Office Policy by A.C. Arthur

 

OFFICE POLICY BY A.C. ARTHUR

Ambitious and tenacious litigator, Cienna Turner has just been assigned the city’s most high-profile sexual harassment case. Despite personal misgivings, her job requires her to provide a stellar defense and she’s ready to do that when she learns her colleague, the sexy and debonair, Keith Page, will be working with her. Now, Cienna not only has to bring in a big win for the firm, but also face the demons from her past that resurface when Keith makes his desire for her known.

Keith Page has his eye set on becoming one of the city’s youngest black judges but stepping into this case involving a possible city contractor and several of the guy’s employees, might not be the way to get there. Working alongside one of the firm’s most successful attorneys is the highlight of this situation, especially when their first kiss promises more passion to come.

When the tables turn and Cienna finds herself at the center of the harassment claims and office drama comes to a fevered pitch, Cienna and Keith will rely on not only their legal acumen to stay on top, but also their love for each other to stay alive.

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ABOUT A.C. ARTHUR

AC Arthur was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland where she currently resides with her husband, three children, grandson and an English bulldog named Vader. An active imagination and a love for reading encouraged her to begin writing in high school and she hasn’t stopped since.

Working in the legal field for over twenty-five years, AC has seen lots of horrific things and longs for the safe haven of a romance novel. To date, she has written in several genres: YA paranormal (w/a Artist Arthur), small town romance as Lacey Baker, and sexy contemporary and paranormal romance. With intriguing plots and sexy love scenes, AC brings a new edge to romance!

I Can Love You by Mackenzie Joy

 

I CAN LOVE YOU BY MACKENZIE JOY

Her heart. His song.

R&B sensation Tara Russell is at the top of her game. It’s cost her nearly everything, but her hard work and sacrifice has finally paid off. All she needs now is for her new album to succeed. Too bad her best friend and music producer thinks that won’t happen unless she opens up her heart, bleeds onto a page, and creates an epic love song. But how is she supposed to write a song like that when her only experience with love ended in devastation?

Quinton “Q” Ellis is on a mission. He’s determined to be the muse Tara needs to produce the best album of her career. If he can help her overcome everything she’s been through and set her emotions to music, she’ll become a legend. And if he’s really lucky, he might even be able to convince her that love without pain is possible … and to see him as more than just a friend.

It’s not long before the lines between friendship and passion blur. They’re hitting all the right notes together, but can two people with troubled pasts and a handful of heartbreaking secrets between them find their way to happily ever after?

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EXCERPT

Mats of many colors covered the floor with little space for anyone else to join the early morning class. Music played softly as those around Tara stretched and prepared for yoga.

Tara sat with her legs folded and stretched her tight muscles, hoping to rid herself of the same thoughts that had her tossing and turning all night.

“Don’t forget to grab blocks if you need them,” their instructor announced as she moved around the room greeting attendees and welcoming the newcomers.

Tara didn’t get the same greeting as everyone. She did get slight smiles. Knowing, poised ones as if saying ‘I know who you are, but I’ll let you enjoy your space today.’ A feeling she would appreciate any other time but looking around as others spent the few minutes before class chatting with old and new friends, the isolation left her empty while alone with her thoughts.

She closed her eyes, placed a hand on her knee and the other hand flat on the mat behind her. Tara twisted her body to its side and held it for an extended period before repeating in the opposite direction.

When she opened her eyes, she saw someone joining her in the space beside her, letting out a big oomph sound as he dropped to the ground to take his place on a mat.

“Quinton?” She restrained herself from jumping up to hug him out of respect for the instructor who started speaking to the group.

He yawned into his fist and stretched his sweatpants covered legs in front of him. “I want food after this, and you’re treating.”

In a hushed whisper, Tara grinned and said, “Sure. We have to make it quick. I fly out to Arizona today.”

“That’s right. More Zen crap, but why there?”

“Sydney suggested I visit this place. It’s a resort that specializes in health and wellness. It sounds divine. The best part about it is that they ensure my privacy while I’m there. I heard great things about it. Just waking to the beauty surrounding the place is worth the trip. You ever see the red rocks of Sedona?”

“Speaking of rocks.” Their instructor Dottie’s hovering nearby silencing them. The younger woman with dark glossy hair slicked back in a ponytail glanced between Tara and Quinton while shaking a clear plastic container with polished stones. Her eyes lingered on Quinton as she held out the box of smooth, dark rocks. “For those of you who are new, I brought consent stones.” She held one of them up for all to see. “If you’re okay with me offering additional assistance, correcting your form, place a stone on the corner of your mat. It tells me you’re okay with me touching you and offer consent. If you change your mind, just move your stone out of the way or tuck it under your mat.”

Tara heard the clunky sound of rocks banging against each other and saw Quinton grabbing a handful.

“I just adore your boyfriend.” Dottie grinned and moved on to offer stones to the other students while Quinton marked the perimeter of his mat.

“She said one.”

“Taking my shot at earning some extra credit.”

“We’re not being graded.”

Class began, and a hush sound from one of their fellow students stopped the bickering. Everyone around her started to move in sync, leaving Tara’s upright body poking out above the group. Tara looked at Quinton, who was mimicking Dottie’s movement and swiped her hand toward his mat, sending Quinton’s smooth dark stones into the aisle. “Next time I ask you to join me for yoga, do me a favor and keep your ass at home.”

He smirked as he got into the tabletop position with hands and knees on the mat. “I love when you get jealous,” he said in a whisper and winked.

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BLUE’S HEART | Q’S MIX

ABOUT MACKENZIE JOY

I believe in…
playlists on repeat.
red lipstick and nudes.
brothers in timbs. please and thank you.
down blankets and pillows.
open windows when it rains.
dancing with no clothes on.
rum drinks with lime and sweet sugar cane.

Mackenzie Joy
Love more. Kiss more.

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She’s Got Soul by Aja

SHE’S GOT SOUL BY AJA

Zola Lewis is many things to many people. She’s a marketing extraordinaire by day, and a podcast host by night. She’s also a devoted daughter, a funny and care giving auntie to her sister’s daughter. But, the one thing she is not, is a wife to a loving husband and she’s beginning to think that could never happen because she’s entirely too opinionated for most men. One night on her live podcast, she experienced a challenging caller who seemed to aggravate her more than a little, and Zola wondered who was more opinionated. Zola or the caller?

Khalil Berry was a bit of a nerd growing up, and as a result, also a bit of a late bloomer. Time not spent with girls allowed him to stick with books. His big brain landed him many opportunities and by his mid-twenties, he’d amassed a fortune from his software apps. The latest app he’s developing requires more hands on research and he decides to do the research himself. First stop, listening to a podcast by a woman talking about women; a topic he was beginning to learn more about since his money seems attracts them all the time. The task was simple, listen and take notes. But, her voice is too melodic and her words, well, let’s just say she didn’t know what she was talking about as far as he was concerned. So he calls in to correct her.

They’re both great at giving a piece of their mind, but can they hand over their well-guarded hearts?

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ABOUT AJA

Aja is the writer of sensually erotic and passionate women’s fiction. Her stories allow readers to experience realistic, inspiring, and soulful interactions and intense passion while overcoming life’s challenges. She is inspired by soulful music and sensual art to craft her stories. Her published works include the Love & Passion series and the Love & Redemption series. Her newest release, She’s Got Soul is book 1 in the Soulmates series.

BLACKBIRDS NOVEL DUET By Lily Java

BLACKBIRDS NOVEL DUET

When Elliott Vance sees his parents, Serena and Ethan, together for the first time, holding hands; it causes a tectonic shift in his perception of reality. Answering all the questions that bubble to the surface, will not always be easy or pleasant. But, there’s always a beginning, a middle, and an end to most stories, including Serena and Ethan’s.

The reconnection between Serena and Ethan Vance will lead to explosive revelations and a thousand and one questions about their past. But will it also give them and their only son Elliott, the closure they all so desperately need?

‘Ethan’s Choice: Blank Pages I’ and ‘Serena’s Vow: Blank Pages II’ by Lily Java brings full circle the story of Elliott Vance’s parents, Serena and Ethan, first introduced in the novel ‘Blackbirds’.

ETHAN’S CHOICE: BLANK PAGES I BY LILY JAVA

He thought he planned for everything. But, what he didn’t plan for, was her.

Whether we are we born into the world a blank page has been argued since the time of Aristotle. Is it nature or nurture that makes us who we are? Do we choose our own fate, or are we chosen for the roles we play?

Serena Clay is a golden girl living in a soulful, turbulent time. Beautiful, intelligent, pragmatic, and so well cared for, one would think she’d be better prepared. But there’s no way, she could’ve known how overwhelming and passionate it would be to fall in love, until she met Ethan Vance—a fierce, charming, and enigmatic young man.

Ethan Vance lives a life filled with secrets and lies. He longs to be free of them as well as of the violent family legacy they stem from. With careful planning and avoidance, he hopes to keep the woman he dares to love and the person most precious to him, in his life forever. When things go bad as they often do, Ethan has a choice to make but now his heart won’t be the only one on the line.

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SERENA’S VOW: BLANK PAGES II BY LILY JAVA

Keeping her promises has often meant sacrifice. But is it ever too late to try and live your best dreams?

Sometimes, re-imagining your life is your only road to salvation.

Long ago left by the man she loved and trusted, with a young son to raise alone, Serena Vance is now a grown woman. The vows she and Ethan made to each other, she has had to forget. Now there is nothing more important than helping her son become the best man he can be. But will reaching that goal come at the expense of her own happiness?

Ethan Vance is a lost, broken man—angry, alone, and teetering on the brink of disaster. The people and things that meant the most to him are disappearing from his life one by one. Every day has become a nightmare, and to survive he must turn his life around.

But is it ever too late to have a second chance at living your best dreams?

In the winding journey these two former lovers take further away from each other, they both lose a significant part of themselves. To thrive again, they must re-invent their lives apart … and maybe, in doing so they will find their way back together.

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EXCERPT

Serena was lying in his bed, reading. They’d made love late that afternoon. He’d elevated the hurt wrist and told her not to move it, no matter what he did. She was obedient, though he did not make it at all easy for her. As she writhed against his treacherous mouth, tongue, and hands, he kept her in endless pursuit of an orgasm until she could barely move from the effort. The sun set over their warm, conjoined bodies.

He never seemed to have enough time with her to his liking. And now here she was— lying in hisbed, in hisshirt—and he still felt that way. He’d been studiously watching her while pretending to work on something else. It wasn’t just that she was beautiful. It was her earthiness—how full of grace she was. It made him feel like having her in his life was the only thing he needed to be sure he’d stay safe, grounded, and in touch with everything around him. That as long as she was there, as long as he could look at her every day, he wouldn’t lose himself to the dour or murky thoughts he sometimes had about his life—about the world in general.

She reached the end of a page and adjusted herself while turning it when she noticed he was staring.

Everything he’d been thinking, everything he’d been planning, Ethan blurted it all out at once.

“There’s something I want to tell you. I’ve made a decision. I’m going to leave school after this semester.”

Her brow creased ever so slightly. He got the impression she was holding her breath a little. Stabilizing herself against the conversation, she took a deep breath, and then another, before she spoke.

“Where will you go?”

“I’m thinking about going to the country for a little while.”

“The country? What do you mean?”

“I mean I’m thinking about renting that house we stayed in but for a longer time than just a weekend.”

Serena sat up in the bed, pushing the book aside.

“In Claverack?”

“Yeah.”

“Why there?”

“Good memories.”

He knew her downcast eyes and the subtle smile meant she was remembering too.

ABOUT LILY JAVA

Lily is a freelance writer, blogger, and novelist who writes fiction in numerous genres. When she isn’t writing, Lily raises money for arts and cultural organizations or plans special events in iconic landmarks throughout her beloved hometown: New York City. A resident of Brooklyn, Lily is a true ambivert, who enjoys solitude just as much as she likes meeting and talking with other passionate readers and writers.

“I think every story is a love story of some kind. The whys and wherefores are usually as interesting as who or what you love, but you only know that if you delve deep. So in life, in love, and most definitely on the page, that’s how I like to do it.” –Lily

REDEEMED THROUGH LOVE BY UNOMA NWANKWOR

REDEEMED THROUGH LOVE BY UNOMA NWANKWOR

At thirteen Halima Dajuma discovers that her father has another family. No longer is she an only child, but younger sister to three older brothers. This discovery changes everything. For a while, Halima happily settles into a safe life shaped by her family’s expectations. Now, determined to find her voice, she breaks an arranged betrothal and embarks on a journey of self-discovery. The search for truth rattles her world and the people in it, in ways she didn’t bargain for. When everything comes crashing down will she be content with what she finds or wish she’d remained in the comfort of the familiar?

The connection was electric, heart jolting even, but it came from the wrong source.
Charming, attractive and successful, Ekene Odili, is the Dajuma family lawyer. He’s also friends with Halima’s oldest brother, Rasheed. For years, religion and her fiancé stood between Halima and Ekene. He knows she’s off-limits. However, knowledge is no match for a heart which refuses to adhere to logic. When he begins to see the pain she has to endure, is he willing to sacrifice his heart and let her go?

The ultimate loss soon shatters her heart, then will Halima still have the courage to surrender to a redeeming love?

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EXCERPT

Halima said her prayers and crawled into the cool sheets of her queen-sized bed. Moments later, as expected it would, Sade’s Sweetest Taboobegan to play. She picked up her phone, smiled and accepted the call.

“Hello.” Her tone was low and tired.

“Hey yourself,” he responded with a voice that prickled her skin every time. “How are you? No need to ask if you made it home okay since you were with Kam.”

Halima let out a faint chuckle at the fight she had to put up, so Kamal would drop her in her own home instead of her staying overnight in his. He just got back from a trip and she was in no desire to see him and Ebele all over each other. Amongst all her brother, that couple couldn’t function without their hands or lips being on each other. For someone who’d been celibate for years, that wasn’t where she needed to be.

“So, you just had to go and add another reason for me to be upset with you?” The normal softness of his voice when he spoke to her was absent.

“And what’s the first?” She knew exactly what he was talking about, but she wouldn’t be the one to admit it.

His grunt caused her to smile.

“You’ve been avoiding me. We’re going to get to that, but first why didn’t you call me when those men came to your office?” He paused. “I was going crazy with worry.”

“That wasn’t my intention.”

“Are we that bad? I mean you’d rather get in trouble than see me?”

“I didn’t call anyone at the time. It wasn’t personal.” Halima rubbed her forehead. She didn’t want him running with the wrong impression. Yes, she was avoiding him, but it was nothing he did. It was all her. Be that as it may, this wasn’t the heavy conversation she wanted to have tonight. Besides, the phone worked both ways.

“Kene, you’ve always been good to me—”

“But?”

“But nothing. Can we not talk about this tonight?”

“No can do. Your brothers are like putty in your hand but that’s not me, Princess. I want to know why you would endanger yourself that way instead of calling me?” His anger laced with frustration seeped through the phone.

Halima sat up against her keyboard and creased her brows. She wished her brothers would be putty in her hands.

“That’s not true.”

“You and I know it is. But that’s not the point. We’re talking about you deliberately putting yourself in danger. You weren’t under arrest so why would you go with those people without your lawyer present?”

Two opposing emotions clashed within her. Aggravation and pleasure. The former at the fact that he was talking to her as though she were a child and he referred to himself as just her lawyer. He was acting just like her brothers. And the latter at the fact that he cared enough to be angry. She knew she sounded crazy but there was nothing she could do about her truth. She imagined the six-foot four-inch dark chocolate brown package pacing wherever he was with a scowl on his face.

“Ekene, I’m going to tell you like I tell my brothers, I’m a thirty-six-year-old woman perfectly capable of taking care of herself.” She paused for his response, got none so continued. “Abubakar was going to call you as my lawyerbut Chiaka got to Kammy first then he Rasheed and I’m sure that’s who called you.”

“If your little outburst and the use of my full name are supposed to dismiss me, it’s cute but not going to work,” he said. “Considering I broke every traffic law to get you out of where you shouldn’t have been in the first place, I want an explanation.” His chuckle irked her.

She yawned. Hopefully, he’ll get the message and get off the phone. She was done talking to him.

ABOUT UNOMA NWANKWOR

Unoma Nwankwor writes clean, multicultural romances that span Africa and the Diaspora. Unoma weaves romantic tales for readers who enjoy stories centered around faith, family and the rich culture of Africa. Through the pages, she promises you humor, tight hugs, forehead kisses and above all else, redemptive, sacrificial love.

Her readers are in love with her unique way of telling stories that capture the essence of her present home base in the USA and her Nigerian culture. Unoma wears numerous hats but the one she’s most proud of is, mother of two kids and wife to her film director husband. You can catch her writing from the comfort of her bedroom nook with a pack of pepperoni slices and a cup of java.

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A Southern Gentleman Two by Tracy Reed

A SOUTHERN GENTLEMAN VOL 2 BY TRACY REED

“I never meant to fall in love. I thought Avery would be a good distraction…a way to mend my broken heart. But the moment she sat next to me, I knew she was the one. Now all I have to do is keep my celibacy vow until our wedding night. Avery said she understands my vow, but that hasn’t stopped her from trying to seduce me. God help me make it to the wedding.”

Billionaire Businessman Jeremiah Logan went to New York to buy a company and nurse a broken heart. Instead of getting a company, he gained an ally, a business partner and the heart of the most eligible socialite in Manhattan.

When it came to love, Avery Marshall assumed the best she could hope for was a marriage of convenience with a man who only wanted her money and social connections. But one night in a New York bar, with a charming southern gentleman gave her hope for a happy ending.

Before they can get the relationship they desire, they will need to deal with the ghosts of their pasts.

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ABOUT TRACY REED

A California native, novelist Tracy Reed pushes the boundaries of her Christian foundation with her sometimes racy and often fiery tales.

After years of living in the Big Apple, this self proclaimed New Yorker draws from the city’s imagination, intrigue, and inspiration to cultivate characters and plot lines who breathe life to the words on every page.

Tracy’s passion for beautiful fashion and beautiful men direct her vivid creative power towards not only novels, but short stories, poetry, and podcasts. With something for every attention span.

Tracy Reed’s ability to capture an audience is unmatched. Her body of work has been described as a host of stimulating adventures and invigorating expression.

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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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Losing the Bid by Suzette Riddick

Parading in front of a room full of women is not Adrian Collins’ idea of a good time. The last thing he wants to do is fly to Chicago for a bachelor auction. But, how can he refuse to help the woman who nurtured him after his mother abandoned him when he was a toddler? Going back to the site of his deepest wounds is where he’ll meet his destiny, Daphne Turner. Adrian is disappointed when Daphne slips through his fingers after losing the bid to an old flame from his past.

Reeling from the death of her uncle, Daphne accepts her best friend’s offer to attend a fundraiser in the windy city. Good cause or not, the idea of spending hard-earned money on a date is ludicrous. That is, until she locks eyes with ruggedly-handsome bachelor number twelve. Unfortunately, the night doesn’t end as Daphne hoped. In the company of a sexy stranger to chase her blues away.

Fate intervenes when Adrian and Daphne’s paths intertwine. However, Adrian’s past threatens to rob them of a life of happiness. Will Daphne’s love be enough to heal his wounded soul?

Excerpt

Finally, the Motrin kicked in leaving a faint trace of pain behind. Ear buds in, Daphne tapped her foot to the beat of Jill Scott singing about life being golden. Turn around, she heard Uncle Hal’s voice whisper. Daphne’s foot stopped its movement. Eyes shifting to the left and then the right, she expected to see her uncle.

“Oh, my God. I’m going crazy,” she mumbled under her breath, hoping the woman in front of her didn’t hear her talking to herself. Turn around. This time the inner voice was more persistent.

Slowly, Daphne complied. The man responsible for her recent agony was less than fifteen feet away. Lord, she was trying not to stare. But how could she not? He was downright sexy with swagger for days. And that grin curving his full mouth made her remember what she’d been missing since her vow of celibacy three years ago. What would those lips feel like kissing every inch of her body? Daphne’s eyes were drawn to his hands and his feet. Ooh, have mercy. Heat flushed her insides as a naughty thought skipped across her mind. Why hadn’t she noticed those big feet the other night?

“We meet again,” came his smooth introduction into what Daphne hoped would be a conversation with them exchanging phone numbers as he stepped in line behind her.

A sultry smile played around Daphne lips. “I don’t recall us meeting.” She wouldn’t dare bring up the dreaded auction.

“My bad.” Adrian held out his hand. “Adrian Collins.”

Daphne hesitated before accepting the proffered hand. Because she felt in her spirit once their bodies made contact, there was no reversing whatever fate awaited her. Awaited them.

“Daphne Turner.” She tilted her head back to look up at him. “You’re a lot taller than I thought you would be.”

Adrian’s laugher sent quivers through her belly.

“And you look a lot shorter than you did Saturday night.”

Moving to close the gap in the line between her and the woman in front, Daphne glanced down at the sneakers covering her feet. “It was the heels.”

She shifted her gaze to the McDonald’s across the hall to hide her flushed cheeks. The memory of how his eyes caressed her bare legs made her inside tingle in the most delicious way.

Daphne held her breath when Adrian leaned forward, bringing his mouth mere inches from the shell of her ear. His breath was warm, stoking a flame in her when he whispered, “You have amazing legs. I damn near tripped over my feet staring at them.”

Was he a mind reader? Daphne wondered.

“Next in line.” The cashier called. Caught in a haze, Daphne hadn’t heard the twenty-something. How was she supposed to hear anything when this man was so close? If she turned her head in the slightest movement, their lips would touch. Sweet baby Jesus! 

 Her eyelids closed, and she inhaled deeply when he leaned even closer. His lips brushed her earlobe when he whispered, “It’s your turn to order.”

Daphne’s eyes fluttered open. Adrian’s teasing smile had a nerve to be as sexy as he was.

Embarrassed, she spun around to take her focus off Adrian. But that wasn’t any better because the cashier giggled. “Listen, if you don’t want him, I’ll gladly take him off your hands.”

“You and half the women in this airport,” Daphne jokingly replied under her breath before placing her order for a white-chocolate caramel latte with soy milk. Adrian covered her hand to stop her from going into her purse.

“I got it,” he told her before adding an order for a black coffee.

After their orders were taken and paid for, they moved to the side of the counter to wait. Although it was only a five-dollar beverage, Daphne was impressed that he offered to pay for it. The last guy she went out with insisted they go Dutch. Cheap bastard.

“Thanks for buying my latte.”

“My pleasure, pretty lady.”

Daphne blushed again. This man was splendid for her ego. When was the last time a man made her feel this good about herself?

“Full of compliments,” Daphne shyly murmured.

Adrian’s laugh was deep and sexy, causing her belly to quiver again. She wondered if he was teasing and playful in bed. Or was he intense and serious? Or was he gifted and possessed with the ability to switch between the two when the mood called for it?

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ABOUT SUZETTE RIDDICK

Suzette Riddick is a wife, mother, and nurse practitioner who enjoys writing about flawed characters on a quest for love. She is an Amazon Best-Selling Author and was a featured author in USA Today ~ Happy Ever After. A native of Philadelphia, PA, Suzette loves to travel, read, and is addicted to Chanel parfum.

To learn more about Suzette visit her website at http://www.suzetteriddick.com.

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.

CONNECT WITH Shelly Ellisk

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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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