You’re Invited to a Book Chat on ‘The Come Up’!

Book chat The Come UpSome of you, I know in the “real world” but sadly, others I only know in cyberspace. That makes it difficult for me to interface with folks who enjoyed my work (or didn’t) and who want to talk about it. But thank goodness for Facebook! It’s provided me the space to communicate directly with readers who not only give me feedback on my work, but great ideas about what I might write next.

After I wroteAfterwards and Afterburn, my most well-received books to date, I heard from a lot of readers who were intrigued with a secondary character, Jamal Turner. The resident Casanova from those books, who “tapped more ass than Usher.” I never planned a book on Jamal, and was frankly a little perplexed about why folks found him that interesting. But as I re-read the parts of my book where he appeared, I too became intrigued and wondered more about him. And it was from that ‘wondering’ that ‘The Come Up’ was born.

So again, I have to thank my readers, not just for liking what I write, but for inspiring what I write. Jamal Turner’s story led to the development of two other characters, Makayla and Devin. Now I’ve heard from a few folks that they’d love to talk about them and that’s amazing. So, hosted by my good friend, writer, Tia Kelly, I will be participating in an online book chat this Sunday at 5PM EST, on Facebook.

If you have the time and the will, please join us by clicking here and RSVP-ing to the event. There will be polls, games, and giveaways, and of course, just good old-fashioned conversation about books. And if you haven’t yet read ‘The Come Up’, get your copy!

On Amazon or Barnes&Noble.com

About the book:

Jamal Turner is near the top of his game. Widely-known as the trusted right-hand man to music mogul Chris Scaife, he’s poised to become chief operating officer of his friend and mentor’s international recording conglomerate. But while his career prospects have never been better, Jamal is still plagued by the memories of his humble beginnings, threatening to pull him back down just as he’s on the come up. 

Makayla Hughes knows who she is and where she comes from, and she flat out refuses to allow working in the high-powered recording industry to change her or her most closely-held friendships. But when she’s thrown into close quarters, working on a project with the notorious Jamal Turner, she begins to wonder whether her determination to ‘keep it real’ is also keeping her world very, very small. 

Jamal is drawn to Makayla, but he can’t let the man he used to be stand in the way of the man he’s becoming. There’s no doubt she fits into the life Jamal used to have, but what’s not as clear is whether she belongs in the life he wants. 

SAMPLE SUNDAY: From ‘The Come Up’ — AVAILABLE NOW!

ComeUpMicCoverflat

FROM ‘THE COME UP’:

When she was gone, Jamal exhaled a deep sigh and leaned back in his seat. No one could ever accuse him of lacking self-control where women were concerned, ever again. The good news was, she seemed not to recall much of the evening beyond the fact that she had too much to drink. If she had, she would know that she wasn’t the only person who had skirted dangerously close to losing their head.

After the first couple drinks, Jamal stopped having alcohol altogether. He had to drive himself home, after all. And he had to make sure she got home okay as well. But Makayla kept right on guzzling whatever he ordered. And once she loosened up, she started talking, about school, about her love affair with the entertainment business and even about a girl group she tried to start when she was in middle school, called the Hellcats.  And she was hella-cute when she was tipsy, often leaning in close so he could hear her, and flipping a couple of those locs out of her face as she talked, the gesture fluid and sexy. Her scent was one Jamal recognized, called Clean. And that was how she smelled. Clean. If she was a date and not an employee, he would have closed the distance between them, met her halfway and buried his face in the crook of her neck, inhaling her and kissing her there …

What the hell? He was doing it again!

With each successive drink last night, Makayla’s eyes grew brighter and she got chattier, and before he knew it, he was seriously feeling her, like any other woman he might have met during a night out, sneaking peeks down the front of her romper which gapped a little in the front and offered up brief glimpses of cleavage. And it wasn’t just the occasional sightings of the swell of her breasts, either. It was her humor, her intelligence and the way she obviously studied the entertainment business, just like he studied it. Makayla Hughes was definitely a thinking man’s kind of woman. Sexy he could get any day of the week, but sexy and smart … there was no greater aphrodisiac.

The thing that almost did him in entirely was when she started talking about why groups like N-Sync got so hot.

See, she said, leaning in tantalizingly close once again. It’s the transference of feelings white teen girls have for Black teen boys. So you’ve got your Nick Carters and Justin Timberlakes, right? All blonde and All-American, but they have a little Black boy swagger in ‘em, right? And that, my friend, makes it socially-acceptable for these little white girls to lie in bed and secretly touch themselves to whatlet’s face itis essentially Black music

Jamal almost spat his drink out, he laughed so hard.

Just listening to her break things down like that—smart as a whip even when she was damn near close to drunk—made his dick hard. Jamal had to excuse himself for a minute and go give himself a pep-talk in the men’s room, reminding himself that she was off-limits for a whole host of reasons, and that he had a perfectly nice thing he was getting started with whatshername who was closer to his age-bracket, very attractive her-damn-self, and probably just as smart as Makayla. He spent almost fifteen minutes mentally talking himself down until it bordered on ill-mannered to have left her alone for so long.

But when he got back to their table, she was nowhere in sight. His head whipping around in near-panic thinking she’d wandered off in her semi-drunken state, Jamal finally spotted her. Leaning over the balcony and looking down at the dance floor, she was being chatted up by a brother in too-tight jeans and a crewneck shirt. And since he had no reason like Jamal did, to restrain himself, he was leaning real close to Makayla and she was yucking it up with him like they were old friends. Jamal watched for a few moments, taking in her smile, her posture and the way she flipped those locs out of her face. A moment’s masculine competitiveness overtook him and he was seconds away from going to get her when she turned and saw him.

When she did, Makayla touched her companion on the arm and indicated that their time together was over, making her way back over to him, still smiling and with a fresh drink in hand.

Do you know who that was? she asked in an incredulous stage-whisper. Victor Cruz from the New York Giants!

Never heard of him, Jamal lied.

Makayla giggled. She was so freaking adorable when she giggled.

Me neither. But I figured he’s a pro-football player so that has to count for something, right?

Nah. Jamal said staring down at her. It doesn’t count for shit.

And that was the moment, right then—him looking down at her, her smiling up at him, both of them standing so close, ostensibly so they could hear each other over the music. Jamal leaned in, she lifted her chin … and sneezed. Right in his face. They both laughed in surprise.

Makayla reached up and with a cool damp hand, wiped both his cheeks, giggling some more.

Oh my god, she said. Did I get you?

Nah, he said. You didn’t get me.

But almost.

NOW AVAILABLE ON AMAZON!

SAMPLE SUNDAY: From ‘ The Come Up’ — COMING MARCH 14.

Makaylapromo2From ‘The Come Up’:

“Don’t you want to know what happened?” she asked.

“Nope.”

“Really?”

Jamal saw out of the corner of his eye that she had turned in her seat to look at him. “Really.”

“How come?”

Pulling out of traffic and onto a side-street, he hit the button above his visor that opened his building’s private garage. As they pulled down the ramp, Makayla seemed momentarily distracted, looking around the well-lit expanse in the underbelly of one of Manhattan’s most exclusive addresses. The apartment was expensive, no doubt about that, but the parking space was as well. In New York City, off-street parking was among the most prime of prime real estate.

“So how come you’re not curious about what happened when I went upstairs?” Makayla asked again.

“Because I’ve seen it a million times. I know that scenario so well, I could write the script.” He backed into the numbered parking space that was mere steps away from the elevator. Its location had been one of the main selling points, and had set him back an extra ten grand over some of the other spaces would have, but Jamal still considered it money well-spent.

“That’s kind of sad.”

“What is?”

“What these guys do to their women. Just because they can. All the cheating and lying. And y’know what the saddest part was?”

Jamal turned off the engine and gave her his complete focus. “What was the saddest part?”

“I could tell she didn’t believe me. She knew I was lying about it being my bag, but she chose to accept it. It was almost like she wanted me to tell the lie.”

Jamal shrugged. “Maybe she did. Because then it gives her the excuse she needs to stay.”

At that, Makayla said nothing, looking straight ahead.

“C’mon, let’s go up,” Jamal said, touching her arm. “Forget about all that.”

While they rode up in the elevator, Makayla remained quiet and Jamal wondered whether he’d made a mistake by exposing her so early to the seedier side of their work. This wasn’t the first time he had helped one of his artists out of a jam when they were deceiving a spouse. In fact, this was one of the tamest episodes he’d ever been involved in; and it was only because he knew the spouse in question that he was able to send Makayla up there on her own. Some women were considerably less reasonable and much more prone to violence. Once, he had personally had to talk down the knife-wielding fiancée of a top ten recording artist while she threatened to “slice his Johnson off.”

Three-Base’s domestic drama wasn’t the worst Jamal had seen by a longshot, but he was definitely a serial offender in the game of adultery; and Makayla was right, Missy wanted to be lied to. She made a lot of noise about her husband’s infidelities, but had yet to make even the slightest gesture toward separation. In fact, the few times he’d been caught red-handed, her way of coping had been to slam the other woman on social media. It was hard to maintain sympathy for a woman in a situation like that.

In the hallway leading to his apartment, Makayla walked slowly, so Jamal modulated his pace to match hers. Tonight at the book party, he wanted to spend a lot more time with her, but it was a work event, so there were about a dozen people he needed to touch base with. While he did, he couldn’t help but watch her across the room. She spent most of her time with Devin, both of them obviously thick as thieves, talking with heads together and laughing at private jokes. Occasionally, someone approached Devin and Makayla wandered away on her own, a drink in hand that she never actually took a single sip from that he could see, and an almost shy smile on her face.

She was still getting her legs under her in this world, and hadn’t yet come to realize that at events like that, she was supposed to be networking, introducing herself to people, and getting in with the right ones. Jamal would teach her all that in time.

“Here we are.”

He stopped at his door and fished out his keys while Makayla waited. Holding her clutch purse in both hands, Jamal could see the subtle lift and fall of her shoulders as she took a breath. She was nervous.

When the door opened, she paused before going in. Jamal watched her take it in. Immediately opposite the front door was the sitting area, flanked by a wall of windows, opening out to magnificent view of the Hudson. This view alone had sold Jamal on the place when he first looked at it. The price, then, had been somewhat out of his reach and the mortgage required him to forgo a lot of other stuff for a while, like furniture. For eighteen months, he’d lived in an apartment empty of furnishings except for a bed and dresser, just so he could come home to this view.

Makayla took a few steps in, and looked right and left. His living room was ultra-modern, with pieces in white and pewter. A white stacked slate fireplace was to the left, and behind it the kitchen. To the right, a long narrow hallway led to the two large bedroom suites, and an entertainment room where Jamal rarely entertained, but often sat with this laptop or tablet, or watching a solitary game. Though he had imagined his bachelor pad as teeming with people and parties, once he moved in, he found that he really wanted it to be his sanctuary. On occasion he had women over, but the parties never happened. His home was, thus far, his greatest accomplishment and he wasn’t eager to expose it to the uncertainties that came with a room full of rowdy guests.

Without waiting for his invitation, Makayla walked through the rooms, one by one, and Jamal silently followed her. She opened doors and looked in the bathrooms (all three of them), sat on his chairs and went to stare for a few moments out the living room window.

“Wow,” she said, when finally she had seen everything.

Jamal smiled.

“I never knew anyone who could afford to live like this in the middle of New York City.”

“I didn’t always live like this.” Jamal shrugged.

“I bet you’re happy you kicked your corporate law career to the curb, huh?”

“Yeah, but not because of the money. Or not just because of the money.” He headed for the kitchen, opening the refrigerator, and Makayla followed. “You want something to eat? They didn’t have much at that party.”

“What have you got?” She put a hand on his back as she leaned around him to peer into the open fridge.

Her hand on his back, exerting very slight pressure, the light scent of her perfume and just the awareness of her being here, in his space felt good. Jamal turned to face her and Makayla looked up at him, expectantly. Her eyes were wide, and large, her nostrils flared slightly and her lips fell apart a little as though she was about to speak. If that was what she intended, Jamal didn’t wait to find out. He kissed her. He couldn’t seem to stop doing that.

Sometimes their kisses were almost whimsical, like in the car earlier outside of Three-Base’s building. Sometimes they were exciting, and dangerous, like when he grabbed her in his office and stole some time before they had to go to a staff meeting. But now, this kiss, this was something else entirely. It was a prelude to something more, so Jamal took his time with it, tugging her lower lip between his, using the tip of his tongue to tease hers and letting her do the same. Both her hands were around him now, and she leaned her head to one side so they could kiss deeper, and harder.

Suddenly, a high-pitched whine broke the quiet and Makayla jerked away from him.

“It’s the fridge. It has a sensor for when the door’s left open,” he explained. Moving them away from it, he reached over to shut it but Makayla stopped him.

“I actually am hungry,” she said with a sly smile.

“Me too,” Jamal said, and she smiled wider, knowing that he wasn’t talking about food.

They made omelets with gruyere, diced tomatoes and onions, and when Jamal tried to go easy on the onions, Makayla playfully dumped more of them in. Jamal planned to take her into the entertainment room to eat but she instead wanted to go out to the balcony where they ignored the dinette and sat side by side on the same lounge chair. The chair was large but still, to accommodate them both, Makayla had to be partly reclined against his chest, which made it awkward for Jamal to eat, but he didn’t say anything because he liked having her there.

“So … about this whole thing with Three-Base,” Makayla said, while she dug into her omelet.

“Aw, man, are you still on that?”

“Yeah. I’m just curious. Don’t you ever feel … like you’re contributing to it, by being the alibi when those guys mess around on their women? Doesn’t it ever make you feel guilty?”

“Not really, no.”

“No?” Makayla turned a little so she could look at him.

The loc that he’d pulled from her bun earlier that evening had come free once again and was resting on her shoulder. Jamal reached for it, feeling its coarse thickness between his fingers. Her locs smelled like coconut.

“I don’t make them cheat. And whether I was there or not, that’s what they would be doing.”

“You sure about that?” she challenged. “If they didn’t know they had a clean-up crew, would they really be as brazen as they are?”

“I’m not the Morality Police. I’m a guy who develops artists, and does what he can to make sure nothing gets in the way of that development …”

“Or in the way of Scaife making money.”

Jamal shrugged. “That too, yeah.”

Makayla turned and leaned against him again, resuming her meal. Though she didn’t say anything, he could feel her disappointment, her judgment.

“If you’re thinking I condone what they do, that I’m cool with it, you would be wrong. If you’re thinking that because they do it, I would do it too …”

“Would you?” She turned and looked at him again.

“No.”

“I want to believe that,” she said finally.

“Look at me.”

She did.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” he said simply.

“You might not mean to,” Makayla said. “But …”

Jamal grinned. “How do I know you’re not going to hurt me?”

 

Goodbye #30Days30Stories!

30 days 30 storiesAbout a month ago, I got this notion that I would work out my writing muscle a little by posting 30 stories over 30 days on my Facebook page. The idea was that they would be short pieces, no more than 400 words or so, and all original stuff. Today officially marks the end of the 30 Day Experiment.

Two intrepid writers joined me, Angelia Vernon Menchan who writes real-world, grown-and-sexy fiction, all of which you can check out here. And Kim Golden who writes women’s fiction that often features American expats, navigating foreign territory both geographically and emotionally. You can check out all of Kim’s work here. Thanks to them both, I hung in there, writing stories day after day, sometimes not because I felt like it, but just to keep up with them!

EmbryAngelia even got a whole story out of it, and it looks like another in the works. ‘Embry Gets Her Man?’ is available now on Amazon for 99 cents!

I think on most days, we far exceeded the word count, and on other days, the material wasn’t brand new, but had been polished for public viewing. It was a marathon during which I was grateful to have company. If you want to check out what came of it, go to my page and scroll down to read them all.

So a funny thing happened during those 30 days, my thirst to write came back. Here’s a secret, writing is always a compulsion, but it isn’t always an enjoyable one. Sometimes it’s like that uncomfortable itch that you want to scratch but can’t quite reach. Other times it’s like salve to the soul. And during these 30 days, it became that for me again.

So thanks again Kim  and Angelia! And thanks to all of you who stopped by to read our random offerings.

So what now? I’d planned to release ‘The Come Up‘ this week, but now I think I will let it marinate a couple weeks more while I get some of my #30Days characters out of my head.

But I owe you one last story don’t I? So here it is, the 30th story for #30Days30Stories, a sample from my upcoming release, ‘The Come Up’.

 


 

In this excerpt, Jamal Turner is with Madison, a woman he’s supposed to want to be with, but he hesitates. And maybe–though he doesn’t know it yet–that hesitation has something to do with his newest team member, the much-too-young for him, Makayla:

Madison was standing naked at the window, overlooking Old San Antonio. From behind, she looked like something that should be captured in a painting, recorded so that her figure could be admired for the ages, long after they had both turned to dust.

Good sex had a way of making him poetic.

“I’d better hit the shower if I want to make that flight,” she said without moving. “It was irresponsible of me to come.”

“You sorry you did?”

“No. I’m never sorry after I see you.” At that she did turn, and the sight of her from the front was no less arousing than she had been from the rear. Madison smiled and then made her way back to the immense bed, leaning over it to kiss him. “But each time we do this, I get … scared.”

“What of?”

“You know,” she said.

Yeah. He knew. They talked about it. Over and over, they’d talked about the fear Madison had, of being strung along. Of falling for a man who had no will, and maybe no ability to fall for her. And each time they had that talk, Jamal knew he should probably put a stop to this. Because while Madison was beautiful and good company, after over a month and a half since they’d first slept together, she had become precisely what she told him she didn’t want to be—a woman he was fond of, who he was just kickin’ it with.

The irony was, Madison may have become more, but for her insistence on forcing those heavy conversations prematurely and repeatedly. It was all the damn talking that was making him hold back when he wasn’t sure he would have otherwise. But for all the talking, Jamal would never know; he might have been in love with her by now.

This trip to meet him in San Antonio for the weekend had been his idea. And maybe it was a bad one, because Madison had flown out to meet him in three other cities, each times when she said she had “a little time to kill” or “nothing much planned for the weekend.” The first time she’d met him at one of their venues it was just for a night and that seemed harmless enough, but the second time she’d spent two nights, and Jamal had not only taken her to the club where Devin was performing but to dinner with the team afterwards.

And he told himself it was okay, because he wasn’t seeing anyone else at the moment and had no time to chase tail while on the road, but after all that “boyfriend behavior” Madison had now become increasingly moody, even after sex. Particularly after sex, like now.

“How many more weeks until you come back to New York?” she asked.

“Just three and a half.”

“That’s not so bad.” She kissed him and let him caress her breast and pull her back down to blanket his body with hers.

“Nah. That’s not so bad.”

“But I’ve been thinking …”

Uh oh. Here came one of those talks again.

“… maybe we shouldn’t communicate until then. Maybe …” Madison let the word stretch out for a while. “Maybe those three weeks should be time we take to think about where we want things to go with us.”

“Madison …”

“I know, I know,” she said, placing two fingers across his lips. “You like to ‘let it flow’. But I know myself, Jamal. I’m going to go crazy wondering where this is headed. And I’m going to drive you crazy as well. So I think it might be better if you just take this time and think about it.”

He said nothing. He was already sick of thinking about it.

“And when you get back in three weeks, if I don’t hear from you, I’ll know that that’s your answer. And I’ll leave you alone.”

“You’re making a job out of this. Getting to know someone, figuring out whether you fit … it shouldn’t be a project, Madison.”

Pulling back from him a little, she sat up, folding her legs beneath her. Jamal raised himself on his elbows, watching her.

“Look,” she said. “I’m not stupid. I know how this looks. How it must feel. Like I’m pushing an agenda that you haven’t even had enough time to decide whether you want. I get that. But I know myself, Jamal. And I know you …”

He gave a brief laugh. “We’ve known each other barely two and a half months.”

“Yeah. But I know you. We talk a lot too, right? You’re a good guy. You want to have a good life. And you try to do the right thing by the women you get involved with. You treat me like …”

Madison paused and looked down. For a moment Jamal thought with horror that she might start crying, but she pulled it together.

“You treat me like a queen. I could easily fall in love with you. And if I did, I would probably love you for the rest of my life. But love is a choice. Don’t you see? Just like you make choices for you career, I want you to think about whether you want to choose me.”

“I told you, I don’t know if …”

“No. That whole ‘letting it flow’ thing is a cop-out. If you want to apply yourself to making this work, it’ll work. It’s that simple. So that’s what I want you to think about. Whether you want to give it a shot and make it work. With me.”

“And if I said I did, we’d what? Get engaged, announce a date?” Jamal shook his head. “That’s crazy, Madison.”

“No, I’m not saying that. I’m just saying that if you decide you choose me, then we’re deciding that we’re both on the same page, working toward that. And that one day, yes, we could—when the time is right—get … we’d plan to get … married.”

Jamal let himself fall onto his back and looked up at the ceiling.

“Is it really that crazy?” Madison asked, reaching out to stroke his chest. “To ask that you look at me, look at what we have now in the same way you would when you’re signing a new artist? Consider what you want for your life, and think about whether I’m a good bet. That’s all I’m saying.”

Her soft fingers traversed his pecs, down over his abs and Jamal reached down, putting his hand over hers. Madison turned her hand palm upward and interlaced her fingers with his.

“I know you’re not in love with me now,” she said quietly. “But think about whether I’m the kind of woman you could love. Who could be standing next to you when you head up Scaife Enterprises? And when you buy that country house you say you want … when you … have babies. The kind who would be a support and a helpmate. And if for some reason you can see me in that picture, choose me, Jamal. And then let’s start building something together.”

It was crazy, Jamal thought after he walked Madison downstairs to get her a car to the airport. He couldn’t choose his life-partner like he did an artist for one of SE’s labels. He couldn’t apply pragmatism to the process of finding his wife.

But as he walked back into the hotel lobby, Jamal couldn’t help but wonder: why the hell not?

There was no denying that on paper, Madison was pretty close to everything he would have chosen for himself. And not just on paper, in actuality she was pretty damn close to what he would choose. Beautiful, accomplished, poised, intelligent, ambitious and funny. Not to mention just enough of a freak in bed to make him keep suggesting these visits, even when his better judgment told him it might be his mouth writing a check his ass couldn’t cash in the long run.

But he had to hand it to her; she’d been forthright about her needs and her wants from the very beginning. And her reasoning was in reality not that crazy at all. How else did one pick a mate? On the basis of some unnamed, hard-to-define intuition, some warm and fuzzy feeling that they were The One? That was what was irrational, not what she was suggesting. Madison was simply asking him to look over her attributes, decide whether they fit in the life he wanted, and then if so, choose to build that life with her.

Choosing didn’t even mean he had to give her a ring right away. But unless he was mistaken, it meant that she would expect him to apply the same seriousness and focus to making that life with her as he did to making dozens of young performers into stars. In that arena, his focus had no doubt paid off. Why couldn’t it pay off here as well?

 


 

Happy Reading!

N.

 

SAMPLE SUNDAY: From ‘The Come Up’

 

Come Up Mic Promo2

From ‘The Come Up’:

Oh god, she was going to die. She was going to just D.I.E. No one could throw up as much as she had and not just keel over and drift into the sweet hereafter. Her stomach felt like it had been literally turned inside out like an old gym sock, and Makayla was pretty sure that was what its lining tasted like as well. Bitter and bilious, foul and … ugh, just thinking about it made her want to vomit again.

Slowly rolling over, she reached for the pail next to her bed, too weak to do anything about the rancid stench that rose from it. She would have to get up and empty it. The odor wasn’t helping her already fragile stomach, and pretty soon she would have to manage being in vertical position so she could make sure her grandmother took her medication.

Putting a hand over her mouth in case there was some of the same projectile vomiting she’d experienced in the wee hours of the morning, she managed to slide over the edge of the bed and sit on the floor. It was cool, which felt unexpectedly good, so Makayla allowed herself to slide the rest of the way down until she was curled in a fetal position, her cheek pressed against the wood. Just as she was beginning to entertain the thought of taking a short nap there, her phone rang.

The noise was jarring and unpleasant to her clanging brain, so she made herself sit up as quickly as was possible in her current condition, and groped about until she found it, buried somewhere among her bed sheets.

“Yes?” She croaked as she answered it.

On the other end someone laughed. “Thought you said you could keep up, Hughes.”

Jerking upright, Makayla was rewarded by a swimming, dizzying sensation, accompanied by the now familiar roiling in the pit of her stomach.

“Jamal?” she said.

She’d forgotten—probably too drunk to recall—that it was Friday, not Saturday. A workday; and unless she got her ass in gear, it would be a late-for-work day as well.

“Yeah. I need you in here for a nine-thirty with your boy. Drink lots of water, Hughes. And then call for a car.”

“A car?” Makayla repeated.

“We have a car service. I’ll have Karlie send you a car. You need to be here for this meeting. C’mon now. I thought you said you could keep up.”

“I can. I just … never…” Makayla reached for the pail, hoping against hope that she wasn’t about to throw up while her boss listened on the other end of the line. “I just …”

“Here’s a tip,” Jamal said, amusement still in his voice. “Every alcoholic beverage you consume must be followed by twice its volume in water. No exceptions. Because of that rule, I haven’t had a hangover since I was nineteen. It’ll make you piss like a racehorse all night, but you won’t miss work the next day. And you better not miss work today either. I need you in here.”

And with that, he hung up, leaving Makayla to hug the pail next to her and upchuck the very last remnants of whatever that greenish-gray stuff was, and then stand up to stagger her way to the shower.

When she made it into the office, she was only fifteen minutes late for work, and comfortably on time for the meeting that Jamal said he needed her for. Clutching a large bottle of water, Makayla walked slowly toward her office, ignoring the stares and titters from the offices flanking the long hallway. She looked like half-baked cow crap; she knew that, but just didn’t care. Having mustered up only as much energy as it took to drag on a rumpled gray linen skirt and white t-shirt with black gladiator sandals. She wasn’t even sure whether her last pedicure was holding up but had neither the will nor the energy to go in search of her ballet flats.

All she could manage before heading out to the waiting car was a quick check that Nana had taken her pills and a promise that she would be home early to cook.

Now, as she got to her office, she was surprised to find none other than Devin sitting at her desk, feet up, and playing around with something on his phone. Wearing jeans and a distressed army jacket, he looked like the very antithesis of how she felt—bursting with energy, health and a decent night’s sleep.

“What the … damn, Kay, what you been up to?”

“Shut up,” she said shoving his feet off her desk.

“You smell like … Are you drunk?”

She was. Apart from being hung-over, Makayla realized as she swayed unsteadily in the shower earlier that morning, that she was also still a teensy bit inebriated. Insufficient hours had passed for her to be completely clear of all the alcohol in her system. Jamal Turner had been no joke to keep pace with. He ordered drink after drink, each and every one names she had heard of but never personally imbibed—Courvoisier, Perignon, Bombay Sapphire, Tequila Ley … drinks that should probably never be consumed in the same sitting. But like an idiot, she had.

“I was out last night,” she explained, collapsing into the vacant chair and taking another swig of water.

“Who with? I never known you to drink like that.”

“Long story.”

Before she could say another word, Jamal Turner was leaning into her office. Nodding at Devin, he crooked a finger at Makayla.

“Lemme holla at you right quick,” he said. “Devin, we’ll be back to get you in a minute.”

Standing once again with some effort, Makayla followed Jamal down a few doors to his office at the end of the hall, noting that he looked none the worse for the wear. His office, which she’d only been in a couple times before, was more like the living room of a luxury apartment, decked out with modern showpiece furniture. The desk and computer were relegated to the least obtrusive corner of the room, like afterthoughts, which made sense since most of Jamal’s “work” seemed to happen elsewhere. Like at Onyx.

“Take a seat,” he told her, indicating a comfortable chair near the door.

Makayla obeyed, while he pushed his door so that it was almost but not quite shut.

“So how’re you feelin’?” he asked.

Makayla shook her head, not able to muster up the will or energy to lie.

“Don’t ever do that again,” he said.

Sitting even more upright, she looked at him in surprise. “But you …”

“I goaded you into it,” Jamal said. “Egged you on?”

“Yeah. Exactly!”

Jamal nodded. “And I’m your boss so you thought you had to go along with it.”

“Well, yeah.” Makayla moved closer to the edge of her seat. If he was about to reprimand her for behavior he had practically forced her into, she was going to flip out on his ass. If she could manage it, feeling as crappy as she did.

“The people you’ll be working with are big-name performers. People used to having folks do what they tell them to do.” Jamal sat on a chair opposite hers. He wasn’t smiling now, but looking directly at her, his expression focused and compelling her to do the same. “Most of them work hard; some of them play even harder. Last night, the drinking you did …”

“We did.”

“No. You. I drank one drink for every two you had, Hughes.”

Makayla was shaking her head as Jamal nodded his.

“You did. I counted. I put something in front of you and you drank it. I only sometimes drank mine. Most of the night I had water with lemon.”

“But …”

“Why?” he supplied for her.

“Yeah. Why? Were you trying to get me drunk?”

“I don’t know. I wasn’t sure you’d take the bait. But you did.”

“I still don’t get why you would do that,” Makayla said, beginning to get a little angry.

“Like I said. The people we work for—the performers? They’re our bosses, just like I’m your boss. Sometimes they play real hard, and they try to get us to play with them. Like we’re their peers. Their … friends. But we’re not. We’re the help.”

Makayla listened.

“Those high-dollar, high-alcohol drinks I gave you? Some of our clients indulge like that on a daily. And they don’t always enjoy having someone sitting across from them who’s stone-cold sober, looking all judgmental, making them feel like they might not have things under control.

“So they’ll push you, press you, and sometimes even ridicule you if you don’t join in. And once in a while they have other things, too—cocaine, heroin, hell, I’ve even seen some with PCP—and they might try to push that on you as well. You need to learn how to say ‘no’. Even when you’re talking to your boss.”

Makayla nodded.

So. It had been a test. She had known it was, but it wasn’t the test she thought it was. And she had failed miserably.

Seeming to see something on her face, Jamal leaned forward, his eyes more sympathetic now, and holding hers.

“Look, this is a lot to take in. I just don’t want to see you learn it the hard way. We’re tourists in that life, you and me. We don’t live there like they do. Okay? So you go in, you take a look around, you sample some of the local specialties if you want. But don’t get caught up.”

“So I should have said no to the drinks.”

Jamal shrugged. “Or said yes. But know your limits, and have only as much as you can handle. Every minute you spend with the talent you’re working. And you need to stay sharp, especially when they’re not. Remember that. They’re not your friends, they’re your work.”

“But not with Devin,” she said. “He’s not just work to me.”

“I understand. But now he’s not just your friend either.”

COMING SOON.

SAMPLE SUNDAY: From ‘The Come Up’

Where he works2He was getting way too old for this.

Jamal Turner squared his shoulders, shoved back against the crowd, and made his way toward the front of the club. It was a low-end joint in a non-gentrified neighborhood in Brooklyn, where it was still possible—if not likely—that a luxury car might be broken into, or outright stolen. Driving had been a risk, but he would want to make a hasty departure after his mission was accomplished.

Tonight, the mission was simple. Meet and make nice with an artist named Devin Parks. All he needed to do was lay eyes on the youngster, size him up and get him to agree to a real meeting. Under normal circumstances that was the kind of errand just about anyone from Scaife could be sent on. Hell, they could send an intern and have them drop the name of any one of Chris Scaife’s labels and most artists would call within hours. Jamal would return to his office the following morning to find voicemail awaiting him, from someone who was eager but trying not to sound like it.

This time, though, would be different. Devin Parks was one of the most confounding and exasperating of breeds—he was indie and anti-establishment, and to top it off, hella-talented. Normal scouts wouldn’t do for the likes of Devin Parks. This one would have to be wooed.

Just as he was about to make it to the edge of the foot-high ramshackle structure that passed for the stage, a young woman in a black dress stumbled across his path and spilled half the contents of her cup on Jamal’s pant-leg.

“Oh shi… sorry!” She giggled, clearly well on her way to becoming inebriated.

Wincing, Jamal looked down at the dark stain and kept moving. The sooner he found his contact the better. Meeting Devin Parks was apparently akin to a top-secret spy operation. Because he was suspicious of anything that smelled like ‘The Man’, Parks didn’t like being approached by recording industry insiders so a “contact” was necessary to ensure a civil conversation. This kid was going to be a real pain in the ass if he ever actually became famous. But truth be told, he already was kind of famous. On the underground club circuit, Devin Parks had made quite the name for himself with his unique blend of spoken word, hip-hop and be-bop, reminiscent of Mos Def’s early days.

Exploding onto the scene about a year earlier, Parks had created the kind of buzz that got lots of labels paying close attention, scouts following him around to clubs and trying to gain his confidence, that kind of thing. Jamal himself had heard the stories, about the twenty-something phenom with the pretty-boy face, wiry frame and sun-ripened wheat-colored eyes. Sure to be a goldmine—that was the word on the street. Not much grooming and styling required—a readymade star. Those didn’t happen too often anymore in this new world of manufactured teen idols, so Devin Parks had lots of folks excited, and chasing him around New York like a bunch of starstruck tween girls.

Jamal was more than happy to watch things play out organically, having long passed the stage of his career where he needed to chase artists. Now, they came to him. But this one was different. His boss had actually heard the music; some independently-produced, poorly-recorded tracks of Devin Parks’ had apparently made their way into Chris Scaife’s state-of-the-art Bang & Olufsen sound system when he picked his son up at college after his freshman year at Notre Dame.

Listening to one of the more popular tracks as he drove down from South Bend, Indiana, Chris had called Jamal from the car and asked whether he’d heard of Devin Parks. The music was original, the hoarse, raw and authentic voice of the artist stirring, and to top it all off, Chris’ nineteen-year old son raved about him.

Yeah. He’s indie, Jamal replied, knowing immediately what was coming. Chris Scaife didn’t like to be behind the eight-ball on anything.

Indie? What the hell does that mean? That you can’t get him? Just the word, ‘indie’ was a thorn in the side of many a recording executive, and Chris Scaife was no different. He didn’t just dislike being cut out of the action, he claimed to find it offensive when good music was butchered by bad production. But in all fairness, not all indie productions were bad…

Nah, Boss Man. It just means he doesn’t want to be ‘got’.

I don’ wanna hear that, Chris said. Find a way to sign him.

When that order was delivered, it had just about wrecked Jamal’s quiet Sunday afternoon. He’d been spending it with the fresh-faced, brand-new winner of a popular modeling reality show. She was twenty-one, eager and very, very limber. New models were Jamal’s preference. With their eyes still starry, and a fire in their breasts to be famous, they were generally as uninterested as he in being slowed down by something as pedestrian as a “relationship.” They liked him because he had a rep for being a beast in the sack, was photographed a lot, and could take them places where they would meet people who were already famous.

And he liked them because they were, well, young, and models … and very, very limber.

But after Chris’ call, Jamal went into immediate work-mode. He’d never let the big boss down and he wasn’t about to start now, not when his fortunes at Scaife were about to take a sharp upturn. Maybe even all the way to the top. It was rumored that since his marriage, Chris was looking to pass the baton, taking more of a backseat in day-to-day operations and spending time with his wife and kids. Jamal couldn’t say he blamed him. He happened to be very close friends with the wife in question, and Robyn Scaife was just the kind of woman who would make a man want to dramatically change the course of his life. And if he played his cards right, Chris Scaife’s decision to change could also mean a dramatic change for Jamal as well. He liked the sound of Jamal Turner, Chief Operating Officer Scaife Enterprises. He liked it very much.

So now he was wading his way through a sea of underage, oversexed, scantily-dressed clubbers, making his way to a spot where his contact would give him a rare insider intro to American music’s next sure thing.

Lifting his wrist so he could check the time in the gloom of the club, Jamal saw that it was just after one a.m. This was the place and this was definitely the time, when he was supposed to connect with one of Devin Parks’ childhood friends, who just happened to be an administrative assistant in Scaife’s communications and public relations department. Jamal had gotten that information the way he got a good deal of the four-one-one—from the guys in the mailroom. They carted around the mail for the company, doing it the old-fashioned way, because Scaife Enterprises still got lots of snail mail—mostly unsolicited items that couldn’t be submitted online like demos, and sometimes headshots and résumés from recent college grads who just “had to” be in the recording industry. They wanted to make an impression so many of these eager young things put together packages that contained practically their entire life stories—commendations and transcripts, letters of recommendation and pleas which they sent to various executives whose names (but never email addresses) they found online.

The mailroom guys, because they rarely delivered anything of consequence, had lots of time to shoot the breeze. And so they always knew whose anniversary it was, who was losing their house or their husband; whose kid was on drugs, and whose woman was cheating on them. They also had a virtual treasure trove of information about who was connected to whom and by how many degrees. And it was from them Jamal learned about the administrative assistant who knew Devin Parks up close and personal and from the time she was practically a toddler.

So after just one phone call, he had arranged to meet her at this so-called nightclub where she was willing to arrange an intro with the elusive performer, and grease the wheels a little for Jamal to work his magic. And he had no doubt that he could work some magic, even with the notoriously moody Devin Parks. Jamal’s batting average was enviable, no matter the yardstick he was measured against.

The music throbbed in his chest and the scent of perspiration, perfume and weekend desperation permeated the air. Jamal waited. Twenty minutes. He would give her twenty minutes and then he was out.

SAMPLE SUNDAY: From ‘The Come Up’

Jamal Turnercolor coverflatMakayla Hughes watched from across the club as Jamal Turner glanced at his watch for the third time in as many minutes. In fact, she’d been watching him ever since he entered. It hadn’t been difficult to do since he was about a head taller than most of the other men there. And the way he carried himself, with such obvious self-assurance was an attention-getter as well. Not that she didn’t already know who he was—everyone at Scaife did.

Jamal Turner was SE’s rainmaker. He secured big names and closed deals, and was known to be in the innermost of inner circles of the big boss himself; sought after by headhunters from Sony, Virgin and just about every other entertainment conglomerate on the planet. But Jamal Turner was almost as emblematic of Scaife Enterprises as the man himself. Not too many people could boast of being practical besties with Robyn Scaife, invited to every single family event and able to get on Chris Scaife’s calendar whenever they wanted; but Jamal Turner could.

Rumor had it he could waltz into Chris Scaife’s office at will, sitting on the edge of his desk and taking the kind of liberties no one else would dare, like calling him “Boss Man” with a mixture of deference and irony that was hard to question. Makayla herself had once heard him do it, when at a company party she was standing just five feet away from Chris Scaife and his pretty wife and Jamal Turner approached them both. Robyn Scaife’s eyes lit up at the sight of him and the boss had looked on with barely concealed amusement as his wife and friend embraced.

To say that Turner’s reputation preceded him would have been an understatement, but precede him it did. Long before she even scored the job in the PR department, Makayla had heard of him, back when she was at CUNY-Brooklyn, scouring the internet for leads on internships in the entertainment industry. Partly because he was known to have forged-in-steel friendships with some of the artists he helped develop, and partly because he was just so damned photogenic.

Jamal Turner was a photographer’s dream. With the dark chocolate complexion, erect, hard-body posture and winning smile, he just begged to be memorialized in photographs. And somewhere along the line, he’d learned the colors that accentuated his rich darkness—orange, white, yellows and occasionally a powder blue. He was gorgeous, there was no getting around that—the kind of gorgeous that could make a girl just the tiniest bit pissed off.

Makayla was a little pissed off now as a matter of fact. Because Turner had called her boss, not her, when he’d requested the meeting with Devin. And because he was standing at the other side of the club, near the stage like he had better places to be, and a better class of people to be with. But she happened to know that he was homegrown, a kid from uptown who’d managed to make good. No matter how many recording superstars he was pictured with in the blogs, he shouldn’t be standing there like this dingy little nightclub was beneath him, because she happened to know it wasn’t.

And finally, Makayla was pissed off because she was nervous, and she never got nervous. Not about anyone. But she was nervous and just a little intimidated, to tell the truth, by Jamal Turner. He had walked by her countless times in the office, usually accompanied by someone else closer to his pay-grade, looking all confident and larger-than-life and just … delicious as all get-out.

She hated to admit it to herself, but the fact that he’d never once turned in her direction with anything approaching interest irked her somewhat. True, she was just an admin assistant, but it wasn’t like she was ugly or anything, and rumor had it that he was one of those men who didn’t even have a “type.” When it came to women, he appeared to like them all. He dated lots of famous and beautiful women, but there were also a fair number of regular girls from around the office who he’d been with as well, some model-like and slender, others heavyset and buxom. Some white chicks, and a few sisters as dark as he was. But while they didn’t seem to fit a certain type, they all had one thing in common—if their post-Jamal behavior was any indication, they mourned the passing of their time with him and would have all loved a reprise of their role as woman on his arm.

Looking down at her jeans and black batwing blouse, she wished she’d dressed up just a little more. Not because she was hoping to capture his eye—or so she told herself—but because she didn’t want to come across as dowdy, either.

But being in a nightclub tonight hadn’t been in Makayla’s plans and so the time had simply gotten away from her. She’d been trying to get some more studying done before heading out for this “quick meet-up.” That was what her boss Serena had called it anyway. Serena was one of five deputy communication directors at Scaife, and handled community relations, doing the PR for anything related to Scaife’s charities. Rarely if ever did she deal with the more glamorous stuff unless there was a celebrity in need of a little image rehab by visiting a children’s cancer ward, or donating money to a school music program. But from the sound of things, she knew Jamal Turner quite well; she certainly seemed eager to help him get to Devin.

I hate to capitalize on a personal relationship, Kay, she’d said, toying with one of her rather large earrings. But it would be a huge deal if you could just arrange this meet-up. Believe me, Jamal knows how to take it from there. All we’re talking about is an hour out of your Saturday night.

And since Makayla pretty much wanted to be Serena one day, she’d agreed. She’d only been working for her for six months, and had yet to find a way to distinguish herself, so this seemed as good a way to do it as any. And if Scaife actually signed Devin because of her intro, there was no telling what that might do for her prospects at the company. Not that signing Devin was anything even approaching likely.

Sighing, Makayla began making her way toward Jamal Turner. She only hoped Devin wasn’t in one of his moods tonight and wouldn’t embarrass her. On her way over to the club, she’d texted him to let him know what was up and he’d promised to be on his best behavior. But Devin was temperamental and always had been, with moods as changeable as the weather. If sound-check hadn’t gone well, or if he got his sneakers scuffed on the subway ride over; if there was someone on drums tonight other than his regular guy, or he’d slept a half hour less than usual the night before … there was no telling how he might show out.

When she was about a foot away from Jamal Turner, Makayla smelled him. She didn’t know how she knew it was him, she just did. It was an unidentified musk, an earthy, sexy, manly scent that had a richness to it that reeked its expense. Walking toward him, he seemed even taller, her head would just about reach his chest; the chest that was accentuated in that bright-white long-sleeved shirt in a clingy fabric. Not too many men could pull off a shirt like that without looking cheesy. Tucked into an army-green tailored pant, he looked … perfect.

Scowling, he reached up and ran a large hand over his closely-shorn head and sighed, taking one last look at his watch. Finally, he pushed himself up and away from the wall where he’d been leaning, with the apparent intention of leaving.

Makayla cleared her throat. “Jamal,” she said. And when he didn’t hear her over the din, she tried again, speaking much louder this time. “Jamal.”

He looked about for a moment, not sure who had spoken his name until finally his eyes rested on her. Jamal Turner smiled.

“You must be …”

“Makayla,” she said extending a hand. “Makayla Hughes.”