Bina MacLaine is having a rough time. Still haunted by an ugly breakup that meant walking away from her fiancé and her high-rise apartment, now the dance teacher faces the possibility of losing her job, too, if her performance academy closes. When Maurice Hewett, one of her old ballet students, arrives in town, Bina sees he’s not the goofy boy she once knew—but a very handsome, very sexy grown man. She wonders if he can weave a spell that can help her forget all her woes. But can Bina let her desire take the lead without feeling like she’s robbing the cradle—and making a huge mistake?
Copyright © 2018 by Shelly Ellis
You guys are just having coffee, Bina MacLaine kept telling herself as she fidgeted on the barstool. She gazed out the floor-to-ceiling windows at the pedestrians walking by on the busy city sidewalk. OK, maybe coffee and a cookie. That’s all. No biggie, girl!
Of course, it had only been ten months since their breakup.
Ten months since she’d walked into their apartment after drinks with the girls that had ended a lot earlier than planned because one girl had cancelled due to work obligations, and the other had left early when her husband called to say their toddler had a fever.
Ten months since Bina had strolled through her front door, down the hall, and into her darkened bedroom to find her fiancé, Carl, giving it doggie style to Katie, one of the other architects at his firm.
Ten months since he’d had to get eight stitches over his left eyebrow after an enraged Bina had thrown a crystal picture frame at him. She found it interesting that she’d unwittingly chosen a frame that contained a smiling photo of her and Carl at their engagement party.
Perky, blond Katie with the tiny tits had fared better than Carl that night. She’d made it out of the apartment naked and screaming, but unscathed.
It felt like it’d all just happened yesterday, but ten months was almost a year—enough time for them to be civil.
Bina took a sip of her grande iced macchiato. She tore her gaze away from the windows and glanced down at her cell phone screen, reading the message that Carl had sent her earlier that week.
“Need to talk,” the message read. “Can we meet at 5 p.m. Thursday at the Starbucks near our place?”
He’d called it “our place,” but it wasn’t anymore. She’d moved out of their high-rise, one bedroom-with-den apartment on M Street in Washington, D.C., after their breakup. His offer to let her stay while he found another apartment had been an empty one; Carl knew she couldn’t afford $2,800-a-month rent on her measly dance teacher salary. So she moved into a basement apartment over the border in Maryland, and he stayed put.
She wondered if Katie still came to visit him. At least now she could spend the night without worrying about his fiancée catching them together.
Bina checked the time. It was only 5:01. Still too early for Carl to really be considered “late” in a classic sense, but waiting for him was making her antsy. Or maybe it was the caffeine. She just wanted to get this over with. What exactly did he want to talk about? He wasn’t going to beg her to take him back, was he?
No, she thought, vehemently shaking her head then taking another sip. And even if he did beg, she wasn’t getting back with him.
No way in hell!
Sure, she missed him. Some nights the loneliness and regret would sweep over her like a incoming tide, and she’d hurt so much she swore she physically ached, but that was to be expected. They’d spent five years together—five good years, she’d once thought . . . that is, until she found him balls deep in some other chick.
And yeah, Bina still hadn’t pawned off her engagement ring like she angrily promised him she would. It still sat in the back of her dresser drawer inside the velvet case, the thumping tell-tale heart of a relationship that was buried, but not quite dead in her mind. It was obvious she still needed closure. She had agreed to meet him today with the hope she’d finally get it.
Bina sat upright on her stool when she finally spotted Carl confidently striding down the sidewalk toward the coffee shop. He was talking on his cell phone. His gray paisley tie waved in the breeze as he walked.
He didn’t look like a man torn up about a lost love; he actually looked healthy and refreshed. He’d shaved off his beard and had trimmed his slight ‘fro down to a clean fade. He looked so clean cut, so put together.
“Damn, he looks good,” she whispered then sucked her teeth in annoyance.
Bina watched as he swung open the glass door. He spotted her instantly and strode toward her.
“Hey,” he said with a smile, removing the strap of his leather satchel from his shoulder, “looks like you’ve already gotten started.”
He set the satchel on the free stool next to her then pointed to the plastic cup in her hand. She nodded.
“I figured I should while I waited,” she mumbled, shaking what was left of her macchiato.
“Well, I hope you weren’t waiting long.” He glanced down at his phone. “Look, I mobile ordered so I’ve got to pick up my coffee and scone at the counter. I’ll be right back.”
“Okay. Sure.” She shrugged. “Whatever.”
He walked off, and she got another chance to observe him from a distance.
He’d definitely lost a little weight but she bet it wasn’t due to lack of eating, which was the case for her the first few months after their breakup. Instead, Carl looked leaner, like he’d been going to the gym. His little tummy chub was gone too and he had more muscle mass, judging from the way the fabric of his shirt and slacks pulled along his arms and thighs. Even his butt looked tighter, she noticed when he bent slightly to reach for his drink.
“Damn it,” she muttered again, gnawing her lower lip.
Bina felt the sharp bite of longing, but pet the rude beast back into submission. She reminded herself he’d cheated on her. He’d broken her heart. It didn’t matter how good he looked, or if he begged her to come back today. It didn’t matter even if he got on his damn knees—she wasn’t going to cave.
In the immortal words of Taylor Swift, they were never, ever, ever getting back together!
He walked back to the high boy table where she sat. He set his food on the table then sat down in the chair facing her.
“So how have you been, Bee?”
“Fine, I guess.”
As much as can be expected, she thought, but didn’t say the words aloud.
“Got a class later?” he asked, glancing down at her outfit and taking a sip from his coffee cup.
She was wearing a sweater, leotard, tights, and short wrap skirt with Keds. It had drawn a few curious glances from the other patrons when she walked into the Starbucks, but she was used to it. She’d also drawn a few lingering stares from the men who admired her sculpted legs and the dancer build she’d inherited from her mother, but she was too preoccupied with her meeting with Carl to notice.
Bina shook her head. “No, I had to fill in at the last minute for a kinderdance class. I just left and didn’t have enough time to change clothes.”
“Well, I won’t take up much more of your time. I don’t want to beat around the bush. I’ll just put it all out there!”
She frowned. “Put all of what out there, Carl?”
“First, let me start by telling you something very important.” He set down his cup and leaned forward on his elbows.
He’s really going to say it.
He wanted her back. He wanted to give their relationship a second try.
Hold strong, girl, she told herself, but part of her didn’t know if she could stay strong if he actually said the words.
She held her breath and braced herself for what was coming next.
“I’ve started my own firm!”
She released the breath she had been holding.
Wait, that’s what he had to tell me?
“Oh! Oh . . . well, th-that . . . that is good news. Con . . . Congratulations.”
“Yeah, it’s a longtime coming. I’ve been wanting to do it for a while now, but I felt like I was too young, you know? I felt like I didn’t have enough of a portfolio and clients wouldn’t take me seriously. But then Katie, Mike, and Jake said they’d come with me if I was really serious about starting my own firm. That’s when I realized I didn’t have to go it alone, so I decided to just . . . you know . . . take the leap!”
“Katie? You started a firm with . . . with Katie?”
“Not just her!” he rushed out as his eager smile disappeared. “I mean . . . we have a couple other architects there too. Like I said. Mike and Jake started it with me. We’re all—”
“What’s the name of the firm?”
He cleared his throat. “Why?”
“What’s the name of the firm?” she repeated tightly. “Just tell me.”
He lowered his gaze to the tabletop, like he could no longer meet her eyes. “It’s . . . It’s Mason, Balik, and Associates.”
The blood drained from her head. Her heart stuttered to a stop then started up again. “You included her name in the title?”
He loudly grumbled. “Bee, don’t do this.”
“Don’t do this? Don’t do this? You named your firm after her!”
He held his index finger to his lips. “Please keep your voice down. Don’t do this in front of all of these people,” he said, looking over his shoulder.
Several people were staring at them now, but she didn’t care. She didn’t care if the entire shop was looking at them.
“You named your firm after the bitch you were fucking behind my back, and you have the nerve to try to calm me down! Are you fucking kidding me?”
“Look, I asked to do this at Starbucks because I figured you wouldn’t make a scene here. Don’t be the ‘angry black woman’ stereotype right now. Okay? Just hear me out!”
She lurched back on her bar stool, like he had given her a hard shove.
What the hell did he just say to me?
“You see, we have a new client—a big client—who’s looking to build in D.C. He already has one location planned, but he’s still scoping out the second. I happened to mention that MacLaine Academy of the Performing Arts is in an up-and-coming neighborhood. I told him about the shops, the restaurants, and buildings sprouting up nearby and he got so excited, Bee. We drove by it a few days ago and he loved it. He wants to buy the Academy outright. He wants the property. It’ll be a cash offer, and he’s willing to pay big bucks for it.”
Bina bit the inside of her cheek, too overwhelmed with rage to utter a word at that moment.
“Come on! I know how bad the Academy is doing. You’re the business manager over there. You know the truth too, even if your mom refuses to accept it.” He inclined his head. “I’m guessing there hasn’t been any turnaround since we last spoke.”
No, there had not been any turnaround; the Academy was still in dire straits, more so since their breakup. She’d seen the evidence last night on her office laptop as she examined the final revenue versus expenses tally for April. The Academy’s expenses remained the same but the revenue was down from the previous month and the month before that, continuing a trend they had been experiencing all fiscal year. At this rate, in two to three months, The MacLaine Academy of the Performing Arts would no longer be able to make its overhead. The school might have to let go of some of its instructors. Many had been working at the Academy for years, even decades.
But she wasn’t about to tell him any of that. Not when he had the gall to tell her he’d started a firm with the same woman he’d cheated with, not when he had the audacity to try convince her mother to sell the Academy to one of his clients.
You selfish, slimy asshole, she thought, still fuming. How could she have once been in love with this person, let alone have wanted to marry him?
Carl raised his brows expectantly. “So what do you think? Will your mom consider meeting my client? I mean . . . can she really afford to turn down an offer like this? She could certainly use the money! Maybe I could schedule the meeting. I can even sit in on it and show you what we’d like to do with the property. It’ll give you all a chance to hear the full scope of the project.” He flexed his shoulders, looking proud of himself. “You know me! I don’t do anything halfway. This project would be pretty amazing! So what do you say?”
Bina didn’t immediately respond. She let the silence stretch between them for a full minute before she slowly stood from her stool and grabbed her purse, making him stare at her quizzically.
“Wait. You’re leaving? Just like that? But what about—”
He didn’t get a chance to finish. She tore the lid off of her grande iced macchiato and poured the whole thing over his head, making him leap up from his chair and shout in outrage.
Several of the patrons in the Starbucks audibly gasped. A few burst into laughter. Even the barista behind the counter stared at her in shock, dropping the change she was giving to one of the customers from her hand to the counter.
“You bitch!” Carl yelled, wiping ice cubes from his face and the front of his shirt. “What the hell is wrong with you?”
“You’re lucky it was just an iced coffee,” she said, before chucking the empty cup at his head, purposely aiming for the scar over his brow. “Take that for your ‘angry black woman’ stereotype!”
She then stomped toward the glass door, opened it, and stalked back to her car.
Copyright © 2018 by Shelly Ellis