Provocative Territory

By: AlTonya Washington

Chapter 1

“I’m on my way...yes, yes. I promise I’ll be there soon. What? Yes, yes, Terence was on time.” Clarissa David spoke firmly yet softly into her phone’s tiny receiver. Glancing toward the front of the town car, she sent a playful wave to the chauffeur who was enjoying a laugh over the conversation.

“You tell Terry not to take any of those back roads he likes to use.” The female voice through the phone line was a stern one, but it was laced with a husky undercurrent, which brought a sensual element to the woman’s tone.

“Auntie, I promise Terence is running all kinds of lights to get me there.”

“You tell him to be careful, you hear?”

Clarissa’s lashes settled down over her eyes as she winced, at once regretting the attempt at humor. “I was only teasing. He’s being very careful.” That time, Clarissa merely shook her head in Terence’s direction.

The makings of a frown began to nudge the arch of Clarissa’s brows. Of course she was used to her aunt’s protective nature but even this was a bit much.

“Aunt Jaz, can’t you at least give me a hint of what you need to talk about?” Clarissa worked hard to keep the frustration out of her voice.

“No, I can’t!” Jazmina Beaumont’s clipped phrase was punctuated by a low sigh. “Baby, no, I can’t. I’m already taking a chance with having Terry bring you out here to see me about this.”

“You know I’m starting to worry, right?” Clarissa’s question harbored the same clipped tone Jaz had used earlier.

“Oh, don’t do that. I promise you I’m not losin’ my last bit of sense just yet but this ain’t somethin’ I want to talk about over the phone. Now stop asking questions and just get here.”

“All right Auntie, all right. Calm down and I’ll be there soon.”

Jazmina expressed another low sigh. “I love you, baby.”

The connection ended before Clarissa could return the sentiment. Regrettably, she didn’t have long to mull over the particulars of the conversation. Terence was announcing their arrival just outside Philadelphia, at the stop Clarissa had asked him to make en route to her aunt’s home.

“Terry, has Aunt J seemed short-tempered lately?” Clarissa asked absently while tucking her phone back into the beige leather tote she carried.

Terence Egerton laughed, the robust sound filling the car’s spacious dark cabin. “You mean more short-tempered than she usually is?”

“Yeah.” Clarissa’s agreement carried on a gust of abrupt laughter. “She didn’t sound quite like herself just now, though.”

“Probably the usual mess. Maybe a little more of it.” Terence drew to a halt, flashing the high beams to instruct a car facing him to go ahead with its left turn. “You know she’s about to start that construction for the remodeling and then she’s got them nosy committee people houndin’ her about that award,” he said.

Clarissa’s laughter sounded more genuine. “You sound just like her!”

Terence scrunched his nose. “Now why am I not sure that’s a compliment?”

Clarissa continued to laugh.

* * *

“So what lucky lady you planning on taking to the Reed House Jazz Supper in November?”

Elias Joss stood working his thumb against his palm in deep circular motions. “Looks like I’ll be goin’ alone since my date stood me up,” he told his tailor.

Stanford Crothers chuckled while taking the measurements of Elias’s inseam. “You sound put out over it.” His observation carried a teasing element.

Elias couldn’t help his grin. “It’s not a boost to a man’s ego to be stood up by his own mother.” He managed to fake an agitated tone.

“Never took you for a mama’s boy, kid.”

“Stan, I swear, if you keep on rubbin’ this in—”

“What? You’ll tell her to turn me down, too?”

Elias laughed long and loudly with the man who would be escorting his mother to the annual dinner for the organization that benefitted Philadelphia’s elderly.

“So has Lilia been talkin’ about our date?” Stanford queried. He was seated on a stool where he worked on the cuffs of the trousers. At Eli’s laughter rising again, the man gave a slow shake of his head which was covered by a neat salt-and-pepper afro. “So much hate,” Stan groaned. “I won’t force you to admit your mama’s got herself a real catch.”

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