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“Looks like you’re in trouble.”

“Damn, I miss this,” Shawn said taking a deep pull on the spliff.

Brendan laughed and snatched it out of his hand. “Gimme that. Over there bogartin’.”

“Remember when we used to get high before breakfast meetings? Six a.m. on the roof of the Crowne Plaza in Midtown, burnin’ one.” Shawn shook his head in nostalgic remembrance.

They were out back, and he was leaning against the wall opposite where Brendan had propped a box in the exit that led from their office and out into a small courtyard.

“You used to get high before breakfast meetings,” Brendan said. “I always had to be straight. You’d be over there, eyes all red, half-shut, eatin’ every-damn-thing in sight while I’m tryin’ to conduct business with some old white dude in his five-thousand-dollar Brioni suit.”

“They loved that shit though. I was just livin’ up to what they saw on TV. A real live ‘street nigga’ up close. I was playin’ a role they wanted me to play.”

Brendan laughed. “But times are changin’ though, man. So we got to change the game, too.”

“I know. Some of what I used to put out there … We gotta take these young ‘uns to a higher plane. Show them some higher thinkin’.”

“You started writin’ yet?”

“Never stopped. I have like ten CDs worth, jus’ sittin’ there waiting to be heard. I need some good beats though.”

Brendan nodded and took a long drag, passing the spliff back to Shawn. “Cool.”

They smoked in companionable silence for a few minutes, both of them lost in their own thoughts. It was no lie that things were different for them now. They were married men, fathers, business-owners. They weren’t chasing dollars, and Shawn was no longer chasing fame. Or women.

In so many ways, and by most measures they had arrived. But neither of them was conditioned to slow down and smell the roses. Shawn was itching to get back in the mix with his music, and despite his wife’s complaints, Brendan still didn’t feel comfortable easing his foot off the gas pedal either. It still felt like there was too much ground to cover.

“Remember when we first started working together?” he asked Shawn now. “And we had that trip to L.A.?”

“Man, I can’t remember shit like that. We had a thousand trips to L.A.”

“It was like two months in, and I had to take you to a show. and Chris thought you might get distracted. Like you might not show up, or something.”

Shawn shrugged.

“It was the first big trip we did as manager and client,” Brendan said. “I had to get on a plane with you, and at the same time, back in the city I was being evicted from my apartment. Just before we got on the plane, I was on the phone with my cousin, tellin’ him to go over there and make sure he grabbed my TV, my stereo and my clothes and sneakers and shit before they put everything out on the curb.”

Shawn looked at Brendan with interest now and laughed. “I don’t think I knew about all that.”

“Maybe not,” Brendan said. “We weren’t tight like that yet for me to sharin’ all my messy shit. Maybe I never told you. But I was getting evicted. And I had to go on this trip with you, knowing that when I came back I would be more or less homeless.”

“And were you?”

“Yeah. Crashed with Cameron for a few weeks until that first big K Smooth check came in and I got a shitty-ass crib downtown.”

“So, I saved your ass basically?”

“Basically.”

“You’re welcome.”

They both laughed.

“But I wasn’t no better off than you,” Shawn admitted. “Those first few years, dudes was robbin’ me blind ‘til Chris set me up with a wealth manager, and got me straight. Before he yanked on my coattail, I ain’ even know what to do with all those zeros. Millions. That was some crazy shit. Realizing that I had like seven-hundred grand just sittin’ in a checking account.”

Just as he was about to respond, Brendan heard the door to the office open behind him and quickly, lowered the hand with the weed down to his side.

“I was wondering where you two went.”

It was Tracy. She stood still for a moment, taking in the scene, and then her hazel-eyed gaze fell to the still smoldering marijuana cigar in Brendan’s hand. Her eyes hardened, and her lips pursed into a thin line.

Even in a moment like this, it was tough not to think about how damned beautiful she was. Sometimes Brendan looked at her and for a nanosecond felt the same awe that struck him when they first met. She was regal when she was angry. And right now, she was definitely angry.

“I’ll see you both back out there,” she said, turning on her heel.

When she was gone, Shawn grimaced, took the cigar from Brendan and dropped it on the flagstone beneath his feet, crushing it.

“Shit. Looks like you’re in trouble.”

The ‘Commitment’ series finale.

On Sale October 21

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ABOUT NIA FORRESTER

Nia Forrester lives and writes in Philadelphia, PA where, by day, she is an attorney working on public policy and by night, she crafts woman-centered fiction that examines the complexities of life, love and the human condition.

She welcomes feedback and email from her readers at authorniaforrester@gmail.com or tweets @NiaForrester.

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