Malcolm sent a platinum-colored Bentley Mulsanne to pick her up. When the driver opened the door for her, she got in and saw a bouquet of three white lilies on the seat. She picked them up and put them on her lap as the driver closed the door. Soon, they were on the way and Shantreyl called Jaya.
Jaya said, “You were supposed to send us a selfie of you in that sexy jumpsuit! I’ve been waiting for the past thirty minutes.”
“I kind of got in a hurry at the last minute. I’ll make sure I do it when I get to the hotel.”
“How did your hair turn out?” Jaya asked.
“It turned out great. For once, my curls behaved. He sent a Bentley to pick me up. I’m riding in style tonight.”
“This brother isn’t playing any games, is he?”
“No. I don’t believe he is, Jaya. And you know what? I appreciate it. I want to be wined, dined and spoiled. Clearly Malcolm has the means to do that. I’m not about to lower my standards or engage in struggle love. To hell with that. Where’s Renee?”
“She got called down to the police station to do a sketch.”
“You good, sis?”
“Yeah. I’m sitting up here, eating junk food and watching Black Mirror on Netflix. Have a good time tonight. Call me when you get home, all right?”
“I will. Bye!”
Shantreyl hung up the phone and played with the roses as she gazed out of the window. The city was lit up, as it usually was at night. Fortunately, Shantreyl lived on the same side of the Oriochi River as the Vermilion and so didn’t have to cross any of the bridges or tunnels that connected the Suva side of the megalopolis to the Oriana side. Traffic was usually bad around the bridges and tunnels on the weekends.
This is really nice, she thought. The ride was as smooth as silk. She eagerly looked around, enjoying the luxurious comfort. I never thought I’d ever get near a Bentley, much less ride in one. Oh sweet Malcolm, how did you pull this off?
As they neared the hotel, Shantreyl stared at it. The Vermilion was enormous. Almost directly across the river was the Solar Fountain, equally large. When she thought about it, she realized that Malcolm and his friend probably made a whole lot of money managing two very profitable hotel casinos.
He definitely makes more money than I do. He can afford these things.
Shantreyl heard the driver say, “Mr. Sullivan, we will arrive in five minutes.”
She eagerly looked around as the Vermilion got larger and larger in the car windows. Her stomach fluttered and she wrapped her pashmina around her shoulders. A few minutes later, the car pulled up in front of the hotel. An attendant opened her door.
The driver said, “Madam, Mr. Sullivan is waiting for you just inside. I will take you home when your evening ends.”
“All right,” she said as the attendant took her hand. “May I leave my flowers in here?”
“Yes, madam. I will use this same car to take you home.”
Shantreyl carried a red clutch bag to match her red stilettos and her red pashmina. She wore a black sleeveless jumpsuit and her shoulders and half of her back was out. She had to buy a new bra to accommodate the sexy outfit, and of course, the pasties were in position. When she entered the hotel, Malcolm was indeed standing just beyond the doors, next to a very handsome man who was bigger than he was.
Malcolm’s face lit up when he saw Shantreyl walk in. She was a vision in red and black. Kaphiri stood next to him and removed his ear buds as she walked over to them.
Malcolm said in a low voice, “That’s her.”
“I see,” Kaphiri replied, checking her out. “She’s fine as hell. Damn.”
“Told you.” Then Malcolm focused on Shantreyl, who had a huge smile on her face. “Hello, Shantreyl. You look splendid.” He took her hand and kissed her fingers.
She couldn’t stop smiling. “Hello, Malcolm.” She pressed a kiss against his cheek and inhaled quickly. He smelled good. “You’re rather dashing yourself.”
“I want you to meet someone. Shantreyl, this is Kaphiri R. Parker, my friend and business partner. He manages the Solar Fountain. Kaphiri, may I introduce Miss Shantreyl D. Troy.”
Shantreyl looked up at the man. Malcolm was six feet tall. Kaphiri was about four or five inches taller and maybe fifty pounds heavier than Malcolm and he was extremely attractive. She tried not to stare at him.
“Kaphiri is an interesting name,” she said. “How do you spell it?”
Shantreyl smiled at him. “That’s really unique. I like it.” Then she turned to Malcolm. “Confession: I didn’t eat all day. I was saving my appetite until I got here and I’m starving. Bring on the Brazilian cuisine.”
“Then let us not waste another moment.” Malcolm captured her hand in his elbow and escorted her to Embers. Kaphiri walked about three feet behind them, sizing her up. She was a thick one, voluptuous and curvy in the places where it mattered, but she had a waistline that was snatched to the gods. She wore her hair in a natural style and she was very, very pretty. Even though Shantreyl presented nothing like the women Malcolm used to date, Kaphiri understood Malcolm’s attraction to her. It made sense. She was exquisite.
As they walked towards Embers, one of the casino managers came up to Malcolm, who stopped walking. The manager whispered something in his ear and Kaphiri heard Malcolm say, “My instructions were clear, Naren.”
Naren continued to whisper in Malcolm’s ear and Malcolm glared at him. “And you can’t handle this yourself? When I gave explicit instructions that I am not to be bothered during this time? What do I pay you for? Handle it, Naren. Handle it and do not disturb me again.”
Naren nodded his head. “Yes, Mr. Sullivan.”
Malcolm and Shantreyl headed to the restaurant and once they arrived, the maître d’ smiled at them. “Good evening, Mr. Sullivan. Your table is ready. Will Mr. Parker be joining you this evening?”
“Only for a moment or two, Francis,” Kaphiri said.
Shantreyl turned around and looked at Kaphiri. He stared back, his expression indecipherable.
The maître d’ led them through the restaurant, which was extremely busy, to the private dining room in the back. Malcolm led Shantreyl to the table in the middle of the room and pulled out her chair. She sat down and he sat across from her. Kaphiri watched her carefully and she turned to look at him.
“Are you having dinner with us, Kaphiri?”
“No,” he said. “I’ve heard a lot about you and I’m basically here to satisfy my curiosity.”
Shantreyl smiled at Malcolm. “Good things, I hope.”
Malcolm smiled back. She was absolutely superb. He wondered if the stones in her ears were real rubies or fake ones.
Kaphiri said, “Malcolm thinks very highly of you. He’s practically a brother to me, so I have to vet you.”
She looked at Kaphiri again, understanding creeping into her mind as she thought of Jaya and Renee. “Do I meet with your approval?”
“Physically, yes. He says that you’re brilliant. I’ll take his word for it.”
Malcolm was about to reply when Naren entered the dining room and briskly walked towards their table. The man leaned forward and whispered in his ear once more. Shantreyl watched Malcolm’s expression change and wondered what was going on. She heard Naren say in a desperate voice, “Please, Mr. Sullivan.”
Malcolm looked at Kaphiri but addressed Naren. “Is this something that Mr. Parker can handle? I’m very busy right now, as you can see.”
“No sir. They’re insisting that it be you.”
“Naren, I am very unhappy right now. We will speak on this come Tuesday.”
“I’m so sorry, Mr. Sullivan. I tried to handle it. I did my best, but they want to talk directly to you. They demand that it be you.”
Malcolm closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He looked at his dinner companion. “Shantreyl, I apologize. I know what I said to you, but I need to step away for a few moments. Apparently, my immediate attention is required. I will be back shortly. Please don’t be angry with me. I will make it up to you.” He took her hand and kissed it.
Shantreyl nodded, suddenly annoyed. “I’m not angry. Please hurry back.”
Malcolm stood up. “I will. Kaphiri, please stay with her until I return.”
“All right,” Kaphiri said, sitting in Malcolm’s chair after he vacated it. He shook his head.
“What?” Shantreyl said.
“Malcolm and I run our business a certain way. Naren will be out of a job come Tuesday.”
Shantreyl gasped. “No! Don’t fire him!”
“He’s unable to do his job. The management team was given explicit instructions to leave Malcolm alone when you arrived. This was supposed to be your time and your time only. Malcolm’s not here because the lead manager is incapable of completing a task. You’re bothered by it; I can tell from the look in your eyes. Let me be the first to tell you that Malcolm isn’t pleased when you’re displeased. I know your relationship is in its infancy, but he doesn’t like it when you’re unhappy or angry. He prefers for a smile to be on your face when he sees you. Having laid eyes on you, I can’t fault him for that.”
“But I don’t want that poor man to lose his job. He sounded nervous.”
“Of course he did. He demonstrated his inability to handle a situation in front of both of his bosses. He knows what’s going to happen.”
Shantreyl felt sorry for the man. Maybe she could convince Malcolm not to fire him.
Kaphiri said, “Have you ever eaten at a place like this?”
“It’s interesting. Let me explain how it works.” For the next two minutes, Kaphiri explained to Shantreyl the rules for eating at Embers. Two servers came in, introduced themselves, and let Shantreyl know that they would be taking care of her. Kaphiri asked for the cold bar menu and the drink menu. One of the servers left immediately. The other stood at the ready.
“Mr. Parker, would you like to begin?” he asked.
“We’re waiting for Mr. Sullivan.”
Shantreyl asked, “Kaphiri, everything sounds good, but do we not get warm sides?”
“Yes, we do. The servers bring to the table fried polenta, garlic mashed potatoes, fried plantains and cheese popovers. The popovers are addicting; let me warn you now. The food is marvelous, but Malcolm and I wouldn’t have it any other way. We take pride in the quality of our hotels and our casinos.”
The other server returned with the menus. Kaphiri got up and walked around to Shantreyl’s side of the table. He leaned over her and with one finger, went down the cold bar menu and described the sides that needed description. Then he pointed out his preferences and made suggestions. Shantreyl closed her eyes. He smelled good, better than Malcolm, and he had very nice hands.
“What about drinks?”
Kaphiri took the drink menu and pointed out his favorites. “Try this one,” he said, pointing at the caipirinha. “It contains an alcohol made from sugar cane, called cachaça. I think you’ll like it. It’s the national cocktail of Brazil.”
Shantreyl inhaled again. Kaphiri looked at her and said, “Are you sniffing me?”
“I’m sorry. I can’t help it. You smell so good.” She took another whiff. “What is that?”
“That’s for me to know and you to find out one day,” he said.
Shantreyl didn’t know how to respond to that. Her stomach growled and she put a hand on her belly. “I’m starving.”
“Then we won’t waste another minute.” Kaphiri waved one of the servers over. “We would like to start.”
“What about Mr. Sullivan, sir?”
“He’ll catch up. Let’s begin.” Kaphiri sat back down in Malcolm’s chair. “Shantreyl, how do you prefer for your meat to be cooked?”
Kaphiri turned his attention to the servers. “Make sure all of her beef entrees are medium.”
“Yes, Mr. Parker,” the server said.
The servers left the dining room and Shantreyl smiled at Kaphiri. “So, what’s the R in your name stand for?”
“Raphael. It was my maternal grandfather’s name.”
Shantreyl smiled. “Did anyone ever tease you about being a Ninja Turtle?”
“No one teases me except my mother. She’s allowed. I don’t tolerate it from anyone else.”
“Oh,” Shantreyl said and immediately changed the subject. “So, what’s life like at the Solar Fountain?”
“The same as here. Our casinos are extremely busy, especially on the weekends. When Malcolm returns, I’ll head back over there. We’re entertaining some Japanese businessmen this weekend.”
“How long do you think he’ll be?”
Kaphiri pulled out his phone and sent Malcolm a text. “Let’s find out. Are you all right? Am I not entertaining you?”
“No, no. I’m okay. You’re fine, quite fine.” Shantreyl shook her head. Kaphiri was the personification of fine. “Nothing’s wrong, and I’m glad to meet you, but I honestly was expecting to have dinner with Malcolm.”
“And he was expecting to have dinner with you.”
Just then the servers returned, pushing carts laden with silver covered trays. One began putting the hot sides on the table and the other asked what she would like from the cold bar.
Shantreyl inhaled the food fragrances. “Mmmn. I thought I had to go to the bar and choose them myself.”
The server shook her head. “No ma’am. You are our special guest and everything you want will be delivered to you, even the meat selections.”
“Okay,” she said. “Kaphiri, can you hand me the cold bar menu?”
He handed the menu to her and watched her thoughtfully as she selected her sides. When she finished, he said, “Bring her some Waldorf salad as well.”
“What is that?” Shantreyl asked, putting the menu to the side and opening her napkin.
“It’s a salad made of apples, grapes and walnuts, in a light mayonnaise sauce. It’s delicious. Go on, fill your plate. Don’t wait for me or for Malcolm.”
Shantreyl smiled at Kaphiri for a moment longer than usual and began fixing her plate. He stared at her for an equally long moment and then began assisting her by pointing out the meats on the table. “That’s filet mignon, that’s roast lamb, those are bacon-wrapped beef medallions, those are bacon-wrapped chicken medallions, and that right there is rib-eye. I imagine they’ll be bringing in more meat options in a few moments. The roasted shrimp and yellowfin tuna are fantastic if you’re into seafood.”
“I thought I had to use the card if I wanted whatever meat the servers brought?”
“If we were eating in the public dining room, yes you would. But this is private and therefore you get personalized service. The servers will bring everything on the meat menu. You don’t have to eat anything you don’t want to eat, but I encourage you to try new things. Like the popovers.”
Shantreyl put a popover into her mouth and closed her eyes. It was a soft cloud of cheesy bread and it melted on her tongue. Kaphiri observed her carefully as she bit into the popover. It looked like she was having a mild orgasm. He filed the image away for future reference.
“Good Lord,” she said, reaching for another one. Her fingertips brushed against Kaphiri’s fingers as he reached for a popover. An electric bolt shot up her arm. “This might be my new favorite thing, Kaphiri. These are delicious!”
“I told you,” he said. “You’ll find yourself eating three or four basketfuls easy. Try the polenta and the plantains.”
Shantreyl obeyed and was enjoying herself when the servers returned with another cart full of silver trays. One began filling a plate full of Shantreyl’s meat choices and the other brought her caipirinha and filled her water glass. After she got her first taste of the filet mignon, Shantreyl began eating with gusto. Kaphiri watched her closely as he ate another popover. She wasn’t shy about eating in front of him and he appreciated it. Malcolm’s other girlfriends never ate in front of him. It was sexy to see a woman with an appetite.
Just then, Malcolm entered the dining room. Kaphiri saw that his friend’s face was a thundercloud. He got up and quickly walked towards Malcolm, heading him off before he got to the table.
“All is well?” Kaphiri asked.
“It is now,” Malcolm said, an edge to his voice. “Fucking assholes.”
Kaphiri said in a low voice, “Fix your face. Don’t let her see you looking like that.”
Malcolm took several deep breaths and glanced at Shantreyl before looking at Kaphiri once more. “Is she all right?”
“Of course she is. She’s hungry. I told her she could eat. Go.”
Malcolm nodded and looked at Shantreyl again, who was looking at him. “Malcolm?”
He walked over to the table. “Hi baby. I’m so sorry. I’m back now and you have me all to yourself for the rest of the evening. This I promise you.”
“Good,” she said. “I’ll hold you to that.”
Kaphiri said, “I’m out. Text me if you need me.”
“I hope I don’t,” Malcolm said. He and Kaphiri shared a look that Shantreyl missed.
Kaphiri then turned his attention to her. “It was a pleasure meeting you, Shantreyl,” he said, extending his hand. She took it and he kissed her fingers. “I hope to see you again soon.”
Shantreyl beamed at him, feeling that same little electric jolt from the spot on her fingers that he kissed. “Same here, Kaphiri. Thank you for babysitting me.”
Malcolm snorted. “I wouldn’t go that far.”
Kaphiri gave Shantreyl one of his rare smiles. “Goodnight. Have fun.” He put his earbuds in and walked off.
One of the servers handed Malcolm an empty plate and he began filling it with food. “Are you all right, baby?”
Shantreyl was cutting into one of the bacon beef medallions. “I’m famished. Other than that, I’m fine. I’m sorry I didn’t wait for you.”
“It’s fine, Shantreyl. You told me up front that you were hungry. Kaphiri was doing what I wanted him to do: take care of you while I handled my business.” Malcolm began cutting his meat selections into chunks.
“Oh yeah,” Shantreyl said as she scooped garlic potatoes from one of the serving dishes, “please don’t fire that guy.”
“Don’t fire him. Please.”
“You mean Naren? The manager who couldn’t do his job?”
“Yes. Him. Kaphiri said that he was going to lose his job because he couldn’t do what you asked.”
“Kaphiri’s right,” Malcolm said as he bit into one of the chicken medallions. He chewed slowly, following the morsel with some potatoes and a popover. After he was done chewing, he said, “Kaphiri and I run our empire a certain way, which means we have certain requirements of our employees. Our hotel and casino managers were trained extensively to meet our expectations. What happened tonight was a fluke, but it is not something that should ever happen again. Naren and the others were told that I was entertaining a guest for the latter part of this evening and that I did not wish to be disturbed. I was disturbed. You weren’t happy about it. I am not pleased.”
“But you just said it was a fluke. He won’t do it again, I’m sure. That man was terrified.” Shantreyl took a sip of her drink. “Mmmmn. This is really good.”
“He won’t, because he won’t have the chance to. I’m sorry, Shantreyl. I don’t mean to upset you, but Naren’s inability to handle the situation resulted in me being absent from you for over fifteen minutes, when I had already told you that it would be you and me for the evening. He made me renege on my promise to you—he made me lie to you—and I don’t like that. I want you to be able to trust me. I want you to know that for you, my word is my bond. I’m not about to do what your ex did.”
“What was the problem?”
Malcolm took a bite of rib eye and chewed thoughtfully, trying to decide how much to tell her. He swallowed the meat and chased it with a long drink of water before saying, “Some of my VIP guests wanted to store a briefcase in the casino vault during their stay here.”
Shantreyl made a face. “Really? Then why would they need to talk to you about it? It sounds like something that could easily be handled.”
Malcolm waved a server over. “Please get us a bottle of Batard-Montrachet.”
“Yes, Mr. Sullivan.”
When the server left, Malcolm forked a piece of filet mignon and said, “Exactly. Naren should have been able to take care of it. The problem came when the guests refused to open the briefcase for him. What Naren should have done was insist on it, and when they refused, tell them that they could not store the briefcase in my vault and that they were welcome to leave my hotel with a full refund.” Malcolm ate the meat morsel and followed it with a forkful of potatoes. After swallowing, he said, “He didn’t do that.”
Shantreyl was happily eating a roasted shrimp. “This is so good. I’m in hog heaven.”
Malcolm smiled at her, glad to change the subject. “I like hearing that from you,” he said, in between bites.
“I guess I should tell you, if you haven’t already guessed,” she said. “I love food. I love to eat. It’s one of the reasons I’m fat. Food never lets me down. Food never pulls any stunts.”
“Sweetheart, you’re not fat. You’re not skinny either. You’re just right, as far as I’m concerned. Did that loser of an ex-boyfriend tell you otherwise?”
“Not exactly. He would try to restrict my food choices from time to time, which never worked. I’m not about to be told what I can and can’t eat, especially since my blood pressure isn’t high. I’m very healthy. I just like to eat.” For emphasis, she slid a slice of polenta into her mouth.
Malcolm smiled at her. “You won’t ever hear me complain about that.” Then he cut into a piece of roasted pork tenderloin and ate it as the server returned with the wine, opened it and poured a little bit into his wine stem. Malcolm sniffed the wine, swirled it, and then tasted it. Then he nodded to the server, who poured some into both of their stems.
After the server left, he casually asked, “So, what do you think of Kaphiri?”
Shantreyl looked up, a forkful of plantain inches from her mouth. “Hmm?”
“Kaphiri. My friend. The man that babysat you. What do you think of him?”
“He’s nice,” she said, eating her food. “He was very helpful with the menu and how things work here. He strikes me as a serious sort. He seems like the type who’s not one for playing games or anything like that.”
“He’s not. Kaphiri’s not good with lies, games, or foolishness. He has no patience for bullshit. We’ve worked side by side for years, and obviously I know him very well. He spent over ten years in the military and was honorably discharged; he was an Army Ranger and Special Forces.”
Shantreyl was munching on popovers. They were addicting. “That means what, exactly?”
“It means he can fuck someone up in a variety of ways and get away with it. He doesn’t show it; he doesn’t walk around bragging about it; he doesn’t even talk about it. But he’s good with all kinds of weapons, is skilled in multiple types of martial arts, and he can fight. You add to that a gifted mind and you have a man who is not to be trifled with.”
Shantreyl drank some wine. “Whew! This is wonderful!” She took another sip. “Gifted mind?”
“Kaphiri’s IQ is high. I’m not sure what it actually is, but he’s a certified genius. He finished high school at 14 and college at 17. When he turned 18, he joined the military. After he was discharged, he and I took over his father’s business, which at the time was managing different entities, like stores and restaurants. We took it and grew it up and turned it into what you see here.”
“Wow,” Shantreyl said. “Are you as smart as he is? Can you fight like that? Did any of that ever make you self-conscious?”
“I’m nowhere near as smart as Kaphiri is, but I’m no dummy. I can handle myself in a fight, but I’m at the point where I don’t have to; I have security that takes care of that for me, if needed. And no, Kaphiri’s abilities never made me feel any kind of way except proud to call him brother. I have my own gifts. I’m an excellent businessman, I’m patient, and I’m good with people, far better than he is. Our combined powers got us where we are today.”
“I like him,” Shantreyl said. “He took good care of me in your absence.”
“Good. If our relationship continues—which it will—then you will see him regularly. I just wanted to make sure that when that happens, it’s pleasant for you. Kaphiri knows what you are to me and will always be the one to take care of you in my absence, if I have to be absent. I’m hoping tonight was the first and last time for that.”
“Me too,” Shantreyl said.
“By the way,” Malcolm said, cutting into a piece of roast lamb, “I would like to invite you and your friends to a cookout.”
“Yes. Kaphiri’s parents throw a cookout twice a year: to celebrate the summer solstice and the fall equinox. Their cookouts are legendary and invitation-only. Being that Papa Merc and Ma Persephone—that’s Mr. and Mrs. Parker—call me son, I can bring however many guests I want, no invite needed. We just all have to ride in the same car.”
“I’ll mention it to them. When is it?”
“About a month from now.”
“Fantastic,” Shantreyl said. “The school year will be over by then. What should I bring?”
Malcolm smiled. “Just yourself. Papa Merc and Ma Persephone will provide everything. And I do mean everything. They have a big house on two acres of land in Ravencliff. They get Carlee’s Soul Patrol to cater the cookout and the food is awesome. They have an open bar and a DJ. There’s a big swimming pool and a clubhouse that has a pool table, a ping-pong table and an air hockey table. The clubhouse also has three bathrooms because most folk are not allowed into Ma Persephone’s house, tracking dirt in on her clean carpets.”
Shantreyl thought of her own mother and nodded. Malcolm continued. “There’s usually dancing, a spades game, a bid whist game, a poker game, and a dominoes game going on, but I don’t suggest you sit at any of those game tables unless you absolutely know what you’re doing. Papa Merc and Ma Persephone destroy people’s lives in spades, and Kaphiri’s aunts and uncles don’t fuck around with bid whist and dominoes. You want to step up to those tables? You better know what you’re getting into. And if you’re into herbal refreshment, you can get that as well. Also, no children are allowed. It’s an old school grown folks party, and we party hard.”
Shantreyl smiled at Malcolm. “That sounds like the cookout to end all cookouts.”
“They are. Papa Merc and Ma Persephone pride themselves on their cookouts. They send out 100 invitations and you must RSVP and show up on time. The cookouts usually start at 5 p.m. and last until midnight. The Parkers have a gated residence and a security guard is on duty to make sure people don’t just wander in whenever they want. You have to show up within forty-five minutes of the cookout starting because once the gate is locked, it’s locked and even if you have an invite, you can’t get inside. Mercury Parker doesn’t play that.”
Shantreyl said, “Wow. And we don’t have to bring anything? A DJ, catering, and an open bar for 100+ people? That whole thing sounds expensive as hell.”
“It is, but they can well afford it. Do you think your friends will be interested?”
“Yes. I’ll tell Jaya and Renee. It sounds like fun. They’ll love it. Especially Renee.”
“They are fun. We always have a good time at the Parkers’ cookouts. Now tell me about what happened when you didn’t show up for the conference this week.”
Shantreyl grinned. “I called in Wednesday morning and then emailed a copy of the doctor’s note to HR and the bottle-blonde bitch on Wednesday evening. I made sure to play the role on Tuesday by rubbing my forehead and temples and telling my kids I had a headache. The bitch didn’t respond to the email, but I don’t care. My ass is covered. I’m sure she’ll have something to say come Monday, but I’m past giving a fuck. Thank you for helping me out with that.”
Malcolm raised his wineglass. “Anything you need, baby. Anything. I mean that.”
Shantreyl raised her stem and they clinked glasses. “You’d better be able to keep this up, Malcolm. I expect this same level of attention three months from now.”
“I don’t start anything I can’t maintain or finish. I told you last week what I wanted out of this and I mean it.”
“All right then,” she said. “Should I expect something next weekend?”
“It will have to be that Sunday, if you don’t mind.”
“I don’t mind. In three weeks, I’ll be out for the summer and my Mondays will be free.”
“We’re going to have a good time this summer, Shantreyl. Trust me.”
“I do so far,” she said. “Don’t give me a reason not to, because once that happens, I’m done. I’m gone. I told you; I don’t like having my time wasted.”
Malcolm smiled at her and finished his wine. The server filled their glasses. Dinner continued with dessert—brigadeiros and bolo de rolo—and when they were finished, they sat and talked about their childhoods, college experiences, and familial relationships. Then Malcolm held out his hand and Shantreyl took it. He stood up and she followed him. Malcolm brought her close and put his hands on her waist.
Shantreyl smiled at him. “Are we about to dance? There’s no music.”
“No,” he said. “I can’t dance, not one bit. I have two left feet. I mess up the two-step. I can’t catch the beat. Kaphiri’s the dancer.”
Shantreyl side-eyed Malcolm. “Really? He doesn’t look the type.”
“I know, but he can. His mother taught him how and she tried to teach me. My mother knew better.”
Shantreyl slid her arms around his neck. “Which one of you boys is your mother’s favorite?”
“Hmm. Depends on how you define favorite. Melvin’s the eldest and a numbskull, so he gets away with a lot. Michael’s the baby, so he’s spoiled and gets away with a lot. I’m the sensible one and the one who takes care of her, but she doesn’t let me get away with anything.”
Shantreyl rubbed her nose against Malcolm’s. “Then that makes you the favorite.”
Malcolm slid his arms around her. “If you say so. Honestly, I believe she loves Kaphiri more than she does the boys she gave birth to. She thinks he can do no wrong.” Then he brushed a kiss against her forehead. “You feel so good, Shantreyl. I love holding you. You’re so soft. I love it.”
“I like being in your arms too,” she said.
He pressed her against him and kissed one of her bare shoulders. Then he chuckled. She looked into his eyes. “What?”
“Can I please put my hands on your ass?”
Shantreyl laughed and nodded. “Sure, why not. Grab away. It could use some love.” She’d barely uttered the words before Malcolm grabbed her ass and groaned. Her breasts were smashed against his chest and he closed his eyes, enjoying the way she felt against him. She laid her head on his chest and inhaled his scent. They were like that for some time.
Then he whispered in her ear, “I keep an apartment on the top floor of the hotel for the nights when I can’t make it home. I wish that you could spend the night.” He kissed the side of her neck.
Shantreyl thought about Renee’s offer for her to carry Mary Jane. “Why can’t I?”
“Because I have to go back to work in a little while and I don’t know when my night is going to end. I don’t want you up there alone, having to wait for me.”
“That’s fine,” she said. “I wasn’t prepared to spend the night. As much as I would like to make love to you again, I want our relationship to be based on our compatibility, not sex.”
“Fair enough,” he said. “You’ll let me know when you’re ready, okay?”
She nodded. “Okay.”
Malcolm kissed her and they stood there for a while, exchanging kisses and hugs. After a few minutes, he broke away.
“Are you ready to go home, baby?”
Shantreyl smiled at him. She was full and pleasantly tired. “I think I am.”
“All right. Gather your things while I call your driver.”
She nodded. “Okay.”
A few minutes later, Malcolm was helping Shantreyl into the Bentley. He kissed her fingers and said, “Good night, Shantreyl. I will talk to you soon.”
“’Night, Malcolm. I had a great time tonight.”
“Good,” he said. “I’ll see you next week. I’ll call you with details before then.”
She nodded again. “Okay.”
Malcolm closed the door and watched the Bentley drive off. He pulled out his cell phone and called Kaphiri.