“Dominic Kojo-Edwards?” Kaine stared at him in confusion.
She’d expected Tobi. He looked exactly like the man she’d seen in the pictures Anwuli had shown her. They had to be brothers—same last name and such an uncanny resemblance. But why was he here? How did he even know where they lived?
“I’m sorry. I wasn’t expecting…” She shook her head as her voice trailed off.
“Miss Nwaolisa, I suggest you invite me inside so we can talk. I have travelled a long way and what I have to say cannot be said at the door.” His tone rang with arrogance.
Kaine found herself stiffening. She didn’t need a soothsayer to tell her that he was a man used to giving orders and having them obeyed too. But since he didn’t have any right giving her orders, she banished the nerves and jutted out her chin. “I would like to know why you are here before I let you inside my house. I was, after all, not expecting you.”
Something flickered in his eyes. Annoyance no doubt, but Kaine didn’t care. “Miss Nwaolisa, I insist that we talk inside. And I insist we do so now.”
Kaine bristled and almost hissed at the tyrannical manner. What a bully, she thought, peeved. She didn’t know why she was resisting letting him inside. She didn’t feel the least bit threatened by him, despite his very masculine physique.
Sniffing back her irritation, she stepped back from the door. “Well, I guess you can come in.” She needed to check her soup on the stove anyway.
“How very gracious of you.” He said in a cynical tone, his eyes insolent as they held hers.
Kaine had to restrain herself from rolling her eyes. She knew he’d have considered that childish. “Please have a seat.” She gestured to the living room. “I’ve got to check on something and would be back in a minute.”
She didn’t bother to see if he sat or not, just turned and marched off in the direction of the small dining space, scooping Tobi up from the floor before she went into the kitchen. The water from the soup had dried out but luckily, it wasn’t burning yet. She turned the fire off on the stove, grabbed Tobi’s feeding bottle and swept out of the kitchen.
He hadn’t taken a seat but was just standing right beside the couch.
Kaine glared at him. She supposed he found their couch too old and threadbare for his superior, over-pampered bottom. “You’ll have to give me a few minutes. It’s Tobi’s feeding time and he frets when he doesn’t get his food right on time.” She said, pushing past him to sit on the single-seater sofa.
“You named the baby Tobi?”
Kaine frowned and raised her head. She was going to point out that she hadn’t named the baby when it struck her that he thought she was Anwuli. So, she nodded instead, not sure why she hesitated to correct his wrong impression.
She settled Tobi properly in her arms and pushed the nipple of the bottle into his mouth. Once he was sucking contentedly, she looked again at him. “Believe me, there are no bugs on the seats.” She assured with unhidden sarcasm.
“I did not think there was, Miss Nwaolisa.” His tone remained quiet and self-possessed. “I’ve just been travelling for days and always seated, so standing is actually a luxury now as I would be back on the road again soonest.”
“Oh.” Kaine wasn’t sure if she believed him but she let the matter go. It was his feet after all. “How did you know where to find u…” she broke off and amended hastily, “me? Did your brother—I’m guessing Tobi is your brother—did he send you here?”
There was a brief silence. Then he said tonelessly. “Tobi is dead, Miss Nwaolisa.”
Kaine’s hand shook against the bottle and it tumbled out of her hand. Tobi’s quick cry startled her and she quickly grasped it again and replaced it in his mouth.
She stared at him and gasped out. “What? But that cannot be! He cannot be dead!”
Her vision clouded and she could feel the tears welling up. Her thoughts whirled and scattered. She thought of Anwuli who’d gone in search of him and she thought of the baby in her arms sucking on his bottle, innocently unaware that he’d lost his father and will never get to know him.
“I am sorry. I should not have blurted it out like that.” His apology was almost as toneless as his announcement. “I guess I did not think of how it would affect you hearing it come out so…”
“Brutally?” Kaine glared at him with pain and reprove. “How did you think I’d feel hearing of… of his death like that?” Dear God, the man was callous! Thank God she was the one he’d met and not Anwuli. Such news delivered so coldly and brutally could have killed her. “How did he die? What happened?” She had to know. So she could explain it to Anwuli when she returns without having found Tobi.
“A plane crash. Helicopter crash.” His eyes clouded with deep-seated sorrow.
And she suddenly understood the deadness in his voice. He was only steeling himself against the pain he must be feeling.
“At first he’d gone missing whilst on a tour of the lowlands with his friends.” He went on speaking. “It seemed the chopper they’d hired had run into some stormy weather and crashed. But there had been no injuries and they’d been rescued a couple of days later. It had taken them that long to make their way to the expressway from the forest where the chopper had crashed. Unfortunately, the exposure to rain, bugs and no doubt hunger and thirst took their toll on him and he’d fallen severely ill and was bedridden. It was another month before he could return to Johannesburg.”
He moved and lowered into the couch. Kaine was sure it was an absented-minded act because his eyes were staring vacantly into space.
“But my brother has— had always been adventurous and headstrong. The moment he was well again, he started making new plans of finishing the helicopter tour. But a friend contacted the family on his foolhardiness and we had to send him off to Dakar on a different business mission. He was there two months and then he returned to Johannesburg. He opened our nightclub there, started managing it and… well, I guess the restless bug bit him again and he decided to finish that tour after all. This time without letting us know.”
He paused, inhaled deeply and then went on. “Again there was a crash. But this time it ended in an explosion and there were no survivals. All five of them including the pilot died in the crash. It took more than ten days before the news reached us. And that was two months ago. He’s been dead two months now.”
Kaine was too horrified to speak. And even if she could, she didn’t know what to say. Her head throbbed and her emotions whirled in confusion. He’d been alive all this time Anwuli had been trying to reach him? After his first crash why hadn’t he tried to contact her?
“Ah… we… the messages… emails… he never responded.” She automatically removed the empty bottle from Tobi’s mouth and lifted him up so she could burp him. “Why?” She stared helplessly at him, begging for an answer that would allow her not to cruelly judge the dead.
“I doubt if Tobi got any of your messages, Miss Nwaolisa.” The coldness was back in his voice and the vacant look banished. “He lost his phones and all information and data on him in the first crash. And with his illness, time passed and—well, I don’t know. Maybe he thought you might have moved on, forgotten him.” He gave his shoulders a careless lift.
Kaine supposed he couldn’t very well have an explanation for why his dead brother had acted the way he did. And now, none of them would ever understand why he’d chosen to ignore Anwuli. Maybe he hadn’t gotten the messages, but surely he must have seen the emails?
“Miss Nwaolisa, the fact here is that, two weeks ago when I finally found the—” he left the sentence uncompleted, choosing another route of expression instead. “When I started looking through my brother’s personal stuff, including his emails, I found the mail you sent him telling him about the birth of the baby and demanding to know why he’d abandoned you.” He paused.
Kaine waited, certain he had more to say.
“My mother and I discussed the mail and she decided she wanted her grandchild—that is, if he is her grandchild—”
Kaine’s head snapped up. “What? You think Tobi isn’t… Tobi’s son?” She gaped at him, too astounded to feel the anger she knew she ought to be feeling at the insult. “You think that mail… all those frantic emails and messages were all lies?”
“I didn’t see any frantic messages, Miss Nwaolisa, and I only saw one email.” He rose from the sofa and pushed his hands into his pockets. “Miss Nwaolisa, you…”
“Kaine! My name is Kaine!” She snapped, patting Tobi soothingly on the back when he whimpered at her sharp tone.
“Kaine?” He frowned. “I thought it was Anwuli. Your mail came from an email address registered under Anwuli Nwaolisa.”
Kaine swallowed. “Ah…” Tell him, one mind said. Wait, another urged. She breathed and shook her head. It was beginning to ache. “Anwuli is my middle name and I… um, registered that email address with it. But everyone calls me Kaine anyway.”
He continued to stare at her, his expression too opaque for her to read. After a long silence, he inclined his head. “Very well then, Kaine it is. Well, you must see how this is. We—my mother and I—have just lost our son and brother and out of the blue we are seeing a mail about a son from a woman we never heard about. Tobi never mentioned you. So, your mail came as a shock. Well, in all honesty, it was also a pleasure for my mother. For me too.” He shook his head as if dismissing that bit of information. “The thing though is that we’re a wealthy family and this is not the first someone is trying to foist their baby on my easy going, fun-loving brother.”
“It’s not?” Dear God, so he was… had been a playboy just as she’d suspected?
“No, it’s not the first.” He replied, tone even. “Which is why we are going to confirm the paternity of this child before we even begin to talk. I have locks of Tobi’s hair gotten from the hairbrush in his bedroom with me here and we are conducting a DNA test as soon as we can get to a civilised town. I doubt that there is any such medical facility in this hare-hole town.” He added in a mutter.
Kaine was too insulted herself to care about his snooty remark about her hometown. How dare he think Anwuli had been lying and was only out to ensnare his Casanova brother just because they were wealthy?
“You think Tobi is not your brother’s son?” She sprang off her seat and jerked Tobi off her shoulders. The poor baby who’d already started sleeping whimpered and wriggled in her hands. “Here, take him! Look at him! See for yourself and tell me if he doesn’t look like your brother. Or even like yourself for that matter!” She pushed the baby into his arms.
Startled, he grabbed onto him even as he spluttered. “Miss Nwaolisa…”
“I told you to call me Kaine!” Kaine snapped, livid beyond measure. “Just look at him and see for yourself.” She ordered, yanked off the woollen cap that covered the small head. “See those curls? They are not just baby curls, I tell you. They are real curls gotten no doubt because of your brother’s—and your own—mixed parentage.”
He wasn’t looking at her now but at the baby that was making piteous whimpers in his arms. His eyes crept over his features, the curly hair, the face and the rest of the blue cotton jumpsuit that covered little body.
When he was through with his examination, he looked at her again. “Miss… Kaine, I confess there is a certain resemblance but—”
“Fine! You want to do a DNA test? We’ll do a DNA test.” She snatched the baby off his hand and cradled him against her shoulder. “But I—”
“Wait!” He brusquely cut her off. “What is that?”
He reached out and tugged down the round neckline of the jumpsuit, exposing the peculiar birthmark shaped like a tiny little heart on Tobi’s nape.
Kaine looked down at the birthmark. Anwuli had cried when she’d seen it on her baby because Tobi had had one exactly like that right at the same spot, she remembered.
“He was born with this?”
“No, I tattooed it into his skin a week after his birth.” Kaine replied sarcastically, then sighed when he shot her a glare. “He entered this world with that mark.”
For a long moment, he didn’t say anything, just continued to stare at the birthmark. Finally, he dropped his hand and looked at her. “Tobi had one just like that—my brother, I mean. He had it right at same spot, on his nape.” He angled his head. “I suppose, you know that.”
Kaine only nodded. “Look, I’m not…”
“No, it’s not necessary to argue anymore.” He interrupted. “That birthmark is enough proof for me. It is a birthmark I’ve only seen on three other men in my lifetime. My father, Tobi and myself. It is heart-shaped, right on the nape—centred—and reddish-black in colour. Your son has it because he is a Kojo-Edwards.”
Kaine breathed in relief. “Well, I am glad that you don’t doubt any longer that he is…”
Again he interrupted. “Kaine, my mother wants her grandson home. She wants him in the Kojo-Edwards home where Tobi grew up, where I grew up, where every Kojo-Edwards will grow up. And we are willing to pay you whatever it is you demand so you can hand the baby over to us.”
“What did you say?” Kaine gaped at him, certain she hadn’t heard right.
“How much do you want, Kaine? Just name your price.” He curved his mouth in a cynical smile. “I am sure you hoped that Tobi would marry you but he is here no more to make that choice or not. A Kojo-Edwards grows up in the home of the Kojo-Edwards and little Tobi will not be an exception.” He slid a hand inside the jacket of his suit and retrieved a cheque book. “We are not trying to buy your baby, Kaine. But some compensation would be necessary, of that I’m sure. So please name your price and it will be done.”
Kaine didn’t know when her hand flung out and struck him on the face.
Dominic was shocked at the smack. He couldn’t remember the last time anyone dared to slap him, not even a woman. In fact, the only woman who’d ever hit him was his mother and that had been many years ago now.
“I will advise that you never repeat that, Miss Nwaolisa.” He warned in a steely voice, not bothering to rub the faint sting.
But she only set her jaw and stared impenitently back at him.
“Now, as I was saying, a—”
“Don’t you dare continue with that nonsense you were talking about!” Kaine cut him off. “How dare you think you can buy a baby? My God, what kind of a person suggests such an unspeakable thing?” She jiggled her arm and patted the back of the baby since he seemed to be fretting in her arms. “You think I’m going to sell… my baby to you?”
“I believe I pointed out that this is not a sale-and-purchase situation.” Dominic was still annoyed at the slap and even more so now she was being difficult. “Do stop being dramatic, Miss Nwaolisa… Kaine.” He amended when her eyes flashed. “You sent a mail to my brother not only announcing the birth of a baby out of the blue—”
“It wasn’t out of the blue! She’s been sending messages to him again and again and a bunch of emails that were never responded to.” Kaine snarled.
“She?” Dominic stared at her.
“Ah…” She swallowed, made a nervous sound and gestured with her hand. “I meant me… I sometimes refer to myself in the third person.”
“You do?” Dominic arched a brow.
“Yes!” She snapped, glaring challengingly at him. “Especially when I’m furious.”
“Uh-hmm. How pretentious! Not that I’m surprised.” Dominic didn’t know if he was disgusted or amused. He certainly wasn’t impressed, not by her challenging stance and not by her self-righteous indignation. “Kaine, you sent an email not only announcing that you’ve had a child and demanding to know why you’ve been abandoned, but you also demanded that Tobi take responsibility for his baby and accord you your due rights. You inferred those rights to be financial support not only for the baby but also for yourself, since you’d been left with an unplanned baby.”
“That is not true!” Kaine spluttered, staring at him in shock. “That cannot be true. She… I might have demanded Tobi take responsibility for the child he and I made but I most certainly would never have demanded he compensate me financially for giving birth to Tobi. I would never do such a thing! Having this baby was my choice.”
“Having the baby might have been your choice but not before you’ve considered the pros of doing so, I’m sure.” Dominic retorted, refusing to be taken in by her show of outrage. “You must have known of my brother’s wealthy background and considered how much more you stood to benefit if you had a hold on him, hmm?”
Her hand lashed out but he caught it neatly. “I warned you never to repeat that.” He told her coldly. “Now, I suggest you go put that baby down before he is forced to imbibe violent behaviours from you at this tender age.”
Kaine wrenched free her hand, muttered something under her breath and marched off towards the curtain covered door. She returned in a matter of minutes and stood in front of him, hands folded over her breasts.
“I think you should leave because you and I have nothing more to discuss.”
Dominic regarded her with cool, derisive eyes. She was a little spitfire, he decided. A beautiful spitfire. He could see why Tobi might have fallen for her charms. She was a beauty. Slender—slim in an attractive and graceful manner. She was tall too. He put her at five-nine. She could have done well as a model but he supposed she couldn’t be one if she lived in this backward little town. Or maybe the baby had forced her to move back home. After all, she must have met Tobi in Johannesburg, he supposed, and had to be doing something there.
Her face was oval, the skin rich creamy chocolate and spotless. She had high cheekbones that sort of gave her face an exotic look to it. Her eyes were dark, almost black, long-lashed and fawned by naturally arched and full brows and at the moment they were spiting fire at him. Dominic shifted from them to gaze at her quite dainty nose. It was small, snub-like and flaring at the narrow nostrils—no doubt due to temper.
But it was her mouth that struck him. Full, down-turned and sensually pouty in their nudity. She wore no make-up and yet she looked every inch the image of sensuality and her lips looked like they’ve never been kissed.
A figment of his imagination, Dominic knew since she’d made a baby with her brother. And there was no doubt in his mind that Tobi hadn’t been her first lover, not even her second. She was a woman—a young woman—who must know the power of her beauty and knew how to wield it to her advantage.
If not, why would she be standing, arms crossed so provocatively over her bra-less covered breasts before him?
Sweeping his eyes up to hold her still defiant ones, he mused sneeringly. “You don’t look like you just birthed a child a couple of months back, you know.”
She seemed momentarily taken aback by his words. Then she shrugged, un-crossed her arms and tugged down her tank top. “Not every woman loses her body shape just after the birth of one child. In fact, some never do, no matter how many children they have.”
“And I’m sure that physical fact of nature must be a relief to you.”
She inhaled sharply. “Listen, I don’t know what you think gives you the right to act as if you know me and insult me—”
“I wasn’t intending to insult you—”
“You’ve been insulting me since you got here.” She snapped, then inhaled again as if to calm herself. “Look, you’ve given me the news of your brother’s… death… and well, I don’t…” she blinked, shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. The bottom-line here is that I am not selling my baby to you—”
“And we are not allowing you keep Tobi Kojo-Edwards jnr. with you.” Dominic ground out, completely out of patience.
Goodness, why was she pretending like she didn’t want money? She’d practically demanded Tobi offer her some form of financial settlement in her email and now she was acting like she hadn’t made that demand?
“That baby is a Kojo-Edwards and Kojo-Edwards are never brought up outside their home. He is ours and he belongs with us. Besides, what kind of life are you going to offer him living like this?” He glared at the old and worn furniture in the tiny room. “It’s obvious you are in dire need of money and can barely afford a good enough living for yourself let alone for a child.”
“I may not have the money I’m sure your family has but I know I will do everything I can to provide for Tobi and I assure you, I am never selling my baby to you!”
“I am not asking you to sell him!” Dominic rasped out, exasperated beyond measure. “I am asking you to hand him over to us—his family. We are in the right position to give him the very best he deserves.”
“Never!” Kaine howled. “You are not taking my baby from me. He’s all I’ve got.”
“And you are not going to keep him here and bring him up with less than he deserves. He is Tobi’s son and he deserves to be in his father’s house.” Dominic snarled back.
“And he is my son and I am not letting him go!”
“Dear God, what do you want, woman?” Dominic was exasperated. “I asked you to name your price—”
“And I told you and I’m telling you again, there is no price for my son!” She yelled.
They glared at each other, both poised for war, neither relenting.
After a long minute, Dominic swore, stepped back and yanked out his phone from his pocket. He hit the first number on speed-dial. “The baby is his and she wouldn’t accept any form of compensation.” He growled in Portuguese once the call was picked.
“I told you she wouldn’t, just as I told you I felt certain that I had a grandson.” His mother said at the other end of the line. Her tone was unperturbed and calm. “No good mother will allow their child go for just any price.”
Dominic cussed under his breath. “Then what are we going to do? We cannot live the baby here.”
“Of course not!” She made an impatient sound. “You know what to do, Nick. Ask her to marry you. It is the only way she’d agree to give us the baby. If she is a part of the family and she is assured she would always be with her child, she won’t fight us.”
His mother cut him off. “That child is all I have left of my son, Nick. He is all you have left of him too. He is our flesh and blood. We cannot afford not to have him here with us.” She made a sound like a snuffle. “I know I ask too much, but she cannot be a bad woman if she kept that pregnancy and had that baby. And knowing your brother’s taste, I am sure she must be beautiful too. Please ask her to marry you, Nick. Do it for me. Do it for our family. I beg of you.”
Dominic angled his head to stare at the young woman who was staring scornfully at him now. He supposed she thought him a mummy’s boy for calling his mother. He could see the derision in her eyes and it both infuriated him and challenged him.
“Very well, Mama.” He cut the line and turned fully to face her.
“There is only one choice left for you, Miss Nwaolisa.” He spoke in a non-negotiable tone. “You will marry me and come together with little Tobi back home with me. Or you will meet my family in court and fight for the custody of that child.” He took a menacing step forward. “And let me assure you, Miss Nwaolisa, we will use every means within our power to win such a case. And in case you are wondering, the Kojo-Edwards can be ruthless and we never lose.”