Freezing. Why are hospital room thermostats always set to below sixty? And the smell. Rubbing alcohol and bleach, or Lysol. I sat forward in the reclining chair because the back was too stiff to be comfortable. With a glance towards the hospital bed I shifted again when I saw Ms. Dupree’s eyes still closed.

It was my night to watch over her, and with no place to stretch out I had no sleep. When the sunlight broke through the shades I was happy that night was over and I could stop trying to close my eyes.

I stood beside the bedrail and cusped her frail hand between mine. “Morning Bird gets the worm,” I joked when her eyes fluttered open.

She squeezed my hand and a slight smile crossed her face. “There are no worms left for me to get,” she sassed. Ms. Dupree had been in the hospital for a couple of weeks, and the doctors weren’t hopeful she’d be making it home this time. “When is your brother going to make an appearance?” She asked the same question every morning, but I had no answer. My youngest brother was across the world on one of his latest excursions and although we told him he needed to be home he made no plans of getting here. “I told you I need to speak to all three of you before,” I interrupted her. I didn’t want to think about what she was going to say next.

I didn’t want to think of life without her.

“Ms. Dupree, we can’t think like that. Parker probably knows he’ll see you at the house whenever he makes it back.” Her lips formed a thin line.

“How about you tell us what you need to say,” Kyle’s deep voice echoed through the room as he took his place on the opposite side of the bed. He looked refreshed, like he had a solid eight hours of sleep, or more. I made eye contact with him and shook my head. His eyebrow peaked but he ignored me and took Ms. Dupree’s other hand. “We can let him know what you tell us.”

Thankfully, Ms. Dupree wasn’t having it. She smirked, and with a firm voice she told Kyle if he was trying to help he could go find Parker and get him there, and soon. “Let’s talk outside,” I said to Kyle as I moved towards the door.

Standing across from Kyle, I leaned against the wall. “This could be it. And if she wants Parker here, he needs to get his ass on a plane and get here.”

Kyle crossed his arms across his chest. “You call him.”

I called Parker, and thankfully he was at the airport. “I’m checking in for my connecting flight. Think she’ll make it a few more hours?” I wanted to tell him she’d make it longer than a few more hours but I didn’t want to give him false hope. “Alright,” he said before we hung up.

Kyle and I took turns standing bedside, I needed to be home getting ready for my day, but I couldn’t make myself leave. Her eyes opened again, and she reached for our hands. “Alright, Kyle, make sure you pass on what I’m about to tell you two.” She inhaled then exhaled a deep breath. I closed my eyes as I waited. “Devon, stop working so hard and find yourself a good woman. A woman who is equally as ambitious but unlike you knows how to enjoy life.” I nodded my head. She turned to the other side of the bed and told Kyle, “And you, you are worthy of a woman of any caliber. Stop dating these women who aren’t doing anything with their life.” She frowned then said, “Like that last one.” I laughed, and Ms. Dupree scolded me before she finished. “You boys promise me. I can’t leave this earth knowing y’all are all single and not even trying.” We both promised. “Okay, now tell Parker,” but before she could finish Parker hurried into the room.

“You tell me, Ms. Dupree,” he rushed as he joined us beside her bed. A single tear fell down her cheek as she dropped my hand and reached for his. He leaned down and wiped the tear before kissing her cheek. “I love you.”

But before she could tell Parker anything more she exhaled and we heard the machines connected to her body ringing as the nurses and her doctor stormed into the room.

As I moved out of the way I thought about what she said and how I promised I’d find someone. But the promise may have been one easier recited than executed.

Chapter 1


Raven busted through my door, without knocking. “We are at capacity,” she said cheerfully. When I didn’t return her smile she continued, “Whats got you all messed up tonight?” Her hand went to her hip but before she could psychoanalyze me I turned my head to the security camera footage.

“I see the line is still wrapped around the building.” She explained that, Ted, our Ving Rhames look-alike, announced that we weren’t letting anymore people in but only a few people left the line. “As long as his ass doesn’t cave.” I said as I watched him stand cross armed in front of the door, earning every penny I paid him.

“He’s good. You coming out on the floor?” She said as she started retreating towards the door. When I didn’t respond she said, “You know The Dupree can run without you, you should take a break. Maybe even a few days.” She smirked. “Join Parker on one of his excursions.” She said and we both laughed.

I watched her ass as she walked out the door. Raven was a bad chick, and she knew her shit. Since working for me she’d become more confident, maybe even cocky. But walking into my office without knocking was her newest sign of being super comfortable with me. Not only did she know the business she knew me.

Over the past few months I spent most of my time in the club, when we weren’t open I spent my time strategizing about a second location on the other side of the city. As soon as the doors opened in the evening and the DJ started spinning I monitored the sales and crowd, but from within my office.

Before Ms. Dupree passed, I loved to be out on the floor. Experiencing the crowd for myself, even taking orders at the bar. Raven was right, I needed a break to get my mind right. But taking a break when you’re the HNIC wasn’t as easy as she made it seem.

My phone rang, and when I saw Raven’s name on the screen I stood from my seat. The only reason she could be calling was if there was a problem in the club. As I answered I took steps towards the door, pulling it shut behind me as I said, “What happened?” I could hear the music behind her as she described a fight that broke out in VIP. “Shit.”

I made my way towards VIP and saw my other body guards with their hands on a couple of guys as they escorted them from the second floor. A fight was the last thing I needed if I was trying to open another location. The city was already trying to block my expansion because of negative publicity we received when we first opened.

Raven stood near a group of women and I joined her listening into what they were saying. The guys had too much to drink, and in their failed attempt to impress the ladies pissed each other off. “Is there anything I can do to make the rest of your night enjoyable?” I offered the group. Of course liquor made everything better—they requested another bottle of Vodka. “Sure thing.” I turned towards the bar with Raven beside me. “Don’t worry I’ll go have it sent up.” She patted my shoulder and smiled before she turned in a different direction.

I could have grabbed the bottle myself but instead I stood in front of the bar and waited for the bartender. Beside me was another group of ladies, with shots lined up along the bar. I watched as they took the shots back and when the glasses hit the bar top I made eye contact with the one nearest me.

Being in the club business I saw women of all types. Sexy didn’t impress me much anymore. I barely took a second glance at a half-dressed lady. Curves caught my eye, but only briefly.

But her. There was something about her that had me captivated. Maybe it was her confidence, the way her smile stayed mysteriously on her face, as I stared. Or the fact that she was the first to speak, subtly, “Hey.”

I took the few steps closer to her before I responded, apologizing for staring. “What’s your name?” I asked as I stood next to her.

“Mimi.” I repeated that to myself before looking to her friends who were singing along to the song and hadn’t noticed me standing there, yet.

“What’s the occasion?” I asked to her squinted eyes. “Or just partying?” She didn’t look like someone who’d be in the club for the hell of it. Her partying seemed like it had to have a purpose.

She looked beside her then back to me and said, “My friend’s promotion.” I nodded my head before asking what type of work she did. She pointed to herself and with a smirk replied, “What would you say if I told you we were Instagram models?”

I half believed her because she was gorgeous and Instagram model worthy. Her defined curls could advertise hair products, and her smooth cocoa skin could be the face of any make-up brand. But I’d never actually met an Instagram model in real life. “So if I wanted to hit you up, I’d have to slide in your DMs?”

She laughed and her hand laid on her chest—her cleavage could have been the center of any bra campaign. “Yeah, something like that.”

“Bet.” I nodded before telling her I’d do just that. “Enjoy your night.” I walked to the other side of the bar and ordered the Vodka for VIP and another round of shots for Mimi and her friends.

I walked back to my office with my phone in hand cursing myself because, ‘sliding in her DMs’ was just a phrase I heard my brother use. I wasn’t even on social media, Tina handled the marketing account for the club and I only saw posts she showed me.

But if Mimi was an Instagram model, then Instagram was where I needed to be. I downloaded the app to my phone and as I sat down behind my desk I figured out how to create an account and started scrolling through pictures.

“Shit,” I mumbled when I realized sliding in her DMs wasn’t my only challenge. Finding her on Instagram was the first hurdle. Time was wasting and my frustration was growing as strolling seemed never ending. I finally turned to the security cameras hoping Mimi was still in the same place near the bar, but she wasn’t.

The club was winding down, and I was still scrolling on Instagram. When Raven glided into my office announcing she was headed out I scrambled with my phone and turned to my computer hoping she wouldn’t notice. “Ugh what are you doing?” She asked with a chuckle.

I looked up to her with a grimace. “I was about to check the final sales.” I lied. “Then probably get out of here myself.” When her eyes narrowed I asked, “Who is closing tonight?”

Raven’s hands gripped the back of the chair as she said, “Same person who closes every Saturday night. Now what’s really going on?”

Raven wasn’t just my assistant, over the years of working together she had grown to be more like a friend. When she interviewed for the position, I could hardly concentrate on her responses to my questions. She wore the hell out of a gray suit, and even though her curves were fully concealed they were on display in all the right ways. It wasn’t until her second interview that I convinced myself she would be perfect for the job. Her experience working for a rival club owner for a couple of years backed by her business knowledge alone put her at the top of my list, but her no-holds bar approach with me landed her the job.

She knew when I was stressed and called me on it, and there was hardly anything I kept from her. Lying was out of the question. I sighed and finally admitted, “There was this lady I bumped into at the bar.” I looked up into her light brown eyes and her perfectly shaped eyebrows peaked.

“Well, damn.” She said before taking the seat in front of my desk. “Did you get her number?” She peered over the desk eyeing my phone. When I shook my head she frowned. “Okay.” As the word dragged out of her mouth I too questioned myself.

My shoulders hunched and my hand went instinctively to my phone. “Was just trying to find her on Instagram.” Raven shook her head again but this time she stood from her chair.

“Better check with Tina on that one.” Like me, Raven stayed off of social media. “I can’t even help you with that.”

Tina only worked during the day, and there was nothing else I could do at the club. I stood from my desk and told Raven, “I’ll walk you out.” Instead of walking through the club we took the back exit. Both of us parked in a nearby garage. “Alright, I’ll see you on Monday.” I told her as we stood in front of her car.

Navigating the streets of D.C. was easy late at night. The traffic usually plaguing the streets during the day were hardly evident. By the time I walked the halls of my condo building, all was quiet. My trek home always gave me time to think, and that night Mimi was on my mind.

I walked through the front door and made my way to the kitchen to pour myself a nightcap. I avoided drinking in the club but to wind down, I always had a bottle of VSOP on deck. With a glass poured I stood near the window that overlooked the city and wondered what part of the city Mimi lived in.

The cup was drained before I could dwell on her for too long. My thoughts drifted to the new club, and what approvals I needed before I could open the doors. I scrolled through my emails, and re-read the one Raven sent the day before with the city council notes.

City council was determined to limit the number of ‘urban’ clubs in the city, the hurdles they were sending us through were endless. Raven managed to setup a meeting with the mayor for the following week, and I was determined to prove the new club would benefit the city and its residents.

Before setting my phone down I saw a notification from Instagram—pictures posted to The Dupree’s Instagram account. I scrolled through the different posts of liquor bottles, the DJ, and then that’s when I saw her, Mimi. Her and her girls were posing on the dance floor.

I took a screenshot of the picture to show Lisa then I set my phone on the nightstand and headed for the shower.


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