Brooklyn Douglas sat mute in a crowded New York restaurant while a group of her closest friends discussed her life as though she weren't there. This wasn't the first time such a discussion had occurredfar from it; however, Brooklyn noticed they happened with more regularity than she liked.
"Okay, okay." She leaped into the conversation. "Can we please change the subject?"
Toni turned her suspicious gaze toward Brooklyn. "When was the last time you even got laid?"
Brooklyn's eyes bulged. "Excuse you?"
Toni rolled her eyes, undaunted by her friend's reaction. "Just what I thought."
Brooklyn's other three girlfriends, Ashley, Maria, and Noel, snickered while dodging Brooklyn's lethal gaze.
"What on earth does my getting laid have to do with anything?"
Maria's thick accent sliced into the conversation. "If you don't know, then you're worse off than we thought."
Another round of snickering ensued.
A smile bloomed on Brooklyn's face. "Come on, girls. You know I don't have time for a relationship. With my new career, dealing with Evan's crap, and Jaleel's growing pains"
"Who said anything about a relationship?" Noel brushed back a wisp of her blond hair as her green eyes twinkled. "Haven't you heard of baby steps?"
"A one-night stand?" Brooklyn concluded in shock. "Me? A one-night stand? You've lost your mind."
Ashley leaned over and draped an arm around Brooklyn's shoulders. "Where is your sense of adventure? "
"An adventure is a trip to Africa, not playing Russian roulette with sexually transmitted diseases."
"No one said anything about unprotected sex," Toni reasoned with a dismissive wave. "We're just saying that you need to do something to relax."
"I thought that was the purpose of our trip up here to New York. We came to take in a few Broadway plays and enjoy the city."
"Look," Maria said, smiling. "There's relaxing and then there's relaxing. And the kind that you need requires an extra appendage." She wiggled her brows. "Are you catching my drift? "
Maria shook her head. "I don't know why we're bothering. You'll never do it. You're such a prude."
"A prude?" Brooklyn's hands flew to her hips. "That's not true."
Maria raised her hands in surrender. "I don't mean to upset you, but you have to admit you've changed a lot since college."
"Well, who hasn't?" Brooklyn's gaze shifted to each of them. "Noel drank her way through college. Toni was on a mission to sleep with each member on the football team. Ashley"
"What about me?"
"You" Brooklyn swiveled in her direction "you were a walking, talking chimney stack. What was your peak, three packs of cigarettes a day?"
Ashley blanched contritely and slumped back in her chair.
"And you." Brooklyn's attention jerked back to Maria. "I don't think you went on a single date the entire time we were thereincluding graduate school."
Maria simply shrugged. "What can I say? I was a late bloomer."
"You never bloomed. You didn't get any action until you ran out and bought those silicone twins of yours in Los Angeles."
The other women at the table squealed.
Maria cupped her breasts. "And they were worth every penny."
The laughter escalated.
Brooklyn rocked back in her chair with her hand covering her mouth. It felt good to be out with her friends. In her opinion they didn't get together enough. Life had a strange and powerful way of bringing different people together and then scattering them across the map.
Maria was a big shot at Paramount Pictures out in Los Angeles. Ashley worked at the American embassy in England. Noel resided in New York, working for a record label and being "the only white girl in rap" as her friends liked to tease her.
Brooklyn and Toni lived in Atlanta, a few miles apart; however, they rarely saw each other. But the women were never too far away in their hearts. As close as they were, one member was missing from the group: Macy Patterson.
Macy and Brooklyn were roommates in college. Both were business majors and came from startlingly similar backgrounds. They shared everything: clothes, moneyyou name it. Then, Macy took sharing too far the day Brooklyn came home early and found her husband in bed with Macy.
"What time is it?" Brooklyn asked, suddenly feeling as though they'd been in the restaurant too long.
Toni looked at her watch and then tossed the napkin from her lap onto the table. "It's seven-thirty. We better get going if we're going to make the eight o'clock show."
The girls stood and donned their coats in preparation for the December wind outside. Each left money for their bill on the table. Nearing the front door, three of them made a sudden turn in the opposite direction.
"We're just going to make a quick trip to the rest room," Noel announced to Brooklyn and Toni. "We'll be right back."
Brooklyn nodded. "Let's just stand over here and wait for them," she said, indicating a small bench in the waiting area. She sat down and Toni tugged her arm. Brooklyn turned toward her.
Toni gave a slight nod over her shoulder. "Do you see what I see?" She nodded again.
Brooklyn's gaze shifted to over her friend's shoulder and to an incredible specimen: a six-foot-three brother with beautiful toffee-colored skin and a physique that caused an instant heat to generate in the core of Brooklyn's body.
The man smiled at the hostess, displaying a stunning set of white teeth, while his shadowy goatee showcased a pair of perfectly arched full lips. His gaze slid toward Brooklyn, and her breath caught at the sight of his clear gray eyes. He smiled and nodded in her direction.
Unable to think of anything else, she mimicked his action before the hostess regained his attention and led him away.
"Ooh, girl," Toni crooned in her ear. "Did you see the way he checked you out? Are you sure you don't want to go do a panties check before we head over to the theater?"
Brooklyn cut her eyes over at her friend and swatted her on the arm. "Very funny."
"Who's trying to be funny? Hell, I may need to do one myself."
Their three friends sauntered around the corner.
"Are you two ready?" Maria asked. Her gaze bounced from Toni to Brooklyn and like always her keen senses zeroed in. "What did we miss?"
"Nothing," Brooklyn hurried to answer in a vain attempt to cut off any explanation from Toni.
Toni laughed as she stood. "You missed a good one, girl. Brooklyn had a seriously fine brother checking her out a few minutes ago."
The other girls perked up as all eyes darted in Brooklyn's direction and a barrage of questions flew her way.
"Did you get the digits?" Ashley asked. "Did you give him your number?" Maria countered.
"How fine was he?"
Brooklyn held up her hand, which immediately silenced them. "No, no, and he was just all right. Can we go now? "
"Just all right?" Toni barked with laughter, and then shook her head. "Girl, you're hopeless."
The girls' exuberant faces quickly turned sour as they bobbed their heads in agreement.
"Well, let's get going. We're already running late."
Everyone headed toward the door.
Brooklyn brought up the rear, but as she neared the door, she felt as though she was being watched. She glanced over her shoulder and her gaze collided with those sparkling gray eyes from across the room.
The man's lips curled into a smile as he lifted his wineglass and nodded toward her.
She smiled back a second before Noel clamped on to her wrist.
"Will you come on? " Noel said, and pulled her through the door.
Isaiah Washington forced his attention away from the door and the stunning woman who'd walked out of it. He had laughed at but never experienced love at first sightuntil now. He shook his head to clear his thoughts. Okay, maybe love was overstating it a bit, but there had been something therea spark, an attraction?
"Isaiah?" his companion inquired. "Are you listening to me?"
With an apologetic smile, Isaiah turned his attention to Yasmine. "Sorry. What were you saying?"
Yasmine shook her head as she lowered her menu. "I have to write this date down for the history books. Something other than work has grabbed your attention. I thought I'd never see the day."
Uncomfortable for having been caught, Isaiah flashed Yasmine a tight smile. "Pouring it on a bit thick, don't you think?"
"Hardly." She crossed her arms and stared at him. "We've been working together for whatsix or seven years?"
He shrugged. "Something like that."
"And in that time, I've never seen you react to a woman like thatnot even toward Cadence. I was beginning to think"
"Don't you dare."
A wide smile crept across her delicate features. "What? A fine brother like you, a neat freak who loves the artsI'm just saying it's highly suspect."
"Not funny. You just want someone to crawl into the closet with."
"No closet needed here. I blew the door off that sucker a long time ago." She eyed him. "Maybe I should wait here while you run after her."
"You need a woman."
He smiled. "And you need to stay out of my business."
"I tell you about my dates all the time." His features turned into a comical deadpan. "I know."
She leaned over and swatted him on the arm. "Very funny. Be serious, will you? I worry about you. All work and no play make Isaiah a lonely man."
Isaiah laughed. "I date, Yasmine. I just don't have time for relationships."
Yasmine shook her head. "You don't wait for the right time for a relationship. You make time."
The two friends held each other's gaze for a long moment before Isaiah nodded. "I'll make sure I keep that in mind."
She nodded. "You do that." She retrieved her menu. "Now tell me why you missed our meeting with Mr. Alba."
Isaiah drew in a long breath and shook his head. "Let's just say today was not my day. It started when I was subjected to a rather thorough and intimate body search at the Bergstrom Airport. Then I landed at the JFK Airport and was told the airline had no idea how my luggage was routed to London."
Yasmine giggled. "My goodness."
"It gets better. Since I flew in casual clothes I had to shop for something suitable for our meeting. Problem is it's not easy finding something decent, ready to wear off the rack for a man my height. As soon as I could I rushed right over."
Yasmine looked at her watch. "Not bad. You were only two hours late."
"Was Mr. Alba upset?"
"Nah. I faked a call from you and told him you were late because your dog died."
"I don't own a dog."
"Then you shouldn't be too upset that it died."
"Come on, Isaiah. It worked. You know how crazy Alba is about animals. For a minute there I thought the man was tearing up."
Isaiah stared at her.
"I got us on his schedule for tomorrow afternoon. Everything is fine. So, order up, dinner is on me." She smiled.
He shook his head. "I don't know what I'm going to do about you."
"Hey." She waved her finger. "I saved your butt today. So show a little more appreciation, Superman."
He held up his hands in order to keep the peace and because she had a point. "I'm sorry. I apologize. Thank you, Yasmine, for saving my ungrateful butt. Can you ever forgive me?"
Her smile returned. "All right. Just remember we're a team."
"Got it." He picked up the menu. "Dinner is still on you?"
"Well, actually, I'm filing it on our business expenses. So eat up and enjoy."
Isaiah laughed and did just that.