Archie Banks pulled the SUV through the evening traffic—that unique blend of madness on the Upper East Side that included tourists, residents, and businesspeople, clogging the sidewalks and filling up the restaurants that lined the affluent neighborhoods. Winter had given way to a sunny April, and no one was eager to get inside. Archie parked illegally in front of the WalkCom building, tossing a wave through the window at the meter maid patrolling the area.
She gave him a flirty smile. And didn’t make him move.
The console clock read 5:55; he didn’t expect Henry to be early, so he cranked the Metallica and the air-conditioning, and loosened his tie. He anticipated a quick end-of-the-day trip—drop Henry off, go home to get ready for dinner with his mother, make dinner with his mother on time, then get home before ten to finish his homework. Tomorrow morning his start time was early due to a business meeting in Westchester.
Which meant Mr. Walker would be gracing him with his presence. He had to remember to dust the backseat—and make sure there was Mozart, not Metallica playing when he opened the door.
Mr. Walker’s only son, Henry, was far less high maintenance. Also, Archie had never blown the senior Mr. Walker in the parking garage at the Met.
Archie dug out the book he was reading—Love in the Time of Cholera
—for one of his three online classes, and flipped the worn paperback to chapter ten. Fiction wasn’t something he generally had time for, and his business degree didn’t stress the importance of magical realism, but sometimes there were limited options when it came to class selection. Then again, it didn’t matter—not anymore. For the first time in six years, there was no “next semester.” Six weeks and he was done.
Soon he’d have a job that didn’t require a gun permit and a uniform.
He was already job hunting—sending out applications and letters to the myriad of companies in New York City. It was wonderful and terrifying all at once; WalkCom had been signing his paychecks since he was seventeen, and while it was hardly his life’s dream to caretake rich people, it was home in so many ways.
It was also where Henry was.
His phone buzzed a few minutes later. It was Henry’s signal that he was on his way down, and Archie now had a part to play.
He straightened his suit jacket—specially tailored to fit his broad shoulders and six-foot-five-inch frame—and readjusted his tie. He slid his black sunglasses into place to hide his amused gaze, and he exited the driver’s-side door with an exaggerated stretch of his muscular body.
Some bodyguards got by blending into the background. Archie preferred to flash his brawn right up front.
He walked to the opposite side of the vehicle, leaning against the door with a dangerous air, a flexing of his muscles under the heavy weight of his navy suit. People skittering along the sidewalk generally didn’t notice him, but a few tourists flashed him alarmed expressions.
Archie Banks looked scary as shit.
Henry Walker came flying out the front doors a second later, blond hair slightly too long and in his eyes as he hustled to the car like the hounds of hell were on his heels. Archie went into chauffeur mode, opening the back door with a sharp jerk as Henry got close.
His boss—and lover—gave him a solid eye roll as he walked by.
“Oh, that joke never gets old.” Archie sighed as he slammed the door, narrowly missing Henry’s tasseled loafer.
“Home?” Archie asked when he got into the front seat, locking the doors and lowering the epic beats of “Enter Sandman” before Henry died from having real music inflicted on his ears.
“Unfortunately not. Apparently I am required to attend dinner with Norman and Libby.” Henry sounded anything but enthused, and Archie checked the dash.
“Are we waiting for your father?” He felt a slight panic—this wasn’t his best tie, and he was sure the backseat could use a vacuuming.
“No. Norman is taking the other car, and we’re supposed to meet him up there,” Henry said. “Let’s stop and pick up some wine. Maybe flowers?”
“Not a problem.” Archie pulled away from the curb. “You need to change first?”
“Why? Do I look rumpled or something?” Henry’s eyebrows formed a snooty upside-down vee, which Archie found strangely attractive as he watched in the rearview mirror.
“No, but I know for a fact you’re not wearing any underwear.”
He sighed dramatically even as a flattering flush pinked his cheeks. “Fine, drop me off at my apartment, grab the wine and flowers, and pick me up when you’re done. That shouldn’t make us too late.”
Archie nodded, cutting through the swarms of cabs and commuters to get into the left lane.
“Are you staying over at the house, or am I waiting?” Archie made a quick right as soon as the light turned green, heading toward West End Avenue, where Henry’s apartment building was.
“Staying over.” Henry flashed him a frown in the mirror. “That a problem?”
Archie didn’t say anything for a long moment. It would wreak a bit of havoc with his schedule, not to mention break a dinner date with his mother and delay homework until tomorrow since he didn’t have time to run home and grab his laptop. Again. “My hours are what you decide they are,” he said.
“That isn’t what I asked.”
“I’ll eat dinner with Magnus, then finish my book.” He shrugged, settling quickly into a more formal tone.
“That isn’t an answer,” Henry muttered, looking out the window with the frown still in place.
Archie rolled his eyes; he had never been good at ignoring Henry when he was pouting. Not twenty-five years ago when they were children together, and not now.
“It’s fine—but you still owe me,” Archie teased, his voice gentle.
A small smile crawled across Henry’s mouth as their gazes met in the rearview mirror.
“You can collect double,” Henry murmured. He licked his lips slowly.
Archie managed to keep the Hummer off the sidewalk.
“Deal. Now stop frowning. You only have a few good years of wrinkle-free skin left,” Archie said with a smirk.
“Duly noted.” But Henry was definitely pleased as he flipped open his phone and began scrolling.
* * * *
Archie swung around and idled at the entrance of the building. There were three bottles of Chateau Malescot St. Exupery in the portable cooler on the floor of the front seat and two-dozen purple hydrangeas wrapped in green paper laid neatly next to him. He lowered the volume on the Pantera flooding the Hummer with sound.
He checked the dashboard clock and picked up his phone. His mother would be home from physical therapy by now, and he needed to break the news that he wouldn’t be home for dinner.
“Mum, it’s Archie.”
Evelyn Banks went from those strong, reserved British tones to a delighted coo in ten seconds flat. Long years of answering another family’s phones as an employee gave her quite the artificial affectation—until she knew it was her pride and joy calling. And since Mr. Walker had hired a fellow Brit for a reason, she made sure to never lose a speck of her accent.
“Archie, darling. I just got home, but I have beef and potatoes in the oven for you.”
He could hear her shuffling about the small kitchen of her Brooklyn apartment, the tap of her cane and the drag of her leg against the floor. All the arguing in the world couldn’t convince her to come live with him in the city after her stroke; she liked her freedom, and she also liked pretending Archie needed his privacy for relationships.
If she only knew.
Archie closed his eyes, tried to school his voice into something other than resigned.
“That sounds delicious,” he said gently. “But I’m afraid I have to work tonight, Mum. Can I come and have a late lunch with you tomorrow instead?”
He caught the sigh under her breath.
“Of course, my love. You just call when you’re on your way, and I’ll warm it up,” she said, familiar false cheer and all. “Are you going up to the house, then?”
“Yes. Henry has dinner with Mr. and Mrs. Walker.” The formality drilled into him during his youth slipped into his voice. “We’re heading up shortly.”
“Ah well. Understandable, duty calls.” Evelyn knew all too well. “Say hello to Magnus for me. I haven’t seen him in an age.”
“Will do.” Archie sat up from his sprawl, looking quickly at the entrance. Like a sixth sense, he realized he needed to get back to work. “Listen, I have to go, Mum—Henry’s coming.”
“Say hello to him too,” his mother said drily. “Tell him I’ll bake his favorite apple tarts if he lets my boy have a day off now and again.”
“Yes, Mum.” Archie laughed. “Love you.”
“Love you too, Archie. See you tomorrow.”
Archie switched off the phone and tucked it away in the console. An adjustment to his tie and he was out the door to meet Henry on the sidewalk.
“Get everything?” Henry asked, shifting his bags. He handed Archie his overnight bag, then hooked the suit bag inside the vehicle himself.
“All set. We should get going.” Archie opened the door, inwardly cringing as he realized he didn’t have his shaving kit. There was an extra suit up at the house, but still—it sucked to be without basic comfort items.
“It’s in my bag, your extra kit,” Henry murmured as he got into the backseat, his voice pitched low even though there was no one around to hear him. “I know you didn’t have a chance to go home.”
“Oh—thanks.” Archie flushed a bit, embarrassed—and pleased—at Henry’s thoughtful gesture. They weren’t like that, doing things as a couple would. He didn’t let himself think that way, and he assumed Henry was the same.
“No problem. You’ll be driving Norman tomorrow, and no one wants a spot inspection to go badly,” he teased, flashing his gorgeous smile as Archie shut the door.
No, no one wanted that.
* * * *
Henry leaned against the posh leather seats, trying to relax after the hectic rush of his day. Meetings—endless, endless meetings—had given way to a tedious lunch with his godfather, David, to go over the particulars of their presentation tomorrow, followed by hours of phone calls his father wanted him to make to various stockholders about the upcoming vote. All had culminated in a summons to his father’s office and an order to come to dinner.
Frustrating. Exhausting. Just another day as the only son and heir of Norman Walker.
There had been a moment when he’d almost said no—but Norman had been acting strangely for weeks, and Henry was starting to feel paranoid and unsettled by his father’s behavior. Maybe he could steal a minute to speak to his stepmother, inquire about his father’s health.
“You’re quiet,” Archie said, pulling him out of his brooding.
“Sorry—too much on my mind.”
“Ah, so a day ending in y.”
They both laughed, a moment shared from their childhood, when Magnus, the butler, would conclude their regular scoldings with that phrase.
“There’s a lot going on before the board meeting. And Father is hinting at a trip to Japan in July.” Henry checked his messages again; his assistant, Kit, had promised to forward some research on the company they were trying to buy in Thailand.
Henry looked up; Archie’s shoulders had crept up a notch, and his voice held an odd note.
“I’m…” Archie paused, and his awkwardness dropped something unpleasant in Henry’s stomach. A realization.
“You’re interviewing for jobs, of course.” The cool tone, the precise enunciation; when one is uncomfortable, one must not sound uncomfortable.
Of course that worked better with people who didn’t read you like a book.
“Yes, I’m interviewing. I realize I can’t make demands when it comes to my job duties, but…”
“You don’t have to come.” Petulance.
Archie sighed. “Yes, I do. If your father insists on it…”
Henry swallowed; he could feel a faint sweat popping onto his skin.
“You need to start interviewing someone to replace me.”
Words so loaded that the second they were spoken, the entire car seemed to fill with dread and gloom. Henry felt his throat tighten.
“I’ll have Human Resources get right on that,” he snapped.
The rest of the ride was tense, awful silence.