pebbles

Tunde smirked in amusement as Anaya adjusted the front of her button-down floral cardigan. They sat in Tunde’s car, waiting at Anaya’s soft request to gather her wits and he’d complied. The silence in the car was muffled by the gentle pitter-patter of the rain outside.

When she tugged at a stray thread at the hem, Tunde reached over and covered her hand. “Relax,” he said gently when she peeked up at him. He grinned. “My mother won’t bite. Besides, Felicia and Silas will be there.”

Anaya blinked at him.

“Felicia told me she had lunch with you while I was gone.” He raised a brow. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

She shrugged with her hand still under his. “I didn’t have time to think about it…”

Tunde beamed openly, still reveling in the moment of Anaya accepting his proposal to court her. He couldn’t wait for his mother and brother to meet her. She was everything he’d wanted and much more. His eyes lifted from her lips back to her warm brown eyes. “If I didn’t want to wait until my ring was on your finger, I would kiss you right now…” he said in a low voice.

Her eyes widened and she jerked her hand from under his. “I’m ready!” she said all too quickly, pulling off her seatbelt.

Her jerky movement invoked a low laugh from Tunde.  “Alright, pretty girl,” he said, unbuckling his seatbelt. Ducking out of the car, he smirked over the hood at her. “Don’t be nervous. They’ll love you.”

Anaya nodded; face aflame from Tunde’s confession and the wanton thoughts that flooded her mind. She wished he would just do it instead of waiting but knew that he intended to do things in order. She was still reeling when Tunde extended his hand.

He bit back a chuckle when she studied his hand suspiciously. “Don’t worry, I won’t kiss you yet.” He forced himself not to smile, staring expectantly at her with his hand out.

Fighting back a wave of disappointment at his words, Anaya placed her hand in his. Warmth rushed through her arms and down to her legs when his long fingers curled around her palm and he tugged her beside him. Anaya blinked up at him, catching that devastating dimpled smile full of mischief. She’d missed it. “You promised.”

“Unfortunately I did,” Tunde bantered and leaned forward to kiss her forehead. “Loosen up. You don’t want her to smell your fear,” he teased, pulling her with him toward the front of the two-story brick home.

Her hand still in his, Tunde reached over and rapped on the metal hook on the door. Moments later, the lock rustled and the door opened to reveal Silas on the other side. He looked annoyed.

Anaya stared at the man standing on the threshold. She recognized him from Tunde’s pictures and knew this was his younger brother. Her stomach tensed and relaxed in the same moment his scowl eased into relief at the sight of them.

“It’s about time you got here. Mom and Felicia are already making wedding plans.” His eyes fell on the quiet woman beside his brother and he grinned.  “I finally get to meet the woman both my brother and girlfriend have fallen in love with…” He pulled open the door, gesturing her in.

Tunde nudged at Anaya’s hand. “You first,” he said, eyes gently encouraging her to step inside.

Anaya swallowed against the lump forming in her throat and took one step over the threshold.

Familiar scents filled the room and assailed her senses as she stepped into the main parlor, her eyes adjusting to the dimly lit room. Anaya tightened her hold on Tunde’s hand.

The two brothers exchanged glances and Silas smirked approvingly before turning back to Anaya. “Felicia is in the kitchen with Mom. Why don’t we go in there?” He raised a brow at Tunde who remained quiet beside Anaya.

Anaya shifted her eyes to Tunde and when he winked at her, she turned back to Silas and nodded.

“Good,” Silas said with a pleased smile and led the way across the parlor to the kitchen. Female voices filled the silence and Anaya could pick out Felicia’s voice from the time they’d sat together at lunch. Her heart skipped a beat when she heard the modulated voice of the other female and she paused in step. Silas didn’t notice as he stood at the doorway of the kitchen. “Ladies, Tunde and his girl are here.”

Tunde’s free hand moved to the small of Anaya’s back. “Sounds like you two are getting along in here,” he said over Anaya’s head as he gently pushed her forward. “Mind if we join in?”

“Of course not!” the unfamiliar but friendly voice responded. The sound of a chair’s legs scraping against the floor clued Anaya that the woman was now standing and she pulled her gaze from the floor to the kitchen.

A tall and slender woman with dark skin like Tunde’s stood beside Felicia. Her black hair, short and curly glistened under the kitchen light and her open smile was just as bright. Anaya didn’t know what to say. Everything about the woman mirrored Tunde, from her broad shoulders to long arms and chiseled features. The stiffness in Anaya’s back eased away.

“Welcome to our home, Anaya…” Josephine Halliday said graciously as she gazed at the shy woman flanked between her two grown sons. Her eyes took in the soft beauty of the Fulani girl and felt her heart flutter with compassion. She moved from around the counter toward her, arms spread out.

“My mom likes to give hugs,” Tunde said softly to Anaya as she approached them.

Anaya felt her body pulling toward the woman’s open arms and she bit back a sigh as Tunde’s mother tugged her into the embrace.

Josephine peered over the girl’s shoulder at Tunde and winked. Then she pulled back to gaze down at Anaya. Her heart twisted at the girl’s glistening eyes and reached up to cup the girl’s cheek. “I am very glad to finally meet you, beautiful Anaya.” She shifted her eyes to her two sons again, her own vision blurring. “My two sons have made me a very happy woman.”

Tunde smiled proudly at his mother who kept an arm around Anaya’s shoulders. He wanted very much to be the one holding Anaya, consoling her. He knew she wrestled with her thoughts over her mother’s reaction to their relationship but he was grateful for his mother’s calm and welcoming nature.

Felicia stepped around the counter to stand beside Silas. She wrinkled her nose when he slipped an arm around her waist and pulled her into the crook of his arms. Her eyes fell on Anaya’s and winked at the younger woman, silently encouraging her that everything was finally falling into place. For both of them.

Cloud nine could not compare to the state Anaya found herself in as she pulled away from Tunde’s warm embrace outside her house hours later. The sounds of crickets filled the night air and the cool breeze tickled the back of her neck.

His bright smile still shone through the dark. “I had no idea you could be this quiet.” He squeezed her hand. “You sure you’re okay?”

Anaya nodded. Her pulse quickened when he released her hands and raised his own to frame her face.

He tilted her face gently in the direction of the moon, his eyes searching hers. “Are you happy?”

Her bones melted at the tenderness in his voice. “Very…”

Tunde grinned wider. “Good. They love you. I told you there was nothing to worry about.”

Anaya looked down shyly. The warmth from both his mother and brother overwhelmed her. It was almost like she was home with them. Then she blinked and looked up at him. “Your father—is his name Paul?”

Tunde blinked at her. “Why?”

She shrugged. “I saw a painting hanging over the mantle and saw the signature. I just assumed…”

He chuckled, still framing her face to watch the movement of her mouth. “The painting is mine.”

Anaya didn’t know what to do first. Gush over the fact that Tunde was a talented artist or laugh aloud that his real name was Paul. She felt the wave of laughter surge from the back of her throat.

“Alright, alright,” Tunde rolled his eyes as Anaya fought a giggle. He could feel her straining not to laugh. “Let it out. Yes, my name is Paul Olutunde Halliday.”

Anaya bit the inside of her cheek. “So… Paul and Silas Halliday?”

Tunde sighed heavily. “My parents, rather my dad thought it was a good idea.” He shook his head. “When I was old enough, I legally changed my first name to Tunde.”

“Paul Halliday,” Anaya said, hiding a smile.

“Tunde.”

The slight frown on his face was adorable. It was obvious he’d been teased endlessly about his first name as a child. She wanted to place a kiss on his cheek. So she did. Lifting on her tiptoes, Anaya pressed her lips against the smooth skin above the spot where a dimple showed every time he smiled at her. The scent of him assailed her nostrils, urging her to stay there with her lips against his cheek.

The overwhelming feeling threatened to rock her off her feet. Slowly, she lowered back on her heels and looked up at him. The hooded look in his eyes sent her heart racing.

“I think it’s time for you to go inside, Ana,” he said in a taut voice.

Anaya stiffened. Had she angered him? Her eyes searched his, ready to apologize. She didn’t want this glorious day to end with misunderstanding. “I…”

His hands moved to curve over her cheeks. “Until you’re my wife,” he said in a softer tone, his eyes moving over her face gently. “Please go inside so I don’t have to apologize for breaking my promise.”

Relief swept over her. Anaya smiled gently and lifted her hands over his own. “You’re a good man, Paul Tunde Halliday… and I… love you.”

Tunde blinked.

Her smile didn’t waver, the warmth from him encouraging her on her conviction of the two of them.

“Say it again.”

Her heart soared at his gentle plea. “I’ve waited my whole life to find a man like you… I love you, Tunde.”

His arms enveloped her in a tight embrace. “I love you too, my girl,” he whispered against her temple. “It won’t be much longer now… I promise you.”

Anaya smiled as she leaned into him, believing in nothing but his earnest words and this precious moment they shared privately.

<<Part 11 || Part 13>>

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