Glass shattered and splintered through the air as Ethan covered his head with his hands. The pinpricks of the shards hitting him made him hiss, but he waited until the sound ended before lifting his head again. The front window was in pieces, cool air blowing through the gap.
“What the hell?” he said, staring at the brick now decorating his living room floor. He knew better than to touch it, but he knelt closer to see if there was anything on it. White markings were on the side that he could see, but he couldn’t decipher them without moving it, so he left it. No matter what it said or didn’t say, he had a feeling who had sent the “gift.”
The tinny buzz of his name registered, and he dived for his phone, which he’d dropped when he’d covered his head.
“Joey? I’m okay.”
“Fucking hell, Ethan. You scared ten years off my life. What happened?”
He glared at the offending brick. “Someone sent me a gift, except it missed the letterbox.”
He explained further, and Joey’s curses changed the colour of the air.
“Ethan? Is everything okay in there?”
“Hang on, Joey.” He stood and went to the door, despite there being a new opening in his house. “Hey, Mrs Franklin. Yes, I’m okay, thanks.”
The frail woman from next door scrunched her face. “Those hooligans are at it again, aren’t they? They need to be taught a lesson.”
“I agree, Mrs Franklin. You didn’t get hurt, did you?”
Mrs Franklin shook her head. “No, dear. I was watching my documentary when I heard the noise. I wanted to make sure you were okay because I saw you drive up earlier. Have you been away on holiday?”
Ethan smiled, wishing he could hurry the conversation up but knowing she wouldn’t leave until she had her answers. “Yes, in a way. I’m moving to London, so I’m back to sort the house out.”
“Oh, how lovely, Ethan. It’s a shame because I never know who I’m going to get living next to me, and you’re wonderful. When you first moved in, I was so—”
“Mrs Franklin, I’m sorry to interrupt, but I need to call the police.” He gestured to his phone.
“Of course, dear. I’ll go back to my show. Let me know if you need anything.”
“I will. Thank you for checking on me.”
Mrs Franklin waved her hand and shuffled back to her house as fast as her walking frame would let her. He watched her until she closed her door behind her and then closed his own, shivering.
“Sorry, Joey. It was my next-door neighbour checking on me.”
“You’re right, though. You need to call the police. I’m getting on the road now and will be with you as soon as I can.”
Ethan shook his head despite Joey not being able to see him. “No, I’m okay. You stay and do your job. I’ll keep you updated with what the police say.”
“You’re not staying there tonight.”
Ethan smiled. “I won’t. I’ll either stay with Kole, Christi or my parents, don’t worry.”
“Glad to hear it.” Joey’s sigh came through the phone. “I wish I was with you.”
“I do, too, but we can manage two more days.”
Chuckling, Ethan said, “We can. It’ll be hell, but we can.”
“Okay. I’m going to go so you can call the police, but call me when you’re settled wherever you’re laying your head tonight, all right?”
“I’ll message you, not call. I don’t want to wake you.”
“Do you really think I’m going to get any sleep until I know you’re safe?”
Ethan grinned. “Fine. I’ll call you.”
“I love you.”
“Love you back.”
He ended the call, knowing Joey wouldn’t do it, and called the police. When they finally had someone come around, it was two hours later, and Kole had already arrived to keep him company after his tour had finished. They took his statement, including who Ethan thought might have done it, and arranged for the place to be secured while Ethan headed to Kole’s place.
They hadn’t spoken much, but Ethan had immediately seen a change in his best friend. Kole was quieter, more subdued than he had been, but there was still a spark of something. As if embers were kindling and all it needed was something to fan the flames to a bonfire. He hoped he could help.
When they were finally settled in Kole’s living room with a bottle of beer each, Ethan asked him how he was. “And I don’t mean your standard answer, either.”
“It shook me, Ethan. There’s no denying that, but I am okay. If anything, the tours make me feel better. What’s not so great is my love life.” He chuckled, though it was weak. “I’m not feeling the need to choose men when I go out anymore. I don’t feel…safe, I suppose. This guy seemed nice enough, and we had a great time, but he turned out to be crazy. How can I trust my instincts now?”
Ethan patted his arm. “You’ll get there again. Just think of all the other guys you were with before this. They weren’t crazy, and you chose well.”
Kole huffed, raking his fingers through his hair. “Yeah, so well they never came back again.”
Ethan could see his point, but he didn’t want to make Kole feel worse than he did. “You just haven’t found the right guy yet. It takes time.”
“Yeah, that’s what everyone says, but I’m impatient, Ethan. I want it now. I want my happily ever after to cling to me like a koala.”
Ethan chuckled and patted his arm again. “It will as soon as it’s time.” He yawned. “I need to sleep, sorry.”
“It’s okay. You’ve had a long day. I’ll be up for a few hours yet, but you have a key, so make yourself at home.”
Ethan stood, pulled Kole in for a hug and headed for the stairs. He’d called Joey when they’d finally arrived at Kole’s house, so hopefully, he was fast asleep, ready for his appointment the following day. Ethan, however, had a house to sort out and pack up. He wouldn’t be able to take everything with him, but he could take the essentials and either ask his parents to hold what he couldn’t leave in the house. He had thought about keeping the house and renting it out to holidaymakers, but he didn’t want the hassle of having to manage it when something went wrong. There were companies out there who could do it for him, but they would take a percentage. All in all, he thought it was better to just let it go and sell it. He could use the money he received from the sale to help towards the bills at Joey’s place.
He was glad of his decision to sell when he was elbow-deep in packing boxes and bubble wrap. While he waited for the police officer to arrive, he was packing the house. So far, he’d made a pile of things to be taken to the charity shop, packed the kitchen up and put a load of washing on he’d forgotten about before he’d hightailed it out of there for Elliott’s funeral.
A knock startled him, and he almost dropped the plate he’d been wrapping. He rested it on top of the others and opened the door.
“Ethan Wright? I’m Detective Hines. I’m here about what happened yesterday.”
Ethan waved him in. “Would you like a drink?”
The detective looked around. “Coffee would be great, thanks. Going somewhere?”
Ethan chuckled and headed for the kitchen. “I’m moving to London. I’ve just come back to pack up my stuff and get the house ready to sell.”
“That’s a big move.”
Ethan shrugged a shoulder. “It wasn’t planned, but it’s the best decision.” At Hines’ raised eyebrows, Ethan explained his story without naming names. “I never imagined leaving Whitby, but I’m glad I am.”
“Is this because of what happened with Joey Reynolds?”
Ethan settled onto the sofa, the detective copying. “In part. Joey is my boyfriend now. He’s who I’m moving in with. Some people don’t seem to like that.”
“What? That you’re moving in with him?”
“No. They think they can use photos to blackmail us into doing what they want. Joey says it’s part and parcel of being in the limelight, but it’s still shit. Excuse my language.”
“I agree. And you think this David guy is involved?”
“Well, he’s the one who’s been messaging us about it. I still have the emails.” He pulled them up on his phone. “I don’t think Joey’s received any. They seem to just be coming to me.”
Hines read through the emails and then handed the phone back to him. “Can you send them to me, please?”
“Sure.” He did. “I’m not saying this was David,” he said, pointing to the window. “It just seems too close to coincidence to be anyone else. I’m not on anyone else’s bad side as far as I know.”
Hines asked him a few more questions and then said he would be in touch. “You can go back to London if you need to. I’m not stopping you. Just let me know when you do.”
“I’m here until tomorrow, but I will let you know when I’m leaving.”
Ethan exhaled once the door shut behind him, and he flopped onto the sofa. “Why does nothing ever go smoothly?” he said to no one.
He worked for another few hours, making good headway on his to-do list, and then stopped to make a trip to the charity shop to remove some of the stuff littering his floors. He grabbed a bag of chips on his way home again and ate while he spoke to Joey. After another hour of work, he jumped into the shower to get ready to meet Kole and Christi at the club.
It felt like a million years since he’d last been in the place he’d met Joey for the first time, even though it had only been a couple of weeks. He grabbed a booth when he saw it and waited for his friends to arrive. It took them as long as it took him to order for them from a passing server, and Christi squealed in his ear when she hugged him.
“Thanks for that. Make sure you’re on my right side for the rest of the evening. I won’t be able to hear you otherwise.” He grinned when she backhanded his chest. “How are you? Is Di still giving you grief?”
Christi glanced away and settled further into her seat. “She’s still there, yes.”
Ethan tilted his head. “Christ?” He waited for her to look at him, and when she didn’t, he said her name again.
Kole laughed. “Just tell him. He’ll find out soon enough, anyway. Your lips will be spilling every secret you know after the drinks we’re having tonight.”
Christi sighed and faced Ethan. “The only grief she’s giving me is the kind I enjoy when we’re in bed together.”
Ethan blinked. He hadn’t been expecting that. That they would become friends, yes. But lovers? He burst out laughing. “Good for you. Now, are you going to stop complaining about her?”
Christi shook her head. “She’s still a pain in the ass.” Her cheeks coloured, and she sipped her drink. “She was doing it to get my attention.”
Ethan slid an arm around her shoulders. “I’m glad. Are you in a relationship with her?”
Christi smiled and nodded and then blew out a breath. “I never expected it, you know?”
“I know the feeling.” Ethan glanced at Kole, whose expression was carefully blank. “I can’t wait to see this one fall.” He tilted his head in Kole’s direction.
“Pfft. I’m staying single for a while.” Kole downed his drink and waved at a server, who nodded. “I’ll wait for someone else to do the heavy lifting this time.”
“So you should. Let them come to you,” Christi said, lifting her glass to clink it with Kole’s.
Ethan’s phone vibrated against his leg, where he’d stashed it, and he leaned back and pulled it free. An unknown number. With everything that had been happening, he was even more reluctant to answer those types of calls, but he needed to know who it was. He put his finger in his other ear to reduce the noise and answered.
“Mr Wright? It’s Detective Hines.”
Ethan’s shoulder lowered, and he excused himself and went outside to finish the call. “Sorry about that, Detective. How can I help?”
“I wanted to let you know that we’ve arrested David Thurl for the vandalism on your house. Fingerprints were found on the brick, and the marker that made the note on it was traced back to one found in his car.”
“I never asked. What did the note say?”
Hines cleared his throat. “‘Just you wait.’ I have a feeling it’s related to him believing you were to blame for him being let go from the hotel.”
“Did he say anything about the photos?”
“Not as yet. We will keep asking him, though.”
Ethan sighed. “Thank you, Detective. I appreciate you letting me know.” He finished the call and dialled Joey. “Hey. How are you?”
“Good. Just settled in with Joelle to watch some TV.” Joey’s voice was a balm to all that ailed him, and he smiled.
“David’s been arrested. I don’t know if it’ll stick or whatever, but he’s in trouble for the moment at least.”
“Did they find the photos?”
“Not yet. Look, Joey, it’s okay. If the pictures get out, they get out. I’ll live with it. We’ll deal with it together.”
Joey sighed. “I know. I just hate this for you.”
“I know you do, but I’m sure it won’t be the last time we’re in the news.”
“Just you wait until our wedding.”
Ethan’s heart skipped a beat. “Our wedding?” he croaked.
Joey’s laughter warmed his soul. “When we eventually get married, there is no chance of it not being in the news.”
Finding his voice, Ethan said, “I can imagine. I still don’t care, though. Not anymore.”
“Because I have you. Whatever else I have to deal with is worth it because I have you.”
Joey was quiet for a moment, and Ethan wondered if he’d said the wrong thing. “I hate that you’re so far away right now. You can’t say things like that when I can’t fuck you, Ethan.”
Ethan chuckled, even as heat rolled through him. “You’ll have to call me later and make me pay.”
“Nah. You can wait until I get my hands on you tomorrow. You’ll regret teasing me.”
“I doubt it.”
Joey growled. “Go back to your friends, Ethan. I’ll speak to you in the morning.”
“Yes, Sir,” he whispered and ended the call.
He spent the rest of the evening with his friends, and they made plans for them to visit London. Ethan could just imagine the chaos they would cause, but he was excited about it, too. Maybe he could persuade Joey’s friends to come with them and show them the sights.
When he woke the following morning, despite his hangover, he was ready to get the work done so he could head to his new home. He faced a fried breakfast, chugged several glasses of water and set to work. He didn’t stop, other than to speak to Joey between his clients, so when his phone rang, he answered without looking.
“You really think this is the end of it. Well, watch out. Just because I’m out of the picture at the minute, doesn’t mean there aren’t others looking to see your and Joey’s downfall. Good luck, Ethan.”
David’s voice chilled him to the bone, and the call cut out before he could reply. He pursed his lips and dialled Detective Hines.
“Is David still in custody?”
“He just called me.” He told him exactly what was said, and the detective cursed and apologised.
“I will see to it that he’s not let out on bail. We’ll see if we can’t get more information out of him about who he’s talking about.”
“You might want to liaise with the London police, too. There are things going on down there that might be linked, though I don’t know for definite.”
“Thank you. I will.”
Ethan glanced around him at what was left to do and decided it wasn’t worth it. Anything else could be thrown away. He spent several hours loading his car, packing it so full he could only see a small rectangle in his rearview mirror, and headed to his parents.
“I’m heading back now. Thank you for agreeing to help sell the house. I’m going to arrange for someone to go in and take the remaining furniture and anything else they want for the charity shop. What’s left will be taken to the tip. I’ll let you know when the place is empty, if you still don’t mind arranging for the estate agent to come in?”
His father shook his head. “Of course, we don’t. You just take it easy on that journey, all right?”
“I will.” He hugged his father and leaned down to kiss his mother’s cheek. “I’ll see you soon. If you need anything at all, call me.”
His father waved him off, and Ethan climbed into the car, trying not to cry. He was never going to like being so far away from his family and friends, but he had something amazing waiting for him. Even with everything that surrounded them—the uncertainty, the blackmail, Elliott, Grey, Robert, and more—he couldn’t imagine being without Joey now.
He just wished he knew what the endgame was. Who was behind everything?