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***Not for publication. Unedited passage. Subject to change before publishing. Copyrights reserved***
Have Sambi take a look at the gutter leak off the back of the kitchen…
Call April to invite her up…
File our marriage license…
Remind Shawnie to bring my A Good Man-darin is Hard to Find O.P.I. polish back today…
Pick up Trent’s shirt from the cleaners for tomorrow…
He turned onto his stomach and now faced me. His thick arm pushed under the pillow where his head lay, and his lips parted. Trent took up most of the California King-sized bed, barring a corner, but I didn’t care. He was here, home with me.
And he’s entirely beautiful…
Sometimes when I prayed, I asked God what did I do to deserve this. Him. He was larger than life—in person and in reputation. Since he’d been reinstated, I read countless articles about Trent Bailey, the quarterback for the Connecticut Kings. I learned about his groundbreaking scores and business deals, wild and festive parties, well-profiled relationships—except for the one with Brielle that was sold as a friendship to the public—with gorgeous women who were famous in their own right, and his arrest, conviction, and sentencing. Trent was barely twenty-seven and had lived more of a life than many men twice his age. And somehow the silly man still had the desire to choose an embattled woman with loads of baggage like me to be his wife.
As though he heard my self-loathing, his lashes fluttered open. My eyes and mouth spread as wide as my heart in experiencing the purity in his first sight of the day. Me.
“What time is it?” he muttered.
“Just before six.”
“You gone try to wipe me out before my work out?”
My face expanded even further and I scooted down the mattress to kiss his puffy lips. The idea of sex this morning was tempting.
“No. I wanted to get to you before KyKy does.”
Trent stirred, moving to sit up, and rubbed his deliciously tight face with those big hands.
“Oh, yeah. It’s Saturday. What y’all got on tap?”
“Lashawn and Devin are coming over today.” I bit the inside of my mouth knowing I didn’t have much time to say what I needed to say.
Trent was like a machine in the morning when it came to his workout regimen.
“Word. Ky feeling up to that?”
My eyes circled the dim suite. “He should.”
Stretching on a yawn, he mumbled, “That’s what’s up.”
“I have to transfer money from the stash account today.”
The stash account was the biggest of Trent’s I had access to. It was the one we shouldn’t touch but for an emergency. But he would grant me permission to transfer money if I ran out for the house. And running out would be me going over the budget we agreed to. Trent was somewhat of a miser when it came to his money. He was wealthy by my parents’ standards even before he returned to the National Football League. But in his mind, he was two days from destitution. I could now see how he preserved; he hardly spent a dime.
“For what?” he asked, unalarmed.
“I’ve had Sambi replacing all the exterior lights on the property. I bought all new eco-friendly fixtures and bulbs. They weren’t the most expensive, but cost a shiny penny.” My voice turned defensive. “And considering the old models you had out there, and how half were malfunctioning anyway, I figure it’d save money in the future. Plus, I had to take Ky to get new clothes this week. If not, I would’ve paid for it with my money.”
“No biggie, little one.” He stretched again, this time extended his torso over his legs to touch his toes. Damn… Trent was more flexible than me. “Take what you need. I don’t know why you trippin’ anyway. Tim from Ches’ office ain’t call you?”
“No. For what?”
Trent turned to me and waggled his brows. “You gotta raise, shawtie.”
Like Trent had been doing his entire career, I was a line item in his financial portfolio. I had a set salary as he did, only mine was more than his; something I never understood. We were paid out monthly and were expected to stay within the parameters of that allotment for his budget to perform as planned. The majority of Trent’s multi-million-dollar earnings went to investments and retirement savings.
“Yup.” He exhaled. “I think you went from eighty to a hun‘ed.”
I gasped. “One hundred thousand a year?” He nodded, laying against the headboard. I knew he’d signed a couple of endorsement deals and even bigger ones were on the way, but I didn’t realize it happened so quickly. “And you?”
His lips turned up, unimpressed. “I told him to add ten to my fifty. I ‘on’t need much.”
“Only sixty a year, but give me one hundred? Trent, that doesn’t make an ounce of sense.”
“Keep it real: I don’t even need that. You buy food, pay the utilities—even cop my drawers, socks, and undershirts. Other than when I eat out or get parts for my Chevy, I don’t need much. Shoot. Even the Kings pick up my grocery tab at the condo up in Connecticut.” He shrugged. “You being good is me being good. Ky good, too, right?” His head angled slightly toward me with a curious brow.
I took a deep breath.
Trent turned completely to face me. “Word? When?”
Another hearty breath. “I don’t know.” My face fell to my lap. “I’m assuming two days ago.”
“That’s what’s up. Why you ain’t tell me?”
“He called the night you ran down to Camden. And I missed you yesterday, leaving out so early.”
“We kicked it last night,” he chastised gently.
I licked my lips. “I brought up my mom and crashed emotionally. Plus, it was too much to dump on you.”
“You look stressed about it. It’s good he’s home. He gotta lil’ solider to raise.”
My eyes shot up loaded and locked. “I can do it.”
Trent’s brows met as he studied me. He shook his head. “Not by yourself, you can’t. You need that dude for Ky.”
“I need you.” My eyes didn’t falter, but my voice did.
“I’m here to be whatever you two need—everything you guys need. But my place is behind Ryshon…unless he ain’t steppin’ up, J.”
I swallowed hard, my brain snapping into place. That was out of line. I shouldn’t have put that on Trent.
“I’m sorry. I—I didn’t mean to imply…”
He reached for my face, his big palm almost matching it in size. “Hey, my vows are to you and Ky. Ain’t no half stepping over here. I’m just not tryna step on dude’s toes. That ain’t code. Why you stressed? Did he say something to you?”
I shook my head in his hand, face wrinkled. “It’s just our dynamic. It’s who Ryshon and Jade are. We don’t know how to co-parent while apart. He’s been locked up so many times.” I swallowed again, my eyes slowly ascending. “And now I belong to another man: heart, soul, and body.”
I wanted him to get it, but knew I wasn’t articulating myself fully. It was because I didn’t know what to say. I just knew what I felt and that was I’d wished Ryshon would disappear. I’d been transitioning into someone eons away from the woman Ryshon knew. I was filling in those empty spaces deep inside at Trent’s side. Something deep was awakening. Every day my self-confidence increased and so had my identity. Ryshon wouldn’t get or appreciate that.
And Trent doesn’t understand…
“He just got out the pen, J. It’s gonna take him a minute to adjust. He may be trippin’ a little, may be a lil brolic with a chip on his shoulder, but that’s normal. Give him grace. We all go through that when fresh out.”
He nodded. “I tripped a little. Flexed unnecessarily on my people. But I got over it once I realized I didn’t have to be tough on the outside.”
“Who were you flexing at?”
His hand withdrew. “A few heads.” His eyes circled as he thought. “I almost choked the hell outta Alton.”
I sputtered a laugh, not able to believe what he’d just said. “Alton Alston?”
He nodded, one side of his mouth curved into a grin. “You know dude play way too much. He had jokes about me being fresh out and kept shootin’ them all night. After a while, I had him pinned against a wall. StentRo, JJ, and Tynisha had to pull me off him.”
A giggle slipped and I covered my mouth. “Sorry. It’s just that you’re so patient with him.”
“Because he got a good heart, just a confused head.”
“Which head? The one he rams into models like that Jessica Black while she’s with Young Lord? Or the one he never uses when talking so reckless, so much?”
Trent rolled his eyes adorably. “If you think Young had that broad in the ‘exclusive lane,’ you’re just as delusional as Alton.” He waved the topic off with his hand in the air. “For real, J. Don’t sweat the small stuff with dude, Ryshon. If my peoples would’ve held me to my ego when I first landed, I wouldn’t have them around now. He’s got a lot of obstacles ahead of him. Just excuse the B.S.”
“Even if it’s a threat to us?”
Trent’s face darkened, first defensively then in confusion. “Like… You two hooking up again?”
My expression dropped. “I haven’t been attracted to him in years. And you’re the delusional one if you think I could ever want a guy like Ryshon after having a man like you.”
He didn’t move to respond, seemingly measuring every word I ever spoke to him in the past seventeen months since we met in the span of seconds.
“Then ain’t shit that dude can do to come between us, Jade,” he gritted out.
There was a dark promise in his eyes. A warning.
My eyes fell to my lap again. I had him cursing before his morning prayer run. There was another pregnant pause before Trent turned to leave the bed.
“I uploaded Pastor Carmichael’s Men’s Empowerment Conference sermons on your phone earlier. You know…” My eyes faltered again. “To catch up for the conclusion tomorrow.”
Trent peered back at me, thick and bushy brows hiked. “Good lookin’.”
Then he took off for the bathroom. The deep grooves in his wide back in motion as he advanced.
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