An Engagement Challenge
Challenge series, book 2
Chapter 1 Excerpt
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and
incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are
used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any
resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or
persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
An Engagement Challenge
Copyright© 2012 Kiru Taye
Editor: Kristie L. McKinley
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be used
or reproduced electronically or in print without written
permission, except in the case of brief quotations
embodied in reviews.
You’ll die a lonely man.
With ease Paul Arinze navigated the throng of people gathered at the party. He ignored the dire phrase echoing in his mind—words that had plagued him in the past few weeks. Instead, he keyed into the thrumming vibe of the urban music thumping out of hidden loudspeakers in the shiny black glass walls of the nightclub.
His back prickled with sensation, the hairs standing erect. Someone was watching him. His gaze dragged across the dance floor, searching. People were dancing, chatting, drinking. A lady brushed past him—long blonde hair and a dress that showcased her full unshackled breasts. She smiled at him, the eager inviting message in her green eyes unmistakable. She’d accommodate his desires.
Yet nothing stirred within him. No spark. No passion. Just emptiness. He gave her a reluctant smile in return and moved on. He was exhausted, mentally.
As a waiter walked by, his silver tray laden with drinks, Paul stopped him and replaced his empty glass with another full glass of champagne. It wasn’t his poison of choice. For tonight, it would have to do. He took a sip from the crystal glass and allowed the fizzing crisp dry liquid down his throat. The light intoxicant didn’t do much to settle his soul’s restlessness, but it took the edge off his body alertness.
Spotting the sliding doors leading to a balcony, he walked toward it. Once outside, he inhaled deeply, enjoying the fresh night air in his lungs and on his face, cooling his hot skin. He slid the door shut, the sounds of music and loud conversation muffled by the reinforced glass. His gaze travelled across the blue-black night sky, the lights on the London Eye and other landmarks reflecting in the dark water of the Thames.
Slowly, a reflective smile tugged his lips as he took in the view. It was evidence of his hectic lifestyle that whenever he was in London, he never got the chance to really see London. The closest he got to any of the tourist landmarks were either from a London cab window or via his hotel room view.
Many years ago, he’d lived in the city while he’d attended university to complete his MBA. He’d loved his time here and the freedom that had come from being away from Nigeria and his father. He spent two years after his program working for a British firm to build his experience. In the end he’d returned to Nigeria. His home country was in his blood. While he was away he missed the place. Where ever else he visited—in his recent trip it’d been Singapore and New York—he never got the same peace of mind as he had when he was on Nigerian soil.
It was home to his family, closest friends and businesses—his life as he wanted it.
Yet in the past few weeks, a roiling restlessness had settled over him since his break up with his last girlfriend, Kate. Letting out a resigned sigh, Paul leaned his back against the cool brick wall and allowed the memory of their conversation on the fateful night replay itself.
“The wedding was great fun. When are we going to set our own date?” Kate asked as she flung her clutch bag on the low round glass-top centre table.
Paul pretended he didn’t hear her. They’d just returned from the wedding of an old school friend and a socialite. The couple’s families were heavily involved in the Nigerian political scene—his friend’s father was an ex-senator and the girl’s father, an ex-minister. Socially arranged marriages were common place for the political elite. While Paul didn’t mind attending other people’s weddings, he certainly didn’t want to discuss his own.
Silently, he shut his apartment door behind him and walked past Kate. He stood still, staring out of the floor-to-ceiling windows that overlooked the mountains in the distance. In the inky darkness, all he could make out were the outlines of the rocks. In the daytime, the view was breathtaking; part of the reason he’d bought the Abuja home.
“Paul?” Kate’s probing voice broke into his thoughts.
“Our own date for what?” Paul asked, nonchalantly loosening and pulling off his blue embroidered silk tie. Painstakingly slow, he rolled it in his hands before undoing his top button. Then, he turned around to face her.
“Wedding date, of course,” she purred; her smile a sultry invitation. Seductively and easily, she swayed her wide hips, coming toward him. When she stopped, she moved his jacket lapels apart, brushing his shirt with her palms in a sensuous movement that should’ve excited him. Instead, suspicion spiked his blood and tensed his muscles. “We’ve been dating for so long and I’m getting tired of attending other people’s weddings without planning my own.”
“Kate, I told you I wasn't ready to get married when we met. I’m not interested in wedding bells.”
“Yes, that was over a year ago. I didn’t expect you to marry me then. I do now.”
Her eyes widened, flashing angrily at him. He pretended not to notice. He wasn’t interested. Her full bosoms heaved, nearly spilling out of her figure-hugging long black dress. To think that when he’d seen her earlier in it all he’d wanted to do was bring her here and take the dress off her body. Now he couldn’t even stand to look at her.
Bile rose in his throat. The mention of the word marriage always spoiled his mood. He wanted the smooth fiery taste of a drink to quash the bitterness in his mouth. Instead of moving over to the small bar in the corner of his living room, he allowed his gaze to meet Kate’s.
“Nothing’s changed for me, Kate. I still don’t want to get married. I’ve never pretended otherwise,” he replied coolly.
He should’ve seen this coming and done something to prevent it. Perhaps he should’ve broken off the relationship months ago. He’d become complacent, partially hoping that with Kate it would be different. That she understood his need for no-strings attached relationships.
She was a high-flying career girl and worked as head of department for a retail bank. He’d met her at a function right here in Abuja. He’d liked her because she was work-focused and they lived in separate towns – she in Lagos, while he spent most of his time split between Abuja and Enugu. She’d come up to Abuja for the weekends when she was available. It’d suited him fine to see her occasionally.
Emotions chased their way across Kate’s face. Frustration, pain, anger. None of them touched him.
“If I wait, can you promise me we’ll get married say in another year?” she asked calmly, her eyes watching him expectantly.
For some people, a year might make a difference. For Paul it didn’t. He’d already spent that much time with Kate. His feelings for her today were no different from how he’d felt twelve months ago. Except now, he was disappointed she’d behaved like every other woman before her. By asking him for something he couldn’t give her.
Paul pulled his face in a tight grimace. “There’s no need to wait. I won’t marry you.”
“Then there’s no point hanging around. It’s over,” she said in a shrill voice. With jerky angry movements, she picked up her bag.
“Listen. Why not wait until the morning,” Paul said in a placating manner. Stifling the smile threatening to lift his lips in buoyant relief, he kept his face expressionless. It was best to let Kate think she’d ended their relationship, providing him with an easy way out.
“What would be the point of that, Paul? I’ll pack my things and stay the night at the Hilton. I can head back to Lagos in the morning.”
He nodded as she walked into the bedroom and grabbed her overnight bag. He called his chauffeur and asked the man to drop her off. When Kate came out of his bedroom, she stood glaring at him for a moment before shaking her head.
“You’ll die a lonely man,” she said and walked out the door.
Though it had done nothing to change his mind about asking her back, the words had plagued his mind ever since.
Paul let out a sigh as he took a sip of his drink. Perhaps it was time to call it a night. He was due to catch a flight out of London tomorrow afternoon. A good night’s sleep wouldn’t go amiss.
As he turned, the door to the balcony opened, letting out the noise from the bar and along with it, a sexy goddess.
Long dark tresses framed an oval face of flawless buttery cream, her curvaceous body in a beautiful navy lace dress that stopped just above the knees exposing satiny legs and feet in wedge sandals. For a moment she stood still, one leg paused over the threshold, the other already outside. In the pose she looked breathtaking with the dim lights from inside framing her in a silhouette.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to disturb you. I just wanted some fresh air. I’ll come back later,” she rattled out, the chant of her velvety voice set the blood in his veins alight.
She lowered her gaze, pulling the corner of her lower lip with her teeth in a nervous smile. Her diffident expression had his heart hammering in his chest, sending pulses of granite need down his body.
For the first time in weeks, his body responded to the sight of a woman with desire. An instant overwhelming craving. Perhaps he wasn’t fatigued. He just needed the right woman.
“No. Stay. There’s plenty of fresh air to share.” He straightened languorously and lifted his lips in a rapacious grin; all thought of leaving early fizzled into the cool night air.
Stepping out fully, she closed the door behind her, leaving them in near silence. She moved to the end of the balcony away from him and put her hands against the railing.
“I love this view of London and come out here whenever I’m in this building,” she said, her tone conversational. Yet her soft voice sent spikes of heat into his veins.
“It’s a great view. I don’t see much of London when I’m here. So it’s good to see it all lit up at night,” Paul replied, glad that she was talking. For some reason he wanted to listen to sound of her voice.
He turned back to look out over the balcony, placing his palms on the cold metal. Even from the distance of about six feet, he could sense her heat. He pictured her leaning across to brush his hand with hers. A warm shiver travelled down his spine.
“You don’t live in the city?” she asked, turning to face him in the near darkness.
From this angle, her face was a contrast of light and shade. Still, he made out the gentle contour of her almond-shaped eyes, staring at him with curiosity. He wondered at their color. He wanted to find out.
“I guessed as much.”
“Why do you say that?” Paul leaned on the railing, turning his body and giving her his undivided attention. The pleasure of watching the bright city lights paled in comparison to the excitement in his blood at watching her luminous skin and graceful curves.
“I don’t know. There was just something about you that didn’t seem like a local.”
Her lips curved wider in a luscious smile. He fought the urge to taste her lips, tightening his grip on the railing instead. It was too soon. He didn’t want her skittering away in fright.
“You’re good then. I’m only in London for tonight. Tomorrow, I’m off to Abuja.”
“Oh. That’s a shame.” Was that disappointment in her voice? Did she feel this flaming hunger he felt too? “You won’t get to see much of London in just one day.”
“I guess not.” The urge to touch her skin drew him closer. “I’m Paul Arinze.”
He stopped at arm’s length and extended his hand. Without hesitation, she placed her hand in his and held his stare boldly. On connection, a warm tingle spread from his hand down his back. Her hand was soft and warm. Yet she her grip was firm and confident.
“I’m Ijay Amadi.” Her sultry voice brushed his skin in a featherlike caress.
The throbbing of his arousal increased. The heady mix of her timidity and trust made him want to crush her soft curves against his hardness. If she had this effect on him just holding his hand, what would it feel like on the rest of his body? He wanted to find out. Shame he only had tonight.
“So are you here as a guest?” Reluctantly, he released her hand, missing its heat already.
“No. I work for Havers & Child PR Agency. I organized the product launch event earlier and this party.”
Paul didn’t return to his original position. He stood close to Ijay. She didn’t move away. He took that as a good sign. “That’s great. Congratulations, you did a splendid job. If I ever want to plan a party, you’re the lady to know.”
“I sure am.” She laughed, dug in her purse, and handed him a business card. He took it and slipped it into his pocket. “And if you need to know the best places and people to have at your party, I’m the girl to know too.”
“I wonder, are you the girl to know if I need a personal guide to show me around the best spots in London tonight?”
His question hung in the air for a moment. She didn’t reply immediately. In the shadows of the balcony, he couldn’t read the expression on her face. He wondered if he’d pushed the boundaries too hard too quickly. There was something about this woman that soothed his edgy feeling. Somehow he knew she felt the combustible arc of desire between them.
“I could be.”
“No buts. Give me ten minutes to make sure someone covers for me and I’ll be all yours.” The suggestive, sensual tone of her voice got his blood fizzing out of control.
Damn, he wanted her. He’d never thought himself the one-night-stand kind of man. Yet he was impatient with anticipation. The rush of blood southward, swelling his already aching shaft.
He nodded. “I can’t wait.”
She walked to the door, paused and looked at him. “I’ll hurry.” She beamed him another sexy smile and disappeared through the door.
“You’re doing what?” Sonia asked, her mouth opened and eyes widened with incredulity.
“I told you already.” Ijay shrugged. She’d expected a similar response from her colleague and best friend when she’d shared the news that she picked up a man at the party and was about to head off into the night with him.
“Yes, you did. But the idea sounded so crazy, so unlike you I thought I’d misheard you.” Sonia waved her hand in the air to emphasis her point before reapplying her lipstick in the mirror of the ladies room. “You don’t know him from Adam. He could be an axe murderer for all you know.”
“Perhaps. I doubt it though. He's Frederick’s friend.”
Though she hadn’t said it to him, she’d seen Paul earlier at the Product launch chatting with Frederick Conte whose firm was a client of Havers & Child. She’d watched him even closer when he’d arrived at the bar.
By default, she shouldn’t trust any friend of Frederick's.
Still, something about Paul had attracted her attention. It was partly the self-assured way he moved across the floor, the engaging way he spoke to people and perceptive way he surveyed his surroundings. The way the navy silk shirt clung to his chest and the charcoal trousers to his thighs, there was no hiding the power and lithe of the body beneath the fabrics.
And of course the richness and depth of his voice had been pure sinful decadence to listen to. It was as if he was strumming her body with their enticing eloquent cords.
“Oh, that makes it alright then.” Sonia rolled her eyes upwards in mock exasperation. “Seriously, I’ve heard about people doing crazy things on the rebound...this is taking the biscuit, Ijay. Come on. It’s not like you at all.”
“Perhaps that’s the problem. I need to do something unlike me. I’m tired of being treated like a foot mat. I played safe with Frederick yet now he’s engaged to Tamara; not me. I really am tired of moping around.”
“You’re not moping around.” Her friend grabbed her shoulders and hugged her. “It’s Frederick’s loss.”
It might be Frederick’s loss. Still, it didn’t feel that way from where Ijay was standing. After three years of dating Frederick on and off, all it had taken was for Tamara to show up and he’d had no problems proposing to her. They were all set for a spring wedding.
Ijay was the one who’d given him three years of her devotion. Where had that taken her? Nowhere. Except alone. She saw the way people looked at her with pity in their eyes and she hated it. They thought she couldn’t keep a man’s attention.
However, when Paul had looked at her, it’d been as if he’d really seen her. Not as rejected Ijay but as a sexy beautiful woman in her own right.
“Seriously, I just want to stop being the good, organized, reliable girl for an evening,” she said reflectively. “I want to be carefree and spontaneous for a change and enjoy some time with a man who actually seems to find me attractive. I’m not asking for anything else. Is that too much to ask for?”
Tears pooled in her eyes blurring her view of the mirror. She blinked a couple of times, stopping them from dropping.
“No, it’s not.” Her friend’s cheeks dimpled as she smiled cheerily. “Go. I’ll hold the fort for you.”
Ijay pulled out Paul’s business card and gave it to Sonia. “Here are his contact details just in case. I’ll see you back at the apartment. Don’t wait up.”
Ijay smiled, the words making her feel reckless. Staying out all night was never really her thing. It felt good to be doing something unlike her for a change. Ijay picked up her purse and jacket to leave.
“And you know what? Make his night unforgettable,” Sonia said giving her a big grin and a wink.
Ijay felt a smile spread on her face as she walked back to the balcony and the hunk of a man waiting there. It felt great to know someone was looking forward to her company. Even if it was just for one night.
Tonight she needed someone to take away the aching loneliness she felt inside. A few minutes with Paul on the balcony had dulled that ache. A whole night of his presence would act like a sedative ensuring when she eventually slept there would be no more tears.
For nights after the split with Frederick she’d cried, wondering what was wrong with her. Why she wasn’t the one happily engaged. Tonight there’d be none of that. Just the bliss of sleep.
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