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Prologue

Detroit City Councilman Reynard Parker hadn't always been rich and powerful. A high school drop out, he'd started out in the trash business like every other Black man who hadn't finished high school – on the street slinging cans in the heat of summer and balls freezing days of winter. During those years, he'd gagged picking up maggot infested garbage, taken shit from condescending suburban customers, and come home smelling worse than an abandoned porta john to a wife who despised him.

Then life changed. In 1986, on his 35 th birthday, he hit the Michigan State Lotto. Twelve million dollars. He had sense enough to return to school for his GED, then go on to college where he impressed himself and his professors with his grasp of Economics. He graduated at the top of his class with a degree in Business Economics.

The degree and his Lotto money came in handy when his old trash employer went belly up in 1994. Reynard purchased the remains for pennies on the dollar. He then painted Parker Environmental on the trucks, hired in his own people and proceeded to build an empire that let him rub elbows with crooked politicians, corrupt union officials, and businessmen as shady and as greedy as he.

Now at age 54, Reynard's hair was grey and his belly soft, but he had lucrative trucking contracts on both sides of the US border for hauling trash, toxic wastes, and other tainted loads. The profits, coupled with the hustles he had on the side, brought in more than enough to pay for his fancy Palmer Park home, suits from Toronto, and shoes from Italy. He ate in the best places and when he decided to run for Council, his contacts helped bankroll his campaign. His high profile charity work with felons, and being on the boards of a few local non-profits further cemented the good guy image he wanted to project. He also had a new young wife; she despised him too, but not his money.

So all in all, life was good for Reynard Parker. He had only one dream left, and that was to become the city's mayor, but there was an obstacle in his path. Drake Randolph.

 

Chapter 1

The surprise snowstorm had reduced Detroit's early morning freeway traffic to a crawl. Lacy Green peered through her wipers, trying to catch a glimpse of the long line of cars ahead of her, but for all intents and purposes the wipers were useless. The thick blowing snow filled the cleaned glass just as soon as the blades swung back. It was 6:30 AM, still dark, and the visibility was so bad, she could barely make out the cars moving beside her. Last night's meeting in the city of Ypsilanti had run so late she'd opted for a hotel room. Now, she had to get back to her job in downtown Detroit. Lacy was from Atlanta and she'd had never seen anything like this weather in her life. For the past week, the temperatures had been warm enough for the tulips in the pots on Lacy's balcony to break through the soil, but overnight a major storm had roared in out of nowhere, and this morning it was still blowing and screaming.

Concentrating on her driving, Lacy held the wheel tightly. This was her first Michigan winter, and she was still a bit shaky maneuvering on the snow, but she knew that the middle lanes were the safest places to be, so that's where she and her ancient Escort were. The far left lane, which on regular mornings funneled cars rolling at 80 to 90 plus miles per hour wasn't even cleared. The plows were using the lane to pile up the 5 inches that had fallen overnight. Schools were closed and the airport was reporting a three hour delay on departing flights. Today was the first day of April and apparently, Mother Nature had a wicked sense of humor.

On the radio, the traffic reporter was advising folks to stay home. Lacy clicked off the sound and kept her eyes on the road. The last thing she needed to hear was someone stating the obvious. Lacy, like the thousands of others commuters region wide, had to go to work.

The Escort's groaning wipers cleared the windshield just in time for her to see a snow covered Grand Am merging too fast onto the freeway. The car did a 360 and spun tail first into the snow bank on the right shoulder. The driver was lucky. Had the spinout been in the far left lane the car most likely would've gone down the embankment and into the maw like ditch that served as the median on Michigan's main highways. Once in, the only way out was by tow truck.

In reaction to the Grand Am's dilemma, traffic slowed even further and brake lights twinkled like dull red flames in the whirling eddies. Michigan, my Michigan, Lacy muttered sarcastically, quoting the state's motto.

A glance up at her rear view mirror showed a ghostly stream of headlights strung out behind her like jewels. At the very back of the pack was one set of lights that seemed to be moving back and forth as if the driver was weaving in and out of the traffic. The sight made her shake her head. Conditions were too dangerous to be trying to get anywhere in a hurry so she prayed the idiot kept his or her distance.

Lacy grimly concentrated on the traffic ahead but every few seconds glanced up at her mirror to gauge the lane jockey's position. The car appeared to be making progress, but in all of this traffic they were looking for an accident, and would probably get their wish. She, on the other hand just wanted to get to work in one piece.

Just as that thought crossed her mind, brake lights flashed ahead. The car in front of her began to slide. All around her other vehicles went on the defensive, angling and attempting to get out of the way of what looked like the beginnings of a major pile-up. A tense Lacy downshifted and gently braked, praying she had enough space to stop safely. She did and let out her held breath, but a quick look at the rear view mirror showed the lane jockey about to plow into her rear end. She opened her mouth to scream “Nooo!” but the solid impact threw her forward. The air bag deployed and the car began spinning like Kristi Yamaguchi in a death spiral. A panicked Lacy fought to turn the wheels in the direction of the slide but the snow bank on the left shoulder was too close. The Escort spun trunk first hard through the piled wall of snow and rumbled down the snowy embankment. It hit the bottom nose first, flipped onto its hood, then flipped again and landed hard on its tires. That was the last thing Lacy remembered.

She came to lying flat on her back. For a moment she lay there on the horizontal seat listening to the furious thumping of her heart. As it slowed, she realized she was alive. Very gingerly she wiggled her toes inside of her boots and the pain in her right ankle responded with a screaming aria. She bit her lip in reaction then did a quick check of her remaining limbs and appendages. Her neck was sore and would probably be worse tomorrow but everything else seemed intact. Still reeling though, she slowly fumbled for the seat button beside her. Upright again, she rested her head against the airbag and took in a deep shuddering breath. A look around showed the snow surrounding her and the faint lights of cars above her on the highway. She supposed she should have been wondering whether help was on the way but right then all she wanted to do was breathe and savor the realization that she was alive.

Mayor Drake Randolph didn't waste time yelling at his driver for causing the accident; there'd be time for that later. Right now, Drake's only concern was helping the driver of the Escort. Throwing open the limo's door, he and his two body guards got out and headed down the hill.

Other cars had stopped in response to the accident, but they didn't pay them much mind because the going was rough. The wind was screaming. The blowing snow stung their faces making Drake wish he'd stayed in the car, but the oath he'd taken as a doctor took precedence over the oath he'd taken as mayor of the City of Detroit. He made his way down the knee high snow praying the driver hadn't sustained serious injury.

When the still shook up Lacy heard the knock on the window it took her brain a moment to process the meaning of the sound. A man's face appeared on the other side of the snow covered glass. She assumed she was dreaming, Why else would Mayor Randolph be outside the car. She heard him yell, “Can you unlock the door?”

She tried to shake off the cobwebs clouding her thinking.

“Are you hurt?”

Lacy studied his handsome brown face. He appeared to be genuinely concerned. The women of Detroit had dubbed Mayor Randolph, His Fineness , and even to Lacy who had yet to meet a politician she didn't want to burn at the stake found his good looks almost blinding. The man made Denzel look like Shrek. When her brain asked why she was indulging in such asinine thoughts, she shook herself, then reached down and flipped the lock button.

The door opened. Swirling wind and snow filled the car making her instantly draw away from the fury.

He asked again, “Are you hurt?”

The cold air hitting her in her face made her brain a bit clearer, but she was still a bit woozy. “Just my ankle. Neck's sore. What are you doing here, Mayor Randolph?”

He gave her that smile, the smile Detroit's female citizens prayed they'd be blessed by at least once in their lives; a smile packing so much charming wattage it seemed to warm her insides. “Came to see about you,” he responded.

Even in her groggy state, and with the wind whipping around her, she felt stroked by the soft tone of his voice. She blamed the reaction on the after shocks of the accident. “Appreciate it.” Lacy mumbled. She could feel a hellacious headache starting to form. “Did you get the plate of the idiot who hit me?”

Neither the mayor nor his body guards answered. Instead, the mayor said firmly over the wind, “Let's see if we can't get her back up to my car.” He looked at Lacy. “What's your name, Miss?”

“Lacy Green.”

“Ms Green, you said your ankle's hurt?”

“Yes.” She didn't know whether it was the weather or the shock but she was freezing.

“How's your head?”

“Hurts.”

He leaned in closer and gently began examining the bones in her neck, arms and shoulders. “Any of this hurt?”

“Neck's sore.”

He ran his over her neck and shoulders again. When he finished, the handsome face studied her with serious eyes. “Do you think you can walk?”

Lacy waved him off. “Yeah.”

He stuck out his hand, and helped her out. The sharp “Ow!” she yelled settled the matter of whether the ankle would support her weight or not. She leaned against the car until the pain subsided to a dull roar.

The mayor looked up at the highway. “We'll take you back up to my car.”

Lacy was all for that. The wind was whipping like a winter hurricane and she was so cold her teeth were chattering.

Up until that moment, Lacy's main concern had been herself, but now, for the first time she could see the Escort's physical condition. The sight made her eyes widen in dismay. “Look at my car!”

The hood was so mangled the engine and its innards were exposed. She cried out again, “Look at my car!” Overwhelmed by the extent of the damage she thought she might be sick.

One of the men said, “How bout we get you up to the mayor's car and you can call a tow truck.”

A devastated Lacy realized she was going to need not only a tow, but a couple month's pay to get the Escort back on the road. Her headache worsened.

The mayor asked, “What do you need out of here?”

She forced herself to deal with the now. “My tote. Oh, and my cd case on the visor.”

He leaned in and grabbed her stuff. Then came the task of getting her up the steep embankment to where the limo waited. The two big men with the mayor locked arms to form a seat and she was transported like Cleopatra to the embankment, but because it was physically impossible for them to carry her up the steep slope and maintain their balance they each grabbed one of her armpits and carried her the last few feet that way. Her toes dragged a bit, increasing the discomfort in her ankle but they made it. A few moments later she was in the car. She was so relieved to be someplace warm and dry she leaned back against the limo's black leather seat and let out breath of relief.

The mayor got in beside Lacy. One of the guards settled in on her other side while the second man took the passenger seat. The thin faced older man behind the wheel introduced himself as Burton. He turned and asked Lacy, “You okay, honey?”

“No,” she offered truthfully. Between her headache, throbbing ankle and the damage to her car it would be a while before she was okay . “Thanks for stopping to help though. Did you see who hit me?”

The silence that followed made her look up into his brown eyes. Under her pointed scrutiny, he dropped his head, then said, “I'm real sorry.”

Lacy swung to the mayor. “You hit me?!”

He gave her a chagrined look. “Technically, Burton did. Our apologies. He was trying to get me to a meeting downtown.”

“A meeting?” she snapped. “I almost lost my life so you could get to a meeting!”

“My plane from San Antonio got in late from the airport, and,. ”

“So you ran me off the road?”

Drake's lips thinned.

“Do you see that snow out there?”

Drake nodded. “I do.”

She summed it up. “He was driving too damn fast.”

The mayor eyed his driver for a moment then nodded. “I agree.”

Lacy plopped back against the seat.

“The city will pay for all damages, of course.”

“Of course.” She snatched off her wet hat and ran a hand through the small twists crowning her head. She was so angry she wanted to smack somebody.

Drake pulled off his gloves and tired to apologize again, “I know you're mad - ”

The blazing look she turned on him rendered Drake instantly silent. He supposed she didn't want to hear him state the obvious. “How's your head?” he asked instead.

“Still hurts,” Lacy admitted. To her surprise, he placed a finger beneath her chin and raised her face so he could look down into her eyes.

“Want to see if you have signs of concussion.”

The warmth of his touch spread up her cold chin and down her shoulders. Once again blaming her reaction to him on the accident, she let him look for a few seconds more, then backed out of his hold. “I have a headache but that's probably normal after being run off the road .”

He winced visibly, “Point taken, but let's take a look at your ankle.”

“It's fine. ” Lacy knew he was a doctor and that it made sense to have a doctor look her over but she was so outdone by all this drama, she was having trouble thinking straight. It occurred to her then that once she made it to her job she had no way home. Who knew how long her car would lay in the ditch before a tow truck could get to it? In this weather it could be days. The mandate requiring city employees live within the city's limits had been relaxed a few years ago and Lacy lived in a nearby suburb. She supposed she could get one of her coworkers to help her out but she hated imposing on people. Her head was pounding.

Drake really wanted to make sure the ankle wasn't broken but guessed she'd had enough interaction with him for now, so he didn't press. Burton was wisely staying out of the line of Lacy Green's fire, which Drake thought made sense.

Burton said, “I called the police and made the accident report.”

“Good,” Drake said. “Do they want us to wait?”

“No, the dispatcher said they were too busy. I guess a semi spun out over on the Lodge Freeway. Radio says the road is a parking lot.”

Burton turned around and said to Lacy. “I told them it was my fault. They said they'd send somebody out to interview you about what happened in a few days. I'm getting a ticket though.”

Lacy thought he deserved one.

“I also called Triple A. They'll tow your car just soon as they can get to it. You have to call them later this afternoon and let them know which body shop to take it to.” He sounded and looked genuinely contrite.

Lacy nodded. “Thanks.”

Drake told the guard in the front seat. “You should probably drive.”

Burton puffed up. “I'm the driver here.”

Drake shook his head. “Move over.”

Lacy could see that Burton wasn't pleased but he slid down the long seat to the passenger side. The man, a dark skinned giant named who'd introduced himself as William “Billy” Cruise got in behind the wheel and eased the big car out into the slow moving traffic.

Drake said to him. “Let's run by Henry Ford Hospital so Ms. Green can get herself checked out. Is there someone I can call for you. Husband, family?”

“No, but I should call my job.”

She opened the tote that doubled as her purse and fished for her phone. Her neck didn't like the movement but she ignored it as best she could.

Drake asked, “Where do you work?”

“A few floors below you. Environmental Enforcement.”

He couldn't hide his surprise. “ Are you a secretary?”

“No. Assistant Director.”

Drake paused. He'd never met her before. “How long have you been in the office?”

“About six months.”

Lacy turned her attention to her phone call. There was no answer at her office. She assumed the bad weather had impacted everybody's arrival. She decided to try later.

When she put the phone back into her tote, Drake said, “Sorry we had to meet this way.”

“So is my car.”

Drake turned his attention to the snow scene out his window, and smiled.

On the slow drive into the city, Drake kept taking peeks at her. Her skin was black as a summer night and looked just as soft. He'd always had a thing for dark skinned women; probably because of his dark skinned mother, but whatever the reason, Drake liked his berries black. Lacy Green's hair was done in those tiny twists Black women had taken to wearing in recent years. He'd never really liked the style. In his opinion most of the women sporting the do resembled mops, or contestants in the Westminster Dog show, but on Lacy, the style flattered the lines of her dark face and added a certain jazz to the onyx eyes and the sensual curves of her lips and mouth. To quote the vernacular, the sister was hot. He also noted that she had no ring on the third finger of her left hand. Granted that didn't mean she didn't have a man, but Drake had an often uncanny sense about that sort of thing and it said Lacy Green was unattached. Unfortunately for Drake, Burton had driven her off the road, totaling her car and as a result, trying to talk to her was going to be harder than finishing med school.

When the mayor's big Lincoln pulled up in front of the large brick building that bore Henry Ford's name, Lacy looked out of the window at the imposing structure. This would be her first visit to the world famous medical facility known for its cutting edge techniques.

The mayor opened the door and said to the men, “Keep the car warm.” Then to Lacy, “Be right back.”

He returned with a wheel chair. She sat in it and he pushed her towards the door.

Inside the hospital, the mayor's presence sent the staff and the citizens into a frenzy. Folks gawked with surprise. Others ran up wanting autographs. Some simply wanted to shake his hand. Mayor Drake Randolph was one of the most popular mayors in the city's history. In spite of his battles with the City Council over implementation of some of his more controversial programs, the residents loved him.

After leaving Admitting, he pushed her onto the elevator and Lacy could see the two nurses already in the car studying her speculatively. The mayor's reputation with the ladies was well known, and Lacy was certain the women were wondering how she and His Fineness were connected. Neither was rude enough to ask, which suited her just fine because Lacy planned on dumping him and his no – driving chauffeur, ASAP.

Although Drake knew next to nothing about the lady he was pushing in the chair he found himself intrigued by the fact that she didn't act as if he were the Second Coming. She didn't seem impressed by him at all and the novelty of her reaction was a welcomed breath of fresh air. Everywhere he went women swarmed over him like carrion beetles. Not this one. She looked like she'd rather sock him, and he respected that even as he wondered if the city was going to have yet another lawsuit on its hands because of the accident.

A short while later Lacy was wheeled into the x- ray department. There were a few people seated in the large room waiting to be seen and the mayor's entrance made every one wide – eyed. The female attendant looked as if she might faint when she saw him, but quickly pulled herself together.

“Good morning, Mayor - Dr. Randolph,” the woman gushed.

“Morning Denise. This is Lacy Green. She was in a car accident this morning and needs her ankle and neck x-rayed. Is Reg Carson in the building somewhere?”

Denise, a short round woman with breasts so prominent they pressed against her white coat as if trying to escape, gave Lacy a sympathetic smile. “I'll find out. In the meantime, come this way. Which ankle honey?”

“Right.”

Drake rolled Lacy to a small examination room and Denise closed the door. “Dr. Randolph if you'll take her boot off, I'll page Dr. Carson, get these other patients started and be right back.”

He nodded. “Thanks, Denise.”

Denise exited and the mayor knelt in front of Lacy in the chair. Their eyes held. Lacy felt something pass between them that made her pulse jump just enough to be noticeable, but the last time she'd had dealings with a man as prominent and handsome as this, she'd lost everything, and she had no plans on going there again. “Who's Dr. Carson?”

“Friend of mine. He's an orthopedic surgeon on the staff here.” Drake didn't let her coolness deter him. The more she pulled back the more intrigued he became. He placed his hands on her boot. “Let's see if we can get this off.”

Lacy wasn't having it. Letting him remove her footwear smacked of an intimacy she didn't want to encourage. “I got it,” she said evenly.

But she didn't. Not only did her neck hurt when she leaned down to reach the boot hidden beneath her long brown suede skirt, but the ankle was so swollen, the attempts to remove it brought her nothing but pain. Hurting, she exhaled an angry frustrated sigh and leaned back against the chair.

“Let me try,” he said gently.

She nodded for him to go ahead, but his actions only made the pain flare again, so he stopped and told her, “We may have to cut it.”

Lacy sighed with frustration. The black boots had cost her eighty-five dollars on sale at Marshall Field's. Although the mayor's plan made sense, the reality of having to slice through the soft leather only added to an already messed up day.

Denise came back, papers in hand. “Can't get it off?”

Grim, Lacy said, “No.”

Denise took from her pocket what appeared to be a capped pen, but when the cap was removed a small silver scalpel caught the light. Denise handed the instrument to Drake. “Dr. Carson is on his way.” Then Denise shook her head sadly, “Those are killer boots, girlfriend.”

“Were,” Lacy corrected her and raised her suede skirt to her knee.

The boots were knee high, so the incision began at the top. Drake worked slowly and carefully until the halves of the leather fell away to reveal the sheer black stockinged leg beneath. He drew the boot off. Silently admiring her leg and the purple polish on the toes of her well formed foot, he keep his face impassive, concentrating instead on the large knot that had once been her ankle.

Grateful to be free of the confining boot, Lacy gingerly moved her toes, only to

wince at the pain.

“Sorry about the boot,” he said.

“I'll add them to your bill.”

Drake shook his head at her wit, then wheeled her out of the room and down the hall to where Dr. Carson and the x-ray machine waited.

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