Smoldering the Flames

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by Kimmie Ferrell

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Pitch

Angela Peterson is flat-out broke and struggling after sinking her life’s savings into her once failing music program. Now unable to send her students on a once in a lifetime trip to Madrid, she turns to the school’s number one benefactor—and the man she once loved—Daniel Knight for assistance.

The media and fans of celebrity chef Daniel Knight crave the one thing the restauranteur fails to serve—commitment, and he’s in the pressure cooker. When Angela appears asking for his help after fifteen years, he’s reluctant until he cooks up a plan that will benefit them both.

Chapter ONE

“And she expects me to break the news to the band? She clearly lost both sides of her mind.”

Angela weaved her 1999 BMW late model sedan through the early afternoon traffic. She pressed harder on the pedal which launched the car forward, past the other motorist who were content on enjoying the brisk autumn day while on the road.

“She better hope this plan works.”

Hell, I hope this plan works. What were the odds Principal Jones would cancel the trip she and the Davidson Senior High School Jazz Ensemble planned to take to Madrid for the International Youth and Adolescence Jazz Festival in January on the exact day the school’s number one benefactor and alumnus, Daniel Knight, scheduled a book signing? Whatever they were, the odds were on her side.

At least she hoped. Daniel Knight annually donated large sums of money to his Alma Mata, which started well before he won the television show, America’s Best New Chef. Then again, Danny—as she called him when they were younger—promised he would always give back to Davidson and other charities when he became rich and famous. He achieved his goal.

“Too bad he did it without me.”

She shook the thought away and sighed. The bond she and Daniel once shared meant the world too her, until the day she caught him with his hands perched on the tiny waist of his ex-girlfriend, Janelle Thompson, engaged in a lip lock guaranteed to cause a nun to blush. The knife he plunged into her heart still remained there.

She wanted to forgive him for his betrayal, but couldn’t. Not when the images of the kiss haunted her and reminded her of her first heartbreak.

The shrill of her phone snapped her from her unwelcomed musings. A smile crested her face upon recognizing the ringtone. She pressed the button on her Bluetooth to connect with the call.

“Hey Kris, what’s going on?”

Kristen was the art teacher at Davidson as well as Angela’s best friend. The two met during a mandatory new teacher’s workshop before they began working at the school two years prior. Their friendship evolved into a sisterhood founded on respect and love.

“I heard you left work early because you were sick. Is everything alright?”

Angela’s jaw clenched. She rolled her eyes in the back of her head at how fast the news of her illness travelled. Her plan had been to contact Kristen before the news got back to her, but obviously she didn’t move fast enough.

“I’m not sick, but I needed to leave early. Principal Jones cancelled the band’s trip to Madrid.”

“What?” Kristen shrieked, “Please tell me you’re joking!”

“I wish. She believes the trip costs too much and we’ll never raise the money for it in time. She suggested we cut our losses now and use the money we raised for something else.”

“But that doesn’t explain why you left early. You’re not sick. What happened?”

“I pretended to be sick.” She took a deep breath. “What I’m about to tell you… you have to promise not to say anything to anyone, nor can you judge me.”

Kristen snorted in disgust. “Do you want me to cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye while I’m at it?”

Angela rolled her eyes before continuing. “I left early because while reading the latest edition of the alumni magazine, you know the one with Daniel on the cover. Well—”

“Daniel, as in Daniel Knight—your ex-boyfriend?”

Feeling her patience growing thin, Angela pressed on, “He’s doing a book signing today in Philadelphia and—”

Kristen interrupted, “You’re going to see him?” Instead of waiting for Angela’s answer, she continued, “Do you think it’s a good idea especially with the way you two left off?”

She didn’t need to be reminded of how things ended between her and Daniel. A reminder would only serve as a second knife being thrusted into her gut and then twisted until its handle snapped, leaving the blade buried deep inside her. Her students mattered most and come hell or high water, she would get the money they needed to go on the once in a lifetime trip.

“I’m sorry, Angie. I know how difficult it must be to hear about him, but I have to ask you these things. I’m your best friend. Besides, you’re in your car right now, driving to see Daniel Knight. Are you sure he’ll want to see you?”

No.

“And if he does, don’t you think he’ll wonder where you’ve been for the last fifteen years?”

Of course.

“I know sending your students on this trip is important to you, but are you truly ready to deal with the feelings you’ve hidden from?”

A long unnerving silence filled the line. Kristen groaned. “If the reason you’re going to see Daniel is to ask him about funding the trip, then do it, but while you’re there, you need to look him dead in the eye and tell him what he did to you. Tell him how he broke your heart because you need closure, Angela. You, of all people, deserve to be happy.”

“You’re right.”

Kristen’s words replayed on a loop from the moment she ended the call until she pulled her car into the parking space across the street from the bookstore and turned its engine off.

You, of all people, deserve to be happy.

She deserved to be happy. For as long as she could remember, her happiness played second fiddle to the people she loved. When most thirty-somethings were purchasing their first homes, Angela used the money she saved to purchase instruments for the ensemble. Which resulted in having to rent a bedroom from her aunt, who was traveling the world.

However, Angela knew the real reason behind Kristen’s remark. She needed closure and seeing Daniel could bring it to her. After fifteen years of wondering why he cheated, of being unable to fully trust anyone for fear she would get hurt once again, she needed to move on. She owed it to herself and to the man she would one day marry.

Angela checked her appearance in the review mirror and glanced outside the passenger side window. The line of anxious fans, all who awaited the arrival of their favorite celebrity chef, stretched down the block and wrapped itself around the corner. Rubbing her hands over the black, stretchy material of her pants, she willed herself to remain calm while silently telling herself things would be alright.

Things wouldn’t be alright. Not if the first words from his mouth had anything to do with where she’d disappeared to.

People and their circumstances changed over time, but the betrayal she suffered at his hands would forever remain. It etched itself onto the deepest parts of her entire being. Submerged itself beneath the good she held in her soul. She trusted him not only with her secrets, but with her heart. The trust they shared between them no longer existed because of what Daniel did.

She went over the plan once again to herself. The realization of how idiotic and downright foolish it was to assume Daniel would want to talk to her caused the confines of her car to spin, reminiscent of an amusement park ride, although there was nothing fun about the topsy-turvy feeling consuming her.

Angela opened the door, emerged from her car and pressed the button on her key ring to lock the doors. With a quick glance both ways, she crossed the busy street, the tiny voice in her mind screamed at her how being in Philadelphia would only end horribly.

***

“Would you mind signing a couple more autographs?”

Daniel sat with his head lowered on the table. The sight reminded her of a child during rest time in elementary school. She fought the urge to smile and to touch the sprinkling of fine hair covering his forearm and a tattoo. She leaned closer to get a better look. Chef knives.

He grunted, but made no attempt to move. She cleared her throat and pressed on, “It’s for my parents and my best friend, Kristen. My parents, Oliver and Janet, are huge fans of yours. They would’ve come today, but they’re attending the anniversary dinner of close friends.”

At the mention of her parents’ name, his head slowly raised. Dark, bottomless eyes—eyes she couldn’t help but remember when glazed by desire, bore deep into her, and then lowered into thin slits. Intensity radiated from them. The marker he held slipped from his grasp and hit the table with a soft plunk, before it rolled towards the tables’ edge. He made no attempt to catch it and allowed it to spiral freely towards the heavily stained, beige carpeted floor.

Angela gulped, her blood pressure increased along with the beating of her heart against her chest cavity. She took a step backwards, her skin sizzled underneath the slow perusal of his eyes.

Were they always darker than night and daunting?

She needed to break free the trance his eyes held her caught in or she would surely splinter into a million pieces at his feet. She bent over and grabbed the marker; finding solace in the break of eye contact. Once composed, Angela straightened and placed the marker back on the table. The gesture caused Daniel to sit back in his chair and fold his arms over the massive span of his solid chest.

A puff of air escaped her lungs in the form of a sigh. Her throat constricted. Damn.

“I’ll sign the books for you, but first, I need something from you, Angela.”

The sound of her name falling from his full lips caused her to cringe. The amount of disgust and disdain laced in his words should’ve shocked her, but it didn’t. Her name almost sounded rotten in the way he spoke it and the sight of his wrinkled nose and his body coiled in the chair did nothing to help her fleeting confidence.

“Alright, what is it?”

She didn’t need to ask. She knew the answer from the way tension gripped his shoulders, the smug expression on his normally handsome face, and in the uneven spurts of his breathing. Squaring her shoulders, she waited for him to speak, instead Daniel stood to his towering six foot four inch frame and walked around the table. He stopped in front of her.

Heaven help me!

His long, curly black hair hung loose around his shoulders. The look gave him the appearance of an untamed jungle man. The white V-neck, pull-over shirt hugged his upper torso. Boldly showcased every dip, twist and turn of his chiseled chest. The broad muscles of his arms strained against the fabric. With his rich café au lait colored skin, he epitomized the perfect blend of African American and Italian.

“Tell me the truth. Where have you been for the last fifteen years, Angie?”

She inhaled the intoxicating mixture of his cologne and his body’s natural scent and a sense of familiarity rushed over her along with images of her nestled safely in his arms.

“I’ve been here,” she answered with ease.

He cocked an eyebrow. “Here?”

She gave a short nod. “Yes. After I left Davidson, my family and I moved here, to Philadelphia. Two years ago I moved back to D.C. where I took the position of music teacher at Davidson.”

Daniel’s brow hitched higher over penetrating eyes now widened in surprise. “You work at Davidson?”

Angela nodded. “I took over when Mr. Wilson retired. He named me his successor. Before the move, I worked at a middle school as a teacher assistant.”

Inside, she groaned at and the sudden case of verbal diarrhea she developed. Daniel asked one question and instead of giving him one answer, she told him her whole life story. He didn’t need to hear her whole biography from the time he cheated. But, for reasons unknown, nervousness gripped her, and him standing in her personal space, breathing her air, and scorching her with the heat from his body didn’t help.

“You live in D.C. and you work at the school I graduated from and contribute annually to?”

Way to not toot your own horn, Danny.

“You’re standing in front of me, wanting autographs for your parents—,” he paused briefly, his nostrils flared. “—the same parents who I’ve loved since meeting them and your best friend, but fifteen years ago I was your best friend.” He chuckled, though it lacked mirth. “Why are you really here and don’t tell me you’ve decided to come out of hiding just for an autograph? I find that hard to believe.”

Things weren’t supposed to happen like this. In her mind, Daniel would’ve asked why she left and then became excited at the thought of seeing her again.

Only in your dreams, woman. Why would he be happy to see you? You left him without a single word. No note. No forwarding address.

He resented her for leaving, and she resented him for cheating. Daniel broke the trust she placed in him for some skank who’d cheated on him multiple times. He took Janelle back and didn’t have the decency to tell her.

She forced her fear and nervousness aside, jutted her chin forward in defiance and opened the bag she carried, extracting a folder from it and handed it to him.

“I came because my students need your help.” Her voice sounded shaky to her own ears, but she refused to allow Daniel to know. “I now realize how dumb it was of me to assume you’d help. You’re furious at me for leaving when I had no choice, but you… You messed us up.”

“Daniel,” a young blonde woman sang from a corner behind the table. She motioned him over.

Angela glanced over to the blonde then back to Daniel, incensed with an emotion she refused to put a name to as she questioned the woman’s identity. “Don’t want to keep her waiting.”

He extended his hand to reach for her. His fingers brushed her arm as Angela turned on her heels and stalked away. She ignored the sound of Daniel’s deep baritone yelling after her. She took the steps two at a time to the first floor where she pushed the front door opened to an icy gust of wind that greeted her and the fresh waves of tears she could no longer hold back.

Angela raced across the street, entered the parking lot and unlocked her car. Her eyes caught the sight of her disheveled appearance in the rearview mirror. She released an unladylike snort.

“Jerk! Ugh, I want to strangle him”

She jammed the key into the ignition, started the car and backed out of the space. With a decision made, she slowly eased into traffic at the same moment the doors of Java & Novels opened, revealing the frowning face of Daniel. Their eyes locked for a brief second, before Angela floored the gas pedal and zoomed out of sight.

“I don’t need his help. I’ll find some other way to get those kids to Madrid, if it’s the last thing I do.”

Daniel watched Angela’s car speed through a yellow light, the loud screeching of the tires peeling on the road filled the air. He muttered a series of curses, none of which would bring her back, but helped convey his frustrations. She appeared from nowhere pointing fingers and telling him he screwed things between them?

Who in the blue hell do she think she is? Certainly not the Angela Diane Peterson he knew since the first grade. She was a different woman, and by the looks of it, all woman. Between the swell of her full breasts and the delicious curve of her backside, he’d become lost in the overwhelming thoughts of her. They took over his sanity and dared him to pull her against his bulging erection and kiss the gloss off her juicy, plumped lips he knew from experience as being soft like pillows.

How could he be angry with her when his body betrayed him worse than she had? What possessed her to come to him after all these years? She mentioned helping her students, but did she think things would be okay between them? If so, he felt sorry for her. He couldn’t forgive her for walking away from the life they planned to make together. He spent years questioning if she and her family were alright and if he’d somehow miss the warning signs of their departure?

Daniel turned around and paused when the piercing blue eyes of his manager, Kenneth met his. When the blonde haired man appeared behind him, he didn’t know, but from the smirk on his face, he’d seen enough.

“Wanna tell me who she is?”

Daniel shrugged and stuffed his hands in the pockets of the black, tailored suit pants. “I could lie, but it would mean nothing.”

Kenneth laughed with a heavy handed slap against Daniel’s shoulders. “Damn skippy. So cut the bull and tell me.”

“Her name is Angela. She’s the woman who somehow got away. The person I thought I would marry.”

“Ooh. What now? Are you going to try to win her back?”

Daniel removed his hands from his pockets and pondered the question momentarily before responding, “No. I think it’s best if I pretended I never saw her.”

***

Daniel rocked back and forth in an off-white leather chair inside Kenneth’s office. Almost a week passed since his impromptu reunion with Angela at the bookshop, and he still couldn’t get the thought of her from his mind. What made matters worse, each time he inhaled, he swore her scent still lingered in the air and it drove him insane.

He glanced at the large, oversized clock on the far side of the office, groaned and slouched further in his chair. He wouldn’t make it to lunchtime. Not if all his meetings of the day went like his current and he had at least three more.

“Daniel, are you listening?”

Daniel shook his head and swiveled his chair in the direction of the voice. Crystal, his publicist, frowned.

“You didn’t hear a word I said.”

“Sorry, my mind is elsewhere.” He flashed her his most disarming smile.

“The media” she started with an eye roll, “has become obsessed with your personal life. The rag mags are posting pictures of you and any woman they spot you with. Including that wannabe actress you escorted to the charity function a while back.” She tossed several magazines on the desk in front of him.

He didn’t reach for the magazines because he knew what they held and the thought of reading any of the trash written about him and his personal life, turned him off. Sure, he partied when time allowed. What thirty-three year old man didn’t? What he did in his free time should’ve been no one’s concern, however that only existed in a perfect world.

“Fans are starting to believe what they’re reading, and it’s beginning to cause issues.”

“Issues?” He sat forward in the chair. His brows dipped and wrinkles crinkled his forehead. “What kind of issues?”

In all the years of knowing Crystal and Kenneth—seven years to be exact—they’ve never once had issues of any kind. He counted on the two of them and so did his reputation. They weren’t just his publicist and manager, they were his friends.

Kenneth cleared his throat and gave his wife a scathing look. “The sells for your latest cookbook aren’t were we predicted. People are painting you as a playboy and as you well know, you have a large female following.” Kenneth shuffled around several papers before locating the one he needed—a copy of a food and wine cover he’d done the year before wearing only a pair of pants, no shirt and an apron around his hips. “When you’re posing like this, women are interested in one thing. Stories like the ones being printed don’t help this image.”

Daniel massaged his temples. “What you’re telling me is I’m losing fans and business because—”

“Because you won’t settle down!” Crystal finished for him. “Daniel, being single worked for you when your career first started. It worked when you were competing on America’s Best New Chef. You were young then, but now—”

“People are expecting otherwise from me.”

“Exactly. It’s a lot to take in, but you know I can only speak the truth. This is what you pay me for and it’s what you pay Kenneth for. You barely go on dates and when you do, you make sure to tell the photogs you’re single or the woman you’re with is a friend.”

Daniel rubbed his index and middle fingers over his forehead while his thumb massaged the vein at his temple. She’s right, you know? The voice inside his head sounded a lot like his mother’s, and it unnerved him to no end. He didn’t have time to date. What he wanted to do consisted of bettering his brand. Stepping out from the shadows of the family’s name and make one of his own. Dating took away from the time he could spend in the kitchen at his two restaurants.

But what about children? You have to make me a grandma before I’m dead and gone. I want the chance to hold my grandbabies, not have them visit me at my grave site.

He wanted to scream for the voice to quiet, but instead, asked, “What can I do?”

Kenneth released a throaty chuckle. “I suggest you call Angela, and fix whatever stopped you two from getting married in the first place.”

***

Daniel tossed a lightweight jacket over the arm of the plush sofa, heeled off his expensive Italian leather loafers and stalked towards the mini bar. He picked a crystal tumbler and poured himself a healthy amount of whiskey. If it weren’t for the time, he would’ve called his cousins and twin brother, David, and asked them to meet him at the bar they frequented weekly.

He took a sip of the amber colored liquid, loosened his tie and inhaled, allowing the stress of the day to roll from his tightened muscles. He crossed the gleaming porcelain tiled floors and sat in the huge leather chair behind his white wood desk. His body groaned in relief of finally being able to rest after the slew of meetings he attended throughout the day, including his first meeting of the day with Crystal and Kenneth.

Instantly, he thought back to Kenneth’s outlandish suggestion of rekindling his relationship with Angela. Ha! It’ll be the coldest day in hell, with the Devil himself wearing a parka and serving snow cones before I ever contact her.

Daniel laughed at his thoughts, then sobered when he remembered what Crystal said. His lack of a relationship allowed the media to spin stories anyway they saw fit. Knowing large amounts of his fans believed the stories angered him. He slammed his fist against the desk. Several droplets of his liquor sloshed over the rim of his glass.

He didn’t date point blank period, and unlike those who fabricated and circulated stories claiming to know the real reason behind his decision, the truth wasn’t a mystery or secret. He chose not to date because his career came first. He wanted to succeed in everything he did. Wanted every business venture to be profitable.

Dating would consume too much of his time. He enjoyed casual affairs, but made it known he wanted nothing more. No relationship. No strings attached. Things were always easiest when he held the reigns and controlled how long the affairs would last, where they would go—which normally consisted of the loft apartment overtop his Upper East Side restaurant, and what they would do. With his two flourishing restaurants, plans for a third, cookbooks, television appearances and talks of his own cooking show on a cable network, twenty-four hours would never be enough and his method worked for him.

From the moment he decided to become a chef, after visiting Italy for the first time back in high school and being in the kitchen with his grandmother, Daniel plunged full-steam ahead in making his dream a reality. Failure scared him and for a second, he questioned how his personal life actually played a major role in his career.

Why couldn’t the media focus on his talents in the kitchen instead of questioning who he spent his time in the bedroom with?

A lightbulb went off in his head at the same time the frown on his face morphed into a megawatt smile. What if he could still focus on his career and please the media and the fans at the same time? It wouldn’t take much, all the media needed was to be fed a few stories about him and someone, but who?

He racked his brain until Kenneth’s suggestion came back with the sheer force and destruction of a wrecking ball to the weakened structure of a building. He downed the contents of his glass in one gulp then reached for the telephone and dialed his cousin’s number. His mind raced with the makings of a brilliant plan and the reasons why it would work, but first—.

Daniel waited until a groggy and sleep laced voice came over the line. “Before you speak, I know it’s late, but I need you to do a huge favor for me.”

He listened while Stefano groaned and griped about the time for a few seconds and tried to hide his amusement by covering his mouth to hold back the laughter which threatened to bubble from his stomach.

“Remember the search I asked you to do a while back? Well, I have some more information. I think it can aid you a lot better.”

Twenty minutes later, Daniel replaced the phone on the cradle and sat back in his chair, folding his hands behind his head, a satisfied smile brimming on his face. Stefano promised his search wouldn’t take more than a few days, which pleased Daniel tremendously. The sooner he received his requested information, the faster his plan would fall into action and for a number of reason, he couldn’t wait.

“Sorry Devil, you better invest in a winter coat, Hell’s about to freeze over.”

Chapter TWO

Angela grabbed the folder off the table in front of her and rushed from the teacher’s lounge. She almost knocked into the group of teachers who stood outside the door; no doubt gossiping. She tossed a swift apology over her shoulder without a backwards glance and continued towards the main office. According to Marlena, one of the school’s administrative assistants, Principal Jones would be in her office and she refused to miss any more opportunities to speak to the woman concerning the trip to Madrid. Sure, she cancelled the trip over a week ago, but Angela refused to back down without a fight.

She flung the office door opened and bounced inside, her thick curly hair shook with each step she took, until she came to a stop in front of the door leading to Principal Jones’ office, which stood slightly ajar. She knocked once.

“Come in,” the raspy voice beckoned.

Taking a deep breath, Angela stepped into the office, a smile plastered on her face.

“Principal Jones, can I speak to you concerning the jazz ensemble’s trip to Madrid?”

“Truthfully Angela, there’s nothing to discuss. I sent you the notification last week the trip was cancelled. There’s no way you can raise fifty thousand dollars by January.”

Angela refused to back down. She walked closer to the desk and laid the folder she held on it. “I don’t think you or this administration have faith in the jazz ensemble. If it weren’t for the band the school wouldn’t be a city wide name, or receive the recognition it garners from all over the world. Obviously the football team isn’t doing it nor is the basketball team. I don’t understand why you won’t give the band a fair shot. Is it because those students play an instrument and music isn’t considered a sport? What’s the real reason you don’t believe in them?”

She spoke nothing but the truth. Since becoming the music director, Principal Jones refused to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of her students. Two years passed without a simple single solitary ‘good work’ or ‘great job’, although the band held honors none of the sports teams or other clubs in the school held.

All she wanted, all she and her students truly needed was a fair chance; for the odds to be evened. When the football team lacked money to travel, the school board—along with parents, administration and the division, gathered the funds. Why was it impossible to do the same for the jazz ensemble?

Principal Jones scoffed, rolled her eyes and sat forward in her chair. “This is honestly one of the reasons Mr. Wilson naming you his successor didn’t sit well with me. Angela, I truly understand how much the band means to you, I do, but the band is not a sports team. We—meaning the administration—do so much for the music program. When the football team is out of state, the marching band is also.”

Well aren’t we learning a lot today? She never wanted me to be the music teacher. I should’ve known.

“The marching band. You and I both know the real reason the marching band is allowed to attend out-of-state trips is because of half-time. I am asking you to give the jazz ensemble a chance. We’ve performed in front of dignitaries, royalty and the President of the United States.”

“You did, I know, but the marching band is covered with the athletic department. The two organizations go hand in hand. The jazz band…” she paused before continuing, “…isn’t as popular as the sports teams. No one pays for the jazz band to travel.”

Not true, I’ve paid for the band to travel several times along with uniforms and instruments.

“While I would agree with you partially, I still believe the jazz band deserves a chance to raise the fifty thousand dollars needed for this trip. If we’re unsuccessful, then we can count it as a loss. What you’re doing is counting us out before giving us a chance and it’s not right.”

Principal Jones looked from the paper in her hands. “Alright, what do you suggest I do since you obviously have all the answers?”

Angela claimed a burgundy visitor’s chair in front of the desk. “I spoke to the organizers of the festival. The first deposit for the trip is due in four weeks. Give us until then to raise the funds. If we don’t, then I’ll tell the kids the trip is cancelled. We haven’t explored all of our possible options yet.”

“Hmm… and exactly how much is the deposit?” Principal Jones asked, stroking her chin.

“One-third of the trip cost,” Angela quickly offered. At least one of us read the packet the organizers sent along with the invitation.

She pretended not to notice the satisfied smile brightening the face of the woman sitting across from her, instead she read the difference in the amounts needed and what the band already raised.

“You honestly believe you’ll be able to raise almost seventeen thousand dollars in four weeks? Ha! Well good luck to you. But know this, when you don’t raise the money and you’re left having to explain to the band why they won’t be traveling to Madrid, know I tried to give you an easy way out.”

Principal Jones stood, gathered a stack of papers from her desk, none of which contained the information Angela presented to her. She walked around her desk, stopping short of the chair Angela occupied. “You have four weeks to raise one-third of the cost of the trip. If you fail, which I am sure you will, you must put this silly notion of the jazz ensemble attending this festival out of your head. The money you’re thinking of spending for the trip should be put towards something else, something academic and not thrown away on a trip to Madrid.”

Angela pushed herself from the chair and collected the papers shed presented. She turned to face Principal Jones, her eyes slid over the woman she once admired in pure disgust.

“Four weeks, and when we raise the money needed for the trip, you’ll finally see this group of students is the best damn club you have in this entire school. Your football team sucks. Your basketball team is plagued with academic issues and drama. No other student organization will ever bring this school the amount of recognition the jazz ensemble has.”

“Sports teams are more popular. You have to understand.”

“Actually, the only thing I understand is how you truly feel about me being here. I’m glad I finally know your position on Mr. Wilson’s decision to name me the director of the band. But whether you or anyone else in this school like it or not, I’m here to stay. Whether we have your full support or not, I will get those students to Madrid.”

Angela walked past Principal Jones, slightly brushing against her, and out the office with a satisfied smile on her face and a twinkle in her eyes.

The knowledge of telling Principal Jones off felt damn good. Speaking her mind was a long time coming, especially since their relationship changed the moment she accepted the job. And now that she knew how her supervisor felt about her, she wouldn’t allow it to bother her anymore.

Once inside the confines of her office, Angela let out a yelp and danced to the beat of her racing heart. The news of being given a chance to raise the funds couldn’t have come at a better time. She needed it.

Ever since her meeting with Daniel, things had gone downhill. She pushed the thoughts of him to the back of her mind. She refused to think about how things ended between them, the heated look in his eyes, or how he tried to blame her for what happened fifteen years ago.

There were other, more important things she needed to focus on. Like how on top of raising the fifty thousand dollars for her students, she had forty-five days to find a place to stay.

She never wanted to stay at her aunt’s house, but she hadn’t had much choice. She would be the first to admit staying there for any amount of time was too much and she’d rented a bedroom from her aunt since moving back to DC, two years prior. Sometime during Aunt Evelyn’s eat pray love journey, she’d met and married someone while on a safari through Kenya.

Even her aunt, who was well in her late fifties, had a husband.

Angela opened her folder. If Principal Jones had taken the time to look at the papers Angela tried presenting her, she would’ve known the band didn’t need to raise seventeen thousand dollars by the end of the month.

She logged onto her computer. A lot needed to happen in order to prove everyone who doubted her and the band wrong and it would require commitment from her, as well as her students and their parents. Together, they would raise the money.

She created a flyer for a car wash once her computer booted.

“Chances are, I may need to take out a loan and ask my aunt for an extension of finding a place to stay, but it’s worth it. Anything to get them to Madrid and if all else fails,” she heaved a sigh and chewed on her lower lip, dreading the words she fixed her lips to say. “I’ll reach out to Daniel again.”

***

Daniel slipped from the back door of his Manhattan restaurant, L’Amore. He checked his watch once again, and chuckled to himself. The thought of being the first member of the Knight clan to arrive at the designated weekly hangout spot, made him giddier than a schoolgirl in the face of her favorite pop idol.

Meeting his brother and cousins at their favorite sports bar, Stoney’s, became a longstanding Knight tradition which started back in Italy with his third great grandfather and his brothers. Generations of Knight Men would gather one night of out the week, normally during the weekend, to bond and celebrate life, family and love. However, meeting on Mondays proved to be a lot easier.

He rounded the corner, having made the decision to walk to the sports bar, which was only a few blocks away instead of driving during the late evening rush hour traffic.

Suddenly the bright flash from the photographer’s camera along with the shouts of directions coming from the swarm of paparazzi, stunned Daniel and momentarily rendered him speechless. He pushed through the throngs of people vying for a picture of him or a comment concerning one of the stories circulating about him.

“Daniel? Daniel? Over here!”

“Is it true you’re not dating anyone because you’re dying?”

“What about the interview Alana Davenport gave stating you two were an item until you ended it with her via email?”

“Are your womanizing ways beginning to catch up with you?”

Daniel refused to answer the questions hurled at him. And whoever started the rumor about him dying needed to drop dead themselves. He pulled the lapels of his jacket closer to him and tucked a strand of hair behind his ear. He reminded himself to apologize to Crystal after accusing her of over-exaggerating the truth. He realized how wrong he was.

Alana Davenport was a D-list actress whose mother knew his mom. The two woman both served on the board of several charities and when Kimberly Knight asked him to accompany the woman to a fund raiser last month, he reluctantly did it, to appease to his mother, who enjoyed playing match-maker for him and his cousins; luckily she spared David.

“Oh come on Daniel. Give us something!”

“Tell us the truth. You aren’t seen with women because you bat for the—”

Daniel turned around, his scarf whipped around his neck. His sudden movement stunned the group of men following them, causing them to each jump back and gasp.

He muttered harshly, “You don’t know a damn thing about me and who I’m dating or screwing is none of your concern. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have somewhere to be.”

One of the journalist chuckled, unfazed by Daniel’s words. “Someone’s angry! Good, it’s better for business. Now throw a temper tantrum. Push me.”

Daniel scoffed, “You’re an idiot.”

Another photographer yelled, “Exactly, he’s an idiot, now punch him in the face.”

Daniel stopped and turned to face the photographers, his eyes filled with rage. “And for your information, I am seeing someone.”

He snapped his mouth closed and fought the urge to cover it with his hand like he did a number of times while younger after disclosing a secret or saying a swear word. But he didn’t. He wouldn’t let the men who were hounding him know the words were a lie.

“Really? Is she an actress?”

“What’s her name?”

It pained him knowing the trust he took pride in building with his fans could easily be ruined because of the squeeze the media placed on him. His career played a major part in his life, but whether he wanted to admit it or not, his fear of experiencing the pain he felt after Angela disappeared was the main culprit behind him refusing to date.

Daniel groaned and replied through clinch teeth, “I won’t tell you her name. I will not jeopardize her identity so you can sell a few more magazines.”

Hell, he didn’t know her name.

“Where do you see this relationship in a few months? Will you dump her like you did Alana Davenport?”

“Seriously dude, an e-mail? You couldn’t send her flowers, candy or take her to dinner then break her heart?”

Daniel laughed for the first time since walking into the frosty New York air. The smile that crossed his face lightened his features like the city during the Christmas holidays. He pushed the vulnerable thoughts far from his mind.

“Alana and I know each other through mutual acquaintances; our mothers. Nothing would have come from us being together. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get going.”

Daniel opened the door of a taxi that stopped in front of him and hopped inside to a barrage of questions all geared to learning the identity of his mystery girlfriend. He rattled off the address to the bar and sat back against the tattered leather.

Should they choose to look further into his claims of a girlfriend outside of New York, chances were their search would be fruitless. He didn’t have anyone, at least not yet. He needed to gather the information Stefano promised him and fast. The luxury of time did not belong to him. He could pacify the media and his fans with stories of a make believe romance, but sooner or later, the stories will run out, and then where would he be? Back to square one.

It didn’t bother him the paparazzi caught him around the corner from his restaurant, he ran into them often, however no one thought to mention his career. No one brought his new cookbook or how it currently sat atop the New York Times Bestseller’s list at number one. No one mentioned L’Amore being named one of New York City’s top ten restaurants. Instead, they were focused on his personal life and until he nipped it in the bud, they would always be interested in who he dated. Lying to the media wouldn’t help him at all. He needed to take control of the situation.

The taxi crawled to a complete stop in front of Stoney’s. He passed the driver a twenty, instructed him to keep the change, and then swept from the vehicle.

Releasing a long-winded sigh, Daniel opened the door to Stoney’s and glanced around. Packed with the regular Monday night crowd, several games were already in progress on the huge flat screen televisions that lined the area over the bar, giving the patrons the opportunity to view different teams from around the leagues.

The pure desire to lose himself in the night’s games took a backseat to the alarming issues surrounding his personal life. The story could be easily spun. The news cycle changed frequently. There would always be some celebrity more famous than he doing any and everything for a few extended moments in the spotlight.

Knowing this, Daniel slid into the booth he, his cousins, and brother claimed every week, hopeful the news of his relationship would soon die down and everyone could go back to focusing on his career. However, a feeling of dread crept along his shoulders. The fine hairs covering his forearm and at his nape stood erect. Fans are always easy to handle, however, the thought of having to explain his new found relationship to one person scared him more than the first drop of the world’s tallest rollercoaster; his mother.

He extracted his phone from his jacket pocket and pressed one lone key on his phone’s keypad and he waited until a scratchy voice came over the line.

“Have the jet ready to fly in the next few hours. I don’t care how late it is.”

Daniel ended the call and slipped it back into his pocket as he motioned for the waitress.

***

Angela peered over her shoulder at the grandfather clock and rolled her eyes at the reminder of the time. At two o’clock in the morning, she should be in bed and not grading papers, doing laundry, or organizing fundraising events. The unforgiving ring of her alarm clock, set to go off in less than four hours, wouldn’t care about her need to find the rest of the first deposit. Alarm clocks didn’t care about much other than going off when programed, and should you have the audacity to hit the snooze button, their goal then became to make you regret the decision you thought would provide a few more minutes of sleep.

Angela stood, stifled a yawn and gathered the mountainous stack of papers, spread over the surface of her desk when a sharp rap at the door broke into the silence that encased the room. She removed the pair of black framed glasses from her face and turned to face the door, uncertain whether she should answer it. She padded over the plush beige carpeting to the door and stood on her tip-toes to gaze out of the peephole and stumbled backwards in surprise.

A barely audible gasp tumbled from her lips and hung in the air. She quickly covered her mouth to prevent the scream of confusion bubbling in the base of her throat from escaping. Angela smoothed out the wrinkles of her oversized t-shirt and ran a shaky hand through her curls, thankful she didn’t twist them into the protective style she did as apart of her nightly beauty regimen.

The intruder banged louder against the wooden door several more times before plucking the metal door knocker from its resting place and allowing it to slam back in place.
Angela closed her eyes, released a shaky breath she hoped would still the hammering of her heart, placed her hand on the latch lock, twisting it and opened the door.

“Do you have any idea what time it is, Daniel?”

Daniel rested his arm against the doorframe and leaned closer to Angela, allowing his manly scent to carelessly envelope her. His dark, polished onyx eyes moved slowly over her body. Raking in every inch of her. Making her feel exposed and damn vulnerable. She wrapped an arm around her midsection in an attempt to ward off the heat searing her hyper-sensitive skin.

He moistened his lips with the tip of his tongue, before finally looking her in the eyes. “I know what time it is, but what I want can’t wait.”

Angela inhaled deeply, his manly scent wreaked havoc on her libido. She felt the tightening of the muscles that hadn’t seen action in… she mentally counted and stopped after the number of years surpassed the first five fingers on her hand. He needed to step back, or surely she would melt at his feet.

Her voice trembled, “And exactly what is it you want?”

“What I want can’t be discussed while standing in the middle of a hallway at—” he took a fleeting glance at his watch, “—half past two.”

Angela closed her eyes and allowed the deep timber of his smooth, silky, baritone voice to bathe her unabashedly. It caressed her skin with gentle strokes, threatened to consume her body, her soul, and mind with the greatest of ease. She swallowed hard, forced her eyelids, weighed down by unadulterated lust, desire or exhaustion to pop open and stared at him.

Daniel stroked his goatee and raised an amused eyebrow. “Oh come on, Angie. Don’t tell me you aren’t the least bit interested in finding out why I’m here.” At her cautionary silence, he continued, “Its booty call hours and the man who you would have undoubtedly married if you didn’t run off without warning, appears at your door, says he needs to talk to you and you don’t so much as invite him in to figure out what he has to say?”

He chuckled, “The Angela I once knew and loved enjoyed surprises and would’ve instinctively invited me in to figure out what was so important.”

Angela rolled her eyes. “Well the Angela you once knew no longer lives here anymore. She learned, the hard way, how surprises aren’t always a good thing.”

He leaned closer, wrapped a strand of her hair around his index finger, before allowing the curl to bounce back in place. “You’re wrong, sweetheart. The Angela I know is still in there.” He trailed his finger across the side of her face, over her rounded high cheekbones, to cup her chin. “She’ll always be there, Angie. Whether you like it or not. She’s there in the way your eyes are currently hooded with desire. She’s in the hardening of your nipples and how you think I don’t notice you squeezing your thighs together.”

Angela groaned. She refused to deny his allegations, especially since they were all true. The flimsy cotton of the oversized shirt she wore left little to the imagination and the silk material of her bra did nothing to hide her protruding nipples.

“Well, maybe this can serve as inspiration.”

She watched Daniel brace an expensive black leather suitcase against the wall and with his knee raised at a ninety degree angle, pop the latch of the case. He pulled out a red, black and white folder from beneath the mountain of papers inside and handed it to her.

With a glance at the folder in her hands, Angela stepped aside and allowed Daniel entry into the apartment.

Daniel tried his hardest to hide the smirk on his face by covering his mouth and letting out a phony cough. He closed the briefcase and walked into the living area of Angela’s apartment then took a seat on the colossal sized floral printed couch, with a plastic slip cover protecting the fabric. The sound his body made against the plastic filled the room. Daniel swiftly stood, tossing away the idea of actually getting comfortable.

He turned at the sound of the locks clicking into place, his eyes fell to the thick chocolate thighs Angela’s nighttime attire failed desperately to cover; much to his delight and dismay. The shirt’s hem swayed provocatively around her curved backside caused pressure of another kind to build right around the same area his eyes seemed fastened upon on Angela.

Then there was the heavenly aroma that greeted him the moment she opened the door and power bombed him like he stepped into the ring with a professional wrestler. This scent, unlike the heavenly aroma she wore when they reunited, was of vanilla bean, coffee and something he couldn’t quite put a name on, but would go to hell and back again to get the chance to do so.

“Daniel?”

Had she been talking to him? He wouldn’t know. His thoughts were all jumbled around naming the scent he knew would stick with him for weeks.

“Danny, I asked if you would like a drink.”

“No thank you, but what I would like is to get down to the reason I’m here.” Daniel cleared his throat, erasing his mind with the real image of what Angela wore beneath her shirt and placed his briefcase on the coffee table in front of him. “As you can see, I’m here to discuss the contents of the folder and how I believe I can help you and your students.”

Angela folded her arms beneath her breasts, which caused his eyes to fall onto her heaving mounds. “And what makes you think I haven’t found the money needed to send my students on the trip?” The inquiry was barely above a whisper.

She averted her eyes and focused on playing with a loose string at the hem of her shirt. Then gnawed at the corner of her pouty lower lip while running her nails through her curly tresses. It was everything she did when they were younger to hide her nervousness as well as her inability to lie. But he saw through her old habits.

“Cut the crap, Angela. If you actually raised the money, then why would there be a need to hold a car wash this weekend?” He motioned to a flyer on the computer desk. “If we expect this business proposition between us to work, then we need to be able to trust one another and although asking you why you left is on my mind, I’m not here to open Pandora’s Box.”

Angela visibly released the breath she’d been holding. The tension in her shoulders escaped her with a faint swoosh. The reason she left obviously weighed heavily on her shoulders and while he wanted to know the answer, he reminded himself of the reason he was standing in her apartment. His curiosity would have to wait until the time when their relationship was strong enough for him to ask. And if his plan worked how he expected it would, he knew he’d find out sooner rather than later.

“You still haven’t explained what this business proposition is and some of us don’t set our own hours. I have to be to work early in the morning.”

Daniel allowed the snide remark to slide and opened his briefcase once more, this time he took out a thick packet of paper and handed it to her.

“I’ve been informed of your issues including those of your financial state and I am more than willing to help you. What my help entails is not only paying for your students’ trip to Madrid in January, but also a yearly donation to the music program while you’re employed at Davidson. On a personal note, the debt you’re in from keeping the music program afloat, will be wiped clean. I’ll pay off every credit card maxed out, pay back all your loans, including the loan you took out in college when your financial aid was withheld after your grades slipped.

Every month you will receive a stipend doubled the amount of your current salary along with a credit card to be used on clothing, shoes and other necessities. After the six months are completed, a six figure lump sum will be provided to you. This could either be used to help you purchase your dream home or used as you see fit.”

Angela remained silent. Her eyes glued to the stack of papers he presented her. He figured as much because he too had been stunned reading the files.

After several uninterrupted minutes, Angela’s cocoa brown eyes left the papers and turned to him, engulfed in a deep-rooted rage that could only be described as hatred. “Where did you get these,” she asked, her voice lowered and each word enunciated harshly.

He lifted a shoulder in a nonchalant shrug, “My cousin, Stefano, is a private investigator. Now, do you have any more questions or are you going to spend the rest of the night huffing, puffing and looking at me like you want to blow me down?”

The fire raging in her eyes blazed like a wildfire scorching everything in its wake. He hated being on the receiving end of her anger, but admitted to himself, the flare of her nostrils and the barely visible irises of her eyes made her look even more beautiful than before.

“What exactly do you get in exchange for everything you’ve named?” She questioned through clinched teeth.

“You.” Daniel easily replied.

“I’m sorry.” She made pretense of shaking her index finger in her ear for effect. “What did you say?”

His jaw clenched at her words, his muscles grew ridged under his baby blue sweater. “All I ask in return is for the next six months you portray my hostess. My girlfriend. And then fiancée.”

“Have you lost your mind?” Angela bellowed. “Me? You’re girlfriend? Your fiancée? I can’t.”

Daniel shoved his hands deep into the pockets of his ratted jeans. “I’m not here looking for love, Angela. That ship sailed when you left fifteen years ago. What I want means more to me than love.”

“What’s more important than love?”

He saw the confusion marred in her gaze and tried to ignore the harshness of his tone. “My career and the trust I’ve built with my fans.”

“But what does your career and the trust of your fans have to do with me?”

“Recently, the media has been obsessed with my personal life. Stories like the ones printed in tabloids lining magazine racks around the country, have begun to overshadow my career. My fans believe the lies being told. While heading to meet my cousins and brother earlier in the evening, several photographers followed me and questioned me about my relationships. I told them I was seeing someone. I can’t afford to have my career ruined over a lie. Six months is all I’m asking. After the time has elapsed, you can go your way and I’ll go mine.”

Angela sighed, “But why me? You hate me.”

Daniel crossed the room and stopped a few centimeters in front of Angela. “I don’t hate you. As much as I want to, I can’t. I don’t want to care for you. I don’t trust you, but—”, he paused and scrubbed a hand over his face. “If you say no, then you’re back to ruining your credit to keep your students happy. Back to pretending other people’s happiness brings you joy. You’ll be either on the streets, living in your car, or staying here with your aunt since you haven’t informed your parents on how bad things have gotten for you. I’m offering you a lifeline, and I suggest you use it.”

Unable to further deny himself, Daniel took a step forward and tilted her chin. He fused his mouth to Angela’s in such a way, he questioned if their lips actually touched, until he swallowed her surprised gasp, which beckoned him to deepen the kiss, but his self-restraint told him otherwise. Even when she willingly wrapped her arms around his broad shoulders and clung to him for the slightest of seconds, he took a step back.

“It’s late and I need to leave.” He pulled out a card and handed it to her. “Those are my personal numbers. You have until noon to reach me with your decision.”

He brushed his lips over hers once more, grabbed his briefcase and left.

Chapter THREE

Angela massaged her temples in an attempt to lessen the persistent throb of her headache. Her lack of sleep and the eventful morning she had didn’t help matters. Between her car breaking down, leaving her without transportation and the mystery stain on her slightly-used, hand-me-down fuchsia, suede Manolo Blahnik pumps she got at a consignment shop in Georgetown, she was ready to scream. Out the corner of her eye, she stole a quick glance of her shoes, resting on top a file cabinet, and muttered, “This day can’t possibly get any worse.”

When the circular motion of her kneading failed to alleviate even a small amount of the tension gripping her, she washed a weary hand over her face and released a shaky breath. What she wanted, more than she her next breath, was to fade away and disappear for a few precious moments. Get away to a tropical island or find herself cocooned in the plush comforter on her bed; nestled deeply under its warmth, asleep. However, sleep didn’t exist and she figured it would be a long time before her sleeping habits returned to normal.

All thanks to Daniel Antonio Knight.

She shuddered at the mere thought of his name. Ever since she went to the signing, she’s been sleep deprived, cranky and—she shook her head. There was no need to remind herself of how much Daniel’s presence back in her life caused the fragile state of her psyche or her body to disintegrate. What made her body’s reaction to him a million times worse was how Daniel could easily notice the signs of her arousal, which came as no surprise to her, although she wondered how he could see through her after so long.

He still had those boyish good looks capable of making grown women and young girls swoon with desire, but in an adult body. And then he kissed her. Not once, but twice. She felt her cheeks grow warm at the remembrance of how her knees turned to jelly, her palms clammy, the butterflies fluttering in her stomach and the thumping of her heart which successfully drowned out the warning alarms in her ears.

His scent clung to her skin like a newborn to its mother and no matter how hard she scrubbed to rid herself of the alluring smell, she couldn’t shake it. Her skin, raw from the beating it withstood at the hands of her loofa, smelt of him. He was embedded in her pores. She inhaled deeply and shuttered at the sophisticated masculine scent of his cologne that forged a bond between man, earth and sea.

The pressure of her headache continued to grow in intensity, making the florescent lights above almost unbearable. Unable to withstand the onslaught of pain, Angela rummaged through her purse until her hand wrapped around the cylinder-shaped container. She popped the top, and with a swig of water, administered a healthy dosage of what she hoped would take the pain away. She wouldn’t make it through the day with a headache of this magnitude, especially when her students could care less about her pain and her decision of having to sign her life away for the next six months.

What Daniel offered would certainly be enough to help her and her students, especially her. Her monthly salary was being split in so many ways, there was barely enough left over to buy herself a decent outfit. Asking her parents for help was simply out of the equation all together. Janet and Oliver Peterson didn’t need to know what she sacrificed.

However, the stipulation of being his girlfriend for six months was a lot in itself. Angela’s arms blossomed in goosebumps, her breath thinned and panic paralyzed her. It would only be six months, but could her heart take being so close to him again? Probably not, especially if the reactions she had each time she saw him would happen. She would be a goner, for sure. But she couldn’t turn her back on the offer. He was giving her students the chance to see Madrid, along with his yearly contributions, she could do a lot with that money. New uniforms, new instruments, and upgrade the old computer system Mr. Wilson used to write music.

“I can buy the band its own bus!”

The pros definitely outweighed the cons. But in order to assure her needs would be taken care of, she needed to tell Daniel of her decision and provide him with her list of demands. She snatched the office phone and retrieved his business card from her wallet, then dialed the number. Finally after the fourth ring, Daniel’s low, husky voice came over the line.

She cleared her throat. “Daniel, its Angela. Angela Peterson. I wanted to call you to…”

He quickly silenced her. “You’ll have to call me in about an hour. I’m in a meeting.”

Angela looked at the clock on her computer screen. “Daniel, I can’t call you back in an hour. I’ll be in class and it’ll be well past the deadline you set. I wanted to tell you…”

“It’ll have to wait.” Daniel finished before the line went dead.

Replacing the receiver on the cradle, she groaned, “What am I going to do now?”

Daniel shoved his cellphone into the breast pocket of his suit jacket and offered a megawatt smile at the woman standing in front of him, “Sorry for the interruption. You were saying?”

“Go out the door and take a right, then head straight. I’m giving you directions like you don’t know where you’re going.”

He groaned and extracted his cellphone from his pocket once it began to ring again. With a quick look at the display, he rejected the call and turned to her with a smile. “A top chef’s job is never done, is it?” He added a wink for good measure.

“Oh Daniel, you were always such a charming young man. It’s amazing to see how far you’ve come and all of the wonderful things you and David’s donations, have done for us here.” She handed him a visitor’s pass.

“It’s so easy to give back. David and I believe we were both molded and groomed here to become the men we are today.”

“That may be true, but if I recall, you and David were always well mannered and polite. Aside from the trouble you found yourself in when…” she paused and bobbed her head from side to side, “…You were always setting an example for others.”

He opened his mouth to speak, but snapped it close when his shrill of his cellphone interrupted. “Needless to say whoever that is must really need to speak to you, Daniel, so I will let you go. Come back and visit me. I want to hear all about your restaurants and cookbooks.”

Daniel pressed the ignore button on his phone’s keypad, fastened the badge onto his jacket and smiled, “I’ll be back, we have a lot of catching up to do.”

He nodded his head in farewell and exited the office, taking the directions given to him before Angela called a second and a third time. He hated ignoring her calls, but the fact of the matter was, while he knew why she called, he didn’t want to make her delivering her answer easier than it already was. With the time closing in on noon, he needed to know just how much she wanted what he offered her, still another part of him, the part constantly reminding him of how much he needed her, knew he was playing with fire.

He inhaled the silvery-lilac, ruby red and candy cotton pink petals of the bouquet of flowers in his hand and with a hopeful smile made his way through the building. Angela’s persistence must’ve worn off because his phone had been dead silent since the last time he rejected her phone call over twenty minutes ago. Nevertheless, he wouldn’t allow the small hiccup in his plan deter him.

Somewhere, deep down inside, he was thrilled to know she was his for the next six months—and knowing so also scared the living daylights out of him. But what if she called to turn down your offer, a voice questioned. He stopped in front of an office door and shook his head firmly.

Angela lived her life to make others happy, regardless of how her own happiness would be affected. She wouldn’t allow her own wants and needs to jeopardize those of others. It was the one trait he knew he could count on, even though he couldn’t count on her.

He raised his hand to knock on the door and smiled when the softest, sweetest, voice instructed him to come in. The beauty of the angelic sound hit him square in his gut and sent his senses spiraling to places unknown. He was floating, and the image he saw of himself was one off the cartoon shows he used to watch on Saturday mornings as a kid; when the character’s love interest would entice them to the point of floating on a white cloud wherever their heart’s desire stood.

He didn’t want to think about what his heart desired, however, what his body wanted,—who—his body wanted was different all together and he couldn’t deny himself the pleasure. And he would make sure to not allow his feelings to get involved.

Slowly, Daniel turned the doorknob and stepped inside of the office, his eyes instantly fell upon Angela’s full-figured body, slumped in her chair with her head resting on a wooden desk.

“So this is the reason why you haven’t tried calling me back? You’re napping in the middle of the day.”

He saw the rise and fall of her shoulders before she sluggishly raised her head, fixed her blood red eyes on him before she took a deep breath and sighed. “I’m not napping.” Her eyes shifted from his face to the flowers he clutched in confusion.

Daniel’s heart knocked against his chest at the sight of her red, puffy eyes and he wondered if she’d been crying because of him and his deal.

He handed her the roses, determined to eradicate the current thoughts from his mind of pulling her into his arms and telling her everything would be okay. Instead, he flipped one of the light switches against the wall off, the room encased in darkness aside from emergency flood lights, casting a heavenly halo over her.

“You hung up on me.”

“Because I wanted to see you face to face, I wanted to hear you tell me your answer, Angela.”

“Why? Why is being here so important?”

It isn’t. It’s an excuse to see you, feel you, and taste you once again. Damn his wayward thoughts.

He shifted a stack of paper aside on her desk and leaned against it, his hands resting beneath him to stop himself from reaching out and stroking the side of her face. He could do it—touch her—and then pretend he only did so to check if she was warm, but he thought otherwise. He would get his chance to touch her exactly how he dreamt of doing…soon.

“Because I feel what we will discuss should be in person and not over the telephone. Besides I was already in the neighborhood and planned to visit the school today anyways.”

“Oh.”

The response was simple, however, her non-verbal response made him swell with pride and he couldn’t understand why; wouldn’t admit why. He didn’t miss the disappointment that flickered in her beautiful, brown eyes briefly while he gave his explanation nor could he ignore the hunger burning hot, and bright in their depth.

“Well I called,” she cleared her throat, “to accept your business proposal…”

Yes! He wanted to celebrate like a kid on Christmas morning after receiving the latest video gaming console.

“…However, there are a couple of stipulations I want to put in place and some questions I have.”

“Stipulations,” he roared, “You are in no position to have stipulations.”

Angela straightened in her chair, reached past him and flipped on the lights, then folded her arms beneath her heaving breasts to stare at him.

Daniel shifted his weight, alleviating the growing pressure of his erection in the seat of his pants. His eyes fell to her creamy thighs, exposed beneath the black skirt she wore. The ballet flats she was wearing gave her a childlike exuberance, but his libido wished they were heels instead, like the pink pair he noticed atop the cabinet at the far end of the office. He shook his head to clear his thoughts.

She cocked a challenging eyebrow. “The way I see it, you need me. Where else will you find a woman who knows you as well as I do?”

“No, the real question is where else will you find someone who is willing to give you what I’m offering? Double your current salary, plus money on the side, and contributing to the jazz band?” At her scowl, he continued, “As I stated before, you are in no position to make stipulations, however, humor me. What is it you want?”
“What if I were involved with someone?”

“Even if you were, which you aren’t, he’s not me and he wouldn’t make you feel how I do.”

She rolled her eyes. “Arrogant.”

Daniel smirked, “No, confident. Now, what are these stipulations? I know you have class in a few and I have a meeting to get to.”

“I’ve been living with my aunt for the past two years, but she told me she married while on a two year sabbatical and now…”

He stood and pulled Angela to her feet, trapped her body against his and the desk. His arm snaked around her waist, his fingers threaded deep in her luscious curls. “Apparently I did not make myself clear last night, so allow me to reiterate. For the next six months, you will be my girlfriend, mine in every sense of the word. Not only will you be sharing your laughs, happiness, joys and pains with me, but your body and my bed. I’m a man with needs and you’re the only woman I want to satisfy them.”

Angela inhaled sharply; further fusing their feverish bodies together; her soft one molding against his rock hard, solid mass. “Our families?”

Tilting his head towards her, Daniel whispered against the sweetness of her inviting lips, “Must believe we found one another and fell in love all over again.”

She nodded, “And when the six months are over?”

You’ll never want to leave me again was the response poised on the tip of his tongue, but instead he replied, “We’ll go our separate ways.”

“And you’ll tell the media what? I don’t want to be made into some horrible person by you. I work with highly impressionable teenagers who have access to the Internet. I do not need my name and face splashed across some gossip magazine with a headline depicting me as just another woman who you’re sleeping with.”

“You won’t be. After the six months, we will blame distance as the reason we weren’t able to make our relationship work.”

Angela appeared to be thinking about what he’d told her. Her lips were pursed and showed off the thin sheen of gloss, this time in a pink color which matched her shoes and the striped lines in her shirt. “Distance? You don’t expect me to live with you in New York, do you?”

He shook his head. “I’m leasing a condo here near Foggy Bottom. I’ll be staying there during the construction of my restaurant while occasionally going back to both New York City and Philadelphia. The staff at my restaurants are more than capable of running them without me, but I will go back once or twice a week to check on things. Also, I do expect you to come to New York with me when I stay overnight, most times on the weekends unless the band has a performance, to which I would need their concert schedule. Every other Sunday, including this Sunday, I’m expected to attend family dinner at my parents’ house. So will you.”

At the mention of his parents, her body went rigid. She took a step back, but his large hands on the small of her back held her in place. “This Sunday? You want me to meet your parents this Sunday? I’m sure your mother hates me. What about David? He probably hates me too.”

He wouldn’t tell her that neither his mother nor brother hated her; in fact, Kimberly Knight continued to call Angela the ‘daughter she always wanted’. “They don’t hate you, but I’m sure they will be happy to see you after so long.”

“Oh,” she sighed breathlessly. Her eyes dropped to his lips, mere inches from hers.

Unable to starve off the gluttonous desire to taste her lips for another second, Daniel lowered his lips to hers and swept his hungry, seeking tongue across her mouth, silencing her stunned gasp before plunging it inside. Her hands languidly slid beneath the lapels of his jacket, over his strong muscular back to his shoulders where she grabbed a fistful of his shirt and held on for dear life.

He wouldn’t let her go. Not even if the fire alarm went off. This, wrapped in her embrace, with her greedily fighting for control of the kiss, circling her tongue around his in a sensual dance that caused the temperature to rise, was where he wanted to be. This was the Angela he fell in love with back in high school. The soft-spoken, overly shy band geek with so much hidden passion left untapped. And he would strike gold.

So engrossed in the mating of their tongues, neither heard the jiggle of the doorknob until the door flung opened.

“Angela! Daniel Knight is…”

Daniel turned his head in the direction of the voice, ending the kiss. He refused to release Angela, who squirmed in his arms, only to be pulled closer against him.

Kristen quickly covered her mouth with her hand to muffle her surprised gasp. “I am so sorry; I didn’t know you had…” She glanced from Daniel to Angela, her face reddened with embarrassment, then turned to leave.

“Kristen wait!”

“Yes, please wait. You don’t have to leave. Besides I would love to officially meet Angela’s best friend.” Daniel gave Angela an indignant look then turned to Kristen with a smile on his face. “I’ve heard so much about you. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you, Kristen.” He dropped one arm from Angela’s waist, allowing it to skim over her backside, which caused her to shutter, and extended it to Kristen. “I’m Daniel. As stated, I’ve heard a lot about you from Angela and from my brother, David, seems you two have met a few times before.”

Kristen rolled her eyes, but smiled. “I’m pretty sure David told you how much he hates me and how I’m not a great teacher.”

Something along those lines. He didn’t know what the issue between David and Kristen was, only because each time he tried getting to the root of the issue David would change the subject, but Daniel had a feeling it had more to do with Kristen’s looks, which resembled David’s late fiancée and less to do with her teaching methods.

“Don’t mind David, he’s actually a good guy once you get to know him.” Daniel turned his attention back to Angela, who remained eerily quiet during the exchange. “Babe, I have to head out, but I wanted to surprise you after the morning you had.”

Kristen raised an eyebrow, “What happened this morning?”
Angela glanced at Kristen then Daniel, her eyes brimming with questions. “I uh…”

“Angela’s car broke down this morning and is out of commission.” Daniel interrupted, “Luckily, we talked about her getting rid of her car a few days ago.” He nuzzled her cheek with his nose. “We’re going car shopping this weekend.” He stepped from her embrace and planted a lingering kiss on her cheek. “I would love to stay and chat, but I really have to go. I’ll be back after band practice.” He turned to Kristen. “It was nice to finally meet you. Hopefully, we will get the chance to see more of each other soon. Maybe you and your boyfriend can come to dinner at our place, once Angela settles in.”
He heard Angela groan softly. Her eyes locked on his silently imploring him to be quiet.

For now he would give Angela what she wanted. He knew later she would mention what happened in her office and he would be ready for the wrath he felt simmering beneath her calm exterior. He made a mental note to thank Stefano for sending him information about Kristen and her boyfriend. Letting the miniscule detail slip was what he needed to let Angela know he was in charge; a power play. He was back in her life and for how long, would be determined by him and only him.

Angela watched the last traces of Daniel’s retreating figure disappear as the office door closed, breathed a sigh of relief, then gulped when her eyes landed on Kristen, who stared at her with both hands rested on her hip.

“Now I know I haven’t seen you physically in a week, but we’ve talked every night since I went out sick and you never once mentioned you were dating Daniel.”

Angela closed her eyes and plopped in her chair, burying her head in her hands, her fingers ran through her hair before she looked over to Kristen. What she wanted to tell her was the truth. She and Daniel weren’t dating. The whole thing was an excuse to preserve his image and get money for her and her students. But telling Kristen the truth was out of the question. Kristen would think she’d gone insane if she told her the real reason Daniel appeared.

She would continue to lie.

It wasn’t a huge lie, was it? Kristen mentioned once before how she wanted her and Daniel to get back together and if Angela was off the market, Kristen would stop trying to force her boyfriend, Bradford’s frat brothers on her. She shuttered at the thought of having to go on another blind date with an egotistical maniac who thought the world revolved around him. Dealing with Daniel would be hard enough.

“Sorry Kris, it must’ve slipped my mind. I was so focused on raising the money for the first deposit and I haven’t had much time to do anything else. Daniel has been extremely helpful.”

“Umm hmm. So…” Kristen paused for dramatic effect, “How did this all happen? The last I checked, you said the meeting didn’t go well between you and him.”

It didn’t, until he became my saving grace.

“Truth is it didn’t go well. But he reached out to me a few days later. We realize what happened in the past and…” Her voice caught in her throat, halting the words her mind told her to say against a lump of emotion. She refused to tell Kristen she and Daniel talked about how things ended between them, worked out the details and now everything was perfect. How it was all some misunderstanding and she didn’t see him kissing Janelle Thompson by his locker, but some other man who strangely looked like him, spoke like him and held Janelle the same way he held her countless times before.

No, she couldn’t tell her best friend, the person who stood by her through it all over the last two years and still loved her for who she was, things were alright between her and Daniel because they weren’t. In her heart, she still felt the stabbing pain of what she witnessed and nothing would ever make it go away.

She forced herself to sit upright in her chair. “Honestly we haven’t talked about him and Janelle.” Kristen opened her mouth to speak, but Angela stopped her. “I know what you’re going to say.”

“Do you?”

Angela nodded, “You’re going to tell me Daniel and I need to talk about what happened, and you’re right, we do. But right now, Kris, it feels like nothing bad ever happened between us. I see Daniel and…” she felt her cheeks grow warm, “…I get the most intense case of butterflies I’ve ever experienced. It’s like how I felt back in junior high school when I realized I had a crush on him. My palms get sweaty. I get nervous, unable to formulate a cohesive sentence and I don’t want to feel this way, but it happens. I want to remember what I saw, but it escapes me. I see only Daniel.”

She pinched the bridge of her nose. Speaking the words of how she felt, exposing herself—even to her best friend—left her feeling raw, naked, and scared her. It took her back to a time where showing vulnerability resulted in being constantly teased by her peers and she refused to relive those dark times again.

“It scares me, Kris. Scares me to know I can still feel this way about him, regardless of what he did to me; to us. I’m seriously trying to grasp control over my own feelings and better understand them. I can’t have you upset with me.”

Kristen rolled her eyes heavenward and sat in the chair next to Angela. She took Angela’s hands in hers and squeezed them reassuringly. “I could never be upset with you for having feelings for Daniel. Besides you admitting this means I was right!” Kristen released Angela’s hands, jumped from her chair and began dancing around the office while singing. She paused for a second. “And you told him about me and Bradford? Girl!”

If only you knew the truth. She didn’t know how Daniel knew about Kristen’s boyfriend, or even knew what happened with her car, but she was pretty sure the same cousin who managed to invade her privacy and provided Daniel with records of her finances had something to do with it. She couldn’t wait to meet him and tell him what she thought about his snooping, private investigator or not.

Thankfully, the sound of the bell stopped the rebuttal she wanted to say. She laughed at Kristen and gathered her belongings off her desk.

“Oh, don’t think you’re getting out of telling me all about you and Daniel. I want to know e’rything. Especially what Daniel meant by once you get settled in. You got some ‘splaining to do.” Kristen said, her voice heavily accented as she spoke the famous line of Ricky Ricardo from I Love Lucy. “You broke rule seven of the friendship code by not telling me you had a man within twenty-four hours of the relationship becoming official. You’re treating for happy hour.”

Angela pouted, “Oh c’mon. I feel I deserve a pass on this one.” At Kristen’s firm shake of her head, Angela sighed in defeat. “Fine, you win and since I’m a good sport, I won’t let you wait any longer to find out. Daniel and I are moving in together.”

“What? You’re lying!” She playfully pushed Angela.

“I’m dead serious. My aunt got married and gave me forty-five days to move. Danny has a condo here. I feel like we might as well move in together, since I’ll be spending most of my free time with him anyways.” And it’s one of the terms of our deal.

Kristen smirked and wiped a pretend tear from her eyes. “My little Angela, moving in with her man. I remember when you wouldn’t entertain the thought of dating.”

“And the winner for best supporting actress in a drama goes to…” Angela shook her head and smiled at Kristen before the two friends exited the office and went their separate ways.

***

Angela gazed unseeingly out of the tinted window of Daniel’s Jaguar XJR-LWB. The Davidson Senior High School jazz ensemble poured through the high quality speakers and filled the interior of the car with the smooth sounds. The music muted the squeal of tires against the cement and the blare of car horns passing on both sides of them to destinations unknown.

She closed her eyes and willed her over-active mind to allow the music with its complicated rifts, key changes, and haunting melodies to do its job and soothe her. She needed every negative feeling and energy surrounding her to become an afterthought. Soon after the stress melted away, she felt the hairs at her nape stand on end and the painful tightening of her nipples beneath the lace material of her bra.

Without opening her eyes, Angela grumbled, “Focus on the road, or you’ll kill us both.”

Daniel chuckled, “How do you seriously expect me to keep my eyes on the road when you’re sitting there looking like that?”

“Like what? I’m not doing anything to you. I’m sitting here, trying to meditate.”

He scoffed, “You can call it meditating, but it sure as hell doesn’t look like meditation to me. Your breathing is uneven, your eyes are closed, mouth slightly opened and then there’s…”

Daniel paused which caused Angela to crack open one eye and turn her head to face him. “What?”

He licked his lips, his eyes dropped down to her hardened nubs. “Those. You look thoroughly satisfied , extremely aroused and well sexed. The three things I would kill to make you feel right now. So, paying attention to the road is a little hard for me right now, but it isn’t the only thing.” He dropped his gaze to the seat of his pants.

Angela flipped over to face her body to Daniel. Her eyes, filled with confusion, followed his heated gaze, and then grew wide. She shifted, bringing her thighs closer together and averted her gaze. “Seriously Danny!”

“Hey, I can’t help it you make me feel this way. You know he likes you.”

“You’ve never been able to help it. And I use to like him too.” She pointed to the area below his seatbelt, “You two got us in a lot of trouble when we were younger.” Her breath caught in her lungs at the memories. She shunned them to the furthest corner of her mind, reminding herself it was best if she left the happy memories in the past. She didn’t need to find herself reminiscing over what they once shared. Doing so would only make it harder for her to walk away at the end of the six months, and she refused to have her heart broken again by Daniel Antonio Knight.

Angela turned to look out the window and noticed a large green sign welcoming them to Virginia. She tilted her head towards Daniel, her arched brows knitted together in confusion. “Where are we going?”

Daniel took a quick glimpse over at Angela and smiled widely, “Dinner and engagement ring shopping.”

Chapter FOUR

Daniel continued to study the contours of Angela’s rounded face over the rim of his glass of champagne. His mysterious ebony eyes twinkled with mirth and mischief and the bright smile splayed across his lips widened, showcasing the matching deep-set dimples of his cheeks. He fought to hold back the laughter that bubbled at the base of his throat when she inhaled the contents of her glass then giggled when the tiny bubbles touched her nose.

“Try it, sweetheart, it won’t hurt.”

They were seated in a cozy booth, in a secluded corner of a Great Falls, Virginia restaurant after doing some shopping. Encased by frosted glass that provided a much needed sense of privacy away from other diners and prying eyes all hoping to catch a glimpse of his dinner companion. Dimly lit crystal chandeliers along with the playful flicker from the candle placed between them perfectly highlighted Angela’s cocoa brown skin and taunted him to taste the sweetness he could only associate with her lips; again.

The faint music that pipped through the air from unseen speakers throughout the elegantly designed dining room complimented the romantic ambience the staff of the five-star restaurant effortlessly set. Mouthwatering aromas wafted from the well-hidden kitchen and mingled with the seductive scent of Angela’s perfume. Both tickled his senses, driving them into a frenzied overload.

What he wouldn’t do to taste her delicate lips once again. The sample she willingly fed him in her office earlier in the day would never be enough to satisfy or squelch his ravenous hunger to devour every inch of her body. And he would. Slowly; painfully slow. Reintroducing them both to the passion and desire that only they could bring out in one another while branding her blistering skin with his touch.

He closed his eyes and willed his overactive hormones to calm down, reminding himself he was no longer some sex starved teenage boy who couldn’t control himself or his urges. He would make love to Angela and when he did, she wouldn’t want any other man but him; the way it had been destined. But the insatiable thoughts that redirected the blood flow from his brain to his lower extremity were scandalous enough to cause his temperature to rise. He used the back of his hand to wipe away the beads of sweat dotting his forehead.

Visions of swiping away the fine china that littered the table, like he’d seen done several times in the movies. Dishes would crash and shatter upon impact on the polished wooden floors. He would pull Angela into his embrace then lay her mahogany body against the crisp, clean white table linen. The act would get the both of them arrested and charged with indecent exposure. Not to mention the tabloid writers would have a field day printing the career-shattering stories, but it would be worth it.

Daniel opened his eyes and chuckled at the sight before him. His girlfriend still held the champagne in her hand, her brows dipped in the middle of her forehead, her nose wrinkled. She looked like a child who refused to eat their vegetables in order to finally have dessert. “Angie, I promise you it tastes great.”

And it did. The vintage bottle of champagne was delicate with its floral notes and fruity flavor, but it also had great depth and complexity. He took a small sip and savored the creamy texture of the expensive drink on his palate.

Angela continued to stare into her glass. Finally she replaced it on the table and thumbed the rim of the glass before looking over to him, “I don’t think I should be drinking on a school night.”

Daniel quirked an eyebrow and flashed Angela a bemused smile. “You don’t seriously expect me to believe you’ve never taken a drink on a school night, now do you?” His eyes wildly dancing on Angela as he awaited her response.

“I…uh. I have.” She paused and lowered her voice to above a whisper. “Are you trying to get me drunk so you can get me in your bed? If so, it’s not happening. I have to work tomorrow.”

Daniel blinked rapidly, both eyebrows lifted over enlarged eyes and placed his drink back on the coaster. He shook his head in disbelief, his muscles grew rigid. “Let me get this straight. You’re accusing me of purposely trying to get you intoxicated so I could take advantage of you?” He leaned back in his chair. His eyes drank Angela in while his head tried to comprehend her words over the rushing sound of his blood flowing through his veins.

At her silence, he responded, his voice dropped an octave lower and oozed of sex appeal. “Let me assure you when I get you in bed and trust me, I will. You won’t be intoxicated because you drank too much champagne.” He leaned in and caressed the side of her face, “You’ll be intoxicated with lust. It’ll consume you and the tough as nails resolve you’re trying to hold onto. When I get you in my bed, it’ll be because you begged and pleaded with me to make love to you, and I will; all night long.” He watched Angela suck in a swift breath and smiled inwardly, motioning to her glass. “Now, take a sip. We’re celebrating.”

Reluctantly, Angela lifted her glass, but refused to bring it to her lips. “Celebrating what? I won’t drink to just any ole thing, Daniel.”

He could think of a million and one different reasons why they were celebrating, although she’d talked him out of buying her an engagement ring. She’d won him over by stating that should they announce their engagement only days after him telling the media he was involve, it would look suspicious. To make up for not purchasing the ring, he’d talked her into moving in with him before the time given to her by her aunt was up. She’d be moving in during the weekend.

Needless to say, his weekend would be filled. The thought of having Angela’s luscious body under his roof and in his bed, made everything worth it. The light illuminating his midnight black irises shined brighter than the new moon and the twinkling of the stars dotted against the velvet darkness of the late September sky.

“I don’t know about that.” He replied with a coquettish smile. “On this day, twenty-seven years ago, you shared your peanut butter and extra jelly sandwich with me.”

Angela coughed violently and clasped a hand over her mouth while she struggled to catch her breath. A sudden rush of heat flooded her cheeks. She blinked rapidly in an attempt to ward off the tears welling in the corners of her eyes at the memory of their first meeting. How could Daniel still remember when she’d long since forgotten the day he sat down at her table and rested his head in his folded arms, while everyone around him happily chatted with one another, everyone but Angela; she sat alone, until he graced her with his presence?

The day that started it all; the day they became inseparable.

Eventually, after checking around the crowded cafeteria to make sure she wasn’t the butt of a cruel childhood joke, Angela lightly tapped his arm and asked if everything was alright.

“It’s kind of hard to forget the day we met, Angela,” he smirked. “You helped me out without knowing me. I probably would’ve starved until I got home later that evening and I couldn’t ask David to share his lunch with me. He would’ve told mom who would’ve asked why I didn’t eat at lunch.”

She chuckled and took a sip of the savory champagne, “Serves you right. She didn’t give you money to spend it on a comic book.”

Daniel chuckled also, “No, she didn’t, but hey, I recently sold that comic book for a large amount of money to an avid comic collector. That was the first investment I ever made.”

She had to hand it to him. The investments he made, over the years, paid off big time. The one that meant the most, happened twenty-seven years ago when he spent his lunch money and she’s graciously shared half her sandwich and cookies with him. How she wish she could turn back the hands of time to prevent their falling out from happening. Who knows where they would be if she hadn’t caught him making out with Janelle.

She wanted to believe the Daniel she once knew and the man he was today were different like night and day. Doing so would make her life easier and protect her susceptible heart, but the more time she spent with him, the more she saw glimmers of the old Daniel and questioned if he ever left.

While they held hands and walked around the mall, they chatted quietly chatting about how their lives changed over the last fifteen years. She’d learned he’d once been engaged, though he hadn’t mentioned much about his former fiancée. From his hesitation to divulge more information concerning it, Angela figured the memories left a bitter taste in his mouth.

During their shopping excursion, Daniel had been an absolute gentlemen and extremely attentive to her. He carried the several purchases she easily made after he reminded her of how she’d neglected herself during the last two years. He even replaced the pair of Manolo Blahnik heels she ruined earlier in the day and promised to buy her more as long as she was good. She trembled at the underlying meaning behind his words.

The attention from the throngs of people who recognized Daniel unnerved her, but he seemingly paid it no mind. Even when a group of fans asked for pictures and autographs, to which he was excited to oblige, he never let her stray too far from his eye sight. Seeing him joke around, answer questions, and even leave several messages on the voice mail systems of family members who didn’t answer the anxious calls of their love ones, caused a feeling so foreign to her to creep over her. It momentarily stole the breath from her lungs and rendered her silent during the fifteen minute drive from the mall to the restaurant.

She hadn’t felt the feeling that made her stomach turn over, gave her goosebumps and clouded her judgement in a long time.

“Angie, is everything alright? You’re frowning.”

Angela shook her head to clear away the gut-wrenching thoughts and forced herself to smile. “Sorry, I zoned out there, but I’m good.” She pushed around a piece of medium rare steak around her plate, before forking it in her mouth as a way to distract herself from salivating at the gorgeous smile on his face.

She couldn’t tell him how she felt, could she? Sure, Daniel was arrogant, but would he take her admission to the head or the heart? Probably the head, making it swell bigger than it already is. She could keep herself together; for now. The question was what would happen when they finally made love? How would she be able to protect herself then?

There was no need to further complicate their business arrangement by falling in love. No matter how many times her subconscious mind reminded her of those lingering feelings she had for him. The arrangement would be beneficial to them both if she kept her emotions from becoming tangled in the web of lies they would weave. Daniel would be seen with a woman thus allowing his fans and the media to believe he wasn’t afraid of commitment—like their run-in at the mall successfully did. She would finally achieve the financial stability she always wanted, without having to ask her parents for anything.

Her heart skipped a beat. She imagined lust and deep-rooted longing in the depths of his bottomless stare when she gathered enough courage to look from her plate and caught him watching her. The intensity from his eyes alone left her gasping for air. She downed the contents of her glass. Once completely gone, she swallowed hard, closed her eyes, and took a deep breath before she fixed her gaze on him.

The sexual tension would always be there to consume them both. They were once lovers, although at a young age, and would return as such when she moved in with him. Like the sun rising to signal the start of a brand new day, it was inevitable. Daniel Knight was intelligent, handsome, charming, confident and extremely rich. All the things most women looked for in a man and yes, they were traits she too wanted in a man, although the extremely rich aspect of it was by luck. He could charm the skin off a snake and make a pair of boots with it. He was also cunning and the knowledge of how cunning Daniel could be made the hairs on the back of her neck stand at attention.

Angela cleared her throat, “Can I ask you something?”

“Of course, sweetheart, you can ask me anything.” He lifted his glass to his lips and took a sip of champagne before dabbing the corners of his mouth with his napkin and placing it on his emptied plate.

At his response, the pressing question that continued to haunt her over the last decade came swarming back and urged her to finally get the answers she knew she deserved, but she couldn’t bring herself to ask him why he cheated. The fear associated with hearing the man she once loved ay she wasn’t good enough for him, stopped her cold. Knowing the truth meant knowing exactly how he felt about her, and for a while she wanted to believe his thoughts didn’t mirror those of the people who teased and taunted her.

Eradicating her mind of the somber thoughts, she quietly asked, despite already knowing the answer, “How did you know my car broke down and that Kristen had a boyfriend? Is your cousin following me?”

“And here I thought you were going to ask me more about my former engagement.”

“Would you rather we talk about that or—”

Daniel vehemently shook his head, “No, we can stick to your choice of topics and yes, he’s following you,” he stated matter-of-factly with a nonchalant lift of his shoulders.

“Why?” Angela seethed. She slammed her hand on the table, rattling their dishes. Luckily they were alone or her little outburst would’ve garnered unwarranted attention. “You can call off your hound dog, Daniel. You won. I’m yours for six months. Having me followed isn’t necessary.”

He motioned for the waiter to bring the check, signaling the completion of their dinner date. Once the man arrived and handed Daniel the check, he happily bounced away, leaving them alone once again. Daniel extracted several large bills from his wallet and placed them into the leather billfold before motioning to the waiter once again. He handed it to him with the instructions to keep the change.

Whatever he wanted to say or planned to say, he withheld it, and waiting for him to try and justify his reasons for having her followed started to chip away at her patience. She glanced down at her watch and drummed her fingers against the table as the long winding, nerve-racking silence continued stretched from seconds to minutes. He appeared to be lost in his own thoughts. Furrowed brows, narrowed eyes and wrinkles permeated his forehead. Her fingers itched to smooth them away.

“That may be true,” Daniel finally responded. He stood, walked around the table to stop in front of her and extended a hand to help her to her feet. Reluctantly, she placed her hand in his and gasped when he pulled her into his arms, trapping her body against his solid frame and the table. He moved his head until his lips hovered only a few inches from hers, “However there are several things you need to understand. One, when we’re in public, you will refrain from raising your voice at me, do you understand?”

Angela nodded, she opened her mouth to respond, but felt her words constricted by the lump in her throat.

“The second thing you need to know is simple, until I can fully trust you, I will do whatever it is I have to do to ensure you don’t take off like you did in high school. If that means having you followed, then so be it.”

Daniel cupped her chin in one hand, slanted his head and seized control of her full pouty lips in a hard, demanding kiss that left her knees buckling and elicited a startled gasp. He used it to his advantage to slip his tongue inside of her hot mouth to mate intimately with hers. The kiss, which started off rough, hurried and with the intensions of making the statement that she belonged to him, began to take another form. His hold on her waist grew softer, encouraging and coaxing her closer to him until their bodies appeared to be merged as one.

Angela whimpered. Her arms glided around his neck and she held him tight as her knees buckled under the weight of the thick haze of desire fogging her judgement. She forgot the nature of their conversation. The only thing she could think about his the taste of his lips, the feel of his body, the tingling sensation along with the flapping of butterflies in the pit of her stomach and the overwhelming pulsating between her legs.

The world continued to spin on its axels, the dizzying feeling she contributed to the potency of their kiss or the lack of oxygen sustaining her lungs and brain. Either way, she refused to remotely entertain the option of taking a breath, if it meant interrupting the glorious moment they were sharing. As if Daniel read her thoughts and wanted to further torture her, he released her, but not before pressing a swift, firm kiss on her lips once again.

Suddenly his harsh words came rushing back with enough force to dampen the blazing desire between them. He didn’t trust her nor would she ever allow herself to trust the man who effortlessly ruined her trust in men; period.

***

Music pulsated through speakers hung on the walls of the hip Mexican restaurant Friday evening. Located in the heart and soul of the U Street Corridor in Washington DC’s historic Shaw, the restaurant, with its addictive food and inviting atmosphere became the designated spot for Angela and Kristen’s bi-weekly Girl’s Night Out.

They could always count on the loud music and swaying bodies gyrating on the make shift dance floor to provide the entertainment they needed to help them escape the prior work week. This Friday was no different. After claiming a table in the lounge area of the restaurant and giving their drink orders to the waiter, Angela inhaled deeply. The tension and frustration of the week ebbed.

A night out with her best friend was definitely needed after dealing with Principal Jones and Daniel, who were both doing a number on her frayed nerves. Each, unwittingly one-upped the other and the winner, by a landslide, was Daniel. Sure they hadn’t seen one another since she watched him pull off from the safety of her window after dinner the other night, and she should’ve felt a sense of relief because of it, but Daniel had an uncanny knack for making his presence felt.

Even when he was over two hundred miles away in Manhattan, after receiving an urgent call from one of his general managers.

First it was the man who knocked on her door the following morning and introduced himself as Robert, her personal driver. And when she tried explaining to him she didn’t need his services and she would take the metro, Robert handed Angela a cellphone. There was no need to guess who was on the other end or question what he wanted at seven in the morning. After listening to him run down a list of reasons why she would get in the car, she was left feeling like a child being scolded.

And as she sat in the crowded restaurant, hoping to finally enjoy her night out, Robert sat behind the wheel of the black SUV, waiting for her.

Then, Daniel had the nerve to all but put her name, address and social security number out for the world to see during his interview on Good Morning U.S.A after the extremely nosy host wanted to know who the special woman in his life was. While he hadn’t actually mentioned her name, he’d given enough information so that those who knew their history, suspected it was her.

The interview had been seen by the entire country, including her mother who called her after it aired wondering if the mystery woman’s identity actually belonged to her daughter.

The one good thing Daniel managed to do while wreaking havoc on her unsuspecting life was to send the first installment for the trip to Madrid, via messenger carrier. Opening the envelope and seeing the check in living color solidified the deal. The Davidson Senior High School Jazz Ensemble would be attending the International Youth and Adolescence Jazz Festival in Madrid, Spain at the end of January. All thanks to Daniel.

“You have a silly grin on your face,” Kristen commented while chewing around a nacho dipped in salsa. “I haven’t seen you smile this much since the band met the President.”

Angela chuckled, “I have a lot to be happy about.” She wanted to shout the news of the trip from the rooftop, but kept it to herself. Although she had the first deposit, she still wanted to have the car wash the next day, just to allow Principal Jones to believe the band was struggling to raise the funds.

“Yes, you do. Did you catch Daniel’s interview this morning?”
Angela shook her head, “No, I had papers to grade this morning.” And even if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have watched it. While driving her to work, Robert asked if she wanted to watch the interview to which she hastily declined.

“Girl, you missed one hell of an interview. Not only was your man looking damn good, but at the mention of his girlfriend, he started to blush. I watched it while in the teacher’s lounge and I swear every woman in there swooned.”

Angela’s eyes grew twice their size. All traces of color ran from her face, causing her skin to appear ashen. Nervously, she fidgeted with the ring of her napkin before she asked, “You didn’t tell them it was me, did you?”

“No,” Kristen replied. “Why? Don’t you want the world to know who you’re dating?”

“It’s not that. We’re still a new couple and I don’t want anyone treating me differently because of him.” The lie easily rolled off her lips and from the bob of Kristen’s head, she accepted it with understanding, much to Angela’s relief.

“I can’t wait until we can go on double dates.”

“Me either.” Angela forced a smile and sighed when the waiter appeared with their drinks and food. She dug right into to spare details of when their outing would happen. He wanted to invite Kristen and Bradford to the dinner at his parents’ house in New York. She, on the other hand, would rather the date didn’t happen at all.

A comfortable silence overtook the table as the friends noisily chewed on their chicken fajitas and tapas. “Ooh, did you hear? The finalists for the Holland Award were posted in the lounge, and your boy made the list.”

The Holland Award was named in honor of one of the teachers at Davidson who contributed years of dedicated service to the school and its students before he unexpectedly passed away. The award was given to the alumnus who upheld the reputation Mr. Holland by giving back to Davidson. Being nominated for the prestigious award was definitely an honor, and Daniel truly deserved it.

“He told me this morning he received word that he as one of five finalist. He’s extremely grateful about it.”

“Good, he should be. The list features him and a couple other people who don’t do nearly as much as Daniel, but one name stood out to me more than Daniel’s.”

Angela frowned, “I know it wasn’t David’s name. So who would make you notice their name over Danny’s?” She laughed loudly when Kristen rolled her eyes at the mention of David, who she claimed to utterly dislike, but Angela wanted to believe otherwise.

“Janelle Thompson.”

Angela’s jaw tightened at the mention of the woman’s name who ruined her friendship and relationship with Daniel. Her eyes narrowed, face hardened into an impassive expression. Fingernails dug into the skin of her hand from the balling of her fists, and depleted her fingers of sufficient blood flow.

Kristen waved a hand in front of her. “Angela? Earth to Angela. Are you okay?”

Momentarily stunned and enraged, Angela snapped from the painful memories associated with Janelle and flashed her best friend a bright smile. “Oh, I’m perfect.” Janelle’s reemergence back into her life could only end in her favor since she had Daniel, if only for six months. And even if Janelle tried to take him back, Daniel wouldn’t be stupid enough to break their agreement, would he? She can try to come between us this time, but I’m not going out without a fight.

 

***

Daniel slouched lower in his chair and groaned loudly enough to cause the petite woman stalking the length of his office to stop, stab her hand on her hip and swerve around so fast, her long blonde hair whipped in her face causing her to stumble slightly before correcting her balance. He hid his amused smirk behind a cough and averted his gaze to focus on the paper in which she’d been reading from.

“I’m sorry this is boring you Daniel, but whether you like it or not, we need to discuss your schedule for the next few weeks.”

He straightened his back, and with a flick of his wrist, sent the paper sailing off his desk to land at her feet. “No offense, Crystal, but I don’t feel like discussing this. At least not right now. I’m not even supposed to be in New York.”

He should’ve been in D.C. preparing for the arrival of Angela into his much exclusive space. The five bedroom condo was massive enough in size and square footage so that he didn’t have to necessarily see her during the day. Especially since she would be at work, but the thought of sleeping beside her nightly made his pulse quicken.

Her scent still lingered with him and made simple tasks like eating and sleeping more difficult than need be. How could he expect himself to focus knowing the woman who owned the powerful aroma would be under his roof and sharing his bed? He couldn’t. He wouldn’t. Ooh, but he wanted to bury his nose in the crook of her neck and inhale that mouth-watering aroma that made him feel less than a man and more like a God.

If he could bottle it and sell it, he would make a killing. Then there was the thought of actually sharing the scent of his woman with anyone else that reminded him of how stingy he truly was. His woman. The words flowed more easily than they needed to. When he spoke about his newfound relationship during his interview, it was like he’d forgotten all about the business arrangement and spoke from the heart. He wanted to tell the world of how he lost contact with the woman of his dreams fifteen years ago, recently found her and rekindled the love they once had.

He’d been doused with freezing cold ice water when he received confirmation that Angela received his delivery. The first payment installment for her students’ trip. This whole scheme he concocted would explode in his face if he didn’t watch himself.

He told himself the reason he’d held her hand at the mall was for the crowds of fans following them, but nothing ever felt so right. Their light-hearted banter, playful shoves and whispered jokes flowed between the two of them like the Nile River.

“Well since you don’t want to discuss your schedule, let’s talk about the fact you’re suddenly in a relationship with someone I’ve yet to meet or see. Let’s discuss that. Who is she?”

Daniel stood. He liked Crystal. Appreciated the amount of work she and Kenneth both put into his career, however, he wouldn’t stand listening to her question him about his love life. He grabbed his briefcase and stuffed the papers on his desk inside. “She is the woman who I’ve loved since the first grade. Everything I told Rachel during our interview is the truth.”

“But when did this happen?” She glanced over to Kenneth, who also stood and began packing his bag, for help, but received a shrug of his shoulders.

Daniel chuckled inwardly. Kenneth would surely hear it from Crystal about not having her back on this, and he hated to put his friend in the dog house, but for this topic, it was worth it. He yanked his jacket from the chair and glanced at his watch. “Crys, it’s relatively new. We reunited after fifteen years.” Slipping his arms into the jacket, he zipped it and exhaled sharply. “If you want to meet her, you and Kenny can do so at my parents’ house on Sunday.”

This garnered Kenneth’s attention and for the first time during the impromptu meeting, he spoke. “You’re inviting us to Mama Knight’s house? For dinner? Oh yeah! I’m in there like swimwear.”

Daniel grimaced then howled with laughter at Kenneth’s failed attempt to sound cool. He doubled over in pain from laughing and grabbed his midsection with one hand and swiped the tears from the corners of his eyes. Once sobered, Daniel sighed with a silly grin on his face.

“Don’t ever say that again,” he instructed Kenneth with a chuckle. “No one says ‘in there like swimwear’. But yeah, you’re both invited. My family will be there and I’m pretty sure there will be fireworks.”

Crystal scoffed, “Fireworks? Why?”

Daniel flashed her a tight-lipped grin and bobbed his eyebrows. “Because my family doesn’t know who I’m dating and they haven’t seen her in fifteen years.”


Chapter FIVE

Saturday evening, as the sun began to descend, blazing the evening sky with glowing embers of red and orange, Angela walked into her new home. She gasped aloud at the sheer elegance and magnitude of Daniel’s condo in the historic Washington, D.C. neighborhood of Foggy Bottom. He definitely didn’t over-exaggerate the condo’s size when he spoke about it on the ride from her aunt’s place.

Huge, regal looking white double doors, gave the entryway an opulent feel with its golden handles, knobs and gold trim that opened into the spacious foyer. In the center of the trey ceilings hung a chandelier. Crystals, ranging in different shapes and sizes, cascaded down the sides and illuminated the room in a delicate halo of dazzling light. The walls, adorned with paintings more fit to be in an art museum than someone’s home, were painted in the softest shade of gray she’d ever seen. Stark white crown molding framed large squares around the art work creating the perfect frame as well as along the baseboard. The floors were a gleaming white granite.

Angela dropped the bag she’d been carrying at her feet and slowly twirled in a circle, taking in the entire room. “I’ve died and gone to real estate heaven.” She turned to face Daniel, who simply smiled at her. “Did you decorate this place yourself?”

“Yep. Although I’m only leasing it with the option to buy, I was given the option by the owner to do some decorating. It pays when the owner is your father,” he chuckled, lifting the bag she dropped at her feet and slung it over his shoulders. “For the most part, I loved the place the way it was, but I did make a few cosmetic changes.”

Her eyes grew large. “Your dad owns this building.” She once read Dominico Knight—Daniel and David’s father, happened to be one of the world’s most successful real estate tycoons with developments all over the world. Whether commercial or residential, his properties were featured on television shows, in movies, and seen on the pages of numerous magazines. Although she’d never met him personally because it had been presumed Dominico was killed in a car accident before learning about the conception of his children, from reading the articles on him, his love for his family floated off the pages.

“He does. You’ll get a chance to meet him tomorrow at dinner.”

She placed her hand on her hip and stared incredulously at Daniel, raising a questioning eyebrow. “Tomorrow?”

Daniel mentioned Sunday dinner at his parents’ house earlier in the week, but surely he’d been joking, right? She couldn’t meet his family. Not now. Not after his betrayal forced her to run away without saying goodbye to Kimberly Knight, the woman who’d been like a second mother to her, and David, her former best friend and play brother. Her disappearing act, at the time, had been done without thinking of the other relationships she would ruin in the process.

She didn’t have the heart to walk into his parents’ home and pretend the last fifteen years never happened or lie about the reason she left without an explanation when Daniel didn’t know the truth. Angela’s stomach churned.

Daniel nodded slowly. “I told you every other Sunday mom expects David and me to attend dinner at the house unless the circumstances are extreme.”

“You don’t think the circumstances aren’t extreme, Daniel? I haven’t seen your family in fifteen years!” She threw her hands in the air, pushed her unruly curls back from her face and closed her eyes.

“You haven’t seen my family in fifteen years because of something you did. Not me. So no, the circumstances aren’t considered extreme.”

“I did?” Angela scoffed, the truth perched on the tip of her tongue. What she wouldn’t give to tell Daniel what happened between them could never be her fault. He would always be the one to blame.

He took her suitcase through the archway, into an open concept living room, then turned slightly. “There are two master bedroom suites located on either side of the upstairs landing. Yours is to the right. Mine to the left.”

Confused, Angela followed, stopping short of where he stood. “Wait, are we not sharing rooms? You said—”

“I know exactly what I said, Angela,” he gritted between clenched teeth. “I don’t need you to remind me. However, for now you staying in your own room will be our sleeping arrangement.” He grabbed the handle of her suitcase and stalked through the space. “Now, if you’ll follow me, I can get your belongings to your room and begin dinner while you unpack.”

Angela folded her arms beneath her breasts and rolled her head. “Actually, what you can do is put my items down so I can take my things to my room on my own.” Luckily the move had been pain and hassle free since she didn’t own any furniture and only moved her clothing, computers and a few musical composition books. She didn’t need Daniel or even want his help; at least not for the task of moving. She would do it on her own.

He loosened his death grip on the handle of her suitcase, dropping the bag containing her books, and tossed his hands in the air. “Fine, handle it yourself. Dinner’s at eight. I expect you to be seated in the dining room by then.”

“You are so childish and petty, Daniel Antonio Knight.” She snatched the bag off the granite floors, shuffled past him—the bag draped on her shoulders to brush him, and stomped off to her room. The bedroom door slammed behind her.

Daniel cringed as the opened space of the living room seemingly intensified the slamming of Angela’s bedroom door. The urge to take the steps two at a time and burst inside her room to inform her not to slam doors in his house crept over him, but he stopped at the foot of the stairs. She wasn’t his rambunctious adolescent child with an attitude. “More like a pain in my—”

He shook his head and grudgingly trudged through the living room, decorated to compliment his contemporary style while presenting a modern flair. Flopped down on the plush leather couch and buried his head in his large hands. It’s only six months, a voice reminded him, six long, painful, excruciating months. Six months of inhaling her scent, seeing her smile, hearing her voice and wanting her.

Daniel pushed himself off the couch. He needed to get his mind off Angela and fast. The drive from her aunt’s southeast apartment served more like torture than anything. Being confined to the car; listening to her as she happily chatted about the success of the band’s car wash practically drove him insane. And because of the unusually cold temperatures, opening the window to rid his car of its perfect woman smell would’ve left Angela looking at him like he’d lost his mind.

During the drive, he kept the conversation to a minimum. He wanted to get to the condo in one piece, not watch the dimples form in her cheeks, or see the crinkle at the corners of her eyes whenever she threw her head back and the melodious, infectious sound of her laughter filled the interior of his car. He couldn’t wait until the car they picked out for her together was delivered so she wouldn’t have to ride with him any longer.

In a sense, he wanted to rid himself of her, but couldn’t stomach the thought of being without her. Blindly, he grabbed the ingredients for one of his favorite dishes and placed the items on the kitchen island. Casually, Daniel sauntered into the wine cellar off the kitchen, which held almost five-hundred bottles of wine, selected the perfect bottle of wine to accompany the meal and placed it within the cooler. He thought his decision to make her his hostess for the next six months would be one that would bring shame and even humiliation to her, but he couldn’t treat her any differently than he did when they were younger. Expect when the subject was her leaving.

He slammed the bowl of sauce he held on the counter. The angry red sauce splattered across the countertop of the kitchen island. Rather than clean the mess, he slumped against the stainless steel dishwasher and heaved a noisy sigh. What would it take to push the thought of her leaving him from his mind? He didn’t know, but would pay a million dollars or more to find out the answer.

He’d finally ridded his mind of the voice belonging to her former neighbor, from his head. Still the vision of the man glancing over the overgrown bushes of her former childhood home and telling him Angela and her family moved earlier that day was stuck in his mind. It was the day he planned to ask her to become his wife.

He was constantly reminded of the darkened house he arrived to at seven o’clock on the dot to escort her to the dance. He’d sat on her porch until the soothing lights of dawn stretched across the morning sky; well past his curfew. He didn’t even want to think of the trouble he’d gotten in when he arrived home close to noon, after making a detour with David, to a tattoo parlor in the artsy and culturally diverse neighborhood of Adams Morgan.

He fingered the lines of the tattoo, etched in his skin over his heart, through his t-shirt. A groan escaped him when the recognizable twinge of guilt shot from the top of his head to the soles of his feet. They were both equally affected by what happened between them, and maybe he needed to learn to be more patient in dealing with their issues.

Daniel began the tedious task of returning his kitchen back to the spotless, immaculate state in which the housekeeper left it and finish dinner but was stopped by the ringing of his house phone. He rolled his eyes as he strolled over to the phone, mentally preparing himself for the barrage of questions he would undoubtedly receive once he answered the phone. For the briefest millisecond, he contemplated on allowing the call to go to the voicemail, but instead pressed the speakerphone button.

“Hey mom, how are you and dad? How were grandma and grandpa?”

He continued to move around the kitchen, gathered cleaning supplies, while awaiting his mother’s response about the trip she and his father took to the family’s vineyards in Italy to visit his grandparents and uncle. “Everyone’s great Daniel. They’re extremely excited about spending the holidays with the family here in New York this year, but if you wanted to know how everyone was doing, you could call them yourself and not rely on me to tell you or try to distract me from the real reason I’m calling.”

Daniel palmed his forehead and turned to face the phone, lifting it from the receiver. “I’m not trying to distract you, mom. I truly want to know.” He slid into the chair at the kitchen island and cradled the phone between his ear and shoulder, his voice deflated as he continued softly, “But since you believe I’m capable of distracting you, what’s the real reason you called since talking about your trip obviously isn’t it.” He pressed his lips together to hold back a chuckle.

Kimberly Knight sucked her teeth loudly, “When you were younger, that would’ve worked. Not now and you know why I’m calling Daniel.”

Of course he did. Chances were his mother hadn’t even unpacked the two weeks’ worth of clothing and other items she crammed into her suitcase and carry-on bag. Knowing his aunts and the uppity and extremely nosey members of the White Rose Society, one of Manhattan’s top and prestigious high society clubs, his mother knew all about his interview with Rachel on Good Morning U.S.A.

He decided to play dumb. “I don’t, mom. Like I mentioned, I thought you were calling to tell me you and dad were back.”

She gave an unladylike snort, “Right… Well, I would have called to inform you that we made it back safely over an hour ago, if my phone wasn’t ringing off the hook since the moment I stepped on American soil. Do you know why my phone was ringing?”

Daniel stifled a groan and tried to hide the annoyance in his voice, “No.”

“I received several phone calls from Alana Davenport’s mother who said you embarrassed her daughter by stating the only reason you went out with her was because we knew one another. She mentioned how poor Alana has been in her room, crying her eyes out because she can’t step foot in public without someone who knows her asking about the comments.”

In the background, his father’s thick accented English broke through the silence to chastise his wife for listening to her nosey friends. Daniel coughed violently to hide his amusement.

“I’m sorry Daniel, you think something’s funny?”

He sobered quickly, “No ma’am.”

“Good and I don’t care what your father says. These women are still my friends—” she paused, “Ok, they aren’t really my friends per se, but I still see them, including Alana’s mother almost daily. I truly understand that you weren’t interested in her, but did you have to tell the media?”

Indignant, Daniel admonished himself for answering the phone. “No ma’am, I didn’t, but in my defense Alana—” he stopped talking when in the background his father informed his mother of how Alana leaked the email Daniel sent her to the press.

“While I don’t condone her actions, I’m not responsible for her. What she did was classless. I’m responsible for you, Daniel. And why would you send her an email anyway?”

Because I didn’t want to have to listen to her nasally whine over the phone or remotely be in the same room with her.

“And who is this woman you’re dating?”

Daniel smiled at the change of subject. This was the reason he’d been expecting his mother’s phone call. He couldn’t wait to hear what she had to say about his relationship or the interview. Angela might be sweating bullets concerning meeting his family again after so long, however, the thought of allowing his mother to see the one woman who she’d never stopped loving back in his life meant a lot. It also meant he would no longer be subjected to random dates with women only interested in his wealth and celebrity status for the time being.

“Mom, I’m dating an amazing beautiful, and smart woman that you actually know.” He’d feed her curiosity for now because doing so was so much fun.

“I know her? Hmmm and who is she?”

He smiled to himself. “It’s a surprise.” At her groan, he rushed to add, “But I’m bringing her to dinner tomorrow.”

“Really? So you don’t mind if I invite your aunts, uncles, and cousin then?”

“No, actually I planned to call you to ask if you could invite them. I also invited Kenneth and Crystal, since they would both like to meet her along with two more friends of mine. Hope you don’t mind.”

Daniel turned the burner down and walked through the house towards his office where he opened his briefcase and extracted the file Stefano sent him n Angela. He flipped through the pages to find exactly the information he needed.

“Not at all,” Kimberly replied. “Dinner will start at seven. I expect for you to be there on time, Daniel.”

“Trust me mom, I will.”

After ending the call with his mother, Daniel made one last call before leaning back in his chair, with a triumphant smile. Sooner or later he would find out why Angela left without telling him. Since she didn’t want to tell him why, there were two other people in their lives he would gladly ask, whether she liked it or not.

***

Angela paced the carpeted floor of the Gulfstream jet while it soared amongst the clouds. The plane’s impressive interior design did nothing to take away the fluttering of the butterflies she felt in the pit of her stomach. Nor did it stop the racing of her heart against her rib cage. The cabin, designed in a black and white with tan accents, spoke of luxury. A posh lifestyle she would never get the chance to get accustomed too.

The black, plush leather chair she vacated after the plane safely reached its cruising altitude, felt more like a throne. A white marbled tabletop separated her from the two chairs across from hers. Behind the last row of club chairs were two black and white davenport sofas and a door she found herself curious to know where it led.

Her fingers worked through her curly hair. She gnawed on her lower lip which was painfully raw from the amount of time she spent chewing on it since she arose that morning. The Sunday afternoon sky matched the emotions brewing deep inside her and foretold of late afternoon storms. Hopefully they would be safely on the ground in New York City before the rain started.

She glanced over at Daniel and fought the urge to kick his chair or slap him upside his head. After their quiet dinner last night, she retreated to her bedroom to finish unpacking and tackle the grueling task of grading papers and preparing for class on Monday. During breakfast, they’d barely spoken more than a handful of sentences. He was sitting back in his chair relaxing while listening to music and reading only God knew what. He was also ignoring her like he didn’t tell her that his mother invited his extended family to the dinner, which included his famous aunts and uncles.

Now was definitely not the time to be reading after dropping news of that magnitude on her. The unwavering thought of stalking over to him, snatching the offending book from his hands, and flushing it down the nearest toilet didn’t seem like such a bad idea. If only she knew the location of the bathroom. Which brought her back to what was behind the mystery door. Her thoughts were all over the place and she couldn’t help but blame Daniel.

Angela paused momentarily, cut her eyes at Daniel, and then began to pace the floor again. She wondered how in the hell she got herself into the mess she was currently knee deep in. She didn’t have to go over the long list in her head to know what she’d done to find herself flying to New York City to meet her boyfriend’s parents, brother, cousins, aunts and uncles. Hell, all that was missing from the circus of a dinner was the mayor of New York City, a couple of athletes and why not throw in the First Family for good measure.

What did I ever do to deserve this punishment, Lord? I’ve been nothing but a good person, a good woman!

She gave Daniel a scathing look, but he continued to ignore her. Why was it so easy for him to relax when she felt she was close to dying? Why was he at ease over Sunday dinner while she spent the entire night tossing and turning in her California king bed?

Not one to be ignored, she noisily plopped in the chair right beside Daniel, her elbow jabbed his rib cage. She sighed and groaned loudly while fighting for a comfortable position. Once achieved, she picked the tan throw pillow off the seat and punched it repeatedly, envisioning Daniel’s head as the soft, plump fabric, before tucking it behind her head.

Daniel smirked, placed the opened magazine on his lap and turned to face Angela with a raised brow. “If you’re pretending the pillow is my face, I’m glad you had sense to beat that instead of the actual thing.” He tilted his head slightly and winked. “I don’t think my fans would be happy with you ruining my good looks because you’re so ill-tempered.”

Angela bolted from her seat and glared angrily at Daniel. Her nostrils flared as wildly as the breaths she struggled to take in. “Ill-tempered? Have you lost your damn mind? I am not ill-tempered. You’re sitting there like I am not about to walk into the lion’s den.”

“Actually,” Daniel motioned for her to return to her seat, to which she did hesitantly. “You are walking into the lion’s den. The only difference is that, you have the one and only Daniel by your side.”

“And how is that supposed to help me? The tone of her question filled with apprehension.

He took her hands in his and kissed the backs of them. “Contrary to what you believe, I would never put you in a situation I didn’t think you could handle. You believe my mother and brother hate you. They don’t. They both still love you. There are pictures of us all over the house.”

“Really?”

Daniel nodded, “You don’t have anything to worry about, baby. I promise.” He released one of her hands. Angela shuttered as his fingers gently caressed her face, and then cupped her chin to make her look him in the deep abyss of his eyes. She noticed the sincere expression pooled in them and relaxed for the first time that morning.

“But thee Carolyn Knight-Smith is your aunt. Famous designer, married to a famous actor.” Angela lifted her legs and removed the royal blue stiletto heels she was wearing. “These shoes were designed by her, Danny and so is that purse.” She pointed to her oversize handbag. “Theresa Kennedy-Knight, one of the world’s most famous African American supermodels and best friend of Carolyn Knight-Smith is your aunt by marriage.”

“My zias are both down to Earth.” He pulled her legs into his lap, removed the second stiletto heel and slowly began kneading the balls of her feet.

Angela scoffed at Daniel’s perfect Italian and groaned once his hands traveled higher to massage her ankles and calf muscles. “Your aunts may be down to Earth, but they’re still famous. On top of having to get back into the good graces of your mother and David, I have to make the father who I was told was dead, happy. Also get your cousins to like me, although one knows more about me than my own parents do, and look like a million dollars for your world famous fashionista aunts.”

“You look fine.” He buckled her seatbelt when the stewardess returned from the cockpit to tell them they would be landing shortly.

“You’re tossing pretty words at me to get me to calm down, filling me with compliments.”

Daniel cupped her chin. “No, I’m not. You look absolutely beautiful and if this flight were longer, I would have made you a proud member of the Mile High Club.” He motioned, with his head, to the closed door. “It’s a good thing the bedroom is soundproof too.” He lowered his lips until the warmth of his breath fanned the shell of her ear. “That way no one would hear all the unladylike words that I would have you screaming.”

***

It was just after six in the evening when the phantom black Rolls Royce came to a stop in the Tribeca section of New York City. Angela stepped onto the curb and immediately her eyes went to the towering glass building in front of her. She exhaled a swift breath and leaned back as far as she could to take in the sheer magnitude of the place Daniel once called home for a short while, after graduating high school.

As they traveled from the private airfield where they landed over forty minutes ago, Daniel spoke about his life after high school. She expressed displeasure in finding out minutes before the scheduled dinner, but was relieve to learn the information behind the privacy of a tinted partition. They were also able to work out details of their reunion she was sure Daniel’s mother and brother would want to know, except the one detail even Daniel failed to know; why she left.

Daniel wrapped a reassuring arm around her as he ushered her pass the uniformed doorman, Norman, stopping only for a second to speak with him before sweeping her across the lobby to a bank of elevators.

“Danny, I don’t think I can do this.”

He turned to face her, took her hands in his and nestled her against the solid wall of his chest. “Yes you can. Everything will go fine. We talked about everything already.” He flashed a confident smile.

Vehemently, she shook her head and stepped from his embrace, missing the warmth radiating from him. “It’s not what you think. We rehearsed, I get it, but what happens when someone asks why I left without telling you.”

His body grew stiff. An emotion akin to anger and hurt flashed in his eyes. “You tell them the truth.”

“I can’t tell them the truth, Daniel. You don’t even know why I left.”

Daniel glanced around the lobby before taking Angela’s hand in his and leading her to a quiet corner away from the hustle and bustle of the room. “Ok then tell me. Why did you leave?”

“No Daniel. Not here. Not now.” While her conscious screamed at her to finally get it off her chest, her heart couldn’t bear the thought of knowing he’d gone back to Janelle because he no longer wanted to be with her. But you have to tell him sooner or later. She picked the latter. Daniel would find out, but on her terms. Not now, when she was already dealing with a truckload of emotions at the thought of seeing his family once again.

“Then when, Angie? I’m trying to be patient, but it seems whatever the reason you left is weighing heavy on your mind. Each time we mention it, we argue. Tell me this, were you pregnant when you left?”

“What!” Angela barked. Her voice echoed along the high ceilings of the lobby and turned the heads of several residents milling about.

“Lower your voice,” Daniel gritted through clenched teeth. “I’m just asking a question. Yes or no. Were you pregnant?”

“No I wasn’t pregnant. We may have been young, but we weren’t dumb, Danny. Besides, even if the condom failed, I was on the pill to regulate my monthly cycle.”

“Oh,” was all he said. He took her hand and led her to the elevators again, and pressed the button to signal the lift. Upon its arrival, Angela stepped on it and walked to the furthest corner away from Daniel. She wrapped her arm around her midsection to ward off the sudden guilt clawing away at her, chipping away at the inner peace she tried so hard to maintain.

“Angie, look at me.”

Slowly she turned to face him and felt her heart drop from her chest to the space in front of her. His long, jet black hair was pulled back in a man bun at the center of his head, and black, rectangular frames sat perched at the tip if his angular nose.

“There’s nothing to worry about. Everything will go fine, I promise you.” He extended his hand and pulled her in his arms. “If all else fails, and you feel like you don’t know what to say, think about how you used to feel about me. At one point in time, we use to love each other, right?” He chuckled softly and placed a lingering kiss on her forehead.

The elevator car bumped to a stop, however, neither moved away from the other. Angela buried her nose in the center of his chest and filled her nose with the scent of his cologne; some expensive brand she told herself she needed to find the name of.

“Well isn’t this a touching moment.” A voice laced with amusement said from behind them. Angela jumped out of Daniel’s arms, her eyes landing on a pair equally as dark as the man next to her. He smiled, flashing the twin pair of dimples in his cheeks. She swallowed hard, instantly recognizing the man, though he was oblivious to her identity.

Daniel laughed. He grabbed his brother and threw his arms around David’s body, slapping him several times with a heavy hand, as they greeted one another. “Where’s everyone?”

Though fraternal twins, both David and Daniel carried similar characteristics, such as their jet black hair, although David wore his curly hair closely cropped to his head. They also shared the same café au lait complexion and soot black eyes.

“The real question is where they aren’t? Everyone is scattered around the house. Mom’s in the kitchen cooking dinner while refusing help from everyone. Not even Aunt Carolyn or Aunt Theresa are allowed in there. Dad, Uncle Wellington, Uncle Rafaele and Kenneth are in the den, watching sports. Giovanni, Stefano, and Lorenzo are on the balcony.” He lowered his voice and hid his hand behind his mouth, “And before you ask, Giovanni’s assistant, Valencia is here. She’s with Crystal, Aunt Theresa and Aunt Carolyn.”

Angela cringed at the amount of people named. Wellington Smith, husband of Carolyn Knight Smith, was a famous African American actor and director. Rafaele Knight, ran one of the country’s most prestigious law firms. Then there was the fact she would be meeting his cousin, the private investigator who knew almost everything there was to know about her life. She sighed and questioned if she could somehow get out of her current predicament.

Daniel turned with a smile and held out his hand. “David, I want you to meet someone.” He took her hand, pulled her beside him and kissed her on her cheek. “This is my girlfriend.”

The smile on David’s face evaporated as his eyes locked on her and narrowed with confusion brimming in them. He looked over to Daniel, who still wore a stupid smile on his face, then down to their joint hands, and finally back to her.

Angela swiped a tear from the corner of her eye, her lips trembled. With a shaky voice, she breathed, “Hi Davie.”

David gave a startled gasp, his mouth hung open. His cellphone slipped from his hands and bounce against the tiled floor of the elevator. Recognition set in. His eyes widened to twice their size. He took a tentative step towards her. “Angela Peterson?”

Chapter SIX

Angela launched herself into David’s arms and laced them around his broad shoulders while locking her fingers together. She felt her body easily being lifted off the ground and twirled several times before her feet slid onto the high glossy, tiled floor. Though back on solid ground, she continued to cling to him, the tears she told herself not to shed, flowed freely from her eyes and over her rounded cheeks to land in the valley between her breasts.

She choked back a sob when David slowly released her. His almost midnight black eyes roamed over her body in a friendly perusal to take in the changes she went through over time, before pulling her back into his embrace. Had they been Daniel’s eyes, she surely would have begun to feel the tingle of desire in her core; something she was feeling increasingly more and more whenever he was in her presence. Staying mad at him wouldn’t help. She’d tried doing so when she finally came from her room, purposely twenty minutes after the time Daniel instructed her to be at the table the night before.

In her mind, she was looking for a fight, but as it seemed, Daniel was all out of it. Instead of being the overbearing, rude, jerk, he portrayed when they first arrived at the condo, he’d become reserve and quiet. Two traits she normally would have never used to describe Daniel.

Finally, David released her and thumbed the tears from her eyes. “You still look the same, Angie.”

“So you do,” Angela replied, running her fingers through his hair and smiling. “Still keeping it short, I see.”

“Yeah, no one wants to look like a wild, untamed beast.” He motioned to Daniel.

“I may look like an untamed beast,” Daniel replied, playfully slapping at David and dodged when he returned the gesture, which started a slap boxing fight between the brothers, “But your best friend thinks I’m sexy. Don’t you, Angie?” He tossed her a wink.

A sharp, startled gasp left her mouth at the same time a dark crimson blush stained her rounded cheeks. Her eyes widened and snapped between Daniel and David, finally landing on Daniel and narrowed. He would embarrass her when he already knew exactly how she was feeling about the dinner. She gritted her teeth to stop the smart retort on her lips or the urge to hastily agree with his over-confident statement.

She opened her mouth to respond, but closed it as words failed her. Luckily, Daniel and David both broke out in an infectious laughter that ended the uncomfortable moment. Daniel placed his hand on the small of her back and led her off the elevator. High vaulted ceilings and crystal chandeliers every few feet down the long hallway. Family photos that displayed the Knight family throughout the years lined the white walls.

Large floor to ceiling windows, covered with heavy gold and white draped curtains pinned and held to the side, allowed natural light to flow into the space. The floors were white marble with specks of gold in them.

She expected nothing else but a grandiose home from Kimberly Knight. It looked like it should’ve been featured on a television show that focused on the homes of the wealthy and elite. Even the home Daniel and David lived in while younger had been decorated to fit a lifestyle they only wished to achieve, and on a budget. She was unsure of how the single mother working two jobs had done it, but she admired Kimberly for her tenacious spirit and will to make sure her children’s lives were better than the one she had.

Laughter floated from a room beyond the archway at the end of the hall, followed by the sound of jubilant voices; male and female. She turned to face Daniel, concern etched on her face, her eyebrow raised slightly in question. From the level of the noise, it sounded like a party was being held, only difference was, Angela didn’t want to party. She wanted to go home, or back to Daniel’s condo, and hide out in her room, grading papers or writing music.

“I thought you said everyone was scattered,” Daniel questioned. He lightly brushed his lips across the backs of Angela’s hands.

David shrugged, “I thought they were.” He glanced down at his watch then back to Daniel. “It’s a quarter till. Chances are they’re waiting for you two.”

“Well then, let give them something to talk about.”

Angela silently said a prayer as she allowed Daniel to lead her through a large archway which opened into a grand, formal living room decorated in the same white and gold color scheme as the hall they exited. The loud gasp that tumbled from her lips drew the attention of the room’s occupants, whose seating was divided over three white French tufted salon sofas with gold trim situated beneath a large gold and crystal chandelier that hung over the center of the room. Two French Louis XVI Style gold trimmed chairs were against the wall next to a floor to ceiling door that was opened to the wrap around terrace.

Mouths hung opened, eyes bulged and the room grew eerily quiet. Finally after an unnerving, lengthy silence, Daniel took a step forward. “Well hello beautiful family.”

No one said a word. They continued to gawk in silence.

Angela stepped behind Daniel, hoping to shield the unwarranted attention, but continued to feel the stares.

Daniel groaned, “Oh don’t pretend you don’t know who I am or even who David is.”

Carolyn Knight-Smith took step forward, “Oh hush your face, Daniel. No one’s focused on you.” She walked over to Daniel, scooting him out the way when he opened his arms to hug her and reached behind him to take Angela’s hand and pull her into her warm, yet firm embrace. “Hello Angela. It’s finally nice to meet you.” She placed a faint kiss on Angela’s cheek and smiled, holding her at arm’s length.

Daniel murmured, sarcastically, “Gee, thanks aunt Cee. Nice to know I’m welcomed in my own home.”

Angela’s eyes widened to size of saucers and her stomach lurched upward. Carolyn Knight-Smith knows who I am? A part of her wanted to jump for joy, while the other part, the most dominating part of her—fear—told her to run and hide, but as if she knew and read Angela’s thoughts, Carolyn’s grasp tightened around Angela’s wrists. She pulled her over to a stop in front of the family.

“Oh sweetie, don’t be surprised. Of course we know who you are. You’re only the most talked about woman amongst this generation of Knight Men. Besides, you still look the same like you did when you were younger.”

Why was she the most talked about woman of the current generation, she wanted to ask, but refrained from speaking. Her mind was unable to process the current events of the evening. She was talked about, for whatever reasons. Angela glanced over to Daniel, but his gaze was locked on his aunt.

Theresa Kennedy-Knight stepped forward and wrapped her long, graceful arms around Angela’s frame. In person, Theresa’s beauty rivaled that of every supermodel to grace the runways of Paris, Milan, and New York City. Her flawless, sienna brown skin glowed beneath the light of the chandelier. “You probably think we’re crazy that we know all about you, but we’re not. Trust us. It’s because of the Knight Family curse.”

“Knight Family curse,” Angela repeated. Daniel continued to avoid eye contact.

Carolyn divided a look between her and Daniel before settling her attention on Angela. “So, I guess Daniel hasn’t told you about the Knight Family curse. The men in the Knight Family tend to lose the women they love. It’s something that has happened with every generation of Knight Men.”

“Okay,” Daniel interrupted. He took Angela’s hand in his and prevented Theresa and Carolyn from continuing whatever it was they were saying. Angela wanted to stop him; she wanted to hear more about the curse that plagued the men of the family for generations, however, Daniel obviously wanted to keep whatever it was a secret. She made a mental note to ask him or his aunts about the family curse and her part in it, if she had a part. “I want you to meet my family. You know Aunt Theresa and Aunt Carolyn.” He maneuvered her around his aunt and continued to introduce her to everyone in the room.

Each of the family members she met treated her as if she they’d known her for years. They embraced and welcomed her with opened arms and no judgement. She could get use to this; however, she refused to do so. No matter what she truly wanted, Daniel’s family would never be hers. After six months, they would go their separate ways and she would more than likely never see his extended family again.

Finally, the man she waited weeks to meet stepped forward. Stefano Knight-Smith; the man who knew everything there was to know about her. The urge to go upside his head a couple of times presented itself, but instead of popping him for going through her personal files and delivering them to Daniel, she tried to remain cordial.

“It’s nice to finally meet you, Angela, I’ve heard a lot about you.”

Of course you have, you know everything there is to know about me. She forced a smile, took his proffered hand in hers and lied to the masses about how anxious she was to meet him after hearing a lot about him also, to which he and Daniel visibly seemed to shrink less than half their size. Needless to the say, the family didn’t know Stefano’s meddling and prying brought her and Daniel back together. In a way, she’d been forced and blackmailed, into a relationship.

She continued to stare at Stefano and Daniel, the fascination to expose them both and everything they put her through would put her mind at ease, however, her verbal agreement with Daniel put a damper in her plans.

“Alright,” Daniel said, moving beside Angela. He wrapped his arms around her waist as if to remind her of their agreement, “Where’s mom and is pops, Uncle Wells and Uncle Rafaele still in the den?”

Daniel held back the smile he knew was minutes, if not seconds away from showing itself as he stalked towards the kitchen after he went to speak to his father and two uncles, who were hidden away in the media room watching football on one of the large projection screens. He needed to go ruffle his mother’s feathers. Making Kimberly Knight angry was one of the things he did best besides cooking.

He couldn’t wait to see the look on her face when she walked into the living room and saw Angela. No, he couldn’t wait to see the look on his mother’s face as well as Angela’s when they both saw the special guests he invited. Then again… Angela response to his aunts scared him, so seeing who he invited— to get the answers he felt he needed could end badly.

He paused outside of the kitchen’s entryway and shook his head. Regardless of the dinner’s outcome, if he did or didn’t get the information he so desperately craved and deserved after so long, reintroducing Angela to his family once again was a reward within itself. He knew he and Angela would go their separate ways after the time elapsed, and maybe a small part of him wanted to hold onto the memories. Holding onto resentment towards Angela for leaving like she did should have been easier, but for the life of him, he couldn’t manage to do so.

He needed to keep his feelings for Angela at bay. Seeing her, breathing in her scent, living with her, if only for a day, and touching her were all things that would get him in trouble. Until he discovered the reason she left, he refused to believe a word she said.

Why was it so hard to forget about the love he once had for her and replace it with the bitterness he felt when he arrived at her house on that evening only to discover she no longer lived there? He sauntered into the kitchen, the lingering thoughts of the betrayal he suffered disappeared at the sight of his mother, standing with her back turned to him, a lovely vision of style and grace in royal blue. There was a determined hunch in her shoulders, stiffness in her spine as she arranged several vases of flowers in front of the stainless steel sink.

“Hey ma,” Daniel sung, sweeping further into the kitchen until he stopped next to Kimberly’s five foot three inch frame. He made a show of bending slightly at the knees and placed a kiss on her cheek. “Those are beautiful.” He said of the arrangement of roses and calla lilies Kimberly worked on diligently.

“Thank you, sweetie.” She glanced over his head and then brought her eyes back to her youngest son. “You’re just in time. Dinner’s ready, but I wanted to add an arrangement to the table. I almost thought you wouldn’t show; you and your girlfriend.” He couldn’t help but laugh inwardly at the cynicism in her tone. “I can’t wait to meet the woman that has your nose wide opened. You’re actually talking about being in a relationship to the media when you barely mention your family unless asked and even then it always seems like the interviewer is pulling teeth to get your thoughts of what myself, David, your father or anyone else is doing.”

She was right, though he hated the way in which she spoke the truth. Daniel refused to ride the coattails of his family’s name to achieve his success. Though miniscule to some, he prided himself on making his dreams come true without tarnishing the Knight name, or using the fame of the generations before him to capitalize fame and wealth.

“Well mom,” Daniel started; however, he quickly clamped his mouth shut when a high pitch scream echoed from the other room. He instantly recognized it as Angela’s and took off running, the clicking of Kimberly’s heels on the floor followed closely behind. Upon reaching the other room, he stopped so abruptly, his mother collided with his back, with a resounding smack

In the center of the room, Angela stood, surrounded by his family, including his dad and uncles, but those beautiful brown eyes he’d come to love weren’t filled with joy or happiness at being welcomed by the Knight family, emotions he’d caught a glimmer of when he introduced her to his family. No, they were filled with panic and fear and etched on the doorway. Teeth, made perfect with the help from years of wearing braces, chewed on her lower lip, a sign he easily recognized as nervousness from his former girlfriend.

He tore his gaze away from hers to follow her line of vision, a smirk played on his lip when his eyes connected on his two special guests. The petite frame of his mother lightly brush his. She walked into the room. Her attention divided between Angela and the shocked faces of the couple who also moved into the room.

“Angela?” Kimberly breathed on a sigh.

The dam burst, tears poured from behind the closed eyelids of Angela. Her body shook with the force of a small earthquake. Sob after sob pierced the stunned room. With a few long strides, Daniel made it to Angela’s side. Her knees buckled under the sheer weight of her emotions. Her body slumped towards the ground, before Daniel wrapped an arm protectively around her, to bring her flush against his.

The vase of intricately arranged flowers, Daniel hadn’t noticed his mother held, slipped from her hold. In slow motion, it spiraled towards the marble floor. The crystal vase shattered into a million tiny pieces. Water flowed through the shards of glass in every imaginable direction. Broken stems of red roses, white Asiatic Lilies, carnations, and an assortment of lush greenery scattered on the floor.

Daniel held Angela to him, her head rested against the drumming of his heart. Dominico, who’d pulled his wife into his arms and out of harm’s way when the flowers fell from her hands, laid with his body shielding Kimberly’s on one of the couches. Bewildered, confused stares from his family caused an uneasy feeling to creep down his spine. He shuttered, but forced a smile as he released Angela and turned to face his parents.

“I guess the cat’s out the bag,” he chuckled, nervously. “Mom, dad, I’d like for you to meet my girlfriend, Angela Peterson. And those,” he used his free hand to motion to the couple standing in the archway with confused expressions mirroring those of his family, “are her parents, but I’m sure I can spare that introduction, mom.”

***

Angela nervously glanced around, taking in the faces of the room’s occupants and chewed thoughtfully on her lower lip. She closed her eyes and willed herself to breathe or run the risk of fainting into her salad. Daniel’s hand on her knee didn’t allow her frazzled and warped brain to fully understand the signal. Though the tender caresses were meant to soothe, she couldn’t fight her body’s traitorous reaction to being near him. Her mind screamed at him to stop, however, certain parts of her body boldly encouraged him to continue.

She stuffed a forkful of lettuce into her mouth and took another sip of her wine. If she didn’t slow down on the consumption of the zesty white wine she would draw more attention or find herself intoxicated; which didn’t seem like such a bad idea given the situation.

The voices from the conversation around her sounded more like the sound Charlie Brown’s teacher made than real words and her mind refused to allow her to focus on any of the conversations, not when she wanted to know why Daniel thought inviting her parents was appropriate. She didn’t have to question exactly where he’d been able to get their information from, the culprit behind that “mystery” sat only a few feet from her.

“Sweetheart?”

Angela jumped at the feel of Daniel’s hand tightening around her thigh. She turned to face him. The frown on her face grew into a pointed glare. “What?” she snapped.

Daniel gave a twitchy, spastic smile. He inclined his head in the direction and raised his eyebrows high over his darkened eyes. “Your mother asked a question,” he replied through gritted teeth.

The rage in her eyes softened upon the mention of her mother. She shot Daniel an annoyed look before turning her attention to her mother with a wide grin plastered on her face. “I’m sorry, mom. What was the question? I zoned out.”

Janet Peterson stared at her daughter with a huge, megawatt smile on her face. Apparently the tension Angela felt in Daniel’s touch completely oblivious to her mother and everyone else at the table. “I asked when did you and Daniel began dating again. You never once mentioned him even when I called you after watching his interview.”

“Wait… you saw the interview?” Kimberly asked. “I didn’t get the chance to catch it.”

Janet waved a hand, “I can burn a copy of it for you and give it to you next weekend.”

“Next weekend?” Angela sputtered. Several droplets of wine leaked from the corners of her lips. She took the napkin Daniel used to dab at her lips with narrowed eyes.

Oliver beamed, “Yes. Kimberly and Dominico invited us to go sailing with them next weekend in the Hamptons.”

“I guess you do have a lot to talk about. It’s been what,” Daniel looked over to Angela, “fifteen years since you last saw one another?”

“Exactly!” Janet and Kimberly enthused at the same time, then fell back in laughter. The banter flowed as if the last fifteen years had never occurred. A haunted look ghosted Angela’s face. She finished her glass of wine and averted her eyes to focus on her emptied glass. The pain in her chest that stole her breath was replaced by anger at the realization of why Daniel invited her parents, to get them to spill the beans on their leaving.

Too bad Oliver and Janet didn’t know the reason behind it. Neither would Daniel.

***

When Angela bounced through the doors of the main office, late Wednesday afternoon, she pretended not to notice the curious stares from the teachers, gossiping like most did, or sharing tips on lesson plans. But of course she could feel the heat of their gazes searing her back. Good, let them stare.

She sashayed to her mailbox to collect the junk mail she expected to be stuffed inside the tiny cube. Then, with a bob of her head made her way over to the copier machine, which was being utilized. She sighed. Her mind raced faster than the beating of her heart and thumped increasingly louder whenever her mind wandered to the untouchable subject of Daniel.

No one man should have the amount of power Daniel currently possessed to control her thoughts. However, he easily manipulated her mind, heart and body with the simplest touch, long gaze or sweetly whispered word. Maybe his charm was the reason she’d found herself unable to stay mad at him for more than a couple of days after the stunt he pulled by inviting her parents to dinner.

At least her parents were happy. That made everything she felt that evening; sadness, betrayal, and anger unlike anything imaginable, all worth it. From the conversation with her mother earlier in the day, the more time she and Kimberly spent with one another, the closer they became. She lightly touched her stomach to pacify the knots her insides coiled into at the thought of her and Daniel’s parents getting along. That meant that no matter how they looked at it, at the end of the six months, when they told their family, friends, and the world their relationship’s run its course, she would still be expected to attend family gatherings and see him.

Why did she not think of that when she agreed to Daniel’s ridiculous plan? What would happen if he met some other woman and brought her along? How could she stand in the room with him and watch him touch, kiss, and look at another woman the way he’d looked at her when they were in high school? She couldn’t nor would she. She would refuse to attend any family function where the two families were joined.

So engrossed in her thoughts, Angela didn’t hear the light sound of her name being called, until she felt a tap on her shoulder. She turned at the intrusion and fought the urge to roll her eyes to the high heavens, however, she allowed the frown on her face to deepen.

“Principal Jones, how can I help you?” The two women had barely spoken to one another since their meeting aside from Principal Jones asking Angela if the jazz ensemble would perform at the Alumni Associations’ Dinner. It was the same dinner she and Daniel had plans to attend together. Angela knew the reason why she stood there with a smug smile on her face and her hand resting on her hip, but little did Principal Jones know, Angela had been waiting for this meeting all day long.

“Well Angela, as you may have remembered, we spoke about you having until the end of the month to get the deposit for the trip.” She clasped her hands together. “It’s the last day of the month and I take it you don’t have the first installment for the trip, correct? And now,” she huffed loudly, “You expect me to help you inform the ensemble that they can’t go?” She made a show of tossing her hands in the air.

Angela glanced around the office. The teachers remaining all spoke in hush tones but it was obvious their ears were turned towards the ensuing conversation.

She opened her purse and handed Principal Jones an envelope.

“What’s this?” The woman asked. She snatched the envelope, but didn’t open it.

Angela smiled and pointed at the letter in Principal Jones’ hands. “It’s confirmation from the organizers of the festival. Not only did I send in the first installment, over three weeks ago, but the trip is now…” she raised her voice slightly, “Paid. In. Full.” She gathered her papers from the copier and turned to Principal Jones, flashing her a look contempt. “Speaking of the ensemble, we won’t be able to play at the banquet tomorrow. I’ve informed Beverly, but I wanted to tell you myself also.”

She brushed past Principal Jones whose mouth hung open, stopped with her hand on the knob and said, “Oh, and don’t worry about the schoolboard, I made sure to tell them how helpful you’ve been.” Then left, purposely allowing the heavy door slam behind her.

***

Daniel stretched his arms over the back of the seat with a groan and leaned against the leather seats of the luxury car. He closed his eyelids heavy from the lack of sleep in an attempt to block the blaring headlights of cars whizzing by. He needed a few moments of solace, however, peace failed to exist in the life of a world-renowned chef and restauranteur. Between spending time in New York, Philly, and Los Angeles, he barely had time to relax or see Angela.

He caught the enticing outline of Angela’s curvy silhouette from the corner of his eye and a heated rush of desire went straight to his midsection. Though he’d barely had a chance to see the full outfit she wore, he could tell that the form-fitting dress clung and hugged her body in all the right places; like a second skin. His hands itched to touch her. His lips begged to taste her.

This was what if felt like living with the woman who easily disrupted his psyche and his life.

The last time he saw her was a few nights ago, when they shared dinner with Kristen and her boyfriend, Bradford. Then, after making sure she arrived home safely, he’d flown back to Manhattan. Luckily, the media’s fascination with his relationship died down. As predicted, their short attention span was grabbed when claims of infidelity rocked the much publicized divorce of another celebrity chef. He enjoyed having the attention off of him and Angela, and it seemed Angela actually enjoyed being with him whether in private or in public.

Things were going right for a change. The more time they spent together, the more he saw that the woman he once loved never left, but was hidden behind a wall of armor for protection. Protection from what? He had no idea, but whatever it was did a number on her.

The thought to tell Robert, his driver, to stop the car and take them home was perched on the tip of his tongue. Forget mixing and mingling with people he barely spoke to while in high school. Reunions were never his thing.

What he wanted most was to be seated in front of a roaring fire or in the home theater, sharing a thick, warm blanket, a bowl of popcorn and a bottle of wine with Angela. Those were the nights he’d come to love and expect. After a long, grueling day, knowing Angela would be there, no matter how late he arrived home, felt right. Most nights, she was asleep, but then there were those times she’d be working.

He would peak in her room and she would wave him in then ask how his day went, listen to him gripe about employees and somehow make him laugh when he needed it more than anything. Her presence filled his home—and his heart—with something he was missing; laughter.

His arm slipped around her shoulders and he pulled her closer to him. To his surprise, she willing went and laid her head on his shoulder. Daniel placed a feather kiss on her forehead. “Say the words and I’ll tell Robert to turn the car around. We can go back home and watch television.”

Her melodic laughter filled the car and warmed him from the inside out. “You have to be there, Danny. What if you win The Holland Award?”

“They can send the award to the house.”

Angela sucked her teeth and slapped his thigh, causing him to hiss inwardly. A few inches south and she would’ve learned exactly how he felt right then and there. He wanted her like he wanted to feel the light drizzle of the autumn rain on his overheated skin.

“They can’t and they won’t. Besides, it took you a long time to write your speech. Don’t you want to say it for everyone?”

“No,” he answered without preamble. “I donate to the school because I love giving back.”

He sighed as the car turned into a long, winding driveway tucked behind a wrought iron gate and huge shrubbery. Search lights lined the drive every few feet and illuminated the velvet black sky along with hundreds of stars made visible by the cloudless night. Once the car came to a stop in front of a large white, two level stately home, Daniel turned to Angela. “Sure we can’t skip this and go home?” he pouted.

She placed a hand on his cheek and pinched it, “You are so adorable when you pout, but no. We have to be here, but, once you win—and you will—we can head home and I can bust your butt in Uno.”

Daniel chuckled, he extended his hand and helped her from the car. His eyes slowly drinking in Angela’s beautiful frame in the form-fitted gown. “Oh you’re on.”

***

Angela stepped into the brisk, chilly, October night and took a deep breath. Music from the four-piece band floated through the floor-to-ceiling balcony doors to her ears, but not even the harmonious melodies were enough to calm the anxiety bubbling in her stomach. Currently Daniel was busy speaking to the other finalist for The Holland Award; all but one.

Janelle Thompson hadn’t arrived and with any hope, she wouldn’t, but Angela knew it would be a cold day in hell before the attention-thriving model miss the opportunity of being in front of adoring fans by shelling away from the spotlight. Even in high school, she managed to find herself in the limelight, by being a cheerleader. “And by making my life a living hell.”

She ran a hand through her hair and leaned against the black rail that overlooked the luscious green gardens of the historic estate. If she could make it through the night without having to see Janelle, she would be great. She was already feeling frost from Principal Jones, especially when Daniel introduced her as his girlfriend. Her icy stare alone chilled Angela to the bone.

“I see you finally sunk your claws into Daniel Knight.”

Angela spun around. Her eyes widened at the sight of Janelle standing in front of her. Her usually long hair was cut short into a style that stopped below her ears. Her barely-there white sequined dress stopped well above the knee and made the long, form-fitting red gown Angela was wearing look like a grandma’s overcoat.

“Indeed I have. Hasn’t anyone told you never to wear white after Labor Day?” Angela hated sounding so catty, but Janelle always brought out the worse in her.

The sneering smile on Janelle’s face wavered only slightly. “I was never one to follow the rules, but it seems like you and I have a lot in common.”

“I highly doubt that.”

Janelle shrugged dismissively, “Actually, I don’t. I overheard Daniel telling David that he plans to propose to you.”

Angela nodded, “We’ve talked about it.” Because of our agreement, but she doesn’t have to know that.

Janelle rolled her eyes, “And here I thought you would’ve never gone back to the man who cheated on you in high school. Catching us at his locker was hard, wasn’t it? I would’ve been crushed. Oh, but you were. You ran out the school crying. Never spoke to him again. I was the shoulder he cried on.”

“Wait…” Angela paused. How did Janelle know she’d been caught? Unless… Anger coursed through Angela’s body. It had all been a set up and Janelle obviously took pride in ruining the relationship she had with Daniel. She wanted nothing more than to slap the stupid grin off the woman’s face, but would choose other methods to hit her hard. “And now you’re…”

“His ex-fiancée.” Janelle finished.

Angela choked on her drink and coughed. Surely she’d heard her incorrectly. “Ex-fiancée?”

Janelle placed a hand on her hip with a smile. “Yes. We were engaged after dating for a few months a few years ago.”

“Too bad Danny said your engagement was the worst mistake of his life.” Angela retorted. It wasn’t necessarily true, however, it achieved the desire effect she wanted with Janelle.

Rage flashed behind the depths of her hazel eyes. “Well, I guess that’s something else we have in common also, since he said that about dating you.”

Angela stiffened and thumbed her full glass of wine. The thought of tossing the liquid on Janelle crossed her mind. “I would say how great it was to see you again, but truthfully, I would be lying.” She quickly scurried passed Janelle and into the reception hall, where the banquet was in full swing.

She needed to get out of there. Forget talking to Daniel or explaining why she was leaving, especially since he thought she was the worst thing that happened to him. Tears blurred her vision, her heart drummed out a high paced cadence in her chest. She angrily swiped a tear away and pushed the front door opened, but was stopped when a firm hand grabbed her arm.

“Where are you going?”

She didn’t need to turn around to know who the voice belonged to. “I’m going home.”

“Why?”

She groaned, turned to face him and muttered a curse when his eyes landed on her tear-soaked face. “I met your ex-fiancée and she made sure to tell me you thought I was the worst thing that happened to you. So I’m leaving.”

Daniel muttered a harsh curse, “Janelle’s here?”

Yanking her arm from his grasp, Angela pointed an accusatory finger at him. “That’s all you care about? If she’s here? You know what, I’m gone. Go back to your little whore.” She ran through the double doors and into the night.

Chapter SEVEN

“Where’s Angela?”

Daniel tossed a sour glare to his brother before stalking over to the bar and ordering a Jack and Coke, heavy on the Jack. He took a sip of the drink and hoped the liquor would abate the tension growing in his shoulders and lessen the throb at his temples. Leave it to Janelle to ruin the night by opening her mouth. Of course he couldn’t place the blame solely on her, had he told Angela who his former fiancée was, maybe she would’ve handled it better; been prepared.

He scanned the crowd, his eyes landed on the woman who he despised more than a trip to the dentist and undercooked food. She was standing next to Principal Jones, engaged in an animated conversation with the schoolboard president and the president of the alumni association. As if she felt his eyes on her, she turned in his direction and smiled.

“I guess there’s no love loss there.”

He turned to the voice. “Never. Angela went home. Janelle told her about our engagement.”

David gasped loudly, covering a hand to his mouth, “You were engaged? To her?” He frowned. “Eww, you got cooties!”

Daniel shook his head with a light chuckle. “Shut up. You knew.”

“Yeah, but why didn’t Angela? She deserved to know.”

He didn’t want to admit it, but David was right. He should have told Angela the night they spoke about it at dinner, but he wanted to avoid this reaction. To say Janelle and Angela hated one another in high school was an understatement. Janelle had made Angela’s high school years a living hell.

“Angie knew I was engaged, but not to who. You know damn well why I didn’t tell her.”

“Yeah, and look what her finding out now did. Janelle continues to hurt Angie even though she’s with you.”

Daniel remained silent. Technically, Angela was with him, the agreement between them made sure of it, but over the past few days he thought about her truly being with him; like a real relationship. He wasn’t sure why, but the thought haunted his every waking moment and crossed his mind at night.

“Don’t look now, but look who’s headed this way.”

Daniel groaned and downed the contents of his glass before Janelle joined them. She rested a hand on his shoulder.

“I was wondering if you would come, Daniel. How are you?”

He frowned, “I was great. Now” he rubbed his stomach. “Not so much.”

Janelle made pretense of checking out her nails before her eyes locked with his. “That’s too bad. I was hoping that after the ceremony, we could leave together and talk. Rekindle what we once had.”

David snorted. His reaction caused Daniel to smile, though he tried to hide his smile by stroking his neatly trimmed goatee. “No thank you. As you know, I’m dating Angela now.”

Janelle scoffed, “I heard. And apparently our engagement was the worst mistake of your life.”

Daniel nodded with a satisfied smile. “It was. The only reason I dated you in high school, was to make Angela jealous. Our engagement, happened because I was desperate. I wasn’t happy and we were only engaged for three months.”

“But Daniel,” Janelle pressed her body closely against him, “I still love you.”

“No, you still love the idea of having the world laid out at your feet. When Irving Sanchez, the same man you cheated on me with during our engagement—”

“Don’t forget she cheated with him when y’all were dating in high school too.” David chimed in from behind Daniel.

Janelle tossed David an annoyed glare.

“Right! When he suffered his career-ending injury, you left him.” He noticed the pain look in her eyes, but chose to ignore it. It was time for the woman to experience a taste of her own medicine and tonight, he would be the doctor. “Our engagement was my worst mistake, and I regret it. I also regret ever dating you. That too, was a horrible mistake I’m still paying for.” He twisted to look at David, “I need to leave, but if I win, can you accept the award for me?”

He didn’t wait for his brother’s answer before he pivoted on his heels and rushed through the opened doors of the reception hall and down the grand staircase. His dark brows slumped as determination set in his features. He was going to make things right with Angela, once and for all.

***

“What am I going to do?” Angela questioned to herself as she paced back and forth in her bedroom suite. She stopped when she saw her disheveled reflection in the floor length mirror and groaned loudly. She pushed her hair back from her face and wiped away the tears that continued to leak from her puffy eyes.

She padded across the fluffy, heather gray carpet into the attached en-suite bathroom, grabbed her face cloth and ran it under hot water before heading back into her room and climbing in her bed. She leaned back against the mountain of pillows resting against the tufted fabric headboard and covered her eyes. No point in crying over spilled milk.

Knowing Daniel’s true thoughts about her should’ve been refreshing. He never cared. She was a mistake. Of course she’d been told worse, but never would she ever believe Daniel would be one of those people. Being overweight with braces wasn’t easy and children were unforgiving to anyone or anything different than the norm.

Junior high and high school were not the greatest years of her life. The constant teasing and bullying did a number on her self-confidence. Once older, she taught herself not to allow the horrible words of others define her, but there were still traces of her younger self lingering inside, broken by the words said.

Angela flipped on her side, removed the cloth from her eyes and turned off the light. Over the last month, she’d slowly begun to convince her poor fragile heart the relationship between she and Daniel could be real, but now, she realized more than ever, she had a job to do. Once the six months were over, Daniel would be out of her life once again and she wouldn’t have to see his face or deal with him.

But as she closed her eyes and drifted off, the thought of never seeing Daniel again made her heart hurt more than the words spoken by Janelle.

Daniel slouched in the chair beside the bed and watched the steady rise and fall of Angela’s chest beneath the snow white comforter. Unlike most nights where her hair was twisted and hidden beneath a satin bonnet, tonight she’d gone to sleep with her bountiful of curls were loose. The effect created a halo of curls against her pillowcase. Damn she was beautiful.

He lightly fingered a loose curl before pushing the strand away from her beautiful face. His heart swelled. His body became unhinged with wanton need. How could he effectively keep his growing feelings at bay for Angela when the truth concerning how he felt quickened his pulse and caused his blood flow to be directed to another part of his body?

Carefully, he sat beside her. The bed sunk under the weight of his hard body. Through the opened window, the lights from the surrounding buildings and the dim lighting of the lamp on the end table illuminated her frame.

With the pad of his thumb, Daniel traced the tracks left behind from her tears and swiped a stray tear that leaked from behind her closed eyes. She cried, because he neglected to tell her of his engagement. He wanted to kick himself. Maybe he’d withheld the information out of spite. She refused to tell him why she left without telling him, so he did the same.

Lied by omission?

Angela stirred beneath his touch and he held his breath. He didn’t want to wake her, but knowing she cried, felt like a jagged knife being plunged into his gut, twisted 360 degrees then yanked out by unsteady hands. They needed to talk. There was no way he would get any sleep knowing she believed whatever Janelle told her.

She still has to work in the morning. He ignored his conscious. Having Angela focused on her students should’ve been his number one priority, however he was admittedly stingy and her opinion of him meant more. He cringed at his thoughts, but didn’t stop himself from dropping several feather kisses on her closed eyelids, temples, forehead and finally her lips.

He groaned at deliciousness of her mouth.

Angela emitted a barely audible sigh and blinked several times before her heavy eyelids slid open. Confusion marred her chocolate irises, then without warning, anger filled her eyes. She jolted forward, almost knocking him off the bed, and yanked the comforter over her chest.

“Why are you in my room?”

He wasn’t there to argue. The cute way her eyebrows furrowed into a thin line in the middle of her forehead and the flaring of her nostrils wouldn’t allow him to do so. She’d always been cute mad, now was no exception.

“Get out!” Angela yelled. She reached behind her and grabbed one of the fluffy pillows that littered her bed and swung it at him. Instinctively, he grabbed her wrist to stop the blow from being delivered. “Go be with your little girlfriend, Janelle.”

So, I see she’s still upset. “Janelle isn’t my girlfriend, Angela. You are. And whether you like it or not, you will not put me out of any room in my house.”

At her stunned expression, Daniel silently berated his self. He sounded more like an evil overlord or the beast from that classic Disney film than a concerned boyfriend who made a mistake and wanted to apologize. He scrubbed a hand down his face and blew out a harsh breath, then pushed off the bed. “I’m sorry. I’m not here to argue with you, Angie.”

Angela folded her arms. The movement allowed the comforter to fall away from her body, revealing a soft pink lace bodice chemise that cupped her full breasts. Her dark pebbled nipple strained against the lacy material. He sucked in a swift breath and forced his eyes to hers.

“Why are you here?”

“To talk about what happened tonight.”

Angela rolled her eyes. “I have nothing to say.”

“Good. Listen.” Daniel stopped pacing and turned to face Angela. “Yes, I was engaged to Janelle.”

“Dammit, I already know that. She told me. Why didn’t you?” Angela tossed the covers off her body, stood and stalked over to where he stood. “You knew she would be there and you didn’t have the decency to tell me about your engagement. Do you know how I felt hearing that? Hearing you were once engaged to the same damn woman who you cheated on me with? The woman who ruined our friendship, our relationship?”

Daniel opened his mouth to speak, but snapped it shut when she stabbed him in the chest with her fingernail. He winced. Cheated?

“You let me walk into that room blinded and made a fool out of me.” She used the heel of her hand to wipe away the tears leaking from her eyes. “The butt of another joke. Did you laugh, Daniel? Was it funny to know I was embarrassed? Is that the reason why you picked me to play your little girlfriend?” she sneered. “To string me along like you did in high school?”

For someone who had nothing to say when this whole conversation began, she sure did say a lot. He couldn’t formulate a sentence. She thought he cheated. He couldn’t tell his mind to stop her and explain. She continued her rant. Tears flowed freely from her eyes, landing in the valley between her heaving breasts.

What he needed her to do was get some clothes on. Maybe then he’ll be able to focus on the conversation and not how the chemise clung to her body or how the shorts that matched the top cut across the tops of her thighs. He snatched his suit jacket off and handed it to her.

Angela raised an eyebrow

Daniel cursed, “Put it on or put your robe on, I can’t focus!” He watched Angela reluctantly slip her arms through the sleeves of his jacket, then instantly regretted his decision. The material fell below her pajama shorts, giving the impression of her wearing nothing beneath.

His brain short circuited with visions of her arriving at his door in the middle of the night, poised for seduction wearing nothing but his jacket and a pair of heels that would easily bring her lips inches from his.

“I never deserved how you treated me.”

“What are you talking about? I never once did anything to hurt you, besides not telling you about my engagement and contrary to your beliefs, me not doing so wasn’t an elaborate ruse to embarrass you. No, I didn’t believe Janelle would attend and I sure as hell never cheated on you.”

Angela, who’d been pacing the length of the room stopped and rushed over to him, stopping herself only a few centimeters from him, then jutted her chin to stare him in his eyes. “Don’t lie to me,” Angela snarled. “The day of the homecoming dance. I came to school at the beginning of second period and ran upstairs to catch you at your locker. But when I got there”, her voice wavered with raw emotion, “I saw you and her kissing. She admitted she’d set it up so I could find out. I expect that from her, but I never expected it from you.”

The weight of a two ton cinder block fell on his heart and trapped him. He struggled to take a breath, needed to take a breath, but couldn’t manage to inhale. The neck tie, he innocently wore around his neck, acted like a noose and stole the life from him at her admission. Unstable fingers ripped the stripped fabric off and dropped it at his feet. He then went to work on the buttons of his shirt. A few unsuccessful attempts later, he undid them and tossed the shirt to a nearby chair.

His eyes locked on Angela’s, and as if for the first time since coming back into his life, she looked free. He shook his head, but couldn’t shake the unrestrained pained look her features held away. After a few pregnant moments of silence, he finally spoke. His voice soft and muted.

“I never cheated on you. Janelle kissed me. She saw me take a ring box from my locker, came over and threw herself on me. I pushed her away and told her never to speak to me. That was the last day I saw her—she left school and moved away—until a few years ago, while studying in Greece. We spent two weeks together and the night before she left, I proposed.”

“A ring box?” Angela sputtered. Her eyes darted around the room before finally landing on him.

Daniel nodded, “I had planned to propose to you at the dance, Angie. I kept the ring on me for weeks and finally got the nerve to do it, but…”

“I wasn’t there.”

“No, you weren’t. I sat on your porch until dawn and waited.” He wanted to hold her, touch her, feel her, but didn’t. He couldn’t take her rejecting him now, not when he felt exposed. Years spent building a tough exterior and an impenetrable wall around his heart, gone; with one admission.

Rapidly, Angela blinked back the tears that threatened to fall at Daniel’s admission. He’d planned to propose. The pace of her heart beat tripled. Her vision blurred. If she’d listened to her head instead of her crushed heart, she could have found out the truth fifteen years ago and not now; not after hearing that he was engaged to the woman who practically ruined her life.

Blaming her insecurities on Janelle was a tad bit far-fetched, but the girl never learned the mantra of; if you don’t have anything nice to say, keep it to yourself. Still he’d gotten engaged to the woman who had no quarrels about cheating on him while they were together in high school. And he expected her to be okay with him telling her it was a brief engagement? She couldn’t.

Not even learning that he’d planned to propose to her the night of the homecoming dance lessened the sting of knowing at one point in time, he would have gladly spent the rest of his life with Janelle; even if she’d been his second option. That alone should have made Angela happy, but it didn’t.

Daniel cleared his throat. “I don’t know what you’re thinking, but there’s a lot you don’t know about me.” He took a deep breath. “After you left, I changed; drastically. I ditched school, broke the law and had a few run-ins with the police. Mom was scared. David barely recognized me. To make matters worse, it was as if everyone knew why I suddenly changed, because you weren’t there anymore.

Mom decided, although I didn’t deserve to still go to Italy, she would take David and I during winter break instead of waiting until the summer. On the first day there, she took us to the café she use to work at. No more than five minutes into the meal, some random guy started calling out to mom.” He chuckled without humor. “She went pale and when David and looked at the man, we instantly knew; he was our father.”

“But what does that have to do with you proposing to Janelle?” Angela asked, impatiently. She placed a hand on her hip and hung her head to the side.

“Woman, would you listen?” He waited for a response and when she remained quiet, he continued. “We learned grandfather lied to mom about his death, however, our when our grandfather sent notice to mom that dad was killed, he didn’t know she was pregnant. He found out once we were born and created a trust funds for us once we reached certain ages. When I ran into Janelle, I had just received my first installment of my fund, but I never told her about it. She was doing some modelling and we reconnected. The Knight Curse, as my aunt mentioned, states every male from each generation will lose the woman they love and be reunited.”

“And since Janelle reappeared, you thought it was meant to be?”
He nodded. “I never loved her, but I was willing to give it a chance. She, on the other hand, thought I was broke, because I didn’t tell her about my family’s wealth. Less than a week after we got engaged, she moved in with Irving Sanchez. He’d been drafted to play professional football. Once I got back, I went to see her, and he opened the door. Needless to say our relationship was over before it began.”

Angela dropped her folded arms to her side. She felt bad for him; finding out the woman he planned to marry because of an old family curse was nothing more than a lying, cheating, gold-digger. But then, what did that make her? She was dating Daniel because he promised her the financial security she couldn’t achieve on her own.

She wrung her hands together. Of course Daniel would expect her to continue with their agreement, but what about her heart? Before she learned he planned to propose to her, before she found out about Janelle, they’d been getting closer and closer and now… she wanted it more. Could they make their relationship real, or had the damage been done? After her display at the banquet, what did Daniel think of her? She groaned.

There’s only one way to find out.

“What now, Danny?”

She saw the hesitation in his eyes as he took a step forward and the slump in his shoulders. He lifted his hand, but dropped it. “I don’t know.”

“The past month has been—”

“Amazing.” Daniel finished. “It felt like the past fifteen years—”

“Never happened.”

Daniel nodded before closing the space between them. “I don’t want what we have to end. So, I’m calling a truce.”

“A truce?”

“Yeah. Let’s forget the agreement. I’ll still support you and do everything I promised, but you don’t have to pretend to be my girlfriend anymore.”

Angela chewed on her thumbnail.

He wrapped a hand around her waist and lowered his lips inches from hers. “Do you want to be my girlfriend?”

Before she could answer or even fix her mouth to say anything, Daniel’s mouth covered hers in a hungered kiss that deprived her of her breath and her senses. His tongue slipped into her mouth, and dueled with hers before he captured and pinned it down while he feasted on the distinctive taste of her, swallowing her surprised whimper.

Unable to fight the urge, she melted into his touch, pressed her soft, pliant body closer until the rock hard solidness of his meshed with hers. His strong arms enveloped her and instantly she felt euphoria where she stood. His lips molded over hers and his hands slid down to the curve of her backside, bringing her even closer to him, his heavy erection rested against her stomach.

Angela’s eyes, heavy with lust, slid closed at the same time she felt herself being lifted into the air. She closed her arms around his neck, her legs wrapped his waist in a hold that rivaled that of a professional wrestler.

Their tongues dueled for dominance, but ultimately Angela submitted, allowing Daniel’s skillful tongue to pin hers and explore every inch of her mouth. He feasted on her like a starved man. Greedily devouring her as though he’d gone years without nourishment and Angela hungrily took everything he offered.

Her lungs burned, but she refused to break the kiss. The room began to spin on its axis. Her oxygen deprived body seemingly floated towards the heavens. She would rather suffer a most painful and slow death than to ever be taken from his arms and not to feel him pressed so provocatively against her.

Daniel grudgingly tore his lips from Angela’s and smiled at her low grumble of protest, taking in her hooded features. Her eyes were closed. Her lips slightly swollen from being thoroughly kissed. The staggered sound of her ragged breath filled his ears. She was beautiful. And she belonged to him. He buried his head in the crook of her neck and inhaled deeply. Everything about her unique smell caused his body to vibrate with need.

“You smell so good.” He whispered breathlessly.

Angela opened her mouth to thank him, but instead squeaked when he latched onto the sensitive skin of her neck.

“Whatever it is you’re wearing, baby, don’t change it. It’s driving me insane.”

He dragged his teeth over the column of her neck and jawbone before claiming her mouth once again. One arm held her body to him while he used his free hand to push off the jacket and toss it to the ground. If he could bottle the taste of her and sell it in his restaurants as a modern day ambrosia, he would. He knew its sweetness and richness would be a hit with sex-starved men, like himself. He felt the sheer magnitude of his desire for Angela against the length of his leg and groaned at its heaviness. He needed to make love to her or he would surely combust from sensory overload.

Clumsily, he took a few steps forward, never once breaking the kiss, and placed Angela on the edge of her bed. He closed his eyes and filled his lungs with much needed air. Slowly he opened them and was hit hard when his eyes connected with hers. “If we don’t stop now, I’m afraid I’ll never stop. I’ve never wanted anyone more than I want you right now.”

Angela stood. She hooked her finger beneath the thin strap of her shirt and pulled it down until the material hung off her shoulders. “I’m not stopping you, Danny. Make love to me.” The chemise fell and pooled around her ankles. Daniel sucked in a swift breath. His eyes danced over her body. His mouth watered to taste her all over, from her head to her feet. And he will. Nothing was going to stop him.

He crossed the room and pulled her into his arms, taking her mouth in a demanding kiss. His hands shot through her luscious curls, cupped the back of her head to hold her head still while his seeking tongue plundered the treasures of her mouth. Embedding her on his taste buds. “Are you sure about this, Angie?”

Though he was fully clothed, she was wearing nothing but the matching shorts to her pajama set. He wondered if she wore panties to bed. He hoped not. It would be one less article of clothing he’d have to take off. The bed was no more than four strides away and as his question dangle carelessly in the air, the distance seemed to grow. If she didn’t answer him in the next couple of seconds he would implode. He kicked himself for asking the question again instead of taking her when she’d willingly and freely offered herself for his delight.

“I’m positive, Daniel. Please don’t make me beg.”

Oh, he’d make her beg alright, but not right now. Not when there was so much riding on her understanding the terms of his making love to her. Yes, he had terms and conditions for everything it seemed, and getting Angela to agree could be beneficial to them both. “You’ll beg, sweetheart, trust me. I’ll have you begging for more all night long.”

Her eyes lowered until the long lashes fanned her face. She dragged her tongue over her lower lip and pulled it into her mouth.

“There’s something you need to understand before we continue. If—,” he paused, “—No when we make love tonight, there’s no turning back. You’ll share my bed. You’re mine. The six months we agreed to will be null and void. Do you understand?”

He waited on baited breath for her to answer. The desire that pooled behind her eyelids should have been enough to tell him she felt the same exact way he did, but he couldn’t be sure. And he needed to be. Watching Angela run out into the night after finding out about his engagement to Janelle was a stark reminder that he could lose her at any time, and he couldn’t bear to go through being without her again.

A loud silence filled the room and finally she nodded slowly. The gesture was the confirmation he needed. He crossed the floor in wide steps and took her lips again in a kiss that stole the breath from her lungs. The moan she uttered allowed him the access he needed to dive deep into her mouth, his tongue slid over the rows of her teeth then hungrily searched for hers.

Arms tangled, tongues twirling, they stumbled backwards until the backs of her knees touched the bed and sent them tumbling onto the bed with a swoosh of air. Their laughter bubbled around them, temporary breaking the heated spell that held them both captive in its powerful hold. Uncoordinated fingers fumbled with the buttons of his shirt and pants, pushing and pulling at the fabric until he stood in front of her wearing nothing but a pair of black boxer briefs.

“I told myself that when we made love again, I would take my time to taste you all over, Angie. I want to familiarize my tongue with every inch of your body, but if I don’t find myself inside of you, I think I’ll die.”

Angela sat up, her eyes combed over his body in anticipation. She languidly ran her fingernails over the taunt muscles of his abdomen until she reached the stem of the rose tattoo on his chest. Daniel shuttered, his mind went blank. His body, consumed with pleasure.

She curved her finger to trace its bold lines. “How many tattoos do you have? I saw the one on your arm of the knives.”

Daniel shuddered under her touch. “I have a couple. This one—,” he pointed to the tattoo on his chest, “—I’ve had the longest. I got this after the homecoming dance.” He wouldn’t tell her that he’d gotten it after finding out she moved away, unless she asked. He didn’t want to discuss their past when their future shined so blindingly bright.

She continued to run her fingers over his chest, reading the scripted words. “‘Rare as is true love, true friendship is rarer.’ Hey, I remember this quote and the handwriting,” she winked.

Daniel captured her hands in his, stilling them. He couldn’t allow her to keep touching him the way she was. Not when he wanted her as much as he did. The innocent touching was wreaking havoc on his mind. With the heaviness and hardness of his erection he could split brick.

He waited for more questions, expected to explain to her why he got the tattoo and why he’d gotten it in her handwriting or how he’d manage to take a note she’d given him and create a work of art with it, but none of which came. He removed his boxers and climbed on the bed next to her. “I need you now.”

Daniel fought back the curse perched in the base of his throat when Angela reached between them and wrapped her silky smooth hand around him. She teased the mushroom shaped head of his engorged flesh with methodical caresses. He dropped his head back and closed his eyes, his hips jerked forward. He needed to gain control or else he would lose himself prematurely and he refused to release himself anywhere but inside of her.

“Condom?” he croaked between breaths.

Angela released him, long enough to roll over and open the top drawer of her dresser. She pulled out a new box of condoms and smirked. At his raised eyebrow, she explained, “You said we would be sharing rooms and I figured that I should be prepared.”

He smiled, took the box from her, ripped it opened and tore into a golden wrapped packet. Sheathing himself, he moved between Angela’s thighs. “Lift for me, baby.” Once she complied, he removed her shorts, revealing her neatly shaven triangle. What he wouldn’t give to bury his tongue inside of her, but he couldn’t. His erection was straining, begging to be inside of her and he needed to oblige and fast.

He captured her hands and pinned them over her head, his body poised between her legs. His erection settled at her center. The sizzling heat that radiated from her ignited his entire body in flames. Releasing one hand, he gripped his member and slid himself against her womanly folds, coating the condom from the pool of liquid desire between her thighs. Her moan, a low rumble, filled his ears. He used his other hand to spread her legs wider as he guided himself into her. Slowly, inch by pleasurable inch he sank into her warm, inviting body.

Beneath him, Angela tossed her head side to side and rotated her lower half against him. She wrapped her legs around his midsection to urge him to move. “Daniel please. I need you. Don’t stop.”

He needed her too and had no intentions of stopping. He shifted his weight and anchored his hips lower, pushing himself deeper into her warmth. Her walls contracted around him and milked him of his essence. His thrusts quickened. Angela’s fingernails cut into his skin, causing him to wince, but he refused to slow down. Couldn’t slow down even if he wanted to.

Their moans mingled together harmoniously with the sound of their sweat slicken bodies slapping against one another. It created a cadence that rivaled a college drum line. Daniel hooked Angela’s legs and brought them higher until they rested on his shoulders. He angled himself. His hips bucked wildly with each thrust.

Droplets of sweat dotted his forehead and ran between his brows into his eyes, but not even the sting could deter him. A sliver of desire worked its way through him, held his breath hostage, controlled his thoughts and urged him to let go; to give them both what they wanted.

Angela’s fingers shot through the loose tresses of his hair, gripping the back of his head to pull his lips down on hers. She groaned in his mouth when suddenly, without warning, Daniel slowed the pace to an almost crawl. He pulled back to remove his shaft from her body, only leaving the tip of himself inside of her, then plunged back in with everything he had. He repeated the movement several times.

“Yes, yes, oh yes!” Angela chanted over and over again. Her screams bounced off the walls and echoed loudly in the room.”

He could die a happy man knowing she’s not only given herself to him, but knowing her orgasm was on the horizon. He moved faster. Plowed into her faster and harder than before. “Look at me, baby.” Daniel gritted against the shell of her ear. “I want to watch you lose control.” He moved a hand between their bodies and stroked her hyper sensitive clit.

Angela’s eyes fluttered opened, a smile crested her swollen lips. Daniel lost all semblance of control he had. His hands went to her hips and held her still while he continued to pump and pump deeper and deeper into her.

“Let it go,” he coaxed softly.

The pleasure that built between them bubbled over leaving their bodies quaking. Electric waves of desire coursed through them. He bit back an explicit, continued to grind his hips unable to hold back his prolonged orgasm. He felt her walls contract around him, watched her eyes widen and her body shutter from her own orgasm and let himself go.

Once their breathing returned to its normal pace and the last reminisce of their orgasms subsided, Daniel rolled off Angela, without breaking contact. He dropped a lingering kiss on her forehead as she laid on top of him. “I’ve never stopped wanting you, Angie, and now that I have you, you’re mine; forever.”

Chapter EIGHT

Angela blinked against the first signs of daylight filtering through the sheer curtains of her drawn curtains and groaned under the pressure of the heaviness draped across her chest. She tried to move, but felt trapped. Something or someone was holding her hostage. At the thought, images of the night before came flooding back to her.

The distinctive sound of her screams bouncing off the walls each time Daniel thrusted deeper inside her. The heavenly feel of their bodies intertwined intimately. And of course the ways he’d skillfully coaxed her body to submit to his over and over again, giving her orgasm after orgasm until she had to beg him to let her sleep.

She winced when muscles she hadn’t used in years screamed in an agonizing protest to her movements. Angela closed her eyes and laid back against the mountain of pillows. She needed to get dressed. Just because she’d made love last night for the first time in years, it was no excuse to be late for work. Her students deserved better and Principal Jones would definitely hold it against her. Especially after last night.

Angela flipped on her side. Her eyes landed on the smiling face of Daniel and instantly she felt a tingling sensation began to work its way through her body. With his head in his hand, he smiled at her. His eyes raked slowly over her and twinkled with mischief. He snaked a hand out and trailed it over the rise of her breasts. A strong shutter worked its way through her.

“Good morning, beautiful.”

Angela stifled a yawn. “Morning.” She tossed the covers off her and swung her legs over the side of the bed, but Daniel’s strong arm wrapped around her waists and pulled her back against his strained erection. Her stomach quivered like the waves of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. She closed her eyes and moaned softly.

“Do you really want to get out of bed?” Daniel asked, his hand slid down her side and over her stomach. He nibbled the sensitive flesh of her collarbone. “I can think of a few things we can do instead.”

His hand skimmed the area at the top of her thighs until he reached her pulsating center. Angela tossed her head back when Daniel’s fingers separated her already moist folds and chewed on her lip when he touched her throbbing clit. She closed her eyes, her hips undulating to his tempting caress.

“We can’t. I—ooh, Danny.”

“You like that, don’t you?” Daniel whispered. He moved his free hand to her breasts and tweaked each pebbled nipple until they both stood erect and begged for attention. Angela shuttered, bringing one hand around Daniel’s neck to hold him in place while the other rested on top of his hand between her thighs.

“Please don’t stop.”

In one fluid motion he flipped Angela onto her back and moved between her thighs. He reached for a condom and sheathed himself. “I won’t make you late, I promise. We have a lot of celebrating to do.”

“Celebrating? What are we celebrating?”

“I won the Holland Award last night. David texted me while you were sleeping this morning.”

Angela surrendered her body to unbridled passion when Daniel entered her.

***

“Sorry!” Angela tossed over her shoulders at the group of teenagers lollygagging in the hallway after she almost knocked the books from their hands. She sprinted through the doors separating the main building from the fine arts wing, with the desire to kick herself. She should’ve known better than to agree to allow Daniel to join her in the shower when their love making session had already ran longer than time allotted.

Now, late for her first period class, Angela knew she would never hear the end of it. Luckily, when she went to clock in, Principal Jones wasn’t in the office. Now, if only she could go a few hours without seeing her. She opened the door to her classroom and inwardly groaned at the sight of a substitute teacher standing in front of the class giving them direction on a worksheet, and leaning against the chalkboard was Principal Jones with her glasses poised on the tip of her nose.

So much for avoiding her.

Angela walked further into the classroom and over to the podium. She whispered her thanks to the substitute teacher and instructed her students to take out their text books and open them. She randomly picked a student to continue reading where they left off the day before.

Instead of focusing her attention on Principal Jones, she would focus it on her students; they were more important anyway. However, the plan was short lived when Principal Jones interrupted the student reading and asked to speak to her in the hallway. Angela rolled her eyes heavenward, gave the students instructions and strolled into the hall with her head held high.

Regardless of what Principal Jones told her, nothing would take away from how great she felt. No one could. Her morning had begun better than she could’ve ever expected. Even last night, before her run-in with Janelle, had been perfect. And now, knowing that she and Daniel had successfully overcome the obstacles and odds to reunite put a pep in her step and a song in her heart.

“Angela, I am unsure of your reason for being late, however, no excuse is plausible.” Principal Jones started as soon as the door closed. “I don’t know why you’re late, but it’s highly unacceptable and I—”

Both Angela and Principal Jones stopped when the doors of the building flung open, revealing the tall, handsome features of Daniel Knight. His long, curly hair was pulled back into a loose ponytail at his nape. Broad shoulders were covered by a black shirt beneath a well-fitted, stormy grey suit jacket that matched his tailored slacks.

He looked good. She felt a twinge in her gut at the remembrance of how good his body looked free of clothing.

“I’m glad I caught you.” Daniel huffed out of breath. He dashed from the door with her lunch bag in his hand. “You forgot this.”

While the thought definitely counted and she couldn’t help but smile at Daniel for bringing her lunch when he should’ve been on his way to New York City to meet with his lawyer-cousin, Lorenzo and visit his restaurants, the scowl on Principal Jones’ face spoke volumes. She was extremely unhappy with the interruption.

Angela captured the bag from Daniel’s grasp and gave him a look she hoped would convey that his interruption had come at the worst possible time, but if Daniel understood the fleeting glances of her eyes to the door, he made no attempt to leave. Tension, thick and dry, sizzled between the three of them. The silence unnerving. Finally, Daniel flashed her a knowing smile then turned to Principal Jones. She could only hope he wouldn’t make the situation worse than what it already was.

“I am so sorry Angela was late this morning.”

If a hole appeared in the floor right now, Angela would’ve dove head first into it. The defiant look in Daniel’s eyes silently challenged Angela to stop him from speaking.

“We were just talking about that.” Principal Jones replied with a shaky smile.

Daniel nodded, “She wasn’t feeling too good. It happened sometimes during the banquet last night, hence the reason she left early. I told her she needed to stay in bed, but—” he kissed her cheek, “—she felt her students deserved better than her missing a day. She’s such a dedicated teacher. Don’t you agree?”

Angela turned questionable eyes to Principal Jones and awaited her answer, as did Daniel. Both watched as she avoided their gaze, and shift her weight before she cleared her throat and made pretense of checking her watch. “Daniel it was great seeing you. I have a meeting to get to. Congratulations on winning the Holland Award also.” She glanced over at Angela and stated matter-of-factly, “Remember you do have a class in session.” The scurried off without a backwards glance.

“What’s the deal between you two?” Daniel asked, once Principal Jones was out of sight.

“It’s a long story.”

Daniel smiled. He pulled her into his arms and dropped a swift, hard kiss on her lips. “Promise you’ll tell me once you get home from dinner with Kristen.”

“Will you be back before I pass out from intoxication?” Angela joked.

“Damn right woman, I’ll be there. Just bring your sexy tail home and get ready to finish where we left off this morning.” He kissed her again and left her standing in the emptied hallway. Her heart racing. Her head swarming with decadent thoughts of what their evening together would contain.

***

Rolling his neck, Daniel blinked at the numbers and words in front of him, both looked more like the random scribblings of a child and not a part of his livelihood. The beams of light from the late afternoon sun filled the confines of his office. He didn’t need to peak at the clock to know what time it was. He’d been doing so over the past three hours and knew that only a few minutes past since the last time he took a look at the wall clock and the watch on his wrist.

He groaned and pushed away from his desk and turned to stare out the window. It was the only window in his office and looked out onto a busy Philadelphia street, still he couldn’t help but be envious. While he was stuck in his office going over profit margins and doing the food and beverage orders for the next week, the world continued to thrive around him.

There was only one place he wanted to be—ached to be; inside of Angela. His face brightened, his body hummed to life with thoughts of the night before and how amazing it felt to make love to her after so long. When they were younger, things had been different. He made sure to take care of her, but hell, he’d been an inexperienced teenage boy who wanted to feel good and reach the pinnacle the guys in the locker room bragged about; but not now.

During the time they made love, he made sure to spoil her, give her everything she needed and deserved. If he knew then what he knew know, there would’ve been no way Angela would’ve left him, regardless of what Janelle had done.

He sucked his teeth. Knowing Janelle ruined the life he carefully planned for him and Angela caused his blood to boil. The day she came to him, at his locker, and practically begged him to take her back, he told her how his dating her had been a huge mistake and the only reason he’d done so was to make Angela jealous; to make her finally admit her feelings for him after years of holding them back. He apologized to her for leading her on and even wished her well on finding someone else. But Janelle wasn’t use to the sting of rejection and she launched herself onto him and kissed him.

Her unexpected appearance at the banquet the night before stunned him more than it did Angela. After learning of his nomination and the other four finalist, he made sure to ask the president of the alumni association, Beverly Thomas, if she’s spoken to Janelle and would the woman be in attendance. Beverly assured him that Janelle would be traveling Europe at the time of the event. “I guess somethings change.”

It would’ve been unlike Janelle to miss an opportunity to garner more publicity. Over the years, she’d done a good job keeping herself in the press and her sordid modelling career had absolutely nothing to do with it. It was Janelle’s desire to marry into money and who she dated apparently didn’t matter to her.

Daniel reclaimed the seat he’d vacated. He needed to finish his paperwork, meet his cousins and brothers for an impromptu guy’s night and fly back to Washington, D.C. to be with his woman. He smiled at the thought and the usage of calling Angela his woman. Now, she truly was. Neither allowed the drama of their past to further infer, more than it already had, with their futures. They were finally on the path destiny charted for them. The fates aligned.

Leaning back in his chair, Daniel folded his hands together and rested them behind his head with a silly grin on his face. Things were going right in his life for the first time in a long time. It seemed not only had his and Angela’s relationship appeased his fans and the media, but the new change in his relationship status made even his family happy. His grandmother actually reached out to him and expressed how excited she was to meet his girlfriend when she, his grandfather and uncle Amadeo came to visit for the holidays.

When he originally went to Angela with the idea of them dating, he mentioned her becoming his fiancée, and she felt they should wait. Now, since they were actually dating and their relationship was no longer a rouse, he would make her his wife. His mind raced with thoughts of the life they would create together. Did she still want three children? Should they have a house built or continue staying in the condo for a few years?

So many questions and so little answers. He and Angela needed to have that conversation as soon as possible. Maybe we can have it once I get home tonight.

A knock on the door jarred him from his thoughts. “Come in.” Daniel smiled when Melodie, the general manager of his restaurant, The Chop Shop, peaked her head in. Her eyebrows were knitted in confusion.

“Hey Mr. Knight. Sorry to interrupt, but there’s someone here to see you. I asked if she had an appointment. She said no, but that you would want to speak to her.”

He didn’t miss the uneasiness in her voice and stood. “Send her in.” With a brief nod, she left, slightly closing the door with a soft thud.

Daniel stood with a frown and paced the floor in front of his desk. He needed to be working, not entertaining uninvited visitors, unless the visitor happened to be Angela. In that case, he welcomed the distraction. When he’d spoken to her once school ended and before band practice began, she mentioned Kristen possibly cancelling their night out because she was feeling under the weather. A man could only hope. If her night was indeed cancelled, he would spend their time together exploring every inch of her body.

There was a knock on the door, and he felt his body react to the thought of Angela being on the other side of it. “Come in,” he called, but when the door opened, the smile on his lips faded. Now he understood Melodie’s confusion. He folded his arms over his chest and leaned against his desk, crossing his legs at the ankles.

“Hello Daniel.”

“What are you doing here, Janelle?”

Janelle closed the door behind her and placed a hand on her hip. Her brightly painted, ruby red lips curled into smile. “I’m here to congratulate you on winning the Holland Award.”

Daniel lifted a brow. “Thanks”, he replied, eyeing her skeptically, “while your congratulations is nice, you didn’t have to come here to do so. How did you know I would be here?”

“I didn’t,” she responded, sauntering over to where he stood. “I was actually having a late lunch with a few friends of mine when I overheard a waiter tell a customer that you were here.” She slid her body into the empty chair in front of him and crossed her legs, revealing tone legs and thighs beneath what had to be the world’s shortest skirt.

Daniel averted his gaze. “Alright, so you’ve said congratulations.” He stood and walked around him desk. “Is there anything else I can help you with or is that all? I’m a busy man with a lot of work to do and while I appreciate your congratulations, it wasn’t needed.”

Janelle sucked her teeth and stuck out her overly enhanced bottom lip. “Daniel, we use to have fun together, why so cold all of a sudden?” She stood, placed her hands on the desk and leaned until their faces were inches apart. Her tops of her breasts spilled out of her halter top.

Apparently the dropping temperatures of the autumn day had no effect on Janelle since her choice of clothes—or lack thereof—was more suitable for the summertime.

“Because I don’t like you,” Daniel bluntly stated. He pushed away from his desk and stood, “You’re nothing but a drama queen who seeks attention, Janelle. Always has been; always will be. That stunt you pulled at the banquet, telling Angela about our engagement, was hilarious. You thought it would ruin my relationship. Your plan didn’t work.” He marched over to the door and flung it open, “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have work to do.”

Once Janelle crossed the threshold, he slammed the door with such force, several framed certificates and pictures on the wall rattled. Whatever the reason Janelle felt the need to pop back into his life, he didn’t trust it or like it at all.

***

The sound of the front door closing greeted Angela as she laid in bed, staring at the vaulted ceiling of her room. She glanced over to the red, illuminated numbers of the alarm clock on the bedside table and brought the comforter closer under her chin.

She should’ve been asleep but the thought of sleep fled from her mind when she arrived home, after happy hour with Kristen, to a darkened condo. Though Daniel not being home wasn’t the least bit out of the ordinary, it was the lack of communication on his part that had her fuming.

As the time had neared midnight, she paced the living room listening to Ella Fitzgerald. Midnight, however, came and went without a word from him. Fear easily morphed into anger then worry when at three o’clock, she still hadn’t spoken to him.

A flood of light from the hallway snuck beneath the outer doors of her sitting area. She rolled over on her side, closed her eyes and willed her racing heart to still to a more calming rhythm.

Angela listened to Daniel’s light rap on the door and the jiggle of the doorknob, then the loud creaking as he slowly pushed the door opened. She repeatedly told herself to relax, but couldn’t. The amount of silent anger coursing through her body had her seeing red. He could’ve been laying on the side of the road dead for all she knew. But I guess he doesn’t care.

Daniel quietly padded further into the room and stopped next to the head of the bed. The smell of alcohol emitted strongly from his pores. Angela wrinkled her nose, grateful she’d flipped over so her back was facing him. She felt his hand hover over her body for several long seconds before he huffed a sigh and left. Whatever it was he needed to say apparently wasn’t important.

She wrapped her arms around her midsection and sighed, hoping once they faced one another in the morning, they could talk about why he returned home so late and why he smelled as if he bathed in a vat of liquor.

***

The next morning, Angela cracked her eyes opened and blinked against the sunlight that peaked into her bedroom window through the curtains. From the position of the sun’s rays, she knew it was early. A quick look at the clock confirmed the thought. The tantalizing aroma of freshly brewed hazelnut coffee tickled her taste buds. Her mouth began to water. She stretched her arm over her head with a yawn and pulled herself upright against plush pile of pillows.

The outer doors of her room opened and instantly, Angela contemplated feigning sleep, however, she and Daniel would have to have their discussion sooner or later; why not sooner? And there was a lot they needed to figure out. Before they made love, they talked about taking their relationship to the next level, and if he still wanted to do so, he would have to understand how staying out all hours of the night wouldn’t be tolerated.

She inwardly cursed her insecurities.

There was a knock on her room door, followed by Daniel peaking his head into the room. A smile blossomed on his handsome face. “Good morning, beautiful.” He entered the bedroom carrying a mug with steaming rising over its brim.

Angela smoothed the unruly mass of curls from her face, “Morning.” Accepting the cup from him, she inhaled deeply and smiled, her eyes fluttered as the calming, heavenly aroma of her favorite brew washed over her, momentarily the subject of her thoughts disappeared.

He placed a tray loaded with delicious, mouth-watering items on the dresser, piled an empty plate full of her favorites and handed it to her, claiming the chair beside her bed. Daniel looked too good and it was way too early to lose control of her body and mind.

Her pulse spiked. The painful tightening of her nipples beneath the t-shirt she wore to bed along with the heat building in the pit of her stomach and between her thighs. It should be a crime to want a man as much as she wanted him, especially when she knew she should be mad at him.

She willed her body to calm down, thought about every reason in the book she shouldn’t slap some sense into him, and prayed that their conversation wouldn’t take long; she was in need of an ice, artic cold shower.

Angela took a long, healthy sip of her coffee and waited for Daniel to speak while the jolt of java, made with equal amounts of sugar and cream, made its way down her throat. Warmth from the liquid spread through her body to her core. She sighed in content. The coffee was what she needed to jump start her morning after her sleepless night.

“We need to talk.” Daniel moved from the chair to the edge of the bed, carefully sinking down on the mattress. “I know you were awake when I came in to check on you, last night,—” he paused, “—this morning. But I was in no condition to talk to you. I was not only intoxicated, but horny as hell.”

Angela coughed. Daniel admitting he was horny was unexpected. She took another sip of her coffee.

“Alright, so what are we talking about?”

“Us.”

Angela shrugged, “What about us, Daniel?” A shiver worked its way through her when Daniel moved a wayward curl from in front of her face.

“When we first started this—” he motioned between them, “—it was to get the media off my back about being in a relationship. I wanted you at my mercy. You needed me. I used my wealth and my position in the media to control you. I’m sorry.”

The sincerity of his words hit her hard. He was actually apologizing. Yet, she couldn’t fully celebrate. Daniel only approached her a way to make her situation—for both her and her students—better. She didn’t have to agree, although she had. “I appreciate your apology, Danny, but I didn’t have to agree.”

“You only agreed because your back was against the wall and I took advantage of your giving nature. I wanted to make sure you never had the chance to leave me again because…”

Because what? Her mind screamed for him to continue with the statement. What was it he wanted to say? Why didn’t he want her to leave again?

“Because what?”

“Because I’ve never stopped caring about you. I want you to forget the reasons we met again, the reason you’re living with me, everything, Angela. Forget it and let’s start anew. Let’s have a real relationship. I want the chance to talk children with you, and marriage. Build dream homes and travel the world together, when our careers allow. I want to come home and instantly feel good when I walk through the door knowing you’ll be waiting for me.”

Angela smiled, “I want that too, Danny, but there’s a few things you need to know. Last night, I waited for you. I called your phone. I texted. At first, I figured you were working late, and that’s fine. I understood, but I was worried. I thought something happened to you and when you came in here, I wanted to get out of bed and strangle you.”

Daniel groaned, “Sweetheart, I am so sorry. I should’ve called.”

“Damn right! I…” Angela closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Truth was, she had been more than afraid that something happened to him. “I know you told me Janelle kissed you, but because of what I saw, I have a hard time trusting. I’ve ruined relationships because of it.” Her lips trembled as she opened her eyes and caught the intense darkness of Daniel’s. “I don’t want to lose you, but it’s become a part of me. Last night, I thought you were with—”

Daniel pulled her into his arms and crushed her so closely against his chest she could hear the beating of his heart. “Baby, I’m so sorry. I was out with my cousins and brother. Please know I will never do anything to hurt you, purposely.”

“I know. Thank you.” She pulled out of his embrace and smiled brightly. “I’m glad we cleared the air. There should be no secrets between us.”

He dropped a lingering kiss on her forehead and forced a smiled as he repeated, “No secrets between us.” He pulled Angela into his arms once again and rested his chin on the top of her head. Having her back in his arms after sleeping alone felt like winning the lottery. He definitely didn’t want another night like the one before.

Speaking of secrets, his conscious began, but he quickly silenced the pestering emotion, pushing the secret perched on the tip of his tongue aside.

He and Angela were finally on solid ground. Telling her about Janelle’s impromptu visit would complicate things. Besides, it wasn’t like he’d been expecting Janelle and she had only congratulated him on winning the award.

He made up his mind. She was the past, yet, as he took Angela lips in a sweet kiss, he couldn’t shake the twinge of guilt in his heart.

Chapter NINE

The November days were shorter; the nights much longer than before. The once bright, vivid green leaves that covered the trees and provided shade in the summer transformed to blazing shades of reds, oranges, and yellows with late autumn’s kiss. Temperatures dropped drastically, giving way to the usage of warmer clothing and pumpkin spice everything.

Everything about the season made her happy, then again, ever since Daniel came back into her life a little over two months ago, happiness had become a steeple. It was always present no matter where she was or who she was with. Not even the rumblings of Principal Jones could take her joy away.

Her relationship with Daniel was perfect, which meant a whole lot given its rocky start. They were able to finally walk the streets in peace without being bombarded with questions from the paparazzi that stalked Daniel at every turn. The jazz ensemble continued to captivate audiences after every performance and were in the process of preparing for the live taping of their Christmas album.

To say the least, life was great!

Even her fear of having her and Daniel’s parents hanging out and reconnecting, dissipated. Neither she, nor Daniel, cared that the foursome, along with his aunts and uncles spent so much time together, it was uncanny to catch them without each other. Both mothers were delighted that their children had not only reunited, but reveled in knowing their years separated hadn’t change their friendship too much.

Angela scanned the smiling faces of the occupants’ gathered inside the crowded ballroom of the upscale Manhattan hotel to celebrate the thirty-fourth birthday of Daniel and David and touched her stomach as a fresh wave of butterflies attacked her stomach. She was clearly out of her element and her comfort zone.

Many of the recognizable faces she’d seen from television, movies, and New York City’s elite socialites stood in their respective groups, happily chatting along while a string quintet provided the perfect backdrop of music. What was defined as a small get-together by Kimberly Knight, consisted of over three hundred of Daniel and David’s closest friends and family. Most of which were people neither Daniel nor David knew. Still the party was in full swing.

Plucking a glass of champagne from the tray of a passing waiter, Angela took a sip from her glass and smiled when the bubbly tickled her nose.

“I hope that beautiful smile on your face is because you’re thinking of me and not because of the guy standing by the bar who has been giving you the eye all evening.”

Angela chuckled, her eyes drifted close when Daniel’s arms wrapped around her waist and pulled her back against the solidness of his chest. She leaned her head back. “I haven’t noticed.”

Daniel turned her to face him and placed a quick peck on her lips. “Good.” He took the glass of champagne from her hand and placed it on a nearby table.

“I wasn’t finished.”

“It can wait. I would like the honor of dancing with the most beautiful woman in the room.”

Her face flushed with color as she allowed Daniel to lead her to the dancefloor. He had a way with words, a way of making her feel like she was the only woman he would ever love, and the thought caused her heart to race. Once they found a spot away from the other gyrating bodies, Daniel took her into his arms. Their bodies swayed to the soothing music.

“How are you enjoying your birthday so far?”

Daniel shrugged, “I would have been content with a small dinner with family and friends instead of this, but I’m happy. This year, my birthday wish finally came true.”

She shivered beneath the intensity of his onyx eyes. “Oh yeah,” she asked breathlessly. “And what did you wish for?”

“You. All I’ve wanted these last fifteen years was you, Angie.”

Tears welled in the corners of her eyes. She sighed deeply, staring into the stormy abyss of his searing gaze, then laid her head on his chest and listened as the drumming of his heart raced. Guilt and regret tugged at her with a force of hurricane winds pounding against the unsuspecting shoreline.

She lifted her head and forced a shaky smile to form on her lips. “I’m sorry for the way I left, Danny. I should have confronted you and Janelle when I saw you together, but I was afraid.” Angela swallowed hard before continuing, “I thought you would tell me you wanted her instead. That you finally realized I didn’t deserve you.”

A sympathetic smile tilted the corner of his mouth upwards. “If anything, Angie, I didn’t deserve you. You were one of the greatest people at Davidson and was always helpful, even to those who treated you badly. I should’ve done more to protect you.”

“If you protected me anymore than you already had, you would’ve gotten expelled,” she retorted.

Mischief gleamed in his eyes. “True, but for you, it would’ve been worth the trouble.” They shared a laugh. “But I have you now. I was serious when I said you would be mine forever.” He thumbed away a stray tear that slipped from her eyes.

Beautifully spoken words and eyes that reflected the love she felt in her heart for the man who she never stopped loving. Her breath caught in her throat. She loved him. Was it even possibly to love someone who you hadn’t seen in fifteen years?

“Speaking of forever,” a voice she instantly recognized as her mother’s said behind her. Angela fought to contain her annoyance at the interruption.

“So when’s the wedding?” The second voice, belonging to Kimberly Knight questioned.

Daniel’s arms tightened around her. Apparently, he was also annoyed by the interruption. She gave him a patient smile and a wink.

“Exactly,” Janet Peterson laughed. “Y’all are talking about forever, so should we start planning?”

“There’s way too much for us to do to have you both randomly springing some date on us. We have to pick a venue, then there’s flowers, food, cake—” Kimberly turned to Janet, “I wonder if we can get the mayor to attend the ceremony, or maybe even the First Lady, I heard she and the president huge fans of Daniel’s.”

“Have you two even discussed marriage? You’ve known each other for close to thirty years. There’s no real reason why you have to wait.”

Daniel nodded, “We spoke about marriage once, but—”

Kimberly silenced him. “Once is enough. You two need to set a date. We—” she motioned to between herself and Janet, “—want grandchildren. I think we’ve waited long enough and you two aren’t getting any younger.”

Angela winced at the harsh words and tried to ignore her mother’s pursed lips, raised eyebrows and the not-so-subtle nodding of her head. “A Winter Wonderland themed wedding during the holidays would be perfect for you two. Daniel, your family would already be here from Italy.”

“That could work,” Kimberly agreed. “We would still have to find a nice venue or utilize the spacious backyard of our home in the Hamptons. We wouldn’t have to worry about a dress because Carolyn would be designing the dress.”

Daniel cleared his throat. “Ladies, while Angela and I appreciate your enthusiasm and a winter wedding sounds amazing, I think we would agree the stress of a holiday wedding is too much. People may not be able to attend. It’s so last minute. Right dear?”

Angela placed a hand on Daniel’s chest and beamed at him. “Of course, babe.” She turned to the scowling faces of their mother’s and tried her best to hide the laughter threatening to bubble from her diaphragm. “However, a spring wedding could work.”

“Spring?” Daniel asked, confusion knotted his brows. “As in this spring?”

With a nod, Angela linked their fingers. “Spring is the season of new beginnings and this would definitely be a fresh start for us. Don’t you think?”

“I do.”

“And what about a ring?” Janet inquired, interrupting the moment. “If you two are going to get engaged, there has to be a ring.”

“And not some bargain-basement, low quality store brought ring that any woman off the street can have,” Kimberly stated with a hand on her hip. “My daughter deserves the best.”

Angela’s heart pounded rapidly in her chest. Her chocolate irises misted at the endearment Kimberly used; daughter. When she and Daniel first made plans to get married, as teenagers, she’d told him how she couldn’t wait to be considered the daughter Kimberly never had, and come the spring, she would finally be gaining her second mother.

“Trust me ma, nothing but the best for my angel.”

***

Daniel lifted his drink and gently touched it to the glasses of his brother, David, and their cousins, Giovanni, Lorenzo and Stefano, before taking a long sip of the perfectly aged whiskey Stefano snuck into the party. The five men were standing together in the far off corner, watching the occupants of the room take part in performing some of the latest line dancing craze.

He searched the crowd and felt his groin tighten in his pants when his eyes fell on Angela. She stood, laughing in a group of her own that consisted of her best friend, Kristen, Giovanni’s assistant, Valencia, and two of Angela’s sorority sisters, LeAnn and Brook; who were visiting her from Chicago and Terre Haute. Whatever it was they were talking about must’ve been entertaining, because not once during their conversation did Angela glance his way. And for some reason, he was not happy about that.

“Damn bro,” Stefano said, pulling him from his thoughts. “You can’t even keep your eyes off her. You must have it bad.”

“Yeah,” Lorenzo chimed, “And what’s this I hear about you getting married?”

Giovanni shook his head, “Trying to make us all look bad, aren’t you? Aunt Kim, Aunt Theresa and Aunt Carolyn have been trying forever to marry us all off and suddenly you break the code and get engaged.”

Before Daniel would respond, David replied, “Angela is a good woman. It’s about time these two got married. If Daniel had been smart enough in high school, I probably could’ve been an uncle by now.”

Daniel turned to his cousins and brothers with a huge smile on his face. The twinkle in his eyes complimented the deep-set dimples in his high cheeks and his chin. “David’s right. If Angela had never left, we could’ve been married by now.”

“Now, you’ll be getting married and you have me to thank for that.” Stefano stated.

“Why?” the group of men, excluding Daniel, asked in unison.

“Because if Daniel hadn’t asked me to find her…”

Daniel narrowed his eyes at his cousin, sending him a scathing look, but the damage of his comment had already been done. Four sets of eyes rested on him, but no one said a thing. Daniel groaned inwardly. How would he explain this now? Yes, if Stefano hadn’t gotten information on her, then they probably wouldn’t be getting married. So, in retrospect, he did have to thank Stefano.

His cousins and brothers continued to look at him, each silently waiting for him to explain what Stefano’s comment meant. He didn’t want to, not here, but hell, he might as well tell them. Get the weight of the world off his shoulders. Daniel heaved a sigh, his shoulders sagged. “Angela came to me about two months ago needing some assistance for her kids.”

“Kids?” Lorenzo questioned, interrupting Daniel, “She has kids?”

Daniel shook his head with a laugh, “No. Her kids meaning her students. They’ve been invited to Madrid for a festival and they didn’t have enough. She came to me in hopes I would help.” Was he really about to tell them the real story of why he and Angela got together? What would they think of her? His conscious told him not to do it, to leave it alone and end the story with how they reconnected over coffee and the rest is history, but he knew Stefano’s big mouth would ruin everything.

“And?” David prompted.

It’s now or never. Daniel heaved a breath and continued. “We reunited and fell in love all over again.” Okay, so it wasn’t the real story, but for now, it would be what they got and from the satisfied grins on their faces, they accepted his reasoning.

“So when’s the wedding?” Lorenzo asked while taking a sip of his drink.

Wedding talk, never did Daniel think discussing his wedding would be the safest conversation he could have right now. And truthfully, he didn’t mind at all. He was excited. If he could break out into a song and dance without having everyone in the room look at him like he lost his mind, he would. “Sometime during the spring. We haven’t set a date yet because I haven’t formally proposed.”

“What’s stopping you from proposing?”

“Nothing honestly,” he responded with a slight shrug of his shoulders, “besides not having a ring for her, which I plan to get made. I want it to be the perfect time. Remember, we’ve only been dating for about two months—”

David smirked. “Two months means nothing when you’ve known each other for twenty-seven years.”

The group agreed with nods.

“Don’t let Angela slip out your grasp again. I don’t think I could take you whining for another fifteen years if you lost her this time.”

Daniel glanced over to where Angela stood. When she looked from her drink and eyes caught his, the smile curving her full lips hit him like the knockout punch of a boxer in the first round. She was beautiful and finally his.

***

Angela walked around the band room, straightening chairs and picking loose sheet music left behind after dismissing her students for the day. The door to her classroom opened. She forced a smile to her lips. “How can I help you?”

Principal Jones unfolded her arms from over her chest and headed over to where Angela stood. “Seems like the band will be extremely busy this holiday season.”

“Yes, we have a lot going on especially with preparations for the trip to Madrid. Is that why you came down to speak to me?”

“Actually no, I came to ask you if you knew anything about a trip to New York.”

“I visit New York all of the time. My boyfriend’s family lives there. Daniel and I visit several times a month.” Principal Jones’ face darkened with a grimace and Angela schooled her features to not give away the amusement she felt inside. Since learning of her relationship with Daniel, each time she mentioned the two of them together, she noticed the disapproving look she received.

Before becoming Principal Jones, she’d been their social studies teacher and Daniel had been her favorite student from the first time he arrived to her class five minutes late. Whatever the reason she loved Daniel so much, obviously carried over to her dislike for Angela. Despite her disdain for Angela, never once had Angela allowed the treatment to change her perception of Principal Jones; until now.

Principal Jones cleared her throat. “Actually, I was not referring to your personal relationship. I received a phone call from someone who wants the jazz band to person in New York City for a gallery opening.”

Angela nodded, “Oh yes. I was contacted by the owner of the gallery only a few days ago about the event. While I do not have all of the details, it is not an overnight trip, but the band would make it back here well after midnight.”

“With everything you mentioned about having a busy schedule, do you think it’s wise to pack so much on your students? The end of the term is in a few weeks and they should be focusing on finals.”

Focused on finals? She must’ve forgotten who she was speaking to. “Maybe you haven’t taken the chance to look at the report I sent to you about the students participating in the band. Collectively, the jazz ensemble has the highest GPA of all the clubs at Davidson. The marching and concert bands are second and third, although I am not in charge of either. I go through great lengths to ensure that the students are not only focused on school, but that they understand what they are being taught.”
“I didn’t mean to offend you, Angela. I believe adding another performance to the already busy season, especially one that requires the students to return home at a late time, should be carefully considered.”

She had carefully considered whether or not to allow her students to perform at the art gallery when David asked her about it during his and Daniel’s thirty-fourth birthday celebration. Performing at the gallery opening wouldn’t be just another performance. The young artist who David was featuring was an alumna of Davidson. The band would also be there for support of one of their own.

But she didn’t expect Principal Jones to understand what it meant to support someone. A smirk crossed her face as a sardonic glint highlighted her chocolate brown eyes. Angela grew tired of the games Principal Jones was playing. What she wanted was to get to the root of the issue. What was the real reason Principal Jones disliked her so much? She stabbed her hands on her hips and cocked her head to the side.

“If you believe the band shouldn’t attend the gallery opening, then that’s your decision, however, I’ll allow you to call one of the school’s biggest benefactors and explain to him, after all he’s donated, why the jazz ensemble is unable to attend his function. I am sure David would be upset, but ultimately he would be understanding; at least I think he would be.”

Principal Jones frowned, her throat bobbed as she tried to respond.

“I need to know,” Angela continued, “What’s your problem with me? I’ve never done anything to you, except admired you when I was younger. I’ve always considered you an exceptional teacher and an inspiration. You even admitted that you didn’t want me to take over this position, which comes as a huge shock to me. I was able to make the trip to Madrid happen for the students and instead of being happy, you frown and scowl when I’m in your vicinity.”

Without missing a beat, Principal Jones smugly replied, “You’re used to getting your way and now you’re trying to make it seem like I’m holding a grudge against you. I can assure you I’m not.” She took a step closer. “The truth is, you are not cut out to be a teacher; not here or anywhere for that matter. The only reason you have this job is because the schoolboard and the superintendent wanted Mr. Wilson to retire and he wasn’t going to unless you were named his successor.”

Angela gasped. Her hand flew to her mouth at the confession. She’d always known it was something behind her receiving what she deemed her dream position and Principal Jones’ earlier confession about not wanting her to have the job hadn’t come off as a shock to her, but learning how Mr. Wilson had practically been forced into an early retirement, her eyebrows wrinkled in vexation.

“You didn’t really think you had what it took to get the job on your own?” Principal Jones continued to taunt. “I will admit that you did turn around the music program around, but you were never meant to be a long-term replacement. I think it’s time I let Superintendent Mitchell know how you’ve constantly undermined my authority. I’m sure this will reflect whether or not your contract is renewed at the end of the year.”

If Principal Jones expected Angela to flinch at her words, break a sweat, and even beg for her forgiveness and promise to never act out again, she had another thing coming to her. Angela refused to back down from the challenge being thrown in front of her. The smile on her lips belied the indignant look in her eyes. “I don’t take too well to being threatened. You should keep that in mind.”

***

Daniel’s ears perked and his body sizzled at the sound of keys jiggling at outside the front door. He shook his head with a smile. He was acting more like a dog who happily greeted its master after spending the entire day apart from one another, and not a grown man who would greet his girlfriend. He scolded himself, tossed the towel draped on his shoulder onto the counter and wiped his hands on his apron, desperately willing himself to control his thoughts.

His insatiable hunger for all things Angela left him weakened like a starved man. He needed her in the worse way. She’d become his nicotine and if he didn’t touch her, taste her, or feel her body close to his soon, there was no telling what he would do. Thoughts of taking her in the kitchen against the stainless steel appliances, on the counter, or even where she stood in the foyer crossed his mind, but he would have her, soon.

Daniel placed the bowl of sugar snap peas under the spray of cold water and glanced over the items in front of him, double checking to make sure he had everything he needed. Dinner would be perfect. The caramelized scallops served with sugar snap peas and wide rice noodles wouldn’t take long too long to cook because he couldn’t wait to get to dessert; Angela.

He turned when the clicking and clacking of high heels came to a stop behind him. His eyes connected with Angela’s and the stirring in his soul grew until it became a raging storm. He absently shut off the running water, crossed the floor to stop in front of her, and without words, took her into his arms in a crushing kiss that caused them both to moan under its intensity.

Deepening the kiss, his tongue tangled with hers before he pinned it under his then caressed every inch of her mouth, exploring and familiarizing himself with the taste he would never get enough of. Nothing in the world could ever feel so right and the moment Angela wrapped her arms around his neck, her fingers laced through his hair and she pulled him closer to her, fusing their lips, their bodies and even their souls together until they became one.

He pushed the jacket she was wearing off her shoulders and used one hand to snatch it from around her wrists and toss it onto the floor behind them. Angela responded with a moan, her hands slid down to his waist, and expertly undid the tie at his back, allowing the apron to fall away from him, and caused Daniel to smile against her lips. He took a step back, his lungs burned, begged and pleaded for air, while his body did the same, but for her.

Angela’s eyes, heavy with lust, slid opened, she gnawed on her lower lip then asked, “Why’d you stop?”

Words failed him. She was so beautiful. Her full, swollen lips, still moistened by the onslaught of his greedy kisses. The soft puffs of air fell from between her slightly opened mouth matched the rise and fall of her breasts. He licked his lips in anticipation of taking them into his hands and guiding her chocolatey Hershey kissed buds into his mouth. He shifted the weight of his legs to alleviate pressure off his growing shaft.

“If I didn’t stop, chances are we wouldn’t eat dinner. I would spend the rest of the night feasting on you.”

She nonchalantly lifted her shoulder, her hands went to the back of her dress. “You make it sound like it’s such a horrible thing, Danny. And after the day I had, more so the conversation with Principal Jones, I think it would be the perfect end the day.”

Daniel sucked in a swift breath as the red material fell from her body to pool around her ankles and reveal her black lace bra and matching panties. If he could even refer to the barely there scrap as panties. He grew harder, his erection pressed against his boxer briefs, yearning to be free. His eyes slowly drank in her curvaceous frame, etching every single inch of her delicious body into his mind as not to ever forget how beautiful this woman was. And she was all his.

Angela reached behind her and unbuckled the clasp of her bra. Her large, rounded breasts sprang free from the confines of the material that trapped them. His eyes darted from her gleaming eyes, to her flawless skin flushed with desire, down to her full pouty lips he wanted to taste again, over the swells of her breasts, lower until he reached the center of her, hidden away behind material he wanted nothing more than to rip from her body. Soon, he told his impatient libido.

Unable to stop himself any further, Daniel crossed the floor. He dropped to his knees in front of Angela, his index finger hooked the elastic band of her panties and tugged them until they hung around her thick, succulent thighs he craved to find himself between. He leaned closer and inhaled Angela’s natural scent mingled with the potency of her want for him. His mouth watered and before he could even think to pull her panties completely off, he buried his tongue deep inside her.

Angela dug her nails into his shoulder. The white flash of blinding pain momentarily stunned him, but he refused to let go. Instead he yanked her panties until they wrapped around her ankle. He lifted her leg to help her out of the offending garment, but stopped her when she tried to step out of her heels. He looked at her, with a sexy grin. “Keep them on. I’ve always wanted to make love to you with heels on.”

Carefully, he rested one of her legs on his shoulders, used his thumb and forefinger to spread her lower lips, and curled his tongue around her extra sensitive clit into his awaiting mouth. Her moans grew louder until her screams bounced off the walls with each flick and lick, pull and push of her engorged clit. She tossed her head back, whipped and rolled it around, her hold on the back of his head tightened, but the assault of his tongue, lips and occasionally his teeth was unrelenting.

“Danny please!” Angela whined breathlessly. She rocked her hips, moved them in a circle against the ministrations of his tongue. “Do-don’t stop.”

Little did she know, he wouldn’t stop even if the Lord himself came from the sky and unleashed Armageddon on the world. He wouldn’t stop, couldn’t stop, and refused to stop not until pleasure rippled through her. Her body shook violently, quivered with each stroke of his tongue until an earth-shattering orgasm tore through her.

He held her against his lips until her body slumped over his. Daniel stood, pulled Angela into his arms and brushed a kiss against her lips.

Angela shuttered, “Now—,” she yanked at his belt buckle and undid his pants, then sank to the floor in front of him. “—it’s your turn.” She slipped her hand in the slit of his pants and boxers and set him free. “You’re so hard, Danny.”

Daniel muttered a curse when the phone next to him rang. He grabbed the offending the instrument from the counter and jabbed his finger on the talk button. “What?” he yelled into the phone. He tucked the phone between his shoulder and ear.

Angela licked her lips and swirled her tongue around the pulsating mushroom shaped head of his shaft before taking him completely into her mouth, his erection disappeared inch by inch into the warmth of her mouth. Daniel hissed.

“Wait Frederick, calm down.”

He shifted his weight, his body tensed and as if Angela felt the switch in his demeanor, she pulled back and lifted a brow.

Daniel cursed. “Say it again.” He listened as Frederick explained and released a steady stream of curses before responding through gritted teeth, “Don’t worry, I’m on my way.” He ended the call, helped Angela up then fixed his clothing. “Sweetie, I’m sorry. That was Frederick, the general manager at L’amore. The New York City Health and Mental Hygiene department shut down my restaurant.”

Chapter TEN

Angela stood at the center island in the spacious kitchen with its sweeping views of Manhattan spanning as far as the eye could see, snapping string beans while listening to the many stories of the Knight men from Daniel’s grandmother, Alessandra Knight.

The Knight women along with Angela, her mother, and Kristen, were in the kitchen preparing Thanksgiving dinner while the Knight men, including her father, all sat around in the den, flipping between football and basketball on the large flat screen television, smoking cigars, and overindulging in beer. Luckily for her, Kristen’s boyfriend—Bradford, chose to spend the holiday with his family in the Virgin Islands. His absence from the festivities was definitely something to be thankful for.

“The difference between this generation of Knight men and every other generation before them is simple,” Carolyn Knight-Smith stated from beside Angela while twirling the knife she used to chop baby red potatoes. “My brothers, though knuckleheads, didn’t fight love at all. This generation, my son included, refuses to give their heart to someone.”
“All except Daniel.” The older women all said in unison.

“But it took Daniel and me fifteen years to get here.” Angela responded.

Kristen sucked her teeth. “But you’re here.”

Kimberly stopped and turned to Kristen. “Sweetheart, something is telling me you’ll be next.”

Theresa Kennedy-Knight smiled. “I agree with Kimberly. As a matter of fact, while I know you’re dating someone, I think you and my son, Lorenzo, would be perfect for one another; especially since you apparently love lawyers.”

Instead of responding, Angela lowered her head to focus her attention on snapping the string beans. She snickered.

Kimberly, who was busy basting the turkey, turned from her place near the sink. “Now hold on, Theresa, I personally believe Kristen and David would be extremely cute together. She already favors Karen and they both are into art. It would be the perfect union.”

Angela silently glanced over to Kristen and winced under her scathing glare. She was definitely going to hear it whenever the two of them found themselves alone. Hopefully, she wouldn’t get the opportunity to do so until well after the evening ended. Kimberly’s suggestion of David and Kristen becoming anything more than acquaintances would never do; not even if they were the last two people on the Earth and the fate of mankind was dependent on them.

Kristen cleared her throat and forced a smile. “Mrs. Knight,” she gasped at the frown on Kimberly’s face. “Sorry, Mama Knight, trust me, I am not interested in David and I’m extremely happy with my boyfriend, Bradford.”

Kimberly shrugged as if the words meant nothing to her. “True, but I still believe you’ll be next, sweetie. Trust me.” She winked, and then turned back to the turkey.

Alessandra gave a small delightful smile. “Each of my grandsons will get married within the next five years.” Her light brown eyes twinkled and although she stood shorter than all the women in the room, she had a larger-than-life demeanor. Her heavily accented voice, though soft and meek commanded the attention of every ear in the room, including Angela’s. “Daniel has already broken the Knight curse for this generation, which means love is restored for this generation; if they are willing to accept it, future spouses and all.” Angela didn’t miss the look Alessandra split between her and Kristen, but said nothing.

A comfortable silence filled the kitchen, each woman worked on their part of making sure the first of many Thanksgiving dinners with both families.

Daniel took a swig of his beer and continued to blindly stare into space, unable to focus on the images of the two football teams. Whatever happened, it caused everyone in the room to jump from their seats, popcorn spilled from over the top of buckets filled to the brim with the delicious, overly salted and extra buttery snack food. Beer, scotch and other forms of beverages sloshed from cups filled onto the dark, hardwood floors.

He snatched his gaze from the screen to his brother, cousins, uncles, grandfather, and then finally to land on his father, who all stared at him with smirks etched on their faces. Daniel shifted. “What? Why are you all staring at me like that?”
His grandfather, Marcello Knight, a tall, robust man with graying hair and eyes as dark as the night sat next to him and patted him on the knee, though he spoke fluent Italian most of the time, when in America, he spoke English though his words were thickly accented. “I think you already know the answer to your question. So allow me to pose one of my own. Why are you still sitting in here with us, when you obviously want to be with your woman?”

“C’mon nonno. Daniel doesn’t want to be in there with the women. He wants to hang out with the men.” Lorenzo exchanged a few high fives with Giovanni and Stefano.

“He’s sprung.” Stefano suggested. “It happens to the best of us.”

“Love happens to the best of us.” Wellington Smith stated matter-of-factly.

“But he’s not in love.” Giovanni boasted proudly. “There’s no way he could be in love yet. They just reunited.”

“You’re wrong.” Amadeo, Giovanni’s father replied. “The blank stare says it all. Daniel is so far gone. He’s a man in love. What I suggest is you four get used to it.”

Oliver Peterson only shook his head in agreeance.

Daniel took another swig of his drink and stood. “They’re right, fellas. I’m beyond in love with Angela.” He slipped his hand in his pocket and extracted a black velvet box, tossed it in the air and caught it, then glanced at the men who he loved and admired. Each one wore a look in their eyes that more than likely mirrored his own. Uncertainty, excitement, but most of all, love.

His father stepped forward, grinning from ear to ear. “Well, what are you going to do?”

“I’m going to get my woman.” He began to walk out the room, but stopped at the clearing of a throat. He turned to see the eyes of his future father-in-law filled with questions. Daniel smiled. If he was going to ask Angela to marry him, he would have to do it the right way.

“Mr. Peterson, I’ve always considered you as a father to me.” He glanced at his own father apologetically, before continuing. “You were there when we believed our father was deceased. You stepping in willingly and helped mold me to become the man I am today. I’ve always loved you and I’ve always loved your daughter.” Releasing a puff of air from his chest, he nervously chuckled, realizing that his hands trembled at his side. What are you so afraid of? You know this man. Ask him! “May I have your blessing to ask Angela to marry me, sir?”

The room grew eerily quiet as everyone waited on baited breath for Oliver’s answer. After a moment of absolute silence, Oliver nodded his head and embraced Daniel in a crushing hug.

Without uttering another word, Daniel placed the box back into his pocket and with the confidence of a hundred men, strode from the den, followed by the male members of his family closely on his heels. Telling Angela his true feelings about her were long overdue; fifteen years to be exact. He could no longer pretend he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life waking up to her beautiful, breath-taking smile.

No other woman in his life, besides the women of his family, could ever love him the way Angela had and did; though he was unsure if she actually loved him since neither had yet to speak the words. He was grateful for her reemergence in his life, despite her only coming to him for help with her students or the plan he made to control her by blackmailing her into pretending to be his girlfriend. None of that mattered to him anymore. He loved her.

Daniel paused outside of the kitchen and took a cleansing breath. For the first time since receiving the phone call from Frederick about his restaurant being temporary shut down due to a phone call that claimed it to be below the state’s health regulations, he had a clear mind and a clear heart.

“Don’t tell me you’re about to chicken out.” David whispered, coming to stand next to Daniel. “You and I both know she’s the one.”

“I know.”

“So what are you waiting for? Go get your woman.”

With one last breath and a reassuring nod from the men behind him, Daniel continued into the kitchen and over to the island where Angela stood kneading dough. He wrapped his arms around her waist and dropped a kiss on the top of her head. Her body instantly melted against his chest and a high voltage of electricity surged through them both effortlessly. He felt her body tense slightly, before becoming relaxed against him once again.

“Do you even know what you’re making?” he whispered quietly against the shell of her ear. She shivered in his arms, causing the smile on his face to expand further until he could no longer hide it behind her mountainous curls.

“Not really,” Angela replied softly, she turned in his arms. “But I’m not about to question it either.” Subtly she motioned with her head to Kristen. “When Kris tried to ask, nonnina popped her with the spatula. I refuse to get that kind of treatment.”

Hearing Angela use the same endearment he, his brother and cousins used to refer to their little grandmother, left a ball of emotion lodged in his throat. Never had the usage of one word confirmed to him that Angela was indeed the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. He swallowed hard and took a step back, much to Angela’s dismay. Her thick eyebrows furrowed.

Daniel touched his finger to them, smoothing the wrinkles from her forehead. He took her hand in his and brought them to his lips, placing a long, lingering kiss on the backs of them.

“Danny, are you ok?”

“I’m perfect sweetheart, he replied around a chuckle. “Just thinking, that’s all.”

Her large, expressive eyes narrowed, she cocked her head to the side and continued to stare at him; confusion marred her flawless face. “About what?”

“What I’m most thankful for.”

When she shot him with an indigent look, he continued. “I realize what I’m most thankful for. It sounds cheesy, but I’m thankful for you. You are so beautiful and so kind. So sweet and so giving. Your heart is full of love and joy and…” he paused, searched her eyes clouded by tears and said the words he was once too afraid to admit. “…I love you. I’ve always loved you and I’ll never love anyone but you. Angie, you are everything I have ever dreamed of in a woman and friend. I spent the last fifteen years wandering the world thinking I had all I needed. I even told you that the trust of my fans and my career was more important than love. I was lying to myself. Even now, I still don’t have everything I need in life because I need you.”

Angela gasped; her hand flew to cover her mouth which dropped open in shock. The other trembled in his grasp. She opened her mouth to speak, but no words came out. Tears flowed freely down her face and over her rounded cheeks.

“I need you to be there when I come home late at night from a grueling day either from the restaurants or business meetings, wherever I am coming from, I need you there. I need to rise every morning to the sound of your voice, the smile on your face and the twinkle in your eyes. I want to be there to protect you.”

He took a look around the room, carefully observing every face before turning back to Angela. “What I’m trying to say is…” He lowered to the tiled floor in front of her and removed the black box from his pocket, eliciting a resounding gasp to echo throughout the space.

“Angela Diane Peterson, will you finally put me out my misery and agree to spend the rest of your life with me?”

Time stood still. The Earth stopped spinning on its axis. Even the water that dripped from the faucet seemed suspended in air. His breath caught in his lungs and stayed there like the breaths of everyone who waited for Angela to respond. The silence in the room was almost deafening and along with the drumming of his racing heart, he thought he would go insane.

Somewhere behind him, he heard a cough and the faint whistle of someone wheezing. What was happening to him? Did he somehow develop supersonic hearing because everything suddenly sounded ten times as loud as it should be? Even the tick-tock of the second hand as it made its way around the clock was nearly unbearable to stand.

Finally, as if by the graces of God someone was looking out for him, a blinding, sensuous smile that made his heart skip several beats crossed Angela’s beautiful face as she whispered the words he longed to hear, “Yes Daniel, I’ll marry you.”

He blinked—once, twice, three times—and still couldn’t see beyond the cloud of fuzz that blurred his vision. He slipped the five carat, cushion cut, triple halo diamond engagement ring onto her finger and pulled her into his arms, planting a hard kiss on her lips.

“I love you, baby.” Daniel whispered before claiming her lips once again in a searing kiss. His tongue swiped over hers, caressing her, coaxing her to give in to the wantonness desire that held them both hostage in its clutches. She moaned into his mouth and wrapped her arms around his neck, bringing the full lusciousness of her body against his chiseled frame. The kiss grew with fevered passion.

“Hey, that’s still my daughter you know?” Oliver Peterson grunted.

Daniel reluctantly broke the kiss to a chorus of laughter and congratulations, but refused to release Angela from his hold. His eyes slowly moved over her cocoa colored skin, highlighted by the glow of the kitchen lights. Her eyes were low and her long lashes fanned her face. The satisfied smile on her mouth hitched until her eyes crinkled at their corners. She sighed contently and placed her head on his chest. “I love you too, Danny.”

***

Angela gazed lovingly at her flawless ring and smiled, her mind rushed back to the events earlier in the day. Events that left her speechless. Her eyes were bloodshot red and puffy from crying.

She was getting married and to the man of her dreams; the man who she loved with her entire heart and soul. She closed her eyes and settled back against the plush pillows on the huge California King sized bed, in the extravagantly decorated master bedroom suite of Daniel’s penthouse condo overlooking the east side of Central Park.

Ornately decorated with cream colored walls, sparkling with gold with red accents throughout, the master bedroom was fit more for a king in a palace. Floor-to-ceiling windows with sheer curtains beneath heavy wine colored drapes allowed the twinkle of the lights from the towering buildings nearby to softly set the room aglow along with the halo of light coming from the two bedside end tables.

From the adjourned en-suite bathroom, Angela listened as the running shower water ended. Her breast, already heavy with anticipation, grew even fuller, and tender. Her body erupted as tiny embers kissed exposed areas of her heated skin until it sizzled and blazed and engulfed every inch of her, setting her entire body on fire with a red-hot desire unlike anything she’d ever felt before.

She gasped loudly, fanned her face with the thick bridal magazine she’d been aimlessly thumbing through trying her hardest to focus on the homework Carolyn Knight-Smith had given her to find a style of wedding dress she liked, and not give in to the burning desire to join Daniel while he took a shower.

The moment the bathroom door creaked opened and Daniel stepped out, his café au lait colored body, perfectly chiseled and sculpted with droplets of water beads clinging to his frame, she knew although she’d won the battle against her out of control hormones, she’d become another casualty of the war that pillaged and ravage her to the core of her wanton needs.

Angela absently licked her lips and squeezed her thighs tight with hopes of relieving the mounting pressure building there. If Daniel had any idea what he was doing to her body, he clearly made no mention of it or acknowledged her breathless moans as she shifted positions in the bed. He stood with his back turned to her, rummaging through his top drawer.

The corded muscles of his back flinched and jerked with each move he made. Her fingers itched to touch him, trace the rope like veins that bulged there. Her mouth watered to leisurely drag her tongue over the ripple planes of his back or along the bold lines of the American/Italian flag tattoo on his left shoulder.

“Sweetheart?”

Angela jolted from her provocative thoughts and blinked several times only to find Daniel facing her. His thick, bushy eyebrows were raised slightly and his lips, so full and deliriously kissable were tilted in an amused smirk. As though he’d been allowed access to her thoughts and knew how badly she wanted him.

“Did you hear my question?”

“I’m sorry,” she responded, “my mind was elsewhere. What was the question?” Her eyes left his to roam freely over the thatch of fine hair that peppered his chest and his abdomen. The tattoo over his heart, the one he’d gotten the night she left him fifteen years ago, looked simply exquisite under the dimly lit lightening and she yearned to touch him there.

He took a step forward and for the first time since he got into the room, she noticed he was wearing nothing but a plush towel hung low on his hips. Defined, toned lines cut across his washboard abs and dipped low forming a yummy, enticing V-shape that continued well under the towel.

“I asked if you wanted to head back home tomorrow or stay here until Sunday. I have a meeting to finalize the plans for the restaurant tomorrow in D.C. but I can always fly back here. We can catch some shows, do some shopping, and relax.”

Truthfully she didn’t care, as long as he dropped the towel, sauntered over to her with that sexy smirk she’d come to love, oozing with swagger and sex appeal, and made love to her. Again, as if sensing her thoughts, Daniel dropped the towel. His heavy erection sprang free from behind the cloth and grew under her fiery gaze.

“Staying here is fine,” she croaked. She cleared her throat and repeated herself. Daniel nodded. He released the fabric he held in his hand and placed his hands on his hips, and spread his legs.

“Good. I wanna show you the city.”

All she could manage was a brisk nod and a shaky smile. Her eyes continued to take Daniel in and widened with shock when one of his hands left his hip to cup the heavy erection that rested against his stomach. She took in a swift breath as his hand wrapped around his engorged sex and stroked it from the base all the way to the tip.

“You know, the way you’re looking at me is turning me on? I want to be, need to be inside of you.”

Angela hastily discarded the books littering the bed and tossed the covers off her, revealing a cotton candy pink, sheer lace chemise. “What’s stopping you?”

Daniel chuckled, “I have something I want to ask.”

“Ok, but after you ask this question, what happens next?”

Daniel licked his lips, “Don’t worry about that. We’ll both enjoy it, sweetheart.”

The area between her thighs tingled with excitement at his words. Of course she would enjoy whatever he planned to do to her body, if the stiffened rod between his legs was any indication of their evening. “So what’s this question?”

He walked over to the edge of the bed, replacing the towel on his hips. Her eyes, darkened with lust, and openly roamed his perfect physique.

“I’ve been wondering if you accepted my proposal because you actually want to marry me, or you felt…”

Angela turned to face him. Her hands rested on his stomach. Her fingernails trailed over the lines of his abdomen, higher to tweak his nipples, then further to wrap around his neck. She pressed her body close to his and leaned in to touch her lips to his ear. “I accepted because I love you and only you.” She dragged her tongue over the outer shell of his ear. “I’ve never stopped thinking about you. I tried to hate you; I couldn’t.”

Daniel threaded his fingers through her hair and brought her lips close to his. “When I saw you at the book signing, I wanted to hate you, but I couldn’t. I’ve never stopped loving you, Angie.”

“Good.” She pressed her lips to his. Her tongue caressed his lips, coaxing them to open to her before taking his tongue into her mouth to suckle on it. Daniel groaned, his hands cupped her face and deepened the kiss until her lungs burned from the lack of air.

Her hands were sprawled across the taunt, rigid muscles of his chest, her nails bit into his glistening skin still damp from the shower, then snaked higher to caress the silky strands of his hair. Everything about the man she loved was gorgeous, from the depths of his eyes, to the heart she now claimed as her own. Angela sighed softly, a smile working its way along her lips as she used her tongue to trail a path along his jawline, down the length of his neck, lower until she encircled and laved his nipple with the tip of her tongue, drew the stony pebble between her teeth then switched to bestow the same attention to the other. While her tongue and teeth worked Daniel’s body into a frenzy, a simple flick on the wrist caused the thick terry cloth towel to fall around his ankles. She cupped her hand around his heavy erection and caressed him with long, slow strokes. He dropped his head, gritted out her name through clinched teeth and pumped his hips to the steady rhythm she created.

Daniel reached out and grasped her wrist in a tightening hold, Angela groaned softly with a pout. “I’m not finished.”

“Trust me, you are. If you keep doing what you’re doing, I’m going to lose myself and control before I can get inside of you.”

Angela slipped off the negligée and settled back against the mountain of pillows. She opened her legs, giving Daniel an uninterrupted view of her feminine mound and fingered the soft, dark curls before touching the part of her that begged for his attention the most. The intimate contact of her fingers over her dewy folds caused her to squeeze her eyes shut, throw her head back and release an ear-drum shattering scream that started at the base of her throat at the same time a stirring sensation sent sparks shooting through her lower body.

She fragmented into millions of tiny pieces under its sheer force, cried out Daniel’s name while rocking her hips with her back arched high off the bed. Toes curled into the mattress, her head thrashed back and forth over the silk pillows. Never had she ever felt this wild and sexually invigorating. She forced her eyes opened the moment she heard the crinkling of the condom wrapper and watched, with her lips parted, as Daniel rolled the latex material over his erection

He lowered himself to the bed, took the hand at the apex of her thighs and brought it to his lips to thirstily sample her succulent nectar. His tongue traced over each finger, devouring every drop of the sweet substance. Angela watched through intoxicated lust-filled eyes.

“Danny, please!” she begged. “I need you.”

Daniel positioned himself between her legs, hooking them both over his shoulder, and wasted no time diving deep inside Angela’s warm canal. She reached behind her, gripped the pillows at her head and locked her ankles at the small of his back, urging him to press on, go deeper, give her what she wanted; no needed. And Daniel complied. His grunts in her ears, mingled with her soft curses and short pants of breaths.

His urgent, frenzied thrusts grew faster. Their sweat slicken bodies slapped against one another. The music their bodies created, both harmonious and melodic fueled their desire for one another. Angela gripped his shoulders, rolled her hips, and matched Daniel thrust for thrust. She contracted the muscles of her inner walls around him and felt him nip the skin beneath her earlobe with his teeth.

“Damn you feel so good, baby. So wet. So right.”

She closed her eyes and moaned into his shoulder. “Don’t stop.”

“I won’t.” Faster and faster, harder and harder Daniel continued to move. Pure, animalistic ecstasy rippled between them. Their grunts and moans of pleasure grew louder, unrestrained screams of erotic passion filled the air. Blood rushed to her head. Her heartbeat raced frantically in her chest and drowned out her labored breaths. She opened her eyes, stared in his dark ones and allowed her body to succumb to the overpowering desire that consumed her at the same time Daniel stiffened, his body went rigged as he spilled his seed into the latex.

As she laid with her head resting on Daniel’s solid chest, the steady thumping of his heartbeat mingled with their heavy breathing that filled the air. Limbs still slightly intertwined and heated bodies basked in the afterglow of a torrid love making session, Angela blinked back tears of happiness.

A comfortable silence filled the room, but there wasn’t a need for words to be said. Everything they needed to say to one another had been conveyed through the act of love making. She gave all of herself freely, without abandonment and in return, Daniel had done the same, using barely audible words spoken breathlessly against the shell of an ear, moans and groans of passion, tender caresses and nerve-shattering kisses.

“Are you asleep?”

She smiled and looked into the fiery depths of his bottomless eyes. Her heart skipped a beat, her breath caught in her throat. Why did he have to look at her with such passion and want?

“Can I ask you something?”

“Sure.”

Daniel shifted their position so that she was now face to face with him. He fingered several curls. “What’s the deal between you and Principal Jones? Ever since the day I came to see you at school, I’ve been wondering.”

Angela fought the urge to suck her teeth. Of all the questions he could ask her, she didn’t expect that one, however, it was time he knew. “Long story short, she hates me.” When Daniel opened his mouth to respond, she laid a finger on his lips silencing him. “It started well before I started working there. Back when we were in school. I never believed it until she basically told me. She admitted the only reason I got the job is because Mr. Wilson wouldn’t retire if anyone else took his position and since he named me and they—the school board and administration—was desperate to get rid of him, I was hired. She even mentioned my contract not being renewed next school year.”

Daniel shot upright. “She can’t do that!”

“She can. If I get a bad review, it can happen. No matter how much I’ve done or what I sacrificed. Also, since you came back into the picture, things have gotten worse between us. When I mention you, she looks like she wants to vomit.” She chuckled at the thought then turned somber. “I love teaching, but the amount of resistance I’ve gotten from her hurts.”

“You’ve always dreamt of working at Davidson.” He kissed her temple and pulled her closer to him.

“Yeah, but if I don’t get hired back, then it was never meant to be.”

“What would you do then?”

She shrugged, “I never thought about life after teaching. I guess I should start.”

Chapter ELEVEN

Daniel hopped out of the backseat of the black SUV before the vehicle came to a stop. The blistering cold of the New York City winter greeted him as its residents celebrated the holidays. Snow from the season’s first snowfall blanketed the streets. Decorations from office building and shops alike cast an angelic corona of scintillating lights, illuminating the city even more than it had been before the holidays made its appearance. Blaring car horns mingled with excited chatter from those who were brave enough venture out into the cold underneath cadaverous skies.

But he was far from happy.

He slammed the door and bounded for the front door of his restaurant, roped off by bright yellow tape with black bold scripted letters that told the confused onlookers they were looking at an active crime scene.

He blocked the flashing bulbs of the paparazzi cameras that seemingly went off in repetition every few seconds by shielding his face, marred with anger and annoyance, with his arm. He muttered a curse. This was not how he wanted to start his morning, being awakened at the crack of dawn by a frantic phone call.

A large hand gripped his shoulder and he turned to see the stony expression of Stefano, who used his massive frame to shield Daniel from the throngs of people all trying to reach him, whether for comment or otherwise. Stefano’s darkened look mirrored that of his own. To his left, Lorenzo and his driver, Robert, did the same, though as his lawyer, Lorenzo tried to appease the media’s curiosity by explaining a statement would be given once information was received. Behind him, he heard David’s deep, rich baritone voice gruffly advise everyone to make room.

Daniel chewed on the inside of his cheek in an attempt to keep himself from saying anything the media could use to add to his current problems. When he reached the yellow tape, he quickly lifted it and proceeded beneath it until he was stopped by a strong hand. “I’m sorry sir, you can’t come back here.”

His patience snapped. He grabbed the offending hand at the wrist and twisted it away from his body. When then officer yelped in pain, Stefano stepped in, coaxing him to release the man. “I’m in no mood to deal with some rookie cop who gets his first taste of excitement and wants to lay hands on me. This is my restaurant and you’ll have to kill me before you stop me from going inside.”

Several officers from the police force rushed to where they were standing, but none dared to touch him. He walked into the doors of his restaurant, the sound of glass crunched beneath each step he took. His heart fell from his chest to land at his feet. A wave of nausea caused his stomach to churn at the site of what once was his pride and joy.

His eyes darted over the space that should’ve been his pristinely kept dining room, only it wasn’t as pristine as he required it to be on a daily basis. Tables were flipped, toilet paper hung from the chocolate wooden beams on the ceiling, and sprawled in red spray paint, on a wall near the entrance, were the words: PAYBACK IS A BITCH. On the wall where framed pictures of Daniel and his staff along with the many celebrities who often dined at L’amore, were the words: YOU RUINED HER. YOU’RE NEXT.

Daniel buried his head in his hands and released a frustrated scream. Who could do this to him? To his business? He spent all his time and energy working to make sure L’amore was one of New York City’s best restaurants. His fists clinched at his sides. A predatory expression grew on his face, his eyes became cold hard, flinty slits. He took a series of deep breaths, his nostrils flared with each release.

His smoldering gaze remained fixated on the wall ruined by whoever wanted payback. His mind quickly listed his enemies, however, he had none. He’d been taught to treat everyone as you would like to be treated; he had.

“Mr. Knight?” A feminine voice said from beside him. “I’m Detective Kate San Gabriel, and this is my partner, Detective Toya Walker. It’s nice to meet you.” She extended her hand, however, Daniel didn’t accept it. He continued to look around the disarray.

The woman cleared her throat. “What we know already is this was an isolated attack. None of the other businesses on the block were affected.”

“What about Aaron?” David asked about the daytime general manager.

The second officer spoke. “He was attacked during the vandalism. Currently he’s at the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. We had an officer talk to him and from what we were told, he opened the back door in preparation for the food delivery truck, but he was attacked by three masked men. They beat him until he passed out. He was found by the delivery man, who called the police.”

Daniel half-heartedly listened to the words both officers spoke. Thankfully Aaron was alright. That mattered the most. He could easily get his restaurant back to its former glory, however, he could never replace Aaron’s life.

“We’re asking the other business owners, as well as residents in the area, if they heard or saw anything suspicious. We’re also combing the area and checking surveillance cameras—”

“Then you’ll need access to the camera I have, correct?” Daniel asked, cutting off the officer in mid-sentence.

Officer Kate nodded, “Yes and if you can think of anyone who would have any issues with you, please let us know.”

He gave them a curt nod and walked away. Daniel pinched his lips together and glanced at Stefano with a sullen look on his face. Heat radiated from his gaze. Stefano nodded. Words no longer needed to be spoken. Nothing anyone could tell him would take away how he felt; less than nothing. What he needed to do was get the cleanup started and then get back to Washington D.C. and to Angela.

***

“I wanted to invite you to an opening exhibit David is having at his gallery this weekend.” Angela said to Kristen over dinner at one of their favorite restaurants in Gallery Place. “I’m leaving on Friday and I can arrange for you and Bradford to come Saturday morning.”

“I don’t know.”

“Why? This is a great opportunity to be in a room full of art critics and other powerful people in the art community. I know you’re not afraid to be in a room with David? You did it during Thanksgiving Dinner.”

Kristen released a long winded sigh. “Thanksgiving was different and unless you were blind, which you probably were because of that rock, he gave me the evil eye the entire night.”

“He did not!” Ok, maybe David did spend most of the dinner staring at Kristen. It wasn’t lost on her at all. There was definitely chemistry between the two, even if neither would admit it.

“You’re worse than Mama Kimberly and Theresa! You’re trying play matchmaker, but I’m happy with Bradford.”

Before she could fix her mouth to lie, her phone rung. She extracted the phone from her bag, glanced at the screen and smiled. “Hey baby. How’s NYC?”
She listened to Daniel explain the incident at his restaurant. “Are you alright?”

Daniel continued to fill Angela in on the information he’d received and finally, much to her dismay, explained he wouldn’t be home.
After saying their good-byes, Angela groaned. “Someone broke into Danny’s restaurant last night. The damage is extensive. Also the general manager on duty was attacked.”

Kristen sadly shook her head, “That’s horrible. Who would want to do something like that to him?”

Angela shrugged, “I have no idea, but Stefano is a former Navy Seal and private investigator. He promised Daniel he would figure it out as soon as possible.”

***

“I’m so glad you were able to make the event despite Bradford being sick.” Angela said with a bright smile on her face. The opening night of former Davidson alumna, Brittne Hawkins’ exhibit, was in full swing. The art gallery, located in the Soho neighborhood of Manhattan, was filled to the brim inside with celebrities, New York’s elite high society members and other invited guests who wanted the first peak at the art world’s newest sensation.

From the excited look on the young artist’s face, as she spoke to David near the buffet table, she clearly was happy with the turnout.

“Me too,” Kristen replied. “Brittne did an amazing job. These pieces are beautiful. I think I’m going to have to purchase a piece or two.”

“It’ll certainly be worth it. Everything here is exquisite.”

Kristen only nodded, the reason caused Angela to inwardly sigh. Angela couldn’t pretend like she didn’t notice the tension in Kristen’s shoulders, or the puffiness of her eyes, although she did well to hide it with makeup. Nor could she pretend that she had imagined the fleeting glances Kristen so often gave around the room. At the mention of Bradford, emotion permeated in her normally cheerful, hazel eyes.

“To bad the jazz band couldn’t perform. I was looking forward to having more exposure. Cramming in too many performances on their schedule will tire them out. Two more performances left in the year and all my focus can go on preparing for Madrid!”

“Yeah.”

Her conversation with Kristen was like watching paint dry and Kristen’s mood was only getting worse. She noticed the change the day after they had dinner together, but when she mentioned it, Kristen remarked she wasn’t feeling well. Now, Angela knew there was more to the explanation.

“Mama Knight wanted me to invite you and Bradford to the Knight’s New Year’s Eve party. It’s supposed to be a huge, black tie event that she—along with Carolyn and Theresa—hold every year.”

Kristen turned to her with a humorless smile. “That sounds great. I would love to attend, but—” the chiming of her phone cut her off before she could respond. She looked at the screen, then back to Angela. “I need to take this.”

She walked around the exhibit, checking out the pieces that hung from the soft gray walls. Music provided by the well-known DJ pumped through the opened space. It felt more like a club than an upscale, award winning gallery, but it worked, especially because most of the pieces were vibrant and full of life and color.

She took her eyes off the painting in front of her, a three panel abstract painting, to land on Daniel, who’d stepped back into the room from outside. She felt a strong surge of desire pass through her and gulped. He looked every bit of the suave and debonair fiancée. His long, jet-black hair was tied in a ponytail at his nape. The slate colored suit brought out the twinkle in his eyes, that or his relaxed nature.

Angela smiled warmly as she watched him make his way over to where she stood. For the first time since the vandalism happened at his restaurant and the investors for his newest restaurant had threatened to pull out because of the widespread media coverage the incident garnered, Daniel radiated happiness. The tension she’d seen in his shoulders and the rigidness that claimed his stance were now a thing of the past.

After spending most of the week in New York City, he’d flown back to D.C. the night before and climbed into bed physically, mentally and emotionally drained. So much so that instead of flying back when they originally planned, they flew with Kristen that morning.

“Hey baby.” Daniel kissed her temple and wrapped an arm around her waist as he stopped beside her. Enjoying yourself?”
“I am. Everything is so beautiful. I found a few pieces that would look nice in the condo.”

“Which condo?” Daniel joked with a chuckle. “By the way Kristen had to leave early.”

Angela’s eyes widened in alarm. “Is everything alright?”

Daniel nodded. “Everything’s fine. She mentioned not feeling well. Stefano took her back to her hotel. She said she’ll call you sometime tomorrow afternoon.”

She opened her mouth to respond, but quickly shut it when David took the podium at the front of the room. Her eyes scanned his stormy expression. Concerned, she turned to Daniel. “What happened to David’s hand?” It was wrapped in a white bandage. “I don’t remember arriving and seeing it like that.”

Daniel shrugged. “Don’t know. Maybe he just injured it.”

Angela didn’t respond, but made a mental note to find out what was going on, first with Kristen and then with David.

She settled back, with her head resting on Daniel’s strong, muscular chest, Angela listened as David spot candidly on his first meeting with Brittne Hawkins. Telling the crowd of more than two hundred how she made a lasting impression on her when he met her at Davidson Senior High School more about two years ago.

Halfway into the speech, the hairs covering her arm prickled her skin. Her heart suddenly dropped into her stomach that tossed with apprehension. She closed her eyes briefly and opened them, quickly scanning the room. Her eyes locked on a pair so familiar to her, it caused a wave of nausea to hit her like water at the shore’s edge. The woman hid the sneer on her face as she brought a glass of champagne to her lips. Angela gulped, drew a shaky breath in through parted lips. Her body went ridged.

“Baby, are you alright?” Daniel whispered. “You’re shaking.”

Angela glanced to Daniel with a shaky smile, nodded, and then turned her attention back to the spot she’d been looking at. “I’m ok, I just thought I saw Janelle, that’s all.”

“Janelle? As in Janelle Thompson?”

“Yes.”

Daniel pulled her closer to him and laid a lingering kiss on her cheek. “The event was invite only. There’s no way David would’ve invited her.”

She nodded and forced her attention back to the podium, unable to shake the uneasy feeling that now washed over her.

***

Daniel stalked into his home office like a lion stalking their prey and yanked the chair from behind his desk out with such force, it bounced back and smacked the wall. He ignored the picture that rattled, not giving one damn if the thing fell or not and grabbed the chair, sinking into the cushioned leather seat.

He couldn’t shake the haunting expression in Angela’s eyes when she told him she thought she’d seen Janelle. Her whole demeanor changed. Every so often he would catch her looking around the room. To say whoever she thought she saw put a damper on the evening was an understatement. First there was the incident with Kristen. Then it had been the possible Janelle sighting, although David assured him Janelle hadn’t been invited.

She’d been bold enough to come to his restaurant, though she claimed she’d been having lunch there. He didn’t put anything past her. He thought back to the shambles his restaurant had been left in. He grabbed the phone sitting atop of his desk and punched a number.

He wouldn’t hear the end of it calling his cousin this late. He wouldn’t be happy, but like the old mantra said: Family First. It took only two rings before a groggy voice came over the line. “What’s wrong?”
“I need another favor.”

He heard the opening and closing a drawer, followed by rustling of paper. “Talk to me.”

“I need you to locate someone for me. Her name is Janelle Thompson.”

“Your former fiancée?

“Yeah.” He sighed heavily. “Angela swears she saw Janelle tonight. David said he didn’t invite her, but the look I saw in Angela’s eyes, was frightening. Something got to her. Honestly, I wouldn’t put anything past Janelle. She did a surprise visit to the restaurant while I was there a month ago. Claimed she met friends for lunch. I don’t buy that.”

“Do you want me to only check her whereabouts for this evening?”

“No, I also want you to check over the last month. When she came to see me, I said some hurtful things to her and if the message left on my dining room wall was any indication that the attack was revenge, I wouldn’t rule her out.”

“Damn, but do you think she’s capable of an attack of that magnitude? From what you told me, she was a bit clueless and ditzy.”

“Anything is capable when you’re angry. I also need you to do another search on Angela for me.”
Stefano cursed softly. “Oh hell naw. You’re not about to get me in trouble with Angela again. I’ve gone toe-to-toe with some of the world’s most vile human beings and not a single one of them struck fear in my heart like Angela did when we met.” Daniel chuckled as Stefano continued. “I’m serious. I thought she was going to rip my jugular out.”

“You and me both. When I told her I was still having her followed, we were at a restaurant, I thought she was about to have an Incredible Hulk moment and flip the damn table.” He laughed at the memory. “But seriously,” he stated softly. “This time you’re not really searching Angela, but more of the people she works with. She mentioned there were some issues she experienced at work a few weeks ago. Her job was threatened.”

“Say no more. I’m on it. I’ll get you the information as soon as possible. Have you heard anything about the vandalism?”

Daniel rolled his eyes. Though the doors of L’amore were now opened to the public, a sense of helplessness gripped him. Aaron was now back at work and excited to be there, however, many of his staff worked watching over their shoulders, unsure if another attack would happen.

“Not really. It feels like no one cares. Maybe it’s because of who I am and my celebrity status, but they said they’re looking into it, but there haven’t been any leads.”

He needed to find out who terrorized his restaurant and fast. He would be leaving for L.A. and staying there for almost three weeks, filming the test pilots for his television show, Cooking Up Seduction. He couldn’t afford anymore mishaps, not while he would be away for as long as he would. His mind switched gears, his thoughts turned to Angela. How did he expect himself to go three whole weeks without seeing her, kissing her, tasting her or making love to her? He groaned.

Ten minutes later, Daniel discarded the robe and slipped beneath the covers. Angela rolled over and draped an arm around him. He dropped a kiss on her forehead, sighed deeply and closed his eyes before drifting off into a deep slumber.

***

“You’re joking right?” Angela fumed. She stood, tossed the papers she’d been reading back on the desk of Principal Jones. “You’re placing me on administrative leave, for what?”

She paced the span of the cluttered office, her nostrils flared, her nose wrinkled in disgust. She stopped long enough to see the smirk on Principal Jones’ marron colored lips. The lipstick she wore, which was smeared in some places while traces of it stained her teeth.

Her heart raced a mile a minute in her chest and she was sure that if she didn’t calm herself down, she would have a heart attack right here in the middle of the office. Though doing so would probably not be the best idea, given the glowering sneer, Principal Jones would probably leave her right there to die and not call 911.

When she received the message from Principal Jones scheduling a meeting with her and the Superintendent of the school system, Angela knew it wouldn’t be a cakewalk. In fact, she was prepared to go to war with the vile woman who seemed to take pleasure in making her life a living hell. She thought that when she paid for the trip to Madrid in full, and when the First Family attended the Holiday concert at the Kennedy Center, she’d won. There should’ve been nothing more for Principal Jones to do to her.

She’d long since forgotten the threat Principal Jones mentioned about her contract not being renewed, but now, as she stared with her jaw slacked opened and her eyes bulging from their sockets at the woman who she once admired, she should’ve known never to turn her back on a snake. She blinked back the tears from the corners of her eyes. Damn she wished Daniel was home and not in L.A.

“I’m sorry Angela, but because of your recent engagement, the media has been stalking the campus, talking to students about you and the whole thing has become a distraction. Students come to school to learn, not to be on television.”

“Principal Jones, you and I both know that I’ve apologized for the media and there hasn’t been any sightings in weeks.”

“The damage has already been done, Angela. Also…” she extracted a file from her desk. “Superintendent Mitchell and I went over the budget you gave for me and there are several alarming discrepancies. There are several thousands of dollars unaccounted for.”

“What?” She divided her glare between Principal Jones and Superintendent Mitchell. “I don’t know how. Everything is accounted for. The budget we have isn’t huge anyway. I’ve spent—,” Angela quickly closed her mouth. There was no way she could admit that she’d been spending her personal money to fund several of the band’s outings, uniforms and purchased instruments. The last teacher who’d done so was fired on the spot.

Superintendent Mitchell stood. “Angela, I am so sorry we have to do this. I took a long look at the files and there are so many things off with your budget. I have no choice but to place you on administrative leave without pay until we figure this out.”

“But what about the trip?”

Principal Jones cleared her throat. “It’s too late to cancel the trip. You all leave on Sunday. You will be permitted to go, however, your suspension starts once you’re back.”

Angela sighed in defeat. She took the notice Principal Jones handed her and left the office without another word. At least she was still being allowed to go to Madrid. If she’d said what she really wanted to say, she would more than likely find herself without a job.

***

Daniel hung his head in his hands and closed his eyes. The throbbing currently situated at his temples and behind his eyes grew until the pain became unbearable. After several moments of sitting in the leather chair, staring blindly out the window into the lights and sounds of downtown Los Angeles, he pushed himself from the chair and headed to the mini bar inside his suite.

He poured himself a healthy amount of Jack Daniels into the cup and added a splash of cola, then downed the contents like it was nothing. He thought back to his conversation with Angela and swore beneath his breath. Whatever the reason Principal Jones placed her one administrative leave was a bunch of BS and she knew it.

Her reasons didn’t make much sense, except the claim Angela misappropriated funds donated to the jazz ensemble. He told her not to worry. She would have to trust him. He glanced over at his briefcase, which contained several documents Stefano sent to him earlier in the evening. In a couple of days, Angela would be vindicated. The gold mine of information he’d receive would surely make sure of it.

Daniel washed out his glass, stretched and climbed beneath the covers. Though the bed wasn’t as cozy as the one he shared with Angela, it would have to do. His head hit the pillow when his phone chimed signaling a text message. He flipped the light switch, retrieved the device and read the message from the unknown number instructing him to meet in the lobby at the bar. Another text came through stating the person had information about Angela.

He climbed from the bed, slipped on a pair of sweatpants, a shirt and his tennis shoes, pocketed the keycard and bolted out the door. Three minutes later, Daniel slid into the chair at the bar and ordered a Pepsi. The bartender placed his drink in front of him when a hand landed on his shoulder.

Slowly he turned around in his chair, his jaw dropped. The apprehension he once felt turned to anger. “What are you doing here, Janelle?”

Janelle scanned the room. “We need to talk.” Daniel noted her tense stance, shaky hands, and the shortness of her breath. He hitched an eyebrow when she turned back to face him, tears streamed from her eyes. “It’s about my mom.”

Chapter TWELVE

Angela slumped on the oversized cushions of the couch. She brought the newly damped cold rag up and placed it over her puffy eyes. With any luck, the rag and the several aspirins she popped once she got home would lessen the throb of her headache long enough for her to pack for the trip. She breathed a heavy sigh. The only good news that had come from the meeting she was allowed to go to Madrid. Heaven forbid they took that away from her since they so easily snatched away her livelihood and her career.

Angela groaned. When she spoke to Daniel the night before, he calmly told her not to worry, but how was she expected not to worry? She loved teaching.

What broke her heart the most were the words and accusations tossed carelessly around the office like a rag doll. Some still reverberated through the quieted space of her mind. She tried to grasp and wrap her head around everything that had taken place, but failed. She was unemployed.

Removing the wash cloth, Angela gathered the papers she’d been given. The numbers listed didn’t make sense. The budget stated the band received three times the actual amount.

“Angela!”

She jerked her head towards the door and grimaced at Kristen’s voice. The pounding on the door matched the rapid pounding of her heartbeat in her ears. It drowned out the shallow, labored spurts of breaths she tried desperately to fill her lungs with.

She wasn’t in the mood to deal with company, but knew Kristen wouldn’t leave without seeing her. Angela pushed herself off the couch and trudged grudgingly to the door, opened it then returned to her spot on the couch.

“Why is it so dark in here?” Kristen asked, before a flood of light brightened the room.

Angela coiled her body into a ball and shielded her eyes from the blinding glare of light. “Turn it off.” she whispered harshly. Her voice cracked, her throat burned from the screaming she’d done.

Kristen dimmed the light. “What happened? I heard you were placed on administrative leave.” She claimed the seat beside Angela’s feet and rested them in her lap. “By the way, the concierge gave me this to give to you.”

Angela gave the manila envelope a side eye. “Put it on the table.” Angela sniffled then wiped away the tears in the corners of her eyes. “I was,” she swallowed, her voice worked to get pass the lump lodged in the center of her throat.

“What?!” Kristen bellowed, “You’re joking right? For what?”

Angela shook her head, “I wish.” She spent the better half of twenty minutes explaining the meeting and the outcome. At the end, she was unable to hold in the tears any longer. “They accused me of stealing donations.”

“But…I don’t understand.”

“Along with being framed, I was asked to tell how I got the money for Madrid. Principal Jones painted a picture of me taking money from the budget and using it towards the trip in spite of her telling me it was cancelled. I felt helpless. I couldn’t come out and tell her Daniel paid for it.” She slapped a hand over her mouth. The color drained from her face.

“Daniel paid for Madrid?”

Angela nodded. It was time Kristen knew the secret she held from her for three and a half months. “When I went to see Daniel at the signing, it didn’t go well at all. He asked where I was for the last fifteen years and long story short, I left. A few days later, Daniel came to my aunt’s apartment with a proposition. If I pretended to be his girlfriend for six months, he would pay for the trip and provide me with financial stability. I’m talking twice my monthly salary plus more.”

She took her bottom lip into her mouth then continued. “When you caught us in my office, it was because he came to find out if I agreed or not.”

“What about the proposal? Are you really engaged? Was it fake?”

Angela vigorously shook her head. “Not at all. We’re really engaged. After the Alumni Banquet, things became real. We finally spoke about him and Janelle.” She dabbed her eyes with the back of her hands. “I love him more than words could ever express and never stopped loving him. We went from an arranged relationship to being madly in love. I didn’t tell Principal Jones or Superintendent Mitchell that Daniel paid for the trip because I was ashamed. I didn’t want people to find out why we reunited. I want what you and Bradford have, although I can’t stand him.”

Kristen hugged Angela. “No, you don’t want what Bradford and I have because…” she sighed, “Bradford and I are no longer together.”

Angela’s mouth fell in shock. “What? When? Why? How?”

“I found out Bradford lived another life outside of me. One that included a house, wife, kids and a dog.”

Angela squeezed Kristen close to her. “I’m so sorry.”

Kristen shrugged, “No worries. I found out the night we had dinner together. I called him and his wife answered the phone. The reason I left the gallery early was because he showed up drunk and threatened to humiliate me, but those Knight men put a stop to it. Stefano accompanied me back to the hotel to make sure I was safe. But enough about that.” She waved her hand. “Does he know about your leave?”

She nodded. “He told me not to worry.”

“Well don’t. Daniel is telling you not to worry about it for a reason.” She turned her attention to the envelope and picked it off the table. “Now, open this. I am intrigued.”

Angela snatched the envelope from Kristen’s hands. “Fine, woman.” She sighed, and ripped into the tan colored parcel. She reached into the envelope and pulled from it a glossy picture. An explosion detonated inside her chest cavity and the pain that held her hostage became unbearable.

She blinked rapidly, suddenly feeling sick. She clasped a hand over her mouth, and shoot off the couch and through the living room. She raced with blinding speed towards the first floor powder room, where her knees hit the cold tiled floor in front of the porcelain toilet in time to be reacquainted with the contents of her stomach.

The picture slipped from her hand.

Tears blurred her vision, but could not erase the image that would be permanently etched in her brain for all the days of the rest of her life. She tried to stand, but fell back to the floor. Her legs were weak. Her knees nothing more than mush. She heard Kristen in the doorway, but could barely look at her.

How could he do this to me? She wondered. A second wave of nausea hit her.

“Angela, what’s wrong? Talk to me.”

With the back of her hand, Angela wiped her mouth and turned her head enough to see Kristen leaning against the sink, watching her cautiously. She slid the picture to her feet. Though grainy and in black and white, like footage from a surveillance camera, she didn’t need glasses to know what—or who—the figures in the picture were.

Daniel carried a woman, who looked vaguely familiar, into a hotel room and from the time stamp at the bottom of the picture, it had been well after midnight.

“Daniel’s cheating on me.”

***

Days later, Daniel turned the key to unlock the front door and stepped inside the foyer. An eerie silence filled the house. He took a deep breath, his nostrils inhaled the sweet scent of Angela’s perfume that lingered in the air. His mind wandered to images of his beautiful fiancée waiting for him, upstairs, in their bed. But he was quickly reminded that she was in Madrid and instead of flying straight there, he had business to take care of first.

He deposited his belongings by the door and headed upstairs. He would shower, then retreat to his office to go over the information Stefano sent him before their meeting in the morning and once it was over, he would be on his way to Madrid. At the top of the landing, a strange feeling clawed its way up his spine. He shook the unease off and walked into the master bedroom.

On the bed was a lone envelope. A smile crossed his face. He picked the envelope up and ripped opened the top flap of it, anxious to see what Angela left behind for him. Her week hadn’t been one to brag about, but he would remedy that soon. He pulled out the contents and stared almost unseeingly at the gritty black and white pictures before allowing them to slip from his grasp with a harsh curse.

He rushed into the closet and paused, his eyes connected with the empty space where Angela’s clothes once hung. He checked the drawers, those too were empty. It was as if Angela never lived there, though the tantalizing scent of her rose water perfume lingered in the air and tickled his senses, causing goosebumps to form over his skin.

He moved to her side of the bed and opened the drawer of the nightstand. He sighed, reached in it he pulled out a familiar velvet box. His pulse quickened and his stomach did somersaults. He fingered the smooth box, rolled it in the palms of his hands and flipped it over. A lump formed in his throat, sweat dotted his forehead. From the weight of the box, he knew what was inside.

Instead of huffing and puffing over the pictures, like he should’ve been doing, he glanced at the clock on the bedside table, pulled out his cellphone and called the hotel that Angela and the jazz ensemble was staying in. Hopefully Angela would understand, but once the operator patched him through to her room, her phone rung without answer. He stabbed the end button and dialed the number again, until dejectedly, he tossed the phone next to him. “This is far from over, Angie.”

The next morning, with his briefcase in one hand and the calm of a skilled assassin, Daniel pushed through the office door, and paused. His dark, midnight eyes hidden behind a pair of designer sunglasses searched the room, commanding the attention of its occupants. He removed the glasses, his eyes landing on the receptionist who seemingly swooned under their intensity.

He fought a groan and reminded himself to remain calm although his patience was wearing thin and he’d just arrived. He couldn’t wait for the meeting to be over and be on his way to Madrid. Sleep failed to come to him during the night, so he sat up and went over the information he planned to present. He took a deep breath. Soon.

A firm hand gripped his shoulder and squeezed, “You good?”

“Not really,” Daniel replied with a shrug. He slipped his hands in the pockets of his tailored pants and rocked on his heels. “I’m ready to get to Angie.”

Stefano nodded, “I know, but think once this is all over, everything would be perfect for you both.”

Daniel nodded. Stefano had a point, still he needed to get to Madrid and fast. The thought of her thinking the worst of him pained him. He felt like a fish being gutted. The thought of spending his life without Angela any more than he had already done, scared him. He hated to admit it, she’d become his life. His every awakening. The air within his lungs, the blood that flowed through his system. Angela was it. The epitome of everything he had ever wanted or needed in life. His best friend, his confidant.

Now more than ever, he couldn’t wait to get this meeting done with and run straight into the arms of the woman he loved more than anything in the world. He prayed when he got there, she would listen to him instead of turning him away.

“Daniel Knight,” a voice sung from behind him. “I must say I was a bit shocked when my receptionist mentioned you wanting to speak to me about a scholarship program for Davidson alum. I think it’s a fantastic idea.”

“Hello, Principal Jones. I am so glad that you were able to meet with me on such short notice. I know that you are a very busy woman running a school and all.” He took her extended hand in his. “This is my cousin, Stefano.”

Principal Jones smiled, “It’s nice to meet you, Stefano.”

“Likewise. I’ve heard so much about you. Thank you for taking the time out to meet with us.”

The smile on her face grew even wider, her eyes crinkled, showcasing the define lines and wrinkles around them. “We can move into my office. I know that you requested for Superintendent Mitchell to join us, he will be in shortly.”

Together the three walked into the office. Daniel claimed a chair, while Stefano stood near the door. Once Superintendent Mitchell arrived, they could begin, and the man couldn’t come any sooner. He shifted in his seat, gripped the arms of the chair and looked around the office while trying his hardest to keep the thoughts that were at the forefront of his mind at bay.

Only a semblance of restraint stopped him from jumping out of his chair and asking the woman why she had an issue with Angela. Impatiently, he glanced down at his watch for the umpteenth time. The office door opened, revealing an impeccably dressed Caucasian man with a rounded belly and snow-white hair. Daniel stood and extended his hand to the man who he knew was Superintendent Mitchell. Behind him, Lorenzo walked in. His features darker than normal, which meant, he was all business.

Once the introductions were concluded, Daniel opened his briefcase. He passed out the contents of the folder and waited.

“What’s this?” Principal Jones asked, her eyes skimmed over the first page of the thick packet he handed her.

“That”, Daniel stated, nodding pointing towards the papers, “Is the reason why I am here to today. It was brought to my attention that Angela Peterson was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation.”

Principal Jones leaned forward. The smile on her face faded. The sparkling gleam her eyes once held reduced to a tiny shimmer flickering like the light of a candle in a violent windstorm.

“If you turn to page two of your packet, you will find a copy of the check given to the organizers of the festival that the jazz ensemble is attending. At the top of said check is my information. I paid for the trip in full.”

“But. But…”

“What is this about? What happened to Ms. Peterson does not involve you.”

Daniel turned fiery eyes on Superintendent Mitchell. “That’s where you’re wrong. Angela is my fiancée.” At least she was. He looked at his watch once again. “I have a flight to catch, so let’s wrap this up. In the packet, on page four is the actual breakdown of the music budget. Also, there is indisputable proof that the person who was mismanaging the money of the music department was in fact Principal Jones.”

The color drained from her face, and she remained silent. Her eyes were glued on the paper in front of her.

“Monica, is this true?” Superintendent Mitchell shook the packet of paper. “What do you have to say for yourself?”

She quickly crossed the room to stop in front of Daniel’s chair. “You know you ruined her, don’t you? She loved you, and you ruined her.”

Daniel stood, bringing himself to his full, towering height. He noted the anger in the eyes of the woman he once admired. He tilted his head and raised a brow. “Ruined who?”

“Janelle,” Principal Jones spat. “She was madly in love with you and you strung her along like a love-struck puppy. You played with her emotions and in an attempt to get back at you, she got pregnant.” She shook her head sadly and wiped her eyes. Her mascara smeared in the progress. “I watched the child I gave up for adoption, seventeen years earlier, ruin her life chasing after some silly little boy who never cared for her and his goody-two-shoes of a girlfriend. So when Angela came to work here, I waited for the perfect opportunity. I would make her suffer, like Janelle did.”

The silence that enveloped the office brought it to a standstill.

She looked around the room before her dark, cold eyes settled on him. “All Janelle wanted was your love and you took that from her. I wanted you to hurt, like she did. If I could’ve done more, I would’ve. Framing her by taking money or destroying your precious restaurant wasn’t enough. The only good thing that came from this was knowing she left you.” Principal Jones laughed humorlessly. “I secretly watched her and Kristen Jefferson lug her things from your place after dropping off the pictures of you and Janelle.”

A loud, deafening silence filled the room. Daniel shrugged with a smile and gathered his belongings, “Superintendent Mitchell, I am sure that you have a lot of questions and I will be more than happy to answer them for you. As for you, Principal Jones, there are some nice men who would love to speak to you.”

Lorenzo opened the door. Two uniformed police officers entered the office, one removing handcuffs from his waistband as the other read Principal Jones her rights.

***

Angela placed her phone on the charger and sank into the pillows resting against her headboard. She opened her laptop and shook her head in shock, unable to believe what she heard. With a hand, she covered her mouth to stop the squeal that threatened to bubble from her throat and glanced at the clock next to the bed. She fought the urge to play the recording again, but knew the message would be the same.

Principal Jones arrested?

She reached for her cellphone, but stopped. She couldn’t call Kristen now. It was two in the morning back home. Home… Home was supposed to be where the heart was, and she was sure that she’d thrown her heart up along with her entire insides after he’d seen the picture of Daniel carrying Janelle into the hotel room.

After signing into her email, Angela shook her head in disgust. Over a hundred new messages, from Daniel, flooded her inbox. Moving the cursor across the screen, she clicked on a box, selecting them all, and moved the cursor again. This time choosing the delete option before logging off the computer. The picture she’d received said it all, there was nothing she wanted to hear from Daniel

She climbed out of the bed, showered and dressed. In an hour, she would meet her students and the twelve chaperons who’d accompanied them on the trip downstairs for breakfast before embarking into the city to see the sights. Needing a strong cup of coffee to rejuvenate her body, Angela walked into the spacious living room of her suite and stopped short of the kitchenette.

A curse slipped from her lips at the sight of Daniel leaning against the window with a hand in his pocket, sipping what she presumed was a cup of coffee while gazing down on the Plaza de las Cortes. “What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be with your girlfriend?”

Daniel lifted a shoulder but did not turn around, she sucked her teeth and stormed over to him. “What are you doing here?” Angela repeated. She grabbed his shoulder then quickly tore her hand away. Shock waves and tiny electric currents shot down her spin, eliciting pulses of sexual desire.

Why does he still do this to me?

He was breathtaking. His hair hung loosely, his long, curly eyelashes fanned his face. The stubble clinging to his cheeks and jaw was darker than she remembered. He hadn’t shaved at all, and the sight of it– of him caused her knees to buckle. His skin had been kissed by the warmth of the California sun, giving him the glow of a bronzed God.

Yet, it was the look of pure exhaustion in his eyes that threatened to do her under. He looked as if he hadn’t slept in weeks. Serves him right, she thought, taking a step back when his orbs darkened. She knew that look. It was the look he gave her right before he stripped her of her clothes.

The look that caused longing to stir in her stomach as she opened herself to him before their joining. No, she couldn’t allow that look to make her forget why she was so upset with him. He cheated on her. He broke her heart. But damn if she didn’t want to throw away all inhibitions and beg him to take her up against the window.

“I haven’t slept in…” he groaned, “I lost count of the sleepless nights. I saw the pictures and I want to explain.”

Angela opened her mouth to speak, but he silenced her with a glare.

“I never cheated on you. I’ve told you this before, but you don’t listen. So I’m telling you again. I have never cheated on you.” Daniel placed the mug he held on a nearby coffee table and crossed the room in long strides. “You walked away from me once without allowing me to explain. I’m not going to allow you to leave me once again without listening to what I have to say and when you do, when you’ve listen to what happened, when you see the details, the undeniable proof, and then you can decide if this—if us being together—is what you want.”

Angela closed her eyes to the voices in her head begging her to walk away. Yet her heart reminded her of the hell she went through without him because of a misunderstanding. Her eyes searched his, hoping to catch any flicker of emotion that would give her a hint on what he had to say, but saw none.

“Like I said, I never cheated on you. After we spoke, I went to bed, until I received an anonymous text message. I went to the lobby and Janelle was there. She said she needed my help. She thought she was being followed.” A crafty smile curled his lips. “And she was. I’ll admit. The night at David’s gallery, when you said you thought you saw her, I became suspicious. I had Stefano follow her. Janelle admitted that she’d been at the exhibit opening. It wasn’t the first time she popped up.”

“What do you mean?”

Without preamble, he replied. “The day after I won the Holland Award, she showed up at The Chop Shop. She claimed she was having lunch there with friends and came to congratulate me. I kicked her out. I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want you to get upset.”

“You keeping this from me is making me upset.”

“I know and I’m sorry. I thought I was doing the right thing, but it wasn’t. She got extremely drunk at the bar and started disclosing information about Principal Jones. When you told me she threatened your job, I had Stefano look into her too.”

Angela smiled. “Really?”

“Of course. No one messes with my baby.”

She sucked her teeth. “But you still carried Janelle to a room.”
“Because she kept trying to leave. I texted Crystal and Kenneth to come to the bar when I saw it was her who texted me. They sat there the entire time, next to us, pretending not to know me. I recorded my conversation with Janelle because I didn’t feel comfortable. I put her up in a hotel room, carried her there, and left. Nothing happened, Angie.”

“Oh,” was all she could manage.

“There’s more to the story I need to tell you. I’m pretty sure you know by now Principal Jones was arrested. I told Kristen to call you as I was leaving the school.”

Angela threw up a hand. “Wait… why were you there?”

Over the next twenty minutes, Angela listened as Daniel explained the events of the day, only stopping to ask a few questions. At the end, she watched him with her mouth hung opened. “Principal Jones is Janelle’s mother?”

He nodded, “Yeah. Principal Jones placed her up for adoption when she was younger. Janelle never knew, until the day she came to the hotel. While intoxicated she mentioned finding papers about her birth. Principal Jones confirmed it today.”

“Wow.”

“So what now, Angie? I love you and I don’t want anyone but you. I’m sorry I withheld information from you. It was wrong of me to do so, although I thought I was doing the right thing, I know now it wasn’t. I don’t want to be alone, but if you choose to walk away from me today, from us today, then that’s the life I’ll live.”

She went into his arms and laid her head on his chest, inhaling deeply. His woodsy scent mixed with his body’s natural aroma and tickled her nose. A sense of familiar washed over her. “You don’t have to live alone, Danny.”

This was the man who she loved since she shared her peanut butter and jelly sandwich with on the first day of first grade. The man who took up for her countless times against the bullies who hadn’t seen that her heart was as big as her smile, eyes or even her weight. She loved him with all of her heart and her entire being and knew with him was where she wanted to be. “I don’t want anyone, but you.”

Daniel picked Angela up. Automatically her legs wrapped around his midsection. He peppered kisses along her jaw, cheeks, nose, forehead, and finally on her lips. The moment their lips met, she moaned, happily welcoming the deliciousness of his probing tongue inside of her hot mouth, familiarizing herself with its thickness, taste and feel.

“Good,” he whispered breathlessly against her lips. “I think we need to hurry up and get married. The Knight Curse kept you away from me before. I need to lock you down.”

Angela chuckled and pressed her lips to his. He was the man of her dreams, her best friend, her confidant and hopefully– within the next nine months– the father of her children. She couldn’t ask for a more perfect life.

Epilogue

The rays of the late March sun stretched over the cloudless blue sky, warming the faces of the three-hundred guests dressed impeccably in their best outfits to watch Daniel and Angela finally become one. The steady flow of water from the garden’s fountain, along with the sweet song sung by birds in nearby tress provided the soundtrack to the scene being performed.

Next to him Angela stunned guests in a classic all white sleeveless, A-line floor length gown with a beaded embroidery on the bodice and chapel length train designed by Carolyn Knight-Smith. Her hair was pinned up with curly tendrils loosely framing her face.

The Maid of Honor, Kristen and the bridesmaids, Leann, Brook, Crystal, Valencia and Angela’s God-sister, Michelle, all stood behind her wearing Lace and Tulle knee length dresses with an illusion Bateau neckline in blush pink and diamond blue; also designed by his aunt. He, his Best Man, David, and his groomsmen, Stefano, Lorenzo, Giovanni, Kenneth and Keith, his old culinary school buddy wore black tuxedos with crisp white shirts.

Reverend Masters raised his arms in front of the audience with a beaming smile. “It is with great pleasure before the eyes of God and all in attendance, I finally pronounce you husband and wife.” He turned to Daniel. “You may kiss your bride.”

“About time!” Daniel growled. He wrapped his arms around Angela’s waist and pulled her into his embrace. His lips crashed hers in a frenzied kiss elicited hoots and yells of approval from the crowd. His groomsmen, as rehearsed behind closed doors, all extracted their cellphones from their pockets and took pictures of the joyous moment.

“Hey!” Oliver Peterson and Dominico Knight yelled in unison, both stood and pointed towards the kissing couple. “That’s still my child!” The entire congregation erupted into laughter.

Daniel broke the kiss, his eyes bore deeply into Angela’s chocolate gaze, illuminated with warmth and love. He smiled. “I love you, baby.”

“I love you too, Danny.”

Reverend Masters smiled. “Introducing for the first time ever, Mr. and Mrs. Daniel and Angela Peterson!”

Daniel planted a kiss on Angela’s lips once more and smiled. “You’ve made me the happiest man in the entire world, baby. I can’t wait to spend forever with you.”

“Luckily, you don’t have to wait any longer, my love.”

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  1. Tirza van der Linden

    Dear Harlequin,
    I really enjoyed the pitch of this story, and had high hopes for it. However, when reading through the first chapter I encouraged a significant number of errors in spelling and grammar, which put me off from continuing this read. I think the writer has a great story to be shared with us, and with the help of a decent editor could really make it work. But for now I won’t complete the read as the errors really bug me.
    Sincerely,
    Ms. Tirza van der Linden