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SOUL ON FIRE Copyright Š 2014 by Teresa D. Patterson. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, email the publisher, Edit Again Publications This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental

SUMMARY Cherika Daniels finds herself driving down a country, dirt road searching for an address that seems impossible to find in a rural Arkansas town. She finally arrives at the Prewitt’s place to hear the reading of her paternal grandmother’s last Will and Testament. After a face-off with her estranged relatives, Cherika is highly irritated and flustered. To her dismay, she ends up swooning and faints. Before her world goes completely dark, she finds herself staring into a pair of beautiful, hazel eyes. Those eyes belong to Zachariah Prewitt. Zachariah Prewitt is the type of hazel-eyed, snazzydressing, womanizer that Cherika steers clear of. Though her head tells her he’s not the one, her heart soars every time they encounter each other. Sparks ignite when Zachariah kisses her for the first time. No matter how hard she tries to fight the attraction, she finds herself falling hard. Zachariah senses that Cherika Daniels is the woman he’s destined to be with. However, he keeps pushing her further away by saying and doing the wrong things. To complicate matters, he can tell his twin brother, Hezekiah, is interested in Cherika, too. Their relationship is already strained, and he doesn’t want to cause an even further rift by going after the same woman. Hezekiah’s ex-fiancée, Carmen, returns to stir up even more chaos. She has her sights set on Zachariah and could care less if it destroys the twin’s relationship. When Cherika witnesses Carmen and Zachariah locked in a

passionate embrace, it causes all of her doubts and insecurities to resurface. She’ll have to decide if Zachariah is worth fighting for. Her heart has already been broken from a past relationship. Zachariah has set her soul on fire. Even if she wants to walk away from him will she be able to?

Chapter One THERE appeared to be no end to the long, dusty trail Cherika Daniels followed. She could actually hear the high-pitch sounds of crickets chirping through the quietness. She hadn’t spotted a house since she’d turned off the main highway. She wondered if she’d made a wrong turn somewhere along the way. The address she’d written down was a rural route number, not a city street like she was accustomed to. She’d received directions on how to get to her destination, but it was possible she’d misinterpreted them. A place like Marion, Arkansas was a far cry from St. Petersburg, Florida, that was certain. It was so hot. She felt the irritability and crankiness that usually took place a few days before her monthly cycle began. Those symptoms immediately put a damper on her spirits.

An hour earlier, while at the car rental station, she’d learned they only had four cars available. Unfortunately, they’d all been rented out. Buster “June Bug” Bradley, the manager and owner of Buster’s Car Rental and Repair Shop, offered to loan her his spare car until a rental became available the next morning. Since she didn’t have much of a choice, she’d accepted. Cherika stared at the car in disbelief when Buster Bradley drove it around front. It was a mess! The front fender hung halfway off. It bore a cracked windshield and the once red car was caked over in at least two coats of mud. “You must be out of your mind,” she said in total disbelief. “There is no way I can drive something like that. It has to violate some sort of regulations.” “We not too keen on regulations ‘round dese parts,” Buster responded. “But, that car. It’s…” Her speech sputtered to a halt. She really couldn’t find the words to describe what she thought about the mud-caked vehicle. “Well, jus’ las’ week dat thar car was in tip top condition,” Buster drawled in his country twang. “Las’ person drove it had a lil’ run in wit’ a cow. No damage was done to the cow, min’ ya, ‘cause he didn’t hit it. But dat thar car suffered

somethin’ awful when Lester Lee ran smack dead into an Oak tree. And Lester Lee was a tad bit shook up hisself.” Buster told the story with a gleam in his eye and he had chuckled heartily. “You shoulda seen the look on Lester Lee’s face when he brought that thar car back. I think he’ll stick to drivin’ tractors from here on out.” Are you telling me that people around here actually drive tractors? She stared at Buster incredulously indicating that she didn’t find the story as amusing as he no doubt thought it was. “Now, after I wash dat car down, it’ll be as good as new. I know dat it’s probably not what you accustomed to ‘cause you one of dem thar city gals from ‘round yonder, but it’s the bes’ I can do.” He squinted at her pinstriped pants suit and high heel pumps then frowned. “You wanna take it or not? It’s free of charge. You can’t beat that.” The bottom part of his mouth moved as he rolled his tongue back and forth on his teeth and gums. He stuck his hands in the pockets of his faded, oil-stained, denim overalls and waited for her answer. “Do I have a choice?” she muttered under her breath. She wasn’t sure, but she could almost swear Buster was chewing tobacco or enjoying a dip of snuff. She dared not ask for fear of the answer. “I’ll take it,” she finally said.

“Can you tell me how long it will take for you to clean it up? I’m supposed to arrive at the Prewitt’s by five thirty and I don’t even know where they live.” “No need to worry. ‘Round here, folk ain’t too keen on time. Guess you’ll get thar when you get thar. Nobody won’t mind you bein’ a few hours late or what not.” It had taken Buster close to an hour to clean up the car. Cherika, used to shooting through an automatic car washer, waited impatiently and watched as he went about the task. He actually used a five-gallon bucket filled with sudsy water. When he finally finished, he stood back and admired his handiwork. “See, tol’ ya it would be as good as new,” he said, handing her the keys. “Be careful drivin’. I wouldn’t want you to have a run in wit’ a cow like Lester Lee did,” he warned. “Jus’ drive real slow and keep on the look-out. Some farmers let their livestock roam free ‘round dese parts.” “Er, t-thank you, I guess,” she said and hurried to get behind the wheel. “I promise you I won’t do any more damage to it than has already been done.” As if that’s even a possibility. “Take care, city gal.” He tilted his straw hat and watched her drive off.

Cherika couldn’t believe it was taking so long to get there. It seemed like ages since she’d left West Memphis and Buster’s Car Rental and Repair Shop. Mr. Bradley had informed her it would only take about half an hour to drive out to the Prewitt’s place. She supposed that half an hour in country minutes probably equaled two hours in the real world. She hoped that Buster was right. She prayed nobody would mind if she arrived late. The digital clock on the car’s dashboard read a quarter after six. Cherika hated being late! Glancing at the map she had opened on the passenger’s seat, she rechecked the directions. She’d followed them correctly, right up to taking a right turn off the main highway. So, she wasn’t lost. She let out a deep sigh and continued to drive. All she could see to the left and right of her were miles of cotton and soybean fields. She slowed down to nearly a crawl because of all the dips and bumps in the dirt road. As much as she got jostled up and down, it felt like she was on one of the amusement rides at Disney World. When a chicken darted into her path, her tires kicked up dirt and dust as she braked to an abrupt stop to avoid hitting it. Thank goodness she’d been driving so slowly. She

remembered Buster’s warning about the livestock. I guess he failed to mention the fowl. She frowned as she watched the chicken run into the yard of the first house she’d seen since leaving the highway. It joined a cluster of chickens gathered around a robust, bigbosomed, stout-faced woman holding a bucket. The woman reached into the pail and threw a handful or what looked like grain to the birds. She looked up as Cherika passed by and waved as her eyes followed the traveling car. Cherika waved back and continued on. Finally, the long, dusty road came to an end. She had to travel a gravel road for a short distance before coming upon her destination. Buster had informed her she’d have no problem recognizing the Prewitt’s place, and he hadn’t exaggerated. He had described the Prewitt’s as being “high-society ‘round dese parts, well-to-do folk.” By the looks of their house, the Prewitt’s were indeed “well-to-do.” She took notice of the enormous, red-brick structure. The real estate salesperson inside her automatically calculated five to six bedrooms with three and a half bathrooms. As she pulled into the circular drive, she noticed a luxurious Mercedes Benz parked next to a Ford F150 and a Cadillac Seville.

“Maybe there are some civilized people here, after all,” she said, getting out of the car. She felt clammy and extremely bloated. Not a good sign. “Damn period,” she muttered, nearly twisting her ankle when her heel caught on a sharp rock. “Shoot,” she muttered. She bent down to survey her pump and saw the long, ugly scratch embedded deep into the leather. She’d just bought those shoes and now she’d ruined them. “Damn. Damn. Damn.” “Well, you must be Miss Daniels,” an amused voice said from out of nowhere. Cherika was somewhat startled. She hadn’t noticed the man sitting on the porch swing. She immediately straightened and ascended the steps, a tad bit embarrassed that he’d witnessed her mishaps. “Um, yes, I am. I’m sorry I’m late, but I couldn’t find the place. I couldn’t get a rental, and I-” Her voice caught in her throat as he stood. He wasn’t just tall, dark and handsome; he was super fine! She inwardly drooled as she gawked at him. “Just relax. It’s only twenty minutes after five,” he crooned. So, the clock in the car hadn’t been working. Why wasn’t she surprised? “We still have ten minutes to kill.” He stared down into her face. “My name’s Hezekiah Prewitt.” He

extended his hand for a shake. She gave him her own, and felt a gentle squeeze. “Pleased to make your acquaintance,” she said in a low tone, hoping her eyes didn’t give away her tumultuous feelings. “Likewise.” He moved his hand to her elbow. “Let’s go on inside, Miss Daniels. The folks are waiting. My father adheres to punctuality. Let’s not displease him.” He continued to hold on to her as she walked up the last few steps. She felt wrinkled and uncomfortable in her pants suit. When she’d attempted to turn on the car’s air conditioning, only warm air and dust particles had blown out of the vents. After suffering a coughing spell, and only experiencing stale air, she’d shut it off in disappointment. Even though she’d let all four windows down, she hadn’t been able to cool off. Now, she felt herself dripping with perspiration. What a great first impression. She just knew her hair was in disarray. She hated not being at her best. It put her on edge. “Don’t worry so much, Miss Daniels. Everything will turn out just fine,” Hezekiah said, as though reading her mind. “You’re only here to listen to the reading of a Will. You’re not on trail or anything. Relax,” he said again and smiled.

She took a deep breath and released it slowly. “I’ll try,” she said. “I’m a little nervous.” “There’s no need to be,” he assured her. Hezekiah opened the door and escorted her inside. “This way,” he instructed. “They’re in the meeting room.” As she followed him, she surveyed his tall, beautiful frame. She noticed that he stood about six feet four, give or take an inch. He probably weighed between one ninety five to two hundred pounds. She could tell by his broad shoulders, there’d be nothing but muscles underneath the suit he wore. Hezekiah Prewitt was 100 percent grade A beef, USDA approved! He was the kind of man she steered clear of. When they entered the room everyone seated swiveled around in their chairs and immediately focused on Cherika. She had expected some curious glances but never the open looks of hostility plastered on some of the faces. It shook her to the core. What did these people have against her? She hadn’t done anything to them. For the most part, they didn’t even know her. She took a seat next to Hezekiah because he was the only person in the room giving off good vibes at that moment. She rubbed her damp palms down the sides of her pants, trying to appear inconspicuous.

The passing of her paternal grandmother had brought Cherika to Arkansas, and to the room she now sat in. She hadn’t known the woman, only seeing her twice in twenty-six years. It had come as quite a shock to learn she’d been named primary beneficiary in her grandmother’s Last Will and Testament. “Miss Cherika Daniels, I assume?” A distinguished looking older gentleman questioned as his gaze settled on her. Once again, all eyes fastened upon Cherika, causing her to blush. “Yes,” she said and cleared her throat. “I’m Cherika Daniels.” “I’m Mayor Luscious Prewitt. As you are aware, you are here for the reading of the Last Will and Testament of Mrs. Meredith Jacqueline Marguerite Daniels. With no further delay, we’ll get right to it.” He placed on a pair of specs and shuffled through a pile of papers. Within the next hour, Cherika discovered that her grandmother had left her a substantial amount of money as well as property that she knew nothing about. It puzzled her. She had an aunt and uncles that her grandmother had failed to leave anything to. Through the years she’d heard that there had been a great rift between her family members. Half of her kin didn’t even

acknowledge each other as they sat stiffly in the meeting room. They obviously still held onto their grudges and the reading of the Will had clearly upset them. Once the meeting ended, and she stood up to leave, Hezekiah turned toward her with a raised brow. “I see you’re surprised with the outcome. Mrs. Meredith changed her original Will and it’s plain to see a lot of your relatives are pretty upset about it,” he stated. As he spoke, an older woman, whom Cherika recognized as Aunt Olga, approached. Her aunt’s pinched face barely hid the ill-concealed anger. “Cherry Daniels, it will make things easy for you if you just sign this form leaving me in full control of everything,” she huffed, not even bothering to say “hello.” “That way, you can just fly back to the city and forget I exist, like you’ve been doing all along.” She extended a piece of paper with writing on it toward Cherika. “My name is Cherika, not Cherry,” Cherika said stiffly. “And I will do no such thing.” She waved the document away, annoyed. “My grandmother changed her Will for a reason. I don’t blame her, judging by the kindness and hospitality you have extended, thus far.”

“If you’re upset because I didn’t open my home to you, you can just say so.” Aunt Olga actually had the audacity to pout. “I wouldn’t expect for you to.” Cherika glared at her aunt. “After all, we’re only blood.” She stalked past her aunt and the rest of her relatives with her head held high. She had a defiant glint in her eyes. She didn’t care how upset they were. She wasn’t about to let anyone push her around, related or not. She’d show them she could transform into five feet, one hundred and three pounds of pure fury if she had to. “Miss Daniels, where are you going?” A deep, amused voice halted her. She had forgotten all about the kind gentleman who had taken her breath away earlier. She whirled around to face him. “To find a hotel,” she snapped. “I’m hot, tired, hungry, and I have a PMS headache. So, if you will all excuse me-” She glared at all of her kin folk. “I’ll be on my way.” “Not so fast.” Hezekiah stepped closer to her, and she felt his firm hand on her elbow. What is it with him and elbows? “You have a great deal of paperwork to sign. You do want what is legally yours, do you not?” Even before she could reply, he steered her in another direction, away from

the small gathered crowd and away from the eyes filled with resentment. Cherika felt the little amount of strength she had left seep from her body. She actually was tired. It had been a long day, a long week, to say the least. She felt drained of energy. When she took a step, to her utter embarrassment, she swooned. The room spun as her knees buckled, causing her to go down. Before everything went completely black, she saw the man who caught her. He looked exactly like Hezekiah Prewitt, yet remarkably different. She stared into a set of hazel eyes filled with concern before she succumbed to darkness.

♥♥♥ Cherika’s eyes fluttered open. For a moment, panic set in. She took a deep breath and exhaled until she’d calmed down. Where the hell am I? Her memory returned in flashes. She’d been on a plane…landed at Memphis International… She was in Arkansas….Had to drive an atrocious car…Prewitt’s home….A bunch of angry relatives glaring at her…She had fainted. “Oh no,” she groaned and tried to sit up. “Hey. Young lady, you need to take it easy,” a gentle voice instructed. “Lie back.” She obeyed only because she felt lightheaded.

“Where am I?” she asked. “I have to get up. I must have been out of my mind to come here. Now this. I need to get a hotel- ” “Calm down. Don’t get yourself all worked up.” He could see by the expression on her face that she wasn’t going to give in easily. “Don’t worry about anything,” he said with conviction. “Besides, you’re not going anywhere. I won’t have your death on my conscious.” She looked at him to gauge his seriousness. He couldn’t hide the slight smile. “You are Hezekiah, right? I did meet you earlier?” she asked, taking the glass of water that he offered. “A man caught me when I fainted. He looked exactly like you,” she added. “Yes. That would be Zachariah. We’re twins, obviously. We look exactly alike except for our eye coloring.” He put a warm, gentle hand on her forehead. “Are you still feeling dizzy?” he asked, in a gentle tone. “I’m fine,” she answered. “I'm tougher than I look,” she insisted, causing an amused smile to cross his face. “I don’t know what happened,” she hurried to explain. “I’ve never fainted before in my life. It must have been due to the heat or hunger or a combination of both. I just never would have dreamed of actually fainting. Me?” She gave a derisive chuckle. “No. Fainting is not in my DNA.” She felt a bit embarrassed now.

She’d been vulnerable in front of all those people. They already thought the worse of her. What would they think now? “It was probably the heat,” he agreed. “No need to beat yourself up over it. Fainting is common.” He tried to reassure her, but she wasn’t buying it. He just didn’t understand. She never fainted. Fainting was for weaklings. “I’ve arranged to have you stay here. I figured with the way things are, sort of strained, between you and your folks that it’s best- you know- until you all work things out.” Cherika fumed. She finished drinking the water and placed the glass on the nightstand, not too gently. “I don’t plan to work anything out with those…those scavenging vultures,” she spluttered. “Did you see how they were attacking me? I didn’t deserve that. How was I supposed to know that my grandmother would leave me what she did?” Hezekiah shrugged. “I can tell you’re as stubborn as a mule.” He smiled as he said this to show the statement held no ill content. “I guess it’s only right that I ask you if you want something to eat. You may get offended if I assume.” It was her turn to smile now. “Yes, I am hungry,” she said. “And thank you for asking.”

“I’ll have something sent up to you in a few minutes.” He retrieved the empty glass from the nightstand. “There’s a bathroom to your right, if you want to freshen up.” “Thank you.” She watched as his tall, handsome frame exited the room. What a magnificent specimen! “Girl, get your mind off him,” she chided herself. “You’re only going to be here a few days. No need to go looking for love in all the wrong places.” She slid her legs over the edge of the bed and planted her feet firmly on the carpeted floor. She then took her time standing up. Once she’d accomplished that feat, she realized her head wasn’t spinning. She took a few steps and felt steady so she headed to the bathroom. Once she’d relieved her bladder, she splashed cold water over her face, and stared at her reflection in the mirror. I still can’t believe I fainted. Why did I do that? The face that gazed back at her had no answer. She let out a deep sigh and patted her damp face dry with a paper towel then headed out of the bathroom. When she stepped back into the room, she saw a tray sitting on the nightstand. She also noticed that her luggage had been placed by the foot of the bed. A man sat on the edge of the

bed. He glanced at her when she entered the room, and she saw his remarkable hazel-colored eyes. “You’re not Hezekiah,” she stated. “No, I’m not. I’m Zachariah. I would formally introduce myself, but I guess you’ve figured it out.” She nodded. “I just came to check on you, but I can see that you’re as tough as nails.” “I’m fine,” she said. “That you are,” he said, letting his eyes roam over her from head to toe. Ignoring him, she walked over to the tray and lifted the lid. The delicious smells caused her stomach to rumble. “Mmm,” escaped her lips. The tray held a mini feast: a Cornish game hen, fresh green beans, corn bread, rice and gravy. She sat down and began to attack the food with a vengeance. After a while, she glanced up and found an amused expression on Zachariah’s face. She managed to slow down. “Oh, don’t mind me,” he said. “Eat up. I see you’re not the shy type, and you don’t play with your food, either.” “I’m starving,” she said, not ashamed to admit it. “All I had on the plane was a soft drink. They didn’t even give us any peanuts because someone had a severe allergic reaction to them.” She tried to cut the Cornish hen in half, but it

resisted. Finally, exasperated, she picked up the whole thing and bit into it. Zachariah laughed outright then stood up. “I can see you’re doing just fine. I’ll leave you to your meal. If you need anything, Miss Daniels, don’t hesitate to call me.” He gave her a meaningful look. Once his proposition registered in her brain, she frowned. She decided quickly that she didn’t appreciate it one bit, either. “What if I don’t want to call you?” she asked. “I might want Hezekiah.” She didn’t miss the spark that appeared in his eyes. “Hezekiah?” He shrugged his broad shoulders with indifference. “You might catch his interest, even though he usually goes for the fancy, model type. However, I think you’ve chosen the wrong twin,” he said in a matter-offact tone. “If you change your mind, I’d be more than happy to accommodate your needs.” He paused at the door. “Before I go, I think you should know something. You look irresistible with that gravy on your chin.” Cherika’s couldn’t muffle her gasp of surprise. “Are you serious?” Her hand automatically went up to swipe at her chin. “You missed it. Maybe I should volunteer to get it off.” He took a step toward her.

“If you come near me, I promise you, you’ll regret it,” she said between clenched teeth as she glared at him. Obviously, Mr. Zachariah was stuck on himself. She couldn’t stand men like him. He probably expected her to swoon over him. That would happen on the day after never. “Why don’t you go milk a cow or whatever it is you do to amuse yourself,” she snapped, making sure she’d rubbed her entire chin. He threw back his head and roared with laughter. The transformation amazed Cherika. Zachariah Prewitt would give any male model a run for his money. He was drop-dead gorgeous and had the body to match. She had to mentally regroup and re-route her thoughts. The last thing she wanted was to feel attraction toward such a conceited jerk. “That was a good one,” he said once he’d caught his breath. “I have to hand it to you; you’re pretty intriguing.” His eyes traveled the length of her then settled back on her face. “You’re a challenge.” “Don’t tell me.” Cherika put up her hand. “I already know what you’re going to say next. She tried to mimic is voice: “I like a challenge. “Exactly,” he agreed. “What man doesn’t?” Instead of answering, she rolled her eyes to show her annoyance.

“I know you didn’t just roll your eyes at me.” “Yes, I did. And?” When she saw something boil behind his gaze, she realized she should have bitten her tongue. A couple of quick strides brought him back across the room, and he stared down into her startled face. Their eyes locked like two-prized fighters in the middle of a boxing ring. Zachariah bent down and leaned closer to Cherika. “Don’t even think about-” she began, but he silenced her when his mouth met hers. His lips assaulted hers so quickly she didn’t have a chance to react. She tried to pull away but couldn’t. Eventually, she wasn’t sure if she wanted to pull away. A rush of heat passed through her being, and her body tingled all over. She closed her eyes and gave in to the sensations. Not knowing what to do with her hands, she ran them along his strong arms and back then pulled him closer. He plunged his tongue into her mouth and their tongues began to dance. Cherika felt lightheaded once again. Finally, Zachariah paused for breath and released her. She just sat there tingling and breathing hard. She could barely open her eyes, but when she did, she wished she hadn’t. She came crashing back down to earth when she saw the self-satisfied smirk on his face.

“You have a good night, Miss Daniels,” he said and left the room as stealthily as he’d stepped into it. The click of the door closing behind him, snapped Cherika back to reality. She lightly touched her lips with trembling fingers. What the hell was wrong with her, letting that man, a complete stranger, kiss her like that? She should have felt violated. She should have been offended to the point of slapping his face. Yet, all she felt was a strange elation. Zachariah had resparked a flame in her that had died two years ago. Would he set her soul on fire if she dared to let him? She was more determined than ever to resist. Cherika tried to clear her head of the kiss and concentrate on her grandmother’s Last Will and Testament, but she couldn’t think straight. She kept feeling the pressure of Zachariah’s lips on her own. She hadn’t allowed a man to kiss her in so long she’d forgotten how amazing it felt. She attempted to finish eating the rest of her food though she’d lost the enthusiasm now. Her appetite had faded, so she pushed the tray away. She lay back down in the bed and closed her eyes. She vowed to herself the next time she saw Zachariah, she would tell him a thing or two. He had been totally out of line kissing her

like that, and she had been crazy for letting him. Yet, she felt completely sane and deep down inside a part of her wanted more. Cherika stirred in the unfamiliar bed. She felt achy and couldn’t get comfortable no matter which way she turned. She gave up and punched the pillow. “Damn period,” she muttered. She kicked off the sheet that covered her and got up to locate her purse. She prayed she had packed some Midol. After she’d rummaged around for a while, she found the container of capsules. She donned her robe and slippers then padded over to the door to crack it. She felt awkward in the strange surroundings, but she needed a glass of water. She hated tap water or she would have gotten some from the bathroom sink. She stepped outside the guestroom and stopped to glance around. She had no problem seeing due to the well-lit hallway as she descended the stairs. She assumed the kitchen would be located on the right, and it was. She walked to the refrigerator and opened the door. It was well-stocked with plenty of soft drinks, juice and water. She poured herself a glass of bottled water and swallowed the Midol tablet. When she turned around, she almost dropped the glass.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you,” a deep voice said. “Oh, I’m sure you did,” she snapped. “Just like you didn’t mean to kiss me either, I suppose?” “I didn’t ki- Oh, I get it. You’ve mistaken me for Zach.” He chuckled. “I guess he was giving you a friendly welcome. Haven’t you heard about Southern hospitality?” He stepped closer, allowing her to see his brown eyes, which identified him as being Hezekiah. “I apologize. I guess people get you two mixed up a lot, huh?” “Not really. Everyone around here knows us. If you stayed here for a while longer, telling us apart would become second nature,” he said. “So, are you the evil twin?” she asked. His left eyebrow rose. “Maybe I am,” he said lowly. “I believe your brother’s the evil one.” She finished her water and placed the glass in the sink. “If you thought that, then why did you let him kiss you?” he asked, staring at her. She avoided his gaze. “I didn’t exactly let him kiss me. I mean I couldn’t stop him. I—” She tried to explain what had happened, but felt foolish. “Oh, never mind.” She let out an

exasperated sigh. “I’m going back to bed. Good night.” “Pleasant dreams,” he called behind her. Somehow, she doubted it. Cherika awoke early the next morning and tried to figure out what had disturbed her. Then, she heard it again; the most awful sound she’d ever heard in her entire life! It sounded like a bullfrog with a cold, clearing its throat. She got up from the bed and peered out the window to see if she could locate the noisemaker. All she saw was a chicken. A few seconds later the chicken threw back its feathered head and filled the air with that awful sound again. “My God, roosters do crow,” she said in amazement. “I wonder how long that beast is going to keep that up.” She knew there would be no getting back to sleep, not with that dumb bird cock-a-doodledo-ing every other minute. Now that she’d experienced “waking up at the crack of dawn,” she wasn’t impressed. She decided to shower, get dressed and go find a pot of coffee. She definitely needed something to get her through the day. She wanted to sign those papers and settle her late grandmother’s affairs. She could board a plane

heading back to Florida as soon as possible. The last thing she wanted was to have a face-off with her relatives. She was tough, but they probably carried loaded guns. Plus, she felt a strange gravitational pull toward Zachariah Prewitt and she didn’t know what to make of it. The sooner she left the state, the better. That way, she wouldn’t have to analyze her feelings. It surprised her to find everyone seated in the dining room eating breakfast. She couldn’t fathom waking up that early every morning. “Good morning, Miss Daniels.” A pleasantlooking woman with graying hair swept up into a bun greeted her. She possessed a friendly, plump face devoid of wrinkles and appeared to be in her early fifties. Cherika assumed she was Mrs. Prewitt. “Good morning,” she replied. She also spoke to the men who all nodded, but didn’t stop what they were doing. The elder Mr. Prewitt stuffed loose shreds of tobacco into a pipe. Hezekiah and Zachariah both had their heads buried behind newspapers. Cherika took a seat at the table. “I hope you have a hearty appetite. There’s plenty to go around, so help yourself,” Mrs. Prewitt said. “No, thank you,” Cherika declined. “All I need is coffee.”

“Child, hush your mouth. You need to eat and put some meat on your bones. I heard about that fainting spell you had. You probably were just hungry. City girls don’t eat enough. Go on and help yourself to your coffee while I fix you a plate,” she insisted. Put that way, Cherika couldn’t argue. She let Mrs. Prewitt coax her into eating grits, bacon, scrambled eggs, and buttermilk biscuits. She washed it all down with two cups of delicious coffee. “When you’re ready, we can go over that paperwork that’s waiting on my desk,” Mr. Prewitt said. “Pop, later,” Hezekiah said. “I want to show Miss Daniels around. I’m sure a city girl such as herself has never seen a real cow.” “Zekiah, really?" Zachariah threw an amused glance at his twin. "I think Miss Daniels will be bored looking at livestock,” he said, glancing at her over the top of the newspaper. Cherika felt her temper begin to simmer. She hated for anyone to speak for her. She had her own mind, after all. “Actually, I would be interested.” She glared at Zachariah daring him with her eyes to refute her. She got up from the table and reached for her plate.

“Oh leave that, Dear. I’ll get it.” Mrs. Prewitt shooed her off. “You two run on off and have a good time.” “Yeah, have a splendid time getting chased by geese,” Zachariah said sarcastically, pushing his chair back and standing. “I think you’d better put on some sneakers,” he said to Cherika, giving her sandals a critical glance. “There’s no telling what you might step in out there.” He walked off before she had a chance to offer a clever reply. “Don’t pay him a bit of mind,” Mrs. Prewitt said. “Zachariah doesn’t know how to loosen up. He’s a bit of a stick in the mud. Now, Hezekiah is more down to earth. They’re both quite a catch, and single too,” she added with a wink. Mr. Prewitt laughed and stuck the mouthpiece of his pipe between his lips. “If some gal is lucky enough to get either one of them boys married off and out of my house, I’ll dance at the wedding. I’d rather feed them, than clothed them. They are too expensive! Especially that Zachariah. Now you tell me, what in the world can he do with a hundred and fifty dollar pair of shoes?” He stared at Cherika as if expecting an answer. She shrugged her shoulders. “He doesn’t go anywhere. What he need them for? To look at while he wears them around the house?” He lit the pipe and took a

puff, waving the smoke away with one hand. “Nonsense, if you ask me.” Hezekiah laughed. “You know Zach, Pop. He’s out to impress the ladies. He’s a flashy dresser and likes to show off. Maybe one day, he’ll realize there are more important things in life.” He turned to Cherika. “Are you ready?” “Yes.” She smiled and Mrs. Prewitt who was washing dishes at the sink, turned and winked at her again. “Quite a catch,” she repeated, and Cherika laughed. Cherika waited as Hezekiah held open the door for her. “Your parents are nice,” she told him, as they walked out. “Yep, they are. They’re the best. They’ve been married for thirty-five years, and they’re still very much in love.” “That is so sweet.” She thought about her own parents who’d been divorced for several years and it put a damper on her mood. Most marriages these days didn’t last as long as the Prewitt’s. They were, indeed, lucky to have such a strong bond. She wondered if she’d ever be that lucky. Her finding true love had proven to be a futile effort up to that point. “So, tell me all about yourself,” Hezekiah said, breaking into her thoughts.

Cherika hesitated then she thought, What the heck? She would only be in Arkansas for a few days. She’d probably never see either of the Prewitt men again. She deemed it safe to open up to Hezekiah, at least a little. “I’m from St. Petersburg, Florida. Born and raised. I’m an only child. I live by myself, and my parents are divorced. My father is a retired physician, and he lives in Elgin, Illinois. My mother lives in Cleveland, Ohio. She’s an author.” “Author? You mean, she writes books and stuff?” She nodded. He seemed impressed, and Cherika was glad he hadn’t noticed she’d redirected the conversation. “Yeah, actually she writes romance novels. She’s pretty well-known and makes a living writing full-time. Only thing is, she’s always trying to tell me how I should live my life. She wants me to pattern my life after some character in one of her unrealistic novels. It’s not going to happen.” That was an understatement. Her last relationship had been anything but romantic. It would read along the lines of a horror story…at least the ending would. The morning air felt cool and refreshing on her face and skin. Cherika took a deep breath. “It’s so beautiful here. You all have clean air not

polluted by all that crap we have in the city.” She tilted her head back, closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. “Nice.” “I see you’re not wearing a ring. Are you married? Only reason I’m asking,” he went on quickly, “-is because you can’t tell these days. Married people don’t always wear rings,” he explained. “No,” she answered slowly. “I’m not married and probably never will be.” Before she could stop herself, she said, “I can’t stand most men. They’re such jerks.” “I’m sorry you feel that way.” The walked a few more steps in silence before he said, “Maybe while you’re here you’ll change your mind. I don’t care how you feel about most men, but I hope you can form a positive opinion about one man in particular.” He tossed her a hopeful smile. “Yeah, I guess I’m being unfair,” she admitted with reluctance. So far, Hezekiah had been really nice to her. It wasn’t right for her to have an attitude toward him because of what other men had done. She didn’t want him to assume she was one of those bitter, jaded women. When they’d walked halfway down the road, they heard a car engine rev up. Zachariah,

driving the convertible Benz with the top up, slowed and leaned out of the driver’s window. “You two sure you don’t want to ride along with me? I’m headed to Memphis. It’s a lot more interesting than this dull place.” Hezekiah shook his head, declining. “What about you, Miss Daniels?” “I don’t want to go anywhere with you,” she said through tight lips. She crossed her arms and stared off in the distance. She couldn’t understand why he infuriated her so. It was unlike her to let someone get under her skin in such a way. “My, my, my,” he said in amusement. “I don’t bite. I’m not the Big Bad Wolf, Little Redhead Riding Hood.” His reference to her hair coloring, which was auburn, not red, infuriated her even further. She stopped staring at the trees in the distance and turned to glare at him. “It never crossed my mind to compare you to a wolf. You’re more like one of the pigs,” she snapped. Hezekiah chuckled which seemed to annoy Zachariah. “It’s your loss. You city women are a tad bit too uptight and sadity for me anyway. You don’t know how to loosen up.” “That’s funny. I heard the same thing about you,” she retorted.

“Tsk! Tsk! My Dear brother’s been gossiping again, huh?” He cut his eyes at Hezekiah. “Are you trying to make yourself look good by putting me down?” he asked. “Why am I not surprised?” “What are you talking about?” Hezekiah threw his hands up in bewilderment. “Whatever, man. You are delusional.” “You’re the delusional one if you think you can impress her by talking bad about me.” For a second, Cherika feared he’d get out of the car and the two brothers would engage in a fistfight. She picked up on a certain tension between the two and had no idea what it was about. She hurried to diffuse the situation. “Hey, cut it out,” she intervened. “He never said a word against you. I can form my own opinion, and I did.” She stepped up to the car and looked Zachariah straight in the eye. “I don’t like you,” she said. “And if you ever kiss me again, I will rip your lips off and shove them some place very unpleasant and extremely uncomfortable for you.” Zachariah gazed at her in silence then his face relaxed. He gave her a slow, seductive smile. “You may feel that way now, but I guarantee before you leave here, you will change your mind.”

“I don’t think—” Before she could finished the sentence, Zachariah roared off, leaving a cloud of dust behind him. Cherika coughed as the dust blew into her face, and she inhaled some of it. “That arrogant, conceited, pompous ass,” she spat. She glanced at Hezekiah who had a wistful expression on his face. “Oh, I forgot, that is your twin. How can two men who look so much alike be so different?” “God’s got a sense of humor?” He tried to lighten the mood, but Cherika only frowned. They continued their walk. Soon, they turned and headed down a long, well-trodden trail. “I’d like to apologize for my brother’s behavior. I don’t want you to feel uncomfortable or anything,” Hezekiah said. “I don’t feel uncomfortable. I know how to handle men like your brother. I run into them all the time.” “Oh?” His brow rose. “Yes. You see, I’m in the real estate business, and I sell houses. It’s a competitive market and like in most professions, the men dominate. I’ve met men who are ten times worse than your brother. I can handle him with ease.” When she thought about the way he’d kissed her, she wasn’t quite so confident. She shook off the feel

of Zachariah’s searing lips assaulting hers and concentrated on Hezekiah’s words. “Are you a real estate salesperson?” He asked, and she nodded. “That’s great. Do you like what you do?” he asked. “Actually, I do,” she said. “I recently became licensed and got hired by a broker a little over a month ago. So, I’ve only been working at it for a short while. I get to interview clients and help them find their dream home or ideal property. That’s exciting.” “I bet.” He nodded. “Have you sold a house?” “Not yet, but I’m looking forward to it. I’m excited about that commission.” “You will. You seem to be a professional, career-minded person. I’m glad you’re doing something that you’re passionate about.” “So am I. I used to work in a call center selling tee shirts. I hated it. Before that, I processed insurance claims. I didn’t like doing that either. I went through quite a few jobs before I decided to settle on a career,” she shared. “It’s one of the best choices I’ve ever made.” “You’re happy to be a career woman, huh? Do you ever want to get married? You think a career will be enough or do you want a husband and children, too?”

At the mention of children, Cherika’s heart twisted in pain. She felt moisture enter her eyes and blinked several times to clear her vision. At that point, she shut down. “Well, do you want a family?” “It doesn’t matter what I want, does it?” she finally said. “This is a dog-eat-dog world, and people only care about themselves. It’s a lesson I learned early in life.” Her tone had become harsh. “Damn. Are we ever going to get to wherever it is we’re going?” “We’re nearly there.” He looked at her, puzzled by her sudden change of mood. “Are you okay? I didn’t mean to pry into your personal life. I was only trying to make conversation. That’s all.” “I know,” she said and let out a deep sigh. “I’m sorry for snapping at you,” she apologized. “I guess your brother was right about one thing, I am uptight and don’t know how to loosen up.” “Maybe you just haven’t had the opportunity.” He surprised her by taking her hand in his. “Cherika, will you let me show you how to relax? I get the feeling that you always put your guard up. You don’t have to do that with me. I do have one thing in common with my brother.” She stared at him, waiting for an explanation. “I’m not the Big Bad Wolf, either.”

Chapter Two ZACHARIAH looked through his rearview mirror and watched as Cherika sputtered and tried to fan the dust away that his tires had caused to rise when he’d spun off. He knew he was purposefully being a jerk, but she’d pushed his buttons. He’d never been threatened by a woman before, but he was certain she’d been serious about ripping his lips off. He laughed out loud as he thought about her making good on the threat. He must have really ruffled her feathers. Cherika Daniels definitely wasn’t going to be falling into his bed, not that he wouldn’t welcome her there. When he’d kissed her, he’d been up for the challenge. His purpose had been to let her know

who had the upper hand. However, when their lips had met, all thoughts of dominance had flown out the window. The game he’d been playing had suddenly changed. He couldn’t explain what had transpired between him and Cherika, nor could he brush it off. When he saw her trotting along being chatty and friendly with his twin the next day it had caused a surge of jealousy to tear through him. The emotion was foreign to him. He’d never been the envious type. However, seeing Cherika and his brother so amicable towards each other did something to him. He tried to appear cool and unaffected when he’d pulled the Benz up next to them. Then he’d experienced it again because one look at Hezekiah’s face let him know his twin was interested in more than taking a walk in the country air with Miss Daniels. He’d fervently hoped the feelings weren’t mutual. His attempt to get to spend some time alone with Cherika had failed miserably when she’d shot done the offer to visit Memphis with him. He’d behaved a bit more arrogantly than he should have. He’d probably succeeded in pushing her further away. When he’d stop to talk to them, his objective hadn’t been to get into a verbal altercation with his twin. He’d assumed, unfairly, that Hezekiah had been talking about him behind his back. He

really felt bad about the accusation because it had only managed to create an even greater wall between them. He couldn’t really fault his brother for trying to get to know Cherika. It wasn’t as if he’d told Hezekiah that he was interested in her. Even if he had, he couldn’t be sure how it would have panned out. If she wants my brother, I’m going to have to accept it, he thought. The mere thought had him pushing down on the accelerator more forcibly than necessary. He realized what he’d done and snapped back to his senses. Who am I kidding? No way will I accept that. Not after that kiss we shared. There was no way she could have let him kiss her the way he had and not feel something for him. He knew in his heart that Cherika Daniels would be a part of his future. He just had to figure out how to make it happen.

♥♥♥ Cherika enjoyed her outing with Hezekiah. The only disappointment she had was not being able to stop thinking about Zachariah and his cruel remarks. She knew she shouldn’t let that self-serving Gigolo get under her skin. She was being entirely too sensitive. She had taken many insults in her lifetime, some much more harsh

than Zachariah could ever toss her way. So, why dwell on his opinion? His remarks weren’t the only thing she couldn’t dispel. That kissed continued to come back and taunt her. She could tell Hezekiah found her attractive, but her feelings regarding him remained neutral. Even though he was handsome, entertaining and an all-around amazing guy, she couldn’t get his brother out of her system. She wanted to kick herself for that. Cherika rested before supper and awoke feeling refreshed and energetic. She showered then changed into a comfortable sundress and sandals. She wore her medium length, light auburn colored hair in a French twist. As she surveyed herself in the full-length mirror, she thought about doing something different with her hair. Maybe she’d get it cut into a fashionable bob or get ridiculous and style it like Jada Pickett-Smith’s. She loved Jada’s short natural cut. She just wasn’t ready to part with her hair…and what would her mother think if she cut it? Cherika sighed. Her mother had a major influence in her life, but just once she wished she could decide on something without bringing her mother into it. A mother’s love was endless, but there would come a time when she’d need to

severe the apron strings. Why not now? Especially since her mother had been the one to push her into a relationship with Eric Albert. That relationship had ended badly, and that’s why she still felt distrustful of men. A gentle tap sounded on the door and Cherika turned from the mirror. The housekeeper, a pretty, petite, Native American woman smiled at her. “Do you want me to bring you something up? Or will you be eating with the family?” “I think I’ll go downstairs. Um, is Zachariah in?” she asked. “No, Mr. Zachariah isn’t in yet.” “Good, then I’ll definitely eat downstairs. Thank you.” The housekeeper gave Cherika a quizzical look, shook her head and left. Cherika took one final glance at her hair, sighed then turned from the mirror to follow her. Everything smelled delicious as she entered the dining room. She paused in the doorway, hesitant. “Come on in, don’t be shy, Sweetie,” Mrs. Prewitt said when she spotted Cherika. “Sit down. Sit.” She indicated the vacant chair next to Hezekiah and Cherika slide into it.

Hezekiah gave her attire an appreciative glance, his eyes lightening up. “Glad you could join us,” he said. “I take it you’ve never had a country-style, homemade dinner before?” he asked, smiling. “Nope. I can’t say that I have.” She returned his smile. “Be warned, if you’re on a diet, this is not the place to be.” She agreed as she stared at the food before her. She saw collard greens, mashed potatoes, gravy, buttermilk biscuits, glazed ham, baked chicken, corn on the cob, cornbread, stuffing, cabbage, rice, a sweet potato pie, and a large pitcher of homemade lemonade. Cherika couldn’t remember the last time she’d eaten so heartily. Growing up, since she had been an only child, dinnertime hadn’t been a big fuss. Besides, her father usually stayed late at the office, missing most meals. Her mother, always on one of her never-ending diets, just picked at a salad while Cherika dealt with a casserole Mrs. Daniels had concocted for her. Later, they’d hired a cook and Cherika would put in a request for whatever she wanted and it would be served. It wasn’t the same as sitting with a family around a table filled with homecooked food.

It all looked so delicious. She helped herself to some of everything. She was in the process of swallowing her first bite of stuffing when she looked up into the face of Zachariah and nearly choked. She had to take several large swallows of lemonade before she finally got her coughing under control. “You’re not going to need CPR are you?” Zachariah asked, giving her a knowing look. “I can perform the Heimlich Maneuver, if necessary. “Um, I’ll be fine,” she said, clearing her throat. “Just fine. The food went down the wrong pipe, that’s all.” He nodded, but his eyes spoke their disbelief. “Are you sure, because I’d be glad to administer-” “Zach, please sit down and stop trying to hit on every woman who has legs,” Hezekiah said in annoyance. “Glad to.” He surveyed the table. “Because it looks like Mama done showed out with all this good cooking here. Maybe Miss Daniels can take some notes.” He sat down across from Cherika. “I bet you can’t cook like Mama, can you?” He had put her on the spot, and she didn’t like it. She glared at him with her eyes, but managed to muster a sweet smile.

“I’m afraid not,” she answered. “I have no culinary skills whatsoever. I can barely boil water. I guess you could say I’m a microwave chef and me and Hamburger Helper has a longstanding relationship.” Everyone sitting around the table roared with laughter and Zachariah even cracked a smile. Once again, Cherika noticed how a smile transformed his entire face. He needed to do it more often. There seemed to be a hard edge to him, and she wondered what had put it there. “Zach, how was Memphis?” Hezekiah asked. “It was okay. I stopped at Regional Medical Center to visit Mr. Gaskin.” “How’s he doing?” Mrs. Prewitt asked. “Not too well, Ma. I don’t think he has much longer, but let’s not discuss this at the dinner table. It’s too depressing, and I don’t want to depress our guest.” He stared at Cherika. “Did you get chased by any barnyard animals?” he asked. “Not this time around, but I’m almost looking forward to the experience,” she said. “Cherika wants to ride with me on the tractor,” Hezekiah said, his excitement evident. “Oh, really? I guess next you’ll invite her to a square dance or a pig roast. I swear Zekiah, why don’t you just show her how to ride a bull?” He’d switched back to being sarcastic again. “You’ll

be teaching How to Scald the Feathers off a Chicken 101 soon.” He chuckled at his own joked. “I bet you’d want her to sign up?” The two brothers glared at each other. Cherika didn’t know what was going on between them, but she didn’t want to be drug into the middle of it. “Can you pass me the mashed potatoes?” she asked Zachariah, breaking the strained silence that had fallen. “What?” “Mashed potatoes?” She pointed. “Can you pass them to me, please?” “Oh.” Zachariah nearly shoved the bowl across the table. Cherika spooned some onto her plate, “Um.” She cleared her throat and gazed at him until he acknowledged her. “What?” “The gravy?” “What about it?” he snapped. “Can I have some?” He passed that to her, too. “Thank you.” “Whatever.” “What a grump,” she said under her breath, but not low enough for Hezekiah not to catch it. “Hey, that’s just the way he is. Everyone’s used to it,” he said. They began to eat in silence. “Why?” she blurted out.

“Why what?” Hezekiah asked. “Why is he so, well...hard?” she asked. “Miss Daniels, if there’s something you want to know just ask. But may I suggest you ask me?” Zachariah said. “She’d fare better if she asked me. My brother doesn’t always tell the truth,” Hezekiah told her in clipped tones. “Zekiah, don’t go there." Zachariah’s voice held a warning. "I'll go there if I want to," Hezekiah retorted. “Boys. Enough,” Mr. Prewitt bellowed. “We will not have this clowning at the dinner table. This ridiculous feuding between you two has caused me any your mother have gray hair. Well, it’s caused my hair to just about fall out. I need to shave it bald, but I’m hanging on to the few strands I got like Donald Trump. And I’m not happy about it.” All jokes aside, he stared at both of his sons across the table. “You two need to settle it. It’s all in the past. Why can’t you two just end it? Why keep holding onto the anger and bitterness? It’s not doing any of us any good.” Hezekiah’s eyes filled with pure fury. “I will never forget. How can I forget?” He stared at Zachariah with narrowed eyes. “I can’t let it go, Pop. Not until he accepts responsibility for what he did and own up to it.”

Zachariah didn’t respond. He just pushed away from the table, stood up, and stormed from the room. Cherika sat in stunned silence. She wasn’t sure what had happened. Actually, she had no idea as to what had occurred between the twins. “I am so sorry you had to witness that scene,” Mrs. Prewitt said, apologetically. “I apologize, too,” Hezekiah said. “I shouldn’t have lost it like that. It’s just that, he makes me so angry. He can never admit when he makes a mistake.” “You will work it out,” Mrs. Prewitt said. “It just takes time.” Cherika detected the sadness in her voice. Mr. Prewitt pointed a finger at Hezekiah. “I just know I am getting tired of this rift between you two. You’re more than half grown. You should have handled this situation better than you have so far. It’s gone on long enough. One of you needs to wave the white flag. The question is, which one of you pig-headed rascals is going to be the bigger man?” His piercing gaze rested on his son as he lowered his finger. The stubborn look on Hezekiah’s face disappeared. He sighed and shook his head. “I just want things to be the way they used to,” he said quietly. “We used to be so close- the way twins are supposed to be. Now, now Zach

can barely stand to be in the same room with me, and the feeling is mutual.” He pushed his half-eaten plate of food away and got up from the table. “Sorry about ruining dinner, Ma. I’m going to go take a walk. I’ve lost my appetite,” he said and left the room. Cherika was curious about what had caused such a strain between the twins, but she didn’t want to pry into other people’s business. Both Mr. and Mrs. Prewitt seemed upset and saddened by what had transpired, and she felt it was out of place to ask them anyway. She excused herself and left the table. Cherika thought about watching TV, but sitcoms or talk shows never captivated her or held her attention for long. She didn’t want to sit still in front of a television anyway; it felt too much like wasting time. Instead, she decided to read a book, but realized she’d left her Kindle back home. She knew she could download the free reading app to her cell phone, but she didn’t like to read on her phone. The small lettering bothered her eyes. She’d have to stop postponing the visit to her optometrist and get some prescription glasses. She remembered the Prewitt’s had a library because she’d passed it before. She went in search of it. When she found it, she smiled as she pulled open the wooden door that had giant,

over-sized handles. She could tell that the library was used often because the door handles were smooth and worn down. She stepped inside and breathed in the awesomeness. Even though she was sure the massive shelves held tons of old books, she didn’t detect the musty smell of old paper and moisture. Instead, the air held a fragrance of jasmine. She felt the soft carpet beneath her feet as she walked up one aisle and down another, browsing the different titles. There were self-help books, biographies, and tons of medical books. She bypassed those and reached for a Dean Koontz novel. She’d already read Book 1 in the Odd Thomas series so she choose the next one, Forever Odd. She took a seat on a leather couch. Maybe she’d be able to relax with a good novel and a cup of soothing Chamomile tea. Possibly, by morning, the Prewitt’s would be back to normal, and she’d sign the needed paperwork then she could head home. Thinking about home brought a sharp pang to her chest. Home didn’t feel like home at all. She lived all alone in a two-bedroom townhouse. She got up, watered her plants, went to work, returned home, and went to bed. She lead such a dull existence. She didn’t have much of a life anymore, and she owed that to Eric Albert.

Cherika didn’t want to think about Eric, but she couldn’t stop the memories from resurfacing. She and Eric had clicked right from the start. The two of them seemed like soul mates, or so she had thought. She’d been blinded by love until she’d caught him with the other woman. It hurt her to the core, but she’d tried to get past it. She’d heard it over and over from her mother that men weren’t put on the earth to be faithful. Her mother had advised her to accept Eric for who he was and just deal with his infidelity. That was what any other woman would do. It was a man’s nature to stray. So, against her better judgment, Cherika accepted her mother’s advice, though it had seemed the wrong thing to do. She hadn’t let on to Eric that she knew about Ebony Wilson. She’d gone on as though their relationship was perfect. She continued to live in a fantasy world until she ran into Ebony at the OBY/GYN office. She’d been there for her routine annual checkup. Ebony’s visit, judging by her protruding stomach, had to be due to being pregnant. The proud, father-to-be, sitting next to her in the doctor’s office had been none other than Eric!

It was truly a Kodak moment when he looked up and saw her. It had also marked the moment Cherika realized Eric was a swine. He wasn’t even worth her tears. She’d managed to walk out of the office with her head held high, maintaining all of her dignity. He’d never see her cry, and she’d never be a fool for love ever again. Cherika’s thoughts ran deep as she sat in seclusion of the library. She clutched the book that she hadn’t bothered to open. She didn’t notice Zachariah enter the room. He surveyed her for a few moments then sat down in a Lazy Boy chair across from her. She looked up when she heard the squeak of the chair. “Penny for your thoughts?” he quipped. “Trust me, they’re not even worth that much,” she said. “Try me.” She gazed into his hazel eyes, which seemed sincere. She wanted to open up to him, but he was a man and not to be trusted. Hadn’t she learned that already from Eric? “I was just thinking about the past, that’s all,” she answered with reserve. “It seems like something in your past hurt you.” His tone held gentleness. “Or someone.” He noted the sadness that flickered across her face, before she covered it up with a stoic mask.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to open up painful memories.” Cherika thought that those feelings had disappeared. She thought she had all of that under control. After all, wasn’t she the strong, independent, capable, self-sufficient woman that made her mother so proud? She shouldn’t be showing so much vulnerability. The Daniels’ women didn’t ever break. They could hold their own no matter what. Never show weakness. At that moment Cherika didn’t give a damn about weakness or vulnerability. All she cared about was the pain she felt. She didn’t have an outlet, and it tore her up inside, nearly consuming her. Her throat burned as she held back the unshed tears. She couldn’t, no she wouldn’t dare let Zachariah see her cry. “E-excuse me,” she croaked and jumped up from the couch. The book she’d been holding fell to the floor, but she didn’t bend to retrieve it. She needed to get away from that pitying look in Zachariah’s eyes. He was the last person in the world she wanted to feel sorry for her. She bolted from the library like a gazelle fleeing a pack of wolves and raced up the stairs to the guestroom.


Zachariah remained behind, deeply moved by Cherika letting her guard down, even if it had been fleeting. His curiosity peeked; he wondered what had hurt her so badly. Obviously, she used bitterness to deal with the issue, just as he coped with his guilt the same way. He scooped up the book Cherika had dropped and glanced at the title. The corner of his mouth lifted. So, she was a Dean Koontz fan, too. Interesting. He wondered what else they had in common. He walked over to place the book back on the shelf. Something within him urged him to go to Cherika, but he fought against it. He had too many skeletons in his own closet to think about opening up the door to someone else’s. Besides, he doubted she’d welcome him with open arms. He let out a deep breath, dismissing Cherika and her problems for the time being. He had a huge problem of his own to deal with. The moment to put an end to the on-going feud with his twin had arrived. He had to amend things between them and dispel all of the hurt and angry feelings. He carried a heavy burden on his shoulders, and he faulted himself for putting it there.


It was hot and Cherika couldn’t sleep in the strange, unfamiliar bed. She kept tossing and turning, unable to get comfortable. She longed for her own bed, but thinking about it caused a feeling of loneliness and longing to wash over her. She’d been sleeping alone in that bed for the past twenty-seven months. After seeing Eric and Ebony at the OB/GYN office that day, she’d packed up all of his belongings and put them out on the doorstep. She’d left a message on his cell phone informing him of what she’d done. She told him if he didn’t get his things within twenty-four hours, they’d be at the curb with the rest of the garbage. The next morning, she found his personal belongings gone from her life, and so was he. She’d later found out via her mother that Eric and Ebony had gotten engaged. Her sentiments had been, “Good riddance. She can have his cheating ass.” “I don’t want to think about that jerk,” she said aloud and punched the pillow. He hadn’t even been a good lover. Eric had always rushed through lovemaking like it would be the last time he’d get some. She didn’t even know what an orgasm felt like. She could only guess at it and imagine experiencing one. She hadn’t bothered to fake it with Eric. She’d been almost sure he’d known she hadn’t been

fulfilled. He just hadn’t cared. She’d always been glad when he’d finished. She envisioned how Celie used to lie stiff underneath Mister on The Color Purple. “He just did his business.” Unfortunately, she could relate. She found her thoughts drifting towards Zachariah. She wondered what it would be like to make love with him. Then her mind betrayed her and took her there. She remembered their heated kiss. When Zachariah’s hypnotizing eyes had locked with hers, she’d seen the unleashed passion in their depths. She wondered if she’d have to fake anything with him and seriously doubted it. Surely, Zachariah would be a great lover. He dressed snazzy. He admired beautiful things. He fancied luxury. Lovemaking for him would be like a form of art. He’d be a top performing artist. She could picture his strong, capable hands on her body, molding it like a clay sculpture. “I have to stop thinking like this,” she moaned. “I’m acting like some sex-deprived maniac.” She attributed her raging libido with her hormones, and rolled over to try to get some sleep. Morning took a long time in coming. Once again, the crowing rooster scared her awake the next morning.

“I think I need to take one of those birds home,” she said. “I’d never need an alarm clock again.” The rooster continued to crow, and she blew out a frustrated breath. “At least you can turn off an alarm clock. I’d probably end up ringing that bird’s neck and having chicken and dumplings.” She got out of bed, went over to the window and raised it. Sticking her head out, she yelled, “Shut up! Some people may want to sleep in, you stupid piece of poultry. Why don’t you go lay an egg?” “Because roosters don’t lay eggs,” a voice said beneath her window. “That’s the hen’s job.” She giggled as she looked down into Hezekiah’s smiling face. “Good morning, Sleeping Beauty,” he greeted. “Not hardly,” she said to the latter, smoothing her unruly hair out of her face. “Good morning. Are you always up this early?” “Yes. Why don’t you get dressed and come on down? We can crank up that tractor and take her for a spin, if you want.” “Okay, give me ten minutes, nope make that fifteen country minutes,” she joked, and he shook his head. She closed the window, turned and gasped. “Zachariah, you startled me!” “Sorry. I knocked on the door, but I guess you were too preoccupied with Zekiah to hear

it,” he said. “I brought you some breakfast. The folks left for a few days and Sequoia has the day off.” “Really? When will they be back?” She thought about those papers that she needed to sign. “In a couple of days.” He glanced at her, noticing the disappointment on her face. “Oh, don’t worry. I can handle that paperwork concerning your late grandmother’s affairs. I’m a notary. Whenever you’re ready to sign them just let me know.” “Sure. I guess I’ll see you later today. I’m going to go tractor riding,” she said in an excited tone. Zachariah actually smiled. “Have fun.” He placed the tray on the nightstand. “What?” Cherika eyed him in disbelief. “No barnyard animal quips?” “Not today.” “Are you feeling okay? You’re not coming down with something, are you?” She walked over to him, reached up and placed the palm of her hand to his forehead. “Are you sure you’re okay?” “I’m fine. Just preoccupied. That’s all. Enjoy your breakfast.” He turned to walk away but hesitated. “Cherika.” She looked at him. “I think

you’re a beautiful, amazing, wonderful woman. Just thought I’d tell you.” Her heart constricted, and she looked away. “Thank you,” she said, and he closed the door leaving her totally confused. After wolfing down the breakfast Zachariah had left, she went to shower and changed into jeans, a tee shirt and Nike’s. She pulled her hair up into a ponytail and rushed off to join Hezekiah. Riding a tractor wasn’t as scary as it sounded. It was just like riding a giant tricycle with a motor. Cherika even got behind the wheel. The Prewitt’s owned a modernized tractor, so it felt like driving any other vehicle. “Hey, do you want to go fishing?” Hezekiah asked once the tractor came to a stop. “Sure, I don’t know anything about it, but I’ll watch you.” “Don’t worry,” he said. “I’ll show you. There’s nothing to it. Just put the worm on the hook-” “Worm?” She gave him a look of horror. “Ick. No, I think I’ll pass on the fishing.” He laughed. “You just go on and enjoy yourself. I’m going back to the house.” “You don’t know what you’re missing.” Once he’d gotten a way off he turned and called to her. “I’ll be bringing supper home around five, so don’t worry you’re pretty little head.”

“Good luck,” she called back and waved good-bye. She smiled as she headed up the trail toward the house. She was thinking about the tractor ride and didn’t see the goose and gander up ahead. It caught her by surprise when they began hissing at her. Her heart leapt into her throat. Could those birds actually attack her? Were they vicious killers beneath their cute little feathers? She didn’t wait around to find out. She took off running at top speed with them in pursuit. When she made it to the house, she raced up the stairs and turned to see if they had followed her. They had stopped about fifty feet away and seemed to be laughing. “Oh! You flea-ridden beasts ought to be ashamed of yourselves. Don’t forget, Thanksgiving is just around the corner and there’s plenty of time to fatten you up.” She wagged her finger at them. “I see you’ve finally met Lucinda and Lucky.” She turned to find Zachariah standing in the doorway. “Yeah, I guess it was inevitable that I got chased since you seemed to wish it upon me.” “You didn’t do too badly.” He’d watched the whole episode from behind the screened door. “You must keep in shape?” It came out as a

compliment as he eyed her petite figure clad in denim jeans. “It’s not like I try. I guess it’s from the extra workout I get from walking around neighborhoods scouting homes for sale.” “Oh, you’re into real estate?” he asked. “Yes, I’m a real estate salesperson.” “Do you like it?” She shrugged. “I’m still new in the field. I haven’t sold my first house yet.” She took a seat on the porch swing, tired from her previous runin with the geese. “Still wet behind the ears,” he kidded. “I think that’s interesting work. I hear there’s a lot of money to be made, too.” “I guess I’ll find out.” “You don’t sound too enthused.” He came outside and sat beside her on the swing. “Well, it’s such a competitive market, and I don’t like to compete much. My mother tells me I need to be more driven. She thinks I should desire so much more out of life than what I have.” “What do you think?” he asked, staring into her eyes. “I think I want to live my own life for a change—without my mother putting her nose into every aspect of it. Can you understand?”

“I think so,” he said. “I guess me and Hezekiah are lucky. Our parents have always been so supportive, but never condescending. I’ve never felt like I had to walk in anyone’s shadow, except my own.” “I’ve had to walk in the shadow of my mother all my life. I’ve had to do what pleased her, even if it meant I sacrificed my own happiness.” Dating Eric had been a prime example. Not only had she sacrificed her happiness, she’d also compromised her morals and thrown her selfesteem out the window. “You’ve done that long enough to realize it’s time to put an end to it,” he pointed out. “I know,” she said, sighing from deep within. “I just don’t know how.” Zachariah slid closer and placed his arm around her shoulders. He turned her to face him. “Cherika, anything you want, you can have. You just have to believe it.” He leaned in and kissed her, causing her heart to soar. It was such a gentle kiss, yet filled with so much passion. She melted into him, kissing him back without reserve. It seemed to go on and on but in actuality it only lasted a few seconds. Cherika pulled away starry eyed, and Zachariah seemed to be dazed himself.

“Now, tell me how does such a soft, warm loving person, as you obviously are, come off so cold?” he asked after a while. His words broke the spell she had fallen under, and they also shattered the mood. Her relaxed demeanor changed in a split second. She became rigid and jerked away from his embrace. “Cold?” Her pretty face contorted as her nostrils flared. Her eyes flashed then turned into mere slits. “How dare you call me cold? That’s like the pot calling the kettle black. You have some nerve.” “Cherika, I didn’t mean anything by what I said. I guess it came out all wrong,” he said, trying desperately to explain. But it was already too late. Cherika leapt up from the porch swing. “If you ever touch me again, I swear, you’ll be wearing a fat lip. Don’t mess with me,” she warned. “Cherika, please don’t be offended. I didn’t mean it the way it came out. Can we talk about this?” The door slammed in his face. “I guess I blew it again,” he muttered. “Damn!” Why did he always seem to create a wall when it came to Cherika? Never had he had such a difficult time with a female. Women always fell at his feet. They literally threw themselves at him. However, that was not the case with Cherika Daniels. He

could see he’d have to approach her from a different angel. There was something about her that made it worth getting to know her. Somehow, Cherika had snuck into is heart, and he wasn’t going to let her go back to Florida without at least trying to crack her shell. He knew he had his work cut out for him, though. She had already proven to be a hard one to crack.

Chapter Three CHERIKA stalked into the room and plopped down on the bed. Her foot tapped the carpet as she fumed. She thought about marching back downstairs, confronting Zachariah and slapping him until his eyes rolled to the back of their sockets. How dare he treat her in such a way? She was not one of those loose floozies he’d probably become accustomed to having flings with. She would not let him use her no matter how good looking and charming he happened to be. Sure, she felt angry because he’d called her cold, but the fact that she had let him get under her skin infuriated her even more. She had softened up, and he had taken full advantage of the opportunity to manipulate her. Just like a man! She closed her eyes and took some deep, calming breaths. It didn’t take long for her heart

rate returned to normal, and she no longer felt like doing bodily harm to Zachariah. She contemplated her next move. She could either sit upstairs and pout the day away or go find Hezekiah. She decided to do the latter. She didn’t want to stick around so Zachariah would have a chance to sweet-talk her into accepting an apology. Cherika left the house, making certain no geese lurked around the corner before she went down the front steps. She dismissed all thoughts of Zachariah and trotted down the trail she and Hezekiah had taken a few hours earlier. She walked a bit farther and passed a field that someone was mowing. Bales of hay could be seen for miles. The smell of fresh hay tickled her nostrils. She saw a blackberry bush with wild berries growing on it, and couldn’t resist the urge to pluck one off. I won’t die if I eat jus tone without washing it, she thought and popped it into her mouth. The sweetness of the fruit was amazing. She made a mental note to pick some on the way back. She ran the back of her hand across her forehead. Boy, was it hot! The lake couldn’t be too far away. She wondered if it was okay to swim in it. She figured she’d find Hezekiah before long, and she was right.

Hezekiah had leaned back against a tree, and he’d removed his shirt to cover his eyes, shielding his face from the sun. Fast asleep, he didn’t hear her approach. Cherika got a sudden urge to be mischievous. She glanced around and spotted what she needed. She carefully pulled a blade of Johnson grass. She tiptoed closer and began to tickle Hezekiah on the ear with it. He twitched in his sleep but didn’t awaken. She tickled him again, and he stirred. He flicked at his ear where the grass had touched him. Cherika was getting a kick out of her game. She did it again, and Hezekiah finally sat up, removing the shirt from his eyes. She tried hard not to laugh aloud. She stood on the other side of the tree stifling her giggles. Hezekiah looked around puzzled as he rubbed his ear. Cherika stepped from behind the tree. “Boo!” she exclaimed. “Cherika.” The look on his face showed his pleasure at seeing her. “Wait a minute, were you tickling me a few seconds ago?” He stared at her impish grin. “I’d never do that,” she teased. “Yes, you would. What’s that you have behind your back? Let me see.” He got up and

advanced towards her. She backed away. “Cherika, what are you hiding?” She pulled the strand of grass from behind her back and showed it to him. “Okay, you’ve caught me,” she said. “But, I just couldn’t resist.” “Well, I can’t resist doing this.” He pulled her to him and kissed her. Cherika was surprised, but she didn’t try to resist him. The chaste kiss held no spark for her, and she could tell Hezekiah sensed it. He backed away. “I’m sorry,” he apologized. “I shouldn’t have done that. If I offended you, I’m sorry,” he repeated. “I wasn’t offended,” she said, not wanting to hurt his feelings. “So,” she changed the subject, “Did you catch anything?” “Did I?” he said with enthusiasm. “I can show you better than I can tell you. Come see for yourself.” Hezekiah put his shirt back on as they walked over to a large, white, 5-gallon bucket. “See,” he said, and she peered down into it. About ten medium-sized fish wiggled around in the bottom of the container. “Wow,” she exclaimed. “You did catch supper. Great!” As she studied the fish, his line began shaking furiously.

“I think I got another one,” he said, excitement in his voice. “And from the way that line’s pulling, it’s a big one. Watch me pull ‘im in!” Cherika watched as he struggled with his catch. It took several minutes for him to reel in the fish. When he finally did, she stared on as he took the hook out of the fish’s mouth. It was huge, and it kept thrashing around on the ground. “That fish has the biggest mouth I’ve ever seen,” she said. “Maybe that’s why they’re called Big Mouthed Bass,” he said with a chuckle “Really?” She looked at the fish closely. “Well, the name sure fits.” Hezekiah picked the fish up and tossed it into the bucket with the others. “I think that’s about all the fish we need today. What do you think?” “You’re the expert. If you’re calling it quits, who am I to argue?” As he carried the bucket of fish Cherika walked with him. She remembered to stop to pick some of the berries. Once again, Hezekiah removed his shirt. “Put them in here,” he said, handing it to her.

“I don’t want stains from the berries to get on your shirt,” she protested. “It’s no big deal. It’ll come out. Use that unless you want me to take off this tee-shirt instead.” “Are you just trying to show me that you work out?” she teased, taking the shirt. “Keep your clothes on. I only want a few berries. I ate one and it was delicious, so I want some for later.” “When we were younger, my brother and I used to pick a bucket of berries and take ‘em to Mama and she’d bake a pie.” “That sounds good.” “I know. Now, we just buy our pies from the supermarket. I’m sure Mama could hook you one up if you want.” “I’m fine. The last thing I need is pie. The way I’ve been eating since I got here, I’m going to need Jenny Craig to lose the extra pounds.” “I hope worrying about your weight won’t keep you from enjoying some of these fish,” he said, gazing downing the bucket. She could hear the fish moving around, trying to get out. “They’re still alive. How do you kill them?” she asked.

“Oh, they’ll die before we get to the house,” he said. “Either that or I’ll just cut their heads off. That usually does the trick.” “Oh, how cruel.” She grimaced. “Yeah, but it’s necessary. You won’t even think about it once they’re fried up, all golden and delicious, with some hot sauce to top it off.” “I know that’s right!” They laughed uproariously and were still laughing when they approached the house. Their laughter immediately died upon seeing Zachariah standing on the front porch, wearing a formidable expression on his face. “Cherika, I’ve been looking all over for you,” Zachariah said. Hezekiah immediately sensed something was wrong as he stared into his twin’s eyes. “What is it?” he asked. “It’s Cherika’s aunt,” Zachariah answered. “Your Aunt Olga’s suffered a stroke,” he told Cherika. “Oh my God,” Cherika gasped. “Is she-” She couldn’t finish the sentence. “I don’t know how severe it was, but I’m going to the hospital to see her now,” Zachariah said. “I don’t understand. Why are you going? Shouldn’t a doctor be attending to her?” She stared at him in confusion.

“I am a doctor, Cherika,” he said. “That’s what I do when I’m not milking a cow to amuse myself.” Cherika fleeting remembered her sarcastic comment from the day before. She stood there in shock. She had no idea Zachariah was a doctor. She didn’t have time to let any of this soak in as he continued talking. “Anyway, let’s not waste precious minutes dwelling on the past. Are you coming with me or not?” he asked, descending the porch steps. She stared from brother to brother, unsure. “Go ahead,” Hezekiah said, remembering to take the shirt of blue berries out of her hands. “It’s your aunt. Go see about her.” Cherika rushed to join Zachariah. “We’ll be back as soon as we can,” Zachariah told his twin as they headed for his car. Cherika sat in silence as Zachariah drove towards the hospital. She didn’t know what to say. Her aunt had just suffered a stroke, and she didn’t know what to feel. She knew she should feel something, but she didn’t really know her aunt. Just the same, she was worried and prayed her aunt would pull through. “About this morning,” Zachariah said, breaking the silence. “I apologize if I offended you. I never intended to imply you were a cold person. What I meant was that you try to shield

your true feelings by coming off as cold. Even you can admit that. Right?” He glanced at her briefly then, back at the road. She didn’t answer him. “Well?” She shrugged her shoulders. “Anyway, I’m sorry. I seem to be great at offending people.” “I guess you work hard at it,” Cherika said lowly. “No, I do not work hard at it,” he denied. “It’s just that, through the years, I’ve hardened. Sometimes, life does that to you.” Cherika didn’t say anything. She tried to imagine being a doctor and couldn’t. She thought about what Zachariah must deal with daily, and she felt compassion in her heart. “I guess you’ve seen a lot of death, huh?” she asked. “It comes with the job,” he said dryly. No more was said as he continued driving. It wasn’t long before they reached Regional Medical Center at Memphis Hospital. “We’re here. Let’s get through the red tape so we can see your aunt.” When they approached the front desk, the administrative assistant asked a ton of questions, all of which Zachariah answered with ease and professionalism. He knew her aunt well; better than she did. She didn’t bother to

correct the assistant at the station when she assumed the two were husband and wife. “She’s new,” he whispered to Cherika. “Everyone who’s worked here longer than a month knows I’m a perpetual bachelor.” They were told to take a seat until further notice. Cherika sat down in the hard-bottomed black chair. Zachariah sat next to her and thumbed through the magazines on the table in front of them. Neither of them spoke, each lost in their own thoughts. After they’d waited for twenty minutes, Zachariah became impatient. He went back to the front station and spoke with the assistant. She became frazzled and began to apologize to him profusely. “I am so sorry, Dr. Prewitt.” She picked up the phone and moments later, she told Cherika. “You can go see your aunt now. She’s in room 321. “Thank you,” Cherika mumbled absently. “I didn’t know,” the medical assistant said in distress. “I apologize for making you wait so long, Dr. Prewitt.” Zachariah waved her off and walked away. Cherika followed him down the long hallway. As with all hospitals, the place smelled of disinfectants, Lysol, ammonia, and Clorox

bleach. The tiled cement floor shone as they pattered across it, each step echoing behind them. They encountered nurses and doctors, most with serene, serious expressions on their faces or eyes downcast, hurrying off to save lives or to bear bad news. They reached the elevators and Zachariah escorted her inside one. He let a hospital employee with a gurney out then he stepped inside himself. He pushed the “Closed” button and punched three. It wasn’t long before they heard the bell, signaling they’d arrived at their destination. Zachariah got off and held the elevator door open for Cherika, preventing them from slamming shut in her hesitation. “This way,” he said. She followed slowly. They reached room 321, and he stepped inside first. Cherika lingered behind in the doorway. She stuck a finger in her mouth and chewed on the nail, an old habit she’d forgotten about. At the moment, it didn’t seem important at all. She stared across the room with wide eyes. “Come on,” Zachariah urged, and she inched closer. When she stood next to him, she gained the strength to look at her aunt. “Oh,” she gasped in shock when she saw all the tubes attached to the frail woman who lay

on the hospital bed. Her aunt seemed so helpless, not at all like the demanding woman Cherika had encountered earlier. She felt sorry for her and a tear slipped down her face as she stared, speechless. “Cherika, she’ll be fine,” Zachariah promised, noticing Cherika had gotten emotional. He took her hand in his and gave it a reassuring squeeze. “She needs to rest now, so we’ll leave.” Back in the hallway, Cherika realized Zachariah still held her hand. This time, she didn’t mind. “I wonder, somehow if this stroke-” Her voice caught in her throat. “No, no.” Zachariah said strongly, reading her mind. “It had nothing to do with you. Your aunt is a rather stubborn woman. For years, I have been on her about her diet and eating habits. She just refuses to take her mediation for high blood pressure. That’s most likely the cause of this stroke. It was nothing that you did.” He tried to put her mind at ease. “Is there something I can do?” she asked. “It’s too early to diagnose her condition, but I can tell you she’s going to need a lot of care in order to recuperate. It will be a long, hard road up ahead of her,” he said as they got back on the elevator.

♥♥♥ The ride home from the hospital seemed to take longer than Cherika’s trip from Florida. She was clearly worried about her aunt. This was plain to see by the etched groove in her forehead, as she burrowed in the seat, deep in thought. “Is your Aunt Olga your mother’s sister or your father’s?” Zachariah asked. For a second, he thought he’d have to repeat the question because Cherika didn’t answer. “She’s my father’s sister,” she finally said. The shaky answer revealed to Zachariah she’d been silently crying. His heart twisted in his chest. He wanted to do more to help her through her pain, but doubted she’d let him get close again. So, he tried to comfort her through conversation. “Were they close?” he asked. “I don’t think so. My father left here when he was fourteen. He rarely came back. By the time I was old enough to visit, he and my mother had gotten a divorce. I do remember coming with my father once when I was little, but the memory is vague. Over the years, I would ask my mom to bring me here again, but she never would. I finally stopped asking. She’s somewhat of a

snob…my mother is. There’s no way she would have brought me back to visit.” “Well, you have a rather large family,” he revealed. “Your aunt has three other brothers besides your father.” “They all live here in Arkansas?” she asked. “Yes. Between the four of them, you have a slew of cousins.” Cherika frowned. “I guess if I lived in Arkansas, I might end up dating one by accident, huh? Being that I have no idea who they are,” she said half seriously, half jokingly. “It doesn’t have to be that way, Cherika. Maybe you can put an end to the feud if you can find out the cause.” Cherika contemplated what he’d told her. “I wonder what could cause a family to turn on each other?” she asked. She didn’t seem to expect an answer. She had only spoken her thoughts aloud. It was a good thing they had arrived back home. Zachariah had been thrown by Cherika’s question. He couldn’t answer it. He didn’t know what had happened between the Daniels. What he did know was what had caused the rift between himself and his own twin. He’d come to the realization that sometimes, something simple could simmer so long it became almost volatile. The problem between the twins should

have been addressed when it happened. Zachariah had let his pride get in the way. He knew it was senseless to hold on to so much anger. It wasn’t Hezekiah’s fault he was the better twin in disposition. Sure, Zachariah could pull the most women, and he could get them fast. He was the fun twin; Hezekiah was the practical one. He was flamboyant; Hezekiah was laid-back. Ultimately, it all boiled down to Hezekiah being the type of man women wanted to marry. Zachariah, on the other hand, was the kind of man women turned to in order to have certain desires met. His charisma had become his curse. When his brother’s girlfriend had taken an interest in him, he’d tried to ward her off. However, she’d been relentless in her pursuit. Zachariah had ending up stealing Hezekiah’s fiancée, and he hadn’t even tried.

Dear Reader, I hope you enjoyed reading this excerpt from SOUL ON FIRE. It is now available for pre-order. If you would like to order an autographed copy, please visit my website for updates on when it will become available in print. In the mean time, why not check out some of my other titles? I’ve listed them on the next two pages. Thank you, in advance, for the support and happy reading!

Novels 1. Big Tobe: Retribution 2. Bitter Pill to Swallow, A (Collaboration with Keith Gaston) 3. Ex-boyfriend 4. Fetish 5. Headlines 6. In Need of a Joshua Man 7. Panzina’s Passion 8. Pipe Dreams 9. Project Queen 10. Project Queen 2 11. Real Hood Wives of St. Pete., The 12. Spin Cycle 13. The Naughty Women of Night Teasers 14. They Call Me Mr. G-Spot 15. Uncrossing Her Legs 16. Unpretty Secrets 17. What About Your Friends 18. When There Are No Tomorrows Novellas 19. My Cousin, Lenore 20. Under the Oak Tree 21. Unseen Wounds Young Adult Titles 22. Janell Has an Attitude 23. Sequoia Denise, Just a Kid Short Stories

24. Boy Who Needed Someone & Other Stories, The 25. Christmas Morning 26. Daddy Never Loved Me 27. How Many Licks 28. Office Grapevine 29. Power in Words, The 30. She Gets What She Wants Boxed Sets 31. Hot Urban Fiction Mix 1 32. Hot Urban Fiction Mix 2 33. Hot Urban Fiction Mix 3 34. Project Queen Collection 35. Project Queen/Big Tobe Collection 36. Whatever Teen Series Collection

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Teresa D. Patterson is the author of several novels, novellas and short stories. She is the founder of Edit Again Publications and has a degree in business. To find out more information about the author, for book orders, and/or to read book excerpts, please visit her website: You may also join her on Facebook, Twitter and Blogspot.

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Soul on fire (Chapters 1 through 3)  

Cherika Daniels finds herself driving down a county, dirt road searching for an address that seems impossible to find in a rural Arkansas to...