He was late. I looked better than any woman in the entire restaurant, hell the entire city for that matter, and Demarkaveon, the blind date from God knows where, was late. And not just regular late, like damn near an hour late. And I wasn’t the pickiest woman, but at the very least, a brother could be punctual. “Ma’am, do you wanna wait a little longer or…” “You know what, you can just bring me the check.” I sighed at the waitress. I’d turned down buffalo wings and nachos at Kelly’s to dine with this dude, and my stomach started growling about twenty minutes in, so I’d ordered a house salad. The only thing that had stopped me from leaving earlier had been the R&B band playing on the small stage at the front of the dining area. But as the waitress laid my ticket on the table with pity on her face, I dropped a twenty-dollar bill in the leather cash pocket and prepared to stand from the table. But then my phone buzzed, and I slipped it out of my orange clutch to find a text message from Ashton, aka Cupid. Ash: Don’t leave! Me: What makes you think I haven’t left already? Ash: Because there’s a live band there tonight and you love live shit. I giggled at how well my sister knew me before replying. Me: You make me sick. And why am I being held hostage? Sleep is another thing that I happen to love, and you and this mystery nigga with the lengthy name are depriving me of it. Ash: LMAO!!! Chill. Mark is a good dude. Trust me, it’s worth the wait. Me: MARK???? I watched that ellipsis dance on my screen for all of ten seconds before Ashton sent me a picture of the crying Michael Jordan meme attached to her body. Ash: I fucked up… (attachment) But at least you know he’s fine. Have fun! I luuuuuhhhh you! Me: I will find you and I will kill you! (angry emoji) I dropped my cell back in my purse, shaking my head and sucking down the last of a tall glass of lemon water, though I could’ve used something a bit stronger at that point. I peeped over my shoulder to see that the waitress was smiling at me. I had no idea why until a familiar voice came blaring over the microphone, taking my attention away from the waitress and up to the center of the stage. “How’s everybody feeling tonight? Y’all alright?” The tall, light skinned brother asked, panning the room full of chatty diners before landing his eyes on me. They all seemed to be familiar with what was taking place, responding to him with scattered applause and a few whistles. Heat found its way to my cheeks, probably making them visibly red, as Mark gripped the microphone, wrapping those long fingers around it, causing a throbbing between my legs that made me shift in my seat. “I don’t usually do this but I gotta take the spot light away from Anika for a minute if y’all don’t mind.” He grinned, and every woman in there clapped, giving him full permission to do whatever it was he was about to do. “Just one song, Nik.” He slanted his eyes to the statuesque song-bird who had been belting out melodies in the sweetest soprano I’d heard in a long time. She smiled and nodded, holding a spot just left of the keyboard player, swaying behind a mic stand with a glorious head full of kinky, black coils crowning her head, while the band fell into the mid-tempo instrumental of a song that sounded familiar. But I couldn’t put my finger on it right away, until… “Last night I laid with you…” Mark sang, channeling the spirit of Kenneth ‘Babyface’ Edmonds himself. And my insides heated, flipped, and churned! His voice was like butter, smooth and melty and effortlessly perfect. And try as I might, I couldn’t take my eyes off those full, pink lips and that rolling Adam’s apple that pinched each note he sang with just the right amount of emotion. From the outside looking in, one would probably assume that this man actually knew me intimately. And though the both of us knew he didn’t, he was definitely placing himself at the front of the line of prospects; late and all! The song ended way too soon, in my opinion. And by the end, Mark was walking through a small applauding crowd, in route to me. I’d downed the rest of my water by the time he made it halfway to the table, in an attempt to cool down from being serenaded for the first time in my thirty-six years on earth. And I was still only halfway collected when he finally made it to the table, carrying a bouquet of flowers that I honestly hadn’t noticed in his hands because I was too fixated on those lips. “Sorry I’m late. These are for you.” He stood in front of me smiling as he extended the flowers in my direction. My mouth fell open and all I could do was press a hand to my chest while accepting the flowers with the other. “Thank you.” I mustered the strength to say two words. Mark took a seat across from me, holding onto that smile as I closed my eyes and brought the flowers to my nose. “These are beautiful.” I said, fluttering my eyes open. “And that!” I exclaimed, fanning my hand out in the direction of the stage. “You really know how to apologize, don’t you?!” I chuckled, sending Mark into a chuckle of his own. “Seriously, my bad, though.” He nodded. “Work stuff. But I won’t bore you with excuses.” He adjusted himself in the seat, resting his forearms on the table. I imagined he’d spread those long legs apart underneath, and I’ll be damned if I didn’t wanna look. “Trust me, I understand.” I said, pulling my mind from the depths of lust it’d fallen to. “Oh really? Is that what you were doing for a solid hour; understanding?” He joked as I committed every feature on his face to memory, especially that deep dimple in his chin that I’d secretly wanted to touch every time I saw him at Ash and Todd’s. Not sexually, of course; I was a married woman at the time. I just had weird curiosities about shit like that. Nothing I’d admit to out loud. “Well that, and maybe a few curse words. But I’m good now.” I smiled, tilting my head to the side, pleased that my mood had been shifted and this blind date thing wasn’t turning out to be the disaster that I’d assumed it would be. “Good.” He nodded on a sigh, crisp white dress shirt tugging against his chest, forcing me to redirect my thoughts again. “You hungry?” He asked, opening the menu that the waitress, who was obviously familiar with him, had laid out on the table. “I had a salad.” I said. Without taking his eyes off the menu, Mark returned, “I’ll take that as a no.” And the waitress returned just as he looked up and winked at me. “Tommie, I think we’re gonna have the Newbie Platter.” He said to the slender, brown skinned woman who wasn’t using a notepad to take his order, a definite sign of a veteran waitress. “Got it.” Tommie nodded before taking our drink orders and walking away. Both the conversation and the Newbie Platter filled me up, and before we knew it, the restaurant was starting to clear out, and the sound of us laughing was almost the only sound that either of us could hear. I knew Mark was funny based on our encounters at family gatherings, but it was refreshing to connect with him on this level. A level that had formerly been forbidden by marriage. “Okay, so before we leave I have two questions.” I said as Tommie cleared our table and Mark took care of the ticket. “Cool, shoot.” He said, leaning forward, unintentionally pulling my eyes to his toned chest. “Okay, first where’d you get these flowers?” “Really?” He squinted. “You’ve got two questions and one’s about flowers? I was bracing myself for the hard stuff.” He relaxed back against his seat with a grin on his face, activating that chin dimple. “Well, it’s just because they seem so… I don’t know, personalized. And that would only make sense if you knew who you were meeting tonight.” I stated, peaking my own curiosity. “Wait, you did know, didn’t you?” I questioned. “You and Ashton’s sneaky behind probably put this whole thing together.” I folded my arms across my chest, sucking my teeth and shaking my head. “Okay, so lemme start by saying you look cute when you do the little Sherlock thing.” He started, wearing an adorable grin that turned me on for some reason. “Really? You got jokes?” I smirked, using the strength of a grip-plyer to squeeze my thighs together. “I’m just sayin.” He put both hands out to the side. “Whatever.” I rolled my eyes, to which he hissed out a chuckle in response. “But the answer’s no.” He said. “When I asked for a description, your sister used one adjective to describe you. No name, not even your hair color. And speaking of hair, your barber’s on point.” He nodded the universal black man’s nod of approval as it pertained to sharp edge ups. I’d received it enough times out in public to recognize and appreciate it. “Thanks. Now what was the adjective, Demarkaveon?” I snapped with a smile that burst through my cheeks as soon as I saw the look on his face at the mention of that name. “I’m gonna kill your sister!” He ran his hand over his mouth. “My government name, Ash? really?” He said, more to himself than me, looking off to the side with a look of disgust on his face. I could not stop laughing! “Is that your real name?” I inquired, calming my laughter as best as I could. “What’s the origin?” I continued, completely disregarding the look on Mark’s face. He did not wanna talk about this, and that made me even more curios. “Come on, it can’t be that bad?” I softened the painful smile on my face. “You really wanna take me down the dark alley that is the origin of my name?” He replied, and even that was funny. “Cuz once you go down that alley, there’s no coming back.” There was pain and humor in his tone, the kind that makes for a memorable story. So, obviously, I was game. “Yes.” I nodded, still smiling. “I wanna go down that alley.” I leaned forward and clasped my hands together on top of the table, pulling Mark’s eyes to my beading nipples and I was not at all interested in having him pull them away. “Cool. So here it is.” He cleared his throat, respectfully pulling his dark brown eyes from my tits to tell a story that I knew would be hilarious. “Let me start by saying my Mom’s only nineteen years older than me and I’m the youngest of three brothers. That should kinda give you an idea of where this alley is located.” I busted out laughing and the damn story hadn’t even started yet. Mark went on to tell me about how his mom, Lauryn, had had a pretty rough upbringing and wound up being one of those young girls who looked for love in all the wrong places: typically, in the arms and beds of men who never meant her any good. She had his two older brothers when she was sixteen and seventeen, both from different men who were locked up and unable to help with the rearing of their kids, financially or other. Around the age of eighteen, she became pregnant with Mark, but the kicker was that she didn’t know who his dad was. She was, however, able to narrow it down to three men, neither of whom would be able to do more than drop her a few bucks here and there to take care of him because all three of them were in relationships with families of their own. So, being a crafty sister who was always falling on bad times, with now three mouths to feed instead of two, working as a housekeeper at the local motel, barely making ends meet, Mark’s mama decided to not only get non-court ordered child-support from all three men, she was deceitfully creative enough to combine all three of their names into one to make the lie more believable. That’s right, daddy number one, Desmond, daddy number two, Marcelious, and daddy number three, Xavion were all paying for a child with no DNA tests requested because they didn’t want ole Lauryn to rat them out to their girlfriends or wives. I somehow managed to sit through the duration of that story with my mouth wide open the whole time, waiting for this man to tell me he was playing; but he never did. “I told you it was a dark alley.” He shook his head, sucking down the rest of his cran-orange tea, giving me the I told you so eye. “That is… fucking wow, Mark!” I said. “I have never heard anything so bizarre in my life.” “Yeah. Imagine actually living it.” He sighed. “All three of those cats used to come to my basketball games, football games and school programs. I don’t know how Mama kept them from being in the same room at once, but they never saw each other. Shit was like watching a magic trick.” By this time the restaurant was clear, and we were the only ones left. Even the band had packed up and headed out, which meant that we’d have to do the same. But I didn’t want to. I could’ve talked to this man forever and never gotten tired of hearing his voice. I’d watch him wrap our family and friends up in this same web all the time but had never had the pleasure of being his focal point, and it felt good. Felt like… I don’t know, home? “Welp, now that you’ve gone down the triple daddy alley, looks like it’s time for us to get outta here.” He breathed in, pushing away from the table with his eyes fixed on me. “You take it so lightly.” I said, pushing away from the table, grabbing my clutch and preparing to stand. “It doesn’t bother you, not knowing who your father is?” Mark stood before I did and made his way to my side of the table to help me up. “Who said I didn’t know my pops?” He asked, holding my hand in his until I gained my footing. “Wait, you found out? How?” I asked, way too excited over something that had nothing to do with me. “It was pretty easy, actually.” He said, grabbing a blazer that Tommie had draped over the back of his seat after retrieving it from behind the stage somewhere. “Two dark-skinned brothers and one light-skinned one. It didn’t take a rocket scientist since my mama’s the spitting image of Angela Basset, brown skin and all.” Mark linked his arm through mine and ushered me through the exit doors amused by the look of amazement on my face as I held on tight to the flowers he’d brought me. “Does he know, the light skinned daddy?” I couldn’t help but ask. “Yep.” He replied. “We submitted swabs to this DNA analysis center a few years back. I talk to the dude every day.” He slanted his eyes down at me and my mouth was wide open again. “Which one?” I pulled my lips together long enough to ask a question. “Marcelious.” He said. “Marcelious Morales, to be exact. Half black, half Mexican. Introduced me to the other side of my family and was prepared to fight all of em one by one in my defense.” Mark nodded, and I could not take my eyes away from this tangled-up bundle of handsome complexity. “You should write a book.” Our focus slipped away to the pavement beneath us and the dimly lit path before us on our way to the empty parking lot. “I’d buy it.” I brought my eyes back up to him once we’d safely stepped down off the curb in front of the restaurant. “Oh yeah?” He slanted his eyes down to meet mine halfway. “What do you suggest I title this book?” He had no idea how long this conversation could go on, but I hoped that he’d be willing to entertain it. “A Walk Down a Dark Alley with Three Daddies at the End?” I suggested, sending Mark into a gut laugh. “You’re crazy!” He squeezed my arm, pulling me against his side. “Crazier than me.” He shook his head as we approached my car. “I’ve been called worse.” I smiled, halting my steps as we approached my driver’s side door. “I don’t wanna come off weird or forward but is it strange that I don’t want this date to end? Cause I don’t.” I blurted without thinking because thinking didn’t feel like an option at that point. All I knew was that I wanted to be around this man for longer than one date would cover, and I’d’ve been cheating the both of us if I pretended that wasn’t the case. “Yeah, that’s pretty weird and forward.” He nodded, glancing over my shoulder at the busy street in front of us. My heart sank. But only for a moment. Mark stepped into my space, grabbing both of my hands and squeezing away my anxiety. “Luckily, I’m cool with both. Where we going?” He asked. And lucky for him, I had the perfect destination in mind.
Release date May 6, 2018!!!