Excerpts for Sultry Nights

Dominique Lawson frowned as she fussed with her father, Branford's, bow tie. "Daddy, if you would stand still I can get it straight. What are all those guests going to say when they see the great Senior Senator Branford Lawson walking his daughter down the aisle with a crooked bow tie?" She adjusted the edges and smoothed the starched white collar of his tuxedo shirt.

"They're gonna say those Lawson girls must be costing ole Branford a fortune with all these weddings." He huffed in feigned annoyance and tugged on the lapels of his jacket. "First Lee Ann and now Desi."

"Well, Daddy, you don't have to worry about me. I won't be getting married anytime soon?if ever." She patted his broad chest with a delicate hand. Her Vera Wang bridesmaid gown in a shimmering honey-tone rustled ever so softly when she moved away.

"You say that now. But when the right man comes along, you'll be singing a different tune."

"Don't count on it. I love my freedom to come and go as I please. I love my independence as a business woman and I'm not ready to give that all up to kowtow to the whims of a man?especially on a regular basis." She pursed coral-tinted lips.

Branford tucked in his smile. It was true, of his three daughters Dominique was in a class all by herself. She and her twin sister, Desiree, couldn't be more different. Dominique was defiant against authority from the time she was in the crib. She was free-spirited and had more men sniffing at her heels than he would like. She enjoyed variety and her relationship attention span was like that of a five-year-old. He'd long ago lost count of whom she was seeing. And she spent money as if it grew on trees in the yard. It was a miracle that the nonprofit organization she'd started hadn't gone under. He was sure it was his eldest daughter, Lee Ann's, wise but firm counsel that was the salvation for the business. Dominique was the female version of her older brother, Rafe, whom he'd all but given up on ever settling down.

"You two almost ready?" Lee Ann called out, poking her head in the bedroom door.

Whenever Branford looked at his daughter Lee Ann he saw the younger version of his beloved wife, Louisa, and his heart ached a bit at the memory. Lee Ann was delicate in a way that Louisa was not, but she had Louisa's facial structure and the very same light in her eyes. She also had the uncanny ability to manage her life and the Lawson clan without missing a beat.

"Well, don't you look 'matron of honorish,'" Dominique said with a grin. "Love the new hairdo," she added, acknowledging Lee Ann's short, tapered hairstyle.

"Not looking too bad yourself, little sis." Lee Ann came fully into the room and stood at the foot of the bed.

"Where's that husband of yours?" Branford asked, checking his diamond cuff links.

Lee Ann's face lit up from the inside at the mention of her husband, Preston. They'd been married less than a year and even with the hectic life of being a senator's wife and all that entailed, the glow of being newlyweds had yet to wear off.

"He's in the den talking music and football with Rafe and Justin and trying to stay out of everyone's way," she said laughing. "The decorators are finished. Downstairs looks like a wonderland. Oh, my goodness. And the yard is truly heaven. The caterers are setting up and the band should be here in about an hour. The guests are going to be blown away. Oh, the photographer is here, Dom. He wants to start getting some photos with us and Desi before we head over to the church."

Dominique patted her hair. "Always ready for my close-up." She hooked her arm through Lee Ann's.

"You okay, Daddy?" Lee Ann asked as the sisters started for the door.

"Of course, why wouldn't I be?"

Lee Ann eased away from Dominique and walked back to her father. "I know you're wishing Mama was here," she said softly. She tenderly touched his strong jaw. "But she is." She smiled, kissed his cheek then wiped the lipstick smudge with the pad of her thumb. "She would be very happy."

Branford swallowed over the sudden knot in his throat, then cleared it roughly. "You all better go on and see about your sister."

Lee Ann's eyes lovingly flickered over her father's face for a moment before she turned and joined Dominique.

Dominique tapped lightly on Desiree's bedroom door. "It's us," she called out and opened the door.

Desiree was seated at her dressing table and spun slowly around on the stool when her sisters entered. Joy radiated from her like the morning sun blooming across the horizon.

Dominique's hands went to her mouth, gasping in awe as she was struck by the vision that was her sister. She looked like a descended angel in the strapless ivory gown with its stitched bustier and tumbled layers of lace and organza that floated away from her small waist in a burst of diaphanous perfection. Her hair that she generally wore wild and free was pulled away from her face into a sleek bun that accentuated her sharp cheeks and wide eyes. A single white lily, reminiscent of Billie Holiday was tucked in her hair. Diamond studs that her mother, Louisa, and her sister Lee Ann had worn on their wedding days sparkled in her lobes.

"Oh, Desi," Dominique whispered, quickening her step into the room. She reached for her sister's hand. "You look?incredible." She could feel her eyes begin to tear up and she sniffed hard. She was not going to ruin her makeup. "Girl, you are absolutely beautiful," she said in an awed whisper. This was the woman who shared her same face but was as different from her as apples to oranges. Desiree's idea of being fashionable was a business suit, and when she wasn't in corporate mode she was behind the wheel of some race car in a grimy jumpsuit and a helmet. Dominique slowly shook her head. "Wait til Spence sees you. He's gonna run up the aisle to meet you!"

The sisters burst into laughter.

Lee Ann stepped up to her younger sister and tenderly braced her shoulders. "You are going to make a beautiful bride, an amazing wife and awesome mom?when the time comes," she added. "I'm so happy for you, sis."

"I can't believe I'm getting married," Desi said a bit breathlessly.

Their brother Justin knocked on the door and stuck his head in. "The photographer is getting anxious, ladies."

"Send him up, J," Lee Ann said.

"Looking good, baby bro," Desiree called out.

Justin, the youngest of the Lawson brood, had truly grown into his looks, bypassing his older brother, Rafe, by an inch in height with a body that had filled out and become defined and sculpted from his weekly workout. Justin's smooth mint-chocolate complexion made women want to run their hands across his face and check if those deep dimples were real. As much as he could have been a serious Louisiana playboy, Justin was totally focused on his education and following in the footsteps of his father.

Justin winked at his sister in response to her compliment. "I'll send him up," he said before shutting the door.

The sister's did last-minute makeup and hair checks before the photographer arrived.

"Dom, have you settled on a contractor yet for the expansion of First Impressions?" Lee Ann asked as she added a hint more lipstick and straightened the diamond necklace that Preston had given her on their wedding day.

"The cutoff for bidding was last week Monday. I have to review all the submissions to see where I'll get the best deal."

"Don't wait too long. With the new tax incentive initiatives for small businesses to hire and the infrastructure push across the country, good contractors will be getting scarce."

Dominique adjusted the top of her dress. "Can you imagine that there might be a shortage of workers when for the past couple of years they had no jobs at all? The tides have finally started to change."

"And not a minute too soon," Lee Ann added.

"Okay, enough talk about business. Today is my wedding day. The only conversations should be what I'm going to wear?or not wear?on my honeymoon!"

They all laughed and slapped palms just as the photographer knocked on the door and the most important day in Desiree Lawson's life was in full swing.

The realization that she was going to lose another sister was not lost on Dominique, no matter how much she tried to pretend otherwise.

Every photographer in the state of Louisiana must have been camped out on the steps and the streets bordering Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, hoping to get that money shot of the bride and groom and, of course, the political and entertainment figures that made up the Who's Who guest list.

The forty-five minute service brought tears to the eyes of the most cynical of hearts when Desiree and Spence shared their personally written vows and professed their love for each other with God and four-hundred-plus guests as witnesses.

Yet, even with that many people on the guest list, the wedding planner and her team were miraculously able to make the reception feel intimate and personal from the seating arrangements to the decor.

The band played everything from zydeco to slow jams, R&B classics, to blues and jazz. Rafe joined the band and did a solo performance on his sax playing his rendition of "Just the Two of Us," by Grover Washington, Jr. in tribute to his sister and new brother-in-law.

Dominique did what she did best, flit like a bee from one flower to the next, teasing, cajoling and mesmerizing. But even as she remained one of the bright lights of the lavish affair she couldn't shake off a feeling of disconnect.

Everywhere that she looked, couples were laughing, hugging, kissing or looking for a corner to sneak away to. They all seemed to have someone to go home with, spend tomorrow and the day after with.

She reached for a glass of champagne from the tray of a passing waiter and took a short sip as her toffee-colored eyes moved around the room. Paul LeMont, her date for the evening, came up alongside her and placed a light kiss on her exposed neck. She didn't feel a thing, not a tingle, not a spark, even as the warmth of his lush mouth played against the fine veins of her throat and his whispered words hinted at what he had in store for her later. She would let him take her to his home tonight. Tonight of all nights she didn't want to sleep alone. And sleep is all they would do.

Dominique turned into his embrace and looked up at his cover model face. "Let's dance."