"You bitch-ass motherfucker!" Tasha Reynolds hauled back as if she was pitching a fastball for the New York Yankees and slapped Justin across the face with all of her might. His head whipped around as a smattering of blood formed where his full lips had crushed into his top teeth.
"Who the fuck do you think you are?! You can't leave me! You ain't going no fucking where!"
If any of Tasha's clients or competitors had seen her, they wouldn't have recognized her. In public, Tasha was one of the most controlled and controlling women there ever was. Tasha was, in every sense of the word, "regal," in her walk, in her talk. She possessed the trained grace of someone with upbringing and character. She rarely smiled or joked. She was all business and very good at what she did. She was a perfectionist without a conscience. There was no place in her business for someone who was sensitive, for someone who had second thoughts, for someone with emotions.
Tasha Reynolds was at the top of her game because she did what she had to do to be the best. She worked harder than anyone else and she made tough decisions without batting a fake eyelash. She was never out of control. She was smooth as ice, cold as ice, hard as ice. Tasha Reynolds always got what she wanted.
And what she wanted right now was Justin Blakeman.
He stood in front of her, wiping the blood from his mouth, trying not to react, holding himself back. The last time a woman had smacked him, he'd been ten years old and it was his mother. He'd lied to her about where he went after school, and she smacked him in the mouth for lying. He also got a beating with a cane when his father got home later that evening. The smack on the mouth by his mother was worse. It was humiliating, even for a ten-year-old. But he'd learned how to take it like a man. And he held himself like a man now.
Justin had been raised in an old-fashioned Jamaican family, where roles were very distinct. Women had their place, and men were king. A man never subjugated himself or bowed to a woman. Justin had allowed himself to be Tasha's subject for far too long, as far as he was concerned. She had been the queen and he had been part of her royal world. He had allowed himself to be paraded around like one of those Westminster Kennel Club show dogs for three years, at her beck and call, doing whatever she asked. He'd loved her in the beginning, and there was a part of him that would love her always. But now he was reclaiming his manhood.
"It's over, Tasha," he said as calmly as he could, trying not to respond at all to her emotional outrage. His nonreaction stoked her anger.
"It will never be over until I say it's over!" she growled.
Justin turned and began to leave. He had packed one bag, taking only the few clothes he'd bought for himself and some personal items that he'd brought with him from Jamaica. He knew how she was and he didn't want to give her any cause to come after him.
As Justin reached for the door, a Baccarat ashtray narrowly missed his head, crashing into the cedar door. It didn't shatter, the crystal was too heavy. But had it connected with his head, Justin would have had at least a concussion, if not worse.
"Where the fuck do you think you're going?! Are you hard of hearing? It's not over, Justin!"
Tasha rushed him, slapping at his face and shredding the skin on his forearms with her nails as she tried to pry his bag out of his hand. He dropped the bag and grabbed her arms, stopping her from hitting and scratching him. She was struggling and he threw her to the floor. But Tasha was possessed. She kept coming at him, swinging. He blocked most of her blows and grabbed her around the waist, lifted her from the ground, and carried her to the couch in the living room, throwing her like a rag doll.
"Now, stop this!" he said, finally raising his voice. "Look at yourself, Tasha! This isn't you! It doesn't have to end like this! Just let me go!"
Tasha's chest was heaving. She was out of breath and going out of her mind. She rushed him one more time. This time Justin met her with a blow to her head, driving her backward with force. She fell to the ground hard, teetering on the verge of consciousness.
"You motherfucker!" she slurred. "You...you're going to pay for this."
Justin looked at her -- a woman the world saw as untouchable greatness. He looked at her with sadness. He walked calmly to the door, picked up his bag, and left. He didn't look back. He walked to the elevator and rode the twenty floors down, collecting his thoughts. His black Lexus convertible -- the car she'd bought him -- was parked in the front of the garage, as it always was. A nice, fast drive was just what the doctor ordered.
Justin started the engine and screeched out of the garage, headed for the FDR Drive and on to his new life.
He was excited. He was free. More free than his days chopping sugarcane in Jamaica. Freer than he had ever been in his life. He allowed himself to smile, dabbing away a bit of the ugliness he had just left behind, as he thought about where he was headed next. It would be the first official night as a single man. He was free to love. And he couldn't wait.
He selected "Love Songs" on his iPod's playlist and drank in the opening notes of Maxwell's "Till the Cops Come Knockin'."
Gonna take you in the room suga'
Lock you up and love for days...
Justin was caught up in the music. And caught up in his fantasies. He didn't notice the flashing lights bearing down on him and he raced past the Twenty-first Street exit. He was a couple of miles from Tasha in distance and a million miles from her in his mind. But it was all catching up with him.
"Pull over!" The gruff voice came over the loudspeaker, shaking Justin out of his mist. He'd never noticed the sirens because Maxwell's song has sirens throughout, which he had grown used to over the years.
"Pull over, now!"
Justin eased over.
"What the...?" But he knew. "Tasha."
The police were angry for having to chase him for nearly a mile. They got out, hands on their guns, one at the passenger-side window, the other at the driver's side.
"Step out of the car," the officer barked.
"What? Why did you pull me over, Officer?" Justin asked.
"Shut up and step out of the car!"
Justin kept his hands in full sight. He was new to America, but he'd heard about Amadou Diallo and Sean Bell and knew he was black enough to give a New York police officer cause to pause. He didn't want to be that kind of victim. So he kept his hands raised above his head and, because he didn't want any trouble, asked the officer to open the door.
The officer opened the door with one hand and yanked Justin out of the car with the other hand, threw him to the ground, and handcuffed him.
"You have the right to remain silent..."
Copyright © 2007 by Jonathan Plummer and Book Bloc Publishing, Inc.
Excerpted from Balancing Act by Jonathan Plummer, Karen Hunter
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.