Everything changes in a single night when Winslow, fleeing yet another epic fight, goes out to a local bar and finds a sympathetic ear in a new friend, Darryn Maxwell. But when he comes home, Chad’s waiting. He’s got it in for Winslow, whom he wrongly accuses of being unfaithful.
The stormy night sends Winslow off on a journey to escape. The last thing he recalls is skidding off the road and into the river. When he awakens, he’s mysteriously in the charming seaside town of Seaspray, where people are warm and welcoming, yet their appearances and disappearances are all too inexplicable.
Back home, Darryn wonders what’s happened to the new guy he met during his first outing to the local gay bar, the Q. Darryn knows Winslow’s been abused, but he also feels he’s quickly fallen in love with Winslow.
Can Winslow and Darryn decipher their respective mysteries? Is it possible for them to reunite? Is Chad still lurking and plotting to make sure Winslow never loves anyone else? The answers to these questions await you in Seaspray, where you may, or may not, ever leave.
Rick R. Reed © 2022
All Rights Reserved
I opened my eyes to a world of blue and green. An eel, long with zebra stripes, swam by, undulating. A school of goldfish with Margaret Keane eyes and puckered lips circled, putting me in the eye of a surreal hurricane. A flick of their tails and they swam off as one.
The bubbles floated up, pouring from my mouth and nostrils.
My lungs weren’t tight. There was no desperate need to breathe, no panic. Mentally, I went back and forth—remain underwater, watching the play of light and shadow and the undulating flora in its rainbow of neon colors, or kick and rise to the surface.
But what was above, beyond the water, was a mystery.
The threat of certain death caused me to ascend toward the light shimmering on the water’s surface.
I broke through, sucking sweet, cold air into my lungs. I smiled, treading water.
I was not afraid.
For the first time in so long—I. Was. Not. Afraid.
I swirled in the gentle waves, which were as warm as a comforting bath, despite the chill in the air. White birds, gulls perhaps, pinwheeled above me in a leaden sky, the color of pewter. All across the water’s surface, strands of mist lay. The mist extended toward a rocky shoreline, dotted here and there with driftwood.
Cliffs rose up, chalky white at the edge of the beach. At the top, stands of pine towered over the sea, sentinels. Tree-covered hills, in shades of deep emerald, reached to touch the leaden sky. The top ones were shrouded in mist.
Where was I?
I stretched out in the water, part of me unwilling to leave, but following an instinct for self-preservation, I swam slowly to the shore. It felt like I was far from it, maybe even by as much as a mile, yet I covered the distance in mere minutes.
I pulled myself onto the beach, breathing harder but not gasping, and lay among the pebbles. Oddly, it was as comfortable as my grandma’s feather bed once was.
I remained there for a while, staring up at the sky, where the charcoal clouds were beginning to be burned away by the sun. As the gray vanished, it was replaced with patches of blue.
I could lie here all day, resting.
And then I tensed. A memory floated into consciousness, making me recall a horrible night. When was it? Paradoxically, the memory could have been years or only minutes ago.
My name is Winslow Birkel, and this is one of the things memory is forcing me to confront:
I sank into the driver’s seat of my beat-up Nissan Versa. At the little riverfront park, I marked the slow progress of a river barge cutting through the dark water. Its lights, reflected on the water’s shifting black surface, were the picture of loneliness.
I could identify with loneliness. Separation. Isolation. These days, they were my only companions.
I also could identify with fanciful notions and, in my mind’s eye, realized how the reflections of the barge’s lights on the dark water, golden, appeared to be traveling upward. If I looked at them just the right way, I could visualize them as shimmering fountains contrasted against a black background. How I longed to enter a world of golden fountains casting off the darkness.
Even though now, on this beach, I felt totally free of pain as though someone had dosed me with morphine, the memory of pain in my ribs was there. I imagined the intensity of the hurt when I dared to draw in a deep breath.
Like a doctor in a film, I visualized the bruise on my lower back above where my kidneys were. I could still feel the dull, unrelenting throb. The red marks in the shape of fists darkened to purple, a malevolent blooming.
Yet even with the bursts of nauseating pain, what hurt the most wasn’t physical.
I knew I’d fled the house I’d once occupied—I’d never call it a home because home meant warmth, security, stability, and most of all, safety.
I’d dashed out, looking over my shoulder at a menacing figure standing in the open front doorway of our house, fists clenched. Chad Loveless, my partner—I’d never call him my beloved, or lover, or even friend, not ever again—glared.
What had it been this time? Oh yeah, I’d broken his favorite coffee mug, the one with a German shepherd cartoon figure on a black background, as I was washing dishes. The mug had been slippery in my sudsy hands, and it had dropped. I’d gasped as it shattered on the linoleum kitchen floor, the dread and terror way out of proportion, rising immediately.
And so did Chad. He hurried into the kitchen from his recliner in the front room and forced me to the floor by the back of my neck.
The most menacing thing about this man I’d thrown my lot in with (love no longer entered the equation) was—and this would be surprising to an outsider—his smile. The smile never wavered, not when Chad was berating me for some real or imagined fault, nor when a fist connected with a soft spot on my body—rarely my face—it was our little secret, hidden by the baggy jeans and sweatshirts I favored.
He’d smile and smile and smile, as though what he was delivering was not pain and casual cruelty, but joy.
Joy had not had a place in our house for such a long time. Back then I didn’t think I’d know if I’d recognize the emotion if it turned up at the front door wearing a ribbon.
So thrilled to announce the release of my newest book newest version, an audiobook performed by the amazing Paul Will! Toxic is a chilling thriller that #1 New York Times bestselling crime and thriller author Gregg Olsen calls,
"a smart, nuanced novel of dark and compelling relationships with sparks of wicked humor - an unmitigated triumph by a master of twisted suspense..."
It all went bad when Steve left the family suddenly. Jilted and heartbroken, Connor begins to search for love online. So long off the market, he enlists his daughter’s help in crafting a dating profile.
His prayers are answered when Trey Goodall, smart and handsome, answers his ad. He’s witty, urbane, a wealthy attorney, and his sex appeal is off the charts. But he’s a liar, a monster under a pretty mask. Miranda sees through the red flags and senses something very wrong beneath the façade.
Can she convince her father to save himself before it’s too late? Or will Trey, a master manipulator with a very tainted history, play upon Connor’s innocence to ensnare him in a web of deceit, intrigue, and, ultimately, murder?
Rick R. Reed © 2022
All Rights Reserved
“I know who you are and I saw what you did.”
The voice on the phone was tinged with acid, yet came out a little shaky and short of breath.
Despite the fear and acrimony in the voice, Trey Goodall hoped that the caller, a man named Jimmy Dale, was making a feeble joke, a lame reference to an old black-and-white thriller from the ’60s. Trey wasn’t ready for his game to be over.
“That’s funny, Jim. Did you watch that movie when you were a kid too? Back in the days of black-and-white TVs and Chiller Theater?”
“I’m not trying to be funny, Trey.” Jimmy halted, obviously frustrated. A slow grin creased Trey’s features. Jimmy sucked in air, obviously holding a sob in check.
There’s something delicious about when they cry.
Despite the delight in Jimmy’s pain, Trey feared it might come to this. This one, he knew, was too smart to stay in the dark for long. Sooner or later, Trey always got found out. He had a trail of broken hearts—and shattered bank accounts—behind him to prove it. Still, later was better because he could usually walk away with a little something in his pocket.
“Then what are you trying to be, dollface?”
“Oh, please save the terms of endearment—”
Trey interrupted. “Another movie reference! Bravo. When do I get a chance to play?”
His question, predictably, was answered with silence on the other end. Trey pressed the phone closer to his ear, listening for further telltale signs of tears, of trauma, of despair. Not that his aim was to instigate any of those emotions, but Trey was like a dog—any attention was good.
Finally, Jimmy spoke. “I don’t want to see or hear from you ever again.”
“Aw, you’re breaking my heart here.” Trey threw open the door to his motel room on Aurora Avenue. Outside, in the waning purple-gray light of dusk, a couple fought, seemingly to the death, in the litter-strewn parking lot. The woman had bleached blonde hair, a handful of which her companion had clutched in one hand. She wore an old flannel shirt, the sleeves cut off. It had come open and her dirty bra showed. The guy was a brute, big and hairy, and obviously had never learned how to treat a lady.
A kid of about eighteen, at most, sat on the curb in front of a parked rusted-out SUV. He was wearing a hoodie, ripped jeans, and a pair of work boots. His head was shaved and this, combined with his whitish pallor and skin-and-bones physique, made him look like a concentration camp survivor. A rheumy, bloodshot gaze moved dully over to Trey. The kid made a lame attempt to hide the meth pipe in his hand.
Trey slammed the door. He deserved better than this sordid dump. He should have been living in a luxury condo downtown overlooking Puget Sound, or maybe a house on Bainbridge Island with expansive mountain and water views.
Instead, here he was on Seattle’s Aurora Avenue, in one of a cluster of rundown motels where the clientele consisted of addicts, prostitutes, and those seeking to party with a capital T in one of the rooms.
He didn’t deserve enduring the chance of bedbugs or crabs. He didn’t like living amid cigarette-burned carpets and mold and hair decorating the bathroom fixtures.
“Stop.” Jimmy sucked in some more air. The guy’s gonna need an asthma inhaler soon. But Trey supposed he was trying to gain a measure of control. Jimmy was wounded, and of course he wanted to hide it, but he couldn’t. “Your heart can’t be breaking because you haven’t got one to break.”
“Ouch.” Trey chuckled, as though to demonstrate the insult was simply water off a duck’s back.
But it wasn’t.
Trey would never let on, but the reference cut like a knife to his very real heart, which was a broken thing.
In his mind, a vision arose. Trey chased it away as quickly as it appeared—but there it was: a vision of his mom, back in Trey’s old hometown of Wellsville, Ohio, burning him with her cigarette and laughing as Trey tried to be brave, tried desperately not to scream or wince because he knew if he showed his pain, his fear, it would only make things worse. Now it was his turn to try to buck up, be brave. “Things not working out the way you expected?”
There was no mirth in Jimmy’s laugh. Trey wanted to ask which was better—bitter laughter or abject tears. But he kept quiet and waited. He’d been through this before. Caught. Discarded.
There was always another sucker in the wings.
“What I expected…” Jimmy trailed off and started again. “What I expected was maybe a relationship. I’m forty-seven years old, Trey. I’ve spent my whole life pushing love away so I could build my career. Now I have a thriving law practice and make more money than I really know what to do with. But you know all that. You knew all that, I figure, before we even met, when you were researching me. I know you don’t have it in you to feel compassion or empathy, but all the money and success in the world doesn’t change the fact that I come home every night to a professionally decorated condominium in the clouds. Alone. Wishing I’d spent more time seeking love instead of that almighty dollar.” He drew in a breath that sounded like a shudder. “Ah, what do you care? You wanted my money. You’re not alone, but you were greedier and sneakier than most.”
Jimmy stopped and Trey listened again for some sign. Would it be worth it to try to save things? Maybe woo Jimmy with the old lines—this was all a misunderstanding. I really love you, man. I started off with bad intentions, but then you caught me. Can we start over? Sometimes crap like that worked. Trey was smart enough, and experienced enough, to know it wouldn’t here.
It’s too late, baby.
“Was any of it true?” Jimmy wondered.
Trey was getting bored. He had no use for this man with whom he’d shared so many recent days and nights. He was worthless now that he’d exposed Trey for who he really was. What Jimmy didn’t know, and didn’t need to know, was that what he’d discovered about Trey was only the tip of the iceberg.
It’s time to move on.
Trey glanced in the mirror over the bathroom sink and nodded approvingly. He still had it. Pushing fifty, but looking at least a decade younger, he was gorgeous. Black wavy hair, ice-blue eyes, full lips, a body taut and packed with muscle. He could always dazzle, and all the magic hadn’t escaped.
There’d be someone else.
And with that someone else, he might hit that elusive jackpot.
The laptop was already open on the desk. And there were eleven new messages.
For once, Trey might as well tell the truth. “No, kid. None of it was true. You’re pathetic. Weak. I feel sorry for you, more than anything else.” He said the words casually, as though they were discussing the weather or how the Seahawks were faring this season. “You’re a fool. A fool for love.” Trey chuckled.
And that broke Jimmy. He began to sob harder now, the grief confirmed and kicking its way to the surface.
Trey listened as the sobbing grew in volume and agony. This is a drag, a bore. He stared longingly at the door, wishing this would be over. How long did he have to listen anyway? Just to be polite? He cut to the quick. “You’ve been played,” Trey said softly. “Get over it.”
He hung up. The computer’s glow reminded him that it was time to find someone else. The right one. A chime alerted him he had yet another message.
But there would be time to attend to that in the morning. Time also for reading. He glanced down at his nightstand. A mystery novel, Cookie Cutter by Alfred Knox, lay there in its mass market paperback edition. It had a stark white cover with only an illustration of a heart-shaped cookie cutter which dripped blood into the crimson title. Below it, a stack of old magazines with articles about Knox, who lived only a few miles south.
Right now, though, Trey needed a little oblivion. He crossed the room and opened the door. The kid with the meth pipe still sat out there on the curb. He didn’t even bother to hide his glass pipe now.
Trey cast his most winning smile. “Wanna come inside?” He opened the door wider, stepping back and confidently waiting as the kid stood.
Genre: Horror, LGBTQIA+, Action/adventure, coming-of-age, dark, humorous
Seventeen-year-old Jack Ives is used to being unlucky. His only friend has just moved away to college, his parents are alcoholics, and he’s relentlessly bullied by the town psychopath. All that begins to change with the arrival of a handsome but quirky new student, Lucien, who wants to be more than friends.
Their newfound happiness doesn’t last, however, as a strange new illness strikes the island. Fishermen go missing, and the villagers left behind aren’t themselves anymore. When Lucien is suspected to be the cause of the outbreak, can Jack overcome his teenage hormones and save Eldrick Isle? Will he even want to?
Ridley Harker © 2022
All Rights Reserved
September 2, 2015
Gulf of Maine
When some kooky mainlanders offered to pay extra for a midnight ferry, Bill Jamison had jumped at the chance to pay off his bar tab. Now he regretted it. The middle-aged fisherman leaned morosely against the starboard rail while beside him his business partner, Jim Kendrick, fought the uphill battle of smoking a pipe during a storm. The rain pounded against the deck in a dull roar and, judging from Kendrick’s cursing, the pipe had gone out once again.
Not for the first time, Jamison reluctantly noted that his partner was getting on in years. Kendrick’s coat hung from his wizened frame like a cloak. His mysterious weight loss had made them both nervous, not that either one said anything. For an Eldrick Islander, the prospect of cancer was like foul weather; something to be endured without complaint.
“Goddamned son-of-a—” Kendrick upended the pipe and a sodden wad of tobacco fell onto the deck. He kicked it away, smearing it across the boards.
“We shouldn’t have gone out tonight,” Jamison said.
“Horse shit,” Kendrick huffed. “We’ve sailed through worse than this.”
“That ain’t what I meant.” Jamison jerked his head toward the mainlander lurking near the bow of the ferry.
Tall and blond, his passenger’s washed-out appearance resembled a photograph, the kind found in a neglected attic of subjects long deceased. Judging by the young man’s pinched frown, Jamison assumed that Silas Spencer was either a lawyer or an undertaker. He shuddered; Jamison hated lawyers, having seen enough of their kind during his divorce. Blood-sucking monsters the lot of them, in his opinion, but he had never been afraid of them, not even when the wretches helped his ex-wife take half of everything he’d owned.
But he was afraid of this one.
It was the eyes. He had seen eyes like that once before, years ago. Back when he had spent much of his days drunk. Once, while Kendrick cleaned their catch, Jamison had gone too far and drunk too much. His legs had betrayed him, and he had tumbled over the side. He remembered tasting blood. A tangy mix of iron and salt that burned his lungs when he tried to inhale. His eyes had stung. He had floundered in the icy water. He, a man who had learned to swim before he could walk, was drowning.
Then the moment of panic was gone, and instinct had set in. Jamison’s powerful legs had propelled him upwards, his arms outstretched toward the boat. He had nearly reached it before the shadow was beneath him. It came at him like a torpedo, almost too fast for his gin-addled brain to comprehend. A massive, prehistoric monster armed with muscled jaws and sandpaper skin. The soulless black pits of its eyes rolled back in its head, and its gaping maw expanded to reveal rows upon row of serrated teeth.
In the split second before the attack, Jamison had stared into the darkness of oblivion—then he had been shaken like a terrier on a rat. The shark had separated the flesh from his leg and sentenced him to a month in a mainland hospital whose bill he was still struggling to pay off. The very existence of such a creature disproved the notion that humans sat at the top of the food chain.
Safely back in the present, Jamison shuddered and remembered to breathe. He rubbed at his forearms, warm beneath his thick woolen sweater. He had been lucky. If he had drunk a little more gin, perhaps he wouldn’t have had the presence of mind to sink his knife deep into the shark’s eye socket. Now only scars and nightmares remained, and he hadn’t touched the bottle since. He liked to say that his rock bottom was on the ocean floor.
Jamison recognized something of that great white shark in Spencer. The man’s flat, grey eyes made his skin crawl. He glowered at Spencer’s broad-shouldered back, but Spencer didn’t seem to notice or care. His attention lay on the swirling mists beyond the ferry’s bow. Typical yuppie mainlander. Pretentious bastard, Jamison thought.
“They’re up to something,” he said aloud, glancing toward the cabin where the other one had sequestered himself.
Kendrick only snorted. “They’re mainlanders. They’ll spend a few weeks on the Isle, get bored, and then go back to whatever hell hole they came from. You know the type. We get a few every other year or so.”
Jamison did know the type. Unlike Nantucket, or Martha’s Vineyard, Eldrick Isle never attracted the summer crowd. There was nothing to offer. The once booming fishing industry had been usurped by commercial trawlers decades ago, forcing the neighboring isles to turn to seaweed farming instead. Eldrick, however, chose to bow its head and soldier on, clinging to the memory of its glory days. Billboards advertised a hotel that had long since shuttered its doors. The lone diner had a Visitor’s Special that no one ever ordered. The pier greeting the newcomers reeked of dead fish, the ever-present stench emanating from the dozen or so rusted fishing boats docked in the harbor.
Then there was the island itself: Eldrick’s shores were steep, rocky cliffs, with edges sharp and jagged like broken teeth. The surf stirred up debris and rotting vegetation, littering the island’s few beaches with trash from the abandoned canning factory on the island’s east side. Even the hottest days of summer were damp and chilly. Mist obscured the frigid waters. It crept onto the island, soaking through the sturdiest of coats. The few vacationers that showed up in August inevitably took one look at the dying town and turned around to book their return ticket.
Rain splattered against Jamison’s hood, echoing in his ears. Kendrick tried his pipe again to no avail. The storm lulled enough that the sound of retching was audible from within the depths of the cabin. Rasping coughs followed by the wet splatter of vomit. The downpour returned with a roar. It slipped past Jamison’s hood, soaking his neck. His shiver had nothing to do with the cold.
Kendrick abandoned his pipe and frowned, his rheumy eyes searching Jamison’s face. Jamison cleared his throat, striving to be heard over the rain and yet not loud enough for Spencer to hear. “Something’s wrong,” he shouted into Kendrick’s ear. “We were barely on the water before the kid got sick—”
“Billy, you been drinking again?” Kendrick asked, clasping Jamison’s shoulder with gnarled fingers. “When’d you get so goddamned superstitious?”
“No, I haven’t been fucking drinking! I’m only saying that this whole thing feels wrong; if one of my brothers were puking like that, I’d at least go check on him. I think the kid’s got something bad—what if it’s contagious?”
“What, like ee-bolah?” Kendrick asked, with a sharp look toward the ferry’s cabin. “Naw, it couldn’t be…”
“You checked on him?”
“Well, someone ought to,” Jamison said.
“You do it,” Kendrick said dubiously. “Last time, I slipped in it and damn near broke my back.”
“Go check it out. If he’s only seasick then I’ll clean it up myself, but I’m telling you, something’s very wrong with that kid.”
“Christ, Billy! Nag anymore and you’re gonna sound like my wife.” Kendrick gave him a shove and then marched across the deck toward the cabin. Jamison caught movement in the corner of his eye and found Spencer watching them, his back against the railing. Their eyes met, and all of a sudden Jamison couldn’t hear the storm. There was nothing but the blood pounding in his ears. One corner of Spencer’s thin mouth twitched upward into a razor’s edge of a smirk. Jamison’s skin crawled. He wrenched his eyes away.
“Jim, wait!” Jamison shouted over the rain, but Kendrick had already knocked on the cabin door. The old sailor reached for the handle, his calloused fingers closing in on the doorknob. Jamison sucked in his breath.
Kendrick half turned around, his shoulders squared and his lips pursed, eyes narrowed beneath his bushy white brows. His hand was still on the cabin door. “Jesus Christ, Billy, what now?” he demanded. “What in the hell’s wrong with you, you crazy son of a bitch? You’re shaking like a virgin on—” He paused and glanced down. Jamison didn’t know why until Kendrick tried to take a step back. His boot remained glued to the floor.
Kendrick shoved at the door and yanked at his shoe. He stumbled as it came loose, trailing a viscous black gel behind it. More of the substance pooled out from underneath the cabin door. Lightning flashed, and a rainbow sheen coated the surface of the muck. The door creaked open.
Before Jamison shouted in warning, something darted out from the gloom. Thick and ropy, like a bundle of rotten vines, it hit Kendrick’s wrist with a wet slap, latching onto his bare skin. Kendrick sputtered, his eyes wide and his mouth hanging open in a perfect caricature of surprise—then another tentacled limb emerged and shoved itself down his gullet. Like a fish on a hook, he was yanked into the cabin.