This has been a crazy-exciting week! Along with Jacinta Howard, Lily Java and Rae Lamar, I’m thrilled to announce that our Friends-to-Lovers Collection is available on Amazon for pre-order in advance of our June 15 release date. We’re all a little shell-shocked honestly, and hadn’t thought too far beyond getting the book written so now that we have, we’re befuddled about what to do with ourselves. So let’s take this one day at a time, starting with a Sample for Sunday.
From ‘Because My Heart Said So’
About ‘Acceptable Losses’ by Nia Forrester
Quentin is in the middle of a separation from his wife that seems to have no conclusive end in sight, while Lena is stuck in Single Girl Hell. The only respite either of them have is their regular coffee dates, while working on shared projects at a very demanding job. Sick of hearing about Lena’s semi-disastrous attempts to couple-up, Quentin decides to fix her up. With his brother. Seems like a perfect solution; after all, his brother is a decent enough guy and Lena deserves that. Perfect … until it appears that the fix-up might actually work.
From ‘Acceptable Losses’:
“This was so not what I was expecting,” Lena said, laughing as she and Darius exited the fitness studio. “When a guy asks me out, I’m thinking wine … fancy hors d’oeuvres, a complete meal maybe …”
“We can do something like that next time,” Darius said.
“So now that you sweated my tail off, am I free to go?”
“Nah. We’re going to Jamba Juice,” he said, inclining his head to the left.
Lena sighed. “Okay, you’re in charge, so let’s do it.”
“You did well in there,” he said as they started walking.
“Thank you. Was it a test or something? Something you put women through to see whether you want to take them on a real date?”
“Nah. Why would I need to test you? My brother says you’re cool people, so you’re cool people.”
Lena shook her head. “That’s all it takes, huh? Q’s endorsement?”
“He’s never steered me wrong.” Darius shrugged.
“And is he in the habit of … steering women your way?”
Darius laughed. “I do a’ight on my own.”
Lena didn’t doubt it. While they were working out, more than a few gym-bunnies shot envious looks her way, their eyes skimming Darius’ frame, struggling not to stare. It was a special kind of high, she couldn’t lie—being with That Dude at the gym, being the object of all that envy.
When Lena called him back to let him know she was free, Darius told her to “dress very casually, and for an active evening.” So Lena had worn loose black yoga pants, her tennis shoes, and a long-sleeved, white Under Armour shirt, pulling her hair back into a high Afro-puff. She imagined he was probably taking her to play laser-tag or something, but when she met Darius at the address he gave her, she got out of the Uber and realized it was a Washington Sports Club.
We’re gonna work out, he’d announced, looking pleased with himself.
And they had. After a half hour warm-up on the treadmill, Darius took her through his routine of dead-lifts, bench presses, squats, and flies. Somewhere about forty minutes in, Lena felt those endorphins kick in, and actually started to enjoy herself.
And it didn’t hurt that she got to watch Darius’s muscles ripple and tremble as he put them to work. Even the grunting and groaning as he handled the heavy weights was kind of sexy.
Now, as they walked down the cobblestone sidewalks of Wisconsin Avenue, Lena was glad she’d come. Working out was something of an afterthought for her most days since she worked long hours, so it was good to see how well her body held up under pressure.
“After we get our smoothies, want to see my studio?”
Darius was walking closely at her side, but not touching her. Lena pretended not to notice the looks he got from other women. His tattoos didn’t just cover his forearms, she’d learned; they were all the way up to his shoulders and neck as well. And when he lifted his shirt in the gym to wipe his brow, there were even more on his chest.
“I would love to see your studio,” she said. “But you’re not going to talk me into getting a tattoo.”
He grinned. “No authentic tattoo artist would do such a thing.”
In Jamba Juice, they both got energy bowls and sat at one of the tables to eat, Darius’s long legs stretched out beneath it, on either side of Lena’s.
“So is this your standard Wednesday night?” she asked.
“This is my standard, any-day-of-the-week night. Except for Fridays. On Fridays, I hang with Q.”
“That must get irritating for women you’re involved with. Friday is supposed to be date night, couples’ night. Do you ever bring your dates with you?”
“Nah. Friday is about me and Q. If she’s not with that, she can’t be with me.”
“That’s a pretty hard line to draw. I guess I should be flattered I was invited to hang out with you two last Friday.”
“You should,” Darius said, looking at her seriously for a moment. “He’s never done that before. Neither of us has. That’s how I knew you were important to him.”
Lena looked down into her bowl and scooped up a spoonful of strawberries and yogurt. “I don’t know about all that. We’re friends, and he wanted me to meet you, that’s all.”
“Hmm.” Darius looked at her searchingly. “Y’know, I’m going to share something with you about my brother …”
Lena looked up, waiting.
“He doesn’t … always know his own heart. So when he wanted me to meet you, like maybe so I could ask you out, I wondered, y’know. Especially when I saw you two together.”
“What did you wonder?”
“Whether friendship was all either of you wanted. From each other, I mean.”
“Did you ask him?”
“And what did he say?” Lena asked, trying not to sound too eager to know.
Darius shook his head. “I’d rather hear what you say.”
Lena forced herself to meet and hold Darius’ gaze. “Your brother’s married,” she said. “And even if he weren’t, we are most definitely just friends. I wouldn’t have accepted your invitation tonight otherwise.”
Every word of what she said was true, but then why did it feel like a lie?
Darius’s eyes held hers for a few moments more. “Okay,” he said finally.
Then he looked down into his bowl again and dug in, coming up with a heaping spoon of fruit and oat grain which he promptly ate, chewing like it was the most delicious thing he’d ever eaten.
When he swallowed, he leaned back and watched her eat a few bites. Lena pretended not to feel self-conscious at being so openly regarded, and kept eating, albeit more slowly and daintily than she might otherwise have done.
“So,” Darius said, “you want to hang out again sometime?”
Moment of truth, Lena.
Darius was waiting, his light-brown eyes trained on her face. All the confusion about Quentin aside, he was the most attractive man who had asked her out in eons. And the most fascinating. If she had met him any other way, and at any other time—like before she met Quentin—she would be jumping out of her skin to say ‘yes’. But she had met Quentin first and had only met Darius because he was Quentin’s brother.
Then she recalled what Marlon had said earlier that evening: He’s married, Lena, and it looks like he’s trying to stay that way.
“Yeah,” she said to Darius. “I think I would.”
He grinned. “Hurry up and finish that,” he said, “So I can walk you over to my studio. And talk you into that tattoo.”
‘Because My Heart Said So’ is AVAILABLE NOW TO PRE-ORDER!