Authors: Synithia Williams
Tags: #romance, #contemporary
This edition published by
an imprint of F+W Media, Inc.
10151 Carver Road, Suite 200
Blue Ash, Ohio 45242
Copyright Â© 2013 by Synithia Williams
ISBN 10: 1-4405-6659-3
ISBN 13: 978-1-4405-6659-2
eISBN 10: 1-4405-6660-7
eISBN 13: 978-1-4405-6660-8
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, corporations, institutions, organizations, events, or locales in this novel are either the product of the author's imagination or, if real, used fictitiously. The resemblance of any character to actual persons (living or dead) is entirely coincidental.
Cover art Â© 123rf.com; istockphoto.com/Squaredpixels
Thanks to my editor, Jennifer Lawler, for taking a chance on my first book. I cannot tell you how glad I am that you liked my novel. Thank you to my wonderful critique partners: Ester, M.J. Kane, Danita Reese, and Terry Newman. You ladies have helped make my novels shine. Much love to my beta readers: Ashley Harmon, Natoya Taylor, Nancy Nicholson, Jamelah Wright, and Tamara King. I appreciate all of the love and support you ladies have shown. A huge thank you to the new readers who've take the time out of their day to tell me via email, Facebook, or Twitter that you've read and enjoyed my stories. You guys have often made me smile on a dreary day. And finally, again, thank you to my wonderful husband. I couldn't do this without you.
“Well, it's not what you're used to, but it's as good as you'll get.”
Shayla Monroe ignored her mom's comment and dropped a box of her belongings on the old hardwood floor. If there was one thing she was sure of, it was that Marcella Monroe wanted her to know how lucky she was to have any place to stay. She suppressed a groan and took in her surroundings. As if coming home with a tarnished reputation wasn't bad enough, she had to live here. The tiny house barely knocked on the door of 1,000 square feet and consisted of a living area, small kitchen, one bedroom, and a bathroom with a tub.
No shower. Just a tub.
It was a far cry from the spacious apartment she'd had. Atlanta was a large city, but when you created a scandal, it wasn't large enough. Shaking aside the regret she constantly lived with, she walked over and took the box her mom was carrying and placed it on the floor.
She cringed after dusting her hands on her jeans. They were once the epitome of style, now they were reduced to a dust rag.
“The house is fine, Mom. I'm glad Mr. Porter was willing to let me rent it.”
The frown line between her mom's eyebrows deepened, blending in with the other worry lines on her tan skin. “Yes, well, he did it as a favor to me. Remember that before you invite anyone over.”
Shayla bit the inside of her cheek. Her plan was to hide out here for a few weeks, not throw a party. But it would be a waste of breath to say that out loud. “I won't have company.”
Her mom lifted one large shoulder as if what Shayla said didn't matter. “Just remember, the house is owned by a church deacon.” Marcella turned away. “Did you see the kitchen?”
She didn't answer because her mother's question didn't require a response. They both knew she'd walked through the house with Mr. Porter the day before. His acidic tone and accusing eyes were just as scorching as they'd been when she was in high school. He was one of the many people she'd hoped to never see again when she left Helena, South Carolina after high school. Instead, she had to return home disgraced and needing help from those who weren't happy to give it.
Her mom shuffled through the small kitchen and adjoining hall into Shayla's bedroom. “If you paint this room a lighter color, it'll brighten things up. Just be sure to get the okay from Mr. Porter first.”
Shayla walked from the living area into the connected bedroom. Marcella spared her a fleeting glace before turning away. She ignored the pain. Her mom hadn't made eye contact with her since she wore pigtails.
Shayla walked over to the king bed and ran her hand along the cream and gold bedspread. The bed took up most of the small room, but she refused to give up all her luxuries. With a defiant stare at her mom's averted face she said, “I think I'll paint the walls red.”
Marcella scowled, but didn't rise to the bait. “On second thought, I'll go to the hardware store later and pick up some paint swatches. If Mr. Porter agrees to one, your brother can paint.”
“I can paint my own room.”
“Don't trouble yourself, Kenny can do it.”
Shayla sighed and rolled her eyes. “Kenny has classes. I can do it. It'll keep me busy until I find a job.”
Marcella's gaze skirted to her for a second. “Hmmm, well maybe it is a good idea for you to stay occupied.”
Shayla's lips pressed into a thin line. After a lifetime of her mom's accusatory tone it still grated her nerves. There would be a huge scarlet letter on her chest if her mom, family, and neighbors had their way. She wasn't the first person to have an affair end badly â okay, horribly â and she wouldn't be the last. No need to waste her breath trying to explain the truth behind the situation. The good folks of Helena always preferred thinking the worst about her.
Hopefully someone else in town would cause a scandal and everyone would forget about the harlot in their midst. Or she'd find a job in Columbia or Charlotte and hightail her ass out of here as soon as possible.
“Yo, mama, where ya'll at!” Her brother's voice boomed through the small house.
Her mom smiled as she hurried out of Shayla's bedroom into the living room. Shayla followed, and leaned against the connecting door to watch her brother drag her luggage in the house. Kenny was twenty-nine, six years younger than her and still living at home. He'd been going to the local technical college for the past six years with no major or graduation date in sight. As long as he attempted school her mom let him stay rent free. Probably the reason he stayed in school.
His beefy shoulders bunched and he lifted her bags as if they weighed nothing. “Where you want this stuff to go, Shay?”
She pointed over her shoulder. “In the bedroom.”
Kenny tipped his bald head up in answer just as his best friend Bobby slithered through the front door. He'd trailed her brother everywhere since grade school.
“Alright, let me check out where I'll be staying.” Bobby said rubbing his thin hands together.
She sucked her teeth and glared at Bobby. He'd been an annoying horny teenager that had grown into an annoying horny adult. While most people in town talked about her behind her back; the day before Bobby brought up the reason for her flight from Atlanta, then outright propositioned her in her mom's kitchen. He'd laughed when she'd slapped his face and stormed out. There was no need to tell anyone what a jerk he'd been. Her mom would say she deserved it, and Kenny shrugged off his friend's behavior as teasing the way he shrugged off most things.
Shayla glared at Bobby. “I never invited you into my home.”
His beady eyed gaze traveled over her. “Not yet.”
Kenny shoved a bag at Bobby. “Quit playing, man. C'mon and help me put this stuff up.”
Shayla stepped back as they passed, but not fast enough to prevent Bobby from “accidentally” brushing against her breasts. When she glared at him, he smirked. Her face flushed as anger and humiliation warred within her. Bobby was an ass, but his juvenile action was something she'd dealt with longer than she could remember. She'd come to accept that her figure presented an open invitation for touches from creeps like him.
She crossed her arms and tapped her foot. It was time to get everyone out of her space. “Is that everything?”
Her brother put the bags on the floor. “Yeah, that's it. Do you need us to do anything else?”
“No, I'm good. Thanks.”
“Cool, then we're out. C'mon Bobby.”
Bobby stopped in front of Shayla and eyed her from head to toe. “You sure you don't need me to work on your pipes?”
She held up her hand. “That line is older than both of us. Get out of my face.”
Kenny burst out laughing. Bobby looked at Kenny before turning back to her and shrugging. “Like it really takes more than an old line to hook up with you.”
She balled her fist and took a step forward. Bobby's smirk fell and he rushed out the door. Kenny gave her an apologetic look, then followed.
Marcella walked to the door. “Don't get mad at Bobby. Until you clean up your act, you'll only get more taunts like that.”
Shayla's shoulders stiffened. “That was uncalled for.”
Her mom raised an eyebrow as she looked over Shayla's jeans and tank top. “Maybe if you didn't walk around with all of your stuff out.”
Shayla bit her tongue and counted to three. This was her mother and she wouldn't curse her out. “What I'm wearing is fine. Bobby is just an ass â¦ I mean, jerk.”
Her mom lifted a shoulder. “I'm just trying to give you some advice. But you're just like your daddy. Always thinking you're right, but never wanting to do what's right.” Her eyes focused on Shayla's forehead. “You need anything else?”
She was surprised it had taken this long before her mom compared her to her absent father. Her return home was further proof to her mother that she was as big of a screw up as her father.
Shayla shook her head. “No, I'm going to start unpacking.”
Marcella hurried out the door and Shayla followed. “Well, if you don't need any help, I'll head home.” She stopped on the front porch. “I'm frying chicken for dinner. Are you coming over to eat?”
“I've got so much to do here. I'll just microwave something.”
Her mom nodded. “Do what you want. I'll leave a plate on the stove if you change your mind.”
Shayla didn't comment and watched her mom go down the porch steps to her car. Only four houses separated them and her mom still drove the distance. She went back into the house and leaned against the door, facing the inside. Every room connected to the other and visible from the front door. Nowhere to hide.
She tapped her hand on her leg. One stupid decision and her career in public relations, stylish lifestyle, and hopes for the future were all down the drain. Her other hand came up to touch the small gold heart charm she wore around her neck, a gift to herself. It was supposed to be a reminder that self-love was important. Instead it reminded her that she had a long way to go to achieve that goal. With so many regrets, it was hard to find something worth liking, much less loving.
With a quick shake of her head she pushed away from the door. She had to get out before she succumbed to the pity party lurking in her subconscious. If she sat in the confined space Mr. Porter called a house, she'd lose her mind. Grabbing a bag off the floor of her bedroom, she rummaged through it until she found a pair of running shorts and a sports bra. In less than five minutes she was changed and out of her front door, jogging down the street.