Here I Am (Arabesque) - By Rochelle Alers

Chapter 1

Brandt Wainwright gritted his teeth. It was as if he had ten thumbs instead of two. He had tried three times before, but he was unable to secure the striped, silk tie into a Windsor knot.

He’d given up wearing ties, or as he called them, corporate nooses, the day after he was drafted by the NFL. That was more than ten years ago. Now, as his cousin’s best man in a wedding that was certain to make the Vows section of the Sunday New York Times, he’d agreed to wear a tuxedo.

He wasn’t completely surprised when his cousin had asked him to be his best man, but what had shocked him was Jordan Wainwright’s announcement that he’d planned to marry Aziza Fleming. Brandt had introduced the two of them at the New Year’s Eve party he’d hosted earlier that year. Seven months later, and in less than half an hour, they would become husband and wife.

Brandt ran a hand over the back of his neck. He felt practically naked having cut his hair, which usually covered the nape of his neck. He hadn’t wanted to, since like many athletes he was superstitious about things like that. But then again, he had to when Jordan asked him to get a haircut like the other groomsmen in the wedding—his brothers, Noah and Rhett, and Jordan’s law partner, Kyle Chatham.

If it had been anyone else, Brandt would’ve told them exactly where they could go and what they could do in the most colorful language imaginable. He was used to that kind of language in the locker room, on the gridiron and on occasion at family gatherings, much to the chagrin of his straitlaced mother. Brandt usually didn’t make New Year’s resolutions, but this year he’d made a promise to himself to watch his language.

Two quick taps on the door caught his attention. Turning, Brandt smiled as Jordan Wainwright leaned against the doorframe in one of the guest suites in the landmark Fifth Avenue mansion. After a raucous Vegas-style bachelor party at Brandt’s penthouse, the groomsmen managed to clean up well enough to attend the rehearsal and the dinner that followed in the magnificent four-story greystone mansion where Jordan had grown up with his brothers and sister. Instead of returning to his place, Brandt had spent the night in one of the guest suites to ensure he would make it to the wedding on time.

Brandt’s pearly white teeth were a stark contrast to his deeply tanned face. He smiled at Jordan, who wore a pair of dress trousers, black patent leather oxfords, a white tuxedo shirt and a platinum-hued silk tie. Jordan’s looks were dark and dramatic. His raven hair, hazel eyes and olive complexion made him stand out among the Wainwrights, who were mostly blond and fair-skinned.

“I came to see if you needed help with your tie.”

Brandt frowned. “You’ve got jokes?” The question was laced with sarcasm. “You should’ve had a beach wedding so we wouldn’t have to wear tuxedos, ties or shoes.”

“You can have a destination wedding once you decide to stop chasing skirts,” Jordan replied, with a smile.

Brandt’s frown deepened. “For your information, I only chase skirts during the off-season. Did you come to check on my Windsor knot–tying skills, or are you getting cold feet?”

Jordan folded his arms over his chest and shook his head. “Not even close. My mother would have a minor breakdown if I didn’t go through with this wedding. Initially, she wanted to invite three to four hundred people from my side of the family, but Aziza was adamant. She told her no more than one hundred fifty. After all, it is her wedding.”

“Which mother?” Brandt asked. The question was out before he had chance to think about it. “I’m sorry about that.”

Jordan waved a hand. “Don’t apologize, Brandt.”

It wasn’t until he’d announced his engagement to Aziza that Jordan decided to put the skeletons from his past to rest. It had taken thirty-three years for him to finally meet his birth mother.

Jordan walked into the bedroom and sat on the tufted bench at the foot of the bed.

“Christiane is leading the way, and Diane is hot on her heels,” Jordan admitted.

A decades-old feud ended when Jordan brokered a real-estate deal in which the Wainwright Developers Group and RLH Realty had formed a fragile partnership, resulting in the companies agreeing to jointly own and manage four properties in Harlem. Once the deal was finalized, Wyatt Wainwright, the family patriarch, had summoned anyone with a drop of Wainwright