Plain Jane and Mr. Wright by Tmonique Stephens

Chapter One

HALLOWEEN

 

Jane Playne exited the warm Mercedes Benz and stepped into the sharp October winds whipping through the artificial canyons of New York City. She clutched the black cape to her body and the Egyptian headdress to her head. Teetering in her five-inch heels, she dashed across the street to meet her besties, Nevaeh and Sheridan. Huddled together, the two waited a few feet away from the security guards blocking the entrance to Denizen.

“Took you long enough,” Nevaeh snapped, though she had a grin on her face.

“I know. I know. I’m sorry.” Late was Jane’s middle name. “You guys ready?” Looking at their eager faces, she already knew the answer.

“Ready to enjoy reopening night at the hottest club in town.” Sheridan rubbed her hands together. She opened her coat, allowing a glimpse of her Black Widow costume. With her natural red curls and her curvaceous full figure, Black Widow had never been sexier.

“Gurl, stunning!”

Always on a diet, Sheridan bit her bottom lip. “Are you sure?”

“Yes!” Both Jane and Nevaeh shouted.

“I had to stop her from changing into a homeless bum. Twice.” Nevaeh sighed. Sheridan used to be the brass, over-the-top, loudmouth of the trio. Time and the responsibility of parenting her six-year-old niece had significantly mellowed her.  Though not her insecurities. Namely, her weight, which no one, except her, noticed. She claimed she had more freckles than skin, which quite possibly was true. Jane thought it made Sheridan unique. She also hated her mass of curly red hair. Not too many Black girls had naturally red hair. Blame that on a Scottish father and biracial mother.

Jane could sympathize. While she didn’t have a Scottish father in her DNA, she too was biracial and not the biological child of the man who she called Daddy.

Nevaeh opened her wool wrap. Never to be confused with being shy, the girl had on some BDSM getup that belonged in the bedroom. The white bra and panties beneath a sheer sheath, along with the white straps crisscrossing her dark skin, highlighted every single curve. The getup emphasized her tripled D’s and tiny waist, and left little to the imagination.

“Do not look at me like I’ve lost my mind.”

No use lying. Jane shrugged. “Then don’t dress like you have. Who are you supposed to be?”

“A vixen,” she stated proudly while smoothing her dark hair as if a single strand dared slip free of the top knot. “The invitation did say the theme was bedroom attire. Clearly, I’m the only one who read it.”

“Clearly,” Jane and Sheridan said simultaneously, and burst out laughing. From the corner of Jane’s eye, she spotted her bodyguard leaning against a car, observing her. It was his job.

“Haven’t found a way to ditch him, have you?” Sheridan asked.

“No. I asked him to give us some space. Not to cockblock. Some of us don’t want to go home alone tonight.” Jane gave a pointed look at Nevaeh, who rolled her eyes because the “someone” wasn’t Jane. The whole one-night thing didn’t appeal to her.

Nevaeh leaned in for a conspiratorial whisper as she eyed Jane’s bodyguard. “If I had that man guarding my body, I wouldn’t be here trying to get laid. I’d be laying him.”

Sheridan snickered, and they slapped palms and pounded their fists. Jane couldn’t blame them. Kyle was good-looking and seemed nice; however, he did nothing for her. They may as well be siblings.

“Kyle didn’t agree to give us some space. He didn’t disagree either.”

Another gust of wind slammed into them, causing them to huddle together. “Let’s go inside before I freeze my nipples off.” Nevaeh grabbed Jane’s shoulders and spun her around toward the security guards.

The guards eyed them as they approached, no discernable expression on their faces. “Ladies, the end of the line is down the block.” He pointed his finger at the people waiting to get inside.

Down the block? More like down four blocks. Her sister had better have put her name on the VIP list like she promised or it would be an embarrassing stroll to the end of the line. “I’m Jane Playne. Jentry Playne’s sister.” She handed over her ID and prayed Jentry hadn’t fucked this up or lied. She was known to do both.

The security guard straightened from his relaxed stance and studied her, next her ID, then the clipboard on the podium next to him.

Her heart raced and her palms slickened with sweat. She’d never had a problem getting into a club. Not that clubbing was her regular thing. But this wasn’t a regular club. This club belonged to the most notorious mafia boss in the city and leave it to her middle sister to work for him. Did Jentry seek trouble or did trouble seek Jentry? Either way, she had an affinity for it. Jane hoped Jentry wasn’t bullshitting when she claimed she was in charge of the joint.

“Ms. Playne’s sister is here.” The security guard spoke into his microphone and then held the door open for them to enter. “Welcome to Denizen. The host will meet you inside and take you to your table.”

Nevaeh squealed and shoved Jane in front of her, a silent command to hurry and get her butt in the door. They took a few steps in when a woman separated from the group of females dressed in the company uniform of black on the bottom and aqua on top. Her red name tag had Paulette written in neat cursive. “Hi, let me take your coats.”

The trio peeled off their outerwear.

“Nice costumes. You three are about to have some fun!” Paulette gushed, and she seemed to be sincere and not working for a fat tip. She took their coats and passed them to another hostess, who returned with three tickets. “Follow me to the VIP section.”

Black leather booths. Aqua walls. A glass staircase leading to an upper level with a glass skybox overlooking the entire club. From the pictures on the internet, Denizen hadn’t changed much since its hasty closing due to Julius Morgan nearly bleeding to death on the sidewalk. Random shooter, the news had said. With friends like Harden Gage, how random could the violence be?

At the rear of the club, they came to the velvet rope and another guard, who nodded as they passed over the threshold and entered the rarified company. She counted five celebrities: Two movie stars, a Kardashian, and a rapper. And this was only one VIP section. There was another section adjacent to this one with four more celebrities.

“I think I’ve died and gone to heaven,” Nevaeh murmured, eyeing the rapper whose rap sheet was as long as a CVS receipt. She had a thing for bad boys. Jane liked her men on the legal side of the law.

Nothing and no one was worth risking her freedom over. She meant that both literally and figuratively. Her one and only skirmish with the law was over a suspended license. The officer had taken her to the station in handcuffs. Bawling, she called her dad. Since then, she was strictly a pedestrian. Easy enough in New York with their public transportation system, Uber, and Lyft.

They sat in the circular booth with Neveah closest to the rapper. He took one look at her BDSM getup and the two struck up a conversation.

Jentry appeared out of the crowd. “I heard you’d arrived.”

Jane’s first reaction: Black skirt and aqua shirt. If you’re the manager, why are you dressed in the same clothes as the rest of the employees catering to the guests’ needs?

Second reaction: Maybe she lied about being the manager. Maybe she was screwing one of the bouncers and that’s why they were on the VIP list and allowed entry.

Jentry slid into the seat next to her sister and whispered, “Where is your bodyguard?”

Jane rolled her eyes. She didn’t need a bodyguard, but no one listened to her. “He’s here.” She pointed at him. “We came in a separate car. He agreed to keep a low profile and guard me from a distance.”

Jentry opened her mouth to protest, but Jane cut her off. “No one is after me. Or you, for that matter.”

Their cousin Calista had drawn the attention of some Russian mafia don because of her relationship with Julius Morgan. Supposedly, that put her extended family—Jane, Jentry, their younger sisters, and their parents—in danger. Everyone was under protection. Jane didn’t buy it but didn’t protest too much. Some perks were nice. Her new job in accounting at JMI was one of them. The bodyguard shadowing her every step wasn’t. “I’m a nobody.” She didn’t see the point of having a bodyguard. Guarding her was pointless. A waste of money.

“You are not a nobody,” Jentry said with a surprising amount of vehemence. She opened her mouth to continue but flinched and touched her earpiece. “I gotta go.” She stood. “First round of drinks is on the house. What do you guys want?”

That yanked Nevaeh and Sheridan temporarily out of their flirtations with the men in the next booth. Both went for Long Island Ice Teas. Jane’s preferred libation was a Manhattan. In the time it took Jentry to return, Nevaeh had already dragged them to the dance floor.

A driving beat and a hook were all Jane needed to shake her ass. She wasn’t here to worry about her sister and her bad choices. She was not her sister’s keeper.

Jane cut loose and let herself be in the moment, easing relaxed the restraints she applied daily on nearly every aspect of her life. The music, the lights, the bodies joining with her as she moved, she reveled in it all, eased her inhibitions.

Another round of drinks was brought to them on the dance floor by Jentry and then she was gone, back to work. Surreptitiously, Jane watched Jentry do her thing. This job was a far cry from Jentry’s job as a stripper. God, how embarrassed Jane was to introduce her sister to anyone. Having an out-of-wedlock baby and being a dancer, Jentry had fallen low, so low Jane had written her off.

Studying her now as she ordered people around, and they responded with deference, one would never know how far her sister had climbed out of the gutter to reclaim her life. Maybe, just maybe, she hadn’t lied and was the manager. Jane snorted. The thought almost seemed impossible.

Her little sister had finally gotten her shit together and was handling her business like a boss. About damn time!

A third round of drinks was deposited. Jane paced herself while her friends guzzled. She didn’t mind being the responsible one for the night.

“Okay! Okay!” Nevaeh clapped and bounced in her seat. “FMK. Fuck. Marry. Kill. The guy in the white shirt and gold chains.” She tipped her head in the man’s direction.

They played the stupid game every time they went clubbing. Yeah, the game was idiotic, but less so after a few drinks. Jane cranked her head around the dancing masses and spotted the guy. His shirt was open all the way to his skintight pants, which were molded to a perfectly rounded bulge. He had a semi-decent body, but the abundance of grizzly chest hair and gold chains were a definite turnoff.

“Kill.”

“What about that guy over there?” Sheridan pointed to a tall, muscular guy dressed like Zorro in all black with a mask.

All three of them said, “Fuck!” and broke out in giggles.

“Let’s be real. None of the men in here are marriage material,” Jane said.

“Or, God forbid, have babies with.” Sheridan snickered.

Nevaeh toasted. “No marriage or babies for me. I’m gonna remain single and sexy forever.”

“Famous last words.” Jane laughed, feeling tipsy. “I bet you ten bucks the men you both will someday marry are in this club right now, grinding on some hapless female.”

“I bet you a grand he ain’t!” Nevaeh shouted.

“I can’t afford a grand. I’ll bet you ten bucks!” Sheridan chimed in.

The ladies high-fived and downed the rest of their drinks to seal the deal.

When Jentry came around again, Jane grabbed her sister in a surprise bear hug. “Have I told you how proud I am of you?” The surprise on Jentry’s face hurt a bit. Yeah, they didn’t trade compliments often. Well, more like ever. Praise wasn’t something her parents handed out outside of good report cards and graduation.

Jentry frowned, her gaze sweeping from Jane’s head to her feet. “Are you drunk?”

“A little.” Jane laughed. She deserved the snipe. “But I’m sober enough to know what the hell I’m saying. Denizen is fabulous!” Wrapping one arm around her sister, she squeezed Jentry’s shoulder.

Jentry scowled and shoved the arm away. “You know I have nothing to do with the construction, or the concept, or the decor?”

Jane slapped her arm, hard. “Whatever you did to contribute to the club being fabulous, I’m proud. Who do I talk to about getting you a raise?”

Jentry chuckled, though skepticism filled her gaze. “Whoa there. Let me get my first paycheck before you get me fired.”

“All right! All right! Well, you and I are going shopping when you get that paycheck.”

Jentry sighed with longing. “Shopping? What is that again?”

It had been forever since they spent any time together. It was Jane’s fault since for the last year, she’d avoided Jentry. A fact Jane wasn’t proud of. It wasn’t exactly a secret she was embarrassed by Jentry’s lifestyle and her piss-poor judgment. If she’d made better choices, she wouldn’t have been a pregnant teen statistic, wouldn’t have been a stripper, wouldn’t have left home and wouldn’t have broken her parents’ hearts.

Jane was the good girl of the family. She’d done everything right. Graduated summa cum laude, had a great job at JMI—Julius Morgan International—working with the CFO of the billion-dollar company. All thanks to her cousin Calista, who was dating and knocked up by the owner, Julius Morgan. Jane would’ve gotten the job on her own. She didn’t need Calista’s help.

“I’ll call you next week. We’ll have lunch and go shopping. On me.” Jane volunteered. Maybe this was a new beginning for them. Maybe.

“If you’re buying, I’ll be there. We’ll set up a date to meet.”

“And when we get together, you can tell me all about the sexy Harden Gage.” Jane waggled her eyebrows. Interest flared in Jentry’s gaze. There was something there, something more than a boss-employee relationship. Another mistake waiting to explode in Jentry’s face.

“I gotta go. I’ll talk to you later.” Jentry escaped into the crowd.

Jane danced her way back to the table to Sheridan and Nevaeh.