Just a little note before we get to it – please remember, as noted in the disclaimer before chapter one, these updates may not be regular. I’m working on this in my spare time, as a breather between chapters from my next release. It took a while to post this chapter because it took me a while to be at a place where I could write it. I’m posting these as I go, unedited, for fun.
What in the world…?
I pulled down the brim of my hat, squinting against the sun as I looked out into the packed stands, trying to figure out where half of the crowd was coming from. The annual softball game usually got decent attendance, but from what I could tell from the field, we’d easily doubled last years’ numbers. Turning, I glanced around until my eyes landed at the tents we had set up for food, and I frowned at the unusually long lines.
The extra people were a strain I wasn’t sure we could handle.
Stifling a yawn, I took my attention back to the nearly finishing game. I hurried to clap for one of the kids as he came in for a home run, grinning as he passed the finish line and scored the points that won the game for his team.
I congratulated the team who won, consoled the team who didn’t. Talked to parents and sisters and uncles and whoever else approached, but honestly? It was all a blur.
My thoughts were consumed by last night.
It had been late when I was dropped off at home, and frustratingly early when my alarm went off this morning, waking me from not nearly enough sleep. I’d closed my eyes thinking about “Mr. President”. Dreamed about him. Woken up with him on my mind.
The things your first orgasm after a drought will do to you.
I must have still been looking dazed when Mila walked up, practically bubbling with excitement.
“What’s wrong with you? You look lost,” she said, hooking her arm through mine. “You have to perk up, and quickly – do you see this crowd, and all these cameras?!”
I blinked, realizing that she was right – I’d definitely noticed the crowd already, but now that I was away from the field closer to the building, there were cameras and vans on the other side of the fence.
Local, but still.
“Yeah, I do. You wanna tell me what this is about?” I asked, hoping she had the answers I didn’t. But instead of the explanation I was looking for, what I got was wide-eyed confusion.
“Huh? You didn’t arrange this?” Mila raised an eyebrow. “Here I was thinking that this was what Desiree spirited you away last night for. Signing non-disclosures or something in exchange for getting these big name donors here.”
I reared my head back. “I’m sorry, what? What big name donors?”
Mila sighed. “Okay now boss lady, I’m going to give you a pass since I know you’ve been crazy busy this morning with last-minute logistics and then coaching the game. But next time my future ex-husband Braxton Drake is in attendance at a Cartwright Center event, I really need you to take notice,” she teased, pulling my arm to get me to follow her.
“Wait a minute – Braxton Drake is here?!” I squealed as she pulled me through the lines of people waiting for food, back into the building.
“Along with his fine ass twin and fine ass friends,” Mila tossed over her shoulder as she led me out the side door to the playground, past all-black clad security that I didn’t recognize, and certainly wasn’t ours.
There were a lot of people out here too, but not enough that there wasn’t room for the kids to play. The elementary kids were all over the jungle gym and swings, toddlers taking advantage of several kiddie pools and sprinklers set up in the grass, and some of the older kids were hooping on the basketball courts, which were badly in need of repair.
My attention moved to a small crowd of reporters with their phones and other cameras out, snapping pictures of the whole scene, which made me take a second look and realize something was out of place.
Those weren’t just kids out there.
With wide eyes, I counted multiple members of what my regular-ass friends and I referred to as Las Vegas black royalty. Kingston Whitfield and Braxton Drake were playing basketball and talking trash with my teenagers. Lincoln Drake and Nashira Haley were tossing water balloons with middle-schoolers. Asha Davis, poker star, Kingston Whitfield’s fiancée, baby bump and all, was pushing a laughing kindergartener on the swings while her bodyguard stood close by.
And those were just the “celebrity” names.
I recognized prominent business owners who I’d called before, leaving messages with their secretaries begging for donations only to be ignored – some of the very same ones who’d left me jaded about going after those types anyway.
For some reason, they were all here today.
Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, Rowan.
I’d never really “gotten” the expression, but I got the sentiment. I was fully prepared to just be grateful for the attention and hope they’d all brought their checkbooks when I realized they all had more than just money in common.
They were all wearing Reid Bennett for City Council buttons.
And just like that, I went from grateful to livid.
It was just like some local politician to turn something that was supposed to be about these kids, about preserving this center, this community into a goddamn campaign event.
“Mila,” I hissed, pulling her closer to me. “Who the fuck is Reid Bennett, and who gave him permission to turn my softball game into a damn campaign rally?”
My eyes darted around, following the largest group of reports to where they’d made a circle around someone I couldn’t quite see because of the all the people and cameras. It wasn’t that I was completely clueless about politics – I’d purposely chosen to divest. At its prime, the Cartwright Center had been the proud recipient of grants and other government funding that kept it thriving. But over time, as certain offices filled with one corrupt politician after another, that funding had dwindled to practically nothing. People campaigned on hope-filled promises that they didn’t keep, and I’d lost the little faith I had.
I would keep applying for grants and whatever other resources were being offered, but other than that? I just focused on keeping this center running. When it seemed like the worst crook always ended up being the winner, it was much easier to just ignore the whole system versus willingly signing up for political heartbreak.
But now, it was right on my front door.
Reid Bennett had a lot of nerve.
Where the hell had he been before now? Certainly not writing checks to keep this place open, or offering a letter of recommendation for my grant application, or hell – at least asking if I were okay with him using this place to boost his public image.
“He’s running for City Council,” Mila explained, then held up a hand as annoyance crossed my face. “And he’s engaged to Enid Grant.”
“Of the Grants?” I asked, rolling my eyes. I’d gone to high school with Enid for exactly one year, by virtue of a private school tuition voucher I’d won through a program at a local college. I didn’t even apply for a second voucher, preferring to take my chances at public school instead of waiting to be victimized by spoiled rich kids like Enid and the rest of her little crowd.
Enid was horrible back then, and from the tabloid stories about her over the years, she still was. If Reid Bennett was marrying her, it told me just about everything I needed to know.
“Yeah,” Mila confirmed. “Those Grants. He’s losing in the polls though, unfortunately.”
I smirked. “Is that why he’s doing this? Too lame to get votes by going about it a better way?”
“He’s actually not lame at all.” Mila’s lips spread into a little smile. “He has quite a bit of swag, actually. Very handsome, educated without coming off like a know-it-all, charming. No scandals, no wild shit. He’s a pretty prime candidate.”
“Then why is he losing?”
Mila sighed. “Because he’s a young black man with little to no political experience, and his opponent is a white, female doctor, whose husband just had a heart attack. He gets on live TV yesterday and says he wants to see his wife in that seat before he “goes on to glory”.”
“Oh damn,” I cringed. “No wonder Mr. Bennet is trying to get some support going. He probably picked the blackest event he could find on the city calendar.”
“That’s a strong possibility,” Mila agreed. “But, look at all the free publicity we’ve gotten. All the concession sales, plus donation checks…”
“The checks don’t mean anything until they clear the bank,” I said, shaking my head. “And donations don’t excuse the fact that his presence here implies an endorsement.”
Mila grabbed my hand, squeezing my fingers. “Don’t overthink it, Ro. It’s a good day. Just enjoy it.”
“Ugh. I guess,” I conceded with a sigh. “I’m sending a strongly worded email to his campaign though. I don’t appreciate being used like this.”
“You do that,” Mila laughed. “And in the meantime, look around at all these happy faces. Celebrity takeover aside, you’ve pulled off another great event.”
“Uh-huh. I know these folks better write some fat checks,” I fussed, making her laugh again – laughter that stopped rather abruptly. When I looked up to see why, my breath caught in my throat.
Damn he’s fine.
I had to remind myself to close my mouth, to avoid looking quite so easily impressed by smooth chocolate skin and nice biceps.
“Excuse me ladies – I was hoping your Cartwright Center shirts meant I could seek some assistance you,” he started, looking back and forth between Mila and I, before he let his gaze linger on mine. “I have several very upset four-year-olds wanting to know why the bubble machine stopped working.”
I frowned. “Oh – I didn’t even know we had a bubble machine. I wouldn’t know where to begin with fixing it.”
He flashed a smile, showing off nice white teeth. “I’m pretty sure we’re just out of the mixture we need. And uh, I should probably clarify. I’m the bubble machine,” he explained, touching my arm as he finished.
“Oh,” I giggled, not at all bothered by his touch. “Well, your services are appreciated, Mr….?”
“Perry. Jeff Perry. I work with WAWG. Just opened a Vegas location for the network, and they want to try their hand at news, so here I am,” he said, extending a hand, which I accepted. “I’d heard of the Cartwright Center before, but I’m sorry to say this is my first visit. Definitely won’t be the last though,” he told me, still holding my hand, which he squeezed, sending a little flash of electricity through me, making me blush.
“Well, better late than never, right?” I smiled. “We are certainly very glad to have the city’s attention. Finally.”
He nodded. “Absolutely. So… about those bubbles?”
“Oh! Right. We have more, in the recreation closet. I can go grab them. I’ll be right back,” I said, already moving as I spoke the last word.
“I can just follow you,” he called after me, quickly catching up.
I stopped moving to meet his eyes, and almost immediately got swallowed by their chocolatey depths. “Uh… yeah. Yeah, four hands can hold more than two I guess.”
I pushed out a little breath, suddenly feeling self-conscious about my sweaty tee shirt and faded shorts. I’d dressed this morning with comfort and coolness in mind – not hot men and photo ops.
Not that you could do anything about this hot man anyway, I reminded myself. For the length of my contract, I wasn’t supposed to be dating, so it wasn’t like I could do anything about my attraction to Jeff anyway.
With that in mind, I turned my dial from giggly teenager back to professional as I led Jeff to the room we used as storage for a wide assortment of things. I used my key to unlock the door, then held it open for him as I flipped the switch to get the lights on.
“Well, wow,” he exclaimed, stopping at the door instead of venturing further. “This is a lot.”
I laughed, looking around at what he probably saw as a mess. The room was filled with tall shelves, holding everything from boxes of jump ropes to tennis balls to horseshoe games, and it was packed tight, but everything had a place.
“Yeah, it is, but I know exactly where the bubbles are,” I called, knowing he couldn’t see me once I stepped into one of the aisles. “There’s an art to this!”
“That doesn’t surprise me to hear you say that,” he responded, laughing. “From what I read, seems like you run this place like a well-oiled machine.”
I shook my head as I picked up four big bottles of bubble mix, and headed back to him. “I don’t know about well oiled. We could definitely use as much oil as we can get – so I hope your brought your checkbook too, Mr… wait – did you just say that you’d read about me? So you already knew who I was?”
I stepped back into the open with my arms full of bubbles, brows furrowed as I waited for him to respond. He gave me a sheepish grin that only made him more handsome.
“I… uh… just a little. After we got the email from Reid this morning.”
My eyebrows unwrinkled, moving upward instead. “Email from Reid? What email?”
“Just a little encouragement to show some support to a community event. Nothing official. He’s been wanting to do a few lowkey things to meet his constituents, and this was perfect. He hit up a few friends and acquaintances to show some support as well.”
“So you’re what… friend or acquaintance?”
“An active member of the community who is interested in the political landscape. Just keeping an eye out.”
“By helping Reid Bennet with his unauthorized takeover of my annual softball game. Noted,” I told him, dumping the bottles of bubble mixture into his arms. I went back to grab a few more, then breezed past him into the hall. “Come on. The door will automatically lock behind us.”
“Why do I feel like I’ve offended you somehow,” Jeff asked, easily catching up to my quick footsteps because of his long legs.
I glanced back at him as we made our way outside. “I’m not offended. I’m annoyed.”
He moved in front of me, stopping me from getting any further in the thick crowd. “Is there a difference?”
“I don’t know,” I shrugged. “Still processing.”
Jeff nodded. “Well, for what it’s worth, Reid’s heart is in the right place, I think, unlike a lot of these other politicians. He’s not immune to the bullshit that comes along with it – nobody is. But… I believe him when he says he wants to better for our community.”
“Yeah, well…” I pushed out a breath. “Maybe he could’ve started by reaching out, doing this the right way. The Cartwright Center is small, and broke. As you can see, we’re working on limited resources, and I really could’ve used a heads up before he decided to make this a campaign stop. I’m grateful for the publicity, but I’m more than a little pissed that we got blindsided.”
“Which isn’t unreasonable,” Jeff agreed, nodding again. “But for what it’s worth – again, you seem to be doing a great job. I see a lot of smiling faces and happy kids.”
My shoulders relaxed a bit as I let a grin break free. “Yeah… I guess you’re right. And I also guess that the bubble machine needs to be back in commission ASAP. I’m pretty sure I’m watching the beginnings of a mob of disgruntled four-year-olds over there.”
He laughed. “Yeah, I think you’re right. So… shall we?”
My eyes went a little wide as the suggestion of joining him, but the warmth of his smile made it easy to nod.
“Yeah, I guess we shall.”
As soon as we stepped into the area, the kids went wild, mobbing him over the bubbles. He was a good – no, great – sport about it, laughing and teasing as he cracked open a fresh bottle of solution and went to town.
I passed out bottles to a few other volunteers, and soon the whole area was thick with bubbles that the kids were all too eager to chase and pop. Inevitably, my eyes kept going back to Jeff, watching the loving, warm way that he interacted.
Why did I never meet men like this when I wasn’t beholden to a goddamn sex contract?
Feeling eyes on me, I looked up and around, only to have my gaze land on Desiree Byers. She looked from me to Jeff and then smirked, turning to disappear into the crowd after completely freaking me out.
What the hell was that smirk about?
As I returned my gaze to Jeff, it occurred to me that he was similar to Mr. President in both skintone and build. For a wild moment, I wondered if…
No way, Rowan. Absolutely not.
Jeff Perry was… a journalist or something, if he was helping set up a local news office. Why in the world would he need a level of secrecy like what was involved in that contract? Would he even have the money to meet the terms of it? And why would he openly make conversation and flirt with me, after making all those provisions in our contract?
No… there was no way.
Unless he just gets off on this…
Frantically, I searched my brain for any other context clues that Jeff Perry had been the man treating my pussy like a dying man’s last meal the night before. The body type and skin tone were right, but what else?
Was his voice the same?
Did he smell the same?
Is that why I’d been so comfortable with him touching me a moment ago?
Is that why Desiree was smirking?
I was so busy wracking my mind trying to figure this out I barely noticed that now, I had several sets of eyes on me – reporters, from when I’d first come out. The crowd that had been around who I assumed was Reid Bennet had thinned out, enough for me to see the man himself as he pointed at me, saying something that had shifted the media attention in my direction.
Before I knew it, it was me who was surrounded, being asked questions about the center. Overwhelmed, I searched for Mila in the area around me, but she was nowhere to be found, which meant I was on my own. My eyes landed on Jeff, only to find him staring back, with a smile and nod.
I took a deep breath, and then slapped on a smile of my own.
An impromptu interview was nothing I couldn’t handle.
Today’s event at the Cartwright Center went off without a hitch, even with the unexpectedly large crowd brought on by City Council candidate Reid Bennett’s surprise appearance. Reid brought along some of his billionaire friends, whose names attracted more of a crowd than the center is used to. The community seemed happy for their presence as they jumped right into basketball games and water balloon fights to display a down-to-earth side we rarely see from what the media has dubbed “Las Vegas Black Royalty”.
There was one person, however, who was less than impressed.
Rowan Phillips, taken in at a young age by Janie Cartwright, is now the director of the center, and the main organizer of the festivities. She was overheard saying that she felt blindsided by Bennet’s unscheduled drop-in, and wished she had been given an opportunity to better prepare. When directly interviewed, however, Ms. Phillips was much more neutral.
“I told you she wouldn’t like it,” Des fussed, as soon as I looked up from reading the article that had appeared online this morning, on none other than WAWG’s news site.
I hadn’t had a great feeling about it when Des warned the day before that Jeff Perry was sniffing around Rowan, but this confirmed it, at least in my mind.
He was getting in the way of what I already considered mine.
“I bet she liked the half mil she racked up in donations,” I countered, tossing my phone onto the desk in front of me. “I did her a favor.”
Des shook her head. “But you certainly did none for yourself. She made enough in donations that it’s probably looking pretty enticing to her to simply break your little contract.”
“She’s smart enough to know that the ongoing terms I offered are worth more than that,” I said. “Five hundred thousand is nice, but we both know her ambitions. The things she wants to do, the kids she wants to reach. Trust me, she’s not backing out.”
“She almost backed out without half a million dollars in the bank, remember?” Des said, making me wish I hadn’t shared that particular tidbit with her. It was important that she knew though – especially since Rowan had taken that mask off, and had seen my hands, at the very least.
“I talked her down. She’s cool.”
“And what about when Jeff Perry talks her down. To her knees. And puts his dick down her throat. Because you know that’s what he wants, right? And from the way he had her halfway swooning, he’ll probably get it, and during their pillow talk after, she’ll share how she signed a little contract, and—”
“She’s not going to break the contract,” I insisted, sitting up and looking Des right in the eyes. “She knows not to let anything happen with him.”
“While she’s under contract? Sure. But what about after?”
“She won’t break that non-disclosure,” I told Des, with full confidence in my words. “She’s going to see this article on Jeff’s site and know that anything she says to him is fair game for the whole world to hear about.”
Des shook her head. “He didn’t write the article.”
“But he let her obviously off-the-record words go to print, knowing that the “neutral” response she gave the reporters was what she wanted to be public.”
Across from me, Des’ eyebrows went up. “Okay. Fair point. But still – this highlights part of why this was always a dangerous idea to me. Rowan is smart as hell, very ambitious, attractive… all of which makes her a viable prospect to the upper echelon of black bachelors in this city who didn’t even know she existed until you put this spotlight on her. Your pockets are not the deepest ones around here, Reid. I’m telling you – it’s going to take more than that to keep her in your bed.”
“Well,” I smirked. “It’s a good thing I have more than that to offer.” I sat back and closed my eyes, thinking about the sweetness of her pussy in my face again, knowing there was still so much more left to experience. “Call her,” I said, eyes still closed.
“What should I tell her?”
“To have her ass back in that hotel room tonight. I’m going to make sure any nigga that comes after me has to feel my imprint when he’s inside of her.”
Des let out a little squeal, that made me open my eyes to find her elbows propped on the desk as she smiled.
“Now that is the kind of thing I want to hear,” she gushed. “I thought politics had ruined you. Glad to see that isn’t the case.”
“Ruined me?” I asked as she stood, gathering her things to leave my office.
She nodded. “You’ve changed, love. The Grants… they’ve changed you.”
“You know what that’s about, Des.”
“I do. But still. I hope it’s worth it.”
“So do I.”
“I hope Rowan makes you remember yourself.”
I pushed out a sigh, knowing exactly what Des meant, but having little interest in acknowledging it. At least not for now.
“Then make sure she’s available for me,” I told Des, keeping my tone gentle, even as my patience grew thin.
“Yeah. Dialing now.”