SECRETS AND INK
Olly was a supporting character in Secrets and Ink but stood out with his spunk and sunny outlook on life. I felt he deserved his own story, even before some readers suggested it.
In Secrets and Charms Olly meets his match in the hot-tempered and fiery-haired Rich. Sparks fly from the moment they meet, though not necessarily in a good way. Rich pisses Olly off from the get go, while Olly keeps getting under Rich's skin despite all of Rich's best efforts to resist.
Jem and Nick from make brief appearances, and there is a single narrative strand continuing from the previous book, but the story stands on its own legs.
While I wrote Secrets and Ink from a single, first person point of view, Secrets and Charms is told from third person and both from Olly's and Rich's POV.
One of the advantages of working in a gourmet grocery store in Hollywood was that you met all sorts of people. Olly was an outgoing person who liked people, liked getting to know them. Some more than others.
At the moment, he was busy slathering organic hummus on a dozen pita chips and laying them out in neat rows on a tray. It was eleven in the morning, but the lunchtime nibblers would start arriving soon. A woman in a pink T-shirt drifted by and snatched a sample. Still chewing, she wandered off toward the deli section. As Olly followed her with his eyes, a twenty-something guy standing by the cheese section caught his attention.
Olly considered himself a connoisseur of men, and the stranger’s lean build, caramel skin and Greek nose earned his appreciation. Especially the nose. Olly had developed a thing for them at an early age when he’d discovered the art history section of the public library. Those Greek statues—especially the male ones—enthralled him before he could tell why.
Greek Nose was holding two plastic-wrapped chunks of cheese in his hands. He seemed undecided. Looking up, he caught Olly staring and gave a relieved smile. It was full of straight, white teeth, like a Colgate commercial. Sadly, he wore shades, and Olly couldn’t see his eyes. He picked up his shopping basket and sauntered up to Olly’s counter. He flashed another smile. “I wonder if you could help me choose.” There was the slightest hint of an accent in his voice.
Olly studied the options. “Well, it really depends on your preferences. One’s a New Zealand sharp cheddar, the other one’s for Havarti with dill. What kind of cheese do you normally like?”
“Oh, I don’t eat the stuff—this is for a gift.” Greek Nose frowned. “They seem so paltry like this. Do you have them in whole wheels?”
“Ah. Then tell me, Olly, where can I buy a proper wheel of cheese? Preferably something gourmet?”
Not many customers bothered to read Olly’s name tag, but it happened, and so he wasn’t fazed by being called by his name. The question, on the other hand, gave him a pause. “Hm.” At first he drew a blank, but then he remembered the most recent Best of LA issue of the LA Weekly. “The Beverly Hills Cheese Store,” he said, pointing the butter knife at the guy. “I don’t know the address, but it’s somewhere in Beverly Hills. Obviously.”
“No worries, I’ll find it.”
Greek Nose sauntered back to the deli case, and a pair of new customers stopped by Olly’s table. Millie and Joe were regulars who came to the store once or twice a week and liked to chat with whoever was doing demo. Olly asked them about their weekend plans—it was already Thursday, after all—and they happily filled him in about their granddaughter’s impending visit from Florida.
When they tottered away, Olly was surprised to see Greek Nose back at the counter and observing Olly over the rim of his shades with amber eyes. “I’m Hunter,” he said. “As you probably guessed, I’m new in town.”
“Where are you from?” Olly asked out of more than politeness.
Hunter didn’t reply immediately, as if he had to think about it. “France.”
“You sure?” Olly jested.
Hunter’s lips quirked sideways. “Sorry, I’m not a morning person.”
“It’s eleven in the morning.” As the banter progressed, it developed a layer of piquancy.
Hunter must’ve felt it too, because his smile grew suggestive. “Yeah, way too early to be out of bed. Say, where does someone go for fun around here on a Friday night?”
Olly pursed his lips and pretended to think. “Well, depends on your idea of fun.”
“Where would you go?”
“Probably to Ombre—it’s a nightclub on Sunset, in the middle of West Hollywood. Not far from here, actually.” Olly noticed Roger, the manager, marching down aisle three in their direction. He switched to his professional tone. “And we also have spicy and garlic hummus—all organic, of course.”
Hunter straightened his face and nodded. “Thank you. I’ll check them out.” He winked and left.
Catching the last word seemed to please Roger. He came around the counter looking as cheerful as the flowers on his Hawaiian shirt. Fred’s Trade Post—FTP for short—prided itself in its relaxed atmosphere. “I’ll take it from here.”
Olly shed his plastic gloves and moved on to the next task on his schedule. At this store, all employees did different jobs throughout the day, so Olly spent the next couple of hours restocking produce.
Olly clocked out a few minutes after five. His friend and coworker Jem was already waiting in the parking lot, leaning against a silver Honda. Olly and Jem had met three years ago when Olly started to work at FTP, and hit it off right away. And not just because at the time they were the only two gays at the store. They simply fit. Strangely, they never had the slightest spark of physical attraction, despite both of them being good looking enough. Probably for the best—lovers were easier to find than good friends. To Olly, Jem was more like a brother he’d never had.
“I think I might be in love,” Olly declared, getting into Jem’s car. They didn’t normally ride together, but on this fine summer evening, they were driving to Pasadena to see Madame Layla—a fortune-teller Jem swore by. Jem was a little nutty.
“The guy at the demo counter?” Jem asked. “I saw you two flirting. What happened to the other guy you were in love with last month?”
“Oh, Russ. He was a lousy tipper, so I had to let him go. It’s a deal breaker, I’m sorry. I can’t spend the rest of my life embarrassed about my cheapskate partner—waiters make most of their money from tips, you know.” Truthfully, the problem was deeper. They had no sparks. Olly wanted sparks. Fuck, he wanted fireworks. Was it too much to ask?
Unsuspecting of Olly’s secret desires, Jem badgered on. “Aren’t you a little young at twenty-two to be planning for the rest of your life?”
“Nuh-uh. In a few years, I’ll be as old as you.”
“Yes. Almost thirty. You’re so lucky you hooked Nick before you turned into a wrinkled old pumpkin.”
“I think you have your fairy tales mixed up.”
“You’re calling me a fairy?”
“If the kettle fits,” Jem riposted, and they snickered. “Why do you think this new guy will work out any better?” he went on.
“Well, the contents of his shopping basket were promising—lots of fruits and veggies and a pound bar of dark chocolate.”
“So you’re planning to build a relationship on your shared love of organic produce?” Jem had a way with words.
“No, the chocolate! A giant bar of dark chocolate. Voracious, yet restrained.”
“Or just likes baking.”
“That works too.”
They drove on in silence as Jem struggled to get out of Hollywood at the onset of rush-hour traffic. Finally, they made it onto the freeway, and he circled back to the topic of Olly’s romantic life. “So what was wrong with Dale? Did he fart in bed?” Jem asked.
“Don’t be silly, everyone farts in bed. It’s the sign of a sound relationship when you fart in bed when together. Hey, does Nick ever fart, pull the blanket over your head and yell Dutch oven?”
“He doesn’t yell anything.”
“But he does the rest?”
Jem rolled his eyes. “Yeah. How did you know?”
“It’s such an alpha male thing to do, and Nick’s the quintessential alpha.”
“Yeah, he is, isn’t he?” Jem said dreamily.
To keep himself from gagging—possibly on his own jealousy—Olly changed the subject. “This Madame Layla, tell me about her again.”
“She’s the bomb,” Jem replied with great enthusiasm. “She’ll know things just by looking at you. Like when I was cursed—she knew it before I said anything. None of that fishing-around-for-information crap you get from fortune-tellers. Mme. Layla is a real witch.”
“If you say so.” Olly had serious doubts, but this trip was a belated birthday gift from Jem, and he knew his manners. “So what does your hunky man candy think of you consorting with witches? He doesn’t strike me as the superstitious type.”
Jem grimaced. “Nick makes fun of me, of course, but you know, when you love somebody, you take their faults with the good bits.”
Olly ignored the heavy-handed message. “Isn’t Nick missing you while you’re driving me around? I heard you old people like to go to bed early.”
“Ha-ha, very funny. He’s on a case. No knowing when I’ll see him next.” Jem sighed. Detective Nick Davies worked in homicide.
Copyright © 2014 Lou Harper
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. Publication