This upcoming novel is a bit different for us. First of all, it’s our first attempt at a romance novel, as most of our fiction offerings are thrillers and suspense. Secondly, it deals with infidelity and sexual attraction between couples in a realistic manner. Since this is a Christian novel, don’t expect Fifty Shades of Grey raw, but the author does not shy away from portraying the reality of urban sexual mores in the context of faith and morality.
The Beauty of Summer is about a beautiful woman who suffers serious setbacks and devastating events after she tries to reclaim the trophy boyfriend who dumped her for another woman. This novel will be available in December 2014, but you can read an excerpt below.
The Beauty of Summer
Wednesday, 9:01 pm, Richmond, Virginia
“Why can’t we go to your place?”
The girl, fresh out of high school and ready for as much debauchery and rebellion as her five-foot-eight frame could muster, rolled down the passenger side window and flicked the still-smoldering remnant of a joint out onto the road.
Her date, five years her senior, remained silent and kept his eyes on the road. The motel was somewhere on Broad Street, but he wasn’t sure if he was going in the right direction. He had just passed several blocks of government buildings that quickly made way for pricey townhomes. It didn’t seem like the right neighborhood for a cut-rate motel. He decided to drive only five more blocks before he made a U-turn and head northwest.
“There’s a Holiday Inn. Why don’t we stop there?” the girl urged.
Because the Super 8 is cheaper, the man thought. But he dared not say that aloud, even though he had long stopped trying to impress her. She was willing to be intimate with him, and that’s all he cared about. “Be cool, Gracie. I’m sure the Super 8 is around here somewhere.”
“Tim, y’know I’d rather go to your place,” Gracie cooed.
“My roommate has the apartment tonight,” Tim lied. His only roommate was a ten-year old cat, and she was too old to care. He had no intention of allowing Gracie to see where he lived. He was planning for this rendezvous to be short-lived.
He was driving his brother’s car. He drove it a few more blocks, then gave up and decided to go the other direction. He started to make a U-turn against the posted sign, noticed an RPD cruiser, with two officers inside, sitting across the street, and made a right instead. For some strange reason, the refrains from the Phil Collins/Philip Bailey song Easy Lover began playing in his head.
“You think we can get some snacks before we go to the room?” Gracie said.
“Girl, we just ate,” Tim noted.
“I know. But I’m hungry.”
“Need to stop smokin’ so much of that stuff.”
“Only had two joints today.”
Gracie ignored him. “There’s got to be a 7-Eleven nearby. They have one every five blocks.” She turned to him and said slyly, “There’re other things in there you might need, too.”
Tim looked at her briefly out the side of his eye before he stopped at a red light. “Don’t worry, girl. I got it covered.”
He made another right turn and then drove a few blocks before the street ended, forcing him to turn right again. He approached the red traffic light at Broad Street and stopped. He turned to Gracie, checked her out, and reached for her. She giggled and playfully slapped his hand away.
“You’re so thirsty,” Gracie said.
“Can’t help it. I have been waiting for you to turn eighteen for months.”
“The light’s green.”
Tim signaled, then made a left turn and headed northwest up Broad Street. He had driven a few blocks before he tried reaching for her again.
“Tim, watch out!” Gracie’s eyes widened in horror.
Gracie’s shout was preceded only a second by a loud metallic thud. Tim looked up just in time to see a crumpled late model Acura rolling backwards across the intersection in front of him.
He cursed, then tried to slam on the brakes. But he was going 40 miles per hour, so it was much too delayed a reaction. Both he and Gracie shielded their faces as they slammed into the Acura. The force of the impact drove Tim’s car under the Acura, forcing the Acura to flip over on its side and land against the median strip dividing Broad Street. The bumper of Tim’s car curled up, the hood sank, and the windshield shattered, sending crystalline shards bouncing off the deployed air bags. Tim’s car stopped, its nose lodged against the bottom of the Acura, where it was quickly greeted by a spray of leaking transmission fluid. Tim and Gracie lay bloodied and unconscious, each leaning in opposite directions against the center pillars of the car.
Several pedestrians had seen the accident, and a few had started to dial 911 on their cell phones. Some of the men started to approach the vehicles to check on the occupants. The man who approached the Acura could see, through the shattered windshield, a woman, crumpled, bruised and bloodied, lying on a bed of glass against the passenger side door, which was now flat against the sidewalk.
Unsure of the woman was dead or alive, he pulled out his cell phone and dialed 911. Once the dispatcher had told him a unit had already been deployed and on its way, he hung up the phone and looked carefully at the woman inside the car. Despite the blood and glass all around her face, he noticed that she was very beautiful.
He had been a Christian since his early teens, and so he did the only thing he knew how to do at that point. He prayed that if she was alive that the Lord would restore her broken body and lead her on the road to health. And, if she was dying, that she had made her peace with Christ.
But as of that moment, unbeknownst to him, she had not.
Six Days before
Xavier’s marriage proposals were getting more ornate as time went on.
Just two months before, on the 15th, Summer Maldonado came to work, sat at her desk, check her emails, and found a new email from Xavier with a photo attached. The photo was taken of her on a recent romantic trip to the Bahamas. There she was, lying on Paradise Beach in a Caribbean blue one-piece, her perfectly manicured toes dug in the white sand, her natural long black hair pouring gracefully out of a wide-brimmed straw hat, her cinnamon-toned skin glistening in the mid-afternoon sun. The caption on the photo was, “You are the picture of perfection. Will you marry me?”
One month before, also on the 15th, a bouquet of fifteen red roses in a tall crystal vase was waiting on her desk upon her return from lunch. The note on the flowers read, “Will you marry me, and let our relationship blossom like the petals of a rose?” The note gave Summer a mile-wide smile. Her boyfriend was corny but thoughtful and sweet.
Summer would answer his last two proposals the same way she answered the eleven previous ones, all tendered on the 15th of the month. She would never explicitly tell him no, but always, “Ask me again next month.” Xavier would be persistent enough to ask her every month, like clockwork, on the 15th.
It was the fifteenth of the month again, and Xavier Williams had texted her earlier that morning to ask her to join him that evening at the Wild Ginger, an Asian restaurant on the western outskirts of Richmond. It was a Thursday night, but still the Wild Ginger would be almost impossible to get into without a reservation, so Summer knew Xavier had planned several days beforehand.
Thursday was casual day at Visual Notions, one of the leading video production companies in Richmond. But Summer, the marketing manager, had chosen not to dress down that day. She wore a simple purple sheath dress, professional enough for the job, but sexy and form-fitting enough to make sure Xavier’s eyes didn’t stray, which they did from time to time. Just a few minutes after seven, she left the office, which was on the seventh floor of an office building in downtown Richmond. The restaurant was only a fifteen-minute drive away in moderate traffic, so she had plenty of time to get there before the 7:30 reservation.
During the drive, Summer switched on the built-in MP3 player and allowed Stevie Wonder’s Ribbon in the Sky to drown out the faint street sounds that made it inside the tinted windows of her late model Acura. She had to brace herself to turn down yet another one of Xavier’s proposals, and she hoped that the proposal would come at the latter part of the evening, so that it wouldn’t dampen the majority of their date. She knew she would have to say yes to him one day, but right now, her mind was not in that space. Her excuse was that she was not ready to be a wife, and that was true, to an extent. But as loving and doting as her boyfriend was, there were some things about him that bothered her. But she had neither the willpower nor the bravery to tell him the truth about himself. So, month after month, she kept hoping he would change and that somehow the rarest of miracles would alight upon him like a feather on the shoulder, and he would transform into a man that she would be comfortable marrying. Someone who was NOT like her father. Xavier did not yet seem inclined to come home drunk and beat her like her father beat her mother. But his controlling nature and his frequent drinking made him a likely candidate.
Summer hadn’t seen Nestor Maldonado in thirty years. She assumed he was still somewhere in Brazil; Summer had no clue where, and she didn’t wish to know. But his aura remained with her like a bad odor. He hadn’t always been a drunken looser; he had actually been quite personable, engaging and sober when Susan Wright met him during a vacation to Rio. Enthralled with the idea of living in Brazil, and tired of her hardscrabble life in Atlanta, Susan, an African American janitor, married Nestor a year after meeting him. Summer was born in July a year later. Susan named her after her favorite song, Summertime, from Porgy and Bess, the one sang by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. Most people in the states assumed, without asking, that she was named that way because she was born in the summer, not knowing that Brazilian summers began in December.
The marriage went well until Summer was four years old. Several days after her birthday, Nestor lost his job at the soft drink plant as the result of a layoff, and the hard drinks soon followed, with the beatings right on the heels of the drinking. By the time Summer was five years old, she had heard, and in some cases seen, her mother beaten at least twelve times during one of Nestor’s drunken tirades. Finally, Susan got tired of it.
The fateful day of Summer’s introduction to the United States came on September 8, the day after Brazil’s Independence Day, two months and three days after her fifth birthday. Nestor had come home late the night before, his breath reeking of Skol’s, with whatever celebratory spirit he had engaged in long gone by the time he crossed the threshold of his house. Susan met him in the kitchen and accused him of cheating on her, an accusation based purely upon woman’s intuition, but in this case was spot on. But for some reason, she never had the gall to confront him about it until then.
The argument in the bedroom became so loud that the words spilled out onto the streets. Susan’s words were spiced with Southern rage, and a deep Georgia accent that Susan had tried to conceal, but surged forth whenever she was angry.
You need to leave those bitches alone!
If you don’t stop this, I’m gonna take Summer and leave!
A scream. Several crashes. A door slamming. Spewing of obscenities in Portuguese. Another door slam. Then, eerily quiet.
The next day, Summer and her mother were hitch-hiking their way to Galeão International Airport, headed to Atlanta with only two garbage bags of belongings and an open-ended plane ticket purchased months earlier by a cousin in Atlanta who mailed it to Susan to encourage him to leave the son-of-a-bitch.
Xavier had not yet deteriorated as drastically. But Summer could see the signs brewing. The drinking, for one. Xavier could knock them back with the best of them, and it was only Summer’s interventions that prevented him on many occasions from tipping over the edge of drunkenness. Xavier also had a paternalistic bent that bothered Summer. Xavier, like Nestor, didn’t believe in a woman working. It was why Susan quit her $20,000 a year janitorial job and stayed at home to cook his meals and chase dust bunnies. Xavier also believed that the man was the head of the household and that the woman should obey. To Summer, it was elementary math: head of household = man controls woman; woman has no say, no options, no life. And there was no way Summer was going to quit her $95,000 a year job for any man, no matter how much he was paid.
Nonetheless, Summer kept hoping that Xavier’s love for her would lead him to believe that having a strong, capable, independent woman would prove to be his greatest asset. The drinking she could deal with, but there was no way she was going to marry a man who had every intention to relegate her to housewife.
Summer pulled into the shopping center where the restaurant was located. She found a parking spot near a nail salon, with only a two-minute walk to the front door of the restaurant. Summer’s dress was short-sleeved, and it was getting chilly out. She wished she had brought her shawl from the car with her. No worries. She would just send Xavier out to her car to get it.
The restaurant had clean, modern lines, decorated in mauves, grays and browns, with a huge bar in one wing, and a dining area in another, separated by the hostess station and a small waiting area. As she expected, the restaurant was packed, but she had no trouble finding Xavier in the crowd. He was already seated at a small table by himself at the far end of the restaurant, adjacent to a large window with a view of the parking lot. Summer headed to Xavier’s table. She drew an admiring glance from a gentleman seated in the waiting area.
Xavier stood as she approached. He was six foot one, clean-shaven, with a full head of closely cropped hair and eyeglass frames that would set a full-time minimum wage employee back about two weeks of pay. His fair skin contrasted with his crisply tailored suit, which hung on a thin, not lanky but athletic, build.
Xavier looked just as handsome as the day she met him eighteen months before. Xavier held a plum position as the vice president of media relations at the city’s gas utility. Summer had been trying to get the utility’s video production contract, and her attempts brought her in frequent contact with Xavier. They had several business lunches together before Visual Notions won the contract. After the paperwork had been signed, the business lunches turned into dinners. Eventually, Xavier won Summer’s heart as well, which was not an easy task. Summer had no lack of men who wanted to court her, but it was Xavier’s earthy charisma, his passionate devotion, and his quiet manner that hooked her. He was drawn to her as a person, and not just for her body. And a man who could afford to book the executive suite at the Jefferson Hotel just because certainly was a plus.
“Meu Amor,” Summer said to him as they embraced. They exchanged a simple peck on the lips, which, given the posh surroundings, was a great deal more sedate than how they would have kissed in private.
Xavier motioned Summer to the chair directly across from his. That was odd. Usually they sat at 90-degree angles to one another. Summer ignored his directive and parked in a chair directly to Xavier’s right. She then checked him out in his suit. It looked like the one that she had bought him for his 38th birthday a few months ago. As her gaze moved up to his eyes, he was looking off into the distance.
Summer followed his gaze but saw that it led nowhere. “Are you alright?” she asked.
Xavier finally looked at her. “I’m fine.”
“You look nice. Is that the suit I bought you?”
Xavier looked down at himself, seemingly surprised. “Yeah, I guess it is.”
The waiter came over with a wine list. Xavier quickly waved him away. Again, unusual. Summer studied his body language. Xavier seemed tense. His arms were tight against his body; his hands clasped in his lap. His gaze wavered off to nowhere again.
Summer toyed with the white napkin on the table and tried to say something to ease the tension. She was usually the talkative one in the relationship, so she had no problem starting a conversation. “So, how was your day?”
“It was good. Yours?”
“Wonderful. I was excited about meeting you here.”
“Ever been here before?”
“No. First time.” Summer noticed that Xavier’s gaze trailed off again. It seemed as if he was looking at the front door.
Summer asked a burning question. “Are you expecting someone? I mean, other than me?”
Xavier’s eyes finally returned to her. “I have something I need to tell you.”
Summer swallowed hard. There was no passion, no joy in his voice. She tried to play off the obvious implication in his voice by making jest. “What, you’re breaking up with me?” She said it with a bat of her eyes and a bedroom voice.
Xavier was silent.
Summer waited for a laugh, a smile, an angry denial, anything that would acknowledge the humor in what she had said. Instead, he just sat there, carefully avoiding her eyes. Summer drew back in her chair and said, “X, what’s going on?”
“Summer, this is not easy for me to say.”
Summer felt blood rushing from her face. There were only two reasons people made that statement: if someone had died, or if they were about to end a relationship. And Xavier’s incessant staring at the front door give her a clue as to which one it was.
“X, don’t tell me you’re breaking up with me.”
C’mon, X. Tell me no. Tell me I’m wrong. Stop my heart from beating so fast in my chest.
Finally, he looked at her. And his eyes told her the truth. Dear Jesus.
Summer drew back in her chair again. “X, please don’t kid around with me.”
Summer looked in his eyes and didn’t see any hint of his normal jovial nature. But something didn’t gel. Why would he invite her to a fancy restaurant just to break up with her before they served the wine? That was too callous for Xavier, so she knew this conversation had to be leading somewhere other than the termination of their fifteen-month relationship. “X, stop kidding with me. Let’s talk real here.”
“This is not a joke, Summer.”
There were two things at that moment that convinced Summer that Xavier was not joking. The first was that he used her real name. Xavier never called her by her real name unless he was angry. Usually it was honey or baby or sweetie or gorgeous or some variation thereof.
But Summer was really convinced when she looked up in response to a shadow darkening their table. The person standing there was not a waiter.
Xavier stood. “Summer, you know Jada.”
Summer looked up at Jada Hardy with the scorn of forty jilted women. Jada Hardy was the assistant to the president of Visual Notions. Her office was just ten paces away from Summer’s. There she stood, fake auburn hair, fake nails, Hershey-bar-dark model-thin body, and enough chest that if someone tapped her gently on the head from behind, she would tip over forward. And for all she knew, that might be fake. Summer quickly dialed back her hard look, realizing that Jada had enough clout to get her fired with a bat of her eyelashes. Summer had liked Jada. Until now.
Jada tried to be cordial in a less than cordial situation. “Hi, Summer.”
Summer looked down at the table. “Jada.”
Jada walked over to Xavier’s side of the table. Summer looked up just in time to see Jada plant a respectable kiss on Xavier’s cheek. She then sat in the chair directly to Xavier’s left. When Xavier sat back down, he looked over at Summer and saw a blaze in her eyes.
“Summer, I wanted to let you know that me and Jada have been seeing each other for a few months now.”
Summer inhaled deeply. Her heart began to palpitate. The shock that statement cut her deeply than anything she would have imagined, rendering her vocal cords inoperative. She focused her eyes on the table, fighting back tears, not wanting to give either of them the pleasure of seeing her cry.
At that moment, Summer realized the mistake she had made a few months before. Summer had invited Xavier to her office to have lunch, something she rarely did with her friends. She preferred to separate her business and personal interests as much as possible. After lunch, when Summer was walking Xavier to the door, Jada strolled past. In courtesy, Summer introduced Jada to Xavier, referring to him as “one of Visual Notions’ clients.” Not my boyfriend, or my man, or even my friend, but my client. The last thing you want to do is introduce your man to another gorgeous, buxom, clasping woman as nothing more than a business interest.
The waiter returned to the table, interrupting an awkward silence. Once he had given his welcoming spiel, he asked for their drink orders. Xavier politely sent him away once again, and then focused his attention on the two lovely ladies sitting at his table.
Emboldened now that the worst of his silent confession was over, Xavier said, “Listen, I know the two of you have to work together. I was hoping we could come together, talk it out, and at least be civil to one another.”
Summer knew the hidden meaning behind Xavier’s words: this is my new girl. I’m going to be coming around the office quite a bit nuzzling up to her, and I don’t want you screwing things up.
Summer phased out Jada for a moment and focused her icy glare on Xavier. “You couldn’t even give me the courtesy of breaking up with me without bringing your new girlfriend along, and you expect me to be civil?” Summer threw her hands up. “I don’t even know why you’re doing this.”
“Why I’m doing what?”
“Why you’re breaking up with me.”
“You know why.”
“Because—” Summer stopped, realizing that what she was about to say was too personal for Jada’s ears, and frankly none of her business. She turned to Jada. “Could you excuse us for a moment?”
Jada cut her eyes at Xavier, seeking his permission. Xavier nodded. Jada cut a final glance at Summer before she stood and walked toward the bar on the other side of the restaurant.
Summer leaned in toward Xavier. “You’re breaking up with me because I wouldn’t marry you?”
“You know I’m looking for a relationship that is going somewhere, Summer. I’ve been asking you for your hand for months. I can’t wait any longer.”
Summer sighed. “You know I have issues with marriage—”
“Yeah, I know. And your daddy issues. Although I don’t think you’re against the idea of marriage as much as you are against the idea of marrying me.”
Summer leaned back in her chair. She couldn’t argue. Xavier was a fantastic boyfriend. But not every relationship was made to make the leap to marriage. From her perspective, there was so much that needed to be worked out. Unfortunately, Xavier had lost patience. And with so many women around waiting to throw themselves at a handsome, high-paid stud such as Xavier, he no longer needed to be patient.
When they had started dating, Summer told him that she intended to be celibate until marriage. Her mother had raised her that way, according to her Christian principles. And Summer considered herself a Christian, even though she had not been to church in many months. But Xavier was the type of man who was used to wrinkling a woman’s sheets within one to two weeks of the first date, so challenges greeted his relationship with Summer from the beginning. And Summer went into the relationship fully intending to make a decision about marrying Xavier within a few months. But then, the alcoholism and the controlling issues surfaced, and that was all she needed to hold off any possibility of a deeper relationship. Summer adored her mother, but she didn’t want to become her by marrying a man that was potentially abusive. She saw how much it affected her mother, and she had no intention of following in those footsteps.
But now she sat here, quickly drowning in the hurt and pain of rejection. What worse, he was cheating on her with a co-worker, a woman she respected and trusted. She fast-forwarded through her life and realized she was about to go through life once again without a man, lonely and depressed. Thirty-five years old, and no closer to having a successful relationship than she was at 18. Her entire life had been relationship-deprived, especially since moving to Richmond. The realization of losing the one person who seemed drawn to her was so frightening that her next words were a compromise against facing the ugliness of the next few months, perhaps years, of her life.
“X, I don’t want to lose you. I could look more closely at this marriage thing. Please let’s talk and work this out.”
“Summer, I’ve already proposed to Jada, and she accepted.”
Summer squeezed her eyes shut. This was unbelievable. The evening was just getting worse, and she could feel Xavier slipping out of her grasp. “You haven’t known her that long.”
“But we don’t need to know each other for long to know that we were meant for each other. When you feel that way, there’s no sense waiting.”
“You used to say that about us.”
“That we were meant for each other.”
Xavier looked way. “Maybe I was mistaken.”
That stung more than anything that Xavier had said. That their relationship was a sham, a mistake. She wasted fifteen months of her life on a mistake. They were hard, sharp words, but she didn’t want to acknowledge them. She knew that Xavier was the man for her. She knew it now more than ever.
And with those thoughts, she was moving into the same dangerous territory and destructive co-dependent behavior that her mother had exhibited throughout a year of abuse; that sometimes it was better having a man in your life that abused you, than no man at all.
Summer’s next words were abrupt and only half-hearted. “Okay, I’ll marry you.”
Xavier shook his head. “We had our chance, Summer. I’m going to be with Jada now.” He looked toward the bar, hoping that he could meet eyes with Jada and summon her to return to the table.
Summer’s eyes were moist with tears now, and as she blinked, they started to flow down her face. “How can you do this to me?” She made no effort to stop the flow, as they had begun to drip off her chin and onto the tablecloth. A few of the patrons noticed her tears and stole periodic glances, trying to figure out what was going on without appearing nosy.
Jada returned to the table, at which point Summer noticed that several of the patrons had noticed her crying. Flustered, Summer grabbed her purse, got up from the table, and without a word, headed for the door. One of the waiters saw her on the way out and asked if she was okay. She hurried past him without answering.
Then suddenly, just before she reached the front door, anger mingled with her sadness like a suitor cutting in on a dance. This woman, Jada, the one she trusted and respected for years, just stole her man from her. There was no way she was going to do that without her making a bold statement about it.
Summer turned around and headed back into the restaurant. On a table near the door, three wine glasses, half-full with Merlot, were sitting there, left by departing patrons. Summer clutched her purse tighter between her left arm and her side, then grabbed two of the glasses. She marched toward Xavier’s table. Xavier and his new girl-toy Jada were sitting next to each other, nuzzling close while reviewing the wine selection, so they didn’t notice her approach. By the time they did, it was too late.
With the precision of a gunslinger, Summer hurled both the glasses forward, sending the wine out of the glasses and directly into Xavier and Jada’s faces. They jumped up and screamed, and the room fell silent, as all eyes were now on them. Summer dropped the glasses on the table and marched toward the door. The glasses rolled off the table and crashed on the floor, creating the only sound in the room at that moment.
As Summer left, she couldn’t help but notice that a few of the women, understanding her pain, had smiles on their faces.
* * *
End of Excerpt. For more information on this novel, including release date, visit our website at www.conquestpublishers.com.