No longer a mistress to wealthy, much older men, Keisha Crawford isn’t certain who or what she is anymore. But one thing she is sure of is how she feels about Jayson Holmes, the handsome-as-sin ex-con who gave her a reason–and the courage–to change.
Jayson’s going through an identity crisis of his own. He wasn’t the kind the man who was supposed to wind up in prison, and now that he’s out, he’s serving a different kind of time—living in regret for all that he’s missed, the relationships fractured and opportunities gone for good.
Now Jayson needs to make some changes and build a new life. But when he does, he just may find that Keisha shouldn’t be part of it.
Sometimes Jay dreamed he was still in prison.
The unrelenting noise, and the bitter odor of intermingled sweat, piss, anger, disappointment and despair permeated his sleep so thoroughly that when he opened his eyes he was sometimes expected to see the pale gray paint of his cell walls. Instead, now, he saw an inky, dark sky through the massive picture window opposite the sofa-bed. In prison, views of the sky were few and far between.
Keisha was asleep, deeply asleep and curled about him like a cat, not just holding him, but seeming to hold him in place, so that she would be alerted if he tried to move. He did move, sliding from beneath her and going to look out the window and down into the street.
After two days, the snow plows had finally arrived; behind them, trucks dropped calcium chloride to help break up the impacted snow that had turned to sheets of ice. More than likely, he would be able to leave in the morning. Jay wondered how Keisha would react to his departure. He wondered how he would react. Being stuck together in her place had been a cocoon; their own little world of sex and green tea, pizza, breakfast foods and Chinese take-out; and to break up the monotony, television and cards. And then more sex.
But even that idyllic state hadn’t driven away the damn dreams.
The prison dreams, and the dreams of the time that came just before prison. He had them when he slept with Fiona, too. Sometimes he opened his eyes and saw her, and it took a few beats before he could process why Fiona Tate of all people was in his bed, because in his dream he was still eighteen and dating Bridgett Mason, one of the prettiest girls in his school and one of the smartest, who only had eyes for him.
Then came back to him. He wasn’t eighteen, he was just past thirty, and he wasn’t dating Bridgett Mason. Bridgett Mason had disappeared after one tear-stained letter received following his conviction, telling him she knew he was innocent, but didn’t think it made sense for her to pretend he could be her boyfriend when he was in prison and she was at Columbia University. And then it also came back to him that incredible as it seemed, he was in fact dating Fiona Tate, or doing with Fiona Tate whatever it was they called what they were doing; and his life was different, because he was an ex-con, and not the Jayson Holmes he once thought he would be.
Outside, the trucks worked with bright lights, scattering the rock salt, making the way for his departure. His truck would be boxed in by a wall of snow on the street-side, but it wouldn’t take too much work for him to move it. So he could go home soon.
Looking over his shoulder at Keisha, Jay’s eyes fell to her naked backside calling him to bed. He’d crossed the line he’d been avoiding all these months since his return to New York. Now she was his and he was hers, along with all the shit neither of them had yet completely worked out.
What was it she’d said to him that time, once so long ago? What the hell kind of life are we going to have? A pretty girl and an ex-con. She was right, but part of him thought that was jumping ahead—way ahead—because no one said anything about a life. All they’d done was screw.
But who the hell was he kidding? That reasoning didn’t even sound convincing in his head.
All he knew was that while he was on the road, no matter where he went, no matter how many women he was with, he awoke the next morning to thoughts of Keisha, and memories of her face streaked with tears when he left her behind.
While he was gone, Jay kept trying to remind himself that he didn’t know her that well, and if the revelation she’d made in the weeks before his departure was any indication, maybe he didn’t know her at all. But still, he thought about her constantly, and about the reluctant vulnerability he’d seen behind her eyes, the yearning she had to finally, safely, depend on someone. But back then, he wasn’t ready to be that someone, and even more than that, he wasn’t sure he could get past what she’d told him about herself. So he’d left.
But when he decided to come back to New York, he couldn’t cover the miles quickly enough, wanting to see whether the changes he heard in her when they talked for those long hours on the phone were visible in her eyes as well. They had been.
Jay still remembered when she opened her apartment door to welcome him in for the first time, how natural she’d looked. Gone was the meticulously-applied make-up, the long, flowing hair, the mannequin-like perfection. Instead, her hair was short, cut to a length just below her ears, held back by a headband, her face clean and clear, her eyebrows thicker, and not penciled in. Keisha looked like a woman who’d undergone a life-change.
For a few long moments, they’d stared at each other neither of them saying anything, and then Keisha smiled, her eyes becoming liquid as she rose on her toes to wrap her arms about his neck. He wanted to make love to her that day, that moment, but held back because he knew that a year on her own could not possibly have cured all the things that made her the woman she was when they first met. Nor could he claim to have fixed all his issues, either. They were both still works-in-progress. So, he had to exercise a little restraint. Only now it had broken down and they couldn’t get enough of each other.
The first time, Keisha cried like a baby cries—openly, unashamedly—and Jay was surprised that he wasn’t surprised. He understood her tears and felt something close to that need for release himself though he showed it in a completely different way. And since then, they’d been going at each other like a man and woman starved.
“Are they clearing the street?”
Jay turned at the sound of her voice, gravelly and rough with sleep. He took in the new curves added by the fifteen or so pounds she’d gained while he was away. Now she wasn’t as model-thin any longer, still slender but more womanly.
Since yesterday afternoon after the big snowball war outside, they’d been in bed, leaving only occasionally, for the bare necessities like showers, food and when Keisha had to get his clothes into the washer in the basement, and then into and out of the dryer.
“Yeah,” he said. “And dropping salt.”
Keisha’s eyes were tired, her face a little puffy from sleep. And there was something else. Apprehension.
“So you’re going home when it gets light out.”
Keisha turned away from him and hugged one of the pillows.
Jay went back to the bed and lay behind her, sliding his arm beneath her head so her cheek was resting on his bicep.
“I have to check out what’s going on with work,” he said against the back of her neck.
“And with your girlfriend,” Keisha said.
“I don’t have a girlfriend,” Jay said.
“I heard you talking to her, remember?” Keisha said into the pillow. “And if there’s one thing I know, it’s how to tell when a man is talking to a woman who he doesn’t want to know that he’s with some other woman.”
“She’s not my girlfriend,” he said more forcefully this time. “And you’re not ‘some other woman’.”
Keisha turned in his arms so that they were facing each other. “Then what am I?” she asked, her eyes penetrating his. “To you, I mean.”
He didn’t know what to tell her, because he didn’t know the answer. So instead he kissed her, and turned her onto her back, parted her thighs and lowered himself between them.