Read an Excerpt
"Come on, Naomi, live a little," Alexis said as they browsed the swimsuit selections in the Neiman Marcus department store. "Go for a bikini." She held up a fire-engine-red two-piece that was really no more than a few strings knotted together.
"You have got to be kidding!" Naomi sputtered, shoving the strings back at Alexis.
Alexis couldn't contain her laughter. "Girl, relax. I know that's not your style, but we're going on vacation. We won't know a soul. It wouldn't hurt for you to let that bun down and flaunt yourself a little bit. Maybe catch the eye of some fine island man." She winked. "'Cause that's what I plan to do." She rifled through the swimsuit rack.
"So I guess it's over between you and Gary."
Alexis waved her hand in dismissal. "Gary was much too boring. All he ever wanted to do was watch CNN. Can you imagine?"
"What's wrong with that? At least you know where he is and what he's doing," she said, her tone dipping down to that place she didn't want to go.
Alexis sighed and turned to her friend. She knew all too well where the bitterness stemmed from. "Nay, what Trevor did to you was despicable. And I hope he rots in hell for hurting you the way what he did. But it's been two years." She paused and took Naomi by the shoulders. "You need to let it go so that you can be okay, sweetie. All you do is work and you need more than that. Your life can be more than your students and grading papers and going to meetings."
Naomi pressed her lips together and looked at her friend. Alexis's soft features and inviting brown eyes were the pictures of concern. She knew Alexis was right. But she wasn't like Alexis. She couldn't bounce from one man to the next. She'd always been reserved and shy when it came to relationships. Sure, she'd enjoyed the attention of men just like any other heterosexual woman, but her conservative nature never really allowed her to "let go." Although she'd always been a workaholic and driven, and not the party type, when she'd met Trevor, a professor at Morehouse University during an educator's conference in D.C., a lot of that changed. He wooed her into opening that door that she'd always kept shut. She'd stepped out from behind her books and research papers to become a partner in a relationship. What a mistake. So when it was over she did what was familiar and comfortable: she buried herself in her work, only deeper this time.
Naomi's expression eased. She shook off the images of the past with a toss of her head. "I let you talk me into this trip, didn't I?" she teased, moving out of Alexis's hold as she reached for a swimsuit. She held up a one-piece lemon yellow suit with cutouts on the sides. She smiled triumphantly.
Alexis angled her head left then right. "Hmm. Okay. Not bad. Kinda cute."
"Gee thanks." She laughed lightly. Two years is a long time to be alone, she silently admitted as they continued shopping. But she'd rather be alone than to be hurt like that again. She was going on this trip because Alexis had all but twisted her arm and her relentless badgering finally broke her down. Hmm, two weeks on a sunny island was probably what she needed.
By the time Naomi returned home from their all-out shopping spree, her feet were on fire. She kicked off her shoes and her feet sighed in contentment. She flexed her toes. Alexis must have dragged her to every outlet in the mall— twice. She laughed lightly thinking about her friend. Alexis Montgomery was a piece of work, but she wouldn't trade her in for anything.
Naomi went upstairs to her bedroom. She loved her bedroom. It was her haven and she'd taken special care in decorating it. When she walked into her bedroom all the rest of the world disappeared.
The walls were a soft cream color and in opposite corners were floor to ceiling curios lined with first edition books. The bay window opened onto her backyard below and the garden that she tended with care. The cool walls held several pieces of African art that she'd purchased from a small gallery in Sag Harbor. The inlaid wood floors were only partially covered by an antique rug in cream and bronze.
But her bed was her centerpiece. Queen-size, four-poster with sheer draping that hung dramatically from the tops of the posts. She'd spent a fortune on her mattress that was like lying down in heaven. A matching six-dresser drawer, a double door armoire and a cozy club chair rounded out the furnishings. Small speakers were tucked into strategic spots to pipe in her music when the mood hit her. Recessed lighting offered the perfect ambiance for any time of the day or night. Plants, rather than drapes, hung in abundance in her windows, giving the room a sometimes tropical, but calming feel.
Naomi drew in a long breath of satisfaction and began to feel the aura of her room begin to work its magic. She dumped the bags on the bed and started unpacking them. As she viewed the brightly colored outfits, the strappy sandals and glittery jewelry and even a few purchases from Victoria's Secret, she grew more and more pleased and excited. A bubble of anticipation fluttered in her stomach, and she knew that with Alexis she was going to have a great time, like it or not!
She began taking tags off and sorting through the clothing when she noticed the flashing light on her phone. She walked around the queen-size bed to the end table and pressed the flashing message light.
The first call was obviously a wrong number as the caller was talking in a completely different language. The next was from her mortgage company reminding her that she was eligible for refinancing. The next call stopped her cold.
"Naomi. It's Trevor. I—"
She pressed Erase before she could hear another word. This was the third call from him in the past month and she'd erased all the other calls as well. How dare he, she fumed. She should have changed her number when they broke up but she never expected to hear from him again. She hadn't said anything to Alexis about the calls. But she definitely planned to talk with her about it while they were away—get her perspective.
She pressed the heel of her palm to her forehead and turned in a slow circle of frustration. She felt violated in a way, as crazy as that might sound. But his call invaded her one sanctuary.
"Aggggh!" She stomped over to her walk-in closet,pulled out her suitcase and began packing her clothes. At that moment she wished she was on her way to the airport, instead of the coming weekend. She shoved the clothes in the bag.
Yes, a trip with her best friend for two carefree weeks in Antigua was exactly what she needed.
Trevor Lloyd was more than a little disappointed that he'd been, once again, unable to reach Naomi. He'd tried several times by phone, left messages and she hadn't returned any of his calls.
He got up from the brown second-hand couch and walked to the window. The sun was beginning to set and in this muted light the blight on this urban neighbourhood was dulled. A far cry from the five bedroom, two-story Tudor he once owned.
Trevor shoved his hands into the pockets of his hand-tailored slacks—one of the few things he hadn't given up from his old life. He drew in a long breath.
How had he gotten here—two steps above bottom? He'd been a respected professor, an upstanding member of his community, a sought-out lecturer, financially secure and he'd had someone who'd loved him.
He turned away from the telltale reflection in the window. It was all gone now and he had no one to blame but himself. But he was back and determined to reclaim his place on all fronts and in Naomi Clarke's heart.
"Can I refill your drink, ma'am?"
Naomi peered above her dark sunglasses. A waiter stood above her balancing a silver-toned tray on his palm, his dark, shiny face in sharp contrast to his brilliant white jacket. She glanced to her right side. Her daiquiri glass was empty. She lifted it and pushed it toward the waiter. "Thank you, yes."
"Virgin again, ma'am?" he asked with a smile that Naomi translated as condescending.
Her gaze faltered. Her full, glossy lips pinched ever so slightly. "Yes," she murmured, and pushed her sunglasses back up along the bridge of her pert nose.
She adjusted her sheer tangerine-colored wrap across her lap and folded her long fingers on top. Did he have to say "virgin" so loud?
She shifted her body on the blue-and-white-striped lounge chair and crossed her ankles. She glanced toward the pool—and when she drew in a breath of sheer shock and pleasure, all the air stuck in the center of her chest. He emerged from the pool and pushed up onto the deck, the muscles in his arms bulging and glistening. The water clung to him as if it didn't want to let him go, even as he took a towel and wiped the droplets from his face and broad shoulders.
Naomi commanded herself to breathe before her head started to spin from lack of oxygen.
Brice couldn't believe his luck. It was her.
Stretched out like a Nubian goddess. He'd noticed her when she'd arrived at the hotel the prior afternoon. Then, she was disguised in a two-piece skirt suit. Her dark black hair was pulled back into a bun at the nape of her neck, forcing her cheekbones to stand out against her warm brown complexion, and giving her expression an exotic appearance.
She'd crossed the lobby with the assurance of someone used to exerting her authority, and walked directly to the check-in desk. Alone. He'd looked for her later that evening in the lobby, the bar, the restaurant and even out on the beach. It was almost as if he'd imagined her. Until now.
He draped his towel around his neck. This time he wasn't going to let her get away. He started off in her direction, but slowed when he watched the exchange between her and the waiter. She practically shoved the glass at him, and the tight purse of her lips didn't invite conversation. Maybe he needed to set his sights elsewhere, after all. He walked toward the bar instead.
Naomi watched him change directions and her heart sunk. She was sure that the gorgeous man that she'd noticed since yesterday was actually heading in her way. Wishful thinking. Even if he did decide to introduce himself, she'd probably make a mess of it. Relationships weren't her strong suit. She was an academic, a nerd, a brainiac, a one-time child prodigy turned genius, with a doctorate and two master's degrees. Whose favorite pastime was reading a good book. Her intellect generally put most men off, which effectively limited her dating prospects.
Getting away and taking a vacation far from her normal life was her best friend Alexis's idea. They were supposed to travel together, but at the last minute Alexis had to cancel, due to her mother's illness. So here she was, alone, like a fish out of water and not a clue what to do next. If she wasn't as passionate about money as she was about books, she would have cancelled the trip. But the "no refund" policy stopped her cold.
"Your drink, ma'am."
The condescending waiter was back. "Thank you," she murmured.
He gave a slight nod of his bald, shiny head and walked away.
Naomi took off her sunglasses and set them on the table next to her and picked up her drink and sipped from the straw. She took a long, slow look around her.
Everywhere that she turned people were having a ball. Couples toyed with and teased each other, small groups held impromptu parties and stray singles seemed to quickly find a partner.
Her brows pulled together. Why was this so difficult for her? Why was it always so hard for her to loosen up, relax and enjoy herself?
The truth was, she'd never had time. From the time her parents realized that they had a baby genius, they scraped and saved to put her in every kind of class they could afford: piano, violin, dance, math, science. But then her father had a heart attack when she was fifteen, and he was totally incapacitated. Naomi's classes came to a grinding halt. She took on a job after school, took care of her younger brother, Paul, and helped her mother around the house. Her entertainment became the world of books.
When it was time for college, Naomi put that out of her head. It wasn't an option for her. Her parents had exhausted their savings taking care of her father, and she was vehement about not leaving them, even when her parents insisted that she go. It was her guidance counselor, Ms. Adams, who convinced Naomi that to waste her intelligence would be a crying shame. Throughout her high school years, she'd been more than a stellar student and was slated to be valedictorian, graduating a year early.
She would be the first in her family to go to college, Ms. Adams had insisted. Don't waste your gift, she'd urged. After much cajoling and insistence from her parents, Naomi let go of the reins on her dreams and with Ms. Adams's help began filling out applications. By the time she was halfway through her senior year, she had her pick of universities and the scholarship money she'd needed.
Naomi chose Spelman so that she could stay close to home. Then she was admitted to Columbia University in New York for her two graduate degrees in English and Contemporary Literature and her doctorate in African-American Studies.