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  • Writer's pictureAuthor K.L. Hall

In Exchange: Prologue Sneak Peek

© K.L. Hall and www.authorklhall.com, 2024. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to K.L. Hall and www.authorklhall.com with appropriate and specific directions to the original content.


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Prologue- Only Fools Fall in Love for Free


Lotus Pierce

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who will do anything to survive and

those who won’t. After my mama kicked me out at seventeen for refusing to acknowledge her weird-ass new husband as my stepfather, I hit the beaten path of adulthood. Over the next four years, I jumped from one dead-end job and couch to another until my cousin Tiffany agreed to put me up in one of her husband’s vacant apartments until it was rented. She was four years older than me, and although she was married to a real estate agent with connections, she always had a baller on speed dial. I looked up to her for two reasons: her beauty and her hustle. With a safe and free place to lay my head, I continued scraping pennies to save up for my restaurant. It was my dream to become an upscale restaurant owner. Lotus was going to be the finest restaurant in the French Quarter, selling Cajun and French Creole cuisine. Opening Lotus was a dream I shared with my late father, who died of a heart attack when I was fourteen. All I ate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner was Ramen noodles to make sure our dream became a reality. Being broke did two things for me: it shortened my tolerance for bullshit and reinforced my ambition.

My downtrodden narrative changed when Tiff mentioned an online ad she’d seen looking

for young, beautiful women interested in making cash daily with no experience necessary. She

told me I had the type of face that could bring in millions and that with her guidance and a small kickback to her for lookin’ out, I could be on the fast track to getting my restaurant. Her motto: only fools fall in love for free. Back then, I didn’t know how right she was. Still, it sounded too easy to be legit and too damn good to be true, but I trusted her, so I called the number listed at the bottom of the ad anyway. My ass was hungry for a come-up, and Tiff loved money so much it may as well have been her middle name. Plus, my livelihood depended on having more than a hundred and twenty dollars to my name at any given time. 

In the beginning, becoming an escort wasn’t all I thought it’d be. Sure, the money was an

upgrade from the mediocre pay I was used to, and it helped me stack my money quicker and

support myself, but I knew laying on my back and servicing men wasn’t something I could do

long-term. In my eyes, sex work was another stepping stone I had to use to get me to the next

level. And with the way young adulthood had whooped my ass, I was ready for the lavish gifts

and international trips I’d seen Tiffany’s husband bestow upon her. I felt I deserved it.

In my eyes, Tiff had been on top of the world for as long as I’d known her. Somehow,

she’d been lucky enough to figure out the key to life early on and had been basking in happiness ever since. A wave of shame washed over me. I felt bad about hating on my own blood for what she had, especially after she’d looked out for me. But I couldn’t help myself. I’d struggled for every sliver of peace I’d ever gotten. Yeah, she’d given me a break by letting me live rent-free, but it was only a matter of time before the other shoe dropped. I had to have a backup plan.

The night a client left me stranded at an upscale holiday soiree in the heart of the French

Quarter with no money to pay for my drink was when everything changed. When we first

arrived, I’d gotten a reading from a tarot card reader hired to entertain guests. She told me she

saw wealth, success, and immense heartbreak in my future. At the moment, the only thing I had

were empty pockets, so I pushed her reading to the back of my mind. I sat alone, surrounded by a raw oyster bar, spirited partygoers, and a giant ice sculpture spouting champagne. It was clear I was out of my element, but the authentic double-Cs on my bag made me feel more secure than I did with my knockoffs. I’d spent my last on it. Then my high and mighty ass thought I’d get away with refusing to perform oral sex on my client in the men’s room by offering a hand job on the ride home instead. Not only did he get up and leave, but he called the agency I worked for and got my ass fired before his seat turned cold. I was so dumbfounded I couldn’t even get up from the cocktail table. Your ass knows you’re going to have to return that bag now. Suddenly, I was back at square one, which brought up a lot of negative feelings I had to swallow back down because I was in public. After being an escort for six months, there was no way I could explain the gap in my resume to a nine-to-five employer. Being in a profession where I had to rely on someone else to keep my lights on was no longer it for me. I wanted to be in the driver’s seat of my life and never have to worry about money again. My thoughts wandered back to my tarot reading. With all the promised wealth in my future, I wanted to know how the riches were going to come and where I needed to be to meet the millionaire of my dreams. As many frogs as I’d kissed, I was ready for my prince. 

My phone vibrated. I looked down to see a text from Tiffany.

“Fuck,” I mumbled as I sipped my Long Island iced tea slowly, watching it become more

watered down as I thought of my next move. She was going to want answers I didn’t have to

give her. For someone who didn’t waste my time making wishes or picking up four-leaf clovers,

I spent a lot of time with my head in the clouds and could never seem to come up with a plan that got me long-term money. At the rate I was going, my restaurant would never see the light of day. In the midst of my thoughts, someone sat at my table for two.

“Somebody is sitting here,” I snapped without even bothering to look at who’d taken a

seat to my right.

“How about I make you a deal? If you allow me to sit here, I’ll get you a drink,” a man

with a baritone voice as smooth as butter replied.

Intrigued, I twisted my neck in his direction and almost melted into a puddle of lust right

in my seat. The voice was attached to a handsome man with chocolate brown skin, a killer smile, designer clothes from his shoulders down to his size twelve shoes, and no ring on his finger. 

A girlish grin crept up one side of my mouth before I parted my lips to speak. “And what

if I don’t want another drink?”

He took a closer look at my glass. “Yeah. It does look like you’re babysitting the one you

got.” 

  My eyes followed his. “You could pay for this one if you’re still interested in keeping that

seat,” I proposed. 

He flashed me a bright grin as a soft chuckle belted past his pouty brown lips. He wasn’t

even fully smiling, and looking at him was already like a loaded gun to my chest. 

“I’m Psalm, and it’s a corporate party, so the drinks are free, by the way,” he introduced

himself before extending his tattooed right hand. 

I blushed with embarrassment before placing my hand in his and shaking it firmly.

“Lotus.” 

“Mmm. Strong handshake.” 

“Were you expecting something softer?” 

His seductive brown eyes snaked along my frame before he spoke. “Not at all.” 

There was a one-sided pluck of my lips. “Good.” 

We spent the next few minutes talking. I learned what he did and lied when it came time

to discuss my current job status. He was a single, handsome, twenty-six-year-old Chief Financial Officer. And as far as he knew, I was a twenty-two-year-old recent graduate from the University of Chicago interning in NOLA at a start-up tech company. To me, it wasn’t serious. We were two strangers trading stories at a party. Who cared about the truth when telling lies was more entertaining? When things fell silent between us for the first time, I tuned into the buzz of conversation around us. 

Psalm leaned in. “Okay, I’ll bite. What’s up?” 

“What do you mean?”

“Why you babysitting that shit? Stiff drinks ain’t your thing?”

“Stiff drinks, no. I’m a huge champion of other stiff things, though,” I quipped.

His soft-looking lips danced around a smile before he sipped his drink. “Noted.”

“What are you sippin’ on?” I asked curiously.

He kept his eyes stationed on me for a second or two. “Hennessy and Coke.”

“Mmm.”

“So, you drinkin’ with me tonight or nah?”

Instead of responding, I waved down one of the waiters before pushing my drink away.

“Hi. I’ll have what he’s having.” 

When the party ended, we strolled through the French Quarter, seeing festive decor

around every cobblestoned corner. All the buildings were decorated with garland, oversized red

bows, and twinkling white lights. He kissed my cheek before calling me and Uber to ensure I got

home safely. He didn’t ask me to fuck. He didn’t try to take advantage of me and take me back to his place. He was a true Southern gentleman, which was something I rarely encountered. I never expected to lose my job and embark on a whirlwind romance in the same twenty-four hours, but somehow, I slipped Psalm my number and my heart that night. 

In the two months that followed our first encounter, we spent almost every day together.

Our connection was so rare and delicate that I didn’t share a whiff of him with anyone, selfishly

consuming him all for myself. We kissed. We hugged. We made spine-chilling, back-breaking,

sticky, passionate love. I knew I’d never feel for another man what I felt for him. Was it all roses

and rainbows? No. When we were together, Psalm had a way of using his polished vocabulary as a way of proving that he was more cultured than I was. It was easily one of my least favorite

things about him, but since I was still pretending to be a college graduate, I did my best to match his energy. I was a pro at faking it until I made it. Besides, we all had different versions of

ourselves that we promoted depending on the company we kept. I’d never let him know he used

to make me feel like we’d grown up on two separate ends of the world. The first time he took me to the parish where his childhood home was—a large, four-bedroom in the suburbs with a forest green front door—I realized my feelings were warranted. If I hadn’t known I was in New

Orleans, I would have sworn we were driving around in one of the uppity neighborhoods on the

outskirts of the city I used to pass on the bus on the way to school. If his vocabulary and high-

end taste in clothing hadn’t already given it away, it was clear he came from more money than I

did. Before they died, his parents were published professors and high-paid accountants for

Fortune 500 companies. My mother did hair out of our living room six days a week, and I

wouldn’t have known my father if I had to pick him out in a line-up.  Psalm was a level-up for me in more ways than one. He was poised, direct, and downright sexy. When someone like me found a man who made all the bullshit in my life vanish, it was hard not to feed off his energy. If I couldn’t get my finances in order, at least my love life was taking a turn in the right direction. Everything was perfect. And then, he did the worst thing a good man could do to a broken girl. He ghosted me. 

I called. 

I texted. 

I even fucked around and googled him to find his work email. 

Nothing. 

My mind was stuck in a never-ending cycle of re-living our love story because, by the

time I realized we were over, the memories were all I had left. I didn’t understand it, nor could I

wrap my mind around it. His favorite color was royal blue, the same as mine. The shape of his

feet was of Greek descent like mine. He thought pineapples on pizza were a crime against

humanity, like me. He poured his milk into the bowl before his cereal like a psycho, just like I

did. And he was… gone. I spent a few days trying to settle into the thought that he was dead. It

was either that, or he was secretly married. Regardless of the truth, I was shattered. Tiffany was

the one who stroked my hair and brought me through my depression when Psalm disappeared.

She was the only family member I kept in touch with and the only person I had to lean on in my

darkest hour. I spilled everything to her. Something told me she knew the loss I felt, the

hollowness left behind when you lose someone you love, but we never talked about it. I was too

consumed in my grief to save her from drowning in her own.

A month passed before I got a call from him at two o’clock in the morning. My groggy,

sleep-deprived eyes scanned the screen that revealed his name, and my heart sprang forward. He wasn’t dead. He was back, and he was calling me. As badly as I wanted to send him to voicemail, my heart wouldn’t let me draw in my next breath before hearing his voice. I quickly pressed accept and answered with as much attitude as I could muster up in the wee hours of the morning. 

“Who is this?” I hissed.  

“You know exactly who this is, Lotus.”

The sound of my name falling off his tongue made my body quake. “W–what?”

“Before you hang up, let me explain.”

I sat up in the bed. “What is there for you to explain? It’s clear something, or someone has

had your attention for the past month.” 

“You’re right. I should’ve called. I should’ve reached out.” 

I scoffed. “Yeah. You should’ve.” 

“Can you please hear me out?”

“What is there to say? It’s been a month, Psalm! An entire month without a single word

from you. I thought you were dead!” 

“Remember my friend Kareem I told you about?”

I sucked my teeth before recalling the name. “What about him?” 

“H–he’s been going through a lot, and, uh, tried to commit suicide a few of weeks ago in

the parking garage at his job.”

My lashes flipped full-open. He’d sometimes talk about his best friend, Kareem when

recanting stories from his childhood, but our deep conversations were few and far between. I

heard the sadness in his voice and immediately felt like a jerk for nosediving off a cliff of

conclusions before fully hearing him out. 

“I’m so sorry to hear that.”

“Yeah. Me too.” 

“Is he… okay?” I inquired hesitantly. 

“No, but he will be. Look, Lotus. I don’t know how else to say this, but I need your

help.” 

“My help? Anything. What do you need?”

“I have a proposition for you.” 

“What is it?”

He blew his lips into the receiver, another indicator of his heightened stress levels. “I

don’t even know how to put this shit into words that will make sense.”

“You can tell me anything, Psalm. Whatever you need from me, I’ll do it.”

“Do you really mean that?” 

I nodded. I’d been so cold without him, and the moment he returned, it was as if

everything in me began to thaw, and I could feel again. He was back in my life, and I was ready

to move mountains to keep him around. “I do.”

He sighed. “Listen, I-I’ve been really worried about him. Me, his mom, and his dad,

we’ve all been. He needs help, and it’s not the kind of help we can give him. And it’s fucked up

because he’s a great guy. He’s intelligent and loyal as hell. He’s crazy skilled at playing the

piano, too. Like, really fuckin’ good. But he’s been treated for borderline personality disorder

since he’s been back. That, coupled with his PTSD, has made it hard for him to readjust socially.”

“Back? Where was he?”

“In the Army stationed overseas,” he answered. 

“Psalm, what is your proposition?” I quizzed softly. 

“I want to set you up with him.” 

My forehead creased in confusion, and I recoiled as if he and his request physically

repelled me. “Wait. What?” 

Not only did my heart belong only to him, but I had zero interest in getting to know

Kareem, no matter how heart-wrenching his story was. Psalm was the man I wanted, and after

everything we’d shared, I couldn’t understand why he didn’t see that too.

“I know what I’m asking you to do is crazy, but we don’t know what else to do. Watching

someone you love become a ghost is… it’s just hard to do, y’know?”

“You damn right, it’s crazy! Love doesn’t make a mental illness go away. There I was,

thinking you were about to ask me to do something to help you. Do you not know how I feel

about you?” 

“I do.”

“Bullshit, because if you did, you would’ve never asked me that.”

“Lotus, I don’t know what else to do,” he responded, sounding defeated. 

My lungs expelled a long huff of air. “Listen, I’m sorry about your friend. I really am.

And maybe there’s a part of me that respects you for going the extra mile for your nigga, but I

want to be your girl, Psalm, not his.” 

“Lotus, I–” 

I cut him off. “Was any of it real between us? I know it was fast, but I was falling in love

with you, but if all it takes is thirty days for what we had to fade from your mind, you’re not the

guy I thought you were.” The line fell silent for a few seconds, making me question if I was

talking to myself. “H-hello?” 

“I’m here,” he answered.

“Well? What do you have to say? It’s been a month, and you still haven’t found the

words?”

“It was real, Lotus. It was all real, and if this were any other world, I would love you

to…”

“But?” I butted in, beating him to the punch before he could say it. 

“But blood couldn’t make Kareem and me any closer, and if I have to choose between

you or him, then I’ll always love him more.” 

His words stung like an arrow in my heart. For the first time in history, it seemed the

power of friendship was stronger than the power of pussy. 

“Well then, I guess there’s nothing left to say.”

“It’s just me and his parents, Lotus. He doesn’t have anyone else. He needs a woman to

put his pieces back together.” 

“And what makes you think I can?”

“Because I know you’ve never stepped foot on UC’s campus, let alone graduated from

there. I know what you were doing to get money the night I met you sulking at that party trying

to figure out how you were going to pay for a free drink.”

I shuddered at the reminder, feeling embarrassed all over again. “H-how long have you

known?” I stammered, at a loss at what to say back. He’d caught my ass red-handed. I was

sweating like a sinner in church.

“My uncle is a tenured professor there. I used his connections and put the pieces together

myself. I’m a smart man with a lot of resources at my disposal, Lotus.”

I swallowed the melon-sized lump in my throat. “What the fuck does my line of work

have anything to do with—”

He cut me off. “How close are you to making your dream a reality?”

My forehead bunched. “What?”

“The restaurant you want to open in the French Quarter,” he answered, cutting me off.

“So, you remember that, but you couldn’t remember to call me for a month?”

“What if I told you I could make your dream come true?”

My eyes doubled in size before my brows turned in. “What? How?”

“There’s an available space I think might be perfect for your restaurant, and I’ll give you

the money to buy it.”

The ringing of a cash register chimed in my head, perking my ears. As much as I wanted

to refuse him off the mere principle of his request, my pockets and my heart were begging for his attention. It wasn’t as if I’d landed a six-figure paying job in his absence. I was just as desperate for the money as I was the night we met. 

“W-what?”

“Kareem comes from a wealthy family. Between his parents and I, we can give you

anything you want if you do this.”

“What exactly would I have to do?”

“Do whatever you gotta do to make him fall in love with you and see that life is worth

living.”

I scoffed. “I don’t know the first thing about making someone fall in love with me.”

“Just do to him what you did when you were with me,” he stated.

I paused, biting my lip. Taking the deal meant dancing off into my happily-ever-after with

Psalm would never be in the cards for me. But at least my restaurant would. All I had to do was

pretend I had feelings for a basket case with rich parents.

“So, I’m supposed to run off and live happily ever after with him? Because I don’t

believe in fairytales.”

“Good, because that’s not what I’m offering.”

“How much are you offering for my restaurant?”

“One million dollars.”


Coming March 5th!




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