The Rule of Always

Kennedy Ryan

Every single day for an entire semester of college at NYU, Callista Garcia wanted Dr. Israel Hammond, renowned writer and activist. But he was a professor and she was his TA, he was also 15 years older. But now it’s 5 years later, both are back in NY and neither have forgotten about the stolen kiss they shared all those years ago…

Age Rating: 18+

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The Rule of Always - Book cover

The Rule of Always

Kennedy Ryan

Every single day for an entire semester of college at NYU, Callista Garcia wanted Dr. Israel Hammond, renowned writer and activist. But he was a professor and she was his TA, he was also 15 years older. But now it’s 5 years later, both are back in NY and neither have forgotten about the stolen kiss they shared all those years ago…

Age Rating: 18+

1: Chapter One


It’s the worst time to lose my train of thought.

Shit. Around two hundred people crowd the Rare Book Room of New York’s Strand Book Store.

All eyes on me, but my eyes lock with hers, and the thoughts hiccup in my head. Dark eyes, that much more arresting because of their intelligence. Knowing eyes.

Had the person seated in front of her not bent and shifted, I might never have known Callista Garcia came tonight.

“Um, what I think Dr. Hammond was trying to say,” Marlon “Grip” James offers in my trail of silence while I stare back at Callie.

“Is that when we decided to write this book, we both approached it like a love letter to hip-hop and some of our heroes.”

He angles a pointed look at me asking if my head is in this game.

“Certainly.” I clear my throat and adjust my glasses. “Grip’s exactly right. For the Culture examines the intersection of activism and hip-hop.

And we say hip-hop, but there is a rich tradition of marginalized musicians leveraging their platforms to speak out and shine light on issues that are uniquely ours through music that is uniquely ours, but reaches everyone.”

“Agreed,” Grip chimes back in. “I named my daughter Nina in honor of Nina Simone, who said an artist’s duty is to reflect the times. As a musician, I count myself lucky to follow in footsteps like hers.”

“And on that note,” the moderator interjects, apologetic in her voice. “We have to end our time. Dr. Hammond, Grip, thank you so much for being in conversation here at the Strand tonight.

They’ll both be available to sign books after. Thank you for coming.”

“What was that?” Grip murmurs, setting his handheld mic down on the small table between our leather seats. “Where’d you go there at the end?”

He and I have found a rhythm on this tour. When discussing this book, music, activism—all of it—we can practically finish each other’s sentences now. That came in handy tonight.

I make sure my mic is off and lay it down beside his. “I got distracted. Thanks for stepping in.”

“You know I always got your back.”

A sly grin takes over the face I grudgingly admit is handsome as he glances over my shoulder. “I was about to ask what distracted you, but I think my answer is headed our way now.”

I turn to see Callie picking her way through the knot of people preparing for the signing. The staff asked attendees not to come up right after, but to give us time to settle at the tables and save their comments for the line.

Callie, of course, is not the general pop. The semester I taught at NYU, she was my teacher’s assistant and Grip was my student.

In the five years since, she has occasionally volunteered with some of the tours and community programs Grip and I sponsor. We have history, the three of us.

She is one of the few people who, in a room with Grip and me, always seems to be looking at me. She’s a fan of Grip’s music.

Even has a tattoo of one of his lyrics, but as she approaches us, she’s not looking at him. Her warily defiant gaze fixes on me.

“I’ve never seen a man so determined to deny himself exactly what he wants when it’s offered to him on a platter,” Grip says. “But hey, your blue balls, not mine.”

“Don’t start. You don’t know shit.”“Not only do I know.” He slants me a cocky grin. “But so does ~she~, and you hate it.

She can read you like a book.”

Before I can dismantle his bullshit, he steps away from me and toward the petite woman walking to us.

“Callie!” He stretches his arms and enfolds her.

“How the hell are you?”

“I’m good.” She laughs up at him, tilting her head back so dark, wavy strands of hair stream over her shoulders, stark against the scarlet wool of her coat.

“Congrats on becoming a New York Times bestseller.”

“All thanks to Dr. Hammond here,” Grip says, releasing her and smiling at me over her head. “I’m just riding his


I roll my eyes and release a scoffing breath.


True, my first book, Virus, sat on the bestseller lists for months, but anything Grip touches turns to platinum.

He could have written a treatise on the history of gardening in hip-hop, and everyone and their mama would have bought it.

“We all know you would’ve done well on your own,” Callie says, shifting her eyes up to meet mine. “But working with someone as esteemed as the professor couldn’t hurt.”

The first time Callie called me “the professor,” my dick calcified to solid bone in my pants. Very uncomfortable, highly inappropriate at the faculty mixer under the scrutiny of a hundred onlookers.

“It’s good to see you again, Dr. Hammond,” she continues, her voice the same low, honey-smooth provocation it’s always been. “Good to see you, too.”

There’s no trace in my voice of the turmoil stirring behind my

zipper. “You look good.”

Motherfucker. I didn’t mean to bring up the way she looks.

She has to know how she looks. She ~has ~to know that I hate how the way ~she ~looks makes ~me ~feel.

Hungry. Out of control.

If there is one thing I prize, it’s my control.

“Why thank you.” Her thick brows lift, a simple gesture, but as knowing as the smirk she used to wear when she’d catch me eyeing her ass. “I didn’t want to come slummin’ to see my favorite activists.”

“I didn’t know you were still in New York,” Grip says. “You visiting or—”

“I live here actually. I’ve been bouncing around but settled here for the last year or so.”

She shifts her glance back to me. “You still in Philly, Iz?”

“Uh, yeah.” I burrow my hands into the pockets of my dark jeans. “This is actually the last stop of the book tour, and then I can finally head back home.”

“Nice,” she says. “Bris and the kids with you, Grip?”

“They’re always with me.” He grins, obviously a man besotted by his family. “I think Bris took them up the street to a toy store or something.

Believe it or not, at three and one, they aren’t exactly fascinated by Daddy’s deep musings. They kinda showed out at the last signing.”

He and I share an amused glance. Horrified when her children started screaming and crying at the event, Bristol fled her post at the back of the room before they brought the house completely down.

“I still haven’t met Martin,” Callie says wistfully. “Any chance I’ll get to see him?”

“Sure, and Bris would love to see you,” Grip says. “They’ll be back once we’ve finished signing if you’ll still be around?”

I hold my breath, shoulders tense, half hoping she will be around and half hoping she won’t.

“I’ll be here for a bit.” She side-eyes me, and it feels as much threat as promised.

“Maybe there will be time to chat.” “Maybe,” Grip agrees with a smile. “Rhyson and Kai are in town, too. We’re meeting for dinner.”

“How are they?” Callie asks. “I caught her show on Broadway a couple years ago. She was fantastic. Did I hear she’s in another one?” “She is,” Grip replies. “Opening night was last week.

Rhyson’s managing their two little rugrats. The cousins love seeing each other every chance they get. You’re both welcome to roll.”

“I can’t,” I say with decisive relief. “I’m meeting that reporter C.G.

Holmes from the NY Daily Register for an interview after.”

The moderator steps up and clears her throat. “So sorry to interrupt, but are you ready to sign?”

I glance beyond her to the long lines forming at our table.

“Oh, hell,” Grip mutters. “Sorry. Of course.” He leans down to kiss Callie’s cheek.

“If you’re still around at the end, make sure you come see Bris and the kids.” I wish I’d walked off before he did. Once he’s gone, a tight little silence clamps around Callie and me.

“Well, uh, I guess I better get—”

“So will you be around for a few minutes after, too?” she cuts in softly.

“No.” I take off my glasses to clean them on the hem of my shirt. “Like I said, I have that interview.”

She watches me cleaning the lenses.

It’s one of my traits when I’m nervous or discombobulated. Callie always has that effect on me, but I used to be better at hiding it.

With no time to prepare for her reappearance, I guess my defenses are weaker. I stop circling the glasses with my shirt and shove them back onto my face.

Her full lips quirk to an ironic angle. “No time for an old friend?” I allow my eyes to hold hers, something I didn’t do often when she was my TA.

Her steady state is and always has been dark, depth less waters. A man could drown there. And this brother never didlearn to swim. ~

“I better get to the table.” I skirt her question and gesture toward the long line of people waiting. “Good seeing you again, Callista.” “So formal,” she says dryly.

I ignore that and head for the table. An hour later, we’re signing the last book. Grip and I exchange a relieved look, both releasing a deep breath when the moderator tells everyone we’re done for the night.

“That’s a wrap on the tour,” Grip says, standing and extending his hand. “Nice doing business with you, Iz.”

I accept the proffered hand and stand, too.

We’re dressed similarly, but I’m wearing one of my many Malcolm X T-shirts and elbow-patched blazers, while he wears a hoodie under an army jacket.

Where I sport shell-toe Adidas, he wears a pair of vintage Air Force Ones from his extensive tennis shoe collection.

When I found out a “rap star” would be in my class at NYU a few years ago, I had no idea this deep bond would form between us, or that some of the most meaningful work of my life and career would be in partnership with him.

And this after I offended him colossally. At first, I didn’t think she was the right woman for him. I misjudged Bristol, and I insulted Grip.

And yet here we are.

The more I got to know them both, the more my views evolved. As if to remind me just how wrong I’d been to question their relationship, Bristol walks into the room. Grip gets this look on his face whenever he sees his wife.

I don’t know how to describe it other than absolute contentment, peace. Every look and touch they share testifies that the love I always thought was a myth, is real. At least for them it is.

I have a divorce under my belt as a reminder that it doesn’t happen that way for us all.

“Iz,” Bristol greets me warmly, her silvery-gray eyes smiling.

“Sorry I missed the last stop, but these guys got restless.”

Grip takes his son, Martin, from her hip and drops a lingering kiss at the corner of her mouth. She gives him a slow smile that makes promises for later and grips her daughter’s hand.

Nina, the three year-old, blinks up at me through long lashes, her eyes the same bright silver as her mother’s.

“Hi, Uncle Iz,” Nina says, her voice soft but already confident.

“Hey, Nina Meena.” I drop to my haunches to look at her directly and push a clump of caramel-streaked unruly curls away from her face. “We missed you tonight.”

“Mommy was afraid Martin would be loud,” she shout-whispers into my ear. “He’s such a baby.” We adults laugh, though Nina’s face remains serious.

“Well, he won’t be a baby forever,” I say, glancing up at her little brother’s chubby cheeks. “Enjoy him at this age because one day he’ll be bigger than you.”

“Mommy’s gonna have another baby,” Nina says with a careless shrug. “So it’s okay. I’ll have a backup.”

Bristol closes her eyes and shakes her head, but Grip’s grin is wide and proud.

“Guess the cat’s out of the bag, so to speak.” He kisses the top of Bristol’s head, and she leans into him.

“We were trying to make it through the first trimester before telling people,” she says, looking at her daughter with pointed affection. “But someone forgot what family talkmeans.”

“Congratulations.” I pull Bristol into a hug and kiss her cheek.

“You guys making a basketball team or something?”

“She can’t keep her hands off me,” Grip deadpans. “It’s a curse.”

Bristol is so used to Grip, she doesn’t miss a beat or even roll her eyes but nods soberly, lips twitching. “It’s true. He’s such a good sport putting up with my amorous ways.”

“Mommy, what’s ‘amorous’ mean?” Nina asks, eyes stretched and waiting. Nina is notoriously curious and absorbs everything even vaguely profane or salacious like a little sponge.

“It means Daddy loves Mommy,” Grip says, leaning down to kiss her head, “and Mommy loves Daddy.”

“I knew that,” she preens, smug and adorable.

“Sure you did,” Grip drawls and glances at the aged plastic black watch I’ve never seen him without, a sentimental gift from Bristol. “Ready to see your cousins?”

“Aria!” Nina squeals, clapping and jumping up and down.

“And Ronan,” Bristol reminds her. “We’ve barely seen him since Aunt Kai moved back to New York for her show. You have two cousins now.”

“But he’s just a baby like …” Nina discreetly tips her head toward her little brother curled sleepily into his father’s neck.

“That one.” I stifle another laugh.

Nina promises to be a handful. “We need to go,” Grip says, scanning the room. “Callie was here, Bris, and wanted to see you guys. I forgot she hasn’t met Martin yet.”

“Ahhh, the beautiful, brilliant Callie.” Bristol gives me an appallingly knowing look. I glare at Grip because I’ve obviously been the subject of some serious pillow talk.

“What?” Grip feigns innocence. “I didn’t have to tell her. It’s obvious being in the same room with the two of you for even a minute.”

“What’s obvious?” Nina asks.

“Uncle Iz knows,” Bristol says with a laugh, adjusting the baby bag on her shoulder. “If she’s not here, Grip, we may have to see her next time. The car’s double-parked waiting to take us to Rhys and Kai for dinner, and we’re already late.”

“Yeah, I don’t see her anywhere.” Grip looks around and shifts Martin, who has fallen asleep on his shoulder. “Where’s this reporter you’re supposed to be meeting, Iz?”

“He said in his e-mail he’d meet me here after the signing.” I assess the thinning crowd. “Old boy’s got five minutes. My hotel is a block away, and I’m ready for a steak and a bed.”

“Well, we gotta go,” Grip says. “My dude, we’ll be in touch. I think the bail fund charity concert in Miami is the next time I’ll see you.” “Yup. Sounds right.”

We dap each other up and dole out hugs all around.

“See you soon,” Bristol adds with a smile over her shoulder as they leave.

I pull out my phone to recheck the reporter’s e-mail. It says what I thought it did. He’ll meet me after the signing here at the Strand.

I’ve given it a few more minutes when Callie’s signature the citrusy smell reaches me. Her words aren’t far behind.

“Did I miss Grip and Bristol?” After a moment and a deep breath, I lift my head to find her standing right in front of me, the red coat tied tight at her waist, her dark hair blown around her face, lips the color of pomegranates.

It annoys me how fucking beautiful she is. “Uh, yeah. Sorry, you just missed them. He said they’ll catch you next time.” I frown down the foot of height that separates us.

“Do you need a cab, an Uber or—” “So eager to be rid of me, huh?” She tightens her mouth, making a bitter line of the soft curves.

I pause, dropping my glance to the stilettos she’s wearing, flimsy straps of leather with a precariously high heel.

The elevation stretches the already sleek muscles of her calves to be even sexier. “Those shoes are a hazard,” I mumble.

“You’re not a pleasant man. Anyone ever told you that?” “I think you did once or twice when I required you to do your actual job as my TA.”

“More like indentured servitude requiring me to sacrifice my social life and personal studies.”

“You knew where the door was. You could have used it at any time.”

“You would have liked that, wouldn’t you?” She folds her arms under the curve of her breasts. “If I’d given up on you?”

“Giving up on me?” I cock an imperious brow, falling into our old tempo of parry and thrust.

“You were an employee of the university and there for the program, not for me.”

“Every student in that class, Grip included, was there for you. I was no different. I jumped at the chance to study with you.

No one warned me about the stick lodged up your ass when I did everything but sell my soul to TA for the great Dr. Israel Hammond.”

“I’m sorry you were so disappointed.”

“You know I wasn’t,” she says, her tone softening. “It was the worst and best semester of my life.”

Our eyes lock, and the people milling around us, the books lining the shelves of the Rare Book Room, fade. The searing stare transports us back to campus, behind the closed door of my shoebox office.

The memory of our last day on campus rises between us like steam— visceral, vivid. That damned her smell—lemons and tropics and lust. The curve of her neck—sun-warmed velvet.

The hot, slick interior of her mouth. How her ass overran my palms—lush, full, firm. The fragility of her rib cage encased in the roughness of my hands when I lifted her onto the desk.

The spread of her thighs and the scent of her desire enticing me through her panties.


“I need to go,” I say abruptly, pulling my blazer closed to cover a burgeoning erection. “I’m waiting for someone.”

She smiles and slides her hands into the pockets of her red coat. “Are you really?”

“I am really, yeah,” I snap, irritated with her and with C. G. Holmes for being an uncommunicative, tardy bastard. “I have an interview, so if you’ll excuse me.”

“I won’t excuse you.”

“Look, I’m sorry for what happened between us the last time we saw each other.”

“I’m only sad you didn’t finish what I started.”

“It wasn’t appropriate. You were my TA, not to mention you’re young enough to be my daughter.”

“Your daughter? Please. You would have gotten a very early start.” Ignoring that. “I would never take advantage—”

“Take advantage? I kissed ~you~, Iz.”

“Would you lower your voice? For fuck’s sake, Callie, what will it take for you to realize I’m not interested in pursuing this with you?”

“When you can be in the same room with me without being aroused, without watching my every move like a hungry hawk.”

“I’m leaving now,” I grit out, my jaw tight. “This the reporter isn’t coming, and I want to go to my hotel.”

“Oh, what’s your room number? I’ll meet you there.”

Eleven fifteen.

The numbers bounce around in my head, and I have to lasso them before they make it past my lips.

I suppress the image of Callie at the door of my hotel room.

“It really was good seeing you again,” I say, taming my tone into politeness.

“But this reporter hasn’t shown and I’m leaving.”

“Hasn’t shown?” she asks mildly, a smile spreading warmth across her face is like sunbeams.

“I’m right here, and I’ve done everything but throw myself at you. I tried that once, and I see where that got me.”

“Huh? I don’t follow.”

“Oh, sorry.” She grabs my hand, shaking it and caressing the back of it with her thumb. “C. G. Holmes at your service.”

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