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Authors: Yahrah St. John

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BOOK: This Time for Real
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Malik rose to his feet, grabbed his folder and rushed out the room before Theresa could say another word.

Once he found out her schedule, Malik continued avoiding Peyton for the rest of the week. He was walking back to his office on Friday afternoon after checking in with the center's business manager, Greg Burns, on the particulars for the homeless dinner that evening when he ran smack dab into the object of his desire in the hallway.

“Peyton,” Malik gasped as she grabbed ahold of him to steady herself.

When she glanced up, he captured her eyes with his and Peyton's heart jolted and her pulse pounded. “Malik.” She nodded when he released her. Peyton had wondered when she would run into the elusive director. “How are you?” She felt foolish for running off last week like a scared school girl.

“Good. And you?”

“Fine.” Peyton watched Malik with a keenly observant eye, but she could read nothing from his expression. “I saw the article in
Manhattan Weekly,
congratulations.”

“Thanks.” Malik smiled. “I'm hoping it will help draw some sponsors.”

“I'm sure it will,” Peyton said, smiling.

“Okay, well I guess I'll see you later.” Malik tried to make a fast getaway, but Peyton placed her hand on his forearm.

She felt the impulse to explain that she'd suffered a terrible tragedy and had been scared of forging ahead. Maybe, just maybe, she could try with him. “Malik, can we talk?” Peyton asked. She didn't realize she was still holding his arm until he glanced down. So she let go.

“Um, now isn't a good time, Peyton.”

“You can't spare five minutes for a friend?”

“Is that what we are?” Malik looked deep into her eyes. The feelings she evoked in him and the kiss they'd shared had been far from friendly.

Peyton was about to respond when Theresa came bounding down the hall. “There you are!” Theresa exclaimed, out of breath.

“Were you looking for me?” Malik asked.

Theresa glanced at the couple. She could cut the tension between them with a knife. “No, for Peyton,” she responded. “We're shorthanded for servers tonight for our dinner for the homeless and I was hoping she'd be willing to help out. That's if you don't have any plans for the evening?” Theresa looked hopefully up at Peyton, who was several inches taller than she.

“Sure.” Peyton smiled. “I don't have any plans.” She glanced in Malik's direction, but his face was stone.
Was he happy or upset that she would be staying?

“Great, you're a lifesaver,” Theresa said. “Carry on.” She waved and nearly skipped away. She had stepped in just in the nick of time.

“Well, I have to go,” Malik replied, walking backward. “Tons to do to make sure tonight goes off without a hitch.”

Peyton sighed as she watched him walk away. She wanted to explain to Malik why she'd run, but he wasn't giving her the chance. She was going to have to create an opportunity.

 

As Peyton served spaghetti and meatballs to the homeless, her mind wandered to Kendra as she looked at her volunteer students. She had hoped that Kendra would have the fortitude to volunteer despite her boyfriend's lack of support, but she'd been wrong. Kendra was a no-show.

She was heading back to the kitchen to refill the empty foil pan with more spaghetti, when she caught Malik staring, but then he immediately looked away. Peyton wondered if she'd imagined the whole thing. As she filled the pan, Peyton vowed to tell Malik about her past, whether he liked it or not.

 

Malik sighed. Peyton had caught him staring. He couldn't resist watching her. She'd piled her shoulder-length hair on top of her head and out of her face, and didn't seem to mind that she was wearing her fashionable clothes underneath a stained apron. She'd pitched in on a moment's notice and hadn't hesitated to make marinara sauce or cut up onions.

Malik supposed that's what he liked about her, her willingness to give. He'd wanted to reach out to her tonight, but he didn't want to get rejected again.

On the other side of the room, Theresa caught Peyton glancing in Malik's direction as she placed garlic bread on several patrons' plates. “You know, all you have to do is talk to him.” She bumped Peyton with her hip. “He doesn't bite.”

Peyton laughed. “Are you sure about that?”

“Positive. Go ahead.” Theresa pushed Peyton away. “I've got this covered.”

“Thanks,” Peyton replied. She caught Malik as he came back inside after throwing out the garbage. “Hey.”

“Hey yourself. Great job on the spaghetti sauce.” He'd seen several men wiping their plates with their garlic bread. “You're a hit with the locals.”

“Thanks, but I didn't do too much, except doctor up the bottled stuff,” Peyton admitted. “Listen, can you help in the pantry for a minute? There's a can I can't reach.”

“Sure.” Malik followed behind her and flicked on the light in the closet. “Which one?”

She pointed quickly to an unknown can. “The one on the top.” Just as she fibbed, they both heard the door shut behind them. “What was that?” Peyton asked.

Malik walked over and turned the handle. They were locked in.

On the opposite side, Theresa smiled at her handiwork. Malik and Peyton needed some help in the communication department. Some time alone in a confined space might do the trick.

“Did you do this on purpose?” Malik asked, whirling around.

“Why in Heaven's name would I do that?” Peyton argued.

Malik reached up and pulled down a can of salmon. “Did you really need a can of pink salmon?”

Peyton couldn't resist bursting into laughter. “No, I suppose not, but you've been avoiding me all night. Make that all week. I had to resort to devious measures.”

“After you ran off the other night, I thought that's what you wanted,” Malik replied, eyeing her suspiciously.

“No, it's not.” Peyton came forward and took Malik's large hand in her small one. “You were right. I was scared of what's happening between us.”

“Why? I thought we'd connected.”

“We did.” Peyton lowered her head. “But there's a lot you don't know about me, Malik.”

“Such as?”

“I was married.”

Malik used his index finger and tilted her chin upward to look at him. “I hope by the word ‘was' you mean past tense?”

“Yes, I do. You see,” Peyton paused for several moments before she spoke softly, “my husband David died in a car crash five years ago. And I've only casually dated since.”

“I see.” Malik turned away. Now it all made sense. At least now Malik knew what he was up and against and could bow out gracefully. He wouldn't compete with a ghost.

“No, you don't.” Peyton grabbed him by the arm. When he turned around, Peyton didn't like the look she saw in his eyes.

“I don't want or need your pity, Malik Williams. The reason I ran when you kissed me the other night is not because of David. It was because I'd never wanted another man as much as I wanted you that night.”

Malik was stunned by her bold declaration. She and David had been so young they'd never really known anyone else but each other. But with Malik, she felt the passion of a woman fully aware of a man.

“You mean that?” he asked.

“Yes, I do.”

Before Peyton could think, Malik crossed the short distance between them and pulled her into his arms. He captured her lips in an onslaught that sent fiery flames shooting through her. Malik was a seasoned kisser and did deliciously erotic things to her mouth, so that Peyton felt compelled to wrap her arms around his neck to keep from falling.

When his tongue entered her mouth, desire rushed
through Malik, and he brought Peyton's body closer to his. She tasted so good and so sweet, Malik wanted to ravish her in the pantry, but the door swung open moments later to reveal Theresa beaming from the doorway. “See, I knew all the two of you needed was a little one-on-one time, if you know what I mean.”

“You're such a matchmaker,” Malik said as he came up for air, but he didn't move his arm from around Peyton's waist.

“And it's a good thing that I am,” Theresa said, and nodded at Peyton's top button, which had sprung loose.

Malik immediately released her and Peyton buttoned her top. “If you two lovebirds are finished, we need your help cleaning up.”

“Aye, aye, sir.” Malik saluted her and turned to Peyton. “Sorry about that.”

“Don't be sorry.” Peyton leaned over and brushed her lips across his. “I wanted you to kiss me.”

“Really?” Malik whispered. “Because there's more where that came from.”

“Down boy.” Peyton patted his shoulder.

“We'll have to pick this up another time,” Malik commented.

They returned to the dining hall and found most of the crowd had dispersed and the volunteer crew was cleaning up. They pitched in and wiped down tables and washed dishes. Afterwards, they sat down and took a breather.

“Whew!” Malik said. “I'm beat.” After working all day and volunteering this evening, he was exhausted.

“Me too.” Peyton plopped down beside him.

“How about we go on an official date tomorrow night?” Malik asked.

“I'd like that,” Peyton said, smiling. She wanted to move forward with her life. “What do you have planned?”

“Leave that up to me,” Malik said. “I'll take care of all the details. Just be ready for me.”

Was there a sexual overtone to his directive? Peyton wondered. “Oh I'll be ready,” she replied.

Chapter 5

T
he next evening Peyton was more than ready. Surprisingly, she wasn't nervous at the prospect of spending time with Malik that night. She welcomed it. When the doorbell rang, Peyton buzzed Malik up to her apartment.

“Hey.” Peyton swung open the door. “Come on in.” Peyton pulled him inside. He was looking ruggedly handsome, dressed in a royal-blue dress shirt, black slacks and a black leather bomber jacket.

“You look great,” Malik said. His eyes roved over her and feasted on the burgundy silk wrap dress that emphasized her slender waist, accompanied by strappy sandals. When his eyes finally gazed into Peyton's, he nearly lost it. The minimal makeup and the luxuriously big curls made her look sexy as hell. “Let's go. Otherwise I won't be responsible for my actions,” Malik rasped huskily.

Peyton grinned. She understood because she'd felt it too, an underlying current of sexual tension.

“I hope you're in the mood for a fusion between Southern and Latin food, along with some good jazz,” Malik asked.

“Why's that?” Peyton asked once they were out of the door.

“Because the place I'm taking you to has a Southern-Caribbean-African influence.”

“New York is all new to me. So I'm sure I'll love wherever you take me,” Peyton responded honestly.

Malik led her out to his BMW, which was usually housed in his garage. He lived so close to the community center in Harlem, he took the train or he could walk. But since Peyton lived in Brooklyn, a car was a necessity.

When they arrived at the Riverbank State Park, Malik pulled up right outside the restaurant and a valet parked his car. The River Room had an expansive pyramid-shaped ceiling, rectangular and circular wall motifs in alternating green, gold, fuchsia and indigo colors. Peyton enjoyed the supper club feel and the view of the George Washington Bridge.

“This place is great,” Peyton said enthusiastically. “Thanks for bringing me.”

“It was my pleasure.” Malik said. He took charge and ordered a bottle of sauvignon blanc with his Caribbean crab cakes, while Peyton ordered the spiced duck with collard greens and sweet potato puree.

After their delicious meal, they enjoyed the soulful sounds of a solo singer-keyboardist. During the set, Malik scooted his chair back and rose to his feet. “Let's dance.” Several couples had already taken to the floor.

“All right.” Peyton slid her hand into his.

Once they were on the dance floor, Malik slid his arms around her waist and Peyton circled her arms around his neck and together they swayed to the music. Malik used
the opportunity to nuzzle her earlobe. He couldn't decipher what scent Peyton was wearing. All he knew was that she smelled fragrant and deliciously sweet.

When Malik's rock-hard chest came into contact with her, an electrifying shudder reverberated right through Peyton. He must have felt it too, because when she glanced up he rewarded her with a smile, and a sensuous light passed between them. They danced to several songs, before the band changed to some up-tempo music.

After they'd listened to a couple of jazz sets, Malik suggested a walk along the pier.

“That sounds great.” Peyton accepted Malik's hand.

They walked in silence for what seemed like ages, listening to the sounds of nature, when Malik broached a subject that had been on his mind.

“How long were you married?” Malik asked out of the blue.

Peyton was shocked, even though she shouldn't be. It was a logical question. He had to be curious about her past. “A little over seven years.”

“Long time,” Malik commented at her side.

“Does that bother you?” Peyton asked. “That I've been married before?”

“No, not really.” Malik shook his head. “It's just hard for me to imagine that kind of love and devotion.”

“Haven't you ever been in love?” Peyton asked, stopping their walk. She knew that love was a beautiful thing with the right person.

“No,” Malik replied, turning to Peyton. “There were moments I thought I was—was
sure
I was—but looking back, I know I wasn't. Sometimes I wonder if I'm capable of loving another person.”

Peyton wondered what would make Malik say that.
“I think you are. You're such an amazingly kind and giving person, you have the capacity to love, Malik. You've already shown you can. You just have to allow yourself to.”

“You really think so?” Malik asked.

Peyton nodded.

A nervous knot formed in Peyton's stomach when Malik's brown eyes focused on hers in the moonlight. And when he finally grabbed both sides of her face and swooped down and captured her lips, Peyton thought she'd died and gone to heaven. Winding her arms around his back, Peyton drank in the sweetness of his kiss and sunk into his embrace.

Malik buried his hands in her thick hair and crushed her to him. His lips weren't hard, they were surprisingly gentle. Raising his mouth from hers, Malik gazed into her eyes before his lips descended over hers with an urgency and mastery Peyton had never felt.

“I want you so much, Peyton,” Malik whispered against her lips.

“I want you too,” Peyton responded, “but I'm not sure I'm ready.”

“Nothing has to happen tonight, Peyton.” When she looked down he tilted her chin upward so she could look at him. “There's no pressure here. We will make love when you're ready.” He sealed his comment with another mind-blowing kiss that left Peyton weak at the knees and wondering why she was holding back.

Slowly, they made their way to the valet to pick up Malik's car. On the drive to her apartment, Peyton was a nervous wreck. There was no mistaking the undisguised desire that flared in Malik's eyes. And although she wanted him as much as he wanted her, Peyton was nervous about a night with Malik.

If the way he kissed and caressed her was any indication, he had a lot of experience pleasing a woman. She'd only been with David. Their sex life had been mutually pleasurable, but David never set her afire the way Malik did. Just one touch or one look from him would send her mind reeling and her pulse spinning. She could only imagine what it would feel like when they made love for the first time.

When the car stopped, Peyton swallowed hard.
Here goes.

“Is everything okay?” Malik asked when Peyton didn't make a move to exit the vehicle. He could sense her nervousness on the drive home. Perhaps she was regretting her decision. He intended to take things slow and easy. He was aware that Peyton hadn't been with another man since her husband's death. He wanted to reassure her that there was nothing she could ever do that would make him not want her.

“Yes, I'm fine.” Peyton squeezed her hands together tightly.

“Trust me,” Malik said, before stepping out of the car and coming to open her door.

Once he said those two words, Peyton knew that she did and that she had nothing to fear. Malik was a kind and giving man and he would be the same kind of lover. She took his proffered hand and together they climbed the stairs to her apartment.

Once inside, Peyton turned on the hall light. They stared at each other for a long time before Malik lifted her off her feet and carried her to the bedroom. All they had was the moonlight streaming in from the window, and that was all they needed.

Malik lowered her to the floor, and as he did, her breasts crushed against him and he felt the hardened
peaks of her nipples graze his chest. Malik couldn't resist driving his hands through her glossy black hair, and when he did, Peyton sighed as if he was already inside her. “I want you so much, Peyton,” Malik whispered huskily. “Do you want me?” He needed to hear the words.

“I do,” Peyton replied, nodding. “I want you to make love to me.” Desire was throbbing deep inside her and she wanted to belong to Malik in every way. She wrapped her arms around his neck and brought his head towards hers. His lips covered hers hungrily as he both gave and sought pleasure. She returned his deep kiss and welcomed the sweeping thrusts of his tongue inside her mouth. She ran her fingers through his dreads, and held his head in place as a silent plea for him to continue.

Malik groaned and pulled her closer until their bodies were aligned and she could feel him, hard and throbbing against her. Liquid heat pooled inside her belly and Peyton whimpered. “Malik, please.” Malik honored her request and released the tie on her wrap dress. She felt the warmth of his hands on her back and the coolness of the air as her dress slid down her body. Despite herself, Peyton trembled.

As she stood in front of him, wearing only a lacy bra and matching thong, Malik groaned and his eyes raked her from head to toe. Peyton was so beautiful, and he was eager to see all of her.

As he admired her, Peyton nervously reached behind her and unhooked her bra and let it drop to the floor. She watched as his gaze focused on her bare breasts, but she didn't let nervousness stop her. She slid her panties down her legs, stepped out of them and kicked them to the side until she was standing completely naked in front of him. Peyton had never done that before, she'd always let David take the lead. But it was different with Malik. It felt right.

“You're absolutely gorgeous.” Malik let out a ragged breath at the sight of Peyton and reached out to cup her small but firm breasts. As he brushed the nipples with his forefingers, they grew hot and heavy in his hands.

Malik couldn't resist dipping down for a taste. He took the tight bud in his mouth and her unique scent filled his senses. He flicked and teased it with his tongue until her pelvis began to undulate against him. He grabbed ahold of her buttocks and held her firmly against his painful erection and suckled her relentlessly. When she moaned for more, all thought and reason left Malik and he swiftly threw off his jacket and unbuttoned his shirt.

Peyton heard the snap of his pants seconds before they, along with his shirt and underwear, hit the floor in quick succession. She ran her fingertips down his chiseled chest and firm abs. “You're simply magnificent,” she said and bent down to flick her tongue across his nipple. When Malik groaned, Peyton smiled and moved over to tease the other nipple with equal ardor.

Malik grabbed for her and they tumbled onto the bed in a mass of limbs. When Peyton wrapped her legs around him, Malik knew he had to slow down the pace, otherwise it would be over too fast, and he wanted their first encounter to be special, not quick and hurried.

“Easy, baby,” Malik whispered in her ear.

Peyton blushed. “I'm sorry…I'm not usually…so…” “Wanton” was the word she was looking for, but she couldn't think of it. The tempest of desire swirling inside her was undeniable. She'd seen his swollen, throbbing member and she was ready for him.

He cupped her chin in his hand and tilted her head
to look at him. “It's okay. I'm glad to see you're as eager as I am.”

Malik brought his lips down gently upon hers, tasting her and drinking her in. Her lips were soft, warm and moist as they opened to his searching tongue. She tasted like heaven, and Malik knew he wanted more, much more. He caressed her narrow waist and showered it with kisses.

His hands continued their journey, sliding first to caress the softness of her thighs before moving higher to cup her intimately. He slowly stroked her feminine nub with his thumb, lazily circling it. Then he eased a finger slowly inside. She was hot and wet around him and it turned him on immensely.

“Oh, Malik.” Peyton sighed. Malik loved that she called his name out while in the throes of an orgasm, so he continued slipping his finger in and out while his thumb teased her already sensitive core.

Peyton's body bucked upward from the bed and Malik understood. It was time to taste her sweet nectar. Before Peyton could realize his intent, he'd inserted his tongue where his long, narrow fingers had been and began teasing and stroking her with swift flicks. Peyton moaned uncontrollably and it didn't take long for tremors to engulf her entire body.

And yet he still wanted more. As Malik looked down at Peyton in the moonlight, he was amazed at how beautiful she was and that they were finally together. Tonight had been a culmination of intense longing that began the moment he'd met her, and now he would have his heart's desire.

Malik went for a condom out of his pants pocket, but Peyton beat him to it by pulling one out of her nightstand drawer and handing it to him. Malik smiled.

Malik rolled a condom over the length of him and then eased Peyton onto her back and gently parted her legs. His erection, hot and heavy, glided into her silken heat. Her eyelids fluttered shut and her entire body quivered as Malik entered her.

She was warm and tight, and Malik had to remind himself to take it slow, even though his body wanted a quick release. It had been a long time since Peyton had been intimate, so he needed to pace himself, but that was hard to do because Peyton was already moving beneath him.

When Malik grasped her hands and intertwined them with his above her head, their bodies ground together in perfect unison as though they were one. Peyton realized she had never felt this fulfilled, this complete. Ever. She wrapped her legs around Malik's waist and matched his every thrust by undulating her hips. With every thrusting motion, she moaned and Malik became ignited. He pushed against her one last time, and when the crescendo came they both fell over the edge together.

BOOK: This Time for Real
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