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His Last Wife: A Southern Scandal Novel by Grace Octavia
“This latest Southern Scandal book is a great story with Octavia’s usual twists and turns, full of unexpected surprises, mama-drama, and treacherous Atlanta politics. Loved it!.”–RT Book Reviews, 4 Stars
In Essence® bestselling author Grace Octavia's most exciting, volatile novel yet, charismatic bad boy mayor Jamison Jackson has finally taken a spectacular fall. But that doesn't mean he's going down alone.
Since the night Atlanta mayor, self-made millionaire, and womanizer Jamison Jackson plummeted from the top floor of a downtown hotel, everyone seems to have profited, from vicious criminals to corrupt politicians. Everyone except his jilted first wife, Kerry. Once a socialite, she's now the prime suspect in Jamison's alleged murder. Dhe swears she's no killer—and surprisingly, Jamison's widow, Val, agrees. For all they know, it was Coreen, the mother of Jamison's secret love child. After years of extortion, Coreen's cash flow has come to an end. The reality is, Jamison had a murky past and a legion of enemies old and new who’ll do whatever it takes to cover up the truth…and it's even more scandalous, unexpected, and filled with secrets than anyone suspects.
His Last Wife by Grace Octavia
Coming to Store October 28, 2014
Series: A Southern Scandal Novel Series
Praise for Grace Octavia
"His Third Wife kicks off with a murder and a mystery. And if that's not enough to hook you, there's also sex, politics, shady characters and plenty of 'mama drama' to be had. A must-read!" --RT Book Reviews
Read an Excerpt His Third Wife
"His Next Wife"
Everything started when a mother came to town. Quiet and all alone, she got off a Greyhound bus across the street from a conveniently placed strip club. Had on fake pearls and a red lace-front wig. Her daughter picked her up in a shiny new Jaguar with two seats and the top down.
After maybe thirty minutes of silent riding, the mother was standing at the window in the big house—there were pillars out front and all. She was looking away from everything beautiful behind her. Clutching her purse like she wasn't staying. Thinking. Trying to decide how she should tell her smiling baby girl, who always wanted more than she could hold in her arms, that she ought to get on the next bus and go back to Memphis with her.
"I don't know why you didn't accept the tickets I sent you. First-class flight? I thought you'd like that," Val, her daughter, said. Maybe she was sipping her mimosa or waiting for the maid to pour her another glass.
"Memphis ain't but a stone's throw away," the mother mumbled. Her name was Mama Fee—everyone had always called her that, even before she'd had children. "Takes more time to get on the plane and fly than it does to get on the bus and ride. And I don't do big birds. Like to see the earth."
"That's old talk. This is a new world."
"Is it? Is it really, Val? You tell me."
"Yes, Mama Fee. You still act like flying is just for white folks. Or rich folks—"
"Ain't said nothing like that."
"Well, that's good, because it isn't. As long as you can pay, you can play. That's the Atlanta way." Val chuckled and looked at Lorna, the maid holding the pitcher of mimosa to her glass, to support the comedy of her play on words with laughter. "I'm just saying, it's 2012—not 1902!"
"What does that matter?" Mama Fee asked. "Po' folks still the same. Rich folks still the same."
Lorna was only able to produce a half smile before Val shooed her away with a tired wave. As soon as Lorna stepped over the threshold, the mother turned and looked at her daughter.
"Seems like you shouldn't be drinking," she nearly whispered before turning back to the window. "Not in your condition."
"Condition? Please! What do you know about it?"
"Plenty. Had you and your sisters. Doctor says it's bad."
"No. Doctor says it's good. Helps to relieve stress. A little won't hurt the baby at all." Val downed the last of her drink. There was an audible gulp that resonated with pangs of short nerves or anxiety. "And I need it today—with it being my wedding day and all." She looked at the big blue diamond on her ring finger. She'd purchased it a week ago with her fiancé's credit card and full blessing. "I need to relax."
Mama Fee was still looking out the window and thinking. The shiny Jaguar was resting in the middle of a circular drive that was filled with perfectly shaped creamy stones and purple pebbles that made the whole world outside the house look like a giant fish tank.
"Maybe you should've waited until the baby was born," she said. "At least until we could've had a proper wedding—your family come. You know? Like Patrice and Rhonda did. Still don't see why you couldn't invite your own sisters to your wedding."
"Would you stop it? I didn't invite you hear to go drilling me about everything."
"I ain't drilling you. They're your sisters. You were in their weddings."
"Yeah, and they married big fat losers. Is Patrice's husband out of jail yet?"
"You watch your mouth," Mama Fee said, finally turning to look at her daughter again. But she needed no confirmation that it was Val who could bring up such a thing. Her youngest child had been born spitting fire at anything that didn't seem to pick her up in some way that she deemed acceptable. This might've been considered gross ambition or maybe even unapologetic drive if it weren't for the fact that sometimes Val's desire for uplift went beyond frustrated tongue lashings and straight to unmitigated evil—well, the kind of evil a girl from Memphis who'd barely graduated high school could spin.
When Val was fifteen, Patrice had just finished beauty school and her prized graduation gift was a beauty box filled with emerald and sea foam and lavender and canary eye shadow. Lipsticks of every shade of red and pink. After Val had begged to sit and try just one shadow, paint her lips in one red, Patrice balked and hid the box beneath her bed. The next morning, the rainbow of shadows and lipsticks were floating in a river of bleach on the bathroom floor. Mama Fee nearly killed Val with her switch in the backyard after that incident, trying to teach the girl a lesson. But Val didn't cry one tear.
"Patrice's husband is a fucking jailbird. Don't blame me for that," Val said nearly laughing.
"And what about you? What about your husband?"
"Fiancé. And what about him?"
"Well, where is he?" Mama Fee asked, fingering a small Tiffany frame she'd found in the windowsill. It was a picture of a handsome brown man standing beside an older woman at what looked like his college graduation.
"He had to work this morning," Val replied.
"On your wedding day?"
There was a pause. And then, "You're picking again."
"I'm not picking. I'm just asking. It's an obvious question." She held out the picture to Val. "This him?"
"Yes. Him and his raggedy-ass mama," Val snarled. "Hate that old bat."
"At least you've met her. I can't say the same about her son. Don't seem right neither. Got to read about him in all those articles you send me. Can't tell enough about a man just by reading about him. Words don't make a man."
"Damn, Mama Fee! What's that supposed to mean? Because you've never met him, something's not right? You don't trust me?"
"I didn't say that either, girl. It just means I would like to have known him first—before he married my youngest daughter. Known what kind of man he is. Stuff your daddy would've done."
Both mother and daughter paused at the mention of a daddy. He'd been long gone. Had been a good man. But had disappeared one evening after leaving a bar following a fight with one of his white coworkers. Everyone had cursed him for leaving Fee alone to raise three girls. They'd never eat right again. There had been rumors of another woman, another family in Kentucky. Soon, Fee had believed these rumors, but then his body had floated to the top of a forgotten old swimming hole at the back of town. There'd been a noose tied to his neck. No genitals left on his body. No one had ever been interviewed, interrogated, or charged.
"A rich man. A powerful man. That's what kind of man my fiancé is. That's what you need to know," Val finally said in a voice so vindictive it promised some secret punishment for a private vendetta.
"A man who works on his wedding day?" Mama Fee asked.
"God, would you just leave that alone? Look, Jamison didn't want anything big. He just got elected to office. I'm his former assistant. I'm pregnant. The press, they'll run all over it. They're still running pictures of his first wife in the newspapers here. 'Kerry Jackson.' Fucking press."
"The press. Yes, the newspapers. The fucking websites. I have to think about that. We have to think about that. I'm marrying the fucking mayor of Atlanta, Mama Fee. Jamison Taylor. Not some jailbird like Patrice did."
"I know, baby. I heard you a million times before."
The sound of the beautiful stones and pebbles cracking beneath tires in the driveway announced a new arrival.
Val jumped up from her empty champagne flute with amazing ease and stepped quickly to the mirror over the fireplace. She puckered her lips, cleaned her teeth with her tongue, smiled, and was out the front door.
Mama Fee looked back out the window in time to see the soon-to-be son-in-law she'd never met close his car door and lean into Val's open arms with a stiff back. He was carrying a laptop in one arm. Had a gym bag draped over the other shoulder. Was wearing sweats. Mama Fee looked from him to the picture in her hand. Alone in the silent room, she looked over her shoulder for the maid and then slid the picture into her purse.
"You're late, Jamison," Val said outside. "We're going to have to hightail it downtown if we're going to do this today." She paused, but he didn't say anything. "We are doing this today. Right?"
"Jesus. A million questions. I just got here."
"My mother's here."
"I know," Jamison said. "I bought the bus ticket."
Val stood in front of him with her feet firmly planted in the pebbles and stones like a little girl about to cry.
"So, we're doing it?" she repeated after recovering with a hand on her hip.
"I'm just asking because we were supposed to go before the judge earlier and—"
"We're going to Forsyth."
"Forsyth County? Why? That's too far away."
"It's just far enough. I can't risk everyone knowing about this."
"They're all going to know soon. Right?" Val asked, setting off a conversation they'd had most every day since she'd announced she was pregnant.
"Yes. I just need to keep this quiet now. Until we're married. Then I can release a statement about you and the baby. I need to control the situation. Get in front of it. I'm still dealing with Ras's shit. And Jeremy with those hookers in Biloxi. I need some time out of the headlines."
"Fine. Well, where's your mother? Where's Tyrian?"
"Mama said she'll meet us at the courthouse," Jamison explained. "She didn't want to risk blowing my cover."
Val smiled at this lie. She knew Jamison's mother didn't like her. His mother actually told Val herself just days after Val started working as Jamison's assistant. She'd caught Val and Jamison having sex in the bathroom at his office. She didn't even leave. Didn't blink at the scene of blushing flesh and scattered office attire. She stood there like a pillar, glowering until Jamison had run away like a little boy. Val tried to be more defiant. It wasn't her mother. She excused herself out of the stall and went to the mirror to fix her lipstick. Mama Taylor walked up behind her and said two short sentences to Val's reflection in the mirror: "I smell your shit. More like diarrhea."
"What about Tyrian?" Val asked Jamison again.
"My son's with his mother."
"He's not coming to the wedding?"
* * *
You give a man everything. All of you. Out on a table. Everything. Appetizers. Sides. Drinks. An entrée. And dessert. Just everything you have to give.
For this, you ask for something. A small thing.
You get nothing.
I was tired of getting nothing. Nothing from every man. I'd bend like this. I'd turn like that. They'd notice and smile. Follow me for a little while. And then, I was alone again. Back and broken. Worse off than I was before. Poor. And black. And a woman. And I don't need to have gone to college to know that shit ain't fair.
So, you're damn right, when I met Jamison I was tired of getting nothing. But I gave him everything anyway. I wore high leopard-print heels and shit. I dusted my nipples in Ecstasy. I fried chicken in my thong in the middle of the night. Whatever he wanted. He noticed. He smiled.
Then I asked for something.
He got real quiet. That man-not-answering-the-phone-or-email quiet.
That's when I realized I wasn't being left with nothing this time. I was taking what I wanted.
It's funny what a man will do to keep what he has. When I told Jamison I was pregnant, his first question was how far along I was. I knew what that meant. I lied. Fifteen weeks. Too late for an abortion. He told me to take his credit card and pick out an engagement ring. Mr. Mayor had to marry me to keep everything he has. And that's no trouble for me. I wanted to marry him because of everything he has. Because now I have it, too.
* * *
The bride and groom took the long drive to downtown Forsyth in separate cars.
Mama Fee sat beside Val in the Jaguar trying to decide how to say what she needed to say and ask what she needed to know. What she wanted to say was, "This is crazy! This is ridiculous!" What she wanted to ask was, "Why are we in separate cars? Why hasn't your fiancé spoken to me?" But seemingly having her thoughts read, at every peak of possibility of internal eruption, Val would offer statements that made any claims or interrogations irrelevant in her new world: "Jamison likes to think in the car. He likes to ride alone.... I love driving my new car.... I don't mind driving myself around.... Soon, I'll have a driver anyway.... He can't wait to meet you.... Don't worry, Mama.... This ain't Memphis.... This is Atlanta.... Things are done differently here...."
Jamison's new assistant, a white boy with strawberry-blond hair and emeralds for eyes, met the two cars in the parking lot at the courthouse, whisked Jamison into the back of the building one way and Val and Mama Fee into the back of the building another way nearly thirty minutes later.
So much rushing. So little talking. Mama Fee pretended she was having trouble walking just so Val would have to hold her hand.
"I love you, Val Denise. I want the best for you. Always have," Mama Fee said softly to Val just before the assistant pulled them into a holding room where Jamison was waiting on his cell phone.
Val smiled, kissed her mother on the cheek and let go of her hand.
Jamison was barking commands at the someone on the phone and signaling for his assistant to seat Val and her mother. He forced his free hand into his pocket and stood tall with his shoulders perfectly squared. The stance announced that he was a man handling business.
"Tell Darth the contract isn't negotiable. He can bring anyone he wants to the table," Jamison said. "I won't move. The people of this city won't move. That park isn't going anywhere. Darth will have to speak to me first."
Val took a glass of water the assistant was holding and handed it to Jamison herself. She was grinning at his display. Something in his tone, his force, vibrated to her ankles and made her head feel cloudy.
Jamison hung up the phone and slid the precious thing into his pocket.
"Work," he said to Val before turning to his assistant. "Leaf, call Senator Green. Tell him I'll take him up on his offer for drinks tonight. Tell him I'll expect one of his top cigars. None of that cheap shit."
"Of course, Mayor Taylor," Leaf said, clicking out of the room with his phone already in his hand.
"I'm so sorry," Jamison said, suddenly focusing his attention on Mama Fee. "All this work this morning and I haven't had a chance to make your acquaintance."
"Oh, you had a chance at the house, but you were in such a rush that—" Mama Fee tried before Val cut off what was sure to be some tongue lashing.
"Jamison, this is—" Val tried to mediate, but then Jamison cut her off with dribbles of Southern charm in his voice that could have softened any woman's angry tongue. Anyone listening had the sense that this was how he'd talked to older voters at senior centers and nursing homes during press spots when he was trying to get elected.
"No. No need—" He held out his arm before getting down on his knee in front of where Leaf had sat Mama Fee. "I know exactly who this Cherokee Rose is." He took her hand and kissed it. "Mama Fee. My new mother-in-law." He looked into her eyes. "It is a pleasure to meet you."
"Well, you too." Everything Mama Fee had imagined about this brown stranger who was marrying her daughter was whirling down a veritable toilet bowl and disappearing into a forgotten sewer. This old woman was blushing. Her heart was heating.
"I know these aren't the best circumstances for us to be meeting, but I'm sure you know the old way." Traces of Jamison's true Southern accent punctuated each verb. "I had to make an honest woman of your daughter. And fast."
"Well, thank you, sir," Mama Fee said, and her tone recalled traces of the young woman she used to be, "but you can save that. I've heard many things about my daughter, and 'honest' ain't one of them."
Everyone chuckled but Val.
"So, we know the same woman?" Jamison asked, rubbing Mama Fee's shoulder.
"I made her; you bought her." Mama Fee grabbed Jamison's hand to stop him. Looked into his eyes. "Just promise me you'll treat her right."
"Okay. Enough with the negro family reunion," Val jumped in, looking at Jamison. "Where's the judge? Your baby and I are tired and we need a nap."
"Don't worry. Everything's going as planned," Jamison answered, feeling the sharp, stark jab of a reminder of his predicament in "your" associated with the baby. "We're just waiting for Mama—" The door opened and Leaf ushered in an older version of the woman in the Tiffany picture frame in Mama Fee's purse. "And here she is."
Excerpted from His Third Wife by GRACE OCTAVIA. Copyright © 2013 Grace Octavia. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Meet the Author
Essence bestselling author Grace Octavia has published ten contemporary African American novels with Kensington Publishing. Her witty, insightful fiction, which presents wicked humor and spunk has garnered her sparkling reviews in Essence, Publisher’s Weekly, The Romantic Times, Booklist, Rawsistaz, APOOO and the Urban Reviewers.
Her first novel, Take Her Man, was a selection at the 2007 Zora Neale Hurston Literary Conference in Tulsa, Okla. and she received a best new author’s award from the national Real Ladies Read Book Club. A frequent book club selection, it earned her invitations to speak to thousands of readers at the 2008 South Carolina Book Festival and the Delta Sigma Theta national convention. Her second novel, His First Wife, was the first reading selection for the Women in Entertainment Empowerment Network (WEEN), a Black Expressions Book Club selection, May 2008 Essence Magazine bestseller and the winner of the National Readers' Choice Award for the Romantic Times in 2008. Of her fourth novel, Playing Hard to Get, a review in Publisher’s Weekly proclaimed, “Octavia gives Sex and the City a smart Afrocentric update.”
Her 2011 release, Should Have Known Better, was selected as a featured read for the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System 2012 adult summer reading program and will be read by groups throughout the public library system. The noted novel was also nominated for the Romantic Times’ 2011 top multicultural fiction novel award.
She’s presented papers about her writing and read at Georgia Tech University, the University of Georgia, Georgia State University, and the University of Texas at the African American Women’s Language Conference in 2008. Her work has also appeared in Sisterfriends by Julia Chance, numerous journals and anthologies.
A native of Long Island, Octavia is a graduate of New York University, she completed her PhD in English at Georgia State University. A proud sister of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated, she is also a member of the Sigma Tau Delta National English Honor Society. The former editor of Rolling Out Urbanstyle Weekly, she lives in Atlanta, GA. She enjoys international travel, hiking, cooking, and being with her girlfriends. She currently teaches writing at Spelman College