I’ve known Farrah forever. I met her way back when the Judith McNaught Bulletin Board (JMBB) was a thing. I’ve followed her writing career since its inception, though I am ashamed to say I haven’t read more than two or three of her books. I’m determined to change that with The Boyfriend Project. This book sounds like my cuppa and I’m really excited to try it.
“Alexa, play Drake.”
Releasing an intentionally loud, dramatic sigh, Samiah Brooks lolled her head toward the opened bathroom door and called out, “Don’t just tell it to play a certain artist, Denise. Tell it what song you want it to play.”
Muffled footfalls shuffled across the bedroom’s alder hardwood floors. A moment later her sister appeared in the doorway.
“I don’t know any Drake songs. That’s why I asked the damn Alexa thingy.” Denise lumbered into the bathroom, plopped onto the toilet’s closed lid, and palmed her substantial belly. The opening bars of Drake’s “Best I Ever Had” began streaming through the HD speakers discreetly positioned throughout the condo. Denise pointed upward. “Is that him? Is that Drake?”
“Yes.” Samiah sighed again. She capped her Fenty Beauty 410 foundation and traded it for the liquid eyeliner. Tugging her lower lid downward, she muttered as she swiped the thin brush along the rim of her eye. “You know you can’t fake this kind of thing, right? Your students will see right through it.”
“Shows how much you know. I’ve been faking it for years. No one’s caught on yet.”
Samiah glanced over her shoulder and grinned. “Make sure you don’t say that around your husband.”
“Oh please.” Denise batted the air as she adjusted her position on the toilet seat cover. “He knows I sometimes have to fake it with him too.”
“Dammit!” Samiah nearly poked herself in the eye with the eyeliner brush. She swung around and glared at her sister. “You said that shit on purpose.”
“What?” Denise asked with wide, guileless eyes. Her knowing smirk nullified her weak attempt at innocence.
“If I gouge myself in the eye with this thing, I’m telling Mama it was your fault.”
“She’d never believe you.” Her sister gestured to the array of palettes scattered across the leathered granite vanity. “Why didn’t you get all dolled up before you went out with me? You wait until we get back to pull out the heavy artillery?”
“As if. I can barely remember to pack lip balm in my purse.”
Samiah tsked as she used the smudger brush to blend the shadow into the crease of her eye. “Master the smoky eye and you can conquer the world.”
“Is that your new motto?” Denise said with a snort.
She cocked one perfect brow as she peered at her sister through the mirror. “As someone who hasn’t worn a fully made-up face since cassette tapes were still a thing, you can’t grasp just how difficult it is to achieve this look.” She turned, closed her eyes, and pointed at her eyelids. “Girl, do you see this blending? I honestly just want to stare at myself in the mirror all night.”
Samiah dodged the incoming bath puff, pitched with precision by her National College Softball Championship–winning older sister.
“Hey, help me pick out something else to wear. I’m not feeling the silver dress anymore. It’s too dressy for the club Craig and I are going to tonight.” She pushed down on Denise’s shoulders when her sister tried to rise. “You stay here. I’ll bring the outfits to you.”
Samiah made her way to the bedroom’s huge walk-in closet and slid the knotted pine barn door—the deciding factor in buying this condo—to the side. She stepped in and thumbed through her dresses.
“What about that blue one you wore to your classmate’s wedding a few months ago?” Denise called. “What was her name? Tabatha?”
“Tamyra.” Samiah grimaced, recalling that night. She’d spent much of the wedding reception getting hit on by Tamyra’s sexagenarian uncle, whose fake silk shirt seemed to lose more buttons as the night dragged on. She’d spent the next morning scrubbing a stain from the bustline after he’d sloshed her with his Jack and Coke while pressing her to dance to an Isley Brothers tune from the midseventies. Samiah doubted she’d ever wear that dress again.
“Not that one,” she said. In fact, if Denise wanted it, she could have it.
She settled on dark blue skinny jeans and a red cowl-neck sweater, which seemed more appropriate for this evening’s amended plans and the unseasonable nip in the air on this mid-August night. Austin usually felt like a sauna until at least late September.
Originally, she and Craig were supposed to start their evening with dinner, but he’d texted just as she was leaving work to tell her that he’d gotten caught up at the office and wouldn’t be able to make it downtown until late. He’d offered to call and cancel, which was the least he could do since she had been the one who’d spent a half hour on the phone securing the dinner reservation.
Samiah would be lying if she said she wasn’t annoyed. She’d been looking forward to returning to the Asian fusion spot where they’d had their first date. The restaurant continued to generate an insane amount of buzz around town and reservations weren’t easy to come by.
But she wouldn’t bitch about it. At least not too much. Joining Denise for beef patties from the Jamaican food truck down the street, along with Amy’s Ice Cream, had soothed the sting of missing out on good sushi. And the night was still young. She and Craig would enjoy a little late-night noshing and gritty blues music at the new club that had recently opened on Sixth Street, the epicenter of Austin’s nightlife.
She unhooked a faux suede cropped jacket from the hanger and held it up just under her chin.
Come to think of it, each of her four dates with Craig had been at a club or bar on Dirty Sixth, as some locals called it. Granted, she was the one who’d suggested they go to this new blues club, but only because it was the first thing that came to mind on such short notice, and Craig never seemed to have any suggestions. Next time she would propose something with a different flair, like exploring the caverns in Georgetown or hiking in Bastrop State Park.
“Let’s see what you’d say to that,” Samiah murmured as she returned the jacket to the hanger.
A couple of the guys she’d dated in the past had been surprised to learn that, despite her sharp business attire, perfectly styled hair, and always on-point makeup, she was an outdoors girl. Hell, it had surprised her too. Samiah had grown up in Houston’s Third Ward. The closest she’d ever gotten to the outdoors was eating a sandwich on a bench in Moses LeRoy Park, with the traffic from I-45 whizzing overhead. But in the years since she’d moved to Austin, she’d acquired a taste for the unique adrenaline rush one received at the completion of a hike to the summit of Mount Bonnell or a bike ride through Zilker Park.
She tried to picture Craig trotting up the rocky terrain of the Texas Hill Country in his loafers. The image refused to even take shape in her mind.
Maybe they could compromise and go to one of those indoor rock-climbing places. At least there would be air-conditioning. Craig would insist on air-conditioning. And no bugs.
Are you sure about this guy?
Samiah quashed her pesky inner voice that had started making an appearance more frequently than usual. Craig wasn’t perfect. No one was perfect. But at least he was employed, had manners, and could sorta tell a decent joke when the occasion arose.
Okay, fine. So his sense of humor left something to be desired. Was that a good reason to write someone off? If she wanted a laugh, Netflix provided a vast selection of comedy specials to choose from. Having a sense of humor had fallen several notches on her list when it came to attributes she required in a significant other.
A lot had fallen off that list. These days, a full set of teeth and a playlist that consisted of something other than the Isley Brothers would earn you at least a wink.
Craig might not be her ideal Mr. Right, but he was right enough.
The sound of her sister’s distinct laugh drew Samiah’s attention. “What are you cackling about in there?”
“Just something on Twitter. This poor woman is on the absolute date from hell.”
“And she’s tweeting about it?”
“Yes. In real time. It’s like watching a train wreck.” She heard Denise’s footsteps padding toward her. Her sister’s extremely pregnant belly appeared before she did. “Apparently, the guy she’s with thinks he’s the answer to every woman’s dream. The lines he’s trying on her are sooo tired.”
Been there. Done that. Got the ticket stub, T-shirt, and bad memories to show for it.
“Listen to this,” Denise said. “So, this fool told her he works in clean energy and is all about the environment, yet he’s driving a Mercedes SUV. Not a hybrid, but a gas-guzzling SUV.”
Samiah frowned. A tiny knot formed in her stomach, but then she reminded herself loads of people drove Mercedes SUVs.
“Oh, and get this. His Benz? It’s a rental.”
“How does she know it’s a rental?”
“Hold on, let me scroll up.” Her sister paused for a moment. “Okay, here it is. She said she knew it wasn’t his the moment she got in because she’d rented that exact Mercedes from a luxury car dealership in Round Rock to impress people during South by Southwest last year. She got a discount because it has a cigarette burn on the passenger seat. The exact cigarette burn his has.”
Samiah’s hand arrested on the faux camel leather jacket she was about to pull from the hanger. “Did she mention a color?”
“No. I’ve been refreshing my feed like a crazy person, but she hasn’t updated her timeline in the last minute.” Denise looked up from the phone, a wide grin on her face. “This is why I love Twitter.”
“To read about bad dates between two people you don’t even know?”
“Yes.” Her sister’s unapologetic response would have elicited a laugh from Samiah if she wasn’t so busy trying to quell the manic butterflies whirling in her belly.
Stop being ridiculous. Plenty of people who work in clean energy probably drive a Mercedes SUV with a cigarette burn on the passenger seat.
“Did I mention the tweet about his apartment?” her sister asked. “He told her he lives in those fancy apartments up near the Domain, but this girl happens to know the property manager there. She had her friend run his name and, of course, the fool was lying about that too.” Denise laughed again. “He messed with the wrong one.”
The unease that had settled in the pit of Samiah’s belly began to blossom.
“Oh, she tweeted again!” Another laugh. “Now he’s trying to woo her with his favorite dish.”
“The volcano sushi roll,” Samiah said, barely able to get the words past her clenched jaw.
Her sister’s head popped up. “How’d you know? You’re not even on Twitter.”
Samiah jerked the jacket loose and flung the hanger on the floor.
“Oh, shit,” Denise said. “Don’t tell me…”
But Samiah didn’t have to tell her anything. She could tell by her sister’s horrified expression that she’d figured it out.
She pulled on her jacket and stuffed her feet into her favorite quarter-strapped heeled boots. She’d be damned if she walked in there looking like an enraged, spurned woman. Or worse, some wounded animal. She would burst through those doors showcasing her fabulousness. Let that bastard see what he would be missing out on for the rest of his sorry-ass life.
“Where are you going?” A thread of panic lined the edges of Denise’s voice.
“They’re at the new restaurant a couple of blocks away,” Samiah answered. “The same place we were supposed to go tonight.” She stopped short. “He used the reservation I made. Son of a bitch. I was on the phone for a half hour trying to get that reservation.”
“You mean he had the nerve to bring another woman to a restaurant in your neighborhood? He must have balls of steel.”
“I wouldn’t know.” And thank God for that.
She’d actually considered Craig a gentleman because he hadn’t tried to get her into bed on the first date. Of course, he’d tried on each subsequent date, but Samiah had made a promise to herself long ago not to give up her goodies until she was good and ready. The fact that it had never felt right should have been her clue that something was wrong. Apparently, her vajayjay had sensed he was a rat long before she had.
“And just what do you plan to do when you get there?” Denise asked as she followed her back into the bathroom. “Beat him up in the middle of the restaurant?”
“I won’t lay a hand on him. I just want to see his face when I walk in.”
Her sister looked down at the phone and gasped. “You’ve got to be kidding me!”
“What?” Samiah ran to her side.
“Another girl just tagged herself on the Twitter thread. She’s been dating this Craig guy too.”
Samiah didn’t just see red; she saw a burst of fiery crimson.
“This is like that TV show. You know, the one where the people meet online but you don’t know if they’re telling the truth about who they really are? What do they call it?”
“Catfishing,” Samiah hissed.
She’d been catfished. Or, at the very least, scammed into believing Craig was something he definitely was not.
A combination of mortification and rage congealed in her blood. Every single time she heard one of those stories, she’d felt sympathy for the poor, unsuspecting fool who got caught up in it. But that sympathy always came with a heavy dose of judgment. She couldn’t understand how anyone could be so gullible. Never could she imagine that she would become the victim of some slick-tongued, rental car–driving asshole’s scam.
“I’m not sure going to that restaurant is a good idea,” her sister said. “Maybe you should take some time to cool off.”
“Nope.” Samiah unwound the silk headscarf from around her head and used a wide-toothed comb to release her flat-ironed hair from the wrapped style. She parted it on one side and let the soft locks fall to just under her chin in a sensible yet sexy bob. Because, yes, she was determined to look like a queen when she cursed Craig’s lying, three-timing ass out.
She left the bathroom and, with one last look in the full-length cheval mirror she’d inherited from her grandmother, grabbed her clutch from the dresser and stalked out of her bedroom.
“What time is Bradley coming to pick you up?” she asked her sister.
“In another half hour.”
“This shouldn’t take long, but if I’m not back by then, use your key to lock up.”
“Don’t get yourself arrested,” Denise called from the condo’s front door. “And text me as soon as you get back.”
Samiah stuck a hand in the air and waved in answer as she marched down the hallway and into the elevator. She concentrated on taking deep, calming, cleansing breaths as she traveled from the twenty-first floor to the lobby without interruption.
She exited her building and started down Nueces Street, arriving at the restaurant in minutes. She spotted Craig’s clean-shaven head at a table in clear view of the entrance. Couldn’t the bastard at least try to be discreet? This place was steps from her home. She could have strolled by at any time.
Samiah told the hostess she was meeting friends. The young girl didn’t even question her as she invited her in. She made a beeline for Craig’s table, sidling up to him with a bright smile.
She infused as much cheer into her voice as she could muster and said, “Well, I guess your work meeting got canceled, huh? Lucky you!”
He jumped at the sound of her voice and looked up at her over his shoulder, his eyes wide with an oh shit, I’m caught look.
She hit him with a super sweet grin.
That’s right, bitch. You’re caught.
Samiah looked to the woman sitting across from him. The red globe over the light fixture that hung above the table cast a rosy glow across her light brown skin. Her reddish-brown hair was done up in thick box braids and she had cheekbones Samiah would sell her soul for.
“Hi.” She extended her hand with a genuine smile. “I’m Samiah.”
“Taylor,” the woman answered with matching politeness. “I thought for a minute that you were London.”
Samiah nodded toward the phone sitting next to a half-eaten plate of sushi. “Is London the other woman on Twitter?”
Taylor nodded. Amusement glittered in her light brown eyes.
“Twitter?” Craig asked, his sweat-slicked forehead scrunching up in confusion. “What’s going on here?”
“Your lies are catching up to you,” Samiah answered. She nodded at Taylor, who’d propped her elbow on the table and now perched her chin on her closed fist. “Let me take a stab at this. He invited you to go out to a club after dinner, but just gave you a lame-ass excuse for why he needs to cut the night short.”
“His mom is sick,” Taylor said, biting her lip to contain the smile turning up the corners of her mouth.
“Ah, yes, I’ve heard about his sick mama. Actually, I’m his sick mama. He’s supposed to meet me in another half hour.” She tilted her head to the side. “I wonder who played the sick mother when he fed me that line on our first date.”
“That would be me.”
The three of them turned as a statuesque woman with rich brown skin, a head full of enviable coily, natural hair, and shoes to die for approached the table.
“At least I think it was me. Hello all, I’m London.” She plunked her hands on her hips, her wry smile directed at Craig. “The Internet is amazing, isn’t it? One of my fellow Walking Dead tweeps retweeted this hilarious first date from hell into my timeline. Imagine my surprise when it turns out to be the exact first date I had, down to the volcano sushi roll.”
“You have to admit that sushi roll is amazing,” Samiah said.
“Incredible,” London agreed.
Taylor pushed her plate toward them. “It’s the best. Dig in, ladies.”
They’d started to garner attention from the other tables. A number of people were openly staring, and the hum of whispers filtered in from various corners of the restaurant.
“I haven’t had dinner yet,” London said. “Should we order another?”
“Okay, now, wait a minute.” Craig put both hands up. “Let me—”
“Shut up.” Samiah cut him off. “You don’t get to speak here.”
“Come on, Sammy.”
“Shut. Up.” If he knew how close she was to elbowing him in the throat, he would walk out of here without saying a word. The grip she had on her rage was tenuous at best. “And don’t call me that stupid nickname. My name is Samiah.”
“That’s a beautiful name,” London said around a mouthful of sushi.
“Yes, it is. So is that jacket,” Taylor added. “I love the way it cinches a bit at the waist instead of being all boxy.”
“That’s the reason I bought it,” Samiah answered, looking down at her jacket. “Hey, are you ladies up to listening to some blues music? My ‘date,’” she said with an eye roll, “was supposed to take me to that new club on Sixth. I’d hate for this makeup to go to waste.”
“Oh, I don’t blame you,” London said. “That smoky eye deserves to be seen. I end up looking like a raccoon whenever I try for that look.”
“I can give you some tips,” Samiah offered. “It’s all in the primer you use.”
“All right, enough of this.” Craig pushed his chair away from the table and stood. “I can explain—”
Samiah whirled on him. “Read the room, Craig. Read the fucking room,” she snarled, unable to pull off the blasé pretense a second longer. She was hurt and upset and ready to lay into this asshole. “You’re caught, you lying piece of dog shit. Your stupid little game is over.”
The other patrons weren’t even bothering to hide their interest now. Even the waitstaff had stopped what they were doing. All eyes were on them, but Samiah was too incensed to care about the scene they were causing.
“I don’t know how many other women fell for it, but it’s over.” She jabbed her finger against his chest. “Lose my number. If you try to contact me again, I’m calling the police.”
“Same goes for me,” London said as she pulled Craig’s chair to the side of the table to get closer to Taylor’s sushi roll. Taylor passed her a new pair of chopsticks from the container in the center of the table and slid the soy sauce closer.
“The number I gave you was a fake, so I don’t have to worry about hearing from you again,” Taylor said. She tossed her napkin on the table and joined Samiah. Folding her arms across her chest, she said, “Make sure you fill up your Benz before you return it to the car rental place. They charge an arm and a leg if you bring it back on empty.”
His eyes widened. “How’d you know?”
Samiah had to refrain from punching him in the gut. “You’re pathetic,” she spat.
“Can I get a to-go box?” London called. “Also, add another volcano roll to the order. He’ll pay for it. His cheap ass still owes me from our last date.”
“Oh, let me guess,” Samiah said. “He forgot his wallet at work?”
“And the Apple Pay on his phone was acting up,” London said with a nod. “He isn’t very creative, is he?”
Two women at a nearby table laughed out loud. One of them held up a phone to snap a picture.
Samiah turned back to Craig. “You are a horrible person, and your jokes are corny. I wish nothing but the worst for you.”
A waiter arrived with a black paper bag and handed it to London. She stood and motioned for Samiah and Taylor to walk ahead of her.
“Don’t I get a chance to explain?” Craig called.
“No!” the three women said in unison as they marched out of the restaurant without a backward glance.