ebook

The Company We Keep

Mary Monroe

ISBN 9780758240446
Publish Date 3/1/2009
Format ePub
Categories AA Fiction

New York Times bestselling author Mary Monroe’s extraordinary novel celebrates life, love, and the power of sisterhood—proving that friends, like fine wine, only get better with age…

Gorgeous, successful executive Teri Stewart spends her days working for L.A.’s hottest record company—and her nights all alone. Her best friend Nicole is determined to find Teri a man, but she hasn’t had much luck...because Teri wants more than Mr. Maybe. She’s holding out for Mr. Right and won’t settle for anything less. Just when Teri is ready to give up, a man from her past returns to reignite their romance. With his sultry smile and easy-going charm, radio DJ Harrison Starr is one-of-a kind—and Teri can’t deny she’s fallen hard for him again.

With her life finally falling into place, Teri thinks her dreams might come true after all. But Harrison may have a secret that could change everything…

Chapter One


Teri Stewart had no idea that two of the secretaries she worked with were secretly trying to set up a date for her with a popular male escort. It was going to be expensive, but worth every penny. That didn’t matter, though. The money was going to come from the company’s petty cash fund that the two secretaries controlled.

“John, if that woman doesn’t get some dick soon, we are all going to be in therapy,” complained one of the secretaries with a weary look on her face.

“And if this escort thing doesn’t work, I’ll screw her myself! I’ve been gay to the bone for my entire thirty-seven years and have never even seen a woman’s pussy, so you know this is serious,” moaned the terrified male secretary. “Either that or you’ll have to strap on one of those dildo dicks and do it. We can’t take too much more of her foolishness.”

Unfortunately, the scheme didn’t work. The only agency that the two desperate secretaries could afford had only one black escort. And he had dates lined up for the next two months. When the agency suggested another one of their studs, a very dark- skinned Iraqi, the two secretaries considered him until they saw what he looked like. That poor man looked enough like bin Laden to be his twin. Teri was very patriotic. She’d never sleep with a man who looked like the enemy.

“All we can do now is hope that the upcoming New Year will be better for Teri,” the female secretary said hopefully. “And better for us...”

Teri had not been involved in an intimate relationship with a man in six months, and it was beginning to get on her last nerve. She had gradually become a tense, frustrated, abrupt Donna Karan–wearing bitch. She knew she was beginning to get on the last nerves of everybody she came in contact with. Just yesterday she actually saw the guy from the mailroom duck into the stairwell as soon as he spotted her thundering down the hall trying to track down a fax she’d misplaced. And the two nicest secretaries in the company had started looking at her in some of the strangest ways. She had no idea what was going through their heads, and she didn’t want to know.

It wasn’t that no man was interested in her. That had never been the case and probably never would be. If for no other reason, men came on to her because of her looks. Most didn’t care about anything else she had to offer. Few could resist her big, shiny brown eyes; smooth mahogany complexion; and full lips. Not to mention her hourglass-shaped body on legs that would put Tina Turner’s to shame and a mane of dark brown hair that didn’t need a prop like a weave to cascade around her shoulders like a silk scarf.

It seemed like the older she got, the more men she attracted. She predicted that forty years from now she’d be beating off dirty old men with her walking stick. Just last week somebody had stopped her on the street and asked if she was Kerry Washington, one of the most attractive black actresses in Hollywood. So why did her pussy feel like a condemned piece of property on no- man’s-land? Beauty was not the cure-all for loneliness that some people thought it was. She was probably one of the best-looking lonely women on the planet. But in her case, it was by choice. And it was all because the right man had not approached her in six months.

“At least you still got your health and a good job,” somebody— she couldn’t even remember who—had told her a few days ago.

That same person had advised her to contact an online dating service. An online dating service! If that wasn’t the last refuge for the truly desperate and a paradise for predators of all kinds, she didn’t know what was. She’d made it emphatically clear that she was not that desperate . . . yet.

“I’m doing just fine, thank you very much.” That was how she always responded when some busybody’s nose sniffed in her direction and asked about her love life.

No, she wasn’t getting any and didn’t know when she ever would again. What the hell. She could live with it. She still had more things to be thankful for than a lot of other people. Yes, she did still have her health and her job and had been thinking about getting a cat.

Right now her job was the main focus in her life. She enjoyed being the Executive Publicity Director for Eclectic Records. The prestige and all the perks that went along with her high-profile position meant as much to her as the fat paychecks she collected twice a month. This was one sister who didn’t have to worry much about where she was going in the hectic business world and how she was going to get there; she had already arrived.

Unfortunately, a lot of Teri’s peers hated their jobs, so they didn’t share her vision or enthusiasm. She didn’t know of a single person in L.A. who wanted to be at work on New Year’s Eve. It was hard enough for most people to come to work on the rest of the days in the year. But work was where Teri Stewart was tonight (she’d also worked well into the night on Christmas Eve, too). Not because she wanted to be, but because she had to be.

Teri didn’t give a damn what everybody else in L.A. was doing. If nothing else, she was disciplined and considerate. To her, every commitment she made was important. Last year on a much- needed vacation to Puerto Vallarta, she had offered to take her friendly hotel maid and her kids to dinner. She didn’t think to ask the woman how many kids she had, but she expected at least two. When the maid showed up with all nine of her kids in tow, including the eldest boy’s wife and their two kids, Teri didn’t back out. Now here she was on New Year’s Eve trying to finish a monthly media report that was late because one of her sources had dropped the ball.

The building that was home to Eclectic Records was almost empty. But that didn’t bother Teri. There was a pit bull of a security guard at the front desk on the first floor at all times. The six- teen-story building was located on a busy street near downtown

L.A. Even though there had been a few muggings in the area recently, it was still fairly safe compared to other parts of the city. Holiday lights were still in place, inside and out. The soulful

R. Kelly jam emanating from a CD player in the center of Teri’s cluttered desk in a corner office on the sixth floor didn’t do a whole lot to make her feel more at ease. Her mood was dark, and she was more frustrated than usual. The impatient frown on her face and her pouting bottom lip, which would have made a less fortunate woman look like a hag, made her look even younger than her twenty-nine years. She mumbled profanities as she searched for a document that contained information she needed to complete her report. “Shit!” she hissed as she thumped the button on the speakerphone next to the CD player, speed-dialing her secretary at home. “Nicole, you didn’t put a copy of Reverend Bullard’s report on my desk,” she insisted, glaring at the telephone as if it were the source of her frustration. There was no answer. “Nicole, are you there?”

“Uh-huh, I’m here,” Nicole finally replied with a mighty hiccup. Somebody had popped open a bottle of champagne in the company break room to jump-start the New Year’s Eve festivities. Like a fish with a long swallow, Nicole had guzzled two glasses before she left the office two hours ago.

By the time Teri had concluded a tense conference call with two long-winded clients on the East Coast and made it to the break room, all the champagne was gone. If she ever needed a liquid crutch, it was now. She appeased herself with the reminder that she would make up for it in a couple of hours.

“I thought I told you to put a copy of the Bullard report on my desk. You know we can’t afford to not get our artists mentioned in the tabloids and the music rags whenever they do something good.” Teri was convinced that a story about an ex-con preacher making gospel CDs for troubled teenagers would be good press for the preacher and for Eclectic Records. “I thought I told you twice.”

“Well, I thought I did,” Nicole said with a burp. “I meant to . . .”

“You thought you did and you meant to, but you didn’t,” Teri snapped.

“Will you please calm down? You’re making me nervous.”

“Calm down, my ass. I’ve got a job to do and I can’t do mine if you don’t do yours.” Teri paused and let out a loud breath. “I’m sorry. You know I don’t like to take out my frustrations on you. I just want to finish what I started and get the hell up out of this place.” Teri let out another loud breath, inspected her silk- wrapped nails, and glanced around the spacious office that she spent as much time in as she did her condo near Hollywood.

“That’s better,” Nicole mouthed.

Nicole Mason sat on the edge of her bed in the apartment she shared with her son. With a heavy sigh, she rose and wiggled her plump but firm ass into a pair of black lace panties. “Try the file cabinet behind my desk. The report should be in the top drawer in a green folder,” she said. The panties felt a little too tight, just like almost everything else she owned. Especially the black slip she had on now. She made a mental note to curtail her ongoing relationships with Roscoe’s House of Chicken ’n Waffles, Popeye’s, Marie Callender, and Sara Lee or else she’d have to introduce herself to Jenny Craig and Richard Simmons. “Teri, you know you are my girl, so I know you won’t take this the wrong way . . .”

Teri responded with an exasperated snort.

“Girlfriend, you need to get a life,” Nicole told her. “You know it and I know it. Everybody else knows it, too.”

“I have a life, thank you. I am on my grind,” Teri reported, as she continued her search. She entered Nicole’s work area, which was right outside her office. She fought her way through an assortment of large, live green plants on the floor that decorated the area like a rain forest. She found the green folder right where Nicole said it would be. With another frown, she returned to her office with the folder and leaned over her desk, glaring at the phone. She sucked in her breath so hard her chest ached, but before she could speak again Nicole’s voice cut into her muddled thoughts.

“Miss Girl, I thought we were supposed to be hanging out tonight. Come on, this is New Year’s Eve and we happen to be in one of the most exciting cities on this planet. And, in case you forgot, Lincoln freed the slaves.”

“I have a job to do, Nicole,” Teri reminded her.

“We all do. But we all have lives outside of our jobs, too,” Nicole said firmly.

“I know, I know. I just need to tweak a few more sentences on this damn report. It won’t take that long. And why are you rushing me? You are not even dressed yet.”

“How would you know that?” Nicole quipped, tugging on the waistband of her panties.

“Because I know you,” Teri remarked. Flipping through the green folder, her eyes got big and a smile formed on her lips. “I found it!” she exclaimed, clutching the missing document to her bosom as if it contained the secrets of the universe. She breathed a sigh of relief and flopped down into her chair, which was so comfortable with its soft black leather and adjustable seat that she didn’t want to move again. “Let the games begin!”

Nicole rose and stood by the side of her bed, which was just as cluttered as the rest of the bedroom. She ignored the clothing and music magazines that she had tossed to the foot of her bed. “Uh-huh. So, now you can—” She was cut off by the annoying buzz of a dial tone. “Hang up on me then, bitch.” She laughed, shaking her head. “I’m too scared of you.”

About Mary Monroe:

Mary Monroe is the third child of Alabama sharecroppers, and the first and only member of her family to finish high school. Mary never attended college or any writing classes. She spent the first part of her life in Alabama and Ohio, moved to Richmond, California in 1973, and has lived in Oakland since 1984. Her first novel, The Upper Room, was published in 1985 and was widely reviewed throughout the U.S. and in Great Britain. She is a recipient of the PEN/Oakland Josephine Miles Award for her novel God Don't Like Ugly.


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