Authors: Reana Malori
By Reana Malori
© 2015 Reana Malori
: © 2015 Bree Archer
: April Allen
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced electronically or in print without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews. Due to copyright laws you cannot trade, sell or give any eBooks away.
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, organizations, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
Cooper Branson wasn't ready to move on. His life was just fine the way it was and no one could make him change. At least, not willingly. He wore his Widower badge with honor and forced himself to live his life only for his daughter, Madison. Falling for his attractive neighbor was not in the cards for him. It didn't matter that she was the first person he thought of in the morning, or the last voice he needed to hear before falling asleep at night. Loving someone and running the risk of losing them again was not a risk he was willing to take.
Faith Douglas was ready to reinvent herself. After a hurtful betrayal by her closest friend, Faith was determined to live life for herself. The first step to her new outlook on life was doing something she would have never done before. Walking across the lawn and saying hello to her new, hunky neighbor was the bravest thing she had done in a long time. How was she to know that the man would become her world and his daughter would steal her heart? What she never expected was to stand in the shadow of another woman while the man she loved looked right through her.
Finding out who you are, while ignoring the expectations of others, is the toughest path anyone can take. Cooper and Faith have to decide if they’re able to move on from the hurt of the past to find their future.
Table of Contents
“I don’t know why you thought that man ever wanted you in the first place. I’m more his type anyway. I think he just took pity on you until he could get to me,” the hurtful words spewed from the mouth of the woman sitting across from her.
“Excuse me? What did you just say?” Faith Douglas almost choked on her ice tea. The words stunned her and she was almost certain that she must have heard incorrectly. Almost.
Her jaw had gone slack at how the conversation had turned so negative, so quickly. Her mind had become numb with shock as she tried to process what had just happened. She felt unable to move or respond, as if anchored in place and chained down to her chair. This unexpected nastiness coming at her from the woman sitting across the table felt like it had to be a bad joke.
“Well, I’m just saying.” Denise turned her head and watched the two handsome, well-dressed men walk out of the restaurant. “I’m sure I’ll be hearing from them both later today. The one with the goatee couldn’t keep his eyes off of me,” she said with a smirk.
“Okay, not sure what the hell that’s all about, but you can have them both. I had no interest in either of them,” Faith responded before taking a sip of her drink and giving herself a moment to take a breath. “This was supposed to be a casual lunch anyway. Why did you invite them to sit down?” Faith’s voice held a distinct chill. If Denise had been listening close enough, she would have heard this.
It almost felt as if she was having an out of body experience. Today was supposed to be about two old friends reconnecting and getting together for lunch, but it had turned into something she never would have expected. For the past six months, work had become even busier and she had fallen into an endless loop of wake-up, go to work, drive home, eat dinner, work some more, and go to sleep, so this has seemed like a good idea.
“You know, Faith, if you would only lose some weight, men might want you more." Her gaze traveled up and down Faith's form as she tilted her head in a look that could only be interpreted as pity. "I mean, damn, girl, look at you. Your face is pretty enough, but you have too much ass and thighs for a man to really want to do anything with you. Your stomach pooches and I can see a second chin starting to form.” A look of feigned sadness crossed her features, “I mean, you should really take better care of yourself. Hell, you probably have cobwebs down there.” Laughing at her own mean and callous joke at her friend's expense, Denise seemed oblivious to the pain and hurt that resulted from her words.
Taking a few deep breaths, Faith tried to calm herself before she said something that couldn’t be taken back. After a few seconds, she gave up the fight. There was no way in hell this was happening. Not today. To anyone looking at her, they would have seen eyes half-closed in anger, her cheeks a dark burgundy as she tried to quell her embarrassment, and body language that communicated pure outrage.
“Are you done insulting me?” The questioning look on Denise’s face almost took Faith over the edge. “How dare you assume that I would want any advice from you? Whatsoever. Regarding anything. Let alone, my weight?” Her face must have betrayed her complete shock and outrage. Hell, she was just downright pissed.
“Well, I’m just saying.” Flipping her feathered and curled hair over her shoulders and briefly looking at her perfectly manicured nails, the two-faced woman must have had a lack of oxygen to the brain, because she clearly didn't know when to shut her mouth. “Maybe if you worked out a little more or at least dressed like you wanted a man, you might actually get one.”
Faith’s response was swift and left no room for interpretation. “Have you lost your damn mind? Where is this coming from, Denise? I’m not even sure why you would fix your mouth to say this to me.” Reaching over to grab her purse, she began to gather her things. If she did not leave soon, she could not be held accountable for what happened next.
Stopping to look at Faith as if she were imparting some great wisdom, the haughty look on her face was almost funny, if the situation wasn't so damn sad. “Trust me, honey, no man wants to wrap his arms around a woman that's bigger than him. Plus, do you really think real men enjoy being with a woman that everyone thinks of as a Big…Beautiful...Woman?” She said the words slowly, almost as if it were distasteful. That just pissed Faith off even more.
The anger simmering just under the surface was about to cause Faith to go back to her roots on this chick, and quickly. Normally, she was a quiet woman who allowed most things to roll off of her back. “Like a duck” was one of her favorite sayings and that's what she had become known for. Unfortunately, some people took her kindness for weakness and most times, that was okay.
Over the years, she had used that assumption to reel them in and once they were in a state of relaxation, believing they had won, she unleashed her full fury on them. Not many things took her to that point and keeping her cool had become almost an art. But this was simply too much and her cup had runneth over with the bullshit coming out of this woman's mouth. Faith was done.
While she would never claim to be model thin or even skinny, being a size fourteen—sixteen on an off day—was not necessarily considered a big beautiful woman, or BBW. Not that there was anything wrong with it, but why would she simply put up with someone placing a label on who she was? Never one to be put in a box built by someone else, she had never responded well to other people telling her what she should think, or how she should feel.
Maybe some people would call her fat or overweight, or whatever the hell they wanted to say about her pants size, but that had never factored into how she felt about herself. Working out regularly was a part of her normal weekly routine. She visited the gym at her office at least three times a week, walking or jogging on the treadmill, or gliding on the elliptical machine for at least forty-five minutes every visit.
Yes, she was pleasantly plump, but what the hell did that have to do with anything? Did that give another person the right to say anything to her and belittle her without provocation? Standing at five feet nine inches, with golden brown skin and luscious curves, she was more than enough woman for the right man. There were plenty of men who looked at her with lust and
desire in their eyes. Every single damn day. And, yes, she ate it up every time. No, a lack of self-esteem or body issues would never have entered the conversation if it were up to her. Clearly, Denise was the one with the issue, not Faith.
Deciding that now was the right time to end this conversation, she addressed the woman sitting across from her, “Denise, let me stop you right there." Teeth clenched tight, her voice was strained as she tried to control herself and not make a scene in a public place. Heat radiated from her body and she knew her eyes must be shooting fire right now.
"I’m not sure what made you think that today was the time and place for you to lecture me on how I look or the shape of my body. How I look is none of your damn business.” She could feel her hands beginning to shake as she barely controlled the urge to smack the smug look off her former friend's face.
A fabricated look of shock and surprise came over the other woman's face as Faith laid into her. The entire facade was completely lost on Faith and it was really quite pathetic. At one time, Faith would have wanted nothing more than to look more like the woman sitting across from her. The long wavy hair, the thin, but shapely body, and the upturned hazel eyes. There was no shame in stating that Denise was a very beautiful woman. But today, she had become someone very ugly on inside. Her once beautiful face had transformed into something quite hideous.
She and Denise had known one another since their college years, when they were both two young freshman trying to find their way in this big, bad world. Supporting each other through successes, failures, relationships, and long days when only a pint of ice cream would make it better, had become the norm. That was simply what they did for each other. That relationship had meant so much to her as the years had passed, and now, in one afternoon, it had been burned to the ground.
“Faith, girl, what are you talking about? I’m just trying to keep it real. You know how we do.” If she could truly believe her friend’s intentions were real and true, then Faith would have backed off in a heartbeat. But something about the words were hurtful and tinged with a whole lot of cruelty. No, this had definitely been intentional.
“No, Denise. You’re not keeping it real. Why you choose today to tell me how you really feel about me, I’ll never know. But now that I see the real you, all I can say is thank you.” Shaking her head at the feeling of betrayal coursing through her veins, Faith continued, “Thank you for showing me that you had been faking all these years. Thank you for freeing me from a friendship that was as fake as those damn nails on your fingers.”
Denise seemed to finally sense that she had gone too far, “Faith, you’re being entirely too sensitive. You know I’ve always told you that you were kind of big and needed to lose some weight.” Glancing away from Faith for a second, Denise smiled at a handsome man standing across the room at the hostess stand, but his gaze never captured hers.
Faith watched the interaction and noticed that the man seemed to look everywhere but at Denise. There was no interest whatsoever. And then it hit her. Yes, this was about her and the way she looked, but not the way she had initially thought. Understanding hit her like a brick.
Voice raised, she confronted Denise with her new found knowledge, “Is this because of that bullshit party we went to a few weeks ago?” At the sudden turning of her head to look at Faith, the truth of her words were confirmed.
Faith continued, unable to hold the words back, “Are you fucking kidding me right now? You’re coming at me with claws bared because of a man? A man whom you hardly knew. A man that I had absolutely no interest in.”
Denise’s face suddenly turned ugly with rage and hate as she snarled her next words, “What the fuck ever, Faith! You knew that I was going after him, but you just had to swing your big, fat ass in his direction. I don’t even know why I brought you to that party anyway. You weren’t even invited.”
“What is that supposed to mean,” she questioned. Had she ever really known this person at all?
“It means I only brought you with me out of pity. Did you not see the people in the room?” Snidely, she looked at Faith with a look akin to disgust, “You were clearly out of your league. I have no idea why a man would be interested enough in you to spend two hours talking to you at a party full of beautiful women. You would never fit into his world and men like that only want women like you for a booty call. An experience. Nothing more.”