New York City, 1935
Well, it was now or never.
Remi took a deep fortifying breath, straightened his already straight bowtie, and approached the center table. He made certain his smile was wide and friendly as always, even if by this point he felt nothing short of wearing medieval armor could prepare him for what was to come. When had his usual round of pleasantries at the tea house become so perilous? The moment he reached the table, six pairs of shrewd eyes were giving him the up and down.
“Ladies, how lovely to see you again,” he greeted, following up with a gracious bow.
“Mr. Trueblood, there you are. We were just wondering if you would be making an appearance,” Mrs. Eldridge crooned, holding her white gloved hand out to him. Dutifully, he walked over and put it to his lips for a kiss.
Every Wednesday from four in the evening until eight in the evening, the Society of Lavender Lilies gathered at the Purple Rose Tea House for tea, cake, and the latest society gossip, which unfortunately often included Remi and the state of his affairs. How they knew so much about him—from where he was born, to what part of London he had lived in, even his measurements—was beyond him. He could swear there were government spies out there with less intelligence gathering capabilities than the six elderly ladies sitting serenely before him.
“And miss the opportunity to flirt with such charming young ladies, Mrs. Eldridge? Unthinkable.” He smiled brightly, pretending he hadn’t noticed Mrs. Sterling nearly topple out of her chair in an attempt to get a good look at his backside while he greeted Mrs. Crane. Heaven help him, they were worse than school girls. All he could do was be grateful his tuxedo tails allowed him some modesty.
Blast, and here he thought he had escaped the worst. He turned toward the elegant matron draped in a fur stole and the latest Pillbox hat angled precariously on her head. She threw her arms around him, squeezing the air out of him, and when she pulled back, she nearly clobbered him on the side of the head with her clutch. He had been hopeful the queen bee would skip this week’s gathering. Alas he wasn’t so lucky. Mrs. Meriwether wasted no time in turning toward the lovely young woman at her side with all the grandeur of a curator proudly displaying her latest procurement.
“I must introduce you to my beautiful granddaughter Elizabeth.”
Granddaughter number two. Wonderful. Remi took the bashful young woman’s hand, and kissed the back of it. “An absolute pleasure, my dear.”
“Isn’t he just the most charming, handsome young man, Elizabeth? British, don’t you know. Not to mention he owns all this, and at his tender age.” Mrs. Meriwether made another sweeping gesture, forcing Remi to take a quick step back so as not to end up with a face full of gold sequin. The woman was a menace in mink. Oh good Lord. He really needed to stop reading those dime novels.
Remi smiled pleasantly, aware of the young woman shifting uncomfortably. At least she wasn’t going along with her grandmother’s not so subtle matchmaking plot, unlike her older sister who had all but sat in Remi’s lap the previous week, giggling at everything he said and understanding none of it. At times he wondered if they were speaking the same language. Remi cast a glance over at the dainty manageress, Miss Faun—or rather the tall, imposing man chatting with her. It was strange how the fellow always seemed to be able to sense when Remi was watching him. Green eyes shifted up and locked with his, followed by a knowing lopsided grin. The fellow excused himself and headed toward Remi, causing butterflies in Remi’s stomach as always. He turned his attention back to the table before his imagination could run away with him.
Mrs. Meriwether continued to sing Remi’s praises until she finally got to the crux of the matter. “Mr. Trueblood, only yesterday I was discussing with Elizabeth—seeing as how you’re both such exceptional unattached youths, the possibility of you—”
A dark shadow spread across the white table linen as a throaty, deep voice interjected. “My apologies, ladies, but I’m afraid there’s an urgent matter for Mr. Trueblood to attend to.”
There was a collection of sighs and disappointed murmurs as Remi offered his most sympathetic smile. “I’m terribly sorry, ladies, do excuse me.” With a polite bow, he turned and walked off, knowing if he lingered, Mrs. Meriwether would undoubtedly insist on finishing her proposal of getting Remi together with her granddaughter. He headed toward the back of the tea house and the corridor leading to his private office, letting out a small sigh of relief before leaning into his conspirator to whisper, “Thank you.”
Hawk chuckled as he opened the door for Remi. “I can feel her eyes boring into the back of me. She’s probably envisioning all the ways she can have me bumped off.” He glanced across the room and with a bright smile, gave Mrs. Meriwether a playful salute.
“Oh for Heaven’s sake, don’t antagonize her,” Remi scolded, grabbing Hawk by the arm and pulling him inside. “You enjoy it, don’t you?”
“Enjoy what? Dashing their hopes of having a wealthy British grandson-in-law? You bet.” Hawk steepled his fingers and wriggled his eyebrows. “Tomorrow’s Thursday. That means Mrs. Granger and her niece will be in for afternoon tea.”
“You are positively evil.”
“I know.” They reached Remi’s office and Hawk helped him into his overcoat.
“Well, at least you were there this time.”
“Geez Louise, how many times do I gotta tell you, I was in the John?”
“And Agatha Meriwether was all but ready to propose marriage.”
“I knew the dame was a quick, I didn’t think she was that quick,” Hawk grumbled, snatching up his felt hat and securing it on his head. “One time. It was one time.”
“I’m only teasing you.” Remi walked out of his office with Hawk sulking at his side. “You’re always about when I need you most, which is truly appreciated.” With the majority of the tea house’s clients being wealthy—or at least attempting to maintain the appearance of wealth, Remi was always on someone’s list of viable candidates for marriage. It was reminiscent of his time in London, with the exception of his father being present and attempting to force his hand at every turn.
“You’d think you were the only bachelor left in this whole damn city the way they flock in here.”
“Times are tough.” It was a sad truth. So many of the city’s elite had lost their family fortunes, some too proud to admit as such. The more desperate they were, the more dangerous. Remi’s business thrived on reputation and his own appeal. If he were to inadvertently involve himself in a scandal, he would lose either his business or his freedom. None of which he could afford. Not to mention all those poor souls who depended on his soup kitchen for their only meal of the day. Lucky for him, Hawk had become a blessing in more ways than one.
As Hawk walked alongside Remi, his presence alone kept folks from approaching him. Those who were regular clients of the tea house, such as the Society of Lavender Lilies, understood Remi’s need for having Hawk around—at least from a security standpoint, even if they weren’t thrilled about it. Not that Hawk ever did or said anything to discourage them. He merely had this way about him, an aura of danger and intimidation of which his appearance merely added to. He stood at nearly six and a half feet tall, was broad shouldered, square-jawed, with piercing green eyes, black hair, and a wardrobe comprised mostly of black—from his shoes, to his three-piece suit, his tie, overcoat and hat. Along with his appearance, there was the fact he was a Pinkerton detective. Nowadays they were often the source of murmurs and whispers, seeing as how many of them held less than desirable reputations.
Heaven knew a man in Remi’s position couldn’t afford to take any chances, but it wasn’t the sole reason he had Hawk at his side. If the Society of Lavender Lilies knew who Hawk really was to Remi, they would undoubtedly keel over, and despite the impression Hawk gave off, Remi knew the truth about the daunting detective.
They walked out of the tea house into the crisp March evening air and down Madison Avenue toward Remi’s flat a mere two blocks away. The city was alight around them, filled with the sounds of traffic and a far off ballad. Remi cocked his head to one side in an attempt to hear the song better and perhaps recall the tune, when Hawk began to hum it, and soon he could hear Hawk quietly singing along.
“You’re the only star in my blue Heaven, and you’re shining just for me.”
Remi smiled as Hawk continued to sing along to the fading melody, and he couldn’t help but edge closer as they walked. Their arms brushed together and Hawk gave the brim of Remi’s gray felt hat a playful flick, nudging it back. With a chuckle, Remi returned it to its place, his desire to get inside where he could have Hawk all to himself and away from prying eyes, growing stronger by the moment. They greeted the doorman of the building, and as they crossed the elegant, brightly lit foyer, no one gave Hawk a second glance. The staff were all accustomed to seeing him accompany Remi to his flat by now, and never questioned the nights the detective didn’t come back out.
Inside, he took off his coat while admiring the view as Hawk removed his own and placed it on the coatrack by the door. He turned to take Remi’s, completely oblivious to the heat he was causing to spread through Remi. Everything about the man was so utterly delicious.
“So how many granddaughters does that make today?” Hawk asked, placing Remi’s coat on the rack beside his own.
“Four granddaughters, three nieces, three daughters, and one grandmother.”
Hawk’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. “One of the old gals propositioned you again?”
“Mrs. Halaby. She said if I ever found myself in need of company, she would be all too happy to have me down at her villa in Rio de Janeiro.”
“I’m guessing she didn’t mean having you over for tea.”
“Not if her expression was anything to go by,” Remi replied with a shudder.
Hawk pulled Remi into his arms, his head tilting to one side as his gaze went to Remi’s lips, his voice husky and low. “Well, you are quite a catch.”
“Shame I’ve already been caught.” Remi nuzzled his face against Hawk’s neck, loving the feel of stubble growing in. It made him appear even more dashing, like one of those motion picture cowboys. Hawk could intimidate most folks, but not Remi. He was getting awfully good at knowing just how to make his grumpy detective purr.
“I like what I’m hearing.”
“Only what you’re hearing?” Remi teased, kissing his way down Hawk’s neck.
“I like that too.”
Remi laughed as he slipped his hands under Hawk’s suit jacket and pushed it off his shoulders. It cascaded to the carpet, and in a matter of seconds, was joined by Remi’s suit jacket, their waistcoats, and ties. “How is it you always manage to stay so calm and collected around them?”
“Hey, if anyone knows how to play it cool, it’s me. I’m a detective, remember?”
“You haven’t worked a case in nearly a year.” Remi pushed Hawk’s braces off his shoulders, letting them hang at his sides before starting to unbutton Hawk’s shirt.
“That’s true, but I think I might have something soon.”
“Oh?” He helped Hawk out of his shirt, wondering if they would make it to the bedroom this time. Something told him there was little chance of that.
“Yeah, some of those old gals who come in look awfully shifty. Especially that Mrs. Grimfield.”
“Mrs. Grimfield is ninety six years old!” Remi laughed, shaking his head.
“Those are the ones you gotta watch out for. They look all innocent, but the moment you turn your back, that’s when they get you. I swear she goosed my backside the other day.”
“Now you’re just exaggerating.”
Hawk’s eyes narrowed. “Well, if it wasn’t her, it was her husband.”
Remi couldn’t help but laugh at Hawk’s antics. He continued to undress Hawk, all the while enjoying the way Hawk’s hands roamed over him. His hands were always gentle, caressing his skin at every opportunity. Whether it was touching Remi’s hands, his neck, his face, Hawk was always making physical contact even if he didn’t realize it, even if it was minimal, and Remi cherished it. He also appreciated a man who could make him laugh the way Hawk did.
“Old birds aside, I still have my badge and my gun. You wanna see my gun?”
“Your gun, huh?” Remi ran his hands up Hawk’s firm chest, loving the feel of all that hard muscle.
“Come on. Let me show it to you.” Hawk took Remi’s hands in his, pulling him along with him as he walked backward toward the couch. He sat down and pulled Remi down, encouraging him to straddle his lap. Remi was all too happy to oblige.
“I suppose it is rather impressive,” Remi said, purposefully grinding his hips down against Hawk’s, drawing a low groan from him.
“I’m a pretty sharp shooter too.”
“Give you an inch—”
“You are terribly off the cob at times, you know that?”
“And you love it.”
“There’s always the ducks.”
“Oh Good Lord, no. No duck jokes.”
Hawk opened his mouth only to have Remi put a finger to his lips to stop him. “Your gun is going nowhere near me if you so much as utter one foul joke.” It was only when Hawk burst into laughter that Remi realized what he’d said. He let out a low groan and covered his face with his hands. “Heaven help me. He’s got me doing it now.”
“Shut up,” Remi grumbled. “Are you going to bugger me or what?”
“Ooh, feisty. Am I going to need the handcuffs?”
Remi tried his hardest to hold back his smile. “You keep winding me up like that, detective, and I may just need to be retrained.”
“Yes, sir.” Hawk covered Remi’s lips with his own, their playfulness quickly giving way to burning desire. There were times at the tea house when Hawk was going about his duties, or chatting with the manageress, that Remi simply couldn’t keep his need from surfacing, and it usually lead to Remi calling Hawk into his office, locking the door, and then proceeding to do everything in his power to remain silent while Hawk took him either on his desk, up against the door, or at times on the floor. Those of course didn’t include the times Hawk surprised him. Sometimes he wondered how they managed to get any work done at all.
“Bedroom?” Hawk mumbled against Remi’s lips, his hands slipping down into Remi’s trousers.
“I don’t think I can wait that long.” Remi unbuttoned Hawk’s trousers just as a voice caused him to nearly jump out of his skin.
“So sorry to interrupt.”
“Jesus! What the—” Hawk instinctively pulled Remi off him, his arm thrown across Remi’s chest to keep him safely behind him. They both sat dumbstruck, their gazes on the man who had managed to invade Remi’s flat without making a sound. Most shocking of all, was who stood before them.
“Remi, I need you.”
Slowly, Remi stood from the couch, unable to believe his eyes. He was alive?
Dear God, the Gentleman Thief was alive!
Published by Charlie Cochet
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
The Only Star
Copyright © 2012 by Charlie Cochet
Cover Design by Charlie Cochet
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without the written permission of the author, except where permitted by law. To request permission and all other inquiries, contact Charlie Cochet.