herise Robinson wasn't sure how long she'd been staring out the window of her Georgetown townhouse's living room onto the street, but her baby girl, Cady, was not happy at the lack of attention and pulled on her mommy's shorts.
“Mah!” she yelled.
Sherise broke from her trance and looked down at her fifteen-month-old sitting next to her on the sofa. She had that adorable little frown on her perfect chocolate brown face. Her tiny nose was turned up and her little lips pressed together. She was not pleased.
“Sorry, baby.” Sherise smiled and leaned down. She kissed her on the forehead.
“Play,” Cady added, handing her mother a tiny stuffed panda bear.
Sherise took the bear and did what she thought her baby wanted. She gently pressed the bear's face against Cady's and Cady made a kissing sound.
“Is this your baby?” she asked. “Do you love your panda baby?”
Cady nodded and giggled. She pressed a tiny squeeze ball in her hands. This wasn't one of her toys. It was a stress ball her mother used to use when work got to her and she needed to calm down. But Little Grabby Hands, which she called Cady, had gotten her hands on it and never let it go.
Didn't matter much, Sherise thought with a sigh. She didn't need it anymore. Except for dealing with the adorable little handful sitting next to her, life was not terribly stressful for her anymore. Six months ago, a series of near-disastrous events urged Sherise to make the hardest decision of her life. This go-getter, who was born to compete and achieve, quit her job, turned her back on a powerful promotion on the Domestic Policy Council for the White House, and became a stay-at-home mom.
She was only twenty-eight. Her life was not over. She was still married to the man she loved, Justin Robinson, a powerful lobbyist, despite making every mistake possible that could cost a woman her husband. In fact, saving her marriage was the reason she decided to give up the career that she had often put first in her life.
Known as a relentless competitor, someone who excelled in office-place politics and games, Sherise had dreams of reaching the top of the power circles in DC. Having come from one of the worst neighborhoods on the southeast side, she fought hard against the odds to make it to assistant director of communications for the Domestic Policy Council.
Sherise had also sought out the perfect husband with great connections. Justin was a recent Georgetown law grad when she met him, but she knew he was already connected and would do wonders for her career in DC. She also knew that although she was very attracted to the tall, handsome, bookish brother, he wasn't so overwhelming that she would lose her head when it came to him. He was trustworthy and controllable.
After having Cady, Sherise had reluctantly taken six months off, instead of the usual twelve weeks, to please Justin, who had actually wanted her to stop working altogether. Although she loved her daughter more than anything, it was torture for Sherise to be out of the loop and not in control. When she finally went back, Sherise was so caught up in the game and a chance to take over when her boss announced he was leaving, she wasn't careful. She made a terrible mistake and fell into the bed of a sexy and powerful man, Jonah Dolan. A man who turned out to be as vindictive and hateful as he was tantalizing and seductive.
Almost getting found out was what made Sherise decide to give everything up and refocus her life on what mattered. When her friend Erica's boyfriend, Terrell, had discovered them and threatened to expose their affair in order to extort Jonah, Sherise was reminded of how much she loved Justin and couldn't live without him. Justin never found out, but he'd known something was wrong. He'd wanted his wife back and she'd given up everything else to be a better wife to him and a mother to their baby.
Looking down at Cady as she mumbled incoherently in a conversation with a tiny plastic pink horse, she smiled from ear to ear. She loved this little girl more than anything and couldn't imagine depriving her of a life without a father. That was the life that Sherise had and she didn't want that for her baby. Justin loved Cady and Cady needed him.
Yes, it was true that Cady might not even be his. Jonah wasn't Sherise's first infidelity. She had allowed herself to get too close to Ryan Hodgkins, a successful architect. She had been trying to make her way into the black elite social circles, but had found herself unable to fight her attraction to this married man. They'd spent one night together before Sherise came to her senses and ended it. She found out she was pregnant a month later, but had always been too afraid to find out if Ryan was Cady's father.
But things were worse now. After six months of trying for a second baby, something she and Justin wanted very much, she wasn't pregnant and Sherise was beginning to wonder if Justin could even get her pregnant. It broke her heart, but with every month that passed with no pregnancy, Sherise was becoming more convinced that Cady might not be Justin's, and she was afraid of what would come out if Justin started to suspect as well.
This was all made worse by the fact that Justin was starting to get so disillusioned with the whole situation that he wasn't initiating sex the way he used to. It was as if he was losing interest in her, and that was a foreign concept to Sherise. She was an exceptionally beautiful woman by anyone's standards.
A little taller than the average woman, but not too tall, she was a stunner. She had flawless, golden caramel skin, silky dark brown hair that went a couple of inches below her shoulders, high cheekbones, full, sultry lips, and piercing green eyes. She was fit and trim, but had killer curves that made her look incredible in the expensive designer clothes she always wore. Everywhere Sherise went, women and men looked . . . more than once. Most men wanted her and most women hated her for it.
She had always been able to control Justin and he could not resist her. The problem was that after being out of the career game for so long, Sherise was losing interest in most things, except her daughter, so she wasn't sure if she was the reason their sex life was cooling down, or him.
“Dooce!” Cady yelled. She squeezed her fingers together and smiled up at her mother with those large eyes that always got her what she wanted.
“No juice,” Sherise said. “Too much sugar. Water?”
Cady pouted, seeming to understand that she wasn't getting any juice. She folded her tiny arms across her chest, looking almost edible in her little pink and white polka-dot dress. But Sherise wasn't going to give in. She wanted only the best for her daughter and that didn't just mean healthy food and drinks. She wanted a life for her daughter that included a happily married mother and father.
She had to figure out how to get pregnant. Sherise had spent a lot of time in the last six months convincing herself that if she got pregnant she wouldn't miss the world of power brokers and fast-paced deal making. She would have a baby to take care of and another to plan for. Eventually, she would go back to work, but in the meantime, two babies would keep her more than busy and satisfied. At least that was what she tried to convince herself of. It wasn't really working.
“So sorry. So sorry.” Jackson Snow apologized to the other two people at his lunch table at Birch & Barley restaurant on Fourteenth Street just as he got off the phone. He placed it on the table next to him and looked across the pan-roasted fish and Yukon potatoes in parmesan broth. “So where were we?”
Thirty-year-old petite and adorable Billie Carter, formerly Billie Hass, wasn't really sure how to answer that. They had barely been able to get through a conversation, with Jackson answering the phone every five minutes. It wasn't a surprise. This was a lawyer's life, and being a newly minted partner at their firm, Jackson was smart to never pass on a phone call. It was a double standard, because if either she or her fellow associate, Richard Nelson, interrupted him to take a phone call, it would not be looked upon kindly.
“You were congratulating Billie on her work on the Bosley case,” Richard interjected. Richard, who went by Ricardo in his private life, was a young, handsome Hispanic man who was always impeccably dressed. His rigid professional demeanor hid the ultraliberal interior that Billie had come to appreciate so much.
He looked at Billie and winked. He knew it would have been awkward for her to remind Jackson to continue praising her, so he did it for her. She would do that for him. He was the only person at their large law firm that she could trust, although she hadn't really tried hard to give others a chance.
Reeling from a divorce that left her in a bad financial state, Billie had to leave her position at the public defender's office and her dream of fighting for the voiceless against a powerful system and transition to a big law firm where most of her clients were the people she had built a career fighting against. She needed the money, so she decided to swallow her pride and take the high-paying associate position, hoping that one day she could be in a position to go back to doing what she loved.
It hadn't been the easiest of transitions, especially considering all of the distractions she had, including her ex-husband having one of the paralegals spy on her, but Billie hunkered down and did her best. Richard, whom she shared an office with, had helped her navigate the office politics and deal with the moral ambiguity of what she had to do at times. There was a short moment when he had tried to flash those Latin charms on her, but they had both thought better of it. It was a good idea. As friends, they had both been able to help each other focus on their jobs without any distractions. It was paying off.
“Yes,” Jackson said as he reached for a fork. After stuffing a bit of fish in his mouth, he pointed at Billie with a smile across his generous face. “I don't give credit just for the sake of looking like a good guy. You made me look good on this case. The client is very pleased with the settlement. We avoided all kinds of embarrassment for them.”
Billie smiled even though she wasn't so sure that was a compliment. Their client's product hurt a little boy. In a previous life, their embarrassment was the least of what she would have expected. But this was the law and her job was to protect her client to the best of her ability. A settlement that included a nondisclosure agreement saved them millions of dollars and preserved their reputation with time to remove the chance that anyone else would ever get hurt was a win.
“I'm sure we've secured their business for the future,” Billie said with a smile. “I'm glad I could contribute.”
“Oh, you did more than that.” Jackson looked around and waved to someone in the distance. “That guy over there, he's an asshole, but his wife is cheating on him, so it's all good.”
Richard laughed along with Jackson, but Billie only forced a half smile. As someone who had her marriage destroyed by infidelity, she didn't really get the joke.
“You,” Jackson said, returning his attention to Billie. “You got a good mention at this morning's partner meeting.”
“That is good to hear, sir,” Billie said.
She had been planning for this. She felt now was the best time to ask for what she wanted, to ask for one of the reasons she chose this firm over the others she could have gone to.
“Actually, I was wondering if . . .”
“You know who else was mentioned?” Jackson asked. “Your husband, Porter.”
Billie sighed. “Porter Hass is my ex-husband, Jackson. Ex.”
“Oh, yeah.” He nodded. “That's what I meant. He should have made partner by now, so some people were wondering if he was gonna move on.”
“I wouldn't know,” Billie said.
She hated talking about Porter, but he was one of the most talked about financial lawyers in DC, and more than a few people at her firm were fans of his. She always managed to cut any questions about him short, but that didn't stop them from popping back up every now and then. They were divorced for a year now and she wished that people would let it go.
The truth was, she was the reason Porter hadn't made partner this year, but it was too long and embarrassing a story to ever tell anyone. Despite their divorce, his decision to move his mistress in with him, and using his daughter as a tool to control Billie, she couldn't get him out of her life. He even threatened to ruin her career if she cut him off from her bed. But with the help of her friends, Sherise and Erica, Billie finally turned the tables on Porter and put him in his place.
With Sherise using her influence on Jonah, some powerful strings were pulled that put Porter in a bad light at his firm. While the last soft spot Billie held for him urged her to save his career, it did push his progress back a year and gave Billie the courage to get over Porter once and for all.
But she would never tell anyone that. No one knew what had happened except her, the girls, and Jonah Dolan, and hopefully no one else ever would. Billie was still dealing with the guilt, never one to take the underhanded route, but she knew that she had to get Porter out of her life if she was ever going to have a life of her own.
Her progress since had been slow, but she was hopeful.