Robert was seated on the middle of Tyler Langley’s leather couch unable to stop rubbing his hands. He could not hide his unease. Tyler yanked her
long blonde hair out of her face as she stood behind her bar counter pouring drinks, and she couldn’t stop staring at Robert. He was in her apartment
in body, she knew he was physically there, but mentally, she decided, the man she loved was a million miles away. Maybe even a billion, she thought.
Simms, Robert thought as he ran his hand through his soft, black hair. Somebody like Carrie Banks was going to be working at Simms. Her sister
worked there, she’d said, and was a dancer to boot, making it an almost certainty that that was exactly what Carrie would end of becoming. An
exotic dancer. A stripper for crying out loud! Some two-bit whore every perverted man in that place would try and exploit. And her naive behind
was under the impression that she could actually work at Simms as nothing more than a good old-fashioned waitress. As if those hardcore managers
over there were going to let a gorgeous woman with a great body like Carrie do nothing but innocently serve food in their strip joint. He shook his
head. She’d better be glad she was no kin of his. He’d have her on a bus back to Georgia before midnight tonight.
“Robert?” Tyler said as she stopped what she was doing and shook her head in dismay. She’d never seen him so agitated. “Are you all right?”
Robert suddenly realized that his anxiety was getting the best of him. “I’m fine,” he said. He sat back, and crossed his legs, as if such an action could
help slow down his beating heart. Tyler, however, knew better. Robert Kincaid was a lost cause tonight, she knew, and she aimed to find out why.
She walked over to him with two drinks, handing him one of them. He stood to accept the drink and sat down only after she took a seat in the chair
flanking the sofa.
“Now,” she said. “Let’s have it.”
“Have what?” Robert asked.
Tyler smiled. He was going to play hard to figure tonight, which was fine by her. She had all night. She just sat there looking at him, the smile on
her face a good shield for her concern. Robert looked good, she thought, in his rarely seen dress-down style. He had on a pair of black slacks and a
white pull-over V-neck muscle shirt that only magnified his broad shoulders and thick biceps. Aging gorgeously, she thought.
“You aren’t going to tell me, are you?” she finally said to him.
“Tell you what, Ty?”
“Come on, Robert. You’ve been behaving, for lack of a better term, weird all evening. From dinner to now. So let’s have it. What on earth have
you behaving this oddly?”
Robert took a glance at Tyler and then sipped from his glass of wine. “I’m okay.”
“Don’t even try it, Robert. I know you.”
Robert, however, wasn’t about to discuss those crazy feelings he had for Carrie with Tyler or anybody else. She’d laugh in his face if he was to tell
her that he was worried sick about the waitress that ruined her chenille pantsuit, the woman she literally slapped. Even just remembering that night
still brought pangs to Robert’s heart. He knew it was dangerous to put a woman on a pedestal. He knew he was just asking for trouble. But when it
came to Carrie, to Sojourner Caroline Banks, he couldn’t help himself.
And he decided, right then and there, to stop trying. He stood up. No way was he going to just sit back and let her make the biggest mistake of her
“Robert, what is it?” Tyler asked him.
“I’m going to have to take a rain check on spending the night, babe,” he said.
“Don’t shut me out, Robert. You always shut me out. Tell me what’s wrong.”
“I’ll call you later,” he said as he began heading for the door.
“Goodnight, Ty,” he said and did not even think to look back.
They made it but they were late, and Dooney Wallace, who sat at the bar going over receipts, was not amused. He even ignored Mona when she
tried to explain, everything from waking up late to missing her bus to whatever else because he stopped listening. It wasn’t until she mentioned that
Carrie was with her did he even look their way. When he saw Carrie, with her delicious brown skin and gorgeous eyes, not to mention that beyond
belief hot body of hers, he smiled.
“Well now,” he said and swerved his bar stool around. “This is what I’m talking about.”
“Now you see why I’m late?” Mona said, grabbing any excuse she could find.
“Yeah, yeah,” Dooney said. “I hear you been tipping out on the sly. Getting some side gigs on your own.”
“Don’t believe everything you hear.”
“I don’t play that, Mo, and you know it.”
“I said don’t believe everything you hear, Dooney, dang. Just because one of these jealous hoochies told you something don’t mean you got to act
like it’s true.”
“Just go get your butt ready for the show. And you better be on your game tonight, Mo. None of that cat woman meowing and playing around crap
you tried last night.”
“I got this,” Mona said bitterly as she began walking behind the small stage. When she glanced back she could see Dooney’s eyes looking Carrie all
over, as if she was a piece of meat to eat. As if Mona was chicken, and Carrie was caviar.
Carrie, however, wasn’t giving Dooney a second thought. She was looking at the smoke-filled bar, where the music was loud and the conversation
animated and the dancers, well, exotic. It was early by nightclub standards, and the crowd was sparse, but the dancers were not hesitating to put on a
show. A raunchy, in your face, topless show. Carrie felt like throwing up. No way could she work in a place like this, in this literal den of iniquity.
She didn’t expect much. She had, in fact, expected some hole in the wall establishment no self-respecting female would even venture into. But she
didn’t expect this. This was no multiplex as Dooney called it. It was no ordinary nightclub as she tried to convince herself. This was a strip joint.
Pure and simple. And she was crushed once again. She wasn’t expecting much, Lord knows she had lowered her standards a long time ago. But this
was too low.
It was at this point when Robert Kincaid entered the club. Carrie was still staring at the dancers, and Dooney was still staring at her when he walked
in and made his way to the far side of the bar counter and sat down completely undetected. He wanted to explode when he saw her in a place like
this, looking at those half-naked women, her little Georgia behind undoubtedly stunned by the view. She realized tonight that she wasn’t in
Attapulgus anymore, he was willing to bet.
He ordered a beer when the bartender approached him, but the last thing he came to do was drink. He kept his eyes glued to Carrie, just waiting for
the first wise guy to try something. The big dude sitting at the other end of the bar, where Carrie stood, was so busy looking her over and talking to
her that Robert couldn’t tell if he was trying to come onto her or to encourage her to get out while she could. Either way, he didn’t like the way he
was looking at her.
Carrie, it seemed to Robert, was in another world. Her small body seemed almost stiff as she stood there, as if she wanted desperately to make a
move but was frozen in place. He didn’t know if he should get her out now, or wait and see if she had the spunk to get out on her own. But when
the big dude at the bar reached out and touched her soft hair, Robert saw red and he wasn’t about to delay any longer.
Although Carrie immediately slapped Dooney’s hand away from her, Robert didn’t care. He nearly leaped from his bar stool and hurried to her side,
his comfortable attire making him look not unlike their other patrons. But Dooney knew better. That uptown white man was no patron of Simms.
That was why Dooney stood to his feet as soon as he saw Robert hurrying toward them. Carrie, however, didn’t see a thing.
When she turned to see what suddenly had Dooney’s attention, Robert was already upon her, grabbing her by the arm and all but dragging her out of
Simms. Dooney was yelling, asking him who did he think he was, then asking others who did that white man think he was, but Robert didn’t even
look Dooney’s way. His anger was palpable. His frustration was grinding. His inability to rein in these crazy feelings he was having for Carrie was
tearing him apart. That was why, when they made it to the sidewalk outside the club, the breezy night air like a reminder of the turmoil in both their
hearts, he slung her away from him and let her have it.
“Now do you see what I was talking about?” he said loudly, not even trying to temper his anger or worry about the people who were walking by.
“I thought they had a restaurant part!” Carrie yelled back.
“And I told you they didn’t. This is a strip joint, Carrie. A topless bar! And I told you that. But nooo. You know better. This is a multiplex. This
is just like Jetson’s. Yeah, right. You are so naive, you hear what I’m saying to you? Where the hell have you been living, lady? In a cave
Tears began to come into Carrie’s eyes and all she wanted was for Robert and Dooney and Popena and everybody else in this world to just leave her
alone. She even tried to get away from him, but Robert blew out a sigh of exhaustion and stopped her. “Let’s go,” he said. “Get in the truck.”
“No, thank-you,” Carrie said stubbornly.
“No!’ she said more forcefully and began to walk away. Robert started to just let her leave. He’d gotten her out of Simms at least. That was
But it wasn’t enough. He hurried up behind her and grabbed her by her upper arm, turning her toward him.
“I said let’s go.”
“And I said no,” Carrie said as she tried to wrestle her arm away from him. “Leave me alone!”
Maybe it was the fact that she’d been crying. Maybe it was the fact that they weren’t in the safest neighborhood. Maybe it was the fact that he was
just plain tired of feeling so strongly toward her, but something snapped in him. He gripped Carrie’s arm tighter and began pulling her, kicking and
screaming, in the opposite direction of where she had been heading, ignoring her shouts and hits as he hurried along.
Despite all of her protests, and they were many and well voiced, he refused to release her from his grasp until they made it up to his truck and he had
slung her inside. She immediately tried to get out again, but he put a finger in her face. “Don’t try me, Carrie,” he warned, his tired gray eyes hot
with passion, and then he slammed the door.
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