From ‘Because My Heart Said So’

lena-and-quentin-coverSo you may have heard that Jacinta Howard, Rae Lamar, Lily Java and I released a compilation of novellas, under the title ‘Because My Heart Said So’ this spring. Well, this winter, we’re each releasing the full-length novels for the stories started in that book. My contribution, ‘Acceptable Losses’ is excerpted here. Check it out, and if you haven’t already, check out ‘Because My Heart Said So’. 

About ‘Acceptable Losses’:

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 semidisastrous 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’:

Mara looked amazing.

She had colored her hair a reddish-copper shade that complemented her dark skin and gave it a subtle, bronze glow. When Quentin first saw her a couple nights earlier, it was a surprise. It was still short, the look she favored to accentuate her high cheekbones and full lips, but in a different, more modern style. And as always, Mara looked flawlessly chic. Sitting across the table from her in Kapnos, their second dinner date in three days, Quentin recalled what he used to feel like being the man with her on his arm. Ten feet tall, that’s how.

Now, he observed her as though she was a beautiful stranger.

“What’re you thinking of having?” She was looking down at the menu, chewing on the corner of her lip in the way she always did when she was concentrating on something.

“Those phyllo pies sound amazing,” Quentin said. “You?”

“Something with lamb,” Mara said, still not looking up. “Can’t do Greek food and not have lamb.” Finally, she put her menu down and gave him her full attention.

Quentin instinctively smiled, but part of him wasn’t even there.

After their first successful dinner at Filomena, they were both relieved and maybe even a little over-exuberant because the evening had been a good one. By avoiding talk of their marriage and separation, they actually managed to have some semblance of a good time. And when they parted in front of the restaurant, Quentin kissed her on the cheek and felt Mara lean into it. For a few moments, he considered making the kiss something more, maybe even inviting Mara back to the house. She was his wife, after all, and he hadn’t gotten any in months. But the thought that the same might not be true of her held him back.

The next day they talked again—still pleasant. So they planned, tonight, to go to the restaurant owned and operated by a celebrity chef they had watched together years earlier on a television cooking reality show. Taking baby steps, they might somehow, soon, get to a place where they could talk about the big pink elephant in the room. Without trying to use it to trample each other to death.

“So how’s work been?” he asked. “We didn’t talk about that Monday.”

“The same. Lots of travel. But this year, thankfully, I might get to go someplace more exciting than Chicago or L.A.”

Mara was a corporate event planner. When they first met, when Quentin was in law school, she was already well established in her career, putting together high-end events for Washington DC’s movers and shakers. She had even done a few events for the firm after they were married, but now, for obvious reasons, someone else in her company handled the Fox Cheatham account.

Quentin couldn’t say that the frequent trips she had to take were responsible for the cracks in their marriage, but they sure hadn’t helped. After having a knock-down, drag-out fight with your spouse, it was generally better if they were around so the apologies could be made, and the make-up sex could be had. Instead, many of their fights ended with Mara having to get on a plane the next day, widening the distance between them, both literally and figuratively.

“So where to this year?”

“I might get to go to the UAE.”

“Wow.”

“Yeah. Really excited about that one.”

“Going alone?” Quentin asked.

Mara’s face fell. “It’s for work, Quentin. So, yes, I’m going alone.”

“And if it weren’t for work?”

Mara leaned back, folding her arms. “There’s a question buried in there.”

“Does it sound buried? I thought I was being very direct.”

“So you want to know if I’m seeing anyone.”

“I do want to know that, yes.”

“Quentin …”

“We’re not in court, Mara. You don’t have to worry about saying anything self-incriminating. This is just me, just you. Talking.”

“And we were doing so well,” she said, almost to herself.

She picked up her glass of water and took a slow sip.

Then their waiter arrived and for a few minutes, they both busied themselves with asking questions about the menu, placing their orders and getting a wine recommendation. When they were alone again, the mood was different— taut and more than a little tense.

“You can ask me the same if you like,” Quentin offered.

“I already know the answer,” Mara said, squeezing her lips together in a tight purse.

“You do? How?”

“Because I know you. You wouldn’t bring up seeing other people unless you were certain you had the moral high-ground. You haven’t been seeing anyone, so you can’t waste the opportunity to show how comparatively … dirty my hands are.”

Mara looked up at him, and her eyes had hardened into the look that he became familiar with as their marriage began to fall apart.

“That’s your thing—being the good guy compared to everyone else. Your whole life is defined by that. Even with your family.” She shook her head. “You’re the ‘good son’, and Darius is the fuck-up, isn’t that how it works? You’re so used to being in relationships where the other party is cooperative about playing that role that you can’t stand it that I won’t fall in line.”

“That’s interesting psychoanalysis, Mara. But you haven’t answered the question.”

“Off the record, counselor?” she asked sarcastically.

“Yeah. Off the record.”

“I am seeing someone. Yes. There. Are you happy now? Did that adequately feed your righteous indignation?”

Quentin leaned in closer. “Did you honestly expect me to not want to know if my wife has been fucking someone else?” he asked.

Mara looked down at her lap. “Why are you doing this?”

“Doing what?”

“Starting this fight with me. Quentin, by the time I left, you wanted out of our marriage so badly, I could practically hear you hyperventilating every minute we were together. But you had to cast me as the villain to make yourself feel good about it.”

“That’s bullshit.”

“Is it? You need to feel like you’re justified to want out, but you also want me to be the one to pull the trigger. So after we got along so well a couple nights ago, I guess I should have seen this coming—you orchestrating this argument to …”

And for a moment, she stared at him and Quentin was shocked to see that there were tears in her eyes.

“You fell out of love with me, Quentin. I could almost feel when it happened. And then after that, you set about making sure I fell out of love with you … you just …” She stopped and took another sip of water. “Look, we’ve already been separated for nine months. In three more, we can get divorced without there being any admission of fault on either side. I suggest we agree to make that the plan.”

“You want a divorce.”

“Yes,” Mara said.

But what was curious about it was that she didn’t look resolved; she almost looked … defeated. Tired, even. For a fleeting moment, Quentin wondered whether any of what she said was true, that maybe he wanted out before she did, that he might have fallen out of love with her first.

“But what you said on the phone? That meant something to me. I want that,” Mara continued. “For us to not hate each other when all is said and done. So, yes, Quentin. You can have your divorce.”

“I don’t recall asking for …”

His wife looked him directly in the eyes and offered a small, sad laugh. “Oh yes you did,” she said. “Maybe not in words, but yes. You did.”

~~~

Read more about Quentin and Mara in the full-length novel, ‘Acceptable Losses’, coming this winter.

Begin Again #HolidayShorts

Three-and-a-half hours. That was how long it would take to drive from State College to Short Hills, New Jersey. Deuce could endure almost anything for three-and-a-half hours. Even the company of the one girl on campus he least wanted to see.

holidays 

Nah. Hell nah.

He was being punked. That was the only way to explain this. Out of the almost one hundred thousand students at Penn State …. No way.

Deuce took a deep breath and stood as Zora approached his table at the Hub. Wearing a scowl with her grey sweatshirt and jeans, she was obviously just as surprised and dismayed as he.

“Wow,” she said, her tone sardonic. “Small world.”

“That wasn’t your name,” he said. “On Zimride, the person who responded wasn’t you.”

“I had a friend post for me,” Zora said, referring to his inquiry on the campus rideshare system. “I didn’t know it was you either. Obviously.”

“Doesn’t that defeat the purpose?” he asked sourly. “Of knowing exactly who you’re letting into your car? Of knowing exactly whose car you’re getting into?”

“Look,” Zora said. “We don’t have to do this. If you’re uncomfortable, I’m sure I can find someone else.”

“Like who? It’s five days before Christmas. And didn’t you tell me last week you were leaving the next day? But I guess that wasn’t true either.”

“Either? When did I ever lie to … whatever, man. For your information, I planned to leave when I said I would. But then my car died on me. But you wouldn’t know anything about that, being that those are poor people problems and all.”

Deuce ignored the jab. “So, we doing this or not? I want to make it to Jersey before nightfall.”

Zora shrugged. “Then let’s go.”

It was only then that Deuce noticed the heavy duffle she had slung over her right shoulder, along with the smaller weekend bag and pocketbook in her left hand. He reached for it and after a moment’s hesitation, Zora surrendered the weighty bag.

Without a word, Deuce headed for the exit, sensing her presence just behind him.

Three-and-a-half hours. That was how long it would take to drive from State College to Short Hills, New Jersey. He could endure almost anything for three-and-a-half hours. Even the company of the one girl on campus he least wanted to see.

What he’d been hoping for when he posted the rideshare was just someone to kill the miles and hours with, someone he could shoot the breeze with about music, or if it was a dude, football. Maybe they would share some mutual hatred of the New England Pats, or talk about how overrated Cam Newton was … The last thing he wanted to do was relive his brief misadventure with the campus revolutionary.

When they got to his car, Deuce disengaged the locks and tossed Zora’s bag in the backseat of the Range Rover with his stuff and turned to face her again for the first time.

“Here,” he said, reaching for the smaller bags. “Lemme put those back here as well, so you’ll have some legroom.”

“Thanks.” She handed them over willingly.

Once he’d tossed that in the backseat as well and straightened up, Deuce was surprised to find that she was still standing there, next to the passenger side door, moving her weight from one leg to the other, as though trying to keep warm in the frigid air.

“It’s open,” he said inclining his head in the direction of the door.

Zora looked at him blankly, and Deuce rolled his eyes, opening the door for her, waiting for her to get in and then shutting it. Taking a deep breath, he walked around the rear of the car and got in on his side.

“Your tank is full,” Zora noted when he started the engine.

“Yeah. So what?”

“The deal on Zimride was that the passenger pays for gas, you pay tolls.”

“I don’t need it,” Deuce shrugged.

“It doesn’t matter if you need it. It’s the principle.”

“And we know you’re all about principles,” he said as he pulled away from the curb.

~~~

In the normal course of things, Zora Diallo wasn’t someone he would have crossed paths with. Even though Penn State was only about six percent Black, their social circles couldn’t have been more different. Deuce ran with the jocks – guys on the football team, and his best friend Kaleem who was on a full ride for track and field. And Zora was part of the group that was always protesting something. Deuce remembered her from his freshman African American Literature class though. Much had been made of the fact that she was named after the famous writer; and he remembered that she was one of the few people who hadn’t just read the books they were assigned, but seemed to have spent a lot of time thinking about them too.

He recalled her voice when she spoke up in class. Warm and husky, low but at the same time very feminine. And later, around sophomore year, he started seeing her occasionally on campus, sometimes with a bullhorn, sometimes on a stage, talking about obscure injustices that didn’t seem to have much to do with his life. Until a week ago, when he and Kaleem had gotten stopped in the Range Rover. The stop—which in the end had wound up being little more than an inconvenience had shaken him more than he wanted to admit. Because it had been the third time in as many weeks, and coincided with delivery of his new car, which his father had grudgingly gotten him after some cajoling from his mother.

After the traffic stop, he and Kaleem headed to an off-campus bar. Kaleem, unfazed, tore into a plate of buffalo wings while Deuce sat fuming about the indignity of being made to sit on his hands on a cold-ass curb while two cops verified that he was entitled to drive his own vehicle.

A few minutes into their meal, across the room Kaleem spotted Zora sitting at the bar with two of her girls. She had a wild natural that looked like she woke up and yanked at it by the handful until it stood on end like the hair of that little Black character from that old show with all the kids, Little Ragamuffins, or something like that, Deuce thought it was called. Zora was the kind of chick that made you stare, if only because her skin was dark and smooth as stone, and she had high prominent cheekbones and full, plump lips that made her look like she was always on the verge of puckering up to bestow a kiss.

Deuce remembered thinking when he looked at her that night that she didn’t need the foundation that her two friends had plastered on because her complexion was dark enough to appear completely uniform. And there were few shades of lipstick that would successfully compete with the apparently natural dark plum hue of her mouth. Her eyes were almost catlike in shape, but large and dark. Her nose small but with flared nostrils that gave her a look of fierce determination.

She couldn’t have been further from Deuce’s type. He was into Spanish chicks. Long dark hair, caramel skin and just enough African blood in them to give them ass for days. He liked that they were emotive and a little wild, that they fucked as hard as they fought … all stereotypes, it was true, but in his experience, also based in a little bit of fact.

Kaleem had his eye on Zora, so they invited her and her friends over. Deuce wasn’t in the mood to make small talk with a gaggle of girls, but for his boy Kaleem, was willing to be the wingman for the evening.

Zora hadn’t spoken much, but when she did, Deuce almost felt the vibration of her voice. Something about it stirred his interest; that, and the fact that she couldn’t have seemed less interested in either him or Kaleem. That shit was new. Kaleem tended to attract chicks in droves. Rich dusky skin, along with the movie-star white teeth and his lean runner’s body got him lots of play. He was handsome enough probably—Deuce didn’t feel equipped to assess other dudes’ looks—but there was something about Kaleem that drew mostly blondes, a good number athletes themselves. Kal often partook of those delights, as did Deuce, but his friend had a definite and strong preference for the sisters.

In college, anything goes, man, Kal had told him once. But once I graduate I’m marrying a queen and building a Black nation. Four, maybe five little Kaleems. Nah mean?

So maybe that was what Kal was looking for in Zora—his queen.

But she was cool as ice all evening, until Kal finally turned his attention to her girl Mia instead. And without knowing when or how it happened, Deuce’s attention turned to Zora. She was squeezed next to him in the booth, and at the end next to her, Mia. Her friend Sophie sat with Kal on the opposite side.

Excuse my man for being so quiet over there, Kal said at one point. But we got pulled over tonight on some bullshit, so he’s all shook up.

At that, Zora seemed to notice him for the first time. Turning in her seat to look Deuce directly in the eye, she said, I’m sorry that happened.

~~~

“I could’ve sworn you said you lived in New York,” Zora said now.

She had removed her boots and curled her feet beneath her. Deuce tried not to look at her legs in the close-fitting jeans. Unless he was mistaken, they were the same jeans from that night. That dumb-ass night that he couldn’t stop thinking about.

“I do. Upstate. My father lives in Jersey. I’m going there first to see him, my stepmother, my baby brother and sister, and to spend the night with them.”

“How many siblings do you have?”

Deuce looked at her, and Zora shrugged.

“Is that something I should know?” she asked.

Maybe not. Some other chick, maybe. But not Zora. Of all the girls unlikely to have followed his complicated blended family’s exploits on the entertainment blogs, Zora was probably the unlikeliest.

“Four. Two brothers, two sisters.”

“And you’re the eldest?”

“Yup.”

Zora breathed a deep sigh. “Chris …”

“Deuce. I don’t like to be called Chris. That’s my father’s name.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Deuce saw her take another breath. “Sorry,” she said. “I get it. Your father is a big presence. You want to be your own person.”

“Zora, don’t … psychoanalyze me.”

“Sorry,” she said again. “Look …” She touched his thigh. “Can we just … clean the slate and …?”

“Clean the slate?” he repeated.

“Yeah. I mean, look … it’s not as though it wouldn’t have always gone down exactly the way it did. It’s just that I was the one to put it into action, and …”

“You’re doing it again. Trying to head-shrink me. You don’t know how it would’ve gone down, Zora.”

“Of course I do. Do you even know your rep on campus?”

“Nah,” he said sarcastically. “Why don’t you tell me about it?”

“I could,” Zora said. “But I don’t want us to start fighting again.”

“You don’t think I can take it?” Deuce, switched lanes, heading toward the I-80 on-ramp.

“I’m sure you can take it. I’m just not sure I want to be the one to dish it out.”

“Go ahead. We have three hours to kill.”

“Okay … but don’t say you didn’t …”

“Just spit it out.”

“You’re Chris Scaife’s son. Born with a silver spoon in your mouth, and grew up in a little post-racial bubble. You’re from that crowd who says color doesn’t matter because the only one that matters where you grew up is green. You date White chicks almost exclusively and pretend that doesn’t matter either, and sisters like me you hardly ever give a second glance. Which might be insulting, but for the fact that you treat even the White girls with nothing resembling respect, and are pretty much done with them after a week. So … there you have it. Truth.”

Deuce shook his head, and shook off the pang in his chest as well. “Wow … now that was some angry Black woman bullshit right there.”

“See what I mean? White chicks don’t get angry too? Or is it just us you don’t like to see mad? But come to think of it, the ones you mess with don’t get angry, do they? They just line up, one after the other to get their turn with Christopher Scaife Jr.”

“You forget what happened between you and me that night? I didn’t see you walking away from your … turn.”

“Okay, I’ll give you that. But I chose it, Deuce. You didn’t choose me. I wanted you. But it was sexual curiosity, that’s all. And that’s all it was for you, too. Admit it. I’m probably the blackest chick you’ve seen naked since … ever. You’re just mad I was the one to shut shit down afterwards.”

“That’s one fucked up double-standard. You see that right? And I ain’t about all that color-struck nonsense.”

“Really.”

“Yeah. Really.”

“And how is what I said a double-standard?”

“Do you like to be dismissed, Zora?”

“I don’t know. I can’t say it’s ever happened.”

“Well that’s what all that mess you just said is—dismissal. You don’t even know me. And that night I thought …” Deuce stopped talking abruptly, realizing he was on the brink of sounding like he was begging. And that was something he would not do.

Zora said nothing for a long while, and when she finally spoke, her voice was different. “You thought what?”

“We started talking about the traffic stop,” Deuce said. “Remember? That’s why we started talking. And then when I went to your dorm, we talked some more. The shit that went down later in your room …”

“The shit that went down later in my room …” she prompted. “Go on.”

That’s not why I was there, he wanted to but did not say.

He was there because when he and Zora talked in the bar, their voices slightly raised so they could hear over the din, he’d forgotten that they weren’t alone. Kaleem and her girls Mia and Sophie might as well have not been there. And then when Zora said she had to go back to pack for her drive home the next day for Christmas Break, Deuce hadn’t wanted her to go, so he went with her.

The idea of ending the evening at yet another party with Kaleem and some girls who were pretending they didn’t care who he was, but clearly did, seemed intolerable. He just wanted to hang with Zora, to talk some more, to listen that warm voice of hers, to smell that unidentified fruity scent in her hair, to have an excuse to examine her dark-as-night skin and stare into her cat-like eyes.

He just wanted to be with her.

And that was something in his entire time at Penn State, Deuce could not recall having happened before—that he wanted to be with a girl just for the pleasure of her company.

Then in her room—her messy-as-hell room—Zora had jumped him.

There was no other way to put it. As soon as the door was shut, she turned and kissed him, and he went with it. How could he not go with it? Her lips were soft, full and tasted like the illegally-consumed beer they’d been drinking all night. Her chest was soft against his, and she grabbed his hands to place them on her ass, pressing her pelvis forward and reaching down to stroke his hardness.

This girl wants me? he recalled thinking. This girl … wants me.

The thought was surprising only because if anyone had asked him before then, he would have said that few were the girls who did not. But Zora wasn’t just any girl. She was the girl Kaleem would have called a queen; she was a warrior. She had consequence and purpose. She was not the kind of girl who generally wanted him.

Except that night, she did. And no lie, that shit was off the chain. He grabbed handfuls of her thick, coarse hair in his fists, and they screwed with the lights on, her eyes locked with his, her powerful, firm thighs gripping his hips, holding him tight against her. This wasn’t some fumbling, grappling half-drunken college dorm encounter. This was grown-ass lovemaking, like a man and woman were meant to have. Deuce was present for every breath, every groan, every kiss, and the ultimate collapse of their damp bodies against each other.

And afterwards, he fell asleep. He slept hard and deep until Zora shook him gently awake and he sat up, dazed and momentarily unsure of his surroundings. Her room was clean and she was completely packed.

It’s almost dawn, she said. I’m leaving today.

You sure you have to? he’d asked her, grinning and looking down at his crotch significantly.

That’s the plan. She smiled at him. But that doesn’t mean we can’t, you know, get it in one more time for the road.

And then she’d shoved the sheets aside, lifted the hem of the long t-shirt she was wearing and revealed that there was absolutely nothing underneath.

Deuce left after that, in a daze, exhausted and idly considering whether he might look her up while he was home. Zora had kissed him goodbye at her door, told him to enjoy Winter Break. All the way to his dorm, walking in the cold, he couldn’t stop licking his lips, like some of her just might be there for him to taste.

The very next day, he ran into her girl Sophie, and when he asked her if he could have Zora’s number, she looked confused.

Why do you need her number? she said. She’s on campus. Go see her.

Confused himself, Deuce did exactly that. She was on campus? Whatever happened to driving home for Winter Break? She said she had no finals, just final papers so could leave early. She’d cleaned her room, she’d packed …

As luck would have it, Zora was in her dorm’s common room when Deuce walked in. She was sitting on a sofa with her feet up on a coffee table, and next to her was a brother with shoulder-length locs. Zora had a bright orange scarf tied in her hair, the color accentuating her complexion in a way that was almost breathtaking. She, and her companion were laughing about something, something that was obviously very, very funny. Mid-laugh, Zora turned and spotted him. A momentary look of surprise crossed her features, her eyebrows lifting for a second. And very casually, she lifted a hand in a wave. Then Zora returned to her conversation, never giving him a second glance.

~~~

“Deuce.”

He looked at her. She was chewing on her lower lip and looking away from him, out the window.

“What?”

“I have an idea. And I don’t want you to shoot it down. I want you to think about it, okay?”

Deuce mumbled something unintelligible.

“Will you think about it?”

“Yeah.”

“And before I tell you my idea I have a confession.”

At that Deuce looked at her again.

“I knew it was you,” she said. “That was offering the ride. I knew it was you, and I asked Mia to respond because I wasn’t sure you’d want to ride with me.”

Deuce forced himself not to smile. “So that look you gave me back at the Hub …”

“Best acting I’ve done all year,” she admitted.

“It wasn’t all that good,” he lied.

Zora punched him in the arm. “Shut up. You didn’t know.”

“Nah, I didn’t know,” he said. Their eyes met and held for so long that Zora blushed, her gaze dropping to her lap. Good thing too, since he might have run off the road otherwise.

Deuce wanted to ask her why she’d pretended, but he knew. As much as she was outside of his comfort zone, he was probably way out of hers as well.

“What’s your idea?” he asked instead.

“I was thinking that maybe …” Zora sighed deeply. “That we could pretend that night didn’t happen. And just … begin again.”

“I don’t want to pretend that night never happened,” Deuce said right away. “But, I do want to …”

“Begin again?” she said, that warm husky voice of hers lowering even more.

Damn, she was sexy as hell.

“Yeah,” he said. “Let’s do that.”

Zora turned in her seat and extended a hand. Deuce took it. It was small and warm. He didn’t want to let it go.

“Nice to meet you,” she said. “I’m Zora Diallo.”


Read more about Deuce and his “complicated blended family” in ‘Afterwards‘ and ‘Afterburn‘.

SAMPLE SUNDAY: ‘Acceptable Losses’

friends-to-lovers7From ‘Acceptable Losses’:

“So d’you like it?” Quentin had rolled up his shirtsleeves and was leaning on the table between them as he dug into his dinner of lamb chops, garlic smashed potatoes, and brussel sprouts.

“What? The apartment?”

“Yeah. And Brooklyn. You think you’ll like it here?” He looked up at Lena and paused, waiting for her response.

“Sure. Yeah. From what I’ve seen,” she said vaguely with a shrug.

“You don’t like it,” Quentin said.

“No, I do. But we need furniture …” Lena looked around the almost empty room. “Stuff. We need more stuff.”

“You’ll take care of all that, though,” Quentin said, his mouth full. “You can be like a housewife.”

Smiling, Lena shook her head. “No thank you. I need to find a job.”

“Yeah, but while you’re looking. You can shop for furniture, paint, decorate …”

“I want to do all that with you, though.”

“And we will, baby. On weekends. But during the week, you can get some of it done, right?”

“Yeah, I guess …”

Quentin put down his fork and gave her his full attention. “What’s the matter?”

“I don’t have a job yet, Quentin. It wouldn’t feel right going off on my own and spending a bunch of money on furniture and decorations without you being around so we can agree on cost, and …”

Quentin shook his head as though exasperated. “I trust your judgment. And besides, I got a good amount from my share of the sale of the house, so it’s not like we’re hurting for cash.”

“It’s not like you’re hurting for cash. My savings are …”

“Wait. Let’s get something straight. Are we getting married, or not?”

“When you’re ready, when you ask.”

“I’m asking,” he said, his eyes penetrating hers.

“That’s not the most romantic proposal I’ve ever heard,” Lena teased.

“How many have you heard?”

She rolled her eyes. “You know what I mean.”

“I’m serious. Have you ever been eng … has anyone ever …?”

Five months. They had only been together for five months, and yet it seemed so much longer. They were living together, talking about furniture-buying, and having conversations like this one. Theirs was the very definition of a whirlwind relationship, and yet it didn’t feel fast. It felt like it had been a long time coming. But occasionally, they stumbled upon an issue like this one, which reminded them of all the things they had yet to learn about each other.

“When I was in college, I had a serious boyfriend sophomore through senior year. We talked about getting married after grad school.” Lena shrugged. “But then we were living in different cities and gradually, we just …” She shrugged again.

Wade. Lena hadn’t thought about him in ages. They were inseparable, the kind of couple that seemed so stable and well-suited that there was no question they would be together over the long-term. In the end, it had only taken them a year to unravel. Wade had grown distant and uncommunicative and then there was that one, last awkward dinner when he let her know exactly why.

I love you, he’d insisted. I always will love you, but …

You’re not in love with me, Lena had finished for him.

And he nodded, his face drawn, sad and a little ashamed. It was that last emotion—shame—that let Lena know that there was probably someone else. But she didn’t ask, and Wade didn’t tell.

That was it. Her four-year relationship ended with lines that could have been written as the screenplay of an unimaginative, low-budget chick flick. It had to have been the most civilized and anticlimactic breakup as ever occurred in the history of human relationships.

“So how did he propose?” Quentin asked.

“He didn’t. Not really. I guess it was just understood or something,” she admitted. Then she shook her head, shaking off the memories and refocusing the conversation. “But anyway, back to us …”

“I’ll give you my card. Buy the furniture. When we get married it won’t matter who paid for what.”

Lena forced herself not to ask whether that was true given his recent, messy divorce. But they tended to steer clear of that topic. Mara, his ex-wife was the one subject guaranteed to change his mood. As much as he liked to pretend he didn’t care, Quentin hated the bad blood that had developed during the dissolution of his marriage.

“But you can’t pay for everything, Q. I want to do my fair share.”

“So get the other stuff.”

“The ‘other stuff’?” she mimicked. “You have no idea what that entails do you?”

Quentin smiled that smile of his. The one that made her feel like she was thirteen again and in the throes of her first crush. His hazel eyes crinkled at the corners and Lena’s stomach did a little flip. For a few moments, they sat there, staring at each other across the table. There were still times—like this one—where Lena looked at him and almost couldn’t believe he was looking back at her with exactly the same hunger in his eyes that she felt for him.

“You ready for me?” he asked, his voice barely above a whisper.

She smiled. It was what he asked when they were about to get frisky. He asked that a lot.

“Yeah,” she said. “I’m ready.”

COMING SOON.

 

Review: ‘Ribbons & Belle’

Oh, I’ve been around. Doing this and that, more related to life than to writing. But I am back in the saddle and recalibrating my release dates, so stay tuned!

One of the things that gets me back into that creative space is communing with other creatives and with their creations. This one, ‘Ribbons & Belle’ by Ey Wade is work I read a long while back. As I get back into my groove, I’ll be posting some shorts just for fun, and as the year draws to a close, releasing new work. But in the meantime, I hope you’ll check out some of the work from the writers I reviewed and enjoyed, like this one!

randbA review of ‘Ribbons & Belle’ by Ey Wade

I read this book now several months ago, and recently happened across it again, recalling that I hadn’t reviewed it. And then I recalled why. ‘Ribbons & Belle’ is one of those books you want to sit with for a while after you’ve read it, because it raises interesting questions under the guise of a ‘simple romance’. But having read this author’s work before, I was forewarned that it probably wouldn’t be quite as simple as it might initially appear. For starters, the female lead is named Annabelle Lee, whose namesake is a tragic figure from an Edgar Allan Poe poem about a man who mourns his lost love, a love so great that even the angels are envious. So I was fully prepared for this Annabelle to be a tragic figure.

And she was. Somewhat.

At the beginning of the novel we see Annabelle mourning a loss, and yearning for what was lost. And that writing—the opening scene—was some of the most beautiful I have read this year. It had some the same hallmarks of Ey Wade’s writing in another of her books I read, ‘When Clouds Touch’—there is a fairytale like aspect, an otherworldliness to it that makes it sound lyrical and feel almost magical. And, as in that book, even the physical characteristics of the main characters were uncommon. Both Tyson and Belle are showstoppers in their own way, but not in a romance novel way. They are unique. Again; like in a fairytale.

But Ey Wade’s fairytales are somewhat like ‘Grimm’s Fairy Tales’ with a very … well, grim, underbelly. That element was definitely present in this story. The details of what and how Annabelle lost are enough to make you want to weep. She has had miscarriages and her marriage ended as a result. But one particular pregnancy loss was incredibly difficult, and forced her into making a choice that no woman would want to make.

But then there was the love story, the coming together of Annabelle and her interesting, somewhat quirky suitor Tyson Ribbons (see what I mean, ‘ribbons’ and ‘belle’ –very reminiscent of the names in children’s stories, right?) who is determined to be her Prince Charming despite the incredibly difficult dilemma she presents him with. Annabelle is trying to get pregnant, and she’s doing it through artificial insemination; a plan she has no intention of delaying or changing simply because a persistent and seductive new man enters her life. And to further complicate matters, despite the obvious conflict of interest, Tyson is to be her counselor through this process. The counseling sessions become subterfuge for him to learn more about the mysterious Annabelle and for the two to grow closer.

Their closeness, and developing relationship is tested when those close to Tyson and to Annabelle learn troubling new details about her last pregnancy, and question whether she deserves what she wants most—motherhood.

So here’s my take. I loved Tyson, and particularly loved that his affection for Annabelle grew from afar at first and then turned into something more. The choice he made—to pursue Annabelle despite her circumstances—was one I would have counseled a friend against, but somehow it seemed to make sense for the man he was. I believed him completely, and felt like I understood him. Annabelle, less so, probably because I think a culture that tells women that they are incomplete unless they are mothers is oppressive. And Annabelle seemed to have bought into that in ways that made me want to throttle her a times. She was so single-minded in her drive to be a mother, that I couldn’t relate. But of course, I have a kid, so what do I know about wanting and not being able to have one? So … when I stopped judging her, I liked her more, and just wanted her to get what she wanted.

But I have to admit, when The Big Issue with Annabelle’s pregnancy was revealed, I wanted to see the characters struggle with it some more. I wanted to see a little more push and pull over this incredibly difficult subject—most of the conflict about it was external, and where Annabelle had to school a couple people, I got it but was more curious about her own internal struggle, and perhaps even an internal struggle between the couple. All in all though, the writing was solid, and the ending satisfying. But most of all, I think the story, the characters and the conflict were uncommon and unexpected; all of which, for me, made ‘Ribbons & Belle’ well worth the read.

Happy Reading!

N.

 

Paid Companion: A Serial Novella

paid companionI don’t blog as much as I used to. Hardly at all, actually. So on the advice of my writer-friends Kim Golden and Xio Axelrod (just so we know who to blame if things go awry), I’m going to try something new. A serial-novella. To keep it tongue-in-cheek, I’m going to make it something I might not normally write. And if I like it when it’s done, I’ll publish it on Amazon, B&N and all the usual platforms. And if I (and you) hate it, we’ll never speak of this failed experiment again.  That’s the deal.🙂 So … here we go — every Tuesday for the next five weeks, click here, to follow the story, ‘Paid Companion’. I’ll post the first 10 chapters and then go dark to finish and publish on Amazon, shortly thereafter.

And if you want to read a serial by people who actually know what they’re doing with this serial novel stuff, go check out ‘Crossing Paths’ on Wattpad

And check out Kim’s full-length work here. And Xio’s here!

As far as this story, the title kind of speaks for itself, but I won’t give you a blurb because I have no idea where it’ll go just yet. Here’s a little taste of ‘Paid Companion’, before we get down to business next week:

Sunday, 2:13 pm, Washington, DC

“You’re not really doing this, are you? Tell me you’re not doing this.”

“Damn right I am. I’m not in a position to pass up that kind of money,”

“You’d be a hooker, Lia. I don’t care what they call it—you’d be a hooker.”

Lia laughed and tossed the last of her clothing into the small weekend bag and zipped it shut, setting it on the floor next to her unmade bed. Stephanie was her best friend and she generally followed her advice, because it was basically sound. Most of the time. In this instance though, she couldn’t afford to listen to her.

“It’s a lot of money. More than I’ve ever had at one time in my life. And for what? To stand around and look cute during a week-long vacation with a man who’s pretty damned cute himself? Tell me honestly that you’d pass that up.”

Stephanie said nothing for a few moments then sighed. “Okay, fine. So I would probably do precisely what you’re doing. But we need to make a plan before you get on that plane.”

“A plan?”

“Yes, a plan. You’re getting on a private jet to meet a complete stranger and be his ‘paid companion’ for a week. That sounds like the beginning of a bad novel, or an episode of Dateline Mysteries. So we need to have a plan for if you get in trouble and need me to come get you, or send in the cavalry. Or the Miami PD.”

At that, Lia paid closer attention. Stephanie was right. She didn’t know Blake Morgan except as someone whose pictures got taken in magazines a lot. He could be a homicidal maniac who because of his wealth and influence could easily ‘disappear’ foolish young women like her, with no consequences at all. But that was part of the thrill—not knowing what awaited her at the other end of that plane ride. Surely not death. Based on Blake Morgan’s photos, a girl was much more likely to lose her heart than her life.

“Okay, Stephanie. Let’s come up with my escape plan. Just in case.”

“Thank you,” Stephanie sighed. “I always feel much better when I have a plan. Especially when I’m sending my best friend off to become a hooker.”


 

✦✦✦ Release Day Spotlight✦✦✦ Because My Heart Said So by 4Writers4Love

It’s RELEASE DAY! My co-authors and I were interviewed by My Reading Nook! Check it out …

my reading nook

For this month’s Author Spotlight, MRN is doing something a little different. Instead of featuring one author for June, MRN is hosting 4Writers4Love and their just released anthology, today in fact, Because My Heart Said So – A Friend-to-Lovers Collection. If you don’t know who 4Writers4Love areyet, you will by the end of this month.

View original post 2,381 more words

Lily’s Path to More

BMHSS Final CoverOver the past three weeks, you’ve gotten acquainted with three of the writers from my upcoming collaboration, ‘Because My Heart Said So’. One by one, Jacinta Howard, Rae Lamar and I have submitted to the inquisition of the author who has played the role of project manager, house-mother and general herder-of-the-cats, Lily Java. Sure, she had her character Sydney from ‘Because My Heart Said So’ do the actual interviews, but that is consistent with who Lily is—she gets people to ‘do stuff’, adding a process where there were previously only “cool ideas”. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that without her tenacity in pursuing the “cool idea” of a collection of Friends-to-Lovers stories, this book would not have happened.

So, along with Jacinta and Rae, I am super-excited to have everyone get to know Lily Java and her stellar work. She has been the level-headed calming influence of our group, the one who keeps me on task, gently prods me back into focus when my ideas wander, and I think Jacinta and Rae would agree, pretty much the “adult in the room” when the rest of us begin to get goofy. And the fact that she’s a damn good writer whose lyrical contribution to the Collection classed up the joint? Well, that’s a bonus.

Welcome, Lily Java! We’re old friends so it seems odd to have you here for something as formal as an “interview”, particularly about something that we collaborated on. But since you had me in the hot seat at least once, I’m thrilled to be able to return the favor.

So let’s start here ‘Because My Heart Said So’ is very definitely a compilation of romance novellas, and you very well-received debut novel ‘Sticky Moon’ is not purely romance. You wowed us with that book. Why depart from that genre? Or have you departed from it?   How do you think you’ve evolved creatively from then until now?

I’m absolutely not through with the suspense genre. There are two more romantic suspense novels in me fighting to get out. One, I plan to publish in the fall. But the mini—departure is definitely part of my evolution as a writer. I still feel like a virgin in this industry. So new, fresh, and dewy. It’s an odd feeling given my actual age. Before I published ‘Sticky Moon my brain was full of stories — all types. I’d been a deeply closeted writer in my head my whole life with a ton of unfinished ideas. Once I finished something for the first time, which was only about 2.5 years ago, it was like the flood gates opened and all this very disparate stuff started flying out. Then I realized that was fitting ‘cause I’m nothing if not radically independent. I never liked being put in boxes or categories so the idea of being married to one type of story didn’t sit well with my imagination. Last fall, I started trying to establish a regular writing schedule that fits sanely into my life and writing smaller stories that I could finish while also delving into other genres. I could’ve easily been a detective in another life and I adore suspense novels and movies, so it was natural for that to be my first book. But despite that, I believe love is THE strongest and most unpredictable emotion so trying to write a story without love being an element would be the most challenging for me. And relationships involving people in love interests me a lot.

Sticky MoonYour genre-hopping leads me to believe you get inspiration from varied places. Tell us about that. What inspires the different types of genres you write in? Where do those ideas come from?

Literally everything inspires it and the ideas come from everywhere. A few days ago I was trying to catch a cab and nearly collided with this woman in her seventies with fuchsia hair, wearing makeup and an outfit that resembled the wardrobe of a teenager in a bad copycat version of an eighties John Hughes coming-of-age flick. Consequently I cannot get the vision of that woman very far out of my head. Making shit up about her is on a pretty constant loop in my mind: is she the landlord for a young newlywed couple in Brooklyn who are falling out of love already as they look for a starter apartment or the dynamic aunt and sole support to a schizophrenic nephew who she fights with child services about so he can continue to live with her or is she a former disco queen whose personality is frozen in time (think creepy Betty Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane)? I don’t know yet but that woman I saw for about 10 seconds is definitely going into a story. I think the key to finding and using inspiration is not being afraid to let your mind go in a completely off-beat direction.

Everyone knows that we creative types are a little temperamental. Rae and Jacinta and I have already described the love-fest of a process for getting this book together, at least logistically speaking. But what were your greatest fears about this process? What were the best surprises about it?

We had a brutally short writing schedule for this book and I’m a slow writer. And since I’m also the type that’s always piling on to my challenges like a damn fool, I was simultaneously the primary manager for a project at my day job that if it didn’t go well I could easily have lost said job. Oh yeah, and my house was and still is, under some pretty major reconstruction that I’m overseeing alone. So consequently my greatest fear was that I wouldn’t finish the book on time.

My second biggest fear was that I’d finish the book but the story wouldn’t measure up to the incredibly talented writers I was working with. I’m not neurotic so I got over that fear fast though. I knew the other stories would be really wonderful so if mine sucked one out of three ain’t exactly bad odds for the reader. In the end, I did finish on time and I liked how my story came out. That wasn’t the biggest or even the best surprise though.

The best surprise was how well we four meshed together as people and writers, seemed to carry over into how well our stories meshed in the book. When you do a collaboration like this eventually everyone takes on a role, you find out everyone’s strengths or weaknesses and you hope fervently that you all don’t have the same strengths and weaknesses. In our case it was repetitively clear working on this project that we complemented each other in ways that were often surprising and educational.

Syd and EllTell us about your story in the ‘Because My Heart Said So’ Collection. What’s your guy like? What’s his girl like? What’s their ‘love language’ when they’re together?  

Elliott is an interesting guy. He’s at the top of his game or so everyone thinks because he’s hip, focused, and brilliant at almost anything he attempts especially managing people. He’s also a man who has always been recognized or encouraged by women and his relationships with them but, except for the women closest to him, he sees that gift only as a means to an end. He’s never been in love, nor does he particularly think he needs it and then he meets Sydney. Sydney is also interesting but in a very different way. Painfully shy, inherently quirky, studiously insightful, and stubborn are some of the words I’d use to describe her. Sydney can also be profoundly honest given that she sees most things in black or white, and rarely grey.

As for their love language both Sydney and Elliott are vivid and visual creatives. So first and foremost they bond that way. They know that artistry makes them each observant and perceptive about the world at large and consequently gives them both an intensity in how they perceive each other. But on a personal level they also see a similar dysfunctionality in their respective families and upbringing. There is a fragility and innocence to Sydney that Elliott immediately feels protective of. There are deep-seated fears in Elliott that he doesn’t quite measure up to his shiny image, which Sydney who is well acquainted with fear, scoffs at, because to her mind Elliott is very nearly perfect.

One of the things about collections of work from disparate authors is that the ‘voices’ have to vibe well for the collection to hold up. How would you characterize your voice and those of the other authors?

Nia’s voice is so current or maybe a better word for it is relevant. Whenever I read one of her books I literally feel as if her characters are echoing thoughts inside my head. A Nia Forrester book always makes me personally feel present and accounted for when I read it, which is not only validating, it’s cool. She’s also got a phenomenally sensual undercurrent running through her books that can be surprising as well as exciting because she’s clearly an intellectual. But that just goes to show you. Men? Smart girls are very sexy.

Jacinta. Where do I begin? Talk about sexy. Okay, I won’t start there. Jacinta writes intimacy in relationships better than almost anybody I’ve ever read and I’m not talking about physical intimacy. It’s almost like she tunes into what her characters think and feel emotionally with such precision that when she presents it — you can feel it. That is a neat fricking trick to have as a writer. I remember reading her the first time and just how the characters shared riddles about music became a metaphor for their closeness and I thought: Oooo, how she’d do that? And lately Jacinta is getting deeply in touch with the sensual side of her writing. I’m starting to carry fans around when I read her. I’m just saying.

I love Rae’s voice. It’s extremely memorable to me because it makes me laugh while also articulating something I think is extremely hard to share accurately in books about relationships: the fact that all humans are flawed but not necessarily tragically flawed. Rae’s characters represent the reality of how men and women actually are with each other to me – the good or bad, and often that reality is sweet and hilarious. I once asked Rae whether she was the comedienne in her family and she said no. I realized later that Rae’s funny not because she’s trying to be, but because she’s telling the truth.

My voice? That’s easy. Moody, graphic, esoteric — but hopefully not frustratingly so. There’s so much going on under the surface with my characters, to use a well-oiled phrase, a lotta deep shit. I think I have a tendency to make all my characters seem relatively important to the overall story, even the minor ones, because everybody’s got a place here, right? Speaking of place even a setting can play a defining role in how things pan out. Basically there are so many intriguing layers to people and places, it’s very hard for me to forget that when I write.

People always want to know what authors are like, personality-wise—the people behind the pen can be somewhat of a mystery. Give me one word that tells readers something they don’t otherwise know about each of the authors of ‘Because My Heart Said So’, yourself included.

Nia — hypothesizer

Jacinta — designer

Rae — diplomat

Lily – solutionist

-Your voice is really unique, particularly in the black romance genre. If you could pinpoint one characteristic you possess that you feel aids you in your writing approach, what would it be and why.

I have been an avid reader practically all my life. There is nothing that gives the visual and imaginary part of my brain a better, more thorough workout than reading all kinds of things, and all the time. It primes my pump if you get my drift. Geez, that’s like a joke. How many clichés can you put in one sentence? But what can I say, it’s the truth.

-What’s your biggest writing fear?

Running out of time before I can write my best work.

-Indie publishing can be incredibly taxing at times for most writers. Has there ever been a time when you thought about no longer pursuing writing, as in actively publishing books? If so why and what convinced you to continue pursuing your craft?

From the summer of 2013 when this all started for me until now I only thought about no longer doing this once. I’d release ‘Sticky Moon’ a month earlier than I wanted to because of my husband. By that time he was too sick to read it but I’d been reading passages to him for nearly a year. And he was in essence my strongest source of support and encouragement for almost three decades. He’d been telling me to write forever so when those blinders fell from my eyes there was one person happier than me – him. He died seven weeks after I published my first book and for ten months after that I thought it had been a fluke. I’d written SM as some weird cathartic therapy trip and woe is me I’d never be able to pull it off again. You know that sort of nonsense. But underneath it all, I knew it was bullshit. Yeah I’d lost my #1 fan who also happen to be a fab editor and that can be debilitating for a writer. Writers may write for themselves but they also thrive on recognition of their efforts and their vision. To know someone “gets” you? Sheeeit that’s everything.

So what convinced me to get back on the horse? I took one of those weird quizzes on social media and it said that my one defining trait was ambition. And it even showed a drawing of someone literally reaching for the stars in the sky. That shocked me. No, it floored me. I’d always associated ambition with the material wealth and the circumstances that go with it and that has never been me or what I’m about. However, keeping my eye on the ball and how to catch said ball, has always been important to me. I am one of those people who is excessively goal-oriented about things I want to accomplish. Turns out that’s ambition and I don’t think I‘ve ever been happier with an accomplishment than I am when I write books.

If you could pinpoint one moment in the ‘Because My Heart Said So’ collaboration as being the most memorable what would it be?

For me that would be when we made the decision to read each other’s stories. As a group the four of us have been fairly democratic in our decision making. In the beginning we decided that we wouldn’t read each other’s work until the day the book was released. Shortly after we submitted the book for pre-order when it was still in its draft phase the concerns started mounting. We put it to a vote and it was decided we should read the work in its entirety to figure out whether the four stories worked together or whether each individual story worked at all. Everyone got a lot calmer after we did read it, you could literally hear the breathy sighs of relief through the computer screens. That was the first and only time I felt we had a real crisis of faith in the project.

This collection has spurred a lot of interest in each of the authors individually and collectively. Where do you see your creative path taking you as an author personally? And where, if anywhere, do you see the collaboration with these particular authors going?

When I sit down and think about it, I know I have at least ten more novels in me, maybe more. I occasionally think at some point I’ll try being a hybrid writer if only so I can admit once and for all how absolutely impossible I am to micromanage and control.😉 I also want to write a play and a screenplay. So, that’s where my creative path takes me to… more.

I see this collaboration as a blessing for all of us so I believe it should blossom into more writing as well, definitely more books. I’d like to see us take on another theme or maybe even two. I see us being substantively supportive to each other’s individual writing goals too. I’m going to contradict myself here because that in fact, may be the best surprise to have happened in this collaboration, the establishment of trust that in our little quartet there is someone who “gets” our voice and is enthusiastic about it being heard by as many people as possible.

And where can readers find you online?

Website: http://www.lilyjava.com

Twitter: @LilyJavaWrites

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorLilyJava/

Amazon Author Page

About Lily Java

Lily Java2When she isn’t indulging her new found writing superpower, Lily raises funds for culturally rich arts organizations planning events in the iconic landmarks of one of her favorite cities in the world, New York. Other times she dotes on the artists she lives with (her family) hoping they’ll reciprocate by letting her feed her passions for reading and writing without feeling neglected or getting all grumpy about it. Lily doesn’t fly or wear a cape (presently) but she does read the minds of the characters she writes about, who come to her in multiple genres as well as all sizes, shapes, and colors. A true ambivert, Lily enjoys solitude just as much as she likes meeting and talking with other passionate readers and writers.