Read an Excerpt
The Last Woman Standing
By Tia McCollors, Suzette Dinwiddie
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2009 Tia McCollors
All rights reserved.
Anything worth having is worth fighting for. And you need to decide if you're going to fight for your man."
Sheila Rushmore's best friend, Cassandra, barked the words almost like it was an ultimatum. Sheila agreed with her. Sort of. The problem was that Sheila wasn't sure who or what she was fighting with. Ace had been her man for the last two years. They'd never had a problem. Nothing more than the disagreements and miscommunication that an average couple would have anyway. Until now.
He said nothing was wrong. But womanly instincts told Sheila that Ace was pulling away. There was something building a dividing wall between them. Slowly, brick by brick. When they were together lately, his thoughts seemed afar off instead of on her like they used to be. Something—or someone—was keeping him from the ultimate commitment that Sheila wanted—marriage.
Sheila was more than ready to jump the broom over into marital bliss. After two years of enjoying Ace all to herself, she'd start trying to have a child. Right now, Ace said that he was perfectly content with the two teenage daughters he already had. Of course, Sheila believed, that would change once they were joined in holy matrimony. As long as she was pregnant by the time she reached the defined high-risk pregnancy age of thirty-five, things would be great.
Something in Sheila's gut had always told her she'd have a son. She'd raise him to be a responsible, God-fearing man like Ace, not the good-for-nothing man like her older brother had become. The more Sheila thought about it, maybe she would hold off having a child just in case it brought more pain than joy. Her brother's lifestyle had etched wrinkles across her mother's face long before it was time. Having a child could be postponed, but a husband was another thing.
Sheila turned up the temperature on her ceramic curling iron. "That would make sense if I knew what I was fighting," she told Cassandra, who had turned her attention to Sheila's armoire. Sheila parted her hair into small sections. Ace would be arriving before she knew it, and she wanted to look like a flawless diamond amidst a rack of costume jewelry.
Cassandra slid a gold bangle on her arm and twirled it around her wrist. Both of the women's cheap jewelry had been tossed out when they decided to step up their game. No more living by the mantra "fake it 'til you make it." It had become "do whatever you need to do to get it."
Except when it came to one thing. The diamond engagement ring. As far as Sheila was concerned, she should've had a rock on her ring finger by now. She was smart, educated, and didn't have three kids hanging on her dress hem to drive Ace away. She wasn't a missionary, but she wasn't a downright heathen either. Her motto was the same as what the old folks used to say: "God ain't through with me yet." At least she was trying.
Sheila wrapped her jet-black tresses around the barrel of the curling iron. Ace loved her hair when it was full and bouncy, like on the hair-care-product ads in Essence magazine. If there was one thing Sheila knew, Ace could never complain that she didn't keep herself up. Even before their relationship, she prided herself in being meticulous about her looks—arched eyebrows, manicured nails, regular facials, her amber skin conditioned daily with cocoa butter and regular exfoliation.
Sheila's maxed-out credit cards and her checking account that teetered on empty between paychecks probably told a little too much about how much she liked to take care of herself. But Sheila worked hard, and she believed in pampering herself. Ace appreciated it too, and every now and then, he treated her to a day at the spa. That was another good thing about Ace. He wasn't stingy with his wallet.
She'd spotted him sitting alone at the bar in one of the restaurants in Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson Airport. She slid up on the stool beside him and waited patiently until he looked up from the newspaper he was reading. When their eyes locked, Sheila knew she'd already reeled him in. By the end of his forty-five-minute layover, he'd left enough money for the Sprite he was nursing as well as for her meal. Sheila gave him her home and cell numbers on the back of her business card before he put on his pilot's hat and walked down past the gates in terminal A.
It had taken Ace two weeks, but he'd finally called. The rest was history. And now, Sheila was concerned about their future.
Sheila swept a comb through her hair and picked up her hand mirror. "Me and Ace are going to be okay. I've been praying about it, and ..."
"Praying about it?" Cassandra nearly choked on the bottled water she had turned up to her mouth. "Sister, open your eyes. A woman's gut feeling is rarely wrong. You need to find out who the contender is so you can be prepared to take her out. Two years is too long to walk away without the championship belt."
"But I don't have proof of anything," Sheila said. "He just seems distracted. That's all."
Cassandra blew out a sigh of frustration. "If you've learned anything about men in your thirty-two years on this earth, you should've learned this. Men are only distracted by two things. Women. And more women." Cassandra tossed this week's weave over her shoulder. "But you're a grown woman. Do what you want to do. But if I were you, I'd use my faith and some common sense."
Cassandra had a good point, Sheila thought, as she watched her friend abandon the jewelry armoire and rummage through her walk-in closet. If Cassandra didn't know anything else, she almost had the psyche of men figured out. If Cassandra even smelled a hint of deception with one of the men she was dating, she unleashed her private-investigator skills. She was a pro at catching her men in compromising situations. The kind where they could do nothing but confess their wrongdoings and beg for Cassandra's forgiveness. But she never took them back. Ever. Cassandra went on to the next man waiting in line.
That person right now was Hinton, a man she'd met at an after-work mixer one Thursday night. And though Cassandra didn't believe in dating more than one man at a time, there was always a well-to-do man on the back burner.
But for Sheila, there wasn't anyone else, nor did she want there to be.
"Here." Cassandra came out of the closet and tossed a red, low-cut dress on Sheila's bed. The tags were still on it. "Wear this."
Sheila picked up the dress and hung it back in the closet. Until she looked at the tags, she didn't remember that she'd forked over almost three hundred dollars for a dress that only had about fifty dollars worth of fabric.
"I'm wearing what I have on," Sheila said, pushing back the closet door so she could look in the mirror hanging on the inside of it. "Black is always sexy and I don't want to overdo it."
Cassandra took the red dress back out of the closet. She draped it across her curvy silhouette and stepped in front of Sheila. "There's no such thing as overdoing it."
Sheila retreated to the bed and slid on her pointed toe pumps. "I'm officially ignoring you now. I need to get ready," she said, fastening a gold pendant cross around her neck. She didn't plan on using a dress to lure Ace. She just needed to use her feminine power in another way. Find out what was really bothering him and tend to his needs. She always wanted to be the one Ace ran to when he needed a place to lay his head.
Cassandra interrupted her thoughts. "Since I'm being ignored, I'm leaving," she said, picking up her Coach purse—the one she'd convinced Sheila to give her after she'd borrowed it for a date with Hinton. "And if you're not going to use this dress for its intended purpose, it's going with me. Hinton invited me to a birthday party of one of his coworkers next week. I'm sure it'll be a bunch of investment bankers and their stiff wives. This dress will bring a little excitement to the night."
Sheila walked Cassandra to the door of her high-rise apartment, lighting a few of her candles along the way. She wanted romance to welcome Ace at the door. After being with his teenage daughters all weekend, he'd appreciate some time to relax before they left for dinner.
"Candles won't help you keep a man," Cassandra said. "You've got to do better than that."
Cassandra opened the coat closet and pulled out her leather jacket and a folded shopping bag. "I'm just saying. Are y'all still on that celibate kick? That's probably what's wrong with him. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that a man has needs. God made them that way."
"Bye, Cassandra. And don't worry about what goes on behind our closed doors. Ace isn't going anywhere." Sheila said it more to convince herself.
"As long as you have a plan." Cassandra saluted her friend then turned and marched down the hall like there was a crowd of admirers watching her exit. She didn't bother to stop when she looked back over her shoulder and said, "Call me when you're ready to go to war."CHAPTER 2
Lynette Bowers had no intention of falling in love with her ex-husband. Not four years ago after the final divorce papers were signed, not two years ago when he started dating again. And definitely not now. So why was her heart feeling like it did seventeen years ago when she first realized he was "the one"?
Back then, Lynette was a free-spirited Spelman College junior and Scott "Ace" Bowers was the level-headed Morehouse senior whose effortless charm had swept her off of her feet. First came love, then came marriage, then came two little girls in the baby carriage. But Lynette didn't expect the part of the story where the Mama and Daddy got too busy for each other because of their careers, and they kept butting heads about almost everything, especially how to raise their children. She didn't remember the verse where the parents decided they'd be happier apart than they were together, and their daughters would be added to the statistics of children being raised in a single-parent household. First came love, then came divorce.
From the chaise lounge in her living room, Lynette watched Ace's black BMW slink against the curb like a prowling black panther. No, this was not love Lynette was experiencing now, she decided. This was temporary insanity.
"I've got to do something about this," Lynette said to herself. Either it was PMS or some other hormonal imbalance. Either way, she was thankful there was medication for both.
Ace had recently traded in his practical Volvo sedan for a sportier car that screamed midlife crisis, even though Lynette thought he was at least ten years away from that episode in a man's life.
As always, Ace never parked in the driveway when he picked up or dropped off their daughters, Carmen and Jada. Maybe it was an attempt to respect her personal space in some way. Lynette had never asked. Whatever the reason, it was probably also why he rarely stepped past the front foyer or the formal living room of her home. The same place that was once their home.
Since the day they'd decided Ace should move out, Lynette could count on one hand the number of times he'd sat at the kitchen table. And she only needed two fingers to count the other men—besides family—who'd sat there. She was particular about any man she brought into her home, especially because of her girls.
Lynette marked the page of her romance novel with a faded Nordstrom's receipt, then lifted the pinewood tray from her lap and onto the end table. She carefully balanced the meal that had become one of her favorites since kindergarten—a grilled cheese sandwich and a hot bowl of tomato soup. She had barely opened the front door when Carmen rushed in with a cell phone plastered to her ear. Lynette could tell from the excited chatter that the self-proclaimed fashionista had racked up on the latest clothing trends, all at the expense of her father's wallet. Although the private Christian academy the girls attended required uniforms, Friday's attire was left to tasteful outfits at the students'—and parents'—discretion. On that one day each week, Carmen made it her personal goal to be the most fashionable.
Lynette's sixteen-year-old paused long enough to turn around and yell back down to the end of the driveway. Despite the early March chill hanging in the air, Ace and their younger, Jada, were taking their time getting overnight bags out of the trunk.
"Bye, Daddy ... love you ... thank you for my birthday presents ... I'll call you later." Carmen ran her words together like punctuation didn't exist.
Lynette held up a hand to stop Carmen's rush to get upstairs and disappear into her bedroom. "Have I become invisible over the last few days?"
"Hey, Ma. I'll be back down in a little while to show you my stuff," Carmen said.
"Hey, baby," Lynette said, kissing her elder daughter's cheek. "I'll be waiting."
By the names on the plastic and paper shopping bags looped around her arms, Lynette could see that Carmen had persuaded her father to go to the Lenox Square and Phipps Plaza malls. Better Ace's pocket than hers. He'd always had a hard time saying no to them as it was.
Carmen and Jada had their father strung out between both of their pinkie fingers. Carmen could squeeze out his last dime if necessary, and Jada's athletic ability made up for the fact that Ace didn't get the son he'd once hoped for. She guessed it was still a possibility for him though.
While Lynette had no one, Ace had Sheila. From what Lynette had seen, Sheila was attractive. And from what she could remember, she was a corporate recruiter and about eight years younger than Ace. Sheila had just come into the thirties, and Lynette was close to heading out of them. The odds were in Sheila's favor.
But that didn't matter anyway, Lynette told herself. That was the last thing she needed to be thinking about. Her marriage was history.
"You guys hurry up," Lynette yelled outside. "You're letting all of the heat out of my house." She chuckled at what she said. It was evidence that she was getting older. Her grandmother would've said the same thing. Before she died, Grandma Rosa Mae claimed Ace as her grandson. If he even so much as thought about one of her chicken pies with the homemade golden crust, she'd have one waiting for him when he returned home from flying. If Grandma Rosa Mae had been alive when they were going through their divorce, she would've been devastated. In her eyes Ace could do no wrong, but at the time Lynette could've given her an endless list of why he was failing as a husband. In retrospect, most of the things that seemed so big, now didn't matter individually. It was when all of the infractions were heaped together that their molehill of problems became a mountain.
None of that had mattered to Grandma Rosa Mae. With God's help, she thought, anything and everything could be fixed. Including Ace.
Ace. That fine piece of man coming up my driveway, Lynette thought. Forget wanting to read. She'd been alone at home all weekend. Maybe Ace would want to sit and talk a while. Talk was about the only thing she was allowed to do anyway. That is, if she wanted to "do it right." She'd had four years of "doing it right." You could've never told her that she'd be walking down a road of celibacy again. It was getting hard. Real hard.
Stop it, Lynette. Just stop thinking about it.
Ace and Lynette weren't the typical ex-spouses. They'd remained friends even after the divorce, yet had detached themselves emotionally from their romantic love. They still cared for each other—but were only friends. It wasn't until about three months ago that Lynette started looking at Ace through a different set of eyes.
She'd been having one of those nights. The kind of night when she thought about the possibility of being single forever and surviving the empty nest once the girls were off to college. She prayed—nearly begged—to God for a husband that she could be friends with like she'd been with Ace when their love was fresh and untainted. Before selfishness and disagreements shook them apart. The next morning after that prayer she'd seen Ace, and that's when the feelings for Ace begin to push their way into her heart again. Didn't God know that Ace wasn't supposed to be the answer to her prayer? He couldn't be.
Because there was Sheila.CHAPTER 3
Ace walked inside and took off the cap covering his low tapered cut. His face, however, was scruffy, and at least four days' worth of stubble sprouted across his chin and jawline. He'd let his facial hair grow in over the last few days, but Lynette knew he'd have to shave by morning.
"Lynn?" Ace said it like he'd had to repeat himself several times to snap her out of her daydreaming. He was the only one who she allowed to shorten her name. Lynn. Once in a blue moon, Lynnie.
"Hmm? Hey, Ace," Lynette finally said. "Sorry. Had something on my mind."
Excerpted from The Last Woman Standing by Tia McCollors, Suzette Dinwiddie. Copyright © 2009 Tia McCollors. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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