Mel and Tia Series, Book 1
Roses are red…
Violets are blue…
When a girl needs a valentine…
There’s no telling what she might do!
Sometimes the sweetest love comes in the most unexpected of packages. That’s how it is for Tia Jackson. A successful marketing executive with a large family and overbearing sisters, Tia has always hated the game of courtship. She wants to be valued for her accomplishments, not her ability to find true love.
To keep her sisters from meddling in her personal life she invented Mr. Right, several times. But now, her baby sister is poised to get married in a big Valentine’s Day wedding, which leaves Tia desperately in need of Mr. Right-Now. So a plan forms: based on lies and deception, she enlists the help of a man she could never find herself attracted to. But Tia quickly learns what happens when you judge a book by its cover… or when you try to dodge Cupid’s arrow.
Publisher’s Warning: Strong Sexual Content, Strong Language, Sexy Banter/Humor. This story is told in first person point of view.
“That dirty dog-rat bastard!”
The cleaver landed with a solid chop, slicing through the gills. Red, yellow, and grey ooze squirted out. Veins and bones were completely severed. “Low down dirty-dog maggot-ass-bastard!”
My sister’s grip on the worn handle of the gleaming kitchen instrument was unnaturally tight. Her light brown eyes were dark, with amber sparks of mounting rage. She had a fierce, determined line to her lips that thinned what men would call a voluptuous pair. We call her Margie but her name is Margene and she is the oldest. Earvin Jackson, whom everyone refers to as just Jackson, had five daughters and we were raised by him alone, since Mommy died in childbirth with daughter number five. Of course, I was only three at the time, so Margie is and was the only mother I’d ever known.
And Margie, approaching fifty fast, is the prettiest of us all. Well, to me at least. My sister has what some black folks call ‘good hair’. It’s long and wavy in thick dark ringlets, which when pulled straight, reached to the middle of her back. Whether wet or blown-out, her hair always had a vibrant shine and soft bounce to it. But she didn’t care for it much. Normally you’d catch her with it pulled up in a messy mass of curls that kept falling forward into her face, or pushed behind a headband, wild and free.
Yes, to me, Margie is the pretty one. And I love her dearly. Except when she was a raving, cussing firecracker. Like now.
“You know,” Margie said, grabbing the tail of the newly-skinned 12-pound seabass and flipping it on the cutting board. She tossed those curls that covered her brow and leveled her eyes on me. “I should have Chuckie find him and kick his ass! What-chu think?”
Chuckie. That’s her husband. He’s damn near more intimidating than my sister. What she said wasn’t an idle threat. Chuckie could bring a man to a stuttering mess of apologies and excuses with just a look. Once, Lucille’s—our family restaurant—was robbed by a teenaged hood, a junkie with red-rimmed bug eyes. Scared the crap out of us. I was there, with Margie and my sister Alicia, until Chuckie stumbled on the scene and disarmed the fool with a backhanded slap, and grabbed the gun.
The meat cleaver came down again. A wet smack split the fish evenly down the middle. “That’s what I oughta do, have Chuckie kick his ass,” Margie grumbled.
“Calm down?” she snorted.
What else could I say? This was my fault. I’d messed this one up, big time. Well maybe not entirely my fault. I told the lie to make them happy. So they wouldn’t worry about me. Okay, let me explain. First, his name was John. Trust me, I struggled with the plain name thing, but sometimes you gotta go simple, and hell, I had to think on my feet.
John, for my sisters, is my imaginary boyfriend that they were all going to finally meet at my little sister Sherry’s wedding. Margie in particular had been looking forward to this fantasy event.
She turned on me in an apron stained with fish guts and unidentifiable muck, hands reeking from the messy business of Today’s Chef Special. Her mouth opened as if she wanted to say something, but fell shut, and those pretty features—age touched only the corners of her eyes—were twisted into an angry mask. She shook her head. She ran the flat blade cleanly under the shiny silver-black scaly skin of the bass and separated the pink meaty flesh.
Tomorrow was the biggest day for the restaurant. Lovers from every neighboring county would come to dine at the place named for our mother and run by her husband and oldest daughter since her death. We’ve even been featured on the Food Channel, which has business crazy now. Dinner reservations have us busting at the seams. And still, Margie runs this kitchen, just like she runs our lives.
I love her, though.
Oh, back to the little white lie: John. I came up with the idea right after Sherry announced her shotgun wedding at Thanksgiving dinner. A girl had to think fast or be subjected to ‘poor Tia’ for the rest of the holiday.
“I have something to say! Hey, everybody, listen to me! I have something to say!” Sherry’s squeaky voice rises just above the clinking dinnerware, the joke telling, the fussing children, and daddy groaning over the turkey looking dry as he cut into it and doled out slices.
As soon as she begins, I know something is up. For starters, her boyfriend and indentured servant—don’t ask, I’ll explain later—had been whispering and nudging her since they sat down. And Sherry, our youngest, kept blushing and giggling. When I arrived, I felt it in the air. Something was always up with my sisters, and this Thanksgiving would be no different. Call it a Jackson girl intuition. All of us got it.
So plates are passing. My sister Margie’s youngest boy, Chuck Jr., comes out complaining about being seated at the kids’ table. He wants his rightful place with the adults. His head is low and his thumbs are working that Nintendo contraption that I had to spend over 100 bucks for Christmas last year. The little hustler has me on the hook for a PSP this year. He grunts at his mom over the injustice of it all, never taking his eyes from the little color LCD screen. Margie dismisses him with a wave of her hand and the promise of a smack upside his head if he doesn’t go away. And he walks off again, never taking his eyes from the screen. All the while, Sherry is trying to get everyone’s attention.
“I have something to say!!!” she shouts over the rowdy bunch, and I’m telling you right then and there I feel my stomach flip. Please, if there is an angel of mercy riding with me, please don’t let it be what I think it is.
“What is it baby-girl?” Daddy says, smiling up at her. Silence falls over the table as Margie, Alicia, Pam, and their respective husbands all turn eyes to Sherry. My eyes? Well, they’re on my cranberry sauce that’s bleeding over into my stuffing as I stiffen and await the news.
“You got a job?” Margie asks. A hopeful ring in her voice and lifted brow drive a collective gasp through the family.
Sherry with a job was like catching the Pope at a Jay-Z concert. Un-frickin-believable. A career student that collects degrees like I do new Louis Vutton bags, the likelihood of Sherry joining the workforce was slim to none.
“Nah, she found a new major again,” Alicia sneered. “What is it now baby-girl, and how much will it cost us?”
Sherry rolled her eyes. Suddenly I didn’t feel as bad. It may be cruel, but there two things that were certain to happen. Sherry would get picked apart about not choosing a career and draining the family accounts with her never-ending studies. And I would get picked apart over being husband-less, boyfriend-less, and childless. Ridiculous, right? At least for me. In the era of girl-power you’d think my sisters would want me to be strong, successful, and doing my thang. Yeah, well. Long story there.
Margie smiled at Sherry and gave her blessing. “Go ’head, baby-girl. What is it?”
Sherry stood ramrod straight with her fingers spread and palm pressed into her lower belly, and the other hand casually to her hip. All the while I’m praying, silently hoping, desperately longing for it not to be.
“Kelvin proposed! We getting married!!! AND I’M PREGNANT!” Sherry squealed.
Bam. It was. I officially became the last, barren, spinster Jackson sister standing. My sisters give a collective gasp, my father falls in his seat, and then the rejoicing begins. Because of course her being knocked up and down the aisle is far greater than being a successful marketing executive, single, and with no prospects. My sisters are up hugging her, brothers in-law warning Kelvin what trouble he’d find with a Jackson woman and Jackson, my father, he’s staring directly at me silently saying: so when is it your turn?
“What kind of man cheats now-a-days, that’s what I wanna know?” Margie’s sharp tone shattered my thoughts. She’s cleaning the cutting board with a swipe of the guts and putrid organs into a waiting trashcan.
“It just wasn’t meant to be. I suppose.”
“Tia, that’s bullshit. You are 35 and damn well meant to be happily married like the rest of us. He’s a selfish rat-bastard, plain and simple!”
Did I mention that Margie curses worse than Jackson when upset?
“Here’s my thing,” she goes on, “We women face shit out there that can rot your coochie or kill you dead if a man breathes on it wrong. In 2011, cheating should be off the fuckin’ menu. Bastard!”
Margie’s voice boomed through the kitchen. I sighed, hoping she would run out of steam. To be honest, I’m tired of the charade.
“I’m sorry, sweetheart, I’m really sorry, but shit like this pisses me off.” She walked over with her arms outstretched. Now I feel guilty, ’cause here I am lying to her ’cause I don’t have the guts to tell them that I’m fine as-is and not some spinster to be pitied. I think that’s what makes me a loser, my cowardice. She gives me a smelly hug, which singes my nose hairs. Shoving her off my $800 power suit, I’m sneezing and wiping at my clothes.
“Good grief, Margie…”
She blinks, confused at first. Then sees the stains on the front of my suit and shrugs. “My bad. But you know not to come into my kitchen all haughty-taughty.”
There’s something mocking in her tone. Margie has never taken pride in my success outside of the family. All my sisters minus Sherry work here at the restaurant. Me and Sherry, being so close in age, were sent off to college. I’m the only one that’s joined the corporate arena.
“It’s okay. Really.” Here I am apologizing, for what I’m not sure. She’s the one that left me smelling like Shamu the whale. “I’ve been through this before. I’ll survive.”
“But we were looking forward to meeting him. I done told all the family about him,” Margie whines. “I mean how long has it been since you brought any man home? And this one being a pilot and all, me and Alicia were talking the other day. Finally you were going to get someone to take care of you.”
“Take care of me? I make three hundred thousand a year! What are you talking about?”
“You know what I mean. Money don’t mean a thing if you and old and grey and ain’t got a single person to come see about their mama. You wanna die that way? As ‘auntie’? That fancy job don’t keep you warm at night.”
“No, my vibrator does,” I mumble.
“What did you say?”
“I said ‘nothing does’.”
“Exactly. Piece of cow-shit-little-dick-dirty bastard!”
And she goes on, and on, and on. To this I can do nothing but let it flow. John The Pilot has broken my heart and I need to show it. Oh yeah, I made him a pilot. The last imaginary boyfriend that I conjured was a Commander in the Navy. Always off somewhere on the seven seas, *cough*. Bullshit.
Problem was, I kept getting hung up on the military details. One minute I’d have him in Jakarta, out in the Indian Ocean, and the next, I talk about him being near Iraq, totally forgetting which sea that was. Finally, tired of it, I just told them the long distance ‘lurvin wasn’t kickin’ and I had to end it. Now this one, being a pilot, gave me some breathing room. I could call and say I’m out with him and avoid a night of family bickering over what the business should do, or make excuses for his absence because of his flying the friendly skies. But the wedding was something I couldn’t get out of. And to make it worse, it’s on Valentine’s Day. So not only did I need a date, but I needed a Valentine. Unbelievable.
“Well, it won’t matter,” Margie said. “When I got your message yesterday, I hooked you up.
Wait, wait a damn minute. What did she say?
“Say that again?”
“I hooked you up.” Margie shrugged. “I figure if you can’t get it right, I’ll have to do it for you.”
“You have lost your mind.”
She waved me off. “You know Ben who bowls with Chuckie?”
“Ben? Three-finger Ben?”
Margie shoots me a look from over her shoulder. “He’s missing thumbs. The man has a disability, Tia. He has his other fingers, though. And if he and can still bowl atop 200 on average, that means he knows how to use what he got… to hit what he wants.”
“He’s fifty or sixty!”
“He’s forty-five, don’t exaggerate.” She dried her hands on her apron. “And that’s just ten years older than you.”
“I won’t have you setting me up, Margie.”
“Too late. This is Sherry’s wedding and Valentine’s Day. I got people from all over the family coming here. They won’t be ’round here whispering about poor Tia who still ain’t married.”
“C’mon, what year is it, 1820?”
“You will have a date,” Margie said in that voice that none of us question.
“What’s all the yelling for?” Chuckie says, coming though the back door to the kitchen. He holds it wide to allow Melvin’s crew’s delivery of fresh flowers. Immediately, the little devil on my shoulder whispers in my ear. A new plan is hatched.
“I don’t need your fix-up because I have a date. Melvin and I are seeing each other.”
Melvin stops. He eyes me. Not like a man surprised. Just curious. I don’t really know him from the neighborhood. Sherry and I went to private school. But the others do. He’s from around the way; I think he was adopted by a black family or something. He’s also tight with my brother in-law. I give him the best smile I can. Margie blinks at our florist and Chuckie glares as if betrayed.
Melvin clears his throat. “Say what?”
“Don’t be shy,” I say, going over to stand by him. He’s tall, handsome in that homegrown kind of way. Could stand a manicure. His hands are always jacked. But the clear, green beauty of his eyes would give any girl pause. Yep, Melvin will do for the sake of argument. ’Cause I have every intention of winning this one with Margie.
Melvin’s that out-doorsy kind of guy––blue collar and all. Not my type. I like my men a little refined. Definitely. Last time I had a man he was uptight and boring and the best part of the relationship was the ending. With my accomplishments, I need to be equal to my partner. That’s why I’m so picky.
Melvin’s aftershave is fresh, though, and hell, he can play along. I shoulda thought of this months ago. His green eyes focus on me. Standing this close with the smell of roses coming off his skin, I notice how beautiful they are. Then a smirk turns up the corner of his mouth as he reads my silent plea. A very secretive smirk.
“This true, Melvin? You seeing my sister?” Margie asked.
“Ah, yeah… we’ve been dating,” he says and runs a hand down my back to rest at the base of my spine, just at the rise of my ass. What the hell? I move a little and his hand drops, with a not-so-innocent brush that makes me tense. I cut my eyes at him. He smirks. His two workers stop and look over at us, surprised.
Hell, it’s my lie, so I own it. Flashing my sister a thousand-watt triumphant smile, I go for it. “There you have it. Got my man right here. So no need for the hook-up.”
Earlier that day
“Boss? Hey, I think we got a problem,” called Alejandro.
Yeah, yeah I can hear him. Doors to the back of my van are open and he and my crew are working a sweat trying to get the bed of roses and new plotted arrangements on the sidewalk. A good, tough lot of men, I trust them all. Everyone on my staff has served time. Paying homage. It’s the way I prefer it. I did time for a brief stint, so I know how hard it is to get right. Besides, no matter what the color, every man deserves a chance to be his own man. The system has a way of stripping that from you, by throwing you out on your ass with no options. I’m good with my hands, always have been, thanks to moms. So when I got out, it made sense that I take on her florist shop and make it something more. Too bad she died a year later. Too bad she never saw the fruits of her labor. Pops died six months after her from a broken heart. And my head still ain’t right over losing them both. So I did it for them, for me, and for my little brother Nicky who got jacked in those streets I introduced him to.
“Fuck, man, I hear you.”
I can’t deal with his whining now. I have more pressing things on my mind. Like waiting for her to step out of the car. Didn’t know she’d be here this morning. Normally it’s just Margie and Alicia. Never Tia.
Here I am with dirt under my nails and faded jeans. She pulls up in a BMW two-seater ragtop that’s probably worth more than my house. And she’s the prettiest woman on two legs I know. Just sweetness from head to toe. Damn.
The door opens.
“In a minute!”
Alejandro groans and directs the other men to where they can unload the flowers. Her foot drops down, legs and all the rest concealed by the car door. But that foot, perfect in size and symmetry, it’s in a dark blue stiletto pump with an open toe. Oh yeah, I’m a foot man. Hers is probably a size seven and the three-inch heel gives it this sexy arch. So damn feminine. C’mon baby, show me those legs.
She eases out of the car with sunglasses hiding those soft brown eyes of hers. Dressed in a navy blue suit, her skirt rides high on those chocolate thighs and hugs those sweet hips, which stirs something primal in me. The matching blazer is short on the waist and snug, with a single button. It defines the nice curve of her breasts––I’d cut off a testicle to know those breasts. She sees me. A small smile brings up dimples in her cheeks. She puts her sunglasses in her hair and closes the car door. Her eyes focus on me.
“Morning,” she says in that sweet, soft voice I want to hear speak when I’m near her, in her, or just worshiping at her feet. Tia Jackson exemplifies all the things I’ve longed for in a woman, but haven’t quite found. My crush is debilitating. I can barely speak. Thank God she does, again.
“At it already, huh?”
Damn, does she know about my boner? My eyes drop for fear it’s reaching out in greeting. She checks her watch, oblivious to my discomfort.
“Ummm… Valentine’s Day?” She points at the red rose display coming off the truck.
“Oh, yep, best time of season for us, ya know?”
She nods. Denies a man the pleasure of a little more conversation and walks around the front of the car. Hell, even for that I’m grateful because now I can watch those long legs move and the way her curves play under that suit. She never looks back, never really sees me. I think I’ve had two actual conversations with her all these years. Now that is a shame.
She’s gone. So goes the fantasy. That one there is out of my league so I won’t even bother. But no harm in exercising a man’s God-given right to dream.
“What is it? Can’t you unload without…”
Fuck me! We have the wrong load. This isn’t their order. The yellow roses are missing and the carnations are potted wrong. “What the hell is that?”
“I was tryin’ to tell ya. We… I dunno how it happened, told these fools to load—”
“Fuck! Fuck me! Load the fucking truck––fuck! Chuck won’t be here for another thirty, let’s ride and fix this shit. You two stay here in case he arrives early.” I’m screwed. Heading around my truck, I feel a headache forming.
“Why me?” I moan. My fantasy gets totaled by the same ole crap I always have to deal with.