It is such a pleasure that during Smithsonian Black History Month (SBHM) we have an exclusive excerpt from new to ALBTALBS author Sheryl Lister. Sheryl is a participating author in the Decades: A Journey of African American Romance series. Her novel will be released on March 1st, and will bring readers into the 1920s Harlem’s jazz scene. Based on the excerpt below, this book is going to keep me reading until the wee hours!
Welcome, Sheryl, to ALBTALBS!
Note: Love’s Serenade is the third book in the Decades: A Journey of African American Romance series. This series consists of 12 books, each set in one of 12 decades between 1900 and 2010. Each story focuses on the romance between African American protagonists, but also embraces the African American experience within that decade. Join the journey on their Facebook page.
Escaping an arranged marriage, Leigh Jones flees her southern hometown for Harlem’s vibrant jazz scene to pursue her dream of becoming a singer. She finds more than she expected, namely Miles Cooper. The smooth-talking musician walked out on her three years ago, taking her music and her heart with him. Leigh has no intentions of falling for Miles or his charms again, until he tempts her with the one thing she can’t resist: a recording contract. But when her past comes calling, she realizes Miles is the one person who can save her from a man who won’t take no for an answer.
Miles isn’t one for putting down roots or staying in one place for longer than a season. Yet, memories of Leigh’s sultry voice, beauty and sass make him long for the life and love he forfeited. Having walked away once, but never again, Miles sets out to prove he’s a changed man willing to go to any lengths to protect his woman. He’s determined to show Leigh, one passionate note at a time that the music they make together will last a lifetime.
She spun on her stool and saw Miles entering. Their eyes met and the corner of his mouth kicked up in a smile. The suit he wore looked to be new, as did the hat, and he still was the most handsome man she’d ever known. Her pulse skipped. Why does he always affect me this way? The closer he came, the faster her heart pounded in her chest. She heard Liz’s soft laughter. Finally, she tore her gaze away and shifted to face Liz. “What?”
“You. I thought you weren’t attracted to him. The way you’re staring at him leads me to believe you haven’t been honest with me…or yourself.”
Leigh opened her mouth to refute the claim, but closed it. She had never had a problem dismissing another man’s attentions, but this time, despite her best efforts, nothing worked. She didn’t want to be attracted to Miles, but it seemed fate had other plans.
When Miles reached the bar, he removed his hat and nodded a greeting to Liz. Then he slid onto the seat next to Leigh and trained his dark gaze on her. “How’ve you been, Leigh?”
“Okay. And you?”
She wanted to ask where he had been over the past week, but she wasn’t supposed to care. And she told him she wanted him to stay away.
“I missed you, girl,” Miles said quietly. “And before that mind of yours starts thinking the worst, I had a job over at the Cotton Club, filling in as pianist for the Oscar Porter Orchestra.”
Leigh averted her eyes. He’d summed up her thoughts. “That’s quite an honor. Are you going to be playing there for a while?” If he had the job there, he couldn’t fill in for Frank.
He shook his head. “It was just temporary, until their pianist recovered from an illness. The band will be moving on to another city tomorrow. They asked me to travel with them, but I told them I couldn’t go.”
“I have a more pressing engagement here. You.”
She hazarded a glance Liz’s way and Liz gave her a look that said, “I told you so.”
Miles grasped her hand. “I know you asked me to stay away, and I tried, God knows I did, but it’s not working, sweetheart.”
Leigh really needed him to stop looking at her like this. His sincere expression was making it hard to fight her feelings for him.
“So, Miles,” Liz said, coming back their way, “did I hear you say you don’t have a job right now?”
“I’m in need of a piano player who can start immediately.”
He divided a glance between Leigh and Liz. “What happened to Frank?”
Liz told him the same thing she’d told Leigh.
“Damn,” he whispered. “I didn’t know he was involved in the scuffle.”
“You were there?” Leigh asked.
“At the start, but I hightailed it out of there before it spilled into the front room.”
“What does that mean?”
“Let’s just say I didn’t want to get caught in the middle of something that wasn’t my concern and come out on the short end again.”
Had he been injured in a brawl? Leigh searched his face. “You were hurt?”
“I’m good. So, what about this job, Miss Liz?”
“I just need to know if you want it. I can’t afford to lose business with all these new places cropping up.”
“How long will you need me?”
“At least a month. I doubt Frank will be up and around before then. And did I tell you the pay?” She wrote down something on a piece of paper and slid it across the bar.
She knew Liz would offer him a salary that guaranteed a yes answer.
Miles smiled and glanced at Leigh before saying, “Miss Liz, you’ve got yourself a piano player for as long as you need.”
Liz smiled and clapped her hands. “Thank you.”
Leigh didn’t know whether to shout Hallelujah! or get as far away from him as possible.
“You think we can go for a walk, Leigh?” Miles asked. “We won’t go far.”
She hesitated briefly. “Sure.” He offered his hand to help her down, but didn’t let go. He escorted her out the front of the restaurant and they started a leisurely stroll up the street. For the first few minutes neither spoke. People they passed spoke or nodded and she responded in kind.
“Are you okay with me taking this job?”
Her steps slowed and she glanced up at him. “If I wasn’t would you reconsider?”
He didn’t answer.
Leigh eased her hand from his and picked up the pace again. “I’m sorry. That’s not fair. I know how much music means to you and I’ll do anything to help Liz. She took me in when I got here, made sure I had a place to stay and helped me get on my feet. Now she’s offered me a chance to headline at her club when she could have found someone far more popular. So, yes, I’m fine with anything that will keep the doors open.”
“She seems like a nice lady.”
“She’s been like a sister to me.” She thought it a good time to bring up their relationship. “I think we should stick with just working together and concentrate on giving the audience a good show.”
Miles glanced down at her. “Do you now? What if I told you I don’t think that’s going to happen?”
“Why wouldn’t it?” She waved at a woman she had met a few months ago at a poetry reading.
“Because you’re as affected by me as I am you.”
Leigh faced him and put a hand on her hip. “I am not.” Miles took two steps away. “What are you doing?”
“Moving out of the way so I don’t get struck by lightning from the lie you just told,” he said with a chuckle.
She couldn’t stop the laughter that spilled from her lips. “Oh, hush.”
Miles took her hand again and pulled her into a sweet shop. “Can I tempt you with a bowl of vanilla ice cream? I know it’s your favorite.”
She stared at him in wonder. “You remembered?”
“Sweetheart, I remember everything about you. So?”
Bio: Sheryl Lister writes sweet, sensual contemporary romance. When she’s not writing, Sheryl can be found on a date with her husband or in the kitchen creating appetizers. For more information, visit her website.
You can preorder Love’s Serenade here.