“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
Corporate attorney Hannah DuPont-Lowell always pictured herself returning to New Orleans to retire—just not yet. But after her Manhattan company abruptly lays off its staff, there’s no better place to figure out a next move than the porch of her plantation-style home, nestled in the stunning Garden District . . .
The DuPont House has been in Hannah’s family for two centuries. With eighteen rooms and two guesthouses, it’s far more home than widowed Hannah needs. Still, it could make a wonderful inn, especially if she can convince her friends and former coworkers Tonya, Jasmine, and Nydia to join in the venture. But in the meantime, Hannah has a high school reunion to attend . . .
College Professor St. John McNair, Hannah’s one-time classmate, is still the finest guy in any room. Between Hannah’s willowy, blonde beauty, and his uncanny resemblance to Marvin Gaye, they make a striking pair. And gradually, their rekindled friendship moves toward romance. Still, Hannah is too bruised by her late husband’s infidelities to trust a man again. But her friends’ arrival and encouragement just might show her a path through uncertainty—straight to a vibrant, joyful new life . . .
“The ambiance and flavor of New Orleans are on full display.” —RT Book Reviews, 4 Stars
About the Author
Rochelle Alers, the bestselling author of over eighty novels with nearly two million copies in print, has been hailed by readers and booksellers alike as one of today’s most prolific and popular African American authors of romance and women’s fiction. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Emma Award, the Vivian Stephens Award for Excellence in Romance Writing, the RT Career Achievement Award and the Zora Neale Hurston Literary Award. She is a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., Iota Theta Zeta chapter and her interests include gourmet cooking and traveling. A full-time writer, Ms. Alers lives in a charming hamlet on Long Island and can be found online at RochelleAlers.org.
Read an Excerpt
By Rochelle Alers
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 Rochelle Alers
All rights reserved.
Smiling, the doorman touched the shiny brim of his cap with a white-gloved hand. "Have a good day, Ms. Lowell."
Hannah DuPont-Lowell returned his smile with a warm one of her own. "Thank you, Max."
Her smile still in place, she inhaled a lungful of warm air. It was mid-May, a glorious morning, and her favorite time of the year. The daytime temperature was predicted to reach seventy-eight degrees; the weather in New York City had gone from a damp and chilly spring to summer overnight, forcing her to modify her wardrobe.
Today she'd selected a navy-blue linen gabardine pantsuit with an emerald-green silk blouse and navy kitten heels. Hannah favored wearing lower heels because they were not only comfortable but practical. Since moving to New York, Hannah found herself walking everywhere: the three blocks from her apartment building to the office, and whenever she didn't eat lunch in the bank's cafeteria it was the half mile to her favorite French-inspired café; on weekends it was either strolling to Battery Park or to the South Street Seaport.
Hannah didn't meet the eyes of the stoic guard standing outside the historic four-story structure in the Stone Street Historic District that housed the private international investment bank where she'd worked for the past five years. No matter how many times she greeted him with a smile he never returned it. She wondered if he even knew how to smile. She knew his job was to monitor everyone coming into and leaving the building, but a nod of acknowledgment would have been nice. And it wasn't the first time she reminded herself she wasn't in the South, where most people greeted strangers with a nod and "mornin'," or "good evenin'."
Whenever she returned to New Orleans for vacation or family holidays, she unconsciously settled into her childhood home training. She'd been taught never to sass older folks, nor use profanity in their presence, and to speak when spoken to. In another two years she would celebrate her sixtieth birthday, and old habits were still hard to ignore.
Hannah swiped her ID before punching the button for the elevator to the second floor where the bank's legal offices occupied the entire space. The doors opened, and she came face-to-face with the attorney who ran Wakefield Hamilton Investment's legal department like a drill sergeant. Lateness — his pet peeve — extended from not coming in on time to not completing a project by a pre-determined date.
"You're wanted in the small conference room. Now!" he snapped when she hesitated.
Hannah resisted the urge to snap to attention and salute him as she stepped back into the elevator. The doors closed, shutting out his cold ice-blue eyes and the thin lips that were a mere slash in his corpulent face. The car descended to the first floor, and a minute later she entered the conference room. She recognized the occupants seated at a round oaken table: CEO, CFO, and a member of the bank's security staff. The three men rose to their feet.
CEO Braden Grant gave her a steady stare. "Please sit down, Ms. Lowell."
She sat, the others following suit. Hannah didn't know why, but she felt like she'd been summoned to the principal's office because of an infraction. A shiver raced over her body and it had nothing to do with the frigid air flowing from overhead vents. She rarely, if ever, met with the bank's senior officers.
Braden continued to stare at her. "Ms. Lowell, I'm sorry, but we're terminating your employment, effective immediately."
The CFO pushed an envelope across the table. "We've direct deposited three years' severance and the last quarter's profit sharing into your bank account, and we'll also cover the cost of your health insurance coverage for one full year. Earlier this week the board of directors held an emergency shareholders' meeting, and the stockholders voted to merge with another institution. The result is the entire New York operation will move to Trenton, New Jersey, this coming weekend."
She inhaled deeply in an attempt slow down the runaway beating of her heart. Talk about being blindsided. Five years ago she'd resigned her position with a prominent law firm in midtown Manhattan to work for the bank, and it had been her plan to stay long enough to retire at sixty-seven.
"Am I the only one being terminated?" she asked, after an uncomfortable silence.
"No. Unfortunately, we've had to lay off half our employees," the chief financial officer replied in an emotionless monotone, "including upper management and support staff."
Hannah saw his mouth moving but she wasn't listening to what he was saying because she'd suddenly tuned him out. She knew that someday she would go back to her roots, because she'd always yearned for a slower pace in which to live out the rest of her life. It was apparent that day had come much sooner than she'd planned.
Braden cleared his throat. "Is there anything else you'd like to ask or say, Ms. Lowell, before security escorts you to your office so you can retrieve your personal belongings?"
Her lips twisted into a cynical smile as she tucked a platinum strand of hair behind her left ear. He really didn't want to hear what she really longed to say. She stood, the others rising with her. "No. Thank you for everything. You've been most generous," Hannah drawled facetiously, when she wanted to curse them soundly for disrupting her life without prior notice.
She viewed the merger with skepticism, because there had been no discussion or rumors of a merger among any of the employees. She complimented herself for not losing her composure. If her mother had been alive there was no doubt she would've been very proud that her daughter had retained her ladylike poise, and poise was everything to Clarissa DuPont. Picking up the envelope, Hannah dropped it into her handbag and left the conference room.
The first thing she saw as she entered what would no longer be her office was the banker's box on the desk. It took less than ten minutes to remove laminated degrees from the wall, family photos, personal books and magazines off a credenza and store them in the box. She surrendered her ID badge, and the guard carried the box until they arrived at the entrance to the building.
It was apparent the CFO hadn't lied about the number of terminations, as evidenced by more than a dozen employees huddled together on the sidewalk. Their shock was visible. Those who were crying were comforted by their coworkers. She approached a woman who'd worked in human resources.
"Did you know about this?" she asked Jasmine Washington.
Jasmine shook her head, raven-black wavy hair swaying with the gesture. "Hell no!" she spat out. "And as the assistant director of personnel you'd think someone would've given me a heads-up."
Hannah glanced away when she saw tears filling Jasmine's eyes. She knew Jasmine had recently gone through a contentious divorce, even going so far as to drop her married name, and now being unemployed was akin to dousing a bonfire with an accelerant.
Recently certified public accountant Nydia Santiago shifted her box. "I don't know about the rest of you, but I could use a real stiff drink right about now."
Tonya Martin, the bank's former assistant chef, glared at Nydia. "It's nine flipping thirty in the morning, and none of the local watering holes are open at this time."
"I know where we can get a drink," Hannah volunteered. "Y'all come to my place," she added quickly when they gave her incredulous looks. "I live three blocks from here and y'all are welcome to hang out and, as you young folks say, get your drink on."
Tonya shifted an oversize hobo bag from one shoulder to the other. "Count me in."
Nydia looked at the others. "I'm game if the rest of you are."
Hannah met Jasmine's eyes. "Are you coming?"
"I guess so."
"You don't have to sound so enthusiastic, Jasmine," Nydia chided.
Hannah led the short distance to her apartment building. As the eldest of the quartet, she suspected she was in a better position financially than the other women, who were nowhere close to retirement age. And she didn't know what possessed her to invite them to her apartment, because she rarely socialized with her coworkers outside the office. She occasionally joined them at a restaurant for someone's birthday or retirement dinner, but none of them had ever come to her home.
The doorman gave Hannah a puzzled look, aware she'd left less than an hour ago. He opened the door to the air-cooled vestibule, nodding to each of the women. She wasn't about to tell him she was jobless, because New York City doormen were notorious gossips — at least with one another.
Tonya glanced around the opulent lobby with a massive chandelier and mahogany tables cradling large painted vases overflowing with a profusion of fresh flowers. "How long have you lived here?" she asked Hannah.
Hannah smiled at the chef, who had a flawless henna-brown complexion and dimpled cheeks. Lightly graying curly twists were pinned into a neat bun on the nape of her neck. "Almost eight years."
"And how long has it been since you left the South?" Tonya had asked another question. "Your down South was showing when you say 'y'all.'"
"I really never left," she admitted. "I go back to New Orleans at least twice a year."
"Do you prefer Louisiana to New York?" Nydia questioned.
Hannah waited until they were in the elevator, punching the button for the twenty-sixth floor, and then said, "It's a toss-up. Both cities are wonderful places to live," she answered truthfully.
She'd spent years living on the West Coast when her naval officer husband was stationed in San Diego, but after his second — and fatal — heart attack, her life changed dramatically, allowing her to live her life by her leave. Hannah gave each woman a cursory glance. She felt a commonality with them despite their differences in age, race, and ethnicity. And despite being educated professionals, they were now four unemployed career women.
The doors opened and they exited the car, their footsteps muffled in the deep pile of the carpet that ran the length of a hallway decorated with framed prints of various New York City landmarks. Hannah stopped at her apartment door, swiped her cardkey, waited for the green light, and then pushed opened the door to what had become her sanctuary. The dwelling was high enough above the streets that she didn't hear any of the city's noise and she could unwind at the end of a long, and an occasionally hectic, workday.
"Please come in and set down your boxes next to the table." A bleached pine table in the entryway held a collection of paperweights in various materials ranging from sterling to fragile cut-glass crystal. Hannah watched Nydia as she made her way across the open floor plan with a dining room, living room, and floor-to-ceiling windows.
"This is what I'm talking about," Nydia whispered, peering down at the cars and pedestrians on the streets below. "My boyfriend and I are looking for a place to live together, but nothing we've seen comes close to this." She turned, giving Hannah a long, penetrating stare. "How much do these apartments sell for?"
"Every apartment in this building is a rental."
Nydia grimaced. "And I can imagine the rents would be more than paying a mortgage."
She didn't have a comeback for Nydia, because Hannah never had to concern herself with mortgage payments. She'd inherited a house in New Orleans' Garden District that had been in her family for two centuries. She kicked off her shoes, leaving them under the table.
"Y'all make yourself comfortable. There's a bar under the credenza in the dining room, and I also have chilled champagne in the fridge if anyone wants a mimosa or Bellini."
Jasmine dropped her handbag on one of the straight-backed chairs flanking the table. "A Bellini sounds wonderful."
A smile parted Hannah's lips. "And I don't know about the rest of you, but I've never been able to drink on an empty stomach, so if you can wait for me to change into something a little more comfortable, I'll whip up something for us to eat."
Tonya nodded. "I'm with you. If you don't mind, I'm willing to cook."
Pressing her palms together, Hannah whispered a silent prayer of thanks. Even though she was a more than adequate cook, it had been a while since she'd prepared a meal for someone other than herself. "Check in the fridge and use whatever you want." She'd planned to empty the refrigerator of perishables in the coming week anyway before she left to attend her high school's fortieth reunion.CHAPTER 2
Hannah walked into her bedroom and closed the door, shutting out of the sound of voices coming from the living /dining area. She made her way over to a double dresser, peering into the mirror at the image staring back at her. It was if she were seeing the real Hannah Claire DuPont-Lowell for the first time in years; she recalled studying her reflection on her wedding day, which now seemed a lifetime ago.
Then she'd been fresh-faced twenty-one-year-old college graduate who was about to marry a young naval officer. She hadn't been in love with Robert Lowell, yet had accepted his proposal because she'd given him her virginity. He also had other favorable assets: He belonged to one of Louisiana's wealthiest families and he'd graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy. Two days before the ceremony she panicked, telling her mother she didn't want to marry Robert, but Clarissa, with her own inimitable powers of persuasion, reminded her that if she called off the wedding, the DuPonts would become the laughingstock of New Orleans' society. However, that was decades ago, and she had to deal with the here and now.
There were a few lines around her green eyes and the skin on her neck wasn't as firm has it had been years before, yet she refused to resort to plastic surgery or fillers to hold back time. She ate healthy foods, exercised regularly, and had a standing appointment at a local beauty salon for a trim, facial, and full body massage. Wavy platinum blond silver-streaked hair framed an oval face with a flawless peaches-and-cream complexion, which allowed her to forego makeup without appearing washed out.
She picked up a hairbrush and brushed the chin-length bob off her forehead, holding it off her face with a narrow elastic headband. After taking off the pantsuit and blouse, she left them on an armchair and slipped into an oversize white t-shirt and a pair of cropped cotton slacks. After washing her hands in the en suite bathroom, Hannah rejoined the other women in the kitchen. Like her, they'd all shed their shoes and sat barefoot on stools at the cooking island.
"Something smells good," she said, garnering their attention.
Tonya glanced up from the stovetop, smiling. "Jasmine and Nydia want pepper and ham omelets. Do you want the same or something else?"
"I'll have what everyone's having."
Tonya pointed to two flutes on the countertop. "I didn't know which one you'd like, so I made both."
Hannah reached for the flute with the peach nectar. "I'll drink both."
"Damn!" Tonya drawled, laughing.
"Go get them, lawyer lady," Jasmine teased. "One is enough for me."
"Y'all are playing yourselves," Nydia said. "I intend to be pissy-eyed drunk before I leave here today, because I know I'm going to have it out with my boyfriend. Now that I don't have a job, we won't be able to move in together."
Hannah sat on the remaining stool. "Doesn't he have a job?"
Nydia sipped her mimosa, staring at Hannah over the rim. "He doesn't have what I'd call a traditional job. Right now he works part-time as a waiter during the day and sings with a Latin band at night and on the weekends. He's recorded a demo record, but so far he hasn't been able to sign with a label."
Tonya turned a perfectly done omelet sprinkled with grated cheddar cheese along with warm cherry tomatoes onto a plate for Jasmine. She gave Nydia a direct stare. "At fifty, I'm old enough to be your mama, and I'm going to tell you the same thing I tell my daughter. Don't hook up with a man who can't match what you bring to the table. You can offer him moral support, but once you start opening your wallet to help him, you'll never close it. Am I right, Hannah?"
Hannah felt three pairs of eyes staring at her. What did Tonya expect her to say? She'd never been faced with that dilemma. "I suppose you're right, even though I never had to take care of a man. My late husband was a career naval officer and my son knew early on that he wanted to be a pilot. After graduating from the Air Force Academy, he became a test pilot and now flies commercial jets."
Excerpted from The Inheritance by Rochelle Alers. Copyright © 2017 Rochelle Alers. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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