Falling For the Mark
"Falling For The Mark... is a new adult, contemporary romance that will have you rooting for a con artist!" - The Lesbian Review
A mother-daughter con artist duo have finally met their match.
Maya is the daughter of Nicole, a cunning grifter who has been deceiving people since she was a teenager. Together, they have perfected the art of scamming people out of their money without guilt.
Their most successful con sees Nicole duping affluent men into wedding her. But when the time is right, Maya lures the mark into her bed, getting them to break their prenuptial agreement. The duo then disappear with an impressive divorce settlement. Never to be heard from again. What should be another routine con soon turns out to be anything but.
Kennedy, the daughter of their new mark, is skeptical of the pair upon their arrival. She suspects they are after her father’s money and she's determined to find proof of it. Matters are further complicated when Maya and Kennedy begin to develop feelings for each other. Though both have their reasons for why they shouldn’t cross the line, their growing attraction is too strong to be denied.
But when the truth is revealed, both stand to lose more than they ever could have imagined.
Release date: March 26, 2023
Publisher: Independently published
Print pages: 354
Content advisory: grief following the death of a parent to cancer, a minor instance of racial fetishization or objectification, a minor instance of slut shaming, a minor instance of excessive drinking, and minor instances of microaggressions.
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Falling For the Mark
The Lady Maya
Maya sat as the bait, waiting for someone to bite.
She tilted her head back, ordered a drink from the bar, and inhaled the Chicago nightclub’s stale cigarette-laced air. Her full lips turned up ever so slightly as her eyes scanned the room. Around her, men and women alike turned their heads to follow her long, Black shapely legs as she made her way through the dance floor.
Careful not to bump into anyone, Maya navigated her way through the crowd to an unoccupied lounge couch. She sat down and took a sip of her drink, being sure not to draw too much attention to herself. She wanted to attract attention from one specific type of mark. Not just any kind would do.
After a minute of no takers, Maya grumbled to herself, “Come on. Come on.” Midnight was fast approaching. Nicole would not like it if she was running late. She needed a mark and needed him quickly.
“Do you mind if I hang out here?” Out of the corner of her eye, a white man with jet-black hair asked, pointing to the spot next to her. The couch was the last seating in the club available. People had taken the other three couches and seats at the bar. It was easy to believe he was asking to sit because there was nowhere else to go, but Maya knew better.
She had noticed him while she was at the bar. He arrived with a group of five other men. None looked older than thirty. She caught him staring at her once she sat down. Maya thought he looked unsure whether he should walk up to her. His question, veiled with uncertainty, confirmed she was right.
“Wouldn’t you rather hang out over there with your friends?” Maya teased, pointing at his friends across the room.
“I get to hang out with them all the time. It’s not every day I get to spend time with a beautiful woman like yourself.” His confidence shocked her. Maybe she had read him wrong.
“Good answer,” she smiled. “Have a seat.”
He sat a few inches away from her, but close enough that she could hear him over the music playing. “You know what I find funny?” Maya posed the question to him.
“A club full of beautiful women who would be more than happy to talk to you. And yet you sat next to me. Why?”
The man thought it over for a moment, then turned his focus back on to her. “I felt like I had to come over here. It was like a force I couldn’t control even if I wanted to.”
“Really?” she asked, raising a curious eyebrow.
“No,” he laughed. “I thought if I sat here, you would tell me about yourself.”
“What do you want to know?”
“Your name, for starters.”
“Nice to meet you, Maya. I’m Ryan.”
Now that they had gotten pleasantries out of the way, Maya didn’t want to waste any time. Nicole was waiting. “Did you give your friends a ride here?”
“No. One of our other friends drove. Why?”
That was exactly what she needed to hear. “I wanted to know if your friends would miss you if I kept you from them the rest of the night.” She smirked before finishing the rest of her drink.
Ryan replicated the same smirk. “No. They shouldn’t miss me at all.”
“That’s good because I don’t think I could give you up to them, anyway.”
“Shall I order us some more drinks?”
“If you know what’s good for you, then yes.”
Ryan waved over a server as Maya relaxed, knowing she had reeled in her mark.
It was after 1am when Maya ordered an Uber to take them home. Ryan’s friends left shortly before. He had no ride and was in no condition to drive. Neither of them were. Maya had spent an hour drinking and buttering Ryan up. She hoped it was enough to earn an invitation to his place. If not, the night would’ve been a complete waste.
The cold air of the late-night hit Maya everywhere as they exited the club. She was wearing a forest green silk slip dress. Not an outfit made for the colder weather.
She stumbled a little out of the exit and into Ryan. “Hopefully, this Uber gets here before I freeze to death,” she joked.
“I think I know a way to keep you warm.”
He placed his hand gently on Maya’s waist and moved her into him until they were chest to chest. His breath stilled. Despite Ryan’s attempt at being bold, he was still as unsure as he was earlier. Maya took the initiative and leaned in.
She pressed her lips against his and kissed him deeply, without hesitation. Ryan came to life and his mouth opened a little. Her tongue slid inside and explored the depths of his warm mouth. He smelled of whiskey and mint. Never a favorite combination of Maya’s, but she didn’t mind it so much on him.
It was a fine kiss, Maya thought. Better than some others she had had of late. She hoped Ryan felt the same way. From how he leaned into it, Maya figured he did, but sometimes it was hard to tell. They pulled apart when their Uber parked in front of them.
“Would you like to come back to my place?”
“I thought you would never ask,” Maya chuckled. “Yes. I would like that.”
He opened the car door and Maya stepped inside, taking her seat. Ryan then gave the driver his address and snuggled closer to her.
“I can’t wait to have you in my bed,” he whispered seductively in her ear as they were over halfway to his home.
“I want that too, but…” Maya placed her hand over her mouth, trying to keep the bile from rising. Unfortunately, it was a losing battle.
“Are you alright?”
“No. I don’t feel well,” Maya replied seconds before leaning forward in time to retch the mixture of drinks onto the car floor.
The driver, annoyed, said, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“I’ll take care of the cleaning fee,” Ryan expressed remorsefully.
“I’ll add $40 to your total fare,” the driver informed them.
Ryan consoled Maya by rubbing her back. “We should end the night here. You need to go home and rest,” he suggested.
“I’m sorry for ruining the evening.”
“You haven’t ruined anything. We had a great time tonight, even though it’s ending like this.”
When they got to Ryan’s, he counted out the money from his wallet and handed the driver the $70 for the ride and cleaning fee. Then he got out of the car.
Poking his head through the window, he asked, “Will you be able to get home, okay?”
“No. I don’t have the money to pay for the ride,” Maya replied, wincing at sounding so needy.
“How much do you need?”
Not questioning it, he handed her the money. “Use this to get home safely, okay?”
Maya looked up at him with gratitude in her eyes. “Thank you,” she said, tucking the money safely in her purse.
“Text me when you feel better. I’d love to pick up where we left things when you’re better.”
She smiled at his words and nodded. “Me too. Goodnight.”
“Night.” Then Ryan walked to his door, disappearing inside.
Maya rolled up her window and laid back in her seat. She took several deep breaths to calm herself down. It was over. Another con in the books.
“You picked a good one this time,” Nicole commented as she turned around to look at Maya. “This one didn’t even bitch about having to pay to get you home.”
A small smile formed on her face. “He was one of the better ones we’ve had in a while.”
“How much did he give you?”
“$40. We can split everything evenly when we get to the motel.”
“Or you can take all of it.” Nicole tossed the money Ryan gave her onto Maya’s lap.
“You want me to keep it all?” She asked, surprised. They usually split everything equally.
“You deserve it. You went above and beyond tonight, even making yourself actually vomit. Nice work,” Nicole complimented while driving away from Ryan’s.
“I learned from the best. My mentor taught me everything I know.”
Nicole glanced back at her. “You’re drunk, aren’t you?”
“Let’s get you to the motel so you can sleep it off. We have a busy schedule ahead of us.” Maya nodded absentmindedly, knowing exactly what Nicole was alluding to.
Next week, they were embarking on their next long con, targeting a new unsuspecting mark. She was so familiar with their routine that it felt like clockwork to her. Do one long con, get the money, hide, and do smaller cons until it was time to start the long con again on a new mark. Maya was well-versed in what was expected of her, and it was the same thing every time - perfection.
“I need you focused this week,” Nicole reiterated as she checked on Maya through the rear-view mirror. “I need you at your best.”
“Mom, I know,” Maya replied, lying her head back against the seat. “You always do.”
Gold Diggers of 2023
A question rested on Kennedy’s tongue until she summoned the courage to ask it, “Why did you invite me here?” She fixed her eyes on the menu in front of her and not at the man sitting across from her.
“Do I need a reason to have lunch with my daughter?”
“No.” She closed the menu and finally met Eric’s eye. “It’s just suspicious since you only invite me out for lunch when you have news to tell me.”
“That’s not true.”
“Yeah. It is,” she sighed. “Think. When was the last time we went out like this?”
Eric racked his brain for a moment. “You know, you got to help me out. Your old man’s memory isn’t what it used to be.”
Kennedy wanted to remind him he was 47, not 70, but she thought the better of it. “The last time we did this you revealed to me how far along mom’s cancer had progressed.”
Eric appeared to be preparing a rebuttal. They must have had lunch sometime since then. The rebuttal never materialized, though, because she was right. The last time he took her out for lunch was when he dropped that bomb on her. Two years later, she feared she was about to be hit with similar bad news.
“I know what you’re thinking. Do you think I have more bad news to share with you? Well, I don’t. There is nothing bad going on. You don’t need to worry.”
Her heart rate lowered. “Ok, good. I’m relieved to hear that, but there is something you want to tell me, right?”
Eric inhaled sharply. “Yes. And I’m not sure how you are going to react to it.”
“I promise I’ll try to keep a cool head,” Kennedy reassured. “So, what’s up?”
“Remember how I’ve been in an online grief support group since your mom passed?”
She nodded. “Of course. You tried to convince me to join it.” Losing Camilla, Kennedy’s mother and Eric’s wife, to cervical cancer had devastated the pair beyond belief. For a year, Eric coped alone, not wanting to discuss his grief with other people. Eventually, he worked up the courage to seek help by joining a grief support group online. He was too embarrassed to join one in person.
Kennedy doubted if the group would help, but they proved her wrong; and she was happy about it. Eric seemed more like his old self after a few months in the group than the year prior. The group didn’t cure Eric’s grief. Nothing could do that, but they had done wonders for him. At some point, Eric suggested Kennedy join it. She declined.
She wanted to handle her grief alone. She was going to come to terms with Camilla’s death in her own time and in her own way. “Wait, is that what this is about? Are you trying to convince me to join it again?”
“No. That’s not it.”
“Okay. What is it then?”
Sensing her impatience, Eric got to the point. “Through my support group I have met some amazing people. I consider many of them to be friends. And one in particular I have especially become close to.”
“Okay. I’m still not following.”
Eric seemed to collect his words before he spoke again. “Kennedy, I’ve developed a romantic relationship with a woman named Nicole from the group. It wasn’t something I planned, but it happened.”
The idea of Eric seeing someone after Camilla died never once crossed Kennedy’s mind in the last two years. She knew it was a possibility. She just didn’t know if Eric was interested. Clearly he was.
“How long have you’ve been seeing her?”
“The last eight months.”
Kennedy leaned back in her chair as she processed what he was telling her. “So, you’ve been hiding this from me for eight months? Why? Did you think I would be upset?”
“I wasn’t ready to talk about it with you. I didn’t think you would take it well.”
“I’m 22, not a child. You don’t need to protect me. I understand you wanting to move on. I only wished you didn’t feel the need to keep this from me.”
He reached for her palm across the table. “Me not telling you was a reflection of me and my insecurities. Not you. Camilla hasn’t been gone for that long. I wouldn’t have blamed you if you felt I was moving on too fast.”
“No one knows if you’re rushing into this, except you. Do you think you’re moving too fast?”
“I don’t know. Maybe,” he sighed. “What I do know is being with Nicole has made me the happiest I’ve been in a long time.”
“That’s what matters to me. I want you to be happy,” she said, meaning every word. Was Kennedy ticked off that Eric kept his girlfriend a secret from her? Yes. But her father’s happiness eclipsed her annoyance.
“Thank you for being cool about this.”
“Don’t mention it,” she smiled. “Can we order now? I could go for some waffles.”
“In a minute. There’s one more thing.”
Kennedy stopped her search for a waiter and turned her attention back to Eric. “There’s more? What else do you have to tell me?”
“Nicole lives in Chicago, but she’s been looking to move to Philadelphia for a while now.”
Fear crept into Kennedy. “Tell me this isn’t going where I think it’s going.”
Eric looked down at his hands before starting again. “I invited Nicole to stay with us. At least until she finds her own place.”
“That’s where I feared you were going.” Kennedy winced. She didn’t know if it was out of surprise or pain. Maybe both.
“This isn’t anything you have to worry about.”
“I beg to differ. You invited a stranger to move into our home. The house I shared with my mother.”
“Don’t think about it in those terms.”
“What other terms are there? This is a terrible idea. Did you honestly think I would be onboard with this?”
“I thought you might be open to it.”
“That was wishful thinking on your part.” Other patrons were turning to look at them. “What were you thinking when you invited her?”
“I wanted my relationship with Nicole to become something real and tangible,” he retorted.
Kennedy was doing everything she could not to unload on her father. “How well do you know this woman? Are you sure she’s not cat-fishing you? Or not a gold-digger after your money?”
Eric was a trusted cardiologist, and he was paid handsomely. Not to mention he inherited everything from his parents after their deaths. It wasn’t hard for her to imagine someone wanting to gain her father’s trust to infiltrate his bank account. Kennedy hoped this wasn’t the case, but she couldn’t ignore that it was a possibility.
“Nicole isn’t a cat-fish or a gold-digger,” Eric answered, annoyed he even had to.
“How can you be sure? This woman has implanted herself into your life. That’s textbook gold-digger behavior.”
Kennedy didn’t enjoy thinking this way. She branded herself as a feminist. She didn’t believe every woman who dated a rich man should get the label of a gold-digger. Yet she found it strange that a woman would move in with a man who had just lost his wife. It screamed red flags to her.
“What happens if things go south? Will you kick her out if she’s still staying with us?”
“That won’t happen. I’m serious about Nicole.”
“Is she serious about you? Or are you just her meal ticket?”
“She’s serious about me. You’ll see.” The determination on Eric’s face told Kennedy she wouldn’t change his mind. All she could do was hope he was right about Nicole. The last thing he needed was a repeat of the months after Camilla’s death.
While Kennedy coped with Camilla’s passing by throwing herself into her classes, Eric had holed himself up at home for weeks. Worried he was sinking into a depressive episode, Kennedy took a gap year off and move back home to be with him. She didn’t consult Eric on her decision because he would’ve told her not to. She also knew Eric needed her, and on some level, she needed him, too.
They grew closer than they had in a long time during their time living together. Although they had always gotten along well, their relationship suffered when Kennedy left for college and again when Camilla received her diagnosis. In the aftermath of her death, they were there for one another in ways they had never been before.
That’s what made Eric’s revelation so shocking and upsetting. They were in a place where they withheld nothing from each other. Or at least that’s what Kennedy thought before today. For whatever reason, Eric concealed his plans about Nicole from her and believed it wasn’t necessary to involve her. That hurt her the most. Was she inconsequential to him? That much of an afterthought?
“Look Ken, I’m sorry for putting you in this position. I shouldn’t have made this decision without talking to you first,” he admitted.
“That’s the first sensible thing you’ve said all day.”
“You’re allowed to be angry, but I’m not uninviting Nicole. I’m not going back on my promise. I hope you can understand.”
“Are we supposed to live together like one big happy family? That’s never going to happen.”
“All I’m asking from you is to give Nicole a chance when she arrives. I think you would like her if you kept an open mind about her.”
Kennedy didn’t see a point in trying to argue with Eric any more than she already had. He wasn’t going to change his mind about Nicole. Not yet, anyway. “I’ll keep an open mind. I hope you’re right about her.”
“Thank you. I truly appreciate this.”
“Yeah, whatever. You can thank me by letting me order.” She raised her hand to flag down a waiter.
“Ken, there is one more thing you don’t know,” Eric quickly added.
How many secrets was he keeping from her? The situation was becoming unbelievable. If Eric was going to keep unloading truth bombs on her, Kennedy at least wanted to eat first. “We have gone 20 minutes without ordering. Can’t this wait?”
“No. It can’t.”
“What is it? Does Nicole have a cat she’s bringing with her?” She asked, taking a sip of water.
“No, but she has a daughter.”
“What?” Kennedy choked out.
“Nicole has a daughter from a previous marriage. Her name is Maya. She’s around your age and she’ll be coming with Nicole to stay with us.”
As Kennedy tried to process this, she realized Eric had taken her to a public place to break the news on purpose. This way, she wouldn’t cause a scene. A twinge of anger exploded in her chest as she realized how meticulously planned out this was.
Another realization fueled her rage. “My opinion doesn’t matter to you. Does it?”
“Of course, your opinion matters to me.”
“Really? Because it looks like you made your mind up already. There was nothing I could’ve said to stop this from happening. Was there?”
His guilty expression confirmed her suspicion. “You’re only telling me this because it’s happening soon, right?” Kennedy asked, her voice steady. “When will they arrive?”
“Next Saturday. I’m holding a party at the house to introduce them to my friends. They should be here that Friday.”
“This would be a great time to tell me I’m adopted,” her voice dripped with sarcasm.
She looked away; her gaze lingering on the couple across the restaurant. They were laughing and smiling, unaware of their conversation. She wished she could join them in their obliviousness. Eric reached for her hand, but she pulled it away, signaling that it was too late for his gesture.
“I know I’ve blindsided you, but I only wanted to do what was best for everyone involved. Maya is an amazing young woman and I know you two will get along great once you meet her.”
“It’s not sinking in, is it? You’re so caught up in your own desires that you completely forgot to consider how I would feel about this. You should have known better, and you should have asked me before making such an important decision that affected me.”
Hate was the only feeling that properly described how Kennedy felt about her father at that moment. Eric expected her to go along with this, to accept his decisions and be happy about them. That wasn’t going to happen. She wasn’t going to follow along like a cog in the machine.
She picked up her purse and looked him in the eye. “Enjoy your lunch. Alone.”
“Will you wait? Let’s talk this out.”
“I’m done talking. If I stay here any longer, I’m going to cause the scene you so badly wanted to avoid,” she threatened. “I need to be alone so I can think. Maybe then I can make sense of the sudden upheaval you’ve thrown my life into.”
Without a word, she slammed her chair back and marched towards the exit, her sneakers squeaking with every forceful step she took. As Kennedy walked away, she recalled a memory during a round of Camilla’s chemotherapy, where Eric told her that their family could survive anything. She never imagined their family would have to survive something like this.
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...