A Bridge to Love
Brandi Jeffries encounters a stranger, Adam Pendleton, atop the Wabasha Street Bridge. Within minutes, they are arguing over where each should jump which results in destroying the spirit of the jump. They both storm off expecting to never meet again, but fate brings them to the same diner. There they decide to join forces to get even with her ex and his wife. They end up falling in love, but things go so terribly wrong when Adam’s wife is found murdered and he becomes the prime suspect.
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Chapter One

         It was a beautiful night to die. That was what Brandi Jeffries thought as she got out of her car on Shepherd Rd. and walked toward the south side of the massive expansion of the Wabasha Street Bridge. With the full moon and clear, star-studded sky, getting to the top without being seen could be tricky. However, it was several hours before rush hour traffic, so the chances of that happening were slim. Besides, she’d come this far and intended to go through with it, no matter what. She walked around the bridge to one of its stair towers and looked up. 
          Why did I pick such a tall bridge with so many steps? She thought. By the time she got to the top, she’d be exhausted. No wonder people jumped off bridges. Once they reached the top, they didn’t have the strength to climb down again. That’s funny, she thought and laughed so hard until tears rolled down her cheeks.
          Composing herself, Brandi found new resolve by focusing on the reasons that brought her here. She began her ascent before she could chicken out. Though she was winded and the backs of her calves ached by the time she reached the top, she forced herself to continue to the part of the bridge that spanned the waters of the Mississippi River. If she jumped too far in the middle, she’d land on Raspberry Island. She paused a moment to admire the beautiful St. Paul skyline, but before she got weepy, she tore her eyes away.
          Reaching the spot from where she’d leap, she saw a dark form standing against the side railing looking out. For a moment, she didn’t know if she should go back the way she’d come or to continue and carry out her plan. After schlepping to the top of a suspension bridge, the last thing she wanted was to get mugged. Not that it mattered in her grand scheme of things, but she did have her principles. Perhaps it only a hallucination caused by her subconscious in an attempt to prevent her from jumping. But the dark form moved proving it wasn’t a figment of her feverish imagination, but a tall man with wind-blown, blond hair wearing a black trench coat.  He’d been staring out at the Mississippi and turned to face her as she approached.
          “What are you doing here?” he demanded, in a low, hoarse voice.
          “I should ask you the same.”
          “Never mind,” he said, waving his hand in dismissal. “Just leave.”
          “Why?” Despite his bleary-looking, red-ringed, blue eyes and stubble-covered cheeks, even in the shadowy light he looked like an attractive man, the type women always gave a second look. She wondered what brought him to such a dead end. He interrupted her thoughts.
          “Because I was here first, and possession is nine-tenths of the law.”
          “Great to know, but you don’t own this bridge.”
          “Lady, I’m in no mood to argue, so why don’t you just leave?” the stranger said.
          “I can’t. Why don’t you just leave me alone?”
          “I will when you go back the same way you came.”
          “Why? This bridge is big enough for the both of us.”
          “I can’t jump if you’re here.”
          Brandi sighed. “If I walk over there,” she said, pointing toward the other end of the bridge, “you won’t see me.”
          “But, I’ll know you’re there. Maybe you can come back tomorrow night.”
          “No. I have to do this now, or I’ll chicken out.”
          Sliding his hands into his pockets, he rolled his handsome lips inward. “Me, too.”
          “What if we held hands and jumped together?” Brandi suggested.
          “Are you crazy, lady?  We don’t even know each other.”
          “We can introduce ourselves and then do it.”
          “You are certifiable.”
          “Not really. I just want to get it over with before I change my mind. It wasn’t an easy climb, you know.”
          “Well, look at the shoes you’re wearing. If you intended to do some climbing, you should have worn the proper shoes, not designer ones.”
          “I’ll keep that in mind for next time,” she snapped at him.
          Looking out over the horizon, he said, “It’s going to be light soon, so I’d like to get on with this.”
         “Go ahead, I won’t stop you. Walk on down there and do your thing.”
          “No. You walk down there. I want to jump from here.”
          “Why? Is this side facing the East—you’re not Muslim, are you?” She asked peering at him closely.
          “No, of course not. It’s just a nicer view.”
          “I doubt if you’ll notice going down.”
          “It doesn’t matter. Just go over there,” he commanded, pointing.
          “So, who died and made you boss? Why should you get the better side?”
          He sighed loudly. “This is getting us nowhere. You’re ruining the entire spirit of the jump.”
          “Oh, really? What about you? Your presence isn’t doing wonders for me, either.”
          “Listen…ah…who did you say you were?”
          “I didn’t. My name is Brandi spelled with an i.”
          “Brandi, with an i?”
          She nodded.
          “Brandi,” he began, cocking his head as if evaluating the name, “you’ve ruined this entire thing for me and I’m no longer in the mood.”
          “Fine…” She looked at him inquiringly.
          “Well, Aidan, thanks to you, I’ll just have to find a less crowded way to end my life.”
          “That’s the best thing you’ve said so far. I hope the next time we meet it’s on the obituary page of the newspaper.”
          “Fine with me,” Brandi said, turning on her heel and walking away.
          Brandi decided to give up on jumping. Between the climb and arguing with whatshisface, she was way too tired. She doubted she’d be making that crazy climb soon again either. Despite her exhaustion, she found she was too restless to go home to an empty apartment. When her stomach growled, she realized she had eaten much that day and drove to a diner she’d passed on the way to the bridge. The place complemented her mood perfectly. Ironically, it was called The Last Stop. It was a relic of the 50s and was in desperate need of repair, reminding her of a dented sardine can. Normally, she wouldn’t venture into such a place. However, that night she couldn’t care less. Grabbing hold of the metal front door, she gave it a yank and went inside. 
          The cashier, a young woman who obviously doubled as the host, was leaning on an elbow, her makeup-smeared, raccoon eyes half-closed. She looked at Brandi and asked, “How many?” Brandi, wondering if she was for real, was tempted to hold up three fingers.  
          The place was practically empty except for a few truckers, whose rigs had taken up most of the parking spaces in the lot. The girl led her to a booth that still had an old time music selector on the wall that played 45 records. She plopped down onto the vinyl cushion. Not only did its patched crack pinch her behind, it whooshed loudly as the air escaped the cushion. With tears forming in her eyes, Brandi stared at the scarred tabletop. Is there anything in the world I can do right?
          A tired-looking waitress holding a menu interrupted her mental flagellation. “Can I get you something to drink?”
          Brandi was tempted to order a glass of whiskey, but her saner self-replied, “Just coffee, please.” She hadn’t eaten all day, and the liquor would go straight to her head, making the drive home difficult—not that she was worried about getting home safely. She just didn’t want to take anyone with her if she made an exit from this earth. The waitress nodded and walked away, returning a few minutes later with a steaming cup of coffee. 
          Brandi’s stomach growled as the smell of eggs wafted towards her from the next booth prompting her to order a mushroom and American cheese omelet.  As the waitress left with her order, she heard a deep male voice say, “I thought it was you.”
          Brandi’s lips parted in surprise as she looked up to see Aidan, the man from the bridge.  “Mind if I join you?”
          “Why? I thought you wanted to be alone.”
          “That was on the bridge.”
          “So what changed?”
          “I could use a little company now. Besides, I hate to eat alone,” he answered with a sheepish grin, his hands lost deep in the pockets of his trench coat.
          She raised her eyebrows as she mulled over what he’d just said and whether to prolong his new found humility. “I guess it wouldn’t do any harm.  Sit,” Brandi gestured to the patched vinyl seat across from her.  “The waitress should be back in a second.”
          “Good, I’m starving.”
          As if on cue, the waitress shuffled back. “Do you need a menu, Sir?”
          “No. I’d like three scrambled eggs, bacon and a side order of hash browns. And, bring lots of rye toast. Thank you.”
          “Yes, please.”
          A moment later, the woman returned with a coffee for Aidan.
          Brandi sipped her coffee, looking at Aidan, wondering why he’d suddenly entered her life during her eleventh hour. Now that she could see him more clearly in the light, she found him quite attractive despite his scruffy-looking two-day beard and red, puffy eyes, which only intensified the blue of his irises. His nose was straight, but she found herself staring at his sensual mouth, wondering how those lips tasted. Perhaps had it been a different time and place…
          Aidan sat there studying the pretty African American woman sitting across from him. He judged her to be around twenty-five. She had large, dark brown, soulful eyes and full sexy lips. Her cocoa skin looked soft and smooth stretched taut across her nose and high cheek bones. With her nice body, to boot, he wondered why her ex would even entertain trading her in for another model. “Thinking about what you’re going to do next?” he asked drawing her back to the present.
          “To be honest, I hadn’t given it any thought. You?”
          He shook his head. “But I’m curious.”
          “About what?”
          “You. Why would an attractive woman like you want to jump off a bridge in the middle of the night?”
          “I might ask the same of you?”
          “Ah, but I asked you first.”
          “I’m certain you’ll find my story boring. It’s been all said before.”         
          “Let me be the judge of that. Besides, I have the time.”
          Perhaps talking about it might be a catharsis though she didn’t think anything could smooth the wrinkles of her life at this point. Then again, she’d probably never see this man again, so what the hell?  Besides, she’ll probably put him to sleep.
          “You might say that I let my pity party get out of hand and acted impulsively.”
          “Really? You felt so sorry for yourself that you decided to jump off a bridge?” Aidan asked skeptically.
          “Okay. It was a tad more than that. I thought my husband, Jared, was my soul mate. We always desired the same things—or so I thought. Having met in high school, we fell in love and got married. He wanted to be a dentist so badly; I put my dreams of becoming a lawyer on hold and went to work so he could go to school. As a thank you, after he established his dental practice, he left me for a blonde, blue-eyed patient.”
          “This doesn’t sound like yesterday, so what set you off?” Aidan asked.
        The waitress plunked their food on the table and refilled their coffee cups before shuffling off to wait on another man who’d been seated by the cashier. Watching the tired woman in the gray uniform, Adam said, “Being a waitress looks like a tough job.”
          “That’s what I did so my Prince Charming could study without worry. I worked my feet and ass of in an upscale restaurant.”
          “It paid the rent.”
          “So what made you want to stop the world and get off, Brandi?”
          “Jared’s leaving me turned out to be a double whammy.”
          Aidan sipped his coffee and asked, “What do you mean by that?”
          “Blondie, whose real name is Janine Sweeney, worked with me at the Carousel Restaurant while she went to school to become a paralegal. When she had a toothache, I was the one who suggested she go see Jared.”
          “Oh, boy. That sucks. Sorry to interrupt.”
          “Eventually I stopped kicking myself and moved on until Janine sashays into my restaurant and sits at a table in my area just to flaunt her diamond engagement ring. I guess it just happened at the wrong time like a change in my hormonal level, and I just overreacted. Anyway, it wouldn’t have been something to throw my life away for, so glad I didn’t jump.”
          “I think I know what you mean about hormones,” he said remembering his wife’s mood swings.
          They dug into their eggs for a few minutes, acting as if they hadn’t eaten in days.
          “So tell me, how did you end up here tonight?” Brandi asked, breaking their silence.
          “I doubt it will do any good to talk about it.”
          “You’re not getting off the hook that easy since I already told you my reason. So fess up. Besides, sometimes talking about it often clarifies things thus giving you the closure you need to move on.”
          “I don’t think anything short of murder will bring a sense of closure to my situation,” he replied adamantly, pressing his lips together.
          “Maybe you merely need to look at it from another point of view,” Brandi suggested.
          “I doubt if there is one.”
          “You’d be surprised. Right now, you’re too close to the matter.”
          “That’s for sure,” Aidan said. “Look closely and you’ll see the steam coming from my ears.”
          “If you mentioned murder…it must have something to do with your wife.”
          He chuckled at her art of deduction.  “None other.”
          “What did she do?  Steal the family jewels?”
          “Close enough. She embezzled a cool half-million from my business, taking along my
partner and the most important software program my firm ever developed as well. It was worth millions and its loss could ruin me.”
          “Where is your wife now?” Brandi inquired.
          “God only knows and He certainly ain’t telling,” Aidan replied sardonically.
          “Hmm. You nearly made a colossal mistake.”
         “Huh?” The hand holding his fork stopped in mid-air.
          “I take it you haven’t been officially divorced.”
          “Then why were you going to jump and leave her everything else?”    
          Aidan put down his fork and looked directly into Brandi’s deep brown eyes. “That hadn’t occurred to me.”
           “If I were you, I’d try to find her and get everything back that she stole.”
          “Well, you’re not me, and I wouldn’t call the kettle black—excuse me, no racial pun intended, if I were you.”                  
          Brandi, being black, had taken no offense. “No, I guess not.”
          “You may have a point,” he replied, as his entire demeanor changed.  Suddenly there was a spark of life in his eyes giving him the look of a man with a purpose. “Do you believe in fate, Brandi?”
          “I believe we have free will, but fate often intervenes and things happen despite our efforts.”
          “Exactly. An hour ago, there was a chance that I might have jumped had you not showed up.”
          “I guess I saved your life then, didn’t I?”
          “Before you sprout wings and grab a halo, let’s analyze this. You prevented me from jumping. Now the question is why?”
          “Aside from the fact I wanted to go off the bridge from the exact place you did?”
          “Despite that,” Aidan replied.
          “Well then, I guess the Great Puppeteer in the sky isn’t through playing with you yet?”
          He cocked his head to the side. “Something like that.  Let’s just say He has something else in mind.”
          “Such as?”
          “I don’t know. Maybe righting the wrongs done to us.”
          “As in revenge?” she asked.
          “More like justice being served?”
          Brandi nodded and thought about what Aidan had said. It would be a kind of justice if she got even with Jared. “How would we even go about such a thing?”
          “Wait a sec. You said ‘we.'”
          “I guess I did,” Brandi said.
          Aidan grinned. “Good. Two heads are always better than one. Besides, we’ve got the male versus the female point of view here,” he said with more than a hint of excitement in his voice.
          “We’ve really got to give this a great deal of thought.”
           “Are you chickening out?” he asked, eying her with a critical squint.
          “No. Not at all. I just meant this kind of thing needs a great deal of careful planning.”
          “You’re right about that. What about meeting at my place tomorrow night?  Here, I’ll write down the address.”
          Wow, Brandi thought as she watched him scribble on a paper napkin. He wasn’t wasting any time. She rather liked that. “We can do some brainstorming.”
          “Yeah. I’m sure we can come up with some plan to even up the score with our ex-spouses,” Aidan said with a devilish grin.
          By the time they left the diner, it was long after sun-up. The bright sun forced Brandi to squint. She decided to take her chance meeting with Aidan on the bridge as an omen. Perhaps it was time to either do something about Jared or let it go. Either way, she had to get on with her life. Of one thing, she was now positive. Suicide wasn’t the answer to all the grief Jared had caused her. 
          Maybe Aidan was right, and fate had brought them together.  However, did she want to believe there was more than revenge involved here? Her mother used to tell her things always happened for the best. Without exception, there was a reason for everything. Though she might accept her mother’s philosophy, she’d be damned first before she got herself mixed up with another guy. Aidan might be nice on the eyes, but he was still a man. And she’d had her fill of men for the time being thanks to her ex. She would keep her relationship with Aidan strictly businesslike.
          She was still thinking about Aidan when she got into bed. She should have been exhausted after her escapade, but her mind was wide-awake filled with dozens of unanswered questions.  He’d written out his entire name on the napkin in the diner. His last name was Pendleton. She wondered if he was related to the mogul, Charles Pendleton. If he were, the financial reasons he’d given for jumping would seem somewhat superficial. Then again, he could be unrelated to the other Pendleton or estranged. Why else would a man who was used to success let a setback cause him to want to end it all?  There had to be some other reason he neglected to mention. 
          Or was she reading more into this than she should? After all, now that she thought more about her actions tonight, her own reasons for jumping were just as flawed and superficial. What was she thinking? Death is so final. And, on the other hand, what new cockamamie scheme had she gotten herself into?
          Too keyed up to sleep, Aidan Pendleton drove to his office building on Jackson Street and parked his car in the underground garage. His mind was whirling like a spinning top. For the first time since his wife, Lauren, skipped he didn’t feel like a victim. All because of a chance encounter with a woman named Brandi. Somehow that sarcastic pistol of a woman gave him the direction and hope he’d been lacking. And she hadn’t been hard on the eyes, either.
          They were so unlike on so many levels. Aside from the obvious fact that Brandi was black,
possessing beautiful, soft, mocha colored skin, and he white, she wasn’t his type of woman. Whereas Lauren was hot and turned most men’s heads, Brandi had more of an understated kind of beauty. Her high, delicate cheekbones gave her an exotic look. He could get lost in her brown, almond-shaped eyes, never to be found. They often reflected her mood, of which he’d witnessed several. However, he wondered how they appear when she was aroused. And then there were her full rounded lips that revealed even white teeth when she smiled. Her thick dark hair was cut short and was quite flattering. However, all this was moot. The last thing he wanted to do was, get involved in with another woman—any woman—no matter how fetching.
          As he pressed the elevator button up, Aidan chuckled to himself. This stuff between them was all business. What the devil did it matter what Brandi looked like? Better still, who names their kid, Brandi?