Lying Together (A Novel)
Lying Together (A Novel)
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This is a love story featuring Small Town dynamics, a Guaranteed HEA and multi-racial couple (bwwm black woman white man). Includes discussions of faith by main characters who are Christian or are struggling with faith in Christ.
- Small Town
- Age Gap (Younger Man/Older Woman)
- Fake Relationship
- Forbidden Love
- Actor Hero
- He fell first and he fell hard
There are no sex scenes.
This story is a bit spicier than general Clean & Wholesome.
Content references purposeful instances of strong language.
Zahara’s stepped into the center of a storm—and she’d done it willingly.
When a dear friend escapes on vacation, Zahara fearlessly assumes the helm of a quaint, charming Bed & Breakfast in her small town. Yet, the weight of newfound responsibilities pushes her to her limits, and she struggles to stay afloat.
In the midst of these choppy seas, Gavin, her friend's son, steps in to lend a helping hand. But Gavin is no longer the young boy she once knew. He's all grown up, and as sparks fly, Zahara can't ignore the magnetic pull she feels, even if it defies all logic.
From a childhood infatuation to a chance at something more, Gavin is determined to prove that he's the man Zahara needs. As they navigate the intricacies of running a bustling B&B together, an unforeseen scandal shakes their world. In order to protect the inn's reputation, they make a daring decision – to pretend to be a couple.
Amidst the tempest of pretend romance, genuine feelings flourish. Zahara and Gavin find themselves drawn together by a force neither can resist. As they strive to weather the challenges thrown their way, they must confront their own fears and insecurities. Will their fake relationship evolve into a real, everlasting love? Join them on this emotional rollercoaster as they strive to reach the calm after the storm, hand in hand.
Read Chapter 1
Read Chapter 1
Fated, Missouri – Winter (Modern Day)
“Of course you’d find a way to busy yourself with three jobs, Zahara.”
“What do you mean?” Zahara asks, lifting her attention from the Scrabble game she’s just finished setting up. Shifting her weight onto one leg, her hand floats up, resting upon her hip as she prepares to correct her cousin. “I’ve been helping out at the Bed-and-Breakfast for a while now.”
A few tables away, Brenee briefly glances up, not bothering to pause as she completes the build of the third structure in a line of Connect Four grids. Snapping the final piece in place, she sidles a couple steps to her right until she stands before the unopened box she’d set there a short while before. “Yeah, but you’re talking about more than just part-time admin stuff now.”
Opening the last set of Connect Four, Brenee begins retrieving the necessary pieces of the game from the container, placing each part of the blue and yellow grid upon the table’s surface. “You’re going to be managing the whole dang place. That’s two different jobs. If it wasn’t, Lacey wouldn’t have needed to hire you for the first one!”
“Well, when you put it that way,” Zahara chuckles. “But she needs and deserves a vacay—a nice, long vacation. And the only other person she trusts with her baby is…well, her other baby,” she laughs. “And obviously Gavin can’t do it. He’s just not available.”
“I get that,” Brenee replies, lifting her gaze to meet that of her cousin’s. “And I’m not arguing any of those points. I’m just pointing out your tendency to try to do all the things, especially when it’s for folks you care about.” Brenee resumes her task with head bent. On either side of her face, dreadlocks, the thickness of a pinkie finger, sway like a curtain of velvety, multi-colored cords. Several locks dyed deep magenta, a striking white or a rich gold peek out from within a sea of onyx tendrils.
Tutting, Zahara replies, “It’s only for a few weeks, Brenee. In the grand scheme of things, I doubt I’ll think anything of it down the road.”
Brenee spears Zahara with her gaze. “It’s three whole weeks…while still working full-time at your firm,” she huffs.
Waving away the concern, Zahara grabs another box of Scrabble and strolls along the line of chairs butted up against the edge of long, rectangular tables.
“Girl, the folks I’m managing don’t need me,” she responds, stopping a few chairs down and vigorously jiggling the box top. The bottom of the box falls a short distance to the table with a soft thud and a clatter of the pieces contained within. “The team has grown in size. And I’ve trained my staff so well they barely need any oversight.”
After casting the box top aside and removing the Scrabble board, tiles and stands, Zahara arranges the parts in preparation for potential players. “Frankly, I’ve found myself being needed there less and less. And even less since being promoted a few months ago. Helping Lacey out will keep me from being bored to tears for a while.”
“That’s why I’ve been telling you you need to go ahead and start working for yourself like you used to talk about. Use your new extra time to get the ball rolling on that. You used to talk about being your own boss all the time when we were younger.”
“And then I grew up,” Zahara laughs. “Look, I’m still thinking about it. And, maybe after my training with Lacey and helping her out—and maybe after I treat myself to at least one more trip abroad—maybe then I’ll look into contract work a bit more. But, it's different when it's your own business and you're not consulting on behalf of someone else's. The more I consider it, the more I’m thinking, ‘Why risk it all when I’ve got benefits and good working relationships?’ If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
“ ‘Unless you can make it better.’ Isn’t that what you always say?”
Brenee cocks her head as she stares holes into her cousin. “Zahara, what you don’t have is a challenge. Every time you used to come back home after one of your business trips you’d go on and on about how ‘I just followed the script with this long-time client or that one’,” she says, underscoring the words with a wave of her hand. “And then you’d complain about how the job wasn’t as fun as when you were first starting out.”
Zahara huffs. “And then you’d try to pretend as if you weren't tuning me out as you watched t.v.”
“You always catch me during my shows!”
“Newsflash: There’s this new invention called a ‘pause button’, now. This isn’t like the old days before we had streaming, Ney.”
“You know how I am about my favorite things. And I told you I have an addictive personality, so I’m not going to apologize to you.”
“Whatever, Girl,” Zahara chuckles.
“My point is,” Brenee continues, “do you really want another several decades like that? I don’t! So if we’re planning on being sassy old ladies together at this senior community one day—and not kill each other before we reach that phase of our lives—I’m going to need you to figure out how to vary your complaints.”
Zahara’s mouth gapes. “Okay, but when you complain it’s okay?”
“Yeah!” Brenee responds, grinning at her cousin. “Because I don’t have the same complaints. My gripes run the gamut.”
Zahara laughs. “Now that’s the truth.”
Zahara sighs and shakes her head, a heaviness seeming to weigh on her shoulders as she walks a few feet away and stops at a single round table upon which sits a large selection of domino sets and playing cards. She casually separates the options into two separate piles.
“I don’t know, Brenee. I love what I do and would love to feel that same thrill I had at the start of my career. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that everything’s exciting when it’s new. I don’t judge things by the level of excitement, anymore; I judge by facts. And the fact is businesses are very risky.”
“Pft,” Brenee rebuts. “Says the Strategic Consultant. Hello?”
“Will you let me be vulnerable for a second?” Zahara snaps back.
“Sorry,” Brenee croaks. “Go ‘head, Cuz.”
“No,” Zahara says, her tense shoulders drooping. “I’m sorry. I know you mean well, Cuz, but manning your own business is a lot of commitment,” Zahara continues. “It’s about as attractive as inviting any other type of headache into my life. I’m happy right now. I’m not stressed over some business or some guy I need to cater to. I’m in a good place,” she adds quietly. “And I see no reason to rock the boat on the sure thing I got going.”
“You know I get you about the whole ‘man’ thing. So no arguments there. But even though owning a business has never been my dream…I don’t know, I guess I just always pictured you as a ‘Boss-Lady’ one day.” She chuckles. “Maybe I’m just trying to live vicariously through you or something. You know you’re the good cousin, and all.”
“Well, Brenee, if there’s anything I’ve learned from my own experiences —and others’ experiences, it’s that nobody can please everyone. But I can enjoy myself. I can respect myself. And beyond food, water and shelter, those are basic needs I have to fulfill.”
Nodding, Brenee resumes her work setting up the final Connect Four station. “I get it. I do. And I’m not trying to beat a dead horse. I just want the best for you. And I’d hate to think you might miss that just because, well,” she seems to hesitate before barrelling through the next words. “Because all you see is the possibility of failing.”
Zahara’s lips tighten as her cousin’s words deliver an unexpected punch to the gut. She trains her eyes on the cases of playing cards she’s separated out and focuses her attention on stacking them into an even neater pile.
Her mouth opens, a rebuttal having already clambered to the tip of her tongue, but Brenee beats her to the punch.
“But,” Brenee breathes. “Whatever you decide to do, I got your back, Zahara. And I know we’re both gonna be alright.”
Zahara regards her cousin for a couple of heartbeats.
If there’s any person in this town, other than Zahara’s own mother, that truly means well for her, it’s Brenee. Swallowing the words that’d first leapt to mind, Zahara chokes out, “Amen to that, Ney. I got your back like you got mine.”
A warm smirk pulls at the corner of her cousin’s lips, mischief dancing in her eyes. “But when we’re old and gray roomies at this senior community, I’m telling you now—I will turn down my hearing aid when you start repeating complaints and stories. Oh, and please know that I am not changing your diapers. I love you, Girl. But the pact ends there.”
Laughter tumbles from Zahara’s lips. “Ditto. So you know you better get your finances together, Cuz. Because that service is gonna cost you.”
Brenee’s hand lands upon her chest. “Please, I’ve already done my research. That’s part of some of the packages here.”
“Yeah, but just because the Byrnes made this place affordable, doesn't mean it’s cheap,” she chuckles. “We still have a good while for you to get it together, though, Girl.”
“And I’m working on it,” Brenee grumbles as she makes her way to a different area in the room boasting two corn hole sets.
“I know you are, Hon. We’ll get there. Together. And by the time we reach our golden years, we’ll be the two flyest elderly roommates in this joint.”
They look at each other for a few beats and Zahara senses what the next moment is beckoning.
“Single, Sassy Seniors for the win!” They both burst out chanting, their hands dancing in the air as their bodies bob to the beat of their words.
A deep voice cuts into their revelry. “Whoa, did I walk into something I wasn’t supposed to.”
Zahara spins toward the entrance and spots Arik Liu walking toward them with a wide grin on his face.
Briefly meeting Brenee’s gaze, the two chuckle before Zahara addresses him. “Inside joke, Arik. Nothing for you to see here.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” he responds, his lips stretched into a smirk. “If I’ve learned anything from Naomi after nearly thirteen years of marriage it’s to listen to the ladies in my life…if I know what’s good for me.”
“You got any middle-aged brothers like that, Arik?” Brenee asks.
Zahara whips her gaze around. “Uh-uh! What happened to our pact?”
“Hon, I’m weak,” Brenee says, her head hanging low. “And he said the magic words.”
“ ‘A man who listens.’ ”
Zahara laughs for several beats before she finds the room to speak. “I feel like I better rethink our pact. Should I just plan on living in this place on my own?” she accuses, stressing the last word with a pointed stare.
“Nothing personal,” Brenee shrugs, a bashful expression overtaking her face.
“You cold, Brenee.”
“Not cold. Just honest,” her cousin sing-songs, chuckling as she bends down to gather the small bean bags attendees will use for their round of corn hole.
Arik clears his throat, ruffling the midnight colored hair bearing hints of silver at his temples. ”I’m going to have to admit that I’m feeling very out of place right now, Ladies.”
Zahara sucks in a breath, having completely forgotten about him that quickly. “Arik, I’m so sorry. I forget that not everybody is used to me and Brenee’s silliness. So what’s up? You need something?”
Arik shakes his head, a warm smile directed her way. “No, I’d planned on meeting a potential client here, show him the Game On! Brunch event you and Raf always put on so seamlessly.” He shrugs, walking over to one of the tables bearing stack after stack of boxes of legos. “But since Raf’s at his practicum this weekend, I figured I’d stop by the activity room early and lend you a hand with setting up.”
He peers at the array of boxes with head tilted, rubbing his chin with his thumb and forefinger. As he grabs one of the boxes of legos in both hands, the pieces within patter against the cardboard like heavy rain.
Zahara motions toward her cousin. “Actually, I was able to recruit my cousin. But,” she says, holding up one finger. “You know that Lacey’s going on vacation this year?”
Arik nods. “Finally. It’s long overdue. She leaves this summer, right?”
“Yes. In July! So I’ll be training with her starting today so that I can manage the B&B while she’s out. But I won’t be able to host this event. It’ll just be too much for me to juggle.” She extends a hand toward her cousin. “So Brenee, the best cousin in the world, graciously agreed to help host both of July’s Game On! events. Unfortunately, Raf will be out of town during one of those weekends.”
Arik nods. “Oh, right; for his annual publisher’s event.”
Zahara turns a bright smile toward Arik, bobbing her head.
Arik chuckles. “So you’d like me to lend Brenee a hand during one of the events while Raf’s out of town?”
“Yes. Please,” she says, clasping her hands together. “I can start showing you some things today. After that, between now and then, you could just stop by when you can. Raf will be around, so either of us can make sure you get comfortable.”
Putting the box of legos back on the table, Arik cocks his head to the side as he looks toward the ceiling, bobbing his chin in thought. “Should be alright. Let me check my client schedule and check with Naomi to be sure my calendar’s clear. But with you giving me six months notice,” he says, chuckling as he returns his gaze to hers, “I should certainly be able to swing availability for a single morning.”
Arik seems to grow sober as he averts his gaze, once more, silently pondering something. With a decisive, downward jerk of his chin, he meets Zahara’s eyes. “If it looks like there’s a chance that I won’t be available, I promise to let you know as soon as possible.”
“Wonderful,” Zahara breathes, just a little thrown by the gravity that’d crept into his demeanor; a curious, subtle thing, but likely not her concern. Giving a mental shrug, she smiles. “In that case, I’ll just quickly go over the basics of setting up. Since you’ll be with your client afterwards, I’m assuming you won’t be available to break down everything with me and Brenee. So as the date approaches, I’ll coordinate with you to help out with a few events beforehand to ensure you’re comfortable with all aspects of the event. Sound good?”
“Sounds perfect. Oh, and by the way,” Arik says, swinging his gaze to Brenee. “I didn’t mean to overhear, but in case you don’t already know, one of the benefits for those employed here at the senior community is that the more time you put in, the sweeter the employee discount for those who decide to reside here. Something to think about if you’re considering making the senior community a part of your long term plans.”
Brenee cocks her head toward him. “Arik, you really are ‘a man that listens’ ,” she laughs. “Thank you for that info. You don’t happen to know of any openings, do you?”
He grins. “Just so happens that I heard my wife and the Byrnes mentioning something about the office manager role opening up, soon. I’ll let Naomi know that you’re interested and that she should email the job description to Zahara so she can forward it to you.”
Brenee grins. “Arik, you’re my new favorite person.” She looks at Zahara. “Girl, I’m so glad I didn’t blow you off when you asked me to help you out!”
Zahara rolls her eyes. “Love the support, Cuz.”
You need to go ahead and start working for yourself like you used to talk about…
Her cousin’s words ring in Zahara’s mind that afternoon as she follows Lacey up a flight of stairs.
“...Oh, and I’ve got a surprise for you, Dear,” Lacey says as they reach the enclosed landing and enter the spacious main lobby at the Bed-and-Breakfast.
Zahara blinks at the back of her friend’s short blonde do, hoping she hadn’t missed something crucial while daydreaming. “A surprise?”
As the two approach the front desk, Lacey inclines her head in the direction of the young woman attending to the reception desk. The staff member nods with a smile before excusing herself from the area.
The silent exchange is yet another example underscoring Lacey’s proficiency in her role as the Bed-and-Breakfast’s manager.
Zahara’s stomach twists, both impressed and unnerved by the level of respect and order the slim woman commands with little more than a smile.
Lacey slips behind the front desk, pushing a few strands of straight locks threaded with silver behind her ear before the sound of her fingers tapping upon the keyboard fills the air. “Guess who flew in late last night to visit his old mom?”
Zahara settles herself on a stool behind the front desk, pinching her lips as her mind zero’s in on the last pair of words. “Okay, first of all, you are not old. You and I are, literally, nine years apart. So don’t go there with me.”
Zahara tilts her head as the remainder of her friend's sentence sinks in. She gasps, staring at Lacey for the span of a blink before she ventures forth her question. “And are you trying to tell me Gavy’s here? In Fated? At the same time as me?”
“ ‘First of all,’ ” Lacey echoes, looking over at Zahara with a mock waggle of her head. “I know the fifties are the new thirties, but believe me when I tell you to enjoy your forties, Youngin’.”
Zahara huffs. “Youngin?” She pauses, pondering the term as she tips her head to the side. “I like the sound of that actually. Say it again.”
Lacey’s laughter mingles with Zahara’s. “You are too silly, Zahara.”
“No, I’m too old and too wise to pass up a compliment, that’s what I am.”
“Oh, so you’re old and I’m not?”
“Moving on,” Zahara sighs, disconnecting their eye contact with a smile. “I believe you were about to tell me something? Am I right about Gavin?”
“Yes,” Lacey responds, turning fully and facing Zahara. “The answer is, yes, indeed. My Gavy is home! At least for a little while til he’s off to some other shoot,” she sighs.
Zahara’s hands clap together. “Oh, my gosh!” Her eyes dart around the lobby, her lips spreading into a wide grin.
Her hand arcs into the air as if to make Lacey’s son appear out of nowhere. “So, where is the town superstar? He’s not staying with you? There is no way I’m letting him escape town without seeing him this time. I hate that we’ve missed each other over the years while he's been gone being a famous movie star and forgetting little people like me,” she laughs.
Lacey arches a blonde eyebrow, her stare pointed. “Now, Zahara, you and me both know my baby’s heart was broken when his favorite babysitter left for graduate school and didn’t come back.”
Zahara sucks her teeth, waving away the comment.
Lacey shakes her head. “Needless to say, you both have lives. And he understands that. But I’m sure he’ll be very glad to finally see you.”
A soft smile curves Zahara’s lips. “He was, what, twelve the last time I saw him? I can't believe it’s been so long.”
Lacey nods. “Eleven going on twelve. I remember because you left for your masters program before his birthday. I never saw a mopier kid than him that year, I promise you,” Lacey chuckles.
Zahara shakes her head. “Yeah, I wanted to make it back to Fated more, but with the Masters program, my internship and part-time job—and then after that I was traveling for my job and was busy with…,” she chuckles emptily, “...my ex–fiance at the time…
“Even my mom was mad at how little I made it home.” She admits, pushing her lips into a soft smile before continuing. “I really hope me and Gavy get a chance to catch up a little.”
Zahara points her finger toward the ground, confirming, “So he’s here in Fated. Right now?”
“Yep!” Lacey nearly chirps in return. “He snuck in last night and is staying here in the B&B. Got his stuff right up there in his old room in our apartment.” Her mouth bows into a wistful smile. “You know, it only feels like a home when he’s here.”
It’s hard for Zahara to tell if Lacey’s speaking of the apartment she and her son shared all his life—or of the town of Fated, Missouri, itself.
Clearing her throat, Lacey turns her attention back to the computer as her voice takes on a painfully bright tone. “He should be around here, somewhere, actually. Said he’d be headed to the gym downstairs this morning but he knew you’d be coming by to start learning how to manage the place for me; so I thought he’d’ve appeared by now.”
Zahara’s heart is tugged along by the nostalgia emanating from Lacey in waves. She does the only thing she knows to do to lighten the mood. “What did he say when you told him you’re actually taking a vacation,” she teases. “And that you’re letting someone other than him manage the place for you?”
“I said,” a baritone voice rumbles from beside them.
Zahara’s gaze whips around just as a square-jawed young man with a mop of sun-streaked, brown, corkscrew curls bounds down the last step leading from the upstairs.
The beautiful creature smirks in Zahara’s direction. “I said that it’s about time she enjoyed the fruits of her labor; and that she couldn’t pick a better person to care for her second baby. Hey, Zahara. Long-time.”
Zahara knows her mouth could trap flies, and yet she’s finding it impossible to do anything but gape like a fish.
There’s a man standing before her, and her mind is trying to tell her who it is. But she swears nothing is making sense in her world right now besides a brilliant grin and a sleeveless dark blue tee-shirt boasting shoulder muscles and biceps the color of parchment and as perfectly molded as rolling hills.
A wide black strap from the bag the man is holding starkly contrasts the coloring along his neck, even as his skin slowly grows a shade of rose pink.
Hazel eyes rimmed in gold twinkle at her as she outright stares.
It’s the eyes that prove her mind right.
She’d know that gaze, filled with wit, humor and remarkable depth, anywhere.
Even above a jaw that’s no longer smooth as a baby’s, but instead boasts brown stubble.
Zahara swallows. “Uhm,” she huffs, blinking as her mind seems to come back online. “Whoa!” she laughs, still attempting to wrap her head around the idea that the little boy she used to babysit and the man regarding her now are one and the same.
Needless to say, the versions of Gavin that she’d glimpsed as he'd grown up onscreen don’t do the reality justice.
She shakes her head, gesturing with one finger in Gavin’s direction as her gaze pivots to regard Lacey. “Who’s this guy coming in here?”
Lacey’s attention is on her son. She turns to Zahara, shrugging in response. “That’s just my baby. My first baby,” Lacey says, pride beaming from her wide smile and twinkling eyes that closely match her son’s in coloring.
Zahara returns her attention to Gavin, slack jawed once again for precious moments as the young man saunters forward a few steps, stopping a few feet away from the desk, gazing at her.
For those few moments, while he stands there nibbling his bottom lip, her vision clouds with memories of the eleven year old kid she’d last seen; that little boy who worried his lip in the exact same way.
Gavin’s feet resume a slow, lazy trek forward, continuing his trajectory to the desk where she and his mother stand. Zahara sidles from behind the desk, taking quick strides toward him. Her feet feel light, as if buoyed by the delight bubbling within at the sight of the boy she’d grown to care so much for during their few years together.
Dropping his gym bag to the floor, he opens his arms, folding her into an embrace that fills her nostrils with the scent of soap and the hint of sandalwood.
Zahara chuckles against his chest, a bit breathily as she realizes the solid young man before her isn’t all arms and legs as she’d once recalled.
Little Gavy is not so little, anymore.