Since high school, a slew of good press made Taj Maxwell a household name long before he became a superstar. Years later, the tide has turned and the same media that made him is out to break him with the help of his ex-wife, and the looming allegations may cost him a plum position with the league.
Dominique Houghton always hoped one day her best friend Taj would be a part of her happily ever after. Her heart broke the day she discovered his girlfriend was expecting his child. Keeping her feelings to herself, Dominique moved on—until she catches his now-ex dishing the dirt on Pro Wives, a reality show that has made his ex a celeb in her own right, and at his expense.
Although Taj hurt her years ago, Dominique believes there's more to the story his ex is painting. She decides to investigate the matter… but the sparks that ensue might end up being a little too hot to leave on the cutting room floor.
Available now on Amazon, including Kindle Unlimited.
sneak peek. chapter one.
“Don’t get mad.” He had the kind of voice that reminded her of a slow ride over an old country dirt road in her granddaddy’s Cadillac. Easy, gruff and smooth, just like the man standing in front of her. She threw her head back and laughed. There was no way she could ever be mad at him—even if he had kept her waiting for twenty minutes.
Dominique, whose bare feet only brought her to the center of his chest, took a step back away from the door and stared up into the face of Taj Maxwell. Her best friend. The one that was late… and before offering one of his better-than-a-chiropractor-could-ever-give back-cracking hugs, he had the nerve to warn her not to get upset. Being a stickler for punctuality, she’d ride him in jest, but all that mattered was that he was finally here.
Taj stepped forward wearing the light gray sweater she’d given him at Christmas and a pair of dark-washed jeans and Timbs, entering the loft and closing the door behind him. He reached for the brim of his baseball cap to remove it, finally revealing his dark, piercing eyes. They were supposed to be going to dinner. He walked toward the sofa.
She was used to his height of six four and defense-blocking frame. He’d always towered above her since he was eight and she seven, playing street games like freeze tag and manhunt in the old neighborhood just outside of Philadelphia where they grew up together. Broad shoulders and an easy gait only made Taj, with his “brown skin” self, as India.Arie would sing, that much handsomer. He dropped to the center of the sofa, motioning for her to join him. Slumped shoulders warned her—odd for a man that just had his best game of his two-year NBA career the night before. Dominique wanted to attribute his high-scoring performance to their recent series of nightly calls that helped uplift him after his girlfriend blindsided him, when she made the decision to leave abruptly to pursue a career as a sportscaster in another city.
He waited, so she sat down. The silence concerned her and, with balled fists in her lap, she turned to look at him. Tired eyes with the weight of the world in the center of orbs that usually sparkled just like his missing smile stared back at her.
“I have to cancel tonight.”
She frowned and toyed with a lock of her dark, shoulder-length hair, twisting it around her finger. Now she started to worry. They hadn’t seen each other in weeks, and with so much to catch up on, it could be several more weeks until their schedules synced up again. “You could’ve called.”
He shook his head and gripped his thighs, sucking in a deep breath. She reached for the hand closest to her and held it, barely registering the vast difference in size.
“You’re shaking.” Nothing ever shook him.
He laughed, an uneasy, forced sound she knew was more for her benefit than his. That was when her hands started to tremble. Perhaps he really did know her better than anyone else and expected what she planned to tell him that evening. Maybe Taj knew what she’d been masking the past fifteen years and was letting her down easy before she could make a fool of herself.
“I just thought… after the other night… since we know each other so well…” Dominique rushed to speak, her words fading as her nervousness increased.
Jolted away from her ramblings, Dominique did a double take at her best friend. The person who’d kept her up the past four nights straight, because he was too brokenhearted to fall asleep, had just dropped a bomb on her. The man she was going to finally profess her love to, believing they could be the couple they were destined to be, had just reached inside her chest and ripped out her heart.
Her Taj. Her Taj was going to be a father. And she wasn’t the one expecting a baby.
“P-pr-pregnant?” Dominique asked, pulling her hand away from his grasp. She stood, running sweaty palms down the front of her jeans, and paced the open space of her loft in front of him. She paused and turned sharply. “Are you sure?”
“But it’s been over. She broke up with you. You don’t even know if it’s…”
He stood. Tall and defeated, he moved to meet her in front of the large industrial windows overlooking the Northern Liberties neighborhood street three floors below. “She showed up after my game last night to tell me.”
“I thought it was over between the two of you.”
He dropped his head. “She wants to work things out.”
“Because she’s pregnant.”
“No, because she says she loves me,” he said, turning to look sternly at her.
“But do you love her?”
Taj tucked his hands into the pockets of his jeans. “I remember all my mom had to go through raising me because my father dipped as soon as he found out she was pregnant. I can’t let her deal with having a baby alone. I know what you’re thinking, but it’s possible the kid is mine, and until we know for certain, I have to accept full responsibility.”
Dominique swallowed, wanting to ask him who was going to take full responsibility for breaking her heart. Why was she the one left out in the cold because some woman he’d dated for only a few months claimed she was carrying his child? Didn’t he have the sense God gave him to know that was a side effect of being a professional athlete?
“We have her first doctor’s appointment in the morning, so I’m flying back in a couple of hours. She was able to move it up so I can make the game tomorrow night. I hope you understand, but I should be there.” She said nothing. Taj waited, pleading with his eyes for her to accept the position he was in. Dominique finally nodded. “The next time we play Philly or when you come out, I’ll make it up to you.”
She took a deep breath, filling the air between them with an exasperated sigh. “I just thought… I thought that we’d…” she started. Taj leaned close, lifting her chin, and watched a tear roll away from her eye.
“Why are you crying?” he asked, brushing the pad of his thumb across her cheek.
She could only shake her head.
“You thought what?”
She shook her head and pushed his hand away.
“Was I ever an option? Ever?” Her voice low and shaky, Dominique turned away as more tears threatened to fall. This was not how she wanted to tell him. It was bad enough she felt like a fool, but he didn’t have to see her as one too.
“An option for what?” Taj asked, but her front door opened and they turned to see Melissa standing in the doorway.
Dominique recognized the unapologetic glint in the woman’s eyes. She wiped her face, but when Melissa smiled, Dominique’s sorrow evolved into anger.
“Sorry, I need to use your bathroom.”
Dominique stared, and Melissa, who was barely showing, moved a hand to her back, and the other covered the baby she claimed she was carrying. With glowing, makeup-free skin the color of warm brown sugar, and a voice to match, Melissa was a natural beauty. The rare times the three of them had gone out together, strangers assumed she and Melissa were related. Dominique couldn’t see the resemblance beyond their similarities in height, complexion and size. Dominique watched her move to brush the lengthy bangs of her pixie cut that had fallen over almond-shaped eyes, and purse glossy lips. She returned an unwavering stare of her own. Not ready to speak, Dominique just pointed toward the hall.
“Thanks. This little guy has been keeping me on the run,” Melissa said, flashing an enigmatic smile when she moved past them. “Taj did share the good news, didn’t he?”
Dominique looked away and wiped a fresh tear.
A gentle hand fell on Dominique’s shoulder and gave it a light squeeze. She would have leaned back, allowing his comfort, but the touch of his hand only made the cut to her wounded soul feel that much deeper.
“Didn’t you need the restroom?” Taj’s tight voice came from behind her, sending Melissa on her way. Dominique turned at the sound, catching Melissa looking at both of them before turning to move down the hallway.
Now the were alone again, Taj asked Dominique what she’d said.
Instead, she twisted a bracelet on her wrist and forced a smile. “Congrats.”
Taj opened his arms and pulled her in for an embrace. The hug she’d been waiting for finally happened, but instead of it welcoming her best friend home, Dominique knew it was time to say goodbye. She held on just a little bit longer before trying to step away from him.
A hand slipped from her waist to grab tickets from his back pocket, but his other arm rooted her against his side. “Almost forgot to give the tickets you wanted to give your dad for his birthday. Right on the fifty-yard line, like he always dreamed of being when the Eagles faced the Cowboys.”
“Honey, come on. You can catch up with her some other time, but I don’t want to miss this flight,” Melissa said, sidling up beside them.
He pulled away, but Melissa wrapped her arms around his, making it clear the days of Taj and Dominique’s friendship had come to an end.
Like a wet blanket on a fire, Melissa put a damper on their evening.
Holding the door open for them, Dominique raised her chin and gripped the knob. “Thanks for the tickets. I can’t wait to give them to Daddy on Saturday.”
At the door she watched them until Melissa reached to clasp hands with Taj while waiting for the elevator at the end of the hall. Dominique held her breath until the door closing encouraged her to exhale. All she knew was this was not how things were supposed to go between her and Taj. This wasn’t the life she’d spent the past few years dreaming about. Not at all.
Copyright © 2016 by Tia Kelly. All rights reserved.
Available now on Amazon, including Kindle Unlimited.
Are you the ultimate reader?
Tia Kelly is giving away the Ultimate Reader's Gift Basket, including an autographed copy of Wrong Time, Right Place plus more fun surprises! Click here to enter today. Contest ends Oct. 9th.