New York's young, beautiful and savvy all flocked to Ocean, a trendy restaurant on the city's Upper West Side. Morgan Nelson and Dakota Cantrell soaked up the late-day sun at a window table as guests of Seth Harris, a stockbroker from Salomon Smith Barney. Other dinner guests were his overbearing wife, Dania, and a couple of her cronies, along with a smattering of Wall Street's jocks.
As the second round of drinks was served, the guys were flirting shamelessly with Morgan and Dakota, to the dismay of chain-smoking Dania. She wore her dark auburn hair swept up in a loose French twist, the ends spiking freely from the top. The carefully coiffed look was supposed to evoke a carefree, natural appearance that said, "I am so chic that I need not bother with the styling of my hair." She wore a white cotton shirt with the collar turned up, a strand of pearls and a pair of navy pleated slacks.
Smiling slyly at her friends, she asked, "So, Morgan, what do you do?" blowing smoke with barely hidden disdain.
"Excuse me?" Morgan replied. Not because she didn't hear Dania, but to put her attitude in check.
"Who do you work for?" Dania asked in a more cordial tone.
"Global Financial," Morgan answered.
"Oh. What do you do for them?" Dania asked, nodding at her buddies as if to say, "Here it comes."
"I'm the vice president of Marketing," Morgan answered. She got the inevitable raise of eyebrows. It was never the answer that was expected. Because of her looks, people often assumed that Morgan was a model or an actress, anything but an executive in a Fortune 500 company. She wore her hair daringly short, framing her flawless caramel skin, chiseled features and beautiful brown eyes. She looked tall and svelte in her slate blue Jil Sander pantsuit.
Thwarted in her first attempt at one-upmanship, Dania then turned to Dakota. "What about you? What exactly is it that you do?" she asked, while her girlfriends lay in wait.
Dakota's look combined Wall Street conservatism with SoHo chic. Her cocoa complexion accented sharply sculptured features and a dazzling smile. She had a deep, sultry voice and wore signature black cat-eye glasses that accentuated a pair of smoldering eyes.
"I decide how much money your husband will make each day," Dakota answered evenly.
"Excuse me?" Dania nearly shouted, smoke billowing through her thin, pursed lips.
"I decide which brokers will execute orders for my Swiss clients. Right, Seth?" Dakota turned to face him with an innocent expression.
Visibly uncomfortable, he said, "Yeah. Dakota's my favorite sales trader."
Jim Elliot, a self-proclaimed "cool white boy," said, "You know, you two got it goin' on." Inserting foot further into mouth, he added, "You know, Hershey's ain't got nothin' on y'all."
Morgan and Dakota looked at each other. What was the polite response to that?
Jim's sidekick tried a different tack. "You know, some of my best friends are black."
"What a coincidence. So are mine!" Dakota replied, raising her eyebrows in feigned surprise.
Getting the joke about two beats late, Mutt and Jeff joined Morgan and Dakota in a good laugh.
"Heel, boys," Paul chided lightly, smoothing over any awkwardness. Paul worked next to Dakota on SBI's Swiss trading desk, and as usual he had Dakota's back. Grateful for the intervention, she and Morgan smiled in his direction.
As the general conversation started again, Morgan leaning toward Dakota, "Funny how 'in' it's become to be black," she whispered.
"Yeah. It's all good until you're asking for the green. Then if you're black-get back."
"Not totally true. Look at us-we're living the American dream," Morgan said, looking around at the elegant restaurant, gourmet food, expensive drinks and designer clothes. "Here's to a room with a view-the corner office, that is!" Morgan raised her bellini to meet Dakota's glass. Morgan was being considered for a promotion to senior vice president, and based on her skills and the competition, it seemed to be in the bag. She could almost taste it.
"It looks like I'm just in time. I love a celebration."
Turning to see who owned the rich tenor voice, Morgan and Dakota caught the grand entrance of a tall, charismatic man. He swept in, bowed smoothly, and kissed the back of Dania's hand. "Darling . . . how arrrre you?" he purred.
"I am well, dear. Do join us," she answered. Snapping her fingers, she called out, "Garton!" to the waiter. "Let me introduce Blake St. James," she then announced, as though presenting a lord to her less royal subjects.
Blake was over six feet, mostly legs and model thin. He carried himself in an elegant flourish as though his arrival was the most anticipated coming since the last millennium. After dispensing greetings, Blake turned to Dania and said, "Though I would love to, I really can't stay. I've got to get home to dress for tonight. Will I see you all later at the Back Room?"
"Of course," she replied, speaking for her husband and everyone else.
Morgan and Dakota agreed to accompany them for a nightcap.
Strolling up Columbus Avenue at a brisk pace, they merged with the fast, kinetic energy of the other fashionable upscale New Yorkers. They passed an eclectic assortment of clothing and specialty stores. New York was the only place Morgan knew of with specialty stores even for caviar and truffles.
"Don't you just love it?" Morgan said. Even though she and Miles had lived in New York for several years now, she still retained a touch of wide-eyed awe. She remembered the wonder of her first visit with her parents at the age of twelve. They'd come during the holidays and seen the magnificent tree at Rockefeller Center, then The Nutcracker and the Rockettes. It had seemed to Morgan that everyone in New York was glamorous and very, very busy as they strolled up Fifth Avenue wrapped in fur, with designer handbags on one arm and shopping bags draped on the other.
"There is no place I'd rather be," Dakota answered with her trademark certainty.
Halfway past a pet store with made-for-TV-cute puppies in the window, Morgan came to a sudden stop. "Ohhh, look at the babies! They are soooo cute." She pressed her face against the window.
"Yeah, until they stop being puppies and turn into dogs," Dakota said pragmatically.
"Look at the white bichon chasing his tail!" Morgan had both palms flat on the glass in unabashed love.
Dakota refused to be pulled in by the cute button noses, round puppy-dog eyes and lapping pink tongues. "Like I said, they grow up and, just like men, they turn into dogs and start chasing other tail."
Not to be discouraged, Morgan said, "But look at that face." She stood mesmerized by the tumbling bundles of energy. Pulling out her cell phone, she quickly called her husband's office. "Lauren, would you put Miles on? It's important," she said to his assistant. After a few seconds, he was on the line. Dakota watched as Morgan cooed into the phone, trying to convince Miles that a puppy was an absolute necessity. They had had this conversation before, but so far Miles had been able to hold Morgan at bay. "Oh, baby, he is so cute. It's a bichon. No, they don't get that large, only about thirteen pounds . . . I know, I've already thought about that . . . yes . . . small . . . small poop size is important . . . yes . . . I love you, baby . . . have a good trip."
"Well?" Dakota asked, with one hand on her hip. "What's the verdict?"
"He'll think about it," Morgan answered, happy that at least the subject was still on the table. When Miles got back from L.A., she'd bring him to the pet store and let him try to say no to those big brown eyes.
"With all the cooing you were doing into the phone, how could the man possibly deny you?" Dakota said, laughing.
"That's the point," Morgan answered matter-of-factly.
She and Miles were like Claire and Cliff, Ozzie and Harriet, and Lucy and Ricky, but cool. They were everything that Dakota wanted in a relationship, but had so far missed. "You two are so lovey-dovey. It's sickening really," Dakota teased.
While the Upper East Side had Park Avenue's old money, the Upper West Side was the playpen for the uptown hip crowd. It was chock-full of trendy bars and restaurants, each hipper than the next. The Back Room was a posh, upscale cigar bar on Columbus Avenue set amidst a block brimming with sophisticated lounges and restaurants, all swarming with people needing to see and be seen. It was where the sleek meet and greet. The Back Room had a cozy fireplace in the rear and a streetfront entrance that spanned its width, giving the place the feel of an elegant den. Tonight's pack was the Wall Street crowd, all abuzz about the latest IPO and full of theories on how far and fast the technology gravy train would go. Generally you could guess the number of zeros in their investment accounts by the quality of their wristwatches. Those in the caboose wore Seikos, and those that drove the train wore Boucheron's Chronographes.
Morgan and Dakota took an intimate table near the fireplace, while the other members of their party filled up a larger table. Turning to Dakota, Morgan said, "Well, that worked out well. Tell me, how on earth do you put up with those silly-ass white boys?"
With a teasing smirk, Dakota replied, "You know, girl, nothing comes between me and a check."
"Hey now!" They gave each other a light high five.
"Speaking of which, I read about your man's impending promotion in Billboard magazine. Why didn't you tell me, your best friend?" Dakota asked.
"Girl, you know how conservative Miles is. He insisted on not talking about it until it's final, but of course the trade magazines actually prefer the rumor mill to press releases."
"You guys must be so excited," Dakota said, beaming. She was so happy for them.
"We are. You know Miles has wanted to buy a brownstone in Harlem for a while. So, with his promotion, maybe now we can."
"You are so lucky. You've got a great career, you can eat anything and never gain an ounce, and on top of all of that you're married to a fabulous, successful and sexy man. I think I hate you," Dakota said, shaking her head in mock dismay.
"Look who's talking, Ms. Hotshot Wall Street Diva."
"The operative word there is 'Ms.' Finding a good man is like trying to find a cab at five o'clock during a downpour."
"What's going on with you and Jackson?" Morgan asked, with a puzzled expression.
"He's cool, but until the ink dries on his divorce papers, he's still 'occupied.' "
"I heard that," Morgan said, glad that Dakota's practical side still had control when it came to dating a married man. Even though Jackson was separated from his wife, technically he was still her property.
Morgan was protective of her best friend. She and Dakota had met five years earlier in Atlanta, at her cousin's wedding. They had hit it off immediately. Born a day apart, they seemed to recognize each other's genetic code, and within a few days were completing each other's thoughts and sentences. After losing touch for a couple of years, they literally bumped into each other one afternoon while reaching for the same handbag at Barneys on Madison Avenue.
Considering the extensive menu of after-dinner favors, Dakota and Morgan tried to decide between champagne or port. As if on cue, Blake St. James emerged from the smoky darkness looking like freshly minted money. He wore a blood-red velvet smoking jacket, black open-collared shirt and a burgundy, gold and cream silk ascot nestled at his neck. Effortlessly, he assumed the role of host.
"I am glad you two could make it," he said, gliding in for a landing at their table.
"I'm Morgan Nelson and this is Dakota Cantrell." Earlier Dania had failed to make proper introductions, only presenting Blake to "the group."
"You both look fabulous," he said, giving them each the once over.
"And don't you look chic," Morgan replied, appraising Blake's ensemble.
"This old thing," he said, coyly opening his arms to offer an unencumbered view. They all laughed. The jacket had to be straight out of Armani's latest collection. "What can I get for you ladies?"
Morgan glanced over at Dakota. "A port would be nice."
"That sounds good. I'd like one that's full-bodied, and rich, with character. Just like I like my men," Dakota flirted.
"As gorgeous as you are, I can't help you there." Blake laughed, confirming Morgan's earlier guess that he was gay. "But I can serve you Taylor's thirty-year tawny. It's wonderful."
As he moved on to the larger table, they watched him flawlessly schmooze the crowd. He offered his extensive knowledge of wines, champagnes, ports and cigars, along with a funny line here and there to loosen up his patrons. Casting an admiring glance in his direction, Dakota said, "You gotta love his style. He really knows how to work a room."
"He's definitely on top of his game," Morgan agreed, observing Blake as he disappeared into the smoked-glass door of the vault-sized humidor. After returning with an assortment of pricey cigars, Blake made sure that everyone ordered mass quantities of expensive after-dinner favors. "I'll bet," Morgan said, giggling, "Blake has depleted Seth's expense account by at least a grand."
Dakota bit her lip as she casually watched him. "I wish straight men were that personable, stylish and attentive."
"The problem is that you usually have to neuter them to get that effect." They broke up laughing.
"Between our Rolodexes I thought we could reach out and touch anybody worth knowing," Morgan said, enjoying the buzz from the alcohol and Blake's one-man show. "I'm surprised we haven't met him before."
"So am I. He definitely seems like someone we would know," Dakota said.
After the last sip of port, as Morgan and Dakota were saying their good-byes to the group, Blake asked for their business cards. "Sure," Morgan said, handing one over. She didn't expect to hear from him since promising "to call and get together soon" was an art form in New York.
"Well, Blake, thanks for a wonderful evening," Dakota said, starting toward the door.
"It was my pleasure. Sorry I couldn't accommodate all of your needs." He winked at Dakota with a devilish smile.
"At this point, I am feeling no pain," Dakota said.
"That makes two of us. In fact, if we couldn't find a taxi tonight, I could just about fly home," Morgan said.
"You ladies don't have to worry about a taxi. I've already called a car for you." Leaning closer to whisper, he added, "I put it on Seth's tab."
"And they say that service is a lost art form," Dakota said, smiling at Morgan.
"You know what? I love that man," Morgan said as Blake walked in front of them to open the door to the arriving black Town Car.
--From Revenge Is Best Served Cold by Tracie Howard and Danita Carter, Copyright (c) October 2001, New American Library, a division of Penguin Putnam Inc., used by permission."