Raymond Jackson, Jr., returns to Palm Hills, California, years after a misunderstanding with his father which caused a wedge between his family. His father passed away a year and a half ago, so he feels it's time to make amends.
His brother also suggests Ray makes amends with his father's girlfriend, Cass, as well. He knows it will be a challenge but believes family and friends are worth fighting for.
What Ray didn't expect was to fall for Cass, whom his father had planned to marry before he passed away. He's determined to make her his, but will she see things his way?
Below are the first two chapters as well as the link to pre-order your copy today!
Cassandra Wilson was on the top floor of what she guessed was an empty firehouse. A beautiful woman with dark skin and long wavy black hair approached her. The woman hugged her without saying a word. Cassandra felt complete love and comfort in her arms. The woman held her tight. When she finally released Cassandra, the woman stared at her. The woman never spoke but Cassandra could hear her in her head. The woman told her to let go of Ray and that he was okay now. The woman had concern in her eyes and wanted Cassandra to reach out to Junior: to check on him, protect him and love him. Cassandra shook her head adamantly to tell the woman no and frowned. The woman closed her eyes, determination evident on her face. Cassandra kept hearing the word, “Junior” repeated over and over in her head.
“Mom!” Kyra shouted. Cassandra woke with a start. Kyra was shaking her bed. “Wake up! You have to take us to school!” Cassandra was awake… or at least more awake than she had been in eighteen months. She shuffled out of bed and rushed to do her regular routine. Her two kids were ready to go. She knew she needed to get herself together. She needed to get back to life. Thirty minutes later, Kyra confirmed this when dropping her off at the high school. Before getting out of the car, Kyra looked at her mom with nothing but disappointment and maybe a little bit of resentment and said, “Wake up mom. Captain Ray is never coming back to life. But we are still here.” Kyra shook her head with a scowl on her face, then continued, “I can’t do this anymore. I can’t raise Max. I’m just a kid. We need you to wake up and be here.” Then she left, slamming the van door shut without giving Cassandra the ritual kiss and hug.
When Cassandra got home, she looked at herself in the mirror. For the first time since Ray died, she saw herself as others must have seen her. She was in over-worn sweats. Her dark brown curly hair was frizzy and out of control. Her dark hazel eyes were blood shot from either the constant lack of sleep or the occasional bout of tears. Ray died eighteen months ago in a building that was a blazing inferno. A beam struck him on the head, and his crew could not reach him in time. They believed the beam killed him before the fire. She kept visualizing him lying there leaving her forever. Time didn’t seem to matter. It just stayed with her… “It” being the emptiness in her heart and soul. She refocused on her image in the mirror. She had gained twenty pounds. Her shoulders slumped.
At that moment she decided to take a sick day. She worked from home, but there was no way she could focus on anything other than herself. After she had called her boss, she grabbed her keys and a bottle of water. She walked and walked and walked. She walked all around Palm Hills in Southern California. It was a bright and beautiful December day, but she didn’t take notice. She finally arrived back at home a little after noon. She was drenched in sweat and looking down, struggling to pull out her keys from one of her sweat pants pockets. She was still looking down when she heard a deep familiar voice coming towards her. “Are you Cassie?”
Ray? Cassandra immediately thought with hope and disbelief. The voice sounded so much like Ray. She instinctively looked up and felt her heart rate increase. Of course, it wasn’t Ray. It was someone though who resembled him so very much but so much younger and with a darker skin tone. Her Ray had been sixty-two with the face of Sam Elliot and the body of the Rock. Cassandra frowned from confusion and disbelief. She finally found her voice and answered him, “Yes.”
The man cleared his throat and rubbed the right side of his cheek, just the way Ray would do whenever he had something to tell her or ask her but didn’t know how to say it or ask it.
“I’m Ray Jr.”
Cassandra’s eyebrows raised and her eyes filled with tears. “Of course you are.”
“I’ve wanted to meet you. Dad talked about you a lot.”
“But, you didn’t come to his funeral. You didn’t even return his phone calls,” Cassandra said.
“No, I didn’t. Dad left voicemails and also sent me emails all the time.”
“Why? Why didn’t you go to Ray’s funeral?”
“It was too late for the funeral. Dad was already gone, so what was the point of me coming?”
Cass shook my head.
“Why are you here?”
“I regret not going to see him when he was alive. I’m sorry for not making amends. I have… regrets.”
“That still doesn’t explain why you are here,” Cassandra said. Sweat was dripping down her forehead. She shifted the bottom of her t-shirt to wipe away the sweat from her face. She didn’t care that she was flashing Ray Jr. and her entire neighborhood with her cottage cheese stomach and pathetic excuse for a bra. Today was the day her fifteen-year-old daughter told her to wake up, and that was what she was doing.
After sweat was removed from her face, she could see more clearly. Ray Jr. was in a fancy schmancy suit and tie. She glanced down at his feet. He had fancy schmancy shoes on too. His shoes probably cost more than her entire wardrobe. She shook her head. This man was nothing like her Ray. But then, she looked into his eyes… Damn him. He had Ray’s light brown eyes.
He was clean shaven. No thick mustache. No thick full head of gray wavy hair that she always wanted to run her hands through. This man was bald. It was as if he wanted to erase any possible resemblance to his father. But, he couldn’t. His eyes, lips, voice and body build were exactly like his father… just younger… darker. She imagined his skin tone was from his mother who was black.
“I was hoping I could take you out to lunch so we could talk,” he offered.
“Why not call first?” Cassandra asked, crabbily.
“I did. I left you messages this morning, but when you didn’t return my calls, I thought I’d stop by.”
Cassandra frowned. Then, she realized she had left her cell phone on the kitchen table. Cass only had her keys and bottled water with her. She blinked.
“Oh,” she said. She took a deep breath. “I left my phone in the house. Um…” Cassandra heard an internal voice that sounded so much like the woman in her dream. Talk to him. She shook her head. She was annoyed and aggravated but heard herself accept his offer. “Sure. I could use a bite to eat. Mind coming in for a minute while I take a quick shower and change?” She asked.
“Sure,” Ray Jr. said as he entered her home.
Raymond Jackson Jr. studied Cass from across the booth they were sitting. His father had described her as a ray of the sunshine that made everything so much better at the end of a hard day. She was light skinned, but he could tell she was black. Her curls were much more tamed than when he initially saw her in her front yard. She had showered and washed her hair. He guessed she put leave in conditioner or gel in her hair. She was also now dressed in more decent clothing; white denim shorts and a pink tank top. The outfit flattered her figure so much more than the sweat pants and an oversized t-shirt. She had full lips and dark hazel eyes. She was broken though. Her eyes didn’t spark or flutter. They just stared off into the distance. He guessed she missed his father. She was young. He shook his head. After his mother had passed away nearly twelve years ago, his father tended to go after the younger women. He estimated her to be in her mid-thirties.
“So why did you want to meet with me?” Cass asked. She took a sip of water and waited.
“Well, like I said, my dad wrote a lot about you in his emails. Lucas mentioned Dad planned to marry you. I just…”
“Why didn’t you forgive him?” Cass interrupted abruptly.
Ray frowned and shook his head.
“He didn’t know you had a girlfriend. He didn’t know you were planning to ask her to marry you. The point is he had no clue who she was. He would have never slept with her had he known. If you bothered to pick up the phone or meet to talk with him, you would have understood that! He loved you and Lucas. He would have never done anything to hurt you. Do you understand that? Do you understand how much he was hurting from your years of silence?”
Ray’s eyes misted, but he blinked the unshed tears away.
“You wasted so much time with your anger, bitterness, and pettiness. For what… your ego? You could have gone to Lucas’s wedding. You should have at least been to your father’s funeral. But, no, you had to be a stubborn ass and be disrespectful one last time. You are selfish. With your fancy clothes and sports car… what does that do for you? Huh? Does all that frilly stuff you have give you hugs and love?”
He stroked his jaw with his enormous hands and let the guilt and regret seep deep into his soul. She was right. He was selfish and had been misguided for years. But, he was trying to redeem himself. He was trying to get back on track. He’d been so consumed with anger and hurt from his father’s betrayal that he focused solely on his business. He was heavily involved in the hotel industry and other real estate and business ventures. But, he missed his family. When Lucas told him their father died, he was numb. He was trying to thaw his cold soul and trying to find his way back to what really mattered.
“Look,” Ray looked into Cass’s eyes and said, “I get it. You don’t like me. That is fine. I just wanted to take time out to meet you. My father loved you. I just… I… I wanted…” he shook his head then tried again. “I wanted to know who he was before he died.”
“He was warm, gentle and kind. We only dated for a couple of months, but it was worth a lifetime,” Cass said. Tears rolled down her cheeks. “I don’t want to cry anymore.” She angrily wiped the tears away.
He reached for her hand that was holding the glass of water, but she moved her hands away before they could touch.
“I’m sorry,” Ray said. “I didn’t intend to cause you any pain. Maybe this was a bad idea. We can get the lunch to go, and I can drop you back off at your place.”
She nodded. “I think that would be best,” she mumbled.
Twenty minutes later, he dropped her off in front of her house. She slid out of the red Porsche 918 Spyder. “Cass,” he said before she closed the door. “I didn’t mean to upset you. I’ll be in town for a couple of weeks. If you decide you’d like to talk or anything, give me a call. Lucas has my number.”
“Right,” Cass said simply as she shut the door, then mumbled, “like that will ever happen.”
A couple hours later, it was time to pick up the kids from school. Max was almost thirteen now and in junior high. She picked him up first. “Hey, mom!” Max shouted as he climbed into the back of the van. He slid his backpack off then buckled himself in. “You look beautiful today!” He yelled, obviously surprised.
She grinned. “Thank you bub.”
“Are you starting to feel better now?” Max asked.
“Yes, I’m starting to feel better now,” Cass said.
On their way to Beach City High School to pick up Kyra, Max talked animatedly about his school day. When they arrived at Kyra’s school, Cass noticed her daughter was surrounded by four girls and two boys. One of the guys held Kyra’s hand, but Kyra quickly let go of his hand when she noticed the van. Her daughter said bye to her friends then climbed into the passenger seat. Kyra glanced at her mom then blinked from surprise. “Wow, Mom… you’re beautiful.”
Cass flushed but smiled. “Thank you,” she said.
“I mean it… you look gorgeous,” Kyra said proudly.
“I’m awake now,” Cass said. “Okay?”
“Okay,” Kyra said.
“Would you guys like to go out for ice cream before we go home?”
“Heck yeah,” Max said before Kyra could answer.
As they were eating their ice cream outside on the shop's patio, Cass asked. “So… who’s the guy Ky?”
“Greg,” Max answered for her.
“Shut up Max,” Kyra threatened her brother. She kicked him under the table for good measure.
“Ow!” Max shouted as he rubbed his shin but still eating his ice cream at the same time.
“But… yes, his name is Greg. He’s on the football team,” Kyra said, her hazel eyes were bright when she said his name.
Uh boy, Cass thought. This boy is going to be trouble.
“Is he your boyfriend?” Cass asked, warily.
“Yes,” Max answered again for Kyra.
“Will you knock it off!? Mom is talking to me… not you.”
Cass raised her eyebrows, still waiting for Kyra’s response.
“Yes,” Kyra said.
“For how long?”
“For about two months.”
Two months! How could she have not known her daughter had her first boyfriend for two months now! That was major. How could she have missed that? Right, she was grieving. She felt an enormous amount of guilt and disappointment in herself. She hadn’t been there for her children for way too long.
“I’m sorry guys,” Cass said with a sniff. “I’m sorry I haven’t been there for you both. I’m here now though, okay. You guys can talk to me about anything and everything, okay?”
They both nodded.
“So tell me about Greg,” Cass urged.
“He drives a mustang. He’s on the JV football team. He’s hoping to make varsity next year. He said he can give me some pointers for basketball too. He said he was on a travel ball team for basketball before he got heavy into football,” Max said excitedly. “He’s cool.”
Cass was glad that at least Max knew Greg. Despite how much the two of them argued, Max was extremely protective of Kyra even though she was older than him.
Kyra nodded. She continued eating her ice cream. “Don’t worry, I was going to tell you about him. I just didn’t know when. He asked me to winter formal today,” she announced excitedly.
“Oh, wow! That’s great!” Cassandra said with a smile. “We can go look at dresses this weekend,” Cass offered.
“Can we?” Kyra asked. Cass nodded.
“I don’t have to go, do I? I can see if I can hang out with Tommy,” Max offered.
“I will talk to Tommy’s mom. Lord knows I haven’t talked to his mom in a while,” Cass said.
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