Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Bejeweled: Standing Strong by Chelle Ramsey



BOOK BLURB:

Olivia has overcome many challenges and disappointments in her life. Yet, when faced with an unexpected death of a family member, and witnessing the murder of someone she cares for, she isn’t sure she can survive. The losses incurred on this journey may cause her to pay the ultimate sacrifice.
The return of Black and Kianna means the puzzle pieces of Angel’s life are finally locking into place. The picture is different than she envisioned. Angel must determine if uncovering the truth of their past, is worth the sacrifice of her new relationship.
Kianna’s played dirty in the past, but this time the fight is deadly. She’s willing to go all in to expose the truth, which will cause everyone in the game to ante up. Will her sacrifice be more than she bargained for?
Black’s gambled several times in the past, but this time the stakes are high. With his life and those of his family serving as the bargaining chips, it isn’t that easy to fold. To protect those he loves the most, he may have to sacrifice his own life to save theirs.
Angel. Kianna. Black. In the end everyone must bear their cross. And the truth is so explosive, the House will never be the same. One will stand strong and walk away. One will stand strong and make the ultimate sacrifice. And one will stand strong and won’t survive!

EXCERPT 1:
Angel had been sitting in the waiting room for several hours with Georgette beside her. On her way to the hospital, Angel called Black’s mom to let her know what happened. She promised Angel she would be on the next flight in from DC and catch a cab to the hospital. Angel expected she would arrive at any moment.
“Mrs. Franklin,” a nurse greeted, entering the waiting room and approaching Angel.
“Yes?” Angel replied, standing up.
“Terrence is out of surgery now. He was back in recovery for the last half an hour, and they just rolled him up to his room. You can see him for a brief moment. Please follow me, Mrs. Franklin,” the nurse said. Her name tag read, “Ophelia.”
Angel looked back at Georgette who nodded her head reassuringly. She folded her arms across herself as she nervously followed the nurse through the blue swinging double doors marked Intensive Care Unit 1 {ICU 1}. Georgette had stayed behind in the waiting area, because no one was allowed back but family. Angel had told the nurse upon her arrival she was his wife, conveniently leaving the “ex” off.
Despite all the hell Black had taken her through with his years of selling drugs and cheating, she didn’t want any harm to come to him. There were more years with him as his woman and wife than not. Not to mention he was the father of her child. Although she would not admit it to anyone else, she still cared about Black.
She paused momentarily as the nurse came to a stop outside a room two doors down from the nurses’ reception desk. Angel looked through the glass partition of the ICU room Black was in. Gasping, she placed her hand to her mouth to stifle the sob that threatened to break forth. Angel didn’t try to stop the tears that flooded her eyes, running down her face. She had to be strong right now, for him and her little boy.
“Are you up to this, honey?” Ophelia asked. She placed a tiny, cool hand on Angel’s wrist and cast a warm, blue gaze at Angel.
Inhaling deeply, unable to find her voice, Angel shook her head “yes.” Following the nurse into the room, she warily took in her surroundings. The monitors stood guard over his bed like night watchmen, bleeping out readings that wouldn’t make sense to her in a million years. To the left of his bed stood two machines. According to Nurse Ophelia, one recorded his heart rate and monitored his blood pressure, while the other monitored his oxygen level. A saline drip was attached to his left hand and another pole with a plastic packet stood next to it. She was unsure as to what it was for, but the tubing attached to it; snaked its way underneath the covers to his pelvic region.
Her heart skipped a beat when she found the courage to lift her eyes to see Black lying inert in the bed. He was on a ventilator. Her Black who was so full of life, so flirtatious and fun one moment and so hardcore the next, but always talking. There were no sounds coming from him now. The endotracheal tube made sure of that. No sounds other than the low beeping and the whooshing of the equipment could be heard.
“Why is he on a ventilator?” Angel found her voice.
“It’s to assist him with breathing until he is able to do so on his own. It’s not abnormal. It just ensures that if he misses a breath, the machine will do the breathing for him. This tubing here,” Ophelia pointed at the plastic tube coming from his nose, “is a feeding tube that will give him all the nutrients he needs until he’s off the ventilator and able to eat on his own.”
“Do we know how long he’ll be here in ICU?”
“That always varies depending on the patient, their response to treatment, and how soon he begins coming around. It’s really difficult to say. But what you can do while he’s here is just talk to him, as you normally would. Just be careful not to say anything that might be upsetting to him. It’s okay to rub his hand or arm; you can even kiss him on his forehead if you would like.”
Angel shook her head and sniffed as she blinked back tears.
“All right, I’m going to step out, and I’ll be at the nurses’ station if you need anything. Its 4:30 now,” Ophelia stated, looking at her wrist watch. “You have 15 minutes with him, and then you’ll have to leave until 8:30 tonight. That’s our next visiting time.”
Angel cautiously sat in the chair on the right side of his bed. She wasn’t sure what to do with herself or how to even respond to him. A part of her continued to wait for him to wake up and say something sarcastic to her at any moment, or even ask about his son.
After sitting there for almost five minutes, she tentatively reached out her hand and touched his wrist. “Black…what happened? Who did this to you? I told you! I told you if you didn’t change your lifestyle…” Angel shook her head, recalling the nurse’s advice.
“I’m sorry,” she tried again, “I don’t know who did this to you, or why, but I’m sure we’re gonna bring them to justice.” She sat rocking back and forth for a few moments more, staring at him.
“I don’t know what I’m gonna tell TJ. He was looking forward to spending this weekend with you. Maybe I’ll just say you aren’t feeling well. I know we’ve been through so much, but that little boy loves you. And neither of you deserves this. There’s a lot of things I didn’t say throughout our marriage, which I should have said. But the one thing I never failed to tell you is you’re a wonderful father. You’ve always been the best father that little boy could have. You’re strong, smart, funny, and you have so much love in you for him. And he needs that. So if for no other reason, you have to get well for TJ, Black.” She rubbed his hand and stared at him, fighting back the tears.

EXCERPT 2:
It was always so much easier to give it when it didn’t impact you directly. The benefit of the doubt. That’s what Olivia was thinking about. There were so many things that needed her attention at the moment, but she couldn’t move past the funeral. Bethany’s funeral had been explosive in more ways than one. She had been strong through it all, even when Anne, Bethany’s mother, had announced in front of just over a hundred strangers that Raymond had been trying to re-ignite his marriage to Bethany and had even shared her bed after marrying Olivia.
A weaker woman would have broken. A weaker woman would not have walked out of the funeral home with her head held high. A weaker woman would not have held her composure on the ride back to the hotel with her husband and step-children, or on the return flight home. But Olivia was anything but weak. Her strength and faith in God kept her through it all…until they returned home.
Throughout it all, Raymond had attempted to explain it. She told him in no uncertain terms she didn’t want to discuss it until they returned home.
They had arrived back at their house just after midnight on Sunday. She pretended to be asleep even when Raymond reached for her in bed. She had pulled away and spent the remainder of the night with questions floating in her head. She would have her say. But not in front of the children. So the next day when her father asked if he could take the children for ice cream, she jumped at the opportunity.
“Baby, I’m telling you, Anne is evil. She twisted everything into something ugly. It never happened like she said,” Raymond pleaded, as he sat on the bed bench with his hands clasped between his knees.
Olivia sat at her dressing table with her back to her husband.
“Why would she lie about something like that, Ray?”
“Because she’s hateful. She wants to see me unhappy and miserable,” Raymond reasoned.
“But why, Ray? What have you done to her that would make her so angry she would tell such vile lies?” Olivia asked. She still refused to turn around and face him.
“I don’t know, baby. She’s angry because her daughter died, and she’s always hated me. The woman is prejudiced. I mean, don’t get me wrong, she loves black people as long as we’re not mixing with her precious blue blood. But once you cross that line you’re an enemy for life,” Raymond clarified.
“Raymond, this is the worst excuse I’ve ever heard. Tell me,” she said, turning around in her chair and facing her husband for the first time. “Did you tell Bethany you wanted to work on your marriage?”
“No!” Raymond adamantly denied.
“Did you ever want to work on your marriage?” Olivia interrogated.
“No, baby. At least not once I decided to divorce her. By the time you and I got together, I had left all of that behind me,” he explained.
Olivia could see the pain in his eyes, but she couldn’t help but think of all the return trips he made to Boston in the beginning of their marriage. Many of those trips had resulted in an argument between her and her husband.
“She said there were times you were staying up there and the kids were with her and Cal. What about that, Ray? How do you explain that?” she asked, pursing her lips.
“Beth knew I was coming to see the kids, but hadn’t told them. On a couple of occasions they asked if they could spend the night with their grandparents. And she took them, never telling them I was on the way into town. I usually didn’t arrive until that night some time, and it would be too late to get them by then. So I would have to wait until the next day to pick them up,” he explained. Raymond stood up and began crossing the room to his wife.
Olivia held up her hand to stop him in his path.
“Did you ever sleep in the same bed as her, Raymond?” Olivia asked. Her heart fell when her husband lowered his head. “Ray-did-you-ever-sleep-in-the-same-bed-with-Beth?” Olivia asked in a slow, drawn-out tone.
He held his head up and looked her in the eyes. “Yes, but—”
“Get the hell out of my home! Now!” she screamed, when it took a moment for him to take in what she was saying. “Get out!”
She fast-walked to the closet and began pulling his clothes out and throwing them at him.
“Ivy…baby, listen!” Raymond pleaded, pulling on her arm.
“Raymond, don’t you dare touch me! Get the hell out, now!” she growled.
He began picking up his items from the floor and left the home before the kids returned.
All alone in her bedroom, she screamed until she grew hoarse, and then she lay down and wept until she fell asleep.

EXCERPT 3:
She needed to figure out how to calm the firestorm of her marriage. She would not allow her family issues to become fuel for the gossip mill. As if catching a vibe, her cell phone began to buzz at that moment. She glanced down and saw Raymond’s smiling face on the phone.
“Hey, ladies, I’ll be right back,” she said, walking back towards her office.
She hit the answer button before she made it there. “Hold on for a moment,” she said into the phone.
Closing the door behind her, she sat in her office chair and slowly put the phone to her ear.
“Yes, Raymond,” she answered in a sharp tone.
“We need to talk, Olivia.”
“About what?”
“I don’t want to do this over the phone. We’ve been going at it like this for the last couple of days. We can’t keep telling the kids I’m out of town for a work conference.”
“That was your idea, Raymond! You better not dare try to turn this around on me. I have not interfered with your right to your children. I have no right to do that, and I wouldn’t try. You’re the one who decided you didn’t want—”
“You’re damned right, I decided!” Raymond interrupted. “They are going through enough right now and the last thing I want is for them to know we’re on the outs.”
“I don’t care what you want, Ray! Your wants don’t matter to me!”
“They had better matter. Especially where those kids are involved, Olivia. Look, I know you’re angry with me right now. But this isn’t about you and me. It’s about what they need. And what they need is to see strength and unity and love. They don’t need to see us falling apart. You’re their stepmother, and as a parent you’re a role model whether you like it or not. I’m coming home this evening. And we can talk or not, but I’m coming back home and I’m not leaving again, Olivia,” Ray shot back.
“Fine then! I will!” Olivia insisted, and clicked the phone off.
She got up from her office chair and sat on the couch. Her hands were shaking and she, felt ready to explode. She dropped her head into her hands and released the tears of hurt and frustration.
“Father what am I going to do? I’ve given this man all of my heart and all of my love. I can’t take this hurt and pain. How can I be there for these children or this man right now, when I don’t have strength for myself? How could he do this to us, Lord? I trusted him more than I’ve ever trusted another person in my life! Oh, God…whyyyyyy?” she sobbed.
Olivia’s shoulders shook with each sob that wracked her body. She thought about how all she had done was cry all weekend long. And each time was at the hands of Raymond, the man who had sworn to love, protect, and cherish her. He’d failed miserably. She wondered if he had ever gotten over his first wife. She had asked him that early on in the relationship. He’d sworn he was over Bethany. Now she began to question everything.
He wouldn’t make a fool out of her. Olivia was a good, strong woman who deserved better. This she knew. And she could show him better than she could tell him. She had a bathroom there at the shop and an extra change of clothes. She wouldn’t be going home tonight.



ABOUT CHELLE RAMSEY:
An original Georgia Peach, Chelle Ramsey is a fiction author, writing stories to encourage, empower, entertain and strengthen readers. Many of her stories are based in her birthplace of Atlanta or her husband’s hometown of Cincinnati, where readers can relate to local hot spots and events. She wants her readers (women and men) to become empowered to rise above adversity, with faith in God, and belief in themselves.
Chelle holds an MBA in Human Resource Management, which she puts to use in her HR generalist role by day, while she writes her women’s fiction and Christian fiction novels by night. She is also a romance ghostwriter, a genre very diverse from her own.
Her most important roles are those of a wife and mother of three. During her “me time,” she loves listening to music, and becomes enraptured with the enthralling stories of Terry McMillan, and Nora Roberts. She especially relishes trying to solve the engaging mysteries of James Patterson and Stuart Woods, while eating a bowl of her favorite butter pecan ice cream. Chelle resides in a rural community of Atlanta, GA and enjoys writing, family time, and watching NBA games with her husband.

CONTACT INFO:
BLOG:  www.chelleramsey.com/beautifully-inspired-blog
WEBSITE: www.chelleramsey.com
FACEBOOK:  https://www.facebook.com/AuthorChelleRamsey?ref=hl
FACEBOOK_NOVEL: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-House-of-BeJeweled-Novels/385049478363422?ref=hl
TWITTER: https://twitter.com/ChellesBooks
EMAIL: chelleramseywrites@gmail.com
INSTAGRAM: https://instagram.com/chelleramseybooks/
GOODREADS: https://www.goodreads.com/goodreadscom_Chelle

GIVEAWAY:

Two different winners will be randomly selected from the participating blogs. One will receive an autographed copy of BeJeweled: Standing Strong, and another visitor will receive a $25 Amazon gift card. Winners will be chosen randomly by Rafflecopter.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


PURCHASE BOOKS:

BeJeweled: Standing Strong at Amazon 

ALL BOOKS AMAZON: Chelle Ramsey Amazon
 

PAPERBACKS:




(HOBJ IV) (COMING SOON)

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Winter Reunion - New from Rhonda McKnight

Everyone knows the woman in the "viral” video that hit two million views on YouTube. Humiliated, Tamar Johnson changed her name and disappeared behind the embarrassing video that captured her losing her virginity on prom night. But who was the guy?

NFL Running Back Stephen Pierce is football’s darling. He’s spent his entire career doing community service work with at-risk kids, and endeared fans as a devoted Christian, even claiming celibacy. It’s time for his high school reunion. Stephen is determined to get his EX, Tamar, to come out of hiding, even going as far as posting their prom picture on Instagram in hopes that she would accept the challenge to show up.

Tamar isn’t interested in the reunion, but her boss is. She writes for a small magazine. Stephen Pierce is a BIG story. With reunion activity in full swing, the tension between Tamar and Stephen reaches an unbearable level. Before it’s over will the world find out who the real Stephen Pierce is? And will Tamar survive spending time with the only man who’s ever had her heart?

Read the first chapter:

 Kindle https://goo.gl/idKP1q
Nook https://goo.gl/l8SS63
Paperback https://goo.gl/DU82iM

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Chocolate Malted Mousse


I love all things chocolate. Candy, cookies, ice cream, cake, men...chocolate, chocolate, chocolate. It's really obsessively ridiculous. One of my worst fears is that I will develop an allergy to it. My mother did in her late forties and I keep thinking, what if that happens to me? What would be the point of going on? LOL. Seriously, I don't mean that, but my goodness...no chocolate. What would I defer to?

I'm posting this yummy selection that I pulled from my Pinterest page (follow me) because it's one of my favorites. I admit for years I cheated. Dove Chocolate Discoveries (I used to sell for them) has an easy chocolate mousse item and it's delicious. So delicious that there's no reason to make it from scratch, but I have taken the time to make this one so I thought I'd share. 

This yummy combines crushed malted milk balls, chocolate malted milk powder, two kinds of melted chocolate, whipped cream and chocolate liqueur. Learn more at the blog where I highjacked it.

Chocolate Malted Mousse

Monday, October 10, 2016


Read and excerpt at my website. Click here for the link!

Makasha Dorsey of Woman in Progress Interviews Rhonda McKnight About Almost There... #FridayFinds

Three people at the brink of achieving all they’ve dreamed of since childhood…will the past get in their way?

Zannia Morrow is blazing a path to stardom as supermodel, Zane. Her million dollar face and body have landed her the most coveted modeling contract in the business, but Zannia has a problem. It’s one that money and success can’t fix.

Bonita Jones ran away from home at the age of 16. Now she’s Benxi, a hot new R&B singer with the right voice and look to take her right up the charts.  Her future is bright, but she’s done some things she’s not proud of. She’ll do anything to keep her secrets, even if includes sacrificing the success that’s right within her reach.

Mekhi Johnson has had success as a music producer. He’s got the talent, connections, and drive to take him all the way to the top.  He just needs the right artist to make it happen for his record label. Will he be able to sign Benxi, or will an old enemy stand between him and his next level?


Why is the theme of this project important?

Life if full of unpredictable events and sometimes bad things happen to good people. Stuff happens. I like to believe that my strength as a writer is in creating complex characters with deep wounds. The kind of hurts that only God can heal. Almost There is a story about the ugly stuff in life that happens to some people as children and young adults that impact their choices and often their options.

Almost There is a prequel to a novel I’ll be releasing in November. It’s the backstory for  Mekhi and Benxi, supporting characters that my readers have already become acquainted with in my Samaritan Woman series. Other titles are An Inconvenient Friend, What Kind of Fool, and Righteous Ways. I’ve also introduced a new character. Her name is Zane.

As for new readers, I think Almost There is the perfect place to begin with my books because it’s the story that happens before An Inconvenient Friend begins. In that respect, it stands completely alone as a title for the series.

What did you learn about yourself while writing this book?

That I have to stay true to the story, no matter what my brand is or what my readers expect of me. 

Click Here to read more of the interview...

Purchase the Book
Kindle https://goo.gl/Jf1imC
Nook https://goo.gl/0qx7Xq
Paperback https://goo.gl/dCJUBm

Monday, December 21, 2015

New from Rhonda McKnight - Righteous Ways




Samaria Jacobs would be living a platinum life as the wife of successful music producer, Mekhi Johnson, that is if she weren’t on her way to prison. Samaria’s always been a bit of a Grinch, but this year she feels like she has absolutely nothing to be grateful for. Will the desperate situation of an old friend make her examine her life at its lowest moment and find that even in her fear, shame, and sorrow that God has given her with the capacity to love?

Available in e-book format for $2.99 at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Paperback coming soon. 

Read and excerpt below:

Chapter One

I hadn’t gotten away with felony theft, so my chances of committing murder and not spending the rest of my life behind bars were slim. I grit my teeth and growled like an angry lion.
“Sammie, you need to stop looking at that stupid picture.” My cousin Ebony’s brown eyes flared behind the new designer frames I’d purchased for her.   
I looked at my cell phone. The image of Bonita Jones, aka, Benxi on the cover of Billboard with my husband. They were seated, Mekhi in a gigantic, tacky, gold throne and her squatting low between his legs like the raunchy, naked, no-talented heifer she was. The caption: Benxi’s New Album Shatters the Ceiling For R&B Artist Debut Sales. Is Mekhi Johnson the New King?
That title should be music to my ears, but I was too crazy to see it for what it was. All I could see was Benxi down-low in front of my husband. I pushed the button to send the photo to trash. I could download it again if I wanted to feel sorry for myself later. I dropped the phone in my bag. “I hate my life right now.” 
Ebony pulled an ugly sweater off the rack she’d been browsing.
I shook my head and she pushed the dud back into the tight mass of clearance items. “You have got to pull yourself out of this depression,” she murmured the words low and sing-songy.  I wasn’t even sure if she meant them for me.
Our eyes met. I cocked my head to the side. “And you have to stop wasting your time with the sale rack. All the good stuff is gone before they get to clearance.”
Ebony perched a fist on a hip and I knew she was about to give me the I’m-a-poor-working-class-stiff speech, so I stopped her with a raised hand. “I’m just saying. I’m paying so would you please take advantage of that.”
“I would load up if you just took me to Target.”
I frowned. She knew I didn’t shop at Target. Not anymore. Not since my husband was featured on magazine covers. I pulled a hanger off the rack and raised it high enough for Ebony to see.
She took the blouse out of my hand and pinned me with a serious look. “Don’t change the subject. You’re worse every time I see you.”
She was right. I did need to get out of the slump I was in, but knowing I was less than three weeks away from doing jail time was putting a serious dent in my ability to find a happy place. Shopping, my favorite thing in the world, couldn’t help with this pain. And I would be away for a year. Why was I buying clothes anyway?
Ebony looked at the price tag and turned up her nose. “It’s not my style.”
I took the hanger out of her hand. She’d liked it until she saw the price. I shoved it back on the rack. “I don’t want to do this anymore. There’s no point.”
“You said you needed to get out of the house and stay away from the studio, so you’re doing that.”
I shook my head. “I know what I said, but now, I regret it. I’m not going to buy a thing.” I reached into my bag and removed a credit card. “Get whatever you want and get the kids a gift from Auntie Samaria.”
I wasn’t really an aunt because Ebony and I were cousins, not sisters. I was a first cousin once removed, but Ebony’s brood was as close to nieces and nephews an only child like me would have, so I made sure they called me Auntie while they still didn’t understand the true relationship. 
Ebony took the card and turned it over as if she were inspecting it. “I wouldn’t buy my kids a gift from this store.”
“But I would and it’s my gift, so just pick some stuff out.”
Ebony frowned. “Why can’t you go to the children’s department and pick out the gifts yourself?”
“I hate Christmas shopping. You’re here. They’re your kids.  You know them better.”
Ebony sighed. “You love shopping any other time of the year, but hate Christmas shopping.” She raised a finger and wagged it at me. “You need to work out your issues.”
I pulled my coat together and fastened the buttons.  “I’ll do it. Outside.”
Ebony frowned again. “So, you’re not even going to stay with me? Everything is overpriced. The only reason I’m in here right now is because I’m trying to spend that gift card you gave me for my birthday.”
I reached for Ebony’s neck and gave her a tight hug. “I want you to have some nice things. You and the kids. Please don’t deny me this.” I let her neck go. “I need some fresh air. I’ll be back. If I can’t find you, I’ll call your cell, so listen out for me.”
Ebony pushed the card into her pocked and nodded. “Where are you going?”
“Right outside in front,” I replied, spinning away from her as I spoke. I rushed in the direction of the exit. I had to get out of there. I felt like I had a plastic bag over my head.
The blast of icy air took away the sensation. It was uncharacteristically cold for early December in Atlanta, but it had been a wet fall and wet falls usually turned into cold winters. I debated whether to take a walk or have a seat on the bench to my right. Walking could clear my mind, but my feet hurt. I shouldn’t have worn heels to shop. I’d decided on them because well… I knew in a few weeks I would have to say goodbye to all my footwear. I’d be assigned some prison issued size 8’s to match my new wardrobe… an orange jumpsuit.
 “Stop it,” I whispered. “I’m not going to prison. It’s the county jail.”
Still, I’d be locked up. I wouldn’t be free. I stuck my hands in my coat pockets and fought the tears that filled my eyes. I wasn’t crying. No crying today. But I was crying. Even if I told myself I wasn’t. I was crying every day for what I’d done to myself.
Regret. I recalled the quote: “In the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take.” Who said that? Some liar. I definitely regret the chances I took. I fell onto the bench.
I people watched for a while. I was glad to be able to immerse myself in nothing. I loved the solitude, but just as I thought about it, a hulking body joined me on the bench.
The fifty-something woman looked at me and I took in her appearance. She looked like a street person…raggedy old used-to-be-red-coat, torn gloves, and battered tennis shoes that needed a good wash. 
“Good morning,” she said. I was shocked that I wasn’t looking at stained teeth. She flashed the opposite…beautiful pearly whites. I wondered...good genes or new homelessness, because she’d seen a dentist or two in her life.
I realized I’d been staring and hadn’t responded. “Good, afternoon.” I corrected her. It was nearly one o’clock.
“Is it afternoon?” The woman raised her arm and moved a wristwatch in front of her eyes. She squinted hard and then chuckled. “I don’t know why I’m looking at it. It don’t work.”
Okay. I rolled me eyes. She got one more time to say something cray-cray.
“So, why you ain’t in there shopping?” she asked.
It was I who squinted this time. “Excuse me?”
“You came here to buy something.” She cocked a thumb in the direction of the store. “Why you not in there shopping?” 
“I said excuse me, not because I didn’t hear you, but because I mean excuse you…for minding my business.”
She rolled her eyes at me this time. “You ain’t got to get nasty about it. I was just asking. I mean why come downtown to this fancy store to sit outside? I’m sure you could do that at your big ‘ole, fancy house.”
I squinted again, but before I could ask the next question of this strange woman, the woman herself spoke. “I know who you are.”
I raised an eyebrow.
“You Atlanta famous, baby.” She chuckled again. “Uh huh, just because I’m homeless don’t mean I don’t watch the news. They got a T.V.”  She nodded toward the building across the street.
I followed her line of vision. In all the years I’d been coming to this store, I never noticed that a sign over one of the buildings read: Samaritan House.
“I know you a record producer’s wife, a drug dealer, you going to jail soon and you just lost a baby.”
Now she was really getting under my skin. I wasn’t sure what bothered me more, the fact that a homeless woman knew all my business or that the facts coming out of her mouth were my business. Okay, I did know which bothered me more. The latter – definitely the truth hurt more. But I did need to correct her on one thing… “I’m not a drug dealer.”
Disapproving eyes swept my body and she grunted.
“And how do you know about my baby?”
“You was pregnant and you ain’t got no baby. Rich, black people don’t give chuerin’ up for adoption. They hire nannies. If you had a baby, I woulda seen it on the news.”
Pregnant and ain’t got no baby. “Jesus be a keeper,” I muttered the prayer under my breath. That stung. Really cut me across my heart. Didn’t this derelict know that it would?
“I’m sorry about whatever happened with your baby.”
I thought she read my mind. I reached into my bag and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. I offered one to her.
She didn’t accept. “Don’t you know smokin’ cause cancer?”
I looked at her and smirked. “Of course I do. I’m not some teenager you’re educating out here.”
“Don’t act like ‘cause you grown you have to be smart. There’s uneducated grown fools out here, too.”
I could agree with that. At the moment, I was looking like one of them. I stole drugs from my job for someone I didn’t even like or at least that’s how it started. It started with me believing I was stealing for my stupid cousin, June Bug, when in reality my mother was the one using.  
 “You shouldn’t smoke. Once you go to jail, you’ll smoke more.”
I lit the cigarette and took a long drag. “I can quit. I haven’t even smoked since college.”
“So, why you smokin’ now?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“Yes, you do. You smokin’ because you don’t know what to do with yourself. You just waiting.”
I didn’t say anything. I just took another drag and fought the nasty desire to blow the smoke in her rude face.
“Waiting to go to jail. Waiting for your heart to heal,” she continued. “If you keep smokin,’ when you get pregnant again you’ll have to break the habit.” She bobbed her head like it was on springs. “It’s a hard habit to break. Being pregnant don’t make it no easier.”
I grunted. “What makes you think I’d get pregnant again?”
“You will or at least you should. You don’t let one loss stop the promise.”
I turned my eyes to look into hers.
“Besides, that man you married to needs a child to pass down his legacy to.  He wants children.”
I shook my head. “You don’t know anything about my husband.”
“I know he’s a man and they all like to pass down what they built to their kids. You too young to think he ain’t gonna want another baby.”
I frowned. “What’s your name?”
“Abigail Bush. It’s Abigail, but people call me Abby.”
“Well, Abigail-but-people-call-me-Abby, you have a lot of unsolicited advice for someone who appears to be living on the street.”
“So you think somebody who’s homeless can’t be smart. Everybody on the street isn’t dumb.”
“Isn’t dumb? Did you just use that that way?”
“Are not dumb, aren’t dumb, ain’t dumb. Whatever Ms. Future Jailbird.” She emphasized jail.
I sneered at her. “That was nice of you, but since we’re being rude, tell me how you failed to keep a roof over your head? They give away Food Stamps like nothing and there are food banks if you run out. You can find clothing at the goodwill,” I said, “but I can see they’re fresh out of coats.”
Abby huffed. “You got all the answers for me, but you got the silly cigarette hanging out of your mouth.”
I took one last drag, dropped it on the ground and stomped it out. I reflected on what I’d said about her housing and felt bad. She had been rude to me, but I didn’t have to be rude back. If anyone knew things weren’t always what they seemed, it was me. “That was mean. I’m sorry. I don’t really like this time of year.”
Abby roared with laughter. “I ain’t thinking about you.”
We were silent for a beat and then Abby asked. “What is it about Christmas that you don’t like?”
I shrugged.
“You a Christian ain’t you?”
“Yes, but that doesn’t mean I have to like Christmas.”
“Yes, it does. So tell me why you don’t like Christmas.”
I started to answer. I figured what the heck. She knew everything else about me. But then it was too painful. I decided to keep the fact that my father left me and my mother at Christmas to myself. I chose instead to respond to the Christians and Christmas part of her comment. “I don’t think this time of year has anything to do with Jesus.”
“That’s why you don’t like it? You think it’s commercialized? You got a lot of nerve thinking that while you shopping in that store.” She cocked a finger in the direction of the entrance.
I was sick of her. “Abby, I know you find me entertaining and obviously either easy to talk to or someone you can take cheap shots at, but I came out here to clear my head, not answer your questions. So if you don’t mind…”
“I don’t mind.” Abby replied in a softer tone. “I just want you to remember that you’re still blessed, no matter what your circumstances.”
I swallowed. “That sounds like a Christian cliché of some kind.”
“It’s not a cliché. It’s a scripture. Spend some more time in that Bible and you won’t be picking up habits like smokin’.” Abby stood and I held my breath anticipating the wind would carry her scent in my direction. “I’ll see you soon.” 
I shook my head. “I doubt it. I’m done shopping for a while.”
“Don’t have nothing to do with this store,” she said and she began to walk away.
I resisted the urge to wish her a Merry Christmas because one, Christmas was more than two weeks away and two, I didn’t mean it.
My phone buzzed and I removed it from my bag. It was Ebony asking where I was. I stood, looked in the direction Abigail-but-people-call-me-Abby had gone. She disappeared through the door of a building with an awning identifying it as Samaritan House.
I frowned. I’d been to this store a hundred times over the years and had never noticed that building. It was a small storefront crushed between two other businesses, but still…a word like Samaritan would jump out at me. Maybe it was new. I shrugged and walked back into the store.


Chapter Two

“I had Rufus drive twenty miles and you’re not going to eat it.” Mekhi pointed his fork in the direction of my plate.
I looked down at the homemade banana pudding in front of me and then up into my husband’s eyes. I still mused daily that I was actually his wife. Ours was a relationship that went back over twenty-one years with us meeting in third grade at the age of eight, becoming booed up in our early teens, breaking up when Mekhi got me in legal trouble at age eighteen which was then followed by ten years of the silent treatment.
But now here we were, sitting across the table from each other in this massive house he’d purchased for me with his successful record producer money. He was the love of my life. The only man I’d likely ever love, and he was smiling. Proud he’d sent his driver/boy/bodyguard/friend to get a surprise for me and I couldn’t smile back. Every sweet thing he did for me these days felt like the last supper. I dropped my head in my hands and burst into tears.
“Sammie.” I felt him push back from the table. He came around and pulled me from my seat into his arms and against his chest. “Baby, please.”
“I’m sorry,” I sobbed. “I know I should cry when you’re at work, but I can’t help it. It’s so close and now I’m scared.”
He rubbed my back and pressed his cheek against the side of my face. “Baby, don’t be scared. It’s going to be okay. You’ll be home before you know it.”
I continued to boohoo like the broken record I’d become these days. Crying. Always crying and to think…I’d signed up for this fate by confessing to my crime rather than going to trial. What had I been thinking?
Mekhi lowered me to my seat and left the room for mere seconds, returning with tissues. He got on his knees in front of me and began to wipe my tears. “You’ve got too much time on your hands, baby. Are you sure you don’t want to come back to work for a few weeks?”
I’d considered my job as the social media coordinator for Mekhi’s record label, Airamas, but I’d walked away from that last month and the publicist had found someone else. The guy was good. Better than me in fact, so there was no point in me getting in his way. I shook my head, but that was another regret. I should have worked up until the last minute.
“Have you given any thought to what I suggested?” Mekhi asked standing.
Start my community service. The thought of that gave me a pain in the chest.
“If you start right away, you could get half of it done before you go. Then you could be almost free when you get out.”
“Free?” I blew my nose. “You mean except that tiny little thing called probation.”
Mekhi dropped his head. “Sam, I’m just trying to make suggestions. You’re bored and hurting and scared. When I’m experiencing any of those things, I have to work.”
I cocked an eyebrow. “Scared, Mekhi? When was the last time you were scared?”
I saw him Adam’s apple move up and down. His face took on a shadow and I realized that was a stupid question. He’d been scared after our baby died. Well, my baby because we found out from postmortem DNA testing that it hadn’t been his. But still, he thought it was and he’d loved her. He had been scared then – scared I was going to lose my mind. Now it was my turn to rescue him from his thoughts.
“I’ll do it.” I offered myself as the sacrifice. “I’ll call tomorrow and see what I have to do to set it up.” I stood. “You’re right. I want to be free when I’m free.”
A faint smile touched his lips. I knew he loved these sensible victories. He rubbed his hands up and down my arms and my insides turned to jelly.
“I’m proud of you.”
I leaned in and gave him a peck on the lips. “Let’s eat this pudding before it loses its pop.”  We returned to our seats. I took a deep breath and pushed the spoon between my lips, fighting with each mouthful not to throw up. Now even my appetite betrayed me. With every decant meal I enjoyed, I was one day closer to the horrible food that would be served behind bars.



Chapter Three

I opened my eyes to the morning sun coming in through the blinds and reneged on my promise as soon as my feet hit the floor. I wasn’t in the mood for community service. But I refused to sit in the house crying all day. Ebony was working. I didn’t want to go to see a movie. I didn’t have a thing to read. So, I decided Mekhi’s studio would distract me.
To my man’s credit, Airamas Productions was the hottest new record label in the industry. That was largely due to the fact that he had multi-Grammy award winning R&B artist, Benxi on the label. He’d also recently signed a few other very promising artists who were getting lots of buzz and airplay. I was proud of him.
Unfortunately, his success came at a steep price. A price that put a heavy tax on our relationship. Benxi. She was the butter on the rolls in our house, but she and I were like Batman and the Joker…enemies until the end. We both wanted Mekhi. We both needed Mekhi. He was my husband, and she was his ex. An unofficial ex since all their togetherness happened in the dark, between the sheets, but an ex all the same. He had her nostrils flaring like a bull’s and I could scarcely be mad about it. Wanting Mekhi Johnson was something I understood and hated at the same time. This drama made visiting the studio a painful necessity. I liked to keep an eye on her.
I pulled into the parking lot and as expected, I could see Benxi’s pink Hummer peeking from the rear of the building. Her second album released a little over month ago and United Music Corp, the distributor for Airamas scheduled a lengthy tour. She had dates all over the U.S. and a few overseas, but like most artists, she was on break for the holidays. Using the excuse that she wanted to get in the studio to work on her third album, she had chosen not to take a break from recording. That’s what the hooker said. The truth was she wasn’t taking a break from my man. 
I pushed the door, entered the lobby and went straight to Mekhi’s office. I could see through the open blinds over the glass that framed the office that he was alone, so I let myself in.
That sexy, mega-watt smile contrasted against his ebony skin. The light overhead bounced off his sexy bald head. Mekhi stood and met me halfway between the door and his desk. “This is unexpected.” He returned to his chair.
Instead of claiming a proper seat, I put my bag down and perched my rear on the desk next to it. I wanted to be close to him. I wanted to disappear in him. I wanted to disappear period. “I was bored. That empty house was driving me crazy.”
“So you’ve said.” There was a dryness in his tone that sounded like frustration.
The catching-feelings-meter clicked on inside my heart. “Am I getting on your nerves?”
 “I’m always glad to see you.” A second insincere statement. I knew him. I knew that tone. He was bothered. “Did you call Hightower?” he asked, referring to my lawyer, hinting at my promise from last night about the community service.
I crossed my arms over my chest and pretended to find the point of my Saint Laurent platforms more interesting.
“Sammie, look at me.” Mekhi’s voice had found its rhythm. I dropped my arms and gave him my full attention. “You said you would call.”
“I know what I said.”
Defeat weighed down his shoulders. He frowned. “You being sad and broken messes my head up. I’m a creative person. I can’t create like this and I can't be with you twenty-four. I would if I could, I swear to you, I would, but I can't.”
I couldn’t tell if he was lecturing me or feeling sorry for me. I sighed. “I’m sorry. I’m getting on your nerves.”
“No, you’re breaking my heart.” He paused, looked like he was getting his words together. “I asked you to find something to do with your time. I thought we decided on something and now you refuse to do it.”
“I’m going to call him. I just hadn’t done it yet.” I picked up my bag. I was at the door before I felt his hand on my arm. “Baby, don’t go like this.”
I stopped. There was nothing like the word baby coming off his lips or the feel of his skin against mine. I closed my eyes. How I loved this man. How I’d grown to love him even more over the past few months. I turned to him, intending to apologize, but before I could, he did so first.
“I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be impatient with you.”
The opening of the door startled us. Benxi’s strawberry blond weaved head made its appearance.
Didn’t this heifer knock? Didn’t she do anything right besides sing and shake her half-naked behind?
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know you had company.”
Liar, the walls are made of glass.
She stepped into the room and swung her arms behind her and locked her hands together. She looked like a kid with her hair styled in those ponytails she’d grown fond of. Mistake. The romper she wore reminded me of the little one-piece I wore as a child; elastic bands at the leg joint, a cinched pleated mid-section, and all puffed out from the waist down.
I stepped away from Mekhi, backward in the office to let him have his space to speak to her.
“Hi, Samaria.” She avoided looking at me.
 “Benxi,” I replied. “It was the same terse greeting we exchanged every time we saw each other. Civilized, but not ever genuine as we both hoped and prayed daily that we’d never see each other again. I wanted Mekhi to develop his other artists so he could get rid of this—
“What did you need Benx?” Mekhi’s voice interrupted my thoughts.
“I have press all day for the next two.” Press meant she would be sitting for interviews with the media. It also meant she wanted him to hurry along. Time with the wifey was over.
“I’m going,” I offered. “I can see you at home.”
“You just got here. We can have lunch if you wait. I won’t be long.” He didn’t mean it, but he was guilty about Benxi. Guilty that his wife had to endure his working with his ex-lover.
I leaned up and kissed him, a peck, but a slow one. “I’ll see you at home.” I repeated it the second time for Benxi’s benefit.
“No, stay,” Benxi offered. “Have your lunch. I only need him for a few minutes and I have to leave soon.”
She turned and left the office.
“Slut.”
The word rolled off my tongue as easily as that Grammy Award winning heifer’s hips swayed to the tune she always seemed to have playing in her head. “I wish she’d—”
“You wish she’d what, Sam?” Mekhi snatched the ugly words out of my mouth. “You wish she’d what in the middle of her tour?” He tapped out a few words in a text on his phone and then raised his eyes to mine like he was waiting for my answer. 
I narrowed my gaze and let out a long exhale. This situation with Benxi and Mekhi was going to drive me out of my mind. It was making me crazy and I was home in bed with my man giving him everything he needed and wanted twice a day. How was I going to cope when I was gone?
I swallowed, looked Mekhi in the eyes and turned my head away. I was ashamed of myself. One of the first things I’d learned being a new Christian was that words had power. Something about the tongue being small, but big enough to shake up things. Which meant, I didn’t really want to see my husband’s only real income generating artist fall down a well face first and break both her legs. I didn’t really mean the power behind that, but I had meant she was a slut. She put all the power in that word that it could hold.
“Samaria,” Mekhi’s velvety voice willed me to look at him. I did. “This is not productive.”
I sighed again. “I can’t help it.”
“Nothing is going to happen between me and Benx. Ever. I swear. I would not do that to you.”
“You used to be lovers.” I was stating the obvious for the fiftieth time.
Mekhi shook his head.
“I’m not saying it would be on purpose.”
“So, I’d accidently have sex with her?” He chuckled.
“Mekhi don’t play dumb.”
“If I can’t be faithful to you for six months—”
“Possibly twelve. Maybe even twenty-four.”
“Don’t do that.” He’d gone from reassuring to annoyed in a flash. “Don’t be negative about your time.”
“I could get into a fight with Big Bertha and not have good behavior. These things happen all the time in prison.”
Mekhi slipped behind his desk, flipped open a calendar and made a note before saying, “You’re not going to be in prison. You’ll be in the county jail.”
“If I only have to do the first twelve months. If I have to stay longer, they’ll transfer me.”
Mekhi groaned. “Where is this coming from?”
I shook my head. “I’m sorry. I don’t know. I don’t…I don’t mean to do this. I’m just scared.”
“I know and so am I, but we have to keep the faith. You have to keep it.” Mekhi’s words came off his tongue like a well-rehearsed speech. He wasn’t even looking at me when he said them. He was focused on his calendar and his phone, glancing between the two and making notes.
I cleared my throat to get his attention. “It’s hard when I feel like people like Benxi are wishing the worse for me.”
Mekhi grunted. “Benx ain’t thinking about you.”
I placed a hand on my hip and rolled my neck. After a beat, he looked up. I pinned him with a look again. “She’s thinking about you, which means she’s thinking about me.”
Mekhi released a long sigh and came around the desk. He took my hand. “Baby, if all you’re worried about is us… let me manage that. You take care of you. I got us on solid ground.”
I heard him, but I wasn’t ready to give up yet. “You like sex.”
“So do you, but I’m not worrying about Big Bertha turning you out.”
I snatched my head back. “I don’t like girls.”
Mekhi smiled.
“I’m glad you’re amused. This isn’t funny.”
The smile left his face. He released my hand and took a few steps backward. “I won’t cry, Sam. So if you keep coming here every day hoping to break me down, save it for home.”
I didn’t want to fight with my man. I loved him. I almost trusted him. I trusted him as much as I could humanly trust a man. I locked the door to his office, pushed the button to close his privacy blinds and removed my jacket.
His voice deepened. “I have to see what Benxi and Jake came up with for the hook.” He raised his arm and looked at his watch. “And I have a meeting in exactly ten minutes.”
“I only need five.”
There was a knock on the door and then the knob twisted. I turned the lock and Benxi came in.
“I’m sorry, I really need to leave now. Mekhi, if you could come.” She closed the door.
I crossed my arms over my chest which was heaving up and down by this time. “You’re busy.”
 “Can we continue whatever the five-minute thing was we were going to do when I get home?” he cracked a smile.
“I don’t have a choice, do I? Bonita Jones calls.”
“I won’t be late,” he offered.
I placed a hand against his chest. Pecked him on the cheek and turned to leave. Mekhi pulled me into his arms and cupped my face and kissed me like I’d wanted to kiss him, but didn’t have the courage to. “I love you, Samaria Johnson. I waited eight years for us to get back together. Do you honestly think I’m going to throw it away?”
“I’ll see you at home,” I said, willing myself to give him a hint of a smile. I walked out of his office. I saw the back of Benxi through the glass studio doors. Who wore that outfit in December?
A slut that wants your man that’s who. I knew what that looked like, because I had been that woman. I had been that woman too many times. I sighed, removed my sunglasses from my bag and slid them onto my face. I pushed the studio door open and stepped out into the chilly December air. Reaping what you’ve sown was the mother of all consequences. I had sown too many bad seeds to count. Now I was reaping big time.
I climbed into my car. Looked at dash clock. It was only eleven a.m. Mekhi was right. I needed something to do. I reached for my phone, found the number I needed and placed the call to my attorney’s cell. 
“This is Samaria Jacobs-Johnson. I need to talk to you and I was wondering if you could find a few minutes in your schedule this afternoon?”
Mekhi paid him a lot of money, so of course his response was yes. I started the car and headed for his office.

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