Friday, July 8, 2016

LIE TO ME: The Prologue and First Three Chapters

Nothing but the Truth Series Book 2

Lie to Me

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A marriage on the rocks, a wedding in the works, and the woman who will change all their lives.

      

     Prologue




“Get out the car!”
Fourteen-year-old Noah Charleston raked his hands through his chin-length hair then gripped the wheel.
“Did you hear me? I said to get out!” the hooded young man banged on the glass.
Noah turned to see the barrel of a 9MM Glock pointed at his head. He looked to his right to see two other assailants pounding on the window. Noah knew the locks were activated in his parents eight year old Toyota Camry, but he pressed them anyway.
Noah!” Mary Charleston yelled from the back seat.
“They’re going to kill us,” Peter Charleston chimed in, twisting his hands.
Noah saw his parents frightened expressions and made his decision. He bent his lanky frame close to the wheel. “Put your heads down,” he commanded.
It was one a.m. The streets were deserted. Noah gunned the gas and tore through the red light. He hunched over expecting to hear the distinct sounds of siren.
Two loud claps boomed throughout the otherwise quiet streets.
Noah looked over at his dad. “Are you all right?”
Peter’s bottom lip trembled.
We’ll be fine,” Noah said, trying to keep the tremor out of his voice.
There was another loud clap. The car swerved out of his control. Noah gripped the wheel and instinctively curved with  the car.
“What’s that?” Mary asked.
“They hit a tire.” Noah gritted his teeth. He heard the sound of metal scraping the ground and knew he had no choice but to hit the brakes.
His chest heaved. He looked in the rearview and saw the youths running toward them. Within seconds, they were back at the car.
Mary wiped her nose with her sweater.
“It’s going to be all right, Mom,” Noah said.
One of the boys bashed the rear window.
“I’m out of ammo,” the one with the gun said. He dropped the weapon and rushed off.
Peter opened the door and jumped out. “Leave us alone,” he yelled.
“Dad, why did you—” Noah searched the interior for a possible weapon. Finding none, he exited the car.
The boys heckled his father once they saw they were being confronted by a man with Down’s Syndrome. Peter’s eyes were wide with fear.
 One of the boys stuck his head inside and snatched Mary’s pearls from around her neck. Peter raced over to comfort her.
Noah eyed the two boys who were without guns. He could take one of them. He rushed toward the youth and slammed him to the ground. His mother’s cries gave him the strength he needed to fight. He pummeled the boy with his fists and kicked and scratched. Noah wasn’t above fighting dirty. Growing up with his special needs parents had made him learn to fight from an early age.
All of a sudden, Noah heard loud screams. He froze.
He twisted around. The other boy held a long blade. Blood dripped off the steel.
“No!” Noah yelled and rushed over to the car. His body shook when he noticed his parents hugging each other. They had multiple stab wounds. “Help!” he screamed as loud as he could. “Help me!”
“It hurts, Noah,” Mary said with labored breaths.
Noah could see the blood on her chest. His father’s head was bent at an odd angle. Noah knew his father was gone.
He released a roar and charged in the direction of the boy with the knife. Sirens wailed in the distance. Someone must have alerted the officers. But, Noah didn’t care. He was going to kill this boy or die trying. They stabbed Noah in his legs and arms, but he persisted.
From the corner of his eye, Noah noticed the other boy bend over and pick up the gun. He checked it for bullets. “There’s one round left.” He cackled. Noah’s heart raced. The youth pressed the trigger. Noah prepared his body for impact. To his surprise, none came.
“We gotta get outta here!” The other youth yelled, stuffing cash into his pocket.
“No, we have to smoke this kid,” the boy said. He pressed the trigger again. It jammed a second time.
The other boy ran. “I’m leaving.”
“You’re lucky,” the boy said before running after his friend.
Noah hobbled over to his mother. Mouth hung open, her eyes were wide. He knew she was gone. Noah sunk to his knees by the side of the car. He wished the gun had gone off and killed him. His body shook. He hadn’t been able to help his parents. He should have been able to help them.
Noah didn’t know he was wailing until strong arms surrounded him and pulled him to his feet.
“They killed my parents,” he howled, leaning in to the officer’s chest. “I tried to help them. I tried.”
The officer nodded. “The ambulance is on its way.”
Noah shook his head. “It’s too late. They’re gone. I’ve lost them. I have no one. My family is gone.”
He felt a pat on his back. “It will be all right,” the bass voice rumbled in Noah’s ear.
“I wish the gun had gone off.” His body shuddered. “I wish I had died along with them.”
“Your parents wouldn’t have wanted that,” the officer said. “Thank God you’re alive.”
Noah pulled away from him. “Don’t talk to me about God right now. I want my parents.”
Another officer approached. He had his pen and notebook in his hand. “Son, I know this is a hard time for you. But, I need to ask you some questions. Can you tell me anything about what happened?”
Noah wiped his face. Rage filled his heart.
His voice was sharp and raw. “It was three of them. Three black boys. Three black boys killed my parents.”
Noah jumped up out of his sleep. He wiped his brow and took deep breaths. He looked at the woman sleeping beside him. It was a hot day in August and his wedding night.
This dream hadn’t come to him by accident. Noah knew it was a warning. God was telling Him something. He had to tell her. Tell Sydney the truth. The only problem was telling her the truth could only mean one thing. He had lied to her.
Again. 


1

Earlier that year

“You’re a low-down unscrupulous sorry excuse for a human being. You know that? The world may think Pastor Monty Clarendon walks on water, but you don’t have me fooled one bit.” Monica Riley hurled insults, as she entered the study of the renowned televangelist. Her reddened face and heaving chest told of a much greater anger than her spoken words.
Seated behind the oversized mahogany desk, Clarendon leaned into his chair and laughed. She stomped her foot. He laughed again.
“I take it you saw my son while you were away?”
“Yes—yes, I did. I saw Lance. My first sight of him, after almost three years, was him on his knees begging Belinda Santiago to marry him. Belinda Santiago, Sydney’s best friend. What kind of messed up, mixed-up nonsense is that?” Monica yelled. She looked Clarendon in the eyes. “It would’ve been nice if you’d given me some warning, but you sent me in there cold, without a clue as to what I was walking into. That was downright cruel. I left in a hurry and forgot my favorite sweater. January in Florida is pretty chilly.”
“Come now, Monica,” Clarendon cajoled. He scrunched his lips like he was holding his laughter in. “Lance and I are estranged. You can’t expect me to know his whereabouts.”
She lifted a brow. She knew better. Monica slumped into a huge armchair across from him. “I can, and do—why else would you have hired me?”       
Clarendon didn’t answer right away. Instead the steel eyes, which pierced many-a-soul through the lens of a television camera, remained pinned on Monica for several seconds.
She squirmed under his penetrating stare. “Quit that.” Goose bumps rose on her flesh. “I hate when you do that, Clarendon.”
“I hired you because you’re not only a master chef…I needed someone with your—ah—what shall I say?” Clarendon paused as if he were searching for the right words. “Special talents.”
Monica rolled her eyes. “You’re the devil incarnate disguised as an angel of God.”
With a loud guffaw, Clarendon teased, “Temper—temper. You know you have to learn to control that.”
His mocking tone grated on her nerves. She uttered in a low, menacing tone, “What do you want from me?”
Clarendon’s face transformed. He became stone-faced. “When I hired you a year ago, you were destitute and your daughter was about to become a ward of the court. I gave you a job and a home.” He folded his arms. “Now, it’s time for retribution.”
Monica bit her lip. “I can’t do it, Clarendon. I know you’ve asked me before, but I can’t be the one to bridge your relationship with Lance. He doesn’t want to see me. I’m like poison to him. Don’t you get that?” She jumped up and walked over to the mantle on the far side of the room. She picked up a picture of Clarendon standing next to a much younger looking Lance. Monica touched Lance’s face. Then she turned to face Clarendon. In a moment of clarity, she said, “When I saw him today, I wanted to bash Belinda’s face in. It took everything within me not to cause a scene.” She bunched her fists. “So, that means I’ve got to stay away from him.”
Clarendon stood and walked over to her. “I was a rotten father and I need to make amends with my son.” He swept his hands over frames lining the wall that highlighted his illustrious career. “I have a legacy that’s his to claim, but he won’t let me near him. Lance shut me out and though I understand why, I can’t accept that. He’s started a new ministry with Noah Charleston. He should be standing with me.”
Monica sympathized with the father whose pain for his son was palpable. “What did you do?”
It was of no surprise when Clarendon shut down. “That is not for you to know.”
Monica fiddled with the heart-shaped locket on her gold necklace. “I don’t mean to pry.” She changed the subject. “What do you want me to do?”
“That’s easy. Just infiltrate Lance’s life. Get in—and then,” he laughed, “just be you.”
She frowned. What did that mean? “You’re going to give me one hundred thousand dollars to just be myself?” She squinted. “I don’t get it.”  
“Yes, my dear. That’s all I want. If you agree, you’ll say goodbye to Atlanta and move back to Florida. I’ll buy you a house in Northport and you can furnish it to your liking. You and Quinn should be able to settle in without much fuss. Then, you can get started on getting me an audience with my son. I’ll hire you a nanny to help care for Quinn.”
Monica shook her head and walked out to check on her daughter. Her feet sunk into the plush carpet as she made her way to Quinn’s bedroom. She cracked the door open and stuck her head inside.
Quinn?” Monica whispered. She tiptoed over to her two-year-old daughter’s crib. Quinn was fast asleep with her little bottom poked in the air. “Awww,” Monica crooned and reached over to stroke her daughter’s right cheek. Quinn released a gurgle and sighed. Monica’s heart melted. The only thing she enjoyed more than cooking was caring for her daughter. Quinn soothed her and made her less … crazy.
She sighed. This was why she didn’t want to mess with Lance Forbes again. Seeing him made her want to do things she shouldn’t. “What should Mommy do, Quinn?” she whispered.
She bit her lip. One hundred thousand dollars was a lot of money. It was like tantalizing fruit dangling before her eyes. Monica licked her lips. She was definitely hungry. When it came to money, she could never have enough. One hundred thousand dollars was too much money to pass up.
She tiptoed through the connecting doors and entered her suite. She scanned the room, admiring the golden hues and soft yellow tones. Everything from the carpeting to the comforter was custom made. Her room was exquisite and tasteful like the rest of the mansion where Clarendon resided.
As his personal chef, Monica’s room did not look like any of the servant’s quarters. Instead, she lived like a queen with a nanny and a staff who catered to her every whim. She’d gotten spoiled. This luxurious life was addicting and hard to give up.
Monica knew Clarendon’s staff thought she provided ‘extracurricular’ services. And though she had no qualms about delivering the goods, Clarendon had not wanted anything like that from her. Monica admitted she would not have minded because he was still a handsome man. Plus, she could see Lance in him, which made him even more desirable in her eyes. But no, Monty Clarendon hadn’t wanted her. He was a man of God, he told her. Yeah, the same man of God who was now blackmailing her into seducing his son.
“I should just take the money and run,” Monica thought aloud. She wandered over to her nightstand, opened the top drawer and took out a picture. Monica held it with reverence. “Lance,” she crooned, kissing the picture several times before putting it on top of the nightstand like a sacred treasure. She placed her hands on her lap. “Maybe God has a hand in this. Maybe God’s using Clarendon as a means for me to win Lance back.”
“Yes, that’s it.” She looked at Lance’s picture for confirmation. She jumped to her feet and laughed with glee. “Why didn’t I see this before? God, you are so good to me. Thank you, Lord. Hallelujah! I hear Your voice. I am listening and I can see Your will clearly. Lance Forbes was meant to be mine and with Your help, Lord, I will get finally get him. I will be his wife.” Monica swooped her hands across the huge expanse of the room, similar to how Clarendon had done earlier. “All this will be mine, mine and Quinn’s. Quinn will have her father back and we will be a family again.”
Monica dismissed the fact that Quinn was not Lance’s biological child. She forgot how she had used Quinn as a pawn to steal Lance from his first fiancĂ©e—Sydney Charleston, formerly Richardson—and one of her ex-best friends. She forgot she had been one of Sydney’s bridesmaids, who had convinced Lance to run off with her, even after knowing he had been with Belinda Santiago.
Instead, caught up in her euphoria, Monica packed her and Quinn’s belongings like Clarendon had told her to. “Monica Riley Forbes… Quinn Riley Forbes…” she said over and over, speaking it into reality. 


2



“Yes. Yes. Yes. Noah, yes,” Sydney Charleston exclaimed.           
Noah listened to satisfied groans beneath him and smiled. “You like that?”
Sydney hugged his strong shoulders. “Oh, yes. But you already know that.” She gasped for breath. Her brown skin shined, her hair wet with perspiration.
His wife smiled. It was a slow small smile, which widened to reveal lovely white teeth.
Yes, that’s how it should be.
Sydney wore the smile of a satisfied woman. His woman. Noah felt his chest expand, knowing he had put that glow on her face. “I love you,” he said, touching her cheek.
Sydney exhaled. “I love you, too, Noah. I especially love the way you loved me. Twice.”
Noah laughed. “I’ve been out of the game for years. And now I’m free to have legitimate, God-sanctified sex, anytime I want. I’m making up for lost time.”
Sydney chuckled and said in a sultry voice, “You sure are. I’m so glad we waited for marriage, but if I had known it was going to be like this …” She reached up to wipe the sweat rolling down his face. Noah’s hair matted against his skin. She ran her fingers through his damp hair and gazed into his eyes.
He loved the look of love reflected there. There was a time when she had looked at him with disgust and he never wanted to see that again. Noah had been a rebellious teen, joining a White supremacist group, The Avengers. He had a swastika tattooed in his head, which he had tried to remove once he met Christ. However, a faint outline of the insignia remained. It was revealed when he had to have brain surgery after a beam fell on him by an accident arranged by Matthew, one of the Avengers.
Noah hadn’t told Sydney for fear she wouldn’t date him. From the moment he saw her, he knew she was the one. Love wasn’t about skin color. Despite his past, their love had conquered.
Sydney tapped his chin. “What are you thinking about?”
Noah smiled. “I’m thinking about how much I love you.” He cupped her bottom, pulling her closer to him. “Thank you for marrying me. My past is a tough thing to overlook.”
She touched his cheek. “The past is the past. It doesn’t affect our future. I married you because I couldn’t picture my life without you. Being abducted by a racist madman put things in proper perspective.”
Noah shuddered. “Matthew wasn’t only a racist. He was a maniac.” He drew her even closer, remembering how Matthew and his two goons had captured Sydney intending to hang her. Matthew hated that Noah had fallen in love with a black woman.
“Yes, he was a spawn of Satan.” Her brown eyes went dreamy. “But, then you swooped in and rescued me.” She kissed his cheek. “My true hero.”
“Don’t forget I had help,” Noah said, referring to his former bodyguard, Hunter Fox.
Sydney waved off his comment. “My love for you gave me the energy to fight back. So in my book, you’re my knight in shining armor.”
Noah kissed Sydney, ready for another lovemaking session. After a few moments, Sydney ended the kiss and moved out of his arms.
He felt the loss of her warmth. “Where are you going?”
“I’ve got to use the bathroom and I need to brush my teeth. Don’t you have some praying to do or something?” Sydney asked, scooting closer to the edge of the bed.
He slipped an arm around her waist. “I prayed right before dawn.” Noah started every morning day with prayer then worked on his sermons. Sometimes Sydney would join him, but most often than not, she chose to stay in bed. Noah welcomed the one-on-one time with God.
He and Sydney had prayer together every evening, except for Wednesdays when they were at Bible study.
However, Noah returned to the topic uppermost on his mind. “Can I come with you?”
Sydney shook her head. “The bathroom is the one place where I draw the line. I don’t care how close we are. You’re not coming in there with me when I have to handle my business.”
Noah swatted her bottom. “As personal as we get, I can’t believe you have those hang ups.”
“I don’t care.” Sydney slipped out of the bed. “We’re one, but we won’t ever get that close.”
“I’m going to bust in on you one of these days,” he teased.
Sydney scurried to the bathroom door, slamming it shut. Noah heard the lock click and grinned. Since she’d use the bathroom in their master bedroom, he knew she was doing number one. Sydney went into the guest room if she had to do number two. Noah told her she didn’t have to do that, but Sydney refused. Noah wondered what she would say if he told her that she tooted in her sleep. He chuckled. If he did, she’d probably stop sleeping next to him and start sleeping in the guest room.
Noah crossed his legs at the ankles, content to remain naked in bed and wait for his wife to return. He heard the toilet flush and the faucet come on. Within seconds, Sydney opened the door.
To his keen disappointment, she was wearing a cream satin robe.
Noah sat up. “Why’d you put that on?”
It had taken three weeks before Sydney let him see her naked in the daylight. If he had his way, Noah would make it mandatory that they shed clothes upon entering their home. He mused, picturing Sydney wearing nothing but her shoes. She had an obsession with shoes, and Noah loved to see her in them. But, he knew Sydney wouldn’t go for that.
“I have to eat, Noah,” Sydney pointed out. “And, so do you. Besides, we can’t spend all day in bed.”
“Why not?” Noah swung his legs over the side of the bed and stood. He dragged on a pair of dark blue jeans.
He saw Sydney eyes darken and hid his knowing smile. Her silk robe loosened. Noah zoned in on her bare cleavage. His mind shifted. Maybe…
Sydney must have read his mind. “No, no.” She held her hands up to shield his advances, then retied and secured her robe. In a firm voice, she declared, “We have to go see Gramps.”
Noah stopped and turned his head to look at the digital clock on Sydney’s side of the bed. His jaw dropped. “It’s eleven, already? Where did the time go?”
Sydney lifted an eyebrow.
Noah pushed his feet a pair of battered leather flip-flops. “I’ll go throw something together for us to eat. Won’t you get showered in the meantime?”
“No, I’ll go make breakfast,” Sydney said. “I know that trick well. You always linger until I’m in the shower and vulnerable before you jump in. Then the next thing I know, an hour has passed. Frankly, Skins, you’re insatiable.”
“I hate that nickname,” Noah said but he would tackle that another time. He gave her a forlorn expression. “I love looking at my wife. What’s wrong with that?”
She reached up and patted his cheek. “Get dressed, Noah,” she ordered, before sashaying past him toward the kitchen.

3


Sydney opened the refrigerator. She took out some eggs, milk, vanilla extract, cinnamon and bread to make French toast, then retrieved the griddle and a large bowl. Sydney cracked the eggs and poured them into the bowl.
Suddenly, the rawness of the eggs assaulted her nose. Putting her hand over her mouth, she vaulted to the guest bathroom and hurled. Sydney emptied the contents of her stomach into the toilet. What happened? She wondered. She placed her hand over her stomach. She hoped she wasn’t sick.
“Sydney?” She heard Noah call out. His voice sounded like he was in the kitchen.
Sydney washed her mouth and face and quickly braided her curly hair. Composed, she exited the bathroom. “I’m coming.” She walked the small path and entered the kitchen to see Noah beating the eggs.
“Are you okay?” He groaned when some of the yellow slick substance sloshed out of the bowl. He ripped off a paper towel to clean it up, then returned to whipping the eggs.
“Yeah. I cracked the eggs and my stomach turned. I don’t know…”
“If I didn’t know better, I would think …” Noah stopped and pushed the bowl aside. “That’s not possible,” he whispered.
Sydney was subjected to keen scrutiny, before Noah asked her in a low voice. “Did you pick up a bug?”
She shook her head and did some quick mental calculations, then touched her chin. “What if I’m pregnant,” she murmured. Her next thought was of her possible promotion at work. Sydney had been recommended for partnership at The Welchman Group. Could she handle a baby and a tougher work schedule?
Noah’s eyes widened.
Sydney walked over to pull her iPad out of her bag, which she’d left on the couch the night before. With some rapid sweeping of her index finger, Sydney pulled up her calendar and counted the weeks. Her heart pounded. When was her last period? She skimmed for the purple ‘P’. She usually marked her calendar with a ‘P’ to signify her monthly flow.
She swiped to the previous month. There was no ‘P’ in March. She must have been too busy to note it.
“Sydney?”
Sydney looked towards her husband who leaned against the mauve colored wall.
“I know you didn’t get your period last month. But, I figured it was stress-related. You work so hard that…” A light blush grazed his cheek.
She tilted her head. She had been buried under two million-dollar cases. “You sure?”     
He nodded. “Believe me, I’m sure.”
Sydney’s mouth popped open. Married life was really…personal. “I guess I’ll take your word for it,” she said, trying not to get tongue-tied. Sydney avoided his eyes. “I don’t think I’m pregnant, though.”
“I don’t think you are, either. But, if you take a pregnancy test, we’ll know for sure. Let’s skip the meal and find out.”
Sydney glanced at the clock.
“I agree. I’ll clean up here while you go get the test.”
Noah dumped the egg batter down the garbage disposal and headed out the door. Sydney washed the bowl and put away the griddle. Then she brushed her teeth and took a quick shower. Sydney lathered her body with lotion and plucked a sleeveless sundress from her closet to wear. Once she was dressed, Sydney waited by the front door for Noah to return.
“Good, you’re back,” Sydney held out her hands. He made it back in less than twenty minutes.
Noah kicked off his sandals. “Yes, and let me tell you it was no easy feat. I browsed the aisles for a while before I found them tucked away near the feminine products.” His eyes were wide. “I had no idea there were so many different brands. I read several boxes, each assuring a 99 percent accuracy rate. In the end, I grabbed three different kinds.”       
She crooked her fingers and held out a hand. “Hand them over.”
 He placed the bag into her hand and Sydney walked into their master bath.
Noah was right behind her. The only sound was the crinkling the bag made as they trudged into the bathroom. She took the three boxes out of the bag and allowed the plastic bag to fall to the floor. Noah sat near the toilet while Sydney investigated the three boxes.
She opened one and read the directions. She raised a brow. “Do you intend to watch me pee on a stick?”
She hoped not. Noah needed to wait outside the door.
Noah nodded. “I want to find out the same time you do. So get to it.”
Sydney went over him and kissed the top of his head. “You have three seconds to get out of here or I won’t do it.”
He looked up at her. “But, what about us sharing everything?”
“We can and we will. But, not this,” Sydney replied in a firm tone.
Noah closed his eyes. He was probably praying for patience, but she wasn’t going to change her mind. He opened one eye to peer at her. She folded her hands and tapped her toes.
“Fine,” he hoisted to his feet. “But, I’ll be right outside the door.”
“Whatever.”
Sydney waited until Noah left to lock the door. She turned on the faucet. There was no way she wanted him hearing her go. Sydney took the stick out of the box. Her heart hammered against her chest. She awkwardly navigated the stick to the ideal place.
Noah banged on the door. “What’s happening? What does it say?”
Sydney rolled her eyes. “You’re not helping.” She finished the task, rested the stick on a paper towel and washed her hands. Within seconds, the answer appeared.
He thundered through the door. “Are you pregnant or not?” She ignored him. “Sydney Ariella Charleston, if you don’t open this door…I may—”
“I’m coming,” Sydney yelled. She grabbed the stick and opened the door. She couldn’t wait to see the look on Noah’s face when he saw the news.
“The suspense is maddening. C’mon, sweetheart, you’ve got to tell me.”