Tag Archive | romance

Chapter 15 – The Only One

The next Monday, Hope was in meetings all morning, but listening to the senior partners nit-pick design issues, projects and deadlines was insufficient to dispel the haze of happiness she felt whenever her thoughts strayed to Daniel.

Around her wrist was a stunning watch, the slim face encrusted with beautiful stones, a gift from him, and it was the most beautiful watch she’d ever owned.

“Nice watch,” Agnes said admiringly when she returned to her desk after the meeting.

Hope smiled and gave the watch another loving glance. “Thank you.”

“You’re glowing,” Agnes noted.

“Am I?”

“Yes.” She peered closely at Hope’s face. “Man kind of glowing.”

Hope guffawed. “That’s different from ordinary glowing?”

Agnes nodded. “Yes now. Anyway,” She lowered her voice. “Someone was telling me she saw you and Daniel Amadi over the weekend.” She gave Hope a measuring look. “When are you going to tell me what’s up?”

Hope sighed. “I don’t know what’s up for sure yet.” There was a part of her that wanted to hold everything about Daniel close to her heart–as if sharing what was happening between them would diminish it somehow. “We just went out a couple of times.”

Agnes raised her brows. “Girl…you have to play your cards right o! You know he’s a catch.”

“I like him,” Hope said. “I don’t care about him being a catch or whatever. I really like him.”

Agnes let out a long breath. “Don’t fall in love too quickly though. This one that you’re liking him. With these men, it always pays to guard your heart. Make sure emotionally you’re the one on top.”

“I don’t even know what that means.” Hope laughed, though she was thinking about it. She knew she was falling for Daniel. She knew she was steadily getting to that point where losing him would hurt, like really hurt. She knew he was attracted to her, but how did he feel?

“How about you,” Hope asked Agnes, changing the subject, “What’s been going on with you? Did you ever hear from that full package guy?”

“Kola, his name was Kola. I finally called him and he gave me some lame excuses about work and being busy. I think he has a wife or a fiancée or something.” She rolled her eyes.

Hope sighed. “Dating in this town is a minefield.”

Agnes nodded, then smiled. “I’ve moved on sha. I’ve started seeing someone else. I’ll tell you about him, but I don’t think it’s serious. Maybe casual is what I need at this point, really. I’m tired of trying for love.”

Hope wasn’t convinced that was the best way to move on, but she didn’t want to lecture Agnes. “As long as you’re happy,” she offered.

Agnes shrugged. “I’m okay.”

Daniel had called earlier to invite her to his office for lunch, so at noon, Hope took the elevator up.

He was seated at his desk, and he got up as soon as she entered, walking toward her and pulling her in for a hug before stepping back to look her over. “You look beautiful.”

“I look stressed,” Hope replied. “I’ve been in meetings all day.

“Me too, but you still look prettier than me.” He ran his hands down her arms. When he got to her hands he lifted them up to his lips, then grinned when he saw she was wearing the watch. “Do you like it?”

“Are you kidding? I love it.”

He smiled, then led her to the seating area, where two plush leather sofas surrounded a low glass table. “I’ve already ordered lunch,” he said. “Jollof rice.”

“Ah!” Hope giggled. “Our national pride.”

They were talking about the merits of Jollof versus fried rice when there was a knock and his assistant opened the door, letting the food delivery person into the office. The guy disappeared after setting the food on the table and receiving his tip. Daniel opened the dishes and Hope realised how hungry she was. There was Jollof, fried chicken, plantains, and fresh juice, and it was delicious.

Later, Hope went over to the wall to wall windows to admire the view of water glistening in the afternoon sun. From that distance, it was impossible to see the debris and pollution that was obvious when you saw the lagoon waters up close. From the height, it just looked beautiful.

She felt Daniel come up behind her, felt the heat of his body as he stood behind her. She closed her eyes, feeling her breath quicken. Her heart sped up as she waited for him to say something, do something.

His hands touched her nape, and she shivered when he moved her hair aside and laid a soft kiss on her neck. He was driving her crazy and she was sure he knew it. She wanted to turn around and throw all caution to the wind, discard any doubts and surrender to the pleasure she knew she would find in his arms.

She sighed, leaning closer to his touch. He let the kiss linger then straightened and came to stand beside her. 

“It’s a nice view,” Hope said, her voice breathy.

He smiled. “I was thinking the same thing just a few moments ago.”

At first, she was puzzled, then realized that he was talking about the view when he was standing behind her, looking at her. She chuckled. “I’m glad you like what you saw.”

He was silent for a long moment, then turned to face her. “I’m not playing around with you,” he said softly. “I’m not a guy who likes to waste my time. I’m here with you right now, because this is where I want to be, and you’re who I want to be with. I want to know that you feel the same way.”

Hope took a soft breath. “I’m not playing around either.” She took a step toward him and placed a hand on his arm. “This is where I want to be.”

He nodded and pulled her into his arms. His lips lingered over hers, firm, unhurried. She melted against him, almost wishing that she didn’t have to return to her office.

On the way back to her floor, she wondered what the conversation meant for their relationship. As conversations about commitment went, they hadn’t actually clarified what they were now. Dating? Exclusive? Serious?

She sighed, ignoring the speculative eyes from Ladi and Joy when she entered the reception. They’d probably heard something about her and Daniel and were bursting with curiosity. She went to her workstation, deciding that whatever the questions about her relationship with Daniel, they would resolve themselves. For now, she was just too happy to waste any time on something as useless as worrying.

There was no time to worry, to say the truth. When Hope wasn’t working, she and Daniel were together, either for lunch or dinner, or talking on the phone. They both had a busy week, so when he suggested a weekend getaway, she was more than willing.

“Just your passport,” he said when she asked him what she needed to bring, but on Thursday night she packed a weekend bag, with a few clothes, swimwear, nightclothes and lingerie.

On Friday morning, Daniel’s driver came over to the house to pick her up. He couldn’t come by himself because of a few loose ends to tie up so he could forget about work during the weekend. He was so busy, they didn’t see each other all day. Hope didn’t mind, she had a lot of work to get through too. She worked late into the evening, trying not to be distracted by the ball of excitement in her belly just waiting to explode. After most people had left for the day, she saw his name flashing on her phone.

“Ready?” he asked without preamble.

“Sure. You?”

Daniel laughed. “I’ve been ready all week.”

They met on the ground floor but waited till they were both in the back seat of his car to reach for each other and exchange a gentle kiss.

“I’ve missed you all day,” Daniel said.

“You’ve got me all weekend,” Hope replied.

“You’re right.” He grinned wolfishly. “I should steal you away more often.”

She didn’t say anything in reply, only leaned into his arms and closed her eyes. She wouldn’t mind being stolen away anytime he wanted.

They drove toward the airport, going to one of the charter companies where, on the tarmac, a small charter plane was waiting. Their destination was Seychelles. She’d never been there but knew enough to expect beautiful beaches and delicious seafood.

“We’re going to be flying all night,” Daniel said after the smooth take-off. They were seated opposite each other so she could devour him with her eyes without having to crane her neck. He looked incredibly delicious with the first two buttons of his shirt undone. “Do you want something to eat now, or do you want to go to sleep?”

I want to look at you, Hope thought. “We could just talk,” she said instead, “and snack.”

He nodded. “I’ll probably doze off midway through all that though,” he said, smiling apologetically. “I’m already trying not to succumb to exhaustion.”

“I can imagine,” Hope smiled sympathetically.

A hostess came in with a tray of drinks, then disappeared and returned with chocolates, cookies and fruit. Daniel popped a candied date into his mouth. “These are good,” he said.

“Have you been to the Seychelles before?” Hope asked, mildly curious. She knew he travelled a lot, but mainly for work.

He nodded. “A couple of times.”

Hope gave him a sidelong glance. “Alone?”

He grinned and lounged back in his seat. “Are you asking me if I’ve ever been there…with another girl?”

Hope frowned. “No…I mean…I…Yes, I guess. Have you been there with another girl?”

He laughed. “And if I have, you’d be jealous?”

Hope shrugged, then sighed. “Maybe. That’s weird, isn’t it?”

He shook his head. “I’m jealous of every man you’ve ever smiled at,” he said lightly. “Now, that’s weird.”

Hope laughed, delighted despite herself.

“I haven’t been here with another girl,” he added seriously “I don’t have a habit of flying girls out of the country for weekends of debauchery.”

Weekends of debauchery. Hope bit her lower lip and met his gaze from under lowered lashes. “Is that what this is? A weekend of debauchery?”

He replied with an unreadable smile and popped another date in his mouth. “Enjoy your feast,” he said, still smiling. “I’m going to sleep for a while.”

Hope slept too, and when she woke up, the sky outside was lightening to grey. Daniel was looking at her, a tender expression on his face. She smiled at him. “Hey you,” she said softly.

“Hey you,” he replied.

She stretched. “How much longer?”

“About an hour.” He got up and came to sit beside her. “You look beautiful when you sleep,” he said softly.

“I don’t snore and drool?”

He shrugged. “I didn’t notice that, though I wouldn’t mind.”

They talked for a while, then as their destination approached, took turns to freshen up in the bathroom before preparing for landing. The journey through the airport was a breeze and before long, they were in a hired car heading for their hotel.

Exhaustion had set in again after the flight, so Hope didn’t really pay attention during the check-in at the hotel. They were staying a beautiful cabin that was right on the beach, and even in the morning light, Hope could see how lovely it was, especially with the soothing sounds of the surf. One of the hotel personnel brought their luggage to the cabin then left them alone.

“Do you like it,” Daniel asked, busying himself with transferring their bags to the closet which adjoined the bathroom.

“I love it,” Hope exclaimed.

He smiled. “Why don’t you take a shower while I order breakfast,” he said. “I’m ravenous.”

Hope was too. She went to the bathroom and after a warm, relaxing shower changed into a comfortable tank top and loose lounge shorts. She knew they were probably not going to go out all morning, since they were both tired from the flight, so there was no point in dressing up just yet.

While they waited for breakfast, Daniel took a shower too. He emerged a few minutes later wearing a ribbed vest and grey sweatpants. Hope caught herself staring and closed her mouth. The combination of everything people said about grey sweatpants and Daniel’s ridiculous sexiness was enough temptation to make her consider disgracing her lineage. She concentrated on the food instead–a feast of French toast, eggs, pancakes, coffee and fresh orange juice. By the time she was full, her eyes were drooping.

“You should get some sleep,” Daniel said. “In the afternoon, we can go and explore the beach.”

“You don’t mind?” she asked, sure that his idea of a weekend getaway wasn’t a companion who couldn’t keep her eyes open.

“Why would I?” he frowned. “I don’t want you staggering around exhausted instead of enjoying yourself.”

Hope didn’t need any further urging. She burrowed into the softness of the king-sized bed and in seconds, she was fast asleep.

When she opened her eyes, Daniel was beside her on the bed, asleep too. Her gaze landed first on his broad chest, then his handsome face, so peaceful in repose. She’d always thought it was a cliché in books when women talked about how boyish and innocent men looked while they slept, but it was true. She lifted a finger and touched it to his lips. They twitched slightly, but he didn’t wake up.

She moved closer to him, turning around so her back was burrowed into his chest and sighed when he brought his arm over her stomach and pulled her into his body. She felt safe, comfortable and warm in his arms, and she almost drifted off to sleep again.

“Do you want to start exploring now,” he asked, his voice slightly rough with sleep.

She could think of a lot of things she wanted to explore. “Yes,” she replied breathily.

They walked on the beach, then basked in the sun on lounge chairs, before having lunch in one of the cool lounges in the hotel. In the evening, they went to the town and visited a few shops before returning to the hotel for dinner and an exhausted sleep.

For the next day, Daniel had booked a couple’s massage, and after that, it was more of the same–the beach, food and the most relaxing experience Hope had enjoyed since she could remember.

“I could do this every weekend,” she told Daniel when it was time to leave. “I could do this every day, in fact.”

“Stick with me,” he replied with a wink.

As if she wouldn’t. Hope went to him, walking into the circle of his arms. “I wish we had more time,” she whispered, meeting his eyes.

He lowered his head and kissed her. Hope moaned. Being around him all weekend had felt like being slowly ignited, and her body was at a fever pitch. She lifted her hands to wrap around his neck, her eyes closing as her body melted into his. The naked hunger and desire in his kiss demanded a response that came from deep within her body. She wanted everything. She wanted to give him everything.

It took a while to hear the knock on the door, and when he finally lifted his lips from hers, Hope was unsteady on her feet.

Daniel’s chest rose. Hope could feel the tension in his muscles, she could feel the wild thudding of his heart, and she felt him, pressed against her, the unmistakable evidence of how much he wanted her. It made her almost unwilling to let go of him, even for a moment, but the knock was to tell them their car was ready, and soon after they were on their way back to the airport.

They talked for most of the flight back to Lagos, seated side by side. Desire lingered just under the surface, and as they talked and held hands across the seats, Hope felt as if he was already making love to her, only with words instead of his body.

She dozed off in the car on the way to his house, only awakening as they entered the gates. They were both quiet as they walked inside. The driver took their things upstairs while Daniel’s cook laid out a light dinner on the balcony. After the meal, there was a sudden power cut, and soon after, the hum of power generators filled the air.

“Lagos,” Hope said, smiling. She was standing at the balustrade looking out at the evening view. Water and lights. Daniel remained seated, watching her.

“But you missed it,” he said.

“I did.” She laughed. “It’s not my fault. We all have a love/hate relationship with this city.”

He stood up, and Hope’s heart thudded as he walked over to join her, standing close beside her. Wordlessly, she turned to him and in the next moment, she was in his arms, kissing again, hungry and desperate with the desire of the last few hours that had banked until it finally burst into flame.

“Don’t stop,” she whispered, when his lips trailed to her neck. Don’t ever stop, she added silently. Her heart felt tender and full, and fervent desire swelled in her belly. His hands on her body felt like they were igniting her skin. He pressed her body flush against him and she heard herself moan.

He pulled away, and she reached for him, unwilling to stop.

“Hope,” his voice was rough.

She swallowed. “Yes…”

“If I don’t let you go now, I’m not going to let you go tonight.”

The words were supposed to make her think, make her consider leaving, but they only took the flames of her desire and turned it into a raging explosion of need.

“I don’t intend to go anywhere,” she replied, meeting his gaze.

She expected him to kiss her again, but he didn’t, instead, he lifted her in his arms as if she weighed nothing, then he was carrying her, away from the balcony, through a short hallway, and into his bedroom.

He laid her gently on the bed and covered her body with his, leaning most of his weight on his elbow as they kissed.

“Hope,” he said her name, at some point, the way he always did, as if the feel of her name on his lips was something that brought him pleasure. She responded by drawing his lips down to covers hers again.

Being with him was like a feast of the senses. Every touch, every taste was a new, intensely pleasurable experience. She surrendered herself to him, revelling in the feel of his beautiful, powerful body. He explored her with his hands, his lips, his tongue, and she’d never wanted anything the way she wanted him.

When he finally surged into her, the pleasure was indescribable. Her body tightened and exploded and still, he was there, perfection personified, his every movement designed to fill her with helpless pleasure He gave her his strength and his love and every inch he had to give, pushing her over the precipice of mindless ecstasy.

Later, she lay with her head on his chest while he stroked her hair. There was no sound except for the low hum from the cooling vent.

“What are you thinking?” he asked.

Hope smiled and looked at him. “How happy I am.”

He rolled so she was lying on her back and he was looming over her. “I still have a lot of happiness to give,” he said with a grin.

Hope lifted her head and kissed him. “What are you waiting for?” she breathed.

In response, he kissed her and they didn’t talk much for the rest of the night.

Chapter 14 – The Only One

Screen Shot 2017-10-15 at 7.28.18 PMThe next week, they had dinner together every day till the middle of the week when Daniel had to leave the country on business, but they spoke every day, sometimes until very late into the night. Hope didn’t mind, she would have sacrificed every wink of sleep just to keep hearing his voice.

“This one that you’re always on the phone nowadays,” her mother said one evening as Hope walked into the house, her phone at her ear. She’d had Daniel on speaker for most of the drive home and she was only just now saying goodbye to him.

“Good evening, mama mia,” Hope said, grinning happily. She gave her mother a hug and started to run up the stairs.

Patience followed her, standing at the foot of the stairs as Hope ascended. “So, you won’t tell me anything?” she said expectantly. “Grace has already given me some details, you know.”

Hope stopped walking, thinking of ways to kill her sister. “What did Grace tell you?”

Her mother shrugged. “Nothing serious o, just that you were interested in someone…”

“Why did she tell you?” Hope moaned, imagining her mother planning weddings and generally marrying her off prematurely.

“Why won’t she tell me?” Patience countered. “Anyway, I can see by the way you’ve been smiling up and down that she’s right.”

“Gahhhh!” Hope groaned, leaving her mother and going to her room. She just wanted time to get to know the guy. The last thing she needed was someone feeding ideas into her head.

Not that she minded the kind of outcome her mother was anticipating. Daniel was great…He was handsome, funny, attractive, sexy…but he was also, rich, very rich, and very eligible. There were probably countless other girls reading meaning into anything he said to them, hoping that he meant more or wanted more.  She didn’t want to set her mind on him and end up feeling dejected or discarded.

…but she was falling for him. In fact, she had gone past falling, and it made her both fearful and excited.

By Friday, she was suffering from mental and physical exhaustion and couldn’t wait for the weekend. Daniel would be back and she couldn’t wait to see him. They’d been chatting on and off all day, and towards closing time, she got another message from him.

When are you leaving?
Very soon.
Okay. Can you do me a favour.
Anything.
*thinking face* Anything?
*smiley face* Just tell me what you want.

She was still waiting for a reply when her phone rang. It was him.

“I got a delivery at my office, and I was wondering if you could pick it up. I’ll get it from you tomorrow, since I have zero intention of coming near the office at all this weekend.”

Hope wondered why he didn’t just get one of his staff to take it over to his house, but she was sure he had his reasons. “No problem,” she replied. “I’ll go up and pick it up on my way out.”

“My assistant will meet you at the reception, okay? So, you don’t get lost.”

She rolled her eyes. “Very funny.”

When she was ready, she freshened her makeup and went out to the lobby, then took the lift to the floor that housed the main entrance to the offices of DaxTech, Daniel’s company. She approached the glass reception desk, where a receptionist was already smiling at her, but before she got there the main glass doors leading into the office were pushed open and a slender guy in a suit appeared, making directly for her.
 
“Hope Alade?”

“Yes.”

“I’m Tobi, Daniel’s assistant. Welcome. He asked me to wait for you. Just follow me, I’ll take you to his office.”

Hope allowed him to lead her into the office. Through a glass partition, she could see a lot of workspaces, and she wondered how many people Daniel employed. Tobi led her to a small branched-off lobby, where a single elevator waited. He pressed the call button and soon they were on their way up.
 
The lift opened into the penthouse floor, into a small reception where the girl at the desk waved them through. Beyond that was a large office, where about four people sat at their desks, and a pair of frosted glass doors which she guessed, led to Daniel’s office.

She wondered why he hadn’t just asked Tobi to give her the package–whatever it was–at the reception. The thought was still on her mind when Tobi opened the door to the office and stood back to let her through.

She stepped in, awed by the spacious office, the large desk, the plush arrangement of office furniture, the large screen opposite the desk that seemed to show a blow-up of some computer program, the spectacular view of the lagoon, and more than anything else, Daniel, standing by the wall to wall glass windows, smiling at her and looking very pleased with himself.

“You’re back,” Hope exclaimed, unable to stop her legs from hurrying toward him. He closed the distance quickly with his long legs, and in moments she was in his arms, in a sweet hug that felt just right–as if their bodies had been made to fit into each other. “Why didn’t you tell me you were here?” she scolded.

“I wanted to surprise you.” he laughed. “Seems I succeeded.”

“You did,” Hope laughed. “It’s so great to see you,” she added softly.

His chest rose and one hand moved along her back. Then, holding her hand, he moved back towards the desk and perched lightly on the edge.

“I missed you too,” he said, relieving her of her handbag and setting it on the desk.

Hope smiled. “Why aren’t you at home, resting or something.”

He shrugged. “I had a few things to check, and I wanted to see you.”

Hope felt a rush of pleasure filling her heart and suffusing her body. “Well, now you have,” she said. “I hope you’re pleased.”

His eyes glinted. “Very pleased.”

The way he said the words made her stomach clench. She was standing in front of him, close enough to feel the heat radiating from his body even in the air-conditioned interior of the office. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. She could feel his exhaustion, and she wanted to step closer and put her arms around him. She could imagine it, his head resting on her chest, the spice of his cologne in her nose…

She took a breath to steady herself. “Your office is fantastic, very impressive.”

He nodded.

“You must be so tired,” Hope added, thinking of his long flight. She touched his cheek, her hand lingering. “Have you had anything to eat?”

He smiled. “Just before you came. What I need now is sleep. My driver is waiting to take me home.” He smiled wryly. “I just don’t want to leave you yet.”

“You’re making me feel very special,” Hope said.

“Then I’m doing something right,” he replied.

She sighed. “Go home and get some rest. And then tomorrow,” she gave him a small smile. “You can spend the whole day making me feel special.” She leaned forward and kissed him on the lips. His hands encircled her waist and he pulled her closer, deepening the kiss. She felt pleasure flood her body, pleasure and desire. When he released her, they were both breathing deeply. 

“Hope.” He said her name, very softly.

She closed her eyes and swallowed. “Yes.”

“You’re driving me crazy.” He took her hand in his and kissed it gently, then got up from the desk. “Come on,” he said. “I’ll walk with you to your car.”

He held her hand all the way down to the car park. At her car, he kissed her again. “Tomorrow,” he said softly, there was a promise in the way he said the words.

Hope nodded. “I can’t wait.”

The next day, she was awake early, surprising her mother by coming downstairs and helping with the Saturday chores.

“Are you sure you don’t need to rest,” Patience asked her as Hope dusted and arranged shelves in the kitchen. “I know how hard you work and how tired you must be.”

Hope shook her head. “I have some excess energy this morning.”

Truth was, she was excited. She’d hardly been able to get a wink of sleep. She’d spend the entire night looking forward to seeing Daniel and gorging on the memory of the kisses they’d shared.

After all the chores were done, she went to her room to take a shower. When she came back down for breakfast, her father was in the living room, obviously surprised to see her up.

“Are you going out?” he asked.

She nodded.

“I guessed as much,” he said. “The way you’re looking happy, I know it’s not the thought of spending the day with your mother and me that’s making you so excited.”

Hope laughed. “But daddy, I like staying at home with you guys.”

“Don’t like it too much,” he cautioned. “We’re already talking about evicting you so we can enjoy our old age.”

After breakfast, she went upstairs to her room. She’d already set out her clothes for the day, a light green dress in loose jersey fabric with a belt at the waist, and jewelled wedges that showed off her gleaming red pedicure. As she contemplated the outfit, her phone rang.

“When should I come to pick you up,” Daniel said on the phone. He sounded well-rested and full of energy.
 
“Are you sure you shouldn’t still be asleep?” Hope asked, “recovering from all the stress and whatnot?”
He chuckled. “I’d rather see you.”

“Okayyy… thanks.” Hope smiled. “Now I’m blushing all over the place.”

“Are you?”

“Kind of,” she replied. “You can start coming now. I’ll be ready in about half an hour.”

She changed from the t-shirt and loose shorts she was wearing into the clothes she’d laid out, then brushed her hair. She didn’t apply a lot of makeup, just lip-gloss, brow pencil, eyeliner and mascara. She liked the finished effect, sweet and understated.

Daniel still hadn’t called her to tell her he had arrived, and she wondered how long it would take before he got to the house. She slid on her shoes and decided to go downstairs, so he wouldn’t have long to wait when he finally came.

She got to the head of the stairs and was startled to hear his voice in the living room. He was talking with her dad. She frowned, her heart skipping a beat as she wondered if her parents were giving him the boyfriend interrogation. 

In the living room, Daniel was seated on one of the sofas, looking at ease as he answered a question her father asked. They were talking about data storage technology, and he was explaining some detail to her father, who looked, very interested. Her mother, perched on her favourite seat, was assessing him covertly with an expression Hope was very familiar with.

“Good morning,” Hope said, pausing at the archway that led into the room. She turned a puzzled glance towards Daniel. “You didn’t tell me you had arrived.”

Her mother smiled at her. “I was just about to send Justina to get you. Your friend is telling us about his company,” she added in a pleased voice.

Hope hid a grimace. She could almost hear the wedding bells ringing inside her mother’s head. 

“I’m ready,” she said pointedly, looking at Daniel. He smiled and got up, making a quick small bow as he extended a hand towards her father, then her mother. “It was nice meeting you sir, madam,” he said deferentially.

“Same here,” Hope heard her father say.

She waved awkwardly at her parents then followed Daniel out of the house. He was wearing slim pants and a short-sleeved shirt, and as always, he looked delicious. His car was parked inside the compound and Hope wondered why she hadn’t heard him drive in.

“I thought you were going call me when you got here,” she said.

He shrugged. “The gateman opened the gates as soon as he saw my car, so I came in. It seemed rude to be inside the compound and not come inside to say hi to your parents, at least.” He looked at her as he unlocked the car and opened the passenger door for her. “Did you not want me to meet your parents?”

Hope frowned. “No, that’s not it. I just…It’s kind of early for you to be getting the boyfriend interrogation.”

He looked nonplussed, then laughed and closed the door, going over to the driver’s side. “I didn’t get the boyfriend interrogation, whatever that is. Your parents couldn’t have been nicer.”

“Ha!” Hope scoffed, unconvinced.

“Anyway, don’t you think I can handle a few questions from your parents?”

She sighed. “Of course.” It wasn’t him she was worried about. It was herself. She didn’t want her parents to decide that they liked him when she didn’t know yet exactly where they were going with their relationship. If things didn’t work out, she didn’t want questions, or disappointment from her family to compound the disappointment she’d be feeling.

He put on the radio while he drove. It was tuned to a local radio station, and as the hosts talked and made jokes, she listened with half an ear, silently watching Daniel, the way his fingers played with the wheel, the angle of his jaw, the way his body seemed to lounge even as he drove.

His eyes skipped to her, and he raised a brow. “What are you thinking,” he asked, his gaze going back to the road.

“Nothing,” Hope replied. 

“You were looking at me for so long and thinking nothing?” he looked disappointed. “Maybe I need to work on my game.”

Hope laughed. “Your game is perfect.”

He grinned and one hand left the wheel to squeeze hers, just for one sweet moment, then it was back on the wheel. “I knew I was doing something right,” he said.

Yes, you are, Hope thought silently. You’re doing everything right.

Chapter 13 – The Only One

While Hope was crying and feeling sorry for herself, Daniel’s driver had brought his car to park beside hers on the lot, where he waited for further instructions.

Hope caught her reflection in the tinted windows over Daniel’s shoulders and smiled ruefully.

Daniel pulled back and peered at her face. “Hey,” he said softly.

She laughed weakly. “I’m fine. I’m fine…I have no idea why I’m even crying.”

He said nothing, instead, he opened her car door and motioned for her to go in, then he went over to the passenger side and joined her inside.

“You’re sure you’re fine?”

She nodded and handed him back his handkerchief. He took it, folded it and slid it into his pocket.

“Do you want to tell me about it?”

She met his gaze. There was concern there, but also curiosity. She was sure he wanted to know who Charles was, not just as someone who cared, but as someone who was interested in her and wanted to know what stood in his way, if anything.

“He…Charles…We used to go out when we were in school. He married someone else…and I didn’t see him for a while, then I ran into him recently.”

“He’s the ghost from the past, the one you were waiting for that night. Also, the guy you were at that party with…a couple of weekends ago.”

“Yeah.”

He nodded.

“I haven’t spoken to him in a while, but he found out I’d be here today and came, said he wanted to talk…and he said some nasty things, which, I guess I needed to hear.”

“He seems like a jackass. I don’t think there was anything he said that you needed to hear.”

Hope smiled. “I know,” she said softly. “I guess I just feel like a fool for thinking…for ever thinking there was something good in him.”

Daniel’s eyes lingered on her face but he didn’t say anything.

“What?” Hope prompted after a while.

“I just…” he breathed. “He’s the reason why you wanted to take it slow?”

Hope nodded. “Not because I still thought I had feelings for him or anything,” she clarified. “I just needed a little time alone before…moving into something with someone else.” She hated that she was sounding defensive, like she had to prove something to herself, or to him.

“How did he even find out you were going to be here?”

Hope stared at him, trying to read his expression. She could see uncertainty in his face, but about what? About her? About whether she was really over Charles or not?

“Do you think I told him I’d be here because I wanted to see him? Because I still have feelings for him?”

“This is the wrong time,” Daniel said quietly. “I’m sorry I brought it up.”

“It’s not the wrong time if you’re thinking it,” Hope replied, her voice rising. “I have an ex-boyfriend who’s an asshole,” she said. “He invites me on dates then leaves me stranded, is rude and threatening to me in public, and is probably lying about being separated from the wife he dumped me for. Is that too messy for you? Are you going to judge me the way you did when you saw me at that silly party?”

He didn’t reply, and Hope wondered if she had gone too far. Maybe now he would decide she wasn’t worth the stress and walk away. The thought made her oddly desperate. I’m going to start crying again, she thought miserably.

When Daniel finally spoke, his voice was calm and oddly soothing to her panicked nerves. “It’s not too messy. Nothing involving you would ever be too messy for me.”

Hope closed her eyes.

“And I didn’t judge you when I saw you at that party…I was just jealous, and more than a little disappointed because earlier that day I was about to ask you to spend that evening with me and you shut me down, and then I saw you there with another guy…I wasn’t judging you.”

“You snubbed me the next day at the office,” Hope remembered.

He chuckled. “I was just feeling very sorry for myself at the time,” he said. “I was licking my wounds.”

Hope smiled at the mental image.

“I’m glad I got the chance to punch him,” Daniel continued. “He didn’t deserve you.”

Moments ago, she’d been ready to transfer her aggression toward Charles into a fight with Daniel, and here he was soothing her frayed nerves. “I don’t deserve you,” Hope replied softly.

“You’ve got me anyway,” he said. He looked around the car park. “You want to go back into the party?” he asked. Looks like it’s still going on. I haven’t seen any crowds of people leaving yet.”

“No.” Hope shook her head. “I don’t think I’m in the mood for any more partying, plus…they set me up with some guy who thinks women shouldn’t study things like engineering.”

Daniel grinned. “He sounds like a strong masculine type. I think you should go back inside, give him a chance at least.”

Hope laughed. “Nah…I don’t think so.”

“So…should I take you home, or…” He looked at her.

“Or…what?” Hope said.

“We could go to my place.”

She swallowed, searching his face for any sign that the invitation meant anything more than what it seemed on the surface. “Yeah,” she said finally. “Yeah, why not?”

They went in his car, with his driver following them in Hope’s car.

Their destination was in Banana island, on a quiet street with new houses and trees planted along the sidewalk for shade. The house was a compact two-storey building, set back from the fence. As they approached the gates, they slid open electronically and Daniel drove in, acknowledging a wave from the uniformed security man. He parked the car in an open garage which housed three other cars, all covered with tarp. Then he stopped the engine and turned to Hope.

“Here we are.”

Hope smiled at him and climbed out of the car, looking around at the beautiful house, the perfect landscaping, and the efficient use of space. Daniel came to her side and took her hand.

“You have a nice house,” she told him.

“One of my few indulgences,” he replied. “Though, I don’t spend as much time here as I should.”

“Workaholic,” Hope teased.

He only smiled, leading her to the entrance and letting her precede him into the foyer. Inside was bright and cool, and the décor was obviously professionally done.

They went into the living room. “Do you want anything?” he asked. “Food…something to drink?”

“I already ate at the party,” she said, shaking her head. “You?”

“Yeah, I had something before I came to find you.”

“So…” she sat on a settee and patted the space next to her. “What are your plans for me?”

His grin was wolfish. “Nothing much. We can watch some TV, maybe a movie, then I’ll show you around the house.”

“Perfect,” Hope said. “I like.”

She joined him in the kitchen and watched while he microwaved popcorn and retrieved drinks from the fridge, then they settled in the living room and watched a crime movie which turned out to be rather gloomy.

After the movie, it was already dark outside, but he still showed her around the house. It was big, regardless of how compact it looked from the outside, and every single item inside was obviously expensive without being flamboyant or garish.

They ended up on the balcony, where there was a stunning view of the ocean and a huge lounge chair from which they could enjoy it together. She nestled in his arms, drowsy and comfortable.

She must have dozed off for a while because when she opened her eyes, Daniel’s arms were still around her in a protective gesture, but his eyes were closed and he was breathing deeply.

The balcony was lit by dim ceiling lights, but they were bright enough for her to make out his features. He really was perfect, she thought, even with his eyes closed to hide the forcefulness of his gaze. She wanted to touch his face, to let her fingers explore all the planes and angles…

He opened his eyes and saw her devouring him with hers, and he smiled. “You see something you like?”

Hope replied with a self-conscious laugh.

“How long was I asleep?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” Hope replied. “I just woke up myself.”

He looked at his watch. “It’s getting late.”

Hope groaned. “Don’t remind me. I don’t want to get up from here.”

She felt him move, as he turned his body so he was facing her, resting on one elbow. He traced the line of her chin with one finger, and she lay there, feeling the warmth radiating from his body and almost breathless with anticipation.

His eyes met hers, and his lips moved, a little. “I’m going to kiss you,” he said softly.

Hope felt her whole body tremble, but she didn’t say anything. The next moment, he leaned down and his lips covered hers. Hope moaned against his mouth, the delicious feeling of pleasure spreading all over her. His hand was splayed over her stomach, the fingers flexing idly as they kissed.

She heard herself moan, and his hand moved, curving around her waist and hovering at the top of her hip. She moved closer to him, craving the feeling of his body against hers, then, still kissing her, he rolled her on top of him, so she was lying on his chest.

She lifted her head to look at him, and he placed his hands beneath his head as he gazed up at her. 
“I don’t know if I prefer kissing you or looking at you from this position.”

Hope folded her arms on his chest and rested her chin on them, smiling at him. “I think I prefer kissing you,” she said.

He grinned. “I’m all yours.”

She placed a quick kiss on his lips. “Why is your chest so hard? Why are you so fit? You’re making me self-conscious.”

He shrugged. “I work out every morning as part of my daily routine. I use the time to think.” He shrugged. “…and you have nothing to be self-conscious about.”

She closed her eyes, enjoying the sensation of lying on his body, feeling his warmth, being so close to him. She lingered there until she started to feel drowsy again.

“I should go home,” she said regretfully. “I don’t want to.”

Daniel sighed. “Don’t encourage me,” he said warningly. “The slightest excuse and I’ll keep you here for as long as possible.”

Hope’s closed her eyes at the image. “That sounds tempting.”

He laughed. “Come on then, I’ll drive you.”

Hope got to her feet. “I can drive myself, you know. You don’t have to drive me home with your driver following behind in my car.”

He looked at her as if she was speaking Greek. “That’s an extra half hour I get to spend with you. You can drive if you like, but I’m coming along.”

Hope laughed, her insides unfurling with warmth at the thought that he really desired to spend as much time as possible with her.

She drove her car, while he stretched out in the passenger seat, fiddling with her car radio. His driver followed behind to take him back home. When they got to her house, she stopped at the gate to kiss him again, then watched as he climbed out and walked over to his own car. She breathed deeply, excitement and fulfilment mingling in her stomach. He waited until Ayuba opened the gates and let her into the compound before leaving.

Dreamily, she floated up the stairs to her room, pleasure still suffusing her body as she prepared to sleep. Just as she climbed into bed, her phone vibrated. It was a message from Daniel.

“I think I definitely prefer kissing you too,” it said simply.

Hope grinned. She was still floating on a cloud of pleasure when she fell asleep.

Chapter 12 – The Only One

Hope didn’t see Daniel for the whole of the next week. She didn’t see him, he didn’t call her, and even though she thought of calling him a couple of times, she remembered how she’d told him that she wasn’t ready and that made her hesitate.

What if he’d decided that he didn’t want to wait for her after all? The thought filled her with a vague sense of loss. He probably had loads of girls at his beck and call, why would he hold on for the one who was hesitating for no apparent reason.

By Friday afternoon, she still hadn’t heard from him. During her lunch break, as soon as people started getting up from their seats, she reached for her phone, intending to call him, but before she could, it started to ring.

Disappointment flooded her chest when she saw that it wasn’t Daniel. It was Ebisan Cassidy, one of her close friends from university days. In the years since school, they’d seen less of each other, mainly due to their jobs and the demands of Lagos life.

“Hello, babe,” Hope said cheerfully.

“Hope! What’s up? How is work?”

“Work is fine. How are you?”

They spent a few minutes catching up because it had been a while.

“So,” Ebisan said finally, “What are you doing this weekend?”

Hope thought about Daniel. “I don’t know. Nothing. Why?”

“Well…” She sounded excited. “Tunde’s birthday is next week, but he’ll be travelling the day before, so I decided to have a small soiree for him this Saturday evening. It’s a surprise.”

Tunde was Ebisan’s husband, they’d been married for four years and with a toddler and a little baby, Hope imagined that for them the party would be a much-needed break from baby talk and diapers.

“That’s exciting,” she said.

“Yes, isn’t it?” Ebisan sighed. “Anyway, you’re invited. OceanSide restaurant. Saturday evening at five. We’re getting a large table. Some people from school days will be there too. I don’t know if you remember Tunde’s cousin Dennis? He was at our wedding. I introduced you guys.”

Hope shook her head. So, there was going to be an attempt at the party to hook her up with someone. She almost sighed. “I think I have a faint memory, but I’m not sure.”

Ebisan laughed. “Well, he’s going to be there, maybe you guys will catch up, or something.”

Or something. After Ebisan ended the call, it occurred to Hope that she hadn’t asked if Hope was seeing someone or not. It was funny, as long as you weren’t married, people didn’t hesitate to set you up with eligible guys, didn’t matter if you were dating or not. As far as they were concerned, single was single until married.

Still thinking about the call, she dialled Daniel’s number, it rang but he didn’t pick up. A little deflated, she considered whether to just let it go until he decided to call. After a few seconds, she quickly typed out a text.

Hey…Just checking to see how you’re doing. Take care. Hope.

There was no reply. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, then dropped the phone and forced her mind to stop thinking of Daniel as she prepared to go out for lunch.

He called just before she left the office in the evening. She was shutting down her computer and putting on her shoes at the same time, so when the phone rang, she wasn’t really paying attention, she answered it without looking at the screen and almost melted when his warm voice filled her ears.

“Look who forgot about me,” he said teasingly.

“I so didn’t forget about you,” Hope protested, relieved and excited at the same time. “You forgot about me.”

“I did?”

“You did. At least I tried to reach you today. I even sent you a text.”

“And I’m calling you right now.”

She rolled her eyes. “So why didn’t you call me before? All week.”

“I’ve been in a crazy situation, meetings all morning, product surveys all afternoon, and meetings in the evening too. I’ve been in Lisbon all week and I feel as if I’ve been in a prison camp.

“Oh,” Hope was surprised. “I didn’t know you weren’t in the country.

He sighed. “I’d been putting the trip off for a while, then it rushed up on me this past Monday with a vengeance. I had to go.”

“But you’re back now.”

“Just landed.”

“Hmm.” Hope felt a rush of pleasure knowing that he called her as soon as he landed, then reminded herself that he’d gone a week without speaking to her. “I just wanted to check on you earlier. I noticed I hadn’t seen you around, and I didn’t know you travelled, so…”

“I guessed.” She heard him say something to someone, probably one of his staff, then he came back on the line. “Hope…” he paused. “I wanted to call, many times.”

She nodded, then felt silly when she remembered he couldn’t see her. She understood though, from his tone, why he hadn’t. She’d told him she needed time, and he’d been giving her the space she needed to decide if she was ready.

“I’d like to see you,” he said now.

“Me too,” Hope replied.

He was quiet. She heard someone on the other end talking to him. He responded to the person. Then he was talking with her again. “I’ll call you,” he said.

He didn’t say when. “Okay,” Hope said, wondering if she should be worried about that. “I’m glad you’re back, Daniel.”

All evening and the next day, she waited for him to call. By the time he finally did in the middle of the afternoon, she was a bundle of expectant nerves.

Calm down, she told herself sternly. You don’t even know where this thing with him will go.

But it was hard to control the flush of pleasure when she heard his voice on the phone.

“Hope,” he started the call with her name, as always, he said it like he loved the sound on his lips.

“What’s up?”

“Me,” he laughed. “I think I slept for fifteen hours straight. I was exhausted, then ravenous. Where are you?”

“I’m home,” Hope replied, then yawned.

“Are you still in bed?” he asked.

“Yeah. I got back into bed after breakfast. I was exhausted from a hard week at work, you know?”

“Exhausted from missing me, you mean.”

Hope laughed nervously. “Well, there was a little bit of that too.”

He was quiet. “I want to see you,” he said. “What are you doing this evening?”

She almost said she wasn’t doing anything, then she remembered Ebisan’s party. “I’m attending a birthday party for one of my friend’s husbands.”

“Hmm. I think I resent them already,” he said, laughing. “Where’s the party?”

She told him.

“Okay,” he said. “I’m just going to do some work over here since you’re too busy for me. I may surprise you later though, and show up there before you leave.”

“That’s mildly stalker-ish,” Hope laughed.

“Is it?” He seemed surprised. “Well, I probably will. Unless you tell me specifically not to.”

“I’m not doing that. Your mild stalker-ishness is fine with me.”

“That’s a relief,” he said. “So, I’ll probably see you later okay?”

“Okay.”

After the call, she started getting ready for the party. She was already dressed and on her way downstairs before she remembered that Ebisan had mentioned that she’d be introducing her to some guy. The thought amused her. The last thing she needed was another guy.

As she drove towards the island, she wondered if she would even enjoy the party. She imagined that the table Ebisan was reserving would be full of smug married couples talking about marriage and parenthood. Not that she had anything against them, she just would stick out like a sore thumb, she and Dennis or whatever his name was, and everybody would have one eye on them, silently wondering if their meeting would lead to something serious.

Hope rolled her eyes at the thought. She hoped Daniel would come and rescue her before it got too weird or awkward or boring.

She got to the restaurant and parked, turning off her car radio, which had been blasting out very loud soft-rock. She noticed her phone was ringing, and as she picked it up, it stopped. The screen showed three missed calls and she frowned. The frown deepened when she saw who the calls were from. Charles.

No, she thought. Not today.

The ringing started again. She stared at the screen. She was tempted to ignore the call, but a small part of her was curious to hear what he had to say, and that small part won.

She slid her finger across the screen. “Hello,” she said, hoping the detachment in her voice conveyed every negative thing she felt about him.

“Hi,” he said softly. “Hope,” he sighed. “How are you?”

Perfect without you, she thought resentfully, mentally kicking herself for still feeling anything, even resentment. “I’m fine,” she replied. “Why are you calling?”

“Come on,” he replied. “Don’t be like this.”

“Like what?”

“Angry.”

Hope laughed. She was amused, actually. “Why are you calling me?”

“I wanted to explain about that night.”

“What night?” Hope asked pointedly.

“I want to explain why I didn’t show up.”

“Oh…that night.” Hope shook her head. “No need.”

“Come on,” he said. “Obviously, you were pissed. You didn’t even call me to find out why I didn’t show. What if something had happened to me.”

Hope listened, her irritation increasing with every word he said. “Well, nothing happened to you,” she told him. “So, all is well that ends well.”

“Hope,” his voice turned into a cajoling purr. “I want us to talk. Let’s talk, please.”

“About what, Charles?” Hope snapped. “Talk about what? How unreliable you are? How you’ve always lied to me, deceived me?” She regretted the explosion as soon as the words came out, but it was too late to take them back.

“See, this is why we need to talk,” he said softly. “I can’t let you just…carry all that anger towards me around.”

Hope was quiet. Somewhere inside, she was beginning to suspect that she was just entertainment to him. This thing he was doing, trying to make her emotional, trying to twist her around, resurrect her pain…it had really begun to seem like he was just bored and entertaining himself.

“Where are you?” he said suddenly, changing tack.

“I’m at a birthday party,” Hope said.

“Tunde’s party?” he asked.

Hope sighed. She’d forgotten that Charles had also known Tunde and Ebisan back in school. She tried to stem her alarm at the thought that he would be at the party. “Yes,” she admitted hesitantly.

“Okay.” He paused. “Don’t worry. I wasn’t invited. Tunde found out about the surprise and told me. His wife can’t stand me, so I didn’t get an invite.”

‘Well, thank God,’ Hope thought silently, then realised with horror that she’d said the words out loud.

“You sound very relieved,” Charles said. “Were you so scared of the thought that I’d be there?”

Hope ignored the smugness in his voice. “I have to go now,” she said. “I don’t want the party to start without me.”

“Hmm. Okay,” he said. “See you soon.”

If there was an ominous note in his voice, it didn’t really register right then. She left the car, walking into the restaurant to find Ebisan, Tunde and a few other guests who had arrived and were seated at a table on the popular back terrace of the restaurant overlooking the ocean. After a few enthusiastic hugs and greetings, and an introduction to Dennis, a handsome guy who seemed only cursorily interested in Hope, she settled at the table.

There was food, lots of drinks and laughter, and a delicious cake that melted in Hope’s mouth. One by one people around the table gave toasts, Hope too. Dennis was seated beside her, but they didn’t talk much until after the cake had been cut and he turned to her.

“Ebisan was telling me that she introduced us before,” he said.

Hope nodded. “That’s what she said…At their wedding. A long time ago.”

He smiled. He did have a charming smile. “I can’t believe we didn’t hit it off.”

Hope shrugged.

“So, she tells me you’re an engineer. Why did you choose such a male-oriented course?”

Hope’s eyebrows went up. “Male-oriented? People still say that?”

He looked puzzled. “I mean, men are more equipped to be successful in areas like engineering, or architecture…just saying. Women usually go for banking, insurance, sometimes Law…though…” he shrugged and she surmised that even that one was something he considered to be male-oriented too.

“More equipped?” Hope sighed. “I’m surprised you think women should even work in banking. I mean…when they can stay home and rear babies.” Her voice was dripping with sarcasm.

“If a man needs his wife to give up her career, especially if he can provide for her, I don’t see anything wrong with that. In fact…”

Hope snorted, interrupting him. “I think I know exactly why we didn’t hit it off the last time we were introduced,” she said, turning her back to him and facing the person seated on her other side, who luckily, happened to be a girl she’d been to school with. She started a conversation, pointedly ignoring Dennis for the rest of the night.

Her phone buzzed not long after. She’d been waiting for Daniel and was flooded with puzzlement and disappointment when it was Charles again. She’d already exceeded her daily meter for annoying men.
“Hello,” she said brusquely.

There was a pause. “I’m at the car park,” he said.

“What are you doing here?” She asked, getting up to move away from the mellow noise of the party. “I didn’t ask you to come.”

“I said I wanted to talk. Just come outside. I want to explain…”

“No,” Hope replied. “No. Just go away, for God’s sake.” Why was he bothering her? What if Daniel came? The last thing she needed was for Daniel to come here and find her with Charles.

“I’m not going. In fact, I’m coming in now. Just come meet me at the entrance. If you don’t I promise, I will walk right up to that table, and you know what they’ll all assume.”

He was threatening her. Angrily, she walked towards the entrance of the restaurant. If he wanted a tongue-lashing, then she would give it to him.

She found him standing outside, to the side of the main entrance doors of the restaurant, overlooking the carpark. He was leaning on a wall, his arms casually folded over his chest.

“What is wrong with you?” she said through gritted teeth. “Why are you harassing me?”

He watched her silently, his expression puzzled, like he had no idea why she was angry. That annoyed her even more. He uncoiled himself from the wall, but Hope was too annoyed to notice how good he looked in his spotless white caftan. She wouldn’t have cared anyway, as far as she was concerned, she was really really done with him.

“I don’t know why you’re so angry,” he said softly.

“You don’t know?” she threw her arms up. “You just threatened me into coming out here to talk to you, but that’s the least of it. You’re the single biggest mistake I’ve ever made in my life. You stole my innocence, you stole my illusions. I shouldn’t even talk to you at all.”

He didn’t respond. She wondered if he understood, would ever understand just how much he’d hurt her in the past and take responsibility for it. A movement caught her eyes and she saw a black SUV drive into the parking lot, from the distance she couldn’t tell if it was Daniel’s, but as it inched forward, coming to park just by the entrance without anybody coming out, she knew deep down that it was him.

“You say you don’t care about me anymore,” she heard Charles say, “but here you are, talking to who? Hope? Me?” He smirked. “Why not accept it? You know you can’t walk away from us.”

She shook her head in disgust. “Can’t I? Charles…Just watch me.”

She spun around. She was beyond pissed. With herself for giving Charles an audience, with Charles for being the asshole that he was, and with Daniel… What was he trying to communicate by parking so close, watching her exchange with Charles from inside his car like he was performing some sort of evaluation on her behaviour or her character. To hell with all of them. She would go back to the party, pick up her purse and get the hell out of here.

She hadn’t taken a step when she felt Charles’ hand grip her arm. “Stop pretending,” he whispered. “What are you going to do? Hold on to your righteous anger forever? I dumped you once, so what? It didn’t stop you from dropping everything to run after me just because I paid a little attention to you. Admit it, you’re lonely and desperate and I’m doing you a favour by even wanting to sleep with you.”

His grip on her arm was like iron. Alarm, panic and utter humiliation flooded her in turn, then his grip left her arm, and she saw that Daniel was standing between them. She thought she heard a punch, but she was too humiliated to want to find out. She hurried inside the restaurant. The party was still going on, and she retrieved her purse, saying a hasty goodbye to Ebisan before hurrying out of there.

She walked past Daniel at the reception. She didn’t say a word to him as she hurried through the doors towards the parking lot. Outside, Charles was nowhere to be seen, to her relief. She heard Daniel’s steps behind her as she walked to her car.

“Hope.” She heard his voice just as she unlocked the car.

She almost burst into tears. She was humiliated that he had witnessed that scene with Charles. She realised now that she wanted any excuse to be angry with him, so that she wouldn’t have to explain Charles and why she’d been talking with him in the first place. She leaned on the car door and when he came up behind her and put his arms around her, she didn’t say a word. She allowed herself the sense of safety of being in his arms. She turned around to face him. There were still tears in her eyes, and he reached into his pocket and brought out a handkerchief, slowly dabbing her face with it.

“It’s alright,” he said softly. “I’m here now.”

Chapter 11 – The Only One

“Auntie Hope, do you want a massage?” It was Diana, her six-year-old niece, hovering at the door to her mother’s bedroom, where Hope and her sister Grace were talking, or trying to.

“Maybe later,” Hope replied. According to Grace, Diana recently saw a massage programme on TV and decided she wanted to give everyone back massages, which were usually just hard punches with her small fists.

“Later when?”

“Later, Di,” her mother said sternly, leave mummy and auntie Hope alone to talk.”

“I want to talk too,” the little girl said folding small arms across her chest.

“Go downstairs and watch TV with daddy.”

“He’s watching football…!” Diana complained, but she obeyed her mother, closing the door and leaving Hope alone with her sister.

“These children can kill somebody,” Grace said with a sigh. “I haven’t had a real weekend since I had the first one, I swear.” She looked at Hope. “So, as we were saying…”

Hope continued telling her about the events of the past few weeks. She told her about Charles, the party, the dinner at his apartment, then Daniel and everything that had happened between them.

Grace sighed. “And the Charles hasn’t called you till now?”

Hope shook her head.

“At least you’re not making excuses for him, trying to reach him ‘in case he had an accident’ or those other kinds of excuses you used to make for him back then.” Grace patted Hope’s hand. “I never liked him. I think he’s the worst kind of man and I’m a little disappointed that you let him back into your life at all.”

Hope sighed. “Are you going to judge me?”

“I’m trying not to.” Grace stretched her arms and yawned. “I like the Daniel guy though. He seems like a nice sort of guy.”

“I think so too, but I don’t want to rush into anything. Given what almost happened with Charles, I don’t trust myself to make the right decisions right now. Maybe I’m just lonely, or maybe it’s mum’s marriage talk getting to my head, you know?”

Grace chuckled. “I understand. He’s there, he’s attracted to you… It’s easy to jump into something you’re not ready for.”

“Exactly.”

“Have you asked yourself what you’ll do if Charles comes back now, apologising, with a good explanation, and you find out that he’s really single now, and you two can be together…would you want to be with him?”

Hope was silent. She imagined it, somehow, the possibility of everything she used to hope for during the years she was with him, all the hopes he rekindled in the short period he’d come back into her life, it was tempting…

…but then she remembered all the lies, the betrayals, everything she’d foolishly forgotten just because he’d come back with his charm and his lies.

“No,” she answered, shaking her head. She met Grace’s assessing gaze. “No,” she said again, her voice firmer this time. “I believe I’m done with him, finally.”

Grace nodded. “Give yourself a little more time to be sure, get to know this Daniel guy…then who knows…maybe we’ll finally come and eat rice at your wedding.”

Hope laughed. “Ha! Please don’t let mummy hear o, before she starts planning the wedding in her head.”

The door opened again just then. It was Diana. She poked her head into the room and gave her mother an imploring look. Grace laughed and went to the door to swoop the little girl up into her arms, kissing her all over her cheeks. “Are you missing mummy?”

Diana squirmed and laughed happily, enjoying the attention. “Let’s go downstairs,” Grace said, beckoning to Hope. If my baby’s team loses, he’s going to need some consoling.”

On their way downstairs, Grace still carrying Diana, Hope’s phone rang. She saw Daniel’s name on the screen and her stomach did a small flip.

She slid the green button on the screen, noticing the tiny tremble in her fingers. She took a deep breath. “Hello,” she said.

“Hi.” His voice was deep and soft on the phone and Hope couldn’t help remembering that kiss from Thursday evening. She hadn’t seen him or spoken to him since then. She was feeling the need to be cautious because of the intensity of her reaction, and she wondered if he felt the same way.

“How’re you doing?” he asked.

“I’m fine.” She hovered on the stairs. “I’m at my sister’s.”

“Grace,” he said. “The doctor.”

He remembered. Hope felt a fluttering of pleasure at that small detail. “Yes,” she replied. “What about you? What are you doing?”

“Watching the match with a couple of friends.”

“You’re not watching it if you’re talking to me,” she teased.

He laughed. “I’m multitasking—and anyway, I don’t have to watch the full ninety minutes. If I miss anything important, there’s always a replay.”

Hope faked a gasp. “I’m shocked. You’re no true football fan.”

“I admit I’m not as obsessed as some,” Daniel replied, chuckling. He paused. “So…are you spending the whole day at your sister’s or should I come over and steal you right now?”

“Umm,” Hope paused. The offer was tempting but… she’d just been thinking about exercising caution when it came to him, and that meant taking it slow. If she started spending too much time with him, things would move fast, and it was likely they’d move out of her control.

“Umm…” he prompted gently.

“I’m a bit tired,” she said, wondering if she was making a mistake. “I think I’m just going to go home and rest.”

“Oh.” He sounded disappointed. “Okay. I’m crushed, but I’ll console myself with a possible win from my team.” He paused, then added, “Take care of yourself.”

“I’ll try to.”

He chuckled. “I’m serious.”

“Okay.” She smiled. “I will take care of myself.”

“I’ll see you,” he said. “Enjoy your weekend.”

“You too,” Hope replied, feeling as if she’d messed up somehow because the truth was she’d have loved to see him.

The next day was slow. After an early night on Saturday, she was up early on Sunday. After church with her parents, there really wasn’t much to do. She tried to read a novel but was too distracted by her thoughts, which kept straying to Daniel. She wondered what he thought about her decision not to see him yesterday. She was sure it wasn’t very often girls turned him down for dates or hangouts or whatever. She hoped he wouldn’t think she was playing hard to get—that wasn’t her style.

The day progressed. By evening she’d dozed, made little progress reading the novel and was now picking out clothes to wear for the week. Her phone rang for a few seconds before she heard it, and by the time she picked it up the call had ended. It was Daniel.

Great! She sighed. Now he would think she didn’t want to talk to him.

To her relief, the ringing started again, and she answered the call on the second ring.

“Hey,” she said.

“Hey,” his voice vibrated through the phone, as usual, deep and delicious to her ears. “How are you?”

“Great,” Hope swallowed, trying to control her reaction just to the sound of his voice. “I’m trying to get ready for tomorrow.”

“When the grind begins again.”

“You get it,” Hope replied with a sigh. “So… did your team win yesterday?”

“Of course,” he said, sounding as proud as if he had anything to do with the win. “We always win.”

Hope laughed. “That’s impossible.”

“Impossible is nothing,” he replied teasingly. He was silent for a few seconds. “How’re you feeling today?”

He sounded concerned, and Hope felt her heart tighten. “I’m okay.”

“Hmm.” He seemed to be considering something. “I need you to do me a favour,” he said. “Scratch that—two favours. Number two, I have a question, and I need you to answer it truthfully. Can you do that?”

Her stomach tensed with a mixture of excitement and alarm. “Depends on the question.”

“Fair enough. It’s not a big deal.”

“Okay.” She paused. “What’s number one.”

“Can you come outside your gate?”

Hope swallowed a gasp, then hurried to the window, trying to see the street beyond the fence. “You’re here?”

“Yes, I am,” he said slowly.

She breathed, excitement rocketing sky high as she totally forgot that she was supposed to be taking it slow with him and keeping time spent together to a minimum. “I’ll be right there.”

He was parked right outside the gate, seated inside a gleaming black Audi-something—she didn’t know car models well enough to say what it was. She walked over, and by the time she reached the front passenger door, he had opened it.

She slid into the car, taking in the sight of him in the driver’s seat. Casual clothes, grey t-shirt, black jeans, and a pair of sunglasses which he pulled off while she was looking at him. His eyes were warm, and he was singing along to the song that was playing on the radio—one of BankyW’s love songs—and as he turned to her, it felt like he was singing the words to her. It was something about what she was doing to his heart, or what some girl was doing to the musician’s heart—Hope couldn’t be sure, the warmth in his eyes was confusing her.

“You don’t look as happy to see me as I hoped.” Daniel gave her a teasing smile.

Her heart fluttered. Happy wasn’t a word she’d use to describe how she was feeling—confused, excited, tense, hot and cold and warm at the same time…? “I’m just surprised. I wasn’t expecting you.”

“Yeah,” he exhaled. “I wasn’t expecting me to be here either. I just…I found myself really wanting to see you.”

Hope swallowed. “I…” what could she say to that? She was flattered, pleased and a lot more she couldn’t really articulate. “Why?” she asked.

His eyes bored into hers, piercing, intense. He started to lean forward, then stopped himself. “I had a question I needed to ask,” he said.

“Okay.” Hope looked from his face to her hands on her laps. The music had changed to another love song, the sound blending with the low purr of the engine and the AC. Outside, the sun was setting, the midday glare replaced by dusk. There were a few people on the street, but that did nothing to quell the sense of intimacy within the car. “I said I’ll answer it if I can.”

“You can.” He gave her a measuring look. “Why didn’t you want to see me yesterday?”

Of course, Hope thought. He didn’t buy the lie she’d told about being tired. His eyes were on her face now, and she knew that repeating the lie would be tantamount to an insult to his powers of perception.

She sighed. “It’s complicated.”

He was silent. She met his gaze, and it seemed as if he was challenging her to say more, but she didn’t, the source of her confusion was murky, even to her, and she couldn’t yet put it into words.

He was still waiting, the silence stretched. Hope searched her head for something to say, something to lighten the mood, but she came up with nothing.

“Hope.”

She pulled in a small breath at the sound of her name on his lips. He brought his face closer to hers. “You know what’s not complicated?” he asked softly.

Hope shook her head.

“I like you,” he said, his voice still soft. “I’m a busy man, Hope. There are a lot of things I could be doing right now, a lot of places I could be, but here, with you, is where I want to be, because I enjoy being around you, and more than anything, I want you to feel the same about me.”

Hope sighed. “Daniel…”

“I’m not done,” he continued. “I don’t think you’re the kind of woman that likes to play unnecessary games. I think you like me too. If you didn’t you wouldn’t be here and neither would I.” He paused. “So, whatever your reasons for pulling back, I’m guessing they’re valid.”

“They are.”

He took her hand in his and traced his fingers over hers. “Do you want me to leave you alone?”

Hope looked at her hand nestled in his and shook her head. “Would you?”

He grinned. “No. I’m very patient, but I won’t wait forever either.”

“I don’t expect you to.”

“Fair enough.” He let go of her fingers, and she pulled them back onto her lap, feeling the absence of his touch. “What are your plans for the rest of the day?”

“Sleep,” Hope shrugged. “Get ready for work tomorrow.”

He nodded. “I guess I’ll see you tomorrow then.”

Hope bit her lip. He was leaving, then, but what had she expected? She’d practically told him that she didn’t want him around, at least not how he wanted to be.

She opened the door and climbed out of the car, surprised when Daniel did the same. He came around the car to where she was standing. Curious, she waited for him to say something.

He pulled her into a small hug and placed a tiny kiss on her cheek. “Take care,” he whispered softly.

She nodded and walked into the compound, leaving him outside the gates. Take care. Why did it sound so much like goodbye?

Chapter 10 – The Only One

The next day Hope took special care with her appearance. She wanted to look good, but not like she was trying too hard. She chose a black silk blouse with a bow at the collar and paired it with a light grey pencil skirt. She added pearls at her ears, then black velvet pumps, before securing her hair at her nape with a black clip. It was a simple but classy look, especially paired with nude makeup.

By the time she got downstairs, Gerald was long gone. She drove to the office, not really minding the traffic. All through the morning, there was a tiny excitement she couldn’t shake as she waited for lunchtime and for Daniel to call.

Her phone rang just before noon.

“Hello.” It was him.

“Hey.”

“So… when can you meet me downstairs at the entrance?”

Hope calculated. “About five minutes past noon.”

“Okay,” she heard him say. “I’ll be waiting.”

She freshened her makeup. At twelve on the dot, Agnes got up from her chair and turned to Hope, her eyes studying Hope’s face. “You’re looking really…chic today,” she said. “Are you going out to lunch? Maybe we can grab something together.”

Hope shook her head apologetically. “I’m meeting someone.”

Agnes gave her a look. “Chocolate someone?”

Hope rolled her eyes.

“You will give me this gist one day,” Agnes said playfully. “Enjoy.”

A few minutes later, Hope took the lift to the ground floor, making her way to the entrance to wait for Daniel. Just as she stepped outside, a black tinted SUV pulled up. One of the rear windows wound down, and she saw Daniel in the back seat. He beckoned to her, then leant over to open the door.

She went in, joining him in the back. The interior was plush, luxurious black leather, obviously expensive, and very comfortable. In the front, the driver kept his eyes ahead, not saying anything else after a quiet ‘good afternoon.”

“Hey,” Daniel greeted, his dark eyes scanning her face. “How do you manage to look this good every day?”

“I don’t even know how to respond to that kind of compliment,” Hope replied, pleased. She could hardly take her eyes off him. He was wearing a crisp white shirt that did little to hide the fit body inside. “You look great too.”

He frowned. “I was hoping for more than that. I was promised that I’d be told that I’m the sexiest man alive.”

Hope laughed. “I promised no such thing.”

“Okay.” He angled his body towards her, bringing his face close. “How was work?”

She wrinkled her nose. “So, so.”

“Hmm.” His eyes lingered on hers for a moment, then he smiled to himself and leant back in his seat.

“What are you thinking,” Hope asked, curious.

His smile widened. “I’ll probably tell you, but not today.”

The restaurant he chose was another small one, tucked into a corner of one the luxury event centres on the island. Lunch was a juicy shawarma coupled with a fruit and veggie smoothie that Daniel assured Hope would give her a slow burning energy kick that would last for the rest of the day.

She’d never laughed that much over food. Daniel teased her about her love for romantic movies when she admitted that Love Actually was her favourite movie of all time. He admitted a fixation on Nollywood movies featuring a particular set of the old-school actors and actresses. “Give me Genevieve, or Rita, or Ramsey, and I’ll watch, no matter how bad the script is.”

“Most guys would never admit that,” Hope teased.

He shrugged. “Who cares? Anyway, I also watch other kinds of movies, superhero movies, action blockbusters, quirky comedies. I’m a cinema nerd.”

She stared into his face, wondering at the relaxed, approachable expression, so at odds with the impression she’d had of him for a long time. “It’s kind of weird talking to you like this,” she told him. “A few weeks ago, I’d have sworn that you’d probably only talk about work and never crack a smile.”

He sipped his drink and looked thoughtful for a moment. “Hope, you know what they say about judging a book by its cover?”

She nodded.

He gave her a long level look. “Never do that.”

 

I like him.

I really like him.

Back at the office, Hope kept thinking of Daniel. How easy it was to forget everything else when she was with him. Getting to know him would be a pleasure, she was sure. It would be so easy to fall in love with a guy like him.

And why not? He’d already admitted that he was interested in her.

The more she thought about it, the more it seemed like an attractive prospect, except…

Except for the fact that just a few days ago, she’d been considering a relationship with another man, a man she’d loved for years, a man she thought she’d gotten over, but who had succeeded in pushing through most of her defences with little effort.

She thought she was over Charles now, but would it be fair to Daniel not to give it a little time, until she could be sure that she would never lapse into thinking that Charles could mean something to her, ever again?

I’m very very attracted to you.

Hope sighed. She felt the same way. If only it were that simple.

The rest of the day passed quickly, there was an unscheduled visit to a nearby building site to inspect some piping ducts that the project manager claimed the contractor had done outside the instructions in the specifications. After the inspection, a long meeting, tiring arguments filled with denials from the contractor, Hope returned to the office exhausted. By then it was almost closing time.

“I can’t wait for weekend,” Agnes said, stretching as she got up. “Sometimes I don’t know if I want the days to speed up so the weekends and salaries will come faster, or whether I want them to slow down, so I stay young and beautiful for longer.”

“Too bad none of us are in control of any of those things.”

“I don’t know who told you that you’re even young and beautiful now,” one of their colleagues said to Agnes. His name was Jide and Hope suspected that he had a crush on Agnes.

Agnes looked at him and pursed her lips. “I don’t know who was talking to you o, Jide.”

He held up his hands. “Someone cannot joke with you again.” Agnes made a face at him, and Hope laughed.

“How far with that your full package guy?” She said, lowering her voice so only Agnes could hear.

Agnes made a sour face. “He didn’t call me again. Just like that, less than a week of complete attention, then silence.”

Hope raised her brows. “For real?”

Agnes nodded. “What can I say? Men are scum.” She paused for a moment, then threw off her sad expression and brightened. “On to the next one, abi?”

Or give it a break for a while? Take some time off from men before jumping into the next guy’s arms. She held off on advising Agnes, because, to be truthful, she probably needed the advice more. Here she was, the stain of Charles’s kisses still almost fresh on her lips, and she was already thinking of starting something with Daniel.

Hope’s phone beeped. Agnes had gone in the direction of the restrooms, and Hope spared her a thoughtful glance before looking at the message. It was from Daniel.

“Just got back. Have you left yet?”
“No. How was your meeting?”
“Govt officials. *angry face.*”
“I can imagine.”
“When are you leaving?”
“In about an hour and a half. I’m going to wait for traffic to reduce.”
“Let me know when you’re ready to leave.”
“Okay.”

Hope wondered why he wanted to know, and excitement built in her belly. She didn’t think he was going to ask her to join him for dinner, or else he’d have said so. Well, she’d find out when she saw him, she thought, deciding to focus on work instead of marinating herself in her thoughts about him. She had some drawings to work on for a personal client, so once the office emptied out a little, she retrieved her personal laptop from her bag and continued working on the mechanical drawing for the small residential development. She had worked for almost two hours before she realised that it was getting dark outside. She packed up her things, quickly dabbing powder on her nose and reapplying her lip gloss before sending Daniel a message telling him that she was ready to leave.

He met her in the lobby on her floor, stepping out of the lift just as she exited her office. She stopped walking when she saw him, wondering again at how he filled the whole place with the force of his presence. He’d discarded his jacket by now and was once again wearing only the white tailored shirt and pants. This time though, the sleeves weren’t rolled up. He came towards her, fast but graceful, and relieved her of the laptop pouch.

“This is heavy,” he said. “What kind of machine are you working with?’

She laughed. “Just a regular HP. And I know it’s not that heavy.”

He pressed the button for the lift, chuckling. “How about that one,” he asked, nodding towards her handbag. “Do you need help with that?”

She gave him a look. “You’d carry my handbag?”

“Why not?” he grinned. “If you care about stuff like that, you’d probably be more embarrassed than me anyway. I’m not very good at caring what people think.”

Hope didn’t doubt it, but she imagined one or two people in the lobby seeing him carrying her bags. The whole building would be talking about it by tomorrow. “I can manage,” she said, still smiling. “Thanks.”

The lift arrived, and soon they were on their way to the ground floor. Alone with him inside the small space, Hope remembered that first day, when he’d helped pick up her purse. She remembered the connection she’d felt, the small and unexplainable frisson of excitement. There’d been something there, between them, even then.

He was watching her now, and his eyes lowered to her lips, then he looked back up into her eyes.
I’m very very attracted to you.

The words resounded in her head again, and she swallowed, sure that he knew what she was thinking, or at least that she was thinking of how attracted she was to him.

His eyes held hers, and she could feel her stomach tightening. He leant in her direction, almost as if he was going to take a step and close the space between them, then he seemed to think better of it. He shoved his free hand into his pocket.

“Are you seeing anyone?” he asked softly.

She breathed, ‘No,’ she wanted to say. There’s no one. No one important. No one unimportant either. Charles doesn’t matter.

Why had her mind gone to Charles at all?

Maybe because he still mattered?

He hadn’t called, and even if he did, she knew he wasn’t worth her time.

But did that mean she was ready for something else? Ready for Daniel?

“Are you?” She countered with a tiny smile, her chin rising.

Daniel chuckled, looking away from her for the first time since they entered the lift. There was a beep as they reached the ground floor, and the doors slid open. He let her lead the way, following her out, his hand just hovering at the small of her back, there – enough for her to feel a warm burn as if he was actually touching her, enough for her to almost go crazy with the desire for him to rest the hand on her back. The hand dropped as soon as they entered the main area of the lobby. He looked at her, his black eyes burning and intense.

“I’m not seeing anyone,” he said quietly.

She wondered if she could believe him. He was good-looking, painfully rich, eligible in more ways than one. Men like him were hardly ever single. There was always some girl.

“I’m not seeing anyone either.” It was the truth, but it felt incomplete, somehow. She could feel her connection with Charles, renewed in the past few weeks, like a string she hadn’t yet cut.

They went outside together, to where her car was parked in the lot. It was a cool evening, and Hope felt the temptation to lean into him as they walked, to feel his warmth.

Slow down, she cautioned herself. Hope, slow down.

Daniel waited while she fished out her keys and unlocked the doors, then he went around the back of the car and placed the laptop pouch on the floor of the passenger’s side.

“Just so none of the mischief makers in traffic sees it and decides to shatter your windows for it.”

“You’re right,” she said, shuddering as she thought of the armed robbers who sometimes robbed people in traffic. She went over to where Daniel was standing and placed her handbag on the floor of the passenger side too, on top of the laptop pouch. When she straightened, they were standing face to face, with too little space between their bodies. Her heart thudded, but she met his gaze squarely.

His eyes held hers. “I’m becoming very addicted to being around you,” he said simply.

She bit her lower lip. “Is that a bad thing?”

“Depends,” he replied.

“On what?”

In response, he lifted a hand, gently cupping it around the back of her neck. Hope bit back a sigh, pleasure at his touch mixing with excitement low in her belly. Her lips parted as he lowered his head. His lips touched hers, and she felt a jolt, a rush of pleasure as her whole body melted into the kiss.

There was no pressure, just his hand at her nape and his lips on hers, sweet, tender, undemanding, and yet so pleasurable she wanted to press her whole body against his, to burrow into him, to deepen the kiss until there was nothing left between them.

But he was holding back, limiting himself to this tender exploration. A small moan escaped her, and she felt him stiffen, his fingers flexed, the tips sliding into the back of her hair. The kiss deepened, only for a moment, then he was pulling away, leaving her almost unsteady on her feet.

She pressed her lips together, still feeling the tingle of pleasure. Daniel had taken a step back, and he looked as if he was waiting for her to say something. But what could she say? Her legs were still trembling… and it had been just one kiss. She knew she was attracted to him, but she hadn’t expected that surge of physical pleasure, that almost uncontrollable desire to be as close as possible to him.

She could really fall for this man, she mused. He was the complete package. He listened. He spoke to her as if she was a person, not just an attractive woman. He was unarguably brilliant, interesting and entertaining to be with. It would be too easy to fall, but there were considerations, and sadly they both centred around Charles.

Could she do this…so soon after Charles?

And… What if, like Charles, Daniel was just playing around? She would get hurt, and she’d have to face working with him in the same building.

She took a step back now, recoiling, not from him, but from her feelings, from the doubts that had taken root inside her mind.

“It’s getting late,” she said, her voice weak. “I really should be going.”

He regarded her for a long moment. “You’re right.” He stepped back from the car and closed the passenger door, watching her as she walked over to the driver’s side. She opened the door and paused. Looking over the roof of the car at him. “I…” she started, not sure what to say. “Goodnight, Daniel.”

“Goodnight.”

She slid into the car and started the engine. As she drove away, she caught a glimpse of him in the rear-view mirror. He was looking at the car, his hands shoved into his pockets, an indecipherable expression on his face.

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.