Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Presenting: SMALL TOWN FAITH: Lovetown Series Book 2

An inadequate vigilante. A daring detective. The dangerous man between them.

Jazmin "Jazzy" Thompson will stop at nothing to avenge her brother's death, even if it means using herself as bait. Ignoring her twin sister’s warnings, Jazzy goes undercover by befriending her brother’s killer. But will love thwart her mission?

Detective Travis "the Tease" Gonzalez, has been pursuing Jazzy since their teens but his reputation as a flirt supersedes him. When they are united on a case, will Travis finally get his chance to prove that what he feels for her is the real deal?

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Chapter 1

Jazmin “Jazzy” Thompson

“Godzilla” by Eminem reverberated in my ears so hard I knew already it would be ringing long after my head hit the pillow later that night. That’s how it was at clubs, which was why I rarely went to them. All these people drinking and fantasizing about love and making up stories about who they really were; I’d do just as well to sit at home and read a novel. At least then nobody was lying about the fact that the story was made-up.

But I had a purpose tonight. I couldn’t join these no-reading losers in their reverie because I had somebody to kill. Yes. Kill. For over a year, I kept a gun tucked in my purse as I carried out my daily tasks in and around Lovetown, TX, waiting for the perfect opportunity to use it on Flip.

Of course, that hadn’t happened because Flip and I did not hang in the same circles. He was a drug-dealing, reckless, low-life thug who had killed my brother sixteen years ago for no good reason. I imagined Flip frequented dark alleys and crack houses. I, on the other hand, spent most of my time performing official caregiver duties for my ailing grandmother, Big, while braiding hair on the side for under-the-table cash.

Beer breath, bad cologne, and body odor mingled as clubbers dipped in and out of each other’s personal spaces, mouth-to-ear, trying to converse over the music. It was sensory overload for sure. But I had good reason to be there.

I took a sip of my soda while eyeing Flip as he sat near the DJ booth. Maybe we’re not so different after all, I thought to myself. Flip avoided the cops. I avoided reporting income. We were both crooks in different ways for different reasons.

Only I hadn’t killed anyone. Not yet.

A slight jab in my side brought me back to the present. “He’s cute, right?”


“That guy you’re staring at.” Alexis “Lexi” Reese pointed a red, coffin-shaped nail at Flip.

“Yeah, he’s hot all right.” He’ll be even hotter when he gets where I’m going to send him.

“So go over and dance with him,” Lexi said.

I turned slightly to my left to take a long look at my new-found friend, if that’s what I called Alexis, to determine if this girl was really serious.

Brown-skinned, gray-eyed, bunny-nosed, and skinny as a needle, Lexi could have been the “black friend” in one of those 90’s, white-girl movies. She was pretty. Had that innocent look, probably because she was. When you spend six or seven hours braiding somebody’s hair, you get a pretty good idea of what they’re all about. Lexi was from a little town in Mississippi. She’d moved to Texas on some kind of dance scholarship that turned out to be “a fake,” in her own words.

Anybody who said “fake” instead of a plethora of four-letter words that came to my mind was definitely not into ratchetness.

“Ooh, look at his arms. He is all tatted up,” Lexi smiled Flip’s way, taking a sip of her beer. “If you don’t want him, I sure do.”

This might work, I thought. If I couldn’t get to Flip, maybe Lexi could.

“You serious?” I asked.

“Girl, naw. I can’t go over there. But you can. I mean, look at you. I would kill to have your high cheekbones. And like, I’ve seen you first thing in the morning when you braided my hair. You literally wake up that way. Natural beauty. Really, makeup almost takes away from your beauty. You look like an amazingly, amazing grown woman. I look like I should be standing outside a grocery store selling Girl Scout cookies.”

I laughed a little, though it was hard to fully appreciate Lexi’s joke over the blaring music.

“It’s true! Guys don’t like me. I got no curves.” She slapped her flat behind.

“My grandma says that after a woman has her first baby, she picks up weight,” I said.

“I would need multiple births. All at once,” Lexi said. “But that probably won’t help. All the women on my mom’s side are skinny like me. Something’s wrong with our metabolism, like, we start shaking and stuff if we don’t eat a lot of food. My aunt was the one who went to a doctor about it after she almost fainted on a flight without food. She got the diagnosis and everything. It’s like...”

I zoned out of another one of Lexi’s long-winded stories. It might take minutes before it ended. It wasn’t that I didn’t like Lexi. It was just...different. I was a twin. I had a sister. I had never really needed a friendship before now, and I wasn’t sure I knew how to maintain one.

The music died down a bit, and Lexi’s story seemed louder. “But the good thing about being skinny is, I can still shop at juvenile stores. You remember when everybody used to shop at Justice? That was like the store. We didn’t have one near us, but mom used to order online. People think I’m a kid all the time. That’s kind of scary ‘cuz, like, what if I get kidnapped?”

She paused for once.

“That would be terrible,” I said dutifully.

“Well. These days, they’re kidnapping people our age, actually. Did you watch the news the other night? I don’t think it was far from here, actually. The girl was, like…”

Again, I tuned out. With my twin sister, Janiyah “Niya,” I could say, “I’m tired of hearing this story. Can we talk about something else? And Niya would either say, “Okay,” or “Stop being so selfish and listen.” Either way, I could be completely truthful without anyone getting their feelings hurt. Twins have a life-long bond. There was never any danger of damaging it.

But I hadn’t counted on Niya stretching it across half the country by getting married and moving to Washington, DC to start a new life as a wife and nursing student.

Now, here I was in a hole-in-the-wall club fanning myself and sitting next to some chick who was nice but a little annoying, staring at the man I wanted to kill.

Flip was sitting in a VIP booth with three other guys with probably a hundred gold teeth between them. Who were those guys, anyway? Had they been there the night Jhavon got killed? Did they watch my brother’s body fall to the ground after the blast?

I blinked tears away, but the anger wouldn’t dissipate. In fact, I felt it rising. I wonder if I can kill all three?

A bikini-clad waitress delivered another round of drinks as all of the men ogled her body. From what I could see, that girl wasn’t so shapely, really. She was actually kind of bad-built, as Big would say.

When Lady Gaga’s “Stupid Love” started playing, a surge of boldness swept over me. Maybe I could go over to him. I wondered how close I could get before he recognized me. I could...test the waters. See if his entourage stopped me from getting near their master. And then, if I got really close...then what?

I’ll shoot him, that’s what. This was my chance. It was now or never.

“I’m gonna go over there,” I screamed into Lexi’s ear. “Watch my drink.”

“You go!”

Heart pounding to the rapid beat, I slowly lowered myself from the bar stool. Instinctively, I tugged at the bottom of my sequin tank dress that had surely ridden up while I sat. But then I stopped. This was no time for modesty. In fact, the more skin I showed, the closer I could get to Flip, the better shot I could take.

I detoured to a tiny stall in the women’s restroom, where I tightened my bra hooks, tugged at my neckline, and positioned my breasts to create cleavage that could barely be contained by the top of my dress. I pulled my hem up a little, too, the way I imagined a desperate woman might do. And I was desperate...for revenge.

♪♪ Look at me now...Cause all I ever wanted was love…

Chin held high, I slithered through the crowd, smiling up at the men as they snuck not-so-covert peeks at my cleavage. They made me feel slimy. Objectified.

The closer I got to the sunken VIP section, the more dense the crowd became. Maybe everybody wanted to be close to Lovetown’s most celebrated thugs. Or maybe these people were bodyguards.

All I knew was it was crowded in the club. There were more people my age here than in the whole city, it seemed, and yet I didn’t recognize anyone. People must have come in from all the surrounding counties just to have something to do. Either that or I wasn’t as young as I thought anymore. Twenty-nine. Is that old?

This whole scene was all too much. The music, the dancing, my too-tight bra. I had to hurry up and kill Flip ’n crew so I could get home and change clothes.

I was much closer to Flip now. Only a few girls gyrating to the beat between us. In fact, the girls might as well have just gotten a room. How was I supposed to shoot somebody with all that movement?

I had to get closer.

♪♪ I want your stupid love…

I was standing at the railing right next to him now. Close enough to see Flip’s earrings. His crooked smile. I wondered if Flip’s raggedy mouth was the last thing Jhavon saw before he died. My brother had deserved more than that. He’d deserved to look up and be surrounded by family and friends – his wife and great-great-grandchildren – their eyes filled with tears and love, in the final moments before he died. But instead, he had probably seen these gold dollar signs with an obnoxious diamond in the middle on either side of Flip’s stupid head.

Slowly, I put my hand on the rail. Right next to his.

My stomach churned with anxiety.

The booty-shakin’ chicks were bumping into me, with no regard or apology. This was a club, after all. Somebody might throw themselves into the crowd and expect to be carried overhead any minute now.

I felt inside my purse. It was there. The steel, as cold and as hard as any one of its kind. It was tiny but powerful, I had been assured. I could whip it out, turn ninety degrees, aim at Flip, fire off two or three rounds before anybody knew to move.

Wait. That could be a problem. What if nobody moved before he fell over? What if I ended up shooting one of the dancing chicks? Or someone behind them? Or even Lexi, with her goofy self, who I imagined would stand up and scream, “What’s happening?” in the midst of zig-zagging bullets.

Wait. Zig-zagging bullets?

If I shot Flip without shooting his crew, one of them would start shooting at me, and then I’d have to duck for cover, and then –

I pulled my hand away from the soft touch on my hand.

It was him. Flip. He had touched me.

I swallowed. Faced him. Without a smile.

But he was smiling up at me in that friendly, smoldering way half-drunk men look at you when they want one thing.

“Hey,” he slurred. “You all right tonight?”

I swallowed again. “Yeah. You?”

“Be much better with you here next to me.” He patted the empty space to his right.

For some reason, I looked toward Lexi, who was flashing a huge-thumbs up and a Colgate smile. She must have seen the whole exchange. Suddenly, I was glad I hadn’t shot Flip because, then, Lexi would have a sad, traumatic story to tell the next time she got her hair braided.

“I-I gotta go,” I said as I began to walk away.

Flip grabbed my arm. “Wait. You from around here?”

“No,” I lied. “I’m from...Alabama.”

“Cool. Can I call you?” he asked, still able to form a coherent sentence despite the redness of his eyes.

“I-I just got this new phone. I don’t know my number by heart. Can you give me yours?” I opened my purse discreetly and produced only the phone. I had no idea what I was doing at the moment. I knew the routine – the other person gives you their number. You call them so they’ll have your number. The last thing I needed was to be in Flip’s phone records.

I’d be on the list of suspects in the investigation.

This was not going according to plan. Well, actually, I hadn’t planned it. This whole let’s-go-to-a-club thing had been Lexi’s idea, anyway.

Flip stood. Leaned his body toward mine.

I snuck a glance at my phone. I allowed him to place his mouth within half an inch of my ears. His hot breath reeked of alcohol, and all I could think about was how this voice had been the last thing Jhavon heard before he died.

When he spoke the last number, I quickly pressed save and stuffed my phone in my purse. “I gotta go.”

“Wait! You ain’t gonna hit me up right now?” Flip raised both arms at his sides in a surrendered gesture.

I’m sure that’s what my brother did right before you shot him.

“I gotta go,” I scurried away without looking back.

When I reached Lexi, I repeated those words.

“What’s wrong? What happened?”

“I can’t stay. You can if you want, but I’m leaving.”

Again without looking back, I zipped my way through the crowd making my way toward the exit..

“Jazzy?” a voice called from behind me. “Is that you?”

Chapter 2

Travis Gonzalez

It was her. Jazzy Thompson. I would recognize that butt anywhere. Why on earth would she be at this club? And more importantly, had she come alone?

These questions raced through my mind and I wasted no time asking them in rapid-fire succession.

What I got from Jazzy was, “Ummm, why are you asking me all these questions? The last time I checked, my father was six feet under.” She wrapped her arms about her and I could see her lower lip tremble because of the chill in the air. The mini dress she wore was no protection against the windy September night.

I stepped closer to Jazzy and placed my lips as close as possible to her right ear, diverting my eyes from her ample cleavage. “Jazzy, you shouldn’t be here. This is not the kind of place for a girl like you.”

She jerked her neck. “And yet, somehow you’re here!”

She looked me up and down and, suddenly, I remembered I held no explicit or implicit authority over her as an officer. I was wearing street clothes and wasn’t on duty – not technically. Come to think of it, I didn’t have anything over her as one of her brother-in-law’s best friends, either.

Sean, Mike and I had been good friends most of our lives. Sean had been known as Cyber Tooth and at six-five, Mike had been simply Big Mike. I couldn’t overcome my nickname – Travis the Tease. We had been inseparable before Sean went into the Navy, leaving me and Mike to become police officers. Mike and I had been partners until I got promoted to detective and Mike had decided to go backpacking in Europe.

“I’m working,” I explained. “Jazzy. Trust me. You should not be here.” Jazzy was a twin and prior to her sister, Niya, marrying Sean and moving to Washington D.C., she had been a homebody.

“You moonlighting? You live in your grandmother’s house and you’re living rent free, so I know you don’t need the money. So, why are you here?”

Before I could dredge up a response, a girl I didn’t recognize grabbed Jazzy’s arm. “Let’s bounce. You ready?” She was chewing on a stick of gum like a cow chewed grass. She didn’t look old enough to be in the club, but I wasn’t about to ask her about her age. Nothing would deviate from my true purpose of being in the club tonight. I had just been promoted to a detective and this was my first, official undercover case.

I studied the girl’s face from under hooded eyes. In a small town like Lovetown, everybody was connected. Almost everyone knew everyone. As a police officer, I was wary of new people. She could have come into the area for nefarious reasons. This girl could be wanted in another county, trying to establish a drug trade route, or worse.

Instinctively, I asked, “Who are you?”

“Well, I could be your woman if you weren't so rude,” she replied with a smile.

I was a pro at reading body language, but with the flashing lights and the haze of smoke in the room, I wasn’t sure if the girl was flirting for real. If so, she would be wasting her time because I only had eyes for one person – not that she was interested. In fact, she seemed determined to stretch her neck to look behind me where people hollered the words to “Old Town Road.” I shifted my weight so Jazzy would divert her attention toward me.

“I’m Lexi,” the other woman said, offering her hand for dap. Actually, I wasn’t even sure “woman” was the right word. She looked like a junior high kid. Then again, the bouncers at this club weren’t checking for weapons or drugs. ID’s were the least of their worries.


“Great,” Jazzy said, finally looking me in the eyes. “Now that you two have met, you can leave us alone now.”

“Jazzy, I’m serious. You don’t want to be here. I know you’re missing your sister, but this isn’t the place to find good company.” I didn’t want to say too much. I couldn’t, actually.

“Don’t tell me what to do,” she snapped. “You’re not my man.”

“I could be if you wanted,” I challenged before saying, “Try one of the clubs in Sulphur Breeze.”

“Sulphur Breeze?” Lexi snarled and waved a hand in front of her nose. “That sounds stinky! What would possess someone to come up with a dumb name like that? The owners must have been high when they thought of such a stinky name.”

Lord, give me some patience with this chick. She had a bad case of verbal diarrhea, and the fact that Jazzy was laughing at her comment added to my suspicions. Jazzy barely had patience for herself, much less someone else, so yes, this had to be about her missing her sister. What else could it be?

“How do you two know each other?” I asked outright.

“I was new to town and my neighbor’s hair was always on fleek, so I asked her to hook me up with Jazzy,” Lexi answered when Jazzy pursed her lips and rolled her eyes.

She was a client. Now that made sense. I relaxed. “Yes, Jazzy’s been doing hair from the time she could hold a comb in her hand.” I made sure to keep Flip in my line of vision and gave a head-nod to my partner who stood on the opposite end of the room. I needed Jazzy to leave so I could get back to work.

Jazzy huddled her bag under her arm. “We’d better get out of here. I have a flat twist to do starting at six tomorrow morning and I have to check on Big.”

“How’s Big doing?” I asked. Ever since Jazzy’s grandmother had a stroke the year before, Big had been hanging on with the strength of a thin spider’s web. I made sure to check on her at least once a week – and Jazzy. One day, that girl would get that she was meant for me.

“She had a good day, today,” Jazzy said, worry seeping through her tone.

“That’s good to know. Give her a kiss for me.”

With a slight nod, Jazzy snatched Alexis by the hand and they departed. Once they were gone, I released a breath of relief. I sauntered over to my partner, ignoring the “come hither” looks from females of all shades and hues. I was half black – or one-tenth black according to Mike and Sean – and half Spaniard, and would have been working inside the plantation and not in the field or passing. Again, their words, not mine.

I didn’t care how light my skin was, I knew I was black and I was proud of it. I endured the questioning looks, refusing to answer questions on my ethnicity and at a bulky height of 6’2”, no one dared to ask. I worked out every morning and kept a strict regimen so on the outside I looked tough, but I had a lot of internal pain – being rejected from both sides. My solution had been to become a tease.

“Took you long enough,” Roman Hollister said when I got to his side.

“I ran into an old friend,” I said. “One who shouldn’t be here.”

“Well, Cap called off the bust tonight. He thinks we have a mole because Flip canceled the transaction.”

I raised a brow. “A mole? I can’t imagine any of our guys going for anything Flip has to offer.”

Hollister yawned and rubbed his eyes. “Cap seems to think so. Man, I’m too old for this club scene.” He was ten years older than me, but he had a baby face, like Pharrell. He had shaved his moustache, which only made him appear even younger. The women loved him, thus I’d dubbed him the Pied Piper. The truth was that Hollister was a dedicated man of God and happily married for fifteen years. He spent a lot of hours during our stakeouts ministering to me.

At first, I had been annoyed. Sean had yakked on about God too before moving away. My ears welcomed the break when he left, but Hollister slid into that spot, though he was smooth with it. He would make some comment that captured my curiosity, get me to thinking. I was lonely with Mike being gone, so it made me more receptive to keep Roman’s company.

Before I knew it, I started asking questions and my heart opened to receive God. Yep. Two weeks ago, right before a major drug bust, I had recited the Sinner’s Prayer – with Hollister’s help. My faith was brand new, but I had slept that night without tears for the first time since my mother’s death twelve years ago. That was my personal testimony that told me God was real. No one knew about my nightly tear-fest. Only me and God.

“Let’s get out of here,” I said and started toward the door.

Hollister followed. “I hope Ellie is still up.”

I chuckled at his eager tone. “Keep it up and you’ll end up with another one.”

“Three kids under the age of five is enough,” he said with a shudder. “And quit prophesying in my life. I told you how powerful words can be.”

“Words have power and they have life.” I voiced the quote I had heard Hollister repeat several times.

“Yep. We have to speak things into being.”

We walked toward the grey SUV and Hollister got in the driver’s seat. He backed out and released a huge sigh. “I hoped tonight would’ve been the night Flip went down for good.”

“To use your words, God must have a better plan. We were trying to get him on a drug bust, but maybe there’s a bigger showdown coming.”

“Maybe. But he’s been a menace in our small town and it’s time he’s put behind bars.”

“I know just the thing to cheer us up. We can’t go home like this.” I pulled up Steve Harvey on my cell. The comedian posted a lot of encouraging tidbits that both I and Roman enjoyed.

“We’ll get him next time.”

“Yep. Right after we find the mole.”

Our cells dinged. It was the captain asking us to come into the station. Hollister changed course. “Something tells me we’re going to be pulling an all-nighter.”

“Job security,” I joked.

“Yeah. But at whose expense?”

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