Chapter One

Lexi

Her top three dislikes, in this order: weddings, make-up, singing in front of large groups. She could have alleviated her performance anxiety with a glass of bourbon, but singing at her BFF’s reception required clarity. So Lexi, her beat face, and her anxiety were present and accounted for as she tapped the microphone to capture the attention of the 50 guests in the dining hall. She stood in the center, under a canopy of black and white balloons, scanning the crowd for familiar faces. Roni’s parents, Marvin and Jessica Edwards. Angela Kzinsky, Roni’s co-worker and one of three white folks in the room. Stephen Martin — one of the groom’s few single friends who started all his sentences with “These females” that time she went out with him. DJ — another one of Davis’s friends; the one she had sex with and didn’t need to think of at the moment. And Roni and Davis, whispering and giggling to each other as if they were alone in this room of 50. Lexi smoothed down the material on her black pencil dress, appreciating how it hugged her curves. She was losing her partner in crime to an institution she didn’t believe in, but at least her friend knew better than to put her in pastels or frilly fabric.

She was happy for Veronica. Really. She didn’t worry for their friendship. Davis wouldn’t be one of those “I should be the center of your world” husbands. He didn’t have any deep-seated mistrust of his bride’s single, outspoken best friend. She and Roni would still take girls’ trips and spend afternoons on her couch drinking and having heated philosophical debates. Still, the shit sucked. With Roni jumping the broom, Lexi was on an island. Early thirties, unmarried, and childless with no desire to change it and no blueprint for singlehood without single girlfriends. In the last three years, even her staunchest allies in “Nawl” gave way to “Welllll, maybe if….” They were cohabitating. Spending their weekends at weddings. Filling their Instagram feeds with reception photos and hashtag “black love” — their eyes gleaming with security and expectancy; meanwhile her feed consisted of glasses of red wine, her latest DIY projects, and vinyl hauls.

But, today wasn’t about her. It was about her best friend of fourteen years finding a love that allowed her to be her full self. Beautiful shit. And to commemorate the beauty of the moment, she was singing the tune Roni adamantly requested two months prior.

“I don’t want anything typical, light, or airy. I want you to sing from your gut,” Roni said, taking a healthy swig of Merlot. They were seated in Lexi’s living room, getting ready for their weekly Game of Thrones watch party of two.

“Soooo no ‘At Last’ then?”

“Bitch…”

Lexi laughed. “What’d you have in mind?”

“You know that place you go? When the song takes over and it’s just raw emotion? I want that.”

“It could get a little moody…”

“You tear down the room when you’re moody.”

“How about ‘Ordinary People’?”

“That’s a good one. But nah. ‘This might go to shit. Let’s tread lightly’ is more your style.”

“Fair enough.”

“We’re looking for a not-too romantic song for a wedding. Who doesn’t want romance at her wedding?”

The kind of girls who don’t get married. Lexi smiled. “A unicorn who’s been captured from the wild?”

Roni held up a finger. “Correction: A unicorn who’s found a hunter that won’t make a trophy of her horn. Now. Back to this song. What do you think of Bey’s ‘Superpower’?”

Lexi cleared her throat. “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I’m Alexandria Moore, Maid of Honor and best friend of the bride. Thank you all for joining us in celebrating Veronica and Davis as they embark on their life together,” she turned to the bride and groom. “Roni. Davis. May your dedication to each other endure for all your days.”

She hated singing over a track, but the song required background vocalists and she didn’t have any. She closed her eyes and placed her fingertips on the microphone stand, inhaling the music, exhaling her thoughts. She kept her eyes closed and slipped into a dark room where only she, the microphone, and the music existed. The tension left her body. She opened her mouth and disappeared into the opening line. “When the palm of my two hands/ hold each other/ that feels different/ from when your hands are in mine…”

DJ

DJ had a policy. Never bring dates to weddings. If his date was his girlfriend, he’d spend the night and subsequent days fielding “Y’all are next” comments on Facebook and Instagram. If his date wasn’t his girlfriend, he’d navigate awkward introductions at the wedding and reception all night. Soon after — girlfriend or not — he’d be roped into a talk about “not wasting time,” meaning the fun was officially over. Either he promised they were “going somewhere” or in six months she’d be engaged to another dude. The “homeboy” she told him not to worry about or some background dude she put on the shelf when they started dating that her friends always liked more than him.

His ex-girlfriend, for instance.

They were together two years when his father died, leading him to leave D.C. to take care of his mother in Cleveland. Ayesha wouldn’t leave the state without a ring. He wouldn’t promise her one. He moved in September. She was engaged to one of her brother-in-law’s friends by June. A man DJ recognized from her sister’s wedding party. A wedding he attended. With her.

He didn’t blame her for moving on. His father’s sudden death was a constant reminder how short life could be. The idea that he “wasted her time,” however, pissed him off. He wasn’t wasting her time when she was coming all over his dick or when he took her to Vegas for Valentine’s Day. Or those two Thanksgivings he spent listening to her dad talk cash shit during Cowboys’ games without roasting him. They were in a monogamous relationship. It ended. He had no interest in the “anything short of the altar is a failure” game his peers played, but as he’d observed, that’s how it went in your 30s. No one wanted to be alone when the music stopped.

Davis’s wedding was his third of the summer and the fifth of the last year. Of all his friends to take the plunge, Davis seemed the least pressured despite being the eldest of his friends at 39. He did his time cohabitating with his son’s mother in his twenties and entered his thirties foot loose. He met Roni — a Gabrielle Union lookalike five years his junior — a couple years ago at a charity event. They cooled out for awhile, slipped into a relationship, and next thing everyone knew, he proposed at the base of some Aztec mountain in Mexico. According to Davis, it all went down without a timetable or a “sooooo…what are we doing” conversation.

After escaping a table full of Snapchatting twentysomethings (Davis’s cousins from what DJ gathered), he stood at the bar, nursing a glass of Remy Martin 1738. The giggling and blank staring into their phones were bad enough. He had to get out of there before they suckered him into being their photographer. Couldn’t tell his boy’s baby cousins “Hell no.” Couldn’t be the creepy single guy taking pics of college-aged girls. Besides, he had his eye on more age-appropriate work.

Like Alexandria Moore.

They’d met at Davis and Roni’s engagement party/karaoke cookout where Lexi played bartender, pouring shots like a skilled pro. Only after he felt her firm handshake and direct gaze in their introduction did he notice her unfussed prettiness. Clear brown skin. Pretty white teeth. Her fluffy lion’s mane of hair. She chatted him up; asked how he liked the city and teased him about being a Laker fan. “Shhh,” she’d joked. “Don’t let anyone hear you don’t worship at the Church of Lebron the Redeemer.” DJ was intrigued.

“Nope,” Davis replied when DJ asked about her over a game of pool a few weeks before the wedding.

“I just wanna know wassup with her, man.”

Davis shook his head as he focused his cue on a purple-striped ball and the top left corner. “Find out yourself. I don’t want shit to do with it.”

“Something I need to worry about?” DJ drank his Heineken as Davis’s ball sank into the hole and he lined up his next shot.

“Nigga, I’m thinkin’ about me. You fuck up with Roni’s best friend, guess who has to hear that shit?” After missing a shot, he backed away from the table. “Look. She’s different. Like Roni. Not sweating a marriage timetable or no shit like that. Does her own thing. That’s all I’m tellin’ you. Other than ‘don’t fuck up.’”

He didn’t say anything about not fucking her, DJ thought the night of the bachelor party when, after weeks of flirtation, Lexi came back to his place. And fuck, they did. That’s what the trail of clothes, shoes, accessories, and condom wrappers said when they woke up the following morning.

She looked good at the wedding. Her long twists were tied in a bun atop her head. Red lips. Pearl necklace. Black, strapless dress that housed her lean, dancer’s body and surprisingly grippable ass. And her voice — low and velvety one moment, light and feathery the next — he didn’t know she could sing. The song didn’t have a single soaring moment like most wedding songs but by the end, the entire hall was on its feet. And as DJ joined the thundering applause, he wondered if he’d get another sample of Lexi’s many talents at the end of the night.

Lexi

The song was done. Dinner was served. The cake was cut. All that stood between Lexi and the bar was wrangling a hoard of giddy wannabe future brides for the bouquet toss. “STILETTOS. PUMPS. IN THE CLUB” blared through the dining hall as Roni bounced to the center of the dance floor, waving her bouquet. Lexi paused her escape to take in how damn happy her friend looked, doing the best “Walk It Out” she could manage while holding up her dress and flowers. She pulled out her phone and posted to Instagram. “Too lit. #DavisGotARoni.”

“You’re not getting in on the action?”

The familiar male voice over her shoulder made her stomach flutter. She hadn’t seen DJ since the morning after the bachelor party when she left his naked 6’1, 200 some-odd-pound, honey-coated body in his bed. She turned to face him. A charcoal gray suit laid over his sinewy shoulders. She scanned up to his face, lingering for a moment on his perfect five o’clock shadow before landing on his sea green eyes. “In on what?”

He pointed to the fray of waving, stiletto-clad women. “That.”

I’d peel off my toe nails before I wrestled for a bouquet, she thought. “I wouldn’t have the energy if I wanted to. Only thing I wanna catch right now is a drink.”

He held up a glass of brown liquor. “Got a fresh one if you drink Remy.”

She didn’t, but the bar was a mile away, so she accepted. The heat trickled down her throat and filled her chest as they watched one of Roni’s co-workers come up with the bouquet. The ladies shuffled away and Davis brought out a chair for his bride, hamming it up to the tune of 112’s “Player” for the garter toss.

“This nigga.” DJ remarked. making no moves toward the dance floor.

She raised a brow. “No garter toss?”

“I’m cool.”

“You know your pussy rate goes up by like twenty if you catch it, right?” He nearly choked on his laugh. “My bad. Wasn’t trying to kill you.”

He pat his chest with his fist, clearing his throat. A subtle dimple formed in the middle of his cheek. “Me,” he started, “and my pussy rate are fine. Appreciate the concern.” He reclaimed his drink, eyes twinkling with a knowing glance as he sipped. “So where’s your date?”

He knew she didn’t have a date or didn’t give a shit if she did. Cocky ass. She liked that even more than his face. He impressed her at Davis and Roni’s bachelor party. He was gracious and generous with the dancers; made sure everyone’s glasses stayed full, despite not being in the wedding party. When he smacked a dancer’s ass and she imagined he was smacking hers, Lexi knew it was a matter of when, not if, she’d fuck him.

“My ‘date’ is dressed in white, about to be serenaded.” She pointed to the dance floor, where Davis commandeered the microphone.

DJ’s eyebrows shot up. “Is he about to sing?”

She smiled. “Oh, just wait.”

“Aiight, everybody,” Davis’s voice boomed. “Before we turn this into a real party, I have a surprise for the new Mrs. Cummings.”

“EDWARDS-CUMMINGS!” Roni shouted from her seat at the center of the crowd.

“You right, babe. My bad. Mrs. Edwards-Cummings. It’s been two years since you walked your fine, smart, fly as — SELF. I meant self — into my life. And I’m so happy, so proud to call you my wife today. Now, I’m not Lexi with the vocals. But if you don’t mind…” An 80’s synth-laced R&B melody filled the room and the crowd laughed and clapped as Davis croaked “The truth about a Roni…she’s the sweetest little girl…”

Lexi cupped her hands around her mouth. “ALRIGHT NOW, DAVIS!” DJ doubled over next to her. “C’mon,” she said. “We gotta watch this close up.” Soon, they were front and center with their phones out while Davis struggle crooned for his bride.

Roni beamed. Half-laughing, half-crying. Enraptured by her teddy bear of a groom embarrassing himself in front of their family and friends just to make her smile. By the middle of the song, Roni was on her feet, two-stepping with singing Davis. “Alright y’all,” he called to the crowd. “Imma need your help on this part…”

They wasted no time. “The truth about a Roni, she’s a sweet ol’ girl. About the sweetest little girl in the whole wide world…”

DJ and Lexi were in a loose two-step, losing themselves in the song and silliness as the dance floor filled around them. Eventually, they were all rap hands as they sang along “I found a tenderoni and the Roni is so right. I think I’m gonna love her for the rest of my liiiiiiiiiiiife…”

It didn’t take long for the reception to turn into a party. Lexi was four flutes of Moët down, in Old Navy flip-flops, her previously immaculate beat wiped off during her last bathroom trip, and sweaty from doing the Kid-N-Play with Roni. She sat at the bar, contemplating another drink versus nibbling on the weed brownie she stashed in her purse, when DJ sat down next to her. He was perfectly disheveled. Tie loose, sleeves rolled up, his standard, expensive-looking silver watch decorating his arm. Like a damn Banana Republic model, she thought. “I didn’t take you for the type who keeps snacks in her bag,” he said, peering into her clutch.

“Excuse you. It’s rude to look in a woman’s purse.”

“Even after I’ve seen her naked?”

“Yes. Even after you’ve seen her naked.”

He moved closer, his shoulder grazing hers. “What if I enjoyed being naked with her?”

“What does that have to do with you looking in my bag?”

“Nothing. Just been on my mind.”

“Am I supposed to say ‘Thank you’?”

“I’d prefer you say you want to do it again.”

She had been too tied up with wedding prep to think about the consequences of their night together. She could chalk up one night to being carried away by the strip club, tequila shots, and their drunken slow grind to The Internet’s “Special Affair.” Going back for seconds? That was intentional. “Would you?”

“Been thinking about it all day. That dress is…you look good.”

“Are you drunk?”

“Buzzed,” he looked her up and down. “But very clear.”

Fifteen floors above, her hotel room housed a very big bed and a spectacular view of downtown. Here was a capable gentleman offering good a time after one of the longest days of her adult life. Behind them, Jodeci’s “Come and Talk to Me” kicked off last call. Lexi suddenly didn’t need to be any more inebriated. She left her seat and signaled to the dance floor. “We should dance.”

DJ

Lexi invited him to see the view from her room.

Anyone from the wedding could’ve seen them get on the elevator together. When the door closed and he looked at her reflection in the mirrored ceiling, he cared less about discretion. She pressed the button to “18” and retreated to her corner. They stopped on a couple floors. People entered and exited. His eyes stayed on her. Her long, toned legs. Black-clad hips that dipped into a narrow waist. Smooth brown cleavage he wanted to bury his face in. Fragmented memories of their night together flashed in his mind. Like how she purred like a satisfied kitten when he slid in.

The door closed on the 15th floor. DJ had her back on the wall and his tongue down her throat before she could register what happened. His hands were everywhere. Her hips. That ass that taunted him all day. The curve in her dress right under her breasts. The elevator dinged. She nibbled at his lip one last time before prying away from him. He swiped a hand down his face, pulling his shit together before they walked down the hallway. She mentioned something about not being too far down the hall, but he couldn’t hear her over his dick throbbing in his eardrums.

“I’m not flaking on you,” she said, bringing his senses back into focus. He scanned the suite with its white duvet-covered king-sized bed and floor to ceiling window that overlooked downtown Cleveland. She stood with her back to him, opening a bottle of Bulleit. “It’s just…It’s been a long day and I need to wind down more than I need to be pinned to a wall right now.”

He recalled pinning her to his bedroom door and smiled. Looking at the slope of her neck and bare shoulder, he didn’t mind the opportunity to take his time with that body of hers. He closed the space between them, resting his chin on her shoulder. The breeze from the wide open window felt like they were on a balcony instead of standing behind a desk.

He kissed her shoulder blade. He ran his finger over the small tattoo he didn’t notice before — a semicolon at the nape of her neck. “Okay,” he trailed up her neck with his nose then his tongue. Her body relaxed; pulse quickened. “Let’s get you relaxed then.” He played for awhile, sliding his lips and tongue along the exposed skin on her neck, shoulders, and upper back. A tongue flick here, a nibble there while he pulled down her dress zipper. Peanut butter brown skin contrasted a black strapless bra and cheek-revealing black panties. He couldn’t resist giving her ass a quick grab and smack to show his appreciation of the view and she rewarded him with a whimper. He traced down her arms until he located her wrists and pressed her palms flat on the desk. She whimpered again, dropping her head, arching her back, and grinding against him.

“How long you plan to stay in that suit?” Lexi asked.

Her ass winding on his pant-clad hard on reminded him he had on too many clothes. But he had other ideas, “Not long,” he replied snaking a hand down her torso and into her panties. Smooth, slick skin greeted his fingertips. He pressed two fingers on her slit and she threw her head back on his shoulder, breath caught in her throat. He rubbed harder, teasing her clit on the upstroke and her opening on the down. “I could get naked right now if you want…”

She closed her legs around his hand. “If you stop, I’ll kill you.”

He slid two fingers inside her. Licked her neck when she moaned her satisfaction. She was hot, wet, and greedy; gripping his fingers. “There it is. Been thinking about this pussy all day,” he mumbled into her skin. She opened her mouth to speak and he ground his palm on her clit, snatching her words while she worked herself on his fingers. With his idle hand he pulled down her bra and squeezed a heavy handful of pillowy breast. She closed her eyes. Her breath got shorter. Teetering on the edge of release — right where he wanted her. He squeezed, pressed, and pushed as deep as he could. Subtle squish sounds cut through the otherwise silent room. “You close? Let it out,” he whispered, biting her hear. “On this desk. On my fingers. Cum.” He looked down, enjoying her twisted face as she bit her bottom lip. Half a moan escaped her mouth. Her body went stiff and she bore down like a slippery vise. He kept a hint of pressure on her clit as she rode it out. Her spine shivered against his chest; breath returned to normal. She winced a little when he eased out of her, the ridges of his fingers grazing her still-fluttering walls.

He began unbuttoning his shirt, but stopped when he realized his hand was sticky. “Do me a favor?”

She pulled out a couple of hairpins and her twists cascaded down her back and shoulders. “What’s that?” she asked.

Her eyes danced with mischief as DJ sucked his index and middle fingers clean. “Help me out of this suit? My hand’s kinda messy.”

She picked up her abandoned glass of bourbon, swirled the liquid in the glass, and leaned back on the desk. Her eyes swept over him. “Nope. Rather watch you strip.”

DJ, with mock resignation, disrobed. She stood naked and brown everywhere, and sipped her drink; an amused grin on her lips. Like a queen who summoned his body to court for her entertainment. “You’re smug for someone who just came on my hand” he quipped.

“I thought we were getting me relaxed. I’m relaxing.”

He held her gaze as he unzipped his pants and pulled down his boxer briefs with them, retrieving a condom from his back pocket along the way. Her eyes traveled south and settled on his thickening erection. She raised an impressed brow but continued to drink. From what he could recall of their last night together, he didn’t remember her being this arrogant. He liked it. “Well…” he said, stroking himself. I’ll give her something to look at, he thought. The least he could do before he fucked that grin off her pretty face.

She pulled the chair away from the desk. “Sit,” she commanded. Commanded. Him. He complied and rolled on the condom while she finished her bourbon. She teased as she straddled him, sliding her wetness over his length. On her next upstroke, he gripped her hips and entered her with ease, despite how tightly her soft, slippery walls clung to him. A groan stirred in his chest. He fought it down, focusing on Lexi’s reactions. He’d stolen her breath again, but he was most interested in her eyes. He waited for their self-satisfied twinkle to melt the way her pussy melted around him. When it didn’t, he held her in place and pushed again. Deeper. A grunt rolled out of his throat. She tried to rock her chest away from his to regain control but he held tighter and bottomed out. Her eyes rolled back. Got her. He nipped her bottom lip. “You wanted to watch, remember? Eyes on me.”


DJ hadn’t planned to stay the night. Yet there he was. In his boxers, seated in a chair across from the bed, feet propped on an ottoman, watching Scott Van Pelt’s Sportscenter. Lexi sat lotus style on the bed, dressed in a navy short shorts and a white tank top. The wound-up maid of honor was long gone, so was the cocksure vixen he’d tangled with in the chair and between the sheets. Now she was at ease; her twists in a loose bun at the nape of her neck, phone in one hand, a piece of weed brownie in the other. (He knew there was something off about the brownie in her purse at the reception.) Quietly, he was worn out. Her generous offer to share her brownie and bourbon was an excuse to chill for the night.

“Roni hates the term ‘black love’ by the way,” Lexi declared from the bed.

“Huh?”

“You tagged one of the pics you posted from the reception hashtag black love. She hates that shit.”

He couldn’t be high already. Maybe he misheard her. “How do you hate ‘black love’?”

“If you ask Roni, it’s ‘fake woke social media nonsense.’”

“Fake. Woke. Social media. Nonsense.” He pondered the words as they left his mouth. “Break that one down for me?”

“Simple. Black folks been falling in love forever. It’s not rare. Why genuflect at every instance of it?”

She has a point. As far as he was concerned, love just happened. Without benchmarks or ultimatums or extra ceremony. His female friends and cousins put #blacklove under pictures of he and Ayesha with those corny heart eye emojis, but he chalked that up to girls liking that shit. He looked at Lexi, still glued to her phone. Most girls. “What’s your deal?” he asked.

A chill crept into her tone. “My deal?”

He’d skated into tough territory. “Yeah,” he put a smile in his voice. “Everybody’s got something. Take me. Military brat. Can’t sit still too long. Skeptical of authority…”

“Ahhh.” She pointed at his chest. “Hence the tattoo.”

He nodded. He rarely thought of his father’s dog tag tattooed right above his heart until a woman brought it to his attention. “Your turn.”

She tapped her chin. “Let’s go with introverted only child who hates teamwork.”

“‘Hates teamwork?’” DJ eyed the mess of clothes on the floor. “I can’t tell.”

When she caught his meaning, she returned his grin. “‘Hates teamwork,’ asterisk.”

“So. No ‘black love’…” he teased. “Till it’s your turn. Then you’ll have all the hashtags. ‘Black love,’ ‘My King,’ ‘Relationship Goals.’”

“Speak for yourself.” She popped another piece of brownie in her mouth. “Some Michelle Obama type will settle you down. You’ll have brown babies with your eyes. Trade your cargos and Jordans for boat shorts…”

She could have pulled the scene off his ex’s vision board. Down to those damn boat shorts she failed to force on him. “What makes you think I want that?”

“It’s what you all want eventually.”

He didn’t have to ask what she meant. He was in his 30s. Had a good job. Nice crib. According to the playbook, it was “time.”

He didn’t give a shit about the playbook.

Lexi didn’t seem to give a shit about it either. At least not at the moment. Life twitched between his legs again. With the weed and drink in his system, he was good for one more round. He took another bite of brownie before he stood up. “‘You all?’” he stalked toward the bed, eyeing her bare legs and what hid between them. “I’m offended.”

Her eyes — heavy with inebriation — turned daring. “You gonna do something about that?”

“Nope. You are.” DJ pulled down his boxers. “Take off your clothes.”