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Authors: Robin Allen

Hidden memories

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The brush of a butterfly’s wing can lead to a devastating storm…

As the campaign manager for Cameron Hudson, candidate to be Georgia’s first black governor, nothing much about the racially charged race shocks Sage Kennedy any more. Except for the electrifying passion she feels every time Ramion Sandidge takes her in his arms.

With Ramion gearing up to run for senator against his revengeful ex-lover, Sage plots around the scandals and plans to be the one at his side helping him light up the state, maybe even the nation and eventually the world. But it’s a bomb that turns Hudson’s campaign office into a raging inferno.

The crude device doesn’t stop Sage’s candidate from sweeping the election. But its impact shudders through her present, her future, and a painful past that she thought was forever dead and gone.

Hidden Memories

Robin Hampton Allen

Dedication

Dedicated in loving memory to my brother, William Edwin Hampton Jr.

Acknowledgments

I am blessed to have two wonderful little girls, Cara Allen and Cassidy Allen.

My heartfelt appreciation goes to my parents, William and Julia Hampton. Daddy: Your unsinkable support has lifted my spirits on many occasions. Mommy: My strength and determination comes from you. I thank you for your prayers.

Much love to my Pittsburgh family: Lynn Manley, Tyrece Mitchell, Leah Stroman, Brandon Hampton, Karen Stroman, Jerome “Mann” Stroman, Jada Mitchell, Richie Mitchell, Tiara Hampton and Javonta Stroman.

This book has gone through many revisions, and I thank my special friends for their words of encouragement: Yvonne Wells, Sharon Flake and Marilyn Polite.

Special thanks to my editor, Donna Julian, for her patience and expertise.

To my brother’s only son, Ramion Drew Hampton: Much love and happiness.

Chapter One

Sage Kennedy stared at the words on the computer screen, pondering the right spin on Cameron Hudson’s gubernatorial speech to the New Generation Party. She wanted a different twist on their “The Dream Reborn” theme, an inspiring message that would rouse the young voters to help elect the first black governor of Georgia.

The unusual quietness of the campaign headquarters penetrated Sage’s concentration as she looked around and realized she was the only person in the office. Sage glanced at the clock on the wall and, noticing that it was almost eight o’clock, decided to finish the speech at home. As she copied the speech file to a diskette, she reviewed her schedule for the next day, noting important priorities: finalize copy for campaign brochures, meet with production crew for television commercial and attend luncheon fundraiser.

“Something told me I would find you here,” a deep-timbered voice said.

“You know me too well,” Sage said, without looking up. When Ramion Sandidge reached her desk, she raised her head to peer into his charcoal eyes. He returned her warm, familiar smile, revealing a showcase of white teeth and a cleft chin. “I was supposed to leave here an hour ago. I wanted to finish Cameron’s speech, but I’ve run out of steam. I’ll work on it at home.”

“Cameron never sticks to the speech,” Ramion said, shrugging his shoulders. “Why bother?” His wavy hair was trimmed neatly and precisely with a razor-sharp part on one side.

“You know why. If Cameron doesn’t have a speech, he preaches.”

Ramion laughed and bent down to kiss the most strikingly attractive woman he had ever seen. Sage was an exotic combination of amber skin, curly black hair and olive-green eyes. “You’re probably right.”

“How did the trial go?” she asked.

“They decided to settle out of court. My client is going to take money for silence. He’ll get a healthy amount.”

“Sounds like you got more than you expected.”

“Yes, but let’s get out of here, baby. You promised me you wouldn’t be here late, especially after the threats Cameron’s been getting.”

“I know,” she said, nodding. “Security is very tight now. Anywhere Cameron goes, they secure the building before he gets there. We even canceled some of his engagements because they were in open places that are hard to secure.”

“Yeah, well, crazy people always find a way.”

“At first, Ramion, I really wasn’t frightened by those threats,” Sage said, her heavy eyebrows drawn together in a worried expression. “But every time the media reports that Cameron is closing in on Baker’s lead, the threats increase. And it’s not just threats from known white hate groups,” Sage continued. “We’ve gotten threats from people that just hate the idea of a black man being elected governor.” Sage removed the speech diskette from the computer and tucked it inside her briefcase. “I don’t know why I’m shocked by their deep-seated hatred, but I am.”

“I’m not. That’s why you have to be careful.”

“You’re right.” Sage swept back her black hair, parted in the center of her oval face, and tucked it behind her ears. “I’m ready,” she said, standing up and putting several file folders into her briefcase.

“Let’s go,” Ramion said, placing his arm around Sage’s waist. He wasn’t satisfied with merely touching her waist. He wanted to remove the black double-breasted dress, caress her curvaceous body, nibble on her bountiful breasts and slide between her seductive hips.

They weaved their way through rows of desks and file cabinets. Campaign brochures were scattered around the room, envelopes and mailing labels piled on desks, and posters of “Cameron Hudson for Governor” hung on the walls.

“You can lock up,” Sage said to the burly security guard standing at the doorway of the campaign headquarters. “We’re leaving.”

“You got it,” the guard said, pulling out a mass of keys. He announced into a handheld radio that he was “securing the eighth floor”.

Inside the elevator, Ramion pressed his body against Sage’s and kissed her fully on the lips. His kisses grew in intensity with each passing floor. “Come home with me tonight,” he said with a sensual smile.

Sage had to chase away thoughts of Ramion’s rum-dark muscular body entwined with hers. She looked into his eyes shrouded by long, straight eyelashes and heavy black brows. His long, hawkish nose flared whenever he smiled; she could read his thoughts in that smile. She ran her hands across his cheek and said reluctantly, “I can’t. I know I won’t get any work done.”

“I know,” he said. He was disappointed, but that’s what he loved about her: her commitment and compassion, her vitality and vision. From their first meeting, he had felt connected, drawn to her mesmerizing beauty—oval-shaped eyes, high cheekbones and full lips. The huskiness of her voice had singed his soul when they first met and left an indelible imprint.

The elevator stopped on the ground floor, but Ramion pressed the Stop button, preventing the doors from opening. “I love your passion for the campaign,” he said, kissing her lips and unfastening the buttons on her dress. He worked his fingers inside her clothes and slid his hand into her bra. “Right now, I want to feel your passion for me.”

“Ramion, what if the doors open?” she protested, feeling desire ignite.

“They won’t.”

Sage’s resistance waned when Ramion massaged her nipples with his mouth, and by the time he wriggled his fingers into the waistband of her pantyhose to touch between her legs, she could no longer resist. She was on fire.

“Let me just feel you,” Ramion said, dipping his fingers inside her.

Sage moaned. She didn’t want him to just feel her.

* * * * *

When the elevator doors opened, Sage hoped no one was standing in front of the elevator. She quickly freshened up in the bathroom before walking through the lobby, past the security guards watching video surveillance cameras of the building.

“I hope there isn’t a camera in the elevator,” Sage ruefully said.

“Yeah, well,” Ramion laughed, “might be the only action the guards will get.”

They walked out of the building onto Peachtree Street, where the night air was unseasonably brisk for October. “Where are you parked?” Ramion asked.

“The parking lot across the street,” she answered, pointing at the open parking lot between the convenience store and a restaurant.

“Tell me you wouldn’t have walked there by yourself.”

“Honey, if you weren’t here, one of the security guards would have escorted me to my car.”

As Ramion and Sage headed down the street to the traffic light at the corner, a loud crash sounded behind them like an unexpected boom of thunder and the ground trembled like an earthquake. With a cry of surprise, Sage lost her footing and tripped on the street curb. As she struggled to her feet, she was hit in the back of the neck and on her cheek by flying glass. When Ramion saw the glass blow out the windows of the building, he grabbed her hand, dragging her across the street and zigzagging through the steady stream of Midtown traffic. Jagged splinters of wood and debris and particles of glass fell from the sky like a hailstorm.

They ran, but not fast enough. The blast hurled a piece of wood that struck Sage’s head. Ramion pushed the wood away and, in the next instant, the impact of the explosion sprayed their bodies like gravel shot from the barrel of a gun. Ramion pulled Sage into a convenience store and shouted at the shocked store clerk to call 911.

The last thing Sage heard before slipping into unconsciousness was the melodious sound of her father’s voice—loud and boisterous and beckoning. She was terrified. It was a voice she hadn’t heard in twenty-two years.

* * * * *

Sage opened her eyes and saw a blurred image of a woman dressed in a white uniform. The nurse was saying something, but Sage couldn’t make out the words. The ringing in her ears drowned out the sounds of emergency room drama: a cacophony of patient screams and moans, doctors yelling out orders and nurses frantically running around administering to the hurt and wounded.

“My ears,” Sage complained.

“The ringing will subside by tomorrow,” the nurse said, a tall, thin white woman in her mid-thirties. “It’s your head that we’re concerned about.”

“It’s killing me.” Sage winced as she attempted to sit up.

“We’ll need to keep you for twenty-four hours just to make sure you don’t have a concussion.”

“What about my other injuries?”

“It took several stitches to close the wound on your neck. Everything else is minor. You were very lucky, considering,” the nurse told her.

Ramion threw the curtain back and repeated the nurse’s words. “Very lucky.” He grasped Sage’s hand, squeezing it tightly as he kissed her. Her fragile condition was the only thing that stopped him from taking her in his arms and cradling her in his embrace. “Baby, I’m so glad you’re okay.”

“What about you?” Sage asked, noticing the bandages on his forehead and wrapped around his left hand.

“Nothing serious. A few pieces of glass.”

“You’ll be moved to a room shortly,” the nurse told Sage before leaving.

Ramion sat on the edge of the bed, his arms wrapped gingerly around her as Sage leaned into his chest. “I love you,” he said, running his fingers through her hair.

“I love you too,” Sage said tenderly. As the reality of their brush with death descended upon her, tears rolled down her face. She didn’t cry out loud; she just let the tears flow. When they stopped, she wiped her eyes. “I’m sorry.”

“Oh, baby, don’t apologize. You have every right to cry.” He planted soft kisses on her forehead, realizing the depth of his love for her at the possibility of losing her. He was torn between wanting to prosecute the responsible parties and physically hurting them.

They were silent for several minutes, absorbed in the comfort and security of their love.

“Was anybody else hurt?” Sage asked.

“One of the security guards is in surgery now. Minor injuries for two guards.”

“Any word on who planted the bomb?”

“Not yet.”

* * * * *

The first thing Sage noticed when she opened her eyes the next morning was that the ringing in her ears was gone. She could clearly hear hospital sounds: hurried footsteps pounding the floor, the whisking wheels of hospital beds and rolling trays spinning against the floor.

A whiff of bacon turned her attention to the food on the bedside tray. She lifted the tray cover, but the scrambled eggs, toast and greasy strips of bacon did not rouse her taste buds. As she sipped the orange juice, she fumbled with the remote to turn on the television.

The door to her room suddenly swung open, and a security guard peeked inside. “Excuse me, this man says he’s a relative.” Casting the visitor a suspicious glare over his shoulder, the guard continued, “But he’s carrying a press badge.”

“He can come in,” Sage said when she saw Drew Evans standing in the doorway. They’d met in a psychology class at Columbia University and become immediate friends. The campus rumor mill had tagged Sage and Drew a couple, but their relationship was platonic. Few had believed their “just friends” explanation, so by their junior year they’d stopped trying to explain their brother-sister bond.

Drew rushed over to Sage’s bed and hugged her. “Are you okay?”

“I’m okay. Got a hell of a headache,” she said, rubbing her hand across her forehead.

“I’m glad you weren’t seriously hurt,” he said, kissing her on the cheek. He settled on the edge of her bed. “When I heard about the explosion at the headquarters, I immediately thought about you. Then when I saw you on CNN being carried off in an ambulance, I almost lost it,” he said, grabbing his stomach. “You know you’re my heart, girl.”

“I know,” Sage said, smiling softly, feeling the genuine love that shone in his brown eyes. Drew hadn’t changed much since college, except that his round, coffee-colored face had gotten rounder and his stocky, muscular build stockier. An extra-large sweater and size 38 jeans covered his broad body, which was a little thick in the waist from drinking a six-pack of beer nightly. He still didn’t shave, having inherited his father’s baby-smooth complexion.

“Ah, you just wanted to make the front page,” he teased, tapping her leg with the folded newspaper.

Drew could never stay serious or sentimental for long. She said with an understanding smile, “Of course I did.”

He flipped open the morning newspaper with a picture of Sage lying on a gurney.“Voilà.”

Sage quickly scanned the article. The explosion had been caused by a crude bomb made of dynamite wrapped together with grey duct tape, a detonating device, a timer and a windup alarm clock. “Damn,” she said when she finished reading the article.

“So tell me what happened,” Drew said. “If you’re up to it.”

Sage inhaled deeply and nodded as the memories of the last twelve hours swirled in her mind. “Ramion was walking me to my car. We had just left the building, and were going to the light to cross the street. I heard this loud boom, then I felt the ground move…no, it rattled. I thought the world was coming to an end,” she said, pausing to reflect on her words. “I stumbled a little, and that’s when Ramion grabbed my hand and we started running. I don’t know where we were going, but we were moving fast. It was raining glass and wood, and something hit me in the head. Ramion pulled me into the store.” Her voice cracked. “I was bleeding. He was bleeding…”

“Sounds scary.”

“Yes. What’s really scary is to think that, if Ramion hadn’t come when he did, I might have still been in the building.”

“I knew I liked the brother,” Drew teased. He lifted the tray covering her food and nibbled on a piece of bacon. “Mind?”

“Help yourself.” Sage paused, struggling to maintain her composure. “I thought I’d lost Ramion too. It hit me suddenly that all the men in my life have died. My father, Randy, Broderick.” She closed her eyes and added softly, “I couldn’t stand to lose Ramion.”

“Nothing like that is going to happen,” Drew said.

“I know, I know. I’ve got to stop thinking like that.” Her mouth suddenly dry, she sipped her orange juice.

A columnist for theAtlanta Timesnewspaper, Drew said, “Anyway, you know the press is going to want to interview you.”

“I hadn’t thought about it, but I’m not going to grant any interviews. This campaign has already been sidetracked with the white supremacy threats and the mysterious FBI files. I’m not about to become another distraction. The election is four weeks away. Getting Cameron the governorship, that’s what this is all about.”

“Yeah, and that’s precisely why you’re in the hospital. They don’t want Cameron to be governor. Whoever ‘they’ are.”

“Whoever ‘they’ are may have just scared away the voters. If they can blow up campaign headquarters, what’s to stop them from blowing up the polls?”

“You’re right,” Drew said, instantly hitting on the title for his editorial column in the Sunday edition of the newspaper: “Don’t Let Fear Keep You Away From the Polls”.

“Cameron’s going to need every vote he can get,” Sage said, finishing the glass of orange juice. “It’s damage control time.”

* * * * *

Her eyelids drooped while watchingHawaii Five-Oand Sage drifted off to sleep, the episode about a hotel bombing too painfully familiar to watch. She didn’t hear the light tap on the hospital door or the quiet entrance of two FBI agents. Her eyes flashed wide open when she suddenly heard her name. Sage sat up, still groggy from sleep, but the sight of two conservatively dressed men standing near the bottom of the hospital bed immediately awakened her. She stared at them suspiciously.

The two men, as if on cue, whipped out their badges. “Don’t be alarmed, Ms. Kennedy. We’re with the FBI,” said the older agent, a black man in his early forties, sporting a grey-speckled, neatly trimmed Afro. He stood over six feet tall.

Sage studied their identifications, making sure their faces matched the photos on the badges.

“He’s put on some weight since then,” the younger white agent said, referring to his partner’s expanding girth. He was all-around average in height, weight and looks. His bright-red hair was his distinguishing feature.

Sage responded to their humor with a thin smile. “Have a seat, Gentlemen.”

“No thanks,” the black agent said, stepping closer to the bed. “I’m Agent Jim Bennett and this is Agent Ron Davis.”

Sage nodded. “You apparently know who I am.”

“Yes, Ms. Kennedy, and we’re sorry that you were hurt in the explosion. It can be a traumatic experience.”

Sage nodded. “I’m okay. I’m going to be released tomorrow.”

“We’re trying to find the persons responsible, so we need to ask you some questions if you’re up to it,” Agent Bennett said, removing a notebook from his jacket pocket.

“Sure,” Sage said, while adjusting the bed to an upright position.

“What time did you leave your office?” Bennett asked.

“We left about eight fifteen,” Sage said, thinking about the ten-minute diversion in the elevator. She would never tell them about that.

“You left with Ramion Sandidge?”

“Yes.”

“Did you see or hear anything as you were leaving?”

“Nothing out of the ordinary. Ramion came into the office and we talked for a few minutes. I was about to leave, but if Ramion hadn’t come when he did…” she said, her voice dropping with the reality of her words. She paused briefly and said, “I might have stayed longer.”

“When you walked down the hall to the elevator, did you notice anything?” Agent Bennett asked.

“I told the security guard that we were leaving. I heard him radio to somebody that he was securing the floor.”

“Did you hear or smell anything unusual?” the younger officer interjected.

Her dark brows drawn together, Sage pondered the question for a minute. “No.”

“What about in the elevator? Did you see or hear anything?” Agent Davis probed.

“No,” Sage said.

Both FBI agents took notes as they questioned Sage. “We’re aware of the threats Mr. Hudson has received since the campaign,” Bennett said. “In recent days, have you received more threats or anything out of the ordinary?”

“No. We got a lot of threatening letters in the beginning, but then they tapered off. Every time the media reports that Cameron is narrowing the lead, we get a bunch of hate mail. A special security team has been assigned to protect Cameron during the campaign,” Sage said. Suddenly thirsty, she reached for the pitcher of water on the bedside table and poured herself a cup.

“We know about them,” Bennett said, nodding. “We’ll be working with the security team and the ATF during this investigation.”

“Can you tell me any details?” Sage asked.

“We don’t have anything substantial,” the black agent said. “We’re following up on different leads.”

“Even the ones that might not seem important,” Agent Davis said.

“It’s unbelievable what some people will do,” Sage said, then took a sip of water.

“Believe me, we want to catch this person,” Agent Davis said.

“Or persons,” Bennett said.

“Persons?” Sage queried with a raised brow.

“Usually there’s more than one person involved in something like this,” Agent Bennett said. “We’ll be in touch. Be careful, Ms. Kennedy.”

* * * * *

“Darling, I’m so glad you’re all right,” Cameron Hudson said as he entered Sage’s house. He hugged his campaign manager, relieved to see for himself that Sage had recovered from her injuries. A large man with the massive body of a football player, Cameron’s wide, fudge-brown face, darkly chiseled features melted like chocolate as he smiled warmly at Sage.

They stood in the open two-story foyer of Sage’s designer-styled house in an upscale Atlanta neighborhood. “Come in,” Sage said, and led Cameron through her living room into the kitchen, passing Romare Bearden and William Tolliver paintings that hung on the wall. Two of her father’s paintings were displayed in the living room, and her favorite painting by him hung over her bed.

“Lady Day,” Cameron said when he heard Billie Holiday’s distinctive voice singing “Strange Fruit”.

“She’s one of my favorite singers, although this song isn’t my favorite.” Shrugging her shoulders, Sage said, “Maybe it’s my mood. Years ago they hung people on trees, now they blow people up.”

“Billie Holiday knew what she was singing about. She couldn’t get away from racism. She would perform in places that would let her entertain them onstage, but not allow her to sit in the audience.”

“I know,” Sage said, turning off the stereo. “Thanks for the beautiful flowers. As a matter of fact, they’re on the table in the dining room.”

“Sarah sends her love. Jessica and C.J. wanted to come see you, but they’re in school.”

“They’re so sweet,” Sage said, referring to Cameron’s two children.

“I want you to know how grateful I am for all the hard work you’ve done on my campaign,” Cameron said, sitting down at the kitchen table. “I credit you with making me a serious contender.”

Sage had been at the press conference when Cameron declared his candidacy for governor of Georgia. She’d baited opponent US Senator Baker into debating Cameron after mailing a fact sheet about the senator’s questionable voting record. She’d steered the campaign back to the political issues when race became the divisive focus of the campaign. She’d garnered national attention with a massive voter registration drive, registering thousands of never-registered voters and reactivating nonvoting registrants. And, she’d managed to get key political support from local and national figures.

“I know.” Sage smiled and, embarrassed, changed the subject. “I think Senator Baker is tired of denying responsibility for the bombing.”

“I don’t think he’s responsible. That’s not his style. He’s too arrogant. He considers the governorship his birthright, and he doesn’t believe for a second that he needs to scare people away from the polls to keep me from winning.”

“I suppose,” Sage said. “Anyway, I feel better knowing that the polling places will be secured, but you have to know the National Guard presence could deter voters.”

“I can’t take any chances. The FBI has several leads, but nothing concrete.”

“I’m just glad they’re treating this bombing seriously,” Sage said, and took a seat across from Cameron. She opened up two folders. “Here’s the information you need for your meeting with Rupert Williams, as well as your speech for the NAACP. Marika’s working on your schedule.”

“Doesn’t sound like you’re following doctor’s orders,” Cameron said.

“We’re too close, Cam. If Baker agrees, we’re going to reschedule the debate for next Sunday. The consultants will be here Tuesday to start coaching you.”

* * * * *

Sage’s telephone rang three times before rolling over to electronic voice mail. She didn’t answer the phone. She didn’t want to be disturbed. But whoever was calling was insistent. As soon as the phone stopped after the third ring, it started its insistent peal again. When it began ringing for the tenth time in less than ten minutes, Sage finally picked up the phone. “Hello,” she said, irritation in her voice.

No one responded.

“Hello,” Sage repeated. “Who is this?”

“Sage?” The voice was tentative and fragile; it was strange and unfamiliar. But Sage knew the voice. It was the same anxious voice, resonant with undertones of suppressed emotion, that she’d heard the last time she saw her mother.

“Mama?” Sage asked. She hadn’t expected to hear her voice. She hadn’t spoken to her mother since she graduated from college.

“Thank goodness you’re all right,” Audra Hicks said, her voice high-strung and nervous. “When I heard you were in the building that blew up, my heart stopped.”

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