QSFer E.J. Russell has a new MM fantasy book out, Quest Investigations book 4: Death on Denial.
DOA becomes BRB when this client goes MIA…
When I agreed to accompany my selkie boyfriend on a private boat trip, I didn’t realize the invitation included a swim. In the Pacific. In November. Naked. And I certainly didn’t expect to have our swim derailed the instant I got in the water—holy crap, that’s c-c-cold—by a literal boatload of selkie clan leaders.
Climbing out of the water in front of them—did I mention naked? Yeah, way to make a brilliant first impression. Then things get worse: I get served. Not in the metaphorical sense, either. Nope, I’m being sued.
Well, not Death precisely, but an Ankou—a Celtic psychopomp who escorts the departed to their final destinations. This guy is miffed that his workload has increased exponentially, which he blames on my actions in Sheol on an earlier case. I’m not about to take the heat when eons of shady demon shenanigans finally come home to roost, but here at Quest Investigations, we aid any and all supernatural folk in need—especially if they’ll drop their specious lawsuits against the agency’s lone human.
When the Ankou skips out on us, though, all hell breaks loose. Because without anyone to lead them on, the dearly departed become nearly departed and stick around to party hearty. Now it’s not just the selkie leaders complicating my love life—it’s the ex-living as well.
And when one of the ex-living decides not to remain ex? Things get really complicated, not to mention deadly.
Death on Denial is the fourth in the Quest Investigations M/M mystery series, a spinoff of E.J. Russell’s Mythmatched paranormal rom-com story world. It contains no on-page sex or violence, and although there is a romantic subplot, it is not a romance. The series is best read in order.
I scrubbed my hands over my face, my fingers catching in my beard, which could probably use a trim. “Lachlan. This day has already been hell. Literally.”
He frowned. “What do you mean?”
“I mean that before I showed up at the marina to meet you, I spent the morning in Sheol—”
“You went to Sheol?” His frown morphed into full-on glower. “Why?”
“I was at a photoshoot with Paimon.”
“That demon who wanted you to update his headshots?”
“If only headshots were all he wanted,” I muttered.
Lachlan actually growled. “Did that wanker put his hands on you?”
“Down, boy. No. But he decided he wanted some swimsuit shots. Next to the lava river, because, and I quote, It makes my eyes pop.” I shuddered. My eyes were the ones doing the popping, because Paimon had, er, more than the usual number of appendages barely contained in his tiny speedo. He claimed the extra equipment saved on refraction time. Which, you know, good for Paimon, assuming his partners were on board and had given full, non-coerced consent, but whatever.
My problem was I still hadn’t encountered Lachlan’s appendage. We’d had a number of extremely hot make-out sessions, but every time we started to take it further, we got interrupted. If it wasn’t a call from my office—and Quest had been inundated with a rash of minor theft cases lately—it was one of Lachlan’s regular fishing tour bookings, or another of his visits to support our friend Blair as they got settled in Faerie.
Now, I don’t begrudge Lachlan’s time with Blair. I mean, Blair was doing great, considering they’d just relocated to a home in another freaking dimension, but it was definitely a lot, and Lachlan was their only link to the life they’d always known. And I certainly couldn’t fault him for attending to his job, since my workload in the last few weeks had been the cockblocking culprit just as often.
But I’d been certain when he invited me on this private outing on his boat that we’d finally have the chance for some mutual naked exploration in the berth—with its brand new mattress, thank you, Lachlan.
I’d never dreamed that our first skin-to-skin encounter would be under the freaking Pacific. The instant I put a toe in that water, my junk would retreat so far inside my body I’d need to go spelunking to find it.
Not the best first impression to lay on a new lover.
I tried another tactic. “But there could be sharks. Great whites. You said so yourself.”
Lachlan chuckled. “Aye, sharks live in these waters, but they won’t come near us.” He cradled my face in his hands. “Selkies may look like seals, but inside, we’re still supes. We’ve our own protections, our own magic, to keep the beasties at bay. You’ll be safe with me. Always.”
Drat. There went that argument. “What if someone sees me?” We were beyond the jetty, anchored in the open ocean, but with land still in sight… I really didn’t want to be flashing my fish-belly white butt to somebody with a high-powered telescope—or worse, a drone camera. Hell, a few years ago, if I’d had a hint that something like Lachlan’s shift was about to happen, I’d have been the one with the long-distance recording equipment.
“No one will see you, mo cridhe. No one but me.”
Okay, game over. My Gaelic was minimal at best, but I knew what he’d just called me. My heart. There might be someone in the universe with the willpower to resist Lachlan Brodie after that, especially when his eyes crinkled at the corners with his soft smile, but that someone was not me.
“The heat’s already on down below?”
“On the locker by the transom, ready and waiting.”
“In the galley.”
“The berth’s got plenty of blankets?”
“Oh, aye.” He waggled his eyebrows. “But you won’t be needing those, not with me to warm you.”
I blinked, suddenly dizzy as my blood rushed south. “Let’s go.”
He chuckled again as he slipped his arms into the skin—which isn’t as creepy as it sounds. His seal skin looks more like a super-deluxe wetsuit than a deboned seal. “Trust me, mo cridhe, you can’t be any keener than I am to have you in my bed at last.”
If that was the case, then I didn’t know why we had to endure virtual cryo-immersion first, but…mo cridhe? Nope. No way could I turn him down now.
I shrugged out of my jacket. Brrrr. “So how does this work, exactly?”
“I’ll go in first and shift. Then you slip over the transom, easy as you please, and get on my back.”
The transom was at least close to the water, so I didn’t have to negotiate a ladder. The sea wasn’t especially rough today—it was cloudy, normal for Oregon at this time of year, but not stormy—but it was still the ocean, so, you know, not exactly motionless. “On your back?” At least my front would be warm. Ish.
“Aye. Put your arms around my neck.” His gaze was hot, intent, and I’d never heard Lachlan breathless before. “And we’ll swim. Together.”
“Okay.” I tried to put a little more confidence into my voice. “Right. Let’s do this.”
He kissed me, soft and slow. “Thank you, mo cridhe. You have made me the happiest of men.”
The seal fur didn’t give me anything to grab onto, so I laced my fingers behind his neck. “You’re surewe can’t skip the naked swim and go straight to bed?”
“I’m sure.” He kissed me again, far too quickly for my liking, and strode across the deck and down the starboard stairs to the low transom. He slipped into the water without a splash, and between one blink and the next…well, he was a seal, gazing up at me as he bobbed gently in the waves.
“The things I do for love,” I muttered.
E.J. Russell –grace, certified geek, mother of three, recovering actor–writes romance in a rainbow of flavors. Count on high snark, low angst and happy endings.
Reality? Eh, not so much.