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Count On This
By Niobia Bryant
Kimani PressCopyright © 2006 Niobia Bryant
All right reserved.
Viva Las Vegas
April "Ape" Dutton didn't look up from the cell phone as she stepped aside from standing in the elevator's entrance to allow someone to step inside with her. The subtle, all-too-warm-and-sexy scent of a man's cologne surrounded her like a fine mist. She inhaled it deeply and released a soft little grunt indicative of her pleasure.
She looked up at the other occupant of the elevator. Her heart double pumped at the chiseled profile of the man standing beside her. Like a connoisseur, she let her gaze travel from the tip of his head down to his size-twelve feet—a guess.
He was handsome. Wildly so. Almost exotic. The kind of Denzel, Boris or Blair type of handsome that made a woman pause. Stare. Desire.
Light, café-au-lait complexion. Strong jaw. Deep blue-green eyes. Soft, full, kissable lips. The kind of high cheekbones African warriors were born with. Angular features. Soft jet-black hair. A trimmed mustache and goatee. Slender-yet-strong build most men dreamed of having.
Although April generally favored men with skin as deep, dark and sweet as molasses, this man had the fair complexion of Terrence Howard and the blue-green eyes of Michael Ealy from Barbershop. But what piqued her interest was the cut of his navy suit andthe casual elegance with which he stood with one of his hands in the pocket of his pants. Only a blind woman wouldn't think that this man, his total package, was i-t it.
The elevator slowed to a stop at the lobby.
Just as the doors slid open, he turned his head and looked down at her with a smile—a devilish and disarming smile.
April knew there was so much behind that smile. Maybe a little cockiness. Even arrogance. She knew a man like him was used to women giving him all the attention he ever wanted or needed.
"Ladies first," he said, bowing his head a bit and waving his arm toward the open elevator doors.
Somehow all of the classic April moves left her. No slick lick of the lips. No flutter of her long, lush lashes. Not even an extra wiggle of her ample buttocks and hips as she strode out of the elevator with a soft, "Thank you."
When she happened to look back over her shoulder, he was gone.
"Oh, well," she sighed, even though she felt a little let down.
She was in Las Vegas and this was a town of no regrets.
She turned in a slow circle and looked at her surroundings. The lobby of the Bellagio Hotel was spectacular. The luxury and splendor was a far cry from the little two-bedroom apartment she had when she lived in Savannah, Georgia. Yet somehow in the midst of the bright lights and fast pace of Vegas, the hotel was calm and serene, elegant and tasteful—adjectives usually not associated with Sin City. It was like nothing April had seen before.
Her cell phone began to vibrate in her hand. "Talk to me," she said into the phone. "Are you still getting dressed? I'm starving." April's round face broke into an instant smile at the sound of her best friend, Clayton Wilkes. "Where are you?" she asked.
"In the lobby."
"I'm in the lobby."
April turned left and then right, walking forward a bit as she searched for him.
"I'm right behind you, Ape."
She whirled and saw Clayton strolling up to her, closing his cell phone to slide it into the pocket of his tailored linen shorts.
Hands-down he was one of the most beautiful men God ever created. The man was ridiculously handsome. Unblemished mocha complexion. Groomed beard. Close-shaven hair that was jet-black, thick and fine.
As always he was impeccably dressed. Today he wore a white silk T-shirt and linen shorts that perfectly fitted his tall, muscular frame.
He alone could wear linen in Vegas heat and not have one blessed wrinkle.
April had wanted every inch of his divineness from that first day she moved into her new apartment complex and saw him lounging by the community pool in a bikini that rode far too low on his narrow hips and clung far too close to his endowment. And she'd been determined to have him—pulling some rather risque stunts to get his attention—until he told her in no uncertain terms that he was gay.
April was not a "fag hag" by any means. Clayton was not the stereotypical two snaps up and "I'll cut you" homosexual man. He was masculine. Manly. Hard. No arched eyebrows. No juicy clear lip gloss, clear nail polish or processed hair. He didn't bandy around "girlfriend" and talk in feminine tones.
He could easily live life on the down-low without a sistah having a clue, but he was gay and proud.
Now they were the best of friends and even laughed at the little stunts she used to pull to get his attention, like the time she locked herself out of her apartment in a negligee—on purpose—and then knocked on his door hoping he would ravish her. They were so close that after several weekend visits to see her in Richmond, Clayton made the move there himself, purchasing a modest three-bedroom home just twenty-five minutes from Maxwell's estate.
Clayton gave the usual once-over to the strapless white dress she wore. "Nice dress. Wrong shoes."
April looked down at her straw espadrilles—which she loved. "What's wrong with my shoes?" she asked.
His mouth opened.
April held up her hand. "Forget it. Don't wanna know and sure don't care."
Arm in arm they made their way to the hotel's twenty-four hour restaurant, Café Bellagio. April immediately felt at peace in the beautiful surroundings of the botanical garden and conservatory. It was certainly like no café she had seen.
"Have I thanked you enough for bringing me on this trip?" April asked as Clayton seated her.
"Yup," he said, taking his own seat across from her.
"Well thank-you is one thing you can't get enough of."
Clayton smiled at her.
One month ago, he'd bought a fifty dollar raffle ticket on a week-long trip to Las Vegas for two. He won and asked April to accompany him. Thank the heavens she worked for Max because all she had to say was the word and he gave her the time off.
Their waiter, Raoul, was a handsome specimen, and April didn't miss the way Clayton's eyes followed the slender man as he walked away to put in their orders.
"You know if either of us gets lucky, outside of gambling, then he—"
"Or she," Clayton added, reluctantly turning those eyes on her.
"Right." April lifted her glass of ice water and lemon. "He or she should not feel the need to babysit the other. Deal?"
Raoul walked past their table. Clayton looked up at him.
April smiled at Raoul's double take when he caught Clayton's intense gaze on him. His customary "I'm here to serve you" grin went to a whole 'nother level.
"Deal," Clayton answered without breaking his stare from Raoul's as the man moved on to the rear of the restaurant.
She smiled into her glass. "Maybe you two should get a room," she drawled. "Be right back." Clayton rose and moved in Raoul's direction.
April's phone rang and she retrieved it from her purse. At the sight of Tyrone's number, she sent the call straight to voice mail. Please. Tyrone was her recent ex. He was the ultimate everything in the bedroom—he had the skill to make her talk in tongues—but his game outside of the bedroom was weaker than sugar water compared to Kool-Aid. After nearly a year of good sex and little else she had finally kicked the muscle-head to the curb with a pointy-toe boot.
She was just dropping the phone back into her ornate leather hobo purse when Clayton walked over pushing a slip of paper into his wallet and then slipping the wallet into his pocket before he took his seat.
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"Success?" she asked.
Clayton winked. "And you know it. "
"After breakfast I'm on the way to the spa, dahling," she said in an exaggerated, haughty tone. "There's a coconut scrub and stone massage with my name all over it."
"Raoul actually offered to take us sightseeing. He gets off in thirty minutes."
"Then hopefully you'll be getting off in forty-five minutes," April teased.
Clayton gave her a deadpan expression. "Shut up."
"Oh, no. I'm not playing third wheel. We'll part ways and just meet up for dinner. We have eight-o'clock reservations at Le Cirque. Cool?"
Excerpted from Count On This by Niobia Bryant Copyright © 2006 by Niobia Bryant. Excerpted by permission.
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