Authors: Delaney Diamond
They have nothing in common. So why can’t they stay away from each other?
Construction foreman Tomas Molina has no desire to settle down. He enjoys the single life too much, with all the choices of women available to him. But when ad executive Talia Jackson becomes single again, they start an affair that has him questioning his beliefs about relationships. And the next thing he knows, he’s the one demanding exclusivity.
Talia Jackson has always done what’s right. Gone to the right schools, worn the right clothes, and married the right man. Seeking a boost when her marriage ends in divorce, she finds comfort in the arms of Tomas Molina, a man who makes her feel alive in a way she never has before. Then an unexpected result of their affair forces her to make a tough decision—stay in the world she’s known all her life, or make a future with the man she’s grown to love.
The Wrong Man
by Delaney Diamond
Copyright © November 2013, Delaney Diamond
Cover art by www.bookcoversale.com © September 2013
This book is a work of fiction. All names, characters, locations, and incidents are products of the author's imagination, or have been used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, locales, or events is entirely coincidental. No part of this e-book may be reproduced or shared by any electronic or mechanical means, including but not limited to printing, file sharing, and e-mail, without prior written permission from Delaney Diamond.
Talia Jackson had been summoned, and she didn’t know why. She rarely made the drive from her condo in Atlanta to this sprawling estate north of the city because she hated coming here. Hopefully the visit wouldn’t take long. She had a housewarming to attend.
She parked in the circular driveway of Livingstone Manor, the name she’d given to her grandmother’s outrageously large home, because house didn’t provide a good enough description and even mansion was an inadequate word.
Constructed in Greek Revival style with columns along the front, the manor sat in the middle of a fifteen-acre property that rivaled the grandeur of the governor’s mansion. Twenty-five foot tall American Holly trees flanked either side, and during the holidays, her grandmother paid an exorbitant sum to a tree decorating service to have the trees trimmed and topped with a star. The verdant grass of the expansive lawn resembled a tightly-woven carpet, and a team of gardeners ensured it never grew longer than one and a half inches or her grandmother would be livid and there would be hell to pay.
Before getting out of the car, Talia checked her makeup in the rearview mirror and smoothed her long black hair. The cream pants suit might be too formal for a weekend visit elsewhere, but with her grandmother a stickler for appearances, it was imperative she look her best. Taking one last, deep breath in preparation of the meeting, she wiped her clammy hands on a tissue and exited the car.
The butler answered the door, a somber-faced black man dressed in a uniform complete with white gloves. “Hello, Miss Talia. Miss Maybeth is in the parlor.” Her heels clicked on the Italian marble floor as she followed him through the grand foyer to where her grandmother waited.
Maybeth Livingstone barely acknowledged Talia’s presence, her gaze flicking over Talia’s attire and, apparently finding it acceptable, turned her back to her. She paced in front of the window, a phone to her ear and her voice icy and disdainful. Talia sympathized with the person on the other end because the cutting tone was all too familiar.
Maybeth gave the receiver an earful about a mistake they’d made with a package of documents that should have arrived in her Midtown law office but had been delivered to the Florida office instead. Per usual, she spoke so properly her voice carried a hint of a British accent even though she’d been born and raised in Georgia.
She wore a print skirt and light-colored silk blouse that undoubtedly cost an obscene amount of money. The only jewelry on her body were two Harry Winston diamond drop earrings and a rose-gold Patek Philippe watch—one of several she owned. At sixty-plus-years-old, she had the energy of a woman in her twenties and the facial features of a woman in her forties. Her gray hair was elegantly styled in a bob, flipped up at the ends and contrasting beautifully with the inky blue-black color of her skin.
“You and Carter are divorced.”
Talia blinked. She hadn’t noticed her grandmother had finished the call. Maybeth never beat around the bush, but how could she have possibly known about the divorce? Talia hadn’t told her about her most recent failure.
“Don’t concern yourself about how I found out,” Maybeth said in her imperious tone. She set the phone on the table. “What’s disturbing is that you didn’t tell me yourself. I don’t believe he was the best choice, but he’s as good a man as you could possibly find, and you were married for ten years. I expected the marriage to last, Talia. What did you do?”
Talia’s chest hitched with pain.
I didn’t do anything
The systematic tearing down had begun and she lowered her eyes to her lap, blinking back tears she couldn’t allow to fall. If she did, her grandmother would rip her apart. Maybeth despised weakness.
“We grew apart. It happens.” She hated the meek sound of her voice.
Why could she stand up to everyone but her grandmother? Because she craved her approval, longed for it more than anything else. Maybeth was the only mother she’d ever known, but she couldn’t recall her grandmother ever paying her a genuine compliment or celebrating an accomplishment without pointing out the next rung on the ladder to climb.
“What are your plans now?” Maybeth’s sharp voice intruded on her thoughts.
“Plans?” Talia lifted her gaze.
“Don’t repeat what I say, Talia. It makes you look foolish. Yes, your plans. You’ve accomplished the goal of senior VP, now what’s next? Without a husband and children keeping you back, the sky’s the limit. You could run Omega Advertising if you wanted to, but I don’t know if you have the drive.”
“Stop stuttering and speak up,” Maybeth snapped.
Talia took a deep breath. She clenched her trembling fingers together on her lap and tried to imagine sitting in front of someone else—someone less intimidating who didn’t make her feel like an insignificant little pea. “The Santorinis are not going to let an outsider run the firm. It’s a family business,” she explained. Her grandmother knew that but obviously didn’t see it as an insurmountable obstacle.
“You impress them enough and they will.” Maybeth’s eagle-eye gaze narrowed on Talia. She pursed her lips and shook her head as if she saw something that disappointed her. “It’s up to you, but you always limit yourself. You haven’t lived up to your full potential and I don’t know why. Well, I know why. Too much Jackson blood and not enough Livingstone blood. I swear your mother must be rolling over in her grave wondering why you won’t do better when she gave her life so you could have yours.”
Talia flinched internally at the brutal assessment. Maybeth always made remarks like that, reminding her of why she didn’t have a mother.
“She could have been anything she wanted,” her grandmother said often. Instead, she’d “fallen in”—again, her grandmother’s words—with Talia’s father, gotten pregnant, and lost her life during childbirth.
Maybeth sat down on the sofa across from Talia, her back straight like a queen on a throne observing one of her subjects. She picked up a John Grisham hardcover from the table in front of her, flipped it open, and began to read.
“Next time keep me informed,” she said to the pages. “I don’t like finding out these things second hand.”
And with that, Talia was dismissed from the queen’s court.
Drained. That’s how Talia felt after interactions with Maybeth. Drained of energy. Drained of life.
She pulled out from the onramp and back onto the highway. She took a deep breath, then another, and kept to the far right lane—the slow lane—while she regrouped.
She practiced her smile and spoke her mantra out loud. “I’m strong, capable, and independent.”
Her hands still shook, but slowly her pulse rate returned to normal. She resisted the urge to press the accelerator to the floor, anxious to get to the party where familiar faces and welcoming smiles would be the perfect antidote to the battering her self-esteem had taken.
Thirty minutes later she turned onto the cul-de-sac where her best friend and her husband were having a party to celebrate the move to their new home. She pulled her car as close to the house as she could. She left her suit jacket in the car and strode the short distance to the house, past all the vehicles lining the street.
The white banner with red letters stretched above the doorway of the two-story Neocolonial house nestled between two other homes on the quiet street. Balloons tied to the mailbox marked “Stewart” waved in a gentle breeze and made it easy for guests to find the location of the party.
Inside the house was as busy as an ants’ nest with people milling around carrying drinks and plates piled high with food. Several smiled politely at her, and she smiled back but didn’t recognize any faces. A little boy zipped by and Talia hopped out of the way. His mother followed close behind, muttering an apology as she tried to catch up to him.
In the living room, gift baskets and boxes wrapped in bright-colored ribbons and pastel paper covered the middle of the floor. Embarrassed she’d only bought a gift card, Talia glanced around to make sure no one saw her drop it on the pile. She’d been so busy juggling projects at work and moving into her new place, she hadn’t had had time to shop for a housewarming present. But her friends, Ryan and Shawna Stewart, would understand. Most people preferred gift cards nowadays anyway, didn’t they? Then they could get what they really wanted.
At the back of the house, she entered the large kitchen with its pine cabinets and marble countertops. More people hovered in there and food covered almost every visible surface. The tempting aroma of grilled meat, cooked greens, and a host of other food items teased her appetite and made her salivate.
“Hey, you made it!” Yvonne Wallace, Shawna’s older sister, walked up holding her two-year-old daughter.
Happy to see a familiar face, Talia smiled in relief. Her gaze took in the little girl sucking her thumb, head nestled against her mother’s breasts. How many children did Yvonne have now? Talia had lost count.
The two women embraced.
“This is quite a spread,” Talia remarked, looking around.
Yvonne nodded. “They gave up on the idea of finger food and figured they’d feed everyone a real meal.”
“This is more than a meal. It’s a banquet.”
She took a quick peek under covered containers and found chicken prepared at least three ways, barbecued ribs, rice, and different types of casseroles.
“The heavy food’s in here,” Yvonne explained. “One of Ryan’s friends is manning the grill and we should have hotdogs and hamburgers to add soon.”
“Did they think they were feeding an army?” Talia turned and spotted a table filled with pies, cakes, and brownies. She couldn’t wait to sink her teeth into the offerings, and her stomach grumbled as a reminder that she’d only had a smoothie for breakfast and nothing else all day.
“I know, right.” Yvonne shifted her daughter higher on her hip. “Ryan and Shawna are in the back yard. If you want, I can give you the grand tour of the house before you head out there.”
“Let me get something to eat and I’ll find you when I’m ready. Thanks.”
“If you need anything, holler. I’m supposed to be one of the hostesses, but I’ve been doing a crappy job.” Yvonne laughed to herself and meandered off.
Talia glanced out the wide windows of the French doors. More people stood around chatting and eating in the big yard. A wooden fence followed the perimeter of the property, providing privacy from the neighbors on either side. A burly guy with a beard and apron worked the large stainless steel grill, carefully placing cooked meat into an aluminum pan. William, Yvonne’s husband, sat at a table with Ryan and Shawna.