#WineWithWriters is just about a month away, and I'm getting more and more excited. Because wine. And because books. And because wine and books.
Seriously, Nia Forrester will be here in Atlanta signing books for the first time ever. Lily Java will also be in the A signing books for the first time ever. In fact, this is the first time the #BecauseMyHeartSaidSo crew will all be in Atlanta, together. #YayThat.
Speaking of #Yay, Tasha L. Harrison will be here too. I just got hip to her very recently and let me tell y'all, her voice is so refreshing. Her heroine, Ava, in The Truth of Things, was one of the best women I've read in a while. That said, I'm excited because we were able to get inside of Tasha's head a little bit with #10 Question.
Check that out below, and come out and meet Tasha at #WineWithWriters on 3.10.18. RSVP here.
10 Questions for Tasha L. Harrison
What’s in your purse?
First things first, it’s not really a purse. I feel like it’s sheer size and weight have pushed beyond the purse description into bag territory because it’s a big ole bag. In my big ole bag, I carry my travelers notebook which usually has about three composition size books in it; a pencil bag with more pens, pencils, or markers than anyone could ever need or use in one day; my deck of tarot cards and sometimes a small deck of affirmation cards I like to keep on me; a bag of healing crystals—right now it’s carnelian, selenite, and rose quartz; my kindle because I don’t like reading on my iPhone; and a million things of chapstick that always seem to get lost in the bottom of my bag.
Favorite book you’ve written?
I don’t really have a favorite, but the one I had the most fun writing was Having it Both Ways, the third book in The Lust Diaries. It was just fun to write.
Are you spring, summer, fall, or winter? Please share why.
I grew up in South Jersey, and I've lived in various cities in the Northeast most of my life. Summers always seemed so precious and tragically short.
August is also Birthday month. Me and my sons (fur baby included) are all Leos, and we usually spend it on the beach.
Mostly I love summer because I’m a sun worshipper. I tend to spend a majority of my summer evenings and weekends reading or writing on my back deck, slathered in sunblock, with a beer in hand, and the sun on my face.
If you were a city, which city would you choose to be and why?
New Orleans. It’s dark, dangerous, dirty, fun, loud, and it’s perfectly okay to be slightly tipsy most of the day. In fact, it’s encouraged. At any moment a band can start playing, and people will be dancing in the streets. Everyone is a weirdo, and no one cares. NOLA feels like the dark, gooey center of my soul.
If you could choose your age forever, what age would you choose and why?
I turn forty this year, and I wouldn’t mind holding here. I feel young enough to do things but wise enough not to let those things get me arrested.
What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?
Hands down being a soldier in the United States Army. It was both the best and the worst job. The day to day stuff was tedious and dealing with people who wore their rank and ego on the same sleeve was mentally exhausting. However, it did offer me an opportunity to travel and experience a diverse group of people from all parts of the US. I also learned to respect weapons and qualified on quite a few. Handy skill to have.
What technology from science fiction do you wish existed?
That thing from Matrix where they could download information into a brain. There is so much I want to learn and know. Having a quick way to download it would be awesome.
What’s the most crucial thing for a healthy relationship?
Definitely communication. If you can’t communicate effectively, all of your relationships will suffer.
What do a lot of parents do that screws up their kid?
I think that parents spend a ton of time trying to make their kid into a mini version of themselves versus actually getting to know the kid and letting them be and become whoever they are.
Why are there so many people who are lonely? Why is it so hard for people to make real connections when almost everyone wants to make real connections?
It’s really easy to blame this epidemic level of loneliness on technology, but I think it’s a large part of it. It’s definitely the reason why people have a difficult time making real connections. Words or a picture on a screen will never equal the real intensity of sitting across from someone and experiencing them in real time, but getting to the place where you can trust folks enough to let them in that way has become increasingly more difficult. We burrow in our hidey-holes and play on a tippy-taps (iPhone, computer, whatever) and create what feels like real relationships. You have to put in real effort to bring that relationship offline and into real life. Sadly, most people either don’t want to make that effort or have given up on trying.
What are the most common roadblocks that stop people from achieving their dreams?
Mindset. A lot of what kept me from pursuing my dreams was rooted in an ideal image of the person I thought I was supposed to be. Once I changed my mindset and decided that an idea of perceived perfection was less important than being fulfilled and happy, things changed and pursuing my dreams became easier.
If you suddenly found out that your internal monologue for the last week was actually audible, how screwed would you be?
Completely and utterly screwed. I’ve had some thoughts this week about myself AND others that should remain in the brain vault.
Read an excerpt from The Truth of Things
Walking through the doors of Camden County Police Department wasn’t something I ever saw myself doing voluntarily. Memories of the last time I was here flooded me as I stepped across the threshold of the precinct. I shook my head, pushing away those thoughts and the feelings attached to them and walked right up to the Sergeant’s desk.
“One second, honey.” The cop behind the desk said, holding up one finger to silence me as he continued to scribble in his notebook. I gritted my teeth.
Do not show your ass in this police station.
After what seemed like an eternity, the officer lifted his head. Within seconds his countenance went from rude and dismissive to leering. "What was it you needed, beautiful?”
“I want to file a complaint.”
His mouth twisted into a sour expression. “For what?”
“Property damage. I was detained by a couple of your officers last night and one of them damaged my lens. I’m a photojournalist, and I need that lens for work.”
The desk sergeant sighed and reached under his desktop. “Fill out this paperwork, and someone will contact you about reimbursement.”
No-fucking-body was reimbursing me for the damage to this lens. I mentally assessed the balance of my credit cards and tried to figure out if I could replace it as I filled out the complaint form.
When I was done, I brought the clipboard and my form back to the desk. “Can you give me some info on two men arrested last night?”
“What are their names?”
“Two guys with the first names Emiliano and Khalid.”
“Do you know the names of the arresting officers?”
“Raymond and Stevenson.”
The desk sergeant entered the names into his computer and took some time to scroll through the records. “Looks like Emiliano Perez was released this morning. Khalid Williamson is still in custody.”
“Okay, thanks.” I pushed away from the desk and turned to leave…
And slammed right into a sweaty, panting Officer Levi Raymond.
My eyes didn’t know where to land first. His gorgeous face, dark brows, thick dark lashes. He wore a stretched out singlet top which was basically a rag meant to strategically cover his nipples. Remnants of last night’s dream flickered through my mind as I watched a droplet of sweat trickle down his chest, a chest covered in curling, wet hair. Slightly damp sweatpants hung low on his hip bones revealing those two lines on either side of his abdomen that said hey, look down here! Iliac furrows, that's what they were called and, holy shit, was that the imprint of his--
“Ms. Greene? Is everything all right?”
I managed to drag my eyes away from his crotch and back to his face.
“Those guys didn’t come after you did they?” he asked, seeming genuinely concerned. “Did something happen?"
I shook my head, eyes tracking a droplet of sweat from his neck to his chest. “No. No…I…” My mouth was suddenly very dry…Can I please lick that droplet of sweat off of your chest? “Your partner broke my camera lens,” I blurted. “Came in to file a complaint.”
His brow furrowed. “Okay. I’m sorry to hear that your property was damaged. I’m sure the precinct will take care of it.”
“Yeah, yeah, sure they will,” I said rolling my eyes, annoyance about my damaged property overriding my sudden lust-triggered, bashfulness.
He stared at me a moment longer. “Is there something else you need? Are you confused about something?”
“Excuse me? Confused? No, absolutely not.”
“Okay, I just wanted to make sure.” He gave me an uneasy smile.
“Well, I did want to thank you for walking me home.”
Wait. No. That’s not what I meant to say at all.
“Really? You didn’t seem all that grateful last night.”
“Yes, really. I’m not usually that rude. Well, no. That’s a lie. I am usually that rude, but maybe I was a little too harsh—”
“Miss Greene…it’s fine.”
“Call me Ava.”
“Ava,” he said, his voice filled with the smile that twitched at the corners of his mouth. “You can call me Levi.”
And suddenly I was thinking about how that voice would sound in a much lower, much more secretive tone.
“But I did overstep. I apologized.”
“No, it wasn’t—you didn’t overstep. I still should’ve been more gracious.”
“Okay, how about this. How about you treat me to a cup of coffee?”
“Buy me a cup of coffee, and all is forgiven,” he said with a nonchalant shrug.
“I…but I’m on my way to work.”
“So I’ll take a raincheck.” He hooked his thumbs into the waistband of his sweats, tugging them just a bit lower and short-circuiting my brain.
“Is that appropriate?” I asked.
And more importantly was this what I wanted? When I walked into the police station, I meant to file a complaint for damage done to my camera lens and maybe check on Emiliano. But Levi, standing in front of me all sweaty and hairy and manly in all the right ways, demanded more of my attention. And he smelled so good. How could he be so sweaty and smell so good? God, he smelled like something I wanted to hold in my mouth, roll over my tongue, and savor for a good long time.
Book/Website Link: The Truth of Things, http://amzn.to/2GJ4vJL
Meet the author at Wine With Writers- RSVP
#WineWithWriters is coming up on March 10, 2018— and there are going to be some super talented writers participating, including an author who is easily one of my absolute favorite contemporary writers (indie or otherwise), Nia Forrester.
#WineWithWriters is actually Nia's brainchild. She started the event in DC a couple of years ago, and then last year, it was held in Philly (organized by author Tia Kelly). And now, of course, it's headed to Atlanta!
Nia isn't only one of my favorite writers but over the few years that I've known her has continually inspired me with her words, insight, humility and graciousness. I know that sounds corny but I'm dead serious. She's just super good people, and I'm happy to know her.
That said, here's a little more on Nia Forrester.
10 Questions for Nia Forrester:
What’s in your purse? There’s one constant when it comes to my purses (although I prefer to say ‘pocketbook’ even though it’s old-fashioned because purse sounds so … girly) … they’re messy. But right now, here’s what I’ve got; and I’m going to be as author-ly in my descriptions as I can. I have: the smallest and lightest of my four (yes, I know, it’s ridiculous) e-readers which is in a somewhat flowery, colorful case; a little pencil case thingie with my fountain pens and spare cartridges; a small pocket-sized notebook with a blue-and-white paisley print cover for the unexpected stroke of creative genius; a much larger 2018 brown leather daybook/calendar; Trident Purely spearmint chewing gum, a small brush, several travel-size lotion tubes ranging from fragrance-free to coconut & lime; black leather gloves; my fancy sunglasses that I have had for a record TWO years (that’s why I got the fancy ones, because then I would know I had to take care of them); napkins rom Starbucks (where I no longer by coffee but over-pay for tea), receipts, Excedrin migraine; clear mascara; Palmer’s cocoa butter lip balm; black ponytail holders; and about a half-dozen pens.
Favorite book you’ve written? That’s like asking a parent which is their favorite child. I especially love ‘The Fall’ because it’s women’s fiction and romance and issue-oriented, and features a strong woman. All of the things I most like to read, and enjoyed writing as well. And then there’s ‘Lifted’ which featured unlikely lovers, with unconventional lives -- they are wonderfully imperfect, which I think makes for good characters and good fiction. It certainly made for a good time writing it. Those books are closest to what I want to be writing. I also love the short ‘Still’, because it was moody and quiet and I was able to make myself say a lot, with relatively few words. It was a challenge, but I liked the product. And of course, my first-born, ‘Commitment’ because it is evidence of how … optimistic I was when I first started self-publishing. I was unselfconscious and didn’t think at all about the eventual reader of the book. I still can’t believe I wrote 500+ pages without considering whether people might actually want to read it. It’s even more incredible that people did read it, and that some liked it a lot.
Are you spring, summer, fall, or winter? Please share why. Definitely fall. It’s my favorite time of year. I like the colors, the smells, the wind that can whip up unexpectedly, the bursts of hot and cold, which is kind of like my personality. I think it illustrates my changeable nature., my moodiness.
If you were a city, which city would you choose to be and why? I would be New York. It is a maddening, confounding, contradictory mess of a place. Sometimes amazing and surprising, sometimes harsh and forbidding. Always complicated, with an arrogant sense of its own importance, coupled with constant self-criticism.
What’s the worst job you’ve ever had? After law school, before I began earnestly adulting, I decided I would temp for a while, and rest my weary brain cells. All through law school I hadn’t written a word of fiction, which was AWFUL. I just didn’t have the time! So, before I went off to earn some real money as a lawyer, I decided to temp. One of my assignments was working for the U.S. Marshals Service. They apprehend fugitives from the federal criminal justice system among other things. I was responsible for admitting the marshals to the facility in Washington DC when they returned with fugitives in custody. It was upsetting to me to see people in chains. I was glad that assignment was a short one.
What technology from science fiction do you wish existed? Teleportation. I’m generally pretty mellow but traffic, airline delays (or even a completely trouble-free trip that involves flying, because of all the doggone hoops you jump through before getting on the plane) turn me into a joyless shrew. I would love to be able to just ‘will’ myself from one place to another. Also, there are all these cool places where I want to visit, where I have friends, and only the thought of “getting there” holds me back. 12-hour travel time? No thank you very much. I’m sure I’ll eventually get to those places, but not without a lot of complaining.
What’s the most crucial thing for a healthy relationship? I don’t think it’s one thing, but if I had to pick, I would say healthy communication. With emphasis on the ‘healthy’. Which for me doesn’t mean talking for talking’s sake, or spilling your every thought. Rather, it would mean, for me, considering when, how and what to communicate. And doing it consistently, and with compassion for your partner.
Why is it so hard for people to make real connections when almost everyone wants to make real connections? I think fear. Fear of disappointment; fear of rejection; and ultimately fear of being hurt. I think that’s universal.
What are the most common road blocks that stop people from achieving their dreams? 1) fear 2) complacency; and 3) what they call in the recovery community “negative self-talk”.
If you suddenly found out that your internal monologue for the last week was actually audible, how screwed would you be? Pretty screwed. I set high expectations for myself which I guess is fine. But I also have a horrible tendency of setting high, unvoiced, unwarranted and oftentimes unfair expectations of other people. I expect things of them they are completely unaware of, and then I blame them for not living up to those expectations. That blame seldom results in outright cruel behavior, but it definitely results in me having very scathing thoughts.
Read an excerpt from her (fantastic) work, The Takedown.
Watching Kayla get up from her place on the floor and say something to the kids as she left, Jamal’s eyes followed her. As was always the case for occasions like this, she had done something special to her hair. It fell in wavy coils to the center of her back and was pulled up and away from her face on the sides and top, peaking in the middle. Until her, he never knew—nor had reason to think about—the beauty of locs. He loved hers—the rough texture, the sturdiness, and the symbolism of them; and the way she held her back and neck regal and erect when they were piled high atop her head. And he loved the attention she got; and that he got just from being with her.
In his business, locs were still almost subversive unless you were part of the neo-soul, or world music scene. Or if not subversive exactly, they were very much the exception rather than the norm. Except for niche music, almost everyone went for the long, sleek mane of lighter-side-of-brown hair, and the almost airbrush-perfect makeup.
Jamal dug it that his woman stood out from all that, because he wasn’t opposed to standing out himself. Kayla was into darker makeup shades when she wore any at all—wine-colored lips, smoky eyes, and her naturally clay-brown complexion only enhanced, never lightened or altered with heavy foundation.
And the way she dressed was different too. Now that she had the resources to indulge her taste in fashion, she went for the yin-and-yang look. Boyishly baggy palazzo pants or billowy skirts in silk, linen and other natural fabrics, coupled with brief, lightweight but close-fitting tops with spaghetti straps; halter or tube tops, her neck and shoulders, and sometimes her back on display … sexy as fuck.
Without pausing to think how it might look, Jamal followed her, tired of the persistent distance between them—physical and otherwise.
He found her in the powder room, as expected. She was just leaving, but he crowded her back inside and leaned against the door, looking her over. Her nostrils flared a little, as though she could smell how much he wanted her.
“What was that, a job interview or something?”
Makayla’s eyes narrowed. “What’re you …?”
“You, and Robyn’s brother.”
She smirked, her eyes becoming lazy and exasperated. “Seriously?”
“That’s why you backed me up in here? To ask what I was talking about with Robyn’s brother?”
“This is where I’m supposed to get all jealous and shit, and take you home early, right?”
Makayla said nothing, just sighed, her expression impassive.
“Because if that’s what you’re thinking …” he continued.
“I would never think that,” she interrupted. “I mean, you’re Jamal Turner. You don’t do jealousy.”
“That’s right,” he said moving closer. Kayla took two corresponding steps back, until she was pressed against the edge of the sink. “I don’t do jealousy.”
She stifled a smile and her head fell back a little so she could maintain eye contact. “Why would you? Because you have everything you want.”
“Everything I want,” he echoed, lowering his head and kissing her at the shell of her ear. “Is already mine, dammit. So, I don’t have to be jealous.”
“Exactly.” She sounded a little breathless. “You don’t.”
When they played little games like this, Jamal was never sure how much was true and how much was part of the dance they liked to do, teasing each other, driving each other crazy. She still drove him crazy that was for sure. And that feeling didn’t get better with time, it got worse.
Inhaling her skin, he allowed just the tip of his tongue to score across its surface, smiling when he felt Kayla’s shiver. Grabbing her chin, he kissed her hard, messing up that dark lipstick she was wearing, and had probably just reapplied.
Feeling himself grow harder, he pressed against her, so she could feel it too. Dropping his hand from her face to her shoulder, and then to her waist, he lifted the hem of her blouse—a wispy yellow thing—knowing that there was nothing underneath. Her nipples were already hard when his fingertips brushed lightly across them. Immediately, he wanted them in his mouth, on his tongue. With his free hand, he reached for the knot at her neck, unfastening it so the halter fell, exposing her to the waist.
Makayla stepped back in surprise and gathered the fabric in her hands, beginning to lift it to cover herself once again.
“Are you out of your mind?” she asked, laughter in her voice. “We’re in Chris Scaife’s bathroom.”
“When you gon’ stop calling him ‘Chris Scaife’, like he’s someone you never met before?” Jamal murmured, lowering his head further, trying to capture the tip of a breast between his lips.
“He’s larger than life, so it’s just weird that …”
“I don’t want to talk about Chris right now,” Jamal said, cutting her off.
He sucked in a nipple and felt Makayla lift onto the tips of her toes at the sensation. She tasted good, and it had been much too long since he’d had any. The longest they had ever gone since they’d lived together was three weeks, and that was when he was across the Atlantic. This time it had been almost two weeks, and when he came back it was to exhaustion, a post-midnight call from that pain-in-the-ass Devin Parks, a trip to a florist, and one of his biggest name artists having a freak-out in an exclusive hotel.
He needed her right now. It had been too long. If it wasn’t for this little party to celebrate the christening of Brendan and Tracy’s second baby girl, he would be home, buried inside Kayla, but only after tasting every part of her. Not just the parts easily exposed in someone else’s powder room on short notice.
“Jamal. Baby …”
Her hands were atop his head. He liked how they felt there. He liked when she called him ‘baby’. And he liked that even though she was about to ask him to stop she didn’t really want him to.
“… stop. We have to …” She was talking between short bursts of breath, and by now, she was soaking wet for him.
But maybe he ought to check. Just to make sure he hadn’t lost his mojo. He slid a hand down the front of her pants and that was it—she shut him down.
Pressing both her palms against his chest, Makayla shoved him away and used to the space to twist free. Grabbing the strings of her halter, she knotted it at her neck once again, eyes wide, as if to say, ‘look what you got me into!’
Taking a deep breath, he collected himself, willing his erection to disappear. Watching Makayla reapply her lipstick didn’t really help with that so he shut his eyes and concentrated for a minute, making himself think about work. There was always at least one little problem brewing on the horizon that was guaranteed to take his mind off sex so he focused on that, and within moments felt the tightness in his groin dissipate.
When she restored her appearance to her satisfaction, Jamal took her hand and led Kayla out of the bathroom, pausing before they rejoined their friends. Leaning in, he whispered in her ear.
“Make whatever excuses you have to. Meet me at the car in five minutes.”
Buy the book, and meet the author at Wine with Writers ATL, March 10, 2018.
So, Wine With Writers is coming to Atlanta! After two dope events in DC and Philly, Atlanta got next—y'all have no idea how excited I am about this. Nia Forrester, Tasha L. Harrison, Lily Java, Rae Lamar, DL White and myself will be there to discuss, chill, sign and of course... drink wine!
You must RSVP to attend and you can do so here. Hope to see you on 3.8.18!
Blind Expectations is on sale for .99 cents!
This book is probably one of my very faves because it explores what I believe to be a pretty profound thought— oftentimes, when we get married, are desires turn into expectations. If that happens, how does it affect the way you view your spouse and your relationship?
Here's what people are saying about Blind Expectations:
"A really good read. Her focus on real issues was refreshing and intertwining their love story from friends to spouses felt real, unlike many books that paint a fantasy. Definitely one of the best books I’ve read in a while."—Amazon Review
"I felt these characters and emotions deeply." —Amazon Review
"Beautiful love story."— Amazon Review
"Sexy, loving, entertaining, sensual and enlightening." —Amazon Review
The #LoveAlways series is on sale for the holidays!
Better Than Okay is the first book I published—so, of course, it holds a special place for me. This entire series is about overcoming the curveballs life often throws at us, and realizing that love is... always. Destiny+Brian (Better Than Okay, More Than Always), Raven+Dorian (Less Than Forever) went through the ringer... but they came out on top, and more in love than ever.
Watch the #LoveAlways trailer below. Purchase the books HERE.
My new holiday novella, The Night Before, is live! As I've said before, this novella is based on one of the Holiday Shorts that I wrote a couple years ago. Some of you asked for more on this couple—Elias and Ava—in particular, and I realized that I did have more to share of their story. So, here we are!
Sip some egg nog (and rum if you're inclined) and enjoy.
The Night Before Blurb: Ava couldn’t believe she’d let her best friend talk her into coming to a mind numbing holiday party on the night before Christmas. As Ava counts the minutes before she can leave, all she can think about is how much she wants to snuggle up on the sofa with a crappy holiday movie and drink too much eggnog (with rum). That is, until an old classmate, Elias Young, sits next to her at the party. Elias is way too charming to be any good for her, but fate forces Ava to put that tired theory to the ultimate test. Is it happenstance? Serendipity? Or, is the night before Christmas also the night before everything Ava thinks she knows about love changes for good?
Purchase Link: Amazon
Goodreads Link: Add
So a little while back, the awesome Nicole Falls asked me to be featured on her podcast, Falls On Love. Nicole is awesome and being featured on her awesome podcast that supports awesome "negro-nosed romance" is awesome... so naturally, I was all like, "sure that'd be awesome!"
And then I made an old fashioned, and Nicole called me, and we chatted while I drank my old fashioned because here's the thing: being interviewed isn't my jam. I've interviewed literally hundreds of people over the course of my journalism career, a great deal of them celebrities.
But when the tables are turned? When it's me being interviewed? Yeah... no. I'm kinda a little bit horrible. I'm not overly into talking about myself. I'm working on it. For real. In the meantime, I drink a little to loosen myself up. I know I finished my old fashioned during the course of this interview with the awesome Nicole Falls but what I can't recall is how strong I made said old fashioned. I'm a little worried to find out. However, Nicole made it sound as if we talked about smart and interesting things, and I trust her.
All that to say—I'm on Nicole Fall's podcast y'all! You should listen to it and also buy her books.
Wanna hear a story? Cool.
So, about two years ago now (feels c-RAZY to say that), I wrote a few holiday shorts. I was in the middle of writing Finding Kennedy and hadn't released anything in a while so, I wrote a few shorts to remind folks about me. Anyway, last year, I reposted those shorts in the FB group I have with Nia Forrester, Lily Java and Rae Lamar, Because My Heart Said So. People seemed to like them, and one in particular, stood out—Ava and Elias' story and their meet-cute at a boring Christmas party. I started to write a full novella based on the short last holiday season but didn't end up getting finished in time to publish it (at the time, I was also finishing up Blind Expectations). It's worth mentioning that Blind Expectations also started from those holiday shorts. Makes me wonder what other stories I'll end up writing from those mini-pieces.
Which brings us to now. I sat on Ava and Elias' story for like, eight months. It was maybe half-way finished (or a little less) last year when I stopped writing on it. Well, I'm finally getting around to completing it... woo-hoo!
My new holiday novella, The Night Before, the continuation of Ava and Elias' story is coming on Dec. 15. For #SampleSunday, I'm posting the original short that sparked the novella. Hope you enjoy.
Ava scanned the crowded living room, releasing a soft sigh as she twirled her candy cane in her rum and coke. Her eyes flitted from the half-drunk guy in the corner of the room who was vying for the attention of a woman who looked as bored as she was, to a woman dressed in a seductive elf costume, as if it were Halloween, before landing on her friend. Ellie looked up and Ava raised her brows.
“10 more minutes,” Ellie mouthed, barely able to look away from the tall guy she was hugged up with.
Ava sighed and plastered a fake smile on her face. For the tenth time in the past hour and a half, she wondered why she’d let Ellie drag her to this party. On the rare occasions that she returned home, she preferred to spend them hanging out with her mom. Ava didn’t get to see her nearly as often as she would’ve liked. But instead of hanging with her mom, watching bad Christmas movies on Lifetime and drinking too much rum and coke, she was out at this soul-sucking party with her best friend from high school. She didn’t even remember half of these people, and didn’t want to. High school—the entire town— was a dead-end waste of space. As soon as Ava graduated, she’d left. She didn’t even wait out the summer before heading to college. In fact, this was only the second time she’d been back in the past seven years. Usually, her mom flew out to see her in Atlanta…where there was life, and coffee, and sushi available at any time of the day, if you wanted it.
The longer she sat on the plush oversized couch that seemed to be made for sleeping, not entertaining, the more convinced she was that the life was literally being zapped out of her. She pulled at her phone and glanced at it. She’d give Ellie five more minutes and then she was kicking rocks. She clicked on her Kindle app and started reading.
“You know reading at a party is pretty rude.”
“Excuse me?” Ava lifted her eyes from her phone, her brow furrowed at the owner of the deep baritone who’d interrupted her, just as she was getting to the good part. Her gaze settled on a tall figure, hovering over her.
“Reading at a party. It’s rude. But then you were stuck up in high school, so I’m not surprised.”
Ava’s mouth parted slightly.
Who the heck did this guy think he was? She craned her neck looking up at him, trying to make out his admittedly handsome features. His skin was the color dark roast coffee, just before the cream and his eyes were aware but lively with playful intrigue. His beard was groomed but still managed to give him a rugged edge, and he was wearing a dark blue sweater that stretched snuggly across his chest. She was drawing a blank, though she didn’t know how that was possible. If this dude had gone to school with her, there was no way she would’ve forgotten him. He was still smiling cockily at her and she frowned. Fine or not, he was an asshole.
“I was not stuck up,” she muttered, internally kicking herself for not thinking of a better comeback.
“Yes, you were,” he refuted, still grinning when she frowned. “You used to walk the hallways with your nose so far up in the air, it’s a wonder it didn’t get stuck there.”
He seated himself next to her on the plush couch, stretching his long legs out comfortably and crossing his booted feet at the ankles.
“What are you reading? It must be damn enthralling.”
Ava stared at him, shocked by his audacity.
“You already said that, Ava. Twice.”
He flashed another overly-confident grin her way and she tilted her head, glaring at him. The way he said her name was familiar, as if he’d been saying it forever, and it was doing weird things to her stomach. He was still peering nosily at her phone. She snatched it from his gaze and his lips curled up, revealing a smile that probably typically worked to leave women dumb and panty-less. But she wasn’t typical. Or dumb.
“I’ll bet it’s some feminist shit, huh? Roxanne Gay? Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie? bell hooks?”
He arched a brow, patiently waiting for her to answer.
“First of all, you may think you know me but I don’t have any idea who you are and don’t really care to. And I don’t appreciate you inviting yourself into my personal space and then interrupting my reading just to insult me,” Ava said, raising her voice as she sat forward, pointing a finger at his muscled chest.
His smiled widened and Ava felt her entire body heat. “You’re still just as cute as you were in high school.”
She blinked caught off guard.
“Nah, never mind,” he said, his deep voice dropping an octave. His gaze roamed over her features, taking in her curly twist-out, long eyelashes, and lips she’d painted coral pink. “You’re even more beautiful now.”
He was switching gears fast and she frowned. Why wasn’t her brain keeping up with him? She did this for a living. She was known for her quick wit and ability to persuade, qualities that helped her immensely as a network publicist. She wasn’t easily charmed by anyone. She did the charming.
“I’m Elias Young, by the way.”
“I would say it’s nice to you meet you, but it hasn’t been thus far.”
He chuckled, his eyes dancing with amusement. “Now that was just mean, Ava.”
“Are your feelings hurt?”
“A little bit, yes.”
She arched a brow, holding back a smile at his deliberately crestfallen expression. There was nothing cute about a grown ass man pouting. But damn if this dude didn’t make it sexy.
“You should learn how to talk to people if you’re gonna act all sensitive when they call you on your bullshit, Elias.”
He laughed, his eyes telling her he was thoroughly enjoying their exchange. “Kendrick is my cousin,” he offered unexpectedly, bobbing his head toward the host of this dead party, who was now whispering in Ellie’s ear. “I went to East too but I was a few years older than you. Obviously, we ran in different circles.”
He chuckled again at the disdain in her tone, a deep sound that made her pulse start beating too hard. She frowned again, thrown by her reaction to him.
“What were you reading?” He shifted his position on the couch, getting even more comfortable. Clearly, he wasn’t leaving. And there was no way she was letting some fine, strange man run her off from the only acceptable seating in the house.
“The Road,” she finally answered, just as “Baby It’s Cold Outside” came on.
“The Road?” he echoed incredulously. “At a Christmas Eve party, Ava? That’s gotta be one of the bleakest books ever written.”
She chuckled reluctantly, looking off toward the middle of the living room, where a few couples had started dancing.
“It is pretty depressing,” she conceded. “But it’s poetic.”
“Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it,” he said, quoting a line from the book.
Her gaze met his, and her mouth fell open, but only a little. Who was this dude? He smiled, watching as she hastily took another sip of her drink, hoping to cover her reaction.
“I guarantee someone is writing that on a suicide note right now.”
She laughed before she could stop herself, shaking her head at him.
“So, do you still live here, Elias?”
He bit the corner of his lip, an almost satisfied glint entering his dark brown eyes.
“Nope. I’m back visiting my folks for the holiday.” Subconsciously, her eyes took in his ring finger. He wasn’t wearing one. He noticed her checking him out and his smile became more relaxed. Damn his fine ass. “I work in Atlanta.”
“What do you do?”
“Ah, come on,” he groaned, throwing his head back. “Don’t tell me you’re one of those.” He lowered his voice tilting his head as he studied her.
“One of what?” She arched a brow.
“One of those women who judge dudes based on their occupation.”
“You got all of that from me asking what you do for a living? That’s kinda presumptuous. And also kinda sexist.”
He grinned, eyeing her. “I’m not sexist. I love women. Everything about them.” His voice had dipped an octave, his gaze roaming slowly over her. He grinned lazily and she shifted on her seat, her heart beating way too fast. “I also abhor America’s patriarchal power structure and the objectification of women in the realm of American pop culture and society at large.”
She rolled her eyes, holding in another smile. He chuckled.
“All I’m sayin’ is my gig is what I do, not who I am.”
“You must be miserable in your professional life.”
He laughed. “I enjoy what I do.”
“Uh-huh,” Ava said eyeing him, as he let out another chuckle. “Did you ever consider maybe I’m just interested in finding out how you spend your days, or what interests you, and not making a snap judgment about your character traits or desirability?”
She met his gaze, challenging him.
“I’m a photographer,” he answered in surrender. “Macon doesn’t have enough opportunities for me to make a living, so I had to leave.”
“You’re saying you would’ve stayed if you could’ve found a gig?” Ava asked, wrinkling her nose.
He shrugged, fixing her with another one of his grins that affected her breathing. “I like the quiet.”
“It’s boring,” she said, arching a brow.
“It’s real. People in small towns are who they are. I find that to be refreshing.”
“I find that to be lame.”
He laughed, his eyes raking over her frame again.
“Small towns aren’t any better than big cities,” Ava said. “You just see people’s flaws up close and personal so it feels more authentic, even though it’s basically the same crap, just a smaller toilet.”
Elias laughed again, his eyes dancing again with appreciation as Ava sipped from her drink.
He bit his lip, still grinning as he eyed her. “I had a crush on you in high school.”
He laughed boisterously as she finished off her drink, hiding her smile.
“Come dance with me, Ava.” His voice had dropped an octave and he was staring at her again with eyes that held secrets and depth beneath the playfulness. Boyz II Men’s “Let it Snow” had just started playing in the background and a few more couples were now slow dancing in the living room. Kendrick had dimmed the lights and the twinkle of the white Christmas lights that hung over the wide fireplace was casting a soft glow on the room now.
“Dance with you?”
“You know how to do that, right? Weren’t you a cheerleader?”
“You had a crush on me in high school, remember? You know I was a cheerleader.”
He chuckled again, his eyes growing heavy as he openly assessed her.
“Pretty sure I still do… have a crush on you,” he clarified when she stared at him.
Unexpectedly, she felt her face flush at his compliment.
“We’re both too old for crushes. And you know nothing about me.”
“I know enough. And I like what I do know. A lot.”
Heat crept into her cheeks again. She rolled her eyes, annoyed with herself. She wasn’t a blushing kind of chick. But this dude was not at all shy, and his confidence was arousing. Plus, he was smart and funny and seemed refreshingly genuine. He stood, extending his hand toward her. She put on a show of setting her empty glass on the coffee table in front of her and releasing an audible breath. She touched his hand, charged energy sweeping through her bloodstream at the contact, and let him pull her up. He moved them to the center of the room, where he pulled her close. Her skin hummed beneath his easy touch, as he glided his hand to the small of her back. His touch wasn’t overtly sexual but the implication, the possessiveness, was there. Once again, she questioned her mental state because she was legit turned on. He smelled of man-- virile, and her body was reacting.
“Ava,” he murmured in her ear as he swayed them around the steadily filling makeshift dance floor in the living room. “Come hang out with me.”
“We met 2.5 seconds ago. You’re moving pretty fast don’t you think?” Her voice huskier than she intended for it to be but his arms were around her, his strong chest pressed against her softer frame, and she really just wanted to lean into him.
“I don’t think I’m moving fast at all. You like me.”
She attempted to pull back so she could tell him exactly what she thought of his cocky statement but he pulled her back against him. She felt, rather than saw, his smile.
“And I really, really like you,” he continued easily, his voice deep and seductive, causing her breath to hitch. “I’m not interested in wasting time pretendin’ like I don’t want to immediately spend more time with you.”
“Tomorrow is Christmas,” she pointed out, her eyes fluttering closed when his nose brushed against the shell of her ear.
“So we’ll hang out the next day. You’ll be best Christmas gift ever.”
She grinned, inhaling as he pulled their bodies a little closer.
“Laying it on pretty thick there, guy.”
He chuckled and his fingers brushing against the small of her back, against her red sweater dress. “Is it working?”
He smiled. “Look, how about this-- you hang with your family, I’ll hang with mine and we can go to the late show tomorrow night. I’ll even save you a plate. I’m cooking.”
She blew out a breath, biting on her lower lip. “You’re cooking?” Her tone was disbelieving.
“It’s the men’s turn this year. Me and my pops and my brothers are on kitchen duty. I’m making the gumbo.”
He was tracing his thumb lightly on the small of her back, as he moved them to the music. “Come be my Christmas gift, Ava.”
This time she couldn’t contain her smile. His ass was charming. That was for sure. “My mom… it’s just me and her,” she said. “I don’t want to leave her alone tomorrow.”
Elias shrugged easily, still swaying them to the music. “So, bring her.”
Ava shook her head. “That’s… doing way too much.”
“Then we can hang the day after Christmas.”
Ava blinked, pushing out a breath.
He smiled down at her, his eyes heavy with desire and intrigue.
“Spend some time with me,” he asked again, his breath warm against the shell of her ear. He pulled her completely against him this time and she couldn’t deny that she was turned on even if she wanted to. She inexplicably wanted to spend more time with him. He seemed to sense her acceptance before she even uttered the words because he smiled.
“I’ll pick you up at 7:30,” he said. “Sound good?”
She shook her head, thoroughly confounded by the turn of events. “Alright.”
Elias let out a long breath then, as if he’d been holding it, and Ava smile and relaxed further into his arms. Maybe this party wasn’t so boring after all.
From The Night Before, Coming Dec. 15.
It's #CyberMonday and Keeping Willow is now on sale for .99 cents! Woo-hoo! Check out what folks have been saying about the book.
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So, yesterday I had one of the highlights of my year so far when I attend #BehindThePen 17 in NYC. These pictures are ones that I grabbed from the Internets (I'll have more later). But here are 5 reasons why it was so awesome.
1. It was sold out. You can't tell from these pictures but it was PACKED. People traveled from across the country (and from other countries) to chill with us, and I don't think words can explain how incredibly cool and humbling that is.
2. Mimosas. Great music, great decor, great mimosas... they were all present.
3. Reading readers who read are the best ever. Meeting people who want to meet you and support you is again, beyond words. As my girl Nia Forrester always says, y'all make me want to be better, for real. I always leave hoping that it comes across how much I truly, truly appreciate meeting you and all the love you show me. It's humbling, inspiring and my heart is still smiling (cheesy but true).
4. #4Writers4Love finally got to connect in person! I've met them all separately before but this was the first time that me, Nia Forrester, Lily Java and Rae Lamar were all together-- and our conversation, the time we got to hang and vibe with each other... man, it was for real one of the highlights of my year. Love y'all.
5. Sharee, Saida and the entire Sistah Girls Crew are so awesomely fantastic. Seriously, you guys KILLED it. It was gorgeous, fun, the vibe, music and energy were right and it was just really, really cool. Take a bow, ladies. I'm honored to have been part of such a dope-ass event.