“So you and Jazzy, huh?”

Toby poked his head over the refrigerator door and grinned. “Yeah, I guess. Who told you?”

Vic cupped his hand around his cigarette out of habit and flicked his lighter on. “Jazzy tell me. I saw her yesterday.” As he took a long drag, he leaned back against the couch with a dry chuckle. “The boys are gonna hatechoo.”

“Man, ain’t my fault they didn’t grab her while they had the chance. I ain’t letting her go.” He finally selected a bottle of Pepsi with a contemplative hum before he hip-checked the door shut. “So, I uh…sorry I didn’t tell you.”

He waved Toby off. “Ain’t nothing but a thing, man. Don’t worry about it. You wanna keep it to yourself. I get that.”

The bottle fizzed as Toby popped the top off and sent it flying across the kitchen. “That ain’t t. I just-”

“Just wanna keep secrets, right?”

“All right, since when the hell do I gotta clear my cuffs with you?” Toby stood in front of Vic and scowled. “You gonna be Ma now?”

Vic glared at him as he tapped his cigarette on the ashtray just a little harder than necessary. “Just forget it, aight? Forget it.”

The air conditioner kicked on violently, and Toby rolled his eyes as he leaned against the wall and turned his back to Vic as much as he could. He stared at the door long and hard before he waved the smoke away from his face. “Put out that fucking cigarette, man, you ain’t that.”

“I’m a man now. Don’t tell me what to d-”

Toby had him jacked up against the wall before Vic could even finish his sentence. “You ain’t a man. You wanna be a fucking man, you drop that shit and prove it.” He snatched the cigarette from his brother’s lips and shoved him to the side. “You wanna kill yourself?” he asked, shaking the cancer stick at him before he drove it into the ashtray. “You go grow a damn spine and buy yourself a fucking gun.”

“Fuck you!” Vic shouted. His fists went flying, but Toby caught them both and twisted the kid around until he couldn’t breathe from the arm against his Adam’s apple.

“You gonna go for a walk,” Toby hissed in Vic’s ear. “You gonna go all the way to the fucking Watts Towers, and you ain’t coming back here ‘til you done cooled off.” Toby guided the sputtering and flailing Vic all the way to the door and shoved him at it. “And if you ain’t, I’ma beat yo ass like the man you wanna be. I ain’t gonna treat you like no kid no more.”

“Fuck. You.” The door slammed shut seconds later. Toby’s muscles ached from tension, and he put the Pepsi bottle down before he could throw it across the room.

Vic had barely walked a mile through the swirling police sirens, the thumping bass, the loud shouting, before someone called his name. He turned his head, saw a headful of curls, and kept right on walking.

“Vic! You in a hurry or something?”

“Maybe. What you want?”

“Wantin’ you to slow down, for starts.” She grabbed his arm and he frowned, but slowed to match her pace. “The hell’s your problem?”

“Ain’t no never mind. You know how to mind your own damn business, Jazzy?”

She chuckled and looped her arm around his, drawing a frown and a quirked brow from him. “Not once in twenty years. I see you got something you wanna get out. You ain’t gonna get a better offer.”

“And what’s that supposed to mean?”

“C’mon, boy, you got a bangin’ shawty on your arm and you turning down the chance to get cozy with her?” She nestled a little closer as they walked, keeping comfortable with his pace as she grinned up at him. “You a fag or just blind?”

“Uh.” Vic carefully unwound her fingers from his bicep, flexed as it was. “You know you my brother’s girl, right?”

Jazzy batted her eyelashes at him coyly. “That mean I turn into a buttaface all the sudden?”

Vic finally gave up on getting her to release his arm and snorted as he rolled his eyes. “You know you ain’t.” His chest puffed up a little with every step they took, noting the way all the guys were staring at him with that weird mix of anger and envy and how they checked out Jazzy from every angle they got. A glance at her face told him she knew too and that she didn’t give a shit. “I give you any more compliments, your head’s gonna swell ‘til you can’t fit through a door.”

“True ‘nuff.” In fact, she didn’t seem insulted by it at all. “How long you walking for?”

“Hell if I know. Long as I gotta.”

“Your legs getting tired?” She looked down at them and he stole a glimpse at her profile. Most damn confusing little minx he ever met in his life.

When she met his eyes, he realized the question wasn’t rhetorical. “Naw. Why you ask?”

“’Cuz there’s only so long I can walk on these…” Jazzy drew him to a stop to stretch out one of her long, shapely legs, covered in black leather with a heel taller than Watts itself. He let his eyes linger on her thigh as she went on. “…an’ you ain’t tell me anything yet. C’mon.” She gently tugged at his arm and led him toward a nearby bench, that ass of hers swinging like a hypnotist’s clock. The way it looked just a couple of days ago without all that denim in the way swirled past his mind’s eye.

He drew in a sharp breath, flitting his eyes up to the back of her head. “Now, who the hell said I’m gonna tell you anything?”

“I did.” Jazzmine perched on the bench and patted the spot next to her. “You don’t pop a squat, I’ma get up and make you my damn self.”

“I’d like to see you try.” But he sat beside her and stretched out his legs with a groan. The sun was setting in the distance, and he eyed it with a strange sense of contemplation. What the hell do you tell the fine C-4 sitting next to you about her boy acting like a piece of shit? Her thigh brushed against his and drew his attention back to her in a flash. “…aight, look, it got to do with your boy. Dunno how keen I am on telling you all about that.”

“Mmm.” As she crossed her legs at the ankle she perched her arms on the back of the bench and smiled at him. “I’m a good listener.”

“You also fucking my brother, so…”

“Ain’t nothing but a thing.” She waved it off like an impatient gnat. “You telling me you don’t sleep with anyone?”

Wait. Vic turned his head and stared at her, frowning. “I mean, yeah, but-”

“And that mean you cuffin’ all of them?”

“Naw. But we, uh, generally both know that. Ain’t one of us thinking it’s some serious commitment shit or anything.”

Jazzmine chuckled, her voice low and husky, and tilted her head toward him. “Toby’s naïve. He got this…plan in his head for us before he even talk to me.” As she met his eyes with those amber gems of hers he felt his heart kickstart in anticipation. “Since when the hell’s that mean I gotta follow it? I’m my own woman. I gonna do what I want, not what he say.”

“And you, uh…planning on telling my boy this anytime soon?”

She shrugged, one lean shoulder lifting and peeking out from her tank top, before she slid her leg higher and crossed them at the knee. “Maybe. You got a problem with that?”

“You playing my brother…and you wanna know if I got a problem with it?”


“Aight, just making sure we on the same wavelength.” Vic pretended not to notice the very soft brush of her shoe against his calf and gulped. “Look, boy’s a bastard sometimes, but I got his back.”

Jazzy grinned, slow and warm, and tilted her head to the side. “And he got yours?”

He remembered Toby pushing him around the apartment, snatching the cigarette from his lips, threatening his ass, and his cheeks flushed. “I mean…”

“You don’t know.” She tossed her head back and laughed. “Man, that’s too much. You think he give a damn about you? In case you missed it, your boy’s got stars in his eyes, wanna be a big rock star. Can’t see anything past ‘em. Not even you.”

“Shut up.”

“It’s the truth. And you know it.” When she reached toward him he wrapped his fingers around her wrist and frowned threateningly. The feel of her smooth skin under his calloused fingers felt just like it did yesterday. He wondered if the rest of her felt that smooth and tightened his hold. But she didn’t look away. She held his eyes, held that smirk, and held his attention. “I ain’t in this for the long haul. Your brother’s aight, but he ain’t my type, not really. Naw, I lean toward lean and sharp, dangerous, angry…” She leaned in close to him, guiding the back of his fingers to brush against her thigh. His hand immediately loosened its hold. “So, you know, you ever in the neighborhood…”

“Get out of here,” he growled, releasing her wrist and taking his hand back. “Get back home.”

She chuckled. “Aight. You wanna keep me company on the walk?”

“Shut up.” He was on his feet and on his way to Watts Towers before she could so much as breathe.