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Prologue


They say no one knows their dying day. They say that it will come like a thief in the night. They have no idea what they are talking about. Some people know their dying day.

Tasha Nelson knew she was going to die today.

He was going to kill her.

Any normal woman would’ve been scared. Any normal woman would’ve been sweating right now or at least trembling. Any normal woman wouldn’t even be here. Tasha wasn’t normal. He’d crushed the normal out of her a long time ago, punched it out and stomped on it. He’d strangled every bit of normalcy she’d ever known the moment he’d choked her finger with his ring.

Tasha ascended the stairs, her fingers tracing the beautiful patterns on its railings. Her face was a blank slate showing neither fear nor sadness. She glanced at the large paintings that crowded the wall. There she was smiling into the camera. There she was cradling baby Asia in her arms. There Polo was with a wide smile and his arm around her shoulders, sheltering his family protectively.

Pictures lie!

These ones only showed the happy family. They didn’t show the lingering pain in Tasha’s smiling eyes. They didn’t show the sickness in Asia’s body. They didn’t show Polo’s protective arm, backhand Tasha once the cameras were gone. And they certainly didn’t show the numerous other families he’d built outside their home.

He was her life.

He was her nightmare.

He was her man.

And he was going to kill her!

She walked down the hallway, her heels barely making a sound as she mentally rehearsed all the ways she was going to beg him to spare her.

I’m not the one who told them that you faked Ashenafi’s DNA test. No, that wouldn’t work. If Polo had half a mind, he’d already have figured out that she was the one who’d told the Ford’s of his duplicitous actions to pass off his own son as theirs.

They forced me to tell them. That wouldn’t work either.

It just slipped out. I couldn’t stand to watch my friends suffering so much. That was closer to the truth but Tasha knew it wouldn’t work on Polo. If he was going to spare her, she was going to have to beg and crawl for it. She was prepared to even lick his feet if that was it took to stay alive.

Tasha opened the door to her daughter’s room. The little girl was seated on her bed, thoughtfully chewing on a pencil as she stared at her pink diary. Asia turned her gaze to the door at her mother’s entry, her eyes and her smile, so like her father’s, lighting up her rounded face.

My beautiful baby –only eight years old and already so beaten by life!

The immediate sadness was almost crippling in its intensity as the weight of her situation bore down on her. Tasha wasn’t afraid of death. Polo had threatened her with it so many times that he’d diluted its power over her. But even she wasn’t stupid enough to confront it head-on.

If it wasn’t for Asia she would’ve left the house the minute the police had come and taken Polo away. If it wasn’t for Asia, she’d be in Russia or Malawi or Brazil – somewhere so far off Polo would need an alien tracking device to find her. If it wasn’t for Asia she wouldn’t be putting her neck on the chopping board and hoping that her executioner would show mercy.

“Mama…” Asia got off the bed, came towards Tasha and wrapped her arms around her mother’s waist. “…can we go to Aunty Zain’s today? Maari promised that he was going to teach me how to-”

“Not today, baby,” Tasha interrupted, somehow managing to speak through the hard lump of sadness in her throat. “Daddy’s coming home in a couple of minutes and we have to be here to welcome him.”

“Oh.” Almost immediately the smile fell off Asia’s face and it was replaced by fear. Her arms tightened around Tasha’s waist. Since they’d taken Polo away, Asia had never asked after him.

“It’s going to be okay, baby,” Tasha soothed as she ran her hands through Asia’s braids. “We’re going to be okay.”

It sounded like a lie even to her own ears.

Pulling away from Asia, Tasha crouched until they were at eye-level. “Honey, I want you to do me a favor.”

“’Kay.”

“When I leave I’m going to lock you door with my key. I want you to put your earphones on and sleep until I come for you, okay?”

“’Kay.” Asia nodded, understanding the seriousness of the situation.

“If I don’t come for you by morning, you remember what I told you to do, right?”

“I climb through…” Asia’s words trailed off as she threw a scared look at the upper right corner of the room where a camera watched them. Tasha had already told her that the camera couldn’t pick up sound but Asia had asked what if he could read lips. Tasha said he couldn’t but that wasn’t enough to convince her.

She shuffled closer to Tasha and whispered in her ear, “I’ll climb through the window with my medicine backpack, take the bus up to Aunty Zain’s house and give her your letter.”

“You remember the directions?” asked Tasha. Asia nodded. They’d taken several practice runs on the bus just so that Asia could remember the way on her own. “Good girl!”

She’d debated whether to send Asia away or not. If Polo came back and found Asia gone, it would only intensify his anger. At least this way, Asia had a way out if anything went wrong.

Asia was the whole reason for Tasha’s living and her dying. She could’ve walked away if it wasn’t for Asia. But she didn’t blame her little angel. This was God’s fault. He was the one who’d put them into this situation. Today she’d have a chance to ask him face to face.

“Mama, I can’t breathe.” Asia’s voice was muffled in her chest.

“Sorry, baby.” Tasha released her.

“Why are you crying?” Asia asked , wiping the tears Tasha didn’t even know she was shedding with her small palms.

“Mama’s just really sorry,” Tasha said with a watery smile as she stood up. “I love you, baby.”

“Love you too.” Asia’s arms tightened around Tasha’s waist. For a moment they stood like that holding each other before Tasha finally ended the embrace. With one final kiss, she walked towards the door. She took one last look at her daughter, tattooing Asia’s innocent face in her memory before walking out. With her key, the only key to Asia’s room, she locked her in.

The one thing Tasha appreciated Polo for was his obsession with privacy and security. All the doors were made of heavy wood so he wouldn’t be able to kick in the door to Asia’s room. If he wanted to get in, he’d either have to get the key from her -which was never going to happen- or get someone to come and pick the lock. By the time that happened, Asia would be out of the house and safe – unlike her. Tasha walked back to the master bedroom, unobtrusively slipped a recorder under her pillow and waited.

Several hours later – around midnight – she heard his car pull up in the driveway. She was sure they’d released him much earlier so he’d probably visited one of his whores. It didn’t bother her. The only thought running through her mind was that Polo was here. It was time to start praying.

His heavy footsteps pounded up the stairs before he flung open the door to their room. The heavy wood crushed into the wall with a loud bang. Cuts and bruises marred his handsome face with one particularly nasty gash glinting just above his eyebrow. His once white shirt was now stained with drops of blood and sweat and his pants were ripped at one knee to reveal ashy dark skin. He was also missing one shoe.  He looked like he’d been to hell and back. However what was worrying was the mad spark in his eyes.

The spark grew into a raging flame as his gaze settled on her.

“I know you’re the one who told them,” he said. All the excuses she’d prepared were swept away like chaff by the wind. He smiled – that cruel tilt of his lips to the side that always came before a storm began – and started to unbutton his shirt. “I told you what would happen if you snitched.”

She watched him silently as he stripped and dumped his clothes on the floor. Once upon a time she’d thought the sun rose and fell on his tall heavily muscled body. Once upon a time it would’ve only taken one glance at his already lengthening dick for her to be turned on.

Once upon a time!

“Don’t move,” he threw over his shoulders as he headed to the bathroom. She could hear the sound of water running in the shower as Polo washed off the scent of the holding cell. He came out a couple of minutes later, still wet and unabashed in his complete nakedness. He was now completely hard.

“Take off your clothes.” His voice was cold, almost as cold as the icy waves of fear it injected into her veins.

I should apologize. I should say something. Her brain was running at a thousand miles per minute trying to figure out a way to keep her from getting killed but for some reason her mouth wasn’t cooperating. However, any thoughts she had of defending herself were abruptly cut off when he barked, “I said take off your clothes.”

Her fingers trembled as she unbuttoned her blouse and her legs shook as she stood up and unzipped her skirt. The fabric fell to the floor with barely a rustle – in complete opposition to the thunderous thumping of her heart in her rib-cage. Polo didn’t even look at her as he rummaged through his sock drawer. He just added, “Everything.”

Tasha unclipped her bra and dropped it to the ground before pushing her panties down her legs into the same pile of clothes.

“Lie on the bed,” he barked, “on your stomach.”

The bed dipped as Tasha obediently settled on it. She buried her head in the pillow and closed her eyes, praying that her death would be faster. The air moved and got heavier beside her with Polo’s soapy scent suffusing it as he stood next to the bed, but she didn’t lift her head. Cold metal pressed against her temple as the cylindrical mouth of a gun dug into her skin.

She closed her eyes tighter. Goodbye Asia!

“Look at me,” he said instead of shooting her. “Look at me!”

Tasha turned her head, only to find herself staring directly up the barrel of the gun.

“You thought the one I shot Lucky’s bitch with was the only one I had, didn’t you?” He chuckled as he crouched next to the bed. He looked at the gun lovingly before kissing it. “Nope! I’ve got them tucked all around this house just for fuckers like you and them.”

“I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean-”

“Too late, Tasha.” He abruptly cut her off by pressing the gun to her head again – then pulled the trigger.

Click!

It took Tasha a while to realize that nothing had happened and that she was still alive. Still frightened out of her mind, she pried her tightly closed eyes open. When she did, she found him still crouched beside the bed with a grin plastered on his face.

“You thought I’d killed you, right? You should’ve seen your face.” He started to laugh – the raucous sound filling the whole room. He was so amused that he plopped down on the carpet as his body continued to heave with mirth. Finally the laughing stopped.

“You know I really thought I was going to kill you,” he explained. “When they dragged me away like a dog, I was sure you were going to die but then sitting in that cell, it hit me. If you die right now, everybody will know it was me. So guess what Tasha? It’s your lucky day. Sentence suspended.”

Was he serious?

He said, “Say thank you, Polo.”

“Thank you, Polo,” she repeated quickly, the instant relief almost overwhelming in its intensity. I’m not going to die. Her heart began to settle into a normal beat but his next words sent it skittering in panic again.

“But I can’t let this kind’a fuckery go unpunished,” he said, shaking his head like a parent speaking to their errant child. He put the gun on the bedside table before hopping to his feet. It was then that she noticed the belt in his hand.

The first lash caught her unawares. She screamed as tough leather met her skin leaving behind a crippling sting

“You’re going to wish I had killed you.” The belt cut into the air again, the whizzing sound paving the way for even more agony. The blinding pain tore through her body in rapid waves.

I won’t cry. I won’t cry for him. The tears began to seep out anyway as the leather fell multiple times, cutting into her skin. Over and over again, he hit her. Each time Tasha screamed until eventually there were no more screams in her and she merely groaned in pain. Finally he stopped.

The belt dropped to the floor with a clutter and the bed dipped as Polo settled on it. He forcefully lifted the bottom half of her body off the bed so that she was kneeling but her head still lay on the bed. Without any preliminaries, he drove into her. Her tears flowed as he tore into her with the force of his thrusts. Only the sounds of his groans punctuated the still silence as he sated himself within her body.

This was nothing compared to the lashes, but it still hurt.

Her tormentor!

Her rapist!

Her husband!

She kept her face in the pillow, her tears soaking the soft fabric as her fingers clutched the recorder underneath. Once he was done, he slumped beside her with a groan. Tasha lowered her aching body back to the bed but before she could settle on it, he used his feet to push her off the bed. She fell to the floor with a painful thud.

“You’re not sleeping. You’re going to sit there till morning. If I find that you even closed your eyes for a second, I’ll fuck you up.” With a bit of shifting on the bed, Polo closed his eyes, readying himself for comfortable nights sleep.

Tasha crawled on all fours on the carpeted floor then sat with her back to the wall, naked as the day she was born. Her fingers tightened about the recorder as she wrapped her arms around her legs and placed her chin on her knees. She watched as sleep claimed Polo. Slowly the pain in her body faded and was replaced by cold determination.

One day she’d make him pay.

One day!

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Chapter 1


Where’s this relationship going?

Those are the five words every man dreads. You especially don’t want to hear them when you’re stark naked, hard as nails and all you can think about is getting your rocks off.

Kian Harper lay poised above her, supporting himself on his arms to keep from crushing the woman beneath him with his naked weight. She was lying on the bed, her legs spread and her hands covering the pussy that currently held his attention. There was a wily glint in her eyes as she spoke the words. “Where’s this relationship going?”

Fuck! Now? Kian thought in frustration, interpreting that Samara, his current paramour, was reserving the rights to her body until he gave her what she wanted. Why did women always do this? One minute they’d be telling you they were okay with just being sex-buddies then a couple of weeks in they’d flip the script and leave you with a hard dick and nowhere to put it – again.

He sighed heavily as he sat back on his hunches. “Samara, we’ve talked about this.”

“If you want some more of this, you need to make a commitment,” she said as she also sat up. Her tits barely even jiggled with her movement. Those perky breasts were what had called him across the room three months ago and now he was paying for his lust.

“Look, Samara, you’re a great woman…” Kian’s words trailed off. He hated making this speech. It was the reason why he always explained what he wanted before he got in deep with any woman – nothing but a mutually beneficial sexual relationship. However, Samara was looking at him expectantly so he continued, “…but if you’re looking for a relationship, let me not waste your time. Just tell me so I can step.”

Samara must’ve seen that he was serious because her expression changed in an instant from demanding to sheepish. She wound her arms around his neck and pulled him down to the bed on top of her.

“I didn’t mean it that way, Shark,” she soothed using the name the media had branded him. “It’s just that everyone says we look so good together. I guess I just got caught up in it.”

Even with no makeup, Samara looked like the model she was; flawless chocolate skin, high cheekbones and a long lithe body. If he was in the market for a relationship, she’d have made a good candidate. But he wasn’t. Relationships led to love and Hanna had cured him of that bullshit.

When she tried to kiss him, Kian pulled back to ask, “So you’re okay with us just being fuck-buddies?”

She laughed as she playfully nipped him on the nose. “Of course.”

“Cool.” With that sorted, he dipped his head down to kiss her. She tasted of the wine they’d had at the cocktail party he’d taken her to as his date for the night. Kian kissed his way down her body, nipping softly on the pebbled tips of her breasts before travelling down her stomach. She whimpered when his lips touched her shaven mound before his tongue delved in to please her.

Kian prided himself on being a generous lover. After all, they always took their time to satisfy him; the least he could do was make sure they had a mind exploding experience. It took no time at all to have Samara writhing on the bed, her head tossing and turning on the white silk sheets while her hand dug into his scalp. When her walls began to contract around his inserted fingers, he increased his pace until she ruptured with a hoarse cry.

He hardly gave her time to rest. The moment she’d slightly recovered from her orgasm, he reached for a condom. He stuck the sachet between his teeth ready to tear it open but Samara stopped him with a firm hold on his wrist. “You don’t have to use it, baby, I’m safe.”

That was is it for him. How stupid did she think he was? They’d been together long enough for him to know exactly who he was dealing with. Samara may’ve been a model but she was far from stupid. There was only one reason she’d make a ‘suggestion’ like that. He wasn’t trying to be anyone’s daddy right now. Without a word he got off the bed and headed towards the bathroom.

“Baby, where are you going?” Samara called out, her voice laced with panic. Kian would’ve bet his next year’s profits that she hadn’t expected him to walk when she’d tried that shit. “Kian, Kian, Kian.”

He locked the door behind him. This bathroom was much larger than the one in Samara’s previous apartment. The moment they’d started their liaisons, Samara had decided she needed a bigger place. That should’ve been his first clue to start running – but what was there to say – Samara had a good pussy and knew how to work it for a man’s pleasure. At that time he’d been so obsessed with her brand of sex that he’d even helped her out with the rent.

The tiled floor was icy beneath his feet as he stepped into the shower. He turned on the faucet and closed his eyes, letting the warm water wash over him. His mind immediately conjured up an image of his fantasy woman. He could see her supple back, tiny waist and luscious apple bottom. His cock hardened as he imagined what it would feel like to touch his mystery woman’s caramel skin; what it would feel like to trace a finger down her spine to her ass and beyond and turn her on just as much as she was turning him on. To think he didn’t even know her name.

He slipped his hand down his body and began to slowly stroke his dick.

“Kian. Kian.” Samara’s incessant knocking interrupted his fantasy. “I’m sorry, baby. I didn’t mean to make you angry.”

“Gimme a minute.” He sighed as he looked down at his dick – still hard as steel. It would just have to wait. He quickly dried himself off then exited the bathroom with a towel around his waist.

Samara was standing by the door still naked. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay.” He dropped the towel, oiled up and then put on his clothes as Samara looked on silently. Fully dressed, he took the towel and wrapped it around her. He tugged her to the bed then sat down beside her. After taking a deep breath, he plunged in, “Samara, I think we should stop seeing each other.”

Her eyes widened in shock. “Excuse me?”

“I don’t want to hurt you,” Kian said as he stroked her hand. “You’re obviously looking for more than what I’m offering right now and I think it’s time you started looking for a man who can give you-”

“Excuse me?” This time her voice was laced with more anger than shock. She snatched her hand out of his and stood up.

Sensing an impending storm, Kian also stood up already inching for the door as he continued, “We can still be friends but-”

“Are you kidding me? Are you fucking kidding me?” she yelled, hot anger glinting in the depths of her eyes. “Just friends? Do you know how much I’ve invested in this fucking relationship? You think you can tell me to be just friends with you aft…”

The rest of her diatribe was lost as she snatched a lamp from the bedside table and hurled it at his head. Only quick reflexes and the fact that he was already close to the door saved him from a concussion. The lamp shattered by his feet in a loud hail of glass and metal. Not waiting to see if anymore missiles were headed his way, he rushed out of the bedroom.

“You think I’m not good enough for you? I’m Samara Fucking Daniels. I am better than good…” her irate yells followed him as he made his hasty escape. It was only when he was standing out in the building’s hallway that he realized he’d forgotten his shoes and car keys in her apartment. He thought of going back in but reconsidered when he heard a sickening crash as something shattered against the door. No way!

Barefooted he walked towards the elevators and pressed the down button. When the doors slid open, there was an older couple inside. They gave him a head to toe once over as he entered, their eyes lingering on his bare feet. Neither said anything. Retrieving his phone from his pant pocket, he dialed.

Si!” Raphael Lopez-Cavos, his best friend and sometimes business nemesis answered on the second ring.

“We still meeting up for that drink?” Kian asked without preamble.

“Si, but I need a couple of minutes.”

“Actually, you’ll have to pick me up.” Trying to figure out how to explain what’d happened with Samara, Kian threw a look at the couple standing behind him. While the woman’s gaze was curious, the man’s eyebrows were raised as if he knew exactly what Kian had been up to. “Um…I have a situation.”

“A situation?”

“Are you picking me up or not?” he snapped.

“So rude. Americans.” Rafe sucked his teeth. “Where are you?”

Kian gave him the directions before ending the call. In a few minutes, Rafe’s limousine pulled up outside the building. Acting like a shoeless Kian was an everyday occurrence; the chauffeur opened the door for him. Rafe on the other hand wasn’t as circumspect. The moment he saw Kian, he erupted into bellyfuls of laughter.

‘It’s not that funny.” Kian informed his friend with a serious face.

‘It…it is.” Rafe chuckled. “Dios. This is what? The third time this is happening?”

It was. “Shut up and get me to a shoe shop.” Kian retorted grouchily.

Kian and Rafe had been competitors right from the day they’d met at their first business class. To Kian, Rafe was nothing but a snooty Spanish heir who was just going to sail through college courtesy of his parents money while to Rafe, Kian was the scholarship thug who was either going to get shot or arrested before he finished college. It’d only taken a few debates to realize just how wrong they were about each other. A strong friendship had grown out of it and so far lasted for over a decade.

“If you’re not going to marry them why don’t you just try one night stands?” Rafe asked, unfazed by Kian’s mood. Because even though Kian wasn’t ready for a commitment he’d never been much of a sampler. He liked having a steady woman – just not forever.

Rafe continued to rib him about his love life all through the ride. As a happily married man, he seemed to think that he was an expert on relationships or something. Kian wasn’t buying it. Rafe hadn’t had the smoothest ride so far with his wife, Dahlia.

Once they’d gotten Kian a new pair of shoes, they drove to Nox for the promised drink. The atmosphere at Nox was not particularly different from any other day. New York’s A-list celebrities and rich milled around the club to the sound of soft contemporary music playing in the background.

“How many people did you piss off today?” Kian murmured drily once they were seated at their corner.

“A couple of thousand, maybe ten thousand.” Rafe shrugged, making it seem like his taking over one of the largest football teams in the city was nothing. The Firebacks was more than something.

“Someone’s gon’ shank you one of these says, you know,” Kian warned.

“They can certainly try,” Rafe offered drily.

Rafe didn’t have a background in sports as most of his family business was in imports and exports. Therefore, it wasn’t a surprise that Firebacks fans hadn’t been happy with the change of ownership. Although Kian was also a die-hard fan, he knew Rafe well enough not to be worried. Rafe was like him – he didn’t like losing. By the end of the next season, the Firebacks would probably be right at the top of the league table.

Reaching for his scotch, Rafe added, “Besides you’ll all have more to hate me for in a couple of days when I start firing some players.”

Kian, who’d been on the verge of tilting his own glass against his lips, paused in his actions. “Hold up. Hold up. You’re firing players?”

“Yup! Polo Nelson will be the first to go,” Rafe drawled. Kian almost dropped the glass.

“Are you crazy?” He didn’t even bother hiding his shock. His movements precise, he put the glass on the table between them before he explained, “Polo Nelson’s the best linebacker we’ve got. Last season alone he racked up more than one hundred and thirty tackles and ten defended passes. You can’t let him go. That’s business suicide.”

“I’m not denying he’s a good player. But have you seen the catastrophe he calls his personal life?”Rafe asked. “Dahlia says if I don’t fire him-”

“What? This is about your wife?” Kian interrupted him. He waggled his finger at Rafe as he said, “This is why I told you never to get married. Now she’s got you pussy whipped.”

“True.” Rafe smiled, his gaze glazing over as if he was recalling something before he shook his head. “In any case I agree with her. I don’t want Nelson’s image attached to mine.”

“C’mon! ‘Cause of that little incident?”

Rafe offered Kian a mocking smile. “Harper, he faked a DNA test so that he could pawn his son off on a teammate. Then he shot the same player’s wife. Little incident?”

“The press blew that whole thing out of proportion,” Kian insisted. He’d been a victim of the press’s sensationalism one or two times so he’d learnt not to believe anything they said. “If it was so big why didn’t Lucky Ford level charges against him?”

Rafe shrugged. “Don’t know. But I don’t like his image. I already have enough problems with the fans without having such a controversial player on the pitch.”

His mind stirring, Kian contemplated the brown liquid in his glass. The Firebacks couldn’t afford to lose Nelson if they wanted to have a chance next season. He had to do something. His eyes meeting Rafe’s, he asked, “What if I can change his image?”

“Not even God can make him look good right now.” Rafe shook his head. A flare of amusement lit his eyes as he observed Kian. “Intrigued by the possibility of having a real human to play with again, are we, Harper?”

Though most of his work these days involved negotiating licenses and equity, Kian missed the good old days of public relations and branding. His lips widened into a smile as he said, “I propose a bet.”

Rafe’s laughter rang out, muted only by the music flowing around them. “Okay, I’ll bite. What are you offering?”

“One million dollars to a charity of your choice if I can’t make Nelson New York’s leading man within one month,” Kian offered. “If I can, you give a million to a charity of my choice and Polo gets a three-year contract.”

Rafe gave an exaggerated sigh, pretending as if he didn’t want to do it, before he said, “Okay, we have a deal.”

“I hope you’ve got your million ready,” Kian taunted.

“I hope you’ve got your million ready,” Rafe retorted.

Kian smiled. He never placed a bet unless he was sure he was going to win. Raphael was way over his head with this one.

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Chapter 2


“O.M.G is not a word,” Tasha insisted.

“But Mrs. Cameron said that it is,” Asia countered. Putting the last nail on the coffin, she added, “and she’s a teacher.”

Mrs. Cameron was old enough to know better so Tasha assumed there must’ve been weed involved. Arching an eyebrow, she said, “Young lady, you’ll need to put up something better than O.M.G.”

Asia stared at the scrabble board on the birch-wood breakfast tray which lay on her lap as she strategized her next word. She stared at the letters in front of her, then at the scrabble board, then back at her tiles. Her face broke into a wide grin before she started to arrange the tiles on the green board. LMAO.

“Asia!”

“What?” Asia’s eyes widened as she tried her best to look innocent but failed spectacularly. She burst into little giggles as she said, “It’s a word.”

“Are they teaching you English in a jungle?” Tasha’s brow furrowed as she faked sternness but pretty soon she too was chuckling with her daughter. Asia’s laughter was like soothing balm to her heart. It was a wonder that the little girl could even laugh right now when she was lying in a hospital bed, hooked up to a dialysis machine with a large needle in her arm.

Tasha didn’t know how her baby could be so brave. Asia had grown so used to the Monday, Wednesday and Friday evening hospital visits that these days she didn’t even cry. But Tasha wasn’t used to it! What mother could ever get used to the helplessness that came with the knowledge that there was nothing she could do to ease her child’s pain?

On the outside she kept a brave face. She smiled with the doctors and nurses and kept Asia’s company with games and stories while a machine repaired her daughter’s damaged body. But inside sadness was her constant companion. Sometimes the sadness was so overwhelming she swore just taking one more breath would break her.

“Mama, your turn.” Asia jerked her out of her thoughts.

Tasha scanned the board versus the tiles she still had. She was just about to put up her own word when she heard someone clearing their throat behind her. When she turned it was to find the hospital’s pediatrician, Dr. Katie Thorpe.

Dr. Thorpe was one of those petite blonde perky types with a permanent smile on her face and positive quotes for everyone. But more than just adding positivity to this situation, she’d also been a great help. After the whole Lucky saga, Polo had insisted that Tasha move Asia’s dialysis sessions from Chesley Memorial where Lucky’s wife and her best-friend Zain was a doctor. Fortunately, Dr. Thorpe had found them a place at Nightingales Hospital where she was the Head of Pediatrics.

Dr. Thorpe pulled Tasha into to the hallway, leaving Asia to chat with Gil, a sixty year-old man who usually came for his own dialysis on the same days they did. Once they were outside, the doctor’s smile dropped and it was replaced by a worried look.

“Have you talked to Polo?” she asked. “I know Asia looks well right now but you never know what could happen in the next few months. We need to plan a date for the transplant.”

“I’ll talk to him tonight. You know, with the football season about to start, he doesn’t want to be benched for the operation.” Tasha felt stupid even making the lame excuse but she couldn’t tell Dr. Thorpe the real reason why Polo was in no hurry to give his own a daughter a kidney. She asked, “Is there any possibility for a kidney from the transplant list?”

“I can’t promise anything.” Dr. Thorpe shook her head. “With Asia’s blood type it’s going to be hard to find a deceased donor. Polo is her best option.”

“I’ll talk to him tonight,” Tasha repeated. She would’ve given anything to save Asia but she wasn’t a viable donor. Polo was and he was using as his personal bargaining chip to keep Tasha from leaving him. She didn’t even understand how he could sleep at night knowing that he was risking their daughter’s life like that. What kind of monster did that?

Four hours later, Tasha carried Asia to the car. The treatment often left her fatigued and by the time Tasha belted her in the passenger seat, she was already asleep.

As Tasha drove home, her thoughts were consumed with strategies of how she was going to approach Polo. He rarely came home before midnight so she would have some time to put Asia to bed and prepare a script. By the time she drove through the gates of their mansion it was close to nine p.m. The moment she saw Polo’s truck in the driveway, her heart sank. He was already home.

She parked the car then carried the still sleeping Asia towards the house. Their home was a large two-storey mansion in grey and brown stone set on a large well maintained estate. Tasha often wondered why Polo had purchased such a big house. It was just the three of them. With his aversion to servants, the eight bedrooms just seemed like wasted space. By day, the row of large glass windows on the upper floor reflected the sun-light. However, right now, with all the lights off except for the one in the den, it seemed like the spooky large house all the kids in the neighborhood were warned about.

The moment Tasha opened the door, a chill enveloped her. Anyone who’d ever feared someone would know that chill. It started deep in her belly and seeped into the bones, flesh and limbs until even if they were in the middle of a desert she’d start to shiver. Tasha wrapped her arms tighter around Asia’s body.

“What the fuck do you mean he wants to see me on Monday?” Polo’s voice carried from the den. “I’ve got plans.”

Assuming that he was on the phone and hadn’t heard the front door open, Tasha crept towards the stairs.”

“Tasha!” he shouted, startling Tasha into almost dropping Asia, “Get in here!”

Deep breaths, Tasha! Deep breaths! She sucked in a large gulp of air, fortifying herself before she walked into the den. Polo was seated on the armchair that had a side-view of the door, his legs atop the mahogany coffee table. The car race on their large plasma screen was on mute, while he yelled into the phone, “Bullshit. They can fire me. You think I care?”

He looked up when Tasha came through the door but continued to bellow, “I’m the best fucking linebacker the NFL has seen in a decade. If they fire me, I’ll be in a new team by midnight.”

Asia stirred restlessly in Tasha’s arms, probably because of the yelling, but didn’t awaken. Tasha’s arms were aching because Asia was no light weight. Polo stared at her as he listened to the person on the other end of the line, almost daring her to put Asia on the couch without his permission. She didn’t. As much as it pained her to show him obedience, the beatings were more agonizing.

“Fine. I’ll go but if this Harper guy is full of bullshit I’m walking out.” Ending the call and balancing the cell-phone in his palm, he turned to Tasha. “Where have you been?”

The spurt of anger was almost immediate. What kind of stupid question is that? If he was any kind of father he’d know where she and Asia had been. Tasha kept silent.

“Where the fuck have you been?” he yelled accompanying his words by throwing his phone towards them. Tasha stepped aside just in time for the phone to harmlessly crash by her foot and shutter into different pieces.

“We were at Asia’s dialysis.”

‘It’s nine fucking o’clock. I’ve been waiting for dinner for the last two hours. Are you fucking someone behind my back?”

Tasha was grateful that Asia’s was such a deep sleeper. Her father’s profanity hadn’t awakened her and hopefully it would stay that way. Tasha replied, “Asia’s dialysis takes four hours and we were there since five thirty when she left school. I left some dinner for you in the microwave.”

The anger in Polo’s face quickly drained away to be replaced by a sheepish expression. “Oh, Okay!”

“Can I take Asia to bed?”

“Take her up then come back,” he ordered lightly.

Once she was done settling Asia for the night, Tasha came back to the den. The TV was no longer on mute so the revving sound of cars racing filled the room.

“Come here,” Polo called out when he saw her, patting his lap.

Ignoring the protests of her mind, Tasha walked towards him and sat gingerly across his thighs. She flinched when his hands spun her waist and his breath brushed her cheek.

“I’m sorry I yelled at you,” he apologized as he turned her head to face him. His brown eyes met hers, the anger completely drained out of them and replaced by tenderness. Once upon a time, his tender hold would’ve been enough to thaw her anger out. Rubbing his thumb over her lower lip, he added, “You know I wouldn’t have been so angry if you’d just told me where you were going.”

Actually she’d left a message on his voicemail telling him where they were and if he’d bothered to check the GPS on her car, he’d know where she was. To appease him, she said, “I’m sorry.”

“You’re forgiven.” He drew closer, his lips meeting hers. Though every fiber in her being protested violently against it, she responded to his kiss. She opened her mouth and let his tongue tangle with hers. Hopefully, she could keep him in this part of the cycle long enough to get what she needed for Asia.

“Here,” Polo said as he separated their lips. He rose up slightly before pulling his wallet from his back pocket. From it he extracted his credit card and handed it to her. “Get yourself something pretty tomorrow, okay?”

“Thank you.” she accepted the card with a smile. She knew exactly where she was going to spend the money. The empty words came out of her lips so automatically she didn’t even have to think about it. “I love you so much, baby.”

“I love you too.” Their lips met again. His breath feathering slightly over her mouth s, he added, “I’d go crazy without you.”

You’re already crazy with me. Tasha cupped his cheeks in her palms, her eyes tracing over his features; brown eyes, thick lips and his evening stubble. When he was feeling like this, he was always at his handsomest. It was almost easy to believe that he loved her – and maybe he did in this very moment. Years ago it’d been so easy for her to fall back into his deceptive love but time had taught her that she was only fooling herself. Polo was like the wheel of life. The one thing you could count on was that he was going to change.

“Honey, I need to ask you a favor,” he said as he kissed the crook of her neck. “You know how the team has been harassing over this Lucky bullshit. Well now they want us to see some PR guy to juice up my public image.”

“I don’t mind doing anything for you that will help your career,” she lied.

“I know I can always count on you.”

“You can.” She stroked his chin as she added, “Baby, I need a favor from you too.”

“Anything for you.”

“I talked to Dr. Thorpe today…” Tasha started. The moment she mentioned Katie’s name, Polo’s eyes narrowed and his mouth straightened into a straight line. She rushed on, “…do you think you could go see her sometime?”

“What does that bitch want now?” Polo abruptly pushed Tasha off his lap. She almost fell to the carpeted floor but saved herself by holding onto the coffee table.

Sensing the change in temperature from tender to raging anger, Tasha righted herself then took a step back from his armchair. The credit card dug into her palm, almost cutting into her flesh with the force she gripped it with. Determined to still try, she said, “She wants to know when you’ll be ready for the transplant.”

“Get off my case with that fucking transplant,” he practically growled. “I’ll do it when I feel like.”

Tasha tried again. “She thinks Asia might worsen.”

Anger radiating off of him in thick waves, he stood up. Tasha took another step back in automatic caution but the back of her legs hit the couch and she fell on it. Polo inched closer, standing above her. It was hard not to be intimidated by his substantive height, weight and the anger in his voice as he barked, “You think I’m stupid? You think I don’t know what game you’re playing?”

“I’m not playing at anything, baby.” Tasha struggled not to show the fear she felt. She knew that her trembling or stuttering would only egg him on.

He yanked her to her feet by her arm, his fingers digging painfully into her skin. “You want to leave me. Don’t you?? The moment you get my kidney you’re gon’ run. Aren’t you??”

“No. That’s not it,” Tasha insisted. Hoping to prick his father’s instinct, she added, “I just want our daughter to be okay.”

“You’re never going to leave me. I’ll kill you first,” Polo said unmoved by her words. He abruptly let her go and she fell back to the couch. “Tell your doctor that I’ll come in when I’m fucking good and ready.”

She watched him stride out of the den, his back straight with anger. Both relief and disappointment flooded her; relief because today’s encounter had only earned her a warning, and disappointment because she would’ve gladly taken a beating if Polo had agreed to finally go to the hospital.

He was right about one thing.

The moment she had his kidney, she was going to run so far away not even the CIA would find her. It was too bad she couldn’t kill him for it – he’d refused to register as a donor – because she would’ve done it in heartbeat. He’d brought her to that point.

* * * * *

“MR. HARPER,” LAUREN, his PA’s voice sounded over the intercom, “Mr. Nelson and his wife are here to see you.”

“Take them to the boardroom,” Kian returned. “I’ll be there in a minute.”

He wrapped up the Homeland Security contract he was looking at. The due diligence and negotiation phases for this client’s defense products were over but Kian was taking his time with the contract; going through it with a fine tooth comb, clause by clause. His clients expected the best deal and he always made sure they weren’t screwed over – even by the government.

He exited his office just in time to catch sight of Lauren leading the couple to the boardroom on the far end of the hall. From the back Polo was exactly what Kian expected of a linebacker, tall and large. However, it was his wife that caught Kian’s attention.

The first thing he noticed was her ass. Fuck! Kian was an ass man and this woman’s met all the right criteria; round, full and sexy as hell. The grey pencil skirt she was wearing did nothing to hide it. It wrapped around her tiny waist lovingly, smoothed over her ass sexily and stopped at her knees. He gave himself a mental slap struggling to shut down the immediate desire. As much as possible he kept his hands off other men’s women. But damn! That ass…

He hastened his steps, closing the distance between him and the boardroom. They were pulling up chairs just as Kian walked in. Polo’s wife was the first to notice his arrival and Kian almost took a step back. She was even more beautiful than he’d expected. Her hair was pulled back into a soft chignon that left her face bare to his gaze; perfectly arched eyebrows, brown eyes to match her smooth toffee brown skin, thick lips…he almost groaned aloud when she licked her bottom lip.

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