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The Nicest Guy in America
Reviewers on The Nicest Guy in America!
"Angela Benson, a veteran romance writer, has earned her 'stars and bars' with this sensational, subtle and sensual battle of the sexes." -Romantic Times Top Pick! 4.5/5 stars!
“The emotional misunderstanding between [Reggie and Kimberla] is much more subtle and interesting than the usual romance conflict, and that's what makes this stand out.” –Publishers Weekly
“But I’m a nice guy, Kim. Why do I get this kind of treatment? It’s like I always say, women don’t want a man who’ll treat ‘em right.”
Kimberla Washington twisted the phone away from her mouth and turned her lips in a snarl. “Yadda, yadda, yadda,” she said after pressing the mute button. She didn’t know why Derrick Thompson thought she had nothing better to do than listen to his relationship problems. It seemed their friendship had turned into a Dear Abby saga, with her playing Abby. Well, she was tired of it and she was tired of him. She pressed the mute button again. “Look, Derrick,” she said, interrupting his sob story, “I’ve got work to do. I’ll talk to you later.” She hung up without waiting for his response. “I’ve got to get some new male friends,” she muttered. “I’m about tired of these nice brothers crying on my shoulders about how women don’t want a nice guy.”
“What’d you say, Kim?” Jim Whittaker asked from the doorway of her office cubicle.
Kim looked up at the short, balding man who’d hired her to work at Urban Style Magazine when she’d first moved to D.C. five years ago. “Nothing,” she said.
Jim came fully into her cube and propped on the corner of her metal desk. A chubby man of about fifty-five, he didn’t seem to mind that his stomach rolled over the waistband of his pants as he made himself comfortable. “Didn’t sound like nothing to me,” he said. “And from the smirk on your face, it wasn’t nothing to you, either.”
Kim sighed. Sometimes Jim was nosy—there was no other way to describe it—but she knew that if she didn’t tell him what he wanted to know he’d hound her until she thought she was going crazy. He was known in publishing circles as a bulldog, a moniker he relished. Word was that he’d been a helluva reporter before striking out and starting his own magazine. “I was talking to Derrick,” she explained and wasn’t surprised when Jim’s lips turned down. She and Derrick had started dating soon after she’d been hired at the magazine, so Derrick’s face had become a regular around the office. Unfortunately, their break-up a few short months later followed by their decision to remain friends had become fodder for office gossip. “He’s complaining again that women don’t appreciate nice guys like him. In other words, he got dumped. Again.”
Jim rubbed the faint stubble on his chin. As usual, he’d been in such a hurry to get to the office that he’d left home without shaving. “This makes what—the third time this year?”
Kim rolled her eyes toward the ceiling. “And it’s only April.”
He dropped his hand from his chin and snapped his fingers. “Kimmy, girl, you haven’t been learning what I’ve been trying to teach you.”
Kim leaned back in her chair and waited. She knew the twinkle in Jim’s eyes meant he had what he thought was a great angle for a story. “I’m waiting. What are you gonna teach me today?”
Jim grinned and stood up. He framed his hands as if he held the headlines of a magazine. “Can’t you see it, girl?” he said, but he didn’t wait for her answer. “Why Nice Guys Get Dumped.” He grinned a smug grin. “The title alone will sell thousands of magazines.”
Kim leaned forward as Jim talked through his idea. Okay, so the idea intrigued her a little—only a little. Her attention faded in and out as she thought through how she’d handle the story. Why did nice guys get dumped? She could think of a thousand reasons why nice guys like Derrick got dumped and she was getting excited thinking about putting those reasons on paper and getting paid for doing it. Boy, did she have a lot to say on the subject.
She’d start with the fact that nice guys like Derrick weren’t really interested in regular women. No, they wanted the Jet Magazine swimsuit types who wouldn’t give them a cold stare on a hot day. Not that she had anything against the women who posed in Jet. It was just that Kim knew that Derrick and guys of his ilk were more interested in beautiful faces and perfect bodies than in building committed relationships with real women. She’d been through enough of his type to be an expert.
“Hey,” Jim shouted, drawing her attention back to him. “I’ve got it. A contest. We can do a contest. Kimmy girl, this is pure genius. We can sponsor a contest for the nicest guy in America. Only our nicest guy has to be nominated by a woman who’s dumped him.”
“Wait a minute, Jim,” Kim began. She chastised herself for not paying more attention to Jim’s thinking out loud. “The article has some merit, but a contest? I think we’d be overplaying it with a contest.”
Jim shook his head and his meaty jaws wobbled. “The Nicest Guy In America Contest. Kimmy, this idea is gonna make us a bag of money. Now you get on the copy for the contest. We can probably get it into this month’s issue.” He rubbed his fat hands together. “Then we’ll sit back and wait for the money to roll in. This oughta raise circulation. If we’re lucky, we’ll make a run at Upscale’s number three position.”
“Jim,” Kim said again, but it was no use. He ignored her and walked to his office. She knew he was already counting the new subscribers he hoped to get.
Late May, two months later
“You’ve got yourself some losers here, girlfriend.” Kim’s longtime friend Leslie Montgomery tossed a black-and-white photograph on the mound of black-and-white photos covering Kim’s dining room table. “Thank God it’s Saturday and I have a date tonight. You two are about as boring as some of these guys here.”
Kim rolled her eyes in the direction of her other friend, Tammy WilliaMs The three women had been friends since they were freshmen roommates at Spelman. Pledging Delta Sigma Theta sorority together their sophomore year had cemented what had now become a lifetime friendship.
“Give it a rest, Leslie,” Tammy said with a sigh. “Kim didn’t force you to help out. If you want to go, just go.”
Leslie got up from her seat directly across the table from Tam and stretched her lithe, five-foot-four-inch, one hundred ten pound body. Her orange shirt, which had been tucked in her short orange shorts, rose up and exposed her flat pale-brown stomach. Kim knew Leslie’s innocent stretch was a not-so-subtle taunt at Tam, who’d been in a losing battle with the weight monster since her divorce six years ago and she found her friend’s display offensive. Who did Leslie think she was pulling a stunt like that with them?
“Yes,” Kimberla agreed. “Give it a rest, Leslie. If you gotta go, then leave. Don’t stay around here complaining all day.”
Leslie made a production of pulling her top down. Then she reached over and grabbed her shiny gold shoulder bag that matched her shiny gold sandals, earrings and choker in typical Leslie fashion. “If that’s the way you feel about it—”
“Please, Leslie,” Tam said. “You know you want to go so just leave.”
Leslie turned and headed for the front door of Kim’s small one-bedroom apartment. “I’ll be sure to call you two and let you know how my date went. I did tell you he was a fine brother, didn’t I?”
Kim shot another glance at Tam whose now-full face showed disgust and maybe something akin to envy. But Kim knew Tam wasn’t envious of Leslie. No, Tam was envious of the slender girl she herself had been back in college when all was right with the world. Feeling as though she was intruding on Tam’s private thoughts, Kim turned and watched Leslie sashay through the front door and close it with a whack.
“That chick needs to learn some manners,” Tam said.
Kim didn’t want to be put in the position of talking about Leslie behind her back, even though she agreed with Tam’s remark, so she turned the conversation back to the contest. “What do you think, Tam?” she asked. “Do we have any winners here or is Leslie right—they’re all losers?”
Tam brushed her straight, shoulder-length dark brown hair back behind her ear in the self-conscious manner she’d adopted since her divorce. “I don’t think they’re all losers and I bet you don’t, either.” Tam shuffled the stack of photos in front of her. “Look at this one.”
Kimberla took the offered photo and immediately recognized the dark, handsome face smiling back at her. Reggie Stevens. God, he was a fine man. She guessed he was about six-foot-two and spent a great deal of time in the gym. The brother definitely had a buff body. Why in the world had so many sisters dropped him? She shook her head. Fine. Fine. Fine.
“So, what do you think?” Tam asked.
I think he’s so fine that I should take him for myself, she thought, but of course, she didn’t say it. Tam, though upset with Leslie now, would be on the phone within five minutes of leaving her apartment telling Leslie that Kim had the hots for one of the Nice Guys. “He seems like a real nice guy.”
Tam picked up another photo and slapped Kim on the shoulder with it. “What do you expect, silly? It’s a Nice Guy contest.”
“I know, Tam,” Kim said, remembering the day two months ago Jim had come up with the contest idea. “At first I thought the whole idea was going to blow up in our faces. Thank god, other women had real nice guys in their lives because the ones I’ve had have been the pits.”
“Like Marcus,” Tam said, speaking of her ex-husband. “I still can’t believe that jerk left me so he could marry that sleazy nurse. Hell, I practically put his behind through medical school and I gave him a daughter. I get mad every time I think about how stupid I was to think he ever cared for me or Melissa.”
“Don’t beat yourself up,” Kim said, not for the first time. “It’s not your fault Marcus was a jerk. Hell, we’ve all had our share of jerks. Remember that I had Derrick, the man with the roving eyes.” Kim let her eyes scan the dining room without moving her head similar to the way Derrick used to do. As she’d hoped, Tam laughed. “The brother was always looking for something, or shall I say, someone.”
Kim shook her head. While she knew she didn’t have the kind of looks that made men stop on the street for a double-take, she also knew she could hold her own in the company of most women. At five-eight, she wore a size twelve, which meant she wasn’t skinny but then neither was she fat. Her skin was dark, which she knew turned some men off, but those men she didn’t want anyway. She liked her complexion, and except for a few weak moments in high school and college, she always had. And on top of all that, she was a kind and intelligent woman with a good job and good friends. As far as she was concerned, her break-ups with Derrick and the others like him who’d passed through her life was their loss.
“I hope Derrick hurries up and finds whoever he’s looking for,” she said, “because he’s been through almost every woman in D.C. by now.”
“And he still hasn’t figured out why he keeps getting dumped?”
Kim shook her head again. “What can I say? Mr. Roving Eyes is slow. He still thinks he’s a nice guy being mistreated by cold-hearted women.”
Tam chuckled. “You should have nominated him for the contest and I should have nominated Marcus.”
Kim laughed with her friend. “I thought about doing it, girl. Then we began getting nominations and I saw how serious the sisters were about the brothers they nominated. Some of these guys sound like real princes.” She glanced at Reggie’s picture. “If one of them had come through my life, you can bet I wouldn’t have let him go.”
“You know,” Tam said. “I bet a lot of your women readers will feel the same way. You’re going to be getting letters in droves after they see these brothers.”
“I know you’re right,” Kim said. “I just hope Jim hires someone else to go through all the mail. He’s definitely not paying me enough to do it in addition to my regular responsibilities.” As a feature writer, her tasks usually included special projects like the Contest which required a great deal of time—on and off the job.
Tam plucked the picture of Reggie out of Kim’s hands. “This brother here is going to get his share of mail. I can already tell you that. Looks, a good job, knows how to treat women. Can you believe somebody gave him the boot?”
Kim glanced down at the full-length picture of Reggie on the stack of photos in front of her. “And it wasn’t the first time.”
“How do you know?” Tam asked, eyes wide. “Did someone else nominate him?”
Kim pursed her lips. “More like some ones.” She picked up the short stack of letters next to the tall mound. “Look at this.”
Tam took the offered letters and began to read. After finishing the first one, she went on to the second. “You mean he was nominated twice?”
“Keep reading,” Kim said.
Tam shook her head and went to the next sheet. “Three times?” she said with obvious surprise. “But he seems like such a nice guy. I wonder what’s wrong with him.”
Kim’s sentiments exactly. Sure, Reggie Stevens was fine, had a good job and seemed to possess the qualities women always said they wanted, but something had to be wrong with him. He’d been entered in the contest so many times by so many women.
“Wait a minute,” Tam said. “You mean to tell me that this guy was nominated six different times by six different women? Dag, something must be seriously wrong with this one. I don’t think he should make the finalist cut, Kim. The guy’s probably a drug addict or something.”
Kim smiled. Tam’s overly imaginative mind was now in high gear. “You read those letters, didn’t you? Those women love that guy.” She thumbed through the letters Tam held. “Here, let me read you parts of this one. It’s from Christina Duncan from Boston. Apparently, she and Reggie dated before she got married. Here goes.”
“Reggie is a very special man. I could tell from our first meeting that he was open, honest, considerate and fun to be with—traits that are becoming more and more difficult to find in men. And he never proved me wrong. When he learned I hadn’t gone to many amusement parks during my childhood, he took me to Six Flags Over Georgia and we spent the day like kids. I still have wonderful memories of that day. What I remember most is having tired feet from all the walking and having Reggie pull my feet on his lap and massage them. I almost fell in love with him that night."
“I think I would have fallen in love with Reggie had I not already met the one love of my life. When it seemed my love and I weren’t going to make it, Reggie offered the most wonderful of sacrifices which I’ll leave to him to tell you about. He’s indeed a man among men and I wish him the happiness I found.”
“Reggie told me once that he thought I’d get over the love I felt for my now husband, but I knew then he was wrong. I told him that one didn’t get over love, but I don’t think he believed me. He will when he finds that special woman. She’ll be a lucky woman whoever she turns out to be.”
Kim’s heart filled with wonder as she read again the words she’d read many times before and she knew she had to meet Reggie Stevens. “What do you think?”
“I wonder what great sacrifice he made and I wonder why she, and all those other women, dropped him if he was such a great guy. I don’t know, Kim. I’d be careful with this one if I were you. Dumped six times,” she continued with a shake of her head. “If he’s been nominated this many times, just think how many times he must have been dumped. What do you think? Sixty?”
Kim picked up the full-length picture. There was something about Reggie Stevens that told her he was a man worth getting to know. Maybe it was the kind eyes and the sweet smile set in the most masculine of faces. Or, Kim thought as firecrackers went off in her belly, maybe it was his wide shoulders, tapered waist and firm thighs.
“You’re not getting hung-up on this guy, are you?” Tam asked, leaning over her shoulder.
“Of course not,” she answered quickly. “I’m just doing my job.”
“You’re not gonna make him a finalist, are you?”
“I’m not sure,” Kim lied. Reggie Stevens was definitely making the finalist cut. She had to meet this man and find out for herself what about him attracted her and what about him had sent so many other women packing. “Let’s make it through the stack and then decide.”
The Nicest Guy in America