One of our goals on ALBTALBS is to give you excerpts for upcoming books you won’t be able to find anywhere else. Today we’re thrilled to share with you an exclusive excerpt from an author who is new to ALBTALBS, Suzette D. Harrison. Suzette is a participating author in the Decades: A Journey of African American Romance series. Her novel, The Art of Love, will be released on April 1st, and will bring readers into the 1930s, a time when prohibition was gasping its last breath and the Great Depression ruled the economy. Suzette’s contribution to Decades spins a romantic tale that full of heat and heart.
Welcome, Suzette, to ALBTALBS!
The Art of Love is the fourth 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
Ava Lydell is chasing her dream. A gifted artist, she’s fled the violence of the Deep South for the seduction of sunny California. As luck would have it, the economic crisis of The Great Depression interferes with her hopes and plans. Without patronage and reliable sales, her fledgling art studio fails. Now she faces poverty, eviction…and the distraction of a mysterious, young stranger engaged in a questionable trade that delivers danger to Ava’s front door.
In an age of Prohibition and poverty, Chase Jenkins has more than most Colored men. He’s savvy, successful, and hazardously employed. A bootlegger living on the wrong side of the law, he’s determined to discover who murdered his baby brother. He has no time for diversions. Especially one packaged in the form of a “midnight” beauty with sultry lips and curvaceous hips. Unable to deny her allure, he involves himself in her affairs despite better judgment. What begins as a crisis quickly becomes a risky romance. Join Chase and Ava on their journey to outlive danger and indulge in the art of love.
She felt bathed by a shower of sultry notes and sensual jazz. Music moved her almost as much as her art, touching the tender, hidden parts that only artistic expression allowed her to convey. She felt soft, fluid. Limitless. Like she could sculpt and create a world of beauty in one breath.
Eyes closed, she sat, her newly polished nails tapping the tabletop in rhythmic agreement with the live music.
“Excuse me, miss.”
Eyes opening, Ava looked up at the hostess she’d earlier noticed strolling the room with her tray of wares: smokes, chewing gum, roses for big spenders, carnation corsages for those low on funds.
“This is for you,” the woman informed, offering a single cream-colored rose. “It’s from the gentleman near the bar.”
She spun in her seat. Had he chosen to attend despite her declining his invitation? Ava scoured the area behind them, fully expecting to find Chase. She was uncertain whether her heart pounded in disappointment or relief when finding the bar empty of his presence. “Who sent this?”
“Oh my…I apologize,” the hostess offered. “He was just right there.”
“Girl, you in here charming men without pulling off your panties?” Lurlene’s laughter rankled as Ava looked about, this time unable to deny her disappointment.
“I don’t see him now, but the gentleman did ask me to give you this.”
Taking the folded note from the hostess, Ava opened it and read:
Two down towards a dozen.
“Ma’am, I don’t mean to be a bother, but the gentleman arranged for me to deliver a flower every five minutes until the job’s done. Is that okay?”
“That’s…fine,” Ava murmured, thinking Chase Jenkins half-way crazy, or fully insane.
“I need to take a page from your book.”
She looked at Lurlene sipping her cocktail all dainty and ladylike. “Lurlene, I haven’t offered this man a thing, so don’t credit me yet.”
“It’s from the same man who helped you with your delivery?”
She simply nodded.
“Honey, ain’t too often a Colored man’s willing to act this kind of fool for a woman. Best sit back, take it all in, and enjoy it while you can.”
Forty-five minutes later, she sat with the vase the hostess had been kind enough to provide, ten roses richer. And, yet—despite furtively searching—she found no sign of the man.
She managed to focus on Leigh Jones providing an extended performance for her sole stop in northern California. But as that final five-minute interval wound down without the prompt appearance of the hostess, she forgot about the magic of music, wondering instead what new game this man was playing.
Where are you, Chase?
She had already used one visit to the ladies’ room to furtively scour her surroundings in search of him. She refused a second trip and playing into his hand. Sighing dismissively, Ava considered the possibility that Chase had left Brown’s Ballroom.
She shifted in her seat, taking in as much as she could of the wide, low-lit room. While the décor was decidedly muted, Ava had to admit gutting the upper level of the old Victorian was genius. What remained of the second level was “U”-shaped flooring wrapping three sides of the building—creating a balcony overlooking the main stage.
She had only frequented Brown’s twice before, but never the second floor exclusively reserved for high-cotton customers…
Her spine tingled as if warm fingers slid intimately down her back.
The second floor?
Inhaling deeply, she took her time turning and slowly looking up.
Everything in Ava went still, finding Chase staring down at her, his expression one of decadent devouring.
Bowing gallantly, he stood at the wrought iron balcony, the final rose in hand.
“Lurlene…” Ava nudged her companion, discretely motioned up.
“Bless the name of Jesus,” Lurlene moaned upon seeing Chase for herself. “That’s him?”
Eyes on Chase, Ava nodded in the affirmative.
When he made a beckoning gesture, she told herself not to move, to make him suffer for his game-playing. Her body betraying, answering his invitation, Ava stood and headed in his direction.
“I’ll be back, Lurlene. Hold my seat.”
Lurlene chortled before muttering, “Honey, you done with me for the evening.”
The seduction of roses reduced her to virginal inexperience while mounting the stairs.
Nervously, Ava patted her perfectly-coifed marcel waves, praying an unappreciated bout of nerves would settle itself and disappear. She smoothed her borrowed, glittering gown better suited to Lurlene’s smaller frame over her flesh. Further ministrations weren’t possible when finding Chase waiting on the landing above the top step.
“Miss Ava Lydell, the artist.” His voice seemed deeper, his shoulders broader in the cut of a tailored tuxedo that fit his form more than fine. It was a stark contrast to his delivery uniform. Yet, he wore finery as if a man suited to success. “For you.”
Ava accepted the final rose, and his hand, feeling like a treasure beneath his warm gaze that traveled her length and sultry width, apparently missing nothing.
His remaining where he stood, versus moving back as she mounted the final step, landed them chest-to-chest, her face lifted to his.
“Did you follow me here, Chase Jenkins?”
“Would you let me catch you if I did?”
The nearness of him unleashing unfathomable sensations she’d rather not feel, Ava stubbornly admitted, “Seems like I’m caught already.”
“That you are,” he concurred, sliding an arm about her waist.
Her body flushed with anticipation at the unveiled hunger in his gaze. “What do you want, Chase?”
He took his time responding. “Nothing but to know you.”
“What do you need to know other than I’m a dirt-eating, country gal tryna piece together a dream?”
She shivered when he placed a lingering kiss on her shoulder not covered by the straps of her gold-tone slip dress. Ava gritted her teeth against the heat blasting her being when his lips moved to her throat, Chase whispering,
“Does that dream have room for me?”
She fought for an excuse.
Chase was dangerous. He was a twenty-nine-year-old youth. Hadn’t her mother always told her to find an older man who didn’t want much beyond a hot meal and the occasional feel good? Yet, the moment she met him, Ava knew Chase was more man than she was accustomed to. And as a man he’d flawlessly seduced her, rose by rose, while waiting unseen in the shadows of Brown’s Ballroom.
He spoke quietly in between suckling her throat. “There’s more to Ava than I can see. Tell me who she is.”
She took a steadying breath and pushed him away. She examined him long and hard before taking his hand and leading him down the steps.
He stopped her midway, turned her towards him. “What’re we doing, Ava?”
Her smile was sweet and sultry when answering, “I can teach better than I can tell.”
Bio: Suzette D. Harrison, the award-winning author of Taffy, is a west coast native whose dream life is filled with reading and writing books. A graduate of Le Cordon Bleu where she earned a diploma in Pastry & Baking, Suzette is currently whipping up her next book…in between batches of cupcakes.
You can preorder The Art of Love here.