A stint at the Branch Avenue Boys’ Youth Institute taught Ricky, Derrick, and Jamal to unite when the going got tough. But fallout from their very different adult lives is making loyalty something they can't afford—and igniting drama they never saw coming . . .
Arrested during a city-wide raid, Ricky must inform on D.C’s drug king pin, Dolla Dolla—and find the woman who loved and betrayed him. But revenge is a slippery slope that’s putting a target on his back . . .
Institute head Derrick hopes reuniting with his fiancée will keep his secret affair with a colleague in the past. Unfortunately, one of his students is hiding Dolla Dolla’s major stash—and Derrick’s attempt to do the right thing will have shattering consequences . . .
Jamal’s backroom deal with D.C.’s corrupt mayor is giving him everything he thought he wanted: money, power, and women. But murder and the unexpected return of the woman he's always loved is getting him in way over his head. His attempts to manage the damage will put him and his friends at killer odds to be the last man standing . . .
“Ellis makes a promising start in her new Branch Avenue Boys series, which expertly melds elements of gritty urban fiction with contemporary multicultural romance and tells a captivating tale from three different perspectives . . . Corruption, greed, lust, and betrayal set the stage for this edgy, romantic, diverse series, which is sure to please fans of De’Nesha Diamond and Victoria Christopher Murray.”
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Derrick Miller stared down at the two open suitcases in front of him, closed his eyes for a few seconds, and slowly opened them again.
It was insane but, in the back of his mind, he had hoped they would disappear. Maybe the suitcases — one filled with multiple stacks of hundred-dollar bills bound neatly with multicolored rubber bands, the other stuffed with packs of white powder that was more than likely cocaine — were figments of his imagination, mini mirages right here at the Branch Avenue Boys' Youth Institute dormitories.
But of course, they weren't; the suitcases didn't shimmer then disappear like a waterfall floating in the desert. They were still there with their lids yawning open, and what they contained was bared for all the world to see.
This was real, too real for Derrick's liking.
"Come on, man! We gonna be late," someone shouted in the hallway, shaking Derrick out of his stupor.
His eyes darted to the dormitory's open door as two boys jogged by, probably on their way to their morning classes. Derrick's eyes snapped back to the suitcases. He couldn't leave them here. He certainly couldn't let any of the boys at the Institute see them. He didn't know whom they belonged to, but he suspected Cole, the student who was assigned to the bunk where he'd found the suitcases, knew who the owner was. He'd talk to Cole later, but his first mission was to find a place to hide these damn things.
Derrick quickly flipped both of the lids closed, zipping each of them with shaking hands. He grabbed the handles and yanked them off the bed. They landed on the linoleum floor with a thud. They had to weigh about a hundred pounds each.
Derrick gritted his teeth as he lifted the suitcases and lugged them to the door, one in each hand. He walked straight down the hall to the stairwell. A few students eyed him curiously. Several boys had a questioning look on their faces, probably wondering what the Institute's director was doing, carrying luggage down the hall in the middle of the day like he was heading to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport fifteen miles up the road.
"Hey, Mr. Derrick!" one of the boys — dark skinned and stocky — called out as he held open the stainless steel door for him. His dark eyes dropped to the suitcases. "Damn, those look heavy! You need some h —"
"No!" Derrick barked between bursts of breath.
The boy's ready smile disappeared.
"I mean ... I mean, no. I-I got it. Th-thanks for asking though," Derrick stuttered with a slight grimace.
The boy nodded just as Derrick disappeared into the stairwell and made the slow trek down the stairs to the floor below. With each step, the suitcases felt heavier and heavier. Sweat erupted on his forehead and rolled down the bridge of his nose. The short bursts of breath came out faster, making a faint whistle between his clenched teeth. The tendons and muscles in his arms started to jitter. His heart was beating fast from the stress and the strain. When he finally pushed the steel door open and reached his office, he didn't lower the suitcases to the floor as much as hurl them.
He shut his office door behind him, locked it, and looked around frantically for a place to hide the suitcases. The office didn't have a storage closet and the suitcases certainly wouldn't fit in any of his cabinets or shelves. The only spot where they could possibly fit was a corner beside his file cabinet. He shoved them both into the dusty, dark space.
By now, not only was his brow sweaty, but pools of sweat had also formed under his armpits. His palms were slick with it. Sweat even dripped down his back and the crack of his ass.
When Derrick finally finished shoving the suitcases into the hiding space, he dragged across the floor a potted fiddle-leaf fig tree his fiancée, Melissa, had given him for his birthday to add a little softness to his sterile office. He set it in front of the suitcases. He then stood back and surveyed his handiwork.
It was a questionable hiding job — the plant barely provided any coverage — but it would have to do for now.
He flopped back into his rolling chair and let out a slow, long exhale. It took another ten minutes for his heart to finally return to its normal pace, for his hands to stop shaking.
How the hell did those things even get here?
How had the boys managed to smuggle something so heavy and massive into the dorms, right under the noses of the instructors and security guards? When had they done it? It must have been recently because the suitcases certainly would have been noticed during their weekly inspections of the boys' bunks and lockers. Had someone else brought them?
Cole knows all the answers, he thought, staring at the fig tree. And that boy better tell me the damn truth!
* * *
"Cole!" Derrick called out as he saw the boy stroll toward one of the classrooms. He cupped his hand around his mouth like a megaphone. "Cole!"
Cole glanced over his shoulder at him and rolled his eyes. For a split second, he looked like he was going to pretend he hadn't heard Derrick and continue on his way, but he turned on his heel and walked toward him anyway. An expression of pure contempt was on the young man's face.
Derrick knew that Cole was angry at him. The boy obviously had a crush on Morgan Owens, the new carpentry instructor at the Institute. Cole had come to her defense before when another student had sexually harassed her in class, and he probably felt he was taking up for her again, against Derrick this time, after seeing her cry. But Cole didn't know the full backstory of Derrick's complicated relationship with the beautiful instructor, nor did Derrick care to share it with him. That was between him and Morgan. Besides, the suitcases were of bigger concern right now.
"What do you want?" Cole snarled with a curl in his lip, drawing closer to him.
"I want you in my office — now!"
"Can't," Cole said with a shrug, casually shoving his hands into his jeans pockets. He painted on a fake grin. "Gotta get to class. Sorry, Mr. D."
Derrick's jaw tightened as he watched the young man turn back around. "It wasn't a question, Cole. I said come to my office." Cole started to stroll away.
"I found them! I found them under your bunk!" he called out, making the young man stop in his tracks. "You didn't even do a decent job of hiding them. Why?"
Cole faced him again. He didn't look smug anymore. He looked alarmed — and annoyed.
"Come to my office. I'm not gonna tell you again." Finally, Cole sucked his teeth and nodded.
A minute later, Cole walked into Derrick's office. Derrick stomped in after him, slamming the door shut behind them.
"What the hell ... what the hell were you thinking, bringing some shit like this into my school?" Derrick yelled as Cole flopped into one of the armchairs facing his desk.
Cole sat in sullen silence with his arms crossed over his chest, glaring at nothing in particular.
"Your mother begged me ... she got on her damn knees in this very office and begged me to let you into this program so that you wouldn't have to go to jail, and this is what you do?" he asked as he charged around his desk to face Cole. The young man still refused to meet his gaze. "This is how you repay her? Repay me?"
"Man, I don't owe you shit," Cole muttered, still staring at the wall in front of him defiantly.
"Oh, is that what you think? Then how about I just send your ungrateful ass to jail then?"
Cole didn't reply.
Derrick shifted the potted fiddle-leaf fig tree out of the way and pointed to the suitcases. "Give me one ... give me one good reason why I shouldn't call the damn cops, tell them about what I found, and have your ass thrown in prison right now."
Cole finally shifted his eyes and looked up at him.
"'Cause you ain't that stupid," Cole answered in a voice that was both glacial and hollow. "'Cause you don't wanna get your shit fucked up. That's why you ain't callin' the police."
"Shit fucked up by who? Whose suitcases are these? Who the fuck do you work for?"
"It ain't none of your damn business," Cole said, shaking his head.
"When you bring that shit here — yes, it is! This shit is my business now! You were low-key about it. I'll give you that. But the boys still know the truth. Word got around, right? They know who you work for ... 'who you fuck with,' don't they? That's why they've all been going out of their way to kiss your skinny little ass! If you don't tell me, I'm gonna find out." He sat on the edge of his desk. "Who do you work for? Whose bags are those?"
The office fell silent. Finally, Cole sucked his teeth again. "They're Dolla Dolla's. All right?"
Derrick felt an icy chill snake its way up his spine. They belonged to Dolla, his best friend Ricky's business partner. The drug kingpin's empire stretched far and wide in D.C. Hell, Dolla Dolla's grubby, blood-stained fingers had even touched Ricky's upscale restaurant, Reynaud's, providing the money Ricky needed to start it. But Derrick never would have guessed that Dolla would reach here, within the Institute's walls. Derrick never thought Dolla could taint a place he held so sacred.
"It's his bags," Cole continued. "It's his shipment. He usually keeps it somewhere else but they had to move it quick. They asked me if I could keep it until they could move it again. I told them no one here would touch it."
"Why ... why would you do something like that?" Derrick sputtered. "Why would you bring that here? You know who Dolla is! Cole, he could —"
"Look, he ain't gonna do nothin'. This shit will be gone in a few days ... maybe a week," Cole assured him. "You ain't gotta worry about it."
"No, I do have to worry about it because you're putting me and every single teacher and boy at the Institute at risk with this bullshit!"
"So you gonna snitch and tell the cops? Is that what you telling me?"
"No, what I'm telling you is —"
Derrick's words were stopped short by a frantic knock at his office door.
"I'm busy right now!" he called out.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Miller, but your fiancée just called the front desk," a muffled voice replied through the closed door. "She said she's been trying to reach you all morning."
Derrick frowned, reached back, and opened one of his desk drawers. He pulled out his cell phone, which he had tossed inside the drawer more than an hour ago. He saw that there were several text messages from Melissa.
What the hell is going on, D? the most recent message read. Call me back!
When he saw it, his heart sank. Did this have something to do with Morgan?
When he told Morgan that very morning that he had to break off their affair because he'd decided to get back with his fiancée, Morgan hadn't taken the news well — as he'd expected. He hadn't seen her since then. He'd assumed that she had either gone off to lick her wounds, or had decided to ignore her anger and go about her workday. He had not anticipated that she might try to reach out to Melissa, that she might tell Melissa what had gone down between them.
"Your fiancée asked if you could call her back ASAP, Mr. Miller," the muffled voice explained. On cue, his cell began to buzz. Melissa's name popped up on the screen.
"Okay, got it. Thanks!" Derrick called back distractedly, then took a deep breath. He glanced at Cole. "I've gotta take this. We will finish this conversation later though. This ain't over."
Cole pushed himself to his feet, not looking remotely intimidated. He walked toward the door and swung it open. "Just leave your office door open later so I can move them again," he called over his shoulder. "They'll be outta here in a few days. I told you, you ain't gotta worry about it."
Derrick opened his mouth to reply, but Cole shut the door before he could. Derrick's frown deepened. A heavy crease formed in the center of his brow.
All morning he'd felt like things were teetering wildly off kilter and threatening to topple over. First, he'd had to break things off with Morgan and got her explosive response. Then he'd stumbled upon the suitcases. And now, Cole was acting like he was running the Institute, like he was giving Derrick orders — not the other way around. Derrick felt like he was losing control of his life.
Or I never really had it, he mused, as he pressed the button to answer his cell. Maybe it had been an illusion all along.
"Hey," he answered hesitantly, wary of what his fiancée was about to say to him. He braced himself for accusations and recriminations, for an endless stream of four-letter words.
But instead she said, "Where have you been, Dee? I've called you about six times! I even sent texts!" Melissa shouted, sounding panicked. "You never called me back!"
"I'm sorry, baby. I left my phone in my office. I just saw your messages."
"Have you read them though? Did you see the link I sent you? The one from Fox 5?"
He slowly shook his head, now confused. "No. No, I didn't see it. What's up? What's wrong?"
"Ricky's club was raided last night. The news story said his restaurant was too!"
Derrick hopped off his desk. He shot to his feet. "What? What do you mean, it was raided?"
"There was like a half dozen raids last night, all around the city and a few in Virginia and Maryland. They said lots of people were arrested. Have you ... have you talked to Ricky? Have you heard from him since last night?"
Derrick shook his head. "No," he said weakly, now feeling numb with shock, "I haven't."
"Oh, God, Dee! Do you think Ricky got arrested? Do you think he's in jail right now?"
Derrick shook his head again. "I don't know, Lissa. I don't know."CHAPTER 2
Ricky Reynaud leaned back in his chair and squinted at the track lighting beating down on him like a hot July sun.
His neck ached. His back ached. A dull throb had spread across his temples. He was starting to feel out of it. He had been up for almost twenty-four hours straight, unable to sleep in the loud, crowded holding cell they had kept him in for most of the night and morning since the raid at his strip club. He was still wearing the same clothes from the night before. The smell of his signature cologne, Gucci Guilty, had long since faded and was now replaced with a rank body odor he was sure followed him around like a stink cloud.
The cops hadn't let him make any phone calls — not even to his friends or his lawyer. He had been sitting in this all white, bare room alone for fifteen minutes ... or thirty minutes ... or maybe even an hour. He didn't know how long anymore. He was starting to lose track of time.
All he knew was who had put him here, who had gotten him in this situation in the first place.
That is Patrol Officer Simone Fuller of the Metropolitan Police Department — his former lover.
Every impulse had told him to stay far, far away from Simone. From the moment she had told him her story of woe about her little sister, Skylar, being turned out by his business partner, Dolla, alarm bells had sounded in his head. Even Derrick — Mr. Goody Two-shoes — had warned him against helping her. But Ricky had pressed forward anyway, despite his instincts telling him to do the opposite. He had helped her by finding her sister and trying to rescue the wayward girl. He had even fallen in love with Simone, and he could honestly say it was the first time in his life he had ever fallen that hard for a woman. He had risked his life for her. And how had she rewarded all that love and sacrifice? By ratting him out to the cops, by having his businesses raided and his property seized.
I was so fucking stupid, he now thought, sadly shaking his head.
It had all been a hustle — an easy hustle, at that. She'd probably never remotely felt anything for him, certainly not love. She'd turned on the tears when convenient to gain his sympathy. Then she spread her legs and sucked his dick when the tears no longer worked. Maybe she had been undercover this whole time, something she had denied from the beginning. Maybe the whole thing had been a setup. Maybe her real objective wasn't rescuing Skylar, but taking down Dolla Dolla all along, and Ricky had just been the pawn on the chessboard she'd used to help capture the king.
Either way, it left Ricky sitting here alone in this room, in handcuffs. Either way, he had likely lost his restaurant, his home, and his livelihood. He also was probably going to jail for a very, very long time.
I'mma kill her. I'mma fuckin' kill her, he thought for the umpteenth time. He didn't know how. He didn't know when, but as soon as he got his hands on Simone, she would feel his rage.
The door to the room finally swung open and two men strolled inside. They looked like plainclothes police officers. At the sight of them, Ricky pushed back his shoulders. He sat upright in his metal chair despite the ache in his back and shoulders.
"Hey!" one said with a smile, like he was greeting an old classmate on the street.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Know Your Place"
Copyright © 2019 Shelly Ellis.
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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 - Derrick,
Chapter 2 - Ricky,
Chapter 3 - Jamal,
Chapter 4 - Derrick,
Chapter 5 - Ricky,
Chapter 6 - Jamal,
Chapter 7 - Derrick,
Chapter 8 - Ricky,
Chapter 9 - Jamal,
Chapter 10 - Derrick,
Chapter 11 - Ricky,
Chapter 12 - Jamal,
Chapter 13 - Derrick,
Chapter 14 - Ricky,
Chapter 15 - Jamal,
Chapter 16 - Derrick,
Chapter 17 - Ricky,
Chapter 18 - Jamal,
Chapter 19 - Derrick,
Chapter 20 - Ricky,
Chapter 21 - Ricky,
Chapter 22 - Jamal,
Chapter 23 - Derrick,
Chapter 24 - Ricky,
Chapter 25 - Jamal,
Chapter 26 - Ricky,
Chapter 27 - Derrick,
Chapter 28 - Jamal,
Chapter 29 - Ricky,
KNOW YOUR PLACE,