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Long, lean, and exotically beautiful, Afro-Cuban Niya Londres has achieved a great deal since coming to America ten years ago. Through talent and hard work, she's climbed her way to the top of her glittering career as the star of a hit Broadway musical. Now she's planning her lavish Acapulco wedding. There's just one hitch--she hasn't said "yes" to any of the three men who have popped the question!
Tremont Henderson, a gifted jazz musician with a checkered past, was the first to capture Niya's heart. Broadway producer and her long-time manager Granger Cooper holds a claim on her affections as the man who made her a star. And then there's Astin Spencer, a tanned and devilishly sexy entrepreneur who unexpectedly came into Niya's life. . .
Three men anxiously await her answer. Which will Niya choose? As Niya carefully weighs her decision, she discovers that all she's ever dreamed of might not be what she really wants. . .
Praise for Anita Bunkley and Mirrored Life. . .
"A touching story of betrayal and redemption. . .entertaining, fulfilling. . .a joy to read." --Connie Briscoe, New York Times bestselling author
"A breakout. . .[an] absorbing story. . .you won't be able to put down." --Tananarive Due
Anita Bunkley has spent more than a decade writing fiction and nonfiction, while lecturing on topics related to career advancement, personal promotion, attitude adjustment, and making dreams come true. She is the author of nine published novels, two novellas, two nonfiction books, and a short story written exclusively for the Internet. She was also an NAACP Image Award nominee in 2000 for her contribution to the anthology, Girlfriends. She lives in Houston, Texas with her family.
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Read an Excerpt
By ANITA BUNKLEY
DAFINA BOOKSCopyright © 2008 Kensington Publishing Corp.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneOff the southernmost tip of Florida Mid-June 1998
Black water lapped at the sides of the dirty gray boat, creating a frightening yet comforting sound as it mixed with rhythmic swish-swish of oars being pulled through water. The absence of all other noise meant that, so far, the dark night was protecting them, and that the black stillness surrounding them was as void of life as the inside of a tomb, though the air was strong with anxiety.
The thirty-three refugees who were crowded together on the tiny vessel kept their lips sealed and their ears alert for any signs of danger. No one spoke. No one coughed. No one smacked at the pesky mosquitoes that had suddenly begun attacking them, and no one dared to ease over to the smelly waste buckets shielded from view behind a sheet of dirty canvas that were only used when absolutely necessary.
Though Niya Londres could not see the faces of the dark-skinned people who were huddled together in clumps down in the hull, she knew what they looked like: ragged with exhaustion, nearly broken with terror, yet riveted with an unwavering determination to survive.
A mixture of fear and hope filled Niya, too, and she fought back the reservoir of unshed tears that had been building inside her for days. She missed her mother, longed for the feel of fresh sheets against her skin, and would kill for a scrap of bread and a sip of water to ease the hunger that gripped her stomach. However, she could not have those things and, no matter what happened, she had to stay strong. She could not break down and lose control and let her brother, Lorenzo, see how frightened she was.
Reaching out in the darkness, Niya groped for Lorenzo's hand, expecting him to pull away; an eighteen-year-old boy might be somewhat reluctant to admit that he needed his big sister's calming touch. However, as soon as Niya's fingers touched Lorenzo's, he grasped her hand tightly and held on without saying a word.
Three years younger than Niya, who would turn twenty-one in just a few days, Lorenzo was a foot taller than his sister, but just as fiercely independent, and much too handsome for his own good. He thought of himself as both a ladies' man and a tough guy ... a macho male with a devilish smile and little need of comfort from anyone. However, as the inky night wore on, he did not let go of Niya's hand and his faith in her helped Niya remain calm.
Who knew how close the Coast Guard patrol boats might be? she worried. At any moment, a cough, a child's cry, even a muted whisper might bring the authorities bearing down on them with searchlights, orders shouted through loud bullhorns, and gunfire to make them surrender. Back home in Cuba, it had been rumored around the island that not only the United States Coast Guard was out on patrol, but renegade vigilante boats as well, scouting the Florida waters for illegal Haitian immigrants, eager to interrupt their approach. The officials' fast-moving boats were said to be able to glide over the choppy coastal waters as silently as raindrops slipping down a pane of glass. Within seconds, the journey could end in a hail of gunfire, an ordered evacuation that would result in deportation back to the island, detention in a refugee camp, or even death.
For Niya, the only bright spot in the miserable situation was that of the sixty-three passengers aboard the boat, only she and Lorenzo were from Cuba, not Haiti, a fact that she prayed would make it possible for her and her brother to stay in America even if they were caught.
Their journey had started under the cover of darkness at the beach at Caibarien, on the eastern coast of Cuba, when Niya and Lorenzo had hugged their mother goodbye and stepped into the weather-beaten boat that was already jam-packed with Haitians. After slipping out to sea and away from their homeland under the cover of a thunderous, moonless sky, Niya and Lorenzo had managed to commandeer a corner in the stern of the boat where they stowed their plastic bags containing personal items and a change of clothing before hunkering down for the duration of the trip.
Now, as the boat rolled with the waves toward the Florida shoreline, dim lights suddenly appeared on the horizon. Lifting her chin, Niya peeked above the rail and focused on the twinkling lights that illuminated the ragged edges of a far-off shoreline. The lights, like festive Christmas garlands, decorated the land that would soon become her new home. Finally, it lay within reach and, despite her trepidation about what would happen to her once she set foot on shore, Niya swallowed her fear and silently vowed to be courageous, no matter what.
As the eldest, Niya felt responsible for them both, and had promised her mother that she would be brave, careful, and wise, and not let anything happen to Lorenzo. It was a promise Niya meant to keep.
The sighting of coastal lights in the distance caused an unexpected stir among the refugees, and very soon soft whispers of excitement rippled across the deck.
If only we could shout our happiness, Niya thought, near to bursting with joy, herself. Instead, she gave Lorenzo's hand a hard squeeze and allowed the tension in her shoulders to ease a bit, in exhausted, blessed release. We'll be on land soon, she thought. And then everything will be fine. We'll go to New York, find Uncle Eric, and become American citizens like him.
With a stab of regret, Niya thought of her mother, Olivia Londres, wishing she were with her now. The Haitian boat captain, who had agreed for Niya and Lorenzo to join his group, had made it clear to Niya's mother that he had room for two children only, and had been less than pleased to discover that the "two children" turned out to be a twenty-year-old girl and an eighteen-year-old boy. Reluctantly, the captain had let them aboard.
Now, Niya concentrated on the lights in the distance, eager to shut out the misery of missing her mother. Rising on her knees, she pulled Lorenzo up beside her, and together they strained to make out the dark shapes along the coast as the boat began to pick up speed.
In their eagerness to reach shore, the oarsmen had begun pulling harder, propelling the boat forward at an increased pace. Even the wind picked up and pushed them faster toward America, a good omen, Niya thought.
Unable to resist a view of the approaching shoreline, many of the refugees crowded together at the front of the boat, causing a sudden shift in the distribution of weight, tilting the boat precariously to one side.
"Sit down!" The captain hissed, loud enough to startle everyone. "Sit down or we will flounder."
Suddenly someone screamed; a loud cry of surprise, followed by a splash-as if someone had fallen or jumped overboard. Soon everyone on board, it seemed, was shouting in alarm.
"He fell! Help him. He fell into the water!"
"No, no. I think he jumped!"
"Yes, you see? He's swimming to shore!"
"No! He fell. He did not jump!"
Eyes wide, Niya jerked her head around and followed the voices, but all she could make out in the darkness was a jumble of bodies pressed together at the side of the boat. Soon, some began wailing, others started cursing, and a woman began screaming for someone to save the man who had fallen into the water.
Into this mayhem, a new, loud voice shot out of the darkness and quickly silenced the panicky crowd. "Halt! Halt your vessel or you will be fired upon!" shouted a man, initiating further panic.
The shadowy tangle of people broke apart in an instant, and the splash of more bodies hitting water quickly drowned out the voice on the bullhorn. Niya screamed when groping hands and arms pushed her down onto the deck, but she managed to hold onto Lorenzo and pull him into a safe spot behind a crate where they huddled in fear as the frightened refugees began jumping into the ocean.
Gunfire rang out.
The refugees roared with fright.
The throng trampled forward, and more people flung themselves overboard, pulling loved ones along with them into the freezing water.
Now, pinned against the rail, Niya had no place to go except over the side of the boat, too, and still holding onto Lorenzo's hand she pulled him to his feet.
"Come on, Lorenzo! We've got to jump. Swim for it. If we don't, we're finished."
She stood up, looked down into the black water and took a deep breath, poised to jump. But just as she stepped over the rail, a bullet struck her in the shoulder, forcing her into the icy water headfirst.
"Lorenzo!" she screamed as his hand slipped out of hers. "Lorenzo!" Frantically, she groped for him. But she was alone, and he was gone.
Niya felt herself sinking deep beneath the water and her lungs instinctively tightened with lack of air. For several horrifying seconds she remained in a downward spiral, her head pounding, her limbs useless against the strong undertow. As she continued her descent, she wondered if she would live to see America, her brother, or daylight, again.
When she thought her lungs would certainly burst, she found the strength to fight her way to the surface, and with a push, erupted above the water, only to find that she was totally alone. Not even the boat remained within sight.
Gasping for breath, she dog-paddled to stay afloat, and after forcing herself to calm down, flipped onto her back and floated, letting the waves nudge her body toward shore. Back home in Cuba, she and Lorenzo had often swum as far out as they could, only to float back to shore on the crests of tall, white-capped waves.
Please let Lorenzo be alive. Let him remember how to do this, Niya silently prayed. Please let him think of the beaches where we played in Cuba. Make him remember not to fight the current but to allow it to carry him safely to shore. She knew Lorenzo was an excellent swimmer, but would he be able to orient himself well enough to make it to land? Or would he mistakenly swim out to sea until he floundered, drowned, or got eaten by sharks? She could not think of such a horror. She had to concentrate on surviving.
After drifting a while, she calculated that her chances of swimming to land were pretty good, so she flipped over and struck out toward the shoreline, praying that Lorenzo was doing the same thing. With firm strokes, though her shoulder was aflame with pain, Niya continued swimming toward land.
Chapter TwoBy the time Olivia Londres arrived back home in Havana, the sun was full up, music was blaring from two amplifiers that a group of teenagers had set up in Cerro Park, and a thick layer of dust had settled on top of the crumpled copies of El Habanero that had blown into the entrance of her apartment building.
Everything around Olivia seemed fuzzy and out of focus, as if her trip to Caibarien had occurred during a bad dream. It had been so dark at the clandestine shoreline that she had hardly been able to make out the faces of her children as she had kissed each one goodbye. And after the boat pulled out to sea, she had remained on the beach until the sun had come up, aching for one final glimpse of the vessel that had taken Niya and Lorenzo away. Of course, when the sun rose on the horizon she saw nothing but a sheet of blue water, endless and calm.
Now, Olivia gazed dispiritedly out of the open window of the dirty truck she was riding in, relieved to have safely made it back home, but aching with worry about her children. Where were they now? Had the crowded, less-than-sturdy-looking boat made it safely into the Florida Keys? Were her son and daughter frightened? Hungry? It was difficult to believe that Niya and Lorenzo were actually gone and she would never hear from them again. She had made them promise not to write or call: It would only cause trouble that Olivia did not need. Reluctantly, they had agreed to honor their mother's wishes.
Looking around, Olivia saw that her street, Calzado del Cerro, was bustling with activity as people went about their daily lives, following their normal routines. And that was what she would have to do, too: tend to her chores, go to Mass, and report for work at the Superior Tobacco factory on time every day, as if nothing in her life had changed, preventing anyone from learning the truth about the disappearance of her son and daughter.
The broad street where Olivia lived in a second floor, three-room apartment, was lined with row after row of adjoined one- and two-story buildings with red-tiled roofs and tiny front porches that sagged under crumbling colonial-style columns. She had lived in the Cerro section of Havana all of her adult life but now she suddenly felt like a stranger. With Niya and Lorenzo gone she was not the same; nothing would be the same.
"Thank you for the ride into town, Felix," Olivia told the man at the wheel of the ancient Ford truck, which he was busy maneuvering to the curb. "I don't know what I would have done if you hadn't come along. When the bus broke down outside of Matanzas, all of the passengers were told there was nothing to do but walk back to Havana. And in this heat! I am no longer a young woman, you know."
"It was my pleasure, Olivia," Felix replied, stubbing out his Viceroy cigarette in the truck's already full ashtray. "And you should be glad it was your old friend, Felix Mora, who came along, and not a gang of thugs out to rob an attractive widow woman like you ... walking all alone on such a dangerous road. You should be more careful. And why would you be going to Matanzas anyway?"
"Niya and Lorenzo wanted to be first in line to apply for jobs at the new shoe factory down there, so I went with them on the bus yesterday morning. The manager used to be my neighbor, you probably know him ... Senor Ruano, and after I spoke with him, he hired both Lorenzo and Niya on the spot. Such good luck. My children now have good jobs and I'm so relieved, even though my trip back home was such an ordeal. When the bus broke down, I was stuck. There was nothing to do but walk, and gracias a Dios, you came along," Olivia finished with her lie, hoping she sounded convincing.
"Where are your son and daughter living?" Felix inquired, squinting against the remnants of smoke that continued to rise from the ashtray.
"At the home of a local cane farmer who has government permission to let out rooms. They'll be very comfortable, and now that they are out of the city and working, it is such a blessing." She glanced at the entryway to her apartment building and frowned. "See what two days away from home brings? If I'm not around, no one sweeps the curb, the trash piles up like a garbage dump, and just look at those rotting melons! What a stench that will make."
Felix leaned forward to peer out the open window of his truck to assess the front of the dirty gray building where Olivia lived. The crumbling apartment had sagging balconies, rotted out window shutters, and cracked ornamental plaster dotting the uneven roofline. Strings of clotheslines holding underwear, diapers and tee shirts connected Olivia's building with a matching structure, where women in housedresses and old men in straw hats were sitting in metal chairs smoking cigarettes, drinking rum and passing the time as they watched the activity in the street below.
Jumping down from the truck, Olivia held open the passenger side door and leaned back in. "Goodbye. And thank you again."
Felix shifted the truck's gears and nodded at Olivia. "You be careful. With your children now living in the country, a widow woman like you must watch out. Call me if you need anything at all." Then he winked boldly, his lips turning up in a knowing grin.
"I can take care of myself, Felix," Olivia quickly tossed back. The last thing she needed was Felix, or any of her deceased husband's friends, getting too close. Things had to settle down. She had to be careful. If the state security agents ever found out that she had smuggled her children out of Cuba she could be fined, jailed, perhaps even executed by a firing squad. It had happened before. "I have managed on my own for five years now, Felix ... ever since Pedro ..."
"I know. I know," Felix interrupted. "But please don't say those words, Olivia. Your husband, Pedro, was my best friend, a good man. His death is one that I still cannot accept."
"His execution, you mean," Olivia boldly threw back, though she knew she should not say such words. "My husband didn't simply die. He was executed by the state for speaking his mind. For telling the truth, when so many were afraid to. He was killed, Felix. So, I can and must say those words, my friend, as much as it hurts."
Excerpted from Between Goodbyes by ANITA BUNKLEY Copyright © 2008 by Kensington Publishing Corp.. Excerpted by permission.
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