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Authors: Farrah Rochon

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BOOK: Always and Forever
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Chapter 13

A
nxiety gripped Jamal’s stomach as soon as the wheels of the plane touched ground at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International Airport. The sickening feeling had been building in his gut throughout the duration of the flight, and right now, he wanted nothing more than to book a return flight to New Orleans. Leaving now.

“You look about as comfortable as a catfish in a seafood restaurant,” Phylicia said.

“Try a catfish next to a fry pan filled with hot oil,” he said.

She reached over and took his hand. “It’ll be okay. You’re going to be relieved once you and your father have aired out your differences.”

“I don’t plan to air out anything with him,” Jamal said. “I’m here for my sister and my mother. If I could, I would go this entire trip without even seeing my father.”

“Jamal, you cannot come all this way and not speak to him.”

“Watch me,” he said.

“But—”

“Phylicia, let it go. Please,” he pleaded in a softer tone. “I don’t want to ruin our time together arguing over this. Let me handle this thing with my father my way, okay?”

She started to speak, but then relented. Holding her palms up, she said, “Fine. Miss this golden opportunity to set things right if you want to.” She shot him a pointed look. “Just remember that you may not get another.”

“I’ll take my chances.” He hoisted her carry-on bag over his shoulder and they deplaned. After retrieving the rest of the luggage from baggage claim, they walked over to the rental car kiosk and were shuttled to their waiting car.

Jamal headed north on Interstate 17, soaking in the familiar surroundings. Phylicia twisted around in her seat to observe all the sights.

“The most I’ve ever seen of Phoenix is the view from the airport. Whenever I fly to the West Coast, the layover is either here or Las Vegas,” she explained.

“Phoenix is a great city.”

“Do you miss it?”

He shrugged. “Haven’t been gone long enough to miss it yet,” he said. The lie tasted bitter on his tongue. He’d missed his hometown more than he ever thought he would. He missed the fresh air and the gorgeous sunsets. He missed checking out a Diamondbacks game on a weekday afternoon.

He missed his family.

An ache settled in his chest at the thought of his family. Before leaving Arizona, the longest he’d ever gone without seeing his mother was a week—even when he was in college. Not seeing both his mother and Lauryn had been, by far, the biggest adjustment to his new life.

And yet, he wasn’t ready to face them. Not yet. Because seeing his mother and sister meant he’d have to endure his father’s company. He wanted to enjoy being back home for a few days before having to brave that reunion.

Jamal continued driving north on I-17. After about a half hour, when Phoenix proper was well behind them, Phylicia twisted in her seat and looked at him.

“Just how far does your family live from the city?”

“We’re not going to my family’s house,” Jamal said. “Remember, the first part of this trip is for research. I booked us a room at a bed-and-breakfast in Sedona. It is one of the most beautiful areas in all of Arizona.”

“How far is Sedona?”

“About another hour and a half,” he said.

She shot him an incredulous frown. “So we’re staying two hours away from where the wedding will take place?”

“It’s worth the drive,” Jamal said. “I promise.”

“But—”

He leaned over and kissed the question right out of her mouth. He knew she’d bring up the issue between him and his dad, and Jamal wasn’t up to dealing with it. He’d orchestrated a relaxing, romantic getaway, and he wasn’t about to let Phylicia spoil it with her peacemaking attempts. He would be the one to decide whether or not he made peace with his father.

Phylicia spent the remainder of the drive into Verde Valley peppering him with questions about each and every mountain and stretch of desert they passed. As they approached the idyllic mountain ranges of the northeast region, Jamal was pretty sure she would stroke out from her excitement.

“This is absolutely gorgeous,” she gasped.

“They call this Red Rock Country,” Jamal explained. “I’m going to take you on a tour of it tomorrow and show you two of the most famous formations, Cathedral Rock and Thunder Mountain. I can promise you’ve never seen anything more beautiful.”

The car’s navigation system indicated that they should exit the highway, and a few minutes later, the sign for the Creekside Bed-and-Breakfast came into view. They were greeted by the husband and wife who owned and operated the B&B. After checking in, they were treated to a tour of the public areas.

“As you can see, the house is all Arizona on the outside, but inside we have traditional Victorian furnishings and decor.”

“That’s the reason I picked this B&B,” Jamal said. “We’re in the process of renovating an 1870s Victorian in Louisiana. I’m hoping to pick your brains a bit on what has worked and what hasn’t with Creekside.”

“Congratulations,” the woman said. “You will love it.” She wagged a finger in their direction. “And don’t let anyone tell you that you shouldn’t work together as husband and wife. We’ve done it for several years, and it has only added to our marriage.”

Jamal glanced at Phylicia to see if she would correct the woman’s erroneous assumption. His chest tightened with unbearable hope when she didn’t. The thought of being mistaken for Phylicia’s husband didn’t scare him nearly as much as he thought it would. In fact, the thought of the two of them operating Belle Maison together sent a deliciously intoxicating spike of pleasure coursing through his bloodstream.

“The two of you will be lodging in the Sovereign Suite, one of our most ornate...and romantic,” the B&B owner tacked on.

Standing along the bank of gurgling Oak Creek that ran right through the property, Jamal couldn’t help but grin at Phylicia’s animated rambling.

“I honestly do not believe I have seen anything this beautiful in my entire life. Look at it,” she said. “And listen. How soothing is that? It sounds like one of those nature CDs.” She turned to him. “Why didn’t you tell me to bring my paints? How peaceful would it be to stand here with my easel?”

The water rushing over and around the smooth rocks was calming, but the mention of painting supplies reminded Jamal of the last time she’d painted outside, surrounded by nature. Making love to her there would be a lifelong memory. He was suddenly anxious to get her inside the house.

“Why don’t we check out the room?” he asked.

Phylicia frowned, but when Jamal lifted his brows in a knowing look, a delicate pink hue blossomed high on her cheeks. She knew exactly what he was suggesting.

The innkeeper informed them of dinnertime, but Jamal wasn’t thinking about food. The only thing he needed right now was Phylicia, good and naked.

When they finally arrived in their room, he didn’t register anything about their surroundings except for the bed. Tumbling onto the mass of frilly bedding, he stripped Phylicia out of her clothes and spent the next half hour exploring the terrains of her body. He licked up and down the peaks of her firm breasts and trailed kisses along the smooth hollow of her gently concave stomach. He gripped her faintly rounded hips and used his tongue to explore the delicious world between her legs.

When they were done, they both collapsed onto the bed and stared up at the ceiling, puffing out exhausted and contented breaths.

“I would love to see what the rest of the room looks like,” Phylicia said. “But I’m too tired to move.”

“We’re here for two nights,” Jamal said. “There’s time to see the room.”

She scooted closer to him and snuggled with her back against his chest, pulling his arm across her torso. Jamal snaked a hand up to cup her breast, relishing in the softness.

“I can spend the next two days and nights right here, just like this,” Phylicia said.

“You’d get no complaints from me,” he told her. “We don’t have to go anywhere. We can see the wineries another time.”

She glanced over her bare shoulder. “Wineries?”

He nodded. “There are several in the area. I scheduled a few tastings. I’m hoping I can set up a deal with one of them to provide wines for the B&B. But I can do that another time.”

“No, you won’t,” she told him. “I’ve never been to a winery before.” She twisted until she faced him, resting her chin in her upturned palm, her eyes bright with excitement. “I wonder if I can stomp the grapes like in that episode of
I Love Lucy.
I’ve always wanted to do that.”

“Why? It looks messy as hell.”

“True.” She laughed. “But you have to admit it looks fun.”

“Actually,” Jamal said, capturing her waist and pulling her on top of him, “I can think of something that’s
way
more fun than stomping grapes.”

* * *

“This. Is.
Gorgeous!

Jamal grinned at Phylicia’s enthusiasm, feeding off the excitement that shone through her bright eyes. They stood amidst rows of waist-high vines that stretched as far as the eye could see, the warm Arizona sun beating down on them.

“This soil is ideal for producing a sweet, fragrant harvest,” their personal tour guide explained. “This region’s wines are known for their distinct flavor.”

They forayed deeper into the vineyard and were treated to plump, juicy grapes right off the vine. When the tour was done, they were led past the small restaurant and into a private tasting room where several bottles were set up.

Once they were done with their tasting, Jamal talked business with the vineyard’s owner, but he kept an eye on Phylicia as she explored the beautiful woodworking of the intricately carved wine racks.

“Nice work,” Jamal said, coming up behind her.

She ran her hand along the wood. “It is. This took a lot of time.” She looked back at him over her shoulder. “I can make you one like this, you know. Something on a smaller scale to hold your wines at Belle Maison.”

“I may have to take you up on that,” he said. He leaned over and whispered in her ear, “But, right now, I have a surprise for you.”

There was a quizzical lift to her brow.

“It’s time to stomp some grapes,” he said.

She gasped. “Are you kidding me?” She pointed toward the door where their tour guide had just left. “But she said new regulations prevent the vineyard from using that method.”

Jamal shrugged. “I pulled a few strings.”

The look she graced him with was akin to a kid getting the toy she’d been hoping for on her birthday, and Jamal couldn’t help the way his chest puffed out a bit. He could get used to being the hero.

They were brought into a room filled with huge barrels lining the walls. On an elevated platform stood a wooden tub. Jamal followed Phylicia up the stairs, and after washing her feet with the supplies that were provided, helped her into the tub filled with freshly picked grapes.

“Oh, my goodness,” she said. “This feels so weird.”

“Looks pretty sexy to me,” Jamal said, staring at the smooth thighs that peeked from under the dress she held in her hands.

“Aren’t you joining me?” she asked.

“Nah, I’d rather watch.”

She pulled her bottom lip between her teeth as she gingerly took her first couple of steps. “This is
so
weird,” she said again. “But, um, kind of fun.”

Jamal looked on as her attack on the grapes became more aggressive. The only other time he’d seen Phylicia this uninhibited was when she was painting, and never had he seen her so playful. He loved the way it looked on her. She had so many burdens weighing her down—guilt over her father, worry about her mother’s health, stress from that jerk of an ex who’d left her in near financial ruin. The chance to put a smile on her face was worth the extravagant price he’d paid for this little excursion.

“You don’t know what you’re missing.” Phylicia grinned.

“I’ll take your word for it,” Jamal returned as he studied the unbelievably sexy way the delicate muscles in her lean legs flexed with her movements. The hem of her dress brushed her thighs, driving him out of his mind.

After she’d stomped around for nearly twenty minutes, he was finally able to coax her out of the tub. They were shown to a washroom where Phylicia was able to clean her legs and feet. Even
that
was sexy.

His phone vibrated and Jamal checked the screen. It was the event planner he’d hired, letting him know that everything was set for the other bit of extravagance he had planned.

“Are you ready?” he asked her.

“Are we going to another winery?”

“No, I think I’m going to go with this one as my Arizona supplier. When we get back to Louisiana I’ll visit a few and get another local supplier. But we need to get on the road.” He gestured with his head.

“Where’re we going now?”

“I promised to show you my home state’s magnificent scenery, remember?” He captured her hand and placed a delicate kiss on the back of her fingers. “We still have a lot to explore.”

Jamal purchased a couple of bottles of wine from the winery before heading for Route 179 to Cathedral Rock. A short time later, he pulled the rental car into the driveway of the Crescent Moon Ranch.

“Is that it?” Phylicia asked, pointing to the majestic red rock with its two peaks.

“Yep,” Jamal said as he grabbed a bottle of wine. “Let’s walk. There’s an even better view on the other side of the cabin. It’s the best place to watch the sunset.”

They rounded the corner and Phylicia’s loud gasp echoed around them. Dozens of lit candles surrounded a hand-stitched blanket with a traditional Native American design. A picnic basket, filled with bread, fruit and several artisan cheeses delivered from a dairy farm in Tempe, sat just to the right of it.

She whirled around, her eyes wide with surprise. “How did you do this?”

“I told you I would show you the best that Arizona has to offer. Sit.” He gestured to the blanket with his head.

After settling next to her on the colorful blanket, Jamal filled the two wine glasses Phylicia held, then opened his legs so she could scoot between them. He wrapped an arm around her middle and nestled his lips against her neck.

BOOK: Always and Forever
5.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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