Chapter 1: Who Shot Ya?

“We have an unidentified female between the ages of seventeen and twenty-one. Multiple gunshot wounds to the chest and abdomen. She’s conscious and responsive, but she’s bleeding out fast and blacked out twice on the way here. BP is eighty over fifty,” the paramedic says, pushing the gurney through the hospital doors.

A row of bright lights on a ceiling replaces the starry night sky. A smaller, brighter light shines into my eyes. “I’m Doctor Carmichael. Can you speak? What’s your name?” one of the three men hovering over me in burgundy scrubs asks.

“Mon…” I look around the busy hospital in search of anything that can distract me from the pain. “Monroe…” Blood fills my throat, and I gasp for air as I cough it up. The burning in my chest worsens and I feel dizzy again.

“Prep O.R. three!”

The other doctors disperse as Carmichael jogs alongside the gurney.

“We’re going to get you up to surgery as soon as we can, okay? Just stay with me. I’m going to take care of you, Miss…”Carmichael’s eyes widen before shooting up. “Listen! We should expect paparazzi and news reporters any minute now. No one with a camera or notepad is to be given any information on this patient. Should any pictures of her or intel on her condition show up on the internet tonight, someone will be out of a job. You all better pretend you’ve never heard of Monroe Westbrook. Understood?”

Monroe Westbrook—that’s me, but who I am depends on who you ask. Some people will say I’m the brainiac who graduated high school with a five-point-two GPA. Another will tell you I’m the younger sister of big-time rapper Tailyn, better known as Fantasy, and rising NBA star Sovereign Westbrook. Others will talk about how talented I am. Though the initial answer might vary, everyone will end up saying Monroe Westbrook is the girl who had so much opportunity in front of her that she didn’t know what to do with any of it.

See, I had it all. My siblings provided whatever my heart desired, be it the latest fashions or trips overseas, and my sister’s love of music had rubbed off on me at an early age. I lived to make music. My talent, coupled with my family’s endless cash flow, made me Miami’s It Girl. If there was an industry party, I was on the VIP list. When a pop star flew into the city to work with a local producer, they called me to have lunch before they left. Everyone knew who I was, and while I loved the attention, I wasn’t ready for my popularity to skyrocket the way it did when Tailyn offered me a spot on her hit song “Think About It”. It didn’t take long for it to reach the top of every chart it was on, making me a big enough star to step out of my siblings’ shadows. With a number one record and a little fanbase of my own, I was on top of the world.

Until I wasn’t.

I know exactly what—or, rather, who—had caused my life to spiral out of control. Marshawn “Civil” Bryce was another rapper who had come up around the same time as Tailyn. With a flow as nice as his chocolate skin and a raw sex appeal, he was used to having women do what he asked of them, and I was no different. His sexy southern drawl held a type of power I’d never seen in a man.

I remember how Civil and I met. It was the day after I turned eighteen. Tailyn had been performing in London on my birthday. She was supposed to fly back to the States to celebrate with me that night, but her manager insisted on her staying to do some radio interviews over the weekend. When she told me we’d have to put off my birthday celebration for a few more days, I went out on my own. That’s how I ended up at some upcoming artist’s listening party with a singer on Tailyn’s label named Charisma. I knew that being in his presence meant a good time was in store. I wish I had stayed by his side the entire night.

Charisma and I parted ways when, after dancing nonstop through half an album, he decided he couldn’t keep up with me. “Do ya thing, lil mama. I need to catch my breath.” He kissed my cheek and joined his posse at a table not too far from our position on the dancefloor.

The moment Charisma sat down, someone else grabbed my waist. Still full of energy and low-key impressed with the album’s experimental sound, I picked up right where I had left off with Charisma. For the next two songs, I danced against the unfamiliar man, smirking every time I felt his excitement through his jeans. I could tell he was having just as much fun as I was, and the tease in me decided I’d leave him with nothing but his memory of me when the song ended. When I tried to make good on that promise, he pulled me back to him.

“Hold up, baby. Why you running off?” he asked over the blaring music. “Can I talk to you?”

“That depends on what you wanna talk about,” I said as I observed his face. Even with Club Hestia’s low lights, he wasn’t handsome by any conventional standards, but he was tall, dark, and dipped in ice. What he lacked in looks, he made up for in confidence and swagger, and that made him just as attractive as the plethora of pretty boys around me. “What’s your name?”

“I’m Ghetto. I wish I could say I wanted to talk about me and you, but my boy saw you first and I gotta respect that, you feel me? He wanted me to come down here and get you for him.”

“Who’s your boy?”

“Why don’t you come with me and find out?” He took my hand and headed toward a staircase, prompting me to move with him. Ghetto’s presence was so powerful that a clear path formed in the center of the packed club without him having to say a word as he walked.

After we ascended the stairs, Ghetto led me down a long, narrow hallway and into a room, where we were met by a thick cloud of smoke and a multitude of half-naked women.

“Aye, y’all get from over here.”

The unsuspecting women scattered in response to the orotund voice. Once they were out of the way, I could see who the voice belonged to.

“You Monroe, right?” The man, who I’d only ever seen on TV and in magazines, pointed a blunt at me and raised a cup to his lips. “Don’t be shy. Get over here.”

I pulled away from Ghetto and approached Civil. “You know my sister isn’t going for this. Why’d you call me up here?”

Civil sucked his teeth. “You know how long I been waiting to meet you? Don’t tell me you’re about to blow me off because you’re afraid of Fantasy.” He held out his blunt. “You wit’ it?”

I pushed his hand away. “I’m about to blow you off because Fantasy Land and Veni Vidi Vici don’t get along.” I didn’t know the story behind Civil’s beef with my sister, but it’d been the headline of enough gossip blog articles over the years for me to know it went deeper than competing for album sales.

“That’s the thing.” Civil puffed his blunt and exhaled the smoke through his nose. “You’re not signed to Fantasy Land Productions, and what me and your sister have going on ain’t your business. The fact that you’re pretty as hell isn’t the only reason I’ve been trying to get at you, baby. That lil song you and Fantasy made was dope. I need you on my label.”

My eyes widened. I attempted to sit in the empty seat beside him, but Civil pulled me onto his lap. “You want to sign me to Veni Vidi Vici Records?”

“Everybody will want to sign you soon. Other labels are just waiting to see if you’re a one-hit wonder, but I know talent when I see it, and Three-V is all about talent. If your sister ever gives you a contract, you’ll be in her shadow for the rest of your life. Fantasy is always going to be the star at Fantasy Land. I’m tryna make The Black Rosé the first lady of my camp.”

His use of my stage name sent a chill down my spine. Outside of the fans I encountered while out and about, no one called me that. I was Little Roe or Tai’s baby. That was the first time I felt like a real, respected artist.

“You know Tailyn would never let that happen.”

“Which is why I held off on approaching you until you hit eighteen, ma. You can sign a contract on your own now. Fantasy doesn’t like it? To hell with her. You’re as grown as you’re ever gonna be.” Civil’s fingertips moved across the bare skin on my arms before gripping them and pulling me closer to him. “There’s not a single artist on my label who’s unhappy with their deal, Roe. I’ll make sure you have the time of your life at Three-V. Any endorsement opportunities you want, any shows you wanna guest star on… just say the word, and I’ll make it happen.”

I trembled a little, the hairs on his face tickling my neck as he spoke, and then I looked over my shoulder at him. Between his pretty brown eyes and the tight curls that composed his thick afro, I didn’t know what to focus on. “Do you take such a vested interest in all your artists?”

“I told you you were real pretty, right?” With a chuckle, he reached into his pocket. “Can I bribe you? Check this out.” He pulled out his phone, tapped the screen a few times, and handed it to me.

I spent a few seconds scanning the email, and then I smiled. “You got me an endorsement deal with Signature Steez? Do you know how hard it is to reach Steelo?”

“His kid is on my label. I keep little Kortland happy, and Steelo keeps me happy.” Civil took the paper back. “Steelo isn’t offering you a commercial or two. He wants you to be the face of Signature Steez: Ladies Edition, but only if you sign with me.” He sat up straight and tightened his hold on me. “I also have a three-million-dollar signing bonus for you and the chance to join me on my tour at the end of the year. If there’s anything I can do to get you on my team, tell me what it is. You’ll never hear the word ‘no’ from me.”

Taken aback by Civil’s generous offer, I couldn’t think up a response. No one else was getting the incentives Civil offered give me—not any new artists, at least. I was happy with the idea of being signed, yet he was offering me the world in addition to a contract.

“You don’t have to decide right now,” Civil said. “Take a few days to think about it. Whenever you’re ready to join the Three-V family, just give me a ring. I’ll give you my card.”

“I’ll think about it.” I started to stand and get back to the party, but Civil held me in place. “Do you need something else?”

“I do. Signing you was just one of the two things I wanted to talk to you about.” Civil raised his voice so that it could be heard throughout the room. “Yo, everybody, get out.”

The command echoed off the walls. Within seconds, we were the only two people in the room.

Civil put out his blunt and stroked my hair. “I can give you the world, Monroe. As the head of your label, I mean. If I’m willing to go above and beyond for my artists, imagine how happy I can make my girl.”

Civil’s hands found their way to my thighs, and I tensed up. My short dress would have done nothing to stop his fingers from moving a few inches higher.

“Civil, aren’t you, like, twenty-six?”

“Twenty-seven. Is that a problem for you?”

“I’m eighteen. That’s not a problem for you?”

Civil shook his head. “You’re smart as hell. You’re talented. You’re fine. I’ve seen your interviews, and you don’t sound like a kid in them. I like you enough to look past the age thing.”

“You know nothing about me besides the things Tailyn lets the media find out. How can you like me?”

“I know just enough to be interested. I’m hoping you’ll let me get to know you a little better. I’m just tryna be your friend for now. We can be friends, right, Monroe?” Civil continued without waiting for an answer. “I got some charity shit to go to in Liberia on Monday, but I’m in town for the weekend. Can we spend some time together?”

“And do what?”

“Whatever you wanna do. When my girl is with me, it’s all about her. Don’t ask me what we’re doing, baby. Tell me what we’re doing.”

I stifled a giggle. “I’m not your girl, Civil.”

“Not yet.” The grin that graced his plump lips made his handsome face more appealing. “Look, I got a house over on Star Island. I’ll pick you up and take you there tomorrow afternoon. We can hang out in my studio for a little while and see where the day takes us after that. Where do you live?”

“Indian Creek Village. My gate says Fantasy Land in big gold letters. You can’t miss it.”

“Yeah, that sounds like something Tai would do,” Civil said. “I’ma let you get back to the party.” He retrieved a card from his pocket and gave it to me. “See you tomorrow.”

“See you tomorrow.”

After stuffing the card into my bra, I got up and exited the room, waving at Civil on my way out the door. As I left, his entourage went back inside. It wasn’t until they were all gone that I could see Charisma leaning against a nearby wall. When our eyes met, he opened the door to another private room and motioned for me to follow him.

I went into the room after him. “Why’d you follow me up here?”

“Because I promised Tai I’d look after you tonight,” he said. “You know Civil is bad news. What are you doing?”

“He wanted to talk to me. We just had a conversation. Are you gonna tell my sister? She doesn’t need to know. It wasn’t about her.”

“Wait. You think whatever Civil said to you was actually about you?”

I frowned. “What do you mean?”

“Dude has been beefing with your sister for years. He only spoke to you to piss her off. You’re supposed to be untouchable, and he was proving a point.”

“The world doesn’t revolve around Tailyn, so—”

“This was about Tai. I guarantee it.”

I shook my head. “You don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m gonna get back to the party.”

“You’re a good girl, Monroe. Civil will ruin you. Don’t be stupid.”

“I’m not stupid. No one is going to ruin me.” I rolled my eyes and headed out of the room.

“A’ight, Roe. Playing with fire is how you get burned. Don’t let your pride ruin your life.”

I slammed the door behind me. Intent on not letting Charisma’s negativity have an ill effect on my night, I went back downstairs and rejoined the party. Not realizing just how true his words were, I pushed them to the back of my mind, setting into motion a series of events that would lead to the best and worst times of my life.

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