The Lake Prophet Mysteries
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Having been, at various times and under different names, a minister’s daughter, a computer programmer, a game designer, the author of paranormal mysteries, a fan fiction writer, and organic farmer, Eli has been a m/m romance author since 2013. She has published over 30 gay romances.
Eli has loved romance since her teens and she particular admires writers who can combine literary merit, genuine humor, melting hotness, and eye-dabbing sweetness into one story.
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My cell phone rang. I took it out of my pocket and glanced at it, not intending to answer. But it was a 360 area code—someone local. I accepted the call. “Hello?”
“Hey, is this Tiber?”
“Yes.” I didn’t recognize the man’s voice. For a second, my brain hiccupped, and I thought it was my ex, Jeff. A chill of dread passed over me. Please God, no.
“It’s Sam, over at the riding stables.”
“Oh. Hey! Sam.” My relief was immediate but short-lived. It wasn’t Jeff, because I wasn’t asleep, and this wasn’t a nightmare. But why would Sam be calling me?
When I’d first moved to Prophet, I’d opened a customer account at the local trail rides stables up at the Thompson Cabins and I’d gone out a dozen times. It had been a big ticket item on the ‘pro’ list when I’d contemplated moving to Prophet, honestly. I’d gotten into horses on the rez in Arizona when I’d stayed with my Navajo grandma during the summers. It was one of the best things to do there, and popular with natives and tourists alike. The red rock landscape had that Old Western movie vibe and that was compounded on horseback. But since I’d taken in Duke, I hadn’t had the extra time or energy to go riding.
As for Sam, who owned the Thompson Cabins and the adjacent stables, I didn’t know him well. but I knew he was Gabriel’s brother. Gabriel—the hot sheriff of Prophet. The hot, gay sheriff, and a man I’d put firmly in the friend zone. The thought something had happened to him made my blood run cold. “Is Gabriel okay?”
“What? Oh. Yeah, Gabriel’s fine as far as I know. He’s over in Seattle for some law enforcement training today. I’m really sorry to bother you.” Sam sounded upset. “I just didn’t know who else to call who’s a strong rider. And Gabriel thinks the world of you.”
I looked across at the three crows. Two had jumped off the rock and were now pecking at the ground but one was still eyeing me. Thanks for the heads up.
“Sure. What do you need?”
“It’s Billy.” I heard Sam take a shaky breath. “He took River out this morning about eight a.m., and he hasn’t come back yet.”
I checked my watch. It was almost four. “That’s not good.”
“No. I’m getting really worried. I thought I’d better do something about it before it gets dark. It’d be good to have someone along, just in case. And with Gabriel away and the fact that Deputy Devin doesn’t ride, I didn’t know who else to ask. But if you’re busy, I totally—”
“No problem. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
Sam gave me directions to the trailhead where he wanted to search. I gathered the troops and headed back up the game trail through the woods to my house. The dogs seemed to sense my mood had shifted, and that we were in a hurry. They came along quietly and without their usual reluctance to leave the lake.
I had time enough to worry as we hiked home. Billy Odette was the trail master for the Thompson stables. He was a Makah man in his forties—wiry, strong, and an excellent horseman. He’d grown up in nearby Neah Bay and knew the area well. There was no way he’d be out this long—for the horse’s sake, if not for his own.
I couldn’t help but flash back to the murder we’d had in Prophet just three months ago. Prophet, to all appearances, was a sleepy little town. It was historically an artist’s community. We were separated from the busy towns and cities around Puget Sound—including Seattle—by the Olympic Mountains, one of the densest, wildest, and wettest mountain ranges in the United States. On this side of them, in the open land between the mountains and the western seaboard, the population was sparse. As my mom put it, I’d moved to the ass-end of nowhere.
You’d think that would make Prophet a safe place to live. But lately, I’d begun to see the dark side of that isolation. People moved here who didn’t want to be found—me included. Maybe some of those people weren’t running from an abusive ex, or even themselves, but from the law. It drew people hoping to hide their sins in the deep, shadowed forests of the Olympics.
People who came here to escape the rules were especially angry when the local law tried to enforce them. As Mike Bressett had learned.
I prayed nothing like that had happened to Billy Odette.
Still, after all this time and despite my avoidance tactics, it was both good and bad to meet Hudson, ISB agent extraordinaire with perfectly styled blond hair, a body built by a god, and piercing blue eyes that stared right through me. He was the kind of guy I’d have hooked up with—before—all flirty and suggestive, temporary, a one-night stand. He was someone I might have had some easy no-strings fun with back before my life had changed.
Before the undercover case broke me and sent me running from LA.
I wish I was back home. I knew Tiber had called a halt to us, but we shared Duke, hiked as a pack—his words not mine—skimmed stones on Lake Prophet, then sat in silence as we watched the storm petrels wheeling in the leaden skies above the verdant rainforest.
Tiber and I had kissed exactly three times since he’d said we shouldn’t. The first was after we’d eaten a bucket of popcorn while watching animal documentaries at his home—my favorite place to be. He’d definitely leaned in first and kissed me before sitting back, flustered, and fussing around Patch as if the sleeping cat needed the attention. I’d loved the buttery kiss but had to leave soon after because otherwise I would have begged for more. The second had happened when I’d lost my cool as he laughed at something Duke had been doing. I’d wanted to kiss the smile, and lurched clumsily at him, only to mash our lips together in the most unsexy way ever, then step back because he was shocked.
After all, friends don’t kiss friends.
The third, last Sunday, happened outside my house when he came to drop off Duke. The rain was out of a romance novel, or a post-apocalyptic movie, so heavy it drenched us in seconds, but when he smiled his goodbye, his long hair plastered around his face, I’d gripped his yellow slicker, and we’d met in the middle.
A kiss for the ages, soft, then hard, wet from the rain, and so hot.
When we separated Tiber stared at me wide-eyed, touching his lips before he turned and left. I’d wanted to call after him, suggest maybe being friends wasn’t enough, and that I’d be good with more kisses. I’d said nothing, watching his tail lights vanishing into the rain, because he’d asked me to back off.
So that was what I’d done. My heart hurt that I could see him and not hold him, but that was something else to unpick in counseling.
“… Sheriff Thompson out of Prophet. Sheriff, do you perhaps have a few words to say on this?”