Pink Neon begins with a woman driving a vintage fire engine red GTO over the hills and curves into the Ozarks, a woman too exotic to be a native with her dark skin and corn-rowed braids. She’s brave, though, and bold as she comes to start over, to begin again in a different place in order to realize her dreams. Cecily, my heroine, revealed herself before I ever began writing but my hero, an FBI agent named Daniel Padilla strolled into my story and made it his tale, too. It debuted this week from Rebel Ink Press, a few days early and I thought I’d share the entire first chapter. If you like it, I’m hoping you’ll want to read more – and just in case, buy links are at the end of the chapter!!
It's been out less than a week and it's already an ARe (All Romance Ebooks best seller!)
When Cecily Brown roared into the vacation hotspot of Branson, Missouri, she had nothing on her mind but distancing herself from her life in Chicago after a divorce. She planned to make her long standing dreams of owning a boutique called ‘Pink Neon’ come true and forget the decade she spent trapped in a hellish marriage to millionaire jeweler Willard Bradford VI. Once she arrives, though, she finds she’s a minority among the tourists with her corn rowed braids and African-American heritage but Cecily is determined to stay.
Her cousin calls to tell her the news – her ex-husband managed to get murdered on the steps of his mansion but Cecily doesn’t care. Her old life is history and she’s eager to move forward with the grand opening of her boutique. Her first customer at Pink Neon is a man, dark and mysterious. She pegs him for a criminal or a cop but their attraction is intense. So is their first date which ends in intimacy and soon, she’s all but inseparable from Daniel Padilla. He carries his own old baggage too.
Life’s good until Padilla admits he’s an FBI agent sent to check Cecily out. She reacts with anger but as she learns she’s become the FBI’s favorite suspect, she has to trust Daniel if she can trust anyone at all. As the investigation heats up, she ends up heading south with him to Texas, as she and her FBI lover try to discover who the real killer might be. But danger lurks and it’s going to get rough before they straighten things out….if they can.
Her sleek 1971 GTO coupe, red as lifeblood, hugged the tight curves and skimmed over the rugged Ozark Mountains, graceful as a soaring hawk. Cecily drove like a demon possessed but she held the road and savored the thrill. Everything important she wanted or needed fit into the two big suitcases and one smaller bag crammed into the trunk. Her new life would begin when she hit Branson, the tourist destination tucked into the southern edge of Missouri, a place she’d heard a lot about but never visited. The curving roads widened as the billboards increased along the narrow shoulders but the drop-offs remained sheer and deadly. Breathtaking vistas stretched out in every direction but Cecily couldn’t catch more than a glimpse while driving. A heavy rain fell and made visibility poor but as the road veered downward with gradual slope she drove out from the downpour.
Sunshine streamed through a break in the clouds and illuminated the town spread out below. Before coming, her cousin Nia told her Branson was like a redneck version of Las Vegas but Cecily didn’t see any resemblance. The highway ahead snaked through town like a sidewinder, lined with restaurants, cheap motels, and crappy little souvenir shops. A few hotels stood taller than the rest and she could see the marquees of several theaters but so far the natural scenery impressed her more than the tourist clutter.
Cecily slowed as she caught up with the traffic clogging the busy thoroughfare and gawked. Damn this place is worse than I thought it’d be. She expected rustic, not the cheap tawdriness she noted everywhere. The place reminded her of a cheesy carnival on a vacant lot, the kind that showed up each spring to set up on any of the numerous vacant lots in the Washington Park neighborhood where she grew up in Chicago. Misspelled signs with hillbilly motifs loomed in all directions, advertising everything from pecan logs to ‘gen-wine Ozarks sorghum and molasses’ to sunbonnets. Girl, if you wanted to get away, you sure as hell picked a strange place. No one’s going to know you here but you’ll stand out like a black sheep in a field of white lambs.
Damn Nia and her notions. She could’ve gone to St. Louis, Memphis, Kansas City or even Dallas, instead of this small town out in the middle of nowhere land. But her cuz thought Cecily would be better where a lot of tourists came and went year round, where maybe eclectic wouldn’t stand out in stark silhouette. If she’s been to Branson, I’d like to know when ‘cause I haven’t seen too many dark faces ‘round here. Cecily sighed as traffic slowed to a crawl, backed up from one traffic light to another. Like it or not, she’d arrived. First thing, she needed to find a halfway decent place to stay and get something to eat. Her long drive down from Illinois exhausted her. Maybe after she ate, got some rest, she’d see things in a different light but right now, Branson seemed like a mistake of near Biblical proportions, almost as huge as marrying Willard Bradford the Fourth. But she’d been seventeen and he’d used unfair tactics to force her into marriage.
With dozens of eateries to choose from, Cecily pulled into the first likely one she saw, a café called Country Home Cookin’. She entered and the hostess sent her to a table along one wall. A small steam table wafted delicious smells through the place and when the waitress arrived, the freckle faced young woman explained customers could order the all you can eat buffet or order from the menu. “Whichever you want,” the waitress said with a grin. “Can I get you something to drink?”
“I’d like a diet Coke,” Cecily said.
Curious what the miniature buffet might offer, Cecily got up and sauntered over to see. Fried chicken, some kind of fried fish, a pan of corn, another of mashed potatoes, two vats of gravy, one brown, one cream, a heaping bunch of biscuits, and some little green vegetable, also fried. She didn’t see any salads but there were a few pickles near the beginning of the buffet. A young man delivered more gravy so she asked, “What’s this?”
He shot her an incredulous look. “That’s okra, ma’am,” he said. “Fried okra.”
“Oh, thanks.” It appeared to be something green rolled in batter, not something she found appealing.
Although the chicken looked both crisp and delicious, Cecily returned to her table to study the basic menu. It featured a lot of fried items, too, including chicken fried steak, pork tenderloins, and onion rings. There were also sandwiches from hamburgers to old-fashioned open face roast beef. I need comfort food. So Cecily ordered the roast beef sandwich, served with a side of mashed potatoes and doused in gravy. As she waited for her food, she sipped her diet soda and checked out the restaurant. Everything appeared bright and clean but they’d overdone the country theme. Too much calico hung at the windows as curtains, draped the tables to serve as table cloths, and edged some of the old-fashioned items on multiple shelves. Someone had gone wild with a rooster motif because the birds appeared everywhere, in framed pictures, in dishes and even as a stuffed version up near the cash register. Vintage advertising signs hung in every available wall space along with old time photographs.
Cecily also noticed the median age of the other diners ranked above fifty and over half of the folks clustered at tables in twos and fours had to be past seventy. She wondered if the OATS bus dropped over a load of senior citizens or if the place offered discounts for older people but she felt out of place, both because of her age and color. At twenty-seven, Cecily had to be the youngest diner in the place. No one else wore their hair in corn rowed braids and the rest were whiter than the paper napkins on each table. Although her skin radiated more of an olive glow, her African-American ancestry was evident in her hair and in her dark brown eyes. She might be light but she still considered herself black and so did the rest of the world.
Someone else might’ve felt ill at ease but since she’d spent the last ten years with a Caucasian husband and in an upper crust rich world Cecily relaxed. She’d been the outsider in far more evident ways and although she caught a few curious looks, no one bothered her. After her meal, tasty but filling in a heavier way than she normally enjoyed, Cecily left a healthy tip for the waitress and paid her ticket. With one need taken care of she needed to find a place to stay.
Since she preferred to avoid the 1960’s era cheap motels, cinderblock one story rows with parking out front, Cecily kept an eye out for somewhere she’d considered spending a few nights. She rejected the obvious ‘cute’ places, the ones built in a faux Victorian style and anywhere where someone substituted “K” for a “C” on their sign. As far as she was concerned, kozy, komfort, and kool weren’t amusing enough to inspire a smile. If the motels appeared rundown or the pools murky, she rejected them on general principal. I might’ve been raised poor but I’ve had the best money can buy for the last ten years and this girl’s not going back to the past. It won’t be Willard’s way but mine.
Her eyes searched for possibilities between the helicopter tours, the Ozark crafts outlets, the convenience stores, the cafes and chain restaurants and riveted on a multi-story hotel located less than a block from the Highway 76 Country Boulevard loop. Cecily maneuvered over to turn onto the smaller thoroughfare and pulled up in front of the Radisson. Now that’s my kind of place. Cecily stepped out, adjusted her designer sunglasses and shook her head to settle her shoulder-length corn rowed hair. Her black leather Gucci riding pants hugged her ass tight and the black sleeveless crossover blouse offered a discreet peek at her cleavage. Until the divorce, she’d worn ladylike soft pastel shades or severe tailored outfits as Mrs. Willard Bradford VI and her hair had been relaxed until it rippled over her shoulders smooth as satin. She’d worn low heeled pumps, not boots, too. The first thing she did after becoming Cecily Brown again had been to buy the GTO and shop for the kind of clothing she coveted.
With the kind of confidence she wasn’t born possessing, Cecily strolled into the lobby and booked a leisure suite. Any qualms she had about respect ended when the smiling desk clerk ran her debit card, to her brand new account, without any trouble. After living on Willard’s millions for a decade, she might have to budget on her settlement but only by rich bitch terms, not Cecily’s.
At the hotel, she rejected the offer to help tote her luggage up to the suite and used one of the guest trolleys instead. Once in the suite, Cecily admired the spacious rooms, the living space with an easy chair, a table and chairs for four, the large bedroom, and the big bath with enclosed commode, whirlpool tub, and shower.
Before she unpacked, she stepped out onto the balcony to overlook Branson, her soon-to-be-home. Traffic noises filtered upward accompanied by a variety of smells, mingling exhaust from multiple vehicles with barbecue aromas, the cinnamon scent of something baked, and a faint hint of something fresh and green. Despite her mixed feelings, Cecily sensed possibilities here.
I still don’t know about this shit. Back inside, she sat down and removed her boots. Then she pulled her Galaxy phone from a pocket and as promised called Nia. Her cousin answered on the second ring and Cecily reverted to the street language of her youth. “Hey, bitch,” she drawled. “It’s me. I made it to Branson in one piece but I don’t know about this place.”
“Don’t you like it?” Nia’s brown sugar voice trickled into her ear, familiar and sweet. “I thought it was a pretty cool place.”
“It might be except it’s so full of hillbilly bullshit,” Cecily said as she peeled off her socks. “And I kind of stand out, don’t you think?”
Nia giggled. “Aw, now, all kinds of people go to Branson for vacation. They like to see the shows, go to the amusement parks, and all of it. What you got to gripe about? You’ve been hanging with the rich folks for years. You’re the one told me ‘bout all the dinners and events where the only other women of color were serving or cleaning up.”
True. Cecily couldn’t dispute it. “Okay, so it’s not the first time. I’m here. What do I do now?”
“You put the plan in action, girl,” Nia said. “We’ve talked about this since we were thirteen. You got sidetracked with Mister Money but you can do it now. How much did he give you?”
“I asked for two hundred and fifty grand and I got it, too,” Cecily said.
“You could have had more,” her cousin said. “You’re crazy. I would’ve taken him for all I could get. Weren’t you tempted?”
“No.” And she hadn’t been, not at all. All Cecily wanted was to get away. After what happened, she had Will by his balls and he yielded to her demands. After a decade of marriage to a man she didn’t love, never wanted, and longed to escape, she gained back freedom. If she couldn’t find anything else positive about Branson, it was a place Willard Bradford VI had never been. “I’ll give it a shot.”
“So you’ll open your boutique, like we’ve always talked about?”
“I think so.”
“Good girl! Go get some rest, then tomorrow you can go out and find a place to buy.”
Fatigue crashed down around her, heavy as a blanket, thick as mud. “Sounds like a plan.”
“Call me tomorrow, talk to you later.”
Twenty minutes later, soaking in the whirlpool tub, Cecily dared to revive her dream. Her mind drifted as her body relaxed, returning back over the years to when she was an awkward teenager. Summer heat baked streets until the asphalt melted and the old tired houses became too hot to endure. Cecily and her same age cousin from next door settled down on the wide front porch of the Brown’s duplex. They spent the afternoons out there listening to WGCI, evenings watching to see who went where and did what, and nights talking, pouring out their hearts.
“I’m gonna have me a boutique,” Cecily told Nia. “I want to sell pretty things to the ladies.”
“What kind of stuff you talking?”
“Jewelry, perfume, beautiful scarves, sunglasses, maybe even make-up,” Cecily answered. She dreamed of owning such things and the few she did, she treasured. “Inside, I’ll paint the place pink and decorate it cool.”
“Where you going to have a place like that? Downtown?”
“I don’t know but I will. Someday.”
“Never happened, though,” Cecily said aloud. “But it will.”
And so will the lover I dreamed about.
Until the last six months or so, when her bitter marriage unraveled and she surfaced to breathe, really breathe, for the first time in years, Cecily had almost forgotten her old dreams. In addition to the boutique, she yearned for a lover, a tough man who wasn’t afraid to do whatever he found necessary. She needed a man who would listen to her heartbeat in the still of night but who would fuck her every which way but loose when she needed it. Cecily’s teen boyfriends were a sorry bunch but the few times she let Walker Thomas, her first steady date, get intimate, his fumbling hands disappointed her, left her needing more. Willard Bradford hadn’t done much better.
Her hand slipped beneath the warm scented water and found her mound. Cecily fingered her clit, working until she felt the pea-sized nodule grow larger as sweet sensations rippled through her body. Then she reached deeper to find her g-spot. In a familiar rhythm born of long practice, she increased pressure, then went gentle. Each variation increased the erotic sensations and she savored each one. Cecily raked her hand against her clit as she rubbed her g-spot for ultimate delight. By design she brought her body to the edge of orgasm, then drew back to prolong the intense need. To finish, she put her head back against the edge of the tub and thrust her body upward into her hand. She imagined a man’s hands stroking her body, dreamed of a stiff cock without conscience stabbing into her throbbing cunt, as she inhaled the masculine rich aroma of his musk. Sweet Jesus, waves of pleasure washed over her body with force, her body a beach and the orgasm the incoming tide. She gloried in it as she shuddered and after, she sank deeper into the now tepid water.
Languid and sated, Cecily wondered how damn fine sex might be with the kind of man she fantasized about. If she accomplished nothing else in Branson, she vowed she’d find out – and soon.