I can do it. I can get away with murder.
All I had to do was hide the body. There were a million places in my employer's home to stash it long enough to hop a plane to a country with no extradition treaty… if I had the plane fare and was willing to leave my sick mother behind.
One of six useless bedrooms on the mansion's second floor behind me would do for a temporary grave. If dragging the sinfully good-looking, lean jackass with contoured muscles up there proved impossible, there were four dark corners in his ten-car garage a third of a football field's length away.
We were standing by... Scratch that. I was standing by the saltwater infinity pool. My boss, who had not one business qualifying him as an entrepreneur or gainfully employed—unless you counted socializing as work—was lounging on a six-hundred-dollar deckchair.
To murder him and get away with it, my best chance was dropping him into one of the gigantic potted tree pots surrounding the brown concrete deck. Figuring out how to remove him from the premises would be conjured up later. As he opened his kissable, blush-tinted lips to make life much more complicated than it had to be, I imagined carrying out such a plan.
"Kiyana, I know I said a month ago that I wanted Mylan's French Cuisine to cater my event next Friday, but I've changed my mind."
Of course, he had.
"I want Maria to do a seafood buffet. Lobsters from Maine, shrimp from Jamaica, King crab from Alaska. You know how I like it—the works. The best! Make it happen." He didn't snap his fingers, but he may as well with the way he spat out his orders with a "run along" look.
Mr. Sinclair wanted me to break the news to Maria Fontaine, his well-paid head chef, that he was changing the entire menu for his largest event of the year. She was going to stroke out. Meanwhile, I was already stroking out internally.
Not only did the jackass of our lives change his mind again, but he wanted everything imported from other states, and even some from another country, with one week's notice.
Glaring at the back of his head, I wondered if anyone would miss him if I killed him. He'd be missed by those who frequented California's social scenes of elite parties and expensive clubs but not for long. He was a jerk even amongst the rich and famous.
Mr. Sinclair was tolerated because his father was a billionaire technology mogul, known for eliminating his competition by taking over their companies. Larson Sinclair was the king of making money in California. His son reigned as prince over spending it, and Pasadena's trust fund babies were composed of his friends and girlfriends. Ex-girlfriends, too, come to think of it.
The millionaires in his circle kept him around to have access to his father, and he stupidly ate it up. They'd all just as quickly forget him when the next socialite did something impulsive enough to make the gossip columns or when their parents' net worth eclipsed Larson's. Standards for trumping Mr. Sinclair's spot as revered, royally-rich badass weren't the highest and easy to overcome in their world. A world my mounting debts kept me a part of as a worker, unfortunately.
"I can't make it happen, Mr. Sinclair. Unless we fly there on your jet, it takes two weeks or more for food to be delivered from out of the country to here. We learned this from your last event, remember? You're stuck with the menu you chose through Mylan's… or cold cuts."
Cold cuts would enter his home only if he were dead and buried. His corpse above ground would interfere too. I might as well had told him to streak down the street butt naked. No, the average person would be offended by that. He was a daredevil and untouchable enough in this state to actually do it… and get away with it.
His head, with mish-mash lengths of short hair, slicked back and deceitfully jet-black when soaked in pool water, slowly gravitated in my direction until it looked painful to have his neck twisted like that.
"Then, you're fired, Kiyana." Threatening me through gritted pearly whites while throwing daggers from good-sense reducing, steely-grey eyes happened often and were supposed to make losing this low-paying, awful job bad.
He hoped I'd tremble in my flats and become suddenly able to perform miracles workable by only God.
We played this game every day, going in circles until he accepted his demand wasn't possible.
I wasn't doing that today. I'd already had enough to make me heavily consider killing him, and it was time to go find greener pastures before I actually did.
Stepping up to his side at the glass end table burdened with his tumbler of whiskey, its decanter, and a platter of breakfast fruits and cheeses, I laid my issued iPad on the tabletop. I glared down at him, balling my empty hands up at my thighs.
"How about I do us both a favor and quit since you're even more unreasonable today than yesterday?" That shouldn't have been possible when Mr. Sinclair was an expert at expecting miracles and mistreating me when I couldn't make them happen.
Just yesterday, we faced off over his favorite suit not being available from the cleaners an hour after I had just taken it there. After informing him he could only get that kind of service if he owned the cleaners, he let it go and called Larson. How many people could pick up a phone and urge their father to build a dry cleaner and be taken seriously, simply because he doesn't want to wait more than an hour like regular people?
His world revolved around him, so he thought everyone should move when he said so. So did every other trust fund baby in this city. I had the unpleasant experience of dealing with too many of them. My luck had to be really bad to get stuck with the tough job of bringing the snob before me to harsh reality more than I cared to.
Done with that life, I strutted away from the worst boss ever for the last time. "Fuck that beautiful monster and all of his unreasonable demands. I'm out of here."
"Don’t you dare talk to me like that or walk out on me again,” he yelled after me, “or you’re done in this city everywhere this time!”
“You said that the last time and the time before that. This time, write it down that I was done with you first for good, dammit!”
Moving out of the city where I was born and raised wouldn’t be so bad. I might be able to find somewhere cheaper to live and a better boss who pays more. Willing to take my chances, I kept going.
As I walked away, my senses reveled in Pasadena's classic, gloriously sunny day. The weight of the world, my ex-boss’s world, wasn’t pressing down on my shoulders anymore. A better decision couldn’t have been made than to leave him to track down his own damn seafood.
Let’s see how that turns out.
Storming through the iron gates at the back of the house, I followed a stone walkway leading around the garage. We had done the ‘you’re fired if...’ dance quite a few times. I would tell him I couldn’t meet one of his demands, he would fire me on the spot, and the next morning he would have someone knocking on my door prepared to transport me back to work if I didn’t come on my own.
This time, I wouldn’t return at his insistence.
His rocks and whiskey voice trailed me around the corner. “I’ll give you a short time to calm down, then I expect you to get my food order done. Someone in this bloody city will answer the call and hop to it like you should be doing right now instead of pouting.”
Up went both of my bird fingers in response—unseen since I had rounded the corner already—and my verbal comeback of, “And you can quit saying ‘bloody’ as if you were born in Europe! More like Hell! Going to school abroad for six years doesn’t make you a native!”
Although, the slight accent he picked up at boarding school damn sure made him drool-worthy when he spoke. And when he wasn’t speaking. I’d never admit to either out loud, though. Hell, even in my head was too much.
He laughed loud enough to be heard several yards away. Of course he did. The man was a lunatic, always thinking he was in control of me. I allowed him to believe he was by keeping up the illusion just for the slave wages he paid.
And to think, I thought being around the uber-rich would somehow enhance my life. Wrong! This type of treatment was for the birds, and even birds deserved better.
My boss and everyone he knew was self-centered and atrocious individuals who would never lift a finger—bird nor index—to help another, much less me, who they all looked down upon as the help. No longer accepting that role, I made it unscathed into the garage, which was thankfully left unlocked today.
My 2007 Chevy Impala, on its last legs, sat between his 2023 Bugatti and Lamborghini. Both had millions of dollars worth of custom design.
I seethed in the driver’s seat of my car that barely valued four grand while looking at the material things he loved. He would die stiffer than hell if something happened to his beloved cars, but he couldn’t care less that I had a mother who deserved to live. She wouldn’t because his kind owned the pharmacies here and believed human longevity should come at a hefty price. One so steep that I’d never be able to afford even a small medicine bottle that would extend her life. I definitely couldn’t afford it if he blackballed me from working in Pasadena as anyone else’s assistant, which he was not above doing.
“People like him should feel what the little people go through in a world amongst self-proclaimed giants,” I spat, then realized I had a rare moment to make an untouchable like him feel my pain.
He should experience the burn of losing something he treasured.
I put my car in reverse in a split second, cutting the wheel too soon on purpose and backed up in a hurry. Better to do it now than not at all.
My front end plowed into the driver’s side of his Lamborghini. The back end mowed down the passenger side of his Bugatti. My much older and harder car shoved them to the side in a mangled heap of parts, much like how the monsters left the little people in their wake.
Laughing like a maniac, it felt damn good to have ruined something for him like he did to almost all my days and nights in his employ.
The thrill of giving one spoiled bastard a taste of his own medicine lasted until smoke billowed from under my smashed hood as I reversed into the lane, moving as slow as a turtle.
Temporary insanity fled as the urge to escape overtook me. It looked like that was the last thing I’d be doing. Mashing the gas pedal to the floor didn’t bring the desired results. Instead of shooting forward, the engine clunked loudly and then shut off.
Panicking, I tried cranking the car again. It sat quietly.
I banged my fists on the wheel and howled, “No, no!”
I was in trouble way faster than I should’ve been.
Retribution stepped through the open garage and stopped at the hood of my car to block my path. I stared at Mr. Sinclair through the dusty windshield. Money was too tight to have it cleaned regularly and time too low to do it for myself.
“Kiyana,” he drawled with a soft bite to each syllable of my name.
Sticking my head out the rolled-down driver’s side window, I lied through my teeth, “It was an accident.”
“I don’t think so. Most people stop once they realize they’ve hit two bloody damn CARS!” His roar filled the garage with more square footage than my apartment.
There had been no stopping after my collision with his treasures. The cameras mounted in almost every nook and cranny of the estate would prove that.
Still, I got a strange satisfaction from seeing him lose his shit. His unraveling calmed me, which was even more bizarre. Who was really the lunatic here?
Unsure of the answer, I knitted my fingers at my stomach, prepared to stay right where I was as I should. “You should call the cops and make a report. I have insurance.”
He should count his lucky stars that I had auto insurance. It wasn’t like he paid me enough to live in California and afford to operate a car. It took a lot of financial aerobics to stretch my paychecks and my mother’s disability stipend to the max to get the bare necessities.
Perfect clarity of mind resuming, I thanked God for my car breaking down when it did, preventing me from doing something else stupid. Fleeing the scene would’ve racked up a slew of felony charges. Had I gotten away, I would have only avoided prosecution for about five minutes.
I could just see it now. One of my ex-boss’s family lawyers throwing the book at me like a hardened criminal. The legal repercussions wouldn’t have been worth it once I reached the other end of the driveway where I’d meet not a bus or ready-to-hail cab but a long, winding road through hills filled with menacing wildlife that would get me way before the judge’s book did.
Neighboring homes were spaced at least a mile apart and occupied, so they were not the best places to hole up from the law.
Luckily, all I had to face was Mr. Sinclair’s bark and the bite of my insurance premiums rocketing sky-high. I recognized the latter would be my atonement—a severe one possibly lasting until I retired—for the great lapse in judgment.
How will you pay for your mother’s medicines and get her into an assisted living, eating through money like a cookie monster with no job?
To hell if I knew, but seeing his face right now was worth it. His olive, butter-smooth complexion was blood-infused, lips in a thin white line and nostrils flaring. His expression of righteous indignation, which I had caused him for a change, was a heavenly sight to me.
Heaven knew a pleasant anything was scarce in my life.
Mr. Sinclair approached the driver’s side of my car on stealthy bare feet that were masculine yet neatly maintained and had earned long glances from me when I first started working for him. I foolishly thought he was the most gorgeous thing I had seen back then.
He still was, only on the outside, where it didn’t count.
“As if any insurance you have can cover the full repair costs for any car I own. Remember, I pay you,” he remarked.
“Paid as in past tense, and it wasn’t enough for dealing with you,” I rebutted.
He pointed at the red sports car. “And you better take your job back because the back fender alone on the Bugatti is twenty-two thousand. Just ask Tracy Morgan if you don’t believe me. I do believe you met him at one of my parties.”
I had, and my mouth gaped open. “Twenty-two thousand for a fucking FENDER!!!” came out as a screech.
The bastard grinned like he enjoyed seeing me lose my shit, and he knew my policy covered up to and not past twenty-five grand in damages. The cut-rate fee I paid was still huge to my puny budget, and I went and did this. What the hell was I thinking?
I wanted to share my pain. I just didn’t think it all the way through clearly. My great lapse in judgment wasn’t so wonderful or worth it now. The pleasure of the moment sure as hell didn’t last long enough.
While I descended into a pit of despair, his smile grew sinister. He stalked quietly down my side of the car, bending over to fold his arms along the window sill of my door. “Twenty-two thousand for a bloody fender, yes. But that will only begin the needed repairs.”
“Fuuuuck,” released from me on a long exhale as I tipped my head back, closing my eyes and silently praying to all the Gods listening to let him be gaslighting me about the fender’s cost or for rescue from my own stupidity. It didn’t matter which one they answered as long as they came through for me.
“And we will fuck,” rumbled up from his chest. “It’s just a matter of when, where, and how long I deem it if you don’t want to be on the defendant’s side of a courtroom.”
His words sunk in like a load of shipping containers dropped on me. Prayer halted, my eyes popped open, and my stomach tumbled endlessly for several reasons. Most of them, I wouldn’t dare entertain the cause. There was no time when the stark fear of living on the streets with my sickly mother pumped through my veins.
Yanking my whole body in his direction until we were face to face, I yelped, “What does a courtroom and fucking you have to do with the cars? Why would you even slum it to fuck me? I’m not your type, and I just need to give you money out of my pocket for the damages.”
Money I didn’t have. What a fucking joke. I figured I must’ve been trying to imitate comedian Tracey Morgan by even putting my name and money in the same sentence.
Obviously getting the joke, Mr. Sinclair’s grin deepened. His gray peepers inflamed the skin on my face as they roamed over it, coming to a stop on my mouth.
“You don’t have money, but I will sue that perfect ass of yours for everything you’ve got, your family has, along with what either of you don’t have, and what all of you will have in the future. Since it’s obvious your insurance can’t cover the damages to my car, it’s a good thing I’m willing to let you make this right, isn’t it?”
On my back, of course.
That he thought my ass was perfect slid right into a compartment in the back of my mind for examination later. Right now, what little present and future financial stability I had needed to be defended.
Nails digging into the soft gray cloth covering my door, I lowered myself to plead, “But I….” I let that sentence trail off.
He knew I had nothing or no one besides my mother. My plea would fall on deaf ears. There was no point in going there, but one other thing he mentioned most certainly needed to be addressed.
“You can’t proposition me to sleep with you. It’s blackmail and just downright unethical,” I state indignantly.
Did I say unethical?
Who did I think I was talking to?
He was the essence of unethical. Accusing him of it wouldn’t help anything.
I was fucked, literally, and it was my fault for not taking the win when I quit. Nobody would work as hard for him as I had. That, alone, gave me the upper hand. He knew that. God did too. I should’ve remembered.
Due to my impulsiveness, the devil I knew could take advantage of me not being able to produce a single red cent outside the insurance I carefully managed to pay in case of moments like this. Moments that were supposed to happen by accident, not due to bad decisions made in the heat of a disagreement.
I was no better than Mr. Sinclair.
To make matters worse, he employed lawyers just as monstrous as him. They would come after the shirt on my back, which would be easy to do with the footage on his surveillance system painting a pretty picture in high definition of my crazed moment.
I would reap what I had sown one way or the other. It was just a matter of taking the least painful way out, which was to continue to work for him and fuck him on command. I rejected both thoughts. Neither sounded appealing.
Taking a deep breath, I mentally prepared myself to step willingly into his trap, surely lined with spikes, likely no way out or even a light to guide me through the abysmally long, pitch-black tunnel waiting for me.
I mumbled the words that would seal my fate. “What do you want me to do, Mr. Sinclair?”
I didn’t really want to know the answer, but there was my mother to think about. Furthermore, I would get the answer anyway because ruining my days was how Mr. Sinclair thrived.
He leaned in close enough for his whiskey and strawberry-laced exhale to fan my face. “For starters, you can stop calling me Mr. Sinclair. Say my name, Kiyana.”
That may have seemed like a small thing to ask anyone else. But by doing away with the barriers only formalities could erect, he was eliminating the distance I had painstakingly placed between us over the years. Evidently, he knew those barriers were there and planned to tear them down one by one.
I heard the figurative doors of his trap slam behind me, locking me in his proximity and control as his breath mingled with mine. Sucking up his carbon monoxide and staring into his irises brought on a major case of euphoria and exhilaration I hadn’t experienced since my first week of work for him. His nearness drowned me back then until I realized how big an ass he was. My lust for him had become an unwanted, constant companion.
Putting up mental and physical walls like humongous potted plants was a must to block his effect on me. Personal space was my savior in his presence.
Being locked in anything with him, whether professional, personal, or a simple stare-off, was bad for my health. All three combined would certainly bring disaster, even though his closeness was magnetizing.
“Say. My. Name, Kiyana,” he restated, imposing his will over me.
A wave of anger, so intense a category five hurricane seemed mild in comparison, bombarded me. Who wanted to be commanded, used, then discarded?
That might be some people’s thing, but it sure as hell wasn’t mine, especially when it concerned him. I had a deep-seated sense of self-preservation and could only imagine how he would mishandle my body and mangle my heart.
Not built to be his or anyone else’s plaything, I promised myself that whatever he dragged me into wouldn’t last long. I would find a way to escape, even if I had to kill him. A dead Cannon was probably another frivolous idea. Just as frivolous as ramming into his cars. I would have to plan my next move meticulously to make sure I got away with my name clear.
Moistening my lips that had dried under his fixation on my mouth, I gave him what he wanted. I hissed his name. “Cannon.”
“Thank you.” His smile blossomed until it rivaled the brightness of a solar flare.
And, oh, how I hated that his smile charmed and tormented me at once.
I opened her door like the gentleman I’d only ever be for her. “Let’s go in the house, Kiyana. We have a lot of things to work out.”
Mumbling something that sounded a lot like ‘you’ll rue the fucking day you were born after this’ beneath her breath, she stretched out one shapely, mile-long leg coated in caramel-colored flesh. Instead of acknowledging her threat, my palms itched to run up her supple thigh, bared by the rise of a black-knee skirt. Her other leg exited the car. Paired together, the sight of her gorgeous limbs took half the air out of my lungs.
Her feet encased in pleather ballerina shoes—she’d never afford real leather on her salary—set down on the concrete soundlessly. Eyes filled with bitter fury cut through me like a saw through wood. “I’d think you’d been planning this for a while because it took you no time to take advantage of the situation…Cannon.”
Smirking, I shut her door and took the lead, retracing my steps out of the garage. “I never could have imagined you’d wreck my cars, but I’ve been waiting for something to give me this advantage. I have more patience than you can imagine.”
“Why have you been waiting for something like this to happen?” she grunted behind me, no doubt throwing imaginary daggers at my spine and most likely mentally calling me a liar about having patience.
“All will be revealed in time, darling,” I answered vaguely, hoping to heighten the passionate anger already blazing inside her and get her to react to me.
I despised it when she went passive. This time when she exploded, I intended to take her in my arms and staunch the explosion with my own passion. Of course, she robbed me of that by not responding as if she knew that was what I craved. She would detonate for me in due time. After all, we were headed to my bedroom to discuss the details of her future.
Her presence felt like a brewing storm behind me, a flashpoint for everyone in her path but aimed directly at me. Certain that whatever she threw at me—hot words or hot lava—could be tamed, I reflected on the last two years, forty-eight long months and twenty days she worked for me. It was an excruciating wait to snare this woman in a trap that would end with her delectable body in my arms.
I didn’t know it would take the ruin of two of my favorite possessions, but I’d been so desperate to get her where I wanted her. It didn’t matter which one of the traps I’d set had worked. My circle wasn’t known for patience, compassion, or fighting fair, and my control over her income should have given me the edge faster.
Keeping her pay at a few dollars above the cost of living in Pasadena was supposed to have her asking things of me that I could, in turn, demand payment of my choosing. Unlimited access to her time would’ve been my first stipulation until she realized how good we could be together. How I’d do anything for her. How much I loved her. However, my upper hand over her finances never netted any of the desired advantages.
“Nothing to say, Kiyana,” I taunted, following the cool stone of the curving walkway up the side of the garage.
“All will be revealed in due time,” she patronized. “Isn’t that what you just said?”
“Yes, that’s bloody well what I said,” I grumped back at her, adding, “...but you forgot to add ‘darling’ at the end.” She didn’t hear the latter, which was spoken for my ears only.
Turning my words on me was just as frustrating as her passiveness. Both were efficient weapons in an arsenal that kept me at a distance from a formidable opponent in a battle of wills that she didn’t know she was in.
She was underneath my skin, and I wanted to be under hers with a vengeance. Fair play, right?
Well, damn fair play. I wanted to take things a step further and make her lose control while I was in her skin. I wanted to be the only one to take her to places she’d never been before in and out of the bedroom.
As we approached the poolside, I snagged the whiskey decanter and a clean glass from their tray and headed to the back French doors that opened into the kitchen.
The drink wasn’t for me. After I made my demands for her time, her body, her everything, Kiyana would need it. Imagining the ways I’d make her scream my name while she came had me smiling evilly.
She was at my mercy, finally. It cost me damage to two posh cars, but it was worth it.
The cover for Savage Bosses will be revealed in five more days. Get ready to join us on a Facebook Hop to reveal the cover, where you'll have a chance to win two amazon gift cards and Savage Bosses Merch.
About Savage Bosses:
Handsome, rich, and cocky.
Ruthless, cold-hearted, and calculating.
That’s how most describe these bosses. However, in and out of the boardroom, there's one word that describes them best.
These billionaire bad boys will keep you on your toes during the day and have you moaning their names at night. They’re proof that the bigger the boss, the harder they fall… in love.
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Cover Reveal 11/15/2022!
Carmen Lawrence has revealed the cover for Be Mine!
Releasing September 15, 2022
The phrase Friends with Benefits takes on new meaning for Gee and Zoey when their relationships go south, and they find themselves in each other's arms seeking comfort and healing. Gee isn't satisfied with just being her friend and sets new rules that leave the ball in Zoey's court.
Left broken-hearted by her ex-boyfriend, Zoey wants no part of anything Gee's cooking up. After all, her ex was a man, and she won't trust men anytime soon. Zoey just wants to have some no-strings-attached fun and be left alone.
With Gee's deep love, patience and caring attitude, will he wear down Zoey's resistance? Will Zoey realize how much she cares about Gee before it's too late? Or will she set her own rules and live life on her own terms to protect her heart?
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Four Days Ago
“Time!” Cedric, the mental health facility guard, yelled like a maniac. Whenever I heard his voice, I felt trapped inside a Freddy Krueger movie, where I’d fallen asleep, and Freddy was nearby. Worse than the sound of Cedric’s voice was the creepy look on his freckled face whenever he looked at me. I mean, he was creepy-looking anyway, but when our eyes met, the creepiness intensified.
We all knew what he meant when he yelled “time,” so we filed out of our rooms, heading up the hall toward the rec room where our visitors awaited. Visitation was allowed every Wednesday and Saturday, and my mother was here every Saturday like clockwork.
My mother and I exchanged a hug and sat down. “I saw Miyah today. I stopped by Titus’s house before I came here,” she began.
“Oh, good. How is she?”
“She’s doing good. Started first grade and says she loves it. I just… I don’t know.” She wrang her hands, pausing to think about what she wanted to say next. The worried look on my mother’s face expressed the rest of what she was trying to say. She never was good at hiding her true feelings.
“I know you think Monika has taken my place in Miyah’s life, but Miyah only has one mother. One day, I will explain how we got to this point. And one day, I will do what it takes to reclaim my place in her life. But that’s my burden to bear, Mama. Just don’t judge me right now, not when I’m already dealing with so much.”
She huffed and stilled her hands. “I didn’t say that Monika took your place. Don’t put words in my mouth.”
“No, you didn’t say it, but you thought it. Every time you visit me, you say something about how Monika and Miyah are bonding. I know you don’t like that I’m here, and they have my child, but you don’t have to do that. It makes me feel worse.”
“I just think about how you need to start building a relationship with your daughter as quickly as you can before—”
Mama’s eyes cast downward. “Before it’s too late.”
“To be honest, her having a relationship with Titus’s girlfriend is okay with me right now.” It had to be. I was locked in a secured mental facility under a judge’s orders. There was basically no way out for me. Why couldn’t my mother get that?
“I just don’t like it,” she pouted.
“That makes two of us, but have you looked around this place? There’s nothing I can do but talk about it. I can’t change what’s happening in the outside world. And I don’t and can’t blame anyone for my situation but myself.”
She knew I was right, but somehow I lost her attention. She gave it to the television playing in the background. A groan from the front of the room brought my attention to Cedric. His eyes were now glued to mine. It took everything to not roll my eyes at the intrusive guard. I had only a few more days before being discharged from this place and wanted no problems with the staff, so I turned back to my mother.
“Look, I’m getting out of here soon. I’ll talk to Miyah then.”
Mama smiled. “You’re right. It’s almost time for you to be released. Can’t wait to have my daughter and granddaughters under one roof.”
“I hope Miyah accepts me back into her life.”
“What are you saying? You’re her mother. She will accept you. If not, you have to figure out a way to be in her life. She needs you!” she exclaimed.
Like I needed you was on the tip of my tongue, but I left it dangling in my mind.
“With all I’ve done, I understand that I will have to build from the beginning. It may take some time, but I’m not forcing anything on Miyah that she doesn’t want,” I announced, more so because I needed to hear myself say it than my mother needed to listen to it. I refused to put my feelings above Miyah’s needs any more than I had already done.
A pained expression wrinkled her beautiful but weathered face. “So, are you saying you'll just stay away if she doesn’t want you around?”
“Yeah. That’s what I’m saying. I will respect her wishes.” I’d matured to the point where I knew my daughter’s well-being was more important than my feelings. “This is on me, Mama. I got us in this, and I’ll have to figure the best way out.” I glanced away as the realization that I’d been calling her Mama without hesitation dawned on me.
“Thanks, baby girl.”
“No problem. I love my daughter, and I will work as hard as I have to get her to understand that.”
“Thanks for that, too. But what I meant was thanks for calling me Mama. I realize I don’t deserve it, not after telling you to call me Rain all those years ago. Though you hardly called me Rain, I used to despise it when you called me your Mama. Somewhere deep down inside, I didn’t want to be a mother. I wanted my sixteen-year-old life back, the one I lost when I got pregnant with you. I was wrong to put you through that, but I was only thinking about myself.”
“Though you were only a kid yourself, I guess being as wrong as two left shoes runs in our family.” Talk about a generational curse. This one was whipping our asses. “But now you’re projecting your failures and adding them to mine. I’m responsible for what I did, and you’re responsible for what you did,” I told her.
“You’re right.” Mama’s attention landed on Cedric, the oversized guard standing against the mustard-colored walls. I hated this place and every bad-taste fixture in every room. The mustard-colored walls must’ve been a part of the punishment. She tilted her head toward Cedric. “Every time I come here, that big guy is eying you like you’re a piece of ham at Thanksgiving. What’s his deal?”
I tried to shrink in my seat. “I don’t know. He’s looking like we’re over our time limit.” I peered at the old brown clock on the wall. I still had thirty more minutes before visitation hour was over. I turned my attention back to my mother and could have sworn I saw Cedric lick out his fat tongue and slide it along his protruding lips. Shaking that image out of my mind, I added, “He always acts like that.”
“I can’t wait until you get out of here.”
“You think you can’t wait. Well, I really can’t wait to get out of here.” If I wasn’t crazy before I got here, I was damn sure going to be on the brink of insanity before I left.
It wasn’t the therapeutic sessions that bothered me. It wasn’t even the nurses because some were good, genuine people. It was the isolation and not being around people who actually loved me for who I was.
Once upon a time, I had real friends who loved me. The time I had to self-reflect on the events that led to me sitting in a mental institution and knowing I couldn’t change what I’d done only drove me madder.
“I just worry so much about my girls,” my mother said with a sigh. “I worry about you being in here and Miyah being with Titus.”
“I don’t want you to worry about me or Miyah. I’ll be getting out soon, and she’s in the best place for her. Titus loves her, and Monika treats her good. When I get out of here, I have to start from the beginning to build a relationship with her,” I stated out of the necessity to feel at peace with the turns my life had taken.
“I guess you’re right. I just wanted to bring her with me, but you know how Titus is. He didn’t want her to come. He gets on my nerve with his overprotectiveness sometimes.”
“I agree with him, though. I don’t want her to see me like this.” It’d been a year since I last laid eyes on both of my daughters. When Mama mentioned bringing them up here, I begged her not to. She was still convinced that they needed to come to this mental institution for a visit. I wholeheartedly disagreed. I didn’t want my girls to see me like this.
It’d been three hundred and seventy-eight days since I walked out of the courtroom in the custody of Georgia State Psychiatric Services. I had a lot of ground to cover when I was released, but I wanted to cover it when I was free to do so without any inhibitions.
“Look, Mama, when she sees me again, I want her to be proud of me. I don’t want her to see me in some hospital lockup, looking like I’ve just committed a crime. I’m not even going to try to visit her when I get home. Not until I get my shit together.”
Sadness entered my mother’s eyes before they diverged from mine. She looked like she wanted to say something but couldn’t bring herself to form the words.
“See, it’s that right there. That’s the look I don’t want her to have when she sees me. I’m already disappointed in myself. Seeing that look in my daughter’s eyes will break me even more. I know you’re not proud of the things I’ve done. You don’t have to keep pretending that what I’ve done isn't horrible. I know it is.”
Her eyes met mine. “I’m not judging you, and why would I? Who am I to judge? I have done a lot of things I’m not proud of. I just want what’s best for you. Deep down, I always have.”
And deep down, I believed her.
“Well, let’s make a promise. When I get out of here, I will change my life. I will be a good mother to Miyah and Antonia. I will be a better daughter, too.” I wanted to say I would be a better friend, but I didn’t have any friends. Given my history, it would be best to keep it that way. So I focused on a relationship I could fix. “You… we can work on rebuilding what broke between us so many years ago. It’s time to put us back together.”
“Deal. It’s definitely time for that. I will work on being the mother you deserved all those years ago when you needed me the most. Until there is no more breath in my body, I will be right by your side, Rhonda,” she said with thick emotions filling her tone.
My fluttering heart ached. I sucked in a shocked gasp. Those were the words I’d longed to hear her say. The words my soul recognized as a salve to begin the healing process. She was the only woman still in my life—the only woman from my past who still had faith in me. Shayla would never consider me a friend again. Mrs. Janice probably had the same energy. And Gladys wouldn’t spit on me in a fire. At this point, who could blame either of them?
Ready to stop crying over spilled milk, I had to move forward. That meant leaving the F word behind. It would be best if I never had a friend again. Apparently, my F-switch was broken.
“When was the last time you saw Jameson?” Mama asked.
“He visited me Wednesday.”
Mama smiled. “He doesn’t miss a beat, does he?”
I shook my head. “No, he doesn’t. I’m so blessed to have him by my side, though I told him he doesn’t have to wait for me.” A pressured feeling came over my chest at the thought of Jameson moving on with someone else, leaving me to fend for myself.
“Count your blessings, honey, because Jameson is not going anywhere. That man’s eyes light up just at the sound of your name. Nope, not going anywhere. Probably hasn’t even touched himself since you’ve been gone.”
“Mama!” I laughed.
“It’s true.” Her eyes lit up as she began spilling the tea. “Oh, let me tell you about this case he’s working on. This rap-star Marli had two girls at the Zanzabar jumped because they were sleeping with her husband.”
“I didn’t know that. We don’t talk about his work when he comes up here.”
She wiggled her brows. “Uh-huh, that’s because he’s all about you.”
I smiled. “I think I remember Marli. She’s the one who had that Pink Kodak song, who had just come out when I got put in here. I have zero access to social media here. Unless it comes on the six o’clock news, I don’t know what’s happening. But Jameson has her case, huh?”
“Yeah, and he’s already gotten the charges lowered from attempted murder—one of the girls got stabbed and put in the hospital—to accessory to assault. Says he can get all the charges dropped against Marli since she didn’t actually attack the girls, and there’s no proof that she was involved.”
“My guy is good at what he does.” I wasn’t in prison doing the hard time the DA wanted to stick to me because of the way Jameson handled my case. “Listen, I wasn’t going to tell you because I wanted to surprise you when I got home, but I’m being released next week. Jameson told me about the early release Wednesday.”
My mother’s hand flew to her mouth to cover a squeal. “Oh, Rhonda. Are you serious?”
“Yep, I’m going to be a free woman Thursday.”
My mother leaped from her chair like a teenager and rushed around to hug me. She wrapped her arms around me so tight that I could hardly breathe. “I’m so happy for you. You get to start over, have a whole new life!”
We both knew this day would come, but her happiness was contagious.
I smiled. “I’m ready. I’m going to take it one day at a time, but I’m ready.”
She leaned back and looked into my eyes. Her face glowed with the same beauty I admired when I was five. “I’ll be with you every step of the way,” she assured.
She sat down, and the rest of the visit was her catching me up on what was going on on my favorite show, Power. I watched it every week when Mama stayed at my apartment, and she became addicted too. There weren’t many popular shows playing on the TVs at the mental hospital, so I was so far behind on Power. We could only watch the news, game shows, and Court TV. I guessed they figured anything else would be too triggering for women with many different backgrounds and reasons for being here.
“And that damn Tariq and Tasha are the last two people who deserve a spinoff. I can’t stand their asses, and the writer is giving us more of them. I don’t know what she’s thinking, but she lost me. She should have just given us the prequel next. I want to know more about Ghost, Tommy, and Kanin’s actions that led up to Power. Not be forced to watch a series about the two least popular people on the show. Bad decision. I hope the writer and the network make better choices the next time. Until then, I canceled that channel,” she ranted, surprising me with how engrossed she was with the storyline and how upset she was with the writer.
I was tickled. “Mama, you’re too—”
The guard ended my reply by yelling, “Time!”
“…much,” I ended my sentence with a huff. Visiting time was over.
“Dang, that’s a creepy mofo right there. Always acting like this is a prison,” Mama huffed.
I stood to get ready to leave. “In many ways, this is a prison. But I just have four more days, then I’m out of here and never looking back.”
“Yeah.” My mother stood and looked at the guard with a dignified glare, who quickly turned his head in another direction when she made eye contact with him. “Watch that guy there. The vibes I get from him are all bad. It’s just something about him that ain’t right. All these doctors and nurses in here can’t see that one ain’t right in the head?”
“Trust me, I get the same feeling. That’s why I try my best to stay out of his way. Come on.” I walked her to the doorway, where we hugged and said our goodbyes.
“See you at home next weekend, Rhonda!” she said with excitement in her tone.
“I’ll be so happy when I get home.”
“Only a few more days!” she exclaimed as she walked out the door.
I started down the hallway leading to my private room. After six months here, I was given the privilege of my own tiny space. It was much better than sharing a room with another woman battling her own demons.
“So you leaving next week, shorty?” Cedric asked.
Shorty? When the hell did he start calling me shorty?
My stomach tied up in knots. My mother’s repeated cautioning about him rang in my head like alarm bells. I took a moment to really look at him. She was right. He did look mad creepy.
Averting my eyes from his, I let out the breath trapped in my throat. I didn’t want any problems before it was time for me to leave. This guy could make problems for me if he wanted to.
“Yeah, I get out Thursday,” I said softly.
“Maybe we could hook up sometimes before you leave.”
“What do you mean ‘hook up?’”
“I don’t know. Just to hang out. In your room, sometimes after everyone else is asleep.”
I stopped and stared up at Cedric. He was a big guy—more overweight than buff, but he wasn’t bad-looking. If he didn’t carry himself like a creep—and I didn’t have the finest man in Georgia waiting for me to get out of this place—I might have entertained him for a conversation or two. But nah, I was good.
I started walking back toward my room. “I don’t think that’s a good idea. I have a boyfriend.”
At least, I hoped I still had one. Jameson came to visit me every week. He still looked at me like I hung the moon and stars. But I wasn’t one to kid myself. Locked up like a loon, I could do nothing for him, and many women were willing to do everything I couldn’t do.
Cedric shadowed me down the hallway. “I seen ol’ boy, the one who come up here every Wednesday. That yo’ man?”
I nodded. “That’s him.”
“Damn, shorty. The pussy gotta be good if he up here like that. You ain’t gave him none in a year, and he still up here sniffing for it. Gotta be good.” His eyes roamed over me, stopping at my center. His thick tongue slithered out of his mouth and ran across his cracked lips, moistening every spot it touched.
Just looking at him was starting to work my last nerve. “What did you just say?” I asked in a raised tone.
“Nothing, shorty. I didn’t say nothing.” He veered to the right down the hall leading to the security office. He walked backward, still checking me out as he retreated. “See you soon, shorty. Very soon.”
There’d always been a cloud of uneasiness in the air when Cedric came near me, but he hadn’t struck up a conversation until right then. And now, I felt the uneasiness tenfold.
I sighed. “Four more days, and I’ll be out of here.”
What do you think will happen between Rhonda and Cedric?
I'm not letting my wife's past come back to haunt her.
She's mine to protect now.
Mine to blow sh-t up for.
My boss’s friend is sexy as sin and has a smile that can make any girl weak.
However, he’s fifteen years older than me.
That should be enough to keep me away.
But something keeps pulling me back to him.
If that was my only problem, I could figure my life out.
On top of everything, my best friend has turned stalkerish and now wants me all to himself.
And he’ll do anything, even hurt me, to keep me.
I don’t know what made her think I would leave her when she needed me.
I had never abandoned anyone or anything in my life.
Until I didn’t return from leave because my woman was being threatened.
One look at her so-called best friend has me ready to pounce.
But I’m the property of the USA.
I can’t have the military tracking me down to toss me in the Brigg for assaulting a citizen.
Uncle Sam should know that I will protect my woman and our child, though.
No one will stand in my way.
Darkness lurks behind their gazes.
There’s something sinister about their smiles.
Their name incites fear in their enemies.
Their touch arouses passion in the women they love.
They are the DeLucas. In the streets and in the sheets, there’s one word that describes them best.
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