A Holiday Treat pt. 3 (O Come, All Ye Faithful)
Three days until release day! Here's a bonus peek into chapter 3 of My Silent New York Night. Also, stop by Ana E Ross' Facebook Release Day Party where we will be celebrating the release of her new novel, Loving Yasmine. I will be dropping in at 3pm EST with some prizes to giveaway so be sure to stop by and say "Hi!"
(Read Chapter 1) * (Read Chapter 2)
“Nana, why is Mishca coming to church with us?” I asked in a hushed whisper as we waited in the kitchen for him to finish dressing. “Is he even Baptist?”
What was Nana thinking?
“Does it matter?” Nana asked, adjusting her pincurls in front of the large wall mirror beside the short, plastic Christmas tree. It was pitifully decorated with just a few string lights and a sad looking ornament on top. “He comes once in a while with me and Joanne some Sundays and I’m glad for it. It’s good to see young people taking an interest in the Lord. The neighborhood’s changing so much, these young folks around now would rather stay out all night at the Chocolate Factory than make time for Jesus.”
Chocolate Factory? I couldn’t help but snicker. “Nana, I think you mean the Chocolat Lounge on Frederick Douglass. Unless they opened a candy shop in Harlem I don’t know about.”
Nana huffed. “Whatever. All I’m saying is Baptist or not, there’s nothing wrong with getting the word in from time to time.”
Unless it means I have to fight images of a big penis at church.
My cheeks burned with dismay at the hasty thought. I briefly shut my eyes and prayed for forgiveness for even putting penis and church in the same train of thought. I didn’t even want to admit to my Nana that the last time I had been to service was for Easter service.
I blew out a breath and sank deeper in the sofa. It had been thirteen hours since I had last seen him. Not that I was counting or anything, but evidently, avoiding Nana’s Russian roommate wouldn’t be as easy as I had hoped.
I had done well to avoid Mischa most of Saturday, while I still recovered from our embarrassing encounter. At first, I thought I was finally over it until Nana announced Mischa would be joining us for service today. Now the familiar anxiety and flushed sensation returned. I could have used another day, but apparently I wouldn’t be able to hide away from my embarrassment much longer.
This is going to be a long service.
When Mischa finally emerged from the back, my breath caught in my throat and I quickly averted my eyes back to the miserable looking Christmas tree. Damn, he looks good. He wasn’t wearing a suit, which was the typical attire for the men in the church, but the long black slacks and dark burgundy sweater framed his body nicely. His dark hair was slicked back and neat. Only a man who looked like him could pull off the dangerous, suave look in that sweater, I thought with a smirk.
“Sorry to keep you waiting.”
Abyssinian Baptist Church was a short ten-minute walk from Nana’s brownstone. I tried to measure my steps with Nana’s but still managed to stay two to three feet ahead of her and Mischa. Not that they noticed. The two of them were engrossed in their own conversation about the upcoming church activities, including the caroling that the church had planned for Christmas Eve. It was a tradition Nana had started at the church with the youth groups where they would go around the neighborhood, singing Christmas songs. Caroling wasn’t something that was often done in the neighborhood, but having been a part of it for years before, I was glad to hear it was still an ongoing tradition.
“Nana, do you guys still sing in front of the apartments with the most Christmas lights?” I called over my shoulder.
“No, chipmunk. We stopped doing that years ago. You know, with the weather being so fickle some winters. Now we sing in the Church on Christmas Eve.”
That was one thing I didn’t miss—singing outside in the frosty weather. “You must get a large group of volunteers this year?”
“We do. But we could always use one more,” Nana said pointedly.
I scrunched my nose, grateful I was still a few feet ahead and Nana couldn’t see my face. Singing carols with a bunch of grade-school kids? No. Thank. You.
“It’s two weeks until Christmas Eve, Nana. I can’t get my voice Mariah-ready by then,” I teased, turning to her. Unfortunately, I miscalculated a step on the uneven sidewalk and almost went flying on my butt—again. In a blur, Mischa reached out to steady me from another humiliating fall. His hand was wrapped around my upper arm, but the way my body reacted to his touch, I might as well have been pressed fully against him. He smelled nice, too.
“Careful, milashka. You don’t want to hurt yourself.”
Milashka? That was the second time he had called me that.
“Thanks,” I murmured, pulling away from his strong grasp. Dang, how many times am I going to embarrass myself in front of him?
Why do I even care?
“Ceese, honey, you got to watch where you’re going. You know you’re clumsy.”
I pressed my lips together, my cheeks warming again. Gee, thanks Nana.
After greeting several familiar church members, some I hadn’t seen since I left New York five years ago, we finally made it inside the church. Joanne was already in her seat, only a few rows away from the front. She waved us over and Nana took my hand and led the way. I didn’t realize until we slid into the pews that Mischa was behind me and would be sitting right beside me.
Great. Now I would have to endure two hours of service trapped between my petite Nana and him. It was hard enough getting certain parts of his body out of my mind—how was I supposed to accomplish that with his warm, strong body brushing against my side?
This really is going to be a long service.
With a small sigh, I settled into my seat and began humming along with the Christmas carol playing in the loud speakers, trying desperately to ignore the hard, masculine thigh rubbing against mine.
“That was a great service, wasn’t it?”
I obediently nodded at my grandmother, loving her enthusiasm. But, secretly, I was glad it was over. Not because the service had run a little longer than I anticipated, or because my stomach was practically snarling from lack of food, but because today’s sermon on temptation and pleasures of the flesh had hit a little too close for comfort. I swear, it was as if the pastor had served his sermon up especially for me—and my penis-filled mind.
Stop thinking about penis!
I blinked, realizing that I had been staring at nothing while Joanne and Mischa both stared at me, strangely. Luckily, my Nana had been pulled into a conversation, or else she would have been staring at me with the same curious look on her face.
“Yeah?” I said to Joanne, keeping my eyes fixed on her. The service was over and soon I would be rid of him. Maybe, for this little while, if I pretended not to see him, I could erase all images of him—every last naked detail.
“Where did you want to go for brunch?”
Right now, I could use a drink. Actually, I could use several, and unlimited sangrias sounded like just what I needed. “Calle Ocho.”
Joanne shook her head. “It’s hard to get a reservation there these days. I would hate to make the trip for nothing. Why don’t we just stay local?”
I sighed. “Okay, then what’s my options?”
“Sylvia’s or Red Rooster?”
“I thought you also needed a reservation to get into Red Rooster,” I said.
“Not anymore. At least, not for brunch.”
Then it was a no brainer. I’ve had Sylvia’s more than I can count, but have never been to Red Rooster. Besides, brunch was probably the only time I could afford to eat there.
“Let’s do it, then.”
“Cool,” Joanne said. “Mischa, what are you up to today?”
Joanne’s question took me by surprise. What is she doing? For a moment, I forgot that I was supposed to be ignoring him and flung my gaze to his.
“Just studying. Then I have work later,” he said with a quick shrug.
“Do you have time to eat with us? We’re going to brunch. It’s like breakfast and lunch.”
His lips curved in the sexiest smile. “I know,” he said.
“Would you like to come?”
Panic began to settle in and I shot Joanne a pointed stare, one that she obviously missed. But not Mischa.
“Sure, I have time.” He paused before adding. “Of course. That is if Celeste doesn’t mind.”
If I wasn’t mistaken, I could have sworn his eyes danced a little. Great. So much for getting rid of him. And if I backed out now, I would be the weirdo.
Well, you are.
I silenced the contrary thought, threw Joanne a quick glare, then plastered a smile on my face. My lips were practically cracking, my smile was so tight.
“Why would I mind? The more the merrier, right?”
He cocked a brow.
“Right,” Joanne rushed. “Now let’s get going before we miss the good stuff.”
We said a quick goodbye to Nana, who had gotten herself too distracted with choir rehearsal talk to bother with us. We made it down the block and hailed a cab.
“Why are these cabs green?” I asked as the three of us settled in the back. Luckily, I managed to arrange for Joanne to sit between me and Mischa. Three hours of his heat and scent was more than I needed for one Sunday.
“Wow, you really have been gone a long time. These are the new boro cabs,” Joanne explained. “They basically replaced the jitney cabs up here and the outer boroughs.”
“I thought the Uber did that?”
“Oh, they’re taking over too.”
Within minutes, we pulled up in front of Red Rooster. I didn’t realize how close Red Rooster was to Sylvia’s until I saw the lights of the sign from the old, iconic restaurant glowing just a few feet away. As Joanne predicted, we didn’t need a reservation for brunch, and because the restaurant wasn’t crowded, we were instantly seated in a half booth in the center of the restaurant. I was pleasantly surprised by the rustic, down-home vibe I got from the place, though it was just as hip and chic as everyone made it out to be. I was too busy looking at the décor, I didn’t realize Mischa had pulled into the seat beside me until it was too late. I tried to move over, but there was nowhere for me to go. I was trapped and I had this weird feeling that he took pleasure in that fact.
“Order me a Rooster Punch,” Joanne said, placing her large bag on her seat. “I’m gonna use the restroom.”
I nodded stiffly, realizing I would have to endure being alone with Mischa. Being at the table with just the two of us made this feel more intimate than it should have. I tried to busy myself with the menu, but the feel and pressure of his warm body wasn’t far from my mind.
“What do you recommend to eat here?”
I was startled by the question, but kept my eyes glued to the menu. “I wouldn’t know. I’ve never eaten here.”
He laid his menu down and I could feel his green-blue eyes on me. The silence continued to stretch between us until he pulled the menu from my hands and also laid it down. My astonishment at his audacity made me forget I was supposed to be ignoring him.
“Excuse me,” I snapped. “I was still looking at that.”
“I want to know what I did to make you dislike me so,” he said, ignoring my protest.
My eyes widened some more. “I don’t dislike you. I…” I didn’t know what to say beyond that. I certainly wasn’t going to tell him I found him super sexy or that I liked him.
Because I didn’t.
He continued to stare at me expectantly and I blurted the first thing that came to my mind.
“I just don’t like strangers.”
“I don’t want us to be strangers, milashka.”
I frowned. There it was again. “What is that you’re calling me? Mee-lash-ka?”
The corner of his lips tugged slightly. “It means cutie in my language.”
I blinked. “Oh.” He thought I was cute?
“You’re a beautiful girl, Celeste, and I would very much like us to be friends.”
Maybe it was me, maybe I was reading too much into his words, but he said “friends” in such a suggestive way that it felt like he wanted to be more than just that.
“Well, I’ve never seen my friends butt naked.”
As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I wanted to kick myself. Why the hell did I say that? I was trying to forget that moment but now he knew I was still thinking about him and his body.
“If that is what’s bothering you, you could always make it up to me.”
I frowned. What the hell did he mean by that?
“How?” I asked, my eyes narrowing.
He stretched his arm behind our booth, his magnetic scent enveloping me. He leaned in close to my ear and I held my breath, still keeping my gaze glued to the mahogany wood table.
“Simple,” he murmured. “You could just—”
“Did you guys already order?”
I jumped as Joanne suddenly appeared at the table and dropped into her seat. I tried my best to shift away from Mischa but again was made aware of the limited space between us. Thankfully, he pulled his arm back and picked up his menu.
“No, not yet,” I rushed out to cover my discomfort.
Just then, our bubbly waitress, with her big Tracee Ellis Ross curls, made her way to our table. I vaguely heard the brunch specials the waitress rattled off as I thought about Mischa’s last words… I could just what? What had he been about to say?
“And you, miss? What will you have?”
I didn’t realize I was the last to order until all eyes turned expectantly on me. Because I didn’t want to reach over Mischa to steal my menu back, I just order the last thing I remembered on the menu. “Uh. I’ll have the Fried Yard Bird.”
“Great choice. Anything to drink?”
Oh, I could really use that drink. “The Rooster Punch.”
“Glass or pitcher?”
Joanne and I said it in unison and we both laughed. The waitress carded us, scribbled the request on her small notepad, then picked up our menus before strolling away. She reappeared just as fast with a large pitcher of the deep red sangria and three glasses.
“Just water, please,” Mischa said to the waitress as she began to fill our glasses. With a short nod, she was gone just as quick.
“Mischa, you’re not drinking?” Joanne asked.
“No, I have a lot of studying to do. This is final exam week.”
“Ahh, yes. I don’t miss those days. Ceese, did you have finals in your acting classes?”
“Some. Depended on the class,” I said.
Mischa turned to me, genuine interest in his striking gaze. “You studied acting?”
I nodded stiffly and took a sip of my sangria. It was sweet and strong. Just what I needed. “Yes. At UCLA.” I turned back to Joanne, still unnerved by his penetrating gaze. What’s the matter with me? Any other time, I would be blabbing to anyone who would listen about my amazing experience in my theatre program and all the celebrities I had met in my five years in Los Angeles. Now, I was acting awkward and stiff and not at all like myself.
“Well, I’m glad I finished with City College,” Joanne said. “I don’t know how far that Media degree is going to take me, but at least I left there with something.”
“I still owe you a graduation gift,” I said. “I feel bad that I missed it.” I still did. It had been a winter graduation and it had been hard for me to get to New York in time. But not being there on Joanne’s big day, especially when she was the first in her family to finish college, had bothered me for a while and I wish I could make it up to her.
Joanne waved her hand dismissively. “No, you don’t. As long as you promise to do my make-up, we’re even. We’re still on for today, right?”
“Yes, yes,” I assured her, taking another sip of my sangria.
Joanne beamed. “Good. So what are you studying at Hunter, Mischa?”
Yikes. I hid a wince behind another sip of my drink. How boring. Who actually wanted to study numbers for a living?
“You must be really smart,” Joanne said.
He shrugged. “I work better with numbers.” He glanced at me and his gaze held mine, amusement flashing in them. “With people, not so much.”
I managed to hold his gaze and was proud of that small feat. “Maybe you should work on that,” I blurted. I don’t know where that came from but I credited the sangria for my liquid courage. I suddenly felt like my old self again. “You don’t want to end up a cliché.”
His dark brows pulled together in confusion. “Cliché?”
“Yeah, you know. A stereotype. Like how people think all Accountants are nerds and antisocial.”
He cocked a brow. “Just like they believe all Russians are in the mafia.”
Joanne sputtered. “What?”
I swallowed, remembering my outburst the other day. “No, I didn’t say that.”
“Yes, you did.”
“I didn’t mean…I was only—”
“Don’t worry about it,” he said with a small shrug, lifting his glass to his lips. “You and Ms. Gayle are safe.”
I searched his eyes for any sign of teasing at his vague words of assurance, but couldn’t read any in them. I shook my head, flinging away the silly thoughts forming there. He was only teasing me. He had to be.
I shifted my eyes to Joanne and took another drink of my Rooster Punch, which wasn’t quite hitting hard enough. ♥
**The complete story releases Christmas Eve (December 24th)**
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