The Alex Chronicles:Girlfriends & Secrets by Tracy Reed

MY NAME IS ALEXANDRA SIMONE Miller and I am a fashion addict. Isn’t that how they make you introduce yourself at those addiction anonymous support group meetings? At least that’s what I’ve heard. I tried kicking the fashion habit, but it’s a little difficult when there are so many talented dealers, I mean designers tempting me. I know somewhere there has to be a support group for people like me. I think it meets at Neiman's or Barneys. I heard a rumor that if you’re really bad they sentence you to aversion therapy at Bergdorf’s…I wish.
The Alex Chronicles:Girlfriends & Secrets
The Alex Chronicles:Girlfriends & Secrets by Tracy Reed
So the last thing a person like me should do is own a boutique. Fashion is a drug and not only am I a junkie, I’m also a dealer and the base of my operation is my boutique, “Alex Simone". Alex Simone is my baby. It’s a place where women come to escape and fantasize. We encourage women to try things on, because that usually leads to buying. Shopping at one of my boutiques is like playing "dress up" in the ultimate fantasy closet, complete with designer ready-to-wear and vintage couture. Not only am I a fashion addict, I’m also a borderline workaholic. I say borderline, because I do manage to eek out time to spend with my friends. My girlfriends are like family. People always ask how we met. I think that’s the one thing we haven’t been able to agree on. Let’s see. Taylor is my cousin on my dad’s side. She and I have always been close. She’s really more like an older sister. I think we have shared secrets none of the other girls know about. But there’s that one thing that happened in Paris. I think I didn’t tell her because I knew she would have been disappointed in me. Anyway…she was going to school in Atlanta and she said I’d like it. Not only because it was crawling with good looking guys, but because it had a great liberal arts program. To be honest, I needed to get out of the city. A dose of Southern living was a welcome change. So I applied and got in. That’s where I met Chloe. Chloe was a typical rich girl on the verge of being cut off. School in the south was the last straw. She and Taylor were roommates. I don’t know who thought it was a good idea to put them together. Then again, it was probably for the best. When I went for my college tour, the two of them had me running around town. I don’t think I got more than twenty hours of sleep the entire week, but I had a good time. These two had the hook up for everything. When I got there in the fall, a new dorm was open courtesy of Chloe’s parents. The rooms were all suites. A few strings were pulled and I was assigned to Taylor and Chloe’s suite. I was immediately accepted into their social circle. Heck, they practically ran the social scene on campus. To this day, I never knew how they managed to get hooked up with every club in town, without getting busted. The year after I got there, I met this girl named Dionne in Humanities class. We started talking and it turned out, she was from California. She kept saying I reminded her of her roommate, Kendell. When I finally met Kendell, I was shocked at how much we looked alike. We played a little game of Twenty Questions and discovered the reason we looked so much alike was because we were related. Kendell is my cousin on my mother’s side. Her father and my mother are half siblings. We share our grandfather’s eyes, smile, skin color and height. When I first saw her, I thought I was looking at myself minus the upstairs endowment from my grandmother. My mother and Kendell’s father have the same father. My Grandfather Cyrus had a roaming eye along with some other things. He was married to my Grandmother while he played house with Kendell’s grandmother. He fathered a total of nine children, my mother and her three sisters, and Uncle Chester and his four brothers. I think we’ve managed to stay friends as long as we have because we’re so different. It’s like we balance each other out. Oh, yeah, I was talking about secrets and being impulsive. Of my group, I’m considered the rational one. I don’t see how I got that label. My friends say it’s because I’m a planner and would never do anything impulsive. That’s just not true. I do a lot of impulsive things, they just don’t know about them. There was one impulsive thing I was going to do, but circumstances prevented it from happening. I’m not using my planning habit as an excuse, but as a legitimate reason why that impulsive event didn't take place. The impulsive incident involved my fiancé, Jonathan. Jonathan and I had been together off and on for ten years. If you ask my friends, they’d say more off than on. And as much as I don’t want to agree with them, they’re right. I met Jonathan in college when I returned from my Paris internship to complete the second half of my senior year. I was hesitant to get involved with him, because his best friend and I had history. However, he won me over with his charm and we started dating. By the time we graduated, he had proposed…the first time. Much too soon. We barely knew each other. I moved back to Los Angeles. He followed me to California and took a job in Los Angeles so we could work on our relationship. We agreed to table the marriage question until later. The magazine I interned for in Paris offered me a Junior Fashion Editor position in their Los Angeles office, but I turned it down. I know it sounds foolish, but there were things going on in my personal life that made me re-think what I wanted to do with my life. I had come into a large sum of money, and decided to open a boutique. I love what I do. It’s taken me a while to gain the respect of the local fashion community, but it was well worth the hard work, and a huge step of faith. Alex Simone is a place for women with curves, or real women. We stock most sizes, but we are known as the go to store for curvy women who love designer clothes. We’re not a plus size store per se, but in Southern California, a store that stocks anything over a size twelve is considered plus size. We just make it a point to offer designer clothing for women in a larger range of sizes. Curves, sensuality, and confidence are our business, and we know how to handle all three. Back to me and Jonathan. Things were going great with us. We had just gotten back together again. I say again, because, we broke up a lot. I know I sound like a fool, but I’m not. I had put a lot of time into that relationship and I wasn’t about to just walk away just because he had a little slip while we were apart. If only it had been a slip. Turns out, all those times he was proposing to me, he had a side piece in Long Beach. He’d tapped that piece so much he slipped up one night and forgot to suit up. So when he wanted to get back together he confessed. Like the idiot head I was, I took him back. He even introduced me to his side piece and their son. Here I was saving myself, and he was out tapping anything with a pulse. I didn’t tell my girlfriends that Jonathan and I were engaged. I just told them we were back together. They all said they were shocked that I took him back. They didn’t understand that I saw something in him they didn’t. This time was different. We went engagement ring shopping and were making wedding plans. Jonathan agreed to counseling, and I was even warming up to the idea of marriage and being a step mother. I still wasn’t happy about having his side piece, I mean ex-side piece, in our lives, but she came with the kid. The last time he proposed, we didn’t tell anyone. Instead, he gave me an ultimatum, “Marry me when I return from my conference in two weeks. If you back out, it’s over for good.” I still hear those words replaying in my head, followed by a sharp chill in my bones. I knew my friends didn’t approve of my marrying Jonathan, so I decided to do something impulsive. I packed a bag and bought a first class ticket to Milan to surprise my fiancé. Oh man, it’s been over ten years, and it’s still difficult to tell this story. I knew he’d be in Milan another week for the conference. My plan was to surprise him and elope after his conference, and then do something small with our family and friends when we returned. The day before I was to leave to surprise Jonathan, I got a phone call from one of his friends who was attending the conference. Jonathan had had a massive heart attack and died. I was devastated. My girlfriends rallied and helped me, despite their feelings about Jonathan. Instead of planning a wedding, I planned his funeral. I never told anyone, not even my mother, that I was planning to surprise him and elope. I still have the plane ticket. I don’t know why, but I keep it in my bag. If I had married him when he first asked, he wouldn’t have been alone. It hurts me to know he died alone. I should have been there. I have been trying to heal, and my girlfriends keep telling me it’s time to move on. I have in a way. It’s been over ten years and there have been a few men, but nothing serious. Bless my friend, Dionne. She’s made it her mission to find someone for me. I really wish she’d stop trying, because she’s not good at it. I was dating this very handsome media consultant named Quentin Burke. On paper we were perfect for each other, but I think it was poor timing and no chemistry. Those two things and that meddling mother of his, were the reason we broke up. I think we lasted about six months. We’re still friends. In fact, he’s my publicist. I introduced him to Dionne. The sparks flew and a few months later, they were married. Ever since I planted a good man into her life, she feels the need to do the same for me. I really wish she’d stop, but she won’t. After her last little matchmaking effort, I threatened to cancel our friendship. She invited me to dinner with her and Quentin and left out one very important detail. When I arrived, Quentin met me at the door with a glass of wine. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know.” I didn’t understand what he meant. I took the glass, stepped inside and sitting on the sofa talking to Dionne was a shiny yellow brother with a pony tail hanging down his back. Dionne looked up and noticed I was heading out the door. She jumped up, walked over and pulled me over to the sofa and introduced me to my "date". When he stood up, it was even worse. He was wearing a powder blue suit, navy blue shirt with the buttons undone to reveal his Mr. T gold chain collection sitting on a bed of tight black curls. I don’t like hairy men. I turned the glass up finishing the fine red wine in one gulp. This definitely would have been a good time to start drinking hard liquor. Saying I was a little pissed with Dionne would have been like calling a broken leg a sprain. I looked at Dionne wondering what she could have been thinking. I looked down at my "date’s” feet, and staring back at me were light blue patent leather brogues and matching socks. I didn’t know what to think, but I knew what to say. I just didn’t want to say it out loud. “Excuse me.” I put my empty glass on the table and hurried down to the powder room. “Okay God, I know Dionne meant well, but…really…what was she thinking?” I let out a sigh, touched up my lipstick and took that long walk out to the worst blind date of my life. “Are you all right Alex?” Dionne asked. I couldn’t believe she stood there with a smile on her face asking me if I was all right? Of course I wasn’t all right! I stood staring at one of my best friends, wondering at what point did she think setting me up with a black Smurf was a good idea. “I’m...” Quentin handed me another glass of wine. “Thank you.” “Sorry, it’s not something stronger,” Quentin whispered. “So am I.” I turned up the glass and gulped half in one swallow. “I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name.” “Eddie.” During dinner, Eddie the black Smurf sat sneering at me like I was a piece of cornbread he wanted to slop up with some greens. I looked across the table at this person my friend set me up with, and wondered how much longer I would have to endure this fiasco. Watching him eat was almost as disturbing as looking at him in that light blue suit. I closed my eyes and pretended I was someplace else. In my mind, I was on a remote island with a hot, sexy, dark chocolate man. He was feeding me strawberries, the juice running down the side of my mouth He gently caught the sweet juice with his soft, full lips. If Dionne was going to fix me up, why couldn’t it have been with the man in my fantasy, instead of Eddie the black Smurf? When I opened my eyes, Eddie the Smurf, was still talking incessantly about his ex-wife and his massive alimony payments. My phone rang, breaking the spell of my fantasy. I jumped up and ran into the kitchen to answer the call. Once in the kitchen, I turned the ringer off. It wasn’t a real call, but my “911 dating emergency call". When I was in the powder room earlier, I had set a "911 dating alert.” That’s when you set the alarm on your phone to ring at a certain time. Once you pick up “the call" you become an Academy Award winning actress, and recite your escape monologue. My cousin Taylor hipped me to that little trick, and over the years I got very good at using it. So tonight, when I saw the black Smurf, I knew what I had to do. “Okay…no, I understand…uh huh…I’ll be right there.” I went back into the dining room, made my apologies and left. Before Dionne got with Quentin, she dated... let’s just say... she always managed to…she’s a sweet heart, but…it seemed she was always dating someone else’s Boaz. Like the guy who only wore Los Angeles Lakers attire. He didn’t care if it was basketball season or not. And when the occasion called for something a little “more dressy”, he broke out his favorite purple suit and accessorized it with a white and yellow striped shirt and Lakers tie. I caught a glimpse of the jacket lining once. Inside he had the entire Lakers starting line-up hand painted on the lining. I had one word for him and it wasn’t “Fantastic”. It was “Fanatical". Dionne thought he was the one...her Boaz. That’s if Boaz was a basketball fanatic and a tacky dresser. His idea of a romantic night out was to take her to his favorite sports bar, “Nothin’ But Net” for happy hour. They got along great until she disagreed with him over the Lakers draft choice. He dropped her like a long distance three pointer... “swish". She’s my girl, but I couldn’t take another day listening to her blame herself for her relationship falling apart. So, I arranged a little impromptu meeting between her and Quentin at the store. They hit it off ,and now three years later she’s trying to do the same thing for me. _________________________ If my girlfriends knew about my plans to elope with Jonathan they wouldn’t be too surprised. However, if they knew my other secret, they’d be pissed and would stop speaking to me. It’s my secret, and I’d be pissed if one of my best friends had kept something like that hidden from me for over twenty years. What’s my secret? All I’ll say is, I have the power to destroy one of the wealthiest families on the West Coast. That power could also cost me my life. But if pushed, that’s a risk I might be willing to take. CHLOE SO YOU WANT TO KNOW who I am. I like my privacy and inviting strangers into my personal space isn’t something I normally do. However, my friends talked me into doing this, so I’ll acquiesce. I’m Chloe Jacobs. I’d like to say my marriage to an idiot head is my secret, but it’s not. In fact, I’m looking for a support group for women like me. Smart women who have fallen prey to a tight behind, carved chest and a tongue and lips that…yes, I was weak. But in my defense, he caught me at a weak moment, at least that’s what I keep telling myself. As I was saying, I know my husband’s an idiot head, and I think I’ve done a good job of keeping it a secret. However, there are days when I want to hire the Goodyear blimp or buy a commercial during the Super Bowl, and share it with the world. I have no one but myself to blame for my situation. There have been a couple of men in my life that I truly loved. The first was my college sweetheart, Benny. I still get tingles when I think about him. Benny and I had a strange relationship. We only dated during the summer. He was not what my parents wanted for me, but he was what I wanted. You know the story, rich girl sees the not rich boy and they fall in love. I spent two months every summer at my grandfather’s place in North Carolina. Benny’s family sent him down to help his grandparents with their farm. I met him in town and that was it. We made a pact to spend two months together every summer. We agreed there would be no questions about relationships that happened while we were apart. The summer after my senior year, when I went to visit my grandfather, Benny wasn’t there. His grandfather had died and his grandmother sold the farm and moved away. So I never knew what happened to him. He was my first and no, that’s not my secret. I also believe he was my great love, and I’ve been trying to find what I had with him in every man since. I often wonder what happened to Benny. In a poor attempt to get over my broken heart, I spent the next couple of years goofing off and being a typical rich kid. My father got tired of my behavior and threatened to cut me off. I settled down, got involved in the family business and started dating someone from my childhood, Xavier Randall. After a few years of dating, Xavier and I got engaged. On paper he was perfect...model good looks, an affluent family, and good upbringing. He had an excellent career as an attorney in his father’s law firm. His mother chaired all the prestigious committees and was very well-connected socially. Among those in our circle, it had always been assumed we were the “perfect” couple, destined for marriage. Honestly though, we were the most perfect imperfect couple. Only one of us was in the relationship for love and it wasn’t Xavier. It’s sad when you’re in love with someone and they aren’t in love with you. It always makes you feel like you’re less than competent. Like you’re incapable of making good decisions. At least that’s how I felt. Xavier always said he loved me, and I foolishly took him at his word. Why wouldn’t I? It’s not like he had given me any reason not to believe him. That is, until March 28th, six and a half years ago. We were at a dinner party for one of Xavier’s biggest clients when a woman walked over and introduced herself to me as the mother of his three-year-old twin boys. Who would have thought this white bread, safe man, had a side piece? I know I didn’t. When I confronted him, he admitted he was only involved with me because his father said it would be good for business. The line in the sand had been drawn. You only get one shot at making a fool out of me. I went back to the party and made a toast announcing the end of our engagement. I gave the ring back and left. My friend Taylor said I should have kept the ring. I considered it, but I didn’t want a lasting reminder of my incompetence lying around. Besides, the way his parents looked at him when I made my announcement, gave me the impression, he was going to need every cent he could get his hands on. So I did what most broken-hearted people do. I threw myself into my work. I went to Vegas to view some properties, meet with investors and celebrated my new found freedom. And, that’s where I made an even bigger mistake. Once I had completed my business, I decided to indulge a little…enjoy my single status. Instead of going to the spa like I should have, I went shopping at the Forum Shops at Caesar’s. I really should have gone home. I bumped into the most beautiful man I’d ever seen. Average height, with skin like caramel, a tight behind, goatee, and the most beautiful dark brown eyes I’d ever seen. When he smiled, I forgot all about my lying, cheating ex-fiancé. Mr. Caramel Delight was there with his friends for a bachelor party weekend. I smiled, he smiled, and less than forty-eight hours later we were standing at a chapel saying, “I Do", but to who? All I knew about this man was his name was Orlando I wasn’t too sure about his last name...Jones, Martin, Williams…oh yeah, Kingston. That’s right, my new name, if I choose to use it, is Kingston. Orlando Kingston is my trifling, gold digging, idiot head husband. What the crap was I thinking? Unlike my ex-fiancé, he’s horrible on paper. If I didn’t love him, I would have left a long time ago. I’m not sure what happened, but things changed ,and not for the better. Instead of the loving, compassionate, impulsive and sensitive man I married, he’s become selfish, trifling, lazy and inconsiderate. Coupled with an unhealthy jealousy toward my ex-fiancé, he’s getting on my nerves. Considering the commitment both our families have to local charity work, it’s to be expected we’d run into Xavier.. I don’t need to be constantly questioned about my past relationship and asked if I’m happy I married him. The more he asks, the more I know he doesn’t want me to answer that question. Yes, Xavier was a lying, cheating, son of a…I digress. When I see Xavier, I don’t remember the lies he told or that he cheated on me. I don’t think about his side piece and children, or his scheming family. All I remember is the first time we kissed. Even now, I still get chills when I remember the first time he kissed me. He may have been a liar, not much for public displays of affection, and once we got engaged he stopped going to church, but he sure knew how to kiss. He knew where that sweet spot is that makes my toes curl. Looking back, I think I knew something was wrong with Xavier, but I was caught up in the excitement of being engaged. I didn’t want to see what was really going on. So when I met Orlando...and in that brief period he said and did all the things Xavier didn’t, I thought...I mean who goes to church while they’re on vacation in Vegas, unless they’re getting married. He held my hand during the service and didn’t flinch, and when he wasn’t ashamed to kiss in public, I thought he was the one. Now I’m right back in the same game but with a different opponent. I should have known there was a problem when Orlando missed my father’s birthday party. He and my father get along, which already gave him an edge over Xavier. But when he didn’t show up and gave no reason, I was a little suspicious. I blew it off because I knew I had the power in the relationship, and whatever he may have been up to would go away, like a yeast infection. Well, I was wrong. This time it’s more like hives always popping up at the most inappropriate time. He thinks because I haven’t said or done anything, that I’m fine with his behavior. Well, he needs to ask somebody, because that’s not so. I’m trying to figure out my next move. I have thought about poisoning him, but that could get messy. I’m seriously thinking about asking my cousin, Butch, for a little assistance. He’s the one I call when I need special help...and Orlando is very special. In a perfect world, I would go back in time to the day before I met Orlando, and take myself to the spa or better yet, I’d come home. Either option would have prevented me from meeting Orlando. At least that’s what I like to think. Who knows, maybe meeting him was my destiny. Maybe I was supposed to spend the past six and a half years of my life tied to this man. It all sounds logical, but the reality is, this relationship was my fault. God, how could I have been such an idiot head? The next time, I see a good-looking man with eyes like coal, a carved chest, a tight behind and an enticing smile, I’m running in the other direction…after I stare at him a little while. Now I’m faced with the results of my lust-filled actions and I haven’t got a clue about what to do. _________________________ Most people say they regret their high school days or barely remember their college years. I think that all depends on what school you went to. I didn’t go to a party school. I went to a conservative college in the South…that I made work for me. I made sure all of my professors and teachers were men, and I always flirted…subtly. I also made it a point to get on the VIP list at every happening spot in town. There were only a few good things that came out of my going to school in Atlanta They included meeting my four best friends and getting my degree. But let’s face it, after my parents built that dorm, it was a shoo in I’d be graduating…with honors. Hey, I love nepotism. It really didn’t matter where they sent me. I say they because college was my parent’s idea. They thought if they sent me to college, it would cool me down. Please, I didn’t go to school to have sex. The only person I wanted to have sex with was Benny. And he made sure I was more than taken care of every summer. I went to college to recuperate from my summer freakfest with Benny, and to secure my inheritance. I may be the only child, but if I screwed up too badly, my inheritance could have easily been given away. Or even worse, managed by a team of lawyers. I wasn’t having that! After graduating, I took a little time off in Mexico. I was still distraught over not getting my Benny summer fix. I don’t remember much, except for a lot of reefer and waking up naked in my hotel room with a goat in the bathroom. To this day, I haven’t got a clue what I was doing with a goat. Whatever happened, was incentive enough to get me to go home. Once I was safely back at Jacobs Jail, that’s how I used to refer to my parents’ house, I slipped back into my old habits, sans the weed and goat. Okay, it’s not like I did a lot of reefer. I only did it for my nerves. As a result of a little self-medicating and driving a little erratically, I was pulled over. When the officer approached the car and looked at me, I tried to blame my driving and slightly dilated eyes on too much cold medicine. I think I would have gotten away with it, except he ran my plates and all those tickets showed up. The officer impounded my car and took me to jail. I called my dad and he refused to pick me up. I was a guest of the county jail for almost two weeks. Thanks to some family connections, I wasn’t in gen pop, thank God. When I got out, my dad gave me two options...I could work for him or for my mother. I countered…I would have been an excellent lawyer, and asked for money for my own company. He countered and said I could take over one of my mother’s companies or be cut off. “Cut off”…dirty words. I agreed to his proposal. I told my friends I was at a spa those eleven days I was in jail. In a way it was true. I was on a strict diet and exercise program, doing a lot of meditating…code for limited contact with the outside world. Okay, I embellished a little. Is that my worst secret? I don’t think so. But then again, I did spend a month in Mexico high on reefer running around with goat. Man, I wish I could remember what happened to that goat. _________________________ So what’s my secret? I don’t have just one secret, I have many. But the one that could hurt me the most, is the one that also brought me the most pleasure. If only I could blame what happened on the reefer and that goat. TAYLOR I…AM TAYLOR RICHARDS. THE way I said that made me sound so full of myself. Trust me, I am a very humble and compassionate person. Ask my friends, and they’ll tell you I am very loyal. Now I sound like a dog. Let’s start over. I understand we’re supposed to be sharing about ourselves and our friendship. My best friends…that’s easy. Chloe was my college roommate. Alex is my cousin, and I met Dionne and Kendell at college through Alex. Kendell and I call each other cousins, because we’re both related to Alex. Alex and I are the daughters of two brothers. Kendell’s father and my Aunt Connie are half-siblings. It was just a lot easier to say we’re cousins…that’s how Alex introduces us. That’s the long and the short version as far as I’m concerned. I’m the only one of my girlfriends who's divorced, and I am proud of it. Not that I’m happy my marriage failed, but I’m proud I was strong enough to leave a toxic situation. My girlfriends refer to me as the wild one in the group. Just because I like to have a good time and date younger men. That doesn’t make me some wild cougar. I am merely playing the hand I’ve been dealt. It’s quite simple. I have been blessed to not look my age. I also have the energy of women half my age. Thank God for good genetics, because I have no desire to be injected or surgically altered. I don’t have a problem working out, because a sister loves some good cornbread and mac and cheese, but I’m not a gym bunny. I know it seems no matter what I say I come off a little shallow. Trust me, I’m not. I just have a lot of confidence and fabulous self-esteem. My girlfriends aren’t quite sure what to think about me and I don’t care. They know that if and when the crap hits the fan, I’m there for them. I live in Atlanta and they live in Cali. I told them I keep a packed bag, emergency bail cash and a gun at the ready. Why younger men? Simple. They aren’t trying to compete, but learn. Like my latest companion, Jason Burke. I’m sorry, I got a little side tracked. Baby boy is a gorgeous, tall, brown skinned, bald delight of a man, secure enough in his manhood to date an older woman. He’s a very successful hedge fund manager who loves God, jazz, art, traveling and cooking. Good bones. He’s definitely something I can work with. We’ve been seeing each other for six months, which for me, is more like five years. Unlike my girlfriends, I’m not sure if marriage is something I want to do again. I’ve seen and experienced it, and there are things about it I don’t particularly care for. Like explaining where I’ve been when I’m not with him, or why I spend so much money on clothes. Or, his thinking just because I’m a female, I’m weak and need a man to take care of me. Some of the married people I know refer to marriage as if it were a business arrangement, while others make it sound like prison. Neither of which interests me. I like not having to answer to anyone. And I don’t want someone calling me twelve times a day for no reason. Let me explain. If you’re calling me that much, you aren’t making money. I look at work as making money. So yes, there are exceptions and reasons for your not working and having all of this free time to talk to me. But, it had better not be because you didn’t have anything else to do. If you have set yourself up where you don’t have to work, that’s a good thing. However, I don’t want you tying up my phone with calls from you. And don’t give me that line about wanting to hear my voice. If you are so in awe of my voice, I’ll make you a recording of my voice and you can listen to it all day. Okay, hear me out. If you call someone that much during the day, what are you going to talk about when you see each other? Trust me, absence does make the heart grow fonder. If you don’t believe me, don’t call your significant other for a couple of days, and see if you won’t hear excitement in their voice when you say hello. Honey, it’s a high like no other. In that respect, I’m a lot like a guy. I’ll go out with you on Monday and won’t need to hear from you for a couple of days. And you need to keep the texting and emails to a minimum. I don’t need my communication devices loaded up with a lot of foolishness from you. Keep your communication simple and sparse. I’m a busy woman, and I don’t have time and room in my life for a needy man. I was married for a hot second, and it was one of the worst mistakes of my life. I moved to Savannah after college, and shortly thereafter I was married. I refer to it as my idiot head phase. All of my girlfriends told me not to get married, but I didn’t listen. Jerry was a complete idiot head. Have you heard the saying, “the village called and they want their idiot back"? Well, my ex-husband had the ringer on his phone turned off, so he never got the call to go back to the village There should be a law about letting ignorant people run wild amongst the normal ones. Or at least, make sure they have some sort of indicator, alarm, GPS, or an ankle bracelet you can zap when they start speaking to normal people. I believe his mother knew something wasn’t right with him But I believe she was so happy he found a woman who seemed to adore him, she never disclosed any of his faults. Like a dummy, I agreed to marry him after only six months of dating. I thought my prayer had been answered. Be careful what you pray for, because if you pray right you’re likely to get it. I asked God for a nice, Christian man, with a good heart, a career and no children. Fine, but I forgot to include, intelligent, good sense, and no Mama drama. I took for granted those things would be included. Then, because I’m a good thing, I did what God said and waited to be found. What I failed to realize was, Jerry didn’t find me, I found him, at the car wash. This fool managed the car wash. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with working at a car wash. He had a plan. Learn the inner workings of the car wash so he could open his own. A man with a plan. NOT! More like a man looking for a sponsor. Once we started dating and he saw how well I was doing, he convinced me if we were married, a mobile car detailing business would be more profitable than a car wash. To do that, he would need to devote all of his time to acquiring clients. And, the best way to do that would be to go out every day to offices and offer free detailing. This meant he wouldn’t be making any money in the beginning and I would have to support us. I said yes to his proposal and we set a wedding date. My girlfriends flew down to Savannah for the wedding, and even as we were preparing to walk down the aisle, they kept asking me if I was sure about marrying Jerry. I had convinced them, and myself, that he was the one. Everything was going great until eight months later, when the magic wore off and I came to my senses. I came home from work one day and found him sitting on the sofa scratching and belching, and something inside of me snapped. “You have got to go", I yelled. “Baby, what are you talking about? What’s wrong?” “I’m tired of coming home every day and seeing you sitting here watching television and scratching your stomach. You’re supposed to be working. If anyone should be home watching television, it should be me.” “But you know it’s been a little slow and I—” “I don’t want to hear it", I shouted. “Please, can’t we just talk about it?” He turned away from me but facing a mirror where I could see him counting. Like the idiot he is, he turned back around and said, “Oh, I know, it must be that time of the month.” Hello, village, I found your idiot. My fist connected with his jaw and when his mother came over, he had been out cold for a couple of hours. When she asked me what happened, I told her. I also strongly suggested she get out of my face before she found herself lying on the floor next to her. I packed my bags and wrote him a lovely parting note. “I’m divorcing your trifling lazy behind and if you try contesting, I’ll track you down like the lazy dog you are and run you over with your car detailing van. And that goes for your meddling Mama too. Love, Taylor.” I was gone. I moved to Buckhead, a suburb of Atlanta and went to work re-inventing myself. Now I’m a successful real estate broker. I heard from a former friend that Jerry got married again and is living in West Virginia. So whenever anyone brings up marriage, I tell them I've been there, done that, and burned the t-shirt. _________________________ Since we’re sharing, I have to confess I’ve had a couple of relationship incidents more like family close calls. I was dating this amazing man and things were getting serious, but I broke it off when I discovered I had dated his older brother when I was in college. Sure I could have kept seeing him, but why ask for trouble. The other situation happened with my mentor, Andrew McNeal. I met Andrew at a restaurant downtown. I was sitting at the bar waiting on some friends and he approached me. At first, I thought he was soliciting me. Anyway, the way he approached me was like a brother. I never would have imaged this silver haired vanilla chip had that much swagger. Yes, I’m down with the swirl. I don’t see color. I’m sort of like the United Nations. I’ve dated an heir to the Saudi throne, an Asian tech millionaire, a ginger with the backside of a brother, a Frenchman that showed me how his people earned their own kiss, and this African guy who said he wanted me to meet his father, the king. Andrew showed me how to market not only my business but myself as well. In no time at all, I went from peddling single family residences in the middle class suburbs, to moving luxury properties in Buckhead. Girlfriend was on her way. People were beginning to seek me out. No more cold calls. I was on my way up. Things were going fantastic with me and Andrew. We were good for each other. We fed off of each other’s energy. He was so smooth, I didn’t even realize I wanted to get married again. We started talking about a possible future together. But first, he wanted me to meet his kids. I knew I was in the home stretch until I looked up and saw my ex-boyfriend. Holy Crap! No wonder things felt so comfortable with Andrew, he was the original to the copy I had dated. My perfect thing was shot to hell. Not only did I lose a good man, I lost a great mentor. You'd think after that experience I would have been a little more careful. Please. That’s like asking a lion not to roar. Life is meant to be lived. _________________________ So what’s my secret? I don’t have one. You’d think with the wild life I’ve led, I’d have secrets jumping out of the closet. Maybe it’s because I live by the YOLO Rule…You Only Live Once. I know I’ll only come this way once and I plan on enjoying myself. But I would like a baby, not necessarily a husband. And according to nature, that window is about to close. I’ve prayed about it and, despite what people think, I have faith that it will happen. If not by my womb with my egg, then by egg donation, embryo donation, adoption or however God wants to do it. Who knows, maybe I’ll change my mind about marriage, and do it the old-fashioned way. But there is that one thing with Jason that I’m trying to keep hidden from my girlfriends. Of course they know he’s younger than me. No, this is something I didn’t even know until I had gotten invested in the relationship. Now I’m trying to figure out if I should break things off or not. Just when I think I have the answer, I remember what I saw at the spa. We did a couples day at the spa. My God, the man looks like a Greek statue. He’s cut from top to bottom…tight skin covering a mass of hard muscles and packing. How do I know? I cheated and looked when they told him to turn over. Mercy me. I instantly went from relaxed to hot and tense. Jason would be a good candidate for marriage. He has some very strong qualities. And from what I saw at the spa, I don’t think that that baby thing would be a problem. I think I need a little more time before making a rash decision that could cost me my hot, young boyfriend. I do have something that I’m keeping secret from my cousin Alex though. I’ve arranged a blind date for her when she comes to Atlanta for her store opening. My cousin is a sweetheart, but when it comes to meeting men, she hasn’t been too open. Unlike my friend Dionne, I have the gift of matchmaking. This guy is perfect for her. I used to date him, but he just wasn’t right for me. He’s a little too old. It’s not like he’s headed for the grave or anything like that, but he’s too old for me. And, I don’t like men with facial hair. I like my men clean shaven and or bald. I have a good feeling about him and Alex. They have quite a few things in common. He’s a widower and she’s sort of a widow. They’re both workaholics and entrepreneurs. He’s more of a homebody, which is another reason he wasn’t right for me. I like going out. Alex likes to stay home curled up with a good book. I know she usually dates average height, brown skin guys. So this guy is tall and dark. The height issue can be resolved with a pair of stilettos and once she sees his beautiful eyes, nothing else will matter. He’s quiet, attentive, has a good sense of humor, a warm smile, great style and he loves God. The only drawback is he lives in New York. But she goes there often enough that it could work. I think Moses could be the one for her, or at least the one for right now. DIONNE I’M DIONNE BURKE, AND I am married to a wonderful man thanks to my friend, Alex. God always puts someone in your path to help you, and when it comes to Quentin and me, it was Alex. I have a good life. My husband and I have been married almost three years. We own a media relations company with plans to expand. We don’t have children, and that’s something his annoying mother brings up on a regular basis. It’s not like we aren’t trying. We’re trying every chance we get. I wanted to adopt. Quentin made the mistake of telling his mother, hoping she’d be happy. No, that mean old goat said if we adopt, she’d die of a broken heart and cut him out of her will. I tell you, it would be worth it just to see if she’d really die. Forgive me, God. I know that’s not right, but she gets on my nerves. I love the Lord and I love Quentin, but it’s becoming more and more difficult to breathe. My girlfriends don’t realize the pressure I’m under to compete and maintain my place in this family. His father is a neurosurgeon and his mother, Satan’s Handmaiden, is a fertility specialist. They own a medical plaza with doctors specializing in everything from cosmetic reconstruction, to cardiology, to vascular medicine, to oncology. They also lease space to a couple of GPs and OBGYNs. All the doctors are expected to donate time to my mother-in-law’s pet project, The Kenderson Free Clinic, named after her late father, William Kenderson, III. My in-laws are on the boards of several charities, and they regularly open their house for fundraising events. Quentin’s older sister is a general practitioner married to a cardiologist. They have two children and their practices are located in my in-laws building. This, of course, makes them the family favorites. My brother-in-law, Adam, is the wild child. You name it and he’s done it; drugs, alcohol. I recall Quentin saying something about his having slept with several of his sister’s friends, which she, nor his mother were too happy about. He completely changed when his best friend was killed in a car accident. At the funeral, he said the Spirit of God spoke to him and told him to teach His Word. He left home and went to the seminary. He came back, worked with a local church and, a few years later, formed his own ministry. For our second date, Quentin took me to his brother’s church. It wasn’t until we got married that I became a member, mostly out of family loyalty. I liked my church but I wanted to show my support for my brother-in-law. The rest of the family stops by every now and then, but won’t join. His mother says they are very comfortable at their church and have too many obligations. She said it wouldn’t be fair to abandon their pastor. He’s ninety-five and reads the same three scriptures every week. Trust me, he doesn’t know if he has on matching shoes, let alone miss her meddling behind at the church bake sale. I love my husband and I want him to be happy, but his mother is making it difficult. She makes it a point to mention his ex-girlfriend, Stacy, whenever she can. It’s no secret I’m not her choice for Quentin. She wanted someone she could control, but she got me. Because I’m quiet, people think I’m fragile, but I’m not. My friends say I’m a people pleaser, which explains my poor choice in men prior to Quentin. I thank God for using Alex to bring us together, because I probably would have ended up with I don’t know what. I’m learning from my friend, Chloe, how to be a lot more aggressive and assertive. She says I need to explode every now and then. I’ve tried it at work, but I haven’t gotten up the nerve yet to let loose on my mother-in-law. Given the right situation, even the quietest of people have been known to snap. I just hope it’s not in private, because I need to let the family know I am nothing to be toyed with. That’s right, I am a strong, black woman. I can do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens me. Once I actually get that in my spirit and believe it, my mother-in-law had better watch out. I will be taking names and kicking butt, and she’s number one on my list. My mother-in-law only wants me around when it suits her needs. Step one in my plan to establish myself in this family, is to not be at Katherine’s beck and call any more. If she wants to talk to me, she needs to take a number and call me at a decent time. No more calling after nine-thirty. That’s Quentin and my time to reconnect. And no more demanding we come over at a moment’s notice for a family gathering. I have a family, too, and we need to spend more time with them. And there will be no more talk about shooting me up with baby making juice. Quentin and I will get pregnant the old-fashioned way. If she has a problem with that, then she can talk to God. And there will be no more talk about Quentin’s ex, Stacy. I’m his wife and she had better get used to it because I’m not going anywhere. And no more telling me once I get the house decorated she can host a fundraiser at our home. First of all, we like our home the way it is and, if we decide to host a fundraiser it will be because WE want to and not because SHE says we HAVE TO. And if she doesn’t like the way our home is decorated, then don’t come over. And no more telling me how to dress. I know how to dress, and if I need help, I’ll call Alex. Who does she think she is? I’m a grown woman. I’m her daughter-in-law not her daughter, and I am only obligated to extend my affection to a certain point. And if she keeps pissing me off, I’ll use those heart paddles and shock some sense into her. She’s been campaigning for a tongue-lashing and I’m about to cast my vote and give it to her. She’s been running this family like we’re prisoners and she’s the warden. Well, I’ve got news for her, my parole came through and I’m not taking any more of her crap. I think I’m one major PMS surge away from losing my cool. I hope I remember all of this when I explode. But until then, I will be the dutiful, supportive, loving and hopeful wife my husband married, who packs a loaded gun. _________________________ When I met my four best friends in college, I had a little girl crush on each of them. I wanted to be like all of them. I wanted to be pretty like Chloe. I wanted Taylor’s sassiness, Alex’s style and Kendell’s cooking skills. I never really knew where I fit in. It seemed like they all had plans. The only plan I had, was to finish college, get a good job and possibly leave with a husband. When I left college, I left with a degree and still no real idea of what I wanted to do. I also failed in my quest to graduate with a fiancé. After a couple of years, I ended up at an accounting firm. I hated it. It was stable and that made my parents happy. Honestly, my childhood hasn’t been story book. I was born with a twin brother, Donnie. I know, Donnie and Dionne. You’d think my parents would have been a little more imaginative. I can’t really blame them though. They had been trying for quite a while to get pregnant and when they did, it was twins. Unfortunately, Donnie died when we were five. It really messed my parents up. At one point I thought they were going to get a divorce. They managed to patch things up and tried to get pregnant again, but it never happened. They decided to turn all of their attention on me. Lord have mercy, I love my parents, but it was difficult there for a while. So when I got to college and met these amazing girls who were so carefree, but with goals, I wanted to be just like them. When I was younger, I wanted the fairy tale, complete with the perfect marriage to a wonderful man, a couple of kids, a dog, a fulfilling career and the perfect three bedroom Craftsman style bungalow with a white picket fence. I got the husband and the marriage. But, I also got a nagging mother- in-law, no kids, and a four bedroom Santa Barbara style house. Instead of a dog, I got half ownership in Burke Media, my husband’s company, and the job as its CFO. And the picket fence was swapped out for a boxwood hedge. _________________________ So what’s my secret? I no longer believe in fairy tales and don’t know how to tell my husband I don’t want a baby or a dog. But it might be too late. KENDELL MY NAME IS KENDELL MARTIN and I own Tangerine Spice, one of the hottest restaurants on the West side. At least that’s what my publicist says. But my publicist is also my best friend’s husband. What’s my story? It’s a story that’s as old as time. I was in love with a wonderful, compassionate, attractive man. His family owned a vineyard, which produced a high quality organic wine and sparkling wine, which my dad was excited about. After our third date, my dad went to work creating new recipes for his restaurants, Blue Dove, Blue Belle and Blue Cafe to be compatible with their wines. My ex-boyfriend’s father and my Dad worked out an arrangement to serve their wine at all of his restaurants and mine. It was a match made in entrepreneur heaven. My ex was constantly making references about our getting married. You know things like, “I told my dad to hold back some of the port for our wedding”, “Madrid would be a great honeymoon location", “I don’t want a big wedding, just a few family and friends”, “I think three children would be nice, two boys and a little girl I can spoil as much as I spoil you". I went so far as to start interviewing wedding planners. After three years of this premarital talk, I just came out with it and asked. “When are we getting married?” “I have no intentions of ever getting married”, he replied. “Then tell me what is with all the wedding talk?” He didn’t have an answer. Turns out he was just saying what he needed to say to keep me happy because of the business arrangement between our fathers. When we broke up, my dad was more heartbroken than I was. I recovered quickly, but it took him a little longer. To help him get over this breakup, I took him to Napa and introduced him to several far more superior organic wines. Before we got back home, he had forgotten all about the ex and his father’s sub par wine. Do I regret the time I spent walking in total oblivion? Yes, and no. Should I have been a little more in tune with what was going on? Yes. Should I have asked him early on how he felt about marriage? Most definitely. Will I make the same mistake again? I pray to God I don’t. After wasting all that time with someone who basically lied to me, I turned my love life over to God and promised to listen to Him. He told me to trust Him, and I have only been trusting Him with part of my life. I have too much to accomplish to waste my time with someone that doesn’t really know what he wants to do. Or who will say whatever he has to in order to seal the deal. And what happened to “Mr. I Have No Intentions of Getting Married”? His dad made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. Seems I wasn’t the only woman he was engaged to not marry. Rather than lose another big contract, his dad made him marry his other non-fiancé. Seems her father owned five Sizzlers. Now he’s living in Idaho, managing one of his father-in-law’s restaurants. And yes, they serve his dad’s wine. Pay back can be painful. I almost feel sorry for him, but you shouldn’t make marital promises you don’t intend to keep. Shortly after our breakup, I started seeing a wonderful, amazing, sensitive, sexy man that adores me. He’s everything I want. I told my girlfriends about him and they were excited and eager to meet him, until I disclosed he only exists in my very vivid dreams. That’s when they surmised I was losing my mind. I’m not crazy I just have a very active dream life. Too bad my awake state isn’t as exciting. In my dream state, I have been having a relationship with the same man off and on for a couple of years. But it wasn’t until the one on February 6th that I started journaling them. I hope none of my friends finds my journal and reads it. It could be a little embarrassing and difficult to explain. I named the star of my dreams Rêve, that’s French for dream. I’ve never really seen his face, just his body. He’s incredible…average height, jet black wavy hair, dark olive skin and built like a brick wall. His sarong fits low on his hips barely concealing his uhm…let’s just say, he’s all man and then some. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that night. I was in a deep sleep and then my conscious drifted into the most serene place. I was walking along a beach and this incredibly sexy man approached me. He smiled and it sent a chill through my body. He asked if he could join me on my walk. We strolled along the length of the white sandy beach a while before he casually reached for my hand. His touch felt like I’d been shot with an electric jolt straight to my core. I could barely stand up. He quickly wrapped me in his muscular arms and pulled me to his chest. I felt uncomfortable, but safe at the same time. He gently stroked my temple and followed with a sweet kiss. “Are you all right?” The heat of those words traveling off his lips and into my mind, were so powerful. In that brief moment, he’d shown me more concern and compassion than any other man I’d been with. All I could do was smile and nod. He ran his finger across my lips, down my chin, gliding down my neck, just stopping at the damp apex of my cleavage. I could barely breathe. Our eyes locked and he gently pressed his lips against mine. His tongue slowly invaded my mouth. He tasted like pineapple and sweet wine. I wanted more. He pulled me closer and his hands eased under my top and the heat from his hands penetrated my skin making my blood boil. He pulled my shirt over my head and tossed it on the white sandy beach. He kissed my shoulder and moved his mouth down my collar bone, dragging his tongue across my hot skin. His hand cupped my….Bzzzz…Bzzzz…Bzzzz… Crap!…Crap!…Crap!…the alarm rang. Just as I was getting to the good part, or maybe that’s all there is to the dream. Why can’t I find a boyfriend like the one in my dreams. He’s perfect. He has strong hands, soft lips and he can read my mind. I get chills thinking about him. If it wasn’t a shame, I’d get some sleeping pills so I could visit with him more frequently. I love my job, but I could stand an afternoon visit or two or three from my dream man to alleviate my stress. _________________________ In college, I watched my cousin Taylor and friend Chloe juggle men like they were in the circus. I could never do that. I have always been a one at a time kind of girl. Grant it, I never had guys like the ones chasing Chloe and Taylor trying to get with me. No, I seemed to attract the mama’s boy or the under achiever only in college so his parents wouldn’t cut him off. I always wanted to be the girl that dated the hot guy that everyone wanted. The guy that could stop traffic with his looks. But he had to have the other things on my list. That’s right. I have a list. My girlfriends think it’s childish. But, after my last debacle I thought I needed to stay focused and not get distracted with another idiot head just looking for a sponsor. I want a man that appreciates all I have to offer. He also needs to like my cooking. Really, I can’t afford to be wasting time with someone who doesn’t like my cooking. How is he going to give me good feedback if he won’t eat my food? He also has to love God. That’s my deal breaker. I don’t have time for mama’s boys, underachievers, day dreamers or free spirits. I’m trying to build an empire, and I need a man that can help me. _________________________ So what’s my secret? I have a few, but one isn’t mine It’s someone else’s and they made me swear never to share it. My other secret would destroy my relationship with my cousin Alex. The other secret that’s holding me prisoner is a shocker even for me. I never saw it coming and I’m still in shock. I’m glad Chloe gave me that gun, because it came in handy. ALEX AS DIFFERENT AS THE FIVE of us are, we are very much alike and that’s why we’re friends. I think if there weren’t traces of each of us in each other, we wouldn’t be friends. We balance each other out. But when it comes to love, relationships and marriage, we’re all very different. Considering our differences, you’d think it would be easy to keep a pact we made in college. That just confirms that pacts are for children and not grown women who are all searching for love. The first part of the pact was simple…no dating any of your friend’s ex-boyfriends, ex-husbands, relatives or co-workers. Second part, no secrets. No matter how much the truth could possibly hurt, we vowed to be truthful and honest with each other. However, every last one of us has broken the pact, several times. Among the five of us there were too many secrets to keep track of. The week we spent in Atlanta for my new store opening was the week that broke the seal on a few secrets that would change our lives forever. We all found ourselves asking, “How well do I know my best friends?” excerpt from book one this is how it started... ALEX I SCANNED THE ROOM ADMIRING all the Who’s Who of Atlanta here to help me celebrate the opening of my new store. My cousin Taylor offered to throw me a welcome to Atlanta party, sort of a pre-opening. She said it’s the best way to entice the glitterati of Atlanta to come to the opening. If I weren’t the guest of honor, I’d be gone. I have so much to get done before the opening. I looked across the room and caught the eye of the most beautiful man in the room. I convinced myself he was smiling at me, until I realized my cousin Taylor was behind me. She walked over and whispered, “Too bad he is so old.” “How old is he?” I asked. “He’s in our neighborhood.” “So now, we’re old?” “No girl.” She laughed. “You know what I mean. I thought I’d try something a little fresher.” She turned to her right and cast a big smile in the direction of this young, honey colored, bald child standing in the corner. He was fine, but he still had milk on his lips. She motioned for him to come over although Mr. Dark Chocolate was also headed towards us. Mr. Dark Chocolate moved like a gazelle, slow and steady gliding across the room. Swagger...confidence...danger. As he approached, I saw the details of his face more clearly. His skin looked like smooth dark chocolate and he had the most incredible light brown eyes. I’ve never seen a man so dark with such light eyes. They didn’t seem real, nor did he. He smiled and I felt something deep in my core. I don’t care if he’s only coming over to talk to my cousin. I’m grateful to stand here in his presence and lust…I mean admire him. He stopped in front of us and my mind immediately filled with thoughts no good, Christian girl should know anything about. I wonder what he looks like wet and naked. I looked around hoping I hadn’t said that out loud. “Hello, Taylor.” He smiled. Oh God, did You recycle Barry White’s voice box and put it inside this beautiful package? My hormones and body went into a tailspin and I was ruined for any other man on this planet. Taylor managed to pry herself from junior’s arms long enough to acknowledge what I believe to be God’s best work. “Hi Moses. I’m glad you came.” He kissed the back of her hand and replied, “Thank you for inviting me.” He took my hand, turned it over and gently kissed it. I think my uterus just flipped over. “Good evening, I’m Moses Adair.” Moses, lead me to the Promise land. “Alexandra Miller.” “Are you the Alex?” He asked. If I wasn’t, I was now. “Which Alex would that be?” I replied with a smile. “The Alex I’ve been hearing people talk about all evening.” “Depends on what you’ve heard.” I’m trying to flirt and that’s not something I’m good at. I wanted to tell him, “I’m whoever I need to be in order to keep talking to you.” “Excuse me”, Taylor said, as she took junior’s arm and left us standing in the middle of the room. “I heard a woman say she hoped the pink dress Alex was wearing would be available at the store, because she liked the way it...” He slowly looked me up and down. When his eyes met mine, he was smiling. I instantly recognized that smile. It’s the same one I had when I first spotted him. “...framed her face.” I gave him the same smile he gave me. “Then, I guess I am that Alex.” As soon as the flirting started, it ended. I saw him looking everywhere, but at me. Time to move on. I should have known this gorgeous man wasn’t interested in me. I’m going to hurt Taylor for leaving me with one of her castoffs. “Excuse me, but I…” He gently grabbed my hand. “Please…” I looked at my hand and then at his face. Those incredible eyes went from light to dark brown in a matter of seconds. A jolt hit my core and I almost fell down. “Please…don’t leave me alone.” “What?” He leaned in close and his aftershave traveled up my nose. He smelled like an expensive cigar that had been dipped in plums and cardamon. I took a deep breath, tattooing his scent in my mind. “May I tell you a secret?” He can say anything he wants as long as I can hear that voice. I swallowed hard. “Sure.” “This really isn’t my thing.” “Then why did you come?” He was still holding my hand. Part of me wanted him to let go before he realized how sweaty it was. The other part of me didn’t ever want him to let it go. I looked down at my hand and back at him and he released my hand. “I’m trying to be more outgoing. Meet new people.” “And how’s that working out for you?” I asked, with just enough sarcasm to be cute. “I've met one person so far,” he joked. “Uh-huh. Excuse me.” I started walking away, when he grabbed my wrist. “I’m sorry, how long have you known Taylor?” “She’s my cousin, and you?” “We dated briefly.” “Really?” I turned to face him. “You sound surprised.” “I’m sorry, you just don’t seem like her type.” He looked across at Taylor and junior. “I don’t?” “Did you know, when a woman meets a man, she can size him up in a matter of seconds?” “Really? Let’s get a drink, while you explain women to me.” He gently placed his hand on the small of my back and my body temperature tripled. God, please let there be something wrong with him. “What would you like?” he asked. “A mineral water with lime.” “We’ll both have mineral water. Thank you.” He turned toward me and it felt like he was looking into my soul. I once heard someone say, you know you’ve met the person you’re supposed to be with when you look into their eyes and see all the generations you’ll create. When I looked into his eyes, I saw our great grandchildren several times over. “You were saying?” “It’s simple. When a woman meets an attractive man, within thirty seconds, or less, she’s picked out their china pattern, placed him at the altar, and given birth to their first child.” The bartender placed my drink on the bar and nodded his head in agreement with me. “Thank you.” I took a sip and continued. “He, on the other hand is just hoping she’ll say hello.” “Thank you.” He said to the bartender and took a sip of his drink. “Taylor doesn’t strike me as that type.” “Taylor is the rule with a little exception. She can sum up if you’re too old.” “Too old?” He looked surprised. “Yeah, that’s probably why it didn’t work out between the two of you. She kind of has this thing for younger men.” As soon as the words left my mouth, it hit me like a ton of bricks. Not only did I just betray my cousin, I just betrayed my sex and called him old. He looked at me and slowly turned his lips up into the most beautiful smile. “Your insight is enlightening. However, I don’t think that’s why we stopped dating.” “Trust me.” “And here I thought it had to do with my wife.” “Your wife?” Here’s a sneak peek at other novels by Tracy Reed excerpt from A NOVEL 1 Kyla promised herself she would never be like the other women in her family, dating a married man and settling for the pennies he doled out. She’d always felt she was worth more. She met Eric at a fundraiser. He smiled, she smiled and after the cocktail hour, they found themselves seated next to each other. During dinner they talked and flirted and once the evening was over, he asked for her number. She declined and while getting ready for bed, she reached into her bag for her phone and noticed that she also had someone else’s phone. She called the last number dialed and a vaguely familiar voice said, “I’ve been waiting for your call. So what time do you want to meet for breakfast so I can get my phone?” They both laughed. They agreed to meet the following morning for breakfast. Two days later, they met again and included an extra slot for “therapy.” Making love in the morning seemed so decadent. She didn’t think anything of it until she received her first black envelope a month later. Eric said, “I’m tired of hotels. Rent a place and fix it up for us and keep whatever is left.” “I’m not a hooker.” “I didn’t mean any disrespect. I want to keep seeing you, but my neighbors are nosey.” “Oh, you’re married.” “No, I’m not. I just like my privacy. I like being with you, but—” “I understand.” She dropped her head and quickly began getting dressed. “I don’t think this is—” He noticed the change in her behavior and rushed to reassure her. “I don’t want you to think I’m ashamed of you, but I also don’t want you to think I’m monopolizing your time. You need your space and so do I. When we get together, it should be on neutral, comfortable ground and not some cold hotel room or a place filled with memories of past lovers.” He wrapped his arms around her pulling her to him, gently stroking her hair, inhaling her neck and gently placing a kiss on her soft shoulder. She turned around trying to read the expression on his face. Looking into his eyes, she wondered how many more love nests he had scattered around the city. She pulled his face close to hers and covering his mouth with hers, kissed him passionately. She slipped her hands inside the front of his pants while sliding her tongue inside his mouth, exciting him to the point of arousal. She pulled back and whispered, “Once more before we have to go?” He couldn’t resist her. The soft seductive tone of her voice and the gentle touch of her hand, made him weak and willing to do anything she asked. Kyla knew if there were anyone else, they would have a hard time competing with her. She got her education in how to manipulate a man by eavesdropping on her aunts’ conversations. They were all experts when it came to being with and manipulating married men. She learned how to kiss from her high school boyfriend. And her college boyfriend, her biology professor, schooled her in anatomy and how to physically please a man. Before getting involved with Eric, she had dated, but she only had two other semi serious relationships. Neither was fulfilling. The first was Thomas Smith. He was cute, but he lacked the drive to satisfy her physically. When they were together she found herself fantasizing about other men. Intellectually he was a genius, but no one really makes love to a person’s brain. It was the other part of his body that needed more educating and she knew she wasn’t a school teacher. Then there was Alister Humphrey. The name alone intrigued her. She had never met a black man with such a stuffy name. In the beginning he seemed like the complete package. Model good looks, intelligence and his skills in bed were unbelievable. The first time they made love, the intensity of his being inside her brought tears to her eyes. Not because it was painful, but because she had never felt such pleasure. Alister knew exactly how to read her body. A skill that was the result of his blindness. What he lacked in vision, he more than compensated for in his other senses. But, he was a man and as they all do, he began making demands and that’s when she called it quits. Mind blowing sex aside, Kyla was gone. Her aunts always said, “Don’t allow a man to make demands on you. You make the demands on him. Use what you have and any man can be controlled with the sway of your hips and the wink of your eye. And, showing a little cleavage wouldn’t hurt either.” If she were going to marry, it would be to Eric. He was everything she wanted. Handsome, well educated, focused, rich and eager to please in and out of bed. But she also learned from her aunts, the wife always got the leftovers and Kyla didn’t like leftovers or sloppy seconds. When Eric suggested the apartment, at first she thought, he was ashamed of her. But Eric’s response to her kiss and touch convinced her, she was his priority. She knew she was in charge. She eased her hand further down his pants pleading, “Baby, please make me sing again before sending me off to start the day.” She kissed his neck before dropping the sheet that was caressing her body and walked into the bathroom. He stood still contemplating the repercussions of being late to the office, when he heard the shower running. He looked at his watch and texted his assistant he would be late. He put his phone on the desk, striped, walked into the steam filled bathroom and opened the shower door to a wet and soapy Kyla, smiling. “Are you ready to sing?” he asked as he leaned her up against the slippery tiled wall. He pressed himself against her and filled his mouth with every inch of her. He lifted her from behind and rode her like a beautiful long legged mare. The harder he rode, the louder she sang. One last trot, and he sang out too. He rested his head on her chest and she had her answer, “no,” there was no one else, just her. She reached over and turned the hot water off. They both needed to cool down. “Baby, I’ll do whatever you want, just don’t leave me,” he begged. She smiled to herself and replied, “Whatever you say baby.” He pulled away and she turned the hot water back on and washed him like a newborn baby. Gently stroking every inch of him. He knew there wasn’t another woman like her. No woman ever treated him like this. He stood still and let her soft hands wash him clean. On his way to work, he called her. “You are an amazing woman.” She remained silent. “Can I see you tonight?” She thought for a moment before replying, “Only if you promise to repeat that shower scene.” “Your wish is my command.” Now more than three years later and countless showers and secret meetings, she’s still calling the shots. excerpt from CHAPTER ONE gabriella I CONSIDER MYSELF TO BE smart. After all, I got my Bachelor's degree in three years, thanks to no social life, Summer school, and an extra load of classes. While my classmates were going to parties and football games, I was going to my internship. I was fortunate to intern at Morgan Grant Holdings my senior year. I really like the company and the people. However, when I graduated and applied for a position, the only thing available was a Floating Assistant. I took it, because I know the company’s policy is to promote from within. My parents don’t understand why I’m so desperate to work for this company. I honestly don’t understand it either. All I know is, it just feels right. Morgan Grant has branches all over the world. I’m hoping wherever I land, I’ll have the opportunity to travel and really make an impact. Since I’ve been floating, I’ve worked in nearly every department at their San Francisco headquarters. I look at my job as a very long training program. During my internship, I was relegated to Mergers and Acquisitions. I liked the high powered energy and seeing deals go from inception to birth. However, as a floater, I loved the two weeks I was in Advertising. The creative energy there is like a drug. I love how they function as a group. If given the choice, that’s where I’d like to be. Advertising works with all the departments and subsidiaries in all the offices. Creativity and travel…that’s what I want. Until then, I’ll keep floating and interviewing. The Director of Human Resources called me early this morning, requesting I report to her office immediately for a special assignment. I quickly got dressed and headed to work. I walked into her office and sat down. She handed me a card with only an office number. Before she could give me instructions, her computer dinged and she looked at the screen. After reading the screen, she grabbed her head, started typing and told me to go to the office upstairs and someone would give me details. I took the elevator up to the twenty-third floor to the office number on the card. I’ve never worked on the Senior Executive floor. Most of the offices on this floor belong to the “big boys”…at least that’s what I’ve heard. The elevator stopped, the doors opened and my mouth dropped open. It was beautiful. It didn’t look like an office, but like someone’s luxurious living room. I looked around for a receptionist, but didn’t see one. Maybe that’s what I was going to be doing. I looked down at the card and it said twenty-three forty-two. I looked around and there were three doors. I searched for twenty-three forty-two and spotted the brushed steel numbers on the wall next to a hall. I walked down the long hall and stopped at the door marked, twenty-three forty-two. I knocked on the door, but there was no answer. I turned the knob and the door opened. I walked inside and looked around the beautifully decorated black and white office with a view of the city. None of the spaces I’ve worked in had a window. Most of the offices with windows were reserved for executives. I thought to myself, “Whoever works in here probably prefers working at night with the lights of the city casting a sense of calm.” The walls were painted a beautiful glossy dark black. The white lacquered Parsons desk fit perfectly in the black and white space. However, the desk chair seemed out of place. It was as if whoever decorated the space forgot the assistant needed a chair, and grabbed the first thing they saw in storage. In front of the desk were two French-style arm chairs painted black with wide black and white stripe fabric. The only things on the desk were a vintage-style brass lamp, a telephone, large Apple iMac, MacBook Pro, iPad, and an iPhone. Seemed someone went a little crazy at the Apple Store. There was also two back-up drives and about a dozen jump drives. This was definitely the big leagues. Behind the desk, was a white lacquered credenza with a huge arrangement of white lilies, art books, candles, a black tray with mineral and flat water, napkins with the company logo, jars of mixed nuts, pretzels, and black and white M&Ms. In the corner, was a small black velvet settee with black and white striped pillows like the chairs. Also, a small brass and glass coffee table with a stack of art books, a small arrangement of white roses, a very modern brass floor lamp, and a black and white geometric print rug. The office was beautiful and unlike any of the ones downstairs. I looked around and thought how cool it would be to work in this space permanently. I sat down in one of the chairs facing the desk and waited for someone to appear. Ten minutes later, the phone rang. I looked around and no one appeared, and the phone stopped ringing. A few minutes later it rang again, so I answered it. “Hello, Morgan Grant.” I didn’t know whose office it was so I played it safe. I knew I could always transfer the call to the right department. “Great, you’re there. I need you to familiarize yourself with the leases for the D.C., Atlanta, Charlotte, and Dallas offices. Also, get the number of employees. I need to know if there are any open positions, and if so, how many. Call Estella in Human Resources and tell her what you need. Then, make a list of the top three commercial real estate brokers in London and Paris.” He was speaking so quickly, I never got a chance to tell him that whoever he was trying to reach wasn’t there. I put the call on speaker, got my phone and recorded everything he was saying while jotting down whatever I could catch. I wanted to make sure I relayed the information correctly to whomever the office belonged to. “Then go to Brockman’s, ask for Cameron and pick up the things he has for me. Tony will pick you up tomorrow and bring you to the airport.” “When the assistant arrives, who should I say called?” “Phillippe. Don’t tell me I just gave all that to the receptionist. Human Resources said my assistant was in her office.” “I’m sorry, but no one was here when I arrived. I’m waiting on someone to give me instructions for my next assignment.” “What did Human Resources tell you?” “There was an emergency. Then I was handed a card with this office number and told to report here for my next assignment.” He sighed. “Are you Gabriella Townsend?” “Yes.” “I’m Phillippe Marchant, you’ll be working with me.” “For how long?” “Excuse me?” “Usually, when I start an assignment, I’m also told the duration.” “This isn’t a temp job. You’ve been hired to work with me.” “Oh, I didn’t…” “It’s not your fault. I’ll deal with Human Resources. I’m in Seattle putting out a fire. I’ll see you tomorrow.” Click. I pressed the STOP button on my phone recorder and looked around my office. All my hard work and patience had paid off. I jumped up and down doing the happy dance in my office. I walked over and sat on my settee, my chairs and touched everything in my office. I finally sat down in the odd desk chair and sighed. This is perfect. It’s decorated exactly how I would have done it. “Wow, thank you God.” I collected myself and got to work. Just as I was about to head out to Brockman’s, my phone rang. I picked it up and answered, “Phillippe Marchant’s office.” “Gabriella.” Now that I know this is my office, I took the time to really listen to his voice. It was deep and sounded like smooth port wine. “Yes, sir.” “First of all, it’s Phillippe.” “Yes, sir. I mean Phillippe.” “Call James Marshall’s office. His number is in the Contacts on your computer. Let them know we’ll be attending the gala and that I’ll give James the check when I meet with him.” “Is there anyone else I need to inform about the party?” “Excuse me?” “You said us.” “Crap. Is there a black folder on your desk?” “No.” “Go into my office and look on my desk.” “Hold on.” I walked over to the sliding wood door across from my desk, and pulled it back. My mouth dropped open again for the second time today. In the almost two years I’ve worked here, I’ve never seen an office like this one. It’s not an office, but a loft. The very masculine scent greeted me at the door…tobacco, musk, leather and something spicy I can’t name. The walls were the same color black as the ones in my office, but in a flat finish. In the far left corner was a lounge area with a large black leather sofa, a couple of oversized brown leather club chairs, and a large square distressed wood coffee table with a large art book opened to a page on vintage cars. To the left of the door were shiny black bookcases filled with books, albums and a vintage record player. In the other corner, was a large rectangular dark wood table with eight square black leather and brass chairs around it. Above the table, was a cool vintage light fixture expanding the length of the table. An antique brass open shelving unit was on the wall facing the conference table. On the wall above the shelving unit was a large, round mirror. An incredible plaster and iron sculpture sat on top of the shelving unit. I stepped inside and the view of San Francisco took my breath away. The wall facing the conference table was floor to ceiling windows…a billionaire’s view. I looked around and finally cast my attention on the large, sleek and shiny black lacquered desk. It looked more like art than a desk. The only things on it were a large Apple iMac, a telephone, a couple of black lacquer trays, and a small tray filled with black Montblanc pens and black old school pencils. The chair seemed out of place in front of the desk. It was black velvet, with a feminine shape to it. It was clear Phillippe was an art lover. There were interesting pieces accessorizing the space. The large black and white print on the wall behind the desk was my favorite…a pair of hands. It was simple and dramatic. Instead of a light cluttering the desk, there was a cool, bubble bulb chandelier hanging over the desk. Behind the desk was a black vintage credenza with a tray of bottled water, glasses, napkins and three glass canisters…one with mixed nuts, one with black and white M&Ms and one with pretzels. I see Mr. Marchant likes to snack, which explains the identical set up in my office. I walked up to the desk and inside one of the trays was a black folder with “Gabriella” written on it. I picked up the folder and went back to my office. “I have it.” “Do you see an itinerary?” I opened the folder and thumbed through the pages searching for the document. “No.” “Crap! I’m sorry. This thing in Seattle caught me off guard. You and I will be visiting the offices I asked you to get information on before coming home. After a brief break, we’ll be heading to London and Paris to look for new office space. We have to attend the Marshall Pediatrics Spring Gala while we’re in Charlotte. I apologize for throwing all of this on you at the last minute. Do you need a couple of extra hours to get packed?” Couple of hours? How about a couple of days! The last time I had on an evening gown, was the prom. “That would help.” “If you need a dress, when you go to Brockman’s tell Cameron I said to fix you up with whatever you need.” “That won’t be necessary.” “I insist. Consider it my way of apologizing for the crazy first day.” “Thank you.” “I’ll see you tomorrow at three.” “Bye.”


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