Riley Porter-Wright whistled as he let himself into his West Village apartment on a warm Thursday night in April. He’d left work with a spring in his step. He had a date with Will Martin—his boyfriend—that night, and a three-day weekend ahead of him.
As senior vice president and head of the e-pub division of his family’s publishing house, Riley had been delighted to share the year’s first quarter data for his division at the board meeting that afternoon. The numbers had been high enough to impress even Jonathon Porter-Wright, the CEO of the company and Riley’s father. He was a demanding man under the best of circumstances and the flicker of pleased surprise that had crossed his face during Riley’s presentation had been gratifying.
Although completely estranged from his parents since his coming out and divorce the previous fall, Riley still had to deal with his father at work. He was no longer concerned with living up to his father’s expectations, but Riley felt perversely pleased that the better he performed, the more of an ass his father appeared to be. There was a certain measure of satisfaction in proving to his father that being an openly bisexual man hadn’t done a thing to affect his career. If anything, finally feeling content with his life had improved Riley’s performance.
He’d left the office immediately after the board meeting and hurried home. He hastily dressed in a tux, then checked his watch to be sure he wasn’t late as he dashed out of the door. Why the Metropolitan opera held premieres on a weeknight, he didn’t know, but thankfully, Will didn’t have any classes to teach at NYU that evening.
Riley texted Will on the way to his building. He came out to meet Riley after the town car pulled up. The driver held the door while Will slid inside and gave Riley a brief, warm kiss. “Hey, good to see you.”
“You, too.” They’d both been busy in the past few weeks and hadn’t been able to spend much time together. Riley smiled at him, struck again by Will’s high cheekbones and classic good looks. Riley hadn’t seen him in a tuxedo before, but he wore it well. “How was your day?”
“Mmm, faculty meeting this afternoon and most of my students seem to have spring fever, so I’m glad it’s over,” Will replied with an easy grin, his blue eyes brightening. “Getting better now, though. Yours?”
“Great, actually, and I’m looking forward to tonight.”
They kept the discussion light while the car crossed Manhattan, but Riley’s anxiety rose as they neared the Kennedy Center. He straightened his bow tie for the umpteenth time. Will set a hand on his thigh, the touch warm and heavy.
“Are you sure you want to do this tonight?” Will asked softly. “You seem jittery.”
“Of course.” Riley gave Will a reassuring smile. “I’ll admit I’m…anxious about how it will go, but I refuse to let anyone keep me from living my life. I love opera and I want to share that with you.”
That night was the gala premier of Giulio Cesare and Riley had spent the better part of a week debating if he should invite Will to be his date. Riley had done little socializing with anyone from his past since his abrupt coming-out the previous November and subsequent divorce from his now ex-wife Alex. The possibility of seeing his parents was nerve-racking. Even worse was the thought of seeing his former best friend, Carter, and Carter’s wife, Kate. Carter had been shocked by Riley’s coming out and Riley’s confession that he loved Carter had driven a wedge between them. Riley hadn’t had any contact with Kate and, other than a brief and awkward run-in during the holidays at Serendipity when Carter had been out with the kids, Riley hadn’t seen Carter, either.
Will knew enough about his past that he wouldn’t be caught off-guard if an awkward situation arose, but that didn’t make it any easier. The thought of Will and Carter in the same room caused his anxiety to rise.
In the three months Riley and Will had been seeing each other, Will had more than lived up to Riley’s first impression of him. Not only gorgeous, he was thoughtful and well-read. Patient, too, while Riley shook off the hang-ups from his past and struggled to figure out the new path he was on. In fact, he’d been more than patient.
Although they’d been intimate in every other way, Riley hadn’t reached a point where he was ready to let Will penetrate him or vice versa. Will assured Riley he shouldn’t feel rushed and reminded him some men never wanted anal sex, but, still, it bothered Riley. They’d decided not to see other people, but sometimes Riley held Will at arm’s length when he should have been pulling him closer. Taking him to the opera tonight was one way to include Will in another part of his life. He genuinely cared for Will and thought maybe, in time, he could fall for him.
Riley could hardly say he was over Carter, but thoughts of Carter had grown less and less frequent. As time passed, the acute pain of losing him had faded to a dull ache. Time certainly did heal wounds, but, unfortunately, it did nothing to lessen the feeling that something important was missing from his life.
“I’m glad you invited me,” Will said, bringing him back to the moment.
Riley smiled warmly at him. “I’m glad you were willing to come. I don’t think my ex-wife will be there—she really only bothered with the events here to network—but I can’t promise anything. Let’s just hope we can make it through the night without any drama.”
“If there is, we’ll either ignore it or cut out early.” Will shrugged and slid his hand a little higher. He leaned in to whisper in Riley’s ear. “No matter what happens, the night can end in my bed with your dick in my mouth and you coming so hard you see stars.”
“Promises, promises,” Riley teased, his voice more breathless than he intended. He closed his eyes for a brief moment as Will feathered kisses against his jaw, then glanced at the driver in front of him. He was grateful for the man’s discretion and that he hadn’t once glanced at them in the rearview mirror. Although finally at ease with showing affection with Will in public, Riley didn’t want to make the driver uncomfortable.
Will pulled back when the car slowed to a stop and Riley looked up in surprise, realizing they were already in front of the Lincoln Center. He stepped onto the sidewalk and waited for Will to follow, nodding at a few people mingling outside the entrance whom he recognized. He couldn’t resist a peek at the fountain, half-expecting to see Carter standing beside it. But the familiar silhouette was nowhere in sight, so he turned back to Will.
“Still nervous?” Will asked quietly as they walked through the lobby, with its endless red-carpeted floors and the mid-century Sputnik-style chandeliers that had been a gift from the Austrian government.
“A little,” Riley replied. “Mostly trying not to think too much about your comment in the car. I’m afraid these pants don’t hide much.” He grinned wryly wry and Will laughed.
“As long as you follow through, I have no complaints.” Riley’s grin faded when they stepped into the cocktail reception. He glanced around anxiously. To his relief, the only familiar faces in sight were distant acquaintances and he and his date were able to get a drink and mingle. People stared, of course—he’d expected that—and there were a few who gave him and Will a suspiciously wide berth, but frankly, it went better than he’d anticipated.
Riley had just begun to relax when he spotted his parents. His good mood immediately plummeted, replaced by an increasing tightness in his chest. “That’s my parents ahead,” he murmured. “Brace yourself.”
The woman standing next to his mother noticed him. “Oh, look, Geneva, it’s Riley.” Her tone held a nasty note, as if she merely wanted to make a jab at his mother. Riley didn’t know Helena Finch well but enough to remember she was someone who should be aware of the current situation. Perhaps she disliked his mother, or maybe she just wanted to catch a bit of the gossip. He smiled thinly when he approached them, hoping for Will’s sake that the typical Porter-Wright way of handling difficult situations would hold out tonight. Ignoring the situation and acting politely in front of company sounded good to him.
“Will, this is Jonathon and Geneva Porter-Wright.” He nodded to his parents. “Jonathon, Geneva, this is William Martin.” He didn’t see any point in elaborating on Will’s part in his life. “Will’s a law professor at NYU.”
His mother nodded frostily and his father put out his hand. The gesture seemed hesitant and begrudging.
“Nice to meet you both.” Will’s tone came across as polite, but there was little of his usual warmth.
“Likewise.” His father didn’t try to hide his disdain.
A rotund gentleman who looked as if he might pop the buttons on his jacket at any moment held out his hand to Will. “Marcus Finch. I went to NYU law myself back in the day.”
Riley glanced at his mother, but she wouldn’t meet his eye. Outwardly, she appeared cool and composed, but Riley would bet agitation churned under the surface.
Helena gave Riley a knowing smile. “And Will is here with you? How interesting.” Her voice dripped with innuendo.
“We’ve been seeing each other for a while.” Riley kept his tone polite but cool. “On top of being a law professor, Will is a writer. We have a great deal in common.”
Will made small talk with Marcus while Riley remained silent.
“It appears they’re seating for dinner,” Geneva said after a few minutes, her voice brittle. “Come, Jonathon, we should find our seats. Nice seeing you, Marcus and Helena. Riley. Mr. Martin.” She disappeared before they could reply and Riley made polite excuses to the Finches. He and Will found their table, grateful to end the encounter. His parents would make sure their paths didn’t cross again that evening.
Riley didn’t relax until dinner had concluded and Will followed him to his box for the beginning of act one. He took a seat next to Will, relieved that dinner had been calm and uneventful.
“I’m glad you came with me tonight,” Riley told him with a smile. Will briefly touched Riley’s knee.
“I am, too.”
The final knot of worry in Riley’s chest dissipated and he got comfortable, eager to see the production. Unfortunately, the good mood only lasted until intermission.
Riley and Will were enjoying the champagne and dessert when a blonde in an ice-blue dress crossed his field of vision. Riley tensed at the sight of Kate Hamilton. He glanced around, trying to be casual as he searched for Carter, but found him nowhere in sight. Riley frowned. The crowd was thick, but Carter stood tall enough to be seen in any group. Perhaps he was in the restroom or had stepped outside to take a call. Kate headed toward him, although she hadn’t made eye contact yet.
Riley set down his champagne glass, his hands suddenly nerveless and clumsy when Kate spotted him. Her eyes went wide and she came to an abrupt stop. “Riley.”
“How are you, Kate?”
“I’m fine.” Her smile seemed automatic, forced. Riley paused, really looking at Kate. She appeared to have lost weight and her normally bright eyes and smile were dimmer than usual. Although beautifully made up as always, something was off.
“Will, I’d like to introduce you to Kate Hamilton, a good friend of mine. Kate, this is Will Martin, law professor, writer and my date this evening.”
The corners of Kate’s mouth briefly tightened before she smiled at Will and held out her hand. “It’s nice to meet you, Will.”
“Likewise.” Will, in turn, appeared relaxed and comfortable. Clearly, whatever was obvious to Riley wasn’t to someone who had never met Kate before.
“Are you as big of a fan of opera as Riley is?” Kate asked.
Will grinned. “I’m not sure anyone’s as big of a fan as Riley, but I do enjoy it.” Will brushed his fingertips across Riley’s back. “I’m glad he wanted to share it with me.”
“Oh, I’ve been known to give Riley a run for his money,” Kate said lightly.
A little more warmth appeared in her eyes, but she still seemed off and Riley turned to Will, laying a hand on his arm.
“Would you get me another glass of champagne? I’d like a moment to talk to Kate, if you don’t mind.”
“Of course,” Will reassured him.
“Thank you. I’ll try not to be long.” Riley squeezed Will’s arm.
“Take your time. I’ll be over by the bar when you’re done.” He nodded at Kate. “Very nice to meet you, Kate.”
Will left with a smile and Riley felt grateful for his understanding. He turned back to Kate, growing serious. “Are you sure everything’s okay? You don’t seem…” He wasn’t sure how to finish. Kate seemed unhappy, stressed. “Is it that Carter’s around and you’re worried about us running into each other?”
She shook her head. “No. Carter’s…Carter’s not here with me.”
Kate’s fingers trembled as she smoothed them over her pale blue dress and, although it took him a moment, Riley finally registered what was wrong with the picture. A faint stripe of lighter skin adorned the third finger of her left hand instead of the glittering diamond ring Riley had carried in the breast pocket of his tux the morning of Carter’s wedding. He wanted to ask her about it but realized there were too many people around. “Can we talk? Privately?”
She nodded, the motion tense and jerky. Riley steered them toward a secluded alcove, reminded of the night he and Carter had discussed finding a woman to join them. It seemed like it had been a lifetime ago, rather than just over a year. “What’s going on, Kate? I know you well enough to know you’re not okay.”
She let out a shaky breath. “Riley, a lot has happened since we last saw each other.”
He bit back a disbelieving laugh. “I’m well-aware.”
Her expression softened. “I know. You’ve been dealing with…well, more than any man should. I’m sorry to hear about your parents. They’re completely out of line.”
“It wasn’t unexpected.”
“That doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.”
“And what about you? Is something going on with you and Carter? I noticed you aren’t wearing your ring.”
She glanced down at her left hand with a wistful glance. “Carter and I are separated. We’re in the process of filing for divorce.”
Riley blinked at her. “You what? Christ, what happened, Kate?”
The sad smile was trained on him, her tone gentle, but the words barbed. “You came out.”
Blanching, Riley tried to make sense of what she’d said. “I don’t understand.”
Her gaze remained unflinching, but her voice became so quiet he could barely hear it. “Carter told me the truth, Riley. The girls in college, the escort…your feelings for him.”
The news hit him like a ton of bricks. “I’m so fucking sorry, Kate.” His voice grew raw. “We never meant to—”
“I know. But it hurts deeply to know my husband and a man I considered a good friend betrayed me that way.” Kate’s voice shook. Riley saw the strain on her face as she struggled to keep it together. She looked away and he gave her a moment to compose herself before she continued. “How long, Riley?”
“What do you mean?”
“How long have you loved him?”
“Since college,” he admitted. “Probably since the moment I met him.”
She shook her head and dropped her voice to a whisper. “The whole time. Long before Carter and I met.”
Riley swallowed, his throat suddenly tight.
“How could you let him marry me?” she continued. “How could you stand beside him at the altar and hand him the ring when you loved him?”
“Because I truly believed it was the right thing to do. I couldn’t tell him how I felt—I could hardly even admit it to myself. He loved you—he really did—and I thought if he married you, the feelings I had for him wouldn’t matter. Asking Carter to divorce you to be with me last November was out of line. I shouldn’t have done it, but I couldn’t cope with hiding my feelings for him anymore. I thought he needed to know the truth. I’ve never loved anyone the way I love Carter, but I understand he doesn’t feel the same way about me. I know that now.” His voice sounded strained, even to him. “I wish it hadn’t taken the end of both our marriages and our friendship to prove that, though.”
“Me, too.” She stared him straight in the eye. “You know, he’s been a wreck since then, Riley. And when he ran into you before New Year’s, he became so depressed. He barely slept or ate—he just…wasn’t himself. He couldn’t live with the lies anymore and it all fell apart after that.”
“It kills me to know I hurt both of you.” He looked down, unable to meet her gaze. “I’ve come to terms with the fact I’ve lost Carter. I’m moving on now. Figuring out my life.”
“We’re seeing each other. I care about him, but we’re—we’re taking things slow. He doesn’t know the exact details, but he knows there’s someone else I still have feelings for.”
“As long as you’re being honest with him.”
“I am.” Riley shoved his hands in his pockets. “I won’t live a lie like that again. I never should have done it in the first place.”
“I think the worst part is, I didn’t know I was,” Kate said softly, tears shimmering in her eyes. “I think somewhere deep down, I knew there was something between you and Carter, but I truly didn’t want to believe it. I wanted to believe the happy marriage and family were real.”
“Carter loves you and the kids. I know he does,” he whispered, his voice raw. “There are so many things I wish I’d done differently. Hurting you and the kids…I hope you know how much I regret it. Although I hoped Carter would want to be with me, I don’t think I ever believed he’d leave you. I know he didn’t want to tear apart your marriage or your family.”
“We can’t always predict the outcome of these things.” She laid a hand on his forearm, her smile wistful. “Besides, you coming out may have precipitated this, but it became inevitable. Once Carter stopped being honest with me, this was bound to happen. I am so, so angry at both of you, but I am trying to understand it. I can’t imagine what keeping your feelings a secret must have been like. Maybe once the hurt passes, I’ll be able to forgive you.”
He nodded, his heart aching. “It’s more than I deserve.”
Before she could reply, the lights dimmed briefly, indicating intermission had ended. She offered him a small, sympathetic smile. “I need to head back to my seat, but, Riley, I’m glad we talked.”
“So am I. Take care of yourself, Kate.”
He stood staring after Kate until someone gently touched his upper back. He turned to see Will staring at him with a worried frown.
“Are you all right?” Will asked.
Riley shook his head to clear it. “Yeah. We should get back to our seats, though.”
Will nodded and fell into step beside him, his gaze worried. Riley couldn’t blame him. The conversation with Kate had completely thrown him and he knew he was acting oddly. He needed some time to process it.
Throughout the second half of the performance, Riley felt grateful for Will’s silent presence. He hadn’t asked Riley to explain, had merely sat beside him and laid a comforting hand on his knee. Riley didn’t know what to think of the conversation with Kate. Despite having wanted Carter to end his marriage, the news that Kate and Carter were no longer together felt like an unexpected blow. It would be difficult to come to terms with his partial responsibility for it. He’d never wanted to hurt Carter or Kate and his heart ached for Sadie and Dylan.
He instinctively wanted to reach out to Carter and see if he needed to talk, but Riley wondered if Carter would welcome it or not. Would he blame Riley for the end of his marriage? Was there any hope of repairing their friendship?