Chapter 1

Cree Jordan yawned and raised her hand to her mouth to cover a second long, exaggerated yawn. “Excuse me,” she said. 

Harrison Lansing or Mansing, whatever his last name was, didn’t seem to care. He kept talking.

Okay, so he wasn’t the type that was going to take a hint or get offended that she’d yawned while he was telling her all about himself and his super successful business. She was going to have to get right to it in order to end this boring date.  She was going to have to go Crude on him – Cree-rude and it wasn’t going to be hard. He’d been crass and rude to her twice and he’d treated the poor server like a house slave. She’d given up meanness for Lent, but not justice, so she’d decided it would be her pleasure to ruin his morning.

“I told you I went to Princeton?” He glowered as he raised his fork for the 400th time and shoveled it into that portly hole he called a mouth.

“Three times,” Cree replied, tartly. “But only once this morning.” She should have known to say no to his invitation when he’d pushed his, “I went to Princeton” last night. She’d met Harrison in the hotel bar after she’d attended a mix and mingle with the other Greeting Card Association Conference attendees.

He smiled like he thought her humor was charming. His short stubby fingers encircled his glass and he raised it to his mouth. Short fingers. Ugh. She should have noticed those last night.

Harrison looked only a little bit embarrassed about the three times comment. “Right, and where did you go?”

“I didn’t.”

He frowned.

“I got pregnant my senior year in high school and dropped out to take care of my twins.”

“You have children?” he asked like she’d said something nasty or passed gas at the table.

“Four.” The lie came easily. She didn’t have any children, but the threat often sent men running into the night – or day as it were at this moment.

“Four,” he repeated. “Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle. You’re quite…”

“Fertile?” she batted her eyelashes and smiled.

“Surprising,” he replied. “I like kids. I’m good with them, but I don’t have any.”

Unable to imagine him being good at anything but eating and being scholarly, Cree shifted in her chair. This breakfast should be over by now. She’d yawned, told him she had four kids and he was still raising his fork and looking at her with interest. How had she gotten herself into this? Why was she out with this clown?

And then she remembered. Shoes. Last night, she looked down at his Salvatore Ferragamo’s and thought about the Louboutin sandals in her luggage. She’d spent all her money and when she was broke, she took meals in from wherever they came. When Harrison offered last night after she’d already had dinner, she suggested breakfast, because the hotel didn’t have a free one and she needed to eat before she boarded the airplane. Plus, she rarely turned down a man who wore Ferragamo shoes. She was too impressed with them.

“Harrison,” Cree shoved her chair back and stood, “it was really nice getting to know you better, but I have a plane to catch.”

“Plane?” He frowned. “I thought you lived here.”

“In the hotel?”

He rolled his eyes. “No, I mean Atlanta.”

“If I lived in Atlanta, I wouldn’t be in the hotel.”

“I mean, I thought you lived close enough to have driven to the conference or whatever it was you said you were attending.”

“The Greeting Card Association Annual Convention.” Cree shook her head. “And I don’t know where you got that idea. I never said it.”

His disappointment was palpable.

“I should get going. It’s an international flight.”

“International? So you don’t even live in the country?”

Was he daft? Did Princeton graduate such? Of course they did. He wasn’t the first overeducated fool she’d had a meal with.  She sighed. “I do live in the country,” she said raising quotation marks on the word “country” for emphasis. “I’m going to Kenya.”

“Africa?”

“It’s the only Kenya I know. I don’t think there’s a Kenya, Florida or a Kenya, Maryland.”

He raised his glass and finished his drink. “Why are you going to Kenya?”

“My sister is getting married in a few days and I’m her maid of honor.”

“Are you African?”

Cree frowned. Did she sound African? “No.”

“Is she marrying an African?”

Cree couldn’t imagine why he cared, but she answered anyway. “No, she and her American husband are getting married in Africa.”

“Why on earth would they do that?”

Cree rolled her eyes. “I have to go.”

He stood now. “Well, wait. What kind of way is that to end our date?”

Cree cocked her head. “How else would it end except to stop? It’s a breakfast date, Harrison. You didn’t think you were going to get some did you? It’s not even night time. Only people who really like or love each other have sex in the daylight.”

He squinted. “I was hoping to get your telephone number.”

“So you could become my fifth baby daddy?”

“You have a set of twins, remember? So even if you had four kids, you’d only potentially have three fathers.”

“Not if I wasn’t sure which of the Clark brothers was the father of the twins.”

He smirked. “I can tell by looking at you that you don’t have any kids. I suspect you’re making up stories to get away from me.”

“If you’d gone to Harvard, you’d know for sure.”

He pushed his back against the chair. “Have a nice flight, Cree.”

She smiled. “You have a nice life.” She reached into her bag, removed her cell phone, and walked away from the table. “Jerk,” she mumbled to herself as she exited the hotel restaurant. Cree sailed through the lobby and retrieved her luggage from the front desk.

The bellman hailed a taxi and within five minutes she was on her way to Atlanta, Hartsfield Jackson Airport. Nestled safely in the rear of the taxi, she opened Facetime and called her sisters.

 “I can’t believe you’re not here. We miss you so much, Creesie,” Brooke Jordan gushed and swung around so that Cree could see her wedding dress.

Cree gasped. Brooke looked amazing and she couldn’t be happier for her. Brooke was getting married. Again. But this time it was for life. This time her sister had found a prince instead of a frog. And the dress…it couldn’t be more –

“What do you think of my dress?” Brooke asked, twirling for the second time.

 “It’s beautiful. You make a beautiful bride. The second time around.” Cree wrinkled up her nose. “That first dress was...”

“Cree!” Arielle screeched.

Cree laughed. “I’m teasing.” She yawned again. She hadn’t been this tired in years.  

“You must be exhausted,” Arielle said.

“I can’t believe you finally start getting serious about your business right before my wedding. How dare you?”

“The conference was great, thank you very much,” Cree replied. “I have a meeting with Hallmark’s Mahogany Greeting Cards in a few weeks. They want to add a snarky, artistic line to their portfolio. Who could be better for that than me?”

“Sweet!” Arielle raised a hand and gave her a virtual hi-five, which she returned.

Brooke frowned. “I’m happy for you, but I want you here.”

“You act like I’m not coming.”

“Twenty-eight hours is a whole ‘nother day.” Brooke poked out her lips like a three year-old.  

“Well, at least with my not being there, I’m not getting on your nerves. Be happy about that.”

Brooke shrugged.

“So tell me, what are you guys getting into tonight? It’s dinner time there, right?”

“Yep. Chase and Pamela took a cooking class, so they’re teasing us with a tasting of the food they learned to make.”

“Sounds appetizing,” Cree said, fully knowing her brother and his wife could nail any dish, no matter what part of the world it originated from. She felt a slight pang of disappointment at not already being there with everyone else in her family. “Don’t make me jealous about the food. Tell me, what did you all do today while they were in class?”

“We went on a tour.”

“Not a safari?” Cree shrieked.

Arielle dismissed her drama with a wave of a hand. “No, we told you we would do that after the wedding since Brooke and Marcus already did one.”

“Are Marcus’s cousin’s there yet?”

Arielle was quick to reply. “Three of them. And girl, they are fiyah.”

“Those Thompsons have some good genes,” Brooke added. “I have to give them that.”

“His best friend is here too, but he’s married.”

“So I heard.” Cree dismissed thoughts of him. “Well, the cousins are a start.”

Brooke frowned. “Isn’t that a bit incestuous?”

“Heifer, please, they aren’t our cousins.”

Brooke nodded. “Okay, right. They would need to be ours.”

“I thought you were on a man-fast,” Arielle interjected.

“I was, but it got hard out there in them streets, so I had to break it.”

Arielle and Brooke looked at each other and chimed in unison, “She needed something to eat.”

“Don’t act like I’m that predictable.”

“You are,” Arielle said.

“Well, I’m a starving artist, so you know I have to sing for my supper.”

Arielle shook her head. “The implications.”

“You just have a dirty mind,” Cree said. “You need to learn how to keep your coins in your bank account while you build your little business, chickie. You might want to take a lesson from your big sis.”

Arielle waved a hand. “I’ll let you know when my bank account gets low and you can school me then.”

Brooke had stepped out of the conversation and came back into view. She was wearing her veil.

“Awww,” Cree crooned. “You look like a fairytale princess.”

“I feel like one. Marcus is a prince.”

“Yes, he is. You definitely got it right with that one.” She leaned forward, put an elbow on her knee, propped her chin on her palm, and sighed. “I hope to meet my prince one day.”

“You probably already met him,” Arielle said, fanning Brooke’s veil out. “But he didn’t meet your ‘4 C’ criteria.”

“I assure you, I haven’t met anyone who was cute, had coin, had good credit and had enough centimeters of height.”

Brooke pulled the veil over her face. “Interesting that a Christian woman wouldn’t have one of her ‘C’s’ be Christian.”

Cree smirked. “Girl, that’s on the list. And if he’s not, I’ll just have to convert him.”

Arielle and Brooke gave each other another look.

Cree laughed. “I’m kidding. Don’t get all confused in the face.”

They chatted about more wedding details all the way to the airport and while Cree waited in line for the driver to get to the check-in counter. Cree stepped out of the cab and just as she heard the trunk pop, she also heard her name.

“Cree?”

She followed the voice and couldn’t believe her eyes. “Wayne?”

She stepped up on the curb, but in her shock she mis-stepped and nearly took a tumble to the ground. The reason she hadn’t was because Wayne caught her and now his arms were around her, his face inches from hers.

“I can’t believe it. You look like you haven’t aged a day.” His minty breath was a whisper against her lips.

Cree closed her eyes and swallowed. His cologne was so pungent she nearly tasted it.

“I’m going to get old waiting for my fare,” the taxi driver said, closing the trunk.

Cree straightened her back as Wayne pulled her upright.

He released her hand and reached into his pocket for his wallet. “What does she owe you?” he asked the driver without taking his eyes off of her.

“Twenty-three dollars,” he replied.

Wayne removed a few bills and shoved them at him. “Keep the change,” he said and pulled Cree’s bag from the edge of the curb. “You have everything?” He broke their eye contact and looked into the back of the cab.

The spell Wayne had cast broke. Cree looked down at her small carry-on and handbag and then her one piece of luggage and nodded. “That’s it.”

“You’re packing light these days.” His voice was teasing. She had a 32-inch Rimowa which was more than big enough for any traveler.

“Who is that?” She heard Brooke’s voice coming from her phone. She’d forgotten she’d been talking to her sisters.

“Is that Brooke?” Wayne asked, taking the phone from her hand and turning it to himself. “Hey Brooke,” he said, like they were old friends. “How are you?”

Cree snatched the phone out of his hand before Brooke could sneer at him. “I’ll talk to you guys once I check in.” She ended the call and dropped the phone in her purse.

“Was that a wedding dress I just saw?” Wayne asked.

“I can’t believe…of all places…the airport.” Cree pursed her lips.

 “I know. Look at God.” Wayne smiled as he reached for her bag. “What airline are you checking in with?”

“I can get it myself.” She pulled it from his hands. “I’m meeting a friend. They should be here any minute.”

Wayne smiled that dashing, heart-grabbing smile of his again. He looked like Eric Benet with his bedroom eyes and full, kissable lips. She remembered a time when this man made her insides shift. But his smile and looks no longer worked on her. “It must be a woman or you would have said he.”

Cree rolled her eyes.

“What are you doing flying out of Atlanta? Do you live here now?”

“No. I was here for business.”

 “Cool.” He hesitated for a moment like he was thinking about what to say next and then asked, “Why haven’t you returned my calls?”

Cree furrowed her eyebrows. “Calls?”

“Don’t play. You know I’ve called you several times in the past few months and I’ve emailed you.”

“I changed my email address.”

“I used the one at your website,” he said. “And I know I have the correct phone number because your voice is on the message.”

She crossed her arms over her chest. “Well, you have my attention now. What do you want?”

“I want to have dinner. We need to talk.”

Cree shook her head. “I don’t think we have anything to talk about.”

Wayne’s phone rang and he answered. “Hey, you guys just made it in?” He held up a finger. “Yeah, I’m coming right now.” He glanced at his watch. “The flight’s not leaving any time soon, so what’s the rush?” He listened for a minute then rolled his eyes. “Okay, I’m coming.”

Wayne frowned. “Look, I’m traveling with a group. They just arrived from Charleston and I’m meeting them at the gate. The leader is all spastic, so I’ve got to go. Promise me you’ll call me back or I’ll miss my flight standing here just so I can talk to you.” He raised a hand to her shoulder and smoothed it down her arm.

Even through her jacket, she could feel his warmth. Cree let out a sigh. She hated to promise Wayne anything, but she wanted to get rid of him so she could check her bag and get on her way. She nodded.

He smiled again and leaned in to kiss her on the cheek. “I’m going to call you in exactly eight days and I want a call back or so help me, I’ll drive to Charlotte and show up at ya mama’s house.”

Cree smirked. “Have a good flight.”

“You too, Angel,” he said. And with that he jetted towards the airport door.

Angel. The term of endearment stirred a storm in her emotions. She’d been no angel when they were together and with the way their relationship ended, he’d become the devil. Dinner with him was an unnecessary journey back down memory lane that she had no desire to take, no matter how much he called.

She pulled the bag along the sidewalk to the check-in stand and reached into her purse for her e-ticket.

After being over-aggressively searched by a mannish looking, female TSA worker, she rode the train to the terminal and then made swift work of her trip to the gate. And that’s when she saw him again. Wayne…sitting with a large group of people in the waiting area at a gate two gates down from hers.

She stopped before he saw her and turned her back to the group. Where was he going? And why was he going with all those people?

She backed up to a cell phone charger area and removed her sunglasses from her bag and slid them on. She didn’t want to talk to Wayne, but she had almost an hour before her flight was to depart. She raised her glasses for a second and caught sight of his itinerary. Paris. What was he going to Paris for? Why did she care?

They had more than two hours before his flight left. She didn’t want to take a chance of him seeing her at her gate and coming over to talk again. Thanks to him, she had the taxi fare, so she decided to duck into a restaurant just down from the gate and hide until her flight boarded.    

She lowered her shades and went into a coffee shop, ordered a cup of tea and claimed a seat at an empty table.  

Emotions flooded her. She felt that same sick feeling that had kept her in bed for six months after Wayne broke up with her. Back in the day when she used to love with all her heart. But he had put an end to that. It wasn’t just the way he dumped her. It was what came afterward that made her sick to her stomach. It was a secret she had never told anyone. Not even Brooke and Arielle. And she told them everything.

When he called her in eight days, she’d ignore his calls just as she had been. He wasn’t going to drive to Charlotte and knock on her parent’s door. She knew that for sure, so she’d never have to see him or talk to him again. She pushed the pain from the past back into the little pocket in the back of her heart where she’d kept it all these years, took a deep breath and exhaled. She pulled out her phone. She knew Brooke was dying to know about her run in with Wayne. 

Just as she was about to dial, the waitress came with her tea. No sooner than she put the drink in front of her did Cree hear her name again. This time the voice that rose above her didn’t come from Wayne.

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