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…
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.
“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.
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.
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?”
“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?”
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.”
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?”
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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.