Who’s been wanting to read an exclusive ALBTALBS teaser? I’m going to raise my hand high and proud today as we welcome author Kianna Alexander. Kianna is one of twelve authors participating in the Decades: A Journey of African American Romance series and I’ve been eagerly awaiting her book. I have been reading Kianna’s novels since 2015 and picked up Every Beat of My Heart from my local library. As Kianna brings us into the 1940s, I hope you agree that her books are just as beautiful as she is.
Welcome, Kianna, to A Little Bit Tart, A Little Bit Sweet!
Love’s Sweet Melody by Kianna Alexander is the fifth 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 our Facebook page.
Here’s an *unedited* excerpt of the first scene of Love’s Sweet Melody. Hopefully it gives you a feel for the setting, the hero and heroine, and a few of the secondary characters. Enjoy!
Warner Hughes returns home from war with the lingering effects of battle. Abandoned by his sweetheart and ostracized by his community, he feels he has no real home
Elizabeth “Betty” Daniels has one love: music. Betty’s family wants to see her married, busy with affairs of the home, leaving no time to pursue her art.
Warner’s only solace is in the sweet melody of Betty’s music. To Betty’s mind, marriage means giving up the freedom to pursue her art. Can Warner let love in, and can Betty make room for love?
Seated at the baby grand piano in the center of the dining room of the Cashwell Hotel, Elizabeth Daniels worked her fingers over the keys. The daily lunch crowd had just begun to fill the tables around her, bringing the space to life with the din of many conversations. Playing through the first stanza of Pachelbel’s Canon in D, she hoped to help the diners ease into their lunch break. She’d spoken to many of them in the year or so she’d been piano, and knew that their jobs in the city sometimes put them under a great deal of stress. Times being what they were, the black folks of Fox Den, Virginia had plenty to be concerned about.
Fox Den lay just to the southeast of the busy hub of Alexandria. The Cashwell Hotel, located on Fifth Street, lay just beyond the invisible “dividing line” in Fox Den. Though no law demanded such, folks knew that the White population in town lived and worked on the eastern side of town, up to Fourth Street; while the Black population carried on their lives on the west side. Rarely did the two populations ever mix.
Betty, as she preferred to be called, didn’t know why things were that way. It was all she’d ever known. She assumed the Whites had settled on the eastern side of town to give them easier access to the Virginia coastline and the blue waters of the Atlantic, but she had no way of knowing their motives and tried not to dwell on them.
Having committed this piece to memory, Betty let her eyes sweep around the dining room as she played. Her gaze passed over the familiar faces of regular patrons, as well as staff members. Ruby Page, the dining room manager, stood by the swinging door that led into the kitchen. Ruby, a regal woman with dun brown skin and raven black hair coiled low on her neck, looked easily a decade younger than her actual forty-seven years. Dressed in her signature flowered hat, black dress, and flat-soled leather moccasins, Ruby conversed with Harold, the chef.
She saw her friend, Claudette, flitting between the tables like a firefly, arms laden with trays of food and drink. Claudette’s close-cropped curls framed her heart-shaped face, which held a smile for each customer she served. Her uniform, a black skirt, crisp white top and lacy white waist apron, were as impeccably clean as usual. As if sensing Betty’s attention, Claudette looked her way and tossed her a wink.
Betty smiled as she wrapped up the piece, moving on seamlessly to Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in D. minor. It was another favorite of hers, rich with movement and emotion. She had not yet memorized it, so she turned her eyes to her sheet music, perched on the carved stand built into the piano. She’d lived twenty-six years on this Earth, and for most of them, music had been her only true love. As a toddler, she’d begun plucking out her own melodies on the old, out-of-tune upright piano in the family living room. Her mother Myrtle came to notice her talent, and at the age of seven, placed Betty under the tutelage of Madame Giselle Bonhomme. Mdm Giselle, a veteran of the Parisian music scene who had played on stage with Josephine Baker herself, had retired to Fox Den at the behest of her now-deceased American husband.
Moving her hands over the keys, Betty let the music sweep her away. Each note burst forth from her fingers, carrying with it the passion she felt for the piece. She was so caught up in the music that she didn’t notice Claudette standing by the piano until she felt the insistent jab of her finger on her shoulder.
Glancing up from the sheet music, Betty shook her head. “What it is, Claudette? I’m somewhat busy at the moment.”
“Apparently too busy to notice your biggest fan, Betty.”
She blinked, not daring to look.
“He’s been watching you for a good ten minutes,” Claudette chided. “Acting like he’s not here isn’t going to help.”
A sigh passed Betty’s lips as she ended the piece. Knowing Claudette intended to keep teasing her, she shifted her gaze to the corner table by the front window.
There sat Warner Hughes, his eyes on her.
She inhaled sharply. Not from surprise, because he sat at his usual seat, having his usual meal. It was the regard in his eyes that gave her pause.
As soon as their eyes met, she turned away.
Betty eyed her, while shuffling through her sheet music for her next piece. “There, I’ve looked. Will you stop bedeviling me now?”
“Pshaw, Betty. Despite what folks say about him, he’s a handsome fellow.”
Now there was an undeniable fact. Betty hazarded another glance his way but kept the contact brief. It was just long enough for him to incline his head in her direction and flash her a soft smile. Blowing out another breath, she tried to choose her next piece. Much to her chagrin, she could not get the image of him out of her mind. His bronze skinned handsomeness haunted her inner vision like a specter.
Claudette nudged her. “He’s not wrapped too tight, I hear. Damn shame. Man like that could keep a girl young forever.”
She gave up on choosing from the sheet music, as Claudette’s prodding made the choice impossible. Settling on another piece she’d committed to memory, Betty fingered the opening notes of Beethoven’s Fur Elise. “Get on with you, Claudette. Stop judging the man. He’s come here to eat like everybody else.”
“Nonsense. He’s come here to stare at you.” Claudette winked and flitted away, a broad grin on her face.
Betty continued playing, pretending as if their conversation hadn’t happened. She’d heard the whispers about Warner. In a town as small as Fox Den, it would have been impossible not to. She’d known Warner since high school but hadn’t interacted with him much in the months since he’d returned from the European front. Folks around town said he was…changed. That war had done him in, not in terms of physical injury, but with wounds of the mind. She admitted he seemed quieter, more reflective since he’d come home. But she refused to pass judgment on him beyond that. Who knew what horrors he’d seen, or what misfortune had been visited on him while he served? She felt she had no right to judge him. He fought on behalf of a country that still treated him as less than a man, and she couldn’t even imagine the indignity of that.
She closed her eyes, playing the notes and letting the sound permeate every fiber of her being. The melody, lilting and beautiful, flowed from her mind to her fingertips, to her appreciative ears, then straight through to her heart. She could only imagine the encounter or experience that had inspired the composer to create something so moving.
A rustling sound caught her attention, and she opened her eyes to see a bronze hand, placing a dollar bill in the glass jar atop her piano.
Her senses rose as a faint, woodsy fragrance filled her nostrils.
Her gaze traveled up the muscled, blue shirt-clad arm, over the strong shoulder, to the Adonis-like face of Warner Hughes.
Kianna Alexander is a wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, and author of more than 35 African American and multicultural romance titles. You can find her at her website, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.
So, what did you think? Feel free to tell me your thoughts in the comments. Remember, Love’s Sweet Melody will be available on May 8, 2018.