Templet's Tasty Tails
Note: Sweetly-sensual, contemporary romance
T-e-m-p-l-e-t is pronounced Tom-play.
Web Designer Erika Washington's contract with her childhood best friend covers all possibilities about her pregnancy. But, one unpredictable event redirects her future. As a donor-surrogate, what does one do when fate changes the plan and claims the lives of the intended parents? If you're selfless, strong-willed Erika Washington, you mount a defense to keep your baby.
Entrepreneur Booker Templet, owner of Templet's Tasty Tails, secretly agrees to help his first cousin. However, unfortunate circumstances change the course of his life. After he learns the identity of the other donor, Booker plans to be a part of his child's life. No matter what.
Will Erika and Booker battle over custody of the baby? Will their horrible loss help them find consolation in each other's arms? Or will fate intervene yet again?
Copyright © July 2015 by Mickie Sherwood
All rights reserved.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are coincidental, and if not coincidental, are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons living or dead is entirely coincidental. No part of this ebook may be reproduced or shared by any electronic or mechanical means, including but not limited to printing, file sharing, and email, without prior written permission from Mickie Sherwood.
Cover art: www.cheekycovers.com
Chapter OneOkay. Here we go.
Erika's open-toed, platform sandals crunched on the gritty sidewalk. As she walked in the April air, the tail of her sundress brushed the skin above her knees. The crowd on the street grew thicker the closer she came to her destination. Adjusting her shoulder strap, she glanced at her passing reflection, which revealed her growing pooch. She wished she had worn the tangerine-colored dress. At least it would have perked up her features a bit. Instead of complementing her cinnamon-brown skin tone, the aqua emphasized the lingering effects of morning sickness.
"Oh, well." She backhanded a twisted ringlet from her face and continued up the busy street.
Strutting to the wrought-iron gate, Erika entered the courtyard. Lunchtime at the sidewalk cafe selected for her business introduction operated at high velocity. Outside, under the thatched canopy, there was not one available table. "So much for getting here early."
Her prospective client had seemed so evasive during their phone conversation, she had almost turned down his request for a face-to-face. Then she'd concluded the way to ease her mind was to observe him in person. He said she would recognize him by his flag. Now, before entering the establishment, she swept the area with her eyes. Men in business suits crowded the seats. But not one wore a lapel pin.
Erika headed for the entry door.
"Miss Washington." The voice had that down-home, Southern drawl.
She stopped to hunt faces. Maybe, she had neglected to spot someone she knew. Next, she thought, I don't know anyone whose voice conjures up such intrigue.
Drifting back a step, she searched the shady areas of the courtyard. Instantly, Erika spotted the speaker. She laughed. The American flag was emblazoned across the chest of a mysterious-looking man in a black tee. He had that five-o'clock shadow, Gerard Butler thing going on and watched her from behind his dark glasses. How could I have missed that flag?
"Mr. Templet?" He snatched his head back in answer.
"Thanks for agreeing to meet with me." He stood once she reached his table, shortening her five feet, two inches even more. "And my name's Booker."
Too familiar. Too soon. She wanted to be his web designer, not his friend. "You're early."
"Do I get points for that?" The seat he withdrew for her scraped the concrete.
As Erika reached for the chair, her satchel tangled in the seatback, throwing her off-balance. Fear consumed her. Her hands clutched her stomach. She squealed in distress as a firm yet comforting grip saved her from the fall.
"Thank you." Erika's heart pounded.
He sat her in the chair before he took his own. "Watch yourself, Miss Washington."
His tone contradicted the fright on his face. Ignoring his scolding, she reverted to the question he’d asked. "Promptness does matter."
"My sentiments exactly. That's one for you."
Unsure of how to respond, she took time to settle her satchel on a nearby chair. Considering how many clients she had in the queue, as far as she was concerned, he was being interviewed…not her. "How did you locate me, Mr. Templet?" So, why did she feel as if she were under a microscope?
He leaned on the table with his hands fisted together, a slight move that flexed his colorfully tatted, muscled biceps.
"What you mean is, how did I recognize you?" A residual Cajun accent colored his words.
Seeing how at ease he appeared goaded her. "That too." Booker Templet ditched his shades. After that, he simply gave her a cocky, white-toothed grin. "I'm sure your time is as valuable as mine." Erika shifted in her chair.
"Don't be offended, Miss Washington. Google is my friend." Booker sat back. "I recognized you from your profile picture."
"That makes sense."
"Are you always so suspicious?"
"You can't be too careful these days." Pulling her tablet out, she got right to business. He cooperated by supplying his basic application information. Now, she began her questionnaire. "What type of website are you looking to start?"
"One to help advertise my business."
"And your business is?"
At that revelation, Erika raised her head. She saw nothing but sincerity in his eyes. But, a farmer? She tried to picture him in a pair of dingy, country-boy overalls. "Okay. What's your prominent product?"
That did it. "You farm crawfish?"
"Yep. That won't be a problem, will it?"
"Only for the crawfish." Erika licked her lips. "I love them."
She knew she had his undivided attention, for he scanned from the top of her curly, natural hairdo to the bulge in her middle. Rather than swelter under his intense, dark-eyed stare, Erika presented an aloof air and watched him.
He drank from his water glass as if unable to quench his thirst. Then, studying her, he pulled at his left earlobe.
Two things caught her eye.
In absence of a ring, he had a twisted barbwire band tattooed on his middle finger. Plus, at his temples, gray strands mingled with his chestnut-brown hair.
"That's number two."
"I didn't realize this was a contest."
"It is. But, you're doing great."
"Next question." She was determined to ignore his brash response. "Do you sell to domestic and international markets?"
Her eyes switched from her tablet to his face. "Why is that, Mr. Templet?"
Booker hooked his shades into the neck of his tee shirt. "Have you ever shopped for your favorite brand of tails, all set to make crawfish étouffée, and found they're from…let's just say…another country?"
Smiling, she recalled just that situation. "I have to say, I have. That's where I left them, too."
"Three. You're hired, Web Designer Erika Washington."
"This is insane." Placing her tablet on the table, she challenged him. "I haven't finished my fact-finding."
"I believe you're just the person to give me what I need."
"Well, I have references if you'd like to see them."
"No need. You come highly recommended by word of mouth."
Puzzled, Erika sought more information. "By whom?"
"Funny. Vince never mentioned recommending me."
"You can trust me, Miss Washington." He picked up two leather-bound folders at his elbow, reaching one to her. "Now, I'm starved. Let's eat."
"No, thanks." She slid hers to the side. He browsed his. "Let's take a look at a few design examples."
"I trust your judgment."
Bowled over, Erika tried to shake the feeling there was something mighty fishy about Booker Templet. She reached in, pulled a business card from her satchel, and fingered it to the table with her purple-painted pointer. "I'll be in touch with a draft."
The text trill notified her of a message. While poised to leave, Erika took a quick peek.
R U home?
N A MTG, she thumbed before returning her gaze to Booker.
"How far along are you, Miss Washington?"
Stunned, she slung him a quizzical look. Erika stood up. "Sixteen weeks."
"Not to sound fresh"—he picked up and scrutinized her card—"you wear pregnancy well."
"My boyfriend doesn't think so." Holy crap. "I didn't mean to say that."
Too embarrassed, she dropped her eyelids and pushed her chair under the table. When Erika lifted her head, his gleaming russet-brown eyes held her hostage.
"You're making this very uncomfortable for me, Mr. Templet."
"Can't take a compliment, Miss Washington?"
"Compliments are one thing." She positioned her bag on her shoulder, being careful with her movements. "That felt quite intimate and, actually, over the line."
"My apologies if my bluntness upset you."
Upset is what she was. More at herself than him, though.
It was nobody's business how Gary retracted his support of her decision. Lately, things between her boyfriend of almost a year seemed to be on a rapid decline. Her pregnancy had driven a wedge into their on-again, off-again relationship. He'd balked at the fact that she protected herself with him but relinquished her body willingly for the sake of friendship. Maybe, at twenty-six, Gary had cooled toward a woman six years his senior.
An eye bat and her mind was back at the restaurant.
"You'll hear from me soon." Leaving it at that, Erika strolled from the table.
"By the way, I think your boyfriend is a fool."
Erika froze. Slowly, gazing over her shoulder, she turned to face him. She caught her bottom lip between her teeth to stem her fury. In spite of that, she marched back to his table.
"Let's get one thing straight, Booker Templet."
"Finally…you used my first name."
"This isn't going to fly. Consider our ties severed from this moment. I don't want you as a client."
Without hedging, Erika sashayed off despite the apologetic calling of her name.