Ransom Burke stood in front of the mirror above his dresser and threaded the bright green and scarlet striped tie through his collar—appropriate for the day, he thought with a smile. It was Christmas Eve, after all, and Ran had a special gift for his lover. Scott had a weakness for convertibles, and in the parking garage of Ran’s condo was a 2015 Jaguar F-Type, so new it hadn’t even reached the showroom floor. Ran’s plan had been to give it to Scott on Christmas Day, but his favorite man had informed him earlier in the week he’d be required to go out of town to take a deposition. Ran had been disappointed to begin with, but then he’d decided it didn’t matter. He grinned to himself. Whether Scott got it today or tomorrow, he was going to be very happy.
Ran was going to be casual about it. When they left to go to work, he’d steer Scott to the slot where the Jag was parked and—
And then Scott stood in the bathroom doorway, looking nervous. He ran a hand through his hair and began speaking, and all thoughts of Christmas, Jaguars, and happiness went out the window.
* * * *
“You understand, don’t you, Ran?”
“I don’t, actually.” He paused in the act of knotting his tie and stared into the mirror above his dresser, seeing the reflection of the man who’d been his lover for the past six and a half years. Blond, blue-eyed, and a little under average height, Scott had done more than tweak Ran’s libido: he was someone Ran could take care of. “Suppose you explain it to me?”
“You know what Hadley Mitchell can be like.”
Ran did, and he didn’t like him. Mitchell, the senior partner of Mitchell, Marshall, and Morrissey, had been his father’s lawyer. When Ran had taken over the family company, he’d had every intention of switching to another law firm. But then he’d met Scott.
“I’ll never get any further in this law firm unless I have a wife I can bring to the various functions. If you’d hired me—”
“As what? Burke, Burke, and Hammett never had its own legal Parrish’s gut churned when division. And aside from that, you know my policy of not dating within the company.”
“But not even me?”
“No.” He wouldn’t break that rule for anyone, not after seeing what his father had almost done to the family business.
“Then you couldn’t expect me not to do what I had to in order to further my career.”
“What about us?”
“Oh…well…we won’t be able to see each other for a time—I mean, I can’t. I’m supposed to be engaged to Daphne. And then there’s the honeymoon, but after that…as long as we’re discreet—”
“Weren’t we always discreet?”
But Scott continued as if Ran hadn’t spoken. “—I don’t see any reason why we can’t continue our relationship.”
“You don’t, do you?” Ran resumed tying the Windsor knot, pleased his hands were steady and didn’t reveal the level of his distress. He’d thought he and Scott were destined to be together forever, that they’d finished sowing their wild oats. He certainly had.
“You know what I mean, Ran. Daphne and I will have to be seen all over Charlotte.”
“I imagine you will.” He turned away from the mirror and was about to cross to the valet where his suit jacket hung when he paused. “I’ll have to ask for my keycard, Scott. And of course you’ll want your key back.” He took his ring from his pocket, worked Scott’s key free, and handed it to his…his former lover. Two separate homes. Why had they never moved in together?
“Ran, you can’t mean—”
“I can.” He stood there with his hand outstretched, again pleased at how steady it was, and even more pleased to see the color drain from Scott’s face. He could have rubbed it in by telling Scott he’d be changing the access code, but Ran couldn’t do that, even after what Scott had just done to him. He would inform security, however, that Scott Winston was no longer permitted in the building.
Scott took out his wallet, removed the keycard, and placed it on Ran’s palm. “Will…will you pull your account?”
“I’ll need to give that some thought.” Of course he wouldn’t. Scott was an excellent lawyer. He was a good lover as well, but that wasn’t something Ran would allow himself to consider any longer. “Is that what matters most to you?”
“Of course not. I loved you. I still love you. But you’re the CEO of your family’s company. You could f**k a donkey and they wouldn’t care.”
“Oh, I think they would.”
Scott’s lips tightened to a thin white line. “You know what I mean. You can do as you choose. I don’t have that option. Ransom, being a lawyer is all I’ve ever wanted to do. If they take that away from me…” His lower lip quivered.
“You could open your own firm.”
“How many clients would I retain once they learned I’m gay? I’m sorry. I just can’t—” His voice hitched, something Ran would normally rush to make better. Now, though…
“I guess you can’t. What about your things?”
“What…?” Scott looked confused. That expression had always touched something inside Ran, made him want to tumble his lover onto the bed and make love to him until his eyes crossed and he screamed. It still did, but he refused to give in to a useless desire. “Oh, you mean what I brought here. Actually…” He cleared his throat. “Actually, there isn’t much. I packed up my shaving kit while you were sleeping.”
“But your CDs? Your DVDs? The clothes you’ve kept here?” Ran hated how desperate he sounded.
“I’ve been…I’ve been bringing them home gradually.”
“Jesus Christ, Scott! How long have you been planning this?”
“A few months.” He at least had the grace to look abashed.
“You couldn’t have told me sooner?”
“I…I didn’t want to lose you.”
Was that supposed to make Ran feel better?
“I’m so sorry.”
“Sorry doesn’t cut it, Scott. Have you been f*****g her?”
“No.” But he flushed a dark red. “I know how you feel about monogamy, and I wouldn’t do that to you.”
No, he’d just rip Ran’s heart out and samba all over it. “Still, I think I’ll get myself tested, just to be on the safe side, you understand.” It was a cheap shot, but he’d never claimed to be an angel. As he hoped, Scott flinched. They’d done without condoms for the past two and a half years.
“I…I hope we can still be friends, Ran. The…uh…wedding is on Valentine’s Day. It’s a Saturday.” He cleared his throat and looked away, unable to hold Ran’s gaze. “Daphne and I would like you to be there. Daphne knows we’re good friends. She’d question it if you didn’t show up.”
Was the man out of his mind? Did he honestly have the nerve to invite Ran?
Ran wanted to ask if Scott was so unhappy with him he wanted to destroy him, but he folded his lips in a tight line and kept the question locked behind his lips.
“I don’t think so, Scott.”
“You’ll have to find a way to explain it to your fiancée. Are you ready? In that case, we should go. I have a busy schedule today.” Which now included having Mrs. Campbell, his executive assistant, call the Jaguar dealership to see about returning the convertible. He paused. Scott detested receiving flowers; early in their relationship he’d informed Ran he found it too girly.
All right, it was petty, but Ran was going to see to it his…his ex-lover received the biggest, most flamboyant bouquet of roses a local flower shop could provide. White, he thought, and perhaps he’d have them dipped in gold.
* * * *
On Valentine’s Day, two months after that miserable Christmas, Ran decided he’d buried himself in work long enough, that although he was still hurting, he was done licking his wounds. While Scott was honeymooning with his Daphne on Mexico’s Riviera Maya coast, Ran sent a dozen red roses to a blond he’d met at a local watering hole. If he squinted, Lyle even looked a little like Scott.
“I only ask one thing,” he said as he stripped off his clothes and reached for a condom. He’d tested negative, and he intended to see it stayed that way.
“That I love you? Of course, baby.” Lyle gave him a lazy grin.
Ran grimaced. He hated that particular pet name. Scott had used it all the time. “No, that you remain monogamous.”
Lyle looked horrified. “For the rest of my life?” The honeyed tone had left his voice.
“What you do with the rest of your life is your business. While you’re with me, however, I’m the only person you’ll take to your bed. This is nonnegotiable.”
“Of course,” Lyle repeated, smiling as he held out his arms.