Zoe struggled to concentrate. But the harder she tried the
more difficult it was to focus. She could almost feel his
strong hands exploring her body. Her eyelids fluttered open
as a soft, longing moan escaped her lips, reluctantly
pulling her back to reality. She blinked rapidly and
inhaled a shuddering breath, as she took in her
surroundings amidst the storage room.
Back to work. Focus, she thought. Yet every day it was
becoming more and more tiring. The fantasies were becoming
almost lifelike, and the episodes of arousal were no longer
confined to her dreams. The images appeared unexpectedlyâ€”
behind her eyelids, stirring a tingling sensation as the
fabric of her clothing brushed against her skinâ€”any time of
day or night. She breathed in slowly and deeply.
Zoe knotted her shoulder-length hair atop her head and
continued to carefully unwrap the thick packaging that
surrounded the five-foot tall wooden fertility statues.
She'd been waiting weeks for them to be delivered, by the
time they arrived from South Carolina earlier that morning.
She peeled away the last layer of wrapping as the air
momentarily caught in her throat. Her pulse was racing so
fast, it was as if she was meeting a blind date for the
Awestruck, she stepped back to get a better look. The rich
ebony wood was polished to a smooth, shiny finish. The
intricate hand-carved details captured every feature of the
figures of the man and woman, from the sword and mango that
he carried in his hands to the infant that she carried in
hers. There seemed to be a warm glow radiating around them.
But Zoe chalked it up to her overactive imagination or more
likely the sun beaming down from the skylight overhead. The
pair of sculptures was on loan from the Ripley Museum in
South Carolina. And as head curator at the High Museum in
Atlanta, it was her responsibility to search the globe for
the best works of art for the museum's exhibits and
collections. She was also responsible for ensuring their
safe-keeping once the items were on display.
There were so many myths surrounding the beautifully carved
totemsâ€”the most prominent being that touching the figures
was an antidote to infertility. According to some of the
stories, when the fertility sculptures were first put on
display after having been purchased and brought to America
from the Ivory Coast, within months, more than a dozen
women who worked at the Ripley Museum became pregnant after
touching the statues.
As with all urban legends, the story spread like wildfire
and the fertility figures became the art world's
of the miracle at Lourdes.
Zoe smiled. Although she came from a long line of conjure
women and a family history filled with prophecies and
curses, if she didn't believe the stories told by her
her mother and her aunties, she certainly wasn't buying
into the myth of the fertility totems. She didn't believe
in all that mumbo jumbo, even if the dreams she'd been
having were becoming more frequent and the hazy vision of a
man was getting closer and his voice clearer, night after
Some mornings she'd awaken shaken and confused. She had an
overwhelming feeling that if she had been able to hold on
to sleep for a bit longer, the face that appeared in her
dreams would materialize. It was ridiculous, of course.
Yet, it was on days like today when she'd find herself
scrutinizing everyone she passed on the street, secretly
hoping to recognize him. She shook her head, dispelling the
idea as mere silliness.
By nature she was a realist and her profession demanded
that she deal in facts and what was tangible. Sure, she was
going to be thirty years old in three months, and she knew
that upon her thirtieth birthday the legacy of women of the
Beaumont clan would be upon her. But that didn't mean that
she believed that she was the one who would break the curse
that had plagued the Beaumont women for generations.
Besides, if any part of the curse were true, she needed a
man. And that she didn't have. She stared at the fertility
A feeling of warmth began to build inside her, starting at
her feet and slowly inching its way upward through her
body. A thin line of perspiration formed at her hairline
and her eyesight began to get cloudy. All of a sudden, the
statues seemed to vibrate.
"Zoe, there you are."
Zoe jumped as if she'd been startled by an intruder. Her
fingertips tingled and her heart raced as if she'd run a
half marathon. She blinked several times to clear her
vision, turned and forced herself to smile.
Mike Williams was one of the assistant curators. She'd
brought him on once she'd settled into her position, and
there wasn't a moment that she'd regretted her decision.
Mike was an expert in African art and antiquities dating
back to the early 1800s. It was Mike who'd helped her
negotiate the deal to get the fertility statues to the High
Museum. And he wasn't bad to look at, either. The girls
didn't call him "Big Mike" for no reason. With his
Hershey chocolate-coated skin dripping over six-plus feet
of sculpted muscle, Mike could have easily been bronzed and
put on display.
"They're real beauties," he said, stepping up beside her.
"Hmm, yes, they are," she murmured gradually coming back
down to earth. For an instant, she wondered if it was the
image of Mike that haunted her dreams. Ridiculous.
"Do you buy into the whole fertility thing?" he asked,
slowly walking around the statues, admiring the finely
Zoe sputtered a laugh. "You're kidding, right? You know
better than that. I believe in science and things that I
can prove, not myths." No matter that her family believed
"Just checking," he teased, rubbing the statue. "Why
you give it a rub?"
She puckered her lips. "I will, just to prove you wrong."
She ran her hand along the smooth ebony surface and a mild
charge of electricity shot up her arm. She pulled her hand
back. "Satisfied?" she said, a bit shaken as she spun
Mike's deep laughter followed her out of the storage room.
Zoe got on the freight elevator, thankful to be alone. She
got off the elevator on the second floor and walked along
the corridorâ€”flanked by cool, dove gray-colored wallsâ€”to
her small office, and shut the door behind her.
What was going on? She did not feel like herself today, she
thought, taking a seat behind her cluttered desk piled high
with exhibit catalogues and research notes. She was sure it
had something to do with the dreams she'd been having,
which had become more vivid in the past few weeksâ€”so much
so that they were affecting her during her waking hours.
Like today. What other explanation could there be for her
reaction to the statues other than the lack of a good
She drew in a long calming breath. The opening of the
exhibit unveiling the statues was in two weeks. She had
plenty to do and no time to dwell onâ€”well, whatever it was
that was happening to her. Tonight she was determined to
get some well-deserved rest and be prepared and clear-
headed for the big event.
Zoe scoured through piles of research materials making
notes on new finds and reading the latest news on African
American museum collections across the country. She made
some phone calls, and sent off a few emails. When she
looked up at the clock above her door, she was stunned to
see that it was past noontime. She pushed away from her
desk, closed her eyes and stretched her arms high above her
head. A whiff of a strongly male scent wafted toward her
nose. Her eyes flew open, so sure she would find a man
standing in her office. But she was completely alone.
Her gaze darted around the room, stopping in every corner.
She gave a short shake of her head. Food, she needed food.
She was operating on very little sleep and an empty
stomach. She pulled open her bottom desk drawer and took
out her purse.
Taking her suit jacket from the back of her chair she
walked out of her office in search of food. Maybe she'd
take a stroll over to her friend Shar-lene's office and
if she was free for lunch.
"I'm going out for a while," she said to Mike, who was
putting brochures out at the information desk. "I'll be
back in about an hour."
Zoe stepped out into the balmy spring afternoon. The sky
was clear, and there was a crispness in the air. As usual,
the streets of Atlanta were dotted with tourists and lunch-
goers. She loved the city even as she missed her home and
family in Louisiana.
Her mother, Mariya, had begged her to come home for a visit
and she'd been putting it off with all that she had to do
at work. But the urge to see her family was growing
stronger every day. Maybe she could take a quick trip home
for a weekend as soon as the exhibit opened, she thought as
she turned down Peachtree Street in the direction of
Sharlene's office. Mike could handle things in her absence.
She stopped in front of Moore Designs and opened the glass
front door. The reception area of Moore Designs looked like
a page from an interior design magazine. The walls were
painted in bold colors, which complemented the sleek modern
furnishings. Low couches and chairs provided a comfortable
seating arrangement, set off by rugs that covered the
hardwood floors. Eclectic wall art covered every inch of
the space behind the reception desk.
For two years Sharlene had been the host of Moore Designs
on HGTV. Although it gave her a high profile and droves of
clients, the time she spent away from her design studio and
from friends and family was more than she'd wanted to.
"Hi, Cynthia," Zoe said, greeting the front desk
"Hi, how are you?"
"I'm good." "
"How's everything coming with the opening?"
"Right on schedule. The statues arrived this morning,
"They're getting a lot of buzz in the art world. Congrats
on acquiring them."
"Thanks. It was definitely a team effort. Is Shar-lene
"Sharl is in her office. Go on back."
Zoe walked down the hallway with its cool white walls, and
turned a corner to Sharlene's office. Her door was open.
"Hey, girl," she said, poking her head in.
Sharlene looked up from examining a batch of fabrics. Her
sandy brown eyes lit up in her golden butter-tone face. She
took off her glasses and set them on the desktop. "Hey.
This is a surprise. I thought you'd have your hands full
with the shipment today."
Zoe walked inside the office, which was definitely a
reflection of Sharlene's personality and taste. The office
was filled with design ideas that included vibrant fabric
swatches, see-through drawers filled with marble, granite
and wood samples, easels for her drawings, a drafting
table, decorating accessories, colored pencils and paints.
Zoe lifted a stack of magazines from a club chair and
plopped down, suddenly feeling exhausted.
"You look like you could use a vacation," Shar-lene said,
noticing the sluggishness reflected in Zoe's tired-looking
eyes. "Still not sleeping?"
Zoe shook her head and covered her mouth as she yawned. "I
wish what I was doing was sleeping, but the dreams?"
Sharlene leaned back in her Herman Miller chair. "Still
"Yes, only more intense." Without warning her nipples
hardened and the tiny bud between her thighs began to throb
as images of the man who came to her in her dreams, the
faceless man who made passionate love to her emerged in her
mind. Her nostrils flared as her pulse quickened. She
hadn't told Sharlene everything, not the parts about the
faceless seducer who left her trembling with longing.
"Are you all right? You look flushed."
Zoe quickly shook her head. "Fine. Just tired."
Even Sharlene, who was as open-minded as they came, would
think she was losing it if Zoe told her what had been going
on at night. "And hungry." She forced a grin. "Can you
away for a bit?"
"Sure. My eyes were starting to cross looking at all these
fabrics." She stood and took her purse from the shelf
behind her desk. "Want to head over to Gladys Knight's
"I was thinking the same thing. We should be able to get a
table. It's still early."
The two friends walked out together staying on Peachtree
Street to the restaurant three blocks away. The locale was
famous not only because of its owner but for its mouth-
watering menu, specifically the chicken and waffles, the
house specialty. After a short wait, they were seated in a
booth by the window and their orders were taken.
"You look like you could use a drink to go with that
vacation," Sharlene commented, once the waitress was
gone. "Is something else bothering you?" She gazed
Zoe lowered her eyes then finally focused on
Sharlene. "This is going to sound totally crazy."