Read an Excerpt
"The wedding ring is the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual bond that unites two loyal hearts in endless love."
Tamara Hodges smiled through tears as she relieved her sister Callie of the enormous wedding bouquet she had insisted on carrying down the aisle.
"It is a seal of the vows Bryant and Callie have made to one another."
She wiped her eyes with a lace handkerchief as she witnessed the exchange of rings between her baby sister and new brother-in-law, wishing them love and happiness for the rest of their lives.
Tamara's thoughts traveled to the one person she kept hidden in her heart—the one man she could never forget. The one person with whom she dreamed of sharing that type of love.
The pastor's words drew her attention back to the ceremony.
"You may now kiss your bride."
Tamara stole a quick peek at her mother, who was seated in the front row, fighting back tears.
Three hundred guests erupted in applause as Mr. and Mrs. Bryant Charles Madison were introduced. The music began, prompting the newlyweds to lead the recessional from the sanctuary.
As Bryant's best man escorted her down the aisle, Tamara could feel her ex-stepfather's heated glare as she strolled past him, her head held up high. She refused to let him put a damper on her blissful mood.
Outside the sanctuary, Tamara and Callie embraced.
"Congratulations," she whispered as she gazed into a pair of hazel-green eyes that mirrored her own. "I'm so happy for you, Callie."
Tamara embraced Bryant next. "I guess we're stuck with you now."
"Yeah," he replied, giving his new wife a sidelong glance. "Because I'm notgoing anywhere. I love this girl."
"Good," Tamara said with a smile. "That's what I want to hear."
Wedding guests filed out of the church, each one pausing to congratulate the bride and groom.
Tamara's mother walked up and said, "The ceremony was beautiful, wasn't it?"
She nodded. "Yeah, it was."
When Lucas, her ex-stepfather entered into the church foyer, Tamara uttered, "We should go back into the sanctuary. It's time for pictures."
Her mother agreed.
Just being in that man's presence stirred up shadows and fears that made her uncomfortable. Tamara did not want to mar Callie's wedding day, so she decided to stay as far away from Lucas as possible.
After the traditional wedding-party photos, a limo whisked them to the Four Seasons Hotel Atlanta for the reception. Callie and Bryant were in a separate stretch limo, which followed close behind.
Her mother suggested that the photographer shoot some pictures on the grand staircase at the hotel, saying that the brass railing would serve as the perfect backdrop. She had even arranged to have the large floral centerpiece at the foot of the staircase coordinate with the wedding colors and flowers. Whatever Jillian Hodges-Devane wanted she got.
Tamara made small talk with the other members of the bridal party during the ride over to the midtown hotel.
The ballroom where the reception was held consisted of a wall of mirrors on one end highlighted by large crystal chandeliers and large picture windows at the other. Tamara had been in the same room a week ago, covering an event for Luster magazine.
She enjoyed writing for the magazine but had dreams of starting her own publication one day.
The wedding party waited in line outside as they waited to be announced. The best man again escorted Tamara into the ballroom. After the wedding party, Mr. and Mrs. Bryant Charles Madison made their grand entrance.
While waiters navigated about the room carrying trays of hors d' oeuvres, Tamara mingled, pausing to speak to relatives and friends of her family. She felt the sensation that someone was watching her and turned; meeting her ex-stepfather's dark and insolent gaze, she straightened herself with dignity.
He smirked, gave a slight nod and then turned his attention back to his daughter, Callie.
Tamara's eyes bounced around the room, looking for her mother.
"How are you holding up, Mama?" she asked when she found her seated at one of the family tables. Tamara sat down in the empty chair beside her.
"I'm exhausted," Jillian responded. "Your sister looks lovely, doesn't she?"
Tamara agreed. "And very happy. I guess all the whining, fussing and craziness she put us through over the past year has been worth it. I'm so glad that girl is married."
"Seeing Callie and Bryant like this—it was definitely worth it," her mother responded. "One day we'll be doing this for you. Hopefully, it will happen while I'm still young enough to enjoy the wedding."
Tamara drew an invisible pattern on the tablecloth. "Don't hold your breath, Mama. I'd actually have to have a man in my life in order to get married."
"So there's no one special? You haven't met anyone?"
"Mama, have you considered that I might be one of those women who are destined to remain single?"
"Bite your tongue," Jillian stated. "Don't even put that thought in your head. A beautiful woman like you won't have a problem finding a husband. You only have to open your heart and allow him entry."
Tamara caught her mother looking at her ex-stepfather. "Mama…"
"Can you believe he had the nerve to bring that woman here? She is what—barely legal? Lucas Devane always had an eye for young girls." Rancor sharpened Jillian's voice.
"To be honest with you, I don't really care enough about him to even wonder," Tamara retorted.
Her mother leaned over and embraced her. "I love you, Tammy. I hope you know that."
"Mama, I know you do. I love you, too," Tamara assured her. "We all went through a bad time, but thank God that it's over now. Oh, could you please just call me Tamara?" Her eyes traveled back over to the table where Lucas sat with his girlfriend. "I'm not Tammy anymore, so please don't call me that."
Lucas's eyes met hers, and his lips turned into a cynical smile. Tamara's eyes never wavered as she stared him down until he had the good sense to drop his gaze.
"I hate him," her mother uttered. A sudden thin chill hung on the edge of her words.
"I don't have any feelings toward him at all," Tamara stated. "Lucas could drop dead right here in the middle of the room and it wouldn't phase me at all." She turned her attention back to Callie and Bryant, her thoughts roaming once more to the one and only love of her life.
He was definitely the one who got away, Tamara decided. She had allowed her fears and insecurities of her youth to keep her from opening up completely and trusting, which caused Tamara to push him away. Micah had always been nothing less than a good friend to her and her math tutor, but because of her inability to trust combined with a group of immature boys who had nothing better to do other than playing pranks, she treated him cruelly the night of their graduation from Hollington College.
She pushed away from the table and helped herself to the caramelized Vidalia onion tart with goat cheese, lobster and chive risotto fritters and miniature crab cake hors d'oeuvres.
Jillian rose to her feet and followed her daughter. "I was thinking… Isn't Bryant's best man single? I heard that he's the vice president of Atlanta Bank and Trust."
"Not interested, Mama," Tamara said in a low voice. "Now just drop it."
She released a short sigh of relief when her mother became distracted by relatives. This would give Tamara a break from her constant matchmaking.
Twenty minutes later, everyone was seated. They dined on a duo entrée of tenderloin of beef and salmon, roasted potatoes, asparagus and béarnaise sauce while the band, which was personally selected by Jillian, played softly in the background.
"Mama was right about the menu," Callie whispered to her. "This was the perfect choice."
Tamara agreed. She sliced off a piece of the tender salmon and stuck it into her mouth, remembering the argument between her mother and sister over the food for the reception. They ended up not talking for two days.
Callie won the fight between them over the wedding cake. Her mother, a true Southern lady, wanted the butter pecan cake with a fresh peach filling while her sister insisted on the Tahitian vanilla butter cake, Tahi-tian vanilla custard and fresh berries.
Tamara left the reception shortly after her sister's departure and headed home. After she changed out of the bridesmaid gown, Tamara settled down on the chaise in her bedroom to write in her journal.
My sister married her high-school sweetheart today. It was a beautiful wedding, making it hard not to wonder if I'll ever have one of my own. I have not been able to have a relationship any longer than six or seven months. As I get older, I find that I'm able to detect the lies much quicker.
If I am to be completely honest, then I must admit that part of the reason I haven't found my Mr. Right is because I treated him horribly when we were in college.
Right before graduation, I overheard some boys saying that Micah was planning on having sex with me and that he was going to play the "you're the love of my life" card because that's what it would take to get me into bed.
I don't know why I believed them, but graduation night, when he told me that he loved me, I told him that I would never date a man like him and basically that he wasn't good enough for me. It wasn't until much later that I realized Micah didn't say those things—the guys had been joking around and knew that I was listening to the conversation.
I want to explain but Micah never returned my phone calls, and the next thing I knew he had moved to Los Angeles.
Our ten-year college reunion and homecoming is coming up in October, but I'm not sure if Micah will be coming. I hope that he will be in attendance…. I want to try and talk to him one more time.
He is a famous record mogul now, but I don't care about that. I just want a chance to apologize to Micah. The tabloids have him romantically involved with that model Sunni, so it is not as if he is available anyway. The truth is that I really miss his friendship.
I miss him.
Los Angeles, California
Micah Ross stepped out of the sleek black limo in the midst of a sea of hungry media photographers and reporters. He focused his attention on the door of the Wilshire Grand Hotel several yards away while assisting his date out of the car.
He hated all the attention on him, but Micah knew that it was an integral part of his business. He was the man who had turned a tiny music store into million-dollar record label Ross Red. His first two records sold a combined 1.5 million copies before the mainstream music industry knew he existed. Now his $500 million empire included music, clothes, real estate, a product line of computers and communications.
A musician himself, Micah believed that one could only go so far in the music business—something he tried to drill into all of his artists. He pushed to get them to understand that they needed to acquire the necessary skills and education to have other options because one never knew what was going to go up and what would go down.
"Over here, Mr. Ross," a photographer shouted.
Micah glanced in his direction and pasted on a smile. His mouth tightened as Sunni, a supermodel, wrapped her arms around him as cameras flashed all around them.
"Micah, please smile," she whispered. "At least try to look like you're enjoying my company."
He chuckled. "Sunni, you know that I always enjoy hanging out with you."
"Then smile. Just remember that you're the man they all want to be. You are one of the most influential and wealthiest men in the world, Micah. Baby, you should flaunt it."
All Micah wanted to do was get inside the hotel. He hated walking the red carpet and avoided it whenever he could. Of course, in his business one needed the media to be successful.
Grinning, Sunni posed for more photos along the red carpet. She loved the spotlight so much so that it was rumored she called or texted photographers her itinerary from time to time.
Once inside, they were still under the microscope as members of the media scoured the Pacific Ballroom in search of the Hollywood elite and other VIPs attending the charity benefit for the Sickle Cell Disease Association.
Micah sat at a table surrounded by people from his artists and repertoire (A&R), publicity and product development departments.
They dined on a three-course meal: baby leaf lettuce with marinated artichoke hearts and wedged Roma tomatoes and Dijon vinaigrette, breast of Mediterranean chicken served with sautéed artichokes, goat cheese mashed potatoes and herbed Italian vegetables, mascarpone caramel cake for dessert.
One of the groups from his label walked on stage to perform.
"Eden sounds great tonight," Sunni stated as she sliced off a piece of chicken and stuck it into his mouth.
Micah wiped his mouth with the edge of his napkin. "Yeah, she does," he agreed, silently wishing that he could've stayed home tonight.
He stood up and smiled politely when his generous donation was acknowledged along with a long thundering applause.
Sunni reached over and took his hand. "I still can't believe how shy you are when it comes to stuff like this. Honey, you are one of the good guys," she stated. "You should be walking around here with your head up high."
He gave her a narrowed glinting glance. "You know how I feel about being in the public eye, Sunni. I don't like being under a microscope."
"You're the CEO of a huge conglomerate, Micah," she responded, rising finely arched eyebrows. "You'd better get used to this because it's not going to go away."
Sunni took a sip of her hot tea.
Thirty minutes later, they left the ballroom. He had put in an appearance so as far as Micah was concerned, his work was done. He had a long day ahead of him and wanted to get some rest.
Micah escorted Sunni out of the hotel.