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Authors: Dara Girard

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Chapter 3

D
rake paced
up and down the hospital corridor, trying to keep a hold on his temper.

“Sit down,” his sister Jackie said when he passed her for the third time. “You'll make people nervous.”

He opened his mouth to reply and tell her that he really didn't care when he saw Clay come out of Jackson's room. He approached him. “What's he doing now?”

“Flirting with a nurse.”

“Did he say anything more?” Jackie asked when she saw her brother's jaw tense. She knew mentioning that Kevin was flirting with a nurse while Cassie lay in a coma would send her brother's temper over the edge. She had to keep things calm.

“Nothing,” Clay said and she could hear the note of regret in her husband's voice. “He really doesn't remember anything.”

“Do you believe him?”

“I don't think he'd lie about something like this. He seemed genuinely shocked.” Clay rubbed his chin.

Jackie noticed the motion and sensed his hesitation. He worked as a private investigator and she could almost see his mind trying to puzzle something out. “What is it?”

“He wants to see her.”

Drake folded his arms. “That's not going to happen.”

Clay nodded. “All right then, we just have to give it time.”

“You two should go,” Drake said, shifting his hands to his hips in a classic power pose, making it clear that his statement wasn't a suggestion. “There's nothing more we can do right now.”

Jackie shook her head. “We can't leave you here alone.”

“I'll be fine.”

“The kids—”

“Are with Miss Quinn. Do you think I don't know how to take care of my family?”

Jackie looked at him for a moment, not ashamed by the sudden tears that sprung to her eyes. “That's not fair.”

Drake rubbed the back of his neck, contrite. If Cassie were here, he knew she'd scold him for being too abrupt. He softened his tone. “I just don't need you to worry about me. I'm all right.”

“But—”

“I raised you and Eric after our parents died, remember? I can handle a crisis. I take care of my family and—”

Clay rested a hand on his shoulders. “Nobody doubts that, mate. We just don't want you to forget that you're not alone now.”

Jackie poked him in the chest with her finger. “And you never have to remind me how much you sacrificed for us.”

“It wasn't a sacrifice.”

“Yes, it was,” she said, knowing her brother was being brave, hiding his fear. He'd let his anger show, but not his sense of helplessness and despair. He'd done the same when he'd taken care of them after they'd emigrated to America from Jamaica and their parents' deaths, forcing them to survive harsh winters and grinding hunger.

Drake took a deep breath. He tweaked Jackie's chin. “Sorry, Pest.”

She made a face, making him smile. “Remember to eat something.”

“I will.” His phone buzzed. He took it out of his pocket and stared at the screen.

“Who's it from?” Clay asked.

“Eric.”

“Talk to him,” Jackie said.

“We'll catch you up later,” Clay added, then they left.

Drake watched them leave, then looked down at his brother's text again. It was simple, brief and clear. Just a question mark.

The question mark should have been replicated and filled the screen. There were so many questions and so few answers. He didn't know what to tell him. And right now talking about Cassie hurt too much.

He remembered receiving the call, arriving at the hospital to the sound of his son's screams—from terror or pain or both he didn't know, but the sound still echoed in his ears, ripping his heart in two. He also remembered his wife's silence. How she didn't respond to anything and that silence tore at him as much as his son's cries. He remembered bloody clothes—a tiny shoe, blue jeans ripped away with scissors—and rapid-fire questions he could barely answer. Yes, he knew the driver. He was taking them out for Marcus's birthday. No, Jackson wasn't known for speeding. No, he didn't know where they were heading.

He hadn't slept. He couldn't sleep. He was afraid to close his eyes.

His phone rang. He glanced at the number. Eric again. His brother wouldn't stop until he got a response. If he didn't get a response, he'd show up at the hospital and then his house. He could be relentless. Drake took a deep breath and answered.

Chapter 4
Two months later

S
he was devout
, he'd give her that. She'd been to the church every Sunday without fail for more than a year, staying late in the pews and staring at the pulpit as if she expected the resurrection to come. At first, Pastor Desmond Redding of the Jordan Lake Methodist Church had felt a little uneasy about her, something didn't sit right with him. The woman who sat in the middle pew, with her hands gripped together and her head bowed in prayer, was in her late twenties, not pretty but average. Clean. Yes, that's what first came to his mind.

Everything about her was clean, from her flat brown hair, her coat, her shoes, her face and her hands. Clean, as if a speck of dirt would be repelled by her from sheer will. Clean, pure, wholesome features with skin the color of a wheat field. She looked as if she'd been transplanted to the city from a farm down south. Wide innocent eyes that followed him…maybe that's what made him feel so uneasy. She seemed to be very watchful. Watching, observing every movement around her.

But she was a child of God and obviously wanted to serve Him, so Pastor Redding would not judge her seemingly strange ways. She rarely met his eyes when he spoke to her. If he caught her looking, she'd glance away like a frightened child. She clapped to the songs, but she never sang. Didn't open her mouth once; he doubted she even hummed, but she kept rhythm almost mechanically.

“We're going to have to tell her to leave soon,” Michael Leland, his music minister said. He was a thickly built man with a great baritone voice. Every holiday he'd have the congregation in tears with his rendition of “Amazing Grace.”

Pastor Redding turned to him. “Let her finish her prayer.”

“She needs it,” Michael's wife, Patricia, said. She was as thickly built as her husband, with a soft voice and curly black hair she pulled back into pigtails. “Heard that the family she works for is in terrible trouble.”

Pastor Redding frowned. “Trouble?”

“Yes, she's a nanny and the mother of the family she works for was in a horrible accident. Left in a coma. And the boy was hurt too.”

He looked at the young woman again, feeling guilty for his uncharitable thoughts. “She must be praying for them. Such vigilant prayers,” he said, offering up a prayer of his own. She clearly had a good heart. “Come, let's leave her for a moment.” He ushered the other two out of the main chapel.

Alone in her pew, Ruth Quinn didn't hear the others leave. She was too focused on her prayers to be aware of anything around her. She gripped her hands together even tighter, desperate for God to hear her. Another week had passed and there had been no word of improvement. Cassie Henson hadn't opened her eyes in nearly two months. She couldn't believe it had been that long. She'd only had the job for five months before the accident.

Her heart pounded. She may not make it. May not wake up at all. Ruth closed her eyes and thought of Drake and his three children and said the fervent, diligent prayer of a woman of faith. “Thank you, God. Thank you, God.”

Chapter 5


D
ominique
, do you have anything to add?”

Dominique Cartwright looked at her father as he sat at the head of the conference table in the headquarters of Cartwright Cars and smiled. She knew her reaction would set him off balance and she was right when she saw his eyes narrow, but the men around him seemed to relax. She was the only woman in the room, except for Margot Bobkins, who didn't count because she was too old to be considered a woman and too stupid to be considered a threat. The only true threat was her father, Abraham Cartwright, a big, honey-colored man with exquisite taste in clothes. For ten years she'd helped him run Cartwright Cars while the men around him had helped his ego.

Her father had a studio voice, tinged with the sweet taste of his Trinidadian background, that could make bad news sound like you'd just won the lottery. That voice didn't work today. She'd been passed over for a promotion and it hurt like hell, but she'd never let him know it.

Giving the senior director position to Chester Lawson was an excellent move to any outsider, and if she'd been one of them, she would have agreed. He was a tall, brown-skinned man who wore a trim goatee that gave him the appearance of a chin he didn't have. She'd championed him when he was brought on board because her father had been hard on him, and she had trained him. Trained him to step into the very position that should have been hers. However, she hadn't been the only person hoping for a promotion. Her soon to be ex-boyfriend, Berton LaSalle, looked dumbstruck. But then her father sent him a look that said ‘Don't worry, I'm prepping you for an even higher position' and Berton quickly schooled his features. It was a silent exchange in the secret language of men, but she understood it.

She'd been around those secret exchanges for years. Her father wanted to marry her off; Berton wanted to be vice president. She was the ticket. Of course, after last night she knew that wouldn't happen, but she'd deal with that later. Right now she was tired of being moved around like a chess piece. She wanted to be a player, but as she looked around at the group of men, she finally realized it wouldn't be here.

“Congratulations,” she said, offering her hand to Chester, who for a moment looked as if he'd suffered a case of heartburn as he reached his hand to hers. “You'll do an excellent job.”

He shook her hand, visibly relaxed, and the atmosphere lost its chilly air. Her father nodded, looking pleased. She knew the gesture would please him. He'd raised her not to display hysterics, pout, or disagree. She was trained to be the good daughter and stay obedient. She nodded back while adjusting her necklace, and discreetly gave him the finger.

M
oments later
, Abraham looked down at the letter of resignation his daughter had set on his desk. He stared at it as if she'd placed a rotten fish in front of him. “What am I supposed to do with this?”

Dominique rested her hip against his large custom-designed chrome desk, glancing at the enormous, sleek airbrushed painting of a Lamborghini on his side wall. She toyed with her necklace and said in a bored tone, “Do you need me to write out instructions?”

He shoved the letter towards her. “Let's pretend this didn't happen.”

She slowly slid it back without looking at him. “You know what to do.”

He grinned as if expecting an insult. “Aren't you going to suggest where I should put it?”

“No. I don't care what you do. I'm finished working here.” Dominique wanted to shout and say
‘How could you do this to me after all I've done? I've given you ten years of my life and you still treat me as if I don't matter!
But she kept her expression controlled and instead looked at the series of awards and photos of him with satisfied celebrities and other high profile customers that lined his wall.

“You can't quit. You love this company as much as I do.”

“I'll give you two weeks.”

“Next meeting we'll—”

She pinned him with a dark look. “Dad, it's over.”

“You're upset. Go home and cry, then come back tomorrow.”

You think I'll shed tears for you?
She folded her arms and took a deep breath; he was trying to make her angry and it was working. She couldn't let him have the upper hand. “I don't have to give you two weeks. I can leave right now.”

“You can't quit.”

“Watch me.”

Her father's face fell as if he were suddenly heartbroken. “Are you really going to leave me because of Chester?”

“This isn't about Chester.”

“What about the lawsuit? You know that's given us bad press.”

Yes, the Kevin Jackson lawsuit was a problem, but she wasn't going to let her father pull her back in because she was worried about it. When she'd heard about the accident, she'd immediately found out all she could—even anonymously sending flowers to the woman left in a coma. But there wasn't enough evidence that their company was at fault. Kevin Jackson was just a rich man with a grudge who refused to take responsibility for his own recklessness. “You've been sued before. And the press isn't bad enough to destroy you. The lawyers will come to a deal and make him go away.”

Abraham held out his hands in a beseeching gesture. “You are my most valued worker. I have so much I have planned for you. I just need you to be a little more patient.”

She turned to the door. “Goodbye.”

“What will you do?” he called after her.

She stopped. She didn't know, but that didn't matter. She could bluff. She turned back to him with her head high. “I have lots of plans and—”

“I'll tell you what you'll do,” he interrupted as if she hadn't started speaking. It was something he did often. “You'll leave with my money, invest in a company that will burst into flames, lose your money and then come back to me, begging for your job back.”

Dominique gritted her teeth. Her father would never let her forget that one mistake. That one careless risk she'd taken in her early twenties, desperate to get out from under his rule. She was older and wiser now. When she left, she wasn't coming back. “Not this time.”

“You're not getting my money.”

“I don't need your money.”

He stared at her for a long moment, then his mouth spread into a grin, and suddenly he started to laugh. He tapped the side of his nose, then pointed at her. “You get me good.”

She blinked at him, confused by his strange behavior. “What?”

“I know what you're up to. You don't need Daddy's money anymore. You plan to marry it instead. Clever girl.” He glanced at her hand. “I don't see a ring yet, but when you get it, let me know. Your mother and I will throw you a grand wedding and I'll be so proud to walk my little girl down the aisle...why you scrunch up your face like that?”

“I was never your little girl.”

“That's true. You were such a small baby your mother and I never thought,” he gestured to her figure, “you'd fill out so much. But you're still my darling daughter and—”

“You know you make my stomach turn when you try to be sentimental. Goodbye, Dad.” She left his office before he could say another word. He'd soon find out that she wasn't marrying Berton or ever seeing him again, but the timing wasn't right to tell him so. She cleared out her office and dumped everything in her car trunk. She slammed the hood shut, remembering last night…

The night was supposed to be special. She'd dressed with extra care for her date with Berton, wearing her favorite wine-colored satin dress and matching high heels. She'd gone to his place because he worked late and they'd drive to the concert together from there. She was surprised to see an unfamiliar red Mercedes in the driveway, but hadn't thought much about it. The evening was bright and warm, echoing with the sound of crickets. She knocked on the door. Berton took a while to answer and when he saw her his eyes widened. “Dominique! What are you doing here?”

She looked over his state of undress. He wore just a towel around his waist. Did she catch him getting ready to go in to the shower? She glanced at her watch. “The concert.”

“It's tonight?”

“Yes. We still have time.”

He sent a furtive glance over his shoulder. “I don't think I can make it.”

“I don't mind waiting. Aren't you going to let me in?”

“This isn't—”

Dominique paused when she saw a lady's handbag resting on the table near his couch. A red and gold clutch with tiny green accents. “You have company.”

“A business associate.”

She glanced down the hall and saw high heels and a skirt laying on the floor. “And you decided to get undressed?”

He shook his head, looking both embarrassed and remorseful. “Look, Dominique, it's not what you think.”

Dominique smiled, although her heart cracked. He'd completely fooled her. She'd let herself believe that he cared. Her boyfriend of nearly six months had blandly handsome features, a great dark body and a sharp mind.
Did you really think he'd stay true to you?
her mind echoed.
Why would he be loyal to someone like you? He probably only dated you because you were the boss's daughter. He wouldn't have looked at you twice without that asset.
She'd believed him when he said she was like no one he'd ever met before. That she made him laugh and that he loved being with her. All lies.

“Let me guess,” she said, pleased that her voice didn't betray her. “Business got too hot and you both got naked.”

“We can discuss this later.”

“There's nothing to discuss.” She turned.

“Wait!”

She kept walking to her car.

He ran behind her, holding on tight to his towel. “This has never happened before.”

She opened her car door and got into the driver's seat. “You can stop lying to me,” she said through the open door.

“It's true. Besides, how long do you expect me to wait?”

She glanced back at the house. “Obviously the wait is over.”

“I would have preferred it to be you, but—”

“I know,” she said in a tone of pity. “I'm such a prude, making you wait when you want it so bad.” She put on her seatbelt. “Dad's going to love this.”

“No need to tell him.”

“I don't plan to, so don't worry.”

Berton looked relieved as he leaned against the car hood. “I'm sorry. I met her at a bar and one thing led to another.”

“I see.”

“I know you're angry and you have every right to be, but it was a moment of weakness.”

“I forgive you.”

“Good.”

“But it's over.”

“How can you forgive me, then break up with me?”

“Then how about you break up with me?”

“I don't want to break up. We aren't allowing this relationship to progress naturally. If you'd let us take this to the next level.”

“I'm not going to sleep with you.”

“You have some issues. If it's your weight…”

Dominique wagged a finger. “Careful.”

“I'm just letting you know that I don't mind.”

That's when she wished she'd slapped him. Or slammed his fingers inside the car door frame. That he could look at her, cheat on her, and make her feel ashamed because she wasn't skinny. Try to make her feel that his behavior was her fault. She'd wasted half a year on him, but she wouldn't waste any more. She was through with men for now.

But convincing her mother of that proved to be difficult. She met her mother in the sunroom of their family home, after her mother's manicurist had gone. The scent of acetone filled the air. Her mother sat like a queen, her nails and toenails painted a shocking blue. Blondish red streaks in her hair caught the light, her trim, ginger-colored figure encased in dark trousers and a green blouse.

“I heard you quit,” Carla Cartwright said, watching her daughter take a cube of melon from the fruit plate sitting in the middle of the table. “That wasn't a wise move.”

Dominique swallowed. “I had to.” She sat down and grabbed another. “I can't play his games anymore.”

Her mother shrugged, inspecting her manicure. “After you marry Berton, you may change your mind.”

“I'm not marrying Berton.”

Her mother paused. “Why not?”

“I saw him with someone else.”

She looked at her, startled. “So what? You and I both know that's not a reason not to marry him. He's attractive and ambitious--”

“Then he can marry someone else.”

Carla stared at her daughter for a long moment, then shrugged again and inspected her pedicure. “Never mind. You were better than he was anyway.”

“I know.”

Carla pointed at Dominique with pride. “You're angry, but not upset. That's a good sign. Men are never worth your tears.”

BOOK: Dangerous Curves
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