Author K.L. Hall
A Lover's Heist: Chief & Gianna's Love Story Sneak Peek: Chapter Two
© K.L. Hall and www.authorklhall.com, 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to K.L. Hall and www.authorklhall.comwith appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
The butterflies roaming around inside the pit of my stomach woke me fifteen minutes before my alarm was scheduled to. My eyes fluttered as I rolled over to swipe my charged phone off the edge of the nightstand. After scrolling through Instagram and Facebook timelines, and catching up on the latest news headlines, I pulled my oversized Johnson and Wales University T-shirt over my head and stepped into the shower to fully wake myself up.
I smoothed shea and coconut baby oil gel all over my latte brown skin and walked over to my closet to start putting together an outfit that screamed “I’m a bad-ass girl boss” from my head to my toes. Then, went back into the bathroom to style my freshly silk-pressed hair into a neat donut bun on the crown of my head. Normally, I would be sporting a head full of unruly dark brown curls, but the way my straightened natural hair cascaded past my bra strap was a look I could get behind.
“Today’s the day you become your own boss,” I said to my reflection in the mirror while brushing my teeth in small circles.
My fingertips grazed across the hummingbird tattoo on the back of my neck as my heels clicked all the way down the cherry wood hallway of my two-bedroom apartment and into the kitchen. I popped a K-cup in the Keurig before bending down to peek inside the fridge.
“Hey Alexa, put eggs and creamer on my grocery list,” I said, while pouring the last little bit of creamer into my coffee tumbler.
“Got it,” she responded, as the blue ring lit up on my Echo Dot.
I nervously ran my hands down my curves, paying close attention to my manicured nails. Everything had to be perfect. I had to be perfect if I was going to walk out of the bank with a fifty-thousand-dollar business loan. After downing my coffee and going over my business plan another five-hundred times, I finally decided to make my way to the car. Just as my hand wrapped around the doorknob, I turned to look behind me.
“Folder, check. I.D., check. Second cup of coffee, check. Box of my bomb ass signature eclairs, check. Confidence, mothafuckin’ check,” I mumbled before locking the door behind me.
The engine of my new silver Nissan Altima purred as I sat inside and smiled. I’d just purchased it after my car of eight years finally gave out on me. As soon as I pulled up to the first stop sign to exit my apartment complex, I called my best friend Antonio through my car’s Bluetooth connection.
“Hello?” He purred on the other end of the phone.
I sighed. “Tell me today’s the day I become my own boss.”
“Well, good morning to you too. And yes, Gi. Today is the day you become your own boss!” He assured me.
I grinned. “Thank you! Now, was that so hard? All a bitch needed was a little extra encouragement this morning, T!”
He smacked his lips. “I practically stayed up all night with your ass going over your business plan. You know it frontwards, backwards, upside down and inside out. You’ll be fine, okay? You got this!”
I bobbed my head up and down, refusing to let self-doubt creep in and shit all over my mood. I had to be sharp. “You’re right. You’re absolutely right.”
“Besides, Gi, you’re not just some fly by night pastry chef. You’ve got the degree to prove you know your shit. Plus, you’re already working in your field at Puffs. This is your time to shine.”
If anybody knew my struggle, Tony did. We’d met in culinary school and then parted ways for a bit until he moved down to Miami a few years ago and we’d been thick as thieves ever since. He was the only person, male or female I chose to share my career woes and secrets with.
“I’m just so tired of working under somebody. Especially when I’ve proven I’m the superior pastry chef. But it’s her shop, so it’s her way. I’m just so ready to get out there on my own.”
“You talk about it all the time, Gianna. I know! But uh, speaking of pastries, did you remember the éclairs?”
“Got ‘em right here riding shotgun,” I boasted, while glancing over at the pink box sitting pretty in my passenger seat.
I’d been working as a pastry chef at Puffs Miami, a popular Miami cake shop, for the past four and a half years under the direction of Executive Pastry Chef, Charlotte Kim. As grateful as I was to have landed a job doing something that I loved, I was pushing thirty and more than ready to break out on my own and open my own shop, Hummingbird Sweets.
“Good,” he said. “One bite of your bomb ass éclair and they’ll be tripping over themselves trying to just throw money at your ass like you was one of them hoes down at Magic City!”
I chuckled. “Yeah, let’s hope so.”
“What’s wrong? I can hear it in your voice.”
“I don’t know. Maybe it’s these annoying ass butterflies in my stomach that won’t go away, but I just don’t have a good feeling about this. You know this isn’t my first time trying to get a loan.”
“Okay, and? What’s that shit they say? Third time is the charm, right?”
I sighed just before I whipped into a vacant spot in the parking lot across the street from the bank and killed the engine. “Yeah, I guess you’re right.”
“What time is your appointment with Mr. Money Bags again?” he inquired.
“Nine o’clock,” I said, looking at my phone. It was 8:45am, so I had fifteen minutes before showtime.
“Okay, so that means you’ve got fifteen minutes to get your shit together.”
“Yeah, because this coffee is not helping today. Usually, I’m good after one go around.”
“Coffee? On a day like today? Bitch, you need a shot of Henny! That’ll loosen your ass right on up.”
I sucked my teeth while pulling my Chanel rollerball perfume out of my purse to hit my wrists and behind my ears one more time before I got out. The moment my heels hit the pavement, I tucked my cell phone in between my neck and shoulder to continue the conversation.
“Well, I’m here and I’m officially out of the car.” I huffed, while adjusting my custom fit snow-white blazer and pants set with a blush, silk blouse underneath. “Damn, it’s windy as hell today,” I said, trying to grab the box of éclairs and my folder at the same time.
“Yeah, I can hear it whipping in the background, but nevermind Mother Nature. You got this, okay? Repeat after me. I am.”
“The baddest bitch!”
“The baddest bitch!” I repeated with a smile, while matching his electrifying energy. “Thank you, T. I’ll keep you posted.”
“Love you and good luck.”
“Thanks. Love you more,” I affirmed before ending the call and slipping my cell inside my purse.
The moment I crossed the street and started toward the entrance, a gust of wind brushed past me, snatching my folder, and blowing all my paperwork out onto the dirty sidewalk.
“Fuck!” I mumbled as I scurried to snatch up as much as I could without having to place my box of pastries on the ground.
A stranger’s rose-tattooed hand reached out to hand me three of the five sheets of paper I’d dropped and without even bothering to look up, I shoved them all inside my purse and hollered thank you without troubling to turn my face to theirs. As not to be late, I pushed inside the heavy glass entryway doors and mazed through the roped area and up to the first available wicket with a female teller standing there.
“Welcome to First National Bank. How can I help you today?” The chipper, middle-aged white woman asked me.
“Good morning. I have an appointment at nine o’clock with the loan officer, um, Mr. Charles Lewis.”
“I haven’t seen Charles come in yet but let me go check his office. You’re more than welcome to pour yourself a cup of coffee and sit over in the waiting area, and I’ll have him come out and get you when he’s ready.”
I nodded. “Okay, thank you.”
“Mmm, what’s that, that smells so good?” She asked, eyeing my sealed box of éclairs.
“Thanks. I made some of my famous éclairs for Mr. Lewis, but if he’s willing to share, you’re more than welcome to have one.”
She flashed me a warm smile. “Sounds good. I’ll be right back.”
As she turned to leave, I clicked across the smooth tile floor and took the first available seat my eyes landed on.
The same teller approached me not even two minutes later and said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name before.”
“Gianna. Gianna Austin.”
“Hi, Gianna. I just spoke with Charles on the phone and he said he’s running late to work this morning. Would you like to reschedule? Or if you have time, you can certainly wait it out if you’d like.”
“No, I don’t want to reschedule. Waiting is fine with me.”
“Alright, I’ll let him know.”
My eyes pinged from wall to wall, noting the signs displaying the latest mortgage rates and posters about investing for the future. Instead of grabbing a cup of what I was sure was the most bitter-tasting coffee on the planet, I occupied my time by playing Candy Crush Saga on my phone and scrolling through my Instagram feed once again. So many of my peers from culinary school had gone off to do big things, and as happy as I was for them, I was ready to experience the spotlight for myself. ‘Today’s the day you become your own boss, Gianna. Today’s the day,’ I repeated inside my head.
Forty-five minutes later, a very overweight middle-aged Black man of average-height made his way over to me. “Gianna?” He asked. “I’m Charles Lewis. It’s nice to meet you.”
“Good morning, Mr. Lewis,” I said, outstretching my hand to firmly shake his.
“I’m so sorry for the delay, Ms. Austin. My plan was to meet with you and then be free to receive a delivery, but this morning has just been one of those mornings, if you know what I mean.”
“I understand. It’s no problem at all.”
“Can you just give me a few more minutes to see if I can get someone else to sign for the delivery for me? I don’t want to keep you waiting any longer.”
“Sure. Oh, and before I forget, I brought some of my famous éclairs for you and whoever you want to share them with. Or you can decide to keep them all to yourself,” I chuckled while presenting him the box.
He looked down at the box and smiled. “Thank you. As tempting as they sound and probably look, I’m on a diet, so no can do on the sweets,” he said, tapping his protruding stomach, “but I’ll be sure to put them in the back for the others to enjoy.”
I gave him a warm smile. ‘You know damn well your fat ass wants this whole box,’ I thought to myself. “Yeah, sure.”
“Please, follow me back to my office, and I’ll be with you momentarily.”
The smell of Axe body spray wafted across my nose as he turned on his heels. ‘Now he knows he is too damn old to be wearing some damn Axe body spray,’ I said to myself.
We walked back to his all-glass office, and I watched him disappear. He came back a few minutes later, only for me to have to watch him squeeze himself in between his chair and desk the same way I imagined he’d squeezed into his trousers, not without struggle. Once he took his seat, he looked up at me and smiled.
“So, Ms. Austin, tell me a little about you and your business goals,” he said, thumbing through my paperwork.
“Yes, well, I’ve been working at Puffs Miami under the direction of Executive Pastry Chef, Charlotte Kim for almost five years, and now I’m ready to really branch out on my own and go into business for myself. I have the education, experience, and the clientele. All I need is a place to really make my dream of opening Hummingbird Sweetscome true. There’s the perfect brick and mortar down on Ocean Drive that I know would be absolutely perfect for my shop. I’ve already been in touch with the realtor and everything. This loan is just the last piece of my puzzle.”
“Great. By the delicious smells coming from that box you gave me, I can tell you’re good at what you do.”
“Yes sir, I am. Cooking, well, baking in general has really been a passion of mine since I was a child. Another one of my dreams is to go on a Food Network competition show, like Cake Wars or something to really show off my talent.”
He smiled. “I’m sure you’d probably win. Now tell me more about your education background.”
“Sure. I graduated from the baking and pastry arts program at Johnson and Wales University in Rhode Island. During my time there, I did study in France for a semester as well.”
“And I trust that you have the appropriate paperwork that shows you have your LLC listed in the state of Florida, correct?”
I bobbed my head. “Yes. I got the LLC for my business six months ago. There’s a copy of it on the third page there.”
“And do you do any work on the side? You know, outside of your nine-to five?”
“Yes sir, I have done a lot of different private catering events over the years, especially during wedding season! We are usually always booked out months in advance at Puffs.”
“I see, but I mean on your own—under your business LLC,” he said, peering his eyes down over all my paperwork spread across his desk.
“Well, I—is there a problem, Mr. Lewis?”
He slid his glasses off his face before turning his tired eyes up to look at me. “Listen, as much as I admire all of your preparedness for today—I can see you pay a lot of attention to detail.”
“Thank you,” I interjected.
“But, while your credit history is good, you just don’t have enough collateral and you have less than ninety days’ worth of consistent business transaction history.”
“So, what are you saying?”
He sighed. “I just don’t think this bank is the right lender for your situation at this time. But maybe if you can start taking on more work under your business to show a secure cash flow, we can talk in another three to six months.”
I shook my head in objection. “No, you don’t understand. See, up until a few months ago, I was only allowed to do jobs booked directly through Puffs. There was a non-compete agreement in my contract when I signed on to work under Chef Kim. We just renegotiated it, but just because the receipts aren’t there, doesn’t mean I don’t have the clientele. I have connections, Mr. Lewis. Trust me, I can make all the money I’m asking for right back. You just have to give me a chance. Please, I—I just need a chance,” I said, choking back tears.
He pressed his black, plump lips together before pushing his seat back and rising from behind his cherrywood desk. “Let me go talk to my bank manager and see what we can do. I’m not making any promises, though.”
I nodded vigorously while trying to contain my smile. It was the least he could do for keeping me waiting almost an hour past our set appointment time. “Yes, I understand. Thank you so much.”
“I’ll be right back.”
He left me alone in his office with all glass walls and I quickly whipped out my phone to text an update to Tony.
Me: Ugh. It’s not looking good. 😔😩😢
Tony: What’s happening? What’s he saying? Did you give him an éclair? 🍰🍰🍰
Me: No. 🙄🙄🙄The mothafucka is on a diet!
Tony: Fuck! 🥴Okay. Well, what’s he saying?
Me: He’s saying he’s going to go talk to his manager, but I don’t know. I just don’t have a good feeling about this shit. 😓🥴
Tony: It ain’t over til’ it’s over bitch. Keep hope alive! ✊🏾✊🏾✊🏾Text me when you leave with your loan approval!
Me: Okay. 🤞🏽🤞🏽🤞🏽
I quickly locked my phone back when I heard the door open behind me. Mr. Lewis reentered with another middle-aged man trekking close behind him. “Ms. Austin, this is Donald Frasier, our bank manager.”
“Hi, Ms. Austin. It’s nice to meet you,” he said, outstretching his pale, white hand to mine.
I greeted him with a quick grin. “Good morning.”
“So, what’s going on here? Charles was bringing me up to speed about how you’d like to open your own…”
“Pastry shop,” I told him.
“And he says the issue is that you don’t have enough collateral or consistent business transaction history.”
“Yes, but I explained to him my reasoning behind that.”
“How do you intend to pay back the loan? Walk me through that process.”
“Okay. Well, I have a signed arrangement between me and Chef Kim that says that any client I’ve personally brought in to receive a service at Puffs Miami in the last ninety days can transfer with me when my shop opens. There’s a copy of the signed agreement in the paperwork,” I noted. “And as you’ll see, there are over fifty different clients that are eligible to come with me. Fifty in three months. That’s not including all the other business I’ve brought in over the years, and those people telling their friends.”
“I see,” he said.
“I know I can do this, and I can do it well. All I need is a chance.”
The bank manager pressed his withered, thin lips together. “Unfortunately, without it being on paper, we can’t move forward with approving your loan at this time, Ms. Austin. We do hope you consider FNB for your future banking needs.”
Fighting back tears of hurt, anger, and all-around sorrow, I nodded. “I—I um, understand. Thank you both for your time,” I said, before cutting out of the office as quickly as I could.
By the time I got to the front door; I was unable to stop the levee from breaking. I quickly swiped at my burning eyes when a masked man dressed in all black walked in and pressed the cold steel of his handgun to my navel. His focused mahogany brown eyes pierced mine before he put a finger to his lips to tell me to keep quiet. “Just be cool,” he mumbled.
My knees locked up, causing my entire body to freeze in place. “P—pl—please don’t hurt me,” I whispered as muted tears trickled down my cheeks.
“Take this note and give it to the teller up there on the left. And don’t try no funny shit, bitch.”
With eyes wide, I nodded. “O—okay, just p—please, please don’t hurt me.” I quickly spun around and felt the cold steel pressing through my blazer against my back. “Walk,” he commanded.
Trembling from head to toe, I walked back up to the teller who had been nothing but nice to me earlier that morning and pushed the note underneath the plexiglass opening. The hard edge of the counter pressed into my forearms as I read the words upside down, “Give me all big bills, no dye pack. Hit the alarm and you die.” Her smile soon turned to a frown as she flashed her frightened eyes up at mine.
“Please,” I mouthed to her with pleading orbs.
When she didn’t initially follow the written instructions or heed the warning printed plain as day, he stepped to the side and displayed the gun in his gloved hand and put it to my side.
“You have 10 seconds to run me all the 50’s and 100’s you have in the cash drawers, and the keys to the safety deposit boxes, or I’ma start blowin’ fuckin’ heads off shoulders in this mothafucka,” he forewarned before snatching the note back.
“Y—yes. Right away,” she complied, stuffing crisp, stiff bills into a bag.
“And you better not think of pullin’ the fuckin’ alarm.”
I presumed the hesitation in her mannerisms prompted him to fire a bullet into the ceiling of the bank. After the loud, ricocheting pop, the tinkling sound of the shell casing hitting the floor sliced through the silence before screams of all octaves reverberated throughout. People ducked down to their knees and covered their heads as if they were in the middle of a tornado drill. Within a matter of seconds, the already shit-stained day I thought I was having got drastically worse. The firing of his gun issued a domino effect, and the bank entrance was soon redecorated by a green utility van and millions of tiny shards of glass all over the floor. Three men jumped out in gold-spiked masks and waving AK-47s in the air like majorette batons. Followed by plenty of yelling, and tons of screaming. They moved with such precision, shuffling all the bank’s employees to the back and forcing the rest of us to place our cheeks parallel to the glass-riddled ground.
“Nobody has to get hurt,” one yelled just before he locked the doors.
Soon, our cell phones had all been taken and zip ties were tightened around our wrists. Survival was the only thing on my mind. All I could do was pray when they were finished, they’d leave without harming us. They forced the bank manager down the hallway to the open safe and started taking whatever their black bags could hold.
“We’ve got forty-five seconds. Forty-five seconds,” one yelled out.
As the four men attempted to flee the bank, one of them was tackled by one of the customers who had managed to get his wrists out of the zip ties. Even if I had been as survival-savvy as he seemed to be, I wouldn’t have dared to budge. The one who’d grabbed me and put a gun to my stomach pulled out his gun and shot the man right in his chest. An ear-piercing scream escaped my lips as I slammed my eyes shut, wishing I’d never been granted the opportunity to witness death first-hand.
“Let’s go! Let’s go! We gotta fuckin’ go!”
“Never should’ve tried to be the hero,” he said before disappearing through the back.
Hands laced in a death grip with one another, I shifted my position against the cold, plastic chair I was perched on inside the police station. A claustrophobic sensation tingled through my body as the smell of rust and stale coffee fanned past my nostrils. My eyes darted across the large wall map of Dade County against the cold, pale wall in front of me. The phones continued to ring off the hook as officers shifted about past the interview room I was in as if I had nowhere better to be. I’d been sitting with my shaky nerves for the past hour, and no one had bothered to drop in with an update.
The door opened, briefly revealing a water fountain with an out of order sign taped over the mouthpiece, before a man entered and closed it behind him.
“Sorry for the wait. I’m FBI Special Agent in Charge Miguel Martinez,” he announced.
“Nice to meet you,” I mumbled, barely even looking his way.
He took his seat across the table from me as he rested his hand on the gun tucked inside its holster. “How are you feeling?”
“I—I can barely catch my breath still,” I admitted, feeling like I could jump out of my skin at any moment.
His chocolate brown eyes suddenly softened as he lowered his head and started flipping through his papers. The tattoos on his neck and wrists were playing peek-a-boo with me through his white button up. Curious, I drew my eyes up to his just before he spoke. “That’s all very understandable. You’ve been through quite an ordeal. I am sorry to do this to you, but I need you to tell me any and everything you can remember about your time at the bank,” he stated before putting the small notepad and pen that had been on the table since I’d gotten there, directly in front of me.
I studied the tattoos on his hand as I ran my own hand against the back of my neck. My muscles were wound so tight, it was almost hard for me to simply turn my head in one direction or the other. “I don’t know where to start.”
“Start from the beginning. Why did you go into First National Bank this morning?”
“I had a meeting with one of the loan officers—for a business loan.”
“And then what happened?” He probed.
“Well, once they denied me, I was heading out of the bank when a man put a—a fuckin’ g—gun to m—my stomach. He—he handed me a note and told me to give it to the teller.”
“What did the note say?”
My misty eyes glazed over as I recalled each word on the note. “Give me all big bills, no dye pack. Hit the—hit the alarm and y—you die,” I told him, instantly recalling the terror in the teller’s eyes.
“How many men were there?”
“Four, maybe five,” I answered, “everything is such a blur now.”
“Did any of them talk to you? Say anything?”
“None but the one that held the gun to me.”
“Is there anything you can specifically identify about him? Anything you can testify to, like a birthmark, scar, or tattoo?”
Silence hung over us as I paused, once again losing myself in the dark ink painted over his tortilla-colored skin. My mind had already begun burying as much trauma the day had spewed at me as possible. “No. Nothing like that. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. Our team is very thorough, Ms. Austin. We will find something; I can assure you of that.”