Stealing Serenity Banner, title in the center, raised, arms of a white man bound in white rope on the left, cherry blossoms on the right

Welcome to Stealing Serenity, a stand alone, erot­ic con­tem­po­rary M/M roman­tic sus­pense. This novel­la is releas­ing one scene/day (week­days) on the blog ahead of pub­li­ca­tion. All chap­ters will be avail­able for free until the book is pub­lished, then they’ll be removed. If you sim­ply can’t wait, the com­plete ebook is avail­able now on the web­store. Paperback and Subtle Cover alter­nate com­ing soon. Expected pub­li­ca­tion: July 5th

Chapter One

Three Months Later

July 12, Tuesday—6:25 p.m.

Gerard Photography, San Diego

It was in a mas­ter thief’s best inter­est to appear char­ac­ter­less, and Daniel wore the mask as com­fort­ably as he wore the tai­lored suits hid­ing in his clos­et. People tend­ed to assume every­thing they saw was as it should be. Even the most skep­ti­cal per­son didn’t ques­tion the jan­i­tor if he wore a uni­form and stuck to the unused hall­ways. From the slums by the docks to the exclu­sive pent­house par­ties down­town, get­ting away with a theft always came down to appear­ances. And Daniel had to admit, the mask of a gener­ic office employ­ee ranked up there with the eas­i­est of them all.

His cowork­er Justin served as an excel­lent exam­ple of the unadorned cubi­cle grunt. He came to work every day in the same gray, ill-fit­ted suit, the same short but unstyled blond hair­cut. And every after­noon they spoke across the nose-high divider between their desks about noth­ing sub­stan­tial in the least. It wasn’t the most excit­ing cov­er job he’d ever had, but in the scheme of things, the dull com­mu­ni­ty tasks he accom­plished as part of the char­i­ty arm of Gerard Auctions brought him clos­er to what he needed.

That after­noon, Daniel sort­ed through pho­tographs of projects the team had worked on while he and Justin talked. Black and whites in one pile, col­or in anoth­er. Bright-yel­low sun­flow­ers caught his atten­tion. Hundreds of them bright­ened an emp­ty lot beside the city’s poor­est mid­dle school. “Oh…” Daniel said. The pho­to made his chest tight­en a lit­tle. His first project here at Gerard Photography; the sun­flower pho­to meant Kearin had vis­it­ed, seen his work, and approved. The flow­ers were a nice bit of phil­an­thropy, sure, but the acknowl­edg­ment from his boss sent a buzz of thrill to his gut that had noth­ing to do with thieving.

What’s up?” Justin asked.

Look.” Daniel passed the pho­to over the divider. “Kearin took a pic­ture of my sun­flower project.”

Wow, nice.” Justin hand­ed the pho­to back. “It took me three or four projects before I got a pho­to up on the wall.”

Daniel tried not to read into it. “Isn’t this one of yours?” He passed a col­or pho­to of a shep­herd-like dog jump­ing over a bro­ken wall.

Spaztic Sparky! Yeah, he’s got a job as a cadav­er dog with the police now.” Justin stood up from his desk and hand­ed the pho­to back. “I’m out. You stay­ing late?”

Only until I pin these up. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Justin nod­ded. “Night, Daniel.”

Night.” With Justin’s fad­ing foot­steps, the office took on a half-asleep mood. Daniel’s com­put­er and the warm light that seeped from Kearin’s closed office door lin­gered as the only signs of life. Every few days these past months, he stayed lat­er: fif­teen min­utes here, twen­ty min­utes there. He didn’t want to appear too eager to work into the night, but until his boss left the office, Daniel couldn’t make any progress.

Daniel checked the clock. Seven. He could push it until sev­en thirty.

Daniel gath­ered the pho­tos and a small box of pins. The wall Justin spoke of stood bisect­ed by Kearin’s warm­ly lit door. To the left hung a hun­dred grayscale pho­tographs of the city. Rundown build­ings, stray ani­mals, for­got­ten pub­lic spaces over­grown with inva­sive vines, all oppor­tu­ni­ties for the char­i­ty branch of Gerard Auctions to step in and help. Daniel added to the scat­tered images. He pinned the black and white pho­tographs from his hand­ful in no spe­cif­ic order and placed unre­lat­ed images next to each oth­er for big­ger impact. He need­ed to pick anoth­er project from this wall, soon.

To the right of Kearin’s door hung those same places in the city after a com­plet­ed project. Colored pho­tos orga­nized in per­fect columns for easy brows­ing. Daniel care­ful­ly aligned the lat­est addi­tions. To kill time, he admired some of the old­er photos.

He heard Kearin’s chair roll back. Daniel jumped back to pin­ning new pho­tos and glanced at his watch. Seven twelve. Kearin flicked his light off and paused at the thresh­old of his office. Daniel had to focus on pin­ning a photograph—his sunflowers—or stare. No one would call Kearin par­tic­u­lar­ly attrac­tive. His nose had a bump, his chin a cleft, and he tend­ed to neglect the need to blink. It all result­ed in a look of fierce atten­tion even at rest, and his pow­er­ful com­mand of per­son­al space just empha­sized the impres­sion. Kearin was not a man to take light­ly. The utter oppo­site of a char­ac­ter­less employee.

Daniel felt his heart thump and repressed the sen­sa­tion ruth­less­ly. Just because this man silent­ly pushed all his sex­u­al but­tons didn’t mean he could run about half-cocked on a dopamine high from prox­im­i­ty. He had a theft to pull off. A cov­er to maintain.

Well timed, Daniel. I want­ed to speak with you.” That flut­ter of but­ter­flies had noth­ing at all to do with Kearin’s don’t‑question-me deep voice. He appeared to be lock­ing his office door, but Daniel knew that assump­tion could be deceiv­ing. He set his pin back in the box and gave Kearin his full atten­tion. “The gallery show at Vault Seventeen where we met, what did you think of the showing?”

The still­ness that imme­di­ate­ly per­vad­ed Daniel’s mus­cles was a reac­tion he had trained for years. It was immense­ly dif­fi­cult for an effec­tive thief to stay in the game if every minor emo­tion rose up on his face with­out warn­ing. This time, that still­ness kept curios­i­ty away from his eyes, but it still bloomed in his gut. What he’d seen at that gallery had been shock­ing at first, and, well, it was still shock­ing. Photo after pho­to of naked men, aroused, some of them drip­ping. In any oth­er place he would have called it pornog­ra­phy, though he sup­posed if some­one was will­ing to pay thou­sands of dol­lars for a print, he’d be will­ing to call it what­ev­er they wanted.

”I was sur­prised. The sub­ject was very dif­fer­ent from the work I had seen when research­ing your com­pa­ny.” Kearin faced him, land­ing that intense stare direct­ly on Daniel. It would have been rude if Daniel did­n’t know that was sim­ply Kearin’s default state: com­plete focus at all times. Daniel con­tin­ued, ”I enjoyed the pro­gres­sion from start to fin­ish, the way the ener­gy increased until the very edge of cli­max.” Of course he enjoyed it, who did­n’t like see­ing beau­ti­ful men become high­ly aroused? Some had even been gleam­ing with precome.

”And the final images?” Kearin’s whole being seemed to focus to a sharp point.

Daniel refused to let it intim­i­date him. ”I did­n’t under­stand them at first,” he admit­ted. They were dis­played as a pair, and clear­ly linked to the end of the gallery as the exit­ing thought to take away from the whole show. While the major­i­ty of the pho­tos had been steps of arousal, the last two had been penis­es at rest. ”Since the rest of the gallery had shown pro­gres­sion so fine­ly I thought it was odd that cli­max had­n’t been includ­ed. And then I real­ized that was the point. The sto­ry was­n’t about get­ting off, it’s that the progress before that is the bit that’s satisfying.”

A curve lift­ed the cor­ner of Kearin’s mouth. ”Your inter­pre­ta­tion is more sub­tle, I think, than most of the guests.” Kearin’s intense atten­tion with­out fil­ter, like look­ing into the heart of a vol­cano, neared to burn­ing. “I’d like to get your opin­ion on a port­fo­lio I’m work­ing on. There’s a cer­tain aes­thet­ic I’m going for, but I’ve been star­ing at the images too long to see it any­more. I’d like your help.”

This is a port­fo­lio for the business?”

No.” Kearin’s smile held secrets. “It’s a per­son­al project I’ve been build­ing on for a while.”

Daniel jumped at the chance to get clos­er to Kearin, and not just because it opened more doors for his ulti­mate goal. “I’d be hap­py to review it.”

Splendid. I’ll bring it in tomor­row.” Kearin put his hand on Daniel’s shoul­der as he passed. “Don’t stay too late.”

Daniel inhaled the scent of spice Kearin left behind, try­ing to sep­a­rate his desire from the sharp log­ic nec­es­sary for his true task: track­ing down and steal­ing the most expen­sive pho­to­graph sold at auc­tion. Four point three mil­lion dol­lars worth of ink on archival paper, and Gerard Photography had host­ed the sale to an anony­mous bidder.

Daniel took his time straight­en­ing the new col­umn of pho­tographs. He lis­tened intent­ly to Kearin’s progress down the front steps. The pause while he made it from build­ing to park­ing lot. The low purr of an Audi A4 idling impe­ri­ous­ly into traf­fic. He was alone. Daniel set the last image on the wall.

He closed the box of pins and felt his heart set­tle. His antic­i­pa­tion shift­ed from charged sex­u­al­i­ty to pro­fes­sion­al intent. From his cheap suit’s inner pock­et he pulled a pair of plas­tic gloves and a key that didn’t appear to have any teeth. He slipped the gloves up his wrists. The key he aligned in Kearin’s office lock. He swiped a sta­pler from Kathy’s desk and smacked the key in, bump­ing the lock open.

Daniel returned the sta­pler and took a look at the office. Two chairs, a desk, one file cab­i­net, cur­tains shad­ing a wall-sized win­dow. Photos pep­pered every ver­ti­cal sur­face, pinned or held up with mag­nets. All Kearin’s work. Daniel sat at the desk first. Nothing rest­ed on the sur­face. Just the com­put­er. Daniel turned it on and inves­ti­gat­ed the file cab­i­net while he wait­ed for it to boot up.

Even this was almost emp­ty. Meticulous labels made it clear Daniel wouldn’t find any infor­ma­tion about pre­vi­ous auc­tions here. He turned back to the com­put­er. A pass­word cur­sor blinked patient­ly. Daniel fished for the oth­er device in his suit pock­et: a data dri­ve so small the con­nec­tor took up more than half its length. He found a port at the back of the com­put­er tow­er and plugged it in. A lit­tle LED lit up as he did so, and Daniel cov­ered it with a sliv­er of black elec­tri­cal tape he’d brought for that pur­pose. Sometimes the most effec­tive thiev­ing tools were the most basic. The mon­i­tor blinked once, only briefly.

Daniel shut the com­put­er down completely.

He set the chair back where he found it, dou­ble-checked all the draw­ers he opened, and qui­et­ly locked the door on his way out.