I pulled into the first empty spot I could find. It was well after ten in the evening, yet the parking lot was filled with several vehicles.
“That must be one hell of sale going on.”
I’m sure I looked crazy, muttering to myself as I walked toward the entrance. “You know, would it hurt my sisters to replace the food items they conveniently snag out of my damn fridge?” Ok, so I was still grumbling to myself as I entered the store, in search of a grocery cart.
I put off going to buy groceries simply because now that I was divorced, I had only myself to feed. I mostly kept just enough food in the house that could be consumed before going bad and for the occasional, snatch and grab to appease my sisters, who, whenever they were in town, preferred to raid MY stock, rather than head to the grocery story for their own provisions! Case in point when I arrived at home this evening, my sister Vanessa even left a smart aleck note,
Baloney meat is not nutritious food Meems, I expected real sustenance, pate de foie gras at least, damn you are slumming ~ V…
Hmpf! I didn’t even know the heffah was in town but that’s not surprising given the circumstances. I was no longer living the privileged life I once had. So sacrifices had to be made—which means if I have to dress up braunschweiger and convince myself it was patê so be it! It’s not that I don’t have money, I am still quite wealthy. Yet my independence from my train wreck of a marriage had cost me in other ways; ways that I hated thinking about.
My present state of mind—and lifestyle—went beyond the material comforts I was accustomed to, such as servants, mansions and the social status that came along with being from one of the elite families of St. Louis. No, my fall from “social grace” as it turns out was of my own making…as provoked as it was. Believe it or not, I didn’t regret my decision to part ways with my ex Parker Lawton, nor his family or for that matter, my conniving and controlling grandfather Ford Wilmington. If I had it to do all over again I would; in a heartbeat. So I dealt with the repercussions like a true soldier. No one knew what being entangled with that family truly meant. I was no longer willing to sell my soul…
These days, I was living a more modest lifestyle. That had more to do with my investing in a sinking, substandard, housing community that I dreamed of flipping into something more upscale and grand for poor working class families. I wanted to upgrade the units, that ironically, sat on some prime acreage—smack dab in the middle of one of the more affluent areas of St. Louis County. I believed that I could create a new community of affordable homes, that were not only practical—but stylish. I knew it would take capital, working funds; therefore most of my money was earmarked for my endeavor. I was of the opinion that I had to be willing to invest in my dreams, so I did without all the frivolous material things that in the end, don’t mean a damn thing. This community would be the hand up many hard working families needed! However several obstacles stood in my way and honestly—I was at a loss, needing a way to circumvent them. So I was tackling one dilemma at a time, which currently, meant grocery shopping.
No matter how hard things got, I refused to let go of my dreams or to duck out on community involvement or charitable causes I believed in, despite how slighted I may feel by those I once called friends! I always had my sisters and my bestie, Rileigh Hughes, was still in my corner. Thinking of my girl brought a brief smile to my lips. Yet, like always, I returned to the thoughts that plagued me. I didn’t get off on status claiming anyway. My divorce from one of St. Louis’ most prime bachelors was the primary source of my current woes. Filing for divorce had been a pivotal moment in my life, and, why I was excluded from a few high society calendars and dealing with the various repercussion that came along with it. As if kicking my ex to the curb had been my fault!
Sighing, I headed down the dry goods aisle in search of rice.
An even bigger sore spot was Ford Wilmington, my grandfather. He was insisting I mend fences and return to my former husband and to emphasis his insistence, he thwarted every endeavor I tried to accomplish, as a way to force the issue. To add insult to injury, his motives had less to do with my well being and ostracizing and more to do with his own agenda. Simply put the Martin-Lawton family had business dealings with the “old goat” and that came first. My divorcing the heir apparent had put quite a strain on the working relationship Ford had built with them and he was determined to make me pay for it—not that I gave a rat’s ass! I could put up with his tricks for as long as he could attempt them. What I refused to do was to turn tail and go back to Parker…ever! Hell to the naw! I was not going to suffer another moment with the shit that had gone down living among that sick family, no matter how gilded the cage had been.
I was checking off my grocery list that was written on the expensive, milled paper that I once wrote invites to some of my famous (Ri would say infamous…) soirees on—all the while wrestling with a squeaky shopping cart. Heading down first one aisle then another, I grabbed what was on my list, begrudgingly accepting that my days of shopping at high end specialty stores were a thing of the past. It irked me to think that my grandfather and his muckety muck cohorts were probably schmoozing it up, at this very moment, at one of his hotel shindigs—while I was here trying to figure out the best deal on cottage cheese! As I arrived at the produce section, I thought about the harsh reality of my decisions. I dared to cross those with money, prestige and power, to be my own individual. To have a heart and care about how my influence affected others, to live my life on my terms and mine alone….and to think I was once considered a part of that very same ilk. No I could never go back to living like that, not if I wanted to live with herself. I was raised better than that!
Squaring my shoulders grabbing whatever fruit was on sale and tossing it willy nilly into my cart, I began to sashay around the banana display remembering when I had private chefs cooking for me. My mouth was watering just thinking about Lobster Thermidor and Prime Rib. Well I know how to cook! I am perfectly capable of making a Chuck Roast and Tilapia taste just as delectable! Hell there was a point in my early life when I was the product of a working class single parent, before being adopted into the Di Ricci family. My adopted parents may have spoiled their girls rotten on occasion but they made sure to keep us humble, instilling within us true values and the responsibility of giving back. Besides, before actually becoming a wealthy socialite, me and my biological father lived off of a beat cop’s salary and we did just fine. I haven’t forgotten how to take a box cake mix and make it grand, or take an off the rack outfit and dress it up to look chic. I can accessorize the hell out of a Target ensemble! There was many a day I took a page from a magazine and found ways to achieve the same high end look just by looking at the pictures! So if my grandfather and his clique thought I was going to cave in because of the gossip…he could think again!
To hell with those snobbish heffahs that whispered when they saw me in passing!
To hell with my grandfather Ford Wilmington!
I’ll be damned if his meddling in my life would push me back into bed with the devil.
To hell with all that noise!
My inner mind rantings distracted me from seeing a man heading straight into my path. My collision against him and his extremely hard body, however, sent a slight thrill through me which automatically placed me on guard. Nothing like a hard body to make your defenses go up!
“The word is excuse me!”
Then I got a good look at his face and my eyes widened. Gorgeous as sin came to mind, and the scent of his cologne sent my senses into overdrive. He was wearing expensive tailored slacks, a silk shirt that was partially unbuttoned giving me a nice view of his firm, well developed pecs. He was sporting close cut waves and a goatee that was so manicured I wanted to hire his barber to cut my lawn! However, the air about him crackled with intensity and quite frankly screamed dangerous…on a few levels. This man was smooth, dapper and was slowly grinning at me like he had sized up his evening meal….leading me to believe our collision wasn’t an accident at all!
I was out on the parking lot waiting for a contact and was becoming increasingly agitated. I checked my watch again then pick up one of several cell phones I used and dialed my boys. “This mofo has five more minutes and not a tick longer.” Big Mike replied, “I see him now pulling in. We got your six, D.”
I sat still, flipped the safety of my 1911 and laid it across my lap as the contact pulled alongside my whip. It was bad enough that the man had picked this fucked up place to meet, there were too many eyes around for my comfort. I pegged a scowl on the shit head in the car, noticing his jumpy demeanor and that he is sweating like a stuck pig.
Ah fuck here we go…
“Hey man before we exchange… uh… funds, I need to see the papers.” Mr. Edgy was tweaked out on something that much was clear. Had to be if he thought I was going to let him see shit before we handled business.
“Bitch, I didn’t come out this way for you to be demanding shit. Where are my ends fool? And don’t come with no song and dance routine, we have an agreement. Period. Dot.”
Mr. Edgy got out of his car and got a little too close to me. On cue, another vehicle whipped to a halt joining the party, two of my Set, Big Mike Jackson and Javier Ramos hopped out. Granted I wasn’t afraid to travel anywhere on the streets of the Lou, grew up on them—born and raised—but this deal wasn’t a petty dro’ drop. Falsifying documents took finesse—and money I fronted out of my own bankroll—so when a price was struck, you either paid up or got put down. When Mr. Edgy took too long to answer me, I opened my car door and slammed it into the man’s body, knocking him down as I got out. My boys hauled Mr. Edgy up by his sweat-stained armpits.
“I’ll say this one last time! Where’s my money fool?”
The man stammered the briefcase with the money was in his trunk. I rubbed my temple in exasperation; the movement causing the butt of my gun to catch the moonlight, highlighting the hand carved, pearl handle grip. My flashy piece had been a gift from my only female Lieutenant, Dru. Rather than give the man another moment to concoct some more bull, I slapped his face with the handle hard enough to leave an imprint, causing Mr. Edgy to spit out blood.
“You brought me out to this ghetto ass shopping center to bring you some shit and you wanna hem and haw about my ends? What gave you the impression that I make house calls for shits and giggles? I did this as a favor to your boss, but if this is how you want to play me…” I cocked and lowered my weapon in the direction of his dick, which brought me the answer I’d been waiting for.
“No, no Mr. La Grange the money is here, all of it! I just had to be careful. I need those passports, please!”
Satisfied with his answer, I brought my pistol up putting the safety back on. I wasn’t going to shoot the fool in a public place but sometimes you had to emphasize a point; that you had no qualms about shooting a mofo either. Throughout the exchange however, I was of two opinions. One, that I should pistol whip this suckah for wasting my time and two I wanted to go find that sweet little honey that sashayed past my whip heading inside the grocery store…the one who was, of all things, talking to herself—but business first.
“Check the trunk for my grip, if he don’t have my ends, pop a cap in his left nut. I need to go inside the store for … something.” The second opinion had won out. Javier only nodded and yanked Mr. Edgy towards the rear of his car. “Big Mike don’t give him shit but a bullet if he don’t have all my dollar bills.” Big Mike, however was looking at me sideways while I holstered my gun in the back of my pants.
“Nuttin’… but she was fine; damn! You gone go hit that?”
Leave it to Big Mike to know why I was heading into the store! If it was anyone other than him, I might have knocked the shit out of his ass for being so crass—not that the thought hadn’t crossed my mind. Ms. Lady had legs for days and an ass that begged to be cupped, that perfect, natural heart-shaped deal—not the collagen injected shit. But who the hell wore expensive designer jeans and stilettos to a crappy ass grocery store on this side of town? That was a question I wanted an answer to. Besides, I knew a trick from a dime and the woman who sashayed past me and headed inside was more than some change.
I was now on a mission.
“Man, you’re lucky you’re family. If my cousin Keisha didn’t love your ass I’d fuck you up for that comment. You know my mama raised me right.”
Big Mike snorted. “Man, whatever; just go get the honey, we’ll take care of this.” Big Mike chuckled then joined Mr. Edgy and Javier, while I checked my look in my car’s side mirror before heading into the grocery store in search of Ms. Lady.
It took me a minute be I found her. I trailed her about the store making sure to keep a good distance, far enough not to appear to be stalking, but close enough to keep my eyes on her.
Damn, she’s fine…
I came from hard working parents that had sent me off to school in the hopes of sparing me the street life. During my teens, I had gotten mixed up with a local thug but a few near misses had me getting my shit together quick, fast, and in a hurry. Nothing like a bullet in your chest to bring about an epiphany. Yet removing me from the streets hadn’t remove me from a life of crime per se. I was smart; some said too damn smart for my own good. So to appease my parents, I made sure to make top grades, obtained a few degrees then went to work on Wall Street.
I started making paper pretty quickly but it was during a stint at a local business firm, that I got turned on to white collar crime, from a man who took me under his wing and made me a mentee of sorts. I learned my current “profession” from some of the whitest collars in the game. Now a days, I was on the fast track, rising up in the organized crime ranks of St. Louis, and was holding my own with the likes of the Loghettis, the Capellis, Paddy McGuinness and my former hustle, The South Side Mafia Clique. When I made connections, and kept them and my rep among my peers proceeded me. Believe it or not there was a code we adhered too, honor among thieves, that sort of thing. I had contacts in all the major city offices, all the way to the governor’s mansion…even the U.S. Senate.
I kept my nose clear of petty shit like drugs and prostitution; but if you needed money cleaned up, assets liquidated, a new identity, arms and the like, I was the go to guy—for a price of course. It didn’t take my family long to realize that even a “stockbroker” had limits on what his money could buy so they were brought in. Hell, I owned damn near the entire area known as the Boulevard, which included Lindell Square, The Arts District, the West End and Debaliviere Place. I had even built, with the help of my pops, a sprawling, private estate, La Boheme La Grange, right in the heart of the city. Nothing and no one moved within my territory without me knowing about it!
Being self made came with a price. For a while my parents weren’t on board with my“extra curricular” activities and even cut contact with me over it. But when my mother had a bout with breast cancer and my dad’s construction business was getting heat from a thug rival, I stepped up and did what needed to be done to take care of mine. My lifestyle now afforded my family the security and even the luxuries they never had and in my opinion deserved, for working their asses off to provide for me and my younger brother, Marquis. There wasn’t anything I wouldn’t do for those I love; and family was always first.
Bringing my mind back to the present, I watched as little mama shopped and pitched her groceries into the cart, at one point even wiping her hands off on her jeans like she had just gotten dog shit on them.
So Ms. Lady don’t like eating like the regular folks…
I couldn’t help but smile when she frowned at the box of cereal she picked up, hesitated as if she was reconsidering, then rolled her eyes at the offending food item before tossing it into her cart. I don’t know why I find myself captivated by her shenanigans. I wanted to go up to her and introduce myself. I found my opportunity when she paused at the produce section looking like she might break into tears when she had to choose between buying regular or Asian variety pears.
What the fuck was up with her?
What the fuck was up with me, for that matter?
I wasn’t hurting for trim by no stretch of the imagination but Ms. Lady was giving me a hard on in a few ways. It wasn’t her attitude, I caught on right away she wasn’t putting on any airs. She actually smiled at an elderly couple a few aisles back, had even stopped to help them. She just seemed, well, quirky…and a bit out of place. A female like that belonged uptown, and on the arm of some high roller. If I play my cards right, maybe on MY arm. When she leaned over the bin to root around for a bunch of bananas that was more to her liking, it afforded me a better look. Those lips of hers were glossy and plump and all I could think about was capturing them in a kiss. So I purposely stepped into her path when she turned around. Granted I was caught off guard by her snippy reply but nonplussed. After all, I did just walked up on her and she looked quite startled by my sudden appearance. Even so, she was also checking me out, if not warily. For some reason that pleased me, stroked at my ego just a taste, so I sought to appease her and introduced myself.
“Well excuse me little mama but you look like you just lost your best friend.”I extended my hand. “DaVeon La Grange and you would be?” I flashed a showstopper of a smile and was immediately rebuffed.
“I would be the one you owe an apology to, for bruising my damn bananas… Mr. Lah-grahn-jay.” She pursed her lips then offered a not so sincere smile and I think she fucked up my name on purpose! I could feel my jaw muscles ticking!
“It’s La Grange and I’d be happy to pay for your entire grocery bill if that would make amends for ah… bruising your fruit.” Listen, I popped caps in folks for less abuse than what Ms. Lady was dishing, but then again there was…something about her, and it was that something that had me willing to tough it out.
Instead of being gracious about my offer, she snorted and I swear it sounded like she muttered under her breath, “Bitch please…” but I wasn’t sure. One thing I am sure of was that she wasn’t feeling my black ass and for whatever reason that made wanting to know who the hell she was more appealing! Most women I meet catch on to my flash, peep that a brother was on, and tried to get in. However this woman, who still hadn’t offered me her name, was looking at me like I was from the IRS there to do an audit! Fuck me! I was indeed intrigued.
“I am perfectly capable of paying for my own damn groceries, Mr. La Grange, now if you would excuse me I still need to buy deodorant, toilet paper and tampons!”
As she proceeded to flounce past, I decided right then and there that there was only one way to handle a smart mouth like hers. I pulled her by her elbow, yanking her flush with my body and just as she opened her mouth to protest or fling out another set of crazy ass retorts, I brought my mouth to hers and kissed her.
Oh my damn am I being pranked? Did one of my sisters pull a stunt on me? Any minute some damn television host is going to spring out from behind a display and ….
My mind might have been reeling from the implications but my mouth and body were responding to this stranger’s kiss like I’d known him all my life! Instead of screaming my head off for being molested in the grocery store, I felt myself relaxing into his embrace, returning his kiss with equal fervor. As his hands encircled my waist I found myself wrapping my arms about his neck, inhaling his fragrant cologne and nearly moaning from the ardor. Have I ever been kissed like this before? The answer is a resounding, hell to the naw!
Lordy I needed my head examined!
Bump this, I need to call Rileigh and tell her about this shit…because who would believe it?
All too soon the kiss ended, leaving me breathless from the exchange. My face felt hot, flushed and my lips tingled. No I can say in all sincerity this man’s kiss has rattled my cage! When I finally came back to my senses, I noticed we had drawn a few curious onlookers, including the produce clerk, who was red faced from seeing our little P.D.A scene. “What are you embarrassed for? He didn’t kiss you!” DaVeon must have been in agreement with me because he gave the produce guy a look that spoke volumes—which he must have subconsciously heard because he all but ran to go stock tomatoes a few rows over!
“Look, Ms. Lady…” DaVeon began to speak but I cut him off. I felt the least I could do was offer my name after that kiss! “My name is Mariah Di Ricci.”
I don’t know why I was even entertaining this man but there was something about him that said he was use to getting what he wanted and for some odd reason, he seemed to have set his sights…on me; and didn’t that just tickle my fancy! Look I can recognize powerful people, had been around many. Yet despite his expensive dress, Piaget watch, (the kind that could tell time in three damn languages), Italian loafers—yes I had scoped him out during our verbal sparring—and handsome as the devil features, I think he said his name was DaVeon La Grange…, he seemed as confused by his own actions as I was! Men like that were use to being in control. However, our little display lacked anything that remotely resembled self control and didn’t that just beat all!
“Ms. Di Ricci…look, I’m sorry. I was out of line. I don’t make a habit of kissing total strangers, no matter how beautiful, but girl, something about you is making me want to know more.”
At least his admission was honest and his apology sincere, that much I sensed but he still made me wary none the less. “Mr. La Grange,” I made sure to pronounce his name right this time, “I’d like to apologize as well. You can understand that this…whatever this is…isn’t, well, normal. I’m not sure what you expect from me. I’m no idiot. I can tell a baller when I see one. But let me tell you right now, if that is what you think gives me my kicks, you are sadly mistaken.” I popped a hand on my hip and gave him my own patented stare.
I wasn’t a gold digger, or arm candy or any such trinket and I wanted to make sure he got that message loud and clear. Especially the trinket category. I had been that, done that, and was now paying the price for it. I’ve sworn to never again to be used for anyone’s agenda and if true love did find me—it would be on my terms! As it stood, DaVeon La Grange was dangerous because with one kiss he had rocked my world and had me questioning my convictions…and my sanity! Not that I would admit that to anyone! However his charming smile after my declaration told me he wasn’t a total jerk and that he had heard me loud and clear.
“I’m no fool either Ms. Di Ricci. I’d be happy to tell you more about me, but instead of us trying to hash this out here, why don’t I give you my cell and you and I can talk first—maybe grab lunch or whatever, if that’s agreeable to you? I want to get to know you Mariah Di Ricci. I’d like for you to get to know me as well. No strings.”
Damn him! Now my emotions were warring between my common sense, his sincerity and that damn kiss!
On a whim, throwing caution to the winds, I capitulate. “We can meet up for coffee? I know a place in the West End, Java the Hut.” It was public and just in case he turned out to be an ax murderer, that would be as good a place to run from as any!
“I’d like that, say elevenish?” he countered, now smiling.
“Yeah…okay.” I was about to give him my number when he pulled out his cellphone and pressed it into my hand, then to my amazement he began to walk away! “Uh Mr. La Grange? Mr. La Grange! You forgot something.” I was standing there shaking his phone his direction, calling after him as he continued to stroll away!
Pausing, he turned. “Nah, I said I was giving you my cell. I’ll call you on it. Just be sure to answer it.” He winked then strolled off, the back view every bit as sexy as the front!
My mouth was hanging wide open! I turned and saw the produce guy was clearly impressed and grinning. I couldn’t help myself I started grinning also and dropped the phone inside my purse then with just a little extra wiggle, proceeded to finish my shopping.
Just wait until I tell Rileigh about this…