From ‘KEEPING WILLOW’ by Jacinta Howard:
BACK THEN. DEVIN.
“Low Low, you gotta get up.”
Nothing. The lump in the bed didn’t move.
“Willow.” I touched her shoulder, partly because I couldn’t see her head. It was buried underneath my comforter.
“Baby, you gotta get up.” I shook her shoulder this time, and she finally stirred, blinking up at me sleepily. I smiled, even with tired eyes and her hair wrapped in up in a red sleep rag thing, she was gorgeous. Just stupid pretty. My gaze dropped to her full lips before meeting her eyes.
“It’s almost 3:30.”
She blinked heavily again. “Already? Shoot.”
The fact that she was wearing her nighttime hair tie meant she was serious as hell about that nap. “You’re gonna be late.”
I sat down on the edge of the rumpled bed, searching for my shoes. It was mid-afternoon but it’d been cloudy all day. The light trying to stretch its way through the window was muted, casting a soft blue-ish glow over the room because Low insisted on buying me blue curtains a couple of months ago.
“It adds dimension to the room,” she told me. I didn’t care about curtains but they did make the room look more relaxing, I couldn’t lie. Marvin Gaye was playing on my record player and I grinned because Low had finally really gotten into the warm sound of vinyl after fighting me about being “old school.”
She yawned and rolled onto her back and tucked her arm underneath her head, like she didn’t need to be at the airport in Dallas by 5:30 to catch her flight home.
“I have a little time. It only takes an hour and half to get to Dallas and my flight doesn’t leave until seven.”
I shook my head, eyeing my shoe underneath her backpack. Other than her bag in the floor, the room was clean and airy, because of Low. It was so comfortable, I felt like crawling into bed with her and crashing too.
“You’re pushing it,” I told her instead. “You still gotta get dressed and you know what an event that is.” She wasn’t wearing anything except my old red Hawks t-shirt. “I don’t want your dad thinking I’m the reason you missed your flight home.”
Willow sighed audibly when her phone buzzed on the bed next the pillow. She picked it up, squinted at the screen, and tossed it back onto the blue comforter.
“My mom,” she answered my unspoken question. “I just didn’t want to talk to her while I was over here.”
“What’s up with that?” I met her eyes, brow furrowed.
“She thinks I’m ‘playing house’ with you because I’m over here so much.”
“Since when did she say that?”
Willow shrugged, pulling off her hair thing and tossing it onto the bed. “The other week. She says she doesn’t know why they pay for me to live on campus when I really live over here.”
I bit the inside of lip, my gaze scanning the room. Willow’s books were on the small desk she insisted on getting for me. Her clothes took up practically half of my closet space. One of my dresser drawers now belonged to her and her soaps and girly whatnots were in the bathroom shower rack. But I liked it that way. I wanted her near, all the time.
We hadn’t spent a single day apart in months and I was kinda tripping because I really didn’t want her to leave now, even though I knew she needed to see her fam for the Thanksgiving holiday. She was flying in to Houston a little earlier though, since she’d be coming into Atlanta the day after Thanksgiving to be with me. Our new manager, Jay Little, had three shows lined up out there— Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Trav was still hesitant about buddy but these gigs proved he was ready to handle us, in my opinion. Plus, I was looking at what he was doing with another band out of Atlanta, Black Bottom. They were blowing up and had just brought him on as their manager a few months before.
Doing the gigs in Atlanta was big but I also wanted to check for my moms and Omar, see how they were doing. Moms finally landed a job, not where she wanted, but it was something at least, working in the cafeteria at Omar’s middle school. But the gap between unemployment and her finding work left them in a tight spot. And her punk ass landlord went up on her rent. I’d been sending money when I could but my paper was low too.
“Can you give Kennedy back her headphones for me?” I looked down at Willow, who yawned and stretched again. She worked the early shift at Aroma today, the coffee shop near campus where she started at the beginning of the semester.
“Where are they?”
“On your dresser somewhere I think. Or maybe in your truck?”
She twisted her lips, thinking. “You’re bad as Jersey, losing other people’s stuff.”
“They’re not lost!
“But you don’t know where they are.”
“They’re somewhere near here. I do know that.” She smiled, as I absently rubbed her calf, since she still hadn’t made a move to get up. “Oh my gosh, last night she was amazing, right?”
Kennedy joined the band as a singer at the beginning of the semester, when she moved to Tyler to stay with her grandma Pepper, Trav’s neighbor from the down the street. Kennedy changed everything when she joined Prototype. Zay elevated the band when he’d joined. But Kennedy completed it. She’d changed Travis too, because dude was in love with her on some “alter my entire existence” type shit. Buddy actually told me that the other day, and was dead ass serious.
“She’s next level. She’s startin’ to get why she’s dope, which is the key. You can’t just be good. You need to know what separates you from everyone else so that you can lean into it.”
Willow’s eyes were lowered when she looked at me and she tugged at the bottom hem of my t-shirt.
“I love it when you talk like that.”
“Like all…” she shrugged grinning. “Devin-y. I’m gonna get t-shirts made with your quotes.”
She bit her lip, still smiling at me. I knew that look in her eyes and I grinned, my groin tightening because that look, coming from Willow Elizabeth Harden, was better than any high I’d ever known.
“What’s up?” I asked, letting her pull me toward her by the hem of my shirt, wrapping me in her coconut scent.
“We have a few minutes,” she breathed, against my lips. She bit hers, then released it.
“Nah, we don’t, love.”
She nodded against my mouth, “We do,” she whispered, reaching and wrapping her arms around my neck, pressing her mouth against mine, her tongue tracing the seam of my lips, making me uncomfortably hard.
She pulled back suddenly, and in one quick motion, pulled her t-shirt over her head. Her eyes were still on me, her cheeks flushed because she was still brand new and getting used to her body, and to me looking at her body. But she liked it.
“We do,” she said again, as she kneeled on the bed in nothing but a pair of purple underwear. The afternoon light creeping through the blinds left a zigzag pattern on her belly that I traced with my fingertips. I bit my lip shaking my head as I took her in.
“You better look and see what time the next flight is.”
AVAILABLE NOW ON AMAZON!
And, as a bonus, check out the ‘Keeping Willow’ playlist on Spotify ❤
‘THE TAKEDOWN’ COMING AUGUST, 2017
When you’re riding high, there’s almost always someone looking for the chance at a takedown …
Newly-installed as President & CEO of the Scaife music empire, Jamal Turner is undeniably at the pinnacle of his career. And to sweeten the triumph, he has Makayla Hughes at his side—a woman whose wide-eyed wonder at their good fortune keeps his feet firmly planted on solid ground. In a profession that thrives on artifice, Makayla is the realest and most meaningful thing in his life.
Jamal’s biggest problem—and the only conflict in his relationship—is finding time to keep his commitment to participate in planning their wedding. Well … that’s almost their only conflict. The other, is Devin Parks, Makayla’s omnipresent best friend whose demands on her time and heart keep pulling her back when Jamal needs her to move forward.
But those may not be their only issues. Devin’s career-rise has attracted some unwanted attention, and unbeknownst to them both, so has Jamal and Makayla’s almost-too-perfect relationship. Someone, somewhere, is gunning for the new ‘It Couple’, and looking for the chance at a takedown.
From ‘The Takedown’:
“What’s the damage?” Jamal asked.
“The room is, well … it’s trashed, sir. It’s going to be out of commission for a least two weeks while we redo it,” the manager said.
Jamal grimaced and gritted his teeth to prevent himself from cursing aloud. The Mandarin Oriental Hotel was no cut-rate joint. Even the ‘cheap’ rooms ran about nine-hundred per night. The one that Kendrick had wrecked was far from cheap. In fact, it was a Premier Central Park View Suite that ran close to three-thousand per night. While Jamal was in the flower store with Makayla, waiting for her to pick some peonies or something, he’d returned a few phone calls; nothing too urgent, just the ones he needed to cross off his list so he could enjoy the rest of the Saturday afternoon uninterrupted.
And then the call came in from Gayle, his assistant, telling him he needed to call the Mandarin because Kendrick Cruise, one of his most valuable and lowest-maintenance artists was about to be arrested for disorderly conduct.
‘Kendrick?’ he’d echoed.
That didn’t even sound right. Kendrick was a smooth R&B crooner, who acted like he was the Black Frank Sinatra. Always soft-spoken, wearing a suit, and with impeccable manners.
‘Yes. I don’t know what happened, but I’ve been told he asked for you.’
‘Where’s Bryant?’ Jamal demanded.
His new A&D guy was supposed to be on top of stuff like this. And with him, their publicity folks, who lately had taken on the role of “fixers” as well.
‘He’s over there,’ Gayle said. ‘But Kendrick is insisting that it needs to be you.’
And with that, Jamal’s quiet Saturday with Makayla was done for. Now, he was in the private office of one of the Mandarin’s managers, trying to assess the scale of the problem.
“I can take you up there to show you what was done if you’d like.”
Jamal got the sense the man wanted to show it to him. Wanted to be there to witness the look of shock that would undoubtedly cross his features, and ensure that someone felt shame for what transpired, since Kendrick was both drunk, and unrepentant. And Jamal also knew he should go see it, if only because he needed to make sure the bill would be proportionate to the repairs that would be necessary.
“That’s okay. I’ll have my colleague go up with you in a few minutes and do a walkthrough. I just wanted to stop in and personally apologize for …”
“Yes, thank you, sir. But you do understand that we won’t be able to host Mr. Cruise here in the future.”
Jamal nodded. “I understand.”
A few feet behind him, Bryant stood, waiting, arms folded.
“And the costs, both for the repairs and the time the room will be out of commission will be considerable, I’m afraid,” the manager continued.
He was a small owlish-looking man, wearing an expensive suit, and a tasteful tie. The staff at the Mandarin were always difficult to distinguish from the guests. Everything about the place reeked of opulence.
“Yes, I understand.”
Jamal held out a hand, which the manager took briefly. Behind his obsequious smile was a little judgment, a little contempt. No doubt, he wished there was some way he could bar all entertainment types from the Mandarin.
Turning to nod at Bryant, Jamal took his leave. In the anteroom, Kendrick was slouched on a sofa, flanked by hotel security. His eyes were bloodshot, and his shirt untucked, his pants rumpled. He had played a show the evening before, and from the looks of him had neither changed, showered, nor slept since.
Without a word, Jamal jerked his head in the direction of the door, and Kendrick stood, following him out of the room his head bowed. The security guards followed them all the way out and through the lobby, and waited until Jamal’s car was brought around and Kendrick had gotten in. They had only driven a half a block before Jamal’s will broke.
“The hell is wrong with you?”
“Jay, man, you know I …”
“Shut up! You know how much all that shit you caused is gon’ cost? And I don’t even mean just the damage to the room. Everybody in that joint is gon’ expect a gratuity just to keep their mouth shut.”
“I know. I know. But …”
“Were you high?” Jamal demanded.
“No. You know I don’t mess with …”
“I can smell you, Kendrick. You been into somethin’.”
“Drinkin’. Just drinkin’. I swear.”
Glancing over at him in the passenger seat, Jamal saw that Kendrick was slumped over, face in his hands. And he did smell. In fact, he reeked—of perspiration, booze, and God knew what else.
“My wife, man. She’s leavin’ me. She found out about this trick I messed with in Miami, and …”
Jamal tuned the rest out.
Kendrick had been married for only about eight months. But that didn’t make any difference. Not in this business. The problem was what it always was in these situations. Some dudes like Kendrick, even though they were stars, maintained a tiny streak of normalcy in them. And that streak made some of them smart enough, when looking for a spouse not to choose some starstruck, gold-digging groupie, but a regular chick with a regular job. A woman who, against all the odds, loved him for who he was and not what he had.
But the traveling, the shows, the hordes of pushy and often beautiful women could test the will of most men. And most men failed the test. Miserably. And when they did, their “regular chick” wives were one of two types: the types who were willing to forgive the transgression as an occupational hazard and hope it never happened again; or the type who believed that the monogamy clause didn’t get suspended just because your husband was famous.
Apparently, Kendrick’s wife was of the latter variety.
“She had her lawyer come serve me the damn papers while I was in the hotel room, man!” Kendrick was sobbing now. And there was nothing more pathetic that listening to a grown man sob. “Here I am thinkin’ she about to come spend the night with me before I have to make it to Chicago and instead here come this nigga talkin’ ‘bout I been served! You know how that … I love that girl, man! I shoulda known when she missed the show! And that shit in Miami was just …”
“And so you trash the damn room, Kendrick?” Jamal hissed his teeth. “I wonder how your wife gon’ feel about you once she hear that. Her daddy’s what again? A preacher, right?”
At that, Kendrick’s head snapped upward and he looked at Jamal, his eyes desperate. “Fuck!” he said. “She never gon’ take me back now.”
Jamal shrugged. “Nor should she. ‘Cause you’re an idiot.”
“Jay, how you gon’ do me like that? You know …”
“Here’s what I know. I know I was about to spend the day with the woman who’s gon’ be my wife. And you know what else I know? Instead of spending the day with her, I’m with your stupid ass, fishin’ you out of some trouble you ain’t have no business gettin’ into in the first place. And …”
“But J …”
“Shut up. I’m not done. And listen to this real close right here … the next time you do some shit like you did today? Do. Not. Call. Me. This shit is not my job any longer. You feel me?”
“Oh so you too big for all this now, huh, Mr. CEO? Well fuck you, J.”
“Fuck you, too, Kendrick,” Jamal said affably. “Now where am I takin’ you? Because you damn sure ain’t comin’ home with me.”
~ANNOUNCING A NEW SERIES OF E-SHORTS~
It doesn’t matter how much we try to force it, not every story is a novel, or even a novella. So once in a while, just to satisfy the urge to see a narrative through, I write shorts. And sometimes I post them on Facebook, or this blog, because even if not a novel, I want you to read it.
So, for those stories–my short stories–I’ve decided to publish them anyway, and make them a series, which I’m calling (because I was feeling literal) ‘The Shorts’. About once a month or so, I’ll publish, on Amazon, short stories that will be about 20 pages or so, for free, or 99 cents. There’s something else about these stories that I want to share. It’s my little experiment, with writing differently, or writing different genres. And I warn you, it may not be everyone’s cup of tea. If these stories read differently than things I’ve written in the past, it’s because I’m trying something new on for size. This one, ‘Still’, the first one, was previously published as part of the anthology ‘Women: Withstanding All Anthology’, now no longer available in print. I’m re-releasing it as a standalone e-short, available on July 16, 2017. Part of this story was available on my Facebook page for free. I wrote it in a single sitting, and the writing of it felt natural, and enjoyable. I hope you enjoy it too.
In her life, there have only been three lovers. But Leslie doesn’t lament the meager number, she only truly mourns the second one. In her youthful arrogance, she turned him away, thinking there would be many more chances. Now, she lives two lives—one in the present, and another plagued by bittersweet memories of the past.
But maybe, even now, it might be possible to reconcile the two.
NEW RELEASE FROM CHICKI BROWN!
About the book:
A quiet bookworm, Tangela Holloway has always been content working at her an independent bookstore in the sleepy little town of Eufaula, Alabama. But lately, Tangie discovers that she’s bored and frustrated, especially since the man she’s been dating for two years seems to care more about his business than he does her. When Reese Turner rides into town on his Harley, Tangie’s heart feels like it’s beating for the first time. She not only sees the most exciting man she’s ever met, but also a chance to experience something other than backyard BBQs and fishing at the lake.
After ending a drama-filled relationship with a high-maintenance fashion model, Reese wants nothing more than to make a road trip to Florida with his motorcycle club. Never did he expect a quick stop at a small town bookstore would introduce him to a shy bookworm who makes him re-think his vow to remain single and unattached.
From ‘Born to be Wild’:
“Are they not used to you coming here with a man?”
“Other than the man I’ve been seeing, no.”
Ahh. It only made sense that such a smart and attractive woman would already be booed up. “How long have you been together, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Going on two years.” The way she avoided looking me in the eye put questions in my mind.
“So it’s serious then.”
“I wouldn’t say that.” Her lips pressed together in a slight grimace, and then she shook her head. “We’ve been together a while, but there are no plans for the future on the table.”
The hint of annoyance in her voice made it clear there were issues in their relationship. I don’t know why I wanted to smile at the thought, but I kept my pleasure hidden. “I guess it means you two aren’t exclusive.”
“I guess you’re right.” A shadow of a smile crossed her face.
All I’d been expecting from this week was an enjoyable ride, seeing some of my buddies and maybe hooking up with a couple of the available women who showed up at these bike rallies. They made no bones about the fact that they were attracted to bikers, and they didn’t want any more than a few days of fun. At the end of the rally you kissed and said goodbye with no expectations or demands. Since my last serious relationship ended, a non-committal arrangement suited me just fine, so I didn’t comprehend my fascination with her subdued sexiness. I wanted to see her again, and I had good reason to.
“Does that mean you’ll be free to have dinner with me when I come back through to pick up the book?”
Her brown eyes widened for a fraction of a second, and she dabbed her full, bow-shaped lips with a napkin before she answered. “What day are you coming back? We have a nice restaurant here called the River City Grill. It’s a few doors down from my store. The food is excellent and the atmosphere is nice.”
“How’s three o’clock? If I leave Panama City Beach around noon, I should be pulling in around then.”
My groin tightened at the way her gaze took me in from across the table, but then she said, “This is first Sunday, and we have communion, so I’ll be a bit late getting out of church, but I’ll be home by one-forty-five at the latest.”
“Do you go to church every Sunday?”
“Uh huh. You don’t?” Her question didn’t sound judgmental, just curious.
“Haven’t been in a while.” The confession made me uncomfortable, which I didn’t understand.
“How long is a while? Weeks, months or years?”
“Years.” My confession made me feel inadequate. Funny, but it never bothered me before.
“Too bad. It always helps me deal with whatever I have to face during the week. You know, like when you jump a weak battery.”
“Interesting analogy. I guess I’ve gotten used to working on Sundays. I don’t build, demolish, paint, or dig up anything, but I reserve the day for paperwork.”
“Hey, you can’t work all the time. It’s not good for your mental state.”
“You’re probably right. My mind is constantly on the current project, and each one is time sensitive.”
She tilted her head. “What do you mean?”
“When I buy a house, it’s important to get the house on the market as soon as possible. I’m losing money with every week that passes. The longer it takes, the more daily interest is mounting up on a property. The longest I hold on to a house is ninety days. If it hasn’t sold by then, I know there’s a problem.”
Tangela clasped her hands under her chin and leaned forward as though she was sincerely interested. “Like what?”
“The listing price could be too high or something has happened in the neighborhood to turn potential buyers off.”
“How long does it usually take you to sell?”
“Two or three weeks.”
“Seriously? Isn’t three weeks unusual?”
“Not when you buy a property in a good neighborhood and renovate it to be one of the best in the area. People are willing to pay for quality.”
“So you don’t actually do the work yourself then?”
“Some of it, but the majority is done by the construction and landscaping companies I subcontract.”
“If you don’t mind me asking, how did you learn to flip houses? I know Tarek and Christina were realtors before they got into the house flipping business.”
She was really interested. “It’s a long, boring answer.”
“Are you in a hurry?”
“Not at all. Okay. I got my degree from Texas A&M in construction management, and initially I went to work for a big commercial construction firm for a couple of years. It didn’t take long for me to realize I didn’t want to be the guy in a dress shirt and tie, walking around the job site with a clipboard. Actual involvement in the project is what I need.”
“You need to get your hands dirty,” she said with a smile.
“Right, and my degree covered planning, cost estimating, scheduling, supervision, building systems, scheduling, cost estimating, construction management, and business/labor relations.”
“So you knew you had what you needed to run your own company.”
The admiration in those pretty brown eyes as I spoke gave me a sense of pride I hadn’t felt in a long time. Many Atlanta women weren’t impressed. To them what I do for a living sounds like nothing but manual labor. Very unromantic. I wasn’t a lawyer or a doctor or a pro baller. I nodded and finished my salad.
Buy the book:
About the author:
Contemporary women’s fiction/romance author Chicki Brown has been featured twice in USAToday. She was the 2014 B.R.A.B. (Building Relationships Around Books) Inspirational Fiction Author and also the 2011 SORMAG (Shades of Romance Magazine) Author of the Year. Chicki was also a contributing author to the Gumbo for the Soul: Men of Honor (Special Cancer Awareness Edition).
A transplanted New Jersey native who lives in Atlanta, Georgia, Brown still misses the Jersey shore, the pizza and the hot dogs.
Nia Forrester, Beverly Jenkins, Iris Bolling, Lisa Kleypas, and J.R. Ward are among her favorite authors.
Connect with Chicki Online:
Amazon Central Author Page: http://amzn.to/l2kjXQ
From THE TAKEDOWN
coming August 2017
About the book:
Ryann Walker knows she’s a difficult woman; difficult enough that it would take a rare, and special breed of man to take her on permanently. Thankfully, she isn’t looking for that. What she does want is a baby. And after a rash decision made during a one-night stand, she just may be having one, with the very successful, good-looking, but completely wrong for her, Spencer Hall.
But once Spencer learns that he may become a father, Ryann just can’t shake him. He isn’t interested in being an absentee parent; and she isn’t interested in having a man hang around who is hell-bent on crawling into her heart, breaking down her defenses and unearthing all her secrets, including the ugliest one of all.
Available now, exclusively on Amazon.
About the book:
Lia Hill isn’t a model. But she’s pretending to be.
Just for a few days, and just because she stands a earn a ridiculous amount of money. The thing is, her mind-numbingly boring job as a receptionist at a modeling agency while she tries to sell her art isn’t exactly paying the bills in her crappy apartment, and she’s desperate for cash. So when the wealthy and handsome Blake Morgan contacts her agency looking for a girl who’s “not ostentatiously attractive” to accompany him to a family getaway, Lia leaps at the chance, sending her on the adventure of a lifetime with Blake, his sister, Nicolette and Kevin, his somewhat reserved, but super-hot “assistant.”
The Morgan clan is young, beautiful, loaded and tons of unexpected fun. So what’s the worst that could happen?
Available now on Amazon.
YOUNG, RICH & BLACK: AN AFTERWARDS NOVELLA
About the book:
When Chris “Deuce” Scaife, Jr. and the campus revolutionary, Zora Diallo have an unexpected and powerful encounter just before winter break, no one could have been more surprised than they were. While they’re home for the holiday, what started as a temporary fling continues and strengthens. But will their new bond survive their return to campus?
Back at school, Deuce’s reputation as a wealthy and directionless player, and Zora’s as a young-woman-to-watch mean that their friends, priorities and maybe even their values might be sharply at odds. Can the power of their newfound passion for each other withstand their differences? Zora is looking to change the world, but Deuce is just enjoying being young, rich and Black. And ultimately, maybe the pull of their divergent paths will be stronger than the pull toward each other …
Available now on Amazon.