Their destination turned out to be Agbor. And after a forty-minute drive around the hilly town, seeing the very little there was to see, he took them to a nice spot where–and according to him–they serve the best spiced grilled goat meat in the state.
Which was an exaggeration. But she intended to keep that opinion to herself.
“What do you think?” he asked after she took her first bite.
“It is good.”
Anya chuckled at his glower. “All right, I guess it’s better than good. I have to say it’s the best assorted grilled meat I’ve tasted in a long while.”
“I’m willing to bet it’s the best you’ve had all your life.” He selected a piece of meat with his toothpick and nudged the platter in front of her. “I’ve been here twice before. Once with my grandmother. It was her sixty-ninth birthday and since she objected to a birthday celebration, I drove her down here. She liked the palm wine and pepper soup more.”
“And who’s the other person you brought here?”
She expected the question to amuse him, and it did, because his mouth curved with a smile as he replied, “My ex-girlfriend.”
Anya picked up her glass, took a slow sip of the malt drink. “Did she prefer the palm wine and pepper soup too?”
He picked another piece of meat, flashed his teeth as he chewed. “Among other things that happened afterwards.”
“Tell me about her.”
He blinked, and surprise flickered into his eyes. “You want me to tell you about my ex-girlfriend?”
“No. I want you to tell me about your grandmother.”
Saz stared at her. The small gleam of laughter remained in her eyes, but there was interest there too.
“Will you be asking me about my ex-girlfriend too after I tell you about my grandmother?” He found it irritated him that she might be playing with him.
“No.” She shook her head, her gaze all serious now. “I’m not the least bit interested in your ex-girlfriend. I was just teasing you earlier.”
She was teasing, but it had made him feel good that she’d been interested enough to ask. What had he thought, that she’d been jealous?
Irritation gnawing deeper, and him struggling to reinstate the easy mood, Saz said lightly, “I don’t casually discuss my family.”
He rarely casually, or otherwise, tell people about his family, or himself.
“I think you don’t like to talk about yourself in general,” she said, reading him correctly again. “You give the information you want to give, and clam up on the rest. You shut people out.”
Saz looked away from her soft gaze. What was the woman trying to do, pull him in? Into what–her? The question, and confusion, made him frown.
“I’m sorry. I’ve made you uncomfortable. I am not trying to pry, or to force you to share parts of yourself you don’t want to. She’s just the first person, or thing, I’ve heard you speak of with clear affection in your voice, and I was curious to know more about her.”
“She’s the one person, and the only thing, I have…had the truest affection for,” Saz murmured. “She was the best thing I had. The best person I had in my life.”
He realised that he wanted to tell her about his grandmother. He didn’t know if he wanted to share something about himself with her…It still unnerved him that that might be the reason.
Why would he want to, because he found her desirable and wanted to take her to bed?
He’d found ladies desirable before, and never once shared personal details with them, he reminded himself, even as he nudged aside the puzzling thought.
“She would have liked you.” He heard himself say, thinking Iye would truly have liked Anya. “She liked people who took care of others, and she did exactly that. She fed anyone who didn’t have enough to eat, and even those who did. Food was meant for a hungry stomach, was something she said often. She had a stall in the market where she sold foodstuffs, but I would always tell her she gave out more than she sold.”
“She was a generous woman,” Anya said softly.
“Too generous. She would give out our own food, if someone asked for it, and then ask me too cook another.” Saz laughed, because it used to exasperate him so much then. “God forbid I stopped wearing any clothes in my wardrobe, they were going to the number of people who did odd jobs for her.”
“Why leave clothes in the bag when there are people going naked.”
“That was her kind of thinking. She thought well of people, and sometimes, I thought she was naïve. People aren’t always good. They weren’t always good to us.” His mother hadn’t been good to them. And a bunch of relatives hadn’t been good either. But somehow, that never mattered to Iye.
“My mother was her only child. She couldn’t have more, so her husband’s people threw her out and brought in a new wife. When I left my father’s house, I came to live with her, and continued to do so until she passed away.”
“You miss her.”
“A lot. But if there is heaven, then she must be there, so it’s all good, I guess.” He picked his glass, took a long swallow, and pushed back the feelings. It didn’t do for him to become emotional. “You’ve heard about her, so what next?”
And there he goes, retreating behind his screen again, Anya thought, regarding him with softly amused eyes. She had asked him about his grandmother mostly out of curiosity, but his answer, and his habit of evading personal subjects, made her want to slip past his defensive walls.
It wouldn’t hurt to know a little more about Saz Isichei.
“Well, I guess now I’m curious about what you were doing in Benin before moving back to settle here. Did you like have a regular job?” She took a sip of her drink, offered a big smile as she waited for his answer.
A frown furrowed his brows. Clearly, he didn’t like the question, and Anya wondered if this time he would shutdown the personal conversation.
But he said as he picked his bottle of beer, “I owned an electrical appliances and lightings store. It was doing well enough until a fire incident razed down the store and there was practically nothing left.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.” Anya reached across the table to give his hand a sympathetic rub. “How did it happen?”
“An electric boiler brought in for repair was left plugged on and it triggered off an electrical fire during the night. Almost everything in the store was gone before the fire was successfully put out.”
“I am sorry, once again. It must have been a horrifying experience. It still must be even now, to lose everything like that at a go, and so unexpectedly,” Anya said kindly, understanding him, even though he sounded dispassionate.
“It was. That store was everything I had left, and then it died on me too.”
“And you didn’t have the means to restock and start over.” She didn’t know how, but Anya got the sense that that was what happened.
“No, I didn’t. I’d only just restocked when the fire happened. There was barely anything left, so starting over wasn’t a choice. Not…” He cut himself off and shrugged. “Anyway, that’s what I was doing, an electrical appliances shop owner. Before then, I was a cab driver.”
The subject of his lost business for him was done, so Anya let it be. “The Sienna used to be a cab?”
“Not the Sienna. I had a Volkswagen Golf then. Sold it when I opened the shop and got the van.”
“Hmm. And now, you’re back to being a shop owner. Only a building materials store, this time.”
He stared at her strangely for several seconds before pulling another shrug. “I guess I am.”
“It’s probably how it’s meant to be. That you will come back here to your hometown and find a place for yourself.”
“It’s more of my father’s hometown than mine.”
“It’s your hometown because it was your father’s,” Anya said softly. “I know Benin is a bigger, busier town than Ogwashi, but you can make a good living here too. You can be happy and content here, if you want to be.”
“Are you happy and content?”
“I try to be,” Anya said honestly.
“Again, I wish I can be you.”
Her mouth curved with a smile. “But you’re not me.”
“No.” He stared at her, like he wanted to say something, but wasn’t sure if he should. “Tell me the one thing you wish for?” He asked after a lengthy pause.
It was the way he was watching her that made her think deeply before giving an answer. “A home of my own. I wish for that.”
“A home as in husband and children.” He smiled, and his eyes lightened with a teasing gleam. “Most women want that. I refrain from saying all women, because there are exceptions to every rule. But I meant something immediate, or even fun that you wish for.”
“Like something I wish for now?”
“Now, or in the closest future. A negligent wish. Nothing serious.”
“Well, I am wondering if I should take the risk to try out the pepper soup. But I have this snug top on, and I hate to spot a pouch.”
“Your tummy is too flat and tight to spot a pouch.” Wanting to thwart her attempt to diffuse the sizzle of attraction that now rent the air between them, Saz allowed his eyes to smoulder as he leaned slightly forward. “It’s another sexy thing about you, a plus-size, curvy woman with a streamlined midriff.”
“Another?” It took a moment, then her eyes flickered, with a mixture of laughter and lust. “What’s the other sexy thing?”
His own lust grew fangs and bit in his groin. “Your laughing eyes.”
She chuckled, a soft, husky sound. “You find my laughing eyes sexy?”
“They pull at me. Then your mellow, husky voice. But it’s your mouth, full at the bottom and dipped at the top like a bow that enchants me most. I want to kiss you.” If he leaned any closer, he would catch the dark red painted lips. “Let’s get out of here and find somewhere private where I can kiss you.”
“Is that your wish for the immediate future, to kiss me?”
“Yes. I want to kiss you. I want to know what it feels like to have your mouth against mine.”
“You do make me want to forget myself.” She stared at his mouth, then lifted her eyes back to his, and ran her tongue over her bottom lip. “But we are not going anywhere. I am not ready to kiss you yet, Saz.”
It took a lot of effort not to groan and clamp his mouth over hers. “Why not? You’re clearly attracted to me as I am to you, so why make it hard?”
“I am not looking to make it hard. But I prefer to keep first dates simple and easy.”
Fighting to pull out the fangs of lust out of his groin, Saz frowned. “Are you one of those who think if a woman kisses or has sex on her first date, then she’s loose?”
Her brows slowly arched. “You don’t believe in that?”
“No, I don’t. Feelings of sexual attraction don’t make anyone loose or immoral. It’s how we conduct ourselves sexually that does that.”
“Did she teach you that?”
“Did who teach me that?” Saz countered, a touch irritably.
“Actually, yes. For Iye, a person having sex with another person doesn’t make them immoral, with or without marriage. But multiple partners and shallow relationships say a lot about your character.”
“Well, I think that makes my point.” Anya drew back from the table, tucked up the draping front of her top, and locked her racy thoughts back in their places. As best as she could. “Our relationship–if we can call it that–is at best shallow now, so we should wait until it becomes more meaningful before indulging in intimate acts.”
“This is not shallow, Anya. I do like you.”
Anya cocked her head to the side, eyeing him curiously. “What do you like about me?”
“You want me to tell you what I like about you?”
He was scowling, and for some reason, the sour look amused Anya. “Yes, tell me one thing you like about me. One real thing, I mean. Nothing shallow and physical.”
“I like you. End if it.”
Anya laughed. Darn if she didn’t like him. “No, it’s not the end of it. But it’s a good beginning. We will kiss, Saz. That is for certain. But like all things that must be satisfying, we must wait to do it right.”
He stretched a finger and touched her lip, the scowl vanishing as his eyes once more smouldered. “Trust me when I say when we kiss, whether now or later, we will do it right and it will be satisfying.”
A quiver ran through and shivered in her stomach. “I hope so,” Anya murmured. Then she pushed back to avoid his caressing finger. “I think I will brave that pepper soup, since you’ve nicely reassured me I have no need to worry.”
“You don’t.” He called out the order, and then surprised by asking, “Have you never wanted to move out and live elsewhere?”
“When I was much younger, yes. But not anymore. I’ve found a place for myself in our town and I am content with it.”
“So, your wish for a husband and children will be with a man who has the plans to remain in our town, as you call.”
“You have a look on your face like it’s a crazy wish,” Anya observed, and grinned. “There are families in that town, you know. Families who are content to live there.”
“Are you worried you might find it hard to fully settle there?”
Once again, he seemed to hesitate before giving a casual shrug. “I will let time decide what will be, or not.”
The vague response caused an unsettling twinge. But she wasn’t planning happily ever after with the man, so Anya relaxed herself, saying lightly, “That might just be a good policy. Serious matters aside, here comes my pepper soup. I think I shall enjoy it with a fresh order of drink.”
“As the lady wishes.”
He gave an order for new bottles of drinks, and Anya shifted the conversation to general and everyday topics. It allowed her to study his typical attitude towards things.