Begin Again #HolidayShorts

holidays 

Nah. Hell nah.

He was being punked. That was the only way to explain this. Out of the almost one hundred thousand students at Penn State …. No way.

Deuce took a deep breath and stood as Zora approached his table at the Hub. Wearing a scowl with her grey sweatshirt and jeans, she was obviously just as surprised and dismayed as he.

“Wow,” she said, her tone sardonic. “Small world.”

“That wasn’t your name,” he said. “On Zimride, the person who responded wasn’t you.”

“I had a friend post for me,” Zora said, referring to his inquiry on the campus rideshare system. “I didn’t know it was you either. Obviously.”

“Doesn’t that defeat the purpose?” he asked sourly. “Of knowing exactly who you’re letting into your car? Of knowing exactly whose car you’re getting into?”

“Look,” Zora said. “We don’t have to do this. If you’re uncomfortable, I’m sure I can find someone else.”

“Like who? It’s five days before Christmas. And didn’t you tell me last week you were leaving the next day? But I guess that wasn’t true either.”

“Either? When did I ever lie to … whatever, man. For your information, I planned to leave when I said I would. But then my car died on me. But you wouldn’t know anything about that, being that those are poor people problems and all.”

Deuce ignored the jab. “So, we doing this or not? I want to make it to Jersey before nightfall.”

Zora shrugged. “Then let’s go.”

It was only then that Deuce noticed the heavy duffle she had slung over her right shoulder, along with the smaller weekend bag and pocketbook in her left hand. He reached for it and after a moment’s hesitation, Zora surrendered the weighty bag.

Without a word, Deuce headed for the exit, sensing her presence just behind him.

Three-and-a-half hours. That was how long it would take to drive from State College to Short Hills, New Jersey. He could endure almost anything for three-and-a-half hours. Even the company of the one girl on campus he least wanted to see.

What he’d been hoping for when he posted the rideshare was just someone to kill the miles and hours with, someone he could shoot the breeze with about music, or if it was a dude, football. Maybe they would share some mutual hatred of the New England Pats, or talk about how overrated Cam Newton was … The last thing he wanted to do was relive his brief misadventure with the campus revolutionary.

When they got to his car, Deuce disengaged the locks and tossed Zora’s bag in the backseat of the Range Rover with his stuff and turned to face her again for the first time.

“Here,” he said, reaching for the smaller bags. “Lemme put those back here as well, so you’ll have some legroom.”

“Thanks.” She handed them over willingly.

Once he’d tossed that in the backseat as well and straightened up, Deuce was surprised to find that she was still standing there, next to the passenger side door, moving her weight from one leg to the other, as though trying to keep warm in the frigid air.

“It’s open,” he said inclining his head in the direction of the door.

Zora looked at him blankly, and Deuce rolled his eyes, opening the door for her, waiting for her to get in and then shutting it. Taking a deep breath, he walked around the rear of the car and got in on his side.

“Your tank is full,” Zora noted when he started the engine.

“Yeah. So what?”

“The deal on Zimride was that the passenger pays for gas, you pay tolls.”

“I don’t need it,” Deuce shrugged.

“It doesn’t matter if you need it. It’s the principle.”

“And we know you’re all about principles,” he said as he pulled away from the curb.

~~~

In the normal course of things, Zora Diallo wasn’t someone he would have crossed paths with. Even though Penn State was only about six percent Black, their social circles couldn’t have been more different. Deuce ran with the jocks – guys on the football team, and his best friend Kaleem who was on a full ride for track and field. And Zora was part of the group that was always protesting something. Deuce remembered her from his freshman African American Literature class though. Much had been made of the fact that she was named after the famous writer; and he remembered that she was one of the few people who hadn’t just read the books they were assigned, but seemed to have spent a lot of time thinking about them too.

He recalled her voice when she spoke up in class. Warm and husky, low but at the same time very feminine. And later, around sophomore year, he started seeing her occasionally on campus, sometimes with a bullhorn, sometimes on a stage, talking about obscure injustices that didn’t seem to have much to do with his life. Until a week ago, when he and Kaleem had gotten stopped in the Range Rover. The stop—which in the end had wound up being little more than an inconvenience had shaken him more than he wanted to admit. Because it had been the third time in as many weeks, and coincided with delivery of his new car, which his father had grudgingly gotten him after some cajoling from his mother.

After the traffic stop, he and Kaleem headed to an off-campus bar. Kaleem, unfazed, tore into a plate of buffalo wings while Deuce sat fuming about the indignity of being made to sit on his hands on a cold-ass curb while two cops verified that he was entitled to drive his own vehicle.

A few minutes into their meal, across the room Kaleem spotted Zora sitting at the bar with two of her girls. She had a wild natural that looked like she woke up and yanked at it by the handful until it stood on end like the hair of that little Black character from that old show with all the kids, Little Ragamuffins, or something like that, Deuce thought it was called. Zora was the kind of chick that made you stare, if only because her skin was dark and smooth as stone, and she had high prominent cheekbones and full, plump lips that made her look like she was always on the verge of puckering up to bestow a kiss.

Deuce remembered thinking when he looked at her that night that she didn’t need the foundation that her two friends had plastered on because her complexion was dark enough to appear completely uniform. And there were few shades of lipstick that would successfully compete with the apparently natural dark plum hue of her mouth. Her eyes were almost catlike in shape, but large and dark. Her nose small but with flared nostrils that gave her a look of fierce determination.

She couldn’t have been further from Deuce’s type. He was into Spanish chicks. Long dark hair, caramel skin and just enough African blood in them to give them ass for days. He liked that they were emotive and a little wild, that they fucked as hard as they fought … all stereotypes, it was true, but in his experience, also based in a little bit of fact.

Kaleem had his eye on Zora, so they invited her and her friends over. Deuce wasn’t in the mood to make small talk with a gaggle of girls, but for his boy Kaleem, was willing to be the wingman for the evening.

Zora hadn’t spoken much, but when she did, Deuce almost felt the vibration of her voice. Something about it stirred his interest; that, and the fact that she couldn’t have seemed less interested in either him or Kaleem. That shit was new. Kaleem tended to attract chicks in droves. Rich dusky skin, along with the movie-star white teeth and his lean runner’s body got him lots of play. He was handsome enough probably—Deuce didn’t feel equipped to assess other dudes’ looks—but there was something about Kaleem that drew mostly blondes, a good number athletes themselves. Kal often partook of those delights, as did Deuce, but his friend had a definite and strong preference for the sisters.

In college, anything goes, man, Kal had told him once. But once I graduate I’m marrying a queen and building a Black nation. Four, maybe five little Kaleems. Nah mean?

So maybe that was what Kal was looking for in Zora—his queen.

But she was cool as ice all evening, until Kal finally turned his attention to her girl Mia instead. And without knowing when or how it happened, Deuce’s attention turned to Zora. She was squeezed next to him in the booth, and at the end next to her, Mia. Her friend Sophie sat with Kal on the opposite side.

Excuse my man for being so quiet over there, Kal said at one point. But we got pulled over tonight on some bullshit, so he’s all shook up.

At that, Zora seemed to notice him for the first time. Turning in her seat to look Deuce directly in the eye, she said, I’m sorry that happened.

~~~

“I could’ve sworn you said you lived in New York,” Zora said now.

She had removed her boots and curled her feet beneath her. Deuce tried not to look at her legs in the close-fitting jeans. Unless he was mistaken, they were the same jeans from that night. That dumb-ass night that he couldn’t stop thinking about.

“I do. Upstate. My father lives in Jersey. I’m going there first to see him, my stepmother, my baby brother and sister, and to spend the night with them.”

“How many siblings do you have?”

Deuce looked at her, and Zora shrugged.

“Is that something I should know?” she asked.

Maybe not. Some other chick, maybe. But not Zora. Of all the girls unlikely to have followed his complicated blended family’s exploits on the entertainment blogs, Zora was probably the unlikeliest.

“Four. Two brothers, two sisters.”

“And you’re the eldest?”

“Yup.”

Zora breathed a deep sigh. “Chris …”

“Deuce. I don’t like to be called Chris. That’s my father’s name.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Deuce saw her take another breath. “Sorry,” she said. “I get it. Your father is a big presence. You want to be your own person.”

“Zora, don’t … psychoanalyze me.”

“Sorry,” she said again. “Look …” She touched his thigh. “Can we just … clean the slate and …?”

“Clean the slate?” he repeated.

“Yeah. I mean, look … it’s not as though it wouldn’t have always gone down exactly the way it did. It’s just that I was the one to put it into action, and …”

“You’re doing it again. Trying to head-shrink me. You don’t know how it would’ve gone down, Zora.”

“Of course I do. Do you even know your rep on campus?”

“Nah,” he said sarcastically. “Why don’t you tell me about it?”

“I could,” Zora said. “But I don’t want us to start fighting again.”

“You don’t think I can take it?” Deuce, switched lanes, heading toward the I-80 on-ramp.

“I’m sure you can take it. I’m just not sure I want to be the one to dish it out.”

“Go ahead. We have three hours to kill.”

“Okay … but don’t say you didn’t …”

“Just spit it out.”

“You’re Chris Scaife’s son. Born with a silver spoon in your mouth, and grew up in a little post-racial bubble. You’re from that crowd who says color doesn’t matter because the only one that matters where you grew up is green. You date White chicks almost exclusively and pretend that doesn’t matter either, and sisters like me you hardly ever give a second glance. Which might be insulting, but for the fact that you treat even the White girls with nothing resembling respect, and are pretty much done with them after a week. So … there you have it. Truth.”

Deuce shook his head, and shook off the pang in his chest as well. “Wow … now that was some angry Black woman bullshit right there.”

“See what I mean? White chicks don’t get angry too? Or is it just us you don’t like to see mad? But come to think of it, the ones you mess with don’t get angry, do they? They just line up, one after the other to get their turn with Christopher Scaife Jr.”

“You forget what happened between you and me that night? I didn’t see you walking away from your … turn.”

“Okay, I’ll give you that. But I chose it, Deuce. You didn’t choose me. I wanted you. But it was sexual curiosity, that’s all. And that’s all it was for you, too. Admit it. I’m probably the blackest chick you’ve seen naked since … ever. You’re just mad I was the one to shut shit down afterwards.”

“That’s one fucked up double-standard. You see that right? And I ain’t about all that color-struck nonsense.”

“Really.”

“Yeah. Really.”

“And how is what I said a double-standard?”

“Do you like to be dismissed, Zora?”

“I don’t know. I can’t say it’s ever happened.”

“Well that’s what all that mess you just said is—dismissal. You don’t even know me. And that night I thought …” Deuce stopped talking abruptly, realizing he was on the brink of sounding like he was begging. And that was something he would not do.

Zora said nothing for a long while, and when she finally spoke, her voice was different. “You thought what?”

“We started talking about the traffic stop,” Deuce said. “Remember? That’s why we started talking. And then when I went to your dorm, we talked some more. The shit that went down later in your room …”

“The shit that went down later in my room …” she prompted. “Go on.”

That’s not why I was there, he wanted to but did not say.

He was there because when he and Zora talked in the bar, their voices slightly raised so they could hear over the din, he’d forgotten that they weren’t alone. Kaleem and her girls Mia and Sophie might as well have not been there. And then when Zora said she had to go back to pack for her drive home the next day for Christmas Break, Deuce hadn’t wanted her to go, so he went with her.

The idea of ending the evening at yet another party with Kaleem and some girls who were pretending they didn’t care who he was, but clearly did, seemed intolerable. He just wanted to hang with Zora, to talk some more, to listen that warm voice of hers, to smell that unidentified fruity scent in her hair, to have an excuse to examine her dark-as-night skin and stare into her cat-like eyes.

He just wanted to be with her.

And that was something in his entire time at Penn State, Deuce could not recall having happened before—that he wanted to be with a girl just for the pleasure of her company.

Then in her room—her messy-as-hell room—Zora had jumped him.

There was no other way to put it. As soon as the door was shut, she turned and kissed him, and he went with it. How could he not go with it? Her lips were soft, full and tasted like the illegally-consumed beer they’d been drinking all night. Her chest was soft against his, and she grabbed his hands to place them on her ass, pressing her pelvis forward and reaching down to stroke his hardness.

This girl wants me? he recalled thinking. This girl … wants me.

The thought was surprising only because if anyone had asked him before then, he would have said that few were the girls who did not. But Zora wasn’t just any girl. She was the girl Kaleem would have called a queen; she was a warrior. She had consequence and purpose. She was not the kind of girl who generally wanted him.

Except that night, she did. And no lie, that shit was off the chain. He grabbed handfuls of her thick, coarse hair in his fists, and they screwed with the lights on, her eyes locked with his, her powerful, firm thighs gripping his hips, holding him tight against her. This wasn’t some fumbling, grappling half-drunken college dorm encounter. This was grown-ass lovemaking, like a man and woman were meant to have. Deuce was present for every breath, every groan, every kiss, and the ultimate collapse of their damp bodies against each other.

And afterwards, he fell asleep. He slept hard and deep until Zora shook him gently awake and he sat up, dazed and momentarily unsure of his surroundings. Her room was clean and she was completely packed.

It’s almost dawn, she said. I’m leaving today.

You sure you have to? he’d asked her, grinning and looking down at his crotch significantly.

That’s the plan. She smiled at him. But that doesn’t mean we can’t, you know, get it in one more time for the road.

And then she’d shoved the sheets aside, lifted the hem of the long t-shirt she was wearing and revealed that there was absolutely nothing underneath.

Deuce left after that, in a daze, exhausted and idly considering whether he might look her up while he was home. Zora had kissed him goodbye at her door, told him to enjoy Winter Break. All the way to his dorm, walking in the cold, he couldn’t stop licking his lips, like some of her just might be there for him to taste.

The very next day, he ran into her girl Sophie, and when he asked her if he could have Zora’s number, she looked confused.

Why do you need her number? she said. She’s on campus. Go see her.

Confused himself, Deuce did exactly that. She was on campus? Whatever happened to driving home for Winter Break? She said she had no finals, just final papers so could leave early. She’d cleaned her room, she’d packed …

As luck would have it, Zora was in her dorm’s common room when Deuce walked in. She was sitting on a sofa with her feet up on a coffee table, and next to her was a brother with shoulder-length locs. Zora had a bright orange scarf tied in her hair, the color accentuating her complexion in a way that was almost breathtaking. She, and her companion were laughing about something, something that was obviously very, very funny. Mid-laugh, Zora turned and spotted him. A momentary look of surprise crossed her features, her eyebrows lifting for a second. And very casually, she lifted a hand in a wave. Then Zora returned to her conversation, never giving him a second glance.

~~~

“Deuce.”

He looked at her. She was chewing on her lower lip and looking away from him, out the window.

“What?”

“I have an idea. And I don’t want you to shoot it down. I want you to think about it, okay?”

Deuce mumbled something unintelligible.

“Will you think about it?”

“Yeah.”

“And before I tell you my idea I have a confession.”

At that Deuce looked at her again.

“I knew it was you,” she said. “That was offering the ride. I knew it was you, and I asked Mia to respond because I wasn’t sure you’d want to ride with me.”

Deuce forced himself not to smile. “So that look you gave me back at the Hub …”

“Best acting I’ve done all year,” she admitted.

“It wasn’t all that good,” he lied.

Zora punched him in the arm. “Shut up. You didn’t know.”

“Nah, I didn’t know,” he said. Their eyes met and held for so long that Zora blushed, her gaze dropping to her lap. Good thing too, since he might have run off the road otherwise.

Deuce wanted to ask her why she’d pretended, but he knew. As much as she was outside of his comfort zone, he was probably way out of hers as well.

“What’s your idea?” he asked instead.

“I was thinking that maybe …” Zora sighed deeply. “That we could pretend that night didn’t happen. And just … begin again.”

“I don’t want to pretend that night never happened,” Deuce said right away. “But, I do want to …”

“Begin again?” she said, that warm husky voice of hers lowering even more.

Damn, she was sexy as hell.

“Yeah,” he said. “Let’s do that.”

Zora turned in her seat and extended a hand. Deuce took it. It was small and warm. He didn’t want to let it go.

“Nice to meet you,” she said. “I’m Zora Diallo.”


Read more about Deuce and his “complicated blended family” in ‘Afterwards‘ and ‘Afterburn‘.

Upskirt: A Quick Peek at the ‘Afterwards’ Sequel

When I was in grade school, two of my friends got in trouble for letting boys look under their skirts. I remember watching as two boys shimmied along the floor until they were under the spread legs of my two friends, and looking up in glee. We were all young enough that I remember being confused about what could be so fascinating about looking at a girl’s underwear. I figured it out later. Much later.

But today I’m the one lifting my skirt. Figuratively speaking. And giving you a quick peek of my work-in-progress, the sequel to ‘Afterwards‘.

Blurb:

Chris Scaife is not the man Robyn Crandall thought he was.

Now that she’s shown him the possibility of a different life, she knows that Chris wants it. And he’s used to getting what he wants. But Robyn is seeing some possibilities of her own, as a highly-valued member of the legal team at Chris’ multimillion dollar corporation. Just as he’s given her the confidence to soar, will Chris try to clip her wings?

Once an unapologetic bachelor and distant father, Chris Scaife is now a different man. Engaged to Robyn Crandall, a woman whose love he never thought he could have—or deserve—Chris wants a wedding to happen, and happen soon. But Robyn’s plans are somewhat different from that.

_____________________

“Robyn, ma bichette …”

“You can’t call me things like that, Etienne. Not when I don’t understand what you’re saying. For all I know, it’s incredibly inappropriate.”

Robyn work

Robyn was smiling up at the face of Pouvoir Noir’s president on the monitor as Chris and Frank entered the conference room for the video conference. Leaning forward with her elbows on the conference table, Robyn was wearing her powder blue suit, the one with the short sleeves that showed off her toned arms and contrasted pleasantly with her caramel-toned skin, and a bright white shirt underneath. The skirt was little short for Chris’ taste, but he never tried to dictate what she should wear, just contented himself with the knowledge that he was the man who got to take it off her.

As he and Frank entered, she leaned back into her seat, still smiling at Ballard. Chris almost felt as though they’d walked in on a private conversation.

“Got started without us?” he asked, his voice impassive.

“We did not get too far,” Allard said from across the Atlantic. “We talked about my new toy, and not much more.”

“New toy?”

“Etienne bought some ridiculous sports car that goes about three hundred miles an hour.”

“And perhaps you will sit in the seat beside me one day. It is a feeling not to be missed.”

“Can we get to work?” Chris interrupted. “I only have thirty minutes for this meeting.”

Taking a place at the table next to Robyn, he lay his tablet before him and looked at Etienne Allard expectantly. Frank sat to his left and began rifling through a sheaf of papers. He and Robyn were the only people Chris knew who still worked primarily on paper, writing everything out longhand that probably had to be transcribed later anyway. Waste of time.

“So what’re we meeting about?” he asked, not looking up at Allard’s face, magnified in front of him.

“The timing of the office,” Allard said right away. “I think we are well behind the agreed upon schedule. And I need to tell something to my people. You see I don’t have my partners with me. So if there is a problem, I would like …”

“What gives you the impression there’s a problem?” Chris cut in.

“You acquire part of my company, with promises to rain money down on all our problems, and all of a sudden …” Allard made a puffing noise. “…nothing.”

“I wouldn’t say nothing. Your debts have been paid. Your creditors satisfied.”

“And my artists sit, as you say, with their thumbs up their asses. Waiting for the American knights in white armor.”

“Shining armor,” Chris corrected without thinking.

Frustration crossed Allard’s features. “An update would be welcome, my friend.”

Before Chris could speak, Robyn was leaning forward again. “Everything is moving ahead, I can assure you, Etienne. Admittedly at a different pace than planned, but we’re finalizing the team, and expect that by October …”

Octobre!

“I think that’s what we can promise, yes.” Robyn’s gaze was unflinching.

For a few moments there was silence while everyone waited for Ballard to absorb the words.

“This date, it is not within my control so I suppose there is nothing else to discuss.” On the monitor, he reached forward and suddenly they were staring into nothingness as the screen went blank.

For almost a minute, Chris, Robyn and Frank sat in silence.

“So,” Frank said. “I think we got a pissed-off Frenchman on our hands.”

“No one cares whether he’s pissed off or not,” Chris said. “We’re not on his timeline.”

“Well, we’re not on our timeline either,” Robyn pointed out. “It’s true. We planned to be over there a lot sooner, Chris. We implied to him that we would be well underway with …”

“Maybe we should resolve the question right now,” Frank said breaking in.

Chris knew the question. Hell, he even knew the resolution. But that didn’t mean he had to like it.

“Am I the hold-up?” he asked.

“No,” Frank said. “The timeline changed for lots of reasons. But we’re at the final decision-point. We need to know who’s going to be heading this thing up.”

Chris pushed back his seat and turned, looking directly at Robyn. “Sounds like the decision’s been made.” For a moment, her eyes dropped to her lap and then she raised them again, staring back at him.

She wasn’t, Chris realized, wearing her engagement ring. Sometimes she wore it to work, other times not. He’d long learned not to assume any significance to when that did and didn’t happen. But today, of all days, he would have liked to see it there.

Frank Casey cleared his throat, realizing that the conversation that was likely to happen probably didn’t pertain to him, nor to SE business necessarily. Shoving back from the conference room table he headed for the door.

“Robyn, I’ll see you downstairs,” he said before leaving them alone.

Chris turned his chair so that he was facing Robyn and clasped his hands between his knees, leaning toward her. She was so pretty. So, so pretty. Her eyes were a little watery, and she swallowed hard—Chris saw her throat bob as she did.

“So,” he began. “You really want this, huh?”

Robyn nodded, her eyes filling even more, the tears threatening to spill over onto her cheeks. She blinked rapidly to stave that off.

Chris lifted a forefinger. He was close enough to touch her hand so he did, gently stroking her bare ring finger.

“And I’ve got no say in this.”

Robyn sighed. “Of course you do. You could stop me if you wanted to.”

He supposed he could. He could forbid it. He could tell Frank he wouldn’t allow it. He could … fire her. And none of those things would change Robyn’s feelings for him one iota—of that Chris was certain. But it would change the nature of their relationship, and it would breach the trust she had in him, that he would let her be herself, never stifle her, never try to own her.

“I do want to,” he admitted, and saw the momentary alarm in Robyn’s eyes. Chris shook his head. “But I’m not going to.”

She gave a small gasp and then reached out, grabbing his hands in hers. “Baby …thank you. I know how hard …”

Chris pulled his hands free of hers and stood. “Let’s just talk about it later, okay?”

The After-Words

Option 3 AfterwardsFrom ‘Afterwards’:

“Things between them had been frustrating, but if he didn’t sleep with her he didn’t have to worry about the afterwards, the after-words, the explaining that inevitably came when a woman assumed too much . . .”

Just wanted to drop a line to thank everyone for their support of ‘Afterwards’ which has so far been so much more well-received than I could possibly have anticipated, given that its about two secondary characters who were never in the forefront of my mind as possible leads until a reader asked me, ‘Are you going to write a story about Chris?’

As I write this, ‘Afterwards’ has 33 reviews, and all of them are five-stars, and is ranked as follows on Amazon:

That’s amazing, and I don’t say that as a boast, because anyone who writes and tells you they know that people will love what they wrote is either a liar or self-delusional. You never know, and I certainly didn’t. For sure, I didn’t see the possibilities in the main character that the reader who asked about him saw. Generally, I consider every character, no matter how small to have some back-story, but more often than not, that story remains in my mind and never gets written. This time, because someone asked the question, I took a chance and found myself falling in love with a complex man and a somewhat bruised, though not broken woman.

Thus far, some of my most challenging work has been in response to reader queries, so I dedicated this book to two of the most voracious readers I know, Deloris and Sabrina who will remain surname-less to protect their anonymity. They don’t just read books, they devour them, and think about them, and talk about them, and remind writers like me that what feels like a solitary pursuit is really not because there are Delorises and Sabrinas out there who care and are watching.

So my after-words–to Deloris, Sabrina and everyone else who’s sent me email about my work, and made comments or asked questions on this blog–are simply this: thank you, you make my work better.

N.

If you don’t have your copy of ‘Afterwards’ yet, check it out!

Amazon
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Meet Robyn . . . at Tia Kelly’s Blog

She’s taking over Tia Kelly’s blog today, talking about life, love and maybe even about Chris!

 

From ‘AFTERWARDS’:

“Did you commit?”

Robyn licked her lips, wondering whether she dared admit it.

When she didn’t answer right away, Chris looked up from the hastily typed one-pager she’d pulled together on her meeting with Bill Stafford.

“I gave him a strong, positive forecast,” she said.

Chris’ eyes met hers and then he looked down at the paper again. “How strong, and how positive?”

“I virtually . . . guaranteed there would be some form of . . . support.”

At that Chris looked at her again and put the sheet of paper on the coffee table between them.

They were in the sitting area of his office and he was eating what looked like a very insipid salad. Robyn wondered whether he was still getting migraines, and whether foods with salt or spices had been removed from his diet as a precaution as they had been for her brother at one time.

“Do you know how much I give to charity every year?” he asked.

Robyn shook her head.

“A lot,” he said, his eyes still fixed on her. “I have a foundation. People who want money for their projects generally apply for it. Bill Stafford was using his position as a friend of a friend to get to the front of the line. Just go around that whole process and come straight to the money-tree. Do you think that’s fair?”

Robyn blinked. “I didn’t know any of that.”

“He’s one of Riley’s friends. She has these little artist soirees and he goes to them. So he asked her to get this meeting, and because Riley can’t say no to anyone, she got him the meeting.”

“And you agreed to it, let’s not forget,” Robyn said growing impatient with his condescension “So you can’t say no, either. At least, not to Riley.”

Oops.

Her mother always told her she was a little impulsive, and that one day it would get her into hot water. Perhaps today was the day.

 

SAMPLE SUNDAY — From ‘Afterwards’ COMING SOON!

Image

Robyn stopped next to a pink one with white and silver trim, turning to smile again at Chris who was standing a few feet behind her, watching her peruse the evidence of his youthful stupidity.

“This looks like a woman chose it,” she said.

“Probably,” Chris shrugged. “I can’t remember where most of them came from.”

“I’d love to ride this one.”

“You know how to ride?”

Robyn stroked the white leather seat. “No. But I wish I did. Then I would take the fastest bike I could find, go out to the desert somewhere and just open it up.”

“You would, huh?”

Robyn looked at him, noting the skepticism in his tone. “Yeah, I would.”

He was wearing a plain white t-shirt and jeans that were baggy and slung low on his hip, though not below them any longer. He seemed to have stopped doing that in the last couple of years, thank goodness. In fact, he seemed more . . . adult now than Robyn remembered, more like a man than the man-child she was accustomed to thinking of him as.

He was mean-sexy. That’s how Robyn would describe him if someone asked. A hard, but magnetic man. Maybe six-one or so, Chris was fit in the manner of a man who worked out for strength, rather than bulk. At a distance he might appear almost slender, but up close, like they were now, Robyn could see the definition in his chest and arms and the trimness of his waist. He was built like a sprinter, unobtrusively strong and lean, his physical power evident only if you paid close attention.

“Maybe I’ll take you out sometime. For a ride.”

“You could,” Robyn said. “But what would be better would be if I could ride on my own.” She raised her eyebrows at him and grinned, knowing it was a ridiculous suggestion.

“You’d have to get lessons first,” Chris pointed out.

“Yeah,” Robyn sighed. “There is that.”

She removed her hand from the pink motorcycle and moved on, walking among the others, taking in the names—some she recognized like Ducati, Harley Davidson, and BMW, and others unfamiliar: Ecosse, and Macchia Nera. They were amazing to look at, but one day, she promised herself, one day . . .

“So you want to go fast?” Chris asked.

“I would love to go fast.”

Robyn knelt next to a sleek black Yamaha, its finish so shiny it looked like a dark liquid, like crude oil. If she touched it, her fingerprints would undoubtedly be left behind, but she couldn’t help herself and reached out anyway, her hand hesitating before making contact. Before she could decide whether or not to actually go through with it, Chris had crouched next to her and with a hand over hers, placed it directly atop the cool metal surface. His fingers were long and tapered, his nails neatly trimmed and short. Robyn felt calluses lightly scraping the back of her hand.

“I’m not sure you could handle how fast I might go.”