Monday, September 26, 2011

More Than a Book Club

Authors understand that book clubs are our lifeline.  Support from book clubs can make or break a book. But is it just getting together and reading books?  SistahFriend Book Club founder Tasha Martin has the answer.

Q.  Tasha, SistahFriend is so much more than a book club.  When and why did the idea for the club begin?
Thanks, Donna. The group was founded in 2004 as a response to my desire to reconnect with and meet women who shared a passion for reading and needed a little self-care retreat.

Q.  Do you remember the first book club book choice?
Oh, yes! It was Brown Sugar 2, a collection of short-stories edited by Carol Taylor. It’s still one of my favorite anthologies and I still follow many of the authors who wrote for it.

Q. How does the club decide on which book to read?
Each branch has a host for the month that chooses the book of the month. We push diversity, so each member gets a chance to choose a book. However, we gossip about good books so you may see more than one branch reading the same book.

Q. When did you know that you had to expand and what steps did you take?
I knew we had to expand once we created our website and started receiving inquiries to join from a broad range of places, like Japan. Our first step was to incorporate until we attained non-profit status, since we’re big on community service and empowerment. We are currently a 501(c)4 with a board of directors and national officers.

Q. How many chapters do you have now?  How many active members?
We have 7 chapters and close to 50 members.

Q. What are some of the initiatives that SistahFriend has undertaken and why?
We are big on community service, so each branch participates in service according to the need in their community. A current one is the Extreme Couponing Faceoff in Columbia, SC, our founding branch. The entire branch sold personal items at a local flea market to raise money. Two members then split that money into 2-$30 gift cards and decided to do a friendly competition and see who could stretch the money the farthest. All items will be donated to Sistercare, a local charity for women and children survivors of domestic abuse.

Another initiative was the African-American Literary Festival, held in Columbia, SC in 2010. It was a free event to the public that promoted literacy in the family. We had featured author sessions, vendors, and a children’s corner. We even had a Pink Diamond Award Ceremony where we honored a few of our favorite authors, including our honorary Sistah Donna Hill, for their work in the world of literature.

A big initiative is our national anniversary celebration hosted in January. We provide a literary and empowerment retreat for our members. It is the SFBC kickoff event for the year that we hope empowers our women for the following twelve months. Next year we’re planning a cozy retreat in the mountains with the theme: Mystery in Pink, where we’re reading a suspense and doing activities under the sub-theme: Unraveling the mystery in me.

Q. How do you keep your members involved and interested?
We have many avenues for them to be involved: monthly book retreats, online communication, phone links, social gatherings (branch-wide) and national retreats. We try to offer new and exciting member-only promotions and perks every once in a while to keep the excitement peaked.

Q. How does the club support authors?
One big way is that each of our branches chooses its own book of the month, and each member has an opportunity to host a meeting. We do this for reading diversity. Also, we encourage author visits to branches, including online chats. We also invite authors to our biggest meeting of the year, our anniversary celebration in January. The same tradition will continue when we host our 2nd African-American Literary Festival.

Q. Do you have a criteria for membership? Can anyone start a SistahFriend chapter?
The main criteria for membership are an appreciation of literacy and dedication to service. We encourage any woman or group of women to open a chapter, provided they meet the earlier stated membership requirement and have a spirit of entrepreneurship.

Q. What suggestions could you offer to someone wanting to start a book club?
 I encourage them to research what’s out there first, then figure out what you do and do not want to happen in your club. Next, develop guidelines and a marketing plan. Finally, know that it is work. Plus, for it to work, you have to believe in what you’re doing—another crucial marketing principle.

Q. One of your current projects is a Cookbook. Tell us about that.
We released the SistahFriend Book Club Perfect Parties! Cookbook this summer. It has nearly a hundred recipes from members across the U.S., from drinks to signature dishes. A few include: Bahamian Macaroni & Cheese, Cajun crawfish dishes from the southwest, and the SFBC’s signature drink, P.D.’s (Those who’ve had it, know what it is ;-)

Q. How will you use the proceeds from the sales of the cookbook?
Proceeds will support our network as well as community outreach.

Q. What is the club reading now?
To name a few, the virtual branch is reading My Soul to Take by Tananarive Due. A few of our sites are reading Exposed by Naomi Chase, and Dancing in the Street by Susan E. Smith, Fourth Sunday: A Journey of a Book Club.

Q. What's next for SistahFriend?
That is a very good question. My hope is that we continue to expand and provide quality literary and empowerment retreats for women. We also plan to expand further west in the U.S. and in neighboring territories.

Q. How can readers find out more about SistahFriend?
They can find more information about us at , facebook: /SistahFriend, and twitter: /SistahFriend

Thanks so much Tasha!   Here’s how you can purchase the book.

Purchases can be made at:

Friday, September 16, 2011


Hi Bettye. Thanks for taking time to chat with me.  I have the greatest respect for you as a writer and contemporary and now as an entrepreneur in the publishing industry.  I know the readers will be inspired by your journey.
Q. Your career as an author began many years ago. “Back in the day,” as the kids would say. Tell the readers about your very first deal. How and when did it happen?

Donna, thanks so much for your kind words.  Not to turn this into a syrup-fest, but I’ve admired your work for many years. You were one of my earliest influences back when you were writing for Odyssey (remember them?) and I was still dreaming of getting my work published.

About my first deal, it was soooo long ago, but I remember submitting the entire manuscript of my third effort (after two rejections) to Monica Harris at Arabesque.  Months and months went by, and I began to think that I’d had the bad timing t submit before an extended sick or maternity leave, or before she took another job.  I then learned it was the latter scenario, so I patiently waited while the editor chair was filled and the new editor went through what had to be a mountain of manuscripts.  After another two months I called the new editor (Karen Thomas) to follow up, only to have her say she was just going to call me.  She wanted to buy my manuscript.  At Long Last Love was published in late 1998.

Incidentally, I did get to work with Monica Harris.  Years later she edited one of my mainstreams, If These Walls Could Talk, on a freelance basis during a period when the editor’s chair at Dafina was vacant.  She said some very nice things about my work that I still remember.

Q. Since you began, how have you seen the publishing industry change?

Most of the changes have come in recent years.  People have always self-published, but with the development of print-on-demand and the eBook, it is easier and more economical than ever…and profitable, too, so more and more people (only some of whom are skilled writers) are doing it.  Also, many independent bookstores closed (remember the black bookstore?) as the superstore chains expanded, and now I think the trend might be reversing as superstore chains close stores, but it won’t be easy for the remaining indie stores to stay open, either.  Booksignings have become rare, too, but literary events still allow for personal interaction between readers and authors.

Q. How have you had to adjust your writing and your focus to adapt to the new literary landscape—if at all?

I’ve pretty much always told the stories I wanted to tell, and of course now that I don’t have an editor to answer to that won’t change.  Even though connecting books about members of the same family are popular, I never wrote them because I just don’t care for them much.  Likewise, books today are containing more sex because readers seem to love it (sometimes I wonder, isn’t anybody out there getting any, teehee?), but I let the placement of sex scenes be dictated by the storyline, not because I feel I have to have a sex scene in the first 50 pages or risk losing readers.  I hate to sound so blatantly unfeeling; I do care about my readers’ satisfaction, and I try to please them by writing entertaining stories.  But the way I see it, if I don’t enjoy what I’m writing, what’s the point in doing it in the first place?  I like money as much as the next person, but I’m not a hack.

Q. During your years as a published author with a major publishing house, you at some point decided to take your career into your own hands and embrace technology and e-books.  What led you to this decision?

I had a story I believed was just charming that my agent was unable to sell.  The storyline just wouldn’t leave me alone, so in 2009 I started Bunderful Books (my husband’s first initial is also B., and our last name is Underwood, so I was going to call it Bunderwood, but then did a little finagling) in 2009 I wrote the damn thing and published it myself as Save The Best For Last.  My intent was to publish any stores I couldn’t sell plus my backlist, since I’d already been dropped by Arabesque in 2007.  When Kensington dropped me as well in 2010 (good thing I’m not sensitive about these things), Bunderful Books became my primary outlet.  My agent has since gotten my rights reverted to me for all ten of my Arabesque titles, although my six mainstreams are still owned by Kensington.

Q. How has that transition worked for you so far?

As they say, it’s the only way to fly!  The clincher was when I approached an editor at St. Martin’s about the book I had wanted to write for Dafina when my editor there, who loved it, was unable to convince the powers-that-be to offer me another contract.  I knew it was a great story, and I was thrilled when the editor at St. Martin’s replied within a week and asked to see a partial.  After a reasonable three months I requested an update with no response.  After four months I asked my agent to get involved, again with no response.  After six months I wrote a letter withdrawing the project from consideration (and stating I felt it was pretty tacky for her to ignore my and my agent’s polite requests for updates).  That experience pretty much soured me on traditional publishing.  My thoughts were, who needs this sh*t when I can just do it myself?  (I hope to have the eBook of this story out next spring; it’ll be my first indie published women’s fiction title.)

Q. Which of your titles have you personally uploaded as e-books?

All of the ones I have published myself to date:  Original titles Save The Best For Last and The Heat of Heat are available in print and eBook format, and my first backlist title, A Love of Her Own, and my 3-book bundle of the aforementioned titles are available in eBook format only.  Learning the correct formatting was challenging, but I think I’ve got it now, and I now write my books with the same template.

Q. Are these all original titles or are they your earlier books or a combination of both?

To date I have independently published two original titles, one backlist title, and one collection of all three.  My next two books, both coming out this fall, will consist of one original title and one rewritten backlist title.

Q. Did you form an actual business (publishing co) in order to market and distribute your e-books?

It wasn’t necessary for me to incorporate.  Filing for a legal fictitious name with the state of Wisconsin, where I live, which was sufficient for my purposes; my little operation is hardly Random House.  My distribution is handled through various eBook sites, and all of my profits are paid to me under my legal name, so I don’t have to bother with setting up a business bank account.  Some people skip that step altogether and simply publish under their own names, i.e., “Mary Smith.”

Q. What tools did you find most helpful in converting your books?

I keep it simple with MS Word formatting.  I had help from Mark Coker’s free eBook available at Smashwords about formatting eBooks.  I have since learned that the Kindle does not indent new paragraphs that fall on the top of a page, so I now use block formatting with an extra space between paragraphs to keep everything clear for the readers.

Q. What is your most recent book? Can you tell us a little bit about it? Whet our appetites.

I’d rather tell you about my upcoming original title, A Kiss of a Different Color.  This is, as you’ve probably guessed, an interracial romance.  The premise is of unemployed physical therapy assistant Miranda Rhett, who out of desperation leaves her home in Racine, Wisconsin, to take a job in the employment-rich state of North Dakota, specifically Bismarck.  When she gets there she pursues her lifelong dream of ballroom dancing and pairs up with a charming recent transplant from Minneapolis, Jon Lindbergh.  In an unexpected turn, Miranda makes wonderful new friends in a wide multicultural arc, to the point where she has more of a social life in Bismarck than she did in Racine.  She also finds herself falling for Jon, whose family history of four generations of failed marriages has made a non-believer out of him.  His primary interest seems to be hooking up with someone to spend a cold North Dakota winter with.  Miranda doesn’t believe in pursuing failure, plus they learn they have the same employer, who in the wake of a sexual harassment scandal instituted a no-dating rule among employees on different rungs of the corporate ladder.  But with those magical sparks that pass between them every time they look at each other, and with an average high winter temperature in the single digits and frequent dips below zero, what’s a girl to do?

Q. Readers often think that writers are only writers but there are so much more to them.  When Bettye is not in writing mode what is a typical day like for her?

Bettye is always in writing mode, or promotion mode.  Aside from that it’s the usual stuff most women without kids at home do.  I dust, vacuum, defrost, cook (a particular favorite), pay bills, pull weeds, plant flowers, watch old movies, etc.  This being Wisconsin, where the temperature is currently 43 degrees at 10 in the morning, I do try to limit my trips outdoors during the coldest months to two or three times a week.  The thing I’ve learned about a typical day is that there is no typical day.  It seems that something always happens…I could be sitting working with my laptop (or taking a bubble bath) when my husband calls and tells me he forget his Blackberry and can I bring it to him…or, if he’s feeling romantic, invite me to lunch, or the newspaper editor will call and remind me my column was due three days ago, or the doctor or dentist’s office will call and tell me an earlier appointment just opened up if I can get there in half an hour, etc.

Q. Is there a book or an author’s body of work that sent you on your journey as a published author?

Not really.  I knew I wanted to be a writer when I was very young.  But you, Donna, were one of my she-roes, as was my husband’s cousin, who wrote romance novels under the name “Ebonie Snoe.”  Books about contemporary black people were rare prior to the early 1990s; the only books that were published were about slaves or sharecroppers or people being persecuted in the 1940s or 1950s.  Real depressing stuff I personally couldn’t relate to.

Q. When you are not writing, what kinds of books do you like to read?

I’ve become an eReader fanatic, and right now I’m discovering some talented unknown writers (Tiphanie Thomas and Erin Kern, to name two) who sell their books in the popular price range.  The only way I will spend more than $3.99 on an eBook is if it was written by a traditionally published author whose work I really enjoy.  Women’s fiction is my favorite, with intelligently written romance (in other words, without stereotypes or wildly improbable situations) a second.  By the way, Donna, your What Mother Never Told Me blew me away.  It was told in a breathtakingly beautiful, lyrical fashion often not seen in books today, many of which paint no visuals whatsoever but merely tell everything.

Q. What are you currently working on now?

I was hoping to publish the eBook version of my 2006 romance One on One this month, but I moved up a pivotal scene that ended up changing the dynamics of the entire story, requiring much more extensive rewriting than what I planned on (I’ve been married long enough to have forgotten how sex complicates things among uncommitted lovers).  I might still have it ready to go, but it will most likely be mid-October, depending on my editor’s schedule.

Q. Would you advise authors to do their own thing and bypass traditional publishing and do e-books instead? If so, what steps do you recommend that they take?

I’m not much for giving unsolicited advice, but I do recommend it highly.  I can only scratch my head when authors continue to look for someone to publish the numerous manuscripts they have stockpiled, since true writers write whether they have a deal or not.  I’m already hoping I live long enough to see my entire idea file come to life as completed books!  Some writers just prefer to go through a publisher for their own reasons, although I can’t imagine what those reasons could be.  Let’s see, 18-24 months until publication for a publisher, vs. whenever it’s ready when done independently…stress to earn out that advance for traditional vs. no stress for independents…profits of as little as 8% of cover price for traditional vs. 35% to 70% for independents…I personally don’t see any contest.  And yes, I might have been dropped by two different publishers, but I also know I’m a damn good writer (she said modestly, teehee) and certainly don’t need the validation of a traditional publisher.  The sense of immediacy is priceless, especially if it’s been several years since your last book came out.  Readers have short memories, and they quickly form new favorites.  Stay away for three or four years and they may well forget who you are…uh, were.

I would recommend hiring a professional editor (although experienced authors who are more likely to know more about plotting and grammar and can probably get by with just a proofreader) and a cover designer.  I use Kimberly Rowe-Van Allen for editing and Sean D. Young (also an author) for cover design.  I believe that the aforementioned two former editors, Karen Thomas and Monica Harris, are both currently involved in offering services to independent authors, and my former editors Chandra Sparks Taylor and Rakia Clark both do freelance editing.  I absolutely would not recommend that traditionally published authors simply download the manuscripts they submitted and start selling it, because the publishing house had it edited and generally cleaned up and it is likely not ready for prime time in its raw form.  I’ve read reviews on Amazon where annoyed readers have complained about multitudes of typos and grammatical errors in the work of authors whose names had previously gone on polished projects, so at least get a proofreader.  These steps, in my mind, are both essential.  Doing one and skipping the other…well, do you remember the stinky guy in high school who played basketball all afternoon and then put on clean clothes over his funky body and went to the party?  Yeah.  Major stink.

Also, if you’re doing a backlist title, see if it needs to be updated…or at least stick a date at the beginning, i.e. “2002.”  My heroine in A Love of Her Own (originally published in 1999) “had been meaning to get one of those new cell phones” and drove an Oldsmobile, ha!

Finally, formatting can be tricky to master, but if you try it, take a thorough look at the previews to make sure it looks good throughout (I have sat and skimmed every page).  If not, I’d suggest hiring someone for that as well.  And learn to write compelling cover copy.  Remember, you can always tweak it later, but try to hit the mark the first time out.  Finally, price it reasonably.  There’s nothing worse than a book with a homemade-looking cover and a $7.99 price…unless the book has a homemade-looking cover, a $7.99 price, is unedited, and is only 75 pages long.  The consumer in me won’t buy an independently published eBook that’s more than $3.99 in today’s climate of lower prices, because I feel the author is just being greedy.

Q. Where can readers find out more about you and your work?

Visit my two web sites… and  You can read excerpts from both One on One and A Kiss of a Different Color, at least once I get them loaded.  I’ve got to do some writing!

Thank you so much Bettye and continued blessings and success to you!


Monday, September 12, 2011

Excerpt from Legacy of Love

The heavens were a dusty dark blue, cloudless, with pinpoints of stars illuminating the canvas of night.  Jazz, hip-hop and R&B could be heard as doors to cafes and night clubs opened and closed to a rhythm that was unique to a Saturday night in Atlanta.
They walked in companionable silence, taking in the sights and sounds with no particular destination in mind, when Zoe spotted a Pinkberry.
“Oh, we’ve got to stop.”
“Stop where?”
“At Pinkberry. They have the absolute, hands down best frozen yogurt on the planet.”
Jackson laughed. “All that, huh. Guess I should try some.”
“You have to,” she said as if not doing so was the most outlandish thing she’d heard. Without thinking, she grabbed his hand and pulled him behind her through the opened glass door.
“Mango is my favorite,” she said in a pseudo whisper. “But any of them are good.”
They inched up on the line.
Jackson watched in amusement as her face lit up talking about something as simple as frozen yogurt and relished in the fact that she still held his hand.
Her soft fingers felt good in his. He wanted to hold her tighter but didn’t want to break the spell and disturb the spontaneity. To him it felt like the most natural thing in the world.
She turned to gaze up and him, the most delightful smile on her mouth.
“Do you know what you want?”
That was a loaded question, he thought. “Um, I’ll have what you’re having.”
Zoe stepped up to the counter and ordered two medium mango yogurts to go.
Reluctantly, Jackson released her hand took out his wallet and paid for their desserts.
“We can sit over there,” Jackson said, lifting his chin toward a bank of tables and benches in the pedestrian plaza.
They stepped off the curb and onto the island that was cut off from traffic for one block and adorned with benches, round stone or metal tables and chairs in between potted trees and shrubbery.
Jackson spotted a curved bench with a round table and they walked over. Zoe scooted onto the bench and Jackson slid over beside her.
“I can never get over how crowded it is at night Jackson said, before taking his first sample of the yogurt.  “Hmmm.”
“Told ya,” Zoe beamed. She put a spoonful in her mouth and closed her eyes as the pleasure trickled through her.  “My one guilty pleasure.”
“Just one?”
She looked across at him from beneath her long lashes.  “So far.”
“How about if I said something crazy like . . . let me be another one of your guilty pleasures?”
Her cheeks heated. She slowly licked the confection from her spoon. “And what if I said . . . I think I’d like that very much.” She held her breath.
Jackson draped his arm behind her. His fingers played with one of her locs that had come loose. His eyes moved slowly across her face, down the curve of her slender neck to the rise of her breasts before returning to her lips.
Zoe’s lips parted in anticipation as he drew nearer until his image blurred and the tenderness of his mouth blended with hers. His fingers threaded along the back of her neck easing her closer and they shared the sticky mango sweetness as their mouths met and mingled, tasting and testing.
The urge to possess her fully rose up inside him with such force that he had to tear himself away but then her tongue ran teasingly along the contours of his mouth and any hope of freedom was gone. He could feel the blood pounding in his head, and the sound of tribal drums filling the night air. He was running. He could feel them coming behind him. The sound of the hounds baying in the night. He knew that if he could make it to the river they would lose his scent and he would have a chance. He had to survive.
Zoe’s soft sighs pricked the images that had enveloped him dragging him back to some unknown place, and the drumming grew faint and the scent of river water faded and the hounds stopped their terrifying howling.
Shaken, Jackson eased back and the expression of acceptance and fear that hovered in Zoe’s eyes let him know that she had been there, too.
“Zoe,” he whispered her name like a prayer. “I don’t know what just happened . . .” He ran his finger along the soft curve of her jaw. She shuddered under his touch.
“Neither do I.” Her breathing kicked up a notch. “I . . .I wasn’t here . . .I mean I was here, physically, but . . .”
“I know,” he said urgently. “That’s the same way I felt. Like an outer body experience.”
She wanted to tell him what had been happening to her, the dreams, the weight that had been put on her shoulders. She needed to share it all with him and only him. But she was afraid. Just be yourself, she heard herself saying to Linda, and saw the image of her and Mike on the bench. That moment had been a turning point for them. And here she was at that same crossroads. She shifted her gaze away. “Wow, the yogurt is melting.”
“We can get some more if you want.”
“No. I’m fine. I am getting a little tired though.”
Jackson stood. “I better get you home then.”
They walked back toward the garage and this time it was Jackson who reached for and took Zoe’s hand. They strolled together slowly talking and laughing softly about the music that they liked growing up and now, their favorite teachers, the troubles that the Gulf Coast had experienced in the last ten years and their passion for African Art.
“I’ve been collecting pieces for years,” Zoe was saying as Jackson slowed the car when he pulled onto her street.
“From all parts of Africa, particularly Mali. It’s where my ancestors are from.”
“You traced your ancestry?”
“Since I was a little girl, my family has always talked about where our family came from. According to Nana Zora and the stories that she was told by her mother and grandmother, great-great grandmother Zinzi was a conjure woman and head of her village. She was married to Etu, the son of the chief of the adjoining village . . .” She told him about their capture and how they were separated when they were brought to Louisiana and sold at auction. She left out the part about the legacy and the heartache that had haunted their family for generations. Perhaps the time would come later.
“The house and the land that we lived on was the house of the former slave owner, Ezekiel Beaumont.”
“Amazing,” he said in awe.
“My house is the one on the right.”
Jackson eased to a stop in front of her house and cut off the engine. He turned to her. “Home safe and sound.”
She lowered her head then looked directly at him. “I’m suddenly not tired anymore.” She hesitated but a moment. “And I’m not ready for the night to end.”
“Neither am I.” He ran a finger across her brow.
“Would you like to come in for a little while?  I think I have some wine and plenty of music.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
She drew in a breath, turned and unlocked her door.

“These pieces are incredible,” he said admiring the small sculptures on the shelves and tabletops and the artwork on the white walls. “This is better than some galleries I’ve seen.”
“Thank you.” She handed him his glass of wine.
He raised his glass to hers. “To a wonderful evening and more to come.”
Zoe touched her glass to his and took a tiny sip. “So what would you like to listen to?”
“Why don’t you choose?  I’m easy.”
“Okay.” She set down her glass and crossed the hard wood floors to the entertainment unit that was housed behind a built-in wall cabinet. She opened the double doors to reveal a fifty-two inch television and a stereo system that could easily find its way into a recording studio. In the cabinet beneath were racks of CDs and albums. She slowly spun the rack and picked out six CDs and put them in the player. Moments later the sultry, plaintive voice of Billie Holiday filled the room with her signature song, God Bless the Child.
“Aww, Billie,” Jackson said.  He put his glass down on an end table and turned toward Zoe. He held out his hand. “Dance with me.”
Zoe’s heart thundered in her chest and her legs felt weak as she placed her hand in his. Slowly he gathered her close until nothing but the fabric of their clothing separated them.
They swayed together in perfect unison as if they’d always danced together. As Billie soothed them, Zoe felt her body relax and melt against Jackson. She closed her eyes and gave herself over to the moment.
As the song came to its pitch perfect close, Jackson lifted Zoe’s chin with the tip of his finger. They stood motionless, captured in each other’s gaze. Whatever hesitation she may have had dissipated. She wanted him and she wanted him to want her just as much.
And he did.
The kiss was slow as he brushed his lips across hers.  He teased her bottom lip with his teeth then his tongue and delighted in feeling her shiver against him. He cupped the back of her head in his large palm and drew her to him fully. Her lips parted ever so slightly and he teased them open further with his tongue until she let him in.
Her soft moan drifted into his soul and he felt like the sun had found a place inside him. She curled against him igniting a full-blown erection that shook him to his core. His hands stroked her back, her arms, caressed her hips. He wanted to explore all of her if she’d let him.
Zoe eased down one strap of her dress and then the other. Jackson picked up the invitation and lowered the top of her dress to her waist to expose her full breasts.
His mouth dropped from hers and skimmed her long neck, suckling the tender space near her collarbone. She whimpered and desire fueled his exploration. Her skin felt like silk and smelled like forever. If he lived to be one hundred he would never get enough of her scent. He planted hot kisses along the rise of her breasts.
She arched her back in offering and he took the succulent fruit into his mouth, tasting and teasing the sweet brown nipples until she trembled, gripping his arms to keep from crumbling at his feet.
He was so hard that he hurt and he took her hand and placed it on his need, making her understand what she was doing to him and how much he wanted her.
Zoe’s touch was like a branding iron, hot and steamy and a strangled groan rose from the bottom of his feet when she began a slow and deliberate massage, gripping and releasing him in a maddening rhythm.
The music swelled in the background as Billie released that last heart-wrenching note then segued to Body and Soul.
Zoe took a small step back. She was on fire and she needed Jackson to douse the flames that threatened to consume her. “Come with me,” she said in a husky whisper. She took his hand and led him down the hallway to her bedroom. She opened the door and looked at him over her shoulder. Once she crossed the threshold there was no turning back but she felt in her heart that making love with Jackson was every iota of right.
She stepped inside and Jackson followed. She walked to her bed and sat down on the edge. Jackson slowly approached. He took her hands and pulled her to her feet.
“I want to see all of you.” He slid her dress down over her hips she stepped over the pool that it made at her feet. She was bare except for a tiny black lace thong that she was so happy she’d decided to wear.
He reached out and touched her right breast. His palm grazed her hardened nipple. Her eyelids fluttered. He moved closer, lowered his head and took her into his mouth. She moaned in pleasure.
Zoe fumbled with the buttons of his shirt and wondered why her fingers wouldn’t follow her commands. Finally she managed to get them opened and tugged his shirt off of him. Jackson tossed it to the floor. She went for his belt buckle, the rising desire and blind need, sabotaging her rationale, conservative self. She wasn’t thinking with her head. Her body was totally in charge. When she unzipped him and felt the hard weight of him in the palm of her hand she felt wet between her legs.
Jackson instinctively knew that she was flowing and readying herself for him. He looped one arm around her waist to hold her in place and his other slipped between her sweet thighs and fingered the swollen clit that longed for his attention.
“Ahhhh.” She sucked in air. Her knees weakened.
Jackson eased her back onto the bed. He stepped out of his pants and shorts and joined her.  They stretched out side-by-side facing each other. He kissed her softly on the mouth, down her neck, between the swell of her breasts, down the center of her body, played for a moment and the navel. Her skin quivered beneath his lips.
            All the while his fingers explored her and her body bathed them with her essence. Her pelvis moved instinctively in slow circles, while his fingers slid in and out and in and out.
            Zoe gripped the sheets in her fists and pushed her heels into the mattress when he moved down between her trembling thighs. His mouth cupped her sex, sucked her in before dipping his tongue into the valley of honey.
            Her entire body jerked. The muscles in her stomach fluttered. He grabbed her hips and licked and laved her until she was like butter, melting under his ministrations.
            “Jackson!” she cried out tossing her head back and forth in the throes of passion.
            “I’m right here baby,” he said. “Let it happen. Let me love you.” He took her in his mouth again and the fire grew.
            The flames began at her feet and traveled up her legs, raced along her body and ignited her breasts before exploding into an inferno that sent her screams of release soaring into the air in concert with Billie’s Me and My Man.
            Jackson knew he couldn’t hold out much longer but he wanted her totally satisfied. He wanted her to remember this first night the way he knew he would remember it—that it was the turning point in their lives, a coupling that would change them forever. He didn’t know how he knew that he simply did, he realized as he moved between her legs.
            He draped her legs over his arms and rose up on his knees. His erection was so hard that it jumped and pulsed took on a life of its own, tugging him toward satisfaction.
            When his hot tip touched her wet opening, it took all of his willpower to keep from exploding.
            Zoe wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him to her. She tasted herself on his mouth and sucked on his bottom lip with her teeth.
            Jackson pushed in just a little. The throbbing head crossed the moist threshold.
            Zoe moaned, imprinting her fingers on his back. She squeezed her eyes shut as he arched her legs higher and wider and entered her fully.
            “Ohhhh,” he groaned as her walls tightened and surrounded him.
            And the room moved into the distance. The music shifted from the bluesy tones of Billie to the pulsing drumbeat and bare feet dancing and pounding on dusty earth. Brilliant colors flashed in the distance as the tribesmen and women celebrated the consummation of Zinzi and Etu. The newly married couple moved together to the crescendo of celebration as they learned each other’s bodies to the rhythm as old as time. The union was a sacred one, destined to be and all the more potent because of the true love that blazed in Zinzi’s eyes as she lay beneath her husband, welcoming him into the dark hot valley of her body, crying out when he met the slightest resistance before breaking through the thin veil that separated them.
And the pounding beat of the drums joined with the macaw cries of the women of the village and rushed through their veins intensifying their moment. Zinzi raised her legs higher, opened for her husband. And the drums beat faster, louder carrying the newly joined couple along the rushing waters of the river, above the branches of the highest trees, tossing them against the heavens where they burst into a million pinpoints of lights becoming one with the stars above.
The images bloomed and the past and present merged, sucking Zoe and Jackson into the twisting, turning funnel of ecstasy that roared through Jackson gushing through Zoe’s walls, to erupt in her soul sending her on a spiraling journey of unspeakable joy.  Their strangled cries of release rose and met Billie’s final note of As Time Goes By.


* * *

Jackson wrapped his arm around Zoe’s waist and held her as close as their spooning bodies would allow. He buried his head in her hair and let the essence of her scent drift through and quiet the racing beat of his heart and the tumultuous thoughts that tore through his head. 
He wasn’t sure what had happened between them. He was here with her, inside of her but at the same time he felt as if he’d been transported someplace else in the distant past. That was crazy, of course, because he was right here in her bed in the house on Drew Lane in Atlanta, Georgia.  Yet, it felt like a dream that had somehow come alive. He cupped her breast in his palm and tenderly kissed the back of her neck.  This was no dream.
Zoe stared into the darkness, listening to the comforting beat of Jackson’s heart against her back. She’d been there, on the mat in a small hut with the villagers drumming and dancing in celebration of the consummation of her marriage. But she wasn’t married. She was a single woman, with a history of mediocre relationships, a family tree with leaves that shook, a job that she loved and a man in her bed that she’d only recently met but understood that she knew forever.  How could all of that be true at once? Zoe wondered if he’d had the same experience. The same live dream that she’d had the instant he’d entered her. She shivered. Jackson pulled her closer.
“Something . . . happened,” he whispered into the night.
Zoe’s senses heightened. “Something . . .?”
“I’ve never felt that way before. Been to that place . . .” He exhaled.  “I can’t explain it.” He kissed her shoulder and caressed her breast, teasing the nipple back to erection. He felt himself growing hard again.
Zoe moaned when her swollen clit twitched in response to his increasing caresses. She pressed her rear against his rising member and wound her hips until he thought he would go mad. She twisted her body away from him until she was facing him. She cupped his face and kissed him long and deep then pushed him onto his back before straddling him. She felt free and totally uninhibited as she rose up then slowly lowered herself onto the length him.
Jackson squeezed the taut globes of her rear and pulled her fully down onto him. Her head flung back and the veins in her neck stood out as she was totally impaled on the hard shaft that pulsed deep within her.
Zoe leaned forward and gripped the headboard to steady herself as she began a languid ride. Their bodies moved in perfect symmetry, flowing one onto the other, letting the sensations guide them, the intensity increase their speed.
The headboard banged steadily against the wall. The mattress gave and released as Jackson pushed upward willing his body to touch the core of her. “Come on baby. Come to me,” he ground out.
Zoe’s heart pounded like crazy against her chest making her lightheaded and her breath to come in short panging gasps. “Right there, right there,” she groaned, thrusting her pelvis forward and the muscles in her body tightened and that white hot heat sluiced through her veins, then pooled in the pit of her stomach.  Her walls clenched and her entire body shook as the grip and release of her shuddering orgasm milked Jackson down to the bone.

When Zoe opened her eyes, the first glow of daybreak lurked just beyond the horizon. Jackson stirred beside her. In the filtered light, she studied this man she’d laid with. In a word, beautiful. He was physically fit from head to toe, with toned muscles that rippled when he moved and a rock hard stomach that could easily be an ad for television.  His skin was just rough enough to keep it from being soft, and his scent when she pressed her face to his flesh drove her crazy.
Tenderly her hand trailed the length of his side and across his flat belly, lowered to stroke his treasure. The air caught momentarily in her lungs as her fingers traversed the silky skin that covered his penis that even at half mast was long and thick—ready.
She moaned softly, letting her fingers wrap around him. He was simply magnificent. She’d been with men before. She’d had great orgasms, but none had filled her.  None had stretched her to her limits.  None had made her see things, leave her body and come back for more.  No, none of the others had done that. She stroked him now, slow and steady, reveling her in power to make his rise fully in her hand and hear his moans of pleasures and he came awake.
Zoe wanted to taste him, to feel the pulse of the veins in her mouth, run her tongue along the sleek head and wake it weep.  She licked the very tip then began making tiny circles until her lips captured him.
“Agggg.” He laced his fingers through her hair and sucked in air through clenched teeth, knowing that all he could do was give her what she’d gone after and enjoy the ride.

In the full light of day, Zoe expected to feel shy or awkward. Oddly, she didn’t. Moving around in her kitchen preparing breakfast and listening to Jackson sing off key in the shower seemed like the most natural thing in the world.
She poured orange juice into a glass cafĂ©, scooped softly whipped eggs onto a platter alongside whole wheat French toast and fat turkey sausage.  She placed the tray on the table just as Jackson appeared in the doorway. The whole room seemed to shift or maybe it was her heart finally settling into place.
“Morning . . . again.” He grinned and strolled over to where she stood. Holding her steady with a look he lowered his head and gently kissed her still swollen lips. “Hmmm. Just like I remembered.”
She giggled and playfully plucked his arm.  “It hasn’t been that long.” She hooked her fingers along the edge of the towel that was tucked around his waist.
“Long enough for me to recover.” His large hands nearly encircled her waist and he realized how fragile her body was. He took her mouth with his own and savored again the sweetness of her tongue playing with his. He backed her up against the counter teasing the underside of her breasts with his thumbs. He nuzzled down her neck, pushing aside the folds of her robe. “Hmmm. You make me crazy,” he groaned before taking a dark nipple into his mouth.
Zoe’s knees wobbled and she felt the inside of her thighs tremble. Jackson tugged on the belt that held her robe closed and practically tore it from her body.  His hunger for her flashed so quickly and with such urgency that he was blinded to where they were. All he knew was that he wanted her.  Now.
He pulled his towel away, tossed it on the floor and lifted Zoe into his arms. She wrapped her legs above his hips and laced her fingers behind his head an instant before he rammed inside her with such force that starbursts flashed behind her eyes.
She buried her face in his neck to keep from screaming.  The intensity of his thrusts drove her rapidly to the edge and there was nothing she could do to hold back the inevitable. She was coming hard and fast.
And so was he.

It was nearly noon by the time Zoe and Jackson got themselves together and settled on a truce to stay at least five feet away from each other until they got this crazy lust thing under control.
“How about we kiss to make it official,” Jackson teased, finishing up his second shower of the morning. He shoved his arms into the sleeves of his shirt.
“Uh, no, I don’t think so, buddy.”  Her cat was still purring and she didn’t dare risk him coming anywhere near her anytime soon. She twisted her hair on top of her head and tied the string on her sweatpants into a knot, not that a simple knot would stop him if he really decided to get back inside her pants so to speak.
To seal the deal they sat on opposite sides of Zoe’s couch intermittently stealing glances at each other and laughing like fools as they finished up brunch and watched Intimate Betrayal, a made for television movie.
When the movie was over, Jackson helped clean up the kitchen and kept his promise to keep his hands and body to himself.
“So how long do you think your sister will be staying with you?” Zoe asked as she put one of the glasses into the overhead cabinet. 
While they’d lay in bed earlier that morning, they’d found themselves whispering into the morning light about the importance of family—good or bad—and the  impact they have on your life.
Zoe told him bits and pieces about growing up in a houseful of women and that most of her life was spent under her grandmother’s care because her mother wanted to pursue her singing career. She said she’d been an only child until she met Sharlene who became like a sister to her. And Jackson found himself telling her about Michelle, how close they had always been and how hurt and angry he was about what her husband Trevor had done.
“You were engaged?” Zoe asked, more curious than concerned.
“Yeah, for about a year.”
“And your ex slept with your sister’s husband.”
He nodded, the anger beginning to brew again. He rinsed the last dish and placed it in the rack.
“She deserves jail time for that one,” Zoe said and meant it.  She couldn’t imagine that kind of betrayal. “Right out of a Jerry Springer episode.”
Jackson couldn’t help but that. “I know. Totally over the top.” He shook his head slowly.  “I always believed that Michelle and Travis would be forever. They were the couple to emulate. I introduced them.” He blew out a breath. “And Carla . . . it never occurred to me that she was capable . . .”
Zoe touched his shoulder. “You can’t blame yourself. It’s messy but they are all adults.  You do what you need to for your sister, but don’t take on that guilt.  It won’t help her or you.”
His full mouth formed a tight smile. “I could listen to your advice all day. How’d you get so wise?”
She grinned.  “My Nana.”
“You talk about her with such reverence.  Every time you mention her name, your face lights up.”
She dropped her gaze for a moment. “She means the world to me.”
“I’d like to meet her one day.”
Zoe’s eyes traveled over his face, looked beyond the surface, saw the essence of the man beneath, felt the goodness of his soul within her own. “I’d like that too, she softly said.