Hey reading family, here’s a preview of my next book release, Wait No More. This is a spin-off story from With Your Permission. Enjoy!
Sophia Carter never believed rumors until they were a proven truth, so when Dean St. James strolled through the doors of her three-story nightclub, Rendezvous, the jolt in her spirit could’ve easily disassembled her. She held her breath, stirring a tightening in her chest, that gave her veins a cautionary squeeze. She could pass out at any moment, but Sophia’s lungs were resilient, punching out a command that forced her to release an extensive breath. Observing the pace of Dean’s swaggered stroll kicked her heart into overdrive, running amok, like a gallop that bounced between her breasts. She’d never been deceived by her eyes before, so she refused to believe his embodiment was a thing of her imagination.
Images of their freshman and sophomore year at the University of Chicago were unearthed, sailing to the forefront of her mind as if it had only been yesterday. Dean St. James was Sophia’s high school sweetheart, the love of her life, her one and only. Their plans to get married, buy land, build a house from the ground up, and have children were their own personal American dream. However, those dreams were torn apart when Sophia found out that Dean had other plans. It was through the Chicago Tribune newspaper, one that Sophia read on a daily basis during her drive from the bakery where she was employed part-time.
A local University of Chicago undergraduate football star, Dean St. James, has decided not to continue his studies in the fall and instead will begin his training at Fort Knox this winter…
“Six long years…” Sophia managed to whisper. It was a long time to go without seeing the only man you ever loved.
Broken promises of a lifetime and love everlasting murmured in the unruly winds that flew in when Dean strode through the door. He’d walked right out of Sophia’s life before they had a chance to say I do. And now he was back, like some sort of herculean apparition in the flesh. And although Sophia fought the turbulent emotions inside her, she was still in love with him, as if not a day had passed.
Standing by the entrance, Dean spoke through a cell phone that was connected to a Bluetooth device in his ear. But his gaze was set, determined, searching the area for what he came to find. Supervising the sea of people, Sophia was hoisted on the balcony of Rendezvous nightclub, in a section cut off from patrons that was meant for staff only. Behind the bar, Taylor Murphy tossed a dark brown curl behind her ear, then shouted in Dean’s direction as she wiped down the counter.
Sophia didn’t know if she wanted to believe the picture before her; that Dean was standing in her place of business. Maybe this time she had imagined him. A part of Sophia wanted to close her eyes and hope that he would be gone when she reopened them. But, Sophia struggled to pull her gaze away, because another part of her wanted this to be true—even after everything she’d endured since they’d parted ways.
It was unsettling to her spirit, especially since Sophia told herself repeatedly that it was over between the two of them. She watched Dean from her spot, taking in his entire masculine persona.
When Dean left for basic training, he carried a medium build with equaled portions of a simple muscle tone that resembled a young rising athlete. Football had been the highlight of his days at the university, and there were plenty of opportunities to play for other schools as scholarships poured in before his spell in college. Then, Dean was easily six three, one hundred seventy pounds and his agility on the field were unmatched. He was a fan of dark brown close-cropped hair that in the past was his signature color, but those previous images, along with his boyish features, now were removed. His facial features had grown into their own, appearing sharp and defined on his ruggedly handsome face.
Her eyes carried over the muscular pack in his formation, and if she had to guess, he was easily over two hundred pounds. Even in his army fatigue jacket, the defined muscles in his arms could be seen as they branded through the camouflage coat. The brown hair that once sprouted from his head was now black but still cut short to the frame of his face. Sophia swept an eye over him. The fluttering in her heart was a continuous kick as her gaze settled on his thick powerful thighs that were covered in dark denim.
Pulling her attention over to the bar, the patron sitting in front of Taylor with glossed-over blue eyes, a thick nose and olive skin waved his empty glass.
“Do you mind if I have another?” Frank Miller asked. It was barely eight p.m., and Frank had already guzzled three shot glasses of whiskey on the rocks. Frank was a regular in Rendezvous. He’d come by after work, after church, and after hours.
“Are you sure you don’t want to slow down, Mr. Miller?” Taylor asked.
Frank’s nose wrinkled as he frowned. “I think I can handle it, little lady. Now that we’ve got that out of the way…” Frank waved his glass again and Taylor hesitated a moment before taking it off his hands. Frank was newly divorced. He and his wife Francesca Miller were married forty years before she came home from bingo one night and caught Frank feeling up their grandson’s babysitter.
Taylor turned her back to refill his drink, but Sophia’s peripheral vision followed Dean as he slapped hands and gave handshakes to former friends whom he appeared to be meeting up with tonight. Sophia’s mind continued to reel at his sudden manifestation. She’d heard through the grapevine that Dean had been discharged from the Army. She didn’t have the specifics, but if you lived in the northside of Chicago long enough, you’d know who’s who. Despite how large the city was, some news never made it past the locals who’d grown up in the area.
Sophia pressed a button on her wireless earpiece and spoke through her mic. “Taylor, your microphone is still on. If you have a problem with Mr. Miller, let Clarence know and he’ll escort him out.” Sophia removed her hand just as Taylor responded.
“I always forget to turn this mic off,” Taylor huffed. Sophia cracked a smile. “Trust me, if Mr. Miller gets out of line, I’ll throw him out myself.”
Sophia’s smile held, and she pressed the button again. “I’m sure you would, but you don’t want to break a leg, do you?” Sophia knew that would keep Taylor in line. Taylor was as tomboyish as tomboyish could be.
The two had also attended the university together, and they’d both felt the heartbreak from being left behind by their fiancés as the men enlisted and were shipped off to the army. Taylor was gorgeous, and leggy. It didn’t take long for model companies around the world to offer her a chance to walk their runway, and needing the distraction, Taylor took that opportunity to free her mind from her personal life troubles. It also gave her the chance to take care of her father, who was widowed after the death of her mother. Due to her modeling career, her legs were insured, and she was careful to refrain from athletic feats which could damage her assets.
“Hey, boss lady, did you see Dean walk through the door?!”
How could she not? Sophia saw everything. But instead of alluding to that, Sophia pretended to be oblivious.
“Dean who?” Sophia asked.
Sophia watched as Taylor’s mouth dropped open. “Dean who? Hello, army fatigue jacket, ten o’clock,” Taylor said, glancing up at Sophia.
Taylor couldn’t see Sophia through the dark tinted window that closed around Sophia’s office, but Taylor knew she was there; staring out at the club like she always did. Sophia continued with her charade.
“Get out! Is that who I think it is?”
Taylor sighed. “Girl, you better come get your man before one of these other heffas beat you to the punch.” Taylor smirked, and Sophia shook her head and turned her attention back to Dean. He’d shed his jacket and now the bulging biceps in his arms were evident, garnering attention from every woman in the nearby vicinity.
“He’s not my man,” Sophia said as she watched Dean nod and signal he’d be back.
His powerful strides across the room pulled eyes from anyone in the place with a vagina. Once he made it to the bar, Dean cut through two women to grab Taylor’s attention.
“Dean!” Taylor screeched. “Oh my God, come around the bar so I can get a hug!”
Dean strolled to the entrance of the bar and Taylor tossed her arms around his neck, jumping on the tips of her toes with glee. Dean laughed, candidly amused.
“I guess it’s safe to say you missed me,” his deep voice grooved.
Taylor pulled away and settled back on her feet. “Of course, I do, it’s only been six years!” she squealed.
“Yeah,” Dean said. “It’s been a stretch.”
Something in his voice made Sophia wonder what all Dean had been through. She couldn’t imagine what type of life being a US Army soldier entailed.
“Dex got here a week ago,” Taylor announced.
“So I heard. I’ve got to catch up with him. I know you were ecstatic upon his return.”
“Yes,” Taylor said eagerly. “Elated,” she shimmied where she stood, thrilled as memories of their reunion hit her quickly. “But enough about me. I bet your family was overjoyed to have you home.”
Dean rubbed a hand along his rugged jaw and smiled. “It was pretty heartfelt.”
Seeing his family for the first time face-to-face in six years lifted a weight off of his shoulders. One he hadn’t realized he was carrying until the moment he exited the taxi in front of the Mediterranean-styled home.
The front door opened, and a gasp broke through the air. “Oh my God!” Bri St. James, his sister and best friend, framed her face with her hands. Astonishment was written in her eyes as she broke out into a sprint, jumping off the porch and running down the stone walkway, colliding with Dean’s chest into his open arms. He held her tight and dropped his lips to her temple for a warm kiss.
“Hey sis, it feels like it’s been forever. Did you miss me, because I sure missed you.”
A caterwauling cry spilled from Bri and with her eyes closed she kept her forehead buried in his chest, soothed by his warm embrace. Dean’s heart had never beat so recklessly, and seconds later their parents joined them, with hugs and soft cries of their own. They consoled each other for such a long spell that none of them could tell how much time had passed before they pulled apart. Slowly but surely, Dean could feel pressure release from his body, even as he knew the only way to rid himself fully of the strain was to get in touch with the one person who undoubtedly wanted nothing to do with him. Sophia. Still, he held on to hope.
“Have you happened to hear from Sophia?” Dean asked his family. His mother and father glanced between each other, but Bri was the one who spoke.
“I heard she works at Rendezvous. It’s a nightclub in the heart of the city.”
He nodded. “Thank you.”
Bri’s head fell back into his embrace and again, Dean held on with a vise grip.
“I know you must be hungry,” Mrs. St. James blurted.
“Great,” Mr. St. James’ burly voice bellowed. “Let’s go inside and eat. Your mother and sister fixed a spread of food that we won’t be able to put a dent in.”
“I don’t know about that, Pops, I can put away a couple of plates.”
They all laughed and reentered their home, helping Dean settle in while catching up on some of the years. When dinner was over, Dean helped his mother with the kitchen, then left for Rendezvous.
“Yeah,” Taylor went on, pulling Dean out of his reverie. “I can image how they must feel. It’s so good to have you back and I’m glad that you’re safe.”
“Thank you. I appreciate that.” He paused. “So, Taylor, have you heard from Sophia?”
At the mention of her name, Sophia’s oxygen was cut again. It had rolled off his tongue with a profound penetration that sent warm tingles coaxing through her skin.
“Oh, you didn’t know?” Taylor said.
At Dean’s puzzled look, Taylor continued, “Sophia owns this club.”
Dean’s brow’s rose. “Rendezvous?” he asked for clarification.
“Yeah. She took the money you guys saved for the wedding and purchased this place years ago. It started out looking like a hole in the wall, but she got the place in tip-top shape pretty quickly. Now it’s one of the hottest and most frequented clubs in town.”
Sophia watched Dean closely, noticing the shift in his posture when Taylor mentioned wedding.
“Do you think she would spare me a minute?” Dean asked.
Sophia exhaled a long breath. For years she’d prayed to God to protect him while he was away and bring him home safe to her. Now, here he was, in her establishment, asking for her, no less. A few years ago, Sophia would’ve jumped for joy. It would’ve made her the happiest woman alive. But things changed the day he called to tell her to move on with her life.
Her disbelief of his words still stung her soul and Sophia’s heart palpitated just thinking of it. From the moment Dean departed, she had been suspended on his words and loving promises—hanging on as if they were the very thread that gave her life.
“I won’t be away forever. Nothing’s going to happen to me. I’m already a soldier. You know that, right?”
His reassurance didn’t relieve Sophia of the pain in her heart and on her face as she pouted, while tears continued to stain her cinnamon face.
“You can’t be sure! Why wouldn’t you tell me that this was something you wanted to do?”
“You’re right. I should’ve told you, and it’s not just about me, but—”
“It’s your father isn’t it?”
Sophia’s distress was mounting at the very thought of her Dean caught in the middle of a war. “Tell me—is this about making your father proud because he’s already—”
“Sophia, I love you.” Dean sighed and reached out to caress her face “Please don’t make this harder than it already is.” Sophia dropped her head and Dean lifted her chin. “Baby, it’s never been about my father and I haven’t forgotten our dreams or hopes for the future.”
“Then how can you do this?”
He pulled her in, holding Sophia close to the beat of his heart as her tears soaked his shirt.
“This will put us in the position to make those dreams a reality. Money won’t be an issue; our children will come into a world with their paths set for them to be great—as great as we want to be, if not more.”
He rubbed her chin and wiped the tears that trudged down her cheeks.
“Give me a little time, my love, and wait for me.”
And Sophia did; every second of every minute of every hour of every day; on Sundays and in the midnight hour, too. Sophia waited for Dean. Their conversations every two months via Skype were the highlights of her years, all the way up until the final call three years ago.
Dean kept his message short but not sweet. Something had indeed happened, but Sophia never knew what it was because after that haunting phone call, Dean ceased all contact with her. Sophia’s heart broke into a million pieces and it took her friends, family, and sheer fortitude to keep from sinking into depression.
Now he wanted a word with her. And although Sophia would like to think she was over him, deep down, Sophia knew better. Seeing Dean, even from the quiet chambers of her balcony, threw her equilibrium into straight chaos.
“I can buzz her and see if she’s available,” Taylor said, reaching for her earpiece.
Dean pointed to Taylor with a smirk, motioning toward the device on her ear. “You joined the Men in Black?” Dean joked.
Taylor slapped at his arm. “And I see you still think you’re a funny man. News flash, you weren’t in college, you’re not now.”
Dean guffawed, his deep laugh wrapping Sophia in a layer of chills. Taylor’s voice came through the buzzer. “Hey Sophia, do you have a minute?”
Sophia hesitated then responded. “You know I’ve been listening this whole time, right?”
Taylor snorted. “This time it was on purpose.”
“Anyway, you’ll never believe who’s down here,” Taylor said as if they hadn’t just had the conversation moments before.
“Okay, I’ll play along; who’s down there, girl?”
Taylor smirked. “Dean, and he wants to speak to you.”
“Dean, hmmm…Dean who?” Sophia said.
“Yes, I have no idea who you’re talking about.”
“Dean St. James,” Taylor said with less gusto.
Dean arched a brow and stuffed his hands into his jeans. Sophia paused for the longest time; so long, Taylor assumed she had left the line.
“In five minutes, have Clarence show him up to the office.”
With momentum behind her step, Sophia sauntered into the bathroom, taking a calculating eye over her appearance. The brown foundation on her face accentuated her flawless features. The ruby red lipstick sat with a smooth finish on her full lips. Taking a hand to her mouth, she smelled her breath, then grabbed the icy mint oral spray that sat on the counter. Satisfied after freshening her breath, Sophia finger-combed her deep brown mane. The thick strands dropped past her shoulders, caressing her back just slightly. She looked fine; maybe not as sensational as she would’ve preferred, but this would have to do.
When a knock on the door came, Sophia’s heartbeat ricocheted. She stepped out of the bathroom and strolled back to her security monitors.
“Come in,” she said nonchalantly, as if her visitor wasn’t someone who threatened her very sanity.
When the door opened, and Dean strolled in, Sophia realized she underestimated his transformation and like a horny teenager, a sting of heat crawled right down her belly into the seat of her panties.