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The Replacement Wife
By TIFFANY L. WARREN
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2014 Tiffany L. Warren
All rights reserved.
Five years later ...
Chloe walked into the packed nail salon for her weekly pedicure with her best friend, Lichelle. The Nail Spot was always crowded and always cost just a little bit extra. Maybe it was because it was owned by an ex-rapper turned entrepreneur. Or maybe it was because gossip was on the menu, just like the paraffin wax and the acrylic tips.
Lichelle waved Chloe to the back of the salon — the VIP area. She'd saved Chloe a spot, which was darn near impossible to do, but Lichelle, the wife of a wealthy real estate broker, was a regular. And a good tipper.
Chloe slid into the luxurious chair and leaned back, careful not to muss her freshly perfected hairdo. Her short tresses were expertly sculpted, and they framed her face perfectly, softening the potentially strong features created by her excessive workouts.
"Girl, I thought I was gonna have to fight that queen over there. He kept eyeballing your chair like he was about to snatch it," Lichelle said, as she blew Chloe a kiss.
"I am not thinking about him."
Chloe cut her eyes at the man, who gave her much attitude. She didn't have time to exchange words with him, nor did she want to ruin her mood. She was going to Lichelle's yacht party later with Quentin, and it was going to be a blast.
But first she was about to get her feet rubbed and mashed by her favorite nail tech, Trey. He was fine and buff, and his foot massages took her to the mountaintop.
Trey slid over in front of Chloe on his little stool. "Hey, ma. How's your day going?"
Chloe grinned as Trey cracked his knuckles and took her foot into his hand in a miniature caress. "It's going great now, babe. Do your magic!"
"I am telling Quentin," Lichelle said.
Chloe lifted Lichelle's left hand and touched the enormous rock on her ring finger. "You're the only one married. I am still very unmarried."
"But not unattached. You've been with Quentin for an eternity."
Chloe winced at the word. It had been a long time. Five years, to be exact. Quentin didn't seem the least bit interested in marriage. She didn't think he loved her, but he enjoyed her company enough to foot the bill for her every need. He even gave her a small shopping allowance.
Admittedly, she wanted more. Not necessarily marriage, but at least a commitment. A bit of assurance that the fun times were more than temporary.
"Five years is not an eternity. Especially since we got together right after he buried his wife."
"How long are you going to wait for him to marry you?" Trey asked.
"I'm not waiting for him to marry me. I'm enjoying what we have. Savoring the moments."
Lichelle sucked her teeth and shook her head. "What if he wakes up tomorrow and decides he's ready to trade you in?"
"You do have quite a few miles on you, and you are definitely fine — I wouldn't kick you out of bed. But you're not a twentysomething anymore," Trey said.
"Is this attack Chloe day? I'm not feeling this."
Trey laughed. "Sorry, ma. Let me squeeze that stress away."
Chloe closed her eyes and moaned. It was as if Trey had some secret road map that led straight from the middle of her foot to her unmentionables.
"Seriously, though," Lichelle said, invading Chloe's ecstasy, "have you thought about a backup plan?"
"What do you mean?"
"You need to make sure you're financially okay in case Quentin decides you are not his final resting place."
"You could always have Quentin's baby," Trey said.
"Ugh. No! Low-rent women have babies for a paycheck. I do not do that."
Trey shrugged. "Sorry. It was just a thought."
"If you're not going to give Quentin a love child, then you really need to think about your future. Why don't you ask Quentin to help you start a business?"
Chloe considered this. The problem was, she had no idea what kind of business she'd want to start. She didn't want to work that hard.
She wanted to continue to give Quentin what he needed, and she wanted him to continue giving her what she needed.
"Look, Quentin cares about me. He's not going to leave me high and dry. And maybe one day he will ask me to marry him. And maybe I'll say yes."
"Maybe you'll say yes?" Lichelle asked.
"Yes, maybe. Not every girl needs a husband. I'm happy having a sugar daddy."
"You a little old for a sugar daddy," Trey said. Lichelle and Trey burst into laughter, and Chloe rolled her eyes at them both. She and Quentin were in a good place, and she had no intention of rocking the boat. And as long as she kept rocking Quentin's world, she wouldn't have to.CHAPTER 2
Estelle watched in silence as chaos unfolded in her living room. These children, her grandchildren, were out of control. Her son treated them with kid gloves because they'd lost their mother, but after five years they were no longer mourning — just taking advantage of their daddy.
The worst of the bunch was the oldest girl, Deirdre. From sunup to sundown she was on the phone talking to random thugs. The all-girls private school they spent thousands a year in tuition for did not seem to curb Deirdre's taste for all things hood.
Completely exasperated, Estelle snatched the phone from Deirdre. "Grandma!" Deirdre screamed.
"Deirdre is busy right now," Estelle said, ignoring her granddaughter's pleas. "She will call you back later ... What do you mean, who is this? It is her grandmother. And as a matter of fact, she will not be calling you back."
Estelle disconnected the call and handed the phone back to Deirdre. The teenager's angry scowl didn't faze Estelle one bit, although the young girl did in that moment look exactly like her mother. That tugged Estelle's heartstrings a little, but not enough for her to tolerate foolishness.
"Grandma, that was my boyfriend."
"He sounded like a thug. You can do better."
"I don't want to do better."
Estelle shook her head and frowned. "Your mother would be ..."
"Turning over in her grave! I know, Grandma. But since she's gone, she doesn't really get a say on my boyfriends, now does she?"
"Maybe not, but I do." Quentin had entered the room. Estelle grinned when he kissed her on the cheek.
Deirdre rolled her eyes. "Well, if I left it up to you and Grandma, I'd never have a boyfriend."
"A boyfriend shouldn't be your priority, Deirdre. You've got your mind on the wrong thing."
"Nobody complains about your girlfriend ..."
Quentin raised an eyebrow at the insolent teenager, but Estelle stifled a giggle. It was no secret that neither Deirdre nor the other children were fans of Chloe, Quentin's lady friend. Estelle had gotten a bad taste in her mouth about the woman on the day of her daughter-in-law's funeral. She claimed to be Chandra's college friend, but no one had ever heard of her. Nevertheless, she'd hung around just enough to get Quentin interested in her, and to Estelle's dismay he'd taken a liking to her; he was seen all over town with her on his arm.
Quentin said, "That's the great thing about being an adult. You don't have to answer to anyone about your romances."
"Grandma says we all have to answer to God."
Before Quentin got an opportunity to respond to that statement, eleven-year-old Danielle skated through the living room at breakneck speed. In hot pursuit were the fourteen-year-old twins, Madison and Morgan.
"Give me my iPad!" Morgan screamed.
Danielle laughed and eluded capture by twirling around a very expensive antique credenza. Estelle inhaled sharply at the thought of that family heirloom being harmed by horseplay.
"I think Daddy should know that you are Skyping boys on here," Danielle said.
Madison said, "She is not! We're trying to do a homework assignment."
Quentin caught Danielle on her next orbit of the room and took the tablet from her. "What kind of homework assignment?" he asked.
"It's a social experiment," Morgan explained. "We're trying to figure out what would happen if a totally z-list boy got attention from an a-list girl."
"The ramifications of such a thing are epic. It could change the whole sociopolitical landscape of middle school," Madison said.
Deirdre laughed out loud. "Enjoy the boys while you can! Next year you'll be brutally forced into a world of all girls."
"No! Daddy said we could go to Reese's high school!" Madison said.
Deirdre's jaw dropped. Estelle knew Deidre was going to have an issue with allowing the twins to go to the high school where their brother, Reese, was a graduating senior. Deirdre had been sent to the all-girls school because of her boy-crazy shenanigans in middle school. There was no reason to subject the twins to the same fate because of her actions. Deirdre hated St. Mary's Preparatory School for Girls with a passion saved for first loves and chocolate.
"Is this true, Daddy?" Deirdre asked.
"I haven't made any decisions one way or the other," Quentin said, but his facial expression told a different story.
Madison and Morgan gave Deirdre smug looks, and she sent the twins daggers with her eyes. Estelle knew this battle wasn't over, especially since Deirdre was dead set on seeing boys at school every day.
"Girls, give me a moment with your father, please," Estelle said, as she directed the roller-skating Danielle toward the double staircase, though she wondered how that child navigated the mansion on wheels.
The twins followed their little sister upstairs, but Deirdre remained on the couch, flipping through a magazine.
"You too, Deirdre. Go find something to do that doesn't include boys."
Deirdre gave her grandmother a deadpan gaze. "Well, Grandmother, I have no idea what that would be."
"Deirdre, stop antagonizing your grandmother," Quentin said.
Deirdre stomped toward the entrance to the downstairs game room. "She should stop antagonizing me."
Estelle shook her head as Deirdre exited. "That girl!"
"I know, Mother. I know. What do you want me to do about it?"
"Maybe if you spent more time with them ..."
Quentin sighed. "You're right. I'm going to make a plan to take Deirdre on a daddy/daughter date right now. Deirdre!"
Deirdre appeared at the top of the stairs with an annoyed look on her face. "Yes?"
"I was thinking that you and I should go to a concert and to dinner. How's Saturday sound?"
Deirdre shuddered. "Or you could just give me money and I could go to a concert with my friends."
Quentin looked at Estelle. "Sure, honey. We'll chat about it later."
Deirdre rolled her eyes and went back down the stairs. Estelle shook her head and frowned.
"That didn't prove anything," Estelle said. "You're not off the hook."
Quentin sighed. "Is this a lecture about the church or about the foundation?"
"It's actually a lecture about neither. I'd like to talk to you about getting a nanny for the youngest three."
"A nanny? The twins will be going to high school next year, and Danielle is nearly old enough to be left alone. They don't need a nanny."
Estelle said, "Not a preschool nanny, but someone who can help them with homework, be here when they have questions about being young ladies, and maybe ... a friend."
"Isn't that what their grandmother is for?" Quentin asked. "Besides, they've got Chloe if they want to talk to a younger woman."
Estelle burst into laughter at the mention of Chloe. The children couldn't stand her. "I'm quite busy with the church, and I'm not even going to comment on that woman."
"They don't need a nanny, Mother. Deirdre can watch the younger three."
"And then who is watching Deirdre? Last week one of the sisters at the church thought she saw her in a movie theater slobbering all over that boyfriend of hers."
"Your church snitches are rarely accurate. Last I heard they were saying I'm gay because I haven't remarried."
"This has nothing to do with your marital status."
"Well, what brought all this on, Mother? Are you concerned with that check I had Tippen write to the foundation?"
Estelle stared at her son and gave him a stern expression. The half-million-dollar check Quentin had had his lawyer write to his pet project, the Transitions Foundation, was somewhat disconcerting. The cause, though, a group home for terminal cancer patients without the necessary resources to ease the pain at the end of their lives, was really important to Quentin.
"I would like to be aware of you spending my grandchildren's inheritance, but no, that is not what brought this on. I think it is time for things to get back to some semblance of normalcy. Just how long are you going to stay away from the church? The music ministry isn't the same without ..."
"Say it. Without me and Chandra. There is no way I can sit at that keyboard without Chandra directing the choir. I can't play. I can't write. I can't sing ... all of it reminds me of her. So I work with the foundation, and I enjoy my time with Chloe. I'm trying to live."
"And what about the children? Don't they deserve to live too? They need someone around them who isn't grieving."
"Mother, do whatever you want. Get a nanny. I don't care." There was defeat and resignation in Quentin's tone, but at least Estelle had a victory, albeit a small one.
Ms. Levy, the family housekeeper, entered the room with Chloe. Although it wasn't required of her, Ms. Levy acted as butler, cook, staff manager, and close personal confidante to Estelle. Ms. Levy also chose her own uniform — all black with a straight skirt that came down to the middle of her calf. She was just showing off with the severe bun at the nape of her neck. It pulled her face back so tightly that she looked Asian.
"Ms. Brooks is here to see you, Mr. Chambers," Ms. Levy said.
Chloe's appearance was a stark contrast to Ms. Levy's. Estelle took in her ensemble — a knee-length, tan, vintage Dolce & Gabbana sundress. It was perfect for the warm Atlanta spring day, and it flattered Chloe's perfectly sculpted body. There were a lot of things Estelle could say about Chloe, but she could never take issue with the woman's appearance. She certainly looked the part of a high-society lady, even if her past exploits, spoken of in whispers at the country club, told a completely different story.
Chloe gave Ms. Levy a dismissive wave of her hand. "When are you going to stop announcing me every time I come over? I'm practically a member of the family. We're on our way to a yacht party, for crying out loud. He's expecting me."
"I will stop announcing you when you are an official member of the family," Ms. Levy said, without a moment's hesitation.
"Uh, thank you, Ms. Levy," Quentin said.
Estelle said, "Come on, Ms. Levy. We've got a nanny to find."
"Will I be allowed to interview her?" Ms. Levy asked.
Chloe walked over to Quentin and threw her arms around his neck. She planted soft kisses on his face and lips. Quentin leaned back and smiled.
"Are you sure you're trying to go to a party? You sure you're not starting something else?"
Chloe laughed. "We can always go upstairs and have our own little party inside."
"Upstairs? Nah, but we could go to the Four Seasons."
"Why go to a hotel, when my man has a mansion?"
Quentin untangled himself from Chloe's grip. "You know, babe. The kids."
"Right, the kids. The kids who need a nanny. Aren't your children a little old for a nanny?" Chloe asked.
"Yes, but my mother won't rest until she's got Mary Poppins flying around my home with an umbrella in her hand."
Chloe stared blankly at Quentin, as if she didn't get the reference.
"Don't tell me you haven't seen Mary Poppins."
She cocked her head to one side. "Is that one of those cutesy movies where everyone is sweet, and the sweet sappiness continues until they're happily sappily ever after?"
"Pretty much," Quentin said.
"Yeah, no. I've never seen that, sweetheart."
"Never mind, Chloe. My mother is going to do whatever she wants to do. No one says no to her."
Chloe didn't voice her response to this with words, but if Quentin had been paying attention, he would have noticed the grimace on her face. In her opinion, someone should say no to Estelle. Those girls didn't need a nanny; they just needed an all-girls boarding school. Far, far away. So she could spend time with her man in his home and not at a hotel.
"I'm not sure I agree with your mother, not that anyone asked my opinion. The girls have entered puberty, for crying out loud."
"That's exactly what I said," Quentin replied. "Maybe if you spent some time with them, my mother would change her mind."
"Or m-maybe your mother is right. Who am I to question their grandmother?"
Quentin burst into laughter at Chloe's reaction to spending time with his children. In all the years they'd been enjoying each other's company, she'd never once mentioned becoming his children's stepmother.
"Is this what you're wearing to the yacht party?" Chloe asked.
Excerpted from The Replacement Wife by TIFFANY L. WARREN. Copyright © 2014 Tiffany L. Warren. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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