Masked Intent Excerpt: A girl’s gotta have her friends

If you’re just joining us, welcome!

Here’s a snippet from Masked Intent to introduce you to Alexa Winston and her two besties. Normally, Alexa is pretty closed off about her business, but when you’re all in your feelings over a new romance, it’s tough to mask it from your girls.

Have a peek at Alexa, Lindy, and Phaedra, and let me know what you think. The novel is available on Amazon here:


I must have lost my whole mind.

I’m having trouble concentrating on my girl’s night in as I sit on my patio several hours later sipping what is perhaps my leventieth glass of wine with Belinda Hopkins and Phaedra Sheppard. Belinda, or Lindy, has been my bestie almost since the day we arrived at the University of Virginia, where we shared four years of laughs and tears that lay the foundation for our unyielding friendship. Phaedra and I have a more complex relationship. I often rely on her spectacular event management prowess when I have clients who rely on high-end wining and dining to close deals, make launch announcements, or hold other swanky gatherings because Phae is the queen of making things look and feel big, pretty, and impressive. Outside of work, however, she’s more frenemy than friend. While she’s brash and bold in her assessment of everything, I tend to look for the common-ground factors, which is why we barely tolerate each other much of the time. But with Lindy as our common bond, we do our best to shield her from our well-reigned contempt for the other. Phae means well, but she also brings fresh interpretation to what it means to damn with faint praise, and it’s with that in mind that I arm myself so that I can deal as civilly as I can.

But who am I kidding? Tonight, she could probably insult, curse, and cast elaborate spells on my progeny and me, and I still wouldn’t give her the favor of a reply. Since we left breakfast this morning, Mateo has fully occupied the real estate in my mind. He sent his first week’s emo challenge, as my brain is calling this insane game, about an hour ago.

Ms. Winston, Tear Down That Wall.

Imagine you’ve lost the superpower to deflect all week.

You can’t mask what you feel.

Only direct, honest reactions can escape once the Amazonium fortress is gone.

Amazonium? The hell? It seems the first round of this imbecilic game will involve three exploration sessions, two impromptu explorations during the week, and one on our scheduled training/hangout day. I’m not sure what to expect but brighten a little to the prospect that he’s awaiting my challenge to him.

“Alexa, hello!”

Lindy’s repeated taps to my forearm eventually bring me back to the present, and I have no idea what I’ve missed.

“What do you think? Do you think you can finally get away for that girl’s weekend we’ve been talking about?”

“Sorry, Lin,” I offer with a small shrug. “I zoned out. Got some stuff on my mind. What did I miss?”

“I hope it has something to do with that yummy professor who’s trying to nail you,” Lindy suggests with a broad smile.

“Yummy professor!? What have I missed?” Phaedra demands.

I wave them both off, not wanting to let either of them inside my head right now. Mateo’s whittling away at the last of my defenses. We both know it. Though my self-preservation instincts are screaming at me to cut and run, my heart and body have other ideas.

“It’s nothing, Phae.”

“It’s not nothing, girl, and you know it,” Lindy rebukes. “Now come on. Give it up. That man’s gotten all in your head and has you up in your feelings when you’re supposed to be present and catching up with your girls.”

I telegraph my displeasure mostly to Lindy, who knows all too well that I’d rather be beaten than give Phaedra any deeper insights into anything I care about. I sigh and decide to give up a sliver of the truth.

“So, there’s this guy, and he’s as off-limits for me as he is gorgeous. Today, he showed up at the runner’s club I joined, and I agreed to train with him for an upcoming race. I’m having some second thoughts about that and was just working through some things in my head.” Like how the hell I let him talk me into this stupid game with him. But I’ll just keep that to myself.

“Wait, ho, back up,” Lindy squeals to me. “He joined your running club? Did you two plan that? Did he just show up?”

“He just showed up,” I answer, my voice clipped and strained with the dual frustrations of being forced onto the hot seat and not wanting to offer too much insight when I’ve yet to make sense of this mishmash of feelings on my own. “But really, don’t worry about it. Nothing to see here.”

“Sounds like there’s a full-length feature film in the making if you’re being this cagey about giving up the deets, girl,” Phaedra posits. I give her a half smile because we both know she’s on to something. We also both know I’ll try my best not to cop to it, at least not yet.

“And you did say your Romeo is gorgeous, so what in hell is the problem, Juliet?” Lindy goads.

I narrow my eyes at her, my non-verbal promise to kick her ass once we’re alone.

“I don’t do relationships. You both know this. I may be tempted, but I can’t give in. He’s not easily put off, though, and it’s messing with my head. End of. Now next topic.”

Lindy and Phaedra look at each other, their own unspoken conversation blaring their joint disapproval as loudly as a siren. When Lindy looks to me, I shake my head, my warning to her to stop before she crosses a line from which she may not be able to step back. We’ve known each other too long, been through too much together, for her to goad me into having a conversation I’m not willing or ready to have. Phaedra is guided by a different compass. And when her mouth takes the lead, we usually end up in uncharted waters.

“Alexa, honey,” Phaedra begins, her apparent empathy getting my back up, “you can’t judge every man you meet by the asswipe that you married. It’s not fair to you, and it’s definitely not fair to your hottie. There’s really only one way to handle this, but you won’t know what that is until you do him.”

“She’s right, you know,” Lindy cosigns as she brings her chair closer to mine, her face radiating empathy and compassion. “You’re a beautiful, funny, thoughtful woman. It’s ok to move on and explore something – someone – new. What’s the worst that could happen?”

“I get my heart ripped to shreds, that’s what!”

“Then this is serious,” Phaedra challenges, and I cringe when I spot the gleam in her eyes. “No one said anything about hearts. If you know like I know, you’ll let your hormones lead you. Hearts make things messy. So, keep yours out of it, go get with this man and get you some, and everything should be fine.”

Here’s the thing about advice. It’s tough to put stock in it when the offeror carries a dubious worldview – or at least one that you don’t or can’t subscribe to. Phaedra truly does mean well. She’s also in an open marriage and moves through partners like the phases of the moon. As soon as the sex becomes routine, she’s off climbing the next guy she fancies. So yeah, she can miss me with her advice.

“Alexa,” Lindy interrupts my ruminating, “what are you so afraid of? Dating the man can’t hurt you.”

My friend knows me so well. I sigh, take a sip of the fruity wine that will linger in the form of a dull headache in the morning, and pour out my fears. Well, some of them at least.

“You know me better than anyone, Lindy. I take lessons from the past seriously. But nothing in my past prepares me for Mateo. The connection is there. The desire is there. Has been since we met. But we’re just too different.”

“So far, I haven’t heard a thing that should hold you back. What am I missing?” Phaedra challenges.

I purse my lips, take yet another sip, and open the floodgate to my true fears. “He’s never been married, doesn’t have children, and I’m not his usual type, which seems to be a lot younger and less experienced than I am. So, you do the math. We don’t add up.”

I fear the belly laugh that erupts from Phaedra literally will split her sides, and that puts my shields back up.

“Forget it,” I say, returning my glass to the patio table with more force than necessary. I sit back in my chair and close my eyes as I search for the will not to throw them both out and go lick my wounded, embarrassed pride.

“Phae, pipe down!” Lindy admonishes, her long box braids sliding around her shoulders as she shakes her head vigorously at a still-spasming Phaedra. She returns her eyes to me, the understanding there clear and comforting. “You’re feeling self-conscious, and you have doubts. I think that’s healthy, Alexa. You said he’s 36. You’re 43. That makes both of you grown-ass, consenting adults. You can’t let your fears paralyze you or keep you from being happy. Do you have any reasons to doubt his intentions? I mean, from the little you’ve shared, it seems that despite your best efforts to shut him down, he’s determined to penetrate your sugar walls, babe.”

I side-eye my friend before allowing the smirk on my lips to take full bloom. “I hear you, Lin. It’s just—” I let my words trail off as I decide whether to take this thought from my head and put it out into the universe. “What I feel for him is so much more than I ever felt for Trent the entire time we were married. I’m not saying I’m in love with him. But the way Mateo gets me, get to me, the way I understand him, it’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced. I don’t know what to do with that. I don’t even know if I want to do anything about it.”

Phaedra, now recovered from her hysteria, leans forward, and grabs my hands. “Look at me, girl. That’s the realest thing I’ve heard you say so far. And if that’s how you feel, who cares how old he is and what his past relationships might have looked like. You won’t know what you two might be if you don’t take the chance. I don’t see what you have to lose.”

“Have you both forgotten that I have kids who depend on me as their sole anchor?”

“Yes, you do, and yes, they do. But if you’re not happy, then they’re not either,” Lindy answers, her words stealing the fight clean away from me. “You can tell yourself all day long and twice on Sunday that you’re holding back because of your kids, but you won’t be doing them any favors in the end. Trust me on this.”

Though an unplanned pregnancy and a shiftless, deadbeat, eventually drug-addicted baby daddy threatened to derail her Ph.D. studies and her career before it even began, Lindy, with a big assist from yours truly, saw her 17-year-old son, my god son, Luke, through his childhood. He’s happy, mature, and well-adjusted, not only because of our love for him, but also because Lindy has always made seeking her happiness a priority, even if it meant getting her feelings hurt or her heart broken. She’s modeled what it means to live life on your own terms. And maybe Luke isn’t the only one who needs to heed her example.

I eye them both as my mind scrolls through the events of this morning. Hell, if my friends wanted in my business so badly, maybe I should let them dig around so they can help me sort through my confusion.

“Ok, since you two want to play Iyanla Vanzant, then fix my life, heffas. It’s not a coincidence that he showed up on the trails this morning.”

Phaedra and Lindy look to each other then back to me, their faces prompting me to say more. I sigh and press forward.

“That’s just it,” I agree. “I know that. And I know what I’d like to think about that. But his say and his do don’t always add up for me. We agree more or less that neither of us wants a mindless encounter, yet, he’s all flirt and little substance most of the time. I don’t know him, and that’s a problem for me.”

“And what does he know about you?” Lindy challenges. “I don’t see you exactly putting yourself out there, so have you considered that maybe he feels the same way?”

And that smarted. “I give as good as I get,” I bluster with a small shrug.

“So, you’ll both remain trapped inside your own twisted, sexually tense version of Groundhog Day,” Phaedra quips. “You can’t find out what you two can be together if neither of you will take a risk. But today, he took a step to call you both on your bullshit, find out what you do, where you’ll be and insert himself into that. It makes me think he’s upped the ante. It’s your move, precious.”

“Maybe,” I admit, though I’m still far from being convinced that it’s time to go all in.

“Definitely,” they say in unison.

“And now that that’s settled,” Phaedra says, “you need to do the work, Alexa. And in the meantime, let’s open another bottle.”

Masked Intent is available exclusively on Amazon. Get your copy here: