After many years of work, and a great deal of sweat, blood, and thrills, I'm finally closing the door on the Lazaretto Trilogy with book three, Kiss of the Lazaretto. A reader once asked me why Gregor Lepov seemed so defeated, adding " He hasn't given up, but his dreams have certainly shrunk." She was sure there was someone to blame for his troubles. Would it surprise anyone to learn that there's a woman lurking in his past? That might explain why he's a little rough on the women he meets.
Lepov's past catches up to him when his ex-wife Gloria arrives in the Lazaretto. Even worse, against his better judgement, he agrees to allow her to hire him. He knows it's a bad idea but he also knows it just might be the best way to keep an eye on her as well as a way to help get her out of the Lazaretto as soon as possible.
In the following excerpt, Lepov arrives at his apartment to find Gloria waiting for him. He's been expecting her to try something like this, and wondering how he would respond. After all, old habits die hard. Even the bad ones. Especially the bad ones.
(excerpt from Kiss of the Lazaretto)
She was there, sitting on the top step, huddled against the wall, difficult to see in the stairwell’s poor lighting. A shadow hid her face, but he could see her eyes, big and scared and he knew it was an act before she said the first word.
He climbed the last steps, brushing past her without saying a word. He pushed through the door and let it swing shut without waiting for her.
Gripping the handle of his apartment door, he heard the door lock disengage. She hadn’t followed him yet. He stepped into his front room and left the door open.
Maybe she really hadn’t been there. Maybe she was just the product of an unbalanced nervous system. Maybe it really was just a lack of vitamins as Lilly had insisted. How nice to think that Gloria would go away if he diligently took his supplements.
He heard the door beside the elevator finally swing open, its rusty hinges seemingly louder than usual. Her heels tapped lightly on the wooden floor; her pace too measured to suggest she was upset. She was, as she always had been, firmly in control.
He pulled off his coat and stood a few steps inside the door, waiting for her. When she finally appeared, she stopped at the door, partially hiding herself behind the frame. She leaned against it, her head tilted so that half of her face was illuminated from the lamp in his front room.
“If you’re waiting for an invitation you’ll have to stand there a very long time. I never invite clients into my home. It’s not professional.”
“Grey…” her voice was almost too soft to be heard.
“You’ll have to speak up,” he said, tossing his coat on a hook behind the door. He turned his back on her and walked away. “I don’t hear as well as I use to.”
“I’m not gonna wait!” He spun around and fought the urge to strike out at her. “I waited plenty when you left. Gave you time to make as big a mistake as any husband was willing to put up with. I was willing to wait then. I waited too long. You didn’t know that, did you? You moved on and never looked back. I’ll bet it never dawned on you that your husband was standing still, letting life flow by him as he waited for you to return. You can ask me to work for you and what’s-his-name, but you don’t get to ask me to wait anymore!”
He retreated deeper into the apartment, hoping she would leave. He jerked open his refrigerator, its single bulb shining bright in the dark kitchen. There was nothing there he wanted. He’d opened it just so his hands would have something to do. Just so his hands wouldn’t ball into fists.
The glow of the light bulb shone on the counter and he saw his half empty bottle of bourbon. He slammed the door and grabbed the bottle.
“Grey.” She’d followed him. She was just inside the kitchen now. “You’re angry at me.”
“Angry at you?” He reached next to the sink and switched on a light. It’s harsh blue-white glare caught her by surprise and she winced. He grabbed two empty glasses and tossed them on the counter. One of them fell over. Righting it, he poured out drinks for both of them. “Why would I be angry with you? You left me because I bored you. Now you show up here with husband number…three, isn’t it? Or was there another one crammed in there between this guy and the one I carried the furniture for?
“Well, anyway, it doesn’t matter. This present husband of yours walks into my office with you in tail and you announce that you’re not only involved in a criminal undertaking but you’re also going to emotionally blackmail me into helping you. You’ve got me tracking down your new lover and now you show up because you want to remind me that your husband is a danger to you and me and your missing lover.
“I’m not angry with you, Gloria. I actually think I’m more amused than angry. You really ought to see what this looks like from my side of the rubber room.”
He gave her one of the glasses and lifted his with a nod of his head.
“Here’s to foolish people doing foolish things.”
“You aren’t foolish,” she said, grabbing his hand to prevent him from taking the drink. “Maybe I am, but you’re anything but foolish. It’s why I came to you. Why I convinced Kry that we should hire you. I knew that once you were involved, you’d know the best way to deal with this.”
He pulled away from her and finally took that drink. She took a sip of hers before speaking again.
“At least you aren’t angry, Grey. That’s important to me.”
“I never said I wasn’t angry, Gloria. You’re missing the point. I said I wasn’t angry at you. But that doesn’t mean I’m not angry at me. And I can assure you that I’m plenty angry with me. I hate watching a man stick his head into a noose for no logical reason.”
“You can quit if that’s what you want. I would walk away and I wouldn’t come back. If it’s what you really want.”
“Oh, don’t be a hero.” He poured a second drink—he was well aware how bad an idea that was—and carried it into the front room. He set it on a side table and began unrolling his sleeves. The room was becoming unexpectedly hot. “You really don’t get it, do you? If I thought I could just quit this job whenever I decided you and Dannen had lied to me one too many times, I wouldn’t be angry with myself. But I knew full well the moment I said I’d listen to your story I was in this thing all the way. I knew you’d get hold of me and I wouldn’t be able to get free. And don’t stand there with those big eyes and your innocent look of surprise! You knew it too. You probably even knew it before the first day you rode the elevator to my office. You counted on it.”
“And cut out that Grey nonsense, Mrs. Dannen. Cut out all of it and tell me why you’re here—the truth—or so help me God I’m gonna throw you down those stairs.” He tossed down the second drink and wanted badly to throw the glass at her. Instead, he dropped it on the table and dropped himself into the corner of his sofa.
Lepov’s head was spinning. The drinks weren’t to blame, but they weren’t helping either. He knew he was overreacting to her but he couldn’t find a way to turn it off. Her scared eyes and shaky voice had not only failed to elicit his compassion, they had awakened a dormant anger he had not realized still existed. He took several deep breaths and stared at her, willing her to either explain herself or exit the apartment. He didn’t care which one she chose.
“I told you I can help you find him. But you have to promise me—you have be sure you don’t tell Kry when you’ve found him. Tell me. Only me. Kry would kill him.”
She had slowly been moving toward him. Now, she stood beside him. The light was behind her and he could only see her silhouette.
“And you too, I suppose?” His tone had softened. He recognized that it had and though he didn’t want it to, he couldn’t hold on to his earlier fury.
“I don’t know.” Her words a mere whisper.
“So tell me where he is.”
“Promise first.” She put a hand on his.
“Not to tell your husband where your lover’s hiding?”
She pulled her hand back. “I told you he’s not my lover. You’re being just as jealous as Kry.”
“It’s an inherent fault with all past and present husbands. We don’t like our wives running around with future husbands.”
“He’s not a future husband. And the only man Kry really needs to worry about is—” she slowly sank onto the edge of the sofa. Before he could stop her, she’d leaned against him and her lips brushed his. He turned away at the last moment. Her kiss wet his cheek.
“You just called me your wife.” Her breath was hot. The drinks were souring his stomach. He pushed her away but she resisted.
“So now you’re gonna tell me where to find Jardyn, and I tell you where he is, and you two slip off into the night and Dannen gets drunk and waits for you long enough to realize you’re never coming back. Is that the picture you were hoping to draw?”
“It isn’t my first choice. There are other possible outcomes.”
“Yeah, I guess there are.” He turned to look in her eyes. He had to know just how far gone he was. He needed to know if he had any chance of surviving her game. He shifted so that he could put an arm around her, pulled her tight, and kissed her. She was no longer resisting him.
Despite the years, despite the bitterness, in that moment they were young lovers again, saturated with the familiarity that overtakes two people who have managed to become one: the taste of her mouth, the feel of her tongue on his, the knowledge that her hands would slide up between his shoulders even as his slid down the curve of her legs. The feel, the smell, her transformation from scared girl to a hungry woman, it was a moment that Lepov had feared and desired and known he would have to conquer.
He pulled back and looked into her eyes again. She waited, her ragged breathing yet one more distraction. He waited too. Long enough to allow the fog to lift.
“You’re gonna have to remember something, my dear.”
“Okay, I will.” She put her head against his shoulder.
“I’m an investigator. I may not be a damned good one, but I’m competent enough. Enough that I’ve already found a witness who saw Louis Jardyn leave Alpha quadrant shortly after his pal Frobe was killed. A witness who has a very good memory. Good enough that his description of Jardyn’s traveling companion was very detailed.”
She sat up, wide eyes sparkling in the lamplight.
“You see, I would have known he was describing you even if I hadn’t known you were in the Lazaretto.”
She drew back and he was sure she was going to hit him. Instead, she simply pushed away from him and stood to her feet. "You’re trying too hard, Gloria. And for no reason. I told you I was going to find Jardyn. I already agreed to the job. Stop treating me like I’m made of glass. I’m not gonna fall to pieces. I’ll do what you want. Because I want you out of here more than you want to get out of here.”
“He called me the night Frobe was killed. He was scared—”
“I don’t want to hear your story. I really don’t care. I told you to tell me the truth. You didn’t do it. That was stupid.” He could taste her lipstick on his lips and he wiped it away with two fingers. “Now tell me the truth this time. Do you know where he is?”
“The Malibu Hotel.”
“I already know about the Malibu. He wasn’t there. Something—someone spooked him. Where was he supposed to go if that happened?”
“He said he would leave a message.”
“With a bartender, at a little place called The Maple Leaf.”
There were any number of reasons to kick her out and quit the case. But the fact remained he wanted to do whatever it took to get her out of the Lazaretto. The only real good news had been his victory over their past. At least for that one moment he had proven that he could keep his head no matter how much she worked at confusing him.
Now he just had to figure out a way to take all of her lies and reshape them into the truth. If he could do that, he’d be a miracle worker.
Officially, the book's release is listed as April of this year but due to the oddities of modern-day publishing, the book is already available. If you want, you can grab an early copy at the link below. Signed copies are also available at Rocket Fire Books.
And be sure to get books one and two if you don't have them yet: