In SOUTH BEACH, Laila Sheridan, a successful fashionista who attracts male interest with an effortless strut of her stiletto heels, has ended a rocky relationship with Malcolm Khalid, a captivating lothario with a passion for shirking adult responsibilities. She believes partying in glamorous South Beach with her former college roommates is the prescription for getting her swagger back.
When her vacation becomes a media circus that draws Malcolm back into her life and her handsome Psyche marketing colleague, Gray Ryley, arrives on the scene to tame her antics, Laila is determined make the men play by her rules. Gray finds himself torn between anguish and ecstasy when another Lalia-sitting assignment is placed in his hands; he’s asked to hinder Malcolm’s advances and subdue the paparazzi, while wrestling with his smoldering desire to get Laila in his bed. Will this assignment cause him to disclose feelings that may sever their friendship and jeopardize his career?
For the first time in months, I’m going to forget everything and everyone in New Jersey, Laila Sheridan thought as she strolled from her cab toward the Falconiere Grace Miami Beach hotel lobby. She willed herself to stop thinking about her failed relationship with Malcolm Khalid, a gifted writer with an inflated sense of what the world owed him. Earlier that afternoon, she resolved to leave her past heartaches before she took her first-class seat, but glimpses of the past started to drift into her mind during her flight to Florida. Now, as she inhaled the warm, citrus-scented air, thoughts of chilly New Jersey and its inhabitants loosened their hold and moved from her memory, like a faded Prada purse relegated to the back of her bedroom closet.
Entering the luminous hotel, she enjoyed the gentle embrace of an ocean breeze as it whipped the hem of her lilac Valentino cocktail dress. The fabric’s movement exaggerated the normal sway of her hips, and made each step more feminine and peppy. A little after 8 PM, Laila approached the front desk, showed her reservation confirmation, and in her most alluring voice inquired, “Which way to my femencation?” She made her voice sound tempting, like a tall glass of iced coffee on a balmy day morning. Smooth and satisfying. Rich, too, with the faintest Jersey accent reserved for the likes of Keyshia Knight Pullam and Anne Hathaway. She knew her voice would instantly cause a male reaction when she turned up her throaty timbre with potent Sheridan flare. This vacation was about relishing in her womanhood. Toying with a few males would be a safe amusement, emphasis on safe because she had no intention of dealing with any strong male egos.
The beginning of a smile tipped the corners of the mouth of the Latino clerk before he located her information in the hotel computer. “Your party is now scheduled to enjoy the ocean view terrace of our Sapienti restaurant for dinner. We can take your coat and belongings to the La Baie Presidential suite so you can join them.”
She inclined her head in a small gesture of thanks then flashed her ID, and watched as he moved a form forward for her signature as he simultaneously placed her room key on the counter. Laila took in the slight gleam in his eye and grinned, her mind too busy with thoughts of her friends to think too heavily about the open adoration. An Italian meal after a long flight was all that she needed. Well, as long as an inviting glass of Pinot Grigio accompanied it.
She took her electronic key and placed them into her Chloè bag. “That’s fine, just point me in the right direction.” She loved being the woman that put the ‘fem’ in Femencationer. It was a word she came up with to define any group of female friends whose ties go back as far as childhood or college that seek a high-end, luxury getaway experience. A vacation with all the feminine delights women dream of enjoying. This year’s femencation united three alumnus of the University of Florida and marked the start of the year to forget old sorrows and usher in new adventures.
As Laila strolled toward the Sapienti restaurant, she stopped when her shiny complexion caught her attention in a mirror that hung in the side hall corridor. She looked good for thirty-one but preferred to say she was in her late twenties when vacationing because no one over thirty, in their right mind, would party the way she planned to. She blotted her face and secretly wished she was meeting her friends under better circumstances but with Sofìa’s pending divorce from the famous sports announcer Sean Vega, they all needed a break from reality. This trip was the perfect reason to release stress.
When Laila arrived at the restaurant, several male heads turned in appreciation as she silently commanded the wait staff’s attention. “I’m with the Vega/Sheridan/Carter party,” she announced as she surveyed the room.
“Your party has already been seated. John will you escort Mrs. . . .?”
“Ms. Sheridan,” she corrected, before pretending to lose her balance to mask her reason for placing a hand around John’s bicep. She tried to suppress a giggle that threatened to expose the disingenuous nature of her performance. “Please excuse me,” she said, wobbling toward him, “I had a long flight. Johnny, could you show me the way?”
They moved effortlessly through the patrons seated at their tables until Laila crossed the threshold of the balcony. The sight of her friends a few yards away made her light up like a five-year-old at a surprise party. Laila stepped quickly as she approached Sofìa and Marina, who were enjoying their conversation and shrimp cocktail appetizers. She blurted, scarcely aware of the rasp of excitement in her own voice, “Here I am, straight off the plane. Where’s the love?”
Marina Carter squealed with laughter and rose to hug Laila tightly. “Oh, girl, you look great!” Genuine excitement radiated from her eyes as she peered into Laila’s face. Marina was a petite, yet voluptuous black woman with inquisitive eyes and a contagious smile. Her shoulder-length curly hair was tamed away from her face by beige-framed sunglasses resting on her head. Her sundress, a charming beige and light blue number with a matching cardigan that reminded Laila of her favorite elementary school teacher.
“And why shouldn’t I?” Laila’s silky voice held a challenge. “We’re in South Beach, right?”
“You know it!” An amused look suddenly warmed Marina’s eyes.
“Could you two take it down a few notches?” Dr. Sofìa Barea-Vega demanded. She remained seated and frowned before she forced a demure smile to the people seated next to them. “You’re causing a scene.”
Laila dismissed the reprimand with a wave of the hand and shot her best friend one of her mega-watt smiles, which caused Sofìa to roll her eyes and return her gaze to her menu. It was a far cry from the happy, attractive, vacationer Laila had hoped to find on this trip. On the surface, Sofìa was a fashionable, smart dresser with a strong professional flare. She wore an orange halter top with bellowing white linen pants accented with a bold gold necklace, belt, and watch. Yet the happy colors were a strong contrast to the frown plastered to her face and the apparent weight loss to her alluding frame.
Laila took her place between her girlfriends, as Marina poured her a glass of Italian white wine. “I can see that someone’s high-profiled marriage is really doing a number on them. When did you start caring what other people think?”
Sofìa toyed with the appetizer in front of her, as if boredom overshadowed the faint hint of a worried brow. A sullen look on the very attractive Latina annoyed Laila because it was in direct contrast to the lively mood she and Marina were basking in. There was only one way to lift Sofia’s spirits. It had worked in college and she prayed it would work in this case. Laila took a hearty sip of wine and sullied her face by drawing her perfectly plucked brows together. She made herself look as serious as possible as she squared her shoulders and winked at Marina to play along. Then she turned all of her attention toward their brooding best friend. Laila lowered her voice to a volume just a hair above a whisper, being purposefully mysterious. “Could you do me a big favor, Sofìa?”
Sofìa looked up from the wine menu at Laila and Marina and concern washed over her features. Two deep lines of worry appeared between her eyes as she leaned forward and placed her hand on Laila’s forearm. “Anything, La La. What is it?”
“Could you please remove that painful stick from your behind because it’s destroying my sunny disposition?”
Marina laughed richly as Sofìa recoiled and crossed her arms under her breasts.
“Oh, you got jokes, huh?”
Laila and Marina tossed back their heads and rocked with laughter like two high school teenagers as Sofìa sat rigid like a frustrated, overworked parent. It was amazing how frowning aged her about seven years.
“Not jokes . . . observations.” Laila brought her hand up to her mouth to stifle her giggle. “And, believe me, after our ultimate South Beach trip, you’ll have a different way of seeing things too.”
Inspired by the volunteers of a local community center, Angeline wrote North Star, her debut novel and the first book in her Sheridan series for Soul Mate Publishing. Angeline drew on her ten years of work experience in academics to transport romance readers from their stressful lives by providing contemporary love stories that feature captivating characters with strong family values.
Angeline was born in Washington, D. C., but lived most of her life in New Jersey and considers the “Garden State” her home. Her childhood passion for writing led to a degree in English Literature and a membership in Romance Writers of America. She is the Vice President of the Cultural, Interracial, and Multicultural Special Interest Chapter of Romance Writers of America and enjoys providing aspiring writers with writing resources to help them strengthen their craft. Angeline loves to hear from her readers. You can contact her through her Website.
Musings from Michigan