Begin Again #HolidayShorts

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: Meet Jeanette from ‘AFTERBURN’

Jeanette promo flat

 

“That’s a crock of … shit.”

Jeanette pronounced the word ‘sh-EEE-it’ which made Robyn smile.

“But Etienne said that …”

“Don’t listen to him,” Jeanette said with a dismissive wave of her hand. “You must insist that they speak English when in your presence. You are in charge!”

Robyn gave a firm nod.

It was true. Why should she suffer through entire days of listening to her staff chattering along while only absorbing a fraction of what they said? They worked for her, not the other way around. And while it was true she wanted to improve her French it wasn’t unreasonable—and wasn’t it just good manners—to insist that they speak so she understood?

Jeanette had been working for her for only two weeks now, and already Robyn could tell that she would be more than an assistant, but a friend. They had the same instincts, the same sensibilities about most things, and Robyn admired Jeanette’s edgy, in-your-face style. She looked like a punk rocker, with her spiky hair and sharp features. Thin as a rail, and slightly bowlegged, she had the kind of physique that looked best in fitted jeans that accentuated her hips, such as they were.

Etienne had ‘loaned’ her to Robyn as her assistant/translator because when Jamal arrived—as he was slated to do that day—Jeanette was going to be his right-hand woman as well. She was Pouvoir Noir’s best scout and Jamal’s French counterpart; she had ferreted out some of Etienne’s best artists. Her days were short, and her nights long as she traipsed through the labyrinth of Paris’ nightlife—underground clubs, small venues and parties in Oberkampf, finding a new young sensation who would burn up the charts. But since Chris’ acquisition of an interest in the company had put a moratorium on signing new artists, Jeanette was underutilized, and so had been sitting largely idle until Jamal came to help her develop the artists they already had.

“Maybe you can come home with me and lay down the law for my nanny as well,” Robyn joked. “I like the idea that Caity will understand French as well, but I think my au pair secretly never speaks to her in English when I’m gone.”

Jeanette laughed, reaching for her espresso and taking a gulp. “Well, your fiancée is rather forceful. Perhaps he can … lay down the law when he arrives.”

“Do you know Chris?” Robyn asked.

“We have met,” Jeanette said nodding.

Robyn smiled, thinking of Chris and almost unconsciously reaching for her ring, twisting it back and forth on her finger. Jeanette’s eyes fell to the stone and she looked back up at Robyn.

“Do you love him?” she asked, her green eyes meeting Robyn’s in frank curiosity.

Robyn pulled back, surprised. “Of course.”

Her new friend shrugged. “People marry for many reasons. Love is not always among them.”

This kind of comment was typical of the French, Robyn was learning. People thought of them as romantic—and maybe they were—but they were also among the most pragmatic and unsentimental people Robyn had ever encountered. What outsiders interpreted as frivolous and starry-eyed was really, joie de vivre. A zest for life, and all its many complications, but no rose-colored glasses.

Jeanette couldn’t be older than thirty, more likely twenty-eight, and here she was talking about marriages devoid of love. When she was twenty-eight, Robyn would have been loath to admit that anyone would consciously do such a thing. Her rose-colored glasses had been firmly in place, right up until the disintegration of her own marriage.

“It’s the only reason I would ever marry,” Robyn said.

She and Jeanette were about a block away from the office which was in La Défense, Paris’ most prestigious business district. Just about every major European corporation had offices in the area, and most were impressive architectural gems. The building Pouvoir Noir had refurbished to house SE’s European offices was much older, much less impressive, and apparently, the structure was Etienne’s personal property, inherited from a grandfather who had been a business titan of some considerable reputation. Etienne, it turned out, was not much different from a similar breed of music mogul in the States—he had fallen in love with “street-music” at a young age, rebelled against family expectations for a corporate career and instead made a name for himself in the entertainment world.

The small restaurant they’d chosen for its sushi was practically empty because they were eating during off-hours, having exhausted themselves with paperwork back at the office and then looked up to find that it was already three p.m.

“What kinds of men are you into?” she asked Jeanette, reaching for her chopsticks and picking up a piece of nigiri with lightly seared tuna.

Robyn had yet to find California rolls in Paris. Just real sushi, not the modified stuff that was made for people who didn’t actually like sushi, but liked to look sophisticated and so ate it only without raw fish.

“The kind who treat me poorly, who are usually unavailable for some reason or other. Hard men who cannot love me.”

Robyn’s eyes opened wide. There was that lack of sentimentality again.

“Well, why do you put yourself through that?”

Jeanette shrugged. “I don’t know. I suppose I like to be tragic.”

 

Get your copy of ‘AFTERBURN’  for Nook and Kindle now!

SAMPLE SUNDAY: Meet Deuce from ‘AFTERBURN’

Deuce2“So how’s it goin’, man? I ain’t seen you in a minute.” Chris reached across the table and placed a hand on Deuce’s neck, running it over the top of his son’s head before pulling it back. “You need a haircut.”

“I’m good,” Deuce said, ducking away from his father’s touch.

The last time he’d seen his son, he was sobbing into his shoulder, and since then, though they’d talked on the phone and emailed, things had been a little distant between them. Chris could only guess at what his mother had told him about the fight and didn’t want to know. All he knew was that he regretted anything he’d done to escalate things and cause embarrassment to his son in front of his friends. No kid should have to see that—the aftermath of his parents going at it like a couple of ‘hood-rats.

“Things okay at home?”

Deuce grunted.

“Things not okay at home?”

“They a’ight.”

Deuce was looking everywhere but at him, and Chris struggled against a rising sense of something close to panic. In a couple weeks his son would be seventeen. He was choosing among colleges and had just last month taken his PSATs. Only two of the schools he talked about were even on the East Coast. Soon he would be gone and the influence that Chris hoped to have as his father would be attenuated, replaced by coaches, friends, professors, all of whom would see his son more often than he did. Suddenly, all the time he’d squandered became clear to him—years and years of wasted time that now seemed to have passed in the blink of an eye.

The only reason they were seeing each other now was that Chris had followed his lawyer’s advice and set up a ‘date’ with his son, meeting him at a Chinese restaurant near his house. When Chris walked in, Deuce was already there, sitting at a table and texting. Staring down at his phone, Deuce looked … like him. Now, he kept glancing at the phone, restless, like there was someplace else he’d rather be.

“That’s all you got to say?” Chris asked, feeling a glimmer of impatience. “A’ight?”

Deuce looked up at him, their eyes meeting for the first time. “I don’t like having to lie to my Mom, that’s all.”

Chris leaned back. “No one told you to lie to her.”

“Then why you don’t just come to the house? Why we gotta be all hush-hush about going to get something to eat?”

“I didn’t tell you to …”

Deuce made a scoffing noise and looked past Chris’ head, outside to the parking lot of the strip mall.

“Okay,” Chris said finally. “You’re old enough, so I won’t bullshit you.”

Deuce looked up, interested now, probably because the curse-word told him that finally his father was going to level with him, man-to-man.

“Your mother and I have a disagreement about how often I see you. She was…concerned about the time I took you away, that maybe I was trying to really take you away. From her.”

Deuce nodded and took a breath. “Yeah,” he said. “She asked me a lot of questions about Robyn. And about whether I wanted to go live with you and stuff.”

Chris leaned forward. “Do you?” he asked. “Want to come live with me?”

Surprising even himself, Chris was hoping that Deuce would say ‘yes’. He’d given up so much already. Thrown away so much. He could barely remember what Deuce was like at Jasmin’s age, and recalled nothing of when he was an infant. After a year at college, Deuce would come home and his voice would be deeper and more masculine. He would have begun to form his own ideas about his life, and not rely so much on his parents. He would have slipped away.

Chris ran a hand over his chin. “Forget I asked you that. That wasn’t right of me to ask you.”

Their waiter finally showed and they both ordered. Chris got an appetizer because he knew that once the main course was done, he would have to let his son go home, and there was no telling when he might see him again.

“I …would come live with you,” Deuce said haltingly. “But …”

“But ..?”

Chris watched as Deuce shifted in his seat, looking uncomfortable. Scratching the back of his neck, Deuce’s eyes dropped.

“She’d be too lonely, Dad,” he said finally.

Chris leaned back and his throat tightened. He didn’t know whether it was the knowledge that his son wanted to live with him; or whether what moved him was that Deuce was such a good kid that he wanted to make sure his mother was okay.

“She’s got Andre,” Chris ventured.

“Nah,” Deuce said. “Not really. They fight all the time. Dre … sometimes he don’t even come home. I think he stays over in Queens with his brother or something some nights. They’re not … that’s not going to work out.”

Chris couldn’t say the news surprised him. He’d only twice briefly met Sheryl’s husband Andre, and his impression was of a man who got by on ‘pretty’ all his life. Good-looking, strapping and charming, he’d probably been taken care of by women for as long as he could remember, if not before. Sheryl had to have looked like the Holy Grail to him—beautiful, sexy and with access to more than enough money to take care of them both for the rest of their lives.

But that had been true for only as long as the money tree was shedding leaves. And it no longer was.

Last year, Chris had settled on Sheryl a sum that was not small by most measures. It was enough to take care of most people for more than a decade, if they lived a modest, middle-class lifestyle. The amount sounded like a windfall, but only to people who didn’t understand money and how it flowed. After taxes, monthly expenses, and the occasional ill-advised purchase, it could be gone in a flash.

If Chris’ guess was right, Sheryl and her husband were only now beginning to realize that. When Chris first wrote that check, they probably thought they were rich. Now reality was setting in and they had begun to see that at best, they were upper middle-class, and more likely, given the high-dollar area they lived in, they were just getting by.

“I’m sorry to hear that things aren’t going well,” Chris said. And he meant it, if only because Sheryl was the kind of woman who, when she was unhappy, felt compelled to spread it around.

Deuce shrugged. For a moment, he looked heartbreakingly adult. “I’ll tell her I want to come see you, though,” he said as though offering Chris a consolation prize. “I know you must be lonely too. With Robyn and the baby gone.”

Chris made a sound that was neither confirmation nor denial.

He did miss Robyn and Caity, and Skype and phone calls were sorry substitutes. There had been that one evening when she called him, and her voice was thick with tears; and Chris knew from the lateness of the hour that she had probably not been sleeping. She was on the verge of saying that she wanted to come home. He could feel it, even through the poor connection and across the distance; and he heard it in the faintness of her voice.

It was the moment he’d secretly been waiting for—when she would change her mind and come back so they would start their lives together. Everything inside him wanted to go to her, just fly over there and pack her, his daughter and mother-in-law up and bring them back where he believed they belonged.

But Chris knew it was only a moment. He’d had a few like that himself when he’d moved to Germany for a couple months back in the day and found himself surrounded by people who didn’t look like him, who spoke a terse language that he didn’t understand. And he felt it again when he once spent six weeks in Paris for work leaving a pregnant Robyn behind, the loneliness for her had been a physical pain.

But this time, just the knowledge that Robyn missed home had given Chris the will to do what he knew he needed to do; and what she ultimately wanted him to do—help her feel strong enough to stay. So he talked about any and everything he could think of, distracting her from the distance, babbling like she sometimes did, until at the other end of the line he heard her slow, even breaths and realized she was asleep.

“I don’t want you to do anything to make your mother mad,” Chris said looking at Deuce. “So I’ll call and tell her when you ‘n’ me are hanging out, so you don’t have to get in the middle of that.”

Deuce sighed and nodded, his features visibly relaxing.

“I’m sorry I made you lie to her.” Chris added. “Even if I never asked you to lie, when I asked you to come here without me talking to her first, that was wrong. So I’m sorry.”

“Why … y’all fight like that?”

“The truth?”

Deuce nodded, and Chris considered his words.

“The truth is that while both of us always loved you, we never…we never really loved each other. Not like a man and woman are supposed to love each other when they make a baby.”

No-Sample Sunday

Afterburn cover2aBecause ‘Afterburn’ is here, and AVAILABLE NOW on Amazon!

This one was both fun and challenging to write, I definitely wanted to do justice to the love story between Chris and Robyn, but also the love story between a man and his children, as he grows into a love of fatherhood after living a life of studious non-attachment.

I can’t lie–I’m eager to hear what you think! So as you read, feel free to stop by with comments to this post and let me know what moves you, disappoints you, makes you think … whatever your reaction, I’m open to hearing it.

Some writers write for money or fame (and don’t get me wrong, those things are probably great) but I want to know I made you feel something. So tell me if I did. I’m listening.

Happy Reading!

N,

AFTERBURN

Afterburn cover2a

COMING APRIL 2014!

Chris Scaife is not the man Robyn Crandall thought he was. Now that Robyn’s shown him the possibility of a new life, Chris wants it. And he’s used to getting what he wants. But Robyn is seeing some possibilities of her own, as a highly-valued member of the legal team at Chris’ multimillion dollar corporation.

Just as he’s given her the confidence to soar, will Chris try to clip her wings?

Once an unapologetic bachelor and distant father, Chris Scaife is now a different man. Engaged to Robyn Crandall, a woman whose love he never thought he could have—or deserve—Chris wants a wedding to happen, and happen soon. But Robyn’s plans are quite different from that.

Will the very same things that drew them together wind up driving them apart?

SAMPLE SUNDAY: From ‘Afterburn’ — coming April 2014

Chris2A

“So how are Robyn and the baby?” Karen asked.

The same question, asked by his eldest son’s mother, Sheryl, would have come with an ulterior motive, but Karen wasn’t like that. Chris looked at her. She was still pretty, and had given Jasmin the same perfectly-shaped mouth, perky little nose and large eyes. But now Karen was a little more of a comfortably upper middle-class suburban Mom, and less the unsophisticated young woman she’d been when they first met.

She was curvier, carrying about ten or fifteen extra pounds and her hair, once almost waist-length was now in a short bob below her ears; once almost pitch-black, now colored auburn. And she wore much less make-up, blending in with the women in this small, affluent town who knew how to tastefully enhance their appearance without being showy about it.

Today Karen wore a pair of jeans and a light summer sweater with Chanel flats, her once slender figure, a little less so. Over her shoulder was a Balenciaga hobo and in her right hand, she jingled the keys to the new Audi SUV Chris had bought her just that year.

“Robyn and the baby are good,” Chris said unlocking his car, preparing to get in.

He didn’t like talking to either Karen or Sheryl about Robyn even in passing, thinking it insensitive to belabor the fact that he was engaged to her when he’d never even considered such a step with either of them. Karen in particular had to be curious about Robyn because after all, she had loved and lived with Chris for years before their break-up, had borne him two children, and yet he had never once even hinted at wanting to make her his wife.

Sheryl was married now herself, so—even though she was probably cheating on the poor bastard—she probably didn’t care as much as Karen might.

“Are you ever going to introduce us?” Karen asked, keeping her voice light. “Jas talks about her all the time, so I know she’s probably a wonderful …”

“Yeah, sometime maybe. I better go. Traffic.”

Karen sighed. “Okay. Kaden wanted to see you, but I don’t suppose you have time to stop by the house. He’s with the sitter.”

“Wish I could, but I have a conference call that I need to get home for. He’s coming with Jas this weekend, right?’

Karen nodded. “Right.”

“Good, so I’ll see him then. Tell him I said I miss him, okay?”

Kaden was only six. His younger son was the sensitive one. The one who cried when he left, who told him every single time he was on the phone, “I miss you, Daddy,” in that sweet, baby voice he was just beginning to grow out of.

“Okay, well next time maybe you can build in a little more time,” Karen said.

She was lingering by the open door of his car as he got in, and Chris sensed that there was something more she wanted to say.

“You a’ight?” he asked on a whim. “Everything cool otherwise?”

“Hector and I broke up,” Karen said suddenly. She pursed her lips and shook her head. “Which shouldn’t be a huge surprise. But anyway …”

Chris paused with one leg in the car, one still resting on the pavement outside. He and Karen had never been ‘friends’. Not throughout their relationship and not now. Then, she had been too much in awe of him to become a confidante, too … grateful that he’d chosen her. Her humility, Chris had later come to think of as low self-esteem, and a general lack of confidence.

Every day that they were together, Karen seemed to have been thinking: thank you for choosing me, thank you, thank you. After a while it almost literally made him sick. Even while he cheated on her, didn’t come home, forgot important milestones, her attitude was thank you, thank you …When he’d finally gotten the guts to end it, after their son was born, it was a relief. The weight of her unjustified adoration and of his shame for treating her in a manner she did not deserve had been too heavy.

And now? Now, they were very cordial strangers, raising children together. Or rather, she was raising them and he participated when asked. Though he was trying to get better and paid all the bills, she still carried the lion’s share of the parental responsibility and never hinted to him about how hard that might be, or what impact it had on other parts of her life. So her talking about her relationship to him was something new, and something he wasn’t too sure how to handle.

“Why isn’t it a huge surprise?” Chris asked. “You’re a great woman, Karen. Any guy…”

“When a man walks into a situation like mine, where I’m being taken care of by my ex, and he knows he can’t do the same … well, it wears on a relationship. Hector saw the Audi and …” She shrugged. “He doesn’t understand, I guess. And he doesn’t believe that you would do all that when there’s nothing between us anymore. Or maybe he knows there’s nothing between us but still can’t handle y’know, who you are. Who the hell knows?”

“I’m sorry,” Chris said, because he didn’t know what else to say.

But at least this Hector guy sounded a lot better than Sheryl’s husband, who for months after they were married was content to live in a house and drive a car that Chris paid for.

“Not your fault.” Karen looked down at her shoes and then up at him again, shaking her head. “I guess I just need to find a stronger man, that’s all.”

For a moment, the silence between them was heavy.

“You know, you’re still young. You could go back to school or something. I’d take care of the tuition.”

“Back to school?” Karen laughed a short bark. “And do what? I was never that good at school to begin with. So I’d what? Be a beautician? Run a clothing boutique?”

Chris shrugged. “Whatever you want, Karen.”

Now he just wanted to get the hell away. He didn’t have time for Karen’s identity crisis right now. He had a crisis of his own brewing. Between Karen and Sheryl who between them hadn’t an ounce of ambition, and Robyn who had maybe too much, Chris wasn’t sure which was worse. All he knew was that his woman was chomping at the bit to run off to Paris for almost a year without him, and he was stuck in a middle-school parking lot trying to be a goddamn career counselor.

“Sometimes I wonder whether it would just be easier,” Karen said, her eyes meeting his.

“Whether what would be easier?” Chris put his other leg in the car, put the key in the ignition.

“For you and me to still, you know,” Karen said.

Chris froze.

“Because then I would have a man. Or at least part of one.”

Upskirt: A Quick Peek at the ‘Afterwards’ Sequel

When I was in grade school, two of my friends got in trouble for letting boys look under their skirts. I remember watching as two boys shimmied along the floor until they were under the spread legs of my two friends, and looking up in glee. We were all young enough that I remember being confused about what could be so fascinating about looking at a girl’s underwear. I figured it out later. Much later.

But today I’m the one lifting my skirt. Figuratively speaking. And giving you a quick peek of my work-in-progress, the sequel to ‘Afterwards‘.

Blurb:

Chris Scaife is not the man Robyn Crandall thought he was.

Now that she’s shown him the possibility of a different life, she knows that Chris wants it. And he’s used to getting what he wants. But Robyn is seeing some possibilities of her own, as a highly-valued member of the legal team at Chris’ multimillion dollar corporation. Just as he’s given her the confidence to soar, will Chris try to clip her wings?

Once an unapologetic bachelor and distant father, Chris Scaife is now a different man. Engaged to Robyn Crandall, a woman whose love he never thought he could have—or deserve—Chris wants a wedding to happen, and happen soon. But Robyn’s plans are somewhat different from that.

_____________________

“Robyn, ma bichette …”

“You can’t call me things like that, Etienne. Not when I don’t understand what you’re saying. For all I know, it’s incredibly inappropriate.”

Robyn work

Robyn was smiling up at the face of Pouvoir Noir’s president on the monitor as Chris and Frank entered the conference room for the video conference. Leaning forward with her elbows on the conference table, Robyn was wearing her powder blue suit, the one with the short sleeves that showed off her toned arms and contrasted pleasantly with her caramel-toned skin, and a bright white shirt underneath. The skirt was little short for Chris’ taste, but he never tried to dictate what she should wear, just contented himself with the knowledge that he was the man who got to take it off her.

As he and Frank entered, she leaned back into her seat, still smiling at Ballard. Chris almost felt as though they’d walked in on a private conversation.

“Got started without us?” he asked, his voice impassive.

“We did not get too far,” Allard said from across the Atlantic. “We talked about my new toy, and not much more.”

“New toy?”

“Etienne bought some ridiculous sports car that goes about three hundred miles an hour.”

“And perhaps you will sit in the seat beside me one day. It is a feeling not to be missed.”

“Can we get to work?” Chris interrupted. “I only have thirty minutes for this meeting.”

Taking a place at the table next to Robyn, he lay his tablet before him and looked at Etienne Allard expectantly. Frank sat to his left and began rifling through a sheaf of papers. He and Robyn were the only people Chris knew who still worked primarily on paper, writing everything out longhand that probably had to be transcribed later anyway. Waste of time.

“So what’re we meeting about?” he asked, not looking up at Allard’s face, magnified in front of him.

“The timing of the office,” Allard said right away. “I think we are well behind the agreed upon schedule. And I need to tell something to my people. You see I don’t have my partners with me. So if there is a problem, I would like …”

“What gives you the impression there’s a problem?” Chris cut in.

“You acquire part of my company, with promises to rain money down on all our problems, and all of a sudden …” Allard made a puffing noise. “…nothing.”

“I wouldn’t say nothing. Your debts have been paid. Your creditors satisfied.”

“And my artists sit, as you say, with their thumbs up their asses. Waiting for the American knights in white armor.”

“Shining armor,” Chris corrected without thinking.

Frustration crossed Allard’s features. “An update would be welcome, my friend.”

Before Chris could speak, Robyn was leaning forward again. “Everything is moving ahead, I can assure you, Etienne. Admittedly at a different pace than planned, but we’re finalizing the team, and expect that by October …”

Octobre!

“I think that’s what we can promise, yes.” Robyn’s gaze was unflinching.

For a few moments there was silence while everyone waited for Ballard to absorb the words.

“This date, it is not within my control so I suppose there is nothing else to discuss.” On the monitor, he reached forward and suddenly they were staring into nothingness as the screen went blank.

For almost a minute, Chris, Robyn and Frank sat in silence.

“So,” Frank said. “I think we got a pissed-off Frenchman on our hands.”

“No one cares whether he’s pissed off or not,” Chris said. “We’re not on his timeline.”

“Well, we’re not on our timeline either,” Robyn pointed out. “It’s true. We planned to be over there a lot sooner, Chris. We implied to him that we would be well underway with …”

“Maybe we should resolve the question right now,” Frank said breaking in.

Chris knew the question. Hell, he even knew the resolution. But that didn’t mean he had to like it.

“Am I the hold-up?” he asked.

“No,” Frank said. “The timeline changed for lots of reasons. But we’re at the final decision-point. We need to know who’s going to be heading this thing up.”

Chris pushed back his seat and turned, looking directly at Robyn. “Sounds like the decision’s been made.” For a moment, her eyes dropped to her lap and then she raised them again, staring back at him.

She wasn’t, Chris realized, wearing her engagement ring. Sometimes she wore it to work, other times not. He’d long learned not to assume any significance to when that did and didn’t happen. But today, of all days, he would have liked to see it there.

Frank Casey cleared his throat, realizing that the conversation that was likely to happen probably didn’t pertain to him, nor to SE business necessarily. Shoving back from the conference room table he headed for the door.

“Robyn, I’ll see you downstairs,” he said before leaving them alone.

Chris turned his chair so that he was facing Robyn and clasped his hands between his knees, leaning toward her. She was so pretty. So, so pretty. Her eyes were a little watery, and she swallowed hard—Chris saw her throat bob as she did.

“So,” he began. “You really want this, huh?”

Robyn nodded, her eyes filling even more, the tears threatening to spill over onto her cheeks. She blinked rapidly to stave that off.

Chris lifted a forefinger. He was close enough to touch her hand so he did, gently stroking her bare ring finger.

“And I’ve got no say in this.”

Robyn sighed. “Of course you do. You could stop me if you wanted to.”

He supposed he could. He could forbid it. He could tell Frank he wouldn’t allow it. He could … fire her. And none of those things would change Robyn’s feelings for him one iota—of that Chris was certain. But it would change the nature of their relationship, and it would breach the trust she had in him, that he would let her be herself, never stifle her, never try to own her.

“I do want to,” he admitted, and saw the momentary alarm in Robyn’s eyes. Chris shook his head. “But I’m not going to.”

She gave a small gasp and then reached out, grabbing his hands in hers. “Baby …thank you. I know how hard …”

Chris pulled his hands free of hers and stood. “Let’s just talk about it later, okay?”