A Chanelle Series Novel - Book 2
Praise for Hands Off
“I’m telling you, within a year, this is a writer everyone will know.” – Victoria Christopher Murray, Award-Winning author of The Personal Librarian and the Seven Deadly Sins Series
“Monica Lynne Foster is an extraordinary new voice in African American fiction whose writing captivates you from beginning to end. Hands Off continues the story of Chanelle and her supporting cast as they embark on new journeys filled with trials and tribulations. The novel is intriguing, loving, suspenseful and well written. I can't wait to read what happens next.” Maria D. Williams, Film/TV Producer
“Chanelle is ready for her happily ever after, but this is no fairy tale. She has dealt with enemies before, but when Rick s ex-wife shows up unexpectedly she isn't dealing with the average nemesis. Twyla has a history of mental illness; but if she thinks she is going to reclaim her place as Rick's wife she has to be off her meds. Die-hard Chanelle fans know she isn't willing to give up without a fight. If you are familiar with Chanelle, you are aware that wherever she goes some kind of trouble is sure to ensue and this book does not disappoint. Monica Lynne Foster has really done it again with Hands Off! Using the precision of an expert weaver, Monica has crafted a tale of mystery and intrigue, while also calling attention to the issue of mental illness. This book is definitely a must read!” – Arnitris L. Strong, Creator of blessedbethetie.com
About the Book...
Chanelle Slate believes she has it all. Beauty, a six-figure career, love of family, and a ride or die best friend. But the best part of her life is that she’s in love with a man she’d only dreamed about. She knows her marriage proposal is around the corner and she can’t wait to be Mrs. Chanelle Faust. Then she meets her man’s ex, and discovers his ex suffers from a mental illness. Will Chanelle find a way to keep her man without crossing the line and driving his ex over the edge?
Twyla Logan-Faust is used to being a kept woman. But when her boyfriend is sentenced to life without parole and her accountant takes off with her money, her world falls apart. She turns to her ex-husband, Rick, hoping to resume her position as his wife. Rick is the only man who knows about her bipolar condition and he’s the only one she can trust. Even when she discovers he’s moved on, she remains confident that no other woman can replace her. With a little coaxing, she’s positive she’ll be Mrs. Twyla Faust again.
Rick Faust is caught in the middle. His love for Chanelle is undeniable, but he was married to Twyla for years. He knows Twyla’s condition is real and he’s worried about what she might do if he rejects her. It’s impossible to make both women happy and he realizes his decision will change all of their lives forever.
The battle is on! With both women determined to be the new Mrs., who will be able to say… Hands Off
Pissed. That was the only word to describe my feelings when my boyfriend’s ex-wife announced she was snatching him from me. A week ago today, she’d rang Rick’s cell and upended our blissful evening.
I glanced over at Rick, relaxing on the couch, watching LeBron whip through the air as he sank another basket. A slow smile spread across my lips as my spirit swelled with more joy than I ever dreamed was possible. This man was everything I’d begged God to bring me. Strong arms that held me when I needed it. Hazel eyes that devoured me with passion, love, and a healthy dose of lust. Deep pockets that allowed him to spoil me. But the best part of my man was his big heart, with ample room to cherish me unconditionally. I inhaled deeply, as if I could smell the sweet scent of my marriage proposal in the air.
My smile evaporated as my mind journeyed back to that night…
“Hey, sweetie, something smells delicious,” Rick said, sliding open the patio doors and stepping from the sunroom onto the deck.
I flipped one of the pork chops I was grilling and greeted him with a peck. “Hey, babe. Dinner is almost ready. Go go wash your hands.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he joked and saluted me, then set his sunglasses and phone on the table before heading back through the sliding patio doors.
As he strode out of the sunroom, his phone rang. “Babe, would you catch that?”
“I got it.” Still smiling, I looked down at his phone. The caller ID read, “Unknown.”
“Who is this?” a female voice asked.
“Who is this?” I responded with my own question, and a bit of attitude.
She smacked her lips. “Rick’s wife. Twyla.”
My neck twisted as my hand went to my hip. “Excuse me, but don’t you mean his ex-wife?”
“Once a wife, always a wife. Now is Rick there?” The demand in her tone angered me as she continued. “Because I need to speak with my husband.”
I know this chick is not serious; I thought. “My man is unavailable at the moment. Would you like to leave a message?”
In a tone drenched in so much sex I squirmed—and not in a good way—, she said, “Yeah, as a matter of fact, I do. You tell him we’re not over. I’m comin’ back to claim what’s mine. He knows the number; have him call me.”
I yanked the cell away from my ear and stared at it as the home screen reappeared.
“Babe, who was on the phone?” Rick asked, walking up behind me and nuzzling my neck.
I spun to face him. “Your ex-wife. She said, ‘Call her’.” I shoved his cell into his chest. “She wants you back.”
His jaw dropped. And in an instant, the peace in my life shifted. I stormed into the house and ran up to my bedroom to call Michele—my best friend and ride or die when necessary. She was the only one I trusted to help me handle my new problem.
The sound of the crowd cheering brought my mind back into the living room. My eyes narrowed as I watched Rick next to me. He’d assured me he hadn’t loved Twyla in years, and my worries were baseless. Even so, it bothered me that she'd resurfaced after so much time had passed. I’d wasted my twenties and half of my thirties with a man who I’d discovered was on the down low. Now that I had Rick and the love I craved, I wasn’t letting anything—or anyone—steal it. There was no way any good would come of her return.
I took a long sip of my Pepsi, dragging my eyes away from Rick and back to the television. I was nipping this, whatever ‘this’ was, in the bud.
Out of the edge of my view, I saw Chanelle staring at me. I was certain I knew what was happening in that active brain of hers. I’d peeped her scrutinizing me a lot since that phone call from Twyla last week. I sighed, drawing a frown from Chanelle that I pretended not to notice as I reflected on the days with my ex.
Twyla. That woman used to be my world. We met the year after I graduated from college, and our love was immediate. Even though I’d earned a dual Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration and Architectural Engineering, hustling coursed through my blood. It was street money that paid my way through college. Street money that funded my purchase of a three-bedroom condo in a sought-after gated community—at twenty-three. Twyla didn’t have any issues with how I brought cash into the house. She liked that I wanted to give her every material thing she desired. All she had to do was casually mention something she wanted, and it would be gift-wrapped and waiting for her the next day. Her closet with designer bags and shoes by designer’s names I couldn’t pronounce. Her jewelry armoire, overflowing with expensive gems, was proof that I’d learned her love language. And I was good with it. I enjoyed pampering my lady.
But seven years into our marriage, my brother Max was in a terrible car accident. I’d paid for specialists who dominated their fields, and it didn’t make a difference. No matter how much money I threw at them, none of the treatments were working and my brother’s prognosis was grim. He’d been transferred to hospice, and it was just a matter of days before our parents would have to arrange his funeral.
A tear touched my eye as I recalled visiting Max toward the end of his life. I raised from the couch, not wanting Chanelle to see me emotional.
“Where are you going?” she asked, glancing up from the basketball game on her seventy-two inch television.
I raised my empty beer bottle. “I need a refill. Want one?”
“No thanks. But I’ll take a Pepsi.”
I nodded and walked toward the kitchen as I remembered the night that changed my life.
The sight of my brother, laying in a hospital bed—in a coma—every available space on his arms and chest hooked up to machines straining to keep him alive, finally broke me. I’d stepped away and ducked into the nearest room, not realizing it was a chapel; and I did something I’d never done in my life. I’d prayed and talked to God about my brother. My best friend. The one who understood me better than our parents. And something unexpected happened. God spoke back. I’d heard His voice as clear as if He was sitting next to me. I didn’t leave the room until the sun said, “good morning”. When I walked out, I knew I’d see a miracle. In the weeks that followed, God began bringing him around. It was almost unbelievable that my brother made a complete recovery. I told my family about my conversation with God and over the next several months, all of us gradually gave our lives to Him.
That is, everyone except my wife. Twyla believed Max was better because of some mystical, magical, invisible thing. She made it clear she wasn’t interested in a God she couldn’t see or touch. For her, God was green. Full stop. When I told her I was done with the fast life and going legit, she was angry, but I thought she’d still have my back.
It took me two years to get my home remodeling business off the ground, and rather than be down for me, Twyla hooked up with my competition from my street days. Her affair was the straw that pushed me to give up on our relationship and leave her. The only things I kept from our nine years of marriage were my business, our timeshare in Aruba, and my truck.
Before the past week, the last time we’d spoken was three years ago at my office to sign the divorce papers. And she’d arrived with her boyfriend.
When Chanelle thrust my phone at me, I was confused. I’d spent the better part of the evening convincing her I didn’t know why Twyla called me. Because I honestly had no idea, and I wasn’t calling her back to find out. Eventually, Chanelle calmed enough to believe me and we were able to enjoy the rest of our night.
But now Twyla had been calling me daily, and there was no way Chanelle could know. Twyla had long suffered from a bipolar disorder that she kept under control with medication and psychiatric therapy.
On my way back to the den—Chanelle’s Pepsi and my beer in my hands—I hoped to God that Twyla was still on her meds. I knew enough to know that Twyla off medication—or worse yet, self medicating—spelled trouble for my future.
“Can you wait right here? I’ll pay you an extra hundred.” I flashed a crisp bill at my Uber driver. “Here’s fifty in good faith.”
He glanced at the fencing—with wire coiled across the top—outside of Eastham prison; then glimpsed the green I was holding between my fingers. He slipped the bill into his shirt pocket and said, “I’ll wait.”
“Thanks.” I slid out of the backseat, my red-bottom heels clacking against the concrete as I sauntered up the walk and inside the visitor’s entrance of the prison. Standing in the check-in line behind a rotund woman in a pair of lime green jeggings that showed every ripple and dimple, I tugged on my Yves St. Laurent jacket and questioned why I was even here. After providing my identification to the officer and placing my designer handbag in a metal locker, I followed the line through the metal detectors and into the secured visiting area.
“If you wish to get snacks for your visit, you may do so now,” the burly officer said, pointing to the row of vending machines.
I ignored her suggestion. “I won’t be here that long.”
She peered at me, then shrugged, before pointing to where I was to sit and wait for my boyfriend.
This would be the first time I’d see Emilio since his sentencing seven months ago. My eyes surveyed the room painted in dishwater gray and white floors with chair skid marks. Inmates and their families sat across from each other at round metal tables bolted to the floor. Some looked as though they were enjoying their visit. Others kept glancing at the wall clock. I lowered myself onto the black plastic chair and casually crossed my leg over my knee, smoothing the front of my skirt. Then ran my hand down my tailored white button down blouse, unbuttoning the top two when the officer wasn’t looking. Emilio loved my long legs and perky c-cup. I sighed. This would be his last time seeing both.
I inhaled a sharp breath when he strolled in, walking with swag that almost caused me to rethink my plans. My Latin Lover, as I’d called him, still held my breath hostage. Even dressed in his all-white uniform and an added tear drop tattooed under his eye, he was still sexy.
My brow inched up as I bit my bottom lip. My body still hungered for this man. But my mind knew better.
“Mi Amor, it’s so good to see you,” Emilio said, reaching out to hug me.
Mi Amor. My love. It was his thick Spanish accent that drew me to him over three years ago. I slowly uncrossed my legs and raised to my feet, allowing him to pull me close and hold me tightly for a moment. It surprised me that his embrace didn’t feel the same. While his arms were as strong as they’d always been, my heart was no longer connected to his. Maybe it was because the scent of his signature cologne had been replaced with the smell of prison bar soap.
“That’s enough,” the guard barked, which was fine with me.
We both looked at the stout woman who’d issued the warning and knew that with her schoolmarm bun perched on top of her head and taser holstered to her waist, she was serious. Emilio glowered but pulled back. He plopped in the hard chair across the table from me.
“It’s good to see you, too.” I forced a smile, shaking whimsical thoughts of our past relationship. I’d come here for one purpose only.
“Did you get my letters?” He reached across the table for my hands. “I’ve been writing to you every week since I got here.”
“Um, yes. Look, Emilio,” I began, sliding my hands back to my side and underneath the table. “I won’t beat around the bush. I have something to tell you, and it was important to do it in person.”
The lines in his otherwise smooth forehead deepened. “What are you talking about?”
I took a deep breath and said the words I’d rehearsed on the three-hour flight. “We’re done.”
He leaned closer, and his stale, fierce breath assaulted my nostrils. “What! I thought you said you were down for me no matter what happened at my sentencing. How are you gonna bail after just seven months?”
I was unphased by his outburst and scrunched my face at the obvious answer. “The judge said life. Without the possibility of parole. You’re lucky you didn’t get the death penalty.” I sat back and folded my arms. “I’m a young woman with a lot of life to live. Did you expect me to be on lockdown just because you are?”
He banged his fists on the table, causing the guard to make a move toward him. But he held up his hands, letting her know he had his temper under control. “Hablas en serio, Twyla? The only reason I’m sitting in this hellhole is because of you. I did this deal for you.”
“Yes, I’m serious, Emilio. You may have gone to Texas for me. But I didn’t tell you to kill that guy,” I said, referencing the drug mule he’d shot.
“Twyla, we’ve already been through this. I told you, fue un accidente.”
“Accident or not,” I said, shrugging a shoulder and continued. “We’re over.”
“You flew all the way down here to tell me this? You coulda just mailed a letter.”
“You’re right, I could have. But out of respect for our years together, I owed it to you to tell you face-to-face. However, if you contact me after today, I’ll report you to the prison officials.”
His dark brown eyes seemed black as they narrowed. “Eres una perra de sangre fria.”
I chuckled at his insult. “So I’m a cold-blooded bitch? No, sweetheart. Cold would be not saying anything at all. I’m actually being quite respectful of your feelings by letting you know that I’ve moved on.”
“Moved on?” His fists formed a ball so tight his light brown knuckles turned white. “With who?”
“Not that I owe you an explanation, but it’s Rick.” I looked at the guard, hoping that she’d tell him our visit was over, but another inmate had distracted her.
“Your ex? You’re back with your ex-husband?”
I held my head high. “Yes. And we’re very happy together.”
He snarled. “You expect me to believe that after you left him for me, that he’d just take you back?”
“I don’t care what you believe.” I flipped my hand, dismissing him.
“When did this happen?”
“None of your business,” I said, pushing away from the table and standing. “As I said, it’s best that you don’t contact me anymore.”
The corners of his mouth turned downward as he reached out for me. “Twyla, por favor…”
I stepped back. “Don’t beg. It’s not a good look.” I squared my shoulders and said, “Goodbye, Emilio.” I smirked as I strolled out of the room without glancing back. I’d closed a chapter in my life that no longer served a purpose.
The Uber driver was waiting, as he’d agreed. “Please take me to George Bush Intercontinental Airport,” I said as I slid into the backseat.
“Yes, ma’am.” He pulled away from the curb and pointed the car toward I-45.
I relaxed my head against the cloth backseat and closed my eyes, collecting myself. Putting a period at the end of my relationship was easier than I thought. I’d always remember the sad look on Emilio’s face, but I had to do what was best for me. And that was getting my ex-husband back. Rick was the key to returning to a life filled with lunch dates with fake girlfriends, shopping sprees at high-end department stores, credit cards with no limits, and cars that were old if they were the prior year’s model. That was the life I deserved; the life that shifted out of reach after Emilio’s arrest a year ago.
Thanks to the generosity of my ex-husband, I received a sizable divorce settlement three years earlier and hired a financial advisor to manage my portfolio. Things went well for the first couple of years. I had my money from Rick tied up in investments and Emilio filling the role as my sugar daddy.
Then things went left. Way left. Emilio got caught up in that murder scandal in Texas, of all places. Just stupid. And my financial advisor made some unfortunate investments, costing me a chunk of money, which I could have handled. Except he’d managed my remaining funds right out of my accounts and into his untouchable and untraceable account in the Cayman Islands. Before I realized what had happened, I was almost broke. My house went into foreclosure, my car was repossessed, and the pawnshop became the beneficiary of most of my jewelry.
I raided the few stashes of cash—and four kilos of cocaine—that I knew about before the police searched Emilio’s homes. But now, I’d spent most of those funds and sold all but the little bit I’d kept for my own needs. I needed to think of something because a nine-to-five job wasn’t an option. The last time I worked was before I met Rick. I was a cashier at Burger King, and nothing about that lifestyle was calling me back to it. Growing up virtually on my own, I had always been resourceful; all I needed was an opportunity to get back on top. That’s when fate struck.
I opened my eyes and reached into my tote bag, pulling out the clipping I’d seen in the newspaper the week before while eating dinner. The paper had a spotlight section for local business owners who were doing amazing things. My fork dropped onto my plate when I realized the owner being profiled was my ex-husband. Looking at his picture, he could have easily been the winner of People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive. And I noticed he wasn’t wearing a wedding band. I knew my ex. If he’d remarried, the entire world would know. Pushing my plate to the side, I reached for my phone to call him and congratulate him on his success. My plan was to invite him out for drinks to celebrate, positioning myself to be back in his life. There was no question that he’d be sprung once he saw me.
What I didn’t expect was some chick answering. Rick was protective of his cellphone, so if he let her answer, then she must be special to him. And that was not good for me. I’d called him every day for the past week, but he’d pushed me to voicemail. It would have been useless to leave any messages until I knew what to say. But two days ago, a brilliant idea popped into my head. I was thankful that I’d sent in the paperwork to be on Emilio’s visitor’s list with the prison, and I booked a flight to Houston. Rick and I may not be back together. Yet. But we would be in a matter of days.
I pulled out my cellphone and dialed an all too familiar phone number.
“Good afternoon and thank you for calling Faust Home Renovations. How may I direct your call?” the very young and impressionable sounding receptionist said. Hmm, maybe this was going to be easy.
In my best impersonation of a Southern belle, I said, “Ah yes, good afternoon. My name is Twy—Twinkie Summers and I’m purchasing a home on Bourbon Ct. I saw your write-up in the paper and wanted to know if someone from your office could meet me at the property this Sunday at two o’clock? There are some changes I’d like to discuss before making my final decision, and I need an expert opinion.”
“Oh, sure. That’s no problem. We have several qualified contractors who could work with you,” she said, her voice bubbling through the phone.
“That’s fantastic,” I gushed, then paused. “Now tell me, would the owner be available?”
“Well… Mr. Faust rarely works on Sundays.” Then she quickly added, “But I’m sure you’ll be pleased with the services of anyone on our staff.”
“This is a multi-million dollar home, Darling. It must be Mr. Faust,” I cooed. “I just wouldn’t be comfortable with anyone other than the owner. I’m sure you can understand.”
“Did you say multi-million dollar?”
“Yes, that’s right.” I heard her ears perking up, so I bluffed. “If Mr. Faust isn’t available, then I’ll continue looking for someone who has the time.”
“Oh no. I’m sure he’ll make an exception in your case.” She was apparently smart enough not to lose a potential sale. “Why don’t you give me your information and the property address? I’ll only call you back if he can’t make it. How does that sound?”
“That’s sounds splendid. Thank you very much for being so flexible.” I gave her what she needed, including the number of my burner phone. I was certain that Rick, forever a hustler, wouldn’t pass up an opportunity to work on a multi-million dollar home. After all, I’d been his wife for nine years; I knew my husband.
I folded the article and returned it, along with my phone, to my bag. Then I closed my eyes again and smiled, confident I’d soon be Mrs. Rick Faust again.