Tiye’s stories

Tuesday

I guess you can say it was destiny when I met Jordan Mathews.

It was my first time in Los Angeles, and it was also the first time I had taken a solo trip to just breathe. I’d just gotten out of a five-year relationship that ended in a broken engagement two months ago.  I’d decided to get as far away as I could from anything that reminded me of my ex.  He hated California and anything that represented it. He saw it as fake, and to think of the relationship we had, I guess he hated our relationship too. In retrospect, we were as superficial as any couple could be.  We’d looked like couple goals with our advanced degrees from Ivy League school and the expensive foreign cars, we drove.  But it was all a big show.  He was a serial cheater and I finally stopped playing the fool and moved out of our half a

million-dollar townhome and in with my baby brother while I regrouped.  Unfortunately, my

brother loved the women and within a few weeks of living with him I realized I’d been cramping

his bachelor lifestyle and that maybe I just needed to get away from it all.  Since I always

wanted to go to Los Angeles, I took an overdue three-week leave from my job and arrived two

days ago.

I’d spent my first two days in L.A., in my beautiful suite, crying and feeling sorry for

myself. After mindless viewings of reruns of Friends, I decided that I could have saved a lot of money and just paid for a hotel in my own city if all I planned to do was wallow in self-pity in a hotel room. So, I threw on my favorite Nike pink and gray warmup suit and coordinated running shoes, which always made me feel like I was healthy, though I hadn’t been to the gym in about six months.  I brushed my freshly washed but still wet hair into a ponytail and grabbed my backpack. I would eat breakfast in the hotel and then do some sightseeing.  I had no idea where to start but figured the concierge would offer suggestions after I ate breakfast at one of the restaurants in the five-star hotel, I’d chosen for my getaway.

A serene view of the Pacific Ocean and the beach greeted me the moment I graced

the doors of The Bistro, a swank breakfast place with menu items such as seafood omelet

with hollandaise sauce garnished with caviar.  I’d decided to splurge on my meals and worry about the calories later.  After initially feeling renewed and energetic, once the hostess sat me at a white linen cloth covered table outside so I can feel the warm rays of the sun, I surveyed the room.  Loneliness crept back in with a vengeance.  All the other patrons were either with a significant other, family member, or friend sharing the beauty of this restaurant, of this bright and breezy day.

I shook my head fighting the desire to return to my room and get under the covers and

encouraged myself. “You can do this.”

“Do what?” A deep voice asked above me.

I looked up expecting a waiter and I blinked a couple of times in disbelief that Jordan Mathews, one of the hottest young actors smiled down at me.  A complete loss for words, I simply gaped. I didn’t know if I was dreaming or hallucinating.  Either way I suddenly did not feel like returning to my room.

“Do what?” He asked again displaying his trademark wide full-lipped smile, and beautiful brown eyes that crinkled at the corners whenever he did. Yep, it was him. He was a chocolate brown skinned man with a groomed mustache and a goatee that didn’t meet.  At six feet, the gray sweatpants and long sleeve dark blue t-shirt defined his muscular frame well. I’d always thought he was handsome on the screen but in person he was gorgeous.

After I caught my breath and looked down at the table, I finally replied,  “I meant I can eat alone.”

“I’m sure you can, but why would you want to? I wouldn’t mind  having breakfast with a beautiful woman.” He then seated himself across from me.

I stared at my favorite celebrity crush, who calmly smiled at me again, while I desperately tried to relax my fraying nerves. “Um, you really don’t have to eat with me. I know I probably seemed crazy to you talking to myself but I’m good.”

“I know I don’t have to eat with you. Maybe I don’t want to dine alone when we can eat together. This is one of my fav spots, I recommend the French toast.”  He reached for my hand. “I’m Jordan Matthews by the way.”

“I know, I’m a fan.” My hand tingled at his touch. “I’m Skye.”

“Does the lady have a last name?”

“Sorry…Skye Baptiste.”

He squeezed my hand gently and said, “Love your name. Sounds French.” He signaled for the waiter, who promptly walked our way. “Guess you don’t mind French toast. Trust me?”

I slightly nodded.

Jordan spoke with familiarity and ease to the waiter, “Frankie, make that two orders, with scrambled eggs and cheddar cheese.”  He looked at me again. “She looks like she could use a Mimosa, but I will get a carafe of apple and OJ as well in case the lady doesn’t drink.”

The waiter nodded and hurried to place our breakfast order.  Jordan finally let go of my hand, though he could have held it forever because my hand fit so nicely in his strong one. “So where are you from with a last name like Baptiste?”

Finally finding my voice again, I answered in surprise, “How did you know I’m not from here?”

“This is L.A. Who really is from Los Angeles? And you’re sitting alone in a hotel restaurant for breakfast in joggers instead of a local joint. You here for work, pleasure or both?” He smiled when he said pleasure.

He was flirting with me. And I barely smiled or said two words to him. If I didn’t start acting like I appreciate the opportunity that is Jordan Mathews, a man who can practically have any woman he wants, then he would slip right through my fingers.  I needed to take a moment.

“Excuse me, I’m going to make a quick run to the Ladies room.”

“Okay…” Jordan lightly grabbed my wrist. “Did I offend you or something?”

“No, of course not…I just need to go. I’ll be right back.”

I grabbed my backpack which served as a purse today and hurried away looking left and right for the restroom.  A waitress must have noticed my lost expression and pointed behind her.  I went into the restroom that thankfully had a parlor room with a mirror before going into the actual toileting area.  I looked in the mirror at my flushed normally light brown skinned face.  I searched in my bag for gloss and eyeliner. I didn’t want to look too obvious with the makeup. I’d already applied mascara and pink shadow this morning and my pouty lips were a pale shade of pink, remnants of my lipstick.  I added a light coat of gloss and used the brown liner to make my light brown eyes pop more.  My naturally black wavy hair had been pulled back in a severe ponytail and my edges were still on point.  I turned sideways to check out my body in the mirror and the joggers made my bottom even curvier. I unzipped my jacket to show my fitted sparkly white PINK t-shirt that emphasized my ample chest, small waist and stomach that no matter how many crunches I did, couldn’t get rid of the slight pudge. I stepped back and jumped a couple of times and loosened my arms trying to relax before I went back in to enjoy breakfast with one of the handsomest men I’d ever seen.

As I headed back to the table, I had to remind myself of my single status and that I could do whatever I wanted.  I’d been a big flirt and loved dating before my ex.  No time like the present to try out my skills again. I took a silent deep breath when I approached the table and Jordan glanced up at me and his face visibly relaxed.  He was worried I wouldn’t come back.  Jordan Matthews was human just like me and I needed to treat him like any cute guy who wanted to share a meal with me.  

“Everything good?”

“Yes. Actually better.” I beckoned him with my finger the moment I sat down. “Can I let you in on a secret?”

He leaned closer to me. “Gorgeous smile. I’d hoped I would see it.”

I didn’t realize I was smiling until he told me. “Likewise.” I surprised myself at my quick response because I tingled inside at his compliment and almost lost my train of thought. “So, do you really want to know why I’m here? I mean really?”

“I’m dying to know,” he said playing along with me.

“You asked me if I was here for pleasure or business right?”

“I did.”

“Well, it’s most definitely ‘pleasure’ because I’m at the beginning of my best sex dream right now.  Jordan Mathews in all of his fineness is sitting across from me.”

Jordan burst out laughing right before he pinched my arm.

“Ow!“ I exclaimed rubbing the spot he touched playfully though it did hurt a little bit.

“See not a dream. Want to touch me just in case you still think you’re dreaming?” He dared me with his beautiful dark brown eyes rimmed with long lashes.

The chemistry sizzled between us and without thought, I pulled his hand toward me and

kissed his palm slowly. God, even his hand smelled like good like citrus and something woodsy.

Jordan’s voice deepened and my pussy tightened expectantly. “Now, I think I’m at the beginning of my best sex dream.”

“Your food will be right out.” The waiter interrupted our conversation by placing our glasses of mimosa on the table.  I let go of his hand, surprised at my boldness and took a sip of the sweet mixture to calm the burning in my loins.

Jordan settled back in his chair, as if he thought we needed to slow down as well. “Now that you believe that I’m really sitting across from you, what really brings you to my fair city?”

“Well, I needed to escape so I came here.”

“Escape? This sounds interesting.” He sipped some of his mimosa and licked his lips when he put the flute down.  He noticed my focus. “You like that?”

I nodded my head, deciding to be honest and bold.

His gaze lowered to my mouth and the attraction became palpable. 

I spoke to break the tension, “I came here to get away from everything. I just broke off an engagement and moved out of the home we’d shared for four years.  I needed no reminders of our life together at least for a little while. We work for the same company though in different divisions and on top of that I’m from New Orleans, which is a small city. I kept running into him so much I wanted to scream, so I took three weeks leave and decided to use one week of it here.”

“Sorry to hear that,” Jordan said quietly though he didn’t appear sorry at all. “Let me guess, he cheated?”

“Yep. Why did you guess that?” I frowned.  “All men cheat?”

“You seemed a little bitter when you just talked about it and you looked sad when I first saw you. I think if you’re human you’re capable of stepping out. But do I think all men cheat? No. And I also believe that a man who fucked over one woman may treat another woman that way. It really depends on the relationship that man has with himself and with his woman.”

“Have you ever cheated?”

“I really don’t have girlfriends, so that’s not an issue for me. You can only cheat if you’re in a relationship. But the few times I’ve had girlfriends, I didn’t. The women in my life know the deal that I’m not a one-woman man. At least not now.”

“Gotcha. Well at least you’re honest. I would rather be given the opportunity for you to say that you want to see other people then to discover later that you’d been seeing others almost the entire relationship. I mean, why even have a relationship if you know you want to see other women? But you know what? I’m done talking about relationships. It’s his loss and it will be a while before I get into another one. Time to just enjoy life.” Surprisingly talking about Ray, my ex,  didn’t hurt anymore.  A handsome, charming, and wealthy man can make you forget heartache, especially if he was easy to talk to like Jordan Mathews.

“Do you like L.A. so far?”

“I haven’t seen anything yet but the airport, my hotel room, and the city as I traveled from the airport to the hotel. But I can say that as of this moment, coming here is the best decision I‘ve made in a long time.”

He gulped the rest of his drink and smiled. “I should have realized you’re from New Orleans with that French last name. I love that city, it’s such a cool, sexy place.  I spent time there when I filmed Fantasy Life.”

“I wish I knew you were there at the time.”

Jordan grinned. “I thought you were a fan and you didn’t know I was in your city? I caught you slipping?”

“Yeah, I got to get my social media stalking game up. I got to represent. Calling myself a

Jordan Mathews’ fan and don’t know his every step. Hah, but I did know that you lived here. So, three points, touchdown, homerun! Not sure which one fits right now, but I deserve some credit.” I reached my fist so he could bump it, which he did.

“You are silly, but I like it.” He pointed at my backpack. “What are your plans today?”

“I honestly don’t know. I’m here solo and I don’t know anyone here and this is my first

time. Maybe the usual – Universal Studios, Hollywood Boulevard, and Rodeo Drive.”

“Well, you know me, I can show you.”

“Are you serious? I’m sure you already had plans to do something today besides be my tour guide. Besides I just met you.”

“Plans change and you already know who I am, right?” He gazed into my eyes, making it hard for me to respond to a simple question.

Focus. “Yes. I know who you are or at least how you appear on TV, film, and on the internet. You seem trustworthy enough. And you’re my celebrity crush, so I guess I can let you show me the city.”

“Really? Interesting.” His eyes danced.

“What?”

“I’m your celebrity crush.”

“Why is that interesting? You are like the ‘it’ person right now. I’m a fan like everyone else.

People have been staring at our table since you walked in. A few have even taken photos with their phones.” I gestured around the room.

He didn’t take his eyes off me. “No, you said celebrity crush. That means something

different than just a fan of my work. So, you have a crush on me? Let’s just say today is shaping

up to be a good one for me too.”

I snorted. “Are you serious, look at you? Most women would find you attractive on some level even if you weren’t a celebrity.”

“Wait. Did you just snort?” He crossed his well-defined arms on the table and placed his chin on his arms. “I don’t care about most women, but I do care what Skye thinks about me.”

He’s so charming, no wonder women fall for him. “Okay. Fine. I have a huge crush on you that just got even bigger,” I said grudgingly. “I have a question. Why are you here at the hotel if you live here?”

He straightened up. “Sometimes I get a room here to get away from my home to give me a fresh perspective when I’m preparing for a role or writing a script.  I love this hotel and this bistro since I’m a foodie.”

“Me too, I love food. My favorite part about traveling is the food. You have to tell me other restaurants I should visit before I leave.”

Jordan looked down and seemed to be in deep thought for a moment and then asked, “How long are you here?”

“I leave Saturday night because I have to go to my best friend’s party on Sunday.”

He smiled again. “Want to spend the rest of your time here with me?”

The waiter arrived before I could respond to his unbelievable, tantalizing offer.  He watched me as we were each served our breakfast. The food looked delicious, but I didn’t have much of an appetite.

Once Frankie left the table again, I clarified, “Not just for breakfast or for today but the rest of the week? You want to hang out with me?”

Jordan shrugged. “I like your vibe. You seem mad cool. You’re newly single and I’ve been single for a while and neither of us are looking for anything, so let’s hang out.  I promise you a good time and you won’t even think about that dude who was stupid to let you go.”

I drummed my fingers across the table still somewhat in disbelief that he was serious.

“After we eat, I want to take you somewhere I think you’ll like,” he continued like I agreed obvi used to getting his way.

“People know you and paparazzi follows you. Do you really want to be seen with ‘mystery girl’?”

  “Are you worried your ex will see you or someone else?” He challenged.

  “No.”

  “I don’t have anything to hide, either.” He looked at my untouched food. “Eat, you’re going to need your energy later.”

I gasped aloud before I realized it.

He laughed. “You think I said that because I plan to have sex with you?”

Embarrassed for a moment because he read me exactly, he noticed and touched

my hand. “Hey, I just meant you need energy because we’ll do a lot of walking.”

I responded softly, “Okay.”

“But don’t get it twisted I find you extremely attractive and I do want to smash and it’s all your fault. Your whole this is the ‘beginning of your best sex dream’ got me thinking about you and me. But if you’re not feeling that, it’s cool.  We can still chill.” Jordan took a bite of egg and then gulped down a glass of apple juice.

I smiled with relief and finally had an appetite. I ate a huge piece of French toast.

He stopped eating. “Wait, now you have an appetite? You seem happy that I took sex off the table? Should I be offended? So, you mean that your celebrity crush wants to do all kinds of things to your body and you don’t want to? How can you possibly turn me down?” 

I shook my head and at the images of me naked under him. “I am so flattered and so turning you down.” I finished my mimosa and half-smiled at his exaggerated look of rejection. “At least for now, Mr. Mathews.”

He twisted his lips with amusement, pleased by my response. “My friends call me J.”

“I prefer Jordan.”

He groaned, “Lady, I like the way you say my name.”

Available October 18th
Just click the pic to order and it will be sent directly to your phone or kindle!

Chapter 1

“Are you freaking kidding me?” I yelled at the phone. “I can’t afford this rent by myself. Who waits until the week before a semester starts to say I’m not coming back from summer break?”

“Autumn calm down,” said my former best friend, Akila. “I have movers coming today to pack up my things and put them in storage.  And I already have someone who’s ready to move in. I didn’t want to tell you until I had someone to replace me. I know how you are about money.”

My temples pounded. “What time are these movers coming here? And why couldn’t you come to get your own things? This is fucking unbelievable. How are we best friends and you don’t think I need to know what your plans are, especially when they concern me?”

“I wouldn’t have two off days again until three weeks from now.”

“What the hell? You have a job now? You left here at the end of June, told me you’ll see me in August and now you have a full-time job and staying in Atlanta. We talk several times a week and you never thought to tell me any of this?”

 “Because I know you would think that staying home to finish school for Kaleb is stupid.”

I snorted derisively. “And you would be absolutely right. I should have figured you would be going through all of this for him. We only have one more year of school. He couldn’t wait one more year or better, yet, he could have moved here. Didn’t you say he has friends here anyway?”

“Come on, Auti that makes no sense.  I’d already planned to move back home after graduation. He already has his own place, a good job, and I’m living with my parents for now.  I’m able to transfer colleges with little problem. And everyone’s thrilled that I came home for my last year. You should be happy for me.”

I paced in the living room of our, I mean my, spacious two-bedroom townhome. “Maybe if you told me when you told everyone else, I would be. But we’ve been roommates and best friends since we started FAMU and now you plan to live in Atlanta? This was supposed to be our year. We finally both got food stamps and have good-paying part-time jobs in our field.  And you’re leaving me with Kim and Nikki, the type of friends who will leave you in a heartbeat for dick? You and I were supposed to go to parties and hang out all night in between cramming for our exams in our fab townhome.”

“We did that last year.”

“Yeah, but now we can actually afford it.” We were both nursing majors and we’d both always earned high marks and barely scraped by to afford the townhome ten minutes from campus.  This year was about coasting and living it up since most of our hardest courses were behind us.

Akila pleaded, “Please forgive me, Auti.  I’m sorry for dumping this on you at the last minute. But honestly, I didn’t know how to tell you because as much as I want to be here with Kaleb, I’m going to miss my best friend.” Her voice broke at the end. “What am I going to do without you?”

I dropped on my red sofa and hugged my red throw pillow.  Tears sprung to my eyes at the finality that Akila really was gone and not coming back.  She hated confrontation and would avoid it like the plague, where I met it head-on. This was so her to wait until the last minute, though it annoyed the hell out of me. “Yeah, me too. That’s what hurts the most.  You made FAMU fun and I know we planned to part ways after graduation, I just thought I had one more year with you.  I didn’t think you and Kaleb were that inseparable couple.”

“I didn’t either until this summer. We had an amazing summer and I don’t want to leave him.”

“You’ve been apart for more than a year, already.” Akila had met Kaleb, last summer when she went home, and they’d had a long-distance relationship. “What’s one more year?”

 “Autumn, I love him and maybe if you let a man love you too, you would understand.”

“I have plenty of time for love. I need to finish school first and I refuse to let a man deter my dreams. For too many years, my mother put aside her career for my father, who got to be this big-time orthopedic surgeon. And what does he do, as soon as my oldest sister graduated from high school, he’s gone.  My mother made sacrifices for our family for what?”

“I know, I know. Your mother’s story won’t be yours. My parents are still happily together and they both are in careers they love.”

I hugged the pillow tighter. “You forget I also have three older sisters and their stories with men leave much to be desired, no thank you. I’m good.”

            Akila sighed. “Love happens when it happens, and you keep blocking it. Every time a man gets close to you, you find reasons why it won’t work.”

“I’m not finding reasons or excuses.  My future isn’t worth any of the men I’ve dated. Just think if I was serious about Chuckie what would have happened to me? I would be fighting with two baby mamas as we speak. I’m not against love, I just want to get mine first.  I’ve seen it happen too many times where a woman has to give up what she wants to be with a man.”  I propped my legs on the matching red ottoman and pushed my glasses higher on the bridge of my nose.  Summer, my oldest sister who was a pediatrician, had provided the living room, dining area, and patio furniture, replete with a fifty-inch flat screen.  Akila and I had each taken care of our own bedroom furniture and décor.

“Not every man wants his woman to give up what she wants for him.  And everyone dates idiots at some point, but what about Hakim and Cole? They were good guys.”

“And? They wanted too much of my time and couldn’t get it that I needed to study.  I still have my Masters’ program on the horizon.”

“I’ve never been able to convince you to live a little and I don’t know why I’m trying now.”

“You know I have my fun with men.  I love sex as much as the dudes. I’m just not trying to be serious about anyone. You act like I’m a nun and shit. I just don’t need a relationship like you do.” I looked around our cute apartment, suddenly assailed by loneliness. “What am I going to do without you?  I’m mad as hell at you for dropping this shit on me, but I know how much you missed Kaleb and your family. You were meant to return home while I don’t ever plan to go back.  Will I even like this new roommate?”

“Okay,…here’s the thing. I really didn’t decide until two weeks ago to stay here and…”

I said skeptically, “I don’t like the way you’re sounding. I don’t need any more surprises right now, Akila. Who is she?”

There was a knock on the door.

“Someone’s at the door and I’m not expecting anyone. What time are the movers coming here?” Then realization dawned at the silence on the other end.  “Wait, so she’s here? Moving in right now? I swear if you weren’t so far away, I would slap you through the phone. Is that the only reason you’re calling me now?”

“Umm…it’s going to work out…he’s going to pay you one hundred and fifty more than I paid.”

“He? What the fuck? I can’t live with a boy.” I reluctantly pulled myself up annoyed, tapped my phone on mute, and looked through the peephole and saw a light-skinned black woman with two tats on her neck and two long pink cornrows. She frowned when I opened the door. “Can I help you?”

She said with a slight twist of her head. Great. Am I rooming with ghetto girl? “I’m just making sure this is the right place?”

“I don’t know what apartment you’re looking for?”

She stepped back to look at the number on my door above my head. Her shorts were even shorter than mine and she had way more hips than I did. “Does an Auti live here?”

“Autumn. That’s me.”

Her eyes widened. “I thought you were supposed to be a man?”

“And I thought you were supposed to be a man too.”

She immediately became defensive. “That trifling ass bastard. Who the fuck are you to Q?”

I frowned in confusion. “Q? I don’t know anyone named Q. You got the wrong place.”

She put her finger in my face. “Too late to lie now, bitch. You already told me your name. He told me this is where he’s staying.”

Livid, I ordered, “Get your hands out my face. Autumn is my name, but I don’t know a Q. I don’t have any reason to lie.”

And before she or I ended up in jail, I backed up and slammed the door in her face. She immediately started banging and cursing. I quickly unmuted my phone and resumed yelling, “Have you lost your damn mind allowing ‘Black Ink Tallahassee’ to room with me?”

“Autumn, please calm down.  I don’t know who that woman is. I heard the whole convo…but Q,.. I mean I do know Quincy Jackson.”

“Quincy Jackson, the head drum major? So, the psycho was looking for you? You were messing around on Kaleb with him? When did this happen? I didn’t realize you kept secrets from me.” The banging continued and then she’d started kicking my door too. I screamed through the door, “I’m about to call the fucking cops if you don’t stop. I don’t know Q. My old roommate knew him, not me.”

Akila said, “Auti, I didn’t mess around with him.  He’s friends with Kaleb.  Quincy is your…

“Cinnamon, what the fuck you doing here? I told you to come over tonight after I got settled. Stop that shit.” I heard a male voice.

The crazy girl accused, “You live with a stuck-up bitch and you told me you were single. That’s my motherfucking problem.”

What kind of name is Cinnamon? I took a peep through the hole and my stomach fluttered.  Quincy was a gorgeous, tall, brown-skinned with reddish undertone man, with soft black hair braided in small short cornrows, faded on the sides.  He wore a loose-fitting tank and long shorts that displayed his muscled arms – of which one shoulder was completely tatted- and his toned legs well. He now smiled at Cinnamon both his hands were on her waist, and she was like putty in his hands. “Babe, you don’t have any problems with me. I haven’t even met my new roommate yet and you here causing confusion.  I’m glad I stopped by when I did.  She could have called the police on you, cutting up like this over nothing.  I don’t have a woman.”

“I could be your woman.” She pulled his head down and before she could kiss him, I opened the door, arms folded.

“Akila is this my new roommate?” I shoved my cell in his hand in between the two of them.  He took it giving me a quick once over and I self-consciously tugged my short shorts down.  He obviously liked what he saw based on the gleam of appreciation he had before he turned his back to answer the phone.  I heard the smile in his voice as he greeted my friend so I knew without a doubt he would be living with me for the next year. 

Cinnamon glowered at me and to avoid a fight, I tried to reason. “Look, I’m just as confused as you. My old roommate who’s on the phone with him just told me she isn’t coming back and that I have a new one who I didn’t even know until right now.  I’m not trying to get with your man. And I definitely don’t want him.  So, leave the drama for the other women he’s seeing and not at my home.”

“Other women?” She growled. “He just said he doesn’t have a woman.”

“Because he has many.” I gestured toward his turned back.  “Look at him, nothing about him says he’s only seeing you. And he’s the head drum major. Deep down you know it which is why you were ready to jump my ass.”

“Hey…hey…you don’t know shit about me.” Quincy turned back around angrily and passed me back the phone. “She wants to speak to you again.”

I clicked the phone off, too angry with Akila to talk to her and retorted, “You’re right I don’t but I know your type. And if you fuck up my last year of school with your women and parties, you’re out.”

He raised his voice. “I can do whatever the fuck I want. Akila subleased this apartment to me and I plan to pay my half of the bills on time, so half of this place is mine.”

“She did it without my permission and if I didn’t need your part of the rent and bills, I wouldn’t have opened my door to this.” I gestured to him and Cinnamon. “And you better keep her on a leash, she’s the type that’ll stalk you thinking when she’s not with you, you have someone else. Although in your case, it’s probably the truth.”

His admittedly pretty brown eyes flashed, his mouth tightened and when Cinnamon was about to snap back he grabbed her wrist. “Look, I’m moving in later today. I wanted to meet you first and talk but I see you already judging folks. You and I don’t have to speak but half this place is mine. I already have a key.”

I stepped back from the door and snarled, “Fine. Use your key next time.” I slammed the door in both their faces this time and stormed upstairs to my room, frantically calling Summer, hoping that somehow she would have enough to support me my last year in school.

            She answered on the second ring, “What’s up Baby Bear?”

I dropped down in my desk chair. “We still doing this? I’m twenty-two.” My oldest sister was twelve when I was born and had always been more like a second mother than a sister.  

“You’re twenty-one for another two months. And you’ll always be my Baby Bear.”

“Whatever, Summer. I did call for a reason.”

“Hence me asking, what’s up?”

“Smartass, I need a huge favor.”

“What Autumn?” The serious tone had replaced her more playful, loving one.

“Calm down. It’s not that huge of a favor. Okay…maybe it is.”

            “Spit it out. I don’t have all day.”

“Akila’s not coming back and she found me a new roommate.”

“Really? Why? This is your last year.”

“I know.” I leaned back in my chair and said with disdain, “She wants to be with Kaleb. Isn’t that stupid?”

“Auti, there’s nothing wrong with that as long as she finishes school at some point. They’ve been together for a while.”

“I can’t believe you’re saying that?” My big sister had always been about her career. She’s dated men and had boyfriends.  She even aced medical school all while being a single mother to my now eleven- year- old niece, Bella, determined not to let anyone get in the way of her goals.  Now her focus is on being the best pediatric doctor in Houston. She’s always said that marriage will come when and if it comes.

“I know but sometimes maturity brings about clarity. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so focused on my career at the expense of everything else.  It’s so much harder to date with a demanding career and a child.  If you find the right man, he’ll support your dreams and you can do it together.”

“Well, not the men I’ve met.”

“That may be true, especially at your age. Just don’t be too hard on Akila for choosing love. She’s not like you.”

I sighed. “Well, I’m pissed with her now, but it’ll pass eventually. Have to wrap my head around the fact that she’s gone.”

“That’s tough, I know how tight you two are.” Summer agreed. “What’s the favor?”

I closed my eyes in prayer. “You think you can cover her half of the rent? I can work a few more hours and pay a little more. Or maybe I can ask Mama to help too?”

She responded rather impatiently, “Auti, I thought you said Akila found you a new roommate?”

“She did but it’s a man. And I can’t live with a man.”

“A man? Does Akila know him?”

“Yes, he’s a friend of Kaleb and went to high school with Akila.  He’s also the head drum major of the band, though I’ve never really talked to him until today.”

“Head drum major? Fancy. How is he?”

“Already drama. His woman came over here banging on my door pissed he was going to be living with me.”

She exclaimed, “What! What did he do?”

“He charmed her into calming down. You know how men like him can be?”

            “He must be a cutie.”

Sexy as fuck, popped in my head. “He’s alright.”

“Did he sublease the place?”

“Even if he did, I’m sure I can get out of it.”

“Auti, I’m sorry but you’re going to have to figure it out. I’m trying to save for my own practice and with private school for Bella, I really don’t have it. And don’t ask Mama. She’s finally back into dancing and spends most of her money doing so.”

“What if he’s a rapist or something? I can’t live with him.”

“I trust Akila and he’s the head drum major at FAMU. He’s probably solid. And you can’t just kick him out legally. What does your gut say about him? Are you worried? Does he scare you?”

I groaned, “No. He doesn’t. Just want peace for my last year. I don’t like the idea of living with a man.”

“You want Akila back. No matter who she picked you would’ve been upset.”

I still tried to persuade Summer though I knew she wasn’t budging. “Don’t you think it’s foul how she moved out on me, chose another roommate – who’s a man – without my knowledge, and finally confesses a few minutes before he arrived?”

“Extremely foul and I’d be furious that she’d put me in that position. And I’m not telling you to stay there if you’re unhappy or uncomfortable, just that you’re almost twenty-two years old as you just reminded me. Time for you to figure it out on your own.”

My temples pounded as I whined, “That’s what I’m doing, Summer. You know I can’t afford to work full time and finish school. I need your help.”

“No one told you to choose an expensive ass townhome while in college. When I was in college, I barely had enough money for McDonald’s since I still had three more sisters behind me.  Meanwhile, you’re eating at steakhouses courtesy of all of us. I furnished your place, Daddy bought your car and Mama sends you money all the time.  That’s it, Auti.  And you better not call Mama or Winter,” she threatened. 

I have three sisters who were significantly older than me and it was our misfortune that our parents thought it was a good idea to name each of us after the season in which we were born.  Winter was the sister next to me and though she was only five years older, she often spoiled me more than my oldest two sisters, Spring and Summer.  I loved my name – if it wasn’t said with my sisters, especially Spring.  My parents were so wrong when it came to her name. She was only the second child.  They could have gone a different route and not given us season names simply because they named their first-born Summer. But I guess Spring is better than March her birthday month.

I pouted. “I’ll just call Daddy.”

“You do that. I gotta go.” We both knew I wasn’t going to do that, though my father had more than enough money to fund my education and lifestyle.  I hadn’t spoken to him since I blasted him at my high school graduation party for not being there for me like he’d been for my older sisters.  He called me ungrateful since he’d just gifted me with a baby blue VW bug when we got into it.  Although I loved my car, I saw his gift as another way to buy me instead of the time I’d always wanted to spend with him. When he left Mama, he’d left me too.

I said testily, “Bye, then if you have to go. Sorry if my problems are a bother to you.”

            “Bye, Autumn and grow the hell up.”

I threw my phone before myself on the bed, totally feeling fucked. This was so not how I pictured my last year at FAMU, living with an arrogant man who already got me hot, truth be reluctantly told.

Chapter 2

I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to figure out my options. I searched for other apartments, not caring if I broke my lease, but everything that I considered nice was out of my price range.  I fell back against my sofa loving the room I had spent months making cozy.  Did I really have the time, energy, and more importantly money to move?  I barely made enough with rent, car insurance, other bills, and daily living.  I could work more at the campus clinic but then my grades would suffer.  And Summer was right, Mama really couldn’t afford to support my lifestyle.  I couldn’t ask my other sisters for help because they had their own lives. 

Three packers arrived two hours later, and I brought them to Akila’s room.  As they quickly readied and brought her belongings down the stairs, a hurtful wave of melancholy hit me. I would be spending my last year at FAMU without my best friend. Although she’d been calling me relentlessly since I hung up on her, a part of my refusal to talk to her was because I didn’t want to cry.  I rarely cried anymore.  I used to all the time about my father. And then I toughened up and focused on those who I could count on – myself, my mama, and my sisters. 

While I half-watched Deadpool on cable, Akila screenshot that Quincy did officially sublease with the rental office. She added a long apology text and reassurance that he would be a good roommate.  Akila was more reserved and cautious than I when making decisions so if she believed in Quincy enough for him to move in with me, then I trusted he wasn’t a psycho or a rapist.  I couldn’t legit make him move, and I couldn’t afford it even if he did, so I conceded that if we stayed out of each other’s way, I could make it.  

            I picked up my cell and searched through Instagram and Snapchat to find out more about Quincy Jackson. I knew of him because Akila used to stalk the band and had told me excitedly that he went to her high school when he’d first made drum major.  She and I’d seen him a few times on the set, the open section of campus where the students would hang out, people watch, and flirt.  Impromptu step shows or the latest Greek line of new recruits would make their debut on the set.

Although he and I’d only greeted each other briefly, while she would strike up a conversation with him about home, I’d always thought he was handsome.  Quincy was usually talking to some girl whenever I did see him around campus.  I wasn’t into status and had no desire to fight over him with the females who were.  From what I could tell he was popular and probably a fuck boy. He was more on IG than Snapchat and had an impressive thirty-three thousand followers.  I thought I’d had done well with my twelve hundred just taking pretty and sexy selfies and pics of hanging out with my friends.  

Most of his pics were selfies of himself, friends, the band, and playing his trumpet, then there were some of him posing with various women.  Quincy didn’t appear to have a girlfriend though I saw a selfie of him and Cinnamon hugging. No one woman appeared more than a couple of times and there were never captions.  I stopped at a pic of him kissing the cheek of a beautiful  older woman who did have a caption.

 The love of my life on her most special day.

When I made the pic bigger I could see the resemblance and it was posted May tenth.  He loves his mother, which is a plus.  He obvi dated around but he didn’t appear the wild party boy that he looked around campus or standing outside my door.  I didn’t see racy photos of women or even evidence of wildness.  Then again, maybe Quincy understood like I did that these photos were forever and hid his raunchiness.  I could only imagine the DMs he received, because the man had a face, nice hair, and a bod.  I swiped until I got to a pic of him shirtless, playing basketball, showing off his ripped abs and his shoulder sleeve that got almost three thousand likes.  That body.  I touched it to make the picture bigger, and the heart became red. I quickly un-liked it. Shit. Fuck. I prayed hard that he didn’t see my like and then would know that I went through his posts because the shirtless pic was a year ago.  I tossed my phone next to me.  Officially done with cyberstalking Quincy Jackson. At least for now.

            I’d resumed mindless TV watching and eating take-out calzone, when I heard his deep voice and the jingle of keys. I quickly and quietly as I could rushed up the stairs. Belatedly I realized I didn’t turn off the flat screen or bring my food and there was no way I would go back down now.  I wasn’t ready to deal with Quincy and his friends.  I remained in my room the rest of the night, listening as he and a couple of male voices and Cinnamon’s as they moved his things into the townhome.

***** 

The next morning, I woke up early and I listened for Quincy in the bedroom across the hall.  We needed to establish rules. When noon hit and he still hadn’t left his room, I took upon myself to knock on his door.  I wanted to hit the mall before it closed and stop by Brent’s, a guy I’d been seeing.

“What?” Quincy asked rather brusquely from the other side of the door.

“Look, I need to leave soon, and I wanted to establish the rules with you. I can’t wait any longer for you to wake up.”

I heard him sigh loudly and then his footsteps.  His eyes were barely open and thankfully, he wore a tank and sweats. He kept the door partially closed. “Rules?”

“Yes, rules. We’re a man and a woman living together. And we need to have rules for this to work.”

Quincy wiped his eyes and stifled a yawn. “Easy. I do my thing. You do yours. We don’t even have to talk except to discuss bills.”

I tapped my foot. “My point exactly. I’m not going to be responsible for paying all the bills.”

“Leave me a note of the bills I’m responsible for on the refrigerator and I’ll pay them or my half.”

“Q, come back to bed.” I saw a glimpse of red hair under his black comforter.

I pointed toward his room. “She’s why we need to talk. You do remember that she was trying to kick in my door?”

He smirked. “Jealous?”

I glared. “Meet me downstairs and don’t bring her.”

I put my purse down on the table and took a bottle of water out of the frig, now full of his food and mine.  My dinner that I’d left on the coffee table had been placed in the frig and my flat screen had been turned off at some point.

I flopped down in the dining chair, still trying to wrap around in my mind, that I would be living with a man.  Quincy soon came down the stairs and slouched in the chair across from me.  He folded his arms, expectantly.

“First of all, Akila just told me about you a few minutes before you showed up. Not only did I not know she wasn’t coming back, but I also didn’t know I would be living with a man and then I didn’t know it would be you. The moment I found out all these things, your ‘red hot’ was banging on my door. Yesterday was a total shock for me.”

“That sucks.” His arms and face relaxed.

“It does.”

“Apology accepted then.”

I frowned. “Excuse me? What would I be apologizing for?”

Quincy straightened up in his chair. “You were mean and slammed the door in my face.”

“Your crazy ass woman tried to kick the shit out of my door and accused me of lying when I told her I didn’t know you.”

“I got her to stop and she’s not my woman.”

I said dismissively, “I care.”

“Well, you didn’t have to start shit with her, telling lies about how I have other women.”

I almost spit out the sip of water I took. “Boy, bye. You probably have a different woman coming over tonight.”

Quincy’s eye grew bigger and placed his hand over my mouth. “Shh…why you have to be so loud?”

I quirked a brow as I firmly removed his hand. “I rest my case.”

He resumed folding his sinewy arms. “Continue.”

“I never had nor wanted to live with a male roommate. But apparently, I have no choice. We have nine months living together until I graduate in the spring. This is an important year for me, and I don’t need unnecessary stress.”

He nodded. “I graduate in the spring too.”

“Then we’re starting on the right page.”

“Your point?”

“First, neither one of us should ever leave out of the room without being fully dressed. We both have bathrooms in our rooms, so there’s never a need to walk out of them without clothes.”  Although I had the master bedroom and the bathroom with the garden tub, both rooms were large and had nice full baths.

He leaned forward and grinned. “Scared my body will get you hot.”

I snapped back, “No… more worried that you can’t resist mine. I saw how you checked me out yesterday.”

Quincy shrugged. “You got a tight bod. What else?”

I resisted the urge to smile at his offhand compliment. “Your food is yours and mine is mine. I buy particular items for myself and I don’t have time to keep shopping because you keep imbibing.”

He chuckled. “Imbibing? Love your vocabulary. I actually like to buy organic myself and wouldn’t want your grubby hands on my stuff either.”

I moved my hands off the table self-consciously. Maybe one of my stops today should be the nail shop.  “Grubby? Really? You don’t have to insult.”

“Nor do you have to insult me. A simple understanding that we don’t share food is sufficient.” Quincy began drumming the table with his hands. “What else?”

“You need to ask me before you throw a party or invite friends over since most of the furniture is mine.”

“Ask who? I’m a grown-ass man.”

“This is my home.”

He stopped drumming and raised an eyebrow.  “It’s both our home.  Akila was dead wrong to not tell you about me and understandably got you all up in your feelings, but I’m not about to do this with you. If you want me to let you know when I’m having friends over to make sure it doesn’t conflict when you have guests, then I can do that, but ask is out of the question.  If you don’t want me or my friends to use your furniture, I can get mine out of storage and we can decide right now which pieces you want to keep here, and which one goes. I’ll even be generous, help you move your things, and let you use my storage for free. But I’ll not live like it’s not my home too because you’re a control freak.”

I hissed, “I’m not a fucking control freak. I just met you yesterday and I don’t know how you roll.”

He snorted. “How I roll?”     

I waved my hands. “You know what I mean… how you do things.  So, I need to make certain things clear.  You will not have people in and out of here all times of the night. I’m a nursing major and applying for graduate schools. I need peace in my home.”

Quincy pushed back his chair and stood. “I’m out.”

I looked up at him. “What? We’re not done.”

He looked down at me. “Until you learn how to speak to me like I’m a man who’ll pay half of everything in this bitch, I have nothing to say. We can communicate through text or notes.  Tell me which bills you need me to pay and when.  If you don’t want me to use your furniture, leave me a note on which furniture you plan to keep or put in storage. Otherwise, I and my friends will take good care of whatever is in the shared area. Feel free to use anything of mine.  Unlike you, I don’t mind sharing.”

“That went well,” I grumbled, listening to his angry steps up the stairs and the slamming of his door.

*****

“I don’t know if I can do this.” I sipped on the peach margarita that Nikki had just made for me.  I’d been stopping by her and Kim’s place every night after work, avoiding home.  Tension had been thick between Quincy and I and we hadn’t spoken.  We would either text each other or leave notes in the kitchen for each other only when necessary.  “We don’t even talk to each other.”

Nikki giggled. “Give that sexy ass man some and he’ll be putty in your hands. You’re making it difficult. Making up all these rules. Just go back home and lay it on him and I promise you won’t have any more problems.”

“Except for his groupies. There are always people every time I come home, in the living area and in the dining room all laughing and wanting Quincy’s attention.  And there’s always some girl or a few trying to sit up under him or sleep with him. I’m not trying to join that group.”

“Well, if you really don’t want him, let me take a shot at him.” Nikki had a mischievous gleam in her eyes. She’d already had plastic surgery for a bigger ass and made sure she wore clothes that accentuated it. She kept her naturally long hair bone straight and she tended to wear colors that complimented her dark brown skin. Nikki currently dated a basketball player that seemed destined for the NBA but always kept her options open.

“Why? Quincy is like slumming for you.” Nikki and Kim, her roommate, who was on a date with an FSU football player, were unapologetically gold diggers. They only wanted men with money and for the most part, got them.

“Girl, then you don’t know him. He’s a budding producer and he’s already written and produced a couple of hit songs for some local artists in Miami and Atlanta. You got the next Pharrell living with you and you’re in here with me complaining instead of being there with him.” She wrapped her long pink manicured nails around the stem of her glass. “If you don’t plan to hit that, then I will. The way that man moves on the field, I’m sure translates very well for the bedroom.”

I wanted to tell her to go for it, but my mouth wouldn’t give her permission. I didn’t like the idea of Nikki being with Quincy and I blocked the idea that it could be out of jealousy.  “If he all that, then why is he living with me? He could afford to live on his own.”

“Who knows? He might have been doing Akila a favor because she was desperate. Or he spends too much. He does have that badass Mustang and he dresses nice when he’s not in a fucking band uniform.”

I admitted, “He does dress well and I’m dying to ride in his car.”

“Then why are you tripping? You don’t want any attachments and I doubt he wants any. You got available dick a few feet away.  And the fact that you haven’t given me permission to fuck him, I’m assuming you want to.”

“That’s not going to happen. Too many complications…but I’m telling you now he’s off limits to you and Kim. The last thing I need is drama between my roommate and friends.”

Nikki sipped her margarita with a knowing smile. “You didn’t say you didn’t want to fuck him.”

“Shit. Shit. Shit.” I hit my thigh in frustration. “Of course, I want to try him out, but you know I like to sex them and go. I can’t leave if he’s in the next room and I damn sure don’t want to hear him fuck someone else after we just finished. He’s off-limits to me too.”  

Nikki only laughed before speaking again, “You’re not going to make it to homecoming. You ever see him without his shirt and it’s so on. I know how weak you are for a man’s chest.”

I indeed had a weakness for a man’s chest.  He could be alright in the face but if the chest was tight, he could hit it. “That’s why I told him he has to be completely dressed before leaving his room – which he has done by the way. I’m not trying to torture myself.”

“Okay. Let’s see how long you last.” She sipped with a knowing smile.

Chapter 3

I was shaking off the remnants of sleep when I heard a knock on my door. “What?”

“Autumn, my nozzle in the tub is not working.  I need to take a shower in your bathroom,” Quincy announced.

“Just wash up, Quincy and call the office to fix it.” I turned over in my bed, trying to get at least fifteen more minutes.

“I can’t just wash up. I’ve been to practice, and I have a meeting with the President of the Alumni Association this morning. Come on. I won’t take long.”

I groaned and got out of bed and donned my glasses that I kept on my bookshelf that also served as my bedside table.  I searched for something to cover my scantily clad body because I usually only slept in panties, and all I could find was my long sweater that I bring to work because it’s always freezing. I threw it on and flung open the door.

Quincy stood there sweaty, wearing a gray t-shirt and long black shorts with a towel thrown around his neck.  He smirked.  “You sleep in a sweater? Nice panties.” He walked past me and headed to my bathroom.

I looked down in shock and realized I didn’t button my sweater and he could see my baby blue lace panties.  I closed my sweater tight. “Don’t take all day. I have to get ready too.”

He said over his shoulder, “I won’t. Give me a few minutes and I’ll be out.”

The moment he closed the door, I ran to my floor-length mirror to make sure I didn’t look a hot mess. I had to make sure I didn’t have crust in the corner of my brown eyes. I rapidly buttoned the sweater, threw off my scarf, and unwrapped my thick, brown past my shoulder-length hair. I didn’t stop to question why my appearance mattered.

“Autumn.” I looked through the reflection of my mirror at Quincy who now had the towel loosely wrapped around his waist, standing in the opened bathroom door, holding my Bath and Body Works. “I’m sorry but I forgot to buy soap. Do you have anything besides this fruity shower gel?”

I snapped. “I am not the store.”

He put his hand up. “Okay, I’ll smell like a girl all day.”

“Alright…alright.” I kept my gaze downcast not wanting to stare at the black panther tat across his right pec that wasn’t on his shirtless pic a year ago or his well-defined V that led to his large dick print that the towel barely hid, and moved past him to go underneath my sink. I bent over to find an unopened bar of unscented Dove soap and placed it on the counter firmly and looked at him through the mirror. “Happy?”

Quincy grinned broadly, his eyes not yet back at my face, obviously enjoying the glimpse of my ass. “Very.”    

I squeezed past him, glowering, careful not to touch any of his glistening skin.  “You have five minutes.”

I scrambled through my drawers to grab and don a bra, a t-shirt, and shorts not taking a chance that he would see anything else of mine.  I then went to my closet trying to decide what to wear and found myself unable to think clearly with the idea that a naked Quincy was within a few feet of me.  It would be so easy for me to join him in the shower…Shit. I can’t let him get to me.  Fuck. Fuck. He was finer than I realized. When did he have a chance to work out?

“Breathe. He’s just a man,” I whispered while searching through my wardrobe.  Then I thought about it. He was trying to get under my skin, fully aware of his effect on women. Quincy purposely came out of the bathroom, with that towel wrapped low on his waist, knowing exactly what he was doing.  He’s going to come out of that bathroom with the towel still wrapped around him because he didn’t have a robe or change of clothes when he went in there. “Okay, Mr. Jackson, two can play this game.”

I only had two classes today and wasn’t working so I didn’t have to wear my scrubs.  I pulled a long-sleeved, casual brown dress that fit me like a glove, emphasizing my hips, small waist, and B cups.  It stopped right above my knee and zipped up the back and most importantly I’d always needed help when I wore it.  I removed my t-shirt and shorts and waited until I heard him turn off the shower.  I made sure to stand by my closet with my back to him, pulling my dress slowly over my body as he opened the door. 

Quincy spoke from behind me surprisingly, sounding contrite. “Uh, sorry. I didn’t…”

I finished pulling the dress down and turned around to see he only wore the towel as I expected. “It’s fine. I wear bikinis all the time. You seeing me in my bra and panties is no different.” I walked toward him, smiling, and his eyes slightly widened. “I can use your help.  I never wear this dress because I can’t zip it.”

He cleared his throat. “You wearing this to class?”

“Yeah. I don’t have to work today, and I have special plans after class.”  I turned so that my ass practically touched his dick and he moved slightly away from me. “Zip me please.”

Quincy complied moving the zipper slowly up my back before he gently ran his finger against the nape of my neck.  I had to fight hard not to visibly shiver at his sensuous touch.  He complimented softly, “You look good.”

“Thanks.” I moved away from him and saw his reflection in the mirror in front of me, he seemed mesmerized by my hips and the clothes he carried in his hand now covered his groin area. I smiled. Checkmate. I picked up my rose gold glitter Apple Watch and looked back at him. “You need anything else?”

`           He slightly nodded his head before straightening his shoulders, meeting my gaze. “Naw…I’m good. Thanks for letting me use your shower.” 

“No problem.” I put the watch on my arm as he moved to the door. “Don’t forget to call maintenance. I have a long day and won’t be home until late tonight. If you’re going to be out too, just leave the alarm on.”

Quincy quipped, “Don’t come home too late.” 

I folded my arms. “What?”

He turned to look at me. “If you can ask me, you heard me,” he remarked sounding like my mother and he closed my door behind him.

“Just for that I may not come home at all tonight,” I said to the now empty room. How dare he tell me what to do.  I flounced to my chair to put on my heels, wondering how long this attraction that just became clear was going to last before one of us gave in?  I swear to God, it wasn’t going to be me.

*****

He moaned loudly in my ear when he came hard. My face was in his firm mattress with my ass up in the air, as he pumped furiously in and out of me, enjoying the last of his orgasm.  I was so close to my own much-needed release, I’d hoped he would stroke long enough for me to come.  Right when I was about to reach my peak, he collapsed on top of me, kissing the side of my face, lovingly.  I moved from under him, disappointed that I didn’t get mine, scooted to the edge, and reached for my panties that he’d tossed on the floor just a few short minutes ago. I pulled them on as I stood and adjusted my dress. I squinted searching around his bedroom for my glasses.

His chest heaved out of exhaustion, eyes barely opened. “Stay the night. It’s late.”

“No, I have to get up early for work and I’m closer to campus than you.”

He reached for my hand and tried to pull me back in the bed and I resisted. “How long are we going to keep doing this? You call me out the blue, we have sex and then you disappear.”

I slipped on one heel. “Brent, I would think this is the perfect situation for you. Sex without commitment.”

He propped himself up on his elbow to watch me finish getting dressed. “Yeah, but it’s on your terms. I call or text you all the time to hook up and you never have time.”

“You remember how it was when you were in school, especially toward the end.”

Brent responded, “I just graduated. Of course, I do. The semester just started, and you make time for what you really want to do.”

“You said it, not me.” I placed my other heel on my foot, picked up the condom wrapper and threw it in the linen wastebasket.  I then spotted my glasses next to my purse. I grabbed them, my purse and cell off his nearby wardrobe chest.  

“What if I want more?” he asked.

“I don’t. You just took a nice-paying state job and I’m leaving after graduation. Let’s keep it as it is.”

Brent sat up, scratching his short-faded hair, his caramel-colored skin, pale in the light from the bedside lamp. “I don’t understand you. I have women who want to be with me.”

I sighed and looked back at him. Brent was handsome with a nice bod and had a good job in the State Treasury Department as an accountant.  We hooked up last spring after I met him at a party. We’d gone on a couple of dates but once we started having sex we usually ended up at each other’s place without the dinner and a movie.  Since Quincy moved in, I hadn’t invited him over. Tonight, was the first time since the fall semester started that I even texted him. Quincy had gotten me all hot and bothered with that stunt he pulled earlier, and I had to do something or someone before I jumped his sexy ass.  “You only want a relationship because I don’t. The minute I’d want one, you’ll run the other way. You like the chase. Because as you said you have woman dying to be your girlfriend and if you really wanted one, you could have one.”

“I only want one woman and it’s you.”

I perused the room. “That’s not true. Some woman left her shoes underneath your bed. There’s an earring that’s not mine on your dresser.  In the bathroom, there’s a pink toothbrush next to your electronic one and a woman’s perfume on the counter. I’m definitely not the only one and I’m okay with that.” Brent scowled at my astuteness.  “See you later and I’ll close the door behind me.”

When I got home it was after one in the morning and I saw Quincy’s black Mustang in front of the townhome.  I hoped like hell, he wasn’t entertaining anyone. I opened the door to a quiet house and breathed a sigh of relief.  I walked to the kitchen to get juice and there was a note on the refrigerator.

I see how you love to eat so I made stir-fried rice with chicken, in case your man didn’t feed you.

                                                                                                -Q

I laughed, took the container out the refrigerator and warmed up the food in the microwave, thinking that I did feel much warmer and safer since Quincy moved in.

Chapter 4

Bam. Bam. I shot up out of a dreamless sleep.  I searched the room, heart beating fast wondering what just happened. Then I heard it again. It was my door. “Quincy, I’m tired. Go away.”

“Hey,…something’s wrong with Quincy. You’re a nursing major right?” The female’s voice asked.

I could hear the alarm in her voice.  I jumped up, not caring that all I wore was a PINK t-shirt that barely covered my ass. I opened the door to a woman wearing a tight tank top and short shorts with a bad long weave. “Where is he?”

“Downstairs…on the sofa.” She rushed ahead of me.

I heard other voices once I hit the stairs, now thinking I wished I’d grabbed shorts.  When I got to the bottom of the stairs, I pulled my shirt down as long as it could go which was mid-thigh.  One of the guys, who I’d seen a few times in the month we’d been living together, and another woman dressed like the one who knocked on my door, were standing around the sofa, staring down at Quincy.  He was stretched out on the sofa, a Sprite, Coke, beer bottles, a couple of glasses, and a half-empty Jack Daniels sat on the coffee table.

“He probably had too much to drink,” I reasoned.

The guy who I assumed was a close friend responded, “He doesn’t drink. The Sprite is his.”

I looked down at Quincy, surprised at that fact. I assumed he was a party boy through and through. There were always people here when I came home.  He seemed to always be on the go and coming in late, usually with a woman.  I knelt to take his pulse. It was elevated and beads of sweat had formed on his forehead, which was cool to touch.  I picked up his hand and whispered in his ear, “Can you hear me? Squeeze my hand.”

He opened his bloodshot eyes slowly and smiled weakly. “Hey…did you poison my food?”

His mention of food triggered a thought. “Quincy… what did you eat today?”

“You did poison my food.” He closed his eyes with a faint smile.  We were more cordial since he left me dinner, but we still maintained distance between us and only spoke in greeting or passing.

I tapped his cheek gently, noticing that his skin seemed dry. “Stay with me or I’ll need to call an ambulance.”

Quincy attempted to sit up and fell back down tossing his forearm over his head. “I’m good, baby.” He called me that endearment as if it was the most natural thing to do, which made my heart flutter for a second.

“No, you’re not. You probably didn’t eat and drink enough and you were in the hot sun at band practice for hours.” I stood up, tugging my shirt down again, and looked at his friend. “Lo, right?”

Lo answered, “Yeah.”

“He’s going to be fine. You all go home now, and I’ll make sure he calls or texts you in the morning.”

Lo began wringing his hands. “You think he’s going to make it to practice? We need him.”

“I’m going to get some fluids in him, and he needs to rest. I’m not sure if he’ll be fine by morning, but if you leave now, he might be able to make it in the morning.”

The woman, who originally banged on my door, put her hands on her hips. “I’m staying with him.”

“No. You’re not. This is my place and since he can’t speak for himself, I’m asking everyone to leave. He needs to rest.” I looked her up and down and didn’t trust she wouldn’t take advantage of the fact that he wasn’t quite himself. “I doubt you’ll let him get it.”

“Look, he don’t like you anyway.” Before she could finish, Lo jerked her arm pulling her away from me. “Get your hands off me.”

“Twan, stop,” the other woman finally spoke. “She’s right, Q needs to rest. He must be up in the morning. We need him healthy for homecoming.”

Twan pouted, folded her arms, and stomped to the door.

I looked at Lo. “Could you help me get him in bed? He’s too long for this sofa and he won’t be comfortable.”

Lo was shorter than Quincy but brawnier. He pulled him up easily and I got on one side of him.  Quincy had enough energy to walk up the stairs with our assistance.  He smiled lazily at me once we made it to his bed and sat looking up at me. “I’m fine, I promise.”

“I’m getting you some water and something to eat and then you need to go to sleep.” I turned around and walked out with Lo.

Lo smiled down at me. “You’re going to be a nurse, right?”

“Yeah.”

He said near my ear, “You can take care of me anytime.”

I waved him away. “Dude, your friend is sick, and you look like you’re on a date.”

The women were still waiting downstairs by the door. I made it to the bottom. “I promise to remind him to call one of you when he wakes up in the morning.”

Lo passed me and headed to the door, taking the hand of his date while Twan rolled her eyes at me as they stepped out of the townhome. 

When I came back in his room with some grapes, chicken broth, and water on a tray, he had moved to lean his back against his black headboard. He’d taken his sweatshirt and pants off and his lower body was under the comforter. I had trouble pulling my eyes away from the panther tatted across his well-defined right pec. He yawned and looked slightly startled to see me when his eyes opened. “Sorry. I tried to stay awake.”

“It’s cool.” I set the tray down on his bed. “Here, this should help. You need to eat and drink plenty of fluid or the next time it’s an IV in your arm.”

He rubbed his head, making his abs flex and the comforter barely covered his bottom where his boxers hung low on his hip.  “Yeah, I had a crazy day. I felt lightheaded and thought a sandwich was enough.”

The broth sloshed on the side of the bowl from his trembling hands. I took the spoon from his hand and sat on the edge of the bed. “Open, boy. You must eat it all. At the rate you’re going, it’ll be cold.”

He complied without comment and he watched me as I fed him until the bowl was empty. “Good job.”

“I’m sick not five.” Quincy sighed when he finished and took a gulp of water.  I put the tray on the bedside table and stood. His eyes were closed again though his breathing was even.  “Can you stay with me?”

“Umm…”

“I won’t try anything. I’m not interested and I’m too weak.”

            “Then why?”

            He opened his eyes to meet mine and demanded gently, “Please. Just until I fall asleep to make sure I’m still breathing.”

            I looked away from the intensity in his gaze and came around the bed. Before I got in, I grabbed some of his pillows and placed them in between us. He chuckled. “You feel safe now?”

            I smiled. “Yep. You might confuse me with one of your THOTs in the middle of the night.”

            Quincy peeked over the pillows. “Thank you for saving me.”

            I turned on my side to talk to him. “I didn’t really save you. You just need to take better care of yourself.”

            “I meant for saving me from Twan. I’d been trying to avoid her since last year. She came over here with her friend who’s messing with Lo. I wanted to do a backflip when you told them to leave, but I was too weak.”

            I giggled. “Well, you really owe me, because homegirl wanted to take care of you tonight.  I peeped her ill intentions, and no one was going to take advantage of my roommate on my watch.”

            “You’re actually claiming me?” His smile was big though I could see the sleepiness in his expression.

            “Yeah, yeah. I figure I might as well get used to you.” I fluffed my pillow and propped myself up on my elbow. It was strangely comforting to be next to him like this. Maybe this year wouldn’t be so bad. “All I ask is if you can cut down the parties to Thursday to Saturday instead of every night?”

“I can do that.” He turned on his side, pushing one of the pillows down to see my face better. “You should come home with me this weekend.”

“Come home with you?”

“I meant ride home with me. I could use the company and you can visit Akila.” He yawned and his eyes still seemed weak. “Think about it. You don’t need to pay for anything. I got you.”

“Let me talk to Akila and make sure it’s okay. In the meantime, you need to sleep. What time you need to be at practice.

“For six.”

“That’s only a few hours for now. I’ll wake you up for five-thirty.”

He closed his eyes and hugged a pillow in front of him drawing attention to his sinewy forearms that I wanted to touch. “Thanks, roomie.”

I softly said, “Yeah.”

A few moments later, sleep caught up with him. He really was a handsome man with oh so kissable lips that were slightly pouty surrounded by a goatee.  He had an athletic build and if it wasn’t for his muscles that seemed to flex without much provocation, he would probably be considered lean.  And his hair. He had the softest, curliest hair on a man I had ever seen.  Quincy usually wore it braided but now it was loose and coiled at the top of his head, faded on the sides.  I’d always like men who were clean-cut and never liked a lot of hair on a man except for his mustache and beard. But his hair fits him and made him almost exotic in appearance. I turned on my back and studied his ceiling.  Quincy was in a deep sleep and I could hear his even breathing. He would be fine, and I could return to my bed. Except I didn’t want to. I couldn’t shake the inkling of hurt when he said that he wasn’t interested in me and why it bothered me so much.  

*****

I’d ended up falling asleep in his bed.  I woke up at five-thirty when his alarm went off and looked next to me.  Quincy slept deeply on his stomach, snoring softly.  I didn’t want to wake him.  He needed to rest if he couldn’t hear his loud ass alarm blasting Chris Brown’s/Drake’s No Guidance.  I showered and prepared for the day.  I made coffee and placed a cup on the table for him and made him a Ziploc bag of some of my grapes and a water bottle.  A little after seven I heard him stomping around and cursing.  He came bounding down the stairs, dressed in jeans and a band t-shirt. He stopped in his tracks when he saw me calmly sitting at the table.

“Why didn’t you wake me?” He asked angrily.

“Good morning to you too.”  

“Shit, Autumn. You said you would wake me. I can’t be late for practice, ever and by the time I get there I would’ve missed it.” He grabbed the top of the dining table glaring at me.

“Quincy, you were clearly exhausted. Your phone went off loudly and I woke up

immediately and you were still snoring.”

He protested, “I don’t snore.”

“Yes, you do. And if you don’t, then that just means you really were drained. I bet right now you still feel a little lightheaded.”

“It doesn’t fucking matter to Dr. Kendricks. He’ll make me sit out a game.”

            “He’s not going to make his head drum major miss a game for one absence at practice.”

“You’re right, he’ll just have me back in my old position as the trumpet section leader for one game or let another drum major lead.”

I tapped the paper I placed next to his cup. “Just use this.”

He picked it up, read it, and left it on the table. “This won’t do shit.”

Quincy’s dismissive tone stung, and I slammed my cup down. “I had to beg Maria, the nursing student on duty to email me an excuse from the clinic first thing this morning. This is the last time I do anything for you.”       

I grabbed my book bag on the chair next to me and stormed out the door before he could utter another word.

When I returned home that night, he sat sprawled on the sofa alone flipping through the channels and looked at me silently.  I didn’t acknowledge him as I headed up the stairs. Still pissed from his ungratefulness of this morning. I reached the top of the stairs and I saw one red rose in a thin crystal vase and a card with his poor handwriting. I picked up the vase and card and it read:

Forgive me.

I held the note to my heart and went in my room.

****Finish reading Autumn and Quincy’s story on October 18 when Autumn Falls is released on Amazon****


Available on Friday, June 21 on Amazon!

Now Available in e-book and paperback soon on Amazon!

Chapter 1 Meet Cute

It all began when I tried to be cute.

I had worn my black and red converse with blue jeans and red t-shirt, to travel to New Orleans for Essence Festival. I would be meeting my best friend Zena, and my cousin, Carrie at the Roosevelt Hotel. Zena had traveled from L.A. where she moved two years ago. Carrie and I traveled from New York separately because she had a work trip first. They waited for me in the hotel lobby since the reservation was in my name. We screamed when we saw each other, scaring some of the guests. We were so lit about this weekend because this was our first time in New Orleans and our first girls’ trip. I also hadn’t seen my best friend since she moved away. And though we both lived in New York, I resided in Harlem whereas Carrie was in Brooklyn, which meant we rarely saw each other.

“You look diva,” I complimented Zena, a light brown beauty, who currently rocked a luscious, brown weave with blonde streaks down her back.  I loved her sparkly pink leggings, white tank, and heels.  She had body for days that she usually displayed.

“Where are you going with those tennis shoes? We’re in sexy New Orleans for Essence weekend and you need to step up you’re ‘A’ game. How are you ever going to meet a man?” Carrie, my cousin chimed in, who always looked fierce. She was in the corporate world, made big money, and always chic. Her dark hair, perfectly styled in a pixie cut, complemented her light skin. She appeared ready for fun adorned in a flirty sundress, heels, and shades.

I sighed my cousin was always trying to find me a man. She had been happily married for what seemed like forever and had been determined to find me a husband for about that long. “Once I get settled in my room, I’ll change.”

“No, now. Look around you. This is the Roosevelt where plenty of celebrities stay. We are in the hub of everything fab.”

I did and there were fab, beautiful people everywhere. I looked at Zena, single like myself.

She half-smiled. “It can’t hurt. We are on vacay and you don’t know who you’ll meet.”

“Seriously? Right now?” They both nodded. “Fine. Just stand in line while I do it, so we don’t lose our place.” A group of women all styled with strappy heels or flat sparkly sandals got in line behind us.  My strappy red sandals would look sexier.

I couldn’t find anywhere to sit in the crowded lobby. I surveyed the elegant area and hurried to a corner pulling my rolling suitcase. I stooped to open my suitcase and retrieve my shoes. I leaned on the wall and quickly took off my Converse and socks.  I thought I accomplished a good balancing act until I couldn’t buckle the sandal and fell forward.  As I went down fast, my life flashed before my eyes.  I suddenly felt strong hands on my arms as my cheek smacked against something hard.

“Hey. I got you,” his deep rich timbre voice quietly said.

I glanced into the owner of the voice’s handsome face from my awkward position against his chest. “Damn.”

He frowned. “Excuse me?”

I quickly straightened up and immediately tripped again because I still hadn’t put on my other shoe.

“Whoa.” He caught me again with a smile. Two deep dimples appeared in his cheeks. His lips were within an inch of mine. He noticed that I couldn’t tear my eyes away from his mouth because he bit his lip and cleared his throat. “We have to stop meeting like this.”

Embarrassed I looked away and then back at him. “Yeah. I mean didn’t I just see you?” I played along, anything to keep him in my space longer.

He laughed. “Just hold on to me and finish putting on your shoes.”

I used his muscular shoulder to put on my remaining heel. “Thank you.”

“No problem.” He gestured toward my feet.  “Sexy shoes by the way. Are you staying at the hotel?” I can’t believe Carrie was right, did shoes really have that impact?

“I am.” I tried to contain my grin, thinking he would be asking for my name and number next. It had been a long time since I met someone that made my heart skip a beat.

“Okay.” He tilted his head. “Then mind if I ask you a question?”

I smiled flirtatiously. “Sure. After all you saved me.”

“Why are you changing your shoes in the lobby if you’re staying in the hotel?”

So, I can meet someone like you. I thought to myself. 

Before I could respond, Zena yelled from the line, “Jas we’re next.”

“Give me a sec,” I said slightly frustrated that I might have to leave this oh so handsome man without getting a number.

He grinned. “Jazz? Like the music? That is so cool.”

“Huh?” I couldn’t believe that was the only word coming out of my mouth. His good looks were unnerving.

“This is New Orleans, city of Jazz. I thought maybe you’re from here or something.”

We stood close to one another and the chemistry between us popped. He was a tall, brown- skinned man, and his defined muscles were visible in his green Polo t-shirt and long khaki shorts.  The sexy stranger had a faded haircut, trimmed mustache and goatee surrounding full lips.  I’m not going to even think about how good he smelled when he held me in his arms.

“Oh. Got ya but it’s ‘Jas’ like short for Jasmine.”

“Like the flower.” He touched my cheek softly. “Beautiful.”

Completely mesmerized, I stopped inhaling.

“Jas. Come on. Stop flirting and get us checked in. Tell him you’ll be right back.” Zena grabbed my arm to pull me away until she looked at my stranger. “Um, aren’t you Montana Keyes?”

“Yeah.” He continued to smile at me though he answered my friend.

That’s who he was? The NBA star of New York Knicks. I studied his face for familiarity this time. Yes. It was him. That means he lived in New York like me. Crazy. Small world. “We’re from New York, too.”

“Really?” He grinned at me. “What part?”

“Harlem.”

“Small world. I live there, too.” I couldn’t believe he expressed what I just thought.

“You had a good season. Mind if I borrow her for just a minute? I just need her to check us in.” Zena winked as she tugged on my arm.

“Thanks… about the season.” He finally dragged his eyes away from me to address Zena.

She took my hand and pulled me toward the check-in desk. “She’ll be right back. I promise.”

He chuckled. “Okay. See you, Jas ‘like the flower’.”

I was in a daze. What just happened? Did I really luck up within an hour of arriving to New Orleans and meet a single, fine, rich basketball player? And if I wasn’t mistaken, he seemed just as attracted to me as I was to him.

The friendly front desk staff instructed, “Ma’am I need your ID and credit card.”

Carrie nudged me. “Hey, snap out of it. Just get those digits as soon as you check us in.”

“I don’t blame her. Girl, she was talking to Montana Keyes and check this out, he was so into her. He couldn’t take his eyes off her.”

“What? Where?” Carrie looked around like a crazy woman. She was a huge New York Knicks fan and usually forced me to come with her to the games. Her husband was one of those men who preferred seeing the action on his sofa than in any arena.

“He is right there. Calm down, ‘Crazy woman’, he can’t know we’re talking about him. He is behind me to the left by the bar area.” I nudged her.

This time Carrie pretended to be reaching for something in her purse that was attached to her suitcase. “I don’t see him. Where?”

Zena shook her head before taking a quick peek. “You look stupid…he’s not there.”

I turned my head searching the lobby for him. “Wait. Where is he?”

“Ma’am. I need your info, please. There is a line.” The front desk staff had a slight edge of irritation beneath the friendly demeanor.

“Ok, sorry.” I pulled out my wallet and gave her my info before I searched the busy lobby area again. I didn’t see him at all. He was too distinct to not be noticed and an unexpected sadness came over me.

Zena patted my back in sympathy. “He’s probably staying in the hotel. We’re bound to see him again. It’s Thursday and we’re here until Monday morning.”

I hoped so, but with my luck in men, I refused to hold my breath.

*****

Once we got to the quaint decorated room, I dropped my suitcase and dived onto the bed nearest the window. We had two queen-sized beds with one large flat screen on the dresser. “This one is mine.”

“How come you get the bed to yourself?” Zena asked as she placed her bag on the other bed and began to unpack.

“Duh, I put the room on my credit card and still waiting for my money.” I laid flat on the bed as I watched Carrie sanitize the room and clean the bathroom. She hated hotel rooms because she believed it was too many germs. I agreed but still loved hotel stays.

“What do you want to do first?” Carrie asked. “Eat, go walk down Bourbon, shop, what?”

“I know what Jas wants to do.” Zena hung up a sexy black dress next to her strapless red dress. Apparently, I was the only one who didn’t think it made sense to clean or hang up clothes as if I lived here. I didn’t like doing that at home, let alone while on vacation. “Just don’t disappear on us whenever you hook up with Montana.”

I couldn’t help my smile at the thought. “I’m not going to hook up with Montana. Do you know how many women who are here this weekend whose sole purpose is to hook men like Montana? And I’m not the aggressive type. You see he didn’t wait for me.”

“Well, maybe he had to catch up with his friends,” Carrie said from the bathroom. “With a man like that, you better learn to be aggressive. Look at it like this, you might have been the first woman he saw this weekend, which means you’re going to stay on his mind.”

I added, “Until the next woman who wouldn’t have left without making sure he could get in touch with her.”

“True. Sorry, Jas. I was just anxious that we were holding up the line.” Zena laughed. “Carrie is right, you got to loosen up and be bold. Trust, I would know what to do with that fine ass man.”

I pulled pillow over my head. “Ugh. Don’t I know it. You make me sick.” Why am I so hopeless when it comes to men? It was a running joke that I never could tell when a man flirted with me. I had the worst game, which probably explained why I had been single for most of my twenty-eight years on this Earth. Could I help it I wasn’t into playing those love games almost everyone I knew played? “How am I going to learn to be aggressive in a few hours?”

Zena plopped down next to me. “Don’t know sis, but let’s hope you made a good impression on him that you won’t have to worry about that.”

I sat up and leaned against the headboard. “You think I left any impression?”

Carrie came back into the room and threw away the gloves she had been wearing to clean. “Tell me deets because I wasn’t there. How did he look in person?”

Zena sang, “Delicious. I thought he was fine when I spotted her talking to a dude but when I looked into his face with that crazy pretty smile of his, I almost forgot the reason I went to get her.”

“I hate I missed him. I absolutely love him. He’s the best thing on the Knicks.” Carrie sat on the bed opposite from us. “How did you meet him? Did you speak first?”

“Hello? When do I ever approach a man first, especially one who looks like him? I didn’t even know who he was until Zena recognized him.” I pulled my legs up to hug them.

“Hold the fuck up. You didn’t know who you were talking to? Give me your New York card because you aren’t from there. How could you not recognize the hottest and biggest star on your home team?” Zena popped my leg.

“Ouch! Quit it.” I rubbed my leg. Zena was always heavy-handed. “You know I’m not a sports fan.”

“But you have gone to a few games with me.” Carrie added, “Then again, you never wear your glasses.”

“I don’t.” I rarely wore my glasses because I only needed them for distance.

“Do you have your contacts because you’re not wearing those dorky looking glasses while you are with me?” Carrie asked.

“Yes, Mama. I’m wearing them now. Now, can I finish my story?” After a silence of consent, I continued. “I tripped trying to put on my shoes and he caught me.”

“Wow! Jas, a real live ‘meet cute’. Got to be fate.” Carrie clapped happily. “Aren’t you glad you listened to us about changing shoes?”

“Only if I see him again and he actually wants to see me. Otherwise it was an awkward embarrassing moment, especially when he asked why I would change my shoes in the lobby if I had a room.”

“Whateva…Like I already said, he couldn’t stop staring at you. And I looked like this. He was sprung already,” Zena reminded me, confident in her ability to get attention from the male species.

I leaned my head on my knees. “Then why didn’t he wait to talk to me?”

“Maybe he couldn’t, Jas. Everyone was checking in and trying to get settled for the weekend.” Zena tapped my knees and I flinched. “Whether you run into him again or not, you met fine ass Montana Keyes. This is already the best weekend ever. We haven’t seen each other in almost two years, and we have nothing but fun times ahead. There is plenty of eye candy left so wipe that long face and let’s go get something to eat.”

Carrie jumped up and clapped her hands once. “I’m so hungry. I want a shrimp Po-boy and fries.”

“What? ‘Mrs. Weight Watchers’ is eating whatever she wants?” I climbed out of the bed, determined to shake the blues that somehow, I lost out on something that was special. Zena was right this weekend wasn’t about men, it was about us and having fun.

“Don’t worry, I plan to throw up and use laxatives later,” Carrie said as she went back into the bathroom.

“She serious?” Zena whispered.

“We better keep an eye on her.” I shrugged my shoulders. Who knew with my cousin who always strove for the impossible – perfection? And maybe that’s why I felt like it would be impossible to see him again because Montana Keyes was pretty damn perfect.

Chapter 2: It must be meant

We ate in the Riverwalk, which an outlet mall not far from our hotel.  We were all happy with all the restaurant choices in the food court.  We didn’t want to go too far to eat because there was an outdoor concert later tonight.  When we got back to our room to get ready for the concert, I made sure I placed my ear to the door to make sure Carrie didn’t throw up. She splurged on strawberry daiquiri, shrimp po boy, and fries.  She usually is a vegan so this whole new eating style was different for me and Zena.  I was happy to report to Zena that my cousin didn’t regurgitate all that good food.

Since we were going to an outdoor concert, I realized I needed to step up my shoe game while still being comfortable. To that end, I bought silver short-heeled sandals at one of the shops in the Riverwalk to wear with fitted pale pink capris and a cold shoulder pale sequin blue top.  Carrie wore dark short shorts with flowy blouse to display her killer legs that she earned through her daily two-mile runs. Zena turned it up with a white strapless dress and gold gladiator sandals. We did look hot as a trio. I had lost twenty pounds for this vacation and was determined to keep it off. I chose to have a kid’s meal at the food court, so I could still have the fries. I tended to run on the thick side unlike my cousin and best friend, so had to always watch my weight.

“You look really good, Jas. When I saw you in the lobby today, I almost cried.” Zena watched me in the bathroom mirror as I finished putting on my lipstick.

“What? No, I need to change tops, bottoms, add a chain, wear a dress, put more eyeliner on.” I didn’t want to cry and mess up my makeup, so I refused to acknowledge how she felt when she first saw me. She had been my best friend since we were in the seventh grade and it hurt my heart when she moved away two years ago for a fiancé that ended up with someone else. Though heart-broken, Zena had fallen in love with Los Angeles and decided to make a life as a speech therapist out there.

“Actually, you do need more mascara. You have the best eyelashes but don’t flaunt them,” Carrie said as she fished in her Tory Burch purse for her mascara to give me. Carrie was only a year older than me but swore she was ten years older. She and her husband were investors and doing well in New York while I worked part-time as a paralegal to put myself through law school. 

“I knew it. You two are never satisfied,” I complained jokingly as I put on more mascara.  I really didn’t mind their criticism done out of love.  I was more of the earthy type. I wore my hair natural and right now it was flat twisted in front and wild curls in back. I had thick and long hair mainly because I kept chemicals out of it. Zena and Carrie had tried for a long time to get me to convert back to the ‘creamy crack’, but I was not having it. I would wear a blow out or a weave on occasion to change up my look. I wasn’t the most fashion savvy and because my third year of law school would begin in the fall, I didn’t have time to devote to my looks. So whatever fashion advice my friend and cousin gave, I usually heeded.

We were having an amazing time at the outdoor concert next to the Superdome. It was a beautiful summer night, replete with an unexpected cool breeze, after such a hot and humid day. Sza could really blow and she had a good DJ that got the audience who didn’t know her songs hype.  Big Freedia was next which was a surprise to us all and he killed it! As I danced to his music, I thought I caught a glimpse of Montana through the crowd. I slowed down my twerking to see if he was there or was it my imagination.  I kept moving my head to see him because people were dancing wildly all around us. It was him. He watched this scantily clad woman as she twerked all up against him. He laughed and dapped some men who I assumed were his friends at her moves.  A small crowd of men and women surrounded him snapping pics.  I had completely stopped dancing and practically pushed people who blocked my view.  Luckily, everyone was either high on substances or life to pay attention to my craziness.  I looked back at my friends who were focused on the stage and not me.  I turned back to Montana and the woman now had her arms around his neck and he danced suggestively with her. 

Ugh! Why do men like THOTs?  They both get on my nerves! I had to shake my head at my own silent rant, admittedly angry at myself that I wasn’t the type of woman who would ever be as bold as to dance like that with a man who was a stranger, even a sexy one like him. I was so caught in my own thoughts that I didn’t realize that Montana stared at me as he continued to dance with the woman. He half-smiled in recognition and I darted off in the opposite direction embarrassed he caught me staring.

After my mad dash away in shame, I sat on the edge of a curb, uncaring if I dirtied my pants, waiting for my friends who were still living it up at the concert.  I couldn’t believe I freaked and practically ran. What was I, fifteen at the school dance? At this point, I didn’t want to see him again because he would either ignore me or ask why I ran off like I did. Either way, it would be awkward. When the concert finally ended, I searched the moving crowd until I saw my girls. They were laughing and dancing. I shook off my negative feelings and walked to them.

“What happened to you?” Carrie asked.

“It got too crazy while Big Freedia was on stage.”

“Yeah, it was wild. I’d never seen so many people twerking at once. I bet some babies were made tonight.” Zena smirked. “Bourbon Street, next?”

“Yep,” I said though all I wanted to do was go back to the hotel. I had to stop being this way or I would miss out on the fun.  I began to hope I wouldn’t see Montana again since he messed with my vibe. In fact, I’m done with men for this trip. It’s about my girls who were living in the moment unlike myself.  They walked ahead of me giggling and talking about the questionable choices of other’s attire at the concert. Neither one looked like they had a care in the world and for the moment neither did I.  It was with that thought I was finally able to let go Montana Keyes and truly have fun.

*****

We were at Harrah’s club Friday night following the first night of concerts at the Dome.  The club was gorgeous with its Mardi Gras themed décor of gold, purple, and green. My   feet were killing me because I had the wrong type of heels to a concert in which way too much walking and standing were involved. And now we were at a club where celebrities ran amok.  I had an amazing time, but I was exhausted, and my feet hurt badly.  I didn’t wear heels as much as my friends, whose feet seemed to be perfectly fine.  I found a barstool, sat, and celebrity watched while my friends danced.  Tomorrow, I would wear more comfortable shoes, so I could really dance. 

I laughed at Carrie and Zena as they pretended to break dance. “You two are stupid!”

“Come on.” Zena beckoned me with her index finger.

I yelled over the music, “I can barely walk let alone dance.”

Zena responded, “The hotel is not far. Get your flats and come back.”

“I’m tired. If I leave, I’m not coming back.”

Carrie came over to me and slung an arm around my neck. “The night is still young.”

“It’s after two in the morning and my body knows it’s after three in New York.”

She pouted. “Don’t be a party pooper.” 

“I’m not. We were out until five this morning and we still made it to see the Atlanta Housewives in the convention center for eleven.” I gingerly got off the stool. “We still have the rest of today, tonight, and tomorrow. I promise whatever you want to do, I will. But right now, I need to go back to our room.”

“You good, walking by yourself?”

“The streets are full, and the hotel is not that far. I’ll text you as soon as I get to the room. Have fun and pick up some men for me.” I joked while she hugged me before heading back to the dance floor.

I walked to Zena and hugged her. “I’m tired. I’ll text once I get back to room.”

“Okay, love. See ya. If I meet some men, I’ll text you in case you want to come back.”

“Whatever, as long as you make them come to our room.”

*****

I tried to walk in my heels, but I barely managed to walk down the stairs and onto the sidewalk. My toes pinched against my shoes, with poor circulation. I really think that soon I would need an amputation of my right pinky toe if I didn’t take these shoes off.

“Fuck this.” I took off my shoes and proudly limped to my hotel. My black halter dress cinched at the waist and flared out giving the appearance that I was on a beach anyway. With the black sparkly flower in my wild hair, I probably didn’t look as bad as I thought. I just hated the unclean ground as I walked into the hotel lobby.

“Hey. Jasmine, like the flower.” I heard a deep, sexy voice and instantly felt energized.

I approached the elevator and Montana Keyes stood there apparently waiting for it.

He grinned when I stood next to him. “I’m thinking you and heels don’t get along.”

“Huh?” I couldn’t believe that after I stopped looking for him, he would not only reappear but also be alone waiting for the same elevator. I guess because it was after two in the morning the lobby was relatively quiet, and it felt like we were the only two people in the world.  I tried to calm my nerves.  It had to be a good sign he remembered my name and seemed happy to see me.  He was a beautiful stranger when I met him but knowing he was an NBA player was damn scary. And I still didn’t know if he noticed my ‘as-if-I-was-a-teenager-who-saw-her-crush-dance-with-another-girl-run’ at the outdoor concert.

He gestured towards the heels in my hand. I was still barefoot.

“You would be right. I can only feel my two big toes. But hey I can still walk if I have at least one toe on each foot, right?”

He laughed.  “You’re funny.”

I shook my head. “Not at all. Telling the truth. I’m scared I won’t ever feel my toes again.”

“Must be newbie to Essence?” He smiled as he tapped my shoulder with his as if we were old buddies.

I tried to relax because he obvi wanted to talk. WWTD (what would a Thot do) I asked myself. Act normal and interested. “Yep, first time and it has been amazing. I’ve already seen enough concerts to last me the rest of the year and I still have two more days.  I wore these, trying to be cute, not realizing there was so much walking involved.”

“I’ve been to Essence several times now and it never fails, by the end of the night there are thousands of women with hurt feet ‘trying to be cute’ but looking anything but.” He smirked.

“Are you trying to say I’m not cute?” I took silent deep breaths to calm my nerves and hoped I could keep conversation going.  He made it easy with his gorgeous dark brown eyes and matching smile.

Montana’s expression became serious. “You’re not.”

“Wow. Should I be offended?” I joked. He seemed too nice to be insulting.

“No. You’re not cute.” The elevator beeped, and he faced forward as he took a side glance at me.

“Okay.” I wasn’t sure how to respond. Was he joking or being serious?

The elevator doors opened, and a few people walked out.  He now studied his shoes, probably to avoid recognition and remained where he was.  I hesitantly and reluctantly stepped on the elevator thinking I lost him once again. Before I could protest, he hopped on and looked down at me. “What floor?”

“Tenth.” Breathe in and out, please.  I could swear the temperature just rose over one hundred degrees on this elevator. We were completely and utterly alone in this contained space.

He used his security card to push ten and then pushed ‘PH’. He leaned back against the wall once the doors closed and faced me. “You’re beautiful.”

“Excuse me?” I heard him but was in disbelief that he was so open with his compliments. This was the second time he said that I was beautiful.

“You asked if I thought you were cute, and I said ‘no’ because you’re beautiful. But I already told you that, right?” He slowly smiled. “Where are your peeps?”

“At Harrah’s down the street.”

“Why aren’t you with them?”

I wanted to say that I didn’t want to hang out because ever since I met him there was a sense of melancholy that wouldn’t go away much as I hated to admit it. “My feet hurt.”

“Are you changing shoes to join them?”

This small space wreaked havoc, with my heart. He was way too close, smelled too good, and was oh so sexy as he flirted with his eyes. “No. I’m in for the night.”

“Why? You should be out partying.”

The elevator reached floor ten and the doors opened. “I know but not really a party girl.  Um…I guess this is my floor.”

Montana pushed the button to close the doors before he returned to his position against the wall.  He softly demanded, “Hang with me.”

I am about to die right now. Did he really want me to spend time with him? “Seriously? Don’t you have people to get back to? Did you even come here with anyone?”

He grinned. “I don’t just come with anyone.”

Although my brown face had to be red in embarrassment, the lower half of me was anything but shy and I instantly got wet. There was no way I could walk away from this once in a lifetime attraction that was now clear between us.

“I’m sorry. Maybe I shouldn’t have said that.” He half-smiled.  “My friends are somewhere on Bourbon St. I came back to the hotel exhausted but seeing you and suddenly I’m not tired at all.”

“I know the feeling,” I whispered and gone was the playful flirting of the past few minutes.

We both silently assessed one another as we continued to ride on the elevator. When we arrived at the penthouse level, he reached for my hand. I clasped it around his, trusting him to take care of me, as he pulled me behind him to his suite.

Chapter 3: It happened one July night

I woke up to a man’s arm strewn over my exposed breasts. I jumped slightly before I remembered that I spent the night with him. He was on his stomach and snored quietly. Did I just sleep with Montana Keyes? I had a slight hangover from drinking with my friends.  I searched my memory to see if I had anything to drink with Montana.  No, he ordered room service of spinach dip and hot wings. I’d wanted water and he had tea. I thought that room service ended at midnight, but for him, he could order at any time.  I turned my head to look at him again. Why was he so freaking handsome? I groaned.  His looks made it so easy for him to get into my panties after only knowing him a minute.

I had never had a one-night stand. Ever.  There was a time I wasn’t cautious in my dating choices, but that was a long time ago.  I love men, I just didn’t trust them. They would do anything to get you in bed and then dump you the minute you gave in to them. I had stop falling for any of those tired lines or feeling compelled to give it up to a man simply because he wanted it.   All this man had to do was kiss me and he’d been inside of me within seconds. I swear it’d happened so fast. He’d reached in his pocket, pulled out a condom, slipped it on, and had me against the wall with my dress hiked. He’d quickly lifted my legs to straddle him, moved my panties aside, and entered me rock hard and fast.  He fucked me good until we both came within seconds of each other.  I shook my head to get those hot, sexy images out of my head.

“How did I end up here?”  I whispered to him and marveled about last night.

*****

Last night

We walked into his gorgeous suite and he led me to this large tan sofa in the living area.  A grand mahogany piano graced the corner of the room.  I sat down, and he left the room without a word to me.  I looked around the luxurious suite marveling how my decision to leave my friends, ended with me alone with a handsome basketball ball player in his hotel.  When I heard water running, I realized he went to the bathroom.  Montana came back with a beautiful silver bowl filled with soapy water and a loofah sponge.  He sat down on the other end of the sofa, picked my legs up, and placed on his lap, forcing me to turn my body. 

“Wait. What are you doing? I don’t think you want to see my feet close up.”

He just shook his head with a smile and began using the loofah on my right foot. He massaged my foot with his strong hands as he cleaned them. “Sit back. Relax.”

I settled against the arm of the chair and let his fingers work their magic.  I couldn’t stop the smile that threatened to cross my face.  Montana took his time with each foot. Thank God for the pedicure. Wait until I tell Carrie and Zena.  I never had a boyfriend, let alone a relative stranger be as thoughtful as to care for my aching feet. 

“Thank you,” I said shyly.

He smiled and shrugged his shoulders. “Your feet hurt. You really did look like you were in pain.  Just want to make them and you feel better.”

I closed my eyes while he worked to take the pain out of my feet and brought back feeling.  He whispered, “Don’t go to sleep yet, Jasmine.”

“I won’t. Your hands feel so good.” I stifled a yawn and opened my eyes to see him watching me. 

He had placed the silver bowl and loofah on the table.  He kept my feet on his lap, which was near his crotch.  He followed the direction of my eyes and gave me a knowing glance.  He touched both feet again for good measure and toyed with the silver ring on my second toe.  “I don’t know why this is so sexy to me.”

And so are you.  I thought but too afraid to express.  Montana looked good in his dark slacks and white open collar shirt.  I had never been this attracted to someone I just met but something about him made me comfortable. I realized any nervousness I felt was sexual energy and not because I was afraid to talk to him. I planned to savor this moment before the inevitable sex for as long as I could.

“I’d hope I would see you again.” He continued to play with my ring. 

“I wondered if you would even remember me?”

Montana smiled. “Of course, I mean I did save you.”

“Why did you leave?”

His sexy brows furrowed. “Are you asking what happened to me in the lobby?”

“Yeah, I thought you were going to wait until I got back.”

He bit his lip and looked away. “When I bumped into you, I was on my way to do interviews for Essence.  I’m on a panel for sports and the Black community tomorrow afternoon or should I say this afternoon. A car waited on me and I got distracted by you.  I had to run.”

“Oh. I’m sorry about that. I hope I didn’t make you too late.” I understood the power of distraction. I could barely focus on my thoughts once he bit his full lower lip.

“No apologies. If I didn’t bump into you, I wouldn’t have met such a beautiful and sexy woman.”

“Really?” I shook my head, belatedly realizing that I was responding to his previous statement and not his compliment. “I mean –

“You don’t think you’re sexy or beautiful? Or is it that you don’t believe I think so?” He interrupted.

“I mean yes.” I shook my head.  “Um…Yes and thank you. Sorry to confuse you. I was first referring to your panel discussion.”

“Understood. Yeah, that’s why I’m here. You should come.” His eyes twinkled as he spoke.

“I think I will.” I flirted knowing he meant it both ways. “I’m sure I would enjoy it.”

His eyes lingered on my lips before he picked up the suite’s phone. “I’m hungry, you want anything?”

“Isn’t it too late?”

“Not for me.” Montana raised both eye brows.

Of course, he is Montana Keyes. “What are you getting?” I really wasn’t hungry. Being in his presence took away any appetite. Maybe I would always maintain my weight if he was around.

“Wings and spinach dip.”

“Two of my favs. You up to sharing?”

“I don’t mind sharing anything,” he said before he spoke to someone on the phone. “I want tea, you want something to drink?”

“Water is fine.” I looked around the crazy expensive suite.  I’m sitting across from a real-life millionaire.  One who wants me, even if just for tonight.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a gold digger or only deal with men with money but I can’t help but be impressed by Montana Keyes.

“I am so glad you’re spending the night with me.” He drew my attention back to him. 

“Who says I’m going to spend the night with you?” I smiled knowing I had every intention of staying.

He leaned toward me, closed his eyes, and gave me a deliciously, slow kiss.  His lips were so soft and gentle. The moment I tried to deepen the kiss with my tongue, he backed away. “So, Jasmine like the flower, are you from New York?” He asked calmly while I had to regain my breathing. His kiss blew my mind. I don’t know what would happen when he used his tongue.

Focus. I breathed deeply. “Yep. Born and raised. You’re from Chicago, right?”

“Did your research?” He chuckled. “You women are something else.”

“What does that mean?” 

“You google everything. You can’t just let meeting a man flow and learn about him naturally.”

“Hello! You’re a freaking NBA basketball player. Your info is everywhere and for the record, I didn’t know who you were when I bumped into you.”

“Get the fuck out of here?” He laughed. “And you’re from New York?”

I put my hands up in surrender. “I know, I know. Don’t shoot me. I have gone to Knick games, but I don’t wear my glasses like I should. I always hear your name, but your face was always a blur. I only know you from Chicago because my cousin is a fan.  Zena was the one –

“I bet you look cute with your glasses.” He interrupted my chatter. 

I pursed my lips, knowing he was feeding me a line but enjoying it, nonetheless. “You really know how to make women feel special, don’t you?”

“Am I making the woman in front of me feel special?” He tilted his head. “That’s all that matters to me.”

“You are.” I blushed and looked down feeling somehow like I couldn’t compete with the women he normally dates. “Hey, I’m not like most women. I’m not aggressive or play games. What you see is what you get.”

“I already know that.”

I met his eyes. “How do you know that?”

“I know women and you’re not like any woman I’ve ever met.”

“How do you know that? We’ve only said a few words to each other.”

“It’s your essence.”

He got me there. I sat there still as he moved toward me again and touched my hair. “I love your hair.”

Montana’s handsome face was within an inch of mine. I could lick his lips which was how close I was to him.  “Go ahead.” He must have read my mind. I looked into his eyes as I slowly licked his lips. I guess I must have done a good job because he closed his eyes in pleasure. Then there was a knock. He glanced at the door as if he debated whether to ignore room service.

“It’s okay. I’m not going anywhere.” His attraction to me, emboldened me to make it plain that I wanted him too.

Montana stood, and I could see his imprint and it was a sight to behold.  I wanted to jump him right then and there and fuck room service.  However, the food smelled heavenly and temporarily sated my sexual desires. He sat the tray down and he literally shared his food with me. He would take a bite and then he would give me a bite.  Man, he was spoiling me in this one night. After we had demolished several wings, I patted my stomach. “You can finish it. I’m full.”

“You’re sure? I have to make sure you’re satisfied.” We met eyes again.

I refused to lower my eyes though my stomach quivered. “Then, I’m not satisfied yet.”

He tilted his head once again assessing me like he did on the elevator as he took one last bite of a wing and placed back on the platter.  He cleaned his hands with the warm water and hand towel the hotel provided.  He then reached for my hands and wiped them.  Montana then tossed the towel and surprised me with a full-on deep kiss that let me know that playtime was over. He licked and touched me everywhere.  He lowered me on the sofa, his tongue diving in and out of my mouth.  I slipped my hands under his shirt and rubbed his taut abs and chest.  I wrapped my legs around his waist and grinded against his hardness, wanting him desperately.  Montana moaned in my mouth before he lifted and carried me in his arms as if I weighed nothing and practically slammed me against the nearest wall.  I couldn’t wait to feel him inside of me and when he entered me with such force, I knew somehow my life would not be the same.  

*****

I grew wet again thinking of our hot sexual interlude. I must get out of here before I made a fool of myself.  At some point, we ended up in his king-sized bed.  I eased out of the bed and quietly gathered my bra, panties, and dress. I almost tripped trying to put on my panties and fell against the chaise lounge in his bedroom.

“Why am I so clumsy?” I whispered still hoping I could get out of here before he woke up to prevent an awkward situation.  In daylight things were always different. I decided to just throw on my dress and stuff my panties and bra in my purse. I just needed to get out of here.

“I hope you’re running to get us some beignets.” I looked over my shoulder and he had sat up in the bed. Lordy, he was so damn fine, with his muscled chest and arms, especially this morning because he looked scruffy with his growing beard.

“Um…I…” I hugged my belongings to my chest.

He leaned backwards on his elbows. “Were you going to leave without saying goodbye?”

“I thought it would be easier, if I left before you wake up. Save us both the trouble of you making up some reason I need to go.” I picked up my sandals. “It was fun. Thank you for the foot massage and everything.”

He frowned, stretched his arms, got out of bed, nude and walked over to me.  He took my shoes out of my hand and tossed them and placed my purse back on the chaise lounge.  He pulled me back to the edge of the bed where he promptly lifted my dress over my head.  We got back in bed and he spooned me like this was our routine. I was uncomfortable though I was pleased he wanted to spend more time with me. This was not my norm and he must have sensed it because he wrapped his legs around mine and kissed the side of my face. “We only got three hours of sleep. I’m too sleepy to even fight your crazy ass for thinking you can leave me without saying bye. I know how you like to run when you see me.”

My voice squeaked, “You saw me at the outdoor concert?”

“Yeah.  I’d hoped you wouldn’t run when you saw me at the elevator.” He chuckled.

I covered my face with my hands. “Oh, God, so embarrassing.”

He still spoke with his eyes closed. “Naw. I completely understand. I ran from you when I met you in the lobby. I didn’t have to leave but my attraction to you scared me a little bit.”

“Seriously?”

“Yep. But we can talk about this later, okay?” 

I started to relax because I was tired until I thought about my friends who probably thought I was abducted.  I shot up from the bed.  “I need to talk to my friends. They must be worried.”

“I hope you don’t mind I responded to one of their texts on your phone once you fell asleep. It kept ringing and apparently you didn’t hear it. I thought it was probably your friends.  I didn’t want them to worry.” He tugged on my arm. “Lay down.”

I didn’t budge. “What did you say?”

He mumbled already drifting back to sleep. “I pretended to be you and told them that I was ‘hooking up with that fine ass basketball player I met in the lobby’. I’m in his penthouse and it is so lit.'”

I said sternly, “That doesn’t sound like me. I don’t talk like that at all.”

“Oh really?”

I grinned. “No, I would have said ‘I’m hooking up with that sexy basketball player that’s been trying to holla at me.’”

“Oh, that’s what you would have said?” Although Montana’s eyes were closed, his smile wide. “Well, they must have believed me because they texted back all kinds of emojis and said to have fun and give deets. Now, please can we go back to sleep?”

“Yes.” And this time I was able to relax and get snuggled under his arms, safe and warm.

Chapter 4: The morning after

My cell rang waking me up from a deep sleep. I blindly reached for it on the bedside table. I had no idea how long we slept though I still felt like I needed rest. I had a slight headache and didn’t know if it was from the alcohol, not enough sleep, or because of the gorgeous man next to me. Montana stirred in his sleep. This is all still crazy to me. I’m in bed next to an NBA player, who actually wanted me to stay when I tried to leave.

“Hello,” I answered quietly once I grabbed it.

“Thank God. You’re alive. Don’t ever do that to us.” I could hear the relief in Carrie’s voice.

“Are you with Montana?” I suddenly heard Zena’s voice.

“Didn’t you get my text?” I snuck a glance over my shoulder to see if I disturbed him. His eyes were still closed, and he was breathing slow. Good.

“He wrote that shit, didn’t he?” I heard Zena laughing. “We were too drunk to realize that you would never talk like that when we first read it. Carrie woke up this morning panicked but I knew you had hooked up with Montana. I still can’t believe it. Where are you?”

“Upstairs on the penthouse level,” I whispered and scooted to the floor trying not to wake him. Why were my friends so loud?

“Where is he?”

“Next to me.”

“Is he asleep?”

“Yes, which is why you can barely hear me, Jeez.”

Zena screamed and I know Montana had to hear her.

“Shh…Shh…I just told you, he was asleep.”

“You slept with Montana Keyes! A part of me was like no, she didn’t do the deed. Not on the first night. But so glad I’m wrong. No matter what happens in this life you slept with Montana Keyes!” She sang. “I’m bowing down to you. No more advice from me. Girl, you got it.”

“When are you coming back so you can tell us everything? We’re supposed to eat breakfast and then go back to the convention. It’s already after ten.” Carrie must have taken the phone back.

“Let that girl be with that man as long as he wants her. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. She will catch up with us,” Zena said into the phone.

“It would be easier if you put me on speaker,” I continued to whisper. I probably should have left the room since it was so quiet in here.

“Does that mean you’re not coming back anytime soon?” Carrie asked though it still sounded like they were taking turns with the phone.

“No, no I’m up now. I’ll be down in a few.”

“If you’re lucky, you won’t be. You know men are always hard in the morning.” Zena giggled.

“Bye, Z.” I hurriedly clicked the phone, praying he didn’t hear my conversation, especially the last thing she said. I looked around on the floor for my dress. I knew Montana had taken it off and threw it somewhere. There was no way I was going to walk around nude like he was so comfortable doing. But then again if my body looked like his, I would always be nude. I spotted it on the floor at the corner of the end of the bed. I semi-crawled to it and pulled it to me. I slipped my dress on again for the second time that morning. I then sat back on the bed with my knees against my chest and softly touched his cheek. This time I was going to give him a proper goodbye because he did deserve that.

“She’s right you know.” Montana slowly opened his long-lashed eyes.

“You could hear her? Sorry, they were so loud.” I tried to pretend like I didn’t know what he was talking about though now he pulled my legs down and laid on top of me.  He rained kisses on my neck and was so thick and hard against my center. “They just wanted to know when I was headed back, and I told them soon.”

“Hmmm mmm. Yeah. She was right about me being hard. My favorite time to fuck is in the morning.” He now had his hands on my breasts, rubbing my nipples through my dress.

“I… don’t…know…why…they…were so loud.” I don’t know why I tried to talk. It was like there was a part of me that wanted to resist him. Like, I made this way too easy for him. But his hands, his hands they distracted me from sanity. When he reached in between us and under my dress to run his fingers against my clit, I moaned involuntarily and closed my legs against the pressure. Montana gently spread my thighs, so he could have more access and this time when his fingers went inside of me, I let go and felt the wonderful sensations.

Montana spoke close to my ear as I moved against his fingers, “I’m warning you right now I’m going to come hard and fast, because I want you so much. But I promise tonight I’m going to take my time with you.”

My body was even more on fire with just the anticipation that he wanted to see me again and I would probably be wet all day. Instinct for we both wanted took over and I wrapped my legs around him. I felt him against my clit and we both sighed at the direct skin contact. I gyrated my hips against his hard dick without putting him inside of me, though I wanted to so badly. He grabbed my hips and held me in place as we enjoyed the feel of each other without any barriers.

“Jasmine, you are so fucking sexy. You’re killing me right now. Do you know how I want to just bust up in you?” Montana growled.

I nodded unable to do much more than feel. He closed his eyes as he moved himself against me without penetration like he was in deep thought.  He never broke his rhythm as he blindly reached for the side table and opened the drawer for a condom.  He had condoms placed in the bedside table like this was his home which probably meant he had been planning to have sex whether with me or another woman. Surprisingly that thought boosted my ego instead of deflating it knowing that he had his choice of women but right now he really wanted to fuck me.

I took the condom out of his hand and quickly put it on him, and he slid in me like his body was meant for mine.

“Shit.” He whistled as he felt me squeeze him. “I would love nothing more than to stay in bed with you all day.”

“Really?” I smiled as I licked his chest.

“Yes, Jas like the pretty flower.” He smiled back. His cell phone rang breaking our rhythm and he groaned, “What time is it?”

“When I was on the phone, it was after ten.”

“Damn.” He kissed my right nipple and pulled out of me. “Give me a sec.”

I covered up and stared at the ceiling as he climbed out of bed, already missing him. What’s next? Do I wait for him to say, he had to go, or do I just get my things and wish him well? I felt comfortable that he wouldn’t just dismiss me or be an asshole. But I doubt we would finish what we just started. We were both here for a weekend trip with other people. I’m sure his friends were looking for him as mine were or he had made prior commitments for the Essence Fest. I think I’m going to leave before I get too caught up. I can’t afford another broken heart. After my last boyfriend broke up with me by text three years ago, I had been focused on self and had given up the dating life. I may not have been the happiest, but I was content. I guess Montana reminded me why I wanted to date and the thrill of being in the presence of a man with whom you’re really attracted. I could so get used to him and that was such not a good idea.

“Yeah. Just send the car for me two hours before. Okay…I know I disappeared last night, but I’ll be there.” Montana came back in the room on the phone. He had put on his boxers as soon as he got out of the bed to answer his cell that he left in the living area. He returned to stand near the chaise lounge.

“I think that’s my cue.” I felt his eyes on me as I stood and walked to my things. I sat on the chaise lounge and he stood over me as I put on my heels.

“I gotta go.” He clicked his cell and tossed it on the bed. “Why does it feel like you’re saying goodbye? I’m sorry we got interrupted. Why do you keep trying to leave? I didn’t say you had to leave, so am I making you feel that way?”

“No, you’ve been wonderful, more than I could have ever imagined given that I just met you two days ago.” I joked trying to lighten the mood. The last thing I wanted to do was make him feel that he had done anything wrong. “We had an amazing night and morning and I just don’t want to mess up what was truly a moment I will always remember.”

He frowned. “Why do you think I want just a moment? We still have the rest of the weekend and we both live in the same city.”

“Come on, you already got it from me. And you’re you. Let’s not make this more than what it is.” I finished putting on my shoes and looked up at him. “I’m probably not supposed to say this, but I can only be me. You would break my heart in a minute because I don’t give it up that easy. Something about you, and it isn’t because you are a ball player, scares me. So, I’m think I’m going to cut my losses while I’m feeling nothing but giddiness.”

He sat down next to me and grinned. “I’m flattered but I’m not trying to break your heart. Just want to spend a little more time with you. Can you cut your losses on Monday morning? And today, you and your friends should come hear my talk and I’ll make sure you have VIP for the rest of the concerts.”

I looked at him silently not sure I wanted to spend more time with him knowing it would all end day after tomorrow. But then to experience Essence Fest with Very Important People would probably rock. And Carrie and Zena would kill me if they found out about this opportunity and I didn’t take it.

He gave me a soft peck on the lips. “Jas, why you playing hard to get? I already got it and I still want to spend the rest of the weekend with you. Let’s just have fun and on Monday morning, we can go our separate ways.”

“Don’t you mean Sunday night? I leave Monday morning.”

“I know you’re here with your friends and I’m not trying to mess up your girls’ trip but I do want you in my bed tonight and tomorrow night. So, you can have your slumber party and do whatever it is you do, and even if it’s four in the morning, come to me.”

I tapped my foot contemplating what I should do. I thought I had a slight crush on him when I met him in the lobby but after sex and how I felt so safe with him, I was damn near in love with him. Two more nights of hot sex and I might end up stalking him. “Montana…um…”

He took my phone out of my hand and dialed a number, I’m assuming was his because it rang shortly. “You have my number and I have yours. I’ll text you details of my talk and for the concert tonight.”

Montana bounced up and lifted me to my feet as soon as he stood. He walked me to the door and gave me another sweet closed mouth kiss since neither of us had brushed our teeth. “Later?”

I rolled my eyes, though I loved that he was persistent. “Later.”

Released originally for only a week for free promotion and will be a regular release in Jun for 2.99.

When all it takes is seven days…

Nia Winston, a young high school principal, stands in a fan line at the Essence Festival in New Orleans, hoping to get Justin Ray, the hottest R&B singer, to donate to her non-profit. When they meet sparks fly, or maybe it was just Nia’s imagination. Until Nia has a surprise meeting with Justin, a month later while she is in Atlanta and Justin asks her to spend one week with him no strings attached. Wanting to escape her own problems back at home, she agrees and has the most passionate time of her life. As real love develops inexplicably between Nia and Justin, she can no longer hide the truth. And when her truth threatens to harm Justin’s white-hot career, she leaves him one night with only a goodbye text. Two years later, Justin unexpectedly comes back in her life, demanding answers. All of her emotions come rushing back, but is she ready to give up everything she cherishes for a man she knew for only one week and a world she never wanted?

Excerpt:

Chapter 4

Back in my room, I turned on the flat screen. I had mixed feelings after Justin left like he did so I flopped in the bed and flipped through the channels. Sometimes a TV can have too many channels I concluded after finding absolutely nothing I wanted to watch. His guest bed had to be the most comfortable thing I have ever had the pleasure in which to rest. I could remain in this bedroom the entire rest of the trip and be able to tell others I had an amazing time.

After I dozed off for a half hour, I unpacked and hung my clothes up so I can see what I had. Most of my attire was professional, though I did have one sexy dress in case I went out at night, a jean jacket, one maxi dress, two pair of shorts, one pair of jeans, three tanks, and a bathing suit. If we ended up doing more, I would need to take a quick trip to the mall. It was 6:30 and Justin said dinner was for eight. I wasn’t sure what to wear tonight. I wanted to look hot for him but then maybe in light of what happened earlier, a more conservative look is needed. I opted for black skinny jeans and white tank with low rise black/white converse. It was cute but sexy.

I wanted to apologize to him for my actions because I did basically jump him and then ran cold. I couldn’t have it both ways, entice and then deny him. For a man like him, used to getting his way, he may see it as all a game. I’m really not that person.  I need to relax but my guard is up. After all I have been through this last year that I had no intention of telling Justin. The thought of…Stop! I had to quit focusing on the past and enjoy the present. Right now, I’m in a real-life fantasy.  My problems waiting for me back home will still be there but now I am in a beautiful home with a sexy rich man for the next few days.    I had to smile at my luck.  I want to keep him to myself so I’m not sure if anyone will ever know about my time with Justin Ray. But I must make sure at some point I take a selfie of me and him.  I need a keepsake of this moment with him.

I wondered what his master suite bathroom looked like because this one was nice with its sunken tub and a separate shower along with plenty of mirrors. I must take a bath at some point while I am here. I jumped in the shower and felt so refreshed.  I adorned a brown terry cloth robe that hung on a chrome peg in the bathroom area and went to the mirror.

I studied my reflection, wondering what made Justin not only notice me but want to spend this type of time with me. I always liked myself. I never went through a phase where I thought that I was ugly or not attractive. I’m the quiet beauty, the kind of woman that a man may not notice initially.  My curves were in the right place and my size remained stable at a six due to my thrice weekly exercise.   I was a teen athlete and I had gotten used to the routine of working out. If I ever had children, I knew I would gain weight because every woman in my family did.  I considered my complexion to be dark caramel and with the sun, I would be more reddish or a ‘redbone’.   I usually kept my hair relaxed that had grown past my shoulders.  I decided to put in in a loose knot at the top of my head and got dressed.

I left my room, wandering around the house, enjoying the peace and serenity that the décor invoked. When I approached the pool area, I heard him laughing and talking obviously on his cell. I stopped in my tracks not wanting to disturb him and turned to head back to my room in case he wanted privacy.,

He called, “Nia.”

I slowly turned and walked out to the pool. Justin sat on a nice denim lounge chair. He was now wearing black basketball shorts and a plain white Nike Tee with Nike sliders on his feet. He had his phone by his ear and signaled me to sit in the chair next to his.

“Yes. Next week sounds good. I need to get back in the studio.” He paused listening to the other person as he took my hand and rubbed it, making me feel comforted. “I got to go but we can finish conversation later. I will hit you up.” He placed cell on table in between us. “You good?”

“Yes. Listen about earlier -“

Justin placed his finger on my lips. “Shh. I’m sorry about that. I tell you to be free to do whatever you want with me and then I act shitty to you.”

I sighed with relief. “Just a little… I shouldn’t have kissed you like I did if I didn’t want to do more. I just got caught up.”

“Please get caught up and just let go. I promise you won’t regret it.” He grinned mischievously. “I know the more you kiss me, you’re going to want me to do more than just that to you.”

I tingled at his words and he looked so handsome up close and personal it was ridiculous.  “I’m so glad you said that because I so like kissing you.” I leaned forward and he tilted his head to accommodate me, and our lips met for another slow, delicious kiss.

He continued to focus on my lips when I sat back.  “Mm hmm, you taste sweet. You ready for dinner?”

“Yes.” I smiled enjoying this foreplay between us.

“I’ll tell Paul to bring the food out here since it is a nice evening.” There was a breeze which was rare for mid-August in Atlanta. He picked up another remote which apparently was an intercom and he requested that our dinner be brought poolside.

Paul, a jovial, thick, and tall light-skinned man brought everything out on a silver cart like in the hotel and set everything up for us.  We had moved to his small patio table and sat across from each other.  This time our knees touched. The sounds of jazz played around us. I recognized Some Kind of Blue and smiled at Justin who winked at me

“Paul, this is my guest, Nia.”

            “Welcome. If there’s anything you would like to eat while you’re here. Let me know.” Paul had a booming deep voice.

“Will do. Did you make lunch too?” I asked Paul.

Paul beamed. “I did.”

“It was absolutely wonderful. I can’t wait to see what’s for dinner.”

“You don’t have to wait Ms. Nia. Voila!” He whipped off tops of the entrée tray with gusto to reveal steamed snow crabs, lobster, and shrimp already deshelled and peeled. Melted butter and French bread were also on the trays.

I clapped my hands in delight. “Amazing.”

Paul joked with Justin. “She is easy to please.”

Justin’s eyes smoldered when he gazed at me. “I hope she likes the way I please.”

I felt flush again at his boldness in front of Paul.  My hands trembled as I reached for a plate.

Justin placed his hand on top of mine. “Let me serve you.” He nodded at Paul, who bowed playfully towards me and left just as quietly as he entered.

I sat there wanting to pinch myself at the royal treatment he had given me since my arrival.  He prepared my plate with a little bit of everything. Once he finished, he skewered a piece of crab, dipped it in butter, and placed before my mouth. He spoke in a deep, slightly demanding tone, “Open your mouth.”

I complied and chewed slowly. I watched as he repeated the same actions with the lobster and when his fork got close, I opened my mouth. This time butter dribbled on my chin and before I could reach for a napkin, he licked the butter off my chin and then licked my lips before his tongue went into my mouth for a quick second.

When he reached for a shrimp to give to me, I asked, “Are you going to eat?”

Justin slowly smiled. “What I have an appetite for is not on the menu.” 

“You are something, you know that?”

“What?” He shrugged his shoulders innocently.

“You’re going to feed me my entire meal? I am never going to finish eating if you do.”

“Why is that?”

“I can’t concentrate with you so close to me and stealing kisses. When I eat, I got to focus. If you want to feed me, have Paul make something nasty like liver.”

Justin laughed. “You are kicks.” He placed his fork down. “Fine. I want you to focus.”

After he stopped feeding me, we both ate, sipped on wine, and talked.  We had the type of conversation, where both of us were excited to jump in and speak. We just flowed as we discussed politics, latest celebrity gossip, and music.  It was certifiably the best date of my life.  He asked the basic questions like my age, which was thirty-two and if I had any children. And I didn’t have any, something I didn’t like to talk about.  I shied away from talking about my dating life and focused on asking him questions.  Justin was a year younger than me and had two children who were six and seven years old.  He didn’t want to talk about his dating life either. 

“Are you really 31?”

“Why are you asking? You don’t date younger?” He teased as he took a sip of wine.

“Ha ha, you have jokes. I just thought in the industry they try to make you younger because it is cute to say you’re let’s say twenty rather than twenty-two.”

Justin’s forehead wrinkled. “You do know the biz a little. Yeah, I am actually older.”

“Really? How much?”

His eyes twinkled. “Thirty-three years old. When I started at twenty-two, my agent said it sounds cooler to say twenty.”

I almost choked on my water. “Are you serious? I was just playing.”

“No idea why I had to lie about my age, but I went with it. Where did you find that out? My bio even reflects I was born two years later.  No one knows my real age except family. Hell, even I forget. I really thought you were older than me for a second.” Justin chuckled.

“Crazy that you have to lie about your age, especially because there is not much difference between your real and fake age.”

“I know. The biz is corrupt, but I still would not give up what I do for the world because it is my life.”

“I can tell. You were meant to sing and dance. You really have an amazing talent.” I sat back, reveling in the night, the conversation, and most definitely the man.

“Thank you,” he said softly. “You finished eating?”

I patted my belly. “Yes. It was so delicious.”

Justin stood and pulled me to my feet. “Come on. Paul will get this later.”

We moved closer to the pool and he stretched out on the denim chaise lounge and opened his legs so I could fit in between.  I sat down and slowly leaned back on his firm chest. “Relax Nia, I won’t hurt you. I promise.”

“I’m really glad to be here. Thank you for inviting me.”

He whispered in my ear, “No, thank you.  I want you to enjoy yourself with me. Let me show you a good time.” 

I inhaled and exhaled deeply, letting all my inhibitions go as I did.  He must have felt the tension dissipate because he placed his strong arms tight around me. “What is the most random place you had sex?”

I chuckled because he would go there. “I once had sex at night at this playground with a guy I was dating. I must have been twenty-one.”

“You were out in the open right?”

“Yes. We were at the bottom of a slide.”

Justin’s mouth was near my ear. “Didn’t you feel free?”

I rubbed his forearms that rested right beneath my breasts. “I did. It was fun.”

“And you haven’t done anything random since that time?”

“Not really. And you probably don’t see that what I did as a big deal.”

“It is all about what you have been exposed to and I started in this business young, so I’ve seen things, the average person will never see.”

“What about you?”

“I had sex while at a sex party.”

“You mean you were in an orgy?” I was always curious about everyone having sex in the same place with each other, but I knew I was too conservative to actually go through with it.

“Some may call it that. But I only had sex with one person. They were just other people fucking in the room with us.”

“You never had a threesome?”

“I have several times and only with two or three women.”

“I hope you used a condom.”

“I learned early on to always protect myself from diseases and being forced to be a father with a woman you barely know.”

“You don’t get tired of sleeping with so many people?”

“I have which is why you are here.” He nibbled on my neck. “What’s your fantasy?”

“You,” I answered honestly.

“Really? Well do you like to be told what to do in bed?” His voice dropped purposely to make my body respond which it did. He started running his hands lightly up and down the sides of my breasts. “If I told you to get down on your knees and suck me or open your legs so I could eat you. Would you do it without question?”

My breathing increased. “Yes.”

“Good because whenever we do fuck, you are at my command.”

“What if I decide that we don’t have sex this week?” I don’t even know why I asked that question, knowing I couldn’t take much more of being in his presence and not sexing him.  His words and teasing hands had lit my internal flames that only he could extinguish.  

Justin moved his hands to my jeans, unbuttoned them, slid one hand in my panties, and pushed inside of me. “You think you can resist me all week?”

My body moved sensuously to his probing hand.  “I don’t do threesomes.”

“I wouldn’t want you to share me and I definitely don’t want to share you.” He licked my neck as he fingered me. “I want you to come, baby.” He then used his other hand to spread my legs on either side of the chair and he moved his finger in and out of me slowly.  Justin toyed with one nipple, placed kisses on my neck, all while he continued to digit fuck me. 

When he inserted a second finger, I tried to close my legs from the unexpected fullness.  Justin whispered in my ear, “Open for me.”

I let my legs relax and my breath quickened at the pressure of his palm on my mound as his fingers moved in and out at an increasing rate. He kept my legs spread with his other hand as he coaxed me into coming. I moved my hands up and wrapped my arms around his neck and spread my legs as wide as I could. Once he realized that he did not have to hold my legs open because I was doing it myself, he used his free hand to roughly pinch on my nipples. The pressure inside of me kept building until I couldn’t take it anymore.  In the midst of having an orgasm, he captured my moans in his mouth and tongued me deeply until I came down from my pleasure high.

*****

When I woke up, I was back in bed in my guest room. I wore only my tank and panties. He had removed my jeans and shoes. I touched myself to be sure that we didn’t have sex, but my body felt the same. I almost certain based on his imprint if he did have sex with me, my vagina would know. I looked at the clock and saw it was four in the morning. I stared at the ceiling wondering why I was being so reluctant to deny what we both wanted and be with that sexy ass man that was not far in another room.  We only have this week and he doesn’t have to know anything about my life.  I could be in his bed right now up under him instead in this big old bed all by myself. I did survive one night but it was the hardest thing I had ever done. If he remotely comes on any stronger, I will be begging him to fuck me.  Laying in his arms and letting him have my body felt so right that I was able to relax and fall asleep, apparently deep if I didn’t even know he brought me to the room and undressed me. So even if my mind is not quite ready to trust, my body already does.

For those who have the older version e-book, the cover and slightly revised content should automatically convert.
Now avail on e-book and paperback on Amazon!!!

Simone Austin, a young Chemistry professor, is the consummate love by the book woman. She has had dreams of marriage and family since she was a young girl and doesn’t believe in wasting time with a man who is not on that same path. Now, that her career is where she wants it, she is ready for the ultimate commitment even if it means denying one sexy, Chris Alexander.


From the very moment their eyes met, she is deeply attracted to her best student. When Chris makes his feelings for Simone known during a hot steamy interlude in her office, she finds herself drawn to him like a magnet and decides for once to have a sexual affair without any promises of a future. Soon Simone realizes that she has true feelings for him and must decide if Chris is worth dating, even if he isn’t on her desired path to marriage. Is Simone willing to forget her careful approach to love and focus on their tantalizing moments of the here and now.

Excerpt:

I almost screamed and clasped my hands in front of me trying to hide my surprise and renewed nervousness at his presence. “Are you stalking me?” I asked annoyed though I was anything but.

“You’re the one eye stalking me,” he said with a slow smile.

I rolled my eyes mad at myself that he caught me staring at him. “Why are you bothering me anyway? You see I’m with someone.”

“Whatever… You haven’t been able to stop staring at me since I walked in here.” Chris taunted. “You weren’t even in there long enough to do anything. The moment you got caught watching me, you suddenly had to use the restroom.  Stop playing games, you hoped I followed you back here.”

“That’s not true. You get on my…” My protest was cut off by his tongue. He pushed me back in the restroom roughly, hands already cupping my ass. I kissed him back hungrily wanting him desperately, already weak for him.

“Wait…wait, Chris,” I said between kisses giving up the fight. I was resigned to be his, if only for a moment. “I’m not about to do it in the restroom.”

“The way I’m going make you feel you won’t care where we are.” He promised as he began to kiss my neck. “I didn’t think you could get sexier…this dress…”

“Mm…” I couldn’t stop the grin that I did get to look sexy for him.  My hands were under his light blue sweater rubbing his muscled back, enjoying his attention to my neck when I thought about Derek waiting for me. “Fuck…fuck.  This is so wrong.  I am on a date and so are you. She looks like your girlfriend.”

“Well, he doesn’t look like your boyfriend.” His soft lips felt good against my neck as his fingers toyed with the edges of my panties.

I stopped his roaming hand. “What should my boyfriend look like?” Noting that he didn’t deny his date was his girlfriend.

He gave me a slow, delicious kiss before meeting my eyes. “Like me.”

My heart stopped beating at his simple answer and I pressed my hand flat against his chest. “Are you bringing her home tonight?”

His eyes were now half-closed as he looked down at me. “No.”

“Why?”

“Because you’re spending the night with me.” He kissed my forehead, the sweetest move he could have made at that moment. “You have my address.”

I didn’t bother to deny the truth as I ran my hands down to his abs and I felt his stomach quiver. “I have a date.”

“You mean with me?” He asked playfully as he cupped me over my panties.

I smirked and moved against his hand that rubbed me gently, making me so wet with need. “You’re funny.”

“Make some excuse and come see me later. You’re right, I don’t want to do it in this restroom.” He quickly reached to hold the door close with his free hand when someone tried to open it. I could hear the woman outside complain. “Better say yes, so I can let this woman in here.”

“You’re so irritating.” I tried to move his other hand from my panties, and he cupped me harder.

Chris continued to press against the door with one hand. “Simone…”

“Fine. Give me an hour or so.” Once again, I pretended to be bothered but internally doing cartwheels.

While still holding the door firmly, he removed his hand from under my dress, tongued me briefly, before he pulled open the door. He smiled widely at the shocked older woman standing on the other side. “Sorry, we needed some privacy.”

She looked flustered but managed to speak. “No problem.”

My eyes followed him helplessly as he strode ahead full of swag, and I stopped right outside the restroom to get myself together. The woman noticed me inert. “Young lady, don’t be a fool, you better go get that man.”

I looked at the woman who had her arms folded like she meant business.  “Ma’am you’re absolutely right.” I could no longer pretend that I didn’t want him or that I was just horny.  The attraction between us was simply on another level and we were like two magnets drawn to each other.

I stood by the restroom trying to come up with a reason to end the date after promising Derek a home cooked meal.  Grateful I grabbed my purse, I pulled out my cell.  Bea was on a date, but I needed her.  

Help!!  8:37pm

She immediately called. “What’s wrong?”

“I am so sorry for bothering you on your date but it’s an emergency.”

“Girl, I’m back at home. He was boring and a total waste of time. Next.” She laughed. “What’s the emergency? Aren’t you out with Derek?”

“Yes, but Chris showed up, pushed me in the bathroom and kissed on me and now wants me to spend the night with him. I want to so bad, but I don’t know how to get out of hanging out with Derek because I promised him, I would cook pasta for him tonight. What do I do?” I whispered loudly in the phone.

The woman, who we locked out of the restroom, came out the door. “You’re still here?”

“Yeah, I don’t know what to do. I’m already on a date and that man you saw is not my date, but I really, really like him, and he wants me to be with him tonight.” I don’t know what possessed me to tell this perfect stranger anything. And I could hear Bea trying to figure out if I was speaking to her.

“So, you have to get out of a date?”

“Yes. He is a nice guy too but…         ‘v

“But the guy I saw is hotter right?”

“I mean both are good looking, I just…”

“You want to be with the other man more.” She then asked with a concerned frown, “Are any of these men your boyfriend?”

I shook my head still holding my phone, hearing Bea curse me since I wasn’t speaking to her. “No, I don’t have a boyfriend.”

“I’ll help. Let me speak for you. Come on.” The woman walked briskly ahead on a mission.

“What? What are you going to do?” I hurried after her until she slowed so I could take the lead.

“Just be quiet once we get to the table.”

I could still hear my best friend yelling. “Bea, got to go. Will explain in a few minutes, I promise.” I clicked off the phone to her protests.

“What’s your name?” My new friend asked.

“It’s Simone and what’s yours?”

“Your ‘Fairy Godmother’.”

I laughed and looked back at her. “You’re really are. Making my dreams come true, at least for tonight.”

As we walked back to the table, I looked towards the bar and Chris sat next to his date, who had a possessive hand on his thigh. When he saw me with the woman from the restroom, I could see his confused expression.  I glared at him quickly, hoping he could read my mind that he better be without that woman, at his place as he promised, if I’m ruining a good date.  I went back to my table and Derek smiled with relief before frowning when he noticed the woman behind me.

“Is everything okay?”

“I…” The woman nudged me when I started to speak and moved to stand in front of me.

“I’m so very sorry. Simone is my neighbor and I really need her help. She told me she was on a date with you, but I really need her. It’s a personal problem.  She will make it up to you.”

I could see the disappointment on Derek’s face, and my stomach panged with guilt.  “I’m sorry but…” I saw a movement.  Chris and his date stood to leave, and anticipation replaced the guilt. “I really have to go. Maybe we can get together during the week and I will talk to Tam about New Orleans for next week.”

“Oh…okay. Do you need my help?” He asked standing up with concern etched on his face.

“No, no baby…it’s a private manner.” My “godmother” patted his arm sweetly and spoke to me, “Did you drive your own car?”

“I did.” Glad I met Derek here more than ever. “I can give you a ride home.”

“I need to pay my bill first. Just come by my table when you’re finished.” She smiled at Derek again. “Please don’t be mad at Simone, it’s not her fault. I hate that I’m messing up her date.  I’ll give you some privacy.” She nodded at me before walking away.

I moved closer to Derek. “I’m sorry. I went to the restroom and ran into her.”

“It’s fine. I already paid the bill.  There’s your, to-go box.  I added my steak to your box. I think you’ll enjoy it more.” He gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek.  “Raincheck on the pasta?”

“Of course.” I hugged him tighter and whispered in his ear, “Thank you for understanding.  I promise to make it up to you.”

“I hope so…later, Simone.” He grabbed his jacket, pecked my lips this time, and headed out of the restaurant.

I picked up my food and hurried to where “my fairy godmother” ate with two other women. “Good evening, ladies.” I leaned down and kissed her cheek. “Thank you.”

She smiled. “Both are handsome, but that fine one in the restroom will steal your heart. I would love to know who you’ll end up with.”

“Me too.” I laughed. “Can I have your real name and number and I will keep you posted?”

*****

I called Bea, the minute I got in my car.  I pleaded, “Don’t curse me out, okay? I know I sounded crazy but, in a nutshell I’m on my way to have the most amazing sex with one of my students.”

“Are you fucking serious right now? Not the fine ass student you been crushing on that you told me you were over?”

“Yes, the one and only.”

“Not just a date but on your way to have sex? I thought I was the THOT out of the two of us. Explain.”

“His name is Chris and he came to my office hours on Monday and told me he couldn’t stop thinking about me and wanted to fuck me –

Girl, he actually said that?” She interrupted.

“Yes, and the next thing I know he had me on my desk. And then today we did it in the class after everyone left when he came to take the make-up final. He asked me out tonight, but I already had a date and then I thought it was best to end things anyway since he is or was my student. So, I went out with Derek, Tam’s friend?”

“Already preferring the student. I’ll get on your case later, on why I’m just hearing about the sex almost a week later, but I digress.”

“I swear you and Tam get on my nerves, I need you both to get along. Anyways Derek is really cool. I told you we had fun when we met up for coffee and he wants a relationship.”

“With you, already?”

“No, I mean in general. But it could be soon.”

“So why are you sexing the student if you’re feeling Derek? I mean I know I would, but you and I are different?  You’re the one ready to be married and birthing babies.”

“Because for once, I’m being you. I just want to date and see what happens. Chris is un-fucking believable. Easily the best sex I ever had, and we haven’t even made it to a bed yet. He is so damn sexy, and he knows it.”

“I’m so confused. So, were you on a date with Derek when you called me?”

“Yep. And Chris came to the same restaurant with his date. I went to the restroom to compose myself because I’m trembling and shit because I didn’t expect to see him and when I leave the restroom Chris is standing there and pushes me back inside and tries to have sex with me there.  He is so freaking hot that I agreed to get out of my date and spend the night with him.  And the conversation you heard was an older woman like she could be my Auntie, who caught us in the restroom. For some crazy reason she helped me with my excuse to get out of my date.”

“Take a breath. Chill. I can tell you’re driving.” She was right. I was talking and driving fast. I needed to focus. “You’re now on the way to his house?”

“I have to go home first to get his address and get showered again. What should I wear?”

“A ‘fuck me’ dress.”

“I’m already wearing it.” I laughed. “It’s the reason I got the chance to leave one good looking man to go sex another one.”

“Okay, I got an idea. Fuck him up and come over wearing pajamas.  You spending the night, right?  Make it like a slumber party and have fun.  I’m loving this…so exciting.” She squealed before asking, “You think you messed up things with Derek?”

“No, my ‘fairy godmother’ took care of that.  She pretended that she was my neighbor who needed my ‘help’ and I think he believed her.  She was an older woman so of course he believed her.  Plus, we’re supposed to double date with Tam next Saturday in New Orleans. I’m good on that end.”

“Now, isn’t this more fun than wondering if either one of them wants a committed relationship? And spending countless hours looking for signs and trying to decipher everything he does or doesn’t do?”

“Yeah. It is.” It did feel good to have some control over my dating life instead of waiting and hoping someone would call me. I had the potential to date two different men.

“I suggest you keep it that way unless one of them really makes you want more.”

“Ultimately, it will have to be Derek because I can’t openly date a student.”

“Like I said, keep it open until one of them really makes you want more, and he wants the same. Make no decisions until you do. Monie, just have fun, okay?”

“I’m already having fun.  Didn’t you hear me when I said I’ve had amazing sex twice this week and haven’t even made it to the bedroom yet?”

 

Forbidden trilogy on e-book/paperback now Available!!! 

Forbidden covers

Forbidden Paperback: April 26, 2019  https://www.amazon.com/Forbidden-Trilogy-Tiye-Love/dp/1940636965/

Forbidden Secrets  and Forbidden Hearts Release Date: May 3, 2019  

http://www.gardenavenuepress.com

On the eve of her tenth wedding anniversary, Kameron has doubts about her marriage to Aaron. On the surface, they have the perfect life and are the very definition of couple goals.  Yet, Kameron feels unease about her relationship and can’t figure out what’s missing.  Until Bakari, Aaron’s younger brother arrives back in town.  Kameron finds herself secretly, irrevocably drawn to him again as she did all those years ago when she first met him. Now, that he is back, Bakari is determined to get Kameron to risk it all for him, even if it means losing his brother forever…

Chapter 1

“You’re sure that this is the best time to meet your family? I mean it is your brother’s high school graduation. It should be about family,” I said as I wiped my palms on my jeans. I hated that I would get so sweaty when I was nervous. We were driving to my boyfriend’s home in Silver Springs, Maryland from Tallahassee, where we both attended Florida A&M University.
Aaron smiled as he focused on the road. “It’s the perfect time. Everyone will be there and what better time to introduce my girlfriend. My family will love you. Bakari can be standoffish but he’s not as important as my parents and the rest of the family anyway.”
I slunk in my seat. “This probably means that he will not be happy about me intruding on his special time.”
“He’ll be fine or get over it,” Aaron said with confidence, bordering on arrogance like the big brother he was. He reached over to tug on the ends of my curly hair. “Chill, baby.”
At his sweet tone and his endearment, I relaxed. I don’t know why I was so worried about his family liking me, since he was the kind of man who would still choose to be with me no matter their opinion. It was his idea to bring me home with him, though I thought it might be too soon. I still felt so lucky that he had chosen me over all those girls after him. He had been the big man on campus given his Greek affiliation and that he had been SGA president. Aaron Youngblood was literally tall, dark, and handsome. He was six feet, a full head of textured, black hair, beautiful dark skin, with a slight gap-tooth smile that would break hearts, and an athletic lean build from his track and field days. He was also wicked smart and charming for days. To add icing on the cake, he drove a silver BMW, courtesy of his well-to-do parents.
We had met at a party for graduate students last November. He was in his first year of his MBA program while I worked toward my master’s in public health. We both had a year left of school, and we had been inseparable ever since we met. I guess I should say since he met me, because I had a crush on him since my sophomore year in college. I just knew after he graduated college, I wouldn’t see him again. Imagine my surprise when I went to that party and I saw him walk in with his frat brothers. Well, let’s just say I was determined to get him to notice me, and six months later I was meeting his family.
When we arrived at his gorgeous family home an hour later, I was speechless. He parked his silver Beamer behind a white Range Rover on the circular driveway of a large, two-story Tudor home, in a very exclusive neighborhood. He told me he came from a successful family in which his mother was a corporate attorney and his father a cardiologist. It was expected that their sons would be even more successful.
I was a little intimidated because I came from definitely more humble beginnings and was raised by my father, who worked in construction. My mother decided she didn’t want a husband or children and left us when I was eight years old and my sister was eleven. She didn’t completely abandon us because she would pop in our lives and check on us from time to time and always said that one day, we would understand why she did what she did. My sister adored her, while I tolerated her because I was always a daddy’s girl.
“Come on, we’re here.” Aaron opened the door, breaking me from my thoughts. He hopped out, grabbed his travel bag from the back seat, and headed up the driveway with a bounce in his steps.
“Okay. Thanks for helping me with my bags,” I mumbled under my breath.
He wasn’t always the best gentleman. He wouldn’t automatically open my doors unless I required it, and he would forget to pull out my seat when we had dinner. I usually let him slide because I hadn’t met too many men who did do that, though my father always did that for me and my sister. I got out the car, uncertain if I should wait for him to come back or get my stuff and head inside. I sighed as I opened the back door, shaking off the traits I didn’t like and focused on what I loved about Aaron. What he lacked in chivalry, he more than made up in his warmth and affection towards me.
Suddenly, there was laughter and voices, including Aaron’s. From where he parked, I couldn’t see the front of the house. My stomach was queasy as I opened the back door. Man, I wished Aaron waited for me, so I wouldn’t have to walk up the driveway alone.
“Hey, let me help you,” a deep voice from behind me offered. I turned and almost bumped into one of the most handsome young men I had ever seen. He was brown-skinned, slim, probably around six feet, and his hair was faded with tiny twists on top, giving the appearance of soft curls. “Sorry.”
“Um…it’s okay. I got it.” I took a couple of steps back and squinted up at him since the sun shined brightly behind him. “I don’t have much.”
“No, I got it. You’re too pretty to be carrying these bags.” His full lips smiled, revealing perfect teeth and deep-set dimples, as he reached into the back seat and pulled out my pink suitcase. He pointed to my lap top bag. “Is this yours too?”
“Yeah.” I was tongue-tied for some reason at his nearness, and I moved to stand next to the front passenger door. Maybe I’m just nervous about meeting Aaron’s family.
The young man stacked my bag over my suitcase. He wore blue joggers and a white wife beater that perfectly emphasized his broad shoulders, his muscular arms, and a taut chest. Even his defined abs were visible through his tank. I shook my head and reminded myself I had a sexy boyfriend who I loved, and I shouldn’t be lusting after either one of friends or his family.
“Thank you, I can take it from here.”
“It’s cool. I don’t mind bringing your bags to the house.” He closed the back door and tugged on the handle of my bag and we began walking side by side. “You must be tired from traveling. That’s a long drive. If it’s more than a four-hour drive, then I need to fly.”
I smiled in agreement. “I would have preferred flying too since we’re only here for the weekend. We left at the crack of dawn just to get here on time, but the drive wasn’t too bad.”
The young man whose name I still didn’t know looked down at me. “On second thought, I completely understand why Aaron would want to take his time to get here with you riding next to him.” There was some type of energy I was hesitant to identify as we looked at each other.
“Hey, what’s taking you so long?” Aaron suddenly reappeared next to me, startling both of us, and I quickly averted my gaze to my pink painted toenails visible through my sandals. “I hope Kari is not giving you a hard time?”
Kari? This cutie was Bakari?
“No…no… I…was just trying to get my suitcase and…he came to help.” I found myself stumbling over my words. Damn, that twelve-hour trip must have tired me more than I realized for me to be remotely attracted to a teenager and my boyfriend’s younger brother no less.
“Relax, Kam.” Aaron wrapped his strong arms around me and playfully kissed my neck, his own infectious smile huge when he let me go. “Baby, it’s really okay. No need to worry, my mother is right inside, and she is ready to meet you.”
I held on to his waist, grateful that he attributed my nervousness to meeting his family instead of guilt at even noticing another man, especially when that man was his brother.
“Bro, you really should have helped her with her bags before you went inside. She doesn’t know us.” The young man responded with mild irritation as he pushed the handle into Aaron’s palm and said to me, “Miss, excuse my brother. He has no manners.”
Aaron said coolly, “Her name is Kameron. And I came back outside to help her, but you beat me to it. I couldn’t wait to see Mama and Daddy, something you wouldn’t understand.”
“Yeah, right, Ron Ron,” he snorted before jogging ahead. “Nice meeting you Kameron.”
“Ron Ron?” I asked.
“That’s the idiotic nickname he gave me when we were children, and he only called me that right now to annoy me. If you haven’t guessed, that was my little brother.”
“Bakari, right?” I had to still my beating heart at even saying his name aloud. Aaron didn’t really talk about his brother, except basic details, when he asked me to accompany him to Bakari’s graduation. I found it strange that as much as he raved about his parents, he had little to say about his only sibling, especially since I always spoke about my big sister.
He gave me a soft peck on the lips. “Yeah, that was him. Sorry I didn’t make formal introductions and left you. I was just excited to be home. Haven’t seen my folks since Christmas.”
“You’re sure it’s okay for us to stay here?” I touched his cheek, my early irritation with him gone at his apology. “I told you I don’t mind staying in a hotel so you can spend more time with your family.”
“Yes, Kam, for the fifteenth time.” He laughed. “You’re just going to stay in one of the guest rooms. Most of my family lives in the DC area so we only have a couple of members who came from out of town like us. We have plenty of room. If I didn’t want to be with you this weekend, I wouldn’t have asked you. Please, just chill. We’re going to have fun, you’ll see.” He turned toward the house, pulling my suitcase.
“Okay, okay, I’ll try, but meeting your family is such a big deal and to know you grew up with all of this.” I waved my hand toward the large house, with the multiple car garage and landscaped lawn, that could easily be on the front cover of any Home and Garden magazine.
“Baby, there’s nothing to be worried about. My parents are not stuck up. They worked their asses off for this house. Just like you and I plan to do, right?” Aaron reached for my hand and together we headed to his family home.
As we approached the large, beveled glass front door, a beautiful, older dark-skinned petite woman came out with the same twin dimples as her younger son. She lightly admonished, “Did my son leave you alone to get your own bags?”
Aaron explained, “Mama, it wasn’t like that. Tell that snitch to mind his own business.” He said the last part with his voice raised, though no one else was in sight.
“My sons…my sons,” she said warmly, shaking her head. She stepped back so we could walk inside the foyer. “Come in, Kameron, and make yourself at home.”
Once she closed the door behind us, Aaron beamed, “This is my mother, Constance Youngblood… and Mama, this is my Kam.”
She ignored my outstretched hand and enveloped me in her arms like we were already family. “We give hugs around here. Glad to finally meet you. He kept raving about you whenever we spoke on the phone. You’re even prettier than what he told me.”
I blushed. “Thank you. He raves about you too.”
“Oh, does he really?” Mrs. Youngblood raised a perfectly arched brow.
He bent to give his mother a hug. “Mama don’t be like that. You know I tell my women about you.”
“Excuse me? Your women?” I asked, trying to keep an edge out of my voice. He had been known to have plenty of women and sometimes at the same time. He swore I was different, and he was ready to be a one-woman man, and so far, he hadn’t given me any reason to not trust him.
“Come on, Kam you’re the only one. I was talking about my exes,” he explained before meeting his mother’s amused expression. “You said Dad will be back in a few, right?”
“Yes, Son, change the conversation. I just told you he had to pick up your Aunt Jackie from her house since she doesn’t like driving after dark.” His mother linked her arm with mine. “Go help your brother finish setting up the deck for dinner and I’ll show Kameron to her room.”
“But, Ma, I just got off the road,” he whined, sounding like the boy he will always be to his mother.
“No one told you to drive when you could have flown. Besides, you need to spend time with Kari before everyone arrives,” she said with a firmness that he could not ignore, and he stomped off toward the back of the house.
“You have a beautiful home,” I complimented, admiring the hardwood floors and the beautiful artwork that adorned the walls on our way to the split-level stair case that lead to two different floors.
“Thank you. The boys grew up in this home. We’ve been here since Aaron was seven and Kari was two.” Mrs. Youngblood touched my arm. “You look exhausted. Why don’t you get some rest before the dinner? It starts around seven. I’ll get you settled in your room and when you’re ready to come back down, I’ll show you around. Sounds good?”
“Sounds perfect.” I could finally breathe now that I met Mrs. Youngblood and she was so welcoming. Aaron was partially right I had no need to be worried about meeting his family. His handsome little brother was another story…
*****
The family ‘dinner’ ended up being a house party by anyone’s standard. Their lavish home was filled with people all excited about Bakari’s graduation. He was the youngest grandchild on both sides of the family, so this would probably be the last graduation for some years. Aaron’s family were a fun bunch of highly educated people. Despite their serious titles and professions, laughter and gaiety filled the air as classic soul music played through the wireless speakers attached to the walls in every room. They weren’t stuffy like I thought they would be, and anyone would spontaneously break out into dancing. At one point, while Aaron and I were preparing our plates, his father grabbed his mother’s hand and they gleefully moved in tune with one another to the music.
I tugged gently on his arm. “Are your parents always like this?”
Aaron smiled at his parents and then back at me. “Yep. Please, just don’t let them kiss. I don’t want to lose my appetite.”
I observed them dancing in each other’s arms and in that moment, I envied Aaron for growing up in a household like this, with parents who loved each other. Mine couldn’t even be in the same room. I could only hope for a love like theirs. I glanced up at Aaron who was intent on stuffing his plate, wondering if he was the love I’d always hoped for.
We carried our food to their expansive living area that had been converted into a mini restaurant with white linen-covered round tables and chairs. The sectional and matching recliner were pressed against the biggest wall across from their flat screen mounted on the wall. Aaron and I sat next to his mother on the sectional. He was obviously the “Golden Child” as he regaled everyone with stories of graduate school and from his childhood. Everyone seated near us, myself including, waited in anticipation of his next story.
Bakari, who sat next to his girlfriend in a chair off to the side of the room, didn’t seem to be as amused as other guests, though this party was in his honor. I couldn’t tell if he was annoyed with Aaron or just used to his big brother who loved being the center of attention, since he barely cracked a smile while everyone laughed. I was mindful to not look for him, but I found myself drawn to his slightly brooding manner. Even more so watching how attentive he was to his girlfriend, a shapely brown-skinned girl, with long red weave down her back, who could not stop gazing at him with love.
I noticed how he brought her a plate of food before making his own and when she sneezed, he immediately went to find tissue without her asking. It was easy to see why the girl was enamored with him, but I wanted to pull her to the side and warn her of pending heartbreak. He was leaving for Columbia University in New York to study engineering in the Fall. There was no way their relationship would last past the summer with his intelligence and good looks.
“Kameron, would you like something else to drink?” His mother touched my elbow. We were still sitting next to each other on the sofa, laughing at Aaron, who along with his cousin Jamal, was now standing and reenacting the scene from Harlem Nights when Arsenio Hall’s character tried to kill Eddie Murphy’s character. “I’m going to the kitchen.”
“I can get it, Ma’am. Would you like something while I’m in there?” I immediately stood.
“Aren’t you sweet? Actually, if you can bring me more Sangria, I’d appreciate it.” Mrs. Youngblood gave me her glass.
“No problem.”
The large kitchen contained a breakfast nook, and there was a huge picture window overlooking an oval pool. I headed to the white island where the drinks and desserts were displayed as if we were at a buffet style restaurant. Surprisingly, no one was in the kitchen, but we had been eating and drinking for a couple of hours now. The graduation was tomorrow for one in the afternoon and it was a little after ten. We would probably begin to settle down by midnight or so.
I grabbed another yeast roll—my weakness—and a can of Sprite. As I poured the Sangria, Bakari walked in. He had replaced his tank and joggers with a green polo and jeans. He came next to me to grab a bottle of grape juice as I finished refilling his mother’s glass. We hadn’t spoken since earlier at the car, so though he made me nervous, I wanted to be friendly. “This is for your mother.”
“Yeah, she loves her sweet drinks.” He nodded and opened his bottle, not quite encouraging conversation. He leaned with his back against the island, watching me as I wiped the few drops of wine I spilled.
“Um… congrats on everything… you must be excited. Columbia, huh? Aaron told me you’re going to study engineering. That was my original major. Sometimes I wonder if I should have stuck with that.”
“Really? You like numbers? You?” He asked with genuine surprise.
“Yes, women can do math too,” I said crisply.
He put his hands up in defense with a sheepish grin. “Woah, I’m not trying to get into an argument about girls and math. I’m well aware girls can do math, sometimes better than dudes. My mother is one of the best corporate attorneys and she specialized in estate tax when she was younger. So, trust, I know.”
“You mean women,” I amended, softening my tone. Of course, he wouldn’t be chauvinistic with a mother like theirs.
“‘Women can do math’,” he corrected with a smirk. “I didn’t mean to offend you. I was only thinking…never mind. That sounds worse.” He shook his head and took another gulp of his juice.
“What were you about to say?” I cajoled with a smile, enjoying our little banter. “Come on, I know we just met but I won’t get mad.”
Bakari lowered his gaze so I couldn’t see his eyes. “I sound like an ignorant ass, but I think you’re too pretty to be into numbers.”
“Oh,” I said weakly, knowing I should be indignant at his insult that was really a backhanded compliment. “I really need to get back.”
He touched my arm briefly and said quietly, “I’m sure you made the right choice.”
“Huh?” A flush came over me. What was he talking about? My relationship with his brother?
Bakari took another swig of juice, oblivious to my inner turmoil. “You’re in Public Health, right? I’m sure that was a better fit for you. You get to save the world and do math.”
“Oh, that’s what you meant.” I really needed to walk away before I made a fool of myself. This boy wasn’t worried about my relationship. “I guess I never thought about it like that, but you’re right.”
“Aaron told me you wanted to work for the CDC someday. I hope to be able to use my degree to make medicines. So, in a way we are both using math to save the world.” He tapped his bottle to the can of Sprite in my hand and held my gaze a moment too long before we both looked away.
“I’m actually surprised Aaron told you what I want to do.” I loved Aaron, but he could be self-involved, and he and Bakari didn’t seem particularly close.
“Surprised?” He frowned and suddenly seemed preoccupied with the bottle in his hand. “Why surprised? We may not be the best of friends, but we are brothers.”
“I mean…that… um…I just didn’t realize he had told you anything about me.” I was flustered with the shift in his mood from friendly to guarded. “Because he’s so busy, he half remembers what I’m studying let alone what I want to do once I finish school.”
“Hmmm,” Bakari responded, still focused on the bottle.
I don’t know why I once again didn’t use this awkward moment to excuse myself, because I’m sure Mrs. Youngblood had to be wondering what was taking me so long. Bakari seemed distant or bothered, and I wanted to leave him in the friendly mood he was in when he first came in the kitchen. “You’re so lucky you’re going to be in New York for school instead of a college town like Tallahassee. I’ve never been to New York, but it seems like a fun city.”
He lifted his head and had a slight smile. “It is. We used to visit a lot since its only four hours away. But even if I was going to Oklahoma, I would be excited to leave. I’m ready to leave home.”
“Really? Leave all of this.” I spread my arms glad his mood had lifted. “I could only wish to grow up in a house like this. And your family, they are mad cool.”
Bakari eyes widened. “What? We’re not driving you crazy? My family can be a lot.”
I turned around and leaned on the island like Bakari since I found myself having difficulty looking directly into his face while we engaged in conversation. It somehow made this conversation too personal. “No, I think they’re cool. I’ve had fun meeting you and the rest of Aaron’s family.”
He lifted his brows, and I couldn’t help but notice his eyelashes and his beautiful eyes, which were more noticeable from my side view. “This is fun to you? I would have preferred dinner with just my parents.”
“Well, I prefer intimacy too, but I have a small family, so we don’t have gatherings like this. It’s so loud here and so much laughter, I can tell you love each other.”
He shrugged, finished his juice, and grabbed some Evian water. Bakari nudged my shoulder with his and looked down at me. “This is the first time I’ve ever been jealous of my big-headed brother.”
“Why?” I asked, though I could guess his answer by the appreciative gleam in his eyes.
“Because you’re his,” he said slowly. He maintained eye contact as he took a sip of water, and I swear beads of sweat ran down my back.
“No reason to be jealous. Your girlfriend is pretty,” I reasoned, instead of running back to the safety and comfort of Aaron.
“Yeah, she is¬… but you are absolutely gorgeous,” he calmly replied without any flirtatious tone, letting me know he was serious. He leaned down and he stared at my lips.
I realized how inappropriate this was when he did and pushed away from the island. “Although I appreciate your compliment, you’re a little young for me, and I’m Aaron’s girlfriend. I better go.”
“Was that reminder for you or me?” Bakari called after me.
I swung back around. “What?” I asked sternly.
“That you’re Aaron’s girl.” He said as he gulped down his water and tossed the bottle perfectly in a nearby trash can.
“Whatever,” I huffed and made it to the kitchen door before I realized I forgot the drinks. When I turned, he was right behind me with my soda and a glass of wine in his hands. He smiled before biting his lower lip and bending down to kiss me. I should have slapped him for taking liberties that wasn’t his, but I wanted to taste his full lips.
“Hey, Kameron are you okay?” Aaron called from the hall startling both of us right at the moment Bakari would have touched my lips.
I quickly backed away and put my hand over my mouth in shock and embarrassment, that I was going to allow my boyfriend’s brother to kiss me.
Bakari searched over my shoulder probably to see if Aaron was near and then at me with an unapologetic smile.
I practically snatched the drinks from his hands. “How dare you try to kiss me? Leave me alone,” I muttered, and rushed away without another word.
“Please, wait… Kameron…I’m sorry,” he said.
I hurried back to Aaron, needing to see his face to snap me back to reality. I had never even thought, let alone want to kiss another man while in a relationship and then it’s with his younger brother. Bakari probably thought I was easy if he thought he could kiss me with his brother in the other room. And what the hell is wrong with me? I’m crazy about Aaron. He’s been my real-life fantasy come true for the past few months and I’m lusting after some dude I just met. Maybe I had too much sangria.

Chapter 2
I entered the Intercontinental Hotel, a luxury hotel along the Potomac River where the graduation party was being held, with Aaron’s arm slung casually over my neck. We had taken a romantic stroll at the nearby wharf. Aaron and I needed that time together, since he had been busy running errands or spending time with his family since we got here. I also had to hide the attitude I had with him, that wasn’t his fault, all day. He was supposed to sneak to my bedroom once the family went to sleep last night, but he never came. I had texted him several times and didn’t get a response until early the next morning. He had apologized for unexpectedly falling asleep in his old bedroom. He didn’t know that I needed to be intimate with him so I could erase Bakari from my mind.
The party was in an exquisite room with ceiling to floor windows facing the river. The décor could have been called “Shades of Blue” given the variations of that color in the balloons dispersed throughout and the candle-lit centerpieces that were on each dark blue linen covered table. Even the three-tiered cake in the front next to the gift table, appeared indigo in the moonlight that reflected in from the windows. This was easily the most expensive event I had ever attended, and this was just a high school graduation party.
Apparently, the guest of honor was popular with his classmates, based on the crowd already jamming to the DJ. He had graduated in the top ten of one of the most prestigious private schools and seeing him walk across the stage put it all in perspective. He was just a youngster and I was admittedly impressed with his intelligence, his looks, and his rather serious disposition. And I felt neglected by Aaron since he was consumed with his family and had not spent a lot of time with me until our walk around the wharf.
There was plenty to eat and drink, and because it was a teen party, there was no alcohol served. The DJ was in the back of the room and played the right mixture of past and current hits to suit the mixed generational crowd. Bakari was laughing and moving to the music on the dance floor with his girlfriend and other friends. He had pulled off his blue suit jacket and danced around in a button up long-sleeved white shirt. Once again, watching their antics, I was reminded that he was just finishing high school and I was in graduate school. I felt relief that I was able to identify my emotions as a tiny crush that was now over.
After speaking to his parents and a few other relatives, Aaron and I chose a small bar table for two in the back of the room. He made sure I was settled before he left to get both of us a plate of hot wings, grilled salmon, salad, dirty rice, and sparkling cider. I bopped my head to the music as I people watched.
Bakari suddenly plopped in the chair reserved for his brother. He radiated happiness. “Having fun?”
“Yeah.” I moved my head to the beat, determined to ignore the butterflies fluttering in my stomach. I hadn’t seen him this close since last night. He had already left for his graduation before I came downstairs for breakfast.
“Better than last night?” He asked in a deeper voice. The movement in my stomach increased.
“You mean, is this more fun than your dinner?”
“No.” He looked toward the party and then gave me a side glance. “I meant when we were in the kitchen.”
I needed him far, far away from me. My crush had not gone away. I was very much still attracted. I said warily, “You should get back to your party.”
He stood and grabbed my hand. “Come on, dance with me.”
I resisted and he looked down at me. “You really want to make a scene at my party?”
I didn’t, and I realized I was making a big deal out of nothing. It was just a dance and Hey Ya was playing. So, I allowed him to bring me to the center of the room, dropped his hand before we passed the small crowd of his classmates, family, and friends, who danced, and I just let loose since it was that kind of song. He played along with me and shook his whole body in rhythm to the music. Then the first beats of Drop It Like It’s Hot sounded throughout the party, and we all cheered, ready to be wild and free.
I had such a blast, I almost forgot about Aaron, who didn’t like to dance, until he tapped me on my shoulder. “Your food is getting cold,” he said with little emotion.
“Oh, yeah.” I waved bye to Bakari who simply nodded and continued to dance with his friends.
I followed slowly behind Aaron, hoping that he wasn’t angry that I’d danced with his brother. However, once we sat down and he began pointing out and identifying the guests at the party, I could tell he was fine. I was just tripping, worried that Aaron could tell there was a vibe between me and Bakari. He pulled his chair closer, so that he could put his arm around me as I enjoyed the delicious food. I was able again to toss off any wayward feelings and focus on Aaron. He knew how to make me laugh and he kept me in stitches as he made fun of some of his extended family and the tight dresses that the girls wore prancing around, hoping to catch Bakari’s eye.
He kissed my bare shoulder at one point. “Did I tell you how hot you look tonight?”
I wore a black, strapless cocktail dress that was a nice contrast against my caramel colored skin. My naturally curly hair was styled in a messy bun adorned with sparkly bobby pins.
“No.” I returned the kiss, but on his neck, where I briefly inhaled his masculine scent. “So do you, Mr. Youngblood.” And he did in his coordinated tailored black suit that fit his lean physique nicely.
“I’m glad you came home with me. It was important that you meet my family, and I can tell that they love you. Even Bakari has been friendly toward you. He had fun with you and he’s normally reserved, and I couldn’t be happier.” Aaron held my hand and gazed into my eyes, and all I could see was the man with whom I had fallen in love. “I don’t think I knew how much I missed my family until this weekend. Being here with them has made me want to come back home once I finish school.”
“I thought we were going to live in Dallas.” One of the reasons we connected was our mutual desire to move there once we graduated. I was from Atlanta but wanted a change of pace, and Dallas was a vibrant city.
“My dad has been talking to me lately and really thinks I should come back home and help him grow his practice and any other doctors or people who want to start their own businesses. I would be their business consultant,” he spoke earnestly.
“What about the job at Walden?” Aaron already had a job offer at a Fortune 500 company based in Dallas, although he still had another year of school.
“It’s just a job but this a career.” He said with excitement, “You know I believe in entrepreneurship. And my father can front me some of the start-up costs.”
“Yes, but that was supposed to be after you gained experience for a few years.”
“I don’t need to waste years when I already know what I want. Plus, I’ll be near my family again. I’ve missed them these last five years.”
I wanted to be happy for him but what did that mean for us? Here I am feeling sorry for Bakari’s girlfriend, and I’m in the same boat as she. A man like Aaron would not stay faithful in a long-distance relationship.
“We’ll work it out. It will all make sense, you’ll see.” He kissed me briefly before standing. “I got to go over there and speak to my old high school teacher. You good?”
I nodded, blinked rapidly, and waited until Aaron made it across the room, before I rushed to the restroom outside of the hall to compose myself. Gratefully, I was alone and there was a mirror in the sitting area. I went to the mirror and gently wiped my eyes so I wouldn’t smear my eyeliner and mascara.
“Relax, Kam. There’s no reason for these tears. There’s nothing wrong with him wanting to be close to his family.”
I can’t be sad about a man who may or may not be in my life in the future. I still had to focus on my goals. He is just my boyfriend and not my husband. Just because we have discussed a future doesn’t mean we’ll be together. I stepped back, took a deep breath, dabbed around my eyes once more, before opening the door. I jumped at the sight of Bakari standing right outside the restroom. “Boy, you scared me.”
“You okay?” Deep concern was etched in his expression.
“I’m good.” I tightened my grip on my purse, uncomfortable with his nearness once again.
“What did my brother do?” He searched my face as if he could figure it out just by looking and planted his hands on the walls on either side of the restroom door, effectively trapping me.
“It’s really not your concern, but he didn’t do anything.” I rolled my eyes more out of frustration that as much as I loved Aaron, his brother was doing something to me. I didn’t need to have any more inappropriate interactions. “Move, Bakari.”
He quickly surveyed the empty hall before he abruptly pushed me back in the restroom.
“Hey…what is your problem? Have you lost—”
Bakari kissed me, forcing open my mouth with his tongue. I was too surprised at first to respond and then when he pulled me closer and I felt his hardness against my thigh, I placed my arms around his neck and enjoyed the feel of his soft, pliable lips. He wrapped his arms tighter around my waist and toyed with my tongue once I kissed him back.
This was really happening! We were making out in the restroom not far from my boyfriend, his brother. His hands roamed my back while his tongue slid in and out of my mouth. I ran my fingers through the curly twists in his hair, and his kiss became more sensual and slower causing my stomach to tighten. A moan escaped my lips and Bakari cupped my ass, pressing his thick, hard, length against me. When the warmth of his hand trailed up my thigh, I quickly covered his hand and Bakari stopped to look down in my face. “I’m sorry, but I had to do this. I thought we were going to kiss last night, and all I’ve been thinking today is if I can just kiss her, I would be happy.”
I was breathless and speechless that he felt the same as I did. Bakari focused on my lips and lowered his head when my cell rang in my purse, jarring me back into reality.
“No!” I pushed against him and he surprisingly let me go. “We can’t talk about this. This meant nothing. You’re way too young for me.”
He wiped my lipstick off his mouth, slightly irritated. “And let’s not forget you are my brother’s girlfriend. You forgot to add that.”
“Ugh, you really don’t care that this would hurt your brother,” I said with disgust, directed more at myself than him for letting this boy, this bold as hell boy, kiss me. But Lord, he could really kiss.
“He’s hurt me before, but don’t worry, he’ll never find out about this.” He pointed to my purse that held my phone that had just stopped ringing. “That’s probably my brother looking for you.”
As Bakari was about to walk out, I stopped him. “Someone may see us. Let me check the hall first.”
He stayed back as I peeked out. I saw two guys and one whistled at me as they passed on way to the male restroom. I turned back to Bakari, who I caught staring at my ass. His eyes leisurely traveled my body, his desire so obvious, I almost wanted to go back in the restroom and finish what he started. I shook my head and cleared that sinful thought. “The coast is clear.”
As he moved past me, his arm brushed my breasts, and my nipples instantly tingled. “Sorry about that.”
“Really? So juvenile,” I said behind him as he walked ahead.
“You said I was ‘a little young’ for you.” When we got back to the ballroom doors, he paused. “Let me go in alone.”
“I was already thinking that.”
“Thank you for the best graduation gift.” Bakari looked at me once more with a half-smile before going back into his party.
I blushed at the sincerity in his words. “Well, at least I’m not sad anymore,” I said as I entered through another door and searched for Aaron.
There he was, “my knight in shining armor,” or at least that’s what I called him internally because he was my fairytale come true. He stood handsome by his parents near the cake table and smiled when he saw me. A flush of guilt overcame me as I walked up and joined them, and Aaron pulled me into his strong arms for a hug.
He squeezed me tight. “I was just looking for you. So sorry I stayed gone so long. Where were you?”
“Restroom. I think I ate something that didn’t agree.” I focused on being in his embrace and rested my head against his chest, hoping that his steady heartbeat would calm mine.
“Baby, I told you that we shouldn’t have gone with the dirty rice. Only people from Louisiana can handle dirty rice,” Aaron Youngblood, Sr. joked. He was an older version of Aaron, gap between his front teeth as well, and, like his wife, appeared younger than their fifty-five years old. The Youngbloods had good genes, apparently. Everyone was so freaking good-looking.
“You ready to do announcements?” Mrs. Youngblood asked.
“Yes. Aaron, tell the DJ it’s time,” her husband responded. “I’m getting tired. These young folks can go all night.”
Aaron went to the DJ table and within seconds the grand room was silent. He picked up the mic and brought it back to his father before standing in between me and his mother. I put my arm around his firm waist.
“We wanted to take this time to thank everyone for celebrating Bakari’s special day with us. We are so proud of him. Come on up, son.”
Bakari and his girlfriend approached the cake table. He seemed uncomfortable with the attention and kept his head slightly down while his girlfriend proudly held his hand.
Mrs. Youngblood took the mic from her husband and placed it on the table. “Let’s not use this. This room has good acoustics. Can everyone still hear me?” She asked the growing crowd around the table, and the room answered different versions of “yes”.
She stood next to her husband and then smiled at their youngest son. “Kari, you have always made me proud with your quiet determination and ambition. First, trying to imitate Aaron and then finding your own way. I can’t believe my baby is all grown and about to go to college. Time passes so swiftly. I remember the day you were born like it was yesterday, and we were so happy to have you. Sometimes I wish I could still hold you in my arms like I did that very… first day.” At the crack in her poised voice, Bakari raised his head to look at his mother, and they stared at each other with unshed tears. “But since I can’t, I hope you always know that no matter where you are, my arms are always there protecting you, caring for you, and loving you.”
His jaw clenched as he went to his mother and hugged her tight. I wiped my own tears at the emotions between Bakari and his mother. I looked up at Aaron, who was beside me, and though he clapped along with everyone else, his smile seemed forced. “You okay?”
Aaron glanced at me and then back at his brother and mother. “Of course. Just got a lot on my mind. We’ve been through a lot as a family.”
I wondered what they could have possibly been through. They were the perfect family. His parents were still in love, if their need to touch and defer to each other over the past two days was any indication. Aaron and Bakari were handsome, intelligent, and well-spoken young men who had earned full scholarships even though their parents could more than afford tuition. And listening to the rest of their family and friends speak highly of Bakari, I figured that maybe Aaron just meant the typical problems family have, like the sibling rivalry that was not so subtle between Bakari and him.
Aaron was the last to speak, and he kissed me on the cheek before stepping forward. “My little brother, wow. It’s crazy how I can still remember being upset when Mama brought you home. I already knew that somehow you would change my world. And boy did you.” Everyone laughed and Bakari wore an almost pasted-on smile, as if he was unsure what his brother would say. “He was the typical, annoying little brother, always wanting to do what I wanted to do. Always wanting my toys and breaking them when my parents made me give them to him. He was so spoiled. I used to get whipped for the tiniest things, but when he broke the flat screen trying to do a back flip, they put him in gymnastics and karate.” He shook his head in feigned annoyance.
“But one day I came home from college and I saw this mature, young man who had his own way of being and no longer wanted to be just like me. And though we all wanted him to go to an HBCU, who can blame him for choosing to go to Columbia, in New York City, where we spent a lot of our childhood. We may not have always gotten along, but I’ve always had his back. I could not be prouder of him, and I know he will do well.”
He went to Bakari, who seemed relaxed now, and they embraced tightly like the brothers they are. We all clapped loudly as they pulled apart and dapped each other.
“Hey…hey, I want to say something else,” Aaron said in a loud voice, grabbing everyone’s attention. He came back to me and held my hand and then spoke to family and friends more than to me. “I never thought that I would fall in love or that I would ever find what my parents have until I met Kameron. She is amazing and beautiful inside and out. She makes me happy. I wanted her to come this weekend so she could meet the most important people in my life, and she blended so well with us that she even got Bakari to dance with her.”
Although Aaron’s words warmed my heart, he had to feel my sweaty palms. I so hated being the center of attention. I had no idea why he would take this time, a night for his brother, to be so public about his feelings for me. I snuck a peek at Bakari, and he smiled at me, but it didn’t quite reach his eyes.
“She doesn’t know this, but I wanted her to come this weekend so that when I asked her this, my family could be here to share this moment.”
I heard gasps and clapping as he lowered to one knee and opened a baby blue box revealing a square cut diamond that glinted even in the dim room. “Kameron Alicia Patterson, will you please do me the honor of becoming my wife?”
Tears came to my eyes and my heart raced as it finally dawned on me that the man, I had been crushing on for three years and dating for the past few months, wanted to marry me. For some reason, my gaze briefly found Bakari’s, who wore a barely disguised frown. I then looked down at the man who I’d fallen in love with over the course of a few dates, because of his charm, affection, and ambition. Until I met his brother, I hadn’t thought twice about another man. Aaron was already the best boyfriend I ever had, and knowing he grew up in this home of love, I expected him to be a good husband. He had to be the one for me, and before I could change my mind, I gave the only answer I believed I could. “Yes.”
Relief came across his handsome face as he picked me up and swung me around. Everyone rushed us and congratulated us. My face was flushed with excitement and nervousness, but still I sought the face of the one person who’d quietly disappeared.
“It’s me and you forever,” Aaron promised as he wrapped his strong arms around me.
“It better be.” I smiled and reached up to kiss him, more to erase the memory of someone who already pierced a tiny piece of my heart.

Ten years later

Our tenth wedding anniversary was fast approaching in three months and we were having a big ceremony to celebrate. Aaron wanted to renew our vows, but I didn’t want to do that, though I never told him. I still loved him as much as the day I married him, but if I were honest with myself, there was something missing. I don’t know if it was me, him, or us. It just was.
We had a good life in which we owned a lovely three-bedroom townhome in Northwest, DC. We drove expensive cars—he still loved his Beamers and I drove a Lexus coupe—and took fun vacations to places like Costa Rica and Aruba. He could still be self-involved, bordering on being self-centered, and rarely considered me when he made major decisions.
We also had been trying for years to have a child. Aaron didn’t want to seek fertility treatments because he felt we were too young to seek that type of option. He said that if we didn’t have any kids by the time, we were thirty-five then we would explore other avenues.
I wondered if it bothered Aaron, who was so used to winning in life, that we were unable to have children, and more importantly, if he blamed me. He seemed happy. He was always smiling and full of energy as he slowly built his own consulting firm, Imagine. I was still considered lucky by everyone and maybe I was. But did anyone ever think that he was lucky to have me?
I laid in our bed with these thoughts. It was Saturday and I planned to do nothing this morning but rest. We had just finished having sex like we do most days, before Aaron rushed off for a business brunch. I didn’t have any major complaints in the sex area. He was still fine and sexy and did seem to want me as much as when were in graduate school. So, what the fuck was missing?
My home phone rang. Yes, we still had a home number. Aaron thought it was good to still have one in case of emergencies, like the fact that I had the tendency to lose my cell phone. Only a few people had this number, so it rarely rang since people nowadays preferred immediacy and would call our cell phones. I didn’t recognize the number, but it wasn’t a 1-800 number, so I answered.
“Hello.”
“Oh…hey. Is this Kameron?” a deep voice asked. It sounded vaguely familiar.
“Yes.” I sat up, still trying to recognize the voice.
“I was looking for my brother.”
I almost dropped the phone and stared at it for a minute until I heard him say, “Hello? Are you still there?”
“Yes. Sorry, sometimes this phone acts crazy. How are you?”
I tried to calm my nerves. Almost ten years had passed since I’d seen him, and though he hadn’t married, through conversations with his family, I knew he had had women in his life. Aaron had seen him over the years, but I managed to avoid those rare times he was in town, since he too, traveled so much in his career. I tried to block that day out of my head because of Bakari. Even now the thought of him made me tingle and want to touch myself. I hadn’t seen him since we ended up kissing again at my wedding to his brother, and eventually I rarely thought of him.
“I’m good. And you?”
“The same.” There was silence between us.
“So…is my brother there? I tried his cell, but it went to voicemail.”
“Oh, he’s at a brunch and he usually turns his cell off at different functions because it’s always ringing.”
“Yeah, my brother is always in demand.” His tone suggested that he accepted it as a fact and not as a put down as he would have when I first met him. “I guess I can ask you since it’s your home, too.”
“Ask me what?” I could see my pulse jumping in my wrist, in the hand that held the phone, and I told myself to relax.
“My mother told me to call since they’re remodeling for the millionth time. I’m coming in town for a week because I have a series of interviews with the Pentagon. I wanted to know if it’s okay for me and my girlfriend to stay with you?”
“You don’t think you would be more comfortable in a hotel?” I asked quickly. My instincts told me to run far away.
“Okaaay. If you don’t want us to stay, that’s cool.” His voice sounded distant.
“No, no. It’s not that. I mean, you said you were coming with a girlfriend, and I’m thinking she would want to be in a hotel,” I improvised.
“She wants what I want.” He spoke so smoothly I knew he was speaking truth. “Besides, since I’m thinking of moving back home, thought it was time for me to get to know my family again.”
“You’re moving back here? The interviews are for a job with the Pentagon?”
“Yeah, it’s more like a six-month contract. I have an option to extend the contract or look for a permanent position there or another company in the DC area if I decide to stay.”
“Look at you, Mr. Pentagon. You have to be proud?” I smiled despite trying to act unaffected by his voice. He had done well for himself, like his parents and brother.
“I work hard. It’s cool. Do you need to check with Aaron first?”
I bristled at the idea that I would have to ask my husband something before I could answer myself. Lord knows he rarely checked with me before making any decisions. “No, it’s fine. Like you said, this is our home. When are you coming?”
“Anytime you want,” he said suggestively, and my body was instantly on fire. “Sorry, old habits. You can’t talk like that to me.”
“Like what?” I asked, knowing what he meant but daring him to explain.
He chuckled. “Trust, you don’t want me to explain.”
“Scared?” I don’t know why I continued this line of conversation, which was so inappropriate, but he did start it. Maybe because I had just had sex and was feeling bold.
“Naw. But you should be.” I could hear the smile in his voice.
“I ain’t never scared.” I joked back and instantly realized I did need to stop. I am the married one. “Okay. Seriously, let me ask you another way. When will you be in town?”
“Next Monday, and we’ll leave that following Sunday since Mom wants to have a dinner with all of us on the weekend.”
“Okay, look forward to seeing you,” I said, more of a formality than anything else. I was still very scared to be in the same room as him.
“Me too.”
We both hung up.
I fell back in bed and snuggled deeper under my down comforter and thought back to my wedding and the last time I kissed another man outside of my husband…
******
We had a small but expensive wedding held at the Four Seasons hotel in which there were three groomsmen and three bridesmaids. Since the wedding was held in D.C., Aaron and his family had paid for most of the wedding, though my father’s pride wouldn’t let them pay for everything. He gave me over three thousand dollars, a hardship for him. I tried to give it back, but he wouldn’t hear of it. He liked Aaron and was proud I was marrying into such a family.
I walked down the aisle escorted by my proud father and felt like a princess dressed in a Vera Wang ombre tulle of blushing pink and off-white. I made sure to stay focused on the man at the end of it instead of the groomsman to his left. I hadn’t seen Bakari since his graduation party and didn’t intend to see him on my wedding day six months later. Once Aaron, who was so handsome in his fitted black tux, reached for my hand as my father “gave” me to him with unshed tears in his eyes, it wasn’t hard to forget everyone else.
A quiet calm replaced my jitters as with joined hands before our family and friends and God, and we pledged to love each other through sickness and health until death do us part. Afterward, I wrapped my arms around my new husband’s neck and happily kissed him. Everyone clapped.
The lavish reception took place in a nearby hall. It was there, as we were all amazed at the elegant candlelit ballroom full of pink and white roses, that as happy as I was with my new husband, I realized I still had feelings for his brother.
I’d avoided looking at Bakari during the actual ceremony, but when the wedding party and immediate family convened to take pics, I saw him. The way he filled out his tux took my breath away. He cut off his twists and appeared to have matured in the semester spent away at college. How could someone be so handsome, even with a frown?
He smiled whenever a picture was taken, but his expression would immediately return to a scowl or blank face. I might have been the only one to notice because there was a flurry of activity around us. At one point while I was taking photos with Aaron and my bridesmaids, he caught me looking at him and he stared silently at me, not caring if anyone saw him. I looked away first, ever aware of watchful eyes.
I was so relieved when we finished with the photos and could join the reception. I needed to get away from Bakari and enjoy my wedding day. I didn’t need to feel any regret, not on this day. As soon as we’d finished eating, I got my husband, to follow tradition, and we danced to our chosen song, “Yes” by Musiq Soulchild.
A good sport, he did a simple two step as I made up for his lack of ability and enjoyed the beginning of our new life. He hugged and kissed me constantly and thanked me for agreeing to be his wife. Whatever minor misgivings I might have had for marrying him, went out of the window at how transparent his feelings were for me in front of the people closest to him.
My mother, who hadn’t helped with any of the planning, was always dramatic, and I walked on eggshells and prayed she wouldn’t do anything to embarrass me. But she behaved. And for once her, my father, sister, and my niece and nephew who were the flower girl and ring bearer, looked like a family as they sat together and laughed.
I cried when I danced with my father who was always my rock and I could only hope that my husband would be there for me like he had been. We were the same caramel-colored complexion, unlike my mother and Kandy who were both light-skinned. He was of average height, had the grown man spread around his waist, but in general was fit and handsome with a head of full of black curly hair when most men his age were gray or balding.
“Kammie, I could not be prouder of you then this very moment. I know it has not always been easy with your mom and everything, but you still grew up into being this beautiful, strong woman.”
I hugged him. “Thank you, Daddy, for being my dad. I wouldn’t trade you for the world. You’re the reason I’m like this. I’m like you.”
His expression turned pensive. “I hope not all of me. You know I like Aaron and think he will be a good husband, but never forget your voice.”
“Of course not, Daddy.”
“I mean it. He’s a force of nature and everyone loves him. Anyone can get lost in his shine, his light is so bright. But you are his wife now. You should shine brighter, and he should do everything to make sure you do.”
I nodded and tried to fight back tears because I knew my father was right about Aaron. I had to make sure I kept my voice in our marriage. So far, his voice had dominated.
We left the dance floor and my sister approached. “Soon it’s going to be time for the garter, and I went to the suite and I can’t find it. “
I had forgotten to wear it and when I realized my mistake, I was already downstairs. I told my sister to get it once we finished taking photos. “That’s fine. I can get it.”
“You want me to get it?” my sister asked, though I could tell she didn’t want to leave the reception.
“No, you stay. I need a moment of peace.”
“Okay. We still have some partying to do.” We both laughed. Although we differed in so many ways, she was still my big sis and I loved her dearly.
As I headed out, I spoke briefly to guests who stopped me. I saw my groom talking to some of his frat brothers and signaled that I would be right back. I hurried to the bridal suite, and as I was about to press the key card against the lock to open it, Bakari walked out of the groom suite across the hall.
My heart began beating fast. “Hey…I was just getting something out of the room.”
“I’m not stopping you,” he said, sounding rather irritated.
I was not going to let his moodiness ruin my happy day. “Fine.” I went in my suite, but before I could close the door, he pushed in behind me. I took a step back. “What are you doing? I need to find my garter and get back to the wedding.”
“I’m sorry, okay?” He came closer and looked down into my upturned face. “Damn, you are so beautiful. It’s not every day you watch the woman of your dreams marry someone else.”
I touched his cheek with my palm. “Bakari, you can’t say that. We don’t even know each other. You’re still young. You just started college and you can’t possibly know what you want.”
He moved his head and kissed my palm. “I know what I want. I just can’t have it.”
I held the palm he just kissed to my heart. “Please, let’s just have fun today. What you feel is a crush and will go away as soon as you meet the next girl.” Needing to escape his hypnotic gaze, I edged away and searched for my garter.
“Has your ‘crush’ for me gone away now that you’re married?” He tilted his head as he watched me hunt frantically around the room.
I bent under the bed and I found the hot pink garter. I picked it up and stood. “Bakari, I have to go.”
He blocked the door. “Come on, tell me.”
I averted my eyes.
“Tell me you don’t feel anything for me.”
“Bakari, I just married your brother. I have to go,” I whispered. My words did not match my actions since I didn’t move.
He picked up that hand that held the garter. “Shouldn’t you be wearing this?”
I sighed and looked at him. “Yes. That’s why I need to go.”
Before I could say another word, he kneeled in front of me. “Hold on to my shoulder.” I did, and he then lifted my right high-heeled pearl-white shoe. “Does it go on this leg?”
“Yes,” I said breathlessly, feeling like Cinderella when the prince placed the glass slipper on her foot. Except I wanted to sex the prince badly.
Bakari slowly slid the garter up my leg until it was right above the knee. I longed to have his hands move higher, though I remained silent. His hands lingered around the garter underneath my dress as he gazed up at me until once again, I looked away. When he removed his hands to stand, I felt the loss of his warmth.
No matter the attraction, I was in love with his brother, who I just promised to love and cherish less than three hours ago. “Thank you.”
He said softly, “You are welcome.”
“I gotta go.” I was scared to move, as if I knew that once I walked out the door, whatever this was, was over forever. And for some unfathomable reason, I didn’t want it to be over. At least not yet.
“I know,” he said now, focused on my lips.
“Did you bring me a wedding gift?” I asked, my own eyes drifting to his mouth.
“What?” His brow furrowed. Why did he have to be so freaking gorgeous?
“If you didn’t, then this will do…” I impulsively pulled his head down and kissed him with all the passion I could muster. I knew that this would be the last time I could feel his lips, be this close to him, and I wanted him to know that whatever he felt, no matter how fleeting or inconsequential it might seem in the long run, it was reciprocated.
He responded in kind, as if he also knew that this would never happen again. His tongue was in my mouth as he wrapped his arms around my waist and held me as close as he could but was restricted because of the fullness of the skirt of my dress. Just the thought that he couldn’t hold me as close as we both wanted because I wore a wedding dress was like an ice bucket of water thrown on me, and the fact that my sister had just walked into the suite…
endgame trilogy covers (3)

****The last of the trilogy, Game Changer. Released on March 8 on Amaz****

Chapter 1

All great romances end in marriage

“Mommy?” My son called out to me, waking up from his nap on the sofa where I placed him, cocooned safely between a couple of pillows.
I sat on the deck of my mother’s home in Austin, enjoying the peace. I checked my cell and groaned. He had only been asleep for thirty minutes and I had hoped for the usual two-hour reprieve I so desperately needed. I started to get up to check on him when I saw a perfect combo of Michael and me staring up at me from inside the glass door. He tried to open the door but was still too small to do so without help, which was a blessing. MJ was already a handful at eighteen months old and running all over the place. I didn’t need to join a gym, keeping up with him was my exercise.
I opened the door and picked him up, kissing his chubby cheek, bringing him to the chair outside, and cuddled him to me. I hoped he was still tired enough to go back to sleep.
I sang in his ear and rocked him until his pretty eyes closed. His muttering and fidgeting lessened until he was back in a deep sleep. I used the throw on the back of the chair to cover us, and when I checked the time on my cell, I saw that I had several missed calls and unread texts from Michael since yesterday because my phone’s ringtone had been on silent. I stared out onto the lake that was my mother’s backyard as I contemplated what my next step would be.
“MJ woke up already?” my mother asked as she joined me on the deck.
She was growing out her brown and gray locks and wore jeans and a pink sweater, looking younger and younger every day. She had recently gotten married to Mr. Adam in a small ceremony attended by a few of their closest family and friends. I really liked him and hoped he didn’t feel like I was intruding on their newlywed bliss by being here. My mother had taken the day off while he went to work to give us time alone to talk. She had the glow of contentment that could only come from a good man’s love. After being alone for so many years, I was happy that she had met someone with whom she could share the rest of her life. This was their new home on Lake Travis that he had built especially for her.
“Shh! Please, let’s not wake him up,” I whispered. “I need this break. He has been nonstop since we got here yesterday. I don’t know what I’ll do when he’s five.”
“He just misses his daddy. You want me to take him back to his room?” My mother reached for him, but I shook my head.
MJ was the son she never had and she doted on him every chance she got. I didn’t even have a room here, but she made sure she turned one of the guest rooms into a room for him, complete with a car toddler bed. He was crazy about his Nana. They first bonded when she stayed with us for a few months after he was born.
“You’re sure? He may sleep longer in his bed.”
I held him close to me, not wanting to be separated from him just yet. “I need to hold on to him for now.” MJ was that rare daddy’s boy. He loved me and needed me when he wanted to sleep or for hunger, but his father brightened his day. He was always more active when his father wasn’t around, and amazingly would be so calm and loving in Michael’s presence.
She nodded with understanding. “You okay, Ladybug? You haven’t told me why you insisted on coming here at the last minute.” She rubbed her hands nervously, and I hated that I was bringing drama to her peaceful doorstep. “Not that it matters, but how long do you plan to stay? What’s going on? Is it Michael?”
I picked up the envelope I had received by courier yesterday while I was still in New Orleans and passed it to my mother. She frowned with curiosity as she took it and sat down in the chair next to me. She opened it and read. I continued looking out at the lake, holding tight to my son and gently rocking.
“Zoe, this can’t be right. I know he loves you.” I didn’t have to look at my mother’s face to know she was shocked and hurt.
A single tear managed to fall, though I fought back the tears hard. I thought I was all cried out over Michael Carson. “You read it right. My husband wants a divorce…”

Chapter 2: Do we really know each other?

Two years ago

My cell rang, and I hit the bedside table trying to find it so I could stop the incessant ringing. Disoriented from being woken up abruptly, by the time I found the phone, it had stopped ringing. I sleepily opened my eyes and looked at the display. I had a missed call from my mother and it was almost noon. Crap. I was supposed to meet her and Lydia for brunch at noon before they flew back to Texas. Michael and I were leaving Miami to go back to New Orleans tomorrow.
I sat up and looked to my side, expecting to see him still in bed, but he wasn’t there. I tried to get out of bed quickly and had to sit back down just as fast, a wave of nausea coming over me. “Good morning to you too,” I said, patting my belly. I hadn’t experienced much morning sickness, but when it hit, it hit hard.
I sat on the edge of the bed to let my stomach settle, confused about whether last night was real. Where was Michael? Did he really propose or was it a dream? God, I hoped it was real. I’ve been having way too many dreams since I got pregnant. An overwhelming sense of sadness came over me, and as I wiped my tears with the back of my hand, I almost cut my eye with the diamond ring on my finger. I sighed in relief, glancing around the room and spying the rose petals and used candles.
I am marrying Michael Carson and having his baby! The warmth of happiness and contentment settled over me. How was I so lucky to be with a man who could have any woman he wanted but chose me?
This time I slowly stood and searched for a robe in the closet. The nausea had passed, thankfully. I picked up my phone and didn’t see a message from Michael. Maybe he had to meet with the team or something.
I quickly texted him to see where he was and then texted my mother that I would meet them in the restaurant downstairs in thirty minutes. I had to tell my mother in person that we were engaged and that I was pregnant, and get on her for keeping it a secret that he had asked her for my hand in marriage months ago. She could have spared us a lot of heartache.
I turned on the shower and picked out a wrinkle-free sundress that I could just toss on to meet with them. I was still in disbelief as I stared at my left finger. Deep down I believed we would eventually get married, but to know that he had wanted to marry me months ago was humbling. Right when I was about to step in the shower, I heard his voice call out, “Zoe?”
I turned the shower off, put my robe back on, and went in the direction of his voice. “I’m out on the balcony.” I must still be sleepy since it didn’t occur to me to see if he was even in our suite.
I walked toward the large balcony that overlooked the ocean. God must have been smiling down on us this day. It was glorious out here, and so was the half-naked man wearing shorts with his muscled chest and abs on display. He sat on the lounge chair with one of his knees bent, his smile wide and beautiful.
“Morning, Dr. Carson.”
All thoughts of rushing to meet with our mothers went out the window. I walked to him and slid between his legs, resting my back on his chest where I wanted to stay forever. He put his arms around me and kissed me on the cheek.
“You mean, Dr. Broussard. I’m kind of attached to my name.”
He laughed loud. “Zoe, you already doodled Mrs. Carson on the napkin by the bed.”
I playfully smacked his thigh. “All right, smartass. I want to change my name to yours.”
“As if you had a choice.” He kissed my neck, hugging me tight, and I melted in his arms.
“Hmm, you feel good. Morning to you. I thought you were gone.”
“No.” His voice was still gruff, so I knew he hadn’t spoken to anyone until me. “I wanted to sit out here and reflect on everything. I have over one hundred missed calls since last night and I don’t know who most of them are. It’s all so crazy, right?”
“Yeah. I think I’m still in denial because I thought your proposal last night was a dream until my ring reminded me.” I held out my hand to look at it. “You did good.”
He covered my hand with his much larger one and brought it down to rest against my stomach. “I want to make you and our baby so happy.”
“You already do.”
“I guess I know that it’s about to get stupid for both of us.”
“What do you mean?”
“My team just won the Super Bowl and I’m the MVP. My career is going to be on a whole other level that I’ve never even dreamed of. I can’t prepare you for it because I’m not sure what’s going to happen. All I know is that our life will get very busy and demanding. We’re about to have a baby and get married…” He stopped his rambling and hugged me tighter. “I need you so much. I can’t lose you again. I can’t afford to lose us.”
I could hear his worry, his fears, and his excitement. I turned around so that I could straddle him. I put my arms around his neck, our eyes meeting before I leaned my forehead against his. He moaned, opening my robe as he entered me. I winced because I was still sore from last night, but he needed me, he needed to feel our love and connection, and I wanted to be there for him.
I spread my legs so he could fill me with his thickness. I began to slowly ride him as I held his face between my hands. “I’m not going anywhere. Being a new mother and a wife to one of the world’s most famous athletes scares me too. We just have to remember that at the end of every crazy day, it’s you, me, our baby, and God.”
“I think I can remember that, Doc.”
***
I was pacing the floor because, as usual, Michael was late. It continues to be my biggest pet peeve with him. He was meeting me at the doctor for our first ultrasound and he was late. I texted and called him, and he didn’t respond. Which pissed me off more. I knew he didn’t want to hear my mouth and he would arrive eventually. I had just gone in with the nurse and was preparing to undress when there was a knock on my door.
“Come in,“ I said, thinking it was my nurse.
Michael peeked his head in the room before fully entering, dressed casually in baby blue Nike sweats. “Hey, baby, sorry I’m late. The shoot ran over.“
I rolled my eyes because I knew that would happen when he told me the photo shoot for the Nike ad was scheduled the same day as the ultrasound. I urged him to change the date, though he swore he could do both. His philosophy was that as a family we had to learn to juggle because there was always going to be some personal and professional commitment or obligation.
“Zo, I’m here, right?”
I changed the topic because I hated that he never really learned from being late. Nothing really bad ever happened because of his lateness. “Can I have my privacy?”
He frowned and looked around the room. “You serious? I see you naked every day.”
“I don’t know, it feels weird for you to be in here watching me undress. Wait outside until I’m ready.”
“Zoe, I’m not leaving this room. There is a curtain. I will be on the other side, okay?” He moved to sit in the chair on the other side of the curtain.
As usual, he made sense—well, at least since I’ve been pregnant. Lately I can’t think straight or lacked common sense, and my hormones were all over the place. I was angry, happy, and sad sometimes within the same hour. Michael was pretty much happy all the time now that he had the Super Bowl ring, me, and a baby on the way. It was freaking annoying that I was gaining weight fast, had no control of my emotions, but he was still as handsome, in shape, and calm as ever.
When I started to undress, he poked his head around the curtain and smiled. “Hey.”
I put the clinic gown against my chest. “Michael, I’m serious.”
He chuckled as he disappeared behind the curtain again.
I finished changing and sat on the examination table. “You can look now.”
He pulled the curtain back and then pulled his chair next to the table. “You sure? I mean I can still see your legs.” He ducked as soon as he spoke, knowing I was going to pop him.
My doctor walked in as soon as I swung and missed. She laughed at the sight.
“Sorry, Dr. Turner, but he gets on my nerves.”
“If you knew how often I’ve seen my other patients hit their partners, I would be a rich woman.”
“You’re already a rich woman,” Michael added.
Dr. Turner was one of the most sought after obstetrician/gynecologists in New Orleans. Before I became pregnant, she was already my doctor. When I discovered I was pregnant, she told me she figured it would happen when I missed my last appointment with her since I was receiving shots. I trusted her to be discrete, and she signed a nondisclosure agreement that she and her staff would not leak any details about my pregnancy or the birth to the press. Since Michael had been named MVP, media constantly approached him about his personal life. He had not made any more public statements about our relationship nor revealed that I was pregnant. He wanted to shield me for as long as he could from his world because he worried about my stress level.
“Exactly my point.” She smiled at me, interrupting my thoughts. “Are you ready to see your baby?”
My stomach bubbled in excitement, or maybe it was the baby. I couldn’t tell anymore because I had morning sickness regularly now that I was almost four months pregnant. Michael stood, taking my hand as the doctor prepped me for the ultrasound. “We don’t want to know the sex until the birth,” I informed her. We had decided that we wanted to be surprised and if we changed our minds, our friends could throw us a gender reveal party so we would still be surprised together.
“No problem, I will honor what you want. Although it is still too early for you to know anyway.”
“That’s right.” I had been reading all the pregnancy books I could so I would know what to expect. Michael humored me when I gave him a new fact and listened patiently, though I know he believed everything would go out the window the minute I felt the first pains of labor.
She placed the gel on my stomach and then rubbed the transducer over my belly. Instantly we saw my womb on the monitor. Michael held my hand as we saw our little one’s feet and hands. I admit I had trouble distinguishing body parts, but Michael was able to tell, and he helped me see our baby too. He was so proud, and I felt so lucky that he was as excited about being a father as I was about being a mother. I still marvel that when he first walked into my office almost two years ago, I had no clue that this arrogant, handsome man would be my husband and the father of my child.
***
We arrived home still excited over the ultrasound, and Michael grabbed the mail that Myra, the housekeeper, had left on the foyer table. He focused on the mail and I thought about everything we had to do between now and the birth. We hadn’t done much together except celebrate winning the Super Bowl and be happy that we had a baby on the way. We had even postponed our vacation to adjust to all the changes. I had moved in officially and planned to fly back and forth to Houston every two weeks until closer to my due date. Michael joined me there whenever he could. He had so many endorsements deals and meetings about those deals that he was hardly at home. We hadn’t even discussed a wedding date, and everyone was on my case, especially Bunny, who I already asked to do the planning.
I wrapped my arms around his waist and rested my head on his back as he opened one of the envelopes. “I’m thinking we can have a fall wedding. I love October.”
“Fall? I want to be married before the baby gets here.”
“We don’t have the time to plan a wedding in a month.”
“It doesn’t have to be that soon just as long as it’s before the baby is born.”
“Um, I don’t want to be fat for my wedding pictures. Those are forever. You see how fast I’m getting big. I don’t want to look like this on our wedding day.”
He was still sifting through the mail, something his assistant could have handled but was one thing he insisted on doing. He looked over his shoulder at me. “Stop. You’re still sexy. Besides we don’t need a wedding.”
“I want one.” I folded my arms, pouting.
“Fine, then choose a date sometime before the baby, and I’m there.” He kissed me on the lips and headed to the kitchen.
“We don’t have to be married first to be parents.” I followed behind him, trying to take off my heels in the process.
When he noticed that I was taking off my shoes, he stopped walking so I could lean on him. Michael was always very attentive and had been spoiling me ever since I told him about the baby, which brought us even closer.
When I finished pulling off my heels, he picked them up and placed them in a bin we reserved for shoes in the hallway. “I know that, but that‘s what I want. My mother tells everyone that they were married but my parents were never married.”
“We’re not your parents. Don’t be old school about this, Michael.” He walked into the kitchen and I followed him to continue our discussion.
“Zoe, I have the money to plan a quick and beautiful wedding in a week if you’re worried about looking fat in the pics.” He retrieved a glass out of the cabinet. “By the way, didn’t realize you were so vain.”
“I didn’t think I was either until I started gaining all of this weight.” It seemed as soon as I told him and our families and friends, I blew up. I was already two dress sizes bigger. “Please, Michael. I have enough on my plate getting ready for a baby, I don’t need to worry about a quickie wedding.”
“Let me think about it, okay? I don’t care about a wedding, I care about you being my wife, especially before the baby is born. I never wanted to bring a bastard child into the world.”
“That’s harsh. We are not bringing a bastard into the world. Don’t get all religious and moral now, Mr. I Slept with More than One Woman at the same time.” I sat at the island.
He rolled his eyes. “This is different, come on. I’m not that man anymore. My child will be different from me and it starts from birth.”
“I hope he’s different,” I said, patting him on the ass when he passed me to go to the refrigerator.
He smiled at my touch. “Let me think about it, Zo.”
I nodded. “We also have to think about a nanny at some point. Val from the Wives Club told me about the company she uses. “
“Why do we need a nanny? Our mothers will probably be around at the beginning and then when the baby is a little bigger, you should be fine.”
“I will need help, especially when the season starts again and I’m at the clinics.”
“The baby will be so small during this season, you don’t have to travel to the away games. And my mother can watch during a home game you want to attend. We can hire someone to work the clinics.” He grabbed a bottle of tea out of the refrigerator. “You want water?”
“Yeah, and pass me an apple please.” I took a deep breath and wondered where he was going with this. He couldn’t possibly think between his and my career we had enough help.
He handed me an apple and a bottle of water.
“Michael, we need a nanny.”
“No, we don’t. You’ll be home.” He stood next to me.
“Initially, but I only plan to be home until the baby is four months.” I bit my apple.
“You’re not working.” He sipped some of his tea, steady looking me in the eyes.
“You mean until our baby is a little older, or indefinitely?” I was starting to get a tension headache. I fought against it by breathing slowly because my goal was to keep my stress level low while I was pregnant. But he was stressing me big time with this whole nonsense that we needed to be married before the baby, that we didn’t need a nanny, that he didn’t want me to work.
He sighed loudly as he looked down at me. “You don’t need to work until our child is ready for school if you really want to work.”
“Four years? That’s not happening. Are you not working for the next four years? And if we have another child, I’ll never go back to work.”
He glared at me. “Most women wish they had a husband who could take care of them, so they didn’t have to work when they have children.“
“Well, marry one of those women, but I’m not staying home that long.” I got up from the stool and threw my apple in the trash, appetite gone.
He folded his arms and leaned with his back against the island. “My baby is not being raised by a nanny.”
“Your baby is not going to be raised by a nanny. I want to be a mother, I just know we’ll need help.” I tossed my hand, irritated he would think that I’d want my child raised completely by a nanny. “You’re killing me with this old-fashioned, backward thinking.”
“I’m not hiring a nanny,” he said firmly, tightening his mouth.
“Fine. Then you stay home, and I’ll work. We have more than enough money for you to stop playing.”
“Zoe, you know I need to work.”
“And so do I.” I shook my head. “I can’t believe we’re having this discussion after everything we went through about my career. You know how much my career means to me.”
“That was before we knew you were pregnant.”
Anger burned inside me, but after being so excited about the ultrasound, I wanted to keep the peace. “Look, we don’t have to discuss the details yet. The baby is not due for another five months.”
“It doesn’t matter whether we discuss it now or later, we’re not getting a nanny.”
I slammed my water bottle on the counter and walked away. He grabbed my arm and pulled me back into him. “Michael, let me go.”
He wrapped his arms tighter around my waist. “Not until you’re not mad at me.”
“As long as you insist we don’t need a nanny, I will be pissed.” I pouted, something I found myself doing around him a lot lately.
He lifted my chin toward his face. “I only trust you and our mothers with my baby.”
“Our baby.” He was so excited about this child, I swear I had to remind him that he or she was mine too. I felt blessed he was so involved with my pregnancy, but his machismo was on overdrive. “Trusting someone to take care of our baby will be hard, but our lives are too busy to think we don’t need a nanny. You said that as a family we would always have obligations. We have been nonstop already and the baby isn’t even born yet. What about when we both need to attend different events in the city?”
“We’ll get a babysitter that we use on occasion.”
“Ugh, what’s the freaking difference?” I tried to pull away again.
He held on to me firmly. “For a psychologist, you run from conversations a lot. I want to talk about this.”
“And I don’t.” I shoved his hands from around my waist. “At least not now, okay? You said you wanted to think about our wedding date, and I need us to discuss getting a nanny another time. You’re stressing me out, and I need to chill for the baby. I know this is a battle I need to be ready for since I can tell neither one of us will budge on our opinion. Let’s just enjoy the rest of the day.”
“Don’t leave mad.”
“I’m not.” I turned to walk away.
“Kiss me if you’re not,” he dared playfully.
I turned back around and kissed his cheek. “See. Not mad.”
He grabbed me by the chin and kissed me, opening my mouth with his tongue. I broke away from his kiss.
“I know what you’re trying to do and it’s not working.”
He smiled as he started kissing me on my neck. “What am I doing?”
“Trying to get me hot so I won’t be mad at you.” It really was working, though I was still irritated with him. “I’m not mad.”
He touched my breasts through my shirt. “But are you hot?” He reached under my shirt. “Your breasts are the best part of you being pregnant. Hmmm… They are so big, so luscious.”
I put my arms around his neck and let go of all anger as he cupped my breasts in his rough palms and continued kissing my neck. My nipples swelled into his hands and my skin tingled wherever his lips touched. He unbuttoned my shirt and bent and sucked my nipple through my bra. His hand moved inside my joggers and I opened my legs to give him access. “I don’t know why you can’t admit that all I have to do is touch you…”
“Damn you, Michael,” I whispered as I moved wantonly against his mouth and hand. He slid off my pants, lifted me onto the island, and started fucking me.
This man always had a way of making me want sex even when I wasn’t feeling it. As I let go to the pleasure, I couldn’t help but wonder if it meant something that in the first major discussion about our future since we got engaged, our views were so different?

Chapter 3: And the drama begins…

“Hey, Doc. You get tied down and you can’t call nobody,” Ty joked on the phone.
“Don’t be like that. You know it’s been crazy. I can hardly take a breath with everything going on.”
“You and Michael still good, right?”
I smiled, thinking of him. “Yeah, we’re good.”
“That’s all that matters, right? Chill so my godchild won’t come out with anxiety. You and Michael are nervous enough.”
At least, Michael and I did agree on godparents. I had asked Paula to be the godmother and Michael asked Ty to be the godfather to our baby. Because of his background, Michael had trouble trusting others and didn’t have many close friends. Because Ty had been there for us and rooting for us, even when there was no us, we had all become good friends.
I laughed, knowing he was right, Michael and I could be a hot mess at times. “Mind if I stop by your house soon? We need to catch up.”
“What are you doing tonight?”
“I don’t have any real plans. Michael is in L.A. for an endorsement deal. I’m leaving for Houston on Wednesday and he’ll meet me there on Friday.”
“Yes, come over tonight. I’ll make you spaghetti.”
“With ground turkey?”
“Of course. I’ll be home about six, that good?”
“That works. See you later.”
We were careful not to be seen in public without Michael or the rumor mill would go crazy. I realized too many people were curious about my relationship with Ty, so I decided to be more private about our interactions. I had asked Ty if it was okay to tell Michael’ s mother why he and I were not interested in each other, and surprisingly he said no. His logic was that men and women can be friends, and if Michael approved of our friendship, he didn’t feel the need to explain to anyone else why he and I were just friends.
Frankly, I couldn’t agree more. At the end of the day, I was marrying Michael and as much as I loved Lydia, she would have to trust that I wouldn’t do anything to hurt her son.
***
We were in his kitchen, eating Ty’s delicious meal and drinking sparkling cider while talking about all the common TV shows we watched. He was like the brother I never had, and it was refreshing to have this kind of relationship with a man and not have to worry about him hitting on me. I needed his ear, especially with how Michael had been acting lately.
I sat back in my chair and took another sip. “I knew he was sort of chauvinistic, but this pregnancy has made him all moralistic too. Am I wrong if I want to get married after the baby is born?”
“I wouldn’t say wrong, but that does surprise me.”
“Why?”
“I would have thought you would want to be married first.”
“Yeah, ideally, I would have if I wasn’t already pregnant. I always pictured my wedding a certain way and rolling down the aisle wasn’t it.”
“‘Rolling down the aisle’? You’re even more beautiful now.” He chuckled. “I had no idea you were caught up in your appearance.”
“Michael said the same thing.”
“He wants to be married and you don’t? That’s hilarious to me.” He poured more cider. “I don’t know, Doc. If you’re married and things don’t work out, you have rights. What if once the baby gets here, he changes his mind about marriage? You already live together. If you don’t feel the need, then he may not either. There are plenty of baby mamas who want to be wives in the NFL and are never offered that opportunity.”
“I do want to marry him but after the baby comes. I want time to plan and the idea of doing all of that while pregnant is too much. Besides, I don’t think this is the only time he would want to marry me.”
“He has crazy money and can hire a wedding planner. You don’t have to do anything but show up. I don’t see the big deal. Is it really about what you look like?”
I covered my face with my hands. “Yes. And a big part of me is ashamed it matters to me. I wished it didn’t, but it does. Women usually are their most beautiful on their wedding day. And don’t get me wrong, if I were already this size before I was pregnant, I would rock it because it would be me. But this new me I see in the mirror is foreign. I’m afraid I won’t feel beautiful and it would show. I mean think about it, these pictures are forever and probably going to be featured in a magazine at some point since Michael is the most talked about athlete right now.”
“All right, all right. I get your point. Did you tell Michael what you just told me?” He put his elbows on the table, resting his chin on his clasped hands.
“I tried, but then we got into an argument about getting a nanny.”
“You’re shitting me? He doesn’t want a nanny?”
“Nope. That crazy man of mine thinks we can get by with our mothers and a babysitter who we call when needed.” I leaned closer to Ty. “And guess what? He doesn’t want me to work anymore.”
“Get the fuck out of here! One of the reasons you broke up was because of his interference in your career. Now he doesn’t want you to work.”
“Seriously, Ty, I wanted to strangle him. He said that because I’m pregnant now everything changes, and I should be glad that I don’t have to work. That’s the main reason he doesn’t think we need a nanny, because I will be home and not working anymore.”
“Are you and Michael still cool after that conversation?”
“We cut the convo because it was getting heated. Nothing was really resolved, and it’s been a month since either one of us brought it up. We’ve just been going with the flow.”
He rose from the table and started gathering up the dishes. When I got up to help, he urged me to sit back down with a wave of his hand. “You’re my guest.”
I watched him as he finished cleaning the table. He had a pep in his step and seemed to have plenty of energy. “You’re smiling a lot tonight. What’s up?”
“I wanted to talk to you because I know you would be real with me. Let me finish this and we can go sit in the den where it’s more comfortable.”
“Okay.”
He quickly finished, and we moved to the den where he sat on the sofa and I stretched out on the recliner across from him. I rubbed my belly, which had become my new normal.
“Feels like a session, Doc.”
“I guess, but I’m not going to psychoanalyze you. We’re friends and you have something on your mind that you want me to hear.”
“I know that’s what you say, but I always feel lucky that I have a psychologist I can talk to at any time.”
“I swear I’m being just a friend with you and not your therapist. It’s been a while, but think back. Do I act the same toward you now as I did when we were in sessions?”
“No, you’re definitely different. You were more professional, more formal. You used to call me Mr. Turner. Or maybe because I know another side to you, it feels different.”
“Yeah, but know that I can separate between you as my friend and you as my client. You have become like a brother to me, and I feel like I can talk to you and hope you feel the same. This is not therapy.”
“I need a big sister and that’s who you are to me. I have one younger brother who’s in college now and though we love each other, I can’t talk to him like I talk to you or Michael.” He drank beer while I continued with the cider. “Michael. Who would have thought he would be my friend? I couldn’t stand him when we first met. He was so fucking arrogant and standoffish. Now everyone loves him and I’m going to be the godfather of his child. Crazy, right?”
“Yes. He was so jealous of you, and now if I get scared while he’s gone, he tells me to call you. I still think it’s surreal how my life has changed since I met him.”
“I know you’re trying to figure it all out but keep in mind, he loves you and he means well. Find a way to compromise. Maybe you can agree to stay home for a year, work from home, or something. Or get married legally and have the wedding later. I don’t know, but that’s what relationships are about, making those compromises. “
I sighed because Ty was right. Michael and I had to find a compromise because I wasn’t going anywhere. And the way that man loved me, he wasn’t either. “I’ve got to get out of my head. I’ll talk to him when he gets back because it’s like the elephant in the room neither of us wants to discuss. But enough about me, what’s up with you?”
His face broke into a wide smile, the kind that’s prompted by another person. “I met someone.”
I clapped my hands in excitement. “Good for you. Are you ready to openly date?”
“Not necessarily.”
“Okay. If that person wants to remain hidden too, I guess it should be fine.”
He looked away and then back at me. “Promise you won’t tell Michael.”
“Um, unlike you, I can keep things between you and me.”
“Funny, haha. I only told Michael about you and Xavier meeting up. That’s all.”
“Causing unnecessary stress because I had to hear his mouth.” I covered my feet with the quilt he kept on the recliner.
“I told him not to call you.”
“As if he would listen when it comes to me.”
“I know that now, which is why I will never be you and Michael’s go-between.” He rubbed his hands together and sat forward. “This might bother you too, but I had to tell someone.“
“What, Ty? You’re making me nervous.”
“I think I like Jamila.”
“What?” I still felt some jealousy when I thought of her. “How can you like Jamila? You’re bi?”
“My first crush was a girl when I was seven years old. I had my first crush on a boy when I was sixteen. I’ve had secret relationships with men since football became my career because it’s not acceptable. I’m blessed no one has tried to out me.”
“Have you liked or dated women since you realized you were gay?”
“I told you I was gay because it was the simplest explanation on why I avoided dating. Truth is, I don’t like labels and don’t consider myself anything beyond a person who has been in relationships with both men and women. I never wanted to openly date males or females because I never wanted it to be said that I was pretending to be something I wasn’t. Maybe if I were an engineer, I wouldn’t care what others thought about my dating life. But I could lose my career and possibly endorsements if people knew that I’ve been with men.”
“Ty.” I stopped talking to gather my thoughts because I didn’t want to hurt my friend. “Are you taking the easy route by focusing on women? You need to be true to yourself regardless of what the whole world thinks. You can’t pretend to like women because it’s easier. You’ll end up hurting yourself and the women.”
He stood and paced back and forth in irritation. “That’s just it. I have feelings for her. It’s not because I think it’s easier. I always thought she was attractive. She’s funny, down to earth, and she’s so good at what she does. Michael made it clear she was off limits, so at first, I didn’t think of her in that way.”
“Hold up. What do you mean he made it clear?”
Ty rolled his eyes. “Let it go, Zoe. He chose you. When she first got here, he told us that she was an ex and to treat her with respect. I don’t date a friend’s ex.”
“Okay, smartass… even though he is with me now, she is still his ex. Nothing has changed.”
“I know. But she’s been working with all of us now and I’ve been spending time with her and I know it sounds crazy, but I’m crushing on her. And I know she’s attracted to me too. We’ve been flirting through text a lot lately.”
“I don’t know, Ty. It would already be a bad idea because of the team and her history with Michael. Then add on your sexual history and the fact that Michael knows. And what happens when you tell Jamila? I don’t know too many women who want to be with a man who also has had sex with men. I‘m not saying that you don‘t have feelings, but you can stop it before it gets deep.”
“You know how hard it is to resist someone you should,” he reminded me before sitting back down. “I see her almost every day and I find myself wanting to talk to her any chance I get. What if this is real, do I ignore what I feel?“
“I don‘t know. Are you sure she‘s interested?“
“I know when someone wants me,” He leaned back on his sofa, all cocky, like the handsome, confident, NFL player he was.
“Fine… then before you go any further, tell her the truth about your sexuality.”
“There has to be a right time. You don’t have to tell anyone about your past until you think it’s going somewhere.”
“Well, then before you have a second date or have sex, you need to tell her.”
“What if my past bothers her?”
“Then you have your answer. And you move forward either way.”
He sucked in his breath and let it out slowly. “What do you think she’ll do?”
“I don’t know.”
“What would you do if Michael told you he had been with men in the past?”
“I would be angry if I just found out, but I can’t say for sure I wouldn’t have dated him if it was discussed early on. As far as I know, I’ve never been with a man who has been with men. I care about people too much to judge them.” I sat up and looked at Ty, biting my lip nervously. “Have you and Michael ever done anything?”
He met my stare. “No, and I have no desire. No more than you feel toward any of your friends. He’s not gay or on the down low, unless he’s hiding it well. I was just asking your opinion. Doc, don’t start giving Michael the side eye, please.”
I relaxed somewhat though this conversation was hard. “Love is a risk, but it definitely won’t grow without trust. Tell her when you think the time is right but before she feels betrayed. I won’t tell Michael anything.” I prayed there wouldn’t be anything to tell him because something told me the situation could get ugly.
***
On Thursday afternoon, I was in my office in Houston finishing up. The clinic was already closed, and Lydia had gone home. We had a productive day. I planned to close up, pick up something to eat on the way to the condo, and just relax. I was checking my email one more time when I sensed a presence. I was startled to see Michael lounging against the door.
“Anytime I see you in an office, I get hard.”
I smiled, excited to see him. “Your mind stays in the gutter. What are you doing here? I was expecting you tomorrow.”
“I finished in L.A. early and when I called Ma, she said you were still here. I figured I would take you to dinner. You ready?”
“Sounds good, except can we get takeout? I’m tired and don’t feel like dealing with the fans who want to take a selfie with you.”
“Jealous?” He smiled, showing his dimples.
I quirked an eyebrow at him. “I haven’t seen you in a few days. I want you to myself.”
“You can have me.” He continued to lean against the door, though I could sense his mood had changed. “Stand up.”
“I’m almost finished. Let me just—”
“Stand up.” He pushed himself away from the door and walked into my office, shutting the door closed with his foot.
I pushed my rolling chair back and stood up, waiting for him to come to me, the sexual tension stirring between us.
Our eyes stayed locked as he approached and came to stand behind me. He wrapped his arms around me and pulled me in to him. When I tried to touch him, he put my hands on the desk. He kissed my neck. “I’ve got this.“
His hands went under my dress and his fingers slid beneath my panties. He slowly rubbed my mound with one of his hands, going in and out of my lips, spreading my wetness. “You like this?”
“Yes,” I moaned.
“You got wet so fast.”
“I got wet with your first command,” I whispered.
He chuckled in my ear as he continued to rub me like he had all the time in the world. “Good answer.” One of his fingers played with my clit as his other hand moved upward and pinched my nipples. “I want to show you how much I missed you.”
I leaned my head back against his shoulder, enjoying the feel of his hard chest against me. I heard him unzip his jeans and felt his tip against my opening, teasing me. “Please.”
“I love it when you beg me.” Michael nipped my ear. “Spread your legs.” I complied. “Good, Zoe, I know how you don’t normally like to listen to me,” he praised.
“I do listen to you,” I argued.
“If you listened to me, we would never get into any fights.” He rubbed my clit harder, making me grind against his hand.
“We would be a boring couple if I always listened to you.” I was talking although I had trouble focusing.
“I wouldn’t love you so much if you agreed with everything I said.” He pulled my face back toward him and kissed my mouth with his tongue, entering me at the same time.
As he slowly pushed in and out of me, he held me up, so I wouldn’t lean on the desk. “Put your arms around my neck and hold on.”
He moved faster and used his fingers to massage my sweet spot, which gave the amazing sensation of being fucked from two different directions. “I’m about to come.” I said in a pained whisper.
Michael removed his fingers and placed his hands on my hips so that he could slam me against him over and over until we both came hard, groaning and forcefully expelling air from our lungs.
He barely took a breath before he sat in my chair and pulled me on his lap. His pants were still open. “You good? I hope I wasn’t too rough.”
I kissed him fully on the mouth, glad I could physically touch him. “As if I wouldn’t tell you if you were…” I had a thought and started laughing.
“What?”
“The minute you came, you wanted to know if I’m all right, were you too rough. But when you’re inside of me, nothing matters but how good it feels.”
“You making me sound like a monster.” He frowned.
“Not at all. I love that you lose control with me, that nothing matters but us giving each other pleasure. I want you to give me your all. If it’s ever too much, I know you’ll stop as soon as I say so. Definitely keep sexing me like that and I will forever be addicted to you.”
“Say addicted again.” He grinned wide.
“You’re stupid. I know why you want me to say it.”
“Then say it.”
“A-ddic-ted,” I enunciated.
“See, it’s not that hard to say dick.”
“Just know I love yours.” I kissed the tip of his nose. “How was your trip?”
“Good. Hated being away from you. What did you do?”
“Worked and had dinner with Ty at his house the other night.”
“Really? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I think I did, but you were rushing to get off the phone.”
He appeared to be thinking. “Yeah, you’re right, you did tell me. How is he?”
“He’s good. Just wanted to talk.”
“Talk about what?” Before I could respond, he continued talking, “I’ll see him next week for training. I’ll ask him myself.”
“Yeah, do that since he’s your friend too.”
He tapped my butt. “I need to get cleaned up so we can get something to eat.” I stood and pulled him up. As he adjusted his pants, he said, “I’m glad you told me he’s gay or I would have spent way too much time hating on him. He wouldn’t have become one of my good friends if you kept the truth from me. “
“Yeah,” I said, dread creeping to my soul.

****************

endgame trilogy covers (2)

***Endgame and Game Time now available on e-book and paperback on Amazon, Barnes and Nobles, Itunes, and KOBO.***

**I couldn’t resist since it is Mardi Gras time in New Orleans**

Chapter 1: You’re Mine

“Baby, you got the directions to where we’re supposed to meet to ride in the parade?” Michael called to me from the bathroom. We were at his house getting ready to ride in a Carnival Parade. We had not spent a night apart, whether it was at his house or mine, since we got back together.

“It’s saved on my phone. Are you almost ready? I don’t want to be late.” I put on the most comfortable but cute heels I could find since I would be on my feet for hours. Ladies were required to wear heels on the Grand Marshall float. It’s a man’s world because no woman would make other women wear heels on a float in a parade that lasts for hours, I thought to myself, irritated.

“They… can’t start… without… me. Relax.”

Michael had been asked to be the Grand Marshall for Endymion, the most popular Mardi Gras crew, after he brought the Gators to the Super Bowl. The Gators were probably going to go into the next season as the number one team to beat, and their team merchandise was the highest selling in the NFL. It was all because of Michael. The city absolutely loved him, and he could do no wrong. The spotlight was on him and for the most part, I managed to run under the radar until Carnival Season began. He was invited to so many balls, and of course, I was his constant companion. We had begun our formal entry into society as a couple.

I walked into the closet to look at the mirror and made sure my long, fitted purple sequin gown with high slits on both sides fit right. The dress had a high neck and long sleeves because it was cold outside. The dress was too flashy for me but would stand out as I rode on the float with Michael. We would have snacks and thermoses of hot chocolate, coffee, tea, or alcohol on the float to keep us warm as we navigated through the streets of New Orleans. I’m not a big drinker, but a sip or two would hopefully keep me warm since we were not allowed to wear jackets.

He came out of the bathroom, without his suit coat or shoes, struggling with his green sequin tie, and headed to the bed to get his shoes. “Help me with my tie.”

“Are you kidding me? We are supposed to be at the meeting spot now and you’re still not dressed. What have you been doing all this time? Marshall or not, you don’t want to be the reason the parade is late.” I stomped impatiently to him and began helping him with his tie.

He tried to kiss me, but I ducked and continued working on his tie. “No time for that.”

He could be exhausting when it came to events outside of football. Michael couldn’t get anywhere on time to save his life. He operated beyond CP time and never rushed for anything or anybody. I’m the kind of person that is always fifteen minutes early. We had had so many arguments about being on time.

He put his hands on my waist as I finished. “You look good, Zoe. I like this dress. Even better than the ones you wore to the balls. And you know how I couldn’t keep my hands off you then.”

He was the special guest at both the Endymion and Zulu balls, the African-American Mardi Gras Crew that ran on Fat Tuesday. We would be riding on one of their floats as well but not as Grand Marshall. We partied last night at the Zulu Ball until the wee hours of the morning because Mary J. Blige and New Edition tore it down. Although this was all exciting, I was exhausted because we had been running to different events and parties nonstop since carnival season kicked off shortly after the Super Bowl.

“You know this is not my style.” My other gowns were sexy too but not as flashy. “I look like a five-dollar hoe,” I joked.

“Which is why I like it, especially the long purple wig.” He touched one of the colorful tresses playfully and leaned into me.

“Yeah, this is definitely a unique look for me.” And I did feel different, more exotic, more daring, and the way he stared at my body, I knew he wanted me. Unfortunately, we needed to have been gone like yesterday. “Put your shoes on, please, so we can go.”

He tugged me closer and moved his hands to my behind. “Come on.”

I tried to give him a stern look. “We don’t have time.”

He ignored me and lifted my dress, running his hands up my thighs slowly as he did, making me wet. “Zo… I’m about to come just looking at you, so it won’t take long.”
I had not yet been able to deny this man anything. He was so spoiled. We had been practically inseparable, and he was insatiable. I think it was the athlete in him because he was always ready. And because he was so freaking hot, I was always ready for him.

“You have five minutes,” I warned. “And make sure you don’t mess up my dress.”

“I only need a minute.” He smiled widely, dimples on full display.

I stopped his wandering hands, turned around to lean against his high bed, and lifted my dress. The height of his bed was perfect for a quickie when all he had to do was bend me over to fuck me.

“Umm. Aren’t you full of surprises?” He slapped me hard on my butt when he saw the matching purple thong just for him underneath my dress.

I rubbed where he hit. “Ouch, Michael! That hurt. We don’t have time for kinky.” Our sex life was most definitely an adventure and never boring.

“Sorry, baby, I couldn’t resist. What did you expect me to do to that ass when you put the thong on?” he laughed. He replaced my hand with his lips and kissed me gently in the same spot before he pressed me into the bed, grabbing my breasts and entering me from behind. I stopped worrying about our tardiness. He could take all day as far as I was concerned…

Fifteen minutes later we were finally on our way to the meeting place and because New Orleans is a small city, we were only a half hour late. Handlers rushed us to our float, an elaborate miniature football field with the Gators logo except the colors were changed from black and gold to the purple, green, and yellow colors of Mardi Gras.

There were so many beautiful floats and each one had a different theme with the riders wearing matching attire. We were expected to stand for the most part and each of the riders had a post to lean against when needed. Michael was the only man on our six-person float. All the other riders were white women who pretended I wasn’t there and kept finding ways to touch or talk to him while we waited for the parade to begin.
Once the parade started, we had so much fun. He had purchased thousands of beads, cups, stuffed animals, and other trinkets for us to throw. Because he was a quarterback, Michael had fun singling out the person in the crowd who would get his treats and aimed perfectly every time.

I had been to parades my whole life but never rode on a float. To see the city and all the fans from this angle was truly breathtaking. I felt fearless and powerful as the crowd begged for my throws. I did not feel cold at all after taking a few sips of spiked coffee and enjoyed seeing the multitude of people.

As we approached St. Charles Avenue, where many families waited for the parades, I saw Paula and Shantel jumping up and down like little girls instead of the professional women they were. I tapped Michael’s shoulder and pointed toward my friends. We quickly grabbed beads and trinkets and threw at them. Both Paula and Shantel managed to catch them and screamed in delight. We waved goodbye and blew kisses to them as our float continued its path.

Because the parade was so large, it would stall and our float would stop for minutes at a time. Michael used that time to talk with his fans on the ground, and I engaged in conversation with the other women on the float. Of course, green-five-dollar hoe—I didn’t bother to remember the name of the woman who flirted with him earlier—would not engage with us. The other ladies were cool as we talked about how much fun we were having, and we shared trinkets. I forgave them for their initial interest in Michael because I would have had a hard time myself not looking his way, woman on his arm or not. One of the ladies wanted to make a toast so we did, and we all had champagne. How we managed to do all of this on a moving float and still please the crowd, I do not know.

When we neared the area on the parade route with one of the largest crowds and elevated seating, which held the important people like the Mayor, green-five-dollar hoe decided to hold on to Michael’s arm. Since he wore a green tie that coordinated with her dress, they did look like a couple. I could tell Michael was too busy dancing, drinking, and waving at the crowds to pay attention to what she was doing. When the parade came to yet another standstill, her smile grew, and I knew why. Somebody, somewhere, was snapping pictures wondering if this was Michael’s new woman or if there was trouble in paradise.

She stood slightly ahead of me but close enough for me to say something without Michael’s knowledge. I whispered with a smile, “You touch him one more time, or even look at him too hard, and I will push your little ass right off of this float.”

Her mouth opened in shock, but she closed it quickly. She also pasted a fake smile and retorted, “Are you threatening me?”

“Not at all. I will push you and make it look like an accident. I mean, with all this alcohol we have been drinking, it is highly likely that we can be off balance up here on this float. Don’t worry, the men out there will catch you. Leave my man alone, because he’s already caught me. Are we clear?”

She had the good sense to nod and go back to her post. “Good girl,” I called to her, and one of the ladies with whom I had conversed the most, gave me a thumbs up sign. She obviously overheard or figured out what happened, so I returned the sign.

I happily threw some more beads and observed Michael as he smiled and talked to one of his fans on the ground. I had never been a jealous woman, but seeing her put her hands on him like he was hers, I was ready to fight. I realized more than anything in this world, I didn’t want to lose his interest, or him, because he was the total package—intelligence, personality, sexy body, and two deep dimples. More importantly, he respected and loved me. If that meant I needed to openly stake a claim on him, then that was what I would do.

We started moving again and I tugged on his jacket to get his attention. When he glanced at me, I beckoned him with my finger to come closer and kissed him with tongue in front of thousands of people. The crowd yelled and whistled in approval.

He pulled back with amusement. “What was that about?”

“Just getting into the spirit of the moment, and I might be just a little tipsy.”

“Well in that case…” He placed his arms on my post, blocking me in, and wrapped one of my legs around him as he continued to kiss me. The crowd cheered even louder and some started yelling, “Show her tits!” It was very common for women of all walks of life to get into the bawdiness of Mardi Gras and lift their shirts to get beads.

He simply shook his head at the crowd. He pretended to squeeze my breasts and yelled,

“Her tits are mine only.”

I should have been offended, but his charm made me laugh right along with the crowd. He then held me in his arms and leaned down to give me a kiss. I spoke into his lips, “You are something else, Mr. Carson.”

“Indeed.”

Chapter 2: Reality Bites

“For the next session, I want you to note how often you feel anxious and then we’ll try to pinpoint together the nature of your fears or worries.” I was wrapping up with Logan, one of my clients who I had been seeing since the end of last year. She tended to annoy me because she didn’t really want to change. She liked to use sessions to complain. Since ultimately, it’s her money, I let her stay unchanged, which is hard for me since my job is to help clients become better people.
“I think I know how it’s related, but I would rather wait until I return to talk about it more.”
I don’t know how many continuations we have had about her finally telling me what causes her anxiety. But again, it’s her money and time. “That’s fine.” I stood, signaling the end of our session, but she remained seated. “Was there anything else?”
Logan suddenly grinned as if she had the biggest secret and pulled out her cell. “So how does it feel to be Michael Carson’s girlfriend? I couldn’t believe it when I saw you at Endymion with him on the float, because he was standing close to this other lady, so I thought he was with her. Then when I saw this photo I knew it was true. I told my friends about you and everyone is so jealous you are my therapist. I mean he is so hot! You are so lucky!”
I tried to be nonchalant, as if I wasn’t shaken by her words, but once I took her phone and saw a picture of us kissing and then another pic when he pretended to touch my breasts, I was mortified that I initiated these actions and couldn’t blame anyone but myself. I could barely breathe thinking of what my behavior might have stirred up. I returned the phone.
“I really don’t discuss my personal life with my clients.” I could feel myself getting defensive.
“Oh. But you got real personal with Michael Carson,” she said, irritated.
I guess she thought I would happily discuss him with her since he was so popular right now.
“Again, I don’t discuss my personal life.” I was officially annoyed and didn’t care if it showed.
“Dr. Broussard, one article I read said that he was your client when you met, and you could lose your license. With all due respect, I need to know if you are still licensed and for how long?”
Although that was her little dagger at me for refusing to talk about Michael, she was right. I had to start being honest with my clients. I took a breath and leaned a hip against my desk with my arms folded. “Logan, you don’t have many sessions left, so I’m sure we can continue to work together. I will always be honest with my clients, and if there is any change in whether I can still treat you, I will be the first to let you know. It’s up to you if you want to continue seeing me. I hope that you do because I enjoy working with you. But I respect your decision if you want to terminate services.”
“No, no. I want to continue. I just didn’t know what dating him would mean for me.”
I straightened and walked to my door. “It means nothing.”
She finally got the hint and gathered her things and left.
I had a few minutes between clients and headed to Paula’s office. She was on the phone, which was obviously a personal call because she was laughing. She held her finger up signaling me to stay. I sat down in a chair, pulled my phone from my pocket, and once I found a picture and article about us and my license, I sent it to Michael and waited for my best friend to get off the phone.
After Carnival Season ended last week, our lives returned to normal, or should I say our new normal. Since the new year, I had been working at the practice on a part-time basis. Paula and I decided it was best that I no longer see any Gators players and reassured the team management that she would be their only psychologist.
However, because they attributed Michael’s winning season to my work with him, the management made it clear that they appreciated the work thus far and had no issues with my continuation of seeing their players. Although I was pleased by their faith in me, Paula and I knew that it would not be a good idea. It was also best that I focus on my existing clients and not take on any new ones.
We thought that I might have a few months to finish all my clients. I had not heard anything yet from the Board and was expecting a formal complaint soon. I wasn’t going to turn myself in, but I knew that sooner or later I would get a sanction that I would take and not fight.
Since we became a couple, I had spent most of my free time with Michael and had not felt that my time was empty. It also meant I hadn’t figured out what I would do career-wise. Of course, he reminded me that I never had to work again and could focus on charities and the Wives Club, which was the group for all the wives, fiancées, and girlfriends. Since I was the girlfriend of the Captain and Star of the team, I was expected to be fully involved.
If we ever married, I would lead the club. I dreaded being a part of this group of women whose sole purpose was to look pretty, spend their men’s money, and who had no identity outside of their men. I would have to start being more involved in the coming months, but I wasn’t going to do more than what was expected any time soon.
“What’s going on?” Paula interrupted my thoughts.
I showed her the picture of us kissing and frowned. “There’s also an article saying that he was my client when we met and I will probably lose my license.”
“So? We knew that this would happen. He’s too huge of a public figure for media to ignore this. And you were kissing each other on top of a float at the most popular parade during Mardi Gras. What did you think would happen?”
“I didn’t think. I was a lil tipsy, jealous, happy, in love, and had an impulsive moment. I guess a small part of me hoped that no one would ever find out and we could keep things as is.”
“Really, Zoe? Michael just played in the Super Bowl. And you thought no one would have interest in the woman he’s dating? The woman he dumped Taylor Graham for, in front of a crowd. I’m surprised it took this long for people to start talking. You shouldn’t be surprised.”
“Of course I’m not, Paula, but Logan basically used the fact that I wouldn’t discuss Michael with her as a means to insinuate I should no longer be seeing clients.”
“So she was the one who showed you the picture and the article?”
“Yes. Well, she had the pictures but told me about an article. I don’t care if I lose her, because she tries my patience most days, but I do care about what my other clients think. Once my other clients see articles about my license, it’s officially over for me and potentially our clinic. I can’t let you go down with me because of my personal choices.”
She propped her head on one of her manicured hands and glanced at me. “We may have to play this different. We were waiting for the Board to contact you, but you may have to call and see what your options are.”
“Or I could call all of my clients, either discharge or transfer them to you and go ahead and step away now.”
“And do what? You haven’t come up with a Plan B yet.”
“I know. I’ve been so busy being Michael’s girlfriend, I haven’t touched my career.”
“Well, you can just be a woman of leisure.”
“And if my relationship fails, then what? He is not my husband and I get nothing if he leaves me.”
“It is not going to fail. He is crazy about you. Everything is going well, right?”
“Yes, so much so it’s scary. We fit so well. Even when we argue, it lasts about a minute.”
“Even better than Xavier?” Paula smirked as she sat straight in her chair.
I rolled my eyes. “Don’t talk about Xavier.”
“I’m not. He’s a good guy, he just wasn’t for you.”
“If I recall correctly, you did tell me I shouldn’t leave Xa.”
“That was when I thought you and Michael were just playing around. How did I know he would be the man for you?” She shrugged.
“There was no way that I thought when he first came into my office with his arrogance that I would ever fall for him, or even more so, that he would fall for me.”
“Good, you’re smiling again. I had to remind you that whatever happens in your career, you decided to date Michael so you could feel the way you do right now.”
I did feel contentment for maybe the first time in my life, and it was because of Michael. I came around her desk and leaned down to hug her. “Thanks. I will stop being a coward and call the Board myself.”
“Everything will work out. Stop worrying, Zoe.”
“Okay, I’ve got to go. My client is waiting for me. Dinner tomorrow night?”
“What? You mean Mr. Carson is going to give you a night off?”
“Ha ha. You got jokes.”
***
Once I finished with my last client, I checked my phone and I still had no response from Michael. He had gone back to conditioning and working out a couple of hours per day, so this was not unusual. I didn’t realize how much went into being a star athlete and Michael was such a competitor. He pushed himself so hard and hated to lose. There were still moments that he would get sulky and irritable when he thought about the Super Bowl loss and I had learned to let him be. I would just go into another room and give him time.
I did try to leave once because he was being an asshole when he was having a moment. I found my purse and headed for the door. I didn’t know he had followed me until he grabbed my wrist to stop me. “Zo, this is me and it won’t change. I’m a horrible loser, but it makes me strive even harder to win. You’ve got to learn to live with it and that means you don’t go home just because I’m annoying you or you’re frustrated with me because you think I should be over it. I need you here with me and not just when things are good.”
Damn. I couldn’t argue with him. I dropped my purse at his feet and reminded him why he needed me.
Thinking of him but wanting to be alone, I decided to go home. I would text him later to see if he was up to visit me tonight. If he wasn’t, then tonight might be the first night we slept separate, because I was not leaving my house. This time I needed a moment, but unlike him, I didn’t need him to be there with me.
A short drive later, I got my mail and went into my house. I hadn’t been there in a few days and hoped I had what I needed for work tomorrow. He had given me space in his closet and bathroom, so I left a lot of my things at his house. I missed my place. We rarely came here since he had a gym and daily five o’clock in the morning workouts. I didn’t mind because I loved his home and it was beginning to feel like ours. But I missed my place and needed to be in familiar surroundings because I was scared.
I knew what I was doing when I decided to openly date Michael, but the reality of knowing that I could lose my license and not be a psychologist anymore was affecting me even more than I realized. I collapsed on my sofa and sorted my mail, but I dropped the small pile when I saw the official stamp of the Louisiana Board on one of the envelopes.
“Shit.” I knew what that meant and didn’t want to deal with it. I had never received any letter from the Board except reminder letters every June to renew my license. It was only March.
I shut down completely and pulled my throw over my head without opening the envelope, scared and nervous of how my life was about to change. Although I knew it was inevitable because of his celebrity status that a complaint would be made to the Board, I was terrified of seeing it in plain English—that my license would be suspended upon further investigation due to an allegation of sex with a client or patient.
I must have drifted off to sleep because the next thing I knew, Michael was gently shaking me awake. He leaned over me, still dressed in his workout clothes, with a worried expression on his face. “I got your text with the picture and the article, and I figured you would come here. I came as soon as I could. We’re going to get through this, I promise.” When I remained silent, he glanced around and saw the unopened letter on the floor. “You okay, baby?”
He sounded so concerned that tears sprang to my eyes. I knew he worried that I would resent him, and right then I knew how much he loved me. He was just as afraid of losing me as I was of losing of him.
“No.”
He immediately lifted me so that he could hold me on his lap, and he held me as I cried. He didn’t say a word and just let me be. And I was so wrong. I did need him here after all.

Chapter 3: Who am I?

I’m not sure how long I stayed in his arms, but eventually, he laid me down on the sofa and covered me with my favorite throw. I heard him messing around in the kitchen and closed my eyes. Before I knew it, Michael was waking me up again.
“I ran you a bath, but first, you need to eat.” On the coffee table on a wooden tray, he had a glass of orange juice, tomato soup, and a grilled cheese.
I smiled at his thoughtfulness, though I was still feeling emotionally weak. “Sweetie, I know I keep falling asleep, but I’m not sick. I’m just overcome by exhaustion.”
He picked up the bowl of soup and prepared to feed me. “I know. When I was a boy, before my Mama got on drugs, whenever I had a bad day she would fix this for me. It always made me feel better. I didn’t know what else to do, so I cooked for you. Now, eat.”
My heart swelled with love and I opened my mouth and let him feed me. “Mm… This is good. Did you make this? I don’t remember having tomato soup in the pantry.”
He looked sheepish. “I picked up some on the way over here. I had a feeling you might need this.”
I opened for another mouthful. “Wait. You went to the store and picked this up yourself?” It was a running joke how ‘ghetto bougie’ he had become since his move to New Orleans. This man barely did anything for himself except wipe his ass. If I didn’t pick up groceries, he had them delivered or had his housekeeper pick them up for him. “You really do love me.”
“Whatever, Zoe. It’s just Campbell’s, but I added my own special touch.” He reached for my glass and passed it to me.
I drank a gulp and the orange juice tasted refreshing. “What are you eating?”
“I had a protein drink and a chicken salad right before I headed here. I might eat whatever you don’t finish.”
“I think I can eat the rest by myself.” Although the food was good, I didn’t have much of an appetite. He turned on the TV and channel-surfed. In the end, I ate more than I wanted because Michael went through the trouble to cook for me.
He picked up the envelope from the Louisiana Board of Psychologists after he saw I was finished eating. “You want me to open it?”
The dull thud in my head became a sharp pain. “No. Not tonight.”
“You don’t even know what it says. It may not be that bad.”
“No!” I said more sharply than I intended, and he dropped the envelope on the table. He stood and picked up my tray without another word.
I fell back on the pillows, mad at myself that I reacted like I did. Michael didn’t deserve my anger. He had managed to make me feel better, but just seeing that envelope brought me back to square one. My heart was heavy because I had clients scheduled for tomorrow that I needed to inform that I could no longer be their therapist. It might seem drastic, but I knew this day was coming sooner or later and I should have quit before I received any notice from the Board. Then I thought of all my clients who were regulars. My stomach churned because I would miss working with them and helping them.
Michael came back into the room and pulled me up. “Take a bath, soak, and I’ll be waiting for you in bed. I’ll stay here tonight.”
“But your workout.”
“I’ll wake up earlier and leave from here. Or I miss a day. Whatever you need, I’m here.”
I followed behind him and wrapped my arms around his waist. “I’m sorry about earlier. I’m not ready yet, okay?”
He placed a hand on top of mine and leaned back to kiss the top of my head. “Whenever you’re ready. Everything is going to work out. You’re Michael Carson’s lady,” he said with a wink, a touch of his arrogance back.
“Boy, bye.” I joked, but his words made me think. Is that who I am now, a celebrity’s girlfriend, like Cassie to Diddy? Only relevant because of my association to him. Could I live with that? I was mad about him and believed in him. Maybe I would be okay with making sure he and his career continued to shine. I mean, if I could no longer be a psychologist and help people, who was I?
***
“Zoe?” Michael whispered in my ear. I snuggled closer under the comforter in my bed and I felt him leaning over me. “Are you awake?”
“No,” I mumbled.
“Zo, we need to talk.” He touched my cheek and I turned over with my back facing him. “Come on, baby. You can’t just sleep it away. You’ve been in bed for two days.”
“Says the man who doesn’t want to be bothered when he loses a game. Well, this is me,” I reminded him of the words he said to me when I became frustrated with him.
I heard him sigh. “This is not you. I hate to see you like this.”
“Then leave. You have your place. I didn’t ask you to come here.” I knew I was being mean, but I had never felt like this before. Not even over a broken heart. I felt lost and embarrassed that I was viewed as unethical and not worthy of practicing psychology because I fell in love. I was starting to resent that I had to make a choice. It was hard knowing I’d have to cancel my appointments.
Suddenly, the comforter was pulled off me and I felt the cool air. “Michael, give me my blanket!”
“Get your ass up now.” He sounded irritated as he pulled me up.
I tried to lay back down, but he was too strong and held on. I couldn’t move. “Let me go, Michael.”
“Zoe. Stop it. You haven’t even read the letter to see what it says. You’re not making sense.”
I got on my knees on my bed, furious, and faced him. I poked his chest hard twice. “It’s almost April and you still have moments when you beat yourself up for a game that happened three months ago. I found out the day before yesterday that my career is over, and I’m supposed to be good? Bullshit!”
He glared at me and I didn’t blink. I could tell that he knew I was right but didn’t want to admit it.
He finally glanced away and then back at me. “I didn’t say you needed to be over it. I was making the point that you haven’t even read the letter. It might say something else. Please, just read the letter.”
“I don’t need to read the letter to know. Psychologists do not get letters from the Board unless a complaint has been made. My license will be suspended temporarily until I meet before the Board. They don’t send letters unless they have enough evidence, and me kissing you, my former client, on a float in the most popular Mardi Gras parade, is enough. I don’t know what I was thinking to make such a public spectacle of myself.”
“Zoe, we were having fun. We can’t hide the way we feel.”
I touched his cheek. “I wasn’t saying that. I just should have been smarter and not acted like a jealous fool. I only kissed you in front of the world to make a point to a woman who’s irrelevant anyway. Now, I’m getting a letter from the Board.”
“I still think you should open it. Your license may not be suspended.”
“You don’t get it?” I balled my fists. “If it makes you feel better, read it. Do whatever, but leave me alone, Michael.”
He bit his lip as if he was trying to stop the words from coming out of his mouth, which at that point, he better, with the way I was feeling. He picked up the letter from the bedside table. I guess he put it there at some point. He opened the envelope and began reading it. I sat back down in the bed and pulled the comforter back on top of me, waiting to prove my point. He simply put the letter down and sat on the side of the bed. “Now what? This is how it’s going to be? You’re going to stay mad at me, blame me for not working?”
His tone now soft, took the anger out of me. I reached for his hand. “Michael, I’m not blaming you. I made this choice willingly and must live with the consequences. It just hurts worse than I thought. I’m trying to digest everything and maybe I need a moment to do nothing because every time I think about it, I hurt. I knew this would happen, but for some crazy reason, I thought it would only be something between me and the Board. My name will be listed on their website for committing an ethical violation, having sex with a client, once the Board completes making its decision. But because of who you are, everyone will know I’m being accused of taking advantage of you. It’s why I’m not deemed suitable to practice anymore.”
“But I pursued you.”
“It doesn’t matter. According to the Board, I have inherent power because you were my client and I manipulated you.”
He rubbed his head. “That’s funny. You tried to resist me, tried to make me see Paula instead, and I wouldn’t let you. Let me speak to the Board and tell them this is all my fault.”
“Michael, I knew the rules and you’re not the first client to hit on me. Others have tried and failed. I could have turned you down, but at the end of the day, I didn’t want to.” I leaned my head on his shoulder.
“I have the best lawyers. We can fight this.”
“You keep saying that, but no, we can’t because we can’t fight the truth. I did have sex with you. This is not a situation where I’m being wrongly accused by one of my clients.” I leaned back against my soft headboard. “There is no way around my license being in jeopardy. Best case scenario I’m suspended for a year. Even in that situation, I’m going to wonder if my clients are second guessing my ethics or only want to get close to me because of you.”
Michael stood then and took off his shirt, revealing his sculpted brown chest and abs, and kicked off his shoes. He got in bed with me with only his running shorts, and this time I snuggled under him. “What time is it anyway?”
“About nine.”
I punched his arm. “It’s nine in the morning? I spent one day in the bed and you’re waking me up like it’s nine at night.”
“I didn’t want you to sleep another day away. I was worried.”
“Now you see how I feel when you walk around the house mad at the world.”
“But—”
“Before you say it’s different, stop.”
“Zoe—”
“It’s not, Michael. I’m a sore loser about this and it’s not going away. But I will learn how to live with these feelings, just like you need to when you lose.”
He raised one gorgeous eyebrow, not quite believing me. “If you say so. I’ll respect that you need more time.”
“Besides, I didn’t just lay in the bed all day yesterday. I made a few phone calls. I called Paula and told her to inform my clients that I’m no longer seeing clients and they have the option to see her or she can refer them to another psychologist.”
“Did she tell them why?”
“No. Paula apologized for the change but didn’t give them any details. She thought it best for the practice we didn’t state the reason.”
Michael searched my expression. “What did she say to you? Is she mad?”
“No. She just felt bad for me because she convinced me to work longer than I planned. We were both hoping that it wouldn’t have happened so soon. I had told her that I was going to call the Board myself, but apparently someone made a complaint. The Board usually doesn’t make a move unless someone complains that a psychologist may be unethical.”
His body tensed. “Can you find out who made the complaint?”
“It’s anonymous. Anyway, sooner or later someone would have said something, so it doesn’t matter.” I kissed his goatee and then his lips. “I’m surprised actually, that it has been this long. I just knew Taylor would have made a complaint as soon as you dropped her. After a couple of months passed and nothing happened, I started to believe that maybe I would be okay.”
“Maybe she did.” Michael seemed to be deep in thought.
“If that’s the case, again, she would have done it back then. It could be anyone. I mean we did kiss in front of the world, so it would be senseless to waste time trying to figure out who did it. No, I need to focus on what’s next. I still can’t believe I kissed you like that.”
“I enjoyed that kiss and so did you.” He squeezed me. “The sky’s the limit. Whatever you want to do, Doc. I got you.”
My vision became blurry. “One thing I want you to do.”
“Anything.”
“Never stop calling me Doc.”
His smile was slow as he said, “Doc, you haven’t given me none in two days.” His hands went underneath my Howard University T-shirt, and he teased my nipples with his fingers before he found my button. My eyes closed as he gently ran two of his fingers up and down my spot, driving me insane. He stopped. “You know what? You didn’t ask me to come over here. I guess I should leave.”
He began to remove his hand. I quickly caught his hand and placed it back in my panties. “Come on, Michael, don’t be like that. You know I didn’t mean it.”
He ran his tongue against my neck. “Are you sure you want me here? I do have my own place.”
I rubbed his thickness through his shorts. “I’m so sure and it has been two days.”
“You didn’t happen to take a shower while you were awake?”
My hips began to match the rhythm of his fingers. Umm, his fingers were magical. “As a matter of fact, I did. I took one this morning when you left and got right back in the bed.”
“Good, I didn’t have breakfast.” He moved underneath the covers, removed my panties, and opened my legs. I felt his growing stubble against my thighs as his lips and tongue did such sinful things to my body that I temporarily forgot my problems.

******

Endgame cover

Session 1: The Introduction

“You know I’ve never worked with professional players, let alone one of the most famous players in the NFL. I’m not sure I’m up to the challenge of dealing with someone like Michael Carson, the very definition of a narcissist.” I stood with my arms folded, looking down at Paula, whose tailored blue suit was as sleek as the chrome desk where she sat, overlooking the Warehouse District, one of the trendiest areas in New Orleans.

“Come on. It’s a boost to our practice to take him on as a client. Admit you’re just scared because of who he is,” said Paula, my business partner and best friend since we’d finished our doctoral programs at Howard University five years ago. “He’s no different than the rookies you see each year.”

“Whatever! He just signed a huge contract with the New Orleans Gators, and I’ve seen him at press conferences. There is nothing humble or rookie about him.” I ignored her point, though she was right. I was used to working with cocky, fresh out of college young men who needed guidance, rather than a seasoned NFL player who would probably not use my advice at all.

“You are taking him. I’m not letting your fear get in the way of our money and building our reputation. I wish I could take him for you, but my schedule is already booked tight. We have landed a contract that other psychologists would die for, and we will take whatever player they give us.” Paula took the office phone off hold and told our receptionist, Gayle, “Yes, she will see him on July 6 at three o’clock.”

I sighed. “If I screw this up, it’s on you.” I left her office accepting of my fate and went back to my own across the hall.

She yelled, “You got this!”

“You owe me!” I sat at my basic brown sturdy desk, not as flashy as my friend’s. Since Paula’s money was fronting the business, she had the nicer office. Despite that, I loved my smaller office that I’d made cozy with lamps for soft lighting. Two comfy, coffee-brown leather chairs fronted the desk and a soft caramel-colored sofa sat near the window for clients who needed to be more comfortable or if I needed a nap.
***

When he walked into my office, I almost lost my breath. The couple of photos I had seen, and of course appearances on TV, hadn’t prepared me for his actual presence. Michael Carson stood in front of me with his hand outstretched, his trademark wide smile showing off full lips, pretty teeth, and deep dimples. Six feet, with the typical quarterback lean-muscular build, his chocolate-brown skin and gorgeous dark brown eyes were surrounded by lashes many women paid for. His hair, mustache, and goatee were neatly trimmed. He was dressed casually in dark khakis and a white polo shirt.
I recovered quickly, took his hand, and looked into his eyes. “Good afternoon, Mr. Carson. I’m Dr. Zoe Broussard.”

“Are you going to be my shrink?” he said still smiling.

“That would be a psychiatrist. I’m a psychologist.”

“What’s the difference?”

“That’s a very common question. I don’t prescribe medicines. I talk to you about life’s challenges and how to best cope or resolve them.”

He still held my hand and listened intently while I continued, “Your team just wants to be sure you don’t have anything blocking you from playing your best.”

“There’s nothing blocking me. But it’s cool. I can play along.”

“Um… I need my hand back.”

He let go of my hand slowly. “My apologies. I have to say I’m a little taken by surprise.”

“What do you mean?”

He looked me up and down appreciatively. “Let’s just say you’re not what I expected.”

“Well, I know the therapy process can seem a bit overwhelming.” I chose to ignore his obvious flirtation. “I assure you my job is to make you comfortable as we go through this process. You’re only required to attend twenty sessions throughout the year. I recommend once a week until pre-season begins. Then we can do twice a month, scaling down to once a month unless we discover along the way that you need more time.”

“I’m good, Doc. I’m sure I won’t need the twenty.”

“Well, Mr. Carson, you may not need the entire twenty, but your team requires it.”

He smiled and leaned forward. “Trust me, Doc. I’m healthy in all ways.”

I lost my train of thought for a moment. “That may be true. And if it is, we will focus more on self-improvement. I mean, no one is perfect. We can always be better people.”

“Okay. Whatever you say. I’m a team player, so if my team wants me to do this, I’m game.”

I gestured for him to sit in one of the chairs and sat next to him in the other chair in front of my desk. I pulled out my notepad. “Good. I must tell you that whatever is said here remains here. This is a safe place for you to express yourself without fear of judgment or condemnation. By law, the only things I must report is if you want to kill yourself or others or have abused a child or an elder. Other than that, whatever you say remains confidential. Today is the only day that I’ll take notes throughout since this is our first session. In future sessions, I’ll only jot down anything that I feel needs to be addressed further. I like my clients to feel as comfortable as possible and I find that writing as my clients talk can be distracting to the process.”

He smiled. “So, if I say that I find you very attractive, that remains in here? I’m just speaking hypothetically of course.”

Flustered, I replied, “Of course. You and I will only have a strictly professional relationship. I don’t date or flirt with any of my clients. It’s unethical because of the inherent power structure within the therapeutic relationship. In practical terms, I want you to feel free to express yourself. It has been my experience that if you’re trying to date me or get me to like you, then you’re focused on making a good impression and not being your authentic self.”

“So, in your experience… do your clients hit on you all the time? I can definitely see why if they do.”

I remained silent.

“Doc, I did say hypothetically speaking. I see nothing wrong with telling a beautiful woman how attractive she is. But I’ll respect you by going by your terms. And if I’m being honest, I have no need to try to make a good impression. I’m Michael Carson and can get any woman I want.”

His arrogance annoyed me yet turned me on just a little, if I was honest with myself.

“Okay. I just wanted to make the rules clear.”

“Crystal.” He sat back, his muscular legs slightly spread and arms resting on the chair arms.

“Well, I hope that while you’re here you get something out of this experience since you may feel this is forced upon you.” I had to remain focused and stop staring at this man’s body. He was not the first football player I’d worked with, but for some reason, I found myself attracted and unable to look away.

“Honestly, I do feel this is forced upon me. I don’t need a shr… a psychologist, but you seem cool. Now that I’m here, I’ll make the best of it. One of the reasons I decided to leave the Tigers and come to the Gators—besides hating the cold weather—was because the management seemed to care about their players more than any other team in the league. So, if this is their way to show they care about us, then I’m down.”

“Okay. We can start there. How has your transition been after being on the Tigers for seven years and starting on a new team?”

He stopped smiling for the first time since entering my office. “It stays here, right? You don’t have to report back to the team anything about me?”

“No. As I said, Mr. Carson, this is a safe place. I just have to let them know you’re attending these sessions.”

“I trust my gut, and I feel like I can trust you.” He looked into my eyes and tilted his head. “I can trust you, Doc, right?”

“Yes. The whole purpose of you coming here was to freely discuss whatever you want.” I crossed my legs as I spoke, and his eyes followed. Note to self: no skirts when I’m in session with Mr. Carson.

He looked up and sighed. “It has been tougher than I imagined. No one tells you that when you trade teams that there would be so much resentment from the other players. The coaches and management sell it to you like the team needs you and only you. Now that I’m here, it’s like I’m a rookie all over again, trying to prove myself to my team.”

“Has it influenced how you play?”

He smiled. “I’ve always loved a challenge, and it has made me even more determined to prove my worth for the sixty-five million I’ll receive over the next five years. There’s an option to play out the rest of my years with this team after that if I can bring home a championship.”

I had worked with the team for a little more than a year and had clients who made millions. However, he was the first with such a big contract and set to be a big star. The Gators required all first-year players, rookie or not, to have counseling, which was why he was sent to me. The amount of money he would make, in addition to the money already earned in his previous seven years in the NFL, admittedly impressed me.
“Is it a good thing that you feel like a fish out of water?”

He smirked. “Yep, it’s exactly how I feel. Like I don’t belong. I’m not sure it’s a good thing or not at the moment.”

“You never felt this way before?”

He hesitated. “Not exactly. I have so much at stake. The pressure is more than I’ve ever experienced. They hired me because I need to lead this team to a championship. When I started with the Tigers, I was a rookie. Fresh off Heisman Trophy and people just wanted to see if I could make it in the big leagues. I knew I could. So that wasn’t a big challenge to prove I deserved all the accolades.”

“And now?” I wanted to cross my legs again but held back because I didn’t want to distract him, and he was opening up more than I thought he would for a first session.

“Now, I need to make a losing team a championship team within the next two years.”

“And you wonder if you can?”

“I know I can. You can bet on that. I just don’t trust the coach to do what he needs to do for us to win.”

“What does he need to do?”

“Back off and let me lead.” His shoulders relaxed as he seemed to release all his pent-up anxiety and blew out a breath. “Doc, you are good! I had no intentions of telling you anything and I’ve already told you my worst fear.”

“Your worst fear is not rising to the challenge?”

He leaned forward. “That and never falling in love.”

The change of conversation threw me off, and I sat back in my chair. “Excuse me?”

“You asked about my worst fear, and it’s one of them. The other is never falling in love.”

I had seen pictures of him with some of the most beautiful women in the world and he’d even dated Taylor Graham, one of the most successful actresses of all time, long-term.

“So, you mean you’ve never been in love?”

“I was in high school but not as an adult.”

“Do you even want to fall in love now?”

“Doc, I thought you understood,” he teased, “Why would it be one of my worst fears if I didn’t want that to happen? I told you because I really do want to fall in love one day.”

“You are, what…? Thirty years old. You still have plenty of time.”

Michael chuckled. “I know that, Doc. Unlike women my age, I’m not on a time clock. I’m not on a mission to find love or anything. I just thought I would have loved some woman by now, be ready to wife someone. But, I haven’t. I have been in lust, but definitely not love.” He smiled, showing his dimples. “I don’t know if I’m allowed to ask you questions, but have you?”

“Have I what?” I uncrossed my legs and self-consciously pulled my below-the-knee-length pencil skirt further down.

His eyes followed my movement before he looked back at my eyes. “Been in love?”

“We’re here to discuss you, not me. So back to your fear about failing.”

“I don’t have a fear of actually failing. I have a fear I won’t be free to do what needs to be done.” He looked around the room at my office décor before his eyes settled on my face again. “Doc, I don’t see any family pics or a ring on your finger. Have you been in love? I mean it’s only fair I get to ask you questions sometimes. I see you as my life coach now, so I need to know my coach’s perspective.”

“I’m a psychologist and not a life coach. I do believe in self-disclosure when it makes therapeutic sense but telling you about my love life is not something I want to discuss. I can tell you what I feel about being in love in theory.”

“What’s your theory?” He was clearly avoiding talking about football anymore and since this was our first session, I figured I would let him talk about whatever made him comfortable.

“I believe that you have not lived life if you have never been in love. There’s nothing like being in love to your soul, even if it fails. I do believe everyone has the potential to fall in love if they allow it.”

“Doc, I guess I haven’t lived life—according to you. Although, I have to say my life has been pretty good.”

“I’m not trying to say you can’t have a good life without being in love. But that if you don’t experience truly giving yourself over to another human being, then you have not truly lived.”

“So, you have been in love,” he concluded with a dimpled smile. “I envy whoever he was or is.”

Heat rose to my face. “This session is about you, Mr. Carson, and not about me.”

“You call all of your clients ‘Mr.’?”

“I call my clients whatever they prefer.”

“Then call me Michael.” He shifted in his seat.

“Okay,” I said, trying to get the conversation back on track. “How have you enjoyed the city so far?”

He grinned. “I love the weather, though I miss my house and my friends.”

“You still have your home in Minnesota?”

“For now, I have family living there.”

“You found a home here yet?”

“Not yet. I’m leasing a home for now in the Garden District.”

“Nice neighborhood.” The Garden District was the most elite and historic community in New Orleans.

“Yes, it’s cool. I plan to have a gathering for the team before the official season begins. You should come, given that the team hired you.” As I was shaking my head, he said, “I’ll personally see to it that you’re required to attend. It’ll be a lit party.”

“Mr. Carson…”

“We back to Mr. Carson already?” He leaned forward looking at me intently.

“I told you that we have a professional relationship only.”

“Doc, my gathering is going to be our official party for the beginning of the season, and I know you’ve gone to past events.” He held up his hand when I moved to interrupt. “I had asked one of the players who had seen you last year, and he told me that you usually attend all player events and home games.”

“You asked about me?” Which player provided information about me? I wondered.

“Yeah. I just wanted a feel for you. I’ve never been to therapy and I wanted to know more about you. The player—I won’t reveal his name—told me that you were mad cool and that he didn’t mind talking to you. He just never told me that you’re so beautiful. It’s going to be hard for me to focus.”

Again, his words caused heat to rise to my cheeks, but I had to maintain my composure. This wasn’t the first time a client, including a few women, was attracted to me. Sessions can be so intimate, and people can confuse emotions. But this was the first time I felt an attraction toward a client, and that scared me. I don’t normally go for athletes, especially after having them as clients. I really would never want to date one after seeing all they go through to be deserving of those huge salaries.

“Thank you for the compliments. However, I need you to refrain from saying personal comments like that. For this to work, you have to treat me like you would any professional.”

After a brief silence, he rubbed his goatee and said, “I won’t make you uncomfortable again.”

I relaxed with his promise, though noticed that he didn’t say he would keep it professional.
***
After Michael left, I called Paula in her office. Too mentally exhausted from the emotions he evoked in me to walk across the hall, I whined, “This is not going to work.”

“What? Did he give you a hard time? You know how we black folks don’t believe in mental health. Just give him time and remind him you’re just serving as counsel and nothing else.”

She used her usual spiel on me when it came to the players. It was an excellent contract and financially kept us from having to take insurance from our other customers. We were strictly private pay which was difficult for a small black woman-owned psychology practice. In New Orleans, people either used religion or alcohol to cope with problems, so it was hard to be successful. However lucrative, professional athletes who ran through women and money like water and often took reality for granted were difficult to counsel. Paula, who’d married an investment banker and whose parents owned their own chemical company, was used to a wealthy lifestyle. She loved that part of our practice the best.

“No, he was, in general, receptive to the process…” I paused, not sure if I wanted to tell her the truth.

Paula must have heard something in my tone because she said, “I’m coming over.” She walked right in and sat where Michael had been sitting. “You want me to take him? My schedule does not fit his, but I can figure out something because we have to work with him. He is our biggest client to date. This is only going to help the practice grow. Especially if he has an awesome year.”

She was right. We needed him. “No, I’m tripping.”

“What did he do?”

I shook my head. “He didn’t do anything. He flirted a little, but I was able to handle it.”

Paula smiled. “That fine-ass man flirted with you? Maybe I should take him.”

“Whatever. You already have a rich man.”

“Not that rich.” She smiled. “A woman has to keep all options open.”

We both laughed. She and her husband had experienced their share of problems in the past, but right now they were in a good place. She loved him like crazy and would never leave him.

“What’s the problem?”

I stood and walked to my window to view the downtown area. “I’m already really attracted to him. Therapy can be so intimate. I don’t know if I can be objective. I didn’t take one note and you know how ‘Type A’ I can be about my first session with a client.”

“It’s hard not to be attracted to him. He is sexy as hell. Have you seen his commercials?”

“You are not helping.” Turning, I wagged my finger at her while trying to keep the smile from my face.

“I think because this was the first session, he may have been too overwhelming because he’s a celebrity. After all, this is the first well-known athlete client that we’ve ever had.”

I folded my arms. “I know. But my problem is that there was an attraction on both sides. I’m not sure if he knew I was attracted to him, but he was definitely feeling me.”

“And if there’s mutual attraction, I suggest you have a little fun.” Paula had been living vicariously through me since she got married, while we were finishing up our doctoral program over five years ago. She was the consummate party girl when we were younger. With her outgoing personality, her naturally wavy long hair, and light brown skin, a result of her Creole heritage, she was popular with the guys on our campus. Her husband, whom she met our third year of graduate school, had to give her an ultimatum to prevent her from dating other men.

“Are you seriously suggesting I put my license on the line for fun?” I rolled my eyes thinking of Xavier. “And I have a man. Thank you very much.”

“Yes, but you aren’t married or blind. I’m just saying don’t make a big deal about this. If he seems open to therapy, then you’re going to have to man up and deal with him. And if something happens, enjoy. I know I would, and the girl I knew at Howard wouldn’t think twice about having a little fun if the opportunity presented itself. No one has to know. I’m sure Michael Carson can keep secrets if it comes to that.” She stood up and straightened her designer suit. “I think you’re worried about nothing. It’s just a small crush that you’ll get over the more you work with him. You want to have drinks later? I think you need to release some of this tension and relax.”

“Sure, I could use a lemon drop martini.” I wanted to believe her, but my gut told me that my life would be forever be changed by this man.

“Cosmopolitan,” Paula chimed in.

Session 2: To Thine Own Self

On the day of our next session, I had a full day of clients and was glad he was my third client and that it was right before lunch because I couldn’t focus on the first two. I think I hid that I wasn’t paying attention. At least I hoped so. I was anxious to see if I could curtail my attraction and treat him like any other client. As soon as I heard his voice speaking to Gayle, I got butterflies in my stomach. “This is not good.”

When she escorted him in and I stood to greet him, my legs were wobbly. If possible, he looked better than he had the first visit in a blue T-shirt, blue cargo pants, and navy-blue Nikes. Michael smiled and shook my hand firmly.

“Good to see you again,” I said with my notepad against my chest.

“And you.” This time he held my hand for an appropriate length of time before sitting in the same chair as his previous visit. I sat next to him, grateful for my black slacks, because he definitely watched me sit. I always sat next to my clients so that there were no physical barriers between us. Michael was the first client I ever had who made me want to sit behind my desk, to put as much distance as possible between us.

“So how have you been since our last session? I usually like to start off with a recap of your week, and whenever you have a homework assignment, I like for us to review it.”

“You give homework assignments? Like I’m in school again?” He smirked.

“Not quite. It’s more about knowing and understanding yourself through exercises outside of our sessions. We only meet for an hour once a week and there are so many other hours throughout the week. I always want my clients to focus on knowing themselves.”

“To thine own self be true. I think I know myself pretty well. I’ve had to take care of myself since I was twelve years old. But I’m game for your assignments.”

That comment about taking care of himself since he was a child was a conversation for a later time. “Okay. I don’t give one until the end of the session because I base homework on our discussion.”

He shrugged, which showed off his chest muscles and he wasn’t even trying. I had to tell myself to focus on his face, but then his eyes and smile were doing something to me. “Lord, help me.”

“Excuse me?” Michael looked confused. “Doc, you okay?”

I was mortified because I didn’t realize I had said my prayer out loud, and I guess my expression showed my disbelief. I recovered as quickly as I could. “I’m sorry, but I do pray for guidance when working with my clients.” Okay, that sounded really stupid, but it was better than the truth. That I was asking God to help me not jump Michael Carson’s bones!

“Okay.” He continued to look bewildered. “Is this like… Christian counseling? I did hear about that, but I didn’t know that this was that. Then I definitely apologize for my behavior the other day.”

I sighed. “No, it isn’t. I pray from time to time. I just didn’t mean to say it out loud.”

“Do you think I’ll be a difficult client? Because your tone suggested that you needed help to get through this.”

He was not letting this go.

“No, Mr. Carson—”

“Michael,” he interrupted.

“Michael, I think you’re agreeable. Actually, more than I expected you to be.”

“What did you expect?”

“Let’s just say you’re also not what I expected.”

He smiled. “Let me guess, you expected me to be a narcissistic asshole.”

I laughed, nodding my head. “After meeting you, I realized that you’re just narcissistic.”

“I’ll accept that as a compliment.” He playfully bowed in his chair, which made me laugh again. “You should do that more. You’re absolutely gorgeous.” Before I could say anything in response, he put his hands up in defense. “I was simply speaking the truth and not trying to come on to you. I promised that I wouldn’t make you uncomfortable.”

“Thank you,” I said, blushing and clearing my throat. “Tell me, how was your week?”

“It was exhausting mentally.” Michael finally allowed me to move on by answering my question, though I believe he guessed why I never gave a reason for my prayer.

“What do you mean?”

“I keep butting heads with the offensive coordinator about plays.”

“It’s probably just a matter of adjustment. This is the first time you’ve been on another team since you’ve been in the NFL.”

“I agree with this being an adjustment, but I’ve been paid to get the job done. And I feel I’m being stifled.”

“And I’m sure you’re being quiet about your dissatisfaction.”

“Doc, you already know me,” he responded with sarcasm.

“Was there another time in your life in which you experienced something similar or at least felt the same way?”

He appeared to be thinking and then his facial expression changed to recognition. “Yeah.

When I first started playing football in high school, my coach at first didn’t trust my instincts.”

“He eventually did, right?”

“Yeah. I owe him so much because he was one of the first people besides my mother who believed in me.”

“How did it happen?” When he looked confused, I said, “How did you get your coach to trust you?”

“I proved myself by consistent practice, and I took some risks without my coach’s permission during games that thankfully worked.”

“You’re new to this team, so maybe you have to prove to everyone again why you deserve the big bucks.”

“That was different. I had never played football until high school. No one wanted me back then, but now I’m the most in-demand quarterback. And now I’ve got to take a back seat to a coach who barely made it out of college ball? I know if I were white, I wouldn’t have to go through this.”

“Maybe, maybe not. It sounds like you are frustrated. How are you dealing with that?”

“I am frustrated,” he said, clenching his jaw. “I didn’t leave a team that trusted my instincts to have to prove myself over again. If they didn’t like my style, then they shouldn’t have pursued me.”

“Michael, you just joined this team, and they are a close-knit group. So yes, you’re the number one quarterback, but as the quarterback you’re supposed to be the leader. You must prove to everyone on this team that you’re worth being their leader. Keep doing you and be patient.”

He was silent for a moment. “My mama told me the same thing when I told her how I’ve been feeling.”

“And she’s right. She sounds like a smart woman.” I changed the conversation to something more personal. “Are you close to your mother?”

I swear he almost teared up at the mention of his relationship with his mother. But he quickly shook it off and said, “Very. She’s my heart.”

“Then you should listen to her. You just met me, but she knows you and what you’ve been through.”

“What we’ve been through,” he corrected. “But I’m sure you know my story.”

“No. I try not to follow football closely, so I can be unbiased. And I definitely make sure I don’t look up info on my Gator clients. I want to find out about you from you.”

He looked at me as if he was trying to determine if I was telling the truth. He slowly smiled and said, “Okay. What do you want to know?” He was changing the subject once again.

“Whatever you want to tell me.”

Michael smirked. “Doc, you sure you want me to tell you whatever I want you to know about me?”

Breathe, I told myself and only me this time. I must treat him like my other clients. “Yes, Michael. Whatever you want me to know.”

“There is something I want you to know, but I don’t think you’re ready to hear it yet.” He leaned closer. I tried hard not to react because I had many clients who moved closer to me while in session. I didn’t see it as anything but that client showing me, he or she was more comfortable. Michael was just feeling more relaxed. “But I will tell you something that I think you can handle.”

“And that is?”

“I love women. In fact, I have a weakness for them. I love the way they look, smell, touch, and definitely taste.” He bit his lip.

How could this man make biting his lip look so sexy? I could barely breathe. For real.

“So, what do you think, Doc?” he asked after I was silent for a moment.

“About what?” I had completely lost my train of thought.

“Don’t you want to know more about my weakness for women?”

“Um… Many men in your position have a lot of women at their disposal and can pretty much have any woman they want. I don’t know if it’s a weakness or the law of supply and demand.”

“I see. My weakness wouldn’t exist if I didn’t have so many options?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, Doc, so answer this question.” He leaned even closer as if telling me a secret.

God! He smelled good. Focus, Zoe. “Sure.” I refuse to be affected by his nearness.

“Do you want me?” He looked directly into my eyes, searching them for the truth I was trying to hide.

I steeled myself to look at him, without looking away, and I lied, “No.” I know I should’ve reminded him that he shouldn’t flirt with me, but the sexual tension in the room felt so good.

He shook his head with a half-smile. “I just proved you wrong.”

“How?”

“You said a man in my position can have any woman he wants which is why I’m weak for women.” His dimples showed as he continued, “So you say you don’t want me, right?”
I started to stop him, and he held up his hand. “Let me finish. Let’s say that I do want you, but you don’t want me. And so—per you—I would no longer have a weakness.”

“You’re making it very simple and it’s not. I just meant that you go through a lot of women. You don’t feel the need to be faithful because you have so many choices versus a man who does not have as many options and values the woman he does have.”

Michael tilted his head toward me. “Doc, you misunderstood me. My weakness for women isn’t an excuse for me to have all the women I want because I can. It’s because when I’m around a woman I want, I do whatever it takes to get her. Even if she doesn’t want me, she will when I’m done.”

I didn’t expect that response. “I’m confused. Why do you consider this a weakness?”

“Because I focus my energy on getting her because I see it as a challenge. And usually when I get her, I realize she wasn’t worth my time.” He paused and looked at my lips as he spoke. “But you would be so worth it, hypothetically speaking of course, since I can’t be with you. It’s unethical, right?”

We stared at each other and I could see he was breathing faster, obviously turned on. Before I could speak, my session timer chimed. I quickly stood up, which was a mistake, because when he stood, we were inches away from each other. He could kiss me without taking a step forward. He continued to look down at me, studying my lips. I yearned for his lips to touch mine so bad I almost kissed him. I quickly shook my head and took a step back, but Michael took my hand to pull me close.

I ignored how my body reacted to his touch, “Homework assignment. Use how you handled the past to help with the present.”

“What?” Michael appeared still caught up in the sexual tension between us.

So was I, but I could not give in to those impulses. “You told me you’ve been through this before with your team in the past, but you were victorious. Think about how you did it then and do it now.”

He pulled me closer. “Is that my only assignment?” At my hesitation, he asked again, “Is it?”

I pushed him lightly on his rock-hard chest to move away from him. “Yes.”

He backed off and let go of my hand, walking to the door before turning back again. “I better stop and leave before I make you uncomfortable.” Michael walked out without another glance.

I sat down in my chair and whispered, “Lord, was this your way of helping me? By making me want him more and not less!”

Session 3: Am I Dreaming?

Every morning I took a two-mile jog at Audubon Park. After a restless night filled with thoughts and dreams of Michael Carson, instead of Xavier, my boyfriend, I needed to run until he was out of my thoughts, at least in a personal way. I don’t believe I’ve ever been that sexually attracted to any man, and that really scared me. This man was my client and not a potential boyfriend.

I got up extra early, put on a yellow, loose-fitting T-shirt and black jogging capris. I also wore a yellow silk bandana to protect my freshly relaxed, wrapped hair and drove to the park in five minutes. As I jogged, I had my music blasting and was so focused on getting Michael out of my head, I wasn’t paying attention to anything happening around me. I accidentally bumped into someone and removed my earbuds to apologize, my eyes widening in shock when I saw it was the very man I was trying to get out of my mind!

He grabbed my arms to steady me. “Doc? Are you okay?”

“Hey. I’m fine.” I’m glad he held my arms because my legs were wobbly. The object of my thoughts was standing in front of me in a tank top and long running shorts and had the nerve to look even sexier while being sweaty. I, on the other hand, felt like a hot mess with my bandana on my head. And truth be told, I also felt more feminine standing next to him in running shoes because I didn’t realize how much taller he was than me.

“You run in this park?”

“I’m sorry for bumping into you.” He grinned and removed his hands. I rubbed my arms where his hands had been without thinking. “Yes, I run here.” I was hesitant to tell him how often.

“I like running here too. It’s a nice park. People notice me but still let me run in peace. I’ve always liked working out outside rather than in a gym. But in this heat, you’ve got to be out here at the crack of dawn.”

“Yes.” I looked everywhere but at him and hoped he would get the hint that I didn’t want to have a conversation with him.

“Doc, you’re not that talkative outside of a session.”

“Sorry, I just have limited time to run before getting ready for work. So…” I turned to continue running.

“Mind if I run with you?”

I’m running to stop obsessing about you! I pretended that I was okay with his company, knowing that it was a bad idea because he was my client. But I nodded my head in assent. “Sure. I doubt if I’m on your level and I may slow you down, but okay.”

We began jogging and a few people looked surprised and excited to see him as we ran in companionable silence, but no one stopped him as he said. The running actually helped me relax. I could focus on my exercise, and ironically, being next to the man physically stopped me from thinking about him. We ran for another twenty minutes, and I signaled with my hands that I was stopping.

He jogged in place as he said, “I still have more to do, but it was cool running with you. You’re in good shape. I bet you could go longer if you didn’t have to work. I’ll see you next week at our session.”

As I walked away from him, I realized he didn’t attempt to flirt with me, and I didn’t know if I felt relief or disappointment. Michael acted as if and told me I was beautiful in our sessions. And though I usually didn’t have any problems attracting men, even in a city that loved its light-skinned women more, it did make me feel special that someone like him thought I was beautiful. But today he barely gave me an appreciative glance. Maybe I really did look like a hot mess. I shook my head and ran to my car. You really are tripping. He is just playing with you. The attraction is in your head. And I did manage to not think of him for the rest of the day.
***
The next morning, I felt more like myself and able to emotionally distance myself from Michael, as I did with my other clients. I decided to wear a fitted pink top, loose matching running shorts, and put my hair in a ponytail to match my happy mood. As I was stretching and listening to my running music playlist at the park, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned to see Michael smiling at me.

“You do run here every day.” In a gray Nike T-shirt and matching running shorts, he was fine and sexy as hell.

I nodded. “You run here every day?”

“I started a few days ago, but I like to mix my workouts up and I’m in the team’s facility most days.” He looked down at me, “But I may have to start being here more often since seeing you seems to motivate me.”

Heat rose to my face. “Thanks.”

“Are you blushing, Doc? You motivate me to try because of your sound advice and because you really are beautiful. I’m just stating a fact,” Michael said, holding his hands up in defense.

“Well, I can still appreciate a compliment, though it should not be coming from my client.” I looked at him pointedly.

“I may be your client for now, but I’m still a man. If circumstances were different, I would most definitely step to you.” He came closer. “How can we make them different?”

I could barely breathe and looked for a way out. “We can’t because our circumstances are not changing.” I backed up, turned around, and took off running in the opposite direction.

I heard him laugh and say, “You win this time.”

Thinking about his weakness and realizing I was a challenge for him made me run even harder because I wasn’t sure I could resist if he really came on strong. I decided not to run at the park again until our next session, so I could make it clear that whatever this was between us had to stop. I also knew I needed to spend more time with Xavier to remind myself I wasn’t single and was already in love.
***
We were lying next to each other in bed. Xavier was reading an article for his research while I was finishing up client notes. That was our ritual—to work next to each other whether we were in the living area or the bedroom at his apartment or in my office in my home. I was so comfortable with how we were with each other that I never questioned if there should be more passion between us. In the past, I had been in crazy relationships where there was plenty of sex, but constant drama related to arguing and infidelity. Paula and I—ad nauseam—tried to figure out the root of my choices in men.
Of course, we linked it back to my fun-loving father who was handsome and charming, always the life of the party. The problem was he didn’t know how to be faithful and he and my mother divorced when I was eight years old. I saw him mostly during holidays and an occasional birthday. He died of a heart attack when I was a freshman in college. I loved my father and still grieved for him. But I think I tried to find him repeatedly in my relationships, in hopes of fixing him.

My mother—bless her heart—never really got over my father. Once I left home for college, she left New Orleans and moved to Austin, Texas for a fresh start. I was an only child, so of course, we were close. But for the most part, I was on my own regarding relationship advice. My mother never dated after my father and always seemed content to deal with her various projects and career as an administrator at UT Austin. I don’t think she cared if I ever married or not, as long as I was happy. She met Xavier a couple of times and liked him, but she was not the person to go to for advice in the men department. Instead I always went to my friends.

When I started my own practice at twenty-eight years old, I decided I was done with unhealthy relationships. A few months later, in walked Xavier Thompson. I was at an Urban League Conference in Las Vegas and went into a session about youth and education, and he was the moderator. Xavier’s skin reminded me of smooth dark chocolate, and he had a natural athletic build. I’d been drawn to his biceps that peeked from his short-sleeved polo shirt and flexed as he used his hands to speak to the panel. Impressed with his looks, presentation, and how he led the other speakers, I stayed behind to ask questions and he asked me to lunch.

Once we found out that we were both from New Orleans, the rest, as people say, was history. Now almost two years later, we’re still together and there has been no drama. We’ve never even argued because we usually agreed on most things, and when we didn’t, we either did our own thing or one of us compromised. I have always found intelligence attractive in a man, even more so than looks. Lucky for me—despite his bookish ways—Xavier was handsome in the studious way with glasses and very preppy clothes. He was also tall at six feet, he just didn’t have the swagger or charisma of Michael. Then again, Xavier grew up upper middle class and had not experienced what I imagined Michael had as a youth.

“Penny for your thoughts?” He smiled.

“Huh?” I felt guilty for thinking of another man, while with a man who had done nothing but be a good guy to me.

“You’ve been staring off into space for a while now. Everything okay?”

“No. I’m fine. Just having difficulty with one of my clients. Trying to figure out the best way to handle the case.” I started writing again.

“Can I do something to help?”

“You know I can’t talk about my clients with you,” I said, sharper than I meant.

“I know.” He raised his hands in surrender. “Just trying to help.”

“Sorry.” I leaned over and kissed his cheek. He smelled clean, more like soap than the sexy cologne that Michael wore. There I go again, thinking of this man! I shook my head. “Focus.”

“Why do you need to focus?”

Once again, I’d spoken aloud without realizing it. I really am going crazy. “Just need to focus on finishing these notes.”

He pulled me close to lean against him. “I’m finished.” He kissed my neck. “Sure, I can’t convince you to finish your notes later?”

I placed my head on his shoulder. “Sorry, I really have to finish these. Maybe later.” I gave him a quick peck and sat up. I made sure I worked until he drifted off to sleep, realizing I didn’t want to sleep with him. We didn’t have fireworks every time, but our sex life was decent. I mean how many people had great sex and a strong relationship? I mean I have had toe-curling sex but had a horrible relationship with the same man. This time around the sex was good, though not as frequent as it should be, but our relationship was great. I did enjoy having sex with him.

The fact that we hadn’t had sex in the last month and I found myself attracted to a man I knew would be no good for me, I should be ready to jump Xavier’s bones. If for nothing else, but to take my mind off the fine-as-hell man who kept invading my thoughts. Sex with Xavier would probably work. But for some crazy reason, I felt like I would be cheating on Michael. Crazy.

I am in a serious relationship, and I just met this man who admittedly told me he had a weakness for women and had got me second-guessing my very stable relationship. I didn’t know how much more flirting I could take before I succumbed to him. He might have a weakness for women, but I had a weakness for him. Maybe I wasn’t as healed of my penchant for the wrong men as I thought. I watched Xavier sleep. I knew I should put an end to whatever it was between me and Michael before I lost my man, my career, and worse, myself.
***
Michael was already in the waiting area when I arrived at work. He had asked to be my first appointment, according to our receptionist. He stood when I entered and put his hands in his back pockets. “Hey, I’m sorry if I—”

Because Gayle was watching, I held up my hand to stop him. “Why don’t we wait until we get in the office?”

I went in first and beckoned him to follow me into the room. After placing my purse in my large desk drawer, I turned to face him. He was standing, appearing uncomfortable, which made him seem more vulnerable than his usual swagger.

I gestured for him to sit. He did and so and I came around my desk and leaned against it.

“Doc, I’m sorry.” Michael looked up at me with soft eyes.

“About what?”

“I haven’t seen you at the park since the last time I saw you, and I don’t want to be the reason you stop going somewhere or doing something you love.”

“How do you know that I love running in the park?”

“You looked free and relaxed when we ran.” He was perceptive because I loved to run, but he gave me an opportunity to say what I needed to say before things got out of hand.

“I’m glad you brought that up because I didn’t want to run again at the park until we had another session.”

Michael looked concerned.

“Please don’t take this personal. For this therapy to work, you must stop flirting with me. We have a professional relationship only. I can’t be seen jogging with you, because to some it could be seen as a dual relationship, which is unethical.” I folded my arms.

“Okay. I apologize. But I didn’t purposely seek you out. I didn’t even know you ran at the park. Please don’t stop on my account. I can find another park or continue to only train at the center. But, Doc, I need you to admit that there’s something between us.” He leaned forward in his chair which brought us closer.

I instinctively drew back against the desk. “What good will that do?”

“Doc, I’m still feeling out of place, which is frustrating me. I’m not trying to brag, but my game on and off the field has always been on point. I feel like I’m failing in both areas right now. I know we have a professional relationship, but when I’m around you, I feel this vibe. I’ll stop flirting and getting personal with you because these sessions have really helped more than I ever thought. I don’t want to cause you any more discomfort than I have, but can you at least let me know that I’m not reading this wrong? That I’m not crazy and there’s something between us.”

I closed my eyes, debating whether I should be truthful, and how it would help our therapeutic relationship. I prided myself in being honest with my clients and that was what he needed right now. I opened my eyes and looked across at him. “Yes, I’m attracted to you. I’m not sure why, but I am. So, using your words, ‘your game is still on.’ At least regarding me. This is why I needed to talk to you again. I want to continue to work with you, but we have to stop whatever this is, okay?”

Michael sat back in the chair, appearing relaxed for the first time during this session, his dimpled smile coming out. “Okay. Thank you for being honest with me. Doc, from now on I’ll keep my thoughts about you to myself, and I promise I won’t do anything you don’t want me to.”

I realized he was not going to make this easy on me. “Michael,” I said his name sternly, almost in a reprimand.

“Okay, okay. I’m stopping.”

I moved to sit down next to him. “Now that we’re on the same page, let’s talk about your homework assignment.”

Michael had the nerve to look sheepish. “I did my assignment on Jamila, my high school girlfriend.”

“How does she relate to the assignment I gave you?”

“You said to use the past to help with the present. Well, presently there’s a woman who I really want, but she won’t give me the time of day.”

“Michael,” I said, irritated.

He raised his hand and pulled out his cell, then got up and stood over me. “See where I wrote the assignment.” Indeed, he had jotted down his thoughts about his ex-girlfriend. He was standing way too close to me and he smelled wonderful. Luckily, he went back to his chair before he noticed my reaction to him.

“Okay. You proved your point.” I folded my arms across my chest.

“Good, now can I finish?”

“Please proceed.” I was unsure how I should feel.

“When I played football in high school, there was this girl from my neighborhood who knew me most of my life. I was always in trouble and headed for jail or death until football and Jamila saved my life.”

“How did she save your life?”

“I always had a way with girls, but she saw right through me. She ignored all my moves that would normally have a girl loving me. My mom knew her family and I grew up with her but didn’t really notice her until my sophomore year. I went to this party and she was there looking good. I figured all I had to do was say hello and she would be all over me, especially because I was the new quarterback. But she didn’t. She told me she had a boyfriend and had no interest in me. Every time I saw her after that, I would catch her looking at me, so I could tell she liked me. I mean, who wouldn’t?”

He smiled, looking at me. “But she wouldn’t talk to me, because she didn’t trust me. At the same time, I was trying to get her attention, I was leaving my old life behind. Trying hard to be the best quarterback, best man I could be. I started working for her father, and because he and I worked closely together, she saw that I was changing. When one of my friends was killed in front of me, I wanted revenge. I confided in her because she knew my friend, and my instincts told me to trust her. She kept me from acting on my anger by telling me that I wasn’t that person that she used to know, that I was never really that person. In the end, I chose my new life and she chose me.”

I was fascinated by his story and thought how much this girl must have meant—still meant—to him. “Wow. You have been through a lot.”

He simply nodded.

I had more questions about his past life but sensed he wasn’t ready. “You must have really loved her. How did your relationship end?”

“Her father expanded his business to another city and eventually moved his family there. Nothing dramatic except the usual, we grew apart because of the distance, especially when I was accepted into Michigan State. We still talk on occasion, but she’s married now. Jamila was my first love and I’ll always love her because she knew me when I was no one. She was there for me and corrected my ass when I needed it. But if you’re wondering, I’m over her.”

“So, are you saying the same way you got Jamila, you want to get this woman?”

“Yes. She means the world to me.” Michael looked into my eyes. “So, Doc, I now know what I need to do. Your assignment worked.”

“W-what…?”

“Let go of the past life, welcome my new one, and get her to trust me so she will choose me.” He continued to look at me with a serious expression.

I got quiet because I felt like he wasn’t going to stop no matter what, and if I was honest with myself, did I really want him to stop? “Look, Michael, I don’t know what to say to get you to understand that nothing can happen between us.”

He raised one eyebrow. “You don’t have to say anything because I’m talking about football. She’s the woman. I haven’t been myself with football since I got here.” He suddenly sat up straighter. “Wait, did you think I was talking about you?”

I was mortified and stuttered, “W-well… you… I-I mean I…”

Michael stood up and pulled me into his arms to hug me. He felt so good, I rested my head on his chest. It felt good to finally touch him.

He whispered, “I’m sorry. I’m always flirting with you. The one time I wasn’t doing so, you thought I was. Making you uncomfortable is the last thing I want to do.” He stepped back. “I guess I shouldn’t be hugging you either, but I couldn’t help it. You just looked like you needed one.”

I was speechless as Michael looked down at me and cursed. He pressed a gentle kiss on my lips, and I was instantly aroused. He shook his head and grinned. “You looked like you could use a kiss, too.”

He was so damn cute at that moment that I wrapped my arms around his neck without any thought and kissed him back. So much for honoring my code of ethics!

Read the rest of Zoe and Michael’s story when the Endgame trilogy is released on March 1 and the third story in the series is released on March 8!! Available on Amazon, Nook, ibooks, and KOBO.

I am loving my teasers for Endgame Series! I will drop one each day in the week leading up to the release of my trilogy!! I can’t wait to read it again with all my revisions and I’m excited for you all to read it too…

Endgame_I love womenEndgame_I love youEndgame_Teaser_Ever let goEndgame_Teaser_I would dieEndgame_Teaser_Your body is mine

coverreveal1

IT’S FINALLY HERE!!! MY NEW COVERS FOR THE ENDGAME TRILOGY

Endgame series (Endgame, Game Time and Game Changer)

WWW.GARDENAVENUEPRESS

Endgame (Book 1#)
Is love worth risking it all?

Psychologist Dr. Zoe Broussard has always been a no-nonsense, play by the rules woman until she meets her new client. From the moment the impossibly gorgeous Michael Carson walks into her office, she finds herself dangerously drawn to him and irrevocably hooked.

Michael is an NFL quarterback with a multimillion dollar contract and a penchant for breaking hearts. He’s used to getting what he wants, and he’s determined to tempt his hot new therapist into exploring the obvious passion between them. Even though there’s another man in her life.

Can Zoe resist Michael’s charms and her growing feelings for him? More importantly, is she willing to risk everything for a man who may not be there tomorrow?

 

 

Chemistry

 

 

 

10 thoughts on “Tiye’s stories

  1. I Am Hooked on my Tiye library that I can read them over and over again and get so emotionally exhausted and physically flustered at the same same time!! My escape from the world has become my reading and right I am escaping into my Tiye love books. And couldn’t be more satisfied if I may say so at this moment. Love LOVE

    Like

    1. I thought I already responded to your comment and I don’t think it showed. Anyway, thanks so much…writing is my escape so I love that to read my stories is an escape as well…Hope you continue to support…thanks again!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Good question…You beat me to the punch!! I had planned to announce upcoming work this week on my website…and I still will but inform you now since you asked. In June, the re-release with new covers is Chemistry (same edition if you already bought it) and Essence of You which has been edited and broken down into a trilogy, (first two released in June) with the last story as the never before published follow-up the first week of July; One Week to be re-released in June and working diligently to get follow-up to Chemistry released around Labor Day and either a summer or fall novella depending on the status of my two sequels…What stories have you read?

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  2. Hello,

    I love the Essence series! Even through Jasmine was getting on my darn nerves ! But I understand her more now. When will the 3rd part of Essence trilogy
    come out ?

    Like

    1. Did you read ‘Essence of Us’ yet? It is the third part and it came out last Friday. For some reason, I’m just receiving the notifications from my website…

      Like

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