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.
“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?”
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.”
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.
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.”
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.