Tonight and Forever

By: Brenda Jackson

Chapter 1

“She’s absolutely breathtaking.”

The words emerged as a mere whisper from Justin Madaris’s lips before he realized he’d spoken his thoughts aloud. Preferring at the moment to be apart from the growing crowd, he stood tall, a solitary figure, barely distinguishable in the shadows, as his mesmerized gaze followed the woman circulating among the other party guests. A seductive gracefulness marked her every movement. Glossy dark brown hair, stylishly cut, cascaded over her shoulders, accentuating her perfect features and complementing her nutmeg skin. She was, simply put, a strikingly beautiful woman.

Justin absently loosened the knot in his tie as a thrumming heat pulsed deep within him. The woman had a stimulating effect on his vital signs.

Who is she? he wondered, lifting a glass to his lips. The sparkling taste of the vintage wine was blotted from his mind as he continued to engage in a visual exploration of her body. The backless black dress was stunning. The delicate fabric clung subtly, defining her shapely figure. He couldn’t help noticing that the side slit of the outfit revealed one long beautiful leg. He’d bet her legs fit perfectly around a man’s waist while they made love.

Instinctively he took a step forward, intent on finding out who she was. His face dimpled into a smile. The woman had thoroughly aroused his curiosity and totally captured his interest.

There’s nothing like seeing old friends again, Lorren Jacobs thought, making her way through the room filled with numerous people from her past. Like her, most of them had spent their childhoods here at what used to be a foster home run by Paul and Nora Phillips. To them, this large house located in the small town of Ennis, Texas—a skip and a hop from Dallas—was home.

Tonight they’d returned and had gone all out to host the party honoring Mama Nora’s sixty-fifth birthday. Nora and her husband, Paul, who’d died six years ago, had been instrumental in shaping their lives, providing them with food and shelter, love, friendship, and guidance.

A smile touched Lorren’s lips as she glanced around the room. She knew that no expense had been spared. The food committee had special caterers flown in from New York. The decorating committee had depleted every florist shop for miles. The entertainment committee had hired a popular disc jockey to alternate with a well-known jazz band from New Orleans. A small army of people had turned out to celebrate the birthday of a woman who was a pillar of the community, a supporter of noble causes, and a dear friend.

Lorren stopped to hold a brief conversation with Mr. Monroe, the principal of her old high school, when she suddenly had the strangest feeling she was being watched. Scanning the room, she could find no reason for the peculiar sensation.

When her conversation with Mr. Monroe ended, she made her way to the buffet table, passing out quick smiles of recognition and several words of greeting to those she met. The massive spread of food looked delectable. But before she could pick up a plate, someone called her name.

Turning in the direction of the familiar voice, she came face-to-face with her closest friend, Syneda Walters, who had also grown up in the Phillipses’ household. Long luxurious golden bronze curls tumbled over Syneda’s shoulders, softly framing an attractive light brown face. Syneda’s eyes, sea green in color, were perfect for the long curling sweep of lashes veiling them.

“So far, so good. The caterers outdid themselves. Everything’s perfect,” Syneda said excitedly.

Lorren smiled. “That’s the reason we made you head of the food committee, Syneda. You could be counted on to make everything first-class. We didn’t give you the nickname ‘Classy Sassy’ all those years ago for nothing.”

Both women laughed. Their sound mingled with the joviality of the other guests in the room. “Let’s go in here,” Syneda said, pulling Lorren through a pair of double doors at the far end of the room. “It’s escape time,” she teased. They stepped into a large, book-lined study and closed the door behind them.

“I meant to tell you earlier how sharp your hair looks. That style looks super on you,” Syneda said. “I never understood why you began wearing your hair short.”

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