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Apprehension fired down Eve's spine as she approached the front door of her best friend's house. She remembered Ebony's short voice mail, "Girl, we found you a new domino partner. Be at my house by seven o'clock Friday so you can meet him!"
It was the "him" part of the message that made Eve's stomach tense. Ebony was a notoriously unsuccessful matchmaker in Eve's opinion. Ebony claimed it was the subject, Eve Garrett that made her efforts futile. For the past two years, Eve's single status had been on Ebony's hit list. She was on a mission to obliterate it. Her friend was determined to see her in what she called committed bliss.
Ebony answered Eve's knock, and Eve handed her the bottle of wine she'd been toting. "I always play dominoes better after a couple of glasses."
Ebony took the bottle. "Right, Eve. I've known you for years, girl, and I know that you're a lightweight when it comes to drinking." Ebony read the label. "Oh, this is a good merlot. Even so, I'll be surprised if you drink more than a glass."
Eve laughed and touched Ebony's hair. "I like your braids, E-bone." Ebony, a beautician, changed her hair often.
"Thanks, I thought it was a nice change of pace. When are you going to do something different with your hair?"
"Never. I like it short. You know how often I run. Short hair is so much easier to take care of."
"Oh, Eve, sometimes you lackimagination, girl. Let's dye it blonde."
"No, Ebony! I'm way too practical for white hair. Besides, what would the juries think if I were running around with white hair, trying to tell them to find someone guilty?. Defense attorneys can get away with that wildness, but everybody expects the prosecutor to be conservative."
Ebony nodded her head, braids shaking. "True dat. That's why you're perfect for your job, as straightlaced as you are." Ebony looked Eve up and down. Calvin Klein jeans and a matching jean shirt covered her lithe form,, The two were about the same height, five-foot-four, but the similarities ended there. Eve was small and trim where Ebony was voluptuous. "Why don't you undo one more button?"
Eve slapped Ebony's hand away. "Because I don't want my breasts to show."
Ebony laughed. "It's okay to show a little of the top." Turning from Eve, she headed down the hall. "Come with me to the kitchen, and I'll open this up and pour you a glass. How about auburn hair? You'd still be credible with a little reddish-brown `fro."
"No, E-bone. Stop harassing me!" Eve chuckled and looked around as she followed Ebony, ignoring the house as she peered around corners. She'd been to Ebony's stylish, yet small three-bedroom house many times and knew what it looked like. She was searching for the mysterious "him."
Despite Ebony's cupid complex, Eve wouldn't miss the weekly domino games for the world. It was a nice break from her obligations and responsibilities. Being a widowed mother of a teenage son at thirty-six, hadn't been in her plans. The domino nights helped though. Eve loved spending the evening with her friends. She enjoyed the friendly competition, laughter, and silliness. Ebony insisted she needed more silliness in her life. Well, she sure got it there; she smiled to herself as she followed Ebony into the kitchen.
Wow, what a butt, she thought before she caught herself. The Levi-covered rear-end straightened itself into a broad-shouldered, imposing man. He turned from the refrigerator with a beer in his hand.
"Oh, here you are. Eve, meet Noah Russell. You two are partners."
Eve's response surprised her. She felt like a besotted teenager. She had been indifferent to men since Todd's death four years ago, and here she was reacting to this giant of a man. He was at least six-foot-two, very muscular, and had a smile that could light up a room. She actually felt relief she hadn't worn sweats, as she was inclined to do, and her short, curly hair had been recently edged. Smiling politely, she offered her hand. "It's nice to meet you," she said. He shifted the beer to his left hand, leaving his large hand cold when he shook Eve's hand. The coldness startled her, and she jumped a little.
"Oh, I'm sorry. The beer's cold." He put it on the counter.
Noah's rich baritone affected her like a sip of hot cider on a blistery winter day. Her brown eyes gazed curiously at the man before her as he rubbed his hand on a pant leg. One would have to be comatose not to acknowledge that he was gorgeous. His mocha-colored skin looked so smooth, Eve had the urge to touch it to see if it was as soft as it appeared. Taken alone, Noah's long, straight nose would be labeled ugly. But on his angular face, it was noble, even majestic, and added to his overall handsomeness. He wore a white shirt that was unbuttoned at the collar, exposing an impressive column of brown skin, and his legs were encased in faded jeans that hung low on his hips and fit him comfortably, but snuggly.
"Okay, it's warm now. Let's try it again. It's nice to meet you, and I'm looking forward to playing with you." He stuck out his hand.
Laughing, Eve shook it, and found her palm enclosed in warm snugness. The clasp was longer than politeness dictated. Eve retrieved her hand, feeling lost in the incredible sex appeal, and then it hit her. An avalanche of memories whirled through her head as she remembered where she had heard his name before. It floated around the prosecutor's office creating legend wherever it landed. And after meeting him, she understood why. Here she was mentally panting like a sixteen-year-old after knowing him for about two minutes.
Eve's memory bombarded her with everything she'd heard about Noah Russell. He was rumored to be the red-hot stud of the fire department, the lover of the century, better than Aretha Franklin's Dr. Feelgood, a fireman with quite a hose. Some of the descriptions were quite base and shamefully disturbing, on the one hand, and a little exciting, on the other hand. Remembering the firmness of his hand, Eve's mind wandered and she wondered, how many bodies had it fondled? How many heads had it left pounding? She shook her head, marveling at why she was even pondering the question. She wasn't ever going to feel that hand in anything more than a handshake.
Noah and Ebony chatted while Ebony opened the wine. Eve found herself glancing at Noah as she continued to question her reaction to him. He pulled her as no one had before. Eve thought back to when she first met her husband. She remembered thinking Todd was cute, but her pulse certainly didn't skitter as it was doing now. Subconsciously, Eve's hand drifted to her chest, as if to still her heart, while her gaze traveled to Noah's lips. Before she caught her overactive imagination, she wondered, how many women had tasted his lips? How many promises had those lips uttered? Maybe he was so good, he didn't have to promise anything.
He turned and smiled at her. Eve wondered if she'd been caught. His laughing eyes gave her no clue. "I was unbeatable at bones in college, but I haven't played since then. I shouldn't embarrass you as a partner."
"Oh, don't worry." She waved her hand dismissively. "We're playing Ebony and Yoshi; they've been married for years now, yet they still act like newlyweds. Watch, they'll get so involved admiring each other, they won't know what's happening in the game." Sarcasm usually offset her anxiety. She enjoyed Ebony's annoyed expression. So did Noah because he released a beautiful smile.
"You're full of it," Ebony protested. "Here's your wine." She handed her a glass.
"And I thought love had smoothed all your rough edges," Eve continued to tease as she took a sip. Yoshi called to Noah, asking about his beer. Noah grabbed another beer from the fridge and excused himself.
All laughter gone, she whirled to Ebony. "What are you doing? Now I know why you were trying to get me to show my tits! You better not be trying to set me up with Don Juan!"
"Calm down." Ebony poured herself a large glass of wine. She knew Eve must be pretty upset to use the word tits, and she could see how the body parts in question were heaving. She didn't point that out to Eve. "He and Yoshi work at the fire station together. Yoshi told Noah that Kate had moved away, and our quartet needed a new domino partner. Noah said he enjoyed playing, so Yoshi asked him to join us. There's no ulterior motive or conspiracy going on here. I think you need to show more cleavage in general." Ebony reached for her shirt again, well aware that her hand would be smacked away. She was trying to make Eve laugh and lighten up.
Eve did as expected and hit her hand, but she stayed angry. She sipped from her glass, "Oh, I know how this goes; isn't it convenient that I needed a partner at the same time? I'll tell you what, I'll be Yoshi's partner, and you take Noah."
"Don't be silly. You know he's gorgeous so flirt with him. Todd's been gone four years now. You gave him a proper mourning. It's okay to move on."
Pain, or was it frustration, radiated through Eve's body. Her emotions were so intertwined with guilt that Eve had a hard time distinguishing her feelings. Usually, the surface-level scab she'd developed kept the memories shielded, but every once in a while, the wounds seeped.
"Ebony, he's a baby!" Eve grumbled at her best friend, attempting to put the emotions back where they belonged-deep inside her. "If I was ready to move on, I wouldn't pick a young pup to make the journey with."
Ebony scoffed at her, "Eve, listening to you, I'd think you were fifty. You're only as old as you feel, and you shouldn't feel like you're too old for Noah."
"Ebony, could you try to make your argument a little more circular? I'm not sure I'm dizzy yet."
"Look, Eve, don't turn into the sarcastic lawyer on me. I've known you too long for that, girl. You're just getting that attitude because you know I'm right."
The two stared at each other, and Eve contemplated that they had been friends for a long time. Their strong bond began when they were children and had survived into adulthood. The link was broken during their teenage years, but they were able to reestablish the connection under unpleasant circumstances. Then later, Eve had shared in Ebony's happiness when she served as matron of honor in Ebony's wedding, and Ebony had been there for Eve when Todd died a year after Ebony's wedding. Eve was alone and shattered after fourteen years of marriage.
Yes, E-bone's loving support was invaluable to Eve, and they'd seen each other through numerous hard times. But damn, Eve thought, she can get on my nerves. "Don't give me that look, Eve Garrett. If I weren't married to a gorgeous hunk, I'd flirt with him. You know I always tell it like it is, and that's why you love me." Ignoring Eve's scowl, she continued, "Look, I'm not trying to make you mad, girl, and I swear I didn't set this up, but I'm not sorry it worked out this way. Loosen up, have fun. There's more to life than work and motherhood." She gave Eve a hug and left the kitchen. After a healthy swallow of wine, Eve followed.
Smiling, Eve took her seat across from her new partner. She prepared herself for Yoshi's standard question. She even had a comeback. "So, Eve, how many brothers you put in jail this week?"
"About ten. They were all named Yoshi. By the way, when was the last time you worked?"
Yoshi laughed heartily, enjoying their ritual teasing. "Ahh, I got ya. I was called into the fire station yesterday. I had to cover for somebody. I even had to respond to a call and put out a pretty fierce garbage-can fire at a high school!"
"Oh, so you worked three days this week. You must be pooped." Eve faced Noah. "I have the utmost respect for firefighters, except Yoshi here. I think he's a slacker. Yoshi, when are you going to get a real job and stop playing hero?"
Yoshi laughed harder. "Never, I like having more time off than on." As a fireman, Yoshi worked a nonconventional schedule. He usually worked twenty-four hours, then he would have two days off, after which, he would work another twenty-four hours, then he would have four days off. So unless Yoshi was called in, he worked two out of every six days. The domino nights were either on Friday or Saturday, depending on which day Yoshi had off.
Eve smiled at Yoshi, and then asked Noah, "Do you understand how this works?"
"Yes, we play to one-fifty, and the first team to win ten games gets taken to dinner by the other two."
Eve nodded. "Pretty simple, huh?"
"I like Thai food. What's your favorite food, Eve?"
Eve smirked at his cockiness. "I love chicken fajitas."
"Aren't we arrogant," Yoshi scoffed. "I'll remind you, Eve, my lovely wife and I have been taken to dinner the last three times."
"Oh, but Kate isn't her partner now. I smell an upset in the air," Noah teased. Eve had no comment. Ebony suggested the games as a way to get Eve to socialize, and Kate had been her partner since the group had begun playing a year ago. Their partnership ended when Kate's job transferred her to Boston. Kate was nice and fun to play with, but she refused to count.
In dominoes, there were seven suits up to the number six. That meant there were seven ones, seven twos, and so on. By paying attention to what had been played, who had played it, and counting, a player could guess what was in the other players' hand. Kate just played. She claimed that counting ruined her luck. Eve figured that playing with Noah could only be an improvement.
"Let's begin," Ebony said as she shuffled the bones.
Eve and Noah struggled to read each other at the beginning of play. Luck was with them, and they were ahead after the first hand. As they continued, Noah focused on Eve without a sign of what was on his mind. Eve's eyes were expressive and quick. They roamed between her bones, her opponents, and the charismatic man across the table. In court, she made it a point to conceal her thoughts and keep her eyes blank. It took a lot of energy, so with friends, she intentionally relaxed and let her guard down. She thought of it as a stress reliever. Besides, when she was playing with Kate, her facial expression didn't matter. Noah was loose, but he maintained his poker face whether he was looking at Eve or contemplating his next play. Somehow, they managed to win the first game.
During the course of the second game, Eve got used to Noah's presence. Surprisingly, their thinking seemed to be on the same page, and once again, she found her eyes drawn to him. Noah's long, thick fingers ended bluntly. There was very little curve to his fingertips. He held the bones gracefully. His long thumbs lay across the top, ends touching, while the other fingers lightly cupped the bottom. He moved his bones efficiently with precision. Focusing on his hands gave Eve a reprieve from facing Noah's eyes and wondering what thoughts lay behind them.
Eve played her turn and went back to her study. Her gaze drifted to Noah's sculptured wrist, which was slightly bent as he cradled the bones. This made the muscles in his forearm stand out. Eve shifted in her chair, and Noah's piercing dark brown eyes caught her, daring her to look directly at him. She avoided the challenge. Her focus was shot. She took a sip of wine, which didn't help her concentration. Twice, she forgot which domino was the spinner, or the lead domino. Ebony and Yoshi looked at her strangely and exchanged knowing glances.
When it was Noah's turn, he delayed, thinking about his options. At least that was what Eve assumed. Again her eyes rested on his fingers. His thumb seemed to be caressing the top of his bones. She felt powerless to stop her eyes from following that beautifully toned forearm up to his broad shoulder. There, the collar of his shirt circled his sleek, muscled neck. Her eyes halted their journey. She felt his knowing gaze, and knew she'd been caught once more. A hasty glance at his laughing eyes confirmed her suspicions.
Embarrassment flowed through her. She sipped her wine.
"Would you like more?" the rich, smooth voice asked. Eve glanced up to see him pointing at her glass. "I'd be happy to fill it for you." Eve disregarded the possible double meaning his words invoked.
"No, thank you." She looked at the wall behind his head.
She vowed not to look directly at him again. Her reaction to him was completely foreign to Eve. She'd never felt so drawn to someone before, and the fact that he knew it, humiliated her. So instead of looking at his face, she looked above him or at his chest when she had to look his way. Exactly how they won three out of five games was a mystery to Eve. Noah must have played well. Maybe there was a full moon making the bones fall right. Eve was in the twilight zone. Her ability to focus had vanished and was replaced by an unsettling disorientation. Her mind kept creating excuses to justify the unexplainable, completely irrational attraction she felt.
The night couldn't end soon enough for Eve. Finally, it was time to leave, and Ebony handed Eve her purse and coat, which she'd retrieved from the closet. Eve was turning to go when Noah's voice stopped her.
"See you next week, Eve. I've enjoyed playing with you."
Again his tone suggested a double meaning. Eve's eyes flew to him. She expected the same teasing look she'd seen before; instead, his expression was serious and warm. Their eyes held. She was mesmerized, caught up in some weird vibe that she didn't understand. He melted her with his eyes, softening her up before he ran her over with his next question.
"Let's go to dinner?"
She knew he wasn't talking about the two of them. "Well, we haven't won ten games yet."
"No, just you and me." He leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table.
"What!" Eve dropped her purse. The contents spilled on the floor. Aghast, she rushed to pick them up. Ebony helped her. Noah also stood to help, but by the time he rounded the corner of the table, the two women were done. He bent to help Eve stand up, his hand at her elbow. Yoshi sat in his chair, taking pleasure in the show. It wasn't every day that the infallible Eve lost her composure.
With his hand lightly touching the back of her arm, Noah asked again, "I said come to dinner with me. I know a great Mexican restaurant that serves the best fajitas."
Eve moved away from his hand. She stalled, putting on her coat and adjusting the purse strap on her shoulder.
Yoshi laughed, and Ebony chastised, "Stop, Noah. You're embarrassing her."
Eve's eyes shifted from Ebony to Yoshi before she confronted the one she wanted to avoid. "No." She emphasized by shaking her head.
"Why not?" He sounded genuinely puzzled.
Many reasons ran through her head: because you're a player, a womanizer, I'm a widow, a mother, I have standing in the community, and I have self-respect. She became the ice queen that made defense attorneys think twice about their position and answered, "Because I don't want to. I think that's reason enough."
Noah felt the frost. He stared at her blankly. This clearly wasn't the answer or reaction he expected.
"I'll be damned," Yoshi said. His voice broke the connection between Eve and Noah. "There is someone who can resist your charms, Noah." Then he started giggling like a kid. Ebony tried to resist, but she couldn't, and she joined her husband in laughter. Yoshi massaged his side and wiped tears from his eyes.
Eve's heart started to pound, booming all around her and bouncing off the walls, reverberating at her. She wanted to sink into the floor. Instead, she rushed to the front door.
"Well, if you won't go out with me, at least let me walk you to your car." He had to walk fast because Eve was already leaving. At the car, he said, "I didn't mean to embarrass you."
Eve was so happy to be escaping and so shocked that she just nodded her head and got into the car and drove away. The dazed feeling stayed with her most of the way home. She was zombie-like; her reactions were so sluggish that she felt like she was drunk with embarrassment. It didn't last long. By the time she got home, her movements were stiff and jerky from anger. The heat coursed through her veins, burning off the lethargy. Her mother had been living with her since the accident, and Eve was relieved that both her mother and her son were asleep when she got there because she didn't want to explain her attitude.
She quietly entered the house and immediately took off her black flats. She placed the shoes inside the hall closet, which was right beside the front door. In stocking feet, Eve made her way upstairs where maternal instincts guided her to the bedroom across from hers. She carefully opened the door and smiled. The anger she felt toward Noah was replaced with a strong surge of love as she looked at her fourteen-year-old son sleeping so soundly. He looked just like his father, except that his hair was darker. Eve pushed back the ache and focused on her son. "Sean, you've always been a wild sleeper," she murmured to him. His boxers exposed most of his skinny frame, as he lay sprawled across the bed on his back. No matter how well the bed was made, it was a complete disaster of untucked, disarrayed sheets by the morning. When he was young, she would put him in a T-shirt, socks, and a zip-up sleeper because she was so worried he would catch a cold during the damp winter.
Eve leaned over and whispered a kiss across his forehead. He stirred a little and rubbed the spot where her lips touched. Eve chuckled. Once Sean turned eight, he declared he was too old for kisses. Eve's opportunities came few and far between. She wasn't surprised he wiped her peck away even in his sleep. Eve retrieved the sheets and blanket from the floor, and placed them gently across his body before leaving the room.
Eve went into her own room and quickly performed her nighttime rituals. After her teeth and face were clean, she donned a blue satin nightgown that hit her mid-thigh and slid beneath the covers. She couldn't believe the audacity of that man, asking her out like that. The anger began to build again once she realized she was offended yet strangely flattered by his offer. This pissed her off more because she knew his interest was momentary at best. She was a mother and way too practical for any one-night-stand nonsense with a player sowing his oats.
How could she be mad and attracted simultaneously? She took deep breaths and tried to imagine Todd's face to calm herself and make her forget that irritating man. The two men looked completely different. Todd had been tall and lanky with skin that was a light golden color reminiscent of the wheat fields that dominated the eastern part of Washington State. The Cascade mountain range divided Washington, leaving the west moist and green and the east dry and tan. Seattle, where Eve grew up, was on the western side, but as a child, her family often traveled to the eastern side of the state. Even would look at the endless miles of long, tall wheat stalks blowing in the wind and think they were so radiant and elegant. The swaying stalks were hypnotic and watching them usually lulled Eve to sleep. Even Todd's hair had been a beautiful sandy color, instead of black or dark brown. She thought Todd was of mixed heritage when she first met him. In time, she discovered that both of his parents were black; they were just light skinned.
Excerpted from Eve's Prescription by Edwina Martin-Arnold. Copyright © 2000 by Edwina Martin-Arnold. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.