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A scintilla of panic seized Rayne Walker. Was that really Diane Reese, the most together woman she'd ever met, hurrying toward her in the lobby of the Waldorf Astoria with tissues wadded up in her palm and a torrent of tears flowing down her lovely face?
Diane and her husband of twenty-five years, the Honorable Judge Jeremiah Reese, were not expected at their party for at least two hours. Diane's untimely appearance certainly didn't bode well. What if something had gone terribly wrong? Like the judge had had a heart attack?
Rayne went and clasped Diane by the shoulders. Five-eight to Diane's five-four, and thirty pounds heavier, Rayne held her firmly. "What's wrong, Diane? Is it the judge? Has something happened to him?"
She directed Diane to a nearby alcove where two plush armchairs had been placed for the comfort of the hotel's guests. Pushing Diane down into one, she placed her bottom in the other and pulled the chair closer to Diane's.
Her sable-brown eyes met Diane's hazel ones. "Now tell me what's going on."
Diane dabbed her face with the tissues, which were beginning to fall apart from overuse. She sniffed, and Rayne could tell all that crying had stopped up her nose.
"That son of a bitch is cheating on me," she said softly, fiercely, as if the words were a powerful curse and,with each word uttered, her husband was that much closer to being damned to hell simply by the severity of her invectives.
Her hands trembled as she reached into her purse and retrieved a Polaroid picture. She sneered as she briefly glanced at it before handing it to Rayne.
Rayne calmly took the snapshot and lowered her gaze. In it, a young woman was standing provocatively in front of a chest of drawers in a bedroom with not a stitch on.
Rayne turned the photo facedown on her lap and met Diane's gaze. "Do you know the woman?"
"She's a lawyer. Very ambitious."
"Obviously," Rayne said dryly.
Diane laughed shortly. "Yes, well, I don't think she's the first and she probably won't be the last. I don't know why I planned this party. What do I have to celebrate? A husband who can't keep his fly zipped?"
"You're a brilliant, accomplished woman, Diane," Rayne told her, countering her negative comments. "You're an attorney other attorneys seek out when they get in trouble."
Diane's eyes were downcast, and her lips quivered as she said, "But all of my accomplishments mean nothing without him. I still love the bastard."
"Mmm," Rayne said, considering what her sorority sister and friend had just said.
Both of them had gone to Howard University and pledged Delta Gamma Sorority.
Diane was a good twenty years older than Rayne, but that meant little in the sisterhood.
Once they'd met and learned they were sorority sisters, a bond had developed.
She looked up to Diane, and Diane considered herself Rayne's mentor even though Rayne wasn't a lawyer. She'd been a business major at Howard, and was now a successful event planner.
Rayne sighed and looked Diane straight in the eyes. "If you still love him, then you've got to fight for your marriage."
"How?" Diane asked plaintively. Usually a woman whose mind was quick, and for whom decisions came rapidly, she was now at a loss for a reasonable course of action. "I mean, I've suspected Jeremiah of cheating in the past, but I never had proof." She reached over and retrieved the photo from Rayne's grasp and put it back in her purse. "I found this in his underwear drawer, of all places! The idiot couldn't find a better hiding place."
"At the risk of sounding like I'm defending him," Rayne said, "may I point out that he isn't in the photo with her in a compromising position? What if she gave him the photo to tempt him? And he was too flattered by her audacity to refuse to accept it? He is a man, after all."
"So, you're saying she could be fishing for him, but he hasn't taken the bait yet?"
Rayne nodded. "It's a possibility."
Diane sat back, deep in concentration for a few moments. Her lips were pursed, and her emotions were reflected in her ever-changing facial expressions, from frowns to looks of utter bewilderment. "I always said that if Jeremiah ever cheated on me, and I found out about it, I'd divorce him in a heartbeat, taking him for everything he was worth. It was all talk. I feel so helpless. Weak and ineffectual, two words that I'd never use to describe myself!"
She regarded Rayne with dry eyes. "Should I cancel the party tonight, or pretend everything is perfectly all right? I don't know what to do, Rayne."
Rayne wanted to plead with her not to cancel the party. It wasn't her fee she was concerned about, because she'd donated her services. However, there were others who were depending on this payday, the caterer and the wait staff to name a few. The hotel had already been paid, and there was no getting a refund at this late date.
But the little people who did not have million-dollar contracts to fall back on would be very disappointed if Diane canceled the party.
"Diane," Rayne began quietly, "if you feel as if going through with the party would be too much for you to handle, I'll understand. But we're going to be pushing it, trying to contact all of the guests. It's only a little more than two hours before the party's supposed to begin. Some of the guests are coming from out of town, and may still be en route. It's going to be next to impossible to contact them."
Diane tilted her head back as the tears began to flow anew. "She's on the guest list. If I'd known about this, she would never have been, but I asked Jeremiah for a list of the people he wanted to attend, and her name was on it."
Rayne went into her purse and got a small pad and a pen. "What's her name? I'll personally phone her and tell her not to come. And if she shows up anyway, she'll be turned away at the door. But, believe me, she won't get into the ballroom."
Diane hesitated. "Maybe I should phone her myself."
"No, Diane. You need to talk to Jeremiah first. Get his explanation. Don't give her the satisfaction of having created drama within your marriage. If you want to go ahead with the party, do it. But you need your mind clear in order to put on a good face for your friends and family. Deal with her when you're stronger. Never give her the upper hand."
Diane sat back in her chair and took a calming breath. Meeting Rayne's eyes, she said, "You're right. I'll go home and get dressed, and when Jeremiah gets home, I'll tell him what I found when I was laying out his clothes for tonight. If his explanation doesn't please me, I'll kill him, and then I won't have the party to worry about, anyway, because I'll be in jail." Her voice sounded perfectly reasonable. Rayne knew then why Diane Reese could sway a jury like no other attorney: even when speaking of murdering her husband, she sounded completely sane and trustworthy.
She felt almost sympathetic for Judge Reese. Almost. And a lot scared for his physical well-being once Diane confronted him.
Diane gave her the woman's name, and the two friends briefly embraced.
"Remember," Rayne said, "stay in control. You're a tiny, pretty woman. You don't want to go to prison for murder."
Diane laughed as she turned to walk away. "Some big momma would think it was her lucky day when she saw me coming, huh?"
"Precisely," Rayne said with an encouraging smile. "Now go. Don't worry about anything on this end, I'll take care of everything."
They then each turned and walked in opposite directions, Diane heading for the exit, and Rayne to the ballroom where the tables were being set up for the Reeses' twenty-fifth anniversary party.
Rayne always arrived on the scene of a party at least two hours early in order to oversee the setup. She wasn't particularly worried that the crew wouldn't do their jobs satisfactorily without having someone looking over their shoulders. She was simply a stickler for details.
Her specialty was "the details." Clients would describe to her their idea of the perfect celebration, and Rayne would make it come to life.
The Reeses had wanted an elegant evening for forty guests, with a jazz singer and pianist, a cellist and a violinist to provide the entertainment. They wanted a combination of jazz tunes and standards played throughout the evening, and they wanted a dance floor so that their guests could dance to every number, if they wished.
The food was to be simple fare reminiscent of both their southern upbringings. Diane was born in South Carolina, so there were low-country dishes on the menu. Jeremiah was born and raised in New Orleans, so some of the rich, spicy delicacies from that region would also be included. Rayne had employed the culinary talents of Miss Sadie Newhope, one of the most sought-after soul food chefs in the city, to do the honors.
Rayne sat down at one of the tables that hadn't yet been covered by a white, linen tablecloth, placed her briefcase on it and opened it. Riffling through the papers within, she found the guest list, and quickly went down it, looking for the name that Diane had given her a few minutes ago.
There it was: Natalie Doggett. Her contact number was right beside her name.
Rayne got her cell phone from the compartment inside her purse and dialed Natalie Doggett's number.
She was surprised when a woman answered after three rings. She'd expected that she would have to leave a message.
"Hello, Natalie Doggett, attorney at law," the woman said enthusiastically.
"Ms. Doggett, my name is Rayne Walker. I'm the Reeses' event planner. I've been informed that your presence at their anniversary party tonight is no longer desired. I'm calling you ahead of time in hopes that any embarrassment can be avoided."
"I see," Natalie said coldly. "I suppose that request came from Mrs. Reese?"
"I'm afraid I'm not privy to that information, Ms. Doggett."
"And if I should show up anyway?" Natalie Doggett had the temerity to ask.
Rayne sat back on her chair, a wide smile on her face. "Then it would give me great pleasure to watch four burly bodyguards toss you out on your can."
She promptly hung up.
Rayne rolled her eyes and put the cell phone away. Some people. You couldn't be nice to them. You had to speak to them in their own rude language in order for them to fully understand you.
That night, Rayne circulated among the guests, some of whom were acquaintances, making sure that everyone was enjoying themselves. She prided herself on being so unobtrusive that it didn't occur to anyone that the event was an orchestrated affair.
It was a lovely, relaxed evening with the participants experiencing real pleasure at helping their friends celebrate twenty-five years of marriage. Quite an accomplishment in this day and age.
The food was eaten with relish. The champagne flowed. The music was a saucy addition to which many of the couples got up and danced with gusto, if not rhythm.
Rayne was asked to dance several times herself. She accepted only two invitations: One from the judge so that she could get a better look at that bruise beneath his right eye. And one from Diane's father, a retired doctor from Charleston, who kept trying to pinch her bottom. He was eighty years old, if a day, so she chalked it up to too much champagne. Besides, he looked really cute in his tuxedo, all five feet five of him.
Rayne was nearly six feet in her Manolos, and towered over him. It felt as if she were dancing with a little boy.
Toward the end of the festivities, toasts were offered up for the loving couple. Everyone was seated at their respective tables, the lights dimmed. The cake was rolled out on its trolley, the candles aglow.
"Make a wish, make a wish!" someone shouted in good cheer.
"Twenty-five more years!" someone else suggested, to which everyone laughed.
Excerpted from That Summer At American Beach by Janice Sims Copyright © 2006 by Janice Sims. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted May 15, 2006
From a master storyteller comes the latest in the Arabesque Sizzling Sands series. This series of novels focuses on characters living on the beautiful historically black beaches of America. I have thoroughly enjoyed all of the Sizzling Sands novels, but this is by far my favorite. Rayne Walker and Wade Jefferson happen upon each other while they are both visiting American Beach in Florida. The couple¿s chemistry causes the sparks to fly immediately. But any fan of Janice Sims¿ knows that she¿s going to give you a great storyline to go along with the romance - and what a storyline it is! I don¿t want to spoil anything here, so let me just say that Rayne and Wade and their families have to reach waaaaay back into the past to untangle this couple¿s future. It¿s absolutely fabulous! And as always, the secondary characters in this novel are given so much attention that they could have novels of their own. This is a keeper ¿ don¿t loan this one out to your girlfriends!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.