Suave graphic designer Rashad Brown has always held out for what he wants. He likes his women polished and accommodating because he values his freedom above all else. Then he meets a woman far from his idea of perfectshe has an ex, she has a kid, she defies his expectations. And he can't get enough of her.
From the moment she meets Rashad in art class, advertising student Michelle Johns knows she is in trouble. She came to Washington only seeking peace for herself and her young son, Andre. Oh-so-sexy Rashad threatens her newfound serenity. His skillful hands ignite dormant passions; his discerning eyes see her as her ex never did. And his kind attention dares her to do the most dangerous thing of all: hope. But there's a fine line between optimism and regret. Will her amorous artist truly be able to accept her past so that they can build a dazzling tomorrow together?
About the Author
Yasmin Y. Sullivan grew up in upstate New York and St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, from which her family hails. She moved to Washington, DC, to attend college and has earned degrees from Howard and Yale. As an academic writer, she has published on Douglass, Jacobs, Baldwin, Angelou, and Bullins, as well as the Negritude Movement and the Danish West Indies. She currently lives and teaches in Washington, DC, and when she is not teaching, she does creative writing and works on mosaics.
Read an Excerpt
Michelle Johns sat at her dining table with her school-work in front of her and her son in the chair next to her. Her little one had been quiet for a while. Michelle tipped her head, glanced at him out of the corner of her eye and smiled.
For the past hour, he had been turning pages in his storybook as she turned pages in her communications law book. Andre was just beginning to learn how to read simple words, and the book he had was one that she read to him at bedtimeone with lots of words to go with the pictures.
Nevertheless, he was intent on their task and peered at the pages before him.
Andre was just beginning to grow out of his baby fat and acquire the spindly limbs of childhood, but he still had full brown eyes with thick lashes and big round cheeks that puffed up when he smiled. His features still held the amazement of a child and the vulnerability of youth. Right now, his eyebrows were furrowed in inquiry, and the serious expression on his face ended in a little pucker on his lips that pulled at Michelle's heart.
Michelle turned to her son, wrapped her arms around him and proceeded to tickle him until they were both laughing. When they were done, she ruffled his hair and pulled him up from his chair and into her arms for a tight squeeze.
"Reading is hard work, huh?"
Andre nodded his head. "Is it time for a snack yet?"
Michelle laughed. "A snack? You just had dinner. It's time to get ready to go to the sitter so that I can get to my art class. You can have your snack over there."
"What do I get?"
"What would you like?"
Michelle closed her book and pushed it farther onto the dining table. "You go find a couple of movies and put some of your toys and games in your knapsack, and I'll make you something for later."
Michelle put Andre's evening snack in a brown paper bag and checked on him to help pick out two movies and some toys. Then she went into her room to get clothes out for work the next day and pack her book bag for her classes tomorrow. She would be getting home a bit late, so there might not be time later on.
"Come, little one. No, first to the bathroom."
"I don't have to go now."
"Go anyway. And, actually, so should I."
When they were ready, Michelle helped Andre get his knapsack on, handed him the paper bag with his snack, grabbed the things for her art class, hustled them out the front door and walked Andre down two doors to Mrs. Miller, their neighbor and sitter.
Her class was at the Art League School in Virginia.
She had given herself some extra time to figure out a new Metro route, but since it was rush hour, she didn't wait long for the bus, and it was actually a straight shot on the yellow line from Greenbelt to King Street, where she got on the free King Street Trolley.
With her destination in sight, Michelle hopped off the trolley and strode through the crowded streets of Old Town Alexandria toward the Torpedo Factory Art Center. She couldn't suppress her excitement over the class she was starting and hurried through the milling people with her purse slung over her shoulder, her portfolio under one arm and a satchel with the required art supplies in her other hand.
She already had a lot on her plate, and this would add more, but this was her passion. It would give her the edge she knew she needed so that she could build a real future for herself and her son. She hated being away from Andre during the evenings, but it was one night a week, and it was part of their combined future. She was raising a son, getting a college degree, working full-time and now this. But she was determined to make it all work.
Michelle shook her head to clear her thoughts. It never paid off when she tried to think of everything at once; this just overwhelmed her. And she was too excited about her class to let that happen.
As she crossed North Union Street to enter the Torpedo Factory, she could see the waterfront in the background with groups of pedestrians walking the promenade. She envied their leisure, but only for a second.
A man crossed the street toward her and winked at her. Michelle put her free hand on her hip and gave him a forbidding expression. Then she winked back and laughed. He turned his head back to look at her, probably doubting her sanity, but Michelle didn't care.
She glanced at her watch and hurried inside to find her classroom.
Other students were already getting situated, and Michelle picked her way through the rows of drafting tables to find an empty one. She found one in the center of the room, propped her portfolio on the slanted desktop and began unpacking her supplies.
"First class here at the Art League?"
It was a smooth, masculine voice coming from the chair next to hers, and it seemed directed at her. She answered as she was hooking her purse on the back of her chair. "Yes. Can you tell?" She chuckled at herself for being so obvious.
When Michelle finally turned toward the voice, she found a pair of dark brown eyes gazing at her intently. They were set in an inquisitive expression on a handsome ebony face. The angular jawline held a mouth with full, soft lips, and it was smiling.
"No, you seem ready to go. It's my first class here, as well. I'm Rashad."
He offered his hand.
Michelle didn't realize that she was holding her breath until she opened her mouth to talk. She let go of a deep breath and laughed at herself.
"Nothing. I just amused myself." She waved her hand to dispel the thought.
"I'm glad to see another African American face in the class."
"Hmm." Michelle glanced about. There were a couple of others, but not many. "I hadn't noticed before. So am I."
"Can I ask your name?"
She took his outstretched hand, and a shiver ran up her arm and down her spine.
"Nice to meet you," he said. "Same here."
Now that her supplies were unpacked, Michelle could give her full attention to the captivating figure sitting next to her. He had on a simple white dress shirt and black slacks, but she recognized the quality of the garments; they weren't cheap. The shirt, creased from a day of being worn, didn't hide the broad shoulders and muscled arms beneath it. And though he was leaning back in his chair at ease, his slacks didn't fully hide the sculpted thighs they covered. Michelle took a breath and hoped he hadn't caught her checking him out.
"Are you an artist already?" he asked.
"Not yet, but I"
A voice interrupted her from the front of the room. The teacher for the class had just come in. "Welcome to Composition and Design Fundamentals."
Rashad nodded at Michelle, and both turned their attention to the instructor.
For the first half hour, they got an overview of what they would be learning and doing that term. Then, after brief introductions, they were given their first set of vocabulary words and their first lesson in controlling movement within a picture. They then had an hour to create their own examples before they went on to the second lesson. Though the class was three and a half hours, the amount of information packed in it and the variety of exercises they did made the time sprint by.
Still, Michelle couldn't help noticing her new acquaintance in the neighboring seat. Rashad took the class seriously, jotting down notes just as she did and concentrating on the abstract exercises that they were given. Periodically, he looked toward her and found her glancing his way. Each time she felt she had been caught in the act of ogling him, but each time he just smiledthe sweetest smile she'd ever seenand went back to his task. It made Michelle smile, too.
For the last half hour, they got their final lesson and their homework. Then they were dismissed. People started to rustle, and some went up to the instructor with questions.
"Wow," Rashad said. "That class went by like lightning."
"I know," Michelle responded. "And it was intense all the way through."
"I know I'm going to get more than I expected out of this, which is great, considering the price."
"I know. We have nine sessions of this, and it was under two hundred dollars."
"Except for the supplies."
Michelle had closed her portfolio and was packing her supplies in her satchel. When she finished, she riffled through her purse for her Metro card, which slipped from her hand when she moved to put it into her pocket.
Before Michelle could stoop to retrieve her pass, Rashad stepped around his chair, scooped it up and held it up for her.
"Thank you," Michelle said.
"Hey, are you taking the Metro? I can give you a ride home."
"Oh, I'm not nearby. I live in Greenbelt."
"That's okay. I'm on New Hampshire Avenue near East West Highway."
Michelle gave him a puzzled look, and Rashad laughed. "You have no idea what I'm talking about."
"None. I know that Metro map, and that's it." Both of them laughed.
"I'm in Maryland, too," he said. "Right between Takoma Park and Silver Spring."
"Hey. I got that!"
"So let me give you a ride home."
Michelle wasn't used to taking rides from strangers and gave Rashad a hard look.
"The trolley stops at ten," he said. "So you've missed it and will have to walk to the Metro."
Michelle looked down at her shoes; they were comfortable flats, so she could do the walk.
"You're on the way for me."
Michelle finally let her guard down and smiled. "Okay. That's really, really nice of you. And," she added, "I need to get home to my son."
That usually put a halt to any interest a guy showed in her, just in case Rashad was showing interest. And she did need to get home to her son.
Actually, she said it more for herself than for him. She needed to put the possibility out of her mind because he had the most sensuous eyes she'd ever seen and looked as good as all get-out. But he didn't seem to be hitting on her, so she might as well put the possibility out of reach. And she did want to know someone else in the class.
* * *
Rashad Brown slipped the extra portfolio under his arm and followed Michelle to the elevator. He would have offered to take anyone home, but he was intrigued by this woman and wanted to know more about her. There was something about how easily she smiled and how open she was that let him know he would enjoy spending time with her. He couldn't help being a little disappointed that she was taken already; son generally meant husband, as well. But she could still be a friend.
Now that class was over, he could actually look at her. She was tall, only a few inches shorter than he was, and her hair was long and loose, with a slight curl at the end. She had on a powder-blue top with lace around the neck, down the front, at the bottom of the sleeves and at the hem. It gave her a feminine quality that matched her smile. She also had on blue leggings that fit her curves in all the right placesat least as far as he could see. There was nothing fancy, but it all made her look beautiful.
When she turned around in the back of the elevator, he could see her face again. Her full cheeks gave her face the impression of always being on the verge of a smile. Her eyes were light brown, almost translucent, as if he could look right through them and they could do the same to him. Her lips were soft and plump, and they smiled now as she looked toward him in the crowded elevator and nodded. Now that he was facing her, he could see that her curves were filled out in every directionsupple, full, inviting.
Rashad glanced at the floor number when the elevator bell rang, frustrated that he couldn't continue his perusal but mindful that it was probably for the best.
Their conversation erupted againand as easily as it had beforeas soon as they got to his car, which was in the parking garage right across the street from the Torpedo Factory.
"Can we park here?" Michelle asked. "I'll be driving again by next week. My car's only in the shop for a couple of days."
Rashad hid his disappointment and explained the terms of the lot.
"There were other lots listed," she said. "I'll check those, too."
"Before class started, you were saying that you aren't an artist as yet."
Michelle laughed. "I would love to say yes. But no. I love to draw and paint and want to learn how to really do it. I'm a student in the Department of Journalism in the School of Communication at Howard"
"I went to Howard, as well, up through the MFA in design. Go Bisons!"
"Uh. Yeah. Go Bisons," Michelle echoed halfheartedly.
Both of them laughed.
"I do support my home team," Michelle clarified. "But you don't follow sports."
Michelle shook her head as they were getting into the car.
"I'm an advertising student, and I want to be able to do original artwork for my advertising. We have to have a portfolio before we graduate, so now's the time to learn. What about you? Why are you in the class?"
"I finished a few years ago, and I work as a graphic designer for a web design firm in downtown D.C."
"Really?" Michelle said. "That sounds impressive. Congratulations."
Rashad took his eyes off the road for a couple seconds and glanced over to see if she was serious. She seemed sincere, and that felt good.
"It's not that impressive, but thank you. Anyway, I like being able to do my own thing rather than cutting and pasting all the time. I figure the more I know about drawing and the better I am at it, the more I can do and the better my work will be. My goal is to do more computer-based drawing, but you have to start with the fundamentals."
"They have all of that at the Corcoran College of Art and Design. I wanted to take Digital Design I, but their prices are incredible, even to audit."
The excitement in Michelle's voice seemed to light up the car with energy. Rashad liked that.
"I checked there, too," Rashad said. "It's only more expensive because they offer regular college courses at regular college prices. The Art League offers some range, as well. We'll have to see what's listed for next semester. Why aren't you taking this at Howard? It could be part of your regular tuition."
Michelle sighed heavily. "I wish I could. I might be able to take a class or two later on, but now I can't. I just started back at school, and they only took some of my credits. So to get out in the time I want, I have a full part-time load. I'll see as I go on."
"Hey, do you know where we are?"
"I have no idea."
Both of them laughed again.
"I might have to meet you before our next class so you can follow me in."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Enjoyed the story.would recommend