Dylan has enough on his plate between launching his online greeting card company and starting an art-themed daycare center. But he can't resist teasing Hope out of her cynical shell, turning her ideas into crazy-profitable success--or wanting more of the vibrant, sensual woman she truly is. Now he's willing to put everything on the line to convince her that what's between them is not only real, but worth a lifetime of dreams. . .
Praise For The Novels Of J.J. Murray
"A sexy story of love, romance and getting even." –Upscale magazine on I'll Be Your Everything
"Hilarious. . .Murray's dialog sparkles and the characters are witty and fun. Readers won't want to miss this." –Booklist on She's the One
"Thoughtful and well done." --Library Journal on Original Love
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you give good love
By J. J. Murray
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2013 J. J. Murray
All rights reserved.
Hope Warren was depressed because she had nothing else to be.
And her feet hurt.
Her feet were depressed, too.
"Mes pieds font mal," she whispered in French, as appropriate a language as any for a depressed woman to speak. Hope had owned her depression since one cold, blustery Christmas Eve when her heart broke and refused to mend itself. Depression was simply an expected guest Hope never expected to leave.
Standing in front of a Xerox DocuTech high speed printer nine to six Monday through Friday and ten to five Saturdays didn't help Hope's pieds. Neither did the antifatigue safety mat that allegedly gave her feet some comfort. Hope looked down at the size-seven indentations on the mat, indentations she had earned from working for Thrifty Digital Printing on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, New York, for fifty hours a week, her feet and thoughts screaming.
For eight of the last ten years.
She focused on the digital numbers, dials, and buttons and listened to Mr. Healy, a hoodie-wearing, long-haired Irishman who usually came in at 5:30 PM to get his ridiculous greeting cards printed in black and white on sixty-five-pound stock coated on both sides.
Dylan Healy, president of Odd Duck Limited Greeting Cards, usually needed his lame duck cards as soon as possible. "Have to hit the PO bright and early every Saturday morning," he said just about every time, only "early" came out as "air-lee," which seemed to make Dylan Healy more Irish than the Irish-American he was.
As a result, Hope rarely left at six, and Thrifty didn't pay her any overtime, an unpleasant fact that left her PO'd at the man who had to "hit the PO bright and air-lee."
I get the privilege of reading Mr. Healy's cards later, Hope thought, all one hundred of the same freaking front and inside copy. If his cards were at least mildly amusing it might not be so bad, but his ideas are brutal. One of his cards read, "You had me at ..." on the cover and "Jell-O" on the inside with a huge mound of Jell-O in a bowl. You had me at Jell-O. What? Another card had "I will always ..." on the cover and "shove you" inside with a feminine stick figure hand pushing a long-haired stick figure man over a ledge. Brutal! He wastes his money using heavy stock paper and coating. He could get by with lighter stock and no coating at all.
At least he has the name of his company right. Odd Duck. Check out his beak! Are those bleach spots on his jeans? No. Those are multicolored paint splotches. Long black hair over his ears, dark-brown eyes, rounded shoulders, a little over 180 centimeters—excuse me, a little over six feet tall—and definitely overly outgoing in a typical Irish-American, smiling, in-your-face way. Because we only have three major clients, however, Mr. Healy is paying a good chunk of my paycheck, so I have to tolerate him, his cards, and his accent.
"And how much does it cost to fold them again?" Mr. Healy asked.
The same cost per card as it was yesterday and the day before that and the day before that, Hope thought. The man is only here to flirt with Kiki Clarke, who I have secretly nicknamed "Rafiki." I like Jamaicans and all "Island" people, but she is too Jamaican, if that's possible. She's too colorful! All the time! She sighs audibly as if her job is so freaking hard. All she has to do is stand there, greet customers, and smile. Instead she giggles, looks cute in her multicolored scarves, tops, and bandeaux that hold back a mountain of braided hair, and struts around in her tight jeans, singing and dancing to music only she can hear, and ringing up sales while bobbing her head back and forth like an old school Rastafarian. She jiggles through her shifts with too many teeth, too-wide eyes, too-long dangling earrings, and too many jingling bangles, baubles, and bracelets. The vooman may be curvier than a mountain road, but a speck of dust may be smarter than she is. Kiki hasn't been here long, so maybe there's more to her than meets the eye—but all she does is meet the eye!
Every time I look up from this machine, it seems there's an entirely new staff here, and once again, my latest manager, Justin Tuggle, has left early to pick up "an important order" that I'll never run through a machine. Justin is almost a circle sprouting stick legs in his purple belly shirt, unkempt dusty-brown hair flying over bushy blond eyebrows, a boy's face quivering on a man's middle-aged, round body, a thin voice quavering over lips lost in the flab somewhere under his nose.
Hope looked down through her thick glasses at her old Kenetrek hiking boots. These boots have outlasted six managers.
Hope tuned out Mr. Healy and worked herself into a deeper, darker level of depression. She had every right to be depressed, and not only because of her stationary, monotonous, mind-numbing job as background dancer for a singing Jamaican ragga.
American television, movies, magazines, her old-fashioned Bahamian parents, her Trini grandparents, and her older sister, Faith, had told Hope that she would never be beautiful. Long, brown, Medusa-like dreadlocks framed a dark-black face highlighted by a small, flat nose, somewhat smooth skin, severe cheekbones that held up her glasses, dark-brown eyes a little too wide-set and huge behind those glasses, plump brown lips pinched perpetually into a straight line, and a long tight jaw and chin. The perfect teeth behind her lips rarely emerged unless she was eating, and she worried that years of grinding her back teeth at Thrifty would cause permanent damage to her jawbone. She considered herself linear instead of flat as a board, though her sister had once told her, "Hope, you are so flat, a man will get splinters giving you a hug." Aside from a nice set of abs, a flat stomach, and long legs, Hope Warren had none of the curves she was supposed to have as an African-Bahamian-Canadian woman transplanted to Brooklyn, and she wore a plain blue work smock over baggy jeans to hide her flatness and her hardness, her heavy locks bunched with a simple white hemp string.
I will never be an American booty queen, Hope thought. My derriere is not completely flat. It has some roundness, but I am not nor ever will be a Rastafarian.
Hope's faculty advisor at the University of Alberta in Edmonton had told her she would never be hired anywhere in the world with only a BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) and a minor in French. "Get your master's in art and design, learn to speak French fluently, and doors will open anywhere you go in the art world."
So she did.
No doors opened in Edmonton, Calgary, or Vancouver. Toronto and Montreal were wasted trips.
Against the wishes of her parents, themselves emigrants from the Bahamas whose parents had emigrated to the Bahamas from Trinidad, Hope left Canada, escaping to New York, the supposed arts capital of the States, and she still couldn't find work in her field no matter how much French she spewed. She didn't want to be the assistant to the assistant curator at a minor museum, and she was too truthful to work for very long in any of the hundreds of galleries in and around New York City. "Those paintings and sculptures are brutal" or "Ces peintures et sculptures sont brutaux," she would have to say eventually, and she would be out of a job. All she did artistically now was doodle on the backs of rejected and wrinkled copies and occasionally try to make sense of the modern art at the Brooklyn Museum.
Most of the art there looked brutaux to her, too.
Her Brooklyn-born almost-fiancé, Odell Wilson, had told her eight years ago that she would never marry, and so far he had been right. "Who would marry your plain, hard, underemployed ass anyway?" he had said in parting. "You only needed me for a green card anyway."
Odell wanted me for more than my ability to speak French, didn't he? Hope thought. And I only wanted Odell because ... Hmm. It wasn't the sex. It wasn't that good. I had much more fun after he left.
When Odell had said good-bye that fateful Christmas Eve, Hope hadn't reminded him that he had once hinted at getting married and having children, that he had craved her "long, hard, muscular body," and that he loved the feel of her "solid muscles and sharp bones." She didn't remind him that he thought she was an exotic "foreigner" since she was from the rolling prairies of Canada by way of the Bahamas and Trinidad and spoke sexy French.
Instead of running back to Alberta's turquoise lakes and prairies blazing with yellows and purples, I went through the five-year hassle of becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen. Instead of returning to a province that has half the population and over five hundred times the area of New York City, I became a citizen of Brooklyn. Instead of dodging bison, moose, bull elk, mule deer, and bighorn sheep, I dodge pedestrians, taxis, motorcycles, street vendors, and buses. Now that I'm only a plain, ordinary black American woman, no man will look twice at me, even if I drop in a French phrase every now and then, tell him that I'm originally a West Indian Island girl, and shake my dreadlocks at him. A real man, American or otherwise, should know what to do with all this hair.
Hope sighed and looked up, her bunched locks swaying across her back. Kiki gives Mr. Healy the same information every day. Is Mr. Healy brain-dead or what? Kiki and Mr. Healy would make the perfect couple. They could even make a tape of their daily conversations and play the tapes instead of talking to each other for the rest of their lives. Just press play.
"As you know, Mr. Healy," Kiki was saying, "it takes time to fold your cards using our Baum—"
"Your what?" Mr. Healy interrupted with a smile. "Your bomb?"
Get me out of here! Hope moaned in her mind. This conversation never changes! Four straight weeks of "Your bomb?" I'm about to go inhale some toner! I may paper-cut myself to death! If this machine had moving parts I could easily access, I'd stick in a dreadlock and let the machine suck me through!
"Our Baum Eighteen Twenty-Two, Mr. Healy," Kiki said. "It is a right angle folder, and we guarantee—"
"Does it also do left angles?" Mr. Healy interrupted.
I'm sure Mr. Healy has scribbled this idea down for his next brutal card, Hope thought. He'll probably misspell it on purpose in an attempt to provide depth to his greetings. On the cover it will say, "I'm looking for the right angel," and inside it will say, "But I'll settle for the left." Or "the leftover angel." Or "the fallen angel." Something brutally obvious like that. Some irony is just too foolish to point out, you know.
Hope rarely ended her sentences with "Eh?" like a normal Canadian. Instead, she substituted "you know" to make herself feel more like an American.
Hope ground her teeth, reached into her pocket, and felt a thin five-dollar bill and some change, and she became even more depressed.
Hope's checkbook and bank account told her she would never own a car, a big home, a designer wardrobe, or even a kitchen appliance from this millennium. Her retirement account, however, was off-limits, no matter how bad life got. One day Hope planned to retire to her own beach house somewhere, and so far, she had pinched and saved $48,000.
In another, oh, thirty years, I'll be able to afford the down payment for a tiny beach house looking out on the ocean somewhere. I'll be sixty, and I probably won't be able to walk over or even see the dunes or the shoreline clearly, but I'll finally have that blessed piece of peace and quiet.
Hope's smoking electric stove told her she'd never be able to cook as well as her sister did. Her sister, Faith, was an only child until Hope came along, and Faith played that role to the vicious hilt, even if her soufflés sometimes resembled diarrhea.
"You will never take my place as the queen of this family, Hope," Faith had told her. "I own Mudda and Fadda. They never wanted you. You only got the leftover specks of their DNA. You are a loose collection of ugly. You will always be the switched-at-birth mistake child."
Hope wouldn't have been surprised to find out that she had been switched at birth. Faith had curves in all the right places, curves that had the Canadian boys and now her husband, Winston Holt, the "guru of natural gas" at TransCanada Corporation, eating out of her glands. Faith and "Winny" lived in a penthouse in the prestigious Carlisle condominium tower in downtown Edmonton, spent a mint on Carrara marble floors and washroom tile, spent a bank vault on Tuscan and French window treatments, and posed for pictures wherever they went.
Posers, Hope thought. That's all they are. At least they don't have to worry how they'll pay their rent this month or any month of any year for that matter.
She checked the clock. Another hour of this monotony, and I'm still alive. Why? I'd kill for a good American drive-by right now. She closed her eyes. No one does drive-bys on copy shops, not even in the movies. No one even tries to rob this place.
Hope opened her eyes and squinted at Mr. Healy flirting with Kiki. She is gay, Mr. Healy. Can't you tell? Didn't her "Another Friend of ELLEN'S" button give you a clue? Can't you see the "I was gay before it got trendy" bumper sticker on her rainbow-colored backpack? Don't waste your breath. You should see Kiki's Hungarian lumberjack girlfriend, Angie, who could probably cut down a spruce tree one-handed with a nail file.
"So I can pick these up tomorrow?" Mr. Healy asked.
Kiki shot a glance at Hope. "I am sure our production staff will once again make your order their top priority, Mr. Healy."
I am the production staff, Hope thought. You shouldn't try to glorify me, you know. I doubt you even know that I have an MFA. Call me the copy girl. I know you're thinking it. You're the funny cashier girl, Mr. Yarmouth is the invisible owner, Justin is the non-managing manager, and I'm the hardworking copy girl. Know your place in the Thrifty Digital Printing pecking order.
"Hope, do you have time to run these tonight?" Kiki asked.
Hope nodded. Sure. I have plenty of time. I have no life, no boyfriend, no lumberjack girlfriend, and no hope, apparently, of a drive-by shooting at this copy shop this evening. I already have to lock up and turn out the lights again. What's an extra half hour of unpaid monotony anyway?
"Great," Mr. Healy said, smiling at Hope. "Half up front, right?"
"Right, Mr. Healy," Kiki said, taking his money.
He usually pays in cash, Hope thought. Whom is he trying to impress on Flatbush Avenue? He probably can't afford a bank account, and from the looks of his greeting cards, maybe he isn't smart enough to fill out the bank account application.
"Um, Kiki," Mr. Healy said, "you wouldn't want to maybe get something to eat when you get off, would you? I've always wanted to go to The Islands over on Washington Avenue, and—"
"I have a date," Kiki interrupted.
With an eight-foot-tall Hungarian woman named Angyalka, which means, ironically, "little angel," Hope thought. Where's the symmetry in that? Five-foot-nothing Jamaican Kiki and Angie, whom Kiki calls "On-Gee," the Sasquatch goulash woman. Ellen's friends are getting taller and wider. At least Kiki and "On-Gee" have something, though I'm not sure what, especially since Kiki never says "I have a girlfriend" to stop Mr. Healy's advances.
I used to be someone's girlfriend, Hope thought. I had short hair and an appetite then. Why did I ever put up with Odell saying I was the whitest black woman on earth? I'm not. Just because I don't use American slang and I carry myself with dignity at all times does not make me white. My Trinidadian-Bahamian-Canadian family raised me this way. Hope sighed again. I shouldn't miss him still, but I do. I wasn't in love with him, and he broke my heart. Maybe I miss the idea of having a boyfriend.
"Oh," Mr. Healy was saying. "Well, um, Kiki, anytime you're free, we can ... um, go somewhere to eat, okay?"
Excerpted from you give good love by J. J. Murray. Copyright © 2013 J. J. Murray. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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