A little taste of beauty…First Chapter of Rayna: The Norton Sisters (1000 likes and counting)

A Contemporary Romance novel with a touch of sisterly love!

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AVAILABLE NOW!! Recent release!!

I’m excited to announce my latest work. It is part of a series, but it’s also a standalone. The Norton Sisters: {Book 1: Rayna}

A taste of beauty in Chapter 1:

Chapter 1

 “Are you freaking serious right now?” Rayna said as she looked down at the split in her skirt.

“What happened?” her sister, Zoie, questioned from the other end of the phone and her Assistant echoed from the main office at the same time.

“I just snagged my skirt on this stupid desk,” she spoke a little louder so that she could respond to both at once.  To her Assistant, she added, “Karen, please call Landon’s Carpentry and Restoration shop and have the edge of this desk taken care of.  This is the third skirt that I’ve had torn by this thing.  I don’t have time to replace my entire wardrobe.”

“First off, that would take months to do.  Second, you know, good and well, you would make time for such a thing if it was necessary,” her older sister chimed in from the phone she still held to her ear.

“Z, I’m going to have to call you back. Love you,” she told her before she ended the call.

Rayna pulled at the fabric of her skirt.  It was ruined.  Growing up as the third oldest of seven, she was used to wearing worn and tattered clothes.  Considering the fact that she was a well paid business owner and Lawyer who kept her family’s affairs in order, she didn’t have time for those types of garments now.  When she was hanging out around the house the casual attire was fine, but not at work.  Her place of business was a place for work appropriate attire.  Her small practice was on the same floor of her younger sister, Nyema’s, office on Tomlin Street.

Always the one that was the most serious, she definitely didn’t have time to play around with a desk dead set upon destroying her business clothing.  Yes, she blamed the inanimate object in the room and not the fact that she’d been distracted.  She was the one that was the take charge member of each family member’s business contracts.  The meaning of let her hair down was lost on her because she felt she always had to be on point or else everything would fall apart. The high stressors of her daily dealings and the utter incompetence of most individuals had her tending to take care of everything herself.  If she could, she would give every imbecilic Lawyer and Judge a crash course in “Rayna Law.”

With all that had gone on and was going on in her life, she felt her sister’s demands for her to “let go” or “find love” and have a man in her bed every night would be cause for more trouble than good.  She had occasional “bed warmers,” but to her that was all they were.  Her male counterpart would be commended for his ambition.  She was usually looked upon as anal and, more accurately, controlling.  As far as she was concerned, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.  She and Kelly Clarkston had that in common.

After leaving Karen instructions for the documents she had on her desk, Rayna returned home.  She stood in her condo looking in her mirror that was positioned next to her bedroom door.  It had been a gift from her Great Aunt Elaine. When she’d gifted it to her, Rayna had the artwork changed in the cherry wood to reflect her sisters’ saying, “In the end, family means everything and your sisters hold you up no matter what may come.” Her two older sisters had come up with the statement and uttered it so many times to the younger ones that they now all lived by it.  It had become their own little “Norton code.”

Rayna had the loopy design replaced with the saying in a calligraphy style. She was impressed by the intricate detail work and craftsmanship.  She was just as equally impressed every time she saw it.  Now, she stood in front of her mirror wearing only her satin and lace bra and panty set.  Her magenta toned undergarments would match perfectly the soft and flirty dress that was a pale pink with magenta flowers.  The base of the dress flared out catching the slightest gust of wind.  She liked the concept behind it, but felt the need to possibly go with something a bit more fitting for a possibly more businesslike affair.  Standing there, looking at the reflection of the bed and the more conservative black a-line skirt and magenta silk shirt, she was still inconclusive when it came to deciding what to wear.  The drop of the neckline in front made it a bit more casual.  The scoop neck hinted at just enough of her cleavage to make the shirt risqué for the office.  It was one of the reasons she liked it.

This was the part of her personality she disliked the most.  She was such a clothes whore that she had a second bedroom created for the closet space.  Her bedroom closet was overrun with all of her clothing and shoes.  Even though she considered herself quite organized, she could find herself somewhat overwhelmed by it all.  She looked over at her armoire with two drawers for her bra and panty sets.  Sad to say the foot deep drawers had boxes within which separated her satin, silk and lace undergarments from the cotton.  She had another drawer for comfy pajamas.  Her dresser held her softer, sexier nighties in two drawers and socks in another.  The bottom two held her gym attire and comfortable around-the-house items.

Looking at her walk in closet, she recalled all of the garments hanging on each side.  She’d organized each side by color.  Her jeans, slacks, capris and skirts hung on one side in descending length.  On the other side, were her shirts, dresses, suits and gowns.  She didn’t have many gowns, but every now and again an occasion called for it. At the back of the closet on each side were shelves.  Those were organized on each side by season.  On the floor beneath the clothes were shoes that didn’t have boxes and sat on a rack.  Hanging on the back of her door was a hanging rack for her quick “go to” shoes.

What she had was a sickness for which she didn’t want a cure.  She loved herself enough to know that wasn’t something she would change. It was just something that annoyed her from time to time because it caused her to have to allot for extra time to finally make a decision on what she would actually walk out of the house in. Rayna tended to give herself at least an extra hour.  Most of the time, her choices were narrowed down to 3 outfits that she would prefer to wear.  On a rare occasion, she might have a fourth. Knowing the time it would take, she made sure everything else was done: shower, shave, hair, nails, make-up and even her accessories.  It always came back to what garment she would don.

Tonight, a part of her longed to actually go to the comfy drawer and pull something out to toss on, but she’d already promised L that she was coming. Reluctantly she moved toward her bed to look at her other choice.  As far as the evening went, she was going to have to grin and bear it.  Her sister should know that she was dearly loved if Rayna was willing to spend a rare, free evening schmoozing and being an able body, walking billboard for her little sister’s restaurant, L. Norton’s Cuisine.

Opening her own restaurant was always something that L had dreamed of doing.  She’d enlisted Rayna’s help with finding the property and drawing up the paperwork to make it a reality.  Rayna was proud of her sister and knew that no matter how she was feeling she was going to have to get over herself and go.  Her hope was that her little sister, or any of the others, wouldn’t use this as an opportunity to set her up.  She just needed to make a firm decision on what to wear.

Christopher Leigh stood in the gallery, actually the living area, of his condo trying to make a decision that would start his evening off right.  He’d been trying to focus on what stood before him but his thoughts kept floating back to the woman that had captured his attention, but didn’t notice that he existed.  Rayna Norton had fascinated him from the moment that she walked into her sister’s new space.  He’d been speaking with L. for quite some time and he thought he knew all of her sisters.  He, at least, thought he’d met them all.  He found out quickly that he’d been wrong.  The very busy lawyer sister, Rayna, hadn’t made it to the meetings prior.  The family was stocked with a beautiful gene.  All of the sisters were quiet lovely creatures, but Rayna was stop traffic beautiful.  She was run into a pole gorgeous.

As she’d walked in that morning with a briefcase in one hand and a cell phone in the other, he’d been sure he’d stopped breathing for a moment or two.  L. had to clear her throat to get his attention to return to what they’d been discussing prior to her sister’s entrance.

“She’s going to busy for a moment or two so you can finish what you were saying before she came in,” he’d heard her state as she tried to meet his eyes. “Chris?”

“Hmm, yeah? Oh, right.  I was just saying that the Tuscany and Me would probably go best in the window so that…um…you can…,” he’d been unable to formulate a thought after seeing her.  “I’m sorry…who is the woman that just walked in?”

“Oh, that’s Ray R…my sister, Rayna.  I told you that I had another sister you hadn’t met yet.  Well, that’s her,” she’d sucked her teeth and rolled her eyes then.  “Always working.  I tell you.  If you couldn’t figure it out, she’s a lawyer.”

“Really?  Wouldn’t have been able to figure that one out.  She looks like the no nonsense type though,” he’d looked over her 5’7 frame, dressed in a dark grey business jacket and matching skirt.  Her long caramel toned legs glowed in the sun as it kissed her skin.  The honey tones seemed to call his name. He realized then that someone was calling him.

“Chris? Chriiisss!  See something you like there?” L. asked with a slight curve to her lips and a giggle.

“I’m sorry.  That was completely…inappropriate.  I need to take a moment.  I need some…” he’d started, but as he was closing his portfolio of smaller scans of his work, the object of his infatuation made her way over.

He stood stunned for a moment as L. made the introductions then he thrust his hand forward and shook her outstretched, more petite hand.  He liked the way it curved into his much larger, more callused hand.  Her curly dark brown hair fell into her eyes as she looked down at something on the counter.  He realized then that she was looking at his work.  If the curve of her full lips was telling then she quite enjoyed what she saw.

“L., I love these.  Your taste of Italy is going to win over so many people.  Your soul food Friday’s won’t hurt the neighborhood, either. I love the…,” she’d looked down at her phone, for a moment, then continued distractedly.  “…fact that your…food isn’t going to be just about one…just focused on one culture.  I’m so sorry I’m so distracted.  It’s just this case is close to closing and I’m kind of excited to reunite this family.”

“Oh, right, the mother who lost her two children to their father’s mother because the family thought it best…” L. began, but Rayna was holding up a finger, silently telling her to give her a minute.

“Rayna Norton speaking.  No, I will not.  I didn’t sign off on it and it…” Rayna walked away to another area of the building, but her voice carried.  Luckily, the words didn’t.  Whatever was happening, she wasn’t too thrilled about it.

“So, that is the youngest of my older sister’s, Rayna.  She owns her own practice and is building quite a distinguished group of clients.  Today’s client is one that she has been working with for quite some time and was in the closing stages of her case load.  I hope that phone call doesn’t change things,” L. looked over at him then and studied his face.  She must’ve noticed his look of distraction. “So, what would you like to know about the good counselor and my gorgeous older, not by much, sister?”

“I…what?” Chris said as he tried to gather his thoughts and turn them away from the dark brown eyes that had looked over his work and actually said that she loved it. “We have to get back to what pieces you want hung where in your restaurant.”

“Uh huh, right.  So that’s what you want to focus on?  It wouldn’t be a certain caramel skin beauty with oval shaped eyes, a pert nose and a body that most would kill for that just so happens to be a lawyer.  A Lawyer who practically drooled over your work which is a crowd pleaser for any audience of one who is an artist and a master at his craft,” she’d continued, studying his reaction like he was the subject posing for her canvas.  “You are actually going to try and stand there and pretend that you don’t want to get at my sister.  I saw how your green eyes lit up when she was looking at your work.”

“I will admit that I enjoyed the fact that she likes my work.  What artist wouldn’t want that?  I would be a complete and utter fool if I didn’t take pride in the fact…” he’d been cut off by L. then.

“Blah, blah, blah…stall tactic.  The next words I better hear are ‘please L. will you make it happen?’  If they aren’t then we have nothing more to discuss.  I can see when a man knows what he wants.  I would not have taken you for one that didn’t rise to the challenge or one that backed down from one that might not fawn at your very feet.  If I’m wrong then…” she’d stated as she lifted her hands in mock surrender.

“Nice.  I like the fact that you just threw down the gauntlet and basically told me to man up or else, inadvertently.  Are all of your sisters…” he’d begun.

“What? More than willing to keep a man on their toes or call them on their junk or speak to the truth of the matter?  Nope, I’m one of a kind.  Although, my sister’s all tend to be outspoken when they want to be. It makes our weekly lunches very interesting,” she laughed and he found himself laughing along with her. “So watch out and what do you say?”

“I say that I am man enough to handle this all on my own.  I am more than capable of holding my own with one of the Norton women,” he’d responded and quickly added when she quirked an eyebrow at him. “All of the Norton women at one time, that is a horse of a different color.”

She’d laughed again.  She was still laughing as he’d gathered his things and made his way to the door.  When he’d reached the door, he’d heard Rayna return.

“What’s so funny, sis?” he’d heard Rayna ask.

“Oh, nothing.  It was something Chris said,” he’d heard L. reply.

“Chris? Chris who?  A new guy?  I thought you were dating Travis?” he’d heard Rayna ask and he tried not to take that to heart, after all they hadn’t had a moment to be introduced.

As he’d opened the door he heard L. say, “Chris is the artist whose work you were looking at and loved.”

“Really?  Was he here?” Rayna had asked.  He hadn’t realized that he was that invisible.  His 6’2 frame usually got him noticed, but I guess not by the lawyer.

He’d heard as the door closed behind him, “You know that is so sad when you don’t even notice that a gorgeous Greek god was standing in the room with you.  I seriously think that we need to make you an appointment with Nyema.”

“She sees children, wonderful…”

That was the last of the conversation that he would hear.  He made up in his mind then that he would be sure to make an impression on this evening.  He was sure that all of L.’s sisters would be at the opening of her restaurant and he was definitely not going to miss it.  He just needed to decide the final canvas that would be the focal point of the restaurant.  It would be the piece that could be seen by every table in the area and the first piece you saw after you entered.  He was trying to decide between a piece he called Family Play or another called A Palate to Remember.  Both pieces spoke to different aspects of the passion behind L.’s restaurant, but whichever one he chose would be the one that remained in that area.  It was the one thing that L. had left up to him and the team would be there soon to take it so that it was hanging for the opening.  He had 5 more…maybe not.

Chris walked over to the door of his condo and opened it to the delivery man.  He silently cursed as he moved out of the way so he could bring in his equipment.  Chris looked around the man at the pieces again.  He watched the delivery guys, now there were two, walk over to where he was looking.

“Which one?” the shorter of the two questioned.

Chris looked again and on impulse pointed to the depiction of a family passing along plates of different foods.  Some of the members looked as if they were mid-seating.  A couple looked as if they were dashing to make it to where a particular plate was heading.  The family was made up of people of different ethnicities gathered around a table.  As he thought about it, he found it to be the perfect thing for L.’s restaurant.  She didn’t want to be stereotyped or categorized.  Her meals would change daily.  She wanted the meals to showcase versatility.  She’d planned on having signature dishes that remained on each day’s menu.  For the most part though, the chef was allowed to create and pull from whatever culture he saw fit that night.  Opening night was themed, A Seat in Tuscany.  The night’s cuisine would be based on tastes of Italy and he looked forward to the changes to come.  He stepped back as he watched the guys cart his work away.

His focus then turned back to another canvas that had caught his attention that morning.  The canvas of Rayna Norton.  She was truly a work of art.  He knew he had his work cut out for him.   He could feel the excitement that always came with a new challenge begin to course through his veins.  He was going to find a way to gain her awareness if it was the last thing that he did.

Rayna was standing in front of the mirror again.  She was putting the final touches on her outfit.  She was enjoying the way she felt in the flirty dress.  She liked the feel of the material against her skin.  She also enjoyed the hint of risk she was taking by wearing something that a good wind would cause her to be exposed in.  She was putting in her stud earrings that matched the magenta floral ring when she heard her computer chime.  She walked over to the mouse and moved it.  Waiting for the screen to respond, she drummed her fingers, then logged in when prompted.

As she figured, her sister’s faces awaited her on the screen of their personal video chat room.  If nothing else, she knew her sisters well enough to know that they were not going to allow her to just attend this party.  None of her other sisters were in committed relationships, but for some reason all of them seemed to worry about her.  She could hear Zoie saying, “All work and no play makes Nika a lonely mega billionaire with no one to share her riches.” It was one of the things that she hated hearing.  All of her sisters, even the youngest seemed to take it upon themselves to take advantage of every opportunity and use it to try and get her hooked to some man.

Rayna wasn’t going to let that fly today.  Plus she felt more secure in her stance since only two of her sisters were in the chat and not all 5 of them.  She was even happier to find that it was Lynnia and Nyema.  The two younger siblings were easily driven off course since most of the time they were so busy with their own things that they tended to not hassle her as much.  It usually was her two older sisters that led the charge with making sure she didn’t completely lose herself in her work.  Some days she was grateful they came and tore her from the office, but most of the time she just wanted a moment to breathe. She appreciated their concern, but she had goals she wanted to meet.

“Hello Frick and Frack attack.  What’s up?” she greeted her sisters laughing to herself that she was watching them both use the camera as a mirror.

“Hey there, sis.  I’m so loving the dress!  Definitely one that I will be stopping by to borrow,” Nyema stated as she applied a soft brown gloss to her lips.

She primped her curls.  She was the only one of the sisters that regularly wore her naturally curly hair.

“Thanks Nye.  Coming from you that is the highest form of compliment.  You usually hate all of my clothes,” Rayna responded as she sat down in front of the computer.

“I don’t hate them per se.  I just know that I wouldn’t wear anything so businesslike and…,” she paused and sat back as she tried to think of a word.

“Prudish… conservative… stagnant?  Choose any word to fill in the blank,” Lynnia added as she giggled and hummed to herself while applying her eye make-up.

“I resent that remark.  I am none of the above.  I wear clothing that is suited to be taken seriously in my line of business.  Who is going to take a lawyer seriously if…,” she was cut off by Lynnia.

“Oookay, so evidently someone is sensitive about her wardrobe today.  Duly noted, Counselor.  On another, completely off topic subject, someone was the object of someone’s fancy today,” Lynnia stated as she took one final look at her face.

Rayna watched as she smiled to herself then looked directly into the camera.  Why did Rayna feel as if she was the one being scrutinized in that moment?  Suddenly both of her sisters were staring into the camera.  They were quiet as if waiting for her to respond.  She decided to go ahead and give in to play the game.

“Okay, so who?” she asked.

“Wow, I didn’t believe L. boogie until this very moment.  You really didn’t notice the hot artist that has been gracing the space of L. Norton’s, did you?” Nyema stated stopping mid air with a bronze toned earring that had one single leaf dangling from the end.  “I always thought everybody was just giving you the business for no reason, but maybe they were right.  If you didn’t notice that beautiful packaging then you might just be a lost cause.”

“I don’t see how my not noticing some painter guy means that I’m a lost cause.  I was a bit distracted today.  I had…” Rayna started again and Lynnia interrupted her again.

“Um, no Miss Ma’am, it wasn’t just today.  You have had plenty of other occasions that could be used to build a case that you are completely oblivious to anything other than your caseload.  If there was a way to marry work then you would be the first person to sign up,” Lynnia sucked her tongue as she put on her necklace.  “The fact that a 6 foot 2 inch lean version of David with red hair and the most amazing green eyes stood not more than a foot away from you and you took no notice, rests my case.”

“I’m sorry, I hadn’t realized that I was on trial hear.  I feel like we are in closing arguments on what is my life.  My observational skills are firmly intact and I don’t appreciate…” Rayna felt herself beginning to get worked up.  She was truly getting sick of being on the receiving end of this type of attack. She felt herself about to get up to pace the floor to gather her thoughts when she heard Nyema’s voice.

“Look, Ray Ray, we’re not trying to put you on the defensive here, but you have to admit that if it were any one of us, you would be reaming us a new one.  I was standing at the checkout counter last week and a beautiful specimen of man stood right across from me and I didn’t take notice.  You didn’t let me hear the end of it until three days later.  All’s fair, sis and you know it,” Nyema stood and looked at the back of her earth toned dress.  It fit her slight curves perfectly.  Rayna thought the pattern of fall colors fit her sister’s calming personality perfectly.

“I’m sorry.  You’re right.  I just don’t have time to try and focus on my career and deal with a guy right now.  Besides, I’m not the only single sister, here,” Rayna stated matter-of-factly.

“No, but you are the only one that has “bed warmers” and doesn’t date.  At all,” Lynnia added for good measure.  “Well, ladies I’m going to sign off.  I want to do a final run through.  Rayna, I love you and I hope you aren’t offended.  I also hope that you give Chris a chance.  He is a genuinely good guy.  It also helps that he is so wonderful to look at.  He is going to love you in that dress by the way.  Smooches. L. boogie signing off.”

Her window closed out after that.  Nyema said that she had to make sure Nakia was ready for bed.  She had school the next day and wasn’t going to be able to attend the opening.  After telling her to give her niece her love, Rayna watched the screen close entirely.  She knew there was some truth in her sister’s words. She also knew that the truth of the matter was she wasn’t willing to sacrifice her career for a chance at love.  With that thought in mind, Rayna stood, quickly unzipped the dress and let it drop to the floor.  She pulled on the skirt then picking up the shirt, she allowed it to slip over her frame.  There was no need to give this Chris guy any more reason to think that he might have a chance with her.  Her next thing was to pull a brush through the big curls in her hair.  She pulled her usually mid-back length hair back into a ponytail at the nape of her neck. To complete the ensemble, she grabbed the jacket that matched the skirt and laid it across the bed.

Rayna jogged around her bed to her bathroom and quickly washed her face.  She didn’t need the full on evening face after all.  After removing the makeup, she applied some moisturizer, eyeliner, mascara and gloss.  She grabbed some of her hair oil and rubbed her hands together after putting a couple drops in her left palm.  Her oiled hands were then rubbed over her hair so that her stray strands of hair would lie down.  After she finished, she walked over to the mirror.  Rayna liked the “no nonsense” look.  This look should ward off any advance from any male this evening.  She thought to herself.  She was trying to find ways to de-prettify herself, but gave up after about 5 minutes.  Rayna wasn’t up for the bait and flirt the evening would bring if her sisters had their way.

She arrived exactly ten minutes before the official opening of the restaurant and fought the slight crowd that was standing outside waiting to get in.  Evidently, the City of Tempa was very interested in her sister’s opening and cuisine.  At least that was what she’d gathered from the conversations that she overheard on her way in.  Carlita, the hostess and one of her sister’s dearest friends, had the doorman open the door for her.  The hosted went on to explain who Rayna was to the owner and advised to commit her face to memory.

As she walked into the gold and red lit main entranceway, she felt the palpable excitement about the night’s event from every member of her sister’s staff.  She made her way around the opulent waiting area. Comfortable bank seating lined both sides of the entryway that led to the hostess stand that had a comfortable high back leather chair behind the black lacquer podium.  The plaque on the front had the name of the restaurant in a gleaming gold on a black shining surface with the statement “Greeted by a Hostess daily” centered in a bold yellow gold.

Rayna looked up to see the nightly specials on a parchment style backdrop in a clearly defined elegant font that she was sure would be reflected on the menus as well.  Her sister was a stickler for continuity.  Each plant, piece of art, chair, the choice in linens and clothes would tie into one another.  It would be clearly defined once you took in all the aspects of the bigger picture.  She loved that about her little sister.  As she hooked the corner and stood on the platform before taking the main 5 steps descending into the restaurant, she took in every table.  The tables held shades of every color of the rainbow over pieces of fabric that matched the tone of parchment surrounded by chairs that had black curved backs and leather style seating.  Each table held a vase the color of yellow, red or opal with individual flowers that sat in each at the center flanked my mini lanterns encased in black.

The scent of cherry blossoms, herbs and spices filled the air.  The place was enchanting to say the least.  A large painting was mounted as the main focal point at the back wall just above the entrances to the restrooms.  The portrait was a perfect backdrop to the intimate atmosphere that her sister had created.  Seating was arranged in various arrays of 2, 4, 6 and at least 3 tables that could seat larger parties were spaced out around the room.  The overhead lighting was set to give enough light to cast a glow over the room, but not overpower the room.  The crystallized chandeliers had an opal central piece that glimmered with a beautiful soft hue over each area that it fell over.  Jazz played over the speakers that were mounted in different areas of the open space.  In the center of the restaurant was a cooking station where one of the chef’s would cook a special meal for those that would be seated around the area.  Rayna knew Lynnia loved the idea of that type of special treatment at some of the Asian restaurants she’d frequented. Artwork flanked every wall in the open warehouse turned restaurant.

Rayna couldn’t completely take in all of the wondrous opulence.  She also didn’t feel she would do her sister’s restaurant justice trying to describe it, even to herself.  She looked around the room and noticed a tall, red-haired man talking to several individuals and pointing at different pieces on the walls. The long auburn toned hair was hanging loose around the man’s shoulders.  The man wore a tailored pair of slacks with an indigo shirt that fit his frame well.  He turned to speak to one of the gentlemen with him, obviously buyers, and she got a full on view of one of the most perfect derriere’s she’d seen in quite a while.

After seeing that, Rayna knew she was going to have to make a call this week to one of her bed warmers, maybe even this evening.  She had no business giving in to the desire to continuously leer at this man’s backside, but she didn’t feel guilty enough to tear her gaze away.  Her eyes watched the man continue to try and detour the woman’s advances.  It was quite comical to see the determination in the woman’s face and the tension in his shoulders as he tried to continue to answer the questions of the gentlemen with them.  He led the men toward another piece of art, effectively shutting her out.  She was obviously invested in being his arm candy and quickly scampered after him.

Rayna giggled to herself as she watched the woman with the shape of a model attempt to gain the man’s attention again.  She almost howled as his body went rigid when the woman touched his muscular arm.  She was so caught up in her personal entertainment for the evening that she hadn’t seen her sisters’ approach.  She didn’t know how, but somehow the Norton girls always ended up in a group together at events.  Most of the other partygoers usually congregated around them.  This was probably going to be the only time they stood together for the night though.  They recognized the idiosyncrasy and decided that they would mingle with others.  Besides, they didn’t need to be the focus that evening.  The restaurant was the focus tonight…and for some reason Rayna’s love life.

“Look who finally took notice,” Lynnia stated dryly as she stood next to Rayna.

“What are we taking notice of?” Wynter asked as she grabbed a flute of champagne from a passing tray.

“Big little sis has her peepers trained on a certain Artist slash Greek god,” Nyema answered while grabbing one of the hors d’oeuvres, an artichoke square from the look of it.

“What Greek…oh you mean the Artsy stud man?” Zoie asked.  “I wouldn’t have pegged him to be your type little Nika.  Although, I can definitely see the appeal.”

Zoie was the only one that refused to call Rayna by any other nickname but the one that she gave her.  Nika would be her name from now until they died and even beyond.  Rayna was sure that they would be in heaven and her sister would still greet her the same way.  The eldest sister looked upon her younger siblings like they were her own children, so each had a nickname given by her.  Rayna’s would forever be the shortened version of her middle name, Tanika.  Zoie would call her some variation of it, either Nika or NiNi or Nika Ni.  Simple and everyone accepted it.  Out of all of her sisters, she was closest to Zoie.  She and Z. had quite a bit in common.  One thing was they completely devoted themselves to growing their respective businesses.  Z. had seen Rayna through a lot in her life and she would forever be grateful.

“Yeah, her type is usually either the stuffy Lawyer type, Ryan, or the pretty boy toy, Leonardo.  How are your ‘bed warmers?’ by the way,” Nyema asked. “I haven’t heard you speak about them in quite some time.”

“If you must know, nosey Frack, I haven’t had…,” Rayna thought about what she was getting ready to say as her sisters turned their full attention on her, watching, as if they knew her response before she said it. “…more fun.  You never know, I might be meeting one of them here.”

“Ha!” Zoie practically howled in response.

“Oh really?!” Lynnia and Wynter exclaimed at the same time.

“You would never actually allow either one of them to join you at a family gathering, even something as public as your sister’s restaurant opening.  So, basically, it’s been a minute and you might want to stop clamping down or when you finally do…” Wynter began, but Lynnia cut their older sister off.

“Oh, if I have anything to say about it, she won’t have to worry about solo clamping.  Actually I don’t think I’m going to have to do anything,” Lynnia gestured with her head in the direction just ahead of them.  “I believe Chris has his eye on you big sis and I don’t think he is going to allow your evasive actions to deter him.”

“I don’t have…” Rayna began.

“Oh yes you do, Nika, and you know it! No guy stands a chance of anything long term because you refuse to be open to it.  You never know.  You might have met a man willing to work with your busy, workaholic schedule.  With you, it’s shut it down before they even get the chance to express an interest,” Zoie stated, clearly on the beginnings of what could be a lengthy closing argument if Rayna allowed her to go on.

“Fine,” Rayna responded, exasperated.  “Fine.  Enough!  You’ve made your points.  Shall we move on?  I really don’t want to do this here.  I thought we were celebrating and mingling.  If you will excuse me, I would like to take a look around the finished product of our sister’s restaurant.”

Rayna didn’t give any one of them an opportunity to respond.  She simply walked away.  As she left her sisters’ inner circle, she made her way toward the kitchen area.  It was one of the spaces that she knew would immediately lift her spirits.  She wasn’t the best cook in the family but she did enjoy the time spent there.  Anyone’s kitchen could conjure up memories of growing up with her sisters, their mom and a few with their dad.  If she knew her sister then she knew one of the specials would incorporate a little flavor of down home cooking.  Their mother grew up in Alabama.  She brought the southern style of cooking into their home and made sure all of her girls knew how to “burn.”  Rayna needed the safety of that area and the comfort it brought if she was going to make it through the night.

Chris watched as Rayna and her sisters separated from their meeting of the minds.  It looked as if things were tense between the sisters and Rayna walked away from the group a little worse for wear.  Her face was an array of emotion from anger to frustration to determination as she made her way to the kitchen area.  He’d been trying his best to keep his attention on Mr. Gettyson, Mr. Pincher, Mr. Harris and Decadence Parker.   He knew it was a losing battle.  The potential buyers kept him interested as long as they were questioning him about his work.  Yet, the moment they spoke amongst themselves, he found his eyes began to wonder.  They seemed to immediately zero in on Rayna even before his mind realized what was happening.  It didn’t matter where his conversation took him, he seemed to know where she was in the room.

As the sisters had spoken, he’d watched them move fluidly from the doorway to the middle of the warehouse turned restaurant.  The eyes of quite a few of the guests that were starting to arrive found them.  Lynnia had worried about her sisters not mingling with the other guest and those guests in turn crowding around them instead of taking in the ambiance of the restaurant.  She’d made each of her sisters promise to not “congregate with one another” as she said they often did.  He could see the pull to the beautiful women that made up the Norton family.  There was just something about each of them that made you want to be near them.  The one that he wanted to be near was currently making her way toward the doorway of the kitchen.  Chris lifted his hand to interrupt the conversation between the gentlemen and the lady when said lady slid next to him.

He was frozen, once again, by her closeness.  Chris usually didn’t have a problem with an attractive woman being near him, but there was an unnerving side to one Ms. Decadence Parker.  She was practically offering herself up on a silver platter.  The more he tried to field off her advances, the more persistent she became.  Ms. Parker must’ve noticed where his attention was veering to.  Every time he pointed his sight in the direction of Rayna, she chose that moment to move into his line of sight.  She also kept pressing up against him or grabbing his forearm.  Her refusal to let him become completely distracted was bothersome and a turn off.

Chris smiled genially at Ms. Parker then turned to pomp 1, 2 & 3.

“Excuse me gentlemen.  I need to extricate myself from your fine company for just a matter of moments.  I will return shortly.  I have a few cards here for each of you, just in case you decide to leave the party prior to my return,” he said as he simultaneously peeled Ms. Parker’s hands from his forearm.  He turned to her and stated, “It has been quite a pleasure meeting you this evening.  I thank you for your time.  Enjoy the rest of your evening.”

He turned away from the obvious pout then outrage that crossed her make-up caked face.  Chris smiled to himself when he was sure she couldn’t see his facial features.  He knew he couldn’t handle what she would offer even if it meant a potential buyer.  She fit the bill of purveyor of goods.  He wasn’t one to allow himself to be bought.  He knew upon meeting Decadence he needed to be clear that only his paintings were for sale.  If he was going to be offering himself up to anyone, then he could only think of one café au lait, heavy on the cream, individual he would allow himself to sacrifice for.  Said individual was quickly disappearing into the kitchen area.

The sight of seeing one of Lynnia’s sisters taking an interest in the kitchen space or at least retreating to it aroused Chris’ curious nature.  What would make the kitchen a place that would possibly calm a flustered person’s nerves?  He could tell by her determined stride that her sister’s had gotten under the beauty’s skin.  What he could do to issue any comfort, he didn’t know, but he wanted to see if there was anything that he could do.  He didn’t know why she would seek said comfort from him considering he was a complete stranger to her.  Maybe he could offer a listening ear since he was outside of the family.  All he knew was he needed to be near her.  He was just about to take the corner to enter the kitchen when he heard Lynnia’s voice.  Was there some reason every female at this party was trying to get in the way of him and the woman who’d captured his attention that afternoon?

“Chris. Hey, sexy artist man,” Lynnia called when he didn’t immediately respond.

He turned after releasing a slow breath and acknowledged the owner and procurer of quite a few of his pieces.

“Hey there gorgeous, you have quite a turn out tonight,” he commented as he took in the sea of faces that were taking up the space of the warehouse converted restaurant.

He couldn’t help but notice individuals pointing to different pieces.  Lynnia made sure there was a table dedicated to having his contact information in every corner.  She even went as far as helping him to choose and recreate smaller versions of the “best of” his creations for a pamphlet.  She aided him with coming up with the idea of having his information placed on the back of 4×6 postcards.  He appreciated the fact that she was willing to help him get his start as she was just getting her own.  She repeatedly stated that Chris was allowing her to purchase his pieces at next to nothing and it was the least that she could do.  He even saw a mention to his Facebook page and the soon to come website on her own Facebook and website.  He laughed when she mentioned something called Pinterest.  She said that the offers for him to commission a piece would be flowing so heavily in the hopefully none too distant future that he wouldn’t have time to do anything else.  He hoped she was accurate in her prediction.

“It is.  I am enjoying every moment of it,” Lynnia said as she turned and gave the crowd a once over.  “That’s not why I came over here and you know it.”

He sighed and waited for her to continue.  He could hear the words of The Sounds of Silence by Simon & Garfunkel begin to play in his head.  Chris felt a great weight bearing down on him as the silence pressed on.  He finally gave in and decided to bite the bullet.

“So L., why did you come over?  I can wager that it has everything to do with a certain Attorney that just so happens to be your sister,” he stated as he gave her a once over.  “I can almost guarantee that a hefty piece of advice is about to be doled out.  I just wonder if it is warranted or needless.”

“Hmm, you can be the judge after I’m done speaking,” she responded almost immediately.  Chris found himself smiling as she began.

“My sister is a wonderful person and a spectacular Lawyer.  She is one of the greatest individuals I know.  The woman is loving and protective, as any older sister should be,” she took a loaded breath and slowly released it.  L. looked as if she felt like she may be betraying a sacred trust.  He watched a glimmer of remorse flit across her features.

“You know, this isn’t really necessa…,” Chris began, trying to buy her an out.

“Yes, I do.  My sister is also like one of your completed masterpieces.  The task of retracing your strokes to the very first would be a great feat.  As such, she is one that will challenge you and be a challenge just as intricate and delicate.  I would rethink approaching her in any normative way,” Lynnia stated as she waved to someone walking into the main entrance.  “My sister will not be easily swayed, but she is truly worth all that you will have to endure.  I hope you’re…yeah, I believe you are.  I think that you will give my sister a much needed distraction from herself and another avenue to focus on.  Have fun!”

Lynnia quickly hugged him and waved the person she’d previously waved to over.  Chris recognized the matriarch of the family, immediately.  She carried herself like a true lady of a different era.  She stood 5’7 with a curvaceous figure, even for a woman of her late fifties.  Her jet black hair and deep brown eyes complemented one another well.  Chris always said the Norton ladies beauty came solely from their mother.  It appeared that their great taste also stemmed from the eldest Norton woman.  Style and grace were to be attributed to her as well.  She walked into a room and, just as with her daughters, all eyes were drawn to her.  Chris felt bad for the other women that were meandering around the restaurant.  Compared to the six…correction, seven Norton women everyone else paled in comparison.  There was something that mesmerized you about each individual woman.  He also envied the men that would attempt to win the hearts of these fearless and independent women. He had one of his own to contend with and evidently her sister felt he needed assistance.  Fortunately, their mother interrupted anything she was going to say.

“Good evening to the most stunningly spectacular Norton of the bunch.  How are you this evening, Mrs. Norton,” Chris asked as he stepped forward and into the open arms of said woman.

He loved the woman because she refused to allow anyone that her girls brought home to feel like an outsider.  It just so happened that she was also one of the best cooks that he’d ever met.  She beat his mother’s cooking hands down.  His mother was always one that was one of the most creative individuals he’d ever known, but she was horrible in the kitchen.  Their neighbors knew this and helped out by supplying her with a meal to serve every night.  In return, she usually created some token to decorate their home with and she supplied the groceries.

His mother came from old southern money and a family that tended to have someone to tend to the family’s needs.  Katherine Elizabeth Dubai did not hold on to those same beliefs.  She had and has always been one of the more liberal women.  Her heart was captured by an equally liberal man.  His father, Douglas Davis Leigh., was an Educator and a businessman.  He’d recently retired from his position as Professor of History.  His father always told everyone that would listen that he knew the moment that he met Kathy D. that she was the woman to become his wife and bare his children.  Douglas said their families loved one another dearly and were happy that two such free spirits found one another.  Chris shook his head as he dismissed the stray thoughts.  He focused on the two women standing before him.

“So Lynnie girl, you look beautiful as always and I love, love, love what you’ve done with the place.  Chris, your art is just breathtaking.  I am so proud of you both.  It’s such a perfect setting.  You done good girl,” Mrs. Norton finished as she pulled her daughter into a hug while still holding tightly to Chris’ side.  “Now, on to other things.  I see that I interrupted the two of you talking.  What am I hearing about a possible interest in little Miss Ray of Sunshine?”

“Mama! Chris, you have to forgive her.  We did not learn the art of tactfulness from this one here,” Lynnia stated as she winked at him.  “I was just getting ready to fill Chris in on possible tactics of approach.”

“Right…because you would be the expert on all things Rayna.  Take it from her mother and a woman who has had her share of interest from the opposite sex, my Ray is one that is well versed in the world and worldly affairs.  She also believes that she is not ready to meet anyone nor does she believe she has the time to maintain a relationship,” she paused and made a face at Lynnia who stood somewhat tongue-tied on her right side.  “That’s right.  I know my daughters very well.  I can’t wait for Mr. Man to cross my path for clarity, but he’s not ready yet.  You on the other hand are ready, Chris.  My daughter is cunning and masterful at disguising things.  It’s what’s protected her and kept her alone, as well as, what makes her a damn fine Lawyer.  You are going to have to outmaneuver that one.”

Chris chuckled as Mrs. Norton shot her daughter a look that said that she better not speak.  To which, Lynnia just threw her hands up in the air in a movement that stated she was acquiescing to the master.  When those wise eyes turned back to him, he immediately straightened up and cleared his face of the smirk that he had prior.

“Now, I know that most of you younger men tend to be direct and want to run head long into the fire, but that is not what should be done with Rayna.  Your approach…” she began, but he had heard enough.

“Excuse me, Mrs. Norton, but I would like to try a couple things first, if you don’t mind.  I appreciate what you and Lynnia are trying to do, but I believe I have this covered,” he said as calmly as he could.

The last thing he wanted to do was to offend either of the women that were standing before him.  One was his best and currently, his only customer.  He hoped that would change after tonight.  The other had earned his respect from the very first meeting.  He didn’t want either of them to feel like he didn’t appreciate them.

“Well, well, well, I didn’t know you had that in you.  You might just do after all.  You’ll need that backbone if you’re going after my tough as nails sister,” Lynnia smiled and looked at her mother.  “Come on, Mama.  It looks like Chris might just have things under control.  Although I should say…”

“…catch her while you can,” Lynnia and her mother stated at the same time. They both looked over his shoulder at Rayna who was slinking around the corner.

“Yeah, that’s what I intend to do,” he stated as he made his way to try and do just that, only to be caught by Decadence again.  Tonight was going to be a long night and it seemed everything was working to get in his way.

While exploring the restaurant Rayna noticed the Artist guy, Chris, checking her out but she refused to allow herself to relinquish control even for the night.  Rayna knew where her focus was.  She was making strides in her practice and finally had a growing client base to attend to.  As she watched the from a corner booth, she determines she won’t let a man, even one as attractive as the man that her sister told her was interested in her a few hours prior, destroy what she worked so hard to build.  Focus, focus, focus.  Gazing longingly into the handsome green eyes of the Artist that was trying to work his way to her was not going to allow her to reap any great reward.

She’d spent the evening purposely engaging any and every person possible in conversation.  She’d walked away with some prospective clients in the midst of it all. Rayna was trying to enjoy that but every time she lifted her eyes, they met his.  She was growing increasingly uncomfortable.  It wasn’t just the fact that their eyes kept finding one another no matter where she moved to, but it was the fact that she seemed to be seeking him out.  She was entirely disgusted by the way that she was reacting.  She knew what needed to be done and yet her eyes still searched the room.

Rayna was repeatedly chastising herself for allowing even that slight intimacy.  She was going to have to make a couple of calls if she could just stop her sisters from trying to get her drunk.  Each one of them had brought her a drink at different points in the evening.  She finally had to tell the last one to send a message to the rest that she didn’t want another drink.  She felt the need to get away for a moment and had slipped into the entirely insanely posh restroom.  Her sister had outdone herself in more ways than one.

The restroom was beautifully designed and calming in a way that could possibly unnerve a woman.  The tones of the entrance area prior to the facilities were similar to that of a spa.  A woman could wait in style for a friend or to be next in line.  Lynnia had thought of it all.  Rayna found herself not wanting to come out of the restroom because of the lavender, roman chamomile and rose aromas that swept you up and gently laid you down.  The lighting in the waiting area cast a soft orange tone over the cream and cherry wood furnishings.  Rayna felt the need to redo her office space in that tone.  It was just how much she loved it.  She knew though that she couldn’t remain in the restroom forever.  Her mother or one of her sisters would be looking for her, if they hadn’t already begun.

At the door, she blew out a breath then exited.  Her eyes immediately found Chris’ and she could tell that he was trying to excuse himself from the clutches of two women.  The women were trying to keep him interested with their subtle but pawing touches.  Rayna turned away and tried to slide around a crowd talking about the samples that the Chefs prepared.  She felt a stroke of pride as she listened and moved.  She was just barely free of the area when the owner appeared in front of her causing her to gasp loudly.

“Where do you think you are slinking off to?” Lynnia asked her as she held two drinks in her hand.

“L., you scared the crap out of me.  What is wrong with you?” she almost screamed at her little sister.

“If you weren’t practically skulking behind this crowd here then you wouldn’t have been scared, now would you?” Lynnia smirked and Rayna could tell she was trying not to laugh.  “I have watched you engage every living creature in this room except for a certain redhead Artist, who is the guest of honor.  Him, you have avoided like he was a carrier monkey of a rare disease tailor made for one Ms. Rayna Tanika Norton.  Is it that bad that you can’t even allow yourself to give him a…”

“Look, I love you dearly, but you have got to give it a rest.  L., I didn’t come here to be fixed up.  I came to support my sister’s new venture.  He’s not bad looking or anything, quite the opposite.  I just don’t want to go there, all right,” Rayna stated as she gestured animatedly, a sure sign that she had one too many.  Her impatience was another.

“Ray Ray, I’m sorry if it feels like we’re pushing but we worry.  That’s all it is.  Sisterly love,” Lynnia held out her arms.  When Rayna didn’t immediately respond, she stomped her foot and said, “Ray Ray, throw me a bone here.  I’m trying.”

“Oh, whatever,” Rayna stated as she hugged her sister then found herself giggling as Lynnia ran her hands in circles around her back and shimmied in her arms.

It was a thing that all the sisters did to make each other feel better.  Zoie said their mother used to do it to her when she felt down.  It was one of the many things she did.  Zoie had passed it on to each of them and it became the sign that everything was all right between each individual. She responded in kind.  After all, she wasn’t upset with her sister.  After releasing each other from the hug, Lynnia quickly extricated two flutes of champagne from a passing tray and held one out to her.  She’d previously abandoned the others before giving Rayna a hug.

“I thought I told Nyema to put out the word that I was officially done drinking for the night.  My goodness!  If I didn’t know any better I’d swear all of you were trying to get me drunk,” Rayna stated as she stepped away from her sister.

“Oh, shut it, Ray.  It’s a party and you need to enjoy yourself.  You don’t even have an early day tomorrow,” Lynnia stated and continued when she saw Rayna about to speak.  “I already checked.  So, go and enjoy yourself for once in your life and stop building your client list.  Have some fun.”

Rayna was going to respond, but her sister had turned to thank some of the attendees behind her.  She’d spoken her peace and quickly moved on.  It was Lynnia’s way: stick and move.  She’d always been good like that.  Rayna stepped around another crowd being sure to keep her eyes cast to the ground.  She tried to keep them focused on the art, the tables, the plants, but lost the battle as she moved around another group of four.  She sees Chris following behind her.  She quickly scoots around another group and barely makes it back to the restroom.  Until then, she hadn’t realized that she’d completed a circle.  As she looked over her shoulder, she saw the look of disappointment on his face.  She downed the drink in her left and realized that somewhere along the way, she picked up another.  She downed that one as well.

Rayna berated herself again as she thought about the fact that she’d spent the night avoiding a man.  She had never had that problem before.  There was just something about Chris that made her know she needed to run.  If she allowed herself to be caught then she knew she would certainly be caught up.  She also knew the man that was relentlessly pursuing her was not one that she could call for a midnight romp.  Nor was he one that would be willing to give her leeway to be free to run her practice how she felt she needed to.  Her hours would have to shift to accommodate their budding relationship. In doing that, she would lose a major part of herself.  All this would transpire if she even provided a semblance of a window of opportunity.  She had no time for care free days or pleasure trips.  Business as usual.  With that thought in mind, she stood and immediately dropped back to the seat she’d previously occupied.  She was in trouble.  She had to find a way to get out of the room and to the hostess area to get Carlita to call her a cab to take her home.

Rayna slipped out of the bathroom and leaned against the wall.  She spotted a corner booth with very little light not far from where she was standing.  She decided that she needed to take a moment to gather herself before trying to make the long trek to the main entrance of the restaurant.  She couldn’t let on that she wasn’t one hundred percent coherent or her family would not allow her to go home alone.  Quietly, she moved along the wall toward the table.  She nodded slightly to a couple but not too much because she didn’t have complete control over that function.  She watched people to see if they noticed her or her behavior.  When she finally made it to the booth, she was grateful that there was quite a crowd of individuals near the information table.  Their congregation effectively hid her from other’s lines of sight.

Rayna didn’t know how long she sat in the booth.  She remained in the darkened corner of the restaurant until she felt she was able to move without looking as if she were under the influence.  She slid out of the booth area and began to make her way around the outside of the restaurant towards the main entrance and safety.  Knowing that she needed to take it a bit slower when she stumbled, she slowed her steps.  She’d previously thought that if she made quick moves then she would get it over quickly.  Rayna made it to the hostess booth, but as she looked at Carlita, she realized that she left her wrap and purse in the booth.  She flopped down on one of the benches.  Carlita turned acknowledging her and quickly understood that Rayna is not herself.

Chris watched Rayna as she stumbled after standing finally and allowing him to realize where she’d been hiding for the last hour of the evening.   He made his way through the crowd, thanking potential buyers and new fans of his work.  He made it just in time to catch her when she slipped as she tried to ask Carlita to call her a cab. Carlita hadn’t even realized the woman was standing behind her.  He helped her stand then watched her flop down on the bench.  The fact that Rayna was slightly hammered amused him.  He listened as Rayna tried to inform Carlita that she was missing something that she came with.  Carlita tried to understand what she was telling her, but all she could make out was that Rayna wanted a cab to go home and she left something.  Chris wanted to laugh at the exchange.

He couldn’t believe the sight before him.  He took comfort in knowing that she couldn’t run anymore.  Chris was actually beginning to get a complex.  Every time he made his way to her, he was stopped.  He was happy about the prospects that the evening’s event had warranted, but he was hoping to get to know the beauty that was slurring her speech as she tried to relay once again what she needed.  Tonight, he’d also noticed that if he wasn’t being derailed by Decadence or a buyer or an admirer or woman offering him her phone number then Rayna was sure to move out of his line of sight and as far away from him as possible.  He’d almost had a moment of freedom to speak with her when he saw her quickly slide into the ladies room.  Frustration was starting to get the better of him until he noticed her inebriated visage make its way toward the main entrance.  He had started to think that maybe he was going to have to conscript one of her sisters or her mother to assist him.  Opportunity was knocking, even if she may not recall his presence or assistance.

Chris hated that his next gesture had an ulterior motive, but he needed to strike while the iron was hot.

“Carli, you don’t have to call her a cab.  I’ll take her home. If you would be so kind as to ask one of her sisters where she lives then we can get going,” he offered as he moved to sit next to Rayna and prop her up.  Fortunately, none of the other guests noticed Rayna’s state.

Chris sat next to Rayna and searched the crowd trying to find one of her many sisters.  He located Lynnia and pointed her location out to Carlita just as Rayna managed to state that she left her purse and her wrap.  As he sat there, Rayna turned and leaned into him.  As she rested her head on his shoulders, he smiled.  He mentally slapped himself because he was an idiot if he thought that her finding, even the slightest, comfort with him was a good thing.  She probably wouldn’t even remember the moments leading up to her return home because of her state of mind.  He had no right to take pleasure in the slight gesture.  As he gathered his wits about him, Lynnia arrived with her purse and wrap thing.

Lynnia made quick work of getting Rayna’s wrap/jacket on her.  As she did she gave Chris direction on how to get to where Rayna lived.  He immediately recognized that they lived in buildings adjacent to one another.  She offered to give him better directions but he informed her that he lived in close proximity.  He didn’t reveal how close though.  In the past, he’d always showed people to his warehouse.  Even someone as close as Lynnia had become still didn’t know where his personal residence was.  Having once dealt with a woman who stalked him, he was very protective of his space. Something told him that it was something that he didn’t have to worry about with Rayna.

Chris gathered her up in his arms and leaned in to kiss Lynnia’s cheek.  He watched her face as her close friend, Dario, walked in with his current girlfriend.  Her initial response was disappointment, but she quickly recovered and smiled.  Even though it looked as if someone had painted it on, it was convincing enough for her friend not to question it. Chris said hello and goodbye as he carried his precious cargo out the front door.  He walked swiftly to his Expedition, unlocked the door and slid her into the passenger seat.  As he reclined the chair, he noticed the supplies that were in the back seat.  He closed the door and walked around to the driver’s side of his vehicle.  He rearranged the things in the back to make sure that nothing fell on Rayna. He also made sure to crack the windows so she wouldn’t inhale any of the fumes from the paints he’d mixed.

Chris’ next project was actually his condo. He had something special in mind for the main wall.  It was the first thing that you saw as you entered.  He disliked the fact that it was a stark white wall, but he’d needed inspiration to determine what to cover the blank palate with.  He found it the day his mother visited him.  Ever the creative mind, she’d told him to have the wall depict who and what he was.  She wanted the work to embody the man her son had become.  The wall would be one of his personal favorites upon completion.  He was excited to start the prep work.  Although, he may now have to put that off.  His plans for tonight had effectively been changed.  He knew his mind would be focused on the young woman lightly snoring in his passenger seat.  He wouldn’t be able to put brush to canvas and not have it turn into an homage to her very being.

As she slept on the ride home, he thought more about the non-interaction they’d had and her adamant determination to not allow him five minutes of her time. He closed his thoughts off on the subject as he pulled up in front of her building.  Lynnia told him about her access card and the key to her building.  She failed to advise him of a gate code.   He tried to get into her building several times but he couldn’t because Rayna refused to wake up and her sister wouldn’t answer her phone.  He stood near the gate for about 20 minutes hoping that someone would come by and open it.  It was interesting that no one had tried to speak to him through the intercom.  The security guard either was asleep or ignoring his attempts to gain entry.  Chris knew what he had to do, but he didn’t like it.  He was going out of his way and doing something that he’d never done before.  His mother would be laughing hard enough to wet her pants if she could see him now.

He knew he had no alternative but to take her to his place.  Chris hesitated momentarily.  He’d told everyone that he knew that he made a home where he worked.  This would be the first time that anyone other than his parents would cross the threshold.  He’d always told his mother that no other woman would come into this space.  He’d kept that as a true statement until now.  Rayna still slept as he walked back to the truck and climbed into the driver’s seat.  He thought about all the females who’d begged to know where he really rested his head and chuckled humorlessly to himself.  This wasn’t exactly how he’d pictured bringing a woman into his place but it was something he was going to have to do.  Besides, the woman next to him wasn’t going to remember anything about it.  She was out for the night.  He would have to text her sister and let her know what happened.  Her sister would then let him know how to get in to Rayna’s space and he could take her home.  She could wake up in her own bed.

Chris thought about all of this as he made his way to his normative parking space and gathered her once again into his arms.  As he lifted her again, he was hit by her scent.  The smell was so feminine.  It reminded him of a gentle breeze after a spring shower.  The scent was fresh, clean and pure.  It suited Rayna well.  It complemented the complicated woman that he held against his chest as he swung open his gate then the door to his building.  He sent a quick hello to Mike, the head of security for his building and headed directly for the elevator to the fourth floor.  His and three other condos took up the entirety of the fourth floor.  He enjoyed the fact that theirs’ were the only spaces on the floor.

Chris didn’t have to worry about dealing with the juvenile happenings that Mike told him went on within the apartments and hallways on the other floors.  He knew the good Doc, the Musician and the Dancer well.  They each were nice enough to pre-warn of any possible events that would bring extra movement or noise to their floor.  They each took care of one another.  If a package was delivered to the main floor for any of them then one of the others would bring it up and leave it by the door.  Only those who resided on the floor had the access card to it.  It was a feature he appreciated more than any of his neighbors knew.

Chris opened the door to his condo and sat Rayna’s purse on the table next to it.  He hung his keys on the hook, dropped his satchel and kicked the door closed behind him.  Once inside his condo, he took Rayna to his bedroom and removed her shoes. He removed the wrap/jacket thing and hung it on a nearby chair then he positioned her on the bed so that she was lying on her side. He then went to his art studio and grabbed an empty bucket and set it by the bed not far from her head.  The whole time he thought about just how peaceful Rayna looked when she slept.  She didn’t have the hardness that she projected as she went about her day, as her sister described.

Chris relished the thought that she embodied the character of a woman he would want in his life.  He shook himself from his inner musing as he headed into the kitchen and pulled out a bottle of water from the refrigerator.  Going into the bathroom, he grabbed a couple aspirin from the medicine cabinet and placed them on the makeshift nightstand next to the water for her to find when she woke up.  He wanted them there just in case she woke in his place and not her own.  He returned to the living area and placed his wallet and his remaining cards on the coffee table as he sent Lynnia a text informing her of what happened.  Leaving the phone on the table, he went back to his room, removed his shirt, shoes and socks.  He then went to the bathroom and removed the rest of his clothing.  Trying hopelessly not to think of the woman that was lying in his bed, on his side, he took a shower.

After the much needed cold shower, he wrapped a towel around his waist and moved to the dresser then quickly slung on a pair of boxers.  Chris stood there for a moment gathering his resolve to remove himself from his room.  He couldn’t climb into his own bed.  He walked out of the room, grabbed a pillow and blanket from his hall closet and headed to the living area to sleep on the couch.  He checked the phone before he prepared to lie down and found no response.  Sleep was a hard thing to submit to that evening.  Chris’ thoughts kept returning to Rayna and he battled with the notion of trying to rouse her again and repeatedly calling Lynnia’s phone.  Finally, he fell off into a fitful sleep.

Here are the purchase links:

CreateSpace          Amazon              Barnes & Noble             Apple Store          Kobo        Smashwords

Happy Reading!!

~E.

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