The doorbell rang and Barbara Bentley moaned, lifted her black silk eyeshade, and glanced at the clock on her nightstand. 8:00 a.m. She frowned with frustration. Who on earth would be rude enough to ring the doorbell at this ungodly hour on a Friday morning, a full hour before her usual wake-up time unless she was going to work out at the country club?
She shut her eyes and listened. Maybe, just this once, the temporary housekeeper would do something right and answer the damn door. Her husband was at work, and Phyllis, their regular housekeeper, was on her annual two-week vacation visiting her family in Bermuda. The new woman was never where she should be or doing what she should be doing. She was lazy and worse, she blasted that horrid hip-hop music when she worked. Barbara didn't understand how the agency could send out such shiftless help.
The chime rang again. Barbara hissed between clenched teeth and tossed the silk sheets aside. "Trifling woman," she muttered. She slipped her toes into a pair of sensible black velvet Stubbs & Wootton slippers and grabbed her bathrobe from the foot of the bed.
The floor-length robe flowed behind her as she strode briskly down the hallway and glanced in each bedroom, looking frantically for the help. Barbara worried that she was not presentable, with her hair in rollers and cream on her face. She had
to find the help. What was that woman's name again? Aleesha or something. The new ones all had such odd names.
Aleesha was not in any of the seven bedrooms or the kitchen or the family room below. Nor was she in the great room. Barbara walked quickly back toward the kitchen, and as she entered, she heard a thump behind the closed door of the laundry room. Could Aleesha be doing the laundry? Miracles did happen, Barbara thought wryly.
She walked past the granite kitchen countertops, opened the door to the laundry room, and jumped back a foot. Aleesha was spread out on the floor with her legs wrapped tightly around a young man. The two tan bodies were so absorbed in each other that they didn't even notice Barbara standing there. Then Barbara saw something totally appalling. They were having sex atop her precious $1,500 Pratesi sheets! Barbara gasped.
"What the devil is going on here?!"
Aleesha and her guest scrambled to stand up. Barbara clenched her fists and glared in fury as Aleesha tugged her denim skirt down and the young man zipped his blue jeans. Barbara had been reluctant to keep the woman when the agency first sent her. She'd had a bad feeling about her. Aleesha had the exotic sensual look that often came from mixed Hispanic and African-American ancestry and she was no more than twenty-five. The last thing Barbara needed around her wayward husband's roving eye was some pretty young thing like this. Attractive younger women never went unnoticed by Bradford, and they generally found her husband--a dashing, wealthy black business owner--hard to resist when he laid on the charms.
But she had learned that Aleesha was married so Barbara thought it was safe. Aleesha's young Hispanic husband picked her up and dropped her off for work every day, but this young man, with a short Afro and goatee, was not
Aleesha's husband. The saddest part was that Barbara didn't dare fire the woman, even now, even after this. Who would do the laundry, make the beds, and cook the meals? She couldn't possibly keep a seven-bedroom, eight-bath home clean herself. She would call and have the agency send a replacement as soon as possible, but for now she wanted Aleesha to get to work.
Barbara turned her attention to the young man. "You!" she exclaimed between clenched teeth. "Get out of my house now. And use the back entrance." Barbara pointed hastily toward the kitchen door, and he ran past her.
"And you, Aleesha," she said as the woman reached for her G-string from atop the washing machine. "Get back to work this minute."
"My name is Ayisha, miss."
"Whatever!" Barbara glared at her with icy eyes. "Just get back to work. And pick my damn Pratesi sheets up off the floor!"
Barbara stormed out and raced to the front door just as the chime rang for the third time. "Slut!" she murmured as she yanked the sponge rollers from her hair. She took a deep breath to calm herself then opened the door only to see a courier heading back down the walkway. He turned when he heard her, ran back, and handed Barbara a letter-size envelope. It was a rich creme-colored linen paper with a gold-embossed script addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Bradford Bentley of Silver Lake, Maryland. Barbara thanked the courier and shut the door against the chilly spring air.
She turned the envelope over. There was no return address. How odd, she thought, as she stuck a perfectly manicured forefinger, courtesy of Pearl's Salon and Spa, beneath the flap and tore the envelope open.
It was an invitation to a formal housewarming party the next Saturday from their new mysterious neighbors down the block, the ones building the mega mansion reminiscent of a French chateau. Construction had begun almost a year ago and now looked near completion.
Everyone in Silver Lake was talking about the mansion. But Barbara had never met the owners, and neither had Bradford or any of her other neighbors as far as she knew. That was strange in itself. Normally when someone was building a new custom house in Silver Lake, they were frequently in and out, keeping a close eye on the construction. But with these new neighbors, all Barbara had seen was an endless stream of trucks and construction workers climbing the hill to the site.
She placed the envelope on the hallway table for Bradford to see when he came in from the office. The invitation looked promising, provided Bradford hadn't made other plans. He was founder of a software and technology firm and one of the most successful black business owners in Prince George's County, Maryland. She and Bradford were always being invited somewhere.
They had spent the previous weekend at the annual spring gala at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Bradford's firm, Digitech, was a key sponsor of the gala and the Bentleys always attended. This year the event was a tribute to Duke Ellington, and it was a splendid weekend filled with receptions, performances, cocktails, and dancing. The highlight for Barbara was when the gala chairman introduced her to singer Nancy Wilson.
Barbara hoped they were free for the housewarming party. The new mansion was shaping up to be the largest home in Silver Lake, and she was dying to see it. If it was half as fabulous inside as out, this party should be a real treat.
She took a deep breath and glanced toward the kitchen. Now to deal with the horny help. But first, she picked up the pack of Benson & Hedges and her gold cigarette lighter lying on the hallway table and lit up. It was a long-standing on-and-off-again habit. Currently on again. But hell, it was better than her other on-and-off-again vice--a pint of Belvedere vodka daily. Thank goodness she had shed that habit a year ago. Still, she needed something to help her get through the days.
She took a long drag and exhaled as she walked down the hallway. With any luck, her randy housekeeper was laundering the Pratesi sheets now instead of getting into more trouble.
Something hit the office floor with a thud, and Jolene Brown nearly shot straight up into the air.
"Fuck! What the hell was that?" she muttered.
Brian, the office painter, groaned softly and whispered in her ear that it was nothing. For a second, Jolene wanted to shove him off. He had her pinned to her desk, and the skirt to her peacock blue St. John suit was hiked up around her hips. The loud bang had startled her, and anyone just outside the office could have heard it.
But then she realized that the noise was probably the stack of notebooks falling from her desk. Besides, it was Friday after work hours, and her staff had gone home for the day. She closed her eyes and told herself to relax. She and Brian had snuck quickies in her office after hours many times without getting caught. Everything was fine.
Still, she moved her hips faster. He always took so long to climax, way longer than she did. And the smell of latex paint on his fingers was stinging her nostrils something awful.
He shuddered, relaxed, then stood and pulled up his white painters trousers. A satisfied grin played around his lips as Jolene wriggled her tight skirt down over her hips, and she wanted to smack him upside the head. It was annoying as hell to have this lowly laborer staring at her like that. After all, she was Jolene Brown, a GS-15, the highest level one could reach in the federal government without going through a special selection process or getting a presidential appointment, and he was just some lousy-ass painter.
She avoided his eyes as she fastened her black bra and slipped back into her suit jacket. She hated the smirk that always spread across his face after they had sex. It served as a constant and annoying reminder of the dreary situation she'd gotten herself into over the past several months--lowly painter regularly bangs the boss at work.
Disgusting, she knew. But the painter sure could screw, and as a divorced black mother with no decent prospects on the horizon, this was one of the few things in her humdrum life that she could look forward to. She worked hard and by the end of the day, she sometimes needed to let go.
Nothing was better for that than some quick sex. It made her feel alive and powerful, almost as good as the high she got from the two grams of coke she and Brian usually snorted just before doing it. Unfortunately, the feeling of euphoria from both lasted only a few minutes.
Brian made a move to kiss her on the lips, but she jerked her head away and flipped her dyed-blond weave off her shoulders. She wanted a kiss from him about as much as she wanted a snake wrapped around her neck. She held her hand up to his face.
"Please. Don't get mushy on me here."
Brian chuckled and stepped back. "Fine. Whatever suits you, my fine chocolate diva sistah."
She rolled her eyes, slipped her feet into her tobacco-colored Jimmy Choo slingbacks, and walked around to sit at her desk. She picked up a pencil and pretended to be hard at work as Brian reached for his undershirt. Their little tryst was over, done, and she wanted him out of her office as quickly as possible. She could barely stand to look at the man unless she was high and horny.
Not that Brian was bad-looking. His honey-colored face was quite handsome. She just had to overlook the uncombed hair and the thick love handles around his waistline that were a common feature among men approaching forty. At thirty-eight, she was about to round that corner herself, so she understood. But Brian was the frigging office painter, a laborer with a criminal record to boot--not at all what she was used to, especially after her fling with Bradford Bentley last summer. Now there was a guy with class--successful, rich, and drop-dead handsome.
Unfortunately, Bradford had dumped her, and her husband, Patrick, had walked out when he found out about the affair. That had been, without a doubt, the worst time of her life. She was sitting on top of the world, or at least on top of Silver Lake, when she was married to Patrick and screwing Bradford on the side.
Now she was at an all-time low when it came to men, and it showed in the extra pounds she couldn't keep off her hips. For the first time in her life, she had to squeeze herself into a size 10. She had once worked out at the country club five days a week, but ever since word got around about her affair with Bradford Bentley and her husband walked out, she had found it hard to go to the gym at the country club.
The one thing she had thought she could always count on was that Patrick would be there for her. He had once loved her so much, she thought he would never leave no matter what she did. But he had and now he was spending all his time with that fat bitch Pearl Jackson. Even worse, he'd taken in Lee, his teenage daughter from an affair he'd had early in their marriage. Jolene still found it unfathomable that Patrick had left her and their beautiful daughter Juliette and was now spending all his time with a hairdresser and a troubled teenager.
Pearl was so working-class; she lived in a cheesy little town house for God's sake. And Lee was bad news if ever there was any. The girl had shot her mother's boyfriend, supposedly because he was abusing her. But still, she had shot him. Then she'd run away and lived on the streets of Baltimore for weeks doing God knows what. Now the little thug was living with Patrick, and when Juliette went to visit her father she was around that horrible girl. What the hell was Patrick thinking? At fifteen, Juliette was very impressionable, and Jolene didn't want her exposed to trash.
She tapped the eraser end of her pencil on her desk and admired Brian's rear end as he bent over to gather the notebooks that had fallen off her desk. That
view reminded her of just what she saw in him--he was muscular and fit enough to take her just about anywhere, whether on top of her desk, up against the wall, or flat on the floor.
Hell, she was in her prime and still not bad-looking. And she worked her ass off every day. Her unit at HUD was so productive they were letting her expand the office suite--new paint, new furniture, the works. A busy woman like her didn't have time to search to fulfill her needs. Brian was always there, always willing.
Still, if anyone ever found out about this hanky-panky going on in the office she would be in big trouble and she couldn't have that. She wasn't a filthy rich housewife like Barbara Bentley and some of her other neighbors in Silver Lake. She had bills coming out her ass with the big new six-bedroom house she had built last summer, not to mention a fifteen-year-old daughter only two years away from college. She didn't need problems on the job.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Can't Get Enough by Connie Briscoe. Copyright © 2005 by Connie Briscoe. Excerpted by permission of Broadway, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.