Queen Move (All the King's Men Series)
by Kennedy Ryan

Published: 2020-05-26T00:0
Paperback : 353 pages
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From Wall Street Journal, USA Today Bestselling and RITA® Award-winning Author Kennedy Ryan, comes a captivating second chance romance like only she can deliver...

The boy who always felt like mine is now the man I can't have…

Dig a little and you'll find photos of me in the ...

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From Wall Street Journal, USA Today Bestselling and RITA® Award-winning Author Kennedy Ryan, comes a captivating second chance romance like only she can deliver...

The boy who always felt like mine is now the man I can't have…

Dig a little and you'll find photos of me in the bathtub with Ezra Stern.

Get your mind out of the gutter. We were six months old.

Pry and one of us might confess we saved our first kiss for each other. The most clumsy, wet, sloppy . . . spectacular thirty seconds of my adolescence.

Get into our business and you'll see two families, closer than blood, torn apart in an instant.

Twenty years later, my "awkward duckling" best friend from childhood, the boy no one noticed, is a man no one can ignore.

Finer. Fiercer. Smarter.


Tell me it's wrong.

Tell me the boy who always felt like mine is now the man I can’t have.

When we find each other again, everything stands in our way--secrets, lies, promises.

But we didn't come this far to give up now.

And I know just the move to make if I want to make him mine.

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Two Years Before Present

Is there anything sadder than a daddy’s girl at her father’s funeral?

My mother’s quiet sniffs a few seats down give me the answer.

A grieving widow.

“He was a good man,” someone in the long line of mourners offering condolences whispers to her.

Mama’s head bobs with a tearful nod. In this day and age, she still wears a pillbox hat and veil. It’s black and chic like Mama, channeling tragic Jackie Kennedy or Coretta Scott King. My father was not just a good man. He was a great man, and everyone should know he leaves behind a widow, grieving deeply, but ever-fly. I squeeze the funeral program between my fingers, glaring at the printed words.

Joseph Allen leaves behind a wife, Janetta, three children, Kayla, Keith and Kimba, and six grandchildren.

He leaves behind.

Daddy’s gone, and I don’t know how to live in a world my father does not inhabit. The casket is draped with sweet-smelling flowers in the center of the funeral tent. When we leave the cemetery, it…he will be lowered into the ground with unfathomable finality, separated from us by white satin lining, six feet of dirt and eternity.

Kayla, my older sister, sobs softly at the end of our family’s row. Her four children watch her carefully, probably unused to seeing their unshakeable mother shaken and reduced to tears. Even I’d forgotten how she looks when she cries—like she’s mad at the wetness streaking her cheeks, resentful of any sign of weakness.

It’s not weak to cry, Daddy used to say. It’s human.

“But doesn’t the Bible say even the rocks will cry out?” I’d challenged him when I was young, loving that something from Sunday school took. “So maybe tears aren’t just for humans.”

“You’re getting too smart for your britches, little girl,” he’d said, but the deep affection in his eyes when he kissed me told me he was pleased. He liked that I asked questions and taught me to never accept bullshit at face value.

I miss you, Daddy.

Not even a week since his heart attack, and I already miss him so much.

Humanity blurs my vision, wet and hot and stinging my eyes. I want this to be over. The flowers, the well-dressed mourners, the news cameras stationed at a distance they probably deem respectful. I just want to go to the house where my parents raised us, retreat to Daddy’s study and find the stash of cigars that only he and I knew about.

Don’t tell your mother, he used to whisper conspiratorially. This will be our little secret.

Mama hated the smell of cigars in the house.


Who would call me by that name? Now, when the only people who use it, my family, are all preoccupied with their own pain? A tall man stands in front of me, his thick, dark brows bunched with sympathy. I don’t know him. I would remember a man like this, who stands strong like an oak tree. A well-tailored suit molds his powerful shoulders. Dark brown, not quite black, hair is cut ruthlessly short, but hints at waves if given the chance to grow. His prominent nose makes itself known above the full, finely sculpted lips below. His eyes are shockingly vivid—so deep a blue they’re almost the color of African violets against skin like bronze bathed in sunlight. No, a man like him you’d never forget. Something niggles at my memory, tugs at my senses. I’d never forget a man who looked like this, a man with eyes like that…but what about a boy?

“Ezra?” I croak, disbelief and uncertainty mingling in the name I haven’t uttered in years.

It can’t be.

But it is.

In place of the awkward boy I knew stands a man exuding self-assurance in the confident set of his shoulders, the proud bearing of his head. If adolescence was the rough draft, this finished product is a masterpiece of symmetry and beautifully sketched lines.

He nods, a tiny smile relieving the sober line of his mouth. “Yeah, it’s me.”

Maybe it’s the emotion, the vulnerability that shatters the guard I always lock in place. Maybe it’s the compassion in his expression. Or maybe it’s finding in the eyes of a stranger the comfort of a long-lost friend. It could be all of these things, or maybe it’s none of them, but I surge to my feet and fling myself into his arms. He doesn’t seem as surprised as I am by this ungoverned physicality, his strength tightening around me right away. He’s much taller than I am, much taller than the last time I saw him, and he dips a little closer to my ear.

“I’m so sorry, Kimba,” he says. “He was one of the finest men I ever met.”

His words and arms warm places left frigid all week, and this moment melts into a million others I thought I’d lost forever. Ezra and me tracing our names into wet concrete with sticks. Riding our bikes through the streets, shouting and laughing at summer dusk, racing the sun. Pumping our legs to propel us so high on swings at night in a deserted park our feet seemed to kick the stars. Ezra Stern was the axis of my childhood.

“Ez.” I pull back far enough to look up at him, scouring his features for the changes twenty years have made. “But you…what are you…how—”

“I moved back to Atlanta a few years ago. I ran into your father and we…” He swallows, releases me to shove one hand into the pocket of his dark slacks. He used to do that when he was unsure. It’s one of the few things remaining of the boy I knew. And those eyes.

“We talked,” he continues. “We kept in touch. He helped me. I hope it’s okay that I’m here.”

He spares a quick glance to my mother at the other end of our row, still elegant and too devastated to really notice those standing in front of her, much less the man standing in front of me.

“It is.” I squeeze his free hand, connecting our gazes. “I’m glad you came.”

Something like relief loosens his tight expression. “Good. I didn’t want to—”


The voice comes from behind him. I glance around and see a handsome kid with African violet eyes. His skin is a few shades lighter than Ezra’s, his curls less coarse, and there are traces of maybe Asian ancestry in his features, but there’s something of the boy I knew years ago in this one, and my heart contracts.

A son. Ezra has a son.

Of course he does. We’re in our thirties. He’s probably also got a—

“Noah, I asked you to wait with your mom.” Ezra brushes a hand across the boy’s hair.

“I was,” Noah says, his eyes wide and locked on his father’s. “But bà ngo?i called. It’s an emergency. Mom says we need to go.”

Ezra and Noah both look beyond the tent and across the cemetery’s carpet of grass. A petite woman paces in a tight circle, a phone pressed to her ear, distress on her face. I see the other parts of Noah in her. A sheath of dark hair hangs to her waist and, even at this distance, she’s obviously a beautiful woman.

Ezra’s wife. Ezra’s son. I haven’t seen this man in more than two decades, but my breath hitches when faced with the life he made apart from me. We were just kids, and of course he made a life without me, just like I made a life without him, but my heart still sinks like an anchor to the ocean floor.

A family. Ezra has a family.

“I saw you on TV,” Noah says, studying me closely.

I frown, for a moment so removed from the reality of life beyond this funeral tent and the cloying scent of flowers that I have no idea what he’s talking about.

“The campaign,” Ezra says, a small smile lifting the corners of his mouth. “You were doing an interview on CNN.”

“Oh.” I nod and manage a facsimile of a smile for Noah’s benefit. “My job has me talk on television sometimes, but I’ll tell you a secret.”

His eyes glint with childish delight.

I bend to his ear and whisper, “I get really nervous, and it’s not as easy as it looks.”

Noah nods, his face sobering. “I’d be nervous, too, but Daddy said you’re the smartest girl he ever met.”

I zip a glance at Ezra, who looks self-conscious for a moment before meeting my eyes. “Still not smarter than me, though,” he deadpans defiantly. “And don’t you forget it.”

I thought there was no way to laugh, not on the day I buried my father, but a chuckle rattles in my throat. “You’re just mad because I beat you at chess.”

“You beat Daddy at chess?” Noah’s eyes stretch to full moons. “Nobody ever beats him.”

“Once,” Ezra interjects with a heatless glare. “She beat me once.”

“Now the excuses start,” I tell Noah.

Ezra smiles, but his gaze flits back to where his wife stands and the brief flash of humor disappears. “We better go, Noah. Let’s see what your mom needs.”

Noah takes off, dashing from the tent and across the grass to his mother. When he reaches her, she pulls him into the crook of her arm and kisses the top of his head. What a beautiful family. I’m happy for him.

Ezra turns his attention back to me. “I just wanted to say how sorry I am. Pay my respects.”

A dozen words idle on my tongue at the prospect of him disappearing again.

Don’t be a stranger. Let me get your number. We should stay in touch.

He looks down at me, and the words lodged in my throat seem to burn in his eyes, too, fueled by regret. And hope. All the things clamoring in my chest play across his expressive features.

“Kimba, we could—”

“It was good seeing you again,” I cut in with soft politeness, dropping the hand I didn’t realize I still held until now. “Thank you for coming.”

He stares at me for long seconds, and despite my best intentions, I stare back. When I was a little girl, no one was closer to me, no one knew me better than Ezra Stern. It was the kind of closeness you cherished as a child—the kind that between two adults could be nothing short of intimate.

“Goodbye, Ez,” I whisper, blinking at fresh tears.

“Yeah.” He looks out across green grass and headstones to where his family waits, and nods. “Goodbye, Tru.”

Long, swift strides take him to his wife and son. They disappear over the crest of a hill, hand in hand and then out of sight. They were here only a few minutes. I doubt Mama even realized he was here. She’s still trapped in her worst nightmare where the love of her life is gone.

“Goodbye, Daddy,” I say, loud enough for just myself and him to hear, like the little secrets he and I used to keep. The casket in front of me breaks my heart for what I’ve lost.

I glance over the hill and shed a tear for what I never had. view abbreviated excerpt only...

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