Lamont Blackman had every right to be cynical, angry, and cold.
He had been the happiest man on the planet when she was in his
life, and she’d seemed happy too. And then, with no note, no
explanation, no closure, she’d left. How could she have given him
a slice of heaven and apparently cared nothing for him? Well, ‘F’
her! Basketball was all he had now, and basketball was all he was
going to give a crap about. Everything in his life was finally
coming together, and he was immune to her now. He was
immune to all women. No one was getting under his radar and
getting an opportunity to destroy him again. No way would he
melt like a patsy when he saw her again.
Issa was a woman used to taking care of herself. She had to. The
world she lived and fought daily to survive in was violent,
unpredictable, and perilous. She was forced to fight for every
little ounce of freedom and to not be sucked into the deadly
underworld her father controlled. The stolen time with Lamont
had been worth every second of pain she suffered afterwards.
She knew he hated her, and she did everything to ensure he
continued to hate her. If he ever found out the truth, their lives
and the lives of their families would be in imminent jeopardy.
BROKEN PROMISES THE NOVEL IS COMING SOON IN 2019...
Present: Lincoln Park, Chicago
Having just left his agent’s office with a signed three-year contract with the Chicago Bulls, worth over 120 million dollars, it was safe to say Lamont Blackman should be feeling no pain. While 120 million dollars was nothing to dismiss, he wasn’t hurting for money. After all, he’d gotten a master’s in business and was a certified financial analyst, which he’d put to good use in building his sports label. Because of his business acumen, he was now a billionaire a few times over. So, no, the money wasn’t a motivator anymore.
His brother Jared and a few of his teammates had come over to his penthouse apartment to celebrate. He didn’t have the heart to tell them that the only thing he gave a shit about was playing basketball. The money, the fame, none of that mattered. Lamont sat quietly in the corner of the room nursing a bottle of Heineken beer he had fleeced from the fridge almost an hour ago. He should be on cloud nine, enjoying the fruits of his labor and gorging himself on the number of beautiful women who were always in abundance around professional athletes like him. However, ever since her, he’d found no joy in anything, no comfort, no love. And for that, he’d always hate her.
Known throughout the sports world as Python, a play on the name Monty Python and his deadly skill on the basketball court, he was revered for being a phenom that sports analysts raved about and dissected endlessly. He was quietly efficient and lethal in his ability to elevate his huge frame high above the rim, his effortless ball handling, his lightning speed with between-the-legs dribbles and undefendable three-point and mid-range fadeaway jump shots. This year he had finally achieved the success he had been fighting for since being drafted to the NBA nine years before. Now, at thirty years old, he had hit his stride in the profession. He’d used every inch of his six-foot-six, over-two-hundred-pound muscular frame to impose his will as one of the premier shooting guards in the NBA last season. The team had made it to the finals and had lost a gut-wrenching game seven to Oklahoma. He could still feel the bitter bile of defeat churning in his stomach every time he thought of those final ten seconds of the game. Nothing was worse than being beaten by a buzzer beater that was definitely defendable. He was trying like hell to not hate his teammate for such a piss-poor defense.
As he sat there, brooding in the secluded corner, his thoughts, as they often did, drifted toward the woman who had not stood by him when his success had not been so certain. I wonder how ya like me nah? He took another swig of the beer. She might have had the softest, most beautiful body he’d ever seen on a woman, but she was like all women, all except for his sister, Jasmine, and his mother, Isabella. He took another swig of his beer. Yeah, they’re all cheating, lying bitches!
Now the team was scheduled to begin spring training on an island in the Bahamas. Thank God it wasn’t her island, Barbados. Sonofabitch! Someone up there was still looking out for him. And he needed all the help he could get. He hadn’t seen her in nine years and couldn’t have been happier about that. Well, as happy as he was capable of being anyway.
Did I mention that I’m never happy?
“Uncle Monty, can you help me?”
Lamont looked down at his little niece with the first real smile he’d given all day. The little imp was his favorite person in the whole world. In fact, he’d begged Jasmine to bring her to this event tonight. “Jade honey, Uncle Monty would do anything for his favorite girl.” He picked up the three-year-old and settled her on his lap.
Jade wrapped her arms around his neck and hugged him tightly.
Her fresh baby scent got him every time. He inhaled her and clutched her close to him. However, after she didn’t say anything for a few moments, Lamont started to worry. What could possibly be weighing on this baby’s mind?
“Tell Uncle Monty what’s wrong,” he coaxed.
The little girl slowly released him and settled herself on his knee while looking up at him with troubled hazel eyes.
“Can I come live with you, Uncle Monty?” Jade asked solemnly.
Lamont wanted to laugh at that request as realization finally dawned as to why the little girl was so upset. Jasmine must have finally gotten up the nerve to tell Jade that she was expecting another baby in a matter of weeks. Throughout her eight-month pregnancy, Jasmine had been unwilling to tell her current baby that she was going to have a little sister or brother.
“Of course, baby, you can live with me.”
“I’m not a baby!” Jade pouted with indignation.
Lamont couldn’t stop his sudden chuckle. It felt strange to have this brief moment of something that felt a bit like joy, which even dared to temporarily dispel, for a split second, the bitterness that always consumed him. At the remembered pain, the smile left his lips and his heart iced again.
On seeing it, the perceptive child frowned and cupped his cheeks with her tiny palms. “I’m sorry, Uncle Monty.” She kissed his nose as many of the adults often did to her.
Lamont felt like shit for allowing this sweet child to think that he was angry at her. He forced a smile on his lips and murmured, “It’s all right, pumpkin. There’s nothing to be sorry about.”
Jade continued to frown up at him.
“Hi, precious.” Seth swooped down and pulled his child from Lamont’s lap. “How’s my big girl doing?”
“I’m your baby, right, Daddy?” Jade’s mutinous tone left no doubt that she should not be contradicted.
“You’ll always be my baby, princess.” Seth smiled into a miniature replica of his wife’s face. Every time he held her, he marveled at the miracle of her presence in his life. “Your mother is looking for you. It’s time to go home and to bed.”
“I’m not sleepy, Daddy.” Her tone was still combative. Seth smiled again as she immediately followed that statement with a huge yawn. He placed her back on her feet and pointed her in Jasmine’s direction.
Jasmine stood on the other side of the crowded room waiting patiently for him to return with their daughter.
Jade started to run toward her mother but turned back after a few strides to climb back into Lamont’s lap. She hugged him, kissed him on his check, and whispered dramatically, “I love you, Uncle Monty.”
“I love you too, pumpkin,” he whispered, again unable to prevent the slight melting of the ice around his heart.
“Hey man,” Seth gave him a man hug and fist pump.
“Hey.” Lamont gave his brother-in-law a cool regard, in no way encouraging further conversation. Seth was his brother, Nathan’s best friend, but he was also good friends with all his brothers-in-law. Seth and Nathan used to be teammates with the Cowboys, where Seth was quarterback and Nathan was running back. Seth was good people and despite his cold attitude toward Seth, Lamont liked him immensely.
He dispassionately watched the reunion of Jasmine and Jade. Jasmine took her daughter from Seth and hugged her. Seth enveloped both females in his large embrace and closed his eyes and smiled as though he was the happiest man in the world. It was evident that Jaz still had that on lock. Her swollen belly dominated her slender frame, her skin was flawless and glowed with health, and her smile radiated with joy from the love of her small family. Jasmine laughed at something Seth said before she looked over at Lamont and smiled gently. She pushed Jade into Seth’s arms and started across the room toward Lamont.
Ah shit! She has the look of come fuck with my cold mood. Give it a rest already! I hate that bitch for what she did to me, and no amount of Jaz begging me to get over it will ever erase the bitter bile of betrayal.
Lamont sighed, stood to ensure he towered over her, and braced himself for the inevitable.
“Lamont, I’m proud of you, big brother.”
Lamont looked down at her in surprise. Her soft-voiced praise rendered him speechless.
Jasmine smiled gently. “I’m sorry for how the season ended. However, I’m certain you’re going to come back next year harder, stronger, and even more determined, because no one can contain a talent like yours.”
“Thanks, sis,” he mumbled hoarsely. He was slightly embarrassed by the hitch in his voice.
“Jade tells me that she’s coming to live with you because you’re lonely.” Jasmine tilted her head to the side as if to get a better look at him. “Is she right? Are you lonely?”
Lamont snorted. “With all these willing females around, how can I possibly be lonely?”
“Don’t think I haven’t noticed that you never pay attention to any of them,” Jasmine dismissed.
“With a horny-ass husband, an active toddler, a baby on the way, and a hectic schedule as a professional tennis player, you still have time to be nosing around in my life? I’m impressed, sis,” Lamont said mockingly.
“I love you, Monty.”
He rolled his eyes knowing this was how her pitch always began.
“I went to see her when I was home last.”
“What the fuck?” He’d not been expecting that. He didn’t have to ask who Jasmine was talking about. A million questions came to mind on her statement. Was the bitch fat and ugly now? Was she down and out, no money, no daddy to bail her ass out? Had she asked about him?
“She’s as beautiful as ever, Lamont. I see why you still pine for her.” Jasmine gazed up at him with sadness and sympathy.
“I’m not fuckin’ pining over anyone. That bitch can burn in hell for all I care.”
“I think she misses you too.”
“Shut the fuck up!” Lamont roared. He’d never been so furious with his sister. How dare she come at him with this shit. Issa had made her choice. She left me for that mudderfucker! She thought I was nothing! Her father thought I was nothing! Fuck all of them!
“Lamont, listen to me.”
“No, you fuckin’ listen to me.” He straightened to his full six-foot-six height to glare down at her. “If that bitch misses anything, it’s my big cock. It was her choice to marry some limp-dick dude her daddy picked out for her.”
“I didn’t know, Lamont.” Her look of sadness turned to being as pissed as he knew his was. “She never told me that she was married. In fact, she didn’t talk about herself at all. I only spoke to her briefly.”
“Stop meddling and go to your family. I don’t need or want your sympathy.”
“I’m not offering you sympathy. I’m telling you to find out what happened to her before you jump to conclusions.”
“You think I imagined her leaving me? You think I imagined her telling me she loved someone else? Don’t fuckin’ tell me about Issa. And don’t ever mention her to me again.”
“I’m sorry that you feel that way.” She sighed and closed the distance between them to wrap her arms around him. “Forgive me, Monty. I love you and only want to see you happy again.”
Lamont gave in to her fragrant embrace. “I love you too. Go take care of your family, give me my nephew, and stay out of my damn business.”
Jasmine laughed softly, not at all offended by his gruff tone. “I will never stay out of your business. I want my fun-loving prankster brother back. You used to be annoying as hell, but I prefer him to what you’ve turned yourself into. Both of you are suffering for no other reason than stubbornness, and you both need a good swift kick in the ass.”
“Jasmine…” Lamont growled in annoyance.
“Okay, okay, I leave it for now. Have fun in the Bahamas, brother. And when you come back, I’m going to have Jade come live with you for real if you haven’t sorted this out.”
“Is that supposed to be a punishment? Because, from where I’m standing, that seems more of a punishment to you than to me.”
“Oh, don’t you worry. That’s a punishment all right. If Jade moves in, I’m pretty sure Seth won’t be far behind. And you know how your brother acts if he thinks someone’s getting too close to his best friend. He’ll want to hang out here too. And then you know what comes next!” Jasmine started giggling at the look of outrage on Lamont’s face.
“Nathan can keep his punk ass in his own house, and as for Camille, that bitch crazy.”
“So, I guess you’re either going to settle things with Issa, or you’re finally going to get a girlfriend,” Jasmine intoned breezily.
Lamont grunted and stared stonily back at her. He knew she wouldn’t last long under his glare. It brought him no joy when she turned from him moments later, muttering under her breath.
“Okay, Monty, just know that I’m here if you ever need me. All of us are here for you. You know that, right?”
“Yeah. I know.” He hated being a bastard to his family, but he hadn’t been able to stop being angry long enough to change his attitude in the past nine years.
Later that night, after Jasmine and her family had left, his brothers and most of his teammates had left as well. Only a handful of the guys and a few determined women intent on snagging an NBA athlete remained.
“What can I do for you, big guy?” one of the women cooed up at him.
Lamont looked down at her, trying his best to hide the disgust from his face and his voice. “Thanks, but I’m good.” It was inexplicable, even to him, that, after all these years, Issa still had this power over him. He found that he was immune to other women because they either didn’t smell quite the same, didn’t speak with that sexy husk in their voice, or didn’t touch him with the same sense of loving innocence as Issa. His body refused to cooperate with any woman but her.
It didn’t surprise him that, as soon as he closed his eyes that night, his past with Issa was paramount on his mind.
Fourteen years ago: Paynes Bay, Barbados
She’s the most beautiful girl in the world was his first thought when he saw her. They were visiting their relatives in Barbados for the summer, as they did every year. His father, who had been the basketball coach at Southern Methodist University, always took his summer break on the island. Lamont and his siblings had cousins and numerous friends they spent the entire summer playing with and exploring the island during those visits. Issa had been Jasmine’s and their cousin Sharon’s friend since they were toddlers. The three of them were inseparable during the summer.
Lamont had never paid any attention to Jasmine’s girlfriends before because, like his sister, they were three years younger than him. He was sixteen when he first noticed her. He’d been on the basketball court with his brothers, six of his cousins, and two other guys around their age when the girls had walked by the court. The guys stopped mid-play to gawk at Jasmine and her five friends. Jasmine, Issa, and Sharon had been joined by three other girls from their extended family and were clearly anxious to sneak away and do whatever girls their age did.
Usually when he was on the court, nothing distracted him. He was exceptionally good and already had colleges scouting him. He’d turned to blast the guys for being so damn weak. But then he saw her, and it was him the guys were blasting.
He didn’t understand it. Why the hell was her father letting her out of the house? It was clear that she was mixed like they were, but she looked almost Asian. She had long straight black hair, olive skin, and dark brown eyes. She was a tiny thing, and he loved that most about her. She fascinated him, and he couldn’t look away.
When his brothers tried to get him to pay attention to the game, he ignored them because the vision was staring back at him with the same fascination for him etched on her face. He slowly walked over on the hope that Jasmine would introduce them.
“Wasup?” he murmured to Jasmine but never looked away from the vision.
“Hey, Monty.” Jasmine looked up at him in surprise. A frown of inquiry crossed her face.
“Yeah. Have you finished playing?” She looked around him to where their brothers were calling him back to the court.
“Introduce us,” he demanded instead of answering her question. He pointed his chin toward the vision he couldn’t look away from, not even long enough to look at the other girls in their group.
“You remember that we’re thirteen, right?”
“So, you need to go after girls your own age. And you’ve met my friends before.”
Lamont ignored his sister, stepped around her, and approached the girl who had yet to look away from him. “Hi, I’m Lamont,” he said softly.
“I…ssa…I’m Issa,” she stuttered. Her cheeks were flushed with obvious embarrassment.
“You’re beautiful,” he murmured and then cringed because he hadn’t intended to say that.
“Th…thank you.” She blushed harder.
“You live here in Barbados?”
“Monty! Go back to your friends.”
“It’s all…right,” Issa stammered.
“No, you don’t need my slutty brother sniffing after you.”
“Thanks, sis! Man, that’s just disrespectful.”
The amusement and smile on her face only made him more enthralled. “God must be sending a search party soon.” Lamont grinned.
“Why?” She looked at him in confusion.
“Because His angel is down here on earth.”
The other girls giggled.
Nathan, Marcus, and Jared came over and forced him back to the basketball game.
Lamont grinned good-naturedly. He didn’t mind because Jasmine and her friends stayed to watch them play. Showing off his basketball prowess became paramount; he’d never flown so high above the rim, been faster on the dribble, or shot so accurately beyond the 3-point line.
“You can stop showing off now,” Nathan muttered. “The girls left.”
“For real?” He looked around to make sure the guys weren’t busting his balls. “Shit!” Lamont dropped the ball and ran back to their summer house, ignoring the shouts of his brothers calling him. Their house was at least a mile away, and he ran full-on until he burst through the front door.
“Whoa! Where’s the fire, young man?” His father, Michael, looked at him as though he’d lost his mind.
In some ways, it felt as though he had lost something. He had no idea what pull Issa had on him, but he suddenly wanted to see her again. He didn’t want to let her out of his sight. “Where’s Jaz?”
His father smiled at him knowingly. “Your sister is in her room with her friends.”
Lamont made to run toward the stairs leading to the bedrooms, but his father placed a palm on his chest to block his progress.
“Go and play with your brothers, Monty. Jasmine and her friends are off-limits.”
“Dad, I just need to ask Jaz a question.”
Michael sighed on seeing the determined look on his son’s face. “Son, come and sit with me for a spell.”
Lamont groaned. “Okay, Dad,” he murmured grudgingly. He knew that his father was finally going to give him the talk. The talk that he’d already given Marcus and Nathan. Marcus was the oldest at nineteen and then Nathan at eighteen. He and Jared, who were sixteen and fifteen respectively, hadn’t been given the talk yet. Sitting slowly on the sofa, he waited for his father to give him the talk that was apparently every Blackman’s rite of passage. Unfortunately, he thought that his father was a little late with the sex talk. He’d been sexually active since he was fourteen. Since he was a star basketball player on his high school team, the older girls had been more than eager to give him a first-hand sex education. Yeah, this talk was a little late in coming.
“Son, I’m gonna tell you what my father told me and what his father told him.”
Lamont mentally rolled his eyes. He hoped this was quick, because he wanted to get to Jasmine’s room before his girl left. Yeah, he was calling her his girl! He’d never felt this on edge over any girl.
“There comes a time in every man’s life when he meets a girl he thinks he’s in love with. It happens to all of us. However, there’s something you need to understand about all women, no matter how you feel about her.”
Lamont had not, at first, wanted to have this conversation. Now that he realized this was probably not about sex, but was probably about girls in general, he wanted this talk. Despite the number of girls he’d already had sex with, he didn’t know much about them. With him and his brothers being star athletes, most times he only had to smile at a girl and they were willing to do anything with him. He didn’t even have to talk to them before they let him in. Somehow, he knew this girl was different, and it wouldn’t be so easy to have her. If it would help him get Issa, he’d listen to his dad all day. He inched closer to the edge of his seat.
“Women fall into two categories, the one you’d marry and the ones you wouldn’t. Now, son, you must learn very quickly to distinguish which category your girl is in. In all cases, you treat women with respect and as someone you need to protect.”
“I’m too young to get married, Dad. So, what do I do if I just want her for a girlfriend?”
“You’re not listening, son. You will meet many women you like and will probably desire. But there’ll only be one you’d want to marry. She will be someone you want to protect and cherish more than you want to take her to your bed. Don’t get be wrong, you’ll want her in your bed more than you want any other woman there, but that desire won’t ever be more than your need to care for her, protect her.”
“So, you’re saying that I’ll know, even now, if that girl up there will be my wife or just someone I want to have sex with?”
“Yes. And then you have a decision to make. Remember, I said all women are to be respected and protected. Sometimes they need protection from you. Those girls in your sister’s room are the same age as your sister. Would you say those boys you were playing with today deserve to be with your sister? Should they be allowed to go to her room as you’re trying to do now? Should they be allowed to date your sister?”
“Okay.” His father nodded, his expression still stoic. “Would you protect your sister from them?”
“Those suckers won’t even get close to her,” Lamont snarled.
“I see. And so, should you be allowed close to that girl up there? Does she have older brothers to protect her from you?”
Lamont paused and gazed at his father for a long moment before speaking. “Dad, but what if a girl wants me? Jaz don’t want those boys.”
Michael sighed as though he were fighting for patience. “Does it matter if she wants those boys or not? Is she old enough to make that decision? Would you want her to be making that decision at thirteen?”
Lamont stood and started pacing. “No, I wouldn’t let her even look at those mudder…”
“Er, sorry, Dad. No, Jaz isn’t making that decision. She’s still a baby, and those niggas…”
“Sorry, Dad. Those boys would only want to get in her pants.”
“Isn’t that what you want with that girl up there?”
Lamont frowned at him. “No, Dad, I like her. And I get it, I need to protect her. But I don’t know if I can control it, Dad.” He continued pacing. “I’ve liked girls before, even kissed a few”—he looked at his father sheepishly—“had sex with a few.”
“Lamont Alexander Blackman, you’re sixteen years old.”
“I know, Dad.”
“I told you to come to me before you became sexually active! How long has this been going on?!” His father’s voice boomed throughout the room.
“Come on, Dad. We’re talking about Issa. I got the sex thing under control. Marcus and Nathan had the sex talk with me and Jared years ago.”
Michael scoffed, clearly offended. “Marcus and Nathan are not your father.”
“Trust me, Dad. We’ve got the sex thing under control. Wrap your shit up always, make sure you’re the supplier, and only fuck with girls old enough to consent. I haven’t gone against that creed once.”
“I’m gonna have a long talk with you boys.”
“Dad, we need to focus, man. What do I do about Issa? She’s different. I don’t know why. It’s as though I have to see her, be with her.” He sighed and suddenly stopped pacing. “Do you think she’ll like me?”
“Why wouldn’t she like you?”
Lamont couldn’t tell if his father was amused by his question or simply curious.
“I’m not like Marcus, Nathan, and Jared. They’re light skinned. I’m really dark.”
His father laughed.
Lamont scowled. He didn’t like the fact that his father was laughing at him.
“You’re the same color as me. I’d say I did well. Your mom is quite beautiful.”
“Yeah, but you were an NBA star.”
“Boy!” his father growled furiously and glared at him. “Your mom’s no gold digger. She met and married me when I was dirt poor in college.”
Lamont nodded thoughtfully, still not convinced that Issa would like someone who was as dark skinned as he was.
“If your girl doesn’t love you no matter what your skin color, she’s not worth your time.”
“I hear you, Dad.” He stared at his father thoughtfully, still not quite sure he believed his father’s simplistic view. Kids were brutal, and they had been calling him “Midnight” all his life because of his dark skin. “Can I go now?”
“Yeah, just remember what I said, Monty.”
“I will, Dad.” Lamont couldn’t get out of there fast enough. Instead of going up to Jasmine’s room, he went into the kitchen to see if his mother needed him. After talking to his father about protecting women, he realized that he hadn’t been a very good son. He spent the rest of the afternoon doing chores around the house for his mother. When his brothers came home an hour after he did, they reluctantly joined him, grumbling the entire time.
Lamont saw Issa again when the girls all came down for dinner. This time he was prepared for the jolt of emotion that welled up in him at the sight of her. However, what he wasn’t prepared for was her smile specifically for him. Despite the presence of his brothers, she had shy smiles only for him. He felt as though he was a superhero or someone spectacular.
He caught his father and mother looking at them with indulgent amusement. It was his mother who got him and Nathan to walk the girls home after dinner. Nathan and Jasmine were already on board with his interest in Issa. They deliberately walked ahead and left them to walk behind everyone else.
At first, he didn’t know what to say to her and she seemed just as tongue-tied.
“So, you always lived in Barbados?”
“No,” she whispered. “We live part of the year in Japan. You like living in Dallas?”
“Yeah, it’s cool. But I like coming here too. You like Japan?”
“We have a lot of family there.”
Lamont didn’t comment on the fact that she didn’t answer the question and seemed to not want to talk about it. “Is your mom or dad Japanese?”
“My dad’s Japanese,” she said quietly. “You’re a great basketball player.”
Lamont ducked his head and grinned. “I’m aite. What about your mom? Is she from Barbados then?”
“Yeah,” she murmured and then fell silent.
He frowned, wondering what that was all about, but he wanted to keep her talking, so he tried another tack. He asked her about school, and it seemed to be the only thing that lit her entire face. It gave him insight into her life. No wonder she’d spent the day at their house; her home life wasn’t happy. He vowed right then and there that he would do everything he could this summer to make her happy.
They spent the rest of the walk home talking about school.
With his brothers’ and Jasmine’s help, he spent time with Issa on the walk home whenever she was allowed to visit, and sometimes, when she visited their house, Jaz would deliberately leave them alone. He never forgot his father’s words, and while with any other girl he would have tried to have sex with them already, he never did with her. Instead, they played video and board games and watched music videos and movies when they weren’t hanging out with his siblings, cousins, and assortment of friends. She told him a little of what her life was like at home, and he’d like to think that, in some small way, he made her life better, happier. She didn’t seem to have a close relationship with her parents and seemed to be particularly cautious when speaking about her father, whom he’d never seen.
The biggest test to his resolve to protect her came when it was time for them to leave once the summer was over. He wanted to kiss her, but she was still thirteen, and he knew that if any guy tried to kiss his sister at that age, he’d beat the crap out of them. So, as much as he wanted to kiss Issa, it wasn’t happening.
Issa didn’t agree and tried to kiss him instead.
“You’re too young, baby.”
“I’m not too young, and I’m not a baby. I’ll be fourteen in December.”
“But you’re not fourteen now, and you’re my baby. Besides, I’m not kissing you until you’re sixteen.”
“What? That’s not fair! And that’s crazy!”
“Issa, don’t make this any harder on me than it already is. Please, come over here and hug me.”
She stared back at him mutinously without budging.
“Issa, I won’t see you for another few months. We don’t usually come here for Christmas, but I’m going to ask my dad if we can come back. Would you like that?”
“Monty, I’m your girlfriend, right?”
“You know you are.”
“You’re not going to kiss any other girl, right? You’re going to wait for me?”
“Not if you don’t come over here and hug me,” Lamont teased. But then he could see that she wasn’t taking his teasing well. “You’re my girl, Issa.”
“I don’t suppose it’s fair that I asked you to wait for me.”
Lamont grabbed her hand and pulled her toward him. He wrapped his arms around her. “Maybe you will change your mind in two years and won’t want to kiss me anymore,” he murmured against her hair.
“I will always want to kiss you, Monty, no matter how long you make me wait.”
“You sure? Girls think my brothers are very handsome. Me, not so much. Are you sure you want to save your first kiss for me?”
“To me, no boy is as handsome as you. I’ll save my first kiss for you and all my kisses afterward.”
She widened her eyes as though she understood that he was asking for a committed promise. “Yes, I promise.”
Lamont nodded with satisfaction, hugged her close, and kissed her cheek before letting her go. “I’ll call you every night.”
And he did call her every night at first, until his parents got the first phone bill, and then he had to ration his allowance to call her once a week. Given his desperation to see her, his parents took the family back to Barbados for Christmas. As Issa’s birthday was on the twenty-first, he was even able to spend her birthday with her. Lamont never thought he could fall any harder for her, but each year, he fell deeper and deeper in love with her. Other girls didn’t exist for him, and she seemed to feel the same way.
She did save her first kiss for him. On her sixteenth birthday, because she had yet to introduce him to her family or date him openly, his mother cooked a special lunch at their house for her on the pretext that she was celebrating with her girlfriends. Instead, Lamont packed some of the food that his mother made and took her to the private beach near their summer home.
“Happy birthday, Issa,” he said softly as he touched his beer bottle to her glass of lemonade.
Lamont wanted to remember this moment forever. Her smile was brighter than the sun as she reclined in a sexy pose against the smooth boulder at her back. When he’d first seen her, he’d thought she was the most beautiful girl in the world. And nothing in the past two and a half years had changed that. She was still the most beautiful girl in the world. However, this girl was turning into a stunning woman he now not only loved but also found impossible to resist.
She wore a sparkling white bikini that revealed a schoolgirl’s body but was anything but that. She was a sexy siren, and his nineteen-year-old brain was finding it difficult to control the raging lust consuming him. He’d made a promise to always protect her, even if it was from himself.
“I love you, Issa.” Lamont smiled as she blushed and ducked her head every time he said something she found intimate.
“I love you too, Lamont. I wish…”
“What do you wish?” He was more than curious at what she was holding back. He knew that she wanted to tell him something, but she always held back as she was doing now.
“Nothing. I have everything I could ever wish for right here. Thank you for making this my best birthday ever.”
Lamont knew that wasn’t what she’d been going to say, but he allowed it. They had so little time together he didn’t want to waste a moment in disaccord with her. “No, you don’t have everything. You haven’t opened your present from me yet.”
“Yes, I did. I opened three presents from you already. And if you add in what your parents and siblings gave me, that’s five more presents. No more, Lamont. You gave me a bracelet, a PlayStation console, and an Amazon gift card for whatever game I want. Enough. You’re spoiling me.”
Lamont laughed. “Good try, baby, but this gift is not negotiable.” He knelt in front of her on one knee as he presented her a David Yurman ring set in her birthstone of turquoise surrounded with petite diamonds.
She gasped at the sight of it.
He wasn’t sure, but he could have sworn he saw fear in her eyes before it was quickly replaced with her intense love for him. Again he dismissed any unpleasant questioning and smiled at her, hoping his love was evident for her to see. “This ring is my promise that you’ll always be mine and I’ll always be yours.”
“Oh, my God,” she whispered and seemed to be overcome with emotion as tears spilled down her cheeks. “I love you so much, Monty.”
Lamont gently wiped the tears from her cheeks with his thumb. “I hope to someday exchange this ring from a promise ring to our wedding ring.”
“How are you so sure this is what you want? I’m sure you have so many girls chasing after you in college. You’re a star athlete for God’s sake. Why are you tying yourself to me?”
He couldn’t believe that she didn’t understand how he felt about her. From the age of sixteen, he’d known that she was it for him. No girl in high school or college had been able to change his mind or body about that. And now he was beginning to think that no girl would ever sway him away from her. “Don’t you understand what you mean to me, Issa?” Lamont laughed without humor. “Do you have any concept of how much I love you?”
She reached up and wrapped her arms around his neck. “I love you too, Monty. No matter what, I’ll never stop loving you.”
Lamont smiled and wrapped his arms around her tiny waist. She felt small and fragile against his larger frame. Being a basketball player on the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill team, and at well over six feet with over two hundred pounds of lean muscle, he had to be extremely fit to maintain his elite performance. He tried like hell to not let her know how the feel of her almost naked body against his bare chest was affecting him. “Good, then you’re not going to have any problem wearing my ring and keeping your promise. I want all these punks on this island to know that you’re mine.”
“You don’t have to worry over things like that.” She smiled up at him shyly. “I’m not interested in any other boy.”
“Well, that’s good.” He lowered his head toward her, cautioning himself the entire time that, as the adult in this situation, he had to remain in control and protect her. “Baby, I’m going to kiss you now.”
“Good because I’ve been waiting for this for two and a half years,” she teased.
He brushed his lips against hers and then lifted his head to see if she was okay.
She giggled. “Um, I may not be an expert or anything, but I don’t think that can be considered a kiss.”
“Are you laughing at my skill?” He scowled down at her, fighting like hell not to laugh at himself along with her. He couldn’t tell her how afraid he was of losing control with her. Even holding her like this was killing him. He’d given up sex because he couldn’t have it with her, so he wasn’t in a good place when trying to control his lust for her.
She reached up, tightening her arms around his neck for an anchor as she molded herself against him, offering her lips to him again. “I’m sure with some practice you’ll get it right.”
“I was taking it easy on you, ’cause I know how hard it’s going to be for you to resist my fine ass,” he teased.
The smile disappeared from his face when he fused their lips. Finally he was kissing her the way he’d dreamt of for over two years.
Nothing had ever felt so right, so perfect. She was beyond what he had imagined. He angled his head and deepened the kiss.
At first, she was hesitant and unsure of herself, mimicking his every move, and then she became as aggressive as he was, kissing him with unrestrained passion. She melted against him.
He had been right to worry about his control, because it was Issa who had to call a halt to his exploration of her body. The feel of her soft skin under his palm had sent him into an almost mindless frenzy, and when he lifted his lips from hers, he had her on her back with one palm covering a naked breast and another on the naked globe of her ass, his hips grinding into hers.
Issa was staring up at him with a mixture of desire and fear. “Monty?”
“Christ,” he muttered before pushing himself off her in disgust and standing.
He walked a short distance away to put some space between them and even turned his back because he couldn’t look at her without wanting to pounce and damn the consequences.
“Give me a sec.” He breathed in and out deeply, slowly trying to find his equilibrium. It took more than a sec before he was finally able to look at her without acting like a sex-starved maniac. “I’m sorry, baby. This will never happen again. I’ve got to do better, protect you better.”
“You were fine. I know that I’m safe with you and you’d never hurt me.”
He frowned at her furiously. “We can’t let this happen again. No more kisses like that.”
Issa stood and came to stand in front of him. “Of course, we must,” she said softly. “We were amazing together. I love you, and you love me. Frankly I would be pissed if you didn’t want me as much as I want you.”
“That’s fine when you’re older and can handle a man like me. But like I said before, I protect what’s mine even if it’s from myself.”
“But that’s not fair. Don’t I have a say in this?”
“Sure, you have plenty of say, just not about this.” He smiled to take the sting out his demand. “I’m not saying that I’m not going to kiss you every damn chance I get, but that’s all we’re going to do.”
“I allowed you to set the pace for us. And this is why we didn’t have our first freakin’ kiss until now.” She glared at him in frustration. “So, how long will it be before we move past this? How old will I have to be?”
“Eighteen.” Lamont couldn’t help grinning at her lack of fear in standing up to him. He was about a foot taller than she was, and yet she didn’t back down.
“Just so you know, I hate being told what to do.”
“Is that right?” His grin grew bigger.
“Unlike this no-kiss-until-you’re-sixteen thing, I won’t be so cooperative this time. I’ll be working on changing your mind.”
“You can try.” He gave her a swift kiss on her cheek and turned away with a whistle, running across the sand to the clear blue water to cool off his overheated body.
That day changed the dynamic of their relationship. She was determined to make him lose control, and he was determined to keep it. However, that still didn’t diminish his insistence on being with her as much as his schedule allowed. His parents had given up trying to convince him to spend Christmas in Dallas. And because, most times, the basketball team didn’t have a break even over the holidays, his time with her was severely limited.
He was the star player on the team and had earned them two consecutive conference championships and two NCAA finals appearances. In his junior year, Issa enrolled in UNC, joining him a year earlier that he’d thought she would.
They had intended living together when she came to college in his senior year. However, since she wasn’t eighteen yet, he wouldn’t allow it. So, when she moved on campus, with her parents in tow, Lamont was shocked that she was still determined to keep their relationship a secret. This resulted in their first real fight when Issa refused to introduce him, even after he insisted.