have the same reaction to being attacked. People are squealers on the whole, men included. Whereas you, miss, are a fighter. Your instinct wasn’t to give in and cry for help, even though you were overpowered. You kicked and scratched; gave the bastard hell. Some would say any cornered animal does the same, but the difference is we’re aware we’re cornered and outmatched. Animals react purely by instinct. A part of you decided, quite deliberately, you were going to tear that ape a new one on your own, or else you’d die trying.

“Phenomenal, Miss Lyons, if I might say so. In this day and age. For a beauty contestant.” He shook his head. “It’s something else.” Unable to help himself, Sebastian walked over and kissed her hand. “It’s all over now.”

“Thank you,” she replied, her eyes wide and glazed. “I also kicked him in the balls.”

Both men laughed.

Gerry fumbled for something to say. Evelyn seemed to notice and, as if to save him the trouble, went on, “Then it all happened so suddenly. Another man jumped on top of the ape, pulled him off me, and started kicking him in the face. When that wasn’t working, he ran over to the red carpet”—she pointed outside, to the border of lawn and moon dust—“and grabbed one of the brass posts, you know, those things holding the rope line up. Then he upended it and lifted it over his head, and smashed it down with both hands. Right into the ape’s face. Crunch. Completely caved it in. Blood went everywhere—the floor, the wall, the red carpet, my dress. I just sat there, gobsmacked, wondering what the hell had happened. Didn’t get a good look at the guy, didn’t even see his face. I was too shocked.”

She gave each detective a quick, bird-like glance. Gerry registered the significance, writing, 'Covering for her rescuer? Knows him?' on his notepad.

“So that’s all there is, Gerry. You said you wanted every gritty detail. I think I’ve spelled it out for you and colored inside the lines. Yes?”

“You’ve been most helpful.”

“Phew!” she said. “Does that mean I can go? I’ve got so many exercises to do before tomorrow, before the contest opens.”

“What’s the first contest?” Sebastian clicked his fingers for Gerry to get up.

“Swimsuit.”

“Yeah? Well, well, I knew there was a God.”

“Don’t you mean goddess?” She winked and, taking both their arms, added, “Promise you’ll save the loudest applause for me.”

Gerry couldn’t believe how easily she affected him. Their meeting had survived all the tempestuousness he’d ever experienced between a man and a woman, all at once, all in the calmest climes of this static lunar bubble. His head swam. For some reason, the sea—those rolling, lurching, hair-raising experiences he’d had as a boy on his father’s yacht off the Côte D’Azur—ran through his mind. It had frightened him then, but also excited him. The sea was beyond man’s control. It was too unpredictable, too tempting a challenge. It had its own scent, along with that pull of attraction more subliminal than all the forces in an atom. A certain kind of man couldn’t bear to be away from the sea. Or Evelyn Lyons.

He pulled her close to him as they walked. Her perfume was not strong but natural, palpable. The whiteness of her arm and neck and cleavage set his heart thumping. He knew he’d better say something quick, before he started to steam.

“What time does it start?” Ah, hell. The image of her changing into a swimsuit made him harder than his trousers could bear. He glanced down. The bulge was obvious. Gerry hoped she wouldn’t notice. Then he half wanted her to. He was worse than a teenager, but also knew every man in Pont de Rêves had a permanent hard-on. Why else would they be here?

He realized she hadn’t answered. “I asked what time the contest starts tomorrow.”

“Oh, ten-thirty.” She leaned in close and whispered as she glanced down, “But I see you’re set at eleven o’clock. How about tonight?”

Gerry grinned. More composed than he’d imagined possible. “It’s a date. Tonight at eleven.”

A few moments of silence.

“Better make it nine. Busy schedule,” Evelyn replied.

“Don’t plan too far ahead, sweetheart.”

“I never do.”

Gerry whispered back, “I should tell you I have a thing for goddesses.”

“Mm. See you then, old chap.” She let go of his arm at the foot of the main staircase. Sebastian had disappeared. She swiveled round. “What’s happened to your partner?”

“Huh? Oh, right, yeah…him.” He shrugged.

Evelyn gave her widest grin yet before running up the stairs; a grin Gerry was certain would win her the Selene crown. She had everything a man could ask for in a woman.

He retrieved his notebook from his pocket.

“Hmm, everything except the truth.”




Chapter Three


“Where did you sneak off to?” Gerry asked Sebastian when they met in the middle of the foyer. Two-dozen leggy models, wearing tracksuit jackets and bikini bottoms, breezed past on their way to the bridge, a smirking male photographer in tow.

“Any more of this and my head will explode. Torture, I'm telling you. Unbelievable.” Sebastian faked a wounded expression, then snapped back to business. “Oh, I buzzed Brandywine. Apparently, he’s calling the shots here. His secretary said he’s indisposed right now, whatever that means, but we can wait for him in his office. Top floor. You ready?”

“Yep.”

“Not interrupting your hot date?”

“Hmm? Oh, that’s for later. You heard everything?”

Sebastian patted his partner’s shoulder. “Enough, brother. I heard enough.”


Continue reading this ebook at Smashwords.
Purchase this book or download sample versions for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-37 show above.)