Rolland held her until she was still. “Besides liking that you’re blocking the sun, I would really like to kiss you.”
His lips greeted hers in a kiss that defined perfection in its simplicity. There was a knowing about the way his mouth moved over hers, an assuredness in how his head tilted, and hers dropped to the side and back to accept his mouth and tongue, that made her know this wouldn’t be the last time. That thought brought reality screeching back.
She planted both her hands against his chest and moved herself away.
“Wait. I need a minute.” All of her senses began to work again and she heard birds caw. Squirrels hustled about their business and a deer ran past heading east.
Rolland got closer and though she didn’t want to, she had to stop him.
CARMEN GREEN was born in Buffalo, NY, and had plans to study law before becoming a published author. While raising her three children, she wrote her first book on legal pads and transcribed it onto a computer on weekends before selling it in 1993. Since that time she has sold more than thirty novels and novellas, and is proud that one of her books was made into a TV movie in 2001, Commitments, in which she had a cameo role.
In addition to writing full-time, Carmen is now a mum of four, and lives in the Southeast of America. You can contact Carmen at www.carmengreen.blogspot.com or email@example.com.
This is my inaugural book for Mills & Boon® Cherish, so I thought I should introduce myself. I am Carmen Green and I’ve been a writer since the mid-nineties. I love writing funny, offbeat novels, but I have a serious side too, so you’ll never really know what to expect. I love learning, flowers, family, friends and food. I never go on loops, but I don’t mind talking to people, doing interviews or appearing at conferences. I love travelling and experiencing new things. I have great friends in this business and those that know me well know that I’m funny, straightforward and honest.
This book is quite special to me. Traumatic Brain Injury is a very serious condition, and for those that suffer from this condition and their families it is often life-altering. My prayers and thoughts go out to all of those who continue the battle to improve their lives and the lives of those affected by TBI. I try to reply to all of my readers. My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and my website is www.authorcarmengreen.com.
I look forward to hearing from all of you.
Peace and blessings,
This book is dedicated to the US Military, and to Lori Bryant Woolridge and Nina Foxx, two of the women along with myself who founded the Femme Fantastik Tour.
Melanie stood on the top step of her Atlanta, Georgia, home and wondered how any woman in her right mind could be wearing stockings in this kind of June heat. The tall black woman who’d just rung her doorbell smelled faintly of cigarettes and looked as if she needed one bad.
An odd expression crossed her face, and Melanie looked at her own left hand and jerked it behind her back, embarrassed. She was still holding the Not Pregnant test stick from the pregnancy test she’d just taken, and her flush of disappointment sizzled into nothingness under the bright noon sun.
“I’m sorry, I just heard the door a second ago,” Melanie said, pocketing the apparatus.
“Mrs. Melanie Bishop?”
“Yes, that’s me.”
Regret passed over the woman’s face before she tapped Melanie’s arm with a large manila envelope. “You’ve been served.”
Hubert, Boyle and Stein. Divorce attorneys. She’d heard whispers about them in the ladies locker room at the country club her husband had insisted they join. They were the best. Or the worst. Depending on which side of the table you were on.
Her smile felt parched and false.
The woman took the winding steps down to the sidewalk in a hurry but sensing no threat, slowed down as she walked to her old grayish-looking Civic and got in. The car rumbled to life, but she didn’t pull off.
Melanie stared at the envelope, knowing, but not wanting to know, why Deion was having her served.
The massive front door was blue. Deion wasn’t fond of blue, but he hadn’t said he hated blue. She could’ve changed it. Would’ve, had she known.
Maybe they shouldn’t have compromised on the Porsche he’d wanted, and should have gotten it instead of the Lexus SUV.
But where would he put the baby when they had one?
That had been her argument.
Maybe he’d gotten tired of her arguments for everything.
Maybe Deion hated—
“Yes?” she said, looking around, unsure of who was calling her. It was the process server.
The woman had leaned over the passenger seat and was looking out the window. “You got a mama?” she called up to her.
“She died seven years ago.” What an odd question coming from a stranger.
“A sister or best friend?”
“A friend.” Him. Only him.
“Go in your house and call her right now. Okay?”
“Okay.” Melanie turned the knob and put her shoulders into pushing the heavy door open. “Thank you.”
Inside the house, her sneakers made hush, hush sounds on the nearly black hardwood floors and not for the first time, she felt as if the cool silence was mocking her. She’d only agreed to this house because she’d thought they’d fill it with children. But they’d been trying for five years and she didn’t need telepathy to tell her that the papers in her hand were her expiration notice.
“Dial Deion’s cell phone,” she said aloud to the voice-activated system that controlled everything in the house.
She walked to their bedroom to Deion’s closet and didn’t notice more than the usual amount of clothes gone.
Deion was in New York at a conference for portfolio managers. She could hear his cell ringing, then roll over to voice mail. She sat on the end of their bed.
“This is Deion Bishop. I’m making deals happen, and if you’re ready, I’ll make them happen for you. Leave your name and number.” His voice was still sexy after seven years of being together. She hadn’t tired of it. Would never.
“Honey, we need to talk,” she said, injecting a smile into her voice. “There has to be some way we can make this work. We can talk about anything. Please call me here at home. I love you. Goodbye. End call.”
Two weeks after she was served, Melanie slid her maid’s paycheck through the crack in the front door, but wouldn’t open it all the way. “I don’t need you this week, Juanita. I’m just not feeling well and I don’t want you to catch my germs.”
“Mrs. Bishop, I clean two times a week, every week for five years. Mr. Bishop says so. He doesn’t like his bathroom with any dirt. I’m coming in.”
“No!” Melanie swallowed her tears. “Mr. Bishop isn’t here right now, so there’s no need to worry about his bathroom. Here, I’ll pay you for the entire month. I’ll call you when I need you. Thank you, Juanita.”
“Mrs. Bishop, you okay?”
“I’m fine,” she said, closing out the concerned-looking woman. “Goodbye. I’ll call you. Really. Bye, now.”
Melanie closed the door and walked back to her bedroom. “Call Deion at work,” she commanded, relieved when she saw Juanita’s car slowly leave the cul-de-sac.
“Good morning, MJM Portfolio Management.”
“This is Melanie Bishop. May I speak to Rod Burke?”
“Just a moment, please.”
At least this time she didn’t get the baffled silence from the receptionist.
“Melanie, it’s Rod. I heard that you’ve been calling.”
“I have, Rod. Deion isn’t home from a trip he left from two weeks ago. I’m worried. He hasn’t answered his cell and I’m not sure where exactly he is.” She’d been weeping so long, her throat was raw. She cleared it, knowing she sounded like a desperate housewife. “Where is he?”
“Melanie, Deion quit working here two weeks ago.”
“What?” Shock and panic and a desperate sense that everything was coming to a close enveloped her. He loved his job and if he quit there, he had much bigger plans.
“Deion walked in one day, said he had an opportunity he couldn’t pass up and handed in his resignation. I wasn’t happy at all, but I couldn’t stop him.”
“When was this?”
“Exactly two weeks ago today.”
“Rod, do you still hold his license?”
“No, I gave it to him. We severed all ties, and he left. Funny thing, though, I thought he was going to try to undercut me and take his top clients, then I’d have recourse to sue him, but he hasn’t touched them.”
Melanie knew better than to say Deion wouldn’t cheat Rod, but that’s how Rod had gotten his start—by avoiding his former firm’s client list.
“Nothing at all, Rod?”
“Not a peep. Mel, I wish I could help, but I’ve got a meeting. I don’t know any more than I’ve told you.”
“Sorry to bother you.”
“No bother. Bye,” he said and hung up.
Melanie listened to the dial tone. All communication between her and Rod was probably over forever.
The tears poured from her as she walked from room to room, opening doors, letting her pain fill each space. Open-mouthed she cried out her sorrow in the nursery that would never know the rhapsody of her children’s glee. The guest room that had never experienced the joy of a guest, and the master bedroom that had lost its master and mistress.
Tripping on her slippers, she tumbled down the step in the den and lay there, wishing her pain would end. Why hadn’t he just told her face-to-face it was over?
How could he break her heart this way?
A hand touched her shoulder and she jumped.
“Mrs. Bishop, why are you crying?”
“Juanita? You’re back.”
“Yes, ma’am. I was worried about you. Come on, get up. I was afraid. This is my husband, Jusef.”
They helped her off the floor and to the sofa. Juanita dispatched her husband to the kitchen for a towel and glass of water. “What’s wrong?”
“He left me and I don’t know why. Just served me with divorce papers weeks ago and he’s gone.”
Juanita rubbed Melanie’s back and closed her eyes. “Let me pray for you.”
Softly in Spanish she prayed for Melanie as Jusef stood in the doorway and waited. When his wife was done, he brought the water. “May I see the papers? I’m in law school.”
“You are? Juanita, I didn’t know.”
Shame filled Melanie because she’d never gotten to know the woman who cleaned her house and had indulged her and Deion’s nonsensical wishes. “I’m so sorry.”
“No. I came here to do my job not to talk, talk, talk. I do enough of that at home. I’m helping Jusef through law school and then he will help me through culinary arts school. We will do well together.”
There was love in this family, Melanie saw, and respect. She wished she’d been able to have that with Deion.
Melanie finished the water and felt better.
“Jusef, the papers are on the dining room table. They’re clear-cut and he even signed them. I’m leaving. I was just walking around thinking about all the dreams that were lost, and I guess I got overwhelmed. This morning I accepted a job in Kentucky.”
“Are you sure you won’t give him a little more time?” Juanita asked, her own eyes sympathetic.
Melanie wiped her tears and accepted Juanita’s hug. “No. I talked to his boss and he said Deion quit his job. I’ve called everyone and nobody’s seen him. Nobody knows anything and if they do, nobody’s saying. He doesn’t want me to find him. It’s time to face reality that he’s gone for good.”
Jusef returned, reading the papers. “You can take what you want. Do you want to contest this?”
“No. He’s being more than generous.”
“He may have more assets.”
“No, I’m not going to fight over anything. I put some things in the car and I shipped my gardening tools and seasonal clothing yesterday.”
Juanita looked around. “You didn’t take anything.”
“I did. Some papers and other smaller things I wanted. I kept the personal things he gave me, but overall I want to make a fresh start. I have money, so I’ll buy whatever I need once I get there. Do you need anything, Juanita?”
“No, ma’am. We are just fine.”
“Juanita, we need a bed. Our bed is twenty-five years old and we are only thirty. Why are you saying no?” Jusef said. “You didn’t learn anything from church on Sunday.”
Melanie smiled for the first time in days. “Jusef, I’ve got just the bed for you.”
The next morning, Melanie felt the tears building, but kept them at bay. She swept up the last of the trash and pulled the garbage can to the curb, waited as the garbage man dumped it, then dragged it back to the garage where she hosed it down. She washed her hands, then walked back down the driveway.
“Mrs. Bishop, you sure you want me to take all of this?”
“Yes, please enjoy everything.”
Melanie looked at Juanita’s overloaded Chevy Trail-blazer. She’d filled the SUV with all the items a new couple would need to start a home. Jusef’s brother had brought his big truck and had carted away the bed this morning after Jusef and Juanita had awakened. They’d been kind enough to stay overnight with her.
Melanie stood by Juanita’s side, then hugged her fiercely. Jusef came down the driveway and handed her the keys. The house was locked up and she couldn’t look back.
“I’ve paid the utilities and taxes. You’re going to come by every two weeks to check on the place and make sure nobody bothers it,” Melanie said to Juanita, looking at the ground.
“That’s right, Mrs. Bishop, I mean, Melanie.”
“Here’s my number if you need me. The alarm company has your number. If you want to quit, move, or whatever, please call me.”
“I won’t quit. You paid me a year’s salary in advance. If he comes back, shall I call you?”
“No. Just tell him all the bills have been paid, and he’s officially divorced.”
Melanie climbed into her car, which had been backed down the driveway by Jusef moments ago. He’d turned the Volvo around and positioned it on the cul-de-sac so she wouldn’t have to look at the house as she drove away.
“You are sure?” Juanita asked.
“Stop, Nita,” Jusef cajoled. “She is ready.”
Melanie took a deep breath, then stuck her left hand out the window, and they grasped it and blessed her. She let go first and drove away, tears blurring her eyes, listening to the recording as she drove, “I’m sorry the number you have reached is not in service or has been temporarily disconnected.”
“Rolland, you’re doing great.”
Rolland Jones didn’t doubt for a minute that he was doing better than great. When he’d first arrived at Ryder Rehabilitation and Spinal Center, he couldn’t even sit up without help. Now he was in a mad race to the finish on his stationary bike against Horace, his physical therapist.
Horace perspired like crazy as if they’d been riding for hours, when they’d been on for only twenty-five minutes. Rolland couldn’t help but laugh at the enthusiastic man who never seemed to have a bad day.
“Okay, big Ro,” Horace challenged. “What is a biathalon? Forty-five seconds.”
Rolland’s legs were longer but he stayed at a moderate pace as he’d been taught. “A biathalon is a cross-country skiing and shooting event.”
“Correct.” Horace pumped his arms in the air cheering. He picked up his water bottle and used it as a pretend microphone. “And now for the final two thousand points, and to be crowned the unofficial, unolympic winner of the miniature-size trophy of a chocolate candy bar with peanuts, you must answer this question correctly.”
Rolland was already laughing. “Give me the question.”
“Sir, don’t rush the announcer. Who is the all-time highest scoring male basketball team of the U.S. Olympic Games? Sixty seconds.” He started an offbeat drumroll that spun crazily throughout the workout room to the other patients and therapists.
Shelby, a physical therapist who occasionally worked with Horace, stopped by. “You’re looking good, Rolland,” she said, mischievously.
Rolland had no problem identifying Shelby because of her green eyes and red hair. One of the first things he’d learned with his injury was how to associate people with their eye and hair color.
“Shelby, don’t cheat and help him, or when you need chocolate, I’m not going to help you.”
Shelby’s mouth dropped open in mock hurt. “Are you accusing me of impropriety? I thought Horace and I were friends, right, Rolland?”
“That’s right, Shelby. I’m hurt for you.”
“Shake your head, Rolland,” she told him, and he did.
Horace didn’t buy it for one second. “You two are full of hot rocks. Shelby,” Horace stood pedaling fast, “if you tell him, you’re going to suffer. You know how you get. You’re gonna need some chocolate.”
Rolland laughed. “Give me a hint, Shelby. Come on, my friend. I know where he keeps the candy stashed.”
She pretended to fall asleep, with her hands by her cheek. “I’m so tired. I can’t wait to go home and have sweet—”
“The Dream Team!” Rolland shouted just as Horace hopped off the bike and ran after Shelby who sought refuge behind two large male nurses.
They grinned at Horace who was the most senior therapist because of his candidacy for his Ph.D. But he maintained a sense of humor about himself and made everyone laugh by jumping around, never quite reaching Shelby.
Horace went around the room, harassing other patients by doing a couple squats with Harold, and some legs lifts with Lavenia, and some arm curls with Maven, until their therapists shooed him away.
Rolland mopped his brow while Horace guzzled water. “Four miles, man. I swear, I think you’re trying to kill me.”
“Me?” Horace shook his head. “I’ve lost fifteen pounds since you got here. My wife thinks I’ve got another woman. I keep telling her it’s you.” He chuckled. “She can’t believe I’m losing weight because of a dude.” Horace tried to look disgusted, but lost his frown to a smile. “You’re not even my type.”
“And people think I have the brain injury,” Rolland said, playfully shoving Horace as they headed for the weight room. Everyone applauded as they walked by.
Horace bowed on his way out. “Second show, three o’clock,” he called.
“Do you think I was in shape before the accident?” Rolland asked him when Horace caught up in the state-of-the-art weight room. They passed the therapy tables where Rolland remembered spending many a day getting his knee back to working order.
“Yes. You had good muscle tone when you got here two months ago. You spent a month in that hospital in Las Vegas and that was to heal the fractures and for reconstructive surgery of your knee. You had good muscle memory. That told me you’d been athletic.”
They passed a mirror and Rolland didn’t stop and look at himself as he used to. He’d had work done on his face, too, but he was healed for all intent and purposes.
Most of the people here were in some form or another of reconstruction. Be it physical or mental. Fortunately, he was, physically whole. It was his brain that didn’t know who he was.
“Come on and show me what you got,” Horace said, adjusting the weights to forty pounds for the chest press.
Rolland sat down, planted his feet and breathed through the first ten reps.
“Good. You got ten more in you?”
Rolland nodded. “With this brain injury, do you ever remember your favorite color?”
“Possibly. Good,” Horace praised. “Even if you don’t, you develop new taste. It’s like, do you like green now? Is that important? Is your wife green? Does that matter?”
Rolland laughed. “You’re sick, you know that?”
Horace shrugged. “Yes, sir, I do, and I appreciate my gift. You’re meeting someone new today. Melanie Wysh. W-y-s-h. Wysh. It’s not the conventional way you’d spell wish.”
“No. That’s w-i-s-h. A good sentence would be I wish I was taller than you. You’re an average-looking bloke at six-feet tall, and I’m smashing looking at five-foot eight. Want to try ten more reps?”
“Yes.” Rolland did eight and struggled through the last two. He was almost done at Ryder and this Melanie would have a lot to say about his next steps in his life.
Horace handed him ten-pound weights. “Are you comfortable with the weights?”
“Yes. Is Melanie already here?” Rolland asked the same questions each time he was introduced to someone new, but Horace never got tired of them.
“Yes, she is.”
“Have I seen her before?”
“Occasionally. She’s a tiny woman. About five-four. She wears dresses all the time. Brown-skinned. Nice lady.”
“Is she black?”
“Yes, she’s a black lady.”
“Okay.” Rolland closed his eyes and tried to picture her, as his brain flipped through the women he’d met at the facility. He still couldn’t place her, but the frustration he used to feel from not remembering someone didn’t come today. “What else do you know about her? Is her hair short like Purdy’s?”
“Nobody’s hair is like Purdy’s, and you don’t want it to be with that permanent hairnet she wears.”
Rolland laughed and pumped the weights. “I don’t think I’ve met Melanie. Has she seen me?”