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Monday, September 25, 2006

SEP 06 EXCERPT - Sweet Surrender


SWEET SURRENDER - By Michelle Monkou

After her marriage ended in bitter divorce, Haley Sanders was carving out a new life in a new town with her thirteen-year-old daughter. Dr. Pierce Masterson was not part of the single mother’s blueprint for the future — even if her new landlord was much too attractive for anyone’s good.

Pierce offered Haley a sexy, lazy smile. “Did I tell you that I’m uniquely qualified for this task of debriefing you?”

“So you keep saying. I think that you’ve met your matched.” Haley stood and moved around to the back of the couch.

Pierce didn’t move, aware that their initial game had begun. He resisted the urge to pull her down into his arms. She was playing dirty and he liked it.

“Why don’t you meet me upstairs?” Haley trailed her finger along his shoulder over his back to the next shoulder. She pressed her breast against his arm and blew in his ear before heading out of the room.

Haley called to him, declaring her horny state.

Enough said. Pierce hurried toward the stairs. “You bad, bad woman.” He turned to see her naked back go around the corner. Her blouse lay on the floor discarded.

Now that he knew her destination, he didn’t hurry to follow. It made the moment all the more exciting. He picked up her shirt, enjoying the feel of the silky fabric between his fingers.

On the staircase railing, she’d left her bra. He picked it up with a finger and tossed it on top of the shirt in his other hand.

“Pierce, you dear old man, what’s taking you so long? Are the stairs too much for you?” Her laughter floated in the air. The raised ceiling added an eerie echo.

He took the steps two at a time, wondering why he had to have a grand staircase that curved and bent like an ornate path to the great beyond.

He passed her shoes … then the pair of blue slacks.

He reached the top… panting … knowing that only one piece of clothing remained.

SEP - AUTHOR INTRO- Michelle Monkou


Michelle Monkou enjoys reading! Reading books of all genres developed an imagination powerful enough to set lofty goals, like being a published writer. Writing romances proved to be the natural choice after devouring well-crafted stories with historical backdrops from the genre greats like Barbara Cartland, Kathleen Woodiweiss, and Edith Layton, and the contemporary romantic suspense tales from Nora Roberts.

However, representation from the African-American community as romance writers or as main characters in romances was rare. With the pioneering launch of several multi-cultural romance lines and their continued success, there is now an outlet for diversity. Michelle’s dream came true in January, 2002 when she received a two-book contract from BET Books. OPEN YOUR HEART debuted in November 2002, for which she earned the prestigious Emma Award nomination for Favorite New Author of Multicultural Romance. FINDERS KEEPERS hit bookshelves in June 2003 and received an advance review from Romantic Times Book Club with a Top Pick and 4 1/2 stars. GIVE LOVE, a holiday anthology with Linda Hudson-Smith and Francine Craft, was released October 2003. MAKING PROMISES arrived in bookstores October 2004 and was featured in The Baltimore Sun.

Born in England and growing up in Guyana, Michelle enjoyed the rich history and culture of the Caribbean experience. Now living in the United States, she blends all of her influences with her American experience to spin romantic stories about real people with real conflicts who fall in love.

Michelle earned a Bachelor’s in English to hone her skills as a writer and a Master’s in International Business to earn a living while pursuing her dream. She is a member of several chapters of the Romance Writers of America. Michelle resides in the Washington , DC metropolitan area with her husband and two children.

SWEET SURRENDER

After her marriage ended in bitter divorce, Haley Sanders was carving out a new life in a new town with her thirteen-year-old daughter. Dr. Pierce Masterson was not part of the single mother's blueprint for the future -- even if her new landlord was much too attractive for anyone's good.

With his three younger siblings looking to him for guidance, Pierce was a man who took family seriously. He knew he could help Haley and her daughter adjust to life here -- if only his alluring tenant would let down her guard. But once she did, was this Masterson male ready to take a chance on love and share with Haley the joy of a promise fulfilled?

Visit Michelle: http://www.booktalk.com/mmonkou/index.htm

Friday, September 15, 2006

EXCERPT 06 - The Seduction of Mr. Bradley

The Seduction of Mr. Bradley

By Minnie E. Miller




"Determined to find a solution to his dilemma, Bill Bradley reveals his duel sexuality to Jina Cook, hoping she will give clarity and stability to his life, which results in a heartache both struggle to heal. Their lives turn upside down."

Web site address: www.millerscribs.com



Chapter One


Publicist Bill Bradley first met Jina Cook at a book launch party for one of his clients. The event, held in one of the smaller ballrooms in the Chicago Regency Hyatt Hotel, boasted intimate ice cream-parlor-size tables draped in white and scattered in no particular order around the room. Each table had a single pink carnation and sprig of baby’s breath in a small vase; ashtrays were absent. A stage nestled in an out-of-the-way corner intimately accommodated three musicians and a singer. There were two bars, compliments of cognac and champagne companies. Modest lighting comforted those who might overindulge. No doubt, it was a warmer than usual August 2002.

Bill went for the champagne. He glanced around the room, observed the crowd as it grew in size, and was content with the turnout. Although the air conditioner blew gusts of cool air, the crowd absorbed it, his liquor burned up the rest. He sipped his drink and stood in the middle of the crowd, slowly scanning faces in the room. He wanted to monitor reactions to his client’s book.
Freeze-framing his mental camera, he glimpsed a woman who arrested his attention. Empirically, as a publicist, I’d say she has all the makings of a star. She’s a beauty, elegant in her black satin pantsuit. Hair’s up-to-date, long and relaxed. Those semi-dark sunglasses radiate an air of mystery, yet allow the curious a peek at those busy eyes. Makes one wonder what’s going on behind them. Nice fashion statement. Yeah, you’ve accomplished it, Ms. Lady. And even more striking, you look sincere! Humm. Is that an oxymoron—a fashion plate with a look of sincerity? Don’t see much of that in the big city. I wonder...is she alone? He mused. He looked near her but saw no one in close proximity.

Bill prided himself in being observant, yet he had not realized that Jina had already inspected him. He had been too busy admiring the other lovely ladies.
Jina’s estimate of him was categorically on-point. Sipping champagne and peeping over her dark glasses, she made a wide circle around Bill and his crowd of admirers. She muttered, “Unh-unh. Nice braids—sexy, neat, clean—against his clean-shaven face. Honey? Naw, too light. Maple syrup? Yeah, that’s his color. Easy, girlfriend, that’s not why you’re here. Oh, but it’s been sooo long! Okay, back to the issue at hand. He doesn’t look like a Chicagoan. Maybe from the Islands. I’d say he’s mid-thirties, and more than six feet of handsome. A tall, cool drink of water. Steel gray silk shirt with Nehru collar and matching pants. Nice. Attitude? Yeah. Carries his shoulders with an air of self-confidence. More importantly, he could hold a crowd in the palm of his hands, especially the ladies. He could sell anything. What’s his role here?”

Jina had a reason to be there. She had been looking for a publicist to help promote her novel. Her target date was six months, but she knew the devil was in the details. She had come to the book party hoping to meet someone in the industry. Jina assumed most of the people in the room were involved in the book market one way or another.

Their eyes met and connected in nonverbal communication. Using her smile as compass, Bill wove his way toward her through the center of a group of people.

A trio of well-dressed ladies in the crowd stopped him along the way. One with a long wiglet attached sideways with attitude reached out and gently touched him. What he saw on his shoulder out of the corner of his eye was a long red, perfectly manicured fingernail. “Hi,” she purred. “I know your face, but can’t remember your name, my brother.”

“Hello, darlin’. Name’s Bill. Bill Bradley,” he said pulling a card from his pocket and pressing it into her palm. “Give me a call if you need a publicist.” Moving on, he smiled at her pick-up line. He too had used it to get a lady’s attention. Yeah, it’s cool.
The ladies laughed, eyed him appreciatively and whispered to one another.
Bill bumped into another young lady, eyeing her up and down as he passed. “Hmmm, jail-bait,” he murmured and slowly strutted on, continuing his mission—to talk to the lady he had recorded in his mental camera. Reaching his destination, he changed his smile from confident to modest. With a baritone voice that resonated from his gut, he inquired, “Hi, are you an author as well?”
“I hope so. I truly hope so.” She looked up at him and smiled. “And you?”
Bill took that as a green light to flirt a little. “Who wants to know?”
He’s confident and even more handsome up close.
“Cute,” she said, extending her hand. “Jina. I’m a writer.”
Ah, a connection and she knows how to flirt. “Cute remarks break the ice, don’t you think?” Bill raised an eyebrow and gazed into her soft brown eyes. She melted under his gaze. She couldn’t keep a smile from escaping. The crowd all but disappeared, or so it seemed to the lady.
“Jina, you said? What’s the rest?” Come on, keep it going, lovely.
“The name’s Jina Cook,” she said. “Are you responsible for this event?”
He noted that she didn’t mind his monopolizing her attention and so continued to pay amorous attention of his own. “Yes, ma’am, I am.” Feeling in control of the situation, torso inflated, he stood firmly on strapping legs that strained against his pants. It was obvious that he took good care of his muscular body. He squared his shoulders and threw a couple of braids behind his head. He offered his hand, appraising her appearance in one fell swoop. “How’d you know?”
“You’re animated, engaging the crowd.”
“And you’re very observant. Bill Bradley, publicist,” he said. “It’s my client’s book party.” Easy, man. Don’t stop the dance. The lady’s genteel, treat her as such.
They were face to face in the middle of the room. The crowd moved around them. Most failed to notice them; however, not all. He had drawn the attention of some ladies who glanced over their shoulders admiringly.
Observing Jina’s body language, he cleared his throat. “Ms. Cook, what’ve you published? Tell me about yourself—your bio, if you will.”
“I’m finishing up my manuscript and shopping for an agent. They seem to be hard to come by.” She turned to go toward the bar for another glass of champagne. Bill followed. As she stood in line waiting for service, she gazed over her sunglasses at him and said, “You ask a lot of questions for a stranger, sir. I’m not sure I’m ready to tell you my ‘bio.’”
She’s a bit hifalutin’; still genteel, though. A lady in every sense of the word.
Conversations in the ballroom had grown louder. After she received her second drink, he touched her without forethought. Cupping his hand under her elbow, he maneuvered her to a floor-to-ceiling window away from the center of the room. The cool window felt good against his sweaty back. And too, he was content that it was a space they didn’t have to share with others. She pulled away, feeling slightly manipulated.
Feeling her resistance, Bill gave her his warmest smile. “Please allow me to apologize; I didn’t mean to offend you. What I meant was I’d like to know more about your writing accomplishments. I didn’t mean to come off as arrogant. There, is that better?”
Jina smiled and said, “Apology accepted. Somewhat better. But still, arrogance forces doors open, no doubt.
She watched him as he returned her smile. He pulled a small fuchsia-colored card from his pants pocket and handed it to her. Now that he had her full attention, his confidence rose.
“Naturally, I’d be happy to discuss my publicist package with you. By all means, give me a call.”
Again flirting with her eyes, she took his card. “I’ll be in touch. It was a pleasure meeting you, Mr. Bradley, so long.” She discarded her empty glass on a nearby table, looked back over her shoulder to upload his face into her memory, and left the party. Well, the party wasn’t a total bore. Although arrogant, Bill Bradley seems interesting.
He smiled and watched her move toward the door. He said to no one in particular, “Vanessa Williams, 2002 style: the face, the color, the body, the hair. Cool lady.”
* * * * *
Bill Bradley never knew his father, or bonded with any male in his family. His father left when he was very young. Yet, what stuck in his mind was how his father’s abandoning the family had affected his mother. He repeatedly saw sadness in her face and would ask, “What’s the matter, Mommy, you hurt?”
Refusing to admit the pain, she would attempt a smile and say to her young son, “Mommy doesn’t hurt, baby. She’s just got a lot on her mind.” What was on her mind was, why? Why did her husband leave? Where did he go?
As a teenager Bill watched his mother descend into nothingness, the result of a broken heart. He never understood why his father did not return from wherever he went when he left their home on that fateful day. Thinking back, he couldn’t remember seeing his parents express love for one another, not even their kissing in his presence. For years Bill assumed it to be how married people acted with each other. Later, in adulthood, he learned this was not the norm; people in love did kiss. As an only child young Billy developed a fierce desire to excel in the world. He supported himself doing odd jobs all through high school. Nonetheless, his childhood memories left a gaping hole in his heart.
At seventeen, in his high school senior year, Bill came to Ted Grassley’s attention when he won a scholarship from the Grassley Advertising Agency. Ted was already eighteen years his senior when they met. Bill continued his association with the agency. He first gained an internship and eventually blended in with the staff. Ted shifted Bill’s name to William, feeling that it was more professional. Even early on he exhibited a magnetic personality, the kind needed to make it in advertising. Ted recognized it and told his young protégé he’d make a great assistant-in-training, and promised him a fruitful future with the agency. Impressed with Bill’s aggressive style, he even went so far as to finance his college education. After Bill received his degree, Ted was quick to offer him a job.
That wasn’t all that Ted Grassley, the clever, elegant godfather and mentor, gave to young Bill. He awoke in him a different kind of emotion. Ted introduced him to same sex love. He turned him out on his twenty-first birthday—a day that still haunted him even now at thirty-five.
In spite of the offer, Bill had other plans for his future, and working at the agency in New York wasn’t part of them. He wanted a public relations agency in Chicago—wanted to work one-on-one with his own clients. Although he had faith in his ability to hold his own, he left in considerable distress because of all Ted had done for him. He felt guilty about refusing his mentor, the man responsible for his education. In many respects Ted had come to replace his absentee father, and Bill and Ted were both aware of this father-son connection. Even so, Bill was determined to leave New York, but he didn’t leave empty-handed. Ted Grassley gave him a loan to start his business as well as a promise of a monthly stipend—what he called “good faith money”—until his business was up and running on its own. He also took back the name his momma gave him—Bill. He didn’t like the name William. Felt it sounded too hifalutin’.
* * * * *
According to some plan beyond the control of either Bill Bradley or Jina Cook, they met. They had no idea how their young lives resembled each other’s. Jina, also thirty-five and a neophyte writer, was Catherine and Henry’s only child. She lost her mother to cancer when she was a teenager. The remaining extended family surrounded her with support, seen and unseen. Before Jina’s mother passed, the parents agreed that her maternal grandmother, Nana, would step into her life, which she did immediately with seamless support. That was the last she heard from her father. So in a brief moment in time, she in fact lost both parents. She learned later that her father did keep in touch with Nana from time to time.
* * * * *
Over the next several days, Bill checked his voice mail often and hoped, to no avail, that Jina’s call would be there.
Nothing yet. Damn. I need a new client. Money’s gettin’ low. It’s been a full seven days since we met. She appeared to know what she wanted, ready to move with the promotion of her book. Let’s hope so. A little over a week later, Tuesday morning, Jina called.
He answered the phone. Hmmm, a one-man show. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, she said, “Hello, Bill Bradley, please, Jina Cook calling.”
“Jina Cook? Oh, yeah, I remember. We met at the book party. How could I forget such a gorgeous woman?” Damn right I remember, Ms. Lady. “I take it you’re ready to talk about our working together?”
“Yes, I need to tell you about my novel. I’m nearly finished with the revisions.”
Her voice is coming through a bit shaky and unsure. Bill was concerned. He listened without interrupting, giving her a change to pull her thoughts together. She finally got the words out. “I want to talk about your handling my publicity and giving me a little direction. I guess we need to meet.”
She’s more of a novice than I originally thought. Not dumb though—probably just shy with men. We’ll have to work on that. She’s gotta learn that it’s essential to be forthcoming in this business. “You’re right; you need publicity, and you need to start now. So, when can we meet and talk? Your place, mine, a restaurant, whatever makes you comfortable. Would dinner be a problem for you, say tomorrow evening?”
“Not at all,” she said forthright.
Ah, now we’re cookin’. “I like The Seasons on Delaware. We can talk without having to scream above the noise. I’ll make reservations for seven. Does that work for you?”
“I’ll meet you there.”
“A cautious young lady, I see. No problem.” Jina was not ready for him to come to her apartment and pick her up. It was fine with him. The meeting was to talk about money. He didn’t want any bruised feelings to interfere with business.
Jina arrived by taxi a little before seven. She entered the restaurant and gave Bill’s name, but he hadn’t arrived yet. The hostess took her to his reserved table. Already seated, Jina watched Bill rush into the restaurant and remarked, “Ah ha, I see you believe in being on time.”
He laughed, a bit embarrassed and blushed almost crimson. “Does the restaurant meet with your approval?”
“Yes, it’s beautiful. I’ve never been here...Posh, but...comfortable. Is this part of your public relations package?” She smiled teasingly but wondered about his expensive taste.
With a gentle smile he took the chair across from her, allowing him to look directly at her face. “Of course! Kidding aside, you should expect the best from anyone working for you or with you in your quest to sell.”
The waitress arrived. Bill read the wine menu and asked Jina, “May I take the liberty of ordering wine?”
She smiled, please at his pursuit and said, “Please, and thank you. I know nothing about wines.”
“Two glasses of Gamay Beaujolais.” He pointed at the menu and laughed. “It says here, ‘mischievous, impish and charming.’ Fun, huh?” They both laughed. Bill returned the menu to the waitress stating, “We’ll order food in a few.”
Jina was getting the picture. He is such a flirt, so sure of himself. Or not.
The waitress smiled, left, and, in a special effort to please Bill, returned immediately with two glasses of wine on a silver tray. She reached around the right side of Jina, setting her glass before her while lightly brushing Bill’s shoulder. Then lingering a bit more than necessary, she placed the second glass.
“My, my, Mr. Bradley, I’m impressed. And,” she leaned forward and whispered, “if I didn’t know better, I’d say our waitress is flirting with you.”
“You may be right. Her loss, your gain.” He gave Jina one of his smiles he knew was a sure winner with most ladies. “Now, back to business. Darlin’, try to make it a point to be seen in first-class places. Oh, and get used to my calling you darlin’. It’s classy,” Bill said with a wave of his hand.
“Darlin’ is classy? You make me feel antiquated, behind the times.” Jina frowned.
“No, you’re not behind the times, and you’re surely not antiquated. You’re just new to the marketing business. You’ll learn.” He openly appraised her. She’s fresh, promising, the kind of personality I can work with. But can she write? “What’re your taste buds saying? We can order now and discuss a plan while waiting for the food.” Without looking at the menu, Bill said, “May I suggest the crab meat-stuffed sole. I’ve had it before. It’s delicious and light.”
“Okay, Mr. Bradley, I’ll have the sole and a small salad.”
“A lady who knows what she wants. I like that. I’ll have the same,” he said still drawing her in.
She sat back in her chair, smiled and sipped her wine. “Mmmm, nice, light, pleasant. Good choice.”
Bill reminded himself that the lady was a potential client and to keep his mind on business. “That’s part of my job too. I serve at the pleasure of my clients, Madam.” He bowed his head and lowered his eyes. Then he smiled up at her and said, “And, my darlin’, in my opinion, which is mixed with experience, you’ll do fine on the circuit. I need to read your manuscript.”
He was a picture of confidence in his tan sport coat and pale blue shirt. It was too hot in the city to wear a tie, but he knew the coat was the dress code in this particular restaurant.
The aromas that came from the kitchen sharpened his appetite. His day had consisted of running from the Loop to the South Side and back visiting clients. He hadn’t had time to eat since his breakfast of bagel and coffee. Becoming anxious, he looked around for the waitress, not realizing she had been standing at his elbow for several seconds. Embarrassed, he cleared his throat and gave her their order.
Jina looked at the waitress, then at Bill, and smiled sending him a telepathic message. Yeah, she thinks you’re attractive too, Mr. Bradley.
He mentally received her message, blushed, and, needing something to do with his hands, pushed his sleeves up a bit. He then took a sip of wine and moved on to business. “I’ve prepared a publicist package. Understand,” he said, “you don’t have to accept all the items listed. Just select what you think you can handle this first time around. Keep in mind that the important thing is to get your name out to the media. And they will get your name out to a targeted readership. I’ll set up a book launch party like the one you attended when we first met.”
“My head is spinning. I’m so excited!” she said, head tilted to her right with a coy smile.
Bill sat back in his chair and smiled with satisfaction. He was clearly aware that the lady was not so great at handling alcohol.
She gushed on as she sipped her wine. “I’ve dreamed of publishing my book for three years. This is the first step toward my goal, toward it becoming a reality. Do I sound like a neophyte?” She giggled. “I do. I am. This is all so wonderful!”
He joined into her exuberance. “Celebrate! You deserve it. Anyone who’s been writing a novel for years has earned the right to get excited. Did you like that setup at the book party the other night? That’s what I’m thinking for you. I’ll have placards printed, big ones, with your picture. I’ll arrange for the photographer. I have a special lady. You’ll be fine, just put yourself in my hands, darlin’.”
“I am in your hands, Mr. Bradley. You set it up; I’ll be there.” Again, that coy smile.
“Cool! Now, here’s what I need from you. I like to know my client well. As I see it, I’m putting myself out there to promote you and should know just what I’m gettin’ into. I want to become your best friend in business. Oh, yeah, you got any lovers lurking around out there that may be the jealous type? If so, I need to know that. No doubt, I don’t want to be blindsided by a nut case.”
“No,” she said, ending the conversation with a laugh. She felt it unnecessary that he know about her breakup with her ex-lover. He was glad to get out of the relationship, too much pressure to commit. Besides he was not the type to want in on publicity. Most of all, she don’t want her celibacy out in public. Jina often wondered if being celibate made her asexual. It was nobody’s business if she was.
Bill raised an eyebrow and said, “That’s pretty straightforward, ma’am.”
Hmmm. No boyfriend? “Okay. We’re on the same page. Must protect myself from embarrassing situations...lawsuits, etc. My reputation is on the line, too.”
“No, Mr. Bradley, as far as I know, I’m clean.” She returned his facial expression.
He raised his glass, reached across the table and tapped hers gently. “To us,” he said. “You have to excite the public. While you do have the looks, you also must have a blockbuster book. I know how to write the publicity. We’ll do fine. I believe we understand each other’s ideas and share the same goals.” I must say, she’s pleasant company. But no boyfriend?
“Wonderful. I’ll take your proposal home and go through it before asking questions. I brought along a copy of my manuscript as it stands now,” Jina said, handing it over.
The food had arrived, and he wasted no time getting to it. “Wonderful idea, now let’s eat.”
After dinner, she allowed Bill to drive her home. He reminded her as she exited his car, “Darlin’, you’re in my hands. I won’t let ya down. We’ll both make money if we play this right. Get some rest, gather your thoughts and we’ll talk again later in the week.” He stood at the curb and watched her enter her apartment building. After she looked back and smiled, he drove off, satisfied that she was safely inside, and smugly satisfied with his new client. During the drive home Bill reviewed the events of the evening and what stuck in his mind was the remark Jina made about not having a boyfriend. He mumbled aloud, “Good Start. But...no boyfriend? Well,” he said, drawing his shoulders up, “that’s not my concern.”

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

SEP06 - AUTHOR INTRO - Linda Wattley


My name is Linda Wattley, I reside in Copley, Ohio. I am widowed with two sons, Robert III and Marcus. I enjoy spending time with my mother and family. I enjoy watching movies, going for long walks, working out, reading and writing. Before I became a novelist, I use to be a Spiritual Writer for the Frost Illustrated Newspaper in Fort Wayne Indiana. I would write what I felt God was speaking into my spirit. This is my most fulfilling pleasure. My heart felt desire in this life time is to rekindle love back into the hearts of my fellowman. Love has and always will be very important to me. I want the world to know God is not mocked. His son did not die for nothing. We can love but we first must realize this world is not our home or our God. Our God is love and so are His children.

Deeper Than Love

What could be Deeper than Love? Join Leona Tillard as she reveals the answer to this question. After being Daddy's Girl, she finds out the true meaning of love and the price of not knowing. Sexuality, Sensuality and Spirituality are the powerful forces determining our choices in life.

Visit Linda at:
http://www.lindawattley.com/

SEP06 - EXCERPT - Deeper Than Love

Deeper Than Love
by Linda Wattley

What could be Deeper than Love? Join Leona Tillard as she reveals the answer to this question. After being Daddy's Girl, she finds out the true meaning of love and the price of not knowing. Sexuality, Sensuality and Spirituality are the powerful forces determining our choices in life.


Chapter Eight

I made it to Fort Sill, Oklahoma. If I had a choice between being at Fort McClellan, Alabama, Fort Ben Harrison, Indiana and this gloomy place, I’d rather be in Indiana. Fort Sill sat square in the middle of nowhere. I was actually in the desert. As soon as I got settled into my barracks, I found a pay phone to call Tony. He wasn’t home. So, I called my parents to let them know I was all right. When I called home, Mom gave me Dennis’ phone number. When I called Dennis, he was too high to make sense, so Jennifer took the phone.

“Leona, thank God it’s you; your brother is flipping out.”

“Are you far from the base?”

“Call a cab, Leona. I’ll pay for it. Hurry!”

I got a cab and went to Dennis and Jennifer’s apartment. They lived in a nice part of town. As I got out the car, Dennis ran up to me and put his arms around me.

“Sis, you made it. Come in and have a drink. Come see my kids.”

Dressed still in his fatigues and barefoot, he walked me to the door of the apartment, then turned around without a word and went next door to the neighboring apartment. I knocked on the door and Jennifer let me in. She wouldn’t look at me. I saw Lamont; he was growing up fast. There was a baby crib near the wall of the living room. The place was a mess.

“Jennifer, what’s going on?”

“Dennis jumped on me again just because I asked him to help me with the kids. He’s drunk.” I had heard tales off and on for the last few months that Dennis and Jennifer were having problems—serious problems.

“You can’t keep letting him do you like this. You need to get out of here before he messes you up for the rest of your life and hurt your kids.”

“He isn’t going to hurt the kids; he doesn’t touch them. He tells me I pick them up too much. And, he acts like he hates me for giving them a bath. That’s Rachel,” she said, nodding towards the baby girl sleeping in the crib. “She’s almost a year old. He loves her, but he acts like he’s scared of her. He’s a good provider, but he barely touches his kids at all,” Jennifer cried.

“I thought Dennis was doing fine. When I last talked to him, he trusted God with his life.”

“Yeah, he did until he started smoking dope and drinking. When he isn’t high, he’s the sweetest man.”

“Who is that next door?”

“His get-high buddies. They smoke reefer all day and night. They’re not in the service.”

“I’ll talk to him, later. I’m going to help you straighten up this mess. You’ll feel so much better once that’s done.”

“Thanks. I’m going to put the Lamont to bed.” She said.

I started picking up broken glass and putting furniture where I thought it belonged. While I was cleaning up, I thought about getting high. I was so close to letting it happen. But I didn’t want to be around those heathens Dennis was hanging out with. Just when I had washed the last dish, Dennis came home with his friend, Harold. He didn’t look like a junkie to me. I thought those guys next door were trash. Harold was fine with a tall, thin frame. You could tell he was high; his dreamy bedroom eyes were just about closed. But he didn’t let it rule his demeanor. He was able to handle himself very well. His clothes were well matched, with perfectly creased jeans and a jacket to match.

Dennis grabbed Jennifer by the arm and went into the bedroom. Harold and I just stood there in the living room, thinking they were coming right back. After twenty minutes went by Harold invited me over to his house to play cards. I went.

“Hey, everybody, this is Dennis’ sister, Leona, from Columbus, Ohio.” There were a number of people sitting around a table playing cards and some lounging on couches and chairs in the living room.

“I’m Terry.”

“I’m Tim.”

“Have a seat. I’m Venus, Harold’s woman.”

“I’m, Angie, people call me Duchess,” she said as she reached out to shake my hand. I reluctantly shook her hand. Something about the way she held it made me uncomfortable.

“Let’s play spades.”

“Leona, you can be my partner,” Duchess insisted.

“Come on, Vee. Let’s show them who lives here,” Harold said as he rolled a couple of joints. They were all drinking beer. I didn’t like beer, so I drank pop. As soon as he lit the first joint, I secretly inhaled deeper breaths hoping to catch a contact. I couldn’t believe I was secretly stealing their reefer smoke from the air. Now, that’s desperation. My mind wasn’t made up if I wanted this set of people to know I get high.

The game got started. The joints started making their way around the table. When it came to me, I finally gave in and took it. I wasn’t trying to stand out like a sore thumb by turning it down. Besides, I wanted it badly. The first drag went straight to my brain cells. I was higher than I could ever remember being. After that first drag, the rest of the drags were sucked in lightly. I had to work at maintaining my cool. I was tripping for sure. The cards looked like they were floating out of my hands. I didn’t remember anything like this happening to me before. We were laughing at every little thing we said or done. The only reason I didn’t fall apart is because everybody else was tripping too. Some kind of a way, we were actually able to keep playing cards. Duchess and I kept winning.

Dennis and Jennifer came over about an hour later. They sat down and joined the party. I was feeling so good; I decided to try a beer. It wasn’t so bad. I was having fun. Jennifer got to play a couple of games too. Every now and then, she or Dennis would run next door to check on the kids.

“Hey, it was nice meeting everybody. I got to go now.”

“You smoke up our dope and leave?” Duchess jokingly asked.

“I just got here today. I’m tired. I’ll be back.”

“Play one more game and I’ll take you back on post. I got to leave myself,” Duchess said as she shuffled the cards.

“All right,” I agreed. “One more and I got to go.”

“Watch her,” Dennis leaned over and whispered to me, laughing a little. “She goes both ways.”

But Duchess heard him. “I’m bisexual, so what?”

“You’re just greedy,” I said, too high to stop the smart comment before it came out.

Everybody burst out laughing. I wasn’t expecting that. She looked offended by those few words, and it was too late to take them back. I didn’t know what else to say.

Duchess brushed the hurt look off her face. “Not really, I just like all of God’s creations.”

“Not really, you only like all the humans.” Everybody burst out laughing again.

“Let’s play cards, please,” said Dennis.

After the game, everybody cleared the table and threw away their beer cans and trash. Once everything was cleaned up, I saw Harold had a really nice apartment. I wasn’t sure if Duchess was going to take me back on post, so I asked to use the phone to call a cab.

“I told you could ride with me. I meant it.”

“See you all later, Dennis. I’ll catch up with you later.”

“See ya, sis.”

Duchess and I walked to her car. She got in first and reached over to unlock the door to the passenger side.

“Hey, I didn’t mean any harm.” I attempted an apology.

“It’s no big deal. People talk about me all the time.”

“That wasn’t my intention. I figure, if you like both sexes, you have to be greedy. I would say that to anybody.”

“That’s not why I’m like that. I just enjoy men and women. Is that a crime?”

“You’re asking me? I just feel it’s a cop-out. I mean, it sounds like you let sex determine whether you like people or not. I can like you. I can like Harold. But, if I’m having sex, it won’t be with both of you. That’s the same in any relationship. You can’t always let sex come into play when there are so many other things you can enjoy in life? It seems to me that if you let your sexual nature rule your life, that’s not good for anybody.”

“Dang. I just asked you a simple question. You didn’t have to get so deep about it.”

“Well, you asked. I always speak my mind.”

“You should’ve been a preacher. I can tell you are spiritual. I like you. Now, don’t think I want to have sex with you. I’m just intrigued by you. That’s all.”

I got back to the barracks too late to call Tony. When I got to my room, there was a message on my door. I pulled the note off the door to read it. Dang, Tony called me. I went to sleep; hoping tomorrow would hurry up and come so I could call him back.

Everything was going well for me at boring Fort Sill. Duchess and I ended up being good friends. I never saw her with one person in particular. She had lots of friends of both sexes, but she would always find time to spend with me. At first, I was uncomfortable around her. Eventually, that went away once I got to know her. Rumors were spreading around that I must be gay because I hadn’t had sex with any of the men on post. I was saving myself for Tony, which was getting really hard for me to do. I could never catch up with him on the phone.

One day, I was over at Dennis’ apartment. I was holding Lamont while we were watching TV. Dennis came in the house drunk and snatched Lamont off my lap.

“Put him down, Leona. He doesn’t need that freaky stuff!”

I didn’t know what to say at first. I was shocked. Jennifer gave me the signal to not say anything. I sat there becoming angrier by the minute. If I didn’t say something, I was going to get sick.

“What’s wrong with you, Dennis? You’re trying to tell me I can’t hold my nephew?”

“For what? That freaky mess isn’t going on in my house!”

“What are you talking about?”

“You know. We grew up in that crap. It’s just not going to happen!”

“Dennis, we know the difference. Kids deserve to be nurtured. I would never do to a child what was done to me. How could you think such a thing?”

“How can you be so damn sure? I’m not sure of what I would do!”

“Dennis, you won’t cross over. It’s not in you.”

Dennis broke down and started crying. I had to hold him. He wouldn’t embrace me at first, but, finally, he held me tightly.

“I love my family. I don’t want to screw them up like my daddy did us. I don’t trust myself. If I hold my kids, I don’t know what I’m supposed to feel. If it feels too damn good, then I think it’s wrong. I don’t know what normal is; I don’t think I ever did.”

I grabbed Dennis by his face. “Look at me. I’m your sister. I’ll always love you. I know you well enough to know you will not hurt them.”

“I want to hug my kids; I really do. I just don’t want to be like my father.”

“Listen. Your private parts tell the whole story. As long as you aren’t throbbing down there when you touch anybody, you should be fine. Your private parts shouldn’t touch anybody you wouldn’t want God to see you touch. You understand? You are normal. Jennifer loves you a lot. Love her back; enjoy your beautiful family.”

For the first time since his daughter had been born, he picked her up out of her crib and held her close to his heart. He started crying as he sat down with Rachel in his arms. He even reached for Lamont to sit close to him. Jennifer started crying, as she hugged and thanked me for helping her family.

Back at the barracks, I lay on my bunk wondering why I hadn’t heard from Tony. I was beginning to worry. I hadn’t had a period since I was in Indiana. I felt fine though. Maybe it was the stress from Doug’s death.

To get my mind off Tony, I walked to the window and looked outside. All I saw was a broad, muscular chest covered by a pure white T-shirt moving along the sidewalk. The chest had a dark face above it with perfect, white teeth. He was large and moved with the grace of an athlete. I saw him, but he didn’t see me. My mind was made up. One day soon, I was going to lay my head on that chest. Tony shouldn’t have left me hanging this way.

A few nights later, we had a party down in the day room. And there was the face to that chest. I smiled inside because I liked what I saw. That was intriguing to me, to desire someone’s body without knowing that person at all. I kept my eye on him the whole time. I soon learned they called him Nate.

I was beginning to feel more comfortable around my new friends. Most of them were men. They felt comfortable around me too. I was like their sister. They loved to get me high, so I would say some off the wall things. We loved playing cards, especially Spades. One night, Big Ben, one of the most popular guys on post, gave a big party for Nate. Everybody was there. Duchess and I went together since she had a car. I would tag along wherever any party was. When we got there, the reception area of the apartment complex was packed with people from our unit on post. Duchess and I smoked a joint before we got out the car. I was feeling exceptionally free tonight. I followed the crowd, and they led me right to Nate.

He sat in his chair like he was the king of the world. He was so high and happy. People literally sat at his feet. It was his birthday. He had money pinned all over him. I spotted a space on his shirt just right for me to pin some money on. I made my way to him. Standing in front of him, I smiled and pinned five dollars on his shirt, turned and walked away.

“Yo! Hold up; who are you?” He asked.

I felt like being dramatic, so I walked off into the crowd like I was a figment of his imagination. I felt him reading my every move. I could tell he was a deep-minded person. I recognized it from being with Tony. We were attracted to each other because we were deep thinkers. But I needed to be careful because I was still patiently waiting for Tony to reach me.

After planting my seed, I was ready to go back to the barracks. I wasn’t interested in the crowd tonight. I wanted to go to bed and fantasize about Nate, especially if I couldn’t reach Tony.

“Specialist Tillard, come here, sweetie.”

I turned around to see who was calling me. It was the birthday boy himself. Close up, Nate looked like a god. He stood almost six feet tall, and he was all muscle. I just stood there waiting for his next words.

“Where are you going? You can’t leave now. We haven’t danced, yet. It’s my party, and I get what I want.”

“Okay, one dance.”

He took my hand and led me to the dance floor. “Be My Girl” was playing. I couldn’t believe our first dance was a slow one. He gracefully pulled me into his body. My head landed right on his chest. I was so glad. He couldn’t see the wide smile on my face. The disc jockey moved right into another slow song by Heat wave, “Always and Forever.” Those two songs left us no other choice but to be close to each other as our bodies swayed to the music. I didn’t resist staying in his arms a little longer, but after the dance, the crowd closed in on him and swept him away from me.

When I got to my room, I felt extra light-headed. I threw up twice even though all I had was one drink. I was so sick I stayed in my room for two days. Surprisingly, I wasn’t missed by anybody but Nate. He sent Duchess up to my room to check on me. I was weak and sweating through my clothes.

“We got to get her to the hospital.” Duchess said when she saw my sorry condition.

“I’ll take her.” Nate volunteered, as he swept me up off my bed and carried me to his car.

Duchess grabbed my ID and purse. They got me into the emergency room on post. The doctor took me to the back immediately. IV needles were poked into my arms, and then he checked me out thoroughly. A nurse drew blood from my other arm.

“When was your last period?” She asked.

“I don’t know. I think about two months ago or longer.”

“Are you pregnant?”

I hesitated. I really didn’t know. The nurse continued to stare at me suspiciously, then announced to an orderly that came in to get my blood samples, “Tell her friends they should leave. She’s going to be here a while.”

The guy must have followed her orders because I heard Nate’s big voice booming.

“What’s wrong with her? Is she going to be all right?”

“They are working on her. It’s a good thing you got her here. I’m not allowed to discuss her with friends. Please come back tomorrow.”

A doctor came into my cubicle a while later reading a lab form.

“Leona, did you know you were pregnant?”

“No, I was sick a couple of months ago. I was stressed out. I just thought it had something to do with that.”

“You have a urinary tract and bladder infection. The fever has almost made you lose your baby.”

“Baby? I can’t be having a baby. I’m in the Army.”

“That’s kind of obvious. We’re keeping you still so that you don’t lose the baby.”

“How many months have I been pregnant?”

“Probably just a couple of months if your period hasn’t been gone that long, but we won’t know for sure until an obstetrician examines you. We would have a better idea if you could pinpoint your last period. Anyway, we’re going to take care of you two.” He patted my leg through the sheet. “Don’t worry about a thing. Rest and try to relax.”

I lay in bed that night, holding my stomach. Something was in it. It’s alive. More than that, I might be having Doug’s baby. But then, there was also a chance it could be Tony’s, as well. That night with Tony could have been the night a life was made. Our bodies were so electrified. We didn’t even think about the possibility of having a baby. Oh, God, this couldn’t be happening.

The next morning, my fever was finally broken and I felt better. I wanted to get up, go back to the barracks, and act like this visit to the hospital never happened.

“Good morning, I see you feel better. I can tell you exactly how far along in your pregnancy you are if you let us give you an exam. You want to know?”

“Yes, please, I need to know as soon as possible.”

“We will be examining you in about an hour.”

That hour crawled by. I needed to know who the father of my baby was so I could grieve appropriately. When I thought about all the times Doug and I had sex, all sum they didn’t compare to that one night with Tony. Even the night I touched him, I didn’t generate the power of the lovemaking that Tony and I shared. The exam was finally over. The ultrasound revealed I was nine weeks into my pregnancy. I was carrying Doug’s baby while I was making love to Tony.

As soon as the nurse and doctor left the room, I cried for all the right reasons. Inside of me was a part of Doug. My baby had no father. I couldn’t do this alone. I curled into a fetal position. Holding my stomach, I cried myself to sleep.

“Leona, you have a visitor,” the nurse said, intentionally waking me up. I sat up with my eyes open just enough to see it was Nate.

“Hey, you all right?” he asked. “They wouldn’t tell us anything. What happened?”

“Urinary tract infection; I’m better now. What’s up with you?”

“I’ve been worrying about you. I haven’t gotten a chance to know you yet, and you still got me concerned.”

“Sorry, I didn’t plan on getting sick.”

“When will you be able to leave here?”

“Couple more days; the doctor just wants to make sure it’s all gone.”

“Where are you from?” He asked.

“I’m from Columbus, Ohio, and you?”

“I’m from Gary, Indiana.” He was quiet for a minute, then, “Hey, are you seeing someone?”

“Yes and no. I have a friend back home, but I haven’t heard from him in a while. I don’t know what’s up.”

Nate nodded his head sympathetically.

“If you need a ride or anything, let me know. I’m going to let you rest now. By the way, my whole name is Nate Watkins.”

“I was wondering about that. Thanks for stopping by and for getting me here. I owe you.”

“Remember that,” he said with a smile.

I already knew. I didn’t want a baby at this time in my life. But this baby was all I had left of Doug. I couldn’t kill it. Tony would never understand this; nor would he want me with somebody else’s child. This was too much for me to bear. I just knew God would forgive me for one abortion. He had to. What was I thinking? Abortion, pregnant, Tony, Nate, and now I was trying to bring God into this mess. Maybe this was a good time to kill myself. I could forget about my parents understanding this situation. The bottom line—touching one time too many had me in this position. Now I knew why I was gaining weight and staying sleepy. I had thought I was depressed.

When I got back to the barracks, there was a message on my door. It was from my mom. She wanted me to call home immediately.

“Hi, Mom.” I tried to sound cheerful.

“Why didn’t you tell us you were sick?” She demanded, obviously concerned.

“I didn’t know it until I went to the hospital. I’m fine, now.”

“You’re pregnant, aren’t you?”

“No, Mom. Why are you asking me that?”

“My motherly instincts tell me you are.”

“I’m not pregnant. I had a bad urinary tract infection; that’s all. Mom, somebody else wants to use the phone. Love ya.” I hung up the phone.

I couldn’t take lying to her any longer. Reality was kicking in. I was going to have a baby. Doug’s baby was growing inside of me. He was depending on me to let him come into the world. I was starting to feel a little selfish. What was going to happen to my world? I was alone. I didn’t get it. I never felt like Doug and I gave enough to our sexual encounters to have a baby. If anything, this should have been Tony’s baby.

As I was about to walk back upstairs to my room, Nate came out of the break room. He was looking good in his sleeveless muscle shirt and stone-washed jeans. He had such a beautiful smile on his face. With a beer in his hand, he walked over to the stairs to talk to me.

“How are you doing?” He asked politely.

“I’m fine. I guess.”

“You seem a little down. You want to go for a ride? It’s beautiful out there. I got something I think you would like right about now.”

I only hesitated for a fraction of a second. I didn’t want to think about Doug or Tony or this baby. I just wanted to spend some time alone with Nate.

“Okay, let me run and get my purse. I’ll meet you in the front.”

When I got in his car, I wished we could keep driving until we reached a new world. We had the same taste in music. It made it easy for us to relax and enjoy the ride. We headed to Mount Scott. As soon as we got off base, he handed me a joint.

“How did you know I liked smoke?”

“I know you are a trip without it. You’re different from most people.”

“How do you know that?”

“I’ve been checking you out, and I have heard people talking about you. They never met anybody like you.”

I lit the joint. It was good; I was impressed with the quality. We passed it back and forth between us until it was gone. We were so high by the time we got to Mount Scott, everything was funny to us. We talked about everything. We seemed to have known each other for a long time. Everything was fine until we got out of the car and started walking into the mountains. Then, Nate got serious. I didn’t know how to take it. Holding my hand as we walked slowly on the trail, Nate stopped and leaned against the side of the mountain.

“Leona, you remember the night of my birthday party?”

“Yeah, I had a lot of fun.”

“Do you know what I remember the most?”

“Getting all that money?” I laughed.

“I remember your touch. When you touched me, I felt it. I wasn’t trying to feel it, but it couldn’t be ignored. I felt the warmth of your hand as you pinned that money on me. It made me feel different. I can’t explain it. I just know it never happened to me before.”

“I don’t know what to say. You think I got the Midas touch?” I said jokingly, hoping to change the mood. Nate was getting a little too heavy and messing with my high.

“I think you’re special and you should be careful how you live your life. A lot can happen to a person like you.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“God has plans for your life. “You better have your fun, now because you’re going to make a difference in this world.”

“Nate, you’re acting weird.” I laughed, moving a little away from him.

“You know I’m telling the truth.”

“Tell me about your girlfriend.”

“I don’t have one.”

“Why not? You have what it takes to have one.”

“When it’s right, it will happen. I’m choosing to wait instead of jumping in bed with somebody just because I can do it.”

We reached the middle of the mountain and decided to cool out there. He leaned against the mountain and pulled me close to him. With my back turned, I relaxed in his embrace. Just for a while, I was not pregnant and we were the only people in the world.

“I better get you back. I don’t want you to overdo it.”

“You’re right.” I agreed.

That night, I lay in my bunk wondering if I should sacrifice Doug’s baby to have the life I wanted. Did I have a right to want anything other than what was? How could I consider killing our baby? I finally said it, our baby. This life inside of me was my child. Did God feel this way about me when he conceived me in his mind? Even though He knew what I was capable of doing and being? Oh, God, I must be losing my mind. This baby was coming out of me just like I came out of you. He didn’t abort me when He saw my disturbance of His perfect plan. Dang. I couldn’t kill my baby. I wouldn’t do it. I’m sorry, baby; Mommy is so sorry.

Two weeks had gone by; I still hadn’t told anybody I was pregnant. I was busy trying to decide if I was going home or stay in the Army and have my baby. Nate and I spent a lot of time together. I wanted to tell him, so he wouldn’t build his hopes up too high about us having a future. I just couldn’t tell him yet. One evening, I was standing in formation when my NCO ordered me out of formation. Usually, it meant you were in big trouble. I followed orders and fell out of formation. He handed me a note.

When I finished reading the note, I felt real dizzy. My NCO caught me just before I fell to the floor. They fanned me and made room for me to have more air. When I came back to myself, I went to my room to cry privately. I couldn’t believe I had to go back home now. I had better check on Mom. I knew she must be having a hard time. She and my daddy were so close. I tried to call several times; nobody answered the phone. She had to be at the hospital. I had to go be with her. I called Dennis, but for some reason, he didn’t get the message. When I finally caught up with him later I told him my dad was in the hospital. He got leave and met me at the airport.

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