Winner Takes All
by Sandra Kitt
Publication Date: 4/6/2021
“Great story-telling of the most romantic kind.”—Brenda Jackson, New York Times bestselling author
“A warm-hearted story and a clever plot reflecting current issues with sensitivity, warmth, and wisdom.”—Susan Wiggs, #1 New York Times bestselling author
Jean Travis has the job of announcing the latest lottery winner on TV and is stunned to find that Patrick Bennett, her teenage crush, is the top mega winner. They haven’t seen each other in years, and Patrick is thrilled to renew their acquaintance. Jean, not so much. After all, a lot has changed since they used to study together and Jean worked so hard to hide her feelings. Now that he’s won so much money, Patrick faces a whole new world of demands from family, friends, coworkers, strangers. The only person he knows for sure he can trust, is Jean…
“Romantic, tender, emotional, and compelling.”—RaeAnne Thayne, New York Times bestselling author
Sandra Kitt is the author of more than twenty novels, including the acclaimed and bestselling The Color of Love. Her work has been nominated for the NAACP Image Award and has appeared on the Essence and Blackboard bestseller lists. She is the recipient of the Romantic Times Lifetime Achievement Award and the Zora Neale Hurston Literary Award. She lives in New York.
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“Hello! I’m Jean Travis, assistant director of Public Affairs at the mayor’s office. I’d like to…to…” She fumbled and hesitated when she was distracted by another person making what could only be described as a perfectly timed grand entrance into the room.
Jean could detect a tall figure, a man, but couldn’t see much else. He managed to create a stir and a brief buzz of whispering, taking his seat. Jean tried to cover her lapse.
“So much excitement,” she said with a bright smile. “Thank you for being here tonight as we recognize the latest winners in our state lottery. And, of course, everyone wants to know—and see—who will walk away with the Mega Million prize that has grown over the past two drawings when there was no winning ticket.”
Jean then had a chance to catch her breath while she read an official statement from the State Lottery Commission about the rules governing the program. Her attention was briefly caught again by the latecomer, who, incredibly, appeared to be giving her a covert hand wave. She ignored it and continued.
“So let’s get to it! Like all of you, I’m excited to meet the lucky ones who will walk away with checks from the State Lottery, with numbers ending in a lot of zeros.”
A cheer went up through the room. One camera turned to capture the seated group demonstrating their enthusiasm.
Jean smiled, and then she suddenly gasped.
She had not yet even looked at the winning names on the list Brad had given her. As smoothly as possible, she pulled the list from the other announcements. She briefly glanced at the names. The last name grabbed her attention. She recognized it. But from where?
“And now, our winners!”
Jean called the first name, including where he was from and the amount of the winnings. Shouts and applause erupted from the audience as an elderly man and woman came forward, broad smiles and clasped hand-pumps denoting their victory. Jean kissed the cheeks of the woman and man to interject a little human connection. A giant cardboard sign was passed to her, a replica of a check with the amount the couple had won. Jean asked them a few questions about how they planned to use their winnings. The gushing, excited reactions from the couple evoked laughter and shout-outs around the room. Then they retook their seats to another round of applause.
And so it went, down the list of names for the next forty-five minutes. By the time she called the fourth winner, Jean had her comments to a science, and everything went smoothly. But there was a heightened energy and anticipation, as everyone clearly wanted to know who had won the Mega Millions. Who was going to be set for life? She looked at the name again, and recognition finally sunk in. Jean knew this name. An unexpected catch lodged in her chest. She had to quickly swallow to get her next breath.
“Will Trick… Will, er… Patrick Bennett, please come to the front to accept your check.”
She joined in the clapping for the winner, as she’d done for all the others. But this time she was more interested in who came forward. Out of the bright lights, a tall figure emerged. He was casually but smartly dressed in dark charcoal cargo pants, a black Henley, and a collarless, short black leather jacket. Great presence, Jean thought, keeping her attention on his approach, her smile fixed as her gaze widened with recognition. Jean reached out with her hand to touch his arm so that he’d face the camera in the right position. But he stunned her by taking hold of her hand and giving it a subtle squeeze…and not letting go. And he knew exactly how to position himself in front of a studio camera.
Jean made a discreet attempt to pull free, but Patrick Bennett wasn’t having it. She gave in and tried to relax. Catching her off guard even more, he brought their clasped hands to his mouth and planted a light kiss to the back of hers. The audience loved it, cheering and whistling. Jean played it through and gave a faux blushing gaze into the cameras.
“Many congratulations to…to Patrick Bennett,” she said with the right amount of enthusiasm and professionalism. “Mr. Bennett is the grand winner today of—are you ready?—seventy-five million dollars!”
There were whoops and gasps, and one audacious request from a female in the back of the room.
“I love you! Will you marry me? We’re already here at city hall!” The room erupted into wild laughter.
“Do it, do it, do it…” went up the boisterous chorus.
Patrick Bennett, still holding Jean’s hand, raised both in a kind of victory wave. He grinned broadly but didn’trespond to the proposal. His free hand swept through his hair in a gesture that had Jean momentarily transfixed. Then she was able to extract her hand when she was handed the last cardboard check. Cameras flashed, dozens of cell phones were poised in the air, the glow of their blue-lit screens scattered throughout the audience.
Jean started the applause again, gazing openly at Patrick Bennett. It was an unavoidable sign of recognition between them. And then Patrick winked at her and murmured so that only she could hear, “Surprised?”
The quiet drawl of his voice made her stomach tense. That word, his tone, seemed much too intimate for the setting. She couldn’t think of a thing to say. She just kept clapping and smiling.
Jean was so glad when it was finally over. She made a few concluding remarks, thanking everyone for coming and congratulating the winners again. As people got up and began moving around, many, if not most, headed to surround Patrick. She was curious about the familiarity with which people approached and spoke to him, as if they knew him. She covertly watched Trick. Patrick. Jean had known him by the former moniker from the past. Trick. Jean gathered her things, absently chatting with some of the camera crew and making arrangements with the maintenance and security staff to have the room put back to rights.
She could just hear Patrick’s deep voice off to the side, the easy way he chatted with everyone, even posing for selfies, which completely mystified Jean. He didn’t know any of these people. What came across was a confidence and vibrancy to him, so unlike the other winners…just regular everyday folk who’d had a stroke of extraordinary luck. Perhaps this was one of the biggest, if not the biggest, moment of their lives. Patrick answered questions and accepted the good wishes of those around him with humility and a surprising grace, Jean considered. She kept stealing little glances at him, once catching Patrick doing the same to her. Her curiosity betrayed her once more.
Reporters continued to ask How do you feel winning so much money? questions, looking for cute, amusing, moving quotes for their profile pieces. She thought there might be an opportunity to use some footage for promo or marketing later on from her office.
The room finally began to empty out. She took a deep breath and approached the last few people, including Patrick. There was no way to leave without acknowledging him. Without remembering. Was he doing the same?
Excerpted from Winner Takes All by Sandra Kitt. © 2021 by Sandra Kitt. Used with permission of the publisher, Sourcebooks Casablanca, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc. All rights reserved.