Alicia Michaels needs a major career reboot, so she’s got no time for romance. But starting over in Atlanta is an uphill battle for the cautious PR rep—especially after she teams up with wealthy Richmond Crawford on a make-or-break project. For one thing, the risk-taking entrepreneur is nothing like the staid businessman he used to be. For another, she and Richmond can’t see eye-to-eye on anything—except that the reckless attraction between them is sizzling, off-the-charts trouble . . .
Playing by the rules got Richmond betrayal from his rich family—and shattering heartbreak. He’s got to prove he can be his own man, so keeping things strictly-business with Alicia is the smart play. Still, even their conflicts only make Richmond want more of her honesty and courage. But a shocking revelation will endanger everything they’re fighting to build. And making things right could be the final deal breaker . . .
Praise for I Heard a Rumor
“A delicious, immersive page-turner.” —Publishers Weekly
“Count on Cheris Hodges to deliver a sassy, sexy, romantic read.”
—Farrah Rochon, USA Today bestselling author
“Another fun, dramatic Southern romance from a rising star author that will satisfy readers, especially fans of Kimberla Lawson Roby.” —Booklist
“Hodges knows what romance readers want.” —Library Journal
|Product dimensions:||4.10(w) x 6.70(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
CHERIS HODGES was bitten by the writing bug at an early age and always knew she wanted to be a writer. She wrote her first romance novel, Revelations, after having a vivid dream about the characters. She hopped out of bed at 2 A.M. and started writing. A graduate of Johnson C. Smith University and a winner of the NC Press Association’s community journalism award, Cheris lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, where she is a freelance journalist. She loves hearing from her readers. Follow Cheris on Twitter @cherishodges, friend her on Facebook at Cheris Hodges, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read an Excerpt
Alicia Michaels walked across the campus of Clark Atlanta University with a smile on her face. Being back on the yard made her think about the carefree days of undergrad. Even though she was having a good time with her girls, she was tired of hearing the Alicia, girl, you're next refrain as soon as someone noticed Serena Billups's wedding ring or when Jade Goings showed off her pictures of Jaden or her growing baby bump.
"I figured I'd find you out here," Kandace Crawford, one of her best friends and business partners, said as she and Richmond Crawford approached the library. "Still hiding from people?"
"I'm not hiding from anyone. Well, not really." Alicia locked eyes with Richmond Crawford, Kandace's brother-in-law. This was not the man she'd met a few years ago in New York with the glasses and pudgy belly. And was he smiling? She'd never seen this man smile before. Why am I paying attention now? Alicia thought as she turned away from him briefly.
"Hi, Alicia," he said, once again blinding her with his warm smile.
"Hi. What are you doing here?" She didn't even try to keep the shock out of her voice.
"Looking to start a new business venture down here in Atlanta, and Kandace was nice enough to show me some of the city," he said.
"And Solomon figured I needed a bodyguard, since he had to stay in New York for a meeting." Kandace nudged Richmond in the side.
"I'm not a bodyguard," he quipped. "Solomon knows that you can't wait to get back to him."
Kandace blushed. "True. So, Alicia, why are you hiding out at the library?"
"Just tired of the same questions. Richmond, what kind of business venture are you working on out here? I'm actually in the process of moving back to Atlanta."
"Laying the ground work for some new hotels. I hear Atlanta is the place to be."
She nodded. "I can't wait to make it home again. I've been hanging out in Old Fourth Ward and I think I'm in love."
Kandace folded her arms across her chest. "Your girl Jade is not happy about that. She even tried to enlist me in helping her talk you into staying in Charlotte." Shaking her head, she added, "I'm staying out of it. But, Richmond, if you're looking for someone to help you with marketing, you're looking at a genius right here."
Alicia stood up and smiled. Moving to Atlanta meant that she would be starting over. She'd been laying the foundation for her marketing firm by visiting the city and reconnecting with old friends who were in powerful positions. Atlanta had changed a lot since Alicia had moved to Charlotte to start Hometown Delights with her friends. Neighborhoods had been gentrified and new businesses had popped up all over the place.
A few of Alicia's college friends were launching businesses or were looking to expand what they had going on. She'd made some important contacts already and couldn't wait to hit the ground running. She'd even signed two small clients and would be meeting with them next week.
"She'll get over it. What time is the awards ceremony? I can't believe we're getting honored after all the hell we went through in school for being forward-thinking women," Alicia said.
"Maybe they had no idea that you ladies would grow up to be this fine and successful," Richmond said. Alicia felt her cheeks heat up as Richmond looked at her and winked.
Weird, so weird, she thought as she turned her head. Isn't he married?
"Want to head to the Busy Bee Café?" Kandace asked. "Richmond needs to experience some real soul food. Especially if he's going to be meeting with folks around here about those hotels and doesn't know the difference between collard greens and kale."
"Oh yeah. Where's Jade and Serena?" Alicia tore her eyes away from Richmond, deciding that he was being extra flirty because his wife wasn't around or maybe he'd been drinking.
"They headed to Miss Maryann's bakery." Kandace winked at her. "You know how Jade is about that woman's icing."
Alicia shook her head, thinking that Jade was just going to get icing to use with her husband later. She was sure that Maryann, Jade's mother-in-law, had no idea that Jade and her husband, James, used that icing on each other and not cinnamon buns. "All right, let's go." When Richmond extended his hand to Alicia, she took it without a second thought. She didn't miss the side eye that Kandace shot her way.
"We'd better get a move on if we want to get a seat this century," Kandace said.
Alicia dropped Richmond's hand and smiled. "This place is small, but the food is amazing."
"That means a lot coming from you guys, since you have your own restaurant."
Kandace laughed. "This place is historic to us and was the reason —"
"One of the reasons," Alicia interjected.
"That we started our restaurant."
"What were the other reasons that you guys went into the restaurant business?" Richmond asked, then focused on Alicia. "Kandace said you have a background in marketing, right?"
Alicia nodded. "I handle the marketing for the restaurant and I'm starting my own firm here in Atlanta."
"And Alicia would definitely be a great asset for the boutique hotels project," Kandace said. "Everybody in the Southeast will be making reservations."
"I am that good," Alicia quipped.
"So that's why you ladies started your restaurant, just because you were good at it?" Richmond asked.
Kandace and Alicia exchanged a knowing look. "Revenge," Alicia replied. "Jade had been involved with a loser who tried to open a restaurant in Charlotte, and we bought the spot from underneath him."
Richmond looked toward Kandace, who nodded in confirmation. "We're not that way anymore, but people know better than to cross us."
"I hope Solomon knows that too," Richmond quipped.
"Pretty sure he figured that out when she stabbed that crazy ..." Alicia glanced at Kandace, then let her statement die. Though years had passed since the death of Carmen De La Croix at the restaurant, Kandace was still uncomfortable talking about it. The woman had been obsessed with Solomon and followed the couple to Charlotte. She'd attacked Solomon with a meat cleaver and Kandace saved their lives when she'd stabbed Carmen in the chest.
That had been one of the morbid headlines that made their restaurant, Hometown Delights, one of Charlotte's most popular dining destinations. Then, there was the time when disgraced movie director Emerson Bradford tried to kill Serena in the restaurant.
The notoriety had died down since then and the restaurant was finally known for its award-winning menu and great service.
Alicia worked hard behind the scenes to make that happen. The community involvement and donations the restaurant made to major events changed the narrative about the place and turned it into one of Charlotte's premier eateries. She wasn't too egotistical to realize that part of the successful restaurant had to do with Jade's relationship with James Goings, the brother of Carolina Panthers wide receiver Mo Goings.
Then there was Marie Charles, the former socialite who married chef Devon Harris. Marie's influence also helped the restaurant because she mentioned it in her popular Mocha Girl in Paris blog all the time.
Alicia wanted a challenge and Atlanta was it. Things had changed since Alicia and her girls ran their business in Georgia. Many of the power players they'd known were gone and the landscape had changed a lot. Alicia knew things were going to be different, but at least she didn't have to worry about blind dates every week.
She glanced over at Richmond and wondered if Kandace would try to do that setup trick that their other friends were becoming famous for. Though, she'd be interested in bouncing some business ideas off him, maybe even help Richmond get his footing in Atlanta. There was no way she was attracted to this married man. But there was something under the surface that had piqued her interest.
* * *
Richmond noticed Alicia's glances as they walked to the café. Maybe he was just imagining things because he was looking at the ebony enchantress with new eyes. When he was married, he'd ignored Kandace and her friends. But over the years, his admiration for Kandace and her crew grew when he saw how they handled their business and turned every controversy at their restaurant into gold.
He could've used some of that magic after the scandals that happened in his life over the last few years.
When they arrived at the café, the line was wrapped around the block and the smell of fried chicken perfumed the air.
"If the food tastes as great as it smells out here, then I'm going to love it," Richmond said.
"Oh, you're going to love it," Alicia said, then nudged Kandace. "Remember how many times we ended up here, eating away our blues?"
"That was you and Jade. I just came for the biscuits. Remember, I was in love." Kandace twirled around. "Foolish, but in love. And Devon could cook anything I wanted."
Richmond laughed, wondering what fool would've broken Alicia's heart. He could only imagine what a knockout she was in college, because like fine wine, she'd gotten better with time. Her body reminded him of the classic Coca-Cola bottle — curves for days. And she was smart. That didn't happen overnight. Remembering the vapid women he'd attended NYU with, Richmond wondered what it would've been like to be around women who were focused like Alicia and her friends.
At the awards luncheon, he'd been impressed when he heard about their investment group and the after-hours café they'd opened during their freshman year. Of course, it had been an illegal setup, but the school administration had been so dazzled by their business plan that they had given the group a permit to run the café for a year.
"Are we going to wait in this wave of humanity?" Richmond asked as he glanced at the line.
"It's worth it, Mr. No Patience," Kandace said. "This food will melt in your mouth. You'll be here every day, once you move to Atlanta."
Alicia turned to Richmond. "You're moving to Atlanta?"
He nodded. "We're looking at expanding the Crawford Hotels franchise further south. I'm going to be heading the project. Can't do that without being a part of the city."
Alicia rubbed her throat. "Atlanta can be hard for a newcomer. Or someone who's been away for a while."
"I've been in tougher situations," he said as the line inched forward.
"As they say, if you can make it New York, you can make it anywhere."
"Good luck with that," she said with a smile.
"When you have talent, you don't need luck. I've researched this city and I'm ready to take it by storm. And I'm going to have a great team to help me out."
Alicia smiled brightly at him. "That confidence is awesome. You're going to need it."
"Maybe you can be a part of my team." He winked at her and Alicia's knees went weak.
Kandace rolled her eyes. "It looks as if there is an open table. Praise the Lord. Let's move, and quickly."
Following her lead, Richmond and Alicia got to the table before a couple who were moving a lot slower.
"Savage," Alicia said as they sat down. "You know those two were waiting for this table."
"If you're slow, you blow," Kandace said. "Besides, when is the next time we will be together here?"
Richmond glanced at the couple as they shot them an evil look. Turning away, he laughed. "Real estate in this place comes at a premium, huh?"
Kandace nodded as Alicia picked up a menu.
"How are things in New York?" Alicia asked as she glanced at Richmond over the greasy menu.
Snorting, he shrugged. "So great that I'm moving to Atlanta. You'd think our family was the Kardashians or something."
"Tell me about it," Kandace muttered. "Kiana shouldn't know what the paparazzi are, but she does. Thank God her dad taught me creative ways to hide her face."
"That's why you should let her take a giraffe every time you go out."
Alicia raised her right eyebrow. "A giraffe?"
Kandace shook her head. "This man is obsessed with stuffed giraffes and has turned Kiana's room into an African safari. And she loves it."
"Guessing that you don't," Alicia said.
"Overkill." Kandace pulled out her phone and showed it to Alicia. "See what I mean?"
"Come on," Richmond said. "Those stuffed animals are beautiful. Even Solomon agrees with me."
Alicia shrugged because she did think the room looked amazing. And it wasn't the typical princess design that most little girls had.
"Whatever. I'm ready to toss all of those damned things, but she's going make her own choice soon enough. I can't wait until she gets into Barbie dolls."
"I'm hoping that never happens," Alicia said. "Those dolls are self-esteem killers."
Kandace waved her hand at her friend. "Says a woman who looks like a damned doll."
Richmond definitely agreed that Alicia looked like a doll, only with more realistic curves. And those thighs. Richmond had always been a leg man, and he couldn't help but wonder what they would feel like wrapped around his waist.
Their eyes met and she smiled, then pulled her skirt down over her thick thighs. "I know what I want," Richmond said as he looked down at the menu. But what he wanted was not on that greasy paper.
* * *
Alicia turned away from Richmond. Was he really staring at her legs like he wanted to dive between them? And why was she shivering with want? Had it been that long since a man showed her attention, that she found herself wanting Richmond Crawford? Now, she couldn't deny that he was looking a lot different than he did when she'd met him years ago. He was chiseled, his face slimmer, and those eyes. Hypnotic brown orbs that seemed to penetrate her soul.
She pulled a napkin from the dispenser and dabbed her top lip. "It's a little warm in here," Alicia said as she looked toward the counter. "We'd better order and get out of here before someone snatches this table from us."
It wasn't long before the trio was chowing down on crisp fried chicken, fresh cabbage, and cornbread.
After finishing his plate and Kandace's cornbread, Richmond patted his stomach. "I'm going to have to spend about three hours in the gym tonight to work this off. Maybe if my ex could cook like this, I wouldn't be divorced now."
Alicia inhaled sharply as she thought about sweat dripping down his chest. Did he wear compression pants or gray sweatpants? And he said he was divorced. Was the universe giving her a green light?
What in the hell is wrong with me? Alicia turned away from Richmond and rose to her feet. "We'd better give up this table before we get thrown out."
"Wouldn't be the first time," Kandace muttered as she and Richmond stood up.
"Don't tell me you ladies were rowdy college students," he said with a smirk.
My God, this man has dimples. Why have I never noticed this before? Oh, he never smiled before. Who knew Richmond Crawford was human? Alicia thought as they headed for the exit and Kandace recounted the time that Serena had cursed out a waiter at the café because he'd had the nerve to ask her for her phone number.
"And Alicia didn't help the matter," Kandace said, breaking into her friend's thoughts. "She tried to help Serena assault the man with chicken bones. We were so young and silly."
"That's not what happened!"
"Don't try to rewrite history now."
"So, you're forgetting that you were tossing cornbread?"
Richmond laughed. "Is that why you didn't have a problem with me eating yours today?"
Kandace shrugged. "All right, whatever. You messed with one of us, you messed with all of us." Then she looked from Richmond to Alicia. "And that hasn't changed."
Richmond caught what Kandace was throwing his way when she said her friends looked out for each other. The hint was taken, but Alicia was fine as hell. Kandace didn't have anything to worry about because his focus was on work and building the hotels. Though it would be nice to ... Stop it, he thought as he turned his attention to the traffic signal in front of them.
"This neighborhood is going through a revitalization, huh?" Richmond said.
"Gentrification is more like it," Alicia muttered. "It's happening all over the city. Hipsters are moving out of their parents' basements and into the city."
"I'm wondering if this might be the best spot for the first hotel," he said as he folded his arms across his chest. "It would be a great way to pay homage to Mom and D-Elliot's vision for the Crawford hotels. They started in the community and look how our empire grew. I think I can do the same in Atlanta."
"Things aren't like they were in the sixties," Alicia said. "Image and location is key to everything now. Hell, you have people hiding who really owns things just to keep a buzz going."
"That isn't how we're going to do business. But giving back is always a good way to get in good with the right people." Richmond smiled. "Don't you think so?"
Excerpted from "Strategic Seduction"
Copyright © 2018 Cheris Hodges.
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I don't know what took me so long to read a Cheris Hodges book, but I'm so glad I did! I picked up STRATEGIC SEDUCTION because at the time, it was her most recent release. As soon as I started reading it, I discovered that there are at least 3, maybe 4, books before this one in a series. Did that take away my enjoyment in reading the book? Absolutely not. Hodges catches the readers up on the previous action easily until I felt like I had read the other books before this one. What I thoroughly enjoyed about this book is how realistic Hodges made the characters. I know these women. I've laughed, cried, and gossiped with these types of women before. Alicia and her friends are written in a way that their characters leap off the pages and sit next to you going, "Girl, did you see what that man did?" Hodges is gifted at descriptions. Readers fully experience Atlanta in all ways: sights, sounds, tastes (especially the tastes). I'm with Richmond, though. No coleslaw, especially on a hot dog. Has to be an Atlanta thing. Speaking of Alicia and Richmond, their lust and love for each other is evident. Being the greedy reader that I am, I wanted them to fight a bit harder for their love. Falling in love came so easy for them that the love came secondary to all the drama in the story, and there was drama with an ex-wife and a former classmate. Hodges definitely writes a page-turner with not one editing flaw I could find. Well written, well edited, well done, Ms. Hodges! You have a new stalker, uh, reader. #CillasBookManiacs
Rcvd an ARC at no cost to author..(netgalley) We have two individuals who can't seem to agree on anything and unfortunately they have to work together. Alicia Michaels is starting over in Atlanta and she needs this to work but they are attracted to each other but will try and fight it.. Richmond has been betrayed before and he is not going down that road again. Or is he?