The traffic on I-170 was light. Which was a good thing, because I wasn’t in the mood to deal with assbutts and their non-driving. I was on my way to meet up with DaVeon La Grange—the Grocery Store Romeo. Giggling to myself, I wondered how he’d feel if I just popped off and called him that. Despite all my bravado, I was slightly apprehensive. It wasn’t as if I really knew the man I had agreed to have coffee with. Even more alarming was the fact I couldn’t push the memory of his kiss from my mind; a kiss which had ignited a tiny smoldering flame that had left me in a semi aroused state ever since.
Unbidden I kept replaying our encounter, recalling the timbre of his voice and the smell of his cologne. He wore one of those high end fragrances, like the ones I loved to inhale from the fold out samples that came with some of my magazines. His fragrance, coupled with the scent of his skin, had branded itself onto my senses. How I loved a good smelling man! Then, if our little P.D.A. moment hadn’t been enough, right before I had pulled off of the parking lot, as promised, he called me on his own phone, to alert me that I was going to be trailed by another vehicle—to make sure I got home safely.
Of course I immediately balked at that idea and began to fuss about all the trouble he was going through but the silver tongued devil reassured me—and insisted—two members of his “staff” would, in fact, be trailing me home…no trouble at all.
Who did that?
Sure enough, a large, black-matted, SUV had trailed me to my residence. Two men, one large and burly—a bit on the linebacker side and the other, an urban dapper Dan had gotten out of said vehicle—dressed to kill—and of all the things, had helped me bring in my groceries! The big one even had a smile that lit up the night’s sky. Both were very gentlemanly like, even bade me a warm goodnight, before leaving once I (and my groceries) were safely inside!
Not one time had either of them brandished an ax and I was still alive to recount the tale!
Of course that left me wondering even more about the man I had only met twenty-four hours before, at a grocery store no less. If things in my life had been going along a different path, I never would have gone to that particular store. For a brief flash the thought of never having met DaVeon made me feel—unsettled. Perhaps our encounter was in fact, kismet. Last night, I was so preoccupied with thoughts of him, that as I put away my groceries, I had placed the cheese in the cabinet that held my dishes and the boxed cereal inside the freezer! If that wasn’t enough, DaVeon had even called me again to wish me a goodnight and to confirm we were still on for coffee tomorrow!
Seriously who did that?
Just up and gives a woman he’d just met, his own cell phone… just to be able to call her? Normal people would have exchanged digits but maybe that was the crux of the whole matter: Nothing about our meeting was normal. I had a hard time falling asleep from turning the events over in my mind, and that is putting it mildly!
Subsequently when the morning arrived I was flustered with trying to choose a suitable outfit for our meeting. So to help me sort out my jangled emotions—and my wardrobe—I called my bestie Rileigh for a chat. The moment Rileigh sing- songed her hello, I launched head first into the recounting of my tale, dishing up the details of my encounter with DaVeon, including how the man kissed me like a porn star in full view of everyone in the produce section! With my bed now littered with clothing I finished recounting my eventful shopping trip to Rileigh, ending with my impromptu meet up with DaVeon in less than an hour. I was still torn on which outfit to wear, caught between going semi fancy or casual chic and damn it all—why did it even matter?
It seemed Rileigh was in agreement on that score, stating the least of my worries should be my choice of attire, given the weirdness of the situation! She weighed in with her feelings, confirming there wasn’t anything remotely normal about the entire scenario. So what else was new when it came to my life? Since Rileigh was use to my spontaneity, she backed me up in spite of it all—as well as demanded detailed information on the time and destination, and finally, helped me settle on which outfit to wear—just in case she had to I.D. her best friend’s body!
We shared a good laugh together, our banter spurred on by the thrill of the unknown. This was one of the many reasons I loved my bestie. Ri had my back no matter how many ways I got myself into a pickle. My best friend’s final admonishment was for me to be careful and to call her the minute I returned home and be ready to dish! With my call finished, I dashed off to get dress, eager to get the show on the road.
I finally arrive at my destination and park. As I got out of my car, the hem of one of my favorite ensembles, (I’d finally decided on wearing my midday, cocktail hour dress…) hitched slightly, giving passers-by a quick flash of my legs! Slightly embarrassed, I tug my hem down, then closed my vehicle door. That’s when I noticed the same SUV from last night pulling in a few parking spots down and purse my lips. DaVeon’s staff was working again I see. Staff my ass! With a sassy grin, I sashayed inside, the bell over the door jingling as I entered. Truth be told I was on a mission, armed with a clear agenda in mind; and that is to find out what kind of man DaVeon La Grange truly was. I was fairly certain, Mr. Debonair wasn’t punching in on a normal nine to five time clock!
I had barely entered the establishment before DaVeon was rising from his table to meet me halfway. He placed a quick, brotherly kiss upon my cheek—a far cry from last night—before speaking.
“I was beginning to think you were going to stand me up Ms. Di Ricci.”
“And miss out on the best coffee and scones in the West End? Hardly.”
I gave him my best sassy smile and he in kind, proffered one of his own, before escorting me to our table. He placed his hand at the small of my back, that simple touch, producing warmth that radiated over my entire flesh. Once again, his proximity was reminding me of just how long it has been, since I’d been intimately touched! He pulled out my chair then after I was seated, joined me at the table. I reached inside my purse, retrieving his phone then slid it across. My breath hitched slightly when his fingertips brushed over my hand lightly as he accepted it.
“You know, we could have just exchanged numbers but then I suppose if you could afford to hand off your Vertu you could probably afford to replace it as well.”
As far as toys went, that damn phone he so casually handed off to me was seven grand worth of hi tech bling. Nobody in their right mind handed that much flair over to a stranger, like no biggie. “So it makes me wonder just what do you do for a living Mr. La Grange? Let me guess, you’re a phone salesman? Are you trying to reel me into purchasing one of these nifty gadgets?” Subtlety was never my strong suit. I was straight up fishing for answers!
He shrugged then chuckled. “I dabble in a few things, mostly procurement. I’m an entrepreneur Ms. Di Ricci and my talents vary and for the sake of it, let’s just say my business regime is…diversified.” He waved over a server.
“Mmmhmmm….” I pursed my lips but let it go for the moment. Despite his obvious evasive maneuver my mind translated his answer as: Thuggish-Ruggish Bone. It would figure that DaVeon La Grange was a thug—a high class one maybe—but a thug none the less. “Diversified, you don’t say?”
Just for the hell of it, I waved at his “staff” as they took their seats and gave DaVeon an arched brow to indicate I didn’t buy his copped plea and to my smug satisfaction, I enjoyed the way DaVeon scowled in their direction, clearly unhappy with the turn this conversation was taking.
“Oh yeah I made your boys, oh wait, you called them your staff.” Ok so I was being cheeky!
“I see that.” His tone was dry and I giggled in spite of myself. However my momentary jovial state warred with my common sense. My life was complicated enough and although I may like the thrill of walking on the wild side, Mr. La Grange’s brand of wildness might end up being a bit too gamey for for my taste. I was now wondering if I should just excuse myself from the table and keep on stepping.
“Well whatever their official capacity isn’t or is, they were very helpful last night with the groceries, you’ll have to thank them again for me.”
Obviously the two men sitting not that far from us were aware that they had become the topic of conversation which caused the big one to smile with a huge grin. I surmised despite his dubious occupation, that one might be a rather big lovable kind of guy. However his companion, Mr. Dapper Dan was a different breed. He was sharp as a tack with a few visible tattoos that could be seen despite his fancy attire and his attitude reminded me of those television mobster types. Inwardly shivering, I didn’t want to ever cross paths with him in a dark alley!
“I’ll be sure to do that Ms. Di Ricci. So, what else do you want to know about me?”
DaVeon was steering the conversation back where it belonged so I gave him my full attention. He was gazing at me intently, as if he could see into the depths of my very being which both thrilled me and had me feeling …exposed.
“Well you’ve answered one of my questions you’re an entrepreneur. I thought I knew all the business types here in St. Louis, yet your name doesn’t ring a bell.”
He pegged me with a thoughtful look before speaking. “I grew up in St. Louis, not too far from where we met last night, on the south side. My family bought their first house near Meramec Park.”
I nodded my head. “I came up on the north side and a few other places around the city, for a time myself.” I gave him a pointed stare of my own. If we were going play cat and mouse games about his dealings I was fine with that. I’d eventually get my information one way or another.
“Speaking of livings, Ms. Di Ricci, I thought your name was familiar when you gave it to me. So since we are playing twenty questions I hope you don’t mind me asking a few of my own? Why does a socialite shop on the south side of town, when she can clearly afford to have her groceries delivered to her uptown address?”
Oh no he didn’t…
I refrained from answering him until after the server had taken our coffee orders. His table turning had my defensive walls reforming brick by brick in record fashion!
“None of your damn business. It’s not a crime to shop for bargains!”
Let me just say, that whenever I feel threatened, I don’t always respond in a lady like fashion, or even one that made sense. I admit I have been called quirky that much is true, but his question struck a never and put me on edge because of my inescapable past—something I was desperately trying to put some distance between.
I admit I was feeling paranoid and jumping to conclusions. I was sure he’d gotten his intel from the local tabloids. The rag mags had callously not to mention, erroneously, spelled out my divorce details, painting a very biased picture. Naturally, I believed he had bought into the hype. Would I ever live down this mess? I decide to bolt. I stood, snatching up my purse prepared to leave. Coming here had been yet another mistake and the sooner I got out of there—and away from DaVeon La Grange—the quicker I could retreat to the safety of my home! However, DaVeon wasn’t ready to part with my company. Standing as well, he blocked my path, reaching for me to delay my dramatic exit!
I was pretty sure I had fucked up when she got a look on her face that was both indignant and haunting. My mistake was that I hadn’t finished my homework on the little beauty sitting across from me—fuming—but clearly my line of questioning had touched a tender spot. True enough I had read a few of the rag mags that painted a pretty petty picture of the woman who was currently on the verge of running out on our “date”. I had even heard some gossip in passing, here and there, but from the moment I spotted her, strutting into that store last night—I had a hard on for her that was growing minute by minute … if not inch by inch.
So I put in a few quick calls that night and by morning I had gathered some info on her that gave me a clearer picture, one that was completely at odds with the tabloids. But what really clued me in was my visit to my mother’s salon for my cut and shave, prior to my scheduled meet up with Mariah. By coincidence or happenstance Mariah’s name had come up on the lips of the old girls there getting their hair done. I listened as my mother put a few of her patrons in their place when they began to gossip about the quirky socialite spouting the latest tabloid “factoids”.
My mother let them know in that no nonsense way of hers that Ms. Di Ricci, the woman they were now gossiping about, had done many wonderful things in the community and continued to do so, that no one should believe the word of tabloid gossip over the deeds of the person in question…. and not another damn word would be uttered about that woman’s private life in her presence or they could find somebody else to do their hair! In her own way, my mother, Mrs. Loretta La Grange was a true“G”! I was straight up smiling after my mother put the check on them. It wasn’t like those biddies were going to go anywhere else to be coiffed either, so they put a lid on that topic. My mother’s shop was the shit and had been for years and what she said in her domain was law. I could dig it!
So my sparse intel had at least been sound. That my sexy little mama from the grocery store, was the Mariah Di Ricci formerly Lawton, local debutante and philanthropist that had gone through a shitty ass divorce; had her good name tarnished and babbled about throughout the city, ironically, by the wives and mistresses of some of the very same mofos that sought out my services, behind closed doors.
None the less I was undaunted by her dramatics. I had already decided I was going to pursue her. The rest of the noise could pipe down as far as I was concerned and would—if I had anything to say about it.
“Look Ms. Lady, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to insinuate that you couldn’t afford to shop wherever you pleased. Don’t leave. Besides, you haven’t had your salted caramel mocha latte, dark chocolate swizzle, with two pumps of vanilla chai syrup…did I get all that right? Is that you? Your drink of choice here?” Smiling, I patiently waited and was rewarded when she sat back down. She slowly began to smile again and at that moment I wanted nothing more than to keep that smile on her face. “I seem to keep putting us at odds, Mariah, and I don’t want to do that.”
“Actually DaVeon, this time I need to apologize. You didn’t ask me anything that everyone else in this damn city hasn’t already wondered or probably talked about. It’s not easy when you make a decision to live on your own terms; swim against the tide of this city’s privileged clique. Certain ass twats think their musty old money and family connections are the keys that let you inside all the right doors. Let’s just say I handed my keys back. I’ll walk through my own damn doors, please and thank you.”
Mariah sighed and settled back into her seat. Those large doe eyes of hers had me in a near trance!
“Nobody truly knows me, why I give back, why I enjoy serving the community. I do it because I have lived in some of the very areas I give too, when I was a little girl; before my biological father was killed and his partner’s family adopted me.”
She paused when our beverages had been brought over smiling towards the server who damn near tripped over his own feet. Yeah I was feeling the idiot. This woman had a way of making a man feel awkward and invincible with that smile and ready to do something both smart and stupid just to keep her happy. Fuck me! I was catching feelings and didn’t that shit beat all?
“So you were adopted by the Di Ricci family?” Her story was compelling and I wanted her to continue.
“Yes. My adopted father and biological father were both rookies on the force together and he and his wife were my Godparents, so when my daddy died in the line of duty, they became my guardians and later my new parents. I never knew my biological mother. I was told she disappeared under rather mysterious circumstances, a few days after I was born and nothing ever came of the investigation into her vanishing.”
I frowned but kept silent wanting her to finish her own story but my mind began to formulate plans to do some more digging.
“Long story short, I know all about the south side, the north side, the west side…I’m well rounded.” She stated her life’s facts so simply and her demeanor began to spin a web that had me willingly trapped. She was a dichotomy of contradictions all wrapped up in a sexy package, that, in a quick surge of irrational possessiveness, had me wanting to claim her for my very own!
“Mariah, I don’t give a shit about what the tabloids or these small minded people in this city wish to buy into. I’m capable of making up my own mind about a person. Nobody has a squeaky clean past.” I wanted her, needed her to know that for several reasons.
The first and main one being I wanted to see her again. I felt the pull, the attraction and it was unlike any feeling I had ever had with any other female before. She was feisty and vulnerable, beautiful inside and out and even my momma liked her! Hell that right there spoke volumes! Granted my mother didn’t know I was going to be wooing the fair Ms. Di Ricci but having the insider tip on that score was encouraging! Yet first thing first.
“Mariah, I am digging you little mama. But I won’t insult your intelligence and pretend I’m something that I am not. I come from a good family, hard working one, but my climb was less by privilege and more by my wits. I went to school, got a few alphabets behind my name and all that but I make my living doing not so nice things for all those, so called, nice people that are being quite ugly to you right now.” I drained my cup and waited for her to tell me to go to hell.
“You mean you are into … ”
When she hesitated I finished her sentence. “Yes I’m into organized crime. In fact, I own part of this city along with a few other crime families. We function as a conglomerate of sorts, for the most part and there is a code we abide by. Cross the line on that code, it’s the end of the line.” I paused wondering what the fuck was causing me to divulge this to her. “So I am not in a place to judge your life either Ms. Di Ricci. I would however like to ask you out again. If you are so inclined to be seen with the likes of one such as myself?”
I gave up trying to play it cool and reached across the table and picked up her hand, noting how delicate and long her fingers were. My mother would say she had piano playing hands and it made me wonder if she played. I brought her hand to my lips and brushed a warm kiss across it. Her lips parted and she unconsciously licked them. It took all I had in me to put reign on my impulse to kiss her again as I had the night before.
“I need to really think about this DaVeon. Your life is a potentially dangerous one. I have enough issues of my own right now and then there’s…” When her phone buzzed she seemed to snap out of the slight haze I had created by my intimate gesture. Pulling her hand from mine, she reached inside her bag for her phone and read the caller ID, then frowned. She promptly declined the call.
“Is everything alright?” I was generally an astute reader of body language and whoever had just called her had put her slightly back on edge.
“It was nothing, no one I wanted to speak with. I’m sorry that was rather rude of me, considering you were about to ask me out on a date?” She was deflecting but she grinned so I let it go—for now.
“And I think you were about to turn me down.” I countered.
“You intrigue me, Mr. La Grange. I can’t pretend I’m not attracted to you but I don’t want to be involved in anything that could be a potential danger to my family’s or my own well being.”
I nodded. “You have my word, I won’t ever leave your well being to chance or compromise your ethics. All I am asking is a chance to explore whatever this thing is that is between us. Shit, let me keep it real; I don’t go confessing my life to any and everyone yet I feel totally at ease with you Mariah.”
When she blushed from my frank words, that became the final nail in my coffin. How could this woman know she had carved a spot inside my guarded soul with only a smile? I accepted that I would move both heaven and hell for Mariah to become mine and mine alone. Whatever it would take within my power to make that happen, so be it.
As we sipped our coffee in comfortable silence I decided I would keep her close to me and her enemies and mine…at bay.