Butterfly Memoirs FANS ONLY!!!!
Since M.J.'s fans love to keep up on what's happening with friends previously mentioned in the Butterfly Memoirs, she wrote Crossroads, a Butterfly Memoir.
Crossroads is only available here and at M.J.'s sites and newsletters.
WARNING: Crossroads includes spoilers from the first three books. If you're not caught up, head back to M.J.'s page and complete your collection
Since M.J.'s fans love to keep up on what's happening with friends previously mentioned in the Butterfly Memoirs, she wrote Crossroads, a Butterfly Memoir.
Crossroads is only available here and at M.J.'s sites and newsletters.
WARNING: Crossroads includes spoilers from the first three books. If you're not caught up, head back to M.J.'s page and complete your collection
When Ebony gets an offer to further her career at Zoo Atlanta, she can’t say no. But the chance to put her Doctor of Veterinarian Medicine degree to good use means leaving her husband for two months. While they are no strangers to lengthy separations, being a married couple changes things…
Trevon, Ebony’s twin brother, is happy to have his sister in town. But Trevon has his own issues. When a night hanging out with his boys turns into him sitting at a bar drinking alone, it doesn’t take much for an exotic woman to captivate him. A night of hot sex turns into an obsession that is quickly extinguished when he finds out the truth of who she really is.
When past and present decisions leave twin siblings, Ebony and Trevon, standing at crossroads in their lives, what direction will they choose?
Copyright© 2019 by M.J. Kane
This is a fictional work. All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are solely the concepts and products of the author’s imagination or are used to create a fictitious story and should not be construed as real. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form by any means, without the prior permission in writing, except in the case of brief quotations, reviews, and articles.
For any other permission, please visit www.writtenmusings.com/contact for contact links.
“Brian? Hello, can you hear me?” I adjusted my hold on the phone, angling it so that I centered my face on the screen as I Facetimed my husband. The signal was weak.
“Ebony, baby, the phone keeps freezing.” My husband sounded as frustrated as I felt.
I walked away from the airport baggage carousel and approached the enormous glass windows, hoping for a better signal. “How about now?”
“That’s better. Don’t move. I’ve only got a few minutes.” In Brian’s background, sounds of various instruments in a state of chaotic warm-ups warred with his voice.
I glanced at my phone and calculated the time zone difference between Los Angeles and Atlanta. While it was nine p.m. here, it was six back home. Brian was getting ready to record.
“Have you called Trevon yet?” The background noise diminished, and his image bumped and swayed as he moved outside.
“No, I wanted to talk to you first. Besides, it’s not like my brother is picking me up. I have the directions on my phone, so it will be no problem getting to the hotel. It’s not far from here. I’ll be fine.”
Brian sighed. “I know, it’s just─”
I smiled. “I miss you, too.”
Brian blew out a breath and ran a hand through his loose blond curls. “I know… Don’t say worried.” He looked away from the screen as if someone had called his name. When his attention returned to me, disappointment was on his face. “Ebony, I’m sorry. I have to go. The band is ready to record. Be careful, okay? Watch your surroundings at all times, and text me the minute you get your rental car.”
“And when I get to the hotel, and when I’m in my room and the door is locked behind me… Funny, I don’t remember asking you to do this much when you were on the road for three months.”
Brian scowled. “That’s because I was traveling with a ton of people…on a tour bus. You’re alone in another state, and─”
I raised my eyebrows, cutting off his rant. “At least you left out female.”
Brian chuckled. “I was going to say, my wife.”
“Sure, you were.” I smiled, loving the way the word rolled off his tongue. Although we’d been married for more than a year, it was still hard to believe I was his wife.
“I never thought I would say this, but I’m jealous of your boss. He’s going to have you to himself for two months.”
My laugh was so loud I had to cover my mouth as people turned to see who was making the noise. “I’m sure my boss’s wife feels the same way. Maybe you guys can hook up there, while we hook up here. You can have your cougar fling while I enjoy my sugar daddy.”
Brian’s blue eyes lit up in amusement as he let loose a hearty laugh. “I love your crazy sense of humor.” He paused, then sighed. “Damn, they’re calling me. I gotta go, baby. Be careful. Text me and let me know what’s going on. I’ll reply when I can, and call if it’s not too late when we’re done.”
“I will. Don’t worry, Brian. I’m a big girl. I’ll be fine. I love you.” I pursed my lips and held them as close to the screen as I could without leaving lipstick behind.
Brian did the same, sans a lipstick concern. “I know. I love you, too.” He took one last long look at me before disconnecting the app.
Following his lead, I slid my phone into my purse and headed back to find my luggage.
“Trevon, can you hear me?” I pushed a button on the console of my rental car and heard a beep as the Bluetooth feature connected.
“I’m here. Where are you?” My twin brother’s voice filled the car.
It was embarrassing having to call my brother because I’d gotten lost. Driving on an unfamiliar highway at night and the fact a tractor-trailer caused me to miss my exit was frustrating. The GPS had recalculated my route, but I was wary of exiting the highway at any random point.
“I think I’m still on I-75. I was supposed to get off at I-20 East. Right now I’m looking at downtown Atlanta.” The lights on the bridge and the glow from the tall buildings lining the side of the highway illuminated the car. “I just passed a building that said GRADY. Was that a hospital?”
“Damn, Eb, you missed the exit. You should have let me pick you up at the airport.”
I cringed but had to agree.
“From the sound of it, you’re about five minutes from the exit to my condo. You passed the baseball stadium, right?”
“I think so. My hotel is supposed to be near there.” My grip on the steering wheel tightened as another eighteen-wheeler barreled past me.
“Okay, this is what you need to do. Get off at the next exit, and I’ll guide you through the side streets.”
Before long, I pulled into the parking lot of my hotel. After thanking my brother, we made plans to meet in the hotel lobby for breakfast. Dr. Tucker wouldn’t arrive until the following evening. Trevon and I would have an entire day to hang out before I had to start working.
Safe behind the locked door of my hotel room, I texted Brian but didn’t expect to hear from him until the wee hours of the morning. I took a shower, dug into my bag of snacks, then turned on the TV.
This was the first night away from my husband. I missed him…my home…our bed. And this would be my reality for the next two months.
Unable to relax, I gathered the pillows on the bed, piled them in the middle, and snuggled against one, imagining Brian’s arms were around me.
For the hundredth time, I hoped my decision to take this new job would be worth everything I’d left behind.
I was about to embark on another life-changing opportunity. One that after eight weeks of on-the-job training at Zoo Atlanta, would give me the experience and credentials needed to move to my new job at the San Diego Zoo. I was going to miss my old job and colleagues at the Los Angeles Zoo.
Unfortunately, the opportunity came with the sacrifice of having to leave home. Brian hadn’t been thrilled about the news, but he was supportive, as he said he would be.
Hopefully, my marriage would still be in tack when I returned.
My twin sister ran toward me and leaped, wrapping her arms around me in a fierce hug. “Baby brother!”
“Baby, yeah, right. Then why do you have to jump like Jordan to hug me, shorty?”
Ebony laughed and kissed my cheek. “Don’t be mad, Trevon. You know being born five minutes after me makes you the youngest.”
I lowered her then stepped back to appraise her. It had been a year since I’d last seen her face to face, without the aid of technology. Last time we’d been together was at her wedding in California. And now she’d found her way to Georgia.
She looked good. Healthy, happy, beautifully bronzed, and even new braids that made her look younger than her thirty years.
I pointed to her braids. “Nice natural facelift you got there.”
As expected, she rewarded my comment with a punch in the ribs. Just like old times.
“Don’t knock the hairdo. Unlike California, Atlanta is too humid. I don’t intend to have my hair looking like a frayed ball of twine.” She ran a hand over her head. “And the fact these tight braids pull on my skin a bit to give me a youthful look is just a great benefit.”
I chuckled. “What did my brother-in-law have to say about the new do?”
“Brian loved it. He said the style is exotic, made him feel like he was sleeping with another woman…from the islands.” She rolled her eyes. “Men are crazy.” She locked her arm in the crook of mine. “So, where are we going for brunch?”
I guided my sister out of the hotel lobby and into the parking lot. “Depends on what you’re in the mood for. Hotlanta’s got a bit of everything. I say we hit up an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet. We’ll get Chinese and soul food at the same time.”
Ebony gawked at me as if I’d said we were gonna eat at an alien bar like we used to pretend when we were kids, right after watching a Star Wars movie. “Are you serious?”
I nodded, then hit the key fob for my car. She stopped dead in her tracks and stared at my ride. I smiled with pride. My Dodge Charger was jet black with tinted windows and yellow rims that set off the yellow racing stripes on the hood and doors. The interior was even sexier, carrying the black and yellow theme with black seats and a yellow trimmed dashboard.
Her brows shot up as she walked around, taking the sports car in from all sides. “Um…compensating for something?”
“Hell, no. I’ve got a phone book full of women eager to attest to the fact that I don’t lack in any department.”
Ebony burst out laughing. “Damn, I was just kidding. You men are too sensitive when it comes to a woman questioning your manhood. Honestly, women don’t care so much about size. It’s the technique that matters most.”
I opened my mouth to reply, but she held up a finger that made me pause.
“My man ain’t lackin’ so don’t even go there.”
I threw my head back and howled. “So, how is old Mr. Ed anyway?” She rolled her eyes at the nickname I’d given my Caucasian brother-in-law. “I’m surprised he let you out of his sight. How long are you supposed to be here?”
I snuck a peek at her before pulling out of the parking lot. Though she appeared excited, I caught a brief glimpse of uncertainty. “Can y’all handle it? The time apart?”
She released a long breath. “It’s not the first time we’ve been apart, and it won’t be the last. At least it won’t be as long as it was when Brian spent three months with the band on tour. Besides, training in Atlanta is a requirement for my new position.” She dug her phone out of her purse, gliding her fingers quickly over the keyboard, no doubt letting her husband know that she was with me. “Brian understands my career is important to me.”
“I don’t understand. You’ve got a good job now. Why do you have to come here for a promotion?”
Ebony adjusted her seat belt. “It’s not really a promotion; it’s an opportunity.”
I glanced her way. “For?”
“For the past few years, I’ve worked with orangutans at the Los Angeles Zoo. I’ve made a name for myself. I’ve also made it clear that I want to work with different animals, large ones to be exact. The San Diego Zoo had an opening for a veterinarian in their panda habitat, so I applied and got the job. Now I’m going through training for the panda breeding program. Zoo Atlanta has a panda nearing her mating cycle, so we’re here to learn what we need to do with our pandas.”
“For two months.”
“Yes, for two months.”
“Y’all are better than me. I’d never be able to let my woman leave for that amount of time.”
Her phone vibrated, and she typed again before slipping it into her purse. “Maybe that’s why you’re single.”
I accelerated as we merged with highway traffic. The purr of the engine and kick of speed fueled my high. “I’m single by choice, Ebony.”
“Why? Because you're having a tough time finding the right woman? I could have sworn you were ready to settle down a few years ago.”
The right woman? More like trying to find a real woman, a woman who is caring and supportive, a woman who can put others before herself and isn’t materialistic. I want a woman who is beautiful and intelligent. Someone who can keep me engaged when our clothes are on, and fulfill my needs when they are off.
My ex-girlfriend Trina was smart and funny. We had the potential for our relationship to turn into a real commitment, but the minute she started talking about marriage, I freaked and screwed up. She retaliated and did the same. In the end, we parted ways. I hadn’t seen or heard from her in two years. It’s as if she dropped off the face of the earth.
Instead of dredging up all of that with my sister, I muttered, “Things change.”.
“You can say that again. So, enough about each other’s love life. You ready to be an uncle again?”
I whipped my head to the passenger side of the vehicle. “You’re pregnant?”
An expression of horror crossed her face. “Not me, LaShana. She’s on baby number two.”
“Our big sister is pregnant again? Good for her. I’m not ready for all of that yet.”
I was happy with my life, despite what had happened between Trina and me. For two years, we were together, and for two years, I’d been faithful. Since our breakup, I’d been enjoying the player status, while sitting back watching my friend Andre enjoy being a family man.
Andre and his wife, Sharice, had been married for over five years and were about to welcome their first child into the world. Well, her first, his second. The whole ex-girlfriend/baby-momma situation was too much for me. For years, the mother of his oldest child held it over Sharice’s head that while she may have married him, she’d given him his firstborn.
Caught between two equally strong women with claims to his heart and wallet, Andre somehow managed to stay sane.
If there was one thing I could be proud of as a man, it was the fact that while I’d been with many women over the years, never once had there been an issue of sexually transmitted diseases or baby momma blues.
Yet, I knew if I ever found Mrs. Right, I wanted it all, the entire package. Brick house, picket fence, 2.5 kids, and a dog.
Did I have a type? Not really. Why bother? Women changed their appearance so much it was like mixing and matching.
Big boobs or little ones? Small ass or fat ass? Short hair, waist-length extensions, or a wig? Eye color was just a matter of spinning the color wheel. And the style of dress? It was damn near impossible to tell if a woman was trying to look sexy or looking for a sugar daddy.
The only thing I knew for sure was if I ran into the woman meant for me, she’d knock me off my feet before I realized it.
Until then, I was a free agent.
“You and LaShana can keep Mom satisfied with babies and weddings. I’ll cross the marriage bridge when I have to. Right now, I’m having fun being single.”
Ebony laughed. “Mom’s been hinting that she’d like to see me and Brian pop out a grandchild soon.”
I cringed. “She knows not to ask me that question. I don’t intend to have kids until I settle down. My seed is too special to land anywhere.”
“Eww. Not an image I want in my brain.” Ebony made a face and shook her head.
I chuckled. “I take it you guys aren’t making plans yet.”
I may not have been around my sister for a while, but I knew when something was bothering her.
“I honestly don’t know, Tre. I’ve watched my friends have kids, and I love babysitting. Sometimes Brian and I babysit together. It feels like we’re playing house. Brian will get this glow in his eyes when he holds Yasmine’s son as if he wants one of his own.” Her gaze went to her hands. “Did I ever tell you I could have been pregnant once?”
I started to make a smart remark about need to know, but her voice indicated that she was about to share something serious. “No. When?”
She took a deep breath. “Before I got raped.”
My knuckles turned white where I gripped the steering wheel tighter. Hearing my sister say those words pissed me off all over again. If I’d known what had happened to Ebony, I would have been on the first flight to Los Angeles to kick the ass of the man who hurt my sister. Knowing Brian had managed to put his hands on the bastard made me feel a little bit better, but it didn’t keep me from fantasizing about tearing the limbs off her attacker.
“Was it Brian’s baby?” Her reply came as a shrug in my peripheral. “Ebony, what do you mean you don’t know?”
“It’s complicated.” She paused, cleared her throat. “I had to make a decision that I’ve lived with for the past year, and I can’t help but think I took something from us…from Brian.”
I risked a glance at Ebony as I slowed to enter the parking lot of our destination. “Has he mentioned having kids?”
“No, and he won’t because he knows how I feel about my career.”
“And now you’re in Georgia for two months chasing that career, and you suspect he really wants to be doing something else with your future.”
I looked over at my twin as I put the car in park. “Well, you’re here now, so you should make the most of it.”
My sister blew out a long breath. “I know.”
How in the world did I end up running late? If Brian saw me now, he’d be laughing his butt off.
Me, the queen of getting to work on time. How did my alarm clock not go off? If Dr. Tucker hadn’t called me to meet for breakfast, I’d still be in bed dreaming.
And what a dream it was. Swimming pools filled with fish and blue-eyed babies with golden brown hair. Babies. The images were nothing but the manifestations of conversations with my mother and the fact my sister was pregnant.
Brian and I wanted to have kids one day. We’d been married for a year and a half with no timeline on when to reach our united goal.
After eight long years of hard work, I’d reached my first significant life ambition: to graduate from college and earn my veterinarian degree. Finding the man of my dreams and marrying him had been an unexpected side trip in my life journey.
Dr. Ebony M. Young, DVM.
For years, I imagined the degree ending with my maiden name of Campbell, but I liked seeing my married name on the license. I ignored my sister’s suggestion of hyphenating my name. As independent as I was, I believed in the age-old-tradition of taking my husband’s last name and leaving my maiden name behind. Besides, when we did have kids, how would it read on the birth certificate?
Wait a minute, why was I thinking about babies again?
In the bathroom, I splashed water on my face, brushed my teeth, and threw on my clothes. Grateful I’d taken a shower before climbing into bed, I headed downstairs to meet Dr. Tucker with a few minutes to spare. No more thinking of babies or starting a family. That was a discussion Brian and I would have in the future. Right now, my time was all about me.
“And this is the breakroom.” Felicity, the bubbly intern, led us into a room lined with vending machines, a refrigerator, plenty of counter space with several microwaves, comfortable seating, and of course, larger-than-life pictures of the animals they cared for.
Our tour had given Dr. Tucker and me a look at the behind-the-scenes activities of Zoo Atlanta. We’d met several staff members along the way, and each of them had been cordial. That’s what I missed about the South. Smiles and hellos were hard to come by in L.A. West Coasters seemed content with minding their own business. I had gotten used to it after residing there for nearly nine years.
“Next stop, the panda exhibit.”
Finally! It was hard to keep from squealing like a little kid about to see their favorite animal face-to-face. Although I’d worked with orangutans at the Los Angeles Zoo for several years, panda bears had always been my favorite animal. My heart raced as we walked down a narrow path until we came upon a sign on a door labeled with a cartoon drawing of a panda. The minute we stepped inside, I inhaled the scent of the animals and the bamboo. I rushed to the large observation windows.
Felicity went to the window and held out her arms, Vanna-White style. “Let me introduce you to Mei Lun and Mei Huan!”
“They’re gorgeous!” I managed to keep my voice a whisper as I squatted next to the window and placed my hand on the glass.
The panda twins lay on their backs, but when they realized there were new people in the facility, they lazily rolled over onto their sides. It appeared they were waking from a nap.
One of the more curious pandas ambled to the window, observing us with large dark eyes. The wide black nose sniffed before licking the glass as if trying to catch our scent.
“Let me share some little known facts about our panda family…” Felicity continued.
I listened with enthusiasm as our guide shared facts about the panda family inhabiting their zoo. Though I’d researched the care of the animal for the past few weeks, there was nothing like viewing them with my own eyes.
“Now, let’s go to where the fun really happens.” We followed Felicity through a door that led to a room where several workers were wheeling barrels of bamboo toward the panda’s holding pens. “Feeding time!”
We watched as the zookeeper weighed and sorted food according to the dietary needs of each animal.
Another zoo employee entered the room. He appeared to be a few years older than I was and had dark skin and dark brown eyes. He wore the same uniform as the other employees, a black shirt and khaki shorts, but his clothes were clean. I assumed that meant he was in charge.
The newcomer offered a slight lift of his head, acknowledging us. “Welcome to our facility. I am Dr. Kenneth Grimes. . And you are Dr. Tucker and Dr. Young?” He held out his hand.
“Nice to meet you. You can call me Barry.” My boss shook his hand, then stepped aside as Dr. Grimes turned to me.
“You can call me Ebony. It’s nice to meet you, too.” I smiled and accepted the handshake.
“Ebony, nice to meet you.” Kenneth took his time studying me. “Please call me Kenneth.”
My smile faltered ever so slightly. He’d held my hand longer than necessary.
“Welcome to Atlanta. I’ve read your files. I look forward to getting to know you both. We’ll have to trade war stories about our zoos sometime.” Dr. Grimes stepped away to assist his workers, but when he had a moment, his gaze returned to me.
Oh boy, this was going to be trouble.
“Alex, throw the ball!” I forced myself to groan instead of spewing out a curse. The last thing I needed was for any of the kids I worked with to tell a parent that Coach Campbell had cursed them out during practice. I gestured for the young man to come to the sideline. “Alex.” I put a hand on his shoulder to get his full attention. “Teamwork is about the team, not just you.”
I put up a finger. “Listen.”
His mouth shut as he cut his eyes to the side.
“You’ve got plenty of time to grandstand on your own time. We have plays to run through before the next game. You need to pass the ball to Geoffrey in this play.”
“Coach, Geoffrey dunno how to─”
He cut off his whine when I clamped my teeth together and inhaled, praying for patience. “This isn’t the NBA, Alex. How is Geoffrey going to learn if you don’t show him? You’re the team’s leader…so lead.”
Alex hung his head and sighed. “Fine. I’ll pass da─”
I shot him a look.
He grimaced. “…the ball,” he finished.
“Thank you. You’ll learn proper English if it’s the last thing I do. Now, get back in there and lead your team. Show them how it’s done!”
I shook my head as Alex rejoined his team. He reminded me of myself at his age. Talented with big dreams but arrogant as hell.
Coaching youth basketball in my spare time was the closest I would ever get to the NBA. But, man, I’d been close. I’d gone to college on a basketball scholarship and had several scouts watching me during my career. Until I got injured, that is.
My friend Andre walked toward me. “Yo, Tre, what up?”
“Hey, man.” I offered him a head nod. “We’ll be done in ten minutes.”
“No problem.” He set his gym bag on the floor and joined me on the bleachers.
“Is your brother meeting us today?”
Andre pulled out his phone. “I don’t know. He hit me up yesterday, saying he was having problems with his girl.”
I snorted. “Which one?”
Andre shook his head. “His main one. I keep telling him he needs to stop yanking that woman’s chain. She’s too good for him to treat her like that. Hard working, smart, sexy…and has a job with benefits, too.”
I watched the boys as they worked out the moves for the play. They were getting better. My thoughts turned back to Andre’s appraisal of his brother’s girl. “Watch it, Andre. Sharice is a bit touchy about that wandering eye thing.”
He chuckled. “I know. Even though I remind her daily how sexy she is, she gets all bent out of shape. I love that round belly.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Still sexy while carrying your baby, huh?”
“Oh yeah.” His entire face seemed to light up, making me believe he meant what he’d said.
I shook my head. “I’m guessing you didn’t feel that way about Deana because you weren’t with her when she had Dominique.”
“Maybe. Mostly because I’m in love with my wife. Besides being there every day, watching her tummy grow because of me—” He stopped talking. “What?”
I rubbed my eyelids to destroy the unwanted image of his wife’s exposed and very pregnant belly. “TMI, man. TMI.”
Andre chuckled. “Whatever. Get married, start a family, and you’ll understand.”
“Not happening. I’m in no rush to join that club.”
Andre shrugged. “Suit yourself, but believe me, that player action is going to get old one day. Mark my words.”
I pursed my lips. “Not for me.”
Andre’s phone chimed. He read the text, then replied. “Looks like it’s just you and me. Malik says he’s got to live up to his promise so he can get out of the doghouse.”
I acknowledged Andre’s comment before blowing my whistle. “Run that play again. Good work, Alex!” I clapped my hands, then looked back at my friend. “Is Malik still engaged?”
“Yep, has been for more than a year.”
“Damn. If your brother’s so into this woman, what’s the holdup?”
“The hell if I know. I try to stay out of his mess. He’s my brother and all, but that doesn’t mean I support his shit. It’s worse, though, because his woman is one of Sharice’s friends. Women talk, which means, whether I like it or not, I get dragged into the chaos of his relationship issues.”
“Ouch. Sucks to be you.”
He nodded. “Tell me about it.”
“How the hell did Malik get mixed up with a family friend?”
“They met at our wedding. Long story short, she’s too close to the family for him to screw over. If he doesn’t get his shit together soon, he’s going to pull all of us into this mess.”
I laughed and put my hands up. “Not me, I don’t even know who she is.”
“Well, be glad, because I don’t have an out. I’m a blood relative to the asshole.”
“Yep, really sucks to be you.” The alarm on my phone signaled the end of practice. I blew the whistle again and gestured for the guys to bring it in. “Alright, not bad. Good job working together as a team. You’re getting better and better every week. Everyone, work on those plays in your spare time. I expect you to be able to run it without an issue next week.” I clapped my hands and stood. “Go hydrate, hit the showers, and don’t drag this time. A lot of your mommas called me last week, complaining about you taking too long to get outside after practice.” Beside me, Andre snorted. I waited until the guys disappeared into the dressing room. “Hey, you laugh, but I’m serious. Many of these women are single and looking for a male role model. I’ve been invited over for dinner one too many times. I don’t need anyone having an excuse to hit my line.”
Andre continued to laugh as he jogged across the gymnasium to retrieve a basketball, dribbled, then shot from where he stood at the half-court line. All net.
“So, three games to twenty-one?” He caught the ball. “Loser pays for drinks?”
“You’re on.” I pulled my whistle over my head and lay it on my gym bag. Coaching time was over. Now it was time for me.
I may not have made it to the NBA, but I didn’t lose my skills.
An hour later, we were on game three when Andre’s phone rang. “Time out, that’s Sharice.” He jogged over to his phone.
I walked over to my bag and pulled out a towel, wiped the sweat off my face as I chuckled. “Since when do you have a special ringtone for Sharice?”
“Since she’s gotten closer to her due date.” He snatched the phone up and answered. His eyes widened. “Are you sure?” His movements became frantic as he grabbed his water bottle and fumbled with the zipper of his gym bag before dropping the phone. “Shit! Baby, I’m sorry. I dropped my phone. Okay, how far apart are they?”
My brow went up as I watched my friend continue to lose all sense of coordination.
“I’m on the way!” He disconnected and stared at me.
“Everything all right?”
“No…yes. I’m going to be a dad! Again! Sharice is going into labor. I’ve got to go!”
“Ah, man, congratulations!” I patted Andre on the back and laughed at his expression. A mixture of excitement and worry was on his face.
Even though he had one child already, he hadn’t been able to witness the birth of his daughter. Back then, he’d been a kid, literally, a senior in high school. The grandmother of his baby didn’t want him anywhere near the hospital. It pained him that he hadn’t been able to witness his daughter’s birth.
He swore to me that this time he would be there, one hundred percent.
“Be careful, Dre. Don’t get a speeding ticket and miss the birth; that’d really piss off Sharice.”
“By the time she goes into full blown labor she’s already going to be pissed off. Here.” He dug into his wallet, retrieved some bills, and shoved them into my hands. “I was losing anyway. Have a few rounds on me. I’ll call you later and let you know how she is.”
I laughed and shoved the money into my pocket. “I’ll be listening for the phone. Good luck, man.”
Andre ran out of the gym, which left me alone with no plans.
Then again, now that I had a pocket of free cash, I might as well go get that drink.
I shot a few more hoops, then grabbed the balls from practice, and returned them to the ball cart.
I went home, showered, did a quick shave, and put on clean clothes. There was a bar I liked to frequent near my condo in Midtown, a hot spot for art and bars. It was within walking distance from where I lived.
A few drinks would be a great way to unwind for the night. And if I were lucky, I wouldn’t spend the evening alone.
“Oh, my God, they are so cute. Twins, how amazing!” I watched the video of the pink-skinned, hairless newborns that lay against their mother’s fur, suckling. Their eyes were sealed shut.
My boss, Dr. Tucker, chuckled. “Having a flashback?”
I giggled. “Maybe. Being a twin has been pretty cool. Though I’m sure if Trevon were a girl instead of a guy it would have been way cooler.”
“You have a twin?”
I glanced at Kenneth, our go-to person since the day Dr. Tucker and I started our training at Zoo Atlanta. He watched me intently, waiting for a response.
I realized that in my enthusiasm to learn more about the pandas through the video presentation he presented, I’d slid my chair too close; our shoulders were nearly touching. I inched back.
Unfortunately, I inhaled and nearly drowned in the musk of his cologne. It was different from what Brian wore. My husband’s scent was sexy, male, and held a hint of sweetness. Kenneth’s was…
Oh god, why did I care what his cologne reminded me of?
“Yes.” I kept my response short and turned back to the screen.
Kenneth flirted with me every chance he got. I’d made it known from the beginning I was a happily married woman and didn’t intend to have a fling while away. He didn’t seem to care and used every opportunity to get to know me outside of work.
And by the look in his eye right now, another invitation to dinner was in the works.
“Alright, guys, that’s all for this evening. As you see, we like to leave on time. What do you two have planned for your days off?” Although his question was to both of us, it was apparent my answer was the only one he cared about.
“Sightseeing,” Dr. Tucker replied while closing up his binder full of notes. “What about you, Ebony?”
“Spending the weekend with Brian. He’s flying in tonight.” I forced myself to mean it, making sure I backed up the lie with my body language.
It seemed to work; Kenneth’s shoulders slumped.
Soon, I was in my rental car, heading back to the hotel for a weekend that consisted of eating food from the hotel’s kitchen and poring over the compiled research notes provided to us from the Zoo staff. While I did have a scheduled date with my husband, the only way I would see Brian would be through Facetime.
In my room, I took a shower and ordered room service. My fluffy robe was my only source of comfort. I snuggled between pillows on my bed and pulled the lapels up. I’d turned on the TV just for background noise while I was in the shower, but now I flipped through the channels to find some form of entertainment. I stopped when I happened on the show my friend Kaitlyn worked on as Head Costume Designer.
Before I knew it, I was wiping at a tear. I hated being away from my husband, and I missed my friends as well.
Kaitlyn and her chubby baby girl and new man, Antonio, crossed my mind. After a rough patch, it was good for her to have found happiness.
Then there was Yasmine and her bouncing twins. At six months, they were a handful. Listening to Yas share the adventures she and Zack had as parents was entertaining.
I sent them both a quick text to check in, then set my phone on the bed beside me. It wasn’t quite time for Brian to call. I sat back among the pillows and stared at the TV, ignoring the images.
“I’m completely satisfied with my life. I know I am, so why do I feel like something is missing?”
Instead of focusing on anything negative, I retrieved my backpack from the closet and pulled out the research papers on the Panda breeding program.
The binders supplied to us the first day of our training at the zoo were packed full of information about the breeding program. Zoo Atlanta and the Chengdu Zoo and Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in China had been conducting research for years.
After flipping through the table of contents, I selected the chapter on Captive Giant Panda Maternal Behavior.
And there it was, babies again. It seemed I couldn’t run away from talks about babies.
A beep on my laptop showed an incoming connection from Brian. I forced the irritation out of my mind and off my face so he didn’t get the wrong impression, then clicked the accept button.
“Ebony, baby, God, I miss you.” My husband’s blue-eyed gaze traveled across the screen as though taking in as much of me as video allowed; his visual confirmation that I was okay.
“Hey, baby, you’re early tonight. I thought you had to work for a few more hours.”
“I forced the guys to wrap up early so I could see my wife. You look tired. Are you sleeping okay?”
“I’m fine.” I chuckled as Brian’s brow creased in disbelief. “Okay, physically, I’m fine. Work is great, but I really miss you, too.”
His sly grin spread. “You know, you can always quit and come home.”
“Uh, no, and stop trying to be slick.” I shook my head, but couldn’t stop a genuine smile from popping up.
Brian chuckled, too, then his eyebrows furrowed, his serious look. “I’d never ask you to quit. You know that, right?”
I nodded. “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have your support. I’m still sorry things had to be this way for my career to advance.”
“Hey, my job was the same way, and you supported me. I’d be an asshole if I didn’t give you what you wanted.”
The words coming from my husband were sincere. I had no doubt. Yet, something about his expression said something different.
We were on the same page…yet we weren’t.
My stomach tightened. Although Brian was supportive of my coming to Georgia for two months, there were things we hadn’t addressed before I left. It wasn’t as if we had a lot of time to discuss the situation.
When I received the job offer, I had a limited amount of time to accept it. Once I accepted the position, time was of the essence. The San Diego Zoo was looking to start its own Panda Breeding Program, so Dr. Tucker and I needed training. Zoo Atlanta was one of the few zoos in the country that had an ongoing breeding success rate.
The one female panda at the zoo that had given birth to several cubs would be fertile in a few weeks. A panda’s fertility cycle was amazingly short, only thirty-six hours. There was a lot of work and timing needed to make sure that the facility didn’t miss that short window.
I was on a plane to Atlanta within two weeks.
To make matters worse, when I returned, my new job would be hours away from where we lived.
Between the crazy L.A. traffic and early hours, I would spend more time away from home than Brian would. The only way we could balance things out would be to move closer to San Diego. Unfortunately, that would put more distance between Brian and the studio. Not to mention his family.
Unlike me, Brian had spent his entire life near his family. While I had left home and moved over three thousand miles away to go to college, Brian had never been more than twenty minutes away from his childhood home.
And now, I’d left him to search for our new home, alone. He hadn’t been thrilled.
“I managed to do some scouting today.” He looked off camera as he started to type. “Check your email. I just sent pictures of three properties I thought you might like.”
I forced the lump of uneasiness in my stomach away, shrunk his image to half the size of my computer screen, and signed in to my email.
“You know what I like, baby. I’m sure you’ll find something for us.” His delayed response had me glancing back at his image.
Again, his brow furrowed as if he were formulating the correct way to word what he wanted to say. “I’ve been thinking about it, Ebony. We both agreed it would be simpler for us to rent another house, but I think we should explore the option of buying. What’s going on with your job isn’t temporary. I have a feeling your time at the San Diego Zoo is going to be for some years. Why rent if we can buy? I don’t like the idea of moving at all, but if it’s what we have to do, I want it to be one move, not something we do for a year and then do again, you know?”
I studied my husband’s face. “What do you have in mind?”
“Planning for the future and not just the present.” He paused before looking directly at the camera. “We talked about finding something that had two bedrooms; I think we should look at a three, maybe four-bedroom place instead. The prices in the neighborhoods we’re interested in are higher, but think about it. If…when we decide to expand our family, we won’t have to move again.” He paused, looked back to his computer, then at me again. “Did you get my email?”
Momentarily blindsided by his statement, I swallowed hard. “Yeah, it just popped up. Give me a second.” I clicked on the file.
“Look at the second link.”
My breath caught. The home Brian had sent was a beautiful two-story house. It had the same stucco finish and Spanish tiled roof as his childhood home. I cycled through the images, liking it more and more with each click. The floors were a mix of tile and carpet. The rooms seemed to be huge. A fenced-in and simply manicured backyard surrounded a sparkling pool.
I imagined family cookouts and children running around the yard. I forced the images out of my head. Despite the crazy dreams I’d been having about fish and children, a full-house wasn’t in our immediate future. Yet, Brian seemed to be planning ahead.
“It’s beautiful, Brian. It looks like your parents’ house.” His laugh drew me back to his image on the screen.
“I thought the same thing. The minute I saw the place, I had flashbacks of growing up with my sisters in a house full of warmth and love. I want those types of memories for us, too.”
Brian scratched his shoulder. He wore a short-sleeve T-shirt that left his tattooed biceps exposed. I studied the images that represented the family he’d grown up with and the one he wanted to have of his own.
Although he hadn’t exactly said it, it was clear what Brian wanted.
I’d been religious with my use of birth control ever since the…incident. The one when a night of passion before he left town for his three-month tour had led to unprotected sex. Instead of being scared of getting pregnant, it was the night Brian said he wanted to marry me…pregnant or not.
Then he’d left town, and my world turned upside down. I had a decision to make to protect myself, and in the end, it hurt Brian and my friends. A lot had changed since then. A lot of tears. Anger. And healing.
Because of everything we’d been through, pregnancy was the one topic we tended to stray away from…at least when it came to what happened in the past. But the future? We couldn’t avoid it forever. After all, a family is what we both wanted. We couldn’t wait forever, regardless of where we were in our careers.
I knew my husband. Although we hadn’t outright talked about it, his mention of buying a house big enough to fulfill any future changes in our family was him putting what he wanted on the table. It was as if he was aware of the dreams I’d been having.
But I wasn’t ready.
I just couldn’t tell him that. Not yet.
I leaned over the bar. “Celine, Bud Ice, please.”
“Sure thing.” The bartender winked, then sashayed her nearly naked bottom behind the bar.
I gazed at what she obviously wanted me to see and shook my head. Wearing clothes that tight demanded a man’s attention, and in that shade of cream, damn near the color of her skin, you didn’t have to imagine too hard about what she looked like naked.
“Here you go.” She slid a napkin in front of me and placed the opened bottle on it.
I dropped a bill. “Thanks. Keep the change.”
She looked at the amount of money and smiled. “Let me know what else I can do to serve you.” Celine gave me a once over, licked her lips, then went to help another customer.
I nodded, knowing she was hinting at more than a refill. Celine was an attractive woman. I’d been coming to this bar for months, and she’d made numerous attempts to hook up after work. While the thought was tempting, I wasn’t interested in sleeping with a woman who worked at a place I used to kick back and relax.
Besides, in her line of business, I’m sure she hooked up with plenty of men who came here. I looked around the bar. Plenty of men frequented this location. Yeah, no way in hell would I ever sleep with her.
“Hey, Celine, turn that up!” yelled a man sitting two stools away from me.
I looked at the screen and watched the basketball game. I leaned back and sipped my beer. It dawned on me I hadn’t heard from Andre. Had Sharice had the baby? Not wanting to call and interrupt anything, I sent a text instead. Hopefully, he’d respond soon.
A flash of deep purple caught my eye at the opposite end of the bar as I set down my phone. A woman took a seat at the end nearest the wall. From what I could see in the dim light, she was attractive. Very attractive.
Long tendrils of jet-black hair framed a perfect face, while the rest of hair was piled high on her head. Sharp cheekbones accentuated pouty lips. When she looked my way, cat-shaped eyes took my breath away.
Her gaze diverted in annoyance as she dug into her purse and retrieved her phone. Her brow knitted as her fingers flew across the keys. She shoved the phone back into her bag, then slammed her fist onto the bar. She closed her eyes, nostrils flaring as if taking deep breaths.
When she opened her eyes again, they connected with mine, but this time, the contact was longer.
I inclined my head to acknowledge the connection. She looked away.
Not sure how to take the response, I distracted myself with my phone, checking if Andre had replied. Nothing. I flipped to the Facebook app. Not much was happening on my timeline.
I slid the phone back into my pocket. When I glanced up again, my gaze went to the opposite side of the bar. The woman was gone. Not that I planned to talk to her, but I couldn’t help but feel disappointed.
My bottle empty, I signaled Celine for a second.
“Excuse me, is this seat taken?”
I glanced up. The missing woman was now next to me.
“I stepped outside, and when I came back, my seat was taken.”
I glanced at where she’d been sitting. Definitely not a better view.
“Be my guest.” I hopped off my stool and pulled the seat out for her.
She eyed me as if my gesture was the craziest thing in the world for a man to do. “Thank you.”
I took the time to appreciate the body of this woman as she settled in her seat, and man, she was breathtaking. Her bare shoulder brushed mine as she got comfortable. A hint of her perfume hit my nose; the scent was intoxicating. I had to compose myself while standing behind her.
“Bartender,” she called.
I sat on my stool and took the opportunity to check out her attire as she spoke to Celine. The deep plum fabric of her dress was seductively wrapped around her neck, leaving her shoulders and back bare. Large earrings dangled, encouraging me to appreciate her slender throat. A dangling pendant lay flush between cleavage begging for attention in the peek-a-boo, crisscrossed opening.
My imagination went into the gutter.
A slight smile spread on her face as she turned slightly, studying me. She opened her mouth as if about to say something, but her purse vibrated. The smile dropped into a thin line.
She retrieved the phone, read what was on the screen, then cursed under her breath. “That no good son-of-a─” Instead of responding to the text, she hit a button and turned it face down on the bar. The second her drink arrived, she gulped.
My eyebrows rose. “Bad night?”
Instead of a reply, my barstool companion shot me a look of hatred, as if I were the one who’d sent her the message.
I put my hands up. “Hey, I didn’t do it.”
Those sexy eyes narrowed slightly as she shook her head. “But you are a man. All men are─”
“Hold on…” I pointed to her purse. “Whatever he did had nothing to do with me. All I did was pull out a chair for you. I mean, I could have been saving that seat for some other unbelievably fine woman in the bar tonight. I saw you when you came in. It was obvious you were angry. I’m all ears if you want to talk about it. Just don’t blame me for some other guy’s issues. Deal?”
Her gaze traveled my body from head-to-toe. “No deal.”
I shrugged and turned back to my drink. The silence lasted all of two minutes.
“Why do men lie?” She glanced at me while waiting for a reply.
I chuckled. “Sure you want me to answer that? I’m a man and could be lying.”
She kept her face straight for a moment before letting a laugh slip past her lips. “This is true.” She sipped her drink, then sighed. “Look, I’m sorry for acting that way, but my…ex is a pain in the ass. We were supposed to meet tonight and talk things out, but I guess that will never happen. I’m done.” She made a show of wiping her hands.
My attention piqued, well, my libido anyway. “With men, or just him?”
“With him.” She looked back at her drink. “I’d rather be at home than here.”
“At home, doing what, I wonder?” I slid a glance over, waiting for her to take the bait.
She laughed. “Sorry, probably not what you’re thinking.”
I faced her directly. “Try me.”
She leaned back, sliding the straw up and down in her drink. “Bubble bath, wine, and a good book.”
“Ah, so you love to read. Let me guess, some sappy romance novel where the hero whisks the lady off for a hot night of passion while promising forever?”
She laughed and shook her head. “Uh, no, not my speed. I gave up those when I graduated high school and discovered that kind of love is make-believe. These days, I’m all about action and adventure.”
Now my interest was really piqued. “A woman after my own heart. I’m a sci-fi man.”
“Me, too, well, sci-fi girl.”
Her smile was mesmerizing, so was her laugh.
She sipped her drink. “What are you reading?”
“A Star Wars novel.”
Dark brown eyes lit up in excitement. “Me, too! Which one?”
I feigned a heart attack. “Be still my beating heart. You know about the Expanded Universe?”
She scoffed. “Every Star Wars fan knows! I’ve read like eighty of them!”
I named the book and held my breath.
A manicured hand swatted the air. “Finished reading that one a week ago.” She chuckled when my mouth fell open. “And no, I won’t spoil it for you by telling you what happened. Just know this…the next book in the series is going to be an eye-opener for sure.”
I leaned forward and rested my elbow on the bar, pointing a finger in her direction. “Ok, see…that right there is not right.” I lifted my bottle to my lips and discovered it was empty. I signaled for Celine to come our way.
The bartender walked over; the flirty look she’d flashed earlier was gone. Apparently watching me talk to another woman instead of her hit a few buttons.
I ignored her, entranced with my newfound reading friend. “Let me get another beer. Would you like another drink? My treat.”
She tilted her glass up to empty it. “Sure, thank you.”
“And another one of whatever she’s drinking.” I gave Celine a twenty. “Keep the change.” The generous tip put the smile back on her face. I turned back to the woman beside me; her body language was no longer defensive. I had her full attention.
If I played my cards right, I wouldn’t be going home alone tonight.
My date for the evening walked toward the sliding-glass doors leading out to the balcony of my condo. “Wow, the view from here is amazing!”
I locked the front door behind me and followed her. “The view is one of the reasons I bought the place. I love living in Midtown with a view of downtown Atlanta…especially on nights like this.”
She looked over her shoulder. “A night with clear skies? I bet! The city lights at night are amazing. I can only imagine what it looks like during the daytime.”
“It’s breathtaking, but I was thinking more of having a beautiful woman standing against the backdrop of the city.”
She laughed again, and it dawned on me. Even with all our chatter at the bar, we never exchanged names. We’d conversed without introducing ourselves. It felt as if we’d known each other for years. I wanted to know her name, but asking outright after having her come home with me felt odd.
“Want to play a game?” I dropped my keys on the coffee table and slid my hands into my pockets.
Curiosity shown in her eyes. “Let me guess. You want to play Strip Poker.”
I chuckled. “Tempting, but I’m thinking more like Five Questions. Since we’re about to sleep together, there’re a few things I’d like to know about you first.”
Her eyebrows rose. “Didn’t you learn enough at the bar? That’s why you asked me here, right? Besides, since when did one-night stands come with questions?”
I shrugged. “I like doing things differently. Up for the challenge, or are you scared something else could come from a one-time fling?”
A slight look of uneasiness crossed her face before resolve set her features. “No. Are you?”
“Not at all. Ladies first.”
She glanced over her shoulder, then bit her bottom lip in thought. “How many times have you brought a woman home? Be honest.”
I took a few steps in her direction as I decided how to answer the question. “I like having flings, but I’m not a sex addict if that’s what you’re asking.”
She turned to face me. “Good to know.”
“What about you? When was the last time you did something like this?”
“A few years ago.”
I stopped next to my beautiful companion and took a moment to read her body language. She seemed a little uncomfortable, but what else should I expect from a woman who’d come home with a stranger. If she was too comfortable, I’d be suspicious. “What makes tonight break your good-girl streak?”
Instead of continuing to stare out the window, she faced me. Her gaze heated as she took her time looking me over. “You.”
Her words were an aphrodisiac.
“I promise not to disappoint. My turn. What do you do for a living?”
She paused, then looked away. “I’m a florist.”
“As in buy-my-girlfriend-flowers-because-I’m-in-the-dog-house florist?”
She nodded. “What do you do?”
“I’m an assistant manager at an Applebee’s.”
“Ah, big money, huh?” She smiled.
Those sexy lips made the front of my pants feel a little tighter. I licked mine in anticipation. “It pays the bills. Your turn.”
She walked around my living room, leaving me alone at the glass doors, and stopped to look at the artwork and photographs displayed on the bookshelf. “Do you have any kids?”
“No. Do you?”
“No, I don’t. Maybe one day. How about you?”
“When I find the right woman. My turn.” I watched her for a moment. “Are you in a relationship?” Although she’d made it clear at the bar she was done with her ex, I wanted to be sure. I had no problem being her revenge fuck, but sleeping with another man’s woman, married or unmarried, was a deal breaker. Some lines shouldn’t be crossed.
This time she looked me in the eye. “Not after tonight.”
“Good. Neither am I.”
She resumed walking around the living room. Eventually, her path came back to where I stood. Our eyes met again; she looked away. I reached out, lifted her chin so that she met my gaze.
The connection between us was intense. Deep down, I knew I was losing control but didn’t feel inclined to stop it. There was something about this woman that struck a chord in me more than I’d ever felt. I wanted to explore it and find out where it could go.
I wasn’t the only one who felt this way, either. A glance down at the peek-a-boo cleavage of her dress revealed her breasts moving in time with the pace of her breath as it increased.
I’d never wanted anyone as much as I wanted her. “Let’s get something straight. I want you, no doubt, but I want to know more about you. If having sex will ruin the chance to get your number and take you out on a date, I’d rather we stop now. We can sit and just…talk.”
She tilted her head to the side, fascination mixed with disbelief on her face. “You’re sweet, you know that?”
I groaned and forced myself to ignore the growing need to possess her. “Not really. I know what I want, and if I need to sacrifice sexual gratification to get it, I will.”
“Good to know.” She placed her hand on mine. “I know what I want, too. And right now, it’s you.”
I nearly growled in anticipation. I forced myself to swallow, then licked my lips. “Last question, then. What is your name?”
She hesitated. “Does it matter?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know who you’re sleeping with? My name is Trevon.”
“Trevon,” she repeated. “That’s a strong name. It suits you.” A playful look crossed her face. “Tell you what…Trevon. If you can make me say your name three times, you’ll earn the right to know mine.”
I laughed in disbelief. “Earn the right? Are you issuing a sex challenge?”
My nameless beauty backed away from my grasp and shot me a look that had me, literally, rising to the challenge.
Done with games, I caught up to her, placed both hands on the side of her face, and took possession of her mouth. The kiss was electric. There was no time wasted in testing or teasing each other. It was full blown, open-mouthed, tongues mating, hot-as-hell, sex-on-a-platter heat.
Her breath caught before she melted against me.
I pulled back to catch my breath and found my legs had grown weak.
From the expression on her face, the chemistry between us was more than she expected, too. Without a word, she tossed her purse somewhere near my sofa, then placed her hands on my chest.
I put my hands on her hips, backed her up against the glass door, then fused our mouths again.
Her hands slipped up my shoulders, then around the back of my head, as she opened up to me. Our tongues touched, and I went in deeper, kissing her as if my life depended on her response.
She wanted a challenge? She had no idea what she asked for.
I explored the side of her throat, settled my hands on her shapely ass, then gathered the silky material of her dress and slid it up her hips. Her skin was soft beneath my fingers. I found the edge of her panties, tugged them down long luscious legs and over the high heels she wore. I tossed them over my shoulder, gripped one of her thighs, and pulled it up high, stepping in between them and pushed my erection where we both wanted me to be. I ground against her and felt her body tremble as she gasped.
That was the first time she said my name.
“Trevon, are you sure you’re okay?” Ebony’s voice cut through my thoughts. “You’re not your jovial self. I just made the second crack about you and your car, and you’ve barely acknowledged the fact I was speaking.”
I forced away the thoughts flooding my head. “Sorry, Ebony. What were you saying?”
Her eyebrows pulled together. “The wisecrack was to see if you were listening. What I said was I think Brian wants to have a baby.”
I forced myself to be interested. “How long have you guys been married again?”
“Nearly a year and a half.”
I looked away from the road as we stopped at a red light. “You don’t sound excited.”
Ebony looked out the window. “I have mixed feelings. Part of me wants to have a baby; another part feels it’s too soon. My career is starting to take off, so is Brian’s.” She sighed heavily. “Am I selfish for not wanting to have the same thing as my husband wants right now?”
I huffed. “Eb, I’m the wrong person to ask. Call LaShana if you want that type of feedback.” I stared back at the road.
“I thought about it, but since she’s already pregnant, she’ll be pretty biased on the subject. So will Mom.”
“And I’m the one you thought was the best choice to play sounding board? Don’t you have some female friends? What happened to them?” I pulled forward when the light turned green.
“Both of them have kids, too.” She sighed. “Anyway, back to you. You’ve got something on your mind. Want to talk about it?”
There was a moment of silence, which meant my sister was thinking of what to say.
“Look, Tre, you’re taking me to a party to meet some of your friends. The last thing I want to do is walk in with a brother who has an obvious chip on his shoulder.”
I blew out my breath. “Ebony…”
“Tre,” she said in a singsong voice that was annoying as hell.
I glimpsed over to see raised eyebrows. Once she started questioning me, there was no way to get her to let it go.
I focused on the drive. “You wouldn’t understand.”
“So…” I blew my horn in frustration at the idiot who’d pulled in front of me. “Women are complicated. Let’s leave it at that, okay?”
I could feel my sister’s stare but refused to look her way again. Then I felt her hand on my arm.
“Yes, we can be…complicated. If there’s something you need to talk about, you know I’m here.”
“Thanks, but I’m good for now.”
“Okay, then let’s lighten the mood. Tell me about these friends of yours.”
I took Ebony’s cue and dismissed the irritation building for the past few days. Ever since the best sex of my life.
With Devon. The woman who challenged me mentally and physically.
And left me alone in bed the next morning.
The only evidence of the night of passion were my sheets strewn across the floor and the light red marks left on my skin from her nails.
And a note with two words…
And the lipstick kiss left on the corner of the paper. Can’t forget about that little detail.
I shouldn’t have been disappointed. I knew the moment I took her back to my place after hearing about her breakup where her head was. One night of hot-and-heavy sex with no strings. I was the one who expected more because…damn, I’d felt a connection between us. She’d felt it, too. I expected to wake up in the morning, do it all over again, and maybe, make breakfast or go to lunch. Something that made the night more than what it started out as. At the very least, I expected a number so we could hook up again. Even for just a good time.
But no. All I got was a thank you and lipstick to remind me of how great the sex had been.
Where had I screwed up?
Maybe the idea of getting to know each other, as I had so eloquently put it before and between the hot rounds of sex, scared her off.
Maybe I should have ignored my libido and the flirty look in her eye and continued our conversation at the bar. The evening could have ended with an exchange of numbers and promise of a date.
Damn. Hindsight sucked.
“Sorry,” I mumbled. “Andre and Sharice… I’ve known Andre since college. He’s a good friend. His wife, Sharice, just had a baby a week ago and is dying to show him off, thus the reason for the dinner invitation.”
“She wants to have people over after a week?”
I nodded. “Sharice is rather possessive, but not in a bad way. Andre has a daughter by another woman, a girl he dated back in high school. She’s still trying to get with him even though he’s been married for nearly four years. He’s a good father and takes care of his daughter. Though I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes. There’s a fine line between having two women with your baby on their list of claim to rights.” I chuckled. “I don’t know how he manages.”
Ebony laughed, too. “You’re lucky. All these years and the crazy women you’ve hooked up with? You better be glad you don’t have kids.”
Suddenly, confiding in my sister about my past relationships seemed like a bad idea, twin or not.
“Why couldn’t you have been a boy?”
Ebony punched my shoulder.
I laughed as we arrived at Andre’s house. Several cars were in the driveway. “Looks like a packed house. Come on and meet the gang.”
Andre greeted us at the door with an unlit cigar wrapped in blue cellophane. It’s a Boy! was printed in big letters.
“Congratulations!” I gave him a brotherly hug, then introduced my sister.
“Nice to meet you, Ebony. Sharice and everyone else are in the living room.”
We entered and found the room packed with family.
Andre introduced Ebony, and I leaned over to see the baby and kiss Sharice on the cheek.
Andre rubbed his stomach. “Food is in the kitchen. That’s the great thing about having a baby, all the women in the family show up with all kinds of free food.”
Sharice rolled her eyes.
“That’s my cue to leave the women in here.” I followed Andre to the kitchen and left Ebony to admire the newborn.
I filled my plate from the generous spread, unaware that more guests had arrived until I heard Andre’s brother’s booming voice announce his presence.
Andre was beside me going for what had to be seconds. “Malik brought his fiancée, so you’ll finally get a chance to meet her.”
I smirked. “I’d love to see what kind of woman in her right mind would stick around for his foolishness.”
Andre chuckled. “You’d be surprised.”
Then, I heard her. That laugh. I looked at the doorway.
“I’m grabbing a plate,” Malik said as he entered the kitchen. “Kai, are you coming?”
“Sure, I’ll put this dessert in the kitchen.”
My mouth fell open when I saw the woman who walked behind him.
What the-- “Kai?” I blurted.
The woman I’d known as Devon froze, her eyes widening in recognition.
Malik’s focus was on the table, oblivious to me…or his fiancée, who was obviously shocked to see the object of her one-night stand next to her not-so-ex fiancé.
Andre, on the other hand, was taking in the scene with wide eyes.
“Trevon, right?” She recovered faster than I did.
I was about to open my mouth when Malik looked up. “You know him?” He looked from me to her, then back at me.
The woman I knew as Devon, laughed. “Not really. We met once before. I didn’t know you were friends.” Try as she might to hide it, I still saw the shock in her eyes, too.
I forced my mouth shut. Not really? Images of everything we’d done…up against the glass door in my living room and in my bed flooded my brain.
“Where did you meet?” Malik pressed.
In my peripheral, I saw Andre put his plate on the table, no doubt in response to my balled up fist.
Devon replied, “It was at Barnes and Noble. We were on the same aisle, looking for the same book. He was nice enough to let me get the last copy.”
“Is that right?” Malik looked my way.
I forced myself to look at anything but her. “Something like that,” I mumbled.
Malik laughed. “Yeah, well, don’t be making moves on my woman. I’d hate to kick your ass and end a friendship.” He selected another item of food to put on his plate.
When I looked back, Devon avoided my gaze. Or was it Kai?
Andre, on the other hand, stared at me. The expression on his face read as though he had an epiphany and needed an answer.
“Yo, Tre, I’m about to go to the store and get some ice. Wanna roll?”
“Yeah.” I slipped my plate in the microwave. “Yeah, let’s do that. I need some air.”
“Don’t say a word,” Andre said as he backed out of the driveway.
It was easy to comply because I didn’t know what to say.
Scratch that. I did know what to say, and it was colored with a ton of expletives.
He’d pulled out of the subdivision and turned on to the main street when he spoke again. “That’s not how you know Kai.”
I felt his glare but stared ahead.
“I know you, and I know her. Either, Malik doesn’t give a damn, or he missed your whole ‘we met at Barnes & Noble routine’ completely. What aren’t you telling me?”
Jaw clenched, I chose my words carefully. “Is her name really Kai?”
“Yeah, so?” He glanced my way.
“When we met, she told me her name was Devon.”
“She also told me she’d broken up with her fiancé.”
“O-kay…and when was this?”
Andre was silent for all of thirty seconds. “Saturday? The night we played basketball and Malik was supposed to meet us?”
“That’s impossible. Malik ditched us to spend the evening with her.”
I huffed. “Your brother lied to one of us. I was at the bar near my house when she showed up, dressed to impress. She was pissed off at Malik. She kept sending text messages before slamming her phone in her purse. When she sat next to me, she was pissed off at men in general and said she’d just broken up with her boyfriend. The conversation went from there.”
“The conversation?” He sucked his teeth. “From the look you guys had, it must have been one hell of a conversation.”
I didn’t respond.
“Hold up…it was more than a conversation?”
I cleared my throat and looked out the passenger side window.
“You hit that?” he asked in disbelief.
I faced him. “I didn’t know she was Malik’s girl I swear, Dre! If I’d known, I would have walked away.”
“Damn!” Andre’s hand shot to his mouth. “Mother─”
“Hell, she’s the one who instigated it! We connected, for real. I would have been happy just getting her number and taking her out for a real date. But she wanted—insisted we have sex. You should have seen her that night, man, she was…damn. I couldn’t say no, not the way she—”
Andre squirmed in the driver’s seat. “That’s all I need to know, man. I refuse to get caught up in this shit.”
I ran a hand over my face. “Wish I wasn’t in it either.”
We rode in silence for a few minutes, then he said, “How are you going to handle it?”
“I have no idea.”
Back at Andre’s house, I found excuses to keep my distance from Devon.
Or was it Kai?
Out of all of the women in Atlanta, how in the hell had I slept with a woman who was connected to a friend? The messed up part was I didn’t feel guilty.
It wasn’t like Malik was one of my boys. His younger brother, Andre, just happened to be a good friend. Malik and I had hung out from time to time through association. Shooting hoops and parties at Andre’s were the extent of our paths crossing.
Although, we often compared notes on the women we were with. I might be a player, but he was a straight dog.
Just two weeks after he told us he was engaged, he mentioned a hot number from work he’d screwed. I’d felt sorry for his fiancée, even though we’d never met.
And when we did meet, I unknowingly slept with her and connected with her on a level that made me contemplate being involved in a real relationship again.
And it was all a lie.
I walked the short hall to the guest bathroom to wash BBQ sauce off my hands. Somehow, I managed to be able to eat despite being blindsided by the one woman I’d spent time looking for. The door was closed, so I knocked.
“I’m in here!” My sister yelled through the door.
“Oh, sorry, Ebony. You okay?”
“Yeah, I’m good! You’ve got some great friends, Tre!”
“Glad you’re enjoying yourself. I’ll use the bathroom upstairs.”
I jogged up the steps to the hallway bathroom, washed my hands, and took care of business. I washed again, dried my hands on my pants, then opened the door.
Devon—rather, Kai stood on the other side.
“We need to talk.” Her voice was low as she backed me into the confines of the restroom. The door clicked, closing us in.
Being alone and locked in the small room with her forced the memory of the night we spent together to replay. The conversation. The passion. The disappointment.
“Let me explain,” she said as I opened my mouth to speak.
“Yeah, I think you owe me.” I shook my head. “This is fucked up, Devon…or is it Kai?”
She sighed. “Both. My middle name is Devon.”
“Finally, something that’s not a lie. Or is it?” I forced myself to look her in the eye and pushed the frustration aside. “You’re a hypocrite, you know that, right?”
“I didn’t lie to you that night, Trevon.”
“Because according to you, men are the only ones who do.” I let loose a sarcastic laugh. “You didn’t even tell me your real name.”
“I get it, it’s your middle name.” I huffed. “You lied about your relationship, though. You’re engaged, for crying out loud!”
Kai held up a finger. “That wasn’t a lie. I’d broken off things with Malik. We were supposed to meet that night to work it out, but he blew me off. I was pissed, remember?”
I crossed my arms and leaned against the sink. “But you’re not now.”
She sighed again. “After the night we…met, Malik caught up with me again, apologized and yes, we made up.”
I cringed and rubbed my brow. She seriously had no idea what her man was up to. He’d obviously lied to Andre and me about needing to hook up with her, then turned around and fed her some bullshit and left her hanging. He was screwing her in more ways than one, but it wasn’t my place to tell her that. “Are you really a florist?”
Not like it mattered.
She blew out a breath. “Okay, that one was a lie, but not completely. My family owns a floral shop, and I am a trained florist. I just chose to do something else with my life.”
I ran my thumb over my brow to soothe the tension that had formed. “What do you do?”
She leaned against the door, obviously in no hurry to leave. “I’m a firefighter.”
I didn’t see that one coming. Unable to help myself, I looked at her from head to toe, imagining the sexy body I’d explored hidden beneath the oversized protective gear of a firefighter. As beautiful as she was, she could have done anything with her life besides risk it. I wanted to ask why she chose that profession, but that would lead to a conversation and getting to know more about her. Something I’d wanted to do the night we met. Something grossly inappropriate now that I knew the truth about who she really was.
Regardless of the circumstances of our meeting and the lies she’d told, the attraction I felt that night was still there. Damn…this was not good.
“What do you see in him, Kai? I’ve always wondered what kind of woman would put up with his bullshit. I never imagined it would be someone like you. You’re selling yourself short. You deserve…” I shook my head. What was I doing? Telling her to break up with Malik and get with me? I massaged the bridge of my nose. “…better. You deserve much better.”
My cell phone rang, cutting her off. Instead of being pissed, I was grateful. Who knew what was about to come out of my mouth. “Hello?”
“Hey, boss, there’s a woman at the restaurant asking for you,” said Gary, the bartender at the Applebee’s I managed.
Frustrated, I tried to pace the room, but there was barely a foot of space between Kai and me. “It’s my day off. Put Tom on it. He’s there, right?” The last thing I needed was more bullshit.
“Yeah, but the lady says it’s important and will only talk to you.”
“Did she give you her name?”
“No. Tom tried to talk to her, but she said it had to be you, specifically.”
I sighed, checked my watch. “It’ll be an hour before I get there. I’m in Decatur.”
“I’ll let her know, but believe me, she’s rooted in with no plans to leave.” The call ended.
When I looked up, Kai’s eyes were on mine. Those dark cat-shaped slits had intrigued me as she took me to the heights of pleasure that--
I rubbed my eyes, forcing the memory to leave. “I gotta go.”
She nodded. “I’m sorry, Trevon. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
I looked at her dead on. “I knew I was being used; I’m good with that. Just wished you hadn’t lied to me.”
Her mouth opened as if to reply but closed before she stepped out of the way.
My hand on the knob, I looked over my shoulder. “I’d wish you the best in your relationship, but I’d be lying. You see…all men don’t lie.”
I entered the restaurant through the back door that led into the kitchen and slipped into the small office shared by all the managers. I reached behind the door and grabbed the dress slacks, shirt, and tie I kept for emergencies.
Changed, I adjusted my tie, then walked through the dining area, to the bar.
“Gary, where is she?”
The bartender looked up, then turned his head in the direction of the booth in the rear of the restaurant. The woman’s back was to me as she stared out the window.
I put on my best customer service smile and pushed the thoughts of my conversation with Kai aside.
“Ma’am, were you looking for the manager?”
The woman turned to look at me, a tentative smile on her face.
My ex-girlfriend pushed short cropped hair behind her ear as nervous laughter escaped. “Surprise…”
It was hard to tell whether her smile was genuine or fake. We hadn’t parted on good terms.
“You called for me to come here?” I tried my best to process what was going on here.
“Sorry, there was no other way to get in touch with you. Your cell number has changed. You moved after our lease was up, so I had no clue where you lived. And…I didn’t want to cross paths with your boys.” She shrugged. “I knew you’d still be working here.”
“You could have just hit me up on Facebook or Instagram. What do you want?”
Trina stared at me. I could see the internal struggle on her face. Part of her wanted to go off on me. The other kept her mouth in check. “No I couldn’t. We unfriended each other when we broke up. Besides, what I have to say needed to be done in person.” She sighed. “Trevon, can you sit for a minute? This is serious…”
Her body language read as though she meant what she said.
I slid into the booth across from her. “What’s the problem?”
She took a deep breath and placed both hands on the table. “I need you to help me keep a promise.”
“Keep a promise?” I ran a hand over my face. “What are you talking about?”
She was silent for a moment. “To my son.”
My eyebrows rose. “You have a son?”
“What does that have to do with me?”
Trina looked down at her hands. “He’s been diagnosed with Sickle Cell Anemia. The doctors have been managing his care for the past year, but they feel he’s eligible for a bone marrow transplant. If it works the way they think, he’ll be practically cured. But first, he has to survive.”
“Damn. Trina, I’m sorry to hear that.” I sat back in the booth. “But what does that have to do with me? Are you looking for a donor?”
She shook her head. “For days he’s been talking about his father. Kids at daycare talk about their dads all the time. Now I’m afraid he’ll die and never know his father.”
My brain went blank. “And what, you want me to play daddy?”
Trina looked me in the eye and shook her head. “No, Trevon. I want him to meet his father. Justin is your son.”
I stared at her.
She stared back.
Somehow, I managed to breathe. “Come again?”
Instead of responding, she dug into her purse and retrieved her phone. She pushed a few buttons and slid it across the table.
“Justin was born on July twelfth, two years ago.”
“We broke up a long time before─”
“I found out I was pregnant after I left you.”
My head spun for what felt like the hundredth time today. “Let me get this right, you found out you were pregnant after we broke up and you didn’t tell me?”
“Yes. I didn’t tell you because I couldn’t deal with you. I didn’t want you to try to make things work because of the baby.”
Not knowing what else to say, I looked at the image of the little boy whose smiling face filled the screen. The bright-eyed kid who stared back was a dead-ringer for the pictures my mom had of me.
This wasn’t a joke or a lie. I forced myself to swallow. “God, Trina…I have a son?”
“Yes, you do.” She smiled a little. “He looks so much like you, too. Even has some of your mannerisms.”
I’m a father. I have a son, a two-year-old son.
One I never knew existed.
Anger rose in my chest.
“How could you keep him from me, Trina?” My voice rose.
She looked around the restaurant. “Look, now’s not the time to─”
“The hell it isn’t!” I leaned forward and pointed in her direction. “You’ve kept my son from me, Trina. You had no intention of telling me so I could be a part of his life because you’re selfish!”
Her jaw clenched. “I didn’t tell you because I was hurt and angry, Trevon! You cheated on me! We had something special! I gave you my heart, and you promised to love me! But then you threw it all away!” Her voice trembled. Trina glanced around to see if anyone was listening. “So excuse the hell out of me if doing what I did felt right for my own sanity!”
“But two years, Trina? Two years? I don’t give a damn about personal feelings. Yes, I screwed things up, and I was an ass, but that does not give you the right to keep my son away from me. A boy needs his father!”
Trina’s hands went up to her face. I could barely hear her muffled voice. “You don’t think I know that?” When she looked up again, I could see the beginning of tears. “I wish we were having this conversation because everything was okay. Instead, I’m telling you because he could die and never know…” She covered her mouth, closed her eyes, and tears streaked her face.
I sat back in the booth, my chest heavy. The phone was in my hand, so I stared at the picture again.
Justin was two years old. I’d missed everything.
His birth. Watching him learn how to walk…talk. Hearing him say Da-da… all the things Andre talked about when his first child was born.
Moments I could never get back.
And now, because of his illness, I could miss out on his future.
The only thing I had was now.
“Take me to my son.”
Thank you for reading Crossroads, A Butterfly Novella. We hope you enjoyed it. If you would like to stay up-to-date with M.J. Kane’s new releases and specials, the best way is to follow her newsletter or author pages.
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Sneak Peek – Nobody's Business
“Yo, Tre, what are you doing outside? The party is in there, man.” The groom stumbled, caught himself against the doorjamb.
I chuckled. “Shaun, you’re drunk.”
“So what? It’s my party.” He raised his beer bottle and gulped the remaining liquid. “Tomorrow, I’ll be a married man.” He grinned like an idiot.
I tilted my head, raised an eyebrow. “Are you happy about that…or sad? Right now it could be a toss-up.”
“Happy!” He grinned, then spying the empty lawn chair beside me, stumbled his way over and plopped down. His butt nearly hit the ground. “Whew!”
I shook my head and watched my fraternity brother as he got comfortable. Shaun’s hair was disheveled from the stripper who’d worked her magic in his lap. The frat brothers decided to give him a proper send-off by hiring a few girls for the night. Everyone knew his fiancée wouldn’t approve, so we went out of our way to keep it a secret. The look on his face when the women showed up an hour into what appeared to be a humble bachelor party was priceless.
Seeing this brother’s enthusiasm for the arrangement was intriguing.
The idea of marriage was something I avoided. The opportunity had presented itself once, and I gladly declined. The consequences that followed had been…well…the word itself didn’t have a positive connotation.
“Shaun, if you’re happy, why in the hell are you drunk right now?”
He struggled to sit up and faced me. “Honestly? To keep myself out of trouble. If I’m drunk, I won’t be tempted. I can’t start my marriage with a guilty conscience.” He grinned as if his idea was a no-brainer.
I guess in some twisted way, his logic made sense.
He burped, then fell back in the chair and closed his eyes. “So when are you gonna bite the bullet and find Mrs. Campbell?”
I barked out a laugh. “Mrs. Campbell? I have yet to find a woman to fill that position.” I tilted up my bottle and drank.
“Can I tell you a secret?”
I glanced at Shaun; his eyes were still closed, and his words had begun to slur.
He turned his head in my direction and forced his eyes open. “She’s not going to be perfect,” he said in a drunken whisper. “If that’s what you’re waiting for, you’ll be alone for life. You gotta remember…you’re not perfect either. Accept her faults like you want her to accept yours.” He winked and then closed his eyes. Seconds later, he was snoring.
That wasn’t new. I knew from the get-go that no woman would be perfect. God knows I had my own faults.
The real question was what was I looking for? Would I know when I found her?
My chest tightened at the memory I fought to ignore. The memory of the exotic beauty who stole my heart the moment our eyes had connected.
We spent one night together, and then she was gone.
When our paths crossed again, she broke my heart.
Not only had she lied about her name, she also forgot to mention a small detail about her life.
She was engaged.
To make matters worse, she was engaged to my best friend’s brother.
Sneak Peek – Nobody's Business
If my heart beat any faster, it would fly out of my chest.
Sweat poured over my brow, down my chest and back.
My arms trembled, my body seized in what had to be the best orgasm a man could ever have.
I collapsed, fighting to catch my breath, and inhaled the sweetest scent. Sultry, seductive, exotic. Just like the woman who lay beneath me.
Unable to hold myself up, I rolled off her to the other side of my king-sized bed. My legs hung off. I looked around and realized we had used every inch of the mattress. Sheets and covers lay on the floor, victims of the hot and heavy sex we had had.
I studied the beautiful complexion of the naked woman next to me. Trying to describe the exact color of her skin would take time. It was hard to place, just as her nationality was. She wasn’t black or white. Hispanic? Asian? A fusion of all four?
At this point, I couldn’t care less. Whatever she was, it all came down to one thing: Sexy. As. Hell.
“Ready for more?” Her sultry voice drew the blood from my brain, causing it to regroup down below.
“More?” I chuckled. “The question is, are you?”
The woman of my dreams climbed on top of me. I got lost in the deep, dark wells of eyes so brown they were nearly black. Long midnight hair hung straight down, nearly covering the swells of the most beautiful breasts I had ever had the pleasure of tasting.
I watched her hands as she reached up to pull the long strands behind her neck, the peaks of her breasts stood high and proud as she arched. One hand held her hair in place, while the other traveled slowly down her neck, down the middle of her cleavage, then over to one breast, caressing it. I licked my lips, remembering how her nipples felt on my tongue.
“So…you like to watch…” Her smile was seductive.
She laughed then proceeded to give me a show.
When I stopped off at the bar for a celebratory drink on my way home, ending the evening like this was not what I’d expected. One look down the bar at this alluring woman and I was hooked. She hadn’t made striking up a conversation with her easy, but once I got her to loosen up, we connected on a level I least expected.
A love of reading.
Despite my efforts to learn her name, she refused, suggesting I earn the right to say her name. Yet, she had no problem coming home with me. One-night stands were nothing new, but not knowing her name was driving me insane.
I slid my hands up the soft flesh of her thighs, stopping at her hips. “Now are you going to tell me?”
She tilted her head, then bit her lip as if contemplating whether my performance earned me that precious gift.
“Why do you need to know my name?”
“Because this time I want to be able to say it…”
Her sexy slanted eyes lowered before she looked me in the eye.
“My name is…Devon.”
I slapped the alarm off and tried my best to ignore the hard on…again.
Eight months later and the chance encounter with the perfect woman had yet to be forgotten.
Seven straight days after our night together, I’d searched for her, not knowing anything but her first name, which of course made it damn near impossible to do on social networking sites.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn…
Inputting her first name and searching the list of pictures had yielded no results.
For the life of me, I couldn’t understand what captivated me. It had only been sex.
Hot, heavy, mind-blowing….sex.
A one-night stand shouldn’t have left me feeling desperate.
A week after our hot night, I’d found her. To make matters worse, the perfect image I’d built up in my mind proved to be a lie. Her name wasn’t real. Her profession wasn’t real. Yet deep in my heart I knew the connection we’d made that night had been real.
Not that it mattered. She was spoken for and my future now lay elsewhere. The decisions of my past now dictated my future. And my future expected me to arrive in two hours and go to a birthday party.
I pulled myself out of bed and headed for the shower.
“You did what?” Trina stared at me as if I’d just admitted to joining a cult, not something as irrelevant as selling my loft.
“I said…I sold my condo.”
“Why? I thought you loved that place.” She walked over to the side of the living room where our two-year-old son, Justin, played with the plastic Tonka truck I’d just given him. “Come on, time for lunch.” She removed the toy from his fingers, scooped him up, and headed for the kitchen.
I watched the mother of my child situate our son in the highchair. “The place served its use, but it’s time to move on.”
Although he didn’t make a sound, Justin’s bottom lip poked out, making it clear he didn’t like the fact she’d taken his new toy from him. I picked up the toy, joined them in the kitchen, and set it just out of his reach.
“My!” He struggled to get out of the highchair restraints.
“No, playtime is over. You can have it back after you eat.” Trina shot me a look of disapproval. “Tre, you can’t do stuff like that. He knows he can’t have toys at the table when it’s time to eat.”
“Come on, it’s not like he’s playing with it.”
Justin whined and kicked the highchair in protest.
“That’s beside the point.” She turned to him. “Stop, you know what mommy says, no toys at lunchtime.”
“Miiieeee,” he whined again, this time he looked at me as if his mother hadn’t spoken a word.
“Listen to Mommy,” I said, and then I moved the truck to the seat of the empty chair beside me. That only made matters worse.
“Stop it, Justin!” Trina smacked his leg when he kicked again. Justin went from whining to full-blown crying.
“Trina, you didn’t have to do that.” I reached over to console my son.
“Yes, I did.” She shook her head in disapproval. “Look, Tre, you can’t come over here and try to change the way I discipline my son. He has to learn the rules, and he can’t learn by you sweet-talking him all the time. He was fine when I took the toy from him because he knows the rules. You screwed that up by bringing it in here. Now I’m the bad guy!” She spun on her heel and went to the counter to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
I wiped the tears from my son’s eyes and tamped down my irritation. “Look, Justin, see? It’s right here. Your truck isn’t going anywhere. Eat your food like Mommy says and then you can get it back. Right, Mommy?” I glanced in Trina’s direction.
She rolled her eyes. “Right, as soon as you eat.”
That seemed to calm him down a bit. I poked him in the tummy while making crazy noises in order to distract him until his sandwich arrived. When it did, he happily accepted it with greedy fingers.
Once he calmed down, I watched Trina as she moved around the kitchen and washed the few dishes left in the sink.
Justin was a perfect mix of both of us. While he was a spitting image of me when I was his age, he still had features like his mother: caramel-colored skin and eyes a shade lighter than my dark brown ones.
Trina and I met when we both attended Georgia Tech. We were both business majors, though I was there on a basketball scholarship. My dream had been to play pro basketball; hers had been to get a good job working in corporate America.
A basketball injury forced me to make use of my degree.
She, on the other hand, had postponed her career after graduation due to motherhood.
That was after we parted ways and she moved out of the apartment we shared.
If I had known that she was pregnant before I facilitated our breakup, life would have been different for both of us. I would have bought a house instead of a bachelor-pad a long time ago.
I would have been around to watch my son grow in her belly.
We would have been married and living a good life.
Finished washing dishes, Trina dried her hands on a towel then sat in a chair across from me, curiosity on her face. “You never answered the question. What did you mean by moving on?”
I glanced at my son for a moment and then faced her. “Moving on to us.”
Her eyebrows shot up as she sat back. “Us?”
I placed my elbows on the table. “Yes, us. I want you and Justin to move in with me.” Trina’s head dropped an inch; she stared at me as if I had sprouted some abnormality on my forehead. “I don’t want it to be a live-in situation. I think we should get back together.”
The laughter that exploded from her side of the table was a slap in the face. Her hand went to her mouth, but it was too late for her to hide the fact she thought my suggestion was absurd.
“Trevon.” She used my full name, something done only when she was serious. “You and me…” She waved a finger between us. “That ship sailed years ago. The only reason you and I are dealing with each other now is because of this little man right here.” She reached over to wipe a spot of fallen jelly from his crisp blue shirt.
“If you had told me from the get-go you were pregnant instead of hiding it from me, things would be different.”
Exactly how different, I had no idea. But at least I would have known about my son’s existence and been there. Instead, she kept him a secret, not bothering to tell me she was pregnant when we broke up.
Then one day she showed up at the restaurant I managed.
It had been my off day, but a phone call from the manager on duty stating that a customer demanded to speak to me by name, forced me to drop what I was doing and come in to handle what I thought was a volatile situation. Thinking it was a customer about to complain about bad service, I prepared to use my good looks and charm to win them over.
Instead, she dropped a bomb in my lap.
My ex-girlfriend, whom I hadn’t seen nor spoken to in two years, flashed a picture of a little boy and said he was mine.
The revelation came because Justin was diagnosed with sickle cell anemia and needed a bone marrow transplant. Neither of us was eligible to be donors because we both carried the trait. There was risk involved in the procedure. Knowing this, Trina decided I needed the chance to know my son…just in case.
After recovering from the shock of having a child and the severity of his illness, getting to know him took precedence in my life. Thankfully, he pulled through the procedure. That was eight months ago, and he was nearing his third birthday.
Nothing could get back the two years Trina took from me. I didn’t doubt for a moment that if he hadn’t gotten ill, she would have continued with the secret. But I owed it to her, and especially my son, to correct the situation and give them what they both deserved, a chance to put our family back together again.
She lifted an eyebrow. “Different how? You would have decided to take our relationship seriously and stop chasing other women?”
That was a definite slap in the face. One I deserved.
“Hmm, speechless. That’s what I thought.” She stood from the table, retrieved a sippy cup from the cabinet, and poured Justin a cup of milk.
I had been unfaithful during the last months of our relationship.
In the end, so had she. When it was obvious her attempt to retaliate didn’t inspire me to work things out, she packed up and left.
“I wasn’t the only one who messed up, Trina, so don’t pin it all on me.”
“Oh, I beg to differ. My actions were a direct result of yours. The only problem was you couldn’t handle it. I was supposed to be the faithful woman sitting around while you did what you wanted. I can’t believe you expected me to take it sitting down.” She stopped, held up a hand, closed her eyes for a moment, and took a deep breath. “But you know what, that’s neither here nor there. What’s in the past is just that. The only thing I need or want from you is help raising our son. So, if selling your condo to buy a house is what you expected would make me want to come back…” She smirked. “You screwed up.”
I sat back in my chair and held my tongue. When Trina got all worked up, there was no way to make a point. But that was fine. I let her believe what she needed to believe. Telling her my true reasons for cheating on her would only make the situation worse. The past was just that, the past. I figured convincing her that getting back together for the sake of our son would take time.
But time was something I had a lot of.
After all, I wasn’t interested in any other women right now.
Well, except for the one who broke my heart before knowing it belonged to her.
Find links to Nobody’s Business and M.J. Kane’s complete lineup of bestsellers here: www.writtenmusings.com/mjkane