With a groan, Jay found his eyes traveling to a pair of pleated drapes covering the window on the other side of the room. There wasn't anything left between them but their unborn child. Why couldn't she fuckin' see that? Instead, he'd seen the hope in her eyes. Guilt lumped in his throat, and he swallowed hard before allowinghis gaze to travel back to her face. “I guess I misunderstood. I thought you wanted to give the baby up for adoption.” Before she could respond, he raised a hand to silence her. “If you want to keep the baby, I'll be there for you. But you gotta understand, I ain't marryingyou.”
Kendra glared at him.
Be there for you?
What the hell did he plan to do? Come over and play house a couple of times a week? She stifled a bitter laugh, then, stinging with rejection and humiliation, she barked, “I guess I was good enough to fuck with but not enough to marry?”
“Kendra, this ain't a game. You tricked my black ass and you know it! I was too drunk to have any control over what happened that night. If I had, we wouldn't have had unprotected sex. As a matter of fact, I wouldn't have fucked you at all.” Feeling his temperature rising, he tapped his hand lightly against her leg. Kendra alwaysdid bring out the worst in him. He calmed himselfand began again. “It's over between us. It has been for months. I don't love you. Nor do I want to make the mistake of marrying you because I feel obligated to do so. If you're gonna keep this baby, then we need to try and be friends.”
“I don't want to be friends. I want to be your damn wife!” she shouted. Then, realizing shouting would get her nowhere, she reached over and ran her fingers caressinglyalong his arm. “We can make it work,” she cooed.
Jay stiffened at her touch and quickly removed her hand. “We've tried, Kendra, and it doesn't work betweenus.” He sighed, realizing their discussion was going to be harder than he had imagined.
Her demeanor calmed and she fixed pained eyes on him. “But things are different now. I've changed.”
Not wanting to hurt her, Jay thought about keeping the truth to himself, but decided it was best to be honestwith her. “Would you really want to be with me knowin' that I love someone else?”
“What!” She dropped her feet to the floor with a thump and began wagging her head furiously. “Jay Andrewsdoesn't fall in love, remember?” She laughed a bitter laugh.
He patted her hand and said kindly, “Kendra, you're making this difficult.”
makin' this shit difficult!” she countered,jerking her hand away. Her voice was unsteady with disbelief. “Don't lie to me. I know better than to believe that you're in love.” She dismissed his confessionwith a toss of her hand. “If you don't want to have anything to do with me or this baby, then fuck, just say so, because as I stated before, I'm not gonna raise a baby alone. Do you really want to put your own flesh and blood up for adoption?” She glared at him with contempt.
“No, I don't want that. But to be totally honest, I think we'd both be lousy parents. There are so many married couples out there ready to give a child all the love it needs.” Jay stood and moved over to the window to find big flakes of snow falling in blankets across the lawn. There was no use talking. She was only going to listen to what the fuck she wanted to hear. Still, he had to try. He turned to face her. “I don't think I know how to do that. Be a parent, I mean.” Kendra rolled her eyes while Jay paused to run a hand through his hair. “But if you want to keep the baby, I'll stand by your decision and support you in every way.”
She leaned back against the cushion and said, “I don't think so. If I can't have you, then I don't want your ugly-ass baby either.”
Jay tried to sound as reasonable as he could. “It's ultimatelyyour decision, but please keep in mind I'll be there for you and my child. Money will never be a problem.”
She flinched. His insinuation was like a slap in the face. “You think this is about money?” She laughed. “Well, it's not! It's about me being forced to be a single parent like my mother.”
“No one forced you to have this baby,” he said, feelinghis temper surfacing.
Kendra's eyes grew large as she spoke in a slow voice that chilled him. “You're right. No one did, and no one will force me to keep it either.”
There was a prolonged silence before Jay asked, “So, what do we do now?”
don't do anything,” she said with a tone of indifference.“I'll find a lawyer in the morning and arrange a private adoption.” She cringed inside. The discussion hadn't gone as she planned. Jay still hadn't gotten used to the fact that she was carrying his child.
How long is this shit gonna take?
Jay sighed heavily. “I guess it's settled then.”
Chin raised, eyes glittering with anger, she said, “Yes, it is.”
“Look ... I didn't come over here to fight with you. Let's try again tomorrow.” Jay reached for his jacket and looked down at her disappointed face. “I better get goin'. A storm was scheduled to move in from the north tonight and it looks like it's already here. I'll call you in the mornin'. Call me if you need anything beforethen.”
Arms folded above her belly, Kendra responded with a temperamental sniff. Her frosty glare told him her attitude toward him now was nothing compared to what he'd have to face from this day forth. Finding no reason to stick around any longer, Jay turned and headed for the door.
Kendra was about to toss a pillow at his head when the baby took the opportunity to give her a swift kick in the ribs. Her eyes sparkled with an idea. “Oh!” she moaned.
Jay rushed back to her side, his eyes wide with concern.“Is somethin' wrong?”
Kendra shook her head vigorously, wearing an angeliclook. “No. Nothing's wrong.” She giggled. “Your child has a tendency to kick field goals against my ribs.”
Kneeling down beside her, Jay focused on her stomachand asked, “Does it hurt?”
“No.” She gave him a pathetic smile. “Why don't you feel for yourself?”
Jay laid a nervous palm on her stomach. As luck would have it, the baby moved again and Jay flinched. “Oh, shit! Was that the baby?”
“Damn, he's got some kick.”
She frowned. “Who said anything about it being a
Jay was stunned. He hadn't thought about it much, and had used the word in a general way. But the little person kicking could be a future football player, or even a little ballerina.
As she watched the awe on his face, Kendra had to fight the urge to smile. When he'd first arrived, she saw the way he watched her move, staring down at her stomach. And only moments ago, she saw his eyes as he felt his child move inside her womb. All of those were signs of a father curious about his unborn child. There was no way Jay was going to be able to resist his child.
Especially if it's a boy.
She was certain of that. She just needed time to make him realize it. All she had to do was put a plan in order. All she needed was time. “Can I ask you a favor?”
He looked at her, startled from his daze by her mellowtone. “Yeah, girl, anything.”
“Can you come with me to my doctor's appointment next week?” She dropped her head, then raised it. “I wouldn't ask, but all the other women ... well, their husbandsare usually there, and, well ... I seemed to be the only oneâ”
Nodding, Jay placed a hand on her shoulder, silencingher. “No problem. I'll be there.” He flashed a reassuringsmile.
She batted her eyes and lowered her hand to cover his that was still lying flat on her abdomen. “Thanks. I really appreciate it.” Then, wanting to test the waters further, she added, “Maybe I can make an appointment for us to see a lawyer the same afternoon.”
Jay's froze at the word
then remembered his decision to give his child up for adoption. As he felt the baby shift inside her womb, guilt traveled to his heart. Was he really making the right decision? Shhiiit, he didn't know what the hell to do. He removed his shaky hand and rose to his feet. Wearing a far-off expression, he exited.
After he left, Kendra stretched leisurely across the couch, wearing a triumphant smile. She had finally made it to first base.
Honey left the clinic after stopping at the reception desk to schedule another appointment. Climbing into her car, she breathed in the cool air and hoped spring would soon arrive. When she looked at her reflection in the rearview mirror, she sighed at the sight of her red eyes.
You look like shit.
She couldn't go back to the salon like this. There would be too many questions. She reached into her purse, removed her compact, and put a little powder on her face.
She'd had a breakthrough in her session today, and prayed for many more. Why had she been crying? Today was a new beginning for her. A time for healing. Somethingshe should have done years ago.
She steered the car in the direction of the salon, but as tears began to fall again she made a sharp left turn, heading toward home.
ou've got to be pulling my leg!” Natalia croaked with laughter in her voice. But even as she said it, she knew Jay wouldn't dream of joking about something so serious as Kendra being pregnant.
“What do you think, Nat?” Jay said, frowning at the beautiful mahogany woman he'd known all his life, the closest thing he'd ever had to a sister. After his meeting with Kendra the evening before, he was curious as to why Natalia had never mentioned that her best friend was carrying his child.
“Shit, I didn't know that was your baby.” Her tone was apologetic now, as if she should have known. After all, Kendra always shared everything with her. Kendra had called her only moments after Dr. Hill's square-headedass had proposed, and in the same breath had added, “Oh, by the way, I'm pregnant.” Natalia had assumedthe baby was Dr. Hill's, and Kendra hadn't botheredto correct her.
Brow drawn with worry, Jay regarded Natalia's innocentexpression with skepticism, waiting for her left eye to twitchâan immediate telltale sign her ass was lying.
Natalia chuckled again at Jay's incredible revelation and pressed a slender hand to her chest. “I swear, Jay! I thought she was carrying his baby.”
Jaw clamped tight, Jay held her gaze without so much as a blink before finally concluding that Natalia was in fact telling him the truth. Then he sighed and rubbed his hand across the nape of his neck, feeling even more frustrated.
Natalia leaned over and placed her hand on his arm. “You sure it's your baby?” she asked, her voice sympathetic.“I mean ... it was Dr. Hill's baby, and ... well ...” She tossed a finger in the air. “For all we know, next week it could be Jed Clampett's baby.” Falling back against the couch, she laughed.
Jay gave her an irritated look for finding humor in his present situation, and pressed his back against the brown leather chair. After giving the possibility a lot of thought, he'd decided the odds were stacked heavily against his ass. “If my dates are correct, the baby she's carryin' is mine. Which brings me to the subject of my visit.” He edged forward and placed a large hand over hers. His voice low, he said, “Sis, I need a big favor.”
When she met his gaze, she immediately realized what he was about to ask. Snatching her hand back, she shook her long auburn curls. “Oh, hell naw! I'm not getting mixed up in this shit.”
“You're the one that introduced us,” Jay reminded her.
“But I didn't tell you to drop your fuckin' pants.” With narrowed eyes, she asked, “What happened to the safe-sex sermon you used to give me?”
Jay didn't need to be reminded that he'd been thinking with his dick. Terraine had already done that for him. “Well ...” He paused, scratching his bearded chin. But he decided not to protestâhe knew he'd allowedhis good senses to be altered by alcohol. “Come on, Nat,” he pleaded.
Natalia rolled her eyes heavenward. “No way. You got yourself in this mess,” she managed through stiff lips.
Jay shot her a desperate look. “You owe me, Nat.”
Seeing his pitiful expression, Natalia knew he was trying to lay on the guilt trip. Unfortunately, it was working. She groaned, hating to be in the middle of other people's problems. But she had to shoulder her part of the blame. It was she who'd planted the bug in Kendra's ear that Jay was single, wealthy, and ripe for the picking. Her intentions were good; she had wanted to see the two people she loved most together. Even so, what a mistake that had been! But because she loved him dearly, she couldn't possibly say no to his plea for help. He needed her. “All right. All right.” She threw up her hands in resignation, ready to kick herself for letting him talk her into getting involved.
Dressed casually in black leggings and matching tunic, she curled her stocking feet underneath her, leaned slightly closer, and said, “I'll speak to her.”
Deep down, she was disappointed Kendra hadn't trusted her enough to share the truth about her unborn childâthe child who would become her godchild. The bitch was still sneaky as ever. The two had been friends for eight years, since meeting during their freshman year at UMKC. They'd shared the same dorm, and spent many nights passing the time talking about their lives instead of studying. Even though they were born on different sides of the tracks, Natalia had found their lives a lot alike. Homes with very little love. Parents with very limited time.
At her agreement to help, Jay dropped his shoulders with relief. “Thanks. I 'preciate it.”
A teapot whistled, and Natalia escaped to the kitchen to prepare a cup of hot chocolate for the both of them.
Jay rose from the couch and moved across the gleaminghardwood floor into the dining room to take a closer look at a new African artifact sitting on top of a floor-to-ceilingshelving in the corner. An elephant carved out of ivory was the perfect addition to Natalia's already large collection. She frequently traveled, and purchasedthe pieces from the countries she had visited. Jay was proud of her talent in design. Natalia appreciatedhis admiration, even though what she yearned for most was to earn praise from her self-centered parents.
Senator Bonaparte and his wife had been so busy building his career that their only child went neglected. When Natalia was sent away to a boarding school, Jay's grandfather, also Natalia's godfather, intervened. When he took a personal interest in Natalia's life, she had becomethe daughter he never had. Growing up with the spoiled and attention-starved Natalia wasn't easy, especiallyfor Terraine, whom Nat had a childhood fantasyof someday marrying. Jay, on the other hand, grew to love Natalia and protected her as if she were a real sister. She had always been a beautiful woman. At eighteen, she set out to become a model, landing numerouscontracts with major cosmetic and clothing lines before becoming a spokesmodel for Diva Designs.
Brushing past a large oak table, he moved to a pair of white French doors and remembered the tulips last spring that made the large glass windows the central focus of the room. High ceilings added dimension to the area, blending with the cool cream color of the walls and the mosaic tiles covering the floor.
“Do you want marshmallows?” Natalia called from the kitchen.
Jay moved back to the living room, where African-influencedprints were mixed with crisp black upholstery.A bay window with a bench seat was in the corner next to a large built-in bookcase where Natalia spent many hours curled up among the colorful pillows,reading.
Flopping back in the chair, Jay found his thoughts wandering to Honey. When they first met, she had just purchased a new house, and he'd had the privilege of helping her move in. She'd had so many plans for her home. Together they had built a bookcase in one of the spare bedrooms she intended to use as a den. He wonderedif she had ever finished redecorating.
Resting his elbow on his knee, Jay dropped his chin to his hand. Seeing Honey again had given him hope. He had expected her to hide her feelings, but he'd seen the desire dancing in her eyes behind a fake smoke screen. Even though she'd made it clear that she didn't want to have anything else to do with him, Jay knew better. He had seen her nipples harden beneath her sweater. Now all he had to do was come up with a way to make her finally come to terms with her feelings. Dealing with Honey would be no easy task, but it would definitely be worth every minute.
Natalia returned carrying a tray with piping-hot mugs of cocoa and an assortment of store-bought cookies. Looking over at Jay, she met his wary expression. “What if Kendra
carrying your child? What're you gonna do about it?”
Jay was silent, lost in his own thoughts as he rememberedfeeling his child move inside Kendra's body. He had created a life. The experience still stirred him. “Be a man and take care of my child,” he said at last.
Giving him a wistful smile, Natalia replied, “Good. You'll be a good dad.” Setting the tray on her oak coffeetable, she latched on to the handle of a large green ceramic mug and offered it to Jay.
Jay reached for the mug and frowned. “I tend to disagree.” He took a sip, then continued. “Besides, Kendra and I agreed to put the baby up for adoption.”
Holding her own mug, Natalia almost dropped the hot liquid onto her lap. “You can't do that!” she shrieked, then looked at him in alarm as she lowered herself onto the couch. “Why in the hell would you even consider giving up your child?”
Jay looked up from his mug and stared at her for several seconds before saying, “I'm not capable of nurturinga child properly. What do I know about love?”
“Yes, you can. I've never known a more loving individual.
the one who's a spoiled-ass brat.”
Jay's eyes sparkled as he balanced the hot chocolateon top of his knee. “True, that.”
Natalia pouted. “Don't get smart,” she said. “What I was trying to say is that it never mattered to you how I behaved, because you love me unconditionally. That's what it's supposed to be about.” She paused long enough to roll her eyes. “Shit! The only time my parentsever patted me on the back or said they were proud of me was when my skinny ass was strutting down a runway, or when one of their fake-ass friends saw my face on the cover of a magazine.” Natalia took a deep breath, suddenly upset at allowing her thoughts to tread in that direction. “Anyway ... you can always get a full-time nanny to help you out.”
He shook his head. “No. That's the way we were raised.”
Natalia sighed. Bringing her mug to her lips, she remembered the attention she never received as a child, and the way her parents had pushed her off on several different nannies who'd only done it for the money.
Even though she had loved her godfather, Richard Andrews, Natalia knew he seldom ever showed physicalaffection with his grandsons, believing it would make them punks. Like her, Jay had been raised withoutthe nurturing a child needed.
“Then I'll help you,” she said, her voice quiet.
Jay chuckled. “You don't know the first thing about raisin' a child.”
She puckered her lips in protest. “Well ... no. But at least I'm willing to try! That's my little niece or nephew we're talking about. I would love to have someone to spoil.”
“You sound like Terraine,” Jay grumbled.
“Well, at least he and I agree on something for a change.” Natalia's words were dripping with sarcasm. She was thinking about the debate they'd had earlier. As the CEO of Diva Designs, Terraine insisted on recruitinga new marketing director. It was the beginning of the spring season. As fashion director for Diva Designs,she took marketing their gowns very seriously. In the interim, she'd been wearing both hats. In her opinion, it wasn't a good time for someone new to step in. She, along with a full marketing staff, had been doing quite well, and she wasn't ready for any outside interference at that point. Natalia shivered at the thought of someone coming in who knew nothing about the history of the corporation, initiating a lot of no-frills ideas.
Brushing aside her dilemma, Natalia noticed Jay was a million miles away. She lowered her mug to the tray with a bang, getting his attention. As Jay raised the mug to his lips, she saw his uncertainty and said, “You'll make an excellent father. Now, Kendra's mothafuckin'ass ... that's a different story.” And a sigh escapedher.
“There's my baby boy.” Honey leaned down, and her four-year-old nephew scrambled into her arms. Wrappinghis tiny arms around her neck, she squeezed him tight against her chest. “I missed you, sweetheart.”
“Marcus, let your auntie get out of the cold first,” her sister-in-law, Tequila, scolded while wearing a warm grin. Tequila opened the door wide so Honey could enter Helen Love's quaint little house. She barely managed to plant a peck on his chubby cheek before Marcus dashed out of her arms to the family room at the end of the hall.
Stepping into the living room, Honey asked, “Where's my bigheaded brother?”
Tequila shut the door, then turned to face her. “Mama Love and Shaq are in the kitchen. Rashad hasn't made it yet.”
Honey nodded while taking in Tequila's new look. A couple of weekends ago, the ebony woman had convincedHoney to cut her long dreadlocks. Now her jet-blackhair was short and natural. The effect was perfect for her round face and chocolate eyes.
Honey adored her sister-in-law. Shaquil had met Tequila while managing a small bar on the city's Southside. She had worked as a barmaid, and it was her suggestion to begin selling food. Tequila's hot wings were heaven-sent. Shaquil eventually opened his own bar and grill and took Tequila along with him. It had taken five more years before he realized she was the woman of his dreams.
Honey removed her coat, laid it across the couch, and walked to the kitchen where the air was thick and smelled of something familiar cooking. “Mmmm, somethin'sure smells good.”
Following close behind, Tequila acknowledged the compliment. “That's my greens with smoked turkey,” she said, unable to keep the pride from her voice.