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Ann Marie's feet were killing her. She'd been hoofing it around on those three-inch stilettos for what felt like an eternity. What she wouldn't give to add a couple of natural inches to her barely-beyond-five-foot height. But the agony was worth every wincing moment. The grand opening of Pause for Men was a phenomenal success.
She smiled to herself as she looked around while the last of the support staff finished cleaning up. She'd decided to stay behind until the cleanup was completed while her friends and business partners called it a night. Barbara, newly engaged and sporting a blinding diamond ring had gone on home with her young buck Michael. Steph left with her shoes in one hand and her other held by her new beau Tony. She'd caught a glimpse of Ellie tiptoeing away with her man Ron to her new apartment on the top floor of the brownstone.
She plopped down at the makeshift bar, nursing the watery remnants of her cosmopolitan. They'd done good. And it seemed as though all the unlikely folks had someone to go home to except for her. She couldn't ever remember going home alone. Funny, how life does a three-sixty and catches you unawares. Less than six months ago, she had her own man Phil. Then her grown, married daughter Raquel pops back into her life, moves in and everything that she'd taken for granted came undone.
To add complications to her life, Terrance Bishop had reappeared, found her and Raquel after more than two decades. Terrance. God she could still see his face as if it were only yesterday. She had yet to tell Raquel that Terrance was coming to New York and wanted to see them both.
She tugged on her bottom lip with her teeth, deep in the clutches of herdilemma. Although she'd reluctantly agreed to see him, she didn't know if that's what she really wanted. The kind of physical and emotional power Terrance had over her... She shivered just a little. Well, she didn't know if she could handle it, or if she wanted to.
Terrance Bishop: sexy, handsome, wealthy Island playboy; her husband, her daughter's father, her past. Her future?
She'd been barely sixteen when she was sent by her mother to live in the Bishop household. Terrance was the oldest of four and the only boy; doted on by his parents and worshipped by his sisters. He was ten years older than Ann Mariea big man in stature and in the parish of St. Ann in Jamaica, West Indies where he followed in the footsteps of his father Cyril in the police department.
Her mother felt that Ann Marie was woman enough to be on her own, take care of her own man. Cyril wanted his son to settle down and Ann Marie's mother wanted her daughter out of her house. The agreement suited both parents. So Ann Marie and Terrance were married, and by the time Ann Marie was seventeen she was pregnant with Raquel.
Ann Marie was a virgin when she filled Terrance's marital bed both physically and emotionally, naïve to the ways of the world and the ways of men and women. Terrance on the other hand felt neither obligation nor fidelity in his marriage and continued with his playboy ways. Not even the birth of his beautiful daughter changed or slowed him down or kept the numerous women from calling, knocking on their door or snickering at her when she went into town to shop.
She stayed as long as she could. Two long, life-altering years before she fled to New York without a word to anyone. She'd been here ever since.
Ann Marie put her glass down on the counter and pushed herself up from her perch at the bar. That was then. She was a big woman now, not the cowering, innocent young thing that Terrance once knew. She could handle him nowhim and her emotions.
"We're all done, ma'am."
Ann Marie looked across the wide, sparkling wood floor. The three young women they'd hired to help serve and clean up stood in a row.Ann Marie smiled, picked up her purse and approached them.
"Thank you all, on behalf of myself and the other owners.You did a wonderful job." She handed each of them an envelope with their payment for the night.
They smiled brightly, murmured their thanks and bounced out as if they'd just gotten up for the day. Ann Marie shook her head and chuckled. Youth, she thought. She took one last look around, shut off the lights and walked out, locking the front door behind her. She pulled in a big lungful of air and glanced skyward. The heavens were clear. The moon making its descent behind a bouquet of white cotton had an orange tinge to its edges. It was going to be a hot one tomorrow.
"Wonderful event tonight."
She jumped, startled by the voice coming from behind her.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you."
She stole a glance over her shoulder and looked up, clutching her purse to her chest. Her heart slowed then picked up its pace when the voice became a body.
He was dressed in what she knew was an expensive suit, tailored to fit in a midnight blue. The stark white shirt against his milk chocolate skin made her instinctively lick her lips and the barely there scent of his cologne teased and cajoled.
"I saw you earlier. I wanted to introduce myself but you were very busy." One hand was in his pants pocket, the other at his side.
Her good sense and her voice had apparently stayed behind in the brownstone. She couldn't think of one thing to say.
His right brow rose. "Are you okay?" He looked around then back at her.
Ann Marie swallowed. "Yes. You...surprised me, that's all."
"Sterling Chambers." He stuck out his hand. Ann Marie stared at it and finally figured out why he was pointing it at her. She placed her hand in his. "Ann Marie."
"Nice to finally meet you." He chuckled softly and the light from the moon bounced off his eyes.
"You were at the event tonight?" How in the hell could she have missed him?
He nodded. "Yep. It's quite a place. I actually signed up."
Her stomach did a little flip. "What role did you play in it all? I got the impression that you were an important part of the evening, the way you were keeping people in line and welcoming the guests."
She felt her cheeks grow hot, thankful for the darkness. "I'm one of the co-owners, actually."
"I'm impressed." He pulled in a breath. "Listen, it's late and I know you must be beat. I wish we could have met earlier. I should let you go."
Was he leaving? Just like that?
He reached into the inside breast pocket of his suit jacket and pulled out a card. He handed it to her. "Maybe you can give me a call sometime and we can meet in the daylight." He smiled.
Oddly relieved,Ann Marie took the card. Sterling Chambers, Esq. She glanced up at him. "Lawyer?"
"Something like that."
She tucked the card into her purse. "Nice to meet you."
She looked at him for a moment then turned and walked toward her car several feet away.
Raquel was fast asleep on the couch when Ann Marie came in. She took off her shoes and crept into the house, careful not to wake her.
Once inside her room, she quickly got undressed and washed the makeup from her face. Before getting into bed, she emptied her purse on top of her dresser.
Sterling's card was on top of the silver compact. She picked it up, ran her finger across the slightly raised black letters. So he'd been watching her. If only she'd known. Her smile was wicked.
She sighed and put the card down. Well, if he was for real, his name would be on the new members list. She'd find out soon enough. Tomorrow was the first official day of business.
She'd get her rest tonight. She wasn't too sure about her girlfriends, though. She got in bed and turned out the light.
Hmm, it had been months since she'd had sex. She flopped over onto her side, curled into a fetal position. Who would have ever thought that Ann Marie Dennis would be jealous that her friends were getting some and she wasn't?
She pounded the pillow with her fist and forced her eyes closed. This drought had to end soon.