by Shewanda Pugh
Genre: Romantic Suspense
On the night of her brother's murder, Deena Hammond stumbles upon Takumi Tanaka, lost and on the wrong end of a .32. After rescuing him from the certain fate driving through her neighborhood in a Porsche will bring, a sweet kind of friendship begins. A balm for her grief.
Maybe, Deena likes to think, it happened the day her mother killed her father. Or maybe, it was always a part of them, like DNA gone bad. Whatever the case, Deena knows that her family would never approve, hell, never acknowledge, her fast-growing love for Tak. And had he never made love to her in that unraveling, soul-searching sort of way, she could've done the same. But loves a devil that way. So, their game begins. One where they hide what they are from everyone. Anyone.
Tak understands this for now. After all, Deena's career hinges on the favor of her mentor and boss: his hard-ass of a father. And the Hammond family is already stretched thin with grief. Yet, each step Deena takes toward family and career brings her closer to an acceptance she’s never had—and away from him.
“So, what does my little architectural scholar think of the Atlanta skyline?” Tak asked as he took a sip of sweet tea.
Deena lowered her gaze. It was the right question, a distraction from the jitters she felt from being hundreds of miles away from home with a man who made her wake up in desperation.
She shrugged. “Oh, I don’t know. There’s a lot of modern and postmodern stuff here, but that’s not surprising. Atlanta’s a southern city, but it’s a hybrid one. In a time when much of the south rejected what they saw as an encroachment on an old way of life, Atlanta was going through a transformation, if you will. They wanted to be seen as a progressive city, a sort of beacon of the ‘New South’. You know how some of the best architecture reflects the values of the people around it? Well, Atlanta’s no exception. You can see the rejection of antebellum roots and—”
Deena paused, her cheeks coloring. “I’m so sorry. Before this is over you’ll wish you asked some other girl to come with you.”
Silence followed. Her words implied more than she’d intended about their reasons for being there, implied more than the careful friendship they’d maintained to that point.
A slight smile played across Tak’s lips. “Don’t be silly, Dee.” He watched her as she shifted, before apparently deciding she’d squirmed enough. “You’re a genius. My otosan must love talking to you.”
Deena shrugged. “It’s a big firm. I don’t really spend time with your father.”
Tak laughed. “You do. You just think you don’t.”
“Now what in the world does that mean?”
“My dad’s a brilliant man whose whole life is wrapped up in that firm. He hired you because he saw something. While you were his intern, he studied you, figured out what you were made of, and decided that he liked it. In other words, he was spending time with you even if you weren’t spending time with him.”
Before Deena could respond, the waitress returned with their food. Pecan waffles and scrambled eggs, biscuits and country gravy and two unidentifiable piles on saucer plates were placed before them.
“What in the hell is this?” Deena said, lifting the edge of a saucer for inspection. Her nose crinkled at the mass.
“It’s hash browns. Try it.”
Tak grabbed a bottle of syrup and went to work on his waffles.
“Hash browns where?”
Tak grinned. “Hash browns there.” He jabbed at the mass with his syrup-covered fork. “There’s also onions, ham, cheese, chili and tomatoes.” He pointed at each item with the utensil before returning to the slicing of his waffles. “And it’s all quite good.”
She looked at the red and yellow goo that covered the potatoes in distrust. She didn’t want to think of how many calories might be in that little saucered dish, with its fried potatoes and ooze of cheese. She didn’t want to think of what her ass would look like in a swimsuit after a bite of that stuff.
“Come on, Dee. Open up already.”
Tak stuck his fork into his mouth to clean it before taking a stab at her hash browns. He came away with a thick wad, and trained it towards her mouth. “Just a little now.”
With a hand beneath her chin, he guided the gooey hash into her mouth. An explosion of flavor slipped between her waiting lips, and with it the fork that had once been in his mouth. She blushed.
“Uh oh,” Tak said as he caught chili with his thumb. Quickly, he returned the finger to her mouth, her lips parting to accept it. He gasped loud enough to draw the eye. Their gazes connected, locking for too long. Staring, neither speaking, breathing as the seconds passed until he receded. Wide-eyed, Deena cleared her throat and looked away, red-faced and stiff. Tak stared, a sober, blinking astonishment on his face. Both finished their meals in silence.
Shewanda Pugh's a tomboy who's been writing romance since an inappropriate age. While she's been shortlisted for a few awards and snagged a bestsellers list or two, there's nothing she enjoys more than hearing from her readers.
In another life, she earned a BA from Alabama A&M University and an MA in Writing from Nova Southeastern University. Though a hardcore native of Boston, MA, she now lives in Miami, FL, where she sulks in the sunshine, guzzles coffee, and puzzles over her next novel.
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