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Opal Lockhart glanced around the crowded backyard and smiled at the many family, friends and invited guests she saw. There was nothing like an annual family reunion to bring everyone together. This one seemed even better than the last, because she and her sisters had a lot to celebrate.
First, she had a new job she loved, although things would be better if her boss didn't have such surly behavior most of the time. Her sister Pearl, who at twenty-five was two years younger than Opal, had sent her new demo tapes to several gospel labels all over the country. And then there was her eldest sister, Ruby, twenty-nine, who had gotten a superior rating on her most recent job-performance evaluation. That would definitely keep Ruby first in line for a promotion with her present employer. Everyone knew how important moving up the corporate ladder of success was to Ruby.
But the biggest blessing of all, as far as Opal and her other two sisters were concerned, was that their twenty-one-year-old baby sister, Amber, had finished another year in college, which she was attending part-time, and had set a record by not changing boyfriends more than three times since the last reunion.
She smiled as she glanced over at Amber, but her smile quickly turned to a frown when she saw her youngest sister openly flirting with several of the male guests, most of them from the family's church. Opal glanced over at Ruby, who met her gaze and nodded, indicating she, too, was aware of Amber's outlandish behavior.
Opal was about to go have a word with her sister when her cell phone vibrated in the back pocket of her shorts. She quickly pulled it out, and her frown deepened when she saw the caller was her boss. Why on earth would he be contacting her on a Saturday?
She moved to an area of the patio away from the noise-mainly the heated discussion going on between her sister Pearl and Reverend Wade Kendrick regarding the woman's role in a Christian household. Reverend Kendrick, who was only twenty-eight, was their church's new minister. A former "gangsta," he had found faith when he had overcome a personal tragedy.
Opal was thoroughly impressed with him and thought he was a dynamic speaker. Already the congregation had increased tremendously since he'd arrived. And because he was a rather handsome single man, a lot of the unwed female church members were vying for his attention. At least, everyone but Pearl was. It seemed she and Reverend Kendrick butted heads on just about every topic.
Opal slipped onto an empty bench and flipped open the phone. "Hello."
"Ms. Lockhart, this is D'marcus Armstrong. I hate bothering you at home but something of importance has come up and I need you to meet me at the office in thirty minutes."
Opal glanced at her watch. "Mr. Armstrong, my sisters and I are hosting our family reunion and-"
"I regret the interruption but I do need you at the office, otherwise I wouldn't be calling." His tone indicated there would be no discussion on the matter. "You should be able to return to your family function within the hour."
Opal sighed. Now was not the time to make waves with her boss. This was her last semester at the university in her quest for a business management degree, and her employment at Sports Unlimited was part of her internship. She even planned to stay with the company after graduation and take advantage of the good benefits and the potential for advancement.
Having no choice, she replied, "All right. I'll be there in thirty minutes." Disappointed, she clicked off the phone.
"Don't tell us you're leaving."
Opal turned around and saw her sisters Ruby and Pearl standing behind her. At least Pearl was no longer debating issues with the new minister. Before her cell phone had gone off, being the diplomat in the family, Opal had thought about intervening in the heated discussion to smooth a few feathers that appeared to be getting ruffled.
She met Ruby's gaze and said, "Yes, I'm leaving but just for a little while. Something has come up at the office."
"And why didn't you tell that boss of yours that you don't work on Saturdays?" Ruby said, a little miffed. "I swear, that man is a tyrant."
Opal couldn't help but smile as she stood up. "Really, Ruby, D'marcus isn't that bad. He has a business to run and wants to continue its success. All those extra hours I work are justified. I am his administrative assistant, so he depends on me a lot. Besides, I can certainly use the money if I plan on moving to another apartment complex."
"The tenants around your apartment are still partying every night?" Pearl asked.
"Yes, and the landlord acts as if there's nothing he can do. I had hoped the situation would get better, but it hasn't. My building has become known as the party building."
Pearl smiled. "Umm, maybe I ought to move in when you move out. There's nothing like a good party every now and then."
Opal shook her head. Good at heart, Pearl enjoyed giving the impression that she was a wild child, but Opal knew better. Her sister's party-girl ways were just a facade. Opal had a feeling that, in reality, Pearl was someone still trying to find her purpose in life. More than anything, Opal hoped things worked out for Pearl with those demo tapes she had sent out.
"I can handle a good party every now and then," Opal decided to say. "But there are limits to one's tolerance and endurance."
"Things really must be out of hand if you're complaining," Pearl said. "Everyone knows you rarely complain about anything. You just roll with the flow."
Opal couldn't help but smile. It was a known fact that of the four Lockhart sisters, she was the hopeless optimist. No matter what the problem, she believed the result would end up positive.
She then thought of the problem she had detected before answering her phone. "Did you say anything to Amber about her behavior?" she asked Ruby.
Ruby shook her head. "Are you kidding? And have her not speak to me again for weeks? No, I didn't say anything to her, but I did ask Luther to say something. She usually listens to him."
Opal nodded. Luther Biggens, whom they had designated as cook for the day, was a family friend. His father and theirs had been the best of buddies when the two had been alive. A military man, Luther had left the navy SEALs after suffering a disabling leg injury. Now he managed his family's very profitable chain of mega automobile dealerships.
"I hope she listens to him," Pearl said glancing out across the yard. "I don't think Megan Townsend appreciates Amber flirting with her fiance."
Opal sighed. "Well, let me go. I won't have time to go home and change so I'm going to have to wear what I have on," she said, glancing down at the shorts and T-shirt she was wearing.
"You look fine," Pearl said. "Besides, it will do D'marcus Armstrong good to see you in something other than a business suit. Maybe now he'll take a notice to you. You have great-looking legs, so you might as well flaunt them."
Opal rolled her eyes. "I don't want him to notice me.
I just want him to pay me well for the job that I do and give me a good evaluation at the end of my internship."
"Hey, if I were you I would want him to notice me," Pearl said chuckling. "The man might be a tyrant, but he's definitely a hunk, and a rich one. Tall, dark and handsome are the things dreams are made of. If I were you-
"But you aren't me," Opal said, laughing. "Just make sure our family and guests continue to have a good time. Let everyone know I had to leave for a while, but I'll be back in an hour."
"If you're not, just make sure Mr. Armstrong knows your sisters plan on coming over there to get you," Ruby said.
Opal returned her grin. "Okay, I'll make sure he's aware of it. I'm sure the last thing he wants is the Lockhart sisters showing up causing problems. I'll be back later." She dashed inside the house to get her purse.
D'marcus Armstrong stood at the window of his office on the fifteenth floor and looked down into the parking lot below. His administrative assistant was arriving and she'd made good time. He had asked the ever-efficient Opal Lockhart to be there in thirty minutes and she had arrived in twenty.
He watched as she got out of her car and began walking toward the entrance of the building. He had told her he needed her services right away so the only sensible solution to meet his demand was to come dressed as she was.
And much to his displeasure, he rather liked it. He didn't want to admit that he'd often wondered what she looked like in something other than those business suits she liked wearing. It was plain to see she had a very curvy figure in addition to her attractive features. But she was not one to flaunt them. Instead, she kept trying to keep them well hidden. Her shoulder-length hair was usually worn pulled back in a bun and her face, more times than not, was devoid of any makeup. However, there was something about her that always managed to catch his attention anyway. Even the way she would arch her brow when she questioned him.
He released a deep breath trying to recall at what point he had become attracted to Opal. Lord knows he'd tried not to notice certain things about her, but nothing seemed to work. So he'd tried putting as much distance between them as possible, which wasn't easy given the nature of her job.
He continued studying her, watching as she tossed her hair back from her face, and he suddenly realized this was only the second time he'd seen her hair worn in any style other than a bun on her head. He didn't want to admit that even from fifteen stories up, she looked good.
"Hey, I'm tired of waiting for this meeting to begin."
At first D'marcus refused to turn around to acknowledge the comment that had been made. Dashuan Kennedy was trouble. He'd known it from the first, yet his partners had insisted that they hire him to play for the Detroit Chargers, the professional basketball team of which D'marcus was part owner.
"Armstrong, are you listening to me?"
It was then that D'marcus turned around. Skimming the other two men in the room, his partners in the ownership of the Chargers, his gaze immediately settled on the man reclining in the largest chair as though he owned it. "To be quite honest with you, Kennedy, no, I'm not listening to you. But it will behoove you to listen to what the other owners and I have to say once this meeting is underway. Since you've been sidelined by your knee injury, you have done nothing but cause us problems, and, frankly, I'm within an inch of giving you your walking papers."
Kennedy stared back at him, and a cocky smile touched his lips when he said, "That's bullshit and you know it. You can't afford to let me go. Have you forgotten who was the MVP for most of last season? If you have, Armstrong, I'm sure these two men here remember." He smirked, indicating the team's other owners, Ronald Williams and Stanley Hennessy.
"That might be true," D'marcus replied. "But I'm sure, like me, they feel you can take that MVP and shove it, because we're sick and tired of having to defend your behavior to the media. This time you have gone too far. Drugs and breaking team rules are two things that we won't tolerate even if you're Michael Jordan reincarnated."
The smirk on Dashuan's face disappeared. "When my ankle heals and I start playing this season, you'll know that I am the team and, without me, you can kiss the championship goodbye. Like I said, I'm sure these men know my worth, even if you don't."
Anger rose in D'marcus's face. Evidently Kennedy had forgotten that D'marcus owned the controlling interest in the Chargers. He decided he'd heard enough from a player who didn't know the meaning of teamwork. He was about to tell him that just as Opal walked into the room. Upon seeing her, an inexplicable calmness settled over him. Not liking the sensation, he shifted his glance to the two men sitting at the table.
"We can start the meeting now," he said, coming away from the window to stand in the middle of the room. "My administrative assistant has arrived."
Trying to focus on the meeting to make sure her notes documented the entire proceedings, Opal stared down at her notepad. She hadn't been surprised when she'd walked in to see bad boy Dashuan Kennedy being taken to task by D'marcus. This wasn't the first time Kennedy had gotten into trouble and she had a feeling it wouldn't be the last.
She glanced up just as the sun shining through the window hit D'marcus at an angle that highlighted his looks. At the age of thirty he was a self-made millionaire who, in addition to being part owner of the Chargers, was CEO of Sports Unlimited, which was a conglomeration of sport franchises.
As she stared at him, she had to admit that Pearl had been right in what she'd said earlier that day. D'marcus was a hunk. At six foot two, he had medium-brown skin, dark eyes, a clean-shaven face and short-cropped brown hair. Heads turned whenever he walked near women. And she was no exception. For no reason, he could make heated sensations flow through her whenever she was in a room with him.
The majority of the time he barely noticed she was alive, going about the job of making his company successful. Unfortunately, she was always quick to notice him-how well the clothes he wore fitted his body, how muscular and toned that particular body was, how the deep, husky sound of his voice could make her think of things other than business.
Even now, dressed in a polo shirt and a pair ofjeans, he looked good, and she noticed as he moved around the room how the denim of his jeans stretched across muscular thighs and a firm butt. He also had a pair of lips that were very expressive. During the three months that she'd been working for him, she'd been able to decipher his mood just from watching his lips. And they were lips that were now moving again, she noted as she turned her concentration back on what he was saying.
"I think that should wrap things up as far as what we'll say during the press conference," D'marcus concluded. "And I hope you understand, Kennedy, that if you cause us any more problems, you run the risk of ending your career with this organization. Understood?"
Opal watched as Kennedy narrowed his eyes. It was plain to see D'marcus had pissed him off.
"Yeah, I understand," he responded in a clipped tone as he stood.
"Fine. We expect you at each practice session and preseason game regardless of whether you play," D'marcus added, his expression tight and his tone of voice direct.
"Whatever," Dashuan angrily threw over his shoulder as he left the room.
It was Opal's opinion that D'marcus had handled the situation remarkably well, but then she wasn't surprised. As his administrative assistant, she had seen him in action several times with both domestic and overseas buyers, and it always amazed her how astute he was in his business dealings.
"I appreciate you coming, Ms. Lockhart. I know it was unexpected."