The Long Con: The Muscle


A true protector will guard your heart before his own.

Hunter Rutledge saw one too many people die in his life as mercenary muscle to go back to the job, so he was conveniently at loose ends when Josh Salinger offered him a place in his altruistic den of thieves.

Hunter is almost content having found a home with a group of people who want justice badly enough to steal it. If only one of them didn’t keep stealing his attention from the task at hand….

Superlative dancer and transcendent thief Dylan “Grace” Li lives in the moment. But when mobsters blackmail the people who gave him dance—and the means to save his own soul—Grace turns to Josh for help.

Unfortunately, working with Josh’s crew means working with Hunter Rutledge, and for Grace, that’s more dangerous than any heist.

Grace’s childhood left him thinking he was too difficult to love—so he’s better off not risking his love on anyone else. Avoiding commitment keeps him safe. But somehow Hunter’s solid, grounding presence makes him feel safer. Can Grace trust that letting down his guard to a former mercenary doesn’t mean he’ll get shot in the heart.

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So, I’ve made no secret of taking a lot of inspiration from the heist genre movies that I love so much. I’m gonna tell y’all right now–Hunter is an homage to Elliot from Leverage. 

No, not everything is the same. For one thing, I don’t think Hunter had nearly the need for redemption that Elliot had when Leverage started, and for another, Hunter doesn’t mind guns–and he doesn’t cook. And Elliot doesn’t have Hunter’s magic Kevlar lined leather coat that so fascinates Grace, either!

But I wanted a tough guy who treated his body like a weapon–and who understand that human nature is more than just a predictive tool to find a mark. Someone who could have patience with Dylan Li and work to understand this highly unpredictable creature, someone whose emotional reactions are specific and unique, and whose attachment to Josh Salinger, while platonic, is every bit as important as his attachment to a lover.

Elliot gave me that feeling–and part of that is, of course, because of the actor, Christian Kane, and part of that is Dean Devlin (the producer of the show) and his ability to give us archetypes we cling to with our needy, greedy little hearts. So Hunter is an homage to that archetype, the mercenary with the heart of gold, the gentle soldier, the scary guy who takes the wild card under his wing and protects him with all his skill. 

And as for Grace?

As Goddess is my witness, my inspiration for Grace is my daughter’s wayward cat, Nebula.

Nebula, who can leave a bird head in the middle of Squish’s room and lick his paws in a litter of feathers, asking us why we seem so excited. Nebula who purr-attacks faces in the morning, finishing up with love bites and drool. Sometimes into our mouths. Nebula, who has stalked every animal in the house and pounced on it, then sat back and tried to make friends.

Nebula, fearless, graceful, adept at stealing, be it yarn, small objects from Squish’s room, or (sadly) baby birds from their nests. 

And Nebula–kind, affectionate, playful, and beautiful, who deserves to be worshipped and adored, but will only ever have one true human who can do that in full force.

That’s Nebula–and that’s Grace. Except for the bird heads and the drooling into the mouth–but there are equivocal behaviors in Grace, I think you can spot them.

I’m on the fourth book of this series (Carl, the suit, and Carmichael Carmody–Michael–whom you will meet in the next book.) I have listened to podcasts, watched and rewatched heist movies and series, and fallen in love with the genre all over again, and I think I’ve nailed down what appeals to me.

We see–again and again and again–people in power who abuse the little guy. They are usually greedy and humorless and insist that everybody obeys the rules but them. To see people who don’t want fame or even money use their own unique skills to bring those people down–that’s satisfying. To see them do it with humor, kindness, a sense of play and all those things that those of us on the bottom of the food chain use to make our lives comfortable, bearable even–that feeds our souls. Somehow, we are getting the better of things. The angry assholes at the top of the food chain will never know that as awful as they are–and as much harm as they do–they’re being laughed at. Those of us who enjoy our everyday lives with snark and banter and whimsy–we don’t get them at all. We can win without making the rest of humanity miserable. I think that’s what heist stories–modern trickster tales– do for us. They give us equality in an unequal universe.

Danny tells Stirling that in the first book of the series. I hope I can make that idea play through until the end.

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