The last book in the Lagos Romance Series was more than two years ago. I’ve been working on other stuff, so I haven’t written another book set in Nigeria. This story has been on my to-do list for a long time, and the first two chapters were written ages ago. It’s a love story (of course!) and has something of a love triangle:). I hope to have the whole book finished before the end of the year.
Anyway. Here’s an excerpt from the first Chapter of The Only One, by Somi Ekhasomhi.
(Disclaimer: It hasn’t been professionally edited yet, and it’s a draft. So things may change.)
There was almost no part of Victoria Island where parking wasn’t a problem. Hope Alade’s office was no exception. Fifteen floors of offices and yet, only the ground floor for parking. After securing a spot in the morning, it was the most reckless thing to risk it by driving out to lunch. Which was what Hope had done.
The uniformed security man shook his head again, squinting as the hot sun reflected off his shiny forehead. “Parking don full,” he said, his voice heavy with sober finality, which would have been amusing, except Hope wasn’t in the mood to laugh. “Aunty Hope, you go park for street.”
“Ohhhhh!” Hope dragged out a long groan before backing away from the gate and finding a space on the street in front of the building. She disliked parking on the street. It never felt safe. There was always the risk of reckless drivers scratching her car, or worse, the people from the traffic agency appearing out of nowhere to seize and tow cars.
Hope’s colleague, Agnes Disu, lay reclining on the passenger seat, her eyes heavy. “Give him your keys so as soon as someone leaves, he’ll move the car inside,” she murmured, still drowsy from loading up on pounded yam and Port-Harcourt native soup.
“It’s not like I have a choice,” Hope said, abandoning her contemplation of Agnes to glance up and down the street. There were other cars parked along the curb, but that didn’t make her feel better. “I hate leaving my car on the street,” she muttered. “We should have walked.”
Agnes rolled her eyes. “Walk ke! So we’ll arrive at a restaurant full of big boys with my skin sweaty and makeup running down my face.” Her lips pursed. “Thank you very much, but no thank you.”
Hope chuckled. Agnes was obsessed with big boys, fine boys, hot boys, or just boys. In the two years they had worked together at Madueke and Makinde Engineering, she had come to realise that while Agnes was sharp as a new needle at things like circuit diagrams and specifications for electrical fittings, with men, especially cute ones, she was as hopeless as a teenager in the throes of her first crush.
“How many big boys did you catch while you were loading pounded yam?” Hope laughed, shaking her head. She turned off the engine and stepped out of the car and into the unforgiving Lagos sun. The heat enveloped her like a malicious evil spirit, and she grimaced, thinking how the interior of her car would be as hot as an oven in a matter of minutes.
“I didn’t catch any because I couldn’t concentrate,” Agnes said, after pulling herself out of the passenger seat. She patted her stomach and sighed. She had an undeniably sensual kind of beauty, large eyes, full lips, and a smooth creamy complexion that gleamed in the sun.
She grinned at Hope. “…And, I couldn’t concentrate because I was still thinking of the one I saw in our office right before we left for lunch.”
Which one was that? Hope searched her memory. She wasn’t as giddy as Agnes when it came to men, but she wasn’t averse to enjoying the sight of a good-looking one either. She couldn’t remember seeing any extraordinarily handsome guys in the office before they’d left for lunch.
Walking ahead of Agnes, she strode inside the compound and gave her car keys to the security man, giving him instructions to move the car inside as there was space.
“I don’t know how you could have missed him,” Agnes said breathlessly, when she caught up with Hope. “He came in right before we went out for lunch, tall, handsome, smooth… with lips like sugar.”
“Lips like sugar?” Hope burst out laughing. “I give up on you, Agnes. You’re just man crazy.”
“Which one is man crazy again?” Agnes rolled her eyes. Even in her four-inch heels she was still at least half a foot closer to the ground than Hope, curvy, with a full head of curly hair extensions. In contrast, Hope was slender and tall, with a weakness for long, wavy hair extensions that blended perfectly with her relaxed hair. She was good looking, with a clear bronze complexion and dark expressive eyes.
Beyond the impressive revolving doors, the lobby of the Matador house was an air-conditioned cave of marble floors and walls, with busy-looking professionals heading to and from their offices.
“This Lagos sun is enough to kill somebody sha,” Agnes said. “Just from the street to the lobby and I’m already sweating.” She glanced at Hope. “And just so you know. It is perfectly normal for a girl my age to be man-crazy. If I weren’t, even my parents would be worried.”
“Now, I’m sure they’re worried that you’ve taken it a little too far,” Hope replied with a snort.
Agnes laughed. “Free me, abeg.”
The engineering services firm where they worked was on one of the upper floors. They headed toward the lifts, and Hope slowed her stride so Agnes could keep up. There was no rush, for Hope at least. She was far ahead of all her deadlines. She enjoyed her work, and while the endless diagrams and schematic drawing of the intestines of buildings were boring to some people, they weren’t to her.
“You should have seen him,” Agnes declared, returning to the subject of the mysterious hot guy, “He came just before lunch for a meeting with one of the managing partners. He was hot. Tall, team light-skinned with dimples,” she winked at Hope. “and have I mentioned the lips?”
Hope sighed. “Yeah,” she said tiredly. “Lips like sugar.”
“Exactly!” Agnes sighed dramatically.
The description nagged at Hope’s mind, like a feather tickling at a memory. She knew one person who looked like that, or at least as close to Agnes’s exaggerated descriptions as she could imagine. And he was the last person she expected or desired to see in her office.
Luckily, there were probably thousands of guys who looked like that in Victoria Island.
A lift descended, and the doors slid open. They stepped inside, and Agnes continued her monologue, her eyes shining as she described the perfection of the mysterious guy. Hope listened, her feelings vacillating between amusement and boredom.
The lift had barely moved when it came to a stop on the second floor. Agnes continued her chattering until the doors opened and Daniel Amadi walked in.
That shut her up.
That would have shut anybody up. Nobody would dream of chattering brainlessly when a man like Daniel Amadi was in the same room.
Every single person in the building knew who he was…the genius software engineer who built his business from scratch, and whose offices occupied the top three floors of the building.
There was something about the way he strode into the lift in his impeccable dark suit and crisp white shirt. There was something about the set of his jaw, the understated glint of his silver cufflinks, the subtle hint of his cologne… It was as if, just with the way he carried himself, he was proclaiming that he owned the place.
He acknowledged them with a small nod. He never gave anybody more than that. He probably believed he didn’t need to give any additional acknowledgement to two random engineers from the small firm a few floors below him, Hope thought unimpressed.
As the doors closed, he turned his back to them and faced the panel. At first, Hope watched his long fingers moving over the buttons, but then Agnes caught her attention, rolling her eyes upwards and fanning her chest in a mimicry of swooning. Hope stuck out her tongue and stifled a giggle.
Daniel turned back towards them, missing the moment of hilarity. He wasn’t smiling. In fact, Hope doubted that she had ever seen him smile. She had never really understood why all the girls in the office thought he walked on water. He was always serious, and he always looked busy. Sure, he was handsome, in that tall, dark and intense way that would have looked good in a model, but what was the use of all the good looks if he never cracked a smile?
The lift was moving. Hope glanced at Agnes, who was staring at the side of Daniel Amadi’s face like a child discovering a glowing, colourful screen for the first time. She stifled another giggle.
The silence was getting uncomfortable, and now Hope could feel him looking at her. Why was the lift so sluggish? It felt as if his eyes were burning through her skin.
She looked up at him and caught him mid-stare. If he was fazed at getting caught, he didn’t show it. Dark eyes, ringed with thick black lashes, lingered on her face for a moment, and then flickered away.
Hope remembered to breathe. In that one moment, she’d felt almost…lost in the force of his gaze. Flashes of warmth touched the surface of her skin. “…seven, eight, nine…” She counted the numbers under her breath as they appeared on the indicator. For some reason she couldn’t articulate, she could hardly wait to put some distance… and breathing space… between herself and Daniel Amadi.
She heard a clatter and almost jumped out of her skin. The sound was from her small purse, which had slipped from her fingers and fallen on the floor.
In the few moments it took for her to make that realisation, Daniel Amadi had dropped gracefully to his haunches and retrieved the tiny pink purse. Hope stood frozen as he rose to his feet and handed it to her.
“Here,” he said quietly. There was nothing personal or friendly about his deep voice. She could have been any clumsy old lady, judging from his expressionless face.
“Thank you,” Hope whispered, reaching out with wooden fingers to take the purse. Thankfully, she grasped it without immediately dropping it again.
“You’re welcome, Hope.” He smiled but didn’t let go of the purse.
Hope forgot that they were both holding her purse, that there was something wrong with that, that it looked awkward. She forgot all that because…What a smile! The curve of his lips, the stark whiteness of his teeth, the amused gleam in his eyes…it was almost…mesmerising.
And how come he knew her name? Hope stared at him in surprise as the doors slowly slid open.
One eyebrow went up on his face, and his eyes, still slightly amused, remained on hers, like he knew what she was thinking.
Hope stared, forgetting where she was supposed to be going. When he released her purse, she stared at him for a few more moments, slightly disoriented. She caught herself and walked out of the lift, her legs unsteady as she wondered what had just happened.