JJ Isaacs' dream of becoming an R&B star has come true, and it's all thanks to Rayshawn, her amazing producerand secret lover. But as JJ enters the spotlight, the relationship gets harder to disguise. And the more she hides the truth, the more distant she feels from her faith, and from her family's approval. But support may come from an unexpected place. . .
When JJ finds herself helping her estranged sister-in law, Sheree, through a difficult pregnancy, she discovers a surprising ally. But she also becomes enthralled with Sheree's doctor. Simon Massri is world renownedand scheduled to leave the country. The more time JJ spends with Simon, the more she questions her choicesin love and in work. Now she'll have to face some tough decisions. Can she make peace with an uncertain futureif her heart is in the right place?. . .
Praise for the novels of Rhonda Bowen
"A powerful story." RT Book Reviews on One Way or Another
"A sweet Christian romance." –Publishers Weekly on Man Enough for Me
"Enough drama, romance, and faith that keeps you turning pages." Tia McCollors on Man Enough for Me
|Product dimensions:||4.20(w) x 6.70(h) x 1.10(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
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Hitting the Right Note
By RHONDA BOWEN
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2014 Rhonda Bowen
All rights reserved.
"He asked me to marry him! We're getting married!"
According to a recent report on ABC's Nightline, 70 percent of professional African American women over the age of twenty-five are unmarried. As JJ held the phone away from her ear to avoid Sydney's screams, she realized that her older sister had joined the 30 percent and left her stranded.
JJ Isaacs set the phone on hands-free and began applying mascara to her lashes. Though the news was not entirely surprising, it was not what she had expected to hear when she saw her sister's number pop up on the caller ID. Not on this night, anyway.
"Ohmigosh, JJ! He wants to marry me. Hayden Windsor wants to spend the rest of his life with me. Can you believe it?"
Could she believe that ex–NBA star Hayden Windsor, one of the first professional basketball players to figure out how to retire from the game and not go broke, wanted to marry her sister? Of course she could. Who wouldn't want to marry her tall, gorgeous, successful-business-owning sister? In fact, if they weren't related, JJ would have married her.
"Congratulations, hon," JJ said, pushing back a thin layer of irritation to find the genuine happiness for her sister that was camouflaged underneath. "I'm guessing you said yes?"
JJ grimaced and reached for her lipstick as Sydney screamed her response in the affirmative. She had never seen — okay, heard — Sydney like this. Her older sibling was usually the sane one in the craziness that was their big, dysfunctional family. Whereas everyone else was content to fly by the seat of their pants, Sydney was always the one with the plan. Getting married to a man she had dated for less than a year was not like her at all. But that's what happened when people fell in love. Or so JJ assumed. Having had no firsthand knowledge of the being-in-love experience, she couldn't say for sure.
"That's great, Syd," JJ said, reminding herself that she was happy for her sister. "Hayden's a prize."
"He is amazing, isn't he?" Sydney said, managing to modulate her voice to a less ear-splitting volume. "JJ, you should have seen his proposal ..."
JJ rolled her eyes and mouthed a silent no, thank you.
"It was perfect," Sydney began. "He took me to ..."
A banging on wood saved JJ's sanity.
"Five minutes to curtain, ladies," a booming voice called from the other side of the dressing room door.
JJ had never been so happy for a curtain call. She loved her sister and really was happy for her, but the last thing she wanted to hear from her sister, who had yet to remember what JJ was doing that night, was how her perfect boyfriend had done the perfect proposal to set off their perfect engagement.
"Syd, I gotta go." JJ jammed her feet into heels and swiped a layer of gloss over her lips as the scramble of women around her picked up speed. "I'm about to go onstage."
"Oh, honey, I'm so sorry! I completely forgot you had a show tonight."
JJ tried to ignore her annoyance.
"It's okay." JJ stood and straightened her dress. "I wouldn't have wanted to wait till tomorrow for this news. In fact, you can call me back later tonight and tell me all the details."
By then she wouldn't be as anxious and cranky as she usually was the last few minutes before a performance.
"Okay, sure," Sydney agreed.
A hand tugged at JJ's arm.
"We gotta go, JJ," Torrina said, nodding toward the door.
JJ picked up the cell phone to end the call. "Gotta go, Syd. Love you."
"Love you, hon. Have a great —"
JJ didn't hear the end of her sister's sentence. She barely got to toss her phone on the dressing room vanity before Torrina, her fellow backup singer, dragged her through the door and down the narrow backstage passageway. Sturdy iron beams holding the stage in place, and swiftly moving black-clothed men and women holding the show in place, barely registered with JJ as she hurried behind the other singers to her place near the second curtain.
"Everyone on your marker Curtains go up in five, four, three, two ..."
JJ didn't hear the end of the countdown. Just the drummer's intro as the band started up Jayla Grey's "Sunday to Sunday." JJ was already up onstage with the rest of the backup vocalists as the curtains rolled up. Jayla would make her entrance in only a few seconds as she sang the first verse to one of the most popular songs off her Juno Award–winning album, Desire. JJ remembered when the "Sunday to Sunday" single first started blowing up the airwaves a couple years back. She never dreamed that she would be part of the performance for that song, but here she was at the Festival Place with hundreds of eyes watching her perform. Okay, so they weren't really there for her, but she was part of the show.
Jayla's strong, sultry contralto voice came in with the first few lines of the song, about a woman who was willing to slave for her man because she loved him. The crowds began to clap in rhythm and cheer.
JJ's own hips began to move to well-choreographed steps as the song progressed. Beads of perspiration began to dot her forehead and chest as the hot strobe lights shone down on her and everyone else onstage. But it just energized her and set her blood pumping as her voice came in strong for the pre-chorus. Her body began to feel the music, catching its own rhythm, making the steps her own. The sweet melodies curled out of her, blending with those of her fellow singers to bring a rich, lush harmony that cushioned Jayla's flawless voice. The screams of the crowd soaked into her like a light, warm drizzle on a humid day. JJ was in heaven and she never wanted it to end.
But eventually it did. Much quicker than she expected, with the fifty-minute set feeling like only fifty seconds. Her body still buzzed with energy as she skipped down the steps from the stage, her five-inch platform heels clicking gracefully. At first she could barely walk in the things. But after four months of wearing them onstage, she could manage a sprint if she needed to.
"Good show tonight, guys," Coley, the show's producer, said as he met JJ and the rest of the singers at the bottom of the steps. He pushed the mouthpiece of his headset up to his ear. "You guys were awesome, as usual."
"Good to know," Donald, a fellow singer, commented as he uncapped a bottle of water. "Especially since I felt like I was melting underneath those lights up there."
"Yeah," Torrina agreed, with a cheeky smile. "Plus I almost broke my neck on the wires on the floor back there in our little area."
"I guess it's a good thing I work with professionals then," Coley said, returning his mouthpiece to the right position as he began to walk away. "Lesser singers would have complained."
They all laughed as they headed back to the dressing rooms. Jayla, who was already in her robe, met them at the doorway.
"Thanks a lot, guys," she said, hugging each of them. "I was just telling Philip and the rest of the band, everything was almost perfect tonight. Couldn't have asked for a better show."
"Does that mean we get a raise?" Mark, the other male singer, asked with a grin.
Jayla smiled. "You better talk to Todd about that. He's the one signing your checks, not me. I just dish out the praise. You guys enjoy the rest of the night and this week. On Monday we'll start rehearsals for the tour."
JJ smiled but said little. Though everyone had been really nice to her, as one of the newest members of the team of backup singers, she still felt a little on the fringes. Truth was, she was only there because one of Jayla's original singers, Amina, got in a tiff with management and quit. Torrina had shared the dramatic details with her not long after JJ joined the crew.
However, her newness meant she didn't get all the inside jokes and she didn't always get invited to all the social events. But over the past two months, as she spent more time with the team, she was starting to feel like one of the family.
"I'm gonna head out but just wanted to say you were amazing tonight, Jayla," JJ said, squeezing the older woman's arm. She was about to turn away when Jayla grabbed her.
"You weren't too bad yourself," Jayla said with a smile. "I caught you doing your thing out there. You're coming on tour with us, right?"
JJ's eyes widened. She knew Jayla was going on a major tour in a couple weeks, but she had assumed that the main three would be going as backup. No one had talked to her about being a part of that team, and she honestly hadn't even considered it.
"Uh, I ... I don't know," JJ stammered.
Jayla nodded thoughtfully. "Let me talk to my people and have someone get back to you. But keep your calendar open."
JJ opened and closed her mouth a couple times to answer and just ended up nodding.
Jayla chuckled. "See you next week, JJ."
JJ stumbled through the dressing room, barely able to focus as she gathered her things and exited the building. As soon as she stepped through the door into the cool, dark night, a hand grasped her upper arm, yanking her forward.
"Did I just hear what I thought I heard?" Torrina asked, her voice several pitches higher than usual and her eyebrows arched several inches higher than normal.
"She wants me to come on tour with her!"
Both women squealed and jumped around in the parking lot, holding on to each other. JJ wasn't normally a screamer, but maybe there was something in the water tonight. She couldn't help herself.
"Jayla Grey wants me to come on tour with her!" JJ shrieked again. "She told me she was going to talk to her people. She invited me to rehearsal on Monday. She wants me to come on tour with her!"
"Oh, that's amazing," Torrina said, still bouncing even though her feet were planted firmly on the ground. "It would be so much fun to have you with us. I mean the other guys are great, but it would be great to have a girlfriend on the bus."
"I know," JJ said. "And, girl, I'm gonna need you to have my back. Someone's gonna have to keep me from making an absolute fool of myself when I see Angie Stone."
"Girl, I don't know if I can help you there," Torrina said, slapping a hand on her hip. "Last year I saw John Legend backstage at a show I was doing and I near lost my mind."
JJ burst out laughing.
"I'm serious!" Torrina said, eyes widening and hair flashing in the normal dramatic way in which she told her stories. "I was trying to climb over the barriers from our backstage area to his, nearly ripped my thousand-dollar dress. I almost got to him too, except his security guard got to me first."
"Oh no!" JJ covered her mouth. "That must have been embarrassing."
Torrina grinned. "Just a little. But I could take a little embarrassment for some John Legend. You know what I'm sayin'?"
JJ laughed. Only Torrina.
The door swung open again, letting out a blast of sound and another round of musicians and performers, some of them from Jayla's team.
"JJ, Torrina, you guys heading out with us?"
"Where's everyone going, Sam?" Torrina asked the short, stout guy wearing a spiky Mohawk and sunglasses.
"Probably going to grab a bite to eat in the hotel restaurant, then hit a couple bars downtown. One of the other guys says he knows a spot where they have a live band all night. Wanna come?"
"Sure," Torrina said with a nod. "I could eat. You too, JJ?"
"I'll head back with you guys to the hotel, but I've gotta crash," JJ said. "I'm exhausted. I think my body's still reeling from the excitement of these last couple nights. Plus I feel a headache coming on."
"Not used to life on the road yet, are you?" Donald asked. He threw an arm around JJ, tugging her against him as he joined their circle.
"No, not yet," JJ said with a tight smile as she casually eased herself out of Donald's uninvited embrace. "Still a newbie."
JJ followed the group over to the two huge, black SUVs that would take them back to the hotel where they had been staying for the past two days, making sure to be seated between Torrina and the door. As the vans pulled out of the parking lot, Torrina leaned over and whispered in JJ's ear.
"It's okay. You can come with us tonight. I'll keep Donald out of your way and make sure they lay off you at the bars. No one will give you a hard time."
JJ was grateful for Torrina's concern. She knew that Donald's unwelcome attention created an issue for JJ, especially when they all hung out socially. In any other situation JJ would have just told him to back off. But she was trying to make a name for herself in the industry and didn't want to stir up drama over what might just be a minor issue. The fact that she opted not to party like a rock star already made her stand out. She didn't want to be called a whiner on top of it too.
"Thanks, but I really am tired," JJ whispered back. "Three shows in three days is crazy."
Torrina's lip curled. "I know that's right."
"Plus my sister got some big news today and she's supposed to call me back tonight, so I really want to catch her," JJ added.
"Gotcha." Torrina nodded. "If you change your mind though, just text me and I'll let you know where we are. We'll probably be out till four a.m. anyway. When we finish a set of shows like this, these guys like to go hard and then crash for a couple days."
JJ chuckled. "I can imagine."
The SUVs pulled up to the hotel entrance and they all got out. JJ waved to the others as they split up in the lobby; she headed toward the rooms, they headed to the hotel restaurant.
"Call me if you need someone to scrape you off the bar floor," JJ called.
She grinned as the sound of Torrina's laughter followed her across the lobby.
Pushing the door to the stairwell open, she began her trek up the steps to the sixth floor. She spent most of her life bypassing elevators for the stairs, so her thighs were used to the workout. Once inside her room, adjacent to Torrina's, she slipped off her jacket and sank down onto her bed to take off her strappy shoes. She had just freed her toes from their confines when she heard a knock on the door.
She grinned and hurried to open the door. Her bellhop was dressed in a gray ribbed sweater and leather jacket instead of a uniform, and carried several take-out containers and a bottle of something sparkling instead of pushing a hotel dinner cart. Plus she was sure it was illegal for someone to look that deliciously handsome.
She grabbed the lapels of his jacket and pulled him inside.
"Perfect timing," she murmured before his lips met hers. He managed to kick the door closed and wrap his arms around her without dropping any of his packages.
JJ snuggled closer, slipping into the familiar place where her body fit in his arms. Okay, so she may not be getting married, and her sister may have just abandoned her in the single zone. But at least she wasn't hanging out there alone. Being in the 70 percent might not be so bad after all.CHAPTER 2
"Good show?" Rayshawn Forbes asked with a chuckle, when they finally broke away from each other.
"You tell me," JJ said, settling her arms around his shoulders. "Weren't you watching?"
"I got there late from my meeting," he said apologetically. "Only caught the last part of the performance."
JJ pouted, and he kissed her upturned lips briefly. "From what I saw it looked great, though."
He paused, and JJ watched as his deep brown eyes roved over her face. "I'm so proud of you, babe."
She ran her hand over his smooth, nut-brown skin, touching his strong, angular jaw, catching her finger in the dimple in his cheek, feeling the stubble of his goatee and razor-thin mustache beneath her fingertips. She smiled. She had always thought he looked more like an R & B singer than a talent manager. But he was a manager. And he was hers.
"Thank you. I couldn't have done any of it without you."
Her eyes floated closed as his lips met hers again with gentle, soft kisses that she had come to get used to over the past few months. She had always thought it a bad idea to mix business and personal life, but when she first met Rayshawn several months earlier, the attraction between them had been immediate and undeniable. She had met him at Lost and Found, the little jazz bar she used to sing at. That first night, when he gave her his card, she had passed it off as a pickup line. But then he showed up the next night, and the night after that with two other associates, one of whom invited her to audition for backup vocals for Deborah Cox. She never got that gig, but the things she learned through the process were priceless. In a matter of weeks she had signed on with Rayshawn to manage her, and in turn his agency, Franklin and Forbes, provided her with a vocal coach, a demo CD and a press kit and everything she needed to get her foot in the door of the music industry. By the time she got around to auditioning for Jayla's team, she was ready.
Excerpted from Hitting the Right Note by RHONDA BOWEN. Copyright © 2014 Rhonda Bowen. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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