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Kyle Chatham downshifted, maneuvering into an E-ZPass lane on the Robert F. Kennedy Triborough Bridge. Several cars ahead of him, traffic came to a standstill as a car stalled at the toll booth, eliciting a cacophony of horns and profanity-laced invectives from other motorists on the toll plaza.
A smile spread across Kyle's lips as he listened to the bawdy comments and watched as drivers flipped each other the bird. This was his city and he'd expected no less from New Yorkers. His motto when it came to his hometown was Either Love It or Leave It. His relatives from down South couldn't understand how he could live in a place that was so noisy and filled with throngs trying to navigate through crowded sidewalks and city streets. Even the brusque and sometimes rude manners of New Yorkerswho usually go about their business without even making eye contact or greeting others with a polite "good mornin'" or "evenin'"takes some getting used to. He had lost track of the number of times he had to explain to visitors that New Yorkers didn't have time to dawdle or chitchat because they would never get where they were going. One thing he couldn't explain was the colorful language peppered with four-letter words that was uniquely a part of New York.
Kyle loved the city, and if someone offered him tens of millions of tax-free dollars to move, he would turn them down without batting an eyelash. He was Harlemborn and raisedand at thirty-eight years old, he still lived there.
There had been a time when he'd worked an average of eighty hours a week for a prestigious New York law firm handling high-profile cases ranging from corporate fraud to capital murder before he realized he was dangerously close to being burned out. He'd given Trilling, Carlyle and Browneaffectionately nicknamed TCB for "taking care of business"ten years of his life, but had finally decided that if he had to work that hard, then it would be for Kyle Elwin Chatham.
Although he'd spent hours in his Park Avenue office overlooking the Waldorf Astoria and Grand Central Station, Kyle still found time to unwind with a very active social life. He dated, had a few long-term relationships and always set aside time to hang out with his closest friends, Duncan Gilmore and Ivan Campbell. The three had grown up together in the same public housing complex and they'd never lost touch with each other.
Faced with the most important decision he'd had to make, he tendered his resignation and spent the entire summer in Sag Harbor, Long Island, at a bed and breakfast, lying on the beach during the day and partying at night.
A fling with a local divorcée capped off what had become quite a memorable summer. He'd returned to his Harlem brownstone reinvigorated and ready to start practicing law againthis time for himself.
A year ago, he'd contacted Duncan and Ivan, offering to go in with them on the purchase of the brownstone. They planned to renovate the building and use it as professional office space for Kyle's law practice, Duncan's financial-planning services and Ivan's psychotherapy practice. Eight months later they toasted one another with champagne after the brass plate bearing their names and titles were affixed to the front of the three-story brownstone in Harlem's Mount Morris Historic District.
Traffic in his lane had come to a complete standstill. Either someone was in the wrong lane, had engine trouble or had run out of gas. Kyle reached over and pushed the volume button on the dashboard of his sports car and started singing at the top of his lungs. Not only did he know the lyrics to every Stevie Wonder song, but he also did a very good imitation of the blind singer-songwriter.
"Sing it, gorgeous!" a woman called out from the open window of a sport utility vehicle in the next lane.
Nodding, Kyle winked at her as he continued to sing. "Superwoman" and "Living for the City" were his favorites. His musical taste was eclectic, running the gamut from blues and classic jazz to R&B, and he had to thank his father and uncles for that. Every time there was a family gathering, the Chatham men engaged in their favorite pastime: comparing the latest additions to their growing music libraries.
Kyle had surprised his father one Christmas with an MP3 player with selections he had converted from his father's record collection and cassettes. Elwin Chatham a highly decorated Vietnam vetsat stunned as his eyes filled with tears after he plugged the MP3 player into a tuner to hear the music of his youth.
The honking increased as Kyle glanced up at the rearview mirror to gauge if he had enough room to maneuver around the vehicle in front of him to get into another lane. It took a full three minutes before he was able to make it through another toll booth and onto the roadway that would take him into Manhattan.
It was a warm Saturday night in June and the sidewalks and roadways in East Harlem were as crowded as if it were Monday-morning rush hour. Neither the bumper-to-bumper crosstown traffic nor the pedestrians ambling across the wide avenues, oblivious to the traffic lights, could dispel Kyle's good mood. He'd spent the evening in Mount Vernon, a guest at the wedding of Micah and Tessa Whitfield-Sanborn.
As a graduate of Brooklyn Law School, Kyle had been a mentor to NYPD Lieutenant Micah Sanborn when he attended law school as a part-time student. Micah had graduated at the top of his class, passed the bar on his first attempt and went on to work as a Kings County assistant district attorney. Kyle had offered Micah a position in his private practice, but the former police officer declined, saying he didn't have the temperament to work in the private sector.
No one was more surprised than Kyle when he received the wedding invitation, since Micah never seemed to be serious about any woman, certainly nothing that would lead to marriage. But when he was introduced to Tessa Whitfield he knew why Micah was marrying the wedding planner. Tessa was intelligent, elegant and stunningly beautiful.
Tessa had everything Kyle was looking for in the women he'd dated over the years. As a teenager and in his early twenties, it had been sex. But as he matured he realized sex was only one aspect of a satisfying relationship. It was important, but not as important as communicating with each other out of bed.
He never took a date with him to a wedding because he didn't want to send the wrong message. He wasn't anti-marriage or commitment-phobic. It was just that he hadn't found that certain someone, a woman who complemented him.
Kyle was ambitious, generous and fun-loving, but he was also moody, possessive and, at times, irritable and tactless. He was waiting for the time when he'd be able to balance his career and personal life, and he was close to achieving that.
Thankfully there was no pressure to have grandchildren. Between his younger sister and brother, Elwin and Frances Chatham had two grandsons and two granddaughters. Life was good, and he intended to enjoy it to the fullest.
Ava Warrick didn't know what else could go wrong. Her week had begun badly when she'd overslept something she rarely did. She'd missed an important meeting with the mental health agency's medical director, and now it was her weekend to be on-call and she'd gotten a call from a social worker at Harlem Hospital that one of her clients had been admitted to their psychiatric unit.
"Don't you dare stop!" she screamed at the driver in the convertible sports car in front of her own. He'd slowed within seconds of the light changing from green to yellow. "Dammit!" Ava hissed between clenched teeth.
Her attempt to go around the two-seater was thwarted when a Cadillac Escalade came out of nowhere and she was forced to hit the brakes, but not soon enough to avoid slamming into the rear of the sports car. The driver's-side air bag in her car deployed and she sat dazed and unable to see beyond the fabric pressed against her face.
Kyle put his Jaguar in Park, shut off the engine and got out. It wasn't often that he took the antique convertible out of the garage except when he had to travel outside the city, but he knew without looking that it had sustained some rear-end damage. He'd invested a lot of money in the Jaguar XKE with ground-up restoration. His skilled mechanic had installed a new tan-leather interior, totally rebuilt the engine and outfitted it with new Dayton Wire Wheels.
The car's body gleamed with a new coat of sapphire-blue paint, making it better than it was the day it was built. He'd lost count of the times people had offered to buy the convertible from him, but Kyle had waited too long for a vehicle that suited his temperament and lifestyle to turn around and sell it.
He approached the driver's-side window of the car that had hit him and found a woman, her face pressed against the air bag. His concern for his vehicle shifted to the driver. "Are you all right?"
"Open the door," came her muffled reply.
Kyle pulled on the door handle, stepping back when the driver managed to slip from behind the wheel unassisted. The young woman swayed slightly but righted herself before he could reach out to steady her.
"Do you have any idea how fast you were going?" he asked.
Ava pressed her back to the door of her brand-new Maxima. She hadn't had the car a week, and now she was in an accident. She'd driven her last car, a twelve-year-old Maxima with more than one hundred thousand miles on it, into the ground without a single mishap.
Within seconds the pain in her head was replaced by a blinding rage that made it almost impossible for her to speak. "I
I know how fast I was going. You were the one slowing down to a crawl at least twenty feet before the light changed. If you can't drive on city streets, then you should keep the hell off the road."
Kyle's eyes widened as he glared at the woman who seemed to blame him for causing the accident. "Hel-lo, you were the one who hit me, not the other way around."
"I wouldn't have hit you if you didn't drive like" Her words stopped when she felt a rush of bile in the back of her throat.
"Yo, man, I saw the whole thing. If you need a witness, then I'm it."
Kyle turned to find an emaciated-looking man holding up the front of his pants with one hand while he'd extended the other, seemingly for a handout. "Beat it!"
The panhandler lowered his hand. "Damn, brother, there's no need to go mad hard. I'm just trying to help out."
"Help out somewhere else." Walking back to his car, Kyle surveyed the damage. Except for a dent in the fender, his vehicle hadn't sustained any serious damage. But the right side of the Maxima's front bumper rested on the roadway. Reaching for the cell phone in the breast pocket of his shirt, he dialed two numbers: one to report the accident to the police and the other to his mechanic.
Ava's gaze narrowed when she stared as the tall, slender man approached her. "I'll pay for the damage to your car."
"It's too late, miss. I just called the police."
"Why the hell did you do that?"
"Miss Warrick," Ava said. "It's Ava Warrick. And as I said, I would've paid out-of-pocket for the damage to your car."
Kyle lifted his eyebrows. "What about your car? It has a lot more damage than mine."
"I have a friend who owns a body shop," she said.
"You should've said that before I made the phone call."
"You didn't tell me you were going to call the police," Ava countered.
"That's because I didn't have to," Kyle retorted nastily. "After all, you did hit my car."
Ava knew she wasn't going to be able to drive her vehicle. She rounded the car, opened the passenger-side door, reached into the glove compartment for the vehicle's registration and insurance information and sat down to wait for New York's finest. She didn't know if the pain in her head was anxiety from the accident or the impact of the air bag.
"Where's your friend's shop?"
Her head came up, and she found herself staring up into the dark face of the most handsome man she'd seen in years. To say he was tall, dark and handsome was an understatement. He claimed an angular face with high, chiseled cheekbones. There wasn't enough light to discern the color of his deep-set, slanting eyes. He had a strong nose with slightly flared nostrils and a firm mouth with a full lower lip. Her gaze moved from his square chin up to his close-cropped hair and reversed itself to wander slowly down the front of a crisp white shirt with French cuffs and a pair of tailored trousers and imported leather footwear.
"It's in Flatbush."
"Start dialing, Miss Warrick, because Flatbush is not around the corner." Kyle hoped her friend would come from Brooklyn before they were able to settle the accident report. Otherwise, she might become another police statistic if some criminal decided to rip her off despite the neighborhood's rapid gentrification.
Moving as if she were in a trance, Ava searched into her cavernous leather bag for her cell phone. She scrolled through the directory for her friend's number, but before she could depress the button her vision blurred. Then without warning everything faded to black.
Kyle reacted quickly as Ava slumped against the leather seat. Reaching over, he righted her, but her body was as limp as an overcooked noodle. Her car had collided with his, yet he hadn't thought about whether she had injured herself.