You Want This
Can you handle this?
"Are you ready to call it a day?" Keesha set the last box of decorations at the steps of the park community center. She wiped invisible sweat from her brow and released an unladylike yawn.
Gina chuckled. "We just got here."
"I know." Keesha leaned back against the building's railing. "I'm being ungrateful. The Big Brother/Big Sister recruitment fair is the best and fastest way to get new volunteers. The more festive the booth, the better the response. I don't know what it is, but my heart isn't in it this year." She gave her best friend a mournful look. "Forgive me?"
Gina closed her arm around Keesha's shoulders. "Of course. Maybe you're just burned out. It happens. V should be here soon with her brood. Marcus Junior loves to blow balloons, and Sonya is handy with streamers. Go home. We'll have it covered."
The idea definitely had its appeal. Keesha pondered the possibility. If she left, she could go home and get some rest. But if Morgan was there... She groaned. Peace of mind wouldn't find at her home. Not if he was around. She had better luck with V Taggert's brood.
Gina gave her arm a squeeze. "I'm glad."
They worked in companionable silence until Keesha's cell phone interrupted. "Hello."
"Hi there. V here. I'm at the pediatrician's. It looks like MJ has chicken pox. I won't be able to make it."
"That's too bad," Keesha said. "The twins had it when they were around his age. Don't worry about us. Gina and I'll be fine. If you need anything, let me know."
"We'll be okay. I called Marcus. He's meeting us at home. The perks of being the police commissioner," V said with a laugh. "Tell Gina that I'm sorry and I'll talk to her later. I'll have Marcus drop Sonya off."
"That's okay. He's coming home to help you, don't send him off on another errand. He may get lost."
After sharing another laugh, the women ended the call. Keesha responded to Gina's curious look.
"V won't be able to make it. Looks like it's you and me, kid."
"Not a problem," Gina said. "We'll have this booth as inviting as a party. Just as soon as I have something to eat. Are you game for a food break?"
"I guess so, but I don't feel comfortable about leaving this stuff out here like this. Lynn isn't scheduled to work the booth for a couple of hours. I'll stay if you want to go to Kelly's and grab a bowl of chili for me."
"For you?" Gina pulled her car keys from her pocket. "I'd do just about anything for you. Is chili all you want? How about a slice of pie, too?"
Keesha smoothed her hands down her denim covered hips. With her active lifestyle and close attention to diet, she'd been able to maintain an hourglass figure. She planned to keep it that way. "No thanks."
Gina laughed. "Okay, I'll be back in a few."
Keesha nodded and smiled. As Gina trekked across the park toward her car, Keesha grabbed another box of decorations. The long banner spilled from the top of the box. She pulled it all the way out and spread it on the ground to look at it.
The print shop donated their time and effort, and the end product was outstanding. The vibrant colors would catch the eye of any and everyone taking a stroll. Keesha couldn't wait for Gina to return. She decided to put the banner up right then.
Throwing caution to the wind, she grabbed one end of the banner and climbed onto the porch railing. She used one hand to position the banner and hold herself up. With her right hand, she reached inside her back pocket for the hammer and nails. Suddenly, a gust of wind blew hard. Her hair flew into her eyes and the banner swirled around her legs. In a split second, Keesha lost her footing.
The hammer fell from her grasp and her hands searched for something to hold onto. But there was only the banner. She tipped back and fell.
Straight into Morgan's arms.
AJ waited until the waitress deposited his club soda and Michael's glass of beer on the table before he continued their conversation. "You have to stop blaming yourself. You have more important things to think about than Morgan James. How's your beautiful wife? When will I have my grandchild?"
A flush colored Michael's cheeks. He took a swallow of beer. "Grace is fine and we're working on that grandchild, but don't try to change the subject. I know it can't be easy for you to see the woman you love with another man."
"Keesha's not with Morgan," AJ clarified. "She doesn't love him."
"But Dad, Morgan wouldn't even be here if it wasn't for me." His hand closed into a fist. "After everything you've done for me, I pay you back like this. I wouldn't blame you if you hated me."
AJ placed his hand over Michael's fist. "You're my son. Nothing you could do would ever make me hate you. Not even this. Get over it, son. I have."
Michael nodded, but from the tight expression on the younger man's face, AJ knew his son wasn't convinced.
Michael finished his beer and leaned back from the table. "I'm thinking about ending the search for Mom. Morgan doesn't remember her and he's our only real lead."
A faint smile came to AJ as he remembered his wife. "Eve is resting in peace. I let go years ago. I've wanted you to do the same."
"She was good to us. A lot better than my biological mother has ever been," Michael snorted. He signalled to the waitress with his index finger. When the young woman came over, he said, "Another beer, please. Dad?"
AJ shook his head. "Nothing for me." After the waitress left, he said, "Haven't you had enough?"
"I'm fine. I'll work it off at the gym."
"Just don't overdo it," AJ said. "Heineken isn't the same as Gatorade."
Michael chuckled. "Trust me, Dad. It's only a couple of beers. I know my limit."
"I never thought I'd have to do this."
Gilly's jaw dropped. She quickly rose from her garden and raised her gloved hands in front of her. "Dawn... Look..."
"No, you look," Dawn said in a quiet, controlled voice. "Do you have any idea how many people you're hurting? Do you even care?"
"It's not what you think." Gilly tore her gloves off. She ran a hand nervously through her short, dark brown locks. "I never meant for anything to happen."
Dawn's gut clenched. Pain tore through her. "Stop. I didn't come here for details."
"What did you come for?" Gilly asked, taking a cautious step back. "I can resign if that's what you want."
"I don't want you to do a damn thing for me. You've already done enough." She inhaled a deep breath and blinked away stinging tears. "I'm here on behalf of Alan-Michael. You do remember him. He's your husband. The man you made vows to. Anyway, he loves you and for whatever reason, doesn't want to lose you."
"He came to you?"
Dawn dipped her head in a single nod. "He's no more a fool than I am. He knows that something is wrong."
"Nothing has happened," Gilly began in a rush. "Nikolas and I haven't slept together."
"We're attracted to each other! What's happening isn't our fault! You don't know what's like to be pulled to another person. It's like you're powerless. The more I fight it, the harder it is."
"And I'm supposed to feel sorry for you?" Dawn asked. "Yes, I do know what it's like, but I also know that you're not powerless. You remove yourself from the situation. You remember your vows. You honor them and the person you made them to."
"You have every right to hate me," Gilly said. "I was hired to help you. I hoped we would be friends."
"I don't hate you," Dawn responded after a lengthy silence, "but we will never be friends."
Chapter 13, Part 2
Her arms automatically flew around his neck. Her hair blew into his face. Her soft curves molded against his body, yielding to his touch. Her scent, sensual and spicy, filled his nostrils. Morgan found himself responding to Keesha on impulse. His manhood throbbed to attention. His arms tightened around her.
She turned her head. Her brown eyes locked on his. Confusion reflected in her chocolate orbs. Her breath came in spurts. Her ripe breasts rose and fell. Her nipples hardened, rubbing against him. Morgan muffled a groan.
"Put me down!" She struggled and pressed her hands against his chest.
Reason returned. She wasn't even his type! He blinked, wondering what the hell came over him. He lowered her to the ground and stepped back.
"What the hell were you doing?" she asked. Her eyes flashed with accusations. "How dare you put your hands on me!"
An inferno burned inside him. His face became hot. His mouth opened and closed several times before he ripped out, "Fine! Next time, fall on your ass!"
Tension rippled in the air. He returned her glare. To Morgan's disgust, the word sexy came to mind. The way her chest heaved and her eyes flashed... Fuck! For a moment, he imagined pounding inside her. Making her hot with wanting him, pulling him deep inside her.
He could hardly believe it. He wanted her.
"You're right," she said, ignorant of his inner turmoil. "Thank you for catching me. I would have fallen otherwise." She picked the hammer from the ground. "What are you doing here?"
"I didn't know the park was off limits," he ground out.
"It isn't. Never mind. Forget I asked." She turned away and headed toward the railing.
"You don't learn," he muttered. He wrenched the hammer from her and climbed onto the railing. "Hand me the banner. I'll put it up."
"You don't have to."
"I know. Since I'm here, I might as well."
Keesha handed the banner to him. He noticed how she carefully avoided touching him. "I don't bite," he said before he could stop himself.
"I didn't ask for your help."
"You don't want to accept it," he said, as he positioned the banner. "Is it straight?"
Morgan fought the urge to engage in conversation with her. He embraced the physical task of nailing the banner in place while knowing she watched his every move.
JE had shown him the Ward-Quartermaine photo album. Morgan looked at the mirror image of a man he couldn't remember. He saw his very hands wrapped around the brown skinned woman below. Images of himself were captured on 4x6 glossy prints. Jason Morgan Quartermaine lived in a multicultural world and Morgan James didn't quite understand the man he used to be.
He finished with the banner and jumped from the railing. Feeling her gaze on him, he avoided making eye contact. Suddenly, being around her unnerved him. Yet, he wasn't quite ready to leave her presence.
He didn't quite understand that either.
Tommy leaned back against the tree as he and Gina watched the end of the recruitment fair from a distance. His arms closed around her waist from behind. He rested his chin against the curve of her neck and shoulder.
She drew tiny circles on his forearms and sighed. "This is nice. You feel good. Are you?"
He hunched his shoulders and drew her closer. "Very."
"I'm glad. You had me worried."
He kissed her earlobe, suckling gently. "You don't have to worry about me. I'm fine."
"Tom's return upset you," she said. "You don't have to hide that from me."
He stiffened involuntarily. "I'm not hiding anything. He shouldn't have come back, thinking he can pick up where he left off. When I needed a father, he wasn't there. Now that I don't need one, here he is. I don't think so."
"That's not true. The twins will still need you when they're adults. Growing older doesn't negate the need for our parents."
His hold on her loosened. His hands settled at her waist. "Okay, you're right...to a degree. I can't imagine life without Mom or Grandma Audrey. But I don't need Tom Hardy."
"You're being stubborn," she quietly scolded. "Whether Tom remains in your life is ultimately your decision, but promise me that you won't make it in haste. Alanna and Ciarda are curious about him. It wouldn't be fair to prevent them from getting to know him."
He pushed away from the tree and from her. He ran hand over his bald head and grunted. "I don't know about that, Gina."
"No," he said, shaking his head. "I don't trust him, sweetheart and I won't let my children be around someone I don't trust. I'll run a check on him. If he comes back clean, then maybe the girls can spend time with him. Definitely not before."
"You'll investigate your father?" she asked, an incredulous expression on her face.
"Yes," he said. "Thoroughly."
As Gina left to join Keesha with the new recruits, Tommy's cell phone rang. He pulled it free of his pocket and answered. "Hardy."
"I'm sure you are," came the hauntingly seductive voice on the other end.
"Who is this?" He demanded.
"Perhaps a friend," the nameless voice replied. "Perhaps a foe. The choice will ultimately be yours to decide."
"I don't play games--"
"Ending this call would not be in your best interest."
Tommy slowly removed his finger from the disconnection button. "What?"
"Yours is a brilliant mind and with an excellent memory, I presume."
"Holidays always carry special memories. Warm, happy thoughts of sharing time with your family. But can you recall a certain New Year's celebration? New York City. Your mother. Your tormentor. Can you remember the stench as human flesh was consumed by flames--"
Tommy choked. He remembered Juan's death all too well. But only he and Sonny knew what the evil bastard's final outcome was. No one else, not even Simone or Gina, were informed of how they disposed of the body. No one.
"Who is this?!" Tommy's voice deepened as unease filled him
"A person who knows. Never fear, my dear. We will be in touch."
Tai Chi failed to calm Nikolas' restless spirit, yet he persisted. The dinner hour passed with him still in his practice chamber. He supposed guilt rooted his feet to the wooden platform. After the forbidden moment with Gilly, he was not ready to face his family. Subconsciously, he hoped that by the time his lengthy workout ended everyone would be fast asleep.
He entered the dark farmhouse mentally and physically exhausted. After checking the locks and security system, he paused by Dawn's studio. A soft ray of light glowed from the crack between the door and floor, but all was quiet on the other side. Since DJLS began rehearsals, Dawn spent most of her time with the band and in the studio. He could hardly remember the last time they shared the same bed. He missed having her warm body next to his. And the soft whistle of her breath as she succumbed to a deep sleep.
For a moment, he pondered going to her. But what could he say? She read him better than anyone else ever had. In an instant, she would know about the kiss. Hell, she knew about the other one. He took in a deep breath and stepped away from the door. Tonight was the night for another discussion, he decided. But the day would come soon. He couldn't ignore that. She deserved that much. They both did.
He ascended the staircase and checked on the children. Both were fast asleep. Nikolas regretted that he missed having dinner with them. Silently, he vowed to keep his personal confusion away from them as much as possible. They didn't need to suffer because of the tension between their parents.
By the time he reached the master bedroom, he desperately craved an escape. But sleep would have to suffice.
He opened the door and received a major surprise. Scented candles flickered throughout the room, creating a warm, romantic mood. A soft instrumental ballad wafted from the wall speakers. His gaze drifted toward the bed.
Dawn sat on the edge. Her golden brown tresses fell to her shoulders in waves. The ivory lace negligee molded to her milk chocolate curves. The rapid rise and fall of her breasts hinted at her unease. Yet, a faint smile curved her lips. His breath caught as he watched her moisten her lips. The familiar ache filled him.
He wanted an escape. He hadn't planned on a seduction.
She stood and without saying a word, beckoned.
Nikolas kicked the door close and stepped forward.