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By Donna Hill
DAFINA BOOKSCopyright © 2004 Donna Hill
All right reserved.
Chapter OneRegina stretched languidly beneath the cool, pale blue cotton sheet. She turned onto her side and pressed her body against the warm brown flesh of her lover.
She smiled when he murmured her name in his sleep. Their night together was heaven on earth. Parker was a generous lover, catering to her every physical and emotional need, awakening the hidden pleasures of her body. Her years of marriage to Russell Everette may have yielded two beautiful children but it never unleashed the reciprocal passion that Parker elicited from her. It must be the artist in him, she thought with pleasure as a residual tingle ran through her. He used his entire body like a paintbrush, stroking, creating, with her as his canvas.
Regina closed her eyes against the stealth moonlight that peeked through the vertical blinds, signaling the impending dawn of a new day. Inwardly she wished that the night would last forever. At least then she wouldn't have to face leaving Parker, if only temporarily.
Was she falling in love with him? Was she in love with him already? She didn't have the answers yet. She wanted to be sure this time. She'd been reluctant to get involved with anyone again after her divorce. She wanted to work on Regina, making her strong and independent. She wanted to reclaim her personhood, and for the most part she'd done just that. She was single-focused in her goals: building her bookstore business and raising her two teenage children—alone.
But one day fate crossed the threshold of Regina's Place and brought Parker Heywood right along with it, and her life took yet another turn.
Gently, so as not to wake him, she cuddled closer to his warmth and draped her arm across his waist.
A part of her was happy for him and the decision he'd made to reunite with his estranged daughter. She knew how important family was and the hole that was in Parker's heart for losing his. But another part of her, the objective side, had to face the fact that the balance of their still budding relationship was destined to change when his daughter became a part of his life again. For better, for worse, she didn't know. But the one thing she was certain of, bringing a fourteen-year-old young woman into his life after years of separation, was going to take every iota of time and patience that Parker could summon.
Regina sighed, released her hold of him, and eased out of bed. She wanted to take a quick shower, get dressed, and get home before Michele and Darren got up for school. She was still protective of them when it came to her personal life, and they didn't need to see a man slipping out of her bedroom in the morning, so she'd opted for spending nights at Parker's place, which was an issue in and of itself.
"Where are you going?" Parker mumbled, his deep voice still thick and sexy with sleep.
"Gotta get home," she said in a whisper.
Parker pulled himself up to a semisitting position and rubbed his eyes. "How long do you plan to keep our relationship a secret from your children?"
"I'm not keeping us a secret. There's nothing wrong with discretion and I don't think it's appropriate for my children to know that I'm sleeping with a man that I'm not married to."
"Do you really think that they believe you're 'out with the girls' when you come tiptoeing in at sunrise in the middle of the week? Kids are pretty wise these days, Gina."
Regina gathered up her discarded clothes and held them against her stomach. She looked him in the eye.
"What they think and what they see are two different things. I'll be curious to see how 'open' you are with your own daughter."
She turned and walked off into the bathroom, shutting the door with a bit more force than necessary.
Regina turned on the shower full blast and quickly stepped under the beating needles of the spray.
That was one of the reasons she didn't want to get involved again, she thought, stamping back the annoyance from Parker's comment. Although she and Russell had been divorced for some years now, she still didn't want the kids to think that someone was trying to take their father's place—at least not yet. They'd been through a great deal over the years and they were still very close to Russell. She was not going to make any more mistakes when it came to her kids and men, and she certainly didn't need them privy to her private sex life.
Regina scrubbed her body with Irish Spring soap, although she would have preferred Dove; she'd have to remind Parker to get some. With her sensitive skin the least little thing set off a wave of dryness and pimples. Unfortunately, at the moment she didn't have much choice. She couldn't very well go home smelling like sex.
Was she being too old-fashioned? she worried as she lathered and rinsed. It was important to her that Michele and Darren viewed her in a certain light. She had a responsibility to set an example for them.
She turned off the shower and stepped out into the steam-filled room. The mirror was fogged over. She wiped a clean circle with her towel and stared at her reflection. What did her children really think about her weekly rendezvous? And what would she do if Parker grew weary of being her best-kept secret? She exhaled a slow breath of concern, then drew it back in. She'd cross that bridge when she came to it.
Regina reentered the bedroom and picked up her purse and jacket. She walked to the bed, leaned down, and kissed Parker gently on the lips.
"Talk to you later."
Parker got out of bed, walked naked to the dresser, and pulled out a pair of shorts. He slipped them on as he spoke.
"You know I don't mean to tell you how to run your life and your family."
She nodded. "And I understand how you feel."
He walked up to her and cupped her chin. "We're in this together, babe. And as much as I may or may not like it, I'll stand by your decision. But you gotta know it can't go on like this forever."
Regina inhaled slightly. "I'll work it out. Look, I better go."
She walked out and Parker followed her to the front door. "I'll call you this afternoon. Are we still on for later?"
"I'll see how my day is going. Okay?"
She lowered her gaze for a moment. "Bye," she said softly and left.
Parker watched from the window as Regina got into her car and pulled off before he turned away. They'd been seeing each other for months, he mused as he walked into the kitchen and put on the pot for coffee. Regina had not only transformed herself in that time, but transformed him as well. Since his divorce from Lynn and imposed separation from his daughter, Tracy, he'd buried himself in his art and in teaching, leaving little room or time for a relationship. Then he met Regina and all the promises he'd made to himself to stay clear of women went out the window. Before he knew what was happening, he was opening himself up again, allowing himself to feel. But it was getting harder to keep himself in the background of her life and he wondered if the reasons were really the kids or something else.
Regina quietly slipped her key into the lock of her front door, feeling like a cat burglar in her own home. She held her breath as she heard the locks click and the door squeak open. The last person she expected to see was sitting in her kitchen. She swallowed hard and closed the door behind her.
"What are you doing here, Russell?"
Russell put down his coffee mug and checked his watch. He gazed at her with veiled jealousy in his cool brown eyes.
"A better question is, why weren't you here?"
Regina walked fully into the room and dropped her purse on the kitchen table with a clatter.
Her hazel eyes narrowed. "The last time I checked, my name was the only one on the lease."
"And the last time I checked, our children were still underage." Russell stood, his broad, imposing physique towering over her. "If you want to spend the night out doing ... whatever ... that's your business. But when your running around affects Michele and Darren, then it becomes my business."
Regina defiantly folded her arms and rested her weight on her right leg. "I think you need to leave. Now."
Russell reached for the coffee cup and drained it. "I'm not going to allow you to screw up their heads, Regina."
"Allow! We're not married anymore, Russell. Your days of 'allowing' me to do anything are long over. And you're right, my private life is my private business. And if you know nothing else about me, you know I would never do anything to hurt the kids."
Russell crossed the room and put his cup in the sink. He turned toward her.
"I think you need to get your priorities in order. If the kids are as important to you as you claim they are, then you need to start acting like it."
He snatched up his jacket from the back of the chair and draped it over his arm. Russell lowered his head a minute in thought, then looked at Regina.
"Look, I don't want to be a hard-ass. I don't want to interfere in your life. You're right, we aren't married anymore, and I regret that every day that I open my eyes." He shifted his weight and his voice softened. "I still care about you, Regina. And to be honest ... it bugs me to even imagine you with another man."
Regina tried to hide her shock and embarrassment behind a bland expression. The last person she wanted to have a conversation with about her love life was her ex-husband or to hear him confess any feelings for her.
"Anyway," Russell continued, "whatever you may think about me, think about the kids too." Russell walked to the door. "Have a good day."
Regina stood in the center of her red and white checkerboard kitchen, held in place by disbelief. To walk into her home after a night of toe-curling lovemaking to find your ex-husband sitting in your kitchen was mind-numbing. And she had yet to deal with her kids.
It wouldn't be the first time Michele and Darren felt they could run her life better than she could. Shortly after her divorce from Russell and after she'd decided to quit her job and open the bookstore, they'd gotten her mother all twisted up in her life. Her mother, who always adored Russell, went on a personal campaign to get them back together and she had the help of her grandchildren.
Regina shook her head, scattering the thoughts and images of those trying days. She'd come too far to assert herself and her total independence to be corralled back into a life of complacency—pleasing everyone except herself.
She looked around her cozy home, the space that she'd created for her and the kids—her sanctuary. When she'd left Russell, all she took was clothes and her bank account. Everything from the short, white kitchen curtains, the sconces that hung on the living room walls, the quilts and throw rugs, to the brass coatrack in the hallway—it was all hers. And she didn't need anyone's permission.
Regina proceeded down the hallway to her bedroom, tossing aside her flirt with apprehension and guilt.
She went in, sat on the side of the bed, and took off her shoes. When she looked up, her gaze rested on the photograph of her and the kids, and Russell's barely concealed words of condemnation sprang back into her head. She ran her fingers through her jaw-length auburn locks and pushed the thoughts aside. She certainly didn't need any foolishness out of Russell. She had no idea what his agenda really was, but she had enough drama in her life already without Russell adding to the mix.
Both of her best friends, Toni and Victoria, were up to their eyeballs in drama and she was doing the best she could to be there for them. And the best way to do that was to keep her personal drama at a bare minimum.
Regina stood and stretched, enjoying the way her body sweetly ached after being loved up by Parker.
He was right, she grudgingly admitted. She had been shielding the kids from him. But she wanted to be careful. She wanted to be sure of where she and Parker were going before integrating him into the lives of Michele and Darren. She'd overheard stories from customers in her bookstore who'd traipsed one man after another through the lives of their children and then couldn't understand why they started acting out negatively.
Children needed stability, she reasoned, reaching for the remote to tune into The Today Show—her favorite morning program. And one man after another like taxis in Midtown Manhattan was not the example she wanted to set.
Although sometimes she did feel like a sneaky teenager going to meet the boyfriend the parents refused to let her see. But the bottom line was, Parker Heywood had fed her starving sexuality and she had no intention of going back to her starvation diet.
Until she reached the point where they were making plans for a forever, she was going to keep their relationship on the DL.
Regina stretched out on the bed just as she heard the faint sound of Michele's followed by Darren's alarm clock. She leaned back against her plumped-up pillows and crossed her arms beneath her breasts. She had a serious bone to pick with both of them. She was going to find out who called Russell and why.
Chapter TwoAntoinette Devon prepared for work. She had a full caseload at the clinic and she needed to get in early to be prepared. As a social worker she was adept at solving the problems of others, finding resources and safe havens. Her life was a different story, however.
She quickly brushed a few strokes of mascara to her lashes and noticed that her hair needed a touchup. She made a mental note to make an appointment for Friday after work.
There was a time when Friday nights were reserved for "the girls." She, Regina, and Victoria would meet up after work and commiserate about their lives and loves. Those were the days, she thought a bit wistfully, that were no more. Regina was busy with her new love and her new business. Victoria was busy being pregnant and her ... well, she was simply trying to get from one day to the next.
Antoinette turned from the mirror and crossed the pristine bedroom to the closet. She stood in the open doorway scanning the rows of designer suits and dresses. On the rack on the floor was a row of shoes from every famous maker. She decided on a simple Donna Karen navy suit and matching pumps.
If only her life could be as well designed as her attire and her home, she mused, slipping on the jacket over a sleeveless pale pink top of raw silk. She had no one to blame but herself. She put on her shoes and took her purse from the top shelf of the well-organized closet. Her illicit affair with Alan, a former client, had ruined her marriage and now jeopardized her parental rights for her son, Steven.
Antoinette straightened her shoulders and drew in the tears that were never far from falling. Months had passed and Charles was no closer to forgiving her now than he was when he found out. Her stomach muscles knotted. She couldn't blame him.
To the world it appeared that Antoinette Devon had it all: a solid career, a beautiful three-story brownstone, a great wardrobe, and a new car every year. But things were so far from perfect. All day she listened to the problems of others. She only wished that there was someone she could pour her heart out to.
She picked up her car keys from the dresser and headed out. If she didn't run into traffic she would be sitting at her desk in forty-five minutes.
Antoinette slowly stood up behind her desk and stretched following the departure of her first client of the morning. It was a grueling hour but she felt confident that she'd made progress. She glanced down at the open case folder on her desk: Leslie Cummings, age seventeen, expelled from school for attacking another student. Leslie claimed self-defense but school records showed that she had a long history of violence—in the home and out. She'd been coming to see Antoinette for six weeks, but today was the first time Antoinette felt as if she'd gotten through to her. At the core of Leslie's anger were issues of abandonment, first her father, then her mother, then the father of her two-year-old son.
Antoinette flipped the folder closed and sighed deeply. What Leslie was dealing with was what Antoinette feared for her own son. Steven had become withdrawn and belligerent since Charles moved out, making an almost unmanageable situation that much more difficult. But, truth be told, Steven's problems began before Charles left. She still shuddered when she thought about the night they had to pick him up from the police precinct—the very same day Charles had discovered her infidelity. She only hoped that somehow with all her training and experience she could apply it to her own life and save her son before she lost him for good.
Excerpted from Say Yes by Donna Hill Copyright © 2004 by Donna Hill. 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.
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