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Ashley Daniels has a difficult decision to make. Can she marry a man who is vastly different? He’s a high-powered attorney who wants a traditional family. She’s an architect who has little desire to have children. During a family visit, her mother weaves a tale regarding a love story for the ages, a difficult time in history, one that just might change Ashley’s mind…
Brody Canter is more than just a mentor to his friends and family in his impoverished neighborhood in Harlem. He also offers hope in society where racism holds a significant presence. A quarterback with the New York Jets, he’s received top honors for his humanitarian work as well as his prowess on the field. He lives a quiet life with little fanfare, and everyone who knows him says he’s an honorable man. He is also considered one of the most eligible bachelors on the East Coast, and his family has the perfect girl in mind for marriage. From one of the finest African American families in upstate New York, Dahlia’s connections will ensure Brody’s successful future after his football playing days are over. Unfortunately, he isn’t in love.
Elle Taylor is blonde and beautiful as well as intelligent, yet she rarely dates, preferring to spend long hours honing her career. While determined to secure a position in the field of newspaper reporting, she refuses to play politics or partake in backstabbing antics. After all, there are few women on top in the world of sports. She longs for love but is strangled by her submissive needs in a society where any attribute considered a weakness will be used against her.
After a chance meeting with Brody, she’s unable to resist their electric chemistry and a torrid affair ensues, one that it’s vital to keep a secret. In the 1970s, interracial relationships are discouraged, even forbidden in most societies. Exploring their respective D/s needs is powerful and they fall in love. When someone from his past threatens to reveal his hidden girl, will Brody choose forbidden love or the chance at a glorious future?
A love standing the test of time…
Publisher’s Note: This book contains elements of BDSM, and explicitly described sexual encounters.
White Plains, New York 2017
Ashley Daniels stood in the whitewashed room, her thoughts drifting to the upcoming ceremony. She wasn’t entirely certain she was ready to get married. She loved William. She wanted to be with the man but… forever? The glimmering sun drifted through the blinds, creating an almost luminescent glow across the carved wooden hutch. Sighing, she fingered the various photographs, the kind of memories she hoped to create with her husband.
Husband. They were so different, boosting her doubts they would remain married. He was from a family in Virginia; what she’d learned was called the First Families of Virginia. They were prominent citizens of Richmond, the capital. They had wealth, clout and a history surrounded by the Civil War. They were also ultra conservative. Her family were free spirits, enjoying life in every manner possible. She’d lived her entire life in New York and met William in college, but he wanted to be close to his parents. Moving to an unknown state was terrifying.
Their whirlwind romance remained a concern for William’s family. Yes, they were young, but certainly well enough off to start a household. He wanted kids right away. She, on the other hand, wanted nothing more than to continue designing buildings for decades to come. Children were somewhere way down on the list.
Her cell phone rang. She knew the ringtone very well. She’d selected The Animal from her favorite band, Disturbed, as William’s special ring. You bet he was an animal, in and out of bed. She brushed her hand over her mouth, savoring the memory of his seductive kiss when she’d left him twenty-four hours earlier. Even his words had been provocative.
“Don’t be late or I’ll have to spank your pretty ass.”
She wiggled until her pencil-thin skirt scraped against her ass. Spankings were a part of their normal routine. “Hi ya, sexy man.”
“How’s my girl?” William’s powerful voice boomed from the tiny speaker.
“I’m good. Took a side trip with Mama. She wanted to pick up a few things from Grandma’s house. Things are a bit difficult, but don’t worry. I’m on track to leave tomorrow.”
“I’m glad to hear it, honey. Everything will be all right.”
Ashley glanced out the window. Even her grandmother’s garden was fading away, much like the life of a woman she respected. “I hope so.”
“Be there with your mom. I hate to remind you, but we have a meeting with the wedding planner the day after tomorrow. You know how my mother is.”
Ashley rolled her eyes. “I know. Stop worrying. I wouldn’t disobey you, ever.”
“I hope not. You know what bad girls receive,” he said as he chuckled.
“I do. I love you and I’ll call you when I leave tomorrow.”
“Perfect. I have a meeting with my boss at nine, but I’ll be free afterwards all day. We settled the case, so no court tomorrow.” William sighed. “It’ll be good to have you home.”
“Yeah. See you soon.” As she hung up the phone, guilt riddled her system. She knew she had to make up her mind as soon as possible. The wedding was only a couple months away.
She set the phone down on the well-worn wood and glanced once again at the pictures. Every one of them told a story. As she moved down the length of the hutch, one in particular caught her attention and she was unable to remember having seen it before. She picked up the frame, fingering the glass. Every other picture had cakes of dust in the crevices of their frames, but this one had very little. “Huh.”
The photograph had seen better days, given the creases crisscrossing the surface. Still, she gathered a sense of loving as the couple sat on a bench in some beautiful garden, staring into each other’s eyes.
“Hey, Mom, come here,” Ashley called. She studied the picture, marveling at the absolute look of total adoration they both had. Their fingers were intertwined, their body language relaxed but their legs touching.
“Yes, my dear?”
Ashley glanced at her mother. For a few seconds, she was taken aback. Sabrina Daniels was always well dressed, her make up just so and her long hair tied back in a ponytail. The light skinned black woman would always be stunning. “Come look at this picture.”
Sabrina walked toward her, and as soon as she could see the photograph, she exhaled. “I remember this one. I haven’t seen it in over twenty years. I wonder where Mother hid it all this time.”
“Is this Grandma and Grandpa?”
“Absolutely. This was right after they were married and so very much in love. Your grandmother told me so many amazing stories about how they got together, the obstacles they faced. I think they were the reason I fell in love with your father. Too bad that relationship didn’t work out,” Sabrina said, then laughed.
Shrugging, Ashley studied the picture again. “You always talk about obstacles but I’ve never heard any stories indicating they had a difficult marriage. I guess I hope I can have the kind of relationship that they have, with William.”
Her mother placed her hand on Ashley’s shoulder. “Stop worrying. William is a good man.”
“I know.” Looking down, Ashley fought the sudden tears brimming behind her eyelashes.
“Honey, I loved your father but every marriage has difficulties. You will have to make choices and compromises. You know that. Besides, romance usually only lasts for a short period of time.”
“Usually?” Ashley grinned and nonchalantly wiped her eyes.
“Very different with your grandmother and grandfather. Their story is one of a love of the ages.”
Ashley placed the picture down on the surface of the hutch and turned to face her mother. “I wish I’d paid more attention to her stories. She seems so strong and brave as well as beautiful.”
“She is that and so much more.” Sabrina glanced at her watch. “Tell you what. Why don’t I grab a couple of glasses of wine and tell you a story? Would you like that?”
“If you think it’ll help me believe in true love, you bet.”
“I think it’s one you need to hear so you can understand what love truly means. Besides, your grandmother asked me to come here and find a scrapbook she wanted you to have.”
“Scrapbook?” Ashley remembered seeing one as a child, but she’d been too young to pay attention and had never asked about the thick book again.
“The story of her life. I think you might be surprised. Let’s go out to the garden. I’ll bring the wine.”
Ashley watched her mother as she walked out of the room, then tilted her head to gaze at the picture again. A beautiful couple. A wonderful life.
Something she was terrified she’d never have.
New York - 1974
Elle Taylor sat gazing at the television screen, a pencil in her mouth and a hunger to learn more. She’d spent the last few weeks learning as much as she could from studying other reporters in the field: the way they reacted, the questions they asked. Male reporters. Women reporting men’s sports is outrageous. Period. The words burned in the back of her mind. Frowning, she stole a look over her shoulder past the glass windows, then checked her watch. Her article was due in thirty minutes. Her editor was a pedantic brute. Requesting an extension? Forget it. There were no second chances. She loathed writing frothy pieces about the women’s clubs and their humanitarian efforts. She was better than that; this kind of piece was beneath her talents.
Perhaps that’s why her nickname was now ‘The Ice Queen’ given her ballsy, take-no-shit attitude. Of course, there were plenty of men who took the term entirely the wrong way. As if she’d give any of them the time of day, in or out of bed. If only they knew what she truly wanted in a man.
She sighed and stared down at the polystyrene cup in her hand. The coffee wasn’t just cold. The bitter taste was disgusting. Just as disgusting as her boring and useless life. Thank God, the ultra-feminine piece was all but done.
The announcer was animated as the crowd went wild. She glanced at the screen, and seeing the quarterback obviously excited about the goal made her smile. Brody Canter was one hot player. She knew this was an important moment for the team. She grabbed her notepad, making copious notes. All she did lately was make notes about some broadcast that seemed way over her head. Football. What in the hell had possessed her to follow football? She was a city girl, preferring the finer things in life, not the rough and tumble world. She rolled her eyes. That was a crock of shit her best friend had tried to load on her. She’d been a rough and tumble girl because of how she’d been forced to grow up. This was nothing.
Rubbing her strained eyes, she groaned as she rolled the stats and scores though her mind, doing her best to practice the terminology. There was so much to learn if she was even going to be able to consider becoming a sports reporter. Her family and the editor in charge had laughed at her. The words spouted off during a staff meeting, in front of the entire department would forever remain ingrained in her mind. Women don’t belong in reporting on football, no matter what you believe. Men are much better suited . Oh, she was going to show them. There wasn’t a single doubt in her mind. Jesus, it was nineteen seventy-four the last time she checked. Why were women reporters still blacklisted or, at minimum, forced to jump through tremendous hoops?
She knew the answer. The world was comprised of bigots and chauvinists and perhaps always would be. Even though there were many women in high powered positions, men still ruled the roost.
The jesting in the room had followed her for a solid week, tortured comments in passing and slights around the water cooler. Elle didn’t care. Her mantra as of late, albeit a jaded one, remained in the forefront of her mind. Learn not to give a shit about the assholes. She allowed herself a smug grin. If she knew her daddy, he might wash her mouth out with soap for saying such words. Well, she had a new boss and a new lease on life. Hopefully, she’d garner the guts to reach out for what she wanted.
She sniffed and glanced at the player on the field. Testing her knowledge, she refused to look at the screen before she said the words out loud. “Brody Canter, number seventeen, quarterback, New York Jets.” She grinned and wiggled in her seat, knowing she’d gotten the details right.
Inching closer, she pressed her hand against the television screen, drinking in the rugged looking man, admiring the way he was sweating profusely. There was something about Brody Canter that turned her on. She studied his beaming smile, one that lit up the entire stadium. She’d spent a solid two months studying the man’s form and face. And his cock and… She fisted her mouth. Thinking sexually about anyone she was reporting on was a huge no-no.
She fanned her face, longing to spend a solid night with the man, very much alone. Brody turned his head toward the camera and she could swear he was looking straight at her, his eyes burning into her soul. Her pussy clenched as she concentrated on his intoxicating look, his twinkling eyes.
“Come here,” Brody commanded, the look on his face one of concentrated need.
Elle inched closer, every nerve in her body standing on end. “Yes, sir.” Stopping a few inches in front of him, she licked her lips. For some reason she was terribly nervous, but ready, so very ready. She held the two sides of the satin sheet in front of her chest, just like he’d required. And now this was happening, something she’d waited in breathless anticipation of. All the teasing and every moment spent longing for each other had come down to this night.
“Drop the sheet,” he said quietly as he took a sip of his drink. When she hesitated, his eyes flashed disappointment. “Elle, drop the sheet now. I own you. Be a good girl or I’ll have to spank you.”
There had never been any words said to her before that mattered as much as the ones he’d said, his voice husky and dangerous. She hadn’t been prepared for the way he was with her, his needs all consuming. Every time he took her further, asking more of her, she only wanted to please him, satisfy every need. There had never been another man who could drive her to such need, a tremendous overload of desires she’d never felt before. Breathing in and out, Elle kept her eyes pinned on his as she loosened her grip on the silky material.
As gravity took the sheet to the floor, exposing her naked body, she shivered, but not from the chill pressing hard into the room. She was wet and tingling, her pussy clenching as her nipples became swollen. When he took two long strides toward her and exhaled slowly, the sensuous moves exaggerated, she whimpered and pressed the back of her hand across her mouth. She was certain she was going to drop to her knees.
“You are so beautiful. Turn around for me and hold your arms out. I long to see every inch of you.”
Obeying instantly, she could feel the heat rising on her face as she lifted her arms and turned in a complete circle. Hearing his grunts and growls of appreciation, she knew she would do anything he asked of her. Brody’s needs were unrequited and he was famished tonight. When she had completed her task, she licked the single bead of perspiration off the top of her lip, longing to taste his sweet cum.
“Come closer,” Brody whispered as he crooked his finger.
Nodding, Elle closed the distance until she was close enough to catch a whiff of his drink of choice mixed with a hint of cinnamon. His cologne was masculine and woodsy and the hint of his male sex brought a fervor of adrenaline kicking throughout her body.
Brody cupped her chin, brushing his thumbs across her lips and lowered his head. “You are without a doubt the most beautiful woman I’ve ever laid eyes on and tonight I’m going to take you to new heights of pleasure. Tonight, I’m going to show you what you should have, what I will give you. And after tonight, you’re going to belong to me.”
The instant he pressed his lips across hers, Elle drank in the heady taste of him and closed her eyes. She reached up and placed both of her hands on his shoulders, marveling in the way his muscles felt against her fingers. She moaned into the kiss as he pushed his tongue past her lips, exploring every crevice.
Wrapping his arms around her, he crushed her against his body as he grunted and ground his hips into her belly. Brody tipped her back as he held her head and the kiss became a passionate roar of intense need.
Never had a man French kissed her so savagely, sucking on her tongue as he brushed his hand up and down her back. She felt so tiny in his arms, standing on her tiptoes as he continued ravaging her. Her fingers dug into his skin and she melted into his arms, feeling safer than she had in her entire life.
When he finally broke the kiss, allowing their lips to touch for a full minute, he eased her upright and lowered his hand, cupping her ass. “You’re going to learn to obey me no matter what I ask.”
Elle pushed against his arms and trembled. “Yes, sir.”
“And you’re never going to leave my side.”
“God, no sir.” Was he really asking her to belong to him, forever? Her heart racing, she tipped her head back, exposing her neck. The offer was blatant. She was baring her soul, giving him everything she had to give.
Breathing a swath of hot air across the base of her neck, Brody licked up from her collarbone to her chin, nipping as he continued his path. “All mine.” Using the flat of his hand he brushed down her stomach to her pussy and swirled his finger around her clit, every move deliberate and sensuous.
“Ooh, I…” Elle wiggled in his arms, blinking rapidly as she tried to focus on everything he was doing. As his fingers dipped lower, brushing against her pussy lips, she smiled. The moment he thrust his finger inside, she knew she was truly his.
“Now, I’m going to spank you because all good girls need a hard spanking from time to time.” He stepped back, easing down on top of the bed. “Come to me.”
“Yes, sir,” she whispered as she inched closer, her eyes never leaving his.
He took her by the hand, pressing kisses on her palm before lowering her across his lap. “I’m going to discipline you every day, just like you crave.”
She closed her eyes as he placed his fingers on the small of her back. “Yes, sir.”
Yelping, she jerked up as his hand made contact with her ass.
The spanking continued for several minutes. She planted her hands on the floor and whimpered, every cell in her body on fire, so alive. This was exactly what she needed.
“Oh. Fuck.” Elle breathed and wiped the perspiration from her brow. The fantasy was far too hot. My God. What in the world causes…
“You look hot and wet. If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were having an orgasm.”
Jumping, she groaned. “You scared the you know what out of me.” She eyed the sassy redhead and shook her head. Bessie Miller was the epitome of what they called a flower child. There was little Bessie wouldn’t try and Elle was basically terrified by the number and types of sexual activities the woman had indulged in.
“You look like the cat that ate the canary, or perhaps a woman in need.” She glanced toward the television set. “Football players are your fantasy?”
“Who said I was fantasizing about anything?” Elle asked, her entire body alive. Thoughts about Brody lingered like a longing beacon of pure lust which surprised the hell out of her.
“Girl, I can tell by the look on your face. Besides, you’re panting. You have the hots for some football player. Now who is he?” Bessie asked as the look in her eyes turned coy.
“Nobody and it doesn’t matter.” She darted a glance back at the screen. How long had she been fantasizing about the sexy black man? “I’m just watching football and trying to learn.”
“Trying to learn. You are out of your mind. You’re a great reporter. Why are you bothering with this drivel? There are more important things in life than sports.”
Elle shot her a nasty look. “Hmm. He’s running. Running. Yes! Wait. Oh, he’s tackled. Oh shit, crap!” She groaned. “Wait. Behind the line of scrimmage is sacked, and beyond that stupid line is tackled. I guess he was sacked.” Pumping her hand into the air, she laughed and muttered to herself, “Can’t they make up their minds what to call it?” This was exhilarating.
“You do know none of this is going to entice that boss of ours into giving you a chance, right?”
She grimaced hearing Bessie’s words. “Why wouldn’t he give me a chance to branch out?” Her best friend, and the only woman she trusted in New York City, was a realist and made certain Elle remembered she was a blonde woman in a powerful man’s world. Whether at work or play, Bessie was the constant reminder of the way men continued to react to women in any dominant situation. Women were still objects of desire. They certainly weren’t paid what men were either. They had a long way to go for true equality.
“You know why. The reason is the same as yesterday and last week and the week before,” Bessie reminded her.
“Yeah. I understand what you’re saying but I don’t have to live that way.”
“Fine. Continue to beat your head against a wall,” Bessie huffed. “I recognize him now. All over the magazines as of late. He’s an asshole, by the way. Jerk of the year, so I’ve heard.”
“I haven’t heard that!” Elle had heard Brody was difficult, especially with reporters.
“Then you haven’t been paying attention, girl.”
Before Elle flipped off the television, she gave the sexy quarterback one last look, concentrating on his smile as he approached the press. His smile was beguiling, drawing her into the moment, and she realized her pussy was clenching again. Nice or not so nice, she longed to meet him. “Mmm.” She’d seen a close up of his pictures, his very sexy pictures, and the very primal part of her being hungered to know more. Her pulse racing, she couldn’t help admiring the way Mr. Seventeen’s ass filled the skin-tight uniform. She fanned her face as she grabbed the remote, flicking the off button and trying to hide her wanton lust. “I think they’re going to win. The Jets are doing well this year.”
“How would you know?” Bessie scoffed.
Elle gave her a haughty look. “I know. I’m learning. Okay?”
“Jesus. Okay. Not that it matters other than maybe spouting off figures and shit in a bar with a bunch of sweaty guys.”
Maybe she wanted just that. To be one of the guys didn’t sound like such a bad thing in her mind. “I want to know more.”
“Uh-huh. About him too. I can tell.” Bessie laughed then inched closer. “So, Brody Canter. He’s new to the team and the way he acts, might not be with them very long. Seriously, you do know he’s the bad boy of football, right?” She laughed as she strutted farther into the room.
“Bad boy?” Elle asked absently. Of course, she’d read all the reports on the stunning six-foot-five-inch man, who by all rights supposedly shouldn’t be a quarterback. All the experts, whoever they were, continued to tell the poor man he was better suited to basketball than the rough and tumble sport. To his credit, Brody had scoffed at the naysayers, his sometimes vocal and highly opinionated attitude both thwarting off the press and garnering a set of enemies. It seemed everyone liked to see a hero fall.
“Yeah, you know that.” She walked closer, giving Elle a once over. “Granted, he’s not bad to look at, that is if you’re into selfish black guys. The team is getting a lot of flak for hiring that guy, anyway.”
“He’s not selfish and what does it matter if he’s black?” The words slipped from her mouth before she could stop them. Hearing the slight gasp coming from Bessie’s mouth, she knew her friend could read between the lines. She slapped ‘the end’ on her stupid article and yanked it out of the typewriter. “I think it’s time for lunch.” She knew the conference room was going to be put to use soon so she grabbed her can of pop and headed for the door.
“Wait a minute,” Bessie said as she wrapped her hand around Elle’s arm, pulling her to a stop. “You like this guy, don’t you?”
Like? She’d fantasied about him several times. She was taught not to pursue men, but what did she care? It was simple: Brody made her one horny girl. “He seems to be nice to me and I like his style.”
“Nice? My goodness. Honey, I can see the raging lust in your eyes. Trust me in saying this; no matter whether he’s a good guy or an asshole, you don’t want to get involved with any celebrity and definitely not a football star. They’re all alike. Not certain you can handle it or him either.”
“And what’s that supposed to mean?”
Bessie shrugged as she glanced out the door, a mischievous grin crossing her face. “Okay, I have heard men of color have really big dicks. Maybe that’s what you were fantasizing about.”
Blushing, she hadn’t heard this kind of crude talk from her best friend ever. And they’d talked about men before, dreaming and hungering. “Um—”
“Holy Mother of Mary. You are lusting after him. Are you into black guys?” The question was hushed.
Elle grimaced seeing the way Bessie scrutinized her. Living in the land of love and free will and all that crap didn’t mean races could co-mingle. There were still hundreds of thousands of people in the United States who frowned on interracial relationships which angered her. “It doesn’t really matter, does it?”
“Well, if you enjoy large cocks, then maybe.” Bessie laughed. “Oh, come on, don’t be so serious.”
“Serious? I’m just being a realist.”
“Girl, what am I going to do with you?”
Elle tried to act nonchalant, realizing she was turned on and curious. Laughing nervously, a smile curled in the corner of her mouth. “Big dicks I wouldn’t know about.”
“Oh, that’s right. You had little Mike before, right?” The laugh was laced with acid. “What a jerk that boy was.”
“Yeah. I know. I thought at first he might be the one.” Elle walked toward her cubicle, thinking about how she was going to a game, to really see football at its finest. She’d been salivating to finally go to a game, learn more about the craft she’d spent so much time on. There were few opportunities, but damn it, she was going to go to the home game in a couple of weeks. The single ticket had cost her a hell of a lot of money, money she didn’t have, but she refused to allow anyone to stand in her way any longer. No man, or woman, was going to stop her. The thought gave her tingles. Meeting Brody Canter was something that would be incredible. His accomplishments were amazing, his support system exactly what money and fame could buy and on top of everything, he was a huge humanitarian. His gifts of time and money to various charities had garnered him a nice guy persona, at least off the field. The bad boy image, he’d only earned recently. She was determined to get behind the mask of this man, a mask that she had a gut feeling was hiding the true man behind the sparkling smile.
“The right one?”
She groaned when her thoughts were interrupted. “I still think there’s a special guy out there for me. Not necessarily the white picket fence type of guy, but…” Elle’s voice trailed off. Home and family were only part of what she wanted. She longed for something she’d only read about in erotic novels, hiding under the covers. Yes, she could dream.
“Girl. Men are all alike. You just have to find the right one to marry. That way when you have sex, it doesn’t make you want to vomit. There is this guy I want to introduce you to. He’s really nice, not bad to look at, has a good job with the state and his parents are from money. Okay, not that wealthy, but not bad. I think you might be happy and his family lives in a very good neighborhood.”
The words didn’t stun her. Elle’s foster mother had told her from the very beginning sex wasn’t something she would or should enjoy. She’d pushed back against the nice but cold-natured woman. Unfortunately, her first boyfriend was less than stellar, her second close to being non-existent. Sex with Mike had been less than enjoyable, but she’d had her first and only orgasm, albeit from his tongue and not from his cock. The elusive big ‘O’ everyone talked about seemed obsolete, at least for her. And marriage? Ugh. “I’m not ready for marriage yet. You know that.”
“You’re not getting any younger, girl. You’re almost thirty-one. If you want to consider having children, you’re going to run out of time.”
“What century do you live in? Women are having babies at forty-five now. Besides, you know I don’t have motherly instincts.”
“You’ll change your tune. I’ll set up the meeting with Wayne, maybe dinner and drinks at my place. Or maybe you can meet for a drink or something. He’s an important guy, up and coming in society, too. Perfect for a husband. How’s that sound?” Bessie grinned, giving her a wink.
Elle mouthed the name and groaned. This was not going to happen. “I told you, no husband right now.” But as she thought about her sexy and very private fantasy, she could certainly envision a night, a weekend. Perhaps a wicked tryst shared between two consenting adults would be just dandy. She had no hope of seducing Brody Canter, given his star status, but maybe she needed to widen her horizon at least. She pushed back a full laugh as she imagined Brody’s thick cock, driving deep inside her pussy. Biting her lower lip, she turned away briefly, trying to control her raging libido. No man had done this to her before.
“Okay fine, but just meet him anyway,” Bessie huffed. “Come on. We’re going to be late for our meeting. You need to stop daydreaming about being a big shot sports reporter. You just aren’t the type.”
“What type is that? What about the blonde on the Today show?”
“Yeah? Please. At first everyone made fun of her, said she couldn’t do the job. They treated her like a sex queen.”
“She held her own with every one of them and now look at her,” Elle said.
Bessie stopped short. “Is that what you want, to be groped by men because they’re allowed to get away with it?”
“You know I’ll beat their asses. I’m the ‘Ice Queen’ remember?”
“Right. You’re a pussycat underneath all that hair. Anyway, being around sweaty men all day isn’t my idea of fun.” Bessie’s laugh floated into the room as she sashayed down the long hallway.
Elle trailed behind, thinking about Bessie’s words. Being shifted around from home to home hadn’t instilled the normal understanding of what family was supposed to be like. She just didn’t see herself as a homebody, raising three kids and the obligatory golden retriever. She had nothing against moms, but she didn’t have the nurturing bone in her body. Not a single one. Fear of being abandoned would always be with her. Her idea of the perfect relationship would turn Bessie’s stomach.
As she walked into the expansive office, the only one with a breathtaking view of the New Jersey skyline, she couldn’t help but run through more stats. She thought about the Jets and their plays, trying her best to remember the name of the coach, who she heard had a horrible temper.
“Oh by the way, let’s go grab a drink tonight. What do you say?” asked Bessie. The look on Bessie’s face was one of pure mischief.
“You know I don’t like to go out that much.”
“All work and no play. Isn’t that what they say? And you are very dull, honey,” Bessie quipped.
“Well thank you very much!” Elle said through clenched teeth.
“So go out. I know a cool little bar and if you’re really into spending time around football stars, this place has been known to have a few after the big win. Granted, I doubt our boys are going to win tonight but…”
Elle thought over the request. She hadn’t been out in so long she wasn’t certain she would be very good company, but she certainly could use a break. If she caught sight of a few players, all the better. “Sure, why not?” She made a mental note to find out why the team was getting such flak.
“Uh-huh. Welcome to the real world, bookworm.”
* * *
“You frickin’ asshole! Get off the field!”
“You’re a worthless bastard.”
“You shouldn’t be playing football.”
The nasty words reverberated in Brody Canter’s ears. He clenched his jaw as he sopped up sweat and mud from his neck, pitching the towel across the room. He’d almost jumped into the stands, beaten the shit out of the fucking men who’d screamed every time he’d missed a play. He’d been dealing with this bullshit since he’d started losing games. Fuck ‘em. Fuck ‘em all. Bristling, he kicked his foot against the locker and cursed, catching the eye of his furious coach.
“God damn it! What the hell is wrong with you boys?”
Brody Canter bent over, placing his hands on his knees as sweat poured off his brow. Jerking off his helmet, he tossed the piece down, snarling as the plastic hit the floor. What a fucked up afternoon. The game was brutal this time, the plays not working at all. God, they were home for the first time in so long. He refused to lose a home game. You mean like the last one? Shit, he hated the memory, the crushing loss. Thirty-seven to three had been the score. Of course, he was blamed for the loss. Goddamn he was in a piss poor mood, much more than normal.
He panted and grabbed for some water, pouring the cup over his head. A chill instantly swept through his system, but he knew the effect had little if anything to do with the temperature of the water. His team had lost four in a row coming into this home game. If he managed to fumble the ball even one more time, Coach Spencer would be forced to replace him, if not permanently, at least for a few games—a few vital games. This one he had to win for the team. And for him. There were no choices. If he continued losing he’d be tanked before his career really got started.
“We’re doing the best we can, Coach.” Franklin ‘Tank’ Willy had Brody’s back all right, having grown up together.
Brody glanced at his teammate, one big and burly linebacker. Being brought up in Harlem was the perfect training ground for the brutal political world of football and the usual aftermath of winning and losing.
“My ass, Tank! Not a single one of you performed like anything but little girls out there. We have two quarters left and so help me God, if you screw this up I’m gonna kick some ass!” Coach Spencer’s face was bright red with fury.
Sighing, Brody stood to his full height. He hadn’t seen the coach this angry in a long time, if ever. “I got it, Coach. This is our half.” The look on the coach’s face suggested he wasn’t buying his promises any longer. There was no getting around the fact Brody had been off his game the entire season. There were lots of reasons, but the truth was he simply couldn’t concentrate. Between his mother’s deteriorating health and the push to get hitched, he was a dying soul.
Tank patted him on the back. “We got faith in ya, bud. We do. Don’t we?” His booming baritone voice boomed in the locker room.
Brody knew his buddy was doing his best to garner support. Any support.
“Course we do.”
“Kick some ass!”
The men grunted one after another. What Brody knew was they’d lost their faith in him after the dramatic loss and his near meltdown with a single reporter who had dared to ask why he was in a slump. He was rapidly losing control. The week before had almost landed him in jail, after he lifted the front of a Mercedes, the ugly little man still inside. Thank God harassment charges hadn’t been filed.
“All right, men. We have one half left so let’s go in there and take this visiting team down!” Coach Spencer roared as he clapped his hands.
Somehow Brody didn’t feel any better. He yanked his helmet off the floor as the rest of the team moved away, today’s players lining up to go back onto the field. Exhaling, he moved forward, determined to make the game go the other way.
“Brody.” The coach stopped him, the look in his eyes one of sheer exhaustion.
Coach Spencer looked out at the roaring crowd, his face devoid of any expression. “You’re a damn good player and I hate to see you going through this. What you’ve been doing both on and off the field lately concerns me. You’re not the man I hired, the guy who could take a lickin’. Lately you’ve been making everyone else a punching bag.”
“Yeah, I know. A win will pull me out of this,” Brody said stoically, but he no longer believed. Anger had turned to rage and he was ready to blow over the littlest things. He could tell his coach was studying him, or as the last reporters had insinuated, handling Brody with kid gloves. He didn’t fucking need to be handled by anyone.
“I’m wondering if everything is just too much for you.”
“I know you’re going through some personal things. I hate it for your mother, but maybe you need to take a step back for a little while. The crap in the press isn’t going to get any better. They’re out for blood and a single person to blame for our losses. You fuel every single one of the flames with gasoline. What the hell are you thinking? You’re a smart man. You have your entire career ahead of you and you stoop to this bullshit, son. God!” Pacing the floor, Coach Spencer shook his head over and over again.
“A step back?” Brody snorted, riled until stars floated in front of his eyes. He wanted to lash out, but the coach was right. He was on a complete downward spiral. “You fucking can’t be serious.”
“I’m damn serious. This isn’t just about you. My God. You have to know that. Everything you do both on and off the field reflects on this entire team. I don’t think you get that at all!”
“Yeah, I get that. What the hell do you think I’ve been doing trying to fight for this game?” Brody glared as he clenched his fist. “And take a step back? You have to be out of your mind.” A few seconds ticked by as the music increased, the announcers beginning their rolling thoughts. You bet he knew so much was riding on this game. He might be an arrogant bastard, but he knew he had to win this one or his career might effectively be in the toilet before it even began.
“Look, son. You’re a damn good player and I truly admire the fact you refuse to take a backseat to anyone pushing you down, but you gotta start controlling your anger. You have to get your edge back and you’re not going to do that beating the crap out of every single one of them for even questioning your abilities.”
Brody sighed. “They’re not questioning my abilities as a player. They’re questioning everything about me as a man.” That statement, he truly believed. No matter the hard work and the fact he went the extra mile, so many thought he’d been given the spot. He’d heard the bullshit floating around and until today had simply chosen to ignore it. Now he knew there was no way he could any longer.
“As I said, I just want you to take a step back. Not for long. Just until you regroup, get back on your game.” The coach gave him a sideways glance.
Brody inhaled, drinking in the scent of the turf, sweat, and lingering testosterone. He knew what the coach was saying and perhaps trying to do. There had been moments he hadn’t taken the game seriously, allowing both the realization of celebrity as well as the political front he continued to face influence his game. The anger was a byproduct of not only the ugliness in the media, but also his lackluster personal life. Everything had dragged him down, drawing him into a very dark place. Well no more. He refused to succumb to the assholes in any way, shape, or form. “I hear you coach, but the truth is I’m more than ready to play. My mama, bless her soul, would want me to kick some ass today and that’s what I plan on doing. I hear everything you’ve said and trust me, I’m going to be a dedicated and very controlled man. I have to play. Kick ass.” He hesitated and turned in Coach Spencer’s direction. “If that’s all right with you?”
A slight smile crested on the coach’s face. He didn’t turn toward him but nodded. “That’s what I wanted to hear, son. Now get your ass in there and get the job done. You hear me?”
“Loud and clear.” His coach was a smart guy. Brody grabbed his helmet and headed down the long hallway, thinking about the upcoming plays. As he moved down the path and into the stadium with Tank following, some members of the opposing team stood as if waiting.
“What the fuck do they want?” Tank asked, bristling.
“Whatever it is doesn’t matter.” This was getting out of hand. His ugly demon surfaced and Brody had to rein in the violent level of anger he was experiencing. He simply needed to blame someone.
Tank hissed. “I should beat the crap out of them.”
“That’s what they want. We get pissed and we make mistakes. That ain’t gonna happen on my watch. Got it?” Brody snarled as he kept his heated gaze pinned on Tank for a full minute. The guttural and very sexual sounds the men were making disgusted him, but the bastards weren’t going to see him sweat.
Given certain violence as of late, suddenly race was becoming more of an issue in the media with tough connotations and two distinct sides. He hated discrimination with a passion, loathed the way America accepted, even condoning the fact issues were allowed. Schools continued to have gangs, and race related violence occurred every day in the streets. He had never liked fighting, but he’d been in his share of them during his life, brutal ugly scenes that had left bloodshed in the aftermath. Harlem was a tough teacher. The way the four white players were standing, grins on their faces, meant they were goading them.
“Well, well, if it ain’t the nigger boys thinking they’re all that. What a hack,” one of the other team’s players said.
“You mean what a loser,” another whispered as he laughed.
As Tank puffed up, Brody sighed and placed his hand in front of his friend’s chest. “We have a game to play, boys. That’s why we’re here. No matter what you think, we’re going to play a damn game.”
The obvious leader snorted and shook his head. “You all don’t belong here. Why don’t you run along and play where someone might give a fuck about you?”
“You fuckin’ asshole!” Tank got in his face, veins popping in his neck. “I’m going to kick your white boy ass.”
“These niggers need a lesson.” The leader stepped closer, spittle flying from his lips.
“Don’t do it,” Brody cautioned, his anger increasing. He moved closer to the one player. Glaring at the leader, he made note of the punk’s name. “All right, John. Here’s what we’re going to do. My teammate and I are going to finish our walk to the game and we’re going to play. You boys wanna meet us outside later, then I’m all for fixing this situation. Got it?” For a few seconds he was in charge, totally in control of his emotions. Smiling, he tapped the lead guy on his chest. “Just what I thought you’d say.”
Tank snorted and gave them a finger. “Let’s get the fuck out of here.”
Brody nodded and headed down the hallway.
“Trust me, nigger boy, you’re going to get what you deserve, you and your ugly family.”
Brody stopped short and clenched his fists, doing everything he could to control the angry man, the one who could slice a man to ribbons without a thought. Breathing in, he closed his eyes and took a step forward. How had everything gotten so nasty in the past year or so? He knew the answer, the horrid reporters who made up shit if they didn’t have a juicy story.
“You and that whore mother of yours.” Laughter floated into the humid space.
That’s the exact moment Brody lost it. Within seconds he had his hand wrapped around the asshole’s throat. Tipping his head back, he roared as he slammed the jerk against the hard, concrete wall, laughing when he heard what had to be the man’s ribs cracking.
“You freak!” one of the followers said.
“He’s fucking serious.”
He was deadly serious. Brody wanted nothing more than to kill the bastard. “No one says anything about my mother, my father, my auntie or my girlfriend. Period. You wanna piece of me that’s fine, fucker. But you will never assault my mama or anyone I care about with words or anything else ever again. Do you get it?” Brody squeezed harder.
Grabbing at Brody’s wrist, he wheezed.
“Bbbbbaaa.” He could only make a strangled noise.
Brody lifted the asshole’s body off the ground easily and when his face was purple, sweat dripping down his face and saliva bubbling from his mouth, he smiled. “Just think of this. I know where you live.” He squeezed until the man’s eyes bulged and was ready to snap his ugly neck when Tank touched his arm.
“All right, Brody. Let him down. Let him go. We have a game to go to, remember?” Tank said quietly.
“What do I care about this fucker?” Brody snarled, savoring the way the other cowards ran away.
“You don’t care about him. Care about you.”
* * *
“Jesus that was hot shit!” Tank hooted as he hunkered down on the barstool, his eyes gleaming. “Ain’t our boy hot shit!” He said to nobody in particular.
Brody wasn’t happy. No matter the team’s huge win, he just couldn’t seem to relax. The nasty episode before the second half of the game would haunt him. He also knew the incident wasn’t going to just go away. He realized the little white piss asses would tell someone the big black man had tried to kill them. He sighed and absently glanced toward the television. There was yet another report about violence in some distant city: a cop was down. “Perfect.” More fuel.
“Let it go, man. You have to,” Tank said as he eased beside Brody.
“Not sure I can. The fucker threatened my family.”
“You know that was nothing but a load of bullshit.”
Brody shook his head. “No one talks about my family or my friends that way. No one. Got it?” He knew his voice had risen and the eyes that landed on the three men—correction, the three black men who seemed to be taking center stage—weren’t all that happy. “Fuck it.”
“You know, the coach was right about some shit, man. You need to relax, get your groove on.”
“My groove on?” Brody knew Tank was simply trying to lighten his mood, but he was having a horrendous time trying to get past the crap. To think players had actually cornered him was outrageous.
“You know what I mean. Hot and kinky sex.”
Instantly the way he shot a look in Tank’s direction told the tale. What the hell was sex lately? He had a few bimbos now and then, but they meant nothing. He was tired of the kind of women he was attracting. Then there was Dahlia. He groaned. Contrary to popular opinion, she was not his ideal mate. His thoughts drifted to something a bit more adventurous. Kink. The kinky club had been an eye opener.
“Oh boy.” Tank sniffed. “Okay, Mr. Dark and Dangerous. How about you try and relax tonight, have some fun? We all deserve it, especially after the sweeter than sweet win today. Right?”
“I hear you,” Brody said quietly. Why couldn’t he simply enjoy the night, the moment, and the time with his buddies?
“Is he bitching again?”
Brody glared at his other friend, snorted, then smiled. “Glad you’re here, Art. Celebrating today’s win wouldn’t be the same without you here.”
“You’re a damn good player, Brody. Time you believe it. I wouldn’t have missed the game for anything,” Art said as he eased against the bar.
The win was sweet especially against a team who hadn’t lost a single game. He was jazzed and ready for a full two days of relaxation. “Thanks, Art. So glad you dropped by.” The third member of the three musketeers stood in front of him, a twinkle in his eye. Art was the studious one, an accountant by trade, and would no doubt end up making more money than he and Tank combined. Even at twenty-nine the guy was fresh faced, barely looking a day over twenty-one. Meeting at their favorite watering hole had been a regular occurrence until just a couple of years ago. Now this was more like a luxury.
“You know I wouldn’t miss a home game. I hear you’re coming back in a couple weeks as well,” Art said.
“Yeah. Hopefully, we’ll win every one of them up until coming back. If we do, we’ll have a shot at the playoffs,” Brody said casually as he motioned for the bartender.
“You are dreamin’ big, brother.” Tank huffed as he slapped Brody on the back.
“If you don’t dream big, you’re never going to get what you want in life. And I, for one, plan on getting everything I hunger for.” Brody puffed up, a grin popping on his face.
The bartender smiled as he closed the distance. “Whatever you boys want is on the house. The freaking game was incredible! I couldn’t believe how you pumped that ball in the last few seconds. And the yardage? Man, you were like a bottle rocket.”
“Thanks, Sam. I’m just glad we won.” Wasn’t that an understatement?
“Won? You crushed them, big man,” Art chortled.
“So, what’ll ya have?” Sam asked, his eyes flashing.
“Bourbon on the rocks,” Brody stated the order with clear defiance. Tonight wasn’t a beer drinking kind of night. Period. Between the fight, the jeers and ultimately the win, he was on active overdrive.
Tank pumped his fist. “Make that two.”
“Three,” Art added.
Sam rolled his eyes. “Glad to see you guys back together. Drinks comin’ right up.”
Brody sighed as he swung around on the barstool, surveying the crowd. It seemed everyone was pumped from the win. He loved the bar, the mixture of people, the incredible vibe. There was nothing like a neighborhood bar where he could kick back and enjoy just being a guy, something he rarely did in his off hours.
“Yo, earth to Brody.” Art gave him a look. “What’s rumbling around that big head of yours?”
“Very funny.” Brody gave him the finger. He sniffed as he tapped his fingers on the bar. He was impatient as usual and the question was nothing but an irritant. “Just wanting that perfect life.”
“Ah, I hear that you are going to have just that,” Tank said as he winked at Art.
“Meaning?” Brody looked back and forth between them.
“Meaning I know how sweet you are on Dahlia and from what I heard, the family is already preparing for the wedding of the decade. She’s a damn good catch and will be hot for your career. You know her daddy knows everybody who’s anybody. Some said he might just be the first black man elected as mayor or senator or something.” Art grinned as he nodded to Tank. Instantly his face fell. “What? My God the look on your face is like I deflated your snazzy balloon.”
Brody’s blood turned to ice. “I haven’t proposed to her. Not even a thought in my mind in truth. I like the girl and she and I get along, but a damn wedding? Not going to happen. I don’t care that Mr. McWilliams has more political connections than I do in the sports world.”
Tank narrowed his eyes. “But your career. You could go so far and imagine the good press. Hell boy, the man is retired NFL and a legend. Come on.”
Brody gave him an evil glare. There was very little perfect about his life. Today had proven it. His relationship with Dahlia wasn’t much better.
Tank groaned and waved his hand. “Tough crowd. Jesus.”
Snarling, Brody rubbed his hand over his closely cropped hair. Where the hell were those drinks? A wedding? What the hell was going on? Dahlia was more like a big sister than anything. They were buddies and friends. She was his arm candy at certain events when he had to have a woman by his side. That was the extent of their supposed relationship. They’d had sex only a few times and every time had been less than lackluster. The last time was at least three months before. “I just don’t care. I’m looking for something else. I don’t want bullshit in my life or fake love. I don’t want to fly on the coat tails of some man just because I married into the family and I certainly don’t want to start a family with a woman I don’t love. Get it?”
“Whoa, big man. I thought you and Dahlia were a hot item.” Art glanced at Tank who shrugged.
“That’s what my dad and her parents think. They’re pushing us into getting married. They think our union would be a good fit.” Brody scanned the bar, growing bored with the conversation.
Art leaned over the bar just as the drinks arrived. He remained silent until they were passed out and Sam’s attention was called away. “What is it you do want then?”
“What do I want?” Brody swirled his drink before taking a huge gulp. He’d been denying himself the pleasures of alcohol during training. Wait a minute. He’d been denying himself the pleasures anything for months except for one night of sex with Dahlia with zero passion. He was horny and sadly the thoughts of being with Dahlia weren’t making his cock hard. Goddamn it he was lusting for anything. He knew exactly what he wanted, to have a submissive woman. To tell any of his friends about his desires would add gossip to the already slippery slope he seemed to be on.
“You heard the man. You keep talking about all the things you don’t want. Tell me what you think you want. If you can,” Art teased.
Brody sighed and sat back on the stool, allowing a few minutes to simply study the comings and goings of customers. For the first time, perhaps in his life, he realized he hadn’t been able to explore what he’d wanted in life. From early on he’d played football with his buddies, first for fun then for the possibilities of a scholarship in order to get his black ass out of Harlem. Initially he hadn’t been very good with the academics, but one person had taken Brody under his wing, offering tutelage as well as friendship. He’d managed to not only obtain a coveted scholarship, but also keep his grade average up to a B+.
Right after college he’d been recruited to a semi-pro team, finally making the move to the Jets one year before. Being a starting quarterback this year was supposed to mean big things. Everyone from his borough—the friends and family who followed his career religiously— called him a hero. Unfortunately, here he was doing nothing but fumbling with the ball, losing games. He was a loser and though the racist pigs had been the first ones to make certain Brody knew how inferior he was, there wasn’t any doubt he was going to hear more of the same from everyone. He wasn’t living up to the standards that had clearly been laid out for him. He was a disappointment. Brody had to succeed, raise the bar, if for no other reason than for his family. They needed a boost after…
“The pope doesn’t take this long to respond.” Tank lifted his glass as a toast. “Come on, man. You have to want something.”
Brody slowly wrapped his hand around his glass of bourbon just as the entrance door opened and two women walked inside. Instantly he was drawn to the tall blonde, his dick pushing hard against his pants. “Wow.”
Both Art and Tank looked in the direction of Brody’s gaze. Art was the first to groan. “That’s something you shouldn’t have.”
“Why is that?” Brody asked as he eased off the stool and took several steps forward. The girl was beautiful in a very surreal way. With long blonde hair and a solid hour-glass figure, she had a commanding presence. Even from where he stood he could tell how exquisite she was. “She has a nice smile.”
“He doesn’t get it. Lordie, boy, we need to teach you a thing or two,” Tank said as he flanked Brody’s side. “You can’t break the rules. No matter what you think, you have a girlfriend as far as the media is concerned.”
The rules? “I don’t care what the assholes in the press believe or don’t believe. They’re all scum of the earth.” And Brody didn’t. Maybe it was time he broke every one of the structured confines he’d been forced to follow by family, friends, coaches, and the media.
“You need to make love to the camera, not war, besides, she’s way out of your league,” Art said.
Brody wasn’t paying any attention to what either one of them were saying. There were few women in his life whom he’d been attracted to, at least in a manner that stole his breath. This girl, this incredibly haunting woman, had done that and more.
She seemed to sense his presence drawing near and when she slowly turned her head, locking eyes with him, she blushed then smiled.
“Shit.” Brody nearly melted into the floor.
Art wrapped his hand around Brody’s arm, tugging him to a stop. “Listen to me, brother. You may not want to get married to what I can tell is one sexy and well connected woman, and that’s okay.”
“But?” Brody caught the odd inflection.
“But there’s one thing you can’t do. Period. Never. You don’t need to be front page news for breaking Dahlia’s heart and dating a woman like that.” Art continued as he stepped in front of Brody, casting a baleful gaze in the girl’s direction.
“A woman like that? Is she a mass murderer or perhaps working for the Feds or something? Jesus.” Brody had a feeling he knew what Arthur was going to tell him.
Art looked at Tank, who shrugged.
“Just say it.” He was in no mood for any additional bullshit.
Art nodded toward the girl before turning around. “The last kind of trouble you need is hooking yourself up with a white woman. Not now. Not ever. You know your mom would have a cow.”
“Guys, I can look and enjoy whether she’s white, black, purple or green.” Brody’s mother couldn’t stand interracial relationships, no matter what year it was.
“Take a look at the pretty girl over there.” Tank pointed.
There were no other women in the bar who would matter and while Brody knew what his buddies were saying, why they were warning him, he was sick of the Neanderthal perceptions about interracial dating. Why the hell couldn’t he date whoever he wanted to? Why? He couldn’t take his eyes off of her, the way she moved and the nervous tick as she continued to flip strands of hair back from her shoulders. Licking his lips, he envisioned them in bed, her riding his cock on a beautiful early morning adventure.
“He’s not even paying a damn bit of attention,” Art hissed then moved directly in front of Brody, masking his view of the blonde. “Leave the vanilla girl alone. The press are looking for any way to create scandal. Remember that golfer?”
The words startled Brody enough he finally looked away. “Are you serious? You’re comparing me to a golfer? He was an asshole.”
“As a heart attack.” Art kept his voice low as he turned Brody around to face another direction. “He also fucked around on his girlfriend, too. The whole sordid incident was splayed out in vivid color.”
“Get this through your head. Dahlia is not my girlfriend and fuck this damn country if they think they can decide who I date!” Brody spouted off.
“Don’t say that too loudly in here,” Tank cautioned. “I can whoop some ass but not the entire bar.”
Brody was well aware there were factions that had contempt for mixed race couples, including certain religious freaks and members of the upper echelon of society, but he hated the very understanding. Love was love and should have no boundaries, not for color, sexual preference or anything else. He darted another glance at the stunning girl, memorizing every detail of her face and body, making a promise to himself that they would meet again.
“Take a look at the pretty girl over there. She’s got a nice rack on her, brother.”
A nice rack. Yeah, just what he needed. Brody turned and the way the mocha colored girl was leering told him in no uncertain terms she would fuck him without question.