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On a Friday night in early September, the Rocketship Night Club in Washington, D.C., was jumping. Janet Smith, a high school English teacher, had come with her best friend and fellow teacher, Bea Barry, who taught and loved music.A melody from a lone introductory guitarist filled their ears as the musician played an old Marvin Gaye tune. He bent over his guitar as if caressing a lover, and Bea laughed and hugged herself.
"I just can't wait for you to hear Nick Redmond and his combo. You're going to fall in love."
Janet brushed back a wisp of dark brown chemically straightened, lush, and long hair from her nutmeg-colored face. Her golden brown eyes were wary. "We don't have long to wait," Janet said. "They come on in twenty minutes."
"Nick's the protégé I'm most proud of. He got his start with my teaching. He attended Howard for a while, then moved on to the New England Conservatory of Music. I have a hunch you two will be talking. Ask him about his dreams for Rhapsody." Bea tapped her fingers against her face. "But I've got an ulterior motive in bringing you here."
"I think Nick's gonna love you and you'll at least like him. You two remind me so much of each other."
"I've seen his pictures. He's an attractive guy, but isn't he a little young?"
Beashrugged. "He's thirty-one, going on fifty. He's a doll." Janet laughed a trifle harshly. "I'm forty-one, remember? He's way under the age I'm looking for."
Bea's head went to one side. "Trouble is, girlfriend, you're not finding anyone."
"You know I don't mean to hurt you, but facts're facts. At least befriend my old-soul friend Nick. You'll be good for each other. He's such an attractive guy and I don't think he's really aware of it."
Janet reached over and patted Bea's slender hand. Bea was very dark brown with high cheekbones, liquid black eyes, and coarse, close-cut, curly black hair. A strikingly attractive woman, she was voluptuous and proud of it.
"Looking good, ladies!" Coming up to their table, Memphis Traxell, a big, bluff ginger-skinned man who owned and managed Rocketship, grinned at both of them. "You two sure add great big touches of class to my place. Love the knockout outfits you're wearing."
Bea grinned back at him, flirting. "Oh, this old thing," she said, parroting a line from an old movie. "I only wear it when I don't care how I look." Dressed in pale yellow with big diamond studs in her earlobes, she was spectacular and knew it.
Memphis leveled his gaze on Janet then and began to say something when a very tall, rangy man with long, curly dread-locks came up.
"Nick!" Bea exclaimed. "Give me a hug!"
The man smiled, displaying big, white, perfect teeth in a bronze, long, leathery face. He was black-eyed, black-haired, and clean shaven. Janet felt her breath quickening as she looked at him, felt electricity jolting her body again and again. Nick hugged Bea, who watched with keen satisfaction as Janet and Nick looked at each other, and then she introduced them. "I think you two knew one another in some other life," she teased.
Nick took Janet's hand and murmured, "I'm very glad to meet you, Janet. Any friend of Bea's—"
"I'm very glad to meet you," Janet said shakily. "Bea talks about you so much." Her hand came alive with his touch. He seemed reluctant to let it go.
Nick stood there, his big body tingling. He met so many women, wined and dined them sometimes. A reticent man, he didn't often get very close, but there'd been a few women in his life. What was there about this one? He stared unabashedly at Janet's dark brown hair, her thickly black-fringed and beautiful golden brown eyes, and the curved moist lips that begged him to kiss her.
"I have a few minutes before we go on," he told them, "and I wanted to say hello to Bea...and you..." His eyes narrowed and his voice trailed off.
"Nick could never resist a beautiful woman," Memphis said, ragging him.
Nick smiled crookedly. "Oh, I've resisted a few."
"Nick's dad was the late Oscar Redmond, jazz great," Memphis added proudly. "Oscar and I grew up together. Nick's like my own son, so you treat him right," he told Janet. "I've never been known to mistreat anybody," Janet said easily, then to Nick, "My son loves your music...."
"Good," Nick answered. "What about you?"
Janet blushed. "I think you're a comer, but I only have two of your CDs. I think Marc—that's my son—has everything you've ever recorded. You play a mean guitar and your group's really together."
"Why, thank you, ma'am." Nick's eyes played games with hers. He could imagine that slender, curvy body with its softness pressed against his fit hardness and he was glad he worked out. He hadn't dated in a while. He was too busy.
"The man's going places," Memphis said to Janet. "You'll see. A year or two, and I won't be able to pay his price."
"That'll never happen," Nick said staunchly. His eyes went to Janet's high breasts in her long-sleeved, semi-low-cut garnet peau de soié dress. She wore no jewelry save one eighteen-karat gold Wittnauer watch. She had a smattering of freckles across the middle of her face and those golden brown eyes were melting.
"Sit down!" Bea commanded.
He smiled. "No. We'll be going on in a few minutes." By then, mesmerized, he was standing close to where Janet sat. Trust Bea to come up with someone special, he thought.
Now Bea looked at Nick, smiling. Memphis excused himself and began to walk away, saying over his shoulder to Nick, "Now don't get so caught up you forget to go onstage."
Nick threw back his head, laughing, as Bea said, "Nick was my prize pupil when I taught at the Ellington School for the Performing Arts."
"She flatters me," Nick protested.
A light brown-haired, small, slender vision with stunning olive breasts spilling over the top of a tightly fitted black sequin dress swept up to their table and placed a proprietary hand on Nick's arm. "Have you forgotten your first loves?" the woman said.
Janet thought the woman looked to be about twenty-five, as beautiful as nature and modern cosmetology could make her.
Tamara Kyle. Nick introduced her, lingering on Janet's name. Tamara eased her reed-slender body closer to Nick, and Janet wondered where the heavy breasts grew from, the rest of her was so thin.
"Nick and I go back forever," Tamara murmured.
"You're a great group," Janet complimented them.
"We're trying," Nick said.
"Nick, we'd better go. The guys're looking at us, beckoning us back."
Nick nodded and Tamara's eyes narrowed as she saw the way Nick looked at Janet. Her fingers tightened on his arm. "Honey?"
For a moment, Nick looked annoyed. He leaned over and touched Janet's hand. "I'm so glad to have met you. I'll see you later." He said goodbye to Bea then and he and Tamara moved away and back to the bandstand.
"Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight." Bea chortled.
"You're shaking, love."
"You've got a great imagination."
"Oh, and I guess I'm imagining the way you and Nick couldn't quite get your breath, either of you. Tol' ya!"
"Told me what?"
"Don't play dumb. That you'd be drawn to each other."
"You're crazy now where you're usually unusually sane. I'm forty-one, love, and this youngster is thirty-one."
Bea expelled a harsh breath and pressed her case. "He looks older than his age and you look younger. I told you he's an old soul. He was born to older parents and he worshipped his grandmother, who had quite a story to tell. You'll love Grace, his mother."
Janet leaned back, holding up a long, slender hand. "Whoa! You're moving ahead at the speed of light. Girlfriend, get ahold of yourself. Besides, it looks as if wunderkind has his hands full with the great Tamara."
Bea shrugged, said thoughtfully, "They once had something going on and they work well together, but he's moved on...."
"She certainly hasn't."
"Stop making excuses. Do you like him? Or should I ask, don't you like him?"
"He's nice enough. Charming. Well mannered."
"And a hunk."
"I've never been particularly attracted to hunks, especially young hunks."
"You might try something different. I've been worried about you, Janet. Your ex, Casey, isn't getting any nicer to you. Your son, Marc, is growing up—and out. You work with your English students—"
"Along with Marc, the loves of my life."
"You need a new distraction. Give Nick a chance." Janet looked at Bea in wonder. "You're pleading his case. Why?"
Bea shook her head. "No, I'm pleading yours. You're forty-one and you're lonely."
"I'm not..." Janet began to say, but she didn't finish. Instead she licked her lips. She was lonely. She sought to change the subject. "I think you like Memphis more than you know, and he's attracted to you."
Bea shrugged. "I've known Memphis a long time. The woman he was about to marry ran off with his daughter's money. Now, his motto is, trust no one but God."
"Memphis is a great guy. That story makes me sad."
"Not half as sad as it makes me."
As they talked, the room had filled up. Nick's combo, Rhapsody, came on in pulsing spotlights beamed across the stage at angles—mostly pastels and beautiful. Nick stood before them in jet-black-beaded velvet. He and Tamara seemed to fit together. Nick introduced the combo, Tamara first. Tamara played guitar and, with Nick, was a lead singer. One other guitarist, a saxophonist, and a keyboard player. You knew to look at them that they'd be hot.
The lights dimmed and the combo played something soft and sensuous, another old Marvin Gaye tune. Nick sang in an indescribably beautiful silken baritone. His voice caught huskily on the sensual lyrics and Janet wondered if she imagined that he looked at her. Did he sing to her? She stared ahead, certain that every woman in the room thought he sang to her alone.
The audience was Rhapsody's from the beginning. Janet thought it was not music they played, but magic, and Nick's group was going to the top where they deserved to be. Entertainment columnists were busy saying it.
The room was hushed when they finished and out of nowhere came the long, lonesome wail of a virtuoso saxophone, playing the bone-deep, weary blues. In a few minutes Nick joined in with his guitar. The crowd went wild. Memphis passed and winked at Janet and Bea, gave them the A-okay sign. Janet sat thinking she had been caught up before in Nick Redmond's music, but she had missed something. The man was superlative, not just good. She hated to hear the song end.
"Uh-oh." Bea drew a deep breath.
Tamara stepped to the microphone. "Love you all," she courted. "Now, I'm going to sing a song Nick and I wrote together. You'll remember it. "A Love to Last Always."
The crowd cheered and the intimate black velvet voice beguiled them. It was a hot song, written and delivered in passion. The smooth cadence of Tamara's vibrant contralto held them.
Janet smiled grimly. "I said it before. Your young guy's taken."
"That's over," Bea insisted. "Trust me."
Excerpted from Give Love by Michelle Monkou Copyright © 2006 by Michelle Monkou. Excerpted by permission.
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