Solomon Greene made a deal with God.
Parker J. Cole
e x c e r p t
MR. AND MRS. SOLOMON GREENE
The thought of kissing her husband was repugnant. The idea had the attraction of eating an apple with a worm in it. The longer Celeste Greene thought about it, the more distasteful it became.
“I hope you don’t actually intend for me to kiss this man, reverend,” Celeste clipped out in a carefully controlled voice.
The minister was a short black man whose gray hair had receded until his head looked like a polished teak wood surface. Dark rimmed bifocals rested on his nose and gray bushy eyebrows lifted in surprise.
“Excuse me, Mrs. Grane?” His voice was deep and rumbled like gravel shifting at the bottom of a fish tank.
“I refuse to kiss this man.”
The minister closed the Bible in his hand and pressed it against his Santa Claus belly. He cleared his throat.
“Mrs. Grane, I have married couples for a good many years. I can honestly say I’ve never heard a wife speak so about her husband. Although, the decision is yours, may one ask why you choose not to kiss your husband?”
“I don’t know him.”
Celeste could see the minister’s confusion as he glanced over at the tall, silent man by her side. She looked at him, too, but only saw his profile. Her new husband reeked of unwashed body odor and alcohol. Although his clothes didn’t display any hint of those noxious smells. In fact, his clothes were perfectly tailored to him. The dark blue suit with its sharp cut and the pastel colored green shirt under it gave her husband a handsome appearance.
Too bad the clothes could not do anything about his stench.
Celeste had no idea her husband had spoken until she realized his mouth moved. He still chose not to look at her but directed his statement to the minster.
“The name is Greene.”
“Yes, my wife’s new name is Mrs. Solomon Greene. With an ‘e’.”
“Indeed? Well, I do apologize for the mistake.”
Celeste folded her arms and turned fully toward her husband.
“Solomon, are you ready to sign the papers so we can get back to the hotel room?”
“Yes, Celeste. Let’s get this over with.”
A scant fifteen minutes later and Celeste felt the sun warm her face as she stepped out of the small church. Of course, the June sun blazed brightly in the sky on this, the most unexpected day of her life. The snow shrouded Rocky Mountains in the Denver skyline only added to the physical perfection of the day. Why couldn’t it be rainy and gloomy? Why couldn’t lightning and thunder shake the ground to mirror the feelings that swarmed inside of her? Why should the sky be the bluest she’d ever seen it and the sound of the birds that twittered from tree to tree create a song to accompany her discomfiture?
“I appreciate you married me, Celeste Greene,” her husband said from somewhere behind her.
She turned, her arms still folded. “It’s the least I could do.”
Gratitude welled inside Solomon’s heart as he once again realized his wife had none of the attributes he found sexy in a woman. He had hoped the woman he married would have the beauty of a gargoyle, but a plain face would do just as well.
He studied his new wife. The top of her head reached his shoulder. She held her body stiff, and her face remained devoid of expression. It emphasized her unattractiveness. If she never smiled at all, it would be wonderful.
She wore a peculiar outfit—a blue skirt that brushed the tops of her shoes, a blouse buttoned to her neck with long sleeves also buttoned at her wrist, and her hands were encased in plain white gloves. It had an old-fashioned look to it, like something from the pioneer days. It obscured her figure and Solomon breathed a sigh of relief. His belief in God had been restored.
God had sent an unattractive woman to be his wife. His eyes began to water, and he blinked furiously. He could hardly break down and cry a bucket of tears in joy right now.
“I’ve called my driver,” he told her as a metallic glint caught his peripheral vision, and he whirled his head to see a sleek black Hummer limousine turn the corner and stop in front of them.
Celeste didn’t respond. Her silence made him want to click his heels. A woman who didn’t talk incessantly had to be a godsend. Perfect!
Moments later, he sat by her side as the vehicle moved. The scenery passed, and Solomon appreciated it as the light of the sun beamed on the ground. The leaves rustled as a gentle breeze wafted through them and the sight of birds as they flew by lifted his spirits. It was a lovely June day, and he’d found his wife.
“I anticipate, Mr. Greene, you will make use of the facilities once we attain our room at the hotel. Your odor is pungent enough to raise the dead.” His new wife stated as she continued to focus her attention on the scenery.
“I know I smell like a pig, Celeste. I’ll head dive into the shower once we get into the hotel.”
Solomon waited for her to say more, but Celeste simply fixed her gaze out the window and remained quiet. The limousine continued its trek on the road, and the shadows of trees and buildings flowed over their figures. A light vanilla fragrance titillated his nose. It came from his new wife. As the silence grew, he focused his thought on this sudden marriage. It had to be God’s doing this woman would come to him when he needed her.
“Mr. Greene, you do understand you will not be allowed any connubial rights.” Celeste spoke quietly as she sat on the bed in the chilled air conditioned room at the hotel.
“Connubial? What on earth does that mean?” Solomon stood in front of her, eyes staring with confusion.
“It means conjugal or marital rights. In plain English, you and I will not share a bed.”
Celeste watched Solomon’s chest heave a sigh of relief. “I’m glad. It’s almost too good to be true. God has given me a wife, and she’s not interested. I can’t tell you how happy you’ve made me this day.”
“As I have said, Mr. Greene, it’s the least I could do.”
“Do you think we can go over our itinerary in the morning? I’ve a killer headache.” She watched as he rubbed the back of his neck. He closed his eyes and sighed.
“The ingurgitation of alcohol prefaces such symptoms,” Celeste remarked quietly.
She saw the confusion on his face at her statement before he shrugged. “Yeah right,” he answered and took off his shirt and threw himself on the separate king size bed across from her. He turned on his back and flung his arm over his head. Soft snores followed moments later.
Celeste stood and walked over to his bed and gazed down at him. With detachment, she noted her husband exuded sensuality. He was very tall with short spiked hair dark as coal, a wide forehead, thinly sliced eyebrows over green gold-flecked eyes, a beak-like nose and broad, full lips. He had a body like a Roman gladiator . . . bronze and chiseled with muscles. And he smelled awful.
“How unfortunate for you, husband, that I am not interested. Even if your odor wasn’t deadly. ” Celeste spoke to his silent frame.
His feet hung over the edge of the bed, and she noted he hadn’t taken off his shoes.
A moment later, the shoes were on the floor.
She walked back to her side of the room, sat down on the king sized bed, picked up the phone and dialed a number.
“Hello Mama. It’s Icy.”
“Icy?” Her mother’s voice screeched through the phone, and Celeste pulled it back from her ear. “Why in the world haven’t you called me? It has been a week since you’ve last spoken to me, and you know how I feel when I don’t hear from you. Do you have any idea what goes through a mother’s mind when she doesn’t hear from her children? Especially when they’re in another state? How do you think that makes me feel?”
“Awful, Mama,” Celeste answered without inflection.
“You got that right. It makes me feel absolutely awful.”
“I have news to disclose to you Mama.”
“What is it, Icy?”
“I married a man I met a week ago.”
BROWN SUGAR CHAINS
Chains of brown sugar imprisoned him to the bed. Despite every effort, he could not free himself. Repeatedly, he lifted his wrists to break the crumbly manacles but the granules simply shifted, lengthened and then tightened themselves even more securely. The bed under him undulated and writhed violently back and forth like a body in pain. The milk colored silk sheet lifted above him to cascade gently across his body and wrap itself around him in a soft vise-like grip. It was a peculiar sort of torture to be held hostage by a bed, Solomon thought as he clenched his teeth and once again pulled futilely at his brown sugar chains.
A movement caught his attention, and he turned his head to see the woman. Exotic like an African flower, she had onyx skin that shimmered with a silver sheen. Short dark springy braids with iron pressed eyebrows rested above a pair of thickly lashed and kohl enhanced brown eyes. Her nose was snub and her mouth bow-shaped and full.
Fear slithered along his back as Solomon’s mouth dropped open and his hands and feet began to wrestle ferociously against the chains that clasped him against the bed. His heart raced, and he felt his breath escape in short gasps. The woman started to walk to the bed, dressed sultrily in a coconut shaded negligée that molded to her form provocatively.
Her beauty terrified him.
He struggled against the grainy restraints. Solomon moaned as the woman drew closer, “Please, get away from me! Stay away!”
“Derrick Shaw,” the woman spoke, her voice throaty and smooth.
“Go away! Go away!”
The woman stopped at the bed, and her brown eyes gazed at him. “No. I’ll never go away.”
She leaned over him, tilted her head to the side. “Never, Derrick Shaw.”
Her left eye slid from its socket like a glob of melted ice cream and trailed down her cheek to fall onto his face. Solomon’s lips open to scream when her right eye followed suit and landed on his tongue. He gasped as much as he could as he fought not to close his mouth over the eye.
The rest of her face became a morbid dark waterfall of fluid skin that splattered on the milk colored sheets and his face. “I’ll never go away,” the voice of the woman repeated all around him as she continued to disappear in a cascade of liquefied flesh that sheathed him. He closed his mouth . . . and opened his eyes.
The hum of the air conditioner brought him back to the present. His heart tap danced against his rib cage, and he exhaled noisily and lifted himself from the bed.
“Oh!” he bit out as the alcohol fairy with the two ton mallet began to strike against his brain.
He jerked his head up and winced again at the action. Celeste stood over him, her face impassive, arms folded.
“My wife,” he spoke slowly as he massaged his temple as he sat up.
“Indeed. Would you like for me to ring for coffee and a countermeasure for your cranial affliction?”
Ten minutes later, a knock on the door caused Solomon to groan, and an attendant entered with an ornate coffee service that included bagels, croissants, toast, eggs, and bacon with cream and sugar in high polished silver containers. On a small tray laid a pair of pills.
Solomon still sat on the bed and watched with one eye closed as Celeste went over to the tray.
“Shall I?” Celeste asked.
He nodded and then winced at the action. “Make it black.”
She didn’t answer him but poured the coffee. Solomon allowed his gaze to rove over her. She had changed from the last time he had seen her, but she had the same style of dress on. Her black skirt hung to her ankles, and the collar of her ivory blouse came to the back of her hair. If he didn’t know better, he’d think he was looking at a school teacher circa 1865.
She turned around, her skirt slightly billowed out. He saw a brief glimpse of petticoats and a row of ruffles on her blouse.
Dear Lord, who in the world did I marry?
She came forward and with a half-smile he thanked her and took a sip of the hot coffee that scalded his tongue as well as the pills she held out to him from the small tray, her hands covered with black lacy gloves.
“What time is it?”
“One-thirty in the morning.”
“I’ve been asleep for twelve hours?”
She walked away from him and sat in an armchair he didn’t notice earlier. A large ball of yarn with two needles sticking out of it rested at her feet. She picked them up and began to knit.
“Why didn’t you wake me?” he asked as he took more sips and watched her at her craft. Her gloved fingers zipped stitches off and on in a blur. Fascinated, he saw the piece of yarn she knitted growing before his eyes.
“You are a stranger. I have no inclination to discover whether or not violence is a component of your inebriated persona.” She didn’t glance up as she answered him.
Hitting women is not my problem, Solomon thought to himself. “I’ve never hit a woman in my life, Mrs. Greene. Sober or not.”
The atmosphere was chilled by the air conditioner. Its hum and the faint click-clack of the needles kept away the silence that started to grow between them. Solomon studied his wife again as he ate the food on the tray. He could tell she had an abundance of hair although it was hidden in a bun. With her head bent over her work, the soft light from the lamp illuminated her cheeks. Her skin was smooth—it reminded him of nutmeg.
“You don’t wear makeup,” he stated as he finished the meal. Every woman he’d known since childhood dabbed their faces in foundation.
Celeste didn’t answer or move as she continued to knit.
“Do you have any family?”
He waited for her to add more to her statement but when she continued to knit, he said slowly, “And?”
“Are you truly curious about my familial connections or simply seeking a way to fill the silence?”
Solomon felt his eyebrows arch. “Well I—”
“Mr. Greene, we were married thirteen hours ago. A man who joins in matrimony to a woman he scarcely knows should not expect much.” Solomon’s eyes were glued to her as he thought about what she’d said. It was true he didn’t know his wife but he had hoped he could be friends with the woman he wedded on a whim. After all, he married her for protection.
“I understand we just met.” He got up and stretched; the medicine had begun to vaporize the alcohol fairy in his head. The pain lessened to a dull throb. “But I would like to know more about my wife. After all, we are married.”
“That is true, sir. However, this shall only last for a period of seven years. At that time, you will be free to dissolve this marriage. You wedded me for my lack of looks. I have my own reasons for why I agreed to marry you. You are merely a title – Husband. I am only a title – Wife. Have I made myself clear?”
He stared at her, his arms across his bare chest. Why wouldn’t she look at him? “Will you look at me and put those needles down?”
She set them down and lifted her head. Maple syrup eyes.
“I want to get to know you. Is that too much to ask?”
His eyes widened in surprise. “Why is that too much to ask?”
“Mr. Greene, this marriage is a farce. We only joined in matrimony because we both have agendas that do not accommodate romantic notions. Why should we try to cultivate some sort of camaraderie when we have no intention to solidify this arrangement? Most assuredly, you comprehend a platonic formal relationship is all we can share.”
Solomon stared at her. Her face was void of expression and voice without intonation. He sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. She sounded like an old-fashioned teacher. He sighed again and dropped his hand. Perhaps she was right.
His hand paused. “What?”
“Mrs. Greene. I prefer you address me by your surname.”
He stared at her for a moment, not sure if he heard correctly. When he realized he had, he responded, “Woman you must be out your mind. Your name is Celeste, my wife.”
She stared at him, her maple syrup eyes devoid of any emotion and then she broke contact and picked up her needles and started to knit once more.
“Celeste, I need to know about your family. You and I both know that as far as we’re concerned our families will need to know about each other. Now tell me.”
Silence pervaded for a few moments and then she spoke, her face averted from him. “I have one sister. Her name is Leah. She’s shorter, plumper, and prettier than I am. She is an exquisite cook. Actually, Mr. Greene, you may be familiar with her. She appeared on television and became an Internet star two years ago because she terminated the reign of a serial rapist as she beat him within seconds of his life with her bare hands.”
“The Kung Fu Sunday School Teacher?” Solomon couldn’t believe it.
“Yes, although she doesn’t know Kung Fu. Apparently, that peculiar designation was used as an attention grabber and not for accuracy.” Her hands stilled and looked up at him. “May I continue?”
“I desire to make you au courant with my family.”
He nodded as he ignored the fact he had no idea what the word meant. “Sure.”
“My parents are Brenda and Samuel Martin. They have a very comfortable Internet business. My mother is a talker, and my father is a listener.”
“When do I meet them?”
“We don’t. I have made it quite clear.”
Solomon recognized instantly that her appearance hid a bossy woman underneath the surface. Not his usual type of woman eager to be friendly and fun. And if he wasn’t careful, his wife would walk over him.
“I’m not a kid, Celeste. I’m your husband. We’ll go see your family in three days. We may not have a real marriage, but we will at least pretend we do in front of family. And what you need to know about me is that I have money, a lot of it.”
He waited to see how she would respond, but she simply looked at him and said, “How fortunate for you.”
So much for shock treatment!
“Hopefully, you needn’t use all that money to take a shower now.”
ICY AND BLAZE
“What! He married you because he thought you were ugly? Icy, are you serious?”
“Wholly,” Celeste responded to her sister Leah as they sat in the kitchen, eating her sister’s homemade crumpets. They were in Columbus, Ohio a few hours’ drive from Mr. Greene’s home in Michigan. Although they could have easily driven back to the house, Mr. Greene scheduled a flight from Columbus to Detroit where his driver would meet them.
“And you married him?” Leah’s voice screeched like an antique record, and her eyes grew to the size of pincushions. Celeste had a fanciful notion they were set to fall out. She didn’t answer but took another sip of her tea.
After a few moments, Celeste heard Leah sigh. “Icy, you gotta be kidding me.”
“These are exquisite Blaze,” Celeste remarked as she took a bite of her crumpet.
“I’m glad you like them. You’re the only one who eats them.” Leah leaned back in the chair and folded her arms. “Since we’ve gotten that useless comment out of the way, answer my question.”
Celeste continued to chew as she studied her sister. Blaze had everything she didn’t. She had accepted it some time ago. Very pretty, her sister possessed the subtle blend of baby innocence enhanced by adult maturity. One admirer compared her to a mythical Pillsbury Dough girl with stilettos.
No one had ever taken a second glance at Celeste. Instantly she stopped that train of thought and allowed a mental picture of ice to freeze over it.
“I have my reasons,” Celeste finally remarked.
With a sense of detachment, she watched Leah pulled at her curls in a manner of frustration and howled a groan. “Icy, for Pete’s sake, just tell me!”
“I don’t intend to, dear sister.”
Solomon had forgotten houses could be so small.
In the Martin’s living room, the coziness of the place enveloped him. His family home loomed like a giant hidden in the forest. Huge with the living areas divided into suites. What the Martin’s home lacked in size was made up in the warmth that exuded from it. Pale blue walls with white trim gave the living room a happy, carefree feel. To his left, an L-shaped creamy white sectional surrounded a glass table topped with a vase of fresh flowers and an unlit fireplace to his right. He saw a number of pictures interspersed with various knickknacks on the mantle. He sauntered over and studied it.
One picture showed a young woman with caramel baby skin, thick curly hair, and chocolate chip eyes. She had a bright smile, and it blazed from the photograph. Juicy. I wonder what she would be like.
Stop it Solomon! You have your wife. That was the deal, correct?
He pinched his nose and sighed. He took off his jacket, placed it in the crook of his arm, and jammed his hands into his pockets.
A picture of a young Celeste caught his eye. Not much to look at even as a child. She could have stepped off the set of the Big Valley. Two long braided ponytails nestled on either side of her head. Once again, she was dressed in pioneer clothes, her face devoid of expression.
Does she ever smile? He wondered.
“Are you my son-in-law?” A woman’s voice said from behind him.
He turned and looked down and saw the modern version of a hobbit.
An older woman with toffee colored skin met his gaze. Her black hair streaked with gray was neatly styled in a French roll. Milk chocolate eyes crinkled and blazed with vibrancy as they assessed him. Her nose turned up at the tip. A beautiful smile made her thin lips attractive. She wasn’t a slender woman but nicely shaped in a motherly way, dressed in a light blue dress and sandals.
“Are you my mother-in-law?” Solomon asked as he bent to give her a hug, inhaling a flowery scent.
“I certainly am. Though I must tell you, I was surprised to find out my dear Celeste had gotten married. I can’t possibly understand why she would marry a complete stranger in a matter of days. I know sometimes that it can happen—one can find true love in a matter of minutes and know instantly he or she is the right one.” For the next five minutes, Mrs. Martin babbled on. Before she finished, he’d hear about two different couples, eight children, and a bear. How all of it related to his and Celeste’s marriage was anyone’s guess.
“Why’d you marry my Celeste anyway?” The question came at the end of her soliloquy.
Solomon rocked back on his heels. He’d have to be very careful how he answered the question too. It would have to be as succinct as possible without giving too much away. He felt shame wash over him as he realized the fact if his mother-in-law knew why he married her daughter, she’d give him an earful. “She was the answer to my prayers.”
I prayed to God for an ugly wife, and I got one.
“Are you a church man, son?”
“Not until lately, Mrs. Martin.” Not until three days ago, mother-in-law.
“Well, I’m glad to hear that at least. My Celeste is not a real church-goer herself. I raised her like I did both my girls but one has to make up one’s own mind. I remember when—”
“Is this my son-in-law, Brenda sweet?” A frog-like voice croaked.
Solomon lifted his head at the masculine tone. A tall older man dressed casually in a pair of black jeans and a polo shirt gazed at him. Celeste shared her father’s complexion. He had shoulders like a linebacker and a small afro. His face could have been carved out of granite and just as expressionless except for his eyes. Underneath a pair of thick eyebrows, the coffee colored eyes glittered with bone-penetrating scrutiny.
“Hello Mr. Martin.” Solomon reached out to shake the man’s hand.
Mr. Martin didn’t take his hand but left it suspended in the air.
Surprise swept through his body. He hardly expected hostility of any form. He had married their daughter, hadn’t he? It didn’t take long for anyone to know his wife was a bit of an oddball without her daily habit of dress-up.
“I will be upfront with you. The fact you’re my daughter’s husband means little. I don’t know you, Solomon Greene. I am extremely skeptical of a man who marries a woman after a week and does not have the decency to meet her family. And you expect me to shake hands with you? You are mistaken. However, I will give you the benefit of the doubt. You must have some sort of feelings for my daughter, and as such, you will have to earn my respect. My daughter deserves a very special man, and I don’t believe it is you. Only time will tell.”
Solomon felt his eyebrows take residence in his hairline, and he withdrew his hand as it began to tingle from the lack of circulation. This man had to be out of his mind. He should be on his knees thankful he’d even had a husband for his daughter. No, that wasn’t fair. He needed her; not the other way around. She didn’t have to marry him, especially when he told her bluntly he was marrying since she wasn’t his type by any stretch of the word.
“I’m sorry you feel that way, Mr. Martin,” Solomon spoke after a brief silence. “I hope to show you I have only good intentions for your daughter, and I will provide for her as well.” He had enough money for her to have whatever she wished. And he did have pleasant feelings for her. Wasn’t relief a pleasant feeling?
“We’ll see.” The man’s voice dribbled with doubt.
“Sam,” Mrs. Martin intervened, “why don’t you call Leah and tell her to bring some of her afternoon treats. I’m sure you’d like to meet your sister-in-law. She’s the Kung Fu Sunday School teacher.”
She motioned to the couch with her hand. “Please sit down. Here’s Leah now. Leah, this is your brother-in-law, Solomon. Celeste baby, come over and sit next to Solomon and Leah. Put the tray of goodies here. Would you like some lemonade, Solomon?”
Solomon lifted his eyes to see the girl from the picture. Older, her chocolate chip eyes locked with his. He gritted his teeth as her beauty hit him with a blast of fear even as a snake of desire slithered along his mind. Quickly, he darted his eyes to his wife. Her face smothered the small spark of flame and the fear receded. She was his personal life savior.
Green gold flares lit up in her husband’s eyes as he saw her sister.
Celeste noted the reaction in a detached way. It always happened like this. Men saw Leah and responded. They didn’t see the other side of her sister, and she refrained from enlightening them. Eventually those who dared to be enmeshed by her sister’s trappings of beauty found out for themselves what she really was.
It was the spark of fright in his eyes that captured her attention. What could Mr. Greene be afraid of?
Cease and desist, Icy. Mr. Greene’s fears are of no concern to you. He is merely your husband which means absolutely nothing.
“So Sol, oh brother-in-law, what made you marry my sister?”
Celeste glanced up at her sister as they all were seated on the sectional, she next to Leah and Mr. Greene between her parents. They sipped at the lemonade her sister brought out and ate a dish of strawberries and meringue topped with whipped cream. The question was innocently asked, but Celeste knew Leah. Her eyes narrowed, and Celeste could feel the tension radiate from her. Her sister barely had a rein on her temper.
“Like I told your mother, I married your sister because she’s an answer to prayer,” her husband replied.
Leah’s fingers tightened on the glass. It was the only clue to what happened next. Even if Celeste had had the speed of a comic book superhero, only divine intervention could have prevented her sister from what she did. In a flash, she stood and began to pour the glass of lemonade over Mr. Greene’s head. Her mother’s crystal glass smashed to smithereens as she threw it blindly against a wall behind her.
Numb, Celeste watched the scene unfold before her.
Leah screeched, “Don’t you ever try to make a mockery of God’s name! And not at the expense of my sister!”
“Blaze! What in the world are you doing!?” Mrs. Martin yelled as she jumped up and clasped her hands to her face.
“Leah, what the devil is wrong with you? You don’t treat a guest like that,” her father remarked sternly as his eyebrows met to a V in the middle of his forehead.
“This man,” she spat in a bitter tone that snapped like an elastic band, “is making a fool out of my sister and I’m not going to let him!” Leah screamed, as she gestured wildly toward Mr. Greene. He sat stone still in shock. An ice cube slid off his head and landed on the table.
“But Blaze, honey, you don’t pour lemonade on anyone just because you’re mad!” Mrs. Martin stated as she grabbed the napkins from the table and handed them to Mr. Greene
“Leah, sit down at once!” Mr. Martin shouted.
“No! This worthless—,”
“I said, sit down Leah and you better do what I said. As long as you’re in my house, you’ll do as you told.”
Oh Daddy, Celeste thought as she shifted herself away from her sister.
At that, Leah picked up everyone’s glasses of lemonade and flung them onto Mr. Greene and then the carpet. Thankfully, none of them broke.
Celeste watched as he got up and tried to dash away from the onslaught. Instead, he somehow tripped and landed on the carpet and with the last glass emptied on him Leah started to scream at him. Mrs. Martin had attempted to stop Leah, but her sister had reached the point of no return.
Leah and her parents started to scream each other, and Mr. Greene had a thing or two to say as he got up from the floor and began to loom over her.
The sound of the doorbell somehow made it through the din and Celeste got up and walked away from the battle and opened the front door.
“Salutations, Lady Martin. Or should I say, Lady Greene?”
Jacob Othello Westwood. His name had the ability to rip the breath from her body and send her pulse humming like a needle on a sewing machine. The sight of him only made it worse—her heart pumped faster, her face flushed with warmth, and her inner core burst with radiance.
He wasn’t a tall man, but he stood a few inches over her head. Thick golden blond hair rested on a high forehead. Soft periwinkle eyes, an eagle-like nose slightly off center, and firm lips collaborated to form his handsome face. His shoulders were broad, and he had a lean, muscled physique attributed to a steady workout.
Lord Westwood—the only man she loved and could ever love. And he was her sister’s fiancé.
She made sure her face didn’t reveal her thoughts as she said in response, “Salutations, Lord Westwood. Unfortunately, sir, this is not the most opportune moment. My sister—,”
“What on earth is that noise? Is that Leah?”
Celeste wordlessly stepped back and allowed him to enter. She closed the door gently behind her and watched him as he walked further into the foyer. His back side, sheathed in a dark blue shirt and tan colored pants, was just as nice as his front. Instantly, she forced another mental image of ice to freeze the train of her thoughts and focus once more on the present. Since the foyer opened to the living room, it wasn’t difficult to see the commotion.
“Leahgirl?” It was Lord Westwood’s pet name for Leah.
“Jacob?” Leah’s voice transformed from a banshee to an enchantress in three seconds.
“Why are you making all that noise?”
“My sister’s husband is terrible!” She launched herself into his arms, and he held her close.
“Come tell me about it.”
They walked away and went back out the door, which Celeste opened in time for them to leave.
In the sudden silence that ensued, her husband’s green gold eyes flared once more as they looked at her, but they were filled with anger. With certainty, Celeste knew they would never again light up with desire when he gazed upon her sister. And why that little fact should mean something to her didn’t deserve a thought.
BLACK LICORICE TWINE
Twines of black licorice were wrapped around his wrists and feet. They held him solid against the wall. Clothed only in his pajamas pants, Solomon fought against their hold in the small prison cell. The walls were gray brick, but the bars were also made out of the licorice. The difference between this and a real cell was there wasn’t any furniture of any kind or locking mechanism on the bars. He pulled at his candied bonds, but they only tightened and glistened. His efforts were ineffective, but he continued to try. He had to.
He gritted his teeth and pulled at the twine, and his neck strained with the effort, the cords of his throat vivid against the red of his flushed skin. He had to get out there. A beautiful woman was coming, and he had to run.
“Justin Harper,” a soft, light voice called out.
A bucket of paralyzing, frigid fear doused his body. The blood escaped from his head to his feet as the woman came into his line of vision. She was delicate as an Asian orchid. Soft skin like vanilla frosting meshed with silky razor-straight black hair. Long, curved eyebrows nestled above short lashed, almond shaped eyes. A snub nose rested above her lips tinged like the color of peaches. She wore a lacy black peignoir that shaped itself along her figure.
“No! Stay away from me!” Once again, he pulled at the black licorice twine but it held fast to his body.
She hadn’t moved, but an instant later, she stood in the center of the cell.
“Justin Harper,” she whispered. Her lips formed a smile.
“No! Stay away!”
She planted herself in front of him and stared at him as if she could bore a hole into his mind.
“I’ll never go away,” The wispy voice threatened.
She lifted her hand and pressed her forefinger against his mouth. She commanded, “Eat.”
His head moved violently from side to side.
The woman tugged at his lower lip and despite his efforts, his mouth opened without resistance. “That’s right, Justin. Eat!” She demanded once more as the smile left her face and an expression of intense concentration took hold. She placed her forefinger in his mouth. She used her other hand and forced his mouth close. He bit half her finger off but instead of bone and blood, just a licorice limb surrounded by a flimsy layer of skin.
“Now swallow!” she shouted.
He shook his head and pulled again, but it was useless. Her face wrinkled as her eyebrows drew close together, and she started to sneer.
“Do it now, Justin Harper. Swallow!”
“No!” he spoke. At that moment, she shoved the appendage down his throat.
Solomon woke up. He coughed and heaved. His fingers splayed on his chest and sweat-drenched his body. His heart thrashed against his rib cage like two wrestlers in a ring. He panted as if he’d finished a 100 meter dash.
He turned his head and saw the red light from the small digital clock on his nightstand—3:14 a.m.
He waited until his pulses and heartbeat returned to normal. Then he uncovered himself from the bed and got up, walking to the door opposite his massive bed. He opened the door and flicked on the light switch.
Light flooded the bathroom. It was an opulent room swathed with luxury in the form of brilliant green marble floors and white tiled walls. A Jacuzzi, standalone shower, and a claw foot tub occupied various corners of the room. Under a large glass block window, a heated towel rack that ran the length of the wall hovered above a green marble vanity with gold fixtures. Although it had been five years since he was last in his suite, he barely gave his surroundings a glance. The dream still held him captive. Without taking off his pajama pants, he opened the shower door and turned on the hot water.
It cascaded down onto his thrown back face. The hot droplets stung, but he ignored the pain momentarily as he tried to wash away the dream. It had happened again; the woman wanted him to devour her in some way. Why? What did it mean? For a moment, his mind hovered over the dream, seeing the woman as she stood before him, missing a finger and the licorice limb gleaming dully.
After a few moments, he adjusted the temperature and allowed his thoughts to roam.
Solomon hadn’t spoken to his wife in three days and hadn’t seen her in two. He remembered the humiliating experience of meeting her family and thought that if he never saw them again, it would be too soon.