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Chapter 1: Chapter 1

1

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 fuck 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.


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