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A buffet brunch spread with the cover of Solomon on it.

If you haven’t read the latest in the High Rise series, Solomon, this is a little story from two of my favorite guys, Solomon and Isaac. They went through it on the way to their HEA, and they know it. So I hope you enjoy this sneak peek into them finishing out one year and ushering in a new one.

I couldn’t remember last time I’d seen Isaac so nervous. It was almost like he’d never given a sermon before. I shouldn’t tease, but who was I if I didn’t do that?

“You gonna be okay there? You look like you’ve forgotten how to speak.You need some lessons?” I asked, fluttering my lashes in a failed attempt to appear innocent.

Isaac, bless him, was not amused. Couldn’t imagine why. “You’re incorrigible, you know that?”

 “And you love me for it.”

He pulled me close and pressed a soft kiss to my lips. “I do,” he murmured. “I love you so much.”

One day those words wouldn’t make my insides twirl in joy, but today wasn’t that day. My stomach flip-flopped on itself. After all this time, we were finally here, together, not looking over our shoulders, waiting for the next shoe to drop. It had been months, but there were still times when I literally pinched myself to make sure it was real.

I don’t know what look was on my face, but Isaac kneaded his fingers into my sides. “I know. I can’t believe it’s real, either.”

I circled my arms around his waist and squeezed. “Love you,” I mumbled.

“Same. Always.” Isaac pulled back and cupped my cheeks. “You ready to go?”

At my nod, we shrugged on our coats and left. We reached the lobby and gave Mr. Johnson a wave, which he returned with a downright goofy smile on his face. We caught a ride to the church, which I spent with my hand on his ever-bouncing knee.

Inside, the sanctuary was packed. Isaac took another one of those long, cleansing breaths that he’d been doing all day. I’d teased him about it before, but now I was worried. I pulled him down the hall, waving at the kids who called my name. We were both working tonight, but no one paid attention to me; they only cared about the kids. As it should be. But for Isaac, he’d be up there alone, the entire congregation focusing solely on him.

We made it to his office and I shut the door firmly behind me. “What’s wrong?” I asked. “I know this isn’t your first time giving a keynote address.”

He scrubbed a hand over his face before letting it fall. “But this is my first time doing it like…this.” His voice trailed off at the end, and it took me a few minutes to figure out what he meant, especially when he wouldn’t look at me.

Then it hit, and I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it before. “You’re worried someone might look at you, at us, and think you’re a hypocrite?”

His eyes were full of remorse when he finally looked at me. “I’m sorry,” he said. “This is my problem, not yours. I was trying to keep it together and not burden you with it.”

It wasn’t nice, but I rolled my eyes. Isaac’s mouth fell open, but all I did was raise a brow. “Baby, I’m not trying to diminish your feelings, even a little bit. But I know you. I know you’ve prayed on this. I know you’ve probably spoken to Yolanda about this,” I went on, referring to our pastor. I narrowed my eyes and moved closer. “Has anyone given you shit?”

Isaac slammed a hand over my mouth. “We are in church.”

Naturally, I licked his palm and he yanked his hand back. I stood with my hands on my hips. “And I will eff someone up in the sanctuary if I find out they’ve been messing with you.”

Isaac’s eyes warmed and he stepped even closer, winding his arms around me. “God, I love you. So fierce. So protective.”

His hands on me made it hard to think. “You’ve sacrificed so much,” I whispered. “I just want you to have everything your heart desires.”

“All I want is you.”

If someone walked in right now, they’d probably see cartoon hearts floating in the air around us. He tightened his fingers on me briefly, then pulled back. “I know you have your own work to do. I don’t want to hold you.”

I grunted. My babies were performing tonight, and I needed to make sure they were ready to go. I knew they were, but last minute jitters came for us all. “You sure you’re okay?”

He nodded, and with one last kiss, I left him and found my kids. As I expected, they were nervous, but they got on stage and sang beautifully, as I knew they would. And then Isaac got up and, after a deep, heavy breath that picked up and  reverberated through the mic and made everyone laugh, he settled down and launched into his sermon. And, just like with the kids, he did beautifully. Enough that I had to wait while members lined up to meet him after, Pastor Campbell standing proud at his side.

I wasn’t into being around people like that, so I stayed in the corner, nodding politely to those who acknowledged my presence, and otherwise staying pressed against the wall until Isaac finished. The absolute joy on his face was something to witness. This, talking to people, shaking hands, giving encouragement to them, was what he was all about. I’d always known it, but seeing it in person still filled me with an incomparable sense of pride. That was my man, my boo, the person I’d compared everyone else to, and now he was mine. Finally. I couldn’t stop my grin from spreading when I thought about it.

When his eyes caught mine over the head of a parishioner, he winked, and the polite, reserved smile that had been on his face bloomed into something bigger, purer. The woman in front of him gasped, and I had to turn away and walk down the hall to stifle my giggle.

I don’t know how much more time passed, but a pair of delightfully strong arms wrapped around me and pulled me back. I smelled Isaac’s cologne, subtle, warm, earthy. I wanted to nuzzle into it. “Hey,” he said, his breath ghosting across my ear.

I couldn’t help my shiver, and gave a little shimmy. “Good evening, Elder. I’m not sure you’re supposed to be getting this friendly with the parishioners.”

He pressed a kiss against the back of my neck. “Incorrigible, like I said. It’s almost midnight. Want to go outside?”

Unlike many services, we didn’t pray in the New Year. We finished early enough for people to get home timely, because folks could get real reckless late at night. That meant the church was nearly empty already, and as we made our way back to the front, I wasn’t surprised to find Pastor Campbell at the door with her husband.

“You guys finally heading out?” She asked, extending a hand to Isaac. “You were outstanding tonight. An excellent message.”

If the man could blush, he would. “Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity.”

Her husband interrupted before she could speak. “No, thank you for letting me have the first new years Eve with my wife in years.”

We all laughed, and she wound her arm tighter around his waist. If I didn’t say anything, we’d stay here and talk all night. Any other night, that’d be fine, but tonight wasn’t the night.

“I’m sure we’ll have plenty of time to discuss how wonderful he was later, but for the time being, we’re going to bid you adieu with our best wishes for a lovely and peaceful New Year.”

Another round of hugs, then I practically dragged Isaac away. He laughed, but as long as he didn’t argue, that was fine by me. We didn’t go far, just down the street where a restaurant was open and crowded with revelers.

“We don’t need to go in,” I told him. “I just want to be able to hear the countdown.”

He paused on the way down the street. “We always talked about doing that.” Isaac looked to the side, then back at me. This time, his eyes were glistening. “We finally made it, baby. We’re finally where we wanted to be.”

I spun in his arms and pulled his neck down for a kiss. “We are, aren’t we?”

He tightened his arms around me, his fingers digging in the way he knew I loved. “I love you Solomon. I’m so glad I found my way back to you.”

“And I’m grateful every day you didn’t stop fighting for us. I love you right back, Isaac.”

I closed my eyes as his lips met mine. Behind my lids, I knew fireworks were going off. I could vaguely hear the shouts and yells of people surrounding us, ringing in the new year. But nothing compared to the feel of Isaac, holding me, kissing me, reminding me why everything we’d been through in the past year had been worth it. And I knew, deep down, that the next one would be even better.