Join me in welcoming Tonya Lampley to the 5 Prince Publishing Family!
One careless night and a man’s life is changed forever.
Damon Harris wants a better life than the one he’s currently living. He has a penchant for trouble and a trail of mistakes behind him, but inside he can feel a greater call urging him on to the man he knows he can become. He marries the ideal woman in hopes it might settle him down. But change is hard. Stuck in a self-created prison where the only warden is himself, he’ll do just about anything to break free.
A few drinks, a beautiful girl…was it worth it?
Damon sat in a red-velvet bishop’s chair in one of the back rooms of St. Augustine’s Cathedral in downtown Chicago. The 100 year-old church’s renowned stained glass window, featuring the Messiah in an array of colors, hung high above him and gently filtered the October sunlight. His eyes rested on the tiny dust particles floating in the air, a useless attempt to distract him from his thoughts.
Three rapid taps on the heavy mahogany door broke through the silence and jarred him from contemplation.
“You ready?” a deep voice asked. Damon recognized the voice of Kurt, who would be his brother-in-law in a matter of minutes. A pretty stand-up guy, in Damon’s opinion. Looked nothing like his sisters, and wasn’t all that close to them, but he had stepped in per Carmen’s request, to fill the role of best man when Damon argued with the original one—his life-long friend Craig. Tempers flared when Craig told Damon he was making the biggest mistake of his life. The conversation ended with Craig refusing to be a part of the wedding. They had since made up, but Craig stood by his original protest. Kurt being in the wedding made Carmen happier, anyway, Damon mused.
Someone knocked again.
“I’ll be there in a minute.” Damon responded. He walked over to the full-length mirror to give himself a once over. The black tuxedo that Carmen picked out hugged the contours of his svelte body. The white shirt gleamed against his smooth ebony skin. He noticed his white bow tie was crooked and slowly straightened it. His palms were moist as he ran them down the silk stripe of his pants trying to remove the uncomfortable feeling.
He rubbed his freshly cut hair, checked his nose and the corners of his mouth. In a few moments, he would enter the sanctuary. He brought Carmen’s image to mind. Good. Sweet. Settled. She possessed an aura of comfort—like baked bread or warm milk. The kind of woman that could hopefully bring him the peace he had been searching for.
Kurt pummeled the door this time. “Everyone is waiting. Carmen’s starting to get nervous. You were supposed to be out here a half hour ago.”
Damon looked down at his shoes, patent leather, polished to a spit shine. Was he doing the right thing? He cared deeply for Carmen, but was it love?
What he wanted was to feel normal, to be satisfied with his life. The ghost of his past emerged again, as it often did, and reminded him that he had made a mess of things—two children by two different women, and a short stint in jail. The reminder rode in on a tide of regret.
He heard someone trying to turn the worn iron doorknob, but he had locked it. It wiggled back and forth desperately and he could hear mumbling on the other side. The rhythm of his breath sped up and a wave of warmth rose up from his feet. He thought of Rachel, the mother of his second son, and the words that spewed from her perfect mouth three years ago when she broke up with him—I can’t be with someone who’s content to do nothing with their life. And when she met Evan Kilgore, M.D. at the hospital where she was taken the night she broke her foot playing softball, she banished Damon to the “friend zone.” He accepted his punishment; anything to still be a part of her life. He never thought she would marry him. He never forgave himself for losing her and wasn’t about to make the same bet and lose twice. He had to marry Carmen. If he didn’t, he might lose her too.
“Go get the key.” He heard Kurt say to someone on the other side of the door, along with another knock.
It was time. Damon stood silent in the room. He expanded his chest and forced air deep into his lungs, but it still felt like he was suffocating. His hands registered a slight tremor and as he straightened his tie a second time, he felt a bead of sweat trickle down his temple. He grabbed the teal handkerchief out of his pocket and blotted it. His legs felt heavy, like someone cemented them to the floor. Why did doing the right thing feel so uncertain? He closed his eyes and tried to steady his breathing. In a few minutes, it would be over. He willed his legs to start moving. Kurt, and Carmen’s sister, Cathy, lunged forward into the room as he opened the door.
The church’s pot-bellied groundskeeper walked up behind them carrying a large metal ring, holding several antique keys. He rubbed his shiny dark beard. “Ev-ry-thin’okay?” he asked with his bushy eyebrows raised.
“We got it, sir. Thanks.” Kurt said to the man who looked around the room, then shrugged before walking away. Kurt turned his attention to Damon. “The wedding planner is going nuts! We thought something had happened to you.”
Cathy huffed, “No we didn’t.” She squinted at Damon. “Why don’t you just admit it and save us all a lot of trouble.”
He looked right through Cathy. “I’m good, man. I just needed a minute, that’s all.” Damon brushed past Cathy, dressed in a silly Cinderella-looking, teal, taffeta dress, and lightly grazed her gloved arm. She gritted her teeth as she placed her hand into the center of his back and shoved him forward. He stumbled three un-willful steps at the forceful blow before he managed to get control of his feet. He closed his eyes and drew in a slow deep breath, taking a moment to gather himself—to deny himself the delightful thought of shoving her back—his mother had raised him better than that. He stretched out his arms and adjusted his shirtsleeves, checking his cuff links. Unfortunately, she was part of the deal.
He continued down the hall and opened the double doors to the sanctuary, where 200 guests sat in pews adorned with teal bows, and music from the harp player greeted him. Damon and Carmen argued for two days over the harp player—a total waste of money in his opinion, as was all of it—the courthouse would have suited him just fine. He walked past the harp player strumming like a fool, down the red aisle runner and took his place at the altar in front of the robed Reverend Mallory and the barrage of burning candles.
“Are you ready, Son?” Reverend Mallory was a large man, his voice even louder. The question he asked reverberated through the church and came to rest in Damon’s ears.
Damon gave a nod. Reverend Mallory opened his Bible and the wedding planner raised her bony arm toward the back of the church, cuing her assistant to start the music. Time seemed to suspend as the remaining eight members of the bridal party entered the sanctuary, waltzing to Carmen’s careful selection of Luther Vandross’s Here and Now, and took their places at the front of the church. Damon was avoiding Cathy’s glare when the collective sound of 200 people standing grabbed his attention. When he looked up, Carmen stood in the doorway, engulfed in a sea of white. Tulle cascaded all around her. She made eye contact with Damon almost immediately and smiled. He wasn’t sure what he was feeling, but he knew her well enough to read the look on her face—that grin and the beam in her eye spoke of her happiness. And when he saw how happy she was, despite everything, he was happy for her. Her hand reached out for his and she took her place beside him.
Reverend Mallory loudly cleared his throat, and began the vows. Carmen recited hers first. Damon silenced the voice inside his head that hinted at the fact, he might not be sure of this marriage. But there were so many people. So much money spent. Too much to lose not to get married.
“Damon, do you take Carmen to be your lawful wedded wife? Do you promise to love and cherish her, in sickness and in health, for richer, for poorer, for better, for worse, and forsaking all others, keep yourself only unto her for so long as you both shall live?
“I do.” Damon adjusted his tie, secretly loosening it. The promises felt really big. He had a long history of preserving his own self-interests. He wanted that to be behind him now. He accepted the ring from Kurt and placed it on Carmen’s finger.
“Do you together promise, in the presence of your friends and family, that you will at all times, and in all circumstances, conduct yourselves toward one another as husband and wife?”
“We do.” He muttered as he searched his heart for certainty. Carmen’s voice broke through his with full conviction.
Reverend Mallory smiled. “You may now kiss your bride.”
Damon lifted Carmen’s veil and looked into her eyes. He needed her. He needed her in order to become the man he wanted to be. She would settle him into a normal life, where he would go to work at his job as a car salesman, come home and eat dinner with her, and go to the grocery store on the weekend. Normal. He grabbed her around the waist and kissed her as a symbol to everyone, and to himself, that this was his new life.
About the Author:
Tonya Lampley’s first novel was titled A Taste of Love and was a National Indie Excellence Book Awards finalist. She lives in Ohio with her husband and is currently working on her next book. For more information about Tonya, please visit her on the web at http://www.TonyaLampley.com.
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