Nicole couldn't decide what was worse: the churning of her stomach or the pounding behind her eyes. This hangover was the worst hangover of her life. To be completely honest this was the first hangover of her life. Nicole Andrews was not known for her partying ways. In college, she was the designated driver and the girl who held your purse while you danced.

As an adult, she sipped a glass of wine while out to dinner or nursed a beer during a cookout. The closest she came to hard liquor was her Aunt Martha's rum balls. Until last night. The bartender assured her Gimlets were harmless. He called them an "old lady cocktail." And maybe that was true for one or two but not five.

Nicole did not want to open her eyes and face the morning. Or more accurately the morning light. The one thing she loved most about her bedroom was the early morning light streaming in. Even on the weekends, she never slept past 7. She rolled out of bed each morning determined to get as much done as possible. And that required an early start.

"Are you awake?" Nicole froze. Oh God! That wasn't a vodka induced exquisite erotic dream she had. He kissed her on her cheek. "You have a hangover, don't you? I told you to stop at 4!" Nicole felt him get out of the bed. "I am going downstairs to get you a glass of water and a cup of coffee. The water will rehydrate you, and the coffee will get your blood moving. My suggestion is you get out of bed and into a hot shower."

Nicole waited until she heard him head down the stairs of her townhome before she opened her eyes and sat up in bed. Was this happening? Did she invite a stranger into her home for lewd sex? Nicole flashed back to that kiss on her neck. Her mind then flashed to his hands on her breast and the feeling of him between her legs.

A slow smile crept across her face. No one would believe hard-working, church-going, mousy Nicole had a one-night. Especially with one as hot as him. Nicole should send Nadine a big bouquet of flowers as a thank you.

A week before Thanksgiving

Nicole tried to work, but her attention kept getting drawn back the beautifully embossed invitation on her desk. It requested her presence for a shower honoring Dr. Catherine Miller hosted by of all people Alicia. Nicole felt a pang of jealousy; she should be throwing a shower for Cat. They were college roommate and best friends, not Catherine and Alicia.

Nicole sighed. Had it been six years since she'd seen them both at Alicia's baby shower? Promises were made to get together, but they somehow fell through due to the demands of work or family issues. Nicole stood up and smoothed her navy pencil skirt. She walked over to her conference table and picked up her favorite photo. The four of them in caps and gowns holding daisies.

Nicole closed her eyes and transported herself back to the campus of Salem College. There was a time that Nicole, Catherine, Alicia, and Tiffiny talked daily. Their friendship freshman year formed from the mere fact they were the only four girls of color in their dorm. Alicia and Tiffiny were roommates on the first floor, Catherine lived on third and Nicole on second. Being together brought them a sense of familiarity and security.

Despite that bond, the friendships were not straightforward. Tiffiny and Alicia were the life of the party while Nicole spent hours practicing and Catherine was in her books. Alicia scoffed at Catherine's prim and proper "good Catholic girl" routine. Catherine thought Alicia was a whore. They all thought Nicole was boring. And Tiffiny was annoying at times. She'd grown up affluent with no concept of how privileged her life was.

However, by junior year, they'd settled into a comfortable relationship with one another. Catherine and Nicole roomed together their junior and senior year. They'd grown incredibly close. She'd helped Catherine through her heartbreak with Matt and Catherine supported her dream when her family didn't.

Nicole opened her eyes not realizing the memories brought tears. She sat the picture down. She wiped the tears from her eyes and walked back to her desk. But somehow over the last five years, those friendships got away from her.

There was a light knock on the door and her assistant, Danielle, popped in. "Nicole, Mr. Freeman is here to meet with you." Nicole looked, and her agenda and frowned. She did not have an appointment scheduled and worse she couldn't place the name. "He doesn't have an appointment. He stopped by on the off chance you were in the office. He just got traded to the Falcons earlier this year and needed to find a home. He stated he was told to start here first. He has a $4-5 million budget."

Nicole stood up smoothing imaginary wrinkles out of her skirt. She gathered her leatherbound notebook "Don't keep the man waiting, Danielle, show him in."


The meeting with Alan Freeman went well. He signed with Atlanta after being released by the Eagles. A shoulder injury sidelined him the year before and they no longer needed him. He debated retiring before receiving several offers. He'd chosen Atlanta because it was closer to his parents in South Carolina and his alma mater Clemson.

Mrs. Freeman was not happy with the decision. She'd grown up in Pennsylvania and wanted to stay close to her family. They'd compromised, Mrs. Freeman would keep the house outside Philadelphia, and he would get a condo in Atlanta. After several months, she decided to sell the Philadelphia house and move to Atlanta herself. She was bringing their three children, four dogs, a hamster and her mother.

Danielle peeked in the door. "Mr. and Mrs. Freeman are on your calendar Tuesday morning to look at homes. Andrews is pulling recent listings, and Maria is calling some clients who may be thinking of listing their homes. They should have a list together for you by Monday morning."

Nicole looked up from her laptop. "I would prefer it tomorrow. I want to look at the houses myself before I show them. My calendar is free Sunday so you can arrange with the seller's agent for me to look around."

"Also, call Harvey Mills. He represents the rapper indicted on gun charges. I can't remember his name, but I heard he was thinking of selling. The home is in a family neighborhood with a small guest house in the back he used for a recording studio."

Danielle sat down in the chair across from Nicole's desk. "Nicole, your sister called six times. You need to RSVP for Thanksgiving dinner. She stated you are avoiding her text messages and calls to your cell."

Nicole hired Danielle six years ago as a front desk receptionist. Initially, she handled phone calls, walk-ins, and appointments. Immediately she proved a professional and capable asset to the business. As Nicole's business grew, Danielle transitioned to her assistant. The two women worked comfortably together. She kept Nicole focused and organized allowing Nicole to grow the business.

"Danielle, I will call my sister tonight and RSVP for Thanksgiving. Also let me apologize for whatever crude, profane and insensitive remark she made over the phone. My sister is a piece of work." Danielle looked relieved.

Danielle stood up. "My boss doesn't pay overtime, so my day is over. Don't forget you are meeting Carl tomorrow morning to talk about the Johnson property. It needs a price drop, but the owners are refusing. And you have Martins' closing at 11."

"Baby Tim, that is the rapper indicted on gun charges. Was it on NPR this morning? If not then I don't know how you know who he is?"

"I am full of surprises." Nicole smiled. "Thanks, Danielle, have a good night."


Nicole picked up her iPhone. There were four texts from her oldest sister Nadine. Nicole deleted the messages before reading. There was also text from her baby sister Noreen asking her to call Nadine and her excitement at seeing Nicole for Thanksgiving.

Nicole sent a quick reply to Noreen promising to show up at Nadine's for Thanksgiving. Nicole missed her sister and nephews. The family moved to Birmingham, Alabama after Noreen's husband received an incredible job offer. They loved Birmingham and Nicole doubted they would move back to Atlanta. A doting aunt, Nicole traveled a few weekends a year to visit.

Nicole took a deep breath and braced herself. She would prefer to send an email or text, but she called Nadine. Hopefully, she was deep in her evening routine and would let it go to voicemail. "Hello, Nicole. Are you no longer avoiding me?" No such luck.

"Nadine!" Nicole's voice sounded overly cheerful. "I apologize for not responding to your call or text sooner. I will be at dinner Thanksgiving, Can I bring anything? My famous sweet potato casserole?"

Nadine sniffed. "That is Mom's sweet potato casserole, not yours. Why do you continue to selfishly horde that recipe is beyond me? No need to bring anything. The menu includes a sweet potato dish already."

"I appreciate the phone call. It's comforting to know my sister is still alive." Nadine took a deep sigh. And Nicole instantly knew she should hang up. "I want a relationship with Nicole, but you make it difficult. You choose work over family, you don't return a simple call or text, and you screen my calls through your "assistant." I can handle your indifference, but it's the children who suffer. They miss their favorite aunt."

Nadine paused, "Thank you for calling. I needed to get the final number to the caterer tomorrow. I already know the answer but are you bringing a guest?" Nicole heard a snicker under Nadine's breath.

"Yes, Nadine, I am. We will be there next Thursday at 5 pm for cocktails and appetizers." Nicole hung up the phone before Nadine could respond.

Once the adrenaline stopped pumping, panic crept in. Where in hell was she going to find a date in a week? Nicole's last "social outing" was almost a year ago with an insurance adjuster from the church. He was friendly but painfully dull. She's spent much of the date listening to horror stories of the underinsured. On a positive note, she adjusted her home and business policies.

Atlanta was a vibrant city with plenty of single men. And Nicole was a catch. She owned a successful business, never married, no children, cultured and humdrum. Nicole sighed. She spends most of her days pouring over realty listings and contracts. She attended the occasional social or charity event but more for networking, not for social contacts.

She knew a few guys from church and work but having them attend an event at her sister's house was intimate and intimidating. An escort that is what she needed. She could hire a man to pretend to be her "friend" for the evening. Not just the evening but the holiday season. Client and organizations invited her to several parties. She rarely attended but if she had a handsome gentleman on her arm then maybe.

Nicole knew just the person to call. Elisabeth Conrad made things happen in Atlanta. She was the ex-wife of a Hawk who had fidelity issues. After her last bird left the nest, she kicked him to the curb and took a lot of his wealth. Nicole sold her a beautiful penthouse apartment to celebrate.

Elizabeth picked up immediately. "Nicole, your ears must be burning. I planned to call you after the holidays. I love my penthouse, but it is too small for my lifestyle. Peaches, my labradoodle, needs space to run. Plus, I just got the most exciting news...I am going to be a Glam-ma. And the penthouse though lovely is not child-friendly."

Nicole's mind raced about the dual commission she could make for selling the Penthouse and getting Elisabeth a new place. Elisabeth would need a small home between 3000-4000 square feet in an elegant established community with a price of around 2 million dollars.

"Elisabeth, I would love to help you. The penthouse would be an excellent space for a single player on the Braves. Let me put out some soft calls and see what I can drum up. I will have Danielle call you and set up a time for me to look at it. With your exquisite touches, the home's value has only gone up."

"However, that is not why I called. I was hoping you could help me with something." Nicole explained to Elisabeth her delicate situation. "I know you know everyone in Atlanta, so if anyone could help me..." Nicole's voice trailed off. She hoped she did not seem hopelessly embarrassed as she explained her situation.

"Honey, no need for embarrassment. And I completely understand. You have no idea what it's like to show up to events solo and see your ex-husband with the flavor of the month." Elisabeth sighed. Nicole knew despite the implosion of her marriage and nasty divorce she still had a soft spot her ex. "A friend introduced me to a wonderful woman who offers help in times like these. It's very discreet and professional. I will have her call you tomorrow."

"Thanks, Elisabeth. Now let's get back to you being a glam-ma and finding the perfect home to show off your grandbaby."

Friday Afternoon

Nicole was running late. The Nelson closing was a disaster. Patrick and Angela Nelson were once one of Atlanta's power couples. He was a successful doctor, she a successful doctor's wife. A noted oncologist, patients waited six months for appointments with him. He also taught classes at both Emory and Morehouse Schools of Medicine. Angela Nelson frequently turned up in the society pages for her charitable work and head-turning looks. She'd chaired some of the best galas in Atlanta for the past five years. They owned a gorgeous home in a gated community. They looked and acted like the perfect couple until she discovered that Mr. Nelson had another family in Alpharetta. Yvonne, embarrassed and humiliated, immediately filed for divorce.

The divorce was incredibly nasty with Dr. Nelson playing hardball. All the properties, their main house, a beach house on Hilton Head Island, a mountain retreat in Tennessee's Smokey Mountains and the Alpharetta home were in the name of Dr. Nelson's corporation. The investment accounts were in his name only. After much legal wrangling, the judge ordered the deed to their primary residence put in the both of their names with the property sold and proceeds split 60-40 in favor of Mrs. Nelson. She also received 10k a month in alimony and a new home valued up to $800,000.

Yvonne Nelson, lamented to anyone who listened, that the settlement was a slap in the face. Yvonne lived the philosophy if you were not with her you were against her. Currently, her favorite enemy was Nicole. Nicole knew Patrick Nelson when he was her mother's oncologist. He'd gone above and beyond for the family. So, when he'd come to her for help in selling the property and finding his ex-wife a new home, she'd reluctantly agreed. Nicole felt terrible for Angela Nelson. That was until she met Angela.

Angela Nelson was an entitled, self-absorbed, condescending witch of a woman. She did not approve of Patrick's choice of realtor. Claiming she felt Nicole "didn't understand women like her." Nicole knew that was code for "white and wealthy." Nicole re-assigned her to Allison, a young white broker in her firm who she knew understood Angela's needs. Angela took an immediate shine to her.

In Atlanta, women like Angela who thought the color of their skin, breeding, and bank balance made them superior to Nicole were not rare. Nicole learned long ago to pull strings behind the scenes and give them what they wanted. The only color that mattered to Nicole was green.

The closing should have been simple. Nicole negotiated an offer for the Nelsons' former home 20% above asking. Allison with Nicole's help found Angela a charming townhome in Buckhead. They would sign the paperwork for the joint house, and both receive their settlement checks. Then Angela would sign the paperwork for her new townhome, and Patrick Nelson pay.

All was going according to plan till Angela discovered that he was using the proceeds of the sale from the Hilton Head Island home to purchase her house. She'd gone crazy and spent 45 minutes yelling at Nicole, the real estate attorney and Patrick about the conspiracy against her. Because of him, she'd lost her membership at the country club and seats on several boards. And she was being forced to live in poverty. Yes, a fully paid townhome and 10,000 a month were poverty.

She'd refused to sign the closing papers for her new home and ripped up the settlement check for the joint property. Nicole knew the settlement officer would re-issue the check and sent it to her via FedEx. Angela then left the meeting in a huff slamming the door so hard, Nicole thought it would break.

"What a bitch!" Nicole smiled at the seller of the property. "When she cools down, please tell her the townhouse is no longer for sale. My nerves can't handle that again." He looked at his real estate agent. "Back to the drawing board."

Nicole looked at Allison who appeared on the verge of tears. Losing $16,000 commission was not a smooth pill to swallow even to an experienced agent. "Before you go back to the drawing board, Allison has a retired couple who is looking for a place in Buckhead. She can call them to see if they want to look this afternoon. It will be an all-cash sale." She pulled out her phone and sent Danielle a quick text. Allison, Danielle will contact you with the number for the Andersons."

"And thank you, Patrick, for an exciting closing. When you and the new Mrs. Nelson get tired of Alpharetta, give me a call". Nicole stood up and shook hands all around before leaving. Upset at the closing, Nicole soothed herself with the thought of 3% of 2.8 million dollars.


Nicole arrived at the coffee shop with frazzled nerves, nervous about meeting Elisabeth's friend. She loathed confrontation, and despite her calm exterior, Angela Nelson got to her. She'd received a text message from Elisabeth stating to be at the coffee shop by 1.

Nicole slipped off her sunglasses and looked for Elisabeth. "Nicole Andrews?" Nicole looked at the exquisite older black women who stood in front of her. She stood at least 6 ft tall with a presence and figure of a model. Her mahogany skin was incredibly smooth with few wrinkles making her age indeterminable. The only hint to her age was grey hair shaved close to her head.

"I am Elisabeth's friend, Clair. Why don't we have a seat and grab a coffee? Chat about how I can help you with your situation." Clair led her to a secluded table and waved a barista over. "I am regular here, so they'll take the order at the table."

Nicole felt awkward next to her. Claire was dressed elegantly in a soft navy pantsuit, silver flats and "daytime diamonds." The outfit seemed effortless and graceful. She wore minimal makeup that accentuated her face. "I have heard many things about you, Nicole. A few months back I was thinking of selling my home, and someone referred me to you. You are one of the stars of Atlanta Real Estate. From business professionals to athletes and musicians everyone calls Nicole Andrews to help them find a new home."

Nicole blushed. "Not everyone. But I have built up a solid business that I am proud of, but there is room for growth. I have managed to persuade a few seasoned brokers to join me and actively training some new ones. I am proud of my team. My clients know we care that they are more than a commission check. We want to help them find their dream home. And we support that dream at any budget."

Nicole took a sip of her chai latte, surprised how delicious it was. Although it was two blocks from the office, Nicole never previously visited. She only bought coffee when meeting a client. Her parents felt "designer coffees" were a luxury and not a necessity of life. Nicole inherited their practical ways. Danielle called it cheap.

"You should be proud, you have taken your father's firm and turned it into a major Atlanta player in real estate. But I imagine that professional success had a personal cost." Clair had no idea. "You can speak freely with me. My business grew due to confidentiality and referrals."

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