When it comes to All Lives Matter, the issue isn’t just black and white.
Mariana Harlow is given the project of a lifetime – managing the PR and social media accounts of controversial quarterback Caleb Kelly. When Caleb and Mariana become too close to each other, it presents an issue with Mariana’s boss/boyfriend.
Scott Reed doesn’t like to get involved with anything political for his sanity. His mentors want to employ Mariana for a special project of theirs, and Scott doesn’t object. When the project becomes bigger than everyone involved, Scott begins to question if he’s the only sane person he knows.
All is fair in love, sex, and politics.
Stronger than Pride is a crossover Scott and Mariana/State of Affairs standalone book. It deals with trust, race relations, political aspirations, and if love can trump hate.
She walked in like it was nobody’s business.
Her curly brown hair softly bounced against her back while the Gucci heels softly click-clacked across the hardwood floor. Her face, full of determination and fire, was beat with the best makeup.
She wore her standard pencil skirt and a pale blue sleeveless tank, revealing her toned arms from many yoga sessions. She swore a few men stopped to turn towards her direction but she kept it moving. She was on a mission and it finally paid off.
It was that moment, standing in the far corner of the Caffeinated coffee shop, Mariana Harlow finally felt she made it.
Everyone has a moment when they knew they were successful. Whether it was the first paycheck, the first car, the first home, or first time being something with easy affordability.
Mariana knew she made it when she successfully handled the Caffeinated nationwide campaign.
Chains like Starbucks, Peet’s, and Gloria Jean’s didn’t do much advertising. They relied heavily on word-of-mouth and locations for their sales. Dunkin Donuts, who successfully rebranded their stores after their wildly popular coffee, relied on advertising and word-of-mouth.
Mariana took a cue from both sides.
With the help of her boss/boyfriend, the pair spent many long hours were exhausted researching all of the stores and much money was spent. She once tallied her Starbucks trip in a month and it came out to over a hundred dollars. It didn’t count when she went to Peet’s and other stores.
Between long meetings, PowerPoint presentations, Excel worksheets, were endless and copious amounts of sex and orgasms. It didn’t matter if they were at work, at home, or on a private plane, Scott and Mariana got it in whenever they could.
They recently christened a bathroom at one of Caffeinated stores as he fucked her against the bathroom wall.
Mariana softly chuckled as she recalled the fateful day. They were working on a presentation in a private corner nook at Caffeinated when Scott propositioned her. “I bet I can make you come in five minutes.” He challenged her.
“Yeah, okay.” Mariana typed away on her Macbook. “I can’t even make myself come in five minutes.”
Scott noticed someone leaving the bathroom and got a brilliant idea. “Follow me in two minutes.” He got up and went to the bathroom.
Before Mariana could protest, Scott was already gone. Two minutes seemed like an eternity as she watched customers stream into the café and hoped no one paid any attention to them.
The two minutes were up and Mariana quickly followed him inside the bathroom. She was barely inside it when he slammed her against the wall and barely locked the door behind him.
“I know you were working,” he pulled out his hardened shaft, “but I needed to interrupt because you got me so damn hot.” He crushed his lips against hers.
Mariana became instantly aroused and didn’t fight the spontaneous sex break. She barely lifted her pencil skirt around her waist before Scott pulled her panties to the side and slid hard inside her.
Cupping Mariana’s ass, Scott lifted her and had her sank down on his hard and thick shaft, hitting her G-spot just right upon contact. Her sex clutched around his length, flittering with every thrust as Mariana bit down on Scott’s shoulder.
His thrusts were hard, fast, and rough. He was almost violent, but never put Mariana in any harm. He fucked her like a sex-crazed maniac and Mariana greedily took it all and more.
She softly cried out as her sex became greedy for his thrusts; taunting him to fuck her harder as her back slammed against the cold wall. She was a small woman, lithe and delicate, but could take powerful thrusts from Scott anytime.
“I’m coming…” She moaned as the orgasm rocked her body and Scott soon joined her. He loved how she milked him dry, to the very last drop.
They remained in that position for a short while; their foreheads covered in slick sweat and their business clothing rumpled and wrinkled. They returned to their table and resumed working as if nothing had transpired.
That location became Mariana’s new favorite store.
Tighter fitting jeans and an almost empty wallet later, Mariana knew how she wanted to pursue the Caffeinated grand opening. It was going to a wide campaign, hitting all possible social media accounts. Pop-up stores debuting local artists were going to be featured the first weekend, while other community events would showcase while Caffeinated was not just another coffee store.
The first day boasted long lines around the corner and the reviews clamored how great the coffee was. It didn’t help the owners, Ryan and Aaron, were pretty hot themselves.
It was official – Mariana Harlow had arrived in the advertising world. A few years ago, she could barely afford her Del Taco addiction. Now, she was dining at fine restaurants like 3121 where they didn’t have the menu prices available.
It was why her bank account was stacked with commas and decimals. It wasn’t just being a woman in the land of advertising, but a black woman who knew her worth and added tax.
One fire out. Time to break out the hose for the next one.
Mariana scored the account of a lifetime – handling the PR of notorious athlete, Caleb Kelly. He made news by refusing to salute the American flag and it was up to Mariana to make him more personable in his activism.
It wasn’t going to be an easy sell. Caleb was well hated by many in the country and had received numerous death threats. He was also very loved by his community and many other organizations. He’d donated a lot of money and time to such causes as Planned Parenthood, ACLU, and those helping various black communities around the nation.
Now it was time to sweeten his personality with more honey.
Mariana knew he probably wasn’t going to be invited to speak on any mainstream platforms anytime soon. But if she could clean up his image just a little bit, it would’ve made a world of difference.
She did silently question why her boyfriend/boss assigned her such a task. He was what she liked to call a conservative liberal. On most issues, Scott had a firm opinion on issues such as women’s rights, civil rights, and gay marriage. On a few issues, however, it was very clear he was definitely from the South and his attitude reflected it.
In the bedroom, however, it was a completely different story. While it had been a while since they had any BDSM play, Scott was very much the Dominant Mariana loved and honored. Just thinking about how he would spank her for an hour, leaving her ass pink and hot to the touch, made Mariana tightly close her legs.
BDSM fantasies had to wait until later. Mariana’s priority was one Caleb Kelly and she needed to know everything about the controversial athlete before she met him. What made him tick? What was his favorite color? Did he prefer coffee or tea? Who was his favorite actress?
Caleb may not have cared too much about his reputation but Mariana surely did. Making the public love him again was going to take more than a few Hail Marys and prayers to the baby Jesus. If she could turn the tide, it meant bigger opportunities for her at McCormick.
If she failed, she hoped her heart wouldn’t break too hard. She had a feeling Scott might be silently happy about it. He may have kept quiet about his true feelings towards Caleb, but something innate told Mariana Scott was firmly in the ‘Don’t Ruin My Football With Your Bullshit’ camp.
Her eyes crinkled at the thought. She felt her posture straightened and her focus became clearer. If she needed inspiration to work with Caleb, Mariana just found it:
She was going to shut her boyfriend up.
It was a little after seven when Mariana finally arrived at the Sentiment restaurant. She pulled up to the valet and met with the maître’d inside. He led her to Scott’s private booth, where he stood up to greet his girlfriend.
It was a small gesture but a large one to Mariana. Scott Reed was always the quintessential gentleman no matter where he was or who he was with.
After not seeing him all day – come to think of it, Mariana hadn’t seen him in the past couple of days – she needed to see her man. As she took stock of Scott’s attire, his standard open collar dress shirt with dark slacks and matching blazer, Mariana felt a yearning bubble underneath her skin.
Scott had a quiet, yet powerful raw sexuality. He was considered one of the most powerful men in the world and he never had to step into the realm of politics. He ruled the advertising world and he wasn’t even 40 yet.
His hunger to be the best was inspirational. Scott was known to ruthless in closed meetings but his generosity made up for it. He was a philanthropist who often donated millions of his money to help others.
He greeted her with a sensual kiss and Mariana swore she heard the hearts break of women with their dates who sat near them. Scott’s green eyes flickered with a satiated sensuality and lust, as if he was slightly annoyed he had to have dinner when his real meal was standing before him.
“Baby,” his Southern drawl came out like a moan. His soft, warm breath blew against her neck. “How are you?”
Mariana shivered under his touch and softly bit her lip. His long hair was in a messy bun. She felt the softness of his beard nuzzled against her cheek as his strong hands held her lithe waist. The soft murmurs of the restaurant seemed to have quieted around them, as if they were the only two people that existed on earth.
His body emanated power, protection, and promise; he wielded all three carefully. She felt safe, happy, and secure within his embrace and touch.
He towered over her, strong and undeniably masculine, with a swag only he had. His cologne was earthy and clean. Mariana briefly glanced up at him and was mesmerized by his beauty. Yes, Scott Reed was a beautiful man and he knew it as well.
It was why he wore the finest suits. It was why he was happy in just a t-shirt he’d picked up from Target. Everything looked good on him. “You look the best on me, though,” he once said to her as she was on top of him.
Mariana wanted to skip dinner and go straight to the lovemaking but her stomach told her otherwise. “I’m better now that I’m with my man.”
Scott moved more inside the booth and Mariana joined him. “Are you thirsty?”
Very. Mariana then knew Scott meant for beverage. “I can use some water.”
“Any wine preference?” He asked.
“No,” she shook her head as she opened the thick leather menu, “I trust your judgment.”
“Good. I think you’ll like my choice,” Scott perused over the menu briefly before setting his down. He turned to look at Mariana and felt his breath caught in his throat by her beauty.
She wore her long hair in natural waves and curls, giving her an even more youthful appearance. Her makeup was light and fresh, bringing out the natural brown in her skin and eyes.
Her attire of a black pencil skirt did nothing to hide her ample rear. Her matching heels made her legs look long and sleek. The white blouse that was slightly opened at the top, revealing the pearl necklace he’d given her the previous Christmas, just about made Scott weak in the knees.
He needed to wait until after dinner.
“You keep staring at me like that and I’m going to be arrested for indecent exposure,” Mariana’s eyes slowly glanced at him.
“You’re so fucking sexy,” Scott said with such a declaration, it caused a visible shiver within Mariana. His eyes undressed her and he wondered what kind of panties she wore underneath that tight skirt. “How are you doing, baby?”
“I’m doing well. Busy as usual. It’s a bit crazy but it’s manageable. It’s doable.” Mariana smiled. She loved her career and the freedom it gave, even if it meant she sometimes worked 12-hour days. “I’m just glad the Caffeinated account was a success.”
“It was a huge one, you don’t give yourself enough credit.” Scott corrected. “Ryan and Aaron are very happy with the results.”
“I’m glad to hear that. I’m very glad.” Mariana nodded. The server came by to take their orders and fill their wine glasses. Scott chose a white wine. “White, huh?”
“I think it’ll pair well with your dinner.” He lifted his glass. “To an exciting future.”
“To an exciting future.” She clinked glasses with him and took a sip of the wine. It was delicious, with notes of peach, strawberry, and white chocolate. Scott definitely knew his wines. “So, what’s this about?”
“I just wanted to see how you were doing. I haven’t seen you in a few days so I wanted to treat you to a nice dinner.” That wasn’t a lie. “I also wanted to see where you are with your workload. Are you handling everything? Did you need me to offload a few projects to someone else?” Scott wanted Mariana to step away from Caleb Kelly.
“It’s busy but I can’t complain. I’m not quite over my head yet but I’m so busy I do not have time for bullcrap.” Mariana paused for a beat. She thought about how badly she wanted to get into a fight with her white boyfriend over Caleb.
The sensible side of Mariana told her to leave it alone and have a nice dinner at a fancy restaurant. Mariana had never really been sensible, so… “I have a phone meeting with Caleb Kelly this week.”
The air shifted and Mariana noticed the change. It suddenly felt restrictive and thick, with simmering tension. Scott didn’t react other than spread butter on his roll before he took a slow bite of it. Mariana knew he was pissed before he even said a word. “Are you okay with that?” She asked.
“I’m fine with it,” he softly replied, “I just wanted to see if your workload was fine and not too much.”
“My workload is fine but I know your questioning had to do with Caleb more than what’s going on at work. You know what goes on at any given time, Scott.” Mariana let out a soft breath before she took a sip of wine. They both agreed to never talk about work issues at home but it was something Mariana needed to address. “Caleb bothers you doesn’t he?”
“I don’t want my opinion of him to influence your working relationship with Caleb.” He answered.
Mariana stared straight ahead before she softly chuckled. Scott told her in not so many words what he really thought and she was annoyed she even had to ask. She felt her chest tighten with an anger she’d pushed aside. “So, you’re not a fan of him at all?”
“I didn’t say I was,” he clarified, “I didn’t say I wasn’t.”
“But you’re not exactly a fan of his protest?” She pushed and watched the crinkles in Scott’s forehead as he contemplated an answer.
Scott’s eyes darkened to an emerald green and Mariana felt her breath caught in her throat. There was something rather hypnotizing when Scott was in deep thought. She never knew what was going through his mind.
Scott leaned forward and put his elbow on the table, something he never did unless he was deep in thought. His fingers lightly rubbed his top lip before he spoke again. “There are many ways in going about protesting so everyone is treated fairly. I’m not entirely sure if his protest was the right method.”
“So, you would rather him shut up and play football?” She asked.
“I would rather Caleb be about that life instead of being on his knees.” He clarified. “He’s kneeling but who’s benefitting from that protest?”
“So, what do you suggest he does instead? Stand and be compliant?”
“You’re avoiding the answer.” He softly replied. He wasn’t about to ruin a potential night of banging headboards and broken lamps just to prove a point. “I suggest he puts his money where his mouth is. If he wants to make a difference, if he wants to do something about police brutality, he could start with the families of women killed by excessive force and police brutality. They would really appreciate it.”
“People have created online fundraising campaigns just for that,” she defended, “many families have been supported.”
“At first, yes,” he countered, “I’m talking six months later. I’m talking a year later. Five years later. They still need support.” He pulled out his cell phone and sent a quick email to his girlfriend. “There. That should help you.”
Mariana checked her phone and saw a listing of local police brutality victims and their families. Some of the cases were from many years ago. Quite a few were some she’d never heard of. “How do you know about those victims?”
“Easy,” Scott winked at her, “Jeff and I helped financially support them.”
Stronger than Pride is available at the following retailers:
Barnes & Noble
To read the first three chapters, click here.