Haitian-born professor and activist Patrice Denis is not here for anything that will veer him off the path he’s worked so hard for. One particularly dangerous distraction: Easton Archer, the assistant district attorney who last summer gave Patrice some of the most intense nights of his life, and still makes him all but forget they’re from two completely different worlds.
All-around golden boy Easton forged his own path to success, choosing public service over the comforts of his family’s wealth. With local law enforcement unfairly targeting young men of color, and his career—and conscience—on the line, now is hardly the time to be thirsting after Patrice again. Even if their nights together have turned into so much more.
For the first time, Patrice is tempted to open up and embrace the happiness he’s always denied himself. But as tensions between the community and the sheriff’s office grow by the day, Easton’s personal and professional lives collide. And when the issue at hand hits closer to home than either could imagine, they’ll have to work to forge a path forward…together.
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This book is approximately 95,000 words
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He made my heart stop.
Over a year had passed since I'd seen Patrice Denis for the first time, and still, he was the most beautiful man I'd ever seen. Too bad I was so inconsequential to him that he'd been in Ithaca for over a month and was yet to send me a text with as much as a "fuck you."
I stood there observing him from a distance, once again feeling spooked by what Patrice's presence did to me. He had his locs coiled on top of his head and was wearing glasses that I'd never seen before, distractedly talking to a man who seemed a lot more invested in the conversation than he was. As I watched the guy lean in close enough to brush against Patrice's shopping cart, I gripped the handle of mine so tight it squeaked. An unexpected flare of jealousy, coming out of nowhere, just from seeing someone in his space. I shook my head, amazed at the feeling. I'd spent my entire adulthood thinking I just was not the jealous type.
That was before Patrice Denis walked into my life.
I was still trying to decide whether I should just keep moving or go say hello when the man he'd been talking to walked away. Patrice looked after him, his face stony. The relief loosening my chest did not go unnoticed.
I headed toward him, knowing there was a good chance I'd get the same icy reception, but I wasn't strong enough to stay away. When my cart was only a few feet from him, he turned around and the smile he gave me was ... everything. After a second, he must have realized he was beaming at me and schooled his expression.
But it was too late. I'd seen it.
He'd been happy to see me. I was certain of it, and it gave me the last push I needed to jump back in. I leaned on the handle of my shopping cart and smiled up at him while he held a shiny red apple in his hands.
He turned fully facing me and just having his body so close made a shiver run down my spine. He had on a Cornell sweatshirt with some cutoffs and leather flip-flops on his feet. I noticed he'd switched the stud in his nose for a small silver hoop. That big body as imposing and powerful as ever. An image of that carved chest looming over me flashed through my head and it was all I could do not to gasp.
I was staring. I knew that, but I couldn't help it. At least he seemed a bit flustered too; shaking his head as if trying to clear his thoughts before answering.
"Easton. Good to see you," he said with a sheepish look, such a contrast from the serious one from a few minutes earlier. "So is this place like a major hangout in town? It's eight on a Sunday and I've already ran into like three of Nesto's relatives and half of my department."
No mention of his ghosting me. Banter then, I could banter. "To be fair, his uncle and his sister do work here."
He conceded my point with another smile, but he didn't reply, and so I kept rambling.
"Philmans is pretty busy most days, and everyone shops here. It's actually pretty calm compared to how it is during the day on the weekend. That's why I come here at this time. Get my shopping done faster."
He nodded distractedly as he gave me an appreciative look, as if he was starting to remember how things had been between us. His eyes assessed me closely, his body leaning toward me. When his gaze finally locked with mine, they were full of heat and a hint of humor. Suddenly the man I'd been pining over for the last year was right in front of me. "Are you sure you're not just avoiding disgruntled customers?"
I scoffed at the jab, but there was no hiding the smile which seemed to be a side effect of being around Patrice. "For your information, Professor Denis, I happen to have one of the best conviction records in the state."
He raised an eyebrow about a hundredth of a centimeter, which I guess was his version of acknowledgment, then spoke in a more serious tone than I was hoping for. "I'm aware, counselor."
I nodded, feeling unsure of how heavy this conversation was about to get and desperate to come up with something to make it lighter.
I brought out my grievances instead.
"I was wondering if you'd made it up here," I offered, lifting a shoulder, the unsaid since I never heard from you again after you fucked me on every flat surface in my apartment hanging in the air. "Welcome to the Finger Lakes."
He bowed his head and started to look uncomfortable, but before I could interject, he opened his mouth.
"Sorry I didn't get in touch. Things have been a little crazy this year. The job market was hectic and unpredictable and I didn't decide on this position until late in the game." He sighed and fidgeted. Almost unsure, which seemed so out of place.
In the time I'd spent with him, Patrice seemed to be the walking embodiment of self-possessed, so seeing this new side of him was...endearing. "It's been an adjustment, to say the least."
I dipped my head in response, not sure how to proceed, the pull I felt toward him on the verge of undoing my ability to carry on polite conversation. All I could think was I want to touch you so badly.
I had no right to it though, on that at least I was very clear. Patrice's lack of interest had not been exactly subtle. Last summer we'd been incendiary, coming together over and over again. From the start, the attraction between us had been undeniable. We'd see each other by chance while he was in town helping his best friend with his food truck, and inevitably we'd end up back at my place tearing each other's clothes off. I'd felt a hunger for Patrice, that seemed insatiable and those few weeks, it seemed like it'd been the same for him. But in the year after, his silence had been almost complete.
Despite our connection, once Patrice was gone, he was gone.
I knew he'd been back over the winter to visit Nesto, but he never made any efforts to get in touch or let me know he was in town. So when I heard from a friend in common he'd taken a job at Cornell, I was elated, thinking we'd be able to reconnect. A part of me even foolishly thinking his decision to take a job here had something to do with me. I'd texted him to congratulate him, but he'd responded with a thank-you, and never contacted me again. It stung, but once I received the message he wasn't interested, I'd vowed to keep my distance.
Now that he was here in front of me, I realized staying away from Patrice Denis was going be much harder than I'd anticipated.
Patrice cleared his throat and I realized I'd been spacing out.
I looked up at him and managed to produce a smile as I tried to read his expression. "No worries. I know how it is. Never thought you'd end up here. It's a nice surprise." I dearly wished I could sound neutral when I was around Patrice, but "thirsty and parched" seemed to be my only settings when it came to him.
This time he averted his eyes before answering me. I wondered if he was a bit more affected by me than he let on. "Hard to say no to a job offer from an Ivy League school."
Okay, not exactly a romantic revelation. I barely contained a frustrated sigh before I nodded. "Sure. Congratulations on that. It's a big deal. How are you getting on? Did you find a place?"
He pursed his lips, decidedly unhappy at the mention of his living situation. "Yeah, but I won't move in there for another week or so. I'm staying with Nesto and Jude until then." His best friend, Nesto, was coupled off with Jude, the local hottie librarian, and living in pre- marital bliss.
"How is Nesto? I haven't been by the restaurant in a while," I said, barely repressing a groan. "I've been acting as interim DA since my boss had to take leave after having heart surgery. Not much time for longer lunches lately."
That was the understatement of the century, but I did not want to deviate the conversation and my mining Patrice for intel on his living situation to talk about my work stress. But to my surprise, Patrice raised an eyebrow.
"Congratulations to you. Is the plan for you to run?" Patrice sounded genuinely interested, so I considered what to say for a moment.
He wasn't the first person to ask me this of course, half of Ithaca was of a mind that I was a shoo-in for the position, but I was still not sure I wanted to take that step. I was good at my job, but I wasn't sure that I'd be good at the politics, and I didn't want my work tainted by bullshit.
"Honestly, I'm not sure. Cindy, my boss, is still considering coming back." I shrugged and looked up at him. He was only a couple of inches taller than me, but his massive frame made me feel almost dainty. "Politics is not my thing, but I can't say I won't throw my hat in the ring if there's a special election."
He nodded, considering my answer in that way he did. That was something that had captivated me about Patrice from the first — he took his time with things. He mulled them over, letting silence stretch out for minutes sometimes as he found the words he needed.
"You won't take your job lightly," he proclaimed, catching me by surprise. Then he grinned, and it was all I could do to not get closer. "And I can't say seeing posters of you all over town is going to be a hardship."
"Thanks for the vote of the confidence," I said sincerely. I had no idea if it was a joke or not, but I was very fucking close to shoving my cart to the side and making extremely salacious propositions. I wasn't in the mood to get shut down, so I went with something benign instead.
"Is your place in town?"
Also, I had no shame.
He gave me a funny look, but after a second he nodded. "Yeah. It's that old building behind the co-op, I rented the apartment on the top floor."
I kept my expression neutral but was surprised. That place catered more to students than faculty. He didn't look very excited about the apartment, and I didn't blame him.
"I signed the lease months ago, but they've been delaying the move- in date for weeks now." He scowled, obviously frustrated, an interesting departure for someone who always seemed unfazed by what was going on around him. When he spoke, it was clear he wasn't happy about the situation.
"They seem to have some issues with the building. I'm starting to think I may need to look for something else. But housing here is such a hassle. I'm not sure I'll be able to find something close to campus this late in the game. Classes already started."
I should have left it alone, but the temptation was too strong and before I knew it, I was blurting it out. "Landlords in Ithaca can be a pain in the ass. If you do want to look for other options let me know." This time I was the one clearing my throat and feeling awkward, but I pushed through. "My building has a couple of units open."
He perked up at that but almost immediately went back to his calm, cool and collected demeanor. I could tell he was interested though. He'd been to my place a few times last summer and knew it was in a nice location and that the apartments were pristine. Still, I braced for him to turn me down.
In the interest of not coming off like a full-on creep, I decided not to offer up the fact that I owned the building. I fidgeted with the kale I had in my cart as I figured out how to proceed. It wasn't like "my money" was a secret; Patrice and I had talked about my family's vineyard when we met, he'd seemed interested, but not exactly impressed by my status within the one percent. I didn't want to give Patrice one more reason to run in the opposite direction by reminding him about that, so I kept my mouth shut while he considered my offer.
He thought about it for another minute and then nodded. "I might call you up to ask for the landlord's info. If I can't move in this week, I'm going to start looking for another place."
"Sounds good. Listen —"
I was about to take my shamelessness to the next level and ask him out for a drink or something when I saw him jump and then pull his phone out of his pocket. He smiled when he looked at the screen, and spoke before I could.
"It's my mom. We're supposed to Skype tonight. I should get going," he said, giving me another smile, but this one was not at all inviting.
"It was good seeing you, Easton," he said, as he hurried away without giving me a chance to say goodbye.
I stood there wondering if I really could read people as well as I thought. Because from the first moment with Patrice, I thought we'd shared something big, something worth exploring. I could lie to myself about how it had been the same for him when he was a few hundred miles away, but with him here maybe it was time for me to accept I was probably the only one who'd felt that way.
"Well look who finally made it into town."
I heard Nesto call out as I walked into his restaurant. It was 8:00 a.m. on Monday, and he'd run out the house at 7:00 a.m. so he could be here to receive an order. He'd left Jude, his partner, and me home to take our time before we each headed to work. But he'd forgotten his iPad, which he apparently needed. So I stopped by on my way up to campus to drop it off.
"Did you drive in, P?" Nesto asked, looking a little too amused at my expense. I was not fond of driving and had only bought the black Audi SUV I now owned after much prodding from my friends.
"Yes," I said with a groan, making Nesto laugh with my very unenthusiastic answer.
"I assume you got my man to work in one piece." His humorous tone almost, but not quite, masked the fact that he actually wanted to know if I'd safely delivered his lover to work.
I'd lived most of my life in New York City and never had a need for a car. It was a big milestone to now be someone who needed to drive everywhere. Only my friend Camilo was sympathetic to my dilemma, but even he told me to face the fact I would need one if I was living in Ithaca. Juan Pablo and Nesto just told me to get over it.
My mom, on the other hand, had been very reluctant about the car purchase. She was usually all for the flex, but me driving a car upstate was not sitting well with her. She kept saying it made her nervous. I tried to temper her uneasiness by reminding her that I wasn't going to be driving in the city, and would most likely not get into a head-on collision with a yellow cab going eighty on the wrong side of a one-way street. As one would on any given day in Manhattan.
She acquiesced, begging me to be careful, but still not fully at ease. I usually joked around with her whenever she got overprotective — I was her only child and sometimes that meant she was a bit more in my business than necessary. But this time I didn't push because I knew what she worried about was not me getting into a fender bender. She worried about what the mother of every black man who got behind the wheel of a car in this country worried about.
Hell, I worried about it too, and it pissed me off, because I refused to live in fear. But I wasn't delusional either, and still spent the night before I picked up my car watching YouTube videos on what to do if you got stopped by the police. I also made sure I kept my license and registration on the visor above the driver seat where it was fully visible and easy to get. I hated having to do that, and how paranoid it made me feel, but I wasn't a fool. I was pretty good at avoiding things I didn't want to deal with, but some things you ignored at your own peril.
"Dude, you look mad emo right now." Nesto's reproachful tone finally pulled me out of my fretting. "I've been standing here for five minutes waiting for you to talk. The fuck, Patrice?"
I rubbed a hand over my face, a little embarrassed. "Sorry. Just got distracted. Yeah, I gave Jude a ride, so he needs one of us to drive him back home." At the mention of his partner, Nesto's face lit up as usual.
"Good, he's been on a carpool kick lately. He's been taking the bus, trying to be more mindful of the environment."
Jude had changed Nesto in so many ways. He and I had always been the intense ones in our foursome. Nesto, Camilo, Juanpa and me.
Like me, Nesto had never made time for romance or indulged in situations that could end up messy. He'd taken huge chances when he'd left the city to come here. Put it all on the line with his business and his heart, but it had paid off. Here he was living with a man he loved. His whole life on a different track.
I wanted to talk with Nesto about seeing Easton. I knew I needed some advice, but still couldn't make myself open my mouth. Why was it so hard for me to talk about this stuff? Nesto was like my brother, we'd seen each other through everything.
Why couldn't I open up to him about this?(Continues…)
Excerpted from "American Love Story"
Copyright © 2019 Adriana Herrera.
Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
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