Ty yawned and glanced over at the clock. He had about as much interest in the final case report for the Fletcher case as he had in undersea fauna. He hadn’t agreed to take on the Fletcher case. In fact, he’d argued vociferously against taking on the Fletcher case. “They’re guilty as sin,” had been his exact words. “And Lena Fletcher is her own worst enemy. She’ll damage our reputation and give us a loss.”
The problem with being the youngest partner at Clarke, Watts, and Wilcox was that his voice didn’t count for much in the partner meetings. Wait until you’re older, you’ll understand. Wait until you’ve been around the block a few more times, you’ll get it. Listen to us, we get how this works.
Lena Fletcher had embarrassed the firm. They’d lost the case. The attorney they’d put out there on trial had faced off against an uneducated chef from the Bronx and came out on the bottom. No one at the firm wanted to talk about it. It would have been like Ali going up against a sixteen year old girl and losing.
And now, because CWW policy demanded another partner review the case file and look for “opportunities to excel in the future,” he was sitting here in his office at eight o’clock at night instead of being at home.
He frowned down at his report. There was absolutely no reason he had to be at the office reviewing the stupid file. He could take it home. He was a partner now. He’d been a partner for three months. He didn’t have to be seen working his ass off. He could go home and work his ass off, under a blanket and with his cats. Maybe he could even put the TV on for background noise.
He packed up and left, as quickly as he could. Getting the train back to Murray Hill didn’t take long, and grabbing a take-out salad for dinner was just a blip in the road. He headed up to his apartment and locked the door behind him, already taking his tie off.
“You know, taking your clothes off in front of your brother is considered weird.”
Ty jumped and turned around. His brother Keegan stood in the doorway to his bathroom, dressed in khakis and a button down shirt in so many shades of orange Ty had to look away.
“Keegan. How are you even here?” He scratched his head.
“I stole your key and made a copy of it, of course.” Keegan flung himself down onto the couch. “I was in the neighborhood, and I thought I’d drop in.”
“You weren’t in the neighborhood, Keegan. You’re never in the neighborhood. That’s one of the reasons I got a place here.”
“You got a place here because it’s cheap.” Keegan waved a finger. “Compared to Fifth Ave, anyway. Okay, you’re right. I’m on my way to the Hellion Club. And I figured I’d stop off and talk to my baby brother on my way there.”
Ty wrinkled his nose. “Aren’t you getting a little old for that place?”
“Not really. As long as you’re an alpha and you can afford the membership fees, you can be any age you want. It’s not just Hooters for alphas, Ty.”
Ty shuddered. “Tell that to the ex-husband in the case I just had to review.”
Keegan made a face. “Eew. Is it the Fletcher case? Look, whatever’s going on there, Sol Delaney’s a good guy. You’d like him. I was going to introduce you, but for the whole flamingly psychotic ex-relatives thing.”
“I don’t need a set-up, Keegan.”
Keegan screwed his face up and spoke in a high-pitched voice. “I don’t need a set-up, Keegan. Says the guy who hasn’t had a date in eighteen months. My god, you know your plumbing’s going to back up...like whoa.”
Ty pinched the bridge of his nose. “Keegan, you’re forty. Try to remember that and not talk like a fifteen year old street girl.” He put his briefcase down and went into the kitchen. He tried to grab a beer from the refrigerator, but the only glass bottle he found was empty.
“Did you drink all of my beer, Keegan?”
“Yup.” Keegan put his feet up on Ty’s coffee table.
Ty rested his head on his freezer door for a moment. “Why did you put an empty bottle in the fridge?”
“Well, I didn’t want you to reach for a beer and find nothing there.”
Ty closed his eyes and tried to remember he was not allowed to punch his brother in the mouth. Punching his brother in the mouth would get him disbarred, and all of the work and sacrifices to make partner would be so much wasted time. “Okay. Okay. Anyway, I’m not getting fixed up with anyone from the Hellion Club, so maybe just let me live my life and…uh…go ogle the bartender or something.”
“I’m actually going for a very important finance committee meeting.”
Ty looked Keegan up and down. “Dressed like that? You look like a traffic cone that went through a wood chipper.”
Keegan flipped him off. “Look. You’re evading the issue. You haven’t had a date for eighteen months, and that’s just not healthy, bro.”
“I’m fine with it. It’s a choice.”
“Well, yeah, it’s a choice. I know it’s a choice. You’re not bad looking, when you’re not standing next to your awesome oldest brother with the incredible fashion sense. The thing is, bro, your choice makes no sense.” Keegan gave him a big, cheesy grin.
Ty sighed. “Look. Even though you’re the last—absolute dead last—person I want to talk to about my sex life, I’m fine with it. I have cats. I have my job. It’s enough for me. So, maybe you could just be on your way to your alpha strip club.”
“There’s no stripping going on. Sure, they don’t wear too many clothes, but that’s okay. The human body is a beautiful thing. It should be worshipped and celebrated, Ty. And you are not fine with that. You tell yourself you’re okay with it, but you’re not. I know you. I’ve been your big brother since the day you were born. And you’ve read every book about babies and child development since you were able to read.
“We knew you were an omega long before any stupid tests, okay? You wanted babies. You wanted lots of babies. And you’re not getting any younger.”
“Thanks for that helpful reminder, Keegan. I’d forgotten I’m thirty-one already.” Ty spoke through clenched teeth.
“Look, bro. Obviously you’re working through some stuff, and that’s fine. But if you want to have a kid, you’re going to have to get there sooner than later. I’m just saying. It just hasn’t worked out yet. And that’s fine.”
It wasn’t fine. Keegan could say it was fine, because he wasn’t the one who had to live with it. Ty had to put up with everyone’s pity, or worse, their scorn. Keegan could be a forty year old bachelor and get away with it. Ty was already over the hill. “And there’s nothing I can do about it. Even if I go out and screw random guys until I catch, I can’t get away with that. A guy from this kind of firm who carries out of wedlock? No way.”
“So get married, dumbass. Although, maybe don’t work for that kind of firm anymore. Just a thought.” Keegan shrugged.
“I like what I do. Except the reviews,” he added, glaring at his briefcase. “I like the kind of law I practice.”
“Look.” Keegan threw his arm around Ty’s stiff shoulders. “What you’ll have to do is get married. And you can do that. You might have to give up the whole long courtship and princess carriage thing, but you’re a big shot lawyer now. You guys don’t do that crap.”
“Criminal law does tend to kind of tarnish the tiara a bit.” Ty gave his brother a dark look.
“So skip it. We’ve got some guys who are in particular positions who could stand to get married. You know, they need to reform their images and stuff, or they need the money. And, you know, our dads are willing to drop a pile of cash on you and your husband whenever you get around to getting hitched.”
“Because that’s not humiliating.”
“They’re old fashioned. What are you going to do?” Keegan spread his hands wide. “Anyway, you let me fix you up with one of them. You guys get married. You get your baby, either with him or through whatever means you negotiate. You went to school for that crap, it’s up to you. And then when you’ve filled whatever needs you both have and our dads’ deposit clears, you guys can get a divorce. Just like that.” He snapped his fingers. “I can think of five different guys from the Hellion Club who’d jump at the chance.”
“Now there’s a ringing endorsement.” Ty rubbed at his face.
The whole idea of a fake marriage just to get a baby made him want to throw up. He didn’t want to have sex with strangers. For all that his experiences had made him cynical, he still thought he was worth a bit of romance. He still thought he was worth actual love.
Keegan’s idea would destroy that last little bit of hope.
He took a deep breath and tried to force himself to look at things rationally. “I guess for all that’s appealing about the idea of love and romance, it’s not something that can happen for everyone.”
“Nope.” Keegan’s voice was cheerful. So was his grin. “Personally, I think it’s all a lie. This is the way it should be. It’s a transaction. Your expectations are laid out clearly in black and white, along with the consequences for failing to live up to them. There’s no fuss, no hand-wringing. Everyone gets what they came for, and they leave happy. It’s a thousand times better than all of this pissing and moaning everyone does. Does he love me? Does he love me not?”
Ty bowed his head. He didn’t want this. He didn’t want a temporary marriage. He didn’t want to marry a stranger. He didn’t want to marry anyone from the Hellion Club or anyone his brother knew at all. He wanted someone who loved him, treasured him, and wanted to be with him.
But he also wanted a baby. He’d been holding out for true love for thirty-one years, only to become more disappointed with each passing day. Maybe Keegan was right. Maybe this was the only way. And he’d have a baby. The baby would love him. It wouldn’t be the same kind of love, but it would be love.
“Fine.” He clutched at his stomach as it turned. “Come up with a list of candidates, and I’ll look them over.”
Keegan clapped his hands. “Finally! Let Operation Get My Brother Laid commence!” He all but danced out the door, leaving nothing but the smell of his atrocious cologne in his wake.
Ty poked at his salad, but he wasn’t hungry anymore. He couldn’t stomach looking at the Fletcher report, either. All he wanted to do was go to bed.
His cats climbed into the bed with him, curled up against his side, purred. He scratched them under their chins and behind their ears, just how they liked. Maybe he could call Keegan and tell him to cancel. This was a stupid idea. He should just be content with his cats and be done.
But he couldn’t. The whole world seemed to want him to get married, and he wanted to have a baby. He couldn’t do one without the other, and this was the only way. He’d have to hold his nose and cope. He was definitely writing the contract so he didn’t have to spend much time with the groom, though.
* * *
Carter’s knees ached as he walked into the Hellion Club. Thank god for winter. If he’d had to go someplace in shorts or something everyone would have seen the huge bruises on them. It was a good kind of bruise, because he knew exactly how he’d gotten them, and last night had been fun as hell, but it had been a private kind of fun.
He walked up to the bar and ordered an Old Fashioned. The omega behind the bar grinned at him and made sure to brush his hand with his own as he handed him his drink. “Pitchers and catchers must be starting up soon, huh?”
Carter grimaced. “You bet. Should be a good year, too. We made a lot of good trades in the off season, did a lot of good moves, and I’m just glad I’m still in New York, you know?” He sounded like he was giving a media sound bite. He felt like he was giving a media sound bite, too.
“Well, that’s good. I can’t wait to see what you guys come up with. You’re always fun to watch. I love to see the way you handle your bat and balls.”
Carter opened his mouth to reply. He liked his omegas forward like that. He didn’t like to have to work too hard to get a rise out of them; it felt like their consent was at best grudging and no one liked to feel like they were pushing someone into sex. The bartender was hot, had an incredible body, and Carter would cheerfully spend a night with him.
Unfortunately for Carter, Keegan Cunningham inserted himself into the conversation. “Carter Bowman, just the man I was looking to see.”
Carter’s grin tightened, and he turned to the bartender. “Hold that thought,” he said. Keegan Cunningham was the last person Carter wanted to hear from right now. He was a badly dressed alpha who came from old money, forty years old, and still acted like a frat boy.
Unfortunately, he sat on the financial committee. And if Carter wanted to stay in the Hellion Club, he needed to stay on Keegan’s good side.
“Keegan, my man.” He clapped him on the shoulder. “How’s it going?”
“It’s going, bro. It’s going. Come on and take a little walk with me, would you?” Keegan didn’t wait for him, but guided him toward the library.
Carter followed him into his least favorite room in the club. He hated the quiet of the space. He hated all the books. They felt creepy to him, menacing. They passed Sol and Alden Delaney conversing quietly in one of the many little alcoves. It was too quiet to hear what they were talking about, but neither of them looked thrilled with the other.
Carter ignored them. Their conversation looked private.
Keegan took a seat a discreet distance away from the Delaneys. “So, Carter, I’ve just come from a finance committee meeting. And the subject of your dues came up.”
Carter closed his eyes. “Look. I’ve got a long term contract. I’m a little strapped right now, but I’m coming out of it in a few months when I get paid again. It’s a temporary blip.”
“Hey, I know, man.” Keegan pressed a hand to his chest. “That scam artist hit a lot of guys hard. I mean, you could have maybe not put all your eggs in one basket, but as it happens I know a lawyer who might be able to help you get some of it back. In the meantime, there’s the matter of your dues.”
Carter swallowed. It wasn’t like he’d die without the Hellion Club. It was just good to have. It was good to have a place to go in every major city, a place to be social. A place where he could find like minded people. “Look, just a few months.”
Keegan nodded. “The Club understands there are times when members need more time to come up with the fees. But, ah, we can’t do that for everyone. I have a proposal for you.”
Carter’s palms broke out in a sweat. “A proposal?”
Carter laughed. It sounded hysterical to him, but he couldn’t hold it in. “Just like that.”
“Actually, yeah. I’ve got an omega who comes from money, scads of it. He’s also a partner with a major white-shoe law firm, even though he’s only thirty-one. And he’s looking to get married.”
Carter frowned. “What’s wrong with him?”
Keegan blinked. “What do you mean, what’s wrong with him? Nothing’s wrong with him.”
“A rich omega’s still single at thirty-one? Something’s got to be wrong with him.” Carter crossed his arms over his chest. “What is it? Ugly? Squeaky voice? Too bossy? Too bitchy? What is it?”
Keegan winced. “Ouch. I think he’s perfect.”
“So, why haven’t you married him?”
“One, I’m a permanent bachelor. No one can nail this fine ass down. Two, there are about a bazillion city, state, and federal laws against it. He’s my brother.”
“Oh.” Carter shut his mouth. “Shutting up now.”
“Don’t worry about it. I can see where you’d be concerned. Ty is pretty driven, and he’s had some not so great relationships in the past. When it came down to choosing those guys or his work, he picked work. Which, I guess you could say he got what he deserved, but he’s my brother so I won’t.
“Anyway. I’m not talking marrying him forever. He needs a husband for a certain period of time to get his share of our grandparents’ estate. He wants a baby in the worst way—he wants a baseball team, really, but he’ll be happy with one. You guys can negotiate how that happens, and how long you stay together.” Keegan waved a hand. “At the end, you get a cut of the inheritance, and he gets the baby.”
Carter buried his face in his hands. “What did you major in at college, man? Pimping?”
Keegan did a double take. “Excuse me?”
“You’re trying to pimp me out to your unmarriageable omega brother for money. That’s what it boils down to. I mean the payout is long term, but it’s not…it’s me, having sex with your brother, for money.” He rubbed his face and looked at Keegan through his fingers. “The worst part is, I’m thinking about it.”
“Okay…I guess I can see your point. It is a little bit like pimping.” Keegan sprawled out in his chair and laughed. “But let’s face it, man. You need the money. And you’d probably make a cute kid, too.”
Carter rubbed at the back of his neck. “I’m not sure I’m ready to be a dad, either. You know what I mean?”
“No one’s asking you to be a dad, bro. All you’d be, at the end of the day, is a donor. A very well paid donor, you understand what I’m saying? You wouldn’t even have to live together once the baby’s on the way.” Keegan leaned forward, elbows on his knees. “Just don’t get caught on camera with dudes in other cities, you know? That looks bad. He’d totally understand, but it looks bad.”
“Right.” Carter sighed. “Shouldn’t you want better for your brother than a ball player who’s only with him for the money?” He scratched his head. “Shouldn’t I want better for your brother than a ball player who’s only with him for the money?”
“Maybe. But he’s not going to get better than that.” Keegan’s jaw tightened. “It might be nice, but let’s face it. That kind of sappy, romantic BS is for poor people who don’t have to worry about estate planning and that kind of crap. Once you’re at our level, you can’t afford to waste your time on that kind of frivolous nonsense. It’s all transactional. You marry him, you put up a good show in public, and when the time comes you part amicably. No fuss, no muss. Are you in or not?”
Carter bowed his head. “I guess I’m in.” What choice did he have? He might not die without the Hellions, but he needed them. “God help me, but I’m in.”
“Awesome. I’ll tell Ty the good news.” He pulled out his phone and snapped a picture of Carter, then he typed on his phone. Carter’s phone beeped with an incoming message a moment later.
It was a biography page from Clarke, Watts, and Wilcox, a major law firm headquartered downtown. The guy staring out from the page was hot, in an intense kind of way. Carter wouldn’t want to go against him in court. Carter wasn’t sure he wanted to go against him anywhere. “You’re sure he’s an omega?”
“Oh, yeah. Trust me on this. Anyway, look forward to hearing from him in a few days. Between the three of us we can make a date and head down to the Justice of the Peace or something.”
“Sounds…well, it sounds miserable, but what are we going to do.” Carter shook Keegan’s hand. “What does he like? What’s he into? What does he do in his spare time?”
Keegan grimaced. “He hasn’t had spare time since he left law school. He has cats. He’s fond of the little bastards, I think. They keep biting me every time I go to his apartment.” He shook his head. “Anyway. You’ll have a chance to ask your questions at the wedding.”
“I don’t even get to meet him beforehand?”
Keegan made a face. “Why would you want to? Anyway, I’ve got to run. I’ve got a date.”
Carter stared at his drink after Keegan left. He wasn’t sure what to make of the encounter. Part of him thought he’d just secured his future. The rest of him thought he’d just made the biggest mistake of his life, even worse than the time he’d let the catcher take him to a local bar in San Juan during winter ball.
Well, he hadn’t signed any contracts yet. His soul was still intact, so to speak. But would it stay that way? He could still back out of this mess, but he’d have to give up too much. The Hellion Club had come to mean too much to him. He couldn’t give it up.
There weren’t many alphas in pro sports. There weren’t any omegas at all. Carter was on the road for weeks at a time during the season. He needed to be able to be among friends, people who understood him. It wasn’t even about sex, although that was nice. It was about family, about companionship.
Funny. He’d always figured marriage was supposed to be about family and companionship too.