Thursday, October 24, 2013

Walk a Straight Line Sample Chapters

You'll fall in love with Gina, Keith, Michael, Terence and Colleen. Coming Dec. 31, 2013

Two friends. Two brothers. Two weddings. Too many secrets. 
Who will cross the line?

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Chapter One

July 12th
       “You were easily the best dancer on the dance floor.”
       Gina Price’s body responded to the Barry White voice from behind. After an energetic bout with the Cha-Cha slide, she’d sought respite at one of the now abandoned guest tables. Her now crushed gold satin dress bore the after-effects of her abandon, but she had no regrets. She’d just needed a brief power nap, and she’d be ready for round two. It took some effort but she opened her eyes.
       Starting with his shoes, her eyes swept his tall frame. The dark-blue suit fit him like a second skin. A jacket hung carelessly in one hand, while uncontrolled muscles popped from under his light blue shirt. His tie had been savagely loosened and now draped over his well-defined shoulders. At the end of her journey, she saw his face.
Oh, my. He sounded like Barry White, but he looked like Shemar Moore. Uhm, pretty boys spelled trouble.
Her voice oozed honey when she uttered a low, “Thank you, but tell that to my aching feet. Gina swayed her body to the up-tempo beat. “The deejay is doing his thing—‘cause this crowd is pumped. I mean it’s almost midnight and nobody’s rushing home.”
Shemar Moore chuckled. “Yes, this was some reception wasn’t it? Terence and Colleen obviously didn’t spare any expense because this wedding was top of the line.”
       “People will talk about this wedding for years to come,” Gina agreed. With the ice doves, to the still-glowing imported scented candles, orchid and lily centerpieces and crystal one-of-a-kind chandeliers, her head spun. Such opulence and grandeur made their wedding picture perfect from beginning to end. Even the weather had cooperated.
Gina rubbed her bared shoulders and eyed the other members of the wedding party who still held it down on the dance floor. By the looks of it, it would be awhile before the festivities died down. She snickered. There’d be some back pains and sore limbs come morning.
 “Mind if I sit?” he asked.
She had propped her feet on one of the empty chairs to rest them and admire the black, gold-encrusted, three-inched heels. Yup, the shoes were worth it. Colleen had dubbed them Men-fishing shoes.
Well, she’d reeled in a live one.
 Gina moved her legs, and waved him into the chair next to her. “Not at all.” She didn’t play coy.
“I’ve been admiring you all evening. I couldn’t leave without at least introducing myself. I’m Michael Ward—friend of the groom.” He extended his hand.
Long tapered fingers... Groomed nails... She’d give him an eight. Gina realized he waited for a response. “I’m sorry,” she blushed and took his outstretched hand. “I’m Gina Price, best friend of the bride.”
“Gina. Nice name,” Michael replied.
“Thank you.” Okay, he bored her already. Time to cut this brother loose until he got some game, or even a corny pickup line. So far, he held as much appeal as a Twinkie without the filling. Then she looked at him. Yup, he was worth a second try.
She tilted her chin towards Colleen and Terence, and made small talk. “Look at them dancing like they’re the only two people in the room. I mean I had tears in my eyes when they recited their vows. And, doesn’t Colleen make a stunning bride?” Terence had hired a top of the line makeup artist to do her face and hair, and the results were spectacular. Colleen looked like she could be on the cover of Vogue magazine, and Terence would fit right in with the men at GQ.  He was handsome. Gina had to give him that. Yeah, a handsome devil.
“It was a beautiful ceremony,” Michael intercepted her thoughts. He stood, “I’m going to get something to drink. Can I get you something?”
“Just water.”
       Gina watched his long, confident strides and appreciated the view from behind.
        Just then Terence and Colleen danced past her. Gina smiled, and gave a small wave, though her smile didn’t quite reach her eyes. She tapped her chin as she contemplated. Something about Terence didn’t sit well with her. He seemed to genuinely love Colleen and at thirty-four, he’d found success as an art designer for Cozy Homes magazine. He was religious and seemed to be for real about his love for God, not like some of those hypocrites out there.
       Still, Gina felt doubtful about him. She had voiced those misgivings to Colleen, calling him Shifty Eyes. Once, she could have sworn that he had been checking her out, but she wasn’t one-hundred-percent sure. So, she’d had no choice but to dismiss it.  But mark her words. Terence wasn’t all he appeared. He was like … like a sweet, delicious piece of candy that was good to eat, but also gave you a vicious toothache.   
       Despite Gina’s doubts, Colleen had fallen in love and after a mere four-month courtship—here they were.
       Michael returned with two ice-cold glasses of water. When Gina reached for the glass she felt an electric jolt zap through her spine when their hands connected. Did he feel that? She took a huge swig to drown her reaction.
A slow jam came on. “Would you like to dance?” Michael asked.
Gina hesitated. Her feet ached...throbbed...but, his body... his voice... no, her feet hurt.
Then he smiled.
       Wow. That did it. She slid her feet off the chair, took his baseball-mitt sized hand, and followed him to the dance floor.
“Well since I don’t know if you’ll disappear at midnight, let me tell you about myself. I’m an architect and self-employed. I met Terence at college and after we graduated we went our separate ways. Then about a year ago, we bumped into each other, quite by accident, when I was commissioned to design the layout for Terence’s magazine. During our conversation, he invited me to his wedding.”
       So they were more acquaintances than friends, Gina thought. Good. He just went from an eight to a nine. She liked his soothing voice and his arms made her feel secure. “Colleen and I have been best friends since we were twelve and in middle school. Since we didn’t have siblings, we clung to each other. Ever since we’ve met, we’ve been joined at the hips like Siamese twins, especially since we share the same birth month of June. We went to the same colleges for our bachelor’s and masters, and now we both work at August Martin H.S. I teach English Language Arts and Colleen teaches Social Studies—excuse me, used to teach. I forgot she took a leave of absence. Terence doesn’t want her to work.”
His monosyllabic response made Gina wonder if she’d struck out with this one. Had she rambled too much? Please don’t let him mention the weather. People only mentioned the weather when they had nothing else to say.
 “So, are you single? I didn’t see any rings on your left finger, but you never know.”
Good, she was still in the game. “Yes, I am.” She caught the huge, anticipatory smile.
Michael led her through an intimate dance move that ended with a dip. “Are you seeing anybody right now?”
That voice of his mesmerized her. “No,” Gina supplied, with a huge smile of her own. She held her breath, feeling the magnetic pull, when Michael slowly lifted her and curved her body to his.
His voice deepened and he spoke right into her ear. “Good, cause I’m single, too, and available—no kids, no ex-wivesjust one brother and a mother, who’s retired and living in Atlanta.”
Disbelieving, Gina couldn’t hold the unladylike snort. “You expect me to believe that you’re available?”
       But Michael quickly schooled her. He took a few steps back, licked his lips, before clarifying, “Okay, I am reformed and officially retired from the heart breaking business. Any games I used to play ended with my retirement.”
       Whatever he was selling, she wasn’t buying. Well, it depends on how much, her inner self countered. When a more suggestive melody filled the room, Michael drew her closer to him. She inhaled. He smelled like ocean, outdoors, the rugged outback—and pure unadulterated man. Her stubby legs liquefied and her insides quivered. Engulfed in his arms she felt like a petite china doll.
       Gina snuck a glance up at Michael. His eyes held promise for some serious pleasure. Whew!  Hold it together, girl.
       Gina Ward.
Yes, she liked that. Too much. She’d known this man for what? Fifteen minutes. Ridiculous. All too soon, the song ended and it was time to see the lovebirds off. Gina and Michael lagged behind the well-wishers and blew bubbles at each other, before he excused himself. Bereft, she looked for the other girls in her party, while shivering in the night air.
She saw a black Range Rover pull over to the curb. Curious, her eyes followed the tinted window’s slow descent to reveal the driver. When she saw it was Michael, she edged closer.
“You need a ride?” he beckoned.
Did she ever. “Sure, thanks.” She opened the door and put one leg in. Wait. What was she doing? Taking a ride from a virtual stranger—a possible stalker.
“Gina!” one of the girls called out from the limo that drove up behind Michael’s car.
She waved them off, feigning bravado. “I’m good. I’ve got a ride.” Cautiously, she held onto the door and lowered her body until she was halfway in. She chewed her lip, wondering if she should make a speedy escape. The limo hadn’t pulled away yet, as the other girls were still piling in.
Perceptive, Michael surmised her dilemma. “You’re safe with me.”
Said the wolf to the lamb. Should she? Her heartbeat increased. Then her inner imp egged her on. Whatever—you only live once. Heeding it, Gina pushed the hesitation aside and decisively shut the door. “I’m good.” She luxuriated in the feel of the leather beneath her, and chattered, “You just saved me from having to crawl my way to the back of the limo with the other girls, then enduring the winding taxi cab style ride.”
       “It’s my pleasure.”
       In mere minutes Michael pulled up to her home in Rosedale. He parallel parked beside her blue Volkswagen.
       “Thanks for the ride.” Gina turned to look at him from under her lashes.
       “Anytime,” Michael returned, and patted her hand. “I hope this is not the last I hear from you.”
       Gina rattled off her digits. He texted her so she could save his number in her phone. Michael took a curious peek at her house, but remained in his car. He waited until Gina got out the vehicle, and unlocked her front door. When she turned to give a final wave, he vocalized, “Call me. Soon.” Gina nodded her assent, before slipping inside.
       Leaning against her door, she heaved, “I can’t wait to get out of these shoes.” She bent, wearily undid her shoes, wiggled out of her dress, and fell into bed.
       Then she thought about Michael. She appreciated that he hadn’t come on to her or tried to kiss her. In fact he’d been the perfect gentleman. She’d wait a couple of days to call him. Can’t appear too eager or desperate—a definite turn off. So, Tuesday evening it is. No contact before then. Gina rolled over, looked at the clock and moaned. Seventy-two hours.

Chapter Two

“I love it here.”  Colleen stretched, loving the feel of the Egyptian cotton five-hundred-count sheets courtesy of the Sandals resort in Montego Bay, Jamaica. She turned on her side to look at the view of the ocean from their balcony, and exhaled. “The ocean is breath-taking.”
Terence’s large hands cupped her waist and twisted her naked body towards his. He gave her an appreciative smile. “It’s beautiful, but it’s nothing compared to you.”
 “Aahhh,” Colleen cooed, “I could stay like this forever.” She breathed in, taking in the crisp air and sharp blue waters. Her eyes hurt from its brilliant shine. Like a siren the sea called to her, prompting her to leave Terence’s warmth, slip on a chemise, and slide open the glass door. She stepped out barefooted to get her fill.
She listened to the waves lapping against the shores and basked in its beauty for almost fifteen minutes. The cool breeze fluttered the laces lining the edge of her shimmery baby blue chemise. The scripture really was true, she thought. “How can a person see this and not believe in God? Impossible.” When she didn’t hear a forthcoming reply, Colleen looked behind her and saw that Terence had drifted off to sleep. “Figures.” She meandered her way through sandals and clothes tossed on the floor as a result of their passion, and shook Terence’s shoulder.
His eyes slowly opened to focus on her.
“Let’s go enjoy the water. We’ve been cooped up in here for almost a week,” her champagne eyes pleaded.
Terence said nothing but held up the duvet covers. His arm snaked out to drag her down next to him. Giving her a light squeeze, Terence kissed her on the nose. “All right, we’ll go, although I could stay right here under the A.C.”
       “Yeah, but I don’t want to spend my entire honeymoon in Jamaica in bed—as tempting as it is.” Colleen slid from under the covers. Her long legs caught in the sheet, and she ended up in a huge puddle on the floor. Unabashed, she held onto her stomach as she laughed. Terence slid out of the bed alligator style and joined her on the floor.
       Disentangling herself out of the sheets, Colleen bowed with a flourish while spreading her arms. “And now, for my second act...”
       She ambled over to the chest. Pulling the drawer open, she tossed clothes this way, and that, before triumphantly, saying, “Aha!” She grabbed the lime-green two-piece, hid it behind her back and scurried into the bathroom to freshen up and change.
       When she came out the bathroom, she expected Terence to salivate at her tantalizing show.
       But, he didn’t look pleased. Perched on the bed, with one arm crooked under his head, he coolly assessed the garment she displayed. “You’re going out like that?” His peculiar facial expression and disgusted tone gave her slight pause.
 “Yeah.” Quizzical, her smile collapsed. Now, she felt uncomfortable. Did she look funny or fat or something? She appraised herself in the mirror. Nope, no difference there.
“It’s revealing.” Terence shrugged in a way that said more than his words. “I don’t want all those men’s eyes ogling my baby. Why don’t you wear something else?”
Colleen bit her bottom lip. Insecurity blossomed and took root. “Okay, I’ll change, although…” She shook her head, deciding not to voice her objection. Personally, she thought the two-piece harmless—especially compared to the skimpy thong suits that other women were wearing. But it was her nature to please. “Well, I do have the black one piece I packed on a whim. I’ll change.” She wanted her new husband’s approval. It meant everything to her.
With unsure, stilted steps, Colleen exchanged outfits. Though she felt dowdy now, she dutifully turned to face Terence.
She remained silent but stoically watched him swing his powerful legs and walk over to cradle her in his arms. “My baby looks good.” 
Colleen felt her spirits rise. He was happy. Her husband was pleased and that was all that mattered. “Whoosh,” she sighed. “If you keep that up we won’t make it out to the beach. I can’t go back home without ever hitting the water.”
She felt the rumble of his chuckle, and her body chilled when he stepped back. “Point well made my wife. Give me a moment to put my trunks on, and then we’ll head out.”
Feeling cherished, Colleen nodded. She waited while Terence grabbed his trunks and took his turn in the bathroom. When he came out, her eyes popped open when she saw his barely there trunks. She bit her tongue to keep from seeming catty about the whole bathing suit thing. Resolute, she pushed it from her mind.
       They left their suite arm in arm. Colleen felt giddy. She swung her hips from side to side. Inside she raved... I’m not alone and bitter like my mother. I am Married and I got me a good man with a job. I don’t even have to go back to work when school starts ‘cause my baby got money.
Colleen and Terence frolicked in the sun. Its’ rays viciously pelted into their skin leaving them well-tanned, but thirsty. They bought lots of water and punch for sale at a shanty on the beach. Colleen’s bladder protested. “I’m going up the room. I need a potty break.”
“I’ll bring us some more,” Terence slurped, greedily.
“Yes, please do,” Colleen added, with a brisk nod, addicted to the flavorful punch—a swirling colorful concoction of ice, pineapple, passion fruit, and syrup—and, perfect cure for a parched, dry mouth. 
Colleen hauled her sun-beaten body up to the hotel, dragging her towel in the sand. She tried to dust sand off her body, but it was everywhere. Ugh! She wished she hadn’t caved when Terence had insisted on burying her in the sand.
       Colleen entered the suite and stripped out of her clothes. She left a seductive trail of clothes to entice Terence to join her for a shower and whatever else. She grinned as she headed into the oversized stall to wash the gunk off her body with vigor. Ten minutes later, wrinkled, and disappointed, Colleen stepped out of the shower.
       Clad only in flip-flops and an oversized towel, she sunk into the nearest armchair. “Where is he?” She wasn’t particularly concerned though. If she knew Terence, he was probably chatting with the bartender or somebody about something. The man sure loved to talk.
Adrift, Colleen sauntered to the sliding door, which led to a private patio that overlooked the beach. Her eyes scanned the masses trying in vain to spot her husband in those skimpy trunks. Oh, and don’t think she didn’t notice the other single women checking him out with their come-hither looks. Not that she’d minded of course, but what irked her was how Terence had preened under those hot looks. Yet, he had serious problems if another man just glanced her way. 
Men and their crazy, infantile double standards. Since Terence was nowhere in sight, Colleen wandered back into the suite.
She thought about Gina back in New York. It had only been a few days, but she missed her girl. They were used to speaking pretty much everyday. Terrence was generous, but she didn’t need to spend money on a phone call to the states from Jamaica. She’d wait until she got home.
       Colleen could understand why the members of the Apostolic Church of God Seventh Day were considering making him an associate pastor. When he spoke, he was mesmerizing and dynamic. His golden tongue could swindle a dollar from a beggar. Everybody liked him and flocked to him like bears after honey. He worked a room like nobody’s business wherever they went.
Gina, however, didn’t buy the hype. She remained leery—dubbing him Shifty Eyes. Colleen pooh-poohed her concerns. Cynicism ran through Gina’s bones.
Or maybe jealousy?
Naw. Colleen dismissed that notion. Gorgeous, petite with curves like Scarlett Johansen, Gina could aptly be described as a Man Magnet. Wherever she went, admirers flocked who hung on her every word. She pointedly ignored them, not caring for the spotlight.
       Next to Gina, Colleen felt gauche, and lingered in her friend’s shadow—or so it seemed to her. She placed the blame on her height of five-ten—from that vantage point, pickings were slim.
       Until Terence. He was six-four, and drawn to her. Best of all, she could wear heels without worry.
       She dried herself and reached for one of her scented oils.
Once she finished oiling herself down, Colleen chose a pink and white teddy with ruffles and a delicate trim. Slipping into it, she thought about Terence and sizzled. She eased onto the bed and practiced several seductive poses.
She heard the lock click.
Quick, she struck her most tantalizing pose. Her chest heaved with anticipation as she waited. He stopped at the sight of her.
“Come and get it, Big boy.”
       Terence hesitated for a split second before beginning to undress.
Not fast enough. Colleen flipped her long, curly hair and beckoned him to her bedside. Terence complied. She held her hands out for him to embrace her, but he paused.
Curious, Colleen asked. “What is it?”
“I feel grungy, you know, from all that sand,” Terence explained.
“Oh.” Embarrassed by her brazenness, she un-posed her body and stretched her legs as they had fallen asleep in that awkward position.
“Let me take a shower. Wash all this grime from me.” He was in the bathroom in seconds.
“Okay, what just happened here?”
Somehow that is not how that scene always played out on the soap operas. However, she clamped her disappointment because she knew how fastidious Terence was. Chilled, Colleen went under the covers and closed her eyes. She’d rest because when he came back, she was going to show him a thing or two. She had a creative mind, and now had the right to use it.
       She felt something buzz against her leg, and jumped. It was Terence’s cell phone vibrating. She curved her leg to move it upwards, and grabbed it. She peeked at the number.
       Why was Francine calling Terence on their honeymoon? Colleen debated for a second before she pressed the redial button. “Hi, Francine, is everything all right?”
       “Isn’t this Terence’s phone?”
       Wasn’t she Terence’s wife? “I—uhm—he’s in the shower—and I saw your number, so...” She rushed to explain.
       “That doesn’t give you the right—just have him call me.”
       With that, Colleen heard the dial tone. Her brow furrowed.
       Terence came into the bedroom. He wore only a robe and used a hand-towel to vigorously dry his hair.
       “Why is your mother calling you on your honeymoon?”
       Terence tensed. “My mother called?”
       “Yes, just now. What’s going on?”
       “Why didn’t you let it go to voicemail?” he asked instead. Without waiting for an answer, Terence seized the phone from her hand. “Don’t answer my phone.”
       Colleen shivered at his harsh tone. “In my defense, I didn’t think it would be a problem if I answered your phone. It could’ve been an emergency.”
       Terence repeated with emphasis, “Don’t touch my phone.”
       Colleen didn’t understand but she nodded her head. She turned away from him and moved to the edge of the bed. She felt the bed sink under his weight. Hurt, Colleen squeezed her eyes shut to hold the tears at bay. Who was this man?

       Terence knew Colleen felt rebuffed by his tone. He ached to comfort her, but he needed this moment to gather his thoughts. He knew why his mother had called—but first things first.
       He heard another sniffle and knew he had to set things right. Terence reached over to touch Colleen’s arm. “Are you hungry?” No answer. Just an indrawn breath followed by an even bigger sniffle. He moved closer so he could tilt his head and see her face. His heart melted and he flicked away her tears. No one should cry on their honeymoon, unless they were tears from passion.
       “Wife, do you want something to eat?”
       She adjusted herself so she could look at him. Her thick lashes spiked and dampened hair stuck to her forehead. Gently, he moved them away from her face. He traced a finger along the side of her arm and toyed with the frills on her teddy. “What do we have here?”
       Her stomach muscles tightened, but Colleen remained silent. The ruffles in front provided a thin covering. He pushed them aside and splayed his hand across her abdomen. He could rip the flimsy material with just a shake of his wrist. Terence wanted his wife, but knew he needed to return his mother’s call.
       He gave her a perfunctory pat, leaned in, and kissed her ear. Then he ordered, “Call room service. Get me the salmon dinner. I’ll be right back.”
       Expecting her compliance, he slid from under the covers and picked up his cell phone that had fallen to the floor. He took two steps before—Wham in the back. Terence spun around. What the—
       She’d thrown a pillow at him!
       Wham—another hit him in the chest.
       With a low growl, he warned. “Colleen, cut that out. That is just childish and frankly—
       Wham. This time the pillow smacked him across the face.
       With two huge steps, he took her flailing hands into his. She stopped resisting as she accepted her puny strength wouldn’t prevail. In a controlled, firm voice, he declared, “I’m going to talk to my mother, and then we will eat. We are not going to fight on our honeymoon. I insist.”
       Colleen huffed, and stared him down for several seconds. Then, her shoulders relaxed and she apologized. That’s better, Terence thought. He crooked his head towards the menu by the phone and went to call his mother, whom he knew would be peeved. Five minutes was her maxim for a return call. He’d kept her waiting long enough.

Chapter Three

       With a whistle, and a spring in his step, Michael left his 5th Avenue Upper East Co-op located across from Central Park. He enjoyed his daily jogs in the park, loving the smell and bustle of the city.
       He swiped his private access card to activate the elevator that would take him from the penthouse, to the lobby. Once inside, he returned to his whimsy. Where was he? Yes, Gina. Her curves and that body made her dangerous. Her intelligence and quick wit kept him on his toes, but her eyes struck him like a tidal wave—dark, chocolate pools that sparkled with mischief and devilish humor.
       After Karen, Michael vowed to stop using women as playthings. He gave up the marionette strings, choosing instead to treat them with respect. At thirty-two, he was ready to settle down. No more games. No more drama. That’s why he was moving slow with Gina—real slow. This time he was in to win it—to borrow the mantra from Randy Jackson.
       When he exited the elevator, he greeted the front desk clerk and doorman by name. “The Porsche please.” The clerk—Maureen—made the call.
       Boy, he was a smiling fool. His good mood could only be attributed to one person. Gina Price.        
       They’d been all over New York City—on picnics; to the theater; on excursions through Washington Square and the village—and, they’d watched movies at his place, but they’d never spent the night. Gina wasn’t ready yet, and Michael wasn’t about to rush the intimacy. He was more than willing to wait. As the weeks flew by, his determination grew. In his business life, he pursued his goals using tenacity and perspicacity. And within one minute of meeting Gina, he’d spotted a keeper—a must have.
       Gina had grit. She had spunk.
       Michael grinned. He just loved a challenge. He pressed the voice activation on his car phone and dictated, “Call Keith,” to secure a dinner invitation to his brother’s house. Two months was long enough. It was time for Gina to meet his brother.

       Michael watched Gina tug at her dress for the third time. The black spaghetti strap dress fit her like a glove and featured a dip in the back that went on for days. She carried a light jacket in her hand as the September air could get crisp at night.
       “You look fabulous,” he felt the need to say again. He took her hands in his as they entered CafĂ© Baci’s—an Italian restaurant in Westbury, Long Island. He’d chosen here, because with it’s brick-faced floors, wraparound bar and wooden chairs; the restaurant boasted ambience, superb service and impeccable cuisine.
       “Now, leave your dress alone before you rip it and cause a third world war in here,” he teased.
       She smiled sheepishly. Her hands were back in her hair ensuring that it was still tight. “I’ve no idea why I’m so nervous—well, I do know. Michael, you speak so highly of your big brother, and you adore him. I just want him to like me.” 
 “I understand, Gina. But, please don’t be nervous,” Michael replied. He bent over to look her in the eyes. Tucking his finger under her cheek, he said, “My brother’s cool, and you’re going to love Eve. Trust me when I tell you that you have nothing to worry about.”
“I know, but I just want to make a good impression.”
“Keith will love you,” Michael predicted confidently. “You’re stunning! You’ve got it going on, girl!”
Gina took several deep breaths. Even that simple natural act fascinated him. This woman was special and worth waiting for. Boy, he sounded whipped, even to his own ears.
The hostess ushered them to Keith’s table, but his brother wasn’t hard to miss. Keith did to women what gasoline did to fire. Keith was exceptionally fit, and well dressed. To top it off, the man was ridiculously handsome, and that was no exaggeration. He had piercing dark brown eyes, dark chocolate skin and, a smile that could melt ice. Michael always teased that Keith should have been a model for one of those romance novels that women seemed to enjoy reading, but his brother scoffed at the idea, stating he’d prefer to use his brain over his body any day.
 Michael hadn’t been forthright with Gina. Keith wasn’t so easy to please—probably a result of his uncanny penchant for picking up undercover psychopaths. Ever the big brother, Keith deftly identified several reasons why they weren’t suitable—er, stable. Michael hated Keith’s prying. But, to his chagrin, Keith was usually right. 
Well, not this time. Gina Price was the one. He was sure of it.
       Michael introduced Gina to Keith, and they took a seat. Within minutes, a waiter came to take their appetizers and drink orders. Michael ordered zucchini fritti and calzone bambini for them to share.
“Where’s Eve?”  Michael asked, once their food had arrived.
“She couldn’t make it. She had a new client. Eve’s in the real estate business,” Keith directed the last part of his statement to Gina, before taking a huge gulp of his iced tea.
“Oh that sounds interesting,” Gina said, still nervous. She gripped Michael’s hand under the table. He squeezed her hands to encourage her.
“She’s also very pregnant with his child,” Michael declared.
“Yes,” Keith confirmed. “She is... very pregnant.”
“Well, that was a pregnant pause,” Michael noted. He laughed at the obvious pun, and waited for Keith to provide an acerbic response. But their waiter, Peter, returned to clear their appetizer plates, and then took their dinner orders, so the moment passed.
Michael chose the salmone rosato; Keith the chicken parmigiana; and Gina decided on the penne ricche. Michael kept the dinner conversation lighthearted and humorous. Keith could get real deep and philosophical as he went on, but he also made an extra effort to put Gina at ease. Pretty soon the three of them were talking and laughing like old friends.
Gina excused herself to freshen up; Michael eyed Keith watching her. He was glad for the brief respite so that he could get his brother’s opinion. He waited until Keith turned to face him. Keith did not utter a word. He just looked at him and then gave him a big, thumbs-up sign.
       Michael felt a smile lift from his heart and extend to his face. His grin became a full-fledged laugh. Keith joined in and lifted his right hand for a high five.      
       Gina entered her home that night, smiling. Standing against the door, she reveled in the fact that for the past three hours, she had been entertained by two of the most charming men that she had ever met!  Michael was so attentive and Keith, well, he was something else.  She placed her hand over her chest. Michael hadn’t prepared her adequately to meet him.
Keith was hotness to the tenth power.
On the drive to her house, Michael had told her that Keith had given her a thumbs-up sign while she’d been in the bathroom. Gina moved her head, from side to side, with attitude, and snapped her fingers. “You know it.”
       She slipped out of her stilettos and headed for her living room. It was her favorite spot in the house. She had decorated it with light yellows and browns, giving the room a real airy and soothing effect. She chose to hang paintings that were relaxing, to give the room more impact. After dealing with the rough kids of NYC, Gina needed somewhere that would calm her nerves. 
       She snapped her fingers. She’d almost forgotten the paperwork. She reached over to pick up the large brown envelope hanging over the edge of her nightstand. She undid the clasp and took out the contents. There was a request for a character reference from the law firm of Bohlander & Associates on behalf of one of her former coworkers, Payton Marshall.
       Gina would gladly comply with the request. Payton had been her mentor, and an excellent teacher. Picturing her blond curls and soft blue eyes, she couldn’t picture Payton as the murderer the press made her out to be. Payton had been convicted of brutally slaughtering her husband due to the continuous abuse he had inflicted upon her. Gina shook her head. Payton had covered her plight well, because the entire school had been shocked.
       Goes to show that one just never knows what a battered wife looked like, because Payton had been the epitome of poise and gentleness. She seemed like she had it together, but she’d never said a word. Gathering her notepad and paper, Gina composed a rough draft that she would edit and type to send to the law firm. She hoped they would be able to help her friend.

Chapter Four

       “Super Sabbath? What’s that?”
       “It’s a big to-do where we invite family and friends to come out to church. It’s the first weekend in October and we’re having a catered luncheon,” Colleen explained. Clad in her silk camisole, she propped her feet on the bed to paint her toes. Her neck cricked from holding the cordless phone between her shoulder and ear, but she wanted to be ready when Terence came in. She’d found a bright red shade that she wanted to test out.      
       “I’ll try to make it, if I’m not going to see Payton,” Gina added.
       Colleen rolled her eyes. “Gina, Payton did the crime. She needs to do the time. Why can’t you accept that?” This was a sore topic between them. At first, Colleen supported Gina’s dogged efforts, but it was time to let that go.
       “I just know there’s more to it than that Collie. Her husband beat her and no woman should endure that. She was battered and kudos to her for taking a stand,” Gina interjected.
       Colleen huffed. “Yes, but she killed him—she didn’t tell anyone, she didn’t fight back. She killed him.”
       Gina sideswiped the issue. “I’ll try to make it. I promise.”
       “I know you’re trying to change the subject, Gina, but I’m your friend. I just don’t want you getting disappointed if things don’t work out.”
       “Why don’t you pray for her, Colleen? Isn’t that the Christian thing to do?”
       Gina’s mocking statement rankled. She knew Gina wasn’t preaching at her—the same Gina who refused week-by-week to come to church. The Holy Spirit held her tongue. “I’ll pray for her. But, there is such a thing as praying amiss.”
       “Take that color off your toes this instant!”
       Startled, Colleen almost dropped the tiny bottle of glitter red nail polish on the carpet. Luckily, her quick reflexes kicked in and she saved the beige plush carpet from a nasty stain. She did, however, drop the phone.
       Ignoring Terence, Colleen snatched up the phone. Terence now stood directly in front of her. He shoved his hands in his grey sweat-suit pockets, eyed her toes, and repeated, “I said take that devilish color off your toes.”
       “Is that Terence?” Gina’s voice pealed through the line.
       Embarrassed, Colleen whispered into the handset, “Gina, let me call you back.”
       “Colleen, what’s going on? Colleen—
       She disconnected the line. Of course, Gina redialed. Colleen ignored the shrill ring and Terence an evil glare. He had some major explaining to do.
       “Who were you talking to?” Terence inquired.
       “Just Gina. I was inviting her to our Super Sabbath when you so rudely demanded I clean the color off my toes.”
       Terence looked down at her toes with curled lips. He snarled, “That’s right. I don’t want you wearing that.” Just as abruptly, he changed the subject and shrugged out of his sweatpants. “I ran five miles today. You need to get on that treadmill as well.”
       Was he calling her fat now? She fluctuated between sizes six and eight, and the five pounds she’d gained on her honeymoon hadn’t done any damage. But, no, she wouldn’t take the bait. She would be the better person. She scuttled after Terence who had headed inside their master bath. “Forgive me if I’m more concerned about Gina’s soul than some measly pounds.”       
       She saw him wince at the barb. “Just be patient, Colleen. God has a path mapped out and Gina has to find God on her own and in her own time.” Where was he going now? Terence had wandered back into their bedroom. With a dogged sigh, she followed him. She was getting her exercise now for sure.
       Colleen steered into a safer topic. “Well, He used you to bring me into the light, or should I say, return to Him.”
       Terence smiled. He looked really handsome, so handsome that she was eager to help him out of his shirt. She kissed his cheek and massaged his temples. The sandalwood scent of the cologne he’d applied earlier in the day still held the warm, masculine fragrance she’d come to appreciate on him. Her agile fingers worked their magic and she felt his body tense. She lifted her eyes to his, and read his unspoken request. Colleen pressed on his shoulders until he sat in the huge chair in a corner of their room, and proceeded to give him a light massage.
       “You know just what I need.” Terence moaned in between words.
       Colleen smiled at the sheer pleasure on his face. She pressed harder knowing that his muscles were taut with stress. Soon she felt them loosen under her ministrations, and stilled her hands. She stepped away, intending to undress and take it to another level.
       “No, wait, I have to talk to you.”
       Terence grasped her hand and gave her a light tug. Pliant, she curved her body backwards until she sat on his lap. Terence rested his head on her back and hugged her. Colleen’s body heated. Whirls of desire built and she pressed her body closer to him. With a low moan, she reached behind her to rub his head.
       “Remember what we tried the other day? I want to do that again,” she purred. She trailed her fingers down his arm and in a brash move flipped around to straddle him. Colleen bent and blew tender kisses on his ear and neck. Her hands developed a life of their own.
       Terence however had another idea. He stilled her movements. “I have a great suggestion for Super Sabbath. I think that would be a good time for you to get re-baptized.”
       “Re-baptized?” Of all the things she’d thought he would say that was the furthest from her mind. Her ardor cooled. Colleen pulled out of his arms and crisscrossed her arms in defiance. Terence ignored her and brought up an inconsequential matter. “I’m out of body wash.”
       “There’s a spare bottle under the bathroom sink.” Colleen flailed her arms and stood. Terence tore his t-shirt over his head and went to get the wash. She intended to follow him yet again, but noticed the nail polish she’d left on the bed and picked it up. She placed it on her night stand then confronted him though he’d already started his shower.
        “What do you mean re-baptized? I already rededicated my life to the Lord, isn’t that enough?”
       Five minutes. She fumed in silence for five minutes, while she waited for him to get out of the stall and walk into the closet.
       “Yes, but your re-baptism would leave no doubt about your renewed commitment to God. Plus, it would put a stamp on my ministry as I led you back to Christ, so to speak.” Terence addressed her, still inside the closet.
       “Isn’t it about my relationship with God? Isn’t it about God getting the glory?”
       Terence walked out, dressed in a crisp white undershirt and plaid pajama bottoms. He made Colleen feel naked in her silk camisole and underwear, so she reached for her robe and slid it on.
       “I’m not trying to steal God’s thunder,” Terence replied. “I’m trying to be seriously considered for ministry. I think you should do it.”
       Something about his tone sent off a warning bell. Was he saying she had to do it? “Is this because your mother suggested it, Terence? I am not going to do it. I did the whole repentance thing already—you know—you were there.”
       “Yes, but the others do not know. The single women need to see you do it openly as an example to them.”
       Quizzical, Colleen held up her hands. “You are not making sense.”
       Terrence’s voice took on a different quality. “Are you calling me stupid?”
       “No, but I think—”
       “Seems to me you’ve done enough thinking.” Terence rested his hands on his waist. “I’m the head of this family and you will get re-baptized. End of discussion. I don’t want to talk about this again.”
       Colleen knew that for him the subject matter was closed. Her heart raced and the hair on her neck rose. She couldn’t believe he had just used the whole head of the family line. God made man the head, but she was not the tail. She squeezed her eyes shut, and willed herself to keep from making a fuss.
       “It’ll solve two problems.” Terrence approached her and pulled her body closer to him. “I’ll get what I need for the ministry and Gina will surely come for an event like that.”
       His last statement gave Colleen pause, but she said, “That’s true. I just don’t think—”
       “Don’t think, baby. Just do. Do it for me.” Terence kissed her.
       Colleen melted under his touch. She should be doing it for God, not for him. But her heart complied, because she loved her husband and wanted to please him. “Okay.” That one word fell off her lips like a thousand pound boulder.
       “You don’t know how happy that makes me.” Relief peppered his words.  “I can’t wait to tell my mother.” He released her, climbed into bed and pulled back the blankets.
       Her hands flew to her hips. Had she just heard him right? “Your mother?”
       “Yes, she suggested it.”
       Colleen should have known. His mother was like a thorn in her side. When Terence had purchased their home in Valley Stream, she’d been overjoyed until she realized Francine lived seven minutes away. Francine was always showing up when she felt like it, to point out something she wasn’t doing right.
       Yup. Colleen punched her pillows to release some tension. She had no doubt that the entire re-baptism idea wasn’t altruistic, but it was a jab at her. She knew it, but she couldn’t prove it. She got into her bed, with a heavy heart.
       “What’s the matter?” Terence asked.
       You’re a Mama’s Boy, that’s what’s the matter, she thought, but said, “Nothing.” God, give me strength.
       “Well, I am pleading for the pillows,” Terence joked.
       Colleen didn’t laugh. From her side of bed, a tear fell. She discreetly wiped it. She wasn’t even sure why she felt the need to cry, but she knew a voice inside her was asking, “Who’s going to plead for me?”

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