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Chapter 1


I’m going to be a horrible lesbian. Please don’t send me to jail.

If the presiding judge wasn’t peering at her so intently from his perch in front of the court Shakira Dalton would’ve gone on her knees and made the plea. Instead she focused on sending the message subliminally to the twelve men and women walking into the jury box.

One of the jurors, a homely woman with thinning white hair slicked back in a tight ponytail, sent Shakira a pitying look before turning her eyes away as she sat. Any hope Shakira had withered and died with that pitying look.

I’m going to jail.

Tears jumped to her eyes and before she could stop it, one solitary drop slid down her cheek. She brushed it away on the sleeve of her green blouse. Immediately another tear slithered to take its place.

“Be courageous. Be courageous,” her lawyer, Wayne Perkins soothed. Usually his shock of red hair and odd way of squinting would’ve drawn at least a smile from Shakira, but not today. Like her, he didn’t believe that she’d get out of this one. He’d told her so several times when trying to get her to take the guilty plea and the DA’s offer of fifteen years. In fact he didn’t even believe that she was innocent.

No one did.

No matter what Shakira said, everyone thought she was guilty. It didn’t help that the whole world knew that Charlie had been cheating on her for the entire duration of their relationship while she was blindly playing house with him. The raging thought was that she’d killed him in a jealous fit.

Rochelle McPherson, Shakira’s boss and Charlie’s side-ho, who was seated right behind the prosecutor, had come in full mourning uniform. Apart from the snug, black dress, she’d hidden her face behind black netting attached to a hat larger than the Queen’s. Every time she reached beneath the netting to wipe away tears faker than her lips, she shot Shakira a venomous look.

“Has the jury reached a verdict?” Judge Becker turned his gaze to the now seated jury.

“Yes, Your Honor.” The foreman handed the sheet of the paper to the Bailiff who walked it to the judge’s bench. The court was deathly silent and pregnant with anticipation as everyone watched Judge Becker read the paper.

Like an experienced gambler, the judge’s expression indicated neither approval nor approval of the jury’s verdict. Once done reading, he lifted his eyes to stare at Shakira. “Will the defendant please rise.”

The audience shuffled in anticipation as Shakira and Wayne stood. Though her gaze was focused at the front of the court, Shakira could hardly see anything because of the tears now running down her face unabated. The judge turned back to the jury. “What say you?”

The court held its collective breath and Shakira lowered her head.

“On the charge of murder in the second degree, we the jury find the defendant, Shakira Dalton, innocent of all charges.”

The court erupted into shocked motion while Shakira stood rooted to the spot, too stunned to react. Everything around her seemed to be happening in slow motion. The crowd of people who’d come to cheer her on yelling in excited happiness; Wayne turning to her with a look as shocked as hers; her mother, and her best-friend London rushing around the barrier to hug her; Rochelle’s shrill screams that Shakira was guilty; and the judge banging on the gavel for order in the court.

It all seemed unreal. But it wasn’t. This was really happening!

She was free.

* * * * *

FIVE HOURS LATER, Eve Dalton suggested, “Let’s stop at Dairyland and get a chocolate sundae,” as they exited Vechio’s, a quaint Italian restaurant.

“No, you’re doing too much,” Shakira complained throwing her mother an irritated look. “I wanna go home.”

Eve started, “Baby, we need to celebrate your release and-”

“No.” Shakira shook her head. She wasn’t spending any more hours outside her house ‘celebrating’. Brunch, the movie and dinner were enough for her.

Compared to Eve she looked like a disaster. She still had the cornrows her cellmate had forced her wild hair into two weeks ago, the green blouse and black pants they’d arrested her in were wrinkled as hell and after three months of not wearing heels, her stilettos were killing her feet.

She. Wanted. To. Go. Home.

“Come on, baby!” Eve wheedled as she tucked her arm in the crook of Shakira’s.

“Eve, no!”For as long as she could remember, Shakira had always called her mother by her given name. At first it was because her grandmother didn’t want anyone knowing that her fourteen year old daughter was a mother. Later it was because Eve didn’t want video producers to know that Motorboat Eve was someone’s mother. Shakira had been introduced to so many people as Eve’s younger sister that eventually it’d stuck. Eve behaved like her sister anyway – a very needy sister.

Sticking out her lower lip, Eve whined, “Pleeease.”

Softening her voice, Shakira said, “Look, we can do something else tomorrow. It’s already dark.”

“Please!”There was an air of panic in her voice as Eve pleaded. “Have an ice-cream with your mother?”

Shakira sighed. What would an ice-cream hurt?

Taking her daughter’s sigh as a sign of triumph, Eve’s lips stretched out into a wide smile. “Yay, we’re going to have so much fun.”

One hour later when Eve suggested that they spend the night at a motel instead of the apartment, Shakira turned to her with narrowed eyes. “What have you done to my house?”

There was a look of guilt in Eve’s eye before, in the blink of an eye, she squelched it. Sitting straighter on her seat, she propped her fist on her waist and rolled her neck. “Why would you ask me something like that?

Shakira wasn’t fooled. “Did you burn it down?”

“No. Of course not!”

“Then what?”

“li’l lady, I’m your mother.”

That did it. Eve only pulled the mother card when she’d done something wrong. Shakira stood up and marched her mother out of the ice-cream parlor. “Come on we’re going home.”

Afraid that Eve would turn the car around if given a chance, Shakira confiscated the keys. The older woman maintained her silence all the way home, only throwing Shakira nervous looks once in a while. What had she done?

The last time Eve was in town, she’d thrown a ‘passion’ party for her friends. Shakira had come home to find vibrators littered everywhere and oily male-strippers shaking what their daddies gave them for the bevy of women. The bathroom sink was still traumatized from the things Eve had done against it with some stripper young enough to be her son. If history was anything to go by, Shakira expected to find her couch hanging from the chandelier.

Eve only spoke up once they pulled up next to the white-stone three-storey building that housed Shakira’s apartment. “Honey, I really think we should sleep in a motel.”

“Why?” Shakira asked as she parked the car. Eve didn’t answer nor did she exit the car. From the outside, the apartment looked okay. Beyond the balcony, the glass double-door and windows were still intact and had no soot marks around them.

Small mercies? Shakira wasn’t holding her breath. She exited the car with the intention of opening the door for her mother and dragging her into the house if she had to.

She never had the chance.

The moment she exited the car, Eve scrambled to the driver’s seat. Shakira watched in stunned amazement as her mother threw her bag out the window as she yelled an, “I’m sorry, Honey” before driving off with a screech of wheels.

Oh! It’s bad!

Shakira had always been a ‘rip-the-band-aid-out-quickly’ kind of girl. She climbed the steps to her second floor apartment in quick succession, already reaching into her purse for her keys. The moment she got to her door, she pressed her key into the lock and tried to turn it. It didn’t budge. She tried again. Again – no turn.

“Ugh!” Shakira rattled the doorknob thinking maybe there was a problem with the lock. Her rattling didn’t do anything. Thinking that maybe she had the wrong key, she sifted through the several keys on the same ring. Her concentration was broken when she heard a click and then the door knob turned on its own.

The door swung open to reveal one of the sexiest men she’d ever seen. He stood at over six feet with midnight black hair, blue eyes and a strong jaw-line. But it was his body that held Shakira’s full attention. He was all rippling muscles, raw masculinity and warm, tanned skin. If this man was Mark Anthony, no doubt Cleopatra would’ve been the one at his feet and not the other way around.

And the tattoo….the face of a woman lay inked on his right pec. Beneath her was the word love with the ‘o’ chocked with a chain. The chain licked its way down his body to disappear beneath the white towel tightly knotted at his waist. Shakira’s fingers twitched as in her imagination she traced the tattoo and pulled away the towel so she could see more.

The man cleared his throat drawing Shakira’s attention back to his face. Everything in his expression said he knew she was ogling him and found it amusing. His eyes twinkled while his mouth lifted slightly at the corner. “Can I help you?”

“Uh…uh. What?” Shakira stumbled over her words. She sounded like a fool, Shakira thought as she desperately tried to gather her wits.

“Can I help you?” the man repeated.

She swallowed, cleared her throat then somehow managing to keep her tone even, she asked, “What…what are you doing in my apartment?”

His brow furrowed in confusion, he said, “I’m sorry. You must have the wrong apartment. This one’s mine!”

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Chapter 2


Nathan Hollis stared helplessly at the woman sitting on his couch with her head wedged in between her thighs. He had no idea what was going on here. One minute the woman was ogling him, the next her knees had buckled and it was only his quick reflexes that had stopped her from kissing the ground.

“Do you want me to get you something to cool you down, a glass of water maybe?” he asked as he rubbed her back.

“Mmph,” the woman mumbled something.

“Do you want me to call someone?” A doctor?

“Nooo.” This time the words were audible but they sounded choked.

“Are you crying?” he asked concern in his voice.

She lifted her head, the braided ends of her hair whipping with the motion, and threw him a disgusted look. “Of course not.” Then she tucked her head back between her thighs.

Nathan didn’t see what was so ridiculous in his question. She’d practically swooned in his arms. Crying wasn’t a stretch of the imagination. Curiosity peeked he asked, “What are you doing?”

“Planning to kill her,” she mumbled.

“Planning to kill who.”

“My mother.” The woman lifted her head again, looking directly at him. “She sold you my house, didn’t she?”

Her eyes were beautiful. It was the first thing he’d noticed about her; big doe eyes that stood out against her rich chocolate skin; eyes any man would gladly drown in. Ignoring the ‘my’ in her comment, Nathan asked, “Are you talking about the woman who leased me this apartment?”

“Leased?” She perked up and a brilliant smile lit up her face. “Oh, thank God.”

“For one year.” He regretted the words immediately he said them. It felt like taking a child’s candy away.

“Oh God!” she moaned before flopping back on the couch with her eyes closed. The sudden motion had the effect of lifting her tits and drawing attention to the buttons that had come unloose and the purple lacy bra that peeked out from underneath her silver blouse. She wasn’t quite a cupful, but what was there had Nathan’s cock stirring a bit underneath his towel. “I can’t believe she would do this to me.”

Feeling like a lecher, Nathan jerked his eyes away. “You and your mother shared this apartment?”

That was the only explanation that made sense. Anything else was just unthinkable. He’d been planning to buy a house, but a chance meeting with Eve Dalton, a cougar one of his buddies was hooking up with, had convinced him that a pre-furnished apartment was a much better investment for a single man who already had a house in Miami. Besides the rate she was offering on the two-bedroom Carnegie Hill apartment was just too good to pass up.

“No.” The woman shook her head. “She was house-sitting for me.”

It can’t be. Dread began simmering in Nathan’s belly as he tried to deny what was right in front of him. “Look Miss Dalton-”

She cut him off “Miss Dalton is my mother.”

“Look…” he waited for her to give him her name.

She stared at him silently prolonging the moment before saying, “Shakira,” then asked, “What’s your name?”

“Nathan Hollis,” he introduced before his brow furrowed in confusion. “Shakira? I thought that was Eve’s middle name.”At least that’d been the name she’d signed on their lease agreement.

“It’s not!” Shakira watched him with wide eyes.

Shit. This was not happening. Running his hand over his head, Nathan stood up and began to pace the distance between the two grey couches that faced each other. He paused in his steps, took a deep calming breath and then turned to face Shakira. “The lease your mother and I signed is up and legal. I paid a four thousand dollar deposit up front and two months rent. Both your mother and I signed the paperwork and it was notarized by both her lawyer and mine. It’s legal.”

“It can’t be legal,” Shakira’s voice softened as did her gaze. Almost as if she felt sorry for him. “I’m the owner of the apartment and I didn’t sign anything.”

“This has got to be a mistake.” Nathan muttered as he reached for his phone that sat on the coffee table. Shakira watched him quietly as he dialed his lawyer’s number.

Given that it was nine p.m., it was no surprise that the lawyer didn’t pick up even after ten rings, but Nathan was too on edge to wait. He scrolled through his phone for the number Eve had given him. No one picked that number either. As a last resort, he dialed Eve’s lawyer’s number. It was immediately answered by a man. “Yun Ji Korean Delicacies, how may we serve you today?”

“Excuse me?”

“Yun Ji Ko-”

“No, I heard that,” Nathan interrupted though he could already feel the cold sweat gather on his forehead. “I’m looking for Danita Melson.”

“We no have Danica here,” said the man on the other end of the line. “This Yun Ji Korean Delicacies, how may we serve you today?”

He didn’t even bother asking anymore questions. He knew the deal. Without taking his gaze off Shakira, he cut the call and dropped his phone back on the table. Now that he was able to look at her he could see the resemblance between her and Eve. While Eve was high society and high-maintenance, Shakira was a younger, subtler and softer version of her.

“Who the hell is Danita Melson?” Nathan was shocked that his voice sounded so calm and even considering the anger that was quickly pulsing into veins and taking over his body.

She didn’t answer his question. Instead she said in a low voice, “My mother scammed you.”

He’d already figured that out, but her saying it was like hammering the last nail to a coffin. He’d been swindled. Though only anger and embarrassment danced on his nerves, Nathan found himself laughing; deep bellyful chuckles that filled the large room. His laughter rose to his throat but sounded more pained than amused.

I’ve been ripped off.

Even Shakira was startled by his chuckles and anxiety clouded over her eyes. When his mirth died down, she asked, “Are you okay?”

“What the fuck do you think?” His tone was deliberate but the thick thread of tension lacing it was obvious even to his own ears. “You ripped me off!”

“No, don’t drag me into this,” Shakira quickly defended as she stood. “This is all Eve. I’m just as much a victim as you. While I was stuck in prison, my mother sold my house under me.”

“You’re an ex-con?” The accusation in his tone sliced through the air. No wonder. Evidently he wasn’t their first victim.

“Uh…uh…not exactly!” Shakira stuttered and threw him a wide-eyed nervous look which only raised Nathan’s hackles further. He didn’t believe for a second that she wasn’t part of her mother’s con and wasn’t fooled by those doe eyes – beautiful women made the best criminals.

He wasn’t born yesterday.

He knew how these things worked. Her mother had probably pegged him for an easy fleece and he’d fallen for it like a fool. He hadn’t seen it coming. He’d always thought that stupid and greedy people were the only ones who got scammed yet here he was, ripped-off by a woman old enough to be his mother. Embarrassment clouded his anger at the thought.

Eve was probably crowing with triumph and rubbing her hands together in anticipation of her ex-con daughter shaking him down even further. But now that he knew what the game he was on his toes. Twelve grand was nothing in the grand scheme of his bank account but he’d worked too damn hard for each and every one of his pennies.

This mother/daughter team had picked the wrong man to mess with.

Taking a deep breath and drawing his features into a picture of equanimity, he suggested, “Why don’t you try calling her?”

Shakira shook her head. “She won’t pick it up. Probably in Mexico by now.”

How convenient!

She took a few steps forward, coming close to him until they were almost toe-to-toe. Even in heels, the top of her head barely reached his nose. Looking up at him with an earnest expression, she said, “I’m sorry about Eve.”

Nathan wasn’t fooled. He knew Shakira was putting on an act for his benefit. Putting on his own show of frustration, he raked his fingers through his hair, “I can’t believe she scammed me. She was so nice.”

“That’s Eve. You could be standing right here and she’d still find a way to steal the towel off your waist.” To make her point, her eyes trailed his body to his towel. As if there was some sort of magnetic pull attached to the white terry-clothe, her eyes stayed there.

And she bit her lower lip.

There was just something about that subtle nip of her teeth against her lush lip that immediately sent his blood racing southwards. For a moment he even forgot that she was a scammer and his senses focused on her gaze trained on his waist. As if it had a mind of its own, his cock burgeoned in awareness.

“Um, you should probably put something on.” Her soft words broke the heavy silence as her eyes shifted back up his body to meet his. The desire in them was evident.

In that moment Nathan came up with his plan.

The way to a woman’s heart was through her pussy and he was going to screw every one of Shakira’s secrets out of her. He’d make her fall so deep in love with him that she’d have no qualms spilling Eve’s whereabouts and their plan. Her desire would be her downfall. His eyes skimmed her body lingering over the swell of her breasts and the swell of her thighs. He was going to enjoy manipulating every inch of her body for his revenge.

Nathan smiled as he brought his eyes back up to meet Shakira’s. “Why don’t you have a seat?”

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Chapter 3


“Was he cute?” London Pistol asked in a hushed voice

“As a doll,” Shakira assured her best friend.

“Hmph,” London scoffed, throwing Shakira a doubtful look before staring back up at the ceiling. “After Charlie, I doubt your cute-antennae.”

Like Shakira, London was a rich shade of chocolate milk, but that was where the resemblance ended. While Shakira was tall and slender, at barely five feet, London was a petite ball of fire – literally. Her hair had been shaved at the sides, coaxed into a soft Mohawk and dyed with striking red, purple and white streaks.

“Charlie was cute!” Shakira protested without looking away from the laptop she had propped on her lap. Keying in the pass-code to her bank account, she said, “A dog, but cute. Nathan’s more than cute though.”

London harrumphed disbelievingly again.

“You don’t believe me?” Leaning forward slightly, Shakira reached for her handbag. She rifled inside it before pulling out her phone. She scrolled through her phone to come up with the picture she’d taken of one of the photos of Nathan while he was in her bedroom changing into his clothes. She knew she’d need to do a bit of investigation of her own to make sure that he was Eve’s victim and not just a squatter in her home. She held her phone over London’s face, “Fine, see for yourself.”

“Oh my G-”London started loudly but when Shakira slapped her arm her voice dropped to a whisper. “That’s Nathan Hollis.”

“Yeah, I just told you that.”

“No.” London turned on her side facing Shakira. “Kira, that’s Nathan Hollis.”

“Yes! I know.”

The Nathan Hollis,” London emphasized. If her eyes widened any further, they’d pop out of her head. “Don’t you recognize him?”

Beyond the fact that he was the man Eve had illegally leased her house to, Shakira didn’t know who the man was. She glanced at the picture again. All she saw was a deliciously sexy man smirking back at her. Even though the photo was a second hand image, it was almost as good as the man himself. She shook her head, “Nope. Don’t recognize him.”

“I can’t believe you don’t know him.”

Rolling her eyes, Shakira said, “Just tell me who he is already.”

“He’s a big-deal choreographer. Almost every hip-hop artist uses him.” London explained excitedly before her expression turned incredulous. “Where did Eve meet him?”

“Beats me!” Shakira shrugged as she refocused on the laptop. A spreadsheet reflecting her account balance covered the expanse of the screen. She breathed a sigh of relief. All her monies were intact and safe from Eve.

“I can’t believe you didn’t take his offer to stay with him!” London exclaimed interrupting her concentration. “You could’ve gotten a little something something from the king of dance.”

“London!” Shakira cut her eyes at her.

“What?” London chuckled. “I’m just saying it ain’t natural for a girl to go so long without getting her lady parts cleaned out. And you could do worse than Nathan Hollis.”

“Nasty,” Shakira reprimanded even though she’d been thinking the same nasty thoughts barely an hour ago.

Of course she couldn’t have stayed at Nathan’s. For one the man had just been conned by her mother. It just didn’t seem like good etiquette to mooch off him. Second she’d only met him today – it was too early to establish he wasn’t some serial killer.

But the way she’d reacted to him was just ridiculous. Her whole body had lit up like the fourth of July. Not that she blamed it – six months was a hell of a long time to go without some good loving and Nathan in all his deliciousness looked like a walking, talking vibrator. If she’d stayed, she’d probably have jumped him by midnight.

Nah! Staying with Nathan Hollis in the same house was definitely not an option. After their discussion, she’d taken a cab and come straight to London’s apartment.

Shifting slightly on the bed, Shakira sighed. “I just can’t believe Eve would do this to me.”

“Can’t you? I can,” said London as she arched one eyebrow. “She’s been doing this all your life. Remember when she sold your Pokey collection so she could go to Vegas. Or when she and Ramon used your number to organize their nasty meetings and his wife thought you were Ramon’s ho. Or when she took you to the park on your sixteenth birthday then left you there so she could-”

“I get it,” Shakira interrupted, blinking rapidly to chase away the tears that sprung to her eyes. She wasn’t stupid. She knew what her mother was and that being her daughter didn’t make her exempt from Eve’s ‘small business deals’ as she liked to call them. However, these last three months it’d seemed like Eve had grown up. This was the longest her mother had stayed in any one place and Shakira had flattered herself that it was because for once Eve wanted to support her as any mother would’ve done. Obviously she was kidding herself.

Once again her mother had shown her true colors

She couldn’t even begin to explain the kind of disappointment and hurt she felt.

Eager to just fix the mess that Eve had left her with and just move on, Shakira clicked on the withdrawal tab, then keyed the amount of money she wanted to transfer as well as the account number.

“What are you doing?” London asked rising slightly off the bed on her elbows mimicking and peering at the screen.

“Sending Nathan fourteen grand.”

London started loudly, “Hell-”

Shakira bumped her friend’s shoulder as she threw her eyes towards the door.

London screwed her lips in irritation but lowered her voice anyway. “Hell, no! You can’t pay him. You’re not the one who scammed him.”

“I’ve got no choice,” Shakira explained. As much as she was angry at Eve, she couldn’t let Nathan report her. Her mother already had a record and this time the judge would probably throw the book at her. Nathan had agreed that if she could come up with twelve grand and reimburse him for his moving costs, he’d go quietly.

She clicked on the send button but immediately a message flickered on the screen.

“We’re unable to transfer money from your account at this time,” London read. “Kindly contact your branch.”

“What?” Shakira’s brow furrowed in confusion as she again tried to transfer the money to Nathan’s account. The same message met her.

“Are you sure you have enough money?” London asked.

“Yeah!” Shakira pointed to her balance. Her bank account was well-padded. Being Eve’s sidekick for the better part of her life had inculcated an almost obsessive saving habit in Shakira. She was never going to sleep on the street again. It was the reason she’d chosen to buy a house rather than rent and invested heavily in stocks, bonds and mutual funds with what little money she had.

“Maybe the bank’s closed or something,” London suggested.

Shakira shook her head. “It’s an online transfer I should be able to-”

Her words were cut off by a loud knocking on the door. “Loooondon.”

Both Shakira and London froze. They both looked at the door before exchanging a silent look that said ‘Maybe if we keep quiet she’ll go away‘.

No such luck.

Knock. Knock. Knock.

“Looondon! Looondon! Looondon.” The knocking persisted and so did the squeaky female voice abusing London’s name. “I know you’re in there.”

“What do you want, Farah?”

“We were wooondering,” Farah said, “what time is Shakira leaving?”

“She’s already left.” London didn’t even bat an eyelid.

“But we didn’t see her leaving.”

“She used the window.”

“Oh. That’s good.” There was some shuffling by the door then the sound of fading footsteps as Farah walked away. Shakira and London traded looks because they knew it wasn’t over. Sure enough a minute later heavier footfalls than Farah’s sounded.

The knocking on the door was more like a thump this time. “London.”

“Yes, Amani,” London returned as she turned on her back.

Amani was the head-bitch in their little two bedroom apartment. She ruled with an iron fist – or at least tried to. Pint sized as she was, London was not the type of person you ruled with an iron fist.

“I thought we agreed that you couldn’t have guests until you paid your rent.”

“I don’t have a guest.”

“Open the door.”

“What for?” London asked unaffected by the vitriol in Amani’s voice. Shakira wasn’t. Tense with anxiety, she stared at the door.

“I need to talk to you,” Amani said.

London lifted her fingers above her face, observing the luminous blue polish before she said, “I can hear you just fine from where you are. What do you want?”

“Open the door,” Amani yelled. “I swear if Shakira is still there-”

“Bitch, bye!” London lost her cool. She picked a book from her bedside table and hurled it at the door. It hit the wood with a dull thump muted by her yelling, “Get away from my door.”

“Open the door.” Amani pounded on the door so loudly that the wood shook on its hinges. Was she trying to beat the door down?

The woman was large enough that Shakira was nervous that she might even succeed. She watched the door with trepidation expecting it to land flat on the ground in a couple of seconds.

London, it seemed, had no such worries because she settled back on the bed and picked up Shakira’s phone. Undisturbed by the increased strength of Amani’s pounding on the door and yelling, she scrolled through Shakira’s phone. When she still had a home to her name, Shakira had tried to convince London to come and stay at her house but London had some pride issues that not even crazy roommates could erase.

Eventually the door-massacre petered out. Amani yelled, “London, I’m going to look for your spare key. If I find it…” She left the sentence hanging ominously.

“Whatever!” London yelled back as Amani stomped away from the door angrily.

“What if she finds the key?” Shakira asked once Amani was gone.

“She won’t. I already stole it.”

“Maybe I should go.”

“You’re not going anywhere,” London refused stubbornly. “This is my house too.”

* * * * *

The next morning Shakira and London snuck out of the house before Amani and Farah woke up. It’d been touch and go for a while when Farah had left their shared room to go to the bathroom but after a bit of creeping, hiding behind sofas and darting, the girls had escaped unseen.

“See, it’s working!” London exclaimed as the ATM machine coughed out five one hundred dollar bills.

“Yeah, it’s probably just a problem with electronic transfer,” Shakira agreed as she tucked the money into her handbag. She was too grown to be hiding behind couches and the five hundred would be enough to carry her over the weekend in a motel. “I’ll go to the bank on Monday and make an over-the-counter withdrawal.”

“Where to next?”London asked as she tucked her arm in the crook of Shakira’s arm.

“Don’t you have to go to work?” Shakira asked.

“Don’t worry about it. Miss Wendy will understand.” London waved her hand airily as they exited the enclosed space that held the ATM booth. They were welcomed by the morning bustle.

Cabs and cars plodded along in morning traffic while men and women rushed past bumping into the girls, their expressions determined and steps purposeful. It didn’t matter that it was a Saturday. New York still had things to do. After months of confinement, the flurry of activity was jarring, but Shakira wasn’t complaining. She’d take jarring any day if it came with freedom.

She took a deep gulp of the air before announcing, “Let’s start with Goodwill. I need to get some clothes.”

“I told you I’d lend you mine until we find out where your mother kept yours.”

“Eh! No!”

“Are you dissing my fashion sense?”

What London called fashion sense was ripped, holey or cropped everything. Shakira had searched her closet for anything that was close to her own sedate style and fit, to little avail. Finally she’d settled on an off the shoulder cropped top with the flag of the UK and her own slacks.

At Goodwill, Shakira lucked on a nice pair of dark wash skinny jeans and a green t-shirt. Posing for London with her hands on her hips, Shakira asked, “How do I look?”

London arched an eyebrow. “Like you just shopped at Goodwill.”

“Hater.”

“Cheapskate,” London retorted. Shakira chuckled as she picked her bag from the seat. She wasn’t going to waste money buying new clothes while she knew that somewhere out there she might still have a perfectly good wardrobe. London announced, “Next stop Nappy Palace. We need to get rid of those Big Bertha plaits.”

“Aren’t you afraid Miss Wendy’s going to fire you one of these days?” Shakira asked a few minutes later as they sat in the bus on their way to South Bronx.

“She hasn’t fired me yet.” London shrugged. While they were in the bus, Shakira called Nathan.

“Nathan Hollis,” he answered on the first ring, his deep voice sending a thrill through her. Damn! If his voice could do that to her she didn’t even want to think what his hands would do.

Giving herself a mental shake, Shakira said, “Hi, it’s Shakira. Shakira Dalton.”

“Yes, Shakira.” The way he rolled her name on his tongue made her think of silk sheets, warm chocolate and tangled limbs.

Licking her suddenly dry lips, she stumbled over her words, “I… I know I… I promised to transfer the money to your account by today…” Ignoring London who was silently mimicking her stuttering, she continued, “…Unfortunately I’m having a few problems with my account. However I’ll make sure you get the money by Monday. Is that okay?”

There was a long pause on his end before he said, “Sure.”

“Okay, thanks.”To avoid further embarrassing herself, she ended the phone call.

“Shakira and Nathan sitting on a tree, K.I.S.S.I.N.G!”London sang teasingly

“Shut up.” Shakira mushed London’s head. However the ribbing didn’t let out until the bus dropped them at their stop. It was a short walk to Nappy Palace. Shakira furrowed her brow the closer they got to the salon. A pink Honda Fit was parked only a few feet from the entrance.

“Isn’t that Eve’s car?” London asked, noticing it too.

“Dunno,” Shakira answered as she craned her neck to see the plates. There was no mistaking them. That was Eve’s car. Her mother was still in town. Shakira’s heart sped up in a happy tune as her steps hastened.

Maybe Eve wasn’t as bad as she thought and had stayed behind to confront the consequences of her actions – for once.

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