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Authors: Rochelle Alers

Because of You

BOOK: Because of You
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BECAUSE
OF
YOU
ROCHELLE ALERS
BECAUSE OF YOU

Dear Reader,

When readers are asked why they read romance, the reason I hear most often is the family-themed miniseries. I've created a few over the years: the Coles, the Blackstones, the Whitfields and the Eatons. But now there is a new family waiting to take center stage—the Wainwrights.

Romance readers first met Jordan Wainwright in
Man of Fate
from The Best Men series, and got another glimpse of him in the online read
Man of Fame.

When I introduced Jordan Wainwright in
Man of Fate,
I wanted to know why a man born of privilege would walk away from his family's real estate empire and a prize position with a prestigious New York City law firm to champion the
little guy
in a community undergoing gentrification. These questions are answered in
Because of You,
when family secrets surface and rivals must face the truth before it destroys everything they have worked for.

In
Because of You
we see a very different Jordan, who works hard, plays hard and loves even harder. He is a man who is used to getting what he wants, and when he meets Aziza Fleming, he knows he must have her. Set against the backdrop of the fast-paced, glamorous and edgy chic of Manhattan, the sizzling passion between Jordan and Aziza promises forever.

Look for the Wainwright Legacy to continue with Super Bowl champion quarterback Brandt Wainwright in
Here I Am,
in early 2011.

Yours in romance,

Rochelle Alers

So she caught him, and kissed him, and with an impudent face said to him, I have peace offerings with me; this day have I paid my vows. Therefore I came forth to meet thee, diligently to seek thy face, and I have found thee.

—
Proverbs
7:13–15

Prologue

“M
r. Humphries?”

Raymond Humphries opened his eyes but didn't bother to turn around when he heard his personal secretary's voice. A hint of a smile tilted the corners of his mouth. Minerva Jackson, or Min, as he affectionately referred to her whenever they weren't in the presence of others, was the love of his life
and
the keeper of all his business and a few personal secrets.

“What is it, Minerva?”

“Mr. Ennis is here to see you.”

Raymond swiveled in the leather executive chair. The same supple leather also covered the love seat, sofa and chairs next to the mahogany table in an alcove he used for small, intimate meetings. A larger conference room was set up on the first floor of the town house that housed the offices of RLH Realty, Ltd. The three-story structure was one of nearly a hundred buildings RLH owned and
managed throughout Harlem. A reporter had dubbed him the “Emperor of Harlem Real Estate,” a sobriquet Raymond modestly accepted.

His large, penetrating dark eyes met a light brown pair that changed color with her mercurial moods. And lately Min's moods had veered from syrupy sweet to unbridled rage. Maybe, Raymond thought, it was time he let her go—with a generous severance package of course. He would continue to spend time with her, but only away from the office.

“Send him in. And hold my calls.”

Minerva's full lips parted when she stared at her boss. Raymond Humphries was only her boss at the office. In the bedroom she was boss. He was rapidly approaching his seventy-fifth birthday, yet he looked twenty years younger. His wasn't tall, only an inch above her five-eight height, but his slim physique and ramrod-straight posture gave him the appearance of being much taller. His personal barber cut his graying hair to camouflage the thinning strands on the crown, and Raymond had a standing weekly appointment for a full body massage and a monthly European facial; the features he'd inherited from his beautiful mother made him almost too pretty for a man. His skin, the color of polished rosewood, was clear and virtually wrinkle-free. The exception were the lines around his eyes when he smiled.

He was the only man she'd known who, once he had begun a regimen, he didn't vary from it. The year he'd celebrated his sixtieth birthday, he'd begun tennis lessons. Raymond had quickly become addicted to the game, installing an indoor court on the lower level of the brownstone. Minerva cursed the times when he left her bed before dawn to go into the office to practice with his coach.

“But Mrs. Humphries said she will call you back at ten.”

“Tell her I'll call her back.” That said, Raymond swiveled again, rudely and unceremoniously dismissing his secretary.

“If you say so,” Minerva drawled sarcastically.

“Get out, Minerva!”

The fastidiously dressed middle-aged woman with a flawless café au lait complexion and stylishly coiffed, chemically straightened hair turned on her heels and stomped out of the office of the man who in the past month had changed in front of her eyes like a snake shedding its skin. Even after a snake shed his skin for a new one he'd still retain the behavior of a reptile. However, it wasn't the same with Raymond Humphries. He may have looked the same, but Raymond had changed. Most of the time he was curt to the point of rudeness, short-tempered and exceedingly condescending. Perhaps, she mused, it was time to move on—to get another job.

Affecting a professional smile, she walked into the reception area. “Mr. Ennis, please follow me.” She escorted the man into her boss's office. The first time she'd met the man, she'd stood several feet away from him, fearing he would smell. Yet upon closer inspection she had discovered he was clean—it was just his scraggily beard, matted hair and rumpled clothes that reminded her of the homeless man who sat on a wooden box outside a corner store near her subway station.

Donald Ennis pulled back his shoulders in an attempt to appear taller than his five-six stature. “Thank you,” he mumbled, giving the uptight, prissy woman a sidelong glance.

He knew she didn't like him, and the feeling was mutual. Each time he came to see Raymond Humphries
she turned her nose up at him as if he were offal. What Minerva Jackson didn't know was his unkempt appearance was a foil, a carefully scripted persona for his profession. She didn't sign his checks, so he couldn't care less what she thought of him.

Raymond was up on his feet, hand extended, when Donald walked into his office, closing the door softly behind him. “Good morning, Ennis.” He shook his hand, then indicated a chair at the conference table. “Please sit down.”

Donald sat while Raymond stood close by, no doubt watching for his reaction when he stared at the half-dozen black-and-white photographs, some shot with a long-range lens. “What do you want?”

“Do you know who he is?” Raymond asked, answering the question with a question.

“Who doesn't?” It was another question. It was a game the two men played, matching wits. “Only someone dead or living under the proverbial rock wouldn't recognize Harlem's hottest slick-talking shyster lawyer.”

Raymond sat, tapping one of the photographers with his finger. “Slick-talking—yes. Shyster—hell, no. This young boy knows his stuff.”

Donald flashed a rare smile. “He's smart
and
ballsy. He proved that when he called out his grandpappy for being a slumlord all the while television cameras were rolling.”

Raymond nodded. “It was a risky move, but fortunately for him it worked. Next month my son-in-law will announce he's challenging Billy Edwards for his state assembly seat and I don't want anything to jeopardize that.”

Robert Andrews, married to Raymond's daughter Diane, was CFO of RLH Realty.

“What does his election bid have to do with Jordan Wainwright?” Donald asked.

“There's more to Wainwright becoming partner in a Harlem law firm than his reputation for helping the so-called little guy. I believe he staged that televised press conference to embarrass his grandfather, because Wyatt Wainwright is using his grandson as a pawn.” Raymond held up his hand. “And before you ask me for what, I'll tell you. It isn't enough that Wainwright Developers Group owns most of the prime real estate on the Upper East and West Side, SoHo, Chelsea and Tribeca. Now they've set their sights on Harlem. I don't know how they did it, but they've managed to buy the buildings on one-fourteen right from under our noses. I don't want Robert embroiled in a real estate war where the fallout could be his losing the election.”

“So, you think the grandson is slumming in Harlem to identify potential parcels for his grandfather?”

“I know he is,” Raymond confirmed. “I want you to use all your resources to keep tabs on Jordan Wainwright 24/7. I want you to report back to me where he goes and who he meets until after the election.”

Donald nodded. “Does he live in Harlem?”

“No. He has a duplex on Fifth Avenue, facing Central Park.”

A beat passed. “That means paying off the doormen. And that's—”

“Don't worry about the money,” Raymond interrupted, visibly annoyed with the private investigator. “Just do what I pay you to do. If Robert is able to run a campaign free of scandal and goes on to win the election, then maybe you'll get that apartment in the building you so badly want as a bonus.”

Donald schooled his expression to not reveal the rush of
excitement that made him want to jump for joy. He'd made it known to Raymond that he was saving money in order to purchase an apartment in one of his renovated buildings overlooking the East River. The real estate mogul paid him well whenever he had him investigate something or someone, but the jobs had not come as frequently as they had in the past. He would give Raymond Humphries what he wanted, and then in turn Donald Ennis would give his oversexed, young girlfriend what she wanted: an apartment in Manhattan with a view of the river.

Raymond stood up, Donald rising with him. “Ms. Jackson will give you the envelope with all the data you'll need on Jordan Wainwright. Next year this time I intend to throw a blowout of a victory celebration for my daughter's husband. Please don't disappoint me, Ennis. Leave the photos,” he said when Ennis gathered them off the table. “There's an extra set in the envelope.” The P.I. knew whenever he picked up an envelope it was sealed with his illegible signature scrawled over the flap—a signature impossible to forge.

He was still standing, staring at the space where the P.I. had been, when Minerva entered his office closing the door and the distance between them. A sensual moue parted her lips. “What are you up to, Slick?”

Raymond froze. It'd been a long time since anyone had called him by his childhood nickname. All the kids from the neighborhood had called him Slick until he married Loretta Clarke. Then, he'd become Mr. Humphries.

Running a finger under Min's jawbone, he gazed into her beautiful eyes. They were now a dark green. “Go home, put on something real sexy and we'll have lunch in bed.”

“Are you trying to distract me, Ray?”

He frowned. “What are you talking about?”

“What's the connection between you, that nasty-looking little man and Jordan Wainwright?”

Raymond lowered his hand. “Some time when you cross the line I usually let it go. This time I'm not. Don't ever mention Jordan Wainwright's name to me again.”

“Or you'll what?” Minerva crooned, her mouth inches from her boss's.

“I'll step on you like a bug.”

It took a full minute before she realized the man she'd loved without question was serious. She took a backward step, swallowed the acerbic words burning her tongue and turned on her heels. “I think I'm going to work through lunch and then go home—
alone.

“I really don't care,
Miss Jackson,
” he flung at her retreating back. “You can stay, or go home for good. Frankly, I don't give a damn one way or the other. And if you slam the door you're fired!” The door closed with a barely perceptible click.

When he'd begun sleeping with Minerva Jackson, Raymond knew he had to be careful not to divulge too much during pillow talk. He'd never mentioned Jordan Wainwright to Min and had no intention of ever discussing him with her. There were some topics that were taboo, and Wyatt Wainwright's grandson was categorically off-limits when it came to his mistress.

Jordan Wainwright was his
and
his wife's business.

BOOK: Because of You
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