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Jordan Wainwright turned the collar to his ski jacket up around his neck and ears as sleet pelted his face and exposed head. He chided himself for not accepting the doorman's offer to hail a taxi to drive him sixteen blocks to where his parents lived in a Fifth Avenue beaux arts mansion overlooking Central Park.
It was Christmas Eve, and he'd promised his mother he would spend the upcoming week with her, while reconnecting with his sister and brothers. Since joining Chatham and Wainwright, PC, Attorneys at Law, he hadn't had time to do much socializing. The exception was business-related luncheons or dinner meetings with his partner, Kyle Chatham.
Jordan had hit the snooze button on his love life after a whirlwind summer romance ended. Natasha Parker had returned to culinary school and her estranged husband, whose existence the very talented aspiring chef had neglected to disclose. He'd made it a practice not to date married women and those who were on the rebound. And, whenever Jordan ended a romantic liaison, he was usually reluctant to start up a new one, unlike some men who jumped right back into the hunt.
He'd recently celebrated his thirty-third birthday. And although he hadn't ruled out any plans to settle down, he wasn't actively looking for someone with whom he could spend the rest of his life. This didn't mean he hadn't kept his options open for a casual relationship.
The cell phone attached to his waistband vibrated. Taking a hand from his jacket pocket, he plucked the phone off his belt, punched a button without looking at the display and announced his standard greeting. "This is Jordan."
"Where are you, darling?"
"I'm on my way, Mother."
"Don't tell me you're walking."
Jordan smiled. "Okay, I won't tell you that I'm walking."
"Why didn't you have your doorman hail a taxi?"
"Because I could be at your place by the time he flagged down an empty taxi. Remember, Mother, this is New York and whenever it rains or snows a yellow cab without an off-duty sign becomes as scarce as hen's teeth."
"If you hadn't wanted to take your car out of the garage, then you could've called me and I would've sent Henry to pick you up."
"Hang up, Mother, because I'm on your block."
"You must be chilled to the bone," Christiane Wainwright cooed.
"A little," he half lied. "Goodbye, Mother." Jordan ended the call, mounting the steps to the magnificent building, spanning half a city block, where he'd grown up and still maintained an apartment.
He'd placed his booted foot on the first step to the four-story gray-stone when the massive oak doors festooned with large pine wreaths and red velvet bows opened. "Thank you, Walter." The formally dressed butler who also doubled as his grandfather's valet had come to work for the Wainwrights the year Jordan was born. Walter Fagin was one of six full-time, live-in household staff that included a chef, driver, housekeepers and a laundress.
"It's quite nasty out there, Master Jordan."
Jordan slipped out of his jacket, handing it to Walter. "If it gets any colder, then we're definitely going to have a white Christmas."
The lines around bright blue eyes deepened when the older man smiled. "It's been a while since New York City has had a white Christmas."
Sitting in an armchair in the expansive entrance hall, Jordan unlaced his boots, leaving them on a thick rush mat, because he didn't want to track dirt onto the priceless Persian and Aubusson rugs scattered about the gleaming marble floors. Lifelong habits weren't easy to forget.
The mansion was decorated for the season: live pine boughs lined the fireplace mantel, as a fire blazed behind a decorative screen. Lighted electric candles were in every window, and the gaily decorated eight-foot Norwegian spruce towered under the brightly lit chandelier that hung from a twenty-foot ceiling. Some of the more fragile glass ornaments on the tree were at least two hundred years old.
He always remembered the lengthy lecture from Christiane Wainwright about rugs and furnishings that had been passed down through generations of Johnstons who'd made their fortunes in shipbuilding, the fur trade and maritime insurance. With the advent of train and air travel, the family had shifted its focus to banking.
When Christiane Renata Johnston had married Edward Lincoln Wainwright at twenty, her net worth was estimated to be close to twelve million dollars. However, Edward was purported to be worth twice that amount when he came into his trust at twenty-five. With the Johnstons and the Wainwrights, it wasn't who had amassed the most money, but rather whether it was old or new money.
The Johnstons were old money, and the Wainwrights were new moneya fact that Wyatt, the Wainwright patriarch, was never allowed to forget whenever he was with his daughter-in-law's family.
"Master Jordan, Madame Wainwright has held off serving dinner until you arrive," the butler announced as Jordan stood up and walked toward the wing of the mansion where the apartments were located.
"Please tell my mother to begin serving without me. I want to get out of these wet clothes," Jordan said, not breaking stride.
He made his way across the expansive space his parents used as a reception hall whenever they hosted a gathering of less than fifty to an alcove where an elevator would take him to the private apartments.
His grandfather had claimed the entire first floor, Jordan and his brothers Noah and Rhett had bedroom suites on the second floor, his father, mother and sister Chanel had the third floor, and the three suites on the top floor were set aside for houseguests.
It took Jordan less than ten minutes to change out of his slacks and into a pair of charcoal-gray flannel with a black cashmere mock turtleneck sweater and imported slip-ons. Although he'd told Walter to instruct Christiane to begin dinner without him, he knew she would wait
for him to put in an appearance. Her mantra was never begin a meal unless everyone was seated at the table. The exception was whenever Edward called to inform her that he would be working late.
He took the staircase instead of the elevator, and, after walking through a narrow hallway to the opposite wing of the house, he entered the brightly lit dining room. It was the smaller of two dining rooms in the mansion. Christiane held family dinners in this room because she claimed it was less formal and more intimate. Who was his mother kidding? A table for sixteen wasn't what Jordan thought of as intimate. After all, there were six people who lived at the house: his parents, his grandfather, his two brothers and his sister.
Everyone was seated, awaiting his arrival: his mother, father, grandfather, sister, her friend Paige Anderson and his brothers Noah and Rhett. A pretty dark-haired woman with sparkling light brown eyes clung to Rhett as if she feared he would disappear. It was only the second time Jordan could recall Rhett bringing a woman to a family get-together.
Rounding the table, he leaned over, kissing his mother softly on her cheek. "Sorry I'm late."
Christiane reached up and patted his arm. "That's okay, darling." Her shimmering emerald-green eyes met her eldest son's. There was a hint of laughter in his hazel orbs. "Did you change out of your wet clothes?"
Jordan winked at her. "I changed upstairs."
He wanted to tell his mother that she had to stop treating him as if he were six years old, but knew it was futile. Christiane said "once a mother, always a mother," regardless of how old her children were. She was the mother of four and still without grandchildrensomething that had become a bane of her existence. Many of the women in her social circle were grandmothers or had married children. Although three of her four children were in their twenties and thirties, none seemed remotely interested in exchanging vows.
"Grandpa," he said, acknowledging Wyatt Wainwright sitting at the head as the family's patriarch.
"We're so glad you decided to drag yourself away from Harlem to visit with your family," Wyatt drawled facetiously.
"Grandpa, why do you always have to start with Jordan?" Noah Wainwright asked.
"Watch your mouth, son." Edward Wainwright glared at his middle son, who was his spitting image in every way except temperament. Noah's mood swings kept everyone off balance and on guard because of his sharp tongue. "After all, we have guests present."
A pale eyebrow lifted a fraction when twenty-three-year-old Noah leaned back from the table. Shaggy ash-blond hair framed a deeply tanned face. He'd cut short his stay in the Caribbean to return to the States to share Christmas with his family. His blue eyes changed color depending on his mood. Noah was very angry because he'd been coerced into joining the family's real estate firm after Jordan had refused to take over the reins from their father.
"That has never stopped Grandpa from saying what he had to say."
Jordan gave Noah a look that he had no trouble interpreting. He wanted his brother to drop it. A barely discernible smile parted Noah's lips as he nodded. Shifting his gaze, he glared at the elderly man with a shock of thick white hair and sharp, piercing sky-blue orbs that hadn't faded despite having lived seven decades. The coal-black eyebrows of his youth remained. The less he said to Wyatt the better it was for grandfather and grandson. He nodded to the young woman sitting beside his youngest brother. Rhett would celebrate his twenty-first birthday in another month, and he was just beginning to assert himself.
Taking his seat, he leaned to his right and pressed a kiss to his sister's hair. "What's up, Charlie?"
Chanel Wainwright flushed a bright pink. Jordan had promised never to call her Charlie within earshot of their mother. "Don't call me that around Mother," she whispered with clenched teeth.
Jordan wanted to tell his sister that if their mother hadn't named her children after a character from Gone with the Wind and her favorite fragrance, she wouldn't have a problem explaining her name.
"Hi, Jordan," said a soft girlish voice.
He leaned forward, smiling at Paige. "Hello, Paige. Where are your parents?"
"It's all right, Jordan," Christiane said, as she signaled for the first course to be served. "Paige's folks went to Monte Carlo for the holiday and I told them Paige could stay with us rather than with a sitter."
Jordan resisted the urge to roll his eyes. He couldn't and would never understand why people had children only to hand them over to a nanny or sitter, while they continued to live their lives as if by their leave. Only parents without a conscience would leave their only childa sixteen-year-old girlwith the family of her friend to fly across an ocean to gamble and party on the French Riviera.
Whenno, ifhe married and had a family, he would make certain to play an active role in the lives of his children. That was where Christiane differed from her peers; she hadn't left child-rearing to nannies, housekeepers or au pairs. Her face was the first one Jordan had seen when he woke up and the last one before he'd closed his eyes at night. Even Edward had become a more involved parent. Jordan didn't agree with everything his parents said or did, but there was never a question as to their unwavering support when it concerned their children.
The mood lightened considerably after several glasses of wine accompanied by asparagus soup, a radicchio, fennel and walnut salad, rib eye roast with a mustard and black peppercorn sauce, winter greens with pancetta and potatoes au gratin. Chanel and Paige asked to be excused before dessert was served. The chef had outdone himself when he'd prepared Apple Charlotte with whipped cream.
Jordan was amused when Rhett, who was not yet legal, refilled his wineglass. He knew his brother had begun drinking before he'd celebrated his twenty-first birthday, but usually not in front of their parents. He, on the other hand, had raided the liquor cabinet at fourteen and had drunk so much that he had been sick for more than a week. It was another ten years before he took another drink.
"Jordan, are you currently dating anyone?" Christiane asked, breaking into his thoughts.
Tracing the rim of the wineglass with a forefinger, he stared at the prisms of color on the glass reflected from the chandelier. "No, Mother."
"Didn't you tell me you were seeing a girl?" Edward said, accepting a cigar from the engraved silver case Wyatt had handed him. "Thanks, Dad."
"I was," Jordan said truthfully, "but it was nothing more than a summer fling."
Christiane sat up straighter. "Who was she, darling? Do I know her family?"
A pregnant pause ensued before he said, "Her name is Natasha Parker, and I doubt whether you'd know her family."
All traces of color disappeared from his mother's face, leaving it frighteningly pale. "Not that girl who worked with Jean-Paul for a few days." Her words were a breathless whisper.
"She's a woman, not a girl, Mother."
Wyatt did something he rarely did in the dining room. He lit his cigar, inhaled deeply and blew out a perfect smoke ring. A gray haze obscured the sneer around his mouth. "It didn't take long, did it, Jordan? I had no idea you liked dark meat. But then I really shouldn't be surprised, because what else is there in Harlem."
Noah flashed a white-tooth smile. "Does she have a sister?"
"Don't you mean a brother? " Wyatt drawled.
Touching the corners of his mouth with a damask napkin, Noah pushed back his chair and stood up. He pointed to his parents. "Now you see why I don't bring a woman into this." He shifted his angry gaze to Rhett. "Get your girlfriend out of here before she finds herself with a bull's-eye on her back."
The young woman whom Rhett had introduced as Amelia pressed a hand to her chest. "Please don't mind me. I grew up with my folks going at each other like cats and dogs. After a while, I learned to tune them out."
Jordan joined Noah when he, too, stood up. "Excuse me."
Turning on his heels, he walked out of the dining room, his brother following in his footsteps. He knew if he'd stayed what would've ensued would have been an argument that would have been certain to pit him and Noah against their parents and grandfather. Edward was fifty-five, yet he still hadn't been able to stand up to his tyrannical, controlling father. Wyatt had clawed his way out of poverty on New York City's Lower East Side to create a real estate dynasty second only to Douglas Elliman in New York City, and now at seventy-eight, he was tough as steel and wasn't above using his fists when necessary to prove a point.
"When are you going to learn not to entertain Grandfather's taunting?" he asked Noah.
"I just can't stand it when he comes off so condescending. And just because I won't subject a woman to his holier-than-thou attitude he thinks I'm gay."