© Paige Parsons
Palms sweating with a queasiness worthy of the first trimester of a pregnancy the petite brunette wore a pattern in the carpeting in front of the sofa. What had she done? Maybe it wasn't too late to take it back. No, it absolutely was too late. She orchestrated things purposefully leaving herself no out. Now, now she had zero option but to move forward. The storm that started within was soon to be out creating sweeping destruction in the paths of all it crossed. When it came to being book smart, Rocki was always at the head of the class, but when it came to her EQ, that emotional intelligence quotient she was beginning to suspect that she would fall woefully short. Well, maybe not totally at the bottom of the class, but real near it. She was aware that the news would not be taken well on any level. The problem was she plowed ahead and didn’t let it stop her from moving forward with her plan. The plan she was questioning more and more by the minute.
Rocki had spent the night going over the plan with her best friend Ramsea all night and still she was pacing her parent's living room, gnawing through her bottom lip and wringing her hands waiting for them to get home so she could break the news. It wasn't like she was a child or anything, but her rearing dictated that she seek approval on something so big. Life changing would be more appropriate. Yeah, she was fooling herself. She didn't leave herself any wiggle room out of the decision because if there was even an inkling of an out she knew they would force her to take it.
The car pulled up and she dashed to the window. Her stomach dropped. Her mouth dried. All the moisture in her body was showing up in her hands. They would be a little surprised by her being home already, but they’d be happy. That happiness would take an ugly turn all too soon though. She stepped from in front of the window and leaned against the wall. Well, there was no turning back now.
The door flew open a call of pure elation filling the room.
"Rocki! Rocki get down here!"
Popping around the doorway Rocki leapt into his arms squealing with delight as the six foot man, who was always her giant Prince, spun her around.
"I'm here. I'm here. Daddy put me down before I toss my lunch."
They were both giggling when the booming voice of her other dad could be heard.
"Hey Rod any extra for the electric bill is coming out of your clothes budget. Since you're too good to shop at the Suit Barn."
The front door closed a bit before he saw what had his partner of twenty years too distracted to do it himself.
"Raquel," he called out as he walked to pull her into an embrace. "You're here early. What's going on?"
"Do not question our good fortune, Brock. Our little girl is home a week early and I for one am thrilled."
"I am too. Of course I am. I'm just making sure everything is alright."
Inside her stomach was turning. Rocki backed up a little from her dad's embrace and pretended to straighten pillows on the couch before flopping down. Anything to buy her some time. The man's non-verbal scrutiny could break her and she knew it.
"Yes, 'Sergeant Worry-Wort' everything is fine. I just figured I'd come home and hang out before we leave for Mexico. You know let daddy cook for me, help you with whatever is being built in that garage, and..."
"And that is enough browbeating, Brock. This is your home baby girl no explanation needed. Show up whenever you like."
"Of course Rod is right. I worry. Sue me. No wait, on second thought, don't. For what it's costing us to send you to law school, I know you'll be good and win. I'm going to go upstairs to change."
He bent down to kiss her forehead.
"Glad you're home, Rocki."
"Me too dad."
For someone who was feeling glad her nerves were shot. She kept thinking one of them would notice her shaking hands, which made her run them through her hair then shove them beneath her butt.
"I'm gonna go start the pasta water. Rocki, come with."
Avoiding Rod's outstretched hand Rocki went for the distraction. She jumped from her perch and then practically hurdled the coffee table calling out behind her, "race you there!"
"Hey, you can't call race after you start running."
Rod was in pursuit as they cleared the living room, crossed the dining room and made their way to the kitchen. She was sitting on the counter when he hit the doorway.
"Who do you think I learned it from. I remember a certain someone who used to do it to their six year old daughter all the time."
"Yeah, but it made her a much better racer and a lot more aware."
Hopping up next to the tiny brunette, whose petite stature no longer concerned him or Brock, Rod threw his arm around her shoulders. Rocki had completed their family and their life together. He would forever be grateful for all the things that conspired to bring them to one another.
"A lot more aware of cheaters," she laughed.
"My darling girl the world is not filled with people who want to see you win. That knowledge--"
"Makes me work twice as hard to beat the competition,” she finished for him. “I know, daddy. You've been saying that for years. It only made me slightly paranoid, but thanks."
He knew she was being sarcastic and took no offense. Having two dads could be challenging enough, but having two that were federal agents made it twice as hard. She walked with a different awareness, dated with a different awareness, prepared in a different way for every actuality, and generally scrutinized things with a more cautious eye because of it. It had made her the person she was and she too was grateful. It was part of the reason she had made the decision she had. The decision she only hoped they would understand.
"Let's get this water going. Then I'm leaving you to cut up ingredients while I go change. Whatever you do, don't let Brock help. I've never been able to train him to dice properly."
"But we love him anyway."
"Well, he does other good things with his hands."
"I meant building things, missy. When'd you get so fresh?"
They laughed as they worked in tandem pulling out things for Rod's Penne-a-la-DiGrado. It only made him a little suspicious to know that his daughter had clearly been sneaking around town all day. The fridge was stocked with items he and Brock just didn't bother with when they were on their own. Most meals were eaten out or taken out when Rocki wasn't home. He'd also made note of the boxes in the foyer. She had brought home a lot more than she would need for a month vacation. Unlike his partner, he wasn't a bulldozer to get at the information. He would see where the evening took them, but he was also starting to suspect there was more to this earlier arrival than his little girl was letting on.
"Okay, kiddo small uniform pieces and don't drop the pasta until--"
"It's at a rolling boil,” she loved finishing his sentences, mostly because it made him equal parts nuts and proud. “I got it, daddy. How many times have we done this?"
"A few hundred. Missed you baby girl."
"Missed you too daddy."
As he left the room, she sighed, hoping she wasn't going to ruin their relationship permanently. If it came to that then maybe she would just bite the bullet and do what they wanted. No, she couldn't do that. That's what she had to remember. There was no turning back, but what was ahead was scaring the tar out of her. As she diced up veggies she thought back to the great times spent in this kitchen and this house. It wasn't perfect, but definitely what she considered pretty close. Now she was going to taint those memories with her news. Guilt sucked!
Brock Greystone had spent years single. When he figured out he was a homosexual, several brief and unnecessary marriages later, he opted to remain single rather than address something that made him as uncomfortable as it did society as a whole. He was a Marine and a federal agent. Being gay just didn't seem to fit into the equation. So he pushed his desires down maintaining the heterosexual pretense. Then a case took him to Philadelphia and there had just been something about Rod. Something about the young, fast talking, witty, tall Italian that made him want to spend all his free time with him. The kid, and that was how Brock saw him and treated him for months in the beginning, was magnetic.
Within eight months Rod was on his team and in his bed. That's what Brock has always been grateful for. Rod making the first move is what moved them forward. It's what eventually brought Rocki into their lives too. Rod wanted to be a father. Not interested in bringing in a third party surrogate they went the route of adoption. The invasive process had Brock threatening to back out at nearly every stage, but in the end he'd endure everything for the man he loved.
When they brought their precocious little peanut home, he was won over. He wasn't sure that sharing their lives with a six year old was the way to go, but after her first night home he could no longer imagine a them without her. He guessed that's what parents he’d met were always talking about when they tried to articulate what their children meant to them. She was all together playful, smart, sensitive, as evidenced by the menagerie of strays paraded through the house, and tough. She would work in the garage with him, play basketball with Rod and had her fair share of toss-and-tumbles with kids who thought it was okay to speak ill of her family and the fact that she had two daddies. As Rod would say, while playing good cop during chastisements, 'the kid's got spunk'. Rocki didn't feel like she was missing out on having a mommy. She had a Rod and a Brock. They picked her special and she let anyone who asked know just that.
The women in their lives picked up all the girly duties that made daddies so uncomfortable. Aunt Chanel had taken her to buy tampons and gave her the sex talk. An act that both he and Rod were undyingly grateful about. Aunt Lisa took her shopping and gossiped about boys. Aunt Chanel took her for her first big girl hair cut at the salon. They both came over to help her get ready for senior prom. As each milestone came up Brock worried how they would or should handle it, but then their extended family would rally and it would work itself out. Now his little girl had finished her first year of law school. It was amazing how the time seemed to breeze by in the blink of an eye.
"I thought he was making dinner for us." Brock came up behind her to steal a pepper.
"I'm his sous chef. You're not supposed to do anything except keep me company, he said."
"It's his one place to be bossy and give me orders. He never misses a chance."
"I think it has more to do with burning his sauce that one time." Rocki laughed.
It wasn't that Brock didn't cook. His fair was just more basic. He was a real meat and potatoes guy. If he could grill it, he could cook it. Uniform dicing and the phrase parboil meant nothing to him. So he took a seat with a cup of coffee from the fresh pot Rocki had started and decided to play catch up. They hadn't talked as much during the last few months of the semester. He'd been put off by what he thought was her avoidance, but she kept saying that she just had so much studying to do that he stopped questioning.
"So, are we looking at straight A's this semester?"
Rocki nearly took her finger off at the question. Taking a deep breath without turning around.
"Haha, um, that might be a little wishful thinking. I mean I did well, but I don't know about straight A's."
"I'm teasing peanut. Every time I called, you were writing a paper or off to a study group, so I figured straight A's were the logical end result. You know, as long as you're working hard we'll be proud of you."
"Yes, dad. And, I did, I worked really hard this semester."
"You did manage a little fun, I hope. Rod will be very disappointed if you didn't. He takes recreation quite seriously."
"Indeed I do."
Rod came up behind Brock and wrapped his arms around his partner. It got easier over the years, but it was still hard to not make physical contact with him throughout their day. Physical touch was absolutely Rod's love language. He didn't always need words, but skin to skin contact was like breathing to him. Rocki was used to their open affections. It had taken Brock longer to be comfortable with it and outside the house he was still the more conservative and reserved of the two. Here in their kitchen though there was nothing he enjoyed more. He reached up to rub the arms around him as Rod kissed his neck.
"We at a rolling boil yet?"
"Definitely and everything is set to go in the sauce." Rocki answered.
"Okay, drop the penne and I'll start the sauce."
During dinner they chatted about everything and nothing. All surface and non specific. Rocki made sure if there was a lull that she filled it with anything other than the details about herself. She listened and asked questions about each case they mentioned, even in jest. Finally, there was nothing left to eat or clean. She went into the living room to exhale. Maybe this could wait until tomorrow.
"So, those boxes coming or going?" Brock asked, his tone not inviting the notion of a non response.
Damn, damn, damn! Why did she have to have federal agents for parents.
"Huh?" Rocki stood by the mantel keeping her back to her dad. She was sending up prayers to every saint Rod had ever taught her that she could do this.
"Don't. If you can huh, you can hear. Turn around for me please."
Suddenly, Rod appeared behind his partner doing a quick assessment of the situation. Looking at his daughter, he directed his words to Brock.
"That can't be how you interpreted, let her tell us."
He scooted pass his love to sprawl his large frame across the couch.
"He's not going to let any of us sleep until he knows, so whatever it is, peanut, just spill."
Rocki looked at them both then dropped her eyes to the floor. The pattern on the Persian rug had never been so interesting before. There was a lump in her throat and butterflies in her tummy. All of her logical arguments were gone and brain felt as hollow as an empty vessel. She felt like a little girl having to tell them about something naughty she did. Things hadn't changed much. Brock was all stern and imposing. Rod was the relaxed more reasonable appearing one. Appearing was the operative word because he could be just as tough when it came to some things.
"It's just stuff I don't need to have with me anymore. It can all go to the attic. I mean, I felt like I needed every little thing when I first went to college, but I'm an adult now. Well, I felt like one until the inquisition started."
As she eyed both her fathers using her peripheral, Rocki attempted a move to the stairs.
"Oh, this conversation is far from over. Get comfortable."
She moodily dropped onto the couch in the corner furthest from Rod tucking her legs beneath her.
"I’ll take a lot less attitude with that comfort." Brock said, crossing into the room but still not sitting.
"Seriously, dad what is it?"
"You tell me. You've been dodging all night."
Her head was spinning. There really was no point in avoiding. She was going to have to tell them. Tonight will be as good a time as tomorrow morning. They'd be just as pissed. Self preservation made her want to hold out though. Reverting back to every bad tell she had Rocki started rocking slightly and chewing on the sides of her fingers. Rod turned to her. Brock moved to sit on the coffee table in front of her.
"Moving in closer and staring at me is not helping guys. Please can we talk tomorrow."
"No," Brock was direct.
"Rocki there is nothing that you will tell us tonight or tomorrow that will make us love you less. You have to know that. Right, Brock?"
"Of course it won’t, but we are not waiting until tomorrow."
"I did something. I mean, I have to tell you something about what I did. You're not--"
Rod reached for her practically pulling her to him as he turned her around. "Raquel, are you pregnant?"
"What?" Brock’s voice bounced off the walls as he got to his feet. His face flushed with anger from zero to sixty in a second. Maybe her news wouldn't be so bad once they knew it wasn't that.
"You guys. No, I am not pregnant. Come on. It's not 1950 and I didn't let some boy 'get' me in trouble. Dad, you can sit down. I promise this has nothing to do with anyone I've been dating. Besides, if it was I'd probably tell Aunt Chanel or Aunt Lisa not you two."
"All right, enough of this Rocki. What is going on?" Rod was hoping to draw her out before Brock really started yelling. She might be their princess, but the man was not known for his patience.
"Dad, please sit."
When he was she suddenly felt closed in again and hopped up to pace in front of them.
"You have to promise to let me get it all out before you say anything. Okay?"
"I'm not promising anything, talk."
"Brock, please. Go on baby girl."
"This past year was really hard. Not just the work either. Everything was hard. I haven't been happy. I needed to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I needed to find something that didn't make me feel like I was suffocating."
"Oh, baby, I had no idea." Rod held his arms open, but she refused the comfort, wanting to get it all out while she was still producing saliva. Arms crossed tight Brock’s eyes were clouding over.
"Raquel, did you fail your classes?"
"No," she squeaked out. "I… I... I withdrew from law school."
"You did what? Well, we'll just drive up and re-enroll you tomorrow." Brock was a man about solutions. He was sure with some signed paperwork and a few threats she could be re-enrolled in by sundown.
She backed away a little more. Clearly she was too old to be punished, but the man still put the fear of the devil on her heels in her.
"I can't. The waiting period for me to change my mind passed."
"No! Absolutely not. This is not happening. We have spent a fortune on school and you don't just get to decide to drop out." Brock was resolute.
There was the yelling both she and Rod anticipated for different reasons. It had been a hundred moons since she'd made him angry enough to go full volume.
"Brock, stop it. We have to hear her out."
It was fight or flight time and running wasn't an option.
Straightening her spine, Rocki continued. "It is happening and I didn't just decide. I took this seriously. I have a plan you know."
"That's the problem. We don't know. We don't know anything because you've been sneaking behind our back, making life altering decisions."
"Because it's my life. Ugh, I knew you wouldn't even try to understand. Dad, I felt like I had spent ten years in prison when I was at school."
Rod went to her this time. Holding her close he rubbed her back and head without speaking. Brock had pinched the bridge of his nose so many times he thought he might've broken it. He may have been comforting, but Rod was no pushover.
"Baby girl sit down and take us through it from the beginning."
She looked over at her other father. Her chocolate brown eyes were full of apprehension. His deep blue ones were hidden behind a mask of stern reproach. Rocki could tell he wasn't anywhere near a place where he wanted to offer her comfort.
"I applied to another program. I got in too."
"What program, Raquel?" Each word was clipped. Rod gave his own version of a glare at his husband’s tone.
"The USSS." The acronym gave her a minute while they processed.
"The Secret Service?"
Shit. He was zero to sixty again. His red face was nearly purple now.
"You want to be a federal agent? Not while I'm alive."
Rod was too stunned to speak. Law enforcement was not what he was thinking. She obviously loved the law, but he didn't see his little girl carrying a gun. Chasing down the bad guys.
"You're telling me it's good enough for you, but not me?"
"That's exactly what I'm saying. You're too smart for this Raquel. You've always wanted to be a lawyer. One hard year doesn't mean you throw it all away."
"Hypocrite," she shouted, and pulled away from Rod.
"Would both of you sit down please and stop yelling? Rocki you are way out of line. You're the one springing all of this on us. What did you think our reaction would be?"
"Pretty much this, which is why I didn't want to talk about it on my first night back."
"I honestly don't think he'd take it any better tomorrow."
"Are you saying you're okay with this, daddy?" She had a little hope infused now.
"No, he's not." Brock all but growled.
Rod physically sat Rocki in his spot on the couch and went to his husband.
"Don't tell me how I feel and I won't tell you how you should feel."
Reaching out to touch his face Brock backed off a little. As a smidgen of the tension left his body Rod pulled him close.
"You are the absolute love of my life. I back your play and have your six in all things, but I will not dictate our daughter's future. I can't do to her what my father did to me. Baby, we have to hear her out. She doesn't need our permission, but I think she wants our blessing. We need to listen."
"I hate everything about this."
"I know, but you love her. That's all that matters."
They were huddled together, speaking so softly Rocki couldn't make out the words. Her dad did seem calmer, though. Several of the resident butterflies in her stomach flew off. She stood up and moved to them.
"Dad. Daddy, I'm really sorry I lied. I didn't want to, but I was so scared. This isn't something I wanted to be talked out of. I need to know you understand, and that you forgive me."
For a minute they both stared at her. She held her ground and their gaze.
"Well, Rod's right, I think you better start at the beginning."
She didn't wait for an invitation, instead she launched herself into their arms.
For the next two hours all they did was talk. Rod patient and inquisitive. Brock pensive. Rocki thorough. She didn't leave any part of her thought process or actions out knowing they both did better with detailed specifics. Finally, it was settled. They would cut their trip to Mexico short and help her move down to Glynco, Georgia for her first eleven weeks of training. Then she would come back to DC for more training before she graduated from the program.
Tears had been shed, there was more yelling, a few cups of coffee, a beer or two and a lot of negotiating. In the end, Brock had to let her go with his blessing because she was determined to go without it. It was that streak of stubborn resolve that vexed him and made him proud at the same time.
Once they had sent their wrung out twenty-two year old up to bed they settled on the couch. Brock was one who liked to cope in solitude most times, but tonight he allowed Rod to hold him gaining both comfort and strength. Letting his little girl go off to do something that was so potentially dangerous was turning him inside out. How could he protect her when it was going to be her job to do the protecting? It wasn't something he needed to voice.
After all their years together he knew Rod understood. They'd all had their roles and Brock was the protector. He slept better at night knowing that he was the one who made sure his house, his husband, and his little girl were safe and sound. It didn’t matter that Rod also carried a gun, or that his precious baby girl would soon too. He simply wasn’t ready to turn the protector baton over.
After a while Rod's breathing deepened alerting Brock that the love of his life was sleeping sound. Sliding off the couch Brock kissed him before Rod rolled to his side. He wouldn't make him get up until he finally made his own way up to their bedroom. For now he needed to go to his other place of refuge. In the garage, he poured a shot of bourbon and picked up a sanding block. He had easily pictured Rocki’s life as a lawyer. As a United States Secret Service Agent he had no idea what her future could hold. One thing was certain, Rod was right all those years ago. The kid did have spunk.
After sanding the same spot repeatedly, Brock had no choice but to concede that he wasn’t actually focused on his task. He was soothed by the bourbon and the solitude. No new answers came up, but he was finally in a place where he wasn’t running worse case scenarios through his head. Progress.
“Brock? Are you back there? Honey?”
Rod put everything down and headed toward the door.
“I’m surprised you woke up on your own. I did leave you in your favorite spot.”
“I don’t care how comfortable that couch is no spot is my favorite if you aren’t in it.”
“Come on sweet talker let’s get to bed. Something tells me I’m going to be on chocolate chip pancake detail early in the morning.”
The guys lowered their voices as they passed Rocki’s bedroom door. The lights were out confirming she was asleep. Rod hoped it was a peaceful rest. He had an urge to go in and double check and tuck her covers, but he refrained. Brock always teased his obsessive bedtime routines when she was younger, so he could only imagine what would happen if he did it when she was in her twenties.
“I think I’ll give her a little academy wake up call, before the pancakes,” Rod said.
“Daddy-PT, that’s cruel, Rod.”
“Let’s face it, she's my daughter and she’s expecting at least a little retaliation for withholding information. An early morning run and a few pushups will be a nice way for her to earn those pancakes.”
“I do love your devious mind, Rodrigo DiGardo.”
“And, I love everything about you, Brock Greystone.”
Jack waited more than a decade, deciding that his single chance at love had slipped by him, and he wasn't looking for it, but somehow love had found its way back into his heart and into his life.
Keila left for college with a single goal in mind: to put as much distance between herself and her overbearing relatives as she possibly could, to figure out who she was and who she could become. She tried her hand as the campus party girl and nearly got herself booted from the dormitory for her efforts. Luckily for her, she had an RA who saw more and took her under her wing. She couldn't have imagined that one late night conversation over cheesecake would change the trajectory of her college career and alter her entire future.
One weekend of theatre, dinner, and stuffed French toast brought them together, but what would it take to keep them that way? Can a girl with daddy issues and a man with a wall around his heart find what they need from a relationship in one another, or will they get stuck in the platonic arrangement they believed was all they needed?
Keila and Jack met through friends who had taken their arrangement to the next level. Now, it's their turn to finish what they started in the way that works best for them. It's time to renegotiate their Daddy Arrangement.
This is not a stand-alone book, Keila and Jack's story start in book one - The Daddy Arrangement.
Excerpt #3: Deflection
“Mike, I’m not in the mood.” That was the way Jack greeted his friend when the incessant banging on the door didn’t stop.
“You’re not in the mood? Well, you get in the mood. You might act so much older and wiser, but don’t you forget who is older or who can still kick your ass if I need to. I’m not through talking to you. So, you letting me in or are we entertaining the whole twelfth floor.”
Jack mumbled under his breath. “Jackass.”
“I’ll be sure to include this fine moment in your wedding toast.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Jack really wasn’t up for his friend’s attempts at lighthearted deflection.
“Jack, you love that girl. Are you telling me that you of all people can’t find a way to make two years in Paris work. I’m not buying it. You don’t want her to go and from the many texts my wife keeps sending me from across the hall she doesn’t want to go anywhere that doesn’t include you. So, stop this bullshit pity-party and figure it out.”
“I’m glad you went into business and not medicine or counseling. Your bedside manner leaves a lot to be desired.”
“Well, my patient is being a stubborn horse’s ass.”
“Name calling isn’t exactly a motivational tool.”
“Neither is bourbon,” Jack watched as Michael went to his bar for the bottle cap. Not saying a word Michael removed the glass from his hand tossed back the last sip then took the bottle from his other hand and closed it up. “I don’t know how long you’ve been at this or how much was in the bottle, but I’m cutting you off.”
“Hey! You can tell Brianna what to do, but don’t come in my house with your dictatorial bullshit.”
“Jackson! Stop. Don’t say anything else you’re going to regret when you have a sober mind. This isn’t about me and Brianna. Although, it will be about us if you keep hurting her friend. Now, sit your ass in that chair. I’m going to make some coffee and you are going to figure this out. Sit, Jack.”
When Michael brought the coffee out to him it was black and strong. The smell assaulting Jack’s nose before the taste took a shot at his mouth.
“This is awful.”
“Good. Drink it. You don’t deserve nice things right now.”
Excerpt #2: For the Record
“I already know how this is going to go. I’m not going to give you an answer you find good enough and you’re going to be annoyed with me. Don’t look at me like that. The last time I said you were mad you took offense and said it made you sound like a rabid animal. Plus, I don’t really like your method of quick resolution. There’s something to be said for long drawn out lectures. I’m up to hearing one tonight, promise. You’ll have my undivided attention.”
“I’m confident I’m going to get and hold your attention my way too.”
He held out his hand to her and was relieved when he didn’t feel nerves flowing from her in the way of a jittery hand or sweaty palm. Jack was less certain about this whole spanking thing than Michael was with Brianna. Not because he didn’t believe it could break an issue down and get it resolved real nice, but he and Keila didn’t have the luxury of a passionate reconnection. More regrets of taking sex off the table rattled his brain.
Michael had been right about one thing though this experience was changing him in ways he couldn’t have imagined. After his wife it had been impossible to conceive of the notion of caring for someone in the way he’d cared for Julia. Of course, that also meant a frustration like no other with their particular brand of stubborn. He’d suspected it would be an uphill battle though and this time he was more prepared. There was something to be said for an additional twenty years of life experience.
“Kid, we talked about this very thing and explicitly, before I left, and what were you supposed to do? What did you promise me you would do?”
Jack took her chin in his hand and brought her head up so that they were back to making that intense level of eye contact. She gave a test wiggle and twist, but he wasn’t letting up at all. It took longer than he would have liked, but she finally answered him.
“I was supposed to call you if anything came up. But, Jack--”
“No. The minute you say ‘but’ you negate everything else. You were supposed to call me, period. So, when we talked and you were saying that everything was fine that was a--”
“No, no. If I answer that it’s, it’s entrapment! I’m pleading the fifth. I refuse to incriminate myself.”
It was really hard keeping it together. Jack wanted to laugh at her Law & Order level of legal knowledge being used to persuade him into saying what she wanted.
“Nice try, Kid. When I ask if things are good, I have to be able to trust that you’re telling me the truth. I’m on the road too much for us not to have impeccable trust between us. On the big and small things. And, for the record, this is on the big side of things.”
Excerpt #1: Gossip Girls
“That’s her. No, don’t stare.”
“What’s her story?”
“I don’t know. Marcey just calls her the girl in apartment 1203. She used to live on nine in that big corner apartment. We used to joke that it must be nice to have mommy and daddy footing the bills for this place, but her roommate moved out at the end of the term and rumor has it that she married the man we thought was her daddy.”
“Wow! How do you and Marcey find this stuff out?”
“Get your nose out of the books sometimes and hang out with us when folks come over. You would know these things too. You know nobody’s seen her with anyone except the hot older dude who lives on her floor. Ron and Chris both got shot down when they asked her out.”
Ding. The doors opened on eleven and those two heifers had the nerve to exit and then turn back and wave. Keila wouldn’t give them the satisfaction of knowing she’d heard their petty gossip or was at all affected by it. She smiled, waved back, and immediately smashed the door close button so hard the pressure shot through hand and up her wrist. When the doors opened on her floor Keila turned left to her side of the building then sprinted left and down the hall grateful for the carpeting that covered the hallway from the elevators down both ends of the hall on either side. The building had kept the elevator bank marble which matched the lobby, but would have made her rapidly falling footsteps echo like thunder with the chunky heel she was rocking. They weren’t really uncomfortable, once she managed to walk further than the car to her chair, but they would never be as easy as her ballet flats. According to Brianna though no one would take her seriously at her internship if she looked all of fifteen years old.
Shutting the door behind her and turning both locks finally gave her a reason to exhale and quieted the voices still reverberating in her head of the girls from the elevator. Keila knew it was foolish to let silly building gossip break her down. Michael, Brianna, and especially Jack had all told her that the first night they’d all been together again, once Jack was all moved into his own place across the hall and the happy couple had returned from their honeymoon.
Excerpt #2 "What is this, 1980?"
"Keila, when I went home for the summer, it all hit me. Smack in the face like a frozen washcloth, I had an ice cold wake up call. I spent seven weeks answering calls at an insurance company and I wanted to swallow a bottle of pills just for the excitement of an ambulance ride to the next town over. There was no way I was going back for longer than a week and certainly not forever. But, that was all I knew. I had zero plans beyond finishing school. I already had the RA position lined up, so that was taking a few thousand off my bill, but it wasn't enough."
As she sipped from her bottle of water, Bri looked over and saw that her audience of one was still captivated and continued.
"So, I'm trying to finish this online sign up for a dance class that I can't afford, and this banner pops up for this dating website. It's called Purposeful Mate. Sounds all sci-fi, right? Like, build a mate. I swear, when I clicked it, I wasn't even looking to date. Honestly, I was looking for a distraction. People basically sign up and get matched up based on their needs and desires, but mostly need. I was shocked. I had never heard of anything like this back home. I started doing research, and there are a bunch of sites like it out there. As a college student, I could agree to keep company with someone and flat out ask for an allowance to do it."
"You're a hooker!" Keila yelled, then immediately clamped her hand over her mouth.
The girls stared at each other. The word bounced around the room, at the volume and intensity it was delivered, and assaulted them both. Keila didn't mean to be harsh, but it was her honest gut reaction. Her friend was flat out dating for profit. Wasn't that the definition of being a hooker? Just thinking about it made her blush. Jewish or not, her mom would pull her out of school and drop her off at the nearest convent. That so wasn't the point, though. She was supposed to be being a friend and not a Judgmental Judy. Brianna looked like she might cry and stop the conversation. Keila couldn't really blame her.
Keila slid closer and put an arm around her. "I'm sorry. Name-calling is never okay. You did catch me off guard, though. My fault. I thought I already knew what you were going to say, and obviously, I wasn't as committed to listening as I thought. Forgive me? I'm stupid and I have a big mouth. I'm zipping it and I'm going back to listening. For real, this time."
"Name calling is never okay, and yeah, it was kind of stupid and a little mean." Bri elbowed her in the ribs. Keila couldn't even complain. She had it coming, but more importantly, Bri didn't move out of the hug. That made her happy.
"I'm not a whore. I swear."
"I'm, I didn't—"
"It's okay. I know how it sounds, but I just need you to know that. Keila, you would be amazed at some of the non-sexual, seriously boring stuff someone will pay for. I went to the opera with one man. That was it. He was married and his wife was disabled. She didn't like going out to fancy places anymore and he didn't want to give up their box seats. He paid me five hundred dollars to go to fabulous restaurants and wonderful shows. Plus, he sent me to get completely made over for the night—hair, makeup, clothes, shoes, the works. He got a date and I got the experience and some great gifts. He really taught me a lot in those few months."
"That doesn't sound so bad. Why did you stop seeing him?"
"He was only offering a short-term arrangement. Basically, a few fancy dates a month. I was looking for a real long-term arrangement. I loved that taste of the fancy side of life. I was hooked and a few dates a month weren't enough. I was really lucky he was my first one, though. We understood we couldn't give one another what we wanted and we ended on great terms. I was scared to ask for all I wanted and needed. He taught me that it was okay to do that. Hell, it was the reason the site existed. So, with his encouragement, I updated my profile and poured my heart into it."
"Wow. So, that's how you met Michael."
"I wish. I went through plenty of duds first, but those are stories for another time. There are a lot of liars out there and few freaks."
The vibration between them startled both girls into separating. It took a second for the realization to dawn. Bri began patting the bed to feel for the phone that must have slipped from the pocket of her baggy sweatpants. She kept an alarm set so that she could call and say goodnight to Michael. It began on show nights as a way for him to know she was home safe from any late performances. Once their relationship developed, he liked the idea of being the last voice she heard before going to sleep and knowing that she was safe in bed for the night. It also became one of their first official rules. He loved the idea of those. The goodnight ritual was both reasonable and practical, so Brianna didn't offer much pushback, but she was still nineteen. She got forgetful and sometimes obstinate. Michael had zero compunction doling out consistent hand to butt reminders.
"Birth control alarm?" Keila laughed and wiggled her eyebrows.
"No! What is this, 1980? I take the shot every three months. It's my alarm to call Michael and say goodnight."
"Oh, go ahead. We can chat another time."
Bri pulled her back as she began to scoot off the bed. "No. I'm not tired. I'm not going to bed and I want to finish our conversation. I'll text him."
Excerpt #3 "No Judgement"
"Would you please just hit enter? You're going to do it, eventually. Don't think I haven't seen you toggling back and forth. Writing a paper, my ass."
Brianna was pushing her friend harder than ever, because the clock was ticking and they were running out of time.
"Another dress fitting? Bri, every time we go, you change your mind just enough that we have to go back. I need to study. I need to find another job. Do you know what I don't need? I don't need to stand on another podium being stuck with pins, so we can get the fit just right. Actually, I don't think anyone needs more of that in their lives."
"You're deflecting. You won't have to find another job if you just hit enter."
"You just shut it. I might not have to hit enter if the job offer comes through and I max out my student loans. Maybe I'll move back into the dorms."
Brianna nearly fell inside Keila's closet. A closet that was, in fact, bigger than the single room she would be in if she moved back on campus.
"Right. From doorman-high rise back to sharing ten toilets with thirty girls. That is never going to happen."
"Didn't I tell you to shut it? What are you looking for, anyway?"
"In all of this mess? The lost city of Atlantis! I need your sexy patent sling backs. I don't have any heels close enough in height to my wedding shoes for the fitting. I've only seen you wear them twice, and then it was only half the night. You should just let me keep them."
Brianna kept looking. She loved her roommate like a sister, they were best friends, but the girl was a slob and didn't keep anything in its place. When she walked into her room, she had no idea the horrors her bathroom or closets held. The bed was always made, and only her desk showed signs of daily usage, but behind every door and closed drawer was a war zone. The left shoe had been located in the front hall closet; however, the location of the right one was yet to be determined. The only thing the prolonged search gave her was time to keep talking Keila into hitting the damn enter key.
* * *
Keila hated admitting that Brianna was right. It set a bad precedent, but she did not want her senior year of college to be an exercise in regressions. Moving back into the dorms was ridiculous, even as a notion. She had put off applying to be a resident assistant, which meant tomb sized single or sharing with someone brand-new.
There was no judgment, anymore, between the girls, but Keila still wasn't super comfortable with the idea of diving into the sugar bowl. Dating specifically for money was, well... Even the name made her feel a little icky. No, what it made her feel, no matter how expensive the gifts, was cheap. She didn't think of Brianna in that way, but when she saw her own life through that same lens, it felt different. If her mother and grandmother ever found out, they would disown her on principle. It was really the only way they could disown her, since she had zero chance of inheriting the brownstone in the foreseeable future, and beyond that, neither of them were worth more than a couple thousand dollars and a couple of life insurance policies.
"And, you really think I can do it without it ever involving sex?" Keila's voice wavered with the deep mire of doubt she continued to wade in.
"I don't know about forever. It'll depend on how long you're in the sugar bowl. The biggest thing you need to remember is that you decide, period. It might take a while, but you can get the arrangement that's perfect for you. I did."
"Like everything else with Michael, I'm thinking your arrangement is rare."
"Not as rare as you think. Multi-million dollar companies don't get built on terrible results. But, yeah, they did break the mold with him."
Each of the girls had a deep U-shaped closet in their room. Brianna's was set up with shoe racks and matching hangers. Her clothes were hung seasonally and color-coded. She could also see the floor of the said closet. The contrast was the minefield that was Keila's closet. This was why Michael was constantly praising her for keeping her room so nice. All of her mess was on the floor of the closet. Bri had already kicked past a mountain mixture of clean and dirty clothes. She'd stepped on three buttons or clothes with buttons. It was hard to tell.
"Found it! If you don't clean this closet out this weekend, I'm telling. It's petty, but you need help. Now, we seriously need to get going. Michael is meeting us for lunch when we're done, and if I'm late one more time this week, well, I think we both know that's my butt— literally. Please hit send. You know we'll help screen for you. Michael even gave his stamp of approval on your profile. There's nothing left to do. Unless you've changed your mind about staying here for the year and letting Michael pay for it."
"Absolutely not! There are so many things wrong with that, I don't even know where to begin. I'm not having your future husband turn into my sugar daddy."
"Sex will definitely be off the table, plus, you already have a semi-relationship. You know what he would expect and he's clear on what you would need. It would only be for a year. Married men are the best kind. They absolutely won't monopolize your time. It would be a much more hands-off approach," Bri said, sitting down beside her friend, knowing this was a move destined to make them late and land her back in Michael's crosshairs. She hadn't been too much of a bridezilla, but she was off her game and had displayed one too many fits of temper and disregard.
"Maybe, but not my best friend's husband. Besides, Michael is a little intense for my taste and his approach—well, let's just say hands-off isn't the description I would use."
Keila rubbed her ass unconsciously, thinking about the one and only time she earned her own dose of Michael. About a month earlier, the girls had royally pissed him off and, according to him, took about five years off his life.
Excerpt #1 "Graduation Day"
"You left out Black, Mother. I'm a Black-Jewish woman. That part is always conveniently left off by you and by Grams when you're spouting affirmations, but all I have to do is look in the mirror and I can see the truth as plain as day all over my face. You see it, too. My God, sometimes it's like you can't even look at me, because of how much you see him in my face. Is this why you look through me? Is it?"
"I can't deal with your hysterics today."
"I am not hysterical. I think I'm quite calm, considering the run around I've gotten for the last eighteen years."
"Please get ready to come down for dinner. Your grandmother is having guests and she won't be happy if she has to explain your late appearance at the table."
"I could just not come down at all. She could tell them I'm sick." "Keila, I'm begging you. These social things are important to your grandmother. With everything she does for us, a few social functions aren't a lot to ask."
"Nothing has changed for you, has it? She's still controlling you. Whatever money Grandpa left or whatever secrets she's holding over you can't be worth it. So what, you got pregnant in college. Big whoop! Who didn't?"
"I am not doing this. I know you're working me up on purpose, but I made my choices a long time ago and going over it every time you're in the mood to stir up trouble isn't going to change anything. She's my mother. She was right. I accepted that a long time ago. It would be great if, just once, you could follow my example."
"You mean I should blindly do what you say no matter how it makes me feel. I should be just like you, huh? That's a hard pass. I think I'll be my own woman. I'll ask what I want. I'll feel what I want. And, I won't become her second bird in a gilded cage."
"So disrespectful. Get your attitude together and get yourself downstairs. And, Keila, don't bring this up again."
Turning her back to her mother, Keila waited for the silence to eventually crescendo to the height of discomfort. Then she would hear her mother move across the room and the door shut behind her. It was how these talks always ended. Master avoider, that was the woman who raised her, guided her, and taught her how to deal with the world and she couldn't wait to get away from her and try things in a whole new way.
Find your ideal daddy. Is he dark and dirty? Does he make you blush with the things he says and does? Is he about lavishing you with gifts or experiences? Or, is he healing a part of you long buried and forgotten? He can be your teacher, mentor, friend, supporter, snuggle partner, and, yes, even a disciplinarian because sometimes you need to hear no, even when you don’t want to.
Asking for exactly what you want can be hard, but a good daddy somehow usually figures it out. His gift of discernment is what makes him special. He’s fulfilling a need and being completed, himself, at the same time. He’s creating the safe place you need to be the best you possible.
Keila had no idea what she was getting into when she embarked on seeking her own special arrangement, but once she met Jack, it all came together in her mind. Now, she just had to articulate her needs and her wants without fear. The fear was blocking her blessings, and the fact was after a long get to know you period, she knew Jack was for her, even if it was only temporary.
Jack was devastated after his wife’s death and poured all his energies into work while ignoring his love life, beyond his physical needs. Just when he thought it would be this way forever, he meets a young woman who begins to consume his head and his heart quite unexpectedly. It is a slow building relationship that reignites things in the powerful man that he, too, believed to be buried forever.
It’ll take time to shift friendship and mentoring into romance, but the best things in life are worth waiting for and often lead to the best results. Keila and Jack meet through friends who have taken their arrangement to the next level. Now, they, too, will need to figure out what Daddy Arrangement is best for them.
Publisher's Note: This sweet, interracial romance is about an older man and a younger woman. If that is offensive to you, please do not read it.
Leah begins her holidays with a tightly timed cross country dash to make her international flight home to the States after accepting a job and moving to Japan. Things start out well enough, until she discovers that a handsome man is occupying the seat she had splurged on as an expensive bit of self indulgence. Not a great traveler in the best of times, Leah’s frustration comes out loud and strong.
They start out as strangers on the train, but end up as a lot more, as the thorn in her side becomes her knight in shining armor helping her through repeated obstacles.
He’d been thinking of getting her alone for a quick holiday romp the entire train ride, but now when he offers a solution and a place to stay, he has an entirely different plan in mind. She could end up being his very own Christmas miracle. Sure, the smart, robust, sassy lady could use a lesson in manners and being grateful for what you have, and Adrian believes he’s just the man to teach her.
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