Nice After Five (A Novel)
Nice After Five (A Novel)
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Release Date: August 29 2023
He's a modern-day prince yearning for his dream woman. She's an ordinary girl seeking a fresh beginning. Can a fateful meeting from years past ignite a love story worthy of a fairytale? Embark on a heartwarming journey of chance and destiny in this enchanting sweet romance.
This is a love story featuring Small Town dynamics, a Guaranteed HEA and multi-racial couple (bwhm black woman hispanic man). Includes discussions of faith by main characters who are Christian or are struggling with faith in Christ.
- Small Town
- Fairytale (adaptation)
- Hidden Identity
- Royal Romance
- Fake Love Triangle
There are no sex scenes.
This story is a bit spicier than general Clean & Wholesome.
Content references purposeful instances of strong language.
Dominique's brave leap into a new job is a chance at redemption, a lifeline to a dream she's tirelessly pursued. Yet, the beguiling Rafael, at the helm of the town's cherished newspaper, holds the key to her aspirations – and her heart.
In the picturesque town of Fated, Missouri, Rafael grapples with his role as a reluctant publisher and with a persistent memory of his fleeting encounter with a mysterious woman. Meanwhile, Dominique battles to remain unnoticed, all while a powerful attraction simmers beneath the surface. But Rafael is no stranger to puzzles, and his determination to unravel her layers only grows stronger, even if it means enlisting the aid of an imaginary wing-man.
From the quiet charm of their town to the allure of a tropical paradise, their playful game of conceal and reveal takes them on an adventure that spans beyond the expected. With a dash of royalty and the intriguing backdrop of a reality show, the stages are set for a love story that transcends time and boundaries.
As the layers of their pasts slowly unravel, Dominique and Rafael navigate a delicate dance of emotions and revelations. Will their intertwined destinies lead to the ultimate discovery of true love, or will the secrets they guard threaten to pull them apart?
Intro Into Chapters 1
Intro Into Chapters 1
“If you don’t wipe that grin off of your face…” Dominique bites out before pressing her lips tightly together.
If she can tell anything by the height of Kierra’s finely shaped, arched brow, Dominique has actually managed a sufficiently fierce facial expression.
Then her big sister snorts with laughter, smirking as she shakes her head and leans in, applying even more of—something—onto Dominique’s face.
“So, like I was saying, Monique,” Kierra continues, not talking to Dominique, of course.
Yeah, well, Dominique was never one to pull off “fierce” well; but still, her sister could have at least pretended to have heard her and not completely and absolutely ignored her words.
She looks over at Monique who is currently seated nearby, working on Dominique’s nails.
No, not nails—claws.
Studying the young woman’s handiwork, Dominique is almost sure she’ll be able to climb a wall with the sharply-pointed, acrylic nails that are now jutting from several of her digits. At the very least, if some fool even thinks about attacking her tonight, Dominique’s fingertips could do real damage.
Well, the new additions to her bionic body will be good for something. Maybe she should register her hands as deadly weapons now.
Dominique chuckles, causing her sister to lean back while leveling the full wrath of her narrowed gaze upon Dominique.
Dominique sighs as she readies herself for her sister’s reprimand. Though Dominique can’t help but to also take notes, as she always does. Because no one communicates “pissed” without saying a word like Kierra.
Is it the fact that her sis’ eyes are so squinted that her hazel contacts are barely visible? Maybe it’s the slight twisting of Kierra’s lips? The brows—it’s got to be how far those thick, but well plucked brows of Kierra’s lower over her eyes.
“Get out of your head, Sis,” Kierra says, reaching forward and nudging Dominique’s shoulder. “That’s your problem. There’s a whole world beyond what’s in there,” she adds, leaning forward, once again, to lightly tap the tip of her purple and diamond studded nail against Dominique’s temple.
“And quit making all those faces,” Kierra adds, her own features contorting all the more in annoyance. “I’m trying to do your make-up here, and since you’ll only give me one shot, I’m going to do it well.”
“I still don’t understand why you insist on cashing in your win, now. I keep trying to tell you that it’s not this big of a deal, Kierra. This isn’t some grand ball or something. It’s just a networking event for publishers! Frankly, I was surprised Mr. Cottage offered me an invitation.”
Dominique turns to the woman doing her nails; one of her sister’s many acquaintances. “Monique,” Dominique breathes, “would you tell her. Maybe she’ll listen to you.”
Shrugging, Monique continues to carefully affix another acrylic weapon to Dominique’s fingers. “I don’t know why Mr. Cottage invited you, either,” she seems to mutter, not looking up at Dominique—and not addressing the main point Dominique had been trying to highlight.
Inwardly, Dominique groans. That’s what she gets for forgetting for even a moment who she was talking to.
“I mean,” Monique continues, “I’m the one who told you the paper was looking for a freelance bookkeeper. Seems like he’d’ve thought to invite staff with more seniority—or staff that was permanent versus contract,” she says, seeming to press mighty hard on the nail being glued into place, Dominique winces, tugging back—but for such a tiny woman, Monique has a surprisingly strong grip. “But I guess receptionists aren’t invited,” she mutters, her head still bent.
Dominique’s mouth opens wordlessly until she finds her tongue. “Girl, you trying to make that nail permanent?” she asks, pulling a face as she tugs at her hand, again.
“Oh…sorry,” Monique croaks, glancing up at Dominique. Surprisingly, Dominique can see genuine surprise register on the woman’s face despite her still grasping Dominique’s hand firmly, seemingly effortlessly.
Man, this woman has a grip like a vice!
Dominique shakes her head, dismissing the whole incident as she chews her bottom lip. The last thing she wants to do is bring office politics into this already bizarre scenario playing out before her, right now.
She really wishes Kierra hadn’t invited Monique. The woman seems to only have negative things to say about others. Even her attempts at encouragement feel off and hollow, like the ringing of a wooden bell. Add to that the fact that Monique and Mr. Cottage’s daughter take every chance they get to stop and gossip at the front desk—all day, every day.
Dominique tries to avoid speaking with either woman.
But Monique is right about one thing: she is the very reason Dominique has her first significant contract position since having begun offering freelance work on the side.
The best part, though, is that she gets to work for a paper, albeit a small paper—makes the whole experience even better. She’s not part of the action…but she’s close—and she’s getting paid. And that feels good…if not great.
“He invited me to give me a chance to gain more clients, that’s all,” Dominique explains, though she knows Monique is fully aware of that fact.
She turns her attention back to her sister. “I don’t know why you’re acting like I’m going to a ball. Or prom! And, I still can’t believe you recruited people to help. No offense, everyone,” Dominique clarifies for Monique and the other two women in the room with them.
She’s pretty sure she sees Monique roll her eyes.
Lord, her sister couldn’t find any other acquaintance who could do nails?
Dominique can already imagine her and Veronica whispering and throwing side-eyes in Dominique’s direction come Tuesday afternoon when she arrives for her weekly meeting with Mr. Cottage.
Petty people gonna be petty.
She continues to attempt an appeal with her warden; perhaps she can get away from this without looking like a prima donna. “I mean, Kierra, you know this isn’t my thing. I love comfort. Comfort—”
“—equals cute. Yes, I know,” Kierra snorts Dominique’s refrain. “But I do recall someone dressing up for a little while during college.”
“You know why.”
“Well, you shouldn’t be dressing for just a guy, Sis. The way you dress impacts the way you feel. I’m not saying you gotta do this much everyday. But you telling me you didn’t feel great when you’d did a little something to that hair of yours and took a little more time with your clothes?”
“I’m saying that that’s not a reasonable expectation for every woman. Maybe some of us feel best when we’re minimalistic. I mean, I’m cute,” Dominique insists. And she swears she hears Monique huff.
Ugh, this woman—No…girl.
“I may not be a head-turner, but I am cute,” Dominique reiterates with a slight tilt of her head, her eyes trained on her sister.
Kierra’s gaze, however, has slid over to Monique. And if Dominique thought she’d seen fierce from her before, that was nothing compared to the silent threat brimming in that look.
Dominique sniffs, deciding to put the conversation back on track by continuing with her statement. “But one thing I know is that I’m definitely cuter when I’m not worrying about smudged lipstick…and when I’m not wobbling around on heels that make the sole of my feet feel like there’s nothing left but bone.
“Girl,” Kierra responds, returning her attention to Dominique with an exasperated tilt of her head, sending the dark, wavy locks of her lace front wig swaying. Dominique knows that investment costs her sister one and half week’s pay every six months. And every six months, her sister is complaining about what utility bill she’s going to have to be short on for a while.
But Dominique can’t deny that the water bill looks incredibly good on her sister’s head.
Still, Dominique hates the idea of living hand-to-mouth for any reason. What she likes, however, is the birth of her new savings account. There’s not much in it for now, but with her new contract job, it’s beginning to grow.
“...not like you ever do anything fun, anyway.” Kierra says, bringing Dominique’s attention back to her. “It’s been a year since I won that bet. When else will I get a good chance to take advantage of it? “So, it’s either this or I dress you up one day just to walk around town, going to the grocery store and running all your other little errands.”
Kierra arches her brow at Dominique, a pointed stare directed her way. “Would you rather that, Sis? And these ladies are here because they’re all practically experts at what they do: hair, mani’s and pedi’s, fashion and styling. They all jumped at the chance to do an entire makeover before we go back to our boring nine-to-fives. And I sure wasn't about to waste the opportunity to show you what you could be with a little more effort.”
A little more effort?
Try an entire overhaul.
And one that would require Dominique to live paycheck-to-paycheck like everybody else in her family.
Well…even more than Dominique already is.
One day, though…one day she’s gonna break that curse.
“Girl, if you don’t stop pinching your lips,” Kierra bites out. “Just relax, will you? We got you. Actually, you know what? Just stop thinking, period. It’s not helping you right now.”
Dominique should be offended, but by this point that’s practically a chorus line from her sister. Still, she takes the opportunity to practice what she thinks she’s just learned from her sister today:
Tightening her eyes, Dominique then lowers her brow and she presses her lips together with a slight tilt. “You can’t stop me from thinking, Kierra. And I wouldn’t call this ‘a little more effort,’ Sis.”
She tilts her head, for effect. “By the time you’re done, there won’t be any of me left! Straightening my hair and adding a weave, lashes that could be used as brooms and don’t think I didn’t see that fake mole you got hiding in your makeup kit. And I can’t believe you convinced me to wear contacts. You know I hate how those feel rolling around in my eyeball. If one gets stuck in there I’m suing you. Don’t think the fact that you’re my family is going to mean anything then.”
Kierra cackles, chucking Dominique lightly under the chin. “Girl, you a trip.”
She leans in, that smirk still in place. “Now, relax your face—and those lips—so I can finish my masterpiece.”
Dominique’s shoulders drop in defeat.
She can only hope she’s not the only person who looks like they mistook a business event for a red carpet affair.
The pads of Dominique’s fingers run along the soft, tan leather lining of her limousine’s back seat.
Dominique smiles, releasing a sigh as she relaxes against the warm seat.
Maybe her sister isn’t so bad, after all. Pretty sweet of her to include a luxury ride in the package.
“Now you’ve got this for a couple hours,” Kierra had informed Dominique, “Because my pockets are not endless, you know, but there’s no way I could let you arrive looking like this,” she’d said, her finger waving up and down at Dominique’s body, “in something like that,” she’d continued, pointing to Dominique’s fifteen year old hatchback.
Now, that had offended Dominique. Admittedly, the vehicle’s seen better days…with its prior owners, that is; but she takes care of her car like her own baby.
And yet, somehow, Dominique had managed to forget her annoyance once she’d slid onto the limo’s heated back seat.
Dominique hums to herself, carefully leaning her head back, feeling the plush leather press against her tightly pulled hair.
She closes her eyes and lets out a second deep, gratified sigh, enjoying the feeling of being pampered during her short ride to the venue.
A girl could certainly get used to this kind of treatment.
Her fingers involuntarily caress the long, thick braid extending from the crown of her head and draping over her shoulder, ending right at her waist. Her “Princess Jasmine” braid, her sister’s friend had called it. Thick bands of textured gold ribbon are interwoven within the braid; she runs the pads of her fingers along the ribbon’s bumpy texture.
Raising her head up, she peers at her bare arms as she rubs a hand up to her shoulder, bumping against the spaghetti strap of her dress. Has her skin ever been this soft? She marvels at its sheen, and the way the iridescence of her almond shaped nails glow against her chestnut skin tone dappled with the tiniest specks of glitter.
Dropping her hands upon her lap, she presses her palms against the multiple layers of which her borrowed gown is composed. The thin, shimmering layers of the formal cami dress’ skirt shake and shimmy with the jostling of the vehicle. The fabric she’d so carefully gathered in her lap when she’d first assumed her seat apparently needed only the slighted tousling to begin its slow cascade downward, revealing the thigh high split designed to peek through its folds.
She quickly regathers the material, bunching the bulk of it in her lap.
Noted, she will definitely have to watch how she sits in this thing.
The vehicle slows and pauses in front of a moderately large building covered in mismatched wood paneling, giving it a very modern, farmhouse look.
The limousine’s door opens for her, and Dominique has to scoot out over to reach that side of the car. When she swings her legs out, she’s surprised to find the driver’s hand waiting to take her own. Looking up at him, she finds the older, white-haired man smiling warmly down at her.
Placing her hand in his, she offers a small, unsteady smile as she takes her first steps outside her comfort zone.
“It was lovely to meet you,” the older woman says, her blue eyes already scanning the crowd for another person to whom she can introduce herself.
Dominique dips her chin, as though she were the one dismissing the woman; though it was actually the woman in front of her who had decided that another quarry would make a more interesting pursuit.
She watches as the woman looks around for a moment before seeming to find her next target.
It doesn’t surprise Dominique in the least when she ends up chatting with Veronica Cottage, the social butterfly—and social climber.
Small talk is not Dominique’s strong point. Give her something meaty and of interest for her to discuss, and her attention is there; but other than the weather, she could just never grasp the concept of talking about nothing just to get to the point of talking about something worthwhile.
She sighs. Having forgotten her business cards at home, any prospect of really marketing her work had been pretty much shot from the beginning—but from the little conversation she’d managed, it doesn’t seem like anyone here is in the market for her services, anyway.
Thanks to Kierra’s handiwork, Dominique had gotten plenty of attention from guys since she’d arrived; though it’s doubtful any of them are in the market for bookkeeping services.
In other words, the evening’s been a wash.
These networking events just aren’t her strength, anyway.
No surprise there.
Apparently, even a miracle makeover can’t override Dominique’s general awkwardness at these kinds of functions.
Not to mention the fact that her feet are practically screaming at her.
Walking with as much dignity and as little wincing as she can muster, she makes her way past a small crowd of laughing people.
Looking over, she spots a tall man in the center, obviously the draw for all of the ladies there, though there were a number of men and seemingly married couples equally amused and engaged.
Oh, to have that power.
She bites her lip, then quickly releases it, recalling her make-up.
Admittedly, she’s envious as she proceeds down to the dimmer hallway located at one end of the otherwise open space. She spotted some open doors before and, hopefully, there’s some seating available there that’s a bit more out of sight.
Just before she makes it to the door, her ankle folds on her and she grunts, catching herself with one palm slamming against the wall.
Her eyes close.
Nope, not embarrassing in the least.
Dragging in a deep breath, she slowly regains her footing, despite her pained ankle, and stands with her spine straight. Squaring her shoulders, she resists the urge to look around her to see if anyone witnessed that lowlight.
Instead, wincing, she limps through the nearby threshold with head held high as if she knows exactly where she’s going.
She stops short just beyond the doorway, her attention immediately drawn to what sat upon a massive table near the far wall: a gigantic lego castle sat in the middle of the structure with stray lego blocks strewn around it.
Carefully picking her way to the plush, jewel-toned blue couch across from the door, she settles in and unstraps the torture devices attached to her feet.
She groans softly once free, bending over as she rubs at her ankle before resting her bare feet upon the floor. Stretching and constricting her toes in the plush floor rug, her gaze returns to the castle made up of various gray bricks. Standing, she pads over to the structure and picks up several blocks, examining them and where they might go on the incomplete build.
Opening her clutch, she digs out her phone, checks it and concludes that she’s spent enough time here and should thank her feet and her ego by giving them a rest.
She’d just have to say goodbye to Mr. Cottage before she left. He’s been too kind to her to be so rude as to not do that much.
His warmth toward her and his other staff still surprises her. It’s something she truly admires about him; though it’s likely what also contributes to his blindness where it concerns his daughter.
From what Mr. Cottage had explained to Dominique during those first few weeks when they’d met, much of the expenses attributed to Veronica were related to her attempts to update the paper’s relevance and social connections.
Where Mr. Cottage had used the words “bold” and “daring”, Dominique had seen “careless” and “unstrategic”. In Dominique’s opinion, the woman’s brash attempts would only lead the paper into bankruptcy.
It’d taken all of the bravery Dominique had possessed to explain, in a more tactful manner, the story that she’d felt the numbers were presenting. And, in a surprising show of respect for his new contractor, Mr. Cottage had decided to set a tighter limit on the portion of company funds afforded to his daughter.
Of course, that didn’t make Dominique any new friends.
She’s fine with that. Dominique doesn’t need a ton of friends. She’s got her sister, her mother and the occasional phone call with the two college girlfriends she’d kept up with.
And she only has to deal with Veronica once a week. Even Dominique can deal with foolishness that infrequently.
Still…Mr. Cottage’s occasional mentions of retiring always send something near a chill down Dominique’s spine.
She likes working at the paper. She’d hate to have to choose between her peace of mind and the opportunity to contribute to it, even in some small way.
Blinking, Dominique realizes that she’s done it again, spaced out.
She chuckles, knowing her sister would definitely call her out on it if she were here.
Glancing at her phone, again, Dominique nods. There’s still an hour left on the limo’s clock. Can’t hurt to just…
Picking up a brown brick, she leans down and places it upon the bumpy moat made up of various blue lego plates.
Another brick follows, and another as a rudimentary sea vessel begins to form right beneath her fingertips.
Behind her, someone clears their throat.
Gasping, Dominique quickly straightens, spinning on her heel.
Surely, her guilt is displayed plainly in her widening eyes. Not to mention the treasure trove of lego bricks cupped in her hand.
And then, for a moment, time stands still, even as a lump the size of a mango seems to form in her throat.
Before her, a man stares back at her, the slanted grin drawn across his face leading to a deep dimple.
He slips a hand from the pocket of his charcoal gray slacks, raking the dirty blonde hair at the nape of his neck as his grin, and the silence, widens.
“Didn’t mean to startle you,” he chuckles in a rich baritone that seems to reverberate off the walls.
Stuffing both hands in his pocket, he takes slow steps towards her, his eyes remaining locked on hers.
When he’s less than a foot away, he extends his hand, quickly glancing at the stash of legos cupped in her own. “Rafael,” he says.
Dominique nods, still grappling with the flush of heat engulfing her face and the shock of embarrassment that is slowly beginning to wane.
She curls her toes, feeling the carpet give way beneath them, and her embarrassment returns with a vengeance.
The only good thing about this moment is that she knows Monique’s pedicure is gorgeous.
Dominique might be barefoot; but she’s got the prettiest bare feet she’ll ever have.
Regaining herself, she straightens her spine as she places her free hand in his. “Nice to meet you, Rafael,” she responds, her raspy voice not nearly as strong and sure as she wishes.
This is the guy who’d been at the center of the flock just moments before; and he’s trading his fans for a few words with her.
Very interesting, indeed.
Man, makeup is magic.
It’s not like this guy would be interested in the real Dominique—daily Dominique, the woman without the makeover.
Nothing’s going to come from this interaction.
The thought intrigues her, grounds her and emboldens her.
“And you are?” he prods, gently grasping her hand in his.
“A mystery,” she tells him, surprised at the playfulness spurred on by her dismissal of anything real happening here.
Might as well enjoy this. Not like she’ll get to live out this role often.
“A mystery,” he echos, before allowing her hand to slowly glide from his. “Interesting name,” he grins, flashing dimples on both cheeks.
Her heart does a little dance, even as she manages a nonchalant lift of her shoulder before letting it drop. “I’ve grown attached to it,” she jokes.
“I find that tends to happen a lot—with names, I mean.”
She chuckles, a minute portion of her tension evaporating. “What brings you here, Rafael,” she finds herself asking.
His eyebrows jut upward, as if not quite prepared for the question.
He stuffs his hands back in his pocket as his eyes travel across her face. Blinking, his gaze shifts to just past her shoulders.
“Guess I was curious what could tempt someone away from the party.” He ambles up to the table beside Dominique, his eyes on the castle. “Someone I’d hoped to get the chance to chat with before she left,” he finishes, not looking at her until he’d completed his sentence.
If Dominique didn’t know better, she’d imagine that this guy is feeling about as unsure as she is.
He turns his attention back to the castle serving as their backdrop.
“This looks fun,” he says, grabbing a few lego of his own. “Mind if I help?”