I wasn’t waiting around to see whatever went down next. By the time he turned around again to check on me, all he caught was a glimpse of the exhaust from my muffler. I had accomplished what I went there to do, and that’s all that mattered. I just prayed his ass wasn’t serious about coming to my office, because I wanted the situation over and done with. The comment Dusty made about him being locked up threw me for a loop. I never thought I needed to run a criminal background check before I took on a lover. I began to wonder if he was a woman beater like Dempsey. The police had yet to track down Dempsey and they asked the Alabama State Police to keep a look out for him as well. I would’ve wished he was dead, but even death was too good for him after what he did to Brina. I wanted him to suffer in the worst way.

Driving back downtown, all sorts of confusion was going through my mind like a slideshow. I missed Brina, my head hurt, Tyson was a convicted criminal and I had no idea what crime he had committed, my window was busted out, my blouse was torn, my lip was bleeding, and I had one hell of a migraine. What worried me most was how I was going to explain any of it to Jason. He was all that mattered. Coming up with yet another lie about the car wasn’t going to be that effortless. Not to mention the fact I looked like I had been in a street brawl, which I had. I would just have to come up with something to cover my ass. I always did.

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The truly messed-up part was, the ordeal with Tyson only meant one down. I still had two more to go, and my sanity was slipping fast as I gripped the steering wheel with both hands on my way to my next and final destination.

chaptertwenty-three

I got to Quinton’s building about thirty minutes later and tried to make myself look presentable before I went up to the loft. I didn’t care about the car window or any of that. I put some lipstick on, fingered my hair, and tucked my blouse into my skirt, trying to hide the fact it was missing a button. Why I was even going through that much trouble was beyond me. It wasn’t like I was going on a date. I was going to end a mistake. Two of them.

When I got off the elevator, I hesitated before deciding which way to go first. I knocked on Quinton’s door. He answered right away. “What are you doing here, Zoe?”

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He stood in the doorway, blocking my entrance into his place. “Can I come in, Quinton?”

“No!” I was wondering why he was being so foul toward me until it hit me that maybe he had already found out something I should’ve told him months before. “You can’t come in!”

“Okay, fine. I’ll say what I have to say right here and then leave.” My legs started trembling, and for a brief second, I thought my knees were going to buckle underneath me. “Why are you being so nasty?”

“No reason!” He was snapping at me like a box turtle, and things were just not adding up.

“Quinton, I get back to work, and I have fifty messages from you asking me to get in touch with you. Then I come over here, and you won’t even let me in the door. What’s up with that?”

“What can I say, Zoe? Things change.”

That’s when I knew somethingdefinitelyhad happened I wasn’t privy to. I was about to ask what it was when I heard the door to the stairwell creak. “Who’s there?”

“Now you’re imagining things, Zoe.” I looked back at

Quinton. I had never seen him leer at me that way. He had a look of hatred in his eyes. “I guess you would have reason to be paranoid, huh?”

“Quinton, I’m going to get straight to the point, since you seem to have a rock up your ass anyway.” He rolled his eyes. “I can’t see you anymore.”

He laughed at me!Just stood there and laughed all up in my face. The same man that had begged me to leave my husband and move in with him a thousand times. “Oh, so now I’m a fuckin’ joke, Quinton?”

His voice returned to normal, and his smile disappeared. “You’ve always been a joke, Zoe. I just never realized it until the other day.”

“What other day? What in the hell are you talking about?” I was becoming irritated, and my head was still killing me.

“Guess what, Zoe?” He crossed his arms and relaxed on the doorframe like a man about to get some revenge on an archenemy.

“What?” I got the feeling it was going to be something I really didn’t want to know but I asked anyway.

“I had a luncheon meeting the other day about a new project I’ve been commissioned for.”

“And? You lost me.”

“And the project is painting a mural for

the new civic center currently under construction.”

He grinned and sucked on his teeth, and I wanted to die. “Please, no!”

“Oh, yeah. Now you’re catching on. I always knew you were smart. The same civic center your husband,Jason,is the chief architect for.”

“Quinton, if you said something to him, I swear I’ll kill you!”

“Relax, I didn’t say anything to Mr. Jason Reynard of Smith, Watson and Reynard over on Spring Street. You want to see his business card so you know I’m not frontin’ about meeting him?”

“No, fuck you!”

“You already did that, Missy. Several times, as I recall.”

I was in shock and couldn’t utter a word. I just stood there with my mouth hanging open, wishing all of it would go away.

“Zoe, that man worships the ground you walk on. All this time, you had me believing he was some punk ass who doesn’t pay you any attention and doesn’t act like you’re alive. You’re such a lying bitch!”

TheBword brought me out of my trance. “I never said that. I never said Jason was like that. All I ever said about him was that he didn’t want the same things sexually as I do. Jason loves me!”

“Yes, you’re right. He does love you. Imagine how stupid and shitty I felt sitting there at lunch, listening tohim tell everyone about his beautiful, perfect wife. How much he loves you, how the two of you first met and fell in love, how proud he is of you for starting your own business and standing by his side for always, how he built you a house so you could always see the stars, how—”

“He said all that?” I was overwhelmed because I never pictured Jason talking to business associates, or anyone else for that matter, about me like that.

“Yes, he did say all that!”Quinton was about to slam the door in my face, but I pressed my hand up against it to hold it open.

“Just promise me one thing. Give me your word you’ll never tell him what happened between us. Please!” I was at his mercy, and I damn well knew it.

“Don’t worry your little lying ass over it, Zoe. I would never tell that man about us for two reasons. First of all, I feel sorry for the poor bastard, and secondly because, as ridiculous as it is, I still love your scandalous ass. You need help, you really do, and not the kind of help you thought you could find in me. You need professional help.”

I started crying. He was right. “Quinton, I tried to get professional help,” I admitted. “She couldn’t help me either.”

“Well, I suggest you try harder.” My cries went from sobs to straight-up wails. I could tell he wanted to hold me, but his common sense prevented him from doing so. I had hurt him enough. “Zoe, I’m not trying to be mean to you. That’s the last thing I want to do, but if you’re not strong enough to put a stop to this for once and for all, then I have to be man enough to do it.”

“I understand!” Quinton was reading me like a book. Even though I came over there with the intention of breaking it off with him, more than likely we would’veended up in bed if he had let me in. Just like the many times before I declared I was never coming back but succumbed to my addiction in the long run. “I’m sorry, Quinton! I’m so sorry this had to happen!”

“I know you are, Boo.” He reached out his thumb to wipe away some of the tears that were streaming down my cheek, and I savored the moment, for I knew it was the last and final intimate gesture between us.

It was then I heard another noise coming from the stairwell, but this time, I wasn’t alone. Quinton yelled out, “Who’s there?”

Tyson came barreling through the exit door with fire in his eyes. “You’re fucking someone else too? You cheap tramp!”

“Zoe, who in the hell is this idiot?” Quinton demanded to know.

“Tyson, how did you find me?” I was freakin’ the hell out. Being confronted by both of them at the same time was the last thing on my agenda.

“You wanna know how I found you?” It didn’t really matter to me. Asking the question was a reflex. He was there, and I was in a shitload of trouble. Bottom line. “I was on my way to your office when I spotted your car and followed you here. My dumb ass was tracking you down to beg you to take me back.”

“Hold the damn phone!” Quinton had gotten over his initial shock and rejoined the argument. “You’re having an affair with his bitch ass too?”

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