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From the Publisher"The characters are well developed..."
–RT Book Reviews on RACING HEARTS
As the sun rose, warm spring sunshine lit a widening path to the bed. Morning had arrived, bringing an end to another sleepless night for Tamara Wendell. She blinked repeatedly to lubricate her dry, stinging eyes. A wide yawn and a full-body stretch of her tight muscles did little to shake off the lethargy. But she knew that sliding farther under the covers to laze away the morning wasn't an option. She carried a vow in her heart that kept her going.
Her work at the New Horizons Leadership Academy had grown out of a dream to reach out to young men on the edge of tumbling down a path of self-destruction. Those young men needed her, and so she couldn't give up or slow down. Ever.
Emitting a loud groan, however, was still acceptable. Time to get up and back to work. She reached for the stack of ten manila folders that had camped overnight at the foot of her bed. Each folder contained personal information about a young man considered to be at risk. The sad and troubling details were seared into her memory and, in each case, had taken custody of her heart. Not only had she formed a bond with each teen, but she, by way of the academy, had also taken on the task to set them on the right path. She was proud of her partnership with the administration of the Miller-Brown Home for Boys and the grateful parents who supported their work.
Every six months, she selected a group of guys from the boys' home for the cooperative internship program. Companies in the area opened their doors to provide jobs and mentoring for the young men. If she couldn't find them a job, the guys spent their time at her academy honing their computer skills, learning job interview techniques and participating in service projects to develop a healthier self-image and confidence. All the energy placed in rehabilitating them was to avoid the alternative of becoming a part of Maryland's overburdened juvenile services.
As owner of New Horizons Leadership Academy, her mission had a twofold purpose: not only to turn around the destructive behavior and thought process of these young men, but also to usher them into the working world with a sense of independence and self-reliance. Tamara jotted down a few notes on the writing pad near her lap. She always entertained creative ideas that would benefit her clients. Most came to the table with a "what is in it for me" mentality.
Thankfully, success stories outpaced the occasional negative outcomes, solidifying her reputation in the community as a keen youth activist. Yet, the partnering of the guys to the right mentors didn't come easily. One company that she had in mind didn't seem to want to play ball. Benson Technologies had an internship program that was touted by colleges and universities, but when it came to opening up its doors to her academy, the welcome mat had been yanked in.
While a snooty human resources manager had the ability to block Tamara's initial approach, the executive didn't know the intense level of her tenacity. Some people had to learn the hard way. She was happy to declare that class was now in session. Ten young men depended on her.
Soft knocking at her bedroom door interrupted her musing. "Come in."
Her roommate Becky entered, a bit hesitant. "Hey, I brought you a cup of coffee."
"Becky, you don't have to keep doing this. But, thank you." Tamara took the steaming mug, savoring the robust scent. "Stop waiting on me hand and foot." They had been best friends for years and were now roommates.
"Can't help it. I made a large batch of coffee and I mean large. That fancy brewing machine required a PhD." Becky offered up a rueful grin. "Plus it's lonely out there in that cafeteria-size kitchen. And can I say again that I'm really glad that you took me in?"
"Girl, please. I've crashed at your parents' so many times. Besides, it's not like you could stay in that apartment after your crazy roommate moved out. I told you not to sign a lease with her. Three jobs in six months, and that last one was a bit suspect, if you ask me."
"I'm not asking." Becky stuck out her tongue and made a face.
"Wouldn't you agree, though, that I've got more than enough room?"
"Of course! I'm in a penthouse." Becky's grin lit up her face, showing off her bright hazel-green eyes. Her honey-blond hair lay damp on her head and hung down to her shoulders in loose curls. She was still wearing her thick pink robe, and her feet sported matching pink bedroom slippers.
"Well, we have my dad to thank for that," Tamara said.
Before her father had passed from cancer, his sole goal had been to ensure that her mother and she were taken care of in every way. He had been an Ivy League professor, and his significant role in civil rights and his many academic accomplishments had made him a sought-after speaker and consultant on various commissions. His simple life soon exploded into a hectic, publicized—but very profitable—celebrity lifestyle. Ta-mara believed that fighting for human rights shouldn't be tied to gaining wealth, and that had always been a point of contention between her father and her. But he insisted that he had done the marches and protests out of his passion and his spiritual beliefs. So, she'd left him to do what he felt he had to do.
"Your dad died knowing that he'd provided for you," Becky continued. "Don't let that be tainted by your own crazy worldview that activism means you can't earn a living at the same time."
Tamara shrugged. Her guilt came from a deeper place beyond her father. But she hadn't ever shared the details, not even with her best friend.
"And can I say thank you again for letting me stay here for only four hundred dollars a month?"
"It would've been zero dollars a month if you hadn't pitched such a fit. I want you to save for a house. Stop paying rent—you get nothing at the end."
"There's no way that I wouldn't pay something. The place is the size of two apartments. I've never been a charity case, and I'm not going to use you like that. Although, if you loan me three quarters right now, I could buy lollipops from the vending machine later."
"You're such a candy fiend. Quarters are over there." Tamara motioned toward the top of the chest of drawers. "You know my mom picked this place. I was fine with a regular apartment."
"At least she talked some sense into you. People know your net worth anyway. Even if you choose to be dismissive, you are a millionaire."
She cringed over the word millionaire. The label felt like a heavy burden, given her desire to be a human rights activist as her parents had been.
Tamara sipped her coffee, enjoying the rush of the caffeine and its warmth through her body. With coffee mug in hand, she walked to the other end of her bedroom to pull out her clothes for the day.
"With that ratty nightshirt and funky-colored, mismatching socks, you certainly don't dress the part of a millionaire." Becky had carried her preppy look through college and now to the grown-up world. She embraced the Hollywood A-list, such as Reese Witherspoon and Anne Hathaway, as her fashion icons.
Tamara's own style was more chic casual, with T-shirts emblazoned with social messages, brightly colored jeans and athletic wear. She didn't have much of an interest in fashion icons.
Tamara looked down at her bare brown legs: not particularly long, but muscled from jogging and kick-boxing.
But she cleaned up well, according to the pesky fashion police on their gossip sites. Frankly, being termed a fashionista wasn't one of her priorities.
Today she had to fix that reputation temporarily.
An idea that had percolated overnight had now taken hold in the brightness of the day. If she couldn't get what she wanted one way, then she'd try another method. She ran her hand over the clothes hanging in her closet. Picking the right outfit carried a lot of weight for where she planned to go and for what she intended to do.
"What's the deal with these?" Becky got comfortable in her bed. Sitting cross-legged in front of the files, she began flipping through them, occasionally sipping from her mug.
"It's still the latest group that I'm trying to get connected with companies. Well, one company in particular. But I've been kind of keeping it to myself because I didn't want to get anyone's hopes up."
"No. But when has that ever stopped me? I've got my eye on a computer game design and development company in Maryland—Benson Technologies."
Becky whistled. "The one in Rockville? Going for the big dogs."
Tamara nodded. "I want all ten guys placed there. They're a small company, but they're proving to be a powerhouse in the computer gaming industry. These kids would love that." She blew out an exasperated sigh. "But I'm getting the runaround."
"You know, if you mentioned your parents' bio with your introduction, you'd get past all the B.S."
Tamara didn't respond. Her thoughts raged over her need for independence and making her own path versus living off her parents' celebrity.
"You are hardheaded," Becky accused.
"Don't you have a job to go to?"
"Yeah, but the boss is out of the office. As a matter of fact, she's been standing in her walk-in closet for over five minutes now." Becky pushed back against the headboard and continued drinking from the mug.
"I'm trying to find the right outfit to go after Grant Benson."
"Is this his picture? He is a cutie." Becky pulled out a magazine nestled between the files.
"Probably used Photoshop. That was the bio picture on his website." Tamara was glad that she was partially hidden in the closet and away from Becky's eagle-eyed scrutiny.
The target, as she had dubbed Grant Benson, surpassed cute. The full-length photo had captured the computer gamer in a custom-fitted designer suit. The man had given computer nerds a boost in the hot-and-sexy department.
It also helped that he had the body of a model, with broad shoulders, smooth dark skin and a slim athletic frame as well as the style of a classic Hollywood star. She'd already learned from various news sources that he was six feet five inches, didn't care a lick about basketball and was blessed with good genes that had earned him a comparison to a young version of the actor and activist Sidney Poitier. Although she admired the publicity photo, she'd withhold confirmation that he was gorgeous. She wanted to see him without the tricks of photo editing.
Was his skin really that smooth and was it the rich color of chocolate brown? Did those dark, piercing, almost black eyes have the same power to hold her attention if she was face-to-face with their owner? And what would his voice sound like? With a body and face that had the potential to weaken a woman's knees, namely hers, he deserved to have a deep bass voice with the smoothness of honey.
"Go with that burntorange dress. Shows off all your assets that you diligently work so hard to hide," Becky prompted.
"I'm not trying to sleep with the man. And my assets are nobody's business."
"Okay, let's see what you come up with." Becky turned on her side, propping her head up. "I was the one voted Best Dressed in high school."
"And that's because you baked cupcakes on the day of voting." Tamara walked through her closet, selecting each article of clothing, holding it up against her body, stepping in front of the mirror and switching items out to get the right ensemble. Once she had the right clothes, she flipped them over her forearm, grabbed her golf shoes and walked out of the closet.
"What is that outfit you're putting together? That won't help you to get young men to look at you."
"That's not the point. I'm heading to the country club to play a round of golf with Benson and negotiate a good deal for the guys." Tamara actually thought that she did look like a sports fashionista with her EP Pro Women's Monarchy ensemble.
"Love you for being so doggone crazy. But you need to bring it over to the slow lane and explain this strategy for me. What on earth are you doing?"
"Benson is a member of Parkside Country Club. That's no big secret. He's an avid golfer. I called yesterday to find out his schedule, and he's due to play this morning." Tamara dropped the clothes on the bed then air-swung an imaginary golf club.
"Don't you have to make reservations?" Becky asked.
"Well, see you told me to use my parents' clout. And just this once, I did. Now, I'm in." She shooed Becky out of her bed. "Now go away, let me dress. You'd better head to work because you'll be busy after we book Benson Technologies."
"You're pretty confident." Becky paused in the doorway with both emptied mugs in her hands.
"No. More like determined. This is going to happen, even if I have to beat him at golf to get what I want." Tamara knew the nervous tremors in her stomach would radiate throughout her body when she actually had to go through with her crazy idea.
"Good luck, crazy lady. Don't get arrested." Becky left the room.
"I'll need a bit more than luck," Tamara said softly.
She headed for the shower with her mind already wandering to the possible outcomes. Under the cascading warm water, she practiced the speech that she hoped would get support for her guys' internships.
And, yes. They were her guys, as if she was their foster mother. She cared deeply for each teen. All the young men in her academy formed a natural, close bond with her and the staff. They were almost like the younger siblings she'd never had as an only child.
The connection with each teen who came into the academy bridged what she missed by not having a big family, but more important, it helped refocus her goal to be an advocate. More than anything, she wanted to work with young adults and to be an activist with the same spirit and determination as her parents.
Her strong desire to see the guys stay on the right path also made her protective of them and pushy about them seizing opportunities. Her loyal staff worked hard to keep their reputation growing and significant in the community. In this case, she wasn't going to pause in her efforts until all ten students had been placed with the right company.
Especially since the teens in this set were the diehard gamers of the academy. What a coup if she could get them into Benson Technologies. The hands-on experience in a top company would be invaluable. Plus they would have access to their dream jobs.
By the time she left her home in Tysons Corner, Virginia, the morning traffic had flooded the roadways for the early morning commute. Tamara expertly maneuvered her car through the city and out of the state to adjoining Maryland. Normally, she'd continue on the 495 Beltway loop toward the city of College Park to her academy.
This morning she aimed for Potomac, Maryland, the wealthy residential suburb where her parents lived and where Benson had an enormous mansion, one of at least three of his reported homes. She glanced in the rearview mirror, not only for the traffic but also to have a close-up check of her face.
She'd kept makeup to a minimum but didn't want to look too bare. A light dusting of foundation smoothed over her skin's almost invisible imperfections. Mascara and eyeliner had been applied with a deliberate touch for a sophisticated, rather than dramatic, look. She didn't like to worry about her hair and had opted to twist its length into a bun. Diamond stud earrings fit in each ear, their size and clarity showing off their value. The last touch was a light, coppery shimmer on her lips. All in all, she should be able to hold his attention long enough to get her point across.
Posted June 14, 2013
Posted November 11, 2013
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Posted June 12, 2013
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