As a member of a wealthy and influential family, Jaime “Jamie” Abello had his life mapped out. Being shipped off to LA with an insurance scam linked to his name was not part of his plan.
It had seemed so simple: pass the Philippines Medical Board Exam; practice in the family-owned and -controlled hospital; join the Board by age forty; and find a partner with whom he could settle down and be himself.
Instead, his father supplies him with a surfeit of money and dangerous secrets and sends him to a strange country.
The Pediatric Residency Program Jamie applies for brings him face to face with untouchable Program Director, Miles Kwon, whom Jamie soon finds to be a man of integrity and vision.
When tragedy strikes, Jamie finds himself falling deeper into depression. Unexpectedly, it’s Miles who helps him work through his pain.
Will Jamie ever experience a life with a loving partner, or will his father's secrets cause him to lose everything he’s gained?
Note: This book was previously published under a different publisher. It has since been extensively revised, expanded and re-edited.
Heat Level: 4
Romantic Content: 4
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Gay
Protagonist 1 Age: 26-35
Protagonist 2 Age: 36-45
Tropes: Age Difference, Interracial Relationship, May/December
Word Count: 33,580
Setting: West Virginia
Languages Available: English
Series Type: Same Universe / Various Characters
I’m lying belly down on the grass, my coffee mug forgotten beside me. I rest my head on my bent right arm and trail my left hand over the water’s surface. Now and then I feel a gentle, tickly suction from the curious koi. I don’t know how long I lie there, thinking about how happy I am, or how very much in love. Growing up, I’d only known the love of one man—my father. He’d been my rock all my life. My survival on this world may have began four years ago, but I finally got to live my life when I met Miles.
Thinking about Miles now, I still can’t believe my luck. I’d never thought a scandal would thrust me into living in a strange country. I’d never thought I would find love here, either.
Four years ago
I lie in my hospital bed, gaping at the nurse. She’d just broken the good news and all I can think about was that I’d made it—the words ringing in my head on an endless loop.
Just the day before, I had anxiously monitored the Medical Board Exam results with some of my school friends. You see, the way they did it here, the major newspapers knew before any of the examinees. They received the official list of board passers directly from the country’s Professional Regulation Commission or PRC. Major newspapers like The Manila Bulletin, The Inquirer, and their equals, all had full-page layouts ready for the first-hour printings. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to read the lengthy list, so I have no idea who among my classmates made it.
A simple case of food poisoning resulting in an embarrassing episode of vomiting and diarrhea landed me with an IV in my hand. I must’ve eaten some bad balut, an exotic native delicacy. I’d been out with a group of school friends the night of the results came out. We’d stopped at a sidewalk vendor, bought some of the boiled fertilized duck eggs straight from the bucket full of hot sand, and enjoyed the unique flavors that blended well with a bottle of ice-cold beer. An hour later, I was rushed to the ER.
My special nurse gave me the good news as she stood by with a pail, ready to catch whatever I needed to throw up. Her presence was just one of the benefits of my living in a cosmopolitan area like Metro Manila and having a family name that’s the same as the hospital’s. A great-grandfather started it all way back before the war. Thanks to the backing of his own father, whose agricultural lands produced sugar cane, he was able to set up his first pharmacy. One soon expanded to two, then three, before going regional and finally national. The other businesses grew from the first.
My father, Jose Manuel, is the current CEO of the Abello Group of Companies, Inc. Our business deals mostly with insurance policies and the import and distribution of medical pharmaceutical supplies. For almost a hundred years, it had been one of the largest family-
controlled companies in the country. His younger brother, Fred, also sits on the hospital board. My two older brothers, Francisco and Arturo, works alongside my father as vice presidents, but they’d been openly challenging him on his decisions for some time. Knowing my father’s dominant personality, I findd it curious he never once corrected them for their insubordination. Neither did he take them up on their obvious challenge to his authority.
Then there is my father’s wife, Margarita. Her family invested in the company when she’d started dating my father. On their marriage, her father gave her a substantial amount of money to buy shares. By the time I was eighteen, she had her own seat on the board.
Yes, my family has that much money going around. Nice, isn’t it? You might think I must be spoiled rotten, and that I go through life and money like there’s no tomorrow. Well, in a way I do, but not really. Truth is, all that money and influence doesn’t make my family well-liked. Respected, yes. Feared, yes. But not liked. It doesn’t help that power struggles and infighting amongst the family members are quite famous. At times, they even made headline news. In addition, like any family, we had skeletons deep in our closets. I am one of those skeletons.
As for all that money? Well, that is the root of all of my troubles.
When my nurse told me the exam results, I choked on my tears. I had worked so hard to get to this point. I had passed! I had made it! This was the best news ever!
Three hours later, my whole world collapsed because of that money.
After that fateful day, I found myself in Los Angeles, standing in the middle of a suite confused and jet lagged. I’d a feeling my father had known something was going down and contacted his former personal assistant to get me this room at the last minute. Then again, maybe he’d bought the tickets before he discovered his wife and sons had betrayed him.
I’d been lost in my thoughts, dressing myself after taking a shower, when the spirited tune of Macarena blared out. I jumped and glared at the brand-new phone I’d thrown on the bed. A glance at the screen revealed the caller was Letty, my father’s former personal assistant.
“Hey, Letty. I’m here,” I’d tried to sound calm. I zipped up my pants and walk shirtless over to the settee by the floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the smoggy horizon. I remember frowning at the dirty view. Whoever had said the pollution levels were at their lowest had been either lying or was in complete denial.
“Hi, Doc,” Letty said, a smile in her voice. “How was your flight? Still nauseous? Did you take your Dramamine?”
“Bad.” Can you tell I complain a lot? “It smelled so bad in that plane. I don’t know what was wrong with their ventilation system, but the body odors got circulated and re-circulated. Yes, I am still nauseous. Yes, I took my pills, Nurse Letty.” Okay, so I sound like a brat. That’s beside the point.
“That’s good. Now let me give you an update. Are you sitting down? This may take some time.”
I sighed and tried to relax into the luxurious settee. “Okay. Shoot.”
Ten minutes later, I was in shock central. More like thunderstruck. I saw spots of red and blue, and before I realized what’s happening, I was hyperventilating. Damned panic attacks.
Letty continued to speak, oblivious to my distress. “So, all you need to do is rest for a day or two after your appointment with the bank this afternoon. Local time. Your documents are
all currently being processed for the status changes. Expect to get notifications in your email about your USMLE schedules soon. I trust you to pass them, so I can follow up the rest for you.” I can hear her tapping on a keyboard. “Your father says you shouldn’t worry about expenses. He opened a bank account in Los Angeles back in 2008 when you were there with him for the Medical Expo. The money is more than enough to allow you to live quietly for the rest of your life. That is, if you don’t follow your older brother’s fancy for casinos and women.”
Letty’s mind works very fast. If my attention diverted for even a minute, I would lose track of what she is saying. It’s a good thing I’m used to her abrupt, matter-of-fact style—as well as her habit of speaking two thousand words per minute.
“I know that. I was with him when he opened the account,” I said, massaging my chest to calm my nerves. I mentally counted to ten and then back down again, listening with half an ear to whatever else Letty has to tell me.
“What he didn’t tell you is that yours is the only signature required on that account. You can sign without your father’s presence or leave. As for the businesses he set up, Margarita knows nothing about the R.M.C.K. Group of Companies. It was all hush-hush. The American partners had signed memorandums of agreement before you were even born, so she has absolutely no knowledge of it. Your name is the only one your father added to the MOAs, as he wanted you to get the chance you deserve.”
That last bit of information leaves me speechless. I had no idea my father had taken all these precautions. A throbbing pain deep between my eyes begins at the thought of what he has done to make all this possible. My heart aches as I realize what he has given up to get me out of the country and settled in another.
“But how could he do that? He can’t exclude my brothers or Margarita as heirs to those companies.” Our family laws are very precise. Heirs are those of blood. Not the chosen like in other countries. Not unless something extraordinary happens, and that would be stretching it too far.
“Yes he could, and he did. He used the money and assets your maternal grandfather set aside for you. Margarita and your brothers are not connected to those in any way. It’s all yours.”
I let out a long breath and rub my aching temples. I felt so tired. Unbeknownst to me until ten years ago, my maternal grandfather left everything in my name after his daughter, Anna Caño, died. I had loved that old man but never really formed a close relationship with him. Margarita made sure to prevent anything developing between us.
“Margarita doesn’t know of the existence of the bank account. Nor does she have any idea how involved it is in the R.M.C.K.,” Letty continues, her curt, no-nonsense tone making me sit up straighter on the sofa. “I quietly transferred the monies whenever your father instructed me to. He swore me to secrecy, and you know I can’t stand anyone in your family except for you and your dad, so it was an easy decision.”
I shook my head. “This is unbelievable. How did Dad do all this without Margarita finding out?”
“Open your documents bag and read the folders with the bank’s and R.M.C.K. Group of Companies headings. All the details should be in them.” Letty ignored my question, oblivious to my inner confusion.
Heart heavy, head aching, I stood and reached for the document bag. Sorting through the endless folders packed within it, I located the two Letty had mentioned. I opened them and scanned the contents. My mouth dropped when I saw that, indeed, there was only one name on both the bank account and the company. Not my dad’s. Mine. And the amount involved...
“Why?” I asked, putting down the folders. My heart raced and I ran trembling fingers through my hair. What had my father done?
“He knew what was going on, even if he pretended he didn’t. As far back as 2005, he already suspected what Margarita and your brothers were doing. He simply bided his time until you graduated from medical school.
“He wanted you to gain confidence by first passing the exams here before sending you off. All this he designed so Margarita and your brothers would never be able to lay their hands on what was left of your family’s company. He knew that when he was gone, Margarita would make sure only your brothers had a stake in the business. She doesn't know about your adoption and recognition, and even if she does, she'll refuse to acknowledge you’re an Abello.” Letty sighs, sounding just as tired as I am.
“Your father knew she wanted to control the shares with your brothers. Well, he gave her that pleasure by resigning and turning full control over to them. By doing this, he gives her what she wanted all along, but you get yours as well. She does not have control of the monies in your name, the properties you inherited from your maternal grandfather and real mother, nor the investments, businesses, and companies there in the States. Those are all yours. Before your father left for Morocco, he sent me an email instructing me to expedite the plan he and I had prepared when he first found out about Margarita’s betrayal. That was right after your grandfather died.”
“He could have fought back. He could have regained control. He could have just not left her to do what she did.” It was a fucking nightmare. I only wanted to be a doctor. Was that so hard to understand? I had to admit that I liked money, and what it could do for me. Who doesn’t? But I didn’t thought it would happen that way.
“Look, Jamie.” The puff of air as she said my name clued me in to her growing frustration. That was never a good sign. “Your father knew he was being played for a fool, but he sacrificed everything for you. When Margarita refused to look at you when he brought you home after you were born, he knew she resented your birth and his relationship with a woman she considered lower in social status. He never expected it would escalate to such hatred, but he did love your mother, and her death destroyed him. So he transferred all his love for her over to you.”
Letty’s words triggered memories of Margarita and my father shouting at each other. She’d accused him of no longer loving his legitimate sons—only me. I hadn’t understood what they were talking about; I was only four or five at the time. I remember my father turning from her tears and going down the stairs, only to stop when he saw me in the foyer, clutching my battered wooden toy car. He looked down at me tenderly before picking me up and asking if I wanted a ride. I nodded, and we went to a mall to eat ice cream.
“When he suspected you were gay, he dared not discuss it with anyone. He protected you. He even had bodyguards follow you around. When you decided you wanted nothing to do with the company because you said you wished to be a doctor, he encouraged you. He loves you, and he risked his name and reputation for you. The only thing I don’t agree with is his
treatment of your older brothers, and honestly, I don’t blame them for choosing their mother over him. Now you are safe and he is finally away. You have the money and the businesses there.” Her voice has deepened, warning me of the seriousness of the situation.
Letty gave me the opportunity to speak, but I had nothing to say, too overwhelmed by her revelations.
“It is now your job—no, your duty—to do what you need to do. Stick to the plan. You have the documents. Keep them in a safe place. Go to the bank; they will give you an envelope with a set of instructions on how to wire the money to Virginia. Follow the instructions to the letter. Once that’s done, go to sleep. You need to rest before your move. The limousine will be there in five hours. Use the time between now and then wisely.”
“All right. I will.” I sighed tiredly into the phone. “But, Letty... I never asked for this. I never planned this. I don’t even like LA!” I know I sound like a petulant child, but please, I’m done in. Give me a break.
“I know. But that’s beside the point!” I heard the impatience in her voice. “You do what your father told you to do. I am here to guide you through the process. Once he’s ready, your father will join you wherever you choose to settle.” Thankfully, Letty’s voice had turned from aggravated to reassuring. I held on to that, knowing she was right. As always. I just hoped nothing gets in the way of her and my father’s plans.
“How about the other partners? What do they say about this? My being here and all.”
“They were all briefed by your father before he left for Morocco.”
“They don’t expect me to show up, do they? To the board meetings?” Even if I had practically grown up in my father’s offices, listening in on his conference calls and attending a few meetings either with him or to represent him, the conglomerate life had never appealed to me.
“Your father maintains his hold over your shares, so you don’t have to worry about that. In case your signature is required, the necessary documents can always be sent via email for you to sign electronically.”
I groaned. “Good. You know how I hate having to talk business. I can’t stand the pressure.”
Letty’s full-bellied laughter made me squirm. She always had that effect on me, making me feel inadequate.
“You can’t stand the pressure? Being a doctor is not demanding?”
“That’s different. What my father and brothers do day-in and day-out takes a lot out of your soul. Being a doctor is totally different.”
“I know what you mean, Jamie. You are a nurturer; you feel and you care. You would never survive in the world your father loves, craves.”
“It’s also safer, Letty. I won’t have to make financial decisions. Dealing with numbers, that’s not my thing.”
“I know, Jamie. This is me, remember? I must warn you, though, should anything happen to your father, you would have to face up to the responsibilities of running the companies.”
I nodded before I realized she couldn’t see me. “I’ll deal with that when the time comes. Though I hope it doesn’t for a long, long time.”
“You should always remember your grandfather’s caution, too, Jamie,” she continued. “Blood is thicker than water, but money is a very different thing. Margarita and your
brothers, they don’t think your blood should even be related to theirs, but they do want your money.” With that, she ended the call.
Her final words sent fear coursing through my body. It numbed and scared me. She’d quoted my maternal grandfather and father’s favorite warning there, at the end. They’d spoken those words to me repeatedly, almost like brainwashing, since as far back as I can remember.
When I’d been little, I’d thought the words of warning sounded cool. It was only at that moment when I finally realized how true and applicable those words actually were.
I remember sitting on the sofa, staring at nothing. Ahead of me was the so-called clean view of the Los Angeles skyline. I couldn’t really think about anything except trying to pick up the pieces of what was now my life. God, I had only been twenty-four at that time. I should have been out enjoying my freedom. But there I was, in hiding, and although I had money, I couldn’t trust anyone to know I had it. I had never been spoiled as a child—far from it—but I’d been used to being free to do whatever I’d wished and got whatever I wanted… as long as I stayed off Margarita’s radar. I felt trapped and scared. How I got here had been through no fault of mine. I realized my birth was the trigger that had driven Margarita to vindictiveness. I was the product of a love affair and had no say in being born. Somehow, that thought made me more depressed than I already was. I shook my head, tried to clear it of the funk it had sunk into. I had no time for depression, especially knowing that I had to face my new life in this country, alone. Without my father beside me. Without anyone to hold my hand.
How long I sat there, I have no idea. When the house phone rang, I automatically picked up the handset. It was the concierge, who informed me that my limo had arrived. I glanced at the digital display on the handset which indicated that it was one o’clock in the afternoon. Five hours had passed and I had no idea how. Worse, I had no idea where life in a strange country would lead me.
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