Read an Excerpt
A Good Dose OF Pleasure
A Morgan Man Novel
By Zuri Day
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2013 Zuri Day
All rights reserved.
She couldn't do it. After waiting two months, three weeks, four days, six hours, and a few nervous minutes, Anise Anna Cartier couldn't find the courage to open the envelope and discover her fate. Heck, it had been an easier act to change her name from Shirley Anne Carter to the one she now bore, and that's something that had belonged to her for twenty-five years. This dream right here, the fate of which she now held in her hands, had only been hers for a matter of months.
"Boomer, what do you think it says?"
Her best friend, a Bernese mountain dog that weighed almost as much as its owner, wagged his tail and trotted over.
"Here," she continued, holding the envelope down near the dog's nose. "Do you want to read it and tell me?"
Boomer sniffed the paper, then walked back over to his pillow and plopped down on it. For him, the paper obviously didn't convey that it was something to eat.
She reached over for a pair of scissors that was on her messy worktable, amid acrylic and oil paints, brush sets, various types and scraps of paper, block pads, cold and hot press sheets, matting, frames, tissues, a soda can, and a half-eaten bag of potato chips. Her hand shook as she used the sharp edge to slit the envelope, the one showing the company name, The Creative Space, in the return address.
The Creative Space. Leaving her hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, and becoming a student at the Kansas City Art Institute, she'd quickly learned that in the art world it was the place of legends. She'd known nothing about this Los Angeles treasure until she was eighteen years old. That's when her favorite art teacher and now mentor, Jessica Price, told her all about the place where she'd fallen in love with art and with the man who was now her husband and father to their four kids. The place that was like an exclusive club—an artist couldn't just show up there, he or she had to be recommended and/or invited. That's how Anise had gotten the inspiration to live her dream of moving to Los Angeles and learning from the best. The invitation to move to LA had come from her aunt, Aretha Williams. The recommendation had come from Jessica.
Her phone rang and, as had often been the case with the woman Anise swore was psychic, it was Jessica.
"I got it," Anise said by way of greeting.
"You did? Congratulations!"
"No, I'm not sure whether or not I got the internship, but I got the envelope." Silence. "I know, I should open it, huh?"
"Uh, that's normally how people find out they've been accepted into the mentorship program at The Creative Space!"
Anise's scream caused Boomer to lift his chin off his paws and sit up on his haunches. He watched dispassionately as she tore open the correspondence, ripped out the single sheet of paper, and let the envelope fall to the ground.
Anise scanned the contents quickly. "'It is our pleasure to inform you,'" she read, her voice rising with excitement, "'that you have been accepted for an internship at The Creative Space for our summer season, beginning June first.' Oh my goodness, Jessica, that's only six weeks away!"
"Then I suggest you get off this phone and get busy packing! And if you need any help at all, Shirley, I'm just a phone call away."
"I appreciate that. And by the way, Shirley doesn't exist anymore."
"I changed my name."
"It doesn't fit me. Never has, really. My legal name is now Anise."
"Okay." The way Jessica drew out the word suggested there was more she wanted to say, but didn't.
"I don't expect you to understand."
"It's not that. I'm just surprised is all. But, hey.
Whatever floats your boat sails mine."
Anise laughed. "Thanks, Jessica."
"Do the people at The Creative Space know about this change?"
"They will as soon as I respond."
"What about what's-his-name? How does he feel about your new moniker?"
"I couldn't care less how Joey feels. What I do is no longer his business."
"So your on-again, off-again love life with him is off, again?"
"My on-again, off-again situation is over. Finished. Kaput. I swore that the last time I was with him was the last time, period. And I mean it."
"You've said those words before."
"Yes, but this time they come with almost two-thousand miles of distance getting ready to be between us. This will undoubtedly aid my resolve. I've known Joey most of my life. He will always be my first love. But without a doubt I know that he's not the one I'm supposed to spend the rest of my life with. It's time to move on."
"Good for you. With no ties binding you to Omaha you can move to LA and truly spread your wings. And who knows? Your soul mate could be a mere plane ride away."
"I have sent a message to Derek Luke to tell him I'm coming."
Both women laughed at this inside joke. Upon seeing the movie Notorious, a movie based on the life of the late rapper Biggie Smalls starring Derek Luke, Anise had sent a copy to Jessica and explained that her future husband had a leading role.
"Listen, sweetie, the kids will be barging through the door any minute now. I need to run and get dinner ready. But remember, if you need me, don't hesitate to call."
"With everything I've got to do, keep your cell handy."
"You got it. Bye, Shirley."
"Right. Anise. Anise. Anise." Jessica made a tune of the name as she worked to memorize it.
"Now you're being silly. But I appreciate you. Thanks so much, Jessica. For everything."
Anise ended the call and looked around as if the answer to prepping oneself for relocation was somewhere in the room. Just thinking about all she'd have to do in such a short time caused Anise to almost hyperventilate. There was the matter of settling her mother's estate, which included putting her mother's house—where she had lived for the past six months—on the market. Then there was the daunting task of handling what remained of her late mother's legal and medical bills, distributing and/or disposing of her mother's material possessions, looking for some type of employment in Los Angeles and, shortly after she arrived on the West Coast, finding a place to stay. Sure, her aunt had told her she could live with her as long as she wanted, but Anise knew in time she'd want her own place.
With a final look around, Anise spotted her iPad. She walked over, fired it up, and, after settling on the couch, opened a clean note page. She set up several headings and began listing all of the things needing to be done, in order of importance and time frame. The more she organized, the more she relaxed. Yes, it would be a challenge to complete all these tasks in only six weeks, but she knew the key to finishing anything was simply getting started.
On the other side of the country, 1,542 miles from Omaha to be exact, Dr. Gregory Morgan looked at his caller ID and thought WTH? Last week it had been Venita blowing up his phone after getting the number on the pretense of using him as a reference. Venita was a beautiful brunette and a capable nursing student who hoped to one day work alongside him. That would truly be fine with Gregory. Alongside him was one thing. Beneath him, which he'd discovered was her real MO, was quite another.
The month before that it had been Pamela, a woman he'd known since college. They'd run into each other on the streets of Beverly Hills. He'd been genuinely glad to see her and had readily accepted her request to have drinks and catch up. He agreed on sipping and reminiscing, but her thought was to get him caught up in the affairs of her life, and after hearing her hour-long diatribe about an abusive husband, a cheating ex, and a son just put on Ritalin, he knew that dating her was the last thing he wanted to do. He even turned down her request to give her son a professional diagnosis. "I'm an emergency doctor, not a psychiatrist," he'd told her, before offering the name of a colleague in the mental health field. She declined the information. He'd had only three words for her when she invited him to continue their reunion in the comfort of her home. No. Thank. You.
And now it was his friend-with-benefits calling. Again. He and Lori Whitfield had known each other since childhood, after meeting as neighbors in the town of Long Beach. They'd dated in high school, kept in touch through college, and would scratch each other's itch in between relationships. He liked Lori because they were both on the same page: driven professionals who believed love and marriage took a backseat to goals and aspirations. She was determined to succeed in Hollywood, so when he heard she was dating an up-and-coming director, he'd thought it was a career-enhancing hookup and wished her well. But then she'd called a week ago, with doubts on whether or not her latest liaison was really a good idea. Already her producer partner was showing signs of insecurity and possessiveness. The last thing needed, she'd explained to the doctor, was an industry player blackballing her career. Gregory had agreed, and had gone over to make her feel better. After a hot and hearty "tune-up," he'd brought his behind home like he always did, totally prepared to hear about the next guy not long from now. Instead, she'd invited him to breakfast the next morning. Strange, he'd thought, considering that the bedroom was the only place they usually assuaged their appetites. But he went anyway. They were friends, after all, and a man had to eat. Ten minutes into the meal and he knew why his intuition had thrown up a warning sign. For the first time since he'd known her, Lori started talking about marriage and motherhood, about not getting any younger and about not wanting to grow old and die all alone. He'd listened and tried to offer consoling advice. She was a dear friend, one whom he couldn't imagine trying to throw hints of interest in his direction. If anybody knew where he stood on family, it was Lori. He'd come from a good one and one day envisioned being a husband and dad. But that would come later, after he'd fulfilled his goal of becoming known as a pioneering physician and ensuring his late father's legacy.
Women chasing Gregory was not a new thing. Since childhood he, his older brother, Michael, and his younger brother, Troy, had always had their share of attention from the females. The Morgan Magic, Michael used to call it. Michael had always taken full advantage of the attention, but Gregory had been too focused on school and work to have more than one woman at a time. Lately, even one woman had proved too much, which was why he felt the arrangement with Lori was so advantageous. Looking at the caller ID again, he thought maybe not. Maybe his FWB good thing was about to come to an end.
He reached for the phone and prepared to push the speaker button, realizing the irony of his life starting to look a little like the one his brother used to live, the life he'd teased Michael about before he got married. Michael used to juggle more women than could fit through the revolving doors during lunch hour at Macy's. Gregory didn't understand how Michael had done it. Because here he'd only been juggling a few women for a few weeks via telephone calls, and having a night of good sex every now and again, and he was emotionally exhausted.
"Hey, Lori, what's up?" He made his tone sound busy even though at the moment he was only half watching ESPN.
"Shortly, I'm hoping it's a certain part of your anatomy," she purred. "I've got a light afternoon and thought I'd stop by."
"You're a tempting morsel, but unfortunately I have to pass."
"I thought you were off on Tuesdays."
"I don't have to go to the hospital, but I'm still working, doing some research from home."
"You know what they say about all work and no play?"
"And you know what they say about keeping one's eye on the prize."
"Please, you cannot be serious. You know that you're already the hospital staff's darling."
"I'm talking about another prize—the research grant. They'll be making a decision soon and I'm being proactive. If I get named as the recipient, hitting the ground running will be an understatement. I want to be able to start making a difference from day one."
"Spoken like a true Morgan man."
Gregory smiled. "You know it."
"Speaking of, how are your brothers?"
"Busy conquering the world; you know how we do it."
"Um-hmm. Do I ever know how you do it."
"Listen to you, being a bad girl."
"That's the best kind." A pause and then, "Oh, I need to take this call."
"Is that your man?"
"I don't have one of those."
"Does he know that?"
"Ha! Bye, lover."
Gregory hung up the phone, turned off the television, and stretched out on the couch. He thought about the research grant, and how getting it would be the impetus to all of his dreams coming true. Helping people in a way he felt he couldn't help his father had been a driving motivation since his father's death years ago. Now, he was closer than he'd ever been to this dream becoming a reality. No one would distract him from this goal. No one would detour him from this date with destiny.
Almost six weeks to the day from when she received her acceptance letter from The Creative Space, Anise landed at Los Angeles International Airport. Her aunt, Aretha, met her curbside, just outside baggage claim. "Hello, Shirley," she said, giving her niece a heartfelt hug.
Anise hugged her back, and after they'd placed her luggage in the trunk and settled into the car, she said, "Aunt Ree, please call me Anise." At her aunt's questioning look, she continued. "Mommy named me after my grandmother, and while I loved her dearly, I always hated that name. Shirley never fit me. I've done a lot of soul searching since my mother's death. Her passing taught me how short life is and caused me to think a lot about how I want to live the rest of it ... on my terms. It's time to mark a brand new chapter, to live my life a whole different way. That began with changing my name. It has legally been changed to Anise, Anise Cartier."
"Cartier?" Aretha asked with raised brow. "Like the watch?"
"You could say that," Anise replied with a laugh. "But when the idea came to me to change my first name, it's not what I had in mind. Carter sounded too plain to go with Anise so I just spiced it up a bit."
"No pun intended, huh?"
"Ha! That's right, auntie. No pun intended."
"Hmm." Aretha looked at Anise with an unreadable expression. After turning from Sepulveda Boulevard and merging into the parking lot otherwise known as the 405 Freeway, she shrugged and gave her niece's leg an affectionate pat. "I think Shirley is a pretty name. Changing it sounds extreme to me. But I'm happy that you're taking control of your destiny, baby, so make no mistake, I'll support you every step of the way." There was a sparkle in Aretha's eye as she continued. "Welcome to Los Angeles, Anise Cartier." She pronounced the last name with a haughty accent and elaborate sweep of her arm, causing them both to break into laughter. Anise's heartbeat increased as she took in the sights whizzing past her. I'm in frickin' Los Angeles, California, baby! Just as she thought this, a warm breeze swept across her face and settled around her shoulders. This had happened several times in the past few weeks. Mommy. Anise batted away tears at the knowledge that her mother was indeed with her, and seemed to approve of this journey to a new life.
Excerpted from A Good Dose OF Pleasure by Zuri Day. Copyright © 2013 Zuri Day. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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