(I completed my second novel this morning, and I’m feeling very excited! Please enjoy this excerpt, which is chapter one of Strictly Professional.)
I shouldn’t have let Regina talk me into this. I don’t wanna be here.
And yet, here I was. I hadn’t unpacked my bags, and I barely had time to shower away the memory of my awful flight before my new roommate dragged me out the door, insisting that I needed to have a little fun.
But I definitely wasn’t having fun. This was decidedly not fun.
I’m sure Regina had good intentions when she invited me out. If my new roommate was fresh off of a breakup with her boyfriend of eight years, I would want to show her a good time too. What I wouldn’t do is invite along my boyfriend, essentially forcing her to watch their lovey-dovey antics.
I just wanna crawl in the bed and sleep until it’s time to start my job.
Excusing myself from the table, I made my way into the nearly empty bathroom and then pulled the phone from my purse. My eyes narrowed as I read the screen. Micheal. I shook away the tension that crept up the back of my shoulders at the thought of him.
Forget about him. Isn’t that what this entire move was about? A new start?
“Please stop contacting me.”- I sent, even though I knew the message would be ignored.
I forced a smile in the mirror, pulled my thick mass of black curls to one side, and stood up straighter. I wasn’t an uncertain, insecure little girl anymore. I left that behind in Chicago. At 25, I was a grown woman, starting a new life.
But you didn’t hesitate to deposit that check your daddy wrote to cover your expenses for a year.
My posture deflated. I couldn’t very well be ‘Miss Independent’ with my father footing the bill. I made a mental note to start a separate account as soon as I got my first check, then washed my hands and headed to the bar.
I needed a break. Just a few minutes away from Regina and Kevin. Any other time I would have found their overt affection for each other sweet. Tonight, it was just plain depressing. Mercifully, the bar was quieter than the main dining area. The live band sounded good, but the heavy thump of the drums had been intensifying my stress-induced headache since I walked in.
I requested an ice water from the bartender, even though I wanted something stronger. I quickly drained it and asked for another, slipping him a ten dollar bill so that he wouldn’t feel like I was wasting his time.
“I hope that’s water.”
Even in the warmth of the lounge, the stranger’s deep voice made goosebumps rush to the surface of my skin. My body tensed as he slid into the empty barstool beside me and I looked up, wondering if his face could possibly be any match for his voice.
Oh my, He is gorgeous. Michael who?
I had a strong urge to shove my fingers into the lush facial hair sprinkled along the bottom of his face, camouflaging a strong jawline, high cheekbones, and smooth copper-brown skin. I nearly laughed at myself. I wasn’t that girl.
“I’m sorry, I’m not sure what you mean.” I hoped I didn’t sound as clueless as I felt, but this wasn’t my scene. I didn’t go out and get talked to by strangers at bars. I studied, and passed the bar. Totally different things.
“You’re drinking it like you just walked here from the desert. If it’s anything other than water, you’re gonna feel awful in the morning.” That smile of his was making me feel light-headed. I didn’t feel like I was breathing properly again until I was smiling back.
“Uh, yeah. It’s just water.”
We just sat there, with silly grins on our faces until he finally broke the silence.
“I’m gonna be honest, and just tell you… I have no idea what to say next. I saw you, and I thought you were beautiful, so I had to talk to you. I’m Terrence.” He extended a hand, which I accepted, biting down on my bottom lip to stop the gasp that sprang to my throat at the warm feeling of his skin against mine.
Unlike many of the men in the room, Terrence was actually well-dressed. Casually sexy, in a gorgeous khaki colored blazer and a dress shirt so blue it was almost black. His athletic build was apparent, even with the jacket on.
“I’m Gabrielle,” I replied, pulling my hand away to push a few stray curls behind my ear. “Friends just call me Gabi though.”
“Ok then, friend-Gabi. Come up to the roof with me?” He had leaned forward, placing his left arm around the back of my chair as he spoke the words into my ear. The band was between sets, and far enough away that I would have heard him fine from where he was. He had moved closer just for the sake of being closer, and several places on my body thumped in response.
I took a big gulp of my now melted ice water.
I raised an eyebrow. “Um, you’re cute and all Terrence, but I just met you. I’m not going anywhere with you.”
“No, I’m not trying to get you to come home with me or anything. We wouldn’t even be leaving, the roof here is open to guests. I just want to talk to you, really.” He reached out, covering my hands with his. Touching me again. I normally hated being touched by strangers. Usually, I would have anticipated his touch, and pre-emptively moved away, but for some reason, I didn’t mind it. It felt… comfortable.
He tilted his head to one side, his chestnut brown eyes reflecting the lights as he waited for my response. Conservative, professional new lawyer Gabrielle wanted to tell him ‘no, I don’t go places with men I just met’. But newly single, finally on her own Gabi was very interested.
“Let me tell my friend where I’ll be.”
“I’ll wait for you here.” He gave my hands a light squeeze, and then held them for support as I stood slowly on my heels. When I glanced back, he was watching me, a grin still plastered across his handsome face.
I spotted Regina by her massive honey-blond afro, giggling in a corner booth with Kevin.
“I’m going up to the roof to talk to someone.”
She looked up, surprised. “So you’ve been in Atlanta for a grand total of four hours, and you’ve already got yourself a man?”
“We’re just gonna talk, Regina,”
“Mmm hmm. You’re not about to have your daddy hunting me down cause you got chopped up by a stranger. Kevin and I will come too, just so you’re not alone.”
“I don’t need a babysitter.” My dad had charged Regina with “looking out for me”, and I didn’t like that at all. Regina was only a few years older than me. Why did he think she could watch out for me better than I could watch out for myself?
“I’m not trying to babysit you. We won’t even sit with you guys. We’ll just be up there so he knows you’re not alone, and doesn’t try anything.”
I guess she has a point.
“Well, we’re going now, so if you’re coming…”
“Right behind you,” Regina smirked as she stood up, beckoning for her boyfriend to come with us.
“I’m starting to think I made a mistake, asking you to come up here with me.” Terrence shook his head, giving me a sidelong look.
I turned away, gazing out over the beautiful expanse of city lights against the darkened sky. “Whatever, you’re out of your mind.”
“Me? I’m out of my mind? You’re the one who’s actually trying to convince me that Doug is the best cartoon you ever watched.”
“Because it is,” I insisted. “You can’t come to the table with Hey Arnold and think I can’t top it.”
I had no idea why I was tucked into a quiet table on a roof, discussing cartoons, but I was definitely enjoying myself. Not since my teenaged Black Planet days had I been able to sit up like this, talking and laughing with someone for hours. It felt good. Normal.
“This is the first time I’ve seen this view as an adult. It’s still as amazing and big as it was as a child.” I smiled at the memory of the summers I’d spent in Atlanta.
“So you’re not a native? How long have you been here? Where you from, what do you do?”
“I’m from Chicago, and I’ve been here a few hours.” I purposely left out my profession. How would he react to me being a lawyer? Would he think I was stuck up? Boring?
“You didn’t answer my other question.”
“You have dimples,” I said, hoping that the shift in conversation would allow the subject to rest.
“You’ve never seen dimples before, huh? You’ve got ‘em too.” Suddenly his hand was on me, cupping my face as he ran his thumb over the indentation in my right cheek. I flinched a little, surprised at the warm tingle that the simple touch had left against my skin. He brushed my hair away from my face, tucking it behind my and allowing his hand to linger at the nape of my neck, buried in my curls.
I tried my best to ignore the fluttering in my stomach, wetting my suddenly dry lips with my tongue.
“So it’s getting late.” Regina walked up, with her arm draped through Kevin’s. “We’re about to head out to Kevin’s place. We can drop you off at home, Gabi.”
“Yeah, we should probably call it a night.” Terrence finally extracted his hand from my hair, and I turned to face Regina, trying to hide my flustered expression.
“Terrence will drive me home.” I didn’t even turn to him for an answer. I didn’t even know what made me say it, but I knew that I wanted just a little more time with him. Regina gave me a skeptical look but didn’t argue. She snapped a picture of his ID, and made him tell her what kind of car he drove before leaving him the warning that she would ‘find and kill his ass’ if anything happened to me.
Once we were inside his car, he handed me his wallet, asking me to put it in the glove box for him. When I opened it, I was greeted by dozens of pieces of candy.
“Oh, wow. Chicago transplant, latest victim of the “Peppermint Killer.”
“Oh, you got jokes?” He laughed as he pulled the car out of the parking spot and made his way to the main road.
“Yes, actually. Why in the world do you have a glove compartment full of mints?”
“It’s a bad habit. I’m obsessed with those things, and I keep them everywhere.”
“That is int-er-est-ing.” I bit my bottom lip so I wouldn’t laugh.
“Aww, see just for that you can’t have any.” He turned to me as we pulled up to a red light.
I pretended to pout as I noisily unwrapped a mint, then waved it in his face before I popped it into my mouth. I closed my eyes, letting out a playfully exaggerated moan. “You should have said that before I–”
I stopped. I had opened my eyes to find him staring at me, with an unreadable expression that left his lips slightly parted. We just stared at each other, for the second time that night, until we were broken out of our trance by an angry motorist leaning into their horn, urging us to stop holding up traffic. The rest of the drive was finished in silence.
“Give me your phone,” I said, when we reached the front door of my apartment. He cocked an eyebrow at me, but unlocked and handed it over. He grinned when he realized I was programming my number into it, then dropped it in his pocket.
“I guess this is goodnight.”
I gasped as he stepped forward, hooking his index fingers through the front belt loops of my jeans, pulling me close. I looked up, trying to meet his gaze as I rested my hands against his chest, savoring the feeling of hard muscles beneath my fingertips. I desperately wanted to look into his eyes, to know what he was thinking, but he was looking down at my lips.
The subtle hint of leather in his cologne surrounded me as he lowered his mouth to mine. My body responded immediately when our lips met, sending electricity across the surface of my skin as my eyes fluttered closed. I parted my lips willingly, and he accepted the invitation, easing his tongue into my mouth to share the sweet taste of soft mints.
I pressed myself even closer to him, feeling dizzy as I transferred my hands from his chest to his shoulders. He unhooked his fingers from my jeans, moving his hands up to grip my waist. I hadn’t been kissed like this in…well, ever.
“Well at least he didn’t chop you up.” My eyes flew open at the sound of Regina’s chipper voice over Terrence’s shoulder. I pushed him away, embarrassed. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but you guys are right in front of the door, and I can’t get in” She shrugged.
“Sorry,” I stammered, quickly stepping to the side so that she could get by. When she closed the door behind her, I turned back to Terrence, shoving my hands into my back pockets. “That was…”
“Awkward?” He smiled as he finished the sentence for me. “It’s ok, it happens like that sometimes.”
He approached me again, kissing me softly on the cheek. “I will definitely be calling you, ok?”
“I’ll look forward to it.” I gave him one last smile before I went inside, closing and locking the door behind me. I was glad to hear the shower running in Regina’s room. I didn’t want to talk to her about Terrence. I just wanted to be alone so that I could replay the events of the night in my head, every delicious detail. Before tonight, I’d thought that it was just too soon to move on from Michael. Now, I realized that I just hadn’t been meeting the right type of guy.
“This is a joke, right? It has to be.” I glared down at Michael, who was sitting in the window seat next to mine.
“No joke, baby. I came to escort you to Atlanta.” He flashed me a smile that just a year ago would have turned my legs into tapioca pudding. Now? It just felt like another lie.
I took a deep breath, and then finished shoving my bag into the overhead compartment. This little plan of his hinged on his confidence that I wouldn’t make a scene. No matter how badly I wanted to curse him out, and leave the imprint of my hand across his smug face, I wouldn’t. Not on this crowded plane.
“It’s a two hour flight, Michael, I don’t need an escort. But of course, you already know that.” I sat, looking down the aisle for the flight attendant. A few of those little liquor bottles had suddenly become necessary.
“So you want me to leave?” He lowered those sexy emerald eyes down to my lips, thinking that I would do what I always did with him. Give in.
“If I say yes, are you gonna get your trifling ass off of this plane?”
That surprised him. I saw the familiar trace of anger cross over his face as he turned away, scratching at the sandy brown curls that covered his head.
“Why do you do stuff like that Gabi?” His voice was lower now. I had pissed him off.
“Because I don’t like you, Michael. Why don’t you understand that?”
“We’ve been together since we were teenagers. Why are you willing to throw that away?”
“Because you cheated! Are you delusional?” I lowered my voice to an angry whisper. “I have texts, emails, pictures, Michael. Dozens of different women over the eight years that you’re trying to throw in my face. Don’t you dare try to blame this on me.”
“I told you, that’s behind me now babe. I love you Gabi. I’m not worried about those other women.” He reached over to grab my hand.
I snatched it away. “Don’t touch me.”
“I can’t touch the woman I’m gonna marry?”
“You’ll have to talk to her about that, but don’t touch me.”
He sighed, resting his hand on his knee. “I found a house.”
“Good for you.”
“It’s for us.”
I cut my eyes at him, then let out a snort of laughter. “You are delusional. You should get that checked out.”
“We’ve gotta have a place to live once we get married, babe.”
“I will never marry you, Michael. Ever. Get that through your head.”
“I think you’ll come around.”
“Whatever.” I put in my earbuds, and ignored him for the rest of the flight.