Excerpt from DEATH IN KEY WEST (Cormorant Books 2009)

The Lighthouse Estate was one of those legendary gay resorts Brad only wished he’d stayed at as a young man, in the days before he could afford such luxuries. Now that he’d crossed irrevocably into his thirties, he felt duty-bound to introduce Zach, a whole decade younger, to the landmarks of his past. He was passing the torch of their cultural history.

Zach studied the demure entrance hidden behind dozing ferns. “This looks like a fun place,” he said, shouldering his bag as he climbed the steps to the office.

Inside, a large man with a ponytail sat behind a desk. He blinked up with owlish eyes, giving Zach the once-over at least three times.

“My, my, my!” he stuttered. “A blue-haired angel! Can heaven be far behind?”

At that moment, Bradford tumbled through the entrance.

The manager clasped his heart. “I swoon!”

Brad grinned. “With a greeting like that, I dare say we’re going to enjoy it here.” He heaved his bag off his shoulders and onto the floor. “We have a reservation under Bradford Fairfax.”

The manager sucked air through his teeth. “Where many would love to be, no doubt.” He straightened his glasses and consulted the register, then looked up at Zach, his face an open portrait: Compassion Shining Love on a Homeless Orphan. “And this charming youngster would be Master Zachary Tyler?”

“None other,” Brad said.

“Enchanting! My name is Allie.” He fanned himself with his hand. “I hope the water in the pool won’t evaporate from the heat y’all are generatin’ right now!”

“We brought our new bathing suits!” Zach exclaimed.

Allie looked at him askance. “Whatever for? I’m sure y’all have nothin’ to hide.” He tsked. “Anyone caught wearing bathing trunks at the Lighthouse Estate gets whipped publicly — with my tongue. So behave accordingly, gentlemen.”

Allie handed over a set of keys and a brochure. As Brad bent to pick up his bag, the manager clasped a hand to his cheek.

“Oh, salvation!” he cried.

Brad followed Zach down a walkway to a compound of pink and white stucco suites where a dozen naked and near-naked men lounged on deck chairs under the blazing sun. A tiny kidney-shaped pool loomed before them, as did the spectre of the pool boy languidly skimming debris from the water. At six-two and 195 pounds, Travis Webster was about as big and delectable and pouty as a pool boy could be. His muscles were toned, his mouth cold, and his eyes killing. A permanent woody bulged through his Speedo. Brad looked him over. All that attitude in one package, he mused. Hard help must be good to find.

On seeing the twosome, the pool boy flashed his best trouble-in-mind grin. “Greetings, fabulous dudes! Good to see you! Travis is the name. All the best for the New Year!” He gave the newcomers a casual assessment, dividing them into Could Be Had With A Little Effort (the red-head) and Don’t Even Bother Trying (the younger, blue-haired kid). He cracked his knuckles loudly. “Come down for a massage later,” he said. “I got great hands.”

Brad and Zach skirted the pool and climbed the stairs to a cheerful second-storey suite overlooking the courtyard. They unpacked quickly and re-emerged on the verandah. Luxuriant palms surrounded the estate while a flock of small green parrots jabbered and flitted overhead. Below, the pool rippled in the morning sunlight.

“Ready for a li’l ole naked swim?” Zach teased.

Before Brad could reply, an angry squawking rose from the courtyard.

“I’ll kill myself!” a voice threatened.

They bent toward the scene. At poolside, two men appeared to be fighting. A pale, handsome man flailed his arms at a larger, muscular brute.

“Don’t touch me!” screamed the first, evading the other’s grasp.

All eyes were on the pair as they raced around the pool. It was hard to say if this was a lovers’ quarrel or an out-and-out assault. Brad suppressed the urge to run down and get involved. Surely the big pool boy would intervene.

He didn’t.

They watched the twosome struggle briefly before toppling over and landing in the water with a gigantic splash.

As the pair rose to the surface, Brad saw his decision had been wise. The man who had been screaming in a suicidal rage moments before suddenly broke into wild laughter. His companion pulled him bodily from the pool and deposited him dripping onto a lounge chair.

The laughter continued as the dark-haired man stood over his hysterical companion. He raised his hand and slapped the other’s face hard. The laughter died.

“Pull yourself together!”

The thin man broke into sobs and wrapped his arms around the other’s legs.

Brad and Zach glanced at each other in surprise. The pair were definitely caught up in their own little drama. Whatever it was.

From the novel DEATH IN KEY WEST by Jeffrey Round (© 2009), published by Cormorant Books, to be released in North America May 2009


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