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Sweet As Sugar, Hot As Spice
By Kimberly Raye
Warner ForeverCopyright © 2005 Kimberly Groff
All right reserved.
Chapter OneShe was totally screwed.
The truth struck Eve Farrel as she stood beneath the blazing spotlights near center stage and listened to her youngest sister vow to "love, honor, and cherish ..."
This revelation had nothing to do with the fact that she was wearing a floor-length, yellow tulle dress and matching satin pumps in front of both a live audience and several million dedicated Get Sexed Up! home viewers. It had everything to do with her mother, the show's host, and, like Eve, an unwilling witness to the ceremony being broadcast in the name of ratings.
Jacqueline Farrel sat in the front row and stared at Eve as if she were the last pair of Anne Klein slingbacks at a Macy's half-off sale.
Make that a very bright, peppy, vibrant, yellow pair of slingbacks.
Okay, so maybe the getup had just a little to do with the sick feeling in the pit of Eve's stomach. She didn't do bright or peppy. Rather, she lived in black, from her thigh-high patent-leather boots and her favorite tight, skimpy leather miniskirt, to the thick layer of eyeliner usually rimming her eyes. Black said bold, bad, wild.
Even more, her mother hated black.
Which was why it had become Eve's signature color at the age of fourteen when she'd dyed her platinum hair Clairol's Raven No. 102-just an hour before the family's annual Christmas picture. Jacqueline had turned the same shade of red caused by her severe allergic reaction to shellfish. Then she'd rushed off in a huff to rethink her decision to have children in the first place, unintentionally giving her daughter some much-needed space.
Eve had been shocking her mother ever since.
Up until last year, that is, when her older sister, Skye, had one-upped Eve by doing the unthinkable-she'd waltzed down the aisle with the hottest NASCAR driver to ever do a Pep Boys commercial. Now her younger sister, Xandra, was smiling and exchanging platinum wedding bands with her significant other on national television.
Xandra had planned to hold the ceremony at a hotel in Houston, but then the producers of Get Sexed Up! had approached her with an offer she couldn't refuse. The "Smart Dating" segment they had recently aired, which featured Jacqueline giving dating advice to single women, had been so successful that several of the participants had not only nabbed a boyfriend, but were on their way to the altar. The producers had asked Xandra and her fiancé, Beau, to take part in the show's Valentine's Day special-a reality multiple wedding, complete with an in-studio ceremony and a complimentary reception at the posh Beverly Hills Hotel. Xandra had agreed because it would guarantee her mother's presence on the most important day in her life.
Jacqueline Farrel was the show's host, after all. Contractually, she had to attend, even if it went against her entire philosophy-namely that marriage was the worst evil, second only to a terminal illness. Lasting relationships weren't built on a flimsy piece of paper but a solid foundation of shared interests, mutual respect, and great sex-her infamous Holy Commitment Trinity. Despite great effort, however, she'd obviously failed to enlighten two of her three offspring. But all hope was not lost. She still had one single daughter left to save the Farrel name and serve as a shining example to Womanists everywhere. She had Eve.
And Eve had a migraine the size of Paris Hilton's ego.
She was screwed, all right.
The floor tilted just enough to make her sway. Sweat beaded on her upper lip. Her hands went damp, and she had to readjust her grip on the heavy bridesmaid's bouquet.
Geez, it was hot. And stuffy. And bright.
She blinked away the tiny black dots dancing in front of her eyes and swallowed against a rising wave of nausea.
"Are you all right?" The whispered question came from the woman who stood just to Eve's left. Skye Farrel-MacAllister was the matron of honor and the expectant mother of twins.
"I'm fine." Eve swallowed again as reality weighed down on her: Skye, her older sister and the one everyone had expected to follow in Jacqueline's footsteps, was happily married, of all things, and having twin boys. Not so long ago, Skye hadn't been able to keep a boyfriend long enough to add his name to her electric bill, much less start a family.
"You don't look fine," Skye said beneath her breath as the exchange of rings finished and the minister declared, "What God hath joined together ..."
Skye caught Eve's trembling hand in a gesture that looked like an older sibling's sign of affection, and not the subtle but crystal-clear Screw this up now, and I'll kick your ass warning it truly was. Obviously, Skye put nothing past rowdy, rebellious Eve, who'd long ago developed a reputation for acting on impulse.
But this wasn't an impromptu road trip to Mexico. Or a mud-wrestling match at a local sports bar. Or karaoke night at her favorite club.
This was her baby sister's wedding, and she was going to behave herself. Which meant she wasn't bolting for the nearest exit.
"You look like you're going to throw up," Skye added.
Big Brother had nothing on Big Sister.
"I'm fine." Eve swallowed and cleared her throat. "Really." She drew a deep breath and gave her older sister a reassuring squeeze before disengaging her fingers.
Pulling her shoulders back, she clutched her monstrous bouquet of yellow roses, buttercups, and daffodils stem-wrapped in ribbon and sweetheart lace. Lace that matched the trim on her dress. Which matched the color of the bunting draped around the set. Which matched the giant satin bows marking each row of chairs. Which matched the hue of the daisy petals sprinkled down every aisle.
"... Marriage is a joyous union that marks the beginning of a new life together ...," the minister's voice droned on.
A drop of sweat tickled its way down Eve's right temple. The razor burn under her arms prickled.
"... by the power vested in me ..."
She blew out a deep breath and inhaled again. Her nostrils burned with the sickeningly sweet scent of flowers coupled with the half gallon of perfume the wedding coordinator had spritzed her with prior to the walk down the studio aisle. Her stomach pitched and rolled.
"... I pronounce you man and wife ..."
Get it together, Eve told herself. Now.
She hadn't made a huge name for herself in the erotic video market by upchucking every time a difficult situation arose.
She was Eve Farrel, for heaven's sake.
The ballsy, headstrong producer and owner of Sugar & Spice Sinema, the fastest-growing production company in L.A. and the only one that specialized in how-to sex videos for couples. Her life was one crisis after another. She worked with temperamental actors and actresses. She endured the endless pressure caused by tight production schedules and small budgets. She dealt with know-it-all cameramen and clueless production assistants and snotty set caterers who couldn't tell a blueberry bagel from a cinnamon-raisin.
"... And now let us seal this blessed union with a kiss ..."
She was not going to throw up, despite the hot lights and the horrible dress and the overwhelming smell and her mother's adoring stare.
Rather, she was going to paste a smile on her face and make it through the few minutes it would take to waltz back up the aisle. Then she was going to head for the reception like the headstrong, confident, capable woman she was. And then she was going to do what any headstrong, confident, capable woman would do in her present situation.
She was going to drink.
Three hours later, after an endless stream of pictures, a question-and-answer session with several local radio shows, and an interview for Entertainment Tonight-they weren't about to miss out on the biggest reality event of the year-Eve finally walked into the Crystal Ballroom of the Beverly Hills Hotel.
The reception was already in full swing, the room packed with guests. The live band belted out Kool & the Gang's classic "Celebration" for a dance floor overflowing with people. Uniformed waiters squeezed this way and that, carrying silver serving trays laden with everything from cold shrimp to hot meatballs to champagne. Long, tapered white candles sat in polished gold candelabra and flickered from the center of each round banquet table. The tables themselves, draped in crisp white linen, were lavishly set with gold-etched china and sparkling crystal. Large sprays of yellow flowers filled every nook and cranny. Several sets of French doors opened out into a garden filled with more tables and flowers and people.
The place was bursting at the seams.
While Eve would have given her right eye-her throbbing eye, thanks to the headache from hell-for some peace and quiet, chaos was preferable at the moment. The more people, the easier it would be to steer clear of her mother.
Or so she hoped.
She retrieved a frozen margarita from the bar, bypassed the seats reserved for the wedding party, and headed for a table in the farthest corner of the ballroom.
Eve had just downed half the icy drink and slid off her shoes when a six-foot-plus, sometimes green-eyed, sometimes blue-eyed woman-depending on her contact supply-collapsed into the seat next to her.
"I am so glad you invited me," Trina Carlington declared in the breathless, excited voice she used for the "Call now to meet sexy singles in your area, and you could hook up with me" late-night radio spots she recorded for a local Top 40 station in her spare time. She spent the rest of her time as chief marketing director for Sugar & Spice Sinema. Trina could sell anything.
A former Playboy playmate, she'd played it smart by banking her money and using it to put herself through school. She'd since earned a degree from Stanford University, interned with the prestigious Bart & Baxter ad agency, and could boast an impressive list of measurements, thanks to L.A.'s leading plastic surgeons. She currently wore a slinky, strappy red dress that clung to her shapely body and made even Eve-who had more than her own share of curves, thanks to Mother Nature-slightly envious.
"Weddings aren't usually my thing." Trina pulled out a mirrored tube from her gold Fendi bag and retouched her flaming red lipstick. "I always end up dancing with somebody's dorky cousin or drooling uncle." She licked her lips. "But I've already done the macarena with the vice president of a major network, the electric slide with one of the producers from the Today show, and the twist with some rich guy who's staying in the hotel's penthouse suite and decided to crash the reception because he's in the mood for wedding cake."
Besides being smart and beautiful, Trina taught dance lessons to underprivileged kids at the YMCA.
"Have I ever told you how much I hate you?" Eve asked.
"At least once a day. Now"-she nailed Eve with a stare-"why are you sitting here when you should be dancing and having fun?"
"I should be dancing, shouldn't I?" Doing a little bump and grind with the most chauvinistic guy in the place always sent her mother into a tailspin, which was why Eve had done so at every family function she'd been forced to attend over the past decade. "I would be if I thought it would do a bit of good. But it's not going to work this time. This is serious." Eve scooted her chair even farther into the shadows of a huge potted palm that sat next to the table. The giant plant effectively hid her from the sight of the woman seated across the sea of wedding guests, near a silver fountain flowing with champagne punch.
"What are you talking about?"
"Marriage and the fact that it's the eighth deadly sin as far as my mother is concerned. Everything else pales in comparison." Dread rolled through her. "Which means I'm actually the good daughter now. Me. Can you imagine that?" She shook her head. "I've never been the good daughter. I can't be the good daughter. Then I'll have to put up with more than one visit a week from my mother, and I can barely handle that."
"She's a busy woman. I doubt she'll have the time to torture you more than she already does."
Eve watched as Jacqueline Farrel downed her fourth glass of punch and glanced around for the umpteenth time, as if searching for someone. Her gaze paused on the potted palm.
Eve ducked and grabbed her friend's arm. "My mother didn't see you come over here, did she?"
"You're way too paranoid."
"If only." Eve took another sip of her tart drink. Warmth exploded in the pit of her stomach, but it did little to calm her pounding heart, particularly since her mother's gaze had yet to waver. "She saw you, didn't she?"
"How would I know?" Trina shook her head. "I have much more interesting people to watch than your mother." She smiled and her eyes sparkled. "I just love men in tuxedos."
"Only because a tuxedo means well-dressed, which usually means a hefty bank account."
"Exactly." Trina beamed. "Check out those hot bodies over there."
Eve's gaze shifted to the four tuxedo-clad men who stood several feet away near the bar. They were talking and laughing, seemingly oblivious to the cameras that clicked around them and captured each of their expressions on film.
"They must be television bigwigs or actors or something," Trina said.
"NASCAR drivers." At Trina's questioning look, Eve added, "Since Clint was attending the wedding with Skye-thankfully Valentine's Day fell on a Monday this year-the show's producers decided to tape a 'Hot New Men of NASCAR' interview for their brother channel-Spike TV."
"Clint's been racing forever. He's not exactly a NASCAR virgin."
"No, but three out of the four drivers for his team are. He must have invited them to tag along to the reception."
"I've never been into NASCAR-Sunday is my day to catch up on all the reality shows I tape during the week-but I'll have to start watching." Trina's eyes gleamed as she pointed a red-tipped nail. "I'd definitely trade the last three Bachelors for that one cutie right over there."
Eve's gaze zeroed in on the blond hunk who stood near a giant hammer-shaped ice sculpture (made in honor of her new brother-in-law, who was the founder and owner of Hire-a-Hunk Construction). Linc "Shooter" Adams-so named for his style of laying low during the first half of a race, then shooting into the lead during the final stretch-looked mouthwatering in a black tuxedo. He had his arms draped around two different women-a brunette on one side and a strawberry blonde on the other-while he smiled and flirted with a very attentive female reporter who was holding a microphone in front of him.
"It's all good, sunshine."
The deep, rich southern drawl echoed in Eve's memory and awareness skittered up her spine. She frowned. "I might trade in that football-playing Bachelor-he did pick the wrong woman-but the rest of those drivers are definitely preferable to Linc Adams."
Trina and Eve watched as the reporter laughed at something Linc said and leaned in even closer. Eve's frown deepened. "He is every Womanist's worst nightmare."
Which was why, when Skye had offered to fix Eve up with him last year, she had actually agreed to it. She'd needed to do something to win back the Rebellious Daughter title she'd held for so many years. Big mistake.
"He's a chauvinist?" Trina asked.
Eve nodded. "He's the one who guzzled beer out of a bra cup at the Victoria's Secret party after last year's spring fashion show."
"That was him? I saw that on E!" Trina's eyes narrowed as she sized up Linc. "But he looked a little ... different."
"He doesn't usually dress this well. When he's not racing, he lives in board shorts and T-shirts and a very inebriated grin."
Eve's thoughts rushed back to the Sonoma race she'd attended the day of their blind date. The first car designed and manufactured by the MacAllister Magic Race Team had been introduced that day. But Eve hadn't felt nearly as much excitement at seeing her brother-in-law's groundbreaking car as she had when she'd glimpsed his new driver. She'd been dreading the fix-up date following the race, but when Linc had climbed from behind the wheel and smiled at Eve, she'd started to think that she might actually enjoy the date.
He'd had a really great smile and he'd looked nice enough. While she'd heard the rumor that Linc was a wild player-type interested only in sex, she'd thought maybe it was just that-a rumor. He was a competitive athlete, after all. Competitive athletes had to have drive. Determination. Talent. Substance.
That's what she'd told herself. But when the race had ended, Eve's fantasy of stimulating conversation and a meeting of the minds had melted away.
Excerpted from Sweet As Sugar, Hot As Spice by Kimberly Raye Copyright © 2005 by Kimberly Groff. Excerpted by permission.
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