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Allure of the Game

A Novel

About The Book

A superstar in urban lit, Essence bestselling author Danielle Santiago concludes her gripping Harlem trilogy with a sizzling, streetwise novel about an all-female drug cartel.

Twenty-year-old Arnessa didn’t grow up on the streets. But when her mentally ill mother abandons her and her older brother is murdered, Arnessa has no choice but to hustle just to keep herself and her little sister alive.

Kisa “Kane” Montega, on the other hand, has a wonderful marriage, two beautiful children, and lives in a stunning home on the outskirts of Charlotte. Her cousin, Kennedy, has spent two years away from the volatile music industry, focusing on her children and building a solid foundation with her rap star fiancé, Chaz. But in spite of their success, both Kane and Kennedy are gravitating back to their old ways and the game they thought they’d left behind. After a chance meeting, Arnessa goes from being a low-level dealer to partner in their cartel. But the bigger their empire gets, the more haters they have to contend with—and the more each one of them stands to lose.

Sexy, suspenseful, and unflinching, Danielle Santiago’s Allure of the Game gives fans exactly what they’ve been hoping for—a deeply satisfying conclusion to an unforgettable trilogy, packed with insight into the mean streets she knows so well.


At 6:00 AM Arnessa slowly rolled out of bed, not completely rested. The thought of the monthly bills was enough motivation to get her rolling. The old wooden floor creaked under her feet as she walked toward the bathroom, still half asleep. Through the door, Arnessa could hear the shower. The sound of the running water only made her bladder throb. She burst into the bathroom even though she knew her little sister, Cenise, hated it when her privacy was invaded. Immediately, Cenise yelled over the shower curtain, “Can’t you wait till I’m finished? Damn!”

Arnessa was too excessively focused on using the toilet to respond. It felt so good to let the urine out; she could feel her bladder contracting as it emptied. “No, I cannot wait my turn,” she snapped as she flushed the toilet, which caused the shower water to turn cold.

Cenise shrieked from the instant chill on her skin, “Nessa, I’ma fuck you up when I get outta here.”

“Yeah, whateva. Watch your mouth, little girl.”

Back in her bedroom, Arnessa pressed play on the CD player that sat on her dresser. Jay-Z’s In My Lifetime Vol. 1 pumped through the speakers. She bopped her head and rapped along with the lyrics as she went through the pockets of the beige Woolrich parker she’d worn the night before. She pulled out a wad of cash that totaled a little over $4,000. Sitting on the edge of the bed, Arnessa counted and separated the bills. She put $1,300 to the side and divided the remaining three Gs into $1,000 stacks. Arnessa folded each one and wrapped them in baby blue rubber bands.

Reaching into the back of her closet, Arnessa pulled out a Timberland box filled to the brim with one-thousand-dollar stacks all fastened with the same baby blue rubber bands. She closed the box, placed it back in the closet, and pulled out another Timberland box that was half full with stacks of money also fastened with rubber bands. She tossed the three new stacks into that box and put it back in its place.

Scanning the closet, Arnessa tried to figure out which of her many sweatsuits she would put on. Some that she’d never worn still had tags hanging from the sleeves, and others were in plastic bags fresh from the cleaner’s. She grabbed a big black plastic shopping bag with MONY’S emblazoned in gold across the front. From the floor, she pulled out a beige Lady Enyce suit and threw it across the bed. Arnessa opened the top dresser drawer, took out a cream thermal set and a lace bra-and-panty set from Victoria’s Secret. One would never guess that under Arnessa’s boyish attire were the softest and frilliest underwear. She loved girly things, but she always felt the need to hide them, given her line of work.

After a quick shower, Arnessa rubbed lotion over her entire body. She sprayed her favorite fragrance, Happy, behind her knees, on the back of her neck, and behind each ear. Arnessa slipped on her thermals and put on her jogging pants, then exited her room, trying to catch Cenise before she left for school. “Yo, Neesie,” Arnessa called out.

“I’m in the kitchen,” Cenise responded as she stood over the counter eating a bowl of Farina.

“Here’s the money for your tuition,” Arnessa said, laying a stack of thirteen one-hundred-dollar bills next to Cenise’s bowl. “As you know, a G is for the school, and three hundred is your pocket money for the week. And a week is seven days, not five. So make it last.”

“Don’t I always.”

“If you did, I wouldn’t be telling you now.”

Rolling her eyes, Cenise continued eating.

Arnessa opened the refrigerator, “I’m leaving for Baltimore in a little while. I’ll be back late tonight. If you want to have company, Nomie is the only person allowed in here while I’m gone.”

“Why is Nomie the only one of my friends that can come over?”

“’Cause I said so. Now stop questioning me.”

“You know, you’re not my mother.”

“I’m the closet thing you got!” Arnessa snapped, slamming the refrigerator door closed, “You little ungrateful bitch, and if you want your mother, go find her crazy ass and see if she wants you! If she even gave half a fuck about us, she would be here.” Arnessa got in her sister’s face. Looking into Cenise’s eyes was like looking into her own. The slanted shape of them was the only sign that they were sisters.

Rebellion flickered in Cenise, but she held it in while Arnessa continued to rip into her with her words. “I’m out here throwing bricks at the penitentiary so you can have nice shit and go to the best schools, and all you know how to do is get fresh at the mouth. I should have let BCW take you when they came three years ago!” Completely pissed, Arnessa retreated to her bedroom.

Cenise just stood there, unable to move, trying hard to fight off the oncoming tears. Slowly, she moved her feet, grabbed her book bag, and left for school, crying all the way.

Arnessa refused to cry as she dug into a bag in the bottom of her closet. It seemed like the more she did for Cenise, the less Cenise appreciated her. She pulled out six neatly wrapped eight balls of crack and stuffed them into the inside pockets of her coat. Arnessa threw the coat back across the bed and went back into the kitchen. Opening the freezer, she pulled out a box of frozen broccoli. She opened the box and poured out what looked like six little fat carrot pieces. The little pieces were actually heroin balloons. They were wrapped in an orange plastic coating that made them undetectable to X-ray machines. Arnessa stacked them together, then wrapped them in duct tape, creating a penis-like shape.

Walking into the bathroom, Arnessa reached into her pocket and pulled out a Durex condom. She ripped open the wrapper with her teeth, slid the condom over the balloons, and tied a neat little knot at the end of the rubber. After lubricating the condom with K-Y Jelly, Arnessa pulled her pants down and squatted. Slowly, she pushed the package into her vaginal opening. Her inner walls were unusually tight due to her sexual inactivity. Boofing heroin was not one of Arnessa’s hustles; as a matter of fact, she hated it. Even with the lubricant, the hardness of the package made the ordeal slightly painful. I’ma fuck Tash fat ass up for this one.

Tasha was Arnessa’s favorite boofer and technically her only. The girl could put almost three hundred grams at one time in her oversized vagina, which was always wide open because she’d been the biggest broke whore uptown. She and Arnessa had met through a mutual friend two years earlier. At the time Tasha had been eighteen, with four kids, four different deadbeat baby daddies, and no viable income. Initially, Arnessa thought Tasha was the slut of all sluts.

As the two spent more time around each other, Arnessa began to understand that Tasha was a victim of her environment. Arnessa loved Tasha’s realness and the fact that no matter what anyone thought of her, Tasha was always herself. About six months after they were introduced, Arnessa and Tasha had forged a bulletproof bond. Helping Tasha the only way she knew how, Arnessa gave her a job bagging up. A year and a half later, when Arnessa started selling heroin to a few dudes out in Baltimore and D.C., Tasha went from bagger to professional boofer.

It didn’t matter how tight they were at the moment, Tasha was at the top of Arnessa’s shit list. Small beads of sweat began forming on Arnessa’s nose as she continued to struggle with the dope. Her phone conversation with Tasha the previous night replayed in her head. “Why in the fuck would you make an abortion appointment for tomorrow when you know Wednesday is a B-more day?” Arnessa asked angrily.

“That’s the first available appointment that they had.”

“Can’t you go on Thursday?”


“And why not?”

“’Cause Thursday will be the first day of my second trimester, and you know they don’t do abortions past three months no more.”

Becoming more irritated than she already was, Arnessa said, “Let me ask you this, if you knew all along that you were not having the baby, what sense did it make to wait all the way till the third month.”

“Nessa, you know in the beginning that nigga was saying he wanted me to have it. I didn’t even decide to have one until he started tripping two weeks ago.”

“How about from now on you use condoms so you won’t find yourself back up on the chopping block again? Isn’t this like your eighth abortion anyway? You better stop using that shit as birth control before they be taking your ass out that clinic in a body bag,” Arnessa said unapologetically before slamming the phone closed.

“There it is,” Arnessa said aloud, her thoughts returning to the present as she finally got the dope situated comfortably inside of her. Arnessa adjusted her clothes and exited the restroom.

Brisk, cold air smacked Arnessa in the face as she stepped out onto the stoop of her building. At 8:00 AM, Harlem was already alive and running. Parents were walking their kids to school; good citizens were going to work; construction workers hammered away; and fiends were searching for their next hit. Arnessa walked down to the corner bodega where Super Dave was waiting for her.

At six feet five, Super Dave’s lanky body towered over Arnessa’s five-foot-four frame. Twelve years earlier Dave had been a living legend. He had been the king of the Rucker. Dave had a crossover that would smash Allen Iverson’s famous cross. To see him take off from the baseline and slam the ball into the basket was a thing of beauty. Dave was such a great player that he was encouraged by many to enter the NBA draft straight out of high school. Instead of going pro, he opted to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, one of the hundreds of colleges that had been recruiting him.

After completing his freshmen year, Dave returned to New York for summer break. As usual he wowed the crowds in the park who’d come to see him play. One night after a game, Dave’s closest friend introduced him to a high that he would never be able to shake. The high was Southeast Asian heroin, the most potent type of heroin. That fall when Dave returned to school, he was unable to get the monkey off his back. After failing to pass several NCAA-issued drug tests and flunking all of his classes, Dave lost his scholarship. He returned to Harlem, no longer a legend of Holcombe Rucker Park, now just a legendary fiend.

He was one of few dope addicts whom Arnessa employed to move crack in certain areas where young block boys would be too obvious. Arnessa approached Dave, who was waiting on the corner, and quickly embraced him, slipping him the six eight balls. “That was six that I just gave you. Give two to Monica and two to Robin.”

“Wh-wh-why that’s all we gettin? I need to make my rent money.”

“Yeah right, Dave, cut it out. Your girl get section eight man. I’m going out of town. When y’all finish, hit Tash so she can get that money.”

Dave nodded his head, “Okay.”

“Yo, Dave, I’m serious. Get that money to Tash. Don’t play wit’ me, or it’s going to be problems. I’m being nice letting y’all eat while I’m away.”

With that, Arnessa walked on down the block where she spotted her homeboy Ugie and a few dudes fully enthralled in a game of c-lo. “You niggas got problems.” Arnessa said, laughing as she stopped behind the circle of gamblers.

“Yo, what up, Nessa?” the guys said almost in unison.

“It’s too early in the morning for dice.”

“It’s neva too early to take nigga’s money,” Ugie said, turning to face her. He put his closed fist by her mouth. “Now blow on these dice, and give daddy some good luck.”

“Nigga, please,” Arnessa replied, playfully pushing his hand away then suddenly jerking her head in the direction of the screeching tires on the navy van that was coming toward her. What the fuck? Before the van came to a complete stop, three men—one black, one Puerto Rican, and one white—jumped out with their guns drawn. All three had their badges hanging around their necks. Fuckin’ TNT early in the fucking morning, damn, Arnessa thought. She felt like kicking herself.

“You good, law-abiding citizens know the drill,” the white cop said with an evil smile plastered across his face. “Hands on your heads. You too, sweet thing,” he said to Arnessa.

She did as she was told. The Puerto Rican cop began patting her down. “Aren’t you supposed to call a female officer to search me?”

“‘Aren’t you supposed to call a female officer to search me?’” he mimicked. “Don’t worry, I won’t touch you inappropriately.” He cuffed her wrists behind her back then slowly ran his hand across her butt. Arnessa turned and glared at him. He winked his eye and smirked.

“Fuck you,” she spat.

The officer laughed as he threw her in the van along with all the guys. Ugie looked over at her, “Why you looking stressed? Ain’t nobody dirty. They just gonna hit us with a gambling charge. We’ll all get bail and be out in a few hours … unless you got warrants.”

“I’m straight,” she lied.

“Binds, Arnessa,” the short brown-skinned female officer yelled.

Arnessa quickly jumped up as the officer unlocked the door. “Yes.”

“You can go.”

Arnessa quickly exited the cell. What she thought was going to be a few hours in jail had turned into twelve. She quickly collected her property and left the building. Outside in the extremely cold evening air, Tasha waited for her friend while taking long slow drags from her Newport. Her long brown shearling was no match for the icy winds that were blowing, but she had to have a smoke in order to keep her nerves intact. Tasha took her last drag, flicked the butt onto the sidewalk, and turned to walk back in the building when she saw Arnessa coming out. “Yo, Nessa,” she yelled out. “Over here.”

“You slow as hell, b. What da fuck took you so long? They almost put me on a bus to the island.”

“Couldn’t you at least have said thanks before you start spazzin’?”

Hell no! If they would’ve caught me with this shit inside of me, I would’ve been done.”

“Look, don’t start with your mouth. And I paid your bail over three hours ago.”

“You used some of that money from Dave?”

“Nah, he never called, and Rhonda said he never came through with their work. I did collect money from everybody else, though.”

Arnessa rolled her eyes, “I knew he was gon’ play me. Did you call B-more and let them know the deal?”

“Yeah, I told him I’ll make the trip tomorrow.”

“That’s what’s up. Let’s get a cab. My day is a wrap now. I just want to lay down.”

“What about Dave?”

“I’ll deal with him when I see him.”

© 2011 Danielle Santiago

About The Author

Photo Credit:

Danielle Santiago is the author of Grindin' and founder of Mischievous Girl Foundation, which is dedicated to helping battered women and innercity girls. She lives in Harlem, New York, and Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband and son.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atria Books (May 24, 2011)
  • Length: 288 pages
  • ISBN13: 9780743277624

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Raves and Reviews

“Nobody can question Danielle Santiago’s Gangsta. She puts her thing down…staying true to the streets.”

—Shannon Holmes, author of B-More Careful

"Santiago is back and proves that she is amongst street fiction's elite with this hood tale."
--Ashley Antoinette, New York Times Bestselling Author of The Prada Plan

I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. Allure of the Game sizzles with all the workings of a classic street tale. Danielle Santiago truly outdid herself with this one. – Miasha, Essence bestselling author of Secret Society and Never Enough

Santiago has penned passionate and timeless prose that proves why she will forever reign as queen of Street Fiction royalty.

--Tu-Shonda L. Whitaker, Essence bestselling author of Millionaire Wives Club

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