Authors: Nicki Night
hey was moving back to Virginia. That singular thought had robbed Hunter of precious sleep. He couldn't let that happen. Yes. He liked herâa lot. So much that he wasn't willing to see her go. Seeing her and not being able to touch her was hard enough, but he didn't want to cause her any more trouble with Kenya. He noticed the way Kenya treated Chey and only hoped the jealousy wouldn't affect her grades. She was a diligent student who worked hard. He couldn't wait until the semester ended so that he could pursue her without restraint, but she was moving.
Hunter marched into Blake's office. He had an idea.
Blake's head snapped up. “What's up, bro?”
“Your friend who works for Estelle Londonâare you able to get in touch with her?”
“I need your help with something.” Hunter told Blake what he needed him to do and then went back to his office.
Hunter looked up Chey's parents' shop in Virginia, called them up and placed an order and then sat back hoping this would work. Hopefully, Chey would appreciate what he was trying to do for her, but he could also see how she might perceive his actions as meddling. If she got angry with him for trying to help her out, then he'd have to deal with it. As long as she was able to stay in New York after graduation, it would all be worth it. He'd keep this to himself until he saw how it all panned out.
Hunter's cell phone rang, breaking into his thoughts. It was Kenya.
“Hey there,” she crooned. “We're still on for tonight, right?”
What was she talking about? Had he offered to take her out? Since Chey hadn't been around, he had spent much more time with Kenya. Despite her insistent flirtation, they had actually become closerâas friends. She was fun to be around, but he hoped that she wasn't getting the wrong idea. It wouldn't be the first time a woman took his friendliness for something entirely different. He'd have to work on managing Kenya's expectations carefully. Her input was instrumental in helping him get the position. “What are we supposed to be on for?”
“The reception in honor of Professor Silverstein's awards,” she said as if she couldn't believe he'd forgotten.
Hunter released the breath he'd been holding. “Oh, that!”
“You're still coming, right?”
“I was thinking we could go together. What time would you like to meet?”
“I'm coming straight from work, so how about I just meet you there?”
Hunter sensed that she didn't like his answer. “What time does it start?” he asked.
“Okay. See you then.”
Hunter finished his day and prepared his mind for dealing with Kenya at the reception. She was insistent and a tad sneaky with a bit of an underhanded side that was most evident in her dealings with Chey. Hunter did recall Eric mentioning her being strong willed when she wanted something. Hunter assumed that could be both good and bad.
As the work day ended, Hunter told Blake about the reception and promised to catch up with him later that night. Drew was in town and they were going to meet up for drinks. Hunter planned to show his face at the reception, shake a few hands and make an inconspicuous exit.
When Hunter arrived at the university, Kenya met him at the entrance to the building. Snaking her arm around his, she led him to the conference room where the reception was being held. The large wood table that normally commanded the center of the room had been placed against the back wall and was covered with refreshments, an ice bucket and several bottles of wine.
Kenya paraded him around the room, introducing him to those he hadn't met. He finally managed to break free of her grasp, but not from her line of sight.
“Professor Silverstein.” Hunter approached the honoree and shook his hand.
“Hunter! Please call me Ed,” he said with a broad smile.
“Ed.” Hunter smiled back. “I just want to congratulate you on being honored. I took the liberty of looking into it and I think the research you've done on the changes in the modern workplace is impressive and right on target.”
“Thanks, Hunter.” Ed patted Hunter's arm. “Much appreciated.”
“I need to get a copy of your recent book. I'm sure I can find some information in there that I could apply to my own business.”
“You run your own practice, right?”
“Yes, along with my brother Blake. My father started the practice years ago before becoming a judge and passing it on to us.”
“Impressive! And from what I understand, you're one fine lawyer, so what brings you here to Dunford?”
“Our family has always been service oriented. Giving back is a priority. Like many, I donate to charities, but for me, being a professor is one of the most profound ways to be of service, and since Dunford is my alma mater, I don't believe there's a better way for me to offer my services than to help students here get ready for the real world. I've always valued the lessons I learned from my professors.”
Martin Powell, the department head, and another professor approached Hunter and Ed as they spoke.
“I was just congratulating Ed on his many accomplishments,” Hunter humbly stated.
“Yes,” Martin said with a proud smile and approving nod in Ed's direction. “The department is lucky to have him.” Martin turned to Hunter. “And from what I understand, we're pretty lucky to have you, too. I've been hearing good things.”
Hunter's flashed his most winning smile. “Thanks, Martin. I was just telling Ed that this is something that I've wanted to do for a long time. Teaching for me is my way of giving back to the community.”
“I hear you're firm but fair and the students seem to really like your teaching style.”
“Ha! From what I understand, they like more than his teaching style. This dapper chap has some of the female students smitten.” Hunter hadn't seen Kenya sidle up to the group.
On the outside, Hunter smiled and dismissed her comment with a simple wave, but under the surface, he began to boil.
“Yeah, well, that happens! I got a lot more of that when I had more hair.” Martin ran his hand over his thinning gray hairline and roared. They all laughed. Martin's comment had taken the pressure off him.
Hunter flashed Kenya a scolding expression covered by a smile that could have been misconstrued as friendly by onlookers. It was obvious that she'd had a little too much wine. She winked back. Hunter decided he'd take that inconspicuous exit sooner than planned.
“I haven't exactly had that problem,” Ed said, slapping his round belly. All of them continued to laugh. “I'm all brains! Beauty, well, it depends on who's looking. My wife is stuck with me now.”
Hunter laughed along with his colleagues until Kenya opened up her mouth again. “Well, they get a real charge out of Hunter here.” Hunter modestly stretched his eyes at Kenya, hoping she'd catch the hint and stop talking. “You should have seen it. His first day, students were gathered outside his class snickering like preteens. I even had a chat with one in particular.” Hunter's smile had all but faded. The remnant was purely for the benefit of Ed and Martin. Kenya looked directly at Hunter and continued, “Yeah, I had to let her know she needed to stand down.” Kenya threw her head back and laughed.
Hunter gauged his colleagues' expressions. Martin's and Ed's smiles were gone, as well. Hunter couldn't believe that Kenya had said those things in front of them. The angry fire that she had sparked with her earlier actions now burned fiercely. A consummate professional with an expert poker faceâthanks to his legal trainingâHunter took her comment in stride, chuckled and slightly turned his back to Kenya. The message was clear. She had all but said Chey's name.
“The last thing that concerns me is a schoolgirl's crush. I'm a Barrington. We are men of character and integrity. I'm here for a much greater purpose and that's my focus.”
“I hear you.” Martin patted Hunter's back. “You're indeed a professional, Hunter.” Martin turned to each of the others with a polite nod. “Now if you'll excuse usâ” he directed his next comment to Hunter “âI'd like to chat with you for a quick moment.”
Adrenaline coursed through Hunter's veins with fervor. “Sure.” He hoped his nervousness didn't show. Without looking back at Kenya, he knew that she was watching.
Contrary to what Hunter expected, Martin simply wanted to ask a few questions about how he thought the experience was going. He also told Hunter that he wanted to get a date scheduled for his review soon and then asked how he felt about the possibility of being on the board. Hunter acted genuinely surprised when Martin mentioned the board appointment. He'd complied with Kenya's request for nondisclosure. Unfortunately, he couldn't say the same for her.
Someone tapped a glass, capturing the attention of Martin, Hunter and everyone else in the room. Another colleague announced that it was time for a toast. People cheered and took turns offering congratulations and kind words to Ed. Hunter said his piece, and as they continued to go around the room, he made his exit.
Halfway down the street, his phone rang. Kenya was looking for him. Hunter sent the call to voice mail and then tapped out a text letting his brothers know he was on his way. He really needed a drink.
eanna stepped into Chey's apartment and paused. “This is...” she looked around while fishing for the right word “...cozy!”
“Stop your lying!” Chey laughed. She grabbed Deanna's bag and walked past her. “It's downright tiny, but it was all I could afford without a roommate.”
Deanna looked at her and cracked up laughing. “Okay. It's minuscule. In Virginia, this entire apartment would fit in our bathroom. Ha!”
“Now you're exaggeratingâa little.” She chuckled all six steps into her bedroom and rolled Deanna's suitcase into a corner. “Now go shower,” she ordered Deanna as she headed back to the living room. “So you can wash off that bus funk and get cute. We're hanging out tonight.”
“Whoo,” Deanna squealed. “I can't wait.” She stood in the center of the room with her hands on her hips, looking around. “I'm in my sister's apartment in New York City.” Deanna pulled Chey into a tight embrace. “You're really doing this. I'm so proud of you.”
Chey heard a sniffle. Snapping her head back, she looked into Deanna's glistening eyes. “Are you crying?”
“Who, me?” Deanna quickly let her go, turned her back and wiped her tears. “Of course not.”
Chey shook her head. “Come here.” She hugged her sister again. “I can't believe you. You're such a crybaby,” Chey teased. Deanna laughed through her tears. “Now get your butt in the shower,” Chey ordered and sealed her directive with a playful shove.
“Momma and Daddy are so proud of you. They've told everyone about you living in the big city.” Deanna spoke as she shuffled through her bag for something to wear. “The people at church think you're big-time now. You know what small-town folk think of the big city. To them, moving to New York is like becoming a movie star.”
“I know.” Chey chuckled. “So Mom is proud, huh? I'd never think so with the grief Mom gives me about being here alone.” Deanna's statement was bittersweet for Chey. She was happy to make her family proud, but what would they say when she was on their doorstep with nothing more than a degree in her hand? What would Todd say? She recalled his words.
When this silly plan of yours fails, you'll be back.
She'd never live it down if he turned out to be right. She'd come to New York to make it big. Casting those thoughts aside, Chey went into the bedroom to help Deanna pick an outfit.
“Oh, this is nice!” Chey held up a long black shirt with a lace back. “Did you bring leggings?”
“Yep.” Deanna dug in the bag and pulled out a black pair.
Chey put the shirt down and ran to her closet. “I have the perfect boots for you to wear with them.”
Deanna's eyes stretched at the sight of the tall riding boots Chey held up. “Cute!”
“Now hurry up. I need to get dressed, too,” Chey commanded.
A while later both were dressed for a night out, Deanna in the outfit her sister had picked and Chey in a flowing black top, skinny jeans and high-heeled booties.
They shared the small bathroom mirror. Chey was fixing her hair while Deanna applied foundation.
“Let me make up your face?” Deanna twisted her lips as she rubbed blush into her cheeks. Chey just frowned.
“Eyeliner and gloss are enough for me.”
“Come on. You have such a pretty face. You'll look amazing.”
“Whatever.” Chey shrugged and let Deanna do as she pleased. When she was done, Chey looked in the mirror and was awed by her reflection. She had to admit, the makeup did enhance her features. Her brown eyes popped. “Wow.”
“See! I told you.”
“Whatever!” Chey headed to the bedroom and flipped through her closet in search of a light scarf to go with her leather jacket.
Deanna came in behind her and flopped on the bed. There was a crack and then a loud bang. The edge of the bed sunk and Deanna fell right into the large cavity it created.
“Ah!” Deanna screamed.
Chey's hands flew to her mouth. “Oh my goodness! How did that happen?”
“I don't know. Just get me out.”
Chey ran to Deanna and pulled her up. “My bed!” she whined.
“We've got to fix this. How are we going to sleep tonight?” Deanna pulled the mattress up to reveal several broken wood slats. “Chey, it was just a matter of time before this broke. What have you been doing in here?” Deanna eyed her suspiciously.
Chey clucked her tongue. “Move, silly.” She surveyed the damage. “I can't fix this.”
“Call the super.”
“I can only call him if something is wrong with the apartment, like plumbing or the heat. This bed is my problem.” Chey let the mattress slip from her hand. “Besides, the super creeps me out. Ugh! He has such a sleazy demeanor and looks at me like he wants to rip my clothes off. I don't want him touching my bed.”
“You need to call someone. Who can help us out with this?”
Chey thought about Hunter but dismissed the idea as quickly as it came. Besides, when she saw him at school, she hadn't spoken to him.
“What about the professor?”
“I can't call him.”
“Why not? He wouldn't help you?”
“Of course he would, but I haven't spoken to him in a while.”
“Do you know of any other guy that could help out? We can't do this by ourselves.” Deanna shook her head.
“Not really.” Chey hadn't bothered becoming friendly with many people, especially men.
“Then call him! We can't leave the bed like this. That couchâ” Deanna pointed toward the living room “âisn't big enough for the two of us.”
Reluctantly, Chey dialed Hunter's number. Fortunately, he picked up right away. She apologized for bothering him and explained her plight. Hunter said he was already in Manhattan and would be right there.
“Told you!” Deanna said.
“Hush it!” Chey said and laughed. Since they were kids, they'd loved to playfully rub things in each other's faces.
A while later Hunter, along with two replicas who varied in shades of brown showed up at her door. Deanna discreetly stretched her eyes at Chey and mouthed,
Oh my God!
They were equally tall, chocolatey and gorgeous. Hunter and Blake were dressed smartly in blue and gray suits, respectively. Drew, the apparent rebel, sported jeans, boots and a black-and-green motorcycle jacket.
“Hi, Hunter. Thanks so much for coming by on such short notice.” To Chey's surprise, Hunter leaned over, embraced her and gave her a friendly kiss on the cheek. She wanted to melt.
“This is my sister, Deanna.”
Deanna held her hand out. “Nice to meet you, Hunter.”
“These are my brothers, Blake and Drew.”
“Blake.” Chey nodded. “Drew.” She nodded again. “I'm Chey.” They all shook hands.
“Take me to the problem,” Hunter said.
They followed Chey and Deanna into the room. Chey was glad that she had cleaned up thoroughly in preparation for Deanna's visit. Together the brothers assessed the problem, lifting the mattress and examining the broken wood underneath.
“Whoa, girl! What have you been doing in here?” Drew laughed. Deanna's eyes widened as she hid a laugh behind her shocked expression. Chey froze as embarrassment burned her cheeks.
“Drew! Cut it out,” Hunter said, chuckling. “I'm supposed to ask that.” His sexy eyes landed on Chey and hers stretched wider.
“Don't pay them any mind.” That was Blake.
The weight of shame lifted off Chey when everyone in the room burst out laughing. She joined in. When the laughter subsided, the men talked about what was needed to fix her bed. Hunter checked his phone to find out which hardware stores were still open. The men left and returned within the hour with several two-by-fours and tools.
Chey pulled out a few chilled bottles of water and got out of their way as they began clearing broken wood. Something radiated inside her when Hunter removed his suit jacket and shirt, revealing a taut chest and muscular build through his undershirt. Blake and Drew had done the same, but they didn't have an effect on Chey. Drew openly flirted with Deanna and she giggled as if she were back in middle school.
“Chey!” Hunter called her over. “We're going to need some music while we work. This looks like it may take a while.”
“Oh! Sure. Let me put something on.” Chey set her music app to an R & B station.
“And some food, too! Order some pizzaâI'm paying!” Drew instructed.
Chey laughed as she picked up the phone and called her favorite pizza shop. It felt good having Hunter in her home. She watched his muscles move as he worked. A few times he caught her ogling him and smiled. They labored diligently until a really good song would come on and one of the brothers would start hooting and dancing, rendering each of them unproductive until the song changed. Chey and Deanna cracked up watching them interact or fuss about who wasn't holding what right. They took a break when the pizza came, but the antics continued right through the meal.
The conversation moved to any embarrassing story they could tell about Hunter from back in the day. The one about Hunter being hit in the head with a football while his teenage crush watched had everyone doubled over. Drew acted out the entire story. Chey could hardly catch her breath.
Hunter tossed his shirt at his brother and told them of the time when Drew was in grade school and a pretty little girl down the block kissed him. Drew had gotten so excited he'd wet his pants.
“Dude, I was five!” Drew tried to defend himself.
When the pizza was done, the brothers resumed working, and within the hour, Chey's bed was fixed.
Chey locked eyes with Hunter as they said their goodbyes.
“Thanks again. I didn't want to bother you, but I didn't know who else to call.”
“It's not a problem at all. Call me anytime.”
An awkward silence ensued and was broken when Drew cleared his throat. “Just go ahead and kiss her, man. You know you want to,” he teased. “I'm just joking. It was nice meeting you, Chey.” He looked Deanna up and down and licked his lips. “You, too, Ms. Deanna.”
Deanna blushed and shook her head. “Bye, Drew!” They carried on like old friends.
“We're going for a few drinks. You ladies should join us,” Blake added. Hunter and Chey looked at each other.
“Uh...thanks, but I'm really tired,” Chey said, ignoring the sideways glare Deanna tossed in her direction. The knowing look Hunter cast her way confirmed that he understood. As much as she wanted to stay in Hunter's presence, she knew it wasn't a good idea. Kenya's warning came to mind. “You gentlemen have fun.”
Hunter was the last to leave. He gave her another friendly hug and kiss on the cheek. This one was much closer to her lips. Chey closed the door slowly and leaned against it. When she looked up, Deanna was in her face.
“What the heck was that?” Deanna asked.
Chey would explain in the morning. Right now she needed to remember how to breathe.