The letter weighed heavily in Sasha Carring-ton's purse. For
two weeks she'd carried it around like a talisman, still not
believing the words she'd read over and over at least a
dozen times. The only person she'd shared her good fortune
with was her best friend, April Harris, and only because it
was April who'd insisted that she submit her name and
qualifications. Sasha had been reluctant to say the least.
I've never won anything in my life, she'd groused
to herself even as she'd sealed the envelope and dropped it
in the mailbox more than five months earlier. Now her future
was only a plane ride away, that is, if she could ever get
off work, tie up some loose ends and pack her bags.
The instant Sasha spotted Brenda sauntering through the
door, she signed off her computer with a swipe of her Summit
Hotel identification card. She purposely ignored Brenda's
syrupy-sweet greeting which she should have given almost an
hour earlier. That was no one's fault but John Ellis, the
manager, Sasha inwardly fumed. Brenda got away with murder
and John turned a blind eye. Had it been her coming
into work even ten minutes late, he'd be threatening to
write her up.
"Anything I need to know about reservations?" Brenda asked
while she settled in behind the counter.
Sasha cut her a look sharp enough to slice glass. "Guess
what, I really don't have the time to explainâ€”with you
getting here so late and all," she added just loud enough
for Carol, the reservation-ist at the end of the counter to
Brenda flushed momentarily and tossed her head, flipping her
very expensive weave over her shoulder. "Fine." She
dismissed Sasha with an arched brow, put on her
commercial-ready smile and moved into greeting mode as a
handsome, well-dressed man approached the desk.
Sasha sighed as she watched Brenda work her usual spell
around him, the way she did with every man who came within
sniffing distance. His soft brown eyes didn't even register
that Sasha was on the same planet. She retrieved her purse
from beneath the desk, said goodbye to Carol and pushed
through the revolving doors and out into the humid Savannah
evening. She adjusted the strap on her purse higher on her
shoulder and headed for the parking lot across the street
from the four-story hotel.
"Humph, humph, humph," a man who appeared to be in his early
thirties murmured as she passed. "Love a sistah with some
meat on her bones." He licked his lips like the wolf with
Little Red Riding Hood on his plate.
Sasha's stomach flipped when he grinned, baring a row of
missing teeth. She shook her head and kept walking, trying
not to let the obvious get her down. A fine looking
businessman walks into the hotel and doesn't blink in her
direction, yet a toothless,
my-job-is-to-stand-on-this-corner man gives her a big
shout-out. What is wrong with that picture? she
thought as she deactivated the alarm on her car.
She slid behind the wheel, leaving the door open while she
turned the ignition of her ten-year-old Honda Accord in the
hope of releasing some of the tightly-packed heat trapped
inside. She pressed the button for the air conditioning and
inhaled a blast of hot air.
"Damn, it's hot." She pulled open the glove compartment and
took out a wad of napkins that she'd collected from her
various pit stops. She flipped down the visor mirror and
peered at her reflection before dabbing her face. Hmmm, she
needed a touch-upâ€”badly. And when was the last time she'd
tweezed her brows? She'd all but chewed off her lipstick. No
wonder the only catcall she could get was from a toothless
hobo. She flipped the mirror back in place.
When the car had sufficiently cooled she closed the door,
buckled up and headed for her second jobâ€”the family catering
business, Carrington Caterers. Between her real job
at the hotel, the evenings at the family business and the
classes two weekends per month for her certification in
Hospitality Management and Food Preparation, it was no
wonder she looked the way she did. She didn't have a moment
to spare for herself, or for anyone else for that matter.
Neville, her ex, simply couldn't understand that she wanted
more than to spend the rest of her life at the beck and call
of someone else, working at something that would never be
her own, which was why their ten-month relationship had
ground to a halt. She had a plan for herself and she
couldn't be distracted by anything or anyone that was not
part of her plan.
It was bad enough that she was off target by two years. By
thirty she'd wanted to have finished her advanced degree and
have her business off the ground so that she could tell the
folks at the Summit Hotel just what they could kiss. Then
she could buy that little house she'd had her eye on for
almost five years.
In another six months she'd be finished with school and her
business plan was almost completed, she mused, feeling
mildly placated as she turned onto Charles Street. She
zipped through a yellow light and made a right at the next
She truly loved Savannah. She loved the way the
late-afternoon sunlight showcased the scenery outside her
window. She loved the antebellum architecture, lush
greenery, landmark mansions and quaint shops. She was a
Southern girl to the bone. She'd been up North a few
timesâ€”New York specificallyâ€”to visit relatives. It was
certainly a fabulous place, with nightlife that never seemed
to end. But before her week-long visits were over, she was
always ready to come home. The hustle and bustle of the Big
Apple shaved a good five years off her life. The madmen
behind the wheels of yellow cabs, not to mention the
ludicrous policy of moving your car from one side of the
street to the other on alternate days. She chuckled at the
memory of her Aunt Linda jumping out of bed and running
outside in her pajamas to move her car in the morning. And
the noise never seemed to stop: honking horns, music
blasting from car windows and she couldn't imagine that the
police and the fire department could possibly be called as
often as they were in New York. It was a great city to
visit, but she could never live there.
The bright blue-and-gold awning with the double C
logo for Carrington Caterers loomed ahead. Sasha
slowed, eyeing the street for an open parking space, the
closer to the front the better. She zipped her midnight-blue
Honda into a spot vacated by a gas-guzzling Suburban,
beating out a Lexus by a mere bumper.
Sasha bit back a chuckle and kept her eyes straight ahead as
the Lexus crawled by her. She could almost feel the cuss
words bouncing off her driver's-side window. She turned off
the car, gathered her purse and tote bag and went inside as
quickly as she could, eager to get out of the sticky heat
and into the cool interior of the family domain.
CC had been in business for more than twenty years, starting
off in her mother Grace's kitchen on Kennisaw Road where she
did "favors" for close friends who were having small
gatherings or surprise family events. Grace Carrington's
homemade soul-food dinners and desserts became so popular
that she outgrew her kitchen and rented the space CC now
occupied. Once they were old enough, Sasha and her younger
sister, Tristan, helped out. Their dad, Frank, who also knew
his way around a stove, handled the books and the deliveries.
Fortunately, the recession had been kind to them. While many
businesses in downtown Savannah were suffering or had
closed, CC still managed to do well, all things considered,
and maintained a profit. Grace firmly believed that food was
the best comforter in good times and more so in bad.
However, with more people becoming health-conscious and a
flurry of government studies on obesity in the U.S., Sasha
had been trying to convince her mother and her sister to
broaden their menu to include some healthy alternatives. She
urged them to serve more than the fried, buttered,
gravy-laden, ham-hock-seasoned, sugar-coated foods that CC
had built its reputation on. Grace and Tristan were not
Sasha opened the heavy wood door and was greeted by the
mouth-watering aroma of CC's famous seasoned collard greens.
Her stomach jumped in delight, but she fought back the urge.
For the past four months she'd quietly embarked upon a
lifestyle change, cutting back or eliminating many of the
foods she'd grown up on. It was a struggle, but she was
slowly winning the battle, having lost nearly twenty pounds
for her efforts. Her mother's high blood pressure, her
sister huffing and puffing over the simplest activity, not
to mention her Aunt Shelia's heart attack a year earlier had
put Sasha on notice. She'd gone from a solid size eighteen
to a curvaceous size fourteen. She had plans, and she wanted
to be around to see them fulfilled, and if she had to take
her mother and her sister with her kicking and screaming,
she was going to make sure that they were around to enjoy
"Hey, Charise. My mom around?" Charise was Sasha's first
cousin on her mother's side, her Aunt Shelia's daughter. She
came in after school to help out a couple of days a week.
Charise was busy on her iPhone. She didn't make a move
without it, and she barely glanced up. "In the back." She
angled her head toward the kitchen.
"Thanks. How's school?" She patted her cousin's shoulder as
she came around the front counter.
"Graduate next year," Charise said, as if by rote.
Sasha smiled, shook her head and walked toward the kitchen.
At least Charise was still in school and didn't have an
infant on her hip like so many of the young girls in the city.
Grace looked up for an instant from her task of rolling
dough for the crust of her famous peach cobbler. "Hey, baby.
Hand me that brown sugar," she said with a slight lift of
her double chin.
Sasha did as she was asked to the tune of banging pots and
stirring spoons coming from the other side of the wall that
divided the baking area from the ovens, supervised by Clyde,
the only person who wasn't family that Grace allowed in her
kitchen. "Hey, Clyde," she called out.
Clyde poked his head out, his dark brown face gleaming with
sweat. He flashed her a toothy grin. "Hey, yourself. How you
be?" His eyes rolled up and down her body. "Get any thinner
you gone blow away." He chuckled.
"I doubt it," she tossed back. The Hasting women were all
"big-boned" as they liked to call themselves. Her mother's
sisters, Linda and Shelia, were both double-Ds and size
twenty-plus. Her grandmother had been big, too, and Sasha's
sister, Tristan, was well on her way to winning top prize.
Sasha worried about all of them, but they swore that their
men loved it and no one could pay them enough to pass up a
"So when are you leaving?" her mother asked, not interested
in hearing another one of Sasha's lectures on food.
Sasha leaned her hip against the counter. "My flight to
Antigua leaves at seven tomorrow night."
"You sure picked a fine time to take off on vacation. You
know this is a busy time of year for us, with graduations
and weddings," her mother complained as she wiped sweat from
her brow with a paper towel.
"I know. But if I don't take my vacation now I won't get a
chance to go."
"I still don't know why you have to go to some island."
Sasha had no intention of telling her family the real reason
for her trip. If things didn't work out, she didn't want to
hear "I told you so."
Sasha went to the sink and washed her hands. She moved next
to her mother and began kneading dough for the pies. "I know
this is a busy time, Mom," she began, "but this is really
important to me."
Her mother turned and looked at her daughter curiously. Her
brows drew together. "What's so important about a vacation
Sasha drew in a breath. "It's just that I've planned this
for a while. I can't back out now. This is the first time
I've been out of the country." Her voice began to bubble
with enthusiasm even as she hoped her mother would share in
Grace's full lips were tightly pursed before the glimmer of
a smile loosened them. "Be sure to bring me something. And I
don't mean a T-shirt," she warned, wagging a rolling pin at
The two women laughed.