I know most of you are waiting for the next installment in the “By Degrees” series, but I wanted to give you guys something else before “Six Degrees of Agony” comes out.
“Hearsay” is the first installment in “Bylaws,” my new series about attorneys working for Acosta, Bradford & Chadwick, LLP, a fictional lawfirm located in NYC. It is also part of a trilogy within the series, soon to be followed by “Daresay” and “Gainsay.” All three titles will feature the same couple, Roman Bradford and Derrick Swain, and will follow their journey as they deal with damaging rumors, the judicial system, and life’s curveballs while they make their way toward coupledom.
Here’s a little excerpt for you. Enjoy!
Roman Bradford had heard the rumors more times than he cared to remember in the past month. He’d heard them from his partners, close friends, a few acquaintances, his accountant, and even from the attendants at his gym.
He had ignored them every single time. He’d refused to believe. He’d been eager to move forward. His future was looking promising again. He hadn’t wanted anything to get between him and Derrick, the man who had captivated his attention from the moment they met.
For a little over four years Roman had admired him from afar. He’d watched Derrick become comfortable in his recently acquired attorney’s skin. He’d watched him grow confident, earn promotions, and win impossible cases while Roman’s personal life fell apart.
He’d collected the pieces.
He was ready to start again.
It wasn’t until very recently that he’d acted on his attraction for Derrick. Even though he was free to do so, he forced himself to consider carefully the possible ramifications of getting involved with one of his employees. If things went sour between them and Derrick turned out to be vindictive, Roman could get sued for sexual harassment or misconduct at the very least. He knew this, and after the debacle of the past few months and consequent distress, the last thing he wanted was to risk a similar mess. Yet he’d been unable to resist going after him.
Roman was rather subtle in his pursuit of Derrick. The lingering, veiled glances during the two hour monthly meeting with the firm’s associates and the coincidental encounters in the building’s lobby, the cafeteria, and court, had progressed to casually running into him in Central Park during their lunch break for the past eight days. They’d gotten to know each other better during their conversations. The attraction was mutual and almost palpable, and Roman didn’t doubt for a second they were compatible in every important way. Things were going so well between them that he’d decided the previous night it was time to take the next step and ask Derrick out to dinner and maybe the ballet. Hell. He even wanted Derrick to be his date to his parents’ dinner party in three days.
But those damn rumors had been waiting for him when he got to his office in the morning. They’d been louder than ever, too… so loud it was impossible to ignore them anymore.
Roman shook off his preoccupied thoughts and glanced around him. The Pond was one of his favorite places in the city. A little piece of heaven smack in the middle of his demanding world. It never ceased to amaze him how easily he could find solitude here despite the hundreds of people that walked by the water’s edge every day.
He watched the ducks in the water and regarded the trees that would soon start changing colors. Once again he marveled at the beauty and simplicity of the Gapstow Bridge, then closed his eyes and blocked everything. He was a bundle of nerves. Today, more than ever, he needed to soak in the peacefulness that surrounded him.
“Have you decided on a present for your parents’ wedding anniversary yet?”
Roman shifted his body toward the man who had managed to make him feel so much in such a short amount of time and tried to give him his undivided attention. Talking to Derrick was an absolute pleasure, and in addition to being physically perfect in Roman’s eyes, he was also sensible and genuine.
“I’m going to take your advice and give them a vacation to some exotic destination.” He brushed off a few crumbs from Derrick’s tie and smiled when he noticed him shudder.
“Asia? Somewhere in Europe?”
“My mother goes shopping in Paris once a month,” Roman said with a fond smile. “She still tries to drag me along with her to carry her bags whenever my dad refuses to follow her around.”
“It won’t be easy to surprise her and your father, then.”
“I think the Machu Picchu ruins in Peru would be nice.”
“Have you been there?”
“I went with Alan and Sergio when we were still in law school.” He took his glasses off and put them in the pocket of his suit jacket. “Mom loved the pictures we took. That’s why I think she’d enjoy it.”
“From what you’ve told me I get the impression she’d enjoy a week in the jungle with no plumbing, as long as she’s with your father.”
“Forty-five years together,” Derrick said wistfully. “Almost a lifetime spent with the one person they promised to love forever.” He sighed deeply. “Your parents are very lucky, Roman.”
“What about your parents?” Roman asked. “Are they still together?”
“No. They weren’t as fortunate.” He shook his head slowly. “Not like they didn’t want to. I mean, they loved each other so much… My mom chose my dad over her own family, a career, and a very comfortable life. Like your parents, they wanted to die together, but it wasn’t meant to happen that way.”
Derrick glanced at him shyly from under thick, long lashes, probably thinking it was too soon to be sharing such personal details. He smiled at the guy, encouraging him to continue. Derrick’s candor was one of his most endearing personality traits, and Roman would hate it if all of a sudden he started feeling self-conscious.
“Papa didn’t have an education, you know? He worked as a janitor at Columbia University. That’s where they met, when Mama was a freshman. She wanted to be a lawyer, but my grandparents cut her off when she refused to end their relationship. She moved with Papa to his tiny apartment and never looked back. Papa worked so hard to provide for us… We didn’t have money, but we were happy.” He blinked rapidly, but his tears didn’t disappear. “Mama got very sick with lupus when I was a twelve. She didn’t make it.”
Roman resisted the urge to reach out and hug Derrick. It was too soon for that kind of gesture. “I’m sorry to hear that,” was all he said.
“They had a good run, but instead of enjoying his marriage, Papa had to be strong for us kids and watch the woman he loved die slowly.” Derrick grabbed a napkin from his lunch bag and wiped the few tears that were now spiking up his lashes. “I respect him so much for it. I don’t know if I could do the same if I were in his position. I don’t know that I could deal with watching the love of my life waste away. Christ, I’m a terribly selfish person, aren’t I?”
Roman’s heart dropped to his stomach when he heard those words, but his voice sounded normal when he tried to re-assure Derrick. He might not like the guy’s reluctance to be with someone who was sick, but he understood it.
“It wasn’t only your father watching a loved one die. She was your mother, too, and you were a kid. That had to be a very traumatic, painful experience for you and your siblings.”
“It was.” He smiled a little. “Thank you for listening to me blab.”
“I always look forward to hearing you talk about whatever you want.” Roman caressed Derrick’s cheek softly with the back of his hand. “So blab away. I don’t mind.”
“You sure about that?” Derrick’s flirty smile made Roman’s heart skip a few beats. “Because I think I’d like to talk your pretty ears off every chance I get.”
“Sounds like a great plan,” Roman admitted, returning the smile.
That seemingly innocent question almost knocked Roman flat on his back. So much desire was packed in it; so much expectation and hope. His feelings weren’t one-sided. Derrick was along for the ride, and Roman was so happy he could’ve jumped up and down, if only his mind wasn’t plagued by doubts.
It can’t be true It can’t be true It can’t be true…
Roman put his almost untouched grilled chicken wrap inside the bag. “I need to get back to the office,” he said quietly.
Derrick frowned. “Is there something wrong?”
A hysterical chuckle almost escaped Roman.
Where to begin…
Apprehension had him by the balls. He also had a sore throat, a headache, and swollen lymph nodes. He felt like crap.
“Roman?” Derrick’s beautiful amber eyes were clouded with uneasiness and concern. “Did I say something wrong?”
“No!” he rushed to say. “Of course you didn’t.”
“Then what is it?
Roman looked away and cursed under his breath. “I might be getting a cold,” he said in a louder tone.
“I can get you some tea if you want.”
“No, no… It’s fine… I’m fine… Look, I need to go now. There’s something I have to do.”
Derrick grabbed Roman’s hand to stop him from getting up and he obliged, hoping this wouldn’t be the last time he was so close to the other man.
“Can you please tell me what’s going on?” Derrick almost begged.
Roman couldn’t say a word. Uncertainty had gotten a hold of him and it was making him sick to his stomach. He wished he didn’t have to go, but as much as he liked the guy, Roman knew he wouldn’t be able to even look at Derrick again until he’d found out whether the rumors he’d been hearing were true.
Don’t let it be true, please… Don’t let it be true…
He pulled his hand from that soft, firm grip he wanted to feel all over his body, and took several steps back. “I need to go.”
“Will you be back tomorrow?”
Derrick was trying not to sound hurt, but Roman heard it in his voice anyway. He saw it in his eyes. And because he couldn’t offer an honest answer, he chose to not say anything at all. He just turned around and walked away from what he knew was his second chance at love, hopefully not forever.
Please God… Please. Don’t let this be the last time I talk to him.