Three months after a first date that ended in a night of explosive passion, Caress Coleman and Julius Jones find themselves somewhere between roommates with benefits and true love. She's smart, beautiful, and one paycheck away from broke. He's smart, handsome, and very successful. But that's just the beginning of their differences. . ..
She's messy--and that's putting it nicely.
He's a neat freak--and that's an understatement.
She's happy in sweatpants.
He's an urban sophisticate who wears the hippest designer labels.
They're total opposites in every way but one: they share a sizzling attraction that makes them want to beg for more and more. But can their passion lead to a love that lasts for the long haul?
Raves for Niobia Bryant
"Hot men, spicy women and a sexually captivating story." --Romantic Times on Hot like Fire
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Make You Mine
By NOBIA BRYANT
Copyright © 2009
All right reserved.
Chapter One "Six hundred and ten ... twenty ... thirty ... fifty ... and seventy. Damn."
Caress Coleman looked down at her life savings, frustrated that no matter how many times she counted the money that was pitifully stacked on her small dinette table the sum would remain the same: six hundred seventy dollars. Oh, and fifty-three cents.
Big damn deal.
Caress dropped her head in her hand and reassessed the scenario.
Yesterday had been her last day as the administrative assistant for Sanctuary, a non-profit drug abuse shelter. Last week her boss informed her that the organization's grant funding her administrative position would not be renewed. Without the grant money, the funds were not available to pay Caress's salary.
Well, since she was laid off she of course went to file for unemployment benefits. Well, surprise surprise. She qualified for benefits, but the weekly check amount wasn't going to be enough to cover her bills. Not nearly enough.
"Think, Caress ... think," she ordered herself, eyeing first the stack of money and then the notepad listing all of her bills for the month. Usually she would split the payments in two, but living check to check would soon catch up to her without the next check to rely on.
She was going to have to rob Peter to pay Paul.
"Damn it," Caress swore again. She had been counting on unemployment benefits to tide her over until she found another job.
Caress was definitely feeling the unrelenting pressure of being stuck between a rock and a hard place. "Why didn't I carry my butt to college?" she asked herself aloud, just as someone rang her doorbell.
Caress folded the money into the side pocket of her purse and scooped up the change to toss in as well.
"Coming," she yelled out, leaving the tiny kitchenette of her studio apartment to make her way to the front door.
"Who?" Caress lifted up on her toes to peer out the peephole with one slanted ebony eye.
"Girl, it's Tamara. Open up this door with your scary self."
Caress smiled at the sight of her best friend, Tamara, childishly sticking out her tongue. Dropping back down on the soles of her size six feet, she stepped back to open the metal door. "What's up, girl?"
"Nothing much." Tamara breezed into the small studio like sunshine. "What happened with your unemployment?"
Caress followed Tamara to the second-hand leather sofa bed in the middle of the studio. "What I'm supposed to get ain't nearly enough to keep me afloat."
"What?" Tamara shrieked, dropping her small leather purse on the coffee table.
Caress leaned her petite frame back against the sofa. "That's exactly what I said."
The two friends fell silent, both lost in their thoughts. Caress and Tamara had been good friends for the past few years. They met when Tamara moved into the studio apartment next door. Even though they were as different as night and day, they immediately clicked. If anything, their differences seemed to draw them closer. While Tamara was loud, carefree, and friendly, Caress was more reserved and quiet, preferring to be seen rather than heard. Even when Tamara met and married Kendrick, moving into his one-bedroom apartment across town, the two women had remained thick as thieves.
"Caress, you know I'd help ..."
Caress waved away any attempts Tamara made at offering her money. "You and Kendrick have bills of your own. I'll be all right, so don't offer because I won't take it."
Tamara knew that Caress's independence was a positive and negative trait. Growing up alone within the foster care system since she was two, Caress had learned early to fend for herself and depend on no one. But Tamara was her friend, and although she couldn't afford to spare much, she would gladly give Caress something if she'd just take it.
Knowing the direct approach wouldn't work, Tamara wisely changed the subject. "Let's go to the movies or something," she offered, reaching for the folded newspaper atop the coffee table.
"Sorry, but I'm not in the mood to roll third wheel."
Tamara snapped the paper open, casting a slick glance in Caress's direction from the corner of her eye. "We could double."
Caress looked to the heavens. "Does this Julius have any idea how much of a fan he has in you?" she asked sarcastically, already knowing exactly who her friend wanted her to date. "Ever since I finally kicked Bobby to the curb a few months ago, you've been trying to hook me up with this mysterious Julius."
For two years Bobby whirled through Caress's life, leaving her fifteen thousand dollars in debt because she was foolish enough to co-sign for his car and credit cards. She had finally told his part-time-working, no-time bill-paying behind to get out of her life. That had been her last foolish attempt at love and she wasn't about to grab a flashlight and go out looking for more.
Tamara opened the newspaper. "All I'm saying is that you're both single with a lot in common."
"Like what?" Caress asked pointedly, fixing her piercing ebony eyes on Tamara.
Tamara feigned extra interest in the newspaper. "Like, uhm, uhm-"
"Yeah, I thought so."
"It's just a date, Caress, something to take your mind off your troubles for one night."
True, if she didn't occupy herself she would stress about her situation all night long. It was amazing just how much your eyes stayed glued to the ceiling at night when you were contemplating unpaid bills. Although she could definitely use a diversion, Caress looked doubtful. "I don't know, Tam-Tam."
"Come on, girl. It'll be just four friends hanging out." Tamara smiled and nudged Caress with her shoulder. "It's just one night. What's the worst that could happen?"
Caress shot her best friend a withering look.
"Smile for me, baby. Think of your man, your mama, or those shoes you saw at the mall."
The nude svelte model did just as Julius Jones commanded. If she supplied the look, he would supply top rate photos. He was one of the top photographers in the tri-state area. Between his freelance work for some of the most elite fashion and beauty magazines in the country, he had an impressive list of clientele clamoring to come to his Jersey City, New Jersey, studio for their head shots or family photos.
"One more, Karina," Julius said loudly, his eye gazing at her through the lens before he rapidly snapped several more shots. "Okay, that should do it."
Julius handed the camera to his assistant who liked to be called Boo. Julius would only address him by his given name of Dwayne. There was no way he was going to call a grown man Boo, especially one who was so openly gay that Julius wondered if Dwayne was a cross-dresser in his spare time. Either way Julius didn't care. The only thing that mattered to him was Dwayne's skill with a camera and his ability to do the job as his assistant, and the man was excellent at both. Julius had no complaints. They were cool.
Julius walked across the length of the converted warehouse he used as his office and studio. At his desk he picked up some proofs to sort through. Suddenly the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end.
"I can't wait to see the finished photos, Julius."
He turned his head to find Karina closing the chocolate leather curtain that blocked his office off from the rest of the lengthy studio. The up-and-coming supermodel looked willow and beautiful in a short silk kimono that did absolutely nothing to hide the fact that she was nude beneath it. Funny how the sight of taut nipples pressing against the thin silk was more erotic to him than seeing her completely nude.
With a warmth in his eyes that could rival a fire, Julius gave her a long, leisurely look that was filled with intent. "I just hope I do you justice."
Karina took a bold step toward him, lifting her hand to caress the ever-present stubble on his cheek. "I just hope I'm able to do you."
"Hey, Jules," his assistant called through the curtain.
"Dwayne," he threatened at Dwayne's use of the nickname Tamara gave him. He never once looked away from Karina as she sucked leisurely on her index finger in a decidedly provocative move.
"Oops! 'Cuse me, Julius, telephone."
He just shook his head. "Hold that thought," Julius told her.
Karina laughed huskily, pulling her finger from her mouth to outline his full bottom lip. "That's not all I'll hold."
He leaned past her to pick up the cordless phone on his desk, the ringer of which had been shut off. "Julius Jones here."
"Hello there, Julius Jones. Tamara Lawson here."
"What's up Tam-Tam?" he asked, keeping his eyes on Karina as she draped herself across the top of his neatly organized desk.
"Double date. Kendrick, you, me and-"
"Let me guess ... Caress, right?" Julius drawled, as Karina began the foreplay without him.
"Yes. Look, she got laid off and I thought a night out with some friends would lift her spirits. You game?"
Julius pulled a chair over and sat down to watch Karina's show, automatically straightening the crease of his black slacks.
"Huh ... what?" he asked, distracted as Karina played in the soft, moist folds of her feminine core.
"Look, you owe me."
"Not tonight, Tamara," he told her sternly. "Besides, I have to finish packing. You know I leave for Africa in the morning."
"As anal as you are?" Tamara mocked, with a laugh. "You've probably been packed since last week."
She was right. "Look, I just can't tonight. Trust me on this."
"No, definitely not tonight," he insisted, as Karina began to purr like a kitten being stroked.
"Julius," she finished softly.
He massaged his five o'clock shadow, which he kept neat and taped up with a weekly trip to his barber. He always rubbed his beard when he had a choice to make. A sure thing with Karina or a mercy date with Tamara's unemployed friend.
"Stop rubbing that sorry beard and say something, Jules."
He laughed softly at her astuteness. They'd been friends since college and she knew him well ... too well. "This is one helluva favor you're calling in. You ... just ... don't ... know."
Karina trembled and purred softly with her own climax, boldly looking him in his eyes as she did. Julius swallowed over a lump in his throat. "Oh, you owe me ... big time."
Frustrated, Caress yanked the shirt over her head and threw it on the open sofa bed with the rest of her discarded garments. For the past thirty minutes she had struggled with what to wear. Not that she was trying to impress Mr. Julius Jones, photographer extraordinaire. She just liked to look her best at all times.
Clad only in a denim skirt and her lace bra, Caress surveyed her slim wardrobe. Even when she was working she didn't have much money to buy new clothes the way she wanted, but she tried to buy a few nice pieces that could be switched up.
Caress turned and studied her reflection in the full-length mirror hanging on the inside of the closet door. She absolutely hated the odd shape of her body. She wished her breasts were more the size of cantaloupes than plums. Some might say more than a mouthful was a waste, but Caress could only laugh at that. She definitely wanted to graduate out of the itty-bitty-titty committee, especially with her wide hips, shapely legs, and full bottom. She caught all kinds of hell trying to buy a two-piece outfit when her top was a size medium and her bottom a large.
Stepping closer to the mirror, Caress leaned in to study her face. A lot of people likened her to Jennifer Lopez, but she didn't see the resemblance. Sure, they both had classic Latin features and long straight dark hair, but Caress was only half Latina while J.Lo was a full-blooded Puerto Rican. Caress's skin tone was definitely darker, and her hair had to be permed to maintain its polished straightness, both testaments to the African-American part of her heritage.
And it was a heritage she wanted to know more about.
She let her eyes drift across the studio apartment to the picture frame holding all the history she had in the world. It was a shame.
If not for the faded photograph of a Latin man and a Black woman stuck in her meager belongings when she was carried to Child Protective Services as a toddler, Caress wouldn't even know she was mixed. Her mother died when she was two. With no other family available to take her in, she became a child of foster care. Unfortunately that's all she knew of her lineage. Was her Latin side Cuban, Puerto Rican, Dominican, or maybe Mexican? Was her Black side Jamaican, African, or American?
Questions and more questions.
Growing up without a past does that for a person.
Brushing off her sadness, Caress turned and reached into the pile of clothes on the bed for the long-sleeved V-neck shirt she discarded earlier. She pulled on the fitted top and then reached into her small closet for her black knee-length boots-it was a cool October night and the boots should be fine. "Not bad for thirty bucks," Caress told herself, as she sat down on the sofa bed to pull them on. "Not bad at all."
The entire outfit, including the boots, came from K-Mart, and if she didn't tell, no one would know it. Caress was glad for discount chains because she couldn't afford much else.
She decided to let her hair hang freely around her shoulders and put on only some peach-tinted lip gloss with a little blush. A few precious drops of her DKNY perfume and Caress was ready to rock and roll.
Glancing at the clock, she saw that she had some time before Tamara and Kendrick were supposed to pick her up. She grabbed the newspaper and opened it to the classifieds. She circled those jobs she wanted to apply for; drew a square around the ones she would settle for; and placed a big X through the ads she wouldn't even dare consider-like "DANCERS WANTED FOR BIG $$$$."
Caress snorted. "Hell, my breasts aren't big enough anyway."
She was just going over the revisions to her resume when her doorbell rang. Her ebony eyes darted to the door. She didn't know why, but she suddenly felt nervous. As she gathered her purse and her house keys, Caress thought, If he smells like onions or has breath like a pooch, I'm going to kill Tamara.
* * *
Julius stepped out of his enclosed frosted glass tub shower and reached for one of the neatly folded ivory-and-gold towels on the wooden shelves above the toilet. The scent of his soap mingled with the steam as he used his hand to wipe the condensation from the oversized square mirror over the pedestal sink.
A past lady friend once told him that his house looked like either a photograph in a home-design magazine or a hotel suite. Julius took much pride in that fact. He couldn't be comfortable in his home unless it was neat and orderly. A lot of people thought he had a maid service come in, but Julius took on the task himself at least once a week.
It was all so different from the small, cramped two-bedroom apartment where he was raised. Everything about my life is different from back then, he thought, before purposefully pushing the sadness of his past away.
As he brushed his teeth he thought with some dread of the night ahead. Tamara was throwing her friend on him like a shady car salesman trying to push a lemon on a dupe. If she was such a perfect woman, why didn't she have a man or at least a friend with benefits? Lord knows, if he looked into Caress's face and she resembled the character Sheneneh from Martin, he was going to freak out.
Turning around he looked down at the three-tiered metal shelf holding all of his colognes: nearly twenty different varieties. He splashed on the Joop!, rolled on his deodorant, and then let the plush Egyptian towel fall from his slender waist. Immediately, he bent to scoop it from the floor to place in the linen hamper. He took one last glance around the bathroom to make sure everything was in order before he strode nude into his bedroom. Passing his king-sized mahogany sleigh bed, Julius entered his walk-in closet. He flipped the switch to flood it with light.
When he first bought his home, he had the bedroom nearest the master suite converted to a walk-in closet. That left him with just one additional bedroom, but Julius thought it was well worth the sacrifice.
Here-like everywhere else in his home-was the same neat, organized, and polished decor. Everything had a place, and as far he was concerned everything belonged in its place. Tamara teased him all the time because it resembled a retail store.
Excerpted from Make You Mine by NOBIA BRYANT Copyright © 2009 by Niobia Bryant. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This was an enjoyable story. Worth reading!
This book is okay, a new author to me. I would like to read another book to get a better "feel" for the author. The upside is something is always popping, this is not a book for a seasoned reader.
Ms. Bryant gives us an INTRIGUING spin on the old OPPOSITES ATTRACTS storyline...Caress and Julius have ABSOLUTELY nothing in common...except for an INSTANT & very INTENSE physical attraction, that they couldn't STOP if they want to...with all their differences and the MAJOR bumps they encounter throughout their budding relationship...will they be able to move past the hurt and their own stubbornness to find a HAPPILY-EVER-AFTER?!!~~~~~~~Because I haven't read any of the previous books in this series...it was difficult to build a "bond" with the secondary cast...guess I'll have to back-track in order to get the history behind the other two couples mentioned in this novel.~~~~~~~I've only read her Strong Family Series...The Dutton Sisters Series...and "Let's Do It Again"...I really enjoyed those stories...and am DEFINITELY looking forward to the next book in the Strong Family Series...but this book is just an okay read for me...NOT my favorite...but still an entertaining read.
I loved how real the emotions were and how they tried to avoid their true feelings. It made me keep turning the page.
definitely a good book!
Roller coaster, i could have strangled caress
This book was very boring.
This was such a good book. I could hardly put it down. Reading about Caress and Julius gets you lost in what's going to happen next with them. I was also refreshing to read a story that included such a good male and female friend; also Dwayne was funny. Thanks Ms. Bryant! Keep up the good writing and God Bless.
I loved, loved, loved this book, read through the night!!!!!!