Being born in the Bronx and raised in Harlem, one is never at
a loss for inspiration. It can be found on every corner, in every bodega and in
every person. Jacki Simmons knew this and harnessed her love for writing while
she was still young. Her first short story complete at eleven and her first
novel complete at sixteen, she has always had a love of literature. At thirteen,
she won a school wide essay contest and the chance to speak before greats such
as Ossie Davis and Rosa Guy at the Schomburg Library in Harlem. They encouraged
her to continue doing what she loved best, and she took their advice.
All through high school she dazzled her teachers with the ability to stay at the head of her English class with her creative stories using various characters and situations. It was those words that encouraged her to continue writing. She spent her free time writing her first novel and it was finished just before her seventeenth birthday.
After a serious accident almost claimed her life in early 2005, Jacki was left discouraged. She abandoned her writing for nearly six months before a friend read something she had left to the side. It started out as a short story and blossomed into her second novel, Stripped. They loved it and suggested she try to get it published. The idea seemed a good one and Jacki went about the business of shopping around. After many setbacks and much time, the deal fell through and she left the company. With the love and support of her family a few close friends, she didn't give up though, only allowing her setbacks to push her further forward.
Four months later, Jacki stumbled onto the doorstep of Crystal Lacey Winslow and Melodrama Publishing. Within three weeks, she was offered a contract and the rest, as they say, is history! Residing with her family in Harlem, Jacki looks forward to her impending release and anticipates many more.
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Paperback: 268 pages
Publisher: Melodrama Publishing (November 8, 2006)
If it came down to the wire, just what would you do and how
far would you go to survive? Caiza Bell has this question dangling over her head
after she is taken from her comfortable lifestyle and plunged into a pit of
despair. From having it all to having nothing at all, she must patch her life
back together in ways she had never imagined. In a twisted turn of events and
bad goes to worse, Caiza finds herself fighting for her life. Will she make it
from the top to the bottom and back or will she crash and burn after falling
over the edge?
An Excerpt from Stripped...
1: How You Like Me Now?
Caiza Bell ran her hands over her hips, savoring the feeling coming from below her. She couldn't remember the last time she had enjoyed so much pleasure. It hadn't really been that long, but in her mind, it had been more than enough time to forget how good this made her feel. A smile curled her mouth, and she bit her bottom lip, loving every minute. She looked down and smiled wider, blushing and feeling like a little girl. Her mind went back to her first time.
She had just slipped on her new Jimmy Choo slingbacks.
'This is what it feels like to go to heaven,' she murmured, not wanting to destroy the groove. Caiza's reflection mimicked her every move as she poured her curvy body into the hugging wrap dress. She brushed her teeth and applied her makeup. Pouting and kissing her lips, Caiza let the pin out of her hair. Her dark brown curls cascaded down around her shoulders as she took one last look in the mirror. 'Honey, you are too damn fine for words.' She flipped her hair over her shoulder and turned off the light. The phone rang.
'Are you on your way?'
Caiza rolled her eyes. 'Did I sleep with you last night? I will be as soon as you hang up.'
'Oh no, don't trip. I ain't the one everybody waitin' on.'
Caiza looked in the mirror again. 'Everyone's there already?'
'Well, not everyone. Jacey should be here any minute now, but besides that, yeah, we waitin' on you. So hurry it up.'
Caiza glided over to her dresser and clipped in her earrings, dropped her cell phone in her clutch and took one final look in the mirror. She was snatching her car keys off the vanity table when she noticed the nail polish on her index finger was chipped. She rifled through the large assortment of polishes until she found the Moroccan Mix and the clear overcoat. Her watch agreed that it was time to go. There was a whimpering sound from Sparkle, her four-year-old Golden Retriever.
'Now behave, puppy. I don't want to have to come home and kick your butt.'
Sparkle scratched behind her ear, showing how uninterested she was in the threat. Caiza patted her on the head before making a mad dash for the front door. She grabbed a shawl out of the hall closet and locked up behind her.
It was Thanksgiving, her first day off in months. She took another glance at her watch. Six-fifteen. Caiza hated to be late. She prided herself on being on time everywhere she went. It made her look good and besides, she got to survey the scene. Climbing into her car, she started it up and began the short ride to 37th Street.
Midtown traffic was no joke on any night in New York, which was another one of the reasons she left early. Stopping at a red light, she opened the bottle of Moroccan Mix and delicately applied it to her damaged finger. The light changed as she blew on her wet nail. Guiding her car with her wrist, she carefully replaced the cap of the polish. She took her eyes off the road for just an instant to lift the clear polish.
It was a lovely fall evening, the kind of night when people came out just to admire the beautiful weather. As Caiza drove along at a comfortable pace, she let her mind wander. Caiza would rather stay home on the holidays. She hated Jacey's family with a passion. Both their families always spent the holidays together. Jacey was big on family and after this much time she knew how to paint on the face. Unlike her divorced mother and father, Jacey's parents were still together, and he had two brothers and two sisters.
They were a swindler, a madam, an ex-con, a wifebeater and wannabe pimp, a high school dropout with multiple children and a jewel thief, respectively. Jacey was the only one who had done anything positive with his life. His real estate business had been up and skyrocketing in the past few years, which accounted for their comfortable lifestyle.
Caiza had all but stopped paying any attention to the road, so when the Mercedes in front of her stopped suddenly and flicked on its hazards, she slammed right into his trunk. She was instantly jarred back to reality when she pitched forward and hit her head on the steering wheel.
'Shit!' Caiza cursed, holding her hand to her head. Quickly, she sealed the bottle of polish and threw it on the seat next to her. Looking out the front window she cursed again, opening her car door. The man slammed his car door and began to walk toward her, arms outstretched.
'Yo, shorty, you ain't see me stop?' He was one of those rowdy-looking men, like he had no problem rocking her jaw in the middle of the street. He was sporting long dreadlocks, a white tee under a Celtics jersey, dark blue jeans and Timberlands. Mr. Cheeks wannabe bastard, she thought. 'Look at my shit!'
The damage wasn't serious, but it was bad enough. She could understand why he was pissed. The left light had been knocked out, and there was a sizeable dent in the bumper. The paint had been stripped away in the center.
Caiza knew she had to throw on the persuasion and she had to do it quickly. That's all she needed was the police on her ass. 'I am so sorry. This is my fault. I wasn't paying attention.' She shook her hips as she went to survey the dent. Checking out his bumper, she bent over at the waist and pretended to be interested. Straightening, she looked at her own fender. She pulled her phone out of her clutch. 'Let me give you my information.'
Dreadlock licked his lips and checked her out, doing a bad job of pretending that he wasn't. He pulled out his cell. 'Yeah, you do that.' Caiza turned around when she heard the car behind her lean on his horn. The two of them were becoming a traffic jam.
'Hey, get out of the street, lady!'
Caiza cut her eyes wickedly at the driver, but made her way back to her own car. Dreadlock, who was now on his cell phone, turned back to his Benz and double-parked, out of the way.
'Damnit,' Caiza muttered as she maneuvered behind Dreadlock. She made the call to All State. After they exchanged information, and he had gone off to handle his business, she flipped her phone open again. Looking down at her watch, she bit her bottom lip, angry that she was going to be late.
'Jace, it's me.'
'Baby, where you at? Everybody's here waiting on you.'
'I know. I had an accident on 40th Street. I need you to come pick me up.'
'What happened?' he asked.
'Nothing much'a little fender bender.'
'For real?' His voice picked up concern. 'Are you alright?'
Caiza stamped her foot. 'I'm fine. I just wanna get to dinner.'
'Alright. Stay right where you are. Where are you?'
'Fortieth and Eighth.'
'I'll be there in ten minutes.' He hung up.
Jacey immediately took control once he got there. He had a tow truck take her car to his auto body shop, and he drove the rest of the way in his BMW. Caiza loved how cool he was the whole time. He hadn't even broken a sweat.
Once on the elevator, Caiza took a thirty-second power nap while leaned against the silver banister. When she popped her eyes back open she looked to her left. Jacey looked good, she noticed. He smelled even better. She hoped that he would be up for a couple of rounds later on that night. Watching his face, calm and collected, made Caiza forget she was in a bad mood.
Caiza shook her hair out of her face, and Jacey took a look at her. 'What happened up there? You've got a cut.'
She touched her head. Sure enough, there was a little blood on her fingers. 'Oh, damnit, I hit my head on the steering wheel. Is it bad?'
He shook his head and pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket. He touched it to her forehead. 'Well, it's gonna need a bandage. And it might leave a little scar. you're not hurting anywhere else, are you?'
She held the handkerchief to her forehead. She could feel a headache coming on. 'I'm not hurt, baby. I'm okay.'
His answer was to pull her closer to his side.
'Thanks for coming to get me.'
He kissed her. 'Ain't no thang, baby,' he said. The elevator made it to their floor. As it opened, they were welcomed by warmth. Flowing from the ceiling were soft champagne-colored curtains. The room was dimly lit and from behind the curtain, a horde of smells hit her at once. Jacey moved one of the curtains aside and led her in the room.
'Well it's about time,' a voice called. Myeisha Brown was Caiza's best friend. They had known each other most of junior high and had become tighter than tight in high school. That night, she had wrapped her to-die-for body into a floor-length black dress with a slit up the thigh that gave off a view of her thigh-high leather boots.
Caiza hugged her best friend, whispering into her ear, 'Did you come straight from the club?'
'Nah, but I gotta work as soon as I leave up outta here.'
Caiza's mother caught her eye, and Caiza smiled a big old fake one when she saw her. She didn't know her aunts and uncles would be there tonight, or her favorite cousin, Shane. Shane waved from across the room where she was already on her fourth champagne.
'Caiza, you look lovely. Are you putting on weight, honey?' her mother, DeLiza, asked after thoroughly up and downing her.
She rolled her eyes and accepted her kiss.
'Jacey told us you were in an accident. Are you alright?'
'I'm fine mother. I'm just a little hungry is all.'
DeLiza, satisfied that she had at least spoken to her child, went to find something to complain about. Caiza took a minute to drape her shawl over one of the couches and take in the scene. The hardwood floors were glowing on account of the scented candles flickering in every corner.
There were gaps in the curtained walls near the windows, where the last rays of the sun could be seen making way for the night sky. On one side of the room was the lounge area, mostly couches and lounge chairs and comfy throw pillows, the center dance floor, and on the other side was the dining area.
The two families sat down to eat after Jacey's father, Milton, said a long prayer that had everyone peeking at their wrists. Caiza peeped at her watch and found he'd been talking for ten minutes. When he finally said 'Amen,' they all almost jumped for the food.
It was a typical Thanksgiving. DeLiza and Rashanna, Jacey's mother, had worked together and produced platters of mashed potatoes, candied yams, greens, macaroni and cheese, biscuits, gravy, cranberry sauce, yellow rice, red rice, potato salad, two stuffings and of course, a huge turkey. For dessert, there was cherry pie, sweet potato pie, pumpkin pie'Jacey had a slice of each because he claimed he couldn't tell the difference' cheesecake, and Rashanna brought along homemade vanilla ice cream.
After dinner, a few of them went outside to get some air or have a smoke. Music was turned on, and the older members of both families got up to 'cut some rug.' Caiza sat back and laughed as she watched Milton and her uncle Chuck attempt the Cha Cha Slide.
She stood at last and joined, taking their hands and schooling them. Jacey scooped her away when 'Step In The Name Of Love' began to play. R. Kelly flowed through the speakers and got everyone off their feet. They ended up playing the record three times before everyone took a breather. Caiza was relaxing and catching her breath when Jacey stood up to say something.
'I want to thank everybody for coming on short notice. Usually, we plan far in advance, but I know we had a bit of a problem with the invitations,' he said, eyeing Myeisha. She smiled and hid her face behind a plate of pie. Jacey smiled back and continued.
'Everybody who knows Caiza and me knows how long we've been together'five years and still going.' That made everyone clap. Caiza blushed from her seat next to him. He touched her shoulder, casually putting the other hand in his pocket. Jacey directed his next words at her. 'I just want to say that every day with you has been a miracle. I've never met anyone like you before, and I'm sure I never will again. You make me happy and that's all I've ever asked for. And I want you to keep making me happy.'
Jacey bent down on his left knee. He pulled a small black box from his pocket and opened it in front of her. 'Will you marry me, Caiza?'
Caiza thought her heart was going to stop. She felt herself blushing harder and just knew all eyes were on her. She couldn't breathe for only an instant, and everyone in the room held their breath with her. She began to blink rapidly, and her head started to feel light. Then Caiza caught Myeisha's eye. Myeisha made a 'go on' gesture with her hands. She nodded and took a deep breath, and the feeling passed.
'Yes,' she whispered. There was a collective sigh of relief from everyone in attendance. Jacey beamed like the bright sun after a long rainstorm. He put the ring on her finger. Smiling the way only a happy man can, Jacey lifted her out of the chair and into his arms.
'You need to stop wavin' that thing around before I snatch it off ya hand,' said Denise. Denise and Caiza had worked together since they were hired at the same time. They had become pretty close in their five years and often spent the long hours joking with each other. Today was no different.
Caiza giggled before sitting down. The long weekend was over, and it was back to work. She had been playing with Denise all day, flashing her hand in her face whenever she had the chance. 'I'm sorry girl. I can't help it. Isn't this the most gorgeous thing you have ever seen?'
Denise took her hand and examined the ring closely. 'It really is pretty. How big is it?'
'Hmm. If I had me a man who could afford a four, then he'd have to spring for a six.'
Caiza laughed as she began to file some paperwork in front of her. 'That's exactly why you don't have a man, now isn't it?'
'You know what, bitch? You ain't cute. You ain't even cute.' Denise smiled and turned away as her desk phone began to ring. Caiza's own phone rang right after.
'Good morning, Ester and Scarowitz, how may I help you?'
'This is Donna Glover. I'm Justin Mercer's agent. I'm confirming his twelve o'clock appointment for this afternoon with Mr. Sapling.'
Caiza flipped through her appointment book as if she didn't know who he was. Justin Mercer, known in the rap community as Bulldog, was one of her favorite rappers. He just happened to be a client with the firm for which she worked. Whenever she saw him, her heart skipped a beat. He was too fine for words. But he was way out of her league.
'Yes, Ms. Glover. Mr. Smith will be expecting him.'
'Thank you.' She hung up.
They arrived exactly one hour later. Bulldog was never late for his appointments with his lawyer. He felt it was bad for business and bad for his image.
Caiza opened the record book. 'Good afternoon, Mr. Mercer, Ms. Glover,' she said politely. 'Please sign here.'
Donna signed first, her flourishing script taking up two lines. Bulldog took the pen from her. Caiza winked at Denise as she stood to show them into their lawyer's office. 'Follow me please.' Bulldog did follow her, his eyes roaming up her body.
'That's new?' he said, nodding at her hand.
'Who's the lucky man?'
She smiled. 'His name is Jacey.'
He nodded again, a toothpick dangling from his lips. 'Jacey. Jacey White? That nigga that be sellin' apartments and shit, right?'
That's not how she would have put it, but she nodded anyway.
'He's a good nigga. Sold me a nice crib down on 22nd Street. Congratulations.'
She blushed. 'Thank you.' She opened his lawyer's door and showed them inside. As soon as she shut the door, she tried not to squeal and hop-skipped down the hallway back to her desk.
She sighed, rubbing the picture of Jacey on her desk. 'Girl, if I wasn't getting married, I'd rape him.'
Denise held up her hand with a pencil sticking out of it. 'You mind sayin' that a little louder into the microphone please?'
''Cuz when they arrest ya ass, best believe I'm getting the reward!'
'You should see the rock on her hand. Shit, girl, that bitch is laced,' Trina said. Trina owned the Nubian Designs hair salon on 135th Street. She knew what went on in the hood before it happened. At that moment, she was leading the discussion on Caiza.
Myeisha lifted her head as Kristina finished rinsing the chemicals out of her hair. 'I was there. You know she got it goin' on.'
'Please. She ain't shit. She livin' off that nigga, you hear me?' Kristina pushed My's head back in the sink. She squeezed some shampoo onto her scalp.
'No she's not. You just hatin' 'cuz you ain't got no man.' My wasn't about to let anybody play her girl.
'That's funny. I had your man last night.'
'Oh no you didn't,' Adeena, who was busy rolling someone's hair, said, laughing.
Trina moaned to herself. 'Shit, I know what I would do if I had five minutes with that fine-ass nigga. I'd turn his ass out, you hear me?'
The girls laughed. Myeisha was getting uncomfortable. Kristina put a towel around her head and led her to the styling chair. 'Y'all betta stop that. You know he loves that girl.'
'And if I had him, he'd love me too,' Adeena replied. That brought another round of laughs.
'I heard he ain't that hard to get into bed.'
'He's a man. Only man it's hard to get in bed wit' is the dead ones or the gay ones.'
The resident gay stylist, Peaches, raised his blow dryer. 'Objection, bitches. I'd go for a piece of his sweet ass in a heartbeat, okay?'
My had to smile at that. Peaches was flaming and didn't care who knew it. He didn't have a problem coming on to someone else's man and had gotten into quite a few scraps over it.
'What you think, My?' Kristina asked above her head. 'How long you think that is gon' last?'
My didn't like the way she said that, but left it alone. 'Come on now. You know that's my girl. I ain't tryna dog her like y'all.'
Trina spoke up waving her hot comb wildly. 'Ain't nobody tryna dog her. I just wanna know what he see in her that he don't see in me.'
'I know what he don't see,' mumbled Peaches.
'Speak up, baby.'
'I said I know what he don't see. Homegirl keep all her shit tight. That nigga don't want you with your cottage-cheese ass.'
Adeena snorted loudly and covered her mouth; Kristina giggled and pretended she hadn't heard. Trina didn't appreciate being laughed at. She combed a strand of her customer's hair, pouting. 'Whatever. I bet she can't do him like I can.'
Adeena smiled. 'I guess you ain't never gon' find out, right?'
Trina threw a brush at her, rolling her eyes.
Jacey and Caiza's engagement was the new flame on the ghetto gossip circuit. Jacey may have had money and status, but they remembered when he was the scrawny project kid back in the day. Now that he was engaged, it seemed like things were going crazy between his groupies.
He had girls fighting over him every minute of the day, and in all honesty, he loved it. He figured girls only fought over true ballers. He was wrong there. Girls fought over anybody with money and status. It didn't hurt that he looked good either. In the back of her mind, Trina was already forming a plan. That uppity bitch better watch her back.
'And not a single scratch. Nobody'll ever know you banged up a Benz,' Alphonse joked. He had been doing Caiza's repairs ever since she learned to drive. He rotated her tires, changed her oil, and winterized her car, pretty much everything and anything she needed. He claimed he gave her a discount because she was so pretty, but she really knew it was because Jacey would whip his ass if he didn't.
'Thank you so much, Al. I've gotta hand it to you. She looks brand new.'
He nodded and wiped his hands on a grease rag. 'So where were you running off to that you got all banged up?'
She waved her hands excitedly. 'It was Thanksgiving. I was on my way to dinner, and I wasn't paying attention. You fixed up a baby fender bender. I tried to put the moves on him, but it didn't quite work. All State called me back within the week.'
'Hmm. I'm glad it was just the car that got hurt. So what else you been up to?'
She stuck her hand out. 'This.'
He took her delicate fingers in his. 'He proposed? Jacey playa-for-life? We are talking 'bout the same nigga, right?'
She nodded happily. 'One in the same. I'm gonna make him an honest man if it kills me.'
'It just might,' he joked. Alphonse shook his head. 'That is something else, baby girl. I remember when you first drove in here for a wash. You thought it was a self-service and you got out and soaped it down by yourself.'
She laughed and covered her face at the embarrassing memory. 'You had to bring that up?'
'By the time me and the guys got out there, you were ready for a rinse. I was thinkin' about hiring you.'
They got a kick out of that one. When their laughter died down, he pulled her into a big hug. 'I'm really proud of you. You've come a long way since then.'
The hug lasted a second longer than it should have. At that moment, none other than plotting Adeena just happened to be driving by. She slowed to allow a car out of the gas station, then looked left to make sure the coast was clear. As she began to look away, her eyes caught sight of someone familiar.
She saw a man place a kiss on Caiza's cheek before she got in her car, but from her point of view, she thought she saw them kiss on the lips. Her camera phone was hot and ready as she took the shot. Adeena almost crashed in her hurry to spread the news. She sped off up the block, and Caiza never saw her.
'Kris? This Adeena. Girl, you ain't never gon' believe who I seen kissin' up on some nigga at the gas station.'
Kristina got comfortable. She was always ready for juicy gossip. 'Word? Who?' A minute later her phone bleeped as Adeena sent her the picture. She gasped and squealed, dialing Trina's number faster than her fingers could move.
'Girl, I got some hot shit to tell you!'
Trina put on her most sympathetic face as she rubbed Jacey's back gently.
'Look,' she said softly, stroking his body and his ego, 'I hate to have to be the one to tell you this. And you know I'm not the type to break up a happy home, but my conscience, baby. My conscience couldn't let me go on, looking you in the face and lying.'
Jacey put his face in his hands. He had just seen undeniable proof that his girl was cheating on him. Trina called and told him she had something she needed to say to his face. He figured she was just being Trina and trying to offer up her body again, but when she said it was about Caiza, he knew he should listen. Those pictures didn't just take themselves.
He stood and paced, hands on his waist. 'I spent six fuckin' grand on that ring,' he shouted. 'I told her I loved her in front of both our families. I asked her to marry me in front of my parents. This how she gon' do me?' Jacey had spent the better part of his twenties honing his image, but the hood part of him always lingred under the surface, ready to rear its ugly head. He kicked the sofa hard.
Trina jumped. She waited until his back was turned, then took off her sweater, revealing a rather tight shirt with a severely plunging neckline. She pushed her breasts up in her bra, then took his hand and pulled him back down on the couch.
'Hey, listen to me. It's going to be just fine. You know you can always lean on me for anything you need, right?'
She reached into his lap and unzipped his pants. Moving his boxers out of her way, she put him to her lips. 'Anything you need.'
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