THEtakedown (1)

A lot of folks have reached out to ask me about Devin’s story. You may have met him in ‘The Takedown’. So I thought I’d give you a sample to let you know I’m working on it. This one is actually super-important to me, and I want to get it right. So, I’m projecting a late summer-early fall release. I work on it every now and then, when something strikes me about Devin. His story is not unlike that of someone I know and love very much, so I can’t screw it up. It will be a love story, of course, but with elements of two people learning to love themselves just as they learn to love each other. At the moment, I think I’m going to call it ‘The Broken’. Here’s a sample. Enjoy.


From ‘The Broken’:

Half past midnight and well past drunk, Harper was sitting on the floor of her living room, pretending it didn’t matter that Matt and his boyfriend were cuddling on the sofa; and near her on the floor, his sister Sloan and her boyfriend, Ross were doing the same. They were watching a soulful French film that was non-linear and not at all conducive to getting drunk and high. The last thing one wanted to do when they had been drinking and smoking was read. And the second to last thing one wanted to do was feel like the fifth wheel. Harper was doing both.

All evening, she had been reaching for her phone, pretending to check iMessage, as though she had other options. But the truth was, she had imagined a very different kind of evening. She, Matt and his boyfriend had done the whole movies and chill routine many times, but it was easier with them, and more raucous. People stopped in at odd hours, bringing more drinks, more weed, and once in a while, even some harder stuff. And it would be fun and diverting, and Harper wouldn’t think, or even feel much of anything. The music would be loud, the television would be turned up to compete with the music and everyone would be practically shouting to be heard above it all. But this time, Matt had toned things down for his sister who was younger, and went to an artsy college. The French movie was her idea.


She looked over her shoulder. Matt was talking to her, and she’d missed whatever it was he said. “Huh?”

“The door. Didn’t you hear it?”

“Nuh uh. Is someone out there?”

Matt looked at her with wide eyes. “Yeah. I guess. And I didn’t invite anyone else, so …”

Harper sat upright. Alert suddenly.

Please, she thought. Please. Please. Please.

Standing, she shook her head a little to clear it. It was almost one in the morning. She hadn’t even given it a thought that he might …

Devin was standing there when she opened the door. He was in jeans and a long-sleeved black t-shirt. He looked lean and rangy. And as always, he looked good. So, so good.

And Harper was surprised that she had the urge to hug him. If she did, he would probably recoil in shock. As it was, he was looking at her as though his being there was as unexpected to him as it was to her.

“Hey,” he said. He didn’t smile.

The corners of her mouth twitched as she tried not to do so herself.



Devin was up before anyone else.

Harper was still asleep next to him. Her apartment, her neighborhood, were so quiet, it was almost unnerving. Even though he had much nicer digs himself now, he still remembered what it was like to live in Brownsville, where he was accustomed to noise all night, just outside his window. Baseheads and other junkies wandering the street, shouting expletives at each other, sometimes getting high in the tiny alleyway just behind the building. Sometimes, he heard people having transactional sex, the grunts and groans cursory, sad, and sometimes theatrical, because the pleasure was being faked.

Harper’s bedroom was like sleeping in a cocoon. Twice he’d woken up, reminding himself of where he was by looking around. She had posters on the walls, like a teenager might. Of Tupac, Jimi Hendrix, and OutKast. And framed LP covers, from eighties artists like MC Lyte and Chubb Rock; artists who had been talented enough, famous enough, but who were mismatched and counter-intuitive. Devin had a feeling that if he asked her, she would have very specific reasons for why she liked each one, and maybe even specific memories associated with them.

She was an interesting, and strange chick. When she talked about music, it was with a light in her eyes that made him want to smile, because it was something he almost never saw in people who weren’t themselves musicians. That light—the way she looked when she talked about music—was what made him want to sleep with her that first time. He noticed that she was pretty, probably even beautiful, but he noticed that as an afterthought. The exteriors of people were sometimes the least interesting parts of them. Inside was where all the action happened; and in some people, it was where the darkness lived. You couldn’t trust anything that was on the outside.

But still, Harper’s outside appealed to him. He reached beneath the sheets and touched her. She moaned in her sleep and opened her legs a little wider. Watching her face, Devin stroked her. Her eyelids fluttered as she came awake, and finally her hazel eyes were visible, clouded over and unfocused. He kept his gaze fixed on them, moving his fingers in slow and then faster circles, feeling as she grew moist, then slippery, then sopping wet. Harper’s lips parted and she moaned, her hips lifting off the bed.

“Devin,” she said. She bit into her lower lip, and all the while, her eyes remained open, and she stared right into his. “Devin,” she said again.

He had the sudden and surprising urge to kiss her mouth. He still wasn’t used to kissing on the mouth when he was fucking. He had kissed Kay, when they had that kind of relationship, a long time ago, but no one since, except now, Harper. But with Kay it was because he had never just fucked her. What they had done was about love, and after her, he had loved no one else. Kissing was too intimate to do with just anyone.

He had been mindlessly stimulating Harper while his mind drifted, so Devin was almost startled when she lifted her hips even higher off the bed, and emitted a low, deep cry as she came. Then she was limp again, still looking at him, her eyes lazy and half-shut. She smiled.

“Good morning,” she said.

One corner of Devin’s mouth lifted at the unexpectedness of the greeting, at the irrelevance of it. Just as their greeting at her front door the evening before had been irrelevant. In the things they didn’t say, sometimes it felt as though he and Harper actually said a great deal.


“Did you find an apartment?”

Harper was sitting opposite him in the diner down the block from her house. It was a faux-diner, really. Decorated to look old-fashioned, but in reality, brand spanking new. A breakfast of two eggs, home-fries and bacon cost fifteen dollars. Devin shook his head in disbelief and put down the menu.


He looked up at Harper. “No, I mean, yes, I found one.”

“Where is it?”

“Couple stops from here. Near the bridge.”

Harper looked surprised. “Oh. Wow. Cool.”

She was wondering, as Makayla had, how he could afford it. But unlike Makayla, Harper wouldn’t ask.

The waitress showed up and Devin ordered the expensive two-egg breakfast, after Harper had ordered her own. And once their coffees were refreshed, their server left them alone again. The only other people in the diner were young families, couples with kids, cajoling them through waffles and pancakes, trying to keep their little hands away from the syrup.

“You want to come see it?” Devin asked, on a whim.

“You have the keys and everything already?” Harper asked. “You signed a lease?”

He nodded, and shrugged. “I’m not picky.”

Harper laughed. “I know. I’ve seen the place you have now, remember? Are you going to be able to get out of that lease?”

“Lease?” Devin laughed. “That place is barely habitable. They’re lucky I don’t report them for all the code violations.”

“I do want to come see it,” Harper said. She moved the salt and pepper shakers back and forth, like someone playing a game of chess and contemplating her next move. “But I have to … I’ve got someplace to be today.”

Devin leaned back, studying her. This was the first time in ages he could remember seeing her outside of his apartment in the cold light of day. Her eyes looked more amber than hazel. Her lips were pink. It was like she was suddenly in technicolor.

“What?” she asked.

He had been staring, and it embarrassed her.

“I was just wondering what it is you’re doing today that makes you not want to come see my new crib,” he lied.

“I do want to see it. This is just … it’s something I can’t get out of. Again.”

“So you’ve gotten out of it in the past?”

“Many times. But my chits have all been used up.” She shrugged.

“What is it?” he asked. “This thing you’ve gotten out of many times before.”

“I’d rather not say.”

Devin didn’t press. Because if it were him, he would not want to be pressed.

“But maybe after?” Harper asked.

Devin shrugged. “Maybe,” he said.




This is my first release of 2018, y’all! It was a really fun but in some ways tough one to write. I’m not sure I’ve ever tried to do a book (that isn’t a sequel), where the couple is very much in love from page one, and have a long, rich, shared history. They’re also just regular people in that they had happy home lives, no deep, dark secret or significant trauma to work through, but just usual ‘couple-stuff’ — information that shouldn’t have been withheld, feelings that they don’t fully understand or explain, and a litany of advice from various friends and family, sometimes sending them off course. That was the fun part of writing ‘The Makeover’.

Writing un-tortured souls is new for me, so that was the tough part. But I thought I’d give it a shot, especially as a counterpoint to all the negativity that seems to be out there in the world lately. I wanted to do something fun, and light and easy to digest. I hope I succeeded, and I hope you check out — and enjoy–‘The Makeover’.

Here’s a sample, to whet your appetite!

Happy Reading!


A Modern Love Story

From ‘The Makeover’:

“So,” Sam began. She had taken her favorite spot in her large brown suede armchair that had seen better days, and curled her legs beneath her. “What was all the cock-blocking about?”

Colt almost tripped over the coffee table, before sinking onto the sofa. “What?

“I wanted to stay, Colton. And you just barged into my conversation and …”

“Wait. Hold up. When you say cock-blockin’ you mean you were about to go home with that nigga?”

“Don’t say that word.” Sam closed her eyes and shook her head. “You know I hate it when you use that word.”

“Okay, fine. Lemme rephrase that. You were about to go home with that knocka? That clown. That …”

“I get your point. And probably not, but you didn’t know that! What if I were to come up to you and Bambi and drag on your shirttail and mess things up for you?”

“I wouldn’t have thought about it that way. If you wanted to jet, that would be the move. Plain and simple.”

Sam shook her head again, clearly disbelieving.

“But let’s get back to this whole cock-blockin’ comment. I mean, you do that shit, Sam?” He leaned forward. “Meet dudes in bars and then just … what? Let them …” He broke off, finding himself unable to even voice the thought let alone imagine the pictures that went along with it.

“I have … experiences,” she said vaguely, not meeting his gaze. “I mean, I’ve done some things. Haven’t you? I mean, I know you have.”

“It’s different.”

“How’s it different, Sir Sexist?”

“If I go home with a woman, I don’t worry about my safety. I don’t worry that she might overpower me, rape me and then slit my damn throat in the middle of the night.”

Sam pulled back. “God. Graphic much?”

“Because that’s the kind of shit that happens out here. To dumb-ass chicks who meet strangers in bars and take them home.”

“Why’re you getting so heated? It’s not like I’m a virgin.”

“I know. But I …” He stopped.

But he just didn’t think about it. The idea of Sam having actual, real-ass sex with some dude, the idea of her fucking some dude, he had avoided by not thinking about it. It was like a literal black hole in his consciousness—a sensory deprivation chamber, thankfully devoid of sight, sound, and everything else.

In college, she lost her virginity to some kid in one of her study groups. A nerdy dude who wore khakis and top-siders. When she told him—or rather when he pried it out of her—Sam hadn’t given any details, thank God, other than that she had finally “done it.” He’d seen the difference in her for weeks; a new awareness of her body, and sensuality in her movement. The kinds of changes that happen when a woman discovers her sexual power.

Colt remembered going out and shooting hoops till he was exhausted, and then calling a girl, whose name he didn’t even remember now, to come over so he could exhaust himself another way. He remembered eyeing the dude Sam told him she’d slept with and considering backing him up and telling him to leave her alone, except that everything he might say would be such a cliché: ‘you leave her alone, she’s a nice girl,’ or ‘you better not hurt her, or I’ll kick your ass.’

None of that seemed to apply, because he saw Sam with dude, and how he treated her like a queen. If he treated her right, then Colt had no cause to complain.

And if they were having sex, well … Colt would just not think about that part.

That had been his habit since, when men would enter and leave Sam’s life. And it was easy most of the time, because he wasn’t around for much of it, and the men were always temporary. There had been the one knucklehead who had lasted almost two years. Some dude she didn’t talk about much, who’d been around during Colt’s rookie year.

Other than that, if there were men in Sam’s life, they were like ghosts, a series of names that meant little: Eric, Jeff, Daniel, Jerome … whatever. Dudes who remained vague and whose stints in Sam’s life were briefer than the length of a basketball season.

“I mean … how many dudes we talkin’ ‘bout?” he asked now.

“How many women have you slept with?” Sam challenged. “And if you say it’s not the same, I will throw this wineglass at your head.”

“Well it’s not.” He sat back again. “But for real. How many?”

Sam stared at him. She downed the rest of her wine, and her eyes seemed to pierce right into his, behind his, and deep into his confused mind. She chewed on the corner of her bottom lip.

“Colton.” Her voice was quiet, and her expression suddenly solemn.


“If I ask you something, will you promise to tell me the truth?”

“Of course. Always.”

“Okay, but this time you might be tempted not to. So, I want you to promise.”

He shrugged. “I promise.”

“Were you …” She looked down at her lap then up at him again. “Tonight, when you saw me with Aidan …”

“Was that his name? The joker with the ugly-ass watch?”


“Okay, go ahead. Was I what?”


Colt blinked and swallowed back the instinctive denial.

Fuck it.

“Yeah,” he said, finally, looking off to an area just above her head. “Little bit.”

Sam stood and came toward him.

Colt froze when she stopped, standing between his legs. She straddled him. Her knees on either side of his thighs. She lowered her weight, so she was on his lap.



“We can’t …”

“I was jealous too,” she said, talking over him, her words tumbling forward in a rush.

Colt looked up at her and she gave a little one-shouldered shrug.

Available now, exclusively on Amazon.


SAMPLE SUNDAY: DL White’s ‘Leslie’s Curl & Dye’


DL White is another of those writers that, if the world were a just place, we would hear a lot more about. I just started reading her work last year when she had a promotion running, and quickly became a fan of her keen eye and ear. She writes real, mature, women’s fiction with just enough romance thrown in, and describes the inner lives of women  incredibly well (check out, ‘Brunch at Ruby’s’). No cookie-cutter, endlessly wisecracking, paper-thin characters here. This is the good stuff.

So it’s going to be a particular treat to meet and sit with, and share a glass (or three) of wine with her at Wine with Writers Atlanta on March 10. That’s next Saturday, y’all! I think you can still get a ticket if you’re interested. If you make it out to meet me, DL White, Tasha L. Harrison, Rae Lamar, Lily Java and Jacinta Howard that would be cool, but if not, please check out the books. And with them, have a glass of wine of your own.

I’m just getting to know DL, but I really want you to get to know her (and her work!) too. So … here’s her interview. Ten questions, and some very funny answers, followed by a Sunday sample of  ‘Leslie’s Curl & Dye’.

Love & light,


Ten Questions for DL White

Would you like to see into the future? Why? Nah. I like predictability as much as the next guy but I also love the element of surprise. If you STAY ready you ain’t got to GET ready. HA!

If you could only choose one vacation destination where would you pick and why? Eauh Gah why are you asking me thisssss??? A beach. I don’t know which one but it should have soft sugar sand and blue green water and the air should be warm… that’s as specific as I can get.

What show on Netflix did you binge watch embarrassingly fast? It wasn’t Netflix, but the L Word… I found it online and blew through that series like CRAZY.  I think I stayed up all night to watch the last season. I heard a rumor that the show was coming back, though I feel like people are just playing with my emotions. But can Jenny still be dead but Dana come back?  GAH JENNY SCHECTER WE HATE YOU!

What will finally break the internet?  I’m not sure it can be broken at this point. It’s so evil, it’s all powerful.

What’s in your purse?  Like fitty eleven pens, ibuprofen, 4 tubes of chapstick, 2 lippies (beauty bakerie- get hip to it!)  my organizer, my wallet, Tangy Mae Kindle, and one of those multi charge cord things so I can charge all of the things. And of course the work phone and the Ho phone.

Favorite book you’ve written?  Brunch at Ruby’s. It’s always going to be my Book Baby.

Are you spring, summer, fall, or winter? Please share why. SUMMER. I just LOVE it, heat and all. I moved south for the HEAT and the sunshine. Spring is a close follow up. If I don’t have to worry about a jacket and the skies are blue and cloudless…. Heaven.

If you were a city, which city would you choose to be and why? Some place modern and cosmopolitan but also kinda small townish and downhome…. Like Atlanta. Or maybe my vision of DC, a hip chocolate city.

What technology from science fiction do you wish existed? Teleporting. I neeeeeeed that technology. Like, I love going places but I hate the airport and I don’t like to drive long distances. If I could just… arrive… at the nearest beach that would be great.

What are the most common road blocks that stop people from achieving their dreams? Fear. In my opinion, roadblocks boil down to fear. Fear of unknown, fear of success, fear of failure, fear of the word no, of people not liking us or our ideas.  When we stop being afraid of what could or won’t happen, when we get rid of the what if’s, we’re able to push forward. Speaking for myself, really

27786239_10159967782015494_1652126059_o (1)Wine/Book Pairing:  Chateau St Michelle Riesling/ Leslie’s Curl & Dye


From ‘Leslie’s Curl & Dye’:

He smiled, quietly laughing while his eyes surveyed the salon, starting at the reception desk, a plain old desk from Caine Brothers Wood Works. Then he took in the mismatched leather chairs that comprised the waiting area; the salon chairs with peeling vinyl patched with black tape and the shampoo bowl that was a refurbished and redesigned laundry sink.


To the naked, and maybe the more upscale eye, the Curl & Dye wasn’t much to look at. But people came to the Curl & Dye for the atmosphere.

“I mean, with all due respect, Leslie…” KC shrugged and gestured toward the small salon. “You’re not my competition.”

That lofty, lightheaded feeling was zapped as quickly as it came. I felt like I landed face first on the pavement. There went my moment of attraction.  

Tamera stood beside me, her arms crossed. “Look who decided to slum it over on the old side of Potter Lake.”

“I’m not… slumming. I hadn’t been over here since I moved back and— “

“And you decided to pop in and start some shit with us?”

KC’s eyes narrowed and his brows formed “V” of irritation. The glare he gave Tamera gave me an uneasy feeling.

“Tam, why don’t you close out the day for me? Pull the receipts and get the deposit ready.” I led her to the front desk and pulled out the chair for her to sit.

As soon as she was settled, I grabbed KC’s arm and guided him back out of the shop into the warm evening. I heard Tamera grumbling, not even under her breath, as she sat at the desk and began the daily closing ritual.

“What do you want?” I asked him, noticing the enormous black Escalade parked in front of the window. “We’re about to close up.”

He shrugged a shoulder, tossing his keys from one hand to the other. Back in college he used to do the same with a basketball. “I just… was around and— “

“Bullshit. You have no reason to be on this side of the lake except to be snooping around this shop. So… what? You wanted to gloat? To say some more shit about stealing my clients?”

“I’m not steal—” He heaved a deep sigh and shoved both hands into his pockets. “I felt bad. About earlier. You surprised me by showing up at the shop. I felt cornered and I get mouthy when I feel like that. Listen, I think we got off on the wrong foot— “

“No, I think the foot we got off on was right. You came out here and opened a business in direct competition with mine— “

“That was not my intent, Leslie. I keep telling you, I didn’t know this shop was here.”

“Well, now you do.”

I paused, giving a wide-eyed stare at ruggedly bushy eyebrows, at long, undeservedly lush lashes, at almond shaped eyes, at full lips and well-edged goatee.

Damn, he was fine. Had always been fine but… damn, he was fine.

“Now I do,” he acknowledged, with a head nod. “All I’m saying is that we should be able to co-exist.”

“Coexist? Seriously?”

I gestured toward the building that was The Curl & Dye, catching a glimpse of Evonne and Tamera standing in the middle of the shop watching us talk. I pulled him away from the window, toward the driver side door of his truck.

“It would be one thing if you were just a barbershop. Most of the men in this town do their own hair; they only come to me if they want something real nice. That cheap cut you offer is perfect for them.”

He scoffed, but I ignored it. “We can’t coexist because women are going to your shop instead of mine, for services I offer, my mother offered, my Grandy offered for years.  Your shop could lose a customer or three and it wouldn’t hit your bottom line. I need every client I can get. Your shop is some kind of…”

I shrugged, shaking my head. “Get rich quick scheme, it seems. Except you’re already rich, so now you’re just being greedy. The Curl & Dye is my bread and butter. It keeps me and my parents in food and electricity and Grandy in good care at Primose Gardens. It’s about more than a cheap haircut.”

“What do you want me to do, Leslie? Shut down my shop on some first dibs bullshit?”

I began to back away from him and his truck and his intoxicatingly sexy smelling cologne. It was making me heady and I was feeling all kinds of familiar feelings from being too close to him.

“I just want to run my shop, KC.”

“And I want to run mine.”
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Spring Fling: ‘THE MAKEOVER’

A Modern Love StoryI wanted to write something fun. Just to clear out the cobwebs of winter, and get in a groove again for tackling some other story ideas that have been rattling around in my brain for far too long. So, I thought, what could be more fun than a friends-to-lovers story? And as often happens, when you think about a trope to write, you search your memory for something similar, trying to access those emotions and use them. Turns out I had some.

One of my greatest loves was a childhood best friend. We grew up together, he and I. Not in the sense of having known each other since we were little kids, but because we’d gone through those important tween-to-teen years together. His name was Nicholas. And from the time I was thirteen until I was eighteen, he was the closest person in the world to me. He was a ‘bad kid’ who skipped school, got hassled by the police and smoked weed with a bunch of other guys who were similarly under-supervised young men. Nicholas and I talked on the phone for hours, morning, noon and night. Sometimes we sat on our respective ends of the line, saying little, just watching television, occasionally exchanging a word here and there. We saw each other whenever my very structured home and school life would permit, and we often orchestrated nights for me to sneak out to see him.

With him, I went places my parents would have screamed bloody murder if they knew about, and I was exposed to people they wouldn’t in a million years think I knew. More than once, I remember Nicholas’ hand on my back, ushering me away from someplace or some situation saying, “you don’t need to be here.”

Nicholas was both protective of me, and the guy my parents would believe I needed to be protected from. He sometimes wore a lot of expensive gold jewelry, which I had him take off whenever my parents were likely to see him. I had an inkling how he was able to afford the jewelry, but we never talked about it. When I turned seventeen, I went to college, and he disappeared from my life for a while. He resurfaced in my junior year when I was in upstate New York, calling me unexpectedly (I still don’t remember how he found me, because this was before cellphones were so ubiquitous), and asking if he could come crash for a while. I couldn’t tell him no. I never could. He was tired, had been slingin’ somewhere he shouldn’t have been, and needed to get out of New York City. It seems he had been in Brooklyn the entire time I was upstate, and I didn’t even know. I was angry he hadn’t reached out sooner.

When I let him into my room, he shed all his clothes, except for his boxers, and slept like the dead. I mean, nothing I did, making noise, talking on the phone … nothing woke him. I went through his stuff while he was sleeping, searching for clues about his life. All he had was one duffel bag. I found tools of the street trade, and some of his powdery, white product.

It was winter, and I remember he finally woke up the next day, late in the day when it was dark, though not nighttime. He told me it had been a long time since he’d been somewhere, and with someone that made him feel safe enough to sleep so deeply. Then he asked me to take him to the Metro North train station in the morning because he was planning to get back to the city, ‘dump some things’ and then fly to Atlanta. We talked about his life and what it had been like. It was what you would expect, of someone who was in that life. We reminisced about old times. He looked older than he was, and a little sad. I remember contrasting the new Nicholas, with the old one, who back then was so handsome, he could be called beautiful. This one was handsome, but much harder. No longer beautiful.

The next morning, when we got ready to go to the train station, he told me he was sorry he hadn’t found me before. But, he said, it probably wouldn’t have been good for me if he did. And then, just before he left he reminded me of when we were younger.

“I always wanted us to be together,” he told me, shaking his head. “But I just couldn’t trust myself to do the right thing if we were. You understand?”

The part I remember most clearly is when he said, “You understand?” Because he was looking right at me, his expression really intense, like he really, really wanted me to understand.

So, I said I did.

I hugged him. He got out of the car, and walked into the train station, and I’ve never seen, or heard from him since. I ran into his brother once, I asked how Nicholas was. He said something like, ‘he’s in Atlanta. He has a family. He’s happy.’

Okay, so see, my friends-to-almost-lovers story was less than “fun”. My memory took me to other places than I intended for my fun spring novel. It took me a place where I realized that sometimes there are reasons a friend remains so, and reasons that you don’t cross that line. But what if you did, even when maybe you shouldn’t?

That’s what ‘The Makeover’ is about. When a beautiful friendship undergoes a makeover, and turns into a sometimes messy relationship, can there be, at the end of the day, anything worth salvaging?

From ‘The Makeover’:

The restaurant, was old-school Chinese, decorated in red and gold, complete with dragon tapestries and long draping tablecloths. It was crowded and noisy, but they were seated right away, near the window, looking out onto K Street and its busy pedestrian traffic. At the table for two, Colt wiped his clammy hands on his thighs, and just after they were handed their menus, excused himself to go to the men’s room.

Once there, he washed his hands, stared at himself in the mirror, took a deep breath and went back out.

“I ordered for you,” Sam said as he sat down.

“What’d you get?”

“Your usual.”

She was looking down as she said it, digging for something inside her large pocketbook that Colt was always teasing her about. She fished out her wallet, a notebook, her phone and finally a glasses case. She opened it and took out a pair of reading glasses, perching it on her face, and then continuing to look through the pocketbook.

Then she pulled out a makeup case, and a novel. And kept digging.

“What in the … what you lookin’ for in there?” Colt asked, laughing.

“Lip balm. My lips are always dry. I don’t think I’m drinking enough water. Either that, or this fancy lipstick is drying them out.”

Colt reached across the table and tipped her chin up. Then, with his napkin, he gently wiped her lips clean of lipstick. Sam looked at him, frozen in place, one hand still in her bag.

“There,” he said quietly. “And here …” He reached into the pocket of his sweatpants and handed her his lip balm, the simple yellow tube of the cocoa butter kind he got from CVS.

Sam took the tube and opened it, applying some to her lips and then handing it back.

“Thank you,” she said, her voice equally quiet.

To break their mutual stare, Colt picked up the novel she had placed on the table. “Still reading this, huh?” He flipped it over to the back cover, checking the name of the heroine. “Has ‘Gabby’ found true happiness yet, or is she still stuck in her rut, caring for her elderly father?”

“She’ll still be stuck in the rut until I get about one-third of the way in. And by halfway, she’ll get to have sex with a super-cute guy who she never imagined in a million years would be interested in her.”

One corner of Colt’s mouth twitched. “Oh, for real? Is that how it works?”

Sam nodded. “But he’ll want Gabby just as much as she wants him, and maybe even more. For reasons that will never become completely clear. And about three-quarters of the way in, they’ll have a misunderstanding, but by the end it’ll be resolved, and they’ll be blissfully in love.”

“So, if you know all this going in, why are you reading it?”

“Because real life is unpredictable enough,” Sam said, her eyes serious. “It’s calming to read something that tells you that even if it’s rough going, you’ll get your happily-ever-after in the end.”

Nodding, Colt handed her the book, and she put it back in her pocketbook. He looked down at the table and traced a circle on it with his forefinger.

“Look, Sam …”

Their waiter reappeared, and placed a dish with spring rolls in front of them, and a bowl of steaming wonton soup in front of Colt.

“Enjoy,” he said, backing away with a little bow.

“Work is killing me,” Sam said. The words came out in a rush.

Colt paused and looked at her with narrowed eyes, momentarily thrown by the abrupt change of subject. Then he saw her hands, nervously replacing all the items she had taken out of her purse. Were they … shaking a little?

“Why?” he asked her.

“Why …?”

“Why is work killing you?”

“I’m working on a position paper about juvenile asylees, and …”

“Juvenile what?”

“Asylees. Asylum-seekers.”

“Oh.” He nodded, and reached for a spring roll. “Okay? So why’s that killing you?”

“Well, here’s the thing …”

Colt listened while she talked, her eyes darting around, looking anywhere but at him. He wanted to smile, because she had forgotten how well he knew her, and that this motor-mouth effect was something he was very familiar with. When they were kids and got busted doing something they had no business doing, talking fast was always her tell. If they were up to no good, Sam was never the best advocate for arguing their way out of it.

“You’ll work it out,” he said, when she was done with her soliloquy.

She sighed. “I hope so. But if I’m going to do that, I’d like to do it by this afternoon. Marcus always has tons of revisions and it’s gotta be final by Wednesday, and …”

“Sam.” He silenced her with a hand over hers, to still it. “We should talk about Friday.”

She pulled in her lower lip and chewed on it for a moment. Colt watched her do it, and remembered sucking on that lip, and how it felt soft and plump between his. He looked away.

“Look,” he began. “Here’s the thing …”

“I think I get ‘the thing’,” Sam said, speaking over him. “So we don’t have to …”

“What do you get?”

“That you think it was a mistake, and we started something we shouldn’t finish, and …”

“No,” Colt said.

“No?” She looked up.


“Then …”

Colt swallowed. “I think we should finish it,” he said.

Sam’s eyes widened slightly.

“Look, I just … it wasn’t right, the way it went down. Like you were some chick I met that night, or I was some dude you picked up for some dick …”

“Some dude I picked up?” One of her eyebrows rose. “For some …”

“You know what I mean. If we go there, we gotta do it right.”

“Do it right, like how?” She looked genuinely perplexed.

Colt swallowed hard, again. “You know … hang out for a while, see how it … then maybe … that’s if you want, then maybe …”

What the fuck? Who the hell was he right now? He was talking to Sam. Sam. And he had a case of dry-mouth like nobody’s business and couldn’t even get his sentences out straight.

“You want to date me?” The question came out loud enough that people at other tables looked around. Sam sounded incredulous. A woman nearby tittered.

“If you want to be old-fashioned about it, yeah. I mean. If we …”

Their waiter reappeared, this time with a large tray and a stand for him to set it down while he rearranged plates and set their lunches in front of them. The aroma of kung pao chicken, and Sam’s wor shu duck wafted upward. When they were alone again, and Sam reached for her chopsticks, Colt stopped her.

“You know me, right?” he said.

Sam nodded.

“So you know that on Friday, when I shut things down, that was the most mature thing I’ve ever done maybe in my entire life.” Sam smothered a smile and Colt grinned back at her, leaning in. “Am I right?”

“Maybe,” she acknowledged.

“I want to do this right,” he said.

Jacinta Howard, Wine & More Writers

27369183_988762447938823_4710214341044635762_oNot only is Jacinta Howard one of my top 3 favorite indie authors, she is definitely one of my top three favorite people that I’ve met through writing. And it also doesn’t hurt that she’s basically my hip-ness Yoda. If she’s talking about something in popular culture, I make sure I go check it out because I know her finger is on that pulse. But that’s just about how dope (that would be her word, not mine, really) she is.

The thing is, her writing is dope too, and it has it’s fingers on the pulse as well. It’s current, it’s fresh, it’s accessible and so emotionally resonant that I sometimes try to save her new releases until it’s Friday, and there is wine within reach. When I thought about authors that I wanted to be part of Wine with Writers on an ongoing basis, she was one of the first. Her calm, Zen-like vibe comes through in her writing, and surrounds you like a warm blanket but you know and feel that there is a depth of emotion churning beneath.

In person, she comes across as the girl you bring home to meet your parents as one of your best friends, just so you can use her name when you want to do things they are inclined to imagine that ‘That Nice Jacinta Howard’ would never do. And … she’s also kind of goofy at times, a fact to which this interview will attest.

Come meet her at Wine with Writers on March 10 in Atlanta, where she will be in her element, dropping knowledge as well as beats, with me, DL White, Tasha L. Harrison, Rae Lamar and Lily Java. It’s going to be a …dope event, I promise you.

Anyway, here’s a little of an interview with Jacinta.

Fun question: would you like to see into the future? Why?

Nope. It’s hard enough just dealing with the past and the present.

That’s a true thing. Random, but tell us this: what’s in your purse?

I’ve reverted back to my old self and have only been carrying a purse occasionally lately. But receipts from Chick-Fil-A and Marshalls, pens, and probably hair ties for my daughter.

What show on Netflix did you binge watch embarrassingly fast?

The last show I “binged” sorta-kinda was Black Mirror Season 4. Letitia Wright’s episode was pretty dumb but she’s awesome as Princess Shuri in Black Panther, so there’s that at least.

Now this one, everyone will want to know: if you could level up humans as a species, what stat or ability would you increase?

Our ability to think independently- without the constant yearning for a “leader,” our discernment, and our empathy. Gosh, our empathy. Humans can be so judge-y and gross. I’d also increase our ability to hold our breath. I dunno why but that feels significant.

You have a lovely daughter who looks like you basically cloned yourself. She’s young but I feel like you’ve probably started thinking about this: what do a lot of parents do that screws up their kid?

Give them too much sugar and then wonder how come they won’t sit down somewhere.

What problem or situation did TV / movies make you think would be common, but when you grew up you found out it wasn’t? The “very special” drug episode. Don’t nobody care if you smoke weed, dude. Cool out, Brenda.

What’s the most crucial thing for a healthy relationship?

For married relationships? Regular sex. Obviously, what “regular” means for you is very specific to your marriage/circumstances, and shouldn’t be defined by outside folks. But “non-existent sex” is definitely indicative of a larger, significant problem, right? The truth is in the sex, man.

Why is it so hard for people to make real connections when almost everyone wants to make real connections?

Because most people don’t actually want real connections, only connections that specifically suit them and their needs at the time. I sound cynical.

What are the most common roadblocks that stop people from achieving their dreams?

Systemic oppression. Lack of discipline. An idea of success that’s linked to the principles of capitalism. An unrealistic expectation for what “dreams” are and how long it often takes to achieve them. Overnight success stories are not an actual thing. Also, everyone can’t be rich and famous, or be like, looked at all the time—and that’s okay. Somebody gotta be a plumber. Nothing is wrong with being the plumber—especially if you own your own small business. College isn’t for everyone either, and that’s also okay. Get a trade.

And finally, what tf you suddenly found out that your internal monologue for the last week was actually audible, how screwed would you be?

Thing is, I have to be on social media a lot for work. If y’all could read my thoughts while I’m on Twitter, FB or IG… sheesh. I never think anything hurtful or like, mean. But I am like: Why do people need so much attention? No, for real. Why do you think you need to be looked at by everyone? And like, so often? Why do people think they’re so smart when they clearly are not? Why do people think they’re so original? Your so-called individualism is cloaked in sameness. No, super judgemental, Christian. That actually is not at all Christlike. Why are people so condescending and judge-y? Does it make them feel smart? Don’t people get tired of being snarky all the time? Why do you think anyone cares about you lip-syncing your favorite song in the car? You are not in a music video… for a reason. Was that snarky and judge-y? Probably.

Check out an excerpt from one of my faves of Jacinta’s, which will be accompanying her to Wine with Writers.


From ‘Blind Expectations’:

This time, he knocked on her door. And when she opened it, he saw dried tears on her cheeks.

“What do you want?”

She wasn’t surprised to see him there. Her voice was barely audible, dry and hoarse. He stepped inside, shutting and locking the door behind him, as he yanked on the hem of her t-shirt, his t-shirt, jerking her close. His mouth was on hers and she yielded instantly, kissing him so hard, their teeth clacked together, clawing at his biceps as he lifted her before lowering them to the ground. She tasted so good on his lips—sweet and rich like the merlot she’d probably drinking. He didn’t bother with her panties, simply pushed them to the side as he freed himself from his sweats and all but slammed into her with a low, animalistic grunt. She was digging her short nails into his back but still managed to lift her head enough to get at his mouth, pushing her tongue between his lips, her taste filling every part of his being. She was moaning on every breath, her cries almost primal, and he pulled at her hair, burying his head in the space between her collarbone and her neck, grunting as he drove himself into her warmth, hunting for his contentment and peace, trying to find it in her, in spite of all that was between them.

‘Blind Expectations’, Available Now on Amazon-

Book/Website Link:

Meet the author at Wine With Writer- winewithwriters.splashthat

What I Learned at Wine with Writers ATL


iStock_000052910038_Medium-56b09b3f3df78cf772cffbb6What I Learned at Wine with Writers

I’m not good at personal appearances. I only started doing them about a year and a half ago and remember thinking—with exhaustion—about how stressful it is to stand in front of a room of people and to … speak. I think my best voice comes through in writing, so speaking feels like a chore, especially since I do it so much in my other job.

This weekend, at Wine with Writers, something occurred to me as I was waiting—with a fair amount of terror—for my turn to read aloud to roll around. Here’s what I learned. I didn’t start Wine with Writers so that you could see writers.

I started Wine with Writers, so I could that I, and other writers could see you.

Writing is quiet. For me, it’s often silent. I don’t like being spoken to when I write, and I definitely won’t be speaking to anyone. But once the words are on the page, and set free into the world, I want to hear what you thought of them. Did they move you? Did they anger you? Did you get me? Do you understand?

That’s why writers clamor for reviews, or at least that’s why this writer does. So I can listen. So I can hear you. But I find that some of the most thoughtful readers, the people who are most moved by books, sometimes freeze at the task of writing a review. It feels daunting to them, like being asked to submit an essay to a judgy teacher. And more than that, it requires them to do that which they most admire in writers—it requires that they choose the right words to portray feelings. And I know from experience that that is hard work.

So, this weekend at Wine with Writers, surrounded by my old writer friends the quietly funny Rae Lamar, the lyrical Lily Java, the dopest of the dope Jacinta Howard, and my new writer friends the exuberant Tasha L. Harrison and she of the silky, sultry written and spoken voice DL White, I realized something. I realized that I wanted to hear more from the women in the audience than I did from any of us.

I wanted to know what moves, frustrates, thrills and inspires you.

I wanted to know why you came.

I wanted to see, and listen to you, the largely hidden tribe of women who find life and sustenance in books.

I got that this weekend. I saw you, I heard why you came, listened to you. And it ended far too soon. Thank you. We will do it again.

Love & light,




Wine with Writers ATL

I love writers. I really, really do. They’re such rare breeds. Most of those I’ve met (either IRL or in online spaces) tend to be gems, who on the outside are quiet, and unassuming but once unwrapped … whoa! And I feel privileged whenever I get a chance to participate in some of that unwrapping, by talking about their books, their philosophy of writing, and some of the big questions in life.

In Atlanta, on March 10, I get to do that with my sister-writers Rae Lamar, Jacinta Howard and Lily Java. Just like we did in the Philadelphia area last year, we’re getting together at Wine with Writers with a fairly small group of readers, some wine and delectables, to talk about art, and life and how the two often become intertwined. What’s even more exciting, is that this year we are joined by Tasha L. Harrison and DL White, one of whom I discovered late last year, and the other whose work I began to read just weeks ago.

They’re very different types of writers, but both have this thing I love — realism. So we’re going to talk to them about that in Atlanta, sip some wine, chill with good music, meet  readers, give away some stuff, and sell some books. And of course, Lily, Rae, Jacinta and I will join the conversation, and answer whatever questions you want to ask.

If you’re in the area, drop by and join us. This isn’t a book fair. It’s smaller, more intimate and leaves lots of time for conversation; for you to get to know us, and for us to get to know you. This time, the theme is ‘Identity & Individuality: The Movement Toward Issue-Based Black Women’s Fiction.’  These days, personally, I’m finding it harder than it used to be to create escapist fiction. And it made me curious what other authors are feeling, especially those who–even in the best of times–find it difficult to not include issues they care about as part of their narrative thread.

If this sounds like your vibe, register for the event, and see you in ATL!

Love & light,


In the meantime, check some of the work I personally enjoyed very much by the featured authors:

Sticky Moon‘Sticky Moon’ by Lily Java

Someone very close to Myra Lambert has been brutally murdered. It’s commonly believed that her longtime stalker is the person responsible. Troubled ex-cop Glenn Sparrow was hired to play bodyguard for the vulnerable real estate heiress, while his best friend NYC Homicide Detective Lt. Max Harper solves the case. After a foiled abduction, Glenn and Myra retreat to the Catskills and the Lambert family farm, where they hope she’ll be safer and harder to find. In this remote, secluded refuge time seems to stop for Myra and Glenn, offering them an open window into each others world. What they find may be what they both have been searching for, but with a killer on the loose and Myra his possible prey, time may also run out. Are there limits to the lasting happiness a couple under siege might find with each other?

22’22’ by Rae Lamar

Having suffered the loss of her fiance, cushy job and luxury Midtown Atlanta condo at the height of the U.S. recession, Nina Drake packed up and left the ruins behind to start anew in sunny South Florida.

With no life and no friends, Nina settles in and resigns herself to the simple existence of a gift shop attendant where she passively observes the scores of colorful clientele living in the five-star resort where she works. After a few random run-ins with a peculiar resident, Nina’s boredom gives way to curiosity and she blindly steps out of her dull routine into someone else’s shoes…and the arms of an irresistible stranger. But it’s only a matter of days before Nina goes from dreaming of romantic possibilities to realizing that this tawdry hookup can never evolve into something real…

In spite of Nina’s aversion to his sordid past, Dean Whitmore is determined to make her believe that his intentions are as real as their instant connection. And the fact that he only has a few weeks to prove it to her before life leads them in different directions just makes the challenge that much more appealing…


Keeping Willow‘Keeping Willow’ by Jacinta Howard

Devin Walker, drummer for The Prototype, has one priority: turning his alt-soul band into the superstar act it’s destined to become. Singularly focused on his music, his creative passion is all-consuming—that is, until he crosses paths with his best friend’s college roommate, Willow Harden.

Willow was drawn to Devin from the moment she first saw him. And when Devin does, finally look Willow’s way, she’s easily seduced from her protective bubble into the lure of his fast-paced ambitions, though at times, she wonders if she can handle it.

Unable to resist their potent chemistry, Devin and Willow free fall into a relationship that makes them question each other and doubt themselves. Devin knows he should probably leave her alone; Willow knows life for her might not be any good without him. Can they possibly make their love work? And if so, at what cost?


Truth of All Things‘The Truth of All Things’ by Tasha L. Harrison


Photojournalist and wedding photographer Ava Greene has been unlucky in love, and even though she calls herself a hopeless romantic, she is more than a little bitter about it. The only attention she seems to get is from the men she has absolutely no interest in and has become unintentionally celibate in her effort to avoid “trash ass dudes” and has officially given up on the idea “the one” when Officer Friendly rolls up on her block.


Arrogant and just shy of being a cornball with his bad-dad jokes, she knows that this stocky cop might just be the one to make her second-guess every thought she ever had about cops.

Ava tries to make it clear to Levi that she doesn’t need saving, that she doesn’t need to be worshiped, but he is convinced that is exactly she needs. But when Ava finds herself on the wrong side of the law, will he be the hero she needs or toe the “thin blue line?”


‘Brunch at Ruby’s’ by DL White

Brunch at Ruby'sRuby’s Soul Food Cafe has been the neighborhood hot spot their whole lives, so it’s only fitting that Ruby’s is where Debra, Maxine and Renee meet monthly to do what girlfriends do– eat, drink and offer unsolicited advice on life and love.

Debra Macklin has it all: a successful career, a long marriage and a happy 12 year old daughter. But she’s hiding a secret that could not only shatter her perfect image, but destroy her marriage and career. When her secret is spilled, Debra is poised to lose everything she holds dear.

Maxine Donovan is a self made woman but despite all she earns and owns, she’s on a constant quest for Mr. Right. Handsome, aloof Malcolm Brooks might just be The One, but when Malcolm’s attention turns toward her friend instead, Maxine is ready to risk a strong bond to fight for him.

Renee Gladwell left a lucrative job and a handsome boyfriend to nurse her father and Gladwell Books back to health. A temporary stay has turned into four years of struggling with Alzheimer’s and a family owned bookstore that is in no shape to sell. Renee is in limbo, caring for a man who is slowly forgetting his past—including her. When she meets Malcolm Brooks, her life brightens, but is love worth risking a friendship?

Brunch at Ruby’s is a funny, inspiring, soulful look into a lifelong friendship where bonds are bent, but never broken.

#HolidayShort Dec. 8, 2017

Happy Birthday, Baby. (1)

Happy Birthday, Baby.


It was going to take some getting used to, seeing Jamal like this.


The wedding was surreal enough. Up in some godforsaken field upstate, everyone freezing their tails off and wondering why the CEO of Scaife couldn’t have his wedding in the Waldorf Astoria, or the Brooklyn Botanic Garden like every other rich Black person in New York.

But now, his brother was doing the things befitting his station in Black society, things like this—entertaining. The Christmas party was the kind of event that later got written up on Page Six, with phrases like ‘inner circle’ and ‘exclusive’ and ‘glitterati’ being thrown about. And it was true. The living room of Jamal’s apartment—which was bad as hell, there was no denying—was full of some of the biggest names in music, even some who were on Damon’s current playlist.

Interspersed with the music crowd were the music benefactors; young, wealthy, mostly White hipsters in their late twenties, or thirties, who gravitated toward talent, but Black talent in particular, just like the days of the Harlem Renaissance. Many of them had labored over sheet music since they were three, and later learned, to their never-ending dismay, that they had little talent themselves. So, instead, they invested. Or, they used their money and influence to wheedle their way into parties like this one—where the “cool, Black kids” were—and pretended for a few hours that they were just like them.

Circulating among their guests was his brother, and at his side most of the time, his wife, Makayla. They had just returned from their honeymoon and were in the newlywed phase that was a combination of touchy-feely and careful, treating each other with kid-gloves, secret smiles, and occasional surreptitious groping when they thought no one was looking. Jamal was wearing all black, and had the vaguely puffed-up-in-the-chest look of a man who is satisfied with his place in his life, and more than satisfied with the woman next to him

Knocking back his drink, Damon considered his date from across the room. Harper.

She was cute, interesting, and a little bit rough around the edges, which he dug a lot. But Damon knew they weren’t going anywhere. For one thing, she was young. Not chronologically. Chronologically, she was twenty-eight, but she had that emotionally-stunted quality that Damon saw in a lot of folks he met who worked as part of the innards of the entertainment business. Like they had stalled somewhere around seventeen, when they had “the coolest summer ever” when the music was bumping, the movies were blockbusters and they had finally lost their virginity in the backseat of their first car. And since then, their entire life had been about recreating, through art, the sounds, the feel, and the emotions of that pivotal time in their lives.

Maybe that was unfair. He was just bored. He liked parties, he liked—and now, maybe even loved—his brother, and he dug Harper, but he didn’t want to be here. It was almost Christmas, but he wasn’t in the spirit. A week from now, he would be sitting around a table with Jamal, Makayla, his other brother Marlon and his girlfriend, Renée; and his mother and her man, Perry, or Percy, or whatever the hell his name was. They would all make their way through the meal and awkward exchange of gifts, but just about everyone, except their mother, would want to be someplace else.

After dinner, when he and his brothers left, he would be the only one among them who would be going home alone. First time in four years, he would spend Christmas evening alone.

Tipping back his glass again, Damon realized it was empty, except for the ice. His cue to leave. He’d done his time. Almost two hours at his brother’s fancy party, a respectable period of time. He maneuvered his way through the people mingling near the large living room windows and toward Harper. She was talking to Devin Parks, the moody, difficult musician who had grown up with Makayla and seemed animated by whatever he was saying.

“Hey,” Damon said, touching her lightly on the shoulder.

She turned toward him, and looked, for a nanosecond, almost guilty.

“Hey,” she said.

“I’m about to take off,” he said. “You want to …?”

Harper hesitated. “Oh. I was …”

“No, I’m not sayin’ you have to leave, just because …”

“Oh. Yeah. Okay. Because …”

Devin Parks was watching their clumsy exchange with a mix of annoyance and amusement, his bluish-green eyes flitting back and forth between Damon and Harper like those of someone watching a tennis match.

“I’ll give you a shout later,” Damon said finally. He leaned in and kissed Harper on the jaw.

“Sure. Okay. Talk to you later.”

As he turned away from her, he scanned the room, looking for Jamal, to tell him he was out, but his brother was nowhere in sight. Deciding that he would leave anyway, and just hit him up later, Damon headed toward the foyer. There. That was where Jamal was. For a moment, it looked like he was just standing and facing the wall, but when he shifted his weight, Damon saw that he was facing Makayla, who was leaning back against it, and looking up at her husband.

Jamal’s voice was low. “You good?” he asked her.

Makayla said nothing, so Damon assumed she nodded, because his brother continued.

“Wasn’t so bad, right? Anyway, they’ll all be gone soon, and we can …”

“Hey, man. I’m about to bounce,” Damon said, loudly enough to get their attention.

Jamal turned to face him, and Damon glimpsed Makayla’s face. She looked a little embarrassed, as though he’d caught her and Jamal in a much more compromising position.

That explained it. He’d walked in on some newlywed foreplay.

“Thanks for comin’, man.” They exchanged a brotherly hug, and Makayla gave him a quick hug and kiss as well.

“So, we’ll see you at Christmas dinner, then?” she said. “If not sooner?”

“Definitely sooner,” Damon said, though he knew nothing of the sort. He wasn’t sure how much more of this loved-up stuff he could stand.

Outside, he lifted his collar against the cold wind blowing off the Hudson and walked toward where he’d parked his car. But when he got there, he kept walking. His feet took him to a place he hadn’t intended to go. Damon entered, and knew exactly where he was headed. Within minutes, he had completed his transaction and was outside on the sidewalk once again.

This time, he hailed a cab and gave them an address downtown.

At the building, he was let in by a couple going out, and too the stairs two at a time until he was at Apartment 4F. He didn’t hesitate before ringing the bell. He was done hesitating.

The door opened, and Noelle was standing there. She didn’t look surprised to see him, because Damon knew she had to have looked through the peephole before opening up.

“Damon,” she said.

“Hi. You have a minute to …?”

She was already shaking her head. “Damon, this isn’t …”

“Is that the food?”

An unmistakably masculine timbre reached them from somewhere back in the apartment. Damon clenched his jaw, forcing himself not to comment.

“No. It’s … I’ll be right back,” Noelle called. She stepped out into the hallway, which forced Damon to take a step back, but not before he spotted the man in her apartment. The same man she had been with in Barney’s that day almost a week ago. Michael.

Noelle …”

“Michael, just give me a minute,” she said without looking back. She pulled the door so that it was almost shut and stood facing Damon, looking up at him, arms folded.

She didn’t say anything further, but her eyes were questioning.

Damon took in the sweatpants, the casual, somewhat worn t-shirt. And yet Michael was in her apartment. Noelle’s attire meant this wasn’t a brand-new relationship. This was someone she felt comfortable and familiar enough with to wear a ratty t-shirt around. This was serious.

“I was walking by Tiffany. And I remembered our tradition,” Damon said, holding out the robin’s egg-blue bag.

Noelle looked at it, but didn’t take it. “It’s not our tradition anymore.”

Damon nodded. “But I want it to be. I …”

“You want,” Noelle said. “Always about what you want. Right?”

“No. Not just me. I know you still love me, Elle. We were going to be married. That all doesn’t go away in six months. I don’t give a shit who you’re … dating. We were more than that. We are more than that.”

His words seemed to shake her a little. She looked down at the floor, and shifted her weight. “That’s why we haven’t talked in forever? And you haven’t even …”

“What was I supposed to say? I didn’t know what to …”

“But now you do know what to say? Why? Because you happen to run into me in a store and it looks like I’m moving on?” she demanded.

“Yes. Exactly. Because I run into you in a store and you look like you might be moving on. And I don’t want you to move on. Because you’re not supposed to. And I’m not supposed to. We’re supposed to be together. And I know I fucked it up, but …”

You did!” she said, with surprising vehemence. “I needed you, and you …” She broke off with a choked sound like the beginnings of a sob. “Do you know what that was like? To go through that alone? And then you … You shouldn’t be here, Damon. You shouldn’t …”

He moved closer, reaching out and taking her by the arm, gently pulling her toward him so they were inches apart. So close, he could smell her summery scent. Damon inhaled.

“You have to leave. You … Michael is …”

“Fuck Michael. Get rid of him. You know we’re not done.”

She looked up at him again and this time her eyes were wet. Shaking her head, she exhaled. “You never did fight fair, Damon.”

“I fight to win.”

Noelle’s lips twitched, and for a moment, she almost smiled at that. She knew his stubbornness, and throughout their relationship had teased him about it, fought with him about it … and loved that about him in a way no other woman ever had, or could, or would.

“You have to …”

“Go. Yeah. You said.” Damon took her hand and put the bag in it. “But I wanted to leave this. Every year since we’d been together … your Tiffany Christmas ornament. So, you can put it on the tree, as a memory of another Christmas, and another birthday, with me.”

“But I’m not with you, Damon. Not anymore.”

He leaned in. He pressed his nose to her neck, and she let him. He inhaled more deeply, and turned his head. Noelle lifted her chin; and on instinct her lips parted a little. He brushed his against them lightly, in the ghost of a kiss. He heard her soft gasp, as though she couldn’t quite believe herself what was happening.

Damon wanted to prolong the kiss, but he knew that if he went further she would hate herself for her weakness later on, and resent him for having exposed it. It wouldn’t move them forward, it would set them back.

“Maybe I won’t be there this Christmas when you put this ornament on the tree. But I hope you do it anyway. Because I’m still with you, Elle. I’m still with you.”

There were tears on her cheeks now. But she said nothing.

Damon leaned in again. He touched his lips to the shell of her ear.

“Imagine me there, okay? When you put it up.”

When he turned away, he expected to hear her apartment door shut—or even slam—as she went back in, but it didn’t. So, he looked over his shoulder before descending the stairs. Noelle was still standing there, watching.

Happy Birthday, baby,” he said.