“THAT WAS awesome!” Alec said from his chair as Harcourt Anson III—Skippy to his friends—strode past him on his way into his office. “You had that jury in the palm of your hand.”

Skippy smiled. “It was a good outcome.” He had fought half the members of the firm, who had urged him to settle and get done as quickly as possible. Skippy had recommended the clients take the case to court, and they’d won, big. He sat at his desk and leaned back in his chair, propping his feet on the desk. He had won a case most people thought was untenable, and the client had been ecstatic.

“Your dad should be pleased,” Alec told him with a smile.

“Yeah.” Skippy grinned. Maybe this time he’d catch the senior Harcourt’s attention. It wasn’t like his father could ignore the biggest judgment the firm had won in the last three years—and its biggest payday. That thought made him smile. Now his dad was going to have to look him in the eye and acknowledge Skippy’s work.

“Do you want anything?” Alec asked, interrupting his thoughts.

“Coffee would be great. Though a fifth of scotch would be better, I’ll have to make do with something more acceptable.” Skippy would have liked to be able to leave the office right away and celebrate, but he had to speak with his father, the managing partner in Anson Law Firm.

“I’ll be right back.”

Alec hurried away, and Skippy allowed himself another smile and a deep sigh. Yes, he’d taken a real chance with the Mendoza case, but it had paid off. Some of the twisting that had taken up permanent residence in his gut unwound for the first time in weeks. Alec returned to put Skippy’s coffee on the desk before going back to his area. Skippy had other cases he needed to work on, so he pulled out the files to get started. There was always another client waiting for his attention.

He worked for an hour, alone and blessedly undisturbed, which was a rarity. He’d expected the other attorneys to stop by to congratulate him, but with his door closed, they were giving him the space he needed.

Skippy picked up the phone and said, “Alec, can you come in, please?”

His door opened almost immediately, and Alec hurried in, ready and eager. Skippy was going to miss him once Alec decided he wanted to go to law school. He was gifted and understood the law and its processes better than many of the lawyers in the office. He deserved better than to be anyone’s assistant.

“Close the door,” Skippy instructed, and Alec complied. “I was wondering if you could do some case research for me.” He handed Alec the file. “This is confidential, so handle it appropriately, but I need some help and I know you can do this for me.” It was a simple case, and while Skippy could have done it himself, he wanted to give Alec some additional skills to boost his confidence.

Skippy’s phone rang, and Alec leaned forward in his chair to answer it right away. “Mr. Anson’s office.” Alec always sounded both professional and cheerful, and Skippy’s clients loved him. “Yes, sir. He is in a conference, but I will tell him.” Alec hung up the phone. “That was your father. Not Marjorie, but your father himself. He wants to see you at your earliest convenience.” Alec rolled his eyes. They both knew that while his dad said that, it was his polite way of telling him to get there now.

Skippy nodded and sighed. “Take care of that by the end of the week, please. I have a meeting with the clients next Tuesday. Also, put an appointment on my calendar for late Friday so we can go over things together.” Alec nodded, already setting up the appointment using his tablet, and then he stood and left the office with a lilt in his step. Skippy did the same, heading down the row to his father’s corner office.

Marjorie smiled at him and motioned for him to go right inside. She had been his father’s assistant all the way back when they were called secretaries. She was a wonderful lady, and Skippy used to wish he could steal her away, but when he’d hired Alec, he’d found the assistant who worked for him in the same way that Marjorie and his father finished each other’s sentences.

“Come in. Sit down,” his father said without a hint of the celebratory tone that most people would expect. “You managed to pull that one out of the hat.” Which was his father’s way of saying that regardless of the outcome, Skippy should have done what his father had wanted. “Still, it was a win.” He sat back down and opened a drawer, pulled out a file, and passed it across the desk. “We have another case that’s going to require your talents. I’ll leave it to you to read over. It’ll require some travel to Florida to meet with the various parties.” He leaned forward. “This case has the potential to make your national reputation.”

Jesus! Skippy picked up the file, trying not to gape in near shock. The case he’d just won had garnered mentions on the national news, and he’d given remarks on the courthouse steps that had been carried by CNN, for God’s sake, and his father…. He should have known.

“This is a huge one for the firm.” His father sat back, putting his hands behind his head, a knowing look on his face.

Skippy knew there was no use in arguing. Instead, he opened the folder and skimmed it. His eyes stopped at the word Apalachicola and he smiled. “Great. But I want some time off as well.” He’d damned well earned it. “I have some cases I need to wrap up, and then I’ll head down and get started.”

“Take a few days down there before you start if you want. Just keep your eyes on the ball.” His father swiveled around to look out over the snow-gripped Boston skyline.

Skippy wanted to shake his father and make him acknowledge the amazing thing he’d done, but it was no fucking use. No matter what he did, his father’s approval remained out of reach. And he knew when it had begun: the day his father had caught him with another boy. Skippy had seen the light in his father’s eyes go out, and for years he’d worked his ass off to try to see that pride there once again.

With a wave of a hand, Skippy was dismissed, and he left, striding roughly back to his own office and closing the door with more force than necessary. Not that he gave a flying fuck about what the others thought. He sat at his desk, grabbed the phone, and dialed.

“Jerry,” Skippy said, the file open in front of him.

“What’s going on?” Just hearing his friend’s voice was enough to cheer him up. “I saw you won. Nice speech.”

“Thanks. Yeah, I won, and it felt good for about two minutes.” There was no need for Skippy to go into the crap with his father. Jerry was well aware. “I have a new case, in Florida. Would you call the guys and see if they want to go down there with me for a while?”

“God, I’m in. This weather is killing me.” The cold air always made a mess of Jerry’s lungs, and he ran humidifiers all over his house in an attempt to hold off the dry cough that gripped him each winter.

“Good. I’m already checking, and the house we rented the last time is available. It seems they had a cancellation. I’ll call and book it. You get in touch with the guys. Let’s plan on two weeks from now.”

“I got it. I’ll call you back. Say, do you want to go fishing again?”

“Sure. A day on the water sounds amazing. I’ll call them and set it up as soon as I know about the guys.” Talking to Jerry always made things seem better, and this time was no exception. “How about we meet for dinner and go over the details?”

“Steak?”

“You got it.” Hell, if his father wasn’t going to celebrate with him, then he might as well go out with the guys.

“I’ll call the others. If your dad is going to be a dick, we’ll supply the party ourselves.” Jerry congratulated him again and hung up.

Skippy returned to work, but Jerry called him back ten minutes later. Both Kyle and Steven were going to meet them for dinner and were in for the trip. Skippy excitedly booked the beach house for the two weeks they had open, figuring he could stay there and work after the guys left. Then he called the charter service and booked an all-day fishing boat for the four of them. With that done, he checked his email and figured he could head home. He’d had one hell of a day, but at least things were looking up.

Or they had been until he closed his office door and bundled up to go outside.

“Leaving for the day?” his father asked as he approached, checking his watch.

“Yes. I have work with me, but I’m done here for now.”

His father stepped even closer. “You know that doesn’t set a good example for the rest of the staff.”

Skippy tried hard not to roll his eyes. Like his father didn’t take two-hour martini lunches with clients at least once a week. “Well, I think they’ll all survive.” Skippy was tempted to announce that he was going to the bar on the corner and that drinks were on him for the next hour. That would clear the place out. But he bit his tongue and turned away without a word, heading to the lobby and the elevators.

 

 

“CONGRATULATIONS!” JERRY called boisterously from their table, and the guys stood, raising their glasses. “You did an amazing job, and you deserve your success.”

Skippy grinned as they all clinked glasses filled with various kinds of pink mixers. It was their thing. “Thanks, guys. It was one hell of a case.”

“So what’s this new one?” Kyle asked.

Skippy shook his head. “I can’t talk about it. Confidential and all that, but it’s in Florida, so….”

“Yeah, I’m so there.” Jerry sniffed and turned away from the table to cough.

“Call my office and make sure Alec has your information. He’ll book all our flights so we travel together.” A thought occurred to him, and Skippy pulled out his phone to send Alec a quick message. He got an almost immediate response.

Are you serious? Alec practically squealed through the message.

Yes. This is going to be a big case and I’m going to need some help. We’ll talk more tomorrow and review the details. Skippy put his phone back in his pocket and looked up.

“What was all that?” Kyle asked.

“My assistant whooping because I asked him to come to Florida. I’m going to need his help, and he deserves it. The guy works his fingers to the bone. I gave him some research to do, and I bet he’s there till midnight tonight working on it.” Alec deserved some recognition, and Skippy was going to make sure he got it, along with a reward.

The server took their dinner orders, and Skippy sat back, some of his energy melting away. He’d been running on adrenaline and coffee for so long that now that it was passing, he felt drained.

“Can I ask what they did at your office? Don’t they have parties or something when they win a big case?” Steven asked, setting down his drink.

“My father gave me another case and told me he was glad things worked out. It was his way of getting a dig at me because I took the case to court.” Skippy shook his head, then shrugged.

“And I thought my dad was a bastard.” Steven’s father was notorious for being an asshole’s asshole.

“Sometimes I think the only way I’m ever going to get any peace is if he retires and I’m able to take over and run the firm.” That would be lovely, and Skippy intended to treat his associates better than his father did. Not that anything like that was going to happen any time soon. His father was in his late fifties and showing no sign of slowing down. No… Skippy was going to be under his father’s thumb for a long time to come and had to get used to it.

Jerry leaned closer and spoke softly. “You know you’re never going to make him happy.” He patted Skippy on the back. “What the hell did you ever do to him anyway? Besides the whole gay thing.”

Skippy shook his head. “I don’t fucking know, and if I try to figure it out, I only end up with a headache. So fuck him to hell.” He turned to the others. “I won the case all of my dad’s cronies and asskissers thought couldn’t be won, and now, regardless of what my dad thinks or wants, they need to take me seriously.” At least he was a partner in the firm, so he’d see some of the financial benefits of the massive fees and receive a share of the award that was headed their way. Making partner had taken two years longer than it took the other people in the office, even though he’d worked harder than every one of them because his father demanded it. “The bastard was pissed off that I left the office early.”

Jerry raised his glass, and the others did as well. “Fuck the old bastard! You did good.”

A lady at the table behind them snickered, but Skippy didn’t really care who heard them. It was a celebration, after all.

“Maybe I’ll start my own firm and take the high-profile clients with me.” That would boil his father’s ass no end. Hell, he’d probably never speak to Skippy again. Skippy wondered for a few seconds if that would be so bad. His phone vibrated in his pocket, and when Skippy pulled it out, he groaned. “We spoke of the devil too many times.” He slid his phone on the table and let it vibrate away, contemplating answering it, then picked it up at the last second. “Yes?” He wasn’t in the mood for politeness.

“Is that how you answer the phone?”

Skippy ignored it. “What do you need?” The small amount of unwinding he’d managed had instantly been undone.

“Where are you?” he asked, his tone commanding.

“I’m at dinner with my friends to celebrate winning the case.” He had to get that dig in. “Why? There was nothing on my calendar for this evening as far as I know.” He bit his tongue about telling his father that he didn’t seem to give a rat’s ass about what he’d done. “We won’t be out too late because it’s a school night, if that’s what you’re worried about. Is there something you needed? If not, I’ll see you in the morning.” He wanted to get off the phone as quickly as possible so he could get down to some serious drinking.

“I’ll see you at the office, then.” His father hung up, and Skippy looked at his phone for a few seconds, wondering briefly why his father had called, then turned back to his friends.

“Probably wanted to know why I wasn’t at home.” Not out of concern, but more likely a sense of control. “What are you up to, Kyle?” Skippy asked, seeing him, Jerry, and Steven with their heads together.

“Planning a party while we’re in Florida. I thought we’d have a real beach party blowout. Call everyone we know down there, have a real dancing, music, food, booze, ‘let it all hang out’ kind of night.”

Skippy rolled his eyes. “Aren’t we a little old for that?”

Kyle shook his head. “If that’s what you think, then that’s all the more reason to have one. We are most certainly not too old to have a good time with friends. We work too damn much and need a chance to blow off a little steam and raise a little hell. The last time we did that was two years ago. It’s time.”

Skippy couldn’t argue with that logic. They all did work too fucking much, and they deserved some time off. Fuck it all, he deserved some fun, and maybe, just maybe, there’d be a beach hottie he could entice into some… From Here to Eternity kind of fun that involved water, waves, and bathing suits that tended to slide off at the right time. He grew hard just thinking about it. Fuck, he had been working way too many hours.

He tried to remember the last time he’d gotten laid, but his memory was fuzzy at best on that point. Not a quickie somewhere, but spending some time, talking a little, a lot of naked, and plenty of shouts and a mess to clean up afterward. It was difficult to remember.

“If you’re going to have a party, then do it up right. Add renting WaveRunners and other water or beach fun things to your list. We might as well have the party of the century.” Now that Skippy thought about it, he was really getting excited about it.

“Good idea.” Kyle pulled out his phone and began making notes, fingers typing furiously. “I’ll make all the arrangements.”

The server brought their dinners. Conversation died down as they all ate, but as soon as the ravenous hunger abated, they were off and running. Skippy loved them all to death. They were his gay family, the ones who accepted him for who he was, no matter what.

 

 

SKIPPY LEFT the restaurant with Steven and Kyle, taking them home with him because he wasn’t about to let them drive. He figured they could crash in his guest rooms, which they’d done enough times before. After parking in his space in the garage, they took the elevator to the top of one of Boston’s exclusive high-rises and stepped out into his large home. It was a quarter of the entire floor and had one of the best views in the city. He loved it. Skippy had had the space done in large, masculine furniture with lots of texture, muted colors, and chocolate-toned wood—all the things he loved.

“Come on, guys, you know where the guest rooms are. Go get undressed, clean up, and go to bed.”

“I’m not sleepy,” Kyle countered like a six-year-old. He seemed to regress whenever he got drunk. Steven got the giggles, and together the two of them were a handful sometimes.

Skippy gave them both some Tylenol and water, making them drink to try to minimize the hangover, and they went to bed. Once they were settled, Skippy curled up in his favorite chair right in front of the window, put his feet on the ottoman, and fished out the file his father had given him.

Snow fell outside his windows, swirling in the wind as it headed for the streets below. He loved watching it from up here and found it hard to focus on what he was supposed to be reading. Finally he turned away from the lights and swirls of white outside and concentrated on the file.

Their client—his client—was a large oil company. Just seeing that was enough to elicit a groan. Usually that meant he was going to be on the side that was against whatever regulation he was supposed to somehow twist or get around so they could do their best to extract what they wanted from the earth with as little government interference and as little regard for the environment as possible. He hated these cases. After all, he’d gone into environmental law to help protect the environment, not rape it all to hell.

But this case was different yet identical, all at the same time. The case was complicated, and Skippy read the file through and then grabbed a pad to make notes before pulling up a map of the area on his phone so he’d know the exact locations in question.

The oil company owned rights to a number of offshore areas in the region. That wasn’t the problem. They had bought the company that controlled the commercial docking areas near the town and wanted to remove them to construct a pipeline from their offshore resources, through the dockland’s property, which they now controlled, and then on to their refineries for processing. And Skippy’s job was to make that possible by easing the way around the environmental regulations and processes. The oil company’s plans hadn’t been announced yet, but Skippy would see a wave of opposition to what they wanted to do and was supposed to help manage that.

“Aren’t you going to bed?” Kyle asked as he wandered out in his boxers. “We were just talking about how we all work too much, and here you are, sitting up after a celebration, reading files instead of getting some sleep. If you’re going to stay up, the least you could do is go out and get laid.” Kyle scratched his ass through the material, and Skippy turned away. Yeah, that wasn’t attractive in any way. At least he knew why Kyle hadn’t been getting any lately. He was nice-looking, trim and fit enough, but tended to land on the crude side sometimes.

“I know.” Skippy tossed Kyle a blanket, and he wrapped up, sitting on the sofa. “I want to get a head start on tomorrow.”

“It isn’t as though your father is going to appreciate it.” Sometimes, even semidrunk, Kyle could hit the nail on the head.

“No. And it also isn’t like I want to take this case, but it’s the firm’s client and I’ve been assigned, so I put my feelings aside and do what the client wants.” Damn, it would be so much easier if Skippy started his own firm and could make his own decisions. “It’s what we do, and this could be an important case for us because the principles involved could set precedent for the future.” He sat back, looking out the windows once more. “It shouldn’t matter what my father likes or doesn’t. This is my job and what I do.”

“Maybe not, but most fathers would be proud of their son for winning a big case and all that jazz. Instead, yours takes it for granted….” Kyle leaned back. “Reminds me of my own father. They’re two peas in a pod, you know. My father doesn’t give a shit about anything other than what his latest mistress wants and how he can keep her from my mother.”

“At least Dad doesn’t do that,” Skippy said. He certainly hoped not. His mother deserved better than that, and if his father was keeping someone on the down-low, he hoped his mother would rip his nuts off.

Skippy gathered up the papers and placed them back in the case file, then turned to Kyle, who had fallen asleep leaning back, mouth open. Skippy shook his head, helped Kyle to his feet, and guided him back to the room he was using to put him into bed. Then Skippy went to his own room, closed the door, undressed, and got cleaned up before climbing into bed. He set the alarm, knowing both his guests had to be places in the morning and it was going to fall on him to get them up and moving. He closed his eyes.

That night, like so many others, Skippy didn’t dream. He’d stopped long ago. They didn’t do him any good anyway.