- ISBN: 9780758276636 (electronic bk.)
- Physical Description: 1 online resource
- Publisher: New York : Kensington Publishing Corp., 2013.
Electronic reproduction. New York Kensington Publishing Corp. 2013 Available via World Wide Web.
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Love After War
By CHERIS HODGES
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.
All rights reserved.
The last thing Dana Singleton ever wanted was to find herself alone with the man who'd broken her heart two years ago. She'd put three thousand miles between them twenty-four months ago only to find that the moment she returned to Los Angeles, she was trapped with him in the middle of a brownout.
God, she thought, why do you hate me?
"This is insane," Adrian said, then looked over at Dana. And a slow smile spread across his face when he recognized her. "Long time no see." When he reached out to embrace her, Dana pushed back.
"Don't you dare touch me," she said. "How dare you even look at me or expect me to be thrilled to see you?"
"Don't act like that," he said, offering her a sizzling smile. In the near darkness of the coffee shop, his smile damn near lit up the place.
"Act like what? Like I can't stand to be in the same room with you? Trust and believe, it is not an act," she snapped. Oh, she hated him and the way he still made her heart flutter with a powerful yearning to fall into those strong arms and press her mouth against his while he slowly kissed her until her body melted against his. Looking away from him, she forced herself to remember being dumped by text message. It's for the best. I'm moving on and you should do the same, the message had read. She closed her eyes and rubbed her temples. That night replayed in her mind like a bad movie in a broken DVD player. She'd felt stupid, confused, and disappointed. But she had taken the hint and left. If only she'd told Imani and Universal Studios no. Then she'd still be in New York and not running into Adrian on his home turf, Los Angeles.
She expelled a frustrated sigh because when she opened her eyes, he was still there. Still staring at her with that spectacular smile on his face.
"Dana, I know I owe you a huge apology and an explanation as to why—"
"You don't owe me a damned thing, and I definitely don't want to hear any apology you took two years to come up with."
Adrian stared at her, soaking up Dana's unique beauty. The long dreadlocks were new and very sexy. She had caramel-colored skin that made him salivate as he thought about all the places he used to lick and how sweet she tasted between her thighs. Letting her go had been the worst thing he'd ever had to do. But it was necessary. He only wished he could come clean with her now. But his mission wasn't complete and the last thing he wanted was to get her caught up in his plan.
Dana snapped her fingers in Adrian's face. "Thinking of a pretty lie to tell me?"
"Can we talk about it over a cup of coffee?" he asked, smiling at her and making Dana snarl in response.
"You know what, Adrian? I've grown up since the last time I saw you. Decided that I deserve someone who knows how to treat me and that isn't you. So, hell no. I don't want to talk to you over coffee. I don't want to talk to you period."
"I was trying to protect you, Dana," he said, his voice low, a sexy growl that made her body twitch. The same voice that he used to whisper sweet promises in her ear. Turning her back to him, Dana tried to pretend she wasn't affected. As long as he doesn't touch me, I'll be fine, she thought. Then she felt his hand on her shoulder. "I'm sorry," he said. "Sorry for what I did and the way things looked. But it was for the best."
"It was. And when the power comes back on, we can pretend you're still gone."
Adrian spun her around, drinking in her delicate features. Though her eyes flashed anger and resentment, she was still the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen. The love of his life. The only thing not touched by his need for revenge. What could he say to her to explain what his life had become?
"What?" she snapped, locking eyes with him.
He knew the right thing to do when it came to Dana was to leave her alone, to walk away and continue his quest. But at that moment, in the silence of the darkened coffee shop, all he wanted was a sweet taste of his past. A kiss from Dana. He leaned in, pressing his lips against hers. He felt her heat, passion, and want. When her lips parted and his tongue slipped inside, her sweetness nearly brought him to his knees. Closer. He had to be closer to her, and he wrapped her in his arms as if he were a blanket. She didn't resist him, didn't push him away. Instead, she kissed him back as if no time had passed since their lips last touched. She made him feel as if her mouth had been waiting for his. That couldn't be the case ... could it?
Dana's brain clicked and she realized she wasn't dreaming about kissing Adrian; she was kissing him. Relishing in the touch of his tongue against her lips and savoring the hint of mint that his mouth always held. She wasn't imagining that his fingers were gliding up and down her spine; it was actually happening. The man she loved. The man who'd broken her heart with a text message. Kiss over. She pulled back, snatched away from him, and angrily eyed him. "What in the hell is wrong with you?" Dana demanded.
"Me? I didn't kiss myself and from what I felt, you're happy to see me."
"You cocky son of a—"
"I know I am. Glad you agree," he quipped.
"This may be a game to you—one kiss and I'm supposed to bend to your will and let you back between my thighs because you think you belong there? Go to hell, Adrian."
Between her thighs ... was that supposed to push him away? That was his place and he would reclaim it, just as soon as he put his father where he belonged. "Dana, Dana, Dana, you wanted that kiss, needed it just as much as I did, if for nothing more than closure."
"How about you close your mouth?" Dana snapped. Before she could say another word, the power popped on and Dana bolted out of Starbucks and away from Adrian. But the memory of that kiss haunted her and reminded her of hot LA nights on the beach when they were in love. When things between them had been easy and sunny, bright and filled with the promise of a future filled with love. A future that Dana thought would mean her as a fashion photographer and the wife of Adrian Bryant. The latter dream ended with a text message. Still, she wanted to know why and what changed his mind. She knew his mother's death changed him, but the coldness she'd seen on his face the day of the funeral and later at his penthouse kept her awake at night. Was someone to blame for Mrs. Bryant's death?
Did Adrian believe he'd done something to cause his mother's death? She'd wrestled with these questions for two years, and the moment she'd resolved to forget about him, there he was. Sexier and more mysterious than ever. But not this time. She was not, in no way, shape, or form, going to allow him to suck her into his atmosphere again. Not when she was about to embark on her biggest and most exciting assignment of her career—shooting publicity shots for one of the biggest film studios in America. Sure part of the reason why she'd gotten the gig had been because of her best friend and current Hollywood it girl, Imani Thomas, but the fact of the matter was, Dana's career was on the uptick and Adrian Bryant could go to hell, twice. She had her closure, even if the taste of his kiss burned in her mouth.
Two days had passed since the blackout at Starbucks, and Adrian couldn't get Dana off his mind. He'd been so distracted that he'd almost missed the reason why he'd come back to LA—the opening of Crawford Towers and his chance to confront his absentee father, Elliot Crawford.
Elliot and his son Solomon Crawford were opening the chain's first hotel on the West Coast. Adrian had followed the construction of the project, smiling at the stumbling blocks that cropped up, like the zoning dispute between the city and the contractor. Then there was the Sierra Club's opposition to the project, which made Crawford Hotels spend an additional forty million dollars on LEED certification for the project. But the most interesting part of the project had been the public sparring between Richmond—Elliot's oldest son—Solomon, and Elliot, which made the building of the towers more dramatic than General Hospital. And this was his "family." Whatever. Why had this man, with two overgrown spoiled sons, turned his back on him and his mother?
Adrian hated that the last conversation he had with his mother was about that man. That piece of shit who donated sperm, because he was not a father in Adrian's eyes.
Pamela clinched her son's hand in hers and smiled at him. They'd always been so close and watching cancer suck the life from her made him want to cry and Adrian wasn't an emotional man. "I love you, son," she said, her voice frail and quiet. The whirling of the oxygen machine filled the air as Adrian kissed his mother's bony hand.
"I love you, too."
Pamela broke into a fit of coughing and Adrian reached for the nurse's call button. She grabbed his hand and shook her head. "No, no. I have to tell you."
"Mama, you need to rest."
Pamela coughed again as Adrian stared into her ashen face. He hated feeling powerless and helpless. He stroked her hand and closed his eyes. "Mama, I wish you would rest."
She shook her head. "Not until I tell you."
He wanted to tell her that it could wait, that they had time. But he knew nothing could be further from the truth, Pamela was slipping away with every breath she took. "Mama," he said.
"What about my father?" he asked, thinking about Paul Wallace, the man his mother said was his father. "He died when I was seven."
She squeezed his hand again. "Your father is a powerful man and I loved him very much."
Adrian wrinkled his nose and cocked his head to the side. "Powerful?"
"But ..." She began coughing again, this time her body shook like a leaf and Adrian worried if she would be able to take another breath.
"Just rest, Mommy," he said sounding like the helpless 12-year-old that he felt he was as her hand slipped from his grip. Again, he reached for the call button, but Pamela grabbed his hand again.
"If things had been different, we would've been together and given you a real family," she said. "I know he loved me. He took care of you from a far and I wish I had never agreed to her deal."
"Mama, it doesn't matter." Adrian kissed her hand. "Rest."
"I want you to know ... know the truth. Elliot loved you. When you were a baby and he held you in his arms, I knew he would've been there for us, but she wouldn't let him go, not without taking everything he'd built. I tried to stay in New York, but she let me know that you would never be accepted as Elliot's son, not like her sons."
"Mama, what are you talking about? Who is Elliot? What does all of this mean?"
"Elliot Crawford is your real father. I told him I'd never tell you, but I can't go to my grave holding this secret any longer."
"Who is Elliot Crawford and it doesn't matter that he's my father. You've been there for me all my life, I don't give a damn about him," Adrian raged as his mother took a ragged breath.
"Don't say that. Get to know him."
"Know him? Why would I want to get to know the loser who didn't stick around to be a part of my life and if he loved you so much, where the hell is he now?"
Pamela's glassy eyes searched her son's face and her mouth fell open. Her hand slipped from his and Adrian knew one thing, he was going to find Elliot Crawford and make him pay.
The more he'd looked into the Crawford family, the more he wondered if his mother had dodged a bullet by not being involved with that family. Still, as he remembered reading the journal that his mother kept about the love she felt for Elliot, he knew that he had to bring that man down for stringing his mother along for all of those years. The words that poured from Pamela's heart had only worked to anger Adrian more and more. Why hadn't Elliot Crawford seen that his denial of their relationship and being away from him had taken a toll on his mother? While he hid Pamela away on the West Coast, she'd watched and kept heartbreaking notes about what he was up to and how his family grew. She'd even talked about how his visits to LA stopped after Adrian was born.
Every time he thought about his father's cowardly actions, he wanted to light a fire to the Crawford Towers construction site. He'd even had an alleged arsonist on his speed dial. The plan would be perfect: the hotel would burn and no one would suspect Elliot's bastard son—because no one knew about him in the first place.
He knew the element of surprise would work in his favor, and he planned to use it to his advantage. Adrian had already gotten to Richmond, since he figured he was the weakest link. The men were scheduled to meet about a club in the hotel. His goal was to get his foot in the door so that he could have direct access to the hotel and create a lot of scandals. He had already decided to drop a nugget to any madame looking for a new hotel for client meetings. Then he'd call in the police, FBI, hell, even the CIA to make this story explode. Adrian knew there was a book in the works about the family, and he wanted to turn the tender family book into a tell-all exposé.
But since seeing Dana, he'd rethought the arson part of his plan. He knew she wouldn't approve of his scheme, especially the idea of setting anything on fire. After being apart for over two years, he was surprised that her opinion would still mean so much to him. Yes, he wanted her back and had plans to win her love again. But he'd pushed her away with the mission of bringing the Crawford family down. He didn't want her touched by his pain and anger and need for revenge. But he did want her.
Glancing down at his watch, Adrian realized that he had to leave now if he was going to make it to the press conference in enough time to make his presence known.
* * *
The weather was perfect for snapping pictures, and though Dana had completed her work with the studio, she decided to drive around the city to take some shots for her personal collection. People knew of Dana's work in glossy magazines and fashion pictorials, but her real love was to capture real people. Sort of like the work of Gordon Parks and his images of migrant workers. She'd hoped to find a buyer for her photography book. Imani was on her bandwagon and working her contacts to help Dana get a deal. Unfortunately, everyone wanted the glamour and celebrity shots.
The deals had been lucrative, but money wasn't everything to Dana. She wanted to publish pictures of real people living real lives. Sadly, publishers weren't feeling that idea. But as her mother, Whitney Singleton, always told her, there will be hundreds of nos before you get that one yes. Thinking of her mother, she smiled. Whitney had been her biggest cheerleader when Dana decided she wanted to be a photographer. She'd taken Dana to the Art Institute of New York City and told her that if this was her dream, she'd have to stick to it. When Dana had told her mother that this was what she was born to do, Whitney purchased her an old camera and twelve rolls of film and told her to trust her eye.
Dana hated that her mother never got to see her dream come true, and she hated that she'd wasted her time with Adrian.
Where did that come from? She pulled into the parking lot of a Starbucks, grabbed her camera from the passenger seat, and walked toward the entrance. Immediately her mind returned to the last time she'd stopped for coffee and ended up with a mouthful of Adrian.
"Stop it," she whispered. "He threw you away when you'd been there for him and that's how he repaid you."
"Damn it," a voice behind her muttered.
Dana turned and saw a comely woman dressed in an ivory pantsuit kicking off a shoe with a broken heel.
"Are you okay?" Dana asked, wanting to snap a picture but refraining.
The woman smiled at Dana and she shook her head. "Unless you have a pair of shoes on you, I'm pretty much out of luck."
Dana held up her camera and asked, "Do you mind?"
The woman eyed her as if she'd asked her for a million dollars. "Why?"
"Because the typical Hollywood woman would be whining and you have a broken expensive shoe in your hand and a slight smile on your face," Dana said.
"That's because I'm a New York Southerner," she said, then held up her shoe while Dana took a couple of shots.
"A New York Southerner in California?" she asked when she put her camera down. "Interesting."
The woman frowned. "No, it really isn't."
Dana held the door open as she and her subject entered the coffee shop. "So, are you from LA?" she asked Dana.
"No, I'm a New Yorker working for Universal."
"I'm Kandace," the woman said as she extended her hand to Dana.
Excerpted from Love After War by CHERIS HODGES. Copyright © 2013 Cheris Hodges. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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