The heavens were a dusty dark blue, cloudless, with pinpoints of stars illuminating the canvas of night. Jazz, hip-hop and R&B could be heard as doors to cafes and night clubs opened and closed to a rhythm that was unique to a Saturday night in Atlanta.
They walked in companionable silence, taking in the sights and sounds with no particular destination in mind, when Zoe spotted a Pinkberry.
“Oh, we’ve got to stop.”
“At Pinkberry. They have the absolute, hands down best frozen yogurt on the planet.”
Jackson laughed. “All that, huh. Guess I should try some.”
“You have to,” she said as if not doing so was the most outlandish thing she’d heard. Without thinking, she grabbed his hand and pulled him behind her through the opened glass door.
“Mango is my favorite,” she said in a pseudo whisper. “But any of them are good.”
They inched up on the line.
Jackson watched in amusement as her face lit up talking about something as simple as frozen yogurt and relished in the fact that she still held his hand.
Her soft fingers felt good in his. He wanted to hold her tighter but didn’t want to break the spell and disturb the spontaneity. To him it felt like the most natural thing in the world.
She turned to gaze up and him, the most delightful smile on her mouth.
“Do you know what you want?”
That was a loaded question, he thought. “Um, I’ll have what you’re having.”
Zoe stepped up to the counter and ordered two medium mango yogurts to go.
Reluctantly, Jackson released her hand took out his wallet and paid for their desserts.
“We can sit over there,” Jackson said, lifting his chin toward a bank of tables and benches in the pedestrian plaza.
They stepped off the curb and onto the island that was cut off from traffic for one block and adorned with benches, round stone or metal tables and chairs in between potted trees and shrubbery.
Jackson spotted a curved bench with a round table and they walked over. Zoe scooted onto the bench and Jackson slid over beside her.
“I can never get over how crowded it is at night Jackson said, before taking his first sample of the yogurt. “Hmmm.”
“Told ya,” Zoe beamed. She put a spoonful in her mouth and closed her eyes as the pleasure trickled through her. “My one guilty pleasure.”
She looked across at him from beneath her long lashes. “So far.”
“How about if I said something crazy like . . . let me be another one of your guilty pleasures?”
Her cheeks heated. She slowly licked the confection from her spoon. “And what if I said . . . I think I’d like that very much.” She held her breath.
Jackson draped his arm behind her. His fingers played with one of her locs that had come loose. His eyes moved slowly across her face, down the curve of her slender neck to the rise of her breasts before returning to her lips.
Zoe’s lips parted in anticipation as he drew nearer until his image blurred and the tenderness of his mouth blended with hers. His fingers threaded along the back of her neck easing her closer and they shared the sticky mango sweetness as their mouths met and mingled, tasting and testing.
The urge to possess her fully rose up inside him with such force that he had to tear himself away but then her tongue ran teasingly along the contours of his mouth and any hope of freedom was gone. He could feel the blood pounding in his head, and the sound of tribal drums filling the night air. He was running. He could feel them coming behind him. The sound of the hounds baying in the night. He knew that if he could make it to the river they would lose his scent and he would have a chance. He had to survive.
Zoe’s soft sighs pricked the images that had enveloped him dragging him back to some unknown place, and the drumming grew faint and the scent of river water faded and the hounds stopped their terrifying howling.
Shaken, Jackson eased back and the expression of acceptance and fear that hovered in Zoe’s eyes let him know that she had been there, too.
“Zoe,” he whispered her name like a prayer. “I don’t know what just happened . . .” He ran his finger along the soft curve of her jaw. She shuddered under his touch.
“Neither do I.” Her breathing kicked up a notch. “I . . .I wasn’t here . . .I mean I was here, physically, but . . .”
“I know,” he said urgently. “That’s the same way I felt. Like an outer body experience.”
She wanted to tell him what had been happening to her, the dreams, the weight that had been put on her shoulders. She needed to share it all with him and only him. But she was afraid. Just be yourself, she heard herself saying to Linda, and saw the image of her and Mike on the bench. That moment had been a turning point for them. And here she was at that same crossroads. She shifted her gaze away. “Wow, the yogurt is melting.”
“We can get some more if you want.”
“No. I’m fine. I am getting a little tired though.”
Jackson stood. “I better get you home then.”
They walked back toward the garage and this time it was Jackson who reached for and took Zoe’s hand. They strolled together slowly talking and laughing softly about the music that they liked growing up and now, their favorite teachers, the troubles that the Gulf Coast had experienced in the last ten years and their passion for African Art.
“I’ve been collecting pieces for years,” Zoe was saying as Jackson slowed the car when he pulled onto her street.
“From all parts of Africa, particularly Mali. It’s where my ancestors are from.”
“You traced your ancestry?”
“Since I was a little girl, my family has always talked about where our family came from. According to Nana Zora and the stories that she was told by her mother and grandmother, great-great grandmother Zinzi was a conjure woman and head of her village. She was married to Etu, the son of the chief of the adjoining village . . .” She told him about their capture and how they were separated when they were brought to Louisiana and sold at auction. She left out the part about the legacy and the heartache that had haunted their family for generations. Perhaps the time would come later.
“The house and the land that we lived on was the house of the former slave owner, Ezekiel Beaumont.”
“Amazing,” he said in awe.
“My house is the one on the right.”
Jackson eased to a stop in front of her house and cut off the engine. He turned to her. “Home safe and sound.”
She lowered her head then looked directly at him. “I’m suddenly not tired anymore.” She hesitated but a moment. “And I’m not ready for the night to end.”
“Neither am I.” He ran a finger across her brow.
“Would you like to come in for a little while? I think I have some wine and plenty of music.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
She drew in a breath, turned and unlocked her door.
“These pieces are incredible,” he said admiring the small sculptures on the shelves and tabletops and the artwork on the white walls. “This is better than some galleries I’ve seen.”
“Thank you.” She handed him his glass of wine.
He raised his glass to hers. “To a wonderful evening and more to come.”
Zoe touched her glass to his and took a tiny sip. “So what would you like to listen to?”
“Why don’t you choose? I’m easy.”
“Okay.” She set down her glass and crossed the hard wood floors to the entertainment unit that was housed behind a built-in wall cabinet. She opened the double doors to reveal a fifty-two inch television and a stereo system that could easily find its way into a recording studio. In the cabinet beneath were racks of CDs and albums. She slowly spun the rack and picked out six CDs and put them in the player. Moments later the sultry, plaintive voice of Billie Holiday filled the room with her signature song, God Bless the Child.
“Aww, Billie,” Jackson said. He put his glass down on an end table and turned toward Zoe. He held out his hand. “Dance with me.”
Zoe’s heart thundered in her chest and her legs felt weak as she placed her hand in his. Slowly he gathered her close until nothing but the fabric of their clothing separated them.
They swayed together in perfect unison as if they’d always danced together. As Billie soothed them, Zoe felt her body relax and melt against Jackson. She closed her eyes and gave herself over to the moment.
As the song came to its pitch perfect close, Jackson lifted Zoe’s chin with the tip of his finger. They stood motionless, captured in each other’s gaze. Whatever hesitation she may have had dissipated. She wanted him and she wanted him to want her just as much.
And he did.
The kiss was slow as he brushed his lips across hers. He teased her bottom lip with his teeth then his tongue and delighted in feeling her shiver against him. He cupped the back of her head in his large palm and drew her to him fully. Her lips parted ever so slightly and he teased them open further with his tongue until she let him in.
Her soft moan drifted into his soul and he felt like the sun had found a place inside him. She curled against him igniting a full-blown erection that shook him to his core. His hands stroked her back, her arms, caressed her hips. He wanted to explore all of her if she’d let him.
Zoe eased down one strap of her dress and then the other. Jackson picked up the invitation and lowered the top of her dress to her waist to expose her full breasts.
His mouth dropped from hers and skimmed her long neck, suckling the tender space near her collarbone. She whimpered and desire fueled his exploration. Her skin felt like silk and smelled like forever. If he lived to be one hundred he would never get enough of her scent. He planted hot kisses along the rise of her breasts.
She arched her back in offering and he took the succulent fruit into his mouth, tasting and teasing the sweet brown nipples until she trembled, gripping his arms to keep from crumbling at his feet.
He was so hard that he hurt and he took her hand and placed it on his need, making her understand what she was doing to him and how much he wanted her.
Zoe’s touch was like a branding iron, hot and steamy and a strangled groan rose from the bottom of his feet when she began a slow and deliberate massage, gripping and releasing him in a maddening rhythm.
The music swelled in the background as Billie released that last heart-wrenching note then segued to Body and Soul.
Zoe took a small step back. She was on fire and she needed Jackson to douse the flames that threatened to consume her. “Come with me,” she said in a husky whisper. She took his hand and led him down the hallway to her bedroom. She opened the door and looked at him over her shoulder. Once she crossed the threshold there was no turning back but she felt in her heart that making love with Jackson was every iota of right.
She stepped inside and Jackson followed. She walked to her bed and sat down on the edge. Jackson slowly approached. He took her hands and pulled her to her feet.
“I want to see all of you.” He slid her dress down over her hips she stepped over the pool that it made at her feet. She was bare except for a tiny black lace thong that she was so happy she’d decided to wear.
He reached out and touched her right breast. His palm grazed her hardened nipple. Her eyelids fluttered. He moved closer, lowered his head and took her into his mouth. She moaned in pleasure.
Zoe fumbled with the buttons of his shirt and wondered why her fingers wouldn’t follow her commands. Finally she managed to get them opened and tugged his shirt off of him. Jackson tossed it to the floor. She went for his belt buckle, the rising desire and blind need, sabotaging her rationale, conservative self. She wasn’t thinking with her head. Her body was totally in charge. When she unzipped him and felt the hard weight of him in the palm of her hand she felt wet between her legs.
Jackson instinctively knew that she was flowing and readying herself for him. He looped one arm around her waist to hold her in place and his other slipped between her sweet thighs and fingered the swollen clit that longed for his attention.
“Ahhhh.” She sucked in air. Her knees weakened.
Jackson eased her back onto the bed. He stepped out of his pants and shorts and joined her. They stretched out side-by-side facing each other. He kissed her softly on the mouth, down her neck, between the swell of her breasts, down the center of her body, played for a moment and the navel. Her skin quivered beneath his lips.
All the while his fingers explored her and her body bathed them with her essence. Her pelvis moved instinctively in slow circles, while his fingers slid in and out and in and out.
Zoe gripped the sheets in her fists and pushed her heels into the mattress when he moved down between her trembling thighs. His mouth cupped her sex, sucked her in before dipping his tongue into the valley of honey.
Her entire body jerked. The muscles in her stomach fluttered. He grabbed her hips and licked and laved her until she was like butter, melting under his ministrations.
“Jackson!” she cried out tossing her head back and forth in the throes of passion.
“I’m right here baby,” he said. “Let it happen. Let me love you.” He took her in his mouth again and the fire grew.
The flames began at her feet and traveled up her legs, raced along her body and ignited her breasts before exploding into an inferno that sent her screams of release soaring into the air in concert with Billie’s Me and My Man.
Jackson knew he couldn’t hold out much longer but he wanted her totally satisfied. He wanted her to remember this first night the way he knew he would remember it—that it was the turning point in their lives, a coupling that would change them forever. He didn’t know how he knew that he simply did, he realized as he moved between her legs.
He draped her legs over his arms and rose up on his knees. His erection was so hard that it jumped and pulsed took on a life of its own, tugging him toward satisfaction.
When his hot tip touched her wet opening, it took all of his willpower to keep from exploding.
Zoe wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him to her. She tasted herself on his mouth and sucked on his bottom lip with her teeth.
Jackson pushed in just a little. The throbbing head crossed the moist threshold.
Zoe moaned, imprinting her fingers on his back. She squeezed her eyes shut as he arched her legs higher and wider and entered her fully.
“Ohhhh,” he groaned as her walls tightened and surrounded him.
And the room moved into the distance. The music shifted from the bluesy tones of Billie to the pulsing drumbeat and bare feet dancing and pounding on dusty earth. Brilliant colors flashed in the distance as the tribesmen and women celebrated the consummation of Zinzi and Etu. The newly married couple moved together to the crescendo of celebration as they learned each other’s bodies to the rhythm as old as time. The union was a sacred one, destined to be and all the more potent because of the true love that blazed in Zinzi’s eyes as she lay beneath her husband, welcoming him into the dark hot valley of her body, crying out when he met the slightest resistance before breaking through the thin veil that separated them.
And the pounding beat of the drums joined with the macaw cries of the women of the village and rushed through their veins intensifying their moment. Zinzi raised her legs higher, opened for her husband. And the drums beat faster, louder carrying the newly joined couple along the rushing waters of the river, above the branches of the highest trees, tossing them against the heavens where they burst into a million pinpoints of lights becoming one with the stars above.
The images bloomed and the past and present merged, sucking Zoe and Jackson into the twisting, turning funnel of ecstasy that roared through Jackson gushing through Zoe’s walls, to erupt in her soul sending her on a spiraling journey of unspeakable joy. Their strangled cries of release rose and met Billie’s final note of As Time Goes By.
* * *
Jackson wrapped his arm around Zoe’s waist and held her as close as their spooning bodies would allow. He buried his head in her hair and let the essence of her scent drift through and quiet the racing beat of his heart and the tumultuous thoughts that tore through his head.
He wasn’t sure what had happened between them. He was here with her, inside of her but at the same time he felt as if he’d been transported someplace else in the distant past. That was crazy, of course, because he was right here in her bed in the house on Drew Lane in Atlanta, Georgia. Yet, it felt like a dream that had somehow come alive. He cupped her breast in his palm and tenderly kissed the back of her neck. This was no dream.
Zoe stared into the darkness, listening to the comforting beat of Jackson’s heart against her back. She’d been there, on the mat in a small hut with the villagers drumming and dancing in celebration of the consummation of her marriage. But she wasn’t married. She was a single woman, with a history of mediocre relationships, a family tree with leaves that shook, a job that she loved and a man in her bed that she’d only recently met but understood that she knew forever. How could all of that be true at once? Zoe wondered if he’d had the same experience. The same live dream that she’d had the instant he’d entered her. She shivered. Jackson pulled her closer.
“Something . . . happened,” he whispered into the night.
Zoe’s senses heightened. “Something . . .?”
“I’ve never felt that way before. Been to that place . . .” He exhaled. “I can’t explain it.” He kissed her shoulder and caressed her breast, teasing the nipple back to erection. He felt himself growing hard again.
Zoe moaned when her swollen clit twitched in response to his increasing caresses. She pressed her rear against his rising member and wound her hips until he thought he would go mad. She twisted her body away from him until she was facing him. She cupped his face and kissed him long and deep then pushed him onto his back before straddling him. She felt free and totally uninhibited as she rose up then slowly lowered herself onto the length him.
Jackson squeezed the taut globes of her rear and pulled her fully down onto him. Her head flung back and the veins in her neck stood out as she was totally impaled on the hard shaft that pulsed deep within her.
Zoe leaned forward and gripped the headboard to steady herself as she began a languid ride. Their bodies moved in perfect symmetry, flowing one onto the other, letting the sensations guide them, the intensity increase their speed.
The headboard banged steadily against the wall. The mattress gave and released as Jackson pushed upward willing his body to touch the core of her. “Come on baby. Come to me,” he ground out.
Zoe’s heart pounded like crazy against her chest making her lightheaded and her breath to come in short panging gasps. “Right there, right there,” she groaned, thrusting her pelvis forward and the muscles in her body tightened and that white hot heat sluiced through her veins, then pooled in the pit of her stomach. Her walls clenched and her entire body shook as the grip and release of her shuddering orgasm milked Jackson down to the bone.
When Zoe opened her eyes, the first glow of daybreak lurked just beyond the horizon. Jackson stirred beside her. In the filtered light, she studied this man she’d laid with. In a word, beautiful. He was physically fit from head to toe, with toned muscles that rippled when he moved and a rock hard stomach that could easily be an ad for television. His skin was just rough enough to keep it from being soft, and his scent when she pressed her face to his flesh drove her crazy.
Tenderly her hand trailed the length of his side and across his flat belly, lowered to stroke his treasure. The air caught momentarily in her lungs as her fingers traversed the silky skin that covered his penis that even at half mast was long and thick—ready.
She moaned softly, letting her fingers wrap around him. He was simply magnificent. She’d been with men before. She’d had great orgasms, but none had filled her. None had stretched her to her limits. None had made her see things, leave her body and come back for more. No, none of the others had done that. She stroked him now, slow and steady, reveling her in power to make his rise fully in her hand and hear his moans of pleasures and he came awake.
Zoe wanted to taste him, to feel the pulse of the veins in her mouth, run her tongue along the sleek head and wake it weep. She licked the very tip then began making tiny circles until her lips captured him.
“Agggg.” He laced his fingers through her hair and sucked in air through clenched teeth, knowing that all he could do was give her what she’d gone after and enjoy the ride.
In the full light of day, Zoe expected to feel shy or awkward. Oddly, she didn’t. Moving around in her kitchen preparing breakfast and listening to Jackson sing off key in the shower seemed like the most natural thing in the world.
She poured orange juice into a glass café, scooped softly whipped eggs onto a platter alongside whole wheat French toast and fat turkey sausage. She placed the tray on the table just as Jackson appeared in the doorway. The whole room seemed to shift or maybe it was her heart finally settling into place.
“Morning . . . again.” He grinned and strolled over to where she stood. Holding her steady with a look he lowered his head and gently kissed her still swollen lips. “Hmmm. Just like I remembered.”
She giggled and playfully plucked his arm. “It hasn’t been that long.” She hooked her fingers along the edge of the towel that was tucked around his waist.
“Long enough for me to recover.” His large hands nearly encircled her waist and he realized how fragile her body was. He took her mouth with his own and savored again the sweetness of her tongue playing with his. He backed her up against the counter teasing the underside of her breasts with his thumbs. He nuzzled down her neck, pushing aside the folds of her robe. “Hmmm. You make me crazy,” he groaned before taking a dark nipple into his mouth.
Zoe’s knees wobbled and she felt the inside of her thighs tremble. Jackson tugged on the belt that held her robe closed and practically tore it from her body. His hunger for her flashed so quickly and with such urgency that he was blinded to where they were. All he knew was that he wanted her. Now.
He pulled his towel away, tossed it on the floor and lifted Zoe into his arms. She wrapped her legs above his hips and laced her fingers behind his head an instant before he rammed inside her with such force that starbursts flashed behind her eyes.
She buried her face in his neck to keep from screaming. The intensity of his thrusts drove her rapidly to the edge and there was nothing she could do to hold back the inevitable. She was coming hard and fast.
And so was he.
It was nearly noon by the time Zoe and Jackson got themselves together and settled on a truce to stay at least five feet away from each other until they got this crazy lust thing under control.
“How about we kiss to make it official,” Jackson teased, finishing up his second shower of the morning. He shoved his arms into the sleeves of his shirt.
“Uh, no, I don’t think so, buddy.” Her cat was still purring and she didn’t dare risk him coming anywhere near her anytime soon. She twisted her hair on top of her head and tied the string on her sweatpants into a knot, not that a simple knot would stop him if he really decided to get back inside her pants so to speak.
To seal the deal they sat on opposite sides of Zoe’s couch intermittently stealing glances at each other and laughing like fools as they finished up brunch and watched Intimate Betrayal, a made for television movie.
When the movie was over, Jackson helped clean up the kitchen and kept his promise to keep his hands and body to himself.
“So how long do you think your sister will be staying with you?” Zoe asked as she put one of the glasses into the overhead cabinet.
While they’d lay in bed earlier that morning, they’d found themselves whispering into the morning light about the importance of family—good or bad—and the impact they have on your life.
Zoe told him bits and pieces about growing up in a houseful of women and that most of her life was spent under her grandmother’s care because her mother wanted to pursue her singing career. She said she’d been an only child until she met Sharlene who became like a sister to her. And Jackson found himself telling her about Michelle, how close they had always been and how hurt and angry he was about what her husband Trevor had done.
“You were engaged?” Zoe asked, more curious than concerned.
“Yeah, for about a year.”
“And your ex slept with your sister’s husband.”
He nodded, the anger beginning to brew again. He rinsed the last dish and placed it in the rack.
“She deserves jail time for that one,” Zoe said and meant it. She couldn’t imagine that kind of betrayal. “Right out of a Jerry Springer episode.”
Jackson couldn’t help but that. “I know. Totally over the top.” He shook his head slowly. “I always believed that Michelle and Travis would be forever. They were the couple to emulate. I introduced them.” He blew out a breath. “And Carla . . . it never occurred to me that she was capable . . .”
Zoe touched his shoulder. “You can’t blame yourself. It’s messy but they are all adults. You do what you need to for your sister, but don’t take on that guilt. It won’t help her or you.”
His full mouth formed a tight smile. “I could listen to your advice all day. How’d you get so wise?”
She grinned. “My Nana.”
“You talk about her with such reverence. Every time you mention her name, your face lights up.”
She dropped her gaze for a moment. “She means the world to me.”
“I’d like to meet her one day.”Zoe’s eyes traveled over his face, looked beyond the surface, saw the essence of the man beneath, felt the goodness of his soul within her own. “I’d like that too, she softly said.