Women who Misbehave

Wine with Writers poster - final-2 (1)

On March 25th, I’m going to be in Collegeville, PA (about an hour NW of Philadelphia) with Tia Kelly, Jacinta Howard and Lily Java for a book signing, readings by the authors and panel discussion, moderated by Ashley Coleman, author of ‘Love on Purpose’.  Our discussion theme is a juicy one: “Romance, Realism & Portrayal of African American Women in Popular Fiction”. Not only do my fellow panelists happen to be some of my favorite indie authors, the topic is one I love to talk about with anyone who’s willing to listen or participate. Over the past couple of years as I’ve grown into my writing voice a little bit, I realized something. I enjoy writing stories of love, stories that are “real” and most all, stories about women who misbehave. No meek heroines for me; or if they are meek, I love writing about how they mess up, make mistakes and often wreak havoc in their lives as well as others’.

So when my fellow authors and I are together in Collegeville, I imagine what I’ll want to talk about is how romance, even though based on a simple formula, can be one of the more complex genres to write, if you want the love to feel real. I imagine I’ll also want to talk, and hear about whether realism is something people value in romance, or whether the fantasy is the hook for most readers. And finally, I definitely want to talk about how much juice I get from writing about women, specifically women of color who “misbehave”. Some of them are like Lorna, in one of my featured books, ‘The Fall’, a woman determined to blaze her own trail, arrogant, self-righteous and downright rude, and the hell with people who don’t like it. And some of them are like Zora in my other featured book for the event, ‘Young, Rich & Black’ who is determined to decide for herself who she’s going to be, even if that person is at odds with who everyone else says she should be. But I won’t get into it too much right now, because that’ll leave nothing for Saturday March 25th at the Towne Book Center Wine Bar and Café.

If you’re in the neighborhood, or can make it there, consider joining us, and joining in on the conversation. Register for the book signing and discussion free here, and/or for the wine tasting as well, for a small fee!

Hope to see you, but either way …

Happy Reading!

~N~

From ‘Because My Heart Said So’

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

About ‘Acceptable Losses’:

Quentin is in the middle of a separation from his wife that seems to have no conclusive end in sight, while Lena is stuck in Single Girl Hell. The only respite either of them have is their regular coffee dates, while working on shared projects at a very demanding job. Sick of hearing about Lena’s semidisastrous attempts to couple-up, Quentin decides to fix her up. With his brother. Seems like a perfect solution; after all, his brother is a decent enough guy and Lena deserves that. Perfect … until it appears that the fix-up might actually work.

From ‘Acceptable Losses’:

Mara looked amazing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So where to this year?”

“I might get to go to the UAE.”

“Wow.”

“Yeah. Really excited about that one.”

“Going alone?” Quentin asked.

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

“And if it weren’t for work?”

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

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

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

“I do want to know that, yes.”

“Quentin …”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You do? How?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah. Off the record.”

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

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

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

“Doing what?”

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

“That’s bullshit.”

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

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

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

“You want a divorce.”

“Yes,” Mara said.

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

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

“I don’t recall asking for …”

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

~~~

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

Lily’s Path to More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nia — hypothesizer

Jacinta — designer

Rae — diplomat

Lily – solutionist

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

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

-What’s your biggest writing fear?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And where can readers find you online?

Website: http://www.lilyjava.com

Twitter: @LilyJavaWrites

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

Amazon Author Page

About Lily Java

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

 

Sample Sunday: ‘Because My Heart Said So’

 

BMHSS Final CoverThis has been a crazy-exciting week! Along with Jacinta Howard, Lily Java and Rae Lamar, I’m thrilled to announce that our Friends-to-Lovers Collection is available on Amazon for pre-order in advance of our June 15 release date. We’re all a little shell-shocked honestly, and hadn’t thought too far beyond getting the book written so now that we have, we’re befuddled about what to do with ourselves. So let’s take this one day at a time, starting with a Sample for Sunday.

From ‘Because My Heart Said So’

About ‘Acceptable Losses’ by Nia Forrester

Quentin is in the middle of a separation from his wife that seems to have no conclusive end in sight, while Lena is stuck in Single Girl Hell. The only respite either of them have is their regular coffee dates, while working on shared projects at a very demanding job. Sick of hearing about Lena’s semi-disastrous attempts to couple-up, Quentin decides to fix her up. With his brother. Seems like a perfect solution; after all, his brother is a decent enough guy and Lena deserves that. Perfect … until it appears that the fix-up might actually work.


From ‘Acceptable Losses’:

“This was so not what I was expecting,” Lena said, laughing as she and Darius exited the fitness studio. “When a guy asks me out, I’m thinking wine … fancy hors d’oeuvres, a complete meal maybe …”

“We can do something like that next time,” Darius said.

“So now that you sweated my tail off, am I free to go?”

“Nah. We’re going to Jamba Juice,” he said, inclining his head to the left.

Lena sighed. “Okay, you’re in charge, so let’s do it.”

“You did well in there,” he said as they started walking.

“Thank you. Was it a test or something? Something you put women through to see whether you want to take them on a real date?”

“Nah. Why would I need to test you? My brother says you’re cool people, so you’re cool people.”

Lena shook her head. “That’s all it takes, huh? Q’s endorsement?”

“He’s never steered me wrong.” Darius shrugged.

“And is he in the habit of … steering women your way?”

Darius laughed. “I do a’ight on my own.”

Lena didn’t doubt it. While they were working out, more than a few gym-bunnies shot envious looks her way, their eyes skimming Darius’ frame, struggling not to stare. It was a special kind of high, she couldn’t lie—being with That Dude at the gym, being the object of all that envy.

When Lena called him back to let him know she was free, Darius told her to “dress very casually, and for an active evening.” So Lena had worn loose black yoga pants, her tennis shoes, and a long-sleeved, white Under Armour shirt, pulling her hair back into a high Afro-puff. She imagined he was probably taking her to play laser-tag or something, but when she met Darius at the address he gave her, she got out of the Uber and realized it was a Washington Sports Club.

We’re gonna work out, he’d announced, looking pleased with himself.

And they had. After a half hour warm-up on the treadmill, Darius took her through his routine of dead-lifts, bench presses, squats, and flies. Somewhere about forty minutes in, Lena felt those endorphins kick in, and actually started to enjoy herself.

And it didn’t hurt that she got to watch Darius’s muscles ripple and tremble as he put them to work. Even the grunting and groaning as he handled the heavy weights was kind of sexy.

Now, as they walked down the cobblestone sidewalks of Wisconsin Avenue, Lena was glad she’d come. Working out was something of an afterthought for her most days since she worked long hours, so it was good to see how well her body held up under pressure.

“After we get our smoothies, want to see my studio?”

Darius was walking closely at her side, but not touching her. Lena pretended not to notice the looks he got from other women. His tattoos didn’t just cover his forearms, she’d learned; they were all the way up to his shoulders and neck as well. And when he lifted his shirt in the gym to wipe his brow, there were even more on his chest.

“I would love to see your studio,” she said. “But you’re not going to talk me into getting a tattoo.”

He grinned. “No authentic tattoo artist would do such a thing.”

In Jamba Juice, they both got energy bowls and sat at one of the tables to eat, Darius’s long legs stretched out beneath it, on either side of Lena’s.

“So is this your standard Wednesday night?” she asked.

“This is my standard, any-day-of-the-week night. Except for Fridays. On Fridays, I hang with Q.”

“Every Friday?”

“Without fail.”

“That must get irritating for women you’re involved with. Friday is supposed to be date night, couples’ night. Do you ever bring your dates with you?”

“Nah. Friday is about me and Q. If she’s not with that, she can’t be with me.”

“That’s a pretty hard line to draw. I guess I should be flattered I was invited to hang out with you two last Friday.”

“You should,” Darius said, looking at her seriously for a moment. “He’s never done that before. Neither of us has. That’s how I knew you were important to him.”

Lena looked down into her bowl and scooped up a spoonful of strawberries and yogurt. “I don’t know about all that. We’re friends, and he wanted me to meet you, that’s all.”

“Hmm.” Darius looked at her searchingly. “Y’know, I’m going to share something with you about my brother …”

Lena looked up, waiting.

“He doesn’t … always know his own heart. So when he wanted me to meet you, like maybe so I could ask you out, I wondered, y’know. Especially when I saw you two together.”

“What did you wonder?”

“Whether friendship was all either of you wanted. From each other, I mean.”

“Did you ask him?”

“I did.”

“And what did he say?” Lena asked, trying not to sound too eager to know.

Darius shook his head. “I’d rather hear what you say.”

Lena forced herself to meet and hold Darius’ gaze. “Your brother’s married,” she said. “And even if he weren’t, we are most definitely just friends. I wouldn’t have accepted your invitation tonight otherwise.”

Every word of what she said was true, but then why did it feel like a lie?

Darius’s eyes held hers for a few moments more. “Okay,” he said finally.

Then he looked down into his bowl again and dug in, coming up with a heaping spoon of fruit and oat grain which he promptly ate, chewing like it was the most delicious thing he’d ever eaten.

When he swallowed, he leaned back and watched her eat a few bites. Lena pretended not to feel self-conscious at being so openly regarded, and kept eating, albeit more slowly and daintily than she might otherwise have done.

“So,” Darius said, “you want to hang out again sometime?”

Moment of truth, Lena.

Darius was waiting, his light-brown eyes trained on her face. All the confusion about Quentin aside, he was the most attractive man who had asked her out in eons. And the most fascinating. If she had met him any other way, and at any other time—like before she met Quentin—she would be jumping out of her skin to say ‘yes’. But she had met Quentin first and had only met Darius because he was Quentin’s brother.

Then she recalled what Marlon had said earlier that evening: He’s married, Lena, and it looks like he’s trying to stay that way.

“Yeah,” she said to Darius. “I think I would.”

He grinned. “Hurry up and finish that,” he said, “So I can walk you over to my studio. And talk you into that tattoo.”

 

‘Because My Heart Said So’ is AVAILABLE NOW TO PRE-ORDER!

‘Because My Heart Said So…’ – A Friends-to-Lovers Collection

Because My Heart Said So Launch Promo

This is going to be one of the coolest things I get to do this year, for sure. I’m collaborating with three of my favorite indie authors, Jacinta Howard, Rae Lamar and Lily Java to bring you ‘Because My Heart Said So …’ a collection of four Friends-to-Lovers novels to be released in June. Until then, we’re getting you better acquainted with the four stories, four couples, and of course the four writers who will be bringing them to you.

Join us on our Facebook page here for exclusive content, giveaways and a chance to connect with the authors from now up until our June release date.

And BONUS: Just in case you can’t wait that long, Jacinta Howard has a new release this month! ‘Finding Kennedy’, the next installment in the bestselling Prototype series drops on MAY 20th!

traviskennedyreference2

For a sample from ‘Finding Kennedy’, visit the author here.


 

‘Women: Withstanding All’ is AVAILABLE NOW!

12821341_1536520193308506_1308045738074794702_n (1)So, it’s RELEASE DAY for ‘Women: Withstanding All’ the anthology developed for Women’s History Month that features 14 women writers of disparate genres, including me. Get your copy, and then please leave a review. But if you need persuading, read the excerpt below from my writer-friend Lily Java!


Excerpt from: ‘Lucky Penny’ by Lily Java
(Mother)

Letter No. 1
July 14, 1996

Dearest Penny,

I was sitting on the grass in Central Park, watching your daddy and your Uncle Marcus play the stupidest game of Frisbee I’ve ever seen. It involved one-handed play since the other hand had a Bud in it. They were both pretty drunk off the six pack they’d brought into the park and hidden under the carriage of your stroller, even though neither of them had drunk more than two beers a piece. Yeah they’re lightweights, and we’re lucky the cops didn’t spot them; but they were having fun so I didn’t mind. Your daddy works so hard; I like to see him let loose when he can.

12828418_1765381300350623_150603436990195949_oYou were there, lying on the blanket Grandma crocheted for you. I worried that the yarn she’d used was too scratchy, but you never seem to mind and always fall asleep on it like it’s the most comfortable thing in the world. Not this time though. This time you were wide awake. Your beautiful, expressive brown eyes were opened to their fullest and staring at me with such intensity, it startled me. It was like you could see right through the back of my head. It surprised me so, I said, “Oh!” Both my hands came up to my mouth to hold back all the other errant exclamations that wanted to come out of me.

Either your dad or your uncle must have seen the gesture because the next thing I know, they both came running. Your father knelt in front of me and said, “Honey, what’s wrong? And I blurted out the one thing that probably would succeed in doing nothing to ease his mind. Yes, your altogether ludicrous mother said, “We can’t die!” And then, your dad’s eyebrows shifted to a different height on his head very near his hairline. I’m going to digress here and say that’s the same exact look he gave me when I told him I was pregnant, but that’s a totally different story.

I could feel them, your dad and his brother exchanging looks, but I kept staring at you. See, it was in that moment approximately ten weeks after you were born that it hit me like a sledgehammer on the foot. You were so utterly beautiful lying there; truly the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. It was the look on your face, I think; so innocent, such trust, such helplessness, and so much love all mixed together and confined in the face of an angel; and it was up to me and your father to protect you, cherish you, and love you. That meant we had to take care of ourselves until you weren’t helpless anymore. No, it wasn’t a sledgehammer, it was something larger—an anvil around my neck.

Your dad reached over to you then. “Lucky,” he said, easily getting your undivided attention in a way he often did with me too. “You really need to stop scaring Mommy.” And the spell you had me under was broken. Whatever you had communicated to me in that moment wasn’t gone, it was just released into the atmosphere and leaving me with only two thoughts: One, I need to join a gym, and two, I need to start writing you letters.

To connect with Lily Java:
Amazon: http://goo.gl/Wx0bkh
Email: lilyjavawrites@gmail.com
FB Page: www.facebook.com/AuthorLilyJava
Twitter: @lilyjavawrites
Website: www.lilyjava.com