Sample of Loving Jasmine

Copyright © 2016 Taretha Jones

All rights reserved. No part of the work may be reproduced without the expression written permission of the author.

This book is a work of fiction. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. All characters, events, and incidents in this book are a product of the author's imagination.




Twenty-six year old, Jasmine Washington, bolted straight up from a troubled sleep. She was lying in her solitary full-size bed. She shook her head as she felt the dampness of a light sweat on her brow.

Obviously, I’ve been having the dream again, she thought to herself.

But it wasn’t really a dream. It was a nightmare. Swiped right out of the pages of her childhood.

She took a sip from the bottle of water on her bedside table. She would’ve preferred an actual nightstand, but she hadn’t had the extra money to afford one of those. She’d had to settle for a cheap, spindly little table from her local Walmart instead.

Her bad dream that night was from when she’d been a six-year old. It was a memory from the full year that her mother, her brother, and herself had lived homeless.

She shook her head as remnants of the troubling recollection refused to leave her mind. In her dream, Jasmine had been able to literally feel the cold air wrap its clammy fingers around her tiny body as she snuggled with her four-year old brother for warmth. She had been young, but she’d known instinctively that the both of them would’ve frozen to death. She’d realized they would’ve become little brown popsicles. That is if we hadn’t shared our body heat while shivering in that abandoned buildingthe one that my mother said we’d had to live in.

Frowning, Jasmine could see the moldy, cardboard-covered windows and smell the decay as if she’d lived there only yesterday.

She had no idea where her mother had been on that specific snowy, freezing afternoon — the one that she kept dreaming about as an adult. But she suspected her mom had probably been out looking for a job. Or working her part-time one busing tables, she thought to herself.

That year of being destitute — and several more in her childhood only slightly better — had made Jasmine into the hard worker she’d become in her modern-day life. It had also been the stimulus for her working her butt off in high school in order to receive a full-ride scholarship to college.

She knew — deep down inside — that she’d be willing to do almost anything to never again be faced with a situation like the one in her dream. She shook her head. Not ever again.

She grimaced as she laid her head back down on her pillow. Her frown deepened as she asked God to take the bad dreams away. Since she’d only recently turned her life over to Christ, she wasn’t a hundred percent certain that the Lord would answer her prayer. All she could do was hope that He would.

* * *

Hours later, after the sun had finally begun to paint the sky with streaks of bright color, Jasmine took a seat in a swivel chair in her bedroom. She frowned at the pile of job rejection letters that was littering her makeshift home office desk. She shook her head and pursed her lips. “I’ll never find employment as a writer at this rate. Never.”

Yes, she had aspirations and dreams of becoming a professional writer. And yes, she had at least three more job applications to fill out. However, a quick glance at the clock on her bedroom wall revealed that if she didn’t get her butt up out of her chair, she’d be late for her real-world job. The one that gives me cold hard cash so I can pay my rent on this place and put food on my table, she thought to herself.

Thirty-five minutes later, as she settled herself into her little cubicle at Yellowfin Medical and Life, a grimace worked its way across her beautiful features. Being a customer service rep for an insurance company wasn’t what she’d envisioned using her communications degree for. The entire four years she’d attended NC A&T State University, she’d had hopes of graduating and landing her dream job. And what specifically was her dream job? Being a staff writer for a major fashion mag is the answer.

Any one of them will do, she told herself as she sat there at her nine to five. Essence, Vogue, Mademoiselle, Ebony...any of them.

As the incoming call indicator on her computer screen began flashing, she sighed. Reality had just settled in. It was time to get started full steam with her dreary, monotonous workday at her slightly above minimum wage paying job.

* * *

Four Hours Later:

Jasmine took a bite out of her sandwich and smiled across the bistro-style table at her best friend, Serenity. “This is good, boo. Thanks for treating me to lunch. You’re the best you know.”

Serenity shook her head and reached her hands out towards her bestie. She returned Jasmine’s grin with one of her own. “Girl, you’re welcome. But put that sandwich down. We haven’t even blessed the food yet.”

Jasmine felt the heat of an embarrassed blush make it’s way across her pretty face. The act of blessing her food was only one of the things she was working on as a baby in Christ — as a sinner who’d just only recently started thinking about turning her life around.

After Serenity had completed her quick prayer, she flashed her bestie another smile — this one teasing. “Okay, Ms. Thang. You can continue on with complimenting me on my food prep skills now.”

Jasmine couldn’t help but grin, too. “Your food is always delicious, Serenity, and you’re blessed to have a job here at Heavenly Blue as an executive chef.” She took a quick sip of her iced tea then tagged on, “I’m proud of you, boo.”

Basking in the compliment — which she really appreciated —  Serenity nodded her head. “Thank you, Jasmine. I tell everybody that it was God who got me this great job. It wasn’t anything special that I did — besides getting a culinary arts degree of course.” She pointed at her friend. “Keep on keeping your hand in the Lord’s hand and your day is coming, too, sweetie. Probably even sooner than you think.”

Jasmine hated to tell Serenity the truth. That truth being that she doubted her getting a job as a writer was coming anytime soon. She simply pasted a smile on her pretty face, one that she hoped didn’t appear too fake.

They both looked up in surprise when a deep masculine voice said, “Good afternoon, ladies. Are these two seats at your table taken?”

The shorter of the two men — who was still tall since he was at least six-one — grinned at Serenity. “I’ve met you before, but we haven’t been formally introduced. I’m your boss’ younger brother. The name’s Paul Bullock.”

As Paul and Serenity struck up a conversation, the taller of the two men flashed Jasmine a smile — one that she thought bordered on arrogance. “Do you know who I am, shorty?”

Jasmine could tell that she didn’t particularly like whoever he was too much. She shook her head and without returning his grin replied, “No. I don’t. Should I?”

The man placed both of his hands in the air and made a motion like he was shooting an imaginary basketball. “I’m JerVonte know the NBA player. I’m the starting forward for the Oakland Cats.”

Jasmine honestly had no idea who he was. Because of his arrogant attitude, she definitely wasn’t impressed with his NBA credentials.

Apparently not noticing that he wasn’t dealing with one of his fans, JerVonte pulled out the chair that was right beside Jasmine and settled his nearly six-foot-eight frame into it. He grinned again and began ogling her from head to toe. “I think you’re kind of cute, shorty. I don’t believe in beating around the bush. You wanna hook up?”

This fool don’t even know my name, yet he’s assuming that I want to let his behind bed me down. Boy please.

Without even looking at him, she said, “Um, I don’t think so.”

At that point, Paul — who’d been talking with Serenity — turned his attention back to Jasmine and JerVonte. He chuckled. “Dang man. Guess your playa game’s not as tight as you thought it was after all huh?”

JerVonte didn’t particularly like being turned down when it came to anything that he wanted. And especially when it came to women. He cranked the smile on his lips up one level. “Shorty didn’t turn me down, man. She just needs to get to know me a little better. Girls from the South are like that you know. They’re not fast like those chicks you be messing with from up North or from the West Coast.”

Grinning, Paul shook his head. His eyes met Jasmine’s. “The least you can do is get this beautiful lady’s name, bruh.”

Jasmine had an instant dislike for Paul Bullock as well. He wasn’t as bad as JerVonte, but in her eyes they were almost on the same level. They’re both playas and booty catchers, she thought to herself with a good measure of irritation and disgust.

Serenity flashed her best friend a smile. “I’m sorry to cut our lunch short, Jasmine. But I have to get back into the kitchen. I only have a thirty minute break today. Me and the crew have to get ready for the dinner rush.”

Paul stood up as well. “I think I’m gonna follow you to the back, Serenity. I need to talk to my brother.”

Since Paul’s brother owned the restaurant, Serenity of course didn’t have a problem with that.

Once they were at the table alone, JerVonte said, “So, at least I know your name now — I just heard your friend call you Jasmine.” He paused for a moment then continued speaking. “Well, Jasmine. What does a pretty woman like you do for a living?”

She debated on whether or not she should just leave. Then, deciding that she refused to allow the man beside her to stop her from finishing her lunch, she shrugged her shoulders and said, “I’m an aspiring staff writer.”

Oh. So you write for magazines or something?”

Trying to.”

JerVonte smiled to himself as a thought began to develop into a plan in his head. “You don’t like me much do you, Jasmine?”

At that moment, she looked up and stared him straight into the eye. “No. Not particularly.”

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a card. It had his face on it big as day and his phone number printed in bold letters. “I’m friends with the owner of Savoy Noire know the international fashion publication. I can get you hooked up with a sweet position over there...that is if you agree to take care of some of my needs while I’m in town this week.”

His eyes roving over her body left no imagination in Jasmine’s mind as to what needs the man was talking about.

JerVonte pushed the card towards her on the table and stood up. He gave her an eye wink. “My number’s on the card. I live in L.A., not here in Carolina. But like I said, I’ll be here all week. Give me a call if you’re looking for a career advancement.”

Four days later, Jasmine stood in the tiny shower in her cramped, cheaply-furnished, one-bedroom apartment. She had tears running down her face. Almost everything within her had wanted to turn JerVonte Shawlington’s proposition down. In the end, her desire to not end up poor like she’d grown up had won out.

She scrubbed vigorously at her body, trying to wash away the filth from her skin that she also felt in her soul.

Standing there, crying in that bathroom, she’d considered for a moment that she should go ahead and repent of her sin. But she felt so bad about her actions that, she was ashamed to turn her face back to God.

* * *

Three Days Later:

Frowning, Jasmine pulled open her apartment door. Then she moved to the side, allowing her best friend to come in.

Seeing the look on her bestie’s face, Serenity instantly asked, “What’s wrong, Jasmine.”

Still feeling terrible about literally selling her soul to the devil, Jasmine decided to try to look and act as normal as possible. She shook her head. “Oh nothing’s wrong really. I got a job interview in New York in ten days. Savoy Noire Magazine just sent me a notice yesterday. Problem is, I don’t have the three hundred dollars for my flight and hotel room.”

Oh my God, Jasmine! That’s wonderful. From what I hear, getting an interview for a big corporation for a job like the one you’re seeking, means that you probably got the job!” Serenity began chuckling in delight. “Now I understand. Not having the money to travel is why your face is so long.” She shook her head. “Girl, don’t worry about the money. You know Jason Bullock is paying me twice as much as he should at my job. Boo, I’m giving your tail that three hundred bucks. Now grab your purse. My mama’s got my son. We’re going out to a good Christian way of course.”

* * *


Two Weeks Later:

Jasmine threw her overnight bag into the back of the car that her best friend, Serenity, had borrowed from her boyfriend. Then she settled herself into the bucket-style passenger seat of the sporty convertible. She couldn’t help but flash her bestie a warm smile. She was happy to see Serenity.

Serenity revved the car’s powerful engine and pulled away from PTI airport’s loading curb.

Okay, okay, Jasmine, you’re back from your interview in New York. I can’t wait another second to find out.” Serenity took her eyes off the road for a second and glanced excitedly over at her girlfriend. “Did you get the job?”

Jasmine nodded her head, but didn’t smile. “Yeah, I got the job.”

Serenity squealed  in delight and began praising God. It took several seconds for her to realize that Jasmine wasn’t sharing in on her jubilation. Serenity pulled her eyebrows together in confusion. “I don’t understand, Jasmine. I thought you’d be more excited than you are. You’ve been wanting a position like this all your life.”

Serenity was totally unprepared for her girl breaking down and starting to cry. She immediately took an exit off of the interstate and pulled her vehicle into a Target parking lot. She cut her engine and turned to face Jasmine. “What’s wrong, sweetie?”

Still sobbing sorrowfully, Jasmine shook her head. “It’s all wrong, Serenity. I got this job all wrong.”

Serenity reached her hand over and covered Jasmine’s. “What do you mean by you got your job all wrong? You’re well qualified to be a writer for Savoy Noire, Jasmine.” She smiled. “They wouldn’t have hired you if you weren’t.”

Jasmine shook her head even harder. “I slept with him, girl. JerVonte Shawlington...that’s how I got the job. I sexed him,” she sniffled. “He knows the magazine owner. He put in a good word for me. But that good word came with a catch — I had to perform sexual favors with him.” Almost in full breakdown mode, she shook her head more. “Worse thing about it, I haven’t been able to pray since.”

Understanding finally dawned on Serenity. She scooted over, leaned in and gave her bestie a supportive hug. “I’m sorry, Jasmine. I feel for you, boo.”

Serenity patted Jasmine’s back and let her cry on her shoulder for close to a full minute. Then she pulled back and began wiping at the tears on her friend’s cheeks. “You know God will still forgive you if you repent, Jasmine. If you really are sorry in your soul for what you did and commit to not doing anything like you’ve done every again, HE will forgive you.”

Jasmine sniffled again. “Will he, Serenity? I feel so guilty.”

Serenity nodded her head. “Yep. Isaiah 55 and 7 says so. It says: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord that he may have compassion on him.” Then she smiled. “That’s proof right there. God will forgive you, sweetie. He will.”

For the first time since committing her sin, Jasmine felt her heart fill with hope. Then she frowned. “I just got finished signing a year-long contract with Savoy Noire. They have the right to sue me if I try to back out of taking this job.” She sighed. “I need some advice, Serenity. What would you do if you were in my situation?”

That was a hard one for Serenity to make a call on. Part of her wanted to say, Don’t take it. The job was gotten in an evil way. The other part of her knew that the threat of being sued was very real. Then, when she glanced over at Jasmine, 1 John 5:7 popped into her mind. She smiled. “You know the Bible also says, But whoso keepeth his word, in him the love of God is perfected. In other words boo, you gave Savoy Noire your word. I think you should honor your word and take the job.”





Jasmine could barely believe how fast a year had flown by. She’d learned a lot in her position as a writer for Savoy Noire Fashion Magazine. And as for her spiritual life, she’d grown by leaps and bounds in that area, too.

She couldn’t help but smile to herself as she boarded the airplane that would fly her from LaGuardia Airport back to her home state of North Carolina. She’d promised the Lord that once her one-year stint at Savoy Noire Fashion was over with, she’d quit her prestigious job — the one that she’d come into in an ill-gotten way. She’d promised God that she would quit and go back home. Of course her bosses at Savoy had tried to get her to stay, because she’d been really good at writing. However, there was no way she was going to go back on the word that she’d given her Lord and Saviour after he’d forgiven her of her sin. She refused to go back on her promise to quit.

She settled into her business-class seat and closed her eyes in gratitude. Lord, you even hooked me up with a new job. And I didn’t even put my employment history at Savoy Noire on my resume.

Another smile made its way across her lips as the airplane taxied up the runway towards takeoff. She did indeed feel blessed.

* * *

Settling back into her life in Greensboro came naturally for Jasmine.

She grinned over at her best friend as they made their way out of church. “I’m glad that you and Jason got married, Serenity. The two of you really do make a beautiful couple.”

What about us, Auntie Jasmine?”

Jasmine grinned down at her two adorable six-year old godsons. One was Serenity’s biological child. The other was the biological offspring of Serenity’s new husband, Jason. To both of the kids, she was their honorary Auntie. “Okay, okay, you two. How about I say all four of you — your mother, your father, and the two of you make a nice couple? What about that, huh?”

Both of the boys giggled. Serenity’s biological son, Brayden, was the first to respond. “It takes two people to make a couple, Auntie Jasmine, not four.”

Jason’s biological son, Tyson, nodded his head in agreement with his brother. “That’s right. Four is a quadruplet.”

Looking down at her two honorary nephews, Jasmine couldn’t help but be impressed. “Wow, the two of you are really smart.” Then she began tickling them both. “Did you know that?”

Both of the boys giggled and grinned. Then they thanked their Auntie Jasmine for the compliment.

Serenity shook her head at her two kids and told them to scoot on out to the car behind their father. Then she turned to Jasmine. “You know you’re invited to come to Sunday dinner at my house today...right?”

Jasmine sighed, then looked her bestie in the eye. “Will that brother-in-law of yours be there?”

Serenity had three brother-in-laws, but she knew exactly which one Jasmine was talking about. She shook her head. “Jasmine, I just don’t understand what you have against Paul. He’s a nice guy. Especially since he’s turned his life over to Christ.”

Jasmine didn’t particularly feel like going into the details about why she didn’t care too much for Paul Bullock, especially out there in front of the house of the Lord. It had a lot to do with him being friends with JerVonte Shawlington — the man who’d prepositioned her for sex in exchange for a job referral. She pursed her lips together in a frown. In my estimation, birds of the feather flock together.

Jasmine shook her head. “He just rubs me the wrong way, saved or not. That’s all.”

Serenity reached over to give her best friend a hug. “Well, I guess I’ll talk to you later then ‘cause Paul will be at Sunday dinner at my house today. My darling husband has already invited him.”

Just as the women broke their embrace, a voice behind them said, “Did I just hear somebody mention my name?”

Jasmine didn’t have anything to say to Paul. She simply perched her sunglasses on the bridge of her nose and smiled at Serenity. “I’ll see you later, boo.” Then she gave Paul a cursory glance without saying anything at all.

As Paul watched his sister-in-law’s best friend walk away to her car, he couldn’t help but think to himself, Why haven’t I noticed before now that Jasmine is so fine?

Serenity looked at her brother-in-law with a quizzical expression on her pretty face. “What’s wrong, Paul?”

Grinning, he shook his head. “Oh, nothing. Nothing at all.”

Serenity matched his smile with one of her own. “I didn’t just catch you checking out my bestie now did I?”

She began giggling since she’d intended her question to be a joke of sorts. Anybody who was around both Paul and Jasmine for a hot second understood that there was some type of dislike between the two of them. Serenity shook her head then thought to herself, Mostly on Jasmine’s part.

Then, when Paul didn’t respond to her little attempt at humor, she squinted her almond-shaped eyes together and studied him a little more closely. “Whoa, Paul. You were checking Jasmine out weren’t you?”

His newly found commitment to the Lord made it impossible for him to lie to his sister-in-law. He shrugged his broad shoulders. “Hey, I’m a guy and your best friend is cute.”

As she watched Paul saunter away towards his vehicle, she couldn’t help but wonder if the tension between her best friend and brother-in-law was really some type of attraction. She smiled to herself. I’ve seen stranger things happen.

* * *

Later on that night, as Jasmine got ready for bed, she couldn’t help but think back over her day. More particularly the interaction she’d had with her best friend and her little family outside of their church.

Lord,” she said to the empty room. “I think I’m lonely. I want a family, Jesus. I want a husband who loves me beyond distraction and I want a few beautiful kids of my own.”

Even though she knew that the Good Book said, Ask and it shall be given unto you, for some odd reason, she had a hard time believing that God would answer that particular prayer request for herself.

* * *

The Following Morning:

Here you go, Jasmine. This is your latest assignment, doll.”

Jasmine looked down at the paper her boss had just handed her. Then she frowned and looked back up at the man. “Can’t somebody else handle this one, Angelo?”

Angelo Sanchez shook his. “Nope. Sorry, Jasmine. Calvin is handling that tennis championship story. Michael and Don are flying out of town on assignment. Kelly is covering the Para-Olympics competition...that leaves you.” Then he chuckled. “What do you have against interviewing Paul Bullock? Most ladies I know would be chomping at the bit to get a chance to be in that guy’s face.”

Not this lady, Jasmine thought to herself. In her eyes, Paul Bullock was the last person whose face she wanted to be in. Since Paul was her best friend’s brother-in-law, she’d unfortunately gotten to be around the ex-NBA player quite a few times. On all of those occasions, he’d come off as being a womanizing jerk to her. Not to mention that he’s all buddy-buddy with JerVonte Shawlington, she thought to herself. That makes him even worse.

Her frown deepened. “What about, Callie? She should be done with the Nascar finals by tomorrow. Can’t she do the interview? I’m sure she wouldn’t mind — as you say — being all up in Paul Bullock’s face.”

Angelo shook his head again. “Nope. Callie’s going on vacation starting tomorrow. This story has to be yours, Jasmine. You’re all I got.”

* * *

You’re getting on up there, little bro. How old you gonna be next week, huh? Thirty-two?” Jason chuckled in his younger brother’s face then continued speaking. “You’re almost out of the young adult range. I think it’s about time you stopped running the field. Time for you to find you a good woman and settle down.”

Paul placed his basketball into his gym bag. He’d just finished a friendly game of one-on-one with his brother. He shook his head. “Dang, Jason. Now that you and Serenity got married, you think everybody needs to be married off. I think I’m happy the way things are in my life right now. I’m not looking for no girl.” He zipped up his gym bag. “It’s just me and God.”

Being that his little brother was a new convert over to Christ, Jason understood him wanting to focus on just himself and his relationship with the Creator. But he also knew that the Lord had put in man a natural desire to find a mate. In Jason’s opinion, his brother was well past that time.

Jason cracked a smile. “Bro, I remember you having a different girl every week not too long ago. It’s kind of hard for me to believe that you’ve sworn off of women altogether. Hard for me to think that you don’t get lonely from time to time.” He slung his Nike gym bag over his shoulder and the two of them began walking towards the exit doors. Then Jason said, “You know there’s plenty of pretty, single and saved women at Abundant Faith...all looking for a good man. I could get you a hook up with any of ‘em.”

Paul didn’t need his brother’s help getting a hook-up with any of the single women at their church, Abundant Faith Tabernacle. Why? Because the majority of them had already expressed their interest in him trying out a relationship with them. Out of eighty-three invitations out to dinner or out on a date, he hadn’t accepted any of the Abundant Faith female parishioners’ invites.

It wasn’t that the women at his church weren’t attractive — a good number of them were — it’s just that none of them had appealed to him on a spiritual level. Plus, he was sure that when the right woman walked into his life, he’d know it. He was certain that God would give him some type of sign when he met his Mrs. Right — a signal that would confirm she was the one for him. He shared with his brother as much.

As they reached their cars, Jason flashed his younger brother a grin. “You know Serenity has a long list of girlfriends who are single. Maybe I can hook you up with one of them.”

Paul shook his head. Then he climbed into his Range Rover. “Naw, bro. I’m good.”

* * *

The Following Afternoon:

Jasmine slowly pulled her Lexus into the circular driveway, right behind the shiny, black Range Rover. Then she cut her engine.

As she sat there thinking about the job at hand, she pursed her lips together in displeasure. “Why do I have to be the one to go deal with Mr. High and Mighty, Lord? Mr. Womanizer? That man just rubs me all the wrong ways.”

After sitting there five whole minutes fuming over her situation, she finally stepped out of her vehicle and faced the job at hand.

In the sole interest of getting her work assignment accomplished, as soon as Paul pulled open his front door, Jasmine forced herself to paste a halfway friendly smile on her face. She was surprised as all get out when Paul said, “Which one of my family members sent you over here, Jasmine? You know, to try to get us hooked up? Was it Jason or was it Serenity?”

She stared at Paul. She couldn’t stop the look of disbelief and irritation that made its way across her features. “I knew you were cocky. But you really do think you’re God’s gift to women don’t you Paul Bullock? Nobody in your family sent me over here. You agreed to be the feature story this month for Sports Second — you know the magazine.” She held up a case that contained recording equipment. “I’m here to interview you.”

You write for a national sports magazine? You?

She challenged him with a stare of her eyes. “Yes, I do. Why the question? Me having a job at Sports Second is unbelievable to you?”

He surprised Jasmine by breaking into a belly rolling chuckle.

She furrowed her eyebrows together in a frown and set her lips into a thin line of irritation. “Okay, Paul. I kind of suspect that you’d needed this interview to help drum up some interest in that sports club that you just opened. But since you think that the possibility of me being a professional is so funny — I think I’ll head on back to the office and we’ll just let your little article in Sports Second write itself.”

With that said, she spun around on her four-inch heel and made a quick retreat back to her Lexus.

Paul was able to catch up to her as she was slamming her car door behind herself. “Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, Jasmine. Look, I’m sorry. I was out of line. You just threw me off for a minute there. Everything about you is so girly and feminine, I never would have figured you for being a sports writer. I’m sure you do a good job at what you do.”

In all honesty, Jasmine could see the angle he was coming from. She hadn’t been into sports until she’d started working for Sports Second a month earlier. Savoy Noire — the magazine she’d worked for in New York — had been a women’s high fashion publication.

Despite understanding how he’d come to his conclusion, Jasmine didn’t feel like offering him an olive branch of peace or anything. She couldn’t really see herself being on good terms with anyone who considered themselves to be a friend of JerVonte Shawlington.

Paul flashed Jasmine a disarming smile. “I really am sorry, Jasmine. Like I said, I was out of line. Tell you what, I know how much everybody at church loves my mama’s special chili. I made some of it this morning. It’s in the house.” He gave her his most charming smile. “How ’bout we do that interview and I treat you to lunch?”

Seeing that she’d had a very busy schedule that day, she’d already missed breakfast and wasn’t sure about what she was going to do for lunch. Ironically, her stomach chose that very moment to begin grumbling.

Paul chuckled. “I heard that. It’s a sign from the Almighty that you should forgive me and say yes.”

In all honesty, Jasmine loved Patricia Bullock’s chili. She’d had it many times at Serenity’s house...seeing that Patricia Bullock was Serenity’s mother-in-law and all.

Paul could tell that he was slowly chipping away at her resolve. “I even have that special jalapeno cornbread that she makes to go along with it. We got ourselves a deal?”

She had to force back a scowl as her stomach grumbled very noisily again and as her mouth began to water for a taste of Patricia Bullock’s chili. Well, she thought to herself, Angelo won’t be too happy if I come back to the office empty-handed. I know he won’t fire me...I’m good at what I do. But it’s gonna make it hard for him to make his printing deadline.

She didn’t like what she was about to do, but she gave her best friend’s brother-in-law a reluctant smile. “Okay, got yourself a deal. But only because I like your mama’s chili and because my boss seems to want your article in his magazine for some Godforsaken reason. Let’s see if we can play nice together and get this interview off on the right foot this time.”

* * *

Three hours later, with the interview all wrapped up, Jasmine was surprised that she was actually having a good time sitting across from Paul Bullock at his kitchen island eating her second serving of his mother’s hearty brew.

She pointed down at her bowl using her spoon. “You know, Paul, your brother should really add this stuff to his menu at his restaurant. It’s to die for. I’d literally kill for a bowl of this right here. Especially on a cold winter day.” Then she chuckled. “I take that back, I don’t think the Lord would appreciate me killing someone for it. But you know what I mean.”

Paul grinned. “Yeah, Jason’s thought of that already. He figured it would stop being so quote-unquote special if he exposed Mom’s chili to the whole wide world. So, we’re gonna keep the recipe under wraps in the family for a little longer.”

Still smiling, Jasmine shook her head. “Oh, that’s a shame. It’d be nice if I had access to a bowl of this whenever I wanted it.”

Without hesitation, Paul pointed to a service-industry sized, stainless steel pot on the back burner of his stove. He chuckled. “I always make ten times more than I should. You’re welcome to take a couple Tupperwares full home with you. It won’t last you a lifetime in your freezer, but you’ll have enough on hand for weeks.”

He stood up from his kitchen stool and made his way over to a cabinet. He’d already begun pulling out a couple of large storage containers and filling them when she said, “Are you sure?”

He nodded his head. “Definitely.” Then he placed the chili on the island in front of her. His eyes met hers. “Can I ask you a question, Jasmine?”

She shrugged her shoulders. “Sure. But be forewarned...according to the question, you may not get an answer.”

Okay. Fair enough. Here’s my question...why do you dislike me so much?”

She’d been unprepared for that one. She stilled herself with her spoon halfway between her bowl and her mouth.

He continued speaking. “You don’t have to try to spare my feelings or anything—,” he chuckled, “—not that I think that you would...I just want to know why.”

Not being the type to draw punches, she placed her spoon back into her bowl. Her eyes met his. “Because you’re friends with JerVonte Shawlington. He’s a special type of butthole. I can’t see myself being friendly with anyone who’s a friend of his. You know the old saying: Birds of the feather flock together.”

Paul had never really liked JerVonte much. There was an arrogant, unsavory streak in the brotha that had been too much for Paul to ignore. Even in the worse of my womanizing unsaved days, he thought to himself.

Paul shook his head. “I don’t necessarily consider JerVonte to be my friend, Jasmine. He’s my teammate. Or I should say ex-teammate, now that I’m not balling anymore. Since we traveled together to different cities around the country for games and such, circumstances often forced JerVonte and I to be in close proximity to one another.” He shrugged his shoulders. “That was the case with all the men who played for the Cats.”

Jasmine found what he was telling her a little hard to believe. “So, you two weren’t — I mean aren’t best buds?”

Paul shook his head again. “Nope.” Then he grinned. “Does that little piece of truth change your perception of me?”

She wasn’t ready to admit that she may have been wrong about Paul just yet. She shrugged her shoulders. “Maybe.”

Fifteen minutes later, as Jasmine drove away from Paul’s spacious home with two Tupperware containers of chili in her back seat, she couldn’t help but think to herself, Maybe I was wrong. Maybe Paul Bullock isn’t that bad of a person after all.