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First pages

~PART I~

~ONE~

Charlotte, North Carolina~

 

Amon Mikende angled the black Pathfinder along the inviting cobblestone drive and was immediately taken in by the house around the bend.

“Distinct Voysey overtones,” He spoke aloud to himself and studied the home’s simple design and dramatic overhangs; clearly influenced by the warm, romantic style of the English architect. With its wide front porch, stone chimney and long graceful windows, the place exuded a coziness that was right out of the early 1900s.

“Hey man, you know it ain’t good to be driftin’ away like that behind the wheel.”

Amon’s grin made him appear wicked and boyish at once. Of course, its wicked overtones were seen most often. “Sorry Me-Me.” He flashed his younger brother a playfully apologetic look.

“And please, don’t call me that ‘round my girl.’ Muesi Mikende’s gorgeous coffee-brown eyes filled with phony panic.

“I know, I know,” Amon’s enviably long lashes settled dramatically as he shook his head. “Why do you always tell me that when we get together with Cali?”

“‘Cause she’d never let me live it down, if she heard some of the fool nicknames y’all have for me.” Muesi referred to his brother and the rest of their family.

Amon pulled his hand away from the gear changer and placed it across his heart. “I promise to remember.”

Muesi leaned back against the headrest. “Appreciate it.”

“This is a nice house.” Amon’s hypnotic charcoal stare appraised the structure set amidst a sea of massive pine trees.

Muesi glanced out at the house he had seen thousands of times. “Yeah, Cali’s parents got the place when they married.”

“I didn’t know Cali stayed with her folks.” Amon eased the SUV into a spot right next to a gray Honda Civic.

“She doesn’t.” Muesi’s expression clouded just a little. “Her Pops left them when Cali and her sister were real young. Her Mom worked hard to keep the place right up until she passed away some years ago.”

Amon winced as he shut off the ignition. “Tough life,” He thought of how difficult it must have been for the two young women to grow up enduring such tragedies.

“Strong women,” Muesi decided. “I think that’s why I love Cali so.”

One of the sleek onyx brows shielding Amon’s deep-set gaze rose in a gesture of mild surprise. “Love?” He queried.

Muesi closed his eyes and raised both his hands. “Don’t give me a hard time, ‘Mon.”

“I wasn’t going to. It just sounds like you’re for real.”

“I am.” Muesi unhooked his seat belt. “I don’t intend on letting Cali get away.” He checked his low Afro before opening his door.

The men left the SUV and headed up the uneven cobblestone walkway. Muesi rapped the silver doorknocker and waited.

The young woman who answered had a dark face that would undoubtedly grow more defined with beauty as she aged. Her almond-shaped eyes were a vibrant cocoa brown and radiated innocence with an unconsciously sensual undertone.

“Muesi!” She flung her tall, slender body against his taller one as she hugged him tightly.

“Damn girl, you still here?” Muesi complained in the relentless teasing manner he reserved for his girlfriend’s kid sister. “I was hoping to get some privacy with my woman, know what I mean? When are you going back to G’boro?”

Patrice Flowers slapped Muesi’s shoulder, knowing her sister’s boyfriend loved her too. “Christmas break’ll be over next weekend. Then, I’m back to Greensboro to get another semester out the way.” She explained.

“Senior year, right?” Muesi asked, as he stepped inside from the porch.

“Mmm hmm,” Patrice confirmed, though she was far more interested in the devastating stranger who was entering the house behind her sister’s boyfriend.

Muesi was already on his way upstairs to find Cali, when he remembered his manners. “Sorry ‘Mon. Patrice Flowers this is my brother Amon Mikende. Amon, this is Cali’s baby sis, Patrice.”

Patrice cast a quick, scathing look toward Muesi in response to his introduction, before she smiled at Amon. “Nice to meet you,” She said, extending her hand.

“Cali’s always talking about you.” Amon enclosed her small hand in both his larger ones. “She says you’re at the top of your class.” He added.

“I think she exaggerated a bit on that one.” Patrice’s lashes almost swept her high cheekbones when she lowered her gaze.

Muesi’s guffaw filled the room then. “Please, ‘Mon the girl’s a walkin’ brain, acing all her business classes.”

Patrice laughed, her high ponytail brushing her shoulders like a glossy, black ribbon. “The brain would be you, ‘Mr. Junior Ad Exec’. Congrats on the new job,” She said.

Muesi accepted the words with a gracious nod. “It took a long time to get there, but it’s worth it for the chance to work in my major.”

“Amen.” Amon said.

“Cali upstairs, Patrice?” Muesi was already headed to the second floor.

“Where else?” Patrice called. “She can’t decide what to wear.”

“What else is new?” Muesi retorted, before disappearing at the top of the hunter green carpeted staircase.

“Can I take your coat, Amon?” Patrice offered, more than happy to play hostess to Muesi’s sexy older brother. Now, she regretted having declined so many of Cali’s requests that she attend family functions at her boyfriend’s home.

Amon shrugged out of the mocha overcoat and watched Patrice take it to an armchair in the corner.

“Have a seat.” Patrice closed the distance between them. “Can I get you anything to drink while we wait?”

Amon shook his head and smiled. “I’m good.”

“Well then, I guess I should thank you.” She sighed, smoothing her hands over the form fitting burgundy trousers she sported.

Amon turned to face her when she took a spot on the sofa. “Thank me?”

“For inviting me along on this celebration dinner for Muesi.”

Amon smoothed his hand across the back of his head. His soft, dark hair was cropped into a close cut that accentuated the striking definition of his angular face. “You’re Cali’s sister, aren’t you? Besides, she’ll be official family soon.”

Patrice’s eyes widened and her full lips parted to form a perfect O. “Do you know something?” She gasped, resting her hand across his, where it lay along the back of the sofa.

For just a moment, Amon was bereft of any words. The expectancy and pure sweetness in her chocolate stare was almost his undoing. The sensation was unlike anything he had ever experienced and he grimaced inwardly at the silliness of the notion.

“No. Um no, Patrice. I don’t know anything.” Amon regained his composure before she grew curious. “It’s just obvious that those two are gonna be together for a while.”

Somewhat deflated now, Patrice let her hand slide from Amon’s as she shrugged. “Yeah, you’re right. Muesi’s a real good guy. My sister’s lucky to have him. Don’t tell him I said that.” She urged, pinning Amon with a warning gaze. “I don’t want him to get a big head.”

“Hmph. You mean bigger than the one he already has?” Amon clarified, joining in when Patrice laughed.

“So, you’re an architect.” She knowingly inquired, once silence had reasserted itself.

Amon nodded. “I’m an architect.”

“World renown?”

“Not yet.”

“Modest.”

Amon chuckled at her teasing. “It takes a while to establish oneself as a force in the field.”

Patrice nodded. “It’s very competitive?” She asked, leaning back against the sofa.

“Very.” Amon confirmed, with a weary sigh.

“Has your race ever been an issue?”

“Not so much-not as much as I’ve seen in other fields.” Amon was candid in his reply as he seemed to consider his response. “That doesn’t mean architecture isn’t without its share of prejudices.” He saw fit to add.

Patrice settled her hands over the sleeves of the scoop neck sweater she wore. “I believe I’ve seen your name on flyers for speeches you’ve given.”

A flash of pride appeared in his coal colored stare. “You must attend State?”

Patrice smiled. “Mmm hmm, did Muesi tell you?”

“I believe it was Cali who did, but State is the only school I’ll agree to speak at, since it’s my Alma Mater.”

“Ahh...” Patrice replied, with a slow nod. “So you choose to be stingy with your vast knowledge?”

Amon wasn’t offended and laughed in response to her sly teasing. Patrice couldn’t ignore the shivers which ignited in the small of her back before shimmying up her spine. The man’s laughter was smooth and full-bodied, not to mention contagious.

“I like to give back.” He finally explained, using his thumb to press a tear from the corner of his eye. “I just prefer to give back to the people who helped get me where I am, first.”

“Well, the school loves you for it. I can’t count the guys in my classes who’ve quoted something you’ve said that could carry over to an issue in another class.”

Amon uttered a laugh that was far from humorous. “I think your friends were quoting me to make themselves look big in front of a pretty lady.”

Patrice blinked at the easy compliment, but offered no other acknowledgement. “They all know it’s a waste of time with me.”

“They know you’re not havin’ it?” His quiet deep voice held just a trace of authority.

Patrice gave a regal toss of her head. “I’m only interested in getting my degree. Then, maybe...”

Amon chuckled. “You’ve got the right idea.” He didn’t know why her outlook pleased him. He only knew that it did.

Just then, Muesi and Cali arrived downstairs walking hand in hand.

“Are we ready?!” Muesi bellowed.

Cali had already crossed the living room and was hugging Amon.

“How much longer are you gonna be in town?” Calista Flowers’ slanting hazel eyes twinkled with happiness.

“‘Bout another week,” Amon hugged Cali again.

Cali glanced across her shoulder, sending her chic Chinese bob bouncing healthily around her vanilla-toned oval of a face. “Now I know you didn’t come up in here alone? Don’t tell me you don’t have a gorgeous woman on your arm for the evening?”

Amon’s mouth curved into a mischievous smirk. “Actually, I do.” He informed his brother’s girlfriend, before stepping over to pull her sister’s hand through the crook of his arm.

Patrice tried not to appear too awestruck, despite the blood rushing to her head at the feel of the iron bicep beneath her hand. Everyone else laughed and the evening was off to a wonderful beginning.

***

The foursome dined at a restaurant Patrice had often dreamed of visiting. Whenever she came home, she passed the elegant Italian establishment with its classic old world decor, intimate tables draped in flowing cream colored linens, complete with fine gleaming silverware and graceful candelabras. She often prayed for an occasion special enough to warrant a meal there.

Despite how entranced she was by the fairytale surroundings, it wasn’t enough to take her attention from Amon Mikende. Her eyes had followed his every movement and studied his confident, unhurried mannerisms. Several times, she silently ordered herself to focus on something, anything else. The last thing she wanted was to attract Cali’s keen eye. But Cali was too absorbed in her own man to pay close attention to her baby sister. Patrice couldn’t help but note how much closer Cali and Muesi seemed lately. They seemed more in love now, than they were before graduating college two years earlier. Patrice found herself agreeing with Amon then: her sister would be an official member of the Mikende family very soon.

“Cali, didn’t you tell me that Patrice was a dancer?”

Patrice almost choked on her lemon tea as she sent her sister a horrified look. “Cal...” She whined.

“Whaaat?” Cali whined back and waved at Amon. “She certainly is and very very talented.”

Amon looked over at Patrice. “And what type of dance do you specialize in?” He asked, propping an index finger alongside his cheek as he studied her.

Patrice fidgeted with a curl from her ponytail. “Well...I don’t really specialize-”

“Oh Trice, stop bein’ modest, walkin’ ‘round the house practicing moves all the time.”

Again, Patrice sent her sister a withering look. “African.” She shortly replied.

Amon’s brows rose. “I’m impressed. I know my folks would love to see you perform. Especially my father, he’s Nigerian.”

“Patrice has a show coming up sometime next semester.”

“Cali, hush!” Patrice ordered her sister, this time pounding her fist to the table.

Muesi laughed. “Girl, you don’t have to be shy in front of ‘Mon. He might look rough, but he’s a big ‘ol teddy bear.”

Cali laughed as well, but Patrice looked as though she were praying for a cloud of smoke to envelope her. She closed her eyes just as Amon leaned over to squeeze her hand.

“How about a dance?”

Patrice’s eyes snapped to the gorgeous dark face which was close enough to touch.

Amon shrugged. “It’s not African, but I think we might enjoy it.”

“Sounds good,” Patrice eagerly accepted, desperate to get away from Cali and Muesi.

“Guess it’s tough being the youngest?” Amon inquired, once they were on the dance floor.

“You didn’t know?” Patrice allowed the serenity of the string quartet’s performance to soothe her frazzled nerves.

Amon grinned, his midnight eyes narrowing. “Sorry I asked about the dancing,” he murmured.

“Oh no, you don’t have to apologize.”

He tilted his head just slightly. “I could tell you were upset.”

Patrice pressed her hand against her forehead. “Look Amon, don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of my dancing. I’m just not one to... flaunt talent, that’s all.”

Amon’s eyes narrowed once more almost to the point of closing then. “Not one to ‘flaunt talent’? And how old are you again?” He teased, loving the sound of her laughter which was honest and carefree.

“I don’t dance for notoriety, I just love doing it.” She explained.

“I understand.” His fiercely handsome features softened as the mood mellowed.

The silence between them lengthened and Patrice allowed herself to relish the closeness. Amon Mikende possessed a leanly muscular, athletic frame. She would wager he had not an ounce of fat on his body. He had to be well over six feet since he towered over Patrice in spite of the boots which added several inches to her own five foot nine height. He wore stylish mocha trousers with a matching jacket and a crisp black shirt, but Patrice knew he would be just as devastating in coveralls.

“Would you mind an audience the next time?”

She looked up at him then and for the second time that night; Amon could practically feel the look in his gaze intensifying. She was obviously confused by his question, but he didn’t see confusion. He was entranced by the utter sweetness of her baby face.

Clearing his throat, Amon straightened. “Would you mind if I were in the audience for your next performance?” He asked.

Patrice blinked, shocked that he would even consider coming to a college show. “You would actually want to go to that thing?”

Amon shook his head. “Why wouldn’t I?”

“Because you’re a world renown-”

“Not yet.”

“Architect.”

“And you’re going to be part of my family one day.”

Patrice’s chocolate gaze studied his expression closely. The way he phrased the statement made her think he meant it in a way that had nothing to do with the fact that his brother and her sister would one day marry.

“Now,” he whispered, leaning closer, “am I gonna get an invite to this thing, or not?”

Patrice laughed and gave him the date, time and location of the show. “I’d understand if you aren’t able to make it.” She later added, focusing on the cream buttons along his loosened collar.

“Hey?” Amon waited until she looked up at him. “Remember when Muesi said I was an ‘ol teddy bear?” He watched her respond with a slow nod. “Well, that’s true until I hear someone underestimating how important they are to me.”

Patrice pressed her lips together and nodded again. The music concluded shortly, and Amon escorted her back to their table.

~~~

Later, while they enjoyed enormous slices of strawberry cheesecake, Amon held the group’s attention as he regaled them with talk of his travels. He spoke on the stunning natural beauty of New Mexico, the shameless excess of Monte Carlo and the breathtaking sights abundant in Italy.

“So what incredible place will you be off to next?” Cali asked, warming her hands around a mug of cappuccino.

“Well, I won’t be leaving for another week.” Amon smiled when he noticed Patrice’s delight. “But my next job’s in Brazil.” He told them, waving off their excited responses.

“How’d you land a gig down there, man?”

“Well, the gig ain’t mine yet.” Amon told his brother. “The guy visited a property I designed in Winter Park, Florida. He asked the owner about me. He’s flying me down to Brazil to have me look at some property he just inherited.”

“Brazil...” Patrice sighed. “I’d love to go someplace like that one day.”

Amon regarded her thoughtfully. “I’ll have to remember that.”

***

When the group left La Bella it was well past 9:30pm. In spite of the hour, it was impossible to miss the appearance of the sky. Threatening clouds had definitely moved in and, by the time the group arrived back at Cali’s and Patrice’s home, a ferocious storm was in full swing.

“Well, I’m stayin’.” Muesi was already removing the black, quarter-length jacket he’d worn that evening. “‘Mon?” He called, fixing his brother with an expectant look.

Amon jingled the keys which rested inside his deep trouser pocket. “I better go on and hit the road.”

“Amon, what sense does that make?” Cali argued.

“And the guest room is always ready.” Patrice added, feeling comfortable enough to input her opinion.

“Come on, ‘Mon.” Muesi urged, pulling his girlfriend close. “You’ll have the room to yourself. I certainly won’t need it.”

The suggestive remark earned Muesi a laugh from Amon and Patrice and a slap to the back of the head from Cali. Finally, Amon shrugged and began removing his coat.

“Alright, I’ll stay.” He said.

“I’ll show you to the way.” Patrice was already taking Amon’s hand and heading towards the staircase. The room was situated between hers and Cali’s. It was a spacious, paneled suite with its own bath. The girls had opted for a more rugged, masculine decor to contrast with the soft, feminine styles of their own bedrooms. Patrice was sure Amon would be quite comfortable.

“You should find everything you need,” she was saying, checking the bathroom for fresh towels, “but call if there’s anything I can get for you.”

“Patrice?” Amon called, as she turned to leave the room. “Thank you.” He added.

She lingered half in, half out the room, her hand just grazing the doorknob. “No problem.” She whispered, studying him for a second or two before leaving.

~~~

Patrice had been in bed for at least an hour and sleep hadn’t visited her yet.

“It’s this damn storm.” She told herself, when another loud boom of thunder rocked the skies.

Of course, that explanation was far from true. No, it was Amon Mikende’s presence. The sexy, observant, dark god in the guest bedroom prohibited her rest that evening.

“Hmph. ‘Sexy, observant, older dark god.’” She whispered into the silence. Amon had to be at least five years older than she, though he looked no older than Muesi, Cali or… herself, for that matter.

In truth, Patrice thought, the man should have unnerved her to no end. She called to mind the intense dark as pitch gaze that seemed to appear warm, except for that underlying intensity. Not to mention the most intriguing element to his features: the wicked scar that jagged from the corner of his right eye to the middle of his cheek. She would have given anything to know the story behind the acquisition of that mark. Amon Mikende watched her with a covert intensity that made her feel as though he were searching her very soul for… what? Weakness? Some vulnerability that he could exploit?

“Ohhh, stop bein’ dramatic Trice,” She ordered, admitting that Amon’s looks didn’t discomfort her at all. However, they did make her wish she was older than nineteen and more experienced.

“Forget this.” She whispered, whipping back the pearl blue and white checkered linens. She decided to head downstairs for a hot cup of herbal tea and to indulge in her favorite activity when sleep would not come: sitting in the corner armchair with her bare feet poised above the heating vent there. The warmth caressing her toes and the sound of the swooshing air had the most calming effect. Her eyelids were certain to grow heavy after that.

She left her room and crept downstairs. She pulled off the comfortable terry robe she’d thrown on for modesty and tossed it to her favorite chair. Then, fanning wrinkles from her worn, faded nightshirt, she headed to the kitchen to prepare her tea.

The living room hadn’t been empty five minutes, when Amon ventured down as well. Sleep had eluded him also and, since the house had stirred his creative juices, he decided to get up and do some preliminary brainstorming.

He chose to sit in the chair in the corner and discovered a robe lying across the arm. Testing its softness, a slow smile curved his mouth when the lingering scent of perfume tickled his nostrils. Patrice, he thought to himself, enjoying the light, clean scent of the fragrance. Pure male satisfaction welled inside him as he commended himself on never forgetting a woman’s perfume.

Woman? His smile faded. She’s only nineteen. He reminded himself and was determined not to forget it. Patrice was a child next to him, he declared.

“She’s not even old enough to drink, dammit.” Grimacing, he set the robe across the back of a burgundy upholstered chair. Still... she was old enough for other things, he acknowledged before grimacing again. Other things I forbid myself to even think about!

“Amon?” Patrice called, when she reentered the living room. “Did you need something?” Concern was flashing in her warm gaze.

Amon stood from the chair. “I’m fine. Just couldn’t sleep.”

“Neither could I.” Patrice gave a short laugh. “Tea?” She offered, raising her mug, which he waved off.

“Mind some company?” He gestured toward the robe on the chair.

“No, sit and stay.” She urged, padding barefoot across the thick, hunter green carpeting.

“I don’t want to intrude on your quiet time.” He said, even as he accepted the seat.

Patrice took her spot on the carpet next to the vent closest to the armchair. “I don’t need quiet to warm my toes.”

Amon smirked. “Warm your toes?”

“My ritual when I can’t sleep,” She explained.

Entranced, Amon watched her wriggle her bare toes over the heating vent. The digits were small, perfectly shaped and polished a rich coffee color.

“Try it.” Patrice urged, before taking a sip of the tangy herbal blend she’d prepared.

Amon’s low rumble of a laugh filled the air then. “I’ll have to decline that request. These dogs ain’t pretty enough to stretch out for the whole world to see.”

Patrice rested her hand over her heart. “I promise I won’t laugh.”

“You say that now.”

Soft laughter filled their corner.

After a while, Amon leaned back in the chair. He used the dim lighting from the one lamp that was being used to study the room.

“This house is incredible.” He commended. “This style dates back to the early twentieth century. Your folks were lucky to find it.”

Patrice’s expression grew nostalgic. “Yeah, they were.” She finally replied.

Amon looked down at her before he leaned forward. “I was sorry to hear about your mother.”

“Thanks.” She whispered, a serene smile tugging at her soft mouth. “Cali and me like to think she’s always here, always watching us.”

“Always?” Amon queried, his tone clearly suggestive.

Patrice read his thoughts perfectly, knowing he was referring to what was probably going on in the master bedroom.

“Most of the time,” She rephrased.

“Looks like a lot to keep up. Money-wise.” He noted.

“You’re right.” Patrice agreed, setting her mug aside to brush her hands across her arms. “I thank God Cali has a good job and I got that scholarship. But, I know it’s still rough. That’s why I want to work too.”

“And give up school?” Amon asked, not really caring for the idea.

“No.” Patrice quickly informed him. “Just something on the side to help out a little.”

Amon rested the side of his face against his palm. “Uh-huh and how does Cali feel about it?”

Patrice rolled her eyes. “She won’t even let me talk about it.”

“Good.”

“What?”

“You need to concentrate on school.” Amon decided in a tone that brooked no argument. “The last two years especially. I’ve seen too many people fall in love with the money and put school on the back burner. Forever.”

Despite the clearly authoritative tone in Amon’s baritone voice, Patrice took no offense to his outlook. “I have no intentions of doing that.” She informed him in a tone that was curt yet polite. “I plan to get my degree and hope to run my own company someday.”

“Your own company?” Amon’s sleek brows rose to indicate how impressed he was. “What kind of company?”

Patrice’s gaze faltered as she shrugged. “I have no idea, but,” she said, slicing the air with her index finger, “when I do, I’ll know how to run it.”

Amon’s laughter was quick, but humorous. “I like the way you think, Miss Flowers.”

“Thank you.” Patrice replied with a giggle.

Another bellowing roll of thunder sounded then unexpectedly, causing Patrice to shriek. Coming to her knees, she slammed into Amon’s long legs. His hands folded around her upper arms and he uttered a soothing sound.

“It’s okay, it’s okay.” His easy laughter was just below the surface of the whispered words.

Patrice had forgotten about the storm, though. She gasped, but her reaction had everything to do with Amon’s hands curled around her.

“You know, if I don’t get to sleep now, I never will.” He released her almost as soon as he’d taken hold of her. “Good night, Patrice.”

“Good night.” Patrice hoped her tone sounded mature, cool and unaffected- all of the things she didn’t feel. When Amon Mikende was gone, she buried her face in her robe and groaned.

~TWO~

Morning arrived and signs of the vicious storm were practically non-existent. Patrice rushed downstairs hoping the overnight visitors were still there. When she burst into the kitchen only to find her sister at the stove, she expressed a disappointed sigh.

“Yes, it’s only me.” Cali announced in a knowing voice, “Muesi and his superfine brother have vacated the premises.”

“I didn’t say anything.” Patrice retorted, shuffling over to the round table that was always set with place-mats, cups and saucers.

Of course, Cali knew her younger sister very well and saw right through the act. “Please Trice, I saw you drooling over the man last night.”

“Drooling?!” Patrice cried, feeling very guilty and extremely frustrated by her sister’s perceptive eye.

“Calm down,” Cali prepared a mug of steaming cocoa for her sister, “I truly understand your reaction. Amon’s just too fine for his own good.”

“Cali!”

Cali waved one hand above her head as she returned to washing the last few saucers in the sink. “Girl, I may be in love with Muesi, but I’m not blind to other men, you know?”

“I know, but-”

“As if any woman could be blind to a beautiful one like that,” Cali went on.

“What do you know about his scar?”

Cali shrugged. “I never thought to ask Muesi about it. But don’t you think it only makes him more...devastating?” She queried in a naughty tone.

Patrice rolled her eyes in a dreamy manner. “I’ll say.” She leaned against the high backed wooden chair she occupied. “Don’t you think it’s sort of strange he’s not married or, at least, seeing somebody?”

“Well, if you ask Muesi, he’ll tell you that his brother sees several somebodies. I’m sure he doesn’t spend all his time in those fabulous foreign countries, working.”

That reality didn’t set too well with Patrice, so she shrugged it off and went about preparing a bowl of cereal. Meanwhile, Cali set her last dish to the drying rack and wiped down the counter. Seconds later, she was tossing the dish towel to the rack and announcing her departure.

“But, it’s Saturday!” Patrice held her spoon poised above the bowl of rice cereal. “And I was counting on you to take me shopping for supplies.” She added.

“Oh Honey, I’m sorry,” Cali began digging through her purse, “but we’re learning a new computer program at the agency and I have to be there.” She explained, referring to the public assistance agency where she worked as a Counselor.

“Look, just take the bus out to the mall and get what you can out of this. We’ll take care of the rest when I get paid.”

Patrice looked at the twenty, and then looked at Cali as though she’d been kidding. She wouldn’t complain, though. Her sister was doing the very best she could and twenty dollars was not something to be given up lightly.

“Thanks, Cal.” She watched her sister check her hair and makeup in the mirror next to the back door. “Have a good day,” She added.

Cali blew her a kiss. “I’ll be back by four!”

***

“If you’d like to see another design, Mr. Mikende, I’d be happy to-”“No, no this is fine, Sela.”

The lovely, brunette sales associate regarded the sinfully handsome man in her midst, with a look that clearly stated she was seeing him as more than a customer.

“So, what’s next on the list?” Sela asked, clasping her hands together as her mouth curved into an inviting smile.

Amon perused the fine, albeit stark drafting table which he’d decided would suit his purpose should creativity strike him at home. “No Sela, I think I’m done here. I would like to arrange to have this stuff delivered to my home, though.”

Sela’s professionally arched brows raised a tad. “Oh? So you are from Charlotte?” She’d already labeled him an out-of-towner.

Amon grinned, trailing his index finger along the jagged scar. “It’s my parent’s address. I stay with them whenever I’m in town.”

“I see.” Sela tagged the table. “Let’s go ring up your purchases and I’ll get the rest of your information.” She said, leading the way through the narrow aisles of the store to the registry area located near the entrance. “So, I take it your work keeps you on the move?” She inquired, while Amon leaned against the glass counter and awaited his total.

“At least ten months out of the year.” He told her.

“I’m intrigued.” She used a laser wand to scan the items on the counter first. “I assume you’ve been out of the country?”

Amon nodded. “Most of my work has taken me outside the country.”

“Goodness...” Sela drawled, her southern accent quite noticeable then. She set the wand aside as she gazed up at him with an awed expression. “I’ve never been outside the country. It must be fascinating.” She remarked and launched a short, yet enlightening conversation with Amon regarding his travels.

“Okay, now if you’d just sign here.” She instructed, upon finally completing the transaction. When Amon didn’t take her pen, she looked up. “Mr. Mikende?”

Amon’s attention was focused outside the store window. “Excuse me.” He said, and walked away.

 

 


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

AlTonya Washington has been a published romance novelist for 14 years. She is traditionally published with Harlequin’s Kimani Romance imprint and is a winner of the Romance Slam Jam EMMA Award and a two time winner of The Romantic Times Magazine Reviewer's Choice Award. In addition to being an author, AlTonya works as a college Reference Librarian. She enjoys a successful career as an indie author as well and is best known for her long-running and popular Ramsey/Tesano romantic suspense series.

Q. What books are you reading now?
A.
Right now I'm reading JD Robb's "Brotherhood In Death" part of the In Death Series. Afterwards, I plan to dive into Catherine Coulter's FBI Thriller series. Michael Connelly's Bosch series is also one of my newest faves.
Q. Tell us about the cover and the inspiration for it.
A.
I was inspired by this image the moment I saw it. I felt that is said so much about the story as a whole. The red rose for me symbolized both the love and passion between the characters, but the smoke rising from it so perfectly indicates how their involvement is consumed by destructive forces.
Q. Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
A.
If there's one thing I'd like for readers to take away from this book, it's a view of how easily secrets can morph into overwhelming issues. Secrets aren't just comprised of one thing, but a series of circumstances, events, decisions that can easily become frighteningly unmanageable.

Next in:
Romance
A Dark Night on Oak Lane
In the blink of an eye life changes
Frozen Panic
This time, she won't take "No" for an answer.
Between Love and Fear
Will protecting her save him from himself?