Awakened by Moni Boyce

AWAKENED: THE ORACLE CHRONICLES BOOK ONE BY MONI BOYCE

Secret lineage, a ruthless vampire, and forbidden love.

Willow Stevens dreams of stardom are eclipsed by the real nightmares of a sinister man haunting her dreams. Unbeknownst to her, Eli Walker, her hot but snobbish co-worker, may know the reason nightmares plague her, but their history shows he is more prone to reject her, than help her.

Then Willow passes out at work only to wake in Eli’s apartment. There she has her chance to learn more about her heritage. But, knowing why the vampire king stalks her doesn’t make the nightmares disappear. If anything, they become more real as she now faces off against a slew of creatures she’d always believed were myth.

That Eli is one of those creatures is just her luck. Secret witch guild or not, his natural ways are casting spells her heart can’t escape. As a Protector his only focus should be her safety. Anything else is forbidden. He plans to stay in task, but some women break a man, or tempt him to break the rules.

Can Eli keep Willow alive and safe from the vampires long enough for her to grow her own powers or will both cast aside rules for a reckless passion that will only lead to danger?

AWAKENED is the first installment in The Oracle Chronicles series. This interracial, paranormal romance is a great mix of magic, adventure.

**This book is part of a series and ends in a cliffhanger**

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EXCERPT

Sleep was pulling and tugging at every part of her physically and mentally. The long yawn that left her mouth made her shake her head. The minute she hit the mattress she was asleep in seconds.

Where am I?

When the thought entered her mind she knew she was dreaming, but wherever she was, she’d never been there before. She looked down at her body and saw she was still wearing the bathrobe. A chill crept up her spine because this felt eerily real. In any other dream she wore a random outfit. The hallway was massive, like she was in a palace. Her bare feet made no sound as she tiptoed down the corridor, frightened she would encounter someone. This place had an ominous feeling. She shouldn’t be here.

“Wake up. Wake up. Wake up.” The whispered words did nothing, because she remained in the dream or whatever it was.

A large doorway loomed at the end of the hall. The door was slightly ajar. Against her better judgment she crept towards it.

What am I doing? Why am I going to investigate? I should head in the other direction.

Despite the screaming thoughts in her brain she proceeded to the door, frantically looking around for anyone or anything that might lurk in the shadows. The sliver of an opening was enough for her to press her eye to and attempt to look around without being caught. It was a bedroom. There were floor to ceiling windows on the far side of the room. There must have been a balcony or terrace situated outside because the flimsy, gauzy curtains billowed out from the windows, caught by a breeze. In the dimness she could barely make out a sleeping form in the cavernous bed. The room seemed devoid of anything else, save a large armoire.

Something made her crack the door open and walk inside.

What are you doing you crazy person? Go back. Get out of here.

Still she moved closer, her curiosity carrying her closer and closer. Seconds later, she stood on the stairs that led up to the bed. Her hand and arm shook as she reached out to touch the shoulder of the sleeping form that had their back to her.

“Who’s there?”

His sinister voice froze her in place. The hairs all over her body stood on end. This was Killian’s bedroom. He rolled over and sat up. The covers slipped down revealing his naked chest. His green eyes scanned the darkened chamber. She was sure his vampire sight allowed him to see just fine despite the lack of light. The crazy thing was, he seemed to look right through her like she wasn’t even there. She waved her hand in front of his face.

“You can’t see me?”

His eyes continued to search the room. While she was definitely dumbstruck that she was invisible to him, her mind chose that moment to have a stupid thought.

If he’s a vampire why isn’t he sleeping in a coffin or underground?

She wanted to kick herself.

Really? Right now is not the time for this.

“I can smell the witch on you, Willow.” His nostrils flared.

Her body went rigid with terror.

He knows I’m here.

The derision in his statement made her wonder if he knew she was staying at the Walker Coven. After the attack he already knew she traveled with witches.

“I will find you.” He sounded so sure she swallowed to keep from choking and clutched her throat feeling like he was strangling her.

Wake up!

Her eyes flew open, and she took in a deep, much needed breath before she sat up and looked around the beige and white, eighteenth century bedroom she occupied at the coven and sighed.

ALSO AVAILABLE

ENLIGHTENED (BOOK TWO)

COMING SOON – SEPTEMBER 24

EMPOWERED (BOOK THREE)

ABOUT MONI BOYCE

Moni Boyce is a writer, filmmaker, poet and author of contemporary and paranormal romance novels. She spent the last fifteen years working in the film industry and now creates characters of her own and brings them to life on the page. Moni has ghostwritten romance novellas and novels for over a year now and decided to put some of her own creations out in the world. She considers herself a bookworm, film buff, foodie, music lover and an avid world traveler having visited 32 countries and counting. She lives a bit of a nomadic life, but considers Los Angeles home. Which is the subject of her first travel book: Greater Than A Tourist – Los Angeles, California: 50 Travel Tips From A Local.

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Redesigning Happiness by Nita Brooks

Happy August!

REDESIGNING HAPPINESS BY NITA BROOKS

Real life is a work in progress… #DesignYourLife

It wasn’t easy for Yvonne Cable to get over a heartbreaking relationship and revamp her life. But now the once-broke single mom is Atlanta’s most sought-after interior designer—and one-half of the media’s hottest power couple. She and her celebrity fiancé, Nathan, are a perfect, practical match, on—and off—camera. And with their new home improvement reality show the object of a fierce network bidding war, there’s no limit to how far they can go . . .

But Yvonne is stunned when mogul Richard Barrington III unexpectedly makes an offer for their program. He’s the man she thought left her for a more successful woman. And he’s the father of her son—though he didn’t know it until now. Richard wants to get to know their boy, and Yvonne agrees, though she’s wary. Yet little by little, she’s finding it hard to resist the responsible, caring man Richard has become. But when a scandalous leak puts everything Yvonne’s worked for at risk, she’ll have to look beyond surfaces to come to terms with who she is—and discover what she truly wants.

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ABOUT NITA BROOKS

A reading addict, self-professed connoisseur of home improvement shows, and a collector of teapots, Nita Brooks resides in South Carolina with her family. You can connect with her on Facebook and Twitter at @AuthorNitaB.

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Kill Shot by Amber Malloy

KILL SHOT BY AMBER MALLOY

The only thing standing in the way of one perfect life is her torturous past.

Invited to speak for the United Nations, International Attorney Ashe Marcille is on the fast track. However, everything changes when she finds her law partner dead. Left with no option but to abandon her hard-earned career, she goes on the run.

Walker Knight, owner of a high-tech security firm, left the spy games years ago. A former agent for J8, he had no intention of returning to that life until the agency calls in one last favor. It should have been an easy job—pick up then drop off a lawyer with no questions asked. But, best laid plans…

Attracted to the attorney from the minute he laid eyes on her, Walker sets out to solve her case. Until he can figure out who wants her dead, he’ll have to keep her close…very close.

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ABOUT AMBER MALLOY

Amber Malloy dreamed of being a double agent but couldn’t pass the psyche evaluation. Crushed by despair that she couldn’t legally shoot things, Amber pursued her second career choice as pastry chef. When she’s not writing or whipping up a mean Snickers Cheesecake, she occasionally spies on her sommelier. Amber is convinced he’s faking his French accent.

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Book Blitz: dawsk by Erhu Kome Yellow

DAWSK BY ERHU KOME YELLOW

A demon hunter, a witch incarnate and a shape-shifter; a messed up trio in an even messier love triangle.

Hardworking nurse Simisola Oladeji is unlucky in love.

When reclusive billionaire Aiden Essien walks into her life, she knows there will be no future with him and even more so when she stumbles upon his bloodthirsty secret.

She is safer reuniting with her long-lost boyfriend Femi, surely?

Caught between the two, trouble is never far away as she discovers some disturbing truths about her past life. A dark force is rising and the messy trio is going to have to fight, together, to save lives.

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EXCERPT

From the east, the wind rose and whipped the trees, bending the branches and leaves. Dark clouds hovered over the Meje clan gathered in the forest clearing. The powers of the spirits they evoked with resonant voices surged in their midst.

The air reeked of a foul presence. Gusts of wind screamed, making the animals scamper in fright.

The hunters of Ori clan remained still and silent, hidden in the long grass, undeterred by the bloodcurdling sounds.

They had waited for this moment all their lives. This mission was the reason they existed, the reason they had been fiercely trained for years.

As devout worshippers of Yemaja, the earth goddess had imbued them with the strength to rid the earth of the abomination that tarnished her order.

The demon hunters with their bodies painted black and white, the symbol of impending war, had in their hands, daggers with long thick horns for handles.

These daggers had been forged from the rocks in the hidden cave beneathYemaja’swaterfall—the only weapons capable of slaying the beasts short of taking their heads off from their bodies, which proved to be an almost impossible task.

The hunters waited for the opportune moment to strike, their bodies primed for action, eager for the victory to come.

The Meje clan folk held hands firmly by the edge of the lake andchanted after their leader whose head was adorned with cowries and raffia palm.

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ABOUT ERHU KOME YELLOW

Erhu Kome Yellow is an urhobo author of fantastical stories where gods, mythological creatures and magic come together.

She has been shortlisted for the Syncity Anthology prize, the Quramo writers prize and featured in Blaud Magazine. Dawsk is her first book, and is currently the Creative Freelance Writers Book of the year.

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Cinnamon Black’s Other Daughter? by Angelia Vernon Menchan

Cinnamon Black’s Other Daughter? by Angelia Vernon Menchan

Cinnamon faced the wall with her eyes closed. She felt rather than saw Leigh walk into the room. The scent of Estée Lauder Youth Dew perfume filled the air.

“How is she?” Leigh whispered, asking Velma, her oldest sister. Cinnamon had been with Velma six months since Leigh picked her up in Haiti and Jesse was arrested. She attended school and hadn’t phoned or reached out to Leigh. Velma shrugged, not wanting to speak. She suspected Cinnamon wasn’t sleeping. Velma beckoned for Leigh to follow her from the room.

Cinnamon heard the door closing softly as a tear slid down her cheek. She felt completely empty inside and didn’t want to return to Center City, but she knew Leigh would insist and though at almost twenty, she was technically grown, she would go home. It was time to, there was no longer a reason to stay away. As a Dubois woman, she had to suck it up, square her shoulders and face the world.

Ten days later, Cinnamon and Leigh flew back to Florida, secrets between them. There was also a lie that Leigh would take to her grave with her.

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EXCERPT

“Do you know Labyrinth Jackson?” Aura asked Muhammad. Muhammad had lived and worked in Los Angeles several years ago. They were eating lunch in her office. She was his big sister and attorney.

“Should I?” He asked.

“No, she reached out for an appointment in four weeks. She’s lives in Los Angeles. She’s a couple years older than me but you had groupies, even older groupies.” Muhammad smiled smugly. His sister was always on his shit.

“I did but the name doesn’t ring a bell. What’s her situation?”

“I’m not sure. She’s moving to or coming through and needs an attorney to read something and provide guidance. I took her on because I do know Rosetta Garcia. She was two years ahead of me in law school. It’s intriguing.”

“Sounds like it. But you need intrigue, I’m sure your professional ball players and the whole Brown and Black clan are as boring as hell.” Aura could only chuckle. That was a lie. Her practice up to and including her family was always exciting.

“You know damn well, that’s not true. Mo money, mo drama.” Muhammad shook his head.

“Mo money than drama though.” Muhammad noted. Aura held up her palm for her brother to slap it.

She had looked up Ms. Jackson and there was nothing out of the ordinary. She worked at a bank, earned a decent salary. She lived in a nice apartment she didn’t own but had almost no debt. She was an only child who inherited a house her parents bought in the 60s for ten thousand that was worth over 200 thousand even though it was on the periphery of south-central Los Angeles. She had no ex-husbands or children but had dated four well known athletes who were now married to other women. Her Facebook and Instagram profiles had photos of roses and there were no selfies are photos. Just random expressions here and there. Aura was truly intrigued. She didn’t know Labyrinth has scrubbed away all photos before contacting Aura.

ABOUT ANGELIA VERNON MENCHAN

Angelia Vernon Menchan is author, publisher and mentor. Since January 2006, she has published more than 125 books and novellas through her small publishing company, Honorable MENCHAN Media, through which she has published books for 19 authors to date. Menchan is a retired budget analyst and founder of #JUSTLOVEMinistry a mentoring program for girls and women.

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Cover Reveal: Healing Hannah’s Heart by Preslaysa Williams

HEALING HANNAH’S HEART BY PRESLAYSA WILLIAMS

Time will heal her scars, but what will heal her heart?

Hannah Hart may have been burned by the breakup of her rocky marriage, but the ambitious Afro-Filipina model has big plans for her future. Her stunning looks and flawless skin provide the opening she craves to become a celebrity in the fashion world. Then an arsonist’s match brings Hannah’s world crashing down around her.

Recovering from the burns that destroyed her skin, Hannah is forced to accept help from the last person on earth she wants, her estranged husband, Jake Hart. Jake isn’t ready to give up on their marriage. The return of Jake’s teenage son from a one-night stand had been the catalyst for their breakup. How can he help both the son who resents his abandonment and the woman he still loves? He can do nothing about the scars on her skin, but can he heal Hannah’s heart?

As she struggles to rebuild her life from the ashes of her shattered dreams, does Hannah have the courage to give Jake a second chance? And is the world ready for a differently-abled model who will redefine what it means to be beautiful?

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ABOUT PRESLAYSA WILLIAMS

Preslaysa Williams is an award-winning author who writes contemporary romance and women’s fiction with an Afro-Filipina twist. Proud of her heritage, she loves sharing her culture with her readers. She is currently earning her second graduate degree, a MFA in Writing Popular Fiction, at Seton Hill University. She holds an undergraduate degree in Spanish Language & Literature from Columbia University.

Preslaysa is also a professional actress, a planner nerd, an avid bookworm, and a homeschool mom who often wears mismatched socks. To follow along with her busy life, visit her at http://www.preslaysa.com where you can sign up for her newsletter community.

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Loving Cassie by Jacinta Howard

 

LOVING CASSIE BY JACINTA HOWARD

Cassandra James thinks she has her place in the world all figured out. But an unexpected betrayal forces her to ask if her “free black girl” vibe is a myth, or worse, a mask to hide herself from the world.

Bam Mosley, keyboardist for the alt-soul band, the Prototype, knows who he is. He just wants to make good music and see the people he cares about win.

Then he meets her.

Sure, Cassandra is gorgeous and smart, with hypnotic eyes, but his bandmate’s sister wasn’t supposed to be this…disruptive and break down all his defenses.

She sees what he hides from everyone else. He allows her to take off her mask.

But is their connection powerful enough to survive life’s low notes? Or maybe the true test of love is knowing when to let go…

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Excerpt:

Kennedy was shaking me awake way before I was ready to function.

“I’m up,” I croaked, to get her to stop jerking on my shoulder. I buried my head in her comforter, struggling to push myself into consciousness. It felt like my body was filled with concrete. Probably because I was operating on a little over two hours of sleep, messing around with Bam.

Bam: A sudden impact or occurrence.

His face crowded into my brain, his lips on my ear, beard scratching my skin, his skilled hands on my body. I ran a hand down my face, like that would erase the memory, or my attraction to him. I could still smell him in my clothes from last night. I heard Kennedy already rustling around and finally pushed myself to set up, blinking sand out of my eyes.

She was rummaging through her bag, and looked up at me. She smiled sleepily.

“We can crash in the van,” she informed me, yawning. “The guys never make us drive.”

Probably another southern thing I wasn’t privy to living in the Midwest. I nodded, rubbing my eyes as I swung my legs over the twin sized bed, standing and heading into the bathroom. When I came out a few minutes later, Kennedy was fully dressed, lugging her bag into the living room.

“They’re outside,” she said quietly, moving further down the darkened hallway. I saw light peering from the kitchen. Pepper was already up?

I headed back into the bedroom and dressed quickly, throwing on a pair of leggings, a t-shirt and shoving Bam’s hoodie over my head again after I brushed my teeth and washed my face. I pulled my skull cap on and rolled my carryon out of the bedroom.

“I can’t believe you’re awake,” I greeted Pepper, who was standing in the living room, wearing a lavender jogging suit, her hair hanging down the middle of her back in one long braid. She looked as if she’d been up and at it for hours.

“Had to see my grand-girls off,” she said smiling.

I released my bag, moving to hug her. Her embrace was warm and comforting when I inhaled her.

“You come back sooner. Not later. Understand?”

I nodded, hugging her tight. “Definitely.”

“I mean it, Ru.” Her voice was firm and I nodded again.

“I promise.”

“Remember what I told you. Take care of you too,” she said gently in my ear.

I felt tears welling in my eyes when I nodded again. “I will.”

Kennedy and Pepper exchanged their good-byes and then we were pushing through the front door less than two minutes later. The air was crisp, the sky still dark because even the sun couldn’t be bothered to make an appearance yet. The van was parked at the curb, engine humming quietly, billows of smoke exiting from the rear exhaust pipe because of the temperature.

My eyes immediately landed on Bam at the rear of the van, standing next to Travis as they hoisted Kennedy’s bags into the back. He was wearing a navy blue thermal and a pair of gray sweats and he looked so good, I almost tripped on the steps leading down to the sidewalk. I exhaled, catching myself, and dragged my carry-on behind me, the wheels extra loud on the concrete because it was so early and still outside. Bam looked up at me then, his gaze connecting with mine. He smiled a little, and my stomach tightened. I looked away.

“Y’all can go on and get in. The heat’s on, so it’s warm,” Travis told us, his eyes on Kennedy, who was standing at the curb shivering as they loaded the bags.

“Right on,” I said, starting toward the doors.

“Cupcake.”

It was Bam’s deep voice calling me. I hesitated for a second before turning and looking at him. A half-grin was on his face when he jerked his head, beckoning me to him. I chewed on the inside of my lip, staring at him while I debated. He chuckled.

“C’mere, Cassandra.”

Reluctantly, I made my way to the back of the van.

“I got the rest,” Bam dismissed Travis, his voice early morning gruff, which was insanely arousing.

“Aight.” Travis smiled at me before loping around to the driver’s side.

I stood there toeing the gravel and stuffed my hands into the oversized hoodie I’d decided I was stealing and taking back home with me because it was so comfortable.

“After careful thought and consideration, I’ve decided that last night was a mistake,” I declared in a rush before he could speak. Better to just get it out there so that my entire trip wouldn’t be ruined with weird awkwardness.

Bam grinned at my announcement, hoisting Kennedy’s second bag into the back, biceps flexing.

“You did, huh?”

“Yes.”

“I called you after you left.” He looked over at me as he effortlessly picked up my heavy shoulder bag.

“I turned my phone off. What were you gonna say?”

“That I hope you don’t think last night was a mistake.” He smirked and grabbed my other bag, arranging it in the back so that it fit with the others.

“I prolly shouldn’tve let things go that far.”

His eyes had turned serious when he turned to face me, shutting the back doors. I stayed quiet, mostly because it was difficult to speak when Bam was looking at me the way he was.

“Me askin’ you to come over wasn’t about that. I just wanted your company.”

His gaze was zeroed in on mine, his chocolate eyes tired but full of heat.

“But I’m not gonna front. Our chemistry is unreal, Cass. I got carried away.”

I drew in a breath at his admission. Bam didn’t talk like a boy. He tucked his hands into his sweat pockets, his eyes never leaving my face.

“It’s not just on you. I’m the one who got carried away.”

“And now you’re shook.”

His tone was matter-of-fact. I looked down at the oil stained gravel, shaking my head in denial.

“I’m not ‘shook.’ I just think we need to chill.” I looked up at him again. “Don’t you?”

“No.”

I tilted my head to the side. “So you’re sayin’ you wanna be my rebound? Because that’s what it would be.” I exhaled, staring at the ground again. “I don’t have the head space, or the emotional capacity or fortitude to deal with… anything.”

“Emotional fortitude?”

When I looked up again, he was biting on the inside of his lip, holding back a smile.

“Don’t make fun of me. I’m trying to be real here.”

“I’m sorry.” Only he didn’t look sorry at all because he was still grinning. “You’re just super cute.”

He squinted at me like he was trying to figure out how it was possible, or where I came from, and grabbed the bottom hem of my hoodie, pulling me closer slowly, like he was giving me a chance to pull away if I wanted to. I didn’t.

“You have too many women,” I accused tilting my head up to meet his eyes, ignoring the way my heart was racing standing so close to him. He smelled like soap and detergent, and man. “Not that I care. I’m not here for this anyway. I just wanted—” I stopped and shook my head, sighing, looking across the street at Pepper’s neighbor’s house, shivering a little in the cold.

“You just wanted what?”

“To breathe…”

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ABOUT JACINTA HOWARD

A longtime journalist and lifelong music lover, Jacinta Howard lives in the Atlanta area. She is the author of new adult, women’s fiction, and contemporary romance, a USA TODAY HEA Must-Read Author and a two-time RONE Award nominee.

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Mindf*ck by Danyell A. Wallace

 

MINDF*CK BY DANYELL A. WALLACE

Clayton had it all: good looks, star soccer player, and the unlikeliest girl of his dreams. Life wasn’t good. It was great. Until a family tragedy strikes and shatters Clayton’s world as he knows it, along with his memory.

As Clayton struggles to put the pieces of his life back together, his beautiful, brown-skinned guardian angel with the wavy hair and soulful eyes is with him the entire way. But who is she? He may not know her name, but her face and the way she fills his heart are definitely unforgettable.

Find out what happens when life as you know it is turned inside out and you’re forced to put the pieces back together, one memory at a time.

Welcome to MindF*ck!

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ABOUT DANYELL A. WALLACE

Danyell A. Wallace was born in Alaska and is currently living in Alabama. She’s a mom to three awesome kids, and a wife to an incredibly supportive husband. When she’s not using her imagination to write very adult, very sexy books, she’s reading, spending time with family and friends, watching football, and catching up on TV shows that she has saved on the DVR.

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Know Your Place by Shelly Ellis

Success didn’t come easy for three best friends from the streets. And now dangerous choices and reckless desire will push their bond to lethal limits.

A stint at the Branch Avenue Boys’ Youth Institute taught Ricky, Derrick, and Jamal to unite when the going got tough. But fallout from their very different adult lives is making loyalty something they can’t afford–and igniting drama they never saw coming . . .


Arrested during a city-wide raid, Ricky must inform on D.C’s drug king pin, Dolla Dolla–and find the woman who loved and betrayed him. But revenge is a slippery slope that’s putting a target on his back . . .

Institute head Derrick hopes reuniting with his fiancée will keep his secret affair with a colleague in the past. Unfortunately, one of his students is hiding Dolla Dolla’s major stash–and Derrick’s attempt to do the right thing will have shattering consequences . . .


Jamal’s backroom deal with D.C.’s corrupt mayor is giving him everything he thought he wanted: money, power, and women. But murder and the unexpected return of the woman he’s always loved is getting him in way over his head. His attempts to manage the damage will put him and his friends at killer odds to be the last man standing . . .

Chapter 1

Derrick Miller stared down at the two open suitcases in front of him, closed his eyes for a few seconds, and slowly opened them again.

It was insane but, in the back of his mind, he had hoped they would disappear. Maybe the suitcases—one filled with multiple stacks of hundred-dollar bills bound neatly with multicolored rubber bands, the other stuffed with packs of white powder that was more than likely cocaine—were figments of his imagination, mini mirages right here at the Branch Avenue Boys’ Youth Institute dormitories.

But of course, they weren’t; the suitcases didn’t shimmer then disappear like a waterfall floating in the desert. They were still there with their lids yawning open, and what they contained was bared for all the world to see.

This was real, too real for Derrick’s liking.

“Come on, man! We gonna be late,” someone shouted in the hallway, shaking Derrick out of his stupor.

His eyes darted to the dormitory’s open door as two boys jogged by, probably on their way to their morning classes. Derrick’s eyes snapped back to the suitcases. He couldn’t leave them here. He certainly couldn’t let any of the boys at the Institute see them. He didn’t know whom they belonged to, but he suspected Cole, the student who was assigned to the bunk where he’d found the suitcases, knew who the owner was. He’d talk to Cole later, but his first mission was to find a place to hide these damn things.

Derrick quickly flipped both of the lids closed, zipping each of them with shaking hands. He grabbed the handles and yanked them off the bed. They landed on the linoleum floor with a thud. They had to weigh about a hundred pounds each.

Derrick gritted his teeth as he lifted the suitcases and lugged them to the door, one in each hand. He walked straight down the hall to the stairwell. A few students eyed him curiously. Several boys had a questioning look on their faces, probably wondering what the Institute’s director was doing, carrying luggage down the hall in the middle of the day like he was heading to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport fifteen miles up the road.

“Hey, Mr. Derrick!” one of the boys—dark skinned and stocky—called out as he held open the stainless steel door for him. His dark eyes dropped to the suitcases. “Damn, those look heavy! You need some h—”

“No!” Derrick barked between bursts of breath.

The boy’s ready smile disappeared.

“I mean . . . I mean, no. I-I got it. Th-thanks for asking though,” Derrick stuttered with a slight grimace.

The boy nodded just as Derrick disappeared into the stairwell and made the slow trek down the stairs to the floor below. With each step, the suitcases felt heavier and heavier. Sweat erupted on his forehead and rolled down the bridge of his nose. The short bursts of breath came out faster, making a faint whistle between his clenched teeth. The tendons and muscles in his arms started to jitter. His heart was beating fast from the stress and the strain. When he finally pushed the steel door open and reached his office, he didn’t lower the suitcases to the floor as much as hurl them.

He shut his office door behind him, locked it, and looked around frantically for a place to hide the suitcases. The office didn’t have a storage closet and the suitcases certainly wouldn’t fit in any of his cabinets or shelves. The only spot where they could possibly fit was a corner beside his file cabinet. He shoved them both into the dusty, dark space.

By now, not only was his brow sweaty, but pools of sweat had also formed under his armpits. His palms were slick with it. Sweat even dripped down his back and the crack of his ass.

When Derrick finally finished shoving the suitcases into the hiding space, he dragged across the floor a potted fiddle-leaf fig tree his fiancée, Melissa, had given him for his birthday to add a little softness to his sterile office. He set it in front of the suitcases. He then stood back and surveyed his handiwork.

It was a questionable hiding job—the plant barely provided any coverage—but it would have to do for now.

He flopped back into his rolling chair and let out a slow, long exhale. It took another ten minutes for his heart to finally return to its normal pace, for his hands to stop shaking.

How the hell did those things even get here?

How had the boys managed to smuggle something so heavy and massive into the dorms, right under the noses of the instructors and security guards? When had they done it? It must have been recently because the suitcases certainly would have been noticed during their weekly inspections of the boys’ bunks and lockers. Had someone else brought them?

Cole knows all the answers, he thought, staring at the fig tree. And that boy better tell me the damn truth!

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About Shelly Ellis

Shelly Ellis is a NAACP Image Award-nominated women’s fiction/romance author and creator of the Gibbons Gold Digger and Chesterton Scandal series. Her fiction writing career began when she became one of four finalists in a First-Time Writers Contest when she was 19 years old. The prize was a publishing contract and having her first short-story romance appear in an anthology. She has since published several novels and was a finalist for 2015 NAACP Image Award in the Literary Fiction Category, a three-time finalist for the African American Literary Award in the romance category (2012, 2016, and 2017), and a finalist for the 2015 RT Reviewers’ Choice Award in Multicultural Romance category.

She is married and lives in Prince George’s County, Maryland with her husband and their daughter. Visit her at her web site http://www.shellyellisbooks.com.

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Rhyme & Reason by Nia Forrester

“Maybe friendship is all that’s realistic for us right now.”

With those words, Zora ended their long-distance relationship, shattering Deuce’s vision of a life with the only woman he’s ever loved. But after months of silence, he thought he was over it. He’d moved on, hadn’t he? And as far as he knew, she might have done the same. Now Zora is back from California, and he’s thrown into an immediate tailspin. Nothing’s changed.

She’s the one, the only, his rhyme, and his reason …

But this ain’t no college romance. There are serious, grown-folks’ obstacles standing in the way, and the other woman in his life isn’t even the half of it.

And sometimes growing up might mean moving on …

Over a few short summer weeks, Deuce and Zora will have to decide whether the great love they shared in the past, is enough of a foundation to build a future.

EXCERPT:

“Hey. Could you FaceTime me?”

“What?” she asked, thrown by the unexpected turn of the conversation.

“FaceTime. You still have an iPhone, right?”

“Yeah …” She let the word drag.

“So, I want to see you while I talk to you.”

“That’s not safe. You’re driving,” she said.

But she was already considering it, inventorying herself. The headscarf, the puffy eyes, the ratty old tank top stretched-out and hanging low at the neck and armholes. But he had seen her at her worst, and at her best. It wouldn’t matter to him whether she was in full makeup or had none on at all; whether she was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, or had sleep-swollen, puffy eyes.

“It’s on a holder thing, on the dashboard. I’ll be hands-free.”

“But you’ll be looking away from the road,” she protested.

Still, it excited her a little, and pleased her more than a little that he wanted to see her. For the first few weeks when she was in California, if she called, he would decline the calls, and FaceTime her instead.

You’re so pushy, she’d complained half-heartedly. What if I was sitting on the toilet or something?

I’ve seen you sitting on the toilet, he’d answered, matter-of-factly. Many times.

“I promise I’ll only glance away from the road,” he said now. “I feel like I understand what you mean better when I can see your face.”

“Fine,” Zora said sighing. “I’ll call you back in a minute.”

She took her breakfast sandwich with her out to the living room and arranged her phone, propping it against some of her textbooks. Sitting opposite it, she tested the camera to make sure that when she was seated, it didn’t train itself up the leg of her shorts.

Grabbing her sandwich and taking the first bite, she initiated the video-call. Deuce picked up right away, and there he was. Wearing a white t-shirt, his face was a little scruffy, like he hadn’t cleaned up the edges of his goatee. He looked sexy as hell, like he had just rolled out of bed.

Glancing away from the road for a moment, he flashed her a grin and Zora smiled back, unable to help herself.

“Still got that same old scarf, huh?” he said.

“It’s been broken-in,” she said, laughing. “It’s irreplaceable. You wouldn’t understand.”

“Oh, I understand,” he said, shaking his head. “That scarf is like an old friend of mine.”

“More like an old nemesis,” she said remembering how he always tugged it off her head before they had sex.

“So, before I asked you to FaceTime, what were you about to say?”

“I can’t remember,” she lied.

“I think I know,” he said.

“Then tell me. What was I about to say?”

“You were about to dump me again. You were about to say that you don’t think it’s a good idea that we talk. That I shouldn’t call you.”

He glanced at the camera, and Zora looked down, because he was right. It was an impulse, understandable as far as she was concerned, to distance herself as far as possible from a source of pain. And if Deuce had a girlfriend, that was what staying in touch with him would be. Possibly more painful than not being in touch over the past several months had been.

Instead of responding, she reached for her breakfast sandwich and took another bite, chewing slowly to buy herself time.

“That’s it, right? I was about to get cut?”

Zora kept chewing. Even through a camera lens it was difficult to look directly at him.

“You don’t think that might be …”

“A good idea? No,” he said before she was finished.

He looked at her for what felt like a few moments too long, and Zora almost had to tell him to keep his eye on the road.

“How ‘bout we just talk about … law school?” he suggested.

“You want to hear about law school?” she said, skeptically.

“Yeah. If you can listen to me talk about music, I can listen to you talk about law school. You made the Dean’s List, didn’t you?”

“Actually, I didn’t,” she said.

Deuce glanced at the camera. He looked surprised.

“How come?”

Zora shrugged. “Distracted, I guess. I made good enough grades to transfer, so … that was the most important thing.”

“Why were you distracted? And why didn’t you tell me when you decided to transfer?”

“A lot was going on.”

“Like you breakin’ up with me? A lot like that?”

“Deuce.”

“Okay,” he said. “I promise I won’t talk about that. Just so long as you promise me something …”

“What’s that?” she asked, cautious.

“That you won’t cut me off again. That no matter what happens, we’ll keep talkin’. No matter what.”

***

About Nia Forrester

Nia Forrester lives and writes in Philadelphia, PA where, by day, she is an attorney working on public policy and by night, she crafts woman-centered fiction that examines the complexities of life, love and the human condition.

She welcomes feedback and email from her readers at authorniaforrester@gmail.com or tweets @NiaForrester.

Subscribe to her newsletter for exclusive shorts, giveaways and news of upcoming releases at: https://bit.ly/2X3yLGW

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