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Authors: Shelly Ellis

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BOOK: Another Woman's Man
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Dawn's and Cynthia's gazes drifted to the floor.

“Now, you two better tell me what's going on and you better tell me quick,” Yolanda ordered, shifting her gaze between both of her daughters. “So who's going first?”

Dawn and Cynthia stood silently for several seconds before Dawn sucked her teeth.

“Fine,” she muttered, before stepping forward. “Look, Mama, I was going to tell you—eventually—but I just thought it would be better to . . . well . . . I've been seeing my father.”

Yolanda's frown deepened. “What?”

“My father! You know . . . Herbert Allen. He showed up at my gallery one day a couple of weeks ago.”

Yolanda's mouth fell open in shock.

“I don't know how he tracked me down. I guess a guy like him has his ways. He's not doing well, Mama. He's . . . he's really sick with terminal cancer, and he wanted a chance to get to know me, so . . . so I agreed to have lunch with him one day. Then he invited me to go to his family's pre-Christmas dinner party and—”

“Wait,” Yolanda said, holding up her hand. “You ate dinner with
his family?

“I know, right?” Cynthia exclaimed, making Dawn glower at her again.

“It was just dinner, Mama,” Dawn demurred. “Besides, he's my father. He reached out to me. I have the right to know the man!”

Yolanda raised her eyebrows. “You mean the same man that it took a team of lawyers just to get him to admit that he was your father? The same man who's spent thirty and some odd years pretending that you didn't exist? Are we referring to
that
man?”

“Herb knows what he did was wrong and he apologized.”

“Oh, he apologized! Well, I guess that makes it all better, then, doesn't it?” Yolanda said sarcastically.

“Mama, he—”

“No!” Yolanda waved her hand, silencing Dawn. “I have no desire to hear any more about Herbert Allen,” she said with a sneer, “especially when I have a wedding cake to choose and not much time to do it. If you're so eager to get to know your darling daddy, Dawn, I can't stop you.” She walked back toward the bakery's entrance. She stepped over the threshold, then paused and turned back around to face them. “But just remember who gave birth to you and loved you since the moment she set eyes on you, who raised and nurtured you, and who would never
ever
deny you. I'm glad Herbert's had his grand awakening now that he's so near death's door, but if it were me, I would have told him he was a day late and a dime short.”

Yolanda then turned back around and walked into the bakery.

“Now where were we, Glenda?” they heard her say in a syrupy-sweet voice, giving no hint to the sense of betrayal Cynthia knew her mother felt.

Cynthia gazed at her sister, whose eyes were downcast.

“She's right, you know,” Cynthia said. “You don't owe him—any of them—anything.”

Dawn looked up at her. She tossed Cynthia's coat at Cynthia's chest before turning on her heels.

“Where are you going?” Cynthia shouted as she followed her.

“To get a cab . . . or take the bus! I don't care. But there is no way in hell I'm doing that cake tasting with Mama or riding back with you. I could just kill you right now, Cindy!”

“Why?”
Cynthia asked as Dawn opened the glass door and stomped outside. “Because the truth finally came out? We don't keep secrets like that from each other, Dawn. We never did! But now the only thing you, Laurie, and Steph do is keep secrets!”

Her sister didn't answer her, but instead continued down the sidewalk to who knew where.

“Dawn!” Cynthia shouted after her. “Dawn!” She stamped her foot in frustration and dropped a hand to her hip. She blew out a deep breath that caused her side bangs to flutter.

Well, this sucks,
she thought.
So much for a fun day at the bakery!

She turned and opened the glass door to go back inside, but she paused when she noticed the car parked on the other side of her mother's Mercedes.

The tan Grand Marquis looked familiar, as did the woman sitting behind the wheel. This time she wasn't wearing a fur hat or scribbling on a notepad. She was wearing a velvet tracksuit jacket and stuffing her face with a powdered jelly doughnut. When her eyes locked with Cynthia's, they went wide.

Was Reginald's ex stalking her mother now?

Oh, hell no!

Cynthia had little patience for crazy today, not with the fight she just had with her sister. She walked toward the car, putting her coat back on.

“Do I have to call the cops?” she shouted.

The woman lowered the car window. “Why would you call the police?” She raised her nose into the air. “I ain't done anything wrong. I have every right to sit here!”

“Uh-huh,” Cynthia murmured blandly. “You're following us.”

“You don't know for sure I'm following you!”

“Yes, I do! You're following us and that's considered stalking. Look, you've got sixty seconds and counting to pull off before I go inside and tell my mother to dial 9-1-1. You can either leave here in that car or in the back of a sheriff's office patrol car. It's your pick!”

The woman squinted. The grip on her powdered doughnut tightened, making red jelly ooze over her plump knuckles. She shook her head. “I ain't afraid of you.”

Cynthia smiled icily. “Then you don't know who the hell I am, because if you did, you'd be afraid.”

“Beatrice Little fights for what's hers,” the woman continued. “Reggie is
my
man and no fast-tailed
heffa
is going to take him away from me!”

Cynthia tilted her head. “Well, considering that she's in there picking out the wedding cake that Reggie is buying for
their
wedding and you're out here alone eating a jelly doughnut, I think Reggie's already made the decision of who he wants to be with. Don't you?”

“You go to hell!” the woman screeched, tossing her doughnut out the window at Cynthia and almost hitting her with it. It landed at Cynthia's feet with a splat. “Your mama can go to hell too!”

“Sixty seconds,” Cynthia repeated, tenuously holding back her own fury.

She watched again as the woman who she now knew was named Beatrice pulled off in a huff. When Beatrice's taillights disappeared around the corner, Cynthia shook her head, having the bad feeling that she would definitely see Beatrice again.

Chapter 10

“C
an you pass the pasta, Connie?”

Constance looked up from the messages she had been scanning on her phone screen. “Huh?”

“Mom asked you to pass her the pasta primavera,” Xavier said.

“Oh, umm, sure,” she said with a little giggle, reaching for the ceramic bowl near her wineglass. She handed the bowl to Leslie Ann, Xavier's mother, before returning her attention to her phone, tapping at the screen with her manicured nails.

Leslie Ann placed some pasta on her plate and glanced at Constance again. “Connie, are you sure you don't want any more food?” She eyed the pile of salad and the half slice of chicken breast on Constance's plate, which Constance had yet to touch. “I made plenty!” She gestured to the smorgasbord of a family-style dinner that now sat at the center of the table: pasta primavera, roast chicken, slices of roast beef, ciabatta bread, and garden salad. “You don't want to at least
try
the pasta? It's tasty. I swear!”

Constance shook her head and wrinkled her nose. “I don't do carbs, Mrs. Hughes.” She patted her hips. “I've got to maintain my figure, especially for the wedding!”

“Of—of course,” Leslie Ann said. She pursed her lips and gazed across the table at her son.

Xavier locked eyes with his mother, whose eyes were an identical light shade of gray to his own. He looked away after a few seconds, pretending to be engrossed with Lenny instead. His mother's sheepdog was nudging his knee with his nose and head and whimpering plaintively, begging Xavier for food. Squiggy, Leslie Ann's other sheepdog, had tried to beg Constance, but she wasn't having any of it. She had shoved him away multiple times before he finally wandered off, dejected.

At that moment, Xavier would rather look at the dogs than his mother. He knew what Leslie Ann was thinking. He could see the silent judgment in her eyes. She didn't approve of his fiancée, Constance. Frankly, she never had.

Since his father and Herb had been such close friends when his father was alive, Xavier had assumed that his mother would be happy when he and Constance got together. She had loved and adored Xavier's father, Malcolm, and had always admired Herb. But instead of being pleased when Xavier and Constance became engaged, it seemed to annoy her. Even after all these years, his mother still couldn't see the Constance that he knew: the innocent, charming, beautiful girl who could light up a room. Instead, she thought Constance was shallow, selfish, and “an all-around nitwit.”

He took a piece of chicken from his plate and handed it to Lenny, who ate it quickly and started to lick the remaining juice from his hand.

“Xavier Christopher Hughes!” his mother exclaimed.

“What?” he asked with mock innocence, making the graying strawberry-blonde shake her head with amusement and laugh.

“How many times do I have to tell you,
do not
feed the dogs from the table?” she admonished, though her smile showed that she wasn't really that mad. She pointed at him. “I won't be able to finish a decent meal if they beg every time I sit down to eat because
you
have no willpower and can't tell them no!”

Shamefaced, Xavier patted Lenny's flank, then shoved the dog away. “Go on, boy. Mom doesn't like having you at the table.”

Lenny whimpered again but followed Xavier's command and walked away, plopping down next to Squiggy on the Afghan rug in the adjacent living room.

“So how are things with you guys?” his mother asked, raising a wineglass to her lips. “How's the wedding planning going?”

Constance lowered her phone to the table and grinned, happy to talk about their impending nuptials. “Oh, it's going well, Mrs. Hughes! Mommy and I are finalizing the details! We've been zipping from appointment to appointment!” She gave a side glance to Xavier and playfully nudged his shoulder. “Unfortunately,
someone
—who will remain nameless—hasn't been as involved as I would like.”

“But I've apologized and explained that I've been busy, baby,” Xavier said softly.

“Busy doing everything else, you mean,” Constance said as she jabbed a finger into his rib cage. “But
I
manage to make time to plan our wedding. I've made it a priority!”

“Xavier works full-time, Constance,” his mother said before slicing into her chicken breast. “He's a lawyer for a major software consultant company. He also volunteers. It's understandable that his schedule is busy.”

Constance shifted uncomfortably in her chair. “Yeah, but . . . I have a job too.”

“You mean the job that you go to twice a week?” Leslie Ann asked with mock innocence before she bit into her chicken.

Xavier gritted his teeth.
Mom, don't start,
he thought.

“Actually, I work three times a week now,” Constance said proudly.

His mother finished chewing her chicken. “
Three whole times?
You don't say. Must be tiring!”

“Don't listen to her, baby. Mom's from a small town in the Midwest. She thinks if someone isn't working sixty hours a week killing themselves at their job, they're being lazy.”

“Not lazy, Xavier,” his mother corrected him. “But I grew up in farm country, where everyone was expected to earn their keep.”

“I don't think I could grow up on a farm.” Constance wrinkled her nose again as she played with her salad. “It's way too dirty and farm animals are just gross.” She shuddered.

Leslie Ann opened her mouth, perhaps to give another sarcastic retort, but Xavier stopped her before she could.

“So did I tell you that Dawn is going to take over the art teacher position at the community center?” he suddenly interjected. “It took some convincing, but I'm glad she agreed. She's better with the kids than I expected.”

“Really?” His mother's face softened. “You know, I'm looking forward to meeting your sister, Connie. She sounds like a very interesting woman.”


Half sister
,” Constance whispered sullenly, still picking at her salad.

“She's an art gallery director in the city. And Herb says she went to Georgetown,” his mother continued, not hearing Constance's comment. “She sounds so . . . so sophisticated. I bet she's really smart too.”

“She is,” Xavier concurred as he drank his beer. He turned to find Constance glaring at him. “Well, she
is,
baby.”

“You should invite her to your birthday celebration, hon!” his mother suggested. “You know, the little get-together you're having. I could meet her there.”

He nodded. “That doesn't sound like a bad idea.”

 

“I can't wait to meet her there!”
Constance exclaimed in a high voice with a roll of her eyes an hour and a half later. They were walking down the brick walkway toward Xavier's car. His mother had already bid them good night and shut the front door to her Georgian-style home behind them. He could still hear the dogs barking inside.

“She can't wait to meet
Dawn,
but she hates me!” Constance lamented.

Xavier wrapped an arm around Constance's shoulders and squeezed. “She doesn't hate you.”

“Fine, then. She just doesn't
like
me,” she mumbled with a pout, pushing her hair out of her eyes. “It's true! Don't deny it, pumpkin!”

Xavier unlocked the passenger-side door to his Audi and held it open as she climbed inside. “Mom is just . . . she's just . . . set in her ways,” he explained. “I told you, it's how she grew up.”

“On a farm, I know! But you can't tell me she doesn't like me because I didn't grow up milking cows and shoveling hay!”

No, that wasn't the reason, but he could never reveal the truth to Constance without hurting her feelings.

“Dawn didn't grow up on a farm and your mom seems all eager to meet her!” Constance crossed her arms over her chest and glowered out the windshield. “Maybe she . . . maybe she'd rather you'd be marrying Dawn than me.”

Xavier frowned, wondering where that statement came from. “Why would my mother want me to marry Dawn?”

“I don't know,” Constance said with a shrug. “She's so smart and
sophisticated
. Even you said so!”

Yes, he thought Dawn was very intelligent and sophisticated—even stunning when the light caught her at the right angle. But he wasn't naïve. He knew enough about Dawn's background to remind himself not to be too enamored by those qualities. Women like her—who excelled at seducing and using men—had to have all those traits to be good at what they did. You could be a polite acquaintance or even friends with someone like Dawn, but a man with any brain would be smart to always be on his guard around her lest he fall for her charms and end up heartbroken and just plain broke.

No, I much prefer women like my Constance,
he told himself, who were more honest and less calculating. He didn't have to be on guard with her.

Xavier leaned down, dropping to one knee on the cold cement of his mother's driveway. He ran his finger along Constance's cheek, then jaw. He cupped her chin. “Look at me, baby.”

She stubbornly continued to stare forward.

“Connie, look at me.”

She took a deep breath and slowly turned to face him. He leaned toward her and kissed her, savoring the taste of her and the plumpness of her lips. When they parted a minute later, she was smiling.

“That's what I like to see, that beautiful smile.” He tapped her button nose. “I hate to see you upset.”

“But how can I not be upset? Your mom—”

“What Mom wants doesn't matter, all right?” He rubbed her cheek again. “
I'm
the one who asked you to marry me.
I'm
the one who's in love with you.”

“You really love me, pumpkin?” she whispered.

“Of course I do! Hell, I'd marry you tomorrow if I could.” He paused, knowing he was about to wade into an argument they had had on many occasions. “I've even offered to marry you sooner, if you remember. We can keep the ceremony small, with just family, and hold the big reception later in May, like you wanted. With your dad being so sick, we—”

“Xavier, you know we have plans. Things are already booked. My dress alterations couldn't be finished that soon! We can't just move up the date! I've been fantasizing about the perfect wedding almost my entire life and I can't—”

“I know that. Point taken! But I'm just talking about the ceremony, baby. We don't know how much time your dad has—”

“Shh,” she whispered, holding a finger to her lips. “Let's not talk about that right now, OK?” She kissed him again. “I don't want to fight, pumpkin. I just want to hear you say you love me. That's all I need.”

But when would they talk about it?
How many times can we put this off?
he thought.

But like with many disagreements with Constance, he surrendered. He just wanted to make her happy.

“I love you, Connie.” He rose to his feet. “So don't worry about anything but planning our wedding, OK?”

She nodded.

With that, he shut her car door, hoping that put an end to her insecurity about their relationship and about Dawn Gibbons.

BOOK: Another Woman's Man
8.91Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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