Some dreams will test your head and your heart…
John Small may be a successful Wall Street banker, but at heart he’s a country boy from the sleepy town of Nedine, South Carolina. John wants to open Nedine’s first black-owned bank. But big dreams can bring big problems and John’s snooty New York City girlfriend, Madeline, is just the beginning. John is about to learn some hard truths about money, power, love, and loyalty. And when his future, and his family’s legacy, is in danger, help will come from where he least expects it…
Alexandria Thornton is a hard-working corporate attorney by day, but she’s passionately pursuing her dream as a spoken word artist by night. Frustrated with her career and her lackluster love life, Alexandria’s ready to throw in the towel on both that is, until a man from her past reenters her life and changes everything. But her newfound happiness is short-lived when old lovers, lingering secrets, and hidden desires threaten to end it all…
Summertime, several decades in the past Nedine, South Carolina
Allene Small was glad she’d always been an early riser because on a day like today—which she knew held the promise of danger and deception—she was already up, ready for battle while the enemy was still asleep.
Allene sat on her tiny front porch and breathed in the fresh air around her as she looked out at the pink- and lavender-colored hydrangea bushes lining her neatly manicured yard. Slowly she pivoted back and forth in her ancient rocking chair, straining her eyes toward the east so she could take in the early-morning sun, which had started its climb in the distant sky. She blinked, nodding in agreement with the uncomfortable awareness resting in her heart and mind. She could feel the rumblings vibrating deep in her chest—trouble and strife—and, more specifically, the impending presence of a treacherous woman who was up to no good.
Allene knew that most folks would have been slightly set back or even frightened by such an ominous foreboding, but she wasn’t deterred and she wasn’t afraid. If there was one thing that ninety years of living and praying had taught her, it was that good and bad were always present, and sometimes the two forces tried to occupy the same space at the same time.
Over the years, Allene had encountered plenty of bad, low-down people, who harbored even worse intentions. And, unfortunately, she’d learned the hard way that evil was all around, and that it often disguised itself under the cloak of good. She knew that evil could laugh and smile in your face while viciously twisting a knife in your back. It could soothe and comfort you while killing you slowly. And it could encourage and uplift you while secretly plotting your very demise.
But Allene also knew how to tell the difference between the two, and she could do that because she’d been blessed with the gift of prophesy, and that precious ability allowed her to see what others couldn’t.
“The gift,” as it was commonly referred to in the South, allowed Allene to see and predict things accurately before they happened. She could spot liars before they ever opened their mouth to utter a single word. She could discern one’s intentions, whether good or bad, simply by looking into the person’s eyes. She could forecast events in advance of them coming to pass, and she could foresee blessings, as well as misfortunes, that lay down the road.
Having the gift had been both Allene’s blessing and her curse. She’d seen things in her lifetime that she wished she hadn’t, and she’d been right when she had wanted to be wrong. But this morning was one of those times that Allene was thankful she’d been blessed with such a unique ability. Because while she sat on her porch, wrapped in the peaceful quiet of a bright new day, she wasn’t fooled by its seeming calm.A manipulative woman who was hell-bent on causing trouble was on her way to Allene’s small town of Nedine, South Carolina, and Allene knew the chaos that the attractive stranger was bringing was headed straight for her family’s doorstep.
“Don’t worry, John. I’m ready for the fight, and I’m here to protect and guide you, baby,” Allene whispered as she continued to rock back and forth, thinking about her enterprising young grandson. She knew that the danger brewing was directly connected to him, in the form of his girlfriend, and that he didn’t have a clue about the mess he’d unknowingly gotten himself into.
Just then, a chill swept against Allene’s arm, causing her to pull her thin blue gingham shawl tight around her shoulders. At that moment, she knew that the woman was already in town with her grandson, laying a sneaky trap for him. “It’s gonna be all right, John. I’ma guide you, and I know you gonna make the right decision,” she whispered into the air.
Allene slowly rose from her chair and walked the short distance to the edge of the porch. She stood impressively tall for a woman of her advanced years—solid and straight. She shielded her eyes with her right hand as she looked out at the beaming sun, which was steadily rising in the cloudless sky. “Life’s long, but short,” she said aloud as she shook her head. She knew that unlike the slow patience it took to watch a sunrise, people could quickly lose everything they’d worked for in the blink of an eye based on one bad decision. The sudden chill on her arm let her know that mischief was already brewing, because trouble was an early riser, too. “I’m ready for the fight,” she whispered.
Allene also knew that a lot was riding on the next forty-eight hours. She lowered her hand to her mouth, stretching her long, wrinkled fingers across her full lips as she continued to think about her grandson. She had to protect John from what he couldn’t see—a beguiling woman who could derail his life’s dreams if he wasn’t careful. Allene’s gift had revealed the woman for who she really was. Despite the woman’s sweet words, sophistication, and enthusiastic gestures, she was as slick as a serpent and as cunning as a fox. This jezebel was just as determined to destroy John as Allene was to save him.
“I have faith and I know everything’s gonna be all right,” Allene said with conviction as she continued her talk with the sky. She knew the woman was dangerous in ways that could either ruin a man, get him killed, or both. But again, she wasn’t deterred because she knew her family’s survival was at stake, and she’d do whatever it took to make sure the Smalls were safe and prospered for future generations to come. As she thought about her family’s legacy and the promise it held, her mind shifted to Alexandria.
“I’m gonna help you, too, baby girl,” Allene said with a smile.
Alexandria was the hope and the future. She was the vision Allene had seen a month ago when she got her first glimpse of her great-great-granddaughter, who would not be born for several decades to come. Ever since that eye-opening day, Allene had been using all the powers and abilities she’d cultivated over the years to reach across time and bridge the past with the present in order to connect with the young woman who shared her same gift.
Allene could see that Alexandria was standing at a crossroads, and that she was frightened and confused by what was happening to her. She reminded Allene a lot of herself at that age, when she didn’t understand her gift, and had been afraid of its repercussions. And just as she’d done, her beautiful great-great-granddaughter was running from who she was. Allene knew it was time for Alexandria to discover the purpose of what she’d been blessed to have, and learn how to use it. It was Allene’s new mission to guide Alexandria, just as she intended to guide John now.
“Find what’s right for you and open your heart, baby girl. Listen to what I’m sayin’ to you, Alexandria,” Allene said in a low, sweet whisper. “Listen and learn.”
Allene closed her eyes as another vision flashed behind her lids. A warm feeling replaced the chill that had come over her only moments ago, and a sense of peace spread through her body. She saw an image, and it was enough to let her know that she’d just witnessed the answer to Alexandria’s quandary. “Look for the diamond, ’cause the one who has that is the one who’s gonna help save you.” Allene whispered the last part of her appeal with conviction, hoping and praying that Alexandria would hear her plea, pay attention, and recognize the sign when she saw it.
Summertime, present-day Atlanta, Georgia
“Oh no,” Alexandria softly whispered, trying to hide her discomfort. Her body tensed, anticipating the annoyance that was about to come. This can’t be happening again. Not now, she thought.
“What’s wrong?” Peter whispered back, still continuing to nibble on the left lobe of Alexandria’s ear.
She moved her head to the side, trying to block out the sound that was making its way back into her mind. Go away! Please go away and leave me alone! Alexandria shouted to herself as she repositioned her nude body under the weight of Peter’s muscular heft. She turned her head back to face him, releasing a low, measured sigh.
“You okay?” Peter asked; this time, there was a bit of concern in between his heavy panting.
“I’m fine,” Alexandria lied. She hesitated; then slowly pulled him closer against her bare chest. “Kiss me,” she demanded in a not-so-playful tone. She took a deep breath, closed her eyes tightly, and concentrated on her boyfriend’s languid tongue as she tried to block out the voice—laced with a deep Southern accent—that was invading her head.
Although she knew that her love life with Peter was woefully lacking, and she couldn’t remember the last time she’d had an orgasm, Alexandria had hoped that a quick roll between the sheets would give her mind a break from the recurring loop it had been stuck in. But instead of arresting her anxiety, the physical romp only seemed to kick her senses into overdrive.
As Peter’s movements became more urgent, her desire began to quickly wane by the second, sinking into the background of the voice repeating itself inside her head. She tried to concentrate on the moment, but that didn’t work, so she willed her mind to take her to another place. But that was no use, either. The harder she fought, the louder the sound of the voice grew. Finally she gave up.
“Peter, I’m sorry, but I have to go.” Alexandria gently pushed him away, freeing herself from his hold.
“What?” Peter huffed, looking confused. “You’ve gotta be kidding me.”
“No, I really do need to go,” she said as she sat up and kicked her long, slightly thick legs to the side of his king-size bed. She ran her fingers through the mass of long, kinky dark brown curls atop her head as she slumped her shoulders in frustration.
“One minute you want me to kiss you and the next you’re pushing me away. What gives?”
“I’m sorry, Peter. I don’t mean to send mixed signals.”
“Then don’t.” Peter paused as he moved in close, still trying to nuzzle his body next to hers. He leaned into her, giving her shoulder a light kiss. “C’mon, lay back down with me.”
Alexandria ignored his coaxing; instead, she slowly stood to her feet as she spoke. “It’s not you. It’s me,” she told him, knowing how off-putting and clichéd her response, albeit truthful, sounded. She could feel thick tension rise in the air as soon as the words left her mouth, so she tried to speak in a gentle tone. “There’s a lot going on in my life right now. Things that have nothing to do with you, Peter.”
“I don’t believe this.” Peter reluctantly reached for his boxers as Alexandria pulled her sundress over her head and then slid it down the length of her curvaceous body. “So where does this leave me?” he asked.
She wanted to tell him, How the hell do I know? I can’t even figure out what’s going on in my own life, let alone yours. But she knew this wasn’t the time for such declarations, so she leavened her tone, inserting a measure of compassion in her voice. “I need to be alone tonight so I can think.”
“Think? … Think about what, Alexandria?”
“Life, and what I’m supposed to do with mine. Like I said, there’s so much going on right now. I hope you can understand.”
Peter shook his head in dismay. “I’ve been trying hard to understand you, especially over the last couple weeks. I’ve been patient when you zone out on me, and I’ve tried to be understanding when you say you have a lot going on, like now, even though you never give a clue about exactly what the problem is.”
Alexandria looked into Peter’s dark brown eyes and nodded, knowing he deserved to hear the full truth: She was so scared about what was happening to her that she didn’t have time to focus on their relationship. But at the same time, she knew Peter’s primary focus was really on himself and his feelings—because not once had he asked her what kinds of things were bothering her.
She’d met Peter two years ago while working as a summer intern at Johnson, Taylor, and Associates, one of the largest law firms in the Atlanta Metro area. She’d been in her last year of law school at UPenn, and somewhat ambivalent about pursuing a career in the legal field. Peter had just graduated from Yale University School of Law, was an ambitious first-year associate at the firm, and was already rumored to be a rising star within the ranks. Although he was a bit uptight and a little too formal in his attitude than what Alexandria liked, Peter’s tall, muscular physique, smooth dark chocolate skin, and handsome face had all attracted her to him. They had spotted each other during the first day of new employee orientation and had gone out for drinks during happy hour a week later.
They’d both been seeing other people at the time, but neither had been seriously involved. Their casual lunches and long dinners slowly turned into much more. They kept in touch after she returned to law school for her senior year, and they saw each other whenever time permitted, which wasn’t often. Once she graduated the next summer they started dating exclusively, and had been together ever since.
“Who is he?” Peter asked.
“Please, Alexandria,” Peter said, looking at her with an accusatory glare. “Don’t play me for a fool. If you’re seeing someone else, I’d appreciate you being up front with me instead of feeding me excuses.”
“Oh, like you and Monica?”
Peter let out an exasperated sigh. “I told you, that was nothing.”
“I can’t help it if the woman showed up on my doorstep out the blue.”
“Excuse me, but it makes a difference when the woman you’re referring to, just happened to be your ex-girlfriend! And for someone who mysteriously showed up unwelcome, you sure did make her feel at home,” Alexandria said, returning his accusing stare. “I got here and found you two drinking wine and laughing, acting all cozy.”
“Number one, we weren’t cozy. We were simply talking,” Peter said in a direct tone. “She was depressed because the guy she was seeing had just dumped her. She needed someone to talk to and—”
“And you were the first person she went running to,” Alexandria countered. “I think that’s very strange, especially given the fact that you dumped her, too. So why on earth would she come to you for a shoulder to cry on? It didn’t make sense then, and it still doesn’t make sense now.”
Until last month when Alexandria had caught Peter and his ex in that precarious situation, he hadn’t given her much reason to question his fidelity. He was a pragmatist who preferred diplomacy over drama, and he avoided the latter at all costs. Having extra women on the side only upped the ante for chaos, and Peter wasn’t one for the kind of trouble that fooling around could bring. He was the dependable type, almost to the point of being predictably annoying. Because of his anal manner, a small part of Alexandria believed that even if Peter wanted to stray, it would be challenging for him, given the fact that he also spent most of his time at the office.
Peter routinely worked twelve- and fourteen-hour days, sometimes six days a week, all in his self-imposed race to climb the ladder of success, following in his mother’s large and looming footsteps. She was a circuit court judge and was currently being courted to run for one of Georgia’s congressional seats. She was a demanding overachiever, and Peter wanted to make her proud, which meant working insanely long hours and forfeiting a social life beyond networking functions, where he could make business connections. When he wasn’t at the office—which was hardly ever—he was either working from home, working out at the gym, or spending what little time he had left over with Alexandria.
But Alexandria also knew that just because Peter was a busy, regimented man, that didn’t mean there weren’t opportunities for him to cheat, or that he wasn’t capable. Experience had taught her that regardless of one’s work schedule and personal demands, a person could make time to do anything they really wanted. The only reason she hadn’t followed up on the suspicions lurking in the back of her mind was because of the voice that had been penetrating her thoughts, forcing her to come to grips with a part of her life she’d been trying to avoid since she was five years old.
“I know it doesn’t make sense to you,” Peter said, “but that’s exactly what happened when Monica came over here. Nothing more, nothing less. I’m telling you the truth.”
Alexandria shrugged. “Whose truth?”
“If I wanted to sleep with her, I could’ve done that a long time ago.”
“And that’s another thing. Why do you still keep in contact with your ex-girlfriend?”
Peter let out another frustrated sigh. “We only talk once in a blue moon, like at the holidays, just to wish each other well.”
Excerpted from Looking for Trouble by Trice Hickman. Copyright © 2013 Trice Hickman. Excerpted by permission of the author. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.