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All a single girl needs to be happy is a strong vibrator and a lifetime supply of Energizer batteries."
Keenan lurched forward and nearly spit out his drink as the voices of a group of women at another table floated over a wall of fake foliage at Las Brisas restaurant in downtown Los Angeles.
"Girl, you ain't never lied." Another woman chimed in. "The last time I had a man do right by me, I was wearing a training bra."
A chorus of giggles followed while Keenan dabbed water from the front of his shirt. Normally he didn't make a habit of eavesdropping, but as it was he'd been anxiously waiting for his afternoon appointment for more than forty-five minutes, and the women's conversation had him cracking up.
"I don't know, girls," the one with the sexiest voice spoke up. "I'm not ready to give up on men just yet. Despite all the drama they've put me through I still want that pie in the sky. The ring, the house, the children"
"The heartbreak, the drama, the divorce, the custody battle," another woman cut in. "Jalila, your problem is that you don't recognize the world has changed. There's no more Mr. Rights out there. There's only Mr. Right-Nows."
"And your problem, Martina, is that you keep choosing to listen to your body and not your heart."
"You damn right. I'm all about the pleasure and satisfaction. Wham-bam, thank you, sir. And if he's real good, I'll leave him a tip on the nightstand."
"You're incorrigible," the voice he recognized as Jalila's chided.
"Whatever. Deep down you girls know I'm right," Martina continued. "Especially you, Jalila. All that pining away you do on the Internet. You just need to face facts. Men ain't no good. Particularly in thistown. You either use or get used."
"Jalila, don't pay this chick any attention. She ain't right. I'm happily married and I want the same for you, girl."
"Thank you, Fantasia," Jalila said. "I need all the positive vibes I can get."
"Oh, that's right," Fantasia continued. "You have a date tonight."
"With who?" Martina demanded.
"With Richard," Jalila claimed. "Remember, I told you about him Monday?"
"Rich You mean that guy that picked you up at the gas station? Ha!"
Keenan smiled as Martina's laugh echoed off the walls like a starter pistol.
"Girl, that's your problem. You just can't say no. You let all these geeks and freaks pick you up whenever wherever. It don't make no sense."
"There's nothing wrong with meeting a man at a gas station. Besides he was really sweet," Jalila reasoned. "At least I know he has a carunlike Keith. I had to drive over fifty miles one way to pick him up for our dates, and then he'd always either lost or forgotten his wallet. Then, to top it all off, he insisted on calling me Kulula."
"Humph. That tells me he's used to dating strippers with liquor names like Alize, Dom, Moët and Cristal," Martina sassed. "You should have just installed a stripper pole and made you a few dollars on the side."
Keenan noticed that Jalila's laugh was different from the other women's. It was light, lyrical and contagious. So much so that Keenan turned and tried to take a peek at her through the fake plants.
"It wasn't that funny," Martina said when Jalila's laughter continued.
"Well, Keith uhm did have a stripper pole in the middle of his living room."
The table erupted with loud shrieks and laughter. Other diners looked around but the women were too deep into their conversation to notice.
"Did you give the pole the old college try?" Fantasia inquired.
There was a long pause and then, "Just once."
More shrieks and laughter.
"And I almost broke my damn neck," Jalila added.
Keenan spotted a sizable hole with a view through to the other side, and his gaze immediately landed on a face that was so poetically beautiful that for a few seconds he found it hard to believe that he wasn't dreaming. Big doe-brown eyes, flawless skin and a smile so breathtakingly beautiful that he instantly reached for his business card. Surely, being in this town, the beauty was either a model or an actress.
"I'm so sorry to have kept you waiting," a low steely baritone said.
Keenan jerked around as if he'd just been caught with his hand inside the cookie jar. When he recognized his afternoon appointment, he relaxed and forced a smile. "Steven." He stood up and hovered above the other man's six-foot-one frame. "I'm glad that you could meet me this afternoon."
"Not a problem. It was great being able to get away from the studio for a little while. I hope that I didn't keep you waiting long."
"Not at all." They shook hands just as the table behind them erupted with laughter again. Keenan glanced over his shoulder, longing for another look at the beauty.
"Sounds like they're having a great time," Steven commented, taking his seat.
"Looks that way." Keenan sat back down and signaled for his waiter. "So what's the verdict from the focus group? Is The Royals going to make the fall lineup?"
Before Steven could answer, the giggling women rounded the corner, adjusting their purse straps and huddling together as they headed out of the restaurant.
Keenan's eyes found Jalila just as she glanced in his direction. Her gaze raked over him and a soft smile touched her lips. While she and her friends walked past his table, he was vaguely aware that Steven was prattling on about the television pilot his company, A.M. Production, had produced, but damn if he could force himself to listen. Despite the fact that it had taken him weeks to nail down this luncheon, and that he'd had to wait over an hour for Steven to show up, all he could think about right now was stopping this gorgeous woman from walking out the door and never seeing her again.
His gaze followed the curvy beauty. He guessed her height to be about five foot ten. Her thick hips and plump backside were usually seen only on red-beans-and-rice sistahs from the Deep South and were, quite frankly, hypnotizing.
"Keenan." Steven snapped his fingers and cut into Keenan's thoughts.
"What?" He jerked his head back toward Steven and blinked.
"I was telling you about how I don't think The Royals is a good fit for the network at this moment."
"Great!" He slapped Steven on the back. "Can you excuse me for a minute?"
"I'll be right back." Keenan launched from his chair and performed a sort of walk-run out of the restaurant.
Hurry. Hurry. His heart pounded wildly in his chest and his stomach looped into knots. When he rushed past the hostess stand and out the front door, he made it just in time to see Jalila pull out of a parking spot in a champagne-colored Mercedes.
"Hey! Hold up!" He raced over, risking being run over.
Jalila frowned and rolled down her window. "May I help you?"
"Yes Uhm hey. How are you?"
Her brows stretched up. "Fine."
"Uhm. I know this may sound strange but, uhm are you a model or an actress?"
She rolled her eyes at what was clearly one of the most clichéd lines in this town. "Are you for real?"
"Look. I'm a producer." He pulled out his business card and passed it to her. "I have plenty of connections in this town and I'd love to work with you."
Jalila reluctantly took the card so she could be on her way. "Thanks. I'll keep it in mind," she lied and pressed the power-window button.
"Wait. I'm serious"
She hit the accelerator and sped off.
Keenan jumped back in time to avoid injury. "Damn."
Jalila shook her head. If she had a dime for every time she'd heard that line, she'd be rich. She glanced in her rearview mirror and stole another look at Mr. Producer. Too bad, she thought. This guy was really good-looking. He was extremely tall, physically fit, and he was wearing the hell out of that suit.
A horn blared and Jalila slammed on her brakes before plowing into Martina's convertible at the parking lot's entrance. She placed a hand over her heart and drew in a deep breath. "Damn. Pay attention, girl."
"I had a nice time," Jalila Goodwyn whispered, smiling.
Richard, the latest Friday-night adventure, stepped up onto the low-lit porch. He slid his arms around her waist and then splayed his hands over the high end of her curvy butt. "How about you invite me in for a little nightcap?" he asked, flashing his blindingly white teeth.
Jalila closed her eyes, mainly because his halitosis, mixed with her date's overindulgence in garlic this evening, was practically singeing her nose hairs. Too bad, because the guy wasn't that bad-looking. He was a little over six feet tall with a peanut-butter-brown complexion, but he was also proof positive that if you have a little head fat you can't pull off the whole black-Kojak look.
Still, bad breath and head fat aside, Jalila's body responded to Richard's touch because of one overriding and important factor: she hadn't had sex in two years.
Seven hundred and thirty days.
"What do you say?" Richard asked, pulling her close so she could feel his arousal. All three inches of itbut it would have to do in a pinch.
What the hell, she could give him some Listerine and turn out the lights, right? Standards be damned. Her body was hypersensitive and starved for sex. A deadly combination when wading through L.A.'s shallow dating pool. Her body didn't care that Richard didn't have a good job, that he was a music manager without any clients or even that he didn't have his own place. At forty-two, he still lived at home with his parents. He blamed the bad economy. Jalila suspected it was his lack of ambition. But hell, she didn't have to tell anyone about tonight. Right? Even if her best friend Martina pressed her for details, she could lie. Why couldn't she, for once, be one of those women who just did a wham, bam, thank you, sir and then kick him to the curb?
"One drink," she said and then whipped out her house keys. Her libido practically gave her a high five and then performed a victory dance while she fumbled with the front-door lock.
Just get him upstairs and turn out all the lights. Maybe if she was lucky she could convince herself that she was making love to Idris Elba. Whoo. Now that's a fine brotha I wouldn't mind knocking dents into the headboard with.
She slipped her key into the lock and because it tended to stick, she gave the door a good shove and nearly tripped over her own feet.
"Easy now. Easy." Richard's hot breath seemed to curl the tiny hairs at the back of Jalila's neck. "There's no rush. We've got all night."
Pleeze. You have thirty minutes tops before I shove you back out of the door and pretend that the whole date never happened.
"I sure hope that you got plenty of baby oil, girl," Richard hummed into her ear. "I wanna show you how I play slip and slide."
Jalila's plastic smile dropped and her hyperescalated libido took a major hit over that crude remark.
"When I finish rocking you with this ten-inch pole, you'll be screaming my name, ma."
10 inches? Had she misjudged? Her smile returned.
Richard jumped. His hands shot straight up into the air.
Woof! Woof! Grrr!
Jalila rolled her eyes. "Cujo, it's all right. He's with me."
Her usually friendly two-hundred-pound Great Dane Cujo's growl deepened. He hunched down low and even flashed Richard his pearly-white canine teeth.
"Whoo. Damn, girl. What are you doing with such a big dog?