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Friday, February 29, 2008

EXCERPT: Double Platinum

Double Platinum
By Shelia M. Goss

To the world, R&B mega star Parris Mitchell has itall: fame, money, jewelry and several gold and platinum records to go along with it. But now, with her singing career declining, she struggles with depression. Her last few albums were disappointments not only to her record label because of low sales, but to her devoted fans.

Casper Johnson is one of the hottest and most soughtafter producers in the music industry. All of themedia attention has garnered "The Hit Maker" a playboy image. He's getting tired of the same old sound andhe's looking for the right voice to help take his career to the next level. Parris agrees to give Caspera chance to revive her career. When they get together, their working relationship quickly crosses the line and their drama from groupies and people from their past becomes the source of plenty of print for the paparazzi.

Website address - http://www.sheliagoss.com/

Chapter 1


“Parris, I hate to tell you this, but Archie has depleted almost all of your accounts,” Mark Beckham, my accountant, informed me nearly two years ago.

That was the peak of my personal and professional downward spiral. The media had a field day with the news of my loss. At thirty-two, I had been singing professionally since I was twenty-one and I had an on again off again love affair with the media. One day they loved you and the next, you’re thrown to the wolves.

I’ve been able to hide from the media I’m battling with depression. The tabloids would have a field day if they knew Parris Mitchell, media proclaimed R & B Diva, took anti-depressants. At first it was difficult dealing with Archie Walker, my ex-boyfriend and ex-manager, running away with my assistant Sylvia and my money.

Fortunately Archie didn’t have access to all of my accounts or I would be flat broke. During the time we were together, I trusted him and I allowed him access to not only my accounts, but my heart. After he left, I felt depleted in more ways than one. The authorities haven’t been able to locate him or his partner in crime.

Archie wasn’t all that cute, but it was something about him that drew me to him. With an average height and build, he never stepped out of the house without being immaculate dressed. Silly me, I ignored the rumors of him creeping with some of my backup dancers. I confronted him on numerous occasions about the rumors, but each time he convinced me that people were jealous of my success and our relationship.

He tried to pressure me to marry him on many occasions, but I declined due to my hectic touring schedule. Looking back on it, marriage to Archie never crossed my mind. I was content with the way things were. The tension between us grew with each turned down proposal. If he wasn’t my manager, I probably would have ended the relationship sooner and I wouldn’t be going through all of this now.

I found out in the newspaper of Archie and Sylvia’s marital bliss. Losing Archie hurt, but I was beyond shock to learn that the normally shy conservatively dressed Sylvia and Archie knew each other and had been playing me all along.

The last year of our relationship was some of the best months of sex I had ever experienced. Archie tried some things on me that I never knew existed. I was vulnerable and naïve. He could have asked me to sign over the rights to all of my songs and I would have. Instead he asked if I would give him full control over my accounts. Mark privately confronted me with his concerns. When a man was throwing it on you in the bedroom like Archie, you lose all sense of reasoning. I agreed to remove the two-signature clause from some of my accounts and things started going down hill.

I wish I would have never fired my first manager. Dexter Ringo believed in me from the moment he saw me perform in a high school musical. He kept in contact with me throughout my college years and he gave me my first shot at stardom. I wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t taken a chance and convinced me to move to Los Angeles a day after I graduated from college. He knew the ins and outs of the record industry and promised to make me a star. He did that and so much more. I owe him a lot. One day I plan to make it up to him.

Archie had me under his spell and I began believing the lies he whispered in my ear about Dexter. I fell for the lies and fired Dexter. Dexter was devastated not because of the money, but because to use his own words, “He’s a smooth operator, a snake in disguise. I hope he doesn’t end up hurting you.” His comments infuriated me and I vowed not to talk to Dexter again. A decision I regretted.

I did my best to ignore the critics, but it’s been difficult. After I fired Dexter, I only had one more hit CD. The critics have torn my last couple of albums to pieces. It wouldn’t have hurt so much if my fans didn’t agree. I cried when I read their messages on my website. Only my diehard fans have stood by me. To that I’m grateful, but I feel I failed them all by putting out mediocre stuff. Maybe for a new artist, it would have been good; but for me, my fans expected so much more.

“Parris, you have one more album left to meet your obligation; but I must warn you. If your next release doesn’t do well, we won’t be renewing your contract,” Nathan Rashid, the vice-president over the urban music division, stated over the phone a few days before I found out about Archie’s antics.

“What?” I asked confused. “I’ve been with you guys since I started singing. If it wasn’t for me, you wouldn’t be….”

Carmen interrupted, “Nathan, Parris will do her part. You just do yours.”

In less than a week, my whole world as I knew it began to crumble around me. First the record company and then the abandonment I felt when I came home one day to find all of Archie’s stuff gone. I was frantic and only my mother and Carmen could calm me down. Carmen was on the first plane back to Los Angeles as soon as she heard what happened.

I retreated into a shell, but with her help, I’ve been able to get my life back together. I agreed to let Carmen handle my business affairs. After the authorities tried tracking down Archie and Sylvia, but to no prevail, Carmen convinced me that I should not allow it to take over my life.

I listened and tried, but failed at first. It’s taken me two years to get past the anger, the hurt, disappointment and embarrassment of the whole situation. I think I’m finally ready to get some order back in my life. I’m a spiritual person and at first I didn’t want to take anti-depressants. After a few months of going back and forth with my doctor about it, the realization that God wouldn’t have given doctors the power of healing if it wasn’t meant to help me, I succumbed and admit it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Although I’m not completely off them yet, the dosage had been reduced.

As I sat on my couch reminiscing about my life and thumbing through the latest issue of Noir magazine, I realized I was ready to face the music. It’s time for me to get back out there and do what I was born to do—sing. There’s one more CD under my contract and I refused to fail the record company, my fans and most importantly, I couldn’t fail myself.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

TRAILER: Something He Can Feel

Something He Can Feel
by Marissa Monteilh

Hot headed and hot blooded, she just can't keep her hands to herself . . .

Marina Maxwell, a successful news anchor in Atlanta, has had anger issues with men since high school. But, she believes she can calm her fiery temper once the right man comes into her life. In walks tall and handsome Mangus Baskerville, a police officer who's feeling her so tough that he quickly proposes marriage. Yet once the I Do's are exchanged, Mangus discovers the other side of Marina . . . a side that is flawed through anger. Can Mangus stand by his abusive woman even when the other woman lurks nearby? And can Marina learn to mellow her violent ways just in time?



Wednesday, February 27, 2008

EXCERPT: Arms of a Stranger

Arms Of A Stranger

by Giselle Carmichael


Keithen Knight has gotten caught up in the cycle of making money and keeping track of it that he has lost sight of the important things in life.

Small Town Girl...

Simone Ladner is living an unfulfilled life in the fast paced city that never sleeps and has lost her way.

Brought together by the devastating hurricane that tore across the Gulf Coast region, these two people will unite in the rebuilding efforts, and in the process discover the meaning of life, love, and happiness in the Arms of a Stranger.


“Throw another bundle of shingles up here,” Simone Ladner yelled down from the roof she was working on. Hurricane Katrina had devastated the Biloxi neighborhood she had grown up in. Like everyone along the Coast, she was doing her part to rebuild the area, one house, one block, one neighborhood at a time. Six months after the life-altering storm, things were nearly as bad as the day the storm washed ashore, but with the influx of volunteers from all across the country, as well as internationally, progress was being made.

“Rather than throw them, how about I give you a hand here?” a deep voice replied.
Simone paused, because she didn’t recognize the voice. If she had heard it before, she was sure she would have remembered the deep sonorous sound. Footsteps vibrating the ladder alerted her that the owner of the voice was indeed bringing up the roofing shingles. She sat back on her haunches to await the delivery.

The February temperature was mild, the sky sunny and bright, just the type of day the people of the Coast needed to clean up and rebuild their lives.
A blond head appeared just over the roof’s edge. Two plastic wrapped bags of shingles rested across his broad shoulders. She was always awed by the display of physical strength in the workers. One bundle of asphalt shingles could weigh anywhere from 70 to 140 pounds. The scene was repeated from sun up to sun down all up and down the coastline. She considered herself a strong woman, had proven it to herself since returning home and getting involved in the rebuilding process. However, carrying stacks of roofing shingles on her shoulders and back the way these guys did was way beyond her capacity.

“Here, let me take one of those,” she said, scooting toward the ladder and sliding one bundle off his shoulder onto the roof. Turning again to the new arrival, who was built like the retired football player, Howie Long, she grabbed the other bundle and heaved it beside her. Then as she looked at him to offer her thanks for the help, she found herself staring into the greenest eyes the Good Lord had ever created. Something deep inside her stirred to life as her stomach clenched with desire and the heat of sexual awareness rushed from her toes to the top of her head. She slid back along the tar paper to give the big man room as he climbed from the ladder to the roof.

He was really big, Simone thought as he sat beside her. Wide, heavily muscled shoulders bunched underneath his denim shirt. His forearms were equally muscled and tan from the Mississippi sun. His hands, large and strong, effortlessly ripped away the plastic wrap around the shingles. The thought of those hands on her body nearly caused her to forget where she was. Simone shook her head to clear away the thought. The roof was not the place to be wigging out.

The stranger introduced himself, holding out his large hand in greeting. “Hi, I’m Keithen Knight.”

“Simone Ladner.” She took his hand and watched as hers was swallowed whole.
Keithen studied the small hand within his with curiosity. Although small and definitely feminine, there was strength in the grasp. There was also something magnetic about it, because it took sheer willpower to release it. As he met the warm cocoa-colored eyes and friendly smile of the beautiful woman returning his questioning gaze, he was sure she’d felt something as well.

“Nice to meet you, Simone.” He released her hand and sat back looking at her. She had delicate features set in a creamy dark chocolate face. “Where should I start?” Keithen watched, spellbound, as she removed the baseball cap she wore. A shoulder-length ponytail fell free, curling around her neck.

“You can take this end, I’ll work over there,” Simone replied, and crawled back to where she had stopped working the day before.

“So where are you from, Keithen?”

“I guess my accent gave me away.”

Simone glanced at him and laughed. “More like lack of one.”

“I’m a Native Californian. Born and raised in San Francisco.” He smiled at her with pride. “I live on Belvedere Island. Ever heard of it?”

“Can’t say that I have.”

“It’s a beautiful island across the bay with hilltop views of the San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge.”

“Sounds beautiful,” she replied.

“And you?” His green eyes watched her efficient movements with admiration as she laid a course of shingles and nailed them in place. He followed her actions and got to work as well.

Laughing, Simone paused and looked over. “Don’t be deceived by the East Coast brogue. I was born and raised right here, though I lived in New York for four years.”

“The storm brought you home?” He swung the hammer.

“Yes, it did. When I arrived back in the neighborhood not one house was standing on the block. I couldn’t believe it. I grew up here and yet I got disoriented traveling around town because so much was gone. Landmarks I took for granted were nowhere to be found.”

“I had to come,” Keithen told her. “After weeks of watching the destruction, I knew I had to get involved.”

“Well, on behalf of the people of the Coast, thank you.”

Keithen nodded. He was humbled by the people he had met. In the face of all they had lost and the daily difficulties they continued to face, they were kind, giving, and so very thankful for any assistance. He and Simone concentrated on the work before them, laying shingles and nailing them down. The rhythmic pounding filled the air like music.

On hands and knees the pair worked from one end to the other, until their half of the roof was completely covered. The work was exhausting and dirty, but doing it gave Simone and Keithen a sense of pride. The team on the other side was nearing the ridge, so while they waited, Simone climbed down the ladder and quickly returned with water for everyone. She tossed each man a bottle then straddled the ridge.
Keithen unscrewed the cap to his bottle of water and took a long, thirsty drink, his eyes looking over to where Simone sat. She was just as dirty and sweaty as he and the other guys on the roof, and yet he couldn’t take his eyes off her. Long thick lashes framed almond shaped eyes.

Simone felt Keithen watching her and observed him with curiosity. “So what do you do for a living, Keithen?” She rolled the cold bottle under her neck to cool herself.

“I’m a developer,” he responded without explanation. He felt no need to tell her he was a millionaire developer of some of the most exclusive residential neighborhoods in the country, from Malibu to West Palm Beach

“As in residential developments?”

“Exactly, so you see, I’m familiar with a hammer and nails.

“Your talents are definitely needed around here.” She downed the last of her water, then tossed the bottle over the side and returned to work on the ridge. Another hour went by before Simone checked her watch. She had to get over to the church. “That’s it for me today, guys,” she yelled to the crew on the roof. “I’ll see you all later.”

Keithen watched as Simone gathered her tools and headed to the ladder. As she drew along beside him, he stopped her. “Leaving so soon?”

“I’m afraid so. Hope to see you again, Keithen Knight,” Simone said continuing to the ladder.

“Likewise.” Keithen watched as she disappeared from sight. He could hear her saying her good-byes down below. He watched as she climbed into a late model black Chevy Silverado and drove off.


Simone stopped at the corner stop sign and glanced back at the Tyler house. Keithen Knight’s big form was easy to spot on the roof, looking in her direction. He was ruggedly handsome and something about the man appealed to her. Perhaps it was his easy warm smile, or those captivating green eyes that looked right at her. Or maybe it was the kindness radiating from him. She smiled, thinking how the storm had brought all types of people from different walks of life together.

She turned at the corner and drove what should have been the few blocks to the church. Instead she ran into a roadblock. Another debris removal crew was picking up the remains of someone’s home.

She placed the truck into reverse and backed to the intersection, then selected an alternate route. Driving along, she couldn’t help but notice the abundance of plastic clinging to the trees and fences that remained. She wondered for the hundredth time where it all came from. Turning at the next corner, she was astonished by the debris pushed to the edge of the street forming mountains on both sides of the road. The stench of rotting food and molding furniture permeated the air. She increased her speed, trying to outrun the encroaching depression and make up time for the detour. Her grandmother would be looking for her and she wasn’t prepared to receive a lecture about being late from Ruth Ladner.

She pulled into the winding driveway of East Biloxi Baptist Church, drove around back and parked. She grabbed her duffle bag of fresh clothing, and headed over to the large tent that had been erected on the grounds as a kitchen to feed the volunteers and people in need. She spotted her grandmother on the serving line for the noon meal and waved.

“I’m headed to the kitchen to start dinner,” she shouted to her grandmother.

“How did it go today?” Ruth asked.

“Good. We accomplished a great deal.”

“Did you get the roof on at Lorna’s place?” Standing at only five feet, the coffee-brown woman, weighing no more than one hundred and twenty pounds, possessed a powerful presence that demanded respect.

“They were almost finished with the ridge when I left.”

“Good. Then you and the crew can move inside.” Her wise eyes set in a thin face blessed by the passage of time held her granddaughter’s. A black hairnet held her gray curls in place.

“Yes ma’am,” Simone responded, knowing an order when she heard one. “We’ll have Miss Lorna back in her house just as fast as we can. I better get cleaned up and changed into fresh clothing, Grandma.”

“See you later, baby.” Ruth watched her beautiful granddaughter walk away. She was so very proud of her. A professional chef trained at the Culinary Institute of America, Simone had given up her dream of restaurant ownership to return home and pitch in with the rebuilding effort. She had arrived driving on old work truck, loaded down with building supplies and much needed cleaning items, never once asking for repayment. A generous expression of love like that would definitely be rewarded.
Entering the church, Simone headed directly to the small bathroom. Locking the door, she shed her clothes and stepped into the small shower. She thanked whoever had had the foresight to include it in the renovations. When she was clean and dressed in fresh clothing, she headed to the large kitchen to work her magic. Two other church members had volunteered to assist her with preparations for the Sunday evening meal. While the other women talked, Simone thought about Keithen Knight and wondered where he would be eating.

Like clockwork the workers began arriving just before dark. They were exhausted and hungry, and looking for a hot meal. The men and women who had been in the area for several weeks or months knew Simone would be cooking Sunday dinner, which equated to a feast.

The dinner hour was for more than just eating, it was a time for visiting as well. Friendships had been developed and as the volunteer workers progressed down the serving line, sociable bantering went on. Simone enjoyed talking to the men and women. It was her way of gauging the rebuilding progress in the various neighborhoods. As she dished up her special macaroni made with seven types of cheese, a thunderous voice reached her ears. Her heart fluttered as she glanced down the line of bodies and spotted Keithen Knight. He was looking right at her, and the world disappeared leaving only the two of them.

“Pulling double duty I see,” Keithen said when he stood in front of Simone. To his surprise he was excited to see her again. She was lovely, although younger than he usually liked. He held his tray out to her while admiring her blemish free complexion. It looked soft and smooth, making him want to caress a finger down the line of her high cheekbones. Her nose was slightly long and flared at the nostrils. But it was the brilliant white smile that she returned that had his blood pumping.

“Sunday is my day to volunteer in the kitchen. My grandmother works the lunch hour and I replace her at dinner,” she told him. Taking into account his size, she gave him a little extra of everything. “Did you finish the roof?”

“We sure did. Tomorrow the inside work can begin on the Tyler house.”

“I know Miss Lorna will be happy to hear the news.”

“Miss Lorna?”

“Lorna Tyler. It’s a Southern thing,” she explained with a smile.

“Will I see you tomorrow?” he asked returning the smile. He quickly took note of her height. He guessed she was about five foot seven. At six feet, he preferred a woman with a little height. He silently scolded himself for the thought. He had just met the woman. He was in Biloxi to work, not to notice beautiful women.
“Most definitely. I’m assigned to the Tyler house and I’ll be working there until it’s ready for Miss Lorna to move in.”

“Guess I’ll see you there then.” Keithen smiled as he moved away from the serving line and went in search of a table. Spotting the crew that he had worked with that day, he joined the men.

Simone watched Keithen as he walked away. His stride was powerful and sexy. Sexy, now where did that come from? She quickly pushed the thought away. . She was there to do a job, not search for a man, although if she were looking, Keithen Knight would be one heck of a find.

The line finally slowed to a trickle. She was ordered by the other women on the line to grab a plate and eat. She hadn’t stopped long enough to eat anything substantial since that morning and she was indeed starving. With her plate loaded, she turned, searching for somewhere to sit. The volunteers liked to linger after dinner, socializing, so seating was limited. She spotted one seat available at the corner table where Keithen was sitting. As though sensing her looking in his direction, he glanced up and waved her over.

Simone smiled as she made her way to the table. She greeted the other men of the crew as she sat across from Keithen. After bowing her head and saying grace, she looked up right into his mesmerizing eyes.

“The guys here tell me you’re responsible for this delicious meal.”

“It’s nothing,” she responded dismissively.

Keithen could tell she was a little embarrassed by the attention. “The guys tell me you’re a chef?”

Simone blushed. “Yes I am, although what I’ve been serving here in the tent is a far cry from my usual cuisine. The work crews aren’t interested in presentation and entrees they can’t pronounce, or that fail to cover the plate. They’re looking for delicious hearty food that fills the stomach as well as comforts the soul.”

Keithen smiled and nodded. He understood exactly what she was saying. How many expensive meals had he paid for only to return home to make a sandwich? “Well, I definitely appreciate your style of cooking.”

“Thank you. So, Keithen, how long have you been here on the Coast?” She got down to eating her own food. Hungry as she was, it took all her willpower not to shovel the cornbread topped beef stew with savory broth into her mouth. If there had been any other man sitting across from her, she probably would have, but something about Keithen made her keenly aware of being a woman and wanting to act ladylike.

“Three months, off and on. I was working with the urban developers initially.” He enjoyed watching her eat. It had been a long time since he had been around a woman who wasn’t afraid of gaining a pound, not that an additional pound or two would hurt Simone. For her height, she was slightly built.
Simone chuckled, but said nothing.

“What’s so humorous?” Keithen arched a brow and continued to stare at her until she answered.

Putting down her fork, Simone sat back in her chair and looked at him. “I’m not unappreciative of the developers’ efforts and intentions; it’s just that I believe a lot of what has been offered is useless. People who had homes before the storm want homes now. They’re not interested in grand designs of condos or lofts. We Southerners like our own piece of soil.”

Keithen listened with great interest. He had heard this said repeatedly by the locals and yet many of the planners had ignored it. “What I hear you saying is that the people want houses.”

“Yes. Affordable houses, to be specific. Not the expensive condos with all the bells and whistles, or houses priced out of this world.”

“I tend to agree with you,” Keithen replied, enjoying the conversation. “So, Simone, what was a Southern girl doing in the fast paced city of New York?” His eyes moved over her face to rest on her smiling lips.

“I attended culinary school there and ventured into the restaurant business with a friend from the Institute. I used money I inherited from my mother’s parents to join him in the partnership. It took us about two solid years of researching and planning before we opened. We served that pretty to the eye cuisine.”

“Was it a success?” He had no doubt that it was.

“Yes, business was good.”

“Will you be returning?”

“No. I sold my half of the business to my partner, Mason.” She picked up her fork and continued to eat while they talked.

“Why would you do that?” Keithen asked, dumbfounded.

Simone laughed at the expression on his face. Obviously, he thought she was crazy for giving up the restaurant. “I needed to be home, and I knew the money I made from the sale could purchase a great deal of supplies. And besides, I’m not a big city girl.”

“That’s the most selfless act that I’ve heard. You’re an amazing woman.”
Simone shrugged. “Look around you. People down here are doing far more than that, including you.” She began to clean the area around her, brushing crumbs off the table and picking up discarded napkins.

“You don’t take compliments very well, do you?” Keithen grinned.

Simone laughed as she stood and gathered her plate and utensils. She waited for Keithen to do the same. He fell in step beside her, and at the trash can they deposited their Styrofoam plates. “It’s been great talking with you tonight, Keithen, but I’ve got to get the serving pans to the kitchen and help with the cleanup.” She looked up at him. She had really enjoyed spending time with him tonight.

“How about I give you a hand with those pans?” Keithen offered. For reasons unknown, he wasn’t ready to call it a night.

Assessing eyes settled on him. “Sure, I’d appreciate the assistance, although I can’t imagine why you would want to hang around here with me.”

Keithen released a robust laugh. “Are you kidding? A woman who can cook the way you do and swing a hammer is someone I’d like to know better.”

Simone playfully punched him in the arm. Her small fist made contact with solid muscle. “Well, it’s your evening.” She returned to the serving line and began removing the stainless steel serving pans. Keithen followed her lead.

“So where are you bunking?”

“I pulled a trailer behind me this time when I came to the Coast. I learned the first time about the shortage of housing and hotel vacancies. It’s parked around back,” he answered, motioning in the direction of the volunteer trailer park on the grounds of the church. The constant rotation of volunteers pulling trailers was a scene repeated all over the Coast. Church grounds, city parks, and recreational facilities were all being used to house volunteers. “My crew and I have been moving around the city working different projects.”

“I guess that explains why our paths never crossed.”

“Well, now that they have, you’ll definitely be seeing me.”

Simone arrived home a little after nine. Entering the modest three bedroom home, she followed the path around boxes into the bedroom. More boxes lined the wall in there as well. She had purchased her home shortly after arriving in the city. In the skyrocketing and desperate housing market after Katrina, the older ranch style house had cost far more than it was worth, but she needed somewhere to lay her head and still have enough money for building supplies. Her parents had taken in her grandmother after her home had been washed from the foundation and destroyed, so space was limited there. She walked into the bathroom and turned on the water in the bathtub. Sprinkling in her favorite bubble bath, she inhaled the melon scent and felt herself start to relax. She brushed her teeth while the tub filled up. When it was sufficiently filled, she turned the water off, removed her clothes, and slid into the warm sudsy water, leaning back. A sigh of sheer pleasure escaped her lips as she stretched out. Each evening she came home exhausted from the hard physical labor, but no longer were her muscles sore and achy.

When she got out of the tub, she stood before the bathroom mirror admiring her new toned body. She suddenly wondered what Keithen would think. What the devil are you thinking? The man could be married with a family back in California. She grabbed her nightgown and slid it over her head. Turning out the bathroom light, she went to her bedroom, pausing only to set the alarm on her clock before climbing into bed. Then she switched the lamp off and lay in the dark thinking about her day.

Monday, February 25, 2008

EXCERPT: Me, Myself & Him

Me, Myself & Him
by E. N. Joy

"How was Locksie supposed to tell her boyfriend that she had gone off to church and fallen in love with another man"

Locksie grew up in the church, but now she's all grown-up and church is the last thing on her mind; her boyfriend is the first. When Locksie finally does go back and visit church, she ends up finding more than she ever expected.

In Me, Myself & Him, the characters are torn between holding on to the person they believe is the love of their life, or having to let go for something that's missing from their life.

Chapter 2

“Umm, baby,” Locksie said as she rolled over from off top Dawson and onto her side. “That felt so good it must be a sin.” All Locksie wanted to do was bask in the arms of her lover. But she couldn’t. It was Sunday morning and she had something important to do.

Dawson rolled over behind Locksie. Intertwined, their matching brown skin made it hard to tell where hers began and his ended. Dawson pulled Locksie’s brown, with honey highlights, shoulder length hair behind her double pierced ear and then pressed his thick lips against it. In his deep, baritone voice he whispered, “Then since we’re just two sinners going to hell anyway, let’s make it worth while.” He began nibbling on Locksie’s ear.

“Oh, no you don’t.” Locksie pulled away and stepped out of the bed. “You know I have to do Eve’s hair this morning.”

“It’s Sunday, our only day off,” Dawson whined. “How you gon’ arrange to do somebody’s naps? You know how I look forward to my Sunday’s with you, Locks.” Dawson called Locksie by his pet name for her. Not only was it short for Locksie, but he had told her that she had three locks on him; one on his heart, one on his mind and one on his body.

As Locksie’s feet padded towards the master bath that adjoined their bedroom, which was so huge that the builders referred to it as “the owner’s retreat”, she turned to look at Dawson and smiled. She could tell just by looking at him how sincere he was. She loved it when he wanted her. It made her feel good to be wanted and loved, especially by a man as beautiful as Dawson. He was the spittin’ image of The Ohio State University graduate and former professional NFL star, Eddie George. And the taste that fell in Locksie’s mouth at just the mention of Dawson’s name was delicious.

They had met three years ago at the gym Locksie used to be a member of and that Dawson still worked at. Dawson started off as her personal trainer, which is his licensed profession, and then he became her friend. It took approximately four dinner dates, two movie dates and two home cooked meals for them to transition from being friends to being lovers .

“Baby, don’t whine like that,” Locksie said, playfully pouting by poking her lips out. “You know what your whining does to me.”

“Then come here and let it do what it do.” Dawson winked as he motioned with his index finger for Locksie to rejoin him in bed.

“You know I would if I could, but Eve is going to be here in a few. I’m sewing tracks in, and for all that hair she wants, we’d be at Fiesta all day long trying to get it done if I did it during my work hours. That’s why I’m doing it here at the house. That way I can bank all the money. Because you know at Fiesta I’m on salary, so I’m not about to give them the money for all that work I’m about to have to do.”

“Why doesn’t she just buy a daggone wig?” Dawson huffed as he pulled the covers up to his neck in defeat.

“I’ll make it up to you, I promise,” Locksie said as she entered the bathroom.

“When? How?” Dawson asked with excitement, now quickly sitting up at attention as he stared at Locksie’s thick silhouette. Seconds later, every part of him was at attention.

“When? Tonight. How? However you want it, baby.” Locksie licked her lips and let the door close shut in front of her, leaving a panting Dawson on the other side.

By the time she stepped into the shower and began washing the lathering suds down her body, it happened again; that feeling was revisiting her. She’d hoped that this time, after having sex, it wouldn’t, but it had. Her smile, the aftermath of her love making with Dawson, turned into a look of shame. She kept her head down and watched the water stream down the drain, realizing that the sin of fornication wouldn’t so easily do the same.

Locksie had to catch her thoughts and ask herself since when had she started referring to her and Dawson’s lovemaking as fornication? She loved making love to him. She loved the way he made her feel. She loved him; the man she had vowed to love to eternity the first night the two of them exchanged those three words. As far as Locksie was concerned, Dawson was her Mr. Right. But for the life of her, she couldn’t explain why everything was starting to feel so wrong.

Lately it seemed as though the wonderful feeling of having Dawson inside of her was becoming more and more short lived. At first, Locksie tried to blame it on her recent discussions about her and Dawson’s relationship with her aunt Mary-that maybe all that talk about God, fornication, sin and death was starting to, slowly but surely, hinder Locksie’s sex life. But she knew it was something deeper than that.

During Locksie and Dawson’s sexual encounter, Locksie could do nothing but enjoy and indulge, but now, only moments later, the pleasurable feeling of her climax was laced with guilt. What once made her feel like she was on top of a mountain was now making her feel as though she was in the lowest of valleys.

Just last week while her and Dawson were being intimate, she had closed her eyes and smiled as his lovin’ took her to that next level, but then her eyes snapped open and she stared up at the ceiling as if there was a mirror there and she was watching herself. Only it felt as though it wasn’t just her eyes that were watching her-that maybe someone else was watching her too. Feeling embarrassed at the thought that someone could actually see what was going on in her bedroom, Locksie had simply closed her eyes again and escaped back into the comfort of Dawson.

After failing to wash her sins down the drain, Locksie turned the water off and stepped out of the shower. Even though the temperature of the water had been so hot that the bathroom was filled with warm steam, all of a sudden she felt a cold chill. She hurried and grabbed her towel, not because of the tender breeze that had just ripped through the bathroom, but because she felt that same feeling she had experienced last week. So she covered up quickly, not wanting to be exposed. She knew that no one other than herself was in the bathroom, but still, that feeling as if there was someone watching her was just all too real to ignore. “Argghhh!” Locksie screamed as the bathroom door flung opened, startling the heck out of her.

“Sorry,” Dawson said, entering the bathroom, now wearing a pair of fitted boxer briefs. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”

“Don’t you knock?” Locksie snapped. “I mean, you knew I was in here. How you just gonna bust in like somebody wasn’t even already in the bathroom?” Locksie, slightly shivering, clenched her towel around her.

“Dang, I’m sorry,” Dawson said with a puzzled look on his face. He had never knocked before entering the bathroom when he knew she was in there. And Locksie had never once seemed to mind him invading her space so freely. Not once…up until now.

“And you should be sorry,” Locksie said, heading out of the bathroom, brushing pass Dawson, but making sure her body didn’t touch his in even the slightest way. “Next time knock.”

“What’s with this change in you?” Dawson threw his hands up and let them flop back down to his side.

Locksie sighed and allowed her tense shoulders to relax. “Nothing,” she said as she grabbed the bathroom door knob and pulled it closed behind her. “Nothing’s changed,” she mumbled a second time, in an attempt to convince herself. Locksie leaned her back up against the bathroom door with her hand still on the knob and closed her eyes. She had just lied to Dawson. When he asked her what had changed, she told him nothing. But she knew very well that something had changed; she just couldn’t put her finger on exactly what it was.


Friday, February 22, 2008

EXCERPT: Something He Can Feel

Something He Can Feel
by Marissa Monteilh

Hot headed and hot blooded, she just can't keep her hands to herself . . .

Marina Maxwell, a successful news anchor in Atlanta, has had anger issues with men since high school. But, she believes she can calm her fiery temper once the right man comes into her life. In walks tall and handsome Mangus Baskerville, a police officer who's feeling her so tough that he quickly proposes marriage. Yet once the I Do's are exchanged, Mangus discovers the other side of Marina . . . a side that is flawed through anger. Can Mangus stand by his abusive woman even when the other woman lurks nearby? And can Marina learn to mellow her violent ways just in time?





“ . . . in hell where I belonged?”

My name is Marina.

It was July 12th.

From what I recall, it was my very first memory of what it was like to feel absolute anger . . . and take it out on someone you love.

I remember it was one of those muggy and heated afternoons in the Southwest area of what we call Hotlanta. It was the kind of heat that made sweat bead-up on your forehead, almost like tiny raindrops.

It was two-years after my father died.

I had a summer job at a little dress shop and I was a sophomore at Westlake High School where I was on the track team.

It was a moment when I had an absolute out-of-body experience.

I actually saw my body from the outside in.

And it scared even me.

His license plate read Loose Goose, which was also his CB radio handle. How appropriate.

“Stop this fuckin car, now,” I screamed with a high-pitched intensity that matched the speed of his souped-up, banana-yellow Camaro. With wide tires and a radio antenna sprouting from the center of his rear spoiler like a beanstalk, his car was just as fast and flashy as he was. “Punk ass mothafucka.” My voice pierced even my own ears.

Applying a forceful, neck-jolting slam on the brakes, my lanky basketball jock, high-school senior boyfriend, held tight to the steering wheel as his pride-and-joy screeched into a circular spin and then came to an abrupt stop. The oversized speakers belted “Kiss” by Prince.

Burnt rubber was the smell.

Smoke from the Pirelli tires filled the air.

My teenaged heart went thump, thump, thump, in the same quick intensity as the heat of my puberty-filled anger.

I pulled on the chrome door handle with force. “Let me the hell out of here,” I yelled as I kicked the door squarely. The handle would not cooperate so I pushed with all of my body weight, which was about a buck-oh-five worth back then.

He turned off the ignition and yanked the key. “You know you can’t just get out of this car in the middle of the street. You’re miles from home.”

“Home will be anywhere you’re not,” I hollered as the heavy door suddenly flew open.

“Marina, get back in here,” he shouted through clenched teeth, reaching toward my slender fleeing body, just barely grazing my bony left elbow.

I hopped out wearing tight blue jeans and slammed the door as he simultaneously opened the driver side door.

“Get back in here so I can take you home.” He jumped out high-stepping with his long legs. He wore a dark blue, nylon-jogging suit.

I began sprinting down Cascade Road onto Danforth, into a little subdivision with big homes. It was unusually quiet and no one walked the streets. “Leave me the hell alone.”

“No, I won’t leave you alone out here by yourself. Now you get back here.” He grabbed my arm and pulled my blouse from behind. I snatched my lean body away. My cotton sleeve ripped like paper. He moved his hand back and up toward the sky.

I made an abrupt stop and an instant about-face, bracing my feet in a balanced straddle, pulling my leather purse strap up my arm with my left hand.

He looked willing to retreat. “Sorry about that.”

I balled up my right hand and pulled it back toward my shoulder, inhaling and exhaling in waves. I gave him a side-angled look. My face was blood red. “Did you just rip my blouse? You don’t want to fuck with me. I promise you. But you know what? Try me.” My eyes dared him. They begged him. They pleaded with him.

He held both hands up in surrender. “Marina. Calm down.”

“Oh, hell no. You do some shit like fuck around on me like that and then wanna tell me to calm down? You risked me and my feelings just so you could fuck around by pulling that tired ass move.”

“I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

I stayed in pre-jab position. My tennis shoes were positioned one in front of the other. Laila Ali’s best fighting stance had nothin on me. “You just didn’t mean for me to find out.”

Looking puzzled, he shook his head while lowering his arms to his side. “Why are you acting like this? This is not like you. Are you about to start your period?”

Oh no he didn’t. “How dare you blame your behavior on my damn menstrual cycle? I’m acting like this because I fell in love with you, that’s why. The question is . . . why did you fuck a tramp like Clydra Champion, of all the girls in school?”

“I didn’t.”

“You did.”

“I didn’t.”

“You did.”

“I did not.”

“Howard, you sure as hell did. I heard you.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I was at her house.”

He blinked a mile a minute.

My breaths slowed a bit. I dropped my hand but still kept my fist clenched. “You were set up. What happened was, we called you to see if you would take the bait. I should have known that your weak little dick would jump at the chance. I was on the other phone in her mother’s room when you accepted her invitation to meet you at the Motel 6 on Old National.”

I sniffled like I wanted to cry but my anger chased away my tears.

I kept yelling, “And then, you had the nerve to stop by my job to pick me up afterwards, wearing the same damn pants you pulled down to fuck her nasty stank behind. The sweat pants I bought you for Christmas. I know you two just left the motel. It was all I could do to wait to confront your ass.” Another tear traveled right into my mouth. I pressed my lips together to catch it and tasted its warm saltiness. My throat tightened as I fought to swallow my own saliva that in actuality, I wanted to spit right in his cheating ass face. My breathing again sped up. I could feel the redness of my squinted eyes as I spoke through gritted teeth. “You’re just a typical man. And that bitch went on ahead and let you fuck her. I can’t believe you both betrayed me.”

He stood tall with an expression that said his mind was racing to grasp one last bit of denial. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m telling you, I went to take my mom to look for a new Cadillac this afternoon and that’s it. You’ve gotta believe me.”

I opened my hand and raised it high to meet to his face, flexing it within one inch of his nose. I wanted to smash my palm right up against his wide nostrils. I never did like his nose. “You went to fuck Clydra. So fuck you.” I began to turn around but his voice placed stop signs in my path.


I looked back and he took a half step toward me. I said, “If you take another step, I will beat you down.”

He pointed back in the direction of his Camaro. “You will get your ass in this car. Now.”

I pointed back in the direction of his Camaro. “You will get the hell out of here and leave me alone. Now.”

“Marina, I’m telling you. We didn’t do anything.”

“You are such a dog and a liar. I hate you.” I shook my head in pity.

“Fine, then, hate me. But I know one thing . . . you can be as mad and as hateful as you wanna be, but I’m not going anywhere. And I won’t hit you. My mom raised me better than that. Plus, I won’t risk going to jail or getting kicked off the team. So, I’ll just follow you all the way home, or wherever you go, no matter how long it takes.” He folded his arms.

“And I’ll scream and tell the first person I see that you’re following me. I’ll swear I don’t know you.”

Through his eyes I could see the words fed up flash into view. As quick as the flick of a light switch, he waved his hand at me. “You know what? Forget it. You’ll be sorry because nothing happened.”

“As long as I’m no longer fuckin your cheating ass I don’t care.”

“Goodbye. And good luck with your temper problems.” He excused me with a cutting glance.

“Good luck with your dick problems.”


“Loose Goose.”

“Now I will be.”

I again raised my flat hand to him like a valley girl. “Whatever.”

“Go to hell.”

“Asshole.” I headed in the other direction. The wind was nonexistent. The bright rays of the sun stung my face. I was heated. I was literally as hot as hell. I was hot blooded. I was hot and bothered. I was fuming. I took two steps. He said one word.


Oh no. Did the world just stop? I ask you, did the world just stop? Somebody please tell me the world did not just stop. I turned back in his direction and cocked my head to the side. “What did you fuckin call me?”

He had the nerve to simply turn around and walk away.

My loudness shifted into another level. Whatever tinge of valley girl I had in me before was now chased away by a neck rollin, one-hundred percent ghetto chick. “Get your ass back here. What did you call me?”

His feet were moving extra swiftly. He spoke his words while still giving me his back. “You have a real problem.”

“Did you just call me a bitch?”

“Yes. Yes, I did. Because you are.” His steps quickened even more. Even with a view of his cowardly back, I could clearly see his denial. I could smell his dogism.

“Mothafucka. Get your ass back here.” I screamed my words and shifted into a fast jog, staying right on his heels at all times. I managed to pull the material of his sweat jacket from behind. He jerked away and then stopped. So did I. He turned around and faced me. Cockiness resided in his gigolo-laced brown eyes, and it pissed me the fuck off.

The words beat his ass flashed before me and that was all I saw as I welled up with even more anger and just started swinging. Swinging like he was the baseball and I was the bat, about to hit a ninth-inning home run out of the ballpark. In a flurry of fast paced moves, I stood on the tips of my toes and took his nose into my furious hand and bent it upward like I was turning a damn door handle, squeezing his flesh like silly putty. He reached for my arms, trying to pull me away, but I dug my fingers into his face and pressed as deep as I could and began scratching his eyes out. He held on to one of my hands, but with my other hand I kept hitting him in the mouth like I wanted to put his ignorant ass in a coma.

He released my hand and spun away, stumbling slightly from the uneven ground. He fought to keep his footing and jumped back in a fighter’s stance, leading with his right leg.

I stood firm. “Dumb ass bastard.” My chest rose and fell quickly.

He rubbed his mouth and his face and then looked down at his hand. The cowardly blood of a liar dripped from a deep cut on his cheek, and his nose looked like it was actually throbbing. His eyelids were red.

He squinted as though the sun was blinding, but in a desperate counter attack move of his own, he clenched his hand and drew his arm back, sending his fist surging into my jaw just as I tried to lower my head and duck, but he caught me with a right hook.

My head darted back and I swear I saw stars. My vision was blurred and I struggled to focus. My jaw felt like it was on fire. I squeezed my eyes shut and then opened them and a tear fell from my eye just as the sight of him cleared up and I saw him standing there, with his head low and his chin down, looking at me like he was yearning to fuck me up.

His hateful look said I needed to get a grip, like he couldn’t believe I was still standing toe-to-toe with him.

He asked loudly, “Now are you ready to listen?”

I shook my head. “You called me a bitch, so bring it on. Standing there like you wanna box. I’m ready for your ass.”

He looked amazed and leaned toward me while I stood firm again. He took one step my way.

And then two.

And then he was within six-inches of my face. I counted to ten while he blinked on each count.

He had the nerve to yell each word. “I did not sleep with Clydra.”

Just what I hate. A fuckin liar.

I shifted into a kicking whatever part of his lanky body I could connect with, mainly to his ribs and to his measly little penis. He covered his nuts with his hands and then he saw a passing car slow down. He began to run backwards toward his car, trying to act like he was retreating.

With the side of my face stinging, I fought to run as fast as I could. “You fuck around on me and then when I call you on it, I’m the bitch? You need to be proud of your player status. Don’t lie about it. If more women went off on you assholes, maybe you’d think twice before you went pussy diving with someone’s best friend. This is for every woman who you have fucked around on, or ever will fuck around on in your entire tired ass life.”

“You know what? You need to be locked up. You . . .”

“Call me a bitch again. Go ahead.”

He looked like he just wanted to be gone and pivoted the other way like he was running the forty-yard dash. I still gave chase to his every stride.

“Get your ass back here.”

With each breath and each step, he kept getting further and further away. My mind wanted to connect with his back so badly, but my fatigued body wouldn’t allow it. Still, I ran and ran, and before I knew it, he was opening his car door, starting it up, and putting it in gear all at once.

One quick second unfolded in complete slow motion. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t manage to leap across the ten or so feet toward the tail end of his car fast enough. I wished I could have gone air-bound like Mike. I wanted to fly.

He put the pedal to the medal and all I wanted to do was get my fingertips within reach of his fleeting, shiny, silver radio antenna.

He took off just as I . . . just as I realized that his antenna was in my hand. Without even noticing that I really wanted to, I took the antenna into both hands and broke it in half with a jolt, as the fumes from his exhaust crept up toward my face.

It was then that in the distance I heard a police car’s siren.

I stood breathing hard as hell with sweat running down my face. I exhaled.

And then I noticed a young girl, maybe five years old. She had dark, curly hair and she stood on the front porch of a large, redbrick house, looking over at me with her mouth as wide as her enormous dark eyes. Her youthful mother stood behind her, with her hands on her daughter’s shoulders, making a point of turning her child around to escort her away from my questionable sanity and back into the safety and normalcy of their home.

There I stood in the bright daylight, exhausted, blinking with shame as I looked away from them in humiliation. I wore my indignity like a badge, along with the tiny splatters of blood on my forearms.

The sirens sounded closer.

Then I noticed an elderly man standing on the corner watching me. He shook his head. Even from where I stood, I could see his shame for me in his eyes. My shame for myself was the same.

I stood with each half of the broken antenna in each hand. I relaxed my swollen hands and dropped the pieces in the street. As the slender metal met the gray pavement with a bounce and a clang I turned around, walking while eyeing the sidewalk. I could feel my jaw pulsating. And I could feel my tail between my legs. I made a point to not step on a crack. What if I fell straight through one and ended up in hell where I belonged?

After a few blocks, I found my purse, but not my pride. Where had I been for the past fifteen minutes? Who was that crazy ass girl? And how could I ever make sure she would never, ever . . . come back again?

The sound of the sirens stopped.

Copyright © 2008 by Marissa Monteilh

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

EXCERPT: Between Goodbyes

A Novel
By Anita Bunkley

In BETWEEN GOODBYES is the unforgettable story of a beautiful survivor with everything to offer -- and to lose...

Three men desire her. Three men have claimed her. Which one will Niya choose? As Niya carefully weighs her decision, she discovers that all she's ever dreamed of might not be what she really wants...

Inside the tiny bathroom stall of the water park, Niya shed her blue cotton slacks and her red Castaway Cove tee-shirt with the name of the water park plastered across the chest, and stepped into the mermaid suit she had been told to put on. Immediately she knew she was in trouble: Joanne had been a flat-chested, slim-hipped white girl with long legs and a narrow waist -- a walking scarecrow, compared to Niya. But Joanne had quit, and now Niya had her job.
With a great deal of effort, Niya managed to squeeze her voluptuous hips into the skirt of the costume, and then groaned: The skirt had a slit up the front that nearly reached her navel and it flared out around her thighs in two metallic spikes, cheap imitations of fish fins. With a tug, she pulled on the tight-fitting bustier, which pushed her breasts into two mounds of bronze flesh that rose ridiculously high on her chest. At least the glittery sea-shell crown fit her head and did not look too bad.

Niya jammed her Castaway Cove uniform into her handbag, yanked open the stall door and stomped over to the mirror, anxious to check herself out.
"Damn! You look hot," a plump teenager wearing postage-stamp-size shorts and a tube top exclaimed as she dried her hands under the hot air blower. "You a part of the show?"
"I guess I am now," Niya murmured as she leaned into the mirror and fluffed up her thick black hair.

The people seated in the Dolphin Dive stadium roared with glee when the piped-in music finally come on, blaring Ricky Martin's popular Macarena. Niya burst from behind a beaded curtain shortly after the music began and flashed the audience big welcoming smile. Everyone began clapping their hands to the beat of the song and she instinctively began to dance, undulating her hips while making the jerky Macarena moves with her arms.
This isn't so bad, she thought, finding her groove and getting into the music, enjoying the opportunity to dance in front of a crowd. But I'd feel a lot better if I had on a costume that didn't make me look like the Neptune witch. Shutting out her worries about her appearance, she concentrated on her dancing.
For weeks, her life had revolved around survival; in Oyster Cove, on the road with Sandi Lee, while searching for a job and a cheap place to live, getting her green card and becoming legal. Now, she thought, it's time to have a little fun.
She motioned for the audience to join her, and almost immediately everyone jumped up and began to dance along with her, shaking their hips, swinging their arms, generally having a good time. As the music blasted from the loud speakers, she improvised a jazzy rendition of the Cuban mambo combined with the Macarena and danced her way around the edges of the pool, often bending down to touch an outstretched hand here and there, feeling just like a real stage star.
At one point, her eyes locked with those of a drop-dead gorgeous guy with smooth brown skin and a bright white smile. He was wearing a white straw hat, a white shirt and a thick gold chain around his neck. When he reached out to greet her, she bent down and clasped his fingers, and then laughed when he tightened his grip, nearly pulling her off the stage.
"No, no," she cautioned, throwing back her head and tossing her hair from her face. "No fair pulling."
"What's your name?" the guy called out, still holding onto Niya's fingers, his other hand at the side of his mouth to make sure she could hear him over the music.
Grinning slyly, Niya shook her head, refusing to answer, and pulled her hand from his. Waving at him, she did a quick salsa side-step to the other side of the pool and concentrated on the audience.
The people were enjoying themselves, and that pleased her, though she was not sure if the crowd liked her, the music, or was simply glad that at last the show was about to begin. But either way, she knew that this was the Castaway Cove job she wanted permanently, and was certain that Deep Diver Sam would be more than willing to make sure she got it.
"Why did you do that?"
"What?" Tremont asked, glancing at LaShaun, who had jammed herself so close to his side that her sweet Chole perfume was making him nauseous.
"Ask for that girl's name," LaShaun said in a huff, narrowing her lips at him. "What'd you want that Siesta-sister's name for?"
"Oh, calm down," Tremont threw back, annoyed. "She's a good dancer and York is looking for dancers at the club. I was just thinking…"
"Well, you can stop thinking about getting that hoochie gal's name," LaShaun demanded, jerking her neck back and forth, making her braided extensions flip over her shoulder. "Robert York can do his own recruiting. He's paying you to play your horn, not scout talent for him," LaShaun finished, linking her arm through Tremont's and scooting even closer.
Gritting his teeth, Tremont cut his eyes over at LaShaun, who was wearing oversize dark sunglasses, a low-cut African print sundress, and at least a dozen thin silver bracelets on each arm. He could not read her expression, but knew her ebony eyes were flashing in anger -- and for no reason at all. Her insecurities were getting to him, and he had had enough.
"Whatever," he grumbled, un-hooking her arm from his, thinking, She better not make a scene while we're here.
He had made a big mistake, asking LaShaun out today after swearing he was through with her. Being with her had become more of a habit than a pleasure and he was definitely going to break it off for good. Today.

She ought to be glad I gave up my Saturday afternoon to bring her to this stupid water park when I ought to be rehearsing with my band, anyway, he thought, turning his attention back to the stage.

A loud burst of applause erupted when Deep Diver Sam leaped from a flaming lift high above the pool and landed onto the back of a dolphin, which quickly swept him under the water.

"Wasn't that fantastic?" LaShaun shouted, rising to her feet, enthusiastically clasping her multi-ringed fingers together. "What a rush! Wouldn't you love to swim with a dolphin?" She looked over her shoulder at Tremont, who had remained seated, not paying much attention. "Well, wouldn't you?" she insisted.

"Not really," he muttered, clearly bored. However, he immediately perked up when he saw the girl in the sequin mermaid costume exit the stadium and start across the grassy esplanade, her head thrown back, her hips swaying, her gorgeous body beckoning to him.

Standing, he told LaShaun, "I'm gonna get a bottle of water. Want something from the concession stand?" He was already moving toward the exit.

"Yeah. A large cotton candy and a Diet Coke," she replied, concentrating on Deep Diver Sam's next trick.

"Be right back," Tremont said, hoping he could catch up with the dancer before she disappeared into the crowd.

It took him a few minutes to find her. She was standing at the ticket booth talking to the blond girl on the other side of the window. He went right over and said, "Hello. Now will you tell me your name?"

Breaking off her conversation with the blond girl inside the booth, she looked over at him and smiled.

That's a good start, Tremont thought as he waited for her to say something. When she didn't, he went on. "I enjoyed your dancing. You certainly livened up the place."
"Thank you," she replied in a rather bemused tone. "I enjoyed it, too."

"My name is Tremont Henderson," he boldly continued, extending his hand, which to his surprise, she accepted.

"I'm Niya," she told him, letting go of his fingers, and then cutting her eyes at the blonde in the booth with a who-in-the hell-is-this-man, and what-does-he-think-he's-doing kind of look.
Tremont just stared at her, grinning, unable to say anything else. She was the most incredibly beautiful woman he had ever seen. Her skin was flawless, her dark hair was thick and soft and threaded with undertones of gold. Her large dark eyes were heavily fringed with the longest lashes he had ever seen. He had to struggle to keep his eyes from drifting down to the two luscious mounds of tan flesh bulging from the bodice of her mermaid costume. He could tell from her accent that she was not an American, and thought she must be from some island in the Caribbean.

"And you wanted….?" Niya prompted.
With a start, Tremont plunged ahead. "To talk to you."
"About what?" Niya asked, edging away from the ticket booth window to let a woman with three kids step up to purchase tickets.

Tremont stuck close to Niya, hoping she would listen to what he had to say. "I'm a musician. I have my own band and I'm playing at Club Cariba over on the strip. You know it?"
Niya shook her head. "No, sorry. I'm new in town."

"Anyway," Tremont went on. "The owner of the club is looking for dancers, and I thought ..."
"Dancers?" She shook her head. "I'm not interested. As you can see I have a job, and I don't do the club scene. I'm not in to taking off my clothes on stage."

"Club Cariba is not that kind of joint. It's a jazz-salsa kind of place. Classy. You'd love it. The owner is looking for dancers to mix with the customers, teach some of the latest dance steps, kind of liven up the place. You know?"

Niya shook her head again and turned, preparing to leave. "Sorry. I'm still not interested. But thanks, anyway."

Tremont quickly removed a business card from his shirt pocket, and held it out to her. "Come by the club tonight and check it out. Ask for me. No cover charge, drinks on me. What do you say?"
Niya took his card, studied it for a moment, and then palmed it. "I can't," she lied with a slight lift of one shoulder. "I've got plans. My friend ..." she paused and tilted her head toward the ticket booth, "and I are going ……"

"Next Saturday, then," Tremont interrupted. "Please. Bring your friend. Bring two friends. Hell, bring as many friends as you want, but try to drop by, okay?"

"I'll think about it," Niya relented, tossing back her hair. "Right now I gotta get back to work. The next show starts in five minutes." With a quick wave, she hurried away, leaving Tremont staring at the sequin fish fins that swayed with the swish of her hips.

Sandi Lee waited until the lady at the window had pocketed her change and walked away before exiting the ticket booth. "I'll be right back," she told the pimply young man who was her back-up.

She hurried through the crush of people, searching for the guy who had been talking to Niya, finally spotting him sitting on a park bench under a tree, sipping a diet Coke and holding a big puff of cotton candy. She had heard every word of his conversation with Niya and no way was she going to let Niya blow this invitation. Club Cariba was the hippest place on the strip and the place to see and be seen.

Plans for tonight? What plans? Sandi Lee fumed. Niya could be so damn naïve sometimes. Didn't she know how difficult it was to gain entrance into a club like the Cariba? No one got in there unless they had a connection, and this was the opportunity of a lifetime. Besides, the guy was definitely worth checking out, too.

"Hey," she called out to Tremont, who looked over at her. Sandi Lee came closer, and then stood, her hands on her hips as she nodded her head. "My friend and I will be there."

"Excuse me?" Tremont blinked up at her.
"My friend, Niya, and I will be at your club next Saturday night."
"Oh! Yeah. Really?" Tremont beamed and stood up. "You're Niya's friend?"
"Yeah," Sandi Lee replied, checking Tremont out. He was fine! And from the way he talked, she could tell that he was educated, had manners, and was not some creepy jerk out to get over. And his clothes, as well as the sleek watch on his wrist and the heavy gold chain around his neck, screamed cash. Lots of cash. "We'll come on one condition," she added.
"What's that?" Tremont asked.
"Send a car for us. A limo. Okay?"
A quick beat. "No problem," Tremont agreed. "What's your address?"
"Just have the driver pick us up here at the water park. Ten o'clock. At the front gates."
"You got it," Tremont said, a huge grin on his face.
"We'll see you at the club, then," Sandi Lee called out, giving Tremont a double thumbs-up.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

EXCERPT: Courtney's Collage

Courtney's a college student who finds herself pregnant by her sister's boyfriend. She's determined to rebuild her life and relationship with her youngest sibling, Majesta. That is, until baby sister does the unthinkable. Join Courtney on her journey as she travels through a collage of life-altering episodes that will leave you suspended in time...

Courtney's Collage

By Sherille Fisher and Barbara Joe-Williams

Chapter one

Courtney Marie Charles opened her sable eyes, quickly surveying her surroundings. The bed she’d awakened in wasn’t hers. How did this happen?

Her head was aching and for a moment she started to panic. Then she remembered yesterday with all the great mid-term grades she’d made. That was why she’d gone to the Club Highlights last night.

Courtney was in her senior year at Fayetteville State University in North Carolina. It looked like she was getting her Bachelor of Science degree in Public Affairs after all. She was proud to be a part of the spring semester class of 1991. Courtney wanted to celebrate this achievement, but the few friends that she called had something to do last night.

So, she dressed in her finest clothes and dancing shoes and ventured out alone to the nearest club. When she arrived at Club Highlights, “Where Will You Go” by Babyface was playing. She looked around for a minute but didn’t see anyone she knew. Sitting at the bar, she ordered a gin and tonic, heavy on the lime. Then in steps this fine black man with a familiar face.

“May I buy you a drink?” he offered. Courtney refused because she was already starting to feel woozy.

“May I sit beside you?” he politely asked.

“Sure, no one’s sitting there.”

After taking a closer look at him, she realized that he was also a student at the university she attended. Steven Palmer was his name, and according to what she’d heard, he had a good reputation.

Courtney was attracted to him as soon as he sat down. Standing about five feet eleven inches tall, he had ebony skin with a great smile, perfectly aligned teeth, full lips, and a well-kept mustache. He was indeed a good looking well-built man with sparkling dark brown eyes, nice thick eyebrows and lashes, and his wavy hair was cut close. Wearing all black attire, he looked like a handsome knight.

As Courtney lay in the full-sized bed looking at a sleeping Steven, she couldn’t help but feel bad. She didn’t remember much of what they discussed last night, but she knew what they’d done. By the time they arrived at his place she wasn’t that drunk, just light-headed.

Steven and she connected so well last night, maybe too well. Her body was still moist from their heated actions. The passion was certainly there, and it had felt so right to be with him last night. I wonder if the gin and tonic made the sex more exciting.

He was so gentle. His kisses were so soft. He kissed her butterscotch skin in places she’d never been kissed before. Feeling the fire burning within her soul with every touch, her body ached for all he could offer.

The smell of their bodies mingled together still lingered in the room as the morning sun shined on them. Feeling a sudden mood change, Courtney’s head began to spin.

Jumping out of bed, she ran to the bathroom fighting the urge to throw up. Once she entered the bathroom directly across from the bed, she dropped to her knees and released everything she had in her stomach.

Sitting on the cold tile floor beside the toilet, she placed her face into her hands and began to cry. Reflecting on her loose behavior, she felt ashamed. Why did I let lust overwhelm me? Drinking like I did wasn’t safe. I may not even be safe now. Where are my clothes? I need to leave now.

Suddenly, Courtney felt someone’s presence. As she lifted her head she saw Steven, the one who made her lose her mind last night, standing over her. Admiring his muscular shape, Courtney recalled how their bodies had blended together in harmony.

Steven was standing in the doorway of the bathroom with nothing on but a bath towel wrapped around his waist. At least he had something to cover his private parts; she was still nude. Steven reached his hand out to help Courtney up, but she refused it. After wiping her face with some toilet paper, she flushed it away. Standing up, she asked, “Where am I? How did I get here?”

He replied, “Courtney, you had a lot to drink last night. I picked up on it when I heard you talking. I didn’t think that you should drive home in your condition.”

Feeling the frustration coming over her, she said, “I think that we did more than talk by the look of things.”

“Listen, Courtney, we had sex, and it was great. You just started taking off your clothes and got in my bed so I got in bed, too. I guess that the chemistry was there.”

Courtney remembered having sex, but she didn’t remember taking off her clothes. Some parts of last night were still a blur. Giving Steven a cold stare, she walked right by him in her nakedness.

Steven felt his body respond as she past him. He wanted her again and wondered if she felt the same. He desperately wanted to reignite the fire they’d shared. She was so sweet, smelling like fresh fruit. Her body was soft almost like a new born babe and the color of butterscotch candy. She had curves and breasts that seemed too large for her small frame and long black thick hair. Steven could look at her beauty all day.

Courtney suddenly felt dizzy as she walked towards the bed to retrieve her clothes. Sitting down on the side of the mattress, she eyed Steven as he walked over and sat next to her.

“Are you all right, Courtney? Can I get you anything?”

“I just need to lie down. I really feel sick.”

“You’re welcome to stay as long as you like.”

“Steven, you don’t have a lady friend who might pop up, do you?”

“I’m not dating anyone right now, Courtney. So lie back down and relax, okay?” Steven stroked her face and then kissed her forehead. He wanted to kiss her lips again but decided against it.

“Do you need something for your headache?”

“Yes, I think so.”

He walked to the bathroom and returned a couple of minutes later with some over-the-counter pills and a glass of water.

Steven also gave her a large t-shirt to cover herself. He was surprised at how comfortable she seemed around him. She was blessed that he wasn’t a violent person. If she’d been in the wrong hands, she could be in danger right now.

Leaving the room with Courtney lying across his bed, Steven gently closed the bedroom door. Courtney raised her head looking around the room. She couldn’t remember how the front of the place looked; she didn’t even know if it was a house or an apartment. If she wasn’t so sick she would leave.

Something about him made Courtney feel safe. Maybe the fact that they attended the same university eased her feelings about him.

Steven was a good guy from a respectable family, and had a good reputation at school, where he was admired by both the staff and the student body. His father, Dr. Samuel Palmer, was a respected gynecologist.

Courtney’s family was pretty well off, too. Her father, Victor James Charles, was injured in an accident while performing his duties as a postal worker. The accident was with an eighteen wheeler from a major company. Fortunately, the trucker was at fault. After the case was settled, Mr. Charles was a very rich man. Courtney’s mother, Diane, who’d been a nurse for ten years, retired to take care of her husband. The girls were able to get whatever their hearts desired.

Steven walked back into the room to find Courtney asleep. He couldn’t believe he brought this woman to his place. I wonder if she does this often.

Remembering the horror stories his father had told him about having unprotected sex, Steven was careful about sleeping around. Being in good health, he donated blood twice a year. I hope that she’s as clean on the inside as she appears on the outside.

Sitting on the bed, Steven watched Courtney sleep. He envisioned her in his arms while wanting to lie beside her. It was good to see that her hair was real since he hated weave. He’d spent most of the night running his hands through her thick mane. Lately, the women he dated seemed so fake. Steven was just sick of fake hair, fake eye color, fake nails, and fake personalities. He could go on and on with the fake things that women put on their bodies. It was quite refreshing to know that Courtney didn’t fit that description. She was a natural beauty.

At that moment, Steven thought about a girl from his past that died two years ago from heart failure. Catrina was real inside and out. He’d loved her with all his heart. There hadn’t been anyone else like her. They’d dated two years before her sudden death. Could Courtney be the answer to his prayer?

The way he’d felt last night was better than ever. It felt so right. Am I falling for Courtney?

Steven left the room to fix something light for her to eat. About thirty minutes later, Courtney woke up. She lay in bed thinking about her sisters. She really missed them. Two of her sisters lived in Miami, Florida, and one was attending Texas Southern University in Houston. They would be astonished by Courtney’s actions. Getting picked up at a bar really was very dangerous.

The fact that she had sex with Steven would blow their minds. Kimberly, the oldest, would tell her right off that she was being a slut. Jessica, who’s a year younger than Courtney, would say, “You should be more careful, girl.” But at the same time, she would want to know all the details. Majesta, the baby sister, would just want to know, “Why and how could you?”

Courtney’s sisters were her best friends. She missed them so much and was looking forward to the sister reunion in May. This was something the sisters did every year or whenever they could. It started when Courtney went off to college. Most of the time, they met in Miami. That was a better location for their parents. This year they would meet in North Carolina since Courtney was graduating in May. She looked forward to seeing her family and friends.

It was the first of March, and Courtney really didn’t have much time to plan for the big event. She was still disturbed by what she’d done. If she wasn’t more careful, they’d be planning a funeral soon.

Courtney was in the bathroom getting dressed and rinsing her mouth out with a bottle of newly opened mouthwash. She hoped that Steven didn’t mind her opening it. After washing her hands several times, she finally dried them off using paper towels.

Re-dressed in her black strapless dress and open toe heels, she pulled her hair back into a ponytail. Although she felt dingy, she decided to take a bath at home, if she could ever leave. Courtney felt like Steven wanted her to stay.

Hoping she could find her way back to the club to retrieve her car, she exited the bathroom. When Courtney entered the room, Steven was standing there with a tray in his hands. The stainless steel tray held grapes, strawberries, and a grapefruit sliced in half with a cherry in the center. He also brought her some ice water and a cup of decaffeinated coffee. “It’s good to see you up and about. Are you feeling better?”

“Is that for me?” Courtney inquired, raising her eyebrows. She smiled at the pleasant surprise.

“Yes, you need to eat something. Can I take you to your car later?”

“Are we far from the club?”

“We’re about three blocks away.”

Courtney sat down on the side of the bed. Steven laid the tray on her lap.

“Steven, this is so sweet of you.”

Sitting next to her, he watched Courtney eat the food he’d prepared. Although she wasn’t very hungry, Courtney ate most of the light breakfast anyway.

“Are you gonna eat, too?”

“I’ll eat something later,” he replied. “Is Courtney your real name?”

“Yes, of course. I was too drunk to make up a fake name.” Courtney knew that Steven was his real name because she’d seen him around the campus and had heard about him.

“I’ve never seen you before last night. But I would love to see you again. I’m sorry about what I did last night. It’s not like me to pick up girls.”

He paused for a second, looking down and then up again. “Courtney, I really don’t want this to be a one-night stand. If I give you my phone number, will you call me?” he asked. After she responded with a nod of her head, Steven wrote his phone number on a small piece of paper and handed it to Courtney. “Take your time and eat. I’ll take you to get your car whenever you’re ready.”

Steven left the room to watch television while Courtney finished her breakfast. Then she walked to the bathroom to freshen up and wash her hands again.

Feeling at ease with Steven, she believed that he was different from any guy she’d ever met. She just hoped that he didn’t have anything she could catch.

Courtney had just come out of a relationship with someone, but it had been months since she’d had sexual intercourse. It had been foolish last night to have unprotected sex. Thinking that she really needed to do some praying, Courtney decided to walk to the club where her car was parked.

“Steven, thank you for offering to drive me, but I could really use the walk since it’s only a few blocks away.”

“Are you sure? I don’t mind driving you.”

“It’s okay,” she replied, walking towards the front door.

Steven followed behind her but stepped in front of Courtney to open the door. He placed a good-bye kiss on her lips as they stood in the open doorway. Then, his eyes followed her as she walked to the end of the driveway.

It was a clear Carolina morning with large houses sitting high on hills all along the street. Courtney remembered an accident that she’d had coming down one of those steep driveways. On that particular day, she was leaving a friend’s house that just happened to be like the ones she was passing. Courtney decided to ride her bike down the driveway instead of walking. That turned out to be a bad choice on her part. She went down the driveway so fast that she lost control of the bike and ran into a cactus bush that was planted along side the driveway. Wearing a tank top and shorts at the time, she was left exposed and hurt.

Walking down the street, Courtney thought about Steven. He’s so fine and too nice to be true. I didn’t expect him to be so polite. At that moment, her thoughts shifted to Alex Reyes. He was a guy from her past that she’d dated in Miami. He’d left Courtney to go to Belize to take care of his ailing parents. In the beginning, they kept in touch with each other every other week. Then one day, Courtney received a letter saying that he’d met another girl. Alex told her that he’d met the girl about a month ago. Feeling like she’d lost a part of her heart, she stopped dating for months after that. Her plans were to attend the University of Miami, but after receiving that letter, she wanted to leave the state. That was the last time she’d heard from Alex. Now four years had passed, and Courtney still had deep feelings for him.

It was 1:30 in the afternoon when Courtney arrived at her car. Unlocking the door to her emerald green convertible Corvette, she slid behind the wheel, and drove straight home.

Taking a long hot bath, she soaped her body and rinsed off several times before exiting the tub. Courtney changed into her conservative work clothes and headed to the law office where she worked part-time. She wanted to look over some paperwork that needed to be filed. There were some personal letters she also wanted to read and respond to.

When Courtney arrived at the firm, Attorney Dawson Parker was in his office reading a newspaper. He always worked long hours including most weekends. He was an attractive man in his early forties with pale skin and dark blondish hair.

Courtney had started working in the law office during her sophomore year of college. One of her friend’s from school, Nicole Carter, helped her get the job. She got along great with both attorneys, especially Attorney Parker. He was so cordial to Courtney and had often treated her to lunch. He’d even given her extravagant gifts, making her his right-hand girl.

Their relationship started a year after she had been employed with the firm a year. One Friday afternoon, Attorney Parker invited her to dinner, and she gladly accepted. They went to a seafood restaurant that was almost an hour away from the office. This particular restaurant sold conch, a delicacy of the islands. Attorney Parker had heard Courtney often talk about conch and he enjoyed it when he’d tasted some in the Bahamas while on vacation last year. The firm was doing well and the attorneys took several trips a year to unwind.

The attorneys’ success was connected to a case that they’d settled for five million dollars about six months before they hired her. Courtney could hardly believe that she got the job. Her girlfriend, Nicole, really had put in a good word on Courtney’s behalf. There was also a Caucasian guy working in the firm as a clerk when Courtney was hired.

On this particular Friday, the office closed early, around 4:00 p.m. Courtney didn’t think they would ever get to the restaurant. As they entered the building, the waitress gave her a funny look. It was obvious that she knew Attorney Parker.

Looking around, Courtney noticed that she was the only person of color in the restaurant. The waitress looked at Courtney with an “I don’t like the fact that you’re with a white man” expression. However, she seated them and handed them a menu. Courtney was impressed because the menu didn’t have any prices on it. She knew that it had to be an expensive place. She also liked the valet parking.

Courtney looked at Dawson with an uneasy expression on her face. He responded with a friendly smile. She noticed that conch was on the menu. She’d grown up eating seafood and loved it. The last time she had conch was in Miami. Attorney Parker remembered that Courtney liked it, and this was the only restaurant that he knew of that sold the delicacy. He planned to have some, too. The way they prepared it at this restaurant was great. It was cooked in a lemon butter sauce with mushrooms.

Dinner was delicious and Attorney Parker was a lot of fun. On the way home, Courtney asked him several questions about his private life. She even felt comfortable asking him about his love life. “Are you dating anyone?” she inquired.

“Yes, but she’s out of town.”

At the office, he’d never talked about dating anyone. He never got personal calls at the office either. Courtney liked his honesty, but she immediately changed the subject.

When they arrived at Courtney’s place, she invited him in. He eagerly accepted her invitation into a spacious two-bedroom apartment.

Directing him to the sofa, she said, “Please have a seat.” Then, she excused herself. Her bladder was full from drinking so much water at the restaurant. She rushed off to the bathroom.

Dawson admired the way that Courtney’s apartment was decorated. She had beautiful artwork displayed and unique furniture. Courtney was a neat freak and her apartment was clean and well kept at all times. She had been diagnosed with a mild case of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) as a child. So she had to have certain things placed in a certain way in her room. Courtney liked things to be organized. Since she was worried about germs, she washed her hands many times a day. But the medication and therapy had helped her lead a semi-normal life.

Courtney was also excessive with collecting things. With a large picture collection, she had been collecting photos since elementary school.

Courtney walked out of the bedroom and asked, “Would you like a drink, Dawson?”

“No, thanks. I’m fine.”

Sitting down beside him on the sofa, she studied his face. Gazing into his dark green eyes with an inviting smile, she let him kiss her hand and claim her lips with his own. Courtney could feel the hunger for sex just from his hot touch. They kissed passionately until Courtney stood and walked towards her bedroom. Dawson followed her with his eyes and body.

They didn’t waste any time undressing each other. That night, Courtney and her boss sampled each other’s bodies. It was a new and exciting pleasure for both of them. Being with a white man, an older man wasn’t all that bad. He began to kiss her full lips and found that she tasted good.

Kissing her neck and shoulders, he inhaled her sweet fragrance. “Courtney, you smell delicious,” he whispered again and again into her ear. Within moments, their bodies connected in passion.

Things didn’t change that much around the office after that night. Courtney was still the dutiful secretary. She did her office work like always, not expecting any special privileges. There were some days when she and Dawson would make love in the office, but most of the time it was at his ranch.

“I love you, Courtney. And I want to marry you.”

“I’m not ready for a commitment,” she replied.

Courtney felt that she shouldn’t be intimate with anyone else while they were dating, and Dawson felt the same. He loved Courtney with all his heart and wanted her to be his wife as well as have his children. Dawson didn’t have any children, and he wanted a child that looked like Courtney. He loved Courtney’s natural complexion.

After confiding in his partner, Attorney Robert Smith, about his feelings, Dawson was told, “It’s not smart sleeping with your secretary.” But he didn’t care, he was in love, and trusted Courtney with all he owned.

He hoped that she wouldn’t grow tired of him since she was so young and full of life. Dawson wondered if he had fully satisfied Courtney.

After months of being with only Dawson, Courtney decided that it wasn’t fair to date him when she didn’t want to marry him. Being that he was older, he wanted to settle down and have a family. Not only had he often talked about wanting a child within the next year, he already felt that he’d waited too late. Any woman his age would be too old or not willing to conceive.

Feeling that he was becoming too possessive, Courtney decided one day to break it off. It had only been two months since their separation and he’d never stopped trying to place himself in her life.

Desiring her so much, he told Courtney that she was still needed in the office. Courtney felt it was okay to stay with the firm because she could handle him since he always respected her wishes.

“Hi,” Courtney spoke, passing Dawson’s office.

He replied, “Hello.” And then went back to reading his newspaper.

Courtney decided to organize the inside of her desk then type some important letters. This was “must do” work that could not be delayed. Since she’d taken Friday off due to testing, she was behind on her office responsibilities. But two hours later, her work was completed.

While Courtney was finishing up her work, Dawson called her into his office. She put her papers together and stamped the letters so that she would be ready to leave after talking with Dawson. Upon entering his office, he asked, “How did you do on your exams?”

“Looks like I’m going to law school.”

“Does that mean that I have to find another secretary?”

“Yes, it looks that way. I told you, I’m going to Thurgood Marshall Law School in Houston, Texas.”

“Well, Courtney, it’s going to be hard to find someone to replace you. You’re an excellent typist, great with people, and you run the office flawlessly. Not to mention how you keep things organized around here. I’m going to miss those moments, your kiss, your smile, and those radiant eyes.”

“Thank you,” she replied, avoiding his stare. That was the best she could do.

“May I wine and dine you until you leave for Texas?” he asked, standing up, and walking towards her.

Courtney wondered what he was up to as he kissed her ever so gently on the lips. Then he pulled her into his arms.

Feeling the passion radiating from his kiss, Courtney pulled away from him. She knew it disturbed him to see that she didn’t return his affection.

Stepping back, Courtney said, “Please don’t do that again.”

They hadn’t been intimate for months and it shocked her.

Dawson sighed, realizing that he’d lost her; he didn’t push it. He just stared at her with his piercing eyes.

Looking at his profile, his dark blondish hair showed hints of gray. Although he was in his mid-forties, he looked at least ten years younger. With a muscular body from college athletics and working out at the gym, he was an attractive man but just not the one for her. Without saying another word, he returned to his desk. Courtney left the building reminiscing about the night she’d spent with Steven.

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