Happy New Year Everyone!
I’m pleased to present a preview of When Ice Melts. I hope you’ll enjoy the story when it drops!
“Here you go, Val,” Rakim Transou was saying to his assistant as he signed the last of the three contracts on his desk. “I don’t have time, man,” he grumbled to his Vice President.
Charles ‘Cory” Henderson shook his head at his boss and best friend, before perching his lean body on the edge of the desk. “You need to think about this, Kimm.”
“Is that it, Valerie?” Rakim sighed, pleased to see his mound of work slowly dissolving.
Val scanned the documents and smiled. “That’s it,” she sang and headed out of the office.
“Kimm, what’s the point of owning this place if you’re not gonna have fun runnin’ it?” Cory asked, once Val was gone.
Rakim ran both hands over his soft, close-cut hair. “The last thing I need to do is waste my day looking at pictures.”
“Of models,” Cory pointed out, smiling devilishly. “Do you know how stress-relieving that can be?”
Rakim groaned. “Here we go,” he said, leaning back in his leather swivel chair. “You know I get tired of you telling me how sad my life is. If I hadn’t been focused on business all these years, you wouldn’t be working for one of the most successful ad agencies in the country.”
Cory nodded, familiar with the speech. He cleared his throat and braced his hands on top of the polished cherry wood desk. “And given that you own one of the most successful agencies in the country, why can’t you have some fun?”
Rakim leaned forward to pin Cory with his deep, obsidian stare. “I don’t want one of the most successful agencies. I want the most successful agency, period.”
Cory slapped a hand against his bald head. “Man, thinking like that’ll never get you a steady woman.”
“I can live with that,” Rakim easily replied, focusing his attention on the appointment book lying open on the desk.
“I give up,” Cory mumbled and walked out of the plush, twentieth floor office.
Alone, Rakim allowed the facade to fade. He massaged the bridge of his nose, then opened the bottom desk drawer and pulled a tattered envelope from the back. The expression was fixed, intense on his handsome, dark-chocolate face. His midnight gaze was riveted on the contents of the note he knew by heart.
I’m so sorry I couldn’t be there today. Something’s happened and I have to leave. I’ll be changing schools. Don’t try to find me. My parents won’t tell you anything. I hate doing this to you, but I can’t see you again. I just can’t. I do love you-so much. It’s really better like this. I love you, but if you hate me now, I understand. Coco.
As usual, once Rakim finished reading the letter, he pressed the page to his nose. He swore he could still smell her perfume clinging to it.
The relationship they shared had been so right. She was everything to him and he trusted her with his life. When he walked into his bedroom the afternoon of the graduation, his entire world changed. He found the note lying in the center of the bed. Icia Graham had taken anything else that would have reminded him of her-including all the pictures. The brief letter provided no answers. It was most effective; however, in helping him lose his temper. Rakim grunted as he remembered the way he demolished the house. Cory and Fred had been so spooked by his mood that they left him alone for a week.
Just then, Cory’s earlier comments filtered his mind. He had completely buried himself in work after Icia left. He took the job he’d been offered in Richmond and worked there while obtaining his Masters degree. Afterwards, he went back home to Houston and put everything he had into building his company. Now, The Transou Agency was respected by its competitors and clients alike.
Of course, Rakim acknowledged that his private life may have suffered. Not that there weren’t women. There had been several. Unfortunately, he only had to be in the relationship for a matter of months, before he began to compare his companion to Icia. Not even that flaw could keep the women away, though. Rakim Transou’s good looks seem to intensify with age. He stood well over six feet and had been blessed with a flawless deep chocolate complexion and the type of lean, muscular frame that flattered everything he wore. The thick, curly afro he used to sport had been trimmed to a close-cut fade. The style only enhanced his pitch, deep-set eyes and sleek brows. His wide mouth was made more enticing by the set of double dimples which appeared whenever he spoke or smiled.
The power and authority Rakim exuded did not give him an unapproachable demeanor. He was loved by everyone he knew: employees and friends.
“So, if I’m so great, why am I so alone?” He asked the empty room. For a moment, or two, he tapped his strong fingers against the phone receiver and debated. Then, he replaced the note in the bottom drawer and pulled the receiver from its cradle.
“Val, I changed my mind about the Super Bowl spot. I want to preview all the portfolios.”
Palm Beach, FL
Icia Graham’s smoky, brown eyes held a far away look, as she stared into the mirror. Absently, she fluffed her thick, shoulder-length curls which bobbed wildly with every touch. The soft ring of the white, cordless instantly had her attention.
Larue Lawrence smiled at the soft tone of her boss’s voice. “Icia, Mona Aikens is here for her appointment,” she announced.
“Thank you, Larue. Send her in,” Icia coolly instructed, before setting the phone down. A lovely, serene smile appeared on her face when Mona Aikens walked into the office.
“Icia,” Mona called, extending both hands towards her counselor.
Icia took both Mona’s hands and gave them a gentle shake. “How are you?” She asked, though the intensity of her gaze gave much more meaning to the light question.
Mona nodded the light fading just slightly from her hazel eyes. “I’m very good.”
“No more problems?” Icia prodded, watching the woman closely.
Mona shook her head, but could not prevent the mist of tears which blurred her gaze. “I just want to thank you,” she breathed.
“You already have. In more ways than one.” Icia recalled, tilting her head to one side.
Mona pressed her lips together and brought her gaze to Icia’s face. “You just don’t know how good I feel and I have you to thank.”
Used to such displays of gratitude, Icia pulled Mona close and guided her to the chic, suede living room set in the corner of the office. “A lot of people had a hand in it. I couldn’t have helped you alone, you know?”
“I know,” Mona admitted, taking a seat on the plush sofa, “but if you hadn’t offered what you did, when you did, I could be dead now.”
Icia leaned forward and patted Mona’s hand. “Well, you’re not dead,” she playfully drawled. “You’re healthy, wealthy, happy. You look good. You don’t have a man, but…” she let the statement fade as she and Mona burst into laughter.
“That’s a small thing!” Mona cried, happy tears streaming her face.
“That’s a very small thing,” Icia assured her, through a much more solemn tone of voice.
Icia had a very productive session with Mona. It felt more like a friendly chat, than therapeutic counseling. Those were the appointments Icia most looked forward to. Meeting with the women she had helped through life and death situations, gave her the truest sense of accomplishment.
“Alright Icia enough ego stroking,” she decided. With a graceful toss of her head, she turned and picked up the phone. “Danielle, can you bring the car around?” She requested, and then retrieved her brown snake skin briefcase and matching purse from her bottom desk drawer.
“I’m leaving for the day, Larue,” she called, when she strolled into the lobby of the impressive penthouse/office.
“Alright Icia, have a nice evening,” Larue replied, as she made a few final notations on her computer.
Icia set her bags to the gray leather sofa in the middle of the room. “You need to wrap it up, too,” she told her assistant, watching the girl yawn.
“I am. I’ve got that long drive tonight.”
“Are you in any shape to drive down to Miami, tonight?” Icia asked, her tone skeptical.
Larue appeared uneasy. “It’s just easier to leave from here.”
Icia tapped one perfectly rounded nail to her chin and concentrated. “Listen, why don’t you stay here tonight?”
Larue’s brown eyes widened as she looked around her stark, elegant surroundings. “Oh, Icia I couldn’t.”
“Why not?” Icia scoffed, smiling at Larue’s reaction. “You say it’s easier to leave from here?”
“Well then, stay. Remember, this was a penthouse apartment, before it was a penthouse office. There’re three bedrooms here. All ready. Get some rest, then get up and fix yourself a nice breakfast, then head out.”
Larue leaned back in the olive green suede chair she occupied. “Thanks, Icia. That sounds great,” she sighed. The relief was obvious on her plump, dark face.
“Good,” Icia turned to collect her things. “You call me if you need anything.”
“I’ll leave the place just the way I found it,” Larue stood behind her tidy polished oak desk.
“I’m not worried about that,” Icia drawled, without looking back at the girl. “Goodnight.”
The building which housed Icia’s office was owned by a medical park out of Miami. The structure was the office site of several prominent physicians. Icia Graham was envied by all the other professionals after obtaining the lavish penthouse suite. One of her clients had been the daughter of a company director and Icia had been richly rewarded for her services. Despite their envy; however, Icia was adored by everyone. Though she was very private and never attended social gatherings with her colleagues, she was liked by them all.
“Good night, Murphy,” Icia offered a small smile to the big, gray haired man reclining behind the wide security desk in the main lobby.
Murphy tipped his navy blue cap and smiled. “Have a good one Ms. Graham,” his blue eyes twinkled as he appraised the devastating beauty in his midst.
Outside, a long gray Mercedes limo waited on the brick pavement. Icia got inside and settled into the dark interior.
“Did you have a good day, Icia?”
Icia closed her eyes and nodded. “Very good.”
“Are we headed home?”
Danielle rolled up the tinted divider, leaving Icia with her privacy. The car headed for the Palm Beach coast-to the remote beach house Icia had called home for the last three years.
The car eased into the breathtaking neighborhood of homes and exotic landscapes. Icia recalled her visit with Mona Aikens and her business in general. Most women were shocked when they discovered its true function. Many couldn’t believe what Icia could accomplish for them when it seemed all was lost. Still, despite Icia’s incredible success, she often regretted the fact that there was even a need for such a service. She sat up and focused her captivating cocoa stare outside the window. In an instant, she was completely absorbed with the glorious effect of the sun setting against the darkened sky. This was her favorite time of day. If she allowed herself to become lost in its beauty, she could easily remember a time long ago-of a Spring Break spent in the Keys…
“Icia, no…” She warned herself, bringing her fingers to her temples. She knew all too well how distracting those memories could be.
Thankfully, Danielle was approaching the towering, iron gate to the fence which surrounded the estate. The house itself was nothing short of a mansion. From its location on a steep hill, the house overlooked the professionally maintained lawn. The Mediterranean-styled brick structure stood far off the main road amidst countless palm trees. Towering statues lined the brick walkway leading to the front entrance. The distinct crash of the ocean could be heard in the distance, along with the swish of the palm tree leaves against the sea breeze.
The tinted divider slid down and Danielle turned in the driver’s seat. “What time do you need me in the morning, Icia?” She asked, removing her cap.
Icia pulled the strap of her briefcase and purse across her shoulder. “You can take the rest of the week off, since I don’t have to go in until Monday.”
Danielle pulled her fingers through her micro thin braids and looked over the gorgeous property. “You are so lucky to be able to retreat to a place like this,” she breathed, her exquisite champagne stare transfixed on the view of the Atlantic.
Icia studied the view as well, though her gaze was troubled. As lovely as her home was, she would have given anything to have back what she lost.
“This is fantastic,” Leontynne McRae whispered, her slanting green stare focused through the magnifying glass. The contact sheet from her photo session of downtown Houston had turned out perfectly. She had been a bundle of nerves waiting on some word from The Transou Agency. The initial interview had gone so well, they called her back for a second meeting. Now, she was at her wits end waiting on a decision about the job. In an attempt to dispel some of her nervous energy, she decided to get out of the hotel and spend the day shooting the city.
A fashion photographer out of California, Leontynne was proud of the landscape shots she’d taken. It was a refreshing change, but Leontynne knew she’d never exchange it for the success and notoriety she’d acquired in fashion.
The phone rang, bringing a halt to the critique of the contact sheets. She rushed over to the maple message desk and uttered a silent prayer before answering.
Leontynne smiled at the deep voice on the line. “This is she.”
Rakim could hear the anxiety tingeing the woman’s voice and chuckled softly. “Ms. McRae, this is Rakim Transou from The Transou Agency.”
Leontynne pulled the phone from her ear and pressed it against her chest. “Yes, Mr. Transou?” She replied, once she’d calmed herself.
“I’m calling about the portfolio you left. It’s very impressive.”
“Thank you,” Leontynne managed, her excitement continuing to mount.
“Ms. McRae, we’ve been commissioned for several high profile TV spots around the time for the Super Bowl. We’re in the process of choosing a model and lead photographer. We hope to choose them both from the portfolios. We believe this would go further to insure a rapport with the team.”
Rakim chuckled. “I’m glad, because I think you’re perfect for the job.”
Leontynne let her excitement show. She uttered a piercing scream and jumped up and down with the phone clutched to her ear. “I’m sorry! Mr. Transou. I’m sorry. It’s just that this is-I just didn’t think I could do this. I know the competition was something fierce.”
Rakim nodded, leaning back in his chair. “You’re right, but I think we’re going with the right person.”
“Oh, you are. I can’t wait to get started.”
“Glad to hear it,” Rakim said, coming to the second reason for his call. “We’d like to contact one of the models in your portfolio.”
“Which one are you interested in?” Leontynne asked, taking a seat at the desk and opening her laptop.
“Well, that’s the problem. We have the photo, but no follow-up information on it.”
Leontynne frowned. “That’s strange,” she replied, opening the photo program. “Is there a number on the back of the shot? Top left corner?”
“I’m sorry, there’s nothing.”
Leontynne was stumped. “That’s strange. I always save my photos to disc. They should all have a number on the back. Mr. Transou, would you mind describing the picture?”
Rakim’s striking black stare, scanned the photo with probing intensity. It took him a while to respond. “The woman is um, dressed in a white robe. She’s…she’s on her stomach and looks like she’s laying on a bed of roses or tulips, I can’t tell which.”
Suddenly, Leontynne laughed, ending with a sigh of realization. “I’m so sorry. The woman in the photo is one of my best friends. She’s not a model.”
Rakim figured that. “She’s so familiar to me,” he whispered, brushing his fingers across the entrancing face in the weathered picture.
“She did a little something in school, but nothing major,” Leontynne was explaining, as she shut down her laptop. “Now, she’s in business for herself. I’m sorry about this, Mr. Transou.”
“Call me Rakim, please,” he offered, never taking his incredible, deep-set eyes off the photo. “What’s her name, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Icia,” Rakim whispered, his long heavy lashes fluttering as he closed his eyes.
Leontynne chuckled. “Not a very common name,” she noted.
“Not at all,” Rakim massaged the bridge of his nose. “How’d this picture get into your portfolio?”
“I’m so sorry about that. It must’ve gotten trapped in a loose sleeve when I cleaned out the other photos.”
“The two of you live near one another?” Rakim probed, his light tone of voice belying his deep interest.
Leontynne chuckled. “No, Icy lives in Florida. I’ve been hoping she’d move out to California, but I don’t think it’ll happen.”
Rakim had so many questions, but he resisted the urge to question Leontynne further. “Will you be able to meet me in the morning? Nine a.m.?”
“Oh, I’ll be there.” Leontynne assured him.
“I’ll see you then.”
“Alright, Rakim and thank you.”
Rakim set the phone down and focused all his attention on the picture. He kept it on his desk for the rest of the day.
Icia had taken a soothing foam bath and was enjoying her view of the ocean. She stood between the sliding storm doors in the darkened living room. The soft breeze dried the tendrils of hair dampened during her bath. She leaned her head against the doorjamb and let the familiar rustle of leaves and surf lull her from reality.
A tiny, mewling sound caught Icia’s ears and she forced her eyes open. A pudgy, gray ball of fur circled her feet and brought a smile to her lips.
“What’s up, Nora?” She sighed, stooping to bring the fuzzy Himalayan close to her chest. Icia could feel the small feline purr when she stroked its body. “What do you think about a vacation, Girl?” She asked the kitten, moving from side to side in a slight rocking manner. “Maybe a cruise,” Icia sighed, “with a lot of people.”
When Nora mewled again, Icia chuckled. “Yeah, right,” she agreed. The idea of being around a crowd of party-goers made her sick inside.
Icia set Nora to the shiny, hardwood living room floor. Then, she turned and went down the short stairway leading into the living room. She switched on one of the burgundy porcelain lamps and curled up on the matching sofa. She sat there a moment, debating on what to do next. Nora went to sniff around the huge mahogany cabinet which housed an impressive DVD collection.
“Wanna watch a movie, Nora?” Icia asked, pushing herself off the sofa to join the kitten on the floor. She flipped on the plasma-screen TV, and then focused on making a selection.
“…officials say they have no leads at this time…The funeral of prominent Virginia professor Silas Rogers is scheduled for this Wednesday. Professor Rogers’ service is slated to be heavily attended given the educator’s prominence as a noted lecturer on the national and international scene. Former and current students, colleagues and family are already beginning to arrive in Hampton, Virginia for home-going services…In other news…”
Icia was stunned by the news broadcast. Professor Rogers was loved by everyone on campus. He was a tough, English instructor, but he cared. Every student who went through his class, exited with a renewed respect for language, literature and history.
Icia drew her knees close to her chest and leaned back against the cabinet. Virginia was the last place she ever wanted to visit, but knew paying her respects was something she very much wanted to do.
Rakim was seated in his favorite armchair near the tall windows in his living room. He had been there since early that afternoon. Finding Icia’s picture and talking with her friend, left him in no mood to remain at the office. He’d come home and reclined in the large, worn chair. His long legs were crossed at the ankles.
Icia’s picture sat propped against the window sill. Rakim didn’t take his dark eyes off it as he raised the beer bottle and took a long swallow. He had never believed in signs, but this had to be some kind of message. At the very least, he had to know what had happened to her. Why she left him…Whatever the case, he had to find answers to questions that had haunted him for far too long. It was time to close that part of his life.
With that decision in mind, he reached for the black cordless lying on the sill next to the picture. After entering the necessary digits, he closed his eyes and waited.
“This is Kevin, leave a message. I’ll get back to you soon.”
“Kev. Man, call me. This is Kimm. It’s important.”