Read an Excerpt
I love what you've done with this boutique. It is simply divine."
"Thanks, Ryla," Surry McDaniel told her friend, sweeping her gaze around the newly renovated boutique. "A lot of blood, sweat and tears went into the creation of Designs from the Motherland. so I'm glad that you think I made the right decision."
"Made the right decision? Are you kidding?" Ryla Carter took a silky white nightgown off the rack and held it up against her body. "If you had opened this store just three months ago, I would have worn this lovely number on my wedding night. I guarantee that Noel wouldn't have been able to resist me in this gown."
Surry joined their friend Danetta Windham in a chuckle. The three of them knew all too well that Ryla had tricked Noel into marrying her, and because of that the first night of the honeymoon was a complete disaster. It was good that they could finally laugh about it now.
"All's well that ends well," Danetta said.
"Yeah, but that hot mess didn't look like it was going to end so well," Surry reminded the group.
"Oh, but it did." Ryla strutted over to the checkout counter and laid the gorgeous nightgown on it. "And that is why I can still afford to purchase this expensive gown. Because my husband" she lingered on the word husband for a long moment as she pulled out her black AmEx card "can afford to keep me in the finest silks money can buy."
"Glad to hear it, because I use only high-quality material. My boutique is called Designs from the Motherland because everything comes from Africa. The fabric is light and airy, meant for weather like ours here in Houston Hotter-Than-Hades, Texas."
"Well, I'm going to purchase this fabulous swing skirt," Danetta announced as she held up a print skirt with vibrant blues and tans.
"I love that skirt," Surry said. "Everyone went wild for it last week."
"Oh, that's right. You had your first fashion show in Ghana. Tell us about it," Ryla said.
The three women poured themselves a cup of coffee and then retreated to the lounge area Surry had set up at the back of the boutique, which offered customers the luxury of relaxing and enjoying refreshments while being waited on by the staff. Designs from the Motherland wasn't an ordinary boutique. It was an experience.
Years ago she traveled across Africa, writing books about the culture and atmosphere in countries such as Kenya, Ethiopia, Zambia, Ghana and even Egypt, which tends to be commonly associated with the Middle East. She'd had the time of her life exploring and surrounding herself with people she could deeply identify with. Oh, she loved America and wouldn't trade her country for anything, but a piece of her heart was in the motherland.
However, her publishers didn't have the same love for the motherland as she did. And when the profits from her work failed to meet expectations, her line of coffee-table books was dropped. Since she was a child, her father was convinced that she would follow in his footsteps and be forced to live a meager existence, but Surry had other plans for her life.
Her mother had been a seamstress, working for little to no money, before arthritis set in and forced her to give it up. At the onset of the crippling disease, Surry stepped in and helped her mother finish orders that had been paid for previously. That was how Surry discovered that she had her mother's gift and began designing her own brand of African garb. The name Designs from the Motherland was twofold: acknowledging Africa and Surry's own mother. Surry had been determined to make a go of this business venture, and after seven years of struggling, she'd finally made it.
Her designs were now in hundreds of boutiques across the South and the East Coast thanks to her new distributor. In addition to the store she owned and operated in Houston, two chain retail stores were interested in carrying her line. Things were going so well for her that Surry should have expected something unexpected would turn her world around. But she never even saw her whirlwind coming.
"So tell us all about the fashion week in Ghana," Ryla said as the three women settled around the table.
"Girl, it was a blast. So many designers were there. I got my networking on, did my thing when it was time for my models to go on and then I kicked back and enjoyed the rest of the shows." She hesitated and then added, "That is, until the last day."
Danetta put her coffee mug down. "What happened?"
"Remember John Michael?"
"How could I forget him? The man had two first names and he smelled," Ryla said.
"That's not nice, Ryla. The man had a great love for garlic," Danetta said with a hint of humor in her tone.
"He also has a great love for lying."
Ryla, who'd been spreading vegetable cream cheese on a wheat bagel, put the knife down and focused on Surry. "What has the stinky little man done?"
Sighing deeply, Surry shook her head in disbelief as she told her friends, "I think he must have fallen and bumped his head. Because he's running around telling anyone who will listen that I stole his designs. He even had the audacity to get in my face about it at the fashion show."
"You're kidding!" Danetta's mouth hung open.
"I wish I was. Last night a reporter called to ask me about his claims, so I guess I'll be seeing his lies in the newspaper pretty soon."
Danetta put her hand on Surry's shoulder. "That sounds awful."
"You haven't heard the worst of it yet." Surry covered her face with her hands and then dragged them down to her neck. "Things were going so well. Now I'm not sure how anything is going to turn out."
Her friends were silent, their attention centered on Surry.
"Remember the contracts I was supposed to be signing with Roukes?"
"Of course," Ryla said. "They're going to carry your designs in two of their chain department stores and make you a very rich woman."
Surry propped her elbows on the table and rested her chin in her hands. "That was the plan."
"What do you mean 'that was the plan'?" Danetta asked.
"One of the head buyers was in Ghana for fashion week. John Michael told her and everyone else his lies. My contract is on hold until I can straighten this mess out. And I've already spent all of my money increasing my production."
The group meditated on Surry's words for a moment, and then Danetta snapped her fingers and said, "You need one of those image consultants."
"No way." Surry shook her head. "People hire image consultants to fix problems they created for themselves, like Tiger Woods's girlfriends and that woman involved with that David Petraeus sex scandal. I haven't done anything wrong, and I don't want to make it seem like I need to fix a problem that I shouldn't even have."
"You didn't sleep with this guy, did you?" Ryla joked.
"Shut up, Ryla. You are so not funny." Surry was at her wits' end. She was about to lose everything she had worked so hard to build, and she had no idea how to make this train wreck go away. "Besides, I wouldn't even have the money to pay an image consultant if I had slept with him."
Ryla's eyes lit up. "I have the perfect person to help you, Surry."
"Did you just hear me say that I have no money? If I can't get that contract to go through, I don't know how I'm going to recoup the money I've spent on production."
"Girl, please." Ryla waved a hand in the air. "Ian Duncan would probably help you for free. You know he likes you."
"Ian Duncan is a campaign manager. How in the world could he help me with my problem? I'm not running for public office. I just want to sell my clothes."
"Ian is all about building the proper image. He helped Noel win his seat in Congress even after the reporters started hounding us about Noel being the father of a seven-year-old girl he knew nothing about."
She twisted her lip and ran her hands through her freshly straightened long black hair. Surry didn't believe in relaxers. They were accursed as far as she was concerned, manufactured only to strip the beauty and vitality from a woman's natural hair. But now the hot comb, that was a necessity. She knew that many felt the hot comb damaged the hair, as well. But as long as it was used sparingly, she didn't see a problem with it. "He asked me out, and I have yet to give him an answer."
"Well, now is as good a time as any to give the man an answer," Ryla said with a finger snap.
"I can't do that, Ryla. The man will think I'm awful
to only call on him when I'm in trouble and in need of his help."
"But you do need help, Surry. Maybe you need to drop your pride and call this guy," Danetta admonished.
"Look at it this way," Ryla tried. "Even if you're not interested in dating Ian, he may still be able to help you. I'm not suggesting that you lead him on or anything like that. I just don't think you should pass up an opportunity to receive the help you need, simply because you're not interested in him."
Who said she wasn't interested in dating Ian Duncan? If the thought could even be imagined, the man was a much sexier version of the singer Eric Benet. Who wouldn't want to go out with him? It certainly wasn't that Surry didn't want to spend time with him. The problem was that she had neither the time nor inclination to get into a relationship. Her business, her success, came first, second and third. Her life had no room for a man, especially one like Ian Duncan.
"You both make good points. But you are forgetting that my mother gave me my name for one single reason
so that I would stand on my own and embrace my womanhood." Surry was short for So-journer. She'd been named after the former slave turned abolitionist and women's rights activist. And she had fully embraced Sojourner Truth's famous "Ain't I a Woman" speech.
Ryla rolled her eyes at her friend. "We're well aware of this crazy man-hater mantra you live by."
Ryla and Danetta looked at each other and began reciting in unison the words from the speech Surry loved so much. "I have as much muscle as any man, and can do as much work as any man. I have plowed and reaped and husked and chopped and mowed, and can any man do more than that?"
"Hey," Surry interrupted, her feelings hurt. "My mother helped me memorize that speech word for word. And I have experienced a lot of success by the sweat of my own womanly hands."
"Yes, you have, Surry." Danetta was at her breaking point as she leaned toward her friend and said, "But now you need help, and there's no shame in that."
"Be a woman who is humble and wise enough to know when times have changed, and move with those changes."
"Okay, okay, you're right
. Maybe I do need to give Ian a call."
Ian Duncan was the hottest ticket in politics at the moment. He'd just finished a television interview with Anderson Cooper on CNN and then didn't even have time to change his shirt for the ten o'clock interview he had scheduled with Lawrence O'Donnell, the host of The Last Word on MSNBC. Tomorrow he would do it all over again with a few other hosts on radio and television. The recent presidential election had been a big deal, but after that the most pressing question on everyone's mind had been about the election of the reformed bad boy, Noel Carter.
Noel had been written off after news broke about his illegitimate child. Even Noel had thought he had a better chance of losing than winning. But Ian always believed in his client, and he'd devised a strategy that enabled Noel to hold a victory party on election night.
Done with his interviews for the evening, Ian threw off his suit and tie and jumped into the shower. As the hot water assaulted his body, Ian went over his next steps one by one. He had about a half dozen offers on the table from clients interested in working with him. At this point, Ian had to be very selective. He could take only those who fit into his eight-year plan.
Ian and Noel had been friends since college, so he'd taken the assignment knowing that if he lost, all the planning he'd done would be for naught. Congressional wins were nice, but Ian's eight-year plan included managing his first presidential campaign. So, from this point on, he wasn't taking on any more local campaigns. He was looking to run campaigns for senators and governors now. He just had to stay focused and work his plan.
As he stepped out of the shower and toweled off, Ian tried to turn his mind off work. A good night's rest was what he needed, but his thoughts quickly drifted to Surry McDaniel. He thought about giving her a call before he went to sleep. It had been two weeks since he asked her out, but he still hadn't received a response. The girl was definitely playing hard to get, but Ian had patience. From the moment he met Surry, Ian felt a connection. He had to find out more about this woman and he wasn't prepared to give up. Not just yet.