Will Martin set down his empty mug and flipped to the next page of the New York Times. A familiar profile caught his attention and, despite his better judgment, he read the caption below the photo of two smiling and laughing men in tuxedos.
The year’s hottest gay couple cut a fine figure at the Met premiere last night. Riley Porter-Wright and Carter Hamilton are still going strong. The couple appeared oblivious to those around them as they talked during intermission. They were joined by the former Mrs. Hamilton, who seems to have forgiven Mr. Porter-Wright for stepping into her place. Also there was her new paramour, Robert… The ex-Mrs. Porter-Wright was nowhere to be seen. The couple have been spotted at—
Annoyed, Will threw the newspaper on the coffee table. Everywhere he turned there were reminders of his ex-boyfriend Riley’s happiness with his new love. Well, long-time love, really. Will had competed with Riley’s best friend, Carter, the entire time they’d been together.
But how could Will have competed with a man Riley had loved since college? Riley had left his wife to explore his bisexuality and Carter had ultimately done the same. Will had been foolish for thinking he could offer Riley more than a man who had known him for a decade and a half could.
Will scrubbed a hand through his hair and stood. I need a change of scenery right now, he thought and glanced around the living room of his stylish Manhattan condo.
His laptop screen glowed at him from his desk by the windows. He’d planned to take the morning off and enjoy the gorgeous early June weather, but with edits looming over him and reminders of Riley lurking around the edges of his consciousness, relaxation seemed out of the question.
“Fine, fine,” Will muttered under his breath. “Work it is.”
He filled his cup with coffee, doctored it with cream and sugar and took a seat at his desk. He pulled up his manuscript and scrolled to the place he’d left off—Bernard Schwartz’s appointment as Chief Counsel of the House Legislative Oversight Subcommittee.
Half an hour later, Will’s phone trilled on the desk and he blinked to clear the haze from his brain. Riley flashed across the screen. Speak of the devil, he thought, then immediately chastised himself. Riley wasn’t the problem. Riley loving Carter instead of Will wasn’t even the major issue. Will’s habit of falling for emotionally unavailable men then struggling to get over them was something he desperately needed to change.
Not wanting his ex to sense the turmoil in his head, Will made sure to keep his tone pleasant. “Hey, Riley.”
“Hey, Will. How have you been?”
“Good. Making solid progress on my book.” Will sat back in his chair.
“Oh, that’s right, you’re not teaching during the summer semester, are you?”
“No, I decided to focus on my writing. I’m in the midst of edits, so I’ll be spending the summer cursing at a computer screen while I try not to tear my hair out.”
“What a rewarding career,” Riley said teasingly.
Will chuckled and relaxed a little. He’d always enjoyed Riley’s sense of humor. “I must be a masochist for voluntarily subjecting myself to college students and editors.” Will taught legal history at New York University and had published a handful of well-regarded books on the topic. He suspected Riley hadn’t called to ask about his writing, however. “How’s work? Is your father still pretending you don’t exist at the office?”
“I think he’s hoping I’ll leave Porter-Wright Publishing, to be honest. He and Geneva were polite when Carter and I took the kids to the company picnic but I’m sure it’s only because they were afraid of looking bad.”
“Appearances above all else,” Will muttered. He and Riley had always had that in common. Although at least Will spoke to his mother occasionally and kept in contact with his sister, Olivia. Riley’s relationship with his parents was far worse. “How are things with you and Carter? And the little Hamiltons?”
“Really good.” Will could hear the smile in Riley’s voice. “We all spent last weekend in Southampton at the beach house.”
Riley sounded so happy every time they talked about Carter and his kids. Will’s heart ached, knowing he could never have made Riley that happy, but on the whole he was glad Riley had found the contentment he’d searched for.
“Anyway,” Riley interrupted his thoughts, “I called for a reason. You know Jesse Murtagh and Kyle McKee, right?”
“Vaguely. I met them at Carter’s birthday and Jesse again at your holiday party last winter.”
“Right. Well, they’re opening a speakeasy in a week or so.”
Will laughed. “A speakeasy? That’s intriguing.”
“It’s basically ready to go, and they’ve been inviting friends in to see it and try the cocktails. I called to see if you would like to meet me there tonight. I thought we could grab some drinks and catch up.”
Riley hesitated. “No. Carter will be there with Jesse and Kyle. Along with six or eight of our friends.”
Will stifled a sigh. “Riley…”
“Hey, I know it’s going to be awkward. But it’s been six months. You and I are doing pretty well with our friendship. So, stop being a fucker and come.”
Will couldn’t prevent the laugh that escaped him. “Well, when you word it that way, how can I possibly resist?”
“No, I don’t mean to be glib. I know this isn’t easy for you, but I don’t want to lose you as a friend.” Riley sounded earnest. “I’m asking a lot, but I’d like for you to be able to hang out with all of us. And hey, maybe you’ll meet the perfect guy there.”
Will snorted. “I’m definitely not looking for the last part, but sure, I’ll come. What time and where am I meeting you?”
* * * *
Later that evening, Will glanced around Lock & Key, a pub on the edge of the upper West Side in Morningside Heights, where Riley had arranged for them to meet. The floors were scuffed and slightly gritty under his feet and the tables and chairs had seen better days. The pub was entirely ordinary and not at all what Will had expected.
“Have dive bars become your thing?” he asked, mystified.
Riley laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. “This is not our destination for the night. Someone Kyle used to work with owns Lock & Key. The speakeasy is underneath.”
Will raised an eyebrow. “Under Lock & Key? Clever.”
“What can I say, my friends are punny.” Riley grinned. “Come on, follow me.” He strode to the end of the bar and opened an unmarked door. Will followed more slowly. At the end of a hallway was an old-fashioned phone mounted on the wall.
Riley picked it up and spoke. “Let me in, you fucker.” He fell silent for a moment then tipped his head back and laughed. “That is the passphrase, you jackass!”
Riley hung up the handset and turned to Will, merriment clearly written across his face. “Jesse,” he said, as if that was explanation enough.
In truth, it probably was. Jesse Murtagh was one of a kind. Part of a powerful media family in Manhattan, he was also pansexual and the biggest flirt Will had ever encountered. Not to mention charming and incredibly handsome—no wonder Carter had been attracted to him. Like Will, Jesse had been left in Riley and Carter’s wake once they’d decided to get together, but Will suspected Jesse had been far less affected.
“Are you coming down or what?” A door opened at the end of the hall and Jesse appeared, a smile lighting his face and making his bright blue eyes twinkle. He glanced over at Will and gave him an appreciative grin.
“Glad you could join us tonight, Will. You’re looking good.”
Will chuckled and stepped forward to offer Jesse his hand. “It’s good to see you too.” Irrepressible flirt notwithstanding, Jesse had a compelling presence. Broad shoulders capped off a tall, lean body and the closely-cropped beard he sported framed full lips. Not Will’s type, but easy on the eyes.
“Think you can manage to not storm off this time?” Jesse asked, raking a hand through his dark-blond hair.
Riley groaned. “Jes…”
Will smiled, despite his stab of discomfort at the reminder of the dramatic ending to his and Riley’s relationship six months prior at a Christmas party. Will had finally realized the futility of his feelings for Riley that night and caused a scene in front of a small group of their combined friends, including Jesse and Carter. Ugh. It hadn’t been one of his finer moments.
“I think I can behave tonight,” he said aloud. “So, a speakeasy, huh? What made you decide to open that?”
Jesse held open the door and allowed Riley and Will to precede him down another long, narrow hallway. “Why not? Kyle wanted to open a bar. We looked at a ton of locations and were bored by all of them, but when our friend Matt mentioned the space under Lock & Key, it all fell into place. Who doesn’t want to own an underground, secret bar?”
“I can’t say it’s ever crossed my mind,” Will admitted. They reached the end of the hall and Riley pushed open another unmarked door to reveal a stairwell. Although well-lit, the walls were painted black and totally bare.
“This is the problem with you, Will,” Jesse said. “You’re so buttoned up. You need to live a little.”
“Well I’m spending the evening at a speakeasy with you,” Will said as he followed Riley down the stairs. “Will that do for now?”
Jesse laughed. “Touché.”
Riley pushed open a door at the bottom of the steps and the sight of the bar rendered Will mute.
In sharp contrast to the run-down bar above, the speakeasy was stylish and welcoming. Open shelves on the walls were filled with bottles of liquor. Inlaid floors were topped with sleek leather and metal furniture, and candles in votives glowed on the tables. The mellow music and subdued lighting lent the space an atmosphere of sophisticated relaxation.
Astonished, Will glanced over at Jesse. “This is incredible. I’m impressed.”
“You have good taste, I’ll give you that.” Jesse grasped his shoulder and squeezed. “C’mon, let me get you a drink.”
As Will crossed the room to the bar, Riley slipped into a spot beside Carter on the leather sofa. Will tried to hide a wince as Carter reached for Riley’s knee and squeezed it without pausing in conversation.
“Wistful or vaguely nauseated?” Jesse asked as he took a seat on one of the bar stools.
Will glanced at him. “Excuse me?”
“Was the look because you wish you had that with Riley or because you’re grossed out by two people being disgustingly in love?”
“A little of both, I suppose.” Will had nothing against relationships, but they were starting to seem like a pipe dream for him.
A man appeared behind the bar and Will easily recognized him as Carter’s friend, Kyle.
“Will, right?” he said, holding out a hand. “Kyle McKee.”
“Yeah, hi. We met at Carter’s birthday dinner.”
Kyle smiled. “It’s nice to see you again.”
They shook and Will gave Kyle a once-over. Kyle was easily six feet tall, with broad shoulders, thick dark hair trimmed short on the sides, and heavy but well-groomed brows over dark eyes. Unlike Jesse, Kyle was very much Will’s type. Except for the suspenders he wore over his crisp gray shirt and his rolled-up sleeves. Kyle pulled them off better than most, but the look screamed hipster too much for Will’s tastes.
“Great place you have here.” Will glanced around. “I like it.”
“Thanks.” Kyle’s eyes crinkled at the corners when he smiled. “I’m pleased to hear it. A speakeasy wasn’t quite what I had in mind when I told Jesse I wanted to open a bar, but I’m glad I decided to go for it.”
Jesse grinned. “When will all of you learn my ideas are always brilliant?”
“Probably never.” Kyle turned back to Will. “So, what can I get you? We have a wide selection of beer, wine and cocktails.” He slid a leather-bound book in Will’s direction.
Will perused it for a moment before he closed the cover. “You know what? Surprise me. Make me a cocktail.”
“Hmm. I can do that. Anything you particularly dislike?”
“Anything too sweet. And Amaretto.”
Kyle scrutinized Will for a moment before his eyes gleamed. “Got it.”
Will watched with interest as Kyle pulled a glass out of the freezer and mixed together cognac, Cointreau and lemon juice in a shaker with ice. A few moments later, Kyle poured it into a glass, topped it with a twist of lemon and slid the drink across the bar to him. “Sidecar. Tell me what you think.”
Will raised the glass to his lips and took a sip. He found the drink refreshingly cold and a perfect blend of sour and sweet with a fresh citrusy taste balanced nicely by the cognac. “That’s delicious.”
Kyle grinned. “Excellent.”
“C’mon.” Jesse picked up a tumbler filled with amber-colored liquid and a large spherical ice cube. It clinked pleasantly as he moved. “Let’s go hang out with the guys.”
The majority of the patrons were part of Riley and Carter’s group, spread out across two leather sofas and a handful of chairs that made a square seating area around a finely crafted wood coffee table. Riley leaned forward and set his martini glass down. Will placed his own drink on a table and pulled up a chair.
“Everyone, this is Will Martin. Some of you met him at Carter’s birthday and a few of you met him over the holidays. I’ll introduce everyone, though.”
Will gave him a brief smile. “Thanks.”
“You know Carter, obviously.” Carter nodded in greeting and Will returned it. “Next to Carter is his sister, Audrey.” A tan blonde woman gave him a smile over a martini glass filled with something frothy and yellow. “And Audrey’s husband, Max.” An attractive, bearded man with brown hair and light brown eyes raised a pilsner glass in greeting.
Riley continued around the circle. “Gale, Jarrod, Henry and Miles are friends of Carter’s.” The men waved and murmured their hellos.
“You seem outnumbered here, Audrey,” Will said.
She grinned at him. “I’m not complaining. My brother has some very good-looking friends.”
Her husband elbowed her. “What am I? Chopped liver?”
“Never, darling. But I see you every day.”
Kyle seated himself at an empty chair across the group. “You’re a law professor, right, Will?”
Will nodded and took a sip of his drink. “Yes, at NYU. I’m spending the summer working on my latest book.”
“What do you write?” Max asked. “I’d love to hear about it.”
Will chuckled. “You may regret you asked, but I’m currently writing about the Chief Counsel of the House Legislative Oversight Subcommittee.”
“So, political law then?”
“I couldn’t totally avoid the family business,” Will said dryly.
Audrey frowned. “You have a family member who’s a politician?”
“My father.” Will made a face. “And a Republican at that.”
“How does that work at family dinners?” Audrey asked. “I thought my parents and Carter were bad, but at least they’re not pushing discriminatory legislation.”
“I haven’t spoken to him since college, to be honest.” Will took a fortifying sip of his sidecar. “I see my mother and sister on occasion, but never when he’s around.”
Riley shot him a sympathetic smile.
“Sorry to pry,” Audrey said with an apologetic glance. “I’ve been battling my parents about them shutting Carter out and that’s difficult enough.”
“Ancient history.” Will waved off her apology. “What do you do, Audrey?”
“I chair several philanthropic organizations. And I recently got involved with PFLAG.” She exchanged a look with her brother.
Jesse leaned forward. “Beautiful and socially aware? Be still, my beating heart. If Max hadn’t met you first…” Jesse took a sip of his drink. “That goes both ways, Max.”
Max chuckled and Carter rolled his eyes. “We’ve had this discussion before, Jesse. No hitting on my sister or my brother-in-law, please. And definitely not both at once.”
A chorus of laughter rose. Riley chimed in with a humorous comment as Will relaxed back in his chair and sipped his drink, enjoying the banter flying around the room. He’d been far too antisocial since the breakup and he was glad he’d taken Riley up on his invitation.
* * * *
A few hours later, Will reluctantly excused himself. He’d had a wonderful time and had enjoyed the witty conversation. It had left him feeling lighter and more relaxed than he had in a while. “I’m going to head home. I have an early game of racquetball planned with Charles tomorrow. I had a great night,” Will said. “Thanks for inviting me, Riley. Carter.”
“I’m glad you came,” Carter said with a nod. He offered Will a sincere smile that crinkled the corners of his hazel eyes and Will grudgingly admitted he could see Carter’s appeal. His jealousy had blinded him too much to appreciate Carter’s broad-shouldered, long-legged build and handsome face before.
Will said goodnight to everyone and Jesse stood to shake his hand. “Please come back any time. I’ll add your name to the list, so even if Kyle and I aren’t here, you’ll be let in. We do have a seat limit of forty and try to keep private events on the smaller side, but feel free to bring a friend or two. Especially if they’re hot and single.” He winked. “And maybe save that for when I’m here.”
“Jesse!” Carter sounded exasperated and Will couldn’t hide his smile.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” he said.
“We’re trying to turn this into a regular thing,” Kyle said. “Riley and I had the idea of meeting here the third Thursday of every month. Nothing formal, and if you can’t make it, no problem, but it would be great if you could join us.”
“I’ll try to make it,” Will said. “And thanks for a great evening. You make a mean sidecar.”
“Any time,” Kyle responded.
Will turned to leave. “I’ll walk you up,” Riley said. He fell into step behind Will.
“Tell Charles I said hi,” Riley said as they walked up the stairs.
“How are he and Gabe doing?”
“Good. They’re both pretty busy right now. Charles is teaching classes this summer and Gabe is looking into opening another restaurant.” Charles was an ex of Will’s, and one of his closest friends and a colleague at NYU. Charles had married Gabe the summer before, and Gabe owned a high-end Vietnamese restaurant in Tribeca, not far from Will’s home.
“You’re welcome to bring them to Under anytime,” Riley said. “If you think they’d be okay with that.”
Will pushed open the door leading into Lock & Key. “I’m sure Gabe will be. Charles is still holding a bit of a grudge,” he said. Will and Riley’s breakup had rocked Riley’s friendship with Gabe and Charles.
Riley sighed. “I deserve it.”
“No, I should talk to him. You and I have mended some fences. There’s no reason he needs to continue to shut you out.” Will walked through the exit of the bar and turned to Riley when they stepped onto the sidewalk out front. “Thanks for inviting me tonight.”
“I’m glad you came. I know it was asking a lot but—”
Will cut off Riley’s statement. “I meant it when I said I wanted us to be friends. You’re happy with Carter and I’m happy for you. Honestly, it’s been great hanging out with you guys and your friends.”
“I’m relieved to hear it,” Riley said with a smile. He leaned in, then hesitated and Will closed the distance to hug him.
“Have a good night, Riley.”
Riley disappeared back through the door of Lock & Key and Will sighed. Hugging Riley left him with a bittersweet feeling, but he was glad he’d come to check out the speakeasy. And he’d meant it when he said he’d try to come back on Thursday evenings in the future. He’d needed some time to lick his wounds and recover, but his self-imposed isolation only made his loneliness worse.
He glanced up and down the street. There wasn’t a cab in sight so he pulled out his phone and brought up the Lyft app. He leaned against the wall of the brick building while he waited and a few minutes later a car slid to a stop in front of him.
Will made small-talk with the driver as the car traveled from Morningside Heights back to Tribeca. When they got caught in a traffic snarl near Central Park West because of a protest, Will took out his phone to kill the time. He was scrolling through articles on a news app when his phone vibrated in his hand.
Mom flashed across the screen and he hesitated before he accepted the call.
“Hey, Mom,” he answered.
“Will.” Agnes Martin’s voice sounded strained, with none of the usual groomed sophistication it typically held.
He straightened. “Is something wrong?”
“Will, your father…” Her breath hitched. “I have some news. Your father has been ill lately.”
Serves the old bastard right, Will thought grimly. “Ill?” he said aloud.
“Tired, losing weight, stomach pain. At first, we blamed his stress. He’s been working so hard lately—”
Yeah, probably passing more anti-LGBT legislation, Will thought.
“But when we noticed some yellowing of his eyes, we got concerned. We were hopeful it was a gallbladder issue, but after some testing, we were referred to an oncologist.”
His breath caught. Oncologist? Shit. “He has cancer?”
“Yes. He has something called a—a non-functioning neuroendocrine tumor. Pancreatic cancer. It’s quite large and the doctors are concerned it’s spread to some nearby lymph nodes. It’s stage III and the—the prognosis isn’t good.”
Will took a moment to let the words sink in, but didn’t feel much of anything about the news. A wave of guilt washed over him. “I’m sorry, Mom,” he said gently. She loved his father and while Will had many, many issues with William Martin Sr. as a father and an elected official, he had always treated Will’s mother well. There had never been a hint of infidelity and after Agnes had suffered a serious car accident years ago, Bill hadn’t left her side until she’d recovered. “I know how hard this must be for you.”
His mother sniffled. “I can’t lose him. I know you and your father have your…differences but—”
“We don’t have differences,” he retorted. Any goodwill he’d felt dissipated. “He detests me. He thinks I am less deserving of the same basic human rights he affords everyone else. That’s more than an ideological difference, Mom, that’s a complete lack of respect for me as a human being.”
“Come to Garden City,” she blurted out and the words rang in his ear for several seconds before he could process them.
“What? You must be kidding,” he said. “You can’t think I’d come to Long Island to sit by his deathbed and hold his hand.” He winced. His cruel words served only to remind Agnes her husband was probably dying. “I’m sorry, Mom, but I can’t do it. I can’t pretend like everything is fine between us. We haven’t spoken in over ten years and it’s not only because I’m pissed at him. He’s the one who cut me out of his life, remember?”
“He wants you here,” she said softly. Agnes had used the same tone during Will’s years growing when she tried to get him to do something he didn’t want to do.
Will sat back in his seat. “Really?”
“I asked him if you could come home and he said yes.”
Well, that was more plausible than Will’s father specifically asking for him to come home. He sighed. “I-I don’t know. I suppose I could come for a long weekend or something. School’s out and I could work on my edits while I’m there.”
Agnes went silent for a moment. “I hoped you’d stay longer. Your father is undergoing surgery next week, but it’ll be exhausting for all of us. If the surgery doesn’t work, we may only have a few months left with him.” Her voice broke.
“You want me to spend the entire summer in Long Island?” he asked, incredulous.
“Please, Will. If you won’t come for your father, come home for Olivia and me. Your sister and I need you. We can’t do this alone.”
Will glanced out of the window, surprised the bright lights of the city were blurred by tears. He wasn’t sure who they were for.
“I’ll think about it, Mom.”