I’ve been a busy bee since last I wrote. Edits for Deceived are finished and I’m looking forward to its release. I’ve been debating an excerpt to post. I like surprises and I don’t want to ruin the plot by posting too much. So I decided to post a bit of the beginning. After the release, I’ll post another (possibly more revealing and steamier) excerpt.
Janelle Avery stared out over the lights of the city far below the penthouse suite of the Clark Hotel in Charlotte. The glass doors that led to the balcony reflected the simple white dress she wore and the quiet party going on behind her. It was sleeveless with a shimmery bodice. The A-line skirt ended midleg. On her wrist, she wore a thick silver cuff.
Jerome Wilson, her boyfriend, had gone to the bar to get her a drink. The last six months Jerome had been working insane hours in hopes of getting a promotion. This party was a perfect example. Aidan Clark had dropped this event on Jerome less than twenty-four hours ago. Initially, they’d planned on going dancing or seeing a movie and then ringing in the New Year at her apartment. But then Jerome had been “invited” to this party for select executives of Clark International in celebration of a recent acquisition of prime waterfront property in France. “Ordered to attend” would have been a more fitting description. No way could he pass up this opportunity to rub elbows with his boss. Supportive girlfriend that she was, she hadn’t been able to say no when their first romantic evening in months became a social engagement.
“I don’t think I’ve had the pleasure of meeting you?” The voice was deep, one of the deeper ones she’d ever heard, with a hint of gravel that sent a shiver up her spine.
Janelle’s reflection was joined by that of a tall white man with impossibly broad shoulders. At five foot seven, she was above average height for a female. Even in her three-inch heels, this man towered over her. She turned. The ponytail that she’d artfully arranged over her shoulder swung loose and trailed between her shoulder blades.
He held a tumbler of amber liquid in one hand as he extended the other toward her. “Aidan Clark.”
She knew who he was. Jerome had pointed him out soon after they entered his home. Aidan Clark was ruggedly handsome with thick chocolate-brown hair that was closely cropped and expertly tamed. He couldn’t be called pretty. His featured were too angular and sharp. Only his mouth with its full lower lip could be described as lush or soft. The rest of him appeared to be carved from stone. Yet, he was the type of man that was impossible for a woman to ignore or forget. The way he moved, the way he held himself, spoke of confidence and simply screamed sexy. His black suit with black shirt and tie had to have been tailored for his big body. The fit was so perfect she couldn’t help but admire it as her slender hand was engulfed in his much larger one. His skin was warm and his handshake was firm. “Janelle Avery. I’m Jerome’s guest.”
Aidan glanced around until he spotted Jerome chatting with a blonde lady in a red dress while they awaited their turn at the bar. “And I took him for a smart man.”
“Oh, Jerome is very smart,” she said, immediately rising to his defense.
“Yet, he left a woman as lovely as you unattended.” His gold eyes were intense as they traveled over her face, lingering on her lips before meeting her gaze once more.
Somewhat unnerved by his frank appreciation, she forced a smile. “Thank you for the compliment, but I sent him to fetch me a drink.”
“Ah, that explains it. I hope you’ve been enjoying your evening. These events can be terribly dull for the guests.”
“Oh, I was just enjoying your view.” She indicated the glass doors at her back.
“Yes, it is breathtaking,” he agreed, but his eyes never left hers. “Sometimes I think I’ll miss it when construction on my home is completed.”
“You’re building a house?”
He nodded. “Construction should be complete within the month.”
Jerome appeared at her elbow. He held two glasses of champagne. Passing her a glass, he nodded at his boss. “Aidan, I see you’ve met Janelle.”
“Yes. I’m glad that the two of you were able to make it on such short notice.”
“Sir, I was honored to be invited. Thank you again.”
“Nonsense. You’ve worked very hard and I appreciate it. It makes me more comfortable giving you greater responsibilities in the future.”
Janelle could see Jerome’s chest puff up with pride. “Thank you, sir.”
“No, thank you.” He nodded at the two of them. “I’ll leave you to your lovely companion.”
“Wow,” Jerome whispered as Aidan drifted out of earshot. His excitement was palpable. “Did you hear that? ‘Greater responsibility.’ Sounds like promotion to me.” He pumped his fist off to the side so as not to be visible to any of the other guests.
Janelle laughed. “Congratulations.” Throughout the evening, Jerome introduced her to more of his coworkers. His mood remained high from the conversation with Aidan. Though Aidan didn’t approach them again, Janelle often found his gaze on them as they circulated. Shortly before midnight, they turned on a flat-screen television and watched the ball drop. Janelle shared a kiss with Jerome, but it was understandably chaste. He didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize his chances of a promotion. She smiled at him and used her thumb to remove any trace of lipstick from his lips. When she withdrew from Jerome’s embrace, her gaze was snagged by Aidan’s. He nodded to her and lifted his glass in salute. She nodded back.
On the ride home, Jerome couldn’t stop speculating about the meaning of Aidan’s words. As he walked her to the door of her apartment, she dug out her keys and said, “I agree. It does seem auspicious. I’m happy for you.”
“Hey, I want to thank you for your help.”
“You helped me make a good impression just by being your beautiful self. And you picked out this suit for me.” Charcoal gray with pinstripes, the dark suit made his light brown eyes stand out against his honeyed skin tone.
She waved away the compliment. “It was a no-brainer. It’s what I do.” She owned a small boutique filled with her own fashions. Jerome had wandered in while on a shopping trip with his mother. “You’re easy to dress.” And easy on the eyes. Jerome was very handsome and he knew it.
He grinned and leaned forward. His lips grazed hers in a kiss so light and brief that it was over before she could participate. “So, I owe you dinner and a movie. Are you free this weekend?”
She nodded. “I’d like that. Are you coming in?”
“Can’t. It’s late and Mom will worry.” He could afford his own place, but his mother was elderly and suffered from diabetes and high blood pressure. Janelle thought it was sweet that he sacrificed his privacy to live with his mother. “Besides, I have a few reports to turn in tomorrow.” He kissed her cheek before dashing off taking the steps in a gallop.
Janelle watched him leave and then turned and unlocked her door. She sighed. They hadn’t made love in months. If she didn’t know better, she’d think he was cheating on her. But he was always at the office. He was constantly telling her that as a black man, he had to work twice as hard to get ahead.
Deep in thought, she shrugged off her coat and hung it in the closet near the door. She continued through her cozy den and into her bedroom. This was her favorite room in the apartment. Here, she’d let her inner girl out. Frilly lace curtains hung in front of her windows. Her comforter was the thickest she could find in winter white. It was covered in fur pillows of Navajo white and pale pink. Dolls and teddy bears took up all the available level surfaces. Even they were dressed in varying shades of pink and white.
Janelle removed her dress and carefully placed it on a rack in her closet. She supposed she should look at this evening as a success. She liked Jerome, and as her best friend Dionne would say, they’d make beautiful babies together. At the rate they were going, that would be years off. She admired Jerome’s work ethic and he always claimed that his priority was their future. While she’d liked the sound of “their future,” they weren’t engaged, nor had they discussed marriage. In the meantime, she felt neglected and unwanted. She didn’t think of herself as an attention-craving diva, but being ignored wasn’t particularly flattering.
She pulled a frilly cotton gown over her head and slid her feet into fuzzy rabbit slippers. Stretching her arms over her head, she reminded herself that she should be grateful that she had a good man with a great job. Jerome wasn’t perfect, but then who was?
Perfection made her think of the suit Aidan Clark had worn tonight. Definitely Armani. The cloth had molded his body like he was born in it. Janelle had been surprised to find out he was so young. Jerome had explained that Aidan had begun building his empire at the age of nineteen. He’d purchased his first hotel with money left to him by his grandfather.
She went to her kitchen for water. Swallowing the cool liquid, she couldn’t help but think that Jerome had more than a small amount of hero-worship for Aidan. She didn’t think there was anything he wouldn’t do to impress the man.