Tag Archive | lagos romance series

Chapter 9 – The Only One

“I’m very very attracted to you.

What did that even mean? Hope wondered later, in the privacy of her room as she prepared for bed.

What did he want, or expect, and more importantly… what did she want?

She was attracted to him, she’d be lying to herself if she denied that. She remembered how she felt being close to him, the way her skin tingled, the way her whole consciousness reacted to even the slightest touch…

She closed her eyes and sat on her bed. After dinner, after that discombobulating revelation that he was attracted to her, he’d brought her home, allowing her to give him directions. He’d been polite, pleasant as he said goodbye, nothing else. No hint of desire for any kind of intimacy, no suggestion of wanting something as simple as a kiss. She’d said goodnight too, questions hovering on her tongue.

And now she couldn’t stop thinking about him.

The air from the AC felt cool against her skin. She sighed and lay back on the bed, pulling the duvet over her body. She had work tomorrow, so she needed her sleep, but just before she finally let go of thoughts of Daniel and drifted off, she realised with satisfaction, how little thought she’d given to Charles throughout the night.

 
The next day was uneventful. When she got to the office, Hope kept an eye out for Daniel in the lobby, but she didn’t see him. All through the morning, her mind kept wandering back to him as she worked, going over every single word he’d said. They hadn’t made any arrangements to see each other again, and now she wondered when she would see him.

At lunchtime, she ordered a Chinese takeaway and ate at her desk while most of the others went out. Then, with about thirty minutes to spare, she did a little online shopping and checked her social media while around her, colleagues returned from their lunches.

“Hope.”

She heard her name and looked up from her computer to see Ladi, one of the front desk receptionists, approaching her desk. Ladi was petite and soft-spoken. With a degree in accounting, she’d only settled for the front desk job because she hadn’t found anything else.

“Hey,” Hope smiled at the girl. “What’s up?”

“You have a delivery,” Ladi said in her tiny voice, and Hope noticed the gift bag in her hands, watching as Ladi placed it on her desk. “I signed for it.”

“Thanks,” Hope said. She opened the package and pulled out a box of Belgian chocolates wrapped with ribbons tied in a bow. There was a note under the bow, and Hope frowned, convinced that it was an attempt at a half-assed apology from Charles.

It wasn’t. She opened the note and read the words in a firm, slanted handwriting she had never seen before.

“Had a great time last night. Have been out of the office all day but I was thinking of you. Daniel.”

Hope stared at the note, a flush of pleasure causing a smile to take over her face. She noticed that Ladi was still standing there, looking expectant as she squinted at the note. “Thank you,” Hope said pointedly, certain that if Ladi so much as guessed the sender of the note or it’s content, the news would be all over the office in seconds.
“You’re welcome,” Ladi said, looking disappointed as she walked away.

“Yay! Chocolates!” It was Agnes, and Hope hastily put the note in her desk drawer. She wasn’t ready yet to talk about Daniel with anyone, least of all Agnes.

“Who’re they from?” Agnes asked, coming over to lean on Hope’s desk.

“A guy.”

Agnes gave her a look. “Okay o! If you don’t want to tell me, at least give me small chocolate make I chop.”

Hope laughed. She opened the box of chocolates and took out a few of them for herself, then gave the rest to Agnes to share with the others, since it wasn’t like she could eat them all anyway. She would have liked to send Daniel a thank you message, but she realised now that she didn’t have his number, and he didn’t have hers.

How awkward.

By the close of day, she still hadn’t seen him, and she wondered if he had been out of the office all day. It was just as well. She could imagine the furore it would cause among her colleagues if he showed up at the office looking for her, or if he called the front desk and identified himself. Ah! Hope could just imagine Joy and Ladi making a huge mountain out of such a little thing.

She got ready to go home, freshening her makeup and telling herself that it wasn’t because she hoped she would run into him in the downstairs lobby.

She took the lift to the ground floor, then stepped into the lobby, her eyes scanning the full area she could see, expectation making her chest tight.

But he wasn’t there.

She was being silly, she decided. He was a busy man. It wasn’t like he was the kind of person who had time to hang around in the lobby hoping that she’d walk by. When he wanted to talk to her or see her, he’d probably make it happen.

She started towards the entrance. She slowed her steps as she passed the seating area, still hoping that maybe there was a chance that he’d be there. He wasn’t. Sighing, she continued outside.

“Excuse me.”

She whirled around at the sound of Daniel’s voice, then cursed herself for being too eager, too excited. He was standing behind her, wearing a light blue shirt, sleeves rolled up again, and pants that showed off his slim waist and long legs. He had a mischievous smile on his face though he seemed to be trying not to smile. The whole effect was very endearing.

“Excuse me,” he said again, still trying to wipe the smile off his face and look serious. ‘My name is Daniel Amadi, and I work in the building. I’ve noticed you around, and I’d like to get to know you better. Can I have your number so we can…maybe talk?” He even managed a hopeful expression for effect.

Hope burst into laughter. “I’ll give you my number if you admit that those lines you just used are terrible, and wouldn’t work on any girl who didn’t already know you.”

“You think?” he joined in her merriment. “That was the standard pick-up speech when I was in secondary school.”
“I’m sure you were also awful at picking up girls.”

He quirked a brow and raised his eyebrows. The mischievous smile was back. “I’m not telling.”

Hope gave him a pointed look, and his grin widened. “I had lines,” he proclaimed. “Good ones.” He paused and regarded her for a moment. “So seriously, I’d like to have your number.”

Hope nodded. “Of course. I was thinking about that earlier. How I couldn’t call you if I wanted.”

He raised an eyebrow teasingly. “You wanted to call me?”

Hope blushed. “Just to thank you for the chocolates.”

“So you say,” He was smiling, the teasing expression still there. They exchanged numbers, saving each other’s contact details into their phones.

“I’m working late tonight,” he said, when they were done, a note of apology in his voice. “But I’ll call you later. Do you mind.”

Of course not! “No, I don’t,” Hope said evenly. “Thanks for last night, …and the chocolates.”

He winked. “I told you,” he said, backing away. “I aim to please.”

She watched him go, sure that she had a foolish smile on her face. She turned back towards the entrance, unable to stop smiling as she walked outside. In the parking lot, her phone beeped, and she unlocked the screen. There was a new message.

“I didn’t tell you how great you look. You look beautiful today. Daniel.”

Now there was no way she was going to succeed in wiping the smile off her face.

When she drove into the compound, she noticed her brother’s car. Excited to see him, she hurried into the house. Her parents were in the living room, with Gerald seated on the arm of her mother’s chair, showing her pictures on his tablet. Her mother was laughing and blushing, as she always did when her son was around.

“Who is this troublemaker?” Hope said, walking into the living room.

Gerald looked up and his face split in a grin. He was taller than Hope, slightly darker, but their features were very alike. He was handsome, and he knew it, that was obvious in the way he carried himself.

“Hope!” he exclaimed, walking towards her. He wrapped her in a hug, then pulled away to peer at her face. “You’re looking very pleased with yourself,” he noted suspiciously.

“It’s God,” Hope said with a shrug, her mind going back to Daniel’s text. “What are you doing home?”

He sighed. “I was missing you guys. Decided to bless you people with one night of my busy life.”

“Seriously,” Hope rolled her eyes. “You’re so full of yourself. Nobody considers your presence a blessing.”

“I do, please,’ Patience quipped. ‘I’m ecstatic to see him.” She gave Gerald an indulgent smile.

Gerald smiled smugly in Hope’s direction. “I’ve missed pissing you off,” he said.

“I’ve missed your empty head,” she replied teasingly.

Later, when she’d gone upstairs to change out of her work clothes, she returned downstairs, and they all had dinner together. Gerald worked in the legal department of one of the biggest auditing firms in the country, and he had a lot of stories about work.

“How’s that your friend from Law school?” their mother asked, naming one of Gerald’s friends who’d made an impression on the family during Gerald’s law school days.

“Oh. He’s fine,” Gerald said. “He’s actually getting married next month.”

Patience sighed. “His parents are so lucky.”

Both Gerald and Hope rolled their eyes, and even their father couldn’t resist a chuckle. Patience shook her head. “I don’t know which one of you two is worse. Settling down is not a curse. It is a good thing. If not for Grace that has consented to give me grandchildren, I don’t know what I would do with the two of you.”

Their father looked from Hope and Gerald to his wife. “Patience, let them eat.”

She huffed but kept quiet after that.

“You’re lucky you still live at home,” Gerald said later, when they were up in her room, gisting. “Home cooked meals and free housemaid.”

“Sometimes, I don’t think it’s worth the freedom of having my own place, especially when mum starts with her marriage wahala.”

Gerald laughed. “You know if you really wanted to move out they won’t stop you. They’d just be sad and lonely.”

Hope sighed. “So, I’m the loneliness alleviation child.”

He ignored her. “I saw that your former boyfriend about a week ago. Charles something. He came for a meeting in my office.”

Hope was quiet. “Did you talk to him?”

He frowned. “No. I don’t think he recognised me. He was flirting with one of my colleagues after the meeting. I almost decked him. I still remember how he made you cry for like six months straight when he messed up.”

Flirting with one of Gerald’s colleagues. She wasn’t surprised. A week ago. Even while he’d been telling her how much he’d missed her, he still had time to flirt with someone else.

“Forget about him,” she said, more to herself than to Gerald.

They talked a little bit more, then Gerald, who was spending the night, went to sleep in his old room. He was leaving very early in the morning, since, as usual, his visit had been spur of the moment and he still had to go to his own apartment to change before going to work.

After he had gone, Hope prepared for bed, taking a quick shower before changing into her night clothes. She got into bed and almost immediately, her phone started to ring. It was Daniel.

“Did I wake you?”

“No.” It was odd, how happy she was to hear his voice. There was a little bloom of pleasure starting in her belly. “I just got into bed.”

“Hmm,” his deep voice vibrated through the phone. “I got home a couple of minutes ago, and I wanted to say goodnight before it was too late.”

“Now is perfect. My brother’s home, so I stayed up talking with him.”

“Lucky you. I’m alone here. I wish I saw my family more, but they don’t have time for an old workaholic like me.”

“You’re not old,” Hope protested.

“Ah…” he laughed, the warm sound filling her ears. “but I’m a workaholic, right?”

Hope smiled at his teasing. “I didn’t say that.”

“You didn’t not say it.” He paused. “Did you get my text?”

“Yes,” Hope blushed. “Thanks. You didn’t look too bad yourself.”

He laughed. “Thank you. I don’t get complimented on my good looks often enough.”

She knew he was joking, but she didn’t laugh. “Maybe I should remedy that,” she said.

She heard him breathe. “Hope,” he said softly. She liked the way he said her name… as if he liked the way it sounded on his lips. “Hope, will you have lunch with me tomorrow,”

She smiled. “Depends. Will you take me somewhere as nice as the last place?”

“Somewhere even better,” he promised. “And while we’re there you can tell me how hot and irresistible you think I look.”

“I’ll make sure to do that,” Hope laughed. “See you tomorrow then.”

There was a short pause on his end. “I can’t wait,” he said finally.

To be honest, neither could she.

Chapter 8 – The Only One

The next morning, while she was getting dressed for work, Hope’s phone rang. It was Charles.

“I’m outside the gate,” he said.

Hope frowned, confused. “You’re here? I don’t understand.”

She heard him sigh. “Hope… I’m sorry about yesterday. I want to talk.”

“Talk?”

“And maybe try again?”

Try again? Hope wanted to refuse. She should. The silence stretched. She imagined him sitting outside in his car, waiting. She imagined telling him to get lost. She imagined his face as he drove off, that hint of sadness that would be there, the small self-pitying smile…

“I’m surprised,” Hope said slowly. “I wasn’t expecting you.”

“I know.” He paused. “Why don’t we talk when you come down?”

She finished dressing, hurrying through all her preparations before going downstairs to join him. If Ayuba had any thoughts about her leaving her car behind for the second day in a row, he kept them off his face.

Outside, Charles was waiting. As usual, mellow music was playing on the car radio. His white shirt was crisp even in the dim light, and she hated how she couldn’t help noticing how good he looked. His eyes met hers as she climbed into the car, his expression unreadable.

“Hi,” he said when she didn’t say anything.

“Hi,” she replied quietly.

He didn’t say anything else for a long time as he drove out of the estate.

“I’m sorry about yesterday,” he said finally.

Hope was quiet. What exactly was he sorry about? Nearly jumping her bones in his apartment, or acting like a sulky kid when he didn’t get what he wanted.

“I’ve never stopped thinking about you.” His voice was low. “And yesterday I got carried away. It’s just… there’s so much I want to have with you, Hope.”

What about what I want? Hope thought. I want to know I can trust you. I want to be sure that the past won’t repeat itself. “I don’t know, Charles,” she whispered. “Whatever it is you want, you’re going to have to give it time.”

For a minute he didn’t respond, then he nodded. “Fair enough.”

They were both silent as he navigated the traffic, though the sky was only just lightening to the grey of morning, the roads were already full of commuters hurrying to work.

“I’ll pick you up at the same time in the evening,” he offered. “So we can do dinner again.”

Hope gave him a sidelong glance. He looked like he really wanted this, like he really cared to make her want to see him again and spend more time with him. “Okay, but at a restaurant, this time,” she insisted, “I’m not going back to your place, and you take me home immediately after we’ve had dinner.”

He gave her a look, a mixture of contemplation and amusement, then he nodded acquiescence, and his eyes went back to the road.

They didn’t talk much after that. At Hope’s office, he wished her a nice day, then he was gone.

Hope watched him drive away. She was still puzzled that he had come at all, that he was still making an effort. Could it be that he was sincere, that he really wanted to work towards something solid with her? Time would tell, she decided, walking into the building. She would take it day by day and see where it went. At the elevator bank, she spent a few seconds waiting for a lift, and when one of the doors slid open, she entered, then as she turned to wait for the doors to close, she saw Daniel Amadi walking towards her with his confident unhurried stride.

Her eyes widened, and her heart kicked fiercely in her chest. She’d tried not to think about him since he snubbed her in the lobby, but now all the regrets came crashing in her mind. She held the lift for him, but was quiet as he joined her inside, his presence making her feel as if there was something preventing her lungs from getting enough air, as if he’d suddenly sucked all the breathable air out of the small space.

The doors slid closed, and to her surprise, he smiled at her. “Hello, Hope.”

She attempted to smile in response. She didn’t understand her reaction to him. It wasn’t anything like her reaction to Charles. With Charles, there was the nostalgia and longing from all the memories they shared, and of course some sexual attraction. With Daniel, it felt as if he invaded all her senses and somehow, without doing anything, could make her unsure of herself.

“Hi,” she responded, watching as he entered, first the number for her floor, then his. He turned back to her. There was still a hint of a smile on his face. A big contrast to how he’d looked the day he’d seen her with Charles at that party.

“You look great,” he said now. “How’s work going?”

“Fine,” Hope replied, her voice calm, unlike her thoughts. “And you? How are you?”

“Never better,” he said with a small shrug. He looked like he was going to say something else, but the lift came to a stop, and the doors slid open. They were already on her floor. Hope moved towards the doors, strangely hesitant to walk away from him.

“Have a great day,” she told him.

He nodded. “You too.”

As she walked into the reception of her office, her mind was still on him. It was a perfectly innocuous exchange, so why did she feel so tense, so weird, so… confused. It was puzzling.

The day went very slowly. After a while, she stopped thinking about Daniel, or even Charles and concentrated on finishing her work targets for the day. At five, most people started to leave. She was still waiting for Charles, though she wasn’t sure when he was coming exactly.

Her phone rang, it was him.

“What’s up?” she asked.

“Nothing much,” he answered. “Still at work?”

She frowned. “Where else would I be? I’m waiting for you. We’re still having dinner tonight, aren’t we?”

“Of course,” he said quickly. “Look, I have a meeting that’s taking forever to end, so I’ll run a little late.”

‘Maybe we should cancel,’ Hope almost said the words, but she decided not to. She didn’t want it to seem like she was still salty about last night. So instead she said. “Call me when you’re free.”

“I will,” he said.

She spent the next few hours doing a little more work, then catching up on her TV shows. It had gotten dark outside, but Charles still hadn’t called.

Almost everyone had left the office now. Everyone in the open office had gone, but there were still lights on in some of the senior partner’s offices. Hope freshened her makeup, then picked up her bag and made her way out of the office, taking the lift to the downstairs lobby. She didn’t want to be the last person left in her office preventing the janitor on her floor from locking up, At least, the downstairs lobby stayed open till much later.

She settled on one the chairs in the waiting area and fished her Kindle out from her bag. She started to read one of her novels, but after a short while she dozed off.

It felt like a long time had passed when she woke up with a start. She glanced at her watch. About an hour had passed. Panicking, she reached for her phone, expecting to see a torrent of missed calls from Charles, but she was shocked to find none at all.

Not even one call.

He’d kept her waiting this long, and he hadn’t even bothered to call.

She couldn’t believe it.

But why was she surprised? It was Charles after all. By now, the only constant was that he would surely disappoint her.

She pushed her Kindle back into her bag and got up from the chair, her eyes taking in the empty lobby. She sat back down and started to search for a number for a cab on her phone.

She heard the footsteps, but she didn’t pay them much attention. The phone call to the cabman was refusing to connect, and it was too late at night to go outside to try to flag down a cab alone. The street was very lonely at night. That was just an invitation for theft or some other kind of violence.

The footsteps stopped, then Daniel Amadi’s voice. “Hope?”

She turned around to see his tall frame in the main area of the lobby. The lights were still brightly lit there, unlike where she was seated, where they had been dimmed for the night. He’d discarded his jacket from earlier in the day, and he held it slung over one shoulder, the sleeves of the plain white shirt rolled up to expose his strong forearms. She forgot everything and spent a moment just admiring him, even as she gave him a small wave.

He walked over to her, looking surprised, puzzled and concerned. “What are you still doing here? It’s very late. Is it a problem with your car again?”

She shook her head. “Nothing like that. I’m… I was waiting for someone, then I slept off.”

He chuckled. “You must have been very tired.” He looked at her face and sighed, then looked at his watch. “Are you going to keep waiting? They’ll be closing the place for the day any time now.”

“No,” Hope shook her head, slightly embarrassed. She was sure that he guessed she’d been waiting for a man, and she wondered if he was now judging her for being the kind of girl men chose to keep waiting. The kind of girl who accepted such behaviour without complaint. “I was just calling a cab.”

Daniel frowned. “I’ll take you home,” he said, his voice decisive. “I wouldn’t trust any cab with you so late.”

There was something possessive about the way he said the words, and it made Hope’s heart skip a beat. “I…” She searched for the simple words to say okay, but they didn’t come.

He was looking at her face. “You don’t mind if I take you, do you?”

She shook her head, taken aback by the momentary glimpse of uncertainty in his features. “No, I don’t mind at all.”
“Okay.” He paused. “I’ll get the car. You can wait at the entrance.” He watched as she picked up her things. “Have you had anything to eat? Dinner?”

She shook her head.

He paused, his eyes on her face. “Would you like to have dinner with me?”

Would it be a date? Hope wondered, knowing that the thought was ridiculous. “Yes, of course, I’m famished.”

He nodded. “Good.” His eyes dug into hers, and she stared back, caught in that gaze, then he looked away. “I’ll go get the car now.”

Hope waited for him in front of the entrance doors, in a few moments he drove up in a black G-wagon with tinted windows. As she walked over to the passenger side, he leaned over and opened the door.

She climbed into the car. The interior smelled like good leather and spicy but muted cologne. She settled into the passenger seat, her bag on her lap.

“Can I take that?” he gestured at the bag, and when she nodded, he lifted it off her lap and placed it on the back seat. Then he grinned at her. “Now, food. Is there anywhere in particular you’d like to go?”

She could think of a couple of places, but she demurred. Right now, she was more curious to know what he liked, the kind of places he preferred. She wanted to know more about him. So, she shook her head. “Pick a place,” she said. “I could probably eat anything right now.”

He laughed. “I think I know that feeling.”

The radio was on some local radio station, and the radio host babbled gossip about some local musicians in an affected and indiscernible foreign accent. Then a popular track came on. The beat was genius, but the lyrics were just slightly above nonsensical.

“Who writes these songs?” Daniel laughed, his voice echoing her thoughts. She turned to look at him, watching as in the darkness of the car, his teeth gleamed white in his laughing face.

“I ask myself that question all the time,” She said with a chuckle.

He turned the music on and listened for a few moments, his head bobbing just a little. “At least they’re great to dance to,” he said.

She gave him a surprised look. “Do you dance?” It was hard to imagine it… him… letting go on a dance floor.

He quirked a teasing eyebrow in her direction. “Stick with me, and maybe one of these days, you’ll see for yourself.”

Stick with me.

Ah!

 

Some moments later, they pulled into the parking area of a restaurant Hope had never heard of. Inside, it wasn’t very big, but the tables were well set apart. The décor was traditional, print tablecloths and raffia place settings, local art on the walls, and the lighting fixtures providing the dim lighting were also covered in traditional looking accessories.

A hostess in a pretty Ankara dress led them to a table. It was low to the ground, as were the soft sofa-like seats which were positioned in an L shape around it.

Daniel helped her into her seat before joining her. They were seated adjacent to each other, almost side by side. Their bodies weren’t touching, but she could feel how close he was.

The smiling hostess was replaced by a waiter who offered them menus. Hope opened hers, looking through the list of dishes with appreciation. Daniel was discussing wine, and when he asked he if she had any preference, she shook her head, letting him do the choosing.

The waiter left to get the wine, leaving them to choose their food.

“Have you decided?” Daniel asked after a while.

Hope nodded. Just then the waiter arrived with a bottle of red wine, which he opened and poured into two glasses, then he took their food orders and disappeared again.

“How do you discover places like these?” Hope asked.

He shrugged. “My assistant, mainly. Also, my siblings recommend places to me sometimes.”

“Siblings?” She raised a brow. Somehow, she’d always imagined him alone. It was odd thinking of him with brothers and sisters, playmates… “Older or younger?”

“My sister is older. My brother is much younger.”

“Me too,” Hope said. “I have a big sister, and my brother is the baby.”

They talked about their families as they waited for their food. Hope found it surprising that they both came from like backgrounds. His parents lived on the mainland. His sister was a pharmacist. His brother had just graduated from engineering and was doing his youth service in one of the oil companies.

“Did you always know you wanted to be an engineer?” he asked her.

She shrugged. “My dad is one, so there was a time before I knew anything about the profession when I wanted to do it so I could be like him. Somewhere before the end of secondary school, it became real for me. I’d read a couple of books about famous engineers and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”

He nodded. “You didn’t think of being a nurse like your mum?”

Hope shook her head. “She had crazy shifts when I was younger, and she was always tired.”

He nodded sympathetically.

“How about you?” Hope asked. “Did you always plan to conquer and subjugate the world of ICT in Nigeria?”

He laughed at her words, the sound deep and unreserved, and she realised she wanted him to keep laughing. She wanted to hear that sound again and again.

“Conquer and subjugate indeed.” He shook his head. “I was always into information technology though. I grew up reading about people who’d burst open new frontiers, and I learned as much as I could. I took courses right out of secondary school, by the time I was in the university, I was far ahead of most people in my class, even the lecturers, but I kept studying. When I travelled for my masters, that’s when I saw and learned what I really needed. It was like a different world out there. I worked, learned and came back just to time to provide solutions that growing businesses were demanding in a recovering economy.”

Hope smiled. “Impressive.”

He chuckled. “It’s my prepared presentation… for impressing journalists… and women.”

Women… like herself? Hope tried to think of a reply but was saved when waiters arrived with steaming dishes. The food smelled delicious, and Hope felt her stomach rumble. There was cutlery but also bowls for handwashing. She decided to use her hand and shared a smile with Daniel when she noticed him preparing to do the same.

The food was wonderful and plentiful, and Hope ate until it felt like her tummy would burst.

“I don’t want to stop,” she complained when she couldn’t take another bite, looking longingly at the food still in the serving bowls. “I want to eat the whole place, but I’m too full.”

Daniel laughed. He was washing his hands. “They try very hard to incapacitate people with the food here.”

“I am incapacitated.”

The waiters came to clear the table, then disappeared again, leaving them alone.

“Thanks,” Hope told Daniel. “That was a wonderful meal.”

“I aim to please.” He refilled her wineglass, and as she lifted it to her lips, their eyes met and held over the glass. Hope felt her stomach clench softly. She took a quick sip of the wine, breaking the connection of his gaze. He leaned back in his seat, his body stretched out and relaxed, unlike hers, which suddenly felt wound up and tense. She could feel his eyes on her, and she wondered what he was thinking, whether there was any chance that he felt a measure of the attraction she found herself feeling towards him.

“May I ask you something?” His voice was low.

She met his eyes, a quick smile crossing her lips. “Of course.”

“The person you were waiting for…” he said. “Boyfriend?”

She thought about Charles, and how, since they’d left the office, she hadn’t thought about him, even once, then she shook her head slowly. “No, just a ghost from my past.”

“Good,” he said.

Hope raised her brows, giving him a sidelong look. “Really?”

He leaned forward, towards her, until his face was close to her own. Her skin tingled, even though he hadn’t touched her. Then he remedied that, one hand lightly touching hers, only for a second, before he pulled it away.

Hope breathed, meeting the intensity of his gaze. “I like you,” he said softly, then paused and smiled. “Scratch that. I’m very, very attracted to you.”

“I…” Hope searched for a response. Her heart was pounding. Should she tell him that she felt the same way? Because she did, but… she closed her eyes, just last night she’d been with Charles, with another man. Granted, that had been a mistake, but…was she ready to follow another attraction? She swallowed hard, but Daniel wasn’t waiting for a response. He’d already leaned back, reclining once again on his seat as he downed his wine.

“Let me take you home,” he said quietly.

Hope nodded. There was a little more wine in her glass, and she drank it, before rising to her feet. Daniel rose too, and suddenly they were standing face to face. He reached for her face, a finger coming up to wipe something – a drop of wine she’d missed – from the corner of her lips. The finger lingered, and she met his eyes, the stormy intensity in their depths. Her eyes dropped to his lips, and at that moment, she wanted, more than anything for him to kiss her.

His lips curved into a smile and he pulled his hand away. “Ready?” he asked.

Hope nodded. “Yes.” And then she followed him out of the restaurant on shaky legs.

Chapter 7 – The Only One.

Hope tried not to feel bad about the snub from Daniel Amadi, but she thought about it throughout the drive home after work. He’d practically looked through her, and it rankled. It really did.

At home, she had dinner with her parents and half-listened to them as they discussed politics while the evening news was on. Her father was on with one of his lectures again, talking about the ‘coup of the five majors’ and its implications while her mother listened patiently. When Hope got tired of the history lesson, she said goodnight and went upstairs to her room to get ready for bed. Just as she lay down, her phone rang. She felt a slight ripple of excitement when she saw Charles’s name flashing on her screen, and she tried to keep it out of her voice.

“Hi, angel,” was the first thing he said, the simple endearment making Hope’s excitement and pleasure harder to hide.

“Hello” she replied, her voice soft. “How are you?”

“So, so… wondering what you’re doing.”

Hope shrugged. “I was just going to bed.”

“Hmm,” she could hear the mischief in his voice, so his next question didn’t surprise her. “So… what are you wearing?”

She only paused a beat. “Something very sexy, satin, lots of lace, very low cut, and very short.”

There was a long silence. “You’re killing me,” Charles said finally, his voice low.

Hope grinned. “You started it.”

He took a deep breath. “Let’s have dinner tomorrow. Tell me when you close from work, and I’ll come pick you.”

She should have thought about it, thought about refusing at least, but she wanted to see him, and she couldn’t keep lying to herself. “You don’t have to pick me up. I’ll meet you at whichever restaurant we choose.”

“Where’s the romance in that?” he complained. “Can’t you leave your car at the office or something?”

“I could.” Hope considered it. “But I don’t want to get to work the next day and find that the real owners have collected the brain box and tires.”

“The real owners?” He laughed. “You mean thieves? You guys don’t have security? Anyway,” he continued, “why don’t we do it like this – I’ll come and pick you tomorrow morning, so you can leave your car at home. That way we actually get to spend more time together.”

Spend more time together. Hope bit back a sigh. She was treading on dangerous waters here, and she knew it. Already, he seemed to assume that they were back on track, seeing each other. Meanwhile, she knew deep down, that was a risk she shouldn’t take.

Yet she was encouraging him

Taking pleasure in his attention.

Loving it, in fact.

“Fine,” she told him, “You have to be here before seven though, and I close from work at five, but I hardly ever leave before six. You can pick me up then.”

She could almost hear his grin through the phone. “See you tomorrow,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it.”

Hope smiled. “Goodnight Charles.”

“Goodnight love.”

She thought about that final endearment for a long time before sleep finally took her.

 

The next morning, Charles arrived on time. By half past six, he’d already sent a text to tell her he was parked outside. Hope hurriedly finished her makeup and checked that she looked good. She was wearing a grey dress with a black mandarin collar and black cuffs, paired with black suede heels and pearl studs in her ears. After one last look in the mirror, she hurried downstairs.

“You no carry your motor today?” Ayuba asked as she hurried towards the small gate.

Hope shook her head, ignoring the gateman’s perplexed expression. He ran ahead of her and unlocked the gate, his expression turning to understanding and curiosity when he saw the car parked outside.

Hope ignored him, quickly making for Charles’ car. She opened the door and climbed into the passenger seat. The stereo was playing dancehall music, but soft, almost too low to hear anything but the beats. Charles looked up as she entered, his welcoming grin making her heart tighten a little.

“Good morning,” she said.

“Good – You look…wow!” he exclaimed, leaning back and arching an eyebrow in her direction. “Do you usually look like this every morning, or is this a special effort for me.”

“Shut up,” Hope laughed. “Stop flattering yourself.”

“What’s wrong with making an effort to look good for me?” he said, shifting to drive and moving the car. “Aren’t I worth it.”

Hope smiled. “Seeing as you drove all this way to pick me up, yeah, maybe.”

He looked at her, a tender smile on his face, and she found herself smiling back at him. It was intimate somehow, that exchange of pleasure at each other’s company.

He still dumped you, Hope. Have you forgotten? And he has a wife. Don’t forget that either.

Hope pushed the warning voice to the back of her mind. She was determined to enjoy the attention, and she did. By the time he dropped her at her office, she’d spent most of the past hour laughing at his teasing, teasing him in turn, and thinking that maybe, if there weren’t any obstacles in their way, it wouldn’t be so bad to be with him again.

 

“It seems the best option is to channel the storm water outside the estate and create a new storm drain, which will link to the existing canal… Hope, why are you smiling.”

Hope blinked at one of the senior partners at Maduekwe and Makinde. He was standing at the front of the conference room, going through the options she had proposed for the storm drainage of an estate design the firm was working on.

“I’m not smiling…” Hope lied, wiping the daydreaming grin off her face. She’d been thinking about Charles, about that morning, about how easy it had been to forget their past and just enjoy his attention. How unprofessional! “I agree with your assessment, sir. The proposed storm drain is also my preferred option.”

He gave her a look that communicated that he wasn’t convinced of her seriousness, and Hope felt embarrassment flow through her. In such a male-dominated industry, one had to prove consistently that one was competent. Any small slip and some of the older men completely forgot how capable you’d been in that past, in their hurry to label you as another ‘lazy’ woman.”

She forced herself to focus on work for the rest of the day, pushing all thoughts of Charles to the back of her mind. She worked over and above her target for the day, by the time five pm came around, the junior engineers were glad to escape her endless demands for printouts and her red ink markups as they hurried home.

“If we keep working like this every day, we’ll have to go and help other firms finish their work o, just to have something to do.”

Hope looked over at Agnes, who was packing up her stuff and getting ready to leave for the day. “If we worked like this every day, we’d all be dead.”

Agnes laughed. “So you know you were trying to kill all the engineers today.”

Hope stuck out her tongue. “How’s it going with your full package guy?” she asked.

“Kola?” Agnes made a face. “He hasn’t called me since yesterday, and he’s not picking my calls.”

Hope raised her brows. “How come?”

“See ehn… I don’t want to think, or talk about these men,” Agnes said with a shrug. “I’ve stopped calling him sef. I can’t be the desperate one again.” She sighed. “See you tomorrow. Let’s beat our all deadlines this month.”

Hope nodded. “That’s the spirit.”

After Agnes left, Hope spent a few moments staring at her screen. She wasn’t the type to press and press for details especially when the person in question didn’t want to share the information. She wondered how Agnes was feeling. Or what was really happening with the guy. Agnes had never been the type to hold back when she liked a guy, and some guys just didn’t know how to deal with that. Sometimes they took it as an invitation to take advantage of the woman and then leave her with the excuse that she was too easy.

Such guys were not worth it anyway, Hope thought. Better to have a few days of sadness and forget about them than to spend a lifetime with someone who didn’t value you.

While waiting for Charles to call, she freshened her makeup and caught up on her favourite sitcom. She had gone through two episodes before her phone rang.

“How’s my sweetheart,” he said as soon as she picked up.

Her heart flipped. “Who’s your sweetheart?” she replied, ignoring the sweet ache in her chest.

Charles laughed. “I’m outside your office. Are you ready for me?”

“Ready for what? Is it not food we’re going to eat again?”

There was amusement in his voice. “You never know.”

Those words stayed in her mind as she left the office and took the lift down to the lobby. You never know. Like it was possible their night would end some other way. At the thought, she felt her stomach knot. It would be the most foolish thing to let down all her defences and let Charles back into her life, heart… and body.

And she was determined not to be foolish.

Charles’ car was idling just outside the gates, visible through the low fence. As she approached, he got out of the car and walked over to the passenger side to open the door for her.

Hope climbed into the car with a suspicious frown on her face. “I don’t trust you,” she said, once he joined her.

He started to move the car, his expression innocent. “Why not?”

“Opening car doors, come on! When did you start doing that?”

He looked disappointed. “Sweetheart, why not just accept it like the princess you are.”

Hope laughed. “Nah. You’re definitely buttering me up for the slaughter. You’re the big bad wolf, and I should be careful.”

Charles shrugged. “You know that story – red riding hood and the wolf – has a lot of erotic symbolism.”
She pursed her lips. “No, it doesn’t.”

“Oh, it does. It’s definitely about the wolf seducing red riding hood. ‘all the better to eat you with?” he grinned slyly. “Come on, absolutely talking about sex.”

Hope bit her lip, unable to think of a reply. She should change the subject. Talking about sex with Charles would not lead anywhere she wanted to go.

Anywhere she should go, at least not with him.

“Where are we going?” she asked him.

“First a drink, then a long, satisfying dinner, so you can tell me all that’s been happening since… these past years.”

‘Since you dumped me, you mean,’ Hope thought silently, not bothering to say the words out loud, they were hanging in the air.

But if he felt them, he ignored them, concentrating on navigating the evening traffic. He asked about the project Hope was working on, seeming really interested as she described mechanical works and design restrictions. He told her about his work in the bank, and how crazy it was. He dropped names of important clients and Hope tried not to be too impressed.

Drinks were at a lounge at the very edge of Victoria Island, towards Oniru. As she looked over the cocktail list, Charles leaned close. “You should order the screaming orgasm,” he said. “I’ve never met a woman who didn’t like that one.”

Why was it suddenly so hot inside the lounge? Hope resisted the urge to fan herself. “You’re obviously an expert on women,” she said, surprised at how breathy her voice sounded, but she took his advice and ordered the cocktail and a seafood platter.

Hope tried to keep her eyes on the food as she ate. The plate, the other tables, anything but Charles. It was too hard to look at him, especially when his eyes never seemed to leave her face. The mixture of desire and reverence in his gaze coupled with his dazzling good looks were really too much for her.

If she’d driven herself, she’d have found an excuse to leave. Maybe he knew that. Maybe he’d wanted her to have no option to escape the intensity of his presence.

Hope sighed, concentrating on finishing the fried prawns on her plate and drinking the last of her cocktail, which was delicious. “I feel like I could eat bags of that fried shrimp,” she said.

Charles smiled. “Better not. You should leave space for dinner.”

Hope gave him a questioning glance. “And where is that.”

He shrugged. “You’ll see.”

By the time they left the lounge, traffic had lessened. Charles drove through Victoria Island and took the bridge into Ikoyi.

It wasn’t until he stopped in front of a wide black gate that Hope first suspected that they might not be going to a restaurant as she’d thought. The gate slid open, and the uniformed security man standing just inside waved a greeting at Charles as he drove in. The brightly lit building inside the compound was a modern block of apartments, large luxury apartments by the looks of it. Hope stayed silent as Charles parked, wondering how she felt about going to his home. There was a mild curiosity – She wanted to know where he lived, and yes, it would give her an opportunity to see if there was a significant other lurking somewhere. If it was a home he shared with a wife, there was no way there wouldn’t be some sign, at least.

He switched off the engine and grinned in her direction. “All set?”

Hope paused. “Yes,’ she said finally. “Though I didn’t know we were coming to your place.”

For a moment, he looked concerned. “I hope you don’t mind, but I have a very good cook. Trust me, you’ll love dinner here more than you would have at ninety percent of the restaurants in Lagos.”

“No problem,” Hope said, opening the door and climbing out of the car. Around the parking lot, the rest of the compound was beautifully landscaped, with walkways, curbs, flowers, and shrubs. There was a tennis court at one of the corners, but from what she could see, no swimming pool. She was still looking around when Charles took her hand and led her towards the entrance of the building.

He held on to that hand all the way through the lobby, into the lift and up to his apartment. She was conscious of his touch, in fact, it was almost all she could think about. Inside the apartment, she pulled her hand from his, eliciting a raised eyebrow from him, which she ignored. She concentrated on her surroundings instead. He had a large place, beautifully decorated, with high ornamented ceilings and large windows.

“You have a beautiful home,” Hope offered.

Charles grinned. “Thanks. Would you like me to show you around, or would you like to eat first?”

The words ‘show you around’ conjured images of him leading her through the apartment to his bedroom, and showing her, well, showing her things she’d long forgotten. Hope sighed, cursing her imagination. “I think I should eat asap. I’m famished.”

“Well then, have a seat.”

Hope settled into one of the plush settees, and in the next moment, a smallish man appeared from a doorway Hope assumed led into the kitchen. After greeting her effusively and receiving instructions from Charles, he went back through the door and returned a few seconds later to set the table. Charles switched on the TV but turned it to some radio channel, so the sounds of mellow jazz filtered through hidden speakers. Then he joined her on the settee. “So… You’re really not pissed that I brought you here, are you?”

Not pissed. Apprehensive, maybe, a little shaky, definitely excited… She shook her head, “Of course not. It’s a great looking place. At least now I know you don’t live in a cave with skeletons all over the floor.”

He laughed. “No. My skeletons are safe in my closet.”

“Really? So… you do have skeletons.”

He shrugged. “Don’t we all?”

Just then, the cook, Hope assumed that was what the smallish man was, announced that he had finished setting the table. He returned to the kitchen without a reply from Charles, but after he’d gone, Charles got up and took Hope’s hands again, “Let’s eat.”

She let him lead her to the table, silently wondering what those ‘skeletons’ were, and if she should be worried.
He broke your heart once. He’s actually someone else’s husband. What skeleton can be worse than all that?
The food was delicious, well-garnished seafood rice with salad and fried plantains and a bottle of mellow red wine.

“You can’t eat like this every day and not get fat,” Hope said when she’d eaten the last of her food and was sipping from her glass of wine.

“I work out a lot,” Charles said. “Gotta keep fit and strong, you know?”

“I’m sure. For the gyals dem.” Hope spared a glance at his chest. He’d taken off his jacket, and the crisp white shirt he wore did little to hide the firm muscles of his chest and arms.

He laughed and refilled her glass with the last of the wine before leading her back to the living room. They settled into one of the settees. He was so close she could basically inhale the scent of his spicy cologne, but she didn’t move away. He watched her drink her wine, then turned the TV back to a visual channel, a comedy channel showing reruns of Friends, one of her all-time favourite shows.

Hope relaxed, laughing at the hilarious one-liners. By the time the first episode was finished, she was totally at ease, mellow from the wine, and her head was resting on Charles’ shoulder.

The credits started to roll, and he turned down the volume, then turned to face her. “I’ve missed you so much.” He took her hand in his and squeezed it gently. “There’s never been anyone else like you.”

Maybe it was because his voice was so low, almost a whisper, or maybe it was the wine, but everything about him – the timbre of his voice, the expression on his face – made him look so sincere, that she could really imagine that he’d spent the last few years missing her.

He didn’t wait for a reply. He leaned forward and with one hand leisurely stroking the back of her neck, brought her face closer to his. Their lips touched, and Hope tried not to sigh with pleasure… and the satisfaction of experiencing that intimate contact again. His lips covered hers, warm and firm and soft at the same time, and then his tongue was stroking her lower lip, then pushing at the seam of her lips, delving inside her mouth… she moaned as his tongue touched hers, and she moved closer, wanting more.

He deepened the kiss. He tasted of wine and smelled like heaven. His hands moved leisurely, over her shoulders, her back, down her sides, skimming the sides of her breasts, so slowly that she started to ache all over. Somehow, she was falling back on the settee, and he was covering her body with his, one of his hands found the hem of her dress and moved underneath it, skimming the trembling flesh of thighs and moving higher, taking the dress up with it.

He broke the kiss long enough for his lips to trail along her chin towards her ear, his breath fanning her sensitive skin. Her hands were stroking his back, and there was a moan on the verge of escaping her lips. I want this, she thought. I want this so much.

Why shouldn’t I have this?

Because it’s Charles, her slumbering brain managed to reply. You can’t trust him. After the pleasure, there will be pain, because that’s just how he is.

His lips were making their way to the base of her ear now, his tongue flicking out to find sensitive spots he knew from long ago, making her tremble in his arms. She moved her hands from his back to his chest and pushed gently.

“Charles,” she whispered.

“Hmm.” His hand inched higher up on her thigh.

She pushed a little more firmly, and he moved back, a frown on his face. “What’s wrong?”

Hope sat up, smoothing her dress, not wanting to look at him. She was still trembling, still needy, one look at him and she might just decide to let common sense go. “I think I should go home.”

For a second, he looked pissed. “Are you serious?”

She frowned. “Do I look like I’m joking.”

His eyes raked her, and she tried to imagine what he saw, the rumpled dress, the mussed hair… she probably looked like sex in a minute.

Hope stood and ran a hand through her hair. “I hope you understand that I don’t want to move this fast.”
“Why? Because you don’t trust me?”

“Should I?”

He shrugged. “Look… the way I see it, we’re both adults. This isn’t like back then when you were holding on to your precious hymen. We’re not kids anymore. We can enjoy being together without overthinking it.”

Hope shook her head, bemused. How could she not overthink it? He was the same guy who’d broken her heart and stolen her illusions. She didn’t have any problem with two adults taking pleasure from each other, but she didn’t want to be the adult thinking things could be serious while the other adult just wanted to get his rocks off and walk away.

She decided to be frank. “I can’t be with you in a casual way, Charles. You used to mean so much to me, and if I stay, you’ll end up meaning as much to me again. And if you don’t feel the same way, if you treat me the way you treated me before, it’ll hurt all over again.”

He got to his feet and straightened his shirt. “I don’t know what you want me to say,” he said. “I’ve said that I never stopped thinking about you.” He picked up his jacket from the back of a chair, then tossed it back, then he went to the table by the entrance and picked up his car keys. “Let me take you home,” he said tiredly.

She bristled at his expression, the unspoken insinuation that she was the immature, unreasonable one. ‘Is it supposed to be enough that you ‘never stopped thinking about me?’ Hope asked the question in her mind. For some reason, she decided not to articulate her thoughts and silently followed him out of the apartment.

They were both quiet on the drive to the mainland. In less than half an hour, he’d parked outside her house.

Hope wondered if she should say anything to him before going inside. His body language told her that he was disappointed, and she was annoyed that he didn’t even seem to have the grace to hide it. Like sex was the only reason they’d gone out in the first place.

She opened the door. “Goodnight,” she said.

He was looking at her. His eyes searched hers for a long moment, and she wondered what he was trying to find there. Then he turned his gaze away. “Goodnight, Hope.”

Why did she suddenly feel so sad? She climbed out of the car and closed the door. Immediately, he was driving away without waiting to see that she was safely inside. After a few seconds of knocking, Ayuba let her into the compound, and as she walked towards the house, she wondered if that was that – the end of this particular episode of Charles’s presence in her life.

Chapter 6 – The Only One.

After Daniel Amadi left the party, Hope found that somehow, she had lost the ability to enjoy the music, the food, or even Charles’s company, and she knew deep down that it was because of that look, that expression of realisation she’d seen on Daniel’s face.

And he had been wrong! He’d probably assumed that her being here with Charles meant that they were lovers, that she’d lied to him earlier about spending the evening with an old friend. His opinion of her had probably plummeted to the lowest possible depths.

“Are you all here?” Charles asked at some point. He was frowning, probably wondering why she looked so preoccupied.

“I don’t really feel…” Hope sighed. “I’m really sorry, but I’d like to leave.”

“Now?” He looked nonplussed. “But the party is just starting.”

Hope shrugged. “You don’t have to come with me,” she said. “I know my way home.”

Charles turned away, his eyes going to the girls dancing close to their table, and for a moment, Hope thought that he would really let her leave on her own and enjoy the rest of the night with one or two of the babes that were so plentiful, but he got up and held out a hand to her. “Fine, lets go.”

He said his goodbyes to the host and led Hope out to where he’d parked his car. He was obviously not happy. As he unlocked the doors and they both climbed in, he suggested that they could spend the rest of the evening at another lounge in Victoria Island, but Hope shook her head. She knew that with all her thoughts about Daniel Amadi, she wouldn’t be able to enjoy herself and Charles would find her company to be a drag.

Daniel Amadi.

In her mind, she saw that look on his face again and she blanched. Why do I care so much what he thinks? The question played over and over in her mind as Charles drove. And why did she care if he was disappointed in her or whatever. He had no right to judge her. He didn’t even know her. They’d only had a couple of conversations. There was absolutely no reason for her to care so much what he thought.

“What’s the problem?” Charles asked, his voice cutting into her thoughts. “Did I say or do something to annoy you?”

“No, you didn’t. I just wasn’t enjoying myself,” Hope replied.

“That doesn’t make me feel better,” Charles remarked, his eyes skipping from the road to her face. “You might as well tell me that I was boring you.”

She remembered the sexual tension of the moments before Daniel Amadi arrived. “You definitely weren’t boring me, Charles.”

“But you couldn’t wait to leave.”

“I’m sorry,” Hope said, “I just stopped feeling the party after a while.”

He was silent. “Did I come on too strong, is that it?”

“Charles…”

“You can tell me,” he continued, interrupting her. “I’ve never stopped wanting you, Hope. And I’m not going to lie and act as if I’m not crazy about you right now. I am. So… If you don’t want to be around me at all… if you want me to disappear and leave you alone, just tell me.”

Hope was silent. If she said that was what she wanted, she’d be lying. He was still attractive, there was still something about him that drew her and made her want to risk… her commonsense, it seemed, for the gratification of the knowledge that he still wanted to be with her, that he still found her attractive, that he regretted walking away from her.

Don’t be a fool, she told herself sternly. Men like Charles can say anything, pretend for as long as it takes, just to conquer a girl’s defenses. That was just the way they were wired. To see women as conquests, as victory stories to tell their friends over drinks.

She stole a glance at him as he drove. He was waiting for her answer, silent, his gaze on the road. What if she was wrong? What if he was hurting, lonely and really missed her… She remembered that day at the office with Greg. He’d implied that she was the love of his life.

She turned to the window, looking outside, and the silence stretched until he parked in front of her parent’s gate.

He drummed his fingers on the wheel for a few seconds before turning to her. “You didn’t answer my question,” he said.

“You haven’t told me what happened with your wife,” Hope replied.

He let out a long breath, and Hope could swear she saw moisture in his eyes before he turned and fixed his gaze ahead. “Many girls these days just want to get married,” he said slowly. “It’s a rite of passage. Something all their friends are doing,” he sounded bitter, pained. “A man is like an accessory to them. Someone to show off to their friends… to hold on to at parties while looking down on the unfortunate ones who haven’t hooked one of their own yet.”

This was the most sober she’d seen him in a long time. Hope looked down at her fingers, tempted to reach for him, to offer some words of comfort, but she held herself back. After all, it was he who’d made her a certified member of the group of ‘unfortunate ones.’

“Are you saying your wife… is like that?” she asked softly.

He was silent.

“Weren’t you aware, before the wedding? Why did you go along with it?” Internally, she was screaming. I loved you with my whole being, and you chose to spend your life with someone who saw you as a prop to impress her friends with? It was saddening.

“I don’t know that I was really aware. Maybe I was and instead chose to tell myself that she was in love with me. There was some family pressure too. Her family and mine are close, and once I’d been out with her a couple of times, they kinda expected an engagement. There were advantages, I wont lie to you, Hope.

Like the connections. Hope thought. His wife came from wealth. Lots of it. She regarded him for a moment, taking in the set of his jaw and his expression that, even in profile, communicated a mixture of anger and sadness at the same time.

“I always enjoyed being with you, you know. Even just talking. You were never boring. I was never lonely with you. You knew me, and you loved me for who I was.”

Hope turned away, angry with him for even talking about their past relationship. He’d been the one to throw it away. Was she supposed to pity him now? He’d made his bed. It was his fault that he was feeling like this.

“I’m sorry Charles, but I don’t know what you want me to do… How you want me to react to this. Are you saying your marriage is over? Am I supposed to be glad that it failed, that you’re free to take me to parties and stuff?”

He shrugged. “I’m not asking anything, Hope. She left and yes, it’s given me a chance to spend time with you. I don’t regret that.”

“So you’re not planning to get her back? To work on it at all?”

“Why should I?” His eyes searched Hope’s face. “Seeing you again, Hope…” he sighed and took her hand in his, stroking her fingers gently. “I want you. I feel like I missed my chance to be happy before and I have it again… with you.”

The words send a tremor through her, the words, and the sensual warmth of his hand on hers. She swallowed as long ago memories of pleasure raced through her brain even as she tried to suppress them.

“I have to go inside,” she said, her voice sounding strange even to her ears. She drew her hand from his. “Goodnight, Charles.”

“Hope…”

She didn’t reply, instead, she pushed the car door open and climbed out, hurrying towards the gate. Her emotions were all over the place, and being with him, inside that car with those memories… it reawakened things in her body that she knew would be dangerous to explore.

The gateman opened the gate and she stepped inside the compound, quickly pushing the gate closed before leaning back against it, taking deep breaths to slow her racing heart.

 

Later that night, Hope tried to do some social media digging. She didn’t know if Charles’s wife had enough of a social profile for it to be a thing on the blogs if she left her husband, but she searched for her name on the local gossip blogs anyway. Apart from the years old spread done about their wedding, there was no news of them. Hope checked Instagram and Twitter and other social media profiles, but it seemed like Charles’s wife or ex-wife wasn’t an ardent poster. There was nothing to point towards a separation, but there was nothing pointing away from it either.

So what if Charles was telling the truth? What if he was lonely and miserable and his marriage was over. Would she forgive him for the way he’d hurt her in the past just because there was now a chance to get back in his life? That would be stupid. What if he hurt her again? Wouldn’t that make her the biggest fool who ever lived?

And yet, she couldn’t forget his voice, the words, he’d said, the earnestness in his face when he told her that he was lonely, that he missed her. “I want you,” he’d said. The stark admission made her want to drop all her defenses, all her anger and resentment, and pretend, just pretend that they were together again, the way they used to be.

A voice at the back of her mind kept trying to remind her that even those days when they were together, he’d not really been hers, that he’d hurt her even then, but she ignored it. She closed her eyes and concentrated instead of the feeling of being close to him again, the excitement she’d felt when he’d touched her, the tremors that had gone through her body.

She had a hard time going to sleep.

 

The next Monday, Hope listened to Agnes go on and on about her weekend. She’d spent almost the entire time with her new beau. “I think I’m in love with this one,” she told Hope. “He’s the full package.”

“Is it him you like or his package,” Hope quipped.

Agnes laughed. “See your dirty mind. Later you’ll say I’m the rotten one.”

Hope wondered what Agnes would say if she told her about Charles, about the conflicting emotions she was feeling. She desperately wanted to talk to someone, but she didn’t want anyone to make her feel foolish or careless for considering…

For considering what exactly? Going back to him? Having an affair, maybe trying to have something serious with him?

“How far you and Daniel Amadi now? I saw you two talking at Greg’s baby dedication… Shey he hasn’t made his move?”

Hope looked around the office, hoping no one had overheard. She thought back to her encounter with Daniel Amadi on Saturday and bit back a sigh. “Which move again?” She replied Agnes. “I don’t even know what you’re talking about.”

Agnes shrugged. “Ok o, but if a guy like that showed even the least bit of interest in me…” The advice went on and on but after a few words, Hope blocked it out and went back to her thoughts.

Like… what was really going on with Daniel anyway? She didn’t want to read anything into a few polite words, and after the party on Saturday… Well, he’d probably formed an opinion about her that she could do nothing about. She wished that wasn’t the case, but what could she do?

At lunchtime, she had errands. She left her car in the office and walked to the bank, then to a nearby store to buy a few cosmetics, before buying a snack at a local fast food and heading back to the office. She entered the cool marble lobby and made for the lifts, slowing when she saw Daniel emerge. He was wearing a suit, a magnificent three piece that made him look fiercely handsome. He had three companions with him, but he stood out. He was speaking and the others were listening to him and nodding, obviously deferring to him. They walked closer, and just before they reached Hope, Daniel looked up and his eyes met hers.

Hope tried a hesitant smile, lifting her hand to wave in his direction.

His response, a small inclination of his head, was hardly perceptible, his eyes slid off her, barely showing any recognition as he continued his journey with his companions to the doors leading out of the building.

Chapter 5 – The Only One.

The next day, Saturday, Hope spent most of the morning in bed feeling lazy. Midmorning, she finally got up and halfheartedly tidied her room before taking a quick shower and going downstairs in search of something to eat.

Her father was in the living room, seated in his favorite chair with his glasses perched on the edge of his nose, staring suspiciously at the screen of his phone.

“Good morning, daddy.”

“Good morning, madam.” He’d been calling her madam since she got her first job.

Hope considered asking him what the problem was with the phone, but she decided to give him time to solve it on his own. It was probably something as simple as locating text message drafts or some other such thing.

In the kitchen, her mother and Justina were pouring the last of the ground beans paste for moinmoin into skillfully folded leaves, which her mother carefully set in a wide bottomed pot for steaming.

“You’ve finally woken up,” her mother commented, lips pursed. “I thought we won’t see you till tomorrow.”

“Mummy, it’s Saturday! After my hectic week, don’t I deserve the rest?”

“Rest? Till afternoon? Okay. We’ll be here when you have children. Shebi you will sleep when they’re jumping on your bed crying for food.”

Hope rolled her eyes. “Mummy you’ve forgotten that I used to do all this work Justina does now… I’m on housework parole. Time off for time served.”

Her mother sighed. “At least nobody can say I didn’t train you well. Are you hungry?”

“Dying,” Hope replied.

“You’re not dying in Jesus name,” her mother muttered under her breath, prompting another eye roll from Hope and a muffled giggle from Justina.

“Aunty ‘ope, Good morning,” Justina said, her smile revealing the space where she’d lost a tooth before she came to live with them. She was fifteen years old, at least that was her best guess, and had been with them since she was eleven. She was in her last year of Junior secondary school and doing fairly well academically. She’d confided to Hope that she wanted to be an engineer like her when she grew up, and Hope had assured her that it was possible, even though she was sure Justina had no idea what an engineer really did.

“Your food is in the microwave,” her mother said now, placing the last of the moinmoin in the pot and watching as Justina put it on the cooker. “Yam and egg.”

Hope nodded, going over to retrieve the covered dish from inside the microwave. It was still warm so she didn’t bother heating it. She set it on the kitchen counter and picked up a fork, coating a piece of yam with eggsauce before popping it in her mouth.

“Are you going to eat standing there…? Go to the dining… Justina! Why is the gas on the highest heat, when have we ever cooked moinmoin on the highest heat. You want to finish the gas? I have never seen a child that doesn’t learn…”

Hope escaped the familiar tirade and went to sit in the adjoining dining room. She could see the TV as she ate, and her father had solved whatever the issue was with his phone and was now watching the news. She didn’t have to be anywhere till evening, when she would go with Charles to his friend’s party. The thought made her apprehensive, and a little excited too. She wondered what her parents would say if they knew she had met Charles again, that she was letting him take her on what was in some ways, a date.

Her mother would flip, and her father would give her that disapproving look from beneath his glasses. She couldn’t blame them, they’d been witness to the devastation Charles had caused when he broke her heart all those years ago, the spontaneous tears, the listlessness, the depression… She wished there was someone to talk to, her sister maybe. Grace was married, and a medical doctor. She’d either be at the hospital or spending the morning with her family. Her younger brother Gerald was not the best person to consult about romantic stuff. He always pretended to listen for as long as he could bear before offering some unconnected solution, like a drink, a night at the club or going to see a movie.

She should drive over to see one of them, Hope decided, before realizing that she didn’t have a car. The unreliable mechanic still hadn’t called.

As the thought crossed her mind, her phone rang. It was the mechanic.

“Madam, sorry o! I swear as I dey repair your motor, I just sleep. I just sleep go. I no even know when I off my phone. Na so the sleep take catch me.”

Hope snorted, unimpressed with his excuse. “Abeg… Have you finished now?”

“Yes,” he replied. “I dey bring am come your office.”

“Shebi you don’t know today is Saturday? Why will I be in my office?”

“Sorry madam, I forget. I go bring am come your house.”

“But you don’t know where I live.”

“Na true o! But just describe am. I go bring the motor come.”

Hope considered trusting the unreliable mechanic with driving her car to the mainland, then decided against it. “Just take it to the office,” she told him. “I’ll come and pick it from there.”

She finished breakfast and changed into jeans and a bright orange tshirt with the slogan ‘the bigger the better’ then in smaller letters, ‘that’s how I like my books.’ She told her parents where she was going and listened to her mum go on about how mechanics on the mainland were more reliable. It wasn’t very true. All car mechanics in Lagos, in fact the whole country, were probably the same.

She walked from her house to the estate gate. Thankfully the sun wasn’t very hot so she could add the few thousand steps to her Fitness app without breaking a sweat. Outside the estate, she found an aging yellow cab with an ancient looking grey-haired driver. They bartered and agreed on a price, and because it was Saturday, in no time at all she was at her office.

She called the mechanic on her phone as a security man let her in through the front gate. Most of the offices were closed on Saturday, but the building maintenance people provided the basics, generator power for when there was a power cut, water, security, etc, for the few companies that opened on the weekends.

“Sister, good afternoon o!” Alfred, the guy on duty at the front entrance greeted her, “but your people have not opened office today.”

Hope smiled at the young man. She liked him because he was always reading a book, and she’d found out that he was pursuing a part-time degree. “We’re not opening today. My mechanic is bringing my car here. I came to pick it up.”

“Okay. Will you wait here,” he gestured at the waiting area in the big lobby, “or you want to go to the lobby on your floor?”

“I think I’ll go up,” Hope said. She’d brought her kindle and she hoped to get some quality reading time in the quiet upstairs lobby before the mechanic finally decided to show up. She made her way to the elevator bank, stopping a few feet from the doors as one of them slid open to reveal Daniel Amadi.

He was looking down at his watch as he strode out of the lift, a striking figure in jeans and a unbuttoned short sleeved shirt over a plain light grey t-shirt. He was kinda hot, Hope thought, staring at the broad expanse of his chest, the tightly muscled arms… He was fit, athletic looking, but not bulky. She liked that. Now she definitely could not remember why she’d ever thought he wasn’t hot.

He looked up from his watch, saw her standing there and stopped, a smile slowly spreading cross his features. “Hope!”

She realised that she’d been staring, and she tried to cover up with a cheerful greeting. “Hi!”

“What are you doing here?” he frowned. “I didn’t know you worked on Saturdays?”

“I usually don’t, except when we have a really crazy deadline… I… My car had a fault yesterday and the mechanic who fixed it is bringing it over here today, so I came to pick it up. I was just going to the lobby on my floor to wait.” God! She was rambling! How come! It wasn’t as if she was some nervous jambite straight from an all-girls boarding school, conversing with a hot guy for the first time.

He was smiling, looking slightly amused. His eyes went to the message on her t-shirt and his smile broadened. He looked up at her. “Sooo… the car’s been fixed?”

Hope nodded. “Yes.”

“Good,” Daniel said. “You won’t have long to wait then.”

“I hope so,” she replied, wondering if, with the kind of money he had, he ever had to deal with mechanics. He probably had a fleet of brand new cars and changed each one as soon as a new model was made.

“We were working on a technical problem with the servers. It’s about fixed, though some of the engineers are still up there. I’m abandoning them.” He smiled ruefully.

“The perks of being the boss,” Hope teased.

He shrugged. “I wish. It’s been a while since I slept. I’ve learned from experience that the efficacy of caffeine steadily diminishes the longer you stay awake. I think I may have become immune because even the floor of this lobby looks like a good place to crash right now.”

Hope tried not to laugh at the image of him asleep on the lobby floor. She peered at his face. He did look tired. “Well, have a good rest.”

He smiled and started to leave, then he stopped. “Hope?”

“Yes?” There was a wealth of expectation in her, causing a few stray butterflies to flutter senselessly in her tummy. It was silly, especially when she had no idea what he planned to say.

“What are you doing later, in the evening?”

Her eyebrows rose. He was going to ask her on a date. Wow! Daniel Amadi. The girls in the office would really take that story to town. “I.. em..” She paused, remembering Charles and the party she had agreed to attend with him. “I..” she sighed. “I’m kinda hanging out with an old friend.”

Daniel nodded. “Okay.” His smile was polite as he shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans. “See you around, then.”

Hope watched him walk away, his tall, broad-shouldered figure moving with a graceful, loping stride. Would he have asked her to dinner? to hangout somewhere casual? She had no doubt that she would enjoy herself with him. He seemed like someone who would be interesting to know. Her mind went to Charles and she almost kicked herself. It made no sense that she had just turned down a date with a single and eligible guy like Daniel just so she could spend an evening with Charles. It made no sense at all. It was the sort of thing that would make her mother clap her hands together in dismay and question if Hope was really her daughter.

At that mental image of her mother, she smiled and pressed the call button for the lift. She settled into one of the seats in the ninth floor lobby, and after spending little more than an hour reading on her kindle, her phone finally rang. It was the mechanic, calling to tell her that he had delivered her car and was waiting downstairs.

 

Hope spent the rest of afternoon at her sister’s place. Grace had returned from the hospital sometime in the morning and was now asleep. The children, bored with their nanny, welcomed Hope with boundless joy. There were two girls six and four, and two boys, three and one. Their father had just left for the grocery store to do some shopping when Hope arrived.

The enthusiastic chorus of Auntie Hope! Auntie Hope! was a sign of things to come. She spent the next few hours singing, drawing, watching cartoons, rocking the baby to sleep, helping with crosswords and generally rediscovering that children had an inexhaustible supply of energy. By the time Grace woke up towards evening, there was no time for the heart to heart talk that Hope wanted. She had to leave to prepare for her evening with Charles.

Unlike the days when they’d been dating, when Charles would come into the house and sit with her parents in the living room discussing everything from current affairs to career goals, this time he called her when he was parked outside to let her know he was waiting.

“Who’s this person you’re going out with that cannot come inside and greet your parents?” her mother said when Hope came downstairs, all dressed up in a short peach and cream dress, jeweled sandals with light but flawless makeup.

“Mummy! It’s the first time we’re going out. I don’t think I want him meeting the parents and going through your interview when I don’t even know if I like him yet.”

“If you don’t like him, why are you going out with him.”

Hope looked to her father for help but he studiously ignored them both and fixed his eyes on the TV.

“It’s just some guy I met in the office, mummy. No need for all this concern,” Hope lied.

“Guy from the office and he can’t come and greet your parents,” Hope heard her mother mutter. It went on, but she’d already left the living room. She heard her father says something, and then her mother laughed. She pursed her lips. That’s what always happened, they would lecture you, then when they thought you were out of earshot they would laugh about how they did the same things when they were young. Parents!

Outside, Charles was waiting in the car, running the engine and listening to 90s hiphop. “Hey,” he drawled as she climbed in, his beautiful eyes moving sensually from her face down to her body. “You look good.”

Hope shrugged. “Well, you don’t look bad.”

His smile was confident. He knew that he looked good, Hope decided. Unbelievably good actually. There was something annoying yet attractive about a guy who knew how good-looking he was and didn’t try to hide it with some sort of false modesty.

Guys who didn’t seem to know at all that they were good-looking were also attractive, she thought, her mind going to Daniel Amadi. He had that aura, like he took care of himself but didn’t measure himself by the way he looked, or expect anybody to measure him with that either.

“So how was your day?” Charles asked, snapping her out of her thoughts. He lowered the music and smiled at her.

“Nothing much. I went to the office… Got my car back.”

“Ah… your car! I forgot to ask. So it’s working okay now?”

“Yeah.”

Hope wanted to ask him why he suddenly wanted to spend time with her. What the situation was with his marriage. Why he threw appreciative glances her way every ten seconds as if he had a right to… but instead she stayed silent. Maybe after the party she would ask. For now, she would just take it moment by moment, enjoy his attention, and try not to feel as if she was making a huge mistake by allowing him anywhere near her.

“So what’s going on in your life?”

She shrugged.

“Come on,” he cajoled. “You have to give me more than that. Is there a boyfriend?”

Hope turn her face to look at him, barely swallowing the bitter snort that threatened to come out of her mouth. Instead, she smiled sweetly. “Not right now, no.”

“Lagos guys are blind.” He was smiling. “Look at you. Guys should be lining up at your door.”

Hope was hovering somewhere between flattered and confused. How did one even respond to a statement like that?

“Who says they aren’t?”

He grinned. “So I have competition.”

Hope was silent. Why would he even say that? Was he trying to hint that he wanted to be with her again or was he just playing with her head? “Charles.”

“Hmmn,” he said, his attention on the road.

“What did you mean when you said your wife left?”

There was a long pause. “Why don’t we talk about that later,” he said finally.

There was no traffic, so by this time he was already swinging into the parking lot of a new and popular café in Lekki phase one. Inside, the whole mezzanine floor has been booked for the party. The host was Frank Leton, a twice divorced man in his forties with interests in oil marketing and – it was whispered – 419 activities. The girlfriend was at least twenty years younger and extraordinarily beautiful, just like the two women he’d already married and divorced.

He gave Hope a leering smile as Charles introduced them, and while the two men patted each other on the back, laughing at some jokes she didn’t understand. She looked around. There were lots of girls, many younger than her, and the men were mostly older, late thirties or forties, some wearing wedding rings, though it was clear that their companions were not their wives.

Hope sighed. Oh well. It wasn’t like she could judge, not when she was also here with a married man whose relationship status she hadn’t clearly confirmed.

Charles finally remembered her. He found them a booth and ordered drinks. There were a lot of those going around, expensive drinks, barbecued chicken, chips, peppered snails, goat meat, suya… Hope picked at the delicious platter Charles set in front of her. He’d joined her in the booth and was leaning very close. “I love your hair,” he said, his fingers finding their way to stroke her hair and the tender spots behind her ear.

Hope sucked in a breath and moved slightly, putting a little space between them.

Charles chuckled. “You can’t run away forever,” he whispered.

Hope pretended not to hear. The DJ was doing a very good job, so she concentrated on that, moving her body to the music as she ate.

“You were always such a good dancer,” Charles continued, his eyes devouring her every movement.

She looked away from the stark sexual appreciation in his gaze, unnerved by the way it made her feel. Pleased, flattered, flirty…

“Come on,” he said. “You should dance. I love watching you dance. Always so sexy.”

Hope ignored him, her eyes sliding to the girls who were dancing around the booths. For the men, not with them. The men mostly sat and watched while young beautiful girls gyrated and teased and tried to keep their attention.

“I’m not getting up to dance for you,” she told Charles.

Something crossed his face, a small expression of impatience, but he quickly replaced it with a smile. He leaned closer to her on the seat so that even with the thick aroma of alcohol, food and cigars, she could smell the freshness of his cologne. His fingers found her arm and stroked lightly, making her tremble. “One day, you’ll forgive me, really forgive me. You know that, right?”

Hope forced a chuckle. “Really?”

“Yes, because you never stopped loving me.”

Hope wanted to laugh, to throw her platter of peppery dishes in his face. She wanted to do a lot of things. Charles was looking into her eyes, his face close, apparently unfazed by the fact that what he said could annoy her. Her laughter died in her throat, as did any smart rejoinder she could have attempted. Just looking at him, she realised that he still had the power to reach her insides, to make her confused, to doubt herself, and to want him to be hers, the way he had never ever been.

As the realization passed through her mind, she forced a mocking smile to hide the tumult she was feeling. She laid her fingers on his cheek and stroked it gently. “You still think too much of yourself, Charles. You have to work on that.”

He grinned. To any onlooker, it would have looked like an intimate scene. Hope didn’t care, because she didn’t know anyone there. At least she thought so, until something made her look towards the stairs and she saw Daniel Amadi. He’d only just arrived, and as he ascended into the mezzanine, his eyes locked on hers, and she saw realization suffuse his features.

She pulled her hand from Charles’s cheek, mortified at what she assumed would be going through Daniel’s mind. It was too late. Daniel smiled wryly in her direction, nodded a silent greeting, then turned away – and in the few minutes he spent at the party, greeting the host and a few other people, he didn’t look her way again, not even once.

Chapter 3 – The Only One

Greg Abudu’s wife gave birth on a Sunday, which, thankfully, meant that the naming ceremony seven days later could be a real party instead of the hurried, after-work-hours attempts of weekday namings, when half of the parents’ friends would be at work and unable to attend.

Hope could already hear the sounds of the party as she drove into the estate, a serene and well-maintained compound containing eight homes, a swimming pool, tennis court, and carefully tended lawns. It was beautiful, the sort of place you went to live when your hustling paid off and you became a real Lagosian, one who has arrived.

Hope parked close to Greg’s house, a two-storey white and cream structure with classical columns holding up the porch roof. In the lawn in front of the house, canopies had been set up for shade, with lawn tables and chairs arranged for the guests. There was a guy in one corner bent over a charcoal stove as he diligently prepared asun, the spicy and delicious dish of peppered goat meat that always made Hope weak at the knees. Next to him, a huge table was mounted with covered tableware out of which servers dished rice, soup, stews, and meats and placed the heaped plates on trays to be served to the guests.

There were people were milling all around. A few were dancing, others talking and many more seated beneath the canopies eating and drinking. The band was playing some of the new Nigerian songs, with beats that entered into your brain, hooked into the tissue like pinworms, made you sing along even though you hated the lyrics, and made you dance even though you had no idea what the singers were talking about.

“Hope!” It was Greg’s wife Mimi. She was a petite woman, jovial and always incredibly stylish. Right now, she was hurrying up to greet Hope, dressed in a well-made Woodin ensemble, with none of the infirmity you would expect from someone who just gave birth a week before. “Why are you just coming?” she scolded. “The party is almost over.”

An excuse was on the tip of Hope’s tongue, ‘I had some private work and it took longer than I anticipated,’ she was about to say, then she realized that Mimi probably didn’t really want the burden of a long explanation. “I’m sorry,” she said instead, and she meant it. “I hope I’m not too late.”

Mimi shrugged. “Not really. In any case, the person we are all dancing for has slept off. Thank God. These days we only get to dance at parties where the celebrants are sleeping.”

They both laughed. It was true, Hope thought. Almost all the parties she attended these days were for children.

“Come and greet your boss, then you’ll sit down and I’ll find someone to serve you okay?”

Hope nodded, allowing herself to be led towards Greg, who was carrying the sleeping baby.

“Engineer!” Greg was holding the baby very carefully, as if any wrong move would spoil something irreplaceable. “How now?”

Hope replied with a smile. “I’m fine o.” She peered at the baby’s peaceful face. “Wow, he looks so much like you already.”

Greg beamed with pride while Mimi rolled her eyes. “The next one is getting my looks,” she said.

Greg laughed, then turned to Hope. “I was just about to take this small boss upstairs so he can sleep well. I think the music might be disturbing him.”

“Can he hear yet?” Hope asked.

“They start hearing from the womb,” Mimi said. “But I don’t think Christopher minds the music. Look how peacefully he’s sleeping.” She touched her baby’s face, cooing softly.

“Christopher?” Hope asked, smiling. She loved the name.

“Christopher Oshoke Abudu,” Greg supplied.

“Nice.”

Mimi tugged at her arm. “Come and sit, so I can find someone to bring food for you.” She led Hope to a table, leaving her with a promise to send a server her way. Agnes waved from two tables away. She looked fantastic, her makeup and jewellery slightly more dramatic than the everyday office affair, and she seemed to be having fun. Hope would have joined her, but the table was full, and judging from the number of good-looking guys clustered around Agnes, it was obvious that she wouldn’t join Hope.

Somebody brought a bottle of wine and a glass, staying to open the bottle and pour her some. “Thank you,” Hope said, letting her eyes wander. There was something wrong in sitting alone at a party full of people you knew, she thought, almost amused.

“Hope.”

She froze, the glass of wine halfway to her lips. Charles was standing in front of her, his eyes tender, and filled with something that looked like pleasure at seeing her. He also looked insanely gorgeous in a light blue traditional caftan.

“Charles.” Hope said his name dryly, hoping that the tone of her voice and the way she pursed her lips would be enough to deter him from pestering her with his company.

He was smiling, and no matter how much she hated him, she couldn’t deny, even to herself, that he had a stunning smile. “Do you mind?” he asked, pulling out a chair and joining her without waiting for an answer.

Of course she minded. She didn’t want him anywhere her! But she wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of thinking that his presence had any effect on her. She let her eyes wash over him with disinterest, then sipped her wine quietly, ignoring him. It was more than a week since that day at her office, and she had since convinced herself that the chance encounter would not repeat itself. Now here he was, smiling at her and giving her that earnest look, as if he hadn’t ripped out her heart and tore it to pieces. Bastard.

She wondered what he wanted. For a weak moment, she allowed herself to fantasize about him throwing himself at her feet and begging for forgiveness. She had composed the scornful words she would throw back at him, to hurt him, the way he’d hurt her.

Biting back a sigh, Hope stole a glance at him, and found his eyes fixed on her, a thoughtful look in their brown depths. “I wasn’t sure you’d be here, but I can’t tell you how glad I am that you are. I’ve been trying to get your number out of Greg since last week you know, but he keeps posting me.”

That was news to her. Hope hid her surprise. “Maybe he guessed that I don’t want you to have it,” she said. “Why would you ask him anyway? He’s my boss. He has no business handing my number to random ex-boyfriends.”

“Random ex-boyfriends?” Charles’s eyebrows went up. “We were together for five years, Hope. I’m not a random ex.”

Hope laughed. It was a rude, scornful sound. Then she took a long sip of her wine and gave him a look. One that she hoped conveyed how much she didn’t care what he thought.

His smile had faded. “There’s no need to be so hostile,” he said. He leaned closer to her and lowered his voice so it was barely above a whisper. “I should be given the chance to make amends, shouldn’t I? To show you how much I have changed from the selfish and immature person I used to be?”

Hope stiffened. Why was he leaning in so close and whispering in that voice that made her think of things they had shared that she would rather forget? Things like pleasure, intimacy… She frowned, angry with herself for her reaction to him. He was looking intently at her, a half smile on his face. Bastard! She thought angrily. It’s probably all a game to him.

“I don’t think it’s necessary for you to show me anything,” Hope said, setting her glass down on the table. Her hand was shaking slightly, she noticed, and she quickly brought it to her lap. “I don’t care if you’ve changed or not. I’m not holding any grudges.” She got up, smiling wryly. “Now you can go and find another former girlfriend to placate. I am going to talk to my friends.”

Charles’s expression didn’t change, and his eyes didn’t leave her face. Hope turned away, forgetting to stay collected as she walked away from the table. In her haste, she walked straight into Daniel Amadi, who was standing in the way.

She almost lost her balance as she crashed into the tall, hard-bodied figure. Strong arms shot out to steady her, holding her against a firm chest for a short moment before he released her.

Hope stepped back, embarrassed and trying to compose herself. In that moment, when she’d been flush against him, she’d felt the strong muscles of his masculine body, inhaled the cool scent of his cologne, the clean smell of his clothes. A crazy thought ran through her head about how she would like for him to hold her again, and she pushed it to the back of her mind. He’s not even your type, she told herself silently.

But he did look good. He was wearing tan pants and a tailored shirt. He looked casual, but somehow, still powerful. All of a sudden, her mind went back to their encounter in the elevator, him, holding her purse out to her. There had been something strangely intimate in that moment, as if, for those few seconds the whole world had disappeared and it was just the two of them.

“Are you okay?” he asked now, giving her a concerned frown. She’d never noticed how dark his eyes were. They were really dark, and intense, and if you looked closely, there was an interesting ring of lightish-brown around the pupils.

“Hope?” he prompted, and she realized that she was staring. What was wrong with her today?

“I…” she cleared her throat. “I’m fine. I just… I wasn’t looking where I was going.”

“Yes, I noticed,” he said, then smiled down at her.

Hope felt her breath leave her chest, leaving her feeling slightly lightheaded. This was the second time she had seen him smile in the space of a few days, and there really was something about his smile. It made her question her conviction that he wasn’t her type, and wonder if she really had a type at all.

“I didn’t expect to see you here,” she said, her voice suddenly light and almost breathy.

“Really?” He grinned. “Who can resist a baby’s party?” he said. “All of us grown-ups dressing up to celebrate for someone who has no idea what’s going on.”

Hope laughed. “I was just thinking the same thing.”

Daniel raised a brow. “Like minds, hmm?”

She may have been imagining it, but there was something definitely flirtatious in the way he said the words, in the look in his eyes, and the tone of his voice. She felt her insides suffuse with warmth, and she realized that she was staring at him, her lips parted softly as she pulled in a slow breath. She swallowed, then wet her lips, suddenly nervous. Really, what was wrong with her today?

Daniel was still looking at her, in a way that made it hard for Hope to think. “I… um… It was very nice to run into you here,” she said.

He chuckled, and pushed his hands into the pockets of his trousers. “It was um, very nice to run into you too.”

“Okay,” Hope breathed, turning around before she made a fool of herself. She made her escape, going over to Agnes’s table. Luckily, one of the guys had left, so she could sit there with them, talking about harmless things and enjoying the food and drink. She tried not to notice when Daniel Amadi left sometime later, walking to his car, a black G-Wagon, with Greg in tow.

She watched them talk for a short while before, Daniel drove off, then she turned her attention back to her companions, totally ignoring the fact that just a few tables away, Charles was now carrying out what seemed like a very flirtatious conversation with some girl Hope didn’t know.

Where was his wife anyway? Why was he all over the place, alone, probably being a nuisance to unsuspecting young women? He looked up suddenly and caught her staring. He smiled, and she looked away.

Later, after she had stayed long enough to satisfy Greg and Mimi, and had drunk just enough wine, not too much to impair her driving abilities, Hope said goodbye to the proud parents, and because Mimi was busy trying to take care of some newly arrived guests, she walked out to her car alone.

It was already evening, and growing a little dark. Hope unlocked the door and bent over to place the party favour Mimi had given her – cakes, small chops and fried meats – on the back seat. As she straightened, her neck prickled in alarm, and she turned around, almost jumping out of her skin when she discovered Charles standing behind her.

“I was admiring the view,” he said, unapologetic. He unlocked the car next to hers, a gleaming blue range rover, and carelessly placed his own party favour in the front passenger seat. “Did I tell you how good you look?” he said softly, turning back towards her. “You we’re always pretty, but now,” he sighs. “I can’t stop looking at you.”

Hope swallowed, and suddenly pain rose in her chest. She wanted to insult him, say all the mean things she had spent years imagining herself saying to him. She had built a future around this man, centred all her romantic dreams on him. He’d destroyed those dreams, and now he had the gall to tell her she looked good?

Calm down, a small voice whispered in her head. He’s not worth it. “Don’t say things like that to me,” she told him.

“I can’t help myself.” He made no move to come towards her, but the apparent sincerity and earnestness in his eyes was like a fist squeezing her chest. “Hope, I’ve never stopped thinking about you. You can’t imagine how many times I’ve wondered what it would be like to see you again, and now I have I’m completely blown away.”

If someone asked her to describe how she felt in that moment, Hope wouldn’t have been able to. It was a mixture of so many emotions, resentment for him, because he’d broken her heart, regret, for all the dreams she’d lost when she lost him, and yearning, because no matter how much she blamed him, hated him even, there was a part of her, that had never totally left the past behind.

“I have to go,” she said abruptly, climbing into her car and shutting the door. “Goodnight Charles.”

“Wait.” He appeared at the window and Hope wound the glass down, trying at least to be polite. “Can I call you at least?”

She chuckled bitterly. “No. There’s no need.”

“You’re wrong.”

“Maybe.” Hope hit the button and the glass started to go up. “But I don’t care.”

He stepped back from the car, but he stood there, watching her drive away, until she could no longer see him in the rear-view mirror.

Chapter 2 – The Only One

It was still lunchtime when they arrived at the office. Joy, one of the receptionists, was stuck at the front desk while her colleague Ladi had gone out to lunch. She was flipping through a boring looking travel magazine when Hope and Agnes walked into the reception.

Agnes had recovered her form enough to tottle past Hope on her high heels, right up to the marble and glass reception desk.

“Sweetie, you’ve still not gone to lunch.” She sounded concerned as she took the magazine from Joy. “What is this one you’re reading sef?” Not waiting for an answer, she tossed the magazine aside and went on. “If only you had come out with us, then I won’t have been the only witness to Hope and Daniel Amadi flirting in the lift.”

“Flir what!” Joy’s face lost the expression of boredom in an instant. She looked at Hope with a gleam in her eyes that eyes that could have been either respect or envy. “Serious?!”

Hope rolled her eyes. “Don’t mind Agnes. He only said hello.”

“He said hello to you?” Apparently that was as much of a big deal as the flirting that hadn’t happened. “But he doesn’t say hello to anybody!”

Come to think of it, had he even said hello? Seeing the expression on Joy’s face Hope was suddenly seized with a morbid fear of seeing her picture in some gossip blog or the other. BREAKING! Lagos millionaire bachelor, Daniel Amadi, says “hello’ to plain, boring engineer.

“It wasn’t like that… we were in the lift together.” Hope looked at Agnes for help. “He didn’t even say hello, he just acknowledged us a little.”

“Us? Don’t mind Hope,” Agnes countered, enjoying the fact that Hope was on the receiving end of the teasing. “I was there, her purse fell and he picked it for her.” That statement caused Joy’s eyes to grow wide, but Agnes wasn’t finished. “Then they started looking into each other’s eyes ehn… in fact I felt as if I was intruding.”

Hope burst into helpless laughter at the ridiculous exaggeration of what had actually happened. “I am not having this conversation with you girls. He was just being polite. I don’t even know why you are all so crazy about him. As for me, I don’t see what the big deal is. I’m going to my desk. I have work to do.”

“So you don’t think he’s hot?” Joy asked, her face a study in disbelief.

“He’s okay,” Hope replied.

“Hmm.” Joy smirked. “He is the complete package o! There is nothing wrong with him.”

Agnes nodded in agreement. They launched into a conversation that started with “If someone like him asked me out ehn….”

Hope left them talking and escaped into the main office. It was an open office design, with glass walls on three sides. The partner’s offices were partitioned off at the rear, and one side was taken over by two enclosed conference rooms. In the wide space where Hope was standing, multiple cubicles were arranged in open ended squares, each square containing three workstations.

Hope made for her workstation, stopping in her tracks when the doors to one of the conference rooms opened and two men emerged, right in front of her.

Hope froze, her legs suddenly leaden as her blood slowed. Then her heart started to pound, hard and heavy against her ribs, making it very hard to breath.

One of the men was her boss. Greg Abudu. He was a friendly man in his late thirties, always cheerful, and just beginning to show the early signs of coming portliness. He smiled widely, as he always did whenever he saw Hope.

The other man was smiling too, his eyes fixed on Hope’s face with an expression of pleasant surprise. Hope stared at him, her mind bubbling with emotion. God! How she hated that painfully handsome face. How the pleasure in those brown eyes grated on her nerves as they slid over her face, silently saying how glad he was to see her, how beautiful he thought it was that they had met again. She hated the illusion of friendliness and amiability that he projected. ‘I’m one of the good guys,’ he seemed to say without speaking. ‘see how nice I am even though I am so handsome I should be a demon. I’ll never break your heart.’

But he had. He had broken her heart, in the worst way possible.

“Hope!” His voice was crème. That was the only word to describe it. The perfect pitch and smoothness to make one unaware of everything but the pleasure of listening to him. She wished the sound was ugly to her ears, but it wasn’t. No matter how much she hated him, she couldn’t hate the sound of that velvety voice washing over her skin like a caress.

Hope chose not to respond to his eager exclamation, instead, she stood there, silent, causing Greg to start with introductions, even though it was obvious that they knew each other.

“Charles this is Hope Alade. She’s one of our building services engineers.” He gave Hope a proud smile. “Hope, this is my friend Charles DaSilva. He’s a manager a Bond bank.”

“I know Hope very well,” Charles said smoothly, still smiling. He stepped forward, closer to where she was standing. “Long time no see, Hope. Aren’t you going to give me a hug at least?”

Of course not!

“Hello Charles.” she made no move to hug him. He had taken too much from her to be entitled to anything else, even something as small as a hug.

“You look wonderful,” he said, ignoring her obvious hesitance to talk to him. “More beautiful than I remember.” His eyes did a leisurely journey over her face and figure. “I had no idea you worked here, I’d have been around to see Greg sooner.” He turned to Greg, and explained in that smooth voice of his that he had met Hope back in the university. “She was the love of my life.”

One of the many loves of your life, Hope added silently, bitterly… the memories were rushing back now. Back in school, she had being careful. She hadn’t been one of those girls who went wild at their first taste of freedom, whose sole purpose was to find a boyfriend and lose their unwanted hymens. She’d been determined to wait, to fall in love with someone who was worth it. So she had waited, two years after freshman year, all her friends were hooked up, some on their second, third boyfriends, and she had continued to rebuff the guys who showed interest. It was easy, you only had to look at them, to hear them talk, to see that they really wanted only one thing.

Then there was Charles. Unlike the popular guys, who wore their swagger on their sleeves, Charles was refreshing. He was a final year student, studious, and so good-looking it was impossible not to stare at him, but so unaware of his cuteness, that he was perfect. He was always courteous. He would open doors for strangers. Of course, in retrospect, Hope had realized that all the strangers on the receiving end of his courtesy had been pretty girls. He was so gifted at making girls feel like princesses, that it was too easy to fall in love with him.

She hadn’t trusted him though, even when she developed something close to obsession for him after just a chance meeting at the library. She had never met him before, but he had helped her find the books she wanted and carried them to her reading desk, leaving her alone to read afterwards. Hardly able to concentrate, and definitely unable to dispel the image of his perfect face for long enough to get interested in what she was reading, she’d been relieved when she was ready to leave, to find him waiting at the library car park.

“I wasn’t waiting for you,” he’d said with a mischievous smile, and a twinkle in his eyes that made it so obvious that he had indeed being waiting for her.

That was the first day. After that he seemed to always be there. He found out everything about her, and pursued her. She fell hard for him, but she didn’t trust him, there were rumors about him and many different girls all over campus.

He pursued her for a whole semester. At last it had been the promise of sensual delight, and the whole world that she could glimpse on the other side of his kisses, that had made her stop resisting him. Her body argued for him in a way that her brain was helpless to resist, so first she agreed to be a girlfriend, and in no time, she was his lover.

She had been happy, so happy and in love. The first time is always like that, like the opening of a whole new universe. It didn’t take long to wake up to reality. While Charles had been waiting for her to say yes, he had been sleeping with someone else, someone who, as she discovered just a few weeks into their relationship, he was still sleeping with.

When she confronted him, he didn’t bother to deny it. “How long was I supposed to wait?” he had asked, his incredulous expression almost convincing her that she was being ridiculous. “I’m not built to be celibate. No man is, regardless of what those silly romance novels you read tell you.”

“But you’re still sleeping with her,” she had cried, hoping that he would at least deny that part, the passion that just weeks ago, she wouldn’t have known that she was capable of feeling, making her desperate.

“I can’t just tell her that I’m no longer interested.”

He made it sound like commonsense, like she would understand if only she were more mature. Still, she’d stormed out, spent the night crying in the hostel while her roommates exchanged knowing looks. Everybody knew about Charles daSilva, they’d all warned her, and they’d been expecting the breakup sooner than later.

But the next day he had come to find her. With promises of how she was the only one he really wanted. There would be no one else from now on, he’d said, and foolishly, she had believed him, spending the next few years closing her eyes to all the evidence of his cheating, because she didn’t want to feel the pain of losing him again.

But she still lost him. Right under her nose, he’s met, courted and gotten engaged to someone else. She’s graduated then, working at her first job and waiting expectantly for the ring she’d deluded herself into thinking he would give her. He hadn’t even bothered to give her the dignity of ending their relationship properly, he’d allowed her to hear of his engagement through a mutual friend.

Keeping herself from confronting him was the hardest thing she’d ever done. She’d ignored his calls and finally changed her number. She told the gatemen and receptionists at her office to always tell him that she wasn’t around. She’d refused to allow herself the temptation to listen to whatever explanation he would give her for why he was marrying someone else.

He got married, about a year after she found out about the engagement. The transition from deluded girlfriend to bitter ex had been painful, but she dealt with the pain and the shame, and even though it took a while, she succeeded in getting her happiness and confidence back.

Hope realized that she was still staring at him, with a god-knows-what expression on her face. She was behaving stupidly, she realized. When you met an ex-boyfriend again, you wanted to be beautiful, rich, and charming. To be enjoying your life, and to be able to show him in every gesture, word and smile that you didn’t care about him anymore, and that he had lost the world when he lost you.

So why was she standing here acting like some wife whose cheating husband had come home to beg for forgiveness.

She smiled at him. “That was a long time ago, Charles.” She turned to Greg. “At that age everybody fell in and out of love all the time.”

Greg laughed jovially. “I can attest to that!”

“I can’t.” Charles said earnestly, gazing deep into Hope’s eyes. “My feelings were always very concrete, even then.”

Even though she knew it was rubbish, Hope felt her heart tighten. That look! She took a deep breath. “I hope you had a good meeting. It was nice to see you again Charles.”

He smiled back. “Yes it was.”

She nodded, keeping her smile on her face she stepped around them and took the few steps to her desk. She sat down and turned on her system with shaking fingers, keeping her eyes on her screen until the men were long gone.

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. Continue reading

Introducing…… The Only One.

The last book in the Lagos Romance Series was more than two years ago. I’ve been working on other stuff, so I haven’t written another book set in Nigeria. This story has been on my to-do list for a long time, and the first two chapters were written ages ago. It’s a love story (of course!) and has something of a love triangle:). I hope to have the whole book finished before the end of the year.

Anyway. I’ll try to post new chapters every two weeks. Enjoy!

Chapter Four

“Tell you what?” Ada stammered, wondering if she had heard him right. There was no way he could have come all the way to her apartment just to ask about her personal feelings towards him!

He sighed. “I’m intruding, I know, and I’m sorry.” He paused as if waiting for her to say something to the contrary, perhaps that he wasn’t intruding. She stayed quiet.

“Look, I need to know.” He continued. “For some reason, even though I have never done anything bad to you that I know of, you dislike me.” There was an accusing note in his voice. Have I hurt his feelings, Ada wondered, or his pride?

“It’s not just that you said it today.” He stated accusingly. “It’s always been obvious.”

“I don’t know what you mean.” Ada said. If she had known that just that statement would affect him so much, she would have kept her mouth shut. There goes my desire to collapse on the bed and fall asleep, she thought.

“Come on!” He exclaimed. “At least you can’t deny that you admitted it today.”

She really should have kept her big mouth shut. “That was the wine talking.” She told him, it was half-true anyway.

“One glass.” He pointed out, shaking his head in disbelief. “Admit it. You don’t like me.” He gave her a challenging look. When she didn’t say anything, he continued. “Well for some reason, I find that I like you.” He paused, as Ada’s face drew into an expression of puzzlement. “Yes. I like you, a lot actually. So what I’d like to know is why our opinions of each other are so unfortunately out of balance.” Continue reading