Monday, February 8, 2016

"When Black Women Fall" Blog Tour

When Black Women Fall in Love by Ines Johnson 

Heartspell Media would like to welcome you to When Black Women Fall, a week long promotional tour of romance novels featuring African American heroines in the contemporary, historical, paranormal, new adult, and erotica genres.

Romance novels are increasingly featuring heroes and heroines of color, from Courtney Milan’s Brothers Sinister series to Nalini Singh’s Guild Hunter series. As society and its citizens increase in diversity so does the market. With more and more authors bypassing publishers and uploading these colorful romances on their own, starved readers now have a buffet of books to choose from.

On this tour, you will find that when black women fall in love it’s a sign of the times in these contemporary offerings.

In Farrah Rochon's "All You Can Handle" love was the last thing professional pastry chef Sonny White was looking for, but she finds it in a sleepy town with a motorcycle riding hottie.

In Lena Hart's "Because You Love Me" when an old desire is reawakened Sabrina will discover that even an imperfect love can triumph over all.

In Xio Axelrod's "Falling Stars" Hollywood actress' Val Saunders finds her career skyrocketing which makes her real-life attraction to her on-screen love interest come at the worst possible time.

In Ines Johnson's "Pumpkin: a Cindermama Story" having given up on fairytales after falling for her toad of an ex, Pumpkin is afraid to take a chance on a prince charming who comes to her rescue.

In Kim Golden's "Maybe Baby" Laney must choose between the man who offers her financial security and the one who makes her mind and body sing.

In Victoria H. Smith's "The Space Between" Lacey has dreams of the opera, but life has its obstacles, namely a man  who lights a fire inside of her that challenges everything she thought she wanted.

In Christina C. Jones’ “Inevitable Conclusions” Friends? Lovers? Both? For Kora and Tariq, those lines have been blurred for a long time.

When black women fall in love it’s a magical affair, as you’ll find in these paranormal stories of love.

In L Penelope's "Angelborn" he gave up eternity for love… and lost. Will Maia be his second chance?

In Laverne Thompson's "Angel Rising" Thalya, a soulless creature, meets her match when she hungers for the love of the man assigned to hunt her.

When black women fall in love it’s a defining moment, as you’ll find in this historical romance.

In Piper Huguley's "The Preacher's Promise" Amanda Stewart aims to teach newly freed slaves, but meets with the resistance from the town preacher. Can these two put aside their differences and come together?

When black women fall in love it’s full of growing pains, as you’ll see in this new adult romance.

In Twyla Turner's "Chasing Day" Daylen is the shy cellist who falls in love with her best friend who also happens to be the popular quarterback.

When black women fall in love it can get a little spicy, as you’ll find in this erotica novellete.

In Harper Miller's "Entwined" trouble finds Gabby when she meets an ex-marine looking to release a little tension.

From February 8-14, the intersection of Valentine’s Day and Black History month, check out any one of these romances at a discounted price and enter for your chance to win a giveaway basket that includes a Kindle, along with a few quintessential romance novels featuring black heroines, and a gift certificate for the beauty and cosmetics company Carol’s Daughter!


To find the books, get a free excerpt book, and enter the giveaway, visit http://whenblackwomenfall.com

Friday, January 1, 2016

Happy New Year!


Wishing everyone a blessed and blissful 2016! Thanks for a wonderful 2015 and looking forward to great things to come this new year, including my new Blissful Brides series, my exciting Romantic Suspense sequel, THE DEVIL'S BEDPOST (I promise this one is coming out this year!), and more reader conferences so I can meet old and hopefully new readers.

Be sure to sign up for my mailing list so you can be one of the first to about some of these exciting new ventures. Looking forward to new and exciting things to come next year!

xoxo,
Lena ♥

Monday, December 21, 2015

A Holiday Treat pt. 3 (O Come, All Ye Faithful)

Three days until release day! Here's a bonus peek into chapter 3 of My Silent New York Night. Also, stop by Ana E Ross' Facebook Release Day Party where we will be celebrating the release of her new novel, Loving Yasmine. I will be dropping in at 3pm EST with some prizes to giveaway so be sure to stop by and say "Hi!"

(Read Chapter 1) * (Read Chapter 2)

3. O Come, All Ye Faithful


“Nana, why is Mishca coming to church with us?” I asked in a hushed whisper as we waited in the kitchen for him to finish dressing. “Is he even Baptist?”
What was Nana thinking?
“Does it matter?” Nana asked, adjusting her pincurls in front of the large wall mirror beside the short, plastic Christmas tree. It was pitifully decorated with just a few string lights and a sad looking ornament on top. “He comes once in a while with me and Joanne some Sundays and I’m glad for it. It’s good to see young people taking an interest in the Lord. The neighborhood’s changing so much, these young folks around now would rather stay out all night at the Chocolate Factory than make time for Jesus.”
Chocolate Factory? I couldn’t help but snicker. “Nana, I think you mean the Chocolat Lounge on Frederick Douglass. Unless they opened a candy shop in Harlem I don’t know about.”
Nana huffed. “Whatever. All I’m saying is Baptist or not, there’s nothing wrong with getting the word in from time to time.”
Unless it means I have to fight images of a big penis at church.
My cheeks burned with dismay at the hasty thought. I briefly shut my eyes and prayed for forgiveness for even putting penis and church in the same train of thought. I didn’t even want to admit to my Nana that the last time I had been to service was for Easter service.
I blew out a breath and sank deeper in the sofa. It had been thirteen hours since I had last seen him. Not that I was counting or anything, but evidently, avoiding Nana’s Russian roommate wouldn’t be as easy as I had hoped.
I had done well to avoid Mischa most of Saturday, while I still recovered from our embarrassing encounter. At first, I thought I was finally over it until Nana announced Mischa would be joining us for service today. Now the familiar anxiety and flushed sensation returned. I could have used another day, but apparently I wouldn’t be able to hide away from my embarrassment much longer.
This is going to be a long service.
When Mischa finally emerged from the back, my breath caught in my throat and I quickly averted my eyes back to the miserable looking Christmas tree. Damn, he looks good. He wasn’t wearing a suit, which was the typical attire for the men in the church, but the long black slacks and dark burgundy sweater framed his body nicely. His dark hair was slicked back and neat. Only a man who looked like him could pull off the dangerous, suave look in that sweater, I thought with a smirk.
“Sorry to keep you waiting.”
“It’s no problem,” Nana said to him. “But let’s not keep Jesus waiting.”
Abyssinian Baptist Church was a short ten-minute walk from Nana’s brownstone. I tried to measure my steps with Nana’s but still managed to stay two to three feet ahead of her and Mischa. Not that they noticed. The two of them were engrossed in their own conversation about the upcoming church activities, including the caroling that the church had planned for Christmas Eve. It was a tradition Nana had started at the church with the youth groups where they would go around the neighborhood, singing Christmas songs. Caroling wasn’t something that was often done in the neighborhood, but having been a part of it for years before, I was glad to hear it was still an ongoing tradition.
“Nana, do you guys still sing in front of the apartments with the most Christmas lights?” I called over my shoulder.
“No, chipmunk. We stopped doing that years ago. You know, with the weather being so fickle some winters. Now we sing in the Church on Christmas Eve.”
That was one thing I didn’t miss—singing outside in the frosty weather. “You must get a large group of volunteers this year?”
“We do. But we could always use one more,” Nana said pointedly.
I scrunched my nose, grateful I was still a few feet ahead and Nana couldn’t see my face. Singing carols with a bunch of grade-school kids? No. Thank. You.
“It’s two weeks until Christmas Eve, Nana. I can’t get my voice Mariah-ready by then,” I teased, turning to her. Unfortunately, I miscalculated a step on the uneven sidewalk and almost went flying on my butt—again. In a blur, Mischa reached out to steady me from another humiliating fall. His hand was wrapped around my upper arm, but the way my body reacted to his touch, I might as well have been pressed fully against him. He smelled nice, too.
“Careful, milashka. You don’t want to hurt yourself.”
Milashka? That was the second time he had called me that.
“Thanks,” I murmured, pulling away from his strong grasp. Dang, how many times am I going to embarrass myself in front of him?
Why do I even care?
“Ceese, honey, you got to watch where you’re going. You know you’re clumsy.”
I pressed my lips together, my cheeks warming again. Gee, thanks Nana.
After greeting several familiar church members, some I hadn’t seen since I left New York five years ago, we finally made it inside the church. Joanne was already in her seat, only a few rows away from the front. She waved us over and Nana took my hand and led the way. I didn’t realize until we slid into the pews that Mischa was behind me and would be sitting right beside me.
Great. Now I would have to endure two hours of service trapped between my petite Nana and him. It was hard enough getting certain parts of his body out of my mind—how was I supposed to accomplish that with his warm, strong body brushing against my side?
This really is going to be a long service.
With a small sigh, I settled into my seat and began humming along with the Christmas carol playing in the loud speakers, trying desperately to ignore the hard, masculine thigh rubbing against mine.

*

“That was a great service, wasn’t it?”
I obediently nodded at my grandmother, loving her enthusiasm. But, secretly, I was glad it was over. Not because the service had run a little longer than I anticipated, or because my stomach was practically snarling from lack of food, but because today’s sermon on temptation and pleasures of the flesh had hit a little too close for comfort. I swear, it was as if the pastor had served his sermon up especially for me—and my penis-filled mind.
Stop thinking about penis!
“Ceese?”
I blinked, realizing that I had been staring at nothing while Joanne and Mischa both stared at me, strangely. Luckily, my Nana had been pulled into a conversation, or else she would have been staring at me with the same curious look on her face.
“Yeah?” I said to Joanne, keeping my eyes fixed on her. The service was over and soon I would be rid of him. Maybe, for this little while, if I pretended not to see him, I could erase all images of him—every last naked detail.
“Where did you want to go for brunch?”
Right now, I could use a drink. Actually, I could use several, and unlimited sangrias sounded like just what I needed. “Calle Ocho.”
Joanne shook her head. “It’s hard to get a reservation there these days. I would hate to make the trip for nothing. Why don’t we just stay local?”
I sighed. “Okay, then what’s my options?”
“Sylvia’s or Red Rooster?”
“I thought you also needed a reservation to get into Red Rooster,” I said.
“Not anymore. At least, not for brunch.”
Then it was a no brainer. I’ve had Sylvia’s more than I can count, but have never been to Red Rooster. Besides, brunch was probably the only time I could afford to eat there.
“Let’s do it, then.”
“Cool,” Joanne said. “Mischa, what are you up to today?”
Joanne’s question took me by surprise. What is she doing? For a moment, I forgot that I was supposed to be ignoring him and flung my gaze to his.
“Just studying. Then I have work later,” he said with a quick shrug.
“Do you have time to eat with us? We’re going to brunch. It’s like breakfast and lunch.”
His lips curved in the sexiest smile. “I know,” he said.
“Would you like to come?”
Panic began to settle in and I shot Joanne a pointed stare, one that she obviously missed. But not Mischa.
“Sure, I have time.” He paused before adding. “Of course. That is if Celeste doesn’t mind.”
If I wasn’t mistaken, I could have sworn his eyes danced a little. Great. So much for getting rid of him. And if I backed out now, I would be the weirdo.
Well, you are.
I silenced the contrary thought, threw Joanne a quick glare, then plastered a smile on my face. My lips were practically cracking, my smile was so tight.
“Why would I mind? The more the merrier, right?”
He cocked a brow.
“Right,” Joanne rushed. “Now let’s get going before we miss the good stuff.”
We said a quick goodbye to Nana, who had gotten herself too distracted with choir rehearsal talk to bother with us. We made it down the block and hailed a cab.
“Why are these cabs green?” I asked as the three of us settled in the back. Luckily, I managed to arrange for Joanne to sit between me and Mischa. Three hours of his heat and scent was more than I needed for one Sunday.
“Wow, you really have been gone a long time. These are the new boro cabs,” Joanne explained. “They basically replaced the jitney cabs up here and the outer boroughs.”
“I thought the Uber did that?”
“Oh, they’re taking over too.”
Within minutes, we pulled up in front of Red Rooster. I didn’t realize how close Red Rooster was to Sylvia’s until I saw the lights of the sign from the old, iconic restaurant glowing just a few feet away. As Joanne predicted, we didn’t need a reservation for brunch, and because the restaurant wasn’t crowded, we were instantly seated in a half booth in the center of the restaurant. I was pleasantly surprised by the rustic, down-home vibe I got from the place, though it was just as hip and chic as everyone made it out to be. I was too busy looking at the décor, I didn’t realize Mischa had pulled into the seat beside me until it was too late. I tried to move over, but there was nowhere for me to go. I was trapped and I had this weird feeling that he took pleasure in that fact.
“Order me a Rooster Punch,” Joanne said, placing her large bag on her seat. “I’m gonna use the restroom.”
I nodded stiffly, realizing I would have to endure being alone with Mischa. Being at the table with just the two of us made this feel more intimate than it should have. I tried to busy myself with the menu, but the feel and pressure of his warm body wasn’t far from my mind.
“What do you recommend to eat here?”
I was startled by the question, but kept my eyes glued to the menu. “I wouldn’t know. I’ve never eaten here.”
He laid his menu down and I could feel his green-blue eyes on me. The silence continued to stretch between us until he pulled the menu from my hands and also laid it down. My astonishment at his audacity made me forget I was supposed to be ignoring him.
“Excuse me,” I snapped. “I was still looking at that.”
“I want to know what I did to make you dislike me so,” he said, ignoring my protest.
My eyes widened some more. “I don’t dislike you. I…” I didn’t know what to say beyond that. I certainly wasn’t going to tell him I found him super sexy or that I liked him.
Because I didn’t.
He continued to stare at me expectantly and I blurted the first thing that came to my mind.
“I just don’t like strangers.”
“I don’t want us to be strangers, milashka.”
I frowned. There it was again. “What is that you’re calling me? Mee-lash-ka?”
The corner of his lips tugged slightly. “It means cutie in my language.”
I blinked. “Oh.” He thought I was cute?
“You’re a beautiful girl, Celeste, and I would very much like us to be friends.”
Maybe it was me, maybe I was reading too much into his words, but he said “friends” in such a suggestive way that it felt like he wanted to be more than just that.
“Well, I’ve never seen my friends butt naked.”
As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I wanted to kick myself. Why the hell did I say that? I was trying to forget that moment but now he knew I was still thinking about him and his body.
“If that is what’s bothering you, you could always make it up to me.”
I frowned. What the hell did he mean by that?
“How?” I asked, my eyes narrowing.
He stretched his arm behind our booth, his magnetic scent enveloping me. He leaned in close to my ear and I held my breath, still keeping my gaze glued to the mahogany wood table.
“Simple,” he murmured. “You could just—”
“Did you guys already order?”
I jumped as Joanne suddenly appeared at the table and dropped into her seat. I tried my best to shift away from Mischa but again was made aware of the limited space between us. Thankfully, he pulled his arm back and picked up his menu.
“No, not yet,” I rushed out to cover my discomfort.
Just then, our bubbly waitress, with her big Tracee Ellis Ross curls, made her way to our table. I vaguely heard the brunch specials the waitress rattled off as I thought about Mischa’s last words… I could just what? What had he been about to say?
“And you, miss? What will you have?”
I didn’t realize I was the last to order until all eyes turned expectantly on me. Because I didn’t want to reach over Mischa to steal my menu back, I just order the last thing I remembered on the menu. “Uh. I’ll have the Fried Yard Bird.”
“Great choice. Anything to drink?”
Oh, I could really use that drink. “The Rooster Punch.”
“Glass or pitcher?”
“Pitcher.”
Joanne and I said it in unison and we both laughed. The waitress carded us, scribbled the request on her small notepad, then picked up our menus before strolling away. She reappeared just as fast with a large pitcher of the deep red sangria and three glasses.
“Just water, please,” Mischa said to the waitress as she began to fill our glasses. With a short nod, she was gone just as quick.
“Mischa, you’re not drinking?” Joanne asked.
“No, I have a lot of studying to do. This is final exam week.”
“Ahh, yes. I don’t miss those days. Ceese, did you have finals in your acting classes?”
“Some. Depended on the class,” I said.
Mischa turned to me, genuine interest in his striking gaze. “You studied acting?”
I nodded stiffly and took a sip of my sangria. It was sweet and strong. Just what I needed. “Yes. At UCLA.” I turned back to Joanne, still unnerved by his penetrating gaze. What’s the matter with me? Any other time, I would be blabbing to anyone who would listen about my amazing experience in my theatre program and all the celebrities I had met in my five years in Los Angeles. Now, I was acting awkward and stiff and not at all like myself.
“Well, I’m glad I finished with City College,” Joanne said. “I don’t know how far that Media degree is going to take me, but at least I left there with something.”
“I still owe you a graduation gift,” I said. “I feel bad that I missed it.” I still did. It had been a winter graduation and it had been hard for me to get to New York in time. But not being there on Joanne’s big day, especially when she was the first in her family to finish college, had bothered me for a while and I wish I could make it up to her.
Joanne waved her hand dismissively. “No, you don’t. As long as you promise to do my make-up, we’re even. We’re still on for today, right?”
“Yes, yes,” I assured her, taking another sip of my sangria.
Joanne beamed. “Good. So what are you studying at Hunter, Mischa?”
“Economics.”
Yikes. I hid a wince behind another sip of my drink. How boring. Who actually wanted to study numbers for a living?
“You must be really smart,” Joanne said.
He shrugged. “I work better with numbers.” He glanced at me and his gaze held mine, amusement flashing in them. “With people, not so much.”
I managed to hold his gaze and was proud of that small feat. “Maybe you should work on that,” I blurted. I don’t know where that came from but I credited the sangria for my liquid courage. I suddenly felt like my old self again. “You don’t want to end up a cliché.”
His dark brows pulled together in confusion. “Cliché?”
“Yeah, you know. A stereotype. Like how people think all Accountants are nerds and antisocial.”
He cocked a brow. “Just like they believe all Russians are in the mafia.”
Joanne sputtered. “What?”
I swallowed, remembering my outburst the other day. “No, I didn’t say that.”
“Yes, you did.”
“I didn’t mean…I was only—”
“Don’t worry about it,” he said with a small shrug, lifting his glass to his lips. “You and Ms. Gayle are safe.”
I searched his eyes for any sign of teasing at his vague words of assurance, but couldn’t read any in them. I shook my head, flinging away the silly thoughts forming there. He was only teasing me. He had to be.
I shifted my eyes to Joanne and took another drink of my Rooster Punch, which wasn’t quite hitting hard enough. 

**The complete story releases Christmas Eve (December 24th)**

Sign-up for my mailing list for news on it's release.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

A Holiday Treat pt. 2 (All I Want For Christmas…)

Continue the story with an early look into chapter 2 of My Silent New York Night...

(Read Chapter 1)

2. All I Want For Christmas…

The alarm went off and I jolted up out of bed.
There was an annoying beeping going off and it took a minute for me to realize where it was coming from. I quickly grabbed my phone and shut it off. Much better. I promptly fell back into my pillow with a loud groan.
I hated mornings as much as I hated the thought of leaving my warm bed. But I had that damn interview to get to and if I didn’t get my butt up now, I was going to be late.
With another groan, I pushed away the heavy covers and got out of bed. The smell of sausage and cheesy grits greeted me the moment I opened my door. Oh, I love you Nana. Suddenly, I was eager to get my shower out of the way. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and padded down to the bathroom, barely registering the light streaming underneath the door before I shoved it open.
A nude man was the last thing I expected to see.
Standing on my Nana’s peach-colored bathmat was nothing but stark naked man flesh—in all his male glory. My mouth fell open and I couldn’t quite seem to get the gasp that was trapped inside my throat out. I barely spared the navy blue hand towel in his hands a glance as I stared at him with what I was sure was a stupid look on my face.
I immediately snapped my gaping mouth shut, but I had less control over my eyes. His shoulders and arms were lean yet muscular, and try as I might, I couldn’t stop my gaze from following the trail of damp chest hair past his abdomen, down to his pelvis, and right to his—oh, my!
My face flushed with embarrassment until I finally came to my senses, shutting the door with more force than I intended. Embarrassment wasn’t the right word for it. I was mortified.
And wide awake now!
“Wow,” was all I could think to say before I pushed away from the door. I rushed to the kitchen to find my Nana by the sink.
I practically flew to her side. “Nana, we have a problem,” I began in a strained whisper.
She turned to me, concern in her brown eyes. “What’s the matter, chipmunk?”
“I think your new roommate just let her boyfriend spend the night.”
“What?”
“I just saw a naked man in the bathroom. I think she let her boyfriend spend the night.”
“What boyfriend?”
“Meesha’s!”
“Who? Meesha?”
Yes! Her boyfriend.”
“Whose boyfriend?”
Nana!” I took a deep breath, trying to control my rising frustration, and began again, slowly. “Nana, listen to me. I just went into the bathroom and found this strange man in there. I didn’t bring him home. I know you didn’t bring him home.” I hope! “So he has to be…” My words trailed off when Nana gave me a strange look then fell into the chair, laughing. I blew out a breath in frustration.
“Nana, this is not funny. She can’t just bring some strange man into our house! What if—” What if he had seen me naked! I winced in embarrassment just at the thought. He certainly would have gotten an eyeful.
“Ceese, you’re being silly, and it is too early for this foolishness.”
“You mean to tell me you let Meesha bring men home?”
Nana started laughing again. “The man you met in the bathroom is Meesha.”
I frowned. “Wait…what?”
“Don’t give me that crazy look. You heard me. Now, who did you think Meesha was?”
For a moment, I was at a loss for words. “Come on, Nana. Meesha? That sounds like a black girl with a quick weave.” Not at all like a tall, well-built—and well-hung—white guy with…what color were his eyes again?
“I thought you Hollywood types were supposed to be open-minded. What’s wrong with his name? Your fake name sounds like something out of a fairytale.”
“It isn’t fake. And at least mine was on purpose. Who names their son Meesha? What grown man lets himself be called Meesha!”
Her grandmother shrugged. “I don’t know, but apparently where he’s from that’s a popular name.”
“Where is he from?”
“I don’t remember, but it’s somewhere in Russia.”
Great. Now we had a foreign stranger in our home.
“Nana, are you sure this guy is legit? Did you or Joanne do a background check? What if he’s a Russian gangster running from the mob. We could all be in danger!”
“Ceese, you watch too much movies. That boy ain’t no gangster. He’s actually a student at Hunter College, and did I mention he’s working two jobs? He’s a hard worker with a good head on his shoulders. He’s a good boy.”
He was no boy.
An image of his naked body flashed in my mind and I blinked at the unexpected memory. Oh, no. I had just gotten a full look at the new roommate’s penis. How was I supposed to face him now? I closed my eyes in mortification and the visual of his broad, naked body flashed again in my head.
My eyes flew open.
“Nana, I still think you should do a background check. What’s his last name?”
“Markov,” said a male voice behind me.
I whirled around, instantly recognizing the deep baritone voice of the man who had helped me up last night. I groaned inwardly. Wonderful. He’s seen me fall on my butt and I’ve seen him naked.
What next?
But he continued staring at me with a curious yet polite expression on his face. A handsome face, at that, I begrudgingly admitted. I wondered if he recognized me. The amusement in his teal blue eyes said that he did.
He didn’t look like a young, fresh-faced college student—or the academic type. From what I’d just seen of him, he looked like he was no stranger to hard, physical…labor.
 “Good morning, Meesha,” Nana greeted, snapping me out of my musings of him and his body. “Don’t mind my granddaughter. Ceese can be a little overprotective.”
“No problem, Ms. Gayle. Ceese is smart to be cautious.”
“It’s Celeste.”
I hadn’t meant to blurt out those words, but he’d kept his gaze on me when he spoke and his intense scrutiny was unnerving. And I wasn’t sure how I felt about the easy familiarity in which he said my nickname. Besides, only my family and best friend called me “Ceese”.
“Ceese, don’t be rude,” Nana scolded me before turning to Meesha, who didn’t look at all offended. “Don’t mind her again, Meesha. She’s going through a name change phase. We all call her Ceese for short. Though, she’s still my little chipmunk. Just look at those cheeks.”
I rolled my eyes. “Nana, please.” I swore my Nana loved to embarrass me just for kicks. She and I both knew my cheeks hadn’t been chubby and round since the ninth grade.
But my Nana’s new roomie simply smiled politely and extended his hand to me. “Mischa Markov.”
“Mischa?”
He smiled knowingly at me. “Yes.”
I turned to my forever-getting-names-wrong grandmother. “Nana, it’s Mish-ka. Not Meesha.”
“That’s what I said.”
I shook my head and turned back to our new roommate. I promptly slipped my hand into his for a quick handshake then immediately pulled it away, still not quite able to make direct eye contact with him. My gaze centered on his chest, which was now covered with a black T-shirt and paired with dark jeans. I was acutely aware of my simple pink and purple polka dotted nightshirt I wore that came down to my mid-thigh. Barely.
“Well, it was nice meeting you, Mischa, but I have an interview to get ready for.”
“Make sure you leave time to eat something before you go,” Nana instructed.
As much as the savory smells called out to me, I couldn’t imagine sitting at the kitchen table with a strange guy I’d just seen stark naked a few minutes ago. Not when the images were still forcing their way into my head.
“Thanks, Nana. But I’m running late. I’ll just grab something on the way there.” I turned to Mischa, still not able to meet his eyes. “Next time, could you try locking the door behind you?”
I didn’t miss the rise of his left eyebrow, but he simply inclined his head and muttered in his deep, alluring accent, “Maybe next time you can knock first.”
I narrowed my eyes at him before I marched out of the kitchen, my cheeks burning from another unexpected visual of him standing in the bathroom, holding nothing but a hand towel. As I moved passed him, he retorted in a tone only I could hear, “Or maybe you can join me.”

*

I made it up the last flight of stairs from the subway station and was greeted by a cold blast of the December air. I paused for a moment to regain my bearings.
It’s still so damn cold.
Not only did the icy air make it difficult to breath, but man...those stairs! Am I really that out of shape? I hadn’t realized how much walking and stair-climbing was required in this city until I been forced to do it all day.
Now that I was finally heading home, I couldn’t seem to walk there fast enough. I passed a horde of people huddled in long winter coats, others in fur-trimmed puffer jackets, all hurrying down the sidewalk. My neighborhood may not be as crowded as downtown, but this was New York City and there were always people rushing around. Then again, it was also after five o’clock on a Friday and I could imagine they were all eager to get home before the temperature dropped again.
God, I miss L.A.
No, you don’t, I instantly reminded myself. In Los Angeles, I may have been warm, but I had also been broke and a rent payment away from being homeless. At least here, in this loud and crowded city, I had a warm bed to sleep in and a steady job starting on Monday.
Though cleaning office buildings wasn’t necessarily what I had planned to do when I returned to New York, at least my bank account wouldn’t look pathetic anymore.
Evidently, the interview had immediately turned into a new hire orientation. I’d essentially spent the rest of my Friday filling out paperwork, meeting my new supervisor, and picking up my job assignment and uniform.
At least I would have this weekend to myself before I embarked on my thrilling profession as nightly cleaning woman.
As I neared Nana’s brownstone, the mixed aroma of sautéed spices and grilled meat teased my senses. I immediately recognized the smell of my favorite halal restaurant. I paused, debating whether I should spend my last ten bucks there when someone called out to me.
“Ceese?”
I looked up and immediately recognized those tall, slender legs walking toward me. Even with her long, curly hair piled in a messy bun on top of her head and bundled in a puffer jacket, huge cowl scarf, and black leggings, my old best friend looked chic and stylish. In that moment, I wished I had on something just as cute and chic than my boring interview suit and wool cap.
“Hey Joanne.”
My best friend Joanne Vega paused in front of me before she threw her arms around me and pulled me into a tight hug. “Oh my God, Ceese! I can’t believe it’s you!”
I was taken aback by the hug, but immediately returned it. I hadn’t expected her to be this enthused to see me, after a year of barely speaking. But then Joanne had never been one to hold grudges and I had almost forgotten how fun-loving and easy-going she was. Apparently, I had been the only one feeling resentful by our lack of communication and I suddenly felt guilty for not doing a better job in maintaining our friendship.
Joanne pulled back and studied me, a wide smile on her pretty, light brown face. “I heard you were coming back, but I didn’t believe it. When did you get in?”
Why didn’t she believe it? “My flight got in last night. LA was fun, but I figured it was time I explored other avenues,” I added. Like not being broke.
“Well, I’m glad you’re back, chica. I’ve missed you!”
I laughed when Joanne pulled me into another excited hug. “I’ve missed you too, girl. It’s been too long.”
“Yes, it has! I know Hollywood kept you busy, but now that you’re back home, there should be no excuses on why we can’t hang out.”
I glanced away sheepishly. Is that what my family and friends thought? That I’d been too busy for them? “I hear you’ve been going to church with Nana on Sunday’s. How about we do brunch after?”
“Yes! But only if you promise to do my make-up after.”
“For what?”
“For my vlog. I’m doing a video on my favorite winter looks and I need to look good for my subbies.”
I stared at her, incredulous. “You have a video blog?”
Joanne laughed. “Don’t look so surprised. I may not be so good with computers, but I know how to work a camera and the internet.”
“No, it’s not that,” I rushed out, still surprised. Joanne had certainly grown from the shy, awkward girl she’d once been. “Why didn’t you tell me? I would have subscribed too.”
Joanne shrugged. “I’ve only had it for about two-three years now. It’s still new but I’m getting new subscribers every day and having lots of fun with it.”
“That’s awesome Joanne.” It was great to see my bestie break out of her shell. She had always been a bit shy when we were growing up and even though I would tell her she reminded me of a Puerto Rican Jessica Alba, she had always hid her beauty behind frumpy clothes. I was happy to see Joanne let herself shine now, but I couldn’t help the disappointment that came over me.
Am I the only one not doing anything with my life?
“I would be happy to help you with your make-up,” I added, burying my self-pity as deep as I could.
“No, I don’t want you to help me. I want you to do it for me. You obviously picked up some mad skills, girl,” Joanne said, studying my face. “You look gorgeous.”
I frowned. “I do?”
Joanne rolled her eyes. “Girl, you know you do. Did you just come from an audition?”
Ha! I wish. “No, I had a job interview. Downtown.” I couldn’t quite bring myself to divulge exactly for what just yet.
“Well, I want you to make me look like this on Sunday,” Joanne said, motioning toward my face with her index finger.
I smiled, flattered. “I think I can do that.”
It had been a long day today, but I was glad to see the painstaking care I’d taken with my looks that morning had not only paid off, but had held up.
For a split second, I wondered if Mischa Markov would take notice, then instantly recoiled at the thought.
Get a grip, Ceese, I scolded myself. You’re acting like you want him or something.
And I didn’t.
I swear!

Check back tomorrow for a special look into chapter 3.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

A Holiday Treat pt. 1 (Baby, It's Cold Outside)

Dear readers and friends:

Experience Christmas in New York this season with my upcoming holiday romance, My Silent New York Night. This novella is not only a treat for my readers this holiday, it's also an homage to the city that has become—and will always be—my second home. 

In My Silent New York Night, I do things a little differently. This story is a New Adult/Romantic Comedy—a mash-up you don't typically see in the New Adult subgenre with all their brooding/tortured heroes. Not that I don't enjoy a good read with a dark and disturbed alpha hero but this story is about a young aspiring actress coming into her own and learning some valuable lessons along the way. 

This is the first story I've ever written in 1st person (in the heroine's point-of-view) and I have to admit it wasn't as torturous as I would have thought. But then again, Celeste Nightingale is a diva and demanded she be the star of this novella. And through her, I discovered that I could write humor after all. Who knew!

As a special treat this weekend, I will be posting chapter 1 and 2 of the story for your reading enjoyment. The full story releases on Christmas Eve. Enjoy!

All my best,
Lena 

1. Baby, It’s Cold Outside


       Dang, it was cold!
The frigid air whipped across my face the moment I stepped outside the taxi waiting area of LaGuardia Airport.
And I wasn’t prepared. The thin scarf around my neck did nothing to keep the chill from seeping through to nip at my skin. A shiver ran through my body and I clenched my teeth to keep them from quivering.
“Happy holidays, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to New York.”
I turned to the sound of the deep, booming voice coming from the stocky taxicab dispatcher in a bright, yellow coat. What did he find happy about being out in the cold night air of Queens?
“For those travelling to Manhattan, form a line here. We will get you into a cab as soon as possible.” The short man stood some distance away from the haphazard line that had begun to form. He was a small man, but his voice reached the far end of the long line where I stood.
I followed the crowd that began to venture to the “Manhattan only” line, growing more numb from the icy weather with each passing minute. I shifted in my platform boots, trying to keep warm. Thankfully, it was too cold for snow to fall, but that didn’t make the freezing weather any less depressing. The sooner I could get into a cab, the sooner I would be walking into my Nana’s home.
Looking at the two large suitcases next to me, I shuffled along the line with the others and watched as two taxi dispatchers scrambled to get us into cabs. They were filled with energy—a stark contrast to what was turning out to be an overcast evening. But looking at the line of people that wrapped around the small waiting area, there was no way I would be getting into a cab soon enough to keep from freezing. The sight of the huddled bodies in their long, dark coats and worn-out boots, trying to keep warm as they waited for their turn to be shuffled into a yellow cab, was a depressing one. In that moment, I missed the sunny skies of California, though Los Angeles hadn’t been kind to me these past five years.
  I looked up at the gray, dreary December sky and blew out a breath. I had made my decision—and a pact with God—to move back to New York and give it an honest try, so it was too late for regrets now. I just hoped God held His end of the bargain and made me famous.
Rich and famous,” I muttered as a reminder.
Twenty minutes later, a dispatcher finally handed me a slip and before I knew it, I was being shuffled toward an empty cab. The driver jumped out from behind the wheel and thankfully helped me with my bags.
“Where you going, honey?”
“139th and Lenox Ave,” I quickly rattled off then jumped in the cab. I hadn’t realized how cold it was until the ice began to melt from my bones. The cabbie quickly climbed in and soon we were leaving the crowded airport behind. I was on my way to Nana’s. Finally!
It had been five years since I’d been back to see my grandmother and I was embarrassed I had let it go so long since I’d been back to visit. After I’d graduated high school, my parents had decided to “retire” down in Florida. With my limited budget, I had been forced to choose between spending my small holiday funds to either see my parents in sunny south Florida or come back to Harlem where I had spent the first eighteen years of my life. I’d always chosen Florida.
Now I was back in New York, maybe even permanently, and I had to admit I missed my Nana.
“So are you returning home or just visiting?”
I looked up, startled by the question. Great. I was riding in a car with a talker. “I’m returning.” From the two large luggages he had to shove into his trunk, he had to figure I was more than just visiting.
“Ahh. Where are you moving from?”
“L.A.”
“Really? You left the sun to move to this—hey! Watch it, you son of a—”
I grabbed the overhead strap to keep myself steady as the cabbie proceeded to let loose a series of curses in another language. I unconsciously glanced at his identification on the back of his seat. For some reason, it made me feel a little better to know the name of my cabbie. Not that it stopped Ahmet Karim from proceeding to drive with a speed and unruliness that kept my grip tight on the passenger hanger. It had been over five years since I’d ridden in a New York cab and I’d almost forgotten what an adventure it could be.
“Did you miss New York?”
Apparently, Ahmet Karim was a nosy talker. I didn’t mind, though. It helped take my mind off the uncomfortable ride.
“Yes and no,” I admitted. “I miss my family, and maybe the food, but I don’t miss the cold.”
Ahmet laughed. “It’s better today. Last week it snowed morning and night for four days straight!”
I would have thought he was exaggerating since it was rare to get a blizzard in the city this early in the season, but I had the cancelled and rescheduled flights to validate his story. I should have been in New York on the first day of December, but the blizzard had hit and I’d been forced to stay in Los Angeles a few days longer, which had not been fun since I had sold everything I owned and all I had left were my too-good-to-give-up clothes and shoes.
The cabbie hit the breaks hard—again—and I felt my stomach roll.
“You can drop me off here, sir.”
“Don’t be scared, honey. I’ve been driving cabs for over twenty years. It’s these idiots here who don’t know what they’re doing.”
Yeah, right. I braced myself again as the cabbie made another sharp turn. “My Nana’s building is right up the street. I can walk the rest of the way.”
“You sure?”
“Very.”
The man shrugged and pulled to the side of the curb. He stopped the meter and I frowned when the fare shot up another seven dollars. “Why so much?”
“Toll and surcharges, honey.”
“But that doesn’t make sense. Last time I was here, I didn’t have to pay this much.”
“You can thank the mayor for that!”
Ahmet chuckled before he jumped out of his cab, and before I was done paying the fare through the card reader, he had my two large bags on the sidewalk. I was barely out of the cab before a series of honks sounded behind us. I glanced back and was surprised to find a line of cars backed up around the corner.
“Yo! Move your ass!”
I jerked slightly when one of the drivers proceeded to shout obscenities at us.
“OMG,” I muttered, grabbing the handle of my bags from Ahmet. “Where’s the fire?”
Ahmet laughed. “Welcome to New York, honey.”
I gritted my teeth and watched as he jumped back in his cab and peeled off. Still mumbling, I dragged my bags behind me, instantly regretting not having Ahmet drive me in front of my grandmother’s building. I had underestimated the discarded snow that had piled up on the narrow sidewalk and the trash that lined the curb made it difficult for me to maneuver my large bags. But it was warmer out in the city tonight, unlike the icy air I had been forced to suffer outside of the airport.
I eventually made it to my Nana’s three-story brownstone and breathed a sigh of relief.
“Finally,” I muttered.
I hadn’t realized until that moment how much I had missed the small building where I had spent much of my childhood. I started to feel a lot better about my move.
The building was just as I remembered it. If anything, the fallen snow on the roof and windowsills gave it some added charm. Many of the trees lining the block were adorned with tiny white string lights around the trunk and branches. The one thing I certainly missed about the big city was the holidays. There was nothing like Christmas in New York and I almost forgot how it sort of seemed to transform the bleak, dreary city into something…magical.
Staring at my grandmother’s building, with its windows and banister also strung up with bright tiny lights, filled me with renewed hope. Everything would all work out for the best, I just had to have faith.
Feeling lighter than I had in months, I took a step toward my new home only to have my boots slip from under me. I had only a split second to process what was happening before I landed hard on my butt.
“Umph!”
Pain shot through my bottom, up my back before radiating down my legs. But it didn’t compare to the embarrassment that flooded me. I closed my eyes as if that would help lessen my humiliation.
Did anyone see that?
Of course someone had seen me fall on my ass. This was New York City. And it didn’t help that I was still lying on the ground like some idiot.
“Miss?”
Oh, great. I opened my eyes to find a guy in a large puffer jacket hovering over me. He was cute, with laughing eyes. Like Ryan Gosling. I couldn’t make out the color of his eyes but they were either green or blue—or both—and against his dark hair, they were striking.
“Are you okay?”
I took stock of my injuries again, but besides a sore backside and aching pride, I didn’t think I’d done a lot of damage.
“I think so.”
“You have to watch for the black ice,” the stranger cautioned in a heavy accent that sounded very European, though I couldn’t place it. Before I’d left New York, I had been very good at placing accents. Unfortunately, Los Angeles had siphoned away that talent.
 I stared at his outstretched hand for a minute longer before slipping my hand into his. He lifted me up with such swift ease I barely needed to put in any effort. I was carrying a little extra so it couldn’t have been easy for him. I glanced up at his face, but there didn’t seem to be any strain. I couldn’t remember the last time a man had been able to literally lift me off my feet. Heck, I didn’t think anyone ever had.
This guy, however, had done just that without pulling a muscle. Not only was he strong, but he was tall, too.
I was in love.
Oh, shut up, girl.
“Thanks,” I muttered, tearing my eyes from his and busying myself by slapping snow from my coat and jeans.
“You’re most welcome, milashka.”
I blinked up at the man, but before I could say anything, he had his hands jammed in his pockets and was already heading down the block, his long-legged strides taking him around the corner and out of sight.
Where had he come from? Not that I wasn’t used to seeing white people in Harlem, but never this far east—and rarely past 125th street.
Well, he’s gone now, so get over it.
I glanced back up at my Nana’s brownstone then down at the snow covered steps. With a heavy sigh, I grabbed my bags and braced myself.
Now, let’s try this again.

*

“It’s a good thing you had that extra weight on you to soften your fall.”
“Very funny, Nana.”
“I’m not trying to be, chipmunk. Your bootie is a blessing. As many times as I’ve talked to Miller about those steps… I should sue him.”
I shook my head and took another sip of my tea. If my grandmother had ever gotten around to suing the countless people on her list, we would own the brownstone by now, and my Nana could fire the no-count super. “You don’t need to sue him, Nana. Just remind him that he needs to shovel the sidewalk and salt the steps.”
“I’ve tried, chipmunk, but you know how he is. It’s always ‘tomorrow, Ms. Gayle.’ Well, today is tomorrow and did he do anything? No.”
I watched as my grandmother bustled around the small eat-in kitchen, preparing her famous cinnamon squash soup. It was below forty degrees outside but felt colder in my Nana’s three-bedroom apartment, thanks to the broken radiator. I was bundled up inside the apartment, hoping the hot tea could warm my insides until the super could get here, but even the tea couldn’t get me warm enough. I hoped my Nana’s soup would do the trick.
“You know with Miller, you have to stay on top of him with stuff like this.”
“Oh, I do. Even Meesha has said something to him about salting the ice.”
“Meesha?”
“Yes, Meesha. My new roommate.” Nana cocked her head to the side. “I didn’t tell you?”
I stared at my Nana, incredulous. Who and how? “Nana, when did you get a roommate? Actually, I take that back. Why did you get a roommate? And all the times we’ve talked, you never mentioned having some stranger living here with you.”
“What do you mean all the times we talked? Child, you never call me and you never answer my calls.”
I fumbled for words, but what my Nana was saying was true. The last time we had spoken had been on her seventy-first birthday—six weeks ago.
“Anyway, Meesha has only been here for a month and is good company.”
“Well, Nana, how long—” I bit my words back before they could leave my big mouth. I was going to ask how long this Meesha person planned to live here but then realized having someone besides myself to help my grandmother with the rent would be to my advantage. Of course, Nana hadn’t asked me to pay rent. Now I wouldn’t feel bad for not offering.
“How long, what, chipmunk? You need to learn to finish your thoughts.”
I shook my head. “Nothing. I just wanted to know where I’m supposed to sleep then.”
“In the bedroom next to mine. Meesha has the back room. For more privacy.”
I sipped my tea to mask my relief. Good. The back room was smaller anyway. And this way, we wouldn’t get in each other’s way.
“Did you include the utilities in the rent, Nana? You know, that stuff adds up.”
“I know, chipmunk. Joanne helped me set this all up. I posted it on Greg’s list and Meesha called me the next day.”
“You mean Craigslist, Nana?”
“That’s what I said.”
I didn’t argue. Instead, I thought about my best friend, who I had done an even worse job of keeping in touch with. “You and Joanne still talk?”
“Of course we still talk. You girls have been friends since the second grade. Joanne is practically family. She comes to church with me some Sundays, too.”
“But we haven’t talked in like…a year.”
“And whose fault is that?”
I frowned, not at all happy with my grandmother’s silent accusation. “I guess we’ve both been busy ‘cause I don’t see her rushing to call me.”
“Oh, Ceese, don’t be petty. It doesn’t cost a thing to pick up the phone and call your family. And if you had called me last night, I would have told you that I got you an interview with Manhattan Clean tomorrow morning.”
“What? Nana, why? You know I need my days open for auditions and stuff.”
“I know, chipmunk. That’s why this is perfect for you. It’s part-time and the hours are late nights.”
“But—”
“Don’t but me, girl.”
Nana turned to me, her hand on her hip and the sternest look on her face that put me in my place. My Nana may be as small as Cicely Tyson but her temper was as big as Mike’s.
“You can stay here with me as long as you like but it won’t be for free. You’re twenty-three years old, Ceese. I expect you to pull your weight around here, too.”
I tried to hold back a pout but it was hard. So much for my advantages. “A week to get settled would be nice, too.”
“Can you afford to be without a job for a week?”
No, I couldn’t, but it still would have been nice to have.
“I didn’t think so,” Nana said. It was annoying at how good she was at reading my mind. “Besides, I got Meesha a job there, too. Maybe you two can ride down together for work some nights. I want you both to be good friends.”
“Oh, I’m sure we will be,” I muttered. “Seeing as we’re going to be roomies and all.”
Nana frowned. “Don’t sass me, girl. That’s why you don’t have any friends now.”
I resented that. Of course, I had friends. I just didn’t have time to catch up with them all…
“What time is the interview, Nana?”
My Nana turned back to the pot and continued her stirring. “Nine o’clock. But you want to be there fifteen minutes early. Since it’s downtown, you want to give yourself some travel time. And wear something nice. Linda is doing me a favor by hiring you and I don’t need you going down there and embarrassing me.”
“It’s cleaning work, Nana. I’m the one who should be embarrassed.”
At the complete silence in the kitchen, I immediately regretted my words.
“That cleaning job helped me pay for this apartment and raise three children. And gave me enough to retire from. Now I don’t know what you learned when you were in Hollywood, but you better unlearn it real quick.”
“Sorry, Nana. I didn’t mean nothing by it. It’s just…how am I supposed to make a name for myself if I’m too busy cleaning toilets?”
Nana frowned. “You need to set aside some of that pride, Ceese. We can’t all be born into privilege. Most of us have to work hard for what we want and you’re no exception.”
“I know, Nana. I’m just saying, it’s already hard enough trying to get acting work. How can I follow my dreams if I’m too tired working all hours of the night?”
My Nana looked unfazed by my dilemma. Instead, she returned her attention to the bubbling soup. “You’re smart and strong, chipmunk. I’m sure you’ll figure it out. You’re a Robinson, after all.”
I sighed. And that was that. My problems were solved. “It’s Nightingale now,” I reminded her absently. “I got it legally changed this summer so I can be more…memorable to talent agents.”
“Nevaeh Celestial Robinson is already memorable and there is nothing wrong with it.”
I groaned. “Nevaeh is just heaven spelled backwards, Nana, and I haven’t let anyone call me that since the first grade. Why would you even let Daddy get away with that?”
“Well, seeing as you came out of your mama on Christmas day, it seemed appropriate. And we all thought it was pretty.”
“It is, just not for me. Celeste Nightingale, on the other hand, it has a heavenly ring to it. Besides, the “Gayle” was named after you, you know.”
Nana huffed and waved her hand dismissively. “I liked the name your mama and daddy gave you.”
I shrugged. “My name now sounds special and much prettier to me.”
Nana shook her head. “If you saw what we did, you’d see how special and beautiful you already are.”
“I do,” I said with a small smile.
Grandmothers were made to say things like that, but I knew that’s not how the rest of the world saw me. Yet, that didn’t bother me. I was happy with my looks. Heck, if given the opportunity, I could have been a stand-in for Malinda Williams, or played Nia Long in any movie. In my eyes, I saw no problems with how I looked but I wasn’t delusional.
In my family’s eyes, I may be special, but to the rest of the world, I was just a curvy, shorter-than-average black girl with flawless brown skin, a stylish haircut, and a Cindy Crawford mole just above my lip. I may not be perfect, but in my eyes, I was perfectly fine.
After all, I was Celeste Nightingale—a born superstar.

Come back tomorrow for a peek into chapter 2!