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As Vera had predicted the event kicked off nearly fifty minutes later than the scheduled time. Then it was prep talks and speeches, so that it was past eight already before the celebration part of the evening got underway.

When she’d alerted Vera about the time twenty minutes ago, she’d glared at her and shooed her off, slipping a hand around an eager Peter and swaying with him to the dance floor. They were there now, along with a good number of other attendees, twisting and twirling to the steady rhythm from the DJ’s turntable.

Lara sipped her glass of Moët and tried to recall what number of glass that was. Fourth? Fifth? She wasn’t sure. She hadn’t been counting exactly, just sweeping up glass after glass from the trays passed around by the waiting staff. But she was beginning to feel snugly buzzed and whilst she suspected she was going above her alcohol limit, she felt too elated to care.

She eyed the dance floor again. She’d once been a great dancer, she thought wistfully. She still was. Only she hadn’t really danced at a party that Perez wasn’t along in a long while. She felt the prick of tears and blinked swiftly. Damn wine was also making her sentimental. She shifted her gaze and it landed on Zed.

He was talking to one of the media personalities that had graced the occasion but his eyes were affixed on her. She saw the open desire in them; it was shocking and vaguely thrilling at the same time. Lara frowned, lifted the glass and emptied it.

He said something to the man, they laughed, shook hands and then he started towards her. She felt instantly nervous. She’d avoided him all evening; had only greeted him when he arrived because Vera had dragged her over. She didn’t still want to talk to him.

He came over, stopped a waiter, passed her another glass of wine and dropped her empty glass on the tray before the waiter walked away.

“I think this has been a successful Pre-launch.” She tried to force herself to relax. “Everybody seemed to like the taste of Fruitee. It’s going to be a blast in the market, that subtle blend of sweetness and tartness is wonderful.”

“It’s not what you’ve been drinking though.” He said, eyes intently on her.

She shrugged. “Not right now. But I did have two cans at the beginning.”

“I think you’re the most beautiful woman here tonight.”

The compliment unnerved her but she managed to appear impervious. “Hardly, sir. There’re several more beautiful ladies here.”

“Yes, every woman does have something which makes her uniquely beautiful but you stand out. You’re like a mix of innocence and sensuality. It is intriguing.”

“You shouldn’t say such things.” She rebuffed. Then felt like a hypocrite because he’d written much more outrageous things and she hadn’t complained.

“What then should I say, Lara?” He continued to watch her intently.

“Nothing.” She looked casually around and tried to appear at ease. She didn’t want any attention on them. “As a matter of fact, I think we should stop our communication. It is wrong. I am married.” She frowned when she recalled that Vera had called it her holy grail. Maybe if she thought it to be one, she wouldn’t be trifling with it.

“I’ll find it impossible to do so.”

“It isn’t impossible. I am a married woman and you are…”

“A divorcé with a daughter.” Zed cut in. “What difference does it make?”

“I was going to say, you are a client of the company I work for.” She said evenly. “There should only be a business relationship between us.”

“Isn’t it a little late for that?” He asked, his tone sardonic.

Lara flushed and inhaled sharply.

He swore under his breath. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to embarrass you with my words. It’s just that I’ve had this argument with myself repeatedly and still can’t help how I feel.” He reached for her hand.

She retreated. “Please don’t. There are people around.”

“Sorry.” He shoved his hand into his pocket. “Don’t think I do this all the time—chase after married women—because I don’t. I just can’t help what I feel for you.” He lowered his voice. “I burn for you.”

“Stop it!” She drew in a sharp breath. “I’m sorry, but I think I’ll step outside briefly. I’m feeling a little nauseous.”

Lara swept past him and walked out on the terrace. She avoided the people hanging around and moved to a secluded spot at the far-end of the long terrace. Resting her hands on the rail, she breathed in the cool night air.

He was right; it was rather late to be asking that they stop. She should have stopped him long ago—heck, what was she saying? They should never have started at all. She should never have exchanged erotic messages with him. It had all been a mistake. A mistake that she was almost getting carried away with. But she was coming back to her senses.


Lara looked down at the glass in her hand, raised it to her lips and drank its entire content. She wasn’t feeling nauseous. She felt giddy and torn.

She caught the whiff of his cologne and knew he’d followed her. She glanced quickly at the opposite end. Some of the people on the terrace had gone inside, the few left weren’t paying any attention to them. Relieved, she turned to him.

“You shouldn’t have followed me out here. I wanted a few minutes alone. And people might notice and misconstrue.”

He said nothing. Only leaned against the rail and stared ahead. “It is beautiful out here, isn’t it?” He said after a moment. “The surrounding water gives it a romantic ambiance. Don’t you think?” He looked at her.

She frowned and turned to the serene surrounding sea. Yes, it was beautiful, even romantic. But she should go back inside. In fact, she should get Vera, so they could leave. She flicked a glance at her wristwatch.

Nine forty-five.

She should have been home by now. She turned to him to make an excuse but her message alert beeped and she muttered an apology instead as she slid out the phone from her clutch purse.

It was from him—I am bewitched by you and I want to make you mine.

“Let me have you.” He whispered beside her.

He’d moved closer and was leaning towards her. Lara backed away. “No, Zed!” She rejected, horrified. “I can’t. We can’t.”

“I know it seems wrong…”

“It is wrong!” Dear God, what was she doing? “I have to go.”

“Wait.” He grasped her hand. “Give me a chance, please. Let me show you how I feel.”

She opened her mouth to rebuke him, but his closed over hers.

Lara went immobile as his tongue slid into her mouth and entwined with her own, momentarily shocked. But she recalled herself and shoved him off. “What are you doing?” She shot frantic eyes behind her and then back at him. “How dare you do that?”

“I’m sorry, Lara. I…”

She didn’t wait to hear anymore. She turned and practically raced back to the hall. She found Vera and dragged her off the male guest she was dancing with. “Let’s go home!”

“Hey, what’s up with you?” Vera demanded.

Lara hissed. “Are you driving me back or should I take a cab?”

Vera did a sweep-back. “Whoa, easy girl. I brought you and I’ll take you back to hubby, safe and sound. Just let me say my goodbyes like a sane person and we’ll be on our way.”

“I’ll be at the car park.” She turned and marched off.

She didn’t talk to Vera all through the drive back. Her head was pounding and she was feeling woozy like she was tipsy but deep in her gut, what she really felt was disgust, for herself. She just wanted to be alone—and think.

Unfortunately, Perez was in the living room waiting for her when she walked in.

“You are late.” He stated in a matter-of-fact voice in the semi-dark room.

Lara swallowed her screech and spun around. She hadn’t seen him. He was standing at the edge of the foyer and the television and the living room lights were off.

“You startled me!” She gasped. Then sighed. “Sorry I’m late. The program didn’t start on time. You know Nigerian timing.” She forced a chuckle. “Anyway, I’m bushed and need to go to bed. So goodnight.”

“You didn’t have to stay to the end of the party.”

Lara stopped and shut her eyes tightly. She couldn’t face him now. Her head was pounding severely and her conscience was twisting with the brutality of guilt.

“I didn’t stay to the end.” She forced herself to face him but couldn’t meet his eyes. “There were still a whole lot of people there when we left. I’m sure there’re still people there even now. It was a party, Perry, so a little lateness is expected.” She prayed he’d back off at the flippant note in her voice.

But he didn’t. “Yes, it was. But you’re a married woman, Lara.” Perez came closer. “A married woman with a child who didn’t get to see his mother before he went to bed.”

“I am also a subordinate staff who very well cannot walk out on an official function whilst her superiors are still there.” She snapped, sick, tired and suddenly infuriated. He’d come back home later than this severally and she hadn’t crucified him. First time she does, it’s an abomination. “Fine! Fine, I apologise that I came home late, satisfied?”

“Are you drunk?” He was staring at her with shocked eyes.

“Jesus! Perez, get off my back already!” She yelled, taking shelter in fury. “I am not drunk! It was a damn party and I—like everyone else—had a few drinks.” She muttered a curse under her breath and turned to stalk off.

But he grabbed her by the arm and yanked her around. “Don’t you dare walk out on me when I’m talking to you! And never again use that tone with me, you hear me?”

Lara cowered and whimpered. His hand was digging into her flesh and the other was up, poised to strike.

Almost instantly he let her go, his eyes wide with horror as he stepped back. Then he whirled around and stomped out of the room.

Lara’s knees keeled over and she slumped to the floor. Dear God, had he just almost hit her? She couldn’t believe it. Was that what their marriage had come to?

She pressed a hand over her mouth as the tears spilled.


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