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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Sneak peek at Recipe For Desire in three parts . . .Part Two

I love my readers so much and I'm so excited about Recipe for Desire that I want to share a few chapters with you. I hope you enjoy them and will pre order Devon's story.
March 6 is the release date.
Chapter Two
         Marie’s mouth was dry; her scalp felt as if thousands of ants were crawling on it. And the polyester jail jumpsuit made her skin itch as if the ants had jumped from her scalp to her skin. All she wanted to do was get out of this cell and into her garden tub with some jasmine oil and her cell phone by her side. The court was waiting for the results of Marie’s blood test, since she hadn’t taken a Breathalyzer test overnight. And, because she’d hadn’t been seen behind the wheel of the car, she was able to hold on to her driver’s license pending the results of the blood test. Not that it mattered, because her beloved Jaguar wasn’t drivable. Marie had to find out if this incident made the news. If it did, she’d have to spin the story to make herself look like another victim of the police; after all, no one like a drunk driver. She stood up and scratched her head, wishing for a hot oil treatment.
            “Charles,” a jailer called out. “You’ve made bail.”
            “Thank God!” she exclaimed as the woman opened the door. “This was hell.”
            The jailer didn’t say a word as she led Marie to be processed out of jail. Marie smiled happily as she signed for her belongings, but then she realized that she had no way to get home.
            “Marie Clare Charles,” a voice boomed, vibrating off the walls of the jail’s lobby like thunder or the voice of Jesus himself.
            She dropped her head. “Hey, Daddy,” she said quietly. Marie looked up and stared into her father’s chestnut brown eyes; there was no warmth in them. Not today, anyway. His eyes screamed disappointment, dismay, and anger. Richard Charles III was a formable man, standing at six-five, with his hair graying at the temples.
            “Don’t you ‘hey, Daddy’ me. Have you lost your ever-loving mind?” he asked as he folded his arms across his massive chest. “There I was sitting in my office drafting a brief for a case that’s going to trial in a week and my phone won’t stop ringing. I’m hopeful that it’s the district attorney’s office, and it’s Steve Crump, Jason Stoogneke, and some reporter from Creative Loafing.”
            “Wow, channel three is talking about me?” Marie said with more cheer in her voice than should’ve been there.
            Richard slapped his hand against his thigh. “This is not some damned joke. You’re facing a serious charge, Marie! If this isn’t the wake-up call you need to grow up, then I don’t know what it’s going to take.”
            “It’s not as if I hurt someone,” she said flippantly. “It was a rough night and I wasn’t even . . .”
            “Shut up!” he snapped. “Don’t admit to anything in here. We’re going back to my office and we’re going to have a serious talk.”
            “Can it wait?”
            Richard squeezed his temples and sighed. “Marie, ever since your mother died, I’ve done you a grave disservice. I’ve given you everything you wanted. Maybe I should’ve been a stricter disciplinarian, given you punishments, and stuck to them. But no more. I’m not saving your ass this time, because you obviously need to learn a lesson.”
            “What are you talking about?” Marie asked, shrugging her shoulders. “I made a mistake. It was only a tree, Daddy."
            Richard pointed his finger in his daughter’s face. “You keep making mistakes; you keep doing foolish things that make sense to no one but you. When you go to trial on these charges, you’re going to accept whatever punishment the judge hands down.”
            “Why can’t you just make this go away?” She was tempted to tell her father the entire story, but that would’ve led to another lecture about honesty.
            Richard shook his head. “I’ve made too many of your problems go away. That’s why you think it’s all right to get wasted and drive around Uptown, crash into a tree, and expect me to make it go away. Not this time, baby girl. Go on and go home, but we will have that talk.”
            Marie smiled sheepishly. “I kind of need a ride home,” she said.
            Richard dug into his pocket and handed her three one-dollar bills. “Take the light rail.” He stormed out of the jail as Marie stood there speechless. Did he think she was going to get on public transportation? A second passed before she ran out after her father.
            “Daddy, come on, give me a ride. I’ll go to your office and we can talk now,” she said, though all she wanted was a hot bath and her bed.
            Richard stopped as he got to his car, and glanced at his daughter. The older she got, the more she reminded him of Cela, her mother. He doted on his wife, who had told him not to be so permissive with Marie. But after Cela’s death when Marie was ten, he’d forgotten about not being permissive and became a welcome mat for his daughter.
            “Get in,” he said as he unlocked the doors of his Mercedes CL Coupe. They drove for about five minutes in silence. When they stopped at a red light, Richard turned to Marie.             “What was last night about? Please don’t tell me it had anything to do with that slime you’re engaged to.”
            Marie tossed her head back. “That’s over,” she said with a snort. “I just had too much to drink and I thought I could drive home.”
            “That was very dangerous and stupid. Why don’t you think before you act? Two months ago, you almost got a public indecency charge for hopping into the fountain on the square wearing nearly nothing. You need to start acting your age. How are you a public relations whatever when you make a scene every time you go out?”
            Marie sighed. “Because you have to crack a few eggs to make an omelet,” she said. “This isn’t old-school Charlotte where you have to . . .”
            “Your reputation is all you have and all that matters. You’re ruining it and . . .”
            “Is it my reputation or yours that you’re worried about?”
            Richard frowned at his daughter. “I have built my reputation and people know who I am and what to expect from me. You’re the one who’s going to wish she made better decisions in her life when you’re my age.”
            Marie yawned and nodded as if she was really paying attention to the lecture she’d heard time and time again. Richard glanced at his daughter, and he knew it was time for a serious change if she was going to stop being a destructive party girl.
            “That’s right,” Devon whispered over her shoulder. “Just pinch the edges gently. Yes.”
            “Mr. Harris,” Skylar Thomas said happily. “Check mine.” Devon turned from the student he’d been working with and told Skylar he’d be right there. Then he focused on the young woman in front of him.
            “What’s your name?” he asked.
            “Bria,” she said softly.
            “Your first time making a pie crust?”
            She nodded and smiled. “Well,” Devon said, “you’re doing a great job.”
            Again, she smiled, beaming under Devon’s compliments. He crossed over to the other students, checking the progress they were making with their pie crusts. He glanced back at Bria, wondering what her story was. She was so young and seemed passive and afraid. Perhaps she was running from something, or maybe she was like many of the other women here, just fallen on bad times and at the end of hope’s rope.
            Over the last six months since he’d been volunteering with My Sister’s Keeper, Devon learned that homeless didn’t mean hopeless. These women were fighters, especially his new best friend, Shay. She knew computers like the back of her hand, but she when she was stricken with a rare blood disorder, spent eight months in the hospital, and everything began going downhill. She lost her job and her health benefits, so when she was released from the hospital, she had nowhere to go.
            The women at the shelter came from so many different backgrounds; some of them had college degrees, were former professionals, or were escaping abusive relationships.
            “You ladies are doing great,” he said, then glanced at his watch. “Now that we have the crusts done, let’s work on the filling.”
            “That’s what I’m talking about,” Shay said as Devon pulled a bag of apples from underneath the counter. He glanced at his watch again and saw that he needed to get to the restaurant to prepare for lunch.
            “All right, ladies,” he said. “I need you to peel these apples and then I’m going to have to leave. But I do have something special for lunch.” He walked over to the oven and pulled out the tray of meat pies he’d made that morning. “Pie doesn’t always have to be dessert.”
            Bria nodded. “My grandmother used to make potpies for us,” she whispered.
            “This looks good,” Shay said as Devon set the pies on the counter. “What’s in it?”
            “Beef, cabbage, carrots, and corn, with a special cheese sauce,” he said. “You ladies will be the first to taste this. I made enough pies for all of the residents.”
            The women smiled at him. “When I get back,” Devon said, “we’ll make dessert.”
            “All right, ladies,” Shay said. “Let’s get these apples peeled so that we can have dessert for a change.”
            “Yes,” Adele replied, then smiled at Devon. “It’s so nice having you around, Devon.”
            He returned her smile and nodded in her direction. “I’m happy you guys let me come around. I have to go, but I’ll be back so we can make dessert and talk about you ladies making lunch and dinner next week. I’m going to turn you all into a kitchen staff,” he said.
            An excited murmur rumbled through the kitchen as Devon waved good-bye to the ladies. On the way out the door, Elaine Harper, the director of the shelter, stopped him. “Devon, I have to tell you that your work here is doing wonders with these women.”
            “Thank you,” he said.
            “I have a favor to ask you, though,” she said.
            Devon tilted his head to the side and looked at Elaine. “What’s that?”
            “Well, we’re been asked by the Mecklenburg County Probation and Parole Department to take in some of their nonviolent female offenders to do their community service. I just want you to supervise some of the women when they start coming here.”
            “What will I have to do?”
            “Sign their papers and make sure they reach their hours, nothing hard. I would put a staff member on it, but we had to let two people go and I can’t afford to hire anyone right now,” she said.
            “I’ll do it,” he said. “But, I have to go right now. Will you be here at five?”
            “Yes,” she said. “Will you bring me some dessert from the restaurant?”
            Devon laughed and closed his hand on Elaine’s shoulder. “I sure will. I’m making a chocolate cake for dessert today.”
            “I don’t know what I did to deserve you, but I thank God for it every day.”
            Devon smiled at the older lady and wished that he had that effect on a woman he could start a relationship with. As he headed for the restaurant, Devon thought about the work he was doing at the shelter and how it gave him a feeling of peace. He wished he could do more. Then it hit him like a ton of bricks; Hometown Delights could host a fund-raiser for the shelter.
            When he pulled into the restaurant’s parking lot, he parked his classic Ford Mustang next to Alicia’s Lexus Coupe. Rushing into the office, not even checking on his lunch staff, Devon called out Alicia’s name.
            “What’s going on, Devon?” she asked as she returned the phone to its cradle.
            “I have an idea for you and the ladies,” he said, smiling at her.
            “The way you were screaming out my name, I thought there was some kind of emergency out here. You can’t scare me like that!”
            “There’s no problem, but an opportunity for us to make a difference.”
            “I’m listening,” Alicia said as she leaned back in the leather seat behind the desk.
            “I’ve been working with My Sister’s Keeper and the women who live in the shelter.”
            Alicia nodded. “You’re doing a great thing over there,” she said.
            “I think we can do more,” he said as he leaned against the wall. “What if we hosted a fund-raiser for the shelter? Times are tough and they’re having a hard time keeping the staff together and providing for the women.”
            “I bet. The economic news makes me count my blessings every night. We can do that, but I’d better run it by Jade and Serena just to make sure,” Alicia replied. “Maybe we can get Maurice and some of his football buddies involved.”
            “That would definitely ramp up the amount of donations,” Devon said as he nodded.
            “Let me ask you a question, though,” Alicia said as she ran her fingers through her hair. “Is this new and improved socially conscious Devon Harris doing all of this charity work because he can’t get a date?”
            “Getting a date isn’t the problem. Finding a woman in Charlotte who doesn’t have more issues than Ebony, Essence, and Jet is.”
            “Thankfully, I don’t fall into that category,” Alicia quipped. Devon raised his right eyebrow as he looked at his friend.
            “Alicia, lie to yourself, darling; don’t lie to me.”
            She folded her arms across her chest. “And what’s that supposed to mean?”
            Devon cocked his head to the side and laughed. “The scowl on your face says it all. Brother to sister, you are the kind of woman that makes a man feel as if he’s never going to measure up.”
            Alicia fanned her hands and sucked her teeth. “Whatever. You’re just mad because your perfect woman is married to someone else and about to have his baby.”
            “Let the Kandace thing go. I have, and God knows Solomon doesn’t need to think I’m hoping to rekindle the romance with his wife.”
            “I can’t help but tease you about that; it makes my day.”
            Devon wagged his finger at Alicia. “You need to get a life,” he said. “Let me go check what the staff is doing for lunch, and I have to make a dessert.”
            “What are you making for dessert?” Alicia asked with a gleam in her eye.
            “Nothing for you. Oh, you’re going to have to come by the shelter and try the pies the ladies and I are making.”
            “Sure,” Alicia said. “As long as you give me some of what you’re making for lunch.”
            Devon sighed and winked at Alicia. “Do I need to make enough for your non-cooking married friend?”
            “Are you talking about me?” Serena Billups asked from behind Devon. “Because I did come to get lunch for my husband and his crew.”
            “How do you all make a profit when none of you can cook and you’re always eating like this is your own personal kitchen?” Devon said when he turned around and hugged his friend.
            “Please,” Serena said when he let go. “You’ve been cooking for us for years.”
            “Yes, I’ve spoiled you all terribly,” Devon said. “Have you ever cooked for Antonio?”
            Serena shrugged. “I boiled hot dogs once,” she said.
            Devon shook his head. “And on that note, I’m going to the kitchen.” He turned and headed for the kitchen to get ready for the lunch rush.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Sneak peek at Recipe For Desire in three parts!

I love my readers so much and I'm so excited about Recipe for Desire that I want to share a few chapters with you. I hope you enjoy them and will preorder Devon's story.
March 6 is the release date.

Chapter One
            The only thing Marie Charles enjoyed more than being the center of attention at someone’s party was hosting one of her own. Either way, she was instantly the center of attention. Charlotte’s resident party girl was always on the cutting edge of fashion, dressing in clothes that were always tailored especially for her svelte body. And she knew how to keep everyone’s attention—by either walking into a venue exchanging air kisses with the most high-profile man or woman who caught her eye so that she could get her picture snapped, or by dating the hottest ball player, singer, or actor she wanted. She was a professional public-relations maven, so it was her business to be in the know. But if you asked the right people, Marie Charles—daughter of civil rights attorney Richard Charles III—was just a girl seeking the wrong kind of attention.
            Tonight, she was playing hostess at Mez, where her public-relations and event-planning company, M&A Exclusive Events, was sponsoring a party for the Charlotte Bobcats’ second playoff win in franchise history. She’d checked the VIP list and kissed a couple of the players on the cheek, telling them congratulations. And, of course, she basked in the compliments the men lavished on her and how she filled out her gold Alexander McQueen dress. As Bobcats center Drayton Neal reached out and grabbed Marie so that they could take a picture, she turned to her intern, Hailey, and said, “This is how you host a party.”
            Hailey, a shy Central Piedmont Community College student, offered her boss and the six foot nine basketball star a slight smile as the Carolina Nightlife photographer snapped photos.
“Have some bubbly,” Drayton said to Marie as he held out a glass of Ace of Spades Champagne Blanc de Blancs. She happily accepted the flute of six-hundred-dollar champagne and sipped with Drayton. He palmed her bottom as if it were a basketball and brought his lips to her ear. “You know you’re sexy as hell. What do I have to do to make you my good-luck charm?”
            “Get your hands off me,” she replied through her smile. While most women would’ve welcomed the advances of an NBA baller, it was just another night on the town for Marie. “I’m not a trophy.”
            “Umm,” he said, taking a step back and watching her sip her champagne. “You look like one to me. You are wearing that gold, baby.”
            Marie drained her glass and turned to Hailey. “We all look amazing when they’re drunk.”
            Marie took Drayton’s bottle and refilled her glass. “Thanks for the bubbly and good luck in New York,” she said with a flirty wink. As she and Hailey walked away, she told the intern, “When you’re hosting an event, don’t spend too much time with one group of people. You have to make everyone feel special so they’ll come to your next party. I need you to check the table and make sure everyone has drinks. Have you seen Adriana?” Marie glanced at her watch and fingered her curls. It was almost time for DJ Chill to start his set.
            “She was talking to the DJ,” Hailey said. Marie nodded.
            “I’m going to check on the bartenders and make sure they’re making the Bobcat rum punch,” she said, then strutted downstairs to the wraparound bar. Marie had carefully selected the drink menu and had worked with the bartenders to make sure everything was perfect. Landing the Bobcats as a client had been a huge get for M&A. Tonight has to be perfect, she thought as she crossed over to the crowded bar. Smiling, a half an hour into the party, Marie was sure that everything was going to be . . . wait. Was that William Franklin, her fiancé, walking in the door with that woman!
            William was holding hands with his ex-wife, Greta Jones, looking at her as if they were still together. “Oh, hell no,” she mumbled. She started to stalk over to them, but a hand on her shoulder stopped her.
            “Marie,” Adriana Kimbrell, the A in M&A Exclusive Events, said. “Please don’t trip.”
            “Do you see this? He came to my party and brought her!” Marie hissed.
            “DJ Chill is about to start and we don’t need to have a scene,” she said. “Let’s just sit down, and you need to calm down.”
            “I simply don’t believe this bull,” Marie snapped as they sat down at the bar.
            Adriana waved for the bartender. “Patrón and two glasses. Leave the bottle.” Turning to Marie, she said, “Ignore them. She’s only sniffing after him again because you two are together,” Adriana said as she poured Marie a glassful of tequila. “She can’t beat you in any other way, so she wants her loser ex back. Let her have it.”
            Marie downed a shot and then snatched the bottle off the bar and took a big swig.  “If either of them thinks that I’m going to let this go, then they don’t know who the hell I am.”
            “Marie, this isn’t just about you and Willie. Our name is on this event. Do you know what I had to do to get Mez to agree to let us have this party here after what you and Tia did during the last event we hosted here?”
            Marie took another swig. “We had a good time and got all kinds of press for this place, so they need not trip. I made Mez a hot spot.”
            “Neither should you,” Adriana said as she tried to take the Patrón away. Marie quickly moved the bottle out of her friend’s grasp.
            “I’m cool,” she said. “Look at this outfit.” Marie stood up and twirled. “Not trying to mess this up by slapping that slut silly.” She glanced out on to the dance floor and watched as William and Greta danced closer than close, but when they kissed, she felt a tug of embarrassment. Everyone knew that was her fiancé, and there he was pretending that she didn’t exist. Sure, she wasn’t in love with him; her relationship was simply a means to an end. Respectability in her father’s eyes. But the longer she watched him, the more the alcohol began to kick in. Marie took a shaky step, with the liquor bottle in her hand,  toward the dance floor, shaking off Adriana’s hand and ignoring her as she said, “Don’t do it, Marie!”
            Marie thought she’d sauntered over to William and Greta, but the Patrón made her stumble, bump into patrons, and cause quite the scene before she grabbed Greta’s shoulder.
            “Oh, shit, Marie,” William said. “Look . . .”
            “This is pretty cozy,” Marie slurred. “Funny that you’re kissing her when I’m wearing your engagement ring.” She threw her left hand up in the air.
            Greta shook her head and giggled, which infuriated Marie to the point that she took a swing at her. But, in her drunken state, she stumbled and landed on the floor flat on her bottom.
            William bent down and helped her up. “You’re embarrassing yourself and you’re drunk.”
            “And you’re kissing this bitch as if you’re still married,” Marie shouted, bringing the music and movement around them to a halt.
            Greta shook her head. “And this is what you left me for? Have you gotten it out your system?”
            William turned to Greta and shot her a look that that cried for silence. “Marie, I wanted to tell you that Greta and I had been seeing each other, but . . .”
            “You know what! Go to hell. Both of you go straight to hell!” Marie yelled.  She fumbled with the ring on her finger, trying to pull it off and toss it in William’s face. But the ring slipped off and flew across the dance floor. “It was a cheap-ass stone anyway. It wasn’t even flawless. So, kiss my flawless ass good-bye, loser!” Marie turned on her heels and nearly lost her footing as she pushed her way through the crowd. As she passed the bar, Adriana grabbed her arm. “Where are you going?”
            “You’re not driving.”
            She snatched away from Adriana. “I’m fine and I can drive myself home. It’s three blocks.”
            “Marie, you need to sit down, drink some coffee, and sober up,” she warned as she frantically waved for Hailey. “You’re only going to make matters worse if you try to drive.”
            The intern walked over to the bar and glanced from Marie to Adriana. Before she could utter a word, Marie launched into a rant.
            “And I’m supposed to sit here and watch them?” Marie nodded in Greta and William’s direction. “I will not. He doesn’t even realize he needs me more than I need him.”
            Adriana rolled her eyes and then reminded her friend, “You said you were going to dump him anyway. Why are you acting like a donkey?”
            Marie tore her gaze from William and Greta. “Because I was supposed to dump him! I messed up. I thought getting engaged would get my father off my back, but it hasn’t worked and that . . .”
            “Hailey,” Adriana said, “you’re going to have to drive Marie home.”
            “Bu-but,” she stammered as Adriana pressed Marie’s car keys into her hand. Marie glared at the women. “I said I can drive,” Marie slurred.
            “Right,” Adriana retorted. “Hailey, don’t let her talk you into allowing her to drive. As a matter of fact, go get the car now.”  Turning to Marie, she continued, “I can’t leave because I have to smooth things over after that scene you just caused. You’re going to be all over the blogs, again.”
            Hailey tore out of Mez to get Marie’s Jaguar. Marie sighed and shook her head. “Do what you have to do,” she said as she took a last look at William and Greta.
            Marie furrowed her eyebrows and pointed her index finger at Adriana, “You’d better hope that damned girl knows how to drive. I just got that Jag.”
            Adriana sighed. “Don’t do anything else stupid.”
            Marie threw her hands up and stomped outside, feeling as if she was sobering up. As she stepped out into the cool night air, hot tears streamed down her cheeks. How was she going to show her face on the party scene again? Losing her man to Greta Jones, a nobody who didn’t have an outfit that fit her chubby frame?
            “I can’t believe what happened in Mez,” Marie heard a woman saying. “Marie Charles looked like a damned fool out there. Drunk as a damned skunk and she tossed her ring. William Franklin isn’t worth anyone making that big of a fool over.”
            Marie turned and faced the woman, who was reporting her business over her cell phone as if she was a correspondent for CNN.
            “Girl, I got to go,” the woman said as she locked eyes with Marie. Marie started to say something, to read Miss Information the riot act, but she didn’t have time for that. She was going home. Marie stumbled down the stairs as she spotted Hailey pulling out of the parking deck. She looked over her shoulder and saw a small crowd had gathered and was watching her every move. Trying to pull more glide in her wobbly steps, Marie crossed over to her car and opened the passenger-side door of the Jaguar XK. “All right, Hailey,” she said. “Thank you for driving me home. I’ll make sure a car comes and gets you.”
            “Marie, I’m not sure if I can do this,” Hailey said. “This car is expensive.”
            “Just drive, Hailey, it’s only three blocks,” Marie said as she leaned her seat back and closed her eyes. Her mind wandered to her relationship with William and why she’d even agreed to marry him. She’d only wanted to satisfy her father’s archaic notion that a proper Southern woman should be married and starting a family by thirty.
            She was twenty-seven and still young enough to have fun. That’s why she had the job that she created. That’s why she spent her time at every party on the East Coast that she could get into—and that was every one of them that wanted press. Marie knew how to make a scene, good or bad. Tonight was bad. She’d make up for it tomorrow. Maybe even have a bachelorette auction for some needy group and put herself on the block as a way to announce to Charlotte that she was back on the market. That’s right, Marie Charles would be back and William would be a distant memory.
            Marie had closed her eyes for only a moment when she felt the car jolt and then a hard impact. Her eyes flew open as Hailey screamed. The car hopped the curve and slammed into a one-hundred-year-old oak tree. The explosion of the airbag shocked Marie and knocked the breath out of her.
            “Oh my God,” she and Hailey screamed. Marie struggled to undo her seat belt as Hailey scrambled from the car. “Are you all right?” Marie called out as she kicked the door open and stumbled out of the car.
            “I’m so sorry,” Hailey said.
            “Were you drinking too?”
            “No, no. But I don’t have a driver’s license,” Hailey cried. Tears ran down her cheeks. “I can’t get in trouble. I have to get out of here.”
            Marie crossed over to Hailey as well as her drunken legs would take her. She placed her hands on the young girl’s shoulders. “Calm down,” she said. “You take off. I can talk my way out of this.”
            “But what about your car?” Hailey asked as she wiped her eyes.
            Marie shook her head. “That’s what insurance is for,” she said. The last thing Marie wanted was to get her intern in trouble. She’d taken Hailey under her wing because she saw a lot of herself in the twenty-year-old. Hailey, like Marie, had grown up without her mother and wanted to go into public relations. Marie had met her when she’d spoken to a group of marketing students at the college. Seeing her standing there sobbing uncontrollably, she knew that she couldn’t allow Hailey to face charges. Besides, she was Marie Charles; she could possibly talk her way out of this mess.
            “Get out of here; I’ll handle this,” she told her.
            “Are you sure?”
            “Yes,” Marie replied. “Hurry up.” She noticed a few passersby pulling out cell phones and she assumed they were calling 911. As Hailey dashed away, Marie headed back to the car and climbed into the driver’s seat. She tried to back the car up, but it wouldn’t move. Before she could get out of the car, swirling blue lights and sirens froze her in place. This was going to be bad. Inhaling deeply, Marie hoped that she knew the officers who were approaching her; maybe she could just talk them into calling a tow truck for her and this accident nastiness could be put behind her.
            “Ma’am,” one of the officers asked as he pulled the driver’s side door open, “are you all right?”
            Marie stumbled out of the car as the officer opened the door. The other officer grabbed her arm, holding her up. “Have you been drinking?” he asked.
            Marie looked up at the officer—not recognizing him as an officer she knew—and smiled, then she held her index finger inches from her thumb. “Just a little, but this has nothing to do with that.”
            The officer who’d been holding her arm called for a medic and a tow truck, while his partner questioned Marie further.
            “Can you stand up?” the officer asked her.
            “These shoes are just a little painful,” she slurred, then leaned against a sign post.
            “Can you perform some field sobriety tests?”
            Marie sighed and rolled her eyes. “Do we really have to do this? Why don’t you just give me a ticket and we call it a day?”
            “Ma’am, you hit a tree. This can’t disappear with just a ticket,” the officer said as he watched his partner directed the approaching tow truck and the medic ambulance. “You’re obviously drunk.”
            Marie folded her arms across her chest and stomped her foot on the cement. The officer shook his head, knowing that he didn’t need her to breathe into a Breathalyzer to know she was over the legal limit. “Come on, ma’am, either perform the tests or I will have to arrest you for suspicion of DWI.”
            “Arrest me?” she snapped incredulously. “Do you know who I am?”
            “No,” he said. “I don’t know who you are. Do you have your driver’s license?”
            Marie slapped her hands on her hips and focused her indignant stare on the officer. “I’m Marie Charles. You’re not going to arrest me. No one got hurt and you don’t have to arrest me.”
            “Yes, I do,” he said as he reached for his handcuffs. This wasn’t how things had played out in her mind when she’d sent Hailey away. The drunk part of Marie considered running; she didn’t want to be put in handcuffs. When it came to dealing with handcuffs, she wanted to be the one in control. But with her shoes and the splitting headache she had, running was not an option.
            “Come on, officer”—she paused and squinted at his name tag—“Wiggams. Ooh, just like The Simpsons. Can’t you just give me a warning?”
            “Ma’am, place your hands on your head,” the officer barked. Marie rolled her eyes again, ready to tell Officer Wiggams how sorry he was going to be, but she simply did what he told her.
            “You’re so going to lose your job,” Marie said with a giggle.
            “You have the right to remain silent,” he said. “I suggest you use it.”
            “Go to hell,” she snapped as he locked the cuffs on her wrists. The officer read Marie her Miranda rights and then stuffed her in the back of the squad car. She threw her head back and groaned. Marie knew her father would be livid when the news of her arrest reached him.  

            Six a.m. was the magic hour for celebrity chef Devon Harris. He stood in the kitchen in the middle of his loft creating a savory meat pie recipe for the women at My Sister’s Keeper, the homeless shelter where he volunteered and taught a cooking class for some of the women who lived there. The meals that his students made became lunch and dinner for the sixty-five residents who lived in the shelter. Devon placed the top crust on the pie and gently wrapped it in wax paper. He needed to head for the kitchen of Hometown Delights, the restaurant where he ran the kitchen for his friends, Jade Goings, Serena Billups, Alicia Michaels, and Kandace Crawford. Over the last three years, the restaurant had become one of Charlotte’s premiere eateries and meeting places. Fans of the Food Network flocked to the restaurant because Devon filmed his weekly show, Dining with Devon, there, and every month, Devon debuted a new dish to go along with a social event hosted at the restaurant.
            Devon was proud of the work he did at the restaurant and was thinking of writing a cookbook. Hell, he didn’t have anything else to do. Since he’d been in Charlotte, he had grown tired of women looking for a wedding ring after two dates or who thought one dinner date meant they were in a committed relationship. Devon couldn’t deal with that or the women who felt as if they had to compete with everything he did all in the name of being independent. He didn’t mind a woman who had her own thing going on, but did she have to keep throwing it in his face?
            Maybe that’s why he threw himself into his volunteer work with My Sister’s Keeper. Working with those women made him happy and took his mind off the fact that his bed was colder than the top of Mount Everest in the middle of December. Still, he’d rather have a cold bed than share it with a woman who didn’t mean a damned thing to him. He’d indulged in a few meaningless flings, which Serena and Alicia gave him hell about, and he was tired of the empty feeling.
            “You know you’re just trying to replace Kandace,” they’d say to him when he’d complain about it.
            “Don’t let her husband hear you say that,” he’d always reply. Back in college, Devon and Kandace had dated until he made the mistake of cheating on her. Any hopes of rekindling their romance had been dashed when Kandace met Solomon Crawford, a rich guy who always got his way. Devon was genuinely happy for Kandace, even if he didn’t like her husband. But with Kandace and Solomon expecting their first child, he’d made more of an effort to get along with Solomon.
            That wasn’t easy, though. Solomon still didn’t trust that Devon was over Kandace and often made snide remarks about Devon still wanting his wife.
            Yawning, Devon decided that he’d make himself some coffee, since he couldn’t shake his sleepiness,  before heading into the restaurant to bake the pies and take them over to the ladies at My Sister’s Keeper for lunch.
            While the coffee percolated, Devon scrambled two eggs and tossed in some of the leftover meat from the pies to make a quick breakfast burrito, then flipped the TV on to watch the morning news.
            “Charlotte socialite, Marie Charles, was arrested on suspicion of DUI after police say she crashed her car into a tree on Elizabeth Avenue early this morning. The accident followed a dispute at The EpiCentre, where Charles attacked a man on the dance floor at the popular eatery, Mez,” the newscaster stated. Devon glanced at the picture of Marie Charles and shook his head.
            “Everybody wants to famous for all the wrong reasons,” he mumbled as he poured himself a cup of coffee. Devon changed the channel to ESPN and watched SportsCenter while he ate his breakfast. After eating, showering, and dressing, Devon dashed out the door and headed for the restaurant. He wanted to make sure that the pies were hot and delicious for the women at the shelter before he started lunch for the restaurant.