When Misa Atkinson confesses to the murder of Steven Bingham, her sister's brother-in-law, for doing the unthinkable to her son, everything is turned upside down. Misa now faces jail time and the loss of her son forever, and his drug lord brother, Frankie Bingham is out for revenge. Camille drops another bomb on Frankie, telling her estranged husband (and his mistress) that she is pregnant with his child. Their friends, Dominique and Toya gather around Camille and Misa in their time of need, but the storm clouds have gathered over their own lives as well. Dominique's daughter has gone missing and a dark figure from Toya's past has come back with a vengeance. Against the backdrop of a high profile murder case these four friends will band together like they never have before as they confront the demons of their pasts and an uncertain futuretogether. And in the end, they are forever changed.
About the Author
Tracy Brown is the Essence bestselling author of Snapped, Twisted, White Lines and Criminal Minded. Writing has always been her passion, and she finds it an honor to depict for her readers the things she's seen and heard. She is a native New Yorker, born and raised in Staten Island.
Read an Excerpt
The Right to Remain Silent
January 5, 2008
Misa sat in the stillness of the house and closed her eyes, realizing that nothing would ever be the same. She heard someone come in through the front door and she held her breath. She waited to see who it was, but didn’t move from where she sat, transfixed. This was it, the moment she’d been waiting for, she thought. Someone was home and would soon discover what she’d done. Her body trembled slightly as she heard footsteps moving through the house.
Camille walked into her home and immediately sensed that something was awry. First of all, Misa’s car was parked outside, which was strange since Misa’s son, Shane, had been with his father, Louis, for several days. Second, the house was dark and quiet. Most nights Camille’s brother-in-law, Steven, came in from the guesthouse and drank up the beer in the fridge while watching TV in the living room until the wee hours of the morning. Instead, tonight the house seemed empty and eerily silent.
Then she walked into the kitchen and screamed.
Steven’s cold, dead body was lying in the middle of the floor. Blood was splattered across the walls and had pooled on the floor. A gun lay on the floor near the body. Steven’s eyes were wide open, and a broken beer bottle was near his right hand.
Immediately, Camille panicked and looked around the room in fear. Her husband was part of the Nobles crime syndicate, a crew that had come under attack in recent weeks. As retaliation for the murder of Dusty, an enemy of Baron Nobles, both Baron and his father, Doug Nobles, had been gunned down recently. Seeing her brother-in-law’s dead body, Camille’s heart raced. Had Steven been killed by someone trying to target her husband? Was the killer still in the house?
She saw a dim light coming from the dining room. She took a knife from the block on the counter and walked bravely, and slowly, toward it, following the glimmering light. She prayed that the gun lying on the floor, not far from Steven’s body, was an indication that the perpetrator was now unarmed. Camille stepped into the room and came up short, stunned to see who was sitting at her dining room table. After a few beats, she slowly inched toward the woman.
Camille could see that Misa had blood on her hands and she was oddly calm despite the presence of the dead body just yards away. The only sign that anything was amiss were Misa’s trembling hands.
“Jesus … oh my God, girl, what have you done?” Camille asked, breathlessly.
Misa didn’t answer. She stared silently back at her sister, her hands continuing to quiver from the shock of all that had happened.
Camille’s eyes searched the room, taking it all in. There was blood splattered on the wall, and Misa had some blood on her clothes as well. Camille thought her sister looked so eerie sitting there, the candlelight illuminating her face and the sinister, blank expression it held. “Are you hurt?”
Misa shook her head no but said nothing.
Camille glanced toward the kitchen and Steven’s body. She couldn’t get her thoughts straight. What had she just walked into? Her husband’s brother was dead, laid out across her kitchen floor. Her sister was sitting in the dining room, clad in a blood-splattered winter-white DKNY coat and staring absently into space. She looked again at the blood on the wall and on Misa’s hands. The room was dark except for the candle flickering at the center of the table.
“Misa…” Camille had no idea where to start. She was shaking like a Parkinson’s victim, and trying desperately not to panic. She didn’t want to set Misa off. Seeing her sitting there so quiet and calm was making Camille even more of a nervous wreck. “What happened?”
Misa had been sitting there, entranced for so long, replaying the events of the evening again and again, that it was difficult for her mind to rewind all the way back to the beginning. It had all started when she returned home from visiting her love interest, Baron, in the hospital.
Camille tried to coax her to speak. “I want to help you. But you have to tell me what the fuck is going on.”
“What was I supposed to do?” Misa asked softly, shaking her head from side to side. “I’ve put up with a lot of people’s shit. First Louis, then Baron.” She looked at Camille and her eyes welled up. “But not anymore. I fought the fuck back for once.”
“I want to understand you,” Camille said, her frowning face expressing the desperation she felt. “But I’m confused. What are you talking about? You had to fight back … against Steven?”
“If I didn’t kill him…” Misa’s voice trailed off. “If I didn’t kill him,” she began again. “I had to kill him,” she said at last.
“Why?” Camille pressed.
Misa looked at her and a few tears fell from her vacant-looking eyes. “I had to do it. He was…” She shook her head, her voice barely audible even in the silence that shrouded them. “I had to do it, Camille.”
“Why, Misa?” Camille was losing patience. Frankie’s brother, whom he loved and protected and looked out for, was lying in a sea of his own blood, riddled with bullets. And Misa seemed to be full of riddles herself. “You have to tell me what he did to you.”
“He was molesting Shane,” she said through clenched teeth. More tears came and Misa cried silently for her son.
“What?” Camille’s knees buckled and she leaned on one of the dining room chairs as she listened intently to what her sister was saying. “S … Steven?” Camille stammered.
Misa spoke slowly and deliberately, her eyes expressionless as she addressed Camille.
“Tonight, I came home from visiting Baron at the hospital. I missed Shane.” Misa’s voice cracked and Camille watched her struggle to gain control of it once more. “I called to talk to Shane but Louis cursed me out. He said that I would never see my son again, that somebody has been molesting him.”
“Oh my God,” Camille breathed.
Misa continued. “I was shocked at first. I couldn’t believe it was possible, but Louis said there was no doubt. And the more I thought about who spent time alone with Shane, I kept coming back to Steven. He’s been babysitting him for the past few weeks … ever since Baron got shot.”
Camille covered her mouth with her hands. While her sister had been at Baron’s bedside, Shane had been left in Camille’s care. But Camille had been sidetracked by her failed marriage and Steven had been all too happy to help out by babysitting Shane. She felt a surge of guilt at the idea that she had unwittingly handed her nephew over to a predator.
“I kept calling back, but Louis kept hanging up on me. Then he stopped answering the phone at all. I went over there to see my son, to talk to Louis … and he wouldn’t let me in. He kept calling me a stupid bitch, a cheap tramp, a gold-digging slut. He spit at me.”
“What?” Camille was outraged.
“He missed me,” Misa said, as if that were some small triumph. “Nahla held him back, but he wanted to kill me. I could tell. Finally, I left and I sat and thought about it for hours.” Misa had a sort of twisted smirk on her face that sent chills up Camille’s spine. “I parked my car near the Verrazano Bridge and seriously considered jumping off. But I had to get that bastard first.” The more Misa thought about the horrors Steven must have perpetrated against her son, the more she wanted to kill him all over again. “The only person who could have done that to my baby was Steven.” Misa shook her head as if to shake away any doubt that she’d killed the right person. “It had to be someone that Shane trusted … someone who spends a lot of time with him.”
Camille was in a daze as she listened. Could it be possible that her brother-in-law had sexually abused her nephew? He had certainly had the opportunity, and Camille had never particularly cared for Steven. To her, he was a listless and lazy user who took advantage of her and Frankie’s kindness. But did that make him a monster?
Misa continued. “I came over here to confront Steven.”
Camille leaned in closer. “And?”
“When I got here, the house was empty. I sat here for a while, just trying to think about everything and make sure that I wasn’t making a mistake. But the more I thought about it, the more I was convinced that Steven did it. Then he came in from the guesthouse.”
Misa’s face took on a look that Camille had never seen before. Her beautiful sister with the cocoa-brown skin and the beautiful dimples now looked like a woman possessed as she sat there by candlelight, picturing Steven’s face in her mind.
“I went into the kitchen and surprised him. He wasn’t expecting to see me and he looked like I caught him off guard. So, I got right to the point. I told him what I knew.”
“What did he say?” Camille felt like she was bursting at the seams. Her nerves were jittery and it occurred to her that Misa appeared calmer than she was.
“He laughed at me. He called Shane a liar.” Misa looked at her sister and made a decision. “He lunged at me,” she lied. “And I pulled out the gun Louis gave me years ago when he first moved out. I had brought it with me just for protection in case he got physical. He kept coming towards me like he wasn’t afraid that I’d use the gun. And I … snapped. I shot him until he stopped moving.” Misa shut her eyes tightly and shook her head.
Camille slumped down into one of the nearby chairs. She stared at her sister as she tried to calm herself. She was wondering if the neighbors had heard all the commotion. Homes in this neighborhood were pretty far apart, so it was possible that the gunshots had gone unheard by those living closest by. Still, Camille thought about the fact that the violence that had taken place in her home would eventually be played out publicly and her neighbors would soon know what happened. She cringed at the thought of being the only black family on the block and the first with a murder scene at their home.
Camille felt guilty for thinking of her own embarrassment at a time like this. Misa had murdered her brother-in-law. Surely, her sister would be arrested tonight. The thought occurred to Camille that perhaps they should try to dispose of the body, but she quickly came to her senses. She knew they would never get away with it. She had watched enough episodes of Forensic Files to know that the police would be able to locate even trace levels of DNA or blood no matter how thoroughly someone cleaned up the scene. Plus, how would she explain Steven’s sudden absence to her husband? And where would they dispose of a body in the middle of the night? Camille couldn’t believe that she was actually having these thoughts. She was the epitome of a housewife, and here she was sitting and trying to come up with a plan for getting rid of a dead body.
Camille wasn’t sure what to say, think, or feel as she looked at her sister and then glanced in the direction of Steven’s body. Next, she quickly tried to recall if she had anything illegal in her house. Surely her home would be thoroughly searched when the police got there. Camille took a deep breath and looked at Misa, truly at a loss as to how to proceed.
Misa seemed to sense her sister’s hesitance. “Call the cops, Camille,” she said, softly. “I’m ready to face what I did.”
Just at that moment, the phone began to ring. Camille nearly jumped out of her skin, startled by the sudden noise. Misa, however, sat stoically and waited for Camille to answer it.
Glancing at her Cartier watch, Camille noted that it was 2:52 A.M. Who the hell could this be? On shaky legs, Camille walked over to the wall and flipped on the light switch. Next, she picked up the nearby phone.
“Camille!” Frankie’s voice sent chills up her spine. “I’ve been calling you for like an hour now.”
Camille fought to catch her breath. “Frankie…” She looked over at Misa, who shrugged. It seemed that Camille’s sister had resigned herself to her fate and didn’t care what happened next. “What’s wrong?”
Frankie was confused. “What’s wrong?” he asked rhetorically. “You just came over here and dropped a bomb on me, and now you’re asking me what’s wrong?”
Camille was confused for a moment, before it all came back to her. She had completely forgotten about the events of her evening prior to coming home to a crime scene.
She had been following her husband and his best friend/mistress, Gillian, for days. Their affair was now public and Camille had been humiliated by it. She’d been stalking them nonstop, pretty much consumed by her jealousy. She couldn’t come to grips with the fact that her marriage was over and that Frankie seemed oblivious to what people were whispering about them.
“Camille,” Frankie interrupted her thoughts, “are you really pregnant?”
Camille’s heart was racing in her chest, and she tried to swallow the lump in her throat. “Yes,” she answered weakly.
Frankie sighed heavily and held his head in his hand. “How is that possible?” To his knowledge, Camille had been on birth control for years, and he hadn’t even been intimate with his wife in ages. Frankie had been very vocal about his desire to remain childless and it was evident even now. “How can you be pregnant?”
Camille could sense Frankie’s disappointment, and it stung. She had already been humiliated by Frankie and Gillian’s betrayal. For the past several weeks she had become obsessed with it and hadn’t eaten or slept much. So when she fell ill and felt slightly weak, she had assumed it was due to her recent lack of attention to her health and poor nutrition. Camille had gone to her family physician expecting to be scolded for her poor eating habits and excessive drinking. To her surprise, she discovered that she was pregnant.
Camille had secretly stopped taking her birth control pills more than six months ago. It had bothered her that Frankie insisted on her using them because he was reluctant to be a father. And when he began spending most of his time with Gillian, Camille had decided to take matters into her own hands, and neglected her pills. It had seemed that her efforts had been in vain, since she had only been intimate with her husband once or twice since then. And then their lives had gone into a tailspin and they’d separated, leaving Camille distraught. While she had noticed that her monthly visit was lighter than usual, she had chalked it up to all the stress of the past few weeks. But it was official: She was pregnant, and tonight—while Misa had apparently been executing Steven—Camille had been over at Gillian’s Upper East Side town house delivering the good news.
“I don’t know, Frankie,” Camille said. “It just happened.”
Frankie laughed, although he found nothing funny. “How the hell could this shit just happen all of a sudden, Camille? I’ve been with you for years and nothing like this ever just happened before.” He spoke through clenched teeth. “I feel like you’re trying to trap me.”
Camille shook her head and closed her eyes, trying to imagine the look on her husband’s face at that moment. She wondered if it resembled his expression when she had appeared at Gillian’s door earlier that night.
She had rung the doorbell and waited nervously. Gillian had answered and immediately asked Camille to wait in her car until Frankie came out to find out why she was there.
“Please don’t bring drama to my door, Camille,” Gillian had said. “Frankie will be out in a minute.”
Camille wanted to snatch the bitch out and throw her down the stairs. Instead, thinking of the miracle growing in her womb, she calmly looked Gillian in the eye and shook her head. “I want to talk to both of you.” Camille had boldly pushed past Gillian and entered her house. Camille had been prepared for a fight. Fuck it. If Gillian took it there, so be it. But, to her surprise, Gillian had simply sighed deeply and shut the front door. Camille looked around, musing that this was the place Frankie longed to be as opposed to the home he’d built with her. Just as she thought of him, her husband appeared from around a corner and walked toward her looking angry as hell. Camille didn’t care.
“I’m not here for no bullshit, so I’ll keep this short,” she’d said, looking at each of them. She noticed that Frankie was shirtless, walking around in his socks—so comfortable in another woman’s home. “I’m pregnant.”
Frankie’s face fell instantly. “Pregnant?” His body language showed that this news had caught him completely off guard. He put his hands in his pockets, then wiped his mouth. Finally, he folded his arms across his chest.
Gillian, on the other hand, didn’t flinch. To Camille, she looked almost numb, as if the pain of losing her father had drained all the fight out of her.
“Nine weeks,” Camille confirmed, staring at her rival. She turned her attention back to Frankie. “You may not want to be with me anymore, but now there’s a child. When you’re ready to talk, I’ll be at home waiting.”
Gillian had looked to Frankie for his reaction. He had stood there in obvious shock as Camille calmly sauntered out, confident that she’d ruined their fairy-tale plans.
Frankie had been calling the house ever since. Camille’s cell phone battery was dead so his calls went straight to voice mail. Frustrated, Frankie had started calling Camille at home. There had been no answer, and the ringing phone had tormented Misa, who had just committed first-degree murder.
Camille glanced at her sister, who was sitting there looking so dazed. She gripped the phone tighter, wondering how the hell she could tell Frankie that his brother was dead—that Misa had killed him.
“We have to talk,” Frankie said.
Camille shook her head. He had no idea how right he was. “Frankie, I can’t right now … Misa’s here…”
“Camille, come on. This can’t really wait.”
“I’ll call you back.” Camille hung up before Frankie could protest further, before he could ask if his brother was there. She looked helplessly at Misa. “We have to call the police.”
Misa shrugged her shoulders again. She didn’t care. The pain of knowing that Shane had been touched inappropriately by a perverted freak was more punishment than any the police could dish out. “Call ’em.”
Camille took a deep breath and dialed 911. Two rings later, an operator answered.
“What is your emergency?”
“Somebody’s been shot.”
Copyright © 2011 by Tracy Brown