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By STEPHANIE PERRY MOORE
Dafina BooksCopyright © 2007 Stephanie Perry Moore
All right reserved.
I'm young, attractive, and intelligent, so why am I lying here with this guy when I don't even love him? It's an early November morning and C-SPAN is blasting from the other room. I'm annoyed. I was getting real tired of the casualness of our relationship. I tried to cover my naked body with the silk sheet thrown across the bed. I moved carefully so Mr. Three Times in One Night wouldn't wake up and want to go another round.
Troy Evans and I had been seeing each other intimately, with no strings attached, for seven months. Neither of us wanted any commitment other than our jobs. We were coworkers and a darn good team, both on the job and under the covers. He was hitting thirty-three and I was almost twenty-eight. However, I now wanted more than a fling. I didn't know what it was I was chasing, but I did know Troy wasn't the answer.
As an FBI agent, I considered myself to be tough. Upholding justice was my life's work. Ever since my alcoholic dad left my mother, little sister, and me when I was ten years old, I felt I had to protect the three of us. I was the oldest, so I had to take care of my family.
My mother raised us in church, so the only father I knew was a Heavenly Father, and most times I wondered if He was even there. You know, when Mama couldn't pay the rent, when we had no food, or when I wore shoes to school that were way too small because we had no money for new ones. Where was God when my mother couldn't get folks in our small church to help her? Out of desperation she turned to a local drug dealer for a job. It destroyed her life, and not having her there for me sent me searching for love in all the wrong places. So here I am with Troy.
Troy and I found our way into each other's arms after work one day. It was early April, and I'd been on Troy's team for eighteen months. It was my tenth assignment since coming out of training-I had been an agent for almost five years. We were working a money-laundering case. We'd tracked our suspect, Rudy Roberts, from our hometown and headquarters in D.C. to New York City. Troy, another agent, and I were in a surveillance van, following Roberts in a cab. Suddenly the yellow taxi pulled over and Roberts got out, smiled at our van, and started walking briskly down the sidewalk.
Very annoyed that the guy had somehow found us out, Troy ordered, "You guys stay in the vehicle and follow me-I'm tailing Roberts."
He hurled out so fast that he didn't take a radio. When Roberts ducked down a dark alley, Troy followed him. We couldn't see either of them.
After waiting a few minutes, panic began to set in. I opened the van door.
The other agent yelled, "We need to stay put."
"We can't even see him now," I rationalized. "What if he's in trouble?"
I ducked down that same blind alley and heard a scuffle. With my gun drawn, I crept up the sidewall behind a green, industrial Dumpster. Suddenly the struggle ended.
Roberts laughed. "You've nothing on me. Get ready to die."
Taking a deep breath for courage, I walked a few paces more and saw Roberts on top of my case leader, his gun in Troy's face.
I identified myself by saying, "Freeze-FBI!" When he cocked his gun, I shot mine on impulse.
After the smoke cleared, I realized I had shot a man for the very first time in my life. I suddenly felt this awful guilt. Although I'd spent countless hours at the firing range, I was not prepared for the emotional reaction that I would have when I was actually in that situation.
"What have I done?" I mumbled.
Then Troy was in front of me, taking the warm weapon from my hands. "If you hadn't shot him, he would have killed me. I'm forever grateful-and glad you disobeyed my order and got out of that van." He smiled.
After Internal Affairs investigated for days, they concluded I did the only thing I could. Still, I was mentally drained and shaken. After the shooting I couldn't handle my emotions in the field, so my boss, Agent Thomas Hunter, decided to keep me chained to my desk, reviewing cases and talking to confidential sources, gathering evidence until he thought I was ready to get back out there.
Troy understood my disappointment. Not too long after I was benched, he asked to buy me a late meal. Since the shooting, I didn't like being alone at night, so I accepted his offer. We went to a local steak house and ate and drank for several hours. Later, Troy saw me to my door. I was slightly inebriated and he wanted to make sure that I got in safely. He opened the door for me with my keys but didn't say good night.
Troy looked deep into my eyes that hazy April night and told me I was beautiful and sexy. I hadn't heard that from a man in too long.
I pulled him close to me and kissed him deeply. I wanted to be found attractive again by a man. It had been years since I'd felt the warm hands of a strong man all over my body. No part of me hesitated as I slipped into his arms.
Though Troy made it clear he didn't want anything serious, that was the first of many wonderful, sensual nights that we would spend together. Law enforcement wasn't the kind of career that lent itself to settling down. The women Troy had dated before me didn't understand that. The long hours and spur of the moment out of town trips for weeks at a time without a decent night off weren't the kind of thing most women could deal with. He was one of the FBI's best agents, so he handled some of the biggest cases in the world. Romance came second to adventure for Troy.
At first, that wasn't high on my priority list, either, so we made a good match. We'd get together whenever we felt like keeping each other's bed warm. Other than that, neither of us had any expectations. Months ago that was okay, but now, lying next to him, I was suddenly sick of the arrangement.
As I gazed at his muscular body, toffee-colored skin, and handsome face, I thought maybe, just maybe, I was ready for more than just casual sex with no commitment. Something inside made me see this as wrong. Was it the Holy Spirit at work?
Stepping out of bed, I hurried to the bathroom. It was almost two A.M. Spending the night this time was not an option. I had too much going on inside me. Not only was I starting to hate our no-strings-attached relationship, I was also starting to despise my profession. I was honestly burnt-out personally and professionally. Our unit worked closely with the Drug Enforcement Agency, following seedy characters from state to state until we finally got enough evidence for an arrest. But each time I saw a major drug dealer get off on a technicality, it made me want another job. And watching others work on cases in the field while I was still tied to a desk didn't help matters any.
Standing at the sink, I stared at my dim reflection in the mirror. Troy often complimented me on my smooth brown complexion and warm, hazel eyes. I was just glad my eyelashes were long and thick so I didn't have to use mascara. I never wore much makeup, preferring to rely on my own natural, God-given attributes. Glamour and guns only mixed in the movies.
I really needed to redo my highlights, though. I ran my fingers through my short hair and thought about the fine man in the next room. Suddenly my insides started churning.
One part of me wondered why I was tripping. Maybe I just needed to crawl back into bed with him and get some more loving. Or maybe I needed some space. It seems like just yesterday that my first and only love, Max Cross, broke my heart. Max and I dated all four years at Baylor. I majored in Criminal Justice and he was a Business major. We met at a freshman party and were inseparable from then on. He was an exceptionally sexy man with creamy clay skin and hazel-brown eyes that made me melt. I thought we'd get married, and I was devastated when we broke up. I shouldn't have told him I was pregnant. The abortion broke my heart-and our relationship.
To get over that pain, I took on more shifts at my job at a local restaurant, Texan Grill, where I'd been working to earn money to send back to my mother and sister. It hadn't been more than three months before the married manager, Damien, and I began having an affair. I knew it wasn't right. But Damien just treated me so well-like a queen, and I hadn't been treated like that before. He bought me things and took me on trips. I didn't know what he told his wife and didn't care until the day she caught us in the act.
Over the next six months, I applied and got accepted into a training program for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It's been less than six years. After doing well on other assignments and saving Agent Evans's life, I now enjoyed the respect of my colleagues. They started calling me "the woman with everything going on." It was true. I was good-looking, well put-together. Whatever I wore always suited me. And I'd never had a problem attracting a man. But what difference did all that really make? I wasn't happy. There had to be more to this life than survival. I felt empty and needed to be filled by something everlasting, but how could I get that. The only thing I knew was that I had to change the crazy way I was living.
I sighed and reached to turn on the faucet. That's when I saw the condom Troy and I had used just hours before. The shriveled-up thing wasn't balled up in the wastebasket, but curled up on the sink, positioned as if it had been inspected.
"What the ...?" I screeched out, completely lost in anger as I realized what must have happened.
Troy's voice came suddenly from the other room. "You got a problem?"
"Yes," I snapped. "What is this?"
He made his way to the bathroom, and eyed the condom beside me. "Would you calm down, baby. I'm sure it's no big deal."
"Troy, don't play. Did this burst?"
"I ... I don't know. I'm not sure."
"What do you mean, you're not sure. You're a grown man, Troy."
Troy scanned my naked body with hungry eyes and tried to pull me close, but I held back. Didn't he get that I was pissed?
"I can open another one," he whispered. "It'll only take a second for me to put it on."
"You knew the condom broke, didn't you?" I said, scanning his guilty face and ignoring his new erection. "I can't have a baby and work in the FBI!"
"Don't even sweat that. You're cool. I'm over thirty. I've been sexually active since my teens. I've been with lots of women and never had any children. Trust me, it'll be okay. I know what I'm doing."
He tried to lead me back to bed, but I shoved him out of the bathroom and closed the door in his face.
See? I chastised myself. That's why I shouldn't be doing this.
Troy's frustrated voice filtered through the door. "Shut me out, then. I'm gonna fix me something to eat. I'm telling you, don't worry. I know you're fine." His confidence made my skin crawl.
When I heard him storm away, I took the only clean washcloth in the place from under the sink and began to freshen up. Emotions started to bubble up. I needed help. I needed something different. I needed not to be in this casual sex relationship.
Deep down, I felt there was only One that could fix this, so I looked up at the ceiling and said, "God, You gotta know this is not a good time for me." I shook my head. What was I doin'? He wouldn't listen to me. I'm sure He gave up on me a while ago.
But something-sheer desperation-spurred me to get down on my knees and continue. "Well, if You're still in the forgiving business, I need help. There's got to be more to this life than living and dying. There has to be more than just trying to get by. If there's a better plan, God, help me see it."
My mom used to make us pray every night, trying to lift our spirits. But ever since I had the abortion after the breakup with Max, I'd strayed away from God. Somehow I just felt unworthy of His love. But at that moment in Troy's bathroom, I needed to feel close to Him.
I emerged from Troy's bedroom fully dressed and headed to gather my stuff. Troy heard my steps and caught my arm before I picked up my bag. He pulled me to the television in the living room.
"Can you believe this?" he raged.
A news conference was being held on C-SPAN. A U.S. senator, the Reverend Steven Stokes, was addressing the nation from Atlanta, Georgia. For a brief second, I forgot that I had planned to head to my own apartment.
"Did he say he's running for president?" I asked.
"Yeah," Troy confirmed.
I shrugged. "Maybe he can win. He's a popular senator," I said, recovering from shock.
"Please! I don't care who he is. Jackson's, Chisholm's, and Sharpton's poor showings at the polls over the years should be enough to prove this nation ain't ready for a black president."
"I don't know," I said, lowering myself onto the couch. "That was years ago. Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice have since held cabinet posts-they've changed America's outlook about having a black person in politics. Maybe the nation is ready."
"Yeah, right," Troy dismissed.
The Reverend's wife, a beige-skinned, petite lady, strode up to her husband with a bright, confident smile. She wore a navy suit, tea-length with a rounded white collar pressed to perfection. Pearl accessories added a touch of elegance. I admired her style.
Their three children followed, all seemingly in their twenties or early thirties. The eldest, Steven Jr., had a young family of his own with him. But the bad-boy look in his eye told me this guy was probably a bit of a troublemaker.
The daughter, Savannah, was a younger version of her mom. She looked to be in her early twenties. She walked up to her dad, took his arm, and gave him an adoring smile.
The middle child, Sebastian, had a muscular build that made me do a double take. He wore dark-rimmed glasses and a charcoal-colored suit and tie that made him look like an overpriced lawyer.
I didn't know them personally, but the Stokeses had been in the spotlight lately. The press loved talking about how much the family was putting Georgia on the map. I had seen headlines touting the way their community involvement had helped decrease the number of homeless people, increase the number of corporate headquarters in Georgia, and raise the state's literacy rate. I'd always felt that though we hadn't had a black president yet, we needed more politicians to keep reaching for it. And what better candidate than a family man who had been a politician and the leader of a church. Plus, I could get behind someone who wanted to work for America as president and not just push his own agenda. Reverend Stokes seemed like that type of person.
"They seem like the real deal," I said.
"Whatever," Troy grumbled, heading into the kitchen. "Wait 'til the press starts eating them up. All their dirty laundry will be out there." Troy poured himself a shot of gin. "White folks don't want a brother in the White House. They're afraid we'll get in there and make our own rules." Troy laughed to himself. "White people aren't the only ones who vote. You'll vote for him, won't you?"
Troy chugged his drink. "I don't know anything about the man."
"He's black and he's a Democrat. Plus, he has a good track record," I said, angry at his stubbornness. "What else do you need to know?"
"Chris, if you ever meet them you'll probably see they aren't that impressive. I bet those smiles are only on the surface. Most politicians I come across are phony."
"All of them can't be bad," I said, gathering my stuff. "I imagine their life is pretty wonderful."
"Then I suggest you apply for the Secret Service temp job, guard them for a while, and find out all their dirty little secrets. Then you'll see that the rosy picture you're talking about isn't so perfect."
I spotted my toothbrush and makeup case and stuffed them into my Gucci overnight bag. Walking back to the living room, I said, "Temp job? What are you talking about?"
"It was posted through the inner office e-mail system. Something about because it's election time, the Secret Service needs bodies to help them cover the presidential candidates," Troy said before kissing me on the cheek and opening his apartment door.
Once on the other side of his door, I raised my eyebrow, nodded my head, and thought, Good riddance, Mr. Evans. And maybe I should look into that temp job. It was time for a new venture.
Excerpted from CHASING FAITH by STEPHANIE PERRY MOORE Copyright © 2007 by Stephanie Perry Moore. Excerpted by permission.
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