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Authors: Farrah Rochon

Always and Forever (8 page)

BOOK: Always and Forever
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“And you helped her. What does that say about you?”

“Who was I to crush young love?” she said with a laugh. “Anyway, we never told Mya’s grandpa exactly why we took Mrs. Jackson’s car. He probably would have had Corey locked up if he knew.”

“Is that the most trouble you’ve ever gotten into?” he asked.

She nodded as she forked a helping of potato salad. “I was a pretty good kid. There wasn’t too much mischief to get into in Gauthier. What about you?” she asked. “Were you a troublemaker?”

Jamal shook his head. “I was the apple of my parents’ eyes.” Too bad that apple had started to rot over the past few years, at least as far as his father was concerned. “I had ample opportunity to get into trouble, but it just never interested me,” he said. “I was too busy trying to learn as much as I could about that eco-friendly stuff you hate so much.”

“I told you before that I don’t hate it. I just think it has its place.”

“Which happens to
not
be in the Victorian, right?” He laughed. “You’re going to be impressed with the way I integrate this new technology into that house.”

“It takes a lot to impress me,” she returned, taking a sip of her iced tea.

“I guess I have my work cut out for me,” he murmured.

The air crackled with electric heat. It pulsed like a living, breathing entity between them.

“Are you ready to head to the club?” Phylicia asked.

They had walked to the restaurant from the prime parking spot Jamal had found just a few yards away from the jazz club in the French Quarter. Mirroring the route they’d taken, they turned left down South Peters Street, walking past the bright lights of Harrah’s Casino. They made their way along Decatur Street, maneuvering around a crowd that had gathered to watch a couple of street performers. Jamal took a chance at reaching for her hand and experienced an overwhelming sense of accomplishment when she didn’t pull away but instead threaded her fingers with his.

“You ever work on any of these buildings?” he asked as they strolled along Saint Ann Street in the heart of New Orleans’s most famous neighborhood.

“Several of them.” She nodded. “My dad and I used to drive into the city at least twice a month to do restoration work.”

“You enjoyed working with him.” It was more a statement than a question.

“Absolutely,” she said. “I never considered doing anything else. It’s been a part of me for as long as I can remember.”

“I can tell how much you love it. It shows in the care you take when you work,” he elaborated.

“Thank you,” Phylicia replied. “It means a lot to hear that. My dad left some pretty big shoes to fill, and I’m working as hard as I can to fill them.”

“You think he would be proud of what you’ve done with the business?”

Her mood changed almost instantly, a shuttered look coming over her face.

“What’s wrong?” he asked. Because something was definitely wrong.

She looked over at him and shook her head. “You just hit the sensitive button,” she said, but her somber smile told Jamal a whole lot more than her words.

Just when he thought she would try to change the subject, Phylicia squeezed his hand and said, “My dad and I were closer than any two people I know. I suspected that he’d wished I was a boy, but he never let me feel unwanted. In fact, he spoiled me rotten. I could get away with just about anything.

“From the minute I could grip a putty knife, I was in the workshop with him, handing him tools.”

“So, what happened?” Jamal asked, running his thumb along her smooth skin.

“We had different ideas about how to handle the business,” she said. “I thought it was time Dad branched out, hired additional people so we could take on bigger jobs. He didn’t agree.” She pulled in a deep breath. “My last conversation with him was a huge fight over the direction we should take the business. He died a couple of hours after I stormed out of his workshop. I would do anything to have that day back,” she finished in a small voice.

“Your heart was in the right place,” Jamal said.

“I know,” she said. “So did Dad. It still doesn’t erase what happened.”

He wanted to pull her into his arms and hold her. He’d never seen Phylicia so vulnerable, and bastard that he was, he wanted to take full advantage of it. Having her emotions so exposed, it was hard not to give in to the need to comfort her.

“I’m sorry,” she said with a delicate sniff. “Talk about a way to ruin a first date.”

“You haven’t ruined anything,” he said. “I know a thing or two about having regrets, especially where family is concerned.”

She looked up at him and squeezed his hand. In that moment, Jamal had never felt a deeper connection to a woman. It transcended mere attraction, burgeoning into something more profound.

“We’re here,” Phylicia said as they came upon a nondescript building with a simple green door. “Are you ready to hear some of the best undiscovered jazz musicians in the city?”

If it meant spending more time with her, he’d listen to a band of out-of-tune bagpipers.

Jamal opened the door, settling his hand at the small of her back as he urged her to go ahead of him. As the heat of her skin penetrated her silky top, Jamal tried to think of anything that could be better than being with her tonight.

He couldn’t come up with a single thing. Tonight had been everything he’d hoped it would be...and they were only halfway through it.

Chapter 8

T
he sultry sounds coming from the jazz quartet filtered through the cozy bar, creating an intimacy that was hard to ignore. As they danced, Phil concentrated on the muscles beneath her fingers as she held on to Jamal’s solid back.

She couldn’t remember the last time a man had looked at her with the same intensity as Jamal was looking at her right now. He ran one hand down her spine, stopping just above her waist. She was tempted to take his hand and move it lower until his warm palm cradled her backside.

Instead, she put her arms around Jamal’s neck and rested her head on his shoulder.

“You feel amazing,” Phil said on a sigh.

His body went rigid. When she peered up at him, his eyes were heavy with heat. “I can’t put into words how it feels to have you against me, Phylicia. I’ve been dreaming about this ever since Mya and Corey’s wedding.”

So had she. He had taken top billing in her nightly fantasies even before the wedding. It had only intensified after the hours they’d spent together that night.

In a hushed whisper, he asked, “What did I do wrong?”

“What do you mean?”

“We had such a good time that night, and then nothing. Why did I become enemy number one?”

Contriteness heated her face. “I owe you an apology for the way I treated you,” she said. “It was unfair.”

“Why did you?” he asked.

She looked down at his chest, then back at his eyes. “It was because of the house,” she finally answered. “I found out the day after the wedding that you were the person who’d bought it. If I’d seen you that day, I probably would have run you down with my truck. That’s just how livid I was.”

“I had no idea you were trying to buy the house,” he reiterated.

“I know you didn’t,” she said. “I had no right to blame you, but I did anyway.”

“Phylicia, how did you end up losing the house?” he asked.

She shook her head. “Don’t. Not right now. Tonight has been too perfect. I don’t want to mess it up.”

“But—”

She placed her fingers on his lips, silencing him. They felt warm against her skin, almost as warm as his eyes, which were so heated they nearly singed her. The raw desire so evident in his penetrating stare set her blood ablaze.

She wanted this man. She’d wanted him from the moment she’d met him. And it was more than obvious that he wanted her, too.

“You’re not very good at hiding what you’re thinking,” Phil murmured.

“I’m not trying to hide it,” he returned, his voice rough with lust.

She moved closer to him and rested her head against his broad chest. As they swayed back and forth to the bluesy sound of the trumpeter’s song, she couldn’t help but imagine doing this a thousand times more. She felt at home in his embrace, as if he was a missing puzzle piece that she hadn’t realized fit until she’d stepped into it.

“Thank you for tonight,” she murmured against his chest. She tilted her head up slightly, just long enough to send him a grateful glance. “It’s been so long since I’ve been out dancing. I really needed this.”

“You’re welcome,” he said. “We can do it again, and again, and again. Until you’re good and satisfied.”

They were no longer talking about dancing. Goose bumps broke out across Phil’s skin. Her nipples pebbled, pulling tighter with each brush against Jamal’s solid chest.

The trumpeter’s ballad waned with a final, haunting note. When she pulled away to applaud the musicians, her body mourned the loss of feeling Jamal against her. They returned to their table, which had remained unoccupied with the small Wednesday night crowd.

“Wow, it’s almost midnight,” she commented. Phil had resisted checking the time, not wanting the night to come to an end.

“It’s a good thing midnight is considered still early in this town,” he said.

“Even when I have to get up at six in the morning?” She sent him a sly grin. “My boss might get upset if I show up late or fall asleep on the job tomorrow.”

Jamal chuckled. “I think he’ll cut you some slack.”

“Probably because he’s planning to sleep in himself?” she asked.

“If I can sleep at all. I think I’ll be reliving tonight in my head for many nights to come.”

And wasn’t
that
just the thing to say to send shivers down her spine?

“You may have a degree in architecture, but I think you minored in being a sweet-talker,” Phil joked.

“Actually, I minored in music,” he returned.

Her brow lifted. “So it’s not just a hobby.”

He shook his head.

“Are you as good as that guy?” she asked, nodding toward the saxophonist on stage.

Jamal looked over his shoulder. “Only one way for you to find out,” he said. He pushed up from the chair. “I’ll be right back.”

“Wha—” Phil stared at his back as he exited the club. Several minutes later, he returned, saxophone case in hand. “Oh, my goodness,” she said.

Jamal bypassed their table and headed for the stage. He spoke with the man who sat on a stool at the base of the stage, nodded, then looked back at her, flashing a smile as he climbed the steps and stepped up to the lone microphone.

“I don’t mean to usurp anyone’s time here on stage,” he said into the microphone, “but this happens to be a pretty special night. I hope the crowd doesn’t mind if I serenade my date with a special song, just for her.”

“Oh, my goodness,” Phil whispered again. She glanced around her, self-conscious as several of the people in the club sent smiles her way.

She should kick his butt for this. But honestly, who had ever done something so sweet?

When the first notes drifted from Jamal’s sax, Phil forgot about the people surrounding them. He played with passion, the perfect notes weaving their way around her.

His eyes were closed as he leaned over his instrument and stroked his fingers along the brass keys. Every so often he’d look up at her, a smile lighting his eyes. Tremors of awareness traveled along her spine, as if the pads of his fingers were moving up and down her skin instead of the saxophone.

When Jamal drew out the last note, applause drifted around the half-filled club. He accepted the praise with a nod and thanked the musicians for allowing him to encroach on their space.

Phil stood and gently applauded him when he returned to the table.

“So?” he asked when he resumed his seat at the table. “Was I any good?”

“I can’t even joke about it. You were better than I ever imagined.”

“Thank you,” he said.

“Really, I wasn’t expecting that. You don’t just dabble in music. You’re good enough to be featured here or at any of the other jazz clubs around the city.”

“I wouldn’t say that,” Jamal said with true modesty, “but I do love it. I always have. Music has always been my escape.”

She tilted her head to the side and studied him for several beats. “What have you had to escape from?” she asked.

“Not tonight,” he said, using the words she’d used earlier. “Let’s save that conversation for another time.”

“Fair enough,” Phil said. She felt the same way. The night had been too magical to mar it with unpleasant thoughts. But, unfortunately, it was time to bring their magical night to an end.

“It really is time to head back,” she said in a mournful tone. “We have an hour’s drive ahead of us.”

“We can stay in the city,” he said. Phil’s eyes widened at the suggestion.

“In separate rooms,” he added, then tacked on, “if that’s what you want.”

What she wanted and what she would agree to were two totally different things. She wanted to take him by the hand and lead him to the nearest hotel room, but she’d allowed her body to rule once before, and she was still paying for it.

“I think we should head back to Gauthier. We both have a long day ahead of us.”

His disappointment was blatantly obvious, but to his credit, Jamal didn’t push, nor did he sulk, which was what Kevin would have done. Ever the gentleman, he paid their tab and, with his hand on the small of her back, guided her out of the club.

“Thank you,” Phil said as he held the door to his truck open for her.

“Thank
you,
” he returned, wedging his body inside the truck cab and buckling her into the seat. “It’s been a while since I played my saxophone for anyone but myself. Thanks for giving me the opportunity.”

He leaned forward and pressed a swift, hot kiss against her lips, then closed the door. Phil’s eyes tracked him as he rounded the front, opened the door and climbed into the truck.

“It was okay that I did that, right?” he asked.

“The kiss?”

He nodded.

After a pause, she said, “It’s okay.”

He looked over at her. “Is it okay if I do it again?”

A smile curved up the sides of Phil’s mouth. She unbuckled the seat belt and scooted over to his side. Then she wrapped her hand around Jamal’s neck and tilted his head toward her.

“Just remember, if I’m too tired to work tomorrow, you’ll have to answer to my boss.”

“I think he’ll understand,” he said as he dipped his head and captured her lips in a much slower, much deeper kiss.

A soft sigh escaped her throat as Jamal’s tongue eased into her mouth, exploring with a relaxed familiarity that shouldn’t have been possible after so few kisses, yet seemed...right. As if his mouth belonged there, connected to hers.

Phil snaked her free hand up his chest, fanning her fingers out against his solid, warm muscles. She pressed herself more firmly against him and rubbed her knee against the prominent bulge in his lap.

Jamal tore his mouth from hers and let out a loud groan.

“Okay, maybe we should stop before we get in trouble,” he said.

She really wasn’t in the mood to stop, but Phil knew he was right. Anyone could pass the car and see them going at it like a couple of teenagers. Her days of making out in cars were behind her. She was a grown woman with her own house. They could make out there.

Actually, they could do a lot more than make out.

“You’re right,” she said. “I think you should take me home.”

* * *

His one-handed grip on the steering wheel tightened to the point that Jamal figured he’d leave indentions in the hard plastic. They were nearing Phylicia’s place, and if it were an option, he’d give up his house, his car and most of the money in his bank account for the chance to follow her inside.

He pulled into her cul-de-sac and, moments later, turned into her driveway.

They spoke over each other.

“Can I—”

“Do you—”

She gestured for him to go first.

“I was just going to ask if I could walk you to your door,” Jamal said.

“I was going to ask if you wanted to come in for a few minutes. I know it’s late—”

“Absolutely,” Jamal answered. Did she really think she had to convince him to follow her into that house?

He got out of the truck and raced around the front to open her door, but as she’d done earlier, she’d already gotten out. His chivalry was useless on her. She pulled the key out of her small clutch purse, and Jamal followed her inside.

Still silent, they made their way to her kitchen. “Have a seat,” she said, pointing to one of the stools at the angled bar that separated the living room from the kitchen. “Can I get you a drink? Beer? Wine?”

Jamal declined the offer. “The two beers are my limit when I’m driving. Actually, they’re pretty much my limit, period. I’m not much of a drinker. I’ll take a bottle of water,” he said.

“You’re so responsible,” she said, grabbing a couple of bottled waters from the refrigerator.

“Is that a good thing or a bad thing?” Jamal asked.

“It’s good. I’m not a fan of men who back out on their responsibilities.”

Don’t bring it up. Do
not
bring it up.

“Are you speaking from experience?” he asked, and immediately felt like an idiot. Why in the hell did he bring it up?

She sipped from her water bottle, staring at him as she tilted her head back slightly. She capped the bottle and set it on the counter next to her. “Maybe,” she answered. “That’s another topic I’d rather not get into tonight.”

Thank God she had a better sense of timing than he did. What the hell was he thinking, bringing up someone from her past? But Jamal knew much of the battle he was fighting to win Phylicia over was due to what this guy had done to her. He wanted to know what he was up against.

Not tonight, though. They had better things to do tonight.

“Jamal, it’s late,” Phylicia said.

Or maybe not.

She pushed away from the counter she’d been leaning against and walked over to where he sat.

“I don’t want to waste any more time dancing around the issue,” she continued. “We’re both adults. We can be upfront about what we want to happen here.”

Desire shot to his groin. “I want you,” he said without hesitation.

“I want you, too,” she returned.

Damn. Her boldness turned him on more than Jamal thought possible. How hot was it to have a woman tell him just what she wanted? No teasing. No games.

Without another word he captured the back of her head and pulled her close. She met his mouth with eagerness that rivaled his own, her lips parting and her tongue darting inside his mouth.

Jamal opened his legs so she could step between them, then thought better of it. Why waste time being vertical?

“Where’s your bed?” he asked.

Phylicia took him by the hand and led him down a short hallway. His mouth salivated at the way the jeans molded to her trim thighs. He needed to peel them off of her. Now.

They entered her bedroom, and Phylicia flipped on a bedside lamp.

“Okay. Strip,” she said.

Jamal managed a hoarse laugh through the lust clogging his throat. “Is this going to be a game of Show Me Yours and I’ll Show You Mine?”

“We don’t have time for that,” she said, then caught the hem of her blouse and pulled it over her head. Jamal’s knees instantly weakened at the sight of her in a barely there sheer black bra.

“Damn,” he whispered.

“Are you going to get undressed?” she asked.

“Hell, yes,” he said, and kicked off his shoes.

It was an all-out strip fest from that point on. In a matter of seconds, they were both naked. Jamal wanted to take a few minutes to just look at her, but Phylicia was having none of that. She reached for him and pulled him down on the bed with her.

BOOK: Always and Forever
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