I've been talking about it since the beginning of March and so many of you have shown your support. Now that the book is about to hit the shelves, a sneak preview is in order. Enjoy!
A stab of pain jerked Ayo Montgomery awake. Peering at the clock
through slits of barely opened lids, she dragged herself to a seated
position. This pale orchid room had always been her sanctuary but
today it was a fragrant, steamy prison. She reached out, groping for
last night’s glass of water and two red and white capsules. Before
tossing them down her throat, Ayo grimaced. She eased her head back
against the mound of pillows. Shifting again, she drew her knees to
her chest. The phone rang, disturbing her short-lived relief. That
morning, the soft tones sounded like shrill clanging. Glancing over at
the caller ID, Ayo squeezed her eyes shut, picked up the handset and
“You know why I picked up this phone? Just so I could hang up on
“Whoa, Ayo! Are you still pissed?”
“Pissed? Pick one reason, Justine—the oiled-up blubber belly or the
“Come on, Ayo—I told you last night that I’m sorry!”
“You ought to be.” Ayo’s snarl eased into a low chuckle. “Just
teasing. I’m not pissed, I’m in pain. It’s my never-ending female
problems.” She sighed, twisting to press her side against the pillows
bent into a wedge of firm support. “But back to last night–I let you
drag me to your cousin’s book club, but why did the discussion end
up with two broke-down, cut-rate strippers? Where’d they get those g-strings?
A ten-pack from the dollar store?”
“Stop!” Justine Lewis-Randall giggled. “Elmira decided it was a
fitting finale to the discussion of Erotique Noire.”
“She did, huh? Then Elmira should stick to selecting books and
leave the selection of man-candy for somebody else. The only thing I
wanted to do after seeing those two erotically-challenged jokers was
laugh. And that skinny one—ole boy should have been dancing to
‘Hungry Like a Wolf.’ Besides, if I want to, I can get my own halfnaked
As soon as the words left her mouth, Ayo dropped her head in one
hand. Too late. It was just the opening her best friend needed.
“Oh you can? According to my recollection, you’ve only been out
with two men in eighteen years.”
“Then you must have been sleeping with Rip Van Winkle instead of
Nick Randall,” Ayo shot back. “Besides, men our age want a model
just off the showroom floor. And I’m not nipping, tucking or sucking
anything out of my body to please some old dude who’ll need a blue
pill before I’ll need K-Y jelly! And I’ll be damned before I turn into a
“Cougar? Ayo, I don’t know what you’re talking about, but I can’t
wait to find out.”
“Don’t worry,” Ayo chuckled. “I’m not going “Animal Planet” on
you—besides you’ve already got your man.” Ayo teased. “But for
your information, a cougar is an older woman on the prowl for
younger men. According to the woman I saw on TV there’s a whole
movement out there. But this one looked like a dried up stick of beef
jerky with lots of hair and a wrap-around grin. They should have
picked a better spokes-kitty to represent them,” Ayo giggled.
Justine gagged on the laughter stuck in her throat. “Ayo, you are so
wrong. I do not believe you said that!” she croaked out.
“It’s true! Anyway if the time is right, the man will find me, he’ll
have to because I’m sure not looking. But I’ve got to get myself up and
ready for an appraisal. You remember my mother’s collection of
pottery and glass? I’m certain they’re worth more than I thought.”
“So who did you get to do the appraisal?”
Finally something to veer Justine off the track of her relentless
matchmaking. She meant well—in the thirteenth year of her own
happy marriage, she wanted something close to that kind of life for
Ayo. But Ayo’s life didn’t need fixing—she was finally at a place of
peace, and although it might be nice, she didn’t need a man to make
her life complete.
“His name is Bilal Abdul-Salaam. Eileen recommended him. He’s
done some work for her gallery and he was at the top of her list.
Anybody who’s alright with her is more than good enough for me.”
“What a strong, masculine name—is he a Muslim?”
In slow motion, Ayo pushed herself off the crumpled sheets, pulling
the damp t-shirt away from her sticky skin. “I don’t know, but it’s hot
and my whole body is crying for mercy. I want as little fabric as
possible touching me, so whatever he is, he’d better be prepared to see
Justine was too genteel for a full belly laugh—her chuckle escalated
into as much of a guffaw as she could muster. “So what do you think
he’s going to do? Run out of the door at the sight of your bare arms?”
“At $100.00 an hour, he shouldn’t care if I’m flaunting a furtrimmed
see-through and three-inch heels. Some Muslim men have a
problem with a woman not being covered, but if he’s one of them, he’d
better walk with some blinders.”
“Ayo, give the brother a break,” Justine giggled. “Besides, this Mr.
Abdul-Salaam might be interesting…” She let the sentence trail off
into an unspoken suggestion.
In spite of her pain, Ayo burst out laughing. “You don’t give up, do
you, Miss Matchmaker? You’re hopeless; at the rate you’re going, any
man who can get the subject and verb to agree might be interesting.
Right now the only man I want to see will be toting a toolbox and a
container of Freon. But I love you anyway,” she chuckled. “And I’ll
talk to you later.”
Ayo didn’t feel like it, but just before two o’clock, she pulled on a
simple orange shift and slipped her feet into matching flat sandals.
Although her cramps had all but disappeared, what she really wanted
was to drape herself in the shapeless bag of a Hawaiian print housedress
that barely touched her skin. She pulled her fingers through her
hair. The light brown twists fanned out, brushing the tops of her
shoulders. A pale tinted gloss was the only makeup she could bear to
touch her face. Out of habit, she reached for “Ayo’s Ambrosia”, the
signature scent she created for herself. But she set the vintage atomizer
back on the dresser. One spray would be a return invitation for the
headache she’d finally gotten rid of.
At two o’clock the brass pineapple knocker struck the door. When
Ayo swung it open she couldn’t keep her eyes from rolling. Not today!
Here we go again…”
“Yes?” The word unfurled like the sneer it was intended to be. Why
couldn’t these street ball players follow one simple sign? The public
courts were only one more block down the street. Look at him—vanity,
thy name is baller. Apretty boy at that, posed at her door like the prince
of the city.
Nothing was out of place on this man, not even a drop of
perspiration on a day that was a preview of hell. The dove-gray linen
shirt and charcoal pants fit as if each thread had been woven over his
body—but she didn’t know what kind of ball he planned to play in
that GQ ensemble. He was clearly lost, but he was wasting her time.
“Mrs. Montgomery?” When he leaned back to stare up at the
numbers above the brass knocker, the cool gray fabric flattened
against his broad chest. “I’m Bilal Abdul-Salaam.”
Ayo’s mouth dropped open. She was glad he didn’t extend his hand
because hers was stuck to her side. “You can’t be!” The haze of
annoyance cleared, and Ayo’s stomach took a slow somersault. Good
Lord! He was nothing like the picture she had formed in her mind—
the one in which Bilal Abdul-Salaam would be an academic, no-nonsense,
righteous right-on brother. Instead she stared up into eyes
the color of dark maple syrup. His face brought to mind a magnificent
tribal mask—eyes like chips of dark amber, high cheekbones and lush,
full lips. Could skin really be that color? His was ebony brushed with
a hint of amber and gold. A slender mustache rimmed his mouth and
chin, blending into the fine beard that dusted a strong jaw line. Each
coil of his immaculate locks flowed past broad shoulders, tied back by
two pencil-thin pieces of his own hair. He was over 6 feet of primal,
yet refined masculinity. If Gladiator had been filmed south of the Sahara, this man could have been its star.