Just One Taste...

By: Wendy Etherington

FROM BEHIND HER POST at the chocolate fountain, Vanessa Douglas watched the posh crowd of Atlanta’s social elite schmooze each other.Prominent doctors and lawyers, board members and business moguls turned out in jewels and designer clothes, decorated by elegantly dressed first spouses or young, hard-bodied second ones. Vanessa fought the urge to yawn.

But when a girl made penis-shaped cakes for a living, a lot of things seemed staid by comparison.

“Have you seen any cute guys?” her best friend and business partner Mia Medini asked.

“Nope. And hardly anybody under forty.”

“What we expected. Your mother never listens.” She planted her hands on her trim hips, which were shown off to perfection in a silky turquoise dress that also complemented her olive-toned skin and dark hair. “People our age go to nightclubs for fun, not the country club.”

“Except my sister.” Angelica, wearing a powder-blue suit and pearls, stood across the room with a group of elderly women. Nearby, their parents socialized in an intimate circle of longtime friends, her mother in cream-colored Chanel, her father in dignified navy Brooks Brothers. Vanessa glanced down at her rebel-red shimmery cocktail dress, bought from a sample sale in midtown at Vampy Divas. Yep. All was right with the world.

Even though her mother had sent catering business Vanessa’s way instead of steering it in the other direction, hell, apparently, hadn’t actually frozen over.

“But your sister is a fifty-year-old in a twenty-five-year-old body,” Mia said.

“She hooked the best cardiac surgeon in the South.”

Mia elbowed her. “Like he’s a damn herring. And, personally, he’s too staid for me.”

“Wearing a bow tie is not a good sign.”

“Though I once knew this stripper who wore his bow tie on his—”

“Mia, please,” Vanessa said, glancing around furtively to see if they’d been overheard. “Not here.”

Mia looked wounded. “You turn into such a stuff-bucket around them.”

She knew it was true. But she was tired of the estrangement from her family. She’d had her rebellion, and she was ready for compromise. “I’m just trying for peace. For once.”

“I wish you luck on your journey, Don Quixote.”

Ignoring her roommate’s negativity, Vanessa rearranged the stack of napkins on the table, which were highlighted by elegant shrimp canapés and delicate chocolate puff pastries. No anatomically correct—or incorrect—body parts in sight.

Damn it.

“Though everybody has been complimentary,” Mia went on. “You think we’ll actually get more business from doing this shindig?”

Vanessa shrugged as if she hadn’t given the idea much thought. “Maybe. We could use it.”

Of course she’d given the idea a lot of thought. Her family was a cornerstone of the swanky society laid out before them. Her father was a senior partner in one of the oldest, most prestigious law firms in the city. Her mother was a premier society queen. Vanessa and her sister had been raised as pristine, pure debutantes.

And she’d chucked it all to slave in the kitchen making chocolate sauce and leaven bread for a living.

Crazy? Her mother thought so. As well as most of the people she’d grown up with. But Vanessa had never felt more normal, free and alive than the day she’d packed her jeans, T-shirts—and the scandalous red bra she’d worn under a white shirt once and nearly sent her mother into a dead faint—and moved out on her own.

After being cut off from the family money at the urging of her mother—she was the power behind the throne, no matter what her father claimed—Vanessa had put herself through culinary school and started her own business. After years of having to sneak into the kitchen to help their housekeeper make cookies—debs didn’t cook, they nibbled elegantly—she’d found a profession where getting messy was just part of the process.

For years, she’d wondered if the sneaking part was her only attraction to cooking, but after moving out and working in a restaurant, she’d realized that being a chef appealed to her need for excitement and variety. From a practical aspect, she could eat and get paid. Emotionally, it gave her instant gratification—she fed people, and they were happy. She didn’t disappoint them, and they didn’t try to change her.