Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #United States, #African American, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Multicultural, #Multicultural & Interracial
Copyright © August 2015, Kassanna
Cover art by Dreams2Media Copyright © August 2015
This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this novel are fictitious or used fictitiously. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form.
~ DEDICATION ~
Big Thank you to LaJoyce Qualls for the information on Mobile Alabama
To all my readers Thank You for your support and continued faith in my writing. You e-mails and messages mean more to me than I have words to convey. You are amazing so very much appreciated.
This book uses derogatory terms in reference to different ethnicities. It will offend you. This book contains mature and abrasive subject matter.
Rain pelted the windshield in long sheets, causing the hood of the car to disappear under the deluge. The beams from her headlights penetrated the gloom only a few feet ahead of her, and wavered with every rut she drove over. Deep shadows encroached from the side of the road, shrouding her vehicle in darkness as she struggled to keep sight of the clay road. Savannah glanced through her windshield at black clouds churning overhead. Occasional flashes of lightning split the sky, followed by deep rumbles that made her car windows rattle.
The dreary, grey surroundings served as an external indicator of her sour mood.
Just once, why couldn’t things go her way?
A nice sunny day, where she could let the top down on her convertible and allow the wind to blow through her hair as she drove—was that too much to ask for? Her trip had been fraught with nothing but problems since she’d left Atlanta. Her mother’s admonishments repeated in her head on a loop:
Young ladies do not travel alone.
That was her mother being nice. Savannah snorted, as if her age would make a difference in her situation.
She pressed her foot on the gas pedal and the automobile lurched forward and fishtailed, its rear end swaying. Savannah slammed both feet on the brake and gripped the steering wheel tighter, her brown skin paled around her knuckles. Her car came to a sudden stop, thrusting her toward the dashboard. The seat belt bit into her chest and side as she was whipped back against the seat. Mud splattered across her windshield. The car quaked before the interior lights faded. She clutched the key and twisted it back and forth. The engine sputtered to life, choked, and died.
If it wasn’t for her shitty luck, she wouldn’t have any at all. Savannah glanced down at her dashboard; the hazard lights were already flashing. Faint yellow flickers were the only light in an otherwise dismal afternoon. She leaned forward and pain sizzled along her ribs. Twisting in her seat, she quickly checked behind her. Who was she kidding? She hadn’t seen anybody on the clay road since she exited the expressway. Savannah took a deep breath and grabbed the thin paper bag she’d packed her lunch in and used it to cover her head as she swung the door open.
Water streamed down her neck and under her collar.
Take a short cut, I bet this will shave off a little time on the drive. It’s on GPS, so it should be all right. Don’t worry about the unpaved roads. Her car sat high with the new tires, and it could handle a little dirt. Ha!
She should have known it was a problem when her GPS kept sending her in circles
You’re a big girl, you’ve got this. You just need to wait out the rain, turn your ass around, and drive back to the expressway.
Her heels sunk into the mud and she tilted back, sliding her palms across the smooth finish of the roof.
She spun around and slipped, landing on her ass. Mud flowed up her skirt, coating her thighs. She planted her hands next to her hips and muck squished between her fingers as they sank, wrist-deep, into the liquefied mess. It clung to her clothes, weighing her down as she pushed up onto all fours. Her knees slid apart and her legs spread. Savannah tipped headlong into mire, saturating her tank top.
What the hell was she thinking, getting out of the car?
She grabbed the latch on the door and wrenched it open, clambering into the driver’s side. Slumped in her seat, the rain rinsed off her skin as it blew into the car. She sat there, catching her breath. The ache in her side intensified when she reached for the door, and she grimaced as she yanked it shut.
Savannah pressed the back of her wrists against her eyes to stem the tears threatening to overtake her. The earthy scent of wet dirt and vegetation mingled with the odor of sweet melon from her air freshener to make her nauseous. She swallowed several times to shove down the gorge rising up her throat. Who was she kidding? She should have never left Atlanta; maybe her mama, Della, was right. That she couldn’t handle moving hundreds of miles away by herself, but, hell, staying in Atlanta wasn’t an option any longer, either.
Her breathing slowed and she relaxed, allowing the din of the rain to comfort her. Della was wrong. Their attitude toward her was suffocating, and their snide comments were cutting. For as far back as she could remember, she’d never felt wanted by anyone but her daddy, and he was long gone. Her biological father had been killed in an automobile accident when she was two. Della married Ronald Westmore a few years later. Her stepfather was one of the many reasons why she had to get out of Atlanta. Why stay where you weren’t wanted?
At thirty-three, she needed to forge a path of her own. Ronald’s actions spurred her to leave. The sly remarks he used to make and then laugh at them—at HER—hurt, but she brushed them off as his twisted sense of humor. Della would giggle at his jokes before telling her it was just his way and to forget about it.
Savannah had been naïve to think she might eventually win their love. They only cared for themselves.
A little at a time, she broke ties with the people she grew up with once she moved out. Visits home became less frequent, and she spoke to her mom sparingly, mainly to make sure the older woman was okay. Secretly, she wondered if Della wasn’t a little bit relieved that she no longer came by.
Appearances were important to her mother, and she didn’t fit into the same mold as her slim, light-skinned mother and younger sibling. Her mom was often mistaken for mixed race or a white woman with hair that wasn’t quite straight, but flowed over her shoulders in deep waves. Her sister, Charlotte, looked like their mother. Her sister was considered graceful, but Savannah was always chastised for being clumsy. She was always different, with her milk chocolate complexion, thicker body, and tightly curled hair.
To fit in, Savannah made a salon appointment and had weave sewn into her hair. She was twelve. After that, she was never seen without her hair done. Ronald grudgingly paid for her appointments. That was the only true interaction he had with her, unless he was berating her for eating, or how her clothing fit. Not that it mattered; after Charlotte was born, Ronald paid very little attention to her. What was more painful was that her mother seemed to forget about her, too.
Savannah sighed. The Westmores, considered Atlanta’s black elite, were miles away. She patted the center of her chest as a deep ache filled it. Her parents could be cruel, but after the last fiasco she would swear they hated her.
The pitying glances as she marched through the church were the worst. She’d kept her head high, maintaining the facade that everything was all right. In truth, she’d been slowly dying inside. How could so many people—including her parents—know about her fiancé’s infidelity and yet no one ever said a word. Thinking about what her stepfather did was like picking the scab off a newly healed wound. She was never under any illusions that he was fond of her, but not once did she ever believe he could be so detestable.
She stared into the rearview mirror and cocked a thin brow.
Stop! Everything is said and done. You left. Your therapist told you to get away from the toxic relationships.
Worry nibbled at the edge of her psyche. Did they even care that she was gone? She shouldn’t have let her mind wander down the dark path she’d systematically avoided for weeks.
It was time to stop thinking about the fact that Ronald paid her fiancé, Dwayne, to not only engage her at the beginning of their relationship, but to actually propose to her. The asshole continued with the farce until his conscience caught up with him…on their wedding day. He told her he was in love with Charlotte, and had been for the duration of their time together.
In the blink of an eye, she’d been replaced by her own sister.
It was the worst day of her life.
Unable to bear the pain, she marched out into the foyer where her stepdad was waiting, and confronted him; the only man she knew to call Dad. That day she gathered her courage, and spoke out because she had to know why he’d done such a hateful thing.
Their words carried and guests gathered around them. People who came to witness a joyous union got an earful from the man who’d raised her from the age of six, criticizing her for every perceived slight he’d felt she committed over the years.
She thought her mom was finally coming to her defense. The look of mortification—her pursed lips, wide eyes, flushed cheeks—on her mother’s face as Della approached Savannah and Ronald, her petite heels
on the marble floor, waving her hand in an effort to shush them.
Her brief moment of hope flew out the window when Della stopped beside her husband, and made no effort to defend her daughter. Equally painful was the cold calculation in Ronald’s eyes as he continued speaking and let his true feelings be known. His dead tone filled her ears.
How else was I going to get rid of you? Always coming by, I knew what you wanted. You’re nothing but a snide, greedy little bitch. Finding a man who wouldn’t become sick because he had to spend time with you was no easy feat. Consider yourself lucky you even got into a wedding dress. Have you taken a look in the mirror lately? You’re fat, black, and unappealing. Have you ever thought about pushing away from the table sometimes? Why couldn’t you have the poise and grace of your mother? If you had a thimbleful of the elegance that Charlotte has, there might have been some hope for you. God knows I paid enough for the charm classes, ballet lessons, and private schools. For what? You are a disgrace to this family; and, honestly, I was happy to pay someone to take you off my hands. You are no child of mine, but sadly, your mother came with baggage, and if I wanted her, I had to accept you…
That was when her mother stepped in between them, and slapped him so hard the thwack echoed through the church. “You will not embarrass me here. Our dirty laundry will not be aired for any and all to witness.”
Savannah stared at the couple, certain that disbelief was etched in her features. That was when she came to the painful realization that her mother didn’t care about her; Della was more concerned about what her friends would hear. The knowledge cut deep and she resolved to prove them wrong. She
worthy of love.
That night she’d built a bonfire in her backyard and burned her wedding gown. The gorgeous satin and lace custom creation smoldered into the afternoon of the next day, and she sat there, watching it incinerate.
She’d done a lot of soul-searching that night and couldn’t remember attending a single class he’d claimed to have sent her to. When she was old enough to drive, they forced her to shuttle Charlotte to everything. Her parents had never done anything for her. If she wanted something, she had to work for it.
Later that day, she changed her number and wrote out a list of pros and cons, to help her decide whether or not to remain in Atlanta.
The cons won, and she reached out to an old college buddy. She hadn’t seen her friend Trenton since law school, but they’d kept in contact over the years. He worked as a prosecutor, and once she glossed over what happened, he invited her to Mobile. She couldn’t work as a lawyer since she had to pass the Alabama bar, but he had secured a job interview for her as a paralegal for a small law office, Community Law. That suited her fine. She would relocate, and take care of herself. Get healthy, meet new friends, live. One step at a time, she reminded herself. First, she needed to get to Mobile.
Savannah tapped the button in the overhead dome and light filled the interior. She opened the glove compartment and snatched up the map to spread out. If she checked her last location on GPS, she should be able to find the place on paper.
The interstate was easy to find, but there was nothing around it, she was in the middle of nowhere. At the rate she was going, she would never make it to her job interview tomorrow. She hung her head, and relaxed her shoulders. Her new beginning wasn’t starting out the way she planned. She fisted the edge of the map. Her life hadn’t been an easy one, but she’d always managed. It was time to draw on that strength again.
The rain was letting up. She exhaled. Before her GPS conked out, it showed a highway at the end of the dirt road. That information was not on the map she clutched like a lifeline. Savannah tapped her fingers on the steering wheel. She couldn’t sit there and do nothing.
Glancing down at her feet, she groaned. There was nothing she could do about her shoes, since all she had in her overnight bag were heels. Everything else was packed away on a moving truck en route to her new apartment. She shivered. Her soaked, muddy clothing was starting to chafe. This was her last clean garment, because she only packed enough for the two-day trip.
She spied her raincoat in the passenger seat. At least it was dry and water-resistant. Struggling as she contorted in the bucket seat, Savannah peeled the wet clothes from her body.
The sun rays peeked out from open spots in the clouds. The rain finally stopped. It was country as hell, but she would go barefoot to walk to fucking civilization. She chuckled. Guess this was as good a time to start a new exercise regimen.
Riley wrapped his fingers around the neck of the chilled beer bottle. Moisture seeped across his palm and bubbles rose up to foam against the amber glass.
He stared down at the scarred wood counter. A speeding ticket absorbed the condensation that rolled off his bottle. He was fresh off the rig and already tangling with the law. Damn, he really should learn to slow down, but it felt good to let loose and open up the engine of his truck. He yanked the damp citation up and stuffed it in his work shirt pocket.