Authors: Deborah Fletcher Mello
As Amina searched for words to express what she was feeling, Troy reached for her hand, his own sneaking into her lap to clasp her fingers between his fingers. He pulled her hand to his lips and gently kissed the back of it. As he did a current of heat coursed from the center of her feminine spirit and spiraled throughout every nerve ending in her body. She felt her breath catch in her chest as she took a swift inhalation and held it. Tears suddenly pressed hot behind her eyelids.
“I really want to see you again,” Troy said, his voice a muffled rasp rising from someplace deep in his chest.
She nodded, knowing that there was nothing and no one that would be able to keep her from seeing him again. “Just call me!” she said. “I definitely want to spend time with you.”
He shook his head. “No. I want to know now when you will see me again.”
Amina squeezed his fingers. “Whenever you want,” she answered.
His head was still waving from side to side. “What I really want is for us not to let this night end. What I
is for you to stay with me and not go home. But I know I can't have what I
The Sweetest Thing
All I Want Is You
with Kayla Perrin
Published by Dafina Books
Kensington Publishing Corp.
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
To MeeMi's sweet, sweet, baby,
Micaela Susie Mello.
Grandma loves you very much!
Gratitude first, and foremost, to my Lord and Savior, for without his many blessings, none of this would be possible. I owe everything to a generous and loving God and I am grateful beyond measure.
There are times when telling a story I believe in comes with challenges. This one had many. Foremost was my desire to be true to a culture that many do not know and have no understanding of. It was a learning process for myself as well and a journey I feel privileged to have taken.
I have much love and appreciation for my dear friend, Amina Arnold, for allowing me into her world and for sharing her stories. Thank you for answering my questions and for trusting me to be true to the information you shared so readily.
To the family who continue to support and love me, please know that I value each and every one of you. And much appreciation to those friends who continue to motivate me to do what I do. I've got much love for you all!
Troy Elliott was not expecting the chaos that greeted him when he came through the doors of Just Desserts, the thriving Beale Street bakery that he co-owned with his brother, Quentin, and Quentin's new wife, Harper. But chaos reigned as Quentin and Harper stood staring into a massive hole that had been cut through the wall that bordered the building next door.
Troy moved to stand between them, staring where they stared. “Hey,” he chimed cheerily. “What's going on?”
Quentin shook his head from side to side, tossing a nod toward Harper.
She responded excitedly. “They broke through the walls today! This expansion is going to be so perfect. The contractors promised me they'll be able to frame out this entrance by Wednesday, then we'll be able to take down this dust sheet and be right back to business.”
“They still have some work to do in the new building. We won't be taking down the dust sheet. I can just hear the list of violations the health department would have for us if we did,” Quentin stated. “We're losing money being closed, Harper!”
Harper rolled her eyes. “It's only two days, Quentin. Maybe three.”
Troy laughed. “You know they say a renovation can kill a marriage. You two sure you want to do this so soon after saying your vows?”
Harper waved a dismissive hand at her brother-in-law. “This renovation won't challenge our marriage one bit,” she said.
The two brothers locked gazes, Quentin's eyes stretched wide as he stared at his sibling. The two men suddenly burst out laughing.
“You two are not funny,” Harper chided as she tossed a look at one brother and then the other. “I'm not talking to either one of you now.” She pushed past the plastic wall sheet into the other space, gesturing for the building contractor's attention.
Quentin moved behind the bakery's large counter, toward the coffeepot. He poured a cup for himself and one for his brother. Troy crossed to the other side of the room, dropping down into a seat at the corner table.
“So what's on your agenda today?” Quentin asked, moving to take a seat across from his brother.
Troy took a sip of his morning brew. “I have to close out my last cases this morning. Then I have a meeting with my election committee.”
“Mayor Elliott! That's going to be something. Pop would have been proud,” Quentin said, referring to their mentor and surrogate parent. Pop had also been Harper's biological father.
The late Everett “Pop” Donovan had been the brain trust behind the bakery, dedicating his life to his business and his two foster sons. His death a year earlier had taken all three of them by surprise and had cemented their familial bond in ways none of them could have anticipated. Both men enjoyed telling people how Quentin had married their sister, the reactions always priceless. It made for a good laugh-out-loud moment.
Troy couldn't have been happier for Quentin and Harper. The love the two shared was the sweetest thing. And with the two of them happy and content, both focused on the growth and success of their family business, it was now Troy's chance to do something he'd wanted for himself. To follow one of his dreams.
Running for political office was the next step to what had already been a successful legal career and Troy was excited for the new challenge. He saw putting in a bid for mayor of the city of Memphis as the beginning of a trek that would eventually lead him to a gubernatorial run or maybe even a senate seat in Washington. With no one and nothing to distract him, Troy imagined his political ambitions were limitless.
He smiled warmly. “Yeah,” he said. “Pop would have been proud of both of us.”
“What are you wearing?” Basil Salman asked, his gaze shooting from the top of his sister's head to the bottom of her low-heeled pumps.
Amina Salman cut an annoyed eye at her older brother. “I'm wearing clothes. What are you wearing?” she asked, her tone curt.
Basil's jaw tightened, his eyes narrowing. “Your attire is inappropriate, Amina. Father will not be happy.”
Amina looked down to the conservative Ann Taylor suit that fit her petite frame nicely. She blew a deep sigh. She'd barely been in Memphis one month and her family's criticisms were already starting.
Her younger sister, Rasheeda, giggled softly. The girl was covered from head to toe in a traditional Islamic niqab, befitting their strict Muslim upbringing. No one ever criticized what Rasheeda wore. Amina shook her head, unable to see her sister's smile beneath the veil that covered her face. She turned back to eye her brother.
“I appreciate the fashion advice, Basil, but after earning two college degrees and procuring my law license in three states, I think I'm more than qualified to pick out my own wardrobe.”
Basil skewed his mouth to give her a terse retort when their father, Nasser Salman, entered the room. All three of his children stopped speaking as he slowly crossed the room to take a seat behind his oak-toned desk. He looked from one to the other, his gaze pausing on Amina.
“Daughter, we have had this conversation before. I cannot control what you do in your mother's home, but you will respect my rules in my house.”
Amina took a deep breath. “Yes, Father.”
“So what are your plans today?”
“I've rented space to house your campaign headquarters. I need to pick up the keys and make sure all the utilities are turned on. By tomorrow I want to have most of the computers and equipment in place. The phones will all be connected by the end of the week.”
Nasser nodded as he leaned forward, resting his chin on his hands. “I'm glad that you agreed to come run my campaign, Amina. It's good to have all my children here working with me.”
Amina smiled. “So am I, Father.” She tossed a quick look to her brother and sister. There was a hint of hostility in her brother's hazel eyes, a smile shining in her sister's. She turned back to her father. “I actually need to get going. We need to have a press conference next week to announce your candidacy so I want to contact the local newspaper and the television stations to get that scheduled. I have a lot of work to do.”
As she headed to the door Basil called after her. “You should change clothes before you leave, Amina.”
Turning back around, she gave her brother a wide smile. “Whatever you say, Basil,” she answered as she met her father's stern stare. As the door closed behind her that smile dropped to a deep frown. “In another lifetime maybe,” she muttered under her breath as she exited the home and headed to her car.
Maneuvering her way toward downtown Memphis, Amina shook her head from side to side. Working for her father was going to be a bigger challenge than she'd fathomed, she thought. Despite her proven track record with grassroots fundraising and success as a political game changer in Atlanta, running her father's mayoral campaign was starting to feel like she'd bitten off more than she could chew.
Her mother had warned her and Amina had chosen not to listen. It had been some sixteen years since her parents' divorce. Amina had been twelve years old when she'd packed her belongings and gone with the matriarch. In Atlanta her mother had chosen to leave their Muslim faith behind, returning to her Baptist roots. Between summers with her father and the school year with her mom, Amina had been raised in both religions and was only now finding any level of comfort with her own faith and beliefs. Amina was slowly realizing that battling her father's political agenda was not going to be the only fight she would have on her hands as she wrestled with his strict values and her own moral code.
She blew a deep sigh. It was starting to feel like a chocolate doughnut kind of moment, she thought.
Maybe even two!
She suddenly smiled, a bright lift to her face as her full lips bent upward. Paused at a stoplight, she thought back to the Beale Street bakery she and her sister had found on one of their recent jaunts. There'd been a wedding reception taking place and the bakery storefront had been closed. The bride and groom had been beautiful as they'd danced together inside.
There'd been a very nice-looking man who'd spoken to them as they stood outside watching, kindly inviting them inside to share the wedding cake. He'd had the most inviting eyes and the most welcoming smile. Amina had wanted to take him up on his invitation but Rasheeda's pulling on her arm to leave had killed the mood. He'd invited them to come back the next day and had her father's plans not interfered, she would have. That had been three weeks ago and she still hadn't found her way back.
Amina pointed her car in the direction of Beale Street and Just Desserts, that chocolate doughnut calling her name loudly. As she did, she found herself hoping that she might run into that handsome stranger one more time.
“I'm sorry, but the bakery's closed for the next few days,” Harper said, her gaze resting on the young woman who'd found her way inside. Under her breath she cursed whichever brother had neglected to lock the door when he'd left.
“Oh, darn!” Amina responded. “I was really hoping to get a doughnut.”
Harper moved from where she stood to the other woman's side. “We're just doing some renovations but we hope to be open again by the end of the week.”
Amina smiled as she extended her hand. “My name's Amina. Amina Salman. I just moved to Memphis a few weeks ago and people keep telling me about your bakery. Every time I've come though you've been closed!”
Harper winced ever so slightly. “Ouch, that's not good! I appreciate that you keep coming back though,” she said with a warm smile. She shook Amina's extended hand. “I'm Harper. Harper Elliott. Welcome to Memphis!”
“Thank you. It's taking some getting used to.”
“Where did you come from?”
“I grew up in Atlanta.”
Harper nodded. “I'm originally from Louisiana. I moved here one year ago so I know exactly what you mean.”
Amina smiled brightly. “I guess I'll try back next week.”
Harper held up an index finger. “Give me a quick minute,” she said as she turned and rushed to the back of the bakery. She returned minutes later with a cellophane bag in hand. “We don't have any doughnuts but I dug into my personal stash of chocolate cookies. I don't share these with just anybody but I can't have you walk out empty-handed. Especially since this wasn't the first time we were closed on you!”
“Thank you,” Amina said with a warm chuckle as she took a quick peek into the bag. “You have just made my entire day. I have a weakness for anything chocolate!”
Harper laughed with her. “Actually my motives are purely selfish. I know once you taste those cookies you'll definitely come back and I'm looking forward to becoming really good friends.”
Amina nodded. “We already are,” she said as she headed toward the door and waved good-bye.
Trailing after her, Harper waved back, her gaze following the woman as she moved back to her car. As he moved from behind the counter Troy called her name.
“Is everything okay?” he questioned, moving to stare where she stared.
Harper nodded. “It is,” she said as she watched Amina pull out of the parking space into traffic. She waved one last time.
“Who was that?” he asked, not recognizing the vehicle.
“My new friend,” Harper answered. “And she's very pretty!”
Troy cut an eye at her. “You're telling me this why?”
Harper shrugged her narrow shoulders. “You never seem to notice any of the pretty women who come into the bakery.”
Troy laughed. “I notice them, Harper. I choose to ignore them. I don't have time for a woman in my life right now.”
Harper cut her eyes back at him, a sly smile on her face. “Whatever you say, Big Brother.”
Troy was still laughing. “I mean it, Harper! So please don't try to play matchmaker with me and your new friend. I am not interested.”
Harper moved back to her seat at the table. “Don't be interested,” she said nonchalantly. “You're probably not her type anyway. I get the impression she has very discerning tastes when it comes to men.”
“And how would you know that?”
Harper laughed. “She has a weakness for chocolate.”