Ian McKinley had finally made it. Reached the pinnacle. The top rung of the ladder. Tonight represented the crown jewel in the career he’d spent seventeen years of his life building. Thirty-nine, and by most definitions, he had everything. Money. Success. A teenage son. A beautiful fiancée.
Not to mention, having just brought on board the biggest client ever for CCI Investments of Manhattan, he was a hero to his partners. This party at the Waldorf-Astoria had been thrown for him, the invitation list a who’s who of New York City high rollers.
Standing here now among trays of champagne and tables loaded with exotic-looking foods, he should have been nothing but exhilarated. Somehow, he merely felt tired. Bone weary with the routine of his life, the predictability of it.
Every morning he bought his breakfast at the same bagel shop on Sixtieth Street, ate it at his desk with exactly two cups of coffee, no cream, no sugar. Every day he ran six miles at noon. He couldn’t remember when he’d done anything remotely spontaneous.
But this was the life he had wanted. This was what he’d worked so hard for—to prove a poor boyfrom the wrong side of Manhattan could make it to Park and Sixty-first. He only regretted that neither Sherry nor his mother had lived to see his success. He’d promised them both he would make something of himself one day. He wondered if they would have been proud of him. But then, if Sherry had lived, maybe he wouldn’t have been quite so driven. Wouldn’t have buried himself in his work. Life would have been more about family. More normal for him and for Luke.
Did he even know what normal was anymore?
For the past three weeks, he’d gotten no more than five hours of sleep a night. That might explain his fatigue, except that part of him felt as if he’d been tired for years. He needed a vacation. Away from the city. When was the last time he’d taken one? The last time he’d spent more than an hour alone with his son? Guilt gnawed at him. He would plan something for them to do together. Soon. And he would make sure he kept his word.
“Why is it you look like a man headed for the gas chamber instead of the man of the hour?”
Ian swung around to find Rachel looking up at him with inquisitive eyes and a smile on her lips. “Hey,” he said, putting a hand on her shoulder and giving it a soft squeeze. “A pillow and a bed sound pretty good about now.”
“I could go for that. Especially since I’ve been getting just a little jealous of the stares half the women in the room have been sending you all night.” She leaned in to kiss the corner of his mouth, her right breast pressing into his chest. He waited for the surge of attraction that should have followed her deliberate provocation and decided, when it did not come, that he was more tired than he’d realized.
“Hey, we can’t have any of that.” Curtis Morgan clapped a hand on Ian’s shoulder. A short man witha receding hairline and an expanding waistline, Curtis was one of Ian’s partners at CCI. “Not until after the wedding, at least. Ms. Montgomery, you’ll have our guest of honor ducking out before I’ve had a chance to make my toast to him.”
“I suggest you hurry up and do it,” Rachel said with a raised brow. “I’m afraid he’s nearly dead on his feet.”
“No wonder. You really gave this one everything, Ian,” Curtis said. “Our firm will see the benefit of it. We’re all very appreciative.”
“Yes. I’m so proud of him,” Rachel said. “Now, if I could just get him to agree on a wedding date.”
She looked up at Ian with wide eyes that attempted to convey innocence, but Ian suspected Rachel knew exactly what she was doing.
As methodical about her personal life as she was about attaining senior partnership status at the law firm of Brown, Brown and Fitzgerald, Rachel made no secret of the fact that she thought a marriage between them would be mutually beneficial. She’d continued pressing her case for the past couple of years until she’d finally convinced him she was right.
Two weeks ago, when Ian asked her to marry him, it had been with the understanding that there was no rush. Both their lives were full, and a piece of paper wouldn’t change things drastically. Or so he had told himself.
When Sherry died right after Luke was born, he said he would never marry again. Unexpectedlylosing his wife at the age of twenty-three was the most painful, life-altering thing he’d ever known. Something inside him simply shut down. For the first five years after her death, he didn’t date at all. When he did start seeing someone, he made sure it never lasted for any length of time, never long enough to let things get serious.
With Luke almost grown now, he didn’t relish the idea of spending the rest of his life alone. His relationship with Rachel was a comfortable one. It made no demands or even hinted at happily-ever-after and white picket fences. At one point, he’d believed in destiny and people who were meant for each other. A young man’s dreams. He no longer believed in any of that. If what he had with Rachel met the definition of compatibility more than love, he still appreciated her. Smart and beautiful, he personally knew of a dozen men who envied him.
“So what’s the holdup, Ian?” Curtis asked with a punch to his left shoulder. “You need a reason to leave the office before midnight.”
A waiter approached them and handed Ian a cordless phone. “There’s a call for you, Mr. McKinley.”
“Now, who could that be?” Curtis joked. “We’re the only ones who ever bother you at this hour, andwe’re all here.”
Ian shrugged and moved to the window, away from the noise of the party. “Hello.”
“This is Detective O’Neill with the New York City Police Department. Is Luke McKinley your son?”
Alarm shot through Ian. “Yes, he is.”
“He was arrested tonight for possession of marijuana, Mr. McKinley.”
It took a moment for the words to sink in. One by one, they finally did, even as disbelief washed over him. “Is he all right?”
“There must be some mistake. Luke has never—”
“No mistake, Mr. McKinley.”
The detective gave him the address of the station and told him where to find Luke. Ian hung up, feeling as if someone had just punched him in the gut. He found Rachel and told her everything he knew. When she offered to go with him, he asked her to stay and explain to the others that he’d had an emergency.
He caught a cab outside the building, imagining, during the drive, a hundred different scenarios involving Luke and jail.
When the driver pulled over at the police station, Ian handed him a fifty and sprinted for the door, his stomach churning. Inside, he took the elevator to the third floor. Even at this hour, the place vibrated with purpose. Still dressed in his tuxedo, he got his fair share of stares as he wound his way through a maze of desks littered with coffee cups and mounds of paper.
From the far corner of the room, a thin man with graying hair and skin that could use a little sunshine waved at him and called out, “You Mr. McKinley?”
“Your son is in the room across the hall. Go on in. I’ll be right with you.”
“Thank you,” Ian said, while the detective went back to his call.
At the door, Ian stopped and drew in a deep breath before quickly turning the knob. Relief flooded him at the sight of Luke standing by the window with his hands jammed in his pockets.
His hair, long in front and short at the sides, halfway covered his eyes. His stance screamed defensive, his mouth set in a straight line. “Guess I messed up your party, huh?” he asked, his tone belligerent.
If Luke felt any fear, he wasn’t showing it.
“Is that what you meant to do?” Ian asked quietly, not at all sure where to go with this.
“I didn’t mean to do anything.” Luke shrugged, clearly a rebel with a cause, the origins of which Ian couldn’t begin to guess.
“They said you were arrested for drug possession.”
Another shrug. “Big deal.”
“Big deal?” Ian repeated. “Do you have any idea how serious this is?”
“It must be if you left your party to come down here.”
The verbal slap achieved its intended sting. “I know things have been busy lately, but. . . .”
“Lately?” Luke interrupted with a short laugh. “You’ve been saying ‘lately’ since I was six years old. Probably before then, I just can’t remember so far back. You only have time for work. And Rachel, of course, now that she’s going to be your wife.”
Bitterness layered the declaration. The vehemence behind it shocked Ian. Luke wasn’t a big talker. For the past few years, getting information out of him took the finesse of a secret service agent. Ian chalked it up to teenage rebellion. The boy had been even less communicative since he’d told him about his engagement to Rachel. He looked at his son now and felt as though he were seeing him for the first time in a very long while. “I think we need to talk.”
“So pencil me in before your nine-thirty, and I’ll tell you all about how I know you wish I’d never been born.”
The anger in the boy’s voice hit Ian like a brick in the face. “Why would you say a thing like that,Luke?”
“Because it’s the truth.”
“No. It’s not. Son—”
“If it hadn’t been for me, she wouldn’t have died,” Luke yelled. “Don’t you think I know that?”
Ian grappled for composure. “Nobody could have prevented what happened to your mother. She had a stroke. How could you possibly think I would—”
“I don’t know,” he interrupted. “Maybe because you work all the time just so you don’t have to bearound me.”
“Luke!” Ian stopped, at a complete loss for a response. Somehow, when he hadn’t been looking, something had gone terribly wrong between the two of them. Staring across at his son, part boy, part man, Ian wondered how Luke had felt this way without his knowing. How long had Luke been trying to get his attention? “Does this have something to do with my marrying Rachel?”
“I don’t care who you marry. I’m sure you’ll make all the time in the world for her.”
Ian felt as if someone had just held a mirror in front of him. He didn’t like what he saw. He thoughtabout the party given in his honor tonight and realized the price. He’d spent the past seventeen years trying to make sure Luke had the things he himself never had as a kid. He’d sent the boy off to a camp in Wyoming every summer and to Austria in the winter with his ski team. In fact, he’d given him everything possible except one thing.
Maybe if he had, none of this would be happening.
Maybe if he had, he wouldn’t have needed this kind of wake-up call to see what a mess he’d made of things.
Ian sank down on the chair behind him. He raked a hand through his hair and wondered how he’d gone from such heights to such depths in the span of one night. Luke was in trouble. Ian could blame no one but himself.