She went to the store to buy a bottle of wine. While she wasn’t sure what plans Mario had, it didn’t seem right for her to visit him empty-handed. Uncertain if he would be preparing them a meal, she added a pack of biscuits to her purchase.
“You’re so fortunate, Cally. Here you are, going out to have fun, and I am stuck here at the store on Boxing Day,” Oge complained as she rang up her purchases. “I was planning on going to Asaba today to see a friend, but my father insisted I work at the store since he and Mummy are attending a family meeting in Ibusa. Tell me, why open the store at all today?”
Smiling, Callista said as she took her change, “Most likely because his ever active business-mind told him he shouldn’t lose the money to be made today.”
“Money is not everything. Besides, there should be time to enjoy the money one makes.” With a sniff, Oge decided to let the matter of her displeasure go, and enjoy a good gossip.
“My father’s annoying ways aside, let me say that you’re looking nice. Seeing Mario again today? I heard you two were out together all of yesterday.” Oge let out a dramatic sigh. “I wish I were in your shoes, Cally. Mario’s such a catch. I need a man like him in my life.”
“I’m sure you will find one like him, or even better.” When a woman was happy, she could afford to be kind, Callista thought, smiling kindly at the younger woman.
“How am I to find myself a man while stuck here at the store?” Oge scowled, and then flicked another hand of dismissal. “Tell me, Cally, is it true what I heard, that Mario beat Chukwudi black-and-blue at Buchi’s Bar the other night?”
She didn’t want to think, or talk about Chukwudi Udolisa. “I’m running late, Oge. See you.”
“It is true then. I knew it had to be true since I heard it from Nonye and she never carries false tales.” A devilish pleasure lit Oge’s eyes. “Serves that Chukwudi right. He deserved to be taught a lesson for the way he treated you, that night and before. I only wish I was there to witness it. Nonye said he was whimpering on the floor like a baby.”
“See you later, Oge,” Callista said firmly, turned and halted after a step.
Chukwudi Udolisa stood at the entrance. If he’d overheard their conversation, his insolent stare didn’t indicate.
She didn’t care if he’d overheard, or not, Callista told herself. And she wasn’t going to have anything to do with him.
She marched forward. He did too.
“Callista.” He snatched her hand. “Did you intend to sweep past without saying hello?”
Anger bubbled up. But Callista controlled it. “Take your hand off me, Chukwudi Udolisa. And never again touch me, or even speak to me.”
“If I refuse to let you go, what will you do? Send your lover to display his violent tendencies once more in the name of fighting?”
“Violent tendencies? Is that what you call a man like yourself beating you up?” Callista laughed scornfully. “No, I don’t need to send Mario after you. I, myself, will deal with you.”
She wrenched free her hand. And though his firm grip had left a pain on her flesh, she refused to soothe her arm. “You’re a fool, Chukwudi Udolisa. An arrogant one. You thought you were insulting me that night, but it’s yourself you insulted. You made it clear to everyone what kind of lowlife blubbering fool you are.
“You showed your true nature, and left not only me, but everyone there disgusted. Shame, the one you sought to pour on me, ended up your only clothing.” She took a step back to properly view him. And looked him head to toe in a sneering manner. “But fool that you are, you do not know this.”
“You would dare to insult me?” He flung up his hand.
But even as Callista shrank back, Oge rushed out from behind the counter. “What is that you think you want to do, Chukwudi Udolisa? Touch her, and I will scream down this place and attract the attention of men who will beat you to a pulp.”
The threat worked, for Chukwudi dropped his hand. “You have become mouthed and insulting because of Mario Elue, haven’t you?” His mouth twisted with scorn. “But we will see how long he will last in your life. Whether you admit it or not, you and I know he only said what he did the other night to save your face.”
“Whether that is his reason for saying what he did matters not. Hear me when I tell you that you will never again be able to make me feel less than myself, Chukwudi Udolisa. I know now my worth, and one thing is clear, you were never worthy of me.”
“Not worthy of you? As you are who?” he jeered. “You hear me when I swear that you will pay for these insults. You and Mario Elue. Oh, him especially.” His eyes sparkled with a malicious glint. “For his insult the other night, I will make him pay. Tell him to beware, because Chukwudi Udolisa never leaves unpunished any slight against his person.”
With a snarl, he turned and stalked out of the store.
“What did he mean by that threat?” Oge asked in a shaky voice.
Since she had no intention to show Chukwudi’s threat had affected her too, Callista let out a short scornful laugh. “You must learn to discern the empty bragging of a fool, Oge. What does a wounded dog do, except snarl and bark without the hope of doing any harm?”
“But if one comes close enough to the wounded dog, they will be bitten,” Oge pointed out. “I don’t think you should so casually dismiss his threats, Cally. A man like him can do anything out of vengeance.”
A cold fear crawled into her belly.
“He can do nothing. Absolutely nothing,” Callista stated, firmly shaking off the fear. “I’ll be on my way, Oge. Thanks for stepping forward to help me. I appreciate it.”
“You would have done the same for me, Cally,” Oge said simply. “I still counsel that you beware of Chukwudi. I don’t know what he might do, but be careful.”
“Don’t let Chukwudi’s words trouble you. He’s always been an arrogant braggart.” And her biggest mistake was recognising this trait late. “I’ll see you. Take care, Oge.”
“You take care too, Cally.”
Her cloak of bravery fell off as soon as she stepped out of the store and got on a commercial bike. She didn’t fear as much for herself as she did for Mario. Somehow, she sensed he was going to be the most harmed in this.
And that harm would likely begin with a threat to his business.
She did her best though to hide her disquiet when she reached Mario’s place.
“Hello you,” he said as he let her into the house.
“Hello,” Callista said with a bright smile. “Happy Boxing Day.”
“Is it a thing then? I didn’t know. But I know something I want to do.”
He pulled her to him, lowered his head, and covered her mouth with his.
The kiss sliced through her like a hot breath, letting loose a lusty yen to have more. Callista pressed against him, slipping her hands around to hold on to him.
When he kissed her, she could think of nothing, but of him and what he did to her with his seductive lips. He made feel like she’d never felt in her whole life. Desire, hot and pulsing with a life if it’s own, shivered through her and found different spots in her body to largely lodge. Like between her legs where she could feel an indescribable heat spread.
She wanted Mario. Desperately. She wanted him to do more than kiss her.
But instead of going further, he raised his head. “The worried expression’s gone. Good. But still, you will tell me what brought the frown upon your cute face, won’t you?”
Callista’s mouth curled with a smile. “You think my face is cute?”
“I do indeed. I find I have a liking for cute faces. Yours in particular.” He took her with him to the sofa. “That in your hand, is it for me?”
“For us.” She held out the bag. “A bottle of wine and biscuits. I wasn’t sure if you’d prepare anything.”
“I prepared something. Still, I’m glad for this. We will have it after our meal.” He framed her face. Her slightly swollen lips were making him quiver with desire. “What brought the frown on?”
Callista shook her head. “Nothing important. I’ve forgotten it.”
“No. We promised we’re going to stay friends who share everything with each other, didn’t we?”
“Yes. But whatever annoyed me no longer matters.”
“Whatever annoyed you made you worried.” He leaned forward and kissed her. “Tell me what it is, Cally.”
“I don’t want to ruin our…um…”
Mario’s eyes twinkled at her embarrassed confusion. “Date? We’re on a date, and nothing will ruin it. I promise.”
“I like when you look at me like this,” Callista whispered, staring into his eyes.
“Like what?” Mario whispered back.
“Like you’re fascinated with me. Like you really like me and can’t stop looking at me.” She swallowed the catch in her throat. “Like you want me.”
“I am fascinated with you. I really like you, and I want you. All of the reasons why I can’t stop looking at you. Or kissing you.” He took her mouth, kissed it slowly. Let out a sigh when he stopped. “Tell me what’s worrying you, Cally.”
“Okay, I will.” Before pushing backward, she kissed him. Then she took a deep breath and exhaled. “I ran into Chukwudi. He came in when I was leaving the store–Oge’s father’s own. He was his usual self, feeling self-important and wanting all attention on him.”
And being smug and insulting. She didn’t say that aloud, so as not to cause a furious rising in Mario. “It wasn’t any of that that bothered me. But what he said.”
“What did he say?”
Callista smoothed a hand over his frowning face. “He probably was only working his bragging mouth, but his words have left me feeling unsettled.”
“What did he say, Cally?”
“That we are going to pay for the way we treated him. Especially you.”
Mario stared at her a full thirty seconds. Then he roared out a laugh.
He laughed so hard, his hands dropped off her and his body shook.
“There was cold threat in his voice, Mario,” Callista said impatiently. “He means to harm us in some way, especially you. On my way here, as I pondered the matter, I recalled his uncle is your landlord. Mario–“
“Cally.” Mario curbed his mirth, took hold of her face and kissed her soundly. “Ignore him. Chukwudi Udolisa is a braggart, and a fool. His uncle is not the only one who owns commercial buildings in this town. I can rent another place if he decides to accommodate his senseless nephew’s demands.”
“But your store has always been there. Along the road there is the most lucrative spot in town. It will be tough to find better as other locations like that are occupied.”
“Cally, I’ll be fine. Stop worrying. You hear me?”
“Stop worrying. He’s only a toothless barking dog.” Mario kissed her. “Have I told you, you look lovely?”
It took an effort, but Callista managed to put aside her worries as he wanted, and smile. “No, you haven’t. Tell me.”
“You look lovely. Hungry?”
“Yes.” For more than food. “What did you prepare?”
“You will see soon.” Grinning, he rose. “You wait here. I’ll be back soon.”
Callista watched him walk into the kitchen, and then turned to the television. A movie was showing, but the volume was tuned low. If he asked her not to worry, then she wasn’t going to do so. At least, not while on their date.
Date. She was dating Mario. And he was making meals for her.
No man had ever cooked for her.
Then again, the only man she’d ever seriously dated had been a jackass, Callista thought. But she wasn’t going to think about him. Or about her unhappy past. Or even about any threats to her present happiness.
Today, she would spend the day with her man, and enjoy being with him.