Authors: Linden Hughes
Tags: #Multicultural; Contemporary
TASTE OF LACEY
Taste of Lacey
Copyright © May 2014 by Linden Hughes
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Cover Artist: April Martinez
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It was over! The fund-raiser dinner for the mayor of Atlanta and five hundred of his closest contributors ended without a drop of tea spilled or a single cold-food complaint. Not bad for a twenty-nine-year-old black female, and she was just getting started.
The top item on Lacey Bishop’s “things to do before turning thirty” list was to have her own business. A year ago, she’d opened the Seasoned Thymes Catering and given her mother heart palpitations at the same time.
“Why, pray tell, would you snub a job at the realty office or at your father’s construction company in favor of menial labor? And why do you always have to go against the grain?”
Despite her mother’s accusations and loud, headache-inducing objections, Lacey’s parents wrote a fat check, giving the Thymes a much-needed capital injection. Her mother even brokered a deal for Lacey to purchase three adjoining buildings in a growing area for less than a song. After a quick rehab of the neglected properties, the Thymes began operations in the middle unit. Lacey liked to think the investment was a sign of unwavering support, but she knew better. More than likely, the cash was a bandage to minimize the bleed of potential embarrassment to her mother. It wouldn’t do for Lena Bishop’s daughter to operate in a low-rent area
be a “glorified cook.”
The words—spouted in anger by her mother and later recanted—were forgiven but not forgotten. In fact, they served as Lacey’s motivation to become
caterer to Atlanta’s elite. To date, accomplishments toward her dream could fit on a dime, but tonight’s event and picking up five more contracts hadn’t hurt. Too bad her love life wasn’t coming together as well. A man was the least of her concerns anyway. As soon as she became a catering mogul, she’d put “have a successful relationship” on her to-do list. That would make her mother happy.
A janitorial service had handled the majority of the postevent cleaning, but family and friends also pitched in so Lacey could tie up loose ends and at least try to leave before dawn. As expected, her sister, Lisa, cut out before dessert, but the antics of that drama queen weren’t enough to dampen Lacey’s spirits.
As soon as Troy, the head chef, finished loading supplies onto the company van, she’d collect the payment, and they could leave. With the exception of a couple of security guards and the mayor’s assistant, everybody else was gone already. Lacey didn’t mind; she needed the solitude to help her absorb the enormity of the night’s event. Even her parents and brother left, but only after Lacey had threatened them with bodily harm. Lacey shook her head and smiled.
Oh, the irony
. After giving Lacey pure hell for once again being the “family traitor,” her mother frequented the Thymes gigs like a groupie, often dragging her father along.
Tonight was the gig that counted, though.
Her savvy marketing skills and an impressive culinary degree had put Lacey’s foot in the door to bid on the contract for the mayor’s dinner; her outright refusal to cut corners had made her a contender. She’d gone up against quite a few experienced, well-established caterers, but their mistake was promising and delivering cheap. Anyone wanting cheap need not look Lacey Bishop’s way—a philosophy she’d embraced long before opening the Thymes. She realized watered-down, tasteless food would do nothing to spark donors’ generosity, which was the main goal. Plus, the seafood gumbo and smoked salmon at the tasting had caused the mayor’s rotund assistant to smack his lips and moan out loud. Thank goodness the mayor’s office chose quantity
quality—and awarded the job to the new kid who happened to be the highest bidder. Now he was about to fork over a pretty penny for a fabulous Thymes experience.
Lacey wasn’t normally a very demonstrative person, but a loud, rambunctious scream was close to her vocal chords, rearing like an Olympic sprinter to break free. She’d pulled off an event for the mayor of one of the largest cities in America! Restraining the fist pump also threatening to escape, she calmly headed in search of the mayor’s assistant when the lobby doors swung open. Expecting Mr. Hubbard, she couldn’t hide her surprise when Ryder McKay, or Rye, her brother’s best friend, strolled in. Rye, his parents, and several neighbors from their old subdivision had attended the dinner in support of the Thymes. To say she was humbled would be an understatement.
“What are you still doing here?” she asked, smiling.
He gave a lopsided grin and ran his hand over his thick, close-cut blond hair. “I was out back helping Troy arrange your fancy catering apparatuses in the van.”
“Rye! When I invited you, I had no intention of putting you to work, and not on a dirty job like handling chafing dishes.” It was enough he’d come at all, considering he was constantly on the go with his demanding job.
“It’s no big deal. I even washed my hands afterward like Emily Ann taught me,” he said, referring to his mother. He held his palms up and wiggled his long fingers for inspection. “Plus I’m your ride home. Let’s go.”
“Whoa. What?” She frowned so hard her eyes squinted. “Troy’s supposed to be dropping me off.”
“He was, but that van is packed tighter than a can of sardines. I told him I’d take you.”
The smile making its way to her lips froze. Hands on her hips, she pinned him with her gaze. “Wait just one darned minute, McKay. Is the top up?”
His knowing grin put his even white teeth on display. “It is now.”
“Good,” she said, her mirth not far from the surface. “It’s nice to know you listened the few hundred times I told you no black woman really wants the wind blowing through her hair, especially if she just got it done. I don’t care if you have the biggest and best vehicle ever made. It’s still a convertible.”
“I think the many times you refused to ride with me over the years were lesson enough,” he said with a wry twist of his full lips.
She laughed. He was absolutely right. “You know what? I don’t care what Kyle says; you’re all right with me. How’d you manage to get separated from him and a night on the town anyway?”
Rye lifted one lean shoulder. “I wasn’t up for it after just getting in this afternoon and having to leave again tomorrow. I told him I’d stick around and make sure you were all right, so he let me off the hook.”
She leaned closer to him, noticing the lines bracketing his mouth and his tired-looking eyes. She felt guilty because instead of resting, he was stuck helping her. “I appreciate it.”
“Hey, the gumbo alone was worth the trip.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s all about the food.” When they’d both still lived at home with their parents, if she was experimenting in the kitchen, he seemed to appear out of nowhere to be a taste tester. She hoped he knew how valuable his input was.
Mr. Hubbard entered through the double doors with a big grin on his face. “Miss Bishop, everything was wonderful! The service was impeccable, and the food was divine.”
“Thank you. It was our pleasure.”
“The balance due on the contract,” he said, handing her an envelope. “The mayor was so pleased he included a nice bonus. You’ll hear from us again for sure.”
She clutched the envelope and didn’t move an inch until Mr. Hubbard was out of sight. As soon as the doors to the outside of the building closed, she took a quick peek at the check. It had lots of zeroes, and it was made out to her company. Actually, as the company’s operator and sole stockholder, it was
, but she wouldn’t split hairs. Her hardworking staff deserved much of the credit, and nothing would have been accomplished without them. She’d been paid for a real job not at cost or a freebie to get her name out. Her smile was so wide she was sure her tonsils showed. She started jumping up and down, stilettos and all, shrieking like she’d just won the lottery. Every emotion she’d been holding back came out in full force.
“We got paid!”
She grabbed Rye’s neck and planted a loud kiss on his whiskered cheek, but lost her balance on the way down. Instinctively, she circled her arms around his neck and clamped her legs around his waist to keep from falling. Rye’s grip on the fleshiest part of her behind held her in place.
The first thing she noticed was how solid his body was. His shoulders were packed tighter than granite, and it didn’t stop there. From where her chest melded to his, down to the ominous area around his lean hips, he was chiseled muscle. Like she was touching a steel beam under the Atlanta sun, his heat permeated her very bones.
Bit by bit, her laughter faltered and then faded away. Her gaze collided with his, and arousal rushed through her. Over the years she and Rye had exchanged friendly hugs or pecks on the cheek, but they’d never been quite this cozy. They fit like a train to a track.
She looked on, amazed, as his cornflower-blue eyes darkened to a warm indigo. The phenomenon sent electric jolts of desire to her center. Had his mesmerizing orbs always looked like ten layers of cloudless sky? She couldn’t be certain; her brain was scrambled from the sensation of his substantial manhood pressing into her center. Instead of alarming her, the first contact with his erection made her pulse hammer. And her panties wet.
Yes, she was on a natural high after the success of the dinner, but surely she wasn’t hallucinating.
Was she really in Ryder McKay’s arms, and was he really kneading her behind like it belonged to him? At this moment he wasn’t Kyle’s best friend but a tall, hard man she desperately wanted.
Rye lowered his head, and she allowed her eyes to drift closed. The first touch of his lips against hers was gentle and fleeting, like the brush of a cloud. Her lips parted, and he deepened their connection, flicking his tongue into her mouth to tangle boldly with hers. Damn, he could kiss. And he tasted so good, minty and sweet at the same time. All of a sudden, her breasts grew heavy, and her nipples hardened as if begging for his attention. Her mind struggled to dismantle the reasoning behind her visceral response, but Rye spread her ass cheeks, and all thought ceased. An insistent heat she hadn’t felt in years rushed to her vagina, and she gasped at the pleasurable burn.