It’s release day! Again. Pet Delivery is now available in the shops. Last time it was live, it was under the name Once in the Underworld, but the title made me think of demons (if you read M/F you might have read Gena Showalter’s The Lords of the Underworld series. Demons yay!) so I changed it.
We have poor Gabe who happens to witness a murder. Once he tells the police he’ll testify he’s whisked away into the witness protection program and is hidden away in Nortown. Gabriel has to leave everything, including his beloved cats.
Chris is outraged when he learns that a person is living in his grandmother’s old cabin. That cabin is not suitable to stay in during the winter, and he’ll refuse to let someone freeze to death up there. He’d expected some battered woman hiding from an abusive ex, not a shy man who makes his pulse quicken.
This, like almost all Up North stories, is a contemporary small-town romance.
Gabriel sat on the worn sofa in the cold room. For every little creak, he grew tenser. The dark was thicker around him than he’d ever seen it before. There were no street lamps outside, no cars driving by, and no people who brought life to the surroundings. If someone came here, if they found him, no one would notice.
They would put a bullet in his head, just as they had that poor man who had happened to walk by the veterinary clinic, and then they’d be off. No one would be any the wiser.
Gabriel squeezed his eyes shut. Without him wanting it to, the scene played out before him for the thousandth time. He’d finished his shift about twenty minutes earlier, but he’d stayed behind to pat Zombie, Mrs. Bennett’s old Basset Hound. He was on his last legs, and while Gabriel was sure he would make it this time, it was just a matter of weeks, or months, if he was lucky, before he would be back. He was such a good dog, and he feared Mrs. Bennett would take it hard when he passed. But no matter how sweet the dog was, Gabriel wished he’d never stayed that night.
He’d hung his lab coat in his locker and headed for the door. The personnel entrance was right in the narrow alley behind the clinic, a dimly lit lamp above the door the only source of light apart from that spilling in from the road. Church Lane was only a few metres away, but at this time of night it only added to the spookiness.
Gabriel had been fiddling with his phone. He hadn’t been paying attention, not until he heard a whimper.
The image shattered, and he was back in the cabin again. His lungs screamed for air, and his temples pounded, but he couldn’t see the flame of the tea light he’d lit flicker in the dark, didn’t feel the press of the sofa against his body. The memory of those three men in the gloomy light of the alley, the metal glinting as one of them raised a gun, and then how the man who had whimpered convulsed… It still played out before his eyes.
He knew what had happened before the sound of the shot registered. For a moment, he’d stood frozen, then he must’ve made a sound without being aware of it, because both men had looked straight at him. Gabriel had believed them to be kids, but they were not. Both of them were grown men. For a second, the hazy light from Church Lane had spilled over their features—Gabriel would remember them for as long as he lived.
One had a scar running down his cheek, narrowly missing his right eye. The other was a face he’d seen before. He couldn’t place the man then. There hadn’t been time before the gun was raised and aimed at Gabriel, but he realised the man was one of the most prominent politicians in Minwall.
It was pure luck Gabriel had been able to get inside the clinic before he’d been hit. A bullet had slammed into the wall only a few centimetres from his head before he’d managed to wrestle the door open. Stumbling, he ran back to where Zombie was. He sank down on the floor next to the crate and as soon as he could get his fingers to cooperate, he’d called the emergency number.
Since then, nothing had been the same.
Gabriel froze as headlights shone in through the window. They’re here!
He leapt up from the sofa, hit his knee on the table, and almost fell. Panic clawed at his chest, leaving burning gashes inside. What was he to do?
There was nowhere to go.
He ran into the kitchen and grabbed a knife as the engine shut off. He squeezed the handle until his fingers ached and tried to fight off the buzz in his head.
The steps creaked outside.
The person wasn’t in a hurry, but then, assassins seldom were. They always had a plan, a well-calculated, elaborated plan, or so he assumed.
Gabriel waited for the door to bang open, for a mountain of a man to jump inside. What if he sealed the door and set the cabin on fire? Gabriel’s heart ceased. Out! He needed to get out.
In his alarm, he dropped the knife and started towards the door when the knock came.
Gabriel stopped. Did assassins say hello?
“Hello? It’s Chris—Chris from the shop. Are you okay?”
Okay? Gabriel tried to find his voice, not that he had any clue what he would say. Maybe it was a trick.
“Are you there?”
“I…erm…just a minute.” Gabriel rubbed his forehead and approached the door. It was as if someone else raised his hand and placed it on the handle. He pushed it down and peered outside. The man from the shop stood there, battered by the icy wind and with his arms filled with blankets. His black jeans didn’t seem to hide any weapons. He guessed there could be a gun hidden among the blankets, but it was unlikely. The wind grabbed hold of Chris’s dark hair, but it was much shorter than Gabriel’s so it didn’t fall into his face. The stubble on his chin was darker than earlier but, again, much shorter than Gabriel’s unkempt growth.
“Hi, sorry to intrude.” He smiled but didn’t try to move any closer. “I was worried. I know how chilly it can be in this cabin, and the temperature is predicted to drop even further without the wind letting up. It’s the worst possible combination when you’re staying in a draughty hut.” He flashed his teeth in a disarming smile, and Gabriel’s chest warmed.
“I…erm…yes, it’s a bit chilly.” He stepped aside to let Chris in, a little embarrassed for not having any lights on.
“Do you have enough wood to manage?” Chris glanced at the wood-burning stove and frowned. “Why haven’t you lit it? It’s freezing in here.”
Gabriel’s face heated. He should’ve tried to light the fire again, but instead, he stood there like a useless Michelin Man dressed in every piece of too-small clothing he had.
“I…I… There was so much smoke I thought I would suffocate.” Gabriel hid his hands behind his back as he waited for Chris to realise what an incompetent fool he was.
Chris Hart owns the only grocery shop in Nortown, but he isn’t exactly overrun by customers. Some days he wonders why he bothers to open the doors at all. Spending his days smiling at the few people trickling in and his nights alone in bed isn’t the most interesting life a man could lead. But when Chris suddenly gets the excitement he’s been craving, it may be more than he bargained for.
Gabriel Miller loves his life. He’s close to his sister, has a job he adores and is the proud owner of one and a half cats. But all of it is taken away when he witnesses a murder. To keep him safe, the police place him in Nortown, of all possible locations.
Chris can’t believe they’re letting someone live in his gran’s old cabin in the middle of the winter. It’s too cold. When the poor man shows up in his shop looking to buy clothes, Chris’s heart melts, despite the freezing temperature. Gabriel notices the way the shopkeeper looks at him, but it can’t be right. No one looks at a heavyset man with heat in their eyes. Do they?