"Grant entices, captivates, and mesmerizes." --RT Book Reviews
Christina Brinsley is that girl.
You know the one: a little bougie, a little opinionated, knows it all, has it all, and is a total perfectionist. But Christina's perfectly crafted world isn't really so perfect. Her third engagement fizzled three days before the wedding, her family expects her to solve their problems, and her friends are out of control. To keep it together, she dedicates herself to her work, because it's the one thing that won't let her down. But when her latest assignment leads her to sizzling hot professor Steven Williams, the one man who sees through her efforts to outsmart and outmaneuver her way through every situation, Christina can't believe she's falling for a man who may be a key player in the scandal she's investigating. . ..
"A sassy 'he said/she said' romance." --Publishers Weekly
"A funny, fast-paced romance." --RT Book Reviews
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Sweet Little Lies
By MICHELE GRANT
DAFINA BOOKSCopyright © 2011 Michele Grant
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDays Like This
Christina—Thursday, August 13,10:47 p.m.
"Christina, girl," my grandmother used to say, "timing is everything ... and yours is always a day late and a dollar short." Grammy Vi was freaking prophetic.
The plane was parked at the gate. I was seated next to a testy black man whose last name I didn't know and whose first name I couldn't remember. I had to wonder at the circumstances that brought me here, to this moment. Thinking back to eight days ago, I asked myself the following questions:
Would I have been more lucid and less homicidal if I'd drunk my morning coffee first? Would I have been more rational if I hadn't been caught standing there with wet hair, trying to hold on to the post–shower sex glow? Would it have made a difference if this hadn't happened three days before my wedding?
I'll never know. Here's how I got from there to here:
Christina—Wednesday, August 4, 9:34 a.m.
It was Wednesday—a warm, sunny, late summer morning. The kind of morning you only get in the Bay Area. The sun was beaming through the last of the fog, with a slight breeze coming off the water. The wind softly rustled the teal silk drapes hanging across the one open window in my bedroom.
All was right in my little piece of real estate on Harbor Bay Island. Alameda was literally a hop, skip, and jump from San Francisco, nestled on an island and backing up to Oakland. My two-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath house wasn't huge, but it was big enough for the two of us who would live here after my wedding in a few days. The best thing about the house was a view of the Bay Bridge with San Francisco twinkling like a magical jewel beyond. My bills were paid, my man was near, and my spirit was happy.
I woke up late, a rare treat. I had taken the rest of the week off to prepare for my wedding. My fiancé, Jay, was spooned to my back, his arm possessively wrapped around my waist, his thigh wedged between mine. Another rare treat, since he traveled so frequently. I lay next to him for a minute just ... living. Black love, y'all. I smiled to myself before I slowly eased out of his hold and headed for the bathroom.
Midway through my shower, the etched-glass door opened and he stepped in. Very quickly, the shower went from rated R (hot and sudsy) to rated X (wet and steamy). We went from zero to sixty and back to zero in fifteen minutes' time. Another few minutes of actual showering and I stepped out to face the day. I silently apologized to my ruined hair and yanked on the fluffy robe and slippers before padding toward the kitchen.
So it was 10:02 a.m. according to the coffeemaker. I stood pouring my expensive Guatemalan whole beans into the grinder when Jay said his first real words of the day. ("Like that right there, baby" didn't count.)
"Listen, sweetheart, about the wedding ..."
I paused in the pouring of the beans and ever so slowly turned my head to look at Jay. Jay, my third (yes, I know) fiancé. I paused because I knew the tone. That hesitant, I-hate-to-tell-you-this tone. I had heard the tone before.
Twice before, to be exact. The first fiancé used the tone in the car on our way back from my final wedding gown fitting. Cedric wanted me to listen while he explained that he accidentally married his college sweetheart a month before our wedding. Accidentally. Boys' night out, ran into her. One drink led to another which led to Vegas, which led to me calling 175 friends and associates with the news, assuring them that yes, I would be sending those thoughtful gifts back and no, we were not just going to have a big party anyway.
The second fiancé used the tone at a charming Italian restaurant on the Bay across the wharf from Jack London Square. Perry wanted me to listen while he explained that he was confused about his sexuality. His what? I shrieked! Yes, his sexuality. He had been living a lie and wanted me to know (two weeks before our wedding) that he wasn't sure who he was or what he wanted. Well, if he didn't know, I certainly had no clue. He was kind enough to call half of the 125 friends and associates.
So yes, when my third ... THIRD ... fiancé stood naked in my kitchen with that look on his face and tone in his voice ... I froze before biting out, "What about the wedding?" I had a tone of my own: cold, suspicious, pissed off.
He paused before answering. Jay was a 6'1" dark chocolate, bodyguard-build kind of brother. Square jawed, former marine, short-cropped fro with a razor-sharp line, laser-beam eyes so dark brown, they appeared black. A nose that would've been Grecian had it not been broken twice, and lips that would look pouty on anyone not so unapologetically masculine. Not an ounce of fat on his faithfully maintained body. Well proportioned, he was a man who moved stealthily on his long limbs, large feet, large hands, large ... well—everything. As I said, well proportioned. When he smiled, he was an engaging teddy bear of a man. When he didn't, he was the kind of brother who seemed intimidating, even frightening. He stood there looking like a Zulu king in need of a loincloth. But right now, he was the one who looked scared. "Now, Chris, let me just say—"
I put down the beans—no need for $15.95 of imported goodness to get ruined. I decided to employ a little psychology. I walked over to him calmly, put my hands on his broad chest, and smiled encouragingly. "Just tell me, baby. Whatever it is, it'll be okay. Just say it all at once. I'll just close my eyes and listen." I closed my eyes.
He sighed and relaxed slightly, rubbing his cheek against my forehead. "You're so sweet. The thing is ... I'm really not Jayson Day. My real name is David Washington. I'm an undercover operative with the NSA and I've been out here on assignment for the past two years. I shouldn't have let things get this far, but when I met you, you were just so sweet and sexy. I couldn't help myself."
I opened my eyes slowly and took a step back. "What are you talking about? I had your background checked! You work in corporate security for TeleTech and you grew up in Oakland! I've met your parents, for Christ's sake!"
He gave me a look of smug amusement that did not sit well at all. Not at all. "I know. They told me someone was checking my cover. I thought it was cute. Those people you met were actors. The thing is, baby, I would marry you in a heartbeat, but ... I'm already married."
I stood with my mouth open, trying to figure out what to digest and what to reject. Cute, actors, NSA, already married—what? "I'm sorry. I must have misunderstood. You're what?"
"Um-hmm, married—with two kids back in Denver. Daughters Dina and Daisy. They're seven and twelve." Why he felt the need to share details was lost on me.
"Kids?! Did you just say you have kids?" I really did not know what to say. I was tempted to look around for the hidden cameras. Was I on Punk'd?
"I can show you pictures...."
The word "pictures" was still floating in the air when the doorbell rang. In the middle of crisis situations, I tend to go on autopilot. I just take the next logical step to get to the next logical place. So for no other reason than autopilot, I answered the front door. Yes, I did. I forgot I was rocking the robe, with my wet hair turning into a Chaka Khan fro and my naked fiancé (ex-fiancé?) standing in the foyer.
"Parcel servi—" The young black delivery guy paused at the sight that we presented: Me, cute of face and slight of body, 5'5", a cocoa-colored and petite package wrapped in a huge, fluffy pink robe, matching slippers, and a scowl on my face as I cut the side-eye to the dark chocolate naked guy. Eyes the color of milk chocolate, thickly lashed and normally tilted up with good humor, were currently squinted and shooting virtual fire. Bow-shaped lips normally painted a shade of peach were bare, naked, and pursed tightly.
"Hey." I released my death grip on the door handle.
To his credit, he recovered quickly. "I have some more packages for you, Ms. Brinsley. Looks like more wedding gifts. A few of these require an adult's signature. If you don't mind my asking, are you okay?" This guy had been delivering all manner of packages related to the wedding for over ten months now. He was a cute, dreadlocked, kind of baby-faced, toffee-skinned tall guy, probably in his midtwenties, and I didn't have a clue what his name was. On the occasions when I was home for his deliveries, we made small talk about the weather. I said clever things like "Working hard out here in all this rain?" He would smile, all flashing dimples and twinkling sage green eyes, and reply "Gotta earn a living." And now, he was bearing witness to one of my top ten worst life events ... okay, top five. I was determined to maintain a shred of dignity.
Before I could respond, Jay ... David ... Jay/David spoke up. "Man, do we look okay? Can't you just leave those and go?"
Why was he speaking to my delivery guy? Why was he speaking at all? "Don't speak to him that way. At least he's concerned about my well-being. As a matter of fact, just don't speak at all."
Delivery Guy shuffled from one foot to the other, clearly wishing he was anywhere else but here. I could relate. "Ms. Brinsley, seriously—are you okay?" I found it interesting that of the two men in the room, the one I wasn't supposed to marry this week was more worried about my well-being. Duly noted.
Forcing a smile, I reached for the little plastic pen. "Sure, why wouldn't I be?" I scrawled across the electronic signature box with a flourish before handing it back to him.
He read what I wrote, paused with brow raised, and read it again. "Did you mean to sign this 'Just shoot me now'?"
My lips twisted. "Does it matter?"
Making a sound that was a mix between a snort and a laugh, he headed to the rear of the truck. "I guess not."
I kept my eyes on Delivery Guy. Just looking at him was soothing to me. He was a lean and corded young man. His skin poured over his fit frame with the color of toasted almonds. And he hadn't just broken my heart. I watched in detached fascination as he lifted packages and placed them on a dolly. Without turning my head even an inch in his direction, I hissed out instructions to Jay/David. "Put some clothes on and get out."
"Christina ... we need to talk about this," Jay/David said.
Finally glancing in his direction, I adopted my "disgusted" pose. Hand on one hip, size 7 foot tapping, head tilted ever so slightly to the right. "Think you've said enough."
"I don't want you to think that this, what we have—isn't real."
Was he kidding me with this? He wanted to talk about what was real, when quite possibly everything he had said to me for close to three years was clearly a damn lie. "Oh, it's real. It's real jacked up."
"Christina, I really wanted to marry you."
I didn't want to hear another word. Not. One. More. Word. "But you're not going to ... because you can't ... riiight."
"Would you rather I didn't say anything and let you live a lie?"
"I would rather you hadn't lied for the past two or three years. For all I know, you're lying now. As a matter of fact, of course you are lying. Who are you supposed to be? Undercover Brother ... puh-leeze! Give me some credit. You could have at least come up with something believable. Why not just feed me sweet little lies? You don't want to marry me, so be it. What was this, some sort of elaborate con? I don't know what to think. I don't know what to do with this. What I do know is that you waited until three days—three days before our wedding, but exactly fifteen minutes after you made sure to get you a little morning nookie—to drop whatever this is on me. Go put some clothes on your lying ass and get out!"
He made a move to reach for me and probably realized that any point he was going to make would be far more effectively delivered when he was clothed. Turning, he walked hurriedly back to the bedroom.
My house was built in the shape of a semicircle, with the kitchen, office nook, and dining area on one side; foyer, living room, and half bath in the middle; and two bedrooms and two baths on the other side. It was designed and decorated to maximize the view of the Bay. Rich woods and shades of blue and green. But it also meant that from the front door you could pretty much see everything going on in the house.
Delivery Guy wheeled the dolly to the front door and peeked in nervously before tapping on the door frame. "Uh, you want me to bring these in or leave them out here?"
What to do with the wedding presents? Now that it seriously appeared that there would be no wedding ... again. It was all too much to process. "Might as well bring them in—uh, what's your name?"
He shot me a look at the very moment I realized it was stitched onto his uniform. We spoke simultaneously. "Steven."
Shrugging, I gave a wry grin. He would have to forgive my lack of attention to detail. My life was in the process of going to hell in a handbasket ... again. "Sorry, Steven. Can you just set everything on the table?" I gestured toward a circular mahogany table behind me.
"Sure, not a problem." He transferred packages with the haste of one dying to be done and on his way. It occurred to me that this was probably as awkward a moment for young Steven as it was for me.
Jay/David came back out with some sweatpants hastily yanked on, pulling a T-shirt over his head. "You ready to talk?"
"I'm ready for you to go." Funny, in a not so humorous way, how your entire world can tilt in the blink of an eye. Not twenty minutes ago, I was wrapped around this man, planning to have years and years of the same. Now I couldn't stand to look at him.
"But I think we should ..." When he took a step toward me, I put my hand up in the universal back-up-off-me sign. Poor Steven stood there with a what-the-hell-have-I-walked-into look on his face.
"Jayson, David—whatever your name is! Please!" I just couldn't take anymore. I needed to process and I needed to be alone to do it.
"Christina, I know you. If I leave without trying to fix this, you'll never let me back in."
"You don't need to get back in here, you need to get back to your wife ... and Dina and Daisy, was it? Whatever, I cannot believe this."
He looked at me, face all pitiful, like I should be concerned about making him feel better.
I looked at him, mad as hell, wondering how this happened to me ... again.
Steven took the last box off the dolly and turned toward the door with understandable haste. I lived here, and I was ready to be somewhere else my damn self.
Jay/David reached for my hand, only for me to yank it back. He reached again, encircling my wrist and tightening enough to hurt. "Jay, that hurts."
"Just listen to me for just one second." Meeting his eyes at that moment, I realized that I had no idea who he really was, and that made me panic.
Hissing at him, I tugged again. "Let me go."
He pulled me toward him roughly. "I just need you to listen."
"Please stop, you're scaring me and I want you to go."
Steven stopped dead in his tracks on his way to the door. He let the cart handle clatter to the floor, turned, and stepped to Jay/David all in one fast motion. "Hey, man, I think you oughta do what the lady says and just go."
Jay/David looked incredulous. I was a little stunned myself. But Steven took a no-nonsense posture. Chest out, legs planted firmly, slightly apart. Looking back and forth between them, I noted the contrasts. Where Jay/David was broad and thick, Steven was all taut lines and sleek muscles. Jay/David had about twenty-five more pounds on his frame, but Steven was about two inches taller. While Jay/David looked like he'd seen military combat, I'd lay odds Steven had seen street combat. Personally, in a dark alley, I wouldn't have wanted to battle with either one of them. They stood staring each other down like Serengeti lions from an Animal Planet documentary. Too much testosterone in the room.
Jay/David's nostrils flared and he snarled, "Punk, don't make me—"
"What?" Steven asked, raising his chin and flexing one hand.
Yanking my wrist away, I stepped in between the men. "Fellas. Separate corners. Both of you can go." With my back to Jay/David I mouthed the words to Steven: "Thank you."
They moved apart from each other a step at a time. Jay/ David picked up his keys from the table. Steven lifted the dolly handle off the floor where he'd left it.
"I'll be back," Jay/David said before storming out the back door.
Excerpted from Sweet Little Lies by MICHELE GRANT Copyright © 2011 by Michele Grant. Excerpted by permission of DAFINA BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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