Friday, September 29, 2017

#GiveAway ~ TOO BEAUTIFUL TO BREAK By Tessa Bailey ~ @mstessabailey

Series: Romancing The Clarksons, #4
By Tessa Bailey

Q&A with Tessa Bailey:

Q: What are you currently working on? 
A: WELL. I have a couple of exciting things in the pipeline! I’m plotting a book with another author—Eve Dangerfield—for the first time, which I am hugely stoked about. She’s quickly become one of my favorite authors. I’m also planning on self-publishing for the first time at the end of OCTOBER! It’s called FOLLOW and it’s a hot, contemporary standalone with lots of action.
Q: Where did you come up with the idea for either your current release or your current WIP? 
A: The idea for FOLLOW came from an Instagram account! There was this man who brought his dying dog on a road trip, to give her some final memories and that’s what my hero is doing at the beginning of FOLLOW. However, the dog in my book lives. So don’t be scared!
Q: Do you have a favorite snack that you like to munch on while writing? If so would you mind sharing what it is with us? 
A: Of course! When I’m on a deadline, I eat a ton of peanut butter slathered on crackers. Or tuna sandwiches with jalapenos on top. I had to ban myself from eating chocolate because I would look down and it would be gone in thirty seconds.
Q: When you are not busy writing wonderful stories to keep us lucky readers entertained, what do you like to do? Do you have a hobby? 
A: My six-year-old pretty much takes up all my time when I’m not writing. I’m her assistant soccer coach and class mom. But when I have time to myself, I love reading, shopping, traveling and doing pub trivia nights! Also wine. Is wine a hobby?
Q:Do you have a favorite background noise you like to have going while you write (TV, Music, kids playing)?
A: I used to pick mood music, but somewhere along the line, it became too distracting. If I’m working  at home, I need total silence. But if I’m working in a public place, like Starbucks or Panera Bread, I can block out the background noise and zone into my work. I’m weird like that!

A love of a lifetime . . .

Leaving Belmont Clarkson is the hardest thing Sage Alexander has ever done. From the moment they met, she knew Belmont was the one, and getting up close and personal with him on his family's epic road trip has taken her desire to a new, even hotter level. But there's no way she can go there---not without revealing secrets that could devastate them both.

Losing Sage is not an option. Belmont's heart is hers, has always been hers. He knows she's hiding something from him, but nothing will stand in his way of telling her just how much she means to him. Finding her is easy---saving her from her past could cost him everything.

On Sale: September 26, 2017
Publisher: Forever
Mass Market: $7.99 USD
eBook: $5.99 USD

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“You don’t have to leave right away,” Sage said when Belmont turned, watching her from beneath his eyebrows. “Can you wait here while I take a quick shower?”
Maybe that hadn’t been the right thing to say. His big back heaved and the touch of his tongue in her mouth came crashing in like a behemoth wave. They had crossed an unspoken boundary on the train platform. There was no going back to before, to when they stopped at rough, crushing embraces. As if that hadn’t been…more than sexual somehow.
“Yes, I’ll wait,” he said, his voice sounding like serrated metal. “I can light the fire for you.”
I’ll say. God, why did everything sound like an innuendo now? If her body weren’t flush and sweating beneath the jumpsuit, she would have laughed about it. But there was nothing funny about having Belmont looming mere yards away, looking like one word of encouragement would snap his chain and send him barreling toward her. “That would be perfect. I’ll just be…a few minutes.”
Sage all but dove into the itty-bitty bathroom, pressing her back up against the door and willing her racing heart to calm down. Why had she asked him to stay? Her resolve would weaken with every passing second. Biting down on her lower lip, she began the excruciating task of lowering the zipper of her jumpsuit, which kicked up a protest in her triceps and shoulder muscles. When she finally got it down, she gripped the hem of her T-shirt and attempted to lift it over her head.
Her arms wouldn’t cooperate. They flat out wouldn’t rise any higher than her ribs, leaving the T-shirt suspended in midair. Her muscles burned like someone had doused them in lighter fluid and held them above a flame. Sage’s agony must have escaped in the form of a whimper, because Belmont’s boots scraped just outside the door. And her stomach hollowed with awareness, lightning racing all over her skin.
“Sage.” His voice was deep, urgent. “Do you need help?”
No. Say no. She’d only gotten finished reminding him she didn’t need him. But in this case, it would be a lie and she’d done so much of that lately. With Belmont. The most truthful person she knew. “I can’t get my shirt off.” Her nose started to ache, the tip probably turning red. “My arms hurt.”
His growl was short and broken. A beat passed before the door opened and she felt Belmont filling the doorway behind her. She flicked a glance up to the ancient mirror and confirmed what she’d seen in her mind’s eyes. Belmont towering over her like an avenging angel, outlined by candlelight. He’d taken off his coat, leaving him in a black long-sleeved shirt, which he’d rolled up to the elbows. Every inch of visible skin was shot through with strained cords of muscle, as if his frustration were written on him like a road map.
Sage still had the shirt halfway lifted, so her lower back was visible. Not a big deal to most people. But Belmont had never seen anything below her neck. Or above her knees. With the jumpsuit peeled halfway down, the band of her underwear might even be peeking out.
Breathing grew difficult as Belmont took one step closer and took hold of the T-shirt, his knuckles grazing the small of her back. “You’re wearing”—his breath ghosted down her neck—“my shirt.”
Sage only realized she’d closed her eyes when they popped open. Oh God. In the shock of Belmont arriving, she’d forgotten. “I am?” Her mouth was parched. “L-look at that.”
“I am looking.” She jumped when Belmont reached over her shoulder with his left hand and turned on the shower, the sound of spray filling the room. Then the roughness of his knuckles returned, sliding up her spine along with the shirt. “I like knowing there was a layer of me standing between you and the earth.”
Her legs took on the consistency of Jell-O. His touch was a drug, making her languid, although it was different than the way he usually touched her. There was sex this time. So much of it. And it was that major difference that allowed Sage to accept the skimming of his fingers. Accept the part of herself that lusted. They were in a dark room and time had surely suspended anywhere outside this little plot of square footage. Words ached to leave her mouth, words that wouldn’t be suitable in the sunlight. This man, so warm and brave and large at her back, knew things about her no one else did. What was one more secret? “I stole it out of your suitcase. I broke a commandment and everything.”
“Why?” He breathed into her hair, sinking heat like an anchor in her belly. The shirt came off, her arms dropped to her sides, and she was left in nothing but a bra from the waist up. Inches from Belmont. “Why, sweetest girl?”
A light steam had begun curling in the air like beckoning fingers. Maybe this is a dream. It felt like one of the fevered fantasies she woke from on occasion, sweat slicking her breasts and neck. “Because I like the way you smell and it hadn’t been washed.”
His exhale was gravelly. “Sage.
She thought he might not respond, but finally he asked a question that made her nipples turn to hard points. “Can you manage”—a long, windy inhale—“the bra?”
Sage tried. She really, truly did. Her arms felt as though they might break off and hit the floor, but she reached back until her muscles locked up, refusing to move farther. But Belmont was already there, pushing them back down, holding them at her hips.
Jesus. Please, stop. I can’t watch it.” His touch disappeared only for a second and then the cotton material of the bra tightened over her breasts. She could feel him working the back clasp with fingers she knew so well. They’d tunneled through her hair so many times, twisted in her clothing, but had never, ever, touched her with any kind of…intent. Intent to seduce. And that’s what he was doing, intentional or not. The inhibitions she’d held close forever, circled the drain, along with the shower water. “Your back is so beautiful.” A ghost of a fingertip traced down her spine. “But I need to leave before I—”
“Before I turn you around.” They weren’t touching, but she could sense the shudder that ran through him. “Or look in that mirror.”
Right or wrong, the mine, their codependency aside, Sage knew if she let him leave just then, she would regret it for all time. Her body had been woken up. By one man. He’d kept her on the razor’s edge for thousands of miles, surrounding her with his power and taking it away. Over and over. And this fever wrapping around them in the tiny bathroom was completely different from easing his anxiety. Finally, she felt like a woman standing in front of him, instead of a calming device. This was mutual and alive and she couldn’t stand it to end. Tomorrow might be a different story, but this moment was the culmination of a thousand dreams and she could no more deny herself than she could forget his face.
“Belmont, do you think of the kiss?”
I never stop,” he groaned into her hair. “Never.”
She took a deep breath for courage. “Will you shower with me?”



Tessa Bailey is originally from Carlsbad, California. The day after high school graduation, she packed her yearbook, ripped jeans, and laptop, and drove cross-country to New York City in under four days. Her most valuable life experiences were learned thereafter while waitressing at K-Dees, a Manhattan pub owned by her uncle. Inside those four walls, she met her husband, best friend, and discovered the magic of classic rock, managing to put herself through Kingsborough Community College and the English program at Pace University at the same time. Several stunted attempts to enter the work force as a journalist followed, but romance writing continued to demand her attention.

She now lives in Long Island, New York with her husband and daughter. Although she is severely sleep-deprived, she is incredibly happy to be living her dream of writing about people falling in love. 


Thursday, September 28, 2017

#GiveAway #QandA ~ THE WINTER WEDDING PLAN by Olivia Miles ~ @MsOliviaMiles

Series: Misty Point, #2
By Olivia Miles

Q&A with Olivia Miles:

Crystal: What are you currently working on?
Olivia: I’m just finishing up a book called FEELS LIKE HOME, which is the story of a woman at a crossroads in her marriage, who returns to her hometown in Maine and discovers that nothing is quite as she left it. It’s a book about sisters, family, and finding hope.

Crystal: Where did you come up with the idea for either your current release or your current WIP?

Olivia: THE WINTER WEDDING PLAN is a continuation of ONE WEEK TO THE WEDDING, and the story was inspired by the character of Charlotte Daniels, who was a source of conflict in the first book. I had a soft spot for Charlotte, despite her mistakes, and I thought she would be a very interesting heroine, and a bit of a departure from my usual protagonists, given her complex history. I spent some time thinking of a scenario that would be fitting to her personality—a situation where a girl who doesn’t always makes the best decisions tries to make a good decision but nearly fails. Agreeing to a fake engagement seemed like the perfect backdrop for her story, and it grew from there.

Crystal:Do you have a favorite snack that you like to munch on while writing? If so would you mind sharing what it is with us?

Olivia: I don’t eat while I write—too messy! I am known to indulge in several Diet Cokes, though.

Crystal:When you are not busy writing wonderful stories to keep us lucky readers entertained, what do you like to do? Do you have a hobby?

Olivia: I have two little dogs who keep me endlessly entertained and a young daughter who keeps me very busy. When I’m not writing, I still feel a need to create, so I like to sew, knit, garden, cook….I’m not one to sit still for very long (unless I’m reading!).

Crystal: Do you have a favorite background noise you like to have going while you write (TV, Music, kids playing)?

Olivia: I don’t listen to music while I write unless I’m working on a holiday book, and then I turn on the Christmas carols. I tend to work best in complete silence, though.

All she wants for Christmas is a second chance . . . 

Charlotte Daniels has made her share of mistakes, but now that she's a single mom, she vows to do better--and that starts with a new career. Working at her sister's event-planning company is just the fresh start she needs.

Kate Daniels has finally forgiven Charlotte for her betrayal, but forgetting it is harder. But as the holidays approach and Kate has her own wedding to plan, she has no choice but to turn to Charlotte for help to throw a high-profile client the holiday party of the season.

Charlotte leaps at the chance to redeem herself . . . until this irresistible client asks her to pretend to be his fiancée for the party. She knows their charade won't come without consequences--not just for her fresh start with Kate, but also for her own daughter.

As Kate's wedding draws near and Charlotte's fake romance starts to feel more and more real, will she fall back into the mistakes of her past, or finally prove herself to Kate once and for all?

In the vein of New York Times bestselling authors Susan Mallery, Robyn Carr, and Elin Hilderbrand, comes the second in a women's fiction series about the complicated ties of sisterhood that bind us together and sometimes tear us apart.

On Sale: September 26, 2017
Publisher: Forever
Trade Paperback: $14.99 USD
eBook: $6.99 USD

She pointed out the double set of French doors against the far wall, where a view of a snow-covered stone terrace shone in the moonlight. “Look at that. It’s a winter wonderland out there. It’s the perfect night for a holiday movie.”
He didn’t look convinced. “If you say so.”
“I do.” Charlotte settled back against a pillow. “Besides, this one is really terrific—”
“Wait. You’ve seen it before?”
“At least a dozen times! We watch it every Christmas. It’s sort of a family tradition.”
Greg’s brow furrowed. “That sounds nice.”
Charlotte grinned, imagining how wonderful it would be when Audrey was old enough to partake in the event. “Usually we make a big bowl of popcorn, have some hot chocolate. We can recite all the lines, of course, but that’s just part of the fun. Whenever I think of this movie, well, it just feels like coming home.”
Greg glanced at her. “I can make some popcorn if you’d like.”
Charlotte considered the holiday dress she’d hoped to squeeze herself into for the party, and then decided the diet could wait. She grinned. “I’ll pause it. You don’t want to miss the opening scene.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t want to do that,” Greg teased, but she could sense that he was pleased.
Charlotte couldn’t wipe the smile from her face as she snuggled deeper under the chenille blanket and waited for Greg to return with the popcorn. Despite the size of the house, she could soon make out the sound of popping—she glanced sharply at the baby monitor, silently willing Audrey to be unaware of the noise. She was enjoying herself, maybe more than she should, and she wasn’t ready to be on mom duty again just yet. For just a few moments she wanted to just be Charlotte.
And somehow, with Greg, she was. Greg, who didn’t know her past. Greg, who had no hold on her future. Greg, who knew her just as she was. Today. Present moment only. No mistakes. No slip-ups.
She stared at the frozen television screen. A year ago she had watched this movie alone, with tears streaming down her face as she worked her way through a family-sized bag of potato chips, wondering if her sister and parents were watching it together, if they were happy she wasn’t with them.
Little did she know at the time just how different this year would be. Better. Or at least on the up-and-up.
Greg came into the room with a bowl of popcorn, his grin sheepish. “I won’t lie. It’s microwaved.”
“The best kind,” Charlotte remarked. Her eyes widened slightly as he slid onto the couch beside her again. Was it just her imagination, or was he coming a little closer this time?
She looked to her right. There wasn’t much more space left for her to move. “Ready to start the movie?” she asked, gripping the remote.
He passed her the bowl of popcorn, and she helped herself to a few kernels. “This isn’t one of those feel-good movies, is it?”
She raised an eyebrow. “It’s a holiday movie. What do you think?”
He shook his head, but she could tell by his faint smile that he liked her response. “Oh, boy. Let’s get it over with then.”
“I have a feeling you’re going to enjoy it. Trust me.”
He gave her a strange look. “I do trust you.”
She rearranged herself on the couch, unsure of what to make of that remark, and fighting back the strange feeling that she just might be able to trust him, too. If she let herself.
The fell into silence as the movie started, and a few glances at Greg told her that he was fully engrossed within minutes. She smiled in satisfaction, and decided to enjoy herself and put her troubles from her mind for a bit. But the next thing she knew the television screen was quiet. There was popcorn sprinkled all over the leather couch, and  baby monitor crackled somewhere behind her.
She tried to remember the last scene in the movie she’d watched, and realized with a sinking feeling that she’d fallen asleep well over an hour ago. Her eyes sprung open. She wasn’t in her bedroom, and the pillow under her cheek wasn’t a pillow at all. It was a chest. A very hard, very sturdy, very manly chest. She blinked in panic as her heart began to race. Staying as still as she could under the tense circumstances, she listened to the steady drum of Greg’s pulse though his sweater, felt the rhythm of his breath as his chest moved softly up and down, moving her with it, almost lulling her into a state of tranquility.
He was asleep. And so help her, she intended for him to remain that way.
Inch by inch, she eased herself off the couch, grabbed the baby monitor by the handle, and made her way to the half-open French doors.
She winced, and closed her eyes before turning to face the owner of the smooth, groggy voice that was much too deep and husky for her own good. “I think we fell asleep.”
She didn’t bother mentioning just what position they’d ended up in, or how that might have happened. She felt the blood drain from her cheeks when she considered that while she had dozed off somewhere around the scene where the young boy goes to the mall with his wish list, meaning somewhere in the first third of the movie, it was entirely possible that Greg hadn’t nodded off until a few minutes ago.
“Too bad. That was a pretty good movie.”
She nudged him with her elbow. “Told you so.”
He arched an eyebrow. “Rain check then?”
That sounded an awful lot like an invitation she should probably resist, but with that friendly grin and those warm eyes, really, what was a girl to do? “Can’t wait.”
And she realized as she turned from the room and hurried back upstairs that she couldn’t wait. And that was really quite a problem.

Olivia Miles writes women's fiction and contemporary romance. A city girl with a fondness for small town charm, Olivia enjoys highlighting both ways of life in her stories. She lives just outside Chicago with her husband, young daughter, and two ridiculously pampered pups.

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#GiveAway ~ Three Empty Words By Gen Ryan ~ @genryan15

Three Empty Words

About the Book: 

Melanie Smith has spent her entire life waiting for her happy ever after. For a moment there, everything is hunky-dory until her boyfriend falls in love with another man. Trying to move on, she makes every effort to find "the one."

Watching everyone around her find love, leaving her knee-deep in spinster status, Melanie decides on a new path: become a surrogate for her ex-turned-best friend. She doesn't bargain on a two-for-one deal: a baby for bestie... and a new man.

Join Melanie on her journey as she navigates the highs and lows, the cravings and confusion of love and trying to find meaning in those three empty words.

Genre: Contemporary Romantic Comedy
Release Date: September 9, 2017
Publisher: Hot Tree Publishing
Cover Designer: Claire Smith
 Add to TBR

“Melanie.” My name came out like a seduction, teasing me. I clenched my legs together, the pad that I was sitting on crinkling in response. The man was pure sex and everything he did or said jump-started my body. “Tell me about having this baby.” He glanced down at my chart. “It says here that you are going to be a surrogate.”

“I... um….” I looked away, my eyes finding a spot on the floor to focus on. I didn’t know what to say. Did he need to know the details? My hesitation must have shown, because he cleared his throat.

“If you’d prefer, I can transfer you to a female doctor. I know sometimes these things can be difficult to talk about. Dr. Phillips might be available.”

“No!” My voice was about three octaves too high. Okay, I sounded eager. Way overeager. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to freak out. It’s just hard to talk about.” I shifted on the table, the crinkling returning. “Dr….” I squinted, trying to remember his name. He never did introduce himself.

“Please call me Ashe.”

“Ashe,” I said with a smile. “Well, short version is my ex-boyfriend, now best friend, fell in love with a man, got married, and they’re having trouble adopting. They want to have a baby so they asked me, and here I am.” I pulled on the gown. Ashe cocked his head to the side, studying me curiously. Yup, he thinks I’m certifiable.

“Okay,” he said, looking away, but not before I caught his lips curve into a smile. Lips that look like they need a big fat kiss from yours truly.

“You’re a good friend to do all this.” He smiled as he went to the door and pressed a button. A moment later the same female nurse from earlier came in and went over to the counter and put gloves on. They snapped on her wrists, causing me to jump.

About the Author:

You can find Genevieve curled up reading paranormal romance and romantic thrillers, or frantically typing her stories on her laptop.

Psychology is her trade by day, teaching and molding the minds of college students. Her interest in psychology can be seen in her books, each including many psychological undertones. Although she loves teaching, her passion, her true love, lies in the stories that roam around in her head. Yes, they all come from her mind-the good, the bad, and the totally insane. 

She lives in Massachusetts-no, not Boston-with her husband, daughter, and American Eskimo dog. With each story, she shares, she hopes her love for writing and storytelling seeps through, encompassing the reader and leaving them wanting more.

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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

#GiveAway ~ STILL by Kennedy Ryan ~ @kennedyrwrites


STILL, the sexy, emotional final installment of the GRIP series, is LIVE!

Enter the $50 Gift Card Release Giveaway!

I'll be there.

Through thick and thin.
Ride or die.
You can count on me.
The promises people make. The vows we take.
Assumptions of the heart.
Emotion tells us how we feel, but has a way of plunging us in boiling water, burning away our illusions, testing our faith, trying our convictions.
Love floating is a butterfly, but love tested is an anchor.
For Grip and Bristol,
Love started at the top of the world
On a Ferris wheel under the stars
But when that love is tested, will they fly or fall?

Read STILL Today!
Special Release Sale: $2.99
(Free in Kindle Unlimited)
Add to GoodReads:

Start the Series FREE Today!
FLOW, the FREE prequel, MUST BE READ before GRIP!

Read GRIP Today for only 99¢!
(Free in Kindle Unlimited)
Amazon US ➜
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Amazon AU ➜
Add to GoodReads ➜

Join the GRIP Discussion Group:
(Not until you’re done!)
Join the STILL Recovery Room:
(Not until you’re done!)
Order Signed GRIP Series Paperbacks:


About Kennedy:

Kennedy Ryan.jpgKennedy Ryan is a Southern girl gone Southern California. A Top 100 Amazon Bestseller, Kennedy writes romance about remarkable women who find a way to thrive even in tough times, the love they find, and the men who cherish them.

She is a wife to her lifetime lover and mother to an extraordinary son. She has always leveraged her journalism background to write for charity and non-profit organizations, but enjoys writing to raise Autism awareness most. A contributor for Modern Mom Magazine, Kennedy’s writings have appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul, USA Today and many others. The founder and executive director of a foundation serving Georgia families living with Autism, Kennedy has appeared on Headline News, Montel Williams, NPR and other outlets as a voice for families living with autism.

Connect with Kennedy:

#SpotLight #NewRelease ~ UNFORGIVABLE LOVE By Sophfronia Scott ~ @Sophfronia

Unforgivable Love: A Retelling of Dangerous Liaisons by [Scott, Sophfronia]
By Sophfronia Scott

An elegant retelling of Dangerous Liaisons
set in the glittering world of 1940s Harlem

William Morrow is thrilled to publish UNFORGIVABLE LOVE (On Sale: September 26, 2017; Trade Paperback Original), a vivid reimagining of the French classic Les Liaisons Dangereuses, set in the glittering, dramatic world of Harlem in 1947. In this “elegant page turner,” it’s the summer when Jackie Robinson breaks Major League Baseball’s color barrier and a sweltering heat has Harlem’s elite fleeing the city for a breezier Westchester County, as two schemers get caught up in a exhilarating game of cat and mouse.

In UNFORGIVABLE LOVE, Jazz may be king, but heiress Mae Malveaux rules society with an angel’s smile and a heart of stone. She made up her mind long ago that nobody would decide her fate. Marriage, money, freedom… Mae wants complete control. To have the pleasure she craves, control is paramount, especially control of the men Mae attracts like moths to a flame.

Valiant Jackson is accustomed to getting what he wants—and he’s wanted Miss Malveaux for years. The door finally opens for him when Mae is slighted by her former lover Frank Washington, and she strikes a bargain: seduce her virginal young cousin, Cecily, who is now engaged to Frank, a man who values Cecily’s innocence above all else. If Val is successful, his reward will be Mae.

Unbeknownst to Mae, Val seeks another, even more valuable prize. Elizabeth Townsend is fiercely loyal to her church and her civil rights attorney husband. She is certain that there is something redeemable in Mr. Jackson. Little does she know her most unforgivable mistake will be Val’s greatest triumph. But Mae and Val are unprepared for what can happen between a woman and man when the thrill of the chase spirals wildly out of control.

Scott deftly tackles themes of love, faith, lost innocence, betrayal, and redemption in this stunningly original novel. UNFORGIVABLE LOVE introduces readers to both the café society and upper crust Harlem and takes readers from the grand town homes on Lenox Avenue to the lush woods of Anselm, North Carolina, in a whirlwind of passion.

William Morrow Trade Paperback Original
On Sale: September 26, 2017 • Price: $15.99; E-Book Price: $10.99
ISBN: 9780062655653; E-Book ISBN: 978006265567

Amazon Buy Link


Harlem, May 1947

Mae loved herself with a ferocity that came of feeding too hard and too long on her own exquisite beauty. She could smile in the rearview mirror of her car and see the alabaster beam reflected back from her picture in advertisements for Malveaux’s Magic Hair Pomade plastered on every billboard and in the windows of every drugstore starting from West 53rd Street, going all the way up Manhattan and through Harlem for the next hundred blocks.
Even now she gazed happily into her vanity as her maid, Justice, applied the French pomade and arranged the dark folds of her hair into thick Victory curls perfectly framing her face. She never used the concoction her mother had created and made famous. Tired of having it smeared on her head since childhood, Mae had thrown away her own grease-filled powder- blue tin in the days after her mother’s death.
She held out her wrists and Justice dabbed on fragrant dots from the crystal bottle of Caron Fleurs de Rocaille perfume. Mae’s cold-creamed skin glowed bright and her eyes danced with the sparkle of a girl, making her seem younger than her thirty-three years. She knew this feature made her irresistible. Mysteriously, each man thought he had discovered this light for himself and believed only he could see it in her. They never noticed her well-hidden contempt for their arrogance.
Mae was vigilant about her expressions. She learned long ago the faces she wore would always be more essential than any dress she put on, no matter if it were a Christian Dior or a Pierre Balmain. Her beauty was a formidable instrument because people liked to stare at her as they would a motion picture actress and, in the same vein, she could tell them any story she chose to project and they would believe it. So she practiced the lift of her cheeks, the turnings of her mouth, the shapes of her lips, and the conjured emotions that she flitted across her eyes. Her masterstroke came when she could wipe her face smooth and present a look of calm so numinous it bewitched her admirers into claiming her a goddess.
In rare instances, though, she suffered a rebellion to her visage of serenity. It was an errant twitch seated in the muscles of her lower-left eyelid. She always felt it right be- fore it surfaced. It was as though the weight of all the folly the eye had beheld was suddenly too much for it. She saw how, though small and fast, it unmasked her disdain. Not everyone would notice, but someone less foolhardy—someone like Val Jackson—would never miss such a telling detail.
Regina, her white Polish maid, brought in Mae’s long, satin Dior that had arrived from Paris the previous day. Mae stood, stepped into the gown, and enjoyed the feel of the gold fabric flowing down her body in a shimmering cascade. She placed one hand on Justice’s shoulder and lifted her right foot with the grace of a ballerina. Regina took hold of Mae’s ankle, guided her into leather slingback pumps, then pulled the strap through the buckle.
Too tight. Too tight.
“Ouch!” Mae lit out with her right hand, landing a blow upon the woman’s ear and side of her face. Regina’s arm rose in defense.
“I’m sorry, ma’am,” she whispered. “I’m so sorry.”
Mae looked away while she finished. The stacked heel added nearly two inches to her height so she had to sit again. This allowed Justice to fasten the necklace of marquise-cut diamonds while Regina clasped the diamond-and-platinum bracelet around Mae’s thin wrist.
Mae occupied the largest brownstone on Sugar Hill. Designed by the noted architect Branford Waite, it featured a double- width façade and a broad stoop from the front door to the street. Perfect white shades on the windows muted the sun’s glare during the day but let in plenty of light. The flower boxes on the ledges contained enough nicotiana, tuberose, and alyssum so their combined sweet fragrance would greet Mae each time she walked out the door.
That night she came gliding out of the building like a new moon rising. All down the block she knew quick hands snapped shutters closed then reopened them a crack so their owners could spy on her floating down the steps to where her man, Lawrence, held open the door to her forest-green Packard. She knew this because she knew exactly how her world was situated—how every single person thought, including and especially what they thought of her. She choreographed each step, each motion, and she moved through Harlem exactly as she pleased because of it. What good was money otherwise? She laughed at the predictability of society and how no one but her seemed to understand how to wield this delicious power. And since her mother died, and then her own husband, Mae reveled in the added sweet freedom of answering to no one.
She settled into the caramel cushions of the car’s backseat. Lawrence steered in the direction of the Swan, her chosen nightclub. Mae knew in particular how it would be there. Lately the bandleader would make sure they didn’t play Duke Ellington’s gorgeous new piece, “Lady of the Lavender Mist,” her favorite, unless she was in the room and ready to dance. Her usual party would be seated and waiting at her table. The air al- ready hummed with the expectancy of an unseasonably warm Saturday night. The scene was set. It only needed her to make it come alive.


Before Val Jackson had left for the Swan he’d sat in his office above his own club, the Diamond. The handsome walnut clock on the wall struck the half hour: nine thirty. He felt the bass throbbing in the floorboards under his feet. Half of Harlem danced beneath his good graces tonight but Val, pulling on his crisp white tuxedo shirt, thought only of Elizabeth Townsend, who was quietly situated at his aunt Rose’s Westchester estate. She would be getting ready for bed about now.
His aunt always insisted on dinner at six—ridiculously early. Then she and Elizabeth would walk in the rose garden. Auntie turned in well before nine and that’s when Elizabeth wandered the great house alone, sometimes reading in the library. Her husband called each night at nine, an annoying detail. Then she would dress in her nightclothes, a thin cotton gown—sleeveless, the maid Annie had said—and sit on the balcony outside her room and gaze up into the sky before going to bed. One night the housekeeper thought she heard Elizabeth praying out there.
Val fastened the silver cuff links at his wrists and recited Elizabeth’s routine to himself twice more as he finished dressing. He knew all the details, thanks to his man Sebastian’s unfailing ability to bribe just the right people in his aunt’s household. Elizabeth would be in bed by ten p.m. sharp; that’s what the latest report had said. He loved the potential of those two succulent hours between eight and ten. Just now, in May, they would be filled with air so thick with humidity no one’s mind would want the trouble of thinking straight. The end of a hot summer day was when a woman’s guard might be down just enough to entertain latent thoughts.
But that’s what he enjoyed about this particular conquest. Elizabeth Townsend didn’t have any latent, smoldering desires. He had watched her long enough to know this, seen her loving eyes trained on her straight-as-a-board husband and her arm looped through his. Val would change that. He knew he would be the one to light the match, and whatever thoughts burned in her from there would be entirely his own creation. For a few sweet moments he paused and allowed himself the pleasure of imagining Elizabeth in her bed, her bare skin sliding between the cotton of her nightgown and the famously soft sheets his aunt’s home was known for. The prospect made him ache with satisfaction.
A long, slow smile ignited from one corner of his mouth and spread to the other as he sat down behind his desk and leaned back in the enormous burgundy leather chair. Was this what Satchel Paige felt like, coming to the mound to meet a fresh opponent after so many years? Was he rolling in the life of it, so excited that there was still someone worth pursuing even after he had bedded and tasted the best? Elizabeth Townsend was so damn perfect—not one of these pants down, legs up women easily charmed by his name alone. He would savor Elizabeth Townsend when the time came—and it would be so fine the streets of Harlem would want to open up and swallow him, engulfing him in praise and awe.
The butler answered so fast it was as though he’d come at Val’s very thought. Without a word, he took his employer’s left hand and, with a silver file, smoothed the nails and cleaned underneath them.
“Any news?” Val used his right hand to remove a Montecristo cigar from the mahogany humidor on his desk. Sebastian pulled a lighter from his pocket and lit it. The smoke encircled Val’s head like a gentle fog and the spicy wood aroma filled the office as Val settled into his feel-good body for the night.
“Miss Malveaux, they say, will be at the Swan, sir.”
Val drew on the cigar with a long, deep breath. Nice. He and his wayward love would play their game tonight. There was nothing better than when he and Mae got to perform before an audience.
Only one question remained—who would be their targets?

Sophfronia Scott
Sophfronia Scott hails from Lorain, Ohio. She was a writer and editor at Time and People magazines before publishing her first novel All I Need to Get By. Her short stories and essays have appeared in O, The Oprah Magazine,, Killens Review of Arts & Letters, Ruminate magazine, Saranac Review, Numéro Cinq, Barnstorm Literary Journal, and Sleet magazine. She lives in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, with her husband and son.

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