It took a once-in-a-lifetime bond to teach her what love is, and a once-in-a-lifetime betrayal to show her what love is not... Love Is. A different kind of love story.
Diane Collins had big plans for her life, and hoops star Warren Scott was not among them. He doesn't want to be the face of the NBA, and she doesn't care that he is. His reluctance to be part of the limelight disarms her and the two embark on an unlikely friendship that becomes an even unlikelier romance.
Soon, his life is her life - filled with VIP treatment, parties and luxuries beyond Diane's wildest imagination. But Warren is harboring a secret, and once it's revealed Diane's decision to stay or go could change the very fabric of who she thought she was.
here's a sneak peek.
December 30, 1992
Diane Collins leaned against the hood of her BMW and looked up at the sky. When did she become the person that always did things backward? The fog had lifted an hour ago, but the sticky humidity made her question if it would really rain on New Year’s Eve like the weatherman predicted. Instead, it intensified the smell of sea salt and shellfish from the gulf.
She kicked with her dark brown ankle boot, scattering gravel around, trying not to think about the weather. She didn’t need any more reminders of who she used to be. All Diane wanted was for him to show up.
The rumble of a truck got her attention, but it couldn’t be him. American-made pickups were never his style, but she kept her eyes on it, following what served as a distraction until it disappeared over the bridge toward Kemah.
Glancing at the dual-tone Oyster Perpetual Rolex on her wrist, she noticed nearly two hours had passed since the last time she’d checked. How much longer was he going to make her wait? Diane felt the waves of panic stirring within the pit of her stomach.
What if she’d underestimated him and he was never going to show up?
Wrapping her arms around her waist, she stared at a Volkswagen Beetle cruising down the road she never planned to drive on again. Then she turned toward her car and stared at all she had left—all that now mattered—deciding she’d give him another twenty minutes, but if he didn’t show up she still planned to leave anyway.
Feeling the breeze pick up, she tugged at the scarf around her neck and reaffirmed to herself the same words she’d spoken while loading the last of their boxes in the back of the U-Haul trailer that had no business being attached to a BMW, even if the car was eight years old.
“I have to do this. I need to go.”
Love Come Down
March 26, 1982
“David Duncan speaking.”
“Hi, David. It’s me.”
Diane Collins smiled at the greeting. David spoke again, and she had to cover her free ear to block out the noise of the people talking in the terminal and the ticket agent announcing that the flight was delayed another thirty minutes.
“Sorry, what did you say?” she asked.
“I said, you should have given me notice about the call from you know who.” He had lowered his voice into a deep rumble of a whisper.
“That’s why I’m calling. I just got the chance and there was a line ahead of me. I’m here at the airport. Someone from the station called you already?”
“Yeah, some guy named Lear.”
Fred Lear. Figures. “I showed him everyone’s letters of recommendation, including yours, but he kept questioning why I would want to leave NASA to work for a local affiliate. I guess he wanted to verify things for himself.”
“He sounded like an ass.”
“That’s because he is.”
“Now are you ready to come home?” David’s words would have made any other woman blush, but David only wanted one thing—to bring her into his department as a data coordinator. The offer was tempting, but she still wasn’t ready to accept it.
Diane stared at the runway and shivered at the sight of blackened snow plowed into small hills along on the other side of the plane taking her away from Cleveland to New Orleans, where her natural body temp was better acclimated.
“Home… soon,” she said with a smile spreading across her face. “Not finished yet. I still have one more interview in New Orleans before I can say yes… or no.”
“Dee, I can’t hold the position forever.”
On the call she’d placed just before reaching out to David, her mother made it clear she was being foolish as usual, searching for a new job when the country was still in a recession. Her mother hated Reagan, but she disliked Diane’s independent side more. After graduation, the thrill of bragging about her twenty-four-year-old daughter with a master’s in meteorology wore off, and her mother had a new goal in mind for her only child. Her parents, Milton and Roslyn Collins, expected her to move on to her next dream of earning a Ph.D. in Atmospheric Sciences. One tiny detail kept her from making that goal a reality – Diane had to pay for it herself and her secretarial salary was barely enough to cover just living expenses alone. Until she could afford to return to school, Diane wanted to prove her success in other ways. She needed to put her degree to use in a way that would make her parents proud.
“I just want to explore every option before making my decision.” She’d only been with NASA for a year, but her supervisor made it clear they had no interest in advancing anyone from the secretarial pool. Diane had accepted the position because it meant her employer would be NASA and she’d be one step closer to studying weather in places other than Earth. The roadblocks that came up limited her, and she needed an alternate plan if she was going to achieve her goal. One day scientists were going to figure out how to control the extreme shifts in global climate to save people from destroying the Earth, and she wanted to be on the team that did it. For now, she needed to build her credentials and prove she deserved to be a part of the space program, so she could get another view of the effects human life had on the planet and how it varied with the rest of the universe. The only person that understood that was David, but he had a problem with her seeking an alternate avenue that helped build her name as a meteorologist. If she could get a position as a television personality, she’d have a different level of influence, making it harder for NASA to tell her no. And as a woman, she had to find a way in where men still felt the door needed to remain closed. Reporting on television was a possibility, or so she thought until the interviews began.
“I wouldn’t mind turning on the news every evening and seeing your pretty face, but don’t waste your talent. You know how I feel about this whole television thing you’re chasing. You’re settling, and you’re better than that. You know it.”
And she did. David thought she should go somewhere with potential to grow, like where he’d found success. For David who worked behind his desk for NOAA’s National Weather Service back home in Texas, slow and steady worked, but Diane didn’t have time for that. Being a data coordinator only gave her access to what others were doing, but she wanted to be involved directly in the action. In order to experience that, she needed to get out there. Now.
Working for a local affiliate in the role people like Fred Lear wanted her in was settling. She’d worked too hard to be just a secretary, and definitely deserved to be more than just a cute weather girl. Except she didn’t want a desk job with her employer NASA or the position David pushed her to accept. Diane wanted to explore new ground. She just had to find another way to get there before someone else took a researcher spot in the space program that should have been hers again.
David probably knew how she felt already. He always could express out loud what was running through her mind before she voiced it. He’d been finishing her sentences since the day they met at her grandfather’s church, the summer before she entered the third grade and he the fifth. Except then it was sticking up for her when others teased Diane, and not because he was telling her what the station manager had confirmed a few hours ago. The past two television stations only wanted to hire a “weather girl” and couldn’t care less about her degree in meteorology. It was made crystal clear during the last interview and screen test that determining weather patterns or staying on top of atmospheric trends was a no-no. They only wanted her to smile pretty for the viewing public and boost ratings with their minority demographic.
“I’m trying to figure out why you’d give up so quickly. You know you’re a shoo-in for the next open position. The coordinator spot would be temporary. All you have to do is get your foot in the door here.”
“Until someone else steps on my toes and happens to have a penis and a friend in high places that snatches the position away from me. The same way it’s been the last two times.”
“I didn’t mean to put you in an awkward position by giving Fred Lear your number, but I couldn’t take the chance of him going directly through personnel, since everyone is so chummy between the divisions. I hoped you could answer all his questions.”
“You’re lucky Conrad left my desk ten minutes before he called, but it’s fine. Don’t worry.” Conrad was tight with her boss, and she’d never trusted either of them.
“Thank you. Too bad it was a wasted call.”
“The first thing he said after scanning my résumé was recommending I buy a box of Clairol and get a perm.”
“I don’t follow you. Didn’t you show up to interview ready?”
“Of course I did. What I didn’t do was arrive with blonde hair. For some reason, he said I should play up my gray eyes with lighter hair.”
“Your hair is already pretty light.”
“Brown is not blonde. He wants someone that’s going to satisfy the curiosity of black viewers, but keep their white audience happy. Who knew people think like that in the North?”
“Technically Ohio is more the Midwest than North.”
“Even more concerning. He also didn’t care about my experience. All they wanted was a—and I quote—cute weather gal to show off pretty little cloud stickers and smile for the cameras. The hardest assignment I’ll face is learning how to work the clicker.”
“The little remote they use to navigate the weather screens. That’s what Fred Lear kept calling it, and it grated on my nerves every time he said it.”
David laughed in her ear. “All those years at Texas A&M just so you can be a cute weather gal? I know your parents are going to love hearing that.”
“Tell me about it. So hopefully this next interview in New Orleans goes well, or I hear back from the Weather Channel. Either way, I’m passing on the offer if Mr. Lear decides to extend one. I’d rather be the secretary they skip for positions I am more than qualified for than sell myself short with his backwards mindset.”
“You just graduated. Give it time. Why don’t you just put in for a transfer and come work for me in this department?”
Ultimately, she wanted to become an astronaut, which was a lofty goal for the average person, but even more so for a black female. But ever since Diane was a little girl, she’d dreamed of going into space. Her middle school science teacher told the class about Mariner 9’s interesting discovery. The spacecraft witnessed a rare dust storm that shrouded Mars and altered the climate there. None of Diane’s classmates cared, but she stayed after school with Mrs. Johnson and marveled about the possibilities that news could lead to. If an atypical storm could warm the planet by several degrees, what else did we not know about our fellow planets?
In order to get into the space program to research planetary weather systems, she needed more than just a degree. She needed experience in her field. Positions for recent female graduates in meteorology were limited, and she was trying to think fast and creatively to spare time she didn’t have if she was going to be space-bound within her five-year postgraduate plan. With one year behind her, she was losing valuable time.
“No, David. I don’t want anyone to think I got in because of you, and you know that.”
“Dee, what’s the difference if they do? You get through the door and prove them wrong until they shut up.”
“Besides, you know they won’t go for two of us in the same department. Not that program. They have to keep us spread out to make it look good.”
His laughter was contagious, and she joined him. “I have to get to this next meeting. See you when you get back this weekend? Perhaps dinner and we can catch a show or something after?”
“Nice try, David. If that’s code for ‘I cook at home so you can eat all my food,’ then no.”
“You know you like making those fancy meals just for me.”
“I will be back home in a couple of days and will call you.”
“And then you’ll have me over?”
“You’re going to upset all those girlfriends of yours flirting like that just to get fed.”
“Friends,” he stressed.
“Yeah, tell me another lie. Bye, David.”
“Be safe out there, beautiful.”
Diane smiled and hung up the phone. She dialed the next number while listening for flight updates.
She entered the ninety cents the automated voice requested and waited until her answering machine picked up after two rings so she could dial the access code.
The first message immediately played itself.
“This is Fred Lear with WCLO and I’m calling for Diane Collins. I’m sorry, doll, but…”
The rest of the message was lost by the voices shouting behind her.
“Robinson really laid you out, man.”
“Can I get your autograph?”
Diane covered her ear and pressed the keypad to rewind her machine, hoping to hear Mr. Lear’s message again without having to add more money.
“Please add twenty cents for an additional three minutes,” the automated voice announced.
Diane didn’t have twenty cents, but between requests for it she was able to hear Mr. Lear loud and clear.
WCLO didn’t want to hire her, and despite telling David she didn’t want the job, the news should’ve been all right with her, since she planned to turn down an offer if it did come her way. But the rejection still stung. Here she was in Cleveland, Ohio, spending her vacation time and savings on an interview for a job she had no business accepting. Instead they were the ones to walk away first.
Making her way around the small group behind her, Diane returned to her seat near the windows that gave her a view of the New Orleans-bound plane that was still grounded.
She reached for the magazine inside her LeSportsac tote bag and flipped through the pages of Essence’s June edition. The “True Love: The Myths, the Reality” article caught her eye, but first she wanted to see what tips were in the new issue’s other article about being single and satisfied. That particular slogan beneath the picture of Iman with her NBA player husband and daughter and the big, bold letters staring back saying “We Are Family!” contradicted the “single and satisfied sentiment.” If anything, their happy faces made her feel alone and disappointed.
A low grunt beside her got her attention, and she looked to her left to see a man trying to get comfortable in one of the seats. His long frame poured into the aisle in front of them as he shifted his stiff, magnificent body, making his unusual length stand out even more.
A family with two young children stopped in front of her and the stranger. The mother held on to a Polaroid camera and one of the kids clutched a piece of paper and pen.
“We hate to bother you, Warrior, but do you mind?”
The guy wore a scowl on his face as he took the piece of paper and scrawled his name across it.
“No pictures, if you don’t mind. I’m just trying to spend some quality time with my lady before our flight,” he said in a voice so low that it was barely audible.
The group moved on, and Diane sighed with relief after noticing no other stragglers threatened to invade their space, and she kept her own curiosity about him in check. He was a man that clearly wanted to be left alone, but that was until she was dragged in to fight the imposition his celebrity caused him. Turning the page, she mumbled to her seatmate, “Your lady?”
“They usually leave me alone if I have company.”
She smiled, not able to resist the urge to tease him. “Glad to know I could be of assistance. By the way, I’d be highly upset if after all I did to save you from your fans my man happens to forget my birthday this year.”
He laughed. She placed the magazine on her lap and turned to get a good look at him. He kept his head down, but she still noticed the intensity in his golden brown hazel eyes beneath thick, dark brows. A passerby called out, “The Warrior.” With his head still bent, she saw his softened face transform with another type of discomfort. A group of young men repeated the nickname, and the guy beside her clenched his jaw. Strong, angry nostrils flared above full lips, and for some reason, Diane felt the need to protect him.
Her soft voice broke the tension, and she placed her hand atop his forearm. ”I take it you would rather they don’t recognize you.”
“Right now just isn’t the best time for me.”
“You must be pretty famous. People are whispering and staring at you.” Diane watched the corridor fill with people slowing down just long enough to get a glimpse of the Warrior as he waited at the gate.
He shrugged and shifted again in his seat, not saying anything, but also not moving to get from under her touch.
A gate attendant appeared and offered him two small white flight pillows. He struggled as the attendant watched without offering any more help that might invade this man’s space. On instinct, Diane reached to help, placing the pillows behind his back, pausing to ask if that was any help. When he nodded, the attendant returned to her post at the counter.
His laborious effort of pointing behind him was just as uncomfortable for her to watch. ”Landed on my back during last night’s game.”
He smiled and laughed again.
“What’s so funny?”
“No. I’m just confused. Would it be safe to assume you are referring to basketball?”
“No need to tell me more. I don’t follow sports, so any conversation about teams and the like would be wasting your time and mine. But I do hope you find relief soon.”
The Warrior smiled and signaled to get the gate attendant’s attention.
“Your ticket?” he asked Diane.
He pointed toward the sign with their destination and flight number nearby. “Are you going to New Orleans, too?”
He stared at the ticket before handing it to the attendant. “There was a mix-up when my lady and I made our travel reservations. Is there any way you could seat her beside me in first class?”
Turning back to Diane after the attendant walked away, he offered a stiff shrug. “Like I said earlier, I hurt my back in the game and now the spasms are killing me. I just want to rest during the flight. Do you mind sitting with me? That’s the only way I can make sure whoever has that seat doesn’t work my nerves the next few hours.”
Diane looked back at the uniformed woman that was still smiling and typing on the computer terminal in front of her. “Why me?”
He lifted his head, and once their eyes met, Diane felt herself drawn to him. Just as he opened his mouth to speak, the attendant returned holding a new ticket out for Diane to accept.
“Mr. Scott, we’re about to start boarding, but I’m willing to allow you and your companion early entry so you can get situated. Please follow me.”
Diane paused, but he nodded after standing, and gestured for her to follow. Collecting her belongings and his small bag, she walked with him toward the jet bridge.
Watching the scene unfold half an hour after the plane became airborne was better than the champagne the stewardess offered her after takeoff. Diane’s pulse quickened as she got an adrenaline rush staring at the bright flashes outside the window.
“Sorry.” Diane pulled back after catching him staring at her with a peculiar look in his eye. Diane’s head volleyed from the window beside her to the one across the aisle. She peered around Warren and the green-around-the-gills passenger on the opposite aisle to see the action in the sky. The poor woman sitting alone looked faint, even though from her vantage point, she had the best view of the storm on the right side of the plane.
“I feel bad for needing the aisle seat now. Looks like you’d enjoy it more.”
She would have, wishing her window seat offered a better view of the storm nearby, but Warren was much too tall to be boxed in. From their conversation since the plane taxied down the runway, Diane had discovered Warren Scott was too big of a sports figure to be boxed into anything, which was why he wanted to get away to New Orleans instead of home to recuperate.
The plane rocked, and Diane watched Warren’s hazel eyes grow bright and round.
“This is normal. No need to be alarmed. The pilot is probably trying to steer clear of the storm,” she said.
From thirty thousand feet in the air, the view of the storm was breathtaking. Pulling off her seatbelt, she tried to peek around him as he leaned back to avoid obstructing her view. Light flashed into the cabin and a few soft gasps still didn’t pull her away.
An announcement to fasten seatbelts and expect turbulence didn’t get her attention.
“I’ve always heard about supercells from this angle, but that is gorgeous.”
“You want to put your belt back on?” he asked, glancing at her lap.
“I wonder if we’ll see hail.”
“The pilot probably will maneuver around it. But it would be fascinating to see how big it can get. What we see on the ground is what’s barely left.”
“Oh, hail this high up can be huge. The size of a football, even.”
“Your belt,” he said as the announcement was repeated as his eyes diverted to the window across the aisle.
“Oh. Yeah. Sorry.” But she still stirred to watch the show outside the window.
“Grow up wanting to fly like a superhero so you can soar above the clouds?” he teased.
“Close. I’ve seen footage in school about storms like this, but… wow.” She sat back in her seat and clicked the belt in place. “I want to be an astronaut.”
His shocked expression didn’t surprise her. She watched his face soften, as he must have mulled over her words and whether or not she was in her right mind.
“Black? A woman?”
“No. Beautiful. Why would you hide all that pretty behind a helmet and a big, puffy suit then take it to nowhere, away from people that can appreciate it?”
“There’s no such thing as nowhere. The universe is endless.”
“Do we know that for certain?”
“Do you really think it just stops? Like there’s a massive wall holding it all in?”
He shrugged and looked away. Feeling like the nuisance seatmate he wanted to avoid, Diane reached for her magazine.
“Why an astronaut, though?”
“I want to study weather and climate on other planets in relation to what’s going on here. There has to be another place like Earth somewhere.”
“Like with aliens?”
“I don’t know about all extraterrestrial life, but if the patterns are the same and we can prove similar atmospheric climate, life would be able to thrive if we take it there if there’s ever a need to avoid global disaster. Or if we discover life that already exists outside Earth, we can study it and compare to what’s going on here.”
“Why does that excite you?”
No one other than David and a professor at Texas A&M had ever asked her why the whole idea of weather and space excited her. “Why not? Maybe we can save our planet if we understand how to better treat it. Perhaps we can have a place to go if we continue to use up all our resources here.”
His thick brows drew close, and she expected him to say no more, as he pressed his lips together. “You think we’re harming the planet?” he asked, surprising her.
“We have to be. All this stuff we do is not natural. The fuel burning into the atmosphere. Chemicals being dumped into water sources, which brings on acid rain. Microwaves nuking food in minutes. The waste we have in landfills. We’re hurting the Earth, and Mother Nature isn’t pleased.”
“Are you predicting another Ice Age? I hope not. I already have brutal weather to deal with in New England,” he joked.
The stewardess appeared, setting their meals in front of them. Diane glanced up and saw they’d missed the announcement that seatbelts could come off again. They both thanked her after she poured a glass of wine he requested for Diane.
“You from New Orleans?” he asked.
“No, Houston. You?”
“I live in Boston. Making a detour to see my old chiropractor now that I’m out a couple of weeks. So what are you getting into in New Orleans?”
“Just a job interview. Nothing fancy. Are you really flying this far out of your way just to see someone to crack your back?”
He nodded. “I can’t trust my body to just anyone. How long you staying?”
“Was thinking until tomorrow, but I might stay till Saturday.”
An extra day probably wouldn’t make a difference, but she could at least enjoy the time without obligation before returning to work on Monday.
“Where are you staying? Somewhere in the Quarter?”
“The Hyatt Regency.”
“Oh no, don’t do that.”
“Why not? What’s wrong with the Hyatt?”
“You really don’t pay attention to basketball, do you?”
“I don’t understand.”
“That hotel is crawling with college players, fans and reporters. It’s where many of them are staying during the Final Four.”
Not following him, she angled her head.
“The Final Four is a college championship tourney. My alma mater plays Houston at the Louisiana Dome tomorrow night. Gonna be a good game.”
“Houston? That’s where I’m from.”
“I’m an Aggie.”
“And yet you don’t follow sports? Isn’t that a requirement where you come from?” he joked, but he was correct. She found it difficult to pretend to keep up with football when she watched the game with her dad. “Well, depending on what you’re into, you might want to look for another hotel that hasn’t been taken over by the NCAA.”
I Like It
A long black limousine was waiting for Warren as soon as they landed in New Orleans. The driver held the door open, and with wide steps, Warren walked with his hand on the small of her back and ushered her inside the sizeable space. He got in behind her, and the vastness of the limo disappeared, as his presence was much greater.
With the partition lowered between them and the driver, she listened to both men share predictions for the weekend. Every so often, Warren would say something to bring Diane into the conversation, but not knowing anything about basketball, she left the chatting to the guys. From what she heard, the college games were a bigger deal than the city had expected with the deal to televise the Final Four on its new home on CBS, and offered promises that the NCAA would host more tournaments like it on this level. The level of talent playing in the league also aided in the weekend’s hype. A weekend of basketball games being played where few wanted the tournament to be held… in a football stadium.
The television trucks lining the streets and metallic gleam of the Superdome reminded her that something big was happening around her. If she wasn’t careful, she could get lost in the midst of the excitement. Except she was looking for more than a moment in time. Diane was trying to get closer to her goal.
She almost forgot to greet the city that could become home if she nailed her interview. New Orleans wasn’t too far from Houston, but it held enough warmth and appeal to make her feel at home. Diane already looked forward to some good old Cajun food for dinner, and perhaps dropping into a jazz club near the hotel before bedtime.
The limousine rolled to a stop in front of the Hyatt. Diane stared out the window and groaned with apprehension. Warren leaned over her shoulder, and she drew comfort from his presence. The groups gathered outside of the hotel stood in clusters, separated by the colors they wore. Bodies covered in red with others in different shades of blue started to push against each other. “I thought Thanksgiving in College Station was intense. These schools are no competition to a good old rivalry between us Aggies and the Longhorns.”
“We can swing by my hotel to see if they have any available rooms.” The back of her neck tingled against his breath. He held up a finger, and the driver’s eyes met theirs through the rearview mirror. “Let’s go on to the Royal Orleans.”
“Wait.” A few feet away, a teen in a Georgetown jersey approached an older gentleman in a red one. All the tension had her fearing that a fight was brewing. Diane reached for the hard arm beside her. “Oh no.”
Warren didn’t pull away, instead bending close to her ear to whisper, “What’s wrong, darling? The Royal is just a few blocks up the street if this scene is too much for you.”
Diane moved closer to the window, almost pressing her nose against it, to watch the ruckus brewing outside where men, young and old, pushed each other around while raising their voices at each other. Then someone started laughing, turning the spectacle into nothing more than fans joking around and trash-talking. Diane ducked her head and looked away. “No, it’s fine. I just thought I saw something.” She gripped the straps of her tote and shifted away from the window to get ready to leave the car. “Thank you for the ride.”
Not paying attention, she reached for the handle, but his hand was already there.
He removed his hand while keeping his eye on the door, and rubbed the palm up and down his thigh. “I feel like I owe you.”
“Owe you? For what?”
“Earlier at the airport… you were helpful. I’d like to take you to dinner to thank you.”
“It really was nothing, and you did upgrade my flight,” she said, looking around the limousine, “and you gave me a ride.”
“That’s nothing.” Warren’s hand stilled, and he looked at her. “So? Dinner this evening?”
Her only alternative to dining with her handsome travel companion was an evening mulling over the room service menu and watching Benson. “I have my interview in the morning.”
“I won’t keep you out long. You’ll be back in plenty of time.”
He gave her a boyish grin that softened his eyes. “I want to walk you inside, but…” He turned to look at the people pouring out the building. “I don’t know if you’re up to a repeat of what happened at the airport.”
“No need. Perhaps we should cancel tonight.”
He tapped the driver’s headrest and shook his head. “She’s ready to go in now.” Turning back toward her, he placed his hand on her lower thigh and gave a soft squeeze. “I’ll send the car back for you in two hours.”