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2016 © Devyn Morgan

This is a work of fiction. All characters and places are the products of the author’s imagination, and the resemblance to real persons and places is strictly coincidental.

No part of this book may be reproduced or copied, narrated, or turned into video format, using any format or techology either known or unknown at this date, except for a paragraph not to exceed ten lines, for the purposes of a review.


It was the third weekend of June, and the Scarsdale, Connecticut weather couldn’t have been lovelier. The heavy, hot, humid summer hasn’t quite arrived yet and the air was just warm enough to entice the braver and younger club members to jump in the pool.

Bonnie wanted to be one of the younger and braver crowd so bad it hurt.

Not this Saturday, though.

It was only four in the afternoon and he was already stuck wearing a tuxedo. The guests would start arriving in half an hour, the early-birds who always ordered a drink and settled down around one of the round tables in the lounge. Aunts and uncles and old friends of the family, catching up and talking smack about their ungrateful kids and their impossible neighbors. Discussing investments and cosmetic surgeries and home improvement projects, the latter two of which, in Bonnie’s opinion, were pretty much the same thing. That’s how his family always kicked off their annual reunion.

For now, Bonnie was hiding out on one of the rattan and cushion sofas that filled the common room. He gave the tall, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves a cursory glance. The library looked promising from afar, but up-close he saw just old fabric-bound classics, the genealogies of club member families, and the usual assortment of golf and tennis trophies. They were from minor tournaments, the kind the members didn’t see fit to keep at home, but which still gave them bragging rights and conversation fodder when the talk at the club turned from business to pleasure.

Bonnie had never liked his parents’ country club, and as usual, he was bored stiff. It wasn’t that he didn’t like his family – he did – but he hated the stuffy golf atmosphere with a vengeance. Staying at Stonybrook usually meant getting a cold shoulder by anyone who was richer, had a better job, or had issues with gay guys.

He’d rather be at the studio, rehearsing for his new dance concert.

“Oh, here you are, dear!” His mother rushed through the door. As soon as she saw him, she slowed down to a more stately progress with that theatrical awareness of her physical space. He probably inherited that same quality from her. “I just checked on the caterers. They were supposed to serve scallops, but got shrimp instead.”

Bonnie suppressed a groan. Mother was in her management, list-making mode. She’d keep saying every single thing out loud.

“And the ballroom, Bonnie. The florists? They decorated this morning. Did you go see?”

“No, Mom.” Bonnie spanned the three steps between them, hugged her bare shoulders, and pulled her in. “Don’t worry. It will be great!” He kissed her temple.

“Bonnie, I want you to go in and give me your opinion on those flower arrangements,” she said, giving him a gentle push. “You’re a sweetheart, but really, I need you over there right now.”

“Where’s Dad?”

His mother rolled her eyes. “Your father is waiting in the lobby. The limo with the Florida crowd is just minutes away. And those people from Chicago are on their way, too.”

Those people from Chicago were the reason behind his mother’s nerves. Mr. and Mrs. Horwood, the parents of Alex Horwood, would meet the family for the first time. Alex was his sister Julia’s fiance.

“I just wish we could do an ordinary barbecue, Mom. Beer, burgers, beach volleyball? Doesn’t that sound so much better?”

“Maybe next year,” she said distractedly. “We could use Grandma’s place at the Hamptons. But now we are here, and those flowers...”

“Okay, I’m going.”

“Thank you, dear,” she said. “Oh, wait,” she called out, and Bonnie stopped and looked over his shoulder. “Before I forget, Alex is bringing a friend. It’s very last-minute, very irregular, but he’ll be his best man.” She fixed him with a stern glare. “I’m counting on you to be a proper guest and entertain him. He won’t know anyone.”

He sighed and turned. Entertaining single guests of either sex often fell to Bonnie, because he had never brought a date of his own. This didn’t mean he appreciated the extra responsibility at events that were not, strictly speaking, his own.

“Mother.” He barely managed not to roll his eyes. They were a full room apart, but for a conversation as well-worn as this one, there was no need to be close to each other. “Are you trying to set me up again, Mom?”

“No!” An appalled expression crossed her face. “Not this time, I promise. He’s a perfect stranger, and we don’t have a female companion for him. You’ll have to do.” She gave him a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry, he’s perfectly straight. You won’t have any issues.”

“How do you know, Mom?”

“I’ve heard he’s a cowboy,” she explained patiently. “Cowboys aren’t gay. It’s not part of their culture.”

BONNIE peeked into the main ballroom. The space depicted everything the name implied. Tall ceilings with relief decorations, painted frescoes in little medallions, and a wall of tall windows framed in elaborate, old-fashioned drapes. Sunshine spilled in through the sheer curtains that sheltered the interior from prying eyes, but the gauzy fabric did little to soften its afternoon glare.

Once Bonnie made sure he was alone, he stepped inside. Rays of golden sunshine refracted in the tall crystal glasses, they bounced off the gilded trim of the china settings, off the silver-plated cutlery. Rainbow reflections played off the tall, lighting up the thin mirrors that were mounted on one of the walls. They were framed in ornate, gilded chunks of antique wood and plaster, and clustered around a small parquet dance floor.

The dance floor was, naturally, Bonnie’s favorite part, as it took up almost a quarter of the otherwise carpeted room. It’s old-world shine reflected in the mirrors. Over the years, he’d spent hours rehearsing here with the doors shut while his parents played bridge or had meetings, and while he was supposed to play tennis with kids who had no clue.

Just him and his iPod.

The ballroom looked fine in that old, fussy, pretentious way. The space hugged him like an old friend. He’d made friends here, too, since while he’d been hiding out here and rehearsing, he got to meet the invisible people that made the country club run. The janitors, the waiters, the maids. Most of them spoke Spanish, which he learned in school and practiced on them with a cheeky grin. Some of them knew salsa, tango and merengue, and they were glad to teach him they on a slow day, as long as nobody was looking.

Today he cast the dance floor a wistful glance, and redirected his attention to the floral decorations.

Round tables were scattered upon the carpeted section of the floor, enough to seat their group of almost two hundred. Each table had a floral arrangement in the middle. They were low, probably so that people could see over them while they talked. They didn’t look cheap, but Bonnie had to agree with his mother. The decorations lacked panache.

The flowers themselves were of good quality, a tapestry of greens highlighted by roses and lilies, whose orange and yellow exclamations nestled in the cloud-like pillows of white hydrangeas.

Bonnie knew what his mother was after. A bit of that special, dramatic flair... Maybe a bit of height, but not the sort that would obstruct the view.

“Master Bonnie,” a happy voice chirped behind him. “And how have you been? I hardly see you anymore!”

He turned with a smile. “Esperanza!” She was small and wide and black-haired, about his mother’s age, and she had introduced him to her cousin Mannie, who had taught him the basics of Latin dance on the sly. “So good to see you!” Bonnie let her hug and kiss him, and he squeezed her back with affection.

“What are you doing?” she asked, teasing. “You can’t be dancing right now!”

“No, but I’m on an errand.” He looked around. “The flowers. I take it the florist is gone?”

She nodded. “Yes, they set up hours ago. Why?”

“My mother thinks they should be fancier.” They exchanged a look that spoke of many years when the flowers, or the food, or the drink, had not been good enough.

“They’re not so bad.” The usually appreciative Esperanza damned them with faint praise. Then she turned to the buffet table. “And that arrangement over there will just get lost, sitting among all those dishes!”

“If it sat a little higher,” he said. “Say, Mannie was pruning those trees by the third tee, right? I remember him bringing the branches up. Do you think he still has them? The thinner twigs?”

“That might work,” she said, as though she was reading his mind. “I can ask.” She pulled out a radio and rattled off something in Spanish. It was too fast for Bonnie to understand. If few minutes, they had an answer.

“It’s possible. Mannie said he’ll take care of it.” She winked at him. “Don’t worry. Enjoy your family, have a good time!”

He hugged Esperanza. “Thank you so much! You’re so wonderful.” As she bustled off, an old feeling of kinship came over him. He had more in common with the club employees than the club members. He did, after all, teach many of their little kids at a local dance studio when he wasn’t rehearsing for an engagement elsewhere.

SINCE Bonnie trusted Mannie to avert the crisis of boring floral arrangements, and since he wanted to keep out of his mother’s reach, he decided to visit his father in the front portico. He knew Dad would be outside, rather than inside the lobby.

He was.

It was the only place he could light up his cigar.

“Hi, Dad.” Bonnie let the large, glass-pane door close softly behind him. The portico was flanked by rising Doric columns that flanked the top of a wide staircase. The sun had swung few degrees to the west, casting the opulent entrance to the club into a deep shade. The stones still radiated the stored-up heat, but after the air-conditioned public areas of the club, Bonnie found the warmth welcome. “This is nice,” he said as he slid down a wooden column and settled on a sandstone pedestal.

His father looked at him, puffed on his cigar, and exhaled. “As long as your mother doesn’t catch you ripping up your fancy pants,” he said, but half a minute later, he also settled his butt on the pedestal of the neighboring column. “I take it your mother caught up with you?”

“Yep,” Bonnie said. “It’s taken care of.”

“Oh?” He peered at him through the pungent smoke. “What did you do?”

“I promised Manuel a good tip if he fixed the flowers up. If you tip him, I’d appreciate it. It wouldn’t look right coming from me.” Because friends didn’t tip friends.

“I’ll give you the money,” his father said. “You’re old enough to do it.”

“No way,” Bonnie forced a laugh. “If you make me do it, everyone will expect me to tip from now on!”

His father gave him a penetrating look, as though he knew better. Bonnie was sure one of his Dad’s famous lectures was coming. This time, something about about not making friends with the servants again, no doubt.

“How much?” his Dad asked.

The unexpected question made him reel. He thought for a bit. “Anywhere between sixty and two hundred, depending on Mom’s reaction.”

Any wisdom his father might have wanted to confer upon him regarding those amounts died young as the first hired car pulled up the tree alley and into the circular driveway.

The first guests have arrived, and the show has begun.


CLYDE glanced at his best friend. Alex hunched in the back seat next to him. His complexion was ashen, almost as pale as the off-white leather of car seats, and tiny droplets of sweat kept popping up around his hairline in spite the cool hum of the car’s air conditioning. Alex’s mother, Mrs. Horwood, kept throwing him poorly disguised glances as she kept touching up her lipstick in the front passenger’s seat vanity mirror.

“Don’t worry, it’s just a family gathering,” she said in a placid voice. “We have those too, and you have nothing to be ashamed of. Julie has good taste in men!”

“Mom!” Alex groaned. “Seriously? Not now, okay?”

Clyde leaned back into the seat. The Horwood family interplay was always fun to watch, because Alex and his mom were so alike. Shy to the point of reticent, brilliantly endowed in mathematics, and thirty years apart, they still could’ve passed for twins when it came to character and personality. This thirty year difference had let Mrs. Horwood settle into a zen-like calm when her anxiety threatened to knock her flat on her back. Alex was still working on his Jedi calming skills, however, and even his Xanax was only of partial help.

“Would you like some water?” Mrs. Horwood turned to Mr. Horwood. “Jeff. Tell your son to drink some water.”

“Not unless you want to be wearing it, Mr. Horwood,” Clyde said. He was proud of keeping his voice level and serious, instead of cracking up in laughter.

Poor Alex. He loved him – he still loved him, even after they broke up as boyfriends and after they had made up as best friends, which had taken less than two weeks of mutual sulking.

Alex swung both ways, and Clyde just wanted him to be happy. Alex wanted Clyde to be happy, too, which had resulted in an endless supply potential dates and hook-ups. It just never seemed right to get serious with one of Alex’s connections, though, and one year later, Alex had declared he was done with orchestrating Clyde’s “catch-and-release program.”

One week after that, Alex met Julie. They were so perfect together, and Julie was so kind and cheerful and inclusive, Clyde didn’t have it in him to feel even a bit jealous.

Two months after Julie privately asked Clyde for a few sex tips, Alex proposed.

Three years later, they had all been earning their paychecks after graduating college, and Alex was finally being introduced to Julie’s extended family.

“Relax, man,” Clyde whispered as he nudged Alex with his elbow. “You already met her parents.”

“Just a few times.” Alex swallowed. “I just hate crowds.”

Clyde rolled his eyes. “You’ll be okay. They already like you.”

“It’s easy for you to say! You’ve spent the last two years in the wild, herding horses and riding cows in Wyoming, you moron.”

“Just one cow,” Clyde said, once again trying to set the record straight. “And that was a bet, which I’d won.”

“My best man, the cow rider,” Alex groaned. “Couldn’t you have worn a suit, if you don’t have a tux?” Thin humor leaked through his exasperation, though, which was as it should be.

Clyde did, in fact, own a tuxedo. And several suits. He knew Alex, though, and he was all to aware of his propensity toward panic attacks. His job as his best man – and best friend – was to keep Alex distracted. What better way to divert his social anxiety toward something trivial?

Such as, for instance, showing up at an exclusive country club in his cowboy best. If Alex fretted over Clyde’s lack of customary East Coast attire, he’d forget about the crowd, he’d be himself, and he’d let Julie show him around.

Clyde would bear the brunt of the crowd’s disapproving stares, making Alex look like Prince Charming in comparison.

“Don’t worry, son,” Mr. Horwood said as he pulled into the circular driveway in front of a large white building with immense windows and Grecian columns. “Julie’s parents seem like sensible people. They won’t hold you responsible for the way he’s dressed.” Clyde thought he saw a smile tug his well-shaved face, but it was hard to tell in the partial reflection of the rear-view mirror.

“That’s right, sir,” he said as he stroked the butter-soft, black leather that covered his well-developed thighs. “I know better than showing up at a fancy country club wearing jeans!”

THE VALET took their rental car away, and Mr. and Mrs. Horwood led the way up the white stone staircase. Alex walked behind them. Clyde set his hat on his head and brought up the rear, mostly because their history as former boyfriends would make walking side by side feel too much like being Alex’s date, but partially, because he wanted to redirect Alex in case he wanted to bolt. Being a best man wasn’t all that different from herding skittish horses.

Before he knew it, the Horwoods were done pressing flesh with a man who moved his lit cigar out of the way for the occasion.

They pushed Alex forward, between the tall, white columns. It reminded Clyde of old Greek stories, where sacrifices were led up to old temples. His grin fell off his face when he felt a hand against the small of his own back.

“May I introduce my best man and best friend,” Alex said in a tense, “you better not screw this up” voice. “Clyde Walker. Clyde, meet Julie’s father, Mr. Joseph Rinaldi!”

Julie’s dad was a man of average height and average girth, which meant his excess forty pounds were smoothed over by a well-tailored tuxedo. He had a full head of salt-and-pepper hair with a pronounced widow’s peak and a pleasant smile. He extended his hand toward Clyde with a firm handshake. “Welcome, son.” He looked him up and down.

“Pleasure to meet you, sir,” Clyde said, tipped his hat, and turned on a confident smile.

“And this is my son and Julie’s younger brother,” Joseph waved over to a young man who stood behind him, in the shade of the columns. “Bonaventure Rinaldi.”

Bonaventure’s jaw was locked tight as he closed the distance and inclined his head toward Alex’s mother first. “How do you do.” Bonnie said. “Please, just call me Bonnie.”

“Clyde,” Clyde said. They shook hands.

“Bonnie and Clyde?” The older Rinaldi broke into a grin. “You two are paired off to sit together, you know that, right? And you’re Bonnie and Clyde. How about that!”

Alex’s dad laughed, then everybody followed. Handshakes were exchanged all around.

Feeling self-conscious, Clyde loomed his extra six inches of height and two inches of polished cowboy boot heels over Bonnie. He had heard Julie mention his brother, but their interests were divergent at best. She was into building robots and ready to enter the family business, whereas Bonnie always sounded like a bit of an airhead and a family disappointment.

Bonnie was stunningly beautiful. Clyde realized it just then, and tried hard not to stare. Even a cursory glance told him Bonnie had a compact body under his black penguin suit, and his face had that enticing, mesmerizing quality that drew Clyde’s eye despite his best intentions.

High, sharp cheekbones. An even chin, not too big and not too small. Soft-looking lips with a faint cupid’s bow, and above them, the most perfect and straight roman nose.

He wondered whether Bonnie was as straight as his nose... or as his posture. Such a beautiful man, and with such carriage. He’d look great on horseback.

“Clyde?” Bonnie stood in front of him now, and his perfect, angled eyebrows drew together in a frown. “I was saying, I’ll show you to your room so you can change.”

Clyde shuddered. The voice matched the features perfectly, a smooth, rich tenor. And the eyes – blue, almost like the sea at Santorini. With his dark hair and sweet features, Bonnie would fit right in.

“Clyde!” Alex jostled him.

“Oh, sorry! I do apologize,” he said with a wan smile. “It’s been a long trip. I must be jet lagged. What is it you want me to do?” Because, for Bonnie, he might consider doing just about anything.

“You’ll need to change into your tuxedo,” Bonnie said patiently, as though he had been repeating himself. “The staff has already taken your luggage into your room.”

“But we all came dressed for the party,” Clyde said with an innocent smile, remembering that his role was to distract Alex by drawing all negative attention to himself. “I wore my best. There ain’t a speck of horse manure on these boots! I polished them special!”

Alex gurgled next to him, but Clyde didn’t turn. His eyes were on Bonnie, whose expression suddenly turned crafty.

“Is that so,” he said. He turned to Joseph. “Dad, the rules say jackets only inside the club, right?”

“That’s right,” Joseph nodded with a regretful expression. Clyde saw him examine him from his awesome, wide leather hat to the leather and conch bollo around his neck, his white shirt and black jacquard vest, down to the pair of amazing leather trousers and shined-up black cowboy boots with real silver decorations on both tips and heels. “I don’t know... is there anything jacket-like you could wear?”

“He’s a guest from afar, Dad,” Bonnie cut in. “And it’s a dumb rule. You’re on the Board, it’s not like you can’t make an exception.”

The look that passed between father and son was laden with long and tangled history. Finally, Joseph nodded. “Very well, son. Come in and we’ll see what we can do for you. Just... I don’t want other members to hassle you because of our dress code. You stick with Bonnie.” He turned to his son. “Bonnie, you show him around. Since you two are dinner partners anyway, so you might as well be his chaperone, too.”


CLYDE could hardly believe his luck. He and Bonaventure were dinner partners.


He schooled his expression into a pleasant smile just to keep it turning into a goofy grin as he rolled the name around his mind. Bonnie led him through the spacious lobby.

Clyde stopped and looked up. There, high up above them, a domed ceiling sat perched over the circular room. It was painted like the ceilings in art history books. A crystal chandelier was suspended as though in midair.

Bonnie paused next to him patiently, wearing a bemused smile. “Whenever you’re ready.”

“Oh, wow. Okay, lead on!”

They passed the reception window, where Bonnie checked him in, and where Clyde suffered the disapproving look of the man who played gate-keeper to what was, obviously, an exclusive establishment. They passed a maid in the hallway. She pushed a cart laden with cleaning supplies.

“Hi, Latisha,” Bonnie said to her with a nod, and she smiled and greeted him back. And so it went as they navigated the long, tall hallways lit by daylight that filtered in through the generous windows from the right. The left wall had doors with room numbers. Clyde saw Bonnie glance at them and walk on. “Your room’s around the corner.”

They turned left into a hallway that was like a cross-roads of a huge warren.

“How big is this place?” Clyde couldn’t help but ask.

“Like a small hotel with lots of activity rooms and a few restaurants, I guess. If you want to play golf or tennis, we can find you something to wear so you don’t stick out like a sore thumb.” Bonnie checked the key number, glanced at the door, and unlocked it. “You get the janitor’s closet, looks like. I figured they’d have put you together with Alex.”

“We, uh...” Clyde was out. Alex was out. He was talking to Julia’s brother, though, and this was a delicate situation. He stalled, undecided.

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