An Inner Darkness (Bay City Paranormal Investigations book 5) is now available for purchase from all the usual vendors.
All hell’s about to break loose. Literally.
After more than a year as a couple—and plenty of bumps along the road—Sam Raintree and Dr. Bo Broussard are finally settling into life together. Bo has come to terms with his sexuality, their business is thriving, and Sam has begun to accept his role as a step-parent of sorts to Bo’s sons, Sean and Adrian. If only Adrian could accept him, the only dark spot would be his less-than-friendly relationship with Bo’s ex-wife, Janine.
When eleven-year-old Adrian begins exhibiting signs of psychokinesis—the same ability which allows Sam to manipulate interdimensional portals—the friction between Sam, Bo and Janine escalates. Sam and Bo have reason to believe Adrian’s raw, uncontrolled talent poses a danger to him and those around him. Janine, however, believes Sam and Bo are encouraging dangerous delusions on Adrian’s part. Common ground is nonexistent, anger and hard words ever-present.
Caught in the middle of the conflict and burdened with an ability he can’t yet control, Adrian is soon pushed beyond his limits. With Adrian’s mind—and the lives of everyone around him—hanging in the balance, Sam and Bo race against time to save both boys and keep an otherworldly horror from breaking free.
Copyright 1st edition © 2008 Ally Blue
Copyright 2nd edition © 2018 Ally Blue
(re-edited by me, Ally, for re-release as a self-published title)
“Happy birthday, dear Sean, happy birthday to you.”
The song ended and the group burst into applause as Sean Broussard blew out the nine candles on his cake. He grinned, big hazel eyes shining at his family and friends gathered around the kitchen table.
Sam Raintree watched with a smile. The boy’s obvious joy made the effort of being civil to his mother worthwhile.
As if he’d sensed Sam’s thoughts, Sean’s father, Dr. Bo Broussard, turned and met Sam’s gaze. Sam gave his lover a wide grin. Bo grinned back before turning to cut his son’s cake.
“Give Sam a corner, Dad,” Sean instructed. “He likes lots of icing.”
“I know.” Bo arched an eyebrow at Sam. “Sam has very strange tastes sometimes.”
From somewhere to his right, Sam heard a faint snort. He glanced over at Janine, Sean’s mother, who was standing a few feet away wearing the big fake smile she’d had plastered on her face ever since she and her boyfriend, Lee Rogers, had arrived. Her gaze met Sam’s, and her smile faltered. For a second, hatred and hurt blazed in her eyes. Then she turned away, the corners of her mouth hitching up again as her bland mask slipped back into place.
Sam swallowed a sigh. She was trying, for Sean’s sake, just as they all were. He knew she was. But her feelings were crystal clear. She hated Sam just as much now as she had when she’d first learned he was the reason Bo had left her.
When he thought about it, Sam supposed it was a minor miracle that the three of them had managed to be in the same room for almost an hour already without one insult being hurled at anyone. Of course, it might’ve been a different story if they hadn’t all promised Sean an argument-free birthday party with his whole family and all his friends together.
Sam smiled to himself. Only Sean could sweet talk people who hated each other into spending an afternoon together without fighting.
Bo held out a plate with an icing-laden corner slice on it. “Here, Sam.”
Moving to Bo’s side, Sam took the plate and picked up a red plastic fork from the pile beside the cake. “Thanks.” He leaned closer and lowered his voice. “So far, so good, huh?”
“Yes, thankfully.” Bo handed two plates to his oldest son, eleven-year-old Adrian, who stood silent and sullen beside his father. “Take these to your mom and Lee, okay?”
Adrian gave him a baleful look, but did as he was told. Sam watched as he handed Janine and Lee their cake. Janine’s smile morphed into a more genuine one, though the expression in her eyes was guarded. She thanked Adrian and stroked his hair, once, lightly. Lee took his plate with a muttered thanks. His expression was tight, his discomfort with Adrian clear. Even after six months with Janine, he always seemed to wear that look around Adrian, and it hurt Sam’s heart to see it.
His own relationship with Adrian had never been easy, but he had to give himself credit for the effort he’d put into getting along with the child. Lee never seemed to try very hard, at least as far as Sam could see, though admittedly he hadn’t spent much time with the man. Adrian was a smart boy, every bit as intelligent and observant as his father. He must’ve felt Lee’s uneasiness around him. He was already struggling to come to terms with his parents’ divorce, his father’s homosexuality, and having Sam in his life. How hard must it be for him to live with a stranger who didn’t like him on top of everything else? Sam wondered what, if anything, Janine had said to Lee about it.
Bo’s hand on the small of his back brought him out of his thoughts. He blinked and focused on Bo’s face. “Sorry, was I zoning out?”
“Yes.” Bo took Sam’s arm and steered him into the open kitchen on the other side of their small apartment. “Is everything all right?”
That was their secret code for “what’s Janine done now?” Nodding, Sam set his untouched cake on the counter. “Everything’s fine.”
Bo didn’t look convinced. “What were you thinking about?”
“Really, it was nothing.”
Bo crossed his arms and leveled an “I know better” look at Sam. Sam sighed. “Okay, I was thinking about Adrian. He’s having such a hard time adjusting to everything. I just wish Lee would make more of effort with him, and I really wish Janine would at least pretend she gives a damn.”
“She does. It just doesn’t always show on the outside.” Bo’s lips curved into a humorless smile. “You know better than probably anyone else how difficult Adrian can be when he sets his mind to it, and he makes things even worse for Lee than he does for you. You don’t see it like I do, since you don’t go with me to pick up the boys at Janine’s and take them back again, but it’s true.”
A familiar resentment swelled in Sam’s chest. “I’d go with you if you’d let me.” Even though he wasn’t particularly anxious to spend more time with Janine, it still rankled that Bo wanted him to stay home rather than go with him to pick up the boys at their mothers’. So Sam might’ve started an argument or two. Or more than two. He was a part of Bo’s life now. He resented being pushed aside.
With a deep sigh, Bo wove his fingers through Sam’s. “Look, I know it seems like Lee isn’t trying, but he is, really. He just needs more time.”
“Okay. I guess you’re right.” Sam glanced at the group around the table. Sean was laughing with his friends, cake crumbs clinging to his chin and a smear of blue icing decorating his cheek. Adrian stood a little apart from the rest, silent and glowering, his arms crossed over his chest like a shield. “He looks exactly like you—hell, he is exactly like you in most ways—but he reminds me so much of myself at that age. I just wish he’d let me help him.”
Sam wasn’t certain how to help Adrian, or what exactly he wanted to help him with. All he knew was that he couldn’t bear to see a child looking as alone and out of place as he himself had once been, and he wanted to make it better if he could.
Bo squeezed Sam’s hand. “You’re a good man, Sam. The boys and I are lucky to have you in our lives. One day, Adrian will realize that.”
“I hope you’re right. I don’t want him to hate me forever. It’s too damn hard on all of us.”
“I’m right. You’ll see.” Smiling, Bo tugged Sam toward the birthday crowd. “Come on. Sean’ll be ready to open presents soon.”
Sam let himself be led back into the thick of the party. For a second, Adrian’s gaze met his. He smiled at him. Adrian held Sam’s gaze for a heartbeat before turning away.
It wasn’t exactly a declaration of undying affection, but it was as close as Adrian had ever come to being friendly to Sam. Right now, that was good enough for him.
After the cake was eaten and all the presents opened and exclaimed over, Sean and his friends decided to go outside and play on the jungle gym in the backyard of the converted mansion where Sam and Bo’s apartment was located. Watching the gang of youngsters from the back porch swing, Sam thanked his lucky stars once again that he and Bo had been able to stay in the same building when they switched apartments back in April. With only one bedroom, Sam’s old place had been too small to accommodate the boys when they came for their every-other-weekend visits with their father, but neither Sam nor Bo had wanted to leave the lovely old house. The large, shady backyard with the jungle gym and playhouse was only one of the reasons they wanted to stay. The vacancy on the third floor had come at the perfect time, and they’d snapped it up the minute the building’s owner informed them it was available.
Sam drew a deep breath of fragrant autumn air. The mid-October day was warm and sunny and the yard rang with laughter. Away from Janine’s accusing gaze, he felt lazy and content.
He looked up when the back door squeaked open. Adrian stormed out and kicked the door shut with a bang that shook the walls. He stomped across the porch and stood at the top of the steps with both small fists clenched tight, glaring at the back fence as if it had done something horrible to him. He didn’t seem to have noticed Sam sitting in the swing in the shadows at the edge of the porch.
Sam didn’t much like trying to talk to Adrian when he was like this, and he knew Adrian wasn’t any more fond of it than he was. But the longer he sat there and said nothing, the angrier Adrian would be when he found out Sam had been sitting there watching him all along.
Here goes nothing. Sam cleared his throat. “Adrian?”
The boy’s head whipped around, sending a hank of his overlong black bangs flying into his eyes. His face twisted into a scowl when he spotted Sam. Lips pressed into an angry line, he shoved his hair out of his face and started toward the back door again.
Acting on pure instinct, Sam stood and took a step toward him. “Are they fighting again?”
The expression that crossed Adrian’s face told Sam he was right. He bit back a sigh. It wasn’t the first time Janine and Bo had gotten into a screaming match, nor was it the first time one or both of the boys had witnessed it. They tried to keep their interactions civil in front of the kids, but there was still a great deal of anger and resentment between them, and sometimes it came out in less than ideal ways.
Reclaiming his spot on the swing, Sam gestured to the empty space beside him. “You want to sit out here for a while?”
Adrian hesitated. He glanced from Sam to the door and back again. With a shrug, he shuffled over and plopped down on the swing, as far away from Sam as he could get.
They sat in silence while Sean and the other boys chased each other across the yard in some wild game only they understood. Sam stole a sidelong glance at Adrian. He sat with his arms crossed over his belly, head down, frowning at the blue-painted boards beneath his feet. Something about him seemed different, though Sam couldn’t put his finger on it.
“So.” Sam cast around for something to say that wouldn’t destroy the fragile peace between them. He couldn’t think of anything, so he asked the question uppermost in his mind at the moment. “What’re your mom and dad fighting about this time?”
To Sam’s surprise, Adrian let out a harsh laugh. “Me and Sean. What else?”
“What? Is your—” Sam cut himself off before he could ask if Janine was trying to screw Bo out of visitation again. No matter how much he might hate the woman sometimes, he refused to say anything against her in front of her sons.
Adrian shot him a glance far too bitter and knowing for an eleven-year-old. “No.”
Sam waited. Adrian scowled at the ground.
After several seconds of mental back-and-forth, Sam decided to go ahead and ask. “So what is it?”
“I told you.”
“You told me they were fighting about you and Sean. You didn’t tell me what exactly it was.”
Adrian darted a fierce glare at Sam from beneath his bangs. “It’s none of your business.”
If Bo had heard Adrian speak to Sam in such a way, he would’ve berated the boy. Sam couldn’t bring himself to do the same. He could hardly blame Adrian for resenting him.
Turning sideways and curling one leg beneath him, Sam studied Adrian’s profile. Adrian was a child who appreciated honesty. Maybe telling him the truth would earn his respect.
“I understand why you think it isn’t my business,” Sam said, keeping his voice low and even. “Maybe you’re right. But I love your father. I plan on being with him for the long haul. You and your brother are more important to him than anything else in the world, and that makes you both important to me.” He risked a slight smile. “Besides, the more I get to know you and Sean, the more I like you.”
“Everybody likes Sean,” Adrian muttered, kicking the toe of one black sneaker against the floor.
Sam didn’t contradict him. Insulting Adrian’s intelligence by trying to pretend what he’d said wasn’t true wouldn’t endear Sam to him.
“He’s a likeable kid. But so are you. You’re just harder to get to know, that’s all. I’m kind of that way myself.” Sam started to reach out and touch Adrian’s arm, then thought better of it. “I know it must be pretty rough getting used to everything that’s going on. If you want to talk, I promise to listen, and help you if I can.”
Adrian fixed Sam with a penetrating stare so like Bo’s it gave Sam chills. Sam gazed back, doing his best to look calm and relaxed. The silence hung heavy and charged between them. The laughter and shouting in the yard seemed far away.
Hanging his head, Adrian studied the hole in the knee of his jeans. “Dad was mad at Mom because…”
He trailed off. Sam waited.
“She said…” Adrian glanced at Sam from beneath a curtain of dark hair, and this time the misery and apprehension in his eyes was crystal clear. “She wants to—”
The back door banged open. Janine strode out in a palpable fury. “Sean,” she called. “Lee and I are leaving now. Come say goodbye.”
Sean’s head poked out from behind the gigantic oak tree in the back corner of the yard. He dashed across the grass, barreled up the steps and flung himself at his mother so hard she staggered backward a couple of steps. “Bye, Mom,” he said, small arms squeezing her tight.
“Bye, baby.” She leaned down and kissed the top of Sean’s head. “I love you.”
“Love you too.” He tilted his head up to give her a questioning look. “Where’s Lee?”
“Waiting in the car. I’ll tell him goodbye for you.”
“’Kay. Thanks.” Grinning, Sean let go of Janine, waved at Sam and Adrian and plunged back into whatever game he and his friends were playing.
Janine turned toward the swing where Adrian and Sam sat watching her in silence. Her shoulders were tight, the warm smile she’d worn for Sean nowhere to be seen. “Adrian? Come give me a hug?”
For a moment, Adrian just stared at her with such contempt Sam almost felt sorry for her. Then he shrugged, pushed to his feet, walked over to his mother and gave her a perfunctory hug.
Janine put her arms around her son and kissed his hair. “I love you, honey.”
If Adrian noticed the slight quaver in her voice, he gave no sign of it. “Me too. Bye.”
Adrian drew out of Janine’s embrace, went to the door and disappeared inside. Sam sat still and silent in the swing, trying to be invisible. Dealing with Adrian was hard, but they were making progress. Dealing with Janine was a fucking nightmare, one Sam didn’t feel like facing today.
For a second, he thought he might actually avoid it. Janine stood there, statue-still, breathing a little too fast, staring at the door like she could bring her oldest son back through sheer force of will. She rubbed the fingers of one hand together, a nervous gesture. Her throat worked. She leaned forward, just a little bit, as if she intended to follow Adrian inside.
Please just go, Sam thought at her. You don’t want to talk to me either. Just go.
No such luck. She blinked several times, visibly gathered herself, and faced Sam with the ice-cold stare she seemed to reserve for him. “Well. That could’ve gone better.”
“Could’ve gone worse.”
She pursed her lips. Crossed her arms and looked away. “What did you say to him?”
“The truth. That I love Bo, and I plan to be part of his life for the long haul. That he and Sean are more important to Bo than anything, and they’re important to me too.” Sam watched Janine’s face, searching for some sign of what she felt, but her mask held firm. “I wanted him to know that I realize all this has got to be hard for him, and that he can talk to me if he needs to.”
He expected a scathing remark, or at least cutting laughter. He got neither. Janine’s fingers dug into the flesh of her elbow where her arms crossed. “And…what did he say to you?” A faint tremor ran through her voice.
Sam studied her as closely as he dared. He’d never seen her like this before. “He was upset because you and Bo were fighting again. He’s having a tough enough time. When y’all yell at each other it just makes it worse.”
The second the words were out, Sam knew he shouldn’t have said it. Not because it wasn’t true, but because she knew it as well as he did. Better, even. And nobody liked having their obvious fuck-ups pointed out to them.
Janine’s blank mask dissolved into a familiar fury. Her arms dropped to her sides and she glared at Sam with large hazel eyes just like Sean’s. “You have the nerve to tell me I can’t be angry with Bo? That I can’t yell at him, after what he’s done to me?”
“None of this would’ve happened if it hadn’t been for you.” She stabbed a shaking finger at him. “You came waltzing into our lives and destroyed my marriage. You put Bo in danger with your stupid…” She waved both hands in the air. “I don’t know. Whatever you did, it nearly killed him, twice.”
That one hit hard. Even though Sam knew he wasn’t to blame for either of the times the otherdimensional creatures wounded Bo, he still felt a vague sort of guilt over it. He wasn’t entirely sure why, though he suspected his psychic connection to the portals and the things on the other side had something to do with it.
Janine didn’t know any of that. Nor would she ever, if Sam had anything to say about it. She just liked to blame Sam for everything bad that had happened in the past year. He understood that, in a way. His struggle for perspective when it came to Janine was an ongoing one.
She wasn’t done. “And now you’re invading Bo’s time with the boys, filling their heads with bullshit about portals and monsters and other dimensions and God only knows what else.”
Sam gaped. “Wait, what?”
“They need their father, okay? But…” She drew a deep breath and blew it out. Pressed one hand to the side of her head. “I know that the BCPI business is important to Bo. That’s fine. I’ve never had a problem with that. But I draw the line at having either of you try to convince my children that any of that crap is real. I just…I won’t have it. I need you and Bo to understand that.”
Sam had no idea what to say. Not that he got a chance. Janine spun on her heel and strode inside. Sam sat there in the swing, wondering what the hell had just happened, and what it meant.