About the Book
Two women with hidden motives reunite in a clash of privilege and desperation for the love of one powerful man. Are they on the same team or is it every man for himself?
When Angelina Fuentes suspects her husband might be attracted to his cleaning lady, Kristi, she makes the ultimate sacrifice and allows Kristi to move from an income-based apartment in the hood to the Fuentes’ million-dollar home in the Garden District. Angelina is determined to have the happy marriage she deserves, even if it means sharing the man she loves.
Matteo has everything a man could want or need—a thriving business, amazing wealth, and a sexy trophy wife. Angelina’s decision to invite Kristi into their bedroom is just the cherry on top of his already perfect life, but things begin to fall apart when Matteo discovers someone is stealing from him. He’s sure those in his inner circle have nothing to do with his losses, but is he blinded by love and lust?
Kristi DuPont is used to scraping to get by and raising her nine-year-old autistic son alone, but she trades her independence for a taste of life on Easy Street when she moves in with the flashy couple. She realizes she shouldn’t get used to having Angelina’s affection and Matteo’s money. Kristi has a secret. She’s not there for love or sacrifice. She’s there for revenge.
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The Official Brag Book of Deserving
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Deserving, Copyright © 2016 by Sondi Warner
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Matteo Fuentes ushered Angelina out the back door of their house in the Garden District with enough showiness to give her a heads up that something unusual was going on. When she saw what was outside, Angelina’s plush lips curved in a smirk, and she glared at him before a radiant smile spread over her face for the benefit of the crowd of fifty or so people filling their backyard. He had invited folks over to celebrate their anniversary.
“Surprise!” Matteo joined the outcry.
“What did you do?” Angelina asked, laughing.
But he felt the fine tremor of her hand when he laced his fingers through hers. Please, baby, keep it together, Matteo channeled. If she got the telepathic message, the only indication was a lifted brow and more teeth bared in a smile that didn’t reach her eyes. One thing he knew, his wife, the psychiatrist, understood how important appearance was. Matteo could count on Angelina to stick to the script.
“I wanted the whole world to see how much you mean to me. Of course, I couldn’t fit the whole world in our yard, so this will have to do,” he said, chuckling. “Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to welcome you to this celebration of five years and counting with my wife, the lovely Dr. Angelina Fuentes!”
His commentary was met with applause, whistles and catcalls. “Congratulations!” someone hooted.
Angelina shook her hand free from Matteo’s and flowed down the stone steps of the house to meet and greet her guests. She was grace and class embodied, dressed in a yellow silk pantsuit that tastefully showed off her svelte figure. Matteo knew they were a mismatched pair—not because he wasn’t in her league—because he had a wandering eye and a roaming spirit, while she was steadfast.
She had caught him cheating again. This time with a woman he had picked up on a business trip, which he considered more a fling than an affair. Angelina, however, wasn’t interested in that kind of nuance.
He shifted his weight from one foot to the other and lounged against the exterior wall of the house, out of sight and out of mind. She was and had always been the real star of the show. He could walk into a space with commanding authority, but she stopped the world, judging by the response of the awestruck upper echelon guests he had called over at the last minute.
The party to make amends had cost a fortune. He had hired decorators for an “Enchanted Forest” theme, and a length of tulle laced with fairy lights zigzagged overhead. Exotic flowers had been overnighted to add to the lush backyard, which brought the bees dancing from blossom to blossom. He swatted at one buzzing near his ear.
Matteo turned, eyebrow raised, and accepted a flute of champagne from a tuxedoed server. “Thank you.”
“My pleasure, sir.”
The event was catered by an award winning chef from a four-star restaurant, complete with a sumptuous banquet table, a magnolia-shaped ice sculpture as its centerpiece. The food and décor, however, were outshined by the star-studded guest list of local celebrities, famous athletes and a few low level politicians, all gilded in their finest. A glance around showed Matteo the event was shaping up to be a success. This extravagant display was a gesture of apology for betraying Angelina’s trust, and he had one more trick up his sleeve if none of this worked.
He strolled from the safety of the shadows to Angelina’s side and placed his fingertips to her lower back. When she didn’t pull away, he took it as a good sign. “May I have you for a moment?” he whispered. Their eyes locked, and he caught a hint of her magnolia and honey perfume. Matteo inhaled deeper.
“Always a pleasure talking to you, Mrs. Manchester, but it seems my husband wants my attention,” she softly excused herself from the conversation she was having with their grey-haired neighbor and let him lead her away.
Smiling, he threaded his fingers with hers. “Are you enjoying yourself?” he asked.
The live band struck up an energetic jazz tune. Angelina cocked her head to the side and peered at him quizzically. “Am I supposed to be? I was under the impression you did this for you.” She gestured to their gazebo where they could talk in private.
His smile wavered, and he sighed. “I did this to show my gorgeous wife that I’m not ready to end this. I know I’ve given you every reason, but you can’t leave me, Angel.”
“You think a party absolves you of infidelity, Matteo? Better yet, you think I’m going to divorce you.” She bit off a laugh. People glanced their way. Angelina rolled her eyes but kept her smile in place. “You’re adorable, baby, honestly,” she replied as she sat on the bench of the gazebo and crossed her legs.
Matteo folded his tall frame next to hers with dark, haunted eyes scanning her face. In fact, he didn’t know what she would do. He was letting her know divorce wasn’t an option. “Mí esposa, I heard you on the phone with your mother,” he murmured quietly, looking down.
“Then, you know she told me I should stay with you.”
“How do you think it made me feel to hear you asking to go home in the first place?”
A throaty laugh escaped her sultry lips. “Surely no worse than I felt when your floozy called this house to thank you for paying for her flight home.” A hard edge underscored the words.
Matteo opened his mouth to ask for forgiveness but shut it without speaking, knowing he didn’t have the right. He licked his lips and tried again. “I can be the man you deserve, Angelina.”
“The way you were raised, Matteo, this is normal for you. I don’t think you know how to be married.”
“I know that I love you. I know if you give me another chance, I’m ready to turn over a new leaf…Look, despite my flaws, I have always been here for you, and I’m still here.”
Angel’s chin shook. She spoke slowly, picking her way through her words. “That’s the reason I don’t understand why you keep doing this to me. This is the second time, Matteo. As a psychiatrist, one would think I’d do a better job of figuring out what you need. But you don’t cheat because you’re missing something at home; you cheat because you just don’t give a damn.”
“I do care, baby.” He swept her silky black hair from her face. His hand lingered on her cheek, and he saw a hint of the hopeless romantic he had married lurking beneath the stoic, pragmatic woman his actions over time had caused her to become. “Remember Smokey Robinson playing at the reception after we got married? It was the first song we danced to.”
She gently shook her face free but smiled. “To say you’re Puerto Rican, you sure can’t dance.”
Matteo slid off the bench and kneeled down on one knee in front of her. Guests turned in their direction just as Matteo manifested a velvet ring box from his coat pocket and slowly opened it so Angelina could see the oversized diamond. She gasped in shock.
“I haven’t been the man people believed me to be. They think I’m noble and honorable, a good man. I can only strive to be that…and only if I have my better half. Angelina Monique Fuentes, will you remarry me?”
Her eyes glistened with sudden tears as her gaze flitted over their audience before returning to her husband. Matteo could tell he had really surprised her this time. He had confessed his sins and was asking for forgiveness in front of God and everyone. In spite of everything, he hoped she saw the good in him.
“Yes,” she whispered. She always did what she had to do, but he felt in his heart her response wasn’t out of obligation. Some part of her loved him enough to give him another chance. Maybe he was ready. This could be the dawning of the golden age of their relationship. Maybe.
While the onlookers erupted with excitement and cheer, Matteo rose to his feet, ducked his head with tears in his eyes and whispered quietly into her ear, “I mean it, baby. I’m gonna make up for everything I’ve done to you.”
A few months later, they remarried in a little white church in an understated ceremony, and after the renewal of vows and the cutting of cake, a professional photographer took a dazzling array of pictures of the new Mr. and Mrs. Fuentes.
For a while, they were happy. Matteo and Angelina framed the photographs and hung them in the luxurious formal living room of their multi-million-dollar house in their exclusive neighborhood. They went about their regular business. She continued as a psychiatrist at the hospital, and he kept developing affordable housing outside their affluent area, and the pictures collected dust.
They could have gone on like this forever. Not just complacent. Happy.
Kristi DuPont glared at the eviction notice tacked to her door, knowing she wouldn’t be able to cover her rent and late fees, despite living in an income based unit. She had recently lost another job, and her “savings” were nonexistent. Why the hell had she moved to this godforsaken city in the first place? She sighed, remembering it was a struggle everywhere she lived. This place was no exception.
Her nine-year-old son tugged on her shirt, and she bit back an F-bomb and pasted on a smile for him. “What is it, Kaz?” He pointed at the door and whined to be let in. He was tired, and it was late. Kristi had just retrieved him from her friend Dola’s apartment after spending the whole day job hunting. Plus, Kaz hated to have his schedule changed.
She shoved the notice in her pocket and unlocked the door, ushering her son into the cool, dark unit with a sigh of regret that she might not be able to keep the place. The two-bedroom at Happy Meadows Apartmentsss wasn’t ideal, but at least they had enough space here. “Go hang out in your room, babe. Let me get some dinner fixed, and then you can get ready for bed.”
Kaz pushed past her and jetted to his bedroom while she paced the kitchen, trying to figure out what to do. “Well, hell, walking in circles won’t solve a damn thing,” Kristi muttered to herself as she jerked a pot from under the counter and thumped it on the stove. She got dinner started.
She had to get her son fed, bathed and in bed before she did anything else. Kristi called Kaz to the rickety dining table and set a plate in front of him. “Make sure you eat it all, honey. We don’t have food to waste,” she said, although it was a futile command. Kaz would pick over what he wanted and ignore what he didn’t.
He didn’t talk to her while he ate. He barely made eye contact. He lined up a row of mushy peas from largest to smallest, having the patience to note the differences in size that most people wouldn’t. Kristi dropped her chin on her folded arms and watched him.
“Are you mad at me?” He didn’t respond. “How was your day?” She reached over the table to tousle his hair, but he pulled away from her. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there to pick you up from school. Did you have fun with Teedy Dola?” No response.
Kristi swallowed the lump that formed at trying to connect with her autistic son and coming away empty handed. It was always like this, but she suspected things were worse lately because their lives were so unstable.
“One of these days, I’m gonna find us a forever home, okay, buddy? Then, I’m gonna be there after school every day to pick you up, and you won’t have to wonder what happens next. Everything will be normal. Do you believe that, Kaz?”
He pushed his empty cup her way for more juice. Kristi’s brave smile dropped, and she pushed his cup aside. “No more drink. Let’s get you cleaned up and ready for bed,” she said. She led him to the bathroom and put him in the tub. Kaz hummed to himself while he stared at the luminescent bubbles, and she sat on the edge of the bathroom counter with her head against the mirror, weighing her options. She had a few, but none of them were desirable.
The property manager, Roger, was a man every down-on-her-luck woman in the building told her would let a month or two slide if she did a few sexual favors.
Kristi arched a brow at the thought and climbed down from the countertop to get Kaz focused on his bath so he could finish up and climb in bed. She took him to his room, half-heartedly read him a story, waited for his fluttering eyes to still.
Once he was asleep, Kristi marched to her room with her voluptuous bottom swaying sexily in black yoga pants. She threw open the closet door and shoved clothes aside with a grating scrape of metal hangers against the metal bar. It took her some time to go through her wardrobe, but she finally found the right outfit. “Perfect,” she whispered. Kristi snatched out the suit and laid it against her frame to survey herself in the cracked bureau mirror.
She finger-combed auburn kinky curls out of her face. As she took in her reflection, she narrowed her angular eyes with determination. Her ageless caramel skin glowed, and her shapely body was toned from years of dancing as a hobby. Any man would pay to have her, especially the property manager.
But Kristi had never been a hooker, and she damn sure wasn’t about to start playing the fool now. She needed the pinstripe pantsuit to see the owner, Matteo Fuentes, to let him know he needed better management since the current manager had to be costing him big time. Dola’s advice to see Roger aside, an average man might easily get rid of a great mistress, but a business man wouldn’t get rid of a great employee, and she would be a great employee. She wouldn’t have lost her last job if it hadn’t been for—
Kristi flinched when she heard Kaz cry out from the other room. She rushed to him to see what was wrong. “Did you have a bad dream?” She stepped over blocks on the floor and tugged his race car comforter up over his narrow shoulders. Kaz’s face was covered in tears.
“My daddy will get me,” he sobbed.
Kristi frowned and helped him wipe his tears. He had to have been eavesdropping when she was on the phone with Dola earlier when she told her friend about the possibility of his father getting out of prison. Kaz had never met the man. All he knew was Kristi was terrified of him getting out. But that wasn’t her son’s problem; it was hers. Kristi silently cursed herself for letting Kaz get wind of the news.
“Baby, baby, go back to sleep. Mommy’s here. I won’t let anything happen to you, alright?”
His hazel eyes registered skepticism, but he stopped whimpering and snuggled deeper into his pillow. He was getting too old to cry over every little thing like he did, she worried. With his autism, some developmental milestones got knocked straight out of the ballpark, while others didn’t. Kristi pushed Kaz where it counted, but she could deal with her sensitive little homeboy.
Smiling tiredly, she leaned forward and kissed his forehead, and she stayed by his side, rubbing his skinny back until his eyes fluttered shut again. When his soft snores signaled he was sleeping, she tiptoed back to making plans to keep a roof over their heads.
“One of these days,” she whispered, but trailed off, too tired to finish the statement.
One of these days they wouldn’t have to struggle. One of these days, food stamps wouldn’t be the only thing to look forward to each month. Her son would have everything he needed and a lot of what he wanted, too. Kristi was used to having to scrape to get by, but she didn’t want Kaz to get used to this. She had to convince Matteo Fuentes to hire her.