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Book Blitz: In These Streets by Shelly Ellis

They beat the odds and turned their lives around. But now three best friends will go head-to-head with ambition, deception--and each other . . .

Derrick. Ricky. Jamal. One's responsible; one's still a player; one's upwardly-mobile. Sentenced to the Branch Avenue Boys' Youth Institute at twelve, they grabbed the chance for better futures. They stayed tight even when their lives diverged--but the times . . . they are a-changing.

New deputy mayor Jamal is anti-corruption, which means severing ties with Ricky, now a "criminally-adjacent" businessman. But political power plays and unrequited love will lead Jamal to a lethal choice . . . 

Ricky doesn't mind running a front for DC's biggest drug dealer, but when he pursues a sexy customer at his strip club and discovers she's a cop, any wrong move could end Ricky's good times permanently . . .

Now the Institute's new leader, Derrick is torn between his job and his fiancée, Melissa. But when a cute new instructor who supports him and his mission arrives, he wonders if he should leave Melissa behind, not the Institute. However, this dilemma is nothing compared to a problem brewing right under his nose, and the fallout will strike at the heart of the three friends' bond--and put more than their survival on the line . . .

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Derrick was throwing his satchel over his shoulder and slamming shut one of his file cabinet drawers when he heard the thump. He paused and squinted at his office wall where a white board, family photos, and his framed college degrees hung.

"What the hell," he murmured.

Thump! Thump!

This time the picture frames clacked and rattled against the drywall, like they had received a seismic jolt from the ground two stories below.

Thump! Thump! Thump!

Derrick then heard a muffled chorus of male shouts. They sounded like they were coming from farther down the hall.

"Whup that nigga's ass!" someone shouted.

"Get 'em Nico! Get 'em!" another boy yelled.

Derrick closed his eyes. "Damn," he muttered, finally realizing exactly what he was hearing.

It sounded like a fight had just erupted at the Branch Avenue Boys' Youth Institute — a big one. And as the Institute's director it was his job to help break it up, which meant he wouldn't be heading home yet despite the long ass day he'd had.

"Shit," he murmured as he yanked his satchel off his shoulder and tossed the leather bag into his rolling chair.

Derrick had sat through a half dozen meetings today. One had been with a carpentry instructor who'd announced he would be leaving the Institute at the end of the month for a better, well-paid job, leaving Derrick in a lurch to find his replacement. Another meeting had been with a mother who had begged Derrick to let her sixteen-year-old son, Cole, into the Institute's rehabilitation program because she was terrified of what would happen to the teen if the city sent him to the local detention center for his drug charge. When she started crying and literally dropped to her knees on the linoleum floor, Derrick finally caved. He'd told her yes; he'd find a spot for her son — even though the Institute already had a waitlist twenty deep. He didn't know where he would find space for the boy, but he would make it work, somehow — like he always did.

But once the clock on his wall struck five, Derrick had felt his shoulders sink with the weight of exhaustion. He'd just wanted to go home, have dinner with his fiancée, Melissa, and meet up with his boys, Ricky and Jamal, for drinks later. It was a monthly ritual they'd had for nearly a decade and he had never skipped out on them before.

But it looked like he wouldn't be able to do any of that anytime soon thanks to the brawl in the office hall.

Derrick grabbed his walkie-talkie and jogged around his desk, grumbling to himself as he whipped opened his office door.

"Otis! Otis!" he called into the walkie-talkie. "Otis, we need help on the second floor! Can you send someone up?" He got only static in response.

Guess I'll have to do this all by myself then, he thought with exasperation.

Derrick clipped his walkie-talkie onto his belt and quickly undid the cuffs of his shirt. He rolled his sleeves up to his forearms, revealing a series of tattoos and a few brands from his younger days.

He ran into the corridor, and the muffled shouts became a full roar. It was hard to see exactly who was fighting because nearly a dozen boys were huddled in a tight circle, not far from the door leading to the stairwell. They jumped and shoved to get a better view. As he ran toward them, he noticed the bedraggled-looking counselor standing in one of the classroom doorways. Her pale, wrinkled face was crumpled like she was about to burst into tears.

"I tried calling Otis!" she shouted to Derrick. "I really did, but he's not answering."

"I did too," he said.

Otis was the head security guard on staff at the Institute. He'd been a burly, intimidating corrections officer back in the day, but now he was just fat and lazy. Even the boys liked to call him Officer Twinkie behind his back. Otis was content to hide in the rec room, stuffing his face full of donuts while he watched talk shows on the staff flat screen. He would increasingly turn down the volume of his walkie-talkie so the static wouldn't interfere with his TV watching during the day, which would explain why he hadn't responded to the emergency call about the fight in the hallway. But considering that Otis was responsible for supervising all security, this was unacceptable.

Guess it's time to finally replace Otis, too.

It was yet another task he'd have to add to the growing list for the week.

Derrick nodded at the counselor. "Don't worry. I've got it! Just stand back, okay?"

She didn't look convinced, but shrank back into the classroom anyway when another thud ricocheted down the hall.

Derrick had a better view now. He could see that only two boys were tussling while the rest were cheering them on. Their T-shirts were ripped. One had the other in a headlock. The shorter of the two, who was in the headlock, was punching the other in the gut. Blood poured from the corner of the taller boy's mouth. They slammed against the drywall again, knocking down one of the Institute's plaques and sending it crashing to the floor.

Derrick took a deep breath and plunged forward like a man diving into an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

He yanked one boy back, a fat one who was nearly his size. The boy turned with his fist raised and then lowered it when he realized who was standing beside him.

"Oh, hey, Mr. Derrick!" he shouted as Derrick shoved another boy aside, then another. Finally, he was in the center of the circle.

"Stop this shit, right now!" he shouted, reaching for the two boys.

The shorter one was no longer in a headlock. His fists were up. He looked prepared to take a swing.

"I mean it! Don't make me have to —"

 Derrick's words were stopped short by a punch to the face.

* * *

"Hey, baby!" Melissa called out as Derrick opened the apartment door. "You got home just in time! Dinner's almost done."

Their Calico cat, Brownie, greeted him as he closed the door behind him. The chubby cat rubbed its head and body against Derrick's pant leg and he leaned down to rub her back in return, then dropped his satchel to the floor. Despite the tissue stuffed up his nose, Derrick caught a whiff of the stir fry his fiancée was cooking. He could hear it sizzling in the kitchen too.

"How was your day?" she shouted to him as he walked down the short hall leading to their eat-in kitchen.

He passed their hallway mirror and winced.

Even though some of his shoulder-length dreads were hanging in his face, he could still see bruises blooming on his nose and his left cheek just a few shades darker than his mahogany skin. They would probably be purple by tomorrow. Blood was on his shirt, near the breast pocket.

"It was a little rough," he mumbled to Melissa as he tugged the bloody tissues from his nostrils, sighing at his reflection. "Just glad it's over."

He then rounded the corner and saw Melissa standing at their stove, wearing a tank top, yoga pants, and no shoes, slaving over dinner and looking as beautiful as ever. Her long, elegant neck and smooth, brown shoulders were on full display thanks to her braids being piled atop her head in a colorful kente wrap. She hummed absently to Jill Scott on their stereo as she cooked, tossing a cup of snow peas into the stir fry.

She had been humming when he first met her almost twenty years ago at the Boys' Institute. That day he'd been sweeping the foyer — one of his daily chores during the two years he'd served at the Institute for his assault charge. Melissa had been on her way to visit her father, the Institute's then director, Theo Stone or Mr. Theo. She had been humming a tune by Aaliyah and bobbing her head to the music. Her eyes had been closed. She'd stopped short when she bumped into Derrick.

"Oh, I'm sorry!" she'd said, pulling her headphones from her ears and smiling bashfully up at him. "I didn't see you there."

But he had seen her. He had been staring at her as she unknowingly walked straight into him and he hadn't moved an inch to stop the collision, too amazed by the lovely creature in front of him.

"I-I'm D-D-Derrick," he'd blurted out in response, making her smile widen. "You can call m-me Dee, though. E-e-everyone here c-c-calls me Dee. B-but my name is r-really Derrick."

"Hey, Dee! I'm Melissa," she'd replied — and he had been in love with her ever since.

Today, she was smiling again as he leaned down and kissed her bare shoulder, making her giggle. She turned away from the stove to face him and pointed toward the refrigerator with her wooden spatula. "Can you grab the wine I have chilling in the ..."

Her words drifted off. Her smile instantly disappeared.

"What the hell happened to you?" she screeched, dropping the spatula to the granite counter and turning off the oven burners. She reached up for his face and gently touched the bruise on his cheek, grimacing. "Who did this, Dee? Did you get mugged or somethin'?"

He shook his head and exhaled. He then turned slightly to toss his bloody tissues into the kitchen waste bin. "No, I broke up a fight between a couple of the boys today. That's all."

"That's all? That's all?" She slowly shook her head. "If you were breaking up the fight then how the hell did you end up being the one who got stomped?"

"I didn't 'get stomped.'" He tugged her hand from his face. "The boys were swinging and accidentally hit me a few times. It happens. Neither of them meant to do it. They apologized when they settled down."

"Oh, they apologized! Well, I guess that makes it okay then!" she exclaimed sarcastically before crossing her arms over her chest.

"Look, I took care of it. That's all that matters." He grabbed one of the ceramic plates on the counter and peered down into the wok on the stove. "You didn't put too much sriracha in here, did you? You know I don't like it too hot, baby."

He raised his gaze when she stomped her bare foot.

"Derrick Miller, are you really asking me about some damn chili pepper sauce when you walked through the front door with a bloody nose, a ripped shirt" — she said, fingering his torn shirt collar — "and a busted face like you just stumbled out of a boxing ring? This is not cool! It's not right! You shouldn't have to —"

"And what exactly do you want me to do about it? Huh?" he asked, not having the energy or patience to mask his irritation. "It's part of the damn job. You of all people should know that!"

She fell silent and pursed her lips.

He hadn't meant to lash out at her, but he didn't come home to start an argument. He just wanted to eat dinner and spend some coveted alone time with his girl. Was that too much to ask? Besides, Melissa had grown up knowing how the Boys' Institute operated. Her father had been at the helm of the place for more than thirty years before he retired four years ago, and Derrick had taken over as director. She'd had a front row seat to the horror stories that came with running a place like the Institute, but she also knew the highs and the joys you experienced seeing children that society had basically thrown away get a second chance.

"Look, baby, it was a bad day." He sat down his plate, reached out, and wrapped his arms around her. "But I handled it." He forced a smile. "Trust me, the bruises look worse than they feel."

But his soothing words weren't working their magic. She still stubbornly shook her head. "Enough is enough, Dee. I'm a teacher who loves my kids too, but there is no way — no way I'd put up with half the shit that you do. They accidentally hit you today. What if they accidentally stab you or shoot you tomorrow?"

He sucked his teeth in exasperation.

"I mean some of those boys are hard-core criminals. Some of them —"

"— are just like who I was twenty years ago," he finished for her, dropping his arms from around her waist. "Come on, Lissa. You want me to be a hypocrite?"

"They are nothing like how you were. Don't give me that shit! You guys were in there for petty crimes — getting into school fights and shoplifting from corner stores. Some of these boys are facing first-degree-assault and drug smuggling charges, Dee. The city is making that place the dumping ground for kids everyone else is too terrified keep in their classrooms!"

"Which is exactly why I want them with me. I know who they are. I've been where they are. I won't give up on them the way everyone else has. Theo wouldn't have given up on them either!"

She stiffened. He watched as she narrowed her dark eyes. "Are you really going to bring him up?"

"Why shouldn't I? What I said about your dad is true. You know he loved those kids. He still does."

"Oh, yeah, he loved them. He loved them so much that he was willing to sacrifice his marriage, his family, and his life for them. He made it clear to me, Mama, and everyone else that the boys at the Institute were the most important things in the world to him — even more important than us. And then, when he was ready to retire and we thought we finally had him all to ourselves, he went gay and ran off with some dude!"

Derrick winced. Maybe he shouldn't have brought up her father after all.

She looked Derrick up and down. "So is that what you're trying to tell me? You really want to be just like my daddy? Because if it is, I can give you this ring back right now." She held up her hand and pointed to the solitaire diamond on her finger.

At that, his shoulders slumped. All his rising anger dissipated. "Baby, you know that's ... that's not what I meant. I love you. I do! It's just ... I love my job too, and the boys need me ... and ... and ..."

He couldn't find the right words so he let the sentence drift off into silence and raked his fingers through his dreads in frustration instead.

"Enjoy your dinner. I didn't put any sriracha in it this time, so you should like it," she muttered, wiping her hands on a dish towel, tossing it aside, and stepping around him.

"Come on, baby, don't be that way." He reached out for her and tried to draw her close again, but she pulled out of his grasp.

"Tell Ricky and Jamal I said 'Hey,' when you see them tonight, okay?" she called over her shoulder as she walked out of the kitchen and down the hall to their bedroom. She then bent down and scooped their cat into her arms. "Come on, Brownie. Let's go grade some papers."

Derrick heard their bedroom door slam shut seconds later.

"Shit," he said before roughly scrubbing his hand over his face. "Oww, shit!" he said again, wincing reflexively at the pain in his cheek.

About Shelly Ellis

Shelly Ellis is a NAACP Image Award-nominated women's fiction/romance author and creator of the Gibbons Gold Digger and Chesterton Scandal series. Her fiction writing career began when she became one of four finalists in a First-Time Writers Contest when she was 19 years old. The prize was a publishing contract and having her first short-story romance appear in an anthology. She has since published ten novels and was a finalist for 2015 NAACP Image Award in the Literary Fiction Category, a three-time finalist for the African American Literary Award in the romance category (2012, 2016, and 2017), and a finalist for the 2015 RT Reviewers' Choice Award in Multicultural Romance category.

She is married and lives in Prince George's County, Maryland with her husband and their daughter. Visit her at her web site

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