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Just One Taste...

By:Wendy Etherington

Just One Taste...
Wendy Etherington

       1



FROM BEHIND HER POST at the chocolate fountain, Vanessa Douglas watched  the posh crowd of Atlanta's social elite schmooze each other.Prominent  doctors and lawyers, board members and business moguls turned out in  jewels and designer clothes, decorated by elegantly dressed first  spouses or young, hard-bodied second ones. Vanessa fought the urge to  yawn.

But when a girl made penis-shaped cakes for a living, a lot of things seemed staid by comparison.

"Have you seen any cute guys?" her best friend and business partner Mia Medini asked.

"Nope. And hardly anybody under forty."

"What we expected. Your mother never listens." She planted her hands on  her trim hips, which were shown off to perfection in a silky turquoise  dress that also complemented her olive-toned skin and dark hair. "People  our age go to nightclubs for fun, not the country club."

"Except my sister." Angelica, wearing a powder-blue suit and pearls,  stood across the room with a group of elderly women. Nearby, their  parents socialized in an intimate circle of longtime friends, her mother  in cream-colored Chanel, her father in dignified navy Brooks Brothers.  Vanessa glanced down at her rebel-red shimmery cocktail dress, bought  from a sample sale in midtown at Vampy Divas. Yep. All was right with  the world.

Even though her mother had sent catering business Vanessa's way instead  of steering it in the other direction, hell, apparently, hadn't actually  frozen over.

"But your sister is a fifty-year-old in a twenty-five-year-old body," Mia said.

"She hooked the best cardiac surgeon in the South."

Mia elbowed her. "Like he's a damn herring. And, personally, he's too staid for me."

"Wearing a bow tie is not a good sign."

"Though I once knew this stripper who wore his bow tie on his-"

"Mia, please," Vanessa said, glancing around furtively to see if they'd been overheard. "Not here."

Mia looked wounded. "You turn into such a stuff-bucket around them."

She knew it was true. But she was tired of the estrangement from her  family. She'd had her rebellion, and she was ready for compromise. "I'm  just trying for peace. For once."

"I wish you luck on your journey, Don Quixote."

Ignoring her roommate's negativity, Vanessa rearranged the stack of  napkins on the table, which were highlighted by elegant shrimp canapés  and delicate chocolate puff pastries. No anatomically correct-or  incorrect-body parts in sight.

Damn it.

"Though everybody has been complimentary," Mia went on. "You think we'll actually get more business from doing this shindig?"

Vanessa shrugged as if she hadn't given the idea much thought. "Maybe. We could use it."

Of course she'd given the idea a lot of thought. Her family was a  cornerstone of the swanky society laid out before them. Her father was a  senior partner in one of the oldest, most prestigious law firms in the  city. Her mother was a premier society queen. Vanessa and her sister had  been raised as pristine, pure debutantes.

And she'd chucked it all to slave in the kitchen making chocolate sauce and leaven bread for a living.

Crazy? Her mother thought so. As well as most of the people she'd grown  up with. But Vanessa had never felt more normal, free and alive than the  day she'd packed her jeans, T-shirts-and the scandalous red bra she'd  worn under a white shirt once and nearly sent her mother into a dead  faint-and moved out on her own.

After being cut off from the family money at the urging of her  mother-she was the power behind the throne, no matter what her father  claimed-Vanessa had put herself through culinary school and started her  own business. After years of having to sneak into the kitchen to help  their housekeeper make cookies-debs didn't cook, they nibbled  elegantly-she'd found a profession where getting messy was just part of  the process.

For years, she'd wondered if the sneaking part was her only attraction  to cooking, but after moving out and working in a restaurant, she'd  realized that being a chef appealed to her need for excitement and  variety. From a practical aspect, she could eat and get paid.  Emotionally, it gave her instant gratification-she fed people, and they  were happy. She didn't disappoint them, and they didn't try to change  her.                       
       
           



       

Rejection of her efforts was rare.

Which brought her thoughts back to her family. Her sister, believing  that a woman wasn't complete until she married, constantly tried to fix  her up with men who were completely wrong for her. While Vanessa fought  to keep her fledgling catering business afloat, her mother discouraged  everyone she knew from using her services. And her father seemed too  busy to notice there was a rift in the family at all.

Still, seven years after her big rebellion, Vanessa could say she didn't  regret the choices she'd made. She had great friends who supported her,  she threw her energy and hopes into her business, and she planned for  the future.

And yet … she wanted nothing quite as much as a reconciliation with her family. Just not at the expense of her pride.

How's that for a contradiction?

"Do you think her usual caterer really canceled on her at the last  minute?" Mia asked, her tone as suspicious as Vanessa's had been when  her mother had called her less than a week ago to ask them to cater this  party.

"It's possible."

She'd like to think her mother was softening, or at least getting used  to the idea of a daughter in the-shudder-service industry. Or maybe,  actually-big gasp-accepting Vanessa's chosen career and lifestyle rather  than doing everything possible to turn her into a society princess and  carbon copy of both her and Vanessa's younger sister. But Vanessa wasn't  holding her breath.

"I guess I'm a sap for bailing her out," Vanessa continued.

"Since she's done so much to help us."

"She thinks she's doing what's best for me."

"Yeah, well, you're twenty-seven. I'm pretty sure you've figured out what's best for you on your own."

"Hear, hear."

"And we did a classy job. I bet fifty bucks your mother didn't sleep a  wink last night, wondering if we'd show up with boob-shaped suckers and a  cock-shaped champagne fountain."

Vanessa's eyes widened, and she temporarily shoved aside her vow for  peace. She exchanged a knowing look with Mia. "That's not a bad idea."

"For that bachelorette party this weekend."

"We could have champagne spurting out the top."

"Crude, but fun."

"My mother really would faint."

Mia flicked her hand in dismissal. "Well, she's not going to be there,  is she? And let's quit talking about her. It's too frustrating." She  craned her neck to try to see around and over the crowd. "This place is a  crush. Somehow the staid and boring really have found their own place  in the world. Imagine that. Still, there's got to be at least one  scrumptious, eligible man-oh, my God. What's he doing here? Hide me."

Vanessa looked around and quickly spotted the problem-Colin Leavy was  heading their way. He'd been in love with Mia ever since he'd come into  their bakery and catering shop to order a cake for his mother's birthday  two years ago. Unfortunately, he was an accountant and the epitome of  staid, so Mia wouldn't have anything to do with him.

Vanessa thought he was cute, and his devotion to Mia adorable. She might  even reveal her chocolate-cheese-cake recipe to have a man look at her  with the devotion Colin showed Mia.

Somehow, in her relationships, Vanessa always managed to be the pursuer,  not the pursuee. Because she knew what she wanted? Because she knew how  to get what she wanted? Or because she impulsively jumped in with both  feet without bothering to ask too many questions?

She highly suspected it was the latter, especially after the last guy she'd gone out with that turned out to have a fiancée.

"Good grief," she said to her partner. "There are worse things in life  than having a bright, successful man grovel at your feet."

"Depends on the man."

As Colin approached, and Mia realized she didn't have anywhere to hide, she simply crossed her arms over her chest.

"Hi, Mia. Would you like to dance?"

"I'm work-"

Vanessa pushed her friend forward. "She'd love to."

Mia glared at her over her shoulder. "But, I-"                       
       
           



       

"Come on, Mia," Colin said. "Please."

Who could resist those sweet, puppy-dog-brown eyes?

Apparently not even Mia, who sighed, but held out her hand to take Colin's. Vanessa hoped she let him lead.

While her partner was dancing, Vanessa roamed the perimeter of the room,  making sure the platters of appetizers and pastries were filled, and  the waitstaff kept the drinks flowing. The party doubled as a  fund-raiser for a local children's hospital, so once her mother  presented the check to the chairperson at 10:00 p.m., the crowd would  probably disperse and Vanessa and Mia would be free to clean up and go.  Still, it would be midnight before they got home, as they had to pack  everything, then run it all through the industrial-quality dishwasher at  the shop.

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