Tiye’s stories

Forbidden on e-book now Available!!! Paperback on April 26th!

Forbidden covers

Forbidden Paperback: April 26, 2019  https://www.amazon.com/Forbidden-Trilogy-Tiye-Love/dp/1940636965/

Forbidden Secrets  and Forbidden Hearts Release Date: May 3, 2019  

http://www.gardenavenuepress.com

On the eve of her tenth wedding anniversary, Kameron has doubts about her marriage to Aaron. On the surface, they have the perfect life and are the very definition of couple goals.  Yet, Kameron feels unease about her relationship and can’t figure out what’s missing.  Until Bakari, Aaron’s younger brother arrives back in town.  Kameron finds herself secretly, irrevocably drawn to him again as she did all those years ago when she first met him. Now, that he is back, Bakari is determined to get Kameron to risk it all for him, even if it means losing his brother forever…

Chapter 1

“You’re sure that this is the best time to meet your family? I mean it is your brother’s high school graduation. It should be about family,” I said as I wiped my palms on my jeans. I hated that I would get so sweaty when I was nervous. We were driving to my boyfriend’s home in Silver Springs, Maryland from Tallahassee, where we both attended Florida A&M University.
Aaron smiled as he focused on the road. “It’s the perfect time. Everyone will be there and what better time to introduce my girlfriend. My family will love you. Bakari can be standoffish but he’s not as important as my parents and the rest of the family anyway.”
I slunk in my seat. “This probably means that he will not be happy about me intruding on his special time.”
“He’ll be fine or get over it,” Aaron said with confidence, bordering on arrogance like the big brother he was. He reached over to tug on the ends of my curly hair. “Chill, baby.”
At his sweet tone and his endearment, I relaxed. I don’t know why I was so worried about his family liking me, since he was the kind of man who would still choose to be with me no matter their opinion. It was his idea to bring me home with him, though I thought it might be too soon. I still felt so lucky that he had chosen me over all those girls after him. He had been the big man on campus given his Greek affiliation and that he had been SGA president. Aaron Youngblood was literally tall, dark, and handsome. He was six feet, a full head of textured, black hair, beautiful dark skin, with a slight gap-tooth smile that would break hearts, and an athletic lean build from his track and field days. He was also wicked smart and charming for days. To add icing on the cake, he drove a silver BMW, courtesy of his well-to-do parents.
We had met at a party for graduate students last November. He was in his first year of his MBA program while I worked toward my master’s in public health. We both had a year left of school, and we had been inseparable ever since we met. I guess I should say since he met me, because I had a crush on him since my sophomore year in college. I just knew after he graduated college, I wouldn’t see him again. Imagine my surprise when I went to that party and I saw him walk in with his frat brothers. Well, let’s just say I was determined to get him to notice me, and six months later I was meeting his family.
When we arrived at his gorgeous family home an hour later, I was speechless. He parked his silver Beamer behind a white Range Rover on the circular driveway of a large, two-story Tudor home, in a very exclusive neighborhood. He told me he came from a successful family in which his mother was a corporate attorney and his father a cardiologist. It was expected that their sons would be even more successful.
I was a little intimidated because I came from definitely more humble beginnings and was raised by my father, who worked in construction. My mother decided she didn’t want a husband or children and left us when I was eight years old and my sister was eleven. She didn’t completely abandon us because she would pop in our lives and check on us from time to time and always said that one day, we would understand why she did what she did. My sister adored her, while I tolerated her because I was always a daddy’s girl.
“Come on, we’re here.” Aaron opened the door, breaking me from my thoughts. He hopped out, grabbed his travel bag from the back seat, and headed up the driveway with a bounce in his steps.
“Okay. Thanks for helping me with my bags,” I mumbled under my breath.
He wasn’t always the best gentleman. He wouldn’t automatically open my doors unless I required it, and he would forget to pull out my seat when we had dinner. I usually let him slide because I hadn’t met too many men who did do that, though my father always did that for me and my sister. I got out the car, uncertain if I should wait for him to come back or get my stuff and head inside. I sighed as I opened the back door, shaking off the traits I didn’t like and focused on what I loved about Aaron. What he lacked in chivalry, he more than made up in his warmth and affection towards me.
Suddenly, there was laughter and voices, including Aaron’s. From where he parked, I couldn’t see the front of the house. My stomach was queasy as I opened the back door. Man, I wished Aaron waited for me, so I wouldn’t have to walk up the driveway alone.
“Hey, let me help you,” a deep voice from behind me offered. I turned and almost bumped into one of the most handsome young men I had ever seen. He was brown-skinned, slim, probably around six feet, and his hair was faded with tiny twists on top, giving the appearance of soft curls. “Sorry.”
“Um…it’s okay. I got it.” I took a couple of steps back and squinted up at him since the sun shined brightly behind him. “I don’t have much.”
“No, I got it. You’re too pretty to be carrying these bags.” His full lips smiled, revealing perfect teeth and deep-set dimples, as he reached into the back seat and pulled out my pink suitcase. He pointed to my lap top bag. “Is this yours too?”
“Yeah.” I was tongue-tied for some reason at his nearness, and I moved to stand next to the front passenger door. Maybe I’m just nervous about meeting Aaron’s family.
The young man stacked my bag over my suitcase. He wore blue joggers and a white wife beater that perfectly emphasized his broad shoulders, his muscular arms, and a taut chest. Even his defined abs were visible through his tank. I shook my head and reminded myself I had a sexy boyfriend who I loved, and I shouldn’t be lusting after either one of friends or his family.
“Thank you, I can take it from here.”
“It’s cool. I don’t mind bringing your bags to the house.” He closed the back door and tugged on the handle of my bag and we began walking side by side. “You must be tired from traveling. That’s a long drive. If it’s more than a four-hour drive, then I need to fly.”
I smiled in agreement. “I would have preferred flying too since we’re only here for the weekend. We left at the crack of dawn just to get here on time, but the drive wasn’t too bad.”
The young man whose name I still didn’t know looked down at me. “On second thought, I completely understand why Aaron would want to take his time to get here with you riding next to him.” There was some type of energy I was hesitant to identify as we looked at each other.
“Hey, what’s taking you so long?” Aaron suddenly reappeared next to me, startling both of us, and I quickly averted my gaze to my pink painted toenails visible through my sandals. “I hope Kari is not giving you a hard time?”
Kari? This cutie was Bakari?
“No…no… I…was just trying to get my suitcase and…he came to help.” I found myself stumbling over my words. Damn, that twelve-hour trip must have tired me more than I realized for me to be remotely attracted to a teenager and my boyfriend’s younger brother no less.
“Relax, Kam.” Aaron wrapped his strong arms around me and playfully kissed my neck, his own infectious smile huge when he let me go. “Baby, it’s really okay. No need to worry, my mother is right inside, and she is ready to meet you.”
I held on to his waist, grateful that he attributed my nervousness to meeting his family instead of guilt at even noticing another man, especially when that man was his brother.
“Bro, you really should have helped her with her bags before you went inside. She doesn’t know us.” The young man responded with mild irritation as he pushed the handle into Aaron’s palm and said to me, “Miss, excuse my brother. He has no manners.”
Aaron said coolly, “Her name is Kameron. And I came back outside to help her, but you beat me to it. I couldn’t wait to see Mama and Daddy, something you wouldn’t understand.”
“Yeah, right, Ron Ron,” he snorted before jogging ahead. “Nice meeting you Kameron.”
“Ron Ron?” I asked.
“That’s the idiotic nickname he gave me when we were children, and he only called me that right now to annoy me. If you haven’t guessed, that was my little brother.”
“Bakari, right?” I had to still my beating heart at even saying his name aloud. Aaron didn’t really talk about his brother, except basic details, when he asked me to accompany him to Bakari’s graduation. I found it strange that as much as he raved about his parents, he had little to say about his only sibling, especially since I always spoke about my big sister.
He gave me a soft peck on the lips. “Yeah, that was him. Sorry I didn’t make formal introductions and left you. I was just excited to be home. Haven’t seen my folks since Christmas.”
“You’re sure it’s okay for us to stay here?” I touched his cheek, my early irritation with him gone at his apology. “I told you I don’t mind staying in a hotel so you can spend more time with your family.”
“Yes, Kam, for the fifteenth time.” He laughed. “You’re just going to stay in one of the guest rooms. Most of my family lives in the DC area so we only have a couple of members who came from out of town like us. We have plenty of room. If I didn’t want to be with you this weekend, I wouldn’t have asked you. Please, just chill. We’re going to have fun, you’ll see.” He turned toward the house, pulling my suitcase.
“Okay, okay, I’ll try, but meeting your family is such a big deal and to know you grew up with all of this.” I waved my hand toward the large house, with the multiple car garage and landscaped lawn, that could easily be on the front cover of any Home and Garden magazine.
“Baby, there’s nothing to be worried about. My parents are not stuck up. They worked their asses off for this house. Just like you and I plan to do, right?” Aaron reached for my hand and together we headed to his family home.
As we approached the large, beveled glass front door, a beautiful, older dark-skinned petite woman came out with the same twin dimples as her younger son. She lightly admonished, “Did my son leave you alone to get your own bags?”
Aaron explained, “Mama, it wasn’t like that. Tell that snitch to mind his own business.” He said the last part with his voice raised, though no one else was in sight.
“My sons…my sons,” she said warmly, shaking her head. She stepped back so we could walk inside the foyer. “Come in, Kameron, and make yourself at home.”
Once she closed the door behind us, Aaron beamed, “This is my mother, Constance Youngblood… and Mama, this is my Kam.”
She ignored my outstretched hand and enveloped me in her arms like we were already family. “We give hugs around here. Glad to finally meet you. He kept raving about you whenever we spoke on the phone. You’re even prettier than what he told me.”
I blushed. “Thank you. He raves about you too.”
“Oh, does he really?” Mrs. Youngblood raised a perfectly arched brow.
He bent to give his mother a hug. “Mama don’t be like that. You know I tell my women about you.”
“Excuse me? Your women?” I asked, trying to keep an edge out of my voice. He had been known to have plenty of women and sometimes at the same time. He swore I was different, and he was ready to be a one-woman man, and so far, he hadn’t given me any reason to not trust him.
“Come on, Kam you’re the only one. I was talking about my exes,” he explained before meeting his mother’s amused expression. “You said Dad will be back in a few, right?”
“Yes, Son, change the conversation. I just told you he had to pick up your Aunt Jackie from her house since she doesn’t like driving after dark.” His mother linked her arm with mine. “Go help your brother finish setting up the deck for dinner and I’ll show Kameron to her room.”
“But, Ma, I just got off the road,” he whined, sounding like the boy he will always be to his mother.
“No one told you to drive when you could have flown. Besides, you need to spend time with Kari before everyone arrives,” she said with a firmness that he could not ignore, and he stomped off toward the back of the house.
“You have a beautiful home,” I complimented, admiring the hardwood floors and the beautiful artwork that adorned the walls on our way to the split-level stair case that lead to two different floors.
“Thank you. The boys grew up in this home. We’ve been here since Aaron was seven and Kari was two.” Mrs. Youngblood touched my arm. “You look exhausted. Why don’t you get some rest before the dinner? It starts around seven. I’ll get you settled in your room and when you’re ready to come back down, I’ll show you around. Sounds good?”
“Sounds perfect.” I could finally breathe now that I met Mrs. Youngblood and she was so welcoming. Aaron was partially right I had no need to be worried about meeting his family. His handsome little brother was another story…
*****
The family ‘dinner’ ended up being a house party by anyone’s standard. Their lavish home was filled with people all excited about Bakari’s graduation. He was the youngest grandchild on both sides of the family, so this would probably be the last graduation for some years. Aaron’s family were a fun bunch of highly educated people. Despite their serious titles and professions, laughter and gaiety filled the air as classic soul music played through the wireless speakers attached to the walls in every room. They weren’t stuffy like I thought they would be, and anyone would spontaneously break out into dancing. At one point, while Aaron and I were preparing our plates, his father grabbed his mother’s hand and they gleefully moved in tune with one another to the music.
I tugged gently on his arm. “Are your parents always like this?”
Aaron smiled at his parents and then back at me. “Yep. Please, just don’t let them kiss. I don’t want to lose my appetite.”
I observed them dancing in each other’s arms and in that moment, I envied Aaron for growing up in a household like this, with parents who loved each other. Mine couldn’t even be in the same room. I could only hope for a love like theirs. I glanced up at Aaron who was intent on stuffing his plate, wondering if he was the love I’d always hoped for.
We carried our food to their expansive living area that had been converted into a mini restaurant with white linen-covered round tables and chairs. The sectional and matching recliner were pressed against the biggest wall across from their flat screen mounted on the wall. Aaron and I sat next to his mother on the sectional. He was obviously the “Golden Child” as he regaled everyone with stories of graduate school and from his childhood. Everyone seated near us, myself including, waited in anticipation of his next story.
Bakari, who sat next to his girlfriend in a chair off to the side of the room, didn’t seem to be as amused as other guests, though this party was in his honor. I couldn’t tell if he was annoyed with Aaron or just used to his big brother who loved being the center of attention, since he barely cracked a smile while everyone laughed. I was mindful to not look for him, but I found myself drawn to his slightly brooding manner. Even more so watching how attentive he was to his girlfriend, a shapely brown-skinned girl, with long red weave down her back, who could not stop gazing at him with love.
I noticed how he brought her a plate of food before making his own and when she sneezed, he immediately went to find tissue without her asking. It was easy to see why the girl was enamored with him, but I wanted to pull her to the side and warn her of pending heartbreak. He was leaving for Columbia University in New York to study engineering in the Fall. There was no way their relationship would last past the summer with his intelligence and good looks.
“Kameron, would you like something else to drink?” His mother touched my elbow. We were still sitting next to each other on the sofa, laughing at Aaron, who along with his cousin Jamal, was now standing and reenacting the scene from Harlem Nights when Arsenio Hall’s character tried to kill Eddie Murphy’s character. “I’m going to the kitchen.”
“I can get it, Ma’am. Would you like something while I’m in there?” I immediately stood.
“Aren’t you sweet? Actually, if you can bring me more Sangria, I’d appreciate it.” Mrs. Youngblood gave me her glass.
“No problem.”
The large kitchen contained a breakfast nook, and there was a huge picture window overlooking an oval pool. I headed to the white island where the drinks and desserts were displayed as if we were at a buffet style restaurant. Surprisingly, no one was in the kitchen, but we had been eating and drinking for a couple of hours now. The graduation was tomorrow for one in the afternoon and it was a little after ten. We would probably begin to settle down by midnight or so.
I grabbed another yeast roll—my weakness—and a can of Sprite. As I poured the Sangria, Bakari walked in. He had replaced his tank and joggers with a green polo and jeans. He came next to me to grab a bottle of grape juice as I finished refilling his mother’s glass. We hadn’t spoken since earlier at the car, so though he made me nervous, I wanted to be friendly. “This is for your mother.”
“Yeah, she loves her sweet drinks.” He nodded and opened his bottle, not quite encouraging conversation. He leaned with his back against the island, watching me as I wiped the few drops of wine I spilled.
“Um… congrats on everything… you must be excited. Columbia, huh? Aaron told me you’re going to study engineering. That was my original major. Sometimes I wonder if I should have stuck with that.”
“Really? You like numbers? You?” He asked with genuine surprise.
“Yes, women can do math too,” I said crisply.
He put his hands up in defense with a sheepish grin. “Woah, I’m not trying to get into an argument about girls and math. I’m well aware girls can do math, sometimes better than dudes. My mother is one of the best corporate attorneys and she specialized in estate tax when she was younger. So, trust, I know.”
“You mean women,” I amended, softening my tone. Of course, he wouldn’t be chauvinistic with a mother like theirs.
“‘Women can do math’,” he corrected with a smirk. “I didn’t mean to offend you. I was only thinking…never mind. That sounds worse.” He shook his head and took another gulp of his juice.
“What were you about to say?” I cajoled with a smile, enjoying our little banter. “Come on, I know we just met but I won’t get mad.”
Bakari lowered his gaze so I couldn’t see his eyes. “I sound like an ignorant ass, but I think you’re too pretty to be into numbers.”
“Oh,” I said weakly, knowing I should be indignant at his insult that was really a backhanded compliment. “I really need to get back.”
He touched my arm briefly and said quietly, “I’m sure you made the right choice.”
“Huh?” A flush came over me. What was he talking about? My relationship with his brother?
Bakari took another swig of juice, oblivious to my inner turmoil. “You’re in Public Health, right? I’m sure that was a better fit for you. You get to save the world and do math.”
“Oh, that’s what you meant.” I really needed to walk away before I made a fool of myself. This boy wasn’t worried about my relationship. “I guess I never thought about it like that, but you’re right.”
“Aaron told me you wanted to work for the CDC someday. I hope to be able to use my degree to make medicines. So, in a way we are both using math to save the world.” He tapped his bottle to the can of Sprite in my hand and held my gaze a moment too long before we both looked away.
“I’m actually surprised Aaron told you what I want to do.” I loved Aaron, but he could be self-involved, and he and Bakari didn’t seem particularly close.
“Surprised?” He frowned and suddenly seemed preoccupied with the bottle in his hand. “Why surprised? We may not be the best of friends, but we are brothers.”
“I mean…that… um…I just didn’t realize he had told you anything about me.” I was flustered with the shift in his mood from friendly to guarded. “Because he’s so busy, he half remembers what I’m studying let alone what I want to do once I finish school.”
“Hmmm,” Bakari responded, still focused on the bottle.
I don’t know why I once again didn’t use this awkward moment to excuse myself, because I’m sure Mrs. Youngblood had to be wondering what was taking me so long. Bakari seemed distant or bothered, and I wanted to leave him in the friendly mood he was in when he first came in the kitchen. “You’re so lucky you’re going to be in New York for school instead of a college town like Tallahassee. I’ve never been to New York, but it seems like a fun city.”
He lifted his head and had a slight smile. “It is. We used to visit a lot since its only four hours away. But even if I was going to Oklahoma, I would be excited to leave. I’m ready to leave home.”
“Really? Leave all of this.” I spread my arms glad his mood had lifted. “I could only wish to grow up in a house like this. And your family, they are mad cool.”
Bakari eyes widened. “What? We’re not driving you crazy? My family can be a lot.”
I turned around and leaned on the island like Bakari since I found myself having difficulty looking directly into his face while we engaged in conversation. It somehow made this conversation too personal. “No, I think they’re cool. I’ve had fun meeting you and the rest of Aaron’s family.”
He lifted his brows, and I couldn’t help but notice his eyelashes and his beautiful eyes, which were more noticeable from my side view. “This is fun to you? I would have preferred dinner with just my parents.”
“Well, I prefer intimacy too, but I have a small family, so we don’t have gatherings like this. It’s so loud here and so much laughter, I can tell you love each other.”
He shrugged, finished his juice, and grabbed some Evian water. Bakari nudged my shoulder with his and looked down at me. “This is the first time I’ve ever been jealous of my big-headed brother.”
“Why?” I asked, though I could guess his answer by the appreciative gleam in his eyes.
“Because you’re his,” he said slowly. He maintained eye contact as he took a sip of water, and I swear beads of sweat ran down my back.
“No reason to be jealous. Your girlfriend is pretty,” I reasoned, instead of running back to the safety and comfort of Aaron.
“Yeah, she is¬… but you are absolutely gorgeous,” he calmly replied without any flirtatious tone, letting me know he was serious. He leaned down and he stared at my lips.
I realized how inappropriate this was when he did and pushed away from the island. “Although I appreciate your compliment, you’re a little young for me, and I’m Aaron’s girlfriend. I better go.”
“Was that reminder for you or me?” Bakari called after me.
I swung back around. “What?” I asked sternly.
“That you’re Aaron’s girl.” He said as he gulped down his water and tossed the bottle perfectly in a nearby trash can.
“Whatever,” I huffed and made it to the kitchen door before I realized I forgot the drinks. When I turned, he was right behind me with my soda and a glass of wine in his hands. He smiled before biting his lower lip and bending down to kiss me. I should have slapped him for taking liberties that wasn’t his, but I wanted to taste his full lips.
“Hey, Kameron are you okay?” Aaron called from the hall startling both of us right at the moment Bakari would have touched my lips.
I quickly backed away and put my hand over my mouth in shock and embarrassment, that I was going to allow my boyfriend’s brother to kiss me.
Bakari searched over my shoulder probably to see if Aaron was near and then at me with an unapologetic smile.
I practically snatched the drinks from his hands. “How dare you try to kiss me? Leave me alone,” I muttered, and rushed away without another word.
“Please, wait… Kameron…I’m sorry,” he said.
I hurried back to Aaron, needing to see his face to snap me back to reality. I had never even thought, let alone want to kiss another man while in a relationship and then it’s with his younger brother. Bakari probably thought I was easy if he thought he could kiss me with his brother in the other room. And what the hell is wrong with me? I’m crazy about Aaron. He’s been my real-life fantasy come true for the past few months and I’m lusting after some dude I just met. Maybe I had too much sangria.

Chapter 2
I entered the Intercontinental Hotel, a luxury hotel along the Potomac River where the graduation party was being held, with Aaron’s arm slung casually over my neck. We had taken a romantic stroll at the nearby wharf. Aaron and I needed that time together, since he had been busy running errands or spending time with his family since we got here. I also had to hide the attitude I had with him, that wasn’t his fault, all day. He was supposed to sneak to my bedroom once the family went to sleep last night, but he never came. I had texted him several times and didn’t get a response until early the next morning. He had apologized for unexpectedly falling asleep in his old bedroom. He didn’t know that I needed to be intimate with him so I could erase Bakari from my mind.
The party was in an exquisite room with ceiling to floor windows facing the river. The décor could have been called “Shades of Blue” given the variations of that color in the balloons dispersed throughout and the candle-lit centerpieces that were on each dark blue linen covered table. Even the three-tiered cake in the front next to the gift table, appeared indigo in the moonlight that reflected in from the windows. This was easily the most expensive event I had ever attended, and this was just a high school graduation party.
Apparently, the guest of honor was popular with his classmates, based on the crowd already jamming to the DJ. He had graduated in the top ten of one of the most prestigious private schools and seeing him walk across the stage put it all in perspective. He was just a youngster and I was admittedly impressed with his intelligence, his looks, and his rather serious disposition. And I felt neglected by Aaron since he was consumed with his family and had not spent a lot of time with me until our walk around the wharf.
There was plenty to eat and drink, and because it was a teen party, there was no alcohol served. The DJ was in the back of the room and played the right mixture of past and current hits to suit the mixed generational crowd. Bakari was laughing and moving to the music on the dance floor with his girlfriend and other friends. He had pulled off his blue suit jacket and danced around in a button up long-sleeved white shirt. Once again, watching their antics, I was reminded that he was just finishing high school and I was in graduate school. I felt relief that I was able to identify my emotions as a tiny crush that was now over.
After speaking to his parents and a few other relatives, Aaron and I chose a small bar table for two in the back of the room. He made sure I was settled before he left to get both of us a plate of hot wings, grilled salmon, salad, dirty rice, and sparkling cider. I bopped my head to the music as I people watched.
Bakari suddenly plopped in the chair reserved for his brother. He radiated happiness. “Having fun?”
“Yeah.” I moved my head to the beat, determined to ignore the butterflies fluttering in my stomach. I hadn’t seen him this close since last night. He had already left for his graduation before I came downstairs for breakfast.
“Better than last night?” He asked in a deeper voice. The movement in my stomach increased.
“You mean, is this more fun than your dinner?”
“No.” He looked toward the party and then gave me a side glance. “I meant when we were in the kitchen.”
I needed him far, far away from me. My crush had not gone away. I was very much still attracted. I said warily, “You should get back to your party.”
He stood and grabbed my hand. “Come on, dance with me.”
I resisted and he looked down at me. “You really want to make a scene at my party?”
I didn’t, and I realized I was making a big deal out of nothing. It was just a dance and Hey Ya was playing. So, I allowed him to bring me to the center of the room, dropped his hand before we passed the small crowd of his classmates, family, and friends, who danced, and I just let loose since it was that kind of song. He played along with me and shook his whole body in rhythm to the music. Then the first beats of Drop It Like It’s Hot sounded throughout the party, and we all cheered, ready to be wild and free.
I had such a blast, I almost forgot about Aaron, who didn’t like to dance, until he tapped me on my shoulder. “Your food is getting cold,” he said with little emotion.
“Oh, yeah.” I waved bye to Bakari who simply nodded and continued to dance with his friends.
I followed slowly behind Aaron, hoping that he wasn’t angry that I’d danced with his brother. However, once we sat down and he began pointing out and identifying the guests at the party, I could tell he was fine. I was just tripping, worried that Aaron could tell there was a vibe between me and Bakari. He pulled his chair closer, so that he could put his arm around me as I enjoyed the delicious food. I was able again to toss off any wayward feelings and focus on Aaron. He knew how to make me laugh and he kept me in stitches as he made fun of some of his extended family and the tight dresses that the girls wore prancing around, hoping to catch Bakari’s eye.
He kissed my bare shoulder at one point. “Did I tell you how hot you look tonight?”
I wore a black, strapless cocktail dress that was a nice contrast against my caramel colored skin. My naturally curly hair was styled in a messy bun adorned with sparkly bobby pins.
“No.” I returned the kiss, but on his neck, where I briefly inhaled his masculine scent. “So do you, Mr. Youngblood.” And he did in his coordinated tailored black suit that fit his lean physique nicely.
“I’m glad you came home with me. It was important that you meet my family, and I can tell that they love you. Even Bakari has been friendly toward you. He had fun with you and he’s normally reserved, and I couldn’t be happier.” Aaron held my hand and gazed into my eyes, and all I could see was the man with whom I had fallen in love. “I don’t think I knew how much I missed my family until this weekend. Being here with them has made me want to come back home once I finish school.”
“I thought we were going to live in Dallas.” One of the reasons we connected was our mutual desire to move there once we graduated. I was from Atlanta but wanted a change of pace, and Dallas was a vibrant city.
“My dad has been talking to me lately and really thinks I should come back home and help him grow his practice and any other doctors or people who want to start their own businesses. I would be their business consultant,” he spoke earnestly.
“What about the job at Walden?” Aaron already had a job offer at a Fortune 500 company based in Dallas, although he still had another year of school.
“It’s just a job but this a career.” He said with excitement, “You know I believe in entrepreneurship. And my father can front me some of the start-up costs.”
“Yes, but that was supposed to be after you gained experience for a few years.”
“I don’t need to waste years when I already know what I want. Plus, I’ll be near my family again. I’ve missed them these last five years.”
I wanted to be happy for him but what did that mean for us? Here I am feeling sorry for Bakari’s girlfriend, and I’m in the same boat as she. A man like Aaron would not stay faithful in a long-distance relationship.
“We’ll work it out. It will all make sense, you’ll see.” He kissed me briefly before standing. “I got to go over there and speak to my old high school teacher. You good?”
I nodded, blinked rapidly, and waited until Aaron made it across the room, before I rushed to the restroom outside of the hall to compose myself. Gratefully, I was alone and there was a mirror in the sitting area. I went to the mirror and gently wiped my eyes so I wouldn’t smear my eyeliner and mascara.
“Relax, Kam. There’s no reason for these tears. There’s nothing wrong with him wanting to be close to his family.”
I can’t be sad about a man who may or may not be in my life in the future. I still had to focus on my goals. He is just my boyfriend and not my husband. Just because we have discussed a future doesn’t mean we’ll be together. I stepped back, took a deep breath, dabbed around my eyes once more, before opening the door. I jumped at the sight of Bakari standing right outside the restroom. “Boy, you scared me.”
“You okay?” Deep concern was etched in his expression.
“I’m good.” I tightened my grip on my purse, uncomfortable with his nearness once again.
“What did my brother do?” He searched my face as if he could figure it out just by looking and planted his hands on the walls on either side of the restroom door, effectively trapping me.
“It’s really not your concern, but he didn’t do anything.” I rolled my eyes more out of frustration that as much as I loved Aaron, his brother was doing something to me. I didn’t need to have any more inappropriate interactions. “Move, Bakari.”
He quickly surveyed the empty hall before he abruptly pushed me back in the restroom.
“Hey…what is your problem? Have you lost—”
Bakari kissed me, forcing open my mouth with his tongue. I was too surprised at first to respond and then when he pulled me closer and I felt his hardness against my thigh, I placed my arms around his neck and enjoyed the feel of his soft, pliable lips. He wrapped his arms tighter around my waist and toyed with my tongue once I kissed him back.
This was really happening! We were making out in the restroom not far from my boyfriend, his brother. His hands roamed my back while his tongue slid in and out of my mouth. I ran my fingers through the curly twists in his hair, and his kiss became more sensual and slower causing my stomach to tighten. A moan escaped my lips and Bakari cupped my ass, pressing his thick, hard, length against me. When the warmth of his hand trailed up my thigh, I quickly covered his hand and Bakari stopped to look down in my face. “I’m sorry, but I had to do this. I thought we were going to kiss last night, and all I’ve been thinking today is if I can just kiss her, I would be happy.”
I was breathless and speechless that he felt the same as I did. Bakari focused on my lips and lowered his head when my cell rang in my purse, jarring me back into reality.
“No!” I pushed against him and he surprisingly let me go. “We can’t talk about this. This meant nothing. You’re way too young for me.”
He wiped my lipstick off his mouth, slightly irritated. “And let’s not forget you are my brother’s girlfriend. You forgot to add that.”
“Ugh, you really don’t care that this would hurt your brother,” I said with disgust, directed more at myself than him for letting this boy, this bold as hell boy, kiss me. But Lord, he could really kiss.
“He’s hurt me before, but don’t worry, he’ll never find out about this.” He pointed to my purse that held my phone that had just stopped ringing. “That’s probably my brother looking for you.”
As Bakari was about to walk out, I stopped him. “Someone may see us. Let me check the hall first.”
He stayed back as I peeked out. I saw two guys and one whistled at me as they passed on way to the male restroom. I turned back to Bakari, who I caught staring at my ass. His eyes leisurely traveled my body, his desire so obvious, I almost wanted to go back in the restroom and finish what he started. I shook my head and cleared that sinful thought. “The coast is clear.”
As he moved past me, his arm brushed my breasts, and my nipples instantly tingled. “Sorry about that.”
“Really? So juvenile,” I said behind him as he walked ahead.
“You said I was ‘a little young’ for you.” When we got back to the ballroom doors, he paused. “Let me go in alone.”
“I was already thinking that.”
“Thank you for the best graduation gift.” Bakari looked at me once more with a half-smile before going back into his party.
I blushed at the sincerity in his words. “Well, at least I’m not sad anymore,” I said as I entered through another door and searched for Aaron.
There he was, “my knight in shining armor,” or at least that’s what I called him internally because he was my fairytale come true. He stood handsome by his parents near the cake table and smiled when he saw me. A flush of guilt overcame me as I walked up and joined them, and Aaron pulled me into his strong arms for a hug.
He squeezed me tight. “I was just looking for you. So sorry I stayed gone so long. Where were you?”
“Restroom. I think I ate something that didn’t agree.” I focused on being in his embrace and rested my head against his chest, hoping that his steady heartbeat would calm mine.
“Baby, I told you that we shouldn’t have gone with the dirty rice. Only people from Louisiana can handle dirty rice,” Aaron Youngblood, Sr. joked. He was an older version of Aaron, gap between his front teeth as well, and, like his wife, appeared younger than their fifty-five years old. The Youngbloods had good genes, apparently. Everyone was so freaking good-looking.
“You ready to do announcements?” Mrs. Youngblood asked.
“Yes. Aaron, tell the DJ it’s time,” her husband responded. “I’m getting tired. These young folks can go all night.”
Aaron went to the DJ table and within seconds the grand room was silent. He picked up the mic and brought it back to his father before standing in between me and his mother. I put my arm around his firm waist.
“We wanted to take this time to thank everyone for celebrating Bakari’s special day with us. We are so proud of him. Come on up, son.”
Bakari and his girlfriend approached the cake table. He seemed uncomfortable with the attention and kept his head slightly down while his girlfriend proudly held his hand.
Mrs. Youngblood took the mic from her husband and placed it on the table. “Let’s not use this. This room has good acoustics. Can everyone still hear me?” She asked the growing crowd around the table, and the room answered different versions of “yes”.
She stood next to her husband and then smiled at their youngest son. “Kari, you have always made me proud with your quiet determination and ambition. First, trying to imitate Aaron and then finding your own way. I can’t believe my baby is all grown and about to go to college. Time passes so swiftly. I remember the day you were born like it was yesterday, and we were so happy to have you. Sometimes I wish I could still hold you in my arms like I did that very… first day.” At the crack in her poised voice, Bakari raised his head to look at his mother, and they stared at each other with unshed tears. “But since I can’t, I hope you always know that no matter where you are, my arms are always there protecting you, caring for you, and loving you.”
His jaw clenched as he went to his mother and hugged her tight. I wiped my own tears at the emotions between Bakari and his mother. I looked up at Aaron, who was beside me, and though he clapped along with everyone else, his smile seemed forced. “You okay?”
Aaron glanced at me and then back at his brother and mother. “Of course. Just got a lot on my mind. We’ve been through a lot as a family.”
I wondered what they could have possibly been through. They were the perfect family. His parents were still in love, if their need to touch and defer to each other over the past two days was any indication. Aaron and Bakari were handsome, intelligent, and well-spoken young men who had earned full scholarships even though their parents could more than afford tuition. And listening to the rest of their family and friends speak highly of Bakari, I figured that maybe Aaron just meant the typical problems family have, like the sibling rivalry that was not so subtle between Bakari and him.
Aaron was the last to speak, and he kissed me on the cheek before stepping forward. “My little brother, wow. It’s crazy how I can still remember being upset when Mama brought you home. I already knew that somehow you would change my world. And boy did you.” Everyone laughed and Bakari wore an almost pasted-on smile, as if he was unsure what his brother would say. “He was the typical, annoying little brother, always wanting to do what I wanted to do. Always wanting my toys and breaking them when my parents made me give them to him. He was so spoiled. I used to get whipped for the tiniest things, but when he broke the flat screen trying to do a back flip, they put him in gymnastics and karate.” He shook his head in feigned annoyance.
“But one day I came home from college and I saw this mature, young man who had his own way of being and no longer wanted to be just like me. And though we all wanted him to go to an HBCU, who can blame him for choosing to go to Columbia, in New York City, where we spent a lot of our childhood. We may not have always gotten along, but I’ve always had his back. I could not be prouder of him, and I know he will do well.”
He went to Bakari, who seemed relaxed now, and they embraced tightly like the brothers they are. We all clapped loudly as they pulled apart and dapped each other.
“Hey…hey, I want to say something else,” Aaron said in a loud voice, grabbing everyone’s attention. He came back to me and held my hand and then spoke to family and friends more than to me. “I never thought that I would fall in love or that I would ever find what my parents have until I met Kameron. She is amazing and beautiful inside and out. She makes me happy. I wanted her to come this weekend so she could meet the most important people in my life, and she blended so well with us that she even got Bakari to dance with her.”
Although Aaron’s words warmed my heart, he had to feel my sweaty palms. I so hated being the center of attention. I had no idea why he would take this time, a night for his brother, to be so public about his feelings for me. I snuck a peek at Bakari, and he smiled at me, but it didn’t quite reach his eyes.
“She doesn’t know this, but I wanted her to come this weekend so that when I asked her this, my family could be here to share this moment.”
I heard gasps and clapping as he lowered to one knee and opened a baby blue box revealing a square cut diamond that glinted even in the dim room. “Kameron Alicia Patterson, will you please do me the honor of becoming my wife?”
Tears came to my eyes and my heart raced as it finally dawned on me that the man, I had been crushing on for three years and dating for the past few months, wanted to marry me. For some reason, my gaze briefly found Bakari’s, who wore a barely disguised frown. I then looked down at the man who I’d fallen in love with over the course of a few dates, because of his charm, affection, and ambition. Until I met his brother, I hadn’t thought twice about another man. Aaron was already the best boyfriend I ever had, and knowing he grew up in this home of love, I expected him to be a good husband. He had to be the one for me, and before I could change my mind, I gave the only answer I believed I could. “Yes.”
Relief came across his handsome face as he picked me up and swung me around. Everyone rushed us and congratulated us. My face was flushed with excitement and nervousness, but still I sought the face of the one person who’d quietly disappeared.
“It’s me and you forever,” Aaron promised as he wrapped his strong arms around me.
“It better be.” I smiled and reached up to kiss him, more to erase the memory of someone who already pierced a tiny piece of my heart.

Ten years later

Our tenth wedding anniversary was fast approaching in three months and we were having a big ceremony to celebrate. Aaron wanted to renew our vows, but I didn’t want to do that, though I never told him. I still loved him as much as the day I married him, but if I were honest with myself, there was something missing. I don’t know if it was me, him, or us. It just was.
We had a good life in which we owned a lovely three-bedroom townhome in Northwest, DC. We drove expensive cars—he still loved his Beamers and I drove a Lexus coupe—and took fun vacations to places like Costa Rica and Aruba. He could still be self-involved, bordering on being self-centered, and rarely considered me when he made major decisions.
We also had been trying for years to have a child. Aaron didn’t want to seek fertility treatments because he felt we were too young to seek that type of option. He said that if we didn’t have any kids by the time, we were thirty-five then we would explore other avenues.
I wondered if it bothered Aaron, who was so used to winning in life, that we were unable to have children, and more importantly, if he blamed me. He seemed happy. He was always smiling and full of energy as he slowly built his own consulting firm, Imagine. I was still considered lucky by everyone and maybe I was. But did anyone ever think that he was lucky to have me?
I laid in our bed with these thoughts. It was Saturday and I planned to do nothing this morning but rest. We had just finished having sex like we do most days, before Aaron rushed off for a business brunch. I didn’t have any major complaints in the sex area. He was still fine and sexy and did seem to want me as much as when were in graduate school. So, what the fuck was missing?
My home phone rang. Yes, we still had a home number. Aaron thought it was good to still have one in case of emergencies, like the fact that I had the tendency to lose my cell phone. Only a few people had this number, so it rarely rang since people nowadays preferred immediacy and would call our cell phones. I didn’t recognize the number, but it wasn’t a 1-800 number, so I answered.
“Hello.”
“Oh…hey. Is this Kameron?” a deep voice asked. It sounded vaguely familiar.
“Yes.” I sat up, still trying to recognize the voice.
“I was looking for my brother.”
I almost dropped the phone and stared at it for a minute until I heard him say, “Hello? Are you still there?”
“Yes. Sorry, sometimes this phone acts crazy. How are you?”
I tried to calm my nerves. Almost ten years had passed since I’d seen him, and though he hadn’t married, through conversations with his family, I knew he had had women in his life. Aaron had seen him over the years, but I managed to avoid those rare times he was in town, since he too, traveled so much in his career. I tried to block that day out of my head because of Bakari. Even now the thought of him made me tingle and want to touch myself. I hadn’t seen him since we ended up kissing again at my wedding to his brother, and eventually I rarely thought of him.
“I’m good. And you?”
“The same.” There was silence between us.
“So…is my brother there? I tried his cell, but it went to voicemail.”
“Oh, he’s at a brunch and he usually turns his cell off at different functions because it’s always ringing.”
“Yeah, my brother is always in demand.” His tone suggested that he accepted it as a fact and not as a put down as he would have when I first met him. “I guess I can ask you since it’s your home, too.”
“Ask me what?” I could see my pulse jumping in my wrist, in the hand that held the phone, and I told myself to relax.
“My mother told me to call since they’re remodeling for the millionth time. I’m coming in town for a week because I have a series of interviews with the Pentagon. I wanted to know if it’s okay for me and my girlfriend to stay with you?”
“You don’t think you would be more comfortable in a hotel?” I asked quickly. My instincts told me to run far away.
“Okaaay. If you don’t want us to stay, that’s cool.” His voice sounded distant.
“No, no. It’s not that. I mean, you said you were coming with a girlfriend, and I’m thinking she would want to be in a hotel,” I improvised.
“She wants what I want.” He spoke so smoothly I knew he was speaking truth. “Besides, since I’m thinking of moving back home, thought it was time for me to get to know my family again.”
“You’re moving back here? The interviews are for a job with the Pentagon?”
“Yeah, it’s more like a six-month contract. I have an option to extend the contract or look for a permanent position there or another company in the DC area if I decide to stay.”
“Look at you, Mr. Pentagon. You have to be proud?” I smiled despite trying to act unaffected by his voice. He had done well for himself, like his parents and brother.
“I work hard. It’s cool. Do you need to check with Aaron first?”
I bristled at the idea that I would have to ask my husband something before I could answer myself. Lord knows he rarely checked with me before making any decisions. “No, it’s fine. Like you said, this is our home. When are you coming?”
“Anytime you want,” he said suggestively, and my body was instantly on fire. “Sorry, old habits. You can’t talk like that to me.”
“Like what?” I asked, knowing what he meant but daring him to explain.
He chuckled. “Trust, you don’t want me to explain.”
“Scared?” I don’t know why I continued this line of conversation, which was so inappropriate, but he did start it. Maybe because I had just had sex and was feeling bold.
“Naw. But you should be.” I could hear the smile in his voice.
“I ain’t never scared.” I joked back and instantly realized I did need to stop. I am the married one. “Okay. Seriously, let me ask you another way. When will you be in town?”
“Next Monday, and we’ll leave that following Sunday since Mom wants to have a dinner with all of us on the weekend.”
“Okay, look forward to seeing you,” I said, more of a formality than anything else. I was still very scared to be in the same room as him.
“Me too.”
We both hung up.
I fell back in bed and snuggled deeper under my down comforter and thought back to my wedding and the last time I kissed another man outside of my husband…
******
We had a small but expensive wedding held at the Four Seasons hotel in which there were three groomsmen and three bridesmaids. Since the wedding was held in D.C., Aaron and his family had paid for most of the wedding, though my father’s pride wouldn’t let them pay for everything. He gave me over three thousand dollars, a hardship for him. I tried to give it back, but he wouldn’t hear of it. He liked Aaron and was proud I was marrying into such a family.
I walked down the aisle escorted by my proud father and felt like a princess dressed in a Vera Wang ombre tulle of blushing pink and off-white. I made sure to stay focused on the man at the end of it instead of the groomsman to his left. I hadn’t seen Bakari since his graduation party and didn’t intend to see him on my wedding day six months later. Once Aaron, who was so handsome in his fitted black tux, reached for my hand as my father “gave” me to him with unshed tears in his eyes, it wasn’t hard to forget everyone else.
A quiet calm replaced my jitters as with joined hands before our family and friends and God, and we pledged to love each other through sickness and health until death do us part. Afterward, I wrapped my arms around my new husband’s neck and happily kissed him. Everyone clapped.
The lavish reception took place in a nearby hall. It was there, as we were all amazed at the elegant candlelit ballroom full of pink and white roses, that as happy as I was with my new husband, I realized I still had feelings for his brother.
I’d avoided looking at Bakari during the actual ceremony, but when the wedding party and immediate family convened to take pics, I saw him. The way he filled out his tux took my breath away. He cut off his twists and appeared to have matured in the semester spent away at college. How could someone be so handsome, even with a frown?
He smiled whenever a picture was taken, but his expression would immediately return to a scowl or blank face. I might have been the only one to notice because there was a flurry of activity around us. At one point while I was taking photos with Aaron and my bridesmaids, he caught me looking at him and he stared silently at me, not caring if anyone saw him. I looked away first, ever aware of watchful eyes.
I was so relieved when we finished with the photos and could join the reception. I needed to get away from Bakari and enjoy my wedding day. I didn’t need to feel any regret, not on this day. As soon as we’d finished eating, I got my husband, to follow tradition, and we danced to our chosen song, “Yes” by Musiq Soulchild.
A good sport, he did a simple two step as I made up for his lack of ability and enjoyed the beginning of our new life. He hugged and kissed me constantly and thanked me for agreeing to be his wife. Whatever minor misgivings I might have had for marrying him, went out of the window at how transparent his feelings were for me in front of the people closest to him.
My mother, who hadn’t helped with any of the planning, was always dramatic, and I walked on eggshells and prayed she wouldn’t do anything to embarrass me. But she behaved. And for once her, my father, sister, and my niece and nephew who were the flower girl and ring bearer, looked like a family as they sat together and laughed.
I cried when I danced with my father who was always my rock and I could only hope that my husband would be there for me like he had been. We were the same caramel-colored complexion, unlike my mother and Kandy who were both light-skinned. He was of average height, had the grown man spread around his waist, but in general was fit and handsome with a head of full of black curly hair when most men his age were gray or balding.
“Kammie, I could not be prouder of you then this very moment. I know it has not always been easy with your mom and everything, but you still grew up into being this beautiful, strong woman.”
I hugged him. “Thank you, Daddy, for being my dad. I wouldn’t trade you for the world. You’re the reason I’m like this. I’m like you.”
His expression turned pensive. “I hope not all of me. You know I like Aaron and think he will be a good husband, but never forget your voice.”
“Of course not, Daddy.”
“I mean it. He’s a force of nature and everyone loves him. Anyone can get lost in his shine, his light is so bright. But you are his wife now. You should shine brighter, and he should do everything to make sure you do.”
I nodded and tried to fight back tears because I knew my father was right about Aaron. I had to make sure I kept my voice in our marriage. So far, his voice had dominated.
We left the dance floor and my sister approached. “Soon it’s going to be time for the garter, and I went to the suite and I can’t find it. “
I had forgotten to wear it and when I realized my mistake, I was already downstairs. I told my sister to get it once we finished taking photos. “That’s fine. I can get it.”
“You want me to get it?” my sister asked, though I could tell she didn’t want to leave the reception.
“No, you stay. I need a moment of peace.”
“Okay. We still have some partying to do.” We both laughed. Although we differed in so many ways, she was still my big sis and I loved her dearly.
As I headed out, I spoke briefly to guests who stopped me. I saw my groom talking to some of his frat brothers and signaled that I would be right back. I hurried to the bridal suite, and as I was about to press the key card against the lock to open it, Bakari walked out of the groom suite across the hall.
My heart began beating fast. “Hey…I was just getting something out of the room.”
“I’m not stopping you,” he said, sounding rather irritated.
I was not going to let his moodiness ruin my happy day. “Fine.” I went in my suite, but before I could close the door, he pushed in behind me. I took a step back. “What are you doing? I need to find my garter and get back to the wedding.”
“I’m sorry, okay?” He came closer and looked down into my upturned face. “Damn, you are so beautiful. It’s not every day you watch the woman of your dreams marry someone else.”
I touched his cheek with my palm. “Bakari, you can’t say that. We don’t even know each other. You’re still young. You just started college and you can’t possibly know what you want.”
He moved his head and kissed my palm. “I know what I want. I just can’t have it.”
I held the palm he just kissed to my heart. “Please, let’s just have fun today. What you feel is a crush and will go away as soon as you meet the next girl.” Needing to escape his hypnotic gaze, I edged away and searched for my garter.
“Has your ‘crush’ for me gone away now that you’re married?” He tilted his head as he watched me hunt frantically around the room.
I bent under the bed and I found the hot pink garter. I picked it up and stood. “Bakari, I have to go.”
He blocked the door. “Come on, tell me.”
I averted my eyes.
“Tell me you don’t feel anything for me.”
“Bakari, I just married your brother. I have to go,” I whispered. My words did not match my actions since I didn’t move.
He picked up that hand that held the garter. “Shouldn’t you be wearing this?”
I sighed and looked at him. “Yes. That’s why I need to go.”
Before I could say another word, he kneeled in front of me. “Hold on to my shoulder.” I did, and he then lifted my right high-heeled pearl-white shoe. “Does it go on this leg?”
“Yes,” I said breathlessly, feeling like Cinderella when the prince placed the glass slipper on her foot. Except I wanted to sex the prince badly.
Bakari slowly slid the garter up my leg until it was right above the knee. I longed to have his hands move higher, though I remained silent. His hands lingered around the garter underneath my dress as he gazed up at me until once again, I looked away. When he removed his hands to stand, I felt the loss of his warmth.
No matter the attraction, I was in love with his brother, who I just promised to love and cherish less than three hours ago. “Thank you.”
He said softly, “You are welcome.”
“I gotta go.” I was scared to move, as if I knew that once I walked out the door, whatever this was, was over forever. And for some unfathomable reason, I didn’t want it to be over. At least not yet.
“I know,” he said now, focused on my lips.
“Did you bring me a wedding gift?” I asked, my own eyes drifting to his mouth.
“What?” His brow furrowed. Why did he have to be so freaking gorgeous?
“If you didn’t, then this will do…” I impulsively pulled his head down and kissed him with all the passion I could muster. I knew that this would be the last time I could feel his lips, be this close to him, and I wanted him to know that whatever he felt, no matter how fleeting or inconsequential it might seem in the long run, it was reciprocated.
He responded in kind, as if he also knew that this would never happen again. His tongue was in my mouth as he wrapped his arms around my waist and held me as close as he could but was restricted because of the fullness of the skirt of my dress. Just the thought that he couldn’t hold me as close as we both wanted because I wore a wedding dress was like an ice bucket of water thrown on me, and the fact that my sister had just walked into the suite…
endgame trilogy covers (3)

****The last of the trilogy, Game Changer. Released on March 8 on Amaz****

Chapter 1

All great romances end in marriage

“Mommy?” My son called out to me, waking up from his nap on the sofa where I placed him, cocooned safely between a couple of pillows.
I sat on the deck of my mother’s home in Austin, enjoying the peace. I checked my cell and groaned. He had only been asleep for thirty minutes and I had hoped for the usual two-hour reprieve I so desperately needed. I started to get up to check on him when I saw a perfect combo of Michael and me staring up at me from inside the glass door. He tried to open the door but was still too small to do so without help, which was a blessing. MJ was already a handful at eighteen months old and running all over the place. I didn’t need to join a gym, keeping up with him was my exercise.
I opened the door and picked him up, kissing his chubby cheek, bringing him to the chair outside, and cuddled him to me. I hoped he was still tired enough to go back to sleep.
I sang in his ear and rocked him until his pretty eyes closed. His muttering and fidgeting lessened until he was back in a deep sleep. I used the throw on the back of the chair to cover us, and when I checked the time on my cell, I saw that I had several missed calls and unread texts from Michael since yesterday because my phone’s ringtone had been on silent. I stared out onto the lake that was my mother’s backyard as I contemplated what my next step would be.
“MJ woke up already?” my mother asked as she joined me on the deck.
She was growing out her brown and gray locks and wore jeans and a pink sweater, looking younger and younger every day. She had recently gotten married to Mr. Adam in a small ceremony attended by a few of their closest family and friends. I really liked him and hoped he didn’t feel like I was intruding on their newlywed bliss by being here. My mother had taken the day off while he went to work to give us time alone to talk. She had the glow of contentment that could only come from a good man’s love. After being alone for so many years, I was happy that she had met someone with whom she could share the rest of her life. This was their new home on Lake Travis that he had built especially for her.
“Shh! Please, let’s not wake him up,” I whispered. “I need this break. He has been nonstop since we got here yesterday. I don’t know what I’ll do when he’s five.”
“He just misses his daddy. You want me to take him back to his room?” My mother reached for him, but I shook my head.
MJ was the son she never had and she doted on him every chance she got. I didn’t even have a room here, but she made sure she turned one of the guest rooms into a room for him, complete with a car toddler bed. He was crazy about his Nana. They first bonded when she stayed with us for a few months after he was born.
“You’re sure? He may sleep longer in his bed.”
I held him close to me, not wanting to be separated from him just yet. “I need to hold on to him for now.” MJ was that rare daddy’s boy. He loved me and needed me when he wanted to sleep or for hunger, but his father brightened his day. He was always more active when his father wasn’t around, and amazingly would be so calm and loving in Michael’s presence.
She nodded with understanding. “You okay, Ladybug? You haven’t told me why you insisted on coming here at the last minute.” She rubbed her hands nervously, and I hated that I was bringing drama to her peaceful doorstep. “Not that it matters, but how long do you plan to stay? What’s going on? Is it Michael?”
I picked up the envelope I had received by courier yesterday while I was still in New Orleans and passed it to my mother. She frowned with curiosity as she took it and sat down in the chair next to me. She opened it and read. I continued looking out at the lake, holding tight to my son and gently rocking.
“Zoe, this can’t be right. I know he loves you.” I didn’t have to look at my mother’s face to know she was shocked and hurt.
A single tear managed to fall, though I fought back the tears hard. I thought I was all cried out over Michael Carson. “You read it right. My husband wants a divorce…”

Chapter 2: Do we really know each other?

Two years ago

My cell rang, and I hit the bedside table trying to find it so I could stop the incessant ringing. Disoriented from being woken up abruptly, by the time I found the phone, it had stopped ringing. I sleepily opened my eyes and looked at the display. I had a missed call from my mother and it was almost noon. Crap. I was supposed to meet her and Lydia for brunch at noon before they flew back to Texas. Michael and I were leaving Miami to go back to New Orleans tomorrow.
I sat up and looked to my side, expecting to see him still in bed, but he wasn’t there. I tried to get out of bed quickly and had to sit back down just as fast, a wave of nausea coming over me. “Good morning to you too,” I said, patting my belly. I hadn’t experienced much morning sickness, but when it hit, it hit hard.
I sat on the edge of the bed to let my stomach settle, confused about whether last night was real. Where was Michael? Did he really propose or was it a dream? God, I hoped it was real. I’ve been having way too many dreams since I got pregnant. An overwhelming sense of sadness came over me, and as I wiped my tears with the back of my hand, I almost cut my eye with the diamond ring on my finger. I sighed in relief, glancing around the room and spying the rose petals and used candles.
I am marrying Michael Carson and having his baby! The warmth of happiness and contentment settled over me. How was I so lucky to be with a man who could have any woman he wanted but chose me?
This time I slowly stood and searched for a robe in the closet. The nausea had passed, thankfully. I picked up my phone and didn’t see a message from Michael. Maybe he had to meet with the team or something.
I quickly texted him to see where he was and then texted my mother that I would meet them in the restaurant downstairs in thirty minutes. I had to tell my mother in person that we were engaged and that I was pregnant, and get on her for keeping it a secret that he had asked her for my hand in marriage months ago. She could have spared us a lot of heartache.
I turned on the shower and picked out a wrinkle-free sundress that I could just toss on to meet with them. I was still in disbelief as I stared at my left finger. Deep down I believed we would eventually get married, but to know that he had wanted to marry me months ago was humbling. Right when I was about to step in the shower, I heard his voice call out, “Zoe?”
I turned the shower off, put my robe back on, and went in the direction of his voice. “I’m out on the balcony.” I must still be sleepy since it didn’t occur to me to see if he was even in our suite.
I walked toward the large balcony that overlooked the ocean. God must have been smiling down on us this day. It was glorious out here, and so was the half-naked man wearing shorts with his muscled chest and abs on display. He sat on the lounge chair with one of his knees bent, his smile wide and beautiful.
“Morning, Dr. Carson.”
All thoughts of rushing to meet with our mothers went out the window. I walked to him and slid between his legs, resting my back on his chest where I wanted to stay forever. He put his arms around me and kissed me on the cheek.
“You mean, Dr. Broussard. I’m kind of attached to my name.”
He laughed loud. “Zoe, you already doodled Mrs. Carson on the napkin by the bed.”
I playfully smacked his thigh. “All right, smartass. I want to change my name to yours.”
“As if you had a choice.” He kissed my neck, hugging me tight, and I melted in his arms.
“Hmm, you feel good. Morning to you. I thought you were gone.”
“No.” His voice was still gruff, so I knew he hadn’t spoken to anyone until me. “I wanted to sit out here and reflect on everything. I have over one hundred missed calls since last night and I don’t know who most of them are. It’s all so crazy, right?”
“Yeah. I think I’m still in denial because I thought your proposal last night was a dream until my ring reminded me.” I held out my hand to look at it. “You did good.”
He covered my hand with his much larger one and brought it down to rest against my stomach. “I want to make you and our baby so happy.”
“You already do.”
“I guess I know that it’s about to get stupid for both of us.”
“What do you mean?”
“My team just won the Super Bowl and I’m the MVP. My career is going to be on a whole other level that I’ve never even dreamed of. I can’t prepare you for it because I’m not sure what’s going to happen. All I know is that our life will get very busy and demanding. We’re about to have a baby and get married…” He stopped his rambling and hugged me tighter. “I need you so much. I can’t lose you again. I can’t afford to lose us.”
I could hear his worry, his fears, and his excitement. I turned around so that I could straddle him. I put my arms around his neck, our eyes meeting before I leaned my forehead against his. He moaned, opening my robe as he entered me. I winced because I was still sore from last night, but he needed me, he needed to feel our love and connection, and I wanted to be there for him.
I spread my legs so he could fill me with his thickness. I began to slowly ride him as I held his face between my hands. “I’m not going anywhere. Being a new mother and a wife to one of the world’s most famous athletes scares me too. We just have to remember that at the end of every crazy day, it’s you, me, our baby, and God.”
“I think I can remember that, Doc.”
***
I was pacing the floor because, as usual, Michael was late. It continues to be my biggest pet peeve with him. He was meeting me at the doctor for our first ultrasound and he was late. I texted and called him, and he didn’t respond. Which pissed me off more. I knew he didn’t want to hear my mouth and he would arrive eventually. I had just gone in with the nurse and was preparing to undress when there was a knock on my door.
“Come in,“ I said, thinking it was my nurse.
Michael peeked his head in the room before fully entering, dressed casually in baby blue Nike sweats. “Hey, baby, sorry I’m late. The shoot ran over.“
I rolled my eyes because I knew that would happen when he told me the photo shoot for the Nike ad was scheduled the same day as the ultrasound. I urged him to change the date, though he swore he could do both. His philosophy was that as a family we had to learn to juggle because there was always going to be some personal and professional commitment or obligation.
“Zo, I’m here, right?”
I changed the topic because I hated that he never really learned from being late. Nothing really bad ever happened because of his lateness. “Can I have my privacy?”
He frowned and looked around the room. “You serious? I see you naked every day.”
“I don’t know, it feels weird for you to be in here watching me undress. Wait outside until I’m ready.”
“Zoe, I’m not leaving this room. There is a curtain. I will be on the other side, okay?” He moved to sit in the chair on the other side of the curtain.
As usual, he made sense—well, at least since I’ve been pregnant. Lately I can’t think straight or lacked common sense, and my hormones were all over the place. I was angry, happy, and sad sometimes within the same hour. Michael was pretty much happy all the time now that he had the Super Bowl ring, me, and a baby on the way. It was freaking annoying that I was gaining weight fast, had no control of my emotions, but he was still as handsome, in shape, and calm as ever.
When I started to undress, he poked his head around the curtain and smiled. “Hey.”
I put the clinic gown against my chest. “Michael, I’m serious.”
He chuckled as he disappeared behind the curtain again.
I finished changing and sat on the examination table. “You can look now.”
He pulled the curtain back and then pulled his chair next to the table. “You sure? I mean I can still see your legs.” He ducked as soon as he spoke, knowing I was going to pop him.
My doctor walked in as soon as I swung and missed. She laughed at the sight.
“Sorry, Dr. Turner, but he gets on my nerves.”
“If you knew how often I’ve seen my other patients hit their partners, I would be a rich woman.”
“You’re already a rich woman,” Michael added.
Dr. Turner was one of the most sought after obstetrician/gynecologists in New Orleans. Before I became pregnant, she was already my doctor. When I discovered I was pregnant, she told me she figured it would happen when I missed my last appointment with her since I was receiving shots. I trusted her to be discrete, and she signed a nondisclosure agreement that she and her staff would not leak any details about my pregnancy or the birth to the press. Since Michael had been named MVP, media constantly approached him about his personal life. He had not made any more public statements about our relationship nor revealed that I was pregnant. He wanted to shield me for as long as he could from his world because he worried about my stress level.
“Exactly my point.” She smiled at me, interrupting my thoughts. “Are you ready to see your baby?”
My stomach bubbled in excitement, or maybe it was the baby. I couldn’t tell anymore because I had morning sickness regularly now that I was almost four months pregnant. Michael stood, taking my hand as the doctor prepped me for the ultrasound. “We don’t want to know the sex until the birth,” I informed her. We had decided that we wanted to be surprised and if we changed our minds, our friends could throw us a gender reveal party so we would still be surprised together.
“No problem, I will honor what you want. Although it is still too early for you to know anyway.”
“That’s right.” I had been reading all the pregnancy books I could so I would know what to expect. Michael humored me when I gave him a new fact and listened patiently, though I know he believed everything would go out the window the minute I felt the first pains of labor.
She placed the gel on my stomach and then rubbed the transducer over my belly. Instantly we saw my womb on the monitor. Michael held my hand as we saw our little one’s feet and hands. I admit I had trouble distinguishing body parts, but Michael was able to tell, and he helped me see our baby too. He was so proud, and I felt so lucky that he was as excited about being a father as I was about being a mother. I still marvel that when he first walked into my office almost two years ago, I had no clue that this arrogant, handsome man would be my husband and the father of my child.
***
We arrived home still excited over the ultrasound, and Michael grabbed the mail that Myra, the housekeeper, had left on the foyer table. He focused on the mail and I thought about everything we had to do between now and the birth. We hadn’t done much together except celebrate winning the Super Bowl and be happy that we had a baby on the way. We had even postponed our vacation to adjust to all the changes. I had moved in officially and planned to fly back and forth to Houston every two weeks until closer to my due date. Michael joined me there whenever he could. He had so many endorsements deals and meetings about those deals that he was hardly at home. We hadn’t even discussed a wedding date, and everyone was on my case, especially Bunny, who I already asked to do the planning.
I wrapped my arms around his waist and rested my head on his back as he opened one of the envelopes. “I’m thinking we can have a fall wedding. I love October.”
“Fall? I want to be married before the baby gets here.”
“We don’t have the time to plan a wedding in a month.”
“It doesn’t have to be that soon just as long as it’s before the baby is born.”
“Um, I don’t want to be fat for my wedding pictures. Those are forever. You see how fast I’m getting big. I don’t want to look like this on our wedding day.”
He was still sifting through the mail, something his assistant could have handled but was one thing he insisted on doing. He looked over his shoulder at me. “Stop. You’re still sexy. Besides we don’t need a wedding.”
“I want one.” I folded my arms, pouting.
“Fine, then choose a date sometime before the baby, and I’m there.” He kissed me on the lips and headed to the kitchen.
“We don’t have to be married first to be parents.” I followed behind him, trying to take off my heels in the process.
When he noticed that I was taking off my shoes, he stopped walking so I could lean on him. Michael was always very attentive and had been spoiling me ever since I told him about the baby, which brought us even closer.
When I finished pulling off my heels, he picked them up and placed them in a bin we reserved for shoes in the hallway. “I know that, but that‘s what I want. My mother tells everyone that they were married but my parents were never married.”
“We’re not your parents. Don’t be old school about this, Michael.” He walked into the kitchen and I followed him to continue our discussion.
“Zoe, I have the money to plan a quick and beautiful wedding in a week if you’re worried about looking fat in the pics.” He retrieved a glass out of the cabinet. “By the way, didn’t realize you were so vain.”
“I didn’t think I was either until I started gaining all of this weight.” It seemed as soon as I told him and our families and friends, I blew up. I was already two dress sizes bigger. “Please, Michael. I have enough on my plate getting ready for a baby, I don’t need to worry about a quickie wedding.”
“Let me think about it, okay? I don’t care about a wedding, I care about you being my wife, especially before the baby is born. I never wanted to bring a bastard child into the world.”
“That’s harsh. We are not bringing a bastard into the world. Don’t get all religious and moral now, Mr. I Slept with More than One Woman at the same time.” I sat at the island.
He rolled his eyes. “This is different, come on. I’m not that man anymore. My child will be different from me and it starts from birth.”
“I hope he’s different,” I said, patting him on the ass when he passed me to go to the refrigerator.
He smiled at my touch. “Let me think about it, Zo.”
I nodded. “We also have to think about a nanny at some point. Val from the Wives Club told me about the company she uses. “
“Why do we need a nanny? Our mothers will probably be around at the beginning and then when the baby is a little bigger, you should be fine.”
“I will need help, especially when the season starts again and I’m at the clinics.”
“The baby will be so small during this season, you don’t have to travel to the away games. And my mother can watch during a home game you want to attend. We can hire someone to work the clinics.” He grabbed a bottle of tea out of the refrigerator. “You want water?”
“Yeah, and pass me an apple please.” I took a deep breath and wondered where he was going with this. He couldn’t possibly think between his and my career we had enough help.
He handed me an apple and a bottle of water.
“Michael, we need a nanny.”
“No, we don’t. You’ll be home.” He stood next to me.
“Initially, but I only plan to be home until the baby is four months.” I bit my apple.
“You’re not working.” He sipped some of his tea, steady looking me in the eyes.
“You mean until our baby is a little older, or indefinitely?” I was starting to get a tension headache. I fought against it by breathing slowly because my goal was to keep my stress level low while I was pregnant. But he was stressing me big time with this whole nonsense that we needed to be married before the baby, that we didn’t need a nanny, that he didn’t want me to work.
He sighed loudly as he looked down at me. “You don’t need to work until our child is ready for school if you really want to work.”
“Four years? That’s not happening. Are you not working for the next four years? And if we have another child, I’ll never go back to work.”
He glared at me. “Most women wish they had a husband who could take care of them, so they didn’t have to work when they have children.“
“Well, marry one of those women, but I’m not staying home that long.” I got up from the stool and threw my apple in the trash, appetite gone.
He folded his arms and leaned with his back against the island. “My baby is not being raised by a nanny.”
“Your baby is not going to be raised by a nanny. I want to be a mother, I just know we’ll need help.” I tossed my hand, irritated he would think that I’d want my child raised completely by a nanny. “You’re killing me with this old-fashioned, backward thinking.”
“I’m not hiring a nanny,” he said firmly, tightening his mouth.
“Fine. Then you stay home, and I’ll work. We have more than enough money for you to stop playing.”
“Zoe, you know I need to work.”
“And so do I.” I shook my head. “I can’t believe we’re having this discussion after everything we went through about my career. You know how much my career means to me.”
“That was before we knew you were pregnant.”
Anger burned inside me, but after being so excited about the ultrasound, I wanted to keep the peace. “Look, we don’t have to discuss the details yet. The baby is not due for another five months.”
“It doesn’t matter whether we discuss it now or later, we’re not getting a nanny.”
I slammed my water bottle on the counter and walked away. He grabbed my arm and pulled me back into him. “Michael, let me go.”
He wrapped his arms tighter around my waist. “Not until you’re not mad at me.”
“As long as you insist we don’t need a nanny, I will be pissed.” I pouted, something I found myself doing around him a lot lately.
He lifted my chin toward his face. “I only trust you and our mothers with my baby.”
“Our baby.” He was so excited about this child, I swear I had to remind him that he or she was mine too. I felt blessed he was so involved with my pregnancy, but his machismo was on overdrive. “Trusting someone to take care of our baby will be hard, but our lives are too busy to think we don’t need a nanny. You said that as a family we would always have obligations. We have been nonstop already and the baby isn’t even born yet. What about when we both need to attend different events in the city?”
“We’ll get a babysitter that we use on occasion.”
“Ugh, what’s the freaking difference?” I tried to pull away again.
He held on to me firmly. “For a psychologist, you run from conversations a lot. I want to talk about this.”
“And I don’t.” I shoved his hands from around my waist. “At least not now, okay? You said you wanted to think about our wedding date, and I need us to discuss getting a nanny another time. You’re stressing me out, and I need to chill for the baby. I know this is a battle I need to be ready for since I can tell neither one of us will budge on our opinion. Let’s just enjoy the rest of the day.”
“Don’t leave mad.”
“I’m not.” I turned to walk away.
“Kiss me if you’re not,” he dared playfully.
I turned back around and kissed his cheek. “See. Not mad.”
He grabbed me by the chin and kissed me, opening my mouth with his tongue. I broke away from his kiss.
“I know what you’re trying to do and it’s not working.”
He smiled as he started kissing me on my neck. “What am I doing?”
“Trying to get me hot so I won’t be mad at you.” It really was working, though I was still irritated with him. “I’m not mad.”
He touched my breasts through my shirt. “But are you hot?” He reached under my shirt. “Your breasts are the best part of you being pregnant. Hmmm… They are so big, so luscious.”
I put my arms around his neck and let go of all anger as he cupped my breasts in his rough palms and continued kissing my neck. My nipples swelled into his hands and my skin tingled wherever his lips touched. He unbuttoned my shirt and bent and sucked my nipple through my bra. His hand moved inside my joggers and I opened my legs to give him access. “I don’t know why you can’t admit that all I have to do is touch you…”
“Damn you, Michael,” I whispered as I moved wantonly against his mouth and hand. He slid off my pants, lifted me onto the island, and started fucking me.
This man always had a way of making me want sex even when I wasn’t feeling it. As I let go to the pleasure, I couldn’t help but wonder if it meant something that in the first major discussion about our future since we got engaged, our views were so different?

Chapter 3: And the drama begins…

“Hey, Doc. You get tied down and you can’t call nobody,” Ty joked on the phone.
“Don’t be like that. You know it’s been crazy. I can hardly take a breath with everything going on.”
“You and Michael still good, right?”
I smiled, thinking of him. “Yeah, we’re good.”
“That’s all that matters, right? Chill so my godchild won’t come out with anxiety. You and Michael are nervous enough.”
At least, Michael and I did agree on godparents. I had asked Paula to be the godmother and Michael asked Ty to be the godfather to our baby. Because of his background, Michael had trouble trusting others and didn’t have many close friends. Because Ty had been there for us and rooting for us, even when there was no us, we had all become good friends.
I laughed, knowing he was right, Michael and I could be a hot mess at times. “Mind if I stop by your house soon? We need to catch up.”
“What are you doing tonight?”
“I don’t have any real plans. Michael is in L.A. for an endorsement deal. I’m leaving for Houston on Wednesday and he’ll meet me there on Friday.”
“Yes, come over tonight. I’ll make you spaghetti.”
“With ground turkey?”
“Of course. I’ll be home about six, that good?”
“That works. See you later.”
We were careful not to be seen in public without Michael or the rumor mill would go crazy. I realized too many people were curious about my relationship with Ty, so I decided to be more private about our interactions. I had asked Ty if it was okay to tell Michael’ s mother why he and I were not interested in each other, and surprisingly he said no. His logic was that men and women can be friends, and if Michael approved of our friendship, he didn’t feel the need to explain to anyone else why he and I were just friends.
Frankly, I couldn’t agree more. At the end of the day, I was marrying Michael and as much as I loved Lydia, she would have to trust that I wouldn’t do anything to hurt her son.
***
We were in his kitchen, eating Ty’s delicious meal and drinking sparkling cider while talking about all the common TV shows we watched. He was like the brother I never had, and it was refreshing to have this kind of relationship with a man and not have to worry about him hitting on me. I needed his ear, especially with how Michael had been acting lately.
I sat back in my chair and took another sip. “I knew he was sort of chauvinistic, but this pregnancy has made him all moralistic too. Am I wrong if I want to get married after the baby is born?”
“I wouldn’t say wrong, but that does surprise me.”
“Why?”
“I would have thought you would want to be married first.”
“Yeah, ideally, I would have if I wasn’t already pregnant. I always pictured my wedding a certain way and rolling down the aisle wasn’t it.”
“‘Rolling down the aisle’? You’re even more beautiful now.” He chuckled. “I had no idea you were caught up in your appearance.”
“Michael said the same thing.”
“He wants to be married and you don’t? That’s hilarious to me.” He poured more cider. “I don’t know, Doc. If you’re married and things don’t work out, you have rights. What if once the baby gets here, he changes his mind about marriage? You already live together. If you don’t feel the need, then he may not either. There are plenty of baby mamas who want to be wives in the NFL and are never offered that opportunity.”
“I do want to marry him but after the baby comes. I want time to plan and the idea of doing all of that while pregnant is too much. Besides, I don’t think this is the only time he would want to marry me.”
“He has crazy money and can hire a wedding planner. You don’t have to do anything but show up. I don’t see the big deal. Is it really about what you look like?”
I covered my face with my hands. “Yes. And a big part of me is ashamed it matters to me. I wished it didn’t, but it does. Women usually are their most beautiful on their wedding day. And don’t get me wrong, if I were already this size before I was pregnant, I would rock it because it would be me. But this new me I see in the mirror is foreign. I’m afraid I won’t feel beautiful and it would show. I mean think about it, these pictures are forever and probably going to be featured in a magazine at some point since Michael is the most talked about athlete right now.”
“All right, all right. I get your point. Did you tell Michael what you just told me?” He put his elbows on the table, resting his chin on his clasped hands.
“I tried, but then we got into an argument about getting a nanny.”
“You’re shitting me? He doesn’t want a nanny?”
“Nope. That crazy man of mine thinks we can get by with our mothers and a babysitter who we call when needed.” I leaned closer to Ty. “And guess what? He doesn’t want me to work anymore.”
“Get the fuck out of here! One of the reasons you broke up was because of his interference in your career. Now he doesn’t want you to work.”
“Seriously, Ty, I wanted to strangle him. He said that because I’m pregnant now everything changes, and I should be glad that I don’t have to work. That’s the main reason he doesn’t think we need a nanny, because I will be home and not working anymore.”
“Are you and Michael still cool after that conversation?”
“We cut the convo because it was getting heated. Nothing was really resolved, and it’s been a month since either one of us brought it up. We’ve just been going with the flow.”
He rose from the table and started gathering up the dishes. When I got up to help, he urged me to sit back down with a wave of his hand. “You’re my guest.”
I watched him as he finished cleaning the table. He had a pep in his step and seemed to have plenty of energy. “You’re smiling a lot tonight. What’s up?”
“I wanted to talk to you because I know you would be real with me. Let me finish this and we can go sit in the den where it’s more comfortable.”
“Okay.”
He quickly finished, and we moved to the den where he sat on the sofa and I stretched out on the recliner across from him. I rubbed my belly, which had become my new normal.
“Feels like a session, Doc.”
“I guess, but I’m not going to psychoanalyze you. We’re friends and you have something on your mind that you want me to hear.”
“I know that’s what you say, but I always feel lucky that I have a psychologist I can talk to at any time.”
“I swear I’m being just a friend with you and not your therapist. It’s been a while, but think back. Do I act the same toward you now as I did when we were in sessions?”
“No, you’re definitely different. You were more professional, more formal. You used to call me Mr. Turner. Or maybe because I know another side to you, it feels different.”
“Yeah, but know that I can separate between you as my friend and you as my client. You have become like a brother to me, and I feel like I can talk to you and hope you feel the same. This is not therapy.”
“I need a big sister and that’s who you are to me. I have one younger brother who’s in college now and though we love each other, I can’t talk to him like I talk to you or Michael.” He drank beer while I continued with the cider. “Michael. Who would have thought he would be my friend? I couldn’t stand him when we first met. He was so fucking arrogant and standoffish. Now everyone loves him and I’m going to be the godfather of his child. Crazy, right?”
“Yes. He was so jealous of you, and now if I get scared while he’s gone, he tells me to call you. I still think it’s surreal how my life has changed since I met him.”
“I know you’re trying to figure it all out but keep in mind, he loves you and he means well. Find a way to compromise. Maybe you can agree to stay home for a year, work from home, or something. Or get married legally and have the wedding later. I don’t know, but that’s what relationships are about, making those compromises. “
I sighed because Ty was right. Michael and I had to find a compromise because I wasn’t going anywhere. And the way that man loved me, he wasn’t either. “I’ve got to get out of my head. I’ll talk to him when he gets back because it’s like the elephant in the room neither of us wants to discuss. But enough about me, what’s up with you?”
His face broke into a wide smile, the kind that’s prompted by another person. “I met someone.”
I clapped my hands in excitement. “Good for you. Are you ready to openly date?”
“Not necessarily.”
“Okay. If that person wants to remain hidden too, I guess it should be fine.”
He looked away and then back at me. “Promise you won’t tell Michael.”
“Um, unlike you, I can keep things between you and me.”
“Funny, haha. I only told Michael about you and Xavier meeting up. That’s all.”
“Causing unnecessary stress because I had to hear his mouth.” I covered my feet with the quilt he kept on the recliner.
“I told him not to call you.”
“As if he would listen when it comes to me.”
“I know that now, which is why I will never be you and Michael’s go-between.” He rubbed his hands together and sat forward. “This might bother you too, but I had to tell someone.“
“What, Ty? You’re making me nervous.”
“I think I like Jamila.”
“What?” I still felt some jealousy when I thought of her. “How can you like Jamila? You’re bi?”
“My first crush was a girl when I was seven years old. I had my first crush on a boy when I was sixteen. I’ve had secret relationships with men since football became my career because it’s not acceptable. I’m blessed no one has tried to out me.”
“Have you liked or dated women since you realized you were gay?”
“I told you I was gay because it was the simplest explanation on why I avoided dating. Truth is, I don’t like labels and don’t consider myself anything beyond a person who has been in relationships with both men and women. I never wanted to openly date males or females because I never wanted it to be said that I was pretending to be something I wasn’t. Maybe if I were an engineer, I wouldn’t care what others thought about my dating life. But I could lose my career and possibly endorsements if people knew that I’ve been with men.”
“Ty.” I stopped talking to gather my thoughts because I didn’t want to hurt my friend. “Are you taking the easy route by focusing on women? You need to be true to yourself regardless of what the whole world thinks. You can’t pretend to like women because it’s easier. You’ll end up hurting yourself and the women.”
He stood and paced back and forth in irritation. “That’s just it. I have feelings for her. It’s not because I think it’s easier. I always thought she was attractive. She’s funny, down to earth, and she’s so good at what she does. Michael made it clear she was off limits, so at first, I didn’t think of her in that way.”
“Hold up. What do you mean he made it clear?”
Ty rolled his eyes. “Let it go, Zoe. He chose you. When she first got here, he told us that she was an ex and to treat her with respect. I don’t date a friend’s ex.”
“Okay, smartass… even though he is with me now, she is still his ex. Nothing has changed.”
“I know. But she’s been working with all of us now and I’ve been spending time with her and I know it sounds crazy, but I’m crushing on her. And I know she’s attracted to me too. We’ve been flirting through text a lot lately.”
“I don’t know, Ty. It would already be a bad idea because of the team and her history with Michael. Then add on your sexual history and the fact that Michael knows. And what happens when you tell Jamila? I don’t know too many women who want to be with a man who also has had sex with men. I‘m not saying that you don‘t have feelings, but you can stop it before it gets deep.”
“You know how hard it is to resist someone you should,” he reminded me before sitting back down. “I see her almost every day and I find myself wanting to talk to her any chance I get. What if this is real, do I ignore what I feel?“
“I don‘t know. Are you sure she‘s interested?“
“I know when someone wants me,” He leaned back on his sofa, all cocky, like the handsome, confident, NFL player he was.
“Fine… then before you go any further, tell her the truth about your sexuality.”
“There has to be a right time. You don’t have to tell anyone about your past until you think it’s going somewhere.”
“Well, then before you have a second date or have sex, you need to tell her.”
“What if my past bothers her?”
“Then you have your answer. And you move forward either way.”
He sucked in his breath and let it out slowly. “What do you think she’ll do?”
“I don’t know.”
“What would you do if Michael told you he had been with men in the past?”
“I would be angry if I just found out, but I can’t say for sure I wouldn’t have dated him if it was discussed early on. As far as I know, I’ve never been with a man who has been with men. I care about people too much to judge them.” I sat up and looked at Ty, biting my lip nervously. “Have you and Michael ever done anything?”
He met my stare. “No, and I have no desire. No more than you feel toward any of your friends. He’s not gay or on the down low, unless he’s hiding it well. I was just asking your opinion. Doc, don’t start giving Michael the side eye, please.”
I relaxed somewhat though this conversation was hard. “Love is a risk, but it definitely won’t grow without trust. Tell her when you think the time is right but before she feels betrayed. I won’t tell Michael anything.” I prayed there wouldn’t be anything to tell him because something told me the situation could get ugly.
***
On Thursday afternoon, I was in my office in Houston finishing up. The clinic was already closed, and Lydia had gone home. We had a productive day. I planned to close up, pick up something to eat on the way to the condo, and just relax. I was checking my email one more time when I sensed a presence. I was startled to see Michael lounging against the door.
“Anytime I see you in an office, I get hard.”
I smiled, excited to see him. “Your mind stays in the gutter. What are you doing here? I was expecting you tomorrow.”
“I finished in L.A. early and when I called Ma, she said you were still here. I figured I would take you to dinner. You ready?”
“Sounds good, except can we get takeout? I’m tired and don’t feel like dealing with the fans who want to take a selfie with you.”
“Jealous?” He smiled, showing his dimples.
I quirked an eyebrow at him. “I haven’t seen you in a few days. I want you to myself.”
“You can have me.” He continued to lean against the door, though I could sense his mood had changed. “Stand up.”
“I’m almost finished. Let me just—”
“Stand up.” He pushed himself away from the door and walked into my office, shutting the door closed with his foot.
I pushed my rolling chair back and stood up, waiting for him to come to me, the sexual tension stirring between us.
Our eyes stayed locked as he approached and came to stand behind me. He wrapped his arms around me and pulled me in to him. When I tried to touch him, he put my hands on the desk. He kissed my neck. “I’ve got this.“
His hands went under my dress and his fingers slid beneath my panties. He slowly rubbed my mound with one of his hands, going in and out of my lips, spreading my wetness. “You like this?”
“Yes,” I moaned.
“You got wet so fast.”
“I got wet with your first command,” I whispered.
He chuckled in my ear as he continued to rub me like he had all the time in the world. “Good answer.” One of his fingers played with my clit as his other hand moved upward and pinched my nipples. “I want to show you how much I missed you.”
I leaned my head back against his shoulder, enjoying the feel of his hard chest against me. I heard him unzip his jeans and felt his tip against my opening, teasing me. “Please.”
“I love it when you beg me.” Michael nipped my ear. “Spread your legs.” I complied. “Good, Zoe, I know how you don’t normally like to listen to me,” he praised.
“I do listen to you,” I argued.
“If you listened to me, we would never get into any fights.” He rubbed my clit harder, making me grind against his hand.
“We would be a boring couple if I always listened to you.” I was talking although I had trouble focusing.
“I wouldn’t love you so much if you agreed with everything I said.” He pulled my face back toward him and kissed my mouth with his tongue, entering me at the same time.
As he slowly pushed in and out of me, he held me up, so I wouldn’t lean on the desk. “Put your arms around my neck and hold on.”
He moved faster and used his fingers to massage my sweet spot, which gave the amazing sensation of being fucked from two different directions. “I’m about to come.” I said in a pained whisper.
Michael removed his fingers and placed his hands on my hips so that he could slam me against him over and over until we both came hard, groaning and forcefully expelling air from our lungs.
He barely took a breath before he sat in my chair and pulled me on his lap. His pants were still open. “You good? I hope I wasn’t too rough.”
I kissed him fully on the mouth, glad I could physically touch him. “As if I wouldn’t tell you if you were…” I had a thought and started laughing.
“What?”
“The minute you came, you wanted to know if I’m all right, were you too rough. But when you’re inside of me, nothing matters but how good it feels.”
“You making me sound like a monster.” He frowned.
“Not at all. I love that you lose control with me, that nothing matters but us giving each other pleasure. I want you to give me your all. If it’s ever too much, I know you’ll stop as soon as I say so. Definitely keep sexing me like that and I will forever be addicted to you.”
“Say addicted again.” He grinned wide.
“You’re stupid. I know why you want me to say it.”
“Then say it.”
“A-ddic-ted,” I enunciated.
“See, it’s not that hard to say dick.”
“Just know I love yours.” I kissed the tip of his nose. “How was your trip?”
“Good. Hated being away from you. What did you do?”
“Worked and had dinner with Ty at his house the other night.”
“Really? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I think I did, but you were rushing to get off the phone.”
He appeared to be thinking. “Yeah, you’re right, you did tell me. How is he?”
“He’s good. Just wanted to talk.”
“Talk about what?” Before I could respond, he continued talking, “I’ll see him next week for training. I’ll ask him myself.”
“Yeah, do that since he’s your friend too.”
He tapped my butt. “I need to get cleaned up so we can get something to eat.” I stood and pulled him up. As he adjusted his pants, he said, “I’m glad you told me he’s gay or I would have spent way too much time hating on him. He wouldn’t have become one of my good friends if you kept the truth from me. “
“Yeah,” I said, dread creeping to my soul.

****************

endgame trilogy covers (2)

***Endgame and Game Time now available on e-book and paperback on Amazon, Barnes and Nobles, Itunes, and KOBO.***

**I couldn’t resist since it is Mardi Gras time in New Orleans**

Chapter 1: You’re Mine

“Baby, you got the directions to where we’re supposed to meet to ride in the parade?” Michael called to me from the bathroom. We were at his house getting ready to ride in a Carnival Parade. We had not spent a night apart, whether it was at his house or mine, since we got back together.

“It’s saved on my phone. Are you almost ready? I don’t want to be late.” I put on the most comfortable but cute heels I could find since I would be on my feet for hours. Ladies were required to wear heels on the Grand Marshall float. It’s a man’s world because no woman would make other women wear heels on a float in a parade that lasts for hours, I thought to myself, irritated.

“They… can’t start… without… me. Relax.”

Michael had been asked to be the Grand Marshall for Endymion, the most popular Mardi Gras crew, after he brought the Gators to the Super Bowl. The Gators were probably going to go into the next season as the number one team to beat, and their team merchandise was the highest selling in the NFL. It was all because of Michael. The city absolutely loved him, and he could do no wrong. The spotlight was on him and for the most part, I managed to run under the radar until Carnival Season began. He was invited to so many balls, and of course, I was his constant companion. We had begun our formal entry into society as a couple.

I walked into the closet to look at the mirror and made sure my long, fitted purple sequin gown with high slits on both sides fit right. The dress had a high neck and long sleeves because it was cold outside. The dress was too flashy for me but would stand out as I rode on the float with Michael. We would have snacks and thermoses of hot chocolate, coffee, tea, or alcohol on the float to keep us warm as we navigated through the streets of New Orleans. I’m not a big drinker, but a sip or two would hopefully keep me warm since we were not allowed to wear jackets.

He came out of the bathroom, without his suit coat or shoes, struggling with his green sequin tie, and headed to the bed to get his shoes. “Help me with my tie.”

“Are you kidding me? We are supposed to be at the meeting spot now and you’re still not dressed. What have you been doing all this time? Marshall or not, you don’t want to be the reason the parade is late.” I stomped impatiently to him and began helping him with his tie.

He tried to kiss me, but I ducked and continued working on his tie. “No time for that.”

He could be exhausting when it came to events outside of football. Michael couldn’t get anywhere on time to save his life. He operated beyond CP time and never rushed for anything or anybody. I’m the kind of person that is always fifteen minutes early. We had had so many arguments about being on time.

He put his hands on my waist as I finished. “You look good, Zoe. I like this dress. Even better than the ones you wore to the balls. And you know how I couldn’t keep my hands off you then.”

He was the special guest at both the Endymion and Zulu balls, the African-American Mardi Gras Crew that ran on Fat Tuesday. We would be riding on one of their floats as well but not as Grand Marshall. We partied last night at the Zulu Ball until the wee hours of the morning because Mary J. Blige and New Edition tore it down. Although this was all exciting, I was exhausted because we had been running to different events and parties nonstop since carnival season kicked off shortly after the Super Bowl.

“You know this is not my style.” My other gowns were sexy too but not as flashy. “I look like a five-dollar hoe,” I joked.

“Which is why I like it, especially the long purple wig.” He touched one of the colorful tresses playfully and leaned into me.

“Yeah, this is definitely a unique look for me.” And I did feel different, more exotic, more daring, and the way he stared at my body, I knew he wanted me. Unfortunately, we needed to have been gone like yesterday. “Put your shoes on, please, so we can go.”

He tugged me closer and moved his hands to my behind. “Come on.”

I tried to give him a stern look. “We don’t have time.”

He ignored me and lifted my dress, running his hands up my thighs slowly as he did, making me wet. “Zo… I’m about to come just looking at you, so it won’t take long.”
I had not yet been able to deny this man anything. He was so spoiled. We had been practically inseparable, and he was insatiable. I think it was the athlete in him because he was always ready. And because he was so freaking hot, I was always ready for him.

“You have five minutes,” I warned. “And make sure you don’t mess up my dress.”

“I only need a minute.” He smiled widely, dimples on full display.

I stopped his wandering hands, turned around to lean against his high bed, and lifted my dress. The height of his bed was perfect for a quickie when all he had to do was bend me over to fuck me.

“Umm. Aren’t you full of surprises?” He slapped me hard on my butt when he saw the matching purple thong just for him underneath my dress.

I rubbed where he hit. “Ouch, Michael! That hurt. We don’t have time for kinky.” Our sex life was most definitely an adventure and never boring.

“Sorry, baby, I couldn’t resist. What did you expect me to do to that ass when you put the thong on?” he laughed. He replaced my hand with his lips and kissed me gently in the same spot before he pressed me into the bed, grabbing my breasts and entering me from behind. I stopped worrying about our tardiness. He could take all day as far as I was concerned…

Fifteen minutes later we were finally on our way to the meeting place and because New Orleans is a small city, we were only a half hour late. Handlers rushed us to our float, an elaborate miniature football field with the Gators logo except the colors were changed from black and gold to the purple, green, and yellow colors of Mardi Gras.

There were so many beautiful floats and each one had a different theme with the riders wearing matching attire. We were expected to stand for the most part and each of the riders had a post to lean against when needed. Michael was the only man on our six-person float. All the other riders were white women who pretended I wasn’t there and kept finding ways to touch or talk to him while we waited for the parade to begin.
Once the parade started, we had so much fun. He had purchased thousands of beads, cups, stuffed animals, and other trinkets for us to throw. Because he was a quarterback, Michael had fun singling out the person in the crowd who would get his treats and aimed perfectly every time.

I had been to parades my whole life but never rode on a float. To see the city and all the fans from this angle was truly breathtaking. I felt fearless and powerful as the crowd begged for my throws. I did not feel cold at all after taking a few sips of spiked coffee and enjoyed seeing the multitude of people.

As we approached St. Charles Avenue, where many families waited for the parades, I saw Paula and Shantel jumping up and down like little girls instead of the professional women they were. I tapped Michael’s shoulder and pointed toward my friends. We quickly grabbed beads and trinkets and threw at them. Both Paula and Shantel managed to catch them and screamed in delight. We waved goodbye and blew kisses to them as our float continued its path.

Because the parade was so large, it would stall and our float would stop for minutes at a time. Michael used that time to talk with his fans on the ground, and I engaged in conversation with the other women on the float. Of course, green-five-dollar hoe—I didn’t bother to remember the name of the woman who flirted with him earlier—would not engage with us. The other ladies were cool as we talked about how much fun we were having, and we shared trinkets. I forgave them for their initial interest in Michael because I would have had a hard time myself not looking his way, woman on his arm or not. One of the ladies wanted to make a toast so we did, and we all had champagne. How we managed to do all of this on a moving float and still please the crowd, I do not know.

When we neared the area on the parade route with one of the largest crowds and elevated seating, which held the important people like the Mayor, green-five-dollar hoe decided to hold on to Michael’s arm. Since he wore a green tie that coordinated with her dress, they did look like a couple. I could tell Michael was too busy dancing, drinking, and waving at the crowds to pay attention to what she was doing. When the parade came to yet another standstill, her smile grew, and I knew why. Somebody, somewhere, was snapping pictures wondering if this was Michael’s new woman or if there was trouble in paradise.

She stood slightly ahead of me but close enough for me to say something without Michael’s knowledge. I whispered with a smile, “You touch him one more time, or even look at him too hard, and I will push your little ass right off of this float.”

Her mouth opened in shock, but she closed it quickly. She also pasted a fake smile and retorted, “Are you threatening me?”

“Not at all. I will push you and make it look like an accident. I mean, with all this alcohol we have been drinking, it is highly likely that we can be off balance up here on this float. Don’t worry, the men out there will catch you. Leave my man alone, because he’s already caught me. Are we clear?”

She had the good sense to nod and go back to her post. “Good girl,” I called to her, and one of the ladies with whom I had conversed the most, gave me a thumbs up sign. She obviously overheard or figured out what happened, so I returned the sign.

I happily threw some more beads and observed Michael as he smiled and talked to one of his fans on the ground. I had never been a jealous woman, but seeing her put her hands on him like he was hers, I was ready to fight. I realized more than anything in this world, I didn’t want to lose his interest, or him, because he was the total package—intelligence, personality, sexy body, and two deep dimples. More importantly, he respected and loved me. If that meant I needed to openly stake a claim on him, then that was what I would do.

We started moving again and I tugged on his jacket to get his attention. When he glanced at me, I beckoned him with my finger to come closer and kissed him with tongue in front of thousands of people. The crowd yelled and whistled in approval.

He pulled back with amusement. “What was that about?”

“Just getting into the spirit of the moment, and I might be just a little tipsy.”

“Well in that case…” He placed his arms on my post, blocking me in, and wrapped one of my legs around him as he continued to kiss me. The crowd cheered even louder and some started yelling, “Show her tits!” It was very common for women of all walks of life to get into the bawdiness of Mardi Gras and lift their shirts to get beads.

He simply shook his head at the crowd. He pretended to squeeze my breasts and yelled,

“Her tits are mine only.”

I should have been offended, but his charm made me laugh right along with the crowd. He then held me in his arms and leaned down to give me a kiss. I spoke into his lips, “You are something else, Mr. Carson.”

“Indeed.”

Chapter 2: Reality Bites

“For the next session, I want you to note how often you feel anxious and then we’ll try to pinpoint together the nature of your fears or worries.” I was wrapping up with Logan, one of my clients who I had been seeing since the end of last year. She tended to annoy me because she didn’t really want to change. She liked to use sessions to complain. Since ultimately, it’s her money, I let her stay unchanged, which is hard for me since my job is to help clients become better people.
“I think I know how it’s related, but I would rather wait until I return to talk about it more.”
I don’t know how many continuations we have had about her finally telling me what causes her anxiety. But again, it’s her money and time. “That’s fine.” I stood, signaling the end of our session, but she remained seated. “Was there anything else?”
Logan suddenly grinned as if she had the biggest secret and pulled out her cell. “So how does it feel to be Michael Carson’s girlfriend? I couldn’t believe it when I saw you at Endymion with him on the float, because he was standing close to this other lady, so I thought he was with her. Then when I saw this photo I knew it was true. I told my friends about you and everyone is so jealous you are my therapist. I mean he is so hot! You are so lucky!”
I tried to be nonchalant, as if I wasn’t shaken by her words, but once I took her phone and saw a picture of us kissing and then another pic when he pretended to touch my breasts, I was mortified that I initiated these actions and couldn’t blame anyone but myself. I could barely breathe thinking of what my behavior might have stirred up. I returned the phone.
“I really don’t discuss my personal life with my clients.” I could feel myself getting defensive.
“Oh. But you got real personal with Michael Carson,” she said, irritated.
I guess she thought I would happily discuss him with her since he was so popular right now.
“Again, I don’t discuss my personal life.” I was officially annoyed and didn’t care if it showed.
“Dr. Broussard, one article I read said that he was your client when you met, and you could lose your license. With all due respect, I need to know if you are still licensed and for how long?”
Although that was her little dagger at me for refusing to talk about Michael, she was right. I had to start being honest with my clients. I took a breath and leaned a hip against my desk with my arms folded. “Logan, you don’t have many sessions left, so I’m sure we can continue to work together. I will always be honest with my clients, and if there is any change in whether I can still treat you, I will be the first to let you know. It’s up to you if you want to continue seeing me. I hope that you do because I enjoy working with you. But I respect your decision if you want to terminate services.”
“No, no. I want to continue. I just didn’t know what dating him would mean for me.”
I straightened and walked to my door. “It means nothing.”
She finally got the hint and gathered her things and left.
I had a few minutes between clients and headed to Paula’s office. She was on the phone, which was obviously a personal call because she was laughing. She held her finger up signaling me to stay. I sat down in a chair, pulled my phone from my pocket, and once I found a picture and article about us and my license, I sent it to Michael and waited for my best friend to get off the phone.
After Carnival Season ended last week, our lives returned to normal, or should I say our new normal. Since the new year, I had been working at the practice on a part-time basis. Paula and I decided it was best that I no longer see any Gators players and reassured the team management that she would be their only psychologist.
However, because they attributed Michael’s winning season to my work with him, the management made it clear that they appreciated the work thus far and had no issues with my continuation of seeing their players. Although I was pleased by their faith in me, Paula and I knew that it would not be a good idea. It was also best that I focus on my existing clients and not take on any new ones.
We thought that I might have a few months to finish all my clients. I had not heard anything yet from the Board and was expecting a formal complaint soon. I wasn’t going to turn myself in, but I knew that sooner or later I would get a sanction that I would take and not fight.
Since we became a couple, I had spent most of my free time with Michael and had not felt that my time was empty. It also meant I hadn’t figured out what I would do career-wise. Of course, he reminded me that I never had to work again and could focus on charities and the Wives Club, which was the group for all the wives, fiancées, and girlfriends. Since I was the girlfriend of the Captain and Star of the team, I was expected to be fully involved.
If we ever married, I would lead the club. I dreaded being a part of this group of women whose sole purpose was to look pretty, spend their men’s money, and who had no identity outside of their men. I would have to start being more involved in the coming months, but I wasn’t going to do more than what was expected any time soon.
“What’s going on?” Paula interrupted my thoughts.
I showed her the picture of us kissing and frowned. “There’s also an article saying that he was my client when we met and I will probably lose my license.”
“So? We knew that this would happen. He’s too huge of a public figure for media to ignore this. And you were kissing each other on top of a float at the most popular parade during Mardi Gras. What did you think would happen?”
“I didn’t think. I was a lil tipsy, jealous, happy, in love, and had an impulsive moment. I guess a small part of me hoped that no one would ever find out and we could keep things as is.”
“Really, Zoe? Michael just played in the Super Bowl. And you thought no one would have interest in the woman he’s dating? The woman he dumped Taylor Graham for, in front of a crowd. I’m surprised it took this long for people to start talking. You shouldn’t be surprised.”
“Of course I’m not, Paula, but Logan basically used the fact that I wouldn’t discuss Michael with her as a means to insinuate I should no longer be seeing clients.”
“So she was the one who showed you the picture and the article?”
“Yes. Well, she had the pictures but told me about an article. I don’t care if I lose her, because she tries my patience most days, but I do care about what my other clients think. Once my other clients see articles about my license, it’s officially over for me and potentially our clinic. I can’t let you go down with me because of my personal choices.”
She propped her head on one of her manicured hands and glanced at me. “We may have to play this different. We were waiting for the Board to contact you, but you may have to call and see what your options are.”
“Or I could call all of my clients, either discharge or transfer them to you and go ahead and step away now.”
“And do what? You haven’t come up with a Plan B yet.”
“I know. I’ve been so busy being Michael’s girlfriend, I haven’t touched my career.”
“Well, you can just be a woman of leisure.”
“And if my relationship fails, then what? He is not my husband and I get nothing if he leaves me.”
“It is not going to fail. He is crazy about you. Everything is going well, right?”
“Yes, so much so it’s scary. We fit so well. Even when we argue, it lasts about a minute.”
“Even better than Xavier?” Paula smirked as she sat straight in her chair.
I rolled my eyes. “Don’t talk about Xavier.”
“I’m not. He’s a good guy, he just wasn’t for you.”
“If I recall correctly, you did tell me I shouldn’t leave Xa.”
“That was when I thought you and Michael were just playing around. How did I know he would be the man for you?” She shrugged.
“There was no way that I thought when he first came into my office with his arrogance that I would ever fall for him, or even more so, that he would fall for me.”
“Good, you’re smiling again. I had to remind you that whatever happens in your career, you decided to date Michael so you could feel the way you do right now.”
I did feel contentment for maybe the first time in my life, and it was because of Michael. I came around her desk and leaned down to hug her. “Thanks. I will stop being a coward and call the Board myself.”
“Everything will work out. Stop worrying, Zoe.”
“Okay, I’ve got to go. My client is waiting for me. Dinner tomorrow night?”
“What? You mean Mr. Carson is going to give you a night off?”
“Ha ha. You got jokes.”
***
Once I finished with my last client, I checked my phone and I still had no response from Michael. He had gone back to conditioning and working out a couple of hours per day, so this was not unusual. I didn’t realize how much went into being a star athlete and Michael was such a competitor. He pushed himself so hard and hated to lose. There were still moments that he would get sulky and irritable when he thought about the Super Bowl loss and I had learned to let him be. I would just go into another room and give him time.
I did try to leave once because he was being an asshole when he was having a moment. I found my purse and headed for the door. I didn’t know he had followed me until he grabbed my wrist to stop me. “Zo, this is me and it won’t change. I’m a horrible loser, but it makes me strive even harder to win. You’ve got to learn to live with it and that means you don’t go home just because I’m annoying you or you’re frustrated with me because you think I should be over it. I need you here with me and not just when things are good.”
Damn. I couldn’t argue with him. I dropped my purse at his feet and reminded him why he needed me.
Thinking of him but wanting to be alone, I decided to go home. I would text him later to see if he was up to visit me tonight. If he wasn’t, then tonight might be the first night we slept separate, because I was not leaving my house. This time I needed a moment, but unlike him, I didn’t need him to be there with me.
A short drive later, I got my mail and went into my house. I hadn’t been there in a few days and hoped I had what I needed for work tomorrow. He had given me space in his closet and bathroom, so I left a lot of my things at his house. I missed my place. We rarely came here since he had a gym and daily five o’clock in the morning workouts. I didn’t mind because I loved his home and it was beginning to feel like ours. But I missed my place and needed to be in familiar surroundings because I was scared.
I knew what I was doing when I decided to openly date Michael, but the reality of knowing that I could lose my license and not be a psychologist anymore was affecting me even more than I realized. I collapsed on my sofa and sorted my mail, but I dropped the small pile when I saw the official stamp of the Louisiana Board on one of the envelopes.
“Shit.” I knew what that meant and didn’t want to deal with it. I had never received any letter from the Board except reminder letters every June to renew my license. It was only March.
I shut down completely and pulled my throw over my head without opening the envelope, scared and nervous of how my life was about to change. Although I knew it was inevitable because of his celebrity status that a complaint would be made to the Board, I was terrified of seeing it in plain English—that my license would be suspended upon further investigation due to an allegation of sex with a client or patient.
I must have drifted off to sleep because the next thing I knew, Michael was gently shaking me awake. He leaned over me, still dressed in his workout clothes, with a worried expression on his face. “I got your text with the picture and the article, and I figured you would come here. I came as soon as I could. We’re going to get through this, I promise.” When I remained silent, he glanced around and saw the unopened letter on the floor. “You okay, baby?”
He sounded so concerned that tears sprang to my eyes. I knew he worried that I would resent him, and right then I knew how much he loved me. He was just as afraid of losing me as I was of losing of him.
“No.”
He immediately lifted me so that he could hold me on his lap, and he held me as I cried. He didn’t say a word and just let me be. And I was so wrong. I did need him here after all.

Chapter 3: Who am I?

I’m not sure how long I stayed in his arms, but eventually, he laid me down on the sofa and covered me with my favorite throw. I heard him messing around in the kitchen and closed my eyes. Before I knew it, Michael was waking me up again.
“I ran you a bath, but first, you need to eat.” On the coffee table on a wooden tray, he had a glass of orange juice, tomato soup, and a grilled cheese.
I smiled at his thoughtfulness, though I was still feeling emotionally weak. “Sweetie, I know I keep falling asleep, but I’m not sick. I’m just overcome by exhaustion.”
He picked up the bowl of soup and prepared to feed me. “I know. When I was a boy, before my Mama got on drugs, whenever I had a bad day she would fix this for me. It always made me feel better. I didn’t know what else to do, so I cooked for you. Now, eat.”
My heart swelled with love and I opened my mouth and let him feed me. “Mm… This is good. Did you make this? I don’t remember having tomato soup in the pantry.”
He looked sheepish. “I picked up some on the way over here. I had a feeling you might need this.”
I opened for another mouthful. “Wait. You went to the store and picked this up yourself?” It was a running joke how ‘ghetto bougie’ he had become since his move to New Orleans. This man barely did anything for himself except wipe his ass. If I didn’t pick up groceries, he had them delivered or had his housekeeper pick them up for him. “You really do love me.”
“Whatever, Zoe. It’s just Campbell’s, but I added my own special touch.” He reached for my glass and passed it to me.
I drank a gulp and the orange juice tasted refreshing. “What are you eating?”
“I had a protein drink and a chicken salad right before I headed here. I might eat whatever you don’t finish.”
“I think I can eat the rest by myself.” Although the food was good, I didn’t have much of an appetite. He turned on the TV and channel-surfed. In the end, I ate more than I wanted because Michael went through the trouble to cook for me.
He picked up the envelope from the Louisiana Board of Psychologists after he saw I was finished eating. “You want me to open it?”
The dull thud in my head became a sharp pain. “No. Not tonight.”
“You don’t even know what it says. It may not be that bad.”
“No!” I said more sharply than I intended, and he dropped the envelope on the table. He stood and picked up my tray without another word.
I fell back on the pillows, mad at myself that I reacted like I did. Michael didn’t deserve my anger. He had managed to make me feel better, but just seeing that envelope brought me back to square one. My heart was heavy because I had clients scheduled for tomorrow that I needed to inform that I could no longer be their therapist. It might seem drastic, but I knew this day was coming sooner or later and I should have quit before I received any notice from the Board. Then I thought of all my clients who were regulars. My stomach churned because I would miss working with them and helping them.
Michael came back into the room and pulled me up. “Take a bath, soak, and I’ll be waiting for you in bed. I’ll stay here tonight.”
“But your workout.”
“I’ll wake up earlier and leave from here. Or I miss a day. Whatever you need, I’m here.”
I followed behind him and wrapped my arms around his waist. “I’m sorry about earlier. I’m not ready yet, okay?”
He placed a hand on top of mine and leaned back to kiss the top of my head. “Whenever you’re ready. Everything is going to work out. You’re Michael Carson’s lady,” he said with a wink, a touch of his arrogance back.
“Boy, bye.” I joked, but his words made me think. Is that who I am now, a celebrity’s girlfriend, like Cassie to Diddy? Only relevant because of my association to him. Could I live with that? I was mad about him and believed in him. Maybe I would be okay with making sure he and his career continued to shine. I mean, if I could no longer be a psychologist and help people, who was I?
***
“Zoe?” Michael whispered in my ear. I snuggled closer under the comforter in my bed and I felt him leaning over me. “Are you awake?”
“No,” I mumbled.
“Zo, we need to talk.” He touched my cheek and I turned over with my back facing him. “Come on, baby. You can’t just sleep it away. You’ve been in bed for two days.”
“Says the man who doesn’t want to be bothered when he loses a game. Well, this is me,” I reminded him of the words he said to me when I became frustrated with him.
I heard him sigh. “This is not you. I hate to see you like this.”
“Then leave. You have your place. I didn’t ask you to come here.” I knew I was being mean, but I had never felt like this before. Not even over a broken heart. I felt lost and embarrassed that I was viewed as unethical and not worthy of practicing psychology because I fell in love. I was starting to resent that I had to make a choice. It was hard knowing I’d have to cancel my appointments.
Suddenly, the comforter was pulled off me and I felt the cool air. “Michael, give me my blanket!”
“Get your ass up now.” He sounded irritated as he pulled me up.
I tried to lay back down, but he was too strong and held on. I couldn’t move. “Let me go, Michael.”
“Zoe. Stop it. You haven’t even read the letter to see what it says. You’re not making sense.”
I got on my knees on my bed, furious, and faced him. I poked his chest hard twice. “It’s almost April and you still have moments when you beat yourself up for a game that happened three months ago. I found out the day before yesterday that my career is over, and I’m supposed to be good? Bullshit!”
He glared at me and I didn’t blink. I could tell that he knew I was right but didn’t want to admit it.
He finally glanced away and then back at me. “I didn’t say you needed to be over it. I was making the point that you haven’t even read the letter. It might say something else. Please, just read the letter.”
“I don’t need to read the letter to know. Psychologists do not get letters from the Board unless a complaint has been made. My license will be suspended temporarily until I meet before the Board. They don’t send letters unless they have enough evidence, and me kissing you, my former client, on a float in the most popular Mardi Gras parade, is enough. I don’t know what I was thinking to make such a public spectacle of myself.”
“Zoe, we were having fun. We can’t hide the way we feel.”
I touched his cheek. “I wasn’t saying that. I just should have been smarter and not acted like a jealous fool. I only kissed you in front of the world to make a point to a woman who’s irrelevant anyway. Now, I’m getting a letter from the Board.”
“I still think you should open it. Your license may not be suspended.”
“You don’t get it?” I balled my fists. “If it makes you feel better, read it. Do whatever, but leave me alone, Michael.”
He bit his lip as if he was trying to stop the words from coming out of his mouth, which at that point, he better, with the way I was feeling. He picked up the letter from the bedside table. I guess he put it there at some point. He opened the envelope and began reading it. I sat back down in the bed and pulled the comforter back on top of me, waiting to prove my point. He simply put the letter down and sat on the side of the bed. “Now what? This is how it’s going to be? You’re going to stay mad at me, blame me for not working?”
His tone now soft, took the anger out of me. I reached for his hand. “Michael, I’m not blaming you. I made this choice willingly and must live with the consequences. It just hurts worse than I thought. I’m trying to digest everything and maybe I need a moment to do nothing because every time I think about it, I hurt. I knew this would happen, but for some crazy reason, I thought it would only be something between me and the Board. My name will be listed on their website for committing an ethical violation, having sex with a client, once the Board completes making its decision. But because of who you are, everyone will know I’m being accused of taking advantage of you. It’s why I’m not deemed suitable to practice anymore.”
“But I pursued you.”
“It doesn’t matter. According to the Board, I have inherent power because you were my client and I manipulated you.”
He rubbed his head. “That’s funny. You tried to resist me, tried to make me see Paula instead, and I wouldn’t let you. Let me speak to the Board and tell them this is all my fault.”
“Michael, I knew the rules and you’re not the first client to hit on me. Others have tried and failed. I could have turned you down, but at the end of the day, I didn’t want to.” I leaned my head on his shoulder.
“I have the best lawyers. We can fight this.”
“You keep saying that, but no, we can’t because we can’t fight the truth. I did have sex with you. This is not a situation where I’m being wrongly accused by one of my clients.” I leaned back against my soft headboard. “There is no way around my license being in jeopardy. Best case scenario I’m suspended for a year. Even in that situation, I’m going to wonder if my clients are second guessing my ethics or only want to get close to me because of you.”
Michael stood then and took off his shirt, revealing his sculpted brown chest and abs, and kicked off his shoes. He got in bed with me with only his running shorts, and this time I snuggled under him. “What time is it anyway?”
“About nine.”
I punched his arm. “It’s nine in the morning? I spent one day in the bed and you’re waking me up like it’s nine at night.”
“I didn’t want you to sleep another day away. I was worried.”
“Now you see how I feel when you walk around the house mad at the world.”
“But—”
“Before you say it’s different, stop.”
“Zoe—”
“It’s not, Michael. I’m a sore loser about this and it’s not going away. But I will learn how to live with these feelings, just like you need to when you lose.”
He raised one gorgeous eyebrow, not quite believing me. “If you say so. I’ll respect that you need more time.”
“Besides, I didn’t just lay in the bed all day yesterday. I made a few phone calls. I called Paula and told her to inform my clients that I’m no longer seeing clients and they have the option to see her or she can refer them to another psychologist.”
“Did she tell them why?”
“No. Paula apologized for the change but didn’t give them any details. She thought it best for the practice we didn’t state the reason.”
Michael searched my expression. “What did she say to you? Is she mad?”
“No. She just felt bad for me because she convinced me to work longer than I planned. We were both hoping that it wouldn’t have happened so soon. I had told her that I was going to call the Board myself, but apparently someone made a complaint. The Board usually doesn’t make a move unless someone complains that a psychologist may be unethical.”
His body tensed. “Can you find out who made the complaint?”
“It’s anonymous. Anyway, sooner or later someone would have said something, so it doesn’t matter.” I kissed his goatee and then his lips. “I’m surprised actually, that it has been this long. I just knew Taylor would have made a complaint as soon as you dropped her. After a couple of months passed and nothing happened, I started to believe that maybe I would be okay.”
“Maybe she did.” Michael seemed to be deep in thought.
“If that’s the case, again, she would have done it back then. It could be anyone. I mean we did kiss in front of the world, so it would be senseless to waste time trying to figure out who did it. No, I need to focus on what’s next. I still can’t believe I kissed you like that.”
“I enjoyed that kiss and so did you.” He squeezed me. “The sky’s the limit. Whatever you want to do, Doc. I got you.”
My vision became blurry. “One thing I want you to do.”
“Anything.”
“Never stop calling me Doc.”
His smile was slow as he said, “Doc, you haven’t given me none in two days.” His hands went underneath my Howard University T-shirt, and he teased my nipples with his fingers before he found my button. My eyes closed as he gently ran two of his fingers up and down my spot, driving me insane. He stopped. “You know what? You didn’t ask me to come over here. I guess I should leave.”
He began to remove his hand. I quickly caught his hand and placed it back in my panties. “Come on, Michael, don’t be like that. You know I didn’t mean it.”
He ran his tongue against my neck. “Are you sure you want me here? I do have my own place.”
I rubbed his thickness through his shorts. “I’m so sure and it has been two days.”
“You didn’t happen to take a shower while you were awake?”
My hips began to match the rhythm of his fingers. Umm, his fingers were magical. “As a matter of fact, I did. I took one this morning when you left and got right back in the bed.”
“Good, I didn’t have breakfast.” He moved underneath the covers, removed my panties, and opened my legs. I felt his growing stubble against my thighs as his lips and tongue did such sinful things to my body that I temporarily forgot my problems.

******

Endgame cover

Session 1: The Introduction

“You know I’ve never worked with professional players, let alone one of the most famous players in the NFL. I’m not sure I’m up to the challenge of dealing with someone like Michael Carson, the very definition of a narcissist.” I stood with my arms folded, looking down at Paula, whose tailored blue suit was as sleek as the chrome desk where she sat, overlooking the Warehouse District, one of the trendiest areas in New Orleans.

“Come on. It’s a boost to our practice to take him on as a client. Admit you’re just scared because of who he is,” said Paula, my business partner and best friend since we’d finished our doctoral programs at Howard University five years ago. “He’s no different than the rookies you see each year.”

“Whatever! He just signed a huge contract with the New Orleans Gators, and I’ve seen him at press conferences. There is nothing humble or rookie about him.” I ignored her point, though she was right. I was used to working with cocky, fresh out of college young men who needed guidance, rather than a seasoned NFL player who would probably not use my advice at all.

“You are taking him. I’m not letting your fear get in the way of our money and building our reputation. I wish I could take him for you, but my schedule is already booked tight. We have landed a contract that other psychologists would die for, and we will take whatever player they give us.” Paula took the office phone off hold and told our receptionist, Gayle, “Yes, she will see him on July 6 at three o’clock.”

I sighed. “If I screw this up, it’s on you.” I left her office accepting of my fate and went back to my own across the hall.

She yelled, “You got this!”

“You owe me!” I sat at my basic brown sturdy desk, not as flashy as my friend’s. Since Paula’s money was fronting the business, she had the nicer office. Despite that, I loved my smaller office that I’d made cozy with lamps for soft lighting. Two comfy, coffee-brown leather chairs fronted the desk and a soft caramel-colored sofa sat near the window for clients who needed to be more comfortable or if I needed a nap.
***

When he walked into my office, I almost lost my breath. The couple of photos I had seen, and of course appearances on TV, hadn’t prepared me for his actual presence. Michael Carson stood in front of me with his hand outstretched, his trademark wide smile showing off full lips, pretty teeth, and deep dimples. Six feet, with the typical quarterback lean-muscular build, his chocolate-brown skin and gorgeous dark brown eyes were surrounded by lashes many women paid for. His hair, mustache, and goatee were neatly trimmed. He was dressed casually in dark khakis and a white polo shirt.
I recovered quickly, took his hand, and looked into his eyes. “Good afternoon, Mr. Carson. I’m Dr. Zoe Broussard.”

“Are you going to be my shrink?” he said still smiling.

“That would be a psychiatrist. I’m a psychologist.”

“What’s the difference?”

“That’s a very common question. I don’t prescribe medicines. I talk to you about life’s challenges and how to best cope or resolve them.”

He still held my hand and listened intently while I continued, “Your team just wants to be sure you don’t have anything blocking you from playing your best.”

“There’s nothing blocking me. But it’s cool. I can play along.”

“Um… I need my hand back.”

He let go of my hand slowly. “My apologies. I have to say I’m a little taken by surprise.”

“What do you mean?”

He looked me up and down appreciatively. “Let’s just say you’re not what I expected.”

“Well, I know the therapy process can seem a bit overwhelming.” I chose to ignore his obvious flirtation. “I assure you my job is to make you comfortable as we go through this process. You’re only required to attend twenty sessions throughout the year. I recommend once a week until pre-season begins. Then we can do twice a month, scaling down to once a month unless we discover along the way that you need more time.”

“I’m good, Doc. I’m sure I won’t need the twenty.”

“Well, Mr. Carson, you may not need the entire twenty, but your team requires it.”

He smiled and leaned forward. “Trust me, Doc. I’m healthy in all ways.”

I lost my train of thought for a moment. “That may be true. And if it is, we will focus more on self-improvement. I mean, no one is perfect. We can always be better people.”

“Okay. Whatever you say. I’m a team player, so if my team wants me to do this, I’m game.”

I gestured for him to sit in one of the chairs and sat next to him in the other chair in front of my desk. I pulled out my notepad. “Good. I must tell you that whatever is said here remains here. This is a safe place for you to express yourself without fear of judgment or condemnation. By law, the only things I must report is if you want to kill yourself or others or have abused a child or an elder. Other than that, whatever you say remains confidential. Today is the only day that I’ll take notes throughout since this is our first session. In future sessions, I’ll only jot down anything that I feel needs to be addressed further. I like my clients to feel as comfortable as possible and I find that writing as my clients talk can be distracting to the process.”

He smiled. “So, if I say that I find you very attractive, that remains in here? I’m just speaking hypothetically of course.”

Flustered, I replied, “Of course. You and I will only have a strictly professional relationship. I don’t date or flirt with any of my clients. It’s unethical because of the inherent power structure within the therapeutic relationship. In practical terms, I want you to feel free to express yourself. It has been my experience that if you’re trying to date me or get me to like you, then you’re focused on making a good impression and not being your authentic self.”

“So, in your experience… do your clients hit on you all the time? I can definitely see why if they do.”

I remained silent.

“Doc, I did say hypothetically speaking. I see nothing wrong with telling a beautiful woman how attractive she is. But I’ll respect you by going by your terms. And if I’m being honest, I have no need to try to make a good impression. I’m Michael Carson and can get any woman I want.”

His arrogance annoyed me yet turned me on just a little, if I was honest with myself.

“Okay. I just wanted to make the rules clear.”

“Crystal.” He sat back, his muscular legs slightly spread and arms resting on the chair arms.

“Well, I hope that while you’re here you get something out of this experience since you may feel this is forced upon you.” I had to remain focused and stop staring at this man’s body. He was not the first football player I’d worked with, but for some reason, I found myself attracted and unable to look away.

“Honestly, I do feel this is forced upon me. I don’t need a shr… a psychologist, but you seem cool. Now that I’m here, I’ll make the best of it. One of the reasons I decided to leave the Tigers and come to the Gators—besides hating the cold weather—was because the management seemed to care about their players more than any other team in the league. So, if this is their way to show they care about us, then I’m down.”

“Okay. We can start there. How has your transition been after being on the Tigers for seven years and starting on a new team?”

He stopped smiling for the first time since entering my office. “It stays here, right? You don’t have to report back to the team anything about me?”

“No. As I said, Mr. Carson, this is a safe place. I just have to let them know you’re attending these sessions.”

“I trust my gut, and I feel like I can trust you.” He looked into my eyes and tilted his head. “I can trust you, Doc, right?”

“Yes. The whole purpose of you coming here was to freely discuss whatever you want.” I crossed my legs as I spoke, and his eyes followed. Note to self: no skirts when I’m in session with Mr. Carson.

He looked up and sighed. “It has been tougher than I imagined. No one tells you that when you trade teams that there would be so much resentment from the other players. The coaches and management sell it to you like the team needs you and only you. Now that I’m here, it’s like I’m a rookie all over again, trying to prove myself to my team.”

“Has it influenced how you play?”

He smiled. “I’ve always loved a challenge, and it has made me even more determined to prove my worth for the sixty-five million I’ll receive over the next five years. There’s an option to play out the rest of my years with this team after that if I can bring home a championship.”

I had worked with the team for a little more than a year and had clients who made millions. However, he was the first with such a big contract and set to be a big star. The Gators required all first-year players, rookie or not, to have counseling, which was why he was sent to me. The amount of money he would make, in addition to the money already earned in his previous seven years in the NFL, admittedly impressed me.
“Is it a good thing that you feel like a fish out of water?”

He smirked. “Yep, it’s exactly how I feel. Like I don’t belong. I’m not sure it’s a good thing or not at the moment.”

“You never felt this way before?”

He hesitated. “Not exactly. I have so much at stake. The pressure is more than I’ve ever experienced. They hired me because I need to lead this team to a championship. When I started with the Tigers, I was a rookie. Fresh off Heisman Trophy and people just wanted to see if I could make it in the big leagues. I knew I could. So that wasn’t a big challenge to prove I deserved all the accolades.”

“And now?” I wanted to cross my legs again but held back because I didn’t want to distract him, and he was opening up more than I thought he would for a first session.

“Now, I need to make a losing team a championship team within the next two years.”

“And you wonder if you can?”

“I know I can. You can bet on that. I just don’t trust the coach to do what he needs to do for us to win.”

“What does he need to do?”

“Back off and let me lead.” His shoulders relaxed as he seemed to release all his pent-up anxiety and blew out a breath. “Doc, you are good! I had no intentions of telling you anything and I’ve already told you my worst fear.”

“Your worst fear is not rising to the challenge?”

He leaned forward. “That and never falling in love.”

The change of conversation threw me off, and I sat back in my chair. “Excuse me?”

“You asked about my worst fear, and it’s one of them. The other is never falling in love.”

I had seen pictures of him with some of the most beautiful women in the world and he’d even dated Taylor Graham, one of the most successful actresses of all time, long-term.

“So, you mean you’ve never been in love?”

“I was in high school but not as an adult.”

“Do you even want to fall in love now?”

“Doc, I thought you understood,” he teased, “Why would it be one of my worst fears if I didn’t want that to happen? I told you because I really do want to fall in love one day.”

“You are, what…? Thirty years old. You still have plenty of time.”

Michael chuckled. “I know that, Doc. Unlike women my age, I’m not on a time clock. I’m not on a mission to find love or anything. I just thought I would have loved some woman by now, be ready to wife someone. But, I haven’t. I have been in lust, but definitely not love.” He smiled, showing his dimples. “I don’t know if I’m allowed to ask you questions, but have you?”

“Have I what?” I uncrossed my legs and self-consciously pulled my below-the-knee-length pencil skirt further down.

His eyes followed my movement before he looked back at my eyes. “Been in love?”

“We’re here to discuss you, not me. So back to your fear about failing.”

“I don’t have a fear of actually failing. I have a fear I won’t be free to do what needs to be done.” He looked around the room at my office décor before his eyes settled on my face again. “Doc, I don’t see any family pics or a ring on your finger. Have you been in love? I mean it’s only fair I get to ask you questions sometimes. I see you as my life coach now, so I need to know my coach’s perspective.”

“I’m a psychologist and not a life coach. I do believe in self-disclosure when it makes therapeutic sense but telling you about my love life is not something I want to discuss. I can tell you what I feel about being in love in theory.”

“What’s your theory?” He was clearly avoiding talking about football anymore and since this was our first session, I figured I would let him talk about whatever made him comfortable.

“I believe that you have not lived life if you have never been in love. There’s nothing like being in love to your soul, even if it fails. I do believe everyone has the potential to fall in love if they allow it.”

“Doc, I guess I haven’t lived life—according to you. Although, I have to say my life has been pretty good.”

“I’m not trying to say you can’t have a good life without being in love. But that if you don’t experience truly giving yourself over to another human being, then you have not truly lived.”

“So, you have been in love,” he concluded with a dimpled smile. “I envy whoever he was or is.”

Heat rose to my face. “This session is about you, Mr. Carson, and not about me.”

“You call all of your clients ‘Mr.’?”

“I call my clients whatever they prefer.”

“Then call me Michael.” He shifted in his seat.

“Okay,” I said, trying to get the conversation back on track. “How have you enjoyed the city so far?”

He grinned. “I love the weather, though I miss my house and my friends.”

“You still have your home in Minnesota?”

“For now, I have family living there.”

“You found a home here yet?”

“Not yet. I’m leasing a home for now in the Garden District.”

“Nice neighborhood.” The Garden District was the most elite and historic community in New Orleans.

“Yes, it’s cool. I plan to have a gathering for the team before the official season begins. You should come, given that the team hired you.” As I was shaking my head, he said, “I’ll personally see to it that you’re required to attend. It’ll be a lit party.”

“Mr. Carson…”

“We back to Mr. Carson already?” He leaned forward looking at me intently.

“I told you that we have a professional relationship only.”

“Doc, my gathering is going to be our official party for the beginning of the season, and I know you’ve gone to past events.” He held up his hand when I moved to interrupt. “I had asked one of the players who had seen you last year, and he told me that you usually attend all player events and home games.”

“You asked about me?” Which player provided information about me? I wondered.

“Yeah. I just wanted a feel for you. I’ve never been to therapy and I wanted to know more about you. The player—I won’t reveal his name—told me that you were mad cool and that he didn’t mind talking to you. He just never told me that you’re so beautiful. It’s going to be hard for me to focus.”

Again, his words caused heat to rise to my cheeks, but I had to maintain my composure. This wasn’t the first time a client, including a few women, was attracted to me. Sessions can be so intimate, and people can confuse emotions. But this was the first time I felt an attraction toward a client, and that scared me. I don’t normally go for athletes, especially after having them as clients. I really would never want to date one after seeing all they go through to be deserving of those huge salaries.

“Thank you for the compliments. However, I need you to refrain from saying personal comments like that. For this to work, you have to treat me like you would any professional.”

After a brief silence, he rubbed his goatee and said, “I won’t make you uncomfortable again.”

I relaxed with his promise, though noticed that he didn’t say he would keep it professional.
***
After Michael left, I called Paula in her office. Too mentally exhausted from the emotions he evoked in me to walk across the hall, I whined, “This is not going to work.”

“What? Did he give you a hard time? You know how we black folks don’t believe in mental health. Just give him time and remind him you’re just serving as counsel and nothing else.”

She used her usual spiel on me when it came to the players. It was an excellent contract and financially kept us from having to take insurance from our other customers. We were strictly private pay which was difficult for a small black woman-owned psychology practice. In New Orleans, people either used religion or alcohol to cope with problems, so it was hard to be successful. However lucrative, professional athletes who ran through women and money like water and often took reality for granted were difficult to counsel. Paula, who’d married an investment banker and whose parents owned their own chemical company, was used to a wealthy lifestyle. She loved that part of our practice the best.

“No, he was, in general, receptive to the process…” I paused, not sure if I wanted to tell her the truth.

Paula must have heard something in my tone because she said, “I’m coming over.” She walked right in and sat where Michael had been sitting. “You want me to take him? My schedule does not fit his, but I can figure out something because we have to work with him. He is our biggest client to date. This is only going to help the practice grow. Especially if he has an awesome year.”

She was right. We needed him. “No, I’m tripping.”

“What did he do?”

I shook my head. “He didn’t do anything. He flirted a little, but I was able to handle it.”

Paula smiled. “That fine-ass man flirted with you? Maybe I should take him.”

“Whatever. You already have a rich man.”

“Not that rich.” She smiled. “A woman has to keep all options open.”

We both laughed. She and her husband had experienced their share of problems in the past, but right now they were in a good place. She loved him like crazy and would never leave him.

“What’s the problem?”

I stood and walked to my window to view the downtown area. “I’m already really attracted to him. Therapy can be so intimate. I don’t know if I can be objective. I didn’t take one note and you know how ‘Type A’ I can be about my first session with a client.”

“It’s hard not to be attracted to him. He is sexy as hell. Have you seen his commercials?”

“You are not helping.” Turning, I wagged my finger at her while trying to keep the smile from my face.

“I think because this was the first session, he may have been too overwhelming because he’s a celebrity. After all, this is the first well-known athlete client that we’ve ever had.”

I folded my arms. “I know. But my problem is that there was an attraction on both sides. I’m not sure if he knew I was attracted to him, but he was definitely feeling me.”

“And if there’s mutual attraction, I suggest you have a little fun.” Paula had been living vicariously through me since she got married, while we were finishing up our doctoral program over five years ago. She was the consummate party girl when we were younger. With her outgoing personality, her naturally wavy long hair, and light brown skin, a result of her Creole heritage, she was popular with the guys on our campus. Her husband, whom she met our third year of graduate school, had to give her an ultimatum to prevent her from dating other men.

“Are you seriously suggesting I put my license on the line for fun?” I rolled my eyes thinking of Xavier. “And I have a man. Thank you very much.”

“Yes, but you aren’t married or blind. I’m just saying don’t make a big deal about this. If he seems open to therapy, then you’re going to have to man up and deal with him. And if something happens, enjoy. I know I would, and the girl I knew at Howard wouldn’t think twice about having a little fun if the opportunity presented itself. No one has to know. I’m sure Michael Carson can keep secrets if it comes to that.” She stood up and straightened her designer suit. “I think you’re worried about nothing. It’s just a small crush that you’ll get over the more you work with him. You want to have drinks later? I think you need to release some of this tension and relax.”

“Sure, I could use a lemon drop martini.” I wanted to believe her, but my gut told me that my life would be forever be changed by this man.

“Cosmopolitan,” Paula chimed in.

Session 2: To Thine Own Self

On the day of our next session, I had a full day of clients and was glad he was my third client and that it was right before lunch because I couldn’t focus on the first two. I think I hid that I wasn’t paying attention. At least I hoped so. I was anxious to see if I could curtail my attraction and treat him like any other client. As soon as I heard his voice speaking to Gayle, I got butterflies in my stomach. “This is not good.”

When she escorted him in and I stood to greet him, my legs were wobbly. If possible, he looked better than he had the first visit in a blue T-shirt, blue cargo pants, and navy-blue Nikes. Michael smiled and shook my hand firmly.

“Good to see you again,” I said with my notepad against my chest.

“And you.” This time he held my hand for an appropriate length of time before sitting in the same chair as his previous visit. I sat next to him, grateful for my black slacks, because he definitely watched me sit. I always sat next to my clients so that there were no physical barriers between us. Michael was the first client I ever had who made me want to sit behind my desk, to put as much distance as possible between us.

“So how have you been since our last session? I usually like to start off with a recap of your week, and whenever you have a homework assignment, I like for us to review it.”

“You give homework assignments? Like I’m in school again?” He smirked.

“Not quite. It’s more about knowing and understanding yourself through exercises outside of our sessions. We only meet for an hour once a week and there are so many other hours throughout the week. I always want my clients to focus on knowing themselves.”

“To thine own self be true. I think I know myself pretty well. I’ve had to take care of myself since I was twelve years old. But I’m game for your assignments.”

That comment about taking care of himself since he was a child was a conversation for a later time. “Okay. I don’t give one until the end of the session because I base homework on our discussion.”

He shrugged, which showed off his chest muscles and he wasn’t even trying. I had to tell myself to focus on his face, but then his eyes and smile were doing something to me. “Lord, help me.”

“Excuse me?” Michael looked confused. “Doc, you okay?”

I was mortified because I didn’t realize I had said my prayer out loud, and I guess my expression showed my disbelief. I recovered as quickly as I could. “I’m sorry, but I do pray for guidance when working with my clients.” Okay, that sounded really stupid, but it was better than the truth. That I was asking God to help me not jump Michael Carson’s bones!

“Okay.” He continued to look bewildered. “Is this like… Christian counseling? I did hear about that, but I didn’t know that this was that. Then I definitely apologize for my behavior the other day.”

I sighed. “No, it isn’t. I pray from time to time. I just didn’t mean to say it out loud.”

“Do you think I’ll be a difficult client? Because your tone suggested that you needed help to get through this.”

He was not letting this go.

“No, Mr. Carson—”

“Michael,” he interrupted.

“Michael, I think you’re agreeable. Actually, more than I expected you to be.”

“What did you expect?”

“Let’s just say you’re also not what I expected.”

He smiled. “Let me guess, you expected me to be a narcissistic asshole.”

I laughed, nodding my head. “After meeting you, I realized that you’re just narcissistic.”

“I’ll accept that as a compliment.” He playfully bowed in his chair, which made me laugh again. “You should do that more. You’re absolutely gorgeous.” Before I could say anything in response, he put his hands up in defense. “I was simply speaking the truth and not trying to come on to you. I promised that I wouldn’t make you uncomfortable.”

“Thank you,” I said, blushing and clearing my throat. “Tell me, how was your week?”

“It was exhausting mentally.” Michael finally allowed me to move on by answering my question, though I believe he guessed why I never gave a reason for my prayer.

“What do you mean?”

“I keep butting heads with the offensive coordinator about plays.”

“It’s probably just a matter of adjustment. This is the first time you’ve been on another team since you’ve been in the NFL.”

“I agree with this being an adjustment, but I’ve been paid to get the job done. And I feel I’m being stifled.”

“And I’m sure you’re being quiet about your dissatisfaction.”

“Doc, you already know me,” he responded with sarcasm.

“Was there another time in your life in which you experienced something similar or at least felt the same way?”

He appeared to be thinking and then his facial expression changed to recognition. “Yeah.

When I first started playing football in high school, my coach at first didn’t trust my instincts.”

“He eventually did, right?”

“Yeah. I owe him so much because he was one of the first people besides my mother who believed in me.”

“How did it happen?” When he looked confused, I said, “How did you get your coach to trust you?”

“I proved myself by consistent practice, and I took some risks without my coach’s permission during games that thankfully worked.”

“You’re new to this team, so maybe you have to prove to everyone again why you deserve the big bucks.”

“That was different. I had never played football until high school. No one wanted me back then, but now I’m the most in-demand quarterback. And now I’ve got to take a back seat to a coach who barely made it out of college ball? I know if I were white, I wouldn’t have to go through this.”

“Maybe, maybe not. It sounds like you are frustrated. How are you dealing with that?”

“I am frustrated,” he said, clenching his jaw. “I didn’t leave a team that trusted my instincts to have to prove myself over again. If they didn’t like my style, then they shouldn’t have pursued me.”

“Michael, you just joined this team, and they are a close-knit group. So yes, you’re the number one quarterback, but as the quarterback you’re supposed to be the leader. You must prove to everyone on this team that you’re worth being their leader. Keep doing you and be patient.”

He was silent for a moment. “My mama told me the same thing when I told her how I’ve been feeling.”

“And she’s right. She sounds like a smart woman.” I changed the conversation to something more personal. “Are you close to your mother?”

I swear he almost teared up at the mention of his relationship with his mother. But he quickly shook it off and said, “Very. She’s my heart.”

“Then you should listen to her. You just met me, but she knows you and what you’ve been through.”

“What we’ve been through,” he corrected. “But I’m sure you know my story.”

“No. I try not to follow football closely, so I can be unbiased. And I definitely make sure I don’t look up info on my Gator clients. I want to find out about you from you.”

He looked at me as if he was trying to determine if I was telling the truth. He slowly smiled and said, “Okay. What do you want to know?” He was changing the subject once again.

“Whatever you want to tell me.”

Michael smirked. “Doc, you sure you want me to tell you whatever I want you to know about me?”

Breathe, I told myself and only me this time. I must treat him like my other clients. “Yes, Michael. Whatever you want me to know.”

“There is something I want you to know, but I don’t think you’re ready to hear it yet.” He leaned closer. I tried hard not to react because I had many clients who moved closer to me while in session. I didn’t see it as anything but that client showing me, he or she was more comfortable. Michael was just feeling more relaxed. “But I will tell you something that I think you can handle.”

“And that is?”

“I love women. In fact, I have a weakness for them. I love the way they look, smell, touch, and definitely taste.” He bit his lip.

How could this man make biting his lip look so sexy? I could barely breathe. For real.

“So, what do you think, Doc?” he asked after I was silent for a moment.

“About what?” I had completely lost my train of thought.

“Don’t you want to know more about my weakness for women?”

“Um… Many men in your position have a lot of women at their disposal and can pretty much have any woman they want. I don’t know if it’s a weakness or the law of supply and demand.”

“I see. My weakness wouldn’t exist if I didn’t have so many options?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, Doc, so answer this question.” He leaned even closer as if telling me a secret.

God! He smelled good. Focus, Zoe. “Sure.” I refuse to be affected by his nearness.

“Do you want me?” He looked directly into my eyes, searching them for the truth I was trying to hide.

I steeled myself to look at him, without looking away, and I lied, “No.” I know I should’ve reminded him that he shouldn’t flirt with me, but the sexual tension in the room felt so good.

He shook his head with a half-smile. “I just proved you wrong.”

“How?”

“You said a man in my position can have any woman he wants which is why I’m weak for women.” His dimples showed as he continued, “So you say you don’t want me, right?”
I started to stop him, and he held up his hand. “Let me finish. Let’s say that I do want you, but you don’t want me. And so—per you—I would no longer have a weakness.”

“You’re making it very simple and it’s not. I just meant that you go through a lot of women. You don’t feel the need to be faithful because you have so many choices versus a man who does not have as many options and values the woman he does have.”

Michael tilted his head toward me. “Doc, you misunderstood me. My weakness for women isn’t an excuse for me to have all the women I want because I can. It’s because when I’m around a woman I want, I do whatever it takes to get her. Even if she doesn’t want me, she will when I’m done.”

I didn’t expect that response. “I’m confused. Why do you consider this a weakness?”

“Because I focus my energy on getting her because I see it as a challenge. And usually when I get her, I realize she wasn’t worth my time.” He paused and looked at my lips as he spoke. “But you would be so worth it, hypothetically speaking of course, since I can’t be with you. It’s unethical, right?”

We stared at each other and I could see he was breathing faster, obviously turned on. Before I could speak, my session timer chimed. I quickly stood up, which was a mistake, because when he stood, we were inches away from each other. He could kiss me without taking a step forward. He continued to look down at me, studying my lips. I yearned for his lips to touch mine so bad I almost kissed him. I quickly shook my head and took a step back, but Michael took my hand to pull me close.

I ignored how my body reacted to his touch, “Homework assignment. Use how you handled the past to help with the present.”

“What?” Michael appeared still caught up in the sexual tension between us.

So was I, but I could not give in to those impulses. “You told me you’ve been through this before with your team in the past, but you were victorious. Think about how you did it then and do it now.”

He pulled me closer. “Is that my only assignment?” At my hesitation, he asked again, “Is it?”

I pushed him lightly on his rock-hard chest to move away from him. “Yes.”

He backed off and let go of my hand, walking to the door before turning back again. “I better stop and leave before I make you uncomfortable.” Michael walked out without another glance.

I sat down in my chair and whispered, “Lord, was this your way of helping me? By making me want him more and not less!”

Session 3: Am I Dreaming?

Every morning I took a two-mile jog at Audubon Park. After a restless night filled with thoughts and dreams of Michael Carson, instead of Xavier, my boyfriend, I needed to run until he was out of my thoughts, at least in a personal way. I don’t believe I’ve ever been that sexually attracted to any man, and that really scared me. This man was my client and not a potential boyfriend.

I got up extra early, put on a yellow, loose-fitting T-shirt and black jogging capris. I also wore a yellow silk bandana to protect my freshly relaxed, wrapped hair and drove to the park in five minutes. As I jogged, I had my music blasting and was so focused on getting Michael out of my head, I wasn’t paying attention to anything happening around me. I accidentally bumped into someone and removed my earbuds to apologize, my eyes widening in shock when I saw it was the very man I was trying to get out of my mind!

He grabbed my arms to steady me. “Doc? Are you okay?”

“Hey. I’m fine.” I’m glad he held my arms because my legs were wobbly. The object of my thoughts was standing in front of me in a tank top and long running shorts and had the nerve to look even sexier while being sweaty. I, on the other hand, felt like a hot mess with my bandana on my head. And truth be told, I also felt more feminine standing next to him in running shoes because I didn’t realize how much taller he was than me.

“You run in this park?”

“I’m sorry for bumping into you.” He grinned and removed his hands. I rubbed my arms where his hands had been without thinking. “Yes, I run here.” I was hesitant to tell him how often.

“I like running here too. It’s a nice park. People notice me but still let me run in peace. I’ve always liked working out outside rather than in a gym. But in this heat, you’ve got to be out here at the crack of dawn.”

“Yes.” I looked everywhere but at him and hoped he would get the hint that I didn’t want to have a conversation with him.

“Doc, you’re not that talkative outside of a session.”

“Sorry, I just have limited time to run before getting ready for work. So…” I turned to continue running.

“Mind if I run with you?”

I’m running to stop obsessing about you! I pretended that I was okay with his company, knowing that it was a bad idea because he was my client. But I nodded my head in assent. “Sure. I doubt if I’m on your level and I may slow you down, but okay.”

We began jogging and a few people looked surprised and excited to see him as we ran in companionable silence, but no one stopped him as he said. The running actually helped me relax. I could focus on my exercise, and ironically, being next to the man physically stopped me from thinking about him. We ran for another twenty minutes, and I signaled with my hands that I was stopping.

He jogged in place as he said, “I still have more to do, but it was cool running with you. You’re in good shape. I bet you could go longer if you didn’t have to work. I’ll see you next week at our session.”

As I walked away from him, I realized he didn’t attempt to flirt with me, and I didn’t know if I felt relief or disappointment. Michael acted as if and told me I was beautiful in our sessions. And though I usually didn’t have any problems attracting men, even in a city that loved its light-skinned women more, it did make me feel special that someone like him thought I was beautiful. But today he barely gave me an appreciative glance. Maybe I really did look like a hot mess. I shook my head and ran to my car. You really are tripping. He is just playing with you. The attraction is in your head. And I did manage to not think of him for the rest of the day.
***
The next morning, I felt more like myself and able to emotionally distance myself from Michael, as I did with my other clients. I decided to wear a fitted pink top, loose matching running shorts, and put my hair in a ponytail to match my happy mood. As I was stretching and listening to my running music playlist at the park, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned to see Michael smiling at me.

“You do run here every day.” In a gray Nike T-shirt and matching running shorts, he was fine and sexy as hell.

I nodded. “You run here every day?”

“I started a few days ago, but I like to mix my workouts up and I’m in the team’s facility most days.” He looked down at me, “But I may have to start being here more often since seeing you seems to motivate me.”

Heat rose to my face. “Thanks.”

“Are you blushing, Doc? You motivate me to try because of your sound advice and because you really are beautiful. I’m just stating a fact,” Michael said, holding his hands up in defense.

“Well, I can still appreciate a compliment, though it should not be coming from my client.” I looked at him pointedly.

“I may be your client for now, but I’m still a man. If circumstances were different, I would most definitely step to you.” He came closer. “How can we make them different?”

I could barely breathe and looked for a way out. “We can’t because our circumstances are not changing.” I backed up, turned around, and took off running in the opposite direction.

I heard him laugh and say, “You win this time.”

Thinking about his weakness and realizing I was a challenge for him made me run even harder because I wasn’t sure I could resist if he really came on strong. I decided not to run at the park again until our next session, so I could make it clear that whatever this was between us had to stop. I also knew I needed to spend more time with Xavier to remind myself I wasn’t single and was already in love.
***
We were lying next to each other in bed. Xavier was reading an article for his research while I was finishing up client notes. That was our ritual—to work next to each other whether we were in the living area or the bedroom at his apartment or in my office in my home. I was so comfortable with how we were with each other that I never questioned if there should be more passion between us. In the past, I had been in crazy relationships where there was plenty of sex, but constant drama related to arguing and infidelity. Paula and I—ad nauseam—tried to figure out the root of my choices in men.
Of course, we linked it back to my fun-loving father who was handsome and charming, always the life of the party. The problem was he didn’t know how to be faithful and he and my mother divorced when I was eight years old. I saw him mostly during holidays and an occasional birthday. He died of a heart attack when I was a freshman in college. I loved my father and still grieved for him. But I think I tried to find him repeatedly in my relationships, in hopes of fixing him.

My mother—bless her heart—never really got over my father. Once I left home for college, she left New Orleans and moved to Austin, Texas for a fresh start. I was an only child, so of course, we were close. But for the most part, I was on my own regarding relationship advice. My mother never dated after my father and always seemed content to deal with her various projects and career as an administrator at UT Austin. I don’t think she cared if I ever married or not, as long as I was happy. She met Xavier a couple of times and liked him, but she was not the person to go to for advice in the men department. Instead I always went to my friends.

When I started my own practice at twenty-eight years old, I decided I was done with unhealthy relationships. A few months later, in walked Xavier Thompson. I was at an Urban League Conference in Las Vegas and went into a session about youth and education, and he was the moderator. Xavier’s skin reminded me of smooth dark chocolate, and he had a natural athletic build. I’d been drawn to his biceps that peeked from his short-sleeved polo shirt and flexed as he used his hands to speak to the panel. Impressed with his looks, presentation, and how he led the other speakers, I stayed behind to ask questions and he asked me to lunch.

Once we found out that we were both from New Orleans, the rest, as people say, was history. Now almost two years later, we’re still together and there has been no drama. We’ve never even argued because we usually agreed on most things, and when we didn’t, we either did our own thing or one of us compromised. I have always found intelligence attractive in a man, even more so than looks. Lucky for me—despite his bookish ways—Xavier was handsome in the studious way with glasses and very preppy clothes. He was also tall at six feet, he just didn’t have the swagger or charisma of Michael. Then again, Xavier grew up upper middle class and had not experienced what I imagined Michael had as a youth.

“Penny for your thoughts?” He smiled.

“Huh?” I felt guilty for thinking of another man, while with a man who had done nothing but be a good guy to me.

“You’ve been staring off into space for a while now. Everything okay?”

“No. I’m fine. Just having difficulty with one of my clients. Trying to figure out the best way to handle the case.” I started writing again.

“Can I do something to help?”

“You know I can’t talk about my clients with you,” I said, sharper than I meant.

“I know.” He raised his hands in surrender. “Just trying to help.”

“Sorry.” I leaned over and kissed his cheek. He smelled clean, more like soap than the sexy cologne that Michael wore. There I go again, thinking of this man! I shook my head. “Focus.”

“Why do you need to focus?”

Once again, I’d spoken aloud without realizing it. I really am going crazy. “Just need to focus on finishing these notes.”

He pulled me close to lean against him. “I’m finished.” He kissed my neck. “Sure, I can’t convince you to finish your notes later?”

I placed my head on his shoulder. “Sorry, I really have to finish these. Maybe later.” I gave him a quick peck and sat up. I made sure I worked until he drifted off to sleep, realizing I didn’t want to sleep with him. We didn’t have fireworks every time, but our sex life was decent. I mean how many people had great sex and a strong relationship? I mean I have had toe-curling sex but had a horrible relationship with the same man. This time around the sex was good, though not as frequent as it should be, but our relationship was great. I did enjoy having sex with him.

The fact that we hadn’t had sex in the last month and I found myself attracted to a man I knew would be no good for me, I should be ready to jump Xavier’s bones. If for nothing else, but to take my mind off the fine-as-hell man who kept invading my thoughts. Sex with Xavier would probably work. But for some crazy reason, I felt like I would be cheating on Michael. Crazy.

I am in a serious relationship, and I just met this man who admittedly told me he had a weakness for women and had got me second-guessing my very stable relationship. I didn’t know how much more flirting I could take before I succumbed to him. He might have a weakness for women, but I had a weakness for him. Maybe I wasn’t as healed of my penchant for the wrong men as I thought. I watched Xavier sleep. I knew I should put an end to whatever it was between me and Michael before I lost my man, my career, and worse, myself.
***
Michael was already in the waiting area when I arrived at work. He had asked to be my first appointment, according to our receptionist. He stood when I entered and put his hands in his back pockets. “Hey, I’m sorry if I—”

Because Gayle was watching, I held up my hand to stop him. “Why don’t we wait until we get in the office?”

I went in first and beckoned him to follow me into the room. After placing my purse in my large desk drawer, I turned to face him. He was standing, appearing uncomfortable, which made him seem more vulnerable than his usual swagger.

I gestured for him to sit. He did and so and I came around my desk and leaned against it.

“Doc, I’m sorry.” Michael looked up at me with soft eyes.

“About what?”

“I haven’t seen you at the park since the last time I saw you, and I don’t want to be the reason you stop going somewhere or doing something you love.”

“How do you know that I love running in the park?”

“You looked free and relaxed when we ran.” He was perceptive because I loved to run, but he gave me an opportunity to say what I needed to say before things got out of hand.

“I’m glad you brought that up because I didn’t want to run again at the park until we had another session.”

Michael looked concerned.

“Please don’t take this personal. For this therapy to work, you must stop flirting with me. We have a professional relationship only. I can’t be seen jogging with you, because to some it could be seen as a dual relationship, which is unethical.” I folded my arms.

“Okay. I apologize. But I didn’t purposely seek you out. I didn’t even know you ran at the park. Please don’t stop on my account. I can find another park or continue to only train at the center. But, Doc, I need you to admit that there’s something between us.” He leaned forward in his chair which brought us closer.

I instinctively drew back against the desk. “What good will that do?”

“Doc, I’m still feeling out of place, which is frustrating me. I’m not trying to brag, but my game on and off the field has always been on point. I feel like I’m failing in both areas right now. I know we have a professional relationship, but when I’m around you, I feel this vibe. I’ll stop flirting and getting personal with you because these sessions have really helped more than I ever thought. I don’t want to cause you any more discomfort than I have, but can you at least let me know that I’m not reading this wrong? That I’m not crazy and there’s something between us.”

I closed my eyes, debating whether I should be truthful, and how it would help our therapeutic relationship. I prided myself in being honest with my clients and that was what he needed right now. I opened my eyes and looked across at him. “Yes, I’m attracted to you. I’m not sure why, but I am. So, using your words, ‘your game is still on.’ At least regarding me. This is why I needed to talk to you again. I want to continue to work with you, but we have to stop whatever this is, okay?”

Michael sat back in the chair, appearing relaxed for the first time during this session, his dimpled smile coming out. “Okay. Thank you for being honest with me. Doc, from now on I’ll keep my thoughts about you to myself, and I promise I won’t do anything you don’t want me to.”

I realized he was not going to make this easy on me. “Michael,” I said his name sternly, almost in a reprimand.

“Okay, okay. I’m stopping.”

I moved to sit down next to him. “Now that we’re on the same page, let’s talk about your homework assignment.”

Michael had the nerve to look sheepish. “I did my assignment on Jamila, my high school girlfriend.”

“How does she relate to the assignment I gave you?”

“You said to use the past to help with the present. Well, presently there’s a woman who I really want, but she won’t give me the time of day.”

“Michael,” I said, irritated.

He raised his hand and pulled out his cell, then got up and stood over me. “See where I wrote the assignment.” Indeed, he had jotted down his thoughts about his ex-girlfriend. He was standing way too close to me and he smelled wonderful. Luckily, he went back to his chair before he noticed my reaction to him.

“Okay. You proved your point.” I folded my arms across my chest.

“Good, now can I finish?”

“Please proceed.” I was unsure how I should feel.

“When I played football in high school, there was this girl from my neighborhood who knew me most of my life. I was always in trouble and headed for jail or death until football and Jamila saved my life.”

“How did she save your life?”

“I always had a way with girls, but she saw right through me. She ignored all my moves that would normally have a girl loving me. My mom knew her family and I grew up with her but didn’t really notice her until my sophomore year. I went to this party and she was there looking good. I figured all I had to do was say hello and she would be all over me, especially because I was the new quarterback. But she didn’t. She told me she had a boyfriend and had no interest in me. Every time I saw her after that, I would catch her looking at me, so I could tell she liked me. I mean, who wouldn’t?”

He smiled, looking at me. “But she wouldn’t talk to me, because she didn’t trust me. At the same time, I was trying to get her attention, I was leaving my old life behind. Trying hard to be the best quarterback, best man I could be. I started working for her father, and because he and I worked closely together, she saw that I was changing. When one of my friends was killed in front of me, I wanted revenge. I confided in her because she knew my friend, and my instincts told me to trust her. She kept me from acting on my anger by telling me that I wasn’t that person that she used to know, that I was never really that person. In the end, I chose my new life and she chose me.”

I was fascinated by his story and thought how much this girl must have meant—still meant—to him. “Wow. You have been through a lot.”

He simply nodded.

I had more questions about his past life but sensed he wasn’t ready. “You must have really loved her. How did your relationship end?”

“Her father expanded his business to another city and eventually moved his family there. Nothing dramatic except the usual, we grew apart because of the distance, especially when I was accepted into Michigan State. We still talk on occasion, but she’s married now. Jamila was my first love and I’ll always love her because she knew me when I was no one. She was there for me and corrected my ass when I needed it. But if you’re wondering, I’m over her.”

“So, are you saying the same way you got Jamila, you want to get this woman?”

“Yes. She means the world to me.” Michael looked into my eyes. “So, Doc, I now know what I need to do. Your assignment worked.”

“W-what…?”

“Let go of the past life, welcome my new one, and get her to trust me so she will choose me.” He continued to look at me with a serious expression.

I got quiet because I felt like he wasn’t going to stop no matter what, and if I was honest with myself, did I really want him to stop? “Look, Michael, I don’t know what to say to get you to understand that nothing can happen between us.”

He raised one eyebrow. “You don’t have to say anything because I’m talking about football. She’s the woman. I haven’t been myself with football since I got here.” He suddenly sat up straighter. “Wait, did you think I was talking about you?”

I was mortified and stuttered, “W-well… you… I-I mean I…”

Michael stood up and pulled me into his arms to hug me. He felt so good, I rested my head on his chest. It felt good to finally touch him.

He whispered, “I’m sorry. I’m always flirting with you. The one time I wasn’t doing so, you thought I was. Making you uncomfortable is the last thing I want to do.” He stepped back. “I guess I shouldn’t be hugging you either, but I couldn’t help it. You just looked like you needed one.”

I was speechless as Michael looked down at me and cursed. He pressed a gentle kiss on my lips, and I was instantly aroused. He shook his head and grinned. “You looked like you could use a kiss, too.”

He was so damn cute at that moment that I wrapped my arms around his neck without any thought and kissed him back. So much for honoring my code of ethics!

Read the rest of Zoe and Michael’s story when the Endgame trilogy is released on March 1 and the third story in the series is released on March 8!! Available on Amazon, Nook, ibooks, and KOBO.

I am loving my teasers for Endgame Series! I will drop one each day in the week leading up to the release of my trilogy!! I can’t wait to read it again with all my revisions and I’m excited for you all to read it too…

Endgame_I love womenEndgame_I love youEndgame_Teaser_Ever let goEndgame_Teaser_I would dieEndgame_Teaser_Your body is mine

coverreveal1

IT’S FINALLY HERE!!! MY NEW COVERS FOR THE ENDGAME TRILOGY

Endgame series (Endgame, Game Time and Game Changer)

WWW.GARDENAVENUEPRESS

Endgame (Book 1#)
Is love worth risking it all?

Psychologist Dr. Zoe Broussard has always been a no-nonsense, play by the rules woman until she meets her new client. From the moment the impossibly gorgeous Michael Carson walks into her office, she finds herself dangerously drawn to him and irrevocably hooked.

Michael is an NFL quarterback with a multimillion dollar contract and a penchant for breaking hearts. He’s used to getting what he wants, and he’s determined to tempt his hot new therapist into exploring the obvious passion between them. Even though there’s another man in her life.

Can Zoe resist Michael’s charms and her growing feelings for him? More importantly, is she willing to risk everything for a man who may not be there tomorrow?

chemistry

Chemistry

Now avail on e-book and paperback on Amazon!!!

Simone Austin, a young Chemistry professor, is the consummate love by the book woman. She has had dreams of marriage and family since she was a young girl and doesn’t believe in wasting time with a man who is not on that same path. Now, that she has completed most of her career goals, she is ready for the ultimate commitment even if it means denying one sexy, Chris Alexander.

From the very moment their eyes met, she is deeply attracted to her best student. When Chris makes his feelings for Simone known during a hot steamy interlude in her office, she finds herself drawn to him like a magnet and decides for once to have a sexual affair without any promises of a future. Soon Simone realizes that she has true feelings for him and must decide if he is worth dating, even if he isn’t on her desired path to marriage. Is Simone willing to take a chance on real love even if it doesn’t come in the package she expects?

Essence cover

Essence of You

Now avail for e-book and paperback purchase on Amazon today!!

Jasmine Green has been unlucky in love for as long as she can remember. When she is dumped unceremoniously by text three years ago, she decides to only focus on friends, work, and law school. While on her first girls’ trip to Essence Fest, she bumps into Montana Keyes, a handsome, charming, NBA player with the Knicks. There is instant chemistry between them and they enjoy a passion-filled weekend. She is content to leave their weekend as a pleasant memory while he promises a future. Although she finds herself drawn to him and wants to see what could happen, past hurts resurface. Can she trust herself enough to take a chance on love?

8 thoughts on “Tiye’s stories

  1. I Am Hooked on my Tiye library that I can read them over and over again and get so emotionally exhausted and physically flustered at the same same time!! My escape from the world has become my reading and right I am escaping into my Tiye love books. And couldn’t be more satisfied if I may say so at this moment. Love LOVE

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    1. I thought I already responded to your comment and I don’t think it showed. Anyway, thanks so much…writing is my escape so I love that to read my stories is an escape as well…Hope you continue to support…thanks again!

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    1. Good question…You beat me to the punch!! I had planned to announce upcoming work this week on my website…and I still will but inform you now since you asked. In June, the re-release with new covers is Chemistry (same edition if you already bought it) and Essence of You which has been edited and broken down into a trilogy, (first two released in June) with the last story as the never before published follow-up the first week of July; One Week to be re-released in June and working diligently to get follow-up to Chemistry released around Labor Day and either a summer or fall novella depending on the status of my two sequels…What stories have you read?

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