High-fashion photographer Courtney returns to DC, planning to take a much-deserved break and make peace with his estranged father. Instead, he meets the shy, overly-accommodating, devastatingly gorgeous Tracey his first day back.
Tracey’s questioned his sexuality for years, but one look at Courtney, and Tracey knows “straight” isn’t the ticket. But he won’t dwell on it. He’s on the brink of starting his career—somewhere —this fall, and the last thing on his mind is romance.
But one weekend won’t change anything, and they can both go their separate ways. At least, that’s what they tell themselves.
Courtney is part of the Big City High Rise anthology, and does presume a knowledge of some of the side characters in André. Because my book is smack in the middle, I’m including an excerpt below.
Also, please note that a portion of net proceeds from this anthology will go toward the Equal Justice Initiative
I pulled my luggage through the automatic doors of Crestline Apartments and paused, glancing around at the glass-front, open-aired brightness that surrounded me. So, this was where my parents lived, huh? Mirror-finish façade, what appeared to be marble floors and a concierge desk at the front. It damn-near looked like the hotels I’d spent my entire adult life in, and was a sight nicer than the single-story residence I’d called home.
Dad sat at that concierge desk, talking animatedly to three guys. One of them, standing slightly off to the side, was gorgeous. Plain out outstanding, with smooth dark skin and a sharp brow. That strong jaw line made me want to nibble, and I had to take a moment to compose myself, because I wasn’t here for all that.
The other two were clearly in a relationship and wow, Dad didn’t seem the least bit annoyed. Not irritated, not disdainful. Everything Mom told me he’d become, but seeing it was still a trip. One of the guys looked to be about my height, five-five on a good day, and had a solid glare going. That who-the-fuck-are-you type stare, and I raised my brow. He started to disengage from the man resting against him, and I shook my head to waved him off. I didn’t come home to fight.
Dad hadn’t noticed me yet, so I cleared my throat and took another step. “Hey, Dad.”
He stiffened, then spun in his chair so fast he almost couldn’t stop, his walking stick clanging to the floor. He opened and closed his mouth a few times before speaking. “Court, is that you?”
The anxiety that had roiled my gut, growing larger and deeper and more overwhelming by the day, finally took a breather. “Yeah, Dad,” I said, air rushing out of me, and I smiled. “It’s me.”
I wasn’t sure what I expected, but it wasn’t tears, and the hell with it. I hopped the ledge, being careful not to hit the keyboard or various knickknacks on the table, and crouched next to him.
Dad gripped my face, his older and slightly frailer hands holding on like he couldn’t quite believe I was there. “Court, my baby.” His voice pitched up and wow, now I was emotional and I didn’t do emotion like that. My boy is finally home.” He yanked me tight against him, and I exhaled for what felt like the first time in years.
The three men on the other side of the counter were still there, staring at us. Dad pulled back, beaming, then grabbed my hand and turned to them. “Boys, this is my one and only child, Courtney Johnson.”
The frown the protective one had been wearing dissipated, and he smiled broadly at me. “Pleasure to meet you. André Ellison.”
I reached across the ledge and shook his hand. “You too. Most everyone calls me Court, feel free to do the same.”
He nodded and motioned to the guy whose arm was around his shoulders. “This is my boyfriend, Marcus Thompson.” Marcus was by far the tallest, easily over six feet, and my five-four ass actually had to crane my neck. He tipped his brow, then André motioned to the side. “And that guy over there is my baby brother, Tracey. He’s in town visiting.”
Ahh, yes. The fine one. Closer to Marcus’ height than André’s. I shook Marcus’ hand first, then Tracey’s. And held on maybe a fraction too long. “You got stuck with the girl’s name too?”
Tracey laughed, long and hard, and yeah, I was here for it. “No matter how many times they tell me my name was originally a boy’s one that the girls co-opted, it doesn’t matter.”
“Sure,” I drawled, “because that little tidbit mitigated years of taunting in school.”
“Right?” Tracey laughed again, and I wanted to wallow in it.
Which Marcus and André both noticed. So did Dad, for that matter, and I tried to school my expression. I looked at him with a sheepish expression, and shrugged. I’d come here to make peace, but I wouldn’t change who I was. A flirt. I was a damn flirt and Tracey was fine as fuck.
To my surprise, Dad grabbed my hand and squeezed it, then patted it with his other. “Not a problem,” he whispered.
“What’s not a problem?” Tracey asked.
Again, Mom told me Dad had changed. She’d pleaded with me to come home and see for myself. I was seeing. It was weird. I looked at Tracey and shook my head a fraction. “Apparently, that I’m attracted to you.”
“I…uhh,” Tracey stammered and took a step back.
“I’ve made you uncomfortable,” I said. “I’m sorry. I tend to be a little forward, and it doesn’t always go over well.”
He shrugged and rolled his shoulders. Definitely uncomfortable. Then he said, “It’s fine. I guess I’m just not used to it. Spend too much time with my head buried in books.”
“You’re the nerdy type, then?”
Tracey laughed and dipped his head. “Yeah, I guess so.”
“Nothing at all wrong with that. Someone’s got to be the nerd, if only to compensate for folks like me who won’t go near a textbook.”
Tracey’s eyes twinkled and he looked like he was about to ask another question, but the elevator doors opened then and Mom stepped out. And saw me, and nearly dropped the casserole dish in her hands. Marcus sprinted over and took it from her, holding it up to his nose for a sniff. “Don’t you go dropping my peach cobbler, Miss Muriel.”
She smiled and patted his cheek, but her eyes never left mine. Mom was, for lack of a better word, my heart, and even with a few more wrinkles and hair that she’d finally stopped coloring, that smile brought up every good memory of home I had. She’d spent years trying to make things right between me and Dad when they found out I was gay, had for years insisted Dad had grown from his angry first reaction, and would be more than welcoming if I came home. I’d always been reluctant to believe her but now, watching Dad’s interaction with a gay couple, his lack of distaste toward my probably over-flirtatious banter, meant maybe I was wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time.
“Courtney Johnson,” she whispered, like she didn’t trust her own eyes. She looked at Dad. “Otis, is this real?”
Dad shook his head. “I can’t quite believe it, but he’s still standing here, next to us, like this is where he wants to be. If it’s a dream and I’m dying, I’ll gladly go with this memory.”
I squeezed that shoulder. “Don’t you dare. I’m exactly where I want to be,” I told him. He tightened his grip on my hand, which he hadn’t let go of, and looked every ounce the proud papa. Surreal.
“I’m sorry,” I said to Tracey, André, and Marcus. “I apologize for interrupting your conversation. I just wanted to surprise my parents.”
“It’s no problem,” André said. Then he frowned. “I didn’t know you had a son, Old Man J.” Marcus popped him and he winced, looking at me apologetically. “Sorry. Didn’t meant to offend you.”
Old Man J? I looked at Dad with a raised brow, and…did he look shy? Embarrassed? Surely not my father.
He cleared his throat. “After you left, Court, and it became clear you weren’t coming back, I knew I’d messed up. Said and done the wrong thing, and cost me my boy.” My heart clenched and I bit my lower lip, fighting the tears pricking at my eyes. He continued. “When the owner decided to sell the house, your mama and I came here. All these college kids and professionals, a lot of them trying to find their own way the way I imagined you were.” He pointed to mom. “She couldn’t convince you to come home, so,” he shrugged, “I guess I just took some of the guys under my wings. Started to look out for them how I should’ve looked out for you. But it hurt to talk about you. Couldn’t bring myself to do it.”
Goddammit. I’d built a career on finding reasons to stay far away, to not come back and face what I knew would be Dad’s overwhelming disappointment. Hell, I was one of the most renowned photographers in the fashion industry, and had been for well over ten years now. Based on fear, and stubbornness, and a deep need to prove myself to the world. And to be honest, I was tired.
I’d returned in large part because of that. Because I was tired of skipping from show to show, of always working on making everyone else look and feel their best, and not having a single soul care about the person behind the camera. I wanted something different, something more. Something, I don’t know, stable.
I tried to covertly watch Marcus and André, standing there, arms wrapped around each other, twin expressions of sympathy for my father etched on their faces. Yeah, I wanted that, someone to hold onto, lean on, all that jazz. I glanced over at Tracey. He also looked sympathetic, but at the same time, distinctly uncomfortable, shuffling from foot to foot, and I got the impression he wasn’t used to these types of conversations. He was lovely, though, and he intrigued me, and I wanted to know more.
“How long are you in town?” I asked him.
“Who, me?” Tracey pointed to himself, then glanced around like someone else could have possibly gotten my attention.
I smiled, big and broad. “Yes, you. Your brother said you were visiting. For how long?”
“Oh.” He pulled at his collar. “I leave Monday.”
“Just outside Tallahassee.”
Oof. Too far. “A time crunch, then? Why don’t you let me take you to dinner tonight?”
“Tonight?” he squeaked. Dear god, he was adorable. And I was horny, and that was a terrible combination in front of my parents and this guy’s brother, whose protectiveness surely extended to the baby.
“Yes. I came to spend time with my family, but you’re not here for long enough for me to not be forward.”
Before he could answer, Marcus leaned in, a wolfish grin on his face as he looped an arm over Tracey’s shoulder. “He would love to go out with you. Just…be gentle with him, okay?”
Now I smiled again, but I knew it bordered on shark-like. It wasn’t my intention, but Marcus’ words brought up all sorts of decidedly non-gentle ideas. “I’ll be a perfect gentleman,” I told Marcus, my eyes never leaving Tracey’s.
I faintly heard Marcus’ snort. “More’s the pity.”