Hands in oven mitts, Kaja gingerly pulled the tray of homemade biscuits from the stove and used her hip to close the oven door. She had a bowl of honey-butter whipped to warm, creamy perfection for glaze, and she laid the pan of steamy, fluffy buttermilk biscuits on the counter top. Kaja Crenshaw was a natural in the kitchen, whether she was hooking up a meal at home or at her restaurant, Cooking by Kaj, and she knew the delectable dinner she had prepared for home tonight would be mouth-watering good. After glazing the biscuits, she tugged her apron strings loose from her thick waist and wiped her hands on the cloth before tossing it to the side counter. She breezed out of her kitchen with the pan and placed it on her dining room table with the cheesy macaroni and baked chicken she had prepared. There was also wild rice casserole cooked with mushrooms and broccoli, sweet peas on the side and a tantalizing golden-crust blueberry pie.
Kaja hummed to herself and danced out of the dining room to her bedroom so she could change out of her lazy pants and into something more presentable. She had to dig in the closet for something that would fit, and she made a mental note to go shopping now that business was picking up. She had company on the way to share that delicious meal she had slaved over. Her sister, Ebony, and her brother-in-law were stopping by with their kids. The family was a regular fixture at her place because Auntie Kaj knew how to make homemade ice cream the girls, Kelly and Mishayla, liked, and she had a batch chilling in the freezer. She loved having the rowdy bunch around, almost as much as she loved cooking. Everything came second best to cooking.
Ebony was Kaja’s big sis, but also her best friend. Kaj couldn’t wait to tell her the quarterly numbers for Cooking by Kaj. Her restaurant had gotten off to a rocky start three years ago, and Kaja had struggled to keep her dream afloat in a busted economy. Their small town had few other eateries that could compete, but it was still a small town. It took forever to coax the reluctant townspeople to become regulars. Kaja offered country home cooking at value prices that couldn’t be beat. Not to mention, the taste of her food was better than everybody’s grandmama’s; everybody said so. Now, she couldn’t beat away customers with a stick. She was out of the red, in the black and slated for another successful year. That was cause for celebration.
The doorbell rang, and Kaja struggled to button her jeans. Smoothing down her t-shirt, she examined her svelte frame in the mirror. Her lips curved into a smile, and Kaja winked at herself confidently. She was a full figured-woman with a whole lot of butt and hips, and she was fine as wine, as her daddy’s old drinking buddies used to call it. She loved her size and her shape. She had a flat tummy and armloads of DD breasts, and Kaja knew her thick thighs and shapely legs were enough to make any man drool. Kaja slipped on her heels and strutted to the front door. It would be nice if she were entertaining a love interest, she thought absently.
“Hey, TeeTee!” Mishayla squealed, darting inside. The seven-year-old clung to Kaja’s legs.
“Don’t make me fall!” Kaj laughed and picked up the lightweight girl with hanging pigtails tipped with colorful barrettes. Ebony dressed the girls in matching outfits. Tonight the light skinned beauties wore skinny jeans and red sweaters with black suede boots. They were adorable, and Kaja sometimes envied her sister. “Ebony, girl, they’re getting so big! Hey, TeeTee’s Baby! Come gimme a hug, KayKay,” Kaja cooed. She greeted the three-year-old Kelly in her sister’s arms and gave her a resounding kiss on her chubby toddler cheek.
“It is freezing out there! Ooh, you got it smelling good up in here, sis!” said Ebony. She walked into the living room and started working off Kelly’s coat. Her husband of eight years, David, stepped in behind her. He was a tall, good-looking chocolate brown man with shoulder length dreadlocks and a constant, playful grin. He was well-built and looked fatherly with the beard he’d grown in of late. David suited her slender, petite sister. Ebony’s afro looked bigger than ever, and her over-sized earrings dangled attractively from her earlobes. In her slimming jeans and sweater, she looked like a catalog model. She turned to Kaja with a wide smile on her cute face and pulled her favorite sibling in for a tight hug.
David took one whiff of the feast and said, “Sister-in-law, I gained ten pounds after eating your Christmas dinner, now you got me back in here New Year’s Eve.”
“Hush, boy, don’t talk about weight gain around my food. That’s sacrilege,” Kaja joked. Mishayla in her arms regaled her with a story about all the things she had gotten for Christmas, and Kaja set her down to hear the animated tale. She couldn’t get enough of her sister’s kids. Then, Kaja led the family to her dining room with joyous voices vying for her attention.
“And, TeeTee, I got a baby doll on a motorcycle that I kinda like but I kinda don’t like cause it’s not a monster doll like I wanted, but it’s alright,” said Mishayla.
“Oh, really?” Kaja commented.
“I told them at work I wasn’t working another holiday. I did the last two in a row,” Ebony complained. “We’re supposed to alternate, but you know somebody always takes off at the last minute.” Ebony settled Kelly in the high chair Kaja kept in the pantry for when the kids visited. The sleepy toddler looked like she was a blink away from falling asleep. Kaja grinned at her and tickled her, trying to bring out her dimpled smile.
David chimed in, “You need to stop working at that hospital, honey. I wish you’d try working from home.”
“He’s right, Ebony. I saw an advertisement online the other day about medical transcriptionist jobs from home,” Kaja suggested.
“David knows I’d go crazy if I had to juggle work, mommy-hood and being a wife all from the same domain. I’m fine at the hospital, just venting. Enough about me, though. What about you? How’s the restaurant?” Ebony asked.
“Business is booming! I’ve been dying to talk to you about it. We closed out in the black for the second quarter in a row!” Kaja beamed as her sister and family settled into their chairs. Everybody was anxious to dig in. They grabbed hands and said a quick prayer.
Then, Ebony replied, “I knew you could do it, baby girl. You keep this up, and there’ll be Cookin by Kaj restaurants all across the country.” Kaja waved the prediction away with a pleased smile. David was already fixing his plate, and Kaj took Kelly’s plate to serve her. Ebony helped Mishayla heap piles of macaroni on her plate, since that was the only thing she would try. “Now,” said Ebony, “it’s time for us to focus on your love life.”
Kaja looked up from Kelly’s plate in surprise. “What are you talking about, girl?” She handed a grateful Kelly a plate full of everything for the toddler to pick over.
“You know what I’m talking about. You’ve thrown yourself into your work long enough. Things are settled, stable. I think it’s time you got a bae.”
“I wouldn’t mind double dating. It’ll be a great excuse for Ebony and I to get out of the house more,” David added.
“Wait, who’s gonna babysit, then?” Ebony had second thoughts. Kaja giggled. Chuckling, David suggested they enlist the women’s younger brother, Ramses, to handle childcare. Both women shot him a look that said when hell freezes over. “We’ll cross that bridge when we get there. The point is, you need a boyfriend.”
“Ebony Lorraine Crenshaw-Houston, you know dang well I don’t have time for—” Kaja started to say.
Ebony interrupted, “—That you deserve to stop working so hard and have a man that works hard for you. No buts about it, Kaja. When we get finished eating, you and I are going to have a sit down chat about what we can do to keep you from seeing another single year.”
Kaja rolled her eyes dismissively, but as soon as dinner was through, Ebony made good on her plan. She sat the girls down in Kaja’s living room to watch a movie, with David, stuffed like a tick, sprawled out on the couch next to them. Dragging a reluctant Kaja to the bedroom, Ebony plopped comfortably down on her king-sized bed. “See? A good mattress going to waste.”
“I’m big enough to sleep by myself, Ebony.”
“You just fire up that computer and stop sassing me.”
“Girl, I am twenty-seven, not seventeen. You can’t boss me around anymore. Besides, I talk to people on the internet all the time. You’ve seen my social network page.” Kaja resisted, but she turned on her desktop computer and parked her butt in the chair at her desk. The screen illuminated. She navigated to a search page and waited for her big sister to tell her what to do next.
Ebony replied, “Of course, I’ve seen your page, and there’s always a sexy brother or two commenting on your pictures. That’s what gave me the idea. The website, pof.com. Have you heard of it?”
“No, Ebony,” Kaja vehemently declined. She knew plenty about the dating website. She had sworn to herself that no matter how desperate her lonely Friday nights became, she wouldn’t resort to hunting out men on those sad dating sites. “I am not about to go that route. Why can’t you be like women on the movies and just hook me up with a sexy coworker or something? A doctor or a cute male nurse.”
“Kaj, I sit in a cubicle eight hours a day. The only coworkers I see are middle aged white women clacking away at the keys next to me. Now, unless you want one of them, you might want to try to get with the times. Everybody’s doing it! Matter of fact, the old granny at my job found a man online a few months ago.”
“Ugh! I’m willing to try, Ebony. Help me out and don’t let me look desperate on here,” Kaja whined. She keyed in the address to the website and perused the profiles. “He’s kind of nice looking.”
“See what I’m telling you?” Ebony pointed at a picture of a shirtless brother who looked like he could be an underwear model; he was so ripped and muscular that Kaja felt a tingle in her sleeping kitty cat just looking at the screen. “Just watch out for profiles like this. Gotta be a catfish. Ain’t no man that fine hooking up with women on a dating website.”
Annoyed, Kaja fired back, “See what I’m telling you?” Ebony laughed and scooted down the bed to be closer to Kaja at the desk. They explored the website further until Kaja was comfortable with starting her profile. She was glad to see not all the men were obvious catfish or guys looking for a quick lay. Some of the profiles seemed well thought out and informative, describing average, everyday men who were like Kaja. They were busy with life and looking for love utilizing a fast, easy website to cut to the chase.
Ebony helped Kaja take a profile picture and brainstormed with her about the best way to describe herself. “Okay, try this: ‘Sexy chef looking to cook up a recipe for love.’ Or, ‘Spicy hot tamale ready to go from the frying pan to the fire!'”
Kaja swatted at her corny sister and shook her head. “I want to be authentic, not gimmicky. What about: ‘Twenty-seven year-old restauranteur in search of a hot date’?”
Ebony shrugged. “It’s your profile.”
“That’s what I’m going with. Now, they want to know my location, educational background, yearly income—do they need all this? I’m just gonna put the basics. How would you describe my physique, Ebony? They’re asking.”
“Thick as gravy,” Ebony readily supplied.
“I kinda like that,” Kaja said with a smile. She typed the information into the proper fields and finally hit the submit button. When the page refreshed, a pretty close-up of her face was smiling back at her, and her profile was filled with complimentary facts about herself. Despite her shyness about interacting on a dating website, Kaja was happy with the result. “What do I do now?”
Ebony patted her on the back and grinned at her. “You sit back and wait for the dates to pile in so heavy you need a bulldozer to sort through them.”
Chapter 1 – Gather Your Ingredients
Kaja wrapped up another eight hours at Cooking by Kaj and got home late in the evening. The first thing she needed was a hot bath. She passed through her tidy living room, dropping clothes in her wake. The leather loveseat and sofa stared accusingly. The African American artwork on her walls frowned, but she wasn’t hearing it. She was normally a neat-freak, but she couldn’t wait to get naked and get comfortable. She entered the dining room with the six straight-back chairs and the immaculate white table cloth and went through the kitchen where scarlet appliances gleamed spotlessly, to the narrow hallway that led to her welcoming bedroom. She pulled out a pair of ratty gray lounge pants and a black tank to take with her to bathe, but when she got to her room, she noticed the computer was still powered on from days prior, creating that profile with Ebony. Kaja shook her head at the waste of energy and sat at the desk to turn off her computer. When she pressed the keys and the screen lit up, it was still on her dating profile page, and she had a ton of inbox messages.
Kaja was surprised to see so many interested men. Ebony had told her she should look forward to a lot of prospects, but Kaja hadn’t thought she was serious. Forgetting the lounge pants slung across her shoulder and the bath waiting to be enjoyed, Kaja opened her inbox and took a scroll through the messages. There were a lot of guys who seemed intent on meeting for a hookup, as in a one-night stand. Kaja didn’t bother replying to those. She read a few from some handsome brothers out of state, but she wasn’t looking for anything long distance. She had at least one from someone she suspected was a catfish. His picture boasted chiseled abs and startling gray eyes in a mocha brown face with a five o’clock shadow. He was too good to be true. Kaja made her way through the list, deleting those she wasn’t interested in getting to know. She came to a message from a guy whose name was Eric. What caught her eye was the fact that he was a white guy in this sea of chocolate men in her inbox. The message was short and sweet, indicating, “Your profile appeared in my list of possible good matches, and I was captivated by your smile.”
She humphed to herself. “Let me see who this is,” Kaja muttered, enlarging his picture. His profile pic wasn’t clear enough to see him. It was a distant shot of a man sitting on top of a tractor. A lush green field of waist high grass was in the background, and the sky was a hyper-saturated blue. He wore a cowboy hat that obscured his face. All she could tell from the picture was that he had a decent body in the flannel shirt with cut-off sleeves and dusty pair of jeans he was wearing. Kaja chuckled to herself at this lone ranger trying to connect with her. Impulsively, she went to his page. His name was listed as Eric J. His tagline read simply, “Nothing Too Serious, Nothing Too Casual.” His location was local, she was surprised to see. He lived right in her town. By profession, he listed small engine repairman and said he owned a lawn mower repair and sales shop. Kaja dug deeper, finding his photo album. The link listed only four pictures posted, but she hoped at least one of them was a picture of his face. Now, she was genuinely curious. She had to wonder what algorithm the dating site used to pair her with this honky tonk lover-boy.
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