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Sunday Brunch Bites If You Love Something

Happy Early V-Day y’all. I have a sweet treat for you today, a little short story for Malik and DeShawn. You know chefs are busy af on V-Day, and Malik’s decided enough is enough. Enjoy!

I loved Malik, truly I did, but he was way too calm for it being Valentine’s Day. Sheila was running around like a chicken with no sense, as was right and proper, and Malik just sent me a very simple message, asking me to come to the office when I had a chance. Which, today, was never. The only reason I was at his door was because Sheila booted me from the kitchen.

I rapped lightly at his door before opening it and peeking my head inside. “Hey baby,” Malik said as I entered and took a seat. He stood from where he’d been hunched over his desk, probably staring at spreadsheets or something equally mind-numbing, and came to stand in front of my chair. He tipped my head up for a kiss and, as irritable as I was about being interrupted, I couldn’t resist his lips on mine. Never had been able to do it, and he knew it.

“You ready to get out of here?” he asked when he broke away.

I reared back and looked at him like he’d lost his mind. “You want to leave?” I blinked, positive I bore a striking resemblance to an owl. “Malik, sweetheart, love of my life, do you know what day it is?”

“DeShawn, my heart, my soul, my joy, do you know how many years we ever got to actually celebrate Valentine’s Day? How many years you weren’t working until your fingers fell off, and by the time you came home, the last thing you wanted was to be wined and dined? All you wanted was to be massaged and go to bed.”

I opened my mouth to respond but, I mean, he wasn’t wrong. The nature of this job meant V-Day was work work. No romance on the agenda for us. The idea of being off-duty tonight was…really fucking nice to be honest. Let’s be real; I hadn’t even thought about today other than to make sure we had everything we needed for the restaurant, because we were completely booked from the day the doors opened until closed. I damn sure hadn’t thought about if Malik wanted to do anything tonight, and a twinge of shame curdled my gut..

“Is Sheila going to be okay?” I asked, gnawing lightly on my lower lip. “ I’m really leaving her in a lurch.”

Malik pulled me to stand and wrapped me up in his arms, rocking just enough for me to feel how much he wanted me. All of the sudden, I was more than on board with whatever he had planned. “I’d never do that to her,” he assured me. “James is going to help out tonight.”

That brought me up short. “And you don’t just want to stay here and watch him actually work?”

Malik’s laugh was worth everything. “As tempting as that is, I want to take you out and treat you for a night.”

“I wish I had time to go home and change,” I muttered, staring down at my outfit. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t what I’d wear to go out with my man.

Malik grinned. “I thought you’d say that.” He pointed to the door, where at least three outfits were hanging. I freaking beamed when I saw it. “God, I love it when you look like that.”

Now I was going to blush, so I pushed him out the door so I could change. I chose outfit two, a crisp blue shirt and navy slacks with a pair of brown shoes, then stepped out. Malik’s eyes darkened the way they did when I knew he wanted me. Amazing how, now that I thought about it, I remembered that he’d given me that look from the day we’d met again. He’d wanted me from jump, hadn’t he? The knowledge made me straighten and put a little strut in my step.

“You’re playing with fire,” Malik murmured behind me, reaching out to squeeze my hips as we walked..

I loved him so much. And one of my favorite things was how he was so proper around everyone else, and so deliciously naughty when we were alone. It was a side of him that was reserved just for me, and it made me want to taunt him, push him, see how far I could take him. But not tonight.

“Where are we going?” I asked as Malik started driving.

“It’s a surprise,” he said, and barely held in his grin when I sputtered my shock. I wasn’t great with surprises, so Malik didn’t do them often. But when he said it, I also knew better than to press. He wouldn’t be moved.

So I let myself get comfortable while he drove to who-knows-where. He drove with one hand and kept the other laced with mine, and this was already the best Valentine’s Day in history. He wove into downtown DC, near an all-too-familiar location.

“Are you taking me to Criteria for dinner?” I asked.

“Outside of us playing for the cameras, when was the last time you sat down and had a meal here?”

I’d worked there for years, so naturally the answer had to be…”Never,” I responded, the realization a little disconcerting.

“Because I know you, and I know Maribel, I knew the answer to that question.”

I pushed lightly into his shoulder. “You ass.”

“You know you love me.”

God, I did. Excitement bubbled up in me. I still stopped by from time to time, but that was typically for planned events, meet-and-greets because my name still held some cache. I never had a chance to eat, but good goddamn I missed Maribel’s cooking, and I couldn’t wait to see what she’d done with the menu here.

We parked in the underground garage and took the elevator to the street level. We made it to the front without anyone noticing us, but someone gasped the minute we went through the second set of doors. Our period of anonymity would not last long.

From behind the kitchen doors, Maribel walked out, dressed in a pristine white coat and a traditional chef’s hat, her arms outstretched. “Welcome to Criteria,” she said, her voice laced with humor. “It’s such a pleasure to have you here.”

My shoulders shook and I drew her in for an embrace. “Hey beautiful,” I said, pressing a kiss to her cheek.

“Hey you. We were already slammed tonight. We’re going to be inundated now, not that we have any spots available.”

“That just means you’ll be booked up for the next week or ten.”

She sighed, but she couldn’t quite keep the grin off her face. Yeah, she lived for this. “Let me show you to your seats,” she said, leading us to the same table we’d come to so many moons  ago, back when we were still pretending that we were pretending to be in love. Trust me, that made sense. Promise.

Malik held out my seat for me, and even though it was so simple, I still preened under the action. A few cameras went off, reminding me that would be happening more than once tonight. It didn’t matter; all I cared about was what was in store for me.

And I was treated beyond what I could have imagined. A series of small plates, which I knew wasn’t on their menu. A veritable feast for the soul. Paparazzi found their way there, probably from social media or a well-timed phone call. It didn’t matter. Malik smiled for the camera, pulled me close, kissed me where all could see, and didn’t look the least bit uncomfortable doing it.

“You’ve gotten good at this,” I whispered when we were finally alone.

He chuckled and leaned over to press a kiss to the bottom of my neck, and I shifted in my seat. He knew that was a hot spot for me. I was going to ride him like a pony when we got home.

Someone cleared their throat behind us. “Ready for dessert?” Maribel asked, her voice low and happy. I felt my cheeks heat, but Malik didn’t mind.

“We are.”

She winked. “I think you’ll like these.” She waved behind her, and some of the servers strolled out with platters of sweets, mini brownies, apple fritters, cream balls, all manner of things to satiate my sweet tooth. I licked my lips and leaned over to Malik. “This looks like something you’d make for me.”

His grin was lascivious. “It does, doesn’t it?”

It took a few moments for the underlying meaning to kick in, then I gasped and covered my mouth with my hand. “Did you make these? When? When’d you have time to do all this?”

Malik’s smile stretched across his whole face. “Happy Valentine’s Day, DeShawn. I love you.”

I could barely speak. There were a lot of desserts. Like, far more than I could possibly eat. “You made enough for everyone here, didn’t you?”

He huffed. “I did, under Maribel’s watchful eye. Had to make sure it was up to Criteria’s standards,” he said, complete with air quotes.

“It exceeded them, as I expected.” She shrugged, clearly unapologetic.

The servers laid out a healthy amount of dessert on our table before handing them out to the rest of the diners, who took them with excited murmurs. I took a bite of a cream puff and the flavors exploded on my tongue. “Thank god I married a man who loves to cook dessert,” I said around a mouthful of doughy goodness.

He snickered and snagged one for himself. “Yeah,” he said after he swallowed. “I did the damn thing, didn’t I?”

I laughed, the sound bubbling out of me. “Thank you for this,” I told him. “I forgot what I was missing. This is the best Valentine’s Day I would have hoped for.”

Malik’s grin was soft, the one he graced me with every morning. The one I couldn’t get enough of. “That was just Dessert A. You’ll get Dessert B at home.”

I shuddered. I couldn’t wait.