Read Sample Chapters of the Highly Anticipated
Second Installment of the "On the Right Path" series.
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It couldn’t be.
No. It was impossible.
Immobilized, Pastor Keith Ward felt suspended in time. His breath caught. His yellow tie, sprinkled with tiny red polka dots, threatened to choke the life out of him.
The voices of the choir faded in the distant echo. All around him people praised and rejoiced while Keith felt the scales around his heart chip away.
Time stood still.
No wonder she’d been on his mind. Even on his way to the podium, Keith had had to repeat scriptures to temper the need that filled his being. His psyche must have known something. Leaning forward, Keith squinted to focus into the distance. That’s her all right. She was here.
His brother’s wife.
And, the mother of Keith’s child. Yes, he was a father.
Keith’s heart slammed into his chest. Its beating sounded like thunder booming to his ears. Gripping the handles, Keith eased his body out of the chair, intent on pursuing the woman who twisted his insides and stole his heart.
He had to go to her.
As he stood, Keith felt a moment of disorientation; belatedly realizing the crowd was standing and cheering. It seemed as if they were giving him a standing ovation. Flabbergasted, Keith watched Gina leave. All of his thoughts about his sermon left the forefront of his mind.
He turned his head to see his assistant, Natalie Henderson, or as he called her, “The Hawk,” gesturing towards the podium. She mouthed the words, “Go. Go,” with frantic hands.
Keith gritted his teeth, clenched his fists and closed his eyes. Lord, help me. Help me.
The crowd shouted praises, presuming he was hearing something from God. Summoning every ounce of self-control he possessed, Keith stepped up to the podium. He opened his Bible, worn from use—but he’d refused to get a new one. This one had sentimental value. Then, with authority and anointing, he addressed his parishioners waiting on a word from God.
Three years earlier
“Say you’ll be here for Gina’s party. Colleen and Terence can’t make it, so I’m counting on you to show your ugly face. Trey’s been asking for his favorite Uncle Keith. ” Michael Ward threw in that last tidbit for emotional blackmail.
Keith Ward grinned, picturing the little rambunctious boy giving Gina a run for her money. “I’m his only Uncle Keith. Is he still running like his pants are on fire?”
“Yup, and you should see Gina try to pick him up when he’s already half her size.”
Sitting in a leather chair in his offices located on Queens Blvd in New York, Keith propped his foot on another chair and looked up at the ceiling. Going to Atlanta would mean that he would be seeing her again. Gina. His blessing, and his curse. Who was he fooling? Of course he’d be there.
“Okay, I’ll be there and let me know if you need me to take care of anything on my end,” Keith offered. As soon as he ended the call, he grabbed his briefcase to head to the courthouse located two blocks away. He’d gotten a call that the judge was ready to make a ruling on the Harper case. After two grueling months, he was glad a decision had been made.
While he walked, he took a stroll down memory lane. Michael had been love struck when he’d met Gina Price, at the time, at his business partner, Terence Hayworth’s wedding. His brother tended to attract psychopaths so Keith had been prepared to dislike and dismiss this new woman who had his brother spellbound. But the moment he’d seen Gina Price, he’d gotten the shock of his life.
Before Gina, Keith hadn’t known that there was such a thing as instant love at first sight or even real animal attraction, but that was how it had been. Before her, he’d only been in love once, and Vanessa Arnold had been killed by a drunk driver. However, his feelings for Vanessa had paled in comparison, to what he felt for Gina.
Gina was like a fire that consumed him.
Keith stopped. He stood at the foot of the ten steps leading up to the entrance of the courthouse. He dragged his hands down his face, pulling on his cheeks as his memories flooded him.
Twice. On two sweet occasions, he’d been with Gina.
The first time was right before his brother’s near fatal car accident. Gina had found out that Michael had cheated with his crazy ex, Karen Newton, and had broken things off with him. He’d rushed to her house. To Keith, that had been fate, and he hadn’t had any reservations about professing his love. It sounded like the plot of a cheap romance novel, but he’d been convinced that Gina was his destiny. This was his time—his moment, he’d told himself, and his heart had rung with joy when Gina confessed she’d felt the same way.
However, for them there had been no happy-ever-after.
After he and Gina had shared one of the most mind-boggling, emotionally charged intimate experiences uniting their soul… Remembering, Keith felt the old guilt begin to eat at him again… The call came. And he’d had her, for one sweet night that he’d hoped would last forever. Little did either of them know, Michael, guilty about cheating on Gina, while speeding to her house, lost control of the vehicle and crashed, almost killing himself.
He remembered how his body had shaken with fear when he’d learned that Michael was in a coma. The wait had been agony. So, when by some divine intervention, Michael had awakened with no residual brain damage, Gina patched things up with him. At her urging, Keith and Gina agreed never to talk about what had transpired between them.
Plagued with guilt, Gina pressed, “It never happened.”
After his near death experience, Michael had wasted no time in putting a rock on Gina’s finger and wedding plans had commenced with so much speed that Keith felt like he was in a time warp.
Keith trudged up the stairs as her words pounded in his head. It never happened. He made a fist. But, it had.
And then, again.
There had been a second time. Keith shrugged. He’d better leave that as a secret of the past.
Entering the designated courtroom, Keith put his briefcase on the table, pulled out the battered leather chair, and waited for his client, Harper Wills, to arrive. Keith drummed his fingers on the table, his mind on Gina.
He couldn’t control the quivers of anticipation that rocked his spine at the thought of Gina. He ached to see her. Soon...soon he would. He felt like a kid who would be given an all-you-can-eat-day in a candy store. However, lucky for him, none of his thoughts showed on his face.
When he left court, he was going to go gift shopping. It would be late, but he lived in the city that never slept so he wasn’t concerned. He went through the motions and entered an appeal and shot out of there as soon as the gavel hit the desk. He knew just the perfect gift.
Days flew by and before he knew it, Keith found himself bustling to catch the flight from JFK Airport to Atlanta. He only carried a small carryon so he made it right before the final boarding call. Keith settled in to his first-class accommodations. There was enough legroom for him to stretch out.
As he watched the plane’s ascent, Keith sighed. He was grateful Michael had planned the trip. He relished leaving the hustle and bustle of New York, with its crazy, demanding work hours for five days. Taking a deep breath, he settled deeper in the comfy seat first class provided. He could feel the muscles in his neck and back relaxing already.
His flight landed without delay. With his height of six-three, Keith had no trouble spotting Michael who awaited his arrival outside the gate.
“Hey, big bro!” Michael gave him a hearty hug.
“It’s been a while,” Keith replied, feeling good seeing his brother. It had been almost six months since his last visit.
“I’ve missed you,” Michael declared, a little misty-eyed.
“Same here, Bro,” Keith said.
“What about me?”
Keith knew who the small voice belonged to. He looked down when he realized two little hands were squeezing his trousers. Keith took Trey’s hand in his. His chubby fingers were sticky. Not caring, Keith held out his arms.
“Hi, Trey.” Trey jumped into Keith’s arms and he felt his heart expand with indescribable joy. “You’ve gotten so big, Little Man.”
Trey nodded and opened his mouth to show off his new tooth. Keith noted his honey-colored complexion, curly hair and the hazel-green eyes that were a gift from his grandma Gerry. At four, Trey was already so tall that Keith was convinced that he would outgrow him.
“You guys are going to have to watch the women.” Keith looked toward Michael. “He’s probably breaking hearts in pre-school.”
Michael chuckled. “Don’t I know it? I predict he’s going to be like you; a magnet for women.”
“What did you bring me?” Trey asked his uncle.
“Trey,” Michael was annoyed at his son’s blunt request, but Keith laughed.
He waved off Michael’s rebuttal. “It’s okay. I like the direct, upfront approach.” Keith adjusted Trey in his strong arms. His biceps expanded.
Michael poked him in the ribs and whispered, “Still affecting the ladies, I see.”
Keith harrumphed. He looked around noticing a group of women eyeing him, before ignoring them. He was here for his family, nothing else. “Don’t start.” He warned and walked off.
Michael grabbed Keith’s carryon and continued, “What? You can’t blame them for being entranced with a movie star in their midst.”
“Spare me the humor, Michael.”
“Well, when you’ve got it, you’ve got it. I’m just saying you missed your calling.” Michael listed Keith’s physical attributes all the way to his car. “You’re too pretty for words, man.”
“Michael.” Keith gritted his teeth as Michael clicked the locks to open the doors. Once they were both inside, Keith closed his eyes and prayed for strength. Sometimes his brother took a joke too far. “Enough. I think you have way too much fun jabbing at me.”
Michael surrendered and started the drive to his home. They moved on to safer topics, mostly business, which Michael was much more serious about. He had expanded his ventures from architecture to acquiring properties, fixing them and flipping them for a profit. Keith was so proud of his success, and told him so.
“I’m looking to get into investing next,” Michael shared.
“You’re going to be the next Donald Trump,” Keith predicted. “I’m going to be watching you on TV saying, ‘You’re fired,’ next.”
His brother grinned. “And you know it! I’m just grateful to Tyler Simmonds for giving me my first break in the big leagues. He and his wife, Camille, should be at Gina’s party.”
Keith nodded. Michael referenced the owner of Simmonds Synthetics. He didn’t respond as Michael was pulling into the driveway of his and Gina’s palatial house in Suwanee, Georgia.
The front door opened, Gina stepped through it and Keith’s heart stopped. He didn’t have eyes for the well-manicured lawn and the lilies. He didn’t mention the beautiful landscaping that Michael had spent a fortune on to create and then maintain.
No, Keith only had eyes for Gina. She had her medium-length hair in big, bouncy curls and she looked a little rounder from the last time he’d seen her. Her extra weight only added to her appeal. In short, Gina was beautiful to him. Her size was insignificant. Keith was in love with the woman...Her essence.
“Mommy!” Trey squealed, holding out his arms.
Gina came over to hug her son. “Mommy missed you,” she said, helping him out of the car seat.
He saw her check him out from under her lashes and patted his stomach. He was in top physical shape from working out.
“Hi, Gina, it’s been a long time.” Keith offered the perfunctory salutation in a low, calm tone, but on the inside he was a veritable mess. He didn’t know how he was able to stand there so poised when the woman of his dreams stood mere inches in front of him. He commanded himself to refrain from snatching her into his arms.
“Keith,” Gina breathed his name as she walked into his arms and gave him a warm hug.
It was like she’d read his mind. Keith tightened the embrace. He inhaled her scent. She smelled like a sun-ripened peach and he determined never to let her go. If only…
“Hey, get your big paws off and quit mauling my wife,” Michael joked. “You need to give some of that loving to the ladies ogling you at the airport.”
Here we go again, Keith groaned. The two fell apart with a small, awkward chuckle at his wittiness. This was one moment where Keith was thankful that though his brother was a shark in the business world, he was clueless when it came to matters of the heart.
A blind man could see the combustion; the sizzling electricity between Keith and Gina. It crackled and swirled around them like a tornado. Michael, however, remained blissfully unaware, which made their guilt enormous. How could he be so naïve?
“It’s a good thing I know I can trust you, big brother, or it’d be on,” Michael said, reaching inside his car for Keith’s carryon.
Keith and Gina locked eyes but didn’t respond.
“I’ll help you, Daddy,” Keith heard Trey saying, but he was still looking at Gina, who now had a slight blush grazing her face.
She was rubbing at her arms, and he knew she felt the loss like he did. When she placed her finger over her lips, he knew exactly what she was thinking.
“Stop reading my mind,” she mouthed at him.
Michael preceded them into the house with Trey in tow. Gina gave Keith a thoughtful look as she took his hand to lead him inside.
“No, I haven’t found anyone,” Keith volunteered.
“How do you do that?” Gina whispered.
“It’s always been like that with us,” Keith returned for her ears only. He gave her hand a small squeeze. “Why should this instance be any different?”
Gina nodded but didn’t comment, because she knew he told the truth. It was how it was between them. A dormant animalistic urge that surfaced every time they were within feet of each other.
They connected on a mental level that belied words. They didn’t need small talk. They didn’t need anything… just each other.
“Whoo-hoo! This is how you bring in thirty-two!” Gina exclaimed, swinging her arms in tune to the beat of Turn the Beat Around. The deejay was on a 70s kick and she was loving it.
Her actual birthday had been the night before, but Michael had taken her out to a special dinner. The party had been a complete surprise. Wearing an Anne Klein coral-colored halter dress that had been a gift from Michael, Gina had danced with everyone at the party except for Keith. It was diabolical that the one she yearned to dance with was the one she had to avoid. She was too afraid of what might show on her face and what her body language would give away. She wanted Keith and she was afraid she wouldn’t be able to hide it.
Those arms were folded across his chest as he leaned against the wall. Their eyes met. She knew Keith had been checking her out all night from under hooded eyes. It was disconcerting. She reached up and twirled her hair with her fingers. Willing herself to look away and maintain discretion, Gina sought Michael. She watched as her husband left from a group of friends and walked over to his brother.
Since Keith’s arrival, the two of them had been joined at the hip. They had taken Trey all over town. It did her heart good to see them both so relaxed. They worked hard and deserved the playtime. She had stayed in not wanting to intrude on their time together.
Besides, she treasured her solitude.
For, once Trey was born, Gina epitomized the ultimate stay-at-home mom. But, it did not give her much time to herself. She could afford at least ten nannies, but wanted the hands-on experience. She did not want to miss any part of motherhood. In fact, she and Michael were talking about more children. Growing up an only child, Gina wished she’d had siblings, so she didn’t want Trey to be alone.
Caught up in her musings, it took a minute for her to register that someone was calling her name, frantic to get her attention. “Gina! Come quick, it’s Trey. He’s fallen!”
What? With instincts in overdrive, her feet catapulted her in the direction of all the commotion. Since Michael and Gina had friends with young children, like themselves, his invite had encouraged parents to bring their children. He’d hired sitters and set up entertainment for the children inside their basement. Trey must have left the children to seek them out.
A small crowd had gathered, but they parted like the Red Sea when Gina dashed over to her son. She told herself not to panic, but that did not stop her quick intake of breath and sheer terror seeing Trey lifeless on the floor.
“Trey!” She looked around. “What happened to him?”
Michael was right by her side. “Did he fall?”
“He passed out,” someone voiced.
“Don’t move him,” another cautioned.
Gina wanted to do nothing more than pick him up in her arms, but she knew it was best not to lift him. Her hands grazed her son’s face, and she ran her fingers through his hair, willing her shaky hands to calm. She heard the distinct wail of the ambulance rushing in the distance. Her heart hammered and she covered her ears willing herself to calm down. She remained rooted to the spot until the police and ambulance arrived. Her legs felt like rubber as she jumped in the ambulance that would transport Trey to the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta in Duluth, a six minute ride from their home in Suwanee. Keith and Michael would follow behind.
Hours rolled by. The emergency room physician called for a pediatric critical care specialist, Dr. Newman, who ordered tests after tests. Trey was assigned a private room. Gina’s head spun from the number of people who entered to do this or that, and her mouth felt dry from having to repeat the same medical history whenever a new face popped in.
“Yes, Trey had been eating less and I don’t know if he seemed faint.”
“No, I wasn’t concerned.”
“His father and uncle had been running him all over town.”
“No, I don’t know if Trey had had a fever.”
“Don’t you guys read the chart? And, isn’t it all on the computer?” She wanted to scream. She wanted answers, but all they had for her were questions. She was caving. She was going to lose it. She dropped her head against her husband’s chest and he wrapped his arms around her.
“He’s going to be okay,” Michael whispered. “We have to wait for the tests to come back, but we must remain positive.”
Gina raised her head and nodded. Of course, Michael was right. Michael was always right. She looked over his shoulder. Keith was leaning against the wall, one foot against it and arms crossed. She’d been avoiding his eyes since he’d come to her house, but he was staring at her with deep intensity. She allowed herself to get lost in them, to find comfort in them.
“He was with you guys,” she said. She recognized her own voice as weak and pitiful. “Did you notice anything different?”
Michael released her. “He was, I don’t know, maybe tired, but I thought that was from all the running.”
Gina pulled herself from Michael’s grasp and marched to Trey’s bedside. She gripped the bed railing with both hands, closed her eyelids tight and tried to remember what he’d been like when she was dressing him for the party, when she’d dressed him earlier that day, at breakfast, at bedtime the night before. She shook her head. She’d missed something. She’d had to. Kids didn’t pass out without some kind of warning.
“I’m going to step out and return mom’s call,” Michael said.
Gina nodded. She didn’t care what he did. She didn’t care what anyone did except for Trey. The door squeaked as Michael made his exit. Fatigue was setting in. She used a hand to massage her neck. That’s when Keith put his hands on her shoulders and squeezed for her. She let her head drop back against his chest. She knew it was wrong. She knew Michael could walk in at any time, but she needed to draw from his strength.
“He’s going to be okay,” he whispered, kissing the top of her head.
“You promise?” she clung to his words.
He squeezed her shoulders again. “I promise.”
Gina turned into him and began to cry.
Keith tried to shush her. “Baby, you don’t want to upset Trey. You don’t know what he can hear.”
She nodded and accepted the tissues he’d pulled from the box on the table and swiped under her eyes. “You’re right.” She willed herself to get it together. “I’m glad you’re here.”
“I couldn’t be anywhere else. I love my nephew, and God help me, I love you.”
Not knowing what else to do, she decided to take her best friend, Colleen Hayworth’s, advice and pray for her son. She’d called her hours ago, and Colleen and her husband Terence were storming heaven with their prayers. As she whispered to God, the sobs welled up within her. Gina put her hands in her mouth to keep from wailing. Her eyes remained pealed on the door as she willed the doctors to come and tell her it was some kind of weird bug that could be treated at home with medication and rest. The wait felt interminable.
“Do you want me to go see what is taking so long?” Keith asked.
“Yes, but, maybe Michael’s talking to someone. He’s been gone a while.”
Keith covered her hand with his. “Maybe,” he said. The door swung open and Michael reentered the room.
“Where have you been?” Keith sounded annoyed.
“I… I was sick. My nerves…” Michael replied.
“Come here,” Gina beckoned to him. She had a slight whisper of a smile for her penitent spouse. She had not eaten much of anything or she also would have been throwing up. So, she could relate.
Michael complied, and she found herself sandwiched between the two men. She moved over and leaned on her husband. She’d hoped he’d hold her the way Keith had, but true to who he was, Michael was caught up in his own grief. He wouldn’t be able to comfort her. Not really.
Keith shook his legs and stretched.
She knew Keith wanted to be the one holding her. But, Michael was her husband and the father of her son. He was the one who shared that bond of parenthood. Keith could empathize, but she doubted that he would understand until he had his own.
After an interminable time, Dr. Newman entered the room. Sensing their eagerness, he didn’t belabor the point. “We’re still running some tests, but the preliminary scans have me a little concerned. I don’t want to worry you, but I have to be sure before diagnosing. I have ordered a complete blood cell count.”
Dr. Newman sauntered over to Trey and examined his abdomen. He was of medium build and average height with blond, curly hair, so Keith and Michael towered over him, but Dr. Newman didn’t appear the least bit intimidated. He was the best in his field and one of the leading Pediatric specialists in the nation.
Trey squinted from the doctor’s touch but otherwise he remained still.
“Was it something he ate?” Keith asked. “Could he have ingested something by mistake?”
“No, and we have already ruled out food poisoning and have found no foreign objects in his body. We’ve also ruled out appendicitis,” Dr. Newman replied, already anticipating the next question. “His liver and spleen are swollen, so I’ve ordered a spinal tap as well. I’m waiting for the result of the test. I should know more in the next few hours. I will be back once all the labs are in and I have taken a look at them.”
Dr. Newman gave them a curt, but sympathetic smile and left the room.
“That told us nothing.” Michael slammed his fists on his lap. “I need to know what is wrong with my son. Like yesterday.” He expelled a loud breath, and then tried to eject humor in the situation. “Well, this is one party no one is going to forget anytime soon.”
No one smiled.
No one responded. Awkward, Michael declared, “I’m going to call Mom,” before leaving the room.
As soon as the door swung shut, Keith stalked over to Gina and pulled her into his arms. He swept her in his arms and kissed her. It was short, but fiery, and said everything he could not say.
“You shouldn’t have done that.” Gina wiped her hand across her mouth. “How dare you make this about you and me when my son is…”
“You’re right. I’m sorry,” Keith said to appease her, though deep inside he wasn’t the least bit apologetic. He had needed to make some sort of physical contact.
“A hug would’ve sufficed,” she said, reading his mind. Gina looked into his eyes and raised her hand to graze his cheek and he knew he was forgiven.
Without breaking eye contact, she moved her hand down to his shirt. Keith had been dressed in a light brown suit, but had discarded the jacket somewhere during all the commotion. Her hand came across a small box in his pocket. Curious, Gina looked at him.
“Your birthday present,” Keith offered. He pulled it out and handed it to her.
Gina looked at the box and bit her bottom lip. “I feel tacky taking a gift from you while my son is fighting for his life.”
“Open it,” Keith commanded. “Trust me. It’s okay.”
Gina complied and with jittery hands opened the package. “It’s a locket.” She lifted it with care and tried to pry open the small clasp. But she was all thumbs.
Some things never change. With a rueful smile, Keith undid the clasp for her. He remembered another time when he had to help her with her buttons. Gina was so graceful in many ways, but when it came to fine motor tasks, she could become klutzy.
She peered inside the tiny locket. “There’s a picture of Trey.” A fresh load of grateful tears fell. “I love it, Keith.”
Keith felt pleased that his gift had brought Gina some measure of comfort, and he put the chain around her neck. Gina held on to the locket while Keith held her.
Michael returned with news of their mother’s impending arrival. “I had my driver get her.” He juggled three cups of coffee. Keith saw that he had also raided the snack machine, buying a plethora of candy and chips, but no one felt like eating.
It was a little after dawn when Geraldine Ward rushed in the room. By then, Michael had nodded off in a corner chair, and Gina had drifted in a light sleep still resting on his shoulder. Keith smiled at the sight of his mother and placed his finger over his lips before pointing to Gina and Michael.
He saw her nod with understanding. Her silver-grey hair was styled in a sophisticated bob. Dressed in black pants, a beautiful metallic grey top, with silver earrings dangling from her ears and a matching necklace around a long, graceful neck, Gerry looked years younger than her 58 years, and at times was mistaken for Keith’s and Michael’s older sister instead of their mom.
Keith eased Gina off his arm and her eyes popped open. He walked over to his mother. He gave her such a tight hug that her feet lifted in the air.
Michael stirred awake. “You made it,” he exclaimed and welcomed Gerry with visible relief.
Gina squirmed under Gerry’s knowing glance. She felt a moment of deja vu thinking about another hospital and another time. When Michael had been in his coma at Long Island Jewish Hospital, Gerry had walked in on her and Keith in a similar embrace. She envied Keith’s nonchalance, then, and now. He wasn’t the least bit bothered by what his mother thought, but, she was. Gerry knew how she felt about Keith. The older woman had even advised her not to marry Michael out of a sense of obligation. However, Gina had been adamant that she loved Michael. And, that was the truth. Gina looked over at Michael and smiled. She did love Michael, in a way.
She was just a somersaulting crazy-like-a-fool in love with Keith. Breaking eye contact, Gina shot to her feet and greeted her mother-in-law with a hug. Gerry offered all the right sentiments, and Gina felt tears threaten again from her maternal warmth.
It was times like these that Gina missed her own mother, Lucille Price, who had died from a sudden stroke. She’d been nineteen when her mother passed and the pain hadn’t receded with time. Lucille hadn’t lived long enough to see Gina married or to meet her grandson. Gina also yearned for a father to call, but growing up she hadn’t known little more than his name. Feeling overwhelmed, Gina excused herself to step outside the room to be alone with her thoughts.
“Are you all right?” Gina turned towards the voice. Michael had concern written all over his face.
“Yeah,” Gina said.
“What’s wrong? Well, besides the obvious.” Michael bent. He tilted her chin upwards looking directly into her eyes.
Gina knew how perceptive he could be, but she wasn’t sure if she was up to talking about it. She shrugged and released a small sigh. “It’s nothing.”
“It’s never nothing.”
Gina saw the question reflected in his eyes, and decided to explain. “Well, I know my mother is gone, but I wish I knew my father. Because then I would have someone to call like you did.”
“Oh, baby,” Michael cradled his wife. “I know you’re terrified, and I’ve made several trips to the nurse’s station to find out if there was any news. I know that they’re doing their job but those nurses know what’s wrong. However, they wouldn’t cave no matter how much I ranted.”
The door swung open.
Everyone gathered around the doctor with fear and dread.
When they heard the news, Keith had to hold onto his mother to keep her from falling. Gina fell into Michael’s arms.