Chapter 1 – The Only One

There was practically no part of Victoria Island where parking was not a problem, where one didn’t have to circle around once or twice trying to find a good spot, before having to squeeze in between two cars in such a way that it was only just possible to slide sideways out of one’s car.

Hope Alade’s office was no exception. Fifteen floors and yet, only the ground floor for parking. Once you secured a spot in the morning, it was possibly the most reckless thing possible, to take your car out to lunch or whatever, and have someone else take your precious spot.

The security man shook his head again, “Parking don full,” he said in pidgin. “Auntie Hope, you go park for street.”

Hope sighed and found a space on the street in front of the building. She hated doing that, it never felt safe. Some reckless driver might scratch her darling Elantra, or the people from the traffic agency would appear out of nowhere and seize it, which was worse.

“Give him your keys so as soon as someone leaves they’ll move it inside,” Agnes said, she looked drowsy. Pounded yam and goat meat soup was obviously not an advisable choice for lunch, Hope decided, watching as Agnes struggled to undo her seat-belt.

“I don’t have a choice, do I?” Hope glanced suspiciously up and down the street. There were other cars parked on the curbs, but it didn’t make her feel better. “I hate leaving my car on the street,” she said. “We should have walked.”

Agnes gave her a look that said ‘not-me-and-you’. “Walking ke! So that we’ll arrive at a restaurant full of big boys sweating, with my make up running down my face. Thank you.”

Hope smiled despite herself. Agnes was obsessed with big boys, fine boys, hot boys, or just boys.  In the two years that they had worked together at Madueke and Makinde Engineering, she had come to realize that while Agnes was as sharp as a brand new needle at things like circuit diagrams, and specifications for electrical fittings, when it came to men, especially handsome ones, she was as hopeless as a teenager in the throes of her first crush.

“So how many big boys did you catch while we were eating?”  Hope asked, turning off the engine and stepping out of the car into the unforgiving Lagos sun. The heat enveloped her like a malicious, evil spirit, she grimaced, thinking how the car would be as hot as an oven in a few minutes.

“I didn’t catch any because I couldn’t concentrate.”  Agnes replied, after pulling herself out of the passenger seat with some difficulty. She patted her stomach and sighed, making Hope smile. Even in her drowsy looking state Agnes had an undeniably sensual kind of beauty, large eyes, full lips, and an extremely light complexion. She grinned at Hope. “And, I couldn’t concentrate because I was still thinking of the one I saw in our office right before we left for lunch.”

Which one was that? Hope wondered, searching her memory. She hadn’t seen any good looking guys in the office. She strode inside the compound and gave her car keys to the security man, then waited for Agnes to catch up.

“I don’t know how you could have missed him,” Agnes continued with a dreamy sigh. “He came in right before lunch, tall, handsome, smooth… with lips like sugar.”

Hope burst out laughing. “I give up on you,” she said, “You’re just man crazy, Agnes.”

“Which one is man crazy again?” Agnes replied, looking nonplussed. Even in her four inch heels she was still at least half a foot closer to the ground than Hope. She had a full body too, buxom in all the right places, and a full head of curly hair extensions. In contrast, Hope was slender, tall, with a loose long-limbed body. She was pretty in her own way. Her natural hair was long and slightly curly, courtesy of a grandmother who belonged to one of those families that had returned to Lagos from Brazil, with bloodlines mixed with Spanish and Portuguese. Her skin was clear, smooth, chocolate. Her eyes, almond shaped and very dark. It was her lips though, perfectly shaped, full and dark-pink, that always made people, men especially, turn back to stare.

Beyond the impressive revolving doors, the lobby of the Matador house was a cool, and refreshingly air-conditioned cave of marble floors and walls, with lots of familiar faces in suits and well-polished shoes that clicked on the shiny floors. Agnes sighed, “This Lagos sun is enough to kill somebody sha. Just from the street to the lobby and I’m already sweating. She glanced at Hope. “And just so you know. It is perfectly normal for a girl my age to be man crazy. If I wasn’t, even my parents would be worried.”

“Yeah,” Hope snorted.  “Now I’m sure they’re worried that you like them a little too much.”
Agnes smiled and shook her head in a gesture of surrender.

The engineering services firm where they worked was on the ninth floor. They made their way towards the lifts, saying hi to some of the people they knew. They weren’t in a hurry, at least Hope wasn’t. She was far ahead of all her deadlines. She enjoyed her work, and while the endless diagrams and schematic drawing of the intestines of buildings were boring to some people, they weren’t to her.
She wouldn’t have minded a promotion though, she decided, as she and Agnes waited for a lift.

“You should have seen him.” Agnes stated, returning to the subject of the mysterious hot guy, “He came just before lunch for a meeting with one of the managing partners, and he was hot.” She sighed. “So tall, and light-skinned,” she winked at Hope. “and have I mentioned the lips?”

Hope nodded. “Yeah,” she said wryly. “Lips like sugar.”

“Exactly!” Agnes sighed dramatically.

The description nagged at Hope’s mind.  There was only one person she knew who looked like that, well as close to Agnes’s exaggerated descriptions as she could imagine. And he was the last person she expected to see in her office.

A lift descended and the doors slid open. Agnes continued her monologue as they entered, her already wide eyes widening even more as she described the perfection of a man she hadn’t even spoken to. Hope listened, her feelings vacillating between amusement and boredom. She was used to it. If Agnes had suddenly started talking about politics or history, or kept silent, then Hope would have had to check her temperature to make sure she was all right.

The lift had barely moved from the ground floor when it came to a stop on the first floor. Agnes continued her chattering until the doors opened and Daniel Amadi walked in.

That shut her up.

That would have shut anybody up. Nobody would dream of indulging in brainless chatter when a man like Daniel Amadi was in the same room.

Everybody who worked in the building knew who Daniel Amadi was. He was the genius software engineer who had built his business from scratch, and whose offices occupied the top three floors and the penthouse.

There was even something about the way he strode into the lift in his impeccable dark suit, crisp white shirt, and striped tie, Hope thought, stealing a quick glance at him. There was something about the set of his jaw, the understated glint of his silver cufflinks, the subtle hint of his cologne… It was as if somehow, with just his movements, he was proclaiming that he owned the place.

He acknowledged them with a small nod. He never gave anybody any more than that. What were they after all, but a couple of working girls in the small engineering firm a few floors below him? He was the most important man in the building.

As the doors closed, he turned his back to them to enter the number of the floor he wanted. Hope watched his long graceful fingers as they moved over the keypad, Agnes caught her attention, rolling her eyes upwards and fanning her heart with a face that said ‘Be still my beating heart.’  Hope stifled a giggle.

He turned back towards them, totally missing the moment of hilarity. He wasn’t smiling. In fact, Hope doubted that she had ever seen him smile. She had never really been able to understand why all the girls thought he walked on water. He was always serious, and he always looked busy. Sure he was handsome, in that tall, dark and intense way that would have looked good in a model, not the thin ones in the Burberry ads, but the thickly-muscled, sensual ones in the perfume ads for Armani….but what was the use of all the good looks if he never cracked a smile.

The lift started to move. Hope looked over at Agnes. Agnes was staring at the side of Daniel’s face like a deer caught in headlights. Hope stifled another giggle.

The silence was getting uncomfortable, and now she could feel him looking at her. Why was the lift so slow! It felt as if his eyes were burning swatches across her skin.

She looked up at him, and caught him mid-stare. If he was fazed by having being caught, he didn’t show it. His eyes lingered on her face for a moment, and then he looked away.

Hope remembered to breathe. In that one moment that he’d held her gaze, it’d felt as if he was looking into her soul. It was as if she had lost proper control of herself, her senses. She could feel the goose bumps on her arms. ‘Five, six, seven..’  She counted the numbers under her breath as the lift passed the floors. They would get to her floor soon. For some reason, Hope couldn’t wait to get out of there.

She heard a clatter, and almost jumped out of her skin. Then realized that her small clutch purse had fallen on the floor. In the moment it took for her to make that realization. Daniel Amadi had dropped gracefully to his haunches and picked up the purse. Hope stood frozen, watching as he rose and handed it to her.

“Here,” he said. There was nothing personal or friendly about his deep voice. She could have been any clumsy old lady, judging from his impassive face.

“Thank you,” Hope whispered, reaching out with wooden fingers to take the purse. Thankfully her fingers were able to grasp it without dropping it again.

“You’re welcome, Hope.” He smiled, but didn’t let go of the purse.

Hope forgot that they were both holding her purse, that there was something wrong with that, that it looked awkward. She forgot all that because… What a smile! And how come he knew her name? She stared at him in surprise as the lift doors slid open. He had a perfect eyebrow raised as if in the question ‘Your name is Hope, isn’t it?’

Hope had forgotten where she was supposed to be going, caught up as she was in Daniel Amadi’s smile. When he released her purse, she stared at him for a few more moments, a little disoriented. She finally managed to catch herself and walk out of the lift, her legs surprisingly unsteady, as she wondered what exactly had just happened.

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