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"Zoe, hurry up or we'll be late for school," Raina said, looking around the living room for her car keys.
They'd overslept because she'd come back late from a catering gig and fallen asleep on the couch, which meant she hadn't heard her alarm going off.
Raina glanced at herself in the mirror as she quickly put her unruly wavy hair into an unflattering pony-tail. She could thank her German mother and African-American father for her cafe-au-lait-colored skin, naturally thick mass of long curls and almond-shaped eyes. She attributed her slim physique to her mother, who was naturally thin and had been a model in her youth, and her father, a former military man who followed a rigid exercise plan. Both her parents were vegetarians, so it was funny when she turned out to be a meat-loving carnivore who ran her own catering business.
"C'mon, Zoe." Raina snapped up the keys from the end table and rushed down the hall to Zoe's room. Zoe was still packing her book bag on her bed and going at a snail's pace.
Raina rushed over to help her, throwing books into a book bag. "I told you to pack your bag last night."
"I know, but I forgot," Zoe said, looking up at Raina with sad eyes. Her niece was her splitting image, possessing the same wavy hair and cafe au lait skin. The only difference was she had Alexa's spitfire personality, which was evident by her outfit of a bright fuchsia print T-shirt, jeans and pink flats.
Raina sighed and took a deep breath. It wasn't Zoe's fault she was rattled this morning. She just had to be more prepared for their morning ritual; she had to act and think like a mother. Not that she exactly knew what that meant. Sure, she'd had Zoe overnight the odd night or two while Alexa was alive, but that was completely different than being responsible for her care 24/7.
So much had changed in the past three months since Alexa had died and left guardianship of Zoe to Raina. She'd moved Zoe into the home that she'd bought after her catering firm had acquired several large contracts to cater parties for an advertising agency. After those contracts were finalized, the business had flourished. She'd been so busy, she hadn't found the time to follow up on the piece of information her sister had given her before she'd died, which was that Spencer Davis could help her. Raina was sure Alexa had meant he was Zoe's father.
And it was time she finally did something about it.
Just the other day, Zoe had mentioned she wished she had a dad like other kids. But what should Raina do about it? Show up at his doorstep with Zoe in hand and confront him? There was no easy way to tell a man he had an illegitimate daughter he knew nothing about. Her parents had advised her to consult an attorney. Raina was a nonconfrontational kind of woman, and she didn't relish going down that avenue, but Spencer Davis had a responsibility to his daughter, her niece.
As she and Zoe drove the short distance to her elementary school, Raina resolved to take action and soon.
"So how's Miss Zoe this morning?" Summer Newman, Raina's business partner and childhood friend, asked when Raina came rushing through the kitchen door of their catering shop a half hour later.
"Forgetful as usual." Raina sighed, grabbing her apron off a nearby hook and wrapping it around her middle. "Sorry I'm late, but Zoe hadn't packed her book bag this morning and she'd forgotten her lunch on the counter and didn't tell me until we got to the school, so I had to go back home to get it."
Raina glanced apologetically at Summer. She wasn't surprised her bohemian friend was dressed in a colorful coral-and-teal maxi-dress that reached her ankles. A scarf of the same pattern was secured over her shoulder-length dreads. She was also wearing one of her colorful assortment of aprons.
"It's okay, Raina," Summer responded. "No one expects you to get this motherhood thing right all at once." She returned to chopping the trinity of onions, peppers and celery.
Raina's gaze clouded with tears and she immediately sank onto a bar stool across from Summer. "Thanks
It's just that I feel like I'm doing such a bad job. And Zoe needs me to have it together."
"Give yourself time." Summer stopped what she was doing and stared at Raina. "Alexa sprung this unexpectedly on you. You always thought your parents would raise Zoe."
"But she chose me instead." Raina touched her chest. "She trusted me. I just don't want to screw this up." She sighed. "How did Alexa do this all alone for six years?"
Summer shook her head. "I don't know. Growing up, Alexa couldn't have been further from mommy material."
Summer had met the Martin twins during the third grade. Raina and Alexa couldn't have been more different, and Summer had immediately clicked with Raina. Raina was warm and kind, while Alexa had been self-involved and arrogant until she'd gotten pregnant. Suddenly, the world had been turned on its axis and Alexa morphed into a dedicated mother and compassionate human being, volunteering for parent events at Zoe's school and selling cookies for Girl Scouts.
Meanwhile, Raina began focusing more on herself rather than keeping Alexa out of trouble. Raina and Summer started their catering business, Diamonds and Gems Catering, five years ago, and after a few false starts had turned their once struggling business into a success, thanks to word of mouth in the right circles in Miami.
"I knowisn't it crazy?" Raina asked. "But all of a sudden, once Alexa found out she was pregnant this mama bear came out of nowhere. It took me completely by surprise."
"And yours is in there somewhere, too." Summer gave Raina a confident smile. "But in the meantime, it wouldn't be a bad idea to find Zoe's father. He should be helping you during this difficult transition. I mean Alexa didn't get pregnant by herself."
"This is true," Raina acknowledged, nodding her head in agreement. "My parents have been telling me that I should hire an attorney and request this Spencer Davis submit to a paternity test."
"Sounds like sage advice."
"I just hate to put this man on the defensive from the start when I need his help," Raina replied. "I know he has a responsibility to Zoe, but my sister wasn't blameless, either. She never told him she was pregnant."
"But how else can you get him to agree to a paternity test?" Summer asked. "Most men aren't going to take one voluntarily."
"I suppose you're right," Raina said. "I just thought I could reason with him, but I guess that's unrealistic. I will go see the attorney in the morning."
"Good girl. Now if you don't mind, we need to make the hundreds of canapes for our event tomorrow. Otherwise, we'll never be ready in time."
"Let's get to work." Raina sighed.
"Lloyd, my friend," Spencer Davis said into the phone as he propped his long legs on the cherrywood desk in front of him. "You know you're going to have to come higher on your offer. Derrick Quinn is the star of the team, and, as you know, he's a free agent at the end of this season
Spencer let his sentence trail off. As a successful sports agent, he was in a position of power. He'd found that a key talking point was implying the star player would look elsewhere, and soon owners came around to seeing things his way. He listened as Lloyd tried to backtrack, but it was a losing battle. Spencer was not settling for anything less than the best for his client.
Since retiring from basketball four years ago after a successful fifteen-year run with the Miami Falcons, he'd opened his own sports agency and quickly signed two of his former teammates to his roster. He'd opened up a small office in downtown Miami that overlooked the bay. And soon his reputation for fair and honest dealing had helped catapult his starter agency into one of the premier agencies along the East Coast.
"Well, I appreciate that, Lloyd," Spencer returned. "And I look forward to hearing from you with a better counter." He hung up the phone and rose from his seat. From his doorway, he peeked out and looked at his assistant, Mona Dean.
She smiled when she saw him. Spencer knew the older woman had a soft spot for him. It was probably his six-foot-four height, although to most he was short for a basketball player. In his heyday, Spencer had been quite the ladies' man. Women of all ages had flocked to him, eager to spend time with a three-time NBA champion. What he liked most about Mona was that she'd been a happily married woman for twenty-five years. And she knew how to give him hell when needed.
"Don't I have lunch with Ty scheduled for noon today?" he inquired.
"Yes, but I made the reservation for half an hour later since Mr. Wilson is always notoriously late for your lunches."
His best friend, Ty Wilson, was also a former NBA star who'd been drafted to play for Atlanta. Although they'd played on opposing teams for years, they'd developed a rapport when they'd been on the U.S. Olympics basketball team years back and won gold. They'd been friends ever since. Every time Ty was in town to visit his family, they got together to catch up on each other's lives and reminisce about old times. Spencer looked forward to their gatherings.
He laughed heartily. And the woman was meticulous, too. "Thank you, Mona. Just send him in when he arrives."
Spencer returned to his desk, but he stopped when the glare from the window shone a light on a framed photograph of Spencer, Ty and his younger brother, Cameron, who'd died nearly four years earlier. Seeing the photograph brought back a smile to Spencer's lips but his heart broke for what could have been avoided.
The three of them had been inseparable during the off-season of the NBA. They'd traveled together, par-tied together, drank together and, worse, done drugs together. After a record number of incidents with the authorities, Spencer had realized they were on a downward spiral and stated they should clean up their act. Ty had agreed, and once he'd met Brielle and gotten whipped, he'd been totally on board. But Cameron, Cameron wouldn't, couldn't stop.
Spencer had unsuccessfully tried to get Cameron into AA, but he'd stubbornly refused. "I have control of this," Cameron would say. "I'm a two-time NBA champion. I know discipline." But he'd been wrong. Dead wrong.
When Cameron's team had tanked the Eastern Conference, Cameron had been distraught. He'd viewed it as his last chance to get a "three-peat," and he'd gone on a drinking binge. Spencer had accompanied him, appointing himself as the designated driver to ensure Cameron made it safely back home. But in a sad twist of fate, their car got involved in an accident that claimed Cameron's life and left Spencer with survivor's guilt.
"Mr. Davis, Ty is" Before Mona could finish the sentence from the intercom, Ty came bursting into his office with an abundance of energy. Spencer rose immediately to greet him, instantly throwing off the sorrow he was beginning to surrender to before Ty's visit.
"What up, my man?" Ty came forward and grasped Spencer in a bear hug, patting his back. "You're looking well in your suit."
"Working hard," Spencer replied. "Trying to making a success of this agency." He spread his arms and motioned around the room.
"Word on the street is you've got some of those owners' noses wide-open."
Spencer chuckled. "Who better to know some of their antics than a seasoned vet such as myself."
Ty gave Spencer a warm smile. "No one better than you, Spencer. Let's go get some grub."
Thirty minutes later, he and Ty were seated at Area 31, the restaurant on top of the EPIC Hotel, and looking over the menu as they sipped on sparkling water. If it had been five years ago, they'd have ordered a bottle of champagne.
"You look good, Ty," Spencer commented, eyeing his best friend's jeans, white shirt and blazer. At six foot seven, all Ty's clothes had to be custom-made, which was why he was always smartly dressed.
"Well, it's all this clean living and good food," Ty replied, patting his ever-increasing waistline. "You know, no drinking and no drugs and of course Brielle. Meeting her really made all the difference."
Spencer nodded. Since meeting his second wife, Ty had kept his promise to refrain from all the drinking and drugs he'd abused during his basketball career and settled down to life as a sports anchor for a local TV station in Atlanta. The couple was also about to welcome their first child. "I'm really happy for you, Ty."
"I wish the same for you," Ty said, staring at him intently. "It's time for you to let go of the past, Spencer."
Spencer suspected Ty knew he still harbored a lot of guilt for what he thought he could have done to help his brother. "That's easier said than done."
"You did all you could for Cam. We both did," Ty replied. "You have to move on. Matter of fact, I think it's time you settle down."
"With who?" Spencer asked. "With the basketball groupies hanging around the arenas, ready to land them a pro player or a former one? You know how it is in the business. It's hard to meet anyone truly genuine and without any ulterior motive."
Ty nodded. "I hear you." Ty had got caught in that very same scenario with his first wife, who'd married him just for his money. It hadn't taken him long to cut her loose, but not before she'd taken him for a mint because he'd married her during one of his drunken escapades and without a prenuptial agreement. "But you can't give up, either. There has to be a good woman out there. I mean when was the last time you got laid?"