With the push of a button, the smooth sounds of jazz filled the comfortably cozy dining room of Mahogany and Gold, the newest upscale restaurant to hit the Shaw area of Washington, DC. Down the street and around the corner from the newly renovated Howard Theater and within walking distance of all the high-rise condos that had sprung up like great, towering, concrete testaments to the merits of 21st century architecture, the windows of Mahogany and Gold gleamed with a welcoming shine.

After her grandmother willed her a rowhouse on U Street, Sage Young decided that she would use the real estate to flesh her dream of owning a restaurant. How Nana managed to hold on to such a beautiful, character-filled place, she'd never know, but she was happy to be the beneficiary. However, the idea of the restaurant itself was one thing; the business that kept it alive was another.

She thought she'd understood how stressful the hospitality management field was, but as she paced her office floor, she realized just how much she'd underestimated the difficulty of owning her own business. Running a shaking hand over her elegant chignon, she took a couple of deep breaths and prepared to go back into the kitchen to face her irate chef.

Geoffrey Kennard was amazing. Every dish that left his hands was simply to-die-for…and he knew it. The customers raved, but the kitchen staff was positively terrified of him. He even had Sage at her wit's end. She only put up with his histrionics because she couldn't afford to lose him right now.

"Geoffrey, what's the problem?"

"How long ago did you place my order for stringbeans?"

"I processed it as soon as you gave it to me Geoffrey."

"No you didn't."


"Because if you did, I wouldn't be dealing with this!" he held up a perforated bag of dripping stringbeans. Sage inspected them carefully. There didn't seem to be anything wrong with them. Rather than argue with the chef however, she took his word for it.

"What do you want me to do about it? It's forty-five minutes 'till; dinner is about to begin."

"Well I can't have stringbeans prepared until I have stringbeans!"

"So are you saying we need to eighty-six the grilled salmon? That's our most popular dish."

"No! See, you aint listening. I'm saying I need some stringbeans, girl!"

Inwardly she seethed. She wasn't just some girl. True, she was young, only twenty seven years old, but she was hardly a girl. Geoffrey always refused to defer to her as his boss. He seemed to think because he managed the kitchen, he managed the entire business. Mahogany and Gold was hers. True, his food helped push the restaurant on to Washingtonian's 100 Very Best Restaurants list for two years running, but it was ultimately her management skills that had done it. She wasn't a little girl.

"Okay, so what do you want me to do to get you the stringbeans? I can't have them here in time for dinner. We have asparagus in the back. If you can't work with that, I can't help you."

"It won't taste the same. Asparagus doesn't go with the mango."

"So you'll work with these stringbeans today and I'll have new ones for you tomorrow."

"Acceptable. But next time you inspect the food as it comes off the truck."

She bit back a retort. She always inspected the food as it was unloaded. If Geoffrey was dedicated enough to come in on the weekends then he could inspect his own damn food and make sure it was exactly to his liking. He was becoming the demon of her inventory. Obviously he was used to working in large kitchens with large budgets, but Mahogany and Gold was only into its third year. Silently she resolved to start shopping for another kitchen manager.

"Sure, Geoffrey."

He merely waved his chef's knife as he went to work.

Irritably scratching at her neck, she pushed open the swinging doors that led to the dining room and let the jazz wash over her. Every time she walked into this room, she was amazed at the beauty of what she and her mother, one of the Area's most sought-after interior decorators, had put together. From the gleaming mahogany Prego floors to the gold and butter striped walls to the gilt mirrors on the back wall and the grand chandelier hanging majestically from the ceiling, the room radiated taste and elegance.

As the servers and their assistants went from table to table shining silverware and lighting candle votives, she exhaled a sigh. She made her way to the bar and made sure all of the alcohol was stocked, the garnish rack held fresh fruit, and there were a suitable number of martini glasses in the fridge. Rae, the bartender, had taken ill, so Sage had to fill in for her tonight. She had no problem doing this; she only hoped she wouldn't splash anything on her silver silk blouse. Looking damn good only to have it ruined by clumsiness was a shame.

"Hey mama!" her hostess and close friend Diana sang as she came through the door.

"Di, how many times do I have to tell you to come through the service entrance?"

"At least once for every day that I work here, honey!"

"You're lucky we go back."

"And vice-versa, Sage. You're lucky I put up with your bossy ass."

"Hey, I am not bossy!"

Diana only laughed. "Right."

After stashing her bag behind the hostess stand, she made her way over to the bar as quickly as her skintight dress would allow and sat in one of the chairs gingerly. Diana often pushed the limits of the dress code, which Sage admitted, was rather open to interpretation. The hostess was required to dress in black cocktail attire; the servers and busboys in a black button-down shirt and slacks. Today, Diana had decked herself in a strapless satin knee-length dress that appeared to be painted on.

"Are you going to be able to move around the floor in that?" Sage asked with an arched eyebrow.

"Don't worry about me," Diana waved a hand airily, flipping her swooping burnished auburn bangs out of her cat-like face. "Hit me with a Cosmo to start the night off right."

With a stern look from Sage, she held up her hands in surrender. "Kidding, kidding. Let me check my book for tonight…"

Diana hopped nimbly off of her perch and shimmied back over the hostess stand where she retrieved "her book;" the book of reservations. As it was a Saturday night, Mahogany and Gold was sure to be packed with a waiting list of forty-five minutes or more.

"Hmm, no big tops tonight, just a lot of twos and threes."

"There's a private party in the basement; rich high school kids."


"Yeah, I know. At least I won't have to go double on the bartending."

"How is Rae, by the way?"

"Probably faking it, but I know she needed a day off."

"Mm. When do you get your day off?" Diana asked seriously.

"I own this, I don't get a day off," Sage shrugged as she went to the door to flip the sign to "open."

"I'm telling you, I could manage more than just the floor for a day, give you a rest. You barely see Parker as it is."

Sage allowed herself to settle into a bar chair opposite Diana and let her thoughts drift to the man who had stolen her heart: Parker Hamilton. Such a stuffy name for such a creative and enthusiastic person, she mused. They'd met under unusual circumstances: she'd just rear-ended him as he was on his way to work at the law firm where he was now expected to become the youngest partner. After exchanging insurance information, they realized they had instant chemistry after each began finding reasons to delay getting back into their cars and leaving. She was engaged by his easy smile and he was intrigued by her reserved nature. Of course, he used the number she had given him to ask her on a date, and of course, she refused. Sage hadn't been on a date in four years and didn't imagine herself ever dating again. Fortunately, her first denial did not deter him and he continued to call until she relented.

"I know," she sighed. "We're busy, professional people."

"Madly in love."

Sage smiled softly. "That too."

For a while, she'd imagined herself incapable of loving. She'd thrown herself into her MBA program and then into the creation of Mahogany and Gold and hadn't looked up from the "daily grind." Her father had sadly told her, "you've forgotten how to enjoy life." Parker brought that enjoyment back to her life. Sage had reached a place where she truly felt fulfilled…her long-time dream had come true, she had family and close friends from every walk of life to support her, and she had the love of a man who deserved it.

Diana huffed out a breath. "Ooh, girl! You make me jealous. Let me get out of your face and back to the hostess stand."

Sage laughed and hopped out of her seat. Unlike Diana, she opted to wear sparkly silver ballet flats to work; she didn't see the point in killing her feet when she had to run around from place to place all night. "I think I see customers on their way in myself."

She made her way back to the kitchen where the wait staff were talking and getting things in order.

"Alright, we've got a busy night. Hisani and Kate are coming in at six for that private party, so don't worry about that. Everyone else, I don't expect to see you still for a minute. I think we've got a pair of two tops out there already, so I need someone to get on that. Damien, section one; Taylor, section two; Ana, section three; and Jazz, section four. Where is Gilda?"

"She said she was running late, doctor's appointment," Ana answered.

Sage rolled her eyes. "And she didn't tell me because…? Anyway! I'm bartending tonight, so any drink orders you get, give them to me."

As she passed the chef line to go to her back office, Geoffrey shot her a glance, which she ignored. She supposed he was going to try to take up another grievance with her about the quality of the food or the efficiency of the wait staff, but she didn't feel like dealing with that right now. Thinking about Parker made her want to just sit in her office for a while and reflect on how far she'd come in her life. She did wish she had more time to give to him, but he understood. He admired her for how driven she was; and in turn she admired him for how relentless and accomplished he was. Her best friend, Kelsey Hill (well, now Kelsey Hill-Morgan) described them as a "power couple."

She and Kelsey had grown up together in the suburbs of Washington, DC; two spoiled little daddy's girls with the world set at their feet. Kelsey was admittedly a little more spoiled than Sage, but nonetheless, they were partners in crime. She had married a good friend of both of theirs', Chris Morgan, when they were twenty-five. It was funny; Kelsey and Chris had once hated each other. Life held such unexpected twists and turns.

Sage looked at the picture of Chris and Kelsey's adorable little boy, Jason, which sat on her desk. When do I get to have one of those? She'd always thought she'd be married with children at a young age, like her parents had been. Right now, her biological clock was ticking so loudly she swore she was losing sleep over it. Beside Jason was a photo of her and Parker, taken by her younger sister Thyme (who preferred to be called "Tai" because she refused to be associated with anyone's spice cabinet. She'd invited him to her family's Christmas dinner since his entire family was in North Carolina and Tai had been instantly taken with him. The picture captured him seated at the family's piano, playing some song, while Sage sat beside him, looking on with pure adoration in her eyes. Could he be the One?

"Sage?" came a knock at the door.

"It's open," she called.

"One at the bar."

"Good Lord, they're starting early tonight. Someone's had a hard work week…"

Reluctantly, she rose from her seat and went to take her place at the bar, where she knew she wouldn't leave once she stepped behind that counter. After the first customer plopped down on the opposite side, they kept coming.

Allowing a large, genuine smile to grace her face she nodded at the man seated at the bar, "what can I get for you?"

"Hey! You're the owner!"

Sage laughed. "I feel like a celebrity."

"Great place you've got here."

"Thank you."

"I've been raving about it to all my friends since the first time I came here."

"Wow, well keep it up," she laughed again.

"Oh, most definitely; Bloody Mary, if you will."

"Coming right up."

It was moments like this that were the most rewarding, that reminded her why she put herself through so much stress during the week. She loved hearing about how much people loved her place, how prideful they felt in seeing a successful, elegant black business. How prideful they felt in her, seeing a beautiful, intelligent (a little vanity never hurt anyone) sista doing something productive. Sage just loved it.

As she shook the martini shaker, she caught Diana's eye and winked.

Another night at Mahogany and Gold.