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Tere Michaels - The Heir Apparent

Tere Michaels - The Heir Apparent

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Published by: Lllluna on Mar 09, 2013
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Tere Michaels


The He ir Appare nt Copyright © Fe bruary 2013 by Te re Michae ls All rights reserved. This copy is intended for the original purchaser of this e-book ONLY. No part of this e- book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without prior written permission from Loose Id LLC. Please do no participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author's rights. Purchase only authorized editions. eISBN 9781623002589 Editor: Antonia Pearce Cover Artist: Dar Albert

Published in the United States of America Loose Id LLC PO Box 809 San Francisco CA 94104-0809 www.loose-id.com This e-book is a work of fiction. While reference might be made to actual historical events or existing locations, the names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author ’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Warning This e-book contains sexually explicit scenes and adult language and may be considered offensive to some readers. Loose Id LLC’s e-books are for sale to adults ONLY, as defined by the laws of the country in which you made your purchase. Please store your files wisely, where they cannot be accessed by under- aged readers. * * * * DISCLAIMER: Please do not try an new sexual practice, especially those that might be found in our BDSM/fetis titles without the guidance of an experienced practitioner. Neither Loose

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For L.G., who never stopped believing this one would happen. Even when I did. Thank you.

Chapter One

Archie Banks pulled the SUV through the evening traffic—that unique blend of madness on the Upper East Side that included tourists, residents, and businesspeople, clogging the sidewalks and filling up the restaurants that lined the affluent neighborhoods. Winter had given way to a sunny April, and no one was eager to get inside. Archie parked illegally in front of the WalkCom building, tossing a wave through the window at the meter maid patrolling the area. She gave him a flirty smile. And didn’t make him move.

The console clock read 5:55; he didn’t expect Henry to be early, so he cranked the Metallica and the air- conditioning, and loosened his tie. He anticipated a quick end-of-the-day trip— drop Henry off, go home to get ready for dinner with his mother, make dinner with his mother on time, then get home before ten to finish his homework. Tomorrow morning his start time was early due to a business meeting in Westchester. Which meant Mr. Walker would be gracing him with his presence. He had to remember to dust the backseat—and make sure there was Mozart, not Metallica playing when he opened the door. Mr. Walker ’s only son, Henry, was

and his business degree didn’t stress the importance of magical realism. Walker in the parking garage at the Met. there was no “next semester. Archie had never blown the senior Mr. For the first time in six years. but sometimes there were limited options when it came to class selection. Archie dug out the book he was reading—Love in the Time of Cholera—for one of his three online classes. and flipped the worn paperback to chapter ten.” Six weeks and he was done. Also.far less high maintenance. Fiction wasn’t something he generally had time for. Soon he’d have a job that didn’t . Then again. it didn’t matter—not anymore.

WalkCom had been signing his paychecks since he was seventeen.require a gun permit and a uniform. it was home in so many ways. It was wonderful and terrifying all at once. It was also where Henry was. He was already job hunting— sending out applications and letters to the myriad of companies in New York City. and while it was hardly his life’s dream to caretake rich people. He straightened his suit jacket— specially tailored to fit his broad shoulders and six-foot-five-inch frame— . His phone buzzed a few minutes later. and Archie now had a part to play. It was Henry’s signal that he was on his way down.

He slid his black sunglasses into place to hide his amused gaze. Archie preferred to flash his brawn right up front. He walked to the opposite side of the vehicle. but a few tourists flashed him alarmed expressions. Henry Walker came flying out the . leaning against the door with a dangerous air.and readjusted his tie. a flexing of his muscles under the heavy weight of his navy suit. and he exited the driver ’s-side door with an exaggerated stretch of his muscular body. Archie Banks looked scary as shit. Some bodyguards got by blending into the background. People skittering along the sidewalk generally didn’t notice him.

” “Oh. .” Archie sighed as he slammed the door. His boss—and lover—gave him a solid eye roll as he walked by. opening the back door with a sharp jerk as Henry got close. “Home?” Archie asked when he got into the front seat. narrowly missing Henry’s tasseled loafer. Archie went into chauffeur mode.front doors a second later. locking the doors and lowering the epic beats of “Enter Sandman” before Henry died from having real music inflicted on his ears. that joke never gets old. blond hair slightly too long and in his eyes as he hustled to the car like the hounds of hell were on his heels. “Ah-nuld.

” Henry sounded anything but enthused.” Henry said. “Are we waiting for your father?” He felt a slight panic—this wasn’t his best tie. “Let’s stop and pick up some wine. “No. Norman is taking the other car. Apparently I am required to attend dinner with Norman and Libby. “You need to change first?” “Why? Do I look rumpled or something?” Henry’s eyebrows formed a snooty upside-down vee.“Unfortunately not. and Archie checked the dash.” Archie pulled away from the curb. which Archie . and he was sure the backseat could use a vacuuming. Maybe flowers?” “Not a problem. and we’re supposed to meet him up there.

. That shouldn’t make us too late. “Are you staying over at the house.” He sighed dramatically even as a flattering flush pinked his cheeks. or am I waiting?” Archie made a quick right as soon as the light turned green. but I know for a fact you’re not wearing any underwear.found strangely attractive as he watched in the rearview mirror. drop me off at my apartment. “No. and pick me up when you’re done.” Archie nodded. where Henry’s apartment building was. grab the wine and flowers. heading toward West End Avenue. “Fine. cutting through the swarms of cabs and commuters to get into the left lane.

” “I’ll eat dinner with Magnus. “That a problem?” Archie didn’t say anything for a long moment. “That isn’t what I asked.“Staying over. “My hours are what you decide they are. Again.” He shrugged.” Henry flashed him a frown in the mirror.” he said. It would wreak a bit of havoc with his schedule. not to mention break a dinner date with his mother and delay homework until tomorrow since he didn’t have time to run home and grab his laptop. settling quickly into a more formal tone. looking out the window with the frown still in place. then finish my book. “That isn’t an answer. .” Henry muttered.

free skin left. and not now.” Archie said with a smirk. Now stop frowning.Archie rolled his eyes. “It’s fine—but you still owe me. he had never been good at ignoring Henry when he was pouting. “You can collect double. .” Archie teased. Not twenty-five years ago when they were children together.” Henry murmured. A small smile crawled across Henry’s mouth as their gazes met in the rearview mirror. He licked his lips slowly. his voice gentle. You only have a few good years of wrinkle. “Deal. Archie managed to keep the Hummer off the sidewalk.

“Duly noted. There were three bottles of Chateau Malescot St Exupery in the portable cooler on the floor of the front seat and two-dozen purple hydrangeas wrapped in green paper laid neatly next to him. and he needed to break the news . **** Archie swung around and idled at the entrance of the building.” But Henry was definitely pleased as he flipped open his phone and began scrolling. His mother would be home from physical therapy by now. He checked the dashboard clock and picked up his phone. He lowered the volume on the Pantera flooding the Hummer with sound.

“’Lo?” “Mum.” Evelyn Banks went from those strong. Walker had hired a fellow Brit for a reason.” . And since Mr. I just got home. “Archie. Long years of answering another family’s phones as an employee gave her quite the artificial affectation —until she knew it was her pride and joy calling. it’s Archie. but I have beef and potatoes in the oven for you.that he wouldn’t be home for dinner. reserved British tones to a delighted coo in ten seconds flat. darling. she made sure to never lose a speck of her accent. Again.

“But I’m afraid I have to work tonight. Archie closed his eyes. the tap of her cane and the drag of her leg against the floor.” he said gently. All the arguing in the world couldn’t convince her to come live with him in the city after her stroke. tried to school his voice into something other than resigned. . Can I come and have a late lunch with you tomorrow instead?” He caught the sigh under her breath. Mum. If she only knew. she liked her freedom. and she also liked pretending Archie needed his privacy for relationships. “That sounds delicious.He could hear her shuffling about the small kitchen of her Brooklyn apartment.

” she said. I haven’t seen him in an age. “We’re heading up shortly. familiar false cheer and all.” The formality drilled into him during his youth slipped into his voice. “Say hello to Magnus for me.“Of course. looking quickly at the entrance. then?” “Yes.” “Will do. and Mrs. my love. he realized he needed to get back to work.” “Ah well. “Are you going up to the house. Like a sixth sense. “Listen. You just call when you’re on your way.” Archie sat up from his sprawl.” Evelyn knew all too well. Henry has dinner with Mr. duty calls. I have to go. Walker. Mum—Henry’s coming.” . and I’ll warm it up. Understandable.

Archie.” “Yes. See you tomorrow. “Get everything?” Henry asked. Mum.” Archie switched off the phone and tucked it away in the console.” Archie laughed. “Tell him I’ll bake his favorite apple tarts if he lets my boy have a day off now and again. “Love you.“Say hello to him too.” “Love you too. He handed Archie his overnight bag.” . “All set. then hooked the suit bag inside the vehicle himself. We should get going. shifting his bags.” his mother said drily. An adjustment to his tie and he was out the door to meet Henry on the sidewalk.

You’ll be driving . “It’s in my bag. your extra kit. doing things as a couple would. but still—it sucked to be without basic comfort items. his voice pitched low even though there was no one around to hear him. “I know you didn’t have a chance to go home. embarrassed— and pleased—at Henry’s thoughtful gesture. There was an extra suit up at the house. and he assumed Henry was the same. inwardly cringing as he realized he didn’t have his shaving kit.” Henry murmured as he got into the backseat. He didn’t let himself think that way. They weren’t like that.” Archie flushed a bit.Archie opened the door.” “Oh—thanks. “No problem.

and no one wants a spot inspection to go badly. Meetings— endless. No. endless meetings—had given way to a tedious lunch with his godfather. **** Henry leaned against the posh leather seats.Norman tomorrow. David. no one wanted that. All had culminated in a summons . to go over the particulars of their presentation tomorrow.” he teased. followed by hours of phone calls his father wanted him to make to various stockholders about the upcoming vote. trying to relax after the hectic rush of his day. flashing his gorgeous smile as Archie shut the door.

and Henry was starting to feel paranoid and unsettled by his father ’s behavior. There had been a moment when he’d almost said no—but Norman had been acting strangely for weeks. “Sorry—too much on my mind.to his father ’s office and an order to come to dinner. Just another day as the only son and heir of Norman Walker. Maybe he could steal a minute to speak to his stepmother. inquire about his father’s health. Exhausting.” “Ah. “You’re quiet. so a day ending in y.” Archie said. pulling him out of his brooding. Frustrating.” .

and his . “What?” “I’m…” Archie paused. a moment shared from their childhood.” Henry checked his messages again. when Magnus. had promised to forward some research on the company they were trying to buy in Thailand. and his voice held an odd note. “July?” Henry looked up. And Father is hinting at a trip to Japan in July. “There’s a lot going on before the board meeting.They both laughed. would conclude their regular scoldings with that phrase. his assistant. Kit. the butler. Archie’s shoulders had crept up a notch.

“Yes. but…” “You don’t have to come. ed ’s dropp Henry “You’re interviewing for jobs. the precise enunciation. “Yes. I realize I can’t make demands when it comes to my job duties.” The cool tone. If your father insists on it…” Henry swallowed. when one is uncomfortable. one must not sound uncomfortable. I’m interviewing. Of course that worked better with people who didn’t read you like a book. I do. he could feel a . Archie sighed.” Petulance.awkwardness unpleasant in realization. of course.

faint sweat popping onto his skin.” Words so loaded that the second they were spoken. “You need to start interviewing someone to replace me. the entire car seemed to fill with dread and gloom. The rest of the ride was tense. Henry felt his throat tighten. awful silence.” he snapped. **** All the lights were on as they pulled around to the front of the Tudor mansion Henry had grown up in. “I’ll have Human Resources ge right on that. circular driveway crunched under the wheels of the Hummer as they . The graveled.

” Henry hurried up the walk and stairs to kiss Libby on the cheek. “We have lovely gifts from our trip for you. clearly alerted by the alarm system when the car had passed through the front gates a mile down the road. “Son. “Father.” his stepmother said sweetly. Libby. “I’ve missed you.parked near the hedged lily pond near the steps. Norman and Libby were waiting. her red hair tied back like a prim schoolmarm’s.” . clasping Norman’s hand tightly.” Norman called as Archie opened the door and Henry stepped out. She was perfectly turned out in a black skirt and cream twinset.

“Bring Henry’s bags up to his room. and Henry resisted the urge to turn around. and then you can park the car.” Henry tucked his hands behind his back. forgot something. then. Archie was standing at attention.” Henry said. turning and then hurrying down the steps.“Looking forward to hearing all about it. . Dinner ’s waiting.” “Yes. still neat as a pin in his work suit. Archie?” Norman was leaning around Henry. his voice smooth. “Let’s go. his blue eyes cool and not at all looking in Henry’s direction.” Archie was back at the Hummer. “Oh wait. sir.

” Henry said quietly. Henry allowed himself a second of madness to touch his fingers to Archie’s wrist.” he murmured.” Henry took a deep breath and followed Archie around the other side of the Hummer. noting the way Archie . affording them a bit of privacy in the dusk.” Archie intoned. aware his father and stepmother were watching as he stopped at an appropriate distance from his lover. Archie was pulling the wine out of the cooler and tucking it into a handled tote bag. “Allow me. he was already moving. “Front seat.“The flowers and the wine. “I’ll come to the pool house.

” Archie gave him a penetrating glare. he . ignoring Archie’s snipe.” Henry kept talking. Bring it in with you. Henry—you meeting the help under the cover of darkness after his lordship is asleep. Henry collected the bag with the wine and the bouquet of flowers. “Leave a bottle in there.stiffened at his words. “How positively M asterpiece Theatre. “Father and Libby will be in bed by ten. Archie didn’t say anything. Relieved.” Archie muttered. Without another word. but he left a bottle of wine in the cooler. closing it with a heavy thunk. a look that seemed to register in Henry’s bones. I’ll come down.

” Norman turned to head back into the house.” They walked into the house. “Come along.walked quickly back to where Norman and Libby were waiting. her smile pleased as she took Henry’s arm.” “We’ve already got a bottle opened. But I’m sure you chose something nice. my favorite.necked butler who waited like a sentry in the grand foyer. “You’re very sweet. trailing behind Norman as he nodded to the stiff. “I have wine for dinner.” Henry handed Libby the flowers. “Sorry—these are for you.” Libby held back. . These flowers are beautiful— and purple.

another world.” They continued on.” “Magnus. still arm in arm. madam.“Mr. put them in some water?” Libby asked. . The cook says dinner will be ready in ten minutes.” “Perfect timing. handing the bouquet to Magnus. “Could you give these to Hilary. he predated even Norman in this house. thank you. and no one—no one—dared ask. Walker. At this point no one was sure of his actual age.” The white-haired butler was a relic of another time. “Yes. his squat form stuffed into his ever-present black suit. He barely came up to Henry’s shoulder.

cut glass tumbler.and Henry wondered if Magnus and the staff thought his and Libby’s relationship oddly intimate. M y lover is leaving soon. the low . drinking his usual scotch from a square. The drawing room loomed ahead.” Henry s a i d . Norman stood at the glowing fireplace. The crystal chandelier overhead threw just enough light for Henry to make out the monoliths of his childhood. Some traffic.colored velvet wing chairs. the way his father did. the leather sofa and soft chocolate. “How was the drive?” “Uneventful. and I don’t know what to say or do about it. He assumed they all thought he was straight. Or wished he was.

” Norman gestured with his drink toward Henry. This room. Henry knew his mother had decorated this room for his father.” Henry sat on the sofa.five-year-old memorial. “Please. back straight and shoulders . letting go of Henry to walk to the bar. “Something to drink?” “No.” Libby said. and nothing. even as the rest of the house underwent a makeover with every new Mrs.walnut tables and crystal lamps. “Oh dear. Libby. Walker. He knows where the kitchen is. He grew up here. however. was a twenty. not a single thing. had been changed from her initial work. I forgot to tell Archie to get dinner in the kitchen. thank you.

Henry got lost for a moment. her tone just slightly nervous as she perched on a chair close to Norman. He’s so quiet and serious—was he like that as a boy?” Libby chattered. If Archie forgets to come for dinner. getting far too dirty for Henry’s nanny’s liking. “That’s very kind of you. For all the scolding and threats to tell his father. They won’t let him starve. no one had ever ratted them out— . I forget sometimes that he’s always been a fixture around here.” “Right. remembering running helter-skelter through the property with Archie. really. of course. Magnus will send someone around to get him.relaxed. But Father is right.

His mother ’s influence. We shouldn’t talk badly about him. “Oh God.” Henry said quietly. “The man’s dead. Archie was a nightmare. the boy didn’t end up like his father. Since he was seldom there. . But he grew out of it. and they didn’t necessarily agree with Norman’s stern parenting rules. Always dragging Henry into some mess. no. The staff liked Henry.not even when they brought home garter snakes in their shorts after an epic day of “safari-ing” near the marshes. clearly. looking down at his shoes.” There was something harsh in Norman’s tone. Thankfully. Father. they tended to defer to what Camille would have wanted.

“But no matter.andorange floral of the rug. I’ll be sorry when he leaves. Henry? I would assume he’ll be heading off for a proper job when he’s through. “Leaves?” Libby asked.” Henry said absently. “He’s nearly done with his degree.” Henry sat up a bit straighter. “What’s his degree in?” “International business.” Norman sipped his drink after his last words. .how they clashed with the faded red. “Deadbeat and a gambler.” Libby sat down on the sofa next to Henry. Archie has proven himself an excellent employee. isn’t he.

” “Four point oh. Norman. WalkCom should be the first one offering him a job. he absolutely would have but instead maintained polite control. “Of course.” Libby said with a laugh.“Well. Smart man.” Henry felt his father ’s gaze on him as if he waited for a reaction. you are a kind soul. why don’t you see if you have a place for him at the company?” If his father were capable of rolling his eyes. in that case. Henry held his tongue. “I assume he has good grades.” Libby gave her stepson a curious sideways glance. “My dear. But it wouldn’t look right—elevating my chauffeur like that. .

up. “Elevating… What is this? The 1940s? He’s smart and loyal.” Henry wished he had the nerve to point out that his father had come from nothing and ended up being handed a billion-dollar company. and he must know a thousand things already about the business considering he’s been here all his life. and Norman had been playing lord of the manor for so long he had apparently forgotten his humble beginnings in Dorchester and then a Brooklyn walk. Despite the fact that Archie was . and that he couldn’t read until he was twelve. but their relationship didn’t work like that.Libby’s face squinched up.

” “You’re very sweet. a company where no one knew of his days as a chauffeur. Norman would never see his lover outside his own narrow perception—a young man forced to take a job as a chauffeur to pay off his father ’s debts. I hope you can at . Blue collar and not “one of them.more like Norman than Henry himself. but nonetheless she understood it. He’ll want to be somewhere to start fresh. “But I doubt Archie would accept an offer like that. quiet and resigned.” Libby—who had come from nothing to be a highly regarded interior designer—clearly didn’t like that answer. because she nodded as he spoke. “You’re right.” Henry said. Libby.

even as Norman and Libby headed out the door toward the dining room. “Henry will do whatever he can to make sure Archie gets the help he might need in finding the best placement.” “Of course.” Libby said. It kept him quiet for the rest of the evening.” Henry sat on the couch for a long moment. then. “Dinner should be ready. standing up. .” He checked his watch.least offer him an excellent recommendation. “Let’s go. His head swirled with the reality of things between him and Archie and the inevitability of his lover leaving.” Norman finished up his drink.

Never had he been more grateful for his father ’s rooms being in their own wing. . meaning they were very much asleep and highly unlikely to find him creeping past the entryway and through the kitchen to the back door. like a wayward teenager trying to avoid detection. so far from his. Faintly horrifying and undignified. Never had he been more grateful his father and stepmother went to bed religiously at ten.Chapter Two There was no way around it— Henry was in full sneaking mode. Down the center staircase of his father ’s home at half past midnight. shoes in hand.

He shoved the need to follow the rules—his father ’s rules— deep down as he disabled the backdoor alarm. a clear score in the column of “overly conscientious. then slipped outside into the night.” The sunny April day had turned chilly after sunset. tucking himself beside the door. He paused to slip on his loafers. Henry pushed down the need to turn around— because the only thing worse than having to sneak around your father ’s house as a twenty-nine-yearold man was reprimanding yourself into going back to bed. . between two large pots of herbs. The sweater he’d pulled on had been a good idea.that’s what it was.

hands jittering on the old brass lock. but this was Henry’s childhood home and he could navigate it without a stumble. which meant he was officially out of reasons not to move. it was pitch-black between the back door and the gate in the wall surrounding the pool area. armed and ready for intruders. he was . Quietly he darted around the boxwood hedges and down the precisely placed pavers.Without the patio lights on. Henry reached the gate and slowly pulled it open. Henry wasn’t an intruder. No one from the house could hear him this far away. but he also thought it a bad idea to draw Archie out of the pool house. In the distance he could see the pool house’s lights.

spending the cold months out of sight until they were required for summer events. smarter thing would be to return to the house and pretend nothing . Knocking on that door meant a confrontation. The safer. a conversation he was dreading. All the lounge chairs and tables were tucked away in the storage unit. a sizeable structure that would probably go for six figures in the right tony neighborhood. still under the protection of its winter cover. The inground pool sat silent. Nervous tension welled up inside his stomach. the hesitation that had prevented a thousand roads taken in his life. he paused. As Henry reached the pool house.just a sneak.

But Henry was a coward. He’d changed out of his suit into sweatpants and a T-shirt.” Archie’s voice was muffled through the door. the bare feet and wirerimmed glasses made Henry smile just a little bit. decisive. The door opened. “Coming. swallowing hard as he took the last few steps to the red-painted door of the stone house. and Archie looked through the sliver of space. His knock was firm.” Archie’s expression and . not stupid.was wrong. He shook his head. Also a lie. “Hi. This man was gorgeous.

Archie had a few lamps lit around the square created from four large sofas. .voice were cool. actually. no.” The small stone house was decorated with things left over after the various redesigns of the multiple Mrs. “No. Just finished my reading.” “Am I disturbing you?” Henry brushed his shoulder against Archie’s. but he pulled the door wider so Henry could come in. tables. It looked like a very expensive yard sale gone horribly wrong. Walkers. That meant a hodgepodge of couches. “It’s late. and artwork ranging in style from early Americana to French country to Louis XIV.

A collection of mismatched pillows was stacked at one end of the largest couch.” Archie gestured toward a delicate Queen Anne end table tucked between the sofas. a heavy cable. cozy and warm. Archie’s study nest. “I would’ve brought you a cup of coffee…” Henry started to say. “Magnus stopped by with some. A low wooden chest— from an ill-advised West Indies phase of his second stepmother’s—sat in the center. speaking to Archie’s back as he walked over to his comfy perch.each a totally different style. Archie’s place held in his novel with the television remote.stitch throw casually tossed aside. taking a tall silver thermos in his .

” Awkwardness permeated the room. Archie sprawled on the couch. pouring himself some coffee into the metal cup. He fussed with the thermos for a moment.” “Right. “Oh. pulling his legs up. suddenly filled with the recollection of his twenty-first birthday and this pool house and Archie and the bottle of $800 champagne that had started them down this terribly confusing—wonderful— road.” Henry stared at the floor. He really did .hands.” he teased. “The butler of the manor delivering me my coffee—Mum would be tickled by the sight. but Henry wasn’t ready to give up and return to the house. “Sit down.

He needed to choose between where Archie was and a seat farther away. “Did you want some wine?” Archie’s gaze flickered to Henry. “You should take a day off next . broken only by the distant rattle of wind against the gate beyond the little house. “Not right now.” He picked the couch Archie was o n .mean to smooth over—at least some things. Archie’s eyebrows rose. Henry shook his head. but he didn’t say anything. They sat in pregnant silence. hands fluttering a bit at his side as he tried to decide what to do.

and only the stroke last year had slowed down her devotion to the family. More than anyone. “She understands. Archie was already shaking his head.” “Yes.week to make it up to Evelyn. . But I insist. I’m sure she was disappointed you missed dinner. Sir.” Archie adopted a lower register. “That’s fine. really.” Henry said finally. complete with proper British accent. okay? You need a day off. Henry toyed with the hem of his sweater to give his hands something to do.” His mother had clocked over twenty-five years as the Walker housekeeper.

They’d known each other since they were five years old. “What?” “Nothing. So fake. then immediately took a sip of coffee. “It’s so…ridiculous up here. leaning his head back against the pillows. “Nothing” didn’t cut it.” Henry said fondly. PBS British drama bullshit Sometimes I go through the motions for hours before I realize how stupid it is. Archie gestured expansively. Like driving an hour and a half for no .” “What?” Henry asked again.” Archie made a sound of derision. “You sound like Norman.“Idiot.

Not when it disrupted Henry’s life and. Archie’s. by extension. Of course he didn’t say that. . Because it was ridiculous and inconsiderate and exactly the sort of thing his father did on a regular basis. not in the middle of the week. Not upstate. his eyes a sea storm of frustration.reason…” “He asked to have dinner with me. he could have had it in Manhattan. If he truly wanted dinner with his only son.” Henry interrupted and almost instantly wanted to take it back. Not when the invitation sounded much more like a summoning. “Right. after work. but—” Archie cut himself off with the cup to his lips.

” Understatement of the century. And I’m sorry to drag you away from your studies and your evening with your mother. with graduation coming up.“I know. “I’m just tired. Henry shifted in the soft cushions of the couch. even when he agreed with what people were saying. I’m just not good at saying no to him. It felt disloyal to complain about his father.” Archie said with a sigh.” The silence descended again. Henry’s brain ticked through so many . “Sorry. leaning over to put the metal cup on the table. he wasn’t very good at it. and I have a lot on my mind. punctuated by the upward quirk of Archie’s left eyebrow.

things he got a tiny bit dizzy. no. I overreacted. Literally and metaphorically. particularly after the conversation with his father before dinner—of how little time he and Archie might have together. And the thing he’d come here in the first place to say. when he was done feeling like a ridiculous coward and aware—particularly tonight. Archie was already shaking his head.” Henry said finally. he closed his eyes against the memories and the worries and the deal they were closing tomorrow with Breen Steel. “No.” . “I’m sorry for the thing in the car.

It’s taken me so long to get to this point.” T he as you hung in the air. it had been easier to pretend things weren’t so different.” Archie directed his gaze back to Henry. Until you grew up and there were . playing and being best friends—that was natural. “I want to be done with school.Archie’s good-natured smile faltered a little. This wasn’t a staged period piece. It held assorted Buddha statues and ships in bottles. proud to be graduating in a few weeks—even if it did take me twice as long. blue eyes fixated on the Shaker-style bookshelf in the corner. The boss’s son. the housekeeper ’s kid. He looked away. “I’m proud of my grades. When they were kids.

things like expectations and debts and responsibilities and two very different paths in life. “Could probably use a recommendation from Mr. but his gaze was locked on Henry’s face. “I know you’ll be successful at whatever you choose to do.” he said lightly.” .” Henry murmured. rubbing his palms against his thighs as he finally looked away.” he said finally. it burned and left Henry a bit short of breath. “I don’t know about that.” Archie didn’t respond.” “You know I’ll do anything I can. “Bodyguard and chauffeur are hardly proof I know anything in regard to international business relations. “I’m so proud of you. Norman Henry Walker the Third.

“Yes. He resisted the urge to reach out and touch Archie’s socked foot. Henry knew. eh?” The joke was well-intentioned. it stung. I can’t imagine who we’ll be able to find to open my door and drive the Hummer. his voice gentle.Henry said. “Or fuck you senseless three nights . tossing his head to punctuate the words. and Henry felt himself stiffening into ramrod straightness. so close to his own leg.” Henry fell into lofty pronouncements. It only served to knock a hank of heavy blond hair into his eyes. but after his father ’s pontification on Archie moving to greener pastures earlier in the evening— well. “Trying to get rid of me.

poking his feet into Henry’s thigh. “Good to know.a week. Neither of them mentioned the giant elephant in the room. A thousand unspoken words seem to bounce between them— an easy communication borne of being together almost every day of their childhoods and so many days beyond that. and Henry’s eyes narrowed. “That won’t be a requirement of your replacement.” Archie drawled. which was calmly sitting in the corner on a colonial wingback next to a Tiffany floor lamp.” Archie regarded him over the small ovals of his lenses.” Archie lobbed back. What would happen when Archie .

hip to hip. If . Henry welcomed the way Archie’s big. He sat up. “I’m not saying you’re… irreplaceable or anything. “Don’t let your ego go crazy.” “Mmmm.” Archie’s voice softened as he took his glasses off and folded them. absently pushing Archie’s sweats up to get to his lover ’s perpetually warm flesh.graduated and moved on? Secret rendezvous didn’t spontaneously happen when you had to pick up the phone and admit you were involved. laying them near his book. broad body shifted closer to him. switching his position so now he was leaning against Henry’s side.” Henry rested his hand on Archie’s ankle.

. He shifted to lean over Henry’s toned and lean body. they could always use their bodies to fill the silence. Their painful attempts at adult conversation usually ended like this. “YOU SMELL SO good. then sucking gently.they couldn’t use their words to communicate like big boys. Slowly he made his way down Henry's throat. nosing the blond hair out of the way.” Archi whispered as he kissed behind Henry’s ear. licking at his pulse. resting his hand on the cushion. and Archie was starting to be concerned that he’d developed a Pavlovian response to awkward talks—he got horny.

Henry moved restlessly under Archie’s hands.” It wasn’t a question. knew when he liked it fast and rough. “Make me. “Take off your clothes. it was barely a request. A glimpse of pink tongue tantalized Archie as Henry licked at his lips. Archie knew when he wanted to be held down. Just a soft crackle of words— more a whisper. inches away from Henry’s lips now. He lifted his head. The couch creaked this time when . Henry’s dark blue eyes flashed hotly.” Archie murmured when his mouth hit material.

getting up and moving with lustful intentions and painful hard-ons. and he sighed with annoyance. Archie followed Henry into the small second room of the pool house—a tiny bedroom that barely had enough oxygen for the two of them and a sleigh bed jammed under the windows.” Archie kissed the side of Henry’s mouth. and then the masculine curve of his jaw. Whatever collection of genes. then.Archie moved. This was much easier in Henry’s enormous bed back in Manhattan. magic. Archie was forever in their debt. marveled for a moment at his soft lips. “Let’s go to the bedroom. It was a scramble then. and chance had put Henry together. .

the line of his broad shoulders tapering into a narrow waist as he yanked off the . giving him a good slap on the ass.” Henry didn’t respond. biting at Archie’s jaw. keeping him close—he snapped the switch with his free hand.” Henry twisted his neck. Archie ground against Henry. “We’re here—now get on with it. just gave him a glare over his shoulder before kicking off his loafers. He gave Archie a brief show—the arch of his back.Archie had one arm looped around Henry’s chest. throwing weak patterns of light from the sconces on the wall. “Bitchy. Archie let Henry go. enjoying his frustrated mutterings as he pushed back eagerly.

the fight packed with subtext. if only to see Henry roll his eyes. He loved to fuck Henry—loved it. turning around to face Archie.sweater he was wearing and threw it to the floor. But sometimes it went beyond that. gaze following every flex of muscles under Henry’s T-shirt.minute summoning to the estate. . “Come here.” he teased. Archie palmed himself. One hip crooked to the side—a coquettish pose Archie knew well. the lack of resolution—bloomed into something redhot under Archie’s skin. pretty boy.” Henry said. “That it?” “I believe I told you to make me. to something primal. All the tension of the day—the last.

He reached out.shirt. at the end of the day. and when Henry dodged him. using his height advantage to cast a long shadow over his lover. Didn’t even blink. Henry didn’t flinch when Archie grabbed the fabric of his T. his expression bemused. he growled. “No. There wasn’t anywhere to go. The wall was inches behind Henry.” Henry looked at the ceiling. And maybe that was their problem.“No. .” Archie stalked over to him.” “Take off your clothes. the bed a foot to their left. yanked him closer.

” Henry whispered. Archie didn’t think too much about it as he pulled the shirt over Henry’s head. “Slut.” Henry laughed. then licked his lips slowly. Archie maneuvered him onto the bed. then zipper. breathless now as Archie reached for Henry’s fly.Their bodies twined dangerously close. the other man’s gaze was locked on Archie’s tented sweatpants. As Archie undid Henry’s button. their mouths hovering near a kiss —but that didn’t happen. “Is there…” “My back pocket. guiding with rough hands until . it rarely happened.

“Back pocket?” “Mmmm.” Archie rifled through the pocket and pulled out a condom. then followed them with his T-shirt and sweats. He threw the pillows on the floor. and breathless. khakis undone and bare-chested. . Henry watched him from the bed. revealing the entirety of his golden skin and strong.Henry was laid out across the navy-blue duvet. a small package of lube. beautiful. stripping with military efficiency. masculine lines. With eager motions Archie pulled the pants off Henry’s body. and a wet wipe.

“What? I’m prepared. feeling warm skin against his own. laying his forearm over his eyes.Archie groaned as Henry snickered. He mapped Henry’s chest with lips and tongue.” “You’re the sluttiest of all Eagle Scouts. right?” He didn’t bother to answer because it was a given —Henry hadn’t sneaked into the pool house to chat or resolve their fight. now and forever. Archie threw everything onto the bed.” “You say the sweetest things…and you’re still going to fuck me. and Archie meant to oblige. pausing to suck his nipples and . He crawled over Henry’s body. Henry. He’d come down here to get fucked.

He could feel the blunt head of Henry’s cock against his chin and groaned.flick the nubs lightly. biting off the wave of need that slammed him down hard. tracing his tongue slowly along the slit.” he murmured. "Henry. He held him and pushed him at the same time— that urging for him to hurry the hell up. Sliding his tongue over Henry’s cock. Archie drew it into his mouth. nipping at his navel. gripping one hand in the covers. The salty fluid there left Archie groaning as he dropped . Henry moved restlessly against him. the other against Archie’s shoulder. slipping lower. leaving him panting against Henry's skin. licking at the head.

It was amazingly good and not nearly enough. sucking pop. the length of Henry’s cock lying against his tongue and pressing against the back of his throat.his mouth all the way to the base of Henry’s dick. licking his lips as his gaze found Henry’s face. He pulled off with a dirty. He sucked slowly. Archie felt desire jackhammering at his brain as he reached for the lube. feeling around for it among the folds of the coverlet. the pounding of his heartbeat a bass line underneath Henry’s needy whispers. Moaning and breathless sounds filled his ears. There weren’t words for this—it .

It was mechanics then. Archie’s brain melted another tick. no long-held crushes coming to fruition in this very room. their routine of touch and sounds and Henry coming undone under Archie’s rough fingers. as if reading Archie’s thoughts. rolling over to hands and knees. proper Henry. though. He pulled his legs up and shifted. No champagne. Stoic Henry. a near perfect repeat of their first time. Henry in a three-piece suit—Henry begging and whining for Archie to “hurry up and fuck .just happened. Just sex— their version of conversation. Henry moved then. his hands moving of their own accord to open the lube container.

Archie shuddered. When he was as deep as he could go.e. ” m “Yes. faster. tight like a glove. fuck. stroking with that same relentless rhythm.” He moved his hips. dirty talk . take it. Archie pressed forward. all faux British and a tight grip on Henry’s hips. Eyes closing.” Archie teased. “Fucking perfect. shuddering as Henry’s body yielded around him. Archie paused and looked down at the beautiful line of Henry’s back.” Nonsense poured out of Archie’s mouth. rocking him into Henry over and over. his entire body tense as he held back long enough to wrap one hand around Henry’s cock. deeper. “So good. sir.

It made him move faster and harder until everything blurred into frantic. Henry didn’t say a word. He moved his fist over Henry’s cock in the exact way Archie knew would drag his orgasm from him. angry movement.and bitten-off curses. Archie held off long enough to feel . He dropped his mouth to the center of his lover’s back. It drove Archie mad when he was quiet. He could feel sweat forming on his skin. the frame knocking against the wall. the point of contact where his and Henry’s bodies met molten hot. licking and biting where he knew it wouldn’t be seen. absorbed every stroke and slam of Archie’s body in near silence. The bed creaked loudly.

The sudden silence was almost deafening. murmuring comforting sounds as Henry twitched. his one clean hand steady against Henry’s spine. his version of a kiss. to feel the spill of wetness against his palm as his lover came.Henry’s body stiffen. pulsing into the condom. and began to marshal his muscles into working again. He pulled out. watching Henry as he rolled to . He got off the bed carefully. Archie pressed his lips to Henry’s shoulder. He let the twitches and shudders coax him into letting go. “Something to drink?” Archie’s voice was a rasp. Hard and fast always came back to haunt you.

“Right. and there was nothing about her finding a condom that he wanted to deal with. just tucked into a ball with his face hidden by his forearm. Technically he was on duty. Hilary.his side with a sigh. Technically he’d just fucked his . the housekeeper. He washed up. then hid the used condom deep in a pile of tissues at the bottom of the wastebasket.” Archie went into the tiny bathroom. narrowly missing a bash to the head by an awkwardly hung shelf. The wine?” Henry didn’t look at him. would be tidying up after he left in the morning. “Yeah.

The bed wasn’t conducive to two grown men. wine in one hand and two juice glasses in the other. Archie checked the front door—it was double locked— and then made a quick pass of the windows. He shut off the lights and reset the alarm before making his way back to the bedroom.boss. but Henry clearly wasn’t . back to the wall. “Henry?” he called out as a courtesy and was rewarded with a sleepy grunt. After the bathroom he headed for the wine refrigerator tucked into the corner of the main room. both over six feet— Archie significantly so—sleeping comfortably. Henry was under the covers.

“I have that meeting too—at least the transportation part. Archie—hiding his pleasure at this —poured them each a healthy portion of the wine. You need to do something about that just. “What?” “I’m setting the alarm for five.” Henry came out from under the covers—just his head though. I have that meeting tomorrow. I remember.” “Right. using the narrow dresser as his bar. The messy hair elicited a snicker from Archie. “Not too much.” Archie said drily.” Archie sat down on the .leaving for a while.fucked hairdo.

” Archie settled against the headboard.” “I live to serve. He offered a glass to Henry. . who was scowling. falling into a comfortable silence. they shared a quick clink of glasses. my liege. “So helpful.bed.

Vaguely. He remembered finishing the last glass of wine. then going back to sleep afterward. he groaned as he sat up. Archie leaned against the wall until the cool water woke him up .Chapter Three Archie woke up at five to the angry trill of his phone alarm. That had clearly been a mistake. The wine hangover followed him from the couch to the tiny shower in the bathroom. trying to orient himself without rolling off the bed. he remembered Henry disentangling himself from the heap of limbs where they’d fallen asleep and heading back to the house.

Huge miscalculation. Blowhards blathering on and Henry being tense and . and this morning he was borderline on both.enough to open his eyes the whole way. and he hated having his body out of his control. the senior vice president and Norman’s right hand. When he had to drive all the way back to the city with Mr. He could have probably drained every water tank at the estate and still not shocked his body into wakefulness. with Henry sitting back there alongside David Silver. And of course this was the morning he’d have a bad reaction to wine. Archie was pissed now—he didn’t like appearing unprofessional. Walker in the car.

or as quick and routine as he could get feeling like his stomach was filled with angry. It was a combination Archie hated to witness. put on his shoes. get into his spare uniform. clean any lint off the impeccable black suit.strained. While he toweled off. strap on his gun holster. he checked his reflection and decided to chance not shaving. tucking his book and reading glasses in a side pocket. oily bees—brush his teeth. apply deodorant. He took another moment to tidy up the bathroom so Hilary didn’t have to do it. Everything after that was quick and routine. and then hurried to grab his already packed bag. He needed to have the car in front .

Archie was only about two minutes behind schedule. that’s all right.” “May I take your briefcase?” “What? No. checking his watch with a faint frown. “Sir. “Archie. coming up the stairs. Stomach in knots. but he could feel his palms sweating as he pulled the vehicle in front of the house. Archie left the vehicle idling. Norman Walker was already on the stairs. After all that rushing. and being late was never an option.of the house by six fifteen. a serious expression locked onto his face. then hopped out.” .” he murmured. nothing to panic about.

shifting his posture so his spine was aligned over his hips. arms at his sides. From this vantage point he could sneak glances at Norman Walker.” Archie said. He reached into his pocket for his aviators. willing his lover to hurry the hell up. The sun seemed to be beating down on his head with vindictive force. Once they were slipped on. “We’re waiting for Henry.” Norman said. his voice tight. sir.Norman looked up from his watch and gave Archie a penetrating stare. He’s late. . “Yes. Archie breathed through his nose. He glanced at the door. the morning got a bit easier. which somehow managed to level up Archie’s hangover. watching him frown and huff.

It was found in tiny quirks. But Henry looked like his late mother.The resemblance between his lover and his employer was hard to see. sometimes it was in the way they got annoyed at silly little things or disappeared into stony silence when something went wrong. still occasionally glancing at his watch with an irritated twitch. which no one mentioned but everyone knew. Norman a few steps up. Occasionally there would be a certain tilt to their heads that made it clearer. then suddenly . like an abhorrence of salt and a love of sweet tea. Archie on the bottom step of the estate’s grand stairs. They stood awkwardly.

“Henry will be available for recommendations should the need arise. That’s very kind. sir.” “Hmmm.” . “You’re graduating soon. “Yes. sir. Archie tried not to jump five feet off the ground.” Norman didn’t elaborate. Sweat began to collect at the back of Archie’s neck. Thank you.glancing at Archie with an intensity of interest he’d never really shown—not in twenty-five years and certainly not recently.” Archie blinked. “Yes. Six weeks. then?” he asked suddenly. his posh British accent cutting through the cool morning air.

“My assistant.” “Of course.” Archie forced a smile. “How is your mother?” “Very well. And maybe he was hallucinating the most personal conversation he’d had .” The pulse of his headache upgraded to a typhoon behind his eyes. thank you. Maria. He tried to remember if there was aspirin in the bag of supplies he kept under his seat. “I appreciate that.” Norman checked his watch again. sir. huffed an impatient sigh.” “Mmmm. can also be of help with expediting human resources issues.” “Please give her our regards.

“Good morning. already dressed for the day in a green twinset and modest black skirt. who came to stand on the stairs next to him with a small pout on her face. it’s fine.” .” He didn’t look up. Walker—the fifth —exited the huge double doors of the massive Tudor. With her Bettie Page hairstyle and fifties-era shoes. darling? Are you sure you don’t want tea?” The current Mrs.with Norman Walker since he was seventeen years old and had become a full-time employee. didn’t greet his wife. Archie. “Norman. Libby. Norman sighed. “No. she looked like a classic gangster-movie heroine. I’ll have something at the meeting.

And a bottle of water. Thank you. Once he’d deposited the Walkers and their senior vice president at the meeting. aspirin was just a few feet away. “Yes. Or hating him. he remembered. Or ignoring him. Everyone was being so damned friendly today.” Libby Walker was four years older than Archie but possibly the nicest in Henry’s endless parade of stepmothers. “Did you sleep well?” she asked politely.” Archie fidgeted slightly. and it was starting to creep him out. thank God. And yes. At least this one had no interest in mothering him. ma’am. he was going to .“Ma’am.

” Henry bounced on the step. his face white and his expression flustered as he jogged down the steps. waiting for his . “My apologies.” “Thank you. She gave Henry a pat on the arm as he passed by. I should be home by five. Libby.” he said.” “Clearly.off. “Good luck at your meeting. find a quiet spot and sleep this shitty reaction The door opened again.” “I’ll have tea waiting. darling.” Norman kissed Libby chastely on the cheek. slightly out of breath. “Good-bye. and Henry emerged. “I overslept.” Libby said cheerfully.

Norman clearly opting for silent disapproval over a reprimand. By the time they pulled in front of David Silver ’s impressive estate. but then it was all business and moving and arranging the crease of one’s pants to avoid wrinkles. and he moved a second ahead of Norman. He reached the door and waited. poised to open it. All part of the show. They were on the road a few minutes later. Archie and Libby exchanged pleasant smiles. He and Henry shared a quick glance.father to walk ahead to the Hummer first. the heavy air in the Hummer was nearly visible. . All part of the routine.

” He didn’t wait for a reply. More bullshit. They were off again a few minutes later. Trim and silver-haired. More show. trying to avoid the Thruway until the last possible second. David Silver exited the front door of the house a second later. . speeding toward New York City. just climbed into the back of the Hummer and waited for Archie to shut the door. “Archie. and Archie’s main directive this morning was to keep that from happening. smiling benignly at him as if trying to remember his name. Archie took back roads.Archie jumped out of the vehicle and opened the back door. Traffic made Norman tense.

lunch with his mother later on. his thoughts on getting his passengers to the city on time. seeing Henry… Out of the corner of his eye there was a blur.The headache and nausea continued to plague him. past horse farms and mansions. the sound of twisting metal exploding in his head . heading toward the Hummer ’s passenger side with blinding speed. A second later he slammed forward into the steering wheel. Before he could puzzle out why something was coming from the woods. the vehicle was jolted by the impact of machine against machine. not enough to affect his driving but still persistent and irritating. He sped down the rural roads.

Frantic sounds of violence just beyond his senses. He came up for air.sharply. airborne. fuzzy vision. There was so much pain coursing through his body that he spent a long moment wishing himself back into the bliss of being out— but there were sounds beyond his gray. angry sounds. Yelling and cursing and… Henry. feeling . The car flew sideways. Archie rolled to his side. Henry shouting. Men fighting. he registered faintly a second before his head connected with the driver ’s-side window and knocked him unconscious. breaking the dark surface of consciousness with a gasp.

Sick to his stomach. Archie forced himself onto his hand and knees. which led him to sit back on his heels. . his sight compromised. Archie struggled to stand—and almost immediately collapsed again. more gray lines obscuring his sight. His head swam. putting pressure on his left side was impossible. and the nonspecific pain of the accident suddenly seemed to concentrate in his left thigh.the hard concrete of the road against his back and hip. With one last force of strength. His left leg was useless. Someone was yelling furiously in the background. which now appeared to be on fire. He still couldn’t see very well.

and then once again he felt himself violently slipping away. and Archie felt a blow slam directly between his shoulder blades. “He’s up again!” someone shouted. They had his gun. . It robbed him of breath.When he reached under his jacket for his gun. his fingers met emptiness.

until Henry could only swallow back the nausea and pray for unconsciousness again. “Henry?” A whispered voice came through the darkness. . the sensation of spinning and falling repeated over and over. his ear pressed down. hearing muffled. He could hear sounds close by—a murmur of voices with highway noise muted in the background.Chapter Four A soft. foul-smelling surface cushioned the side of Henry’s head. Even with his eyes closed. a tickle of blood winding its way down his forehead like a creeping spider.

” Norman said a second later. There was a thought to push himself up.” the voice said again. a soft breath of air escaping between his lips. and Henry remembered that his godfather—his father ’s only true friend and most trusted . he’s waking up. son. It was his father. shuffling closer as the surface beneath him dipped. “Oh. “Henry. he knew. but that. ears ringing as he moved his hands weakly against slippery fabric. a movement that exploded angry colors behind his eyes.He winced. “David. was impossible.” A hand gently touched his shoulder. He couldn’t speak for fear of being ill. tentative and careful not to jostle him.

Another hand. not a weak man. please. “You hit your head very hard. “He needs a doctor. Henry whimpered.” David said.advisor—had been with them in the car. Henry. but in that moment nothing could have made him feel better than having Norman and David there with him. he was not a child. “Don’t move. and David made a hushing noise. both of them alive and well. “Norman. this time patting his wrist. They can do whatever they want at this point. shivering a little against what he now realized was a mattress.” His stern voice was calm. and Henry breathed.” Norman bitched. We just .

have to be cooperative and hope they contact the board with a ransom request.” “I already told them the board would pay whatever they wanted— anything. Henry could hear David’s feet scuffling along the floor as David stood. Norman remained at Henry’s . then demanded we call the board ourselves for a bigger payout. then footsteps as he moved around the space.” The timbre of his father ’s voice rose. “Perhaps it’s just a tactic. but they didn’t seem interested in that. I wouldn’t be surprised if they made us wait.” David sounded disgusted. His ears buzzed like he’d been hit again. and Henry bit his lip.

” Henry tried to remember anything that could connect him from his day to this moment.” Norman whispered suddenly. so he stopped. pressing his fingers against the fabric beneath him until the looping thoughts stopped.side. anything at all. “I’m sorry. occasionally patting his shoulder. to his fifth birthday. It made him wildly dizzy. I would do anything to get us out of here. . It was the most paternal and demonstrative he could remember his father being in years. But his memories jumped around in a jumbled mix. things he thought might be from last week to this morning. Henry. following his words with a quiet sigh. “So sorry.

“Henry? Henry?” Norman’s panicked whisper brought him back into awareness. clearly. even if he couldn’t connect his father ’s words to the . Just how badly hurt was he? “I’m all right.” Henry breathed deeply.” “You wouldn’t stop fighting them. and fear began to curl up in the center of his chest. it was strange to hear a story about yourself you couldn’t remember. “You tried so hard. Father.” Henry’s voice was barely a rasp at this point. He had lost consciousness. “Just a little dizzy. “They hit you in the head.” Norman whispered.” It made sense.

then was quickly slammed shut. his footsteps bringing him back over to Henry and Norman’s side of the room.incident. With fierce determination Henry cracked open his eyelids just enough to see a man’s dirty work boots a . “I was terribly worried about you.” David said anxiously.” “Someone’s coming. Were these the men who were refusing his father ’s offer of ransom? He frantically tried to open his eyes. and Henry’s chest squeezed. The squeak and grind of a lock being turned broke the moment of quiet. “I thought…” His father ’s voice cracked. and Henry heard his father gasp. A door opened.

a movement that sent him back into the nauseating darkness. It hit the side of the bed and fell to the floor.” “Whatever you want.” That was Norman. throwing a heavy canvas bag close to Henry’s head.few feet away. All Henry heard was fear. the cool edge gone from his voice.” the man rasped. “Here. “If you could just contact our offices—they will arrange to pay you whatever you want. trying to keep his stomach from erupting. Please. his voice cajoling and charming as if they were in a boardroom and not in a dire situation. Henry needs medical attention. “Can we speak to you. . please?” David was saying.

a fact he refused to face. “Bastard. A firstaid kit. Norman was a victim of a genetically bad heart. Norman let out a few muttered curses. Henry estimated.” Norman said. a door opening and closing. But now. They were alone. “Some food. Henry could hear the strain in his father ’s breathing. just enough. though I imagine plasters aren’t going to do much good at the moment. in their perilous situation. to grab the bag and pull it closer.The man said nothing.” . the rattle in his chest. Though a fierce lion in the business community. The sound repeated. “There’s water.” Norman moved away.

“I don’t know what they want if they don’t want money. “This is disgusting.” A few seconds later Henry felt the blanket being laid over his back and shoulders.” His father paused. “They’re wearing masks. Henry felt a second blanket draped over his legs.” The words were dire. Mine too. Our shoes…” Norman fussed over him. he’s the only one who’s spoken. Henry —that man who brought the bag in.“Barely anything. the first thing he could remember having said for ages. Three of the .” came David’s mumble. “Where’s my jacket?” he murmured. “They took it. the sentiment edged with hopelessness.

richest men in New York City. Henry was afraid. at the mercy of strangers who seemingly didn’t want anything. Archie. Henry’s breathing sped up. He and his father and David had been in the Hummer. The fear began to spread into panic. heading for a morning meeting in the city. racking his entire body. . But not an accident. They were discussing the Breen project when suddenly… The accident. They had taken him from the car. tossed into a room God knew where.

But not Archie. into the tree. The fear had a companion now. guns raised. just a black hole of nothing—a jumble of voices. because his father ’s hand tightened on his shoulder. Nothing after that. “Henry? What’s wrong?” It was force of habit to pretend . Grief. The men who swarmed the Hummer. Henry must’ve made a sound. anger.The sickening sound of metal scraping metal. The shots they fired. and aggression. Being forced off the road. Archie.

of course. pretend he was the chauffeur. quiet word.” David . “Oh.” Just one flat.when it came to Archie. “Archie. hand flexing against Henry’s arm. It was a cool persona he used with his father. “It happened so quickly. and Henry’s breath hitched. But his filter was gone. a tool to portray himself a certain way. beaten out of him by silent men in masks. Pretend they were friendly because they’d grown up together.” his father murmured.” he choked out. “He…was knocked out for a bit. Then he woke up. Put up a hell of a fight. Tried to stop them. pretend he was an employee. his throat tight with pain. the bodyguard.

“I saw him. but he’d lost control of everything—his emotions. “He was still alive when they put us in the van.” He didn’t sound entirely convincing. knocked from him.” Norman said softly.” Murmurs between Norman and David buzzed outside of Henry’s consciousness.entered the conversation with authority. Henry. his body. “Just rest. You need to lie still. He sounded sad. Norman rubbed Henry’s shoulder gently. He alternated between . fussing with the blanket with his other hand. All that control. We’ll be fine. Henry struggled to keep the tears inside.

silent tears and dark periods of nothing —he’d wake with a start. always running around the property with dirty knees and loud shouts. “Henry! Henry!” His name summoned him out of the well of bad dreams and grief—he was remembering hiding with Archie in the big oak tree at the edge of the property. They were nine. . It was the first summer Henry realized boys could like boys the way they’re supposed to like girls. He lost track of time entirely. pain and nausea sending him back into unconsciousness almost immediately. Inseparable. eating chocolate biscuits they’d “stolen” from the kitchen.

He opened his eyes with a start. “Gunshots. they managed to get him upright and lean him against the headboard. Henry could see they were in a small. dark motel room.” his father said breathlessly as he tried to pull his son into a seated position.” David added. Through blurry vision. Between his father and David and Henry’s own straining effort. one window . That propelled Henry into moving even as his body and brain protested loudly. feeling the urgency of hands at his shoulder. We heard something. his voice shaking. wake up. “Henry.

crouched as if shielding him from whatever was on the other side. “Father.heavily blanketed with curtains. “Stay behind me. but Norman shushed him. Norman moved in front of Henry.” David vibrated with worry next to him.” Norman murmured. “They must’ve found us. shouts echoing outside.” he whispered. You’re in no condition to be moving around. Beyond the walls Henry could hear faint popping sounds.” Henry could hear his father ’s voice lose a trace of its impeccable British . “Do you think it’s the police?” “Archie would have given them a description.

He also heard the labored breathing that could signal something serious.” he said. Henry’s chest hurt with worry and fear—he could barely move. . Henry.tone. his father had a bad heart. you have to relax. “I’m fine. he had no clue how they were going to survive. David was in his sixties…if things went any further south. take a breath. vibrations shaking the walls. “Father. touching his father ’s back gently.” The noise got louder. harkening back to its rough Dorchester roots.

closed the barely existent distance between Henry’s body and his. Henry held his breath. a gesture he honestly didn’t remember ever attempting. After a ridiculously long amount of time. Norman squeezed back. Henry shook as he reached for his father ’s hand. the door rattled. The sharp sensation of fear filled the tiny space between the three men. closer now. still rasping and breathing heavily. then opened. and Norman. .Chapter Five The sounds erupted outside the door.

“We’re over here!” The officer was already looking over. “Norman Walker. please?” he asked. my son. “Can you identify yourselves. gun still up and poised at the ready. and David Silver. followed by the large. then making his way slowly over. “We need an ambulance.The barrel of an automatic weapon entered first. “Oh thank God.” David exclaimed scrambling to his feet with a heavy lean against the wall.” . Henry hadn’t let go of his hand yet.” Norman answered quickly. black-clothed shape of a policeman dressed in SWAT gear. voice commanding and stern. Henry.

his hushed tones urgent. “Father. The officer was speaking into a radio strapped to his arm. stumbling over the last few words. please. “I’m fine. “Father?” Henry’s panic returned as his father’s grip weakened.“Are you hurt.” Henry said. They’re sending an ambulance.” Norman sounded anything but fine.” Norman’s voice faded a bit. “Please. lie down. sir?” “No.” Light flooded the room as blankets . my son is. They struck him on the head. urging Norman back against the headboard next to him. you can get checked out at the hospital.

Henry could feel the clammy dampness seeping through his father’s clothing. Henry wanted to point out. Norman had a cardio system hampered by poor genetics. Despite the best in medical care. His father had a barely working heart.” No. ashen—it was impossible to ignore that there was something terribly wrong. Both attacks had happened . “I’m…” Norman’s efforts to insist he was fine fell into a heavy sigh. lack of personal care. tell the paramedics to hurry. “He has a bad heart. As he let Henry guide him back. “Good God. and battered by two heart attacks before he was fifty.” David told the policeman.were removed. Norman’s skin was pale.

find out where the paramedics are.while Henry was away from home— once at college. but Henry’s terror ratcheted up. the other on a business trip—but he’d had the symptoms to watch for drilled into his head by Libby and his father’s doctor.” The man’s tone never changed. “Hayes. All those things were happening n ow . He reached down to take Norman’s pulse. Walker?” The second man knelt beside Norman. trying to get a . “Mr. flicking his gaze to Henry. turning again to the standing officer when he got no response from Norman. “Father? Father?” Henry pulled his father closer to him.

” The voices swarmed around Henry. who had somehow shrunk from the larger-than-life man Henry had always perceived him to be. to feel him breathing at the very least. Frail. but he didn’t get past the first .response. but his attention was entirely focused on Norman. “Father?” “Hen…” It was a whisper. Norman tried again to say Henry’s name. coming u p. trying to clear his vision. but Norman responded. Henry blinked frantically. He felt tiny in Henry’s arms. “Hayes?” “They’re down the hall.

” He drew their faces close. trying to sit up— something. “It’s all right. Relax.syllable. The paramedics are coming. but . Henry could feel the physical difficulty his father was having against his own chest. “It’s all right. Norman struggled weakly. sounds of clattering erupted into the room. but he was trying to move. nearly forehead to forehead so he could see.” “S…ssss…” Norman’s breathing was growing more and more labored. It was rasps now. Father. Henry couldn’t be sure. Henry tightened his grip on Norman’s shaking form. “Don’t talk.” Shouting.

releasing his father into the hands of the two paramedics who had arrived. “You can stay close.” a woman’s voice said. They moved Norman to the floor of the motel room. lights flipping on and more people milling about. one taking vitals while the other listened to his breathing with a stethoscope. but let us work. trailing equipment and more policemen.he held on. Someone tried to pull him away. please. . and Henry nodded. as if sheer will could propel his father’s heart to continue to work. and it shouldn’t have taken much—he was weak and dizzy—but he wouldn’t let go. They stripped open his shirt.

to keep from falling apart. Walker?” Henry turned his head to find a dark-haired man in a suit squatting down to his level. .” Henry shook his head.Henry’s gaze clouded over with tears and dizziness. turning back to his father ’s still form. He pressed against the wall in an attempt to steady himself. How had this day gone like this? Who had those people been? “Sir? Mr. watching as the paramedics’ movements grew more and more frantic. His own heart squeezed with fear. “I’m Agent Feller with the FBI. need to speak with you.

Their movements were a blur.“Mr. then returned with earsplitting terror. A switch flipped. more police officers in the room. but we have to talk…” The loud beep of a portable heart monitor pierced the air. but he shook it off. Henry could only stare in dazed horror as the paramedics began to frantically try to revive his father there on the ground. It was then the only thing Henry heard. A stretcher appeared. The sound changed pitch. but Henry listened to the monitor. I’m sorry. their . Dropped off. the audible evidence his father was still alive. another paramedic. Walker. A hand touched his arm.

not knowing if anyone was close enough to hear. “You need to be checked out. Norman’s body— ripped-open clothes. and covered with the hands of the people trying to save him—was placed on the stretcher. How could this be happening? “I have a heartbeat. attached to wires.complicated medical conversation washing over him like an ocean wave. and the forward motion began once again.” he whispered. to keep his eyes open because no—no. racing to the ambulance.” a . This couldn’t be happening.” someone said. And then they were gone. He struggled to stay on his feet. “Have to go with him.

“Agent Feller. By the time he stumbled into the sunlight. calm paramedics were walking toward him through a crowded parking lot filled with sirens. but to no avail. tried to get them to put him in the ambulance with his father. “Let’s get you to the hospital.” the man repeated. Henry didn’t care. They asked questions about the date and time.” he repeated over and . grasping Henry’s forearm.voice said.” He tried to resist. and a swarm of uniforms. who he was and where he lived. the sirens were screaming in the distance. and Henry turned in the direction of the sound. lights. “My father. and fresh-faced.

Henry closed his eyes. When he opened them again. He watched the blue sky turn into a ceiling. more doctors and nurses. and then turn into a path of frosted-glass lights over his head. Henry saw just a hazy blur. his gaze never leaving Henry’s face.numb with shock and terror.” Eventually they laid him on the stretcher. “Please. Murmurs and introductions. the FBI agent climbed in to si near the door. Was this shock? Was his brain injured? . swallowing back tears. he was moving.over.

fixing the young man with his gaze. “Mr.” Henry turned his head with effort. “Please tell me where he is.” The expression on the doctor ’s face caved Henry’s chest in with grief. How else would the police have found them so quickly? “Mr. Must be. I have to see him. Walker?” A new voice caught his attention. Brighton…” “My father. they’re working on . “My name is Dr. He had to take what David had said to heart—Archie must be alive.Where was his father? And Archie… He tamped down on that immediately. Walker.

and Henry nodded. didn’t respond. the sound high and shaky. As soon as I hear…” “He’s dead. Henry didn’t speak.” “They’re doing everything they can. He just wanted to pretend this was a terrible dream for a while longer. another who stripped Henry out of his clothes— which then disappeared into a large brown bag—and helped him into a gown. Brighton with his little white light. **** Time passed in the cubicle: Dr. a tech who took far too much blood.” the man murmured.him right now. eyes snapping shut. . isn’t he?” The words spilled from Henry’s lips. “He’s dead.

Walker. Brighton hovered at his side. furiously swarming his head until he blacked out.Agent Feller finally returned. this one a private hospital room with dimmed lighting and the faint hum of machinery. It took a few moments of think- . **** Henry woke up to find himself in yet another room. Dr. black-suited and grim. He blinked through the haze of medication and confusion. the swarm in his head still angrily filling the space between his ears. I’m sorry to have to tell you this…” The rest was just the noise of bees. “Mr.

He was in the hospital with a severe concussion. unsure of what he needed precisely but . The grief tightened his throat and chest with its viselike grip. He felt the hard plastic of the Call button under his fingers and pressed once. body shaking with the effort not to yell at the top of his lungs.pause-think for everything to return to him. His father was dead. He was in the hospital because he and his father and David had been kidnapped. he closed his eyes against the tears. Henry gripped the blanket weakly.

He wanted to know if David was all right. He wanted to know if someone had called Archie’s mother…and his heart seized up as if the heart attack that had killed his father was now coming for him. The panic roared. the constants in his life. failed to utter the words he felt in . and he had failed them both. Failed to protect them. the two people he loved.desperate for information. squeezing his lungs and not letting a single drop of air back in. Archie. He couldn’t bear this. His father and Archie. he just couldn’t. He needed to know Archie was all right. blew in out of nowhere. He wanted to know where Libby was.

Walker? Come on. One breath. It’s going to help. Walker. Mr. failed to be the man they both insisted he was… “Sir? Sir—you need to focus on my voice. deep breath. Walker.” Hands touched his wrist. his forearm.” . he realized he had closed his eyes and now couldn’t open them. But I need you to try and take a breath. Mr. “Come on. starving his body of oxygen.” A woman’s voice murmured from above him.his heart. “Mr. Breathing was her request—and that was impossible at this moment. I’m giving you something in your IV. The IV tube tugged slightly against the curve of his inner arm.

like everyone else today. Just dying. Keep going. Spots of random light exploded behind his eyes.” Just…just a panic attack. and the pain that had been simmering in his skull since the men had hit him spun almost out of control. And the woman’s voice seemed pleased. . and he looked at the hazy outline of his caregiver. But he was breathing. His eyelids fluttered. you’re just having a panic attack. then opened.It broke out of him like a sob. “There you go. a giant gulp of air as he wheezed painfully. Whatever she put into the IV— along with his own labored breaths— eased his pain a bit.

“I have some people anxious to see you.” She patted his wrist. or rather what Kit would look like in twenty years.” Henry’s head spun.She reminded him of his assistant. lips and mouth dry. tiny. Kit. Walker?” The hesitation of her tone alluded to her not knowing Libby’s relationship to him. “And an FBI agent. but if you’re not feeling up to it…” “Wh-who?” he asked. “Mrs. and he blinked . “Understandable with all you’ve gone through. “Better?” Henry nodded. competent and kind. painful movements against the pillow.

and the nurse stepped away from his bedside. Deal?” Henry nodded again. Tears pooled in the corners of his eyes. then a murmur of voices from beyond it. Mrs. Libby. Walker— Libby. Please.up at the nurse. The door opened again. and she was going to hate him for it.” “No. He’d let her down. I’ll clear the room. He heard the faint whisper of the door. I need to speak to her.” “Okay.” Henry licked his lips weakly. and Henry’s eyes closed without his . like he hated himself. But as soon as you need them to go. no. “I’ll tell them to wait for a while. “Please.

I’m just so glad you’re all right. “I’m sorry. . but Libby shook her head violently. choking back a punctuating sob.permission. the angry words. “We couldn’t bear to lose you…too. “Henry. eyes red and hair a mess. So he was unprepared for the muffled whisper of his name and the tight clasp of another hand in his. He waited for the screams. He could hardly bear to look at her.” He opened his eyes to find a haggard-looking Libby leaning over him. “Stop. and she dropped her head to his shoulder as her entire body shook.” he whispered. to see the naked pain on her face.” she murmured.” Her voice broke.

” he said again. Libby straightened slowly. “If it were a choice. but Henry managed to get his left hand high enough to pat her shoulder. he would have always chosen you to be all right. “I’m sorry. She was entirely undone.” The words were muffled. “Stop saying that.” Her words caused him literal pain. He could feel her tears seeping through his hospital gown and into his skin. the opposite of every moment Henry had .His arms felt like they were made of lead. letting her grieve. feeling as if every tear of hers tucked his own further and further away. winding their way into his heart. wiping her eyes and nose on the sleeve of her sweater.

I…” Her voice trailed of brokenly.” “I can rest at home. There are plans…” “Everything’s already spelled out. “You need to rest. “I…I don’t know what to do next. and I’ll take care of it. The lawyers were called.” . She swayed. “The lawyers will take care of it. Father did that years ago. The board.” Henry murmured. his stomach and head tight and aching.seen her in the past two years. “I just don’t know. And I’ll…I’ll be out of here soon. Henry. You’ve been through so much. then clutched the metal railing of his bed.” Libby shook her head.

They were his now.There was a slight knock at the door. Just as he had been bred to be.” . His father ’s legacy. The business.” Henry wasn’t paying attention to her. I left him waiting out there. his thoughts were wandering to things he had been trained to think about. He’s anxious to see you.” Libby said as she walked over to the door. “What?” “He won’t believe you’re all right until he sees you. “Won’t even stay in his hospital bed. and he—not Libby—was the caretaker of WalkCom and the name “Norman Walker” from now on. “Oh God. and Libby rubbed at her eyes.

A hand touched his wrist. Archie. he was confused— until she widened it and a wheelchair was eased in. and Henry barely bit back a sob.” In the moment he’d been hiding from the reality—his joy— Archie had wheeled up beside him. .Henry’s gaze focused on Libby. Archie. His eyes clamped closed against the mirage. “Thank God. A wave of dizziness pounded into Henry’s body. on the door. When it opened and no one came through. His father was dead. against the miracle. but Archie was here.

for getting knocked out. before the men grabbed them. Then they were alone. “Henry. to get to Norman. Open your eyes.” The grief swamped him. . so sorry. and Archie heard the door close. He needed to apologize for getting shot. For not doing the one thing he had been hired to do—protect Henry. his voice wet and broken as he clasped Henry’s limp hand. how much he’d tried to get to Henry.**** Libby murmured something about coming back later. “I’m so sorry. And Archie let himself go. the sheer terror that Henry would blame him— he needed to explain how hard he’d fought. love.” he whispered.

He’d lost his father when he was sixteen. “I tried to get up. “I’m so sorry about…” His voice trailed off. Henry had no one. stolen by gambling and drink.” Henry turned his head and opened his eyes. I called the police. Archie didn’t grieve his father ’s death as much as he did his absence.” Archie rambled. I got part of the license. And he still had his mother. I swear I did. expression filled with agony. Biting his lip. Henry squeezed back .“I…” Henry’s voice was faint.” “Archie. full of pain. but really he’d been gone for many years before that. “I tried.

looking at Archie with a pleading expression. Then we’ll figure it out.” The chair lurched as Archie pulled himself up with one hand. you get stronger. “His heart.” he whispered. . could barely keep his balance with all the medication pumped into his system. He couldn’t put pressure on his injured leg.weakly against Archie’s hand. I’m sorry.” he murmured. but right now nothing could keep him from being closer to Henry. “You rest. “I know.” “I…” Henry stopped.” “He just…” “I know. “I don’t know what to do.

Henry nodded. “I have to talk to the man from the FBI.” Archie felt his body getting weaker. “When they went in to rescue you—the SWAT team shot them. taking some of the weight off his leg.” Henry blinked at him. All the men who were at the motel.” “We need to find out who did this —they killed my father. breath hitching as his hand reached up to clutch the fabric of Archie’s robe. clearly .” “He can wait. he sat down on the edge of the bed.” Henry choked out. “They’re…dead.leaning down to whisper in his lover ’s ear.

But—you too. But after a second’s pause he nodded. squeezing Archie’s hand. A nurse heard the cops talking.” Archie said again. “They’re all dead?” “Yeah. You’re hurt.” It was a small word. “Okay?” Henry blinked up at him. so desperate to know what was going on. Resting. “So you need to concentrate on getting better. “Okay.confused.” He didn’t mention the part where he’d flirted as much as possible with painkillers in his system to get the information.” . pupils unfocused and hazy. quiet and weak. “Oh.

I promise. The door swung open.“Just a graze. The bruising from the accident and subsequent attack had begun to show along his jaw and near his temples—and Archie wished to God those men weren’t already dead. “I’m fine.” Archie brushed it off. Archie automatically moved his body to shield Henry’s.” That seemed to produce both damp eyes and a relaxing of Henry’s features. A knock on the door startled them both. “Excuse me—I’m Agent Feller. That would be all he’d need. He wanted five minutes with them. Henry. and a dark.suited man stepped in. I .

he turned to look at Henry. Please. pleading tone did him in. Archie reluctantly released his hold on Henry’s hand—their intimate touch hidden by the bulk of Archie’s body— and lowered himself into the wheelchair with a sigh. waiting for Henry’s tiny smile. searching his face for guidance. Walker. Henry nodded. stroking his thumb over Archie’s wrist. You…you go lie down. He wasn’t sure it was his place to send the man away. waiting for an acknowledgment. .was hoping to speak to Mr.” The soft. I’ll talk to him.” Archie didn’t respond. “Tell the nurse to come get me if you need anything. “It’s okay.” Archie murmured.

Only then did he turn to face the man again.He got both. Archie resisted the urge to look back. his gaze cool. “Excuse me. wheeling himself toward the door. giving Archie ample room to maneuver. . The agent opened it.” he said politely.

” “I appreciate you speaking with me at such a difficult time. standing tall next to Henry’s bed. “Thank you. Walker—first of all.” Henry struggled to move— everything was beginning to hurt. the better our chances of resolving this case.” . He’d reintroduced himself and flashed a badge Henry could barely see. “I thought they were all dead—the kidnappers.Chapter Six “Mr. but the quicker we get the information. At the motel.” Agent Feller said smoothly. let me just extend my condolences on your loss.

” “Oh. “We just want to make sure they were the sole perpetrators of the crime. “Yes. “What?” “We just want to make sure there wasn’t anyone else involved.” Henry felt himself sinking into the mattress. then nodded slowly. he stopped struggling and stared at Agent Feller. but honestly—it’s all a little hazy right now. “Can you tell me what you remember of the past twenty- .” The older man reached into his pocket and pulled out a small leather portfolio. “All right. I’ll tell you what I remember.” Henry hadn’t thought of that.” “Of course.” He didn’t ask how Henry knew.Agent Feller blinked twice. that’s correct.

He’s also been with the company since the . his assistant. then nodded.four hours?” Henry gave a slightly edited version of events— he skipped over the night spent in the pool house with Archie. David’s his right hand. She’s been with him for thirty years. Agent Feller wrote a few more notes. “Can I ask you about your father ’s staff? Who are the people closest to the day-to-day operations?” “Uh—Maria DeClavo. When he reached the point of the rescue and his father ’s death. because what did that matter?— and cobbled together a few images of the attack on their car and the subsequent captivity at the motel. Henry began to choke up.

. “Paul Darden drives…drove my father.” Henry shrugged. And then there’s Archie Banks.” “At the house?” “Magnus. shuttered away in another room. “Though until today. “Your bodyguard.” A pause in the writing.” “Drivers?” Henry thought longingly of Archie. Hilary Keys is the housekeeper.beginning. That was the understatement of the century. and Agent Feller ’s gaze locked onto Henry’s. the butler.” “Well—yes. That’s his title. we’ve never had an issue.” An issue.

” “Yes. He…he grew up there. Banks—he’s worked for you for six years?” “Well.” “So he’s very acquainted with the way things work during any given day— both at the house and at the office?” Henry blinked up at the man.” Ironic it had done absolutely no good. he’s been my bodyguard and driver that long.” “It’s common for him to drive your . he worked at the estate. “Mr. “Yes. Father insisted. The agent made a small noise in the back of his throat. though. of course. His mother was the housekeeper. Before that.“He’s armed.

” Agent Feller closed the portfolio. In the morning. My father asked me to come to dinner. we had the meeting. so I stayed over at the house.” “And the route?” “The…? I don’t know. not really.” Henry felt his face contorting into a frown. “I’ll leave my card if you think of anything else. But I’ll be in touch with some follow-up questions . So Archie drove everyone. tucking the pen in the side. “It was…it was just how things turned out. “Why are you asking these things?” “Just gathering information. He was taking the back roads to avoid traffic. nausea rising.” The headache was coming back at full strength.father?” “No.

The relentless thoughts about his . waking twice over the next few hours. “A pretty serious one. **** Henry fell asleep. Brighton arrived to shine a tiny light in his eyes and ask questions about the date. and Dr. He closed his eyes. a nurse took his vitals.regardless. turning his head to one side— away from Agent Feller—clearly indicating the conversation was over. We’re going to do a cat scan in the morning—” “When can I go home?” Henry cu in. “Concussion.” Henry didn’t keep the annoyance out of his voice.” the doctor told him.” “Fine.

” The conversation was over. if everything looks normal. “I would advise spending a few days here—” “No. and he couldn’t take them from this bed. Brighton huffed out a breath. There were actions he had to take. “I can rest at home. “After the cat scan. His gaze darted everywhere but where the doctor stood. .” Henry’s hands moved restlessly over the blankets. his foot jiggled against the mattress.” “Fine. I’ll release you. Thank you.father—things not done. not said—had given way to a dull calm. Unless I’m in danger of dying.” Dr. I want to go home.

**** Libby came back in the morning— showered.Norman would have been proud. changed. “Sick of this bed. Then he remembered his father was lying in a . “Henry. Terrible dreams and painful memories had tossed him like a tiny boat in a storm for hours. cranky and restless after a fitful night of sleep.” he muttered. how are you feeling?” she asked. darling. and neatly put together in a black twinset and slacks. She carried a large bouquet of orange tulips in a crystal vase. the roughness of her voice the only clue as to how she’d spent the night.

The lawyers called me.” “Right. his body ached as new bruises seemed to bloom every time he moved.cold metal drawer somewhere in this building.” Henry sat up with difficulty. he fel awful—how had he forgotten about his godfather? “He’s fine. He said you might be able to leave in a few hours.” Libby said. “I spoke to the doctor. “Things have…been happening.” Libby . “I can imagine. placing the vase on the wheeled table near his bed. Shaken up. and his stomach clenched. David talked to the board as well.” Her voice faltered. Sad. “How is David?” God.

before he could say anything. He wanted to know how long Paul and Hilary had been with us.” A strange relief coursed through Henry’s body.faced him. he wasn’t sure if they were hers or his. and for a moment. They need to eliminate the people known to us before . “It was strange.” Henry reached up to take her hand. She gripped the metal railing with both hands. “The FBI agent talked to me. done with her flower fussing. “As we all are. “And?” Did he ask about Archie? “He asked about the staff. “It’s routine. he could feel the fine tremors.” Libby said.” She bit her lip.

To imagine… anyone. “It’s just so terribly upsetting. the people who worked for his family didn’t hate them enough to do something so awful. “They’re going to talk to everyone. but someone who works for us…” Henry nodded.they can look outside.” he said with far more confidence than he felt.” Libby sighed. .” Her eyes shone with unshed tears as her grip tightened on his fingers. aren’t they?” “Yes. He wanted to believe that beyond a paycheck. His father wasn’t the easiest man. unable to voice reassurances. “Right. but he wasn’t deserving of death.

It hadn’t. She handled his leg under the assumption that the tiny pill he’d swallowed at six in the morning had sufficiently numbed the pain.“Let’s hope they don’t find anything. He gritted his teeth as she rebandaged the wound. A knock at the door saved him from having to continue with empty platitudes. **** Archie endured a prolonged visit from his doctor—a fast-talking woman named Vika Vikari—and her cold. “I’m willing to release you this evening provided you don’t have a .” he said eventually. probing hands.

and his mother ’s apartment—in the basement but too small for a wheelchair—and nodded.” She produced a small light. “Do you have a place to recover. a fourth-floor walk-up. Stay off your feet.temperature and you promise you’ll take it easy. shining it into his eyes. regarded him with frank disbelief.” It was only a little white l i e She snapped off the light and . without stairs.” “Headache?” “Not bad. where there will be someone to take care of you?” Archie thought about his apartment. “How’s your vision?” “Fine. .

Make sure you set up a follow-up appointment with your physician to check the healing. Archie couldn’t stop thinking about Henry. Norman Walker . Vikara all but rolled her eyes. Dr. which meant time to think—a dangerous occupation.” It was hard not to pump his fist in victory. “Fine. “I’ll stay with my mother.smiling in a way he hoped conveyed sincerity. She has a basement apartment. She left him alone after that. And she’ll take care of me.” There was a moment when he considered batting his eyelashes. couldn’t stop revisiting the reality. You should be out of here before dinner.

maybe a 4. Maybe an R. who had botched a kidnapping so badly they might have cooked up the plan over breakfast that morning. maybe a 4. most likely. He couldn’t go anywhere. identities still unknown. most likely.was dead. And there were dead men in body bags. J87. Blue panel van. J87. couldn’t yell for help. A passing bakery delivery van had . but he could lie there and repeat the description in his head. Midnineties. Midnineties. When he’d regained consciousness. there was wreckage all around him from the destroyed Hummer. Maybe an R. Blue panel van. the jumble of letters and numbers he had seen before he’d passed out.

Yes. Where was Henry? . yes. The sheer terror of not knowing where he was or what the kidnapper’s intentions were. he’d wound himself up into a frenzy of fear. By the time the paramedics had sedated him.found him twenty minutes later. All the while Archie’s main concern had been Henry. the young man in the driver ’s seat frantically calling 911 while approaching Archie with caution. Don’t worry. Relief had flooded through Archie as he was assured. the police were coming. They were on their way. Then the young man had held his wadded-up hoodie against the bloody graze of a gunshot on Archie’s left thigh.

It disabled Archie— though that could have been lucky as well.What were they doing to him? Why hadn’t he been able to stop them? Now. Archie examined the events. Eyes closed. The ramming of the Hummer— from the right. David to his left and Henry to his right. knocking them off the road into a cluster of trees. Was that the usual configuration? . lying in the hospital room. The timing was either perfectly estimated or complete luck. he had more time and a clearer head to think about it. Norman was sitting in the middle.

Why? . They left him alive. When Archie woke up. the one most likely to be able to give descriptions. he was outside the Hummer and already shot. a potential witness.Yes. Why not take him out? Archie opened his eyes and stared at the popcorn ceiling of his room. left him injured but not fatally. The most trained person in the group. Had they missed when trying to kill him? Was the graze an accident? Why not a second shot? They took his gun. They knocked him out.

It had taken less than an hour to locate the van. no demands. Bodyguards usually ended up heroes or dead in situations like that. a man in a . God knew he was grateful to be alive. But it was all so confusing. Why? **** He woke up a few hours later when an aide rattled through the door with a tray of food. no calls. pulling the blankets up over his shoulder. A motel just five miles from where the grab had taken place.He sighed. No ransom note. After she left. the motel. The kidnappers—all five of them— were dead at the motel. and rescue the hostages.

FBI. “Yes?” “If you have a moment?” The man approached the bed. eager to assist the investigation in any way possible. pushing the table aside.” Agent Turner was young and .” Archie covered his food again. holding out his identification for Archie to read. come in.dark blue suit entered through the open door. “Mr. He sat up quickly.” “Oh. “I was surprised no one talked to me yesterday. of course. Banks?” the man asked as Archie pulled the plastic cover off some limp-looking pasta. “Agent Turner.

” Archie’s smile faltered. I’m glad they’re all dead. His smile was affable as he moved to stand next to Archie’s bed.” David Silver said. Henry. I am. “Don’t you need my full statement?” “Not right now.handsome. sitting at Henry’s bedside.” Agent Turner pulled out a tiny spiral notebook and ballpoint pen. “I just have a few questions. Because if they weren’t…” . more like an actor than a real person. “A goddamn tragedy. **** “It’s a tragedy. Unease began to creep into Archie’s bones.

he’d lived in the same time frame with all the Mrs. “Yes.His voice broke slightly as he shook his head. David didn’t approve of the many wives Norman took. and begun to rant in a slightly manic fashion for nearly twenty minutes. aged them all. That said something. Walkers but had only been the best man for Norman and Camille.” Henry murmured. the gossips always whispered. She and David were polite chitchat sorts. Henry was trapped. because Henry’s mother was his . sat down. because he couldn’t think of anything else to say. Libby didn’t last for more than a few minutes. The past twenty-four hours had aged the man. David had arrived.

Of course. “Everything. He could do this.” Heir apparent. But he was twenty-nine. the caption of nearly every photograph in every newspaper and magazine since he was eleven. closing in on thirty in a few months.” His dark.favorite. the future. The business.eyed gaze narrowed in on Henry’s face. “This is on you now. said a small voice in his mind. well educated and surrounded by some of the best business minds in the world.” “Of course. All of it. The next Norman Walker. Henry. It made his head swim. one of them might have .

then watched David shuffle out the door. I’m going home. . He accepted the gentle pat against his wrist as a sign of affection. “I’ve put off the board until Monday.” He gave Henry a sharp glance. It’s what your father wanted.” Henry nodded. the will to be read afterward.” David rubbed at his eyes with one hand.orchestrated the event that killed your father. I’ll come by tomorrow to see you at the house. “The funeral will be day after tomorrow. “Fine. “You’ll be up for that?” “What? Yes. of course. They’re releasing me later today.” David rambled on.

and the clang of a wheelchair brought the specter of a smile to his face. now to be haunted by two ghosts. two sets of memories of lives gone in an instant? The door swung open.” “Clearly they haven’t seen you trying to maneuver that thing. desperate for a nap.” “Damn this stupid contraption. Desperate to leave and— what? Go back to his father ’s house. but he brightened when he saw Henry. and there was laughter.” He sighed. “Archie. “I asked for crutches.” .He’d barely had time to register a moment’s rest when another knock sounded. “Come in.” Archie bitched.

Their hands brushed against one another’s. “Except for the headache and the absolute dread of going home.” Henry twitched.” .” “David said the funeral is the day after tomorrow. “They’ll expect me to speak at the service. “How are you feeling?” “All right.” Henry caught Archie’s look. splayed on the mattress. Having to…” He trailed off. caving pretty quickly. and Archie didn’t push. He let his fingertips brush against Archie’s wrist. “Everything must be arranged.Archie freed himself from the door and rolled to Henry’s side. restless. they’re reading the will right afterward.

“No—not if you don’t want to. I think they’ll understand if you refuse.” “They’ll expect…he’d expect me to speak,” Henry said finally. He found only understanding in Archie’s expression. “I can’t argue with that.” They sat in silence, almost touching, Henry drawing comfort from Archie just being there, as he had been for so many years. Companion, friend, lover. “I was so frightened when we were in that room,” Henry whispered, gaze trained on the smooth, tanned skin of Archie’s forearm, the sprinkling of dark blond hair peeking out from under the robe’s sleeve.

“Of course, it must’ve been terrifying.” “I was…I was afraid you were dead.” The words rushed out, bumping into each other on the way from his brain, past his tongue. A cold fear started to creep along his skin—they didn’t talk to each other like that. They didn’t; they never had. “Oh.” Henry didn’t look up, but then he didn’t have to, because Archie was moving, leaning his elbows against the mattress to push up. His face—gorgeous, even bruised and pale—came to a stop a scant few inches from Henry’s, the expression one of utter seriousness.

“All I could think of was where you were and how to find you,” Archie whispered. Henry’s heart stuttered. The kiss wasn’t smooth or sexy, but the press of Archie’s mouth to his was the best thing Henry had felt in his life. Chapped lips and banged-up cheeks and weakened hands—put together, they were glorious and wonderful. Archie changed the angle just enough to slot them together a bit closer, licking along the seam of Henry’s lips. And he didn’t hesitate for a second to open his mouth, smothering a moan as their tongues touched. They didn’t do this; they didn’t kiss.

Or talk. Or reveal. Archie cradled Henry, one arm around his back, his hand holding Henry’s face as Archie deepened the kiss. Henry’s passive moment gave way to greediness; he sucked Archie’s tongue into his mouth, bringing one hand up to cup the back of Archie’s neck. Everything seemed to spark the next level of heat, of intimacy. Archie pressed Henry back into the bed, and that was the moment they both broke the kiss with dual irritated moans. “Shit, I’m going to end up on the floor.” Archie wrenched his arms away, barely catching himself before lowering

into his chair. His cheeks were flushed, his lips bitten red, and Henry wished he could crawl into his lap. Instead he reached out to stroke two fingers over Archie’s mouth, drawing a groan from the other man that indicated the best sort of pain. “Come back to the estate with me.” And the unexpected bombing of words continued. Surprise filled Archie’s expression. He looked at Henry, then away, blinking for a moment. “You’ll have people to watch over you. Your mum can stay as well— there’s plenty of room. The guest suite has everything you need and room enough for the wheelchair.” Henry

rambled, swallowing between sentences. “And I…I just really need…” You. Because Archie knew him too well, he didn’t make Henry say the word. Instead he looked at him, smiling, and nodded. “If you’re sure it’s all right.” It was a loaded question. “No one will question you recovering at the house,” Henry whispered, heart beating triple time. “We’ll be…discreet.” “Of course,” Archie said quickly. He rolled the wheelchair back a few inches as if subconsciously reacting to the reminder; at the house they would be Henry Walker and his faithful, injured

bodyguard, Archie Banks. Separate and separated. For a moment Henry despaired. The expectations he’d lived with all his life—the far-off “someday” as Norman’s successor—had suddenly exploded into reality. This wasn’t someday; this was now. When the will was read in two days, it would be official. And the only person who didn’t treat him like Norman’s son was Archie. “We’ll figure it out.” Archie tipped his head to one side, quizzical as he regarded Henry. A smile finally ghosted over his face. “You’re going to have a lot on your

plate,” he said gently. “I’ll be there if you need anything, but Henry, I don’t have any expectations.” “Thank you,” Henry whispered, but he didn’t mean it at all. **** Evelyn brought Archie a change of clothes. They were a pair, both with their bum legs and unable to move quickly or fluidly. But it was just the two of them, as it had been for most of Archie’s life, so today, as she helped him into sweatpants and a T-shirt, it was the status quo. Except for the fact that Archie had a gunshot graze on his left outer thigh, his boss was dead, and he was headed for

the Walker estate to recover. “You’re okay with coming with me to the house?” Archie asked, gingerly wiggling his feet into wool-lined slippers. “I worked there for twenty-five years, Archie,” she said with a huff, pulling a Windbreaker from her tote bag. “I can go back for a few weeks.” “I doubt it’ll take that long…” His voice drifted off. Take that long for what? To feel better? To be done watching out for Henry? He really had no idea. “As long as it takes.” That was clearly her final word on the matter as she shook the jacket in his direction.

“They’re sending a car, then?” “Yes, Mum.” Archie put the jacket on, then rested his hands on his lap. Every hour that passed, something began to ache and throb in earnest. He breathed through a moment of pain. “We have to stop at a pharmacy, fill the painkillers.” Evelyn went into fuss mode, hobbling around on her cane as she gathered Archie’s things— a few cards, a bouquet of flowers from Libby Walker— to get ready to go. “Do you need anything from your flat?” “My laptop.” Archie cringed—his schoolwork. His job search. “All right. We’ll stop there. You’ll

” he teased.” Archie smiled at that. “Remember. “I’ll pitch in where needed. resolving to hold his tongue and let her do at least some things to help him. I’m your mother—this is my job.” she said diplomatically. She stopped and shot him an impressively withering look.stay in the car.” she said. cutting him off. A chime sent Evelyn digging into . “And hush. you’re not supposed to be moving around so —” “Think of it as my new therapy. “Mum.” she said sternly. you’re there to help me—keep out of the kitchen. flashing him a green-eyed stare.

” She flipped her cell phone shut. By the time they were on the road to the estate. And he hadn’t had time to see Henry before he’d left. “I’ll get the nurse. And all .” He didn’t need to ask what she was referring to. “I hope it’s over and done. love. catching Archie’s attention. “It’s just so crazy. She worried her hands in her lap. Archie was exhausted.” In the end it took them almost fifteen minutes to get Archie and everything else into the back of the hired limousine. “I know.” Evelyn said. “The car ’s downstairs.the pocket of her jacket.

squeezing his mother’s hand. .those horrible men are…accounted for. He had his doubts.” Evelyn sighed. thinking such horrible ideas about Henry.” Archie nodded. she and Archie reached for each other’s hands almost at the same time. “I don’t want to imagine there’s anyone else out there.

“A hero. Archie. the housekeeper. bracing himself for the rush of people fussing over him. greeted them at the front door with red eyes and wearing head-to-toe black. holding his arm and leading him to the first-floor guest suite in the back of the house. and he tried not to lean any of his weight on .” The elderly butler barely made it to Archie’s sternum. Archie took his time getting into the foyer. “If you need anything. She and Evelyn embraced as Magnus directed the limo driver on where to carry the luggage.” Magnus blustered.Chapter Seven Hilary. anything at all.

and there will be no working. and then I can be of some help to you. I need a day or two off my feet. Magnus.suite bath. particularly when . all done in dark grays and Tiffanyblue accents.” Magnus tutted his disapproval. Walker gave us specific instructions. “Honestly. “I’ll be fine.” Archie collapsed on the bed with a sigh. sitting room. young man—you are to be treated as a guest. and en. “Mrs. A large arrangement of white roses sat on the dresser.” There was no messing with the man’s stern visage. The suite had a small bedroom. nothing but resting until her private physician examines you.the man lest he crush him.

” “Now. Magnus. Walker was adamant. “Of course I am fully avail—” Hilary didn’t let her finish. you’re not here to work either.Hilary and Evelyn came into the room. “While I’m sure everyone will appreciate you supervising.” Evelyn let go of Hilary’s arm and settled herself into a floral armchair in the corner. Archie was incredibly outnumbered. and Archie knew her leg was bothering her. She patted Archie on the foot gently. Evelyn—just to relax and be with Archie. She sighed. with all the visitors we’ll be having in the next few days—” “Supervising. “Mrs. You’re .” Hilary reminded. “Good to hear it.

” “Twenty-one years ago? Twenty- . never woke up.” she said sadly. “Lay down for a nap. only on staff since Evelyn’s stroke the previous year. “Aneurysm. She was new. “Seems like just yesterday we were dealing with Mrs.” Hilary caught Archie’s eye. Magnus nodded. Walker’s passing.guests.” A weird silence descended over the room then.” he said in answer to her unspoken question. shaking her head. did they talk about what had happened? Evelyn broke the hush first—she sighed dramatically. “Too much death in that child’s life.

and he and Evelyn had written back and forth twice a week. “Henry was just a little thing. so he contemplated the woven pattern of the gray comforter. Living with his grandmother wasn’t the worst thing. They’d left the tiny flat above the bakery and moved across the ocean.” “We were five. or close to it.” Everyone looked at Archie. His father had stopped by occasionally to check on him. eyes far away. .” He had been terrified to be in a new country but oh so glad to see his mother again after a twoyear absence. “Father and I had just come over from London.two?” Magnus seemed to be thumbing through the endless calendar of his memories.

and tiny Henry.into a grand house where the “servant’s quarters” were a great luxury compared to where they had come from. just occasionally peeking with one blue eye while the adults conversed. The disinterested Norman. Archie had been impatient with the little boy— weren’t they to be playmates? Didn’t he want to run around in the great spaces that surrounded this . new clothes. After being hugged half to death by his weeping mother. He wouldn’t come out fully. and brought to the main hall to meet the Walkers. redressed in clean. the blonde and ethereal Camille. who hid behind his mother ’s skirts at the sight of a boy his age. Archie had been bathed.

He wanted to protect him from what was to come. And Archie wanted to be gentle with him.” she’d said sadly. Henry had lost his father. Camille was dead.amazing house? Two weeks later Norman was in Hong Kong. His mother ’s voice cut through his hazy memories. “Come on. **** Now. and he shook away the cobwebs.” . pushing the hair out of his eyes. twenty-five years later. and Evelyn had Archie on her knee. “Henry’s lost his mum—you must be gentle with him. let’s leave him to a nap.

. “Wake me when Henry gets home—please?” She didn’t question why. We’ll bring you soup later. She shuffled over to the bed to drop a kiss on Archie’s cheek. Unfortunately. it seemed.” He smiled at her gratefully. Just like old times. in her own memories. lost for a moment.” “Stop.” Magnus helped her to her feet.“I’m sorry. stop. I’m going to the kitchen to have Hilary serve me tea.” Evelyn said drily. “You sleep. Mum. just nodded. “Thanks. seeing as I’m a guest. She ran her fingers over the soft fuzz of his buzz cut.

**** Henry slept the distance from the hospital to the house. “Hilary texted me—Archie and Evelyn are here. It wasn’t. he wanted to shake the man’s hovering hands off. The driver helped him out of the car. the sky a dark blue streaked with orange. Outside it was getting dark.” Libby prattled on. petting his arm gently. and Evelyn is staying in an empty room in the servant’s wing. Libby roused him when they arrived. I put him in the guest suite on the main floor. balancing her purse and the large vase of . but that would require the world to stop spinning. all settled in.

please allow me. “The caterers have been called for the reception tomorrow. reaching for Henry’s arm. “Good idea.flowers. Magnus appeared. The manic edge stretched from her voice to the tremor in her hands. “Madam.” Henry leaned on the driver ’s arm. with guests and all. after the… funeral. “I didn’t want Hilary to have to manage so much.” Her voice cracked as she walked toward the door.” he said. he wanted to see Archie.” Libby whirled around. At the top of the stairs. “I’ll . relieving her of it with demanding hands. letting the man guide him.” “Thank you. clucking over Libby holding the vase. Archie was here.

get you upstairs to bed. Hilary was standing at attention near the bottom of the stairs. seemingly every light in the house. dressed in her official uniform. Henry thought he should speak to the family doctor. Magnus.” Henry looped his arm around her waist. Please. he realized. “Please. was also . check with Hilary on dinner…” “Libby.” She stopped talking. take a breath. They went through the front door. see about getting her something to calm her nerves. but the vibrating jitters continued to rack her body. the one that was only brought out for special events held at the house. and Henry blinked—the lights were all on.

and the staff expresses their deepest condolences on the loss of your father.” “Thank you. . Henry wanted to cry. He managed it with some success—he didn’t end up on the floor at least. chin up.” Magnus said. “We just wanted to welcome you home. He stood next to Hilary.” he said softly. releasing the driver ’s arm to walk over to them. stiff and proper even as his eyes got damp. Next to him.wearing his formal suit. “We are here for whatever you may need. gazing at him with love and sympathy. in a simple blue dress and with her hair pulled back. was Evelyn. Mr. Walker.

“You being home will speed his recovery.” They think we’re friends. “Sleeping. . “Poor sweet boy. “I’m so sorry.” “Is Archie all right?” He lowered his voice as much as he could.” she whispered. When he reached Evelyn. just childhood friends. he leaned down and gave her a hug. trying not to read anything into Evelyn’s words —or the strange expression on Libby’s face when he turned around.” Evelyn pulled back.He shook Magnus’s hand and accepted a curtsy from Hilary. he didn’t bother with protocol. Henry thought. He’ll be fine. She reached up to pat his cheek tenderly.

“You’re getting soup and tea.” Libby said. then moved toward the stairs.” He considered saying he wasn’t hungry.” he murmured.” “I’d expect nothing else. why don’t you go upstairs and lie down? Hilary will bring you dinner. “Soup.” Evelyn called after him.“Thank you all for your support. suddenly composed. “Henry. casting her a small smile before concentrating on the seemingly endless flight of stairs above him. Henry squeezed Evelyn’s hand. but there was pretty much no way that excuse was going to work. **** Despite the exhaustion and .

It wasn’t normal anymore. really. Henry managed to get undressed and into bed without incident. Normal was this constant sense of dizziness and pain that racked his head. truly hit him. everything was normal and comforting and familiar. Normal was strangers committing violence against his family. unable to stop the tears trickling down . He pressed his face into his pillow. Normal was his life now belonging to WalkCom. And that was when it hit him.dizziness. Everything smelled better here. Normal was watching his father struggle to breathe and listening to apologies because no one could save him.

he rolled over to the dry pillow and fell into a dreamless sleep. just five. for his father and his mother and maybe even for himself. Just enough to tell his father that despite everything. He wanted five minutes. he loved him. . How were you expected to go on when everything that kept you moving was gone? Your motivation. Your inspiration. Gone. When he was out of tears. That he understood his father ’s world had collapsed when his mother died. Henry cried for a little while.his cheeks.

The finality of a funeral. head tilted to stare out the window. the limo carrying Henry. Libby. and Rebecca in the lead. David. Everything from here on would be private pain and mourning. Rebecca and Libby were talking in hushed tones while David checked his phone. as difficult as the service had been. . A dull headache throbbed behind Henry’s eyes as he rested against the seat. The graveside ceremony was rough. the reality that this was the end of the public display.Chapter Eight The procession of cars pulled into the driveway of the estate.

Time to greet the mourners who had been invited to the house. “Thank you.” David called. It was time.” he murmured. David was next. who patted his arm before leaving the limo.The door opened. “Sir?” “Henry? The lawyers are here. Time to hear the will. the hired limo driver letting in the sunlight and warmth to counter the chill of the airconditioning. . and finally Libby. and Henry couldn’t delay his exit a second longer. and make his transition to CEO official. accepting his hand to step out.” Rebecca said politely. “Thank you.

scooting across the seat as his head began to ache. A headache kept Henry in bed. Now the little group was talking quietly. they hadn’t had a chance to see each other in the past thirty-six hours. At the end of the line of cars. Magnus. Henry spotted Archie. literally head and shoulders above everyone else. emerging to the sound of subdued chatter from the mourners. Then the streams of visitors and preparation for the wake. and Kit. He accepted the man’s help. a fever confined Archie to his room. Henry felt as if he were drowning in the perpetual motion . Despite being in the same house. setting the house into a tizzy. Maria. He’d driven to the grave site with his mother.

murmuring to each other. as Henry and Libby entered the study. They walked up the steps slowly. the weight of the day wearing on them both. ten in total. Harvey were fussing with portfolios. Dunlop and Mr.of the people around him.” He took her arm. Henry felt a wave of nostalgia and sadness—he would never be here . “Henry?” Libby this time. Mr. I’m coming. feeling the tremors racking Libby’s body as he tucked her in close. Chairs had been pulled into a semicircle around his father ’s desk. “Yes.” “The lawyers are set up in the study.

“We’ll be ready to start as soon as everyone arrives. “You should sit down. Walker.” Libby whispered. Dunlop said.” It didn’t take long—an anxious young man in a dark suit appeared at the door. nudging him toward a comfortable damask-covered wingchair in front. it’s been such a long day already. “Mr. He hurried over to shake Henry’s hand. . He would never have the chance to alter the endless cycle of disapproval and resentment they were locked into. just noticing they had entered. urging the crowd behind him to take their seats.” Mr.again with his father.

” Mr. then limped to the one closest to it. . Albus and Mr. Archie settled his mother into a chair. He sat up a little straighter as the lawyers’ assistant shut the door behind them. Henry nodded. but his gaze never left Archie. They’ll be contacted afterward. Dunlop announced. “Mr. Seamus were unable to attend.Henry. leaning on Archie as much as he was leaning on her. Maria…then Evelyn. watched them enter. David and Rebecca Silver. Magnus. seated already.

was for the large bequeathals. and gave him a small wave. however.What were Archie and Evelyn doing at the will reading? He expected a token for Evelyn— she had been a fixture in their lives for over twenty-five years. He nodded. There was a list of former employees that would receive a small cash gift of appreciation from his father ’s estate. and his father hadn’t been home for days. smiled—flashed back to his childhood. her face masked in sympathy. Was Archie just here to accompany his mother? Evelyn realized Henry was staring in their direction. This reading. Evelyn had been there each . when he’d realized he had no mother.

please proceed. of course. focusing his attention. made him feel the same things. to wipe his eyes and cuddle him on her lap. His father ’s lawyers—his lawyers. Things he absolutely needed at this moment.time. Libby was saying something. “They’re starting. He associated her with comfort —safety. like breathing. his lawyers— started off with a tag-team rendition of welcome and a host of legal . Henry turned back to her. Henry. sniffling back a few tears.” It was now his place to say such things. Gentlemen. “Yes. they fell from his lips naturally. Like he didn’t have to think for them to happen. And a quick glance at Archie. tall and composed at her side.” she said again.

as if waiting for Henry’s gaze to reach him. Henry knew that look. glancing at each face. pretending to pay attention. Archie looked down at the floor. Archie was already facing his way.jargon. It was the one he’d worn during countless scoldings. There was sadness. No one . Henry tuned out. Curiosity. it gave him the ability to look around the room. His breath caught. and lectures during their childhood—the ones he endured when taking the blame for whatever mischief Henry had gotten into. then back up to the lawyers. warnings. a soft sound he covered with a quiet cough. for which Archie paid the price. letting his head fall back against the chair.

Walker wanted to thank you for your many years of loyal service to this house. .would believe the sweet little prince misbehaved. Henry smiled and nodded. Magnus had a first name. “Mr. Also. Dunlop tried to discourage. Harvey said a bit more loudly. Magnus was called on first. something Mr. “We’ll start with the smaller bequests.” Mr. but his words trailed off into a throat clearing. must be the drunk’s son. and to the family. He struggled to stand. as if trying to redirect Henry back into the present.” Mr. Magnus’s first name was Harold. It worked.

bringing a white handkerchief to his nose as he tried to maintain his stoic visage. Dunlop gestured toward Evelyn next.” Magnus made a choking sound. “Yes.” Henry could make out as their butler wiped his eyes. murmuring soothing sounds as he sat heavily in his seat. directing his comments toward the elderly man. still muttering. “Mr.” He peered at the paper in his hands more closely. Evelyn Banks reached up to pat his arm.” Mr. the sum of twenty-five thousand dollars. a great man. “You have been an exemplary employee. in addition to your pension. Walker leaves to you. . “A great man.Harvey said.

” The air in the room disappeared.“I won’t be standing. Dunlop continued on. And he thanks you. Mr. “Of course. everyone seemed to inhale deeply at once. Mrs. then hold in utter shock at the sentimentality. his beloved son. Henry blinked until he could . “Your love and caring for Henry was not based on expectation or salary but from your heart.” The pause allowed everyone to exhale. Henry swallowed a grin.” she said. Mr Walker wanted to thank you for your years of valuable service to the family. Banks. Specifically your devotion to Henry.

Walker leaves to you the sum of fifty thousand dollars. “Mr.focus. whispering in his mother ’s ear as she fell apart. Henry resisted the urge to go over and hug the woman who was—for all intents and purposes—his surrogate mother. He watched Magnus and Archie pat a sniffling Evelyn as she nodded. Mr. “The next bequest is for Archie . weeping openly into the wad of tissues in her hand. and the payment of your medical expenses for the rest of your natural life. Harvey cleared his throat loudly. in addition to your pension.” Evelyn cried louder than Magnus. Archie leaned close.

” Henry and Archie locked gazes. and Henry snapped his gaze to his godfather. but also for being Henry’s companion when you were children.Banks. and your honorable decision to repay your . It was almost derision. Not only for the years you’ve served as an employee. “Your devotion to Henry. Mr. Walker wanted to thank you for your service.” David made a sound this time. The older man looked away as Rebecca patted his leg. Banks. your allegiance to the Walker family. What the hell did David care? “Mr. shifting in his chair. snicking together like magnets.

without the need to take a job he didn’t want. without student loans. The yearly stipend would give him freedom to choose a job he wanted.” Archie gasped. . It was beyond generous. Norman had never seemed to notice Archie.father ’s debts impressed him greatly. And he would like you to know your student loans will be paid in full. and Henry felt the utter shock and surprise in his bones. Build a nest egg. Buy a home. let alone take the time to consider him an honorable man. and you will receive a stipend of twentyfive thousand dollars per year for the next ten years. And this was beyond a thank-you—it gave Archie a clean slate.

Somehow Mr. All he could do was stare at Archie. didn’t hear anything. Walker—Henry. Maria this time. “Mr. To Henry. Her pension plus a one-time gift of twenty-five thousand dollars. Henry. His devotion.” Mr. Henry didn’t see her reaction. and paid medical expenses for the rest of her life. Could his father have known? The thought slammed into him unbidden. Then his brain was off and running. sorting through every memory he could pull up. Not the Walker family. . Harvey was still talking.

Harvey’s voice interrupted his manic stream of consciousness.” Henry whispered as the young man in the suit scurried to the back of the room.” he said automatically.” The room seemed to twitch as one. Walker a glass of water.” “You can continue. “Of course.” Mr. “Are you all right?” “Yes. “Gerald? Pour Mr. There’s a separate letter for you. please. clothing. “His bequest is one million dollars. vehicle. “Just a little dizzy. and the house in . Harvey cleared his throat. as well as your jewelry. “To Elizabeth East Walker.” he said kindly.

Henry wasn’t sure if she was disappointed or overwhelmed.Maui. “David. until you are so inclined to retire. Therefore I bequeath to you a permanent seat on the board of directors. David and Rebecca were next. In addition to your pension. you have been my closest friend and trusted confidante for thirty years. He realized a second later it didn’t say anything about the estate or her living there.” Rebecca sniffed loudly. dazed. and David .” Libby shook her head. I could not have achieved the success of WalkCom without you. my gift to you and Rebecca is one million dollars and the apartment in Rome.

bowed his head. His shoulders were stiff, his neck flushed bright red. Henry leaned over to pat his godfather on the shoulder. How he must be feeling his mortality at this moment… The man turned his head, just a flash of a moment, and Henry saw anger. Then sorrow. They shared a moment, and then Henry leaned back. From across the room, he caught Archie’s gaze. “And lastly we are left with the final bequest, and that is for Mr. Norman Henry Walker, Jr.” Gerard finally made his presence known, coughing to get Henry’s attention. He handed over a large glass

tumbler of water. “Thank you.” Henry concentrated on the water and let Mr. Harvey’s voice roll over him. “To my only son and heir, Henry, I leave the following: the Walker estate and all its lands and possessions. The vehicles, the plane…” Mr. Harvey paused. “There’s a listing of everything, Henry, for your edification.” Henry nodded, growing more and more numb. “As to the matter of WalkCom… Henry will assume the duties of president and CEO…” There it was. The future he had

been groomed for. “…providing a majority vote is reached by the board of directors.” Henry shook his head. The water sloshed over the sides of the glass, splashing into his lap. “What?” No one in the room moved. Mr. Harvey looked at his partner for some support, then turned back to face Henry. “According to the will, the board of directors will vote on whether or not you will be installed as president and CEO.”

Chapter Nine

Archie couldn’t catch his breath after the will reading. The fever that had flared up left him lightheaded, but the revelations in Norman’s study—he was lucky he could still stand. Or sit, rather, because they were in the kitchen, perched on stools around the island. Magnus, Evelyn, Kit, and Maria —all slumped over their cups of tea as Hilary buzzed around, putting together a bit of lunch. Everyone else was eating a catered meal in the dining room. “Hilary, can I give you some help?” Evelyn called, breaking the awkward

silence. Archie could see Hilary was about to decline, but she smiled at him from across the room, where she sliced a loaf of home-baked bread on a board. “Oh, Evelyn, that would be lovely. Could you finish with the bread while I put the meat on a platter?” Magnus muttered something about being stuck in the back room—Archie knew he wanted, needed to be out there, working. But Libby had insisted they take a few hours off, letting the catering staff handle things instead. It was driving him crazy. Maria sat politely in the chair, hands in her lap. No one knew her very

well, and no one felt comfortable talking about the shocking end to the will reading. He and Kit had been exchanging looks since everyone had been shuffled out of the room, listening to Henry and David talking loudly with the lawyers. The will made no sense. Where it should have been completely straightforward—Henry got everything —it was just one surprise after another. Including the bequest to Archie. His head was still spinning, and it wasn’t the fever. Kit sipped her coffee loudly, catching his attention. “I need a quick breath of air,” she said suddenly. “Archie? Care to join me?” She couldn’t have been more

obvious, and Archie couldn’t have been more grateful. “Excellent plan. We can step out the back door.” He didn’t spare a second to check out the expressions on Maria’s or Magnus’s faces; he dodged his mother and Hilary with his head down, his limp keeping him from moving too fast. He just followed Kit’s tiny figure and her flaming red hair across the kitchen, then out the back door. In the distance he saw the pool house. How much had changed in seventy- two hours. “Oh my God,” Kit huffed, throwing

herself in the Adirondack chair tucked around the other side of the herb-garden pots. Hilary had clearly made herself a quiet nest. “Seriously—oh my God.” “That about sums it up.” Archie leaned against the side of the pergola. “I can’t believe Mr. Walker is dead. Or that…that will!” Kit did a crazy wave thing with both hands over her head. “It’s insane.” Kit had been waiting for them as they left the room. She had heard the commotion. She cornered Archie with the snap and aggression of an angry teacup poodle. “Why would he do that?”

“No clue.” Archie sighed. “How can we help him?” Kit looked at him helplessly. “He must be… I can’t even imagine.” “We have to watch his back. If the board is going to vote—well, not everyone is going to bend to the obviousness of Henry taking over. There are people on that board who want to be CEO.” Archie shook his head. “I’m back in the office tomorrow. I’ll definitely keep my ears open for gossip.” She rolled her eyes. “And there’s going to be a shitload.” “Can you call me when you hear anything?” Archie caught her expression; as far as she knew, he and Henry were close friends since childhood, and he

was now a devoted employee. “I don’t think we should upset him.” “Right. He’s already pretty overwhelmed.” They sat silently for a moment. A rap on the door startled them. Hilary opened the door and peeked out. “Sorry—lunch is ready.” “Thank you, Hilary.” Archie straightened, trying to ignore the twinge and the headache and faint burning in his cheeks. He had things to pay attention to, and how he felt wasn’t on that list right now. **** Maria and Kit were driven back to the city in a hired limo.

Archie couldn’t even pretend he wasn’t waiting for him—he just sat and smiled and watched. Henry was absent from all this. and Magnus was patrolling the house. Two hours later and the man of the house finally appeared. sitting in a purloined chair as he rested his leg. The caterers cleaned up and departed as Hilary supervised a few temporary workers in tidying up. He looked ten years older—suit wrinkled and tie askew. Archie lingered in the hallway outside the kitchen. looking for things out of place. When he .Everyone else had left. His mother was off to her room for a nap.

inclining his head toward the guest suite in the back. “I was waiting for you. A tiny smile ghosted across Henry’s face. “I’m not even going to lie.emerged from the foyer. He gestured up the staircase. he spied Archie and stopped in his tracks. He looked…exhausted.” Archie said softly. but Archie did his best. keeping a healthy distance between them as they made their way down the small hallway .” Henry opened his mouth to speak but shut it a second later. They both moved slowly. It was hard to read Henry’s expression. Archie shook his head.

He spoke to Henry’s back.” Henry said. Archie limped over. waiting for his lover to turn around. his voice sounding defeated. “Sit down before you fall down. furtive glance to make sure no one was around to see where they were going. .” were the first words Archie said after they were safely in the sitting room. He hesitated for a moment. door shut and locked behind them. Together. just a quick. I won’ be able to start again. “I feel like if I stop moving. Henry trembled. No words. then laid his hand against Henry’s shoulder.toward Archie’s temporary rooms.

“Come on.” Archie whispered. He maneuvered Henry with gentle nudges until Henry turned and then sat down on the small settee with a thump. the pulling strain of the bandage on his thigh making him uncomfortable. “You shouldn’t be walking around on your leg so much. he settled down with a tiny moan.” Archie .” Henry scolded mildly. When Henry looked up at him with wide blue eyes. pushing up against Archie’s body as he did. “Join me?” Archie didn’t hesitate. “Only way to walk around. Archie felt his heart turn over.

What’s your plan with the board?” He stiffened in response. “Are you all right?” “No. This is all a mess. dragging his gaze to the painting of lilies on the opposite wall.” Archie brushed his fingers over the . just shy of a hug.spread his arm on the back of the couch.” “What can I do?” Henry tipped his head to one side. “What can I do? I’ll le them decide what my father couldn’t. He regarded his lover with a serious expression. “What can you do?” “There must be something. regarding him quizzically.

It’ll earn their respect. . “You have to make your case…if you want to. his forehead wrinkled. if you truly want to be the head of WalkCom. not one that wouldn’t take Henry’s dead father to task. he thought. the thin strip of skin between his hair and the collar of his shirt and jacket.” Henry turned to look at him. “What do you mean?” “I mean. He didn’t have an immediate response to Henry’s words. you have to convince the board you’re the right man for the job.” Or you could walk away.back of Henry’s neck.

They made it into the small bedroom in .” “Bed might be more comfortable. pulling Henry closer. melting a little against Archie’s side. “Yes. fixing his dark blue gaze on Archie’s face.” Archie limped and Henry shuffled. and he would have to stop touching his lover —but today wasn’t that day.” said Archie. He slumped into the back of the couch.” Henry lifted his head.“I could do that. At some point the boundaries would come into play. “Do you want to lie down?” “This is fine. his voice neutral as he looked to the painting.” Henry said. “Think about that tomorrow.

” Henry murmured Archie turned around to find Henry staring at him. indicating he’d been on his feet too long. then stripped off each piece of his suit. “Someone might…” Archie didn’t respond. horrified. The pants were rough going since his thigh was throbbing. “What…” Henry just walked over. “Get your suit off. he undid his tie. throwing it on the floor. not quite looking at each other. eyes never . And Henry looked lost. “Oh God.” Archie took charge because he didn’t know what else to do.silence. There was a faint pink stain in the center of the bandage.

He swallowed. but in the hours since the kidnapping Archie couldn’t stop them from flowing out. trying to keep his emotions in check. stroking reverently. “It’s okay. Archie cradled Henry’s head between his hands. “Henry…” When he dropped to his knees. Archie’s mouth went dry.” But Henry reached down to touch the edges of the bandage.leaving the covered wound on Archie’s leg. When Henry pressed his mouth to trace where his fingers had been. Couldn’t stop .

When Henry’s lips grazed the hard line of his erection through the fabric. He reached up for the waistband. down to his thighs— oh so careful moving past the bandage. “You don’t have to…” “Shhhh. a touch. wrinkling the fabric from Archie’s boxers as he moved. Archie moaned faintly.touching Henry. And Henry seemed to feel the same way.” Henry whispered. Archie shook with the tender attention . his breath caressing the length. which throbbed under the promise of a kiss. carefully he pulled them down over Archie’s erection. He rubbed his cheek up Archie’s thigh.

Archie trembled. He braced his hands on Archie’s hips.” Another long swipe of his tongue. “You’re so beautiful. that had been the way they’d fucked.oo k. this time ending with a twirling twist over the head. “So brave.” Henry murmured. . being paid to his body. leaning forward to lick a stripe up his cock. Usually Henry offered and Archie t For years. Archie. But this was something else entirely. as if hypnotized by the long length of his lover ’s body.

” Henry wrapped one hand around the base of Archie’s dick. the warm palm sliding over his hip and ass with curious abandon. But oh God.“So patient. aware that letting go right now would leave them both on the floor. it hurt so good. it was almost too much. the fingers curled around his base. warm and tight as he squeezed. The slick wetness of Henry’s mouth. “Henry.” When he took Archie in his mouth. Archie felt himself swaying with the perfect pleasure of it. Henry. . he was mindful of Henry’s trauma and injury. He kept himself still through sheer force of will.” Archie choked out. “So dear to me.

wrapping his arms around . but Archie was already losing.” Archie murmured. Henry demanded his orgasm wordlessly. “So fucking amazing. Archie slid to his knees. swallowing him down. It was a battle of wills. ignoring the twinge. milking every drop until Archie’s knees buckled. Henry roughly pulled him closer.hips rocking as he tried in vain to hold off. When he pulled back. a stuttering movement of his hips as Henry drank him down. He couldn’t stop the need to kiss Henry. to pull the taste of his own orgasm off his lover’s tongue. and Archie never could say no. He gasped as he came.

until Henry’s naked body was revealed. he wanted to lay him on the bed and make love… “Please. “Come here.” Henry whispered as he broke the kiss. pulling Henry with him. teeth and tongue battling for dominance. He wanted to tear Henry’s clothes off. with Henry’s trembling hands joining him in the disrobing. All the tenderness in Archie’s heart . He went to work on his clothing.” Archie stood with difficulty. His hips rutted against Archie’s thigh—it was impossible to miss the meaning. Everything was shed in a matter of seconds. The bruises hadn’t faded.Henry’s torso. The kiss was wet and rough.

eyes closed and head thrown back. cock to cock. he eased Henry onto the bed. Archie lay over him. Archie’s hips began to move.” he whispered. stretching to his full height until they were lined up— lips to lips. mindful of the bruises. baby. Archie feasted on the gorgeous curve of his neck. . and that was making sure Henry knew how much he was adored. biting at Henry’s Adam’s apple as he increased his thrusts. Henry moaned. “Come on. There was only one thing he could think of.bled out. The gasp beneath him spurred him on. rubbing their bodies together. licking up to Henry’s ear. come on.

“Archie.” Henry gasped.” Archie whispered back. a damp sigh against his lover’s shoulder. body and soul. . shielding Henry from the rest of the world. I’m right here. “I’m here. He arched.“Just let go. a wet spurt between their bodies signaling his release. love.” A few more strokes—Henry’s cock rough and dry against Archie’s stomach —until Henry let go. truly.

nearly a week since the kidnapping. Everyone was waiting for Henry to crumple to the ground. and he’d finally convinced Libby and Evelyn to let him venture past the front gate. Paul had the same expression on his face—concern—as he held open the door. Four days since the will reading.Chapter Ten “It’s good to see you. Henry smiled.” Kit said as Henry got out of the car. let her take his briefcase as her hands hovered nervously. Which was why he pushed his shoulders back as he walked toward the .

putting his hand on her elbow to guide her to the elevator that much more quickly. He exchanged polite smiles and subdued greetings with the security guards and front-desk staff. “Can we…we talk about it upstairs?” she murmured.” The slight hesitation in her voice gave him pause as they stepped through the doors.building. Henry nodded. “Did you schedule everything I asked you to?” “Yes. “What’s wrong?” Kit’s gaze dropped to his shoes. Kit trotting along at his side. all the while aware of Paul shadowing him and Kit fidgeting at his side. .

They exited on the executive floor.” he said. while others dropped their gazes . “Good morning. “Let’s see if we can’t keep this place running in tip. nodding to acknowledge their stares. People walking by stopped and stared.top shape.” He smiled. A few people reflected that back. Henry felt the expectation growing.There wasn’t a second he could pretend this was just another day at the office. it seemed. almost by accident. or at least attempted to. A small crowd gathered. where all activity seemed to cease— and all the sound disappear—as Henry stepped into the reception area. The elevator ride was silent.

” he said to Kit.” Kit said slowly. other office.” Kit nodded.” It came out harsher than he wanted it to. He sighed inwardly. Henry turned on his heel and strode quickly down the hallway to the small suite of offices he . “Let’s go. “Your…” “I know what you meant. Let’s just—I’d rather be in my office for right now.and scurried back on their way. heading toward the left hallway. and that immediately showed in her expression. Then realized she wasn’t following h i m “Um—I thought you might be in the . her cheeks turning a flaming red. “Sorry.

Out of the twelve. already exhausted.shared with Kit. Three refused outright. “They know about the fucking will. only four would agree to meetings. The rest said they would get back to me. “What’s wrong. dropping into his chair with a sigh. “They know about the will. They didn’t talk again until they were in Henry’s office. He ignored the multitude of flower arrangements. Those are on your calendar. and since I’m a lame-duck president. Kit?” “I called the board members.” Henry leaned back. they don’t have any urgency to . His head pounded while red flicks of anger began to build.” Kit’s words came out in a frantic rush.

” He waved her off.m.” Kit stood. He and Kit had always . as if distancing herself from his harsh words. “Where’s David?” “Mr.” Kit leaned back. sir. Silver is working from home today.” “Yes. sir. Nine a. “I’m calling an emergency board meeting. No proxies—everyone needs to be there. “Get legal and public relations in here. I want to know what’s going on. instantly regretting his tone as the door closed behind her.respond.” “Yes. Tomorrow.” Henry scowled.

maintained a good relationship— friendly and easygoing. . in his selfishness. scrolling to find Archie’s number. Henry. and with the double team of Evelyn and Hilary. He took his smartphone out of his pocket. Now he was acting… well. But before he could dial. The doctor wouldn’t clear him to work. his desk phone rang. his persistent fever having come back with a vengeance. a thought that sliced him twice. with shame and sadness in equal measures. desperately wanted him here. he had little chance of getting out of bed anytime soon. he was acting like Norman. Archie was still in bed. with a healthy sense of humor.

The same irritating smile. and Agent Feller entered. Walker. “Fine.” Henry dropped his phone on the desk. Sorry to disturb you. “Mr.” Henry didn’t offer to shake his hand. That same tie. “What can I do for you?” “We’ve done a thorough . “Agent Feller with the FBI is her to see you.” Kit said nervously through the speaker. The door opened.” “An appointment would work better.“Yes?” Henry tried to school his voice into politeness despite the flare of anger at being disturbed. send him in. He gestured toward his visitor chair.

” . “Try someone else.” “Are you going to share them?” “How well would you say you know Archie Banks?” Henry laughed.” Agent Feller crossed his legs.” Henry’s blood went cold.” “You’re sure. feeding information to the kidnappers.investigation of the kidnapping and have come to the conclusion that there was a person working on the inside. Loudly. “Do you have a name for me?” “No.” “Absolutely. Archie had nothing to do with this. Not yet. “But I have some ideas.

Archie could have been killed by those men. Not to mention it was the information he provided that led you to the motel. “I need to ask you to open your household to my agents.“He fits the profile of the person I believe we’re looking for.” The change of .” Agent Feller didn’t even blink. phone logs. I don’t want to hear this theory again. “Unless you have another name or black-and-white proof.” Henry’s anger mounted.” He sounded convinced. That bullet could have torn an artery. Positive. He could have bled to death on the pavement. “Then you’re looking for the wrong person. We’d like to check accounts.

” Except he did.conversation was smooth. I have nothing to hide. The board was turning their back on him. “Call the house and talk to Hilary. and I trust him with my life. The urge to do it pushed him for a moment. are lovers. She’ll arrange for . “Whatever you need to do. and a chink in his armor would be suicide. Henry shrugged. Archie and I . she’s the housekeeper. I know he didn’t have anything to do with it because we love each other. A whisper of fear went through h i m Couldn’t he just say. but it quickly died into fear.

At four the doctor came .whatever you need. **** Archie slept all day.present mother. Henry knocked a decorative globe to the floor in a quick sweeping motion. waking only to receive tea and water from his ever. the haughty smile in place.” Agent Feller rose.” When he was gone.” Henry turned his chair. “Thank you.” “I’ll be in touch.” “Thank you so much. “May I also speak to your assistant about records from your office?” “Of course. reaching for the receiver as he gave the agent a dismissive glare.

He understood things were difficult at the office.again. and there was still recovering and healing and grief to work through. mostly because seeing Henry depended on his lover coming to him.” There was no arguing—not with his mother right there—and Archie was resigned to his bed. and that didn’t seem to be happening all that much. He just wanted to not feel so incredibly helpless. . I’m prescribing an antibiotic. “Another few days and you should be fine. “A slight infection. It was frustrating.” he pronounced. examining his wound and taking his temperature.

The fever even prevented him from doing his schoolwork. Mum. . with the best of the household towels and plates. He imagined his mother on the phone with his teachers. “Yes. If he didn’t pass these three classes. “Were they understanding?” Archie smiled. Another semester seemed like forever at this point. pouring his tea into a rosebud-painted cup.” Archie managed to sit u p . The tea tray was full of traditional treats. and suddenly his graduation was in jeopardy. **** “Did you e-mail your teachers?” Evelyn asked. he would have to retake them.

demanding he get extra time after what he had been through. yes. so eager to rush back into the fray.” He took his tea.” he reminded her. it’s fine. “Yes. Evelyn barely managed to restrain her eye roll. That’s something at least. “Yes. You and Henry. at least you’re resting now. “Well.” “I hope to get cleared for work in a few days. no attention paid to your injuries. letting the fragrant aroma calm his nerves.” . “Hmm.” Evelyn sat in the chair at his bedside. I got two weeks…” “That’s barely enough time!” “Mum. her own cuppa in her hands.

“I cannot bear to see you looking like that.” She gave Archie a dirty look. pale and smiling wanly.“If the doctor says—” “That doctor isn’t your mother.” “Yes.” “I could get another…” “Henry Walker. there stood Henry. ma’am. t their attention.” Evelyn pulled herself out of the chair.” Well. now. and as if he’d heard his name.” Archie tried not to laugh—if only . “Sit. “Sit down. I cannot deal with more back talk at the moment. Archie couldn’t argue with A soft knock at the door drew both h at .

a gentle smile hidden behind teacups and a faked cough. “Yes.” It wasn’t a question. Neither of them dared complain. “Tea. “I’m going to heat some more water.” Evelyn declared. But he wasn’t going to stop his mother from giving Henry and him a moment alone. Evelyn busied herself at the cart. though Archie doubted they’d gone through it all yet.not to inflame his mother more—as Henry unbuttoned his suit jacket and settled into the chair. fixing them each a plate. ma’am. When she’d disappeared out the .” Henry and Archie shared a look.

a ob. carefully balancing his napkin and plate on his thigh. “The board meeting was a disaster. Archie turned his focus entirely on Henry. they’re doing a marvelous j They sat quietly for moment. “How bad was it today?” “Worse than yesterday.door.” “They’re just trying to psych you o ut. ” Henry’s gaze far-off to an imaginary .” Henry paused to sip from his cup. if possible. despite my directive. Only five people showed up. It was impossible to miss the dark circles under his eyes and faint tremors in his lover’s hands. ” “Well.

“The FBI agent was back.” The cup rattled as Henry set it . turning his head to face Archie.” Archie supplied.” “You seem awfully calm about this.” said Henry in a flat voice. “He thinks it was someone inside. and Archie’s locked on his face. “I suspected as much when they talked to me in the hospital. curious and careful. “He thinks…” “It’s me.” Archie nodded. “Did he have any news?” Archie asked.distance. “He thinks…” Henry drew in a sharp breath.

I have nothing to hide…” His voice trailed off. “It’s not a joke if they find out about us. ask them if they knew about us.” “The FBI is not the media.down on the nightstand. It…it just makes you look bad. “What should I say? I didn’t do anything.” “No. His voice had gone high and tight. Henry They’re not going to put it on Page Six.” Henry’s eyes were narrowing. Archie watched his face grow more and more pinched.” . but they might go to other people. “Well. I have nothing to hide when it comes to the kidnapping.

” he snapped. . then eased himself onto his feet. The fever kept him off balance.” Henry stormed out of the room. leaving a mess in his wake.Archie’s hand jerked. He barely noticed the heated liquid seeping through to his lap. “Why does it make me look bad? You’re the one sleeping with the help. but he managed to walk over the spilled food and then to the sitting room. and the tea spilled onto the coverlet. “What the hell?” Archie threw the covers aside. “I have other things to worry about. Henry stood up so fast the plate fell to the floor.

“Fine. perspiring under the strain. registered her surprise. Ten minutes—if you don’t . are going to bed. He encountered his mother in the hallway. He’s in a mood. however. I promise.” Archie said darkly. You.Henry was nowhere to be found. Ten. I’ll go back to bed right after that. “Why did Henry shoot past me like his tail was on fire?” “I don’t know. leaning against the doorjamb.” “No—I have to…five minutes. “Where did he go?” “To the study. Using the walls to guide him.” he negotiated. Archie walked slowly out of the suite.

who had taken over driving duties. Maybe this was grief. then set out again to find Henry. **** Henry sat on the couch. I’m coming for you.come back. a tumbler of scotch in his hands. Even his venom for the FBI agen and the various board members who seemed hell-bent on ignoring him. Maybe this was long-buried anger coming to the surface. He wasn’t sure what was wrong. Blowing up at Archie was the last thing he wanted to do—added to his harshness toward Kit today and snapping at Paul.” Archie nodded. .

“I know. But he didn’t resist taking Henry’s arm.” They walked to the couch slowly. clearly paying the price for getting up. . and Henry drained his glass before turning around.Henry just wanted five minutes where his head didn’t fucking hurt. “Henry?” Archie called his name.” Archie countered. Guiltily Henry got up. He could see his lover holding on to the doorjamb with white knuckles. rushing to Archie’s side. It was just a fucking piece-of-shit day.” “And you shouldn’t be freaking. “You shouldn’t be out of bed.

“I’m sorry. “I know. he squeezed Henry’s fingers between his own. I told him he was crazy. Henry took Archie’s hand in his. . It could be anyone but you.” The anger was there—but Henry heard the thread of fear.” “Why are you pissed at me? I’m the one the FBI thinks is a fucking criminal. “You did?” “Of course.Archie holding tight to Henry’s arm. Once they were settled. A shadow crossed his lover’s face.” Archie’s blue eyes softened.” Henry said drily. You’re a horrible liar —I’d know if you wanted to kill me.

serious as Henry had ever seen him.” “The kidnapping wasn’t the point?” “No. Archie nodded. “I think they were trying to do something else.” Archie looked at him. “Maybe.“What?” “I don’t think that was the point. I can’t explain it. but…it just doesn’t make sense.” “Good idea.” “I’m going to have the security department at WalkCom send over some people.” “Maybe hire a food taster.” “Like scare my father so badly his heart would give out?” Henry murmured.” Henry . Just to keep an eye on things. Maybe create fear and chaos? I don’t know.

This was what he’d wanted all day—a kiss. Henry. “My mother and Hilary will take it personally. pressing his lips to Archie’s with a small sound of satisfaction.joked. I know you will. Archie rested his forehead against Henry’s. A moment to feel safe.” “Right. Or the lameduck king. they breathed the same air for one glorious moment.” It was hard to keep the bitterness out of his voice. When they broke. . as it were. no food taster for the king.” Henry leaned forward before he could check himself. “You’ll convince them.

Archie nodded. but Henry shook it away.” He sneaked in another kiss before straightening.“I have to get back to bed before my mum comes to find me. “You know where to find me. “But you can come tonight if you want. “I’ll try.” For now. But you need your rest.” The hopeful tinge to his voice made Henry warm for the first time that day.” he said softly. a little voice said in his head. .

They didn’t look interested for the most part. trying to convince them he wasn’t that child anymore.” Henry stood at the head of the table.Chapter Eleven “Thank you for coming. Some of them had been there since Henry was a child. . playing with Matchbox cars while his father conducted business. staring out at the board of directors of WalkCom. Now he stood before them. when he would sit outside the boardroom.

” . To install me as president and CEO.” Kit had printed his notes in a huge font in deference to the debilitating headaches that had been plaguing him in the past two weeks. or to give those critical positions to someone else. but there were times the pain made the initial blows to his head pale in comparison.“I’m sorry to make demands on your time like this. He knew he was recovering from a concussion. “It’s common knowledge that my father ’s request was for the board to vote on my future role with the company. but it’s a difficult period of adjustment and I want us to resolve things so the future of WalkCom is secure.

I assure you. Interest. both in school and within these walls. scanning their faces once more. this company has been my life’s focus since I was old enough to understand what a steel manufacturer did. He would take them. I believe I was still in diapers. Dislike.He took a breath. being my father ’s son. “My education. He saw it all. has always been directed toward running this company. To one day step into my father ’s shoes. Even when he . “As you know. He was a demanding and critical man— and he worked for the company every day of the past thirty years as if he had something to prove. Indifference.” A few laughs.

” Henry paused.” . “I second that request.” “I…have something to prove to all of you. and I will be open to your questions and concerns. In that time. I will present my ideas for the company to each of you. To that end? I ask for a period of four weeks. “Is that acceptable?” David Silver— who hadn’t looked up from his lap since Henry began his speech—now leaned forward to regard his fellow board members. there will be a vote. At the end of the four weeks.didn’t. That I can improve on what he began. That I can lead as my father did. That I can make this company a force to be reckoned with in the global market.

” “Fine. sir.” someone said from down the table. then turned and left the room. “I’ll stay at my apartment. Henry gathered his things. “All in favor.” Kit said softly. shielding his eyes with his hand as Kit scribbled notes on her pad.” Henry said.” The throbbing at his temples was threatening to choke the .“Third. you can take one of the corporate lofts if you need to. The motion passed.” David called. “I just need to go home and pack a bag. **** “We’re going to work through the weekend.” “Yes.

sir.” “Can I bring you some lunch?” His stomach swooped and rumbled. Just something for this headache.” She hadn’t called him Henry in a week. her desire to do more. “I need some aspirin and coffee. Kit.” He could feel her pause. Can you get legal on the phone?” “Yes. but hunger was too small a part of it to chance food. When she was gone. Couldn’t let himself be weak right now. “Thank you. He tilted . Henry let his body relax fully into the chair. “No. But he couldn’t accept it.breath out of him.

He wanted to sleep. The phone jarred him out of the drift he was falling into. With a sigh. . It’s the concussion. begging for help with Henry. It’s the grief. another tantrum. juggling two overnight bags and a tray of lattes as he walked down the hallway. Another moment in the Jekyll and Hyde roller coaster they were enduring.it back. said Libby. **** Archie managed to keep the coffees from spilling. said Evelyn. eyes closed. Henry reached over and picked up. Another day. Kit had sent him a pleading e-mail an hour ago.

” Kit sniffed the latte. thank you. Her face exploded into bliss. Again. “Where’s Henry?” “Legal. He dropped the bags on the visitor ’s chair as Kit made a dive for the refreshments.” Archie settled . “I love you. “Oh. sorry.” “Still gay. bitched Kit. Or publicity. thank you. even her bright red hair seemed duller.It’s the pressure. then took a sip. They all looked to him to handle it.” he said. putting the tray on her desk. He practically lives up there.” Kit whimpered when he came into view. The young woman seemed to have aged a decade in the past seven days. “There’s a bag of cookies in my suit pocket.

A clearing throat turned their attention a second later.into the other chair. “Am I interrupting something?” The tone made Archie sit up. And cookies.” he shot back.” she teased. and they both laughed. “Ew.” He gestured to the bag and tray on Kit’s desk. “One night. “Plus some things from home. Kit nearly dropped her coffee in her lap. “I brought some good caffeine.” . Henry—frowning like he’d caught them doing something besides laughing —stood behind them. let me at least try.

. Cool. Kit. not giving him a second glance. Henry’s expression didn’t change. Kit hurried after him. I need you in the office. pen and notepad in hand. When the door slammed behind them.” Henry walked past Archie. Archie blinked in shock.He kept his voice casual. break’s over. “Well.

walking into Henry’s office unannounced. To eat a real meal and sleep a full night. He’d resolved to go back to the estate tonight. Half past seven. “What?” “I spoke to some board members— they seem to be responding to your campaign. .Chapter Twelve “Good news.” Henry checked the time. “Thank God. And see Archie. clearly pleased.” David said. Henry resisted the urge to throw the phone at his head.” He plopped himself in the visitor chair.

” .” David picked some lint off his sleeve. Henry blinked at him. I got him a job. I recommended Archie.The past seven days had been strained. and voilà— problem solved. “What?” “A job. and I did you a favor. They were on the edge of implosion at the moment. at Brighton Chemical? He needs someone in his international contracts department. Henry was an asshole. Archie retreated. My friend Charles.” “A favor?” “Archie Banks. “Oh. A real one. Henry got more frantic. Archie acted like an employee.

“He’s got nothing but gossip and whispers surrounding him. If they haven’t arrested him…” Henry shook his head. No. He doesn’t have to leave.“Why was it a problem that Archie was working for me?” Henry asked slowly and deliberately. “I’m going home.” “It’s been almost a month. It’s all over the building that the FBI thinks he might be involved in the kidnapping. They have nothing—no proof. “He didn’t do anything. David looked surprised. that wasn’t what he wanted to say.” he .” With that Henry grabbed his phone and stood up.

he put on his turn signal. They were halfway home. Before Archie could put the car in park. waiting for David to get the hint. watching the back of Archie’s neck with painful intensity. when the words tumbled out of his mouth. empty in the darkness save for an 18-wheeler at the opposite end.announced.” he croaked. his jacket . **** In the car. cruising along the Thruway. Henry was quiet. They ended up at a scenic overlook. Archie said nothing. “Pull over somewhere private. but at the next exit. Henry was undoing his tie.

pushing him onto his hands and knees with greedy hands. panting and eager as Archie— still wearing his pants —yanked Henry over.following a second later. please. Henry pulled at Archie’s belt. “Come back here. He dropped his head. Archie pushed the passenger seat all the way forward. hot hands kneading and pressing his ass open. moaning. squeezing himself into the backseat with amazing agility considering his injured leg. as Archie’s . He was naked first.” was all Henry managed before he felt those big. he licked his lips as Archie began to pull his jacket off. “Please.” The begging note to his voice should cause him shame. but not this time.

but he didn’t touch himself. no soft licks. but Archie didn’t stop. eyes screwed shut. Shocks of arousal sparking from the wet tongue pushing into him. nothing more than sweat and spit. demanding and angry as if punishing Henry with pleasure until he surrendered. Henry pushed against the door. Then two.tongue flicked over him roughly. His dick was hanging heavy between his legs. There was no lube. A finger. tremors dancing up his spine. Just ownership. Three fingers and the silence was chased away by Henry’s . No casual kisses. Nails digging into the leather seat. Archie was relentless. using his tongue as a penetrating weapon.

moved once. Henry nearly cried as his orgasm stayed just out of his reach. which couldn’t be contained another second. his entire body throbbing in time with his heart. Archie wrapped his hand around Henry’s cock. He collapsed on the seat. slicing him in two. coming between the twin forces of Archie’s hand and his mouth. the blade cut him open and he was done. Archie cleaned him up. twice. It hurt so good. Dressed . replacing the constant throb in his brain with a sharp knife. and God.moaning. That fierce tongue circled and pressed between the thrusting fingers.

He was falling apart. into a million pieces. “Shhh. go to sleep. Handed him a bottle of water. . baby.” Archie whispered. Henry closed his eyes and realized it was the only thing his lover said for the entire ride. Wiped his face when he started to cry for no reason a few minutes later.him.

It wasn’t something he did often. Living in this house was starting to wear on him. but the chance to be outside and have a quiet moment was too good to pass up. His mother was taking care of Libby now that Archie was back on his . enjoying the steady beat of the sun on his back. people trying to put their lives back together. So many…broken things. it was different now—full of ghosts and anxiety. While it was the place he’d spent most of his childhood.Chapter Thirteen Archie waxed the BMW in the driveway.

Henry continued to grow angrier and more erratic as the days went by. Libby wasn’t the only one on a downward spiral. and Libby certainly required some attention. Evelyn felt tea and sunshine would improve her state. Archie thought the answer lay somewhere between the two extremes. With the board meeting only two weeks away.feet. It made her feel needed. the stress was ratcheted up to “nuclear reactor meltdown. and not just . The young widow had gone from stoic to insomniac to a weeping mess over the past few weeks. the doctors gave her antidepressants and sleeping pills.” Archie was tired.

One second he was offering Archie a job at a friend’s company. when Archie demurred. the insinuation .physically. After the bizarre sexual meltdown in the car. The man clearly couldn’t stand him. They’d barely spent a moment together. he was locked in his office with Kit and David. Henry slept. he and Henry hadn’t been intimate. David Silver. during drives. During the day. He never missed an opportunity to throw out a comment about the investigation. it made Archie miss the days of indifference. his demeanor got nasty. Archie made a face at his reflection in the BMW’s hood.

He jumped up. Archie took a break. His bank records were checked. His credit history. so he reached for that. “Archie? Archie?” A frantic Hilary began to call him from the window behind him. He was completely innocent—why did he feel like they were going to show up with cuffs at any moment? Sweating.that Archie was suspect number one for the FBI. he had a water bottle hidden in the shade. His phone. He sat on the decorative rock near the garage. responding to the . He’d endured two more interviews with the asshole Agent Feller.

The security office from WalkCom sent over a slender young man named . With his protestations loud and unhappy. come quick.concern in her voice. Harold Magnus apparently had a first name and a daughter.” **** Exhaustion and old age. Magnus was shipped off to Florida to stay with his daughter. It was all very shocking. but in more diplomatic terms. far away from the demands of the estate. Magnus had to take a break immediately —complete rest and attention from loved ones. the doctor said. “What’s wrong?” “It’s Magnus.

still unsure as to what she wanted to do—and given free rein to live there as long as she wanted— and Henry lived in the study when he was even there. Libby stayed in her rooms. who didn’t look strong enough to open a jar but proved helpful to Evelyn and Hilary by carrying groceries and running errands. neither of which happened anymore. All of them. A butler was a relic of the old days. The “staff” ate in the kitchen. with parties and formal meals.Carl. . Fractured. It was all they needed at this point.

“Hi.” she murmured.” Libby swung her legs . Sorry—the doctor gave me this ridiculous sleeping pill. Archie. He went to her side quickly. helping her sit up. Her paleness and quiet tone broke Archie’s heart.Chapter Fourteen Libby was lying on a delicate pink lounge. turning her head to face him. she looked oddly out of place in the ornate room. In a pair of black sweats and a gray yoga top. nearest the plank of sunlight coming through the farmost wall of the solarium. and I can’t wake up. “Thanks.

I’d like to have my faculties back. but…the paranoia. dwarfing her with his size. then patted the space next to her. Mostly it felt strange to be sitting so close to Libby. as I know you are.” Archie sat gingerly.” Archie held his breath.” He let out a frustrated sigh. but I’m not sure why we have to be so…discreet…about talking. “I’m concerned about Henry.” . Of course it’s expected after what happened. “Yeah. He felt awkward on this delicate bit of furniture.over. “I’m thinking of skipping it tonight. It seems wildly over the top. “I got your note. I know.

” Libby sighed dramatically. “I was thinking we might come up with some ideas to help Henry.” “Whether he likes it or not?” She shrugged one delicate shoulder. all hours of the night.” Libby patted Archie’s knee. “Yes. “Everything makes him angry. then stiffened in . Norman wouldn’t have wanted that.” “That’s not the impression Henry had. Sleeping. He’s not eating. I refuse to let him work himself to death. Just poring over the books and every scrap of paper in Norman’s office.“This business with the board is overwhelming—I don’t know that he’s had the time to grieve.” Archie muttered.

“And now he’s never going to get the acknowledgment he’s craved.embarrassment.” . “Henry’s always been concerned with living up to Norman’s expectations. “Oh—Mrs. excuse me…” Libby put her hand up. I knew I chose the right person to talk to.” Archie slumped down. please call me Libby. Archie. but I’m not under any delusions regarding his parenting skills. And please don’t apologize for speaking your mind.” “Oh.” Or lack thereof. It hung in the air between them. Walker. “Archie. I loved Norman very much.

” Libby looked up at him with sad eyes. and Archie automatically reached out to draw her into his arms. so much. I hate that he’s taking it that way. He wished his mother were here.” She sniffled. . He let her weep against his shoulder. awkwardly patting her back. “I miss him so much. And I don’t believe the will was meant to be a slam against Henry.“I…” “Norman was a difficult man—I’m not denying that. I wish I had done a better job of convincing Norman to reach out a bit more to Henry when he was alive. But he loved Henry so.” She started to cry. “I’m racked with guilt. Archie.

The expression on his face—it was the same one Archie had seen when Henry had walked in on him and Kit talking that day in the office. wiping at her eyes ineffectually. framed in the opening archway of the room.” he murmured. the grayish pallor to his skin. Libby looked up in surprise. Jealousy. “Henry’s here. Archie got up and walked toward Henry. He couldn’t help noticing the dark circles under Henry’s eyes. gently disentangling himself from Libby. Archie sighed. He was .he wished… And that was when he saw Henry.

“What the hell are you doing?” Henry asked. who stood behind Archie.leaning against the wall. “You lied. Archie got closer. “Trying to fuck your way to another rich . “Libby was upset…” “You told me you had a doctor ’s appointment in the city.” Archie said evenly. his tie askew. voice low and shaky.” “Libby was upset and needed to speak with me. “You’re a fucking liar.” Henry snapped. What else have you lied about? Maybe the FBI was right about you! And you!” Henry turned his anger toward Libby. “Why the hell are you still here?” His face got ugly with rage.

” It came out far gentler than Archie meant it to. but Archie barely flinched as he caught Henry’s body to his. and the oddness of it. he put his hand up in a supplicating gesture.” Archie yelled as he grabbed Henry’s arms. There was a wheeling of arms. and it was that motion that set Henry off.husband?” Libby gasped. stop. gave him pause. forcing him . He lunged at Archie. stop. Archie watched him go from quietly annoyed to roaring fury in a few seconds. “Calm down. already off balance as he pushed away from the wall. “Henry. the sheer “not Henry” reaction.

love. bucking his body against Archie’s. his voice breaking in the middle of his words. trickling off in a choked sound.against the wall. The glassiness of Henry’s eyes scared him more than the aborted attack. The brace of their bodies became less about control and more about comfort as Archie loosened his grip.” he .” Archie murmured. Like he didn’t know why he was there. He used his body as leverage to stop the crazed flailing. “You want to fuck Libby? How about Kit? What the fuck is wrong with you?” Henry screamed. “Shhhh. “Easy there. Henry looked so confused for a moment. feeling the fight go out of Henry.

“Archie?” Henry said.” Understatement. Archie didn’t ask . “I don’t —” “I know—let’s go sit down. Libby pressed a blanket into Archie’s hands before rushing past him and out the doorway. “Yes. all right? You look a little pale. They barely made it to the lounge before he collapsed.whispered as Henry’s limbs went lax under his hands.” Henry let Archie manhandle him. leaning against him as he lost more and more of his ability to stand up. Henry looked like the sky during a blizzard—a whiteout—the only color in his face the piercing blue of his eyes. blinking up at him. all right.

Do you want to move him or…” . relax. Henry was ill.” It was Libby. “Your mother is back. who was sprawled on the lounger. he didn’t turn around. his entire being was trained on Henry. her voice full of tears. smoothing it over him until the shaking slowed. his focus lost in Henry’s pale face and rapidly blinking eyes. “Archie?” “Yes. “I called an ambulance. His heart raced with fear.” Archie tucked the blanket around Henry’s body. And Carl. love.where she was going. This wasn’t anger or paranoia. breathing erratically. Archie heard footsteps behind him.

“What could be wrong?” “Maybe the concussion.” Archie stroked Henry’s damp forehead. “My heavens. thank you.” Libby came to stand on the other side of the chaise. brushing away the hair from his eyes.” Evelyn breathed. what does it remind you . the drag of her leg announcing her presence. her hands clasped against her chest.“No. “They said ten minutes. “Mum. The clatter of footsteps cut him off.” Archie soothed Henry’s eyes closed with gentle touches. “Maybe…” He didn’t finish the sentence. He’ll be fine here. Archie felt his mother ’s hand against his shoulder.

” Libby offered. Something wasn’t right. And anything else that doesn’t belong in his system. you need to tell the doctors to check for steroids.” A cold chill settled under Archie’s skin. He nodded. frowning.” Archie said.of?” he asked. “When we get to the hospital. looking up at her with hope in his voice—and a touch of desperation. he had a bad reaction to steroids. “And he barely drinks water. “Practically hallucinating. “No—it’s like…when he was a boy. “Liquor?” she asked. . let alone alcohol.” Evelyn’s expression deepened. he could feel it in his bones.” “He hasn’t been taking anything that I know of.

” The number of people Archie could trust was withering away to nothing. Commotion caught all their attentions. and Libby hurried to direct the paramedics in. er on Archie’s shoulder.Libby gasped. dear?” “You’re the last person I can trust entirely.” His voice cracked.” Evelyn murmur h hand tightening ed. “Just keep it quiet. Henry had drifted off. Below his hand. an unnatural sleep as he moved restlessly. “Yes. “Mum?” Archie turned to face her. “God n i heaven. okay? No one but the three of us and the doctors. “We have .

” Evelyn touched his cheek lovingly. We’ll protect him. “Not at all.to watch Henry carefully. Archie.” the female paramedic said. The paramedics didn’t take long to make it to the solarium. I promise.” Archie nodded.” Libby said. his throat closed with fear. her voice unnaturally loud. “Thank you.” “It’s not your fault. even as they moved Archie away from Henry’s still form. The young man and older woman were efficient and polite. “We think he might have had a bad reaction to steroids—the kind you take when you…pneumonia. .

And then it was quiet as they took Henry's vitals and prepared him for transport. .

“Perhaps close the room to visitors if we can. her purse clutched in her lap.” “God. “We need to keep an eye on who comes and goes. the role reversal not lost on Archie in his haze of nerves. Evelyn sat in the backseat. knuckles white against the strap. Archie—do you really believe someone would do that?” .” Archie said. Libby sat beside him.Chapter Fifteen Archie drove the BMW. He lowered the heat so he could lower his voice. following the ambulance as they headed toward the small local hospital. tapping on the steering wheel.

He followed the directions to visitor parking.” They paused briefly at a stop sign before taking off again. Awful. relieved as he spied the hospital up ahead. Archie nodded.” Libby pulled he phone from her purse.Libby’s voice quivered. not really. . And what someone would be willing to do to get control of the board. And—we need to call that FBI agent. They should send someone to the hospital. “This is just awful. “Drug Henry?” “We still don’t know who was behind the kidnapping. hands shaking as he retrieved the ticket. I’m going to call the security company we’re using on the grounds.

Archie settled her and Libby in chairs close to the admitting desk so he could keep a watch for the doctors. Henry had been whisked away behind the heavy swinging doors. and they couldn’t go back.He would protect Henry. “Should we call someone at the office?” Libby fretted to him on one of his passes. no matter what it took. “No. Evelyn needed to sit down. And then he paced. not yet at least.” Archie looped around the . **** At the front desk the trio was redirected to the emergency room.

looking around the semi-crowded waiting room. “Is Mr.” Evelyn bitched as he walked by. Then back again. “I wish they’d bloody hurry up. Walker.” Libby didn’t even flinch at the man’s dubious expression or the one he cast at Archie. His stepmother. “We’re here with Mr. Walker ’s family here?” A doctor was standing at the desk. Walker. Yes—he desperately wished that as well.chairs. down a small hallway to a soda machine. gesturing to Libby and Evelyn. “Archie and Evelyn . back through and down the hall to the bathrooms. “I’m Mrs.” Archie said.

Is there a family doctor we can speak to. to confirm this?” Libby and Archie exchanged looks. Archie suspected he had no idea who Henry was.” The doctor clearly didn’t care. “We’ve taken some blood to test. . Walker seems to be having an allergic reaction.” Archie felt his stomach twist into knots of fear. He hated being right about this. Bonner paused. Mr.are…family. “I’m Dr. though he might enjoy some salacious gossip if his expression was anything to go by. “He says he isn’t taking any medication right now.” Dr. Bonner.

“I’ll stay here. could we speak privately?” Archie lowered his voice. Bonner. Mum. “Of course.” He gestured them to follow him back into the emergency room.” “Of course.” Evelyn leaned up.” Evelyn said. Could you call back to the house—let Hilary and Carl know what’s going on? They shouldn’t talk to anyone who comes to the house or calls. “Dr.her nod was miniscule. her hand tight on her cane.” Dr. Bonner blinked in surprise. “I believe we need to contact an FBI agent and things need to be kept…quiet. No word of where Henry is. Archie smiled and squeezed her arm. and . “All right.

Bonner was saying as Libby went to Henry’s side.” Dr. Walker? I have your family here. hooked up to an IV and several monitoring devices. **** Henry was lying on a bed.he met her halfway for a kiss to the cheek. “Mr. He’d been stripped down to his undershirt and slacks. something that reassured Archie for the moment. tucked in a corner cubicle. She took his hand . Bonner through the swinging doors. “Sending Henry my love.” Archie gave her a reassuring nod and then turned to follow Libby and Dr. He looked slightly less like death.

” he began. And you wanted to make a phone call.in hers. Henry opened his eyes wearily. “Sorry.” Dr. Tears welled. and Archie put a reassuring hand on his ankle through the blanket. “You’re sick. standing still as a statue at the bottom of the bed.” he said softly. Bonner murmured. squeezing gently. but Archie squeezed gently. A bad reaction to something. His gaze immediately went to Archie. Henry nodded and closed his eyes again. Just relax. “We’re going to keep him until the test results come back. looking from Libby to . blinking under the bright overhead light.

“Just rest.” Dr. Bonner assured them. Bonner departed a few seconds later. “I’ll make the call. so Archie extended his hand. dear.” Libby leaned down and kissed Henry on the cheek. I’ll be back in a few moments. I’ll be back. and Dr. “When I hear something from the lab.” They shook. “Thank you. leaving Archie and Henry alone. Bonner and briefly touched Archie’s arm before leaving the cubicle.” Libby smiled at Dr. Henry’s eyes were still closed.Archie. Archie found a visitor ’s chair in the .

corner and pulled it closer to sit next to Henry.” Henry said so softly Archie almost missed it. did you? No medications. Henry’s face contorted. “I don’t know what’s wrong. No vitamins. “I’m thinking someone gave you steroids—you’re allergic. then his confused expression grew .” Henry licked his lips. “When I was little.” “Right.” “No. You didn’t take anything yourself. Nothing. Do you remember that?” Archie’s voice was hushed. his eyes opened as he turned his head to look at Archie.

you have to believe it’s not me. I could never hurt you—ever. he shivered under Archie’s gaze. “You would never hurt me. “Someone gave me something.” “They’re poisoning me.” “Yes. But first.” The fear in Henry’s voice made Archie move. It’s my job to protect you .panicked.” “Never. I swear. Henry. nodding weakly. he stood up to lean over Henry’s body. “I promise I will make sure no one hurts you. raising a soothing hand to touch his face.” The impassioned words somehow penetrated the fog Henry was in.

” Archie didn’t think about what happened next. broken and sad. and we will talk when you’re feeling better.—and I will. “Sorry. silent and tucked into each other. They stayed like that. “Don’t apologize. You’re sick.” Henry whispered. please. until Archie’s . breathing deeply as he curled closer to Archie.” Archie said firmly. Henry listened. it was natural and necessary to brush a kiss against Henry’s clammy forehead. finally. then against his dry lips. And Archie worried that his lover could hear his heart pounding out of his chest.

At some point Henry had drifted off to sleep. Archie heard them.” Dr. Bonner said quietly. straightening up with a quiet groan.” Libb whispered as Archie came up next to her. When he turned around. both of them were frowning. **** Libby and Dr. But he couldn’t move away. Bonner returned at approximately the same time. “Good. “Let’s speak out here.” .back ached. “The FBI is on their way. beckoning Archie to follow. Archie nodded. and Archie didn’t want to disturb him.

“You were correct.In the hallway. his former cool and collected demeanor gone. More than a prescribed amount.” .” “He had a severe concussion recently. About four weeks ago. The anger and paranoia should subside pretty quickly. He should feel much better in an hour or so. Bonner waited. “What’s wrong?” Archie asked. Bonner took a deep breath.” Archie swallowed hard. but the muscle aches and weakness will continue for a while. Dr. “How long before it wears off?” “A few days. There is a huge amount of steroids in his system. Dr.

Can you tell me where he was treated? I need to get his chart. What should we do. “This is crazy.” Libby already had her phone out.“Ah—okay. And our personal physician. “This is the attending doctor.” Libby murmured. Archie? . He was the one checking on Henry after we brought him home. Let me give them both a call—we might need to run some additional tests. Bonner gave them each a nod and hurried away. and he quickly wrote them down on Henry’s chart. Archie felt his knees weaken. Bonner the numbers.” She showed Dr.” Dr. “Thank you. “Crazy.

” “Where should I go. She stopped.Call the security firm?” “No—no one goes into the house unless we know we can trust them. but we can manage. We’ll go to Mum’s apartment. “Which means we can’t let Henry go back to the house until Carl is checked out and we get another security company. then?” . It’s small.” “He was thoroughly investigated before—” “By whom. Less to check and maintain.” Archie ran a hand over his face. Libby?” he broke in.” “So we’re not going home. nodded. “The security office at WalkCom.

s ? ”


“Home. We’ll keep up appearances.” “And when they ask where Henry “Tell them he’s staying at a hotel in

the city to be closer to the office.” Archie looked at his watch, in desperate need of coffee and food and peace. “Actually, Maria can start that going now. I’ll have Kit leave the office early with a stack of folders and his laptop.” “You’re very good at this spy stuff.” Libby laughed weakly, her hand fluttering against her chest. “You missed your calling.” “Don’t know about that. Still can’t be sure who’s doing this.” Archie reached into his pocket for his phone.

“I’m going to call Kit and talk to my mum.” Libby nodded. “I’ll sit with Henry.” Archie watched her go into the cubicle and then headed back down the hallway and through the swinging doors. Everyone from the hospital personnel to the patients and their families received a long, hard look. Paranoia wouldn’t serve him—he needed to think carefully about access and motive. “Mum?” Archie dialed Kit’s private cell number. His mother stood shakily as he approached. “I’m going to need a favor.” Kit picked up after the first ring. “Hello?”

Archie held up his hand to stay his mother’s questions. “Kit, it’s Archie. I need you to do something for me.” By the time Archie and Kit finished their brief conversation, Evelyn was clearly bursting with questions. And the FBI had arrived. Agent Feller and his partner were standing a few feet away, waiting politely for Archie to get off the phone. He heard their conversation in snippets. Then the younger agent said, “Inside knowledge and a big bankroll don’t necessarily equal results. Or maybe money wasn’t what they were after.”

Archie lost track of everything for a second, then walked over. “Agents,” Archie said, reaching his hand out. “Mr. Banks.” Agent Feller smiled faintly. “We received a call from Mrs. Walker.” “The doctor has confirmed a large dose of medication that Henry has a bad reaction to in his system. It wasn’t anything Henry took on his own.” He let the words sink in. The gray-suited agents shared identical looks. “Can we speak to the doctor?” “Dr. Bonner. I’ll ask for him to be paged.” Archie gave his mother a

reassuring look before leading the agents to the front desk. “We’ll take it from here, Mr. Banks. Thank you.” Agent Feller dismissed him, still with the polite smile. “Fine. I’m going back to sit with Henry.” Agent Feller shook his head. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.” Archie had had enough. “Unless you have evidence to prove I was involved in the kidnapping or have ever done anything to Henry, I will be sitting with my friend,” he snapped, conscious of the people milling around, trying to see what was going on.

“Why don’t you do your fucking jobs and protect him?” With that Archie walked back to his mother, the rage running over his skin like a rash. “What is it?” Evelyn asked as he dropped down to a crouch so she wouldn’t have to get up. “Take a car back to your apartment. Please. Get it ready for Henry and me. need somewhere safe to keep him.” Archie’s words ran out, that frantic fear bubbling up inside him again. Evelyn nodded, her eyes wide and round. “Of course, love. Right away.” “You don’t tell anyone where

you’re going or what we’re going to do.” Evelyn’s mouth was a tight line; Archie hated worrying his mother, but he was running out of ideas. “Yes,” she murmured. “Thank you,” Archie said, grateful down to his soul. “Use Tommy’s car service. Ask him to bill me later. No credit cards.” “All right.” Evelyn cupped his face with both hands, her expression utterly serious. “You be careful, Archie. Don’t be so worried about Henry that you forget to protect yourself.” “Promise,” Archie whispered. She kissed him on the forehead and let him go, already focused on her

“assignment.” When Archie stood back up and turned around, the FBI agents were gone He took that as further evidence they had jack shit on him. And no way to stop him from being with Henry.

Chapter Sixteen

Henry worked his way back to consciousness one tiny step at a time; when he could finally open his eyes, he was greeted by a reassuring sight. Archie. Sitting at his bedside, chin dropped to his chest. He started to ask why he was there when the aches hit him all at once. It felt like he had been pummeled. It felt like his head was going to split open. It felt like the kidnapping. Adding to his growing sense of dread, Henry couldn’t remember what had happened.

rid .


“Archie?” mouth


rasped, his

Archie’s head popped up, his expression one of relief. “Thank God.” Archie was up in a flash, going to a small side table where a mustard-colored plastic pitcher waited. He poured a glass of water and returned to Henry’s side. “Drink this slowly, all right?” Archie’s hand was strong and supporting under Henry’s neck, making it easier to lift up and take a sip of the water. It felt so good it nearly hurt. He drank until the glass was empty, encouraged by the smile on Archie’s face.

“There you go. Archie’s face softened. followed by the memory of attacking Archie— yelling and trying to hit him. coming back to sit on the edge of the bed. “You were sick. stern and . and Henry sank into the pillows with relief.” Archie laid him back on the bed. We’re not going to discuss this again. “Where am I?” “You don’t remember?” Archie put the cup down on the side table.” Henry frowned. and you’re sorry. little bits of memory dancing around the throbs of pain.” he said. “I…” The shame hit first. His head ached. “They admitted you to the hospital.

” “Yes. you’re staying with me. but you’ll be fine.” Conversations leaked back into his mind.” “I accused you of trying to sleep with Libby.” “Who…” Archie’s expression changed into something tense. . “Steroids. with an attempt at levity. They’re keeping an eye on you. and it worsened the symptoms of the concussion.” “And Kit. Worried. They made you ill.” Archie said. “I don’t know—but I will find out. “All I care about is you feeling better.tender at once. Until I do.

” “Thank you. “So you forgot I was gay— clearly I haven’t been proving that to you enough lately.” he whispered. Henry reached to touch his lover. not . It hurt to see Archie like this. worse to know he was the cause.“God.” Weakly. at the doubt and sadness playing over his beloved features.” Henry murmured.” Shrugging. “I love you too. He glanced at Archie’s face. “I love you. And we’ll talk about everything else when I know you’re safe. straight in the eye. grasping his wrist and pulling it to his chest. Finally Archie looked at Henry. Archie dropped his gaze to the blanket covering Henry’s legs.

“Not many people know of it. And it’s smaller—I can tell what’s going on a bit better than in that fifteenbathroom monolith. had returned to the house to prepare a bag. actually. The private room was darkened to relieve Henry’s tired eyes and headache.letting go of Archie’s wrist. “That’s a good plan. surprised. They sat quietly for a while.” Archie said gently. teasing him. and Evelyn was readying the apartment for his arrival. Henry assumed the fortresslike house was safer. he was told. Libby. “I’m going to your mother ’s place?” he asked.” .

smiling.” he murmured. Archie looked at him then. golden skin pinked around his cheeks. He was sure there was a billboard across his forehead.” “She might be right.” Archie’s warm. and Henry closed his eyes to stop the onslaught of things he wanted to say just watching his lover’s face. it felt like.Archie played with the corner of the blanket. . “Ah well—no uniform for now. Libby thinks I missed my calling as a spy.” “I’ll suffer. broadcasting every feeling he had. You do look amazing in a black suit. right under the surface. right through him.” Henry felt his emotions bubbling up. “Jeans. Sorry. “Thank you.

” Archie regarded him. “Not pouting. “Maybe a little. Opening one eye. then right. tilting his head left. “You know I’m helpless when you pout. I promise. “I’m surprised .” he said.” Henry opened both his eyes. pressed the heel of his hand against his right eye. But I’m letting it slide since you’re sick.” “Not sick.” “The FBI…” “Is still chasing me. He heard Archie sigh loudly. poisoned.” Archie shook his head.” “We’ll figure this out.Henry swallowed. “And scared shitless. Henry tried to glare.

Feller and his sidekick aren’t in here. Banks. who joined Archie at his bedside. How are you feeling?” “Run over by a truck several times. “Doesn’t matter.” Henry licked his lips. there was a gentle knock at the door. I don’t believe them. holding on to a file. warning you to stay away from me. Mr.” Henry looked at Archie. Bonner stuck his head in a second later. then at the doctor. “And a bit concerned with how .” He entered the room.” “Good. “Mr.” “If they were before. “I’m glad I caught you awake. I don’t remember.” Before he could say anything else. Walker. Dr.

your reaction to the medication is only partially to blame. Delegate. The rest lies in the consequences of your concussion. “I have a business to run. I think you went back to work entirely too soon.” The physician clearly wasn’t interested in excuses. “You need to take it easy.” Henry scowled.” “Well. shifting in the uncomfortable bed. Part-time. “Or else you’ll be finding yourself back in here and facing some pretty serious consequences in not allowing yourself to heal.” Dr. and by that I mean bed rest and calm for a few weeks. Bonner said sternly.” “Then run it from bed.little I remember from today.” .

” Part of him was scared enough to take a break—but the other part knew WalkCom was in far too much turmoil and danger to turn things over to anyone else. Bonner seemed to have an advanced bullshit detector.” Archie cut in.” he said finally. Bonner ’s. The only person he trusted implicitly at this point was Archie.” He opened his eyes. and Henry closed his eyes in annoyance. folding his hands together. “I’ll take some time off. “Fine. “I promise. . noting that Dr.Archie’s stern face was equally matched by Dr.” he added. work from home. “I’ll be with him at all times. “Do a little less.

“So I’ll be able to manage his sleep schedule.” Henry said drily. “All right. Banks is going to also have to manage your eating and drinking. Bonner gave them both a smile and a nod. Mr.” “Yes. he’ll be happy to smother me with a pillow when I won’t stop working. clearly. after you’ve had another IV of fluids. Bonner. Henry tipped his head back and stared at the ceiling.He was using the chauffeur voice. You’re on the verge of dehydration. “Stop enjoying this . Mr. Walker. That finally satisfied Dr. Then I’ll let you leave in a few hours. then headed out.” Dr.

“I mean— bossing me around.” “I’d rather you could fight back.” Archie’s sharp tone made Henry wince.” “I’m never going to enjoy seeing you in a hospital bed. Everything.” he said gently.” Archie’s gaze dropped to the floor.” “Of course. Employee. he turned his head to look at his lover. “Will you be okay by yourself for about fifteen minutes? I want to make a few more follow-up calls and get everything set up.so loudly.” Henry pulled the covers a little higher. Friend. . “I know.

I’ll be right outside. reaching down to squeeze Henry’s shoulder before stepping away.” Henry didn’t tease the serious expression or spy-like request. “It’ll be fine.” Henry murmured as Archie put it into his hand. tight in his hand. though. “Old school. “Fifteen minutes.” he added to reassure them both. the backup for his cell phone. If anyone comes in here you don’t know…” Archie reached into his pocket and pulled out his pager. .” “Got it. He was scared enough to tuck the pager under the blanket.“Fifteen minutes. “Keep it out of sight and send me a 911 page.” Archie said again. no more.

The stormy blue of Archie’s eyes made him dizzier than the concussion but made him feel far safer.” Their gazes held long enough for Henry’s heart to start beating wildly. Without another word Archie turned and headed out the door. .“I’ll be here.

a place she and Archie could have away from the estate. “Archie!” The man came up to .Chapter Seventeen Evelyn lived in the basement of a nineteenthcentury row house in Prospect Heights on a treelined street. She had started renting years ago. embracing Archie as soon as he stepped out onto the street. So when she called to say her son and his friend were staying there for a few days while she was away. Boris couldn’t do enough. for vacations and weekends away. And the landlord treated her like family. He met the cab.

giving the man a one-armed hug in return. “Hello. “How very James Bond. holding the door open and extending his hand. “Come on.” Archie untangled himself.” he murmured to his lover. Akulov.” Henr . where Henry waited patiently. “Thank you.Archie’s breastbone and patted his back with an enthusiasm that threatened to leave bruises. it’s clear. I make sure you get inside with your friend. “You didn’t have to meet us out here—we have the key. He twisted to look behind him and into the cab.” Boris admonished.” “Your mother says to make sure you get inside with your friend. Mr.” Archie said.

slamming it once he was clear. holding him steady.” Henry said politely to the wizened little man. “Hello. “Hello. . that much was clear to Archie. He was still in pain. didn’t want Mr.said as he slid out gingerly.” Boris squinted. and led Henry to the sidewalk—where a curious Boris was waiting. Archie gripped Henry’s arm as he stood up.” he said bluntly. He helped him around the door. “You’re the man who got kidnapped. but he refused to admit it. “Let’s get inside.” Archie said. He didn’t want to be on the street in the open. sir. Henry nodded even as Archie stiffened beside him.

Boris looked annoyed.” He scowled. The landlord let them pass but followed close behind as they made their way to the little iron gate that led to the door tucked behind the front stairs.” He pursed his lips. He turned around and gave Boris a serious stare. okay? We don’t want the press bugging us. Archie unlocked the door and gently pushed Henry inside.Akulov to ask embarrassing questions. conscious of their vulnerability. Your mother told me. clearly offended by Archie’s assumption that he might have a wagging tongue. “I have lunch.” he said clearly and carefully. “I know that. I will bring down. “No one can know we’re here. irritated but still .

locked the door— including the deadbolt—and pocketed the key. He went into the apartment. letting the gate slam behind him. It’s just been very stressful lately. rubbed his forehead with the palm of his hand. Archie was most definitely going to have to buy him an apology present. Henry had already .” “Of course. You call me if you need more.” “Thank you.” The landlord muttered something under his breath and left with a stomp.” Boris Akulov straightened and nodded to Archie.hospitable. Archie sighed. “I will leave the lunch at the back door. “I’m sorry. sir.

“Archie? Are you all right?” Henry’s voice cut through his exhaustion. He was tired. The scent of lemon verbena and steam from the pipes filled his senses. He was drained.turned on the lights. He wished his mother was about to come out of the kitchen and announce stew and bread were on the table. It was a small place. Archie’s eyes burned for a moment. and Archie pushed off the door to find his lover in the apartment. and the impact of being “home”—or the closest thing that wasn’t the servant’s apartment he’d had growing up—knocked the wind out of him. beginning with the slightly cramped front room .

There were two more doorways—one to his right.where Evelyn had her couch. The right led to his mother ’s bedroom and the bathroom. It was covered with a lace doily. He guessed . easy chair. and television in a neat circle. Knickknacks were arranged with well. Henry wasn’t there either. one to his left. In the next room was the kitchen— small but full of great smells lingering in the corners. a red clay bowl full of apples in the center. It was spotless— because Evelyn Banks didn’t tolerate a mess in the kitchen—with a tiny wood table tucked in the corner.worn paperbacks in clean lines on the bookshelves. the other to his old bedroom.

“You’re too tall for here.” Archie said.where Henry was. “I still sleep here sometimes. Henry was sitting on the double bed. when I’m visiting Mum. “In here.” Henry called. He’d lost his jacket and shoes. The . sitting on the chenille bedspread in his black trousers and tight gray polo. Archie stood there. watching him. smiling wanly. leaning against the iron headboard. confirming his guess. and marveled that there was enough oxygen in this closet of a room for both of them.” Henry said. Through the doorway and into a morass of memories. It was as if Archie’s teenaged fantasies had come to life.

“I’m not surprised. “Mum didn’t allow them—bad influences on a young mind. He draped it over the hook on the door. “Where are the posters of sexy girls and muscle cars?” Henry teased gently. tracing the faded blue circles. Without a window. a fleamarket find better suited to a grandmother’s parlor. the only light was thrown by a lamp on the chest of drawers.walls were kelly green. He toyed with the nubby surface of the bedspread. the ancient wood floors battered by years of sports shoes and the wheels of Matchbox cars. That was the .” He laughed. then taking it off. undoing his jacket.

“I should check the back door.same reason she gave me. “You’re exhausted.” “You’re exhausted. “Your virtue is safe with me. Come lie down. trying to remember his resolve that he was protecting Henry and nothing else.” Archie gestured. He lay down on his back.” Henry slid over to the side of the bed flush against the wall.” Henry looked at him. a critical expression on his face. sighing as he sank into the overly soft mattress.” Henry said drily. Banks —I couldn’t get it up if I tried. .” “I’m fine.

He took his time. unfolding the handmade quilt until he could drape it over his legs before lying flat next to Henry. “See? Perfectly innocent. Then he shared the blanket. and Henry laughed.“That isn’t…” With a rumble of annoyance—he hated when Henry read his mind—Archie kicked off his shoes. He took a few steps to the bed and contemplated how stupid this was before sitting down on the edge.” Archie reached under the bed until he felt the heavy quilt his mother kept there. “Are you cold?” he asked gruffly. “Yes.” Henry’s .

enough to find the groove he’d long established as the way to get comfortable in this bed. Just a quick nap and then we’ll…” “Commence hiding out? Do we need to do something special?” Archie twisted around a tiny bit. “Hush. feet pressing up against the wall. This —his mother and his little home away from the estate —was not anywhere Archie expected him to be. His ankles hung off the end. and he rolled over to press against Archie. . particularly curled up against his shoulder.voice sounded sleepy. at least in theory. Henry didn’t belong there. breathing deeply in his ear.

Henry—we have to be careful. “Everyone but you.” “What about Kit and Libby?” “Slightly more trusted than anyone else.” Archie said quietly. “Kit’s going to bring work over so you can keep track of what’s going on. There’s someone on the inside. Henry tucked himself a bit .” The thought sent them both into silence.” “Which is?” Archie laughed mirthlessly. But we’ll limit how much time you have with anyone we don’t trust. He resisted the urge to touch Henry—right up until the moment he took Henry’s hand into his under the musty quilt. me. nothing special.“No. but still. and my mother.

the lengths he was willing to go to… “Thank you.” The silence was epic—loud and dramatic.closer. I love you. so he just made a hushing sound. “I don’t know what I would do without you. Archie didn’t possess the words to answer. his chin on Archie’s shoulder. Archie. I’ve loved you since I was a child. . and Archie bit the inside of his cheek to keep quiet.” Henry said suddenly. he thought. his voice quiet and serious. and I will do anything to protect you. He squeezed their fingers together. It was utterly terrifying to contemplate the depth of his feeling for Henry.

" he murmured."Go to sleep. . eyes already closed.

and his limbs sluggishly rearranged themselves into a position he could push up from. and it took him a moment to weakly shove it away. The sizzle and scent of bacon were clearly . The quilt was heavy on Henry’s body. breathing deeply. Henry swung his legs over the side of the bed. the bed empty. his head swam as he sat up. the room was pitch-black. and something smelled like a five-star restaurant had opened up in the next room.Chapter Eighteen When Henry woke up. He inwardly cursed his current state.

Willing himself to steadiness. For a second he let himself script a moment in time when he wasn’t hiding from someone trying to hurt him and destroy his father ’s company. though. He tried to remember how many steps it took to get . Henry stood up. along with coffee and the yeasty aroma of bread. It only lasted a second.identifiable. share a moment when they were on equal footing—instead of Henry always feeling like each word. if he spent too long imagining that fantasy. each action just wasn’t good enough. balancing himself before taking a step. it made his chest hurt. When he could walk into the next room and put his arms around Archie.

” he added. a squeak and a moan accompanying the motion of opening the door. He stood at the stove. one hand up to cover his eyes. . as he tended to a frying pan of bacon. The light from the kitchen made him wince. Nothing impeded him. one hand extended in front of him.” Henry looked at the set table. “It’s fine. then to the windows.to the door. “Oh. sorry. “Wanted to make sure I didn’t disturb you. a dish towel over his shoulder.” Archie said. coming into view as Henry lowered his hand and blinked at his lover from the arch. It was night. tentative as he walked in the darkness. he found the knob and gave it a twist.

Weeks. “Maybe it’ll be over soon. “You needed it. We both did.” “Been a hell of a few days. folding his hands on top. A real one.” Archie’s expression was a bit sheepish as he turned back to the sizzle and snap of the food.” Henry slid into one of the padded chairs at the table. I slept about four.” Henry grunted a response.” Archie turned off the heat under the frying pan. “Good.” . “Months.” His mouth kept going even as his brain sent him painful reminders of just how badly he’d treated Archie for so long. We’ll go on vacation. “Hawaii.“How long did I sleep?” “Five hours.

“Evelyn will be impressed when I tell her about your culinary skills.“We’ll see. hunks of Dublin cheddar.” was all Archie said. “Mmmm. and a loaf of warmed bread from the oven.” Henry made a face.” Archie poured them each a mug of coffee as Henry began to fill two plates with healthy portions of food. “I’m not sure this even counts as cooking. “No. sliced tomatoes.” Henry said softly. Archie returning a last time with a pot of coffee. we really . Henry’s mouth watered as each plate appeared on the table. we need mayo. There was a plate of bacon. Then there were only the sounds of the meal preparations being completed.

we do. and Archie’s grin as he rejoined Henry at the table.” “Yes. that he should be afraid.” Archie was up again. back to the fridge. .don’t. “Actually butter might be nice.” Henry called to him. He tried to remember he was hiding. the food—the fact that he felt well rested for the first time in months—cracked open something deep inside him. The domestic warmth of the kitchen. He cut them thick slices of the bread as Henry picked at bits of bacon on the serving plate. Something that tasted like relief and comfort. With mayo and butter.

” Archie’s gaze had fallen to his plate. “Henry— you don’t have to…” “Yes. “I am taking you away when this is done.” “No.Except he wasn’t when he was with Archie.” Henry said boldly as Archie dropped two pieces of bread on his plate. “I…care about you.” Henry pushed his way into Archie’s refusal. Archie. So much.” Archie said gently. “I have a lot to make up to you. And that is unforgivable. He kept talking when he felt Archie tensing up. in the middle of realizing you are the only person in the world I trust. lifting his face to . And yet. I do. it’s entirely forgivable. I pushed you away.

” Henry reached across the table to take Archie’s hand. Henry held on to his hand that much harder.” “Then that was a mistake. It wasn’t just about sex. “Before this all went to hell. “I wanted to say—Archie.smile sadly in Henry’s direction. the ache in his chest becoming deeper. I should have said—I should have said what I wanted to. “You’ve had a lot going on.” That must’ve gotten Archie’s attention.” His voice dropped to a whisper. shoulders raised. I’m… I’ve been crazy about you since I was thirteen years old. . because he shifted. and we’ve never…we’ve never put a label on… this.

“No. “Just…” .” “Henry. the screech of the legs against the linoleum deafening. I don’t want this to end. Of all the regrets I have. closing the distance between them to grasp Henry’s face with both hands. I should have said these things earlier. it’s not.” he murmured. “Stop. so you wouldn’t think it’s the grief talking. like he’d been shouting for hours.“Don’t leave.” Archie moved then. this isn’t the time…” Archie’s voice was shot. it’s second only to hiding from my father. Around them time seemed to stop—all sounds and smells of the kitchen disappeared.” Henry pushed his chair closer. “Please believe me.

” And then Archie kissed him like it was their last moment on earth.“No—sorry. The desperate hope that Henry was telling the truth. ARCHIE DIDN’T WANT to argu anymore—he wanted to forget everything but the slick curve of Henry’s tongue in his mouth and the hard planes of Henry’s body under his hands. “I love you. the anger. . Henry could read each one perfectly—the fear. the disbelief.” “Shut up. I love you and have for fucking years.” Archie’s expression was one of warring emotions. and you’re going to listen to me.

jolting the table and rattling everything as the close quarters blocked any further contact. taking Henry with him. he drew Henry closer. Archie kept his lover close. logical part of his brain insisted this wasn’t a good idea.Twisting in the chair.” Archie pushed his chair back and stood. “Bedroom?” he murmured. He was still mindful of Henry’s time in the hospital. hip to hip as they navigated their way to the bedroom. but when Henry stopped just inside the doorway to gently touch his face. “Yes. resting his forehead against Archie’s jaw. as breathless as Archie felt. all . A tiny. Henry pulled away. the stress of the past weeks.

” The conversation ended again as hands slid down Henry’s back. “For a long time.” Archie felt idiotic. warm and solid in Archie’s embrace. “Since…” “Since puberty?” Henry laughed.” Henry leaned closer. glad for the dark room. “You’ve said that. “Is that a confession?” “Yes.protestation ended. “I love you. glad that Henry just laughed and stroked his fingers against the curve of Archie’s face.” Archie blurted out. gripping . ducking his head. blurting things out like his filter had completely evaporated.

Henry let out a soft sound. moving to undo the buttons of Henry’s shirt. Archie couldn’t be sure. He walked his lover backward the two steps to the bed.his hips to pull Henry closer. The weak light from the kitchen kept Henry in the shadows. never letting go of Henry’s body. a little taste of his desire. whether it was from the dark room or the moment. revealing tiny slivers of pale skin as Archie made quick work of each piece. “Let me…” he whispered. then brushed his lips over Archie’s—a tease. The shirt. but it . Henry let out a little shiver. Archie turned them. his jeans—each fell to the ground until Henry stood before him in just his boxers.

” He slid his arm around Henry’s waist. his hands pulling Archie down to the mattress with him.” “I can help with that. relishing the touch of their bodies before easing him back onto the bed. “Too long. “Only if you come with me. His hands moved just as quickly. grabbing the bottom of Archie’s T-shirt to pull it over his head. “Under the covers.” Henry said.kicked his protective instincts into high gear.” Henry muttered as they .” Henry cut off Archie’s words with a well-timed kiss.” “Mmmm. “Need to get undressed. catching him as he bent to grab the quilt.

getting twisted in the middle. tossing them to the ground. They kissed.broke apart.” Archie ran his hands up Henry’s back. pressing kisses between the words against Archie’s jaw. “I’ve missed you. tongues plunging to explore. Archie felt Henry’s increasingly frantic hands on the elastic waist of his sweatpants. “I’ve always been here. Henry on top of Archie. Henry rubbed against . their hands worked together to. It was a tangle of limbs as they fell onto the bed. worshipping each muscle and the expanse of skin with his touch. They stripped the last bits of clothing. lift his shirt off. long and deep.” Henry whispered.

Henry moved again. to roll them over. Groaning.” Henry moaned against his jaw. wanting to move. Archie rutted up. He . his hips never stopping their rhythm as he sat up. He sank into the bed under the attention of Henry’s mouth. to… “Let me. as he roamed over Archie’s chest with purpose. pressing back into the mattress as Henry moved above him. “Just…let me. Archie let his hands fall to his sides. then the other. gripping the sheets and blankets below him. working their bodies together with a purpose.Archie. Sucking one nipple.” To give up the control in this moment wasn’t easy. nipping at the freckles on his shoulder. but Archie nodded.

taking both their cocks in his dampened hand. rocking forward and back… slowly.” “Oh God. angling each thrust downward now.” Archie let the smooth glide of skin on skin lull him. and Archie gasped at the sensation. He let himself be taken under by Henry’s touch and scent. . the slick sound of tongue to skin making Archie’s back arch. “Fuck. Henry pushed up on his knees. “Just like this. The bed rocked beneath them.licked his palm twice.” Henry whispered. sweat slicked where their bodies met. They kissed.

eyes bright and focused for the first time in a long time. He traced Archie’s bottom lip with his tongue. he didn’t go far. When Henry pulled away. Breathless.Archie was so caught up in the moment he was unprepared for Henry coming first. never missed a stroke— the come made it wetter and slicker. “How long before you can fuck . Henry never stopped. and Archie shook with the force of his own release when he followed a few seconds later. Archie pulled Henry down so they were chest to chest. mouths crashing together in a lush kiss. The mess didn’t matter. spilling warm stripes of come over the head of his cock.

. locked in place as he plundered his lover’s mouth.me?” he whispered hotly. Not soon enough. Archie cock twitched as he tangled one hand in Henry’s hair.

pulling his chair a bit closer to .Chapter Nineteen The next morning—late in the morning. Archie stripped the bed. Henry tried not to stare. Oatmeal and bacon and tea. “What do we do today?” Henry asked. and that was an accomplishment. but it was edible. joining Henry at the table with damp hair and dressed in only sweatpants. then showered. since they didn’t actually settle down to sleep until four—Henry cooked breakfast.

but Archie didn’t smile. plus your laptop. I’m thinking of taking a nap. then stole his bacon.” He dropped a kiss on Henry’s cheek.Archie’s. but he just couldn’t think of those things right now. “Don’t you have spy things to do?” It was lighthearted. “But if we could figure out who it is…” Archie nodded. “I’m working on keeping you safe.” There was schoolwork and finals. “Who has the most to gain from you not being the president . “Kit should be dropping off some work. That’s all. Not when Henry wasn’t safe.

I know them superficially.and CEO?” “Definitely someone on the board. “That’s a good idea.” “How well do you know them?” “Some have been around as long as David and my father. “Maybe we should hire a private investigator.” Henry offered. Others are unknowns. . really. Someone who reports to only us.” “Thank you for sounding surprised.” Henry turned his attention to his breakfast—and stole back his bacon.” Archie didn’t speak for a few minutes. actually.

that’s why I was…” “Such an asshole?” Archie called . but not before Henry offered her a complete explanation of what the doctor had told him. God —that sucks. We’re assuming I was being fed a dose every day. “Wow. I treated you horribly.” Henry said sincerely. The steroids. and I apologize.**** Kit stopped by a few hours later with the promised work and laptop. What happened to you? Do you feel okay now?” “A lot better. Kit blew out a breath. She and Henry sat in the living room. “So I’m sorry. the poisoning. reaching over to pat her hand.

**** Archie let them go for four hours. The rest of the time he sat in the kitchen. Between the kidnapping and Henry’s collapse. Hand over her mouth.” Henry said loudly. . Major events. offering tea and cookies halfway through. Kit snickered.from the kitchen. A timeline of the past few weeks. “We should probably get to work. doodling on a piece of paper. people who were at the house.

He’s been around longer than Hilary. the doctor who had been treating everyone in the house. and. Henry was watching him from the doorway. though a quiet man. I think. the driver. “How are you guys doing?” “Done for the day. Archie had never had a moment of suspicion about him. “Archie?” He looked up. “How about dinner?” “How about bed first?” Henry gave . though the latter was a long shot.” Archie turned the pad over.His list of suspects were Carl. Kit’s going back to the office for an hour to make some copies. and Paul.

Archie curled around Henry. The bed was too small.” Archie whispered. “You feel so good. more of the sensation. breathing in his musky scent. shoving back to get more —more of Archie.him a flirty little smile. Archie buried his face in the sweaty curve of Henry’s neck. rubbing his hand down Henry’s chest. Every night. their legs scissored as Archie fucked him gently. but they made do. keeping every stroke shallow until Henry started .” Henry got wild in his arms. He slowed the pace. Archie bit into his shoulder. At every broken sound Henry made. but Archie couldn’t be rushed. “Every night I want to do this.

. His free hand went to Henry’s hip. curious as to what Archie had been doodling for so long that afternoon. then stopped. Henry vibrated. **** Henry ordered a pizza while Archie took another shower. He sat at the table to wait—when he saw the pad. come on. “Bastard. Archie rocked.to beg. he flipped it over. Clenched down hard on Archie’s cock in retaliation. “Come on.” Archie choked out. keeping him in place as he started to move again.” Henry bitched at him.

The timeline. The list. Archie trying to solve this puzzle. Henry picked up the pencil and traced over Archie’s looping scrawl. The kidnapping. The reading of the will. Henry goes back to the office. Magnus leaves. Henry’s health starts to fail. Henry collapses. The list—Paul, the doctor, and Carl —barely made sense. Paul and the doctor had been around for years. Carl was a kid who had been thoroughly vetted by their security department. What vendetta could he have against the family?

The doorbell rang while he was doodling. “I got it.” Archie darted through the living room before Henry could get to the front door. Overprotective, Henry thought. He didn’t mind.

Chapter Twenty

Breakfast. Kit over with work. Lunch with Kit. Dinner. Sex. Television. Sex. Five days of a routine that Archie wanted to keep up forever. If only it wasn’t for a terrible reason. Henry finally looked like Henry again; bright eyes and clear skin, awake and alert. The specter was gone.

The list teased him. At one point he wrote Libby’s name and then quickly erased it. What did she have to gain? Would she have gotten more if Henry wasn’t in the picture anymore? The board meeting was in two days; if Henry was voted in as president and CEO, would this escalate? Slowing him down was one thing. Was killing him the next? “Seriously, come and join us. You’re looking all dour in here.” Kit breezed into the kitchen, going straight for the fridge. “Make yourself at home,” he said drily.

“Thank you. My boss sent me in for waters and to tell you to come inside the living room.” “Yes, ma’am.” He got up, flipping the pad over again. In the living room, Henry was in the side chair, clicking away on the laptop. His brow was furrowed as he scanned the document. “You rang?” Henry looked up with a start, but his face quickly melted into a smile. Archie tried not to blush. “I feel bad relegating you to the kitchen. Why don’t you watch television or something?” “Don’t want to disturb you guys.”

Kit returned with two waters and a box of cheese crackers, dropping back onto the couch. “Read a magazine.” Henry’s expression switched to imploring. “Come on.” Archie pretended to cave. “Fiiine. I’ll read a knitting magazine and bask in your corporate glow.” “Ha. Watch it. When you start working in the world of international finance, you’ll see. This is the glamour right here.” Kit fiddled with the lid of the water. Archie settled onto the opposite end of the couch, magazine in hand. He avoided eye contact with Henry, putting his feet on the ottoman. “You make a

compelling case for retail.” They settled into relative silence. Henry and Kit were both on laptops, occasionally exchanging ideas or comments. Archie read about perfecting sock knitting, then drifted off for a nap not long after. He dreamed about socks. Then he dreamed about the kidnapping. “Archie, wake up.” Henry was shaking him, pulling him out of that moment on the ground when he woke up and he was alone. He sat up with a start, blinking the memories out of his eyes. “It’s okay; you’re okay.”

He looked into Henry’s eyes and took a deep breath. “Yeah. Sorry.” Henry didn’t ask what Archie had been dreaming about; from his expression, he didn’t have to. “Where’s Kit?” “She left about twenty minutes ago. I ordered Turkish food for dinner.” Henry smoothed Archie’s forehead. “You want to wash up?” Archie couldn’t help but smile. “You’re strangely good at being domestic.” “I learned from your mom, the best of the best.” “You should tell her that; she’ll love it.” Archie pulled Henry onto the

couch. “Do you think…” Henry stopped, then started again. “Do you think she’d be happy if she knew about us?” Us—that sounded lovely. “She’d explode from sheer joy,” Archie said, wrapping his arm around Henry’s shoulders. “Then we’d both get in trouble for not telling her sooner.” Henry was quiet for a few minutes after that, rubbing his palm against Archie’s knee. “I wonder what would have happened if I’d told my father.” “He might have surprised you.” Archie shifted, laying his head on Henry’s shoulder. “You never know.” “No,” Henry agreed sadly. “I won’t

ever know.” **** The final proposals went out to all the board members. They would cast their ballots tomorrow, and Henry’s fate would be known. The lawyers were preparing documents to contest the will if the vote went against him; it was a last-resort plan as far as Henry was concerned. To contest the will meant a hold being placed on all the other bequests, and he didn’t want anyone to suffer. They were alone by early afternoon; Henry sent Kit home for a well-deserved break. And he wanted a few minutes to enjoy the quiet with

Archie spooning Henry under the quilt. Now we’re sort of…dealing with things as they come.” Henry confessed as they lay in bed.” “Fine.” “They weren’t beyond my control before. Archie— you can stop defending me. not about this. “Things are so up in the air.Archie before they were tossed back onto stormy waters. I didn’t insist on it.” Henry turned his head to look Archie in the eye.” .” “I understand. You didn’t act. “And I’m sorry for that. Some things are beyond your control at the moment. I feel like I can’t make plans. “I don’t need it.

We’re dealing with it together.” That was the only important part as far as Henry was concerned. “I love you.” The lack of surety in both their voices lingered in the dark. . He refused to sacrifice having Archie in his life.“But together.” Henry said again. “Right. as if repeating it would make everything all right.

He felt clearheaded and healthy for the first time in weeks.” a voice said behind him. almost twenty minutes early. He felt absolutely sure what he wanted the outcome of today to be. He touched the leather portfolio in front of him. The sun was streaming through the floor-to-ceiling windows. warming his face.Chapter Twenty-One Henry sat in his usual spot at the enormous table they used for board meetings. “You’re early. then rearranged his water glass and pen. .

a slightly disapproving look on his face. setting his briefcase on the floor by his feet. Henry.” . It’s going to be close. “It doesn’t have to be a landslide—I just need the majority. “Yes.” The stern tone of his godfather ’s voice made Henry a little concerned. He turned back around.” Definite disapproval. “I’ve talked informally to a few board members. David took his place directly across from Henry. “Do I seem overeager?” Henry asked with a chuckle.Henry turned to find David standing in the doorway. but he just smiled.

those he couldn’t read—had it going either way.” Mr. some greeting Henry warmly.” The conversation ended. and Henry stared down at the glass table. looking like a cheerful. Harvey walked to the head of the table. The room filled with board members. he’d survived his father ’s lack of confidence. That was a tough one. But instead of handing out candy. clearly distant. beardless Santa. “Good morning. everyone. David didn’t believe he had the votes to be elected. He could manage David’s.“Hmmm. A quick head count—clearly friendly. but then again. he had . others keeping their distance. It would be close.

Henry looked at a tiny sunbeam hitting the window above David’s head. including proxies. “Having totaled the votes. And WalkCom’s future.a folder with tallies of the vote. . Henry exhaled but continued his attempt to look completely calm about the outcome. the chairman and CEO o WalkCom will be…” The pause was dramatic. He checked his watch. Took a sip of water. Mr. They had to see his confidence. then opened his briefcase with a series of little snicks. Harvey gave a brief speech about protocols.

“…Henry Walker.” another interjected. having his hand shaken vigorously by Mr. “Your father would be delighted.” someone said. . wanted to know how many of the congratulatory backslaps and handshakes were real and how many were bred of disappointment and the covering of one’s ass. Harvey. “We knew you could do it. and Henry’s entire body seized up with— joy. He wanted to know the vote. He was standing before it registered. Quickly he was surrounded by the board.” The room broke into applause.

When the phone buzzed. **** Archie waited in the executive office with Kit while the board meeting was going on. She pressed the .“It’s an honor. Kit almost fell out of her seat. When the crowd eventually parted —because an assistant rolled a cart of champagne into the room—Henry noticed that David Silver was nowhere to be found. They didn’t bother with conversation—both were too tense for that. Henry just smiled and accepted it all with grace and a steely determination in his eyes.” a third chimed in.

he is.” Shelby hung up quickly as Kit twirled in her chair.” “Yeah. Henry was voted in.” Archie tried to organize his feelings. giving Archie a giddy smile.” Kit let out a wild whoop. “I just brought champagne in. “Yours too. He was so proud of Henry—so proud of him convincing the board he was the right person for the job. I have to go. “Shelby?” The assistant whispered into her phone.” she chirped.Speaker button. “Oh God. But he was melancholy because the . “My boss is the boss of everything.

“Hello? Henry! Congratulations . Swallowed up by a job and a life that wouldn’t allow them to be together.” “Wow. Her private line. “I hope we both get raises. technically I’m off duty. How about you?” “Uh.” “Too soon?” Kit giggled and gave herself another twirl. I’m going to find Henry in that crush of blowhards and see what we’re doing next. “Okay.” Archie checked his watch.Henry he knew—and loved—was gone now. I just wanted to know about the vote. “I think I’ll go back to my apartment—” He was cut off when Kit’s phone rang.

” “He said yes.” Archie tried to play it cool. Kit had rearranged the space . then laughed at whatever her boss said. okay. but he asked if you could drive me.” She put her hand over the receiver and looked at Archie. Things were so different now. I’ll tell him. “He’s taking the limo up with David. “Not a problem. “Okay.” Archie got up to stretch his back and legs. Do you want me to call up ahead? Food? Champagne?” She grabbed a pen and started to make notes.Can I have a puppy?” Kit enthused. Uh-huh. He paced in a little circle around the reception space. Maria and her desk were gone. “Uh-huh.” “Oh. cool.

—even gotten rid of the heavy drapes. “One more call and then we’ll go. inviting. It was light and open. “I’m supposed to tell you to tell your mom to please make apple scones.” Archie already had his phone out. “Done. **** David was waiting for him in the lobby. back straight and briefcase in . Kit hung up.” They busied themselves with arrangements for Henry’s triumphant return home. I got the rest of the day off to celebrate. Woo!” “What can I do?” Archie chuckled at her enthusiasm.

directly up to his godfather. “We missed you at the celebration.” he said. With a handkerchief David mopped his forehead. Henry strode out of the elevator. You did it. I had an important call to take. cool and easy. a small smile gracing his face. “We’ll have plenty of time to pop the champagne at the house.hand. “Congratulations. “He has the day off.” He saw the limo pull up.” He leveled a glance at Henry. “Here’s our ride…” “Archie isn’t driving us?” David asked as he followed Henry through the front doors. eyes hard. I asked Paul to . I did.” “Yes. a nod to the doormen.

” Frankly Henry didn’t want David and Archie in the same small space. beyond a vacation when they could finally get away. It was such an amazing idea he . Which threw a wrench into Henry’s plans at the moment. as well as Archie’s future? The idea had come to him as he sipped champagne in that brightly sunny room.do it. He’d been thinking of a way to make things up to Archie. it was clear the two weren’t going to get along anytime soon. What could he do to ensure them being together.

didn’t want to wait until they got home. Everything got a “Monday” in response. I’ll share. . the surprise would be better. really? Henry swallowed a smile. Promise. the forwarded requests from the publicity department about press inquiries. He would talk to everyone on Monday. The last text was from Archie. But no—no. Scones. He wanted to call Archie this instant and tell him. scrolling through congratulatory messages and texts. Henry checked his phone. The ride to the estate was done in absolute silence.

You deserve this. Henry arrived home to a jubilant celebration. Henry took a deep breath. Grinning. Then he started typing. His fingers poised. Too much? Not enough? Love you too. and every ticked-by minute made Henry anxious. It took twice as long to get a response. Henry leaned back against the seat and watched the world fly by. Love you. far different than the champagne and platitudes back in the .The response was quick. We’ll celebrate after everyone leaves. Congratulations.

No one expected to find a balloon bouquet on a seventeenth-century sideboard. There was a full spread of food and piping-hot apple scones on a cake pedestal in the center of the table.up streamers in the formal dining room. Kit mentioned the puppy again. something that made him laugh loudly as he stepped inside. There were hastily tacked. So much for formal relationships between a man and his assistant. Libby gave him a happy hug. Henry felt his heart nearly bursting with love.boardroom. . Evelyn pinched his cheek. so he countered with a raise and got a hug in return.

” Archie murmured under his breath as they shook hands vigorously. “I think we should get you one of those formal chauffeur ’s uniforms. “Come on and eat. almost shyly. Siiiir. I promised you could share scones. hand extended —thetwinkle in Archie’s eye was charming.” “Kinky.” Everyone enjoyed the meal and the .Archie stood in the corner. much to Henry’s delight. until Henry couldn’t wait a second longer. “Congratulations.” He used his old M asterpiece Theatre accent. He headed over. With a little hat.

the people he wanted around him in good times and bad. eyes glittering. was his family. he was smiling thinly but grabbed a glass of bubbly off the sideboard.” When he came back the last time. This. . then the raising of glasses.champagne—everyone save David. clinking glasses with each of them. all in solidarity for Henry.” There was polite applause. The people he trusted. he realized. who left three times to “take calls. and suddenly he couldn’t wait. “Here’s to Henry—for winning over the black hearts of the board and taking his rightful place at WalkCom. His gaze locked with Archie’s. He went to stand at the head of the table. Long live the king.

” Everyone turned to Archie with absolute surprise— which then became a joyful noise as Archie was quickly surrounded by well-wishers. “A few announcements.” He blew out a nervous sigh. “I couldn’t have done it without you. David. Henry wanted to pat himself on the . proud as could be. I. I wanted to say it’s my great pleasure to announce my first official act as president and CEO— please allow me to introduce our newest vice president in the overseas operations department…Archie Banks. Evelyn was crying.” Henry stood up and took a deep breath. uh. from the bottom of my heart. Without any of you. So thank you.“Thank you.

“Must be heading home. he’s worked for this family for years. “Of course. I’m sure you understand that. Rebecca is waiting.” A momentary war of unblinking stares went on for a moment. David.back. “Interesting decision. “I need people I can trust around me. I do. then David ducked his head.” . I understand. David was standing at his elbow.” He looked at his watch. he’s educated. “Do you think it wise?” “Yes.” “I’ll have Paul drive you.” Henry drained his glass of champagne.” He gave David a direct look.” came a low voice at his side. “He’s smart.

all. It was easier to do this now. Vice president? A simple job in the department would have probably rubbed him the wrong way.wishes and hugs with a plastered-on smile. but being installed like that? A favoritism move. I’m taking my . A move surely designed to bring him almost immediate distain from every employee save Kit. He had to speak to Henry. and he accepted a friendly hug from Libby. “Good evening. But he let his mother cry.**** Archie accepted all the well. Fuck.

“More scones?” Henry settled into his chair.leave.” They all ate a bit more. Libby offered to show him out. “Who wants seconds? Or are we up to thirds?” Evelyn asked. Archie kept trying to catch Henry’s eye . standing and examining what remained on the table.” David announced. his smile wide and bright. conversations quiet and of the chitchat variety as the stress of the previous few weeks made them all crave a lull. Archie managed not to roll his eyes. “I can’t say no. He shot Archie a look. ever the hostess.

if his lover wasn’t practically shining with warmth . Finally. standing to convey his urgency.” Damn. “I’ll drive you to the station. He had to talk to Henry before his head exploded. “Of course. Libby and Henry were deep in conversation. “Henry? Could I speak to you for a moment?” he asked lightly. he couldn’t wait any longer.” Archie twitched in his seat. Kit made noises about catching a train to get back to the city before it got too late. they looked up with surprise when Archie spoke.but to no avail.

. He hated having to do this.and happiness.

“What was what? I made it official.” Archie’s face didn’t change. “You didn’t ask me. You’re coming on board at WalkCom. He turned to face Archie. frowning. No sneaking around . “What the hell was that?” was not it.” “I wanted it to be a surprise!” Henry’s frustration mounted. He still looked pissed. working together. Was he not explaining this right? “You and I.Chapter Twenty-Two Of all the things Henry imagined hearing after the kitchen door closed behind them.

and I swear. it will work out. Just for now. though. “Just until things are back to normal. You mean so much to me.” he said quickly.” he said softly. and Henry’s stomach dropped. “For now.” Archie cut in.” Archie shook his head.” . I promise. hands raised in front of him to try and stem the tide of Archie’s protestations. “Soon. the anger was quickly becoming sadness.—” “But still hiding our relationship. That took him a second to respond to. reaching out to touch Archie’s arm. stepping forward to stand just a few feet away from Henry. “Soon.

“I don’t mind.” “Paul can do that. You’re fired again.” He shrugged. Henry. the quiet tick of the wall clock their only soundtrack. “I’m going to drive Kit to the train station. And not if we’re going back to the same routine. “Fine.“Not if you’re making decisions for both of us. I rescind my offer. and that was far worse than mad. Finally Archie roused himself.” He sounded resigned. The same stupid rules. clearly holding back some words. but it fell flat. “We’ll…we’ll figure something out.” They stood in silence.” He tried humorous. He .” Archie nodded.

” “Think filthy.” Henry said. When Archie broke the kiss. cheeky and breathless as he touched his fingers to Archie’s mouth. “Cheater. deepening the kiss until spots formed behind his eyes from lack of oxygen. but Henry had different ideas. then stepped out of the . “That sounds dirty.” Archie reached around to slap Henry on the ass. He put his arms around Archie’s neck and pulled him close. I want to negotiate your new position. a gentle good-bye.leaned down to press a kiss to Henry’s mouth.” “Hurry back. a tiny smile tugged at the corners of his mouth.

circle of their embrace.” he quipped. “Everything okay?” Kit asked when Henry came over. Argument avoided. Henry sighed. “You can’t distract me with sex. Or at least postponed. Then. everyone had cleared out. I’ll convince you to take the job. He followed voices to the foyer. where Kit was saying her good-byes to Evelyn and Hilary. With a scowl—almost a teasing one—Archie turned and headed back out. when you’re half-asleep and pliant.” “Actually I can. When he reentered the dining room. .

“Fine. but she gathered her cane and waved her good nights.” Hilary said. “And I’m headed there next unless there’s something you need.” “Libby’s gone up to bed. She and Hilary set off toward the servants’ wing. the honk from outside made Henry chuckle.” Evelyn said.” “Hmmph. “Go on.” Evelyn patted him on the shoulder. you too. and he leaned down to kiss her cheek.” “No. and . I’ll lock up once Archie gets back. “Tell him he forgets himself. Where’s Archie?” “Getting the car.

Henry opened the door.” David seemed a bit . “I thought you’d left. ushering Kit out.civilized people don’t lean on their horn. “Came back.” “Should I just flip you the finger in response now or let him do that when he gets home?” she asked drily.” Henry said. He closed the door behind him. When he turned to go inside. He resisted the urge to wave at Archie. he caught a figure out of the corner of his eye. surprised. David. behind the wheel of the BMW this time.

How about the study?” “No. The twilight settled over the . his snow-white hair askew as if he’d been running his hands through it repeatedly. All right.more disheveled than when he’d left earlier. then?” “Let’s take a walk.” “Oh. “Where. His tie was gone. “We need to talk. His godfather ’s tone was strange. his jacket rumpled.” They went through the kitchen door. He seemed to be moving with a purpose. Henry following close behind as David walked along.” Henry stopped in his tracks.

missed the swing in his direction— but he stepped out of the way. He was caught up in the memory and missed David’s movement. muscle memory and selfprotection keeping him safe.sculpted landscape. It was all a strange re-creation of the night before everything changed—sneaking out to meet Archie in the pool house. David paced back and forth along . “Why are you doing this?” David spat out. faint cricket sounds in the background. “What the hell?” Henry stood frozen as David transformed from disheveled old man to furious aggressor. “Doing what?” Archie asked.

Henry.” And the bottom fell out of Henry’s world. Again. “Being so stubborn.” A beat of silence. You told me it was what my father wanted. “The plan?” “After he changed the will.the footpath leading to the gate. let them vote you out!” Henry stepped back.” “Seriously? You develop a backbone now? That wasn’t the plan. “You told me to fight. I knew I had to do something. . You were supposed to let the board vote. trying to puzzle through his godfather ’s words.

You weren’t supposed to get hurt—no one was. breathing heavily. me.” “You killed my father. “That wasn’t supposed to happen. The person his father had trusted—and loved—for so long. “Yes. They—they took the money and completely deviated from the plan. shot Henry a bitter look. His closest friend.“You were the one…” David stopped pacing.” The words landed with a violent thud between them. That withered David just a little. he shook his head. .” It was almost too much. and Henry felt a sick tickle at the back of his throat. “The…kidnapping?” His voice was faint.

who had millions? “No. get rid of him.” David’s gaze narrowed. So my father would…what? Write him out of the will?” What the hell did that paltry amount of money mean to David. shoulders rounding. He was just supposed to think Archie…” A cold dread crawled over Henry’s skin. That wasn’t the plan. “Leave you anchorless. Get him away from you.David looked away. And get Norman to change his will—name me as CEO. “They were supposed to think Archie arranged the kidnapping. alone. .” When Henry didn’t say anything. “No—no.

” Henry’s hands tightened into fists. He wanted you to be able to walk away from the company. “You still could. Henry—he knew you were fucking that chauffeur of yours. Then he wouldn’t have to worry about your pansy ass driving his empire into the ground.” He stopped.David resumed his pacing.” “Come on.” Henry spit out. “He knew.” “Why the hell would I do? Besides —you’re going to die in prison. you son of a bitch. eyeing the other man speculatively.” . “No way you’re getting anything now. He wanted you to be able to run away. Henry—take the money and your lover and run. “He wanted you to have a choice.

“Lucy Galvins quit. then put it in park. looking for a spot. “David’s assistant?” He remembered a pale woman who always wore black and ridiculously high heels. Apparently he made a bunch of promises to her last year and then totally reneged. “Yeah.**** Archie found the drive to the train station relaxing even as Kit chattered about the goings-on at the office.” Archie pulled the car into a spot in the far corner. “Last year?” “He told her he would be CEO a .” she announced as Archie circled the parking lot.

if you miss your train.’” Her voice dropped conspiratorially.” Archie pocketed the keys. “No clue. there’s no reason to believe the board wouldn’t pick Henry. “And that meant she should work twice as hard—because there would be a big payout. “I think he was boning her.” He turned out the car lights and unlocked the doors. I’m not .” She rolled her eyes.” Kit shrugged.some point. “Come on.” “TMI and something I don’t want to envision. but she was hopping mad when I saw her. Said something about suing or—and I quote —‘something better than that. “Why would he say that? Even if he knew about the will change.

When she saw the look on his face.” “Mmmmm. “Seriously—you think no one knows?” “Knows what? We’re friends.” She all but laughed even as he froze. And he didn’t even believe himself. I know. “Riiiight. but people . Not…everyone.” he croaked. yes. You need to get back to Henry. “People know?” He scrambled out of the car. letting out a loud cackle. With benefits.driving you back into the city. “Yes. she laughed harder.” Kit opened the door.

“Lucy said he was bitching about it months ago. I said it was a bunch of crap. Canoodling. Lucy told me.know. How you two were. and it didn’t go further. I know. Hilary knows.” “Because there was none. uh…you know. the aforementioned David Silver knows.” “I never heard about any gossip.” She continued walking toward the train platform. “Libby knows.” She slammed the door and hoisted her purse over her shoulder. Archie stopped walking and turned around to face her. “I . “How the hell did David know?” Kit shrugged.” She laughed. Hell. Your mother totally knows.

” “Thank you. numb down to his fingertips. “David never said anything to Henry. Now it made him wonder.” “Why would he? It’s private. following her. David’s reaction to the bequest made for him. but the subsequent reactions to the clause about Henry had wiped that speculation away. the day of the will reading.was trying to protect you both from rumors.” A memory niggled at him. Why did David Silver care i Norman threw a few dollars his way? **** . He’d seemed annoyed at it.” he said automatically.

Henry? He knew! He knew you couldn’t handle it. And why give that money to Archie? It made no sense.” David pushed a little . why not keep the will as it was? Put David in charge. a little voice said. His father wanted to give him the opportunity to leave WalkCom behind. Then he wouldn’t be leaving it to chance. Why would he do that? Did he really think Henry wasn’t capable of running the company? If that was true. “Why do you think he was so hard on you.Henry’s heart beat in triple time as David’s words sank in.

” .” Henry said. He would have…given it to you. If you knew him. “He was hard on me because he wanted me to be the best. He didn’t manufacture drama. “He didn’t do that. an edge of desperation in his voice. but Henry didn’t even flinch.” A low blow. Henry took another step back.” Even the one to walk away. Norman didn’t do subtle. you could interpret his actions. slow and deliberate.further. “He wanted me to have every opportunity in this world. he would have said so. “If he didn’t think I could handle the company.

The infighting at the board meeting.” The steroids.David’s whole body convulsed with anger. and he…” A lump impeded his words. not his employee. “He gave me the chance to fight for it. Henry’s partner.” So he could be his own man. Despite your interference. The revelation—whether it was fictionalized to get him through this . “He…he knew about Archie and me. “He wanted Archie to get a good job. And I won. He wanted to give him a good start in this world. he wanted him to be free of debt.

Not now. “I’m going to call the police. Henry. Kit was off on the 6:15 to Manhattan. and Archie just wanted to get back to talk to Henry. He turned on his heel. focused on the back door. Archie had saved him twice.” **** Archie’s brain whirred and clicked as he drove back to the house. tense and vibrating with anger. “No.moment or a true reading of his father ’s intentions —took Henry’s breath away.” Henry said quietly. . not before. He saw David in front of him. And now Henry was saving himself. You’re not. and realized he was no threat.

They didn’t ask for money. Or maybe money wasn’t what they were after. “Inside knowledge and a big bankroll don’t necessarily equal results. in the hallway afte Henry collapsed. Something poking at his memory.” David Silver wanted the CEO job —he expected the CEO job. The changed will was clearly something he knew about—and wasn’t happy with. The FBI agent.Something felt off to him. They even shoved Norman around. The kidnappers didn’t touch David. . They shot Archie. They beat up Henry.

He listened to the ringing as it passed “maybe he’ll pick up in a second” and went to voice mail. . “End call. It would forward from the kitchen to her room after hours.’” Archie said loudly as the car ’s computer system flashed lights on the dashboard.” she said crisply. “Walker residence. Four rings and Hilary picked up.’” Hilary’s line. “Call ‘Henry Walker cell phone.They hid where they would be caught. Call ‘Walker estate housekeeper. He could hear the blare of the television in the background.

” “One second.” He floored the gas as he approached the final stretch of road leading to the house. “Sorry about that. then a door opening and closing. “Nothing. he listened to murmurs of her conversation with his mother.” The television’s volume lowered. Mum. not at all . “Sure.” he lied.“Hilary? It’s Archie. Everything all right?” “Can you find Henry for me? It’s important. Evelyn and I are watching a movie. “Archie? What’s wrong?” Evelyn picked up the phone.” The phone rattled as she put it down. One sec.

” “Mum.” He flushed with embarrassment. About…Henry and I.” A small chuckle. Of course she knew.” “Hilary’s gone looking for him. “No. and he paid it heed. I mean —who have you talked to about your . I know you wouldn’t. I have to ask you a question. It’s been yours for years. “Have you ever talked about…us…with anyone?” “If you’re asking me if I’ve gossiped…” There was a warning there.surprised at the sound she made over the line. please. “I just need to talk to Henry.” “Mum. and Archie shook his head. then? It’s yours. “Do you need my blessing.

Me and Hilary have discussed it quite a bit. “What?” “Mrs. as I was right. and hmmm…” Archie pulled up to the gates.” “Mum. and I had a chat with Mrs. . She asked if you were moving into the main house now. Walker a few weeks ago.” “That’s it?” “Oh. He pressed the button on the dash to open them. waiting patiently. with so much going on. I didn’t pay it much mind.suspicions?” “Weren’t suspicions. Silver said something the day of the funeral.” “Fine.

” Archie cursed under his breath. if you ask me.” The gates opened slowly. “Rude. willing them to move quicker.into Henry’s quarters. “I’m almost to the front door.” She huffed a sigh. He sped down the driveway. . So I played i off like I was daft— just said I didn’t think Henry needed a bodyguard to sleep outside his door. “Is Hilary back yet?” “No. then hung up with his mother.” Archie said.

” “I could kill you.” .” he repeated. keeping his eyes on David. The small.Chapter Twenty-Three The gun in David’s shaking hand was a surprise—a ridiculous one. leaving Henry stifling hysterical laughter. He’d been menaced by men with automatic weapons. “I’m calling the police. “And you’re going to lose everything. He’d been beaten up and watched his father lose his fight with a bad heart due to traumatic stress. stepping backward now. This? This was almost insulting. snub-nosed relic shook in his direction.

“You knew my mother. “You’ve known me my entire life. “I didn’t mean for your father to die. David stuck the gun out. How could you do this?” The older man wavered—Henry could see his anger fluctuating with sadness and a defeated grief. Not a damned thing. David. or at least his general direction. Henry.” The grass squeaked under Henry’s shoes. You have no guarantees the board will consider you as chairman. It wasn’t supposed .“Of course you could. aiming at Henry.” he said finally. I didn’t. But that doesn’t guarantee you anything.

please take my phone and call Agent Feller at the FBI. Silver are outside by the back door.” **** Archie raced up the steps. The door opened. a frown marring her features. The gun shook in his hand. “I just wanted him to see…to realize…” “David. “What’s wrong?” “Henry and Mr.to be like this.” “Hilary.” he murmured. I think they’re arguing. Hilary peeked out. We need to end this now. please put the gun down.” He . before someone else gets hurt. Tell him need to speak to him immediately.

” David whispered. **** “I’ve lost everything. cupping them to hold it tight.pressed the smartphone into her hands. Henry took another step back. “I’m sorry. that much closer to the door. of course.” “Oh.” “Of course not.” The words were . in a fast sprint. The gun drooped a bit more. but took the phone. He ran past her.” He didn’t know how to spin this so that wasn’t true.” She looked as panicked as he felt. down the hallway toward the kitchen. “Tell him it’s about Henry’s kidnapping. “I didn’t mean it to happen.

“No. David wasn’t even looking at him anymore. The pergola’s beams were almost directly in front of him. Just a quick move to the left… He heard commotion in the kitchen. no!” Henry shouted. so Henry quickly stepped onto the small stone patio. and Archie’s unmistakable silhouette greeted him when he turned to see who it was. throwing himself toward his lover as he came barreling outside.bitter on his tongue. expecting it to hit him in the back as he collided chest to chest with Archie. But there was just the sound and a whiff of gunpowder and Archie’s . The shot exploded. The back door flew open. and Henry flinched.

. it was David on the ground. When he looked.shocked gasp as a thud echoed behind them. blood seeping from the wound at his temple.

“Mr. head in his hands. Stupid.Chapter Twenty-Four Local police and agents from the FBI field office filled the foyer. And for what? Money. even at two in the morning on a Tuesday. Henry sat on the stairs. Walker?” Agent Feller stood in front of him. “What?” . as he was peppered with questions. So much violence. A terrible waste. ramrod straight from his shiny shoes to his neat-as-a-pin tie. Something he and David had far too much of to ever want for anything.

Silver is out of surgery— apparently the shot didn’t hit anything vital.There was no love lost between the two of them. Then he can give you a statement about how he was behind… . They’re expecting him to make a full recovery. On a human level he didn’t want David to die. “Mr. Otherwise he didn’t care. “Good. his father ’s closest friend—those men were a lie. What should his answer be? His godfather. He’d nearly orchestrated a mess that would destroy both Henry’s and Archie’s lives.” Henry shrugged. His machinations had killed Norman. At the very least they hadn’t existed for some time.

Maddox or something.everything. You might want to talk to her—apparently she has some axes to grind. Henry checked his watch.” Henry stood up.” Agent Feller nodded stiffly. “Is there anything else?” “Can you come down to the station tomorrow?” “Fine.” Tiredly.” Henry rubbed his eyes with the palms of his hands. Your statement…” “That fellow over there. stretching . He’s got it. “Thank you. “We’re in the process of searching his home and office.” “His assistant’s name is Lucy.

Henry waited for an apology. So he wouldn’t sue.and rolling his shoulders one at a time. then realized there wouldn’t be one.” Agent Feller clasped his hands behind his back. Ever. But in the end their lives had been picked apart and accusations thrown. someone from above the agent’s head would contact him and use polite words to make nice. The commotion had kept the house . “Ten all right?” “Yes. then headed up the stairs to his room. Oh. and nothing was ever going to make it better. thank you.” Henry turned on his heel. “Good night.

and Henry—as he climbed the . Everyone had been roused from their rooms by the shot. Yet again they were kept apart by propriety and station. Evelyn and Hilary made endless pots of coffee and tea for the scores of policemen and agents that swarmed around the house. using harsh language until they sent people to watch the gates and keep the reporters away. The Walker family needed their privacy more than ever.in an uproar for hours. Libby had called the security company. He and Archie hadn’t been able to talk since the police arrived. Archie and Henry had done whatever they could to keep David alive until the ambulance came.

It took him two hours to fulfill his end of the arrangement. a towel tied around his waist. Yes was the response. “Henry?” Archie came into the sitting room from the bedroom. but now he was entering his suite and shutting the door behind him with a sigh. . stemming the flow with the sleeve of his jacket—a shower was mandatory. M eet me upstairs was the text he’d sent to Archie after giving his statement to the detective. Well and truly done. He was done.stairs—was done. He’d borne the brunt of the blood flow from David’s head injury.

“Drama.” “With?” Archie met him halfway. “And I’m sorry I . a tight embrace that made everything that wasn’t in their little circle drift away.” he whispered into the curve of Archie’s neck.” Archie’s arms came around him. in the middle of the room.” He tilted his head searching the lines of Archie’s handsome face for…something. He slid his arms around Archie’s trim waist.“You okay?” Henry laughed tiredly. “Being kept away from you. Lies. breathing in the warm scent of his bodywash on his lover’s skin. “I love you. “I am… done.

The love stuff is good to hear. “In public. His hands felt heavenly on Henry’s skin.” Archie whispered back. “ Archie tugged at the shirt. shuddering under the gentle touch of Archie’s fingers. “Outside the bedroom.” “Already am. He pulled at Henry’s shirt.” .” “That really doesn’t matter right now—the job thing.” Henry exhaled. “I hereby formally rescind the job thing…but I’d like to formally request you become my boyfriend. still tucked into his pants.didn’t discuss the vice president position with you beforehand. trailing his fingers down Henry’s side. slipping his hands underneath once he got it free.

then ushered him into the shower. at least to Archie. “That’s… okay.“Huh. Yeah. **** A terrible night morphed into something wonderful. After Henry’s declaration…request… Archie had undressed him gently.” Archie traced up Henry’s spine. unwilling to take his hands off Henry at this moment. .” The tremble in Archie’s voice was the best thing Henry had heard in his life. He went through another shower. And reliving another moment of his life when he feared for Henry’s safety. When he’d come out to find David with a gun and Henry throwing himself into the possible path of a bullet.

He didn’t want to repeat it.Archie’s heart had stopped dead. They showered in silence. “You’re incredible and you’re mine. Archie shut off the taps—then endured the terrible hardship of being pushed against the tiles and kissed senseless by his lover. rubbing their bodies together in a sinuous figure eight.” Henry murmured against his lips. Watching David put the gun to his head… Archie’d already thrown up once tonight. When the water began to cool.” . “And I want everyone to know that. exchanging touches and kisses under the heavy spray.

It’s why he changed the will in the first place. rubbing his forehead against Archie’s shoulder. tangling his fingers in the hair at the base of Henry’s skull. pulling the covers over their heads. They crawled into bed. Or I mean—I suspected it When they read the will.” Henry nodded. . “David confirmed it.” Henry said softly.” The implications were loud in their tiny little cocoon.” His voice shook slightly. “My father knew about us. Archie wound their legs closer together. “He…” “I know.Archie’s heart sang. “That’s why David orchestrated the kidnapping.

“I don’t want you to blame yourself. with you. but Archie was quick to shake his head.” Henry swallowed.” . In his own way. Nothing. “And think about the fact that your father knew and…maybe approved. no. “I think maybe he wanted me to know I could…walk away.” Henry whispered.” “Blame David.” he assured Henry. “No.“It’s why he died…” Henry started. He died because he had a bad heart and went through a horribly stressful experience. You had nothing to do with it. pressing a kiss on Henry’s forehead. ducking so Archie was looking at the crown of his head. Archie nodded.

he was awake and alone in the bed. that he should be hiding or sneaking into the bathroom. from what he could make out. . “But I could also stay.” They were quiet for a long time until sleep flirted with Archie and Henry was deep breathing against his arm.“You could. Henry was at the door of the bedroom. Murmuring caught his attention—he moved the blankets off his head as he sat up. speaking to someone —Libby.” “Yes. Please. With you. There was a moment of panic.” Archie murmured. **** The next thing Archie knew. in a robe. but he made himself stay still.

. She gave him a little wave. with Libby—already fully dressed and made-up—framed in the doorway.” It was all so casual. Normal.To see if Henry’s resolution was going to stick. She patted Henry’s arm before leaving.” Henry said as he turned around.” “Perfect. Archie smiled broadly. “We should probably get downstairs to eat beforehand. “Give me ten minutes to get dressed. The door remained open a crack.” Libby called. “I have to go to the police department this morning.

” They dressed. “Of course. on second glance. he still looked…younger. No. Are you okay with coming with me to the police station?” Henry shut the door. “Maybe. He looked so young that Archie blinked. Paul . then fussed with the tie on his robe. for the rest of the day. “Then I… Do you want to go to the hospital?” Henry paused. casual and comfortable.“I’m sorry I didn’t ask.” “I’ll ask you later. trying to reset his vision.” Archie threw off the covers. I don’t know yet. appearing to give it some thought.

” she said as the men ate their eggs and toast. Archie and Henry shared a look. “Like old times. and he wanted something that kept out prying eyes. “I want grandchildren. hopefully dividing and conquering the paparazzi. A second car. Breakfast was quick and quiet. would follow and split off toward the city. reporters were swarming at the gate. and Hilary was directing a cleaning crew around the house. Libby didn’t join them.” . Evelyn shared coffee as they sat at the table. driven by a security guard.had the stretch limo brought around.

Particularly now.” The scandal was going to be insane. . okay. “A little time away will do you good. cleaning the blood off the ground. “Henry? I just wanted to let you know…I’ve bought a ticket to Hawaii. worrying her hands.” “I don’t have a return ticket yet. David Silver ’s attempted suicide and the revelations were weighing heavily on the house. Before they left.” “Oh. They tried to be lighthearted.” Henry reached out to touch her arm. “I just…yes. Time away is what I need. Libby met them by the door.” She bit her lip.Archie dropped his fork. but there was no missing the men in white suits outside the back window.

he pulled her into a hug.” Henry said with a smile. And please— come visit? You could use a vacation.Screwing decorum.” she added. “Take care of yourself. “Both of you. “Terrific. and he knew their shared grief was something that would always bind them together. whenever you want to come back.” She laughed wetly as she pulled away.” . who leaned against the door. “I did promise him Hawaii. Henry. he cared about his stepmother. He gave her one last squeeze. “Thank you. okay? And know that your home is here. addressing Archie.” The words tightened his throat.

It left them quiet as they slipped out of the house and into the limo.They exchanged more promises and good-byes. . Libby wouldn’t be there when they returned.

fortunately killed when the SWAT team rescued them at the motel. Hired thugs. in the form of payouts and logistical information. All those visits to the house. Speaking to Rebecca Silver—and Lucy.Chapter Twenty-Five In the end the police station was the easiest part. no one questioning Henry’s godfather being there whenever he wanted—easily dropping the steroids into whatever coffee or water Henry was distractedly . The searches turned up confirmation of David’s participation in the kidnapping plot. the scorned assistant—filled in the blanks.

When David woke up. He looked like a cat in a room full of rocking chairs. itching to be out of there. Detective Maddox and Agent Feller explained everything as Henry sat in a visitor ’s chair in the chief of detectives’ office.living on while working. They had all the answers to the investigative questions. . Of course nothing explained the “why”—why David had truly turned on his best friend and godson. maybe he would share. It was over. Or maybe they were doomed to never know. Henry left the room to find Archie perched on the edge of an empty desk.

The estate was awash in bad memories. his apartment staked out by paparazzi.“Come on. They seemed to have . For now… “Let’s go to your place.” **** The limousine dropped them off three blocks from Archie’s Lower East Side apartment. He would deal with that tomorrow morning —he’d called Kit and told her to send all but essential personnel home and have the public relations department handle the calls from the press. The office—God no.” Henry said quietly. “Where to?” Henry considered where they could go.

“I just want to enjoy this moment of non-notoriety. then walked up to the fourth floor. They collected everything. In the crush of locals and tourists.” Archie said. He hadn’t been home in days. Archie and Henry were just two guys. before arriving at the door of the small building Archie called home.ditched the press tailing them. where Archie’s small studio was located. just in case. “We can order something later. “Lunch?” Henry shook his head. evident by the overstuffed mailbox and stack of newspapers on the floor of the entryway. looking back at Henry as they climbed .” They circled around. holding hands as they walked down the street.

” He smiled up at Archie.” “Hmmm. then .the stairs. noncommittal. I might stay in the corporate apartments for a while until the press dies down.” he said. “I don’t want to live at the house. “I’ve never been here before. uh—are you keeping your place? Or moving up to the house?” Archie fiddled with the lock for a moment. So. tucking his hair behind his ear. “Or buy a new place. “Okay. The door opened. it’s weird.” Archie turned on the lights. Henry pressed against his back. Archie pushed inside.” “I know.

” . near the foldout couch. “Are you asking me to move in with you?” “I could order you to…but that would be rude. framed by the large window behind him. “I’d offer you a tour.” “Huh. Trying not to smile. “It’s kind of sexy. And I also demand you fuck me right now. but this is it. Then I demand you move in with me.” Henry was standing in the middle of the room.threw the mail and papers on the kitchen table.” “We need a bigger place.” The twinkle in Henry’s eye made Archie hot and bothered. Archie sauntered over.

“Yes.” “Are you going to put up with my workaholic tendencies and the fact that I have no clue how to be a good boyfriend?” “Yes.” “Are you going to live with me?” “Yes. With the caveat that I will kick your ass when necessary.” “Are you going to love me forever and give Evelyn grandchildren?” .” “Deal.” **** “Are you going to come work for WalkCom?” “No. sir.

” “Okay.” he said finally. “I love you. touching Archie’s smile with reverence.” . but you get to tell her that. We’ll talk about the grandchildren in a few years. “Forever.Henry’s laughter and pink cheeks were suddenly the most treasured and beautiful things Archie could imagine.

LOVE & DEVOTION Se rie s Faith and Fidelity Love and Loyalty Duty and Devotion Cherish .Loose Id Titles by Tere Michaels The Heir Apparent **** The FAITH.

laughs or just feels happy. She got out her crayons and paper and never looked back. Many pages and crayons later—she eventually graduated to typewriters and then computers—Tere has article clips from major magazines. She's exceedingly pleased every time someone reads her stories and cries. a thousand ideas still left to write and a family in the suburbs.Tere Michaels Tere Michaels began her writing career at the age of four when her mother explained that people made their living by making up stories—and they got paid. Check out Tere’s website at .

teremichaels.http://www. to see what .com she's up to.

Table of Contents Dedi cati on Chapter One Chapter Tw o Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Fi ve Chapter Si x Chapter Seven Chapter Ei ght Chapter Ni ne Chapter Ten Chapter El even Chapter Tw el ve Chapter Thi rteen Chapter Fourteen .

Tw o Chapter Tw entyThree Chapter Tw enty.Four Chapter Tw entyFi ve Loose Id Ti tl es by Ter e Mi chael s Tere Mi chael s .Chapter Fi fteen Chapter Si xteen Chapter Seventeen Chapter Ei ghteen Chapter Ni neteen Chapter Tw enty Chapter Tw entyOne Chapter Tw enty.

Table of Contents Dedi cati on Chapter One Chapter Tw o Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Fi ve Chapter Si x Chapter Seven Chapter Ei ght Chapter Ni ne Chapter Ten Chapter El even Chapter Tw el ve Chapter Thi rteen Chapter Fourteen .

Chapter Fi fteen Chapter Si xteen Chapter Seventeen Chapter Ei ghteen Chapter Ni neteen Chapter Tw enty Chapter Tw enty-One Chapter Tw enty-Tw o Chapter Tw enty-Three Chapter Tw enty-Four Chapter Tw enty-Fi ve Loose Id Ti tl es by Ter e Mi chael s Tere Mi chael s .

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