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"Now, you're looking like a real down-ass chick." Timmy McKnight reached out and touched the bright auburn extensions that had been placed in Minerva's— no more M. Athena for a woman on the run—hair at the Dominican beauty salon.
The beautician at Esmerelda's Beauty Salon had glued the auburn weave tracks in layered spots of Minerva's dark-brown hair. The extensions mixed in and gave her a two-toned look without her having to dye it. And the amount of spray, mousse and gel piled on her hair made her normally soft curls hard and cardboard straight. She looked like a mix between Cruella De Vil remixed with Remy Ma and lots of auburn hair color.
I hate it.
Between the outlandish hairstyle and the Baby Phat outfit she had purchased in downtown Paterson, she felt like a different person. Just a little over a month ago she wouldn't have been caught dead looking like a hoochie mama. Now her life depended on being able to blend in and appear to be the type of girl who would actually hang out with Timmy and Tommy McKnight.
She had no choice.
She had spent the majority of the money David had given her to get lots of things she would have never worn before. Lots of Apple Bottom, Rocawear and other hip-hop brand names made up her wardrobe now. No more Michael by Michael Kors or Bitten by Sarah Jessica Parker—even if it was on sale—for a while.
David had been really generous when it came to giving her the funds she'd needed to relocate. She vowed to make it up to him one day. Her brother's life of crime had put David in the awkward position of having to lie to the police about her whereabouts and who knew what he had to promise his cousins to get them to help her.
"Yeah, you're looking real ride-or-die, baby girl. You can roll with us now," Tommy nodded in approval. As he moved his head, his shoulder-length dreadlocks bounced.
Hair was the one thing that allowed her to tell the two identical, mocha-complexioned twins apart. Timmy wore his hair low-cut with brush-waves. They were each the same medium height. Timmy was a little bulkier than Tommy in size.
As nice as they had been to her, Minerva didn't want to roll with them. She just wanted to stay home. But they didn't like the idea of leaving her alone just yet.
The three of them ended up at a nice bar downtown. It was packed and bustling with energy.
From what she could tell about the city of Paterson, it seemed like a fairly segregated place. The neighborhood where she lived with the McKnights was predominantly black and poor. She thought she'd seen ghettos growing up in South Central, but nothing could have prepared her for what she saw living on Governor Street in Paterson. There were always people out and about, but no one ever saw anything when something went down. The run-down tenements didn't seem habitable; but they were overflowing with tenants. Some of the dilapidated buildings made where she grew up in South Central look like the suburbs. At least they had trees and houses back in Cali.
Thena, now Minerva, needed the semi-makeover to be able to walk down the street and not get robbed or otherwise victimized. Her little "Cali office girl" style was not going cut it here so she had to adapt.
"Have you heard from David?" Tommy gave her a probing stare and interrupted her reverie about her 'hood status and staying alive in Paterson.
"Not in a couple of weeks," Minerva answered. "He said he'd slack off calling until things cooled down.
They still haven't figured out who killed my brother." She felt her voice choke but she willed herself to keep it together.
She had cried the entire bus trip from California to New Jersey. But she refused to turn into a babbling brook in front of Timmy and Tommy. She knew she had to be tough, even though she was walking around with this gaping hole in her chest. More like in my heart.
Putting on a brave face didn't stop her heart from pounding. She understood that she had to be strong. But how could she when the pain sometimes went so deep that she felt she could barely breathe?
She had left without burying her brother.
And she could just see her parents and Calvin in heaven looking down on her with disappointment. They were supposed to always take care of one another. He'd been the overprotective big brother and she did what she could by learning to cook and take care of their day-to-day living. He had always come through for her and she had let him down when it really counted.
The guilt she felt threatened to overwhelm her. She felt like it would suffocate her.
"Well, well, well… if it isn't Timothy and Thomas McKnight. What are you two doing here? I hope you're not scoping out the place as a spot for illegal drug distribution."
Minerva looked up and into the most intense brown eyes she'd ever seen. The man who had pulled up a chair, straddled it backwards and interrupted their conversation had a perfectly chiseled face with bold and strong features. In addition to the seriously penetrating stare, he had a five-o'clock shadow that gave him a rough and rugged appearance. His full lips didn't seem like they ever smiled, ever. But that didn't take away from the fact he was fine. Fine with a capital F.
Fine and he has cop written all over him. Minerva looked him up and down.
"Detective." Tommy nodded and focused on the drink in front of him.
"Wow… if it isn't my favorite narc, Detective High-tower. I would ask if you'd like to join us. But seeing as you already have… What can we do for you this fine evening?" Timmy, the older twin didn't seem like he was one to hold back.
The cop turned his direction toward her.
Great, was all she could think as the detective hit her with his x-ray-vision stare. The last thing she needed was for some cop to get her on his radar.
"And who're you?" Detective Hightower was looking at her so closely she wanted to bolt.
Damn, his deep voice is sexy.
Instead, she pursed her lips before rolling her eyes and letting out a deep, overly dramatic breath. "Who wants to know and why?"
His eyes narrowed slightly.
She narrowed her eyes right back at him. She never liked bullies and this "detective" had bullying down to an art form. He had some nerve just inviting himself to their table and grilling everyone as if he didn't need a reason.
And then there was the stir in the pit of her stomach that seem to kick up to a fevered pitch when he looked at her. It wasn't fear, no, that would have been too much like right. No, the things she felt just staring in his eyes and having him so close caused her to feel things like want and need.
"This is Minnie Samuels, Detective Hightower. She's a good friend visiting us from California." Tommy offered the information a little too freely for her taste. And apparently Timmy's, too, because his twin brother turned and glared at him at the same time she did.
The three of them had decided to just change her last name and have her go by her childhood nickname, Minnie—which she hated more than she did her actual name—in order to keep things simple. But they'd also decided that her "name" would only be divulged on a need-to-know basis. She and Timmy clearly had different ideas about who needed to know.
She gritted her teeth in irritation. The cop annoyed her and caused her heart to flutter at the same time, and she had just met the man. "I'll be back. I need to powder my nose."
She stood and went looking for the ladies' room without so much as a second glance back. She did take the liberty of cursing the smug cop out in her head as she walked away, imagining all the ways she could read him up, down and sideways if he was still there when she got back. While she had never developed the unhealthy, hateful and distrusting relationship to cops that her brother and others in her neighborhood had, she could see herself heading in that direction fairly quickly if she had to deal with Detective Hightower much longer.
She really hadn't had to use the rest room or fix her makeup. She wasn't even wearing that much makeup. Just a little foundation, eyeliner, mascara, lipstick and lip gloss. It was a lot more than she normally wore, though. Typically, she couldn't be bothered with more than a little lip gloss. But she figured a girl who wore hip-hop designer clothing like the hot-pink, skin-tight Baby Phat denim minidress she was sporting and rocking two-toned hair would have on foundation and lipstick at the very least. She drew the line at eye shadow and blush, though. And there was no way she would get any long fake acrylic nails. There was only so much she was willing to do for appearances.
She looked in the mirror, surveyed her outfit and cringed.
This is so-oo not me…
Hoping the cop was gone, she decided to head back out to their table and try to talk the McKnight twins into calling it an evening. The sooner she was out of the flashy clothes and into some sweats the better.
She walked out of the ladies' room and right into the nosy detective. He must have been standing in the narrow hallway waiting for her. He pretty much blocked the way back into the bar so she decided to lean against the wall and wait for him to be a gentleman and get out of her way. Heart thumping and pulse racing, she folded her arms across her chest and twisted her lips to the side.
A full minute must have passed with him just standing there staring at her like he was trying to figure out one of the great mysteries of the world. She huffed and moved to go around him. He grabbed her forearm and moved her back.
A tingle raced across her arm and landed smack-dab in her heart. At such close proximity, the masculine scent of him assaulted her nose and sparked a keening need in her gut. She took a deep, calming breath that she hoped looked like she had an attitude and not like she had been shaken to her core.
"Can I help you with anything, Detective? I couldn't imagine what. But you must have some reason for making yourself a nuisance this evening, especially since you don't know me and have no reasonable cause to harass me." She tilted her head to the side partly for appearance's sake but mostly because it helped with the sudden feeling of vertigo this man had her experiencing.
He looked puzzled for a moment before his lips formed a slight snarl. "You hanging with the McKnight twins is all the cause I need to keep an eye on you, Miss… Samuels."
"So the whole 'innocent until proven guilty' thing is just a cute idea for a fairy tale or are you really an officer of the law?" She folded her arms across her chest and swallowed. She had no idea what had come over her, but she knew she refused to back down and let some cop punk her.
"Oh, so you're a little smart-ass? You should ask your friend Timmy McKnight what happens to smartasses in jail. 'Cause that's where you're headed if you keep moving in the wrong circles. I don't know you but I know plenty of dumb little girls like you who get caught up, carrying weight across state lines, holding things they shouldn't be holding in their purses…" He glanced at the small leather handbag she was carrying.
"Tell me something, what do you think I'd find if I took a look through that bag of yours? Maybe something you used to powder your nose? Would that be foundation or coke?" He leaned forward and she instinctively leaned forward, as well.
The nerve of this man! The amount of incredulity coursing through her only hinted at how shocking she found his entire demeanor.
They were standing so close to each other in the small hallway that it was impossible for her not to imagine his lips swooping down and covering hers. She licked her lips and swallowed. What might that kiss be like, taste like, feel like.
She noticed him swallowing too. Is he imagining the same thing?
She looked him up and down taking in every inch of his muscular physique. She'd never found herself so attracted to a man before. The lean, hard frame in front of her, wearing jeans, sneakers and a white T-shirt was just too sexy and too aggravating for words… And certainly too fine to be a cop…
Why was the first adult male to make her pulse quicken and her heart race a member of the police force?
"Don't you have anything better to do than to harass people who aren't doing anything wrong? Or is that what cops are getting paid for these days?"
"You need to—"
"Hey, bro, we've been looking all over for you. You need to get back over there so we can finish celebrating. You know I'm going to be heading out to make it home to my wife and Joel can barely wait to get back to his new fiancÉe…" The voice of the man who interrupted them trailed off when he noticed her standing there. He was a younger version of the detective and she got a cop vibe from him, as well.
"You need some help here, bro?" The younger one gave her the once-over. He had that penetrating gaze thing down and she wondered if it was a cop thing or a family trait.
They were certainly related. She could tell because they both shared the same ruggedly handsome looks and tall, fine, muscular frames. If that wasn't enough, they had the same bold brown eyes. But the younger one had a light in his eyes that hinted at immense happiness whereas her detective…
My detective? Oh, brother… The annoying, mean and irritating detective had a hard, impenetrable glare in his eyes. She couldn't see any happiness there.
"I'm cool, Jason. I was just trying to warn Miss Samuels here about the company she keeps. But you know what they say… you can't save 'em if they don't want to be saved." He shrugged in a nonchalant manner. "So, I'll just leave you with this. Stay out of trouble or it will be my pleasure to show you what cops get paid for." He turned and walked away.