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Duncan Gilmore's head popped up when he heard the two quick taps on the door. A slow smile crinkled around his eyes when he saw a head appear from around the partially opened door. "Good morning, Kyle. Come on in." Kyle Chatham opened the door fully and walked into a sun-filled office with a desk, tables, credenza and bookcases made from rosewood and Jamaican mahogany. Everything in the space, from the furnishings to the occupant's attire, conveyed good breeding and elegance. He took a chair beside the desk, which was covered with investment portfolios and a batch of tax returns.
"I heard you were looking for me yesterday. What's up, DG?"
"Are you feeling all right?" Duncan asked.
"I've never known you to take off on a Monday."
Kyle looped a leg over the opposite knee. "Things have changed now that Jordan Wainwright has joined the firm."
Duncan smiled, exhibiting perfectly aligned white teeth. "I like your new partner, Kyle. At first I thought he wouldn't fit in, but after that TV segment where he called his grandfather a slumlord I have a newfound respect for the poor little rich boy."
Kyle, angling his head, returned his friend's smile. "I felt the same way before Jordan came on board. Representing clients with deep pockets is very different from fighting for the little guy, but Jordan has proven that he is a man for the people. Even though the plaque out front reads Chatham and Wainwright, P.C., Attorneys at Law, and he's accepted a partnership, I'm going to wait until after Labor Day to make it official. It'll give me time to place ads in the local papers and host a reception for a few elected officials and neighborhood residents."
"That sounds good.Jordan's elevation to partner and the added staff should level the playing field when you guys compete with other Harlem law firms."
Kyle ran a hand over his neatly cropped hair. "I don't want to compete, DG. I had enough of that when I worked eighty-hour weeks for Trilling, Carlyle and Browne. Jordan's contribution to the firm has allowed me to pay off half of my share of this building's mortgage and hire additional staff. Taking on a partner has also afforded me a life outside of the office."
"Yes, with Ava," Kyle confirmed. "She has a lot of comp time coming, so we've decided to take long weekends together."
"I was looking for you yesterday because one of my clients has season tickets to the Yankee home games. I didn't want to tell him that I'm a Mets fan, so I took them anyway. I know you like the Yankees, and with them playing Boston this weekend it should be quite a series."
"Talk about bad timing. I'm planning to meet Ava's folks."
"Going to meet her parents sounds serious," Duncan said.
Kyle Chatham stared at Duncan. His friend was a magnet for women. Duncan's olive skin, chiseled features and close-cropped curly black hair, his beautifully modulated baritone voice and impeccable attire, made him a standout whenever he entered a room. Kyle was always incredulous that Duncan was totally unaware of the impact he had on women.
"It is. I proposed marriage and she accepted."
Duncan went completely still as he stared at his friend. I proposed marriage and she accepted. Those were the exact words he'd said to Kyle and their buddy Ivan one night when he'd asked the two to join him for drinks so that he could share the news that had given him a fitful night's sleep. The difference was that he'd proposed marriage to Kalinda Douglas, but the two never became husband and wife. Fate had interceded on September 11,2001, when his fiancée died in the terror attacks on the World Trade Center.
Duncan, Kyle Chatham and Ivan Campbell had grown up in the same Harlem public-housing development. His two friends had become as close to him as the brothers he'd never had. The year he turned fourteen, Duncan's single mother had died unexpectedly from a blood clot, and, having never known his father, he went to live with his schoolteacher aunt in an upscale Brooklyn neighborhood.
Kyle was the youngest of the trio by several months, having recently celebrated his thirty-ninth birthday. He was tall, and what women referred to as "fine milk chocolate." Duncan detected a change in Kyle over the past few months. Now he knew it had something to do with Ava Warrick.
Rising from his seat, he came around the desk to embrace Kyle, who'd also come to his feet. Duncan pounded his back. "Congratulations. When's the wedding?"
"Not until next year. In fact, Ava wants a winter wedding."
"She wants to get married in New York in the winter?" Duncan asked, a note of incredulity creeping into the question. He sat on the edge of his desk facing Kyle who had sat down again.
A hint of a smile played at the corners of Kyle's mouth. "It wouldn't pose a problem if the wedding were held in Puerto Rico."
"Damn, Kyle! Now you're talking."
Kyle sobered. "I want you to be my best man."
An expression of sadness flitted over Duncan's handsome face before he managed to mask it with a plastic grin. "You're kidding, aren't you?"
He didn't want to relive the time when he'd asked Kyle to become his best man. Kalinda used to e-mail him every morning, counting the days before she became Mrs. Duncan Gilmore. The morning of September 11, the anticipated e-mail never came. Duncan didn't know what was worsethe weeks of waiting or the telephone call from Kalinda's parents that their daughter's body had been recovered in the rubble.
"No, I am not, Duncan."
It wasn't often Kyle called Duncan by his given name because there had been another boy named Duncan who lived in their building, and to differentiate between the two he'd always called Duncan Gilmore DG.
"I thought you would've asked Micah."
Kyle had met Micah Sanborn when he'd become the NYPD officer's law-school mentor. Micah, now a Kings County assistant district attorney, had been promoted to lieutenant when he enrolled in Brooklyn Law School. It'd taken him six years, attending part-time, instead of the normal three to complete his degree. During that time, Kyle had mentored Micah, who had juggled his law-enforcement responsibilities with law school. During his down time Micah would occasionally join Ivan and Duncan at sporting events when Kyle invited him along to unwind.
"Micah's my friend, but you and Ivan are closer to me than my own brother. If you don't want to"
"Hold up, Kyle," Duncan said, cutting him off. "Did I say I didn't want to be your best man?"
"You didn't say you would," Kyle countered.
He'd asked Duncan to become his best man because he felt closer to him than to Ivan, despite Duncan having moved from Harlem to Brooklyn as a teen. It was Duncan who had always called to see how he was doing, and the routine continued to this day with Duncan stopping by his office several times a week to see how Kyle was doing. Kyle suspected his friend's concern about his well-being had something to do with him losing his mother. Although Duncan said he had noticed signs of distress in his mother, he hadn't called for a doctor or an ambulance until it was too late. He'd come home from school to find Melanie Gilmore on the kitchen floor. The medical examiner had put her time of death at approximately ten that morning.
Now the lifelong friends stared at each other until Duncan inclined his head, breaking the silence. "I'm honored you've asked, and I accept."
Kyle blew out abreath. "Thank you, DG. You don't know what this means to me, because I know it's not going to be easy for you to relive what happened"
"I'm good, buddy. I'll never forget Kalinda, but each year it gets a little easier. It was the same when I lost my mother." Crossing his arms over his chest, Duncan stared at the pattern on the rug under his shoes. "I have a confession to make." His head came up. "I've had a few sessions with Ivan."
Duncan had been staunchly resistant to seeing a therapist to deal with the grief he felt with the loss of his fiancée. Dr. Ivan Campbell had told Duncan that anytime he wanted to talkabout anything his door was always open to him. And it had taken Duncan a long time to work up enough nerve to admit that he needed therapy in order to begin dealing with the demons that wouldn't let him get past the tragedies in his life. He wasn't completely free of them yet, but he was getting there.
He'd begun dating again, but none of the relationships had lasted more than a few months. Last weekend he'd asked a woman who was a former college classmate to go out with him. She wasn't his late fiancée, wasn't even remotely close to her. But he did enjoy her company and had told her that, but he hadn't promised he would call her again.
"I'd like to throw a little something at my place to celebrate your engagement. It will be a way for your friends and family and hers to get together and become acquainted with one another."
Leaning forward, Kyle patted Duncan's arm. "I'm going to speak for Ava when I say we'd really appreciate that." In the past, there hadn't been a month when Duncan and Kalinda hadn't hosted a gathering at his Chelsea loft. The soirées were always elegant and well-attended. "What's up with all the financials?" Kyle asked, smoothly changing the topic of conversation.
"You've got to stay on top of the market, especially with clients who are counting on me for their financial security."
Kyle whistled softly. "Damn, maybe I need to have you take another look at my investments."
"Anytime Kyle. Remember, now's the time to make sure your investment strategy is sound." Of his many clients, only Kyle, Ivan Campbell, his aunt Viola Gilmore and a select few got free financial advice.
"On that note," Kyle said, pushing to his feet, "I'll leave you to your spread sheets."
"Congratulations again, buddy."
Duncan waited until Kyle left before he went back to his computer, estimating it would take the rest of the morning to complete his work. His client, Mrs. Henderson, had neglected to reinvest insurance proceeds after her husband passed away. Unfortunately, she'd ignored the mounting pile of letters from the insurance company until her daughter had discovered them in a drawer with a number of unpaid bills.
Pressing a button on the telephone console, he called his secretary. "Mia, please refer my calls to Auggie."
Augustin Russell, a third-year finance student, worked twenty hours a week when classes were in session and full-time during the summer months. Duncan was seriously considering hiring him after he graduated. Not only was he bright, but he was also very ambitious, reminding Duncan of himself when he'd begun his MBA studies. Not only had Duncan earned an MBA, but earlier that spring he'd applied and been accepted into a joint JD/MBA degree program.
His graduate-studies concentration was venture capital financing and asset management. It was as if he had a sixth sense when it came to buying and selling stocks and bonds. He knew intuitively when to sell stocks before they declined, and he knew the MBA coursework with a focus on investment strategies had been crucial to his success in monitoring his own and his clients' investment portfolios.
Like Kyle, Duncan had tired of working sixteen-hour days to make money for an investment company. Following the advice he'd given his clients, he invested heavily in the tech market, then sold his shares before they bottomed out. The return on his investments was staggering and gave him the impetus to set up his own financial-planning company.
He purchased loft space, renovated it and moved from the apartment in his aunt's downtown Brooklyn brownstone to a four-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bath condo giving him more than three thousand square feet for living and entertaining.
Now, working on Mrs. Henderson's problem, Duncan lost track of time and everything going on around him but the figures on the computer program.
He was interrupted once when his secretary brought him a cup of coffee. His smile of gratitude conveyed his appreciation. It was minutes before three in the afternoon when the final spread sheet came out of the printer that sat on a corner of the L-shaped, glass-topped desk.
Gathering up the pages, he put them in his mono-grammed leather briefcase that had been a graduation gift from his aunt. A schoolteacher by profession, Viola Gilmore valued education as much as she valued life itself.