DIAMOND LIFE IS ON SHELVES FEBRUARY 7. BUT YOU CAN READ CHAPTER FOUR IN ITS ENTIRETY NOW!
Ras Bennett had a foolproof formula for figuring out his life’s worth at any given moment. Every so often, he did a mental tally of the major categories in his life, from health to finances to relationships. Once, when he was twelve years old, he sat on a curb at the corner of South Orange Avenue and Twentieth Street in Newark and ticked off on his fingers what was right in his life. His asthma wasn’t too bad and he hadn’t been hospitalized for it in months. His mom had started letting him walk to the store by himself. He was going to the fireworks at Marten’s stadium the next day. And he had three dollars folded up neatly in his back pocket. Of course, everything wasn’t perfect. His father was still on a ventilator, his girlfriend of sixteen hours had just dumped him, and his brand-new bicycle had a nasty flat. Ras clearly re- membered standing up, brushing the dust off the back of his pants, and walking his bike to a gas station, having decided that his life was firmly on the not-so-bad side of the scale.
Ras had noticed even way back then, long before he’d had any success, that when things were high off the charts in one category, they were usually lacking in another. Because of this, Ras never prayed for a financial windfall or six-pack abs. He craved balance over all.
On a warm and breezy night in his beloved Jamaica, over dinner with friends at Café Au Lait, Ras was having one of those rare moments when he realized that things in his life were as perfect as they could possibly be. That morning, his lawyer called to let him know that a $50,000 payment had been wired for his work with a Brazilian pop band. His daughter, Reina, was on the verge of taking her first steps, and his relationship with his wife was better than it had ever been.
"Ras? Did you hear me?'
Ras looked around the dinner table. His wife Josephine was staring at him with a smile on her face. Next to her sat Birdie and his wife Alex.
"Babe? Are you with us?" asked Josephine, leaning over and rubbing her husband's forearm.
"Zoning out," said Ras. He picked up his champagne glass and gestured to his guests to do the same.
"To love," Ras said, tipping his glass toward his wife's. Josephine smiled.
Birdie and Alex looked at each other and kissed. "To love," they all said in unison.
Ras hadn't been expecting Birdie to bring his wife to the is land. They'd booked a few weeks of studio time, and although Alex hadn't been in the way, he still wasn't thrilled that she was there. A year ago, Alex had interviewed his wife for a story in Vibe about women married to rappers and producers. And J o sephine had given her an earful. Worse yet, Alex had also ghost written a book called Platinum for Cleo, a woman who detailed her affairs with dozens of musicians, including Ras.
The publicity explosion from the book forced Ras to make a hard choice. He packed up, put the house in New Jersey on the market, and moved his wife and newborn daughter to Jamaica. It was the only way Josephine could stop being reminded about all the stories in Cleo's book. And it was the only way Ras felt like he could actually stop messing with her.
"How's the music coming along?" Alex asked Birdie and Ras. Birdie shook his head.
"This is not a business dinner. No talking about work."
"What are you working on right now, Alex?" Ras asked. "Any new books on the horizon?"
Josephine paused with a forkful of salmon halfway to her mouth. She cut her eyes toward Ras without moving her head. Birdie coughed, and Alex looked down at her plate.
"Not right now," Alex said softly. "Maybe working on a memoir about trying to have a baby. But that's it."
Ras nodded. He was happy that she felt uncomfortable. He knew Josephine liked Alex. And he accepted that she was his wife's friend and Birdie's wife. But he still didn't have to like the fact that she had helped his mistress attempt to destroy his life.
Josephine touched Alex's arm and then sent a warning look to Ras.
"How do you like the hotel? The views are beautiful, right?" Josephine said.
Birdie began to speak, and Alex interrupted him.
"We might as well talk about it," Alex said. "All of us." Josephine, Birdie, and Ras were all silent, each looking out at different parts of the restaurant.
"Look, I worked with Cleo on her book, and Ras has every right to hate me because of that," said Alex, her voice high pitched and wavering.
"It's in the past, Alex," said Josephine. "We're moving on. Right, Ras?"
Ras looked at his wife. Her eyebrows were raised. He nodded and grabbed her hand.
"We're working on it." Dessert and coffee were served, and the conversation turned to cheesecake and espresso and the beautiful sunset they could see from the porch of the open-air restaurant. But Ras's mind was still on Alex. He could not shake the feeling that Alex had ulterior mo tives for traveling with Birdie to Jamaica. And he just didn't like the idea of her spending too much time alone with his wife.
Ras took a deep breath and dismissed the feeling. The important thing was that he was doing the right thing now. It didn't matter what Alex said. It didn't matter if Cleo wrote ten more books. What mattered was that Ras had no secrets. He had been faithful to his wife for nearly a year and they were moving into a new chapter in their lives.
Ras felt his cell phone buzz in his pocket and tried desperately to ignore it. He'd promised his wife he would stop answering his phone and checking text messages during meals. The phone stopped ringing and then he heard a text message chirp. Alex and Josephine had their heads together, whispering about something. Ras took the opportunity to ease his cell phone out of his pocket and unlock it.
I like your hair like that. Did you cut it?
Ras's hand flew up to his head and then he whipped his neck around to see who else was in the restaurant.
"What's wrong?" Josephine asked.
Ras shook his head and kept looking around. Who would be texting him about his haircut? He looked down at the phone. The text message came from a number in Jamaica. Ras racked his brain to think of anyone in Jamaica who would text him and came up empty. It could have been a wrong number. Ras exhaled.
"I'll be right back," Ras said, excusing himself from the table.
He walked quickly to the back of the restaurant, typing out a message on the way.
"I'm pretty sure you have the wrong number."
He hit SEND and then pushed in the door to the bathroom. He ran water over his face, wiped his face and hands with a paper towel, and then checked his face in the mirror. His heart was still racing and he couldn't seem to calm himself. It was just a wrong number, he said out loud. And what if it wasn't? What if it was … her?
The last time Ras saw Cleo, he didn't tell her it was over. He had no idea what she was capable of. So he went out of his way to make her think there was nothing unusual about the visit. For ninety minutes, he'd engaged in every twisted sexual fantasy he could possibly imagine and, as usual, Cleo didn't deny him anything. He kissed her on her forehead when he left, as always. She told him she loved him, as always.
And when he pulled up to his house, he jumped in the shower and was clean and dressed just as the movers arrived to pack up all of their belongings. He changed his cell number and instructed his bodyguards and drivers-anyone Cleo had access to-to do the same. Within forty-eight hours of their last sexual encounter, he was sitting on the front porch of the house on a former sugar plantation in Saint Catherine Parrish. Just as quickly, he'd put Cleo out of his mind. Or at least tried to.
Completely forgetting Cleo had been impossible. For the past year, as he repaired his relationship with his wife, he dreamt of his mistress nightly. He had orgasms in his dreams, waking up and quickly stripping the bed before Josephine could find out. One night several months ago, he broke down. He flew out to New Jersey and found out where Cleo lived. He was halfway to her house when he turned back around and headed to the air port. He Googled her often, tracking her whereabouts through the blogs that always posted items about her.
Lately, Ras had been wondering if he'd ever be completely free of her. Would she always cast a shadow over his life? And now, one year after he'd walked away from her and rededicated himself to his marriage, he felt like he might know the answer.
Ras left the bathroom and began walking back to the table. His breathing was controlled and he'd stopped sweating. Cleo had not won. He wasn't over her yet. But she had not-Ras's cell phone chirped again.
"I can't believe you would have dinner with Alex but not with me …"
Ras clenched his teeth and marched through the dining room, his eyes trained on the table where his wife sat. If that bitch was anywhere near his wife …
He could see someone sitting in his seat, facing Alex, Birdie, and Josephine. He recognized the jet-black sheet of hair immediately. Ras saw his wife, frozen in her seat, her head held high.
She briefly caught Ras's eye and then looked back at the woman sitting in his seat. The woman saw the three of them looking behind her so she turned around just as Ras reached the table.
"Ras!" Cleo said, smiling wide. "We were just talking about you. So good to see you. Have a seat."
Cleo gestured to a chair near Birdie.
"Get up," Ras said, through clenched teeth.
"Don't be rude, Ras," Cleo said. "We're all just having a little chat. Join in."
Ras grabbed Cleo's shoulder and pulled her out of her seat.
A few patrons in the restaurant gasped, and one couple quickly exited the restaurant.
"Get out. Or I will hurt you."
Cleo wriggled out of his grasp and then looked down at her dress, a black strapless shift that hit the top of her thigh. She used both hands to smooth out the wrinkles and then picked up her bag off the table and put it on her shoulder.
"I was just in the neighborhood and I wanted to say hi," said Cleo.
Ras looked toward the manager and gestured for him to come over.
"There's no need for all of that, Ras," said Cleo. "I'm leaving." The manager came over and stood next to Ras.
"Is everything okay here?"
"We have an unwanted guest," said Ras. "We need her to be removed."
Cleo laughed loud enough to get the attention of anyone in the restaurant who might have missed Ras grabbing her arm.
''I'm unwanted. Can you imagine that? This guy"-she pointed to Birdie-"He was more than happy to get a blow job from me in the studio last year. Right, Alex?"
The sounds of silverware hitting several plates filled the restaurant. Alex and Birdie looked at each other, but neither said a word or revealed any sort of emotion on their faces.
“And my beloved Ras . . .” Cleo continued. “For years, you came to me whenever I called you. And vice versa. And now I’m unwanted? I never thought I’d see the day.”
Ras sat back down at his seat and took his wife’s hand. Jose- phine’s face was stone.
“I’m going to sit here with my wife and my friends and finish my dessert,” Ras announced.
Cleo remained standing.
“It was good to see all of you,” Cleo said. She looked over at Josephine. “Especially you, Josephine. You look amazing. Moth- erhood truly agrees with you.” Josephine didn’t move.
“I’m sure your little girl is absolutely gorgeous.”
Ras felt his wife squeeze his hand so hard that his knuckles began to crack. He knew she was trying to refrain from standing up and punching Cleo out.
“Do not give her the satisfaction,” Ras whispered to his wife. Josephine nodded but kept her eyes on Cleo.
“Please, Ras,” Cleo said. “I’m very satisfied. Your wife knows exactly what we have. And she knows that it won’t change no matter how far away you go. You can pack up and move to China. It doesn’t change a thing.”
Cleo tossed her hair back and turned to walk away.
“If you ever need me—and I think you might—Alex will know where to find me.”
Cleo walked away, leaving the foursome in stunned silence. As soon as she was out of sight, Josephine stood up quickly and grabbed her shawl from the back of her chair.
“Wait, Josephine!” Ras yelled out as she half-ran toward the back entrance, where their driver was waiting.
“Go to hell, Ras!” Josephine yelled out. “Stay away from me!”
Ras turned around to Alex and Birdie. He pointed a finger inAlex’s direction.
“Why did she say you would know where to find her?”
"I have no idea, Ras," Alex said. "I swear I don't."
Ras's eyes went from Birdie's to Alex's. Then he dashed off to catch up to his wife.
"Josephine! Would you just stop for a second so we can talk about this?!"
Ras's wife continued tossing clothes from her bureau into one of several suitcases opened on her bed.
"You keep talking," Josephine said. "I'm leaving."
Ras grabbed his wife's wrist and pulled her close to him. "Please. Sit down."
Josephine flopped down on the bed and dropped her head into her hands. Ras rubbed her back.
"We are not going to let this woman run us off this island," Ras said.
"We? There is no 'we,' Ras." Josephine spat. "There is me. There is you. And there is her."
"You are my wife," said Ras. "Tell that to Cleo."
"Yes, she does. And guess what? She doesn't care. She will fly to Jamaica, find out where we're having dinner, and torture us just for sport. I'm supposed to stay with you and deal with that? We moved here to get away from her. And she's just taken me back to day one."
"That's exactly what she wants to do," Ras said. "I have not seen her in a year, Josephine. She's pissed that I walked away for ever and she doesn't want to see us happy."
"I've tried …" Josephine said, her eyes on the floor. "I've tried to put all of this behind us. But seeing her tonight …"
Josephine stopped talking. She looked as if she were suddenlygasping for breath. Ras eased her back on the bed and lay with her, holding her as she struggled to speak. "I am so sorry I hurt you," Ras said. "I am so so sorry."
"She came to my office, Ras!" Josephine sobbed. "Don't you remember?"
Ras nodded, a lump in his throat.
"And you-you did such awful things with her. Dirty, nasty …"
"You said you were not going to read that book." Josephine stood and lifted her suitcase to the floor. "Can we get a restraining order?" she asked Ras. "First thing in the morning."
"What if she comes here? What if she wants to hurt me or Reina?"
Ras shook his head.
"We have two full-time security guards here. No one is coming on this property unless we've invited them."
"I'm not always here. I go to the market. I take Reina out …" Josephine shook her head. "This bitch is going to have me be a prisoner in my own home."
"I will not let that happen."
"You're the one who brought this on us in the first place. If you could keep your dick in your pants, we wouldn't have to deal with this shit."
Ras kept his mouth shut. He wanted to protest. But there was nothing he could say.
"We're not just dealing with a random groupie here," Josephine said.
"You were in a relationship with her. You were in love with her." Josephine looked away and shrugged her shoulders. "Sometimes I think you still are." "I told you I haven't spoken to her in over a year."
"What does that mean? That your feelings for her magically evaporated? That's not how that works. God knows, if it did work that way, I would have left you a long time ago. Nothing's changed. Moving five hundred miles away doesn't end a relationship with someone."
Ras sighed heavily. "Then what does?"
Josephine leaned against their bedroom door. "I wouldn't know."
Ras watched his wife turn the knob and go out into the hall to check on the baby. He realized his jaw was throbbing from clenching his teeth so hard. He'd worked on his wife for a year. He'd catered to her every whim. He traveled rarely without her and the baby. He showered her with attention and affection, checked in with her hourly when he was in the studio. And now a five-minute visit from Cleo was threatening to ruin it all. Ras relived the scene in the restaurant and two things were going to bother him until he dealt with them.
First, he needed to know why Cleo really came to Jamaica. And then he needed to figure out why on God's green earth he still desperately wanted to f*ck her.