He's One Mistake She Plans To Forget. . . As maid-of-honor to a friend who's gone Bridezilla, Winfred "Freddie" Barker is dealing with minute-to-minute drama from her crazy-extravagant wedding. So when the ceremony is over and the reception starts heating up, Freddie blows off steam with a little champagne--and a lot of the best man, Cleveland Alexander. It was definitely going to be just a one-night fling, 'cause no woman in her right mind would fall for that man's arrogant, self-centered self, no matter how caramel-fine he is. . . She's The One Woman He Can't Live Without. . . As a hard-core bachelor, Cleveland Alexander was strictly all about beddin' and forgettin'. And the only reason he let Ms. Winfred Barker call his bluff was to put her stuck-up attitude in check. But once he sees how complicated and caring she really is, he'll do anything to help solve her problems--and convince her that the love between them is a lifetime of real. . .
Release date: April 19, 2010
Print pages: 318
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
More Than He Can Handle
One bridesmaid wanted to stare into his slate gray eyes and run her fingers through his long, black Nubian locks while he kissed her senseless, because despite the frown on his thick lips, they looked so kissable and delicious. Another bridesmaid leaned into her friend and told her that if she had the chance, she’d turn that frown on his face into the biggest smile because a man like that needed a woman who could work her hips. The only thing that stopped her from giving a demonstration was a stern look from the reverend who’d overheard their conversation.
But there was one woman who didn’t give a damn if he smiled or not. The only thing that Winfred Barker cared about was seeing him turn around and walk out the door so that he could get to the Atlanta Falcons pep rally that he couldn’t stop talking about. Unfortunately, she was the only woman who was going to know the feel of Cleveland’s big hands. He was the best man and she was the maid of honor and they had to walk down the aisle together. While there was a table full of bridesmaids who would’ve switched places with her in a heartbeat, Freddie was dreading spending time with Cleveland Alexander. Sure part of it had to do with the fact the she was tired of hearing him complain. Cleveland had told everyone in earshot that the only reason he’d been a part of the wedding party was because his brother, Darren Alexander, was expecting his first child and at the last minute he’d graciously stepped up and stepped in for him. But she couldn’t deny his sex appeal, either. Freddie glanced at Cleveland as he took a seat at the table with the groomsmen. She rolled her eyes when she heard him start with that damned Falcons pep rally story—again. Part of her wanted to walk over there and ask him why he was even here. The best man was supposed to be the friend of the groom and if this is how he treated his friends, she would hate to be one of his enemies.
The bride, Lillian Thomas, walked over to the table where the bridesmaids sat. “Ladies, thanks for a great rehearsal.” She ran her fingers through her shoulder-length raven hair for dramatic effect. Freddie smirked as she watched her friend. Lillian had always had a flair for the dramatic, but this wedding had turned her into an actress worthy of an Oscar. “I appreciate all of your hard work, and I really enjoyed last night’s bridal shower. Give yourselves a hand,” Lillian said, then she turned to Freddie. “Now, if I can borrow the maid of honor for a moment.”
Looking at her best friend and seeing the look of drama in her eyes, Freddie figured that she wasn’t going to be eating her plate of spaghetti and marinara sauce tonight. Rising to her feet, she headed to a quiet corner with Lillian. “What’s up Lil?” she asked, ignoring the rumbling in her stomach. Lillian had been keeping her so busy that she hadn’t had a bite to eat since breakfast, which had been more than twelve hours ago.
“I need you to find out what Cleveland and those groomsmen have planned for tonight. See, if Darren had been the best man, I wouldn’t be worried about a bachelor party, you know? He’s married and wouldn’t do anything too wild. But Cleveland . . .” Lillian cut her eyes in his direction and a dark shadow seemed to cover her face. “He’s a bachelor and I’m sure he’s planned something wicked. The last thing I want is to have my future husband spending the night before our wedding with some greasy, silicone-enhanced stripper. You remember what happened with Mario Lopez and that pretty B-list actress he was going to marry. He cheated on her the night before their wedding. It’s okay if they have a party planned, but do strippers have to be involved?”
“Lil, you know your future husband loves you more than anything in the world. Besides, you’re not a pretty B-list actress,” Freddie joked. Lillian slapped her friend on the shoulder.
“Freddie,” Lillian said. “I’m serious. I don’t want to be up all night worrying about what my future husband is doing.”
“It’s Louis’s last night as a free man, let him have his fun.” Honestly, Freddie didn’t want to talk to Cleveland. Though she thought that Cleveland was beyond arrogant and a total jerk, he embodied everything that made her knees quiver. Maybe that’s why she kept looking for reasons not to like him. If she didn’t like him, she could play down the attraction that had been building since the moment their eyes met. She didn’t want to admit it, but she felt a jolt when he closed his hand around hers as they walked down the aisle during the rehearsal.
“Louis will always be a Freeman.”
“You’re corny, I know the man’s last name is Freeman, but you know what I mean.”
Crocodile tears welled up in Lillian’s eyes and Freddie knew that her friend was about to start with the theatrics. Here it comes, she thought.
“When you get married, you will understand what I’m feeling. I don’t want my future husband to spend the night before our wedding with some hootchie on his lap.”
Freddie rolled her eyes. “Umm, you got a lap dance at your bridal shower and you still want to marry him. I don’t think a stripper is going to change his mind about marrying you.”
Lillian sighed, placed her hands on her hips and pouted at her best friend. “I don’t think he’s going to cheat on me or run off with the stripper. I just want to know what’s going on.”
Slapping her hand against her forehead, Freddie expelled a loud breath. “Whatever.”
“Just ask Cleveland. No one is near him now, you could get it over with right now.” Lillian practically pushed Freddie in Cleveland’s direction.
Rolling her eyes, Freddie slowly walked over to him. Each step she took toward him made her heart race. Calm down, she thought. He’s just a man, no matter how good he looks.
“Excuse me,” Freddie said as she sat in the empty chair to his right. “Can we talk for a moment?”
Cleveland fought back his smile when Freddie asked him if they could talk. Hell yes, they could talk. His excitement was tempered, though. From the moment he arrived in Covington, every bridesmaid had hit on him. He was flattered, as any man would be, but Cleveland liked a challenge. And she was the only one who hadn’t hit on him, but he’d be willing to hear her out if that’s what she wanted to talk about. He studied her face as she sat down. She was a beauty—rich brown skin like ebony wood and the darkest brown eyes that he’d ever seen. Her hair, which was naturally curly, looked to be softer than cotton. With it pulled back off her face, her striking beauty shone like the sun in the sky.
“Yes?” he said, keeping his voice cool. The last thing he wanted was to reveal the lusty fantasy he’d been having about her since he held her hand walking down the aisle.
Sighing, she rolled her eyes, “Look, Lillian’s a little worried about what you’re planning for Louis’s bachelor party tonight.”
“Do you even speak in sentences? Or do you have to be complaining about how much you don’t want to be here to do that? If you could just not keep Louis out too late, Lillian would appreciate it.”
Cleveland snarled at her. “It’s Winfred, right?”
“Freddie to my friends. But you can call me Miss Barker,” she said, her voice tinged with indignation.
“Well, Miss Barker, tell Lillian that I have no plans to keep her husband out at all tonight. I’m a stand in, I’m getting him to the church on time and I’m holding the rings. Other than that I’m doing nothing else. If I had my choice . . .”
“You’d be in Atlanta at the Falcons’ pep rally,” Freddie finished. “I know, you’ve been saying it for a day and a half. You’re not there so I wish you would get over it.”
“You women like stuff like this? A big production for nothing? Instead of going into debt to declare your undying love, why not go to a Justice of the Peace?”
“But this isn’t your wedding, so show a little respect to your friend and shut up.” Freddie rose to her feet, casting a sidelong glance at Cleveland. Even though she was scowling, she had the prettiest lips he’d ever seen. He was ready to write her off, though. She was obviously one of those stuck up sisters who thought her role as maid of honor made her an extension of the bride. Lillian was a bridezilla, if he’d ever seen one, and her friend Miss Barker was one in training.
“Listen, lady,” Cleveland said, “I’m showing respect, as you say, just by being here as the best man. My brother has an obligation to his wife and I came in off the bench to walk you down the aisle. Where’s the gratitude? All I’m getting from you is attitude.”
Whirling around, Freddie focused her dark glare on him and Cleveland thought for a second that she might take a swing at him. And even though she had an evil glint in her eyes, her lips looked delectable, and he had to fight the urge to kiss her in a way that he was certain she hadn’t been kissed in a long time—if ever.
“You have a high opinion of yourself that I just don’t share,” she said as she turned and walked away.
Roland Hamilton, one of the groomsmen, walked over to the table with his third helping of spaghetti. “She shot you down, huh?”
Cleveland waved his hand as if he were swatting annoying gnats. “Lillian said not to keep her future husband out too long tonight. While you fools are out spending money you don’t have at some strip club, I’ll be in my hotel room.”
“What do you have against strip clubs? Besides, we got to help this man remember what he’s giving up,” Roland said in between bites of pasta.
“This is a waste of my time. I’ll bet you these two won’t last a year,” Cleveland said snidely as he watched Lillian straighten Louis’s shirt.
Roland wiped his mouth. “Shit, I don’t give them six months. But I’ve been wrong before too. Look at Darren and Jill, hell, who thought they would still be together. When’s the baby coming? I still can’t believe that they’re married and about to be parents.”
“Darren said Jill was having severe labor pains last night. The doctor thought she was losing embryonic fluid, so she’s been in the hospital for the last few days. Her pregnancy was high risk from the beginning,” Cleveland said.
Roland nodded as he twirled spaghetti around his fork. “Chief has been on pins and needles lately,” he said of Darren.
“He really wants to be a father and will do anything to make sure his wife and unborn child are all right,” Cleveland said as he glanced down at his food.
Roland ripped into a piece of garlic bread before saying, “I can’t believe that rich woman wanted Darren. Hell, I should’ve worked that night and I could be Mr. Jill Atkinson.” He wiped a spot of sauce from his lips with the back of his hand. Cleveland looked at his friend in disgust and laughed.
“Only if she would’ve gone blind that night.”
An excited Louis walked over to the table. “All right, where’s the bachelor party and when are we leaving?” He glanced over his shoulder a few times as if he was checking to make sure Lillian wasn’t in earshot. “I love Lillian and all, but if I don’t get out of here soon, we’re going to elope. Who knew weddings were this stressful? Let’s hit it, guys.”
Yawning, Cleveland rose to his feet. “That’s on y’all. But before you get too drunk and up to your eyes in strippers, make my reservations for Mardi Gras.”
Louis shook his head. “I can’t believe I had to bribe you to step up and be my best man. That’s real foul, man.”
“You’re lucky it’s only costing you a trip to New Orleans. After all the Falcons went through to make it to the playoffs, you got me down here in Newton County when I could be partying and making use of my sister-in-law’s sky box in the Dome. Besides, you know the future Mrs. Freeman doesn’t like me.”
“Well,” Roland said, “the way these women are throwing themselves at you, you should be paying Louis. I’ll give Lillian credit, she has some fine friends. There is nothing like banging a bridesmaid.”
Louis laughed hysterically, “Too bad you won’t be finding out what that’s like. Lil said the women are talking and they want you to leave them alone.”
“All these fine women around here, it’s like being in a candy shop. They need to stop acting so stuck up and get with this good thing. I’m going to say it again, your future wife got fine friends.”
Cleveland’s eyes sought out Freddie and he silently agreed.
Just as Freddie was about to take a bite of her cold dinner, Lillian pulled her away from the table again. Damn it, she thought as Lillian dragged her back to the corner.
“What did Cleveland say?” she demanded.
“Nothing. He said there isn’t a party, or at least he isn’t involved in it.”
Lillian folded her arms across her chest. “Whatever. Why does he keep staring at you?”
“Cleveland. I like his brother a lot better than him. Cleveland is so blah. He’s one of those guys who’s good to look at, but once you talk to him, he is so arrogant.”
Tell me about it, Freddie thought. Her eyes collided with Cleveland’s and he smiled, well it was more like a smirk. She knew he was the kind of man that her mother, Loraine, had warned her about. A man like her father, Jacques Babineaux. He probably thought the sun didn’t rise until he got out of bed.
She rolled her eyes in repugnance at the thought of Cleveland getting out of bed, shirtless with his hair spilling over his shoulders while some bimbo lounged in his bed. She could almost hear him softly telling his booty-du-jour that it was time for her to leave. Surely, a man like that didn’t sleep alone often. Turning her head, Freddie cast a sidelong glance at Cleveland as he laughed it up with his friends. As infuriating as he was, she couldn’t deny that this man had sex appeal beyond description. Maybe it was the way his light eyes twinkled when he laughed or the curve of his lips when he smiled. And what lips they were, thick and luscious, reminding her of juicy strawberries. Their eyes met again and her hormones betrayed her by heating her up like a summer’s day in the desert. How she wanted to tear her eyes away from him, but she couldn’t. And it seemed that he knew it and liked it. Licking his lips, he winked at her and held up his glass in a mock salute.
Lillian looked from Freddie to Cleveland. “So what’s that all about?” she asked.
Shrugging, Freddie pretended that she didn’t know what Lillian meant. “Who knows? Do you know all he’s been talking about is the Atlanta Falcons? Why would he agree to stand in for his brother if he was only going to complain ?”
“That’s just who he is . . .” Lillian stopped talking as she saw the florist walk into the reception hall. “What is this? These are not the silk flowers that I ordered. I wanted pink, this is mauve.” Her voice rose several octaves as she stalked over to the florist. The few people who were left in the reception hall started making their way to the door, as if they could feel the storm brewing. Lillian didn’t handle stress well, she just screamed at whoever was around, whether they deserved it or not.
Freddie stuck her finger in her right ear as the shrill from her friend’s voice seemed to split her eardrum. Ah, there it was, the maid of honor migraine. She knew it wasn’t going to be long before it flared up. Why did I agree to do this? I should’ve stayed in New Orleans and sent a gift. These big weddings are a waste of time anyway. She ran her hand down her face and closed her eyes. When she opened them, Cleveland was standing inches away from her.
“What do you want?” she asked.
“I couldn’t help but notice you staring at me, which I found kind of odd, because moments ago, you were chewing me out,” he said, with a smile plastered on his face.
Freddie didn’t like the way his silky voice made heat rush to her cheeks and her groin catch fire. And she couldn’t stand the fact that her heart was doing flip-flops at the sight of his smile. “First of all,” she said, hoping her voice didn’t waver or crack, “you flatter yourself, I wasn’t looking at you.”
Stepping closer to her, Cleveland laughed, his breath tickling the tip of her nose. “I know you were staring. But that’s okay, because I was doing the same thing.”
“Don’t you have a gentleman’s club to go to?”
“Well, excuse me, but I need to go check on Lillian. At least I’m doing my duties with a smile,” Freddie said, needing to escape Cleveland. When she inhaled, his masculine scent filled her nostrils and if she didn’t turn away now, she’d fantasize about what it would feel like to be held in those strong arms and have his lips pressed against hers.
Watching Freddie walk away made all types of thoughts dance through his head and most of them had her walking straight into his bedroom. It had been a long time since he’d had to chase a woman. The thrill of the chase was much better than just having everything handed to him on a platter. Freddie definitely wasn’t trying to hand him anything and that made him want everything she had to offer. Louis walked up to his friend, forcing him to tear his eyes away from Freddie’s shapely backside. “You’re never going to get any of that, so don’t even try it.”
“I can get whatever I want,” Cleveland said confidently.
“That’s a hot-blooded Louisiana babe. She and Lillian grew up together and went to Xavier. When Lil and I were dating in college, Freddie was always around. She was pretty cool, and I thought she’d make a brother a great girlfriend and give us some space. Then I made the mistake of trying to hook her up with my cousin who was at Dillard. Well, he said something that she didn’t like and she ripped him a new one. I think she made him cry. Ever seen Deliver Us From Eva? She’s the Eva prototype.”
Shrugging him off, Cleveland said, “She can’t be that bad. If anyone can break her, you’re looking at him.”
Louis shook his head as he laughed hysterically. “She’s not a stallion. Oh, my bad, this is your MO.”
“What are you talking about?” Cleveland asked.
“You go after that unattainable woman so you don’t have to commit, but can say ‘I tried.’ Aren’t you tired of serial dating? Countless encounters that lead to nothing?”
Cleveland placed his hand underneath his chin and pretended to be deep in thought. “No. Don’t think that because you’re getting married that it’s your job to marry everyone else off. Darren is doing a good job of trying, but it’s not going to work. Marriage and misery seem to go hand in hand. So, while I’m still young and fly, I’m going to enjoy myself. There are too many single women in Atlanta to be tied down to just one.”
“Who did a number on your heart?” Louis asked.
Looking away from his friend, Cleveland didn’t answer him. He didn’t have a snappy comeback because he’d never been brave enough to fall in love. He’d had relationships, entanglements and the like, but he’d never met a woman he felt he could trust with his heart. Unlike Darren, his older brother, Cleveland didn’t love easily—hastily rushing into marriage and relationships. When things got too deep, Cleveland would walk away because he didn’t want to care too much and end up hurt. He’d seen Darren’s devastation after his first marriage ended because of the lies his first wife told. He’d seen how even women with good intentions had caused hurt. His second wife, Jill, nearly destroyed Darren when she’d lied about her identity and that newspaper blasted her, making it seem as if she was a man-eating CEO who was only using him.
Cleveland knew he’d never be able to handle anything like that, so if he was a serial dater, then so be it. Women, he reasoned, say they want one thing and turn around and go for the exact opposite. Deep inside, he wanted a love like his parents or even like his brother’s marriage to Jill. But he didn’t think he’d find that with a woman in Atlanta since they all seemed to want men with huge bank accounts and prestige. As a firefighter, he was far from rich, but he was comfortable and could take care of himself and a family, if he ever had one.
Cleveland turned to Louis. “Listen, I bet you Freddie and I will be leaving your reception together.”
“You don’t stand a chance. But hey, it’s going to be fun to watch. I’m out of here. Roland is salivating to see some naked women. You sure you don’t want to come?”
Nodding as his cell phone rang, Cleveland waved good-bye to his friend and answered the call.
“How’s it going?” Darren asked.
“How do you think? Overbearing bridesmaids, the bride is tripping, Roland is taking the groomsmen to some strip club, and I have a room at some hotel that I think Norman Bates built. Your wife had better have given birth by the time I get back.”
“Well, I don’t think that’s going to happen. Jill’s lying in bed mad,” he said.
“What happened to the contractions and ‘I think my baby is coming early’?” Cleveland asked.
“Well, thankfully, she’s not leaking any fluids as the doctor thought, but her blood pressure is higher than the doctor would like so he put her on bed rest. I had to hide that damned laptop from her.”
Cleveland laughed at his sister-in-law’s unnatural attachment to that machine. She’d been the talk of the fire station when Darren pulled her from her burning high rise apartment and she wouldn’t let go of it. At that time, no one knew she was one of the richest women in Atlanta and the future Mrs. Darren Alexander.
“So, how is she coping without it?” Cleveland asked.
“I had to distract her with the NFL Network’s coverage of the Falcons’ pep rally. You know Jill loves football more than the average man and the Falcons are her favorite team.”
Cleveland chuckled. “Yeah, she has some prime seats in the Georgia Dome. I hope someone took those tickets off her hands.”
“Well,” Darren said, “you know she was holding those tickets for you. There was even going to be a meet and greet with the new quarterback.”
“Shut up! I should’ve been there.”
“Come on, with all the single women in that wedding party, you should be thanking us for having a baby.”
Cleveland’s eyes sought out Freddie again and found her standing at the door trying to hold Lillian back from the florist. If things worked out with the fiery Miss Barker, then maybe he would be thanking his brother. “We’ll see about that,” he said. “It looks as if some of these ladies are losing their minds in here, so let me go and offer my assistance.” After hanging up with Darren, Cleveland walked over to the bickering women. “Ladies, is there a problem?”
Freddie rolled her eyes. “No.”
Lillian waved her hands frantically. “There is a problem and I’m not going to have these ugly mauve roses at my ceremony.”
“Ma’am,” said the flustered florist. “These roses are pink. This is what you ordered, we went over your order three times. I showed you these very same roses two da. . .
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...