Taking Care of Business(6)

By: Brenda Jackson

He picked up the tag attached to the painting and glanced at it. “It’s a Malone and the price isn’t bad, considering he’s making a name for himself now. I was able to purchase several of his paintings at a private art show when he first got started.”

Renee could envision the paintings adorning the walls of Tag’s condo. Alton Malone, who was of mixed Caucasian and African-American heritage, had a wide range, but she personally liked his contemporary ethnic paintings the best.

It was obvious Tag liked fine art. But then, so did she. The only difference was that money to buy it came more easily to him than to her.

At the moment, the difference in their incomes wasn’t the only thing on her mind. So was the difference in their skin colors. Although New York was one of the most diverse cities on earth, some people’s opinions about interracial dating just didn’t change. More than once, as they strolled along the sidewalk together, darting in and out of various shops, Renee had felt people’s curious eyes on her. Whether accepting or disapproving, she wasn’t sure. But the stares had been obvious, as were a few frowns. There was no way Tag hadn’t noticed. However, he didn’t seem bothered that people were erroneously assuming they were a couple.

“It’s four o’clock already,” he said. “What about grabbing something to eat before I take you home?”

Renee glanced over at Tag. Earlier, he had asked how she had gotten to Greenwich Village and she had told him that she had ridden the subway. He had offered to drive her home, saying his car wasn’t parked too far away. She had graciously declined the offer. Hanging out with him on a lazy Saturday was one thing, but she didn’t intend for him to go out of his way to take her home.

“Tag, thanks for the offer, but I’m used to taking the subway wherever I need to go.”

“I’m sure you are, but I don’t have anything else to do. Besides, it will be late evening by the time we finish eating.”

Renee shook her head as a smile touched her lips. “I wonder when it will dawn on you that I didn’t agree to eat with you.”

He grinned. “Sure you did. That was our deal, remember?”

Renee lifted a brow as they continued to stroll along the sidewalk. “What deal?”

“Don’t you remember?”

She eyed him suspiciously. “No, I do not.”

“Then you must be having a senior moment.”

“No, I don’t think so,” Renee said, enjoying this camaraderie with him. “I’m twenty-eight and way too young to have senior moments.”

“Not so,” he said, teasing Renee. “I’m twenty-nine, but I used to have—”

“Hey, Tag! Wait up!”

Tag and Renee stopped walking when the person called out to him. They turned to see a man—who appeared to be about Tag’s age, dressed in a jogging suit and running shoes—trot over to them.

“Hey, man, where have you been keeping yourself?” the man asked Tag when he finally reached them and the two men shook hands. “It’s been ages since I’ve seen you at the club.”

“Work has been keeping me busy,” Tag said. He then glanced at Renee. “Renee, I want you to meet a friend of mine from college, Thomas Bonner. Thomas, this is Renee Williams.”

Renee accepted the man’s hand. “It’s nice meeting you, Thomas.” She could immediately feel the unfriendliness in the handshake and watched as he plastered a phony smile on his face.

“Uh, yes, nice meeting you, too.” Then, as if she was of little importance, he dismissed her and glanced up at Tag through disapproving eyes. “Evidently, you’re not too busy to carve out some colorful playtime.”

Renee immediately picked up the censorship in his expression. Evidently, Thomas Bonner thought that she wasn’t the type or the color of woman that Tag should be seen with. But his insinuation that she was nothing more than an object of Tag’s amusement really got next to her. Breathing deep, she held back her anger, deciding this man wasn’t worth it. However, Tag evidently disagreed. He placed his hand on the small of her back and eased her closer to him.

She could hear the iciness in his voice when he said, “You should know I’m too serious a guy to ever indulge in playtime. Besides, when a man meets someone this beautiful he doesn’t waste his time by acting a fool. If he’s smart, he uses it wisely to impress her. And what I’m doing, Thomas, is trying to impress. Wish me luck.”

Renee could tell Tag’s comments left the man at a loss for words. “Uh, well, I’d better continue my run. Give my best to your family,” Thomas finally stumbled out before jogging off without looking back. Renee could just imagine the rumors that would be flying around in Tag’s social circle tomorrow. Maybe he could handle a scandal, but she could not. She had been there, done that. And she didn’t want to ever live through it again.