Sample Sunday: Excerpt from ELLE: INSATIABLE, BOOK ONE
“It takes a strong woman to have the courage to submit to a man strong enough to cherish her submission.”
“What is it Eddie?” she snapped.
“Carl Wilderman. He’s here, and pissed off as usual. I just don’t know what to tell this dude.”
“Eddie, he’s your client.”
“I know, I know. But he just won’t listen to reason – not from me, anyway.”
Gabrielle glared at Eddie, making no attempt to hide her disgust. She blew out an exasperated sigh and said, “Bring me his file, and give me two minutes.”
Wilderman stormed into her office with Eddie in tow. Eddie looked like a whipped puppy following his master. Gabrielle wanted to kick his punk ass.
Instead, she leaned back against the soft leather of her high backed executive chair, crossed her legs and folded her hands in her lap. She didn’t offer the men a seat. “What can I do for you, Carl?” she asked.
Wilderman stepped to her desk and leaned over it, placing the palms of his fat hands on the polished cherry surface. Gabrielle met his stare and moved her hands to clench the armrests of her chair. She wasn’t intimidated by Carl Wilderman. She just didn’t trust herself not to leap over her desk and claw the bastard’s eyes out. She’d have to leave a note for the cleaning crew to be sure to use something anti-bacterial on her desk when they cleaned her office tonight.
“You can sell my damned property, that’s what you can do,” Wilderman spat. “I’m tired of waiting on you people, and I’m tired of hearing excuses.”
Gabrielle held up one finger. “First of all Carl, my agency doesn’t make excuses,” she said. “The reason your property hasn’t sold is because you’re a greedy bastard who won’t listen to professionals who know better than you.”
Wilderman straightened up and said, “You can’t speak to me like that –”
“You hear me talking, don’t you?” Gabrielle shot back. She leaned forward now, and glanced at the folder opened on her desk. “You came to us in January ‘01, and on our recommendation purchased that house as an investment property for one hundred ninety-six thousand. In March of ‘04 that property was appraised at three hundred sixty-two thousand.”
Gabrielle rose from her chair and walked around her desk. She was glad that today she’d worn an all black ensemble – black belted wrap dress, black hose and black patent leather Mary Jane pumps. It gave her a dark, powerful look. Plus, black was her favorite color.
As she moved around her desk Wilderman backed up a step, surprised at her aggression. Gabrielle stopped and placed her hands on her hips. At five-foot seven and in three-inch heels she stared at Wilderman eye to eye.
“And what did we tell you to do back then Carl?”
Gabrielle stabbed him in the chest with the tip of a polished nail. “We told you to sell. We warned you that the market was saturated and that you needed to sell before it turned around. Do you remember that, Carl?”
“Well yes, but –”
“But you were greedy, Carl. You wanted to hang on and see how high prices would inflate. And now the real estate market is in the toilet, and you’re still trying to get over three hundred thousand for a house that’s now worth…“ She turned to Eddie “…how much?”
Eddie sprang to attention. “Um, right now we have an offer for two fifty-seven –”
Gabrielle whirled back to Wilderman. “You’re still making a nice profit, Carl, so what’s your problem? You had your chance to get over three hundred, but you got piggish. We had the deal for you but you didn’t listen. Now exactly how is that my problem?”
Wilderman was red-faced now. “Well, it’s um…it’s just that –”
“Carl, either take the deal offered now or don’t. I don’t care. Quite frankly, I’m sick of working on this property. So you can accept the buyer’s offer or go to Remax or Century 21 and see if you can do better.”
She went back around to her chair and sat down, folding her hands on her desktop. “Anything else I can help you with?”
“Um no,” Wilderman said. “I guess Eddie and I can work out the details. Thanks, Gabrielle.”
He turned and headed out, defeated. Eddie started to scamper after him.
“Stay here, Eddie,” Gabrielle ordered.
Eddie skidded to a stop on her plush carpet. She glared at him, swallowing back the bile of anger, shame and disappointment. How could a college-educated brother allow himself to be subverted like this?
“Hey, thanks Gabrielle,” Eddie said. “I really appreciate –”
Gabrielle cut him off. “Eddie, what the fuck do I pay you for if you can’t handle the clients I assign to you?”
Eddie jammed his hands in the pockets of his Dockers and pursed his lips like he wanted to cry. Damn, she wanted to bitch slap him!
“I know, I know Gabrielle,” Eddie muttered. “He was just being so unreasonable –”
“No, Wilderman is a fat, greedy bastard that you let bully you into letting a property sit unsold while its value dropped through the floor. That’s revenue lost for me and commission lost for you.”
Eddie hung his head like a child being scolded for not doing his homework and Gabrielle felt her anger heat from red to white hot. God, she couldn’t stand a weak-assed black man!
“Eddie, if this is the best you can do, then you can go to Remax or Century 21, too. I started this agency to buy and sell properties, not to let them sit and lose potential profit because a client is too stupid to know what’s good for him. I don’t need agents who don’t have the backbone to do what needs to be done.”
“Gabrielle, I’m really sorry –“
“Get out of my sight, Eddie.”
Eddie almost ran from her office.
Dealing with Eddie’s incompetence gave her a headache. Gabrielle popped three Tylenol and sat and waited for her anger to cool. She loved owning her own real estate agency, but some days she got so sick of this mess – of always having to be on and hard – that she wanted to scream. Some days she wanted to just not have to be in control, to not have to run every little aspect of everything in her life. But to make it in a man’s world she had to be as tough and ruthless as any male executive. That’s how you made it in this world.
But sometimes she got so tired of it – of being the boss.
At the end of the workday Gabrielle wanted nothing more than to go home and settle into her sofa with an Octavia Butler novel and a glass of something red and intoxicating. But she had a dinner engagement tonight. She would have called her girl Felicia and cancelled, but she’d cancelled the last two dinners with her best friend, and Felicia swore that if she stood her up this time she’d hunt her down, skin her alive and let her die a slow, painful death. So instead of heading to her home on the east end of Henrico County, Gabrielle gunned her Lexus convertible down Broad Street and into the heart of Richmond.
Phillip and Felicia Warren owned a three bedroom loft in Richmond’s historic Church Hill district. They also owned Motherland Books, an African-American bookstore with locations in Richmond and Petersburg. It was a point of pride for Gabrielle that via her real estate agency she’d helped her friends purchase their luxury condo as well as the retail properties that housed both stores. This was networking at its best – brothers and sisters helping each other get up and rise up.
As she parked on the street in the Warren’s quaint neighborhood Gabrielle decided that she was glad she’d come. She was tired, but it would be nice to spend an evening with Felicia and Phil. She spent way too many evenings alone.
Felicia greeted her at the door with a tight hug and a grin as wide as the Grand Canyon. “Hey Miss Thang, how’re you doing?” she beamed. “It’s about time you found your way over here.”
“You know my hours are crazy,” Gabrielle said as she stepped inside. “I have to keep my fingers on every button all the time. I swear, sometimes I feel like I work by myself –”
There was a guy sitting with Phillip in the Warren’s living room. He stood up as Gabrielle entered. He wore a black suit with muted cobalt pinstripes over an open collar dove gray shirt. His eyes bore into hers and he gave her a slight smile. Gabrielle clenched her muscles so she wouldn’t pee on herself, because the brother was so fine.
She looked at Felicia, who was grinning so wide now that she was about to get lipstick on her ears. Gabrielle tried to convey with her eyes that she was going to kill her for playing matchmaker again.
“Gabrielle, this is Simon Bishop,” Felicia said. “Simon, this is my best friend, Gabrielle Archer.”
“Pleased to meet you Gabrielle,” Simon smiled.
His goatee framed his smile and his perfect lips, lips that looked just right for kissing. Okay, she wasn’t looking to get hooked up with anyone, but Felicia sure could’ve done a lot worse in the looks department.
Felicia said, “Simon is a writer. He did a book signing yesterday at the Petersburg store, and today at the store here. We thought it would be nice to have him over for dinner.”
And on the same evening that you just happened to invite me over, Gabrielle thought.
“Dinner is just about ready,” Phillip said. “We’re having my world famous Chicken Parmesan. Have a seat while I finish up.”
“So what work have you published?” Gabrielle asked Simon over dinner.
Simon said, “I have a couple of books on the shelves right now. I’m about to send the third to my editor.”
“Simon is being modest,” Felicia said. “He’s about to get a movie deal for one of his books.”
“Oh really?” Gabrielle asked, trying not to look too impressed. “Would I know this book?”
“It’s called Memoirs of an Insatiable Man,” Phillip said. “It’s been on the bestseller list for over a year.”
“I’ve heard that title,” Gabrielle said. “I thought it was something pornographic.” She felt Felicia kick her under the table. She ignored her friend’s warning. This is what Felicia got for trying to set her up again.
“Well, it’s definitely erotic,” Simon said. “But that’s not the point of the story. It’s about a man searching for answers about himself after his marriage fails.”
“And is this story of yours autobiographical?” Gabrielle asked. Let’s see how this dude handles being put on the spot.
Simon smiled at her, unfazed. “Every writer puts something of himself into everything he writes.”
“And what about you, Simon – are you insatiable?”
“Gabrielle, you’ll have to know me on a much more personal level than a book to find that out.”
His locked his brown eyes on hers, still wearing that little smile that she was starting to view as a little smug and a lot irritating. She stared right back. Let him be the first one to blink.
Felicia jumped in before the verbal sparring became a real fight. “Hey, we’ve been trying to get Simon to sell from our stores exclusively, but he’s not having it,” she joked.
That broke the ice. Simon turned his smile to Felicia, “As much as I like you guys and want to support black business, I need to get paid.”
“In America today it’s not about black and white,” Gabrielle said. “It’s about green. That’s the only color that matters.”
“Actually Gabrielle, it’s always about skin color,” Simon responded. “The thing is, our blackness doesn’t matter in America, and it won’t matter until we start to use the color green correctly. As a people we need to stop being only consumers, spending our hard earned green to make somebody else rich. We need to save our money; invest our money. We need to use our money as a base of power instead of letting it slip through our fingers as soon as we touch it. When our green starts to matter in America, then our blackness will also start to matter.”
Felicia clapped and said, “Preach, Dr. King, preach!”
After dinner Felicia sent them to the living room while she and Phillip cleared the table and cleaned up in the kitchen. Gabrielle knew this was just a ruse to give her and Simon some time alone, to see if they could make some kind of connection. Gabrielle wasn’t even sure she liked this guy. He seemed just a tad arrogant.
Simon sat on the sofa, so Gabrielle sat in Phillip’s easy chair. He might be good-looking, but since he seemed so confident, he was going to have to work for every little thing. She didn’t even want to give him the satisfaction of thinking she might want to share sofa space with him.
She settled into the chair, crossed her legs and asked, “So when do you go back to wherever it is you came from?”
“I came from New Jersey,” he said. “I’m driving back tomorrow morning.”
He didn’t seem the least bit affected by her snide question. In fact, he looked at her as if he were amused. Oh, he thought she was funny? Gabrielle decided to push another button.
“So writing doesn’t pay you enough to afford a plane ticket?”
His smug little smile didn’t break. Instead he said, “I like driving. It gets my creative juices flowing. I come up with some of my best work behind the wheel. By the way Gabrielle, those shoes don’t work.”
“Well, you look really good in black. It suits you. I’ll bet it’s your favorite color, because you look so comfortable in it. You’re wearing that ensemble like skin. But the shoes…” He looked at her feet and shook his head.
“What’s wrong with my shoes?” Okay, why am I asking? Why do I care what he thinks?
“Well Gabrielle, it’s not the style of your shoes. You have very nice legs, and those heels – what are they – three inches? They really accentuate the length and shape of your legs. The problem is the material.”
“Yes, the patent leather. You see, you look really hot in black, but the rest of your ensemble – your dress and stockings – are they stockings or panty hose?”
“Um, panty hose.” Did I actually just answer that question?
Simon rubbed his chin and looked blatantly at her legs as if he were kicking her tires – checking her out like she was a car he was thinking about buying. With her legs crossed her dress rode up to just over her knee. Even though her legs were covered, his gaze made her feel naked and self-conscious.
“Well, the rest of your outfit is a subdued black, but your shoes are glossy,” Simon continued. “Your shoes are a distraction. Would you stand up for me please?”
“I want to make a point about your shoes.”
“This is silly,” Gabrielle said. “You can see my shoes perfectly fine from where you are.”
“It’s not about just your shoes, Gabrielle. It’s about how they affect your total look.”
He got up and walked around the coffee table toward her. Gabrielle felt her heart flip-flop as he neared. He stood over her and offered his hand.
“Come on,” he smiled. “I promise you this won’t hurt.”
To show that she wasn’t intimidated, Gabrielle took his offered hand. Simon’s grip was firm but his hands were soft – the hands of an artist. She stood up and looked at him, making direct eye contact to show that she wasn’t impressed by him and was in control, the way she did as a matter of course when handling her business. But her legs trembled, betraying her pretense. Then she caught a whiff of his cologne, and her knees turned to water.
He was still smiling at her. His gaze seemed to reach into her soul with warm fingers, all the way down to stir the butterflies in her stomach into action. Please don’t let me pass out.
Before she could, Simon released her hand and backed away. Now his warm brown eyes studied her from head to toe. She stood nervously as a man who two hours ago she didn’t even know existed looked her up and down, appraising her as if she were on an auction block. She knew she should be offended, even outraged. But he didn’t make you stand up, did he? You could have refused.
Simon said, “The thing is Gabrielle, when one views you in this outfit, their eyes are drawn down to your shoes, because they’re so shiny. Your shoes are the focus of the vision of you, when what should be the focus is your face. You are ridiculously beautiful, Gabrielle, and whatever you wear should enhance, not detract from your beauty.”
Okay, on top of her shaky legs, now her face felt as hot as a furnace. If her complexion was a shade lighter than café au lait she knew she’d be blushing fire engine red. She bit her bottom lip to stifle a silly school girl giggle.
“Um…thank you,” she said. God, she sounded like a little girl getting a lollipop from the doctor!
Simon went back to the sofa and sat down. Gabrielle smoothed her dress and turned to sit down too. But then Simon said, “One more thing…”
She stopped and looked back. “Yes?”
“You really should wear stockings rather than panty hose,” Simon said. “With your long, sexy legs, it would be a nice effect, and would feel so much more liberating for you.”
Before she could answer she caught movement from the corner of her eye. Gabrielle turned and saw Felicia and Phillip standing in the living room entry, staring at her with their mouths hanging open.