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First published by BooksbyToye 2012 Cover design copyright Toye Lawson Brown. Copyright © 2012 Toye Lawson Brown Published by: BooksbyToye All rights reserved
Sixteen Years Earlier - Year 1996 “C’mon on, Leighton, I’m 18, and leaving for college and won’t see you for two years. If you really loved me you would do it. Dang, girl, we’re going to get married anyway?” “I want to Clay, but I’m only 16, my mom will kill me if she found out.” “I’ll arrange the whole thing and no one will know about it but us. Will that make you feel better?” Leighton nodded. “I guess that would be okay. I love you, Clay. Since I’m going to be your wife, it will be okay.” Clay hugged her young body tightly against his. With his face away from hers, he grinned. “This will be a night neither one of us will ever forget. I can promise you that,” he said, kissing her cheek.
LET ME SERVE YOU INTRODUCTION
Leighton Hall maintained her vigorous career as a private wealth investor in New York City. To separate from the family and Chicago was a way of leaving her youth where it belonged. She wanted nothing more than to relieve the suffering she’d endured sixteen years earlier, with a successful career in finance. After graduating high school, Leighton, fresh off the plane and on the doorstep of her aunt’s Brownstone in Brooklyn, New York, was filled with ambition of getting her career started. At the time, at the age of eighteen she prayed starting over in a city full of possibilities would uplift her sagging spirit. All worked to her advantage. By completion of her second year of college, the few students she interacted with weren’t interested in her history. Most were too absorbed in their own selves to entertain any curiosity about what her past held. The oft-asked questions were general, non-intrusive questions, but just enough to hold conversations. She boasted making the Dean's list, or any arrogance concerning her career choice wasn’t a bother; she only refused to speak of her life in Chicago. After being nagged by her best friend Adele, she garnered enough courage to join a sorority. Adele suggested they do, because having a sorority listed on her résumé for prospective employers to see would be beneficial. There was always a slight chance a potential employer might be fellow a sorority member and could improve her chances of moving up a few notches on the hiring ladder. After graduating college with honors and obtaining a job in finance, Leighton’s close friends became family who temporarily replaced her actual family in Chicago.
Adele’s boyfriend, Evodio, had now become her best friend also, and they were the only two that knew the truth behind her leaving Chicago. Evodio graduated with a degree in political science and constantly encouraged Leighton to step outside the box and learn to trust people. He stressed she was being her own worst enemy by locking her past in a closet and trying to erase the memories instead of dealing with them head on. Evodio, Adele, and Leighton were meeting to discuss their upcoming wedding over coffee. Evodio arrived before Adele. “So sorry I’m running late, Leighton.” He leaned down to kiss her on the cheek. She removed her sunglasses, squinting to block the rays from the early morning sun. “Don’t worry; I haven’t been waiting long. Where is Adele? You would think the bride would be on time.” He rolled his eyes. “She’s having mother issues again. Adele should be forceful and tell her mother this is HER wedding.” Leighton chuckled. “Mom and Dad are footing the bill so she’s not going to fuss too much. Evodio, you’re going to make an excellent politician one day.” “Where are you going with this?” “You probably don’t notice your statements come across as campaign speeches. You strike your fists together to make all your points, standout.” “I’m that kind of guy, Leighton. I want people to hear what I’m saying and not ignore me. So, if being louder than any opponent, or pounding on a table will garner attention then….” He stopped, shaking his head. “I see what you mean; I’ll work on a change.”
care to flip your statement around so it applies to you?” “No. Adele’s mother insists we get married in Ontario and then have another wedding here. you believe in what you stand for and have supporters standing behind you. and when you win. or I’d walk away from this fiasco. Basking in the early morning warmth of the sun. racist jokes for Obama. Adele’s family is in Canada.” “I think we shouldn’t since this meeting is about the wedding and not me. “It’s eight o’clock on a Saturday morning and people are out enjoying what New York has to offer already. How can Ontario compete with this?” He asked. The naysayers had deleterious.” Leighton shook her head.” “I will go along with whatever she wants regardless if I’m included or not. and this is home for you.” “Hey. “This two wedding thing is stupid.” “I think we should.” “Dogmatists are entitled to their opinions. Leighton. Evodio placed an order for their breakfast with the waitress. hey. Keep doing what you’re doing and ignore them. the two changed the subject to talk about the wedding.” . Adele better be glad I love her. you’ll keep going upward until you reach your final destination of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Go along with whatever she wants in order to keep the peace for your special day. you do not want to upset the applecart. you’ll need more aggression once campaign season begins. You’re a native New Yorker. You’re running for Alderman.” she said. the first Mexican to occupy the White House.“Don’t. “Man.” “Uh. I can only imagine what will be said about me.
” “Leighton. “I with you on that and commend you for keeping your temper and your mouth in check. get married to continue the era.” . to keep me company. Leighton. none of my ideas were included in this wedding. Where is the snappy comeback? What’s wrong with you. and why are you asking me what’s wrong?” She moved her hands from the table as the waitress set a coffee mug and chocolate scone in front of her. “Stop trying to read my mind.” She sighed uneasily. For sure José wants to get with you and a few of my colleagues are asking about you. I’ll send for Cocoa.” He pushed back in his chair. You’d better believe the second wedding will have all the Mexican elements her overbearing shrew of a mother cut me out of.” “I wouldn’t have to if you would tell me what’s on your mind. amazed. Evodio.“No you wouldn’t. You two will be married and will want to do activities with other married couples.” “Well. Leighton?” “Nope. we discussed holding in in your emotions. “Because your eyes are casting off that familiar look again. “Warn them now I am not interested.” Leighton nodded. my cat.” She sipped the hot coffee letting her eyes lift to meet his seriously-dark eyes staring back at her. “Normally you give me a more entertaining response or speech. “I was thinking this is the end of an era.” She flipped her wrist. I got nothing.
“Shush…end of discussion. I would like to keep José as a friend and the best way to keep him a friend is not to date him. I can afford to pay my own way.” “Good God. Evodio. and nothing against José.” “Failure only succeeds if you don’t try. your plane ticket.” “That would be the problem. we do go out together. I don’t want her to overhear this senseless arguing about José. woman—you are so stubborn—“ She put her finger to her lips.” He mouthed lowly. before standing to hug Adele.” “Go out to dinner or a movie with him as an actual date and not as your escort.” She returned a smart-aleck yes it is. “This isn’t over. José’s a little hairy. “I give to you.” “Adele. you prefer the company of a cat rather than a man? Leighton.” She frowned.” Adele greeted squeezing in a hug. Just last week we went to a dinner party. Adele is coming down the street. so relating to him on a more personal nature shouldn’t be a problem. I will keep drilling in your head to open your eyes until you finally do.“Damn. “I don’t like stereotyping. All men aren’t dogs. but I don’t want to start a relationship destined to fail. José is not a stranger. “Good morning. He keeps asking me why you keep him at bay. but he has a respectable job. and is in the country legally. your family should not be responsible for paying for my ticket. he’ll treat you with respect if you give him a chance to prove himself to you. Leighton.” .” “Evodio.
” “Malcolm. I’ll hire a business manager with skills in the business to run the place for me. While the list she composed contained fewer pros than cons. Malcolm. she was concentrating on her work when her assistant buzzed her phone. once this wedding is over. saying “Not you. I’m kidding. Basically. She kept in touch with her newly married friends but did not hang out with them as often. Leighton. This sealed the deal for her to join.” . Why should I pay for a first-class ticket when someone else is willing to buy it for me?” Laugher rang out among the three before they went on to discuss the wedding. I’m taking a break from her. too! Can I get through this wedding without everyone hating me because of the decisions my mother is making? I swear. This included a well-known Chicago chef who was investing his own money and talent in the business. her younger brother. twentythousand dollars is a lot of money for me to lose. was waiting for her. Leighton returned to work. “Girl. are you sure you want to get involved with this type of business with your heavy schedule? Restaurants require a lot of attention.” “I got it all under control. Seated at her desk. all I gotta do is make an appearance to promote the place every now and then. “Malcolm. make sure you handle everything before you return to Utah. she did not commit to invest until she read the business proposal he prepared. and…boom…we’re rolling in the dough.” Leighton shoved her playfully on the shoulder. a smile crossed her face. ***** After both weddings ended. Malcolm’s unannounced visit came with a proposition for her to invest twentythousand dollars in a restaurant. Two months later Adele and Evodio were married in Ontario with a second wedding in New York City to follow.Adele placed her hand on her forehead.
I only handle millionaire’s portfolios. “Success in your business is not necessary. as long as I got a dollar. I’m curious why you didn’t ask Mom and Dad to invest. your investment will triple in a year.“Laylay. but you’re living in the best city on earth. act like one and throw some weight around.” . you are obviously holding it down with the employment.” Malcolm played with his close-shaved goatee before asking. You know me. my money returned will be good enough. I wouldn’t take your hard-earned cash if I didn’t have it all together before coming to you. she folded her hands together over the top of it. what’s new?” She crossed her legs. you are a millionaire. Her spacious corner office told of her success.” “This is my baby.” “Sis. and you’re pulling in a hefty paycheck. you got a dollar so in namesake.” Closing the binder. Do you need me to give you a few lessons on how to live it up in New York? You’re a millionaire. Sis. “Not much has changed since the last time we spoke. You’re not a bottom feeder. Several framed awards and pictures she’d taken with celebrities and powerful individuals graced the walls and tables. But.” “Correction—YOU are the millionaire thanks to the millions of dollars your contract pays and all those endorsements. This is my venture.” “Of course you wouldn’t. relaxing in the oversized leather chair that matched the mahogany desk covered with paperwork. They’d do just about anything you want. and they have nothing to do with it. Mom would obligate Martha Stewart to take over my restaurant for quality and Dad would grunt and let it happen. I want you to share whatever success is coming from this restaurant. “So. The large glass windows gave a scenic aerial view of New York.” “You know what I’m saying.
you’re smart and level headed. all your meals will be free. Malcolm was the total opposite of her. I’m kinda busy. Leighton. So. get that restaurant up and running and make me some money. I love you. To Malcolm’s surprise. He towered over her in height. Call me in a few days. I promised a few friends we’d meet up tonight. you wanna come along?” She shook her head. Don’t let your basketball career change you.” she joked slapping him on the back. Hold on to your money and keep your nose clean. outgoing and personable.” he said opening her office door to a crowd of people waiting for autographs. I love you but listen to me.” He hugged his sister as she stood to show him to the door. “I gotta get moving. He received a full athletic scholarship to attend Loyola University graduating with a degree in business management.” “I’m way ahead of you. Malcolm excelled in all sports. I have to move a few of my accounts around. He was extremely friendly. I won’t let you down. I want the best wealth investment manager handling my dollars and you are the best.” he said glancing at his Rolex. Because of their persistence. .” “Hey. but I should have the money available to wire to you by the time the deal goes to closing. People took to Malcolm like bees to honey. I know that. She smiled settling in her chair. “I expect my first meal to be free. “Thank you for trusting me with your money. he made the cut and went on to become a fan favorite making the celebrity A-list in the NBA world quickly.“Malcolm. “No thanks. A talent scout attending a charity event where Malcolm was playing basketball offered him a tryout with the Utah Jazz. My accountant will be contacting you to take over my estate planning.” “If you ever come home. Their parents made sure he played every sport available and had tutors on speed-dial in case his grades began to suffer. He’d always been athletic as a child.
He had probably asked hundreds of people the same question. Their only insistence of her was to excel in school and not worry about playing a sport or engaging in any outside activities other than playing the violin. “Ma’am. what is your purpose here this morning?” The burly man in the neatly press uniform asked dryly. What’s going on this morning? Where is Stuart our regular security guard? And why are there reporters camped outside?” “Please. and it was only 9:30am. She began the short walk through the lobby before a new security guard stopped her as she headed to the bank of elevators.Leighton never envied Malcolm’s superstardom or that their parents favored to develop his athletic talents. This kept her busy and her mind off almost everything else. she would not need to pad her schedule with unnecessary sports but with curriculum necessary to get into the best medical schools. “Why?” . She’d advanced up the corporate ladder accepting the promotion of Vice President in charge of the Private Wealth Division of the New York office of TransContinental Investments. ******** Six months after investing in Malcolm’s restaurant. Leighton had nothing to do with the operation of the business.” He instructed and waited for her to follow. Leighton dug her identification card from under her suit jacket showing it to him. “I’m a Vice President at TransContinental Investments. According to the agenda set by her parents. Leighton waded her way through a throng of reporters on the steps of the office building where she worked. come with me.
Never in its fifty-year history had it been scrutinized for any wrong doing. The ringleader of the scam to siphon billions of dollars from unclaimed accounts. An embezzlement scam involving several key members of the private wealth division had been uncovered by the Federal Reserve. your questions will be addressed by someone with the authority to do so. the FRB had only been able to locate one large money wire.” she said following behind him brooding. The wire to Malcolm was from an old Certificate of Deposit she’d cashed in. how much rent she paid or owed on utilities and even the amount of money she donated to charities lay out in the open. The selfish greed to take money not . After combing through her history. happened to be her boss. She had been so busy with her work she had not paid much attention to the rumors the company had been under investigation by the Federal Reserve. Appalled with the FRB grouping the innocent investors with the guilty parties. throwing her empty briefcase on the sofa. those changes were not implemented soon enough. whatever. Leighton faced being jobless. TransContinental Investments had always been a solid business. Three hours later she unlocked the door to her stylish two-bedroom Manhattan apartment. changes in management were in the process of being set-forth. Leighton blasted the investigators for having documentation of her financial history placed on display for everyone to view.” “Fine. Personal credit card information.“I’m not at liberty to say. Unfortunately. To ensure the company protected its clients from possible illegal activities that befell other investments companies. especially in the wake of the collapse of Wall Street. The rumors didn’t come as unusual since investors always got criticized and blamed when clients lost large sums of money on worthless investments. Six months after investing twenty-thousand dollars in Malcolm’s business. If you’ll come with me.
Leighton lived the life of a hermit. Leighton attended her regular therapy session with new and deeper issues to unleash on her therapist. ******** A week later. After devoting years of hard work and dedication to TransContinenal Investments. Although she would never admit to it. and she had yet been able to find a way to go home for an occasional visit with family and not have it turn into a full-blown panic attack. Her intelligence expanded outside of the financial world and would take people by surprise once they were able to draw her into conversation.yet claimed by the families of deceased clients caused the New York office to be dismantled. Leighton explained to the therapist her reason for being unemployed. At 32 years of age. The therapist suggested she wait before jumping back into the job market and use the time off to work on regaining control of her private life. and all remaining financial duties to be spread among other offices until the investigation completed. A final decision would be made on which employees would be staying with the company at a later date. Years had passed. this was how she was leaving her stellar financial career—three boxes containing her personal items and an escort to the front steps of the building. weighed 135 pounds with shoulder length black hair and brown oval eyes. She kept in shape by watching what she ate and working out with Adele who worked as a personal trainer. She refused the offer to move forward with the company in another city after passing clearance with the FRB. On the norm. she was soft-spoken and quiet. She stood 5’6” tall. She no longer wanted the responsibility of handling money for wealthy individuals. . she was extremely attractive.
Leighton did not want to lose Martin to another woman. Martin. she knew Martin would tire of kissing and petting like two underage teenagers living in the 1950s. In her mind. hardworking nature. and honesty. He suggested they take their relationship a step further. He was tall. She was not pursuing a man to take care of her. had been the only man she trusted enough to get close to her and tell of her past. and handsome. she had fallen in love with him also. and he liked she didn’t play the diva role. His patience and understanding with what she went through strengthened their bond. Their relationship last nearly six months before Martin revealed his true self. Their sixth month of dating came with a special celebration. she could be normal if she stopped finding fault with every man she encountered.Women found Leighton polite and well-mannered and not a threat to them. Leighton prematurely let her walls down in anticipation of obtaining a healthy male-female bond her therapist hammered into her every chance she got. Hopelessly under his spell and believing his every word. physically fit. She’d met him during a campaign event for Evodio’s election to Alderman. Finally. Martin Sanders worked as a financial planner. Martin completed every woman’s dream. possessed riches as well as machismo. the happiness bestowed upon Evodio and Adele had been . An evening on the town with Adele and Evodio was the extent of her socialization with other people outside of firm commitments. is what drew her to him. so far. but was thrilled at the same time. He would say he chose her because of her difference. Leighton dreaded the day this would happen. He could have any woman in New York with a crack of a smile. but she refused to mix business with pleasure. Her therapist was right. this African-American man. sexy. Men wanted to know her on a more personal level. She managed well with very little human contact until Martin Sanders came along. Her sensibility. He had fallen in love with her and wanted to consummate their love with the promise of being together forever.
then men felt they had the right to take it since they paid for the date. The timing was perfect for her to embark on her fantasy. After a bubble bath. absent were the ghosts and voices screaming for her to run. Leighton agreed to go away with him for a week of fun and pleasure. gazing her reflection in the mirror.handed to her. and if women didn’t consent to giving it up. she changed into the delicate lingerie. The memory of one horrifying night haunted her for years and left her both physically and emotionally scarred when it came to men. arranged by the one she had a serious crush on. The monkey slowly crawled off her back as she readied to commit to a man since nearly being gang raped sixteen years ago. Martin planned the romantic get-away for two at his private beach house in the Hamptons. She didn’t trust them as far as she could toss them. her heart pounded with anticipation. she admired Martin lying on the bed. a white matching thong prevented her from being totally nude underneath. A sordid act committed by a group of boys and. Leighton ran the tip of her tongue across her lips. As far as Leighton was concerned men only pursued women for sex. Nervously she opened the door and stood in archway separating the bathroom from the bedroom. As she misted her body with the light scent of White Diamonds. moistening them. She displaced her own theory and lavished in the candlelight and music setting the scene for the romantic evening Martin prepared. His full frame stretched across the canopy bed as he talked on his cell phone. sheer from the abdomen down to her ankles. They enjoyed long walks along the beach in the morning and dinner with dancing under the stars at night. She stepped from the doorway hoping to distract his attention away from the phone call. . She’d bought a silky white negligee.
“Leighton. he turned to her. She overheard Martin’s voice through the thick bathroom door. She was done with men screwing her over with lies and deceit.” he said leaving the bed and disappearing into the bathroom. Her blood ran warm while her skin shivered from chills.” “I can’t ignore this one. Two strikes were the limit. Maddened. waiting for the moment to come. She left the Hamptons the precise same night she made up her mind to give a man another chance. Her eyes closed when his hands began hypnotizing her body skillfully. he sounded angry. Turn the phone off and come back to bed. His phone rang again.” “Martin. you look stunning. Leighton pulled clothes from the closet to change and sloppily stuffed the rest of her belongings in her suitcase. ******** Hurt but fully committed to beginning anew. What she overheard. “I have to take this call. she relaxed. She moved to join Martin on the bed. and had a sizable trust fund that would . He recited romantic phrases to get her mood juices flowing. she adjusted her body against the oversized pillows on the bed to await his return. He released her to sit on the side of the bed.” he said holding his hand out for her. At least not her Martin Sanders. she did not expect to hear coming from Martin Sanders. Leighton swore to her therapist she would stick with Plan B. The longer she eavesdropped on the conversation the more her stomach revolted. She had money saved. Don’t make me wait any longer.Martin didn’t notice her until she posed provocatively against the tall post at the foot of the bed. She tiptoed to the door. I thought we said no business during our vacation. Abruptly ending his phone call.
“I stink—but anywhere we eat is fine with me. any ideas on where you want to go for lunch?” Carmella turned her face in disgust after sniffing her damp tennis shirt. She’d learned through Adele. a new friend she met when she moved into the building. Nearly sent into a head-spin. I’ll buzz you once I’m done. She skipped the wait for the elevator and took the stairs to her ninth floor apartment to call her brother.” Leighton nodded. Leighton moved to New Jersey to save on living expenses and to get away from any run-ins with Martin. She opened the envelope with a bright red sticker reading FINAL NOTICE. she’d been named in the complaint as being fifty-percent responsible for the upkeep and feeding of a restaurant she did not want. Malcolm changed the contract making her co-owner of his restaurant without informing her. The steam rising from the top of her head was hot enough to dry her dampened hair. heat warmed her cheeks as she tore through the other two envelopes containing the same stickers. “I smell pretty awful too.” Her voice stalled when letters addressed to Malcolm caught her attention. I’m going upstairs to shower before someone walks through the door and gets a whiff of me. Money-wise she was set until she decided what the next phase of her life held in store for her. Therefore. “Carmella. she stopped in front of the row of mailboxes after a round of tennis with Carmella. Late one afternoon. She read the revised copy of the contract attached to the summons. but not the woman who gave birth to his child on the night he prepared to confess his undying love for her. placing the key in the mailbox. he’d been dating. Past-due bills and violations the restaurant had been cited were being sent to her attention after Malcolm failed to .reach full maturity on her next birthday.
Leighton burst through the locker room of EngerySolutions Arena. Now I have to fix this mess. Filled with fury. you were supposed to do that before now! I can’t believe this! I don’t have a job to pay all these fines! I could lose everything I own if I’m sued by every vendor demanding payment!” . hunting for Malcolm. “I told you this would happen! You have too much on your plate playing basketball to run a freaking restaurant. Her brother. She demanded he explain how he ruined what seemed to be a perfectly straightforward. The following morning. “This all slipped my mind after a while. I got busy. and hope I’m not thrown in jail for missing court dates I had no knowledge about!” “My attorney will take care of it—you don’t have to worry about anything. and the restaurant took a backseat to my career. who assured her.respond. “How could you do this to me. had managed to rack up thousands of dollars in fines and missed court dates with the State of Illinois.” Her teeth clenched as she unloaded on him. she hopped a plane to Utah to corner him unexpectedly. She located him by his locker with other teammates and interrupted their conversation without an apology. he’d take care of business. as expected he didn’t answer. Malcolm?” She shook the folder containing the damaging letters in his face. business plan. Two hours before the home game was scheduled to start.” “Malcolm. “What happened to the business manager you were supposed to hire? Was everything you said to me a fat lie?” Malcolm ushered her to the coach’s office pulling the blinds to keep the onlookers from witnessing the ugly scene caused by his sister. she wanted to kill him as she punched the numbers on her cell phone to call him.
who else will be stupid enough to buy a broke-down restaurant? I have to make the repairs in order to put it on the market. why don’t you run the restaurant for a year to see how it goes. If I remember.“I’ll pay for everything.” “Why if I’m gonna sell it?” He asked. Sign the dang paper so I can get rid of the dump and get back to Jersey. You were aware all along this was a poor investment and doped me into investing anyway. If you go to Chicago and take care of this one matter for me. Laylay. but Richard says the place is practically packed every night. I’ll sell the restaurant and give you your money back. I’ll say at the most. pulling his jersey over his head.” “Leighton. wanting to jump up and strangle all 6 feet 10 inches of him.” She paced around him.” The folder shook in her hand as she held it close to his face. “Other than you. “If you can remember? You can’t remember what your own restaurant looks like.” “Oh right! The well-known chef who was supposed to be part of the deal—you left out Richard’s flat broke! Malcolm. the building is not that bad. “Give me a blank check and sign this paper giving me your share of the restaurant. our money bought that ramshackle of a business. I’m telling you the building is not in bad shape. it might need some patch work.” “Oh I agree! You are going to pay for everything regardless if you can sell it or not!” She opened her palm wiggling her fingers demandingly.” . “These reports from the building inspectors cite the place should be condemned! What the heck am I going to do with a depilated building?” “They’re exaggerating. you can sell it as is. shouting.” “No you don’t.
needed the most work. until now. “I’ll send your portion of the proceeds from the sale.” The loud snatch of the paper from underneath his hand did not ease her tension. With her forefinger and thumb. “Had you done any of this in the beginning. “Well. me too. “Yeah.” The two of them never argued as children or had harsh words for one another. .” she mumbled dropping her purse on a rickety table. she would sell and search for other job opportunity or return to the corporate world. If she couldn’t get the restaurant going in a year. She had to admit the outside of the building only needed cosmetic repairs.” With her hands jammed tightly against her hips. On the plane. The inside of the building. she pulled a piece of worn wallpaper separating from the wall. The second phase of her life had arrived in the form of a restaurant owner. the place is a money-maker. ******** The plane landed in Chicago without incident.” He called after her apologizing profusely. Sis. “I’m sorry. I would not be here upsetting you before a game. we’re either going sink or swim. the last thing I wanted to do was let you down.He took the paper from her clinched hand to scribble his signature.” she answered. All it’ll need is a little TLC and someone to manage it properly. Leighton. Leighton went straight to the restaurant. closing the door softly behind her. It would be senseless to sink money to bring the building and restaurant to code and have someone else come in and make a killing. girly. “You are making a mistake. She sighed after surveying the enormous overhaul looming before her. she decided to make an effort to make her investment work if the building could be repaired. however. her eyes stared disbelievingly at him.
you ain’t got to worry about nuthin’. I came here straight from the airport to access what I’d be facing first. Leighton. I’ll definitely need to close the place to clean and get all the necessary repairs done. Leighton was over her head. She wasn’t a chef and had not been trained in restaurant operations.” Nate said graciously offering Richard’s aid without permission. I’ll need all the help I can get. let me come up with a plan and talk to a few people. refused to leave Leighton stranded. “Leighton. Nate. as long as you’re coming in cleaning and doing any light repairs. “I’m in. .” “Cool.” Nate panicked. “How long Im’ma be outta of work. Later in the afternoon. she’d just forgotten how terrible. Nate.m. I will stay to help you. he offered to stay on and help get the restaurant in shape. I’ll catch you in the a. where I start?” “Good question. Nate did everything in the restaurant from cleaning to helping Richard prepare food. a long-time friend to Malcolm. “We’ll start tomorrow morning. and you know I ain’t got no other job.” She hid the cringe and would not allow herself to correct him.The goals and standards she’d set for herself in finance did not prepare her to run a decaying restaurant. I bet Richard will too. “Don’t worry. First.” He grabbed a bucket and broom from the corner of the kitchen. I got bills to pay. Leighton held a meeting with Richard and Nate. “Thanks Nate.” He waved leaving through the door. Outside of the financial headaches it caused her already. you’ll be paid.” she said. Nate always had a knack with words. I’m going to City Hall to get the necessary permits and hopefully not to jail for missing Malcolm’s court dates. Both were able to fill her in on the daily routine of running the restaurant.
and a children’s channel. The newly renovated restaurant accommodated a substantial number of hungry breakfast and lunch patrons. With such a small staff of four.’ was the most noticeable improvement. she would be returning to the family home. The twelve tables and a large counter formed a semi-circle with sixteen adjustable stools to give a full view of the open kitchen. She'd mapped out this envision with an interior decorator specialized in restaurant renovations. but thanks to Malcolm’s neglect. Three 42-inch flatscreen televisions mounted the walls in different areas of the dining room. Her parents had not sold the home when they moved their medical practice to The Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. occupied the center of the room. Leighton had no choice but to drop the dinner hour until revenues climbed from the red and she would be able to increase staffing.With her finger. paint and redecorate with the anticipation of offering a new environment for diners to enjoy. The grand reopening came with the addition of Leslie. both were certain the changes would attract more customers. a waitress with restaurant experience who knew how to deal with ethical and problematic diners. A permanent move to Chicago was not originally part of Plan B. no way would the restaurant be able to operate twelve to fourteen hours a day without any of them burning out. she flipped off the light switch. the plastic tab broke in her hand. she came nowhere near being over her disappointment with Malcolm but grateful she would not have to dole money out for another apartment. filled with non-expensive colorful fish. The name change to Leighton’s Breakfast & Lunch instead of ‘Come-N-Get It Soul Food. clean. A large glass fish tank enclosed in polished cherry oak. Those televisions ran CNN. ******** Leighton closed the restaurant for two months to repair. . With an exhale of air from her lungs. SportsCenter.
Gone were the filthy cheap windows and plastic blinds Malcolm never replaced from the previous owners. Nice decorative art pieces also hung on the freshly painted hunter-green walls. She chose the color because it matched perfectly with the cherry oak wood and brass ceiling lamps. The chairs were padded in vinyl for easy cleaning. Leighton hadn’t decided what to do with those and left them as is for the time being. The two black booths occupied the far end of the restaurant were the only original items to remain.The tables were covered with white table cloths and adorned with fresh bouquets of aromatic herbs serving as center pieces. The restaurant was a total transformation from what Malcolm had done. most of all they were getting requests for catering breakfast or lunch meetings from nearby businesses. An increase in traffic after the first week of the grand opening gave her confidence she’d made the right decision in keeping the place. To finish the new décor were brand new large picture windows covered with custom-made blinds. . the food was good and. She’d installed a small take-out area equipped with chairs for people picking up phone or walk-in orders to keep tables open for dine-in customers. The atmosphere was cozy.
With Leighton’s Breakfast & Lunch located in the perfect vicinity—smack in the middle of Chicago’s Oak Park shopping district. She had three chef’s to interview after closing. Leighton had to find a chef. now a drop in clientele emerged over the restaurant once again. She removed the order pad from her apron pocket and tore the ticket off . The recent closing of the popular family restaurant two doors down advanced those customers to Leighton’s door. Vondra’s Family Restaurant shut its doors abruptly after twenty-five years of service. Leighton set two plates of unappealing food on the table for two regular customers. Scrambled eggs were within reach if a few egg shells weren’t a problem for the customers. This morning. Leighton worked at a fast pace getting orders from the window to hungry customer’s mouths. and with only two others working. Nate didn’t complain about being busy as much as having to cook. She wasn’t willing to send those customers to the next competitor and be put out of business. Richard decided to join the military’s outreach program to feed the men and women serving in the army. He handled cold sandwiches or salads with no problem. Normally a surge of people waited to be seated. this made it mandatory they work together and get the customers in and out.CHAPTER ONE One Year Later Leighton’s Breakfast & Lunch opened its doors to another less-crowded morning. but anything more complicated was beyond his capabilities and forced Leighton to do the cooking with the limited skills she attained from reading cookbooks. leaving their customers hungry for yummy food. A number of short-order cooks came and went after finding the demand to live up to Richard’s reputation too high. But.
Annoyed. “Gentleman. to whisper coldly. The plate dropped loudly in front of him. her feet burned from standing and muscles she had not used in a while were aching from the hours of heavy cleaning done over the weekend. she removed two large sugary donuts from the display case and wandered down to inquire why he was in her eatery. “Leighton.” Mac’s friend. the sign says service with a smile or my meal is free. “I give you props on sprucing the place. She noticed Dennis Osburn seated at the far end. Mac. can I get you anything else?” She asked hurriedly. With tongs. and in dramatic style. I’d point out a number of things that could be done .” Mac grabbed Leighton by the wrist as she attempted to walk away. somewhat. “Let go of her.” Instantly. I’mma still be hungry cuz this meal will suck. Mac’s touch made the acids in her stomach churn. “Are you pleased with the new surroundings. saying. who was not much younger. Leighton switched stations with Leslie and tended to the customers seated at the counter. thanks for coming. Mac winked a heavily bagged eye. she said. let me put a smile on ya pretty face.and placed it face down on the table. Her natural instinct to go off eased when Nate banged the bell at the front counter indicating another order was ready. you ain’t smilin’ darling. spoke up. The check is on the table whenever you’re ready.” She sighed. Dennis?” He reclined away from the stare of her cold eyes to reply. “How’s ‘bout you in a to-go box.” The sting lingered from Mac’s touch on her wrist. sweetness. Mac. the devastation caused by a mere fling with you is unexplainable. “Mac. Her attention returned to the older men. “You would just break my heart. she’s busy and ain’t got time to be messin’ with your old butt. She leaned close to his chubby face.
Leighton and never will with Nate. “Yeah I can’t deny Nate burns a few things but the customers respect him for the extra effort he uses in accommodating them. How much in revenue have you lost because Nate burns everything he touches?” She tapped her finger to her chin.” “Respect doesn’t breed profits.” Leighton kept her temper in check. she inhaled deeply. Hey—why don’t you cut the lady some slack? Every restaurant goes through a transformation period. using meditation to calm herself and not cause a scene with customers present. not. A customer seated two stools over who’d been nursing the same coffee for over an hour.” . as your cook. Why are you here again? Let me guess. you’re out jobhunting and needed breakfast first?” His large hand wiped powdered sugar from his double chin. You don’t. please! Dennis. “You’re right. “Leighton. “From the number of empty tables. this place will be forced into foreclosure before the end of the year. How many restaurants have you visited boasting your culinary skills to management?” Not amused by her humor.” She held her head back laughing. “Oh. you’re an opportunist. he shoved the last of the first deep-fried treat in his mouth. restaurant owner’s hunt for me.” He returned another snide remark after he scanned the empty dining area. Creativity and word of mouth will make or break you in this business.” he said taking a large bite from one of the donuts. “You wish you had someone of my caliber running your kitchen. I don’t look for work. but I’m sure you’re not interested. I’m willing to bet my last dime. I’m. I’ll be coming into a bit of change very soon. said without looking up. you gotta have it all. In order to make this business work. I’m a renowned chef.differently. this is what separates what you do and what I do. the sap. Faced from the counter.
since you possess those in demand skills you can afford to be choosey. But all’s peachy.Dennis swiveled his stool sideways. asshole. “You can kick rocks. famous chef—you didn’t leave the lady a tip.” He chuckled sipping his coffee. “I’m trying to save the lady from public humiliation. your fans will get word you’re here daily and will want to check it out.” He nodded. “I don’t know too many people who want to be unemployed but. I’m where Leighton wants to be. “Who asked you to put your last two cents in my conversation? Mind your own business and stay out of mine. Your bet and reference to the foreclosure told exactly how much you despise her restaurant is open and doing business. “As long as Leighton serves people like you.” The customer called after Dennis who waddled slowly to the front door.” Dennis hauled his girth away from the stool and threw a dollar on the counter.” Dennis eyes bore into the stranger. the basis of your argument is she should concede or hire you as her chef in order to stay in business?” “Not words from my mouth. keep eating here.” . honestly she doesn’t need to strive for better.” Dennis took a swipe at the stranger as he stuffed the second donut into his jacket pocket. frowning at the drably dressed man.” “Your conversation allowed me to join when you claimed to be a famous chef. Lowlifes demand no taste or care where they eat.” “So. while you’re hunting for work. “Wait. “Yeah they are.
“I’ll be back to collect my money later. I wouldn’t eat anything he cooked if I were starving to death. she tossed the money in the wastebasket. tubby.” “I take he’s not a friend of yours. grumbling. deciding not to dig into an obvious dirty laundry bag. “He’s a freaking pain in my butt.” Charlie clamped his hands together tightly.” The stranger joked. saying. “Can his cooking back his bragging?” “I haven’t the slightest idea.” “The unhappy. Your breakfast is on the house. then sliced him a generous piece of cinnamonraisin coffeecake. no matter who gives it to you.” she said. He pointed to the wastebasket. I loved the way you threw his own words in his face. “Man I cannot stand his lard ash!” The man’s smile faded as he repeated her comment. Leighton topped off his coffee. That delightful person crawls under my skin in the worst way.Dennis ambled out the door. did he apply for a job and you rejected him?” “Heck no! I wouldn’t let him cook for my cat.” . Leighton.” Slowly balling the dollar in her hand. chef hoarders a lot of hostility towards you. “You shouldn’t throw money in the trash. “Excuse me—lard ash?” “I don’t swear and tend to make up words close to what I want to say. by the way. angrily slamming items under the counter.
” Her soft features hardened from the scowl she now sported. but I don’t want him or his money in my dump. she moved closer to him. Void of her normal discomfort when talking with strange men.” “Were any of those jobs in a short-order kitchen?” He leaned his elbows on the counter to give Leighton his full attention. He came across particularly intelligent and not as a nomad with no roots or a transient. A better solution to deal with people like him can always be found.” She retrieved the money from the wastebasket. he said.” Leighton smoothed the crumpled dollar bill on the counter curious to know more about the stranger with the striking grayish-blue eyes and witty personality. if it didn’t seem childish. and I retain the perfect solution for the next time he gets under your skin. “Are you currently employed or looking for work?” The topped off coffee was hot as he blew across it to cool it down. “The lady has lots of questions.” “Hmm. “Greener pastures are can be vast and far.” She removed the remainder of the dirty dishes to a rubber tub underneath the counter and said. Shyly she asked. “Umm. “Get the money from the trash and put in the register. Without making direct eye contact with Leighton. “I would throw the plate he ate off away.” she said unsure of her sudden disappointment. working in restaurants would be among the jobs padding my résumé.“I’m aware of that. “I’ve held jobs dealing with idiots like him. “How would you know how to handle people like him unless you work in the industry?” He nodded.” . He wanted to see her smile before he left and made one final remark before closing the subject. but Chicago is just a pass-through on my way to greener pastures.
“I think this place offers a comfortable milieu. “Yes. . Have you ever been there?” She nodded not expanding further.” she groaned.“I’m open to embracing the sights and sounds of the Big Apple. you made me smile when I wanted hurl dishes in a mad tantrum. my original chef left to join the army. “I thank you from the bottom of my heart for getting that guy off my back.” “I’m glad I brightened your day.” The conversation quieted somewhat before he said. I should check on my other customers before they get jealous of you monopolizing my time. She wondered if he stayed on the move to avoid women he flirted with and then burned in the end. the guy wasn’t all wrong. I was here a few weeks ago. I’m sure you will find someone soon.” Leighton was not a stranger to flirting. and the food was outstanding. The setting has something for everyone. I’ll admit your smile made my day a little better.” Leighton’s voice reflected brightly.” “Chicago is full of talented chefs. “Call me if they start any trouble. also.” “I hear a ‘but’ in your voice. and this guy was good. “Yeah. I’ll be right here. “Awe.” He beat his chest with one fist.” She topped his coffee once last time. “Yeah. What happened?” Leighton rendered a slight roll of her head agreeing. their eyes locked causing her to retreat. I’m currently looking to hire a new chef to replace Nate at the wheel.
“Just tell him as long as he keeps visiting. Her plump derrière giving an apple shape to the snug fitting jeans exposed from the tightly tied apron around her small waist. His neck strained to watch her slink around the counter and to the main dining room floor.” He laughed. she enjoyed talking to him and decided to implement a little fun of her own. He rubbed the stinging sensation with his hand saying. you’ll be sure to have at least one true customer. “If I were a seasoned owner I’d pick a nick name for you.” ******** The end of the day approached slowly as breakfast ended and lunch began to trickle to the last few stragglers refusing to eat and leave. wiggling his hand. I don’t know about you. pretty good.Whatever the case. She cracked the stiffness settling in her back. .” His neck snap from turning too quickly to avoid being caught looking at her behind. you didn’t tell me your solution for the next time Dennis goes running his big mouth. “I’ll make sure to return. “Hey.” She tilted her head. I done had about enough of these people dissin’ my culinary skills today. come back before you leave town. reversing in his direction. “Nate. I’ll do that if he shows his face again after what you said to him. but I am beat.” She stopped.” “Ya ain’t got to tell me. I promise the food will be better—better not hold me to that promise. I’m doing OK considerin’ I been able to keep both my thumbs. with a wide smile. but since I’m not. Leighton waited by the open window facing the kitchen until her last customer signaled she was ready to order. “Hmm.” she said moving around the counter.
“Thank God! Let me serve table four before I meet with her. The tranquility and warmth of the small office caused her to drift off easily.” she pled. All three chefs canceled. “Lunch is almost over. you got the bread vendor waiting in the office for ya.” She let out a breath rejoicing in not having to face Sullivan’s lecherous nature. and the pattern almost seemed liked sabotage. She settled in the warm office chair closing her eyes for a few seconds. six days of the week. Sullivan ain’t here but a fine little dime is picking up the check today. The restaurant was open eight hours a day.” he teased. Leighton. One day was proving not to be enough to rest and regroup. With her pencil. She returned to . “I got tables to bust and floors to sweep—Nate will you handle him?” “Chill out. she done been here for a minute. ******** Leighton closed the check ledger after balancing the accounts.” “Nate.” “Oh. She wished for a little more wiggle room in the budget to upgrade the kitchen appliances and restore the restaurant to full service. Shoot. she crossed the third name of a potential chef off her list after he canceled last minute.She laughed along with him. by the way. you can start shutting down the grill after these last few orders go out. She put Dennis on the top of her list as the main suspect. Sunday being the only day the restaurant closed. This goal was unlikely to happen until she hired an experienced chef to lure back her lost customers. Leslie’s ear-splitting giggle jolted her awake from a serene dream. She massaged the middle of her forehead with the palm of her hand to ward off the creeping headache. please don’t make me meet with Sullivan. I might order enough bread for the rest of the year if she throws me a little play.
” She attempted to stoke Nate’s ego.” “Burnt ain’t Cajun. He don’t know nobody with connections.” She shrugged her shoulders. Nate. why would an executive chef. “You know. “Leighton. Charlie can cook grub better than Richard. your cooking infuses the Cajun spin.” . He was the executive chef at his last gig. “Hogwash. he can cook. Want me to call him?” “Is Charlie a bona-fide cook or a cook with your talent?” “Hell nah. “Give him a try for a week.” Nate set two dessert plates with generous slices of chocolate cake on a large serving tray with two glasses of cold milk. let me mull over the idea and get back to you before you call him. “He ain’t been able to find work since he ain’t from Chicago.” She wiped the counter down and placed clean placemats and silverware before grabbing another tub of dirty dishes. asking your friends if they know of a cook looking for a part-time job would help.” “I don’t know. these jokers threatenin’ not to come back if I cook one more meal for them. I might not be able to accommodate his talents. Leighton.” She lowered her brow asking. scooting a serving tray towards Leslie.” he said. “My boy. “Nate. waste his talent flipping burgers and pancakes in a diner? I’m sure he can do a lot better than this. Charlie.help clear tables and haul trash. need a part-time job. even I know I can’t cook. get us help in here. Nate and Leslie were joshing around with a few regular customers still lingering in the dining area.
would accept the legitimate excuse. “Tell your friend to come for an interview after we close tomorrow. The pressure from working non-stop in the restaurant was not elusive but not as overwhelming as her last job. With a spatula. fanning smoke from her face. Leighton pulled the trash bag from the large receptacle and lugged the overstuffed. She sat the bag on the frozen ground to unlock the . Roake. “Darn it. February blew in with abnormal temperatures and remained unchanged practically the whole month.” From the drawer. she removed the burned meat from the flat-top and laid fresh hamburger patties all while humming a small tune. strapped on a clean apron and washed her hands to remake the order clipped to the ticket holder. Burned hamburger meat adhered to the surface of the stainless steel flat-top that had taken her hours to clean the night before. She blamed the restaurant keeping her busy and hoped her new therapist Dr. but he was up to his elbows cleaning grease traps. Normally Nate dumped the trash. Nate—you left food on the stove again.In the kitchen. she dealt with the different personalities of customers and did not run to therapy outside of normal visits. she had not gone on a date or socialized with any of her former friends since returning to Chicago. The strong cold wind cut through her as she made way to her dumpster. she donned a hairnet. For the most part. heavy-duty bag to the service door.” she yelled. ******** The noise of the dishwasher clamored in the background as the cleaning began. she dumped her dishpan and noticed food on the griddle. Leslie’s responsibilities were to clean the dining area and restock the silverware and napkin bins while Leighton and Nate took care of the kitchen. She did lag on one of her promises.
The light quarter-sleeve sweater was doing nothing to prevent the wind for nipping at her bones. you go off the hook. Why. how’d your day go once I left?” Leighton’s shoulders slump as she rushed to scoop up the trash from the ground. livid. and a man in a suit gives you a compliment you don’t flinch as often. you’re playing in the wrong game. but struggled getting the leverage to get it up and in the tall dumpster.” “Leighton. Dennis—your criticism of me just doesn’t bother me. “Everything went as usual despite your attempts at degrading me in front of my customers.” Dennis’ voice said in the distance.dumpster and lift the lid. The fact he irritated her more than anything. How many times a day do you flinch? When the door opens. She tried hauling the heavy bag over one shoulder. said.” Dennis didn’t intimidate her. dropping the majority of the content on the ground. Part of the bag ripped. Slowly turning to face Dennis who was determined to rile her again with insipid conversation. I got it. if you can’t take a little criticism. finally getting the bag balanced on the edge of the dumpster.” “Is that so? I witnessed your interaction with Mac this morning. “So. The weather was cold. “Since when did you appoint yourself to watch my interactions with my customers?” . “I can take plenty of criticism.” Leighton snorted. “You look as if you could use a little help with the trash bag. made their exchange of affronts easy for her. Leighton?” She placed her hands on her hips. “No thanks. but when a group of rowdy construction workers get a little fresh.
” His paunchy belly jiggled when he laughed. “My time is precious and not wasted on watching you. “I used to be all those things you said. You’re a weak individual and won’t survive. Too bad a receptionist or secretary can’t screen your diners as they did your clients.” Leighton balled her fist by her side to keep from smacking his smug. She attempted to squeeze between his large frame and the wall. Mark my words. one day a man will smack your cute little ass. Dennis. you’ll be sporting the after effects of this pipe going upside your head. They were causal towards one another until they entered high school. Mac ran you behind the counter this morning. Dennis! And.” She reached for the rusty lead pipe used to support the lid on the dumpster. you do it a lot. When hanging with his crew he made .” Dennis’ beady eyes narrowed. But. Leighton. “Move! My time is now being wasted with your stupid crap!” He moved inches closer to the wall blocking her exit entirely. “You’re still a scared little girl in a woman’s body. fat face as he attacked her instability. on chance when I’m in the restaurant.He took a step towards her. Dennis Osburn was an old schoolmate and lived in the same neighborhood during her childhood. Dennis weighed three times the normal weight of the average adolescent. “Awe look at you trying to be all brave. “You are out of your league. if you don’t move. “Get out of my way. But. How many years has passed since your little scare in high school? Don’t tell me Malcolm is still fighting your battles from Utah. to leave. and you’ll go running back to the safe confines of a walled office.” She clutched her knuckles around the base of the pipe. stay out of my restaurant! I wouldn’t want you to get a poor reputation by being seen there.” Leighton smacked her lips disregarding what he said.
The only way he wouldn’t heckle her was if Malcolm were around. .” she said swinging the pipe over her shoulder. how authentic and I’ve heard them all!” “I agree. You’re mistaking yourself for something you’re not—a man. Finally. If you had to chase me two feet. but the words are jumbled.” The coldness of her eyes had Dennis take a step backward as she told the details of how she wanted his death to evolve. you’d kill over from a heart attack. I’m not seriously contemplating using my cell phone to call for help. I turn my back walking away gleefully whistling. Fat jokes are useless against you. I’m visualizing standing over your dying body. with your free hand.sure to poke fun at her causing the others to do the same. “I don’t fear you. if you don’t move out of my way. you reach out to me. What I truly want to happen is more devious—you tell me if this is worse than a fat joke. The heels of my shoes echoing off the wet pavement are the only other sounds on the deserted street. You repeatedly ask me for help. stop fronting like you’re not scared of me. “Leighton. miserable death. your tiny eyes pleading. Your pupils dilating. your massive hands clutching your chest trying to stop the surging pain from your heart struggling to deliver the final beat. “Don’t be flabbergasted. I swear to God. I’ll free the small village hiding under the fat folds of your belly.” “There it is! Keep throwing the fat jokes. I can’t understand what you’re asking. “Dennis.” She tossed the pipe on the ground.” Her face burned with rage. I’m astounded you’re talking to me and not screaming for Nate to come shoo me away. I’m elated you’re suffering a slow. For instance. The words came across rehearsed and not random from the top of her head.
“Dennis.Leighton leaned against the cold bricks of the building. her face turned to stone. They wanted to pull you out of your shell to be like the other girls in our class. ask your buddies if they found the prank funny after trial! You got off on a technicality but don’t think for a minute I will stop hating your guts for the rest of my life.” Hysterical with laughter. You were nerdy and quiet. “A partnership.” “They weren’t going to do anything to you. “As hurt as I am you could care less about my well-being.” The nasty taste of bile filled her throat.” “Obviously it backfired on all of you. She stopped laughing. grinning at the uneasiness on his face. “Why are you sweating.” he said grinning. I still want to offer you a deal. I’m watching the road-kill crew hurl your bloated corpse in the back of a dump truck to be taken away with the other carcasses collected from the street. her eyes did not blink but narrowed as she concluded. she doubled over. Dennis? Did you not enjoy my alternative to a fat joke?” He shook off the chilling affects trying to regain control of the conversation. I’m offering you a partnership. “Dennis. I start humming the tune to What a Beautiful Morning. make you popular. Another song enters my head. You’ll have food critics waiting to review you once word has spread I’m in the kitchen.” .” She paused. you have nothing I want. saying.” “Oh but I do. with you! Not in this lifetime or on this planet!” “You’re passing on an opportunity because of a silly prank years ago?” He said raising his voice to make sure she overheard him over her own laughter. “Touché on your imaginative skills. “I return the next morning to stand unnoticed in the arc of a building. I’ll run your kitchen and get your name on the map as a full service restaurant again. Leighton.
move out of my way and leave me alone.” “Suit yourself—I got nothing but time.” Leighton remembered to slap the lock on the dumpster.“C’mon. Why in God’s name would I want to be hemmed in a restaurant with you all day. I’m going inside. think about what I said before you make a final decision.” “Shame. surrounded by sharp objects urging me to commit an inappropriate act?” His eyes formed half-slits.” She snarled her lips.” “Don’t say I didn’t offer you a way to turn this place into a possible franchise to spread across Chicago. “Then—let—me—die! Take your grand ideas to those people seeking you—I don’t want to be associated with you in any way. unlike you. I don’t have layers of blubber to keep me warm. I didn’t take Malcolm’s offer to buy this dump when he offered. what a pity you didn’t. These people would pack your place every night with their entourages in tow—but be a stupid woman.” “I can’t stand you from afar. She did not trust turning her back entirely to Dennis and used caution. You wanna ignore I’m well known around Chicago with hookups with celebrities who enjoy my cooking. So again. “Yeah. Leighton.” He wheezed heavily after taking a long drag from a cigarette. Vondra’s is vacant—why don’t you open your own celebrity heaven and run me out of business. Your place is right for molding a nothing dive into the next best thing. or form. “Oh for heaven’s sake—please! I would be an idiot to accept your offer.” . stopping his feeble attempt at slandering her. shape.” She flashed her hand to his face. You’re not the only one to work with celebrities—they don’t excite me. “You need me to survive. emphasizing each word.
” “Leighton. she slapped soap on her hands before running them under hot water. He wanted us to become partners—can you believe him!” Nate shrugged his shoulders.“Trust me. and watch a little mind-numbing TV. “Humph.” ******** Filled with anger. He had stuff to do tomorrow. Nate.” Nate laughed deeply. so I told him to drop by bout now. she slammed the service door shut.” “Nate. interrupting them. Dennis made it seem like Malcolm went to him with the proposition. “Nate. and Malcolm flat-out refused. “No! Dennis was lurking in the alley again! Get this. some guy is here for you.” Leslie poked her head through the heavy swinging doors. not what he told me. “Ya know Dennis full of shit. he did try to get Malcolm to sell. don’t let ‘dat fool get under your skin.” She dried her hands and said. what happened with him coming tomorrow? I’m beat! All I want to do is go home to a hot shower.” She sighed heavily.” . thanks for saying what I was thinking. he should be here any minute. this ain’t gon’ take long. Nate dropped the mop in the bucket to check on her. “Well. Are we ready to go?” “Not yet—Charlie should be here in a minute. followed-up by a high-pitched whine. slip on my warm nightgown. “Nate. “What’s the matter? Did the lid on the dumpster get stuck again?” After a stump to the sink. those are words you won’t ever hear me say to you.
the fruits of her hard labor were shown by the stains covering the snug fitting t-shirt. meet my buddy. “Dat gotta be Charlie. Leighton.” said Nate extending his hand to greet his friend. “What’s up. “Yes. And.” On the sly. This is Leighton Hall. the owner. please. we meet again. man. She’s cool people. “Ms. Leighton. He laid-back and will do whatever you want done around here.” “I swear on my gold tooth. He can throw down. he’s a hip cat. but he seemed familiar to her. all my friends do. black hairnet.” Charlie stood from the chair as Leighton came from around Nate to greet him. “Charlie—whad’up playa. I now have a name to put to a face that saved me earlier. “Gettin’ you to help us out around this joint is whuz’up. her makeup had smeared. saying.” Charlie said reciprocating the handshake. when he was in the diner. The oversized parka and knit cap pulled over his head made it hard to make out his appearance. Unlike earlier. and her hair was tucked tight underneath a thick. Charles Andrews. without the apron covering the top half of her body.” Leighton wiggled her hand free after Charlie held onto it longer than normal. He took her hand and felt the beginnings of hard calluses forming on her palm. you better not get my hopes high to fizzle out on this guy when he can’t make a grill cheese sandwich without an iron. He assumed she’d taken over the cooking duties from Nate. Also. Nate didn’t tell me. and call me Leighton. Nate. Hall.Nate rubbed his hands together giving a heads up to Leslie. call me Charlie. you had scoped us out already.” “Nate. Charlie is dope with the food. she pulled the .” Leighton followed Nate to a table where a white man sat.
” “Were you on vacation?” To stop wringing her hands. Nate huffed loudly.” She twisted the hairnet in her hand nervously. it has been a long day. drawing her under a hex. I stayed at that hotel once. His bedroom eyes were like steel magnets. “Oh. The service and food were excellent. I was in a wedding. I wouldn’t be this messy to conduct an interview. letting her ponytail tumble free.” she joked. “Nate tends to stretch the truth. “I guess there is a little truth behind that statement. “Not exactly.” she said throwing an evil eye in Nate’s direction. she folded her arms across her perky breast. “I must say I’m impressed. perhaps you made our meals. “Leighton.” She raised her eyebrow. not the executive chef. do Charlie get the job or what?” .” Taken aback by the sensuality of his deep voice. “Eh.hairnet off her head. right. Nate frowned. Nate mentioned you were an executive chef. “We’re in the process of cleaning. I’ve been around long enough to know if you’re clean at the end of the day you haven’t done much work. shoving Leighton to stop her from staring. and I’m a mess. don’t worry about that. “Hey y’all can jive talk later!” He interrupted them after the interview turned in another direction. I was one of many chefs at the Prince-of-Wales in Ontario. Normally. “I wanna get a drank! Leighton. she hadn’t educed the sexiness it exuded earlier. are you gonna interview him or stare a hole in him?” She blinked to clear her head. Why would you want to work here after having the best of what the restaurant business offers?” The bashful smile gave away his embarrassment.
I changed my mind. “Come on. he was leaving Chicago. Charlie. but. “Actually. I forgot about the no-cursing rule. “Yo man—where we goin’ she ain’t gon’ wanna be. I don’t curse. You leave the cooking to me. pulling on his gloves. Charlie?” Charlie touched her arm lightly. the first round is on me. is cook my ass off. Classy women don’t hang out at JoJo’s Strip & Lick.” Charlie zipped his parka. “I can handle that.She lifted her eyebrow. “Nate.” He winced. and I promise your waste revenue will drop considerably now that Nate isn’t cooking. not in front of the customers. We are normally around 4:30 in the morning to start preparing to open the doors by 7:00am. Can you deal with those hours. Sometime we’re not finished cleaning until late afternoon. “Don’t be sorry. I think I might be sticking around Chicago after all. that doesn’t mean you can’t.” Leighton moved her arm away from him. apologizing. I want to soak my feet and get a few hours of sleep before it begins again in the morning. Charlie mentioned earlier. “OK.” Nate shut the neon sign above the door off.” he said eagerly awaiting her answer. Leighton. Leighton?” She shook her head.” Nate frowned. not understanding the screaming urge to trust him. “I’m sorry. If there’s one thing I can do. She bit at her lower lip and caved. “I’m going home. Is yo’ ride outside or we walkin’ in the cold?” . We gotta go. Will you be joining us. His touch sent a flash of warmth through her body. I need someone permanently.” Charlie turned to Nate and Leighton. I’m willing if you’re willing to take a chance on me. “I’m all for that.
” “I do.” she said holding the door open. a small smile curled her lips. “See you bright an early tomorrow. “Nate. Charlie slightly winked passing by her. lingered softly in her ears. and remember dat the next time food come from the kitchen a lil’ burnt. .” Leighton locked the door behind them and peered through the glass window watching the two men walk down the street and out of her view.She poked fun at Nate.” “That won’t be happening anymore since we have Charlie. She made on last pass though the kitchen to make sure all was secure. The way Charlie spoke her name. right? Welcome aboard Charlie. I didn’t know you thought of me as classy.
She fished through the glove box for a flashlight. She dropped the key in the snow piling at her feet. Nate normally arrived early to turn on the additional lights for her and Leslie since he lived the closest.” “Nate is running a little late.Chapter 2 Leighton pulled her car into the dark one-way alley. she cursed her way. “I’m sorry. She couldn’t speak or move until her heart stop pounding against the walls of her chest. the snow must be holding him up this morning. She turned off the car and got the door key ready so she could make a dash inside. She was alone with a stranger who had a way of catching her of guard with his charm. but the alley was dark.” He chuckled. unlocked the door for her to enter. “Gosh dang it—I hate freaking winter!” With her teeth she pulled a glove off to ready her hand to plunge in the icy coldness of the snow. “Stop! Be a professional and go chat with the new employee.” He . “Let me. She stashed her purse and coat in the office and did her mandatory deep breaths to calm her insecurities. The heavy snowfall covered her footprints as she neared the door. The brightness from the spot lights would light the shadowy areas lined with dumpsters making it difficult for a person to hide. I was standing around front waiting for someone to show up since I got here a little early. quickly. the thickness of the gloves prevented her from getting a firm grasp on the key to insert into the lock. she stomped her foot.” Charlie said digging in the snow coming up with the key. Scolding herself for assuming Charlie might scam her. searched the wall for the switch to illuminate the kitchen. “Charlie—you scared the frigging daylights out of me.” Leighton with a shaky hand.
not large but functional. She completed the tour where it started. My mother was not impressive at cooking. Nate can show you the storage area if you’re interested in using any of those items. The tour commenced with them walking the medium-sized kitchen and Leighton pointing out items he would use the most. other appliances are stored in the basement. you'll be in charge of the menu. “The pole isn’t their only talent—according to Nate. Did you make a few tasty meals for customers to keep coming back to enjoy?” She rolled her eyes upward. since you are the chef. I’m sure our diners will now appreciate a breakfast free of eggshells and cold-cuts without the wrappings still attached. but what about you. and I can gather the produce and other stuff I’ll need to start prepping.” . but Nate was rushing to visit his special friends who are very acrobatic on poles.” “You gave me the basics to get started.She removed two clean aprons from the bin and tossed one to Charlie. and neither grandmother sat me on a stool while cooking. loading a tray with knives and cutting boards. “One last thing.” she chuckled. in front of her small office space. “Well. seems like Nate and Leslie will be late because of the weather.” Charlie said. “I know Nate is lousy at cooking. I guess we better get started. Charlie. “OK. ma’am. I’ll holler if I need anything else.” He secured a blue bandana around his head to hold back his wavy chestnut hair. “I faked my cooking by dumbing down the menu to simple dishes after Richard left.” “I’m at your service. to pass off any family recipes.” He laughed. He cocked his head to one side. “This pretty much sums up the kitchen. point me in the right direction.” he added after catching her eyebrow do an upward raise.” “I would have done that yesterday. By the way. and put on the clean apron.
But.” “Sometimes being successful is more valuable to some families than the family closeness. don’t believe what’s portrayed on television about African-American families. we weren’t close-knit. “Charlie. I’m living proof of one of those families. What great recipes of life did your family pass down to you?” She drew in a deep breath. nothing beats those stories to share with kids about grandpa making the dresser sitting in their bedroom.” . no cooking lessons came from your generation. as far as families go. “My parents were strict in teaching me to depend on myself and never anyone else to take care of me.” “So you are in contact with your family?” “Somewhat. For the majority.“I find such odd since most African-American families are so centered on the family gathering together for a large Sunday dinner. Leighton. or grandma passing along the cookie recipe she won awards with at local bake sales. filled with family recipes from my generation. to relate to real life. “That did not come out the way it was meant to sound. I would love to own dusty old boxes. I don’t. but.” “So. I shouldn’t say we aren’t close. most African- American families do have excellent cooks and the closeness with their families around the dinner table. I was not implying—“ She cut him short.” “Um…excuse me?” Charlie recanted his statement.” “Believe me.
” “Weren’t you taught the verbiage never-say-never?” “Yes. the thought crossed my mind to adopt a kid once.this is written in stone.” He abstained from laughing.” “I do not and I repeat.” “Tell your guy to get on the ball. “Not a one. and I applied it only when I didn’t mean it….” “Do you want children?” “I would love to be a mother one day.” “Oh well.“I wasn’t aware you had kids…how many little ones you got calling you mommy?” He asked.” He shook his head at her stubbornness.” she stated. I was speaking in general. stopping what he was doing to listen to her.” “Cats can’t be substituted for people.” . there goes my one and only chance. I have a cat I treat like a kid if she counts. but look what happened. do not foresee ever having a bumper crop of little people yanking at my hem. I’m sure your little prediction into the future will not stand either. “Germany promised never to tear down the walls separating the East from the West. “Adoption is one way to go. but the fad passed faster than a speeding bullet. but why not birth your own?” “I’m not married and will never marry at the rate I’m moving. “Although. Three kids will give you a bumper crop of grandkids and great-grandkids.
And I had nothing to do with any of it if that’s why you’re staring at me.” “Would it be invasive of me to ask what you mean?” “I made vice president at TransContinental until the company folded under disgrace. “I won’t be harsh and raise a child in a world where he or she would be hated or disrespected for being different because of me. I’m kinda different myself. “OK. “I understand being solitary.“It will stand. When people lose their assets to those entrusted to protect their money. I’m a solitary person with unique views. “Wasn't the branch under fire in New York?” “Yeppers. If I told you. I can’t say. But. Charlie. you’d walk out of here and never come back. I didn’t realize you lived in New York. did you live up to your parent’s dreams of becoming successful?” She nodded slowly. other people start looking at you funny. no.” Not expecting such a response. moving along. what a nasty scandal to be affiliated with.” “No I wasn’t.” He eyed her. “I would be in New York if two of the company’s CEO’s had not gotten greedy for more money one person could spend in a human’s life span.” . “Yes and no. he wanted her to explain. “Umm.” Charlie let it go for the minute. But how unique are your views?” She wiggled her finger back and forth.” She turned on the radio and sighed.
” Leighton ran her hands up and down the coarse material of her jeans. “I wouldn’t say the food was horrible—okay. And. But now I’m cooking.” Charlie bit his lower lip keeping the desire to delve further into her negative disposition.” . saying. and I can’t say I blame them for not coming here to eat. yeah it was.“CEO’s embezzling or doing pyramid schemes seems to be a trend these days in finance.” “We’re both aware Nate hits the bottle heavily. a hole-in-the-wall ran by a woman that can’t cook. I have lost a lot of customers. You could be the positive in turning this place around. so the challenges must not have been all bad. Nate swears you are the best chef ever born. “You’re still here.” “This restaurant was dropped in my lap. The food is horrible whether I cook or if Nate cooks. true good. finally I get you to agree with me. I had no choice but to make it work or lose my investment.” “Aha.” “The jury is still deliberating. thing. welcome to my new career. What about the no part of your answer? What didn’t meet your parent’s expectations?” “That's not important. When Richard was cooking. This might be your.” He turned on a charming smile. Remember the old saying all good things take time. One person thinks he’s created the perfect money laundering scheme only for it to blow up in his face. How ironic is that?” “I don’t think it’s ironic at all you’re turning a negative experience into a positive. I’m putting my trust in him blindly. “Charlie. and let’s not forget his other illegal habits that clearly impact his thinking. business was booming. literally.
“We’ll skip this part of the conversation until you get to know me better. Charlie had not spoken at all about his background in the culinary world nor did he complain about the inadequate equipment in the kitchen. or what was new in the restaurant industry. Are you hungry?” “Yeah. He asked many questions about her and revealed little of himself. lady. In the meantime.” ******** Leighton watched amazed at the precision used in handling the knife while his fingers remained intact.” He pointed the spatula he was holding in her direction. but what frazzled her was the way their conversation carried. . if you can bring in crowds of people.” “Hmm…I tend to cringe when a woman has feelings building about me. “Start limbering up the bones.” “Let me get you filled with one of my special omelets before the crowds arrive. he generally carried on about food. but he said nothing. When she and Richard would talk. but I have a feeling about you. I am hungry.” “Would those be good or bad cringes?” She asked inquisitively. You got some flipping to do. teasing. “I’m glad you said that and not me. I’ll do cartwheels around this place for a week. She didn’t mind the silence.She giggled. It’s been a long time since a delicious meal came from this kitchen.” “Charlie. I’ll let you be the judge of my cooking talents. He worked in silence as he moved about the kitchen. She would have thought he’d have an input or two on how to get the kitchen more user-friendly or how to attract customers.
She’d never dated a white man.” He scooted the carton of eggs and a mixing bowl closer to her. Her slender waist gave way to curvy hips making it hard for him to stop watching her walk around the room. Leighton pursed her lips in silent approval—he was undeniably the most handsome white man she’d encountered since trading in her suits for an apron. A white t-shirt hugged his muscular body in all the right places while the black Levi jeans fit nicely over his slim hips to snuggle over his thick thighs. The demure tone of her makeup highlighted her natural golden-brown skin. “Crack me about six without shells. Her jet black hair was pulled again in a tight ponytail to the back of her head. She was thick in all the right places. He’d noticed her curvy form the first time they’d met. Drumming her fingers on the aluminum table after finishing her private assessment. The light five-o’clock shadow he sported yesterday had been shaven. If he had to estimate her physically. baby brown eyes. she was probably 5’6” and no more than 125 pounds. When she folded her arms. Her breasts weren’t large or small but average and filled the sweater she wore nicely. She was prettier than he first thought. but. His freshly cut hair had light blonde streaks weaving neatly throughout giving him a distinguished appearance. held a golden hue when she smiled. Her oval. His greyish-blue eyes and thick eyelashes were impeccably shaped to match his chiseled features and beautiful dimpled smile. The sure sign giving him the notion she was not dating .” He caught the sharp eye roll she flashed. her breasts pushed-up drawing his eyes instantly. she might be available. Charlie would undoubtedly be on the list if she were dating any man at all. from the corner of his eye. “How can I help—I crack a mean egg.Leighton rested her chin on the back of her hand to examine him closely. He thought. since she had not reference a boyfriend or husband during their chat. She guessed him to be between 30 to 35 years of age. she asked.
he winked. I’ll teach you to make the perfect omelet. “Beautifully done. Charlie gave her a look to challenge her sass. to compete the meal. I’m lying.” . its only eggs and whatever the customer wants. “Breakfast awaits Madame. He then slid the omelets onto the warmed plates and added the toast and freshly brewed hot coffee on the side.” Leighton cursed those eyes that seemed to pierce into areas she was not used to having challenged.” She sassed. they’d been in the restaurant for a few hours.was. pepper and a dash of hot pepper sauce. but you forgot a few ingredients. “Are my eggs whipped to your approval?” She asked. Remembering her earlier comment on cooking. He then placed bread in the toaster giving her instructions to not let the bread burn Charlie placed plates in the oven to warm for a few minutes while he retrieved chairs from the dining room. “Now they’re perfect.” Pouring a little of the heavy cream and adding salt. Leighton broke his thoughts with a question. What man would allow his wife or girlfriend to be out in the wee hours of the morning and in lousy weather and not call to make sure she’d arrived safely at her destination. “I was getting to that. This will be the first time a chef personally made food just for me.” “I’m so excited. He pulled a chair for her to sit. “OK. when I make an omelet.” He suggested as he poured the egg mixture in the sauce pan with the rest of the prepared ingredients. “Come a little closer. and her cell phone had not rung once. tipping the bowl for him to see.
I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. this will probably be the only decent meal we get today.” He sipped his coffee and let out a small grunt. “No. it takes a lot of hard work and dedication to open a restaurant.” he laughed. I’ll add this to the menu along with homemade biscuits.” She nodded.“Eat up. “You are singing a tune I can relate with. I wasn't sure if I wanted to do that either. “Don’t blame Nate. I refuse to walk away from another challenge.” “I could hug you and slap Nate for . my hair all fancied and my makeup perfect. muffins.” Squinting with one eye closed he smiled. with pumps. Leighton swallowed a forkful of the omelet. Charlie. if you were unhappy working for others why didn’t you open your own restaurant?” “Leighton. to focus on her. I was getting burned out at my old job.” Charlie pushed his plate away.” “I’m not exactly dressed to fit the role now. maybe a human resources director. I see an administrative career.” “Charlie. “I don’t picture you as this big private wealth tycoon. and a weak moan slipped from her throat.” She stopped chewing to stare at him. keeping you a secret until now. but picture me in a black power suit. that was a fluffy piece of heaven going down my throat. “Oh my god. But.” “I’m glad my omelet has your stamp of approval. her eyes closed. and a few other things I noticed in the freezer that can be prepared homemade and save you tons of money on frozen food.
I imagine you’d specialize in many professions but. I didn’t mean to offend you. not exactly what you’d expect to find working on Wall Street. figures. leather brief bag and me hailing a cab in the financial district—do you see it now?” Charlie scrunched his face still peeping through one eye.” “On the contrary. and female. You don’t strike me as either.” “Ugh. I don’t know why people were surprised. A woman working on Wall Street and not as a secretary was rare once.” Charlie. Leighton. I’m not actually getting that impression. most financial professionals are either full of themselves or stuffy.” “My career started at the bottom and ended with a corner office with a view. not as a financial Wall Street baller. Potential clients would confuse my name with being male and would doubt my abilities until I whipped out my portfolio. I’m dull and should have a dull occupation. “I used to be offended. managed billions of dollars before I strapped on an apron and ugly hairnet. she leaned in. worn. “Leighton. “You seem kind of young and—” “Yes.“You are making this difficult—throw on the trusty.” “There are many women working on Wall Street these days.” she said. “Hmm. I . I kept my nose clean with my clients and refused to partake in any money deals that didn’t sit well on my stomach.” “Not many black woman as white women were in my position.” Folding her arms on the table.” He raised a conspicuous eyebrow.
Warding him off from coming any closer. “Leighton.” Leighton tensed when Charlie moved closer to her.” “I’m not assuming you slept with anyone.” “Charlie.” “That won’t be necessary. I had to work twice as hard as my white counterparts. I had to fight the men who tied to woo me with unscrupulous requests. We have to get used to each other and apparently that topic is one to stay away from. I don’t know why I let it bother me anymore. “I’m Canadian. we don’t get into the prejudice bull like American’s. Confused by the angry outbreak Charlie got up from the table.” “What are you talking about? This is not the bottom. then. take it easy. A job is obtained by skill and not based on the color of your skin.” She stood from the table to pace. I didn’t find it funny when people assumed I took short-cuts to get the corner office and would do even more to get further ahead.” . I’m fighting my fall back to the bottom of the barrow. You have what lots of would-be restaurant owners want. stretching. Don’t let minor setbacks destroy your visions for this restaurant. but you are aware of the remarks made about women in prominent positions. “I’m alright.” “I can’t speak on what you endured since you’re a man.He pushed away from the table.” He heeded her request and did not move towards her. “We’re cool. Some subjects remain a sore spot with me. I refused to sleep my way to the top. she lowered her voice. I got to the top and proved I could do a man’s job. I accomplished my goals the right way. We are in YOUR restaurant—not a boardroom full of salivating men waiting for you to undress to give a slide-show presentation. I apologize for my behavior. I’m open discussing my work history. Leighton.
“Nothing happened to me. but your personality is soft.” Were you sexually harassed at .“Is it a vision or a nightmare in the making. a hurt of some sort. “I have a question you’ll most likely refuse to answer.” “Charlie. I’ve only been here a few hours. “Do I look as if I would be sexually harassed?” “That depends if I could answer it appropriately without inserting my foot into my mouth. you wouldn’t be able to answer my question if you’d worked here for years. it’s nearly six o’clock and Nate. Men had to slather you with compliments. rather in a moral or immoral way. what happened to you?” She turned her back to him. Most overachieving women aren’t subjected to this type of exploitation in the workplace.” he said not letting go of her hand.” “In a minute. Charlie?” “I can’t answer that. We better get back to work. When I get stressed.” He touched her arm forcing her to face him. and Leslie is not here. you’re a beautiful woman. TransContinental?” Her eyes bulged. a man in a powerful position would use you to his advantage with hopes you’d keep quiet. but I need to know. I tend to ramble—ignore me.” “Of course you can’t. I haven’t been hurt.” “What?” “Leighton. “Leighton.” she said turning down the sound on the radio. “Your eyes are telling a different story.
“Leighton. “You’re taking what I said out of context. “I’m not the type of person to cause trouble but I also won’t be taken advantage of. I didn’t live for my job—I did my job extremely well.” “My mental note collector is filing all the information. she’d been hurt badly by a man. a man will hit on any woman if he thinks he’ll get lucky regardless if she’s an overachiever or a slacker. I give the impression I’m meek but I’m not. My private life is my own.” . and I don’t discuss it with anyone. I keep saying the wrong things to you so I’m going to shut up.“Let me get this straight. Although she would not admit it to him.” She narrowed her eyes. And. Leighton! I’m being honest when I say you don’t seem the type to cause trouble or confrontations and might let snide remarks go instead of reporting your superiors. for your information. I now get what you meant.” “I was wrong and apologize. It has nothing to do with you so don’t take it personally. you’re saying I would allow myself to be sexually harassed in order to keep problems from arising in the workplace!” “No. his insides reeled from the low self-esteem she exhibited. All conversations are to be strictly workrelated. nor am I an overachiever. Would you like to finish breakfast now?” He asked.” Charlie remained speechless. I’m also not the woman men drool over when I enter a room. extending her chair for her to sit. I don’t want your day to be ruined because of me asking stupid questions or knocking your uniqueness on how you view issues.” “Your questions aren’t stupid. I will not ask about your private life or compliment you ever again.” “Charlie.
remember?” He took his plate to the dishwasher. Besides. refilling the coffee mugs. but you’re tossing facts and language far advanced for being a cook in a hotel.” He laughed a hearty laugh. Charlie politely evaded her questions. Charlie took his seat. America isn’t the only country were people are pressured to succeed.“Leighton. “So tell me. but I won’t tolerate being belittled. She followed behind to place her dishes in the dishwasher with his. After all.” . private life stories are not to be spoken about. “I won’t pry.” With his attitude swiftly shifting. “You don’t have to worry about that.” “I told you. She cleared her throat to resume her own questioning. this is a place of business. is my passion. so I left. Charlie was only being polite when she let the bitterness dwelling in her soul show the ugliest side of her. “Too long of a story and we need to open in an hour.” “Who belittled you?” She asked. All I should know is you aren’t running from the law. I’ve done other work. Leighton smoothed her napkin over her lap. But to cook. if we keep our conversations simple I’ll keep my job and you won’t be annoyed with me on a daily basis. The comfort she felt minutes earlier had turned into discomfort. I don’t need to know about your private life and you don’t need to know about mine.” “First of all don’t misquote me when I say chefs are not educated. what is the reason you quit your day job?” “I did tell you.
we won’t get people to leave. and looked at her long and hard.” “I’ll think we’ll make a powerful team once we get in a rhythm of working together and ironing out what topics are safe to talk about. Would you mind filling this measuring cup with buttermilk? I should have done that before getting my hands goopy. “We didn’t stay at the bar long last night. Leighton touched him on the shoulder.” “He is a character but a loyal friend. “I’ve gotten used to Nate and pretty much can understand what he’s saying as long as he isn’t excited or intoxicated. I might need to expand to the empty space next door.” Checking her watch she said. and as long as my rhythm doesn’t require me to pick up another spatula.” Charlie began mixing ingredients together to make buttermilk biscuits.” “For sure.” .” “That means nothing to Nate. “Leighton.” Strangely. He probably went to another bar after you two split up. “I wonder where Nate is. it’s been awhile since I’ve had an actual conversation where I didn’t need to decipher half of it.Charlie leaned against the sink. If your other dishes taste as delicious as the omelet. “Charlie. He found me a job and possibly new friends at Leighton’s Breakfast & Lunch.” “He could’ve.” The awkwardness reappeared causing Leighton to retreat to the other side of the kitchen. He’s never this late. I owe you. a move she would never do unless the man were a relative or long-time friend. seriously.
I wanted one. I remember visiting my cousin when I was eight years old. “The warmth from your hands will melt the chilled butter and bring the dough together. My friend Evodio made the best biscuits. “Leighton. “The dough feels weird squishing between my fingers.” “I don’t want to touch anything and contaminate the dough. we’re making biscuits not going into surgery.” Charlie placed her hands into the soft flour mixture. You can’t take aggression out on this biscuits like bread. He never would allow me see how he made them. He poured the cold buttermilk into the bowl slow causing the flour to stick to her fingers instantly. Let me show you how to handle it so the biscuits are tender and flaky and not heavy and hard.” “If it makes you feel better.” “Didn’t you make mud pies when you were a kid?” “My mother would never allow me to play in mud. dripping with butter. I didn’t get one either. “I love homemade biscuits straight from the oven." she answered reaching for the measuring cup. Charlie shook his head. She had an Easy Bake Oven I fell in love with. unable to hold back his laughter. but I was told I would have people cooking for me one day and didn’t need all those make-believe toys to clutter my room. What do you want me to do?” “Biscuits should be handled with gentle hands.” He demonstrated by putting his hands over hers simulating the motion. She scrunched her nose.” .” “I could use an assistant."Sure. Are you against getting your hands caked with dough?” She washed and dried her hands and held them up as if preparing for surgery.
“Uh. . but his being close to her was allowing a mild stirring deep inside her body to occur.” Flushed. “Easy.” Charlie said so closely in her ear. made her body ignore her brain’s urging not to awaken from the selfimposed slumber. “So. She squeezed the dough tightly causing it to spill between her fingers. she withdrew her hands from the shallow bowl wiping the excess flour on her apron. He tapped the back of hands. The passion grew to me wanting to create dishes for people who enjoyed food as much I do.” he mumbled pulling scraggly pieces of biscuit dough from her fingers.“What made you want to cook. “I always had a passion for food.” “Interesting. If I were too lazy to step outside. you should finish doing this. Their hands touching in the crumbly flour. we want tender biscuits. I would make my old standby peanut butter and jelly sandwich and be happy. What are a few of your favorite foods?” “I don’t believe I have a favorite. But. and the soft music playing on the radio. Charlie?” She asked as the kneading reduced her tension.” Her arms filled with chill bumps when his lips brushed closely with the tip of her ear. his standing so closely. doesn’t your mouth water?” She didn’t know about the anticipation of eating the biscuits. when I lived in New York food was available on every street corner at any hour of the day. after massaging the dough and knowing what goodness will come. I better get the dining room in order since Leslie isn’t here. warmed her.
” . I don’t know what you did in Canada on days like this. Leighton turned on the television. of all days.” The phone in the office rang. but nothing is more satisfying than snuggling up by the fireplace with a good book on a cold day. “Oh right! Hot chocolate with mini marshmallows.” Leighton said listening closely to the weatherman.” “Ya got that right. “Maybe we should get home before we get snowed in. Nate left to answer since he was closest to the office entrance. thanks to the storm. “This does not look good.” “Don’t fret. WGN is reporting the mayor might shut the city down to clean the streets. School closings ran across the bottom of the screen as the weatherman gave updates on the heavy snowfall smothering the city. tomorrow is another day. Scraping dough from his fingers. You American’s are spoiled when you get severe weather. “Hot damn! We got a major blizzard going on—turn on the news. can’t have a snow day without those. You want clean streets and salted sidewalks or you’re not leaving your comfy homes.” Leighton grumbled clicking the remote to surf for weather reports on other channels. “What’s with the mood?” “You Charlie! I had you to unveil and not a soul will be in the restaurant today. aren’t you missing some major elements for your snow day snuggle?” She tapped her forefinger to her temple. “This would happen today. Charlie witnessed yet another switch in her mood. but we also love getting snow days.” “Leighton.Nate burst through the back door breaking the enticing moment.
Be breezy. “Nate. I’ll drop you off. if you’re sure. to put it nicely. “How about a warm fire and sharing a large cup of hot chocolate with a special woman—or man in your case. You probably won’t be able to get a bus. “In not so many words. “Wonderful.” Charlie wrapped the dough in plastic wrap and placed it in the freezer.” “I hate being right all the time—can I help you pack the foods you’ve prepped already?” “Nah.” Turning her attention to Nate. are you saying you won’t be snuggling up with a special guy tonight?” She started to answer when Nate came from the office relaying the message from the telephone call. he's officially asked businesses not offering medical or emergency services. “I’m perfectly happy drinking my hot chocolate alone and not sharing my blanket.” “OK. ”You called it. Leighton. Leighton. Her kids can’t get to a babysitter. I got this. I gotta homie dat lives around the corner.” Leighton threw her hands quieting Nate when the mayor appeared on the television screen. “How did you two meet? Nate is pure street.” “I’m straight.“No.” Nate said closing the service door behind him. and her bus is running behind two hours iff’n one comes at all. “Leslie ain’t gon’ make it.” Charlie crossed his arms across his broad chest.” . I meant a partner. I’ve never seen him associate with many white people.” Her lip did a downward droop.” Charlie removed the bandana from his head. she caught him before he reached the door. not to open. Leighton shook her head.
my motto now is to follow your dreams. impressed she was observant. spare me from hearing what the look on your face is saying. Though I didn’t have a plan at the time. are you secretly hiding a bad boy inside of you?” “That will be a secret you will never get out of me.” “Leighton. it didn’t stop them from showing me the door. and we should enjoy ourselves and be as happy as possible while we’re here.” “Charlie. It worked because you became a prominent chef. “My parents were believers in cutting the cord at eighteen. We only get one life.” Charlie nodded. not much is different between me and Nate. in reality.” “Not right away. I did what was expected of me and hated it after a few years. but sometimes necessary.” “I think it is. but he still has a lot of wildness in him with the drinking and strip clubs.” “Tough love is brutal. Leighton. is that code you were kicked out of the house too.” . and I know where he’s coming from since I was on my own at a young age.“Wha’cha saying—I can’t be hood?” miserably. Nate is that way. He’s a lot better than he was. Nate was down on his luck before my brother gave him a job. But. “By aligning yourself with Nate. His attempt at sounding street failed “You really want me to answer your question?” “Be kind.” he answered darkly. all men want a wild side but also want to maintain a got it together image.
“That was deep. If you don’t mind. she calculated him to be around 6’0 feet tall. plus.” She ducked under his arm. I don’t think you should drive in this . “The streets are a mess. not overpowered with strong cologne. Charlie entered the room.” He sensed her uneasiness with his closeness. weather.” “I didn't care what I was giving up when I quit my desk job.” “I’m not too anxious to drive in it either. I was lucky to find mine when I graduated college. I had been whipped too long and needed to stand on my principles for a change. coming behind her to peer over her shoulder. I was happy at the hotel cleaning vegetables.” he said cleaning knives before putting them away. The wind blowing caused small swirls of snow to form in the middle of the deserted street. Leighton returned the chairs to the dining room to look out the window. I would like to make some chicken and beef stock to keep on hand for soups and stews. She needed the air he’d taken away by crowding her space. You’re right about wanting that dream job we’d do anything to have. He yawned. He didn’t tower over her like Malcolm. I can familiarize myself with the kitchen while its’ quiet. and I moved up pretty quick to get to my chef status at Prince-ofWhales. If she didn’t need to go home the snow would be beautiful. Outside was still dark. but the steady fall of heavy snow brightened the sky. no use in both of us being stuck here. “You can take off if you want. she caught his scent.She sighed heavily. He smelled clean. “Nothing pressing on my end either. My stacks of paperwork will kill a few hours and give the city time to get salt trucks on the street. give or take an inch. and said.” Leighton.
I’ll be in the office getting your paperwork together if you have questions about anything.” “Who is Dennis?” He asked. “You met him yesterday. if that’s the case. He’s waiting for me to fail so he can take over the restaurant and make it into a hot spot for his celebrity friends. easily. The day I have any interest in Dennis Osburn will be the day I take my own life.” . Leighton.” “I’m aware what he's up too. the idiot whose dollar I threw away.” “I’m not liking the sound of this.” Charlie cursed to himself forgetting about the paperwork. He was in charge of Vondra’s kitchen before they closed. With her former background in finance. There would be no way he could ask Leighton to let him work under the table. “Any chance he could be attracted to you?” “Don’t make me throw up. the red flags would go off like he was hiding something.” “Oh that guy.She rubbed her stomach. “Suit yourself but you’re killing me with the food smells. When a known chef starts hanging around your establishment that can only mean he’s on the prowl.” “We’ll keep a close eye on him to see if he brings anyone with him next time.” “He’s one of those chefs that nibble while he’s cooking. he’s been nibbling since birth.” “He’s the product of eating too much of his own cooking. He’s a hefty dude. I imagine gaining so much weight from your cooking that I’ll be whaling in the alley with Dennis on sunny days.” Charlie approached the question.” “Well.
tossed some spinach in a bowl and poured a spicy vinaigrette over the top. Leighton was fast asleep with her head on the desk when Charlie pushed the door open. He backed from the office and took the food to the dining room. and put them in the fridge and took out the fixing for a salad. “Charlie. warmed just enough to wilt the leaves. “Come.******** Charlie strained the stock through a sieve before placing it in containers. he went to get his lunch date. napkins and two glasses of Club soda.” he said shaking her again. He retrieved one of the large serving trays and placed the food.” He took her hand. All that was missing was the formal dinnerware and crystal glasses. Her eyes focused as she lifted her head from the desk. Leighton mumbled in her sleep. Leighton had been working in the office for hours and breakfast should have worn off about now. The presentation of the chicken salad was magazine perfect.” “You were knocked out pretty good. “I’m here Shemar. Shaking her lightly on the shoulders. After resetting the order of the food on the table. He grilled two chicken breasts to perfection. “Oh. “I must have fallen asleep. Charlie. He snapped the last lid on the container. The office was so small there wasn’t a place to set the food down. The gourmet set table took her by surprise. I got a surprise for you.” she said plucking off a piece of paper stuck to her cheek. silverware. you did this?” .” he said pulling her from the chair.” “Huh. opting for one of the smaller tables by a window.
and her body was on the prowl. Nate has rap music playing so loud I have no choice but to stay woke. her body had been sending subliminal messages to her brain in waves. I’m helping a friend. so forget the paperwork.” “Again. help out a friend in her time of need. Nate exaggerates. Her knees wobbled even though she was sitting. Even though. Normally I would serve this with white wine.” Anyhow. she had written off men.” “You don’t have to say anything. Leighton felt Charlie’s eyes piercing right through her.“I figured breakfast wore off while you were sleeping.” “You gotta eat it and give me feedback. Leighton. and swallowed. but Club soda was the closest thing you had to that. the salad is gorgeous. In fact. stuck in a major snowstorm.” “This your fault for being quiet in the kitchen. Charlie? Why are you wasting your talents?” “I’m not wasting my talent. pretty to eat. this may jump start my interest in working in fine dining again. “I don’t know what to say about all this special treatment with food. “We won’t need salt and pepper on the tables. I want to do this for free as a trial run. The angel tapping on her right shoulder broke her devilish fixation on him. I’m not destitute. Who knows.” She chewed the tender chicken.” “C’mon. your food is perfectly seasoned.” They were alone. I want to add this salad to the lunch menu if it passes your approval. almost too . Nate said you desperately needed a job. you can’t be serious. Why.
. You don’t even know me to want to help like that.” “Charlie. be honest.” “Yeah. to friendship. I understand. You could say I’m sort of here illegally.” he said. I will not hide any financial information. I’m not ready to return to Canada yet. and rested her chin on the back of her folded hands. Did you like the salad?” “I loved it!” Picking up her glass she held it out to toast him.” He sighed. I’m sure it won’t be a problem. “If that isn’t the case. “Traffic is moving on the street. And. Get your passport renewed. “Here’s to a great partnership. and I like helping out where I’m needed.She placed her fork on the plate. After what I went through with the Federal Reserve.” She peeked through the wooden blinds. I’ll take my chances and renew my passport. then what are you hiding?” “I’m not hiding anything. “Canada is not Mexico. “And. I just like what I do. “Alright. stacking the plates to clear the table. before you ask. I guess we can get out of here finally. I’ll confess. My passport has expired. I will not do the illegal thing and pay under the table.” She frowned. I hope you can understand that.” He returned the toast by touching the tip of the plastic glass against hers. and replied warmly.” “Seems so.
He ignored the call. So far. With his head against the back of the sofa. The steam from the radiators wouldn’t allow the tape to stay adhered to the wall. . He flipped the page of the calendar to the present month and took a pen to cross off another day. and so far. The rooming house wasn’t located in a bad part of town. he stopped. He got a towel and his shaving kit from the closet. His cell phone chirped in his pocket as he closed the door. but lacked the amenities he was accustomed to having. Opening his door. The smell of grilled onions seeping from the pores of his skin took precedence over the nap he craved. each day the lines remained long and the tables filled with happy diners. He placed the grocery bags on the table. and silenced the ringer throwing the phone on the table. He fumbled with the temperamental lock on the door. He’d been in the United States approximately one and a half years. Chicago was shaping up to be the best city he’d visited. This day completed his second month as chef at Leighton’s Breakfast & Lunch. Charlie took the stairs to his room. He opted to stay in rooming houses instead of hotels to keep a step ahead of anyone from Canada trying to locate him. fell over his head.Chapter 3 Two Months Later Charlie understood what Nate meant when he said the restaurant stayed packed till closing when the food was scrumptious. Charlie sat up sniffing for the strange odor invading his nose. the calendar he’d tacked up with scotch tape. and living in Chicago five months. Glad the Saturday morning shift ended and he would have time off to recharge his batteries. The bathroom was located across the hall from his room and shared by four other tenants of the rooming house. the sign hanging on the bathroom doorknob read occupied. and flopped on the old fashioned 1970’s yellowish-brown flowered sofa.
I’m going to stick around. “What are you talking about?” He repeated. “Dude. When I yell out an order. Damn. smelled and didn’t feel like entertaining Kathy. party time. “Yo.” “You seem to forget a hotel kitchen has more than four people working. we just did five hours of pure hell at the restaurant. Silently grumbling. “Who is it?” He asked. are you? You need this job.” “Is that right?” Nate said looking at him sideways.A rapping on the door had him slump his shoulders. Charlie.” All he wanted was a shower and a few hours of sleep. its Nate….” he said tossing him a beer. man.” He cracked open the beer taking a long swig. I’ll do anything for a dollar. what’s up?” “Yo. he opened the door. Besides. the salad boy and the prep team. you worked in a hotel kitchen waiting on more people than we get in a week. Leighton is smiling more these days. I didn’t think it would be rough to run a little breakfast joint.” “Aw. next door neighbor. the resident. “No. “Nate. Nate. I’m the one answering since I’m the chef. “What else about her do you like?” Nate’s question caught him off guard. “What-do-you.” “You not thinking about quitting. He was tired. I think she hummed a song today. man.like about her? Did ya understand me ‘dat time?” . the souse chef.open up. man. his deep voice bouncing off the bare walls. I have to admit. I’m wiped out.
if you could get any woman. don’t sweat.” “Dat ain’t no answer! Charlie. “Would you date one?” “What the hell is this—twenty questions? I don’t have any issues with black women or any women.” “You stringin’ her along?” . if I could get a white woman.” “Engaged my ass! What woman is okay with you being gon’ over a year and not pressin’ your ass to come back?” Charlie stood up from the table. But you're aware of my situation in Canada.” “Charlie.” “Nate. she’s easy to get along with. The woman I’m engaged to happen to be white—remember I’m white.He set the bottle on the coffee table. “No. and turned the chair backwards before sitting down. but she ain’t a sistah. Are you still with her?” “Kaycee understands I need the space between us.” “Answer ‘dis one. Ain’t nuthin' wrong with wanting a sistah. I like working with her. “For one.” Charlie said mocking Nate’s voice.” “Yeah. I wouldn’t pass her up. very well organized—Nate. Hell. “No. Quit putting more into our friendship than what’s actually there. you wouldn’t pass her up. are you with her or not?” He ruffled the waves of his dark hair. man. she isn’t a sistah. I’m not.” he said bucking his blood shot eyes. “You’re asking too many questions.
He’s trying to destroy her for what he did. holding in his breath. I ain’t stupid. ‘dis is good stuff. He got problems with her brother. You ran out on her.” Nate tossed another beer in Charlie’s direction. I’ll return to Canada to reiterate the relationship is over if her persistence continues. I thought you were giving up drugs. tell me what happened. but Malcolm ain’t forget what Dennis did and straight played him. but don’t fuck with his family and think you got away with it.” Nate pulled out a small plastic baggie containing marijuana and cigarette papers.” “What does he have against her? I asked her if he was interested in her and she blew me off as crazy. He’s only doing it to get back at Leighton. “I got wind Dennis is buying Vondra’s old spot. Anyhow. He started rolling a joint.” “Which was?” “Malcolm is my boy. she’s not accepting it. bruh. “Aha.” Charlie said refusing Nate’s offer to take a hit. “Weed ain’t no drug. I’m trying to cut ties with her. People think I’m stupid cuz I dropped out of school in the tenth grade.” Nate dragged slowly on the joint.” Nate responded blowing a face full of smoke in Charlie’s direction. expertly.” . didn’t’cha?” “My love life is not relevant.” “Nate. “I know it ain’t that.“No.” “Dennis wanted to be part of Malcolm’s restaurant deal.” “Whatever you say. “So she's callin’ for your punk ass to come home. The most you get out of smoking this shit is hungry and sleepy.
” “What were Dennis and Malcolm fighting about?” “Man. I can’t talk ‘bout dat but Dennis better be thankin’ some god he alive today. she spent about a hundred bills of his money fixin’ up the joint. He knew Vondra’s was foldin’ and let fat boy thank he was still part of the deal.” “Malcolm had the right idea to stick it to Dennis. Shit. but he did not.” “It was that serious?” Charlie counted on Nate to spill more information. . “Can we move this story alone? What did Malcolm do to make Dennis act the way he is towards Leighton?” “Malcolm left Dennis ass out da loop on his restaurant.” Charlie paced the small room frustrated with Nate’s choppy responses. but she was mad as hell when he stuck her with the restaurant.” “What? Malcolm and Dennis got into a fight. He ain’t know Leighton lost her job. “That’s a lot of money.“How?” “It was some trouble dat went down years ago that involved Leighton. “Yeah.” Charlie whistled through his lips. just the wrong timing. I see why she’s working so hard to make the restaurant work.” “Her brother is an NBA player. you could say dat. right? Leighton never mentions him. only Malcolm wouldn’t let it go after all was said and done.” “They real close.
’ for touching his woman like dat.” Nate raised his eyebrow. Nate?” “She don’t talk about him.” He took a deck of cards from the drawer.” “I was showing her the proper way to hold a bowling ball.” Charlie locked his hands behind his head. and reared back in the chair. she had changed. he a actor on TV.” “Man. Charlie remembering how relaxed Nate got with information when his marijuana-high kicked into effect. “You gotta thing for her? Quit frontin’ and ask her out. don’t you think?” . Hell. man. it’s a good thing she ain’t got no man. “Let’s play a round of poker. She ain’t seeing nobody that I know.“Hell yeah! When I saw Leighton after all these years. She seemed to have a decent time. he fished more.” “Nate. She was all about business and not that timid kid that left town after high school.” “Nah. he would be on yo’ ass for sho. you want me to set you up. contemplating. again?” “That would be awkward since we work together.” “All I know is.” Nate smiled showing his yellowing teeth. you was all up on her like white on rice. “Hmm. shut up. I don’t think she goes out after work ‘cept when we drag her out.” “Bowling the other night was fun. “I bet it was a lot of fun for you. She probably dated white dudes since she lived in New York.” Dealing the cards. “Is she dating? I heard a man’s name come from her while she was sleeping once. not one man in her life at all? Are you sure. if there is. Shemar I think it was.
and stood up. “How much are we betting?” “I ain’t got no money to lose. why not. The warm steam filtered the tranquil space of her private steam bath. her hair was next to be pampered. Nate threw the cards on the table.“Nah. Look. Nate. when this process was over.” Charlie said dealing the cards.” “What happened to her? Maybe I can help her in some way. The spa treatment was just what the doctor ordered.” Realizing Nate wasn’t going to reveal the secret behind Leighton’s pain or why she needed protection.” “Sure. . We can eat and shoot pool before hittin’ a club later.” ******** Leighton replaced the cucumber slices on her eyes after dripping water over the hot lava rocks.” he said digging in his pockets for the change.” “Not how I operate. Don’t play games with her if you ain’t interested in her. “Bump playing cards let’s go downtown to the Grille.” “Just know I gave Malcolm my word I would look out for her. then off to buy a new formal dress for an anniversary party she’d been ordered to attend by her mother. Leighton’s been through some shit. Her failed attempts at refusing the invitation had her mother begging her not to turn down Dr. but dat won’t stop me from beating your ass if you play her. And. she relaxed to the soft jazz playing in the distance. We might be friends. Let me take a shower and change first. I don’t think so. I ain’t got no problem with people datin’ who they want. he moved on. Victoria. Charlie. “I’ll take whatever you have. I’m only usin’ pennies.
Victoria and Mason Hall. she needed Leighton to stand in. she had no one or a viable male prospect. Since Drs. He used a P. He stuck to his story he was not a fugitive. Charlie’s image came to her.S. She couldn’t use his services at the time but promised to keep him in mind if his services were ever required.O. profits were on the rise. but her inner nag led her to believe he was running from something or someone in Canada. She dug in her purse for a mint. and if she bought up the subject of any of those people. we’re ready for you in the hair salon. He never talked about his family or friends left behind in Canada. Leighton was not hurting for money but was not drawing a paycheck from the restaurant either. and opened the locker to get her purse. she worked her fingers to the bone for satisfaction instead of personal profit. enough money would be available to draw a small allowance. . The stylist offered her a seat in the cushy leather chair. The invitation included a guest. Until then. Hall. José would accompany her to events if she absolutely needed a poser before she met Martin. and the cell phone number he listed was through a U.” She slipped into the fluffy robe. Charlie proved to be a valuable asset and. She recalled the man being charming. and stumbled across the business card from a vendor she’d met regarding carpet cleaning. Maybe soon. would be unable to attend the landmark anniversary party due to a scheduling conflict.Thorn’s invitation. non-threatening and good-looking. He’d been working for her for over two months. “Ms. This little pleasure jaunt was costing more than she expected.” “I’ll be right out. he quickly found a way to divert the conversation. and she still hadn’t learned much about him. and of course. prepaid service provider. The attendant’s soft voice drifted through the door mixing with the soft music playing in the background. Box address on his employment application.
It won’t be the first time I attended an event by myself. The technicians and stylists certainly were the best when it came to beautifying skin and hair. too. The sun was shining making the walk bearable. he’s married. my name is Leighton Hall. Seconds after dialing the number. may I speak with Jason Jasper. my husband isn’t available at the moment. I’ll go alone. “Jasper’s cleaning service.” The stylist was all smiles as she handed Leighton a sparkling glass of wine.” “Ms. Leighton left the spa reinvigorated. Oh. someone just came in my office. The severe February weather eased as spring-like weather approached.” she said to herself. Leighton decided Bloomingdale's would be the . I can set up an appointment for him to meet with you again if you’d like to start service with us. Leighton released her breath. she changed her mind. “I’ll call back and reschedule.” Taking the glass. well. “I’m ready. Hall.” ******** A few hours later. she couldn’t help but notice her reflection in the windows—for once she felt gorgeous inside and out. All he can do is say no. the Magnificent Mile. trying to decide on which store to hit first.” She clicked off the iPhone dropping it in her purse hastily. “I’m ready for you. “Great. it was a woman’s voice. Have a lovely day. The other party answered before she could hang up. “Good afternoon. we spoke briefly about his cleaning service. she chugged half of the chilled beverage down her throat before setting the glass on the counter. Michelle Jasper speaking” Leighton flubbed over her words. She strolled along North Michigan Avenue or as popularly known.” Saved from the embarrassment by the approaching hairstylist.“What the heck am I afraid of? This would be no sweat for a normal woman trying to pick a man up for a date.
who takin’ ya to this party? I need to check him out?” “I’m going alone. I have an anniversary party to attend at the Trump Hotel. but stop. you're beautiful. Leighton pushed him away from the entrance of the store. momma! You pretty enough to eat!” Nate said causing heads to turn in their direction. I might not mind giving up my Saturday night movie and buttered popcorn to go to this thing. I have to buy a dress and shoes to finish the work the SpaSpot started. and put her finger to her lips.” Charlie remained silent with his hands shoved midway in his pockets. “No. Well.” . Leighton. “The question is. it’s nothing like you’re thinking. “I agree with Nate. The woman in front of him sounded like Leighton but appearance-wise. She heard her name being called in the distance as she opened the door. if I had a friend to tag along and share in my misery.” “Leighton.” “I do appreciate the compliments. Nate. But thanks for the compliment. Nate and Charlie were heading towards her. I’m doing this as a favor for my parents. You still rollin’ in dat crowd?” Leighton sucked her teeth. guys. and said.” “Swanky. continuing his ado over her makeover. Nate. “Quiet.first store she would check for a dress. He sensed he should say something to shut Nate up. What are you guys getting into today?” Nate stood back to profile her. what YOU gettin’ into tonight!” “Will you stop gawking me? And. “Dayumm. was different.
we headin’ to the Grille if you wanna stop over after ya done. and like you said.” “Me? Even. “I bet dat’s where Leighton’s goin’ tonight.” “Nate. people would know I ain’t belong with her. I need my job. I hate she has to attend this party alone. As Nate and Charlie walked down the street. but thanks for offering. “Okay. disappearing inside the store. iff’n I ain’t say a word. but I’m not overstepping my boundaries. Charlie. What man would turn her fine ass down?” “Why don’t you do it? You have plenty of time to get a haircut and clean yourself up. Nate—this ain’t your cup of tea. “Charlie. “Hello! What time ya want me ready?” She shook her head and spoke in his language. “Trust me.”Nate flung his hands in the air. they passed the Trump hotel.” “What? Man. You got dat preppy-white boy look. how much have you smoked today?” Nate’s face lost its natural beam as his expression deepened. Well. you show up as her date. I’m being dead serious. They scanned the poster boards in the lobby as Nate read one of the signs. I don’t know her well enough to invade a family function.” She waved goodbye . suit yourself.” “I’ll call when I’m done shopping. You should show up—help her out.” He shrugged his shoulders.” Have fun guys.
you don’t know her like ‘dat. Charlie lingered behind as he read the sign again. you right. she won’t have a hard time finding a date.“Yeah. “I’m glad we agree. The woman was Leighton being waltz around the dance floor by a man that was not him.” Nate said walking ahead of him. Did I say she feeds the homeless dat come in lookin’ to eat? I guess she will be repaid for her charitable deeds in the end. homie.” Charlie slapped Nate on the back. She has a few hours before the party starts. The way she looks. A quick flash of a couple danced before his eyes.” . I thought you could be her prince charming for the evening. Leighton’s such a sweetheart. but I am nobody’s prince charming. dude. He blinked and said.” “Hey. don't use this tactic to guilt me into doing this—because if you are.” “Nate.” “What reason you got to be guilty? Like you say. it’s not working. “Sorry.
bought the memories forefront from her days of entertaining clients in New York. fourteen-years her senior. Leighton’s mother has not been able to top Agatha Thorn’s feat with either of her children. Thorn. She was forever comparing her to her daughter. The wedding itself was over the top spectacular with a fireworks display ending the elegant reception. Alexis was the same age as Leighton and walked on water according to Dr.” She took a deep breath and held her head high ignoring the men trying to attract her attention in the background. checking her out. The doorman equally helpful. “Wow. She accessorized the dress with diamond teardrop earrings. The elegance. a bangle bracelet and diamond teardrop necklace. Alexis. the sounds. Dr. The heads of a few men socializing in the lobby turned. Agatha Thorn was Leighton’s mother’s best friend. She sensed her mother resented her more than Malcolm for not being married or able to sustain a relationship with a man long enough to spread gossip about a possible wedding in the making. Dr. She adjusted the cashmere cape around her shoulders she’d found in her mother’s closet.Chapter 4 Leighton raised her dress enough to keep the bottom from touching the melting snow as the Valet helped her from her car. the sights. Thorn only booked the Skyline room. . She read the invitation to make sure she attended the right party since several were taking place at the hotel. When Alexis got engaged to a successful neurosurgeon. topped off with a black handbag studded with black and crystal gems. held the door for her to enter the grand lobby of the hotel. a full-page ad in every newspaper in Chicago announced the event. it went perfectly with the strapless Dolce & Gabbana black floor-length dress.
Ms. “Shall we?” Leighton circled her arm through his. his fingers accidentally caressed the softness of her smooth skin.” “C’mon. I won. I though Nate was kidding around this afternoon.” he said bowing gracefully. A tingle ran down his spine as he said. saying. Leighton. Hall. I won’t listen to any bull tonight.” He held his arm out to her. “In my fairytale I’m the ugly duckling who turns into a swan for the evening. I’m entitled to compliment you on how stunning you look. and if she did leave no one would notice or care since she wasn’t expected to be there to begin with. We did a coin toss and thanks to my two-headed coin. You are far from ugly even with your hair tucked underneath the grandma hairnet. I can’t believe you and Nate would even consider suffering through this type of torture for me. Leighton overwhelmed. but for social reasons. “My god. “Are we going to stand at the door and wish this would go away or go inside and get it over with?” Leighton jerked her head around at the sound of Charlie’s deep voice. She fought the angst pushing her to turn and leave. . you are absolutely breath-taking.” He paused. “I adore Nate with all my heart.Pressure throbbed against Leighton’s temples while standing in the doorway of the ballroom. “Charlie? What are you doing here?” “Nate and I had a conversation after seeing you this afternoon. “Charlie. choked her emotions to prevent smearing her makeup. “As your prince. I’m glad you rigged the toss. I’m here to serve as your prince for the evening.” Charlie removed the cape from her shoulders.” Leighton blushed. She had not been noticed or approached by anyone from the party thus far.” shaking his head.
“Leighton! I’m so glad you came. A finger tapping her shoulder from behind drew her attention away from searching for Charlie. They did not hang out in the same circles in school. her night might be palatable.” . “Alexis. squealed. Thorn’s invasive questions. I haven't seen you in forever!” Leighton stood to give a warm greeting to her only friend during high school.” “Love is amazing. They seem too young to be married so long. “My lips are sealed. Alexis. Their table was located close to the back of the room. obviously. I can’t believe this is your parents 40th anniversary.” he smiled. left for those guests who were last minute invitees. She didn’t care. She didn’t care for the Champagne the servers working the room were offering.“Promise you won’ tell him. passed her. They weren’t best friends. I hope my marriage will withstand such longevity. Leighton. thank you for the invitation. “I heard a rumor you’d moved back to Chicago to run Malcolm’s restaurant last year…I’m upset you didn’t call me. She’d forgotten to compliment him on how dashing he looked decked out in his stylish tuxedo. He’d ravished about her.” Alexis propped a perfectly manicured finger under her chin and went on. and could avoid Dr. Oh my god.” ******** Leighton and Charlie had been inside the Skyline room. If she sustained revealing herself through the dinner hour. but they got along well. She released a small. for fifteen minutes without being noticed. with her arms outstretched. disappointing groan when a man with a similar build to Charlie. Leighton waited patiently at the table for Charlie to return from the bar with their drinks. and she never said a word about his appearance.
Leighton nodded slightly. “I apologize for not calling, but it’s taken me over a year to get the place in shape. What are you doing these days?” She waited for the response to come with a song. Alexis had the tendency to speak as if she were singing due to her excitable personality. The high and low tones of her voice drove her nuts when they were younger. “Umm right now, I’m taking a break from working. Myron and I are thinking of starting a family and with his wealth, truly I don’t need to work anymore so I fill my days with charity work and shopping.” “Alexis, how exciting. When are you planning on having this child?” “My biological clock is running out so sometime in the near future. I’m 33, and Myron is not far from 50.” ”Oh, please, don’t believe the nonsense on age and having a baby. Hire a couple of nannies and an Au Pair and you can pop babies until you’re fifty,” Leighton joked. “Is Myron here?” “Throw a surrogate in and we might reach a deal. Stay put while I get him,” Alexis said backing away. “OK, I will stay here until you get back,” Leighton replied, the sarcasm emptying from her mouth unknowingly. Finally, Charlie’s figure came into view. He seemed to be gone for hours before he returned to the table. husband, Myron. Charlie set the drinks on the table and sensed a drop in Leighton’s mood. “Are you bored already? I was only gone a few minutes.” Leighton spotted him as Alexis passed him to find her
“Charlie, I was bored when I drove through the gate,” she said taking a long sip of her drink. The vodka tonic slid down her throat hitting the tip of every nerve shouting for her to vacate the premises. “I want to prepare you to run or act as if you don’t me.” “Why would I want to do either?” He asked curiously. “Uh-oh, I can’t explain in detail, but you will find out soon enough since I’ve been made. I’ll give you a basic rundown; Alexis is retrieving her husband and Dr. Thorn will probably be in tow.” He blinked. “Umm, okay. nervous?” “Alexis is a delightful person but is nosey and will release an avalanche of questions on you. Charlie, I won’t be mad if you want to disappear. In fact, there are some mighty attractive women in attendance I believe are single. You might want to put your tux to work instead of babysitting me.” He scanned the nearby tables agreeing with her. He’d even chatted with a few at the bar who showed interest in him. “I did have a stimulating conversation with a woman at the bar, but I’m not going anywhere or interested in getting personal with her.” “You should take my advice. Let me see who is fun to be with.” She pointed to a sexy blonde sitting a few tables over. “Brooke is the pretty blonde in the green dress. She’s a doctor and single. She's been checking you out—” He interrupted her. “Are you purposely trying to get rid of me, Leighton? Are you embarrassed to be with me? I thought I looked okay.” “No—no, I’m doing the opposite; I’m trying to save you from wanting to jump out a window. You have no clue what is about to happen the minute Alexis returns.” Who is Alexis and why is she making you so
“Don’t do any favors for me. I’m actually looking forward to meeting your friends and learning more about you,” he said grinning. “Are you serious? This won’t be about me once the Thorn’s realize I’m with you. They will be interested in what you are doing with me, and after they get that information, you’ll have to run down your whole family tree to them. I’m telling you, Charlie, run and don’t look back.” He shrugged his shoulders. “I’m not going anywhere so stop telling me to run. As far as them asking me questions, I will answer them to the best of my ability and truthfully.” A cold sweat broke over her forcing her to down the remainder of her drink in one gulp. Time didn’t allow for her to coach him on what to say as Dr. Thorn and Alexis barreled down the rows of tables. Leighton jumped from her chair cutting them off at the pass and leaving Charlie seated at the table. “Dr. Thorn,” she said taking the older woman in a hug. “Congratulations to you and Dr. Thorn. The party is beautiful. I’m having a lovely time.” “Thank you, dear. I wish Victoria and Mason could be here, but I understand all too well about scheduling conflicts.” “Mom sends her regrets on not being able to attend, but she is planning on coming home for a short visit this summer.” Agatha moved Leighton aside to address the man standing behind her. “I can’t wait. But, aren’t you going to introduce your gentleman friend?” Charlie experienced the nervous ticks bouncing from Leighton. She didn’t hold any history about him outside of work and would have to improvise a history they both could answer on the spur of the moment.
He slid up beside Leighton and slipped his arm around her waist; to give a squeeze. “Sweetheart, I’ll do the honors.” Leighton’s mouth dropped open as his arm tightened around her waist signaling to let him handle the situation. “Umm…sure, honey; by all means, the floor is yours.” Charlie took hold of Agatha’s hand and lifted it to his lips to kiss the backside lightly. “I’m Charles Andrews.” Alexis raised an eyebrow to Leighton; impressed by Charlie’s chivalry and ability to render her mother speechless. Agatha cleared her throat. “Mr. Andrews, welcome. I’m pleased Leighton was able to find an available escort on short notice.” “I’m always available to Leighton. He placed one hand on his chest gazing at Leighton. “Just looking at her takes my breath away. No way would I let this beautiful woman be without me as her escort tonight. Lucky for me, I was able to rearrange my schedule to be with her this evening.” Leighton’s knees knocked under the long dress. She didn’t understand the
nervousness. What Charlie said was almost true and she didn’t need the Thorn’s validation. “Dr. Thorn, where is, and I know this sounds silly, but where is, Dr.
Thorn…I would love to say hello to him.” Her words were coming from her mouth a hundred miles a minute. “Dear, slow down. He’s in a political debate with the mayor; you’ll be able to talk to him later. Frankly, I’m interested in learning more about Charles. Besides being charming, Charles, what else do you do? Are you from the Chicago area?” “I’m from Ontario, Canada. I puttered in the restaurant business which resulted in me meeting Leighton.” “That is a lot of distance between you and Leighton,” Agatha said narrowing her brow. “Will you be moving to Chicago or taking Leighton to Canada?”
I badgered Alexis to get the poor girl dates. Luck saved her as Myron joined the group. and a pleasurable person to be around. but she would not go out in public after what happened to her. Leighton halted the conversation suddenly turned around and centered on her. He leaned into her ear. but our song is playing and I would love to dance. Lord. “We can talk about Myron later. so if you’ll excuse us.The sweat beaded on Leighton’s forehead heavily. Charlie took hold of her hand. Myron was not exactly easy on the eyes. she wanted out of this place before Dr. but highly respected in his field. hey. She wanted air.” Alexis cooed in. such as this party?” Totally clueless to Leighton’s strange behavior. Leighton. “I’m overjoyed you are dating. When did you go to Canada?” Agatha threw a hand across her chest sounding on Alexis’ statement. Thorn revealed her past to Charlie.” Flustered. Nothing moved her away from the house. good to see you again. Her palm was sweaty. she finally turned her life around. “I can tell you all want to catch up with Leighton. “Myron. I can’t believe how time's flown since the wedding. “Leighton. Thank God. “Now we all agree I’m an antisocial introvert—can we change the discussion to a more pleasant topic. I was stunned when she moved to New York and now you’re saying she’s been to Canada. I want more chew on you and Charles. Charlie tried to make a distraction. breaking Charlie’s grip on her waist to hug a stunned Myron. How is work? What is new in the neurosurgery game?” Leighton asked. dear.” . and my practice is doing well. “Do you need to walk away for a minute?” She nodded yes squeezing his hand tighter.
noticing Leighton’s changed disposition. Leighton.“ I gotta plan! Play along with me. Why don’t you tell us a little about you?” “Well. you lived in New York. I need to find a way to keep my mother’s enormous mouth shut or a way to keep you and Charles away from her. Alexis.” “I’d never put you on the spot.” Alexis took Charlie by surprise as she whisked Leighton away. “I’m glad Charles is in your life. I’m going to go. Leighton. but I can’t risk your mom dragging my skeletons from the closet. Alexis. “Girl. He’s incredibly handsome and well-mannered. You don’t need to speak with your mother.” “Give me a second.” Alexis stated returning to the group. I don’t tell anyone Alexis. “Are you acting strange because Charles has no idea what happened to you?” “Yes. Are you enjoying the change of careers?” .Alexis tossed her perfectly placed hair from her face. Please don’t bring it up. I couldn’t turn my back on endless shopping to run a burger joint. “I’m flattered. She whispered. I love your parents to death. she said. he doesn’t any idea. there isn’t much to me other than I’m a happy man with a beautiful woman in my life.” “I’m sure there is more to you.” “I thought I could handle this. If I weren’t happily married.” “Phooey. “Charles the song can be requested again. I’ll come up with a way to keep you safe from her.” “Charlie and I can leave. I’d ask if he had a brother.” she said turning to Leighton.” Charlie’s face reddened from the sudden blush. To stop the onslaught from her mother. but I only have two sisters that carry my traits.
Agatha. zipped the lips of his mother-in-law.At ease with the change in conversation. I make my own hours and get to tell other people what to do for a change!” Agatha said. flowing in on the new conversation. he’d had enough of her. Alexis and Myron remained behind. you would not defraud your clients and get caught.” “I suppose I should keep circulating. Alexis. I’ll be back later. taking use of the empty chairs at their table. other guests are lining by your table. Her body strongly craved a man’s touch. “Don’t go anywhere. the rollplaying with Charlie had fooled the older woman for now. Leighton didn’t come tonight to have her life put under a microscope. honey. “You conquered another milestone. We’ve so much to talk about. “Sweetheart. I wasn’t fazed when the news broke about your company. Charlie hated the way the woman addressed Leighton. Leighton.” “I’m not going anywhere without you. A weird sensation stirred her body from the harmless kiss he planted on her forehead. . “Ladies.” Myron in a kind way. The shine of her light brown eyes had gone dull. With your brilliant mind. He should’ve took control and put an end to the evening when she asked. “It wasn’t hard to do. she reclaimed her place next to Charlie. I want a report on how you’re progressing with your other problem.” she said winking. I’m sure they’re waiting to speak with you. Her beautiful features strained to hide the uneasiness. She had to remind herself this was all a game and not be swept away by Charlie’s charm.” With the source of Leighton’s strife walking away to torment another. I honestly can say I like running the restaurant.” he said planting a tender kiss on her forehead. let me get you a fresh drink.
He came with me tonight not knowing anyone or how he would be accepted.” “I’m going to be me and ask. Why haven’t you told him what happened?” “Because. Take a look around the room. and now the restaurant keeps me busy. “Hello.” Leighton said coming down from the clouds.” .” “Charlie is remarkable. I’m here for you whenever you need me. Alexis.” “I’m living my life. “I should have reached out more. who’s shocked you are here with a white man.” “What about Charles? He appears attentive to your needs. I needed a close friend to talk with when I first left Chicago.” “Leighton.” “Huh.” Alexis held Leighton’s hand. How’s life been treating you really. Are you sleeping with him?” “No we are not intimate. Do you see how many successful black men are with their white wives or girlfriends? I wouldn’t let a few biased people dictate me. I wasn’t paying attention. I’m talking to you. I wish we would have kept in touch. girl.” “Alexis.Alexis fingered the pearls designing her handbag watching Leighton concentrate on Charlie. Her mind was zooming in space and not on earth. he doesn’t need to know. Alexis. Leighton. “I said he’s stuck on you hard. I excelled as a vice president of an investment company.
but kids are out of the question.” Leighton shrugged her shoulder. He has the right equipment and is pretty damn good in the bedroom. He isn’t handsome.” she giggled.” “I don’t withhold sex. I love him dearly. Alexis. We’re grown women. Do you know what I’m saying?” “I get what you’re saying loud and clear.” “TMI. Shoot. what the heck are you waiting on? Do you not melt when he looks at you? He made me seep a little.” “Why wouldn’t you want children with your husband?” “I mostly ignore the looks from women wondering why I’m with Myron. Wait. Myron’s going to wonder why you aren’t wifely to him.“Girl.” she said laughing. just by looking at him.” “You’re still holding onto the diva attitude from high school. “I don’t understand? children?” “Not with him. you wouldn’t think he’s packing anything over six inches. you’ll never change but enough about me—let’s talk about this baby you want.” “Myron is the nicest person I’ll ever meet. “TMI. “Alexis. but he’s loaded and adores me.” “Girl. I have to fan myself. I got a hot flash. Thinking about him and looking at Charles.” Don’t you want . I’d be a happy woman every night of the week. if I could combine what Myron is packing and how freaking hot your man is. Alexis.
” “Dang.” “That was brave of you to admit.” “Leighton. “Hard enough to get a naughty image in my head.” “Alexis don’t say anymore. how hard have you been staring at him?” Biting the tip of her fingernail and smiling wickedly. say you got pregnant would your shallowness allow you to mother a child that isn’t beautiful.” “I love him now.” . I don’t know if he has money. If you plan on making a move on Charlie. and deep down. those sexy eyes. I probably am. I’m going to reveal my secret. and I would not cheat on Myron. Alexis. Alexis. she said. those women I do charity work with think I’m a gold digger. We’re truly happy. Myron is an amiable person. “Well giving him an heir would keep the money in your pocket.” “Uh-huh.” “For fun sake.” Leighton sucked in a breath. I didn’t love Myron when we got married. and it took years and all the material possessions he could shower on me.“Have you noticed he resembles John Stamos in his younger years?” “I can’t say I’ve made that resemblance until now.” “True. I’d hate to think you’re using him until a better prospect falls in your path. so Charles is safe. Leighton. My mother loved his status in the medical world not to mention he was the son of my dad’s partner. the deep dimples when he smiles.
for so many years.” “Alexis. are you keeping him at arm’s-length for what happened years ago? You gotta live your life without thinking every man is out to humiliate you. Brooke’s slutty butt. The heckling from the idiots who only cared about losing a dang football championship—nobody cared about what I lost. I’m just saying it gotta be unhealthy to carry a burden.Alexis leaned in closer to Leighton when Myron’s attention was drawn into a deep conversation with the couple sitting next to them.” “Leighton. aren’t you the least bit afraid he will find out you’re lying to him?” “I’ll take my chances. been eyeing him all night.” “You know the answer already. “Between me and you. They all run in the same circles. I do understand how deep it cut you and the hatred you have for men because of it. We can try all we want. this body will never bear a child. I faced hell returning to school after it happened. he’s a doctor. It’s so easy for other people to tell me to move on.” What about you and Charles are you discussing . The scar will never heal for me.” “What are you waiting on? For a white man.” “Leighton.” Her eyes narrowed. “I won’t think that as long as I keep to myself. his ass is incredibly sexy. I have in my possession the fertility tests to show Myron’s swimmers are sparse. children?” “We aren’t getting married or even having sex so the answer would be a big fat no. but nothing will happen but me having multiple orgasms. But you wouldn’t understand how humiliated I was unless it happened to you. I don’t want to reopen a painful wound.
“Snicker all you want.” “If you both agree to it. but this occasion was not the time or place to discuss her phobias in detail. and I will protect it from being used.” Alexis twisted her lips. But you’re a woman. The male body has a lot to offer and the way Charles is wearing his tux. You reserve the right to deny access to anyone wanting entry. “Charlie and I are dating.” “I do have cravings and I ignore them as I do the second piece of chocolate cake I might want.yeah. “Yeah but a man of his caliber might not wait around years for you to make up your mind. I don’t hate men anyone.” “OK. I’m not saying I won’t ever engage in sex with Charlie.” “Willpower…. right.“Alexis. I asked the bartender to add a little ice for you.” Charlie set the drink in front of Leighton. don’t you have cravings? I need Myron to touch me. I’m good keeping it celibate. I don’t trust a man when he says he wants a relationship with me. “Honey. Alexis. who am I to judge.” “He’s not committed to me.” Leighton wanted to spill the truth. and I can’t stop him from walking. This way if another woman does exist I didn’t give anything up but my time.” .” Alexis snickered. I bet he has a lot to offer under it. My problem is relating to men. I’ve let myself be burned twice. It’s all about willpower. My body is my temple. I want to touch him. it just won’t happen until we get to a point I know we will be together forever. to explore new ways to heighten our sexuality. It’s your body.
Her watered drink wasn’t strong enough to kill the spine-tingling urges rushing through her.” Leighton turned the glass to her lips emptying its contents. I didn’t overhear all of the conversation. keep me fueled for hours. she is pure dynamite. “Right behind you.” She hacked. swabbing the tears from her eyes with a napkin.Alexis’s intrigue deepened. “Charlie. I need to pinch you to make sure you’re human and not a robot. “You overheard our conversation?” “You two were so busy talking I was invisible to you.” Alexis crinkled her brows. Anyhow. Hysterically coughing. “My mother requested we do a traditional waltz before dinner. You know Remy always does this to you.” “Good because we’re doing a waltz. but enough to know I can wait.” . She took his glass and swallowed down the golden brown liquor. “Wow. I’m patient to wait for her to be ready to be detonated. Alexis took Myron’s hand to join her on the dance floor.” “I promise. Aren’t you two coming?” She asked as they remained seated. As far as Leighton wanting to wait. Charlie handed her a glass. tagged closely behind Charlie. Her kisses alone. Charlie took Leighton by the hand. drink some water. The emcee summoned couples to the dance floor for a waltz requested by the host. are you nuts…I can’t tango. Whatever he was drinking burned her tonsils and took them down her throat in a lump of searing pain. I’m all man.” Leighton weak from the effects of the alcohol. chattering.” “I forgot. “Babe.
I can’t do that either. Charlie.” Leighton found it hard to stare people directly in the eye unless she was arguing a point. Charlie tilted her chin up to look at him instead of the floor.” The light alcohol buzz faded as Charlie swept her across the floor.” “Seriously. he said. waiting for the music to start. Charlie pulled her closer in his arms whispering in her ear. “Follow my lead.” “I have a strong feeling I am going to regret this moment. Deep urges centered as she looked at Charlie. only thankful her dress was long enough to cover her fumbling feet. Charlie. “Feel the music and let me lead. She felt like a contestant on a ballroom dance show. who are you?” Staring directly into her eyes. but I do a mean waltz. this will be fun. “I’m your prince.” “Leighton. not the floor. “Look at me while we’re dancing. find a spot away from the dang videographer. She tried staring at his nose. The last thing I want is this moment to be preserved on media. so let me serve you. She wanted to kiss him. I might not be adept at hip-hop dancing. The large mirrored ball hanging from the ceiling in the center of the dance floor caught the twinkle from the jeweled dresses of the women twirling about. My feet refuse to work together when it comes to ballroom dancing.” He pulled her close to him. calm down. to feel his lips on hers. her eyes kept drifting to lock with his. These people don’t define you.“Doesn’t matter. saying.” . Loosen up and relax.
” “Are you going to sue me for making you have fun—good luck with that?” She smacked her lips. “I’m sort of enjoying this dance—I might take a few ballroom dance classes in the future. the swells of her breasts were straining against the tight-fitting bodice.” “You’re giving me no choice. giving her the thumbs up.” “I’m available to listen whenever you want to talk.” . He gave a quick glance to the deep cleavage between her breasts. Why are you so against living life outside of work?” “Charlie. Leighton caught Alexis smiling when she and Myron waltzed by. “I’ll let it slide this time. letting him lead. “How are you holding up?” Charlie asked. or my boobs will pop from this dress. this is the first time you have smiled tonight. I’m sure there is a written law forbidding a person to force fun on another when said person is strongly against having said fun. Are you ready for the big dip?” “Please. if you knew the real me.” “You’re a beautiful young woman. Although her breasts were naturally proportioned to the fit of her body. maybe you could understand. I’m anti-fun.She obliged. but don’t let it happen again. don’t dip me too far. I don’t want a wardrobe malfunction to be the front page headline tomorrow. “Maybe we should skip the dip. Charlie.” She giggled.” she replied. “Leighton. enjoying his arms around her. She even managed to do a few turns without tripping.
knowing how Alexis was spontaneous with off the wall requests.She noticed all the older couples doing the dip. do you. “Before our couples are seated. Charlie. but she did it.” Leighton panicked. these old fogies will not stand us up. The dip wasn’t dramatic like some of the other couples. “I did it! Oh my god that was so much fun!” “Yeah. do the dang dip. Charles?” “Nope. Leighton.” “Oh god. would you please raise your hand if you are romantically involved? I can’t have relatives in on this request. the emcee announced one last request.” She leaned in to catch the expression on Charlie’s face. what embarrassing act do we have to do?” Leighton asked. I thought it would be an elegant touch if all the couples saluted my parents with a group kiss. I thought Mom and Dad would love this as a tribute to them. “Charlie. You had fun. she gleamed. “Come on. “You don’t have a problem with that. and your boobs are still intact. . “Hey! Where are you going? Stay here for this. but I got’cha.” “You are a bit competitive. I threw it in at the last minute.” As they prepared to leave the dance floor.” he answered without hesitation.” “Alexis.” The dance ended with them dipping. but not so seductively. we can pretend we didn’t hear that and go to bar for another drink. the world didn’t end. since this is a wedding anniversary. you did it. “Well.” Alexis made her way over to Charlie and Leighton. Enclosing her arms around his neck.
she seemed uncertain. he didn’t know Leighton well enough to pressure her into going along. She reached the lobby where security and hotel personnel assured guests the alarms were false and no fire had been reported. “Okay. Sitting next to her. “It’s safe to go back.” she yelled after him as he surged into the crowd of people attempting to leave the banquet room. Kaycee’s image flashed before his eyes as he prepared to kiss Leighton. it was safe for them to return to their festivities. “Charlie. she had exceeded the limit by two. Charlie ushered her towards the door. the kissing would be more intimate. Charlie located her alone. The emcee counted down to the big moment until he reached three.The emcee resumed his duties after a few couples parted the dance floor. Leighton’s head banged from the loud alarms and the excessive intake of alcohol. Couples. Pushed into the hall by the crowd.” She adjusted her posture in the chair and shook her head. “Go! I’ll get your stuff and meet you outside. The dancing was fun. please assume the position and salute our honorees with your best lip lock. she closed her eyes.” Doing as instructed Charles took Leighton in his arms. His heart took a few flutters at the notion of the kiss. would you mind if we called it a night?” . Leighton was forced to leave the Skyline room and Charlie behind. Her limit was two.” “Charlie! Let’s just go. her body trembled lightly. He concentrated on her eyes. now if all the cousins and brothers and sisters have left the floor. screeching blare from a fire alarm sent people scattering. A loud. Taking a seat in one of the comfy leather chairs after requesting her car be brought around. he placed a hand over hers.
” “Leighton. pouty lips were enhanced when she rolled her tongue across them seductively. taking him by surprise. I’m going to call it a night.” Leighton stood up and snapped her cape around her shoulders. let me call you a cab. Leighton.Not wanting to sound disappointed.” “Pretending was the fun part for me. her hands traveled across his broad shoulders. he shook his head. giving him a gentle squeeze. But. Brooke opened his hand. “Good to see you again. we were in the middle of a discussion. you’ve had too much to drink. “On that note. “I am nowhere near drunk—just tired of pretending. Leighton could not see from her angle what it was.” “Charlie.” Flirtatiously. I spent a fortune to come to this stupid party to pretend to be somebody I’m not. “Call me later and we’ll discuss the possibilities. placing an object inside. How can I repay you?” Brooke slithered through the room and behind him. She overheard Brooke’s breathy whisper in Charlie’s ear. Jealousy fell over her like a thunderstorm. silky blonde hair over one shoulder. “No. Locking her crystal blue eyes with Leighton’s.” She stopped him from going outside.” “Brooke made me lose my train of thought. “I was hoping to run into you before I left. She tossed her long.” Her painted. I don’t mind. “Why?” Charlie asked. saying. I want to repay you for wasting your Saturday night and being put through the wringer.” .
” She snapped her finger. The sudden longing for a woman he barely knew made him unstable. saying. and I’m sure you can’t wait to get out of that tux. Anyway. Charlie. “You got the nosey part right.” I failed to tell you this earlier. well maybe not if you call Brooke later. I’m going home to get out of this dress so I can breathe. not to leave with Brooke. “I don’t regret I got to dress fancy and escort a beautiful woman to a swanky party filled with nosey people. I appreciate all you did making this evening tolerable for me. refreshing your memory. and we’ve been given an extra hour of dancing. you were my James Bond tonight. You have the James Bond look going on. “Yes. “There you guys are! Dinner is being served shortly. but you’re handsome decked out in a tux.” Leighton held onto his hand. Alexis found Leighton and Charlie together. You wasted your night for nothing. Whenever she touched him. as he unconsciously went for a kiss. you were saying you wanted to repay me.” The touch from her cool fingers burned Charlie’s skin.” .” “How’d you guess James Bond was the look I was going for?” “I have my fantasies and one was to go on a date with James Bond.” She released a small laugh.” “I appreciate that. his libido would soar. I do.” He tipped her chin up with his finger. courtesy of the hotel picking up the band’s fee. But. He could not wait to taste her succulent lips. bursting the moment. His head moved in closer.“I’m not interested in her.” “I have no intentions on calling her. I came to be with you tonight.
“Alexis. Charlie rushed Leighton outside the hotel. I’m glad you found a man who makes your world brighter after the darkness you endured. Charlie worries too much about me. Not making eye contact with Charlie.” A disappointed Alexis hugged her. The car is waiting outside. Leighton. “Leighton.don’t give my secrets away about how I care for you. it was nice catching up with you and Myron.” Saluting Alexis. I want to hear more about this magnificent man. ******** . but dragging Charlie down with her. it’s a nagging headache I’ve been fighting all day. I want to get her home to bed. Leighton isn’t feeling well. “Alexis. waving a final goodbye to Alexis. “Alexis.” Guilt churned inside her stomach. He jogged to the driver’s side. and there is the cake we haven’t cut.” “Don’t be silly! The night is young. again. she slid close to the door leading to the lobby. We’ll have to do lunch soon. is there anything I can do?” “No. don’t leave….please?” Alexis begged. but I think I going to head on home. opening the passenger’s door of the car for her. the magical trance she’d fallen into broken. I have to confess.” “A good man does. She was not a liar.Leighton’s heart jumped at the sound of Alexis’ voice. Charlie is not—“ “Babe…. what she was doing was not only lying. Leighton. Charlie draped his arm over her shoulders. c’mon.
Leighton dropped the keys in a shallow dish sitting on a cadenza. He patted his stomach. He would never have guesses Leighton came from this type of money.Charlie drove through the decorative iron gates of the sprawling estate located in Highland Park. he got out to open the door for Leighton.” “Good point. He appeared puzzled by the question but answered. “Sure. “My specialty.” he said taking two cola’s and a couple of apples from the fridge. he sliced them thin and placed the apples on a plate next to Leighton’s sandwiches. but it could take a couple of days. what side you want your jelly on?” She asked. Are you hungry. I speak and keep moving. I don’t socialize with many of them. I'm up for a bite to eat since we missed dinner. does it matter? We can’t have peanut butter and jelly without a tall glass of cold milk.” They stepped into the massive foyer of white marble floors and large crystal chandeliers hanging from the tall ceilings. aren’t a few of your neighbors famous people?” “Yeah. The expensive art work and sculptures showed class and wealth. and peanut butter and jelly from the fridge and to slide across the polished granite counter. What’cha making?” She removed bread from the cabinet. “I would give you a tour. I will stick to soda—mixing milk with the drinks I had earlier won’t make my stomach happy.” “Help yourself to whatever you want. . “Nice place. holding a butter knife. Charlie recognized the silence. The grand staircase leading to the upper floors was dark. Parking in front of the mansion circular drive. “Umm.” she said going through a long hallway that opened to an expansive gourmet kitchen.
“Yeah. if I can ask?” “My father is a heart surgeon. Maggie would sneak me different foods from time to time. what profession are your parents in. I don’t know what happened. I didn’t have many of these sandwiches or kids favorites when growing up. plus I don’t do well with grieving individuals. You and your brother majoring in finance is odd. “Hmm. Malcolm and I decided to shake up the applecart and go in different directions. “This is a pleasant view to dine by. I hate the sight of blood.” She slurped the last of the cola in the can and stretched. been a long time since I ate one of these.They sat at the glass kitchen table with a view of the large backyard lit by soft white lights. I had no desire to follow in either’s footsteps. They should handle . stress will be knocking on the door.” “Leighton.” A water fountain carved of Venus captured his attention. And.” “Charlie. Charlie took a bite of the sandwich. “I lived on this stuff in college. Did you eat your pbj’s by this window all the time?” Leighton slipped the bangle bracelet off her wrist. and my mother is an oncologist.” He raised his eyebrow.” “That sounds stressful. rich. but the older I got the less tolerant I became with my clients telling me how to do my job. I come from a long line of doctors in my family. before you ask. saying. whatever profession we choose.” “Do you miss crunching numbers and keeping the rich. My grandparents on both sides are doctors and a few of my cousins are in the medical field. “Heck no! A new baby or spouse being bought into or taken out of the clan would have me redoing paperwork for weeks. “That clears up the mystery. Ms. I’m not immune to stress. sort of a rebellion on our part.” She perched her elbows on the table.
” “Leighton. sexy. “No you haven’t and besides it will be a long. but seemed withdrawn when it came to men. Have you ever been in love?” She lowered her head wanting to change the subject. the media room is stocked with movies. please. cold walk to Oak Park.” he said leaving the kitchen to make it to the foyer. I managed to hit the button to make you shut down. Leighton. “You have a way of analyzing a subject but what about outside of work—what about a love life. The restaurant absorbs my free time and I’m doing a correspondence class on managing a small business on the weekends. “I should get going. His questions made her uncomfortable. the FRB took the misery away. is how many tomatoes to order for the week. .” Charlie smirked. Charlie stopped her by holding onto her arm. pick one for us. and my biggest worry these days. has a man hurt you in the past?” The lump in her throat rose. taxi’s run all night.their own money and let me know where to allocate the funds once they passed. “Tell me the truth. The spark hit the both of them as their eyes locked.” she said in a weak voice. She was a smart. Leighton.” Charlie rose from his chair and unloosened the bowtie around his neck. I should get out of your hair and call it a night. “Charlie wait—don’t go away mad at me. woman.” “What about now?” He wanted to know about her love life or lack thereof. “I don’t have time for the mushy stuff. If you go through that door. “I’mma go change before I get food stains on this expensive dress.” With her back to him.” She went to get up from the table to remove their plates. But. she placed the dishes in the dishwasher. “I’ve dated in the past.
A disastrous attempt at seduction might have Charlie leave forever. “I’m asking you to stay for a bit. the two of them alone together. he caressed her face. kissing her. I need a human to interact with. She wanted to resist. This was her one chance to prove she could be with a man. discussed before. The tighter Charlie held her. her body tingled if he brushed against her accidentally. the more his hardness pressed against her midsection. He outlined her small nose. not just any man. Without speaking. the anticipation building with each trace of his finger. He lowered his head to capture her full lips. Charlie. Tonight.” You’re entitled to keep your private life private as we Her fingers twitched at her side. This house has seven bedrooms. . Her mind swooned—she should stop before making a fool of herself. but the ever alluring Charlie. her loins were aching from his touching her. they were growing hungrier and yelling to be fed by a man. a sensation she’d only experienced the first time Martin kissed her. The taste of peanut butter filtered in as he explored deeper. my cat. and I only use one. Cocoa. Their tongues played. No matter how hard she fought those urges. gently parting them with his tongue to enter the warmth of her mouth. with no interruptions possible. to have her sexual urges tamed. The erotic dream she had nights ago. included him. will you stay with me until I fall asleep?” Her pleading eyes captivated him as he moved in slow motion over to her. fuzzy. nervously. is my only company. and holding her tightly in his arms on the dance floor. She attempted to prevent him from leaving and said. but her head was light. Charlie’s hands caressed the small of her back and rested above her hips. Ever since that dream. This caused soft moans to escaped Leighton’s throat. her lips. Charlie's in her house.“I not mad at you. teased and tempted one another.
his hand wandered further down her body through the softness of the dress. He settled next to her to resume the kissing. Gently he squeezed her breasts. He buried his head in the valley of her cleavage to inhale her softness. He ran his hand along her firm thighs and whispered in her ear. thinking Charlie might be in a similar situation. He kissed the exposed mounds.Charlie broke the kiss to whisper in her ear.” He swept her into his arms and up the grand staircase to her bedroom where he laid her on the bed. Fate stepped in stopping her from making another mistake with a man she’d trusted. but didn’t. “Upstairs.” Her skin was soft like silk and the color of chocolate ice cream. Her breasts were firm and didn’t flop. Leighton ran her fingers through Charlie’s hair as his lips pressed kisses to the flat of her stomach His mouth salivated at the thought of . first room on the left. He lifted her body slightly to unzip the dress and push it down her torso and around her hips and then off. “Where is your room?” Leighton tingled from the passionate kiss. He nuzzled her neck. He reached the swell of her breasts straining to be freed from the dress. suckling them. She had not gotten this far with Martin. They were the right size to fit his hands. her nipples stood at attention from the dark areolas surrounding them. Leighton wanted to cry out. What if he had a woman waiting for his return in Canada? Could lightning strike twice—and at the same moment? Her panic button had been activated. but her body ignored it. dipping his tongue in her cleavage to taste her skin. when she said. Her body naturally arched when her nipples hardened from Charlie's gentle lips. He took a dark nipple in his mouth. The white garter belt holding her hosiery set his loins on fire. kissed her shoulders. her mouth was dry. Leighton. Leighton opened her eyes suddenly. His hands fondled her breasts. “You’re beautiful.
Without speaking. she needed to catch her breath. Dampness straightened the waves of his hair as their body temperatures rose. levitating her from the bed. Her stomach went through a series of small ripples when his fingers traced the thin waistband of her panties to remove them. he stood behind her making her crazy. What he was doing was amazing. The confusion on what she wanted could not be expressed through words. his tongue once more invading her mouth while his hands roamed her nearly naked body. She welcomed him without hesitation when his lips returned to capture hers. His hair was thick and soft. Charlie watched her settle from an obvious explosive orgasm. . to stop the room from spinning.” he whispered. parting her open to slip inside to touch her moistness. “Do you want me to stop. Slowly Leighton’s body returned to normal. she wanted him to make love to her. When they went bowling. Her heart thudded loudly in her ears as his finger traced up her thigh. as her lungs struggled to take in air and her rapid heartbeats slow down. she placed her hand on Charlie’s cheek. He lowered his head to kiss the rise and fall of her stomach. The sensation his fingers caused by the rubbing had her pushing him on the shoulders. She’d been privately lusting him for weeks. the sexy dreams happened nightly and the cold showers weren’t helping. Her body was convulsing. Who was she fooling? She had to face the truth. her body reacted in a way she swore she would never allow. pressing his thumb over the throbbing nub but continuing to massage it gently.causing her to forget what she was thinking. She braced her head deep on the pillow to ride the waves crashing her body. her heart rate sped up to the point she was breathless. “No!” She screamed out as a major spasm blindsided her. Charlie lifted his head when the squirming from the beginnings of her orgasm got his attention. No man had touched her like that before.
In real live. Charlie’s head fell backward from the first stroke of her tongue. As horny as he had been at times. her inexperience was sure to show. Adele once described what she’d done to Evodio in splendid detail. amazed at the heaviness and heat radiating from him. she thought about trying that. “You have a beautiful body. She rolled on her side wanting to touch him. She would try anything. Leighton closed her hand around him. fulfilling life with men were about to be broken. His abs were hard with deep definitions. her hands roamed over every part of his body. his arms bulged at the biceps. She used her tongue to trace the length of him. When he unzipped his pants.” In her head. Charlie. with caution ran her The bonds restraining her from a hand across the protruding bulge as if it would jump out and bite her. She transformed into a sexual vixen who knew how to make a man beg to be pleasured by her. He hadn’t been with a woman since he left Kaycee.” He smiled and removed his jockeys and gave her total access. In her dream. hoping Charlie would be too aroused to notice her inexperience. it sounded like a soap opera line. She had nothing to compare Charlie too but the myth surrounding white men certainly did not apply to him. Leighton observed him rid the suit a piece at a time. but she didn’t care.“Charlie. He filled her hand entirely. Leighton. She didn’t watch porn movies to learn any tricks. he was not horny enough to bed Kathy for her one-dollar fee. make love to me. He paused long enough to remove his tuxedo. revealing the masculine body she imaged in her dreams. his manhood strained against the cotton jockeys as she waited for him to reveal more to her. She moved her legs across the bed to sit up and ease him into her mouth. He fantasized of women of all colors and . the moment had finally come.
the scent from her orgasm saturated his nose. baby. Whenever or. He laid her on the bed and dropped to his knees. His tongue flickered lightly across her moist. He could not recall when he’d become attracted to his boss. relax and enjoy. Or. lightly pinching and taunting while his tongue slid back and forth across her nub to draw deep breaths from her. His free hand played with her sensitive nipples. it happened his desires were fueled by a woman he truly wanted to have in his life.” Before reclaiming the pulsating nub with his tongue. it could have happened the few nights they went out after work as friends. His only experiences had been with white women. curly black hair protecting the gates to her womanhood.nationalities but never had sex with any. Gently parting her thighs with his hands. he slipped a finger inside her wetness. She moaned louder as Charlie locked on her forbidden fruit. he kissed his way up the inside of her legs. Then there were the early morning hours they’d talk over breakfast. swollen lips. again. There were many afternoons they spent working together after the others had left for the day. . He ignored the tugging at his hair or when she pulled his head closer only to push him away when it became too intense. Leighton’s fingers curled around the bedspread as her back arched. teasing. Her body jerked uncontrollably as he held her down. He lifted her hips to meet the neatly-trimmed. He lifted his head to say. “Relax. She was too far gone to stop Charlie from doing whatever he wanted. The anticipation of fulfilling his fantasy wasn’t fueling him sexually right now. Rapidly his body reacted to the foreplay and too much foreplay would spoil it if he didn’t stop Leighton. he took his first taste. however.
Charlie rested on his forearms. She didn’t cry out but crossed her legs over his back. he also didn’t move from above her. If possible. He positioned himself between her legs and entered her. “What do you want me to do? uncomfortable. Now to ask the question seemed pointless.” Awkwardly. but sensitivity poured from his eyes as he asked. He lowered himself I’ll stop if you’re . With a deep thrust of his hips. show me what it’s like to make love. The soft snap followed by a deep. he entered the well of her being. He wasn’t laughing or mocking her. Charlie did not give her any slack as he drank up her juices. She didn’t want to see the expression on his face.His tongue replaced his finger. please. her sweetness dripped in his mouth. She was exceptionally tight.” Leighton did as told. he brushed it off with her not being sexually active recently. “Open your eyes and look at me. he began to move inside her again.” “I want you to finish what you started. being careful not to hurt her more than he already had by breaking her hymen. Her womanhood resisted his shallow thrust as he pushed just the tip of his manhood inside of her. Charlie’s voice became demanding but not harsh. Charlie moved on top of her. slowly. but he had to know. Leighton tensed her thighs around his head as another bolting orgasm ripped through her. He kissed her tenderly as he thrust a little harder. “You’re a virgin? Why didn’t you tell me?” She wouldn’t open her eyes or answer him. his erection recede somewhat. Leighton lay on the bed exhausted. painful whence from Leighton had him stop. she wanted to put a pillow over her head and scream for being an idiot thinking he wouldn’t notice she’d never had sex.
He took that as a sign. she was comfortable. Leighton collapsed on the bed. His weight was heavy as he lay limp on top of her. this one being different from the first two.” he moaned close to her ear. ******** Both were too spent to move right away. She didn’t think it was possible for it to be happening again.on her body. Her body was covered entirely by Charlie. All this ran through his mind. you feel so good. she wanted to feel all of him inside her. bedded deep. and he could proceed. His body gained speed as he pumped harder into her. His eyes were closed. She grabbed the bedspread and held on. He had a hard time shaking it from his mind. Charlie’s heavy thrusting forced It was another wave to crash over her. He hadn’t broken a virgin since he was fourteen. the . Sweat dripped from him onto her. The whiteness of his skin pressed against the darkness of hers gave the illusion of a vanilla-chocolate ice cream cone. Now he was breaking in his boss. Charlie took a minute to catch his breath and reflect. Leighton opened her eyes when Charlie’s weight lifted from her chest thinking he was done. and when he released himself. Her fingers dug into his skin. How would this affect their working relationship? Why would she give her most valued possession to him? uncertainty that came after the action. pulling him closer to her. it released. causing red marks to be left on his back from her nails. The veins at his temples became visible. She caught their reflection in the full-length mirror sitting a few feet from the bed. Her hands found a place to rest on his tight buttocks. “Baby. the muscles of his biceps bulged from holding his own weight as he started to thrust harder. She felt a stirring between her thighs from the sensation of his hard member rubbing against her.
She had not made any attempts to move him. Charlie wanted to believe she was experiencing the same about him. The deed was done.He still had not moved after several minutes passed. The heat of the moment failed to bring the use of any form of birth control. She assumed he walked to clear his head or to get as far away from her as possible. she rolled it up and tossed it in a corner to dispose of before Ms. She heard the water running and got off the bed quickly. she was no longer a virgin at age 33. only asking where the bathroom was. The softness of Leighton’s body beneath him was comforting. Leighton returned to her bedroom. Grabbing her robe and a few items. Taking it off the bed. Charlie lifted his hips to withdraw from her. she went to another bathroom to take a quick shower. she did not expect to be the person to bring her into womanhood. He hadn’t experienced this closeness with any woman in a long time. Maggie arrived in the morning. The man on top of her. she found it empty. She wondered how they would get past the awkwardness once they separated. She plucked the chubby tabby . Cocoa bounced in the foyer circling her legs purring. Charlie rolled off her and sat with his back to her. he felt he belonged there. Martin was supposed to do that. Would he be disappointed in her for not telling him or would he brag to Nate he bagged a virgin? Her therapist was going to have a field day untangling her emotional distress after this. Leighton relaxed as the pain eased. she felt a warm wetness follow. but Charlie was nowhere in sight. Her mind wandered back to the present. She closed the door and reset the alarm refusing to let her emotions break her. The custom-made bedspread was ruined. She raced down the stairs at a fast pace and opened the front door. Her clothes had been picked up and place neatly across a chair. The white garter belt was also ruined. her car was parked in the same spot and the keys were in the bowl.
She couldn’t blame Charlie for any of this. .from the floor hugging her faithful companion before returning to her room to contemplate the fallout to come. but she declined. He had given her the opportunity to end it. He was following orders and did what she asked with no obligations afterwards.
I’ll be in the office. “Leighton.” Leighton proceeded to her office without making eye contact with Nate. I should be able to squeeze a little extra time to go over my order.” Nate ran behind her to the office. the meat delivery guy will be here at 5:30 this morning.” Nate greeted. “The party was okay. if he came back to work at all. “Charlie is here?” “Yeah. Leighton parked in the lot behind the restaurant as usual.Chapter 5 Monday morning would be the first encounter with Charlie. opening a folder to appear busy. Is Leslie here yet?” “Yeah. She was not ready to confront him and especially not in front of Leslie and Nate. “Sorry. they running a little behind.” Her blood tingled. Befo’ I forget. “OK. She hit the chirp on her car. “Good morning. she would soon find out. Leighton. I had a brain .” she said with a steady voice. “I got those boxes of toilet paper unpacked and put away you been houndin’ me about. this time the light was on indicating Nate was inside. how’d ‘dat party go with Charlie Saturday night?” She opened the drawer to stick her purse inside and turned on the desk lamp. hiccup. ain’t he supposed to be?” She flipped her hand—dismissing her own question. She worried all day Sunday if Charlie had told Nate about the events following the party. she in the front straightening up and Charlie down in the basement getting supplies. and holding her head low.
I’m sorry.” “My bad.” Nate lowered his head. Charlie being white does not matter to me either.” Apologetically she reached for Nate’s hand. I’m not saying I was upset. I appreciate your looking out for me. but you don’t need to send Charlie to my rescue anymore. He been runnin’ from the broad for over a year. I put you in a rotten mood and Charlie came to work in a bad mood. I didn’t want you to be the only honey at the ball without a man droolin’ over you. He’s my employee. and I ain’t thank you would mind him being white. and we should stay on that level. Charlie is a good-lookin’ dude not to be a brother. we just need to keep things platonic in the workplace.” “What? I thought we was all friends around here?” “We are friends. “I’m not in a bad mood. “No. “Him and his girl probably fightin’ again. Leighton. I don’t need a babysitter. I’m good. and I surely don’t want Charlie thinking he’s to babysit me if you aren’t around.” “Don’t be mad at Charlie if he screwed up.” “I appreciate your kindness.“Nate.” Leighton laid the pencil down looking at him. he should man up and tell her the shit over and for good!” . Nate. “Damn. Most of the people there were friends or business acquaintances. the evening kinda put Charlie on the spot when people asked about him. Good thing me and Leslie servings the customers today. You promised Malcolm you would look after me but. Why is Charlie in a bad mood?” “He answered flapping his hands. I twisted his arm to be your date.
” The knot in her stomach grew to travel to her throat to choke her senseless.S. “Charlie’s girlfriend lives in Chicago?” “Nah. I told him to dump the chick and go for the woman he wants. “I’m not encouraging you to gossip. Anyhow.” “I do got his back.” She frowned. Charlie is a grown man who will do okay for himself. She fought the tears threatening to fall from her eyes. they been engaged for a few years. Rather black or white all men were dogs. but he was engaged and never bothered to tell her. Leighton.Leighton’s chest tightened. “Charlie ain’t gon’ marry her cuz he got the hots for another woman. “Nate.” . “ He peered around the corner before whispering to her. Not only did she sleep with Charlie to fulfill her fantasy. Can you do me a favor?” “What’cha need?” “Will you close out and drop the money pouches at the bank?” “Ain’t no problem with me doing that. but Charlie ain’t wantin’ her and came to the U. Nate. the wacko’s in Canada. I might take off early. He’ll bounce back from whatever he decides to do.” She returned to the folder she was working on. “I’m sure they’ll work out their differences. and concluded never again would she allow a chance for another man to stump over her. stop gossiping—you’re his friend and supposed to have his back. Leighton fought to move away from the subject of Charlie before Nate could witness her become an emotional puddle of swill. to get away. but your advice was right.
Our business has doubled since he took over the kitchen. The restaurant stayed busy not allowing Leighton to leave as planned.” she said with her voice trailing off to dead ears. I’ll send him in. Do you think he’s an OK guy?” “Yes.” She slapped her forehead to stop Nate from rambling on. “Oh shoot! The event we have to cater for the book signing being held at the library is in two days. I ain’t so sure it would be an act for you or him. Do you think you could act like you with him so he can dump his old lady?” She frowned causing deep creases to form on her forehead. “Nate. I want to get as much done as possible without disrupting service to our regulars.” “I hear Charlie coming up the stairs. I’m not coming between him and whatever the other woman is to him.“Leighton. He’ll need to come up with a plan not involving me. not necessary. “Nate. In fact. they were so busy no words had been . don’t you wanna hint on who he got an eye on?” “Nope. he’s an outstanding chef. just remind him by the end of the day. Remind Charlie to start prepping early.” “Ouch! I caught the burn.” “I ain’t talkin’ ‘bout cooking.” Nate said leaving the office.” He sighed. “What you think about him? He been working here for a minute and we been out and all. ******** The morning and afternoon hours flew by.
Leighton’s frustrations hit the boiling point when she found a mistake the meat vendor made with her order. kneeling beside her. the time spent organizing was undone in seconds by her mini tantrum. she banged her head when she lifted up. what’s wrong with you?” He asked. Nate took the money pouches to the bank for Leighton while she caught up on paperwork and telephone calls. Misjudging how far away from the edge she was. Charlie stayed tucked away in the kitchen preparing food for the library event. After closing. Leighton crawled under the desk to retrieve the papers.” “I bumped my freaking head on the desk!” “Let me take a look. I didn’t hit my head that hard. “No! I’m okay once the stars and birdies stop circling. Exhausted and wanting to leave the strained atmosphere. I’ll be able to get up. the conversation lacked the tone of two lovers. “Leighton. Charlie came in the office to find her on the floor rocking. . only stopping to answer his cell phone from time to time. Flashing stars blinked before her eyes as she lay on the floor holding the top of her head in pain. She growled throwing the folder across the desk. knocking paperwork and receipts to the floor. From what she overheard.” “Are you sure? You could have a concussion?” “I doubt that.exchanged between Charlie and Leighton all day easing any tension she was under.” he said removing her hand. Leighton pretended not to overhear any of his conversations with the mysterious person on the other end she assumed to be the girlfriend.” she said getting off the floor.
about Saturday. I do.” Leighton focused her attention on the corkboard tacked to the wall. but don’t worry. “Yeah.“OK.” “Good. What we did was a mistake. but fretted where to start. that’s all I wanted.” Leighton touched the spot on her head searching for the aching lump. and I didn’t get a chance to stop in.” Her lack of eye contact was evident she was avoiding a conversation with him. “A mistake? Damn. Anyhow.” “You don’t owe my any apologies. you should be more concerned about telling your girlfriend instead of worrying about me!” . Charlie thought he should explain his leaving without saying anything to her. I got it under control. if you’re sure. and I should have taken your offer to stop before we’d gone too far. I wanted to remind you about the lunch for the library later this week. she wanted him to leave. He perched on the edge of the desk. forget the whole thing. Leighton is that what you think?” “Charlie. narrowing his eyes in anger.” He stiffened.” “Yup. Nate said you wanted to see me this morning? We were busy. he closed the door to the small office for privacy. He decided to go for broke. Although they were alone. but you’re already handling what I wanted to talk about. I want to apologize. “A simple goodnight would have been sufficient. I should not have jetted the way I did.” “Yes. “Leighton.
Leighton. “What difference does it make how I found out? Why didn’t you tell me before we got to my bedroom?” “The mess is complicated and not easy to explain. “I don’t believe you’re saying this crap! Plus placing all the blame on me! I asked if you wanted to continue. you’re done with us.” “I didn’t want to blurt the facts out while we were—. her eyes narrowed.” Her voice graveled with hurt. “I comprehend fully what I said! You’re also aware I’m not attached to anyone. I was in a vulnerable place.He took a deep breath. and you took advantage of me knowing you were committed to another woman. “How did you find out?” Hunching her shoulders. Charlie. His deep voice lowered to keep from shouting.” Leighton opened the door to leave the office to go to the freezer to dump a few ice cubes in a freezer bag. She put the bag on her head turning to look at him. You got a bonus. My conception about men has been right all along. Leighton.” “We haven’t just met! You had months to tell me about her! I can’t believe you would put me in this position!” . Charlie—what is the extra satisfaction in bagging a virgin or does this only apply to virgins under the age of 30?” He grew incensed as she berated him. “I would never take advantage of you. the truth could have been told about the girlfriend! You opted not to tell me. once you get what you want.” “Umm. I’m not the type of guy to bed a woman to get my jollies off and leave ‘em while they’re in the shower. Gee. Leighton?” Her eyes were enraged. I can’t sleep with you because I’m engaged! See how INCREDIBLY easy that was to say? Charlie. her nostrils flared. “You could’ve fooled me. What was your answer. no it's not and I’ll prove it to ya.
and I will answer for you. “Oh. “Charlie. the second time I got with a man who liked having baby momma drama.” . go away and leave me alone! I’m not in the mood to discuss this now. did I satisfy your curiosity?” “What curiosity are you talking about?” “Most every white man has a fantasy of sleeping with a black woman.” “You’re wrong! Let me explain—“ Her arms flailed. this meant nothing. you won. How was your first lay with a black woman?” He balled his fist as his side. you’ll find another one to complete your curiosity. At no time did I think we would ever go the distance.” “But it did go the distance! Whoever said the third times a charm—LIED! For me. I’m sure it wasn’t good. and now you! Granted we aren’t in a relationship. Oh well.” Charlie didn’t respond. I would never intentionally hurt you. you fall in line with man number two. but her body language suggested he stay his distance. he might be able to understand her hate for men. “Explain how? This is all my doing! The first time I hooked up with a psychopath. “Leighton.” He stepped to approach her. Her angry spew revealed more than she realized. don’t bring race into this argument.” She raised one eyebrow. “Leighton. but dang it. except this time. and if she continued. the third time is no different from the first two. since you screwed a black woman lacking sexual experience. I’m going too.“What position? According to you.” “Charlie. He readied himself to take the blame for betraying her trust until she hit a sore spot.
” “What the hell does that mean?” “Charlie. and I don’t care! What I do care about is myself and how you lied about everything!” Leighton prepared to storm from the room as he latched onto her elbow. you had the target right in your view.” “You are way off base. and I fell for it hook. we do make mistakes. Man. Walk out of here just like you did your girlfriend. Hey maybe she’ll be Asian.” “Whoa! Leighton. I make mistakes! Rather you view them as right or wrong is entirely your opinion. but this wasn’t a mistake on your part. “I’m human. did the right things. Leighton. You’re accusing me of lying to you about everything when I didn’t. you had all the right words. you intentionally held information from me.” Besides. line and sinker. you’re pushing me! relationship status is with Kaycee. “I don’t have to take this shit!” “You’re right you don’t. you have no clue what my . “Honestly. I was doing you a favor by showing up for your damn party.” “Agreed.” “Why is it bothering you so much? My estranged relationship with Kaycee shouldn’t concern you. The next damsel in distress is waiting for your rescue somewhere.” “You are absolutely right—I don’t. it bothers me because I gotta live with the fact I slept with you when I should have read between the lines.” She yanked her arm away and threw the icepack on the counter.He gritted his teeth.
But. “Kaycee may never find out about our night together.” “Stop with the girlfriend excuses! No murder was committed. I’m not buying any of this.” “What is the importance of the question?” She shook her head. Thank you for giving me another secret to keep.” It’s a simple question not . on her wedding night. then take it all out on me. Unfortunately. stuffing his belonging in anger. I did have a hand in that. how Alexis was treating me has nothing to do with our sleeping together. You’re not upset about me cheating on Kaycee. I got bothered how Alexis was treating you and tried to help.“I did not ask you to accompany me or to take me home—those were solely your actions!” He pulled the apron from around his neck and balled it together. and Kaycee will never know what happened between us. not being man enough to tell her what you did. Leighton. “This is why I don’t do favors for people. it always comes back to bite me in the ass. you’re upset because she exists. He grabbed his backpack off the hook.” she said lowering her tone.” “Charlie. tossing it in the bin. “If making me the scapegoat helps you get through this. How would she when she lives in Canada. she will be with her new husband oblivious he cheated. while you’ll lie next to her. Charlie? requiring much thought. I’m blaming you for cheating on a woman who loves you enough to want to be your wife.” “Are you planning on marrying her.” “You present a compelling fight.” “I’m not blaming you for the sex.
piece. but I’ll find someone. moving closer to her. Otherwise. It won’t mean anything to me either way.” “Where does this leave us.She folded her arms across her chest focusing on an ant crawling across the floor. I expect replacing you will be hard. Leighton? We had a good friendship before this. I’ll deal with this now that it’s off my chest. Nate. You’re a great chef who has put my dumpy diner in the green. and I’ll go do what I do on my own. You take a chance on what’s under the cover of the one pretty wrapped piece. “Leighton—” She shunned away. You.” “Are you implying we’ll work day after day and not have any interaction? Leighton.” “It leaves us right where we started. “I will try my hardest to make it routine business as normal.” “What if I’m not happy with those arrangements?” “Oh well. Her eyes glazed over. but no tears fell when Charlie touched her arm. to me.” “You’ll always be the sweet. “If you need to leave now. I’ve endured in my life. Will it be a sweet. “Don’t touch me! I’m not a crier! After all. then you can go. chewy nugget or will it be bitter and hard. Life is like a box of chocolates.” He inched closer until he was close enough to smell the light scent of her perfume. chewy nugget.” “You want me to leave now?” He asked. Charlie. I’m not playing with you—back off!” . you can work until I find someone. Charlie. and even Leslie can continue to do things after work.” “Stop it. that won’t make a healthful work environment in a place this small.
her loins started to stir. instinct had her raising her hand to slap him. He captured her wrist before it made contact with his jaw. He began to massage her slowly through the thin material of her blouse. “You’re angry with me and I understand. Charlie’s hands found her breasts. Dialing the number she waited for the other party to answer. but. Leighton removed her cell phone from her purse. “Dr. He was able to break through her barricade and plunge inside. Engorged with anger. Leighton couldn’t do anything. Charlie tipped her head to pull her into a kiss. Charlie slid the heavy backpack over his shoulder.” .” Safely hearing the service door close. He wondered if he should wait on her so they could leave together as usual.” Stunned and dumbfound by his actions. I’ll see you in the morning. Roake. Leighton not wanting too fall prey to his seduction placed her hands on his shoulders giving him a hard shove. The kiss deepened. I can’t believe you’ll never want me to do this again?” With her back against the refrigerator. I’m leaving. Their deep breathing was the only sounds in the room other than the humming of the deep freezer. but storm past him to return to her office. “Leighton. don’t think for a minute. “You don’t want to hit me. She pressed her lips tightly to stop the penetration of his tongue from entering her mouth. I will back off to give you space so you can grasp the concept yourself.” he said kissing her wrist gently.“Leighton. When she didn’t emerge he tapped on the door. can you squeeze me in? I screwed up big time. I’m going to let you get away too far. But you can’t deny the fire between us.
He missed the laughs they’d shared during closing or when cleaning the restaurant on off days. You move to a better neighborhood and meet new people. Leighton celebrated by installing an outdoor patio with Bristostyle furnishing and hiring two more waitresses and a busboy. by enjoying her coffee under the newly installed awning. reading the newspaper. Everything between them became strained due to the unfaithful night.Chapter Six May arrived to bring warm. Charlie’s brewing desires for Leighton were growing stronger each day. sunny days to Chicago. she hardly spoke to him unless it pertained to the restaurant. Lately. and hiding it was . “Mind if I take the real estate section?” After searching for the required section.” she said pulling back. and shopper’s outdoors to enjoy the weather. I personally hate moving. and her hand accidentally touched his. She never thought the day would come when her mornings outside would not be spent hauling trash or shoveling snow from the walkway. she handed it to him. “Excuse me. Halted was the chit-chat over breakfast. warm weather.” She reached for her coffee. Leighton’s Breakfast & Lunch came home to a steady stream of loyal and new customers. “I wonder what it is about this season that has people wanting to move to a new residence. She took pleasure of the early morning. “Where are you thinking of moving?” Charlie smiled from the casual exchange. she didn’t come to work until after the restaurant opened and made it a point to be the last to leave in the afternoon.” “Change is good sometimes. Charlie pulled a chair to sit next to her.
“I’m looking for a condo with at least two bedrooms and two baths. “I made a promise to stick to goals and I can’t keep running when I don’t succeed. how does it feel to relax and watch your hard-work finally pay off?” “This is unreal. he did have a thing for her but ruined his chances by moving too fast. His eyes followed in the direction of her stare. Apparently the time had come for him to look for a place to share with his soon-to-be wife. The news came as music to his ears and hoped for a chance at making amends. My advice would be to get a realtor to help you find a place.” “I’m glad you took his advice. Can you suggest any suitable areas?” Her outside appearance didn’t show the disappointment but inside her heart broke into a million pieces. Malcolm told me.” He wanted to hold her hand and say what was weighing on his mind.” She let out a low sigh. I better get to work. She rejoiced silently for not falling for another lie.fruitless. His heart-torn confessional of attraction to her was nothing more than an attempt to filter if she would sleep with him again. He refrained from doing such until he eased back into her good graces. drawing his attention. Nate was right. she hadn’t put out the call for a new chef. I think you should wait for your bride to help choose the location of her new home?” “You would think of the wise thing to do—I’ll contact a realtor. “Well. “Tell me. I wouldn’t be disappointed if I kept the place at least a year.” .” he said folding the paper together. Alexis ambling down the street with two other women had him raring to leave. From what Nate told him. Personally. I’ll be inside. “Depends on the area you want to reside.
This time she took him by the wrist. “You’re staying to help clarify the lie WE created.” A response remained nonexistent as Alexis’ step quickened to swarm the table before he could escape. Settling in the chair, sweat beaded around the collar of his shirt. “You’re not playing fair. A bunch of women ganging on one man is not a fair fight.” “Nothing is ever fair in fake love and war. Cross your fingers, maybe she won’t open her big mouth about us.” “Do you believe that?” “Heck no, but I can wish.” Alexis’ million dollar smile was her trademark. Her aspirations to become a famous fashion model got shot down by her parents. Rudely dismissing the two women with her, she sat down uninvited. Alexis removed the oversized designer sunglasses and placed them in the larger designer bag to match her expensive outfit. “Hey girl,” she gushed. “I like this; sort of reminds me of a quaint French bistro.” Stunned by Alexis’ demeanor, Leighton frowned, saying, “Alexis, how rude what you did to your friends. You didn’t bother to introduce us before you scooted them off.” “Gimme a break, Leighton; those two women aren’t my friends. Don’t you remember Justine and BeBe from high school?” Leighton shifted her eyes to form a mean frown, “Sadly, I do.” Charlie chuckled. “The popular mean girls of yesteryear.” “Hey, Charles,” Alexis sang before answering. “Yes for then, and they still are today. They tormented Leighton because she was the smartest girl in school.”
Leighton pursed her lips and mumbled at Alexis, “You don’t have to bring the past up, Alexis.” Charlie spoke up. “Leighton was tormented? Seems to me the popular and stupid kids would flock to her for help.” Leighton sighed heavily. “I’ll tell you why I’m so smart, Charlie. I didn’t fit in with the other rich kids. I was considered an outsider by my peers. Pretty girls didn’t want to be my friend and boys didn’t dare date me and ruin their reputation for dating a girl beneath their standards. Now you have it—the whole ugly truth of my high school years condensed to an easy sentence.” Alexis rubbed the back the Leighton’s hand to calm her. “Leighton, you were quiet. That sort of made it easy for those idiots to tease you.” “Oh, please! Alexis; you would have been right with them. You didn’t have a choice but to be polite to me since we lived next door to one another and our parents were joined at the hip socially.” Alexis reeled from the sting of Leighton’s anger and asked. “Um, Charles, would you mind getting me a coffee, light on the cream and sugar.” Charlie received the cue and didn’t balk at Alexis’ request. “Not at all. Do you want a refill, Leighton?” Leighton didn’t answer, hating herself for the unnecessary attack on Alexis. “I apologize, Alexis. Those two brought all the awful memories back.” “They didn’t even recognize you and I didn’t tell them this is your restaurant or Charles is your man. Leighton, you have come a long way, since high school. You’ve experienced two successful careers while those heifers haven’t done anything but live off their trust funds and ex-husband’s alimony.”
“You have it all wrong, Alexis. Malcolm’s mismanagement of this place forced me to return to Chicago. When I moved to New York, I vowed never to step foot in this city again; so much for vows.” “Did you tell Charles what happened to you, yet? Lord knows, it might ease some of the heaviness on your shoulders.” “No, and again, he doesn’t need to know.” She folded her hands in front of her. “Let me clear the air. I lied, Alexis; Charlie is my chef. He came with me to the party as a favor. It was all an act to make me look respectable to all of you. In fact, Charlie is engaged to some chick in Canada.” Alexis’ mouth fell open. “I got fooled. You two make a striking couple not to be a couple.” “We make a striking couple of liars. Now you know the truth, and I won’t need to keep the charade going.” “Apparently, you’re holding in a lot of anger, and I don’t think it has anything to with you and Charles not being a couple. Did you get the news about Clay since you’ve been home?” Charlie placed the hot coffee in front of Alexis. “Who is Clay?” Both women snapped their heads in Charlie’s direction causing Leighton to respond, “Nobody important.” Nate stuck his head from the door to inform Leighton a telephone call waited for her. “I’ll be back in a flash. Alexis, please do talk about my school days to Charlie while I’m gone,” she begged. With Leighton safely in the restaurant, Charlie leaned across the table. “Spill it, Alexis; what’s with Leighton and this guy, Clay?”
Alexis stalled hoping Leighton would be on a short telephone call. “She told me about the staging, Charles. I wouldn’t have guessed you two are not romantically involved.” He intentionally ignored her comment. His interest in uncovering who the mystery man might be in Leighton’s life took precedence. “Who is this man? Is he someone she cares about?” “I can’t tell you without breaking my promise to Leighton. Although, I must say I am surprised she didn’t sell this place and stay in New York.” He looked both ways for Leighton before speaking. “Is she hiding from him?” She clicked her tongue, a bit peeved. “Did you listen to anything I said?” “Yes and I’m purposely ignoring all the gibberish until you tell me who Clay is.” “Alright! I’ll tell you since you have enough balls to speak to me in that tone. I swear, you better not say a word to Leighton about this.” “I cross my heart, now talk,” he ordered. “When we entered our sophomore year in high school, Clay came on the scene as a new student. He was the normal all-star athlete the popular kids flocked around. He was somewhat cute and had money but was stupid as blank paper. Leighton was not popular but a freaking genius. Clay acted to care about her when they first started going together.” “Leighton’s an attractive woman. I can’t imagine why young boys wouldn’t want to date her.” “Well to be honest, Leighton didn’t care about fashion or makeup like most teenager girls. Her concerns went with getting into college and succeeding at a career.”
She could be back any minute. I care for Leighton. how?” Alexis took a long sip of her coffee that had cooled. you gotta tell me. I could not stand him.” “Clay could be a persuasive little snit.” A smile crossed her face. So. She looks fantastic now but seems defensive. if you get pushed around enough.” “Alexis. like all guys his age.” He let slip.” She was not ugly—just plain and a little thick around the hips. His parents were rich and successful. Leighton was head over heels in love with this idiot and would do anything he asked.“She’s referred to herself as an ugly duckling which pissed me off. Clay fooled all of us. he asked her to go all the way before he went away to college. you eventually develop a backbone.” “Disturbed. The chemistry you share is hotter than molten lava!” “Stay focused.” “Are we talking about the same woman? Charlie asked seriously. But. She doesn’t believe me when I tell her.” “Obviously she didn’t. “Yes indeed. If you’ve gotta an inkling why she’s doing this.” Charlie took hold of her wrist. continue with your story before she returns. “I had a feeling it was more between you two.” “OK. and she is pushing me away. “Alexis. . but he was one disturbed individual. Charles. They’d dated until his senior year. “I should not be telling you any of this.
but she couldn’t handle all of them. you had inside knowledge about this and didn’t warn her or her parents. “Clay arranged the date. he would capture the moment on film. For one hundred dollars. Clay invited a few of his best buddies to the date. For twenty dollars. music and then the real Clay came out. “Continue please. “I didn’t know about the other guys being invited. but Leighton would not budge an . Leighton showed up expecting a romantic evening with her first boyfriend and future husband.” “Clay promised he would marry her after she graduated.” “What did she get?” “She arrived at the cabin to be greeted with flowers. Personally.” She nodded. I pegged Clay an ass and didn’t trust him. they could each get a turn with Leighton. ”Leighton gave a masterly fight.” “Them? I’m sensing this story isn’t going to end well.” “You’re right.” Charlie fought to keep his anger inside.” Alexis blinked rapidly. “He set her up to believe their little romp in the hay would be eternal.” “You’re right she wouldn’t.” Charlie grew irritated. and she would move on campus with him. normally.” He rubbed his face in disgust. “How would you know that?” “I’m guessing she wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize her chances of getting into college. “Alexis.Alexis raised her eyebrow.
” . He beat Dennis to a pulp before police subdued him. Right before. are any of them still in jail?” “Clay’s in jail serving a life sentence for a brutal rape.” Charlie sat straight. You gotta remember she had not graduated yet.” “I didn’t think about that. Once word got out Malcolm knew what was going down. The other guys served their time. Alexis. and a video of Leighton started playing. don’t say it. our graduation. The staff worked on stage doing their thing when the curtain opened. The only person to get her to listen would be Malcolm. She’s carrying the burden as if it happened a few years ago. He gave Clay permission to us the place and knew what Clay’s intentions were.inch when it came to him.” “Well a long time has passed since that happened.” “Charles. there is more. The trial revealed Clay’s family had to move numerous times because of his sexual nature.” “Oh my god. but I have not seen any of them in years. we had an assembly to go over the prom and graduation. He got slapped with an accessory charge and received three-years on probation because he was a minor. people started talking. She returned to school and face ridicule from those that blamed her for those guys going to jail. Has anything else happened to her lately?” “That incident scarred her. “The tub of lard that comes into the restaurant almost every day tried to rape Leighton!” “He was implicated because the cabin belonged to his family.” “Alexis.
” “She’s right when she said her first boyfriend’s a psychopath. Charlie. no one found it humorous this time around. Are you in love with Leighton?” “Alexis. I gotta fix what I did.” “That explains why she doesn’t trust men and why she doesn’t want to be alone with ‘em. Up on the screen Leighton lay spread-eagled on a bed.” “She fainted on the spot. not one made a disparaging remark. I gotta fix this. I don’t blame her for not wanting to be here. But Chicago holds too many terrible memories for her. and call me Charlie. If she’s encountered any unpleasant situations in New York.“Yeah. can I ask you a question?” “Sure.” “She’s been gone from Chicago a long time.” “She trusts you. He imagined the pain and humiliation Leighton suffered. For an auditorium full of horny teenage boys.” “What did you do?” . tied at the hands and feet.” Charlie’s head dropped in his hands. “I don’t want to hear anymore. some idiot got a hold of the video confiscated by police.” “OK. “Her eyes screaming for help.” “She might not anymore. I wouldn’t know. I ended up hurting Leighton after we left the party. I wouldn’t trust men either.” “Charles. Her eyes…” Alexis swallowed hard. totally nude.
” “How beautiful. When you turn around. I’ve got nothing but rotten luck when . It’s time to open your heart and trust again.” “This conversation took place between me and you. she will never hear a recount of it from me. If you start asking questions about those guys.” “Charlie.” Alexis raised her coffee mug. “Don’t do anything rash.” ******** Leighton passed through the door missing being trampled by Charlie rushing inside.“I failed tell her something pertinent about me. open your eyes—the man is in love with you and you want him. what did you say to him? I can’t afford to lose the best chef I ever had. too.” Leighton twitched in her seat to calm the butterflies in her stomach. Leighton is observant. she will know I told you. If you’d recited it to a woman who’d been scorned in the normal way. I could see your advice working. one morning you’ll wake up and look in the mirror and what you’ll see will shock you. “The man is about to be married.” she called after him. the perfectly smooth skin will sport a few wrinkles. Thanks for the insight. Alexis. “I think I made him nervous—“ “Alexis. “Is that all he is to you—a chef? Girl. Leighton.” He got up from the table. “Wake up and smell the coffee. The lustrous black hair will be streaked with gray. “I have to take care of a few things. the opposite side of your bed will be empty unless Cocoa is still around. running it under Leighton’s nose.” Alexis raised her eyebrow. “Where is the fire?” She asked Alexis.
If you have a girl. It’s the only way I can protect myself.” . enough of reminiscing over the bad times. I already got you pegged as godmother.” “Alexis. newborns require too much work. What you said about lying to him about the fertility tests made ME wake up and smell the coffee. “Ugh. I wouldn’t trust my child to anyone but you. “You are crazy! I can’t wait to watch you in action with this child. Okay.” “To be honest. “You’re taking on a defeatist attitude. “That is wonderful! I want to be a fake auntie.” “Girl. Dennis is in my face here and there. I know for a fact three are married.” she giggled. I don’t think of them at all. I had a long talk with Myron. fashionable and loved and supported by a wonderful family. I need to buy a video camera to capture every fun moment. she will be poised. a teen might catch me a case. if demise hit me or Myron.” Alexis shook her head. Leighton. Alexis turned her lip to one side. I don’t think Malcolm will settle down to marry any woman so I’ll never have nieces or nephews of my own. but he doesn’t stir me anymore. you will make a tremendous mom. being alone is my life’s destiny. So are you adopting a newborn or a kid almost ready to leave the nest.” “I’m sure Malcolm would’ve beat all of them if given more time alone with them.” Leighton laughed. with kids.it comes to the opposite sex. we’re going to adopt.” A brighten smile broke over Leighton’s face. do you think those guys stopped living once they got out of jail. I guess a toddler would work best for us. Malcolm gave him what he deserved.
” “How did you find out who told him?” “Malcolm and I are close. gotta run.” “OK. what a load off my chest!” Alexis gathered her belongings.” “Whew. He wouldn’t leave my side for weeks.” Leighton needed a girlfriend in Chicago. I might have to use you as a character witness. I got your back. I only intended to sit for a minute.” Alexis said darting down the street. He told me everything you did.“No you don’t! I can have evidence lying around! All kidding aside. She missed Adele and Carmella and could use Alexis as a stand in for them. maybe we can grab dinner or a movie. I got a million items on my list including meeting with the adoption agency later. “Excellent idea. I’m excited and nervous. meeting. I’d better get a move on. are you game?” “Of course. I owe you for telling Malcolm about that dreadful night. smooches. I’ll call you later to tell you about the .
” She got two plates from the cabinet and slid them on the counter. well before he moved. I’m here because I had a taste for pizza and I knew if I’d invited you out you would turn me down. She’d left work promptly at 4:00pm and flopped on the sofa to fall asleep instantly. You can’t turn me down with pizza in hand. So will Nate be joining us?” “Nah. “Charlie. were you in the loop on that gossip?” She stopped chewing the cheesy pizza. “Are you serious? Leslie lives with her boyfriend. The wall clock in the foyer chimed at 6:00pm sharp. “Could I stop you if I wanted? I’m surprised you remembered where I lived. “I never expected them to be together. “You share the same neighborhood with Michael Jordan.” she said following him into the kitchen.” he said doing a sliding motion with his hand. Spoiler alert: he and Leslie are dating. May I come in?” She moved aside so he could enter the foyer. I don’t care as long as it doesn’t interfere with them working together. She kicked him to the curb letting Nate slide in the back door. Charlie stood on the other side holding a large pizza box.” “Not anymore. “I forget about your sense of humor at times. he had plans.” . She slapped her cheeks to wake up before opening the door.Chapter Seven Leighton dragged her aching body from the sofa to answer the doorbell. “True. are you delivering pizzas on the side?” She asked sarcastically.
“So you don’t think I’m hot?” “No. “This is good.” ‘Um-hum. placing his food on the plate to move to face her. “I’m speaking in general.ugh stop twisting my words!” “Am I making you fluster?” He asked. moving to capture her lips. I mean yeah.” she stammered.” Her eyes crisscrossed trying to avoid contact with his. “No. “You think I’m hot?” He asked. guiding her off the stool. and delivered by a hot pizza guy!” She added.” He took her by the wrist. “You’re trying to put words in my mouth is what you’re doing. “Something like what?” “You’ll find out.” She nodded extracting a second slice of pizza from the box. teasing.“Leslie will be good for Nate. You almost spoiled me against eating fast food. His breath was warm on her face as he kissed her chin. you are…. She works hard to take care of her kids and Nate could use a little stability in his life. She’d changed into a tank top and shorts. freshly baked. something else.” “Pizza doesn’t count. planning on working out but never made it past the sofa. not words but . Nothing beats a hot. delivery pizza.” His first kiss brushed lightly against her cheek. I wasn’t making reference to you. Her eyes closed when his hands lightly caressed her bare arms.
Her breasts heaved from the deep breaths she took. watch a movie. and now you want to wake sleeping dogs. I won’t be a part of some cruel test of yours. “Do you want me. she fumed. I won’t be a stand-in until you get married. He took her in his arms.The kiss was tender.” Slowly he resumed eating his pizza. You have a woman in your life and messing with my head like this is not a way to stay on my good side. deepening the kiss. “I can’t want a man committed to another woman. “Charlie.” “Leighton. Her core was on fire waiting for him to extinguish the burn. Do you want me.” “Don’t try to fix me to be like other women. I do have a woman in my life. Leighton?” The familiar tingle to her loins resurfaced. She wanted him to move from her personal space but could not voice the words. I won’t guess. shy-like.” “Do you want me. tell me what you want. then I’ll leave. “Yes. placing a kiss to her nose. Leighton?” A faint yes escaped her lips.” Left hanging after wanting more.” “You should go before we get into an argument. he pulled away. His touch had a way of doing that to her. leaving her standing on weak legs. I thought I made myself clear.” He ignored her to ask his own question. Leighton. to sit on the stool. “I’m going to ask one last time. slipping his tongue inside her mouth.” he repeated.” . Instead. “Charlie. Leighton took a step away from him to focus on the floor. “We’re going to finish our pizza. We were getting along fine.
” “Don’t force me to call the police.” “I didn’t raise my voice or physically harmed you.“I’m not going anywhere until we finish our pizza and watch a movie. can you?” Leighton’s head banged from the rising pressure throbbing at her temples. I will not be held against my will in my own home! Now go!” Her angry voice vibrated throughout the kitchen. You try to daunt me with food and seduction hoping to get in my pants. I do have my pride. “I’ll tell you why I’m angered. but said. as much as I want you. “You can’t accept I want you to want me. I am not a whore. but you won’t leave after I asked you. did I threaten you in any way?” “Not physically. Charlie calmly remained seated. “Leighton. “I can’t accept what!” She asked harshly. are you deaf? I will never want you in that way again! You gotta a girlfriend—what about her?” . Are you angry with me because of what I said?” She could feel tears welling in her eyes. After which I will leave. I will not spread my legs for any man to pleasure himself or for him to think he is doing me a favor because I can’t get it any other way! GET OUT!” She picked her plate from the counter and slammed it to the floor to shatter into pieces. Charlie! I might not be able to hold a candle to your girlfriend or any other woman you might encounter in your life! But. “You can’t accept it.” “Man. Charlie didn’t move. All I did was kissed you and agreed to the woman in my life question. Quickly wiping them away she held her head high.
” “Don’t do this to me. caressing her hair. Run as far as you can away me. to help you get through the nightmares. I broke the engagement over a year ago.” she said as the tears made it to the surface to trickle down her face. “I don’t believe you.” “I had to be certain I was doing the right thing.” . Charlie. I didn’t love her and spending the rest of my life with her in a lie wasn’t happening.” “You could’ve told her instead of running. how cruel to break her heart over the phone. She deserves a man to offer her the whole wedded bliss package and that man ain’t me. Why would you let me believe I was committing a major sin?” His steel bluish-gray eyes bore into her.” “I wouldn’t lie to you about this. her head reeled. I’m incapable of returning those affections. Joyce Brothers won’t touch me with a ten-foot pole.” “What…why didn’t you just tell me. He hugged her tightly. Kaycee and I are no longer a couple.S.” “And you’re certain about me? My life is so screwed up Dr. run.“Leighton. I came to the U. I’m going to be here to hold you when you need comforting. “I’m running to you. “To be attracted to a woman who might not feel the same about me is hard to swallow. gently rocking her.” She placed her hands behind her to steady the stool to sit. to get away from the pressure I was under in Canada to marry Kaycee.
but my heart’s been hardened. what will we do tomorrow?” “Tomorrow’s a brand new day to explore what the future might hold for us. tonight we’ll finish our date and I will go home.” “And. if you give me the chance. Leighton.” he said releasing her from his hold.” “I don’t know what I want anymore.“No you aren’t. Leighton. ******** Leighton awoke in a cold sweat to toss the covers over her legs and hobble to the bathroom to splash water on her face. she heaved until there was nothing left to throw . She turned on the shower for the water to warm before stepping under the pulsating spray. I foresee good things ahead for us. Finish eating and stop thinking negative about this. She made it to the toilet bowl to empty the contents of her stomach. the stress burdening her appeared as small lines around her eyes. And. I’m not going to pressure you to do anything you aren’t comfortable with.” she said leaving him in the kitchen. Charlie? No relationship I’ve been in lasted more than a few months. can’t you be a little positive and open your heart a bit?” “Charlie. “Baby. For instance. I’m going to prove it to you. The thought of Charlie breaking up with his girlfriend and wanting her was ridiculous. I’m going to change all that for you. “What’s next.” Her words were upsetting. She leaned into the mirror. but at least he understood the reasoning behind them. A wave of nausea hit as stepped from the shower. I would love to be able too.” “We’ll take one day at a time.
Get a lawyer to clear up the mix-up before you stroke out. and dreamt of him often but the ex-girlfriend was the tether dangling her over the cliff. “Hello.” “Wait.” “I was arrested for a minor incident a few years ago. curled at her feet as she pulled the covers over her shoulders to fall asleep. Cocoa scampered from the end of the bed to the floor when Leighton flipped over. how? Myron is a freaking doctor—everybody in your family is a highlyregarded professional.up. She called Charlie and informed he would be in charge of the restaurant and to ask Nate to help if he ran into problems. Unable to make sense of the gibberish. Myron’s so upset with me. Leighton. she cleaned the bathroom and laid down on the bed deciding she was too sick to go into work. she was not subjecting herself to hurt again. Until she was sure their relationship was dead. In actuality.” “Quit talking nonsense. My record was supposed to be expunged but wasn’t. “Alexis. her constant companion. Leighton sat up. Cocoa. We failed the background check. ******** The cell phone vibrated loudly on the nightstand waking her from a deep sleep. A crying Alexis babbled on the other end.” You’re right. slow down. Why are you home at 1:30pm in the afternoon?” . After brushing her teeth and showering. she wasn’t prepared to face Charlie after his confession. she wasn’t deathly ill. Myron is not going to leave you because of a minor incident. She was attracted to him. I think he’s going to divorce me.” Her voice was groggy and unpleasant to the caller on the other end. I can’t understand you?” “We can’t adopt.
been busy. we both knew the relationship would not make it. you’re stressed. But. I agree we have a few issues. My parents are . I took a day to recharge my batteries and regroup. How about we meet for a spa treatment? I’m stressed. “Kaycee. put your man to work. He took a deep breath realizing he couldn’t continue to brush off the inevitable.” Girl.” Leighton took the phone from her ear after it gone dead. but we can’t work on them unless you come home. In order to start over with Leighton. she was better off being alone. He’d forgotten how much work was involved on the non-cooking end of the restaurant business. Charlie can handle the restaurant for one day. Charlie.” “Well a month is a long time since we’ve talked. I was beginning to wonder when you’d be available to take my calls. There are major problems we can’t overcome and going into a marriage with baggage will be disastrous. I was getting ready to call you. he needed to clean the slate with Kaycee for good. Look. ******** Charlie stretched after finishing the paperwork to close out the long workday.” “This is not how I expected our conversation to start. we should pamper ourselves. since you are going there. Groaning she sat up only to rush to the bathroom after another wave of vomiting hit her. I got a great idea. His cell phone rang.” “Sorry. She sat on the cool tiles of the floor resting her head on the shallow edge of the bathtub thinking if this is what love did to a person. you must be psychic. I’ll call to make reservations and call you back…ta-ta for now. Leighton being detailed oriented made her instructions easy to follow and he completed the paperwork without calling her.“I’m overworked to where I’ve made myself sick.
I told you. get your butt back to Ontario.” “You’re in Chicago? What on earth are you doing there? The last time we spoke you were going to New York. and I’ve sent out the invitations. When I left.shelling out a lot of money for our wedding. I don’t understand why you don’t tell your parents the truth about us.” “Why didn’t you cancel the plans. Kaycee. I wasn’t coming back any time soon. I can’t do it anymore.” “Our parents expect us to get married.” “Charlie. and managed to make it this far.” “Excuse me! You’re complaining about the way I treat you! Get off the pills.” “What truth? I agree. you are not breaking off this engagement. All our plans are still on tract. I won’t tolerate this treatment from you.” “I went along with this for your sake. Charlie. yes I do. we weren’t getting along and arguing constantly. You’re forcing me to return home to tie up loose ends. We’ve been together since school. Couples go through periods like this. Kaycee! I gotta good life in Chicago and I’m thinking of applying for citizenship and living here permanently. Once your freedom fling was over. and we’d get married as planned. you need to get your butt home before the actual wedding day arrives. and we are doing that! So. I figured you’d come home. pronto! Your little break to commune with yourself is over. Kaycee? “I didn’t want to do that in haste. Charlie.” “I wish you wouldn’t have done that. what do you mean? Do you consider me a loose end to tie up?” “Unfortunately. I can’t keep making excuses for you being gone so long.” .
and forget about the degradations of your past. Honey. he moved the phone several inches from his ear. watch your back. We are not having an affair. I’d met someone else.” “What….” “Charlie. You were hanging out with Harvey. Charlie. he’s just waiting for you to return. I’ve met someone else. I will ruin you and that bitch for crossing me! Watch your back. I told you. you slept with this woman. to you. What shame did I bring to you other than being a doormat for you and your parents?” “You admitted you slept with another woman! The word degrading certainly applies to infidelity?” “I did not say I slept with anyone. we’ve outgrown each other over the years—we should move on. I’ve been gone a long time and can assume you two have been living it up freely.” ”Don’t lie to me.” Charlie didn’t answer as he tapped the end of the cell phone against his chin. I was simply saying goodbye to Harvey. I’m begging you to work it out between us. Kaycee.the degradations of my past? Whose past are you talking about. Kaycee. Dad is holding your position at the law firm. Waiting for her to start screaming in her normal fashion.” Kaycee’s end of the phone was silent.” . “How dare you degrade me for sleeping with Harvey when you’re doing the same! You will live to regret this. It’s not as if you don’t have other prospects.“There was a change in plans. We’ll get married as planned. To be honest with you. “Who is she?” “I’m not disclosing any information about her. Charlie.
I’m tired of being your lap dog. I’m doing me from now on.” “Yes. not a woman to put herself before me or vise-versa. “Hell. mentally.” “I respect my parents for kicking me out. I got a law degree because someone else thought I should get one! Screw what you want and what your family expects of me.” he said clicking off the phone and tossing it across the desk. you can’t change a Leopard’s spots. Kaycee. I’ve put up with your crap long enough. I want a woman who will partner with me. Let’s not forget you lived with us when your family kicked your ass out after high school. Nate. and you quit to work in a hotel kitchen. I’m through being lead around by the nose obeying your rules and jumping at your commands. Kaycee. turning off the desk lamp. I’m glad I listened to my sister and didn’t let him go. slaving your life away over pots. Charlie—why ya’ tellin’ her you love her? Charlie locked the pouches in the safe. he is! I want it all and Harvey can provide more at my asking.” “I despise you! My mother was right. You’re a loser and will never amount to anything—I pity this woman who is settling for you.“You already ruined me. And.” “You got what you wanted! Harvey is a man with a profession you can be proud to brag about.” “Live and be happy because I love you too. this is how you repay me.” “Oh cry me a freaking river! My father gave you a job at his law firm when you finished college. I was being sarcastic. It made me grow up and see life differently. Keep working in kitchens.” . Nate slammed the empty money pouches on the desk. Kaycee. and the problem with me working as a chef was only with you. “You came in on the end of the conversation.
” Nate laughed rubbing his hands together. Nate. Let’s get a beer.“Bump all ‘dat smart ass talk. she so uppity. “When you gon’ hook-up with her? I catch y’all throwin’ eye glances at each other. . You can’t let women treat you like dirt just to get the pud.” “Right. she hired folks to smell her shit when she go to the bathroom. His telling off Kaycee was the final hurdle to freedom and hopefully the first leap to capturing Leighton’s heart eternally.” “Yeah. don’t you got better shit to do than hang out in the alley?” Nate swore. Charlie locked the service door and ran into Dennis lurking in the alley of the restaurant. You showed me the light. right—what about Leighton?” “What about her.” he asked. “Dammit. A brutha thirsty after the hard day we just did.” “Man.” “Now ya talkin’ my language. “I did for the last time. She still didn’t take it too well. doing my own thing. Dennis. but she refuses to believe I’m not coming back to Canada. did ya break the shit off for good this time?” Charlie laughed freely. I should have done this a long time ago. I grew dependent on her but not anymore. you a good one. I am my own man. I want to celebrate my new independence. The tension so thick at times you can cut it with a knife. my treat.” “What you’re talking about is all wrong. I ain’t talkin’ about mad tension but sexual tension. the heavy guilt holding him down finally lifted.
“Your humor surpasses me. but I am. and Jenny Craig is lookin’ to use you as poster-boy for a new diet program. twisting it tightly. I was joking about you being his sidekick. you should look into taking a few classes. “Don’t push your luck with me. But for others you may encounter. Nate.” “Yeah. I can lose weight. your sidekick can translate your poor use of the English language. You’ll always be classified as an imbecile in my book.” “You and Nate can crack all the jokes you want between each other. man? Wha’cha do? Plop your big ass belly with a stick. Malcolm might not be around to protect her anymore. offers English classes for free. Charlie immediately grabbed hold of Dennis’s shirt.” he said slapping Charlie a high-five. she callin’ it the Osburn wobble diet. and Nate can handle himself.” Dennis said snarling at Charlie. “Nate. get a mirror and check if anything janglin’ downstairs?” Whew.” .” “This is ludicrous. Nate. but you can’t gain any knowledge in a drug infested brain. I’m on a roll—what else ya got.” “I take bein’ stupid and skinny over lookin’ like you any day! Hell. I don’t give a shit about you. I ain’t gotta buy my clothes from Fat-Asses-R-Us. when’s the last time you seen yo’ shit. the community college. you. dough boy?” “Call me all the names you want. I heard about you and I’m not talking about your cooking skills. Keep your distance if you don’t want to meet my ugly side. what did I do to Leighton. poking fun at Nate.Dennis sucked his tongue. “I don’t have a beef with you. and Leighton.” Sweat poured from Dennis’ face. What I’m talking about now involves me.” He nudged Charlie with his elbow continuing to irk Dennis. “Yo’ Dennis.
Those guys paid their debt to society and moved on. man.“Lately. Dennis ain’t worth you going to jail. are you laughing every time you think about what you let your filthy ass friends do to her?” Nate wedged Charlie’s tight grip from around Dennis’ shirt collar to drag him away after Dennis struggled to breathe. “Hey. your stupid friend made sense. only Nate blocked his path.” Charlie snatched his arm from Nate’s grasp. let’s go. . nothing she can’t handle. “Oh. “You better be glad I’m not pressing charges against you! For once. let them know I’m looking to talk to them. Nate. “That was eons ago.” “He probably isn’t. Dennis. think ‘bout Leighton and how this will affect her if you kick his ass again. All of them keep out of trouble.” Dennis rubbed his neck yelling. but I would get a lot of satisfaction from beating the lard out of his ass.” “Funny they were able to move on with their lives. let’s go.” Charlie said not releasing Dennis’ shirt.” Charlie broke away to go after Dennis again. walk away. just in case you keep in touch with your old chums. dats been done. “Dammit.” “Yo’. got me riled. and I ain’t got bail money.” Dennis held his hands up. one step out of line and the fat lady will sing her last song. “Whatever! Looking at his disgusting face and thinking about what he did to her.” Charlie said storming to his car. I ain’t goin’ back to jail over his fat ass!” “You’re right. man. Charlie. I’m watching you. The person you all thought it would be fun to torment is still living with the humiliation and pain.
” “Women are the same no matter what the color. I do like her. you phonier than a three-dollar bill. Nate” “Nah. “Man. I heard through the grapevine her brother always protected her. “Don’t let that word out your mouth!” . You can’t go around whackin’ folks in her honor. He usually didn’t bother with the safety precautions. but when you slow. Good thing you were around to stop me for doing a stupid thing. but the deep scowl on Charlie’s face had him worried. I like her a lot. or he is hanging out in the alley all damn day?” “Leighton told you ‘bout what went down?” “No. I’m keeping it subtle. let Leighton in on where you coming from. I was out of line with Dennis.” “He’s always lurking around her place. and he’d better take me seriously.Nate got in the car and buckled his seatbelt. I’m all for you stickin’ up fo’ our girl. You just put it out there—you on her! Just admit it. blood. You got what she need. what’s with the vigilante bullshit?” “I admit.” “I’m coming clean. But. another nigg—“ Charlie bucked his eyes.” “Yo. “Damn.” “You can’t play this like a white boy! You gotta step up ya game when dealin’ with a sistah.” Nate shook his head. Leighton don’t roll like ‘dat. I wanted to show Dennis a new protector is in town. How is she supposed to move on when his larger than life presence is popping in the restaurant. Leighton’s situation is different. and she need a man to step up to the plate and be strong. and she’s not privy I have that information. but. bruh. bruh.
“Nah.” “Leighton requires careful handling because she’s fragile.” “Charlie. he would like you stuck up for his sister. she jokes around with us when we go out and at the restaurant. it will freak her out.” “Nate.if Malcolm was in Chicago. He swore jail ain’t good enough for them.” “Nate. Malcolm talked till he was blue in the face. is this going somewhere?” “Don’t rush me. I wasn’t on dat kick. did you—“ Nate stopped Charlie in mid-sentence. but I observe her in the office.“I respect ‘dat. she seems so alone. A woman like her should be showered with . and I did go after a few for him. Malcolm nixed the list after Leighton moved to New York.” “One or two but. Nate?” “Yeah. If I move too fast. and his parents bailed me out of jail. the Halls’ was like family to me. he wanted them dead. “Nate. Malcolm planned on getting those guys one at a time. what I’m gettin’ at is…. I mean. His parents moved him out of town to keep him from blowin’ his future with the NBA. to get me to finish school and do good with my life. I ain’t do nuthin’ bad.” Charlie drove unable to get the sad image of Leighton’s face from his mind. Another man will take yo’ woman while ya’ playing the cool hand.” “Wouldn’t you seek revenge for your sister. jail meant free meals and a roof over my head.” “So you did rough up those guys. I ain’t had nuthin’ to lose.
” Nate could only count the trees and cars Charlie passed. she would need to trust her staff to run the business in her absence. speeding. She poured a glass of white wine. Nate yelled. eat up. “You okay?” “Hell nah! I ain’t alright! My damn life flashed before my eyes!” Unbuckling the seat belt. If she ever decided to take a vacation. have the devotion of a good man.” she said placing the cat’s monogramed food dish on the floor. turned on the radio and settled on the window seat in the kitchen to read. Cocoa circled her legs.affection. Charlie brought the car to a screeching stop. Leighton. it was well after closing for the restaurant. I’ll be in bright and early tomorrow to oversee the lawn and pool people do their jobs. Pressing on the imaginary brake on the passenger’s side. You need to talk to Leighton and get y’all romance shit together befor’ you kill a nigga…yeah I said the word cuz I’m talkin’ ‘bout me! Later homie!” ******** Alexis’ suggestion for the afternoon spa treatment worked wonders for her mood. “Im’ma skip the beer. short of hitting the tree. “I got your dinner. Charlie or Nate did not call regarding any problems. Cocoa.” . “Charlie! Hit the damn brake before we hit the tree!” Slamming on the brakes. “I’m all done. Ms. Here. indicating her dinner was due. Leighton glanced at the clock. she should be made love to by a man who only wants her. Nate jumped from the car slamming the door. you go. At night. Her stomach returned to normal and allowed her to enjoy a light dinner with Alexis. and she did not call to check on them. Maggie placing items in the storage closet interrupted her.
please.” “Ms. “Is anything else on your mind.” The housekeeper’s lingering pause caught Leighton’s attention.” “I took care of it with the supervisor.” “You should listen to her. Maggie.“Thanks. Ms. what’s on your mind? Did I do anything wrong?” “Leighton. you have a good evening. Maggie. Give me a call at work if you run into snags with them.” “Ms. Maggie?” “Never mind. but what about the rest of the week? Honey. Oh. “I’m listening. Today I got out the house with Alexis. I guarded you and Malcolm like you were my own and was proud when you grew to be the successful adults you are today. stop worrying about who is talking about you. This old woman’s heart is breaking seeing you so unhappy. can I confide in you?” Ms.” “You sound like my therapist. I been working for your family a lot of years. Maggie placed her purse on the table and scooted out a chair for Leighton to sit. I’m not unhappy.” . I’m aware you don’t want strangers in the main house. Maggie. Maggie. She also suggested I get out and do more fun stuff. Ms. open the pool house for them to use for lunch and restroom breaks. “Ms.” “Yes you did. I don’t want strangers in the house and you’re alone.” Leighton closed the book asking. Ms. Maggie. Get out of this house and enjoy the fresh air.
you’re going to learn to read between the lines one day.” she said raising her eyebrow.” “No I didn’t. some men will court a woman until he gets the sex and will do nothing with her after that. “Baby. Granted.Leighton bit her bottom lip stalling. “Lately. Leighton. when you brought Martin home to meet the family.” “Leighton. these strange dreams have been coming to me.” “Oh. Could that be an indication I might want to start dating this man? How do I get over thinking he is not going to hurt me in the end?” The older woman giggled. I am not gay. you develop a relationship and let nature take its course. They aren’t nightmares but weird in the same sense. I trusted Martin and fell in love with him. He betrayed me in the worst possible way. are you dreaming about women?” “No! The dreams are male oriented. But a good man won’t be a dog. and helps you celebrate the grand periods. Maggie. you had a good man. There would be no pressure to make you do nothing if he truly loves you. He’ll take the time to fall in love with you.” “After the initial stage of courting is over what should I do?” “If you like him.” “What are they about?” “You know my problem is trusting men. these are different.” . rubbing Leighton on the arm. then you got an honest man. If this man sticks around through your grave periods. Ms. “Is it different men or the same man each time you have the dream?” “The same man. This is not the core driving my dreams.
I’m guessing their love-child is about a year old. with love at times. If Martin is married or not interested in rekindling a relationship. and you refuse to rebuild it.” “Ms. you might be surprised to hear he still got you on his mind. disappointment is always around the corner. I understand that now. Granted the first time I was young and stupid for believing Clay.” . all this is a part of life. Honey. You let Clay control you and wouldn’t listen to anyone but him. You let a boy break your self-confidence. You learn and build from hurt. but you created your environment.” “Give him a call or go visit him.” “Did you ask him what happened? Maybe they broke up before she found out she was pregnant. “I wouldn’t be able to trust him. Two strikes are my limit. Maggie.” “Disappointment is all I ever face and the majority of it is self-imposed due to my pure ignorance. You don’t shrivel up and die from a broken heart. you move on to another love interest.” “Those are the consequences you chance when dealing with men.” She crinkled her nose. I’ve done this to myself and live with it every day.“What did he do?” “Apparently he and an old girlfriend couldn’t resist visiting on occasion.” “I’m sorry to say this. but Martin is another story.” “I didn’t give him a chance to explain before I broke it off.
” “You’re the first person to say that to me.” She raised her eyebrow. the day runs through my head far too often. “He kinda has a girlfriend but he claims they are no longer dating. but if he’s interested in you and you feel the same. I suggest you call him. Ex-girlfriends got a way of resurfacing. and I’m not getting bit in the butt again. Start with a little casual talk and don’t be too assertive with questions on the initial call. If you’re yearning for Martin. then the relationship with the other woman wasn’t meant to be and he’s moved on. I am a coward who can’t face my own demons in the mirror. As hard as I try to live it down. you have to ask yourself if you truly want to stop those dreams. ex-girlfriends or ex-wives will always be in the past of any man you date. I’ll cook the meal for you.” .“That is a choice you’re making! You got no reason to be ashamed of being a victim of a horrible crime.” Leighton shook her head rejecting the idea. shut it down! Shut it down and emphasize on the good going on in your life. “When such happens.” “How do I shut the dreams down?” “Well. I’m not saying to break them up if they aren’t already. “When did you meet a new man? Would there be a problem inviting him to dinner.” Maggie slapped her hands together.” “This man I’m dreaming about is not Martin.” “Oh Leighton. You should’ve came out fighting but instead you became a coward and ran.
” “Because you’re a woman and you are yearning for him.” Leighton straightened her back. it’s natural and healthy and means you’re body is on the mend. I might be an old fart. He’s probably lying anyway. I don't know why I’m so drawn to him.” . I’m going to put myself out there. delightful to be around and not bad on the eyes. All men lie. Back to this man you’re interested in.” Leighton laughed. He’s been living here for a few years.” “Ms.” “Not true.” “Nonetheless. Your father and brother are outstanding men and my husband never lied to me unless he was trying to spare me hurt.” “Not the career I wanted this late in my life. Ms. Maggie. you’ll need to extract it like a bad tooth. I think. his dream just didn’t pan out like he wanted. Leighton. Most men won’t spill their emotions. this man is mysterious but also charming. you did what you had to do. I got the same answer from all of you. But look what happened—you made it a success. I should let it go.” “He didn’t lie. “That is exactly what Alexis said when I told her.“He says he moved to Chicago to evaluate his relationship with her.” Leighton held up a finger. but I remember what it’s like to want a man so bad I could taste him. Maggie. “Malcolm did lie to me about the restaurant. “OK. communication is a major key in getting where a man’s heart lies. I have asked three women about my problem. and basically.” “Stop suppressing those needs.
He was the picture Leighton painted to a tee except he was a white man.” she mumbled. The doorbell chimed in the distance.” ******** Maggie opened the door to Charlie sporting a perfectly aligned. white toothy. smile. is Leighton available. Charlie closed the door following the older woman. “Oh my lord.” Maggie said escorting him in. my name is Charlie. what good is it doing if you go and talk but don’t listen to what they’re saying? I better get going before I miss the next bus. “I’ll get the door.” “I’ll spring for your taxi.” Maggie eyes roamed over him. ma’am.“Your parents spent a lot of money on therapists.” she said taking the receiver of the telephone from the base. you’re who she’s talking about. I work with her at the restaurant. Maggie rose from her chair saying. Hall know you’re here. “Come on in and take a seat in the living room. His neatly pressed blue jeans and button down shirt fit his muscular body handsomely. Leighton met Maggie in the foyer. “Can I help you?” “Good day. I’m at fault for you missing your bus. Ms. I’ll let Ms. not letting on he didn’t need directions to the living room or any other room in the large house. “Excuse me?” Charlie asked. “Who was at the door?” .
you’ll just get hurt again. but some were original paintings hanging behind protective glass. Maggie. “So much for my dream.” Leighton’s newly constructed confidence had crushed in a matter of seconds. if he is involved with another woman and she is white. The servants would stand to the side waiting to brush the cookies crumbs from his lap or clean his mouth of milk residue. A horn blowing from outside signified the taxi’s arrival. I’m all for diversity. unless those friends passed the approval of his parents first. his friends were hand-picked. be careful. I suggest you move along. Leighton.” she said handing the older woman money to pay for the fare. His parents were snobs. your taxi is waiting. Wait for a black man to take your heart. Maggie. puffing air through his mouth. Leighton. White men don’t leave their comfort zones for black women. I’ll tend to Charlie. He wasn’t allowed his own friends. and his daily routines were mapped out for him. He replaced the autographed basketball by Michael Jordan on the display case. promising himself when he became of age he was jetting to America to be a movie star. his name is Charlie.” . “Ms. She struggled to get her breathing labored and under control.” “You described the man waiting in the living room. Most were replicas of famous artwork. but if he is the man you are talking about. He can remember as far back as age ten. He’d grown up in a home similar to this in Ontario. ******** Charlie admired the artwork lining the walls of the spacious room. He hated every minute of his childhood. Charlie is my chef at the restaurant.” “Ms.“You have a visitor waiting in the living room.
” She winked. entering the room quietly.” “No you aren’t.” “Another one? What was the first fascinating fact?” “Well. another interesting fact about Charlie Andrews. so I’m logging every tiny piece of info I get. I might take a week of vacation soon. Give me a golf club and we’re good to go. What brings you to my humble abode tonight?” “I’m just checking on you. but your bouncing around the place like a hyper toddler was missed.” .” “Chances of this happening more often is. you reveal little about yourself. almost too quiet. The day was strange not having you at the restaurant. though. “My chapter in your tell-tale book will be small.” “Wow. You won’t mind running the place. I’m not interesting at all. Charlie?” Leighton asked. “Did you want to play pro basketball?” “Afraid not.” She poured him a glass of wine and another for herself.” He grinned. will you?” “I don’t mind but what about Nate? He’s been around longer than me and used to hold down the fort for your brother. “I’m hardly loud at work.“What dream. This is one white boy that can’t jump. “I’ll be the judge of that. likely.
I’m breaking the cocoon and flapping my wings to soar and recapture all the years I lost hiding. He would need to be gay in order to take the trip together. If you throw him a few things to take charge of. “Oh stop! Charlie. he’ll be a happy camper not responsible for doing any of the paperwork.” She slapped his hand away from her face.” .She sipped her wine. Where are you going on this vacation and without me?” “I’m going to New York to visit my close friends Evodio.” “Leighton. if I went with a straight man.” “Does this companion necessarily need to be a female?” She nodded.” He waved his hand across her face. you want me to be creative and designate work to him. “Well yeah. We plan on doing a little shopping and hanging out. but her husband probably wouldn’t want her going to New York to enjoy the nightlife when they’re trying for a baby. Why would he need to be gay?” “Charlie. Other than her. walk towards my voice. in Chicago. my girlfriend pool.” he winked. we would come across as a couple and neither one of would be able to scout out dates. but boy does he suck at paperwork. where is Leighton? Leighton.” “In other words. “I was going to ask Alexis. I had an epiphany. “Nate is loyal. I find travel more fun with a friend tagging along. if you can.” “This story just keeps getting better and better. I supposed a male friend would be okay. I don’t want to do. “Hello. I’m all for you spreading your wings. is sparse. but is doing this solo a good idea. and Adele.
which means.” Her head automatically leaned into his caress. doing this?” He ran his fingertip lightly up her arm. I want you. Charlie.” She nervously said as tremors ran amuck in her body. I’m more than a friend you just won’t accept the fact I am. “Would you want any man other than me. “If I were comfortable with him.” “Um-hum. Leighton.Charlie set his glass on the table moving closer to her on the sofa. I would. His hand moved to stroke her cheek. “Yes. I’m pleased you’re ready to take the leap and not let mistrust guide you in another direction. “If I have to tell you. but what about me?” “What about you?” She asked.” “Every man is a stranger until you befriend him.” “I know what you want. “I’m stroking your cheek. but you probably shouldn’t since we’re friends at the moment.” “What do you need to hear from me?” He asked. then you aren’t ready to say it.” “Can you give me a clue?” . draining the last of her wine. you’re comfortable enough with me to let me do this to you. he should get close to you.” “I’m being cautious until you tell me what I need to hear. “Leighton. I wouldn’t let a stranger touch me that way. And. moving closer. to befriend him romantically. I’m ready to get closer to you.
” “What about Kayc—“ He smothered her mouth with his before the mood was ruined by mentioning Kaycee. Maggie’s warning. I know what I want you to say to me. slowly bringing her lips to meet his. Leighton. Leighton accepted the kiss despite Ms. her head went back slightly to give him better access.” “This time will be better. nibbling the gold stud. he lifted her from the sofa to carry her to the bedroom. parting his lips with her tongue to explore his mouth. but why are you moving closer to me? Are you trying to annoy me?” The light scent of his cologne drifted under her nose. her favorite cologne for men. “I don’t sleep around. we won’t have any surprises only pleasure. how can you be sure this isn’t just lust?” He placed her hand on the bulge in his pants. I want to make love to you.No.” She whispered in his ear. . Charlie’s hands caressed her back. She took charge. She let her fingers tangle in his hair as the kiss became more passionate. She was intoxicating to him. “You already performed that task. He smelled of Polo.” “Charlie. a habit he would not be able to kick. Leighton supported his upper weight pushing her body against the back cushions of the sofa. His lips traveled away from her lips to kiss her sleek neck. “Leighton. Can you say you want to be with only me?” His head lowered to reach the same height as hers. “Leighton. Not breaking the seal binding them together. You put me in a trance every time I’m around you.
His arm slipped around her slim waist. She broke his embrace and sat on the edge of the bed. Their moans blending with Sade’s music playing in the background. he began to dance with her. mellow voice of Sade filtered into the room. Charlie basked in her exquisite beauty as she stood before him. Charlie kept his hand position in a safe place. The dancing ended with him giving her a long kiss. he didn’t make any moves besides kissing her. Leighton’s legs wouldn’t hold her any longer. continued to dance. Charlie followed to sit next to her resuming the kiss. I want you to enjoy everything I do to you. he didn’t release her but . The rumblings of a small orgasm grew inside from his kissing alone. the craft has been mastered by you.” “Charlie. why are you doing this to me? Why are you trying to make me want what I can’t have?” When the song changed. He wanted to take the opportunity to show he cared about her. Her lips were tingling from being pressed and sucked by him. clicked on the CD player and the soft. Charlie located the remote on the nightstand. He was a great kisser.” “Good. and should be treated in a delicate manner. You’re delicate. not to jump into bed with her and ask questions later. They stood in the middle of her bedroom.His intended visit was to ask if she’d put any more thought into them possibly exploring a relationship. Leighton’s body was screaming for Charlie to touch her. “What’s not to like. He held her against him to sway to the music. Leighton rested her head on his shoulder to let him guide her and surprised he had not jumped straight to the sex. “Do you like when I kiss you?” He asked in a husky voice.
I’m yours if you want me.” “Exactly. “What?” “I meant you’re not used to dealing with a woman like me. “Um.” She leaned her forehead against his. only a woman I deeply want to love. she needed space. He overheard the conversation. Her nerves were like pin-pricks poking through her skin. are you sure you want to do this. If you don’t believe me. Leighton. Nothing is stopping us from being together—Kaycee is history. just maybe he was telling the truth.” She squirmed under his weight.” “I’m going with my heart. not the fact I’m black. she squirmed more. When I look at you.” He pushed her back on the bed to come on top her. I don’t see your color. She was starting to believe. ask Nate.” His closeness was forcing her to open her mind.“Leighton.” “A sort of liberation from what you’re used to. you’re causing strange behaviors I can’t explain nor do I want to.” “Charlie. what is going on with this?” “What are you talking about now?” “You’re pinning me on the bed when there is plenty of room for you to have your own space. “I missed a lot on my day off. My soul never stirred so strongly about a woman in my life.” . I’m a jinx and will be venomous to your good nature. Discombobulated. “We will never miss another moment of being together.
if the notion strikes me. but we’re having a conversation. be honest with me. I’m going to be the man to guide you into a relationship of love. and you believe me. I want to show you I can love you. my logic is still the same. tell me what you want from me? I will admit I am attracted to you. tell you how beautiful you are. whose been talking about me to you? Nate was the blabbermouth. Because we made love once doesn’t mean I’m willing for this to be a continual thing because you can sweet-talk me. “Not really. I won’t lie. Leighton.” “I like having you close to me. “Charlie. “God bless America…you know what happened!” She tried to push him off her “Leighton.” She drew his attention to her eyes. Baby. No one is ever going to hurt you again.” “Charlie. I’m given easy access to nuzzle the sweetness of your neck or kiss your sexy chin or to whisper sweet nothings in your ear. Leighton.” “I can’t tell you.“Am I heavy?” He asked. Your mind has you believing all men want from you is sex and will lie to get such from you. I won’t be used for sex. I want to make love to you. widening as the light popped on. honesty and caring.” “What’s the difference?” “The difference is I want you and your flaws to be a part of my life. But. I do. It’s not normal to be in such an intimate position to talk.” “Your logic is filled with flaws.” .” Her eyes darted from side to side. I don’t want sex. lifting her arms to encircle them around his neck.
Charlie. I’m not even going back to Canada.“Charlie. and Kaycee is not a part of any of those issues for me. Leighton! And. You’ll make me want you and then walk out on me when you can’t deal with me anymore. can we rewind the tape back a couple of scenes. You did your deed the night you escorted me to the party and brought me into womanhood.” “Whoa.” “Do I need to spell everything out? For the sake of saving time. I broke my relationship with Kaycee. She is a part of my past that will never interfere with our future. “Maybe. happened?” “This thing between us is not a love story in the making. from what I said?” “I’m not lonely. I don’t want to continue this discussion. I’m a neurotic with issues probably beyond repair.” He rolled off her confused. When you grow bored of dealing with me and my inadequacies. I’m not a humanity project for you to take on. but I don’t want to end up in her position. why can’t we be together? I told you. I dealt with my loneliness for a long time and came to terms with it being a part of my life! I might not be jumping from rooftops or partying all night long to prove I’m happy. what happens next? Will you walk out on me like you did Kaycee?” “Leighton.” What the hell How did you get . I will. Charlie.” Charlie’s voice gained in tone. “Did I missing something? humanity case.” “That was not on my mind. please move. we all have issues. but I’m OK the way I am. Your part in my pathetic life is over—we cannot be together.
Leighton. you can’t even say the word love. this is so sad.” .” She huffed crossing her arms across her chest. can you?” “I won’t say what I will never experience again. Maggie’s claim. I like the way I am and you should leave me to my own company. “You can’t smell the roses because you choose to keep your nose plugged. I’m out of ideas on how to prove myself to you. What is the real reason behind your lack of trust for me?” She circled the room citing Ms. You throw up these false shields to block any man who shows a romantic interest in you! Any man. I’m the one spilling my guts to you and you’re shooting me down from all angles. no Charlie. I’ve got plenty of self-esteem. “How did I hurt you. “Trust is not the issue.” “Um. “Cut the crap! This is your defense mechanism. you don’t need to prove anything to me. “You’re unbelievable! All you got to throw on the table is the race card?” He pointed his finger in her direction saying. whether he’d be black. Do you see where I’m coming from?” He poised his hands on his hips. mixed-raced relationships have about as much of a chance of survival as a man floating in a sea of hungry sharks. per se. Leighton? From where I stand. and I plan to keep it by not getting hurt by you or anyone else. Nuns.” He stomped his foot in frustration. you’re the only woman walking the plant not interested in romance. Your low self-esteem pains me to stand here and listen to you talk all this nonsense. white or whatever will get the same speech about you being happy all by yourself! Besides.” “Charlie.” “Leighton.“In what kind of way would you want me? Damn.
how did that man sour you?” “On the night. and as I suspected the ending was a disaster. his baby was born! He was using me too.” She shrugged her shoulders.” “But. I try hard to be normal.” “He didn’t fight for you?” “Charlie. Leighton. We might possess the same fantasy. Leighton. Charlie. but we are meant to be together!” “You think you understand.” .“I’m not the romantic type.” “Tell me how I was different from any other day since then?” “I’m keeping my private fantasy to myself. I’ll tell you! I started to believe we were this super-couple out on the town wowing our friends with envy. yet. no one fights to be in a relationship they don’t want! I was just his piece on the side. you can’t begin to imagine what I went through.” “Leighton. please. we were to consummate our love.” “Tell me. I wanted to give my heart to a man. I understand the reason behind you safeguarding your heart. I wanted a happy ending. At one time. I’m fighting to get into one with you. Until you wear my shoes.” “All right. I had enough alcohol in my system to let me fulfill my fantasy. The trait was taken away from me against my will. “You were different that night. why do you allow me in your personal space? You allowed me to make love to you.” “Every human possesses the trait.
“Don’t play with me. I would never do that to you. Had you told me about your situation.“Not true Leighton.” He clicked his tongue. but I won’t let you put me through hell to prove it! Either you believe what I’m saying. I left you in charge of the restaurant today. She whipped her head around asking. Leighton.” he protested readjusting his clothing.” “Wha-. “What did you say?” He flicked the end of his nose. you didn’t trust me. or you don’t.” “I trust you. Leighton.” “You want to play ignorant mind games with me. but dammit. in the back of my mind the other woman would want you back and you would go back to her. I might be in love with you. “Your ears are working! Dammit. flexing his body.” “Leighton. All men won’t run but make their woman’s first time memorable and loving.” The words hit like a ton of brick paralyzing her. and I don’t play games. “I’m 37-years old. the ending would have been different.when did this all happen?” .” “How do you tell a man. I won’t jump through hoops to prove it. Do you think you can trust me with your heart?” “Even if I did.” “How can you be sure? Time and absence makes the heart grow founder. he is your first without ruining the moment or running like you did?” “If you trust him and tell him. I’m in love with your neurotic ass.
she sat on the bed.” Dizzy from the shock. and I never noticed you as a regular customer.” “Oh my God. Leighton. I had to find out what caused your sadness. “I think I’m gonna pass out.” She palmed her forehead. that is creepy. I’m just asking you to let me talk.” .” “Who’s being melodramatic now? You had to suspect I was interested way before the first night we were together?” Her eyelashes fluttered as she focused on his face. “Charlie. Leighton. just to be near you. I delayed my stay in Chicago for you. “For a long time.” “Nate thought I was coming to visit him. this unreal. “You and Nate are friends. Leighton. He can’t keep secrets and would have said something to me because he’s aware I’m paranoid. he had no idea I was mentally stalking you. I never had the nerve to say anything until the day I butted in your argument with Dennis. I was not leaving without you. The term isn’t correct. sink in. “You gotta slow down and let the shock of all this.He relaxed. saying. The first day I laid eyes on you.” “I would sit in Leslie’s or Nate’s section so you wouldn’t wait on me. please tell me how I would’ve known that. I had to meet the beautiful lady with the sad eyes. I’d been coming to the restaurant enduring Nate’s horrible cooking. You can’t blurt out a confession and expect me to move on with the conversation. but the only word to come to mind.” “If I don’t tell you everything now. I might not get another chance once you kick me out of your house.” she said pacing the bedroom.” “Charlie.
I’m not attached to their money nor do I use their influences to get ahead. I utilized whatever time I could get as a way of being with you. Nothing said chef to me. but only towards people you think are a threat.” “My parents don’t even know where I am unless Kaycee’s told them. What else are you keeping from me?” He sat next to her.” “I can’t argue that. Your level of intelligence.” he said squeezing her hand. I’m not the woman men flock to be around.” “I can’t even pretend to understand any of this.” He paused. I worked for the hotel as a chef for a few years after I got my law degree.” “My sixth sense predicted more to you.“You really don’t carry a clue on how to be romanced? I come in early to make your breakfast. Leighton. I’m not licensed to practice in the United States. I stay late to be with you even if you’re working in the office. When I took off. but I’m considering taking the citizenship test to become a legal citizen. The heat from his hand closing around hers warmed her palms. taking her hand and enclosing his fingers with hers fingers. My decision would be persuaded more easily if I had reason to stay in Chicago. “Actually my background is similar to yours. My parents are filthy rich. the way you carried yourself. I’m an attorney. why would you lie about being a chef?” “I wasn’t lying exactly.” “You’re perceptive. “Charlie. She did not pull away but said in a low voice. I didn’t tell anyone about a destination since I didn’t map one at the time. “For starters. I was urged to up my living standards after being pressured to get engaged to Kaycee.” .
but once you relax. but my mother is disappointed with me. I can’t provide them with any of the above. and that’s what I want to do.” “Explain to me. beautiful. you’re fun to be around. but we are different and I don’t mean race different. Charlie. “I proved I moved forward and did not become a burden to society. “Charlie.” .” “We aren’t much different. Why didn’t you just tell this woman you didn’t want to get married? Running is the cowardly way out of any situation. I love to cook.” she said. My parents want grandkids and the big family at the holidays. They’d already chosen the woman for you to marry. I’m a failure at being the daughter socialites expect.” “You proved them all wrong.” “Okay. You’re successful. I’ll admit you’re a little stiff. Leighton. “You paint a pretty picture. your parents had expectations for you. this isn’t the stone ages. I don’t care about money or social standards nor will I give a damn when people gawk and turn their noses at me when I’m kissing you in public.” She released his hand and patted him on the knee before walking to the large picture window overlooking the pool in the backyard. intelligent and sustaining your life. my parents didn’t expect me to be able to function as an adult after what happened to me.” “Please don’t say this was said to you. She’s hoping Malcolm might settle down one day and give her the Norman Rockwell painting of the perfect holiday. Charlie. for starters.“I understand.” She shook her head grinning.” “They would never say it to me. Leighton. in their eyes.
I had the dream of the strong. His lips captured hers to be drawn into the most sensual kiss she’d experienced. Her breathing deepening. what girl didn’t. His hands turned her around to be standing face to face with him. Leighton? Do you still wish to have that baby one day?” His closeness made her brain fuzzy. “None of that is out of your reach. “What do you want. she realized he was doing all the pleasurable work. She’d read enough romance novels to suggest where to place her hands. give me a chance to bring you love. handsome husband. She closed her eyes and gave in.” Kissing her neck. slowly unbuttoning her blouse one button at a time. and the house in the burbs with a white picket fence. “When I was a young girl.” The butterflies in her stomach fluttered with each kiss he pressed to her neck. His breath was warm on her exposed neck since her hair was pinned in a bun. what parts on his body to touch. two well-behaved kids. he nibbled on the lobe of her ear. We can make this dream happen. relaxing her shoulders to his gentle massage. . Her body told her what Charlie wanted. Charlie’s hands were busy reacquainting themselves with her body. In a daze. images of a couple making love appeared. or she simply could mimic what he was doing to her. her eyes remained closed.He came behind her. Where darkness covered. Leighton tapped her inner strength not give into his alluring temptations. The pheromones released by insects had been transformed to their human counterparts. and for the first time she wanted the same without reluctance blocking her way.
“Make love to me. forcing her to sit. The black curly hair covering her womanhood had been neatly trimmed and laid flat against her skin. sliding a finger in his mouth. A groan came from her lips when his tongue darted across the pulsating nub. Leighton arched her back allowing the pleasure to rip through her body. She squeezed her eyes tighter. While kissing down her stomach. Leighton. Leighton sucked in a breath.” Removing the remainder of her clothing. He repeated his actions until each finger had been formally baptized by his mouth. desperately holding in the building explosion as his tongue zeroed in on her weak spot. Charlie took her by the wrist to kiss the back of her hand. Leighton released her grip on his head and guided him to where she wanted him to pleasure. Charlie did not denying her breasts their wanting by unhooking the bra and sliding the garment from her shoulders. He leaned back on his knees. “You’re so beautiful.” he said before sucking a hardened nipple in his mouth. His thumbs flickered over her nipples straining to be released and feasted upon. her knees bent to give him better access. Charlie was finished with her blouse by the time she’d gotten three buttons of his shirt undone. he removed her blouse exposing her lacy bra. Her thighs were smooth as silk as he nestled his head between them. taking extra time to explore every curve. she started to unbutton the shirt with nimble fingers. her groin experiencing a sudden surge. In a sitting position. He backed Leighton to the bed. . Charlie. Leighton’s hands automatically went to his hair. caressing her face. he stretched on the bed.She traced her hands along the collar of his shirt. the ripples from her body awakening from a deep sleep were distinct.
” “You don’t want me to pleasure you.” “And the reason you would never hate me? Can you finally let it slip from your lips?” “Do we need to talk about this now?” “I guess not. Charlie Andrews. “Tonight is about you.He lifted his head slightly. He slid up beside on the bed. “I’ll never hate you. Her hand cupping his fullness through his jeans. Leighton. she unbuckled his belt to shimmer the jeans down his hips. “I’ll continue only if you don’t regret or hate me afterwards.” She shook her head lying back on the pillows. He stopped her from taking him in her mouth. “Tell me if you like this.” she breathlessly replied.” “I like what you’re doing.” . “There will be plenty of time for you to please me.” she asked. stroking him. “Oh yes! I love that! Don’t stop.” she ordered clamping her hands over his to squeeze her breasts tighter. Her body went limp under Charlie after the massive orgasm ran ruptured. Once again he was heavy and throbbing.” “Are you done? You aren’t going to continue?” She asked disappointed. she unzipped his pants to slide inside.” He returned to feasting on the swollen nub. Her thighs quivered as the orgasm ripped through her body causing her to yell loudly. “Tell me what you like. Rolling him on his back. bringing his hands up to massage her harden nipples.
” “A team of a hundred men wouldn’t be able to drag me away. Charlie eased him inside.baby. would the love last or would her insecurities kill their budding relationship? Charlie rolled to her side stroking damp strands of hair from her face. Softly thrusting. Her fingernails clawed his back as she held on as he moved faster and deeper. Losing himself in her body. he began to pump deep and hard. She was attracted to him. “I’m going to shower. Leighton mumbled inaudible sayings in his ear. drawing him down. and her body craved him. Leighton…. When I come back. I’ll go. forgetting about this only being her second time.” Leighton unpinned her hair to fall freely to her shoulders. trapping him in place. her legs crossing around the back of his legs. every night. Leighton closed her arms around his waist. He doubted she was on birth control since she was a virgin. His entry was easier as he moved with shallow thrusts before moving his hips more forcefully. but I did promise no pressure. you better be here.” he said before collapsing on top of her to rest. If you want me to leave. she was still tight. “Do you want me to leave or can I stay the night with you?” “You want to spend the night?” “If I had my way. “I love you.” he answered happily.He removed a condom from his wallet. If they were to get together. I love you. but secondary thoughts rang in her ears about getting with him romantically. we’d sleep together. . he entered the warm folds of her womanhood. His orgasm erupted with a deep growl escaping from his throat. Leighton stroked his hair while he rested.
she leaned over to kiss him before departing from the bed.” “Yes. . too. finally understanding Alexis’ story about a man loving a woman. Elated she looked in the mirror. “Charlie.Unexpectedly and to her own surprise.” She jumped from the bed and closed the bathroom door before he came after her. “I love you.” he answered.
and entitled to a relationship with any guy she chooses. Malcolm. In the living . I wanna make sure he here before you confront him. and said. She would be gone by the time Leighton got home from work and this would be the only chance to catch her off guard. She unlocked the door and hurried to reset the alarm before it could go off. I talk to her almost every day. In the kitchen. if Leighton is involved with a guy she would’ve said so.” “You will when you meet him. but I’m also not going to believe she flipped the script and is now putting out to any man she comes across. “I told ya he was up to no good.” she said getting from the car.Chapter Eight Ms.” “I left this house at seven last night. Maggie. I’m not going to interfere with her love life. Maggie and Malcolm pulled into the long driveway. Why is his car parked here if she ain’t messing around with him?” “I have no clue. Maggie thought. and before Leighton came downstairs. This is why I called you. She sported Malcolm the curious eye. Maggie put away her coat and purse before summoning Malcolm.” “My sister is a grown woman. Maggie noticed the car from yesterday remained parked in the same spot. Ms.” “I had a sneaky suspicion Leighton was hiding the truth about him yesterday. The house was quiet as she made her way to the hall to turn on a light. ******** It was 2:30 in the morning and Leighton would be leaving for work shortly. You park the car and stay out of sight until I call you.” Ms.
Cocoa met her at the top of the stairs. ******** A half-hour later. Maggie seated at the table. Girl. was the handsome white man she’d introduced as her chef. Silence with the sound soft breathing played in the background when Maggie pushed the door open to peek inside.” she whispered not wanting to wake Leighton. you scared me. “Ms. She switched on the light shocked to find Ms. She drank a glass of water to calm her anger before letting Malcolm inside. Maggie? What are you doing here so early and sitting in the dark?” “I came to talk to you but what for now. Leighton came into the kitchen chatting quietly with Charlie. The door to Leighton’s bedroom was ajar. Her eyes adjusted to the darkness of the room. two empty crystal wine glasses and a half bottle of opened wine sat on the antique coffee table. Maggie backed from the room quietly closing the door to return to the kitchen. “Good gracious.” “Don’t sass me! You are looking for trouble getting involved with him!” “Excuse me? Ms.room. what are you doing?” “I’m getting ready for work. Wrapped in each other’s arms sleeping peacefully. Maggie. she made way to the staircase leading upstairs. I do not mean any disrespect. she peered over to the bed to confirm what Leighton was denying. The smile on his face was not forced and Leighton seemed comfortable lying in his arms. but you have no evidence to support what you’re talking about!” “Yes I do! You are setting yourself up for hurt!” . Disgruntled.
I’m not saying you have to accept me. and she took that leap to say she loves me. I can deal with that. all is accepted these days.” The lump in Leighton’s throat swelled. I listen to people tell me to get over what happened to me! Now.” Charlie moved Leighton aside to step up to the older woman. I will be the one protecting her and making sure she’s happy. and I’m ready to face whatever adversity awaits us. Once we get married. and no one has noticed but me.” “Yes. Why are you taking her joy away? I worked too hard to prove how much I love her. “For years I closed myself off! For years. My job is to protect Leighton from being dragged into your dirt. I love him. What are you all going to do when I don’t? Why can’t you be happy for her? Look at her. No one else will be responsible for her but me.” “Listen to what I’m getting at. You can’t pass judgment on a person before he is found guilty. She is my future. but there is no uncertainty on my part as far as Leighton goes. To accuse me of a wrong doing behind my back is one thing. an ex-girlfriend that probably would like me dead. I would never mistreat or harm the woman I want to bear my children and grow old with. I’m talking about his other woman! I told you white men don’t run to black women to marry. “Married? Um. He is the only man to be truthful to me.Leighton spouted. she’s smiling.” “Guilt is your middle name! You got a girlfriend you’re uncertain about. This is a new world. when did we discuss any of this?” He held a palm up to quiet her. throwing her hands up. “Ya gotta be kidding me. but you’re putting it right in my face. The shine returned to her eyes. I meet Charlie. “Everybody is free to put in their two-cents on how I might eventually hurt her. Leighton. He is the only man to show me what love supposed to be like.” . After the thrill of bedding you is over he will go back to her.
“You love my sister? Dude.” “C’mon.” he said coming more into view.” Leighton’s eyes light up with surprise. You had no right to ask Nate to keep tabs on me! Ms. Sis. you two might be messing around. he didn’t say you were in love with each other. but you can find the time to come to Chicago to inquire who I might be sleeping with?” “This falls under different circumstances. what I do or who I do it with is my business. Nate told me. How dare you sneak in here in the wee hours of the morning like you’re catching a kid with her boyfriend? I’m a freaking adult! You or Ms. calm down before you bust a gut. I’m concerned more about you than a restaurant.” “Stop! Don’t hug me and act like this is natural! I don’t appreciate being checked on as if I’m incapable of running my own life. you’re upset but Ms. she pushed him away. “No and why are any of you are questioning Charlie? What we do is our business and not any of yours!” Malcolm bypassed Charlie to speak directly to his sister.” “I’m not crazy about how you’re showing your concern. “Laylay. “Malcolm! What are you doing here?” “I’ll explain that later. Maggie called me concerned about you. Maggie. I’m not joking! You couldn’t drop what you were doing to tend to your restaurant. then let me find out for myself!” . Maggie can’t tell me what to do! I’m not making a mistake. and if I am.” “Malcolm.Malcolm came from his hiding space. and trying to give her a hug.
Leighton abruptly ended the confrontation saying. I had to check out Ms. “Anyway. Maggie. um…caretaker used. From what Nate says Charlie is supposedly pretty cool. “Sweetheart. you took it upon yourself to call my brother. don’t take a tone with me—“ “Ms. He thought this type of drama only happened within rich white households. “This is stupid! I don’t need authorization from anyone in this room to be with Charlie. wait. but not give him full details about Charlie?” “Leighton.” Malcolm secured his arm around her waist as she tried to leave the heat building in the kitchen.” With furrowed brow. “Baby. Maggie scurried from the stool she was perched upon. young lady! You asked me for advice the other day. but I understand why she did it.” “She’s the caretaker of the house—not me!” Leighton said with deviancy.” She snatched her arm from Malcolm’s clutches and stormed to the foyer. you can plan my execution for misbehaving without me. Maggie.” he called after Leighton. what.” . ready to unleash the volcano bubbling in her belly. “I did ask for your advice. “I don’t think you’re making a mistake.” Leighton peered around Malcolm to get to Ms. Maggie story to make sure she was talking about the same guy. are you going to do next—call my parents since Malcolm isn’t responding as you expected?” The older woman’s face puffed with anger. “Really? You went through the trouble to tattle on me to my LITTLE brother. Leighton’s voice dropped two octaves.Ms. how are you OK with how this happened? You should be furious.” Charlie shook his head. “Now wait a minute. “I gotta a business to open. I don’t agree with the methods the… your.
My only concern is my sister’s well-being. come to Chicago expecting to fall in love with Leighton. and I’m sure as hell she wasn’t expecting to fall in love with me either. baby. “Man. but I love her. cut the preachy speech. Malcolm‘s blessings would be the only one in my family I would like. and it doesn’t faze me one bit what they say about you. then he can return to Utah and cut me off like he’s done everyone else. “I get it. there won’t be any fairytale happy endings.” She stroked his cheek. but they are your family and they love you. I’m not who you expected Leighton to be with. I am upset.” “You don’t mean that. almost laughing. Leighton’s change since we’ve been together. We’re not always granted what we want from life. then you are asking for trouble. If he can’t give it to me. Nate gave me the rundown on you and the girl you left in Canada.” Left to face the staring eyes burning into his back. and if this love affair isn’t something you’re ready to commit to fully.” Malcolm grinned. but I meant what I said. “Smile. “Charlie. nothing is going to come between our happiness.” He tipped a finger to her chin. Only this is my life. I’m not trying to be with them. I’ll be at work if you need me. I’m not going to argue with your family to accept me. You two might not believe it. They are only protecting you. everyone is entitled to their opinion. Charlie turned around slowly.” “You tell him. Nate already opened the gate for me to slip in. Charlie shot her an agitated look.“Believe me.” “I hear what you’re saying.” . Let me work on him. Leighton. I didn’t. “And Alexis explained what happened to her. She’s still recovering mentally. Malcolm!” Ms. but we did. Ask Dennis. Maggie egged on in the background. I would never let anything happen to her. Leighton.
” “Ms. but I’m only going to be in town a few days.” Malcolm’s face distorted with amazement. “Dang. Maggie noisily expressed her disdain for what transpired between the two men.” “Right. and if Charlie is going to be a part of her life.” Malcolm said. and not in a good way. Ms. Now that she is open to dating again. she will find one and let the infatuation with this man blow over. Charlie. Maggie. “I can’t believe this! Malcolm you are handing your sister to the devil himself! I won’t stay here and be witness to this train wreck about to happen. You’re used to white people being around the house.” . Nate told me what you did to Dennis. Malcolm extended a large hand to Charlie. Ms. “That’s fair. I believe you.“Yeah. and I will be playing for Chicago. talk to her! Convince her to wait for a black man to come along.” “Malcolm. “He hasn’t bothered her since. I won’t cater to this man if he moves in with Leighton.” Charlie accepted his handshake. why are you stressing on Charlie? Mom and Dad had plenty of white friends and colleagues. I have to accept him. You’ll recognize for yourself. With Mom and Dad in Ohio. Maggie. when did you get to be so dang prejudice? I haven’t told Leighton yet. then I’ll welcome you into the family. lopsided grin.” Enraged. I’m not playing with your sister’s heart. but I’m doing a trade at the end of the season. Malcolm! They came and went like guests are supposed to do. ”I’m not saying I’m okay with this right off the bat.” Charlie replied with a sneaky. I would love my sister to be here with me. if what I get from you is genuine.
I’ll be by the restaurant later.” “OK. She wouldn’t want to make the same mistake when hiring the next housekeeper.” Ms. would you disown me also or is this hate reserved personally for Charlie?” “Well. when you talk to my mom. Malcolm. Remember. Maggie rolled her eyes after Charlie left. “She’s insulting me like I’m not even standing here. Ms.” “What are you implying. Malcolm? I don’t lie. Charlie. Mom should know the type of person that’s been in her employment all these years.” he stated walking away. How about I buy you a beer after work?” “Cool. Malcolm. Do you know the population of black people living there? What if I came home and introduced my white wife or girlfriend.” “I’m sorry you feel that way. I refuse to work for such disrespectful people. Maggie. “I could understand you better if you played football. I quit. the repeated knocks to your head would explain your denseness to this situation.Charlie chuckled lightly. . I can tell my services will no longer be needed. I will call your mother and tell her. I gotta help Leighton open the restaurant.” “No but you hide your prejudices well. that’s enough! I freaking live in Utah. please let her know the truth to your quitting. I wish we could’ve met under better conditions.
is not about you. The regulars were asking about you.” . because my brain is tired.” “I’m glad you can find the humor behind this. but getting my white ass degraded by the housekeeper got my mojo going pretty good.” He removed loosely staked paper further over on the desk so he could sit on the edge of it. The woman’s narrow-minded opinion is solely hers.Chapter Nine Charlie studied Leighton sitting quietly at the desk. Leighton. her attention focused on the paperwork lying before her.” She dropped the pencil on the desk folding her hands under her chin. you did keep me up pretty late last night. I mean. baby.” “I can’t believe you’re attempting to make me laugh after the rude awakening we had this morning. “I guess I’m not in a socializing mood today. you’ve been hiding in here all morning.” “You’re not falling backward.” “I’m a little tired. A strong cup of coffee usually works for me. “I admit that was different.” “Talk to me. He rapped lightly on the door to the small office to interrupt her. Whenever I feel I’m making progress I get slapped with another setback. I’m tired of fighting to climb the mountain only to be pushed back down. Charlie. Get it out in the open so we can discuss it. “Hey. How are you doing.” “Baby. Charlie.
we’ll lose too much ground.” “Leighton. Maggie would faint if she was aware one of my best friends was Mexican and I went out with his cousin a few times. We’re on track for the grand-opening for the dinner expansion next month. we won’t even close Saturday. After you left. little hide-away in the woods or Vegas for a little gambling. if I were black. I don’t have many family members I’m close with to start. we chatted a little—we’re having a beer later.” He snapped his fingers. I should be checking the women he’s dating. Actually. we’ll only be closed one day. If we take time off now.” “Then.” “Leighton. Maggie was like a second mother to me. I don’t want to choose between the man I love and the woman who nearly raised me. Why don’t we go away for the weekend—just the two of us? We could both use a change of scenery. the business dinners I hosted were with men of all nationalities.“Ms. The sous-chef and Nate can handle the restaurant.” “Hmm…do you want to meet my friends after meeting my brother?” “Malcolm was not out of line. Charlie. you wouldn’t be you. you’re stressed out. Leighton.” “I’m the oldest. Ms. if I agreed to go away with you?” “Maybe a secluded.” “We can’t.” She pressed her back against the hardness of the wooden chair. “Where would we go.” “We wouldn’t be having this discussion about your family sweating you.” “How about New York. friends. you wanted to visit with your . Heck.
I wouldn’t care if you were striped like the rainbow. the definition of his face. I love you for you and not the color of your skin. Leighton. do you realize you said that yourself. Would you say something—anything. “I don’t know. “You’re making me nervous. Charlie and Leighton stood at the .” “I love you. He stomped his foot whining. I believe in my soul you love me.” His moved in to capture her lips when a ruckus in the dining room broke the moment. please?” “Charlie. Her finger lightly traced his eyebrows.” He placed his hands on the small of her waist. “Not the businessmen.” She nodded. Charlie. Patrons were holding anything that could be signed by the NBA superstar.” “Leighton. a crowd circled around Malcolm. she gazed in his eyes. She took in his appearance as if she were seeing him for the first time. “So. The way his lips moved when he pronounced certain words.” In the dining room. I’m entrusting myself to you. and I didn’t drag it from you. the perfect formation the waves of his hair made. but I guess we should go check. I believe you won’t hurt me like the others. “What the hell is going on?” She took his hand moving from his arms. My love will be served to you endlessly and effortless.“You never told me about that? Do any of these men keep in touch?” She moved from the chair to stand between his legs. are you saying I should be worried about your best friend’s cousin?” She shook her head concentrating on his eyes. “Yes.
I guess we should break up the crowd and rescue Malcolm. “Sis. but our insurance probably doesn’t cover stampedes. we should discuss this in private. “Charlie. and I go home to Cocoa. “Should we help Nate with crowd control?” Charlie asked. We don’t want to move to fast.” “Nate said I shouldn’t drag my feet. Charlie has his place. the restaurant is the bomb! I told you. I checked out a few condos and want Leighton to move in with me as soon as I find one. Malcolm treated everyone to dinner.” .” Her eyes bucked.” “Talk about bringing your work home with you. “I hope to change that soon.” Charlie spoke up. How are you two going to handle being together so much?” “We aren’t living together.” ******** After signing autographs and helping close the restaurant for the day. Nate was an immense help to me after Richard left. Then. We have been busy every day since. Charlie brought his skills to the kitchen. Malcolm praised his sister for all the hard work put into the restaurant. I might lose you to a fast-talking brother. it would pay off for you.door watching the mob overtake Nate’s attempt at pushing them back with the handle of a broom.” “Malcolm. of course. I didn’t do it alone. Malcolm. The conversation was general and upbeat. “I would say no. He said if I pause too long.
” “Hey! I happen to know a thang or two ‘bout women. Charlie just got some wicked news. Nate. I got him to talk to you and now you knocking boots! I believe y’all owe me a thank you.” he laughed. “Oh. alright. also. backpacking through some other city by now if I ain’t butt in. promise you won’t give Charlie anymore advice.Leighton pinched the nerve between her eyes and nose. thank you. Treat her children with respect. Damn. Leighton. “Like what.” “How do you know.” Nate said frowning.” Malcolm slapped Nate on the back. you aren’t taking advice from Nate. “He’s gotta point. He tell him what his sisters are doing and his parents. His cell phone rang taking his attention away from the group. We boys.” Nate flipped his finger at Charlie.” Leighton conceded to Nate’s demand. we don’t gossip. Nate broke the silence. But. “Oh my goodness.” Charlie would be . His smile soon faded and the color drained from his face. “Damn man. causing him to choke on his drink. Leighton’s heart beat a little faster when he left the table for more privacy. “He keeps in touch with one close friend from home. I can’t keep secrets from my lady. Nate?” “Homeboy was scared to even talk to you. you got loose lips. and you will take care of Leslie the way she should be taken care of. man?” Malcolm asked.” “I’m sorry.
Charlie ain’t on that chick.Leighton swallowed. what’s happened? Can I do anything for you?” He stuttered his words. but not for this. Charlie ain’t the type to get up and leave unless its’ bad.” Nate jabbed his finger on the table. he will share.” “Here he comes. I love you. Leighton. She kind of nuts but he ain’t scared of her. “Be cool and don’t ask him anything.” . Apparently in a state of shock. Leighton what info do you have on this guy? I’m not referring to what Nate told you.” Malcolm said. I’ll call you in a couple of days after I sort out the details.” “I’m not saying you are. “Leighton.” Charlie remained standing instead of sliding in the seat next to Leighton. the uncertainty written on Malcolm’s face. Malcolm. He kissed her hand gently. I need to postpone our weekend. “I wish to God you could.” “Charlie. “Whoa. only thing I can think of is sumpin’ happened to one of his sisters. he looked to be on the verge of tears.” Her voice hit deaf ears as he hurried from the restaurant. something happened. I promise I’ll be back as soon as I can. “Does he ask about Kaycee?” “Nah. I’m not going to fall apart because of this.” “Charlie.” She reached her hand up to comfort him. “Don’t give me that look. In a blink of an eye. I gotta go to Canada for a family emergency. Umm. If “Remember. Leighton. a cheerful evening turned mysterious after one phone call.
She got out of bed and crossed the room in search of the noise. The sounds of pinging against the glass window penetrated her dreams.” Malcolm motioned for the waitress to take care of the dinner check. This day started off on a sour note and ended on an even worse one. “I’m going home. Leighton. He was home in familiar surroundings and most likely sleeping in his own bed. “Yeah. I’ll hit you up. Shutting the drapes. Waking up. Leighton returned to the warmth of her bed. wishing Charlie was with her. This is obviously a matter Charlie doesn’t want me to know about. she rolled over to adjust her eyes to check the clock. Charlie was in Canada. Sis. I won’t hold my breath. the heavy rain was falling sideways bouncing off the windows when she pulled back the curtain. exactly how did you meet Charlie?” “We was at the same bar drinkin’ and started a conversation.” Malcolm pined in. He says he’s estranged from his family and that’s all he’ll admit. “If I hear from him.” Leighton slid from the booth. ******** Leighton tossed on the bed. We been tight ever since that day.“I hope that’s not the case.m. “Nate. Nate. He doesn’t talk about his family at all. Her hand spread across the empty pillow next to her. Nate. . the red glow of the numbers read 12:30a. she left the restaurant with Malcolm in tow. I’ll see you in the morning.” Nate swallowed the rest of his drink. she stared at the ceiling thinking.” “Thank you. I’m with you on that.” Securely placing her handbag over her shoulder. Lying on her back.
“What can I do?” “How quickly can you pack a suitcase? I thought I could handle this by myself. I’m sorry to call so late and wake you. She needed to talk to someone. She was destined to drive herself insane over the ‘what if’s’. “Leighton.” “Charlie? No.” “I can be packed in no time. no. are you okay?” “No.She wondered where his bed was. I need you by my side for support. Leighton. “Hello. Before she reached the doorknob. Baby. I was awake already. Malcolm was her choice since he was in the house. but I doubt I can get a flight at this hour?” “Don’t worry about booking a flight. She rushed to get the phone before going to voicemail. She denounced herself for worrying about what he was doing. broke her sleep altogether. she thought who would be calling at this time of the night then she remembered Nate promised to call if he heard from Charlie. The raining and constant agonizing over Charlie being so far away. don’t worry. praying for good news from Nate. She put on her robe and slippers and headed towards the door to his bedroom. Did he live with Kaycee before leaving her? Would he contact her since he was home? What if Kaycee would be able to convince him to give them another chance? What if seeing her again would stir up those old desires? A cold sweat forced Leighton to throw the heavy blankets from her body. At first. her cell phone vibrated on the nightstand. I took care of everything.” Her heart dropped at the sadness in his voice. I need you.” Her voice trembled.” .
Sis. all you gotta do is walk out the front door and through the gate. I’m right outside. If I lose Charlie because I start doubting myself again.She turned on the lamp to search for a pen and pad inside the nightstand to write down the flight information.” .” “OK. I’ll be down after I change.” She ended the call and threw on a pair of jeans and a sweater and began packing a suitcase. She slipped on her shoes and jacket and rolled the suitcase into the hall while she went back to the room to get her passport. Why don’t you slow down and regroup before rushing off to another country with this guy. you’re moving a little fast. Can you understand what I’m saying?” “I do get it.” “Baby.” “He called?” “Yes. “Go ahead.” “I trust my gut. Malcolm met her as she raced down the stairs. give me the flight information and I’ll get to you as soon as I can.” “Leighton. I’ll never be with anyone. Malcolm. He’s outside waiting on me. He didn’t indicate what to bring so she packed a few outfits that would fit most any occasion. I just wish you’d get to know him before giving him your heart. “Whoa! Where are you going at this hour?” “I’m going to Canada with Charlie.” “What?” “I’ll explain later.
“Pffft. will ya?” She hurried down the stairs narrowly missing the scantily dressed woman coming up the stairs. Charlie didn’t receive my heart as easily as you think. I’ll take care of Cocoa and business at the restaurant for you. “No. “Don’t keep Charlie waiting in the rain.“We’ll continue this chat when I get back.” ******** Leighton pulled the hood of her jacket over her head to protect her hair from the rain. His expression was devilish. Feed Cocoa for me. no you won’t! Nate and Leslie will handle the restaurant until I get back. damp rain and rubbed her arms to warm herself.” Her neck snapped. women. He shooed her.” he said lifting her suitcase into the back end of the expensive Range Rover. did we miss the flight?” “No we’re on time because we’re driving. the car is mine. Her body shivered from the cold. “I tried to hurry. She stopped to roll her eyes at Malcolm. I kinda blended in with everyone else until now. “This is a nice SUV? Are you renting?” He turned up the heat and adjusted the mirrors before pulling into the slow moving street traffic. “When’d this happen? We came in the house together?” She asked.” He hadn’t been home twenty-four hours and already he was picking up .
my family might as well meet the woman I’m going to marry. we exchanged words that I’m not proud to admit. Leighton? My sister is fighting for her life in a hospital room as we speak. but I can’t be kept in the dark about what is going on with you.” “What happened to her?” “The girls’ father is a real asshole. and all hell can break loose in one visit instead of two. My baby sister may never wake up again. and I’m powerless to help her.” “The drive will clear my head and give me time to gather my thoughts.” “Charlie this is the second reference about us getting married. Shannon wanted to leave him but hesitated because the kids loved their dad. “Charlie what is going on? I want to help you.The soft snapping of the seatbelt secured her in place.” Hurdled by his news. She asked. “We should fly to Canada to save time. Leighton.” “Did he hurt her?” “He shot her. He shot her in the head. “I was halfway to my destination when I realized I wanted you to be with me.” he said pounding on the steering wheel.” His eyes remained forward but with his free hand. Don’t you think we should date for a year or more before we start talking marriage?” He shot her a stern look. Her two little girls won’t understand why their mother never came home to them. She didn’t want to seem like the bad parent and take them away from him. “What did I say about life being too short. If I’m going home. The last time I spoke with my sister. . he reached over to her lap and squeezed her thigh. she pulled her hand away to soothe him.
All I want is for Shannon to be awake and laughing when I walk in that hospital room. Leighton glanced over to check on him. She switched on the radio for company since Charlie was sleeping soundly.” .” “Baby. You’re in no condition to drive all the way to Canada. I’m asking you do this for me and not once did I ask how you felt about coming with me. and you probably won’t get much once you get to the hospital. “Pull over and let me drive.” Charlie pulled over for them to switch places.” “Who cares what they’ll wonder. The quiet humming of the car made her sleepier than she already was.” “Well. “I’m not asleep. He took in a deep breath. you can talk to me to stay awake.She unsnapped her seatbelt. and his head rested against the leather headrest. she switched to a talk radio program to keep from dozing off and killing the both of them. he’d been quiet for the last fifty miles of the drive.” “You should try. You’re going to need rest. this is a personal matter and members of your family will wonder why I’m tagging along. The preset on the radio station was soft jazz. His eyes were closed.
Can you see me as a mother? Myron is flipping out over this. Anyhow. Leighton sat in the waiting room while Charlie visited with his sister and the few family members that remained.” Charlie had a family . the adoption agency would like to talk to you. where are you? I’m at the restaurant and Nate says you are out of the country with Charlie.” “Geez. looking at the caller ID Alexis’ number flashed. “Now I feel like a heel for being overly excited about becoming a mom. Anyhow. Charlie might stay for a while longer. I’m not staying longer than a day or two.” “You both deserve the happiness. Leighton.” “So you’re finally going to meet the family.Chapter Ten Charlie and Leighton arrived in Ontario before daybreak opting to go straight to the hospital. when will you return to Chicago. Leighton. don’t let your concern for Charlie over take you. Alexis. I’m in the bathroom and the reception is lousy in here. ta-ta for now. emergency and asked me to come along. She found a rest room to freshen up after spending hours riding in a car.” “Give Charlie my love.” “I’m in Canada but not for the reasons you suspect. Her phone vibrated in her pocket.” “Girl. “Good morning. they are considering us. Alexis. What is going on with Charlie?” “One of his sisters is in intensive care with a serious injury. I’m going to go. I’ll be in touch with you when I get home.” “Come on. I have a concern for other people.
“Baby. At this moment. What can I do?” He returned her hug. She’s holding on. he was glad he changed his mind and returned for her. a few more people arrived to occupy the empty seats made available after she left. but she couldn’t tell if these people were related to Charlie. “We’re waiting. Not wanting to outright gawk.” Her heart lightened once she realized the other family wasn’t part of his. to cry on her shoulder. I’m so sorry. a person who loved him. “Take it as a sign she’s fighting to stay with her daughters. Anxiety caused her to close the magazine and wish Charlie would come out and give her the distressing news. A disheveled Charlie finally appeared. Within seconds. these people were part of his family he’d heard the news and would need comforting. She sat across the room and flipped through a magazine. grieving people were not her specialty and how she would react to being around a room full of them caused her to sweat. She fretted by crisscrossing her legs. Leighton jumped to her feet.” “We were given a small chance Shannon could survive. but it doesn’t look good. her eyelids were heavy from lack of sleep. he had a person to lean on. hugging him. A doctor entered the room interrupting her catnap to address the five individuals seated across from her. With Leighton by his side.She returned to the waiting room. He didn’t stop to comfort any of the people crying on the other side of the room. the sounds of soft crying filled the air. By chance. The faces were long and filled with sorrow. Leighton. she tried to catch glimpses of other attributes that might indicate a relationship to Charlie. but the neurosurgeon in this hospital doesn’t have the experience to handle the complicated surgery required to .
” Charlie latched onto her hand.” “You are impossible! Just because your life is a total waste. causing the other grievers to stop crying and watch.” “Can I get either of you coffee or water? Anything you need.” “Charlie. “Mom. Charlie—why are you letting her suffer?” Charlie stood up.” She gave Leighton a smirk. you want Shannon to suffer. this is not the place to discuss this.” Leighton had moved over a chair once the woman started shouting at Charlie. You heard what the doctor said. this is just tragic. “Charlie! How could you!” The woman’s voice echoed in the small room. The top specialist in Canada is in India giving a lecture. “This is the place to discuss this! My daughter is lying in a bed suffering when you have the power. “She has children! Did you forget about your grandkids? If there is a chance I can save their mother. Mom. has anyone contacted him? Your family has money. I will get for you. “Hello. Charlie.” Charlie lowered his head in his hands. I want you to meet Leighton Hall.remove the bullet fragments remaining in her skull. “Yes. Leighton caressed his back to comfort him. By the way. they can make it worth his effort.” she said not extending her hand.” “Thanks for the vote of confidence. I’m going to do it. The clicking of heels against the hard floor approached rapidly. “I’m sorry about your daughter.” he said not looking at her. “Don’t go anywhere. please. She will be a vegetable if she lives.” .
If she’d listened to me.” “Good God. the distance from the fighting was what she was seeking instead of observing the fight between Charlie and his mother. Frank was outstanding when I introduced them. And. The only . for your information. she didn’t want to listen to me. Shannon wanted to move home.” The woman fidgeted. Does loyalty mean anything to you. almighty! She’s to blame for the asshole shooting her. Am I to assume you’re replacing Kaycee?” “Mom. I didn’t stick around to talk to you. Charlie?” Charlie kept his voice low. “That’s absurd. The pot contained the leftovers of weak coffee. Don’t drag Leighton into this. advising her to walk out on him with his violent temper was an excellent idea—just excellent!” “Don’t point your finger at me for this. but you told her to stick with her marriage for the kid’s sake. we are here for Shannon. Charlie. Hall. I do say my son chooses beautiful women to become involved with. your sister brought out the worst in him somehow. Come to think. “I was trying to help Shannon. but she’s aware I came. she wouldn’t be in that room with a bullet in her brain!” “You helped. but she didn’t care. are you sweating guilt Shannon might blame you if she survives. The argument was an upgraded replay of her confrontation with Ms. You introduced her to Frank. Whatever Kaycee told you about us is her version of why we split up. Maggie and Malcolm. I was at Gretchen’s graduation.” Leighton shuffled over to the coffee station. Mom.“Ms.” “I surprised you had the audacity to come here at all! You argued with Shannon about her marriage and missed Gretchen’s graduation.
“I knew you were good luck for me. Charlie was being thronged upon by his family at a time when they should be coming together.” He hugged Leighton so tight her ribs were in danger of being crushed.difference with this fight were the issues being more serious.” . Dad. you are her power of attorney.” Charlie shook his head. your influences in the business world carry a lot of weight. Charlie. Charlie’s voiced suddenly boomed above the others. What can you do to get the doctor to return?” “The man is in India and won’t return until he’s completed his commitment there. I know a neurosurgeon top notched in this field. I’ll find another way. “I refuse to pull the plug. The grieving family across the room was no longer crying but being entertained by the hullabaloo unfolding in the small confines of the waiting room. she wouldn’t want to live this way. A younger woman holding the hands of two small blonde-ponytailed children had now entered the waiting area. “Stop! Am I the only one concerned about Shannon! We can save her if for once we work together as a family. Leighton believed those to be the injured sister’s children and thought it would be inappropriate for adults to be fighting in front of them. Partway through the argument a man entered the waiting area to join the melee.” Leighton dropped the paper cup in the garbage to draw Charlie’s attention. I will find a way to save my sister. Myron is a neurosurgeon! He’s the best dang neurosurgeon in the United States. “Charlie. I’ve searched all over Canada for another surgeon skilled in this field and came up empty. The ruckus continued with the mother breaking into sobs once the grandchildren came on the scene. Do you think he would do the surgery? I’ll pay whatever he asks.
“That is why I love that woman!” Kaycee hid her face when Leighton passed her. The reality of a love never born hit Kaycee hard. but .” Charlie turned to his family making a sincere announcement. Instead of Charlie proposing and giving her the ring. Charlie never announced any love for me.” “I can’t believe Charlie bought her with him. “You should take this back. You all are going through a crisis and. he brings his new girlfriend to flaunt. we can discuss you and Charlie. once Shannon is back on her feet. I’m not sure anything is serious between them. he’s home. why are you standing here alone. Kaycee.“All I can do is ask. his mother presented the ring to her. She admired the clarity of the large stone nested in the old-fashioned gold setting designed especially for Charlie’s grandmother by his grandfather. “Kaycee. We’ll get the wedding—“ “The only wedding you’ll be planning is for Gretchen.” She placed the ring in Norma’s hand. She had been standing off in the cut when she overheard Charlie’s proclamation of love for the new woman in his life. Norma. “I’m not hard of hearing. Norma Andrews spotted her leaning against the wall with dejection written all over her.” “Honey. she removed the engagement ring from her finger. He didn’t care I would be around and wanted to put her in my face as proof he’d moved on!” “She is only a friend.” Kaycee shook her head. come join the family.” she said pulling her cell phone from her purse. I’m praying for Shannon’s recovery. With a tug. His declaration of love for her was real. you two can talk and work on your relationship. which I will do right now.
are you okay?” Leighton retrieved her purse from the ground. ******** Kaycee exited the elevator spotting Leighton talking on her cell phone outside the front doors of the hospital entrance. The bump was on purpose. Once the phone call ended. “No problem. I’m sort of in a hurry and need to get going. She waited patiently for Leighton to finish her call before approaching her. but her path was blocked.” Leighton stepped to move around her. He had a huge attraction to women of color with curvy figures. I won’t be coming around. “Do you know me? Because I don’t think you meant to speak to me in that tone of voice. she refused to leave the hospital without Leighton knowing what she ruined.” Kaycee emphasized in a threatening manner.” she said making a break for the elevator. “It was an accident.” . She immediately saw what attracted Charlie to this woman. Gently smoothing the front of her short skirt and patting down her long strawberry-colored curly hair. “I’m sorry. I’m not hurt. Kaycee rushed through the revolving doors to stop Leighton from entering the hospital. from the men breaking their necks staring at Leighton’s striking figure.” “Are you sure? I should watch where I walk. and she apologized.until Charlie leaves. And. she could only imagine how Charlie drooled when he first laid eyes on her. “It would be in your best interests to spare me at least a minute of your precious time!” Leighton’s eyebrows creased at the brazenness the woman displayed.
She didn’t think about Kaycee showing up at the hospital to be supportive to the family in their time of need.” Her face reddened. they’ll see he settled for scraps and cut him off.” Leighton let her anger come forth. The outfit she wore was expensive but not tasteful. “I presume you’re Kaycee? What a pleasure to put a face to Charlie’s nightmare. Charlie is waiting for me to return.” Leighton rolled her eyes upward.” “How sweet of him to mention me. Although. He won’t receive a dime of inheritance from the family.Kaycee clapped her hands together slowly.” Leighton laughed. “Generally. she didn’t want to cause a scene in front of the hospital but refused to be shredded to bits by the scornful woman. but. does it bother you when he talks about me?” “I can’t get bothered about people he doesn’t talk about. in this case.” “You’ll never fit in with the family. you’ll find out soon enough. she put her hands on her hips. I remember him saying you were the leash around his neck. if you’ll excuse me. Charlie did change his status with me.” Leighton scanned her over. Now. Take a good look at me and then yourself. I make a rule not to judge people I have not met. and he’s finally glad to be free of you. and she shifted her weight mostly to one leg. Only. I’m not jealous of you. When around you. “Charlie’s certainly lowered his standards. I was taught tacky is not only defined by the clothing we wear. “Hmm.” “That was a nice attempt at a jabbing my character. I’m who they want Charlie to be with. But. He usually doesn’t get involved with mouthy or tacky women. Defensively. “I think you’d better . he was on the money when he called you belittling. “He’s an idiot and won’t commit to you. I think you aren’t—I’m hearing bitterness or could that be jealously.
it's’ my greasy food joint where’s he’s happy working. The best you can do is move on and stop being bitter. I’m not the cause of your problems with him. It hurt to listen to the man I love.” .” She raised her hand to tap her temple.” “Open your eyes! He’s only with you because you allow him to work in a greasy food joint instead of making him stick with his law practice. and to set the record straight. Plus.” “Charlie is a stupid fool for getting involved with you! He will regret he left me—you can’t offer him what I can. “I was supposed to marry him and have his undying devotion. “Congratulation on destroying my chance at happiness.” “I bet that was terrible.” Kaycee’s eyes rimed with the onset of tears. declare his love for another woman in front of his family. so don’t take your anger for him out on me.” “Is that right? Please explain how anyone regrets getting rid of a person who constantly demeans them.” Leighton said wanting to end the conversation before the woman made her manifest more insensitivity towards her.” she said storming off. Charlie is full of ambition. “We would not expect anything other from you. Kaycee narrowed her eyes to reveal her evilness. Leighton rubbernecked over her shoulder. and I don’t stifle what he wants to do. but such is life. What woman would be happy with a man with no ambition?” “Kaycee. I wish you and Charlie nothing but eternal hell.end this discussion before you’ll require a gurney and a team of physicians to dislodge my foot from a painful area of your body. “What am I doing? I’m not here to battle with you! I’m here to help Charlie through a difficult period.
” Leighton said softly. “He did say nothing is guaranteed with this type of injury surgery is dangerous. she still might not wake up. if you all can work out the details with the hospital’s administrator. He’ll need her medical records to evaluate if the surgery would even benefit her. “I don’t know who you are. “He says the hospital will need to grant him access or whatever legal mumbo jumbo a doctor not affiliated with a hospital goes through. if he removes the bullet fragments. Charlie. And. She positioned an imitation of a smile before clearing her throat to speak. I’m still in good standing and can represent Myron and my sister since I’m her power of attorney.” He placed his hands on her shoulders gazing deep in her eyes. “Legally.” . if at all.” Gretchen hugged Leighton from behind. but thank you. She would update Charlie later.******** Leighton returned to the waiting room struggling to hide the ire built from her clash with Kaycee. she had to deliver Myron’s answer and not let what’d taken place earlier stand in the way.” “Wait. but he is willing to fly to Canada to access her condition. he’s waiting on her medical records. “I’m on it. “Baby. I would not forgive myself if I pulled the plug aware of the slight chance she might survive. I’d rather my sister died knowing I tried. Charlie spoke on their behalf.” he said. “Here is his fax number. With the eyes of his family trained on her.” Handing him a piece of paper with a number scribbled down. thank you.” The room let out a sigh of relief.
” “Charlie. we wouldn’t want Kaycee to release a rumor you’d re-gifted her engagement ring. Norma walked over to him after Leighton left. Her parents are doctors.” She kissed him on the cheek. we’ve helped each other through our troubles. he said.” “What about your money? Have you talked about finances?” He shook his head.” Norma called.” “Grandmother’s ring. I’m drained and hungry.” He held the sparkler to the light.” “I won’t be long. “Gretchen. “She doesn’t need my money. are you sure about her?” “Yes.” “Seems I had her pegged all wrong. Give it to the woman you want to want to wear it. meet Leighton your future sister-in-law if she’ll agree to marry me. “This belongs to you.” Norma reached into her purse to give him the ring. I’ll check us into a hotel and text you the information. “Mom. Norma and Gilbert each hugged her weakly as a show of their gratitude. baby.” . her brother is a professional athlete and she’s a dedicated career woman with plenty of money to support herself. how did you rip it away from Kaycee?” “Kaycee returned it to me. Leighton changed me into a new man. do you think we can work on repairing our relationship? I miss my son. Mom. “I better locate the doctor and get Shannon’s paperwork faxed to Myron. great idea.Charlie’s lips curled into the smile she’d come accustom to seeing. We work together. “Too soon to bring that to the mix. “Charlie. change the stone.” he replied hugging her goodbye.” After an uneasy pause. “After Shannon is squared away. we spend time together. Her family is loaded. If you’re going to give it to your lady friend.
I’m almost forty. “Is there anything else?” “Yes.” he said leaving his mother behind. “Yes. but she rose above it to succeed. did that stop her from using her influences to help Shannon—no it didn’t. I’m not going to throw her into the dungeon by subjecting her to you.” Norma held her head to the ceiling. Leighton has endured pain on a different level.” “She doesn’t know any of you either. you gotta let me grow.” “What are the conditions?” “You stop trying to control my life.“I’m not writing anything off as doable with a few conditions attached. you’re asking me to do a lot. more harsh words between us and over a woman you barely know?” “It seems that way. accepting Leighton into the family.” “Charlie.” “Charlie? Is this how you want to end it. .” “Mom. I agree she did help.” She nodded. I’m remaining in the United States with her after we’re married. I don’t know her to open my home and family to her. I’ll give her one brownie point. don’t bother.
“I don’t know why I’m so nervous! I’m not adopting the child.” “Myron was held up at the hospital. Where would I find the energy to raise a child with the restaurant taking the majority of my time?” “Where is it written in stone. wringing her hands. you can make your own babies and enjoy hours of fun doing it…. Alexis burst through the door jarring the receptionist awake. The adoption agency’s literature was limited to parenting magazines. I’m late but don’t hurt me.am I right?” . he’s parking the car.” Leighton did a small bounce on her heels. She checked her watch for the fourth time. saying you have to be there every day? Don’t forget Charlie is clipped to your hip. once again you stun me with your jokes. The approaching 11:00 o’clock deadline neared and she needed to be at the restaurant soon to finish last minute details for the opening next week.” “I can’t be angry about that. nothing she was interested in reading. “You should! We could raise our children together. you won’t have to adopt. “I know.” Alexis’ eyes became bright with excitement. and wished Alexis and Myron would arrive to get the final meeting started. Leighton!” “Aha. I know.” “What took you so long? I hate to rush this meeting. but I’m swamped today and can’t reschedule this for later. On second thought.Chapter Eleven Leighton folded the brochure she’d been reading and replaced it in the receptacle. With that handsome stud of a man.
” Alexis admired her expertly painted fingernails.” “Yes. And. Myron is gifted.” “Myron is ecstatic of the outcome also. I want to believe Charlie is being faithful to me. normally such would bother me. “Why is he still in Canada? I would be leery of my man being gone for weeks and in a place his ex-fiancée resides. but she pulled through. besides. I don’t want to be the trustless person I used to be. “I suppose you’re right. and they kinda owe you for getting Myron to help them. I hate Charlie will miss the opening next week.Leighton blushed from the mere thought of Charlie touching her. blackmail has a way of rebounding against the one perpetrating the fraud.” “Well. I’m to a point where I’m functioning as a normal woman.” Alexis sat in the chair crossing her legs. .” Leighton’s eyes grew to the size of small saucers.” “I would trust him but not his former wench or his mother. Almost five months had gone by since they’d met. I’m surprised she hasn’t tired blackmailing you. but my therapist said not to dwell on him being gone and to trust him. with what? The skeletons in my closet aren’t worth blackmailing me with. Charlie’s been overwhelmed lately. “Alexis. Alexis.” Leighton wanted to shake the stupid from Alexis for the comment. He’s dedicated a lot of hours perfecting the menu and choosing the alcohol to stock the bar. “Alexis. the memories of her experiences were finally fading into the abyss beyond her memory bank. “Maybe one day. don’t mess with my head. He’s indebted to Myron for saving Shannon but sensing guilt for arguing with her. He did not like the odds stacked against the woman.
to be on the safe side looked around for an object nearby to hurl full speed at his head. “Look who decided to come to work. Leighton. Finally.“Girl. where you been the last couple of days? Is business so good you can sit at home and enjoy soap operas now. Dennis caught her before she got inside. The meeting at the adoption agency held longer than expected and by the time she arrived to work everyone had gone home for the day. she would address the issue at her next therapy session. calling your name somewhere?” . Leighton put her arm around the both of them. Dennis. make sure you do all the talking.” she grinned. “This is what you strived for. getting the door open. Stop listening to me ramble utter nonsense. pretty boy hasn’t been around here either. And. you turned the page of that book a long time ago.” Myron entered the room as the receptionist called them. She fumbled with finding the right key after Charlie installed new locks. “Isn’t here a pork chop or two. the area around her service door had been cleaned and stripped her of the pleasure of disabling him. Myron. I’m only talking to keep my nerves from jumping out my throat. You get your child after this last meeting. ******** Leighton hurried to the service door. She had plenty of her own work to keep her busy for hours and the quietness would keep her attention centered on the work and not chitchatting with her staff. Whenever she thought about Dennis it always came with her doing bodily harm to him.” “Screw you. Fortunate for Dennis.” “Come to think of it. Did he leave you too? Is that why you are working again?” She bit her bottom lip to keep from cursing.
“We are back to the fat jokes again. But, since you are bringing up food, your sous-chef won’t be making your opening next week.” She leaned against the door crossing her arms. “Why won’t he be here, Dennis? What did do?” “Let’s just say I made him a proposition he couldn’t refuse; he’ll now be working for me.” With baited breath, she counted to sustain the urge of stabbing him in the eyes with her keys. Charlie grabbed hold of her wrist. “Don’t, baby. As good as it would feel to laugh as his eyes rolled on the ground like loose dice, don’t gouge him.” Her breathing returned to normal. “I’m going in the restaurant, and let you handle him.” “Yes, let me handle him,” he said kissing her on the cheek. “It’s obvious Dennis didn’t take me seriously after our last unfriendly encounter.” Dennis’ deep laugh directed their attention to him once again. “Your white knight arrived in the nick of time, Leighton. Well, at least you have a cook on opening night to serve the three people who might show up to test your menu.” Charlie’s stare was hard, but he didn’t respond to Dennis’ bullying. The violence his sister suffered at the hands of a hot-head was too fresh, and if he surged on Dennis, he would be the one paying the price. “Since neither one of you had been around lately, you missed all the news. My new restaurant opens on the same night you unveil your luscious dinner hour; funny huh? Don’t worry, I’ll send the less desirable customers your way.” His laughter rang in their ears as he walked away.
Leighton stormed into the restaurant, slamming her briefcase and purse on the stainless steel counter. “Unbelievable! You should let me gouge his eyes, Charlie. The jury would grant me the insanity plea.” He gathered her in his arms. “Honey, listen to me. We’ll survive. Dennis has been plotting for this day. We can’t give him the satisfaction of winning.” “Charlie, I told you about his following of strong celebrities. He’ll crush us for sure.” “So he can drop a few names. Baby, celebrities are wishy-washy; they move on to the next best thing in the blink of an eye.” Leighton looked momentarily gloomy then smiled. “Hey! Stop the presses! Why didn’t you call to say you were coming home?” “Wow, you said ‘home.’ This is home now. Shannon is doing her rehab and mom’s taken over as usual. I’m needed here, Leighton. You didn’t think I would leave you short-handed on such a big night.” “It won’t take much to serve a couple of people,” she huffed. “Forget Dennis. We’re not trying to cater to celebrities anyhow. We want the average family to come and enjoy a meal and not mortgage the house to pay for their meal.” She opened her mouth and then shut it after reneging on what she wanted to say. “Absolutely; we want normal hardworking people to eat here.” “We can pack the house for opening night. I’ll make some calls. You can call a few personal associates you formerly dealt with. spread the word.” Heck, call Alexis and tell her to
“Do you think that will work?” “It might only work for one night, but its’ guaranteed to cut into Dennis’ profit for the night. Who knows what will happen after that; the sky is the limit, baby. Together, we can bring this place up to par with the best of them.” She hunched her shoulders. “I won’t argue with my general manager. If he says we can do this, then I trust we can.” “General Manager? How long have I been gone?” She leaped into his arms, catching him off guard. “Silly, you’re the general manager.” “Leighton, are you serious about this; what will Malcolm say?” “Not a dang word. This is my decision. Charlie, this is your dream. I did what I had to do because it was dropped in my lap. I’ve never wanted to be in the restaurant business. Quite honestly, you’ve made this place a success.” He sat her down gently. “No. I won’t take full credit for this. All of us worked our butts off to get a steady stream of customers.” Her hands roamed over his chest as she flirted with him. The brush of her lips across his chin warmed her. “Are we going to discuss business or get reacquainted intimately?” “What should I be reacquainting myself with?” He asked, tracing her full lips with the tip of his tongue. She placed one of his hands on the swell of her breasts. “The girls missed you. Why don’t we start here, and you can decide where you want to reacquaint yourself next.”
He immersed himself in a kiss only to break away to whisper in her ear. “This is the first you ever came onto me. I’m the one that usually gets the party started.” “Let’s go home. We haven’t partied in a while, and I’m ready to dance with the man I love.” “You mean your place?” “I mean home, Charlie. I want you to move in with me.” “Damn woman; what other surprises are you hiding on you?” After another long kiss to his lips, she said, “You need to take me home to find out.” “Your chariot awaits my queen.” ******** The opening night arrived with Leighton scrambling to dress. She didn’t want to go formal, but Dennis planned a whole media platform to cover his opening. She went against better judgment and let Charlie convince her to do the formal opening but agreed to keep the doors open to the public. Charlie moved her from in front of the mirror to fix his bowtie. “Why did I suggest this? I hate wearing a tux.” “Sweetie, you are exceptionally handsome. How do I look?” He whistled. The white sequence mini dress fit her form like a glove. Alexis chose the dress and accessories for the special night. “I’m going to stick close to you. Can we skip this shindig and make our own grand opening right here?” ‘No, people are waiting to be greeted by us. Are you ready?”
“Nate?” “Yeah! I ain’t agree to wear this monkey suit. “About ‘dat. Leighton blinked. Leighton felt faint from the shock of the standing room only crowd. The people that returned my calls said they couldn’t make it.” He squeezed her hand. I knew this wouldn’t work. He came to congratulate Leighton after breaking away from . you and Charlie need to come take a look. Charlie parked in the alley and Nate met them at the door.” he said slipping an item from the drawer into his jacket pocket. Malcolm and a dozen of his teammates towered above the average height of the people in the restaurant. If there isn’t a crowd as we wanted.“As ready as I will ever be.” “Tear them up out of respect for Leslie. but I gotta few numbers walkin’ over tonight. “Oh my God!” Escaped quietly from her lips. How many people are filling the dining room?” He scratched the back of his neck. Now put on a pretty smile and let’s greet our guests. Not one table or stool was available in the restaurant. “You’re letting the negativity flow too early. “Charlie. ******** Police and private security directed traffic on the street housing the restaurants battling for available parking spaces. Both imagined all the hubbub was for Dennis and next to nothing for them.” Instantly her blood ran on the cool side.” Nate parted the doors leading to the dining room. we will cater to those that are here.
our baby’s grown up. Oh and clear a spot upfront somewhere. my therapist is no longer on speed dial.” Evodio and Adele shimmered through the crowd of people. He’s the man that made this all worthwhile. She steadied her footing after the initial shock wore off. You’ve always been my biggest supporter. “I’m testifying I’m happy. see if he will be able to squeeze a place for the band to setup.” “Malcolm! I didn’t even consider a band! Nate is talking with people by the fish tank. “Laylay.” “Adele. “I’ll find you all a table away from everyone.” . I bought a few of my friends to enjoy the evening.” “Don’t.” Not wanting to shed tears and ruin her makeup she hugged them. Charlie and I are going to give a small toast to announce the restaurant is now full-service and then we can eat and mingle. and now I’m yours. Charlie must be doing everything right. I want you to meet Charlie. Adele: I’m glad you could make it. But enough about my mental state of mind. Think you can accommodate us?” The shortness of the dress caused her to tug at the hem.” Evodio said. Adele. “Leighton you’re radiating. “We would not miss this.” Adele praised.” “Cool beans. healthy and in love and. Leighton. I have a band coming to perform. “Evodio. We want to be treated like normal customers.the media swarming around them. “I missed you both so much.” he said wiping a fake tear from under his eye. Evodio.
As the loud applauding filtered his ears. he snapped from his daze to say. What do I say or how do I react to such a honor. but I want to do my toast first if that’s okay with you. you don’t say anything. The jitters started the moment she stepped to the microphone. let’s get this show on the road. . “I’ve made some internal changes to match the new face of the restaurant. Locating her ring finger he slipped the ring on saying. the old name of the restaurant no longer fit.” She pulled the tasseled rope connected to the backdrop over the bar and yanked hard. Charlie nudged her. I never dreamt I could trust a man after what I’ve dealt with. She pulled him by her side.. This is the only way I could thank you for delivering me from a lonely existence of a life. He took her hand. Desireé.” “Okay.” Charlie inserted his hand into his jacket pocket to pull the item he’d pocketed earlier. She closed her toast.Charlie and Leighton took center stage to address the large crowd of people.” “Charlie. but look at me now. Quickly she diverted her attention away from him. “Come on. Since we are now open for dinner. “Again. A family restaurant where you can enjoy a meal prepared especially for you by Charlie. turning to Charlie. Leighton spotted Myron and Alexis and their son 4-year old daughter. He lowered himself to one knee opening the box to reveal an 8-carat princesscut diamond. welcome….” Expressionless. “Welcome to CHARLIE’S. “Ladies and gentlemen. Charlie stood jaw-dropped silent.” He bowed.” “The stage is all yours. you managed to render me speechless. Further embedded in the large crowd was Martin.” Leighton went on to thank her employers and the community for standing by her and for the continuous support.
“Leighton. I don’t think she holds any grudges against you having him.” Evodio shrugged his shoulders and with a simper’s smile held his glass up to the happy couple being toasted. I might not be over her. if you’ll give me the pleasure of becoming your husband?” Emotions pushed the gates open to let her tears flow. “I came tonight with intentions on getting Leighton to forgive me.” “Martin.“It would be my honor to continue to bring smiles to your beautiful lips. I ask you in front of all our friends. “And.” Martin followed Leighton into the kitchen. “This is not about you for once. and I’m happy for her. Leighton’s definitely moved on. Leighton Hall. family and the community joined with us on this special night. “Yes! Yes. Martin took the slow saunter closer to Evodio. . You blew the opportunity to be with her by holding onto your little black book and using it one time too often. Her possibly committing to another man would not digest. either. that bridge’s been crossed and closed.” “I don’t regret the birth of my son. from what I’m witnessing. to serve you breakfast in bed every morning and never let you feel you aren’t loved.” “What about me? I’d forgotten how beautiful and resourceful she is. He’d been waiting for the moment to get her alone. I would love to be your wife!” She excitedly said sealing the proposal with a passionate kiss. Evodio.” Evodio eyed the man once a close friend of his.” he said softly coming up behind her.
You were playing me for a fool. close friends are not how I perceive us.” “Let me walk from your life? Martin. “I should explain for my own integrity.” Face to face with the man she dated for almost a year did not cause any sleeping stirs to wake. Did you honestly think I would stick around after what happened?” “You never gave me the opportunity to give my side of the story. “Funny fact. Are you marrying him to spite me. I want us to get back together. I let our relationship lapse.” “OK.” she said brushing his hand away. I was a fool to let you walk from my life. I’m engaged. Leighton?” . but I still think of you as a close friend. I’m listening. Leighton.She jumped. Evodio told me to let it go. I ran from your life. I think about you all the time.” She braced her hands on the cold steel of the counter.” She squint her eyes meanly. but I couldn’t let you commit to another man without asking. almost dropping the glasses in her hand. I love my son.” He traced a finger up her bare arm. Martin!” “We were going to get married. “I do. Leighton. “I’m surprised you came with Evodio. You got gall to stand here and let bull dribble fall from your mouth. Go ahead.” “A little too late and not necessary now. “Martin. Martin. Due to circumstances you’re aware of. Leighton. but I also love you.” “This outta be good. “You should listen to Evodio more. We might not be together any longer. make peace with yourself.” “I’m upset you didn’t invite me.
He slunk in her direction and to her side.” “I gave it a shot. “You too. He stayed hidden by the door overhearing the endearing conversation between the former couple. Charlie finished the kitchen as Malcolm entered.“What parallel world are you living? But. Martin. and I can’t wait to marry him and bear his children. get over here. meet the love of my life Charlie Andrews. I gotta get going. Can I get a departing hug?” “What the heck. Your deceit led me to Charlie.” Leighton demanded. I wish you the best. “Take care of yourself. Leighton and Charlie stayed behind to help with the cleanup and to lock up after Leslie carted of an intoxicated Nate home. I promised a friend I would drop through since I was in Chicago for the weekend. “Welcome. Martin. one hug won’t kill me.” ******** The birds were chirping outside by the time the crews finished cleaning the restaurant.” Leighton wrapped her arms around Charlie’s waist. “Nice party.” Martin slapped in a handshake. “Charlie. I love a wonderful man.” He tapped the surface of the door. I should be thanking you for deceiving me. He dropped his head.” Charlie grinned holding his hand out. disappointed.” Their embrace did not go unnoticed by Charlie partially entering the kitchen. Leighton. Congratulations. . “Martin. Well.
who would propose to a woman in front of hundreds of people. Malcolm. including myself. He couldn’t believe the two were related.” “For your sake.” He shifted in his seat. Imagine how awkward it would’ve been if she’d said no. startling him from a daydream. Leighton invited your parents. please don’t doubt my love for your sister. He grabbed a kitchen towel to dry his hands. what Charlie?” “Could their absence be because of me? Do you think Ms. because I don’t know many men. Hattie got to them and put a bad impression of me in their head?” . “But.” His shoulders slumped under the weight of Malcolm’s hand. can I ask you a personal question?” “Depends on how personal and if I can answer it. Malcolm.” “Ok. “Hey man. reflecting on the proposal he rehearsed many times in his head. “Um. I didn’t get to congratulate you earlier.Malcolm placed a large hand on Charlie’s shoulder.” He sipped the hot brew slowly. “Ya caught me in a daydream about her. I do believe you love my sister. “My plan was to do it with everyone around to hear first-hand. Leighton was small and of average height while Malcolm was exceedingly tall. I’m glad she accepted. To level the height difference he offered Malcolm a cup of coffee and a chair.” Charlie beamed. “I thank God for pushing my prayer up to the top of his list.” “Charlie. I understand how busy doctors are and can’t get away for last minute invites but—“ Malcolm interrupted. we’ll be cool if you don’t give me any reasons to doubt. and they didn’t come tonight.
” “Don’t worry. then the answer is no. Charlie. My mother and I don’t see eye-to-eye on many issues. “Her name is Maggie and my parents aren’t quick to judge a book by its cover.” “I sensed a little hesitation at the end. but none of them will come out of fear of crossing Queen Norma.” Charlie balled his hands together. You might not be their choice for Leighton. “Once Leighton calls mom with the news. I’m kind of objective to being stoned to death in this day and age.” “Hmm.” “You don’t have to worry. she won’t be subjected to any mistreatment. but that is her way of showing love. What problems might arise?” “I didn’t hesitate. namely me. stretching his long legs before him.” “Dang Charlie.” “What about your family. and I’m not going to bite my tongue.Malcolm chuckled. the others scramble to stay on her good side. When she’s mad at one of us.” “Dude. If you’re asking me if you being white is an issue. that’s why I left Canada. She can be a tad overbearing. smothering. “My family isn’t prejudiced towards anyone. you’ll be accepted into the family without judgment being cast upon you. and intrusive.” . but if she’s happy. looking from Malcolm’s direction. How will my sister be treated by them? I won’t have her mistreated by anyone. I’ll do the right thing and invite my family to the wedding.” Malcolm said reaching over to slap Charlie lightly on the shoulder. then they’ll be happy for her. that doesn’t answer my question about Leighton.” “That’s good. you’re the black sheep of the family.
saying. um.” “I’m all for whatever she wants to do. that’s righteous and all but don’t forget to let her do her. “What happened to Dennis. waiving her hand for them to follow her. The police think it might be a heart attack or something. you gotta see this. but I though you want to know what happened.” Leighton nodded. “The police and EMS are all over the back alley.” “I found him this morning on the floor in the kitchen. would you consider being my best man—well one of them. She took in a deep breath.” Both men spontaneously shot a look to Leighton. Leighton. She lets me be me. saying. His opening night had ended long before theirs.” she panted. “This might be kinda early since we haven’t set a date.” Charlie refilled their coffee. My new family starts with Leighton now. The three took notice of EMS struggling to haul Dennis into the back of the ambulance. I’m going to ask Nate to serve as the best man also.” “Bro. will want go back to the financial world once her pride has healed. Come on. Daniel. I truly love her. but. Malcolm. With all his bragging about the people he knew.” Malcolm snatched Charlie from the chair and into a brotherly bear hug. “What? I was nowhere near Dennis’ restaurant this morning—I swear on my engagement ring!” . her face paled as she tried to catch her breath to talk.“Ya got that right. only a handful showed up for his event. “Heck yeah! I’d be honored to be your best man. the former sous-chef for Leighton came over to where they were standing. Daniel.” Leighton ran through the kitchen. “I know I’m the last person y’all probably want to see.
too. She wore jewelry but not many rings. “I gotta call the wife and let her know we will eat tomorrow. “I warned him.” “It won’t happen again. I won’t be so nice and let you return.” “Nah.” Charlie raised his eyebrow. he set out to destroy you and here you stand.” “Yep. They police pushed me outta the kitchen. his dirt would come back to haunt him. I don’t believe so. Once Charlie slipped it on her finger. “You’re just a big softie. Daniel. and there he goes.” Leighton played with the shiny object residing on her finger. that’s not greed.” Malcolm snorted as he went back inside the restaurant.” “You would have given him the job back.” he said rushing to his car. but she was willing to put up with the mild discomfort until she got used to it being there. I’ll catch y’all at the house later. “Anyhow. she swore never to take it off ever. “I won’t be shedding any tears over his fat behind. “He really makes you call him that? Anyway. Daniel—that’s survival. I got greedy. thank you both. after all. baby.” “Daniel pleaded with his former employers. The large diamond weighed her finger. I’ll reinstate your job with a ten-percent pay increase to reflect the new hours.” .“I believe you.” Leighton winked. I got five kids and my wife’s not working.” said Charlie as he rubbed her arm. If this happens again. I know I hurt my chances of working at your place again. Chef Dennis dangled money in front of me. is he you know……dead.
“You remembered that?” His fingers lifted her chin. “I don’t mind one bit.” “I’m enjoying the sounds of these pet names. “Its’ been about five hours since you last said it. . Our first dance should be a waltz or a tango.” She groaned.” He counted on his fingers.” “What did I get myself into?” She giggled. no ruffled shirts and no bright colored tuxedos. Charlie. “I remember everything about that night. but I’m diverting. but I like to make them sweat.” “What would those be. “Baby you can do whatever you want on your day. You don’t mind do you. She found her voice after a long pause. my love. You said you might want to try ballroom dancing. Will there be anything else while I’m making a list.” “Yes. She hurried to pull the dress over her butt before giving a peep show to the police in the alley.” He kissed her softly. For starters. he joked. I will cross off the red tuxedos and shoes I had in mind. and I want to cuddle next to you for a nap before we’re elbow-deep in hectic wedding planning.“Maybe. I thought you should know I asked your brother to be my best man. My only two requests are simple.” He lifted her over his shoulder to carry her into the restaurant. do we agree?” “Since you insist. have I told you lately I loved you?” He pushed the sleeve of his shirt from his wrist to check his watch. Can we go home now? My feet are hurting. “Me take woman home to rub feet and give good loving to. so you’re good until noon. In a caveman-type manner.
this is unconventional. the music pumped loudly over the kids screaming. Desireé would serve as flower girl and Leslie’s son. Seated in the noisy skating rink. The ice didn’t break until the four had dinner together and Charlie convinced Leighton’s parents of his true love for her and nothing outside of that. Charlie was not horrified or scared-off by Leighton’s disclosure of the digging her father was doing. Nonetheless. Carmella. Once the shock wore off. Three months had passed since the grand proposal. however.” . Dyson. Mason’s reluctance to believe his daughter would marry a man she’d only known for a year made Charlie seem suspicious to him. the ring bearer. Mason would have a full background check done on him before they were to meet for breakfast the following morning. yelling to Alexis. Alexis and Leslie to serve as bridesmaids. Leighton asked Adele. Victoria Hall was ecstatic she would finally get her opportunity to plan an elaborate wedding and outshine Agatha Thorn for once. He was right. “The kids wanted to be part of your wedding celebration. Leighton plugged one ear with her finger. He told her not to worry. she knew better. she would be married to Charles Andrews and beginning a new chapter in her life with him. “I can’t believe I let you talk me into doing this!” Alexis yelled back. Leighton wanted to believe her father would be easily drawn by Charlie’s charm. and the younger relatives are having a fabulous time. The initial meeting was tense. her father found nothing to thwart the upcoming nuptials and offered to pay for the entire wedding and honeymoon for his only daughter. Besides. he had nothing to hide.Epilogue Leighton and Charlie drove to Ohio to meet with her parents and share their good news. Alexis’s daughter. In three days. We couldn’t take them to a supper club and expect them to behave like angles.
” Charlie skated over to her with his hand outstretched.” Adele had already rid of her skates handing them to her. “I’d forgotten how much fun it is to roller skate. Adele.” “OK. Drinks will be on me all night. “Shall we take a stroll around the rink?” “Are you going to show out on me?” She asked. girl.” “You know I got you. “I don’t have skates on because I have never roller skated. “Leighton.” Adele and Leslie skated over to where they were sitting with two tired children in tow. If I break a bone I’m coming after both of you with my cane. “They are having a ball. “He said he would be here with Nate later. use mine. use this to your advantage. I could get hurt and put a damper on our wedding night. She sat straight to scan the room. Which one of you will push me down the aisle?” Adele leaned in to whisper.” she said slipping into the heavy skates and lacing them tightly.” “I won’t be faking. you owe me tonight when the actual bachelorette party takes place. “Charlie is here looking for you. folding her arms across her lap.” Leighton sat sandwiched between Alexis and Carmella. you two want me crippled on my wedding day. Fake it.” he grinned. “The poor children are tuckered out. “Here.” Adele said.” Carmella said pointing in his direction. “Of course not. that way he’ll hold you close so you don’t fall. revealing prefect teeth. .Leighton rolled her eyes playfully. However.
The kids buzzing past made her feel old. she couldn’t get her footing together to stand up. Not everyone can be roller derby skaters. mumbling how she’d wished she hadn’t whittled away her childhood locked in her room. She released the railing to give them a one-finger salute and lost her footing and fell. “Thanks for the help.” . “Be right back.” she yelled after him. her so-called best girlfriends pointed and laughed at her.” She replied with a funny comment. and the older couples gliding gracefully by made her feel clumsy. “You’re on skate patrol. “I kinda keep an eye on the skaters to make sure no one gets hurt.” he said taking her by the waist and hoisting her off the floor.” “Don’t worry about it.” “Charlie. let me help you. I’m Derek. she waited on Charlie to return.Charlie raised a finger to speak. “Yeah. Firmly hanging onto the railing Leighton swept strands of loose hair from her face.” he said extending his hand. instead of playing outdoors with other kids. Safely tucked away from the other skaters. Across the rink. I have a request for the DJ. A man wearing a uniform sporting the name of the skating rink stopped to help her.” “Here. request he play a slow moving song. “Are you okay?” Embarrassed by her klutziness. Leighton clung to the railing circling the rink waiting for him to return. I’m a little rusty on the skates. I totally embarrassed myself in front of a bunch of kids and senior citizens. She scooted out of the way of fast traffic.
” She took a deep breath and looked down at her knee. her hands made contact with the hardness of his broad chest. Almost slipping she missed falling to the floor by grabbing the front of his shirt. or if you prefer. You have to take that break with me. He was a well-built man and a tad younger than her.” . you’re an intern where my parents were doctors at one time. “I’m Leighton. she released the railing prematurely. Leighton. “Sorry about that. dark brown and had full lips.” “I can’t because I’m the reason for this party. His eyes were a piercing. What a small world. Oh and the people you are patrolling are sorta my relatives and friends. and his words articulate.” “Fate has intervened. a more adult beverage. I would love to buy you a soda. and my fiancé is here. I didn’t catch your name or are you withholding information from the skate police. I’m getting married in a few days. thanks for the offer but I can’t. I’m an intern at Northwestern.” “So you’re a part of the wedding party here today. Rubbing her injury through her jeans.“Pretty much. His medium-dark colored skin was smooth. she said. The only facial hair was a well-groomed goatee. “Derek. Leighton drew her hand away to take hold of the railing again. we have something in common. She swallowed hard.” “I’m not a pervert. deep voice was sexy. His rich. I’m going on break in a few minutes. I would love to hear about your parents work in the medical field. It was stinging from the fall.” Without thinking. It might make you more comfortable to know I’m only helping my uncle who owns the place.” She caught sight of him for the first time.
“Where is the fool that would leave his beautiful bride-to-be unattended?” A wave of jealousy ran through Charlie as he overheard Leighton and the stranger talking. “I’m right here,” he said skating next to Leighton and slipping an arm around her waist. Derek skimmed his eyes over Charlie; he was not expecting her to be with him. “My bad, man. Your lovely fiancée had a little trouble standing on her skates.” He went on to explain. “You did your job now move along. I’m sure there are other people waiting for your help,” he said rather rudely. Derek refrained from getting into an argument with Charlie. Smiling at
Leighton, he took her hand and simply said, “It was pleasant to meet you and good luck with your marriage to him.” Leighton eradicated her hand and replied, “Yes, likewise.” She twisted around to face Charlie and frowned. “What the heck was that?” “I admit what I said was mean. I got jealous when I imagined him with you.” “Why on earth did you get jealous over that? If you hadn’t noticed, I hit the floor and skinned up my freaking knee.” “Baby, he wanted more than to bandage your knee.” “I recognized he was flirting! I’m not interested in other men, Charlie, or I wouldn’t be marrying you.” “For a moment I let my insecurity show. You can’t deny he fits the criteria of which some want you to be with.” She nodded. “Are any of those people here. I’m with the man I want to be with.”
“Saturday can’t get here quick enough,” he said kissing her. She wiggled from his grip. “Let go of me—I'm a little mad with you.” “You sure you want me to let go of you?” He teased by releasing her just a tad for her to scramble to hold onto him. “Well, get me back to my seat then I’ll be mad.”
Leighton paced the bridal chamber of the church. It was a beautiful October day, but she jacked up the air conditioning to stop the sweating. Her stomach had been on high-alert for the last two days, and now a headache was creeping in. She admired the wedding dress hanging on the back of the door and fingered the intricate lace pattern. The off-the shoulder figure fitting, floor-length pristine white gown, had genuine pearl buttons to secure the dress together. Small crystals studded throughout the train glittered when the sun bounced off them. The dress was simple but elegant, and Adele’s rigorous work-out regime ensured the dress would fit properly come the monumental day. Alexis hurried in the room closing the door. “What a freaking mad-house! Your mother is barking orders like a drill sergeant!” Leighton answered by dabbing her face with a tissue. “She is driving me nuts, Alexis. My stomach is ready to explode any minute.” “Calm down. She was yelling at the wedding planner and not coming in this direction; she should be busy for a while.” “I wanted a simple wedding and what do I get—an elegant circus. Alexis, how did you withstand all of this when you got married?” “It was easy for me; I like the limelight. Girl, relax, it will be over in a couple of hours, and you’ll agree it was worth every gray hair.” “I’m not you. People won’t be coming to my wedding for the elegance but to wonder what man was stupid enough to marry me.” Alexis placed her hand on her hip. “Why are you putting yourself down today, of all days? Leighton, you deserve all this. Let your mom flourish all she wants.
Charlie will be amazed when the doors of the church open and you’re walking down the aisle with your father. All those people sitting in the pews will be a blur because you won’t notice them.” She hugged her. “Alexis, you have been a gigantic help to me. I don’t know what I’ve would have done without you.” “I’m sure some babysitting duties can be worked out as repayment,” she giggled. “Time to get you in your dress.” “Adele and Carmella aren’t here yet, and Leslie called to say she was on her way upstairs. Shouldn’t I wait for them?” “I’m sticking to your mom’s schedule. When she starts cracking that whip, I am not going to be on the receiving end. Come on, drop the robe and get dressed.” ******** Charlie took a sip from Nate’s flask; the strong liquor burned hitting his empty stomach. His nerves had him checking his reflection more than once in the mirror. He combed his hair then adjusted his tie for the last time. In less than an hour, he would be a married man. His days of jetting on a moment’s notice were over; he would have a wife and responsibilities to keep him grounded. Malcolm entered the room to check on the groom. “Hey brother-in-law you’re looking pretty sharp.” “So are you. Malcolm, again I want to thank you and Nate. You both went above the call of duty to help me.” “Hey don’t get sappy on me. You’re family now, and if you need me, just call.”
man. none of mine bothered to show. Malcolm? On the biggest day of my life. and she was all that mattered to him from this day forward. The ushers and groomsmen dressed in traditional black tuxedos with dusty rose-colored cummerbunds and boutonnieres. “Yo man. Charlie surveyed the hoard of people jammed inside. When she puts her foot down and forces the law.” The door swung open to the wedding coordinator’s assistant informing them the time had arrived for them to go into the church. he had Leighton. but you bought her back to us.” “That sucks. Charlie stood up. My mother is running around shouting. and my dad is sweating bullets. Nate leaned over to him as the string quartet began to play softly. is your feet cold yet?” “They are frozen.” Entering the vestibule of the church. He didn’t need them.” “My mother is the dominate force no one contests. Leighton drifted away from us for years. Well? What am I waiting for? I’m ready to get married. Nate.He sat in the chair opposite of Malcolm. The setting was beautifully decorated in the colors chosen by him and Leighton. but I’m looking forward to warming them later tonight. I don’t understand why your parents don’t want to experience those thrills with you. “What is family. I extended the invitation. A wedding is a way to bring people together. I did my part. Anyhow. and they answered by not answering. We owe you. Are you getting any ideas on popping the question to Leslie?” .” “You got a family who cares about you now. The dusty rose and white theme was elegant. Charlie. they obey. Charlie took his place on the alter sending the disappointment his family hadn’t bothered to show to the back of his mind.
The anticipation of seeing the woman he loved. including Shannon filtered in to take any seat left available. Charlie let out a sigh of relief thinking the short alarm had passed over.“Shut yo’ mouth. Mom. I’m sorry I have been so difficult all these years. only he was wrong. His whole family.” He returned her hug. Sweat beaded across Charlie’s forehead. The ceremony began with the wedding party entering the church. He was determined not to shed a tear. Charlie panicked with worry. The doors closed before Leighton and her father appeared. The doors opened and through them came the Andrews’ clan. With every eye on them. The minister raised his hand for the doors to be opened. The wedding planner rushed to the front pew to whisper to Victoria. we’ll talk more after the ceremony. man! Women get that exceptional hearing when they at a wedding. “Of course. It’s obvious you love this woman very much. Charlie could not make out what they were saying and neither could Malcolm. Charlie choked his emotions. who’d left his post to join her. his bride walk down the aisle had his heart beating double. and there must be a glitch somewhere else.” Nate said stepping back in line. Victoria motioned for the minister. Had Leighton changed her mind and left him standing at the Alter? Malcolm and Nate reassured him that was not Leighton’s style. during their exchange of glances. may we share your day with you and Leighton. Instead of returning to the Alter he stood at the center of the rows of pews. Overwhelmed. she hugged her son.” ******** . especially in front of Nate. Charlie. His mother strolled to where he stood.
The exchange of vows went smoothly with no interruptions. no longer fought the tears to escape when she saw Charlie. If Charlie loves you. Alexis stayed on top of her matron of honor duties with Kleenex so Leighton would not ruin her makeup. “Dad. Mrs.” ******** The ceremony continued with Charlie breaking his promise.” The wedding planner came in to give the thumbs up. he will wait for you. Roake smiled as she listened to Leighton recite her vows with resonance. Andrews and Charlie could kiss his bride. Victoria and Mason cuddled together proudly watching their daughter become the woman they’d knew she would be. . Dr. I have never been ready for anything more in my life. and Mrs.Oblivious to the events going on inside of the Church. I’ll work darn hard to make sure this will be the only wedding you will have to pay for. “We are being summoned. Andrews. Once the minister announced they were Mr. The tears fell from Charlie’s eyes as he accepted Leighton’s hand from her father.” “I appreciate that. let’s get me married.” “Leighton fixed her veil.” he said coming up for a breath. She attended the wedding with the hope someone would scream into Leighton’s head the mistake she’d be making by marrying a white man.” “Dad. darling. Charlie sealed their union with a kiss to draw loud applause from the guests and made the children cover their eyes. Leighton and her father waited for their cue. She too. Her father squeezed her hand. She looked breathtaking in the wedding gown she managed to hide from him for months. Maggie hunched in her seat. “Sweetheart. “I love you. I love Charlie and can’t wait to marry him. When such didn’t happen she left before the nuptials ended. Ms. I would understand if you want to wait.
baby.” . Charlie. “Just continue to let me be the one to serve you.“I’m so happy. I promise you’ll never regret it as long as you live. I never thought this kind of happiness would be possible for me…I love you.” He thumbed the tears from her eyes.
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