“I don’t know what I’m going to do!” Kaine wailed, distraught as she stared at Juliet and her husband, Udo. “My God, what can I do? What am I going to do? He says it’s either I marry him or he and his family will take me to court to get custody of Tobi. And then he threatened me with how wealthy and ruthless his family is. He was so pompous, so insolent, so annoying and so… so pompous!” She hissed as she recalled the man that had at first sight dazzled her with his great looks and then ended up infuriating her with his sheer arrogance.
“You said pompous twice.” Juliet pointed out with a smile, trying to ease the tension.
“That is because he has too much of that quality swimming inside his big head!” Kaine sprang to her feet and clasped her hands firmly together because she felt tempted to grab something and just throw it.
She could feel the anger vibrating through her. She should be home. It was almost eight p.m. and she and Tobi ought to be home, preparing for bed. But she’d come here straight after the… the pompous ass had left because she’d been desperate to confide in someone and she’d known that unless she found a solution she wouldn’t get any sleep.
Besides, the infuriating man had said he’d be back tomorrow morning for his answer.
“He said his family never loses. And I don’t doubt that they’d win if we go to court. My God, this is Nigeria and even if they are not Nigerians, they are wealthy and I am sure they have connections here and they’d know how to influence lawyers, judges… darn it, they’d know how to make people… anyone dance to their tune!” Kaine threw up her hands and then pressed them to her mouth, groaning helplessly into them.
“Hey, calm down.” Juliet walked over to take her by the shoulder and walked her back to the high-back sofa. She sat her down and joined her in it. “You have to be calm, so we can think things through. There’s got to be a solution.”
“And what solution can there be?” Kaine wailed. “What can I do? He gave me only two choices. In fact, I’ve got no real choice in this matter. I most certainly don’t want to marry that self-important man and I don’t want to go to court and fight over Tobi either.” She pressed a hand to her throbbing head and tried to ignore the pain. “My God, imagine if I’d told him that I wasn’t Tobi’s mother, he’d have just snatched the baby from me and stalked off. Something just kept stopping me from telling him the truth and now… now, I can only be grateful that he doesn’t know.”
“Maybe if he did, he’d know he can’t fight you over the custody of the baby.” Juliet said. “He’d know he’s supposed to argue custody with the baby’s mother and then he’d back off until Anwuli gets back. Maybe telling him might get him off your back and stop him from taking the baby… at least until Anwuli returns.”
“No, it wouldn’t.” Udo disagreed. They both turned and stared at him. “It wouldn’t stop him from taking the baby.” He repeated. “If he’d had any inkling that Tobi wasn’t your child, Kaine, he’d have forced a claim on that child and taken him, with or without your consent. And if you go to court with him and it’s established that that baby isn’t truly yours—as I’m sure the truth of that will come out if you do—then you will surely lose that boy because the family will point out that Anwuli is an unfit, irresponsible mother and that they can offer the child better care than you would.”
“But Anwuli is not an unfit, irresponsible mother.” Kaine protested.
“She acted like one though, didn’t she?” Udo responded quietly. There was no judgement in his tone, just a statement of fact. “My point is, maybe claiming that Tobi is your son is the only chance you’ve got to keep him with you. Whether Anwuli was irresponsible or not, the fact is that she left her baby in your care and you can’t just give him up to a family you don’t even know—even though they are the baby’s family.”
“And you think she should marry herself into a family she doesn’t know just so to keep the baby with her?” Juliet queried with a frown. “Isn’t that even worse?”
“Maybe marrying that man might not sound like a good idea now but…”
“It will never sound like a good idea.” Juliet interrupted her husband. “My God! Udo, no woman wants to be forced into marriage. No woman wants to be threatened into marrying a man she doesn’t even know. They might be wealthy and powerful and all that, but that doesn’t mean she’d ever be happy with them. Money doesn’t guarantee happiness! Besides, their money isn’t a guarantee that they’ll win the case if it goes to court…”
“Uncle Udo is right.” That’s how she respectfully addressed him. When Juliet gaped at her, she shrugged. “I think he’s right, Juliet.” She insisted. “I am not Tobi’s mother and I have no right over him. His mother might have left him in my care but like Uncle Udo pointed out, if they establish in court that Anwuli is an irresponsible mother, the court will instantly disregard whatever decisions she might have made before leaving her three month old baby and probably just hand the baby over to the Kojo-Edwards.”
“So what are you saying?” Juliet asked.
Kaine shrugged again. “I don’t know. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I can’t just marry a man I don’t know like you said and I can’t let them take Tobi from me either.” Because the thought scared her, she pressed a hand to her eyes to stop the tears that threatened. “I don’t know what to do. I feel like I’m in between a rock and a hard place here.”
“Of course you are!” Juliet exclaimed. “And that man and his family have no right putting you in such an unpleasant position. What kind of a man is he by the way? Why couldn’t they just appeal to you to allow them visit Tobi from time to time and maybe provide for him like normal people would do?”
“Because they are not normal people and they don’t live in Nigeria, so seeing him every now and then isn’t an option for them I guess.” Kaine expelled a long breath. She felt so weary. She hadn’t gotten the solution she desperately needed, so maybe there was only one thing left to do. “Maybe I should run away with Tobi.” Even as husband and wife gaped at her, she nodded as the idea became the only rational solution. “Yes, I can run away. Just pack up a few things and leave with Tobi before he comes tomorrow morning. And we can stay away for a couple of weeks, maybe a month or two and then return when things die down.”
“And where would you go?” Juliet demanded.
Kaine stared at her. She didn’t know. She’d never left home. She had no one, didn’t know anyone—or anywhere. “I don’t know. I don’t know anywhere or anyone.” She blinked because her vision blurred. “But I’ve got to do something. Maybe you can help me. You know me. I won’t be trouble to anyone you send me to. And Tobi—”
“Even if we can help you, do you really think that this is a solution?” Udo gently interrupted. “Have you wondered how he found you and the baby in the first place? You say they are not Nigerians and don’t live in Nigeria, yet he managed to find out where you—where Anwuli comes from and where she supposedly lives with her baby and he travelled all the way here just to achieve their goal. So, what makes you think running away to anywhere is going to stop him from finding you two once more?”
“Then what do I do? Kaine felt so exhausted that she could only stare. “Do I just agree to marry this man? Because that is the only option left. I have less than a hundred and fifty thousand naira and lawyers and court cases cost money and—” she inhaled and shook her head. “I guess marrying him is the only choice left.”
“Or maybe you can appeal to him.” Udo suggested. “Maybe you can talk and reach an agreement about visitation rights and possibly, shared custody—or something like that.”
“It won’t work.” Of that Kaine felt certain. “He isn’t the kind of man you can reason with. He is aloof and proud and so arrogant.” She shook her head. “Besides, he seemed to be taking orders from his mother. He called her right in front of me and though they were speaking their language, I’m sure she gave him orders on what to do because right after the call, he made the proposal. If you can call it a proposal.” She added with a hiss.
“Then maybe you should appeal to the mother.” Juliet suggested.
“And tell her what? She ordered her son to ask… to threaten me to either marry him or go to court and you think such a woman would listen to an appeal?” Kaine sighed, stood up. “I’m sure it won’t work. They don’t want shared custody or visitation rights, they only want Tobi with them. He repeated it enough, a Kojo-Edwards grows up in the home of the Kojo-Edwards.” She sighed again. “I’d better get Tobi and start heading home. I guess I’ve disturbed you guys enough for one night.”
“It wasn’t a disturbance, you know that.” Juliet got up. “We’ll pray over it and all sleep on it. Maybe a better idea will come to us tomorrow.”
“Maybe.” Kaine repeated but she seriously doubted it.
There was no better idea the next morning. At least none that made any sense. Kaine was almost resigned by the time his knock came at the door. She hadn’t gone to work because she was expecting him—and because her sleepless night had left her with a pounding head and aching bleary eyes. Juliet had called her that morning to tell her that she should still make the suggestion of a shared custody even if she didn’t feel it might solve anything.
You can never tell, she’d reasoned.
Kaine might not be able to tell the future or what lies in a person’s mind or heart, but she felt certain she knew how Dominic Kojo-Edwards would react to such a suggestion. So, it wasn’t the first thing she said to him upon his arrival.
“I didn’t go to work because of you.” She told him churlishly after they exchanged grunted greetings and she ungraciously allowed him into the house.
“You won’t be needing to work after you marry me.” He said haughtily, settling into the couch. “Where’s the baby?” He demanded, looking around.
“Sleeping.” Kaine glared at him. “You know, I’ve been wondering what kind of a man would want to marry his late brother’s girlfriend. Is it a habit of yours, wanting something… or someone your brother has had? Or was that something you two did, share your girlfriends?”
Kaine didn’t know why she was antagonizing him instead of trying to inveigle him into seeing the rationality of a shared custody. She only knew she wanted to swipe off that self-assured look of his face.
But he merely arched a brow. “No, we never shared girlfriends.” He said mildly. “I never share my women, Kaine.” He added in an ominous tone.
“Yet you are willing to marry a woman your brother has been with.” Kaine returned, hating his continued haughtiness.
Dominic lifted his shoulders. “Necessity.” He said simply. “You look like you didn’t sleep well? Your eyes are bloodshot and you keep pressing your temple like you’ve got a headache, are you all right?”
The concern in his eyes briefly disconcerted her. “I had a bad night.” Then added with an accusing glare. “You can imagine why, I’m sure.”
He nodded, as if he agreed with her implied reason. “I want to apologise for the manner I made my proposal yesterday. It was aggressive and I must have sounded egotistic.”
The apology surprised Kaine. She stared at him, watching him silently, studying him. Trying to understand him, if she can. He was dressed in a suit like yesterday, only a light grey one this time. But he had no tie on and it made him look less formal, less formidable. It also made him look more handsome. Or was it the fact that he’d obviously shaved and toned down the length of his sideburn and chin beards?
And because the look of him suddenly added to her discomposure, she dropped her eyes and said in a cool tone. “You told me your family is ruthless, so I guess your aggressive proposal was a sample.”
“Business can make one ruthless but that doesn’t always mean one is personally so.” He said, his voice quiet and light.
Kaine looked at him again. He seemed to be surprising her more and more. Could this peaceable attitude mean she could appeal to something good in him after all?
“I see.” She murmured, crossing her hands over her laps as she drew in a calming breath. “Em, Mr Kojo-Edwards—”
“Dominic. Or just Nick.” He broke in.
Kaine didn’t care for the familiarity but she’d demanded that he use her first name, hadn’t she? And besides, she’d have a better chance of convincing him if she acted friendly.
So, she inclined her head. “Nick. Ah, I quite understand why you would propose so abruptly to me—”
“Do you?” He suddenly looked amused.
Kaine refrained from glaring at him. “Yes, I do.” She maintained. “You and your family want Tobi with you. You want to see him always, to be with him and to watch him grow. And you want to provide him with the very best there is. I understand that.” She tried a smile. “The thing is you don’t have to marry me to be able to do all that.”
“Ha, you changed your mind about naming your price.” His amused expression turned to cynicism. “I see. So, what is it going to be?”
“No, I did not change my mind about that!” Kaine snapped. Then inhaled to force back the instant fury. Gosh, the man was so annoying. “I did not change my mind and I will never change my mind about that. Just listen to what I have to say. Please?”
He shrugged, sat back on the seat.
Kaine cleared her throat. “Okay. As I was saying, I understand that your family and you want to be with Tobi as much as is possible but it is not necessary that we become married in order for you people to do so. You are his family and I don’t have any objection whatsoever to your seeing him and being with him. We can arrange things so that you people can see as often as is possible. It can be something like a shared custody. You know, he spends sometime with me and then he spends other times with you people at your home.
It might prove a little difficult now he’s still just a baby but we can reach some kind of agreement in a way that I can even travel down with him for visits when possible for now. But it will all become easier when he starts school and then he can come for visits on his own during his holidays.” She sent him a tremulous smile. “I know it sounds complicated now but it isn’t really and it is a better choice than both of us being forced into marriage. What do you think?”
“I completely disagree.” He stated. “We—my mother and I—don’t just want to see Tobi a few miserly days during his holidays. We want to see him and be with him every single day of his infanthood, childhood and watch him grow into a full adult man. We want him home with us, his family, and to take his father’s place in the home and in the family business.”
“He’s just a baby, he can’t take his father’s place in the family business!” Kaine sputtered.
“He can’t now but he will later.” Dominic replied. “He is his father’s son and only heir and must not be denied his rightful place.”
“Fine. I’m not trying to deny him his—”
“What you are suggesting is unacceptable, Kaine.” He interjected. “A shared or joint custody is not what is needed here. We want full custody and we will get it without or without your consent.” He raised his hand when she opened her mouth. “Hold on. I also understand that you must love your son and must want to be with him all the time too. That is why the only acceptable solution is for us to get married. That way no party really loses.”
“You might find that solution acceptable but I most certainly do not!” Kaine snapped.
“Believe me when I say that marrying at this time of my life and a reluctant bride at that isn’t an idea I am accepting with wholehearted joy, Kaine.” He snapped back, sweeping to his feet. “I am only twenty-nine and marriage is the last thing on my mind presently.”
“Then we don’t have to get married.” Kaine rose to her feet too. “If you don’t want to marry me and I don’t want to marry you, then we don’t have to do so. Don’t you see?”
“It is the only suitable solution, Kaine. The only satisfying solution to both parties as far as I can see, Kaine.” He retorted.
Kaine glared at him. “Is that the only solution you can see because your mother says it is?”
His eyes flashed with quick anger. “Believe me when I tell you that I am not a man tied to his mother’s apron strings, Kaine.” He said in a low, steely voice. “No one forces me to do anything. I am only willing to marry you because that is the only way neither you nor my family will lose in this situation. It is the happy solution for everyone.”
“But what about us? What about what we stand to lose?” Kaine stared at him with cajoling eyes. “Doesn’t our own happiness count?”
“People always lose something whatever reason they are marrying, Kaine.” His mouth twisted cynically. “And happiness can be relative. So many things can make a person happy and content enough in a situation. You can’t tell me that the idea of a life of luxury and comfort doesn’t fill you with a certain amount of contentment.”
“No, it doesn’t.” Kaine told him. “I am not the type to be enthralled by money and possessions.”
“Yet you requested financial compensation from my brother in your email.” He mocked.
Kaine inhaled sharply. “For the child, not for me.” And since it was obvious to her that he’d never change his mind about the marriage, she nodded. “Fine. If you think marriage is the only solution, then I will marry you. But I want to make it clear that I am only doing this to keep Tobi with me. I don’t want your money or any of your family’s possessions.”
He stared at her. Then inclined his head after a long moment. “If you say so. But as a Kojo-Edwards’ wife you will have entitlements and they will be granted you accordingly.” He took back his seat. “But I’m glad you finally see reason. So I think it’s time I am presented to your family. I mean I have to meet your parents and siblings, right? You don’t live here alone, by the way, do you?”
“I do live here alone.” Because the un-won fight has drained her strength, she sat down. “I am the only child of my parents.” That much was true at least. “My parents are dead. My father about a year ago and my mother when I was a child. I have no one else.”
“I am so sorry.”
The words of sympathy and the look of compassion surprised her. It wasn’t something she’d expected from him. She lifted her shoulders. “It’s all God’s will.”
“I suppose it is.” He agreed, his expression still kindly. “Well, I’m sure there are other family members I can meet—relative like uncles, aunts, cousins.”
Kaine shook her head. “There’s no one. My father was an only child too. And my mother’s family either don’t know about me or they don’t care about me.” She forced away the feeling of sadness remembering her aloneness usually brought. “There are distant relatives but they don’t matter. In any case, this is a marriage of convenience and I don’t think we should be making any fuss over it. There’s no need to dramatize things. We should just get it over it.”
“How coldly practical.” He narrowed his eyes. “So, you don’t care for a native law and custom marriage, hmm? It’s usually imperative in this part of the world, I believe.”
“It is if one has a family but not a necessity if one is an orphan like I am.” Kaine didn’t want anything that will bind them too much. And above all, she didn’t want to make a fuss lest anyone let it slip that she wasn’t Tobi’s mother.
“Hmm, I see.” He pursed his lips as he shrugged. “Seeing as you’re quite logical about it all, then we should delay no further. I’ve already put some calls to contacts I have here and I believe we can get married tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow?” Kaine sprang to her feet, shocked.
“Yes. Like you just pointed out there’s no need to fuss over this and make a drama out of it. So, we will cut out all the rigmaroles and get married straightaway.” He sent her an affable smile. “Luckily, I have contacts that know how to make these things happen within the twinkle of an eye. We’d get married at the Registry at Asaba tomorrow and then we start heading back home.”
“I just can’t get married tomorrow. I mean… it’s tomorrow. Isn’t there formalities we ought to meet?” Kaine was panicked. “Don’t you want to invite your mum? Have her come down and be at your wedding?”
“Absolutely unnecessary.” He answered. “You just said it, it’s a marriage of convenience so no need for unnecessary fuss. And my contacts have already taken care of those formalities you’re worrying about. Everything is already arranged and set for the exchange of vows.” He smiled. “If you have any boyfriend you have to break their poor heart, this is when to do so.”
“I have no boyfriend!” Kaine wished she could slap the smug smile off his face. Dear God, he was forcing her into marrying him tomorrow and he sat there like it was nothing?
“Good. Then we have nothing to worry about.” He rose. “I’ll be here tomorrow to pick up my bride-to-be and my nephew. Please be here. If you run, I’ll find you and that will make matters worse.”
“Threatening me again?” She glared.
He chuckled. “Nope, just giving you a fair warning.”
“If I wanted to run, I wouldn’t have stayed to meet you this morning.” She told him, hating that he was always so confident. Why do the rich always act like they could have anything they wanted?
“True.” He agreed. Then smiled slowly at her. “Trust me, Kaine, marriage to me wouldn’t be as repugnant as you fear it will be. You will find that I can be a very likeable man.”
“I doubt it.” She muttered, not caring that she thus insulted him.
He laughed out loud. “You will see, Kaine. See you tomorrow, fiancée. And kisses to my darling nephew.”
Kaine watched him leave and wished he wasn’t so handsome or that she didn’t find him so. She dropped back into her seat wearily, getting married tomorrow to a man she barely knew, dear God, what was she getting herself into?
Dominic was back in his hotel room at Asaba and was on the phone with his mother. She was ecstatic at the news that everything has been resolved and he was marrying Kaine. But he wondered if he wasn’t setting himself up for a future where there will be nothing but regrets. She’d been after all his brother’s girlfriend, had had his baby and obviously cared nothing for him.
And he didn’t care anything about her too. She might be beautiful but willowy women weren’t exactly his type. And he’d never been with a woman his brother had first had. Dominic inhaled and tried to focus on what his mother was saying. It was all too late now to worry about his preferences and his principles.
“Oh, I wish I can be there.” His mother was gushing. “I wish we can have a big wedding. I mean a registry marriage looks such a mere formality.”
“Which is what this marriage is, mama, a mere formality.” Dominic retorted. “We are both only getting married so little Tobi can be with both his mother and his father’s family.”
“I know, darling. But still it’s your marriage and it should have been a fanfare.” She sighed as if accepting the inevitable. “Anyway, the most important thing is that we will be having Tobi with us soon. Imagine that, she called him Tobi. That was nice of her, wasn’t it? Shows she must have really cared for him, right?”
“Yeah. Which is just dandy for me, marrying my brother’s woman who cared a lot about him. Hooray!” He got up from the bed and started to pace, unsettled.
“Oh darling, don’t sound like that.” His mother chided. “I’m sure she will learn to care for you too as time goes on. You’re a good man, responsible, conscientious, noble and handsome, she won’t find it hard to fall in love with you.”
“I doubt falling in love with each other is a sentiment we both anticipate in the future, mama.” Dominic grumbled, thinking that it was his nobility that was pushing him into this snare. And because he hated to consider it a snare, he blew out a breath and tried to clear his head. “Anyway, the wedding is tomorrow at ten and thereafter we’ll be traveling to Benin to catch our flight back to Lagos. And start making preparations to return home.”
“All right, I’ll be looking forward to seeing my grandson and meeting his mother.” There was a pause, then his mother asked. “Nick, did you ask her if she had a means of acquiring a wedding dress? You did say she looked poor, didn’t you? Maybe I should call her and offer to buy her one?”
“I didn’t make any such offers and you shouldn’t either.” He stopped his pacing and dropped into the black leather sofa. “She’s very snooty about money matters and I don’t need her snapping my head off by offering to buy her wedding dress.”
“Oh, that does say something good about her, doesn’t it?”
He rolled his eyes. His mother always liked to see something good in everyone. And he wasn’t convinced Kaine wasn’t pretending about her claimed disinterest in money or any other form of compensation. She’d sounded different in that email.
“Whatever, mama. I have to go. I’ve got calls to make. I’m sure Kaine will sort herself out. Talk later, mama.” He waited until she bade him goodbye before he ended the call. Then he relaxed back against the sofa.
Could he have misinterpreted that mail?
It seemed implausible. But what seemed even more implausible was that the young woman he’d met twice now and who’d, apparently, agreed to marry him reluctantly was the same person who’d inferred in her mail that she deserved a compensation for her own son. It was bewildering that she’d in one breathe acted like she wanted money and then in the next, rejected all reference to money with utter vehemence.
Or was she pretending? Trying to act all innocent so they wouldn’t consider her mercenary, a gold digger?
That was most likely. After all, she stood to gain more with marrying him. Maybe they were the ones playing into her hands. Maybe her innocent, untouched look was a means she used in ensnaring men.
Dominic sighed and shook off the worrisome thoughts. It doesn’t matter one way or another. The fact was that they wanted his brother’s son with them and even if he knew he could win her in court, he wasn’t particularly interested in taking a mother to court over a child she apparently doesn’t want to let go. Especially a mother who was that young and who didn’t have any family of her own.
So, marriage was their only solution.
He raised his phone to make a call but it started to ring before he could dial. He cussed aloud when he saw the caller id. Dear Lord, just what he needed now, more female troubles!
He raised the phone reluctantly to his ear and grumbled into it. “Hello, Camie.”
“Darling, how can you not have called me since yesterday?” Instantly came the whining reproof delivered in a drawling, throaty voice. “I’ve been so worried. First you had to travel so unexpectedly and next, you never bother to communicate.”
Dominic sighed. He so hated when Camilla acted all whiny and clingy. “I’m sorry, Camie, but I’ve been busy and—”
“Busy doing what exactly, Nick?” Some of the whining left her tone. “I’m not sure I quite understood why you had to travel to Nigeria. We don’t have business there. Or are you considering starting off one?”
He couldn’t tell her his reason for being here. Not yet. Not over the phone. “I’m handling some personal business.” He said instead. “But I’ll be back soon.”
There was a pause and he knew Camilla wasn’t satisfied with his response. So, he added in a placating tone. “Come on, babe, I’ll be back soon and we’ll talk then.”
That seemed to do it. She sighed in a long, sniffing manner and made a clucking sound. “Not that I know why we can’t talk about it now but it’s all right. I’ll wait until you return. Just know that I miss you horribly and I only want to be in your arms again. You know how I can’t do without you for long, darling, don’t you?”
The throaty drawl was back but instead of seducing him as it usually did, it sparked off a mild irritation. “I know, Camie. Um… I have to go now. I will call you much later, I’ve got some business to attend to now.”
“Be sure to call me, darling, or I will be really mad at you.” She warned, then made kissing noises. “Kisses, darling. Think of me as you do your business. Think of what I’ll be doing to you once you’re back.” She added with a purring laughter before she rang off.
Dominic dropped the phone and grimaced. Now, how was he going to handle that heaven’s sake?