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Chapter 1


It was a good day for bad things to happen.

The air reeked of looming rain. Weak sunlight peeked between heavy clouds to lick at the earth, but had no success in warming it. Several people hurried across the parking lot with barely a glance, smile or acknowledgement to each other; all of them in a hurry get home before the downpour began.

Unconcerned by the threat of getting drenched by the rain, Erica Young unloaded two bags of groceries from her mint green coupe. With a bang, she closed the trunk and trudged towards the five-storey apartment.

Quin, her fiancé, would probably get caught in the rain and five p.m. traffic. But she was sure her presence here would make up for it. They’d been apart for almost a week. She couldn’t wait to see him again; to touch him, to hold him and to tell him how much she appreciated his patience with her these last couple of months.

Erica took the flight of stairs one-by-one lugging the heavy bags. When she was shopping, she’d been thinking of Quin. How he would love it if she made him his favorite dish, baeckeoffe. Not how many ingredients she’d have to carry up the stairs. But he was well worth the aching arms and heavy breathing.

“Hey Erica.” Sabrina, Quin’s next-door neighbor, appeared at the landing. The fifteen year-old was dressed in teenage regulation – preppy t-shirt, short shorts and sneakers. Her face broke into a wide grin. “You’re back early.”

“Hi, lady,” Erica gushed through heavy breaths as she returned the smile – or tried to. Usually she came back from her out-of-town trips on Monday. However, she’d missed Quin so much that she’d decided to play hooky this weekend, leaving her partner to handle the last leg of their Savannah event.

“Did you get me any shoes?” Sabrina asked as she came down the stairs and grabbed one of Erica’s grocery bags.

“Girl, please.” Erica released the bag with a sigh of relief. “You want your mama to kill me?”

“Please,” Sabrina pleaded as they walked up the last flight of stairs. “I’ll hide them.”

Erica laughed “No.”

There was a reason she’d named her business Strippers & Heels. The shoes she sold were not for the faint of heart or the young.

“Are you and Rachel still not talking?” she asked Sabrina.

Easily distracted, the teenager launched into a summary of the state of her feud with her best-friend. It had something to do with a boy who both Sabrina and Rachel liked. Apparently the boy liked, Sabrina, not Rachel. Since Rachel had seen him first, she’d called dibs which didn’t sit well with Sabrina who thought she might like him. Complicated!

“But she’s your best friend, and he’s just a boy,” Erica said as they stopped in front of Quin’s apartment. “Do you want to lose Rachel over him?”

“You haven’t seen Sting.” Sabrina’s eyes glazed. “He is so buff and sooo cute.”

“But you’ve got cuter boys in your class.” Erica dug into her purse to extract her keys. “Didn’t you tell me you liked Jamal?”

Sabrina’s “I guess,” came with a heavy sigh and a roll of her eyes. Her voice rose to a high whine as she added, “But Rachel deserves it. She didn’t even invite me to her birthday party.”

“She didn’t?” The keys jingled as Erica pressed them to the lock.

“No.” Sabrina paused for effect before adding, “And she invited Josie.”

“No, she didn’t.” Erica shot Sabrina a faux-shocked look before turning the key. Josie was Sabrina’s other enemy; something involving cheerleading – it was so hard to keep up with Sabrina’s feuds.

“Mm hm.” Sabrina rolled her neck. “Now you see why I have to date Sting.”

“This will backfire on you,” Erica said as she pushed the door to Quin’s apartment open. “Why don’t you just-”

Her words came to a screeching halt. Her heart paused in its beating and the shopping bag fell from her limp hand as all her senses focused on the scene playing out before her.

The naked lovers were hard at work.

Quinton Morrow’s pale skin glistened with sweat and the heavy muscles of his shoulders and back rippled with the strength of his effort as he pumped rhythmically into the woman below him.

“Quin, Quin, Quin,” the woman moaned throatily as she gyrated energetically in time to his strokes. In her pleasure she looked little like meek Brooklyn Davis who’d pleaded with Erica to give her a job. She looked nothing like the woman who’d been so grateful Erica had offered her a place to stay rent-free, she’d cried.

But there was no denying that it was she.

“Quin, Quin, Quin,” she moaned.

His response was a growl and a quickening of his pumping.

For a moment Erica was sure she was hallucinating. This was not happening. There was no way this was happening. She must’ve stepped into another dimension where the impossible was possible.

But there was no denying the truth her eyes were telling her brain.

This was happening.

Erica’s heart shattered into a million broken pieces as she watched Quin and Brooklyn betray her. The moaning and groaning sounds of their betrayal had masked her entrance, and neither of them even noticed that she was standing at the door. It was Sabrina’s sharp gasp that yanked Erica from her shocked state and alerted the two lovers of their presence.

“Erica,” Brooklyn called out in shock just as Erica hustled Sabrina out the door. Unable to think of anything but her pain, Erica left the teenager at the landing and rushed down the stairs.

Her heels clicked on the hard concrete as blind shock carried her footsteps further from her hell. The moment she stepped out of the building, sadness overtook the shock and tears slipped down her face. The weather seemed to react to her pain because even the frail sunlight was no longer visible. Only angry clouds brooded over the sky.

Erica reached the car only to discover that her hands were empty. She’d dropped her car keys with the shopping bag.

 

* * * * *

NO. NO.

Any pleasure Brooklyn had felt before Erica’s interruption, splattered into distress as she pushed Quin off her and grabbed her dress. No. No. No. Erica was supposed to be in Savannah until tomorrow hosting one of their parties. Not here.

She wasn’t supposed to be here.

She wasn’t supposed to find out like this.

Brooklyn had planned it all out. She would wait until Erica came back home, sit her down and tell her everything. She was going to tell her it wasn’t a choice for she and Quin to fall in love. It had just happened. What Erica and Quin had was just lust, but Brooklyn and Quin were in love – destined for each other. Erica would be a little sad at first but eventually, she’d understand.

It wasn’t supposed to happen like this.

“Erica,” Brooklyn shouted desperately as she emerged from the building. Erica was at the parking lot yanking at her car door, but it wouldn’t budge. It gave Brooklyn the time to reach her. Her voice tight with desperation, Brooklyn pleaded, “Erica, please let me expl-.”

The punch caught her by surprise.

Sharp pain blinded Brooklyn as Erica’s fist connected with her cheek. She staggered back with the force of the blow and fell to the ground. Her ass slammed into the hard concrete. Pain shot up her spine in excruciating waves, but her pain was nothing compared to the hurt in Erica’s watery eyes as she stared down at her.

“You were my friend.” There was so much venom in Erica’s words that Brooklyn’s heart constricted in fear and she flinched as if struck. Erica wasn’t supposed to be this angry. If only she’d just calm down and listen.

“I’m st.. I’m still your friend,” Brooklyn stumbled over her words as she sat up on her hunches and grabbed Erica’s dress. “P…Please, Erica. Just listen.”

Disgust marred Erica’s features as she slapped the younger woman’s hands away from her dress. “Don’t touch me.” Skirting around Brooklyn, she made for the gates.

Brooklyn hobbled to her feet intent on following her but pain shot through her ankle and she crumpled back to the ground. Helplessly, she watched Erica rush past the gates, make a right turn and disappear around the corner.

That’s when it began to rain. Fat, sad rain drops slid down her tear-stained cheeks, soaking into her skin and plastering her dress to her body.

It’s wasn’t supposed to happen like this.

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Chapter 2


“No.” Reggie Coleman’s voice brooked no argument.

 “Look. I promise it will be for…let’s say one hour,” his friend, Nico Vasquez coaxed.

“No.”

“C’mon, man.”

“Absolutely not.” Reggie set his socked feet on the coffee table as his eyes followed the football game playing on his TV. “Are you trying to get me killed?”

“Kendra won’t kill you,” Nico insisted. “She won’t even know.”

“She always finds out-” Reggie took a sip of his ginger ale. “-and even when she doesn’t, you tell her. Snitch.”

Nico’s loud gasp filtered over the phone line. His voice took on a mournful note as he said, “That is hurtful to my feelings.”

Reggie laughed. “I’m not going out with you on a Sunday night.”

“Do you know how long it has been since your sister went out of town?” Nico didn’t wait for Reggie to answer. “So long I don’t even remember it. I need to take advantage. Help a brother out.”

“First, don’t you have like the four a.m. shift at the station tomorrow? How you gon’ chase down criminals with a hangover?” Reggie’s words hitched as he bent forward to set the now empty bottle on the coffee table. “Second the last time I went out with you I ended up in Tijuana with a tattoo I’m still testing for Syphilis. I am not doing that again. And finally, you are not a brother.”

“Oh, so brother is a black thing now?”

“Yup.”

“Black people!” Nico scoffed. Adding pep to his voice, he shifted gears. “I’ll be waiting for you at Sal’s. Wear something warm.”

“Did you not hear me?”

“You better get your ass here in an hour,” Nico threatened, “or I’m sending a patrol for you.”

“I am so scared.”

“Fuck you.”

“Back at ya.” Reggie chuckled as Nico cut the call on him. He would’ve capitulated to Nico’s demands but he could still hear the soft patter of rain drops falling outside. Nico may’ve been his friend, but he didn’t love him that much.

Pausing the game, he slid his feet to the ground and stood. His footsteps soundless, he crossed the living room and headed to the kitchen. His two-bedroom apartment was large by single-man. But when you had a little sister who had a habit of running away from home whenever the feeling struck her, you had to do what you had to do.

He’d just picked a can of pop from the fridge when the doorbell sounded. Setting the can on the counter, he made for the front door. He peeked through the peep-hole, only to find her standing at his doorstep. Quickly, he unsnapped the locks and pulled open the door.

“Erica?” Reggie’s voice reflected his shock as he took her in. By the hair clinging to her skull and face, and the dress plastered to her body, it was obvious she’d gotten caught in the rain. But it was her eyes that caused a painful constriction of his heart. They were a heart-breaking red and in place of the smile that usually lit them was deep sadness. “What’s wrong?”

“Umm. I was just passing and…um,” she stumbled over her words as her gaze dropped to her sodden shoes. Her hands fluttered nervously as she said, “I…I…I’m sorry I’ll just go.”

He caught her hand before she could turn on her heels. “Come in. Please.” He didn’t know what was going on but there was no way he was letting her leave. Her fingers were icy cold as he tugged her into the house. Once she was in, he closed the door behind her.

Erica stopped at the threshold staring askance at his living room. He barely caught her words when she whispered. “I’ll mess up your carpet.”

“It’s okay,” he returned. He could clean it up. “And I can get you something to change into.”

She nodded. Bending, she slipped off her shoes before letting him guide her by hand to his bedroom. The curiosity was killing him. What was she doing here? The apartment she, Kendra and Brooklyn shared was a good distance from his so how had she gotten here? But his instincts told him it would be a bad idea to press for any answers right now.

She stood watching while he rummaged through his closet. Seconds later he came up with a t-shirt and basketball shorts and handed them to her.

“Thanks.” Her voice was soft it would’ve disappeared if there was any wind to carry it. She made her way to the bathroom and closed the door behind her. Thirty minutes later, she still hadn’t come out of the bathroom and Reggie started to worry.

He rapped on the door. “Erica, are you okay?”

No answer.

“Erica?” he tried again. No answer.

The doorknob turned easily in his hands.

She was seated on the floor by the bathtub, in nothing but her bra and panties. In one hand she held a towel, but she wasn’t using it. She was just staring into space. She turned her head when he entered the bathroom. Even in distress Erica was a beautiful woman. The soft overhead light lingered on her wide brown eyes, nose and thick lips. It touched her honey-toned skin, licked at her full breasts cupped by the flame red bra, to kiss her thick thighs.

Reggie’s cock jerked at the sight.

Down, boy. He’d successfully hidden his desire for her for this long. He wasn’t about to out himself. Especially not now! Shifting his gaze to her face, he stepped closer and gently tugged the towel from her hand. “Let me help you with that.”

He crouched to her level, toweling her hair then the bits of skin he could get to, intent on keeping the process as clinical as possible. However, it was hard to tame his errant eyes; eyes that kept slipping back to her body for another tempting glance. He picked the t-shirt off the floor and then slipped it over her head. Unresisting, Erica accepted his help and slipped her arms through the t-shirt’s armholes. When Reggie bent to pick the basketball shorts, she stopped him with fingers digging into his forearm. “They’re too big.”

“Oh.” Reggie straightened to upright position. Racking his mind for a solution, he said, “Maybe Ailea left something in the guestroom that you can fit into.”

Considering how curvy Erica was, the chances of finding something that fit both her and Ailea was pretty low. But it wouldn’t hurt to check.

He’d just turned on his heels when Erica’s soft voice stopped him in his tracks. “I found Quin fucking Brooklyn.”

Her voice was so hollow, and the statement so matter of fact that it took Reggie a while to get it. But when comprehension of what she’d said hit him, it rendered him speechless. Brooklyn?

Quin maybe! Reggie could see him doing something dirty like that. But Brooklyn? She was like Erica’s second shadow and unequivocally devoted to her. Reggie didn’t even know what to say, so he settled for, “I’m sorry.”

He sat down on the hard floor next to her and snaked his arm around her waist. Erica turned slightly, wrapped both her arms around his torso and buried her head in the crook of his shoulder. On instinct, he folded her against his body and dragged her to his lap.

It felt good to hold her. She was all warm, sexy curves and clean, feminine scents that teased his senses. Usually their relationship was arms-length, but he’d been craving for something more for the better part of two years. But this was not the way he wanted her in his arms.

He only realized she was crying when he felt the cold teardrops wet his skin. Holding her tight, he soothed his palms over her back and arms in smooth circles as she cried. It could’ve been a minute, it could’ve been an hour, but eventually the tears dried up.

“I’m sorry,” she apologized as she swiped her palm over her cheek. “I got your t-shirt wet.”

“Don’t worry about it.”

“It’s just…” Her words drifted off and her hand fluttered without direction before dropping to her thigh. She set her head back on his shoulder.

“I know,” Reggie responded simply as he tucked a strand of her hair behind her ear.

For a while they sat in the large bathroom neither speaking. That changed when she shifted in his lap reminding him she was in nothing but a t-shirt and underwear. Despite his best intentions he was still a man – a man who wanted her. Afraid that if they stayed with her on his lap any longer his dick would go rogue, he said, “Why don’t I set up the guestroom for you?”

“Okay.” She shifted off his lap and then stood. Reggie tried to avoid looking at her as he matched her movement but it was impossible. Unbidden, his gaze catalogued her delectable form.

He’d seen many women wear dresses shorter than that t-shirt but somehow the thigh-length fabric seemed more erotic on Erica. It fell below her ample ass, molding over her firm flesh lovingly as she walked out of the bathroom. Oh, how he itched to touch.

Shit. He ran his palm over his face as he struggled to reign in his rampant libido. He was supposed to be consoling her, not having lecherous thoughts about her luscious body. Taking a moment to compose himself, he gulped in some calming breath before following her.

He found her in the guestroom waiting for him. They worked in silence spreading the bed. When they were done, she climbed beneath the grey covers.

“Good night,” he said.

Flicking off the lights, he opened the door, but her husky voice stopped him before he could leave. “Don’t go.”

Reggie stood at the doorway trying to process her words. Did she want him to sleep in the bed with her? If he did, they’d be crossing the unsaid but understood ‘no-touch’ boundary they’d always had. Considering how much he was lusting over her, it was a bad idea, a really bad idea.

But then she broke his resistance with a soft plea, “Please, Reggie.”

That was it for him.

He closed the door and in the darkness made his way to the bed. The mattress dipped as he slipped underneath the covers with her. Erica shifted closer, buried her nose in his neck and threw an arm around his torso. Her indefinable flowery scent wafted between them, arousing Reggie’s senses. It didn’t help that her breast was pressed right up against the side of his body. In response his shaft thickened with desire. Shit.

“Thank you.” Her soft breath whispered over his skin.

“You’re welcome.” His arm snaked around her waist as he shifted in aroused discomfort. It would be hell sleeping in the same bed as her, but if that’s what she needed – that’s what he’d do.

 

* * * * *

 

ERICA WOKE UP in the middle of the night to find herself lying on top of a hard, unquestionably male body and with someone’s very large hands gripping her ass.

Quin.

 She curled into him, purring as she settled over his length. His dick lengthened and swelled beneath her. She shifted her lower body in response, grinding over its hard length. He groaned, a guttural rumble that reverberated in his chest and vibrated against hers, as his hands firmed over her ass. They molded and caressed her flesh.

“Ah,” she whimpered, her fingers digging into the firm muscled of his arms as he guided her to grind harder on his full length. With each upward and downward stroke, his tool grazed her aching clit. It stirred her senses and made her ache for him even more. She turned her head in search of his mouth. When she found him, she nibbled on his lower lip, begging entry. He conceded and his lips took hers masterfully.

The first meet of their tongues was intoxicating. He tasted different; of sleep, of masculinity, of something unique. The strength of his hands on her ass intensified with each streak of their tongues against each other, and her pussy moistened in response. She dragged her nipples against the hard planes of his chest and pressed her core harder against his cock.

His one hand slipped from her ass to slide smoothly between her legs. The moment he touched her clit over the fabric of her panties, sensations assailed her. Electric stings of desire zinged across her body, setting it aflame. Erica parted her legs further to give him more room to rub. When that wasn’t enough she rose to her knees. Straddling his thighs, she swayed to the sweet motion of his fingers inside her. His mouth swallowed her every moan even as he rubbed harder, faster.

She needed more.

She soothed her hand lower down his body, past his muscular chest to rest it on his stomach. His breath hitched as she traced the seam of his pants then slipped her hand underneath the soft cotton.

He was hard, hot and long.

He jerked upwards when she curved her palm completed around him. His body tensed as if waiting to see what she would do. His mouth hardened over hers the moment she started massaging his rod and his lips devoured her in frantic need with every stroke of her hand.

He pushed aside the gusset of her panties. Pleasure as he spread her wetness around her throbbing flesh. Desire as he pinched then soothed the sensitive nub. Lust as his finger licked its way downwards then pushed in.

Erica responded in kind. She drew a moan from him when she teased the spongy head. Another one when she spread the fluid dancing at his tip around his length with practiced strokes. A strangled grunt when she played with his balls, rolling them in her palm. He fingered her in unison to her stroking of his length and their tongues mimicked the actions of their hands.

The heat soared and consumed her body.

She couldn’t handle it anymore. Desperately, she shoved his pants lower down his body and guided his cock towards her pussy. A whimper tore out of her throat when she rubbed the head of him on her sensitive nub. They both groaned when she stroked him around and across her valley. He let her play with him, his hands molding her ass roughly as she coated his cock with her wetness.

Teased beyond reasonable thought, she guided him towards her cavern. She bore down and her pussy opened up to receive him…

He stiffened and the hands on her ass lifted her none-too-gently off him.

“No.”

That wasn’t Quin’s voice. Startled she went still and her eyes flew open. Shadowy darkness met her. Though she couldn’t quite make out the person staring back at her, she was one hundred percent sure he wasn’t Quin.

Quin was white.

“Not like this.” The stranger’s strangled voice cut into the darkness, startling Erica into action.

She scrambled away from him and landed in a puddle of limbs on the floor. The bedside lamp flickered on, bathing the room in soft orange light and illuminating the man seated atop the bed.

“Reggie?”

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Chapter 3


Reggie?

What the hell?

Shock and panic warring inside her, Erica stumbled to her feet, her gaze remained trained on Reggie who was tucking his still hard dick back into his sweatpants. The concern was palpable in his eyes as he asked, “Are you okay?”

Of course she wasn’t. They’d just been about to…oh God.

She liked to tell people Reggie was like her brother. After all, she considered Kendra the sister she’d never had. But he wasn’t… at least she didn’t feel like he was. Several times she’d caught herself checking him out and having fantasies that were not brotherly but she’d buried whatever illicit feelings there were beneath her love for Quin. Hers and Reggie’s interactions had remained above board – until now that is.

And she’d been the one to start it.

Her hand flew to her mouth. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to do it.”

“It’s okay. No harm, no foul.” His smile strained, he swung his legs to the foot of the bed and stood. “I’ll just go sleep in my room.”

Erica stepped aside to keep from touching him and sparking the already latent heat between them. His dick was still thickly outlined against the crotch of his navy sweatpants, a sign that despite his indifferent expression he was just as turned on as she was.

He stopped at the door, his gaze taking a slow tour down her body lingering over her swollen breasts and the tops of her thighs. In a thick voice he said, “Good night, Erica,” and left.

He was wrong. There was harm. Her whole body hummed, still craving Reggie’s touch. Her lips still ached to be against his. Her nipples were swollen and aching for his touch. Her pussy throbbed with need for him. If he was electricity, she was a live wire on the verge of bursting into flames because of him.

How had she ended up in the same bed with him?

 The memories came crushing in like a dam whose floodgates had opened. Her mind shuffled around the images of Quin and Brooklyn, laying out the pictures of their betrayal. The recollection was enough to dilute the residual desire thrumming in her veins and send a fresh stab of pain through her.

She walked to the bed and sat on the edge. Taking deep breaths, she reminded herself that Quin wasn’t worth any more of her tears. She was strong enough to survive this. However, despite her best attempts, tears slipped from her eyes as the pain of his betrayal consumed her.

Why?

 Why would he cheat on her? She’d thought they were so happy. What about the nightly calls, the I love yous, the I miss yous? For Pete’s sake he’d proposed to her. How could he hurt her like this? Her tears rolled down her cheeks in earnest, as the reality of what had happened set in. Erica crawled beneath the covers, curling into a tight ball of pain as her mind continued to toss around the past weeks with Quin. Her pain battled with reason trying to figure out the reasons that would’ve made Quin cheat on her – and with one of her friends too.

Was it something she’d done? Something she’d said. Was it because she wasn’t home as much as he wanted? Strippers and Heels was smack in the middle of an expansion and had been taking a good portion of her time. Was it because she wasn’t as slender as Brooklyn was? He was always asking her to lose some weight. Maybe it was because of her temper. She did have a short fuse. Was it because…

No. Anger took over where pain left off. This wasn’t her fault.

He was the one who’d cheated. Quin wasn’t the first boyfriend to cheat on her. The one before him had done the same, so had the one before that one. She’d thought that Quin was no different from them and given him a real run for his money. However, he’d been convincing and inch by inch, she’d fallen into his web. She should’ve listened to her instincts. Men were incapable of faithfulness

That however didn’t mean that Quin was going to go scot free.

Erica tore the covers away from her face, swiping a palm over her cheeks as she sat up. With her gaze, she searched the room for her phone, determined to call him and find out why the hell he’d done this. It was only when she came up empty that she remembered that she’d dropped it along with everything else when she’d rushed out of the apartment.

Her psyche conjured an image of Brooklyn trailing her and trying to apologize… apologize? Just the thought of that thing she’d once called a friend was enough to make Erica want to throw up.

 Apologize? After everything Erica had done for her, Brooklyn had betrayed her. She should’ve done more than punch her. She should’ve killed her.

How had she not spotted the subterfuge between the two? Erica wracked her brain trying to pinpoint any odd going ons that should’ve clued her in but nothing came to mind. She’d never suspected a thing. Did that mean that theirs was just a spur of the moment thing or that they were good at hiding? Did it even make a difference? Unable to go to sleep, Erica sat with her back against the headboard mulling over the twisted knot that her life had just tangled itself into.

 

* * * * *

 

EVEN BEFORE HIS phone alarm rang at five a.m., Reggie was awake. He was surprised he’d even managed the two hours of fitful sleep after what had happened with Erica. She’d crowded his thoughts; her sweet taste as they’d kissed, her body grinding against his, her tight pussy clasping his finger…

He pushed aside the covers, went to the bathroom to take care of his hygiene and changed into his running clothes. Shadows shrouded the hallway and there was no sound from the guest room. Assuming that Erica was still asleep, he locked the front door behind him before taking to the eerily quiet streets. Even the acceleration of his heart, the burning of his thighs and the rhythmic sound of his footfalls, as he pounded along the tarmac road, couldn’t quiet his errant thoughts. They circled over, savored and circled on the sensuous memory of her stroking his dick and the heat of her as she’d bore down on him.

 He still couldn’t believe that he hadn’t made love to her. For two whole years he’d wanted this woman and right when she’d been about to give him what he’d been craving, he’d stopped her. Even in throes of desire some part of his brain had been working overtime and guilt-tripping him. Erica would resent him if he took advantage of her while she was down. So he’d stopped her. But it’d been damn hard.

An hour later he wound up his run. The moment he pushed open the front door, the enticing scent of frying eggs welcomed him. His stomach responded with a pleased rumble and as if they had a mind of their own, his feet led the way to the kitchen.

Eric was standing by the cooker, holding a skillet as eggs sizzled in a pan atop the burner. Fresh juice rested in the blender while sliced bread sat on a plate by the counter. Despite Reggie’s hunger, his eyes only briefly lingered over the food before latching onto her.

She’d tamed her midnight-black hair into a high bun that left the long column of her neck exposed. It was obvious she’d laundered her dress because it was no longer plastered to her body but even then there was no hiding the woman underneath. The green fabric skimmed her back, cinched at her small waist and flared out at her hips whispering of the perfection beneath it. No doubt, Reggie was in severe lust with Erica.

But it wasn’t just that.

He had a lot to thank Erica for. He was the main provider in his family and catered for both his aunt and his younger sister, Ailea’s needs. Unwilling to add to that burden, Kendra had hidden how hard a time she was having finding a job after college. She’d fed him some cockamamie story about working for a start-up. He’d assumed she was telling the truth considering the apartment she, Erica and Brooklyn shared.

The only reason he’d even discovered that Erica had supported his sister for a full year was a slip from the tongue from Nico. By that time Kendra had already found a position as a claim’s adjuster in an insurance firm and didn’t need his help. Erica had never mentioned it but her looking out for his sister like that had cinched the deal for Reggie. Her generosity moved his feelings from an appreciation of her physical attributes into real interest.

However, he’d been forced to watch from afar. As clear as it was that Erica was a generous, caring woman, it was also clear that she was in love with Quinton Morrow. To say Reggie had envied the man would be an understatement. What’d Erica seen in Quin? Obviously the man was stupid if he could let a woman like her go.

“Morning, Erica,” Reggie called her attention. Startled she let go of the pan and it dropped to the linoleum with a ringing clang almost hitting her feet. Instantly he was at her side picking the pan from the floor.

“You scared me,” she gasped, her palm fluttering over her chest.

“Sorry.” Reggie set the pan back on the burner. With three long strides, he grabbed the long broom from behind the door so he could clean up the eggs sprinkled across the floor.

“Le’me.” Erica reached for the broom, her palm closing over the back of his hand. The shot of electric awareness was immediate as was the nervousness that sprung to her eyes. As if burned by touching him, she let go and stepped away from him.

 “Sorry.”

Aware that her edginess was a product of what’d happened last night and eager to just get the talk over and done with, Reggie met her eyes. “What happened last night doesn’t change our relationship.”

Erica’s gaze dropped. “It was my fault. I shouldn’t have-”

“It wasn’t your fault,” he cut in before she could apologize again. He wasn’t sorry about what had happened last night; just sorry that they couldn’t continue. “We were both asleep, shit happened. It changes nothing.”

She lifted her eyes, watching him with an unsettling silence, as if assessing the validity of his words. He offered a silent sigh of relief when she didn’t pursue the subject further. Instead she asked, “How was your run?”

“The usual.”

“Speaking of…” She wrinkled her nose and then teased, “How many showers does this apartment have?”

“Oh, below the belt, Miss Young.” He narrowed his eyes and shook his head in mock anger. “Below the belt.”

“I’m just saying.” With a soft smile, she reached for the broom. “Go shower. I’ll have breakfast ready by the time you’re done.”

By the time he exited his room, she’d set the table.

“You clean up good,” Erica complimented as her eyes ran appreciatively over his grey suit and light blue shirt.

Reggie’s ego preened as he took his seat. “Thank you.”

Inane conversation accompanied their breakfast. She broke it when she said, “Thank you for taking care of me last night.”

“You’re welcome.” He shrugged. “You’d do the same for me.”

She was silent for a moment before asking, “Do you think you can drop me off at home before you go to work? It’s just that I don’t have any money on me.”

“Sure but you can stay longer,” Reggie said. “Kendra isn’t coming back until tomorrow.”

“No.” She shook her head. “I need some time alone anyway. To think about…”

She didn’t finish the sentence but Quin’s name hang in the air between them. He wanted to convince her it wasn’t a good idea for her to leave but he knew that his motives weren’t entirely selfless. If he wanted her to stay, it was because he liked having her around him and in his house. Reluctantly he nodded his acceptance of her decision.

Once they were done with breakfast, he helped her clear the dishes from the table. She’d just set the plates in the sink when she stiffened. “I left my keys in his house.”

Anxiety played on her face at the realization of her dilemma and eager to ease it, Reggie said, “Why don’t we pass there before heading to your place? I’ll get them for you and you can stay in the car.”

“But you’ll be late for work,” she protested.

He glanced at the large watch on his wrist. “I’ve got some extra time.”

“Are you sure?” Her worried eyes met his.

“I’m sure,” he reassured. “Don’t worry about it. I got you.”

He’d be cutting it close but what was the other option? To let Erica deal with this on her own?

That wasn’t happening.

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