Hoping to get away from emotional baggage in Los Angeles, Venus and Jake move to Atlanta. Yet the constant cloud of the past follows them: a difficult pregnancy and Jake being charged for the murder of his accountant. Though Jake never spent one night in jail, he fears the case will be reopened and he'll once again have to fight for his freedom.
And the timing couldn't be worse since Airic, the biological father of Venus' daughter Mya, suddenly demands parental rights with the child he hasn't seen since her birth. A nasty custody battle ensues. Airic's new wife, Trevelle Doval, a famous TV evangelistmay be behind his sudden interest. Venus is in for the biggest fight of her life.
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Two thousand miles across the country in a quest to make a new start, I lay awake listening to the sounds of the new house. Jake slept on his side with his back to me. He wasn’t really sleeping. Wide awake, same as me. I took a chance and slid my thigh against his, scooting closer and curling myself around his body. I nuzzled against his ear. He stayed still. I slid my hand between his arm and waist until he clamped tighter, blocking entry.
I whispered, “Jake.”
He said nothing, his body refusing to give way.
It was his idea to move, to get away. His choice was Atlanta, where a friend in the music industry had invited him to help produce a young unknown artist’s first album, so why not take the opportunity to make a fresh start. I agreed. I thought the change would be good for us both. We sold our house on the California coast and moved where the acreage was big but the price was small.
Atlanta wasn’t all that different from Los Angeles, something I noticed right away. Women had their fair share of enhanced breasts, Botoxed foreheads, and collagen-filled lips. Women of color proudly wore heavy weaves though it was too hot to be carrying around five packages of hair. Men had their equal share of symbolism, shiny high-end vehicles, expensive bling, and too much time on their hands. The real difference was on a piece of paper called “deed of ownership.” It was probable that there were more home owners than renters in Atlanta even though the per capita incomes were the same. The guy idling in a nice Benzo most likely owned the garage to go with it. In L.A. the cost of home ownership equaled two limbs and one’s firstborn, their brother’s firstborn, and maybe sister’s, too. Living at home with your mama wasn’t a bad thing, just a reality like earthquakes, landslides, and smog.
Our new home looked like the White House, only it was beige. Endless trees surrounded the land. It took three little brown men on riding mowers to cut the grass. Within a couple of days the grass grew back even taller. I had a theory about why the grass and trees grew so bountiful: slaves. I was sure my ancestors were buried under the ground where I slept, only adding to the many reasons I spent most nights with my eyes wide open.
Jake told me to stop being ridiculous. Million-dollar homes were not built on cemeteries. Well, that would explain everything, seeing how our people were buried right next to the cotton they picked every day. No headstone. No markings.
I was tired of the insomnia. I was tired of the loneliness. Before I could go into full-throttle whining mode, my cell phone buzzed and shook until it landed on the floor. Had to be my mother. The three-hour California–Georgia time difference had yet to sink in, resulting in a lot of midnight phone calls. She made her late-night calls after watching reruns of Magnum P.I. Tom Selleck was the only man my mother threatened to leave my father for. Twenty years after the last episode and she still had faith Tom could fit those tight-ass khaki short shorts.
I crawled over Jake feeling for the phone where it’d fallen between a box labeled bathroom and another one that said kitchen. In fact boxes surrounded us wall to wall. Two months in the new house and unpacking seemed like a waste of time. Why bother, I thought every time I went to open a box, feeling I’d soon have to pack again.
I answered with fake grogginess so my mother would get the hint it was late in our part of the country. The voice I heard in return was bad timing to say the least. “Venus.”
“What?” I foolishly tried to whisper. Jake still lay unmoved, pretending to be asleep even after my elbow landed in his rib cage.
“I want to see Mya,” the man’s voice answered back.
“How nice of you.” I tried not to sound full of hatred, but the whisper came out in a hissing sound. “Please, I mean, really. Can I call you back during daylight hours, how about that? Or will you be sleeping?” Because as far as I was concerned Airic Fisher was a vampire who’d been asleep for the last three years and was suddenly awakening with a thirst for blood. Long-lost blood, namely our daughter. He hadn’t seen Mya since the day she was born but suddenly now he needed to see her. I’d briefly guessed, or hoped, he was dying and it was his one final wish. No such luck.
I slammed the phone closed then jumped when Jake’s hand landed on my shoulder. “What’s going on?”
My heart was racing. I was about to explain when I realized these were the most words Jake had spoken to me in months, causing my anger to swell. I shook my head. “Leave me alone.”
His hand trailed down my back. “Tell me,” he said, sounding like the voice of comfort.
“So now you want to be my friend?” I pulled my knees to my chest. “That was Airic. He wants to see Mya.”
The comforting hand fell away.
Jake said nothing. Shocked. Confused. Stunned back into silence. I knew the feeling. Airic’s messages, which I refused to answer, had started weeks before with a gentle Hello, how are you, wishing you well. Then shortly after, How’s Mya, I bet she’s beautiful just like her mother. Then came the real reason for the calls, I think it’s time I become a father to my daughter.
But Mya already had the father position filled quite nicely. Didn’t matter if Jake and I weren’t getting along. Didn’t matter that we regularly said no more than three words to each other in a full day. There was a method to our madness and being responsible parents was the one thing we took seriously.
I closed my eyes. “He wants to see Mya.”
“What the hell does that nig—” He rethought his choice of noun. “Why out of the blue does he want to see Mya? Did you call him? Have you been talking to him?”
“Are you serious?” I attempted to get up. Jake’s grip kept me from moving. “Excuse you.” I eyeballed his hand. He kissed my shoulder instead.
“Look, I’m just saying, this makes no sense. Not one word, then all of a sudden he pops up out of thin air, calling here in the middle of the night like he’s got a right to. It doesn’t make sense.”
Jake snatched the phone out of my hand.
“No . . . uh-uh.” I snatched it right back. “You are not calling him.”
“Then tell me something. A simple answer. I’ll help you; you just fill in the blanks. Airic wants . . .” he sang out and waited for my answer.
“He started calling a few weeks ago. I ignored him and thought he’d go away. But I think he’s serious. He wants to see her.”
“This is bullshit.” He leaned back against the pillows.
“Jake, I’m just as upset as you are.”
“I’m not playing this game. I’m not. He needs to put it on the table. I need to know what I’m dealing with.”
And there it was.
“What you’re dealing with?” The words danced and sputtered against my ears. “What you’re dealing with . . . is that what you just said?” By this time I was standing, pacing back and forth. If Airic’s intrusion was what it took, the catalyst for the wall to come down, then so be it. “How is this all about you? Why is this only Jake’s problem? I’ll tell you—”
“Keep your voice down.” That was Jake’s tactic when he was being out-talked or out-debated, usually followed by, Mya’s in the next room, only this time she wasn’t. She was five doors down, courtesy of our new southern manor with its nine bedrooms and four baths. I hadn’t thought about who was going to be scrubbing all those toilets when I signed on the dotted line. Space. Jake needed space. I needed space. Yet here we were with nothing between us but animosity.
“No . . . I will not keep my voice down. I’ve been walking on eggshells around you for months, and I’m sick of it. Now you want to know what’s going on. Well guess what, so do I.”
Together four years, Jake and I had our share of ups and downs. The last half of the year registered as a definite downer. Back in Los Angeles, Jake had been charged and arrested for murdering a man. Byron Steeple had stolen millions and nearly bankrupted JP Wear right under Jake’s nose. After finding out about the embezzlement Jake fired him, but the damage was already done. JP Wear was left in a miserable spot forcing Jake to sell off half his company or lose it all. He sold it and eventually lost the other half out of sheer bitterness.
The night Jake was taken away in handcuffs was the night a part of me died, a part of us both. Right then I knew what was meant by “hell on earth,” summed up in one word, fear. Constant unnerving fear. Jake hired a very expensive lawyer, Georgina Michaels, famous for celebrity cases including Guy Richardson, better known as Big Pimpin’, the music producer charged with racketeering, IRS fraud, and manslaughter, just to name a few. If she could get Big Pimpin’ off, Jake would be a cakewalk, especially since he was innocent. She happily took his case, not because he was still a celebrity but because he could afford to pay and in the land of bling, money is the answer to everything.
The lawyer fees could have bought a midsize country, say, Paraguay.
There was no proof, no physical evidence. There was no CSI smoking gun or eyewitness. Had it not been for Byron Steeple’s boyfriend, a prominent gay rights activist who accused the city of discrimination and threatened to bring a civil suit on behalf of his slain lover, charges would have never been filed against Jake at all.
The expensive lawyer got the case dismissed. A small price to pay; your money or your life. We still had our health, as my mother liked to say. We had each other and enough to buy a pretty southern mansion to pretend all was right in the world, though we both knew it wasn’t. Nothing had been right for some time.
Was Jake really guilty? Had he beat a man senseless for stealing and bankrupting his company? The answer was simply no. I knew the truth and the answer was still no. I would never believe any different. Only thing I knew for sure was that our lives had been irrevocably changed. Adversity resulted in new strength, or so I’d been told. I’d yet to see the good come out of what we’d already been through. The drive beaten right out of me, I was tired of waiting. The distance between us was growing like weeds after a summer rain, out of control, no end in sight.
“We, do you understand? I’m not speaking French here. You and me, we’ve been together through thick and thin. I worried, I prayed, I jumped for joy when they finally dropped those charges against you. You didn’t go through that alone. How can you disrespect me every single day by pretending you went through it alone?”
He was up on his feet holding me against his bare chest. His heart was beating twice as fast as mine.
“No.” I pushed or at least attempted to move him but Jake was solid. True, he never saw one day inside a jail cell but he was as thick and muscular as a man who’d done the time. His prison was self-built in his head. He ran five miles a day, lifted weights and did sit-ups as if preparing for a heavyweight champion fight, always believing they were coming for him, that the madness wasn’t over.
He rocked me back and forth. He kissed the top of my head. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “Please, okay.” All the hurt, the pain, the fear he’d been holding spilled like a burst dam. I kissed the salty moistness off his chin. The kiss was light at first then ravenous. We both had been starved far too long.
His hand trailed to the center of my thigh. His fingers gently danced in the moistness then pushed inside. I grabbed his head and led his face to the center of my chest. His lips skimmed the tip of my nipple. The first tender bite made me gasp. He took a hold of each breast, barely a handful, taking his time suckling, licking, nibbling back and forth. His tongue was a powerful weapon made even more lethal with the workings of his smooth palms and steady fingertips.
The pulse had grown full and warm with no other place to go. Before I knew it, he slid into position and pushed every inch of himself deep inside, stretching the tightness he’d not entered for some time. I held on to his hips, still needing more but at the same time relishing the sweet pain. I inhaled the beauty of him, the warmth and safety. He pressed his face into my arched neck.
A wave of warmth swept across my entire body. I begged for what I’d been missing. He moved faster, harder, each pump of his hips getting me one step closer. He slowed, tasting my nipples to stay on task. His pushed his fingers between our moist bodies and mingled lightly with the uncontrollable wetness. He found the magical spot, the tender button, and rubbed it back and forth. He knew exactly how many flicks it would take to get to the center of this Tootsie Pop.
“Right there, baby,” I whispered.
Throbbing jolts shook my body. He waited for my panting to subside until I calmed to a heated stir. He took full control of my hips, pushed my legs open wider and went after the best part. His shoulders flexed. I held on tight and kept up with his rhythmic strokes.
He scooped his arm around my body, pulling me up. He finished, letting out a hoarse moan. For the first time in our big Georgia house we made love. His weight fell against me and I took a hold of his hand, grateful we’d come to this place, regardless of how. Sometimes adversity was like glue for relationships, a formidable foe, a cause to unite and fight for. I didn’t know it then, but this would be the biggest fight of our lives.
Copyright © 2008 by Trisha R. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Reading Group Guide
1. Jake and Venus have obvious tension and resentment towards each other in the beginning. She fears her time at the new mansion is only temporary. Does this feeling seem to dissipate throughout the story or get stronger? Do you think their marriage will weather the storm of the past or fail from the pressure.
2. After three long years of absence, Airic suddenly makes an appearance and wants to be front and center in Mya's life. Is Venus justified in denying Airic visitation? Was it for Mya's good or mere spite?
3. Does there come a time when Venus should've accepted Airic in Mya's life? Is parenting about deserving the right or should all biological parents have rights regardless of their being present and accounted for. What would you have done in the same situation?
4. Venus senses danger in Trevelle Doval for taking more interest in Mya than normal. Is it obvious there are ulterior motives or is Trevelle just a doting stepmother with good intentions?
5. Judge Delma Hawkins is assigned the court case between Airic and Venus. She can't hide her distress for being in the same room with Trevelle Doval. At this point have you any idea what the relationship could be between them? What's your first guess?
6. Delma makes it a point to admonish battling parents saying, "when it comes to a child, there's no such thing as a good fight." Yet she's prepared to battle Trevelle Doval for her own daughter by any means necessary. Now we see how quickly parents can become embroiled in a custody battle. Is Delma's protection of her own daughter about spite or what's best for the child?
7. Does Delma ever realize she's acting no better than the petitioners that come into her courtroom every day? Will her journey make her a more compassionate judge?
8. Trevelle and Airic seem to have love for one another but do they think by bringing Mya into their lives will make them a stronger couple? What is Trevelle's real motivation?
9. After experiencing Trevelle's tumultuous childhood, do you have more compassion for her actions? Is she justified in her scheming and manipulation?
10. Jake's involvement is limited to supporting Venus emotionally. Does this make him appear weak? Should he have taken matters into his own hands or does it prove his maturity and growth as a better man?
11. Is there a point when you feel triumph for any of the characters or does everyone lose? Does anyone really win?