blog tour. four by nia forrester.
Four couples, four transitions, four seasons of marriage …
Most couples wouldn’t have weathered one mistake of the kind Shawn made when he and Riley first got married, let alone emerge with a commitment that’s stronger, a beautiful family and a love that’s even deeper. Is there any way their relationship can survive mistake number two?
Whatever Brendan wants, Brendan gets. It’s an arrangement Tracy doesn’t mind, because he provides everything she needs: love, financial security and the comfort of never having to work outside the home. But now, the most important thing she wants, he doesn’t have the time—or maybe even the will—to give. With a relationship built on giving all of herself, is it fair to now ask for a piece back?
Robyn’s career is in a growth-spurt just as Chris’ seems to be at its natural end. No longer empire-building, he’s struggling with his new reality, and the need for a sense of purpose separate from his work. His wife seems way too busy to notice. That is, until someone else does.
Once a mistress, now just a suburban wife and working mother, Keisha doesn’t recognize herself most days. The problem is, Jayson doesn’t either. If he’s reading her right, she wants out. And unless she’s mistaken, he might not mind too much if she decided to go.
The ‘Commitment’ series finale.
On Sale October 21
ABOUT NIA FORRESTER
Nia Forrester lives and writes in Philadelphia, PA where, by day, she is an attorney working on public policy and by night, she crafts woman-centered fiction that examines the complexities of life, love and the human condition.
She welcomes feedback and email from her readers at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweets @NiaForrester.
READ AN EXCERPT
Balance (Brendan & Tracy)
“Damn, I miss this,” Shawn said taking a deep pull on the spliff.
Brendan laughed and snatched it out of his hand. “Gimme that. Over there bogartin’.”
“Remember when we used to get high before breakfast meetings? Six a.m. on the roof of the Crowne Plaza in Midtown, burnin’ one.” Shawn shook his head in nostalgic remembrance.
They were out back, and he was leaning against the wall opposite where Brendan had propped a box in the exit that led from their office and out into a small courtyard.
“You used to get high before breakfast meetings,” Brendan said. “I always had to be straight. You’d be over there, eyes all red, half-shut, eatin’ every-damn-thing in sight while I’m tryin’ to conduct business with some old white dude in his five-thousand-dollar Brioni suit.”
“They loved that shit though. I was just livin’ up to what they saw on TV. A real live ‘street nigga’ up close. I was playin’ a role they wanted me to play.”
Brendan laughed. “But times are changin’ though, man. So we got to change the game, too.”
“I know. Some of what I used to put out there … We gotta take these young ‘uns to a higher plane. Show them some higher thinkin’.”
“You started writin’ yet?”
“Never stopped. I have like ten CDs worth, jus’ sittin’ there waiting to be heard. I need some good beats though.”
Brendan nodded and took a long drag, passing the spliff back to Shawn. “Cool.”
They smoked in companionable silence for a few minutes, both of them lost in their own thoughts. It was no lie that things were different for them now. They were married men, fathers, business-owners. They weren’t chasing dollars, and Shawn was no longer chasing fame. Or women.
In so many ways, and by most measures they had arrived. But neither of them was conditioned to slow down and smell the roses. Shawn was itching to get back in the mix with his music, and despite his wife’s complaints, Brendan still didn’t feel comfortable easing his foot off the gas pedal either. It still felt like there was too much ground to cover.
“Remember when we first started working together?” he asked Shawn now. “And we had that trip to L.A.?”
“Man, I can’t remember shit like that. We had a thousand trips to L.A.”
“It was like two months in, and I had to take you to a show. and Chris thought you might get distracted. Like you might not show up, or something.”
“It was the first big trip we did as manager and client,” Brendan said. “I had to get on a plane with you, and at the same time, back in the city I was being evicted from my apartment. Just before we got on the plane, I was on the phone with my cousin, tellin’ him to go over there and make sure he grabbed my TV, my stereo and my clothes and sneakers and shit before they put everything out on the curb.”
Shawn looked at Brendan with interest now and laughed. “I don’t think I knew about all that.”
“Maybe not,” Brendan said. “We weren’t tight like that yet for me to sharin’ all my messy shit. Maybe I never told you. But I was getting evicted. And I had to go on this trip with you, knowing that when I came back I would be more or less homeless.”
“And were you?”
“Yeah. Crashed with Cameron for a few weeks until that first big K Smooth check came in and I got a shitty-ass crib downtown.”
“So, I saved your ass basically?”
They both laughed.
“But I wasn’t no better off than you,” Shawn admitted. “Those first few years, dudes was robbin’ me blind ‘til Chris set me up with a wealth manager, and got me straight. Before he yanked on my coattail, I ain’ even know what to do with all those zeros. Millions. That was some crazy shit. Realizing that I had like seven-hundred grand just sittin’ in a checking account.”
Just as he was about to respond, Brendan heard the door to the office open behind him and quickly, lowered the hand with the weed down to his side.
“I was wondering where you two went.”
It was Tracy. She stood still for a moment, taking in the scene, and then her hazel-eyed gaze fell to the still smoldering marijuana cigar in Brendan’s hand. Her eyes hardened, and her lips pursed into a thin line.
Even in a moment like this, it was tough not to think about how damned beautiful she was. Sometimes Brendan looked at her and for a nanosecond felt the same awe that struck him when they first met. She was regal when she was angry. And right now, she was definitely angry.
“I’ll see you both back out there,” she said, turning on her heel.
When she was gone, Shawn grimaced, took the cigar from Brendan and dropped it on the flagstone beneath his feet, crushing it.
“Shit. Looks like you’re in trouble.”
Grace (Shawn & Riley)
The sound of Cassidy’s excited screams greeted Riley when she opened the apartment door. At the end of the hallway, just inside the living room, she saw her daughter rolling around on the rug in a ball of curls and tulle and black patent-leather Mary Janes. And with her was someone else, a stranger. Putting her the tote-bag on the foyer table, Riley headed to investigate. Just as she was about to get to her destination, Shawn emerged from the hallway to the left that led to his in-home studio and tugged her by the arm.
“Hey,” he said, kissing her fleetingly, almost absentmindedly. “Look …”
“Who’s that with Cass?” Riley asked, cutting him off.
“That’s what I wanted to tell you. She’s a reporter. I’m getting a …”
“A what?” Riley said.
They had a rule about reporters. A simple one. Never around the children. Never. Ever.
“She won’t be taking any pictures or writing about them,” Shawn said quickly. “She’s doing a profile on me.”
“On you? For who?”
Hearing the name of the news organization, Riley pursed her lips and nodded. It wasn’t insignificant. Though Shawn didn’t pay much attention to trends in the news industry, she did, and this was no small thing.
“I told you I talked to Chris about getting back in the studio, right? The way he sees it, before I put any new work out there, I should do some slow re-introduction types of things.”
Riley nodded. “That makes sense,” she admitted. “But does this reporter … what’s her name?”
“Does she have to be here, in our house?”
“That’s what I have to tell you. She’ll be around for a minute.”
“What’s ‘a minute’, Shawn?”
“A week. Shadowing me.”
Riley groaned. “Does that mean she’s going to be here every day I get home for an entire week?”
“You never get home this early, so I don’t think you need to worry about it. She’ll probably be gone by the time you get here.”
“Is that a dig?”
“Nah. It’s a fact.”
They stared at each other, the tension between them rising like a slow boil. Since his revelation that he wanted to make music again, they hadn’t discussed it at length. In the moment, Riley had said the only thing she could say, that she would support whatever he wanted to do. But there was an unspoken understanding between them, that she was basically in ‘fake-it-till-you-make-it’ mode.
Riley spun toward the unfamiliar voice and found herself staring at a young woman in an army surplus jacket, with a messenger bag draped across her body. She had dark loosely curly hair, pulled to one side in a ponytail that she’d draped over her shoulder. Silver studs pierced her ears from lobe to shell.
Smiling a pretty, gap-toothed smile she looked embarrassed to have interrupted.
“I thought I heard another voice and was hoping it was you,” she said, extending a hand.
Riley took it. “Hello,” she said. “Riley Gardner.”
“I know,” the young woman gave a nervous laugh. “Of course, I know. I’m Livia. Did Sh … did your husband …?”
“Yes,” Riley nodded and smiled. “He explained that you’ll be shadowing him this week for a profile you’re doing. That’s great. Really exciting.”
“Yeah.” Livia nodded, still looking a little at a loss for words. Finally, it appeared she thought of something to say. “Your children are just adorable. That Cassidy …oh my god, I could just tuck her in my bag and make a break for it.”
Riley smiled again, more thinly this time.
“Oh my gosh … I don’t mean …” Livia laughed. “That was a creepy thing to say, sorry. Especially since that’s precisely the kind of nightmare that you probably … Okay, I’ll shut up now.”
“Well now that you bring it up,” Riley said. “Did Shawn mention our policy about the kids and press?”
“Yes! He did. I won’t be taking photos of them, and I won’t include any details about them at all in my piece.”
“I know it seems a little stupid,” Riley continued, “Especially since we can’t prevent people from taking their pictures when we’re out in public, and they even publish those pictures. But we’re trying to be intentional about not making them into little celebrities or giving the impression they’re newsworthy. I hope you understand.”
“Of course, of course,” Livia said.
She seemed a little jumpy, not able to decide which of her feet she wanted to rest her weight on, or what she wanted to do with her hands. Riley was accustomed to this kind of reaction to Shawn, and to them when they were together. But it was discomfiting to encounter it in her own home, and apparently directed at her and her children.
“Well, thank you,” Riley extended a hand again. “And … good luck with the profile. This one is notoriously difficult to get talking.” She nudged Shawn in the arm, realizing that during her entire exchange with Livia, he had said nothing. Not even reinforced her message about the kids.
“Is he?” Livia looked bemused. “He’s been very forthcoming with me.”
Growth (Chris & Robyn)
“Frank is soout of there, I think he’s barely even tolerating this farewell party,” Robyn said, lowering her voice and leaning in closer to Chris.
Across the room, Scaife Enterprises’ longtime general counsel was being roasted by Jamal Turner to mark the occasion of his retirement. His face bore a strained smile as he listened and tried to be a good sport about all of the playful mocking. Frank had come to SE from a plush law practice and entered the world of entertainment law probably thinking it would be equally cushy—parties with celebrities, short workdays and comped tickets to sold-out concerts. Instead, Robyn knew, he had been constantly challenged and sometimes even shocked by the breadth of legal matters that arose during his stint at the company.
On an average day at SE, there were paternity suits, tax evasion, restraining orders, and the occasional gun charge to contend with along with the usual, pedestrian contract negotiations. Frank, a Connecticut blue-blood had never had the appetite for some of that work. His strategy as general counsel had been to farm out the messier matters, finding outside counsel to handle anything that smelled like an actual crime.
We’re not the Manhattan public defenders, for chrissakes, he complained.
Despite being offended at the implication about their artists, Robyn had seen his point. A record company ideally should not be in the business of handling civil and criminal matters, just recording contracts. But as his deputy, she had advocated a different approach—keep everything in-house; hire attorneys with specializations in a variety of areas of the law, so that whether an SE artist had unpaid parking tickets, or god forbid assaulted someone at a nightclub, it would all be kept in the family, so to speak.
It builds artist loyalty, Robyn had argued. We look after them in their time of need and when contract renegotiation comes around, they’ll remember it.
Frank had been reticent, but allowed her the latitude to do some of the lower-end work, with the understanding that they would not, as he put it “get sucked in.”
“You’re thinking about taking his place, aren’t you?”
Robyn almost jumped at the sound of Chris’ baritone close to her ear. Not just because it was unexpected that he would say something, but because it was accurate.
“I think I could do a good job,” she said, coyly. She twirled her champagne glass by the stem between her thumb and forefinger.
“And you will. As acting general counsel,” Chris said. “And then you’ll turn over the helm to whoever Jamal finds after the executive search.”
“I think it’s a disgusting waste of money. They’re going to spend twenty-five thousand dollars just to find someone who might be sitting right under their noses.”
“You mean Rebecca?”
Robyn turned and looked at him, sighing. “Christopher …”
“I’m just sayin’ …”
“If Rebecca was that good, Rebecca would have been appointed acting general counsel. And she’s not. I am.”
“I know you are.” Chris brushed his lips across the shell of her ear. “And that was the right decision.”
“Are you humoring me right now?” Robyn asked, turning to look at him full on. “Because it sounds like you’re humoring me.”
Chris held up his hands in surrender. “How ‘bout I just …” He took her champagne flute. “I’m getting a drink, and I’ll bring you back a refill.”
Robyn watched him walk away, and felt her annoyance dissipate as she took in his unhurried, masculine gait that was like a slow-motion sequence in a men’s cologne commercial.
Robyn startled for the second time in as many minutes.
This time the voice at her ear was Tracy’s. Looking stunning as usual, she was wearing a dress that no mother of a small child should have been able to pull off, but of course, Tracy did. It was a beaded mini-dress with shimmery tassels at the hem, reminiscent of a flapper’s dress, though much more understated. And as usual, Tracy had accessorized perfectly, choosing to wear only diamond studs in her ears, and no other embellishment. Her long auburn hair was loose and tucked behind her ears.
“What’re you congratulating me for?” Robyn asked as they exchanged kisses.
“You smell delicious,” Tracy said. “You have to tell me what that scent is. Oh, for your promotion. I mean, I know nothing official’s been announced but with Frank leaving …”
“Well. Not to hear my husband tell it. I can’t tell whether he thinks that I shouldn’t get it, or I just won’t get it.”
“Yes, well. Chris wouldwant you barefoot and pregnant …”
“No, definitely not pregnant,” Robyn laughed. “But maybe barefoot.”
“Just because he’s unemployed …” Tracy joked. “I guess he needs you to be as well.”
“But seriously, I don’t think he’d want me to take it if Jamal made me the offer.”
“Well, you aregoing to get it, so he’ll have to adjust.”
“Yes. He will,” Robyn said with more confidence than she felt.
She had long accepted that there was a little streak of chauvinism in her man. In his mind, his work was a mission, but hers was little more than a hobby. And that worldview was only amplified by the fact that she didn’t need an income. Men needed to work, in his opinion, and women choseto work.
But it didn’t matter. As far as Robyn was concerned, becoming general counsel was the highest pinnacle anyone in her field could aspire to. And general counsel at one of the most significant players in the recording industry? No. This job was hers, no matter what Chris or anyone else had to say about it.
Renewal (Jayson & Keisha)
The thought came out of nowhere, but Keisha was convinced it was more than intuition. She’d read online that lots of women said they knew the absolute moment they had conceived, and now Keisha was joining them. She was sure of it. She was pregnant.
Watching from the bed as Jayson headed for the bathroom, she waited until he was out of view and looked down between her legs as if there might be some clue there, about his little guys’ likely success reaching a waiting egg.
Across the hotel room on the small dinette table, a half-empty bottle of wine mocked her. She had never been one to handle alcohol really well, but tonight she handled it very poorly. It was just that it was one of those nights where plans got abandoned, and you threw every caution to the wind. The baby was only eight-months old and they had been given a rare chance at a couples’ night out when her sister-in-law Chloe offered to take him. Jayson had gotten them a hotel room in the city and they drove down for the afternoon to shop, to see a show and then have dinner.
It was a proper grown-up date, like people went on in the movies, and Keisha was excited about it, and silly for feeling excited because she was Brooklyn-born and bred, and a night in Manhattan shouldn’t have been some big whoop. But it was, and she couldn’t pretend otherwise. Brooklyn-born or not, her life had taken a one-eighty since those days of being a creature of the big city.
She and Jayson lived in a small upstate town where he owned a photography studio and shop, and she worked as a seamstress and costume-maker for local theater productions, and occasionally for individual clients. They had a baby son, Lee—after Jayson’s mother, whose name had been conveniently gender-neutral—who even at less than a year-old was a handful. And their small circle of local friends—all of them young couples themselves, and most of them also with young children—thought “a night out” meant a movie two towns over and dinner at the Chinese restaurant.
So, the night in the city was a big deal. It meant Keisha could get dressed up, wear make-up, high heels. And she could sleep through the night without waking up for a feeding, and most of all, she could enjoy sex with her man without trying to keep her voice down lest their son hear them, and summon them with a cry.
The show they were supposed to see had been a gift from Keisha’s best friend, Kat, who worked on Broadway and got discounts, or free tickets to some of the best shows. This one, Keisha was only mildly interested in seeing, and Jayson, not at all.
They spent the afternoon shopping as planned, getting things mostly for Lee, because Jay didn’t care about clothes or shopping, and Keisha, since becoming a mother couldn’t make herself buy anything unless she also bought something for the baby.
So, she got herself a nice lipstick and some translucent powder from MAC Cosmetics, and then spent a mint on baby clothes that Lee would outgrow in a matter of weeks. Jay carried the bags and looked proud that he could just hand her the credit card without even looking at the cost of anything. His business had been doing well, because he was flexible about doing custom and event shoots, photography classes, or any other trend that hit, so recreational spending didn’t cause the anxiety it used to.
Later, at the hotel, while they dressed to go out, Jayson turned to her as he was tying his tie.
“I don’t even care about seeing this show, do you?”
He said it while cringing, as if it might disappoint her. But Keisha was relieved. She already knew that she liked the idea of them doing dinner and a show more than she was going to like the reality of it.
“So, what should we do, then?” she asked, already mentally undressing him in her mind.
Jay grinned and advanced toward her. “Let’s think of something.”
And then he had shoved her back onto the bed.
Now, in the aftermath, she was counting in her head, trying to figure out whether her intuition could be true. Unfortunately, with her it wasn’t always as simple as a mathematical exercise. Since Lee, she had short, spotty, and sometimes non-existent periods, and hadn’t bothered to get back on any kind of contraceptive. Mostly because … well, she and Jayson had been having a dry-spell.
It was hard to say how it had begun, or who was responsible. But after Lee was born, sex was impossible for a few weeks, and then somehow became irrelevant since they were so exhausted all the time. But now, with a kid old enough to crawl around the living room floor, they still only had sex maybe twice every six weeks, and even then, perfunctorily, and unimaginatively.
The shocking thing wasn’t that a relationship once so incredibly sexual had become just about sex-less. The astonishing thing was that Keisha hadn’t cared. And the downright scary thing was that Jayson didn’t seem to care either.
Tonight though, they had been drinking, taking sips of glasses of wine poured from a bottle that had been included in a welcome basket for their suite. From the moment they got back to the room from their afternoon out until the time they got showered and started to dress for the show, as she drank, there was a gauzy haze over everything and Keisha felt sluggish and unmotivated.
Like the Broadway show, the idea of sex seemed better than the reality of it. Tonight, sex with Jayson had been covered in the same gossamer-thin mood of disconnectedness. She felt pleasure, but it was dim, and distant as though happening to someone else entirely, and she was feeling it secondhand.
And that was how this new conviction that she might have just gotten pregnant again felt as well. Dim. Distant. Secondhand.