“Tia Williams’ book is a smart, sexy testament to Black joy, to the well of strength from which women draw, and to tragic romances that mature into second chances. I absolutely loved it.”— Jodi Picoult, #1 NYT bestselling author of The Book of Two Ways and Small Great Things. Seven days to fall in love, fifteen years to forget, and seven days to get it all back again... Eva Mercy is a single mom and bestselling erotica writer who is feeling pressed from all sides. Shane Hall is a reclusive, enigmatic, award‑winning novelist, who, to everyone's surprise, shows up in New York. When Shane and Eva meet unexpectedly at a literary event...
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (June 1, 2021) Hardcover: 336 pages ISBN-10: 153871910X ISBN-13: 978-1538719107
IN THE YEAR OF OUR LORD 2019, THIRTY-TWO-YEAR-OLD EVA MERCY NEARLY choked to death on a piece of gum. She’d been attempting to masturbate when the gum lodged in her throat, cutting off her air supply. As she slowly blacked out, she kept imagining her daughter, Audre, finding her flailing about in Christmas jammies while clutching a tube of strawberry lube and a dildo called the Quarterback (which vibrated at a much higher frequency than advertised—gum-choking frequency). The obituary headline would be “Death by Dildo.” Hell of a legacy to leave her orphaned twelve-year-old.
Eva didn’t die, though. She eventually coughed up the gum. Shaken, she buried the Quarterback in a drawer full of hip-hop concert tees, slipped on her ancient cameo ring, and padded down the hall to wake up Audre for her BFF’s Hamptons birthday party. She had no time to dwell on her brush with mortality.
While she’d admit to being a damn good mom and a capable novelist, Eva’s true talent was her ability to push weird shit aside and get on with life. This time, she did it a little too well and missed the obvious.
When Eva Mercy was little, her mom had told her that Creole women see signs. This was back when Eva’s only understanding of “Creole” was that it was vaguely connected to Louisiana and Black people with French last names. It wasn’t until junior high that she realized her mom was—what’s a fair word?—eccentric and curated “signs” to justify her whims. (Mariah Carey released an album called Charmbracelet? Let’s blow rent on cubic zirconia charms at Zales!) Point is, Eva was wired to believe that the universe sent her messages.
So it should’ve occurred to her to expect a life-altering drama after Tridentgate. After all, she’d had a near-death experience before.
And that time—like this one—she woke up to her world forever changed.
“A TOAST TO OUR SEX GODDESS, EVA MERCY !” HOLLERED A CHERUB OF a woman, raising her champagne glass. Eva, whose throat was still raspy from yesterday’s gum incident, coughed back a snort at “sex goddess.”
The forty women crammed around long dining tables cheered loudly. They were bombed. The book club, composed of rowdy, upper-middle-class white women on the business end of their fifties, had traveled from Dayton, Ohio, all the way to Manhattan to celebrate Eva with a brunch. The occasion was the fifteenth anniversary of her bestselling (well, formerly bestselling) erotica series, Cursed.
Lacey, president of the chapter, adjusted her purple witch hat and turned to Eva, who was at the head of the table. “Today,” she bellowed, “we celebrate the magical day we met our bronze-eyed vampire, Sebastian—and his true love, the badass unwicked witch, Gia!”
The tables erupted in squeals. Eva was relieved that Times Square’s deliriously cheesy S&M-themed restaurant, A Place of Yes, had provided a private room. And oh, what a room. The ceiling was awash in red velvet, and a web of bondage ropes and riding crops decorated the walls. Goth candelabras dangled dangerously low over the black lacquered tables.
The Menu of Pain/Pleasure was the tourist attraction. Depending upon your selection, waitstaff in bondage gear would lightly flog you or do a lap dance or whatever. If you so desired.
Eva did not desire. But she was a good sport, and the Real Housewives of Dayton had traveled such a long way. These were her people—the rabid fandom who kept her afloat. Especially recently, as the vampire phenomenon (and her book sales) had cooled off.
So Eva chose “Cuffs + Cookies” off the menu. And now she was seated on a gothic throne, her hands cuffed behind the chair while a bored waitress in a pleather corset fed her snickerdoodles.
It was 2:45 p.m.
She should’ve been mortified. But she was no stranger to this scene. After all, Eva did write supermarket-checkout porn. While most authors had speaking engagements at bookstores, universities, and chic private homes, Eva’s events were, well, raunchier. She’d done signings at sex shops, burlesque clubs, and tantric workshops. She’d even sold books at the 2008 Feminists in Adult Film (FAFFIES) after-party.
This was the gig. She smiled indulgently while her readers swooned over the two horny, dysfunctional permanently nineteen-year-old basket cases she’d invented when she herself was a horny, dysfunctional nineteen-year-old basket case.
Eva had never set out for her name to be synonymous with witches, vampires, and orgasms. As a double major in creative writing and advanced melancholia, Eva had accidentally stumbled upon this life. It was sophomore year, winter break. She had nowhere to go. So she holed up in her dorm room, pouring her teen angst and horror-fan daydreams into a violent lustfest—which her roommate secretly submitted to Jumpscare magazine’s New Fiction contest. She got first prize and a literary agent. Three months later, Eva was a college dropout with a six-figure multiple-book deal.
Ironic that she made a living writing about sexy sex. Eva couldn’t remember the last time she got naked with anyone, undead or otherwise. Between authoring, touring, single-mothering a tween tornado, and fighting through a chronic illness that ranged from manageable to utterly debilitating, she was too depleted to romance a real-life penis.
Which was fine. When Eva had an itch, she scratched it in her books. Like a boxer abstaining before the big match, she used her unconsummated lust to give Sebastian and Gia’s story a wild edge. It was fiction ammunition.
But in the social-media era, nobody wanted to picture their favorite erotica author zonked on painkillers, drooling on her couch by 9:25 every night. So in public, Eva looked the part. She had her own tomboy-chic take on sexy. Today, it was a gray T-shirt minidress, Adidas, vintage gold hoops, and smudged black liner. With her signature sexy secretary glasses and collarbone-length curls, she could almost convince anyone she was a man-killer.
Eva was brilliant at faking things.
“. . . and bless you,” continued Lacey, “for instilling our faith in passion, even though Gia and Sebastian are bound by an ancient curse to wake up on opposite sides of the world the moment after orgasm. You gave us a community. An OBSESH. Can’t wait for Cursed, Book Fifteen!”
Amid applause, Eva smiled brightly and attempted to rise. Unfortunately, she forgot she was handcuffed to the chair, and she was abruptly yanked back down. Everyone gasped as Eva plummeted to the floor. Her dominatrix-waitress sprang to action two seconds too late, uncuffing her from the overturned chair.
“Whoa, too much merlot,” giggled Eva, popping back up. It was a lie; she couldn’t drink alcohol with her health issues. Two sips would land her in the ER.
Eva raised her glass of seltzer up at the sea of happily wasted boomers. Most of them, like Lacey, were wearing Gia’s signature purple witch hat. A handful had a blingy S pendant pinned to their Chico’s blouses.