CHAPTER ONE Dr. Shari Thomas swung her long legs out the car door, avoiding the water running along the curb. She withdrew a small, black compact umbrella, pressed a button, and it opened smoothly with a wooshing sound. With her head lowered and umbrella braced, she dashed against the summer rain. Taking shelter under a building overhang, she folded her dripping umbrella and stepped through the glass doors. She hurried along the bright corridor to the closest elevator. When the doors opened again, Shari was greeted by the unit secretary, Marion Bennett. “Good afternoon, Dr. Thomas.” “Good afternoon, Marion. What room is my patient in?” Marion gave Shari the patient’s chart. “Mrs. Adams is in labor room two.” Felicia Adams was forty years old, her husband was ten years younger, and he’d always wanted a family. Until she married him, she was perfectly satisfied with not having children. Like many women she chose to put her career first. A moment later Shari knocked and entered the labor room. Shari smiled. “Felicia, how are you?” “I’m tired all the time, Dr. Thomas,” she whined. “My back aches, my head hurts, and I look like a beached whale. I heard that being pregnant changes the body, but I had no idea it would do this to me.” “What you are experiencing is very common,” Shari explained. “Babies take the nutrients and leave you drained. You’re carrying twins and at the stage when most women are slowing down, so you’re more exhausted.” Shari pulled a stethoscope from around her neck, “Are you taking your prenatal vitamins?” Felicia nodded. “Faithfully. David makes sure of it.” Shari listened to her patient’s heart, then checked her lungs. Both were clear. She placed the instrument to Felicia’s stomach, and smiled up at her when one of the babies kicked. Straightening, she pulled the stethoscope from her ears. “Feels like they’re running a marathon in there.” “I know. Happens all the time.” “Everything seems fine. I got your glucose test back, and your blood sugar doesn’t look good.” “What?” Felicia was alarmed. “What is going on, Dr. Thomas?” Shari took a deep breath. “The glucose test shows you have gestational diabetes.” Felicia’s face immediately became pale. “Is it life threatening?” “It can be, but we can keep it under control with the proper treatment.” “If you can’t?” Felicia asked. Shari reached out and grabbed Felicia hand, squeezing it tenderly. “With you and me working together, I’m sure everything is going to be fine. First we’ll put you on a special meal plan and schedule physical activity.” Thirty minutes later, Shari watched Felicia Adams waddle through the door. Felicia was the only patient Dr. Shari Thomas had at the hospital at the moment. She drove the ten minutes back to her office in North Little Rock, Arkansas. She allowed the peace and quiet of her office to surround her as she made final notes on Felicia Adam’s chart. All of her life, Shari knew she has wanted to become a doctor. No one expected the poor, country girl from West Memphis, Arkansas, to succeed. But her mother believed in her. At thirty-five, Shari had her own medical practice, but she found it was not enough. She longed to find someone to love and marry. She thought she’d found him once, but it wasn’t meant to be. After she opened the practice two years ago, Shari missed the security of being on staff at the hospital, but her best friend, Camilla Williams also an Obstetrician joined the practice. Thanks to high profits for the past year, Shari was comfortable enough to search for a location in Little Rock. She had little doubt the practice would thrive because of excellent patient care. It pleased her to know that many of her new patients were referrals. Shari walked into the outer office. The paintings of Gauguin, Renoir, and Toulouse-Lautrec, displayed on the soft tan walls enhanced the area. A coffee table was covered with Pregnancy, American Baby, Baby Years, Parents, Ebony, and Jet magazines. Across the room a color television set and rubber plant sat next to each other. As Shari reached the filing cabinet, she heard a familiar voice. “How’s Mrs. Adams?” She turned to see Camilla walking toward the reception desk. Shari sighed deeply. “She has gestational diabetes.” “Think you can control it?” Camilla asked, walking around and leaning against the desk. “If she cooperates and follows the meal and physical excercise we discussed.” “I hope she does.” Shari and Camilla had become good friends in medical school. Camilla was a likeable person and the two of them hit it off immediately, despite being complete opposites. Shari offered Camilla stability and cool rationale, while Camilla provided excitement and moral support. Most important Camilla had a heart of gold and was fun to be around. Both were in their thirties. Camilla dated regularly, unlike Shari who devoted her life to her son and career. Her social life was practically nonexistent. “Are you ready for the hospital fund- raiser?” Camilla leaned forward and smiled. Shari glanced at her friend. “Is that tonight?” She put a prenatal chart back in its proper place in the file cabinet. She had been working so hard the past couple of weeks that the event had slipped her mind. “Are you still going?” Camilla asked in a voice that dared Shari to back out. Shari studied Camilla for a moment as she tried to decide whether to attend. What the heck, she thought, she might as well go ahead as planned. “Yes, I’m still going, but we have to make a trip to mall before it closes. That reminds me, I have to call Michael to find out what time he’s coming by to pick me up.” Shari disappeared in her office, reappearing a few minutes later with her black clutch purse in hand. “Michael is escorting you tonight?” Camilla asked as they walked out of the doctor’s office to Shari’s Mercedes. “Yes, he’s escorting me.” Shari and Dr. Michael Mason had been going out occasionally for the past couple of months. He wasn’t the most exciting man alive, but he was a solid, stable, and a successful cardiologist. She remembered the day he had walked into the maternity unit for a consultation. He was average height and his skin looked like rich coffee sweetened with just a touch of cream. The female staff threw themselves at him, but Shari remained professional. After six months of turning down his advances, she gave in and agreed to a dinner invitation. Camilla slid onto the passenger seat, casting a thoughtful glance at Shari. “I know how you really feel about him, and it’s not the same way he feels about you.” She raised a perfect arched brow. “Or have things changed?” Shari returned her friend’s glance for a moment. “If you’re thinking what I think you’re thinking, the answer is no. You know my past. I want to take things slow.” Camilla smiled wickedly. “I know how long it’s been since you’ve been with a man. Six years to be exact. So, you may be thinking it’s time to end that drought.” Shari exhaled a long breath, turned the key in the ignition, and started the motor. Why did she have to mention how long it’s been since she’s been intimate? She was well aware of how long it had been since a man had been in her bed. “How does Michael feel about your decision to abstain?” Shari knew sooner or later, if she continued to see Michael, he would want more out of the relationship. She just wasn’t sure he was the one she wanted to end her drought. “He said he understands,” Shari answered, pulling out into traffic. “You believe him?” Camilla asked. “How was your day?” Shari felt she had enough of Camilla’s habitual spiel about her love life. Camilla didn’t have to worry about her love life. She could have dated more often if she wanted. Like Michael, men found her attractive, She could have had a date, if she wanted, this evening for the fund raiser. The handsome mechanic at the auto dealership where she got her car service made her well aware he’d be more than happy to get to know her better. She smiled and kindly informed him she already had a date. Camilla smothered a laugh. “Okay, okay! We’ll talk about it later. How’s my godson? Can we talk about him?” “Christian is at his friend Brandon’s house. You’ll get a chance to see him later. I’m picking him up after we leave the mall,” Shari explained, finding a space close to the entrance of McCain Mall and cutting the car’s engine. CHAPTER TWO Derrick Rawlings lifted his six-one frame from the plush chair. He walked slowly to the window and gazed out at the calm waves of the Arkansas River. Meetings kept him very busy all day. He’d worked his butt off for six years in London, and his efforts had helped Rawlings Industries become a multinational company. He hardly had time to think about coming back home. Derrick stood there with his long fingers shoved into the pockets of his black designer slacks. He lounged unconsciously against the window frame observing the waves. He himself felt turbulent not calm. His heart had ached for his family in Arkansas, but he didn’t want to come back. His father had suffered a mild heart attack and his mother had insisted that his retire and that Derrick come home to replace his father as President of the company. Professionally, he had no problem, stepping into his father’s shoes, but personally he didn’t want to be in the same country, let alone the same state with her. It’s been six years since he’d left Arkansas. Six years, five months, seven days, sixteen hours, ten minutes, and twenty seconds to be exact. His mind drifted back. He could see the face of the beautiful, brown-skinned woman float to the surface. He recalled the first time he had seen her. They had met at a local college hangout at University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. At twenty-five he had been in his last year of graduate school for business. She was in her second year of medical school. She wanted to specialize in Obstetrics. He can still see her long, thick, black hair, framing her oval face, and practically smell the scent of her. He thought of their many nights of sizzling-hot-passion that has remained etched in his mind. He can still feel her soft, wet, and wild body underneath his as they moaned each other’s name over and over again. He felt his body tremble when he remembered how he loved, stroked, and caressed her body from head to toe, not leaving one part unloved. He had been surprised, but arrogantly pleased to discover he was her first lover. Lord knows he’d been no angel. Until he met her, he was a man who constantly enjoyed the company of beautiful women, if anyone had even suggested that he would fall in love and want to marry, Shari or any other woman, he would have laughed in their face. Shari was different. She was special. She touched his heart. He fell in love with her. She made him a one woman man. Evidently, she wasn’t a one man woman. His jaw tightened as the memory of her and his best friend entered his mind. They deserved each other, yet Derrick couldn’t help wondering if they were still together, although he hoped not to ever run into them. A knock interrupted his thoughts. “Come in,” Derrick answered as he turned toward the door. It was Trevor Wilson. He stopped just inside the doorway. “Busy?” He closed the door behind him and came farther into the office. “No, come on in,” Derrick strode to the sideboard and picked up the silver coffee pot to top off his coffee. He nodded toward Lance who shook his head no and took the chair across from Derrick’s desk. On Derrick’s return to his seat, he closed the folder on the desk. “Thanks for naming me head of the Marketing department.” Derrick and Trevor had attended undergraduate college together at Arkansas, but because of financial problems, Trevor moved back home to Atlanta, in his senior year and attended Morehouse College. After graduate school his father hired him. Trevor was more than qualified to head the department and Derrick knew he could depend on him to look out for Rawlings Industries. “There is no reason to thank me. I chose the right man for the position.” Trevor knew how modest Derrick was and changed the subject. “How do you feel about coming home?” Derrick took a deep breath, thinking of the words to describe how he really felt. “To be honest I have mixed feelings about it, but under the circumstances, I have no other choice.” He knew Trevor was aware of the reason behind his sudden transfer. Trevor had never met the woman that made him leave Little Rock and settle in London but he had heard about her. “Are you ready for Japan?” Derrick asked abruptly. Trevor cast him a cool look. “Yes, I have everything under control. I realize this is a great business opportunity for the company.” “A very important one. With this move we open the door wider. Internationally. So nothing can go wrong.” Trevor nodded. “I know, I know, Mr. Rawlings,” he teased. “I’m ready. Nothing will go wrong.” Derrick leaned back in his chair and massaged the back of his neck. “Sorry man, force of habit.” “Think nothing of it.” The intercom buzzed, interrupting them. Derrick leaned over and punched the button, “Deborah, continue to hold all my calls, please.” Deborah had been with him long enough to know not to interrupt him in a meeting. “I’m sorry, Mr. Rawlings, but your mother is on line one. I thought you would want to speak with her.” “Excuse me, Trevor. Let me take this.” He pressed the blinking phone button as Trevor quietly left the office. “Hello, mother. How’s dad? Is he taking his medication? What did the doctor say?” His father had a follow up appointment to see the Cardiologist. He figured something had to be wrong for his mother to call him this early in the morning and from Montego Bay, Jamaica. His parents decided to retire after 50 years in Little Rock. “He’s doing very well. He is taking his medication and the doctor says as long as he takes it easy, he will live another thirty-to-forty years. I am calling because I promised your father I would call and see how you’re settling in.” Derrick smiled to himself. Dad would never change. He was still determined to hold on to the power he was forced to relinquish. It was determination, talent, and focus that made Albert Rawlings a prominent force in the computer business world. Those qualities were what made the company a giant in technology. Derrick couldn’t imagine him not being around, controlling, and manipulating an organization of more than ten thousand employees, but his second heart attack forced him to give that up. “Tell dad to continue taking his medication and listen to the doctor. Everything is going smoothly, and I am settling in fine,” he added quickly. “Even the hospital fund raiser is on schedule for tonight.” Each year his mother hosted a fund-raiser to increase awareness about African-Americans and heart disease. It was a formal affair held at the Excelsior Hotel in downtown Little Rock. Eleanor had been chairwoman of the event for the past couple of years. “Good. I am glad to hear that. I thought maybe we would have to postpone it when your father became ill. I feel better knowing it’s going to go on as scheduled.” “How is he adjusting to retirement?” She took a deep breath. “Well as you know it was difficult for him at first, because he’s use to being in the thick of things, but he seems to be adjusting.” “Where is he now?” He wanted to speak with his father. Maybe get some last minute instructions and advice. “He went fishing. He doesn’t want to admit it, but he’s having the time of his life.” Eleanor laughed. “I envy him.” Derrick joined in the laughter. Eleanor chimed in, “I want you to know that we both feel a lot better, knowing that you’re president of Rawlings Industries. Your father will call next week to see how things are going. My love to you,” she added quickly and disconnected. Derrick sat glued to the chair. His thoughts running to and fro. He slowly placed the phone back into the cradle and ran his hand across his head. Did she just say she loved him? He couldn’t remember the last time she echoed those words. With that revelation he wondered what other revelations were in store for him. ***** The smooth voice of Sade’s “Paradise coming from the CD player on the shelf of the cabinet in the living room flowed into the bedroom. Shari added a pair of black earrings to the ensemble. She crossed the thick brown carpet to check her final appearance, in the European style three mirror vanity table. She had decided to up sweep her long black hair. A long graceful curl hung freely on each side of her oval face. She looked at her self from three different angles. Not bad, she thought, her long fingers traveled up and down the length of the expensive floor length, black velvet clinging gown. Stepping down in her high-heel Italian pumps to match, she added an extra light coat of lipstick. She felt so good, she began singing along to the record, moving to the beat, the hypnotic sound reminded her of how much she loved to dance. “Mom, you look pretty,” Christian spoke from the doorway. The smiling face of her son was always a warm sight. Christian was tall and slim for his age of five. His features the replica image of is father. “Thank you,” she smiled. Christian came farther into the bedroom, and plunged onto the bed. “You’re going out with Dr. Mason?” “Yes, I am.” she gave him a kiss on the forehead. “We’re going to a fund raiser.” He frowned, “What is a fund raiser?” “It’s like a big party, where everyone dresses up and give money to people who need it.” Shari carefully explained. Christian seemed satisfied with the answer. He went over to Shari’s vanity table, lightly touching the expensive perfume bottles. Careful not to break them. He looked back at his mother, “I like Dr. Mason, don’t you mom?” “Yes. I like Dr. Mason.” Shari knew what her son wanted to talk about. She knew how much her son adored Dr. Mason and vice versa. He was hoping one day they would become a family. It has been tough raising a son on her own, and having a demanding career, but she has managed to do both. She had to leave medical school to give birth to Christian, but she knew she’d made the right decision. Christian had never met his father. He didn’t realize his family was different until he entered school, there the other children would attend school functions with a mother and father, and he began to ask about his father. Shari told him that his father lived far away and could not attend, but she was sure if he could attend; he would. “All right sweetheart.” Shari found herself saying. “Let’s get you ready for bed, and Mrs. Miller should be here any minute now.” “Mom, it’s still early,” Christian protested. “You don’t have to go to bed now, but let’s get you in your pajamas.” “I want you in bed by nine o’clock,” she called after Christian, who was running down the hallway to his bedroom. “Mom, I can put my own pajamas on.” He opened the chest of drawers and chose a pair of pajamas with a picture of Grover from Sesame Street on the front. He began taking his clothes off. “I’m a big boy,” he said proudly. “I can dress myself.” “I see,” Shari smiled at him. He was growing up so fast. “See?” Christian began to pull awkwardly at his pants. Shari laughed. “All right. I’m going. I see you don’t need my help.” She left Christian’s bedroom and headed down the hallway to the living room. The antique clock in the hallway chimed the half hour. Seven-thirty. Dr. Mason would be picking her up in thirty minutes. She placed her small black clutch purse on the ivory colored circular sofa and looked proudly around the room taking in the European style of the furnishings. She crossed the room and turned off the CD player. She spent long hours away from home, and when she returned she enjoyed enclosing herself with beautiful surroundings. The pieces were light in color, but massive, giving the room a bright aura, making it cozy and comfortable. She ran her fingers gently across the back of the antique lounging chair. She’d spotted the collector’s item at a garage sale. She had even managed to talk the man down from his asking price, purchasing it for half the price. She’d had the chair upholstered to match the rest of the ivory colored decor. Art by African-Americans hanging on the soft white walls had taken months to locate but were worth the time and expense. The sound of the doorbell interrupted her thoughts. Shari peeped through the viewer, finding Mrs. Miller standing on the doorstep. “I’m sorry, child, to be running late,” she said, sounding out of breath. “Those grandchildren of mine bout to run me crazy,” she smiled affectionately. “Bless their little hearts. They didn’t want grandma to leave.” Mrs. Miller strolled lazily over to the sofa, put down her crocheting bag then turned back to Shari with outstretched arms, and gave her an affectionate hug. “Child, don’t you look nice. That doctor friend of yours is going to have a heart attack when he sees you,” she chattered on. “It’s a good thing he’s a heart doctor, cause when he sees you, he’s going to need one himself.” She threw her head back with a big laugh. Shari blushed. “That’s the idea, Billie.” “Well, child you don’t have to worry about that. Tonight, you are what the doctor ordered.” Mrs. Miller began looking around the room. “Where’s my little man?” “He’s putting on his pajamas. He should be out in a minute.” “I better fix him something to eat. That boy is bound to be hungry. Where he puts it, I’ll never know.” She shook her head from side to side.” Skinny as a rail just like his mamma. If you need me, I’ll be in the kitchen.” Shari watched the plump African-American middle-aged woman turn and hurry into the kitchen. A few moments later the sound of pots and pans were proceeded by the soft voice of “Amazing Grace” carried into the air. She had been in desperate need of a baby sitter for several weeks, when Mrs. Billie Mae Miller responded to the ad she placed in the Arkansas Gazette. The Hershey-skinned woman, with the congenial smile, sparkling bright eyes, and dark hair that streaked softly at the temple was heaven sent. She was a nice looking woman, though she had a choice of suitors, she chose to remain single after her husband Joe’s death ten years ago. Shari and Christian both took to her right away. She hated to think what they would do without her. She was like family. Shari’s father passed when she was thirteen. Her mother passed two years ago, and there were no other siblings. Shari opened the door to Dr. Mason at exactly eight o’clock. He smiled at her with satisfaction displayed on his face. “Hello Shari. You look lovely,” he said. “Thank you, Michael you don’t look too shabby yourself.” He looked debonair in his black tuxedo. From behind his back he revealed a bouquet of red roses. “For you,” he said stepping proudly into the room. He stopped in front of her and planted a gentle kiss on her cheek. “Michael, they’re lovely,” she said in a soft breath. She turned and walked into the den to find a vase for the roses. “Hi Dr. Mason,” Christian shouted, running buoyantly into the room. “Hey little man,” Michael said, hugging him affectionately. “How have you been?” “Fine,” Christian smiled. “You still gonna take me to play putt-putt?” “I sure am.” “Can we go Sunday?” Christian asked. “Sure we can.” Michael shifted his gaze to Shari entering the living rom. “If it’s okay with your mother?” Shari met her son’s bright eyes of anticipation. “Can we mom?” “I don’t see why not, but it will be after church.” “Of course,” Michael answered, “are you ready?” She nodded, “Just let me grab my purse and we can be on our way.” Shari reclaimed her purse, kissed Christian and said goodbye to Mrs. Miller. On the ride through Little Rock, Michael slipped an Eric Benet CD into the player and his smooth crooning kept them company, as he concentrated on the road ahead. Shari looked out into the darkness as the BMW sped along, heading southwest on Interstate 30. Splashes of haze glowed from the tall lamp posts that lined the city. She glanced over at Michael. He gave her a wink, and his right hand came down and squeezed her left hand affectionately. Shari returned a tight smile. She thought; if it wasn’t for medicine, they wouldn’t have anything in common. **** Derrick Rawlings’s eyes scanned the room; the fund raiser was successful. His parents would be pleased. The clientele was impressive, ranging from doctors, lawyers, to politicians. The list was endless. “How long is this event going to last?” Lance interrupted his thoughts. Lance was five years younger than Derrick. He enjoyed women, partying, and living life to the fullest. Derrick lost count over the years how often his parents had to go through the humiliation of numerous paternity suits. Lucky for him, each time it turned out false. “Patience, little brother, it will be over soon.” “It’s been a long day. I’m tired, bored, and ready to turn in.” Lance looked at the petite woman latched onto his arm. “I could find better things to do.” He planted a deep kiss onto her lips. “Hello Derrick,” the greeting came from Mia Dallas. Derrick looked over at her. She was enjoying the display put on by Lance and his date. “Hello Mia.” Mia reached out, taking Derrick’s hand in hers. “Why don’t we follow their lead and let me welcome you home properly?” Derrick had dated Mia in graduate school. Their relationship had been over for years. In a couple of week’s time Mia must have heard that he was president of the company, and still eligible. Derrick realized that she wanted to pick up where they left off, but it wasn’t going to happen. Although he had to admit that she was still one of the most beautiful women he’d ever seen. She was from a good family, background, and social standing. When he fell in love with Shari none of those things mattered. Derrick released her hand. “Mia, we’re no longer together.” Mia looked at him with dreamy eyes. “I know that. I was just hoping that after all of this time we could rekindle what we once had. I know you still remember how good we were together.” “I admit we were good at one time, but it’s been over between us for years. So let me tell you, so there is no misunderstanding. We will never go back to the way it was!” the statement was firm. “Do you understand?” “Mia’s neck snapped back. She raised her chin and stared at him for a moment. “I understand perfectly.” “Good,” Derrick declared, “because I don’t want to ever have this conversation with you again,” and with that, he stomped off. “Fine,” Mia eyes hardened, watching him disappear into the crowd. Shari made her way through the crowd, nodding acknowledgments and shaking hands. Michael spotted some acquaintances and went over to mingle. “Would you like something to drink?” A tall young waiter asked, holding out a wine tray. Shari took a glass of white wine. “You are wearing that dress,” a soft voice said behind her. She turned to see Camilla. “Move over Jennifer Lopez there is a new diva in town!” The humor in Camilla’s voice brought a blush to Shari’s cheeks. “You don’t think it’s too risque?” Shari tugged on the dress self-consciously. “No.” Camilla exclaimed. “We went through this at the mall. It looked fine then and it looks fine now. Besides, what’s wrong with taking a little risk now and then. Keeps you young.” Both women laughed. Camilla squeezed Shari’s arm in reassurance. Camilla could have passed for a high-fashion model tonight herself. She was wearing a strapless red dress, revealing her slender figure. She didn’t need to wear make-up. Her beauty was natural, exquisite, and flawless. “What do you think of this place? Isn't it breathtaking?” They strolled into a huge oblong glass room. It was filled with African decor. Wicker furniture was placed in charming arrangements. In one corner was a table with two chairs. A lush profusion of fragrant yellow roses permeated the bright room. “The Rawlings’s really outdid themselves this time.” Shari's body tightened. She took another sip of wine, to compose herself.” “You didn't tell me that the Rawlings sponsored this fund raiser.” During the past six years, she had only seen one member of the family, and that was Lance a year ago at McCain Mall. Shari was there with Christian. Lance took a double take at Christian, spoke, but didn't ask questions. He didn't have to. Christian looked just like his father. She figured if Derrick knew he would have come back to town and demanded to be a part in his son's life. What they shared was unforgettable; she had given her virtue to him, and it had been the most fulfilling time she’d ever shared with a man. Then it fell apart. Derrick had accused her of being unfaithful. When he confronted her, she denied it of course. He didn’t believe her and the relationship was over. The breakup was very painful. Shortly after, she found out he transferred to London. Shari hadn't had the courage to ask Lance about Derrick. Was he still in London? How was he doing? Had he changed much? Was he ever coming back to town? Most important was he married? Why should he care? He made it perfectly clear it was over between them. She tried to convince herself she wanted to know simply for Christian’s sake. They strolled back into the main room. A woman's low throaty laughter amid a clinking of glasses came from across the room. Shari spotted Lance with an obviously younger looking woman on his arm. Their eyes locked, he smiled. Shari nodded. “I thought I told you.” Camilla took a sip of wine and said in matter-of-fact manner, I’m very sure that I...” Her gaze landed on their host. “You know I would never have st---.” Shari stopped in mid-sentence when she noticed Camilla’s gaze shifting from her to an object over her shoulder. “What is it?” She was just about to turn around when Camilla answered her. “You’re not going to believe this, but Derrick Rawlings is coming this way.” “What? Where?” She forced herself to turn and Derrick came into her line of vision, moving through the crowd shaking hands and greeting the guests. Six years may have passed but the man still could awaken the sensitive areas all over her body. The years had been good to him. He was still jaw-dropping gorgeous. She tossed the word around in her head....gorgeous. The word didn’t begin to describe him. As always, he was impeccably dressed. He still possessed style that denoted his wealth, authority, and power. Like her, female and males heads swivelled as he greeted the guests. He had that something that always set him apart from other men. The crisp white shirt extended delicately beyond the black tuxedo jacket. The collar of his shirt lightly caressed his neck. His black pants softly touched the top of his expensive shoes. Derrick’s gaze fixed on the woman who suddenly came into focus. He frowned, thinking there was no way it could be her. He sharpened his gaze, taking in everything about her while thinking there was no way. **** it is her. He drew in a deep breath and crossed the room. She forced herself to blink. When her former lover stopped in front of her, her heart slammed against her rib cage, and a warm feeling settled between her thighs. Her mouth opened to speak, but nothing came out. “Derrick,” she finally said, her voice barely above a whisper. “When did you move back to town?” “Never mind that,” his voice was cold as ice, “What are you doing here?” Shari stole a quick glance at Camilla. She was standing quiet, looking from one to the other. Shari returned Derrick’s hard expression with one of her own. “For your information, I was invited.” Derrick inclined his head slightly.“Yes, I remember now. You have a habit of being in places you’re not suppose to be.”He turned and walked past her. Shari’s heart sank as she watched Derrick greet the next couple warmly. She was still getting over the shock of his rebuff, when Michael came up behind her, and put his arms around her waist. “Come on, I’d like to dance with my favorite girl,” he whispered in her ear. Before she had a chance to answer, Michael weaved her through the crowd until he reached the center of the dance floor. Shari momentarily closed her eyes. She reopened them, looking up at Michael. Clearly he was oblivious to what had happened. He took her carefully in his arms. She fell against his chest, inhaled the scent of his cologne, and adjusted herself comfortably to his long, hard body. She felt his fingers gently touching the soft flesh of her shoulders, and move down the graceful curve of her back to the swell of her hips. She felt a wild urge to break free from him, but tried to unwind, and let Michael lead her through the dance. She clung to him and wondered when the song would end and if Derrick was watching. “Shari? Are you okay? You seem tense.” She nodded, refusing to look at Michael for fear he would notice she was not okay. ****** “Derrick?” “Huh?” He glanced at his brother standing beside him. His attention was elsewhere. Derrick still watched Shari moving into the arms of the man on the dance floor. His eyes narrowed when the man's hand moved down the graceful curve of her back to the swell of her hips. Her slender fingers moved the man's hands up. Seconds later it descended again. Derrick took a deep breath to calm himself. “Have you heard a word I've said?” Lance asked. Derrick gave Lance his full attention. “I heard every word you said.” He glanced over at Shari again. Lance's questioning gaze followed the direction of Derrick's on the dance floor. “You wouldn't be jealous, now would you?” He teased. Anger flashed briefly in Derrick's eyes. “I thought you were leaving.” Lance threw his hands up in a mock gesture of surrender. “Just an observation.” Questions about the man's identity swirled around in his head. Then he got his answer. He looked just in time to see them leaving together.