Short. Hella sweet. Very lightly edited.Haven’t met Anika and Royal yet? You can in their Christmas season story, Bittersweet! There’s also a Pinterest Board for the project if you want to see some of my visual inspirations from when I wrote Bittersweet last year.
“I thought we talked about this.”
Royal looked up from his laptop screen, where he was—supposedly, but probably not really—hard at work.
I stayed perched at the door of the office, which was technically shared space since we were both managers, but I was trying to stay away from him.
For good reason.
He sat back in his chair, pinning me with that dimpled grin that made all those Taylors so damn irresistible. We were at work—like, hella at work, slammed with customers right now, and still, his eyebrows lowered, focused on the cleavage he’d sworn wasn’t a bad idea when I’d questioned my attire on the way out of the door this morning.
My bad for believing he could be unbiased.
“Royal,” I scolded. “My eyes are up here.”
“And mine are down there, now what?” he countered, trading in the smile to sink his pretty white teeth into his bottom lip. “Come ‘ere.”
“Because, I am trying to be professional, and I’m mad at you anyway. I thought we established last year that the thirst traps on the official UG Instagram were not the move?”
“Do not play dumb,” I scolded, finally stepping inside. I pulled my phone from my back pocket, turned on the screen, and held it up. “Nobody else except you and Roman even have access to the UG account. And I know I didn’t post it, and neither did Roman.”
“Post what, babe?” he asked, standing to take advantage of my entry. I pushed out a deep sigh—half frustration, half arousal—as he approached me, all tall and smelling good, and… ugh.
I was so weak.
“You know damn well you are the only one who would be posting some mess like this,” I answered, avoiding his arms to point to my screen. This time, the offending image was of somebody’s skinny-jean clad ass right next to the pastry display. The caption? F.W.B. ain’t the only place with W.A.P.–you can get their wonderful, awesome pastries right here at Urban Grind all season.
To his credit, the pastries were at least in focus.
“You say mess, I say smart marketing,” he countered. “We’ve gotta let the people know they can support the collaboration.”
“With ass though?”
He smirked, planting his hands at my waist to pull me against him before he grabbed two handfuls of my ass. “How many likes has it gotten so far?”
“That’s beside the point,” I murmured against his lips as he lowered his mouth to mine. “You could have at least told me.”
“It wouldn’t be a surprise that way though.”
“I hate surprises.”
“No you don’t,” he chuckled, right against my ear as he took his talented lips there next, then down to my neck. “You just hate not being in control.”
“You really believe that, don’t you?” he asked, pulling back so he could see my face.
I nodded. “I do. So… heads up next time, please?”
“Absolutely not. Roman told your ass you had to work together, remember? Teamwork makes the dream work.”
That made me pull away. “And posting something like this, knowing it would get under my skin… that’s teamwork to you?”
Royal’s head tipped back and forth. “Maybe you’ve got a point there. Fine. But still—I don’t have to answer to you is the key point, A-nik-a.”
“Wanna know what’s a bigger point? I wouldn’t have to be bothered with you at all if you’d opened your own location like you were supposed to. Instead, you’re… here. Getting on my damn nerves.”
I… expected that to roll off his back.
Just like every other jab I ever tried to land with him did.
That was our dynamic—at work, at least—him wearing my nerves down to frayed edges, me trying to get under his skin the same way and never succeeding… but maybe not so much this time.
This time, he drew his head back—subtly, but still. His jaw went tight, and he was suddenly content to not be in my space.
“You mean… the other location, which I would’ve had to move to, meaning I wouldn’t be here anymore. With you. You trying to tell me something?” he asked, pushing his hands into his pockets.
No hint of a smirk on that handsome face now.
“What? No,” I insisted, closing the space between us. My phone went back into my pocket so I could tug his hands out, lacing his fingers with mine. “Mr. Sensitive,” I teased, trying to cut through the sudden tension. “What’s up with you?”
“No, it’s something.” I released his hands to cup his face instead, forcing him to meet my eyes. “Talk to me. What is it?”
He shook his head. “Nothing, really. I just… I saw the first pictures and shit from the Forest Harbor location today, and… I don’t know.”
“You’re in your feelings about it?” I asked, which… wouldn’t be surprising. It would be pretty understandable, since Forest Harbor was supposed to be his location.
And he was right.
He’d given up the option to stay in the Heights.
Now, if we were keeping it a buck, it wasn’t just because of me. He liked the Heights, enjoyed being close to his family, enjoyed being at the flagship store. And now, as Roman was approaching a level where scaling up would mean going corporate, Royal wanted to be close by, wanted to be in the mix for that.
So there were other reasons, too.
But I was one.
“A bit,” he admitted, confirming that I’d guessed right. “And you in here being mean and shit, got me wondering…”
My eyebrow shot up as those words left his mouth.
“Wondering… what? If you should’ve gone?”
All the reactions.
All the emotions, flooding through me at once, but mostly… it stung.
I hadn’t even been in the market for a relationship before Royal had annoyed his way into my face and refused to leave, and now his ass was telling me—
“Just a passing thought,” he continued, replacing his hands in their previous position on my ass. “I do wonder what it would’ve been to kinda build it up on my own with nothing but the name, but… honestly, the thought of not being able to get on your nerves every. Damn day… wouldn’t even be worth it,” he chuckled, dropping his mouth to mine again. “I love your neurotic ass girl.”
My eyes went wide.
“Ain’t nobody stutter,” he said, pulling me tighter. “And don’t be acting all surprised, either.”
It wasn’t an act.
My shock was genuine, a tight ball of emotion in my stomach.
And… my happiness was real—an overwhelming warmth in my chest.
And my relief… man.
“I love you too,” I told him, finally setting free words that had been on my heart for months, but I was too scared to say. After so many failed relationships—so many times I’d said those words too soon, unreciprocated, I… wasn’t sure I’d ever feel safe offering them again.
Nervous didn’t even register for me now.
Just a deep thrill as he kissed me for real this time, none of that quick, cute stuff we usually limited ourselves to at work. And once he’d finally pulled back, he met my gaze with a grin.
“Man… I thought you were gonna come in here mad cause it was your ass in the picture. Not just cause I didn’t tell you.”
I sucked my teeth. “If you don’t stop. I know I’ve got ass, but not that much.”
He smirked. “Babe… that’s definitely you.”
“No it’s not,” I argued, pulling back so I could retrieve my phone again.
And… really, I should’ve known by the way he tried to sneak out of the office, but I had to see it for myself.
There it was.
There I was, in all my out-of-focus glory, my ass taking up the corner of that goddamn Instagram post.
“I hope you know I’m gonna kill your ass!” I called down the hall to him, just before my phone chimed with a text from my mother.
I grinned as soon as I saw the icon telling me there was a photo attachment, and opened it up, knowing that my parents were now on what they’d claimed was about to become their Christmas tradition—lavish ass trips.
I wasn’t invited, but I still wanted to see.
Or so I thought.
“Ew mama!” I whined, to nobody but myself until I typed back exactly that in response to the message.
She and my father, obviously lit and still drinking, her in a Mrs. Claus bikini and him in matching Santa trunks on the beach.
The picture wasn’t the issue, though.
It was the words that came with it, which my mother insisted on embarrassing me with as often as she could now, apparently.
“Having a blast on the beach now, baby girl, love you! Don’t call til tomorrow—mama’s about to go Ho, Ho, Ho LOL! MERRY DICKMAS.”
– The end.