New Yorker Jasmine Washington had a successful interior design business, a high-powered marriage, and a chance at motherhood—until her perfect husband betrayed her big-time. Now starting from scratch, the Asian and African-American stunner is tackling a lifetime opportunity: co-managing her friend’s new luxury inn about to open in the Garden District. The last thing Jasmine needs is romance. New Orleans' most eligible bachelor, investment banker Cameron Singleton, begs to differ.
Cameron challenges Jasmine’s cautious ways, teases her back into having real fun—and makes one sexy, utterly irresistible Mr. Right Now. But their passionate nights soon result in a surprise bonus. . . . Even though Cameron insists on being there for Jasmine, can she really believe his love is the real thing? Can she shake the past and design a completely new life? And is there really only one way to find out?
Praise for The Inheritance
“The ambiance and flavor of New Orleans are on full display.” RT Book Reviews, 4 Stars
“A novel that resembles female bonding romance series like The Bride Quartet by Nora Roberts . . . Capitalizing on its assets: the sensuous Big Easy setting and the rarely encountered middle age romance.” Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
"You're a genius when it comes to selecting restaurants." Jasmine Washington's head popped up and she stared across the table at her friend. The mass of black curls framing Nydia Santiago's round face made the thirty-two-year-old appear no older than a college coed.
"Why would you say that?"
Nydia's hazel eyes sparkled like semi-precious jewels in a complexion that always reminded Jasmine of frothy mocha icing. "Whenever you ask me what I want to eat, somehow you're able to select the most incredible restaurants. When I told you I wanted Brazilian, I thought you would've suggested Green Field in Corona."
Jasmine smiled. It was Nydia's turn to select the cuisine for their now bimonthly early-dinner get-togethers, and when the accountant mentioned she wanted Brazilian food, Jasmine told Nydia to meet her at Delícia, a quiet little hideaway in the West Village. "I probably know most restaurants in at least four of the five boroughs and Long Island because it's a holdover from my former life as an interior decorator. Whenever I was referred to a potential client I'd take them out to eat and after a couple of hours I'd know whether or not I'd want to work with them."
"What would they have to do for you to turn them down?" Nydia asked.
"I'd suggest meeting at a restaurant because for me that was the litmus test. If they ordered the most expensive bottle of wine or item on the menu I knew instinctively they would attempt to nickel and dime me when it came to my commission. They usually would go on incessantly about how I was charging them too much, and I'd smile and tell them it was obvious they couldn't afford me."
Nydia cocked her head at an angle. "Do you miss decorating?"
It took Jasmine, interior decorator-turned human resource specialist, a full minute to think about her friend's question. "Yes and no. Yes, because I was my own boss and I loved the process of transforming a space into something that reflected a client's taste or lifestyle. And no, because I'd occasionally tire of trying to placate someone I knew I could never satisfy. The end result was they really didn't know what they wanted. I couldn't understand whether it was a gender thing, but once I married Raymond and we went into business together things changed when it came to complaints. Some clients would question every decision I'd make or suggest, while they would go along with anything he said."
There was a pause before Nydia said, "Do you know that this is the first time in a very long time that I've heard you refer to your ex by name?"
A hint of a smile tilted the corners of Jasmine's mouth. "That's because I've reached the point in my life where I can say his name without adding an expletive. I usually don't make New Year's resolutions, but this year I decided not to give him any energy because he's definitely not worth it. I've forgiven him, although I know it's going to take time for me to forget what he did to me."
Nydia picked up her glass of sangria in a toast, touching it to Jasmine's. "Good for you, mija. It's the same with me and Danny. Subletting Tonya's apartment was one of the best decisions I've made in my life thus far. I don't have a landlady clocking my every move, and now that I'm not seeing anyone I've gotten to appreciate my own company."
Jasmine nodded. "I'm with you because now I really like being single. I remember when there was a time I said I wanted to be married by thirty, and that's probably the reason I accepted Raymond's proposal." She and her ex- husband had had a yearlong relationship spanning more than eight thousand miles, and when they exchanged vows she did not realize she had married a stranger.
"We women do a lot of things we shouldn't do because we truly believe in love," Nydia said. "Speaking of single, I still can't believe that Tonya's going to marry St. John's cousin."
Jasmine swallowed a spoonful of vatapá, an Afro-Brazilian fish stew. She agreed with her friend. During their first trip to New Orleans, their former coworker Hannah DuPont-Lowell took them to a jazz club where they saw Gage Toussaint playing trumpet with a local band. It was apparent that after Tonya Martin moved from New York to the Big Easy that she had fallen under the spell of the drop-dead gorgeous musician, and now she planned to marry him.
Jasmine and Nydia had bonded with Tonya and Hannah one day the year before, after half the staff at Wakefield Hamilton was suddenly downsized when the private investment bank merged with another company in New Jersey. They'd spent the morning and early afternoon at Hannah's apartment talking about their futures. A generous severance package allowed them to delay seeking immediate employment, which had given them the option to take the summer off. They'd promised Hannah, the bank's former corporate attorney, they would come to New Orleans to spend time in the city where she owned a historic plantation-style home in the stunning Garden District.
Hannah's plan to convert the eighteen-room mansion and two guesthouses into an inn with a café and supper club was now underway. She had convinced Tonya, a professional chef, to invest in her new venture, and was still inviting Jasmine and Nydia to join them.
Jasmine had thought about taking Hannah up on her offer but it meant leaving her parents and possibly selling her condo — two things she wasn't ready to do. And if she did become an innkeeper, then she would be responsible for overseeing employee benefits design, recruitment, training, and development.
"Wasn't Tonya the one who claimed once is enough when it came to marriage?" Jasmine asked.
Nydia's eyes held Jasmine's dark-brown ones. "No. You are the one who has sworn off marriage."
"Do you blame me after my ex tried to screw me out of everything I'd worked for?"
"No, I don't, but that still doesn't mean you should swear off men for the rest of your life."
Jasmine ran a finger down the stem of her wineglass. "I haven't sworn off men. I just don't trust them."
Nydia grunted under her breath. "I think if I had discovered that Danny had cheated on me I would've broken it off with him sooner rather than later."
"Please don't tell me you're still seeing him?"
"No! The last time I saw him was in November and that was before I gave my landlady notice that I was giving up the apartment. But once I moved from the Bronx to East Harlem without telling him, I was finally able to get rid of the bum. And I took Tonya's advice and blocked his number. My former landlady called me last week and said he'd come by asking for me. I suppose he didn't believe her when she told him I'd moved and left no forwarding address. A couple of days ago he had the audacity to visit my parents' place to inquire about my whereabouts. Unfortunately for him he picked the wrong day and time because my brother had stopped by before his shift and he told Danny in no uncertain terms to stay the hell away from his sister."
Jasmine knew Nydia's police officer brother was very protective of her. "Maybe Danny is still in love with you."
Nydia rolled her eyes upward. "That's a load of shit. He never loved me. What he loved was the fact that I'd earned enough that he didn't have to get a full-time job. He used to brag to his boys that his girl was an accountant and she made a lot of money working for a bank."
"Why should he get a real job if his girlfriend can take care of him?"
"Well, that was never going to happen, because the only male I intend to support is my son until he's emancipated, and we both know I don't have any children."
Jasmine gave Nydia a long, penetrating stare. She understood exactly what her friend was talking about because she'd trusted her ex-husband to oversee their decorating firm after she returned to college to earn a degree in human resource management. However, once she'd been hired by Wakefield Hamilton, she'd handed Raymond full control of the business to which she had given her blood and sweat, and occasionally a few tears, while she was content to remain a silent partner.
A wry smile twisted her mouth. "What's the expression? You can't cry over spilt milk. I'm giving myself until the end of the year to plan what I want to do with the rest of my life. Working part-time for that social services agency definitely kept me from going stir-crazy."
Nydia waved away the waiter who had approached the table with a sword crammed with sirloin, lamb, pork tenderloin, and chicken. "I'm glad I took your advice to go into business for myself. I don't expect to earn half of what I made at the bank, but I'm not bothered by that because now I make my own hours. This will be the first year that I'm doing tax returns at a discount for my employers' workers, so hopefully I'll be able to count on them to become regular customers come next year."
"Good for you," Jasmine said without a hint of guile.
It was apparent Jasmine's former coworkers were getting their lives together while she was still uncertain how to proceed with her own. Last October Hannah married her former high-school classmate, and now Tonya was scheduled to marry his cousin the second Saturday in June. Although currently solvent, Jasmine still had another twenty years before she could even consider retirement, while she had Hannah McNair née DuPont-Lowell to thank for giving her the legal advice she needed to get her share of the business she had established before marrying Raymond Rios.
The distinctive ringtone on her cellphone indicated someone had sent her a message. "Excuse me. I need to check my messages." Jasmine was expecting her cousin to confirm whether she was coming down from Buffalo to spend a week with her.
She tapped in her passcode and then the Messages icon. She went completely still when she read the message:
I'm in town and would like to take you out to dinner.
"What's wrong?" Nydia asked when Jasmine stared at the screen.
"It's Cameron Singleton. He's in New York and he wants to take me out to dinner."
Nydia leaned closer. "Isn't he Hannah's investment banker?"
Jasmine nodded. "He'd asked me out at her wedding reception, but when I told him I lived in New York he said he comes to New York every May to hang out with his college frat buddies."
Nydia smiled. "It's now May fifth, so are you going out with him?"
A slight frown furrowed Jasmine's smooth forehead. "I don't know. It's been almost seven months and I thought he would've forgotten about me."
Nydia gave her a 'you've got to be kidding me look.' "Don't you have a mirror, Jazz? There's not much about you a man would forget. And, you have nothing to lose if you go out with him. After all, it's only dinner."
Jasmine wanted to tell her friend she was more than aware of her looks, and she'd lost count of the number of times people referred to her as exotic. She wanted to tell them that she wasn't a plant but mixed race — African-American and Filipina. "You're right. It's only dinner." She tapped the keys on her phone.
Jasmine: When and where?
Cameron: What night are you free?
Jasmine: I'm free every night this week.
Now that she was unemployed again, she had nothing but time on her hands.
Cameron: How's tomorrow night?
Jasmine: Tomorrow's good
Cameron: I'll pick you up at your place at 6:30. I'll make reservations at a restaurant in the Financial District
Jasmine: What if I meet you there?
Cameron: No problem. Cipriani Club 55
Jasmine: See you tomorrow at 7
Cameron: Thank you.
"What are you smiling about?" Nydia asked.
Jasmine handed Nydia the phone. "Take a look."
"Hey now. That's what I call a real gentleman. He's thanking you for going out with him. I'd like to think of him as a keeper."
"You're getting ahead of yourself, Nydia. As you said, it's only dinner."
"Isn't that how a lot of relationships begin?"
Jasmine retrieved the phone "Forget it. Remember, Raymond and I had a long-distance relationship when he lived in the Philippines, and you know how that turned out. Even though I'd go back there several times a year I never really got to know him that well."
"Well, Ms. Washington, Cameron is only a couple of hours away. I think it's time to let a man wine and dine you, especially after what that horse's ass of an ex did to you."
Jasmine took a sip of wine. "You're right."
It had been more than two years since her divorce and over time she had turned down a number of requests from men who appeared interested in her. There were a few in the building where she owned a one-bedroom unit, and once the single men at the social services agency where she had worked three days a week uncovered her marital status they zeroed in on her like bees to a flower. She had a hard-and-fast rule not to go out with anyone whom she lived close to or worked with because she did not want to run into them if things did not work out. It had taken her a while to learn to enjoy coming home and being alone where she didn't have to encounter hostile stares or exchange acerbic words with the man she had come to despise as much as she had loved.
"Were you working for the bank when we had the holiday party at Cipriani?" Jasmine asked Nydia.
"How can I forget it," Nydia said, grinning. "I'd been hired a couple of months before and Wakefield Hamilton was my first serious job after passing the CPA exam. I couldn't believe it when the so-called buttoned-up white- collar executives showed their natural asses after they'd had a few too many drinks."
Jasmine nodded in agreement. "What really shocked me was Victoria Samuels accusing Harry Trillin of being a liar because he'd promised her he was going to leave his wife, but that was before Harry had gotten his wife pregnant for the third time."
Nydia appeared deep in thought. "I vaguely remember her."
"She worked in the securities division. The next day one of the senior vice- presidents came to HR and asked for her file. Regrettably for her several of her evaluations were less than favorable. That gave them the excuse they needed to let her go, plus she had broken the rule against personal fraternizing on the premises."
"That's some bullshit!" Nydia drawled. "They fire her and keep the cheating SOB because the proverbial old boys' club requirement is that you must have a particular appendage between your legs."
Jasmine tried to suppress a giggle, but couldn't control her outburst of laughter. She could always count on Nydia to make her laugh. There was something so carefree about the brilliant accountant she found infectious. Even that awful day when they'd been standing on the sidewalk before ten in the morning with their banker boxes, Nydia had been the one to talk about needing a drink. That was when Hannah invited them to come to her apartment for omelets, mimosas, and Bellinis. What began as an impromptu gathering at their coworker's apartment had segued into an unlikely friendship among four women from very different backgrounds, which led to new beginnings where their futures were inexorably linked.
She had talked to her parents about relocating to New Orleans to start over, and they had encouraged her to follow her dream to become an innkeeper, but Jasmine, an only child, had expressed her concern at living more than thirteen hundred miles away from her retired parents. Her mother was recently diagnosed with hypertension and had to carefully monitor her diet and exercise to avoid taking medication.
Their conversation moved from relationships and workplace antics to her temporary position at one of the city's social services agencies focusing on transitioning women and children from homeless shelters to permanent housing — a position that had ended last Friday. She had been hired for six months, and was paid from a discretionary budget to alleviate the backlog of cases caused by a shortage of caseworkers. It had taken Jasmine less than a month to grasp the frustration caused by the roadblocks and bureaucratic red tape involved in securing permanent housing for mothers and their children.
"What is it with the month of May?" she asked Nydia.
"What's wrong with May?"
Jasmine touched the napkin to the corners of her mouth before placing it beside her plate. "Last May we were let go by the bank, and now I'm unemployed again."
Nydia lifted her shoulders under a tee stamped with a NEW YORK YANKEES logo. "I don't know. Maybe it's just a coincidence."
Resting her elbow on the table, Jasmine cupped her chin in the heel of her hand. "If my cousin hadn't talked about coming down to visit for a week, I would seriously consider flying down to New Orleans to hang out before Tonya's wedding."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Room Service"
Copyright © 2018 Rochelle Alers.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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