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Sweet Favors

Sweet Favors

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He was so different. He thought he was unlovable.
She was attractive. She thought no one could see beyond the surface.

Main Tropes

  • Forbidden Romance
  • Small Town Romance
  • Multicultural romance

Synopsis

He was so different. He thought he was unlovable. She was attractive. She thought no one could see beyond the surface.

Katherine, an accountant by trade, is in charge of the funds to renovate the community center. At five foot five, with long dark hair and an hourglass figure, people often make the mistake of not taking her seriously. She never understood beauty or how to create it. She always preferred numbers and logic.

Vihaan is the mixed child of Geeta and Jerry and a native of Sweet Bloom. His mixed heritage has always made him feel like an outsider. An architect by trade, he has a gift to see the beauty in everything. He’s chosen to be the architect and designer for the community center project. Two headstrong people will face their deepest fears and find a love that knows no prejudice.

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Intro into Chapter One

Chapter
One

“Spiders and dust bunnies I’m okay
with, but if I reach up here and find Mickey, there’s going to be a problem.”

Katherine Gerald climbed up the
rolling ladder in an attempt to retrieve the ledger book from the top shelf in
the courthouse library. While it was someone’s genius idea to put the oldest
books at the top, they obviously hadn’t considered how they were going to
retrieve them since they were all stacked upon each other horizontally.
Wouldn’t it figure the day Sandra Waters, the owner of  the community center, wanted to review the
records for the building, the clerk had called out sick? Katherine had two
options: reschedule this meeting that had been a nightmare to coordinate or get
herself up the ladder that looked like it could only support a five-year-old at
best.

“Are you the one?” Katherine asked as
she wiped away a layer of dust from the tome. “No, of course you’re not the
one; the huge one at the very bottom of the pile is the one.”

Katherine reached up with both hands
to move the book, and the ladder rocked beneath her weight. She tried to brace
her feet on the rung. Instead of feeling more secure, she was greeted by the
creaks and groans of old wood held together by dovetail edges and faith.

“I’m already up here, so I’m going to
make it count,” Katherine said as she reached for the book. That was when she
saw them. Two beady eyes staring back at her and a small gray body that almost
blended in with the dust on the shelves. She gasped when she saw it, and that
shook her so much she had to grab the shaking ladder until it stopped moving.

“I’ll spot you,” called a voice from
below. “I’ll hold the ladder steady.”

Katherine dropped her head against
the rung. “Joe come lately to the rescue,” she said to herself. “A man always
shows up when I’m almost done with the task. They must all have synchronized
watches to come right at the end.”

Katherine looked over her shoulder
and saw a man in a blue shirt holding the ladder. “I’m about done,” she told
him as she pulled the book off of the shelf. “You’re not needed, thank you.”

“The ladder is old and shaky; it’s no
problem for me to hold it,” the man said from below.

“Really, I’m good,” she replied,
agitated as she balanced the book on the top rung of the ladder.

Katherine decided enough was enough.
She didn’t want to see Mickey, and there was something annoying about the man
who wouldn’t move and had come entirely too late. Moving the book from one rung
to another, she began to climb down the ladder. Every step brought with it its
own set of creaks and groans. By the time she had gone three rungs, she had
realized the rungs were getting narrower as she went down and they wouldn’t be
able to hold the book.

There was nothing left to do but to
cradle to the book to her chest. She tried not to think about how all the dust
would be pressed against her black suit jacket. If her allergies weren’t
bothering her before, they would be when she finished fishing this book down.
When she thought she had it firmly in her grasp, she inched one foot down the
ladder. The ladder groaned; the book was heavier than she thought, and it began
to slide down the front of her chest.

“I’m just not going to get a break
today,” she muttered.

“Don’t worry, I’m spotting you!” the
guy said.

Katherine thought about how she’d
really like to toss the book down at him and say catch!  The book was too old, and the pages would
never survive. Spotting her now was like bringing a towel to a flood.

“I’m just about down,” she said.
“Just back up so I don’t accidentally kick you.”

“You won’t kick me. Here, let me help
you.”

Before she could say anything, she
felt a pair of strong hands go about her waist. He grabbed her to steady her,
but the shock of him touching her made her jump. The book wobbled to the side.
She followed the book. She leaned too much to the side, and the heel of her
black short kit heels got caught on the rung, throwing her off balance.

Katherine’s thought was only for the
book that she hugged to her body, and she hoped whoever the late Galahad was
had some cushion to him.

When she was sure the fall was over,
she opened her eyes. She did a self-inventory first. She wiggled her feet, took
a deep breath, and then sneezed from the dust she’d inhaled from the book
firmly in her arms. The book was safe. Katherine was trying to think of an
appropriate way to move off of the late Galahad when she was abruptly rolled
onto the floor.

Of course, when he rolled her onto
the floor, she went face first into the dusty book. She didn’t know who he was,
but when she got up, she was going to give him a piece of her mind. Pushing
herself up to her knees, she found herself face to face with Vihaan Higgins.

Well, he did have enough cushion on
him to take her weight, and none of it was fat. So this late Galahad she had a history
with. Vihaan Higgins had to be the poster child for the beauty of children from
mixed marriages. He was the best of all worlds. He had dark, thick black hair
that was never out of place. His skin was bronzed all year long, giving him a
look that made every day seem like a day to go on vacation. On top of that, he
had the most beautiful eyes. She had heard members of his own family tease him
about it, but it couldn’t be denied. Women would kill for those chocolate brown
eyes framed with the longest lashes she had ever seen naturally. Just when it
couldn’t get any better, there was the fact that Vihaan was considered the
nicest guy you could work with.

Vihaan Higgins was an amazing
architect. He mixed his Indian background with a solid foundation of beauty and
efficiency. He was starting to make a name for himself, and everyone knew it
was only a matter of time before he left Sweet Blooms. His mother Geeta owned
the Banter House restaurant, and when he was published in Architect Today as an
up and coming architect, she bought copies and gave them out for free to the
customers of her restaurant.

She’d met Vihaan because both of them
had worked on the design of Adam Cade’s woodworking building. She was Adam’s
Cade’s project manager for Sweet Blooms. Work would be the catalyst to bring
them together again. Sandra Waters, the owner of the community center, had
convinced Adam to help her renovate the community center. That meant she needed
a project manager and an architect.

Katherine had to admit Vihaan had an
air of professionalism and talent that gave her pause, and she wondered if she
would be able to keep up.

He pushed back a lock of hair that
had fallen into his face and gave her a smile that every woman over the age of
25 would swoon for.

“Hello, Katherine the smart,” he
said. “I was just in time.”

Then it came back to her when he
called her that nickname why she thought he was the most arrogant and pompous
person on the planet. “In time would have been before I got on the ladder.”

His smile widened when he said, “It
was fate that you climbed the ladder so I could break your fall.”

Getting to her feet, she shook her
head at his logic. Then she realized what had happened. “Your hands, are they
okay? Your mother will kill me if I’ve injured you in any way.”

“The only injury I have is to my
heart. It’s pained that you feel I was late.”

“No, Vihaan, this isn’t a feeling.
It’s a fact. You weren’t here when I had to climb the ladder. On top of that,
when you did get here, and I told you to move, you didn’t listen. Instead, you
grabbed me, threw me off balance, and then I had to fall on you.”

He was still smiling at her. This
time he had his arms open as if he was waiting for a hug. “To be clear, I did
not grab. What I did was steady you on the very old ladder. The reason why you
fell is because of the very impractical footwear that you chose to wear on the
ladder.”

She did a double take of her
footwear. “My footwear?”

Katherine heard someone else clear
their throat.

“Do you have the book?”

“Yes, I do have the book, and thank
you for helping me up,” Katherine said, doing her best to keep her tone even.
Her mother always told her to keep an even tone. People responded better when a
young lady kept her composure. Katherine still wasn't sure about that rule, but
she was doing her best.

Determined not to be swayed from the
current target in front of her, she once again faced Vihaan. “My footwear, by
the way, is amazing. The heel is a sensible three quarters. The color is a
versatile black, and they are so comfortable I’ve been able to run for public
transportation in them. I agree there is a problem, but it is not my footwear
as you pointed out.

Now that she had gotten that
statement off her chest, it was on to the issue at hand. When Katherine turned
around to face Ms. Waters, she was confronted by a new group of people. In fact,
one of the people she spied standing behind Sandra Waters was Percy Smalls, the
presumed sick intern who was the county clerk for the court library.

Percy was 18 years old if he was a
day older. In his hands, he had a breakfast sandwich And a large hub of take-out
coffee.

“I know it looks bad,” Percy said around
the food in his mouth. “And I want to say that I did wake up this morning not
feeling very well.”

Katherine held up one of her hands to
stop him before he launched into a long explanation. “It was fine. I know how
to find the books in the library. And I also know how to find the ladder if I
have to.”

Then, as if no more insult could be
added to this injury, Vihaan spoke up.

“Percy, don't worry, I was already
here to save her from hitting the ground.”

“I'm told that sometimes people who
are geniuses in one area have difficulty in another. You did not have to save
me from hitting the ground. I would not have needed any saving if you had left
me alone.”

Katherine thought for sure by now he
had gotten the hint. She was wrong. Instead of understanding what she was
saying, Vihaan took it a whole different way.

“So, you think I am a genius?”

“Oh, I do think you are one of a kind.”

  “That's
good, because that is exactly what I think about you too.”

Katherine was speechless. Instead of
replying, she turned her back to him and then muttered under her breath, “Breathe.
 If I just breathe, it'll get better;
just one breath at a time.”

Then, as she was about to put this
whole incident behind her, she felt him wiping down her legs. Katherine whipped
around to face him. Vihaan was kneeling on the floor, and when she turned
around, the corner of the book hit him in the head.

“Ow!” Vihaan said.

“What?” Katherine said. Vihaan fell
back on his butt on the floor. Katherine looked at him and said through clenched
teeth, “What were you doing?”

“I was trying to get the dust off the
bottom of your pants. I knew you could not reach it with the book still in your
hands.”

 The first problem was that Katherine was very
sensitive about her height. She was a full five feet tall. Vihaan sported a
height of five feet eight inches; not that that was very tall, but it was still
taller than she was. Vihaan had a talent in pointing out all of the things she
was the most sensitive about. The second problem was this was not the first
time she had met him.

At the end of the last project the
two of them worked on, he decided to tell her a revelation that he had found
out about her. He said he had heard lots of people comment on how cute and
small she was, but he was very happy to find that she was also a very
intelligent woman. When she didn't look like she was thrilled with the
compliment, he immediately tried to make it better. He followed it up with
another comment about how he had heard that she was not smart, just that she
was very attractive. At that point, she’d put her hand up and told him to stop
while he was ahead and then walked away.

It seemed to clear to Katherine that
he’d been given a body that everybody would like to make up for his poor
communication skills.

Katherine understood who and what she
was.  Many a person had been taken in by
her small stature and her youthful face. After she laid out her plans for a
project, they soon understood that compact package hid a general. Adam Cade was
her boss, and he liked to call her his secret weapon. When projects were slowed,
and only excuses were being given to him, he sent her to fix the problem. She
could bargain with the best of them. Katherine had a poker face that made
people doubt what they knew. She was knowledgeable. She was efficient. And she
was ruthlessly diligent until she got the project done. 

“Katherine?”

“Yes!”

Vihaan looked at her, holding the
book over his head. “Do you have the book securely in your arms, and can I get
up now?”

Katherine hefted the book up into her
arms and then took a step back. Vihaan stood up and brushed the dust off of his
pants. “This is no problem now; we can go and work.” He extended his hand out
to show her the way and let her go first. “Ladies first.”

Work? Katherine's confused look must have
shown up on her face.

“Haven't they told you?”

“Told me what?” Katherine demanded.

“I am working on the community center
project with you.”

Katherine turned to look at Sandra
Waters, who just shrugged. “They told me I needed an architect, and we knew
him.”

Katherine needed a fast-acting vice,
she thought. She didn't like spending money, and she didn't like eating a lot
of sweets. The one thing that Katherine loved to do was read. She’d read
anything—magazines,
books, and journals; it didn't really matter.

Then she looked up into the waiting gaze
of Vihaan, and she felt a little flutter in her stomach. Vihaan was
fast-acting. He quickly got on her last nerve. She could still acknowledge that
he was an attractive man; he just wasn't the man for her.

*
* *

Vihaan had called his family together
to his house. Everyone knew his projects were starting to get a lot of
attention. He knew his mother, Geeta, had been talking with his aunt Anika
about what company he should go with and what that would mean to the family. He
had made a decision. For support, he had called his cousin Suhana to the
meeting as well.

Now, as he straightened up his living
room and prepared for them to come, he wanted to make sure he had all the
pamphlets, statistics, and plans in case anyone asked. He was preparing not
just to let them know what he was going to do for a job but what he intended to
do as a career.

He would prefer to showcase one of
his architectural projects rather than present to his family. He had always
been the child in between, and today he was going to confirm that he didn’t
favor one side or the other. It was hard growing up in a family that had a
mixed culture. Both sides watched you like a hawk, wondering which side you
would take after. When you did something that didn’t fit comfortably with
either side, you always ran the risk of being alone and misunderstood.

Vihaan made sure to set up a place
for his father to sit where his back would be supported. Vihaan and his father
had an odd relationship by all accounts. His father, Jerry, never understood
why he wanted to draw all day, but he let him do it. When he said he wanted to
become an architect, his father didn’t agree, but he paid for him to go and to
travel outside the United States to see other architects.

He’d made his wishes clear that he
wanted Vihaan to get a “real” job in building or construction, or even go back
to school to become an engineer. When Vihaan said that path wasn’t for him, his
father had shaken his head and then told him, “Make your way then.”

 Now Vihaan was going to share with his family
the “way” he wanted to go. It would affect everyone, and he hoped they would be
supportive.

The bell rang, and he took a deep
breath before letting them in. His mother, Geeta, grabbed him and kissed him
first before practically giving him to his aunt, Anika. Anika kissed him on the
cheeks and then took his face in her hands before tugging his hair and saying
it was too long. His father came in behind Anika and gave him a nod before
seeking out a place to sit. Last was his cousin, Suhana. She was wide-eyed and
all smiles. She enveloped him in her arms and kissed him on both cheeks before
whispering in his ear, “Is she here?”

Vihaan smiled. “No, and behave
yourself. Hopefully you will still be talking to me afterward.”

“Cousin, don’t be silly. I’ll talk to
you no matter what. Who else will be my partner in crime?”

Vihaan closed the door and then
turned to make sure his father had found his place.

“Please, everyone get comfortable,”
he said. He looked out at his family and reminded himself they were his family.
They didn’t have to agree all the time, but they would support him.

“I wanted to let everyone know that I
have received three offers of employment from the top three architecture firms
in New York.”

All of the women in the room jumped
up and clapped. They hugged each other and kissed each other. Then, as if they
remembered he was in the room, they ran to him and hugged him as well. The only
one who didn't move was his father.

Vihaan saw his mother run to his
father and say, “Jerry, you have to be happy about the news?”

“If that was the news that he brought
us to hear, I might be happy, but it seems as though there's more that he needs
to be telling.”

His mother stopped jumping around and
turned to look at him. Then the other two women turned as they realized he
wasn’t done with his news.

His aunt was the first to speak. “What
else could you want to tell us?”

He cleared his throat and looked at
everyone in the room.  “Dad is right;
there is something else I need to tell everyone. I've made a decision not to
accept any of the job offers. Instead, I want to stay here in Sweet Blooms and
open up my own architectural firm.”

There was a pregnant pause in the
room, and then, out of nowhere, his dad began to laugh.  Suhana looked at his father, and she too
joined in the laughter here. Again, his mother and his aunt both looked as if they
weren’t sure if this was real.

As soon as it became clear that he
was serious, Anika was the first one to recover. “You can't just walk away from
those big companies. Don't you know that's good money you're passing up? You
will always have time to go ahead and open up your own business. If you do it
now, no one will come to you. You don't have a following yet. Just because you were
in the paper once or twice doesn't mean that you are good enough to be on your
own yet.”

He had expected this response from Anika,
so it was no surprise. The person's response that he was really waiting for,
the one that really mattered, was his mother’s. His mother's response wasn't as
quick as Anika’s. Instead of accusing him of anything or telling him what he
could or could not do, she paused and gave him a long look.

“Why Sweet Blooms?” she asked.

“Adam Cade has offered me an
opportunity to work with him in building up the county of Sweet Blooms. I
didn't want to be his employee, so I decided I would stay home and open my own
business.  When I have finished working
on all of the projects, then, if my business isn't working out, I'll go and
find a job.”

His mother smiled. “Well, I will say
this, it’s nothing if not interesting. Whatever you decide, you know I will be
with you.”

“You can’t tell him that!” Anika
spat. “He should take the job offer with one of the big three companies. Why
would you let him die in this town when he could be so much better?”

The room went silent, and Vihaan had
heard enough.

“Aunt Anika, I understand you are
disappointed. I know you wanted someone to go on and do greater things, but I
need to do what is best for me.”

  “No,
Vihaan, that is not the way. I know you feel as though you are a man in between
two worlds, but you have an obligation to your family to do the best you can.
When you went to school, your parents took out money to support you. When you
went overseas, they sent you the extra money you didn’t have. Now, when you
have the opportunity to not only clear that debt but to take care of them, you
choose to stay in Sweet Blooms?! That is not acceptable! Geeta, tell him!”

“My son has paid me.”

His mother and aunt both turned to
his father. He wasn’t going to say anything. It wasn’t his place to say it, but
he had given his father half of every bonus, check, and income he had been
given to make sure he paid them back for their sacrifice.

When he had sent the first payment,
his father had returned it. After a long discussion, his father had relented.
Still, it wasn’t Vihaan’s place to tell anyone, and so he waited for his
father.

Suhana was still all smiles as she
looked at the ensuing drama. When no one else spoke, she ran to him and hugged
him.

“I’m so happy for you, Vihaan. I’m
happy that you are staying local and happy that you are still doing something
you love. We’ve all seen Cade building in the surrounding area; you have to
tell me what you are going to be working on.”

The next two hours passed with
everyone asking questions about what was being built and when all the new
people who had commissioned the projects were coming. His father seemed content
with the news. His mother was happy as long as he said he was happy. Suhana was
Suhana. As for his aunt Anika, she didn't disagree with anything that was said,
but she wasn’t participating in the discussion either. 

When they were leaving, his dad
patted him on the back and said good luck. His aunt Anika hugged him and told him
she hoped he knew what he was doing. His dad was leading Anika to the car when
his mother stopped and looked him in the eye.

“I would be interested in the real
reason you are staying in Sweet Blooms when you feel ready to tell me.” With
that, she kissed him on the cheek and left. Suhana was right behind her and the
last to leave.

“I just want to meet this woman who
is worth three, not one or two, but three New York job offers.”

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