Read an Excerpt
By NIOBIA BRYANT
DAFINA BOOKSCopyright © 2012 Niobia Bryant
All right reserved.
Chapter OneFunerals were all about saying good-bye.
Most times it was a necessary part of seeking and receiving closure. Of course, the ending of a life for the deceased, but also the closing of a chapter—or, in some cases, a book—for those grieving. Closure.
And although she knew that it was quite scandalous and bold for her to be there, Jessa Bell felt like she needed to see Eric's body in that casket. Because of him, that day could have also been the day people came to either wish her well into heaven or curse her straight to hell. She needed the closure.
And no one was going to stop her from getting it. No one.
Eric was dead.
No one but God or Satan could have him now. Not her and not Jaime.
Jessa released a shaky breath. When she thought about their friendship, she missed him. When she thought about their lovemaking, she could almost forgive him. When she thought about him choking the life from her body with his eyes filled with rage, she wanted to see him slam-dunked straight into hell.
She still couldn't believe she never saw the craziness inside of him. He had always been the steady one. The reliable one. Even when she couldn't depend on her husband, Marc, because he traveled frequently for business, she knew she could call on Eric.
And after Marc's sudden death from a motorcycle accident, her friend had been her rock. And that had nothing to do with sex and love. All of that came later—unexpectedly, but satisfyingly. As if it was meant to be from the very beginning and they just didn't know it.
If I knew it all would end like this, I never would have crossed that line. Jessa squinted her eyes as she looked at the crowded parking lot of the church and then turned her head to take in the small group of news reporters standing outside the fence with cameras rolling.
The murder-suicide attempt had rocked the small affluent town and dominated the news for the last week. Every detail. Every flawed facet. All of it. Even down to the message she sent to her three friends taunting them all about running away with one of their husbands.
There was nothing the news media hadn't dug up from her Richmond Hills neighbors—and her ex-friends—and then spread like manure. Her name and image had been splattered all over the newspapers, Internet, and television.
Thank God they have a good picture of me.
With one last breath, Jessa slid on her oversized designer shades before opening the door to her cherry red Jaguar to climb out, smoothing the severe cut of the pencil skirt she wore with a sheer black blouse with long balloon sleeves and a mandarin collar. It was the end of summer, but the temperature was still in the mid-eighties. She suffered the heat with the collar of her blouse to cover the bruises that had darkened to an ugly purplish color.
Pushing her jet-black hair behind her ear, Jessa made her way toward the church on her five-inch heels, tucking her clutch under her arm. She felt some fear and anxiety as she neared the small crowd of people slowly entering the church.
This was a bold and brazen move. She knew that. But there was no turning back. There was no need for shame. Everyone knew. Everyone judged. But still she had to live. There was no need to hide.
I am a victim in all this.
Still, she was thankful that everyone was focused forward and didn't even notice her coming up on them.
"Excuse me, Ms. Bell. Ms. Bell!"
Jessa stiffened as the news reporter began calling out her name.
"That's her. I know it's her," another reporter said.
A few of the churchgoers turned and spotted her coming up the steps of the church. She notched her chin higher as their faces filled with disgust, confusion, anger, or pure curiosity.
As she neared them standing in the open double doors of the church, the men and women moved back from her, opening a gap between them as if she were Moses and they made up the Red Sea. There wasn't an available seat in the entire church, just standing room only. A murmur rose through the church that was distinguishable even above the solemn organ music playing.
Jessa's steps faltered a bit as every head in the church turned to eye her. She was glad for the dark shades she still wore as her eyes shifted about the church until they landed on the sight of Jaime jumping up from her seat on the front pew.
Here we go, Jessa sighed inwardly as Jaime made a step but was stopped by her father reaching up to grab her arm and then whispering something to her.
Jaime waved him off, pointing her finger at Jessa like it was a gun. "Are you kidding me, Jessa? Are you really this stupid or uncaring or unaware that you would show your face?"
A collective gasp went through the church at Jaime's angry words.
Jessa felt her own anger rise. The scene was uncalled for.
"The last thing I am is stupid, and these bruises on my neck keep me very aware of what happened to me!" she snapped, her eyes glittering like glass as she reached up to jerk the collar of her blouse down.
The mumblings around the church increased in sound and fervor.
"You deserve that and more!" Jaime roared. Renee and Aria came forward to wrap their arms around her.
"Ohhh, look at the besties consoling the grieving wife," Jessa taunted, wanting to hurt her. "If only she was truly grieving. Right, Jaime?"
Jaime lurched for her.
Suddenly, a strong male hand grabbed her arm and began dragging her out of the church. Bold, defiant, and feeling crucified, Jessa kept her eyes locked on the faces of her ex-friends even as she was escorted from the church and she felt the sweltering heat surround her like a wool blanket.
"Jessa, you knew better than to come here."
She looked up as the church doors were securely closed in her face. She was surprised to see Eric's father, Eric Sr., was the one to lead her out.
Jessa knew his parents well. They had even attended social functions at her house or she saw them at parties at Jaime and Eric's. She even imagined the days she would be their daughter-in-law.
Jessa nodded as she corrected her clothing. "I'm sorry that this whole ordeal ended in Eric's death. I just wanted to say good-bye to him, Mr. Hall. I honestly had no plans to say anything to anyone."
"Call me Eric," he said.
Jessa looked up in surprise at the warmth in his voice. She was a woman used to the ways and subtleties of a man and she recognized that tone. His desire and appreciation of her was evident. It both surprised and disturbed her.
As if I would really do a tag team on a father and son.
She arched a brow when the tall and silver-haired version of Eric tilted his head to the side to eye her legs.
What the hell? He's just as crazy as his son!
"Mr. Hall," Jessa said sharply.
He shifted his eyes up to meet hers.
"I'm sorry for the loss of your son and I apologize for the scene. Good-bye," she said, her voice stiff with indignation. She turned and walked away quickly on her heels.
Once Jessa reached her car and slid behind the wheel, she was glad to see that Eric Sr. had reentered the church. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply as she fought to calm her nerves, sooth her anger, and overcome her embarrassment.
"Oh Lord, help me to forgive Jaime," she prayed, squeezing her eyes shut as she raised her hands palms forward. "Help me to forgive her, and please forgive me for letting her push me to react to her, Lord. Amen, amen, amen, amen."
The chaplain at the hospital told her to turn to God and call on Him when she faced trials and tribulations. She definitely had felt the tribulations of being placed on trial as Jaime judged her.
"Ignorant ass," Jessa muttered.
"They trying me, Lord, they trying me," she said, pounding her fist on the steering wheel before she started her Jag and smoothly pulled out of her parking spot.
She saw the small press corps perk up as she neared the open gate. At first Jessa wished for any other way to get out and avoid them, but Jaime's accusations rung in her ears.
"You deserve that and more!"
More? Any more beyond being strangled into unconsciousness was death. Did Jaime, or even Renee and Aria, truly believe she deserved to die? Who else felt that way?
Jessa shook her head and tightened her grasp on the steering wheel until the brown skin over her knuckles stretched thin. She slowed her vehicle to a stop just outside the gate and opened her door. A microphone was immediately stuck in her face as she exited the car.
Jessa looked into the face of Maria Vargas, the local news reporter who was building her career on the back of Jessa's shame and near death. She reached up and pushed the microphone from being so close to her glossy mouth.
"Ms. Bell, I am Maria Vargas with WCBL—"
Jessa smoothly held up her hand to stop her. "Yes, Ms. Vargas, I'm very aware of who you are. I just want to make a brief statement because I believe the press—including you, Ms. Vargas—has played out the brutal attempt on my life as if it is fiction. As if my life and my feelings are not real," she said, reaching up to use one red-tipped finger to pull down the collar of her blouse. "These bruises are real. That night was real. I almost died. I made many mistakes. I am not a perfect woman, but I did nothing that was worthy of my death, and for people to say 'She brought this on herself' or 'You deserve that and more' is harsh and it's cruel. I was a mistress ... not a murderer."
Jessa turned and faced the camera. "I am a victim in this whole crazy story you all are salivating over like a silly soap opera. For all of you out there wishing death on another person—on me—I'll pray for you. God has already forgiven me."
Jessa's heart was pounding as she turned and opened her car door.
"Has Mrs. Hall forgiven you, Ms. Bell?"
"Ms. Bell, were you hoping to attend the funeral of your ex-lover?"
"Were you turned away from the funeral, Ms. Bell?"
"Ms. Bell ... Ms. Bell?"
Jessa ignored the rush of questions from the reporter and slammed her door shut, not caring if she took off a limb of one of the crew surrounding her car. She accelerated forward and pulled away, hating that her nerves and emotions still stirred inside her until she felt unsettled and unsure.
She hated that.
Jessa was a woman used to knowing—and getting—what she wanted. But her life had spiraled out of her control ever since she made the choice to have Eric as her man by any means necessary.
She thought of one of the Bible verses the hospital's chaplain gave her to read once she revealed all of her sins to him: "If there be a controversy between men, and they come unto judgment, that the judges may judge them; then they shall justify the righteous, and condemn the wicked."
Jessa had never been closely tied to church or religion, but she knew the basics, and that verse had scared her. She hadn't thought about pissing off God when she was fighting for her heart. She hadn't thought about anything but believing Eric, loving Eric, and above all, having Eric.
Be careful what you ask for.
Biting her bottom lip, Jessa released a heavy breath and steered her Jaguar toward the on-ramp for the Garden State Parkway. She used one hand to unbutton the collar of her blouse as she steered with the other.
She felt her face and chest heat in anger. That bitch threw me out the church! That. Bitch. Threw. Me. Out. The. Church.
Jessa pounded her tightly balled fist against the steering wheel. Her stomach clenched in anger as she thought of the press adding that footnote to the already sordid details of her story.
I shoulda stormed the church and slapped her fake ass so hard that she spun into that casket with her crazy ass husband.
But Jessa had other plans for the bougie bitch. She wanted to—no, she was going to—remind her ex-friend that Jessa Bell was one bitch not to play so closely.
As she slowed to a stop at a red light, she reached into her bag and pulled out her cell phone. Using a bright red-painted thumbnail, she scrolled through her saved text messages. She entered a message quickly and hit Send. Before she could count to five, her phone vibrated in her hand with a response. A smile spread across her face like butter melting in the summer sun.
She would teach Jaime a lesson and have a little no strings attached sex. Killing two birds with one stone suddenly made her very happy. Jessa pressed her back against the soft leather of the driver's seat before she eased her knees wider apart. The move caused the hem of her skirt to inch up her thighs. She eased her hand up her thigh and raised her hips just enough to shift the lacy edge of her bikinis to the side to lightly stroke her clit as she laughed softly.
The sudden blare of a horn shook Jessa and she looked up to see a dusty white pickup truck parked beside her at the light and the white red-headed man looking down into her car. She raised her finger and sucked off the juices as she winked up at him just before she tooted her horn and accelerated forward, leaving him behind.
Dropping the cell phone onto the passenger seat, she felt a little of her anxiety eased. Just a little, though. She rode in silence, wishing she could erase the scenes replaying in her mind like an old-school record that skipped:
The first time her husband, Marc, had invited Eric over to the house when he moved into Richmond Hills. I honestly looked at him like a brother ... back then.
The moment that a look shared between them had changed everything between Jaime and Eric. When Jaime thought Eric and I weren't to be trusted she had been so wrong because that moment came years later and it surprised us both.
That first kiss they shared in Eric and Jaime's kitchen. Once we crossed the line, there was no turning back.
The first time they made love, said I love you, or planned to be together. It felt like we were made to be.
The moment she pressed Send on that text message to Aria, Renee, and Jaime. They had stopped being my friends long before that. All of them.
The moment she realized that Eric wasn't moving in with her, wasn't giving up his marriage, wasn't willing to make her his number one. His betrayal shattered me and I thought it couldn't get worse.
Eric had begun to stalk her. I am a grown woman and his insistence didn't fool me into thinking that was love. It was pure craziness.
And then the look in his eyes as Eric tried to kill her. Jessa shivered from that last memory as she reached up and lightly touched her neck. Thank you, God, for letting me live.
Jessa slowed her car as she neared the front gate of Richmond Hills. She slowed to a stop and lowered the window to enter her code into the keypad. The tall, black wrought-iron gate opened with ease and she drove forward, passing the glass-enclosed security booth and giving Lucky, the red-faced portly security guard, a brief head nod before she zoomed forward around the curve leading to the clean streets lined with beautiful, stately homes that were worth three quarters of a million. Mostly more.
From behind her shades she ignored how the few neighbors not attending the funeral eyed her vehicle as she passed them. Judging me, she thought, fighting the childish urge to flip their condescending asses the bird.
Instead, she forced herself to slow down and do a slow roll through the subdivision. She refused to speed through. She refused to hide.
It takes two to tango, and Eric was right there dancing with me. And once I ended the dance, he tried to kill me.
Jessa's lips twisted as she eyed the large silk black wreath hanging on the front door of Jaime's house. And it was Jaime's house now. Eric's suicide left her to play the role of the grieving suffering widow.
A bunch of bullshit. Jaime was as full of shit as a stopped-up commode. She probably had her trick, the stripper with the dick for sale, on speed dial for a "good-bye to her husband fuck" once the last guest left her house after the repast.
Jessa knew all about Pleasure. Once Eric discovered that his perfect wife had cheated on him with the sexy stripper, he had Jaime investigated by a private detective. Eric had been more than willing to lay up in Jessa's bed and share every sneaky-deaky detail of the investigator's report with her. And the detective earned every red penny of his three thousand dollars. He dug it all up, including Jaime's secret trips to that strip cub for years ... and the fact that the sexy Pleasure was serving up his dick at a price.
Excerpted from Mistress, Inc. by NIOBIA BRYANT Copyright © 2012 by Niobia Bryant. Excerpted by permission of DAFINA BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.