I Promise To…
Beautiful and brilliant, Christian McKinley could set the world on fire. Instead,
this simple southern girl only dreams of returning to her family's ranch in Texas.
But Malcolm Williams, son of one of Atlanta's most prominent African-American
families, has other plans for her. Only hours after their college graduation,
he publicly proposes to Christian at the social event of the year.
Love, Honor, And Cherish
Gorgeous, well connected, and obscenely rich, Malcolm was accustomed to women
swooning over him all but Christian that is. But how can she tactfully turn down
a proposal that practically any woman in Atlanta would kill for? By inadvertently
falling in love with his twin brother, Jordan. When Malcolm catches Christian
in a kiss with his own brother, he's outrage. Yet even with a family feud threatening
to explode, neither Christian, nor Jordan, can deny the sweetness in the kiss
they shared or their desire for more…
“I would like to make a toast.” Jordan Williams held up his glass. “To our first sale. This is only the beginning.”
“Here, here.” His four associates cheered. They clinked their glasses clinked while a series of high-fives ensued.
Pride filled Jordan as he looked down at his first signed contract, and not to mention his first check. It was a new beginning for him and his five-person operation. Lookout world, J.W. Enterprises was ready to make their mark on the world of technology. They had a full two months before they had to buckle down and start their programming, though with his excitement, he wished they could start tomorrow.
“Boss, didn’t you have an appointment at your parents tonight?” Charlotte Harris asked, looking down at her watch.
“Damn, I forgot.” He checked the time. Eight-thirty. He should have been at his parents over an hour ago. He set his glass down with a thump and reached for his jacket. “Could you be a doll and lock up for me?” he asked, kissing the older woman’s cheek to sugarcoat the request. “Thanks, you’re the best,” he added before she could respond, then dashed toward the door as if someone had lit a fire under him.
“I guess this means you can finally quit the family business,” A smiling Quentin called out from the crowd.
Jordan forced a smile he didn’t feel and slipped out of the office. He raced down the hallway and out into the balmy evening. Despite the time, sunlight peaked from behind the clouds, but the orange hue suggested that it wouldn’t last much longer.
He pressed the button on his key ring and disarmed the car alarm. His sleek, black Mercedes rode like a dream as he pulled out onto Peachtree Street and headed toward the highway. If he were lucky he would make it to his parents within thirty minutes.
I guess this mean you can finally quit the family business. Quentin words echoed in his head, but his heart seemed to plummet to the pit of his stomach. His father wasn’t going to take the news well. Opulence meant the world to Noah and he had made it clear he wanted Jordan to takeover the company. Jordan had his own dreams, but knew his father wouldn’t see it that way.
Jordan exhaled. The weight of the world settled on his shoulders. For the last two years, he had operated J.W. Enterprises without breathing a word of his activities to his family. Of course, they all knew of his love of computers, but they considered it a hobby.
Glancing into his side mirrors, he changed lanes. He saw the reflection in the rearview mirror and caught the uncanny resemblance of his father’s image. His announcement wasn’t going to be easy.
He exited off Highway I-85 and headed into Buckhead.
“Dad, there something I been meaning to talk to you about,” he practiced. No. He shouldn’t dance around the subject. He needed to be more direct. He looked into the mirror again and started over. “Dad, I’ve started my own business.” That wasn’t going to work either. Jordan shook his head and prayed for strength.
Minutes later, he turned off the main road and onto his parents’ private estate. The sun diminished and a black curtain cloaked the sky as a million stars glimmered against its rich backdrop.
A myriad of lights lit the English manor style house that sat in the middle of twelve acres. As he drove down the long driveway, he gave himself a quick pep talk, but he prepared for the worst.
"You're late," Rosa Chavez Williams scolded her son as he entered the house.
"I know, Mama." Jordan closed the heavy, mahogany door behind him. Music and laughter drifted throughout the house and pulled his attention away from his mother. He looked past her to see men and women dressed in formal attire. "Is Malcolm home, yet?" He headed up the stairs.
"Of course he's here. Everyone's here. Dinner was served almost two hours ago,” she chastised, following him.
He entered his old bedroom and smiled at the tuxedo draped across the bed.
"I knew you’d be late." Rosa patted his shoulder, then encouraged him to hurry.
Jordan turned and kissed his mother. "I'll be down in twenty minutes. By the way, what’s the big occasion?"
"Your brother has some secret announcement he wants to make to the family. I hope it’s not what I think it is," she said with a tinge of fear laced in her voice.
"What’s that?" He stripped out of his shirt.
"That he wants to marry that dreadful girl." Rosa’s hands covered her heart as if the possibility would kill her.
"What girl?" His gaze focused on her.
"Never you mind. If you came and visited more often you’d know what's going on with your own family. Now hurry up." She turned and closed the door behind her.
Jordan rushed into the adjoining bathroom. After years of family protocol, and despite how much he hated these elaborate parties, he was used to dressing in record time. Tonight’s party gave him a reprieve from his announcement to the family. He was grateful.
Twenty minutes later, he’d dressed and descended the stairs to join the family. He winced at seeing his father, Noah, leaning against the bottom post.
"Hiding?" Jordan asked.
"I hate formal functions," Noah mumbled. "I think your mother invited half of Georgia here tonight."
"We have that many people?"
"What's the occasion? Everybody has kept me in the dark."
"Your brother wants to make some kind of announcement. I know it had better be good for the tab your mother ran up."
Jordan held a hand across his stomach as he laughed at his father's penny-pinching ways. "Since I’ve missed dinner, maybe we can get someone to fix us a couple of sandwiches."
Noah's eyes twinkled. "Good idea."
Slapping his father's back, Jordan continued in good humor, "Mom isn’t going to like our skipping out on the party."
Noah wrinkled his nose. "She’s got to find us first."
The kitchen was a madhouse as servants dashed in and out with various hors d'oeuvres for the party.
Headlong into the refrigerator, Jordan searched for something to make a decent sandwich.
Noah grumbled as he watched the servants. "This is insane."
This was the perfect time Jordan encouraged himself. Yet, he still didn’t know how to tell his father the news that would undoubtedly break his heart.
"I'm glad you were able to make it." Noah broke into his son’s reverie.
Jordan smiled as he placed condiments on the counter. Try as he might, he couldn’t get the right words organized in his head.
His father reached over and made his own sandwich.
"How's the development of the North Carolina location coming along?"
"Fine, just fine."
"Your mother wants to throw you a party next month. She says that it’s not everyday one of our son manages his own office or something like that. I think she was just looking for an excuse to throw another party."
"That's not necessary."
"I know, but your mother gets excited when it comes to planning these things. I, on the other hand, break out in a cold sweat." Noah held Jordan's gaze as he added, "I wish I could get your brother interested in school, but he's as bad as your mother; spend, spend, spend. It's a wonder we're not living in the streets."
Jordan laughed. "To let you tell it, you’d think the company was near bankruptcy."
"Ha! My competitors would love that.”
Jordan frowned at the dark shadow that crossed his father’s features, but it quickly vanished.
“The fact is Opulence is a solid business,” Noah declared. “We’ve made record sales for the third quarter in a row. I have plans for this next quarter. Big plans."
A piece of Jordan’s sandwich wedged in his dry throat. I have to tell him.
"I was thinking,” his father continued. “What do you think about opening another store in the Gwinnett Mall area?"
Grimacing, Jordan swallowed. "I think I need something to wash this down." He avoided the subject by turning to retrieve two glasses and a gallon of milk from the refrigerator.
Noah’s tight scrutiny followed him. "You didn't answer me," he pressed.
Jordan filled their glasses, then locked gazes with his father. "I think that's a good idea." Tell him.
They ate in silence, while Jordan figured out a way to make his announcement. What was he so afraid of? Hadn’t his father always been supportive?
"I need to talk to you about something, Pop."
"I figured as much."
"I don't have to be a rocket scientist to know something is on your mind."
Here goes. "I wanted to talk to you about the business. I know how much you want me in the North Carolina office, but I've been thinking." Jordan took another gulp of milk. His stomach twisted into knots with each word he spoke. "You know how much I’ve always wanted to pursue a career in computers and I think that now is perfect time for me to branch off and do that." It didn’t quite come out the way he’d hoped, but at least he’d made the announcement.
Noah's mocha skin color reddened. "Computers?”
Jordan flinched. Here it comes. He watched his father’s eyes darken.
“Why all of a sudden do you want to play on computers?"
Jordan exhaled. This wasn't going well. "I don't want to play on computers. I want to make computers easier, better. The world of technology fascinates me. I want to start my own company and..."
"Start your own company?" Noah backed away from the counter as if Jordan’s words had burned him.
"I know you think this is crazy, but hear me out."
"You're not saying anything I want to hear. What am I supposed to do now? I’ve worked hard for this family and what do I get? Nothing!”
Jordan averted his gaze as guilt engulfed him.
His father raged on, “I have one son that treats me like the First National Bank and another that wants to walk out on me."
"It's nothing like that, Pop. I’ve been thinking about this for a while and I really want to do this. I’d expected your support in this decision."
Noah's jaw twitched. "You'll be back.” He waved his finger. “This crazy computer idea of yours will fail and you'll be back." He pivoted and stormed out of the kitchen.
Jordan closed his eyes and fought the wave of disappointment that washed over him.
A roar of applause thundered through the house. He guessed his brother had made his announcement. Jordan hated that he had missed it, but he lacked the strength to mingle with a crowd tonight.
"Are you all right, sir?" Clarence, the family butler and good friend asked from the kitchen door.
"Yeah, I think so. Pop is just upset."
"Yes, sir, I noticed that. Will you be all right?"
Jordan shook his head. "I need some fresh air. If anyone needs me, tell them I'll be out in the gardens.”
Sympathy pooled in the older man’s eyes. "Yes, sir."
* * *
Christian McKinley wiped at her tears. Tonight had been a complete disaster. She looked down at the five-carat diamond ring that glittered on her finger. How had she gotten herself into this mess?
Her best friend, Alexandria, walked up behind her. “Chris, are you all right?”
Trying to put on a brave face, Christian smiled, but shook her head in contradiction. “Alex, this is too much. I can’t marry him. I can’t marry anyone.”
Alex said nothing as she grasped Christian’s hand to offer support.
“I didn’t even know he felt this way towards me.” Christian glanced up at her six-foot friend and caught the vacant look in her expression. “Hello?” She waved a hand in front of her friend’s face. “Are you there?”
“Oh, I’m sorry.” Alex blinked and smiled apologetically. “What were you saying?”
“I was just saying how much of a shock all this is. Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. Look, girl, he’s the one who put you on the spot. He shouldn’t have proposed to you in front of all those people. You had already told him you weren’t looking for a serious relationship.”
“I couldn’t turn him down in front of his family and friends,” Christian rationalized with Alex as well as with herself. “But I shouldn’t have given him false hope by accepting this ring either.”
Alex looked toward the house and exhaled a long sigh. She turned her gaze to Christian and in a low voice asked, “Do you love him?”
“Of course I love him.” She hesitated before continuing, “But more like a brother. I mean, he’s one of my dearest friends. I had no idea that he felt this way about me.” She stared back down at the ring.
“Then there’s no way around it. You’re going to have to talk to him,” Alex said in a shaky whisper as she folded her arms protectively in front of her.
The uncharacteristic action didn’t go unnoticed by Christian. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.” Alex uncrossed her arms. “I think I’m as shocked as you are.”
Shaking her head, Christian fought desperately to make sense of the situation. “You’re good friends with Malcolm. Has he ever said anything to you about me...about this?” She made a wide sweep of her hands.
“Do you want me to go find him for you?”
Christian closed her eyes, she didn’t want to hurt Malcolm’s feelings. She knew after this night, their relationship would forever change. Inhaling to gather her courage, she nodded. Her friend was right. The sooner she got this over with, the better.
“If you want, afterward, I can take you back to the dorm.”
“Thanks, Alex.” Christian leaned over and hugged her friend. “Thanks for everything.”
“It’s no problem. I’ll go and get Malcolm.”
* * *
Jordan strolled along the stone walkway, still angry at how everything had blown up in his face. He couldn’t blame his father for turning his back on him. The family had expected him to one day take over Opulence. Their once small jewelry store had now turned into a huge conglomerate. Malcolm had made it clear that he wanted no part of the family business, so they all expected Jordan to do the right thing.
He inhaled the fresh fragrances from the gardens’ various flowers. The leisurely walk had always calmed him in the past and he sought the same refuge this evening. His father’s dismissive and cold attitude toward Jordan’s future plans hurt him, but it only made him more determined to prove that he wouldn’t fail in his endeavor.
As he rounded a small bend, he found his usual hiding place occupied by a beautiful intruder.
She wore a short, glimmering-white sequined dress with thin straps; in her hands, she held a matching purse. She heard his footsteps and turned to face him. Her beautiful dark chocolate complexion brought to mind a true African Queen.
He moved closer, unable to trust his eyes.
"You scared me," she said, then looked away.
Jordan smiled unable to believe his luck.
"I'm glad you came out here,” she rushed on. “I wanted to talk to you in private."
Curious, Jordan crossed his arms. "Really?" Had he met this beauty before? Surely, he hadn’t. How could he ever forget meeting her? He could tell she was nervous about something by the way she kept twirling the strap from her handbag around her fingers and avoided his gaze. "Is something wrong?"
A weak smile lifted the corners of her lips. "I don't know what to make of all this. I mean.” She struggled with her words. She blushed prettily and continued, "When I came here tonight, I had no idea that...” Her sentence died as she shook her head.
"Are you uncomfortable?" Jordan asked puzzled.
Her expression sobered. "I'm out of place." She played with the strap again. "I didn’t know why you brought me here tonight, Malcolm."
“Oh,” he understood now, “I'm not..."
"Please, let me finish. I know we became fast friends and I've enjoyed the six months that we've been seeing each other, but the fact is I consider you more like a brother. And I want us to remain good friends. I didn't expect for you to propose to me in front of all those people."
“But you don’t understand—“
She gave him a pleading look that silenced him. Jordan shifted his weight. Her sad expression wrenched his heart.
"All of this is just too grand for me. Hell, I borrowed this dress from Alex.” Her attempt at humor failed. “Please try to understand." She pulled the ring from her finger. "I can't accept this."
He lowered his gaze and his heart tightened as he accepted the ring. An engagement ring?
"I better go now." She turned.
She faced him, a sad smile in place. “Malcolm, you know this makes sense. There is still so much you don’t know about me, about my family. I accepted the ring because I couldn’t...I would never embarrass you in front of your family and friends. I just hope that we can still be friends.”
Jordan’s gut wretched at the sight of her turning away from him, her head held high. He had a sudden premonition that he would never see her again. He panicked. "Can I at least—“
She stopped and faced him.
“Can I at least kiss you goodbye?" What made me ask that? The moment he looked back into her earthy-brown eyes, a hunger ebbed at his heart. He wanted her.
She smiled nervously, then moved closer to grant him his request.
Jordan leaned down and tilted her chin up with his fingers. The kiss was meant to be a light peck, but as a fire ignited within him and the kiss deepened into something powerful. It thrilled him to feel her body arched against his. Her erotic scent of jasmine seduced his senses, and before he knew it, he had enclosed her in his embrace.
"What in the hell is going on?" A familiar voice thundered.
Jumping a part, they turned to stare at Jordan's twin brother, Malcolm.
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