Read I Heard A Rumor Online

Authors: Cheris Hodges

I Heard A Rumor

BOOK: I Heard A Rumor
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Also by Cheris Hodges
 
 
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Forces of Nature
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The One That I Want (with Donna Hill and Zuri Day)
 
 
 
Published by Dafina Books
I Heard A Rumor
CHERIS HODGES
Kensington Publishing Corp.
www.kensingtonbooks.com
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
Chapter 1
Chante Britt filled her favorite pink and green mug with Ethiopian blend coffee, which had been a gift from her best friend and sorority sister, Liza Palmer-Franklin.
That girl knows coffee,
she thought as she inhaled the fragrant aroma. She almost didn't want to pour the creamer into the coffee. She took a sip and realized that it was perfect black. Reaching for the remote to the small TV set mounted over the stove, she sighed as she turned it on. This was her morning routine, and it was getting on her last damned nerve.
Chante was bored, mad, and tired of the purgatory her life had become since her suspension from the law firm she'd worked for, Myrick, Lawson and Walker.
She had been considered a distraction, according to managing partner Taiwon Myrick, because of her relationship with former senatorial candidate Robert Montgomery, who lost his bid for a senate seat after she and Liza exposed the fact that he was a liar and paid for sex with prostitutes. When Chante and Robert had been dating, she'd lobbied for her firm to support his candidacy, which they did. Taiwon liked Robert's pro-business stance on several issues and threw a lot of money his way, even after Chante had expressed her doubts. But as always, Taiwon chose not to listen to Chante. Over the last two years at Myrick, Lawson and Walker, Chante had been working herself ragged to become a partner. But she'd been constantly looked over—despite the fact that she'd delivered over a million dollars in billable hours, boasted a ninety percent winning ratio, and brought in more than a third of the firm's new clients.
Taiwon was from the old-school law community and just didn't believe a woman could be a partner with the firm his family had started. Though she couldn't point to any provable sexual discrimination, she knew it was her gender that had been holding her back at the firm.
So when Jackson Franklin won the senate seat after it was revealed that Robert had been involved with a hooker during the campaign, Taiwon had been happy to blame her for the firm being mixed up in the controversy.
Bastard,
she thought as she lifted her head and saw Robert's image on the screen. Chante started to turn the set off. But curiosity got the best of her, so she unmuted the set to hear what he had to say.
“Wonder if he's still out there buying sex,” she muttered, then took another sip of her coffee.
“I'm standing here today because of grace and forgiveness,” Robert said into the camera. “I made mistakes in my quest to become senator, and I hurt a lot of people. But those people, including the love of my life, have forgiven me. And their forgiveness has given me the courage to throw my hat into the ring to be Charlotte's next mayor.”
Chante spit her coffee across the kitchen. Was this man daft? Who was going to support him to be mayor, let alone the city's dogcatcher? And who was the love of his life? Poor woman. She didn't know what kind of mess she was going to be in as the pretend love of Robert Montgomery's life. The only person Robert loved was Robert.
She reached into her robe pocket and pulled out her smartphone to text Liza.
“Last night, as I talked to my future wife, Chante Britt . . .”
“What the . . . !” Chante exclaimed. Forget texting Liza; she was going to have to call her friend and hope that she wasn't interrupting anything going on between the newlyweds.
“This is Liza,” her friend said when she answered the phone.
“Robert has lost what's left of his blasted mind,” Chante exclaimed. “This fool just . . .”
“Calm down,” Liza said. “I'm sure no one is taking him seriously.”
Chante's phone beeped. “Hold on, I have another call coming in,” she said. Clicking the
TALK
button, she answered the unknown number.
“Chante Britt.”
“Ms. Britt, this is Coleen Jackson. I'm a reporter with News Fourteen. I wanted to ask you a few questions about Robert Montgomery.”
Click.
“People were paying attention, Liza,” Chante said. “That was a reporter.”
“Oh my goodness. While you had me on hold, they showed a clip of his announcement on the news here. He really called you the love of his life. Have you two been seeing each other?”
“Hell no! I haven't spoken to that man since two days after the election, and that was last year.”
“I can't believe him. What does he think is going to come of this, and why would he think that you would agree to being . . . ?”
Chante's phone beeped again. She looked at the incoming caller's number and saw it was another unknown one. “I'm guessing that's another reporter,” Chante said. “What am I going to do?”
“Issue a statement. I'll write one for you to e-mail to all the media outlets in Charlotte. This will blow over. Let's just take control of the narrative and wait for the next news cycle. Everyone will move on to the next thing and you can get on with your life.”
“Thank you, Liza. I'm going to go for my run now.”
“Has your suspension been lifted yet?”
“No. And I'm guessing this latest stunt from this asshole is going to give them another reason to keep the suspension going.”
“I still think you should start your own firm,” Liza said. “You don't need them.”
Chante sighed. Part of her agreed with her friend, but there was something about the security of becoming a partner at an established law firm. Maybe she wanted that partnership so that she could prove her mother wrong.
Allison Louise Cooper-Britt had grown up as the ultimate southern belle. She attended South Carolina State College for one reason—to obtain her MRS. That happened when she'd met and married Eli Britt. He'd been the crucial catch: wealthy family, right complexion, and a member of all the right organizations.
When Chante had graduated from college and decided that law school was more important than a husband and a family, her mother wished her failure. Thankfully, her smarts and a few of her father's connections had given her the blueprint for success.
She and her grandmother, Elsie Mae, had a much better relationship than she had with Allison. Probably because they were so much alike. Elsie Mae Cooper had carved out her niche in Charleston, South Carolina, by selling her handwoven baskets to tourists. In 1972, she began adding unique pieces of South Carolina culture to the baskets and opened a gift shop on Folly Beach. Elsie's Gifts and Goodies became one of the beach's most popular tourist attractions.
When Elsie Mae retired from running the shop, she sold it to a historical group while keeping a forty-nine percent stake in the company. The residual income allowed her to travel the world at will. Of course, Allison thought her widowed mother should spend her time in a rocking chair on the front porch. That was not Elsie Mae's style at all, and her world traveling and adventure seeking became a bone of contention between mother and daughter.
Chante wished she had her grandmother's fearless nature. She knew for a fact that Elsie Mae would've started her own firm without giving it a second thought. Her grandmother wouldn't have taken all the grief she'd subjected herself to for that partnership. Part of her knew she'd be fine if she struck out on her own. She had a huge client base, and she was a proven winner who'd made millions for her clients. But she was afraid. Afraid that if she failed, her mother would lord it over her, just as she'd always done with the fact that she isn't married.
As if that was the only thing she was supposed to do with her life. Rolling her eyes at the ringing phone, Chante hit the
IGNORE
button on another unknown call, then shut the phone off.
When she received Liza's e-mail with her statement and a list of contacts to send it to, Chante was ready to pound the pavement and Robert's face. Lacing up her sneakers and popping her ear buds in, she opened the front door and was blinded by flashbulbs.
“What the . . .”?
“Ms. Britt, have you forgiven Robert?”
“When is the wedding?”
“Will Senator and Mrs. Franklin be there? Have all of you kissed and made up after such an ugly election cycle?”
“Get off my doorstep!” Chante exclaimed. When the members of the media took a step back, she thought they had heeded her demand. That was until she saw Robert walking her way. Narrowing her eyes at him, all she could think was that the media had just saved his life.
“Chante, darling, I didn't mean for this to happen,” he said with a huge smile on his face. She watched in abject horror as he walked up the steps and stood in her face.
“You son of a . . .”
Robert wrapped his arms around her and attempted to kiss her. Chante kneed him in the family jewels before storming into her house and slamming the door. All she could hope was that the cameras had caught every minute of it. One thing was for certain: she wasn't going to stick around to be harassed by the media or Robert freaking Montgomery!
 
 
Zach Harrington downed a mojito as if it was a glass of water while he sat on the white shores of Folly Beach. It felt good to be an anonymous man in the crowd. In South Carolina, he was just a man on the beach. Back in New York, he was the ex-husband of the “Harlem Madame.” Just thinking about the moniker the media had given his ex-wife made him cringe. And the circus! Cameras followed him around the city and camped out at his office building and his temporary home.
He couldn't even meet with the Crawfords about a tract of land they wanted to purchase in Manhattan for new office space. He was sure that Solomon and Richmond Crawford wouldn't want to be photographed outside his office after what their family had gone through in the media lately. Solomon and Richmond had discovered that their father, Elliot, had a son—Adrian Bryant—before his death. Adrian had taken the story to the media around the same time that Richmond had been arrested in Los Angeles for solicitation of sex.
Then there had been Richmond's messy divorce. The businessman in Zach knew that any partnership they'd enter into right now would be a disaster. And he hadn't told the Crawfords that he and Adrian had been friends long before the scandal broke.
Just thinking about the media circus and the money it was costing him made him crave something stronger than a sweet rum highball. When he'd filed for divorce from his wife, Natalie, he thought she'd been having an affair. He had no clue that she was running an escort service from their home on Long Island. It had taken three months for him to clear his name and prove to the district attorney that he didn't have anything to do with Natalie's illegal empire.
She'd been clearing about a million dollars a year. At least she was sleazy enough to hide the money in an account that had nothing to do with his business or their personal accounts. Shaking his head, Zach brought himself back to what was in front of him: a beautiful shoreline, women in barely there bikinis, and the blazing southern sun.
Digging his toes into the warm sand, Zach tugged at his Brooklyn Nets ball cap and grinned. For the next seven days or more, he was going to be anyone he wanted to be, without worrying about the glare of the New York media. Just as he was about to close his eyes, his cell phone vibrated in his pocket. Grabbing it, he smiled when he saw it was his assistant, Kia Clarke.
“What's up, Special K?”
“Your final divorce decree just arrived. You are officially unattached.”
“Been unattached. I'm just glad the state has approved it,” he said. “Have the reporters stopped calling yet?”
Kia sighed. “You haven't heard the latest?”
“I've been listening to ocean waves. Do I even want to know?”
“She claims there's a black book and you know where it is. We've had a few agents stop by the office, but I told them that without a warrant they couldn't come in. And three more clients have dropped us.”
Zach muttered curses that caused a few people to give him the side eye. “Why does she keep tarnishing my name?”
“She doesn't want to let you go, and she isn't trying to go down without taking a lot of innocent people with her. I've never liked Ms. Shady Boots, and I told you that from the beginning.”
“I wish I'd seen her true colors years ago,” he said, then expelled a sigh.
“Tried to warn you, boss. But you were blinded by something else.”
“Don't remind me. How's the baby?”
“Still baking. I'm two weeks overdue, and Dave is stressing me out. That's why I came into the office today.”
“Please don't give birth in my office,” he quipped. “I'm so happy for you and Dave. I wish I could be there to celebrate with you guys.”
“Zach, I'm not mad at you for staying away and getting your head together. And why not have some fun while you're out there?”
“That's my plan. When I come back to New York, hopefully this news cycle will be over and I can get back to my business and spoiling my godson.”
“Excuse you, I'm having a daughter. So, you better get some of the southern girly-girl stuff while you're in Charleston.”
“I'm bringing football helmets and shoulder pads,” he said with a laugh.
“Anyway. Unless anything major happens, the next time you hear from me, I'll be calling with the news of your goddaughter's entrance into the world,” Kia said.
When they said good-bye, Zach turned his phone off, leaned back in his lounge chair, and closed his eyes. The warmth of the sun did little to ease the chill he felt creeping up his spine. Even though he'd divorced his criminal wife and had had nothing to do with her sex peddling, his boutique real estate firm was suffering. A couple of clients had taken their business elsewhere, costing him fifteen million dollars. The loss hurt, but his company was strong—for now. If he kept losing the big clients, then he would be hurting, as well as his employees.
BOOK: I Heard A Rumor
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