Authors: Charlie Cochet
Tags: #gay romance
“It’s okay. We’re going to get you to a hospital, just hang on.”
The man made a noise that sounded an awful lot like “no,” but that couldn’t be right. Maybe the poor bastard was out of his head. Joe leaned in when the guy lifted his head. “No cops,” he slurred, tightening his grip on Joe’s arm, his voice so low and gravelly Joe wouldn’t have heard him if he hadn’t been so close. “No hospital.”
“What?” Joe shook his head and did his best to remain calm. “Listen, buddy, someone knocked you over the head. You need medical attention.”
“Please, no cops. Help me.”
“I’m trying to help, but the best I can do is get you to a hospital. I’m not a doctor.”
“They’ll… kill me. Cops… dead…. No hospital. Please.” With that, the guy collapsed back onto the ground.
Well, those were certainly words he didn’t care to hear in the same sentence.
By Charlie Cochet
He’s hot. He’s dangerous. And he can’t remember anything.
As the owner of Apple’N Pies, Joe Applin leads a quiet, uneventful life, content to spend his days serving customers who come from all over to eat his delicious homemade pies. Along with his motley crew—Bea, Elsie, and Donnie—Joe couldn’t be happier in his little kingdom of baked goods and java.
Experience has taught Joe that love is overrated—and at times dangerous. He has no intention of repeating past mistakes. But then he meets the mysterious, handsome man with no name and no memories, and Joe can’t deny something sweet is in the works. He isn’t one to take risks, not with his heart and certainly not with his life, but the more time he spends with “Tom,” the closer he is to losing both.
is an author by day and artist by night. Always quick to succumb to the whispers of her wayward muse, no star is out of reach when following her passion. From adventurous agents and sexy shifters to society gentlemen and hardboiled detectives, there’s bound to be plenty of mischief for her heroes to find themselves in—and plenty of romance, too!
Currently residing in Central Florida, Charlie is at the beck and call of a rascally Doxiepoo bent on world domination. When she isn’t writing, she can usually be found reading, drawing, or watching movies. She runs on coffee, thrives on music, and loves to hear from readers.
E-mail: [email protected]
THIRDS HQ: www.thirdshq.com
Thank you to all my wonderful readers, to Dreamspinner Press, and the amazing people in my life who are always there to offer support, love, and guidance.
You’re killing me!”
The low growl melted into a moan of satisfaction, bringing a hearty laugh from Joe. “It’s just apple pie, Mr. Richardson.” He refilled the wily old man’s coffee mug and received a bushy-browed scowl in return.
“The hell it is, son. If it was any old apple pie, you think I’d bother walking eight city blocks to get here? You’re too damned modest, Joe. Everyone knows you make the best damn pies in the city, probably all of New York State!”
Joe didn’t know about the entirety of New York, but seeing how happy his pies made Mr. Richardson was more than enough for him. Apple’n Pies wasn’t big or fancy, by any means. It was a cozy little hole-in-the-wall six blocks from Times Square, free of all the fancy coffee machines, exotic flavors, or overpriced merchandise. It was all his, and it was home.
Wiping his hands on his apron, Joe took a moment to survey his little kingdom of baked goods and java. The wooden floorboards and medium-sized counter were scuffed, the old oak frames of the booths just as worn, but solid and polished, the red upholstery always clean and without tears. What little chrome there was came from the stools at the counter, which had been installed a couple of years ago after one of his regulars had gone straight through one of the old ones. He could hardly have customers falling through the furniture now, could he?
The silver of the stools matched the shelving units of the back counter, which housed the tableware, and in the far corner was Rusty—a cash register that looked like it belonged back in the Civil War days. Bea was always telling him to get rid of it, but Joe didn’t have the heart. Besides, Rusty was still as sturdy and reliable as ever, even if the drawer did stick sometimes and Bea had taken a baseball bat to it on more than one occasion. Of course, the dinged-up baseball bat always came out of the scuffle worse off than Rusty.
The place was reminiscent of one of those old vintage cafés. It was old-school, but it was spotless, tidy, and most importantly, filled with happy customers treating themselves to his pies. In the corner, Dean Martin’s “Powder Your Face with Sunshine” floated up from the old radio.
Some men wanted to be doctors, lawyers, movie stars, or millionaires. Joe was happy baking pies, and when his customers were happy, he was happy, and they were happy with a little help from him. What more could a guy ask for?
The little brass bell above the glass-paned door jingled, and Joe cheerfully went to meet his new customers. Outside, the world was moving at rocket speed, with no time to spare for those who hadn’t the means or the heart to keep up. Apple’n Pies provided a quiet, safe haven for anyone who needed it, from Hollywood movie stars to youngsters down from the local Y. Everyone was welcome at Joe’s.
Joe greeted a young couple with a cheery “Good morning” before showing the couple to an empty booth.
The handsome pair looked like they’d stepped out of a fashion magazine. Their gazes darted around the place with noticeable uncertainty. It was pretty obvious it wasn’t their typical coffee stop. Joe never took offense. Instead, he smiled warmly and got busy making them feel at home.
“I’m Joe Applin. Welcome to my little corner of pie paradise. I’ll be happy to get you anything you like. While you’re under my roof, you’re in good hands.”
The young woman’s face lit up as her companion helped her out of her long expensive coat. “Oh! Applin, as in
! That’s you!” She giggled, and Joe felt his dopey grin get dopier. He never tired of people’s fascination with his name and how it suited his profession. Of course, it had been his family name long before he’d ever learned what a pie was.
“I hope apple is your favorite,” she chirped, clapping her hands joyously when he nodded. It was actually cherry, but who was he to burst her bubble? The pair slid into the booth and didn’t bother with the menu. “Father says your coffee’s almost as good as your pies. He comes in here all the time. Works just down the road at Jameson and Rotherford’s. It’s a law firm.” The young man at her side simply smiled fondly while his sweetheart held the reins on the conversation. “His name’s Allan Rotherford. My father, that is. Do you know him?”
“Of course, miss.” Mr. Rotherford came in every afternoon to take a slice of pie back to the office with him. After the fifth time, half the firm was in during various parts of the day, sneaking confectionary goodies back to their desks. “He’s particularly fond of the apple and cinnamon.”
“I tell you, Joe—may I call you Joe?” she asked hopefully. He nodded and she squealed with delight. “Well, Joe. Father’s been going on and on about your pies for weeks! I had to see for myself what all the fuss was about. He was driving me and my poor mother absolutely crazy. So,” she said with a decisive nod, “two apple and cinnamon pies, and two coffees.”
“Right away, miss. And when you’re finished, I’d love to hear if you enjoyed it as much as your father.” That seemed to make her even happier, and she nodded enthusiastically.
As he walked away, she chatted to her boyfriend at full speed, bringing a smile to Joe’s face. The guy was obviously smitten, seeing as how he wasn’t the least bit concerned about getting a word in edgewise. Removing the heavy glass dome over the apple and cinnamon pie dish, Joe cut out two generous slices and moved them onto two immaculate, white ceramic dishes. He dropped them off at the table along with their coffee, exchanged a few more pleasantries, then excused himself so the pair could enjoy their food. He barely made it to the counter when a loud crash echoed from the kitchen out back.
Here we go.
The door slammed open and Donnie scrambled out, nearly tripping over his own feet before he made a dive behind Joe. There were a few curious glances from some of the newer patrons, but the regulars were used to the daily disturbances brought about by the terrible trio Joe called family. Soon everyone’s attention returned to their newspapers and coffee.
“Joe, she’s trying to kill me!” Donnie’s voice went higher in pitch with every word uttered, and he clutched Joe’s forearms in what Joe assumed was meant to be some kind of death grip. In reality it was about as deadly as a kitten swatting at a ball of yarn.
Looking at the kid, it was hard to believe he was eighteen years old. Donnie stilled, most likely knowing Joe’s broader, six-foot frame would eclipse him. When Joe felt Donnie remove his hands, he knew the eclipsing was complete, and none too soon either. The kitchen door swung open, and Bea stomped out in all her gray-haired glory. Joe couldn’t blame the kid for hiding. He wanted to hide too.
“Where is he,” Bea demanded, folding her arms over her heaving bosom. She peered at him with her sharp green eyes. Joe knew better than to risk his life by incurring the old woman’s wrath, but he just couldn’t find it in him to turn the kid over. Bea was in her sixties, stout, hair pulled back tight in a bun, and had the power to command more fear than a military general. Not to mention, her batting average was probably better than any major league player’s.
“Bea, angel, what can I do for you?” Joe moved slowly in the opposite direction, and with every step she took, Donnie moved with him.
me, Joe Applin. I know you’re hiding him. If you’re not looking to get a good butt whooping yourself, you’ll hand him over.”
Joe knew full well she’d do just that. He’d been on the receiving end of her flaring temper more than once. Bea would chew Donnie up and spit him out like a piece of gum. “What’s he done now?”
“He’s been dissecting the pumpkins again,” she huffed, narrowing her eyes as she craned her neck to peer around him. Every time she moved, Joe moved. He desperately wanted to laugh, but Bea’s menacing glare kept him from giving in to the urge.
“He’s just curious, Bea. You know how excited he is about learning medicine. He wants to be a doctor, so he can help people.” Joe gave her what he hoped was his most charming smile. Her scowl deepened. Apparently, his most charming wasn’t charming enough.
“If he thinks that’s helping, he’s got another think coming. And you! You really think those puppy eyes are gonna work on me after all these years?”
Joe smiled hopefully. “Yes?” No. With a sigh, he let his head hang low. “You’re right. It’s my fault. I’m too soft on him.” He heard a few chuckles from around the room and knew everyone was waiting to see whether Bea would give in or Joe would end up flat on his face.
Mumbling a few unintelligible words under her breath, Bea stalked back into the kitchen. A light round of applause broke out in celebration of his victory, and Joe bowed with all the grace and grandeur of a Shakespearian actor.
“Thank you, thank you. You are too kind, my lords and ladies.” He straightened and spun around to the cowering young man, donning his best Groucho impression. “I got a good mind to join a club and beat you over the head with it.”
Donnie snickered, the tension seeming to ease from his boney shoulders. The kid always did like his Groucho impressions.
Being an only child, Joe learned from an early age to rely on his overactive imagination to keep him company on the days his parents were out working hard to earn a decent living—which meant Joe had been pretty much alone most of the time, but he’d been too busy to let the loneliness settle in, what with all the castles to conquer, jungles to explore, and cattle to round up. While most of his school friends were throwing pixelated barrels at big pixelated monkeys, Joe was building forts and labyrinths with the couch cushions and bedsheets.
Living in his own head had been such a part of his existence, when Joe grew up, he had trouble keeping his thoughts in there. Most people figured he had a few screws loose, but he didn’t mind. Sure, sometimes he felt a little embarrassed after getting caught having a rather animated conversation with himself, but never ashamed. It was just the way he was.
“I’m sorry, Joe. I didn’t mean to cause any trouble,” Donnie muttered. His bottom lip jutted out as he stared at the floor, kicking up imaginary dust. Wow, the kid was good.
“Say, that’s my bit. Go on, get back to work. And stop dissecting our groceries or you’re gonna be getting an early lesson on broken bones from Bea. Elsie will be here soon, anyway.”