While Hope was crying and feeling sorry for herself, Daniel’s driver had brought his car to park beside hers on the lot, where he waited for further instructions.
Hope caught her reflection in the tinted windows over Daniel’s shoulders and smiled ruefully.
Daniel pulled back and peered at her face. “Hey,” he said softly.
She laughed weakly. “I’m fine. I’m fine…I have no idea why I’m even crying.”
He said nothing, instead, he opened her car door and motioned for her to go in, then he went over to the passenger side and joined her inside.
“You’re sure you’re fine?”
She nodded and handed him back his handkerchief. He took it, folded it and slid it into his pocket.
“Do you want to tell me about it?”
She met his gaze. There was concern there, but also curiosity. She was sure he wanted to know who Charles was, not just as someone who cared, but as someone who was interested in her and wanted to know what stood in his way, if anything.
“He…Charles…We used to go out when we were in school. He married someone else…and I didn’t see him for a while, then I ran into him recently.”
“He’s the ghost from the past, the one you were waiting for that night. Also, the guy you were at that party with…a couple of weekends ago.”
“I haven’t spoken to him in a while, but he found out I’d be here today and came, said he wanted to talk…and he said some nasty things, which, I guess I needed to hear.”
“He seems like a jackass. I don’t think there was anything he said that you needed to hear.”
Hope smiled. “I know,” she said softly. “I guess I just feel like a fool for thinking…for ever thinking there was something good in him.”
Daniel’s eyes lingered on her face but he didn’t say anything.
“What?” Hope prompted after a while.
“I just…” he breathed. “He’s the reason why you wanted to take it slow?”
Hope nodded. “Not because I still thought I had feelings for him or anything,” she clarified. “I just needed a little time alone before…moving into something with someone else.” She hated that she was sounding defensive, like she had to prove something to herself, or to him.
“How did he even find out you were going to be here?”
Hope stared at him, trying to read his expression. She could see uncertainty in his face, but about what? About her? About whether she was really over Charles or not?
“Do you think I told him I’d be here because I wanted to see him? Because I still have feelings for him?”
“This is the wrong time,” Daniel said quietly. “I’m sorry I brought it up.”
“It’s not the wrong time if you’re thinking it,” Hope replied, her voice rising. “I have an ex-boyfriend who’s an asshole,” she said. “He invites me on dates then leaves me stranded, is rude and threatening to me in public, and is probably lying about being separated from the wife he dumped me for. Is that too messy for you? Are you going to judge me the way you did when you saw me at that silly party?”
He didn’t reply, and Hope wondered if she had gone too far. Maybe now he would decide she wasn’t worth the stress and walk away. The thought made her oddly desperate. I’m going to start crying again, she thought miserably.
When Daniel finally spoke, his voice was calm and oddly soothing to her panicked nerves. “It’s not too messy. Nothing involving you would ever be too messy for me.”
Hope closed her eyes.
“And I didn’t judge you when I saw you at that party…I was just jealous, and more than a little disappointed because earlier that day I was about to ask you to spend that evening with me and you shut me down, and then I saw you there with another guy…I wasn’t judging you.”
“You snubbed me the next day at the office,” Hope remembered.
He chuckled. “I was just feeling very sorry for myself at the time,” he said. “I was licking my wounds.”
Hope smiled at the mental image.
“I’m glad I got the chance to punch him,” Daniel continued. “He didn’t deserve you.”
Moments ago, she’d been ready to transfer her aggression toward Charles into a fight with Daniel, and here he was soothing her frayed nerves. “I don’t deserve you,” Hope replied softly.
“You’ve got me anyway,” he said. He looked around the car park. “You want to go back into the party?” he asked. Looks like it’s still going on. I haven’t seen any crowds of people leaving yet.”
“No.” Hope shook her head. “I don’t think I’m in the mood for any more partying, plus…they set me up with some guy who thinks women shouldn’t study things like engineering.”
Daniel grinned. “He sounds like a strong masculine type. I think you should go back inside, give him a chance at least.”
Hope laughed. “Nah…I don’t think so.”
“So…should I take you home, or…” He looked at her.
“Or…what?” Hope said.
“We could go to my place.”
She swallowed, searching his face for any sign that the invitation meant anything more than what it seemed on the surface. “Yeah,” she said finally. “Yeah, why not?”
They went in his car, with his driver following them in Hope’s car.
Their destination was in Banana island, on a quiet street with new houses and trees planted along the sidewalk for shade. The house was a compact two-storey building, set back from the fence. As they approached the gates, they slid open electronically and Daniel drove in, acknowledging a wave from the uniformed security man. He parked the car in an open garage which housed three other cars, all covered with tarp. Then he stopped the engine and turned to Hope.
“Here we are.”
Hope smiled at him and climbed out of the car, looking around at the beautiful house, the perfect landscaping, and the efficient use of space. Daniel came to her side and took her hand.
“You have a nice house,” she told him.
“One of my few indulgences,” he replied. “Though, I don’t spend as much time here as I should.”
“Workaholic,” Hope teased.
He only smiled, leading her to the entrance and letting her precede him into the foyer. Inside was bright and cool, and the décor was obviously professionally done.
They went into the living room. “Do you want anything?” he asked. “Food…something to drink?”
“I already ate at the party,” she said, shaking her head. “You?”
“Yeah, I had something before I came to find you.”
“So…” she sat on a settee and patted the space next to her. “What are your plans for me?”
His grin was wolfish. “Nothing much. We can watch some TV, maybe a movie, then I’ll show you around the house.”
“Perfect,” Hope said. “I like.”
She joined him in the kitchen and watched while he microwaved popcorn and retrieved drinks from the fridge, then they settled in the living room and watched a crime movie which turned out to be rather gloomy.
After the movie, it was already dark outside, but he still showed her around the house. It was big, regardless of how compact it looked from the outside, and every single item inside was obviously expensive without being flamboyant or garish.
They ended up on the balcony, where there was a stunning view of the ocean and a huge lounge chair from which they could enjoy it together. She nestled in his arms, drowsy and comfortable.
She must have dozed off for a while because when she opened her eyes, Daniel’s arms were still around her in a protective gesture, but his eyes were closed and he was breathing deeply.
The balcony was lit by dim ceiling lights, but they were bright enough for her to make out his features. He really was perfect, she thought, even with his eyes closed to hide the forcefulness of his gaze. She wanted to touch his face, to let her fingers explore all the planes and angles…
He opened his eyes and saw her devouring him with hers, and he smiled. “You see something you like?”
Hope replied with a self-conscious laugh.
“How long was I asleep?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” Hope replied. “I just woke up myself.”
He looked at his watch. “It’s getting late.”
Hope groaned. “Don’t remind me. I don’t want to get up from here.”
She felt him move, as he turned his body so he was facing her, resting on one elbow. He traced the line of her chin with one finger, and she lay there, feeling the warmth radiating from his body and almost breathless with anticipation.
His eyes met hers, and his lips moved, a little. “I’m going to kiss you,” he said softly.
Hope felt her whole body tremble, but she didn’t say anything. The next moment, he leaned down and his lips covered hers. Hope moaned against his mouth, the delicious feeling of pleasure spreading all over her. His hand was splayed over her stomach, the fingers flexing idly as they kissed.
She heard herself moan, and his hand moved, curving around her waist and hovering at the top of her hip. She moved closer to him, craving the feeling of his body against hers, then, still kissing her, he rolled her on top of him, so she was lying on his chest.
She lifted her head to look at him, and he placed his hands beneath his head as he gazed up at her.
“I don’t know if I prefer kissing you or looking at you from this position.”
Hope folded her arms on his chest and rested her chin on them, smiling at him. “I think I prefer kissing you,” she said.
He grinned. “I’m all yours.”
She placed a quick kiss on his lips. “Why is your chest so hard? Why are you so fit? You’re making me self-conscious.”
He shrugged. “I work out every morning as part of my daily routine. I use the time to think.” He shrugged. “…and you have nothing to be self-conscious about.”
She closed her eyes, enjoying the sensation of lying on his body, feeling his warmth, being so close to him. She lingered there until she started to feel drowsy again.
“I should go home,” she said regretfully. “I don’t want to.”
Daniel sighed. “Don’t encourage me,” he said warningly. “The slightest excuse and I’ll keep you here for as long as possible.”
Hope’s closed her eyes at the image. “That sounds tempting.”
He laughed. “Come on then, I’ll drive you.”
Hope got to her feet. “I can drive myself, you know. You don’t have to drive me home with your driver following behind in my car.”
He looked at her as if she was speaking Greek. “That’s an extra half hour I get to spend with you. You can drive if you like, but I’m coming along.”
Hope laughed, her insides unfurling with warmth at the thought that he really desired to spend as much time as possible with her.
She drove her car, while he stretched out in the passenger seat, fiddling with her car radio. His driver followed behind to take him back home. When they got to her house, she stopped at the gate to kiss him again, then watched as he climbed out and walked over to his own car. She breathed deeply, excitement and fulfilment mingling in her stomach. He waited until Ayuba opened the gates and let her into the compound before leaving.
Dreamily, she floated up the stairs to her room, pleasure still suffusing her body as she prepared to sleep. Just as she climbed into bed, her phone vibrated. It was a message from Daniel.
“I think I definitely prefer kissing you too,” it said simply.
Hope grinned. She was still floating on a cloud of pleasure when she fell asleep.