One newly single lady is about to turn up the heat on a Strong brother in this sizzling romance from the national bestselling author of Give Me Fever.
When Zaria Ali married her high school sweetheart, she jumped straight into adulthood. But twenty-one years later, her husband has left her for a younger woman, her kids are in college—and Zaria is looking to make up for lost time. Who says she can’t be living la vida loca in her forties? And who says she can’t date hot twenty-six-year-old Kaleb Strong . . . ?
Kaleb may be young, but he’s mature—and ready to settle down with the right woman. Zaria lightens up his serious side—and turns him on like no one ever has. But is there more between them than just explosive chemistry? The only way to find out is to follow his heart, and show Zaria that when it comes to love, age is nothing but a number . . .
“Bryant continues her popular series about the sexy Strong brothers with this serious look at the pitfalls of May–December romance.” —Publishers Weekly
Praise for the Strong Family series
“A fabulous love story.” —Urban Reviews
“Hot men, spicy women and a sexually captivating story.” —RT Book Reviews“Very impressive.” —Cydney Rax, author of A Sister’s Power
About the Author
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THE HOT SPOT
By NIOBIA BRYANT
DAFINA BOOKSCopyright © 2011 Niobia Bryant
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTwo years later
The sound of the music in the club was a mix of a hard-core bass line overlapping a sultry reggae beat. The type of beat to bring out the need for a hard—or soft—body pressed up against someone else. The type of bass to make a heated body tic with each thump. The music made you forget your worries. A lousy day at work. An argument with a lover. The bill collector at the door or the phone ringing off the hook.
Any of it—all of it—was drummed out by the music.
And no one took more advantage of that than Zaria Ali.
She mouthed along with the song—one of her favorites—as she moved her hips like she didn't have a backbone. And even though her eyes were closed and her head was tilted back just a bit, she knew the eyes of men—and a few women—were watching her. Many were trying to build up the nerve to dance with her. A few had tried too bold an approach—a hand on her waist or below it—and were politely brushed aside.
As the live reggae band ended the song, Zaria grooved her way off the small dance floor in her leather booties, making her way to the bathroom as nature called like crazy. Thankfully it was clean and there wasn't a line as long as one of Beyoncé's performance weaves, which was surprising for a Thursday night. In her club adventures, she had seen things that made her afraid to even touch the doorknob and that even made her "perch" over a commode.
After leaving the stall, Zaria made her way to the row of sinks. She flipped her hair over her shoulder as she studied her image and washed her hands. "Not bad at all for forty-two," she said to her reflection, twisting her head this way and that to study herself under the bright lights.
Zaria raked her slender fingers through the twenty inches of her jet-black shiny hair that emphasized her light, creamy complexion and made people assume that she was of mixed heritage, but she wasn't. Her blunt bangs perfectly set off her high cheekbones, pouting mouth, and slanted eyes. She was tall—nearly five ten—but every bit of her size 10 frame was curves, and the skinny jeans she wore emphasized that.
"Humph, to hell with you, Ned," Zaria said, and then instantly hated that thoughts of her ex and her failed marriage still lingered on the edges of everything she did and thought ... even about herself.
It's just that she couldn't forget all of the emotions she felt because of it. Surprised. Shocked. Lost. Confused. Hurt. Insecure. The list could go on and on.
I should have my shit together by now, right?
It had taken every last second of the last two years to reclaim the confidence a cheating and neglectful husband snatched from her. To see the beauty in the mirror. Most she was born with, but other aspects she'd happily purchased: her hair—it was amazing what five hundred dollars and a hellified weave technician could do for a sistah; her full, lush eyelashes—she swore by MAC; and her two-inch nails—no need to explain.
When she was married to Ned, she had been but a pale version of the woman she saw now. His rules had dictated nothing less. No heavy makeup. No snug clothing. Her real hair in nothing snazzier than a bob. Nothing to draw the eyes of other men.
"If that fool could see me now," Zaria whispered as she twisted and turned a bit in the mirror to see herself from all angles. The twenty pounds she worked hard to drop revealed firm, plump, and high breasts; a relatively flat abdomen; and a perfectly round bottom—her best asset in combination with her curvy hips.
It was the kind of body that defied her age and she knew it. In the tradition of Vivica Fox, Halle Berry, and Salma Hayek, she was fortysomething and fabulous. Forty was the new thirty. She had the kind of body that some twenty-year-old women wished they had and even more twenty-year-old men wished they had in their bed.
Zaria used to think the dumbest thing she ever did was get married at eighteen years young and think it would last forever. But she topped that single foolish act when she cried like a baby when her high school sweetheart, her husband of twenty-two years and father to her twin daughters, left her two years ago for a twenty-year-old woman.
Viagra addict, she thought sarcastically of her ex.
When she married Ned Ali, he promised her the moon and stars. Too bad in the end he only delivered adultery and heartache. The last few years of their marriage had been pure hell.
Long, lonely nights.
Zaria felt like she had wasted over twenty years of her life trying to be the perfect wife to a less-than-perfect husband. She'd even laid the blame for her unhappiness solely at her own door. She was doing something wrong. She wasn't sexy enough or supportive enough or anything enough.
In hindsight, she saw the truth of her life. She'd missed out on so much trying to grow up way too fast, far too soon. No dating. No parties. No clubbing. None of the things most teenagers and twentysomethings experienced and learned from. Not even a college education.
Zaria tried to ignore the pang of hurt in her chest. Lord knows I messed up, and I have plenty of regrets, but no more....
During the last two years, she had made a concentrated effort to turn her life 180 degrees away from the past. It was entirely different from her happy homemaker days.
Zaria had a new career as a bartender that she loved. Freedom that she cherished. Friends whom she adored. She loved the control of her own life—which meant wearing what she wanted, seeing whom she wanted, and doing whatever she wanted when she damn well pleased.
Still, none of it was what she planned the day she got married. Divorce hadn't been a part of the picture at all.
Releasing a heavy breath filled with regrets, she quickly touched up her makeup before heading back to the dance floor, shimmying her feet and hips to the lively sounds of the reggae band that seemed to call to her.
An hour later, Zaria was still in the middle of the crowded dance floor beneath the hot red lights. She danced alone with nothing but the bass-filled music and the body heat pulsating against her frame. She didn't miss the circle of men in T-shirts, button-ups, and jerseys that seemed to be transfixed by her movements. And that made her feel like she had the thing she lacked the most in her marriage. Control.
After her divorce, Zaria promised herself she would always be in charge. Life would follow her plan. Everything on her terms. Absolutely everything.
Zaria's eyes opened as she awakened slowly. She released a heavy breath and then frowned at the taste of her own morning breath—made all the more horrible by the liquor residue clinging to her tongue. Way too much rum punch, she thought as she slowly sat up in the middle of the bed and held the side of her slightly pounding head.
She winced and then blinked at the scraps of paper littering the top of her lavender silk coverlet. She reached out to drag them all closer, remembering she'd emptied her pockets of them as soon as she walked into her bedroom last night.
A dozen or so numbers pushed into her hand throughout the night. She had to laugh because none of those young hardbodies knew about the finesse of handing a lady his business card—that was, if they even had the kinds of professions that called for them. Oh no, instead, lying between her open legs on the bed were bits and pieces of paper, napkins, gum wrappers, the torn corner of a club flyer, and even a receipt. All with the names and numbers of men who wanted to get to know her better.
But nothing about the men stood out to her, and she knew she would never call them as she scooped up all the confetti and leaned over to drop them into the top drawer of her nightstand atop the rest of her "souvenirs." As if it wasn't full enough.
The drawer was her trophy, her misplaced self-esteem during the first year after her divorce. Who gives a damn if Ned didn't want me? I have the names and numbers of plenty of men who do. Men to be called at my whim—well, if I had planned on calling them.
Climbing from the bed, she stretched her limbs in her blue lace bikini and matching tank before using her knee to close the drawer. Her stomach grumbled loudly, but she stopped to brush her teeth and wash last night's makeup from her face before finally leaving her bedroom on bare feet to head downstairs to the kitchen.
She moved at a snail's pace about the kitchen until she had fixed and enjoyed a full cup of strong coffee, extra sweet with lots of cream. Her twins liked to tease that she liked a splash of coffee in her cup of milk.
Zaria leaned back against the counter, her eyes shifting to the round table in the center of the breakfast nook. She felt a little melancholy as she was filled with memories of her girls when they were just eight years old, with their heads buried in their books as they did their homework at that table every day after school. Now they were finishing up their sophomore year at Denmark Tech with their own apartment down the block from the campus.
She wished they could have come home, with her having a rare weekend off from work, but her girls were deep into studying for their finals. So, Zaria was alone in the big house. All weekend.
She bit her bottom lip and furrowed her brow.
Her house was clean. There were no chores to be done. No big meals to be cooked. No yard to be raked or tended.
So many things about Zaria's life had changed. Many, many things.
Many things had to change.
"Thank God," she muttered, quickly fixing herself another cup of coffee before she made her way back upstairs to her bedroom.
Her cell phone was vibrating like a sex toy, and she nearly tripped over a three-inch-heeled bootie lying on the floor, having to steady her cup to keep from spilling her coffee as she rushed across the room to grab the phone. "Hello," she said breathlessly.
"Ummm ... Zaria?"
She smiled as she set her coffee cup on the nightstand. "Nigel." She sighed in pleasure, thinking of the tall and slender West Indian she met a few months ago at a Caribbean festival in Charleston. The College of Charleston grad student was handsome and smart and funny ... and just shy of twenty-five.
He laughed. "I thought I dialed the wrong number," he said.
At the thought of spending the rest of her long weekend alone around her house, Zaria was glad for a little friendly diversion. "No, you got me."
"You're not busy?" he asked, surprised.
"Nope." She stood up and sucked in her stomach, turning her head to eye her side profile in the mirror.
"Must be my lucky day."
Zaria walked over to her closet. "Or mine," she said.
"Then let's spend the day together," he offered.
Zaria reached for an oversized straw hat, plopping it onto her head. "A nice day at the beach sounds like a plan," she suggested, knowing her wish was his command.
It always was.
Zaria frowned at the steady beep signaling another call coming in.
"When and where should I pick you up?" he asked.
She looked at her phone. It was her supervisor from the restaurant bar where she worked. "Hold on one sec," she said, putting Nigel on hold as she answered the other line.
"Zaria, I hate to do this. I know this is your weekend off—"
"You need me to work," she said, cutting to the chase and skipping the BS.
"We need you in an hour."
She shook her head as she took the hat off her head and set it back on the shelf ... along with her plans for a fun day with a sexy young man willing to please.
Chapter TwoKaleb Strong leaned his broad and muscular back against the porch railing and pretended to look off into the distance at the vast lands of the Strong Ranch. Having spent all of his childhood and a good part of his adult years on the ranch, he knew it like the back of his hand—every bit of the hundreds of acres. But he preferred to look out at the barn and paddocks and beyond to pretend like he didn't feel like a fifth wheel.
His mom had cooked a big meal in honor of his dad's birthday. They had enjoyed their feast of barbecued ribs, collard greens and rice, and macaroni and cheese. Now they lounged on his parents' sizable front porch, enjoying the mild heat of late spring—his eldest brother, Kade, and his wife, Garcelle; his brother Kahron and his wife, Bianca; and his brother Kaeden and his fiancée, Jade. All were sitting beside their loves in that comfortable and easy way of people who adored each other. Even his parents, Lisha and Kael, were sitting side by side in their oversized black rockers like two peas in a pod.
And that left him sitting alone and looking like Only the Lonely.
Their baby sister, Kaitlyn, was away for the week on a cruise to Brazil with her friends and wasn't there to break up the feeling of a huge group date. Even his niece, Kadina, and his nephews, KJ and Karlos, were all napping inside the house and unable to serve as buffers to the love fest surrounding him.
All of his brothers had found the loves of their lives. They were clearly on the path to that long-lasting relationship that their parents had. Even Kaeden.
Kaleb looked back over his broad shoulder at his brother, who was warily eyeing a bee flying about the porch. Kaeden was allergic to any and everything outdoors. He was the only one in the family who didn't work on a ranch. Instead he was a successful accountant who handled all of the paperwork for their various ranches, plus he did the accounting for many businesses and corporations in the surrounding areas.
And unlike his brothers, Kaeden had never shown that cocky bravado when it came to women. Between Kahron, Kade, and himself, they had enjoyed their share of beautiful women, but Kaeden had always been reserved and cautious around women. At times even clumsy.
Kaleb shifted his deep-set eyes over to his brother's fiancée, Jade. She was the epitome of a beautiful woman. All curves and prettiness and sex appeal. The temptation of her honey had made him one of the many men of Holtsville buzzing around her skirts. While she swatted him away along with the rest, Jade had handed over the entire pot to his brother.
And she was completely in love with Kaeden.
Smiling, he shook his head as he looked away from them. There was a time when he would have given his right hand to spend a hot night in the woods with Jade, but those feelings vanished the moment she made her choice. Now, one year later, he looked at her with the same fondness as Garcelle and Bianca—and wished to have a woman just like them in his own life.
The quantity of women was not his problem—he was more of a connoisseur of fine females than any of his brothers. His mother always admonished him the hardest for being a playboy—or man-whore as she liked to say. Kaleb's problem was the quality of women who filled his mental black book—or rather the quality of his relationships with them. He should start trying dinner and a movie rather than staying in the bedroom and using a six-pack of Magnums. Or at least have the dinner and a movie first.
The sudden wail of the baby from the monitor caused everyone to jump in surprise.
Garcelle rose from her spot next to Kade on the top step of the porch. "Our bebé is awake from his nap," she said, her Spanish accent prominent.
"Bebé? Karlos just turned one a few months ago and he's almost as big as KJ," Kahron joked, the laughter in his eyes hidden behind his shades.
Everyone on the porch laughed, including Kade and Garcelle before she excused herself to walk into the house.
"Kade was big and sturdy like that too," Kael said, flipping the pages of the Press and Standard newspaper. "He looked like a six-month-old when he was born."
Lisha nodded and comically winced as she rocked in her chair. "Thank the heavens the rest of my children got smaller and not bigger," she said, looking over at Kade's six-foot-nine frame and winking at him.
Kael snorted in derision. "Thank the heavens everything snapped back into place."
"Oh, man, come on, Daddy, man," Kaleb moaned, frowning deeply as everyone else on the porch groaned.
He lowered the newspaper with an innocent expression on his square and handsome face. "What?"
Excerpted from THE HOT SPOT by NIOBIA BRYANT Copyright © 2011 by Niobia Bryant. Excerpted by permission of DAFINA BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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