Oliver decided that was the colour on her lips. The smile curving in the corners of the roundly moulded pair was soft, sweet and sexy. All at once.
And had the startling effect of momently muddling his mind.
He never thought he would see Dinah Eke again. He had been honest when he said he hadn’t thought of her in a long time.
For nearly a decade, if he wanted to be exact.
Then he saw her friend request and message, and as he’d told her, he’d remembered everything. Including the letter.
But he had no wish to discuss that letter. Not this evening.
Or ever, if he could help it.
Even so, seeing her again and having her so close, barely an arm’s length away, set loose a surge of familiar longing.
Shaken by his reactions to her, he distracted himself by taking a long sip of water, offering an easy smile when he set down the glass. “So, you’re a bilingual secretary now. Is that a chosen career path, or one you stumbled upon?”
“Both in a way,” she said. And Oliver thought the soft quality of her voice was deeper and more sensual than he remembered it. “I studied French, so I always wanted to work in a bilingual capacity. I’d hoped to get a certificate in translation and most likely land an ECOWAS job.
“Alas, the school I applied to in Lomé only offered Diploma in Bilingual Secretarial Studies and I wasn’t interested in waiting to get admission in schools at Abidjan or Yaoundé. So, I went there, got my diploma, and got a job with ComTech.”
“Impressive. ComTech as an ICT company offers a lot of career-growth opportunities. You’re in a good place there.”
“I am, and I love working there. Love it even more because I got lucky with being posted to their Asaba office. Big cities are not my scene. They’re clearly yours,” she added with a chuckle.
The throaty sound, for whatever reason, made him think of a moan. And thinking of it, he imagined making her moan with his kisses, and his touch, and his body rubbing against hers.
Oliver cleared his throat, took another sip of water to douse the heated blast of instant lust. “I won’t be in Lagos much longer. I’m moving to Asaba in a few days; taking up a vacant position at the zonal headquarters.”
“Oh.” Her eyes lit with interest. “Are you happy with the transfer?”
“I’m good with it.” Oliver shrugged. “The posting is only for eighteen months until I have someone properly trained to handle the job. Then I might get back here or be moved someplace else.”
“Sounds like it’s fun being a software engineer.”
“It’s a job.” One he intended to quit, hopefully soon. “Would you like to go outside? We’re done with dinner and the restaurant has a garden with benches on it.” The flicker of hesitation was fleeting, but Oliver noticed it. “It’d be nice to enjoy the evening breeze.”
“I’d like that,” Dinah said, smiled as she reached for her purse. “I can only stay a few more minutes, though. Not very familiar with Lagos, I promised my cousin I’ll be home at the latest ten.”
“I’ll see that you’re home before then.” Yielding to impulse, he curled his fingers around hers, and found he liked the soft feel of her palm. “No one objected to you taking a trip down to Lagos to see an old friend?”
She turned her head to give him a teasing smile. “Are we old friends?”
“Isn’t that what we are?” He liked how a glimmer of mischief danced in her eyes. “We were friends in school.”
“We were friendly, not friends. It’s why your letter surprised me. I didn’t think we knew each other enough for…well, such serious feelings.”
“We knew each other enough for me to enjoy seeing you and talking with you every chance I got,” Oliver said lightly and gestured to a bench. “Let’s take this one.”
She sat, commented as she looked around, “This is a lovely spot. It’s not what you think you’ll find at a restaurant. A park maybe, even a hotel, but not within the premises of an eatery.”
“That is true. The tranquil setting is one of the reasons I love coming here.”
“Interesting. Would that be alone, or with your girlfriend? Or girlfriends?”
“I don’t do girlfriends. I’m a monogamous kind of guy. Not always have been,” he confessed, flashing a grin. “But I am now, and there’s no one in the picture at the moment.”
“Yes, you see.” Amused at her attempt to sound offhand, he lifted a hand to tuck back the brown curls sweeping into her face. “Go on, answer my question. No one objected to you coming to see me?”
“My cousin did. She thinks I’m insane going after a guy because of a ten year old love letter.”
Her face ten years back darted into his mind, the chubby girlish form of it. Her face now was leaner, her features more defined, and her beauty more womanly. The pimply bumps had faded some, and made almost invisible by the skill of her cosmetics.
Oddly bewitched, Oliver found himself tracing a finger along her slim jawline. “Only your cousin?”
Her eyes flickered with a startled look. Like his touch surprised her. But she didn’t pull away, or knock his hand off.
“Her boyfriend, as well.”
“Not your boyfriend?”
“I expect he would, if I had one. I’m sadly single.”
“Not sad for me.” His finger trailed to her mouth, and Oliver stared at it, wanting it. “I’m glad there’s no boyfriend.”
“My mother doesn’t share your sentiment. She’s desperate for her last daughter to settle down.”
“Mothers are always desperate for that.”
This close, he distinctly caught the scent on her. The floral scent of the garden didn’t impair the subtle and erotic fragrance. It drew her to him. Drew him to see her more, feel her more, want her more.
More than when—a minute ago? Or ten years ago?
Oliver didn’t know.
He only knew he wanted to lean in and kiss her, and was sure she could read that desire in his eyes. In the way he tilted forward toward her.
Again he waited for her to pull back, or say something to stop or distract him from his obvious intent. But she didn’t move or say anything. Only stared at him with surprising shy desire in her eyes.
She knew he wanted to kiss her, and she wanted him to do it.
His hesitation lasted another five seconds, and then he closed in, angled his head and skimmed his lips over hers.
It was only that at first, a light stroke. But even that vague contact stunned him enough to pause, wait again for her to react and stop his boldness. When she didn’t, he set his mouth more firmly on hers, and sank in.
The hot rush of heat and need only half shocked him. Somehow, and Oliver didn’t know how, he’d sensed it would be like this if he kissed her. Desire would whiz through him, burning like a ravenous fire and stirring up feelings he had only been dimly aware of a lifetime ago.
He wanted to put his arms around her and pull her against him, to feel her body, the warmth of it. But they were at a public spot, and it was a first kiss. A first kiss on a first date.
It was a date, wasn’t it?
At the chance he was ruining it, if it was one, by being overly enthusiastic, Oliver forced his senses, and his body, to do what was sensible and ended the kiss.
“I’m not sure if I should apologize for that,” he said, easing back from her, almost sighing as it felt like his mouth missed hers already.
And not just her mouth, either.
“If you want to apologize because you’re worried you might have offended me, then don’t. However, I need to go.” The affable look on her face giving credence to her words, she stood. “It was nice to see you again. It makes me sorry I didn’t see your letter when I should have.”
“Don’t be sorry. And it was also nice to see you.” As he had earlier, he took her hand, keeping her close to his side. “Are you going back to Asaba soon?”
“Tomorrow. I only came to Lagos for this. To see you, I mean. Which I guess is silly.” She cast him a glance, almost shyly. “Or perhaps it’s not so silly. A letter like that deserved a consciously made reply, don’t you agree?”
“I don’t know what it deserved. I’m only glad you came.”
“Are you really?”
“Okay.” Toying with the chain strap of her purse, she seemed to hesitate before saying, “You’ve said nothing about the letter. I know it was written a long time ago and what you said about your feelings—”
“I said the present and future are more important than the past, and you agreed with me.” He stopped beside his car and turned her around to face him. “The letter is in the past, but you and I are here in the present. I think that’s a good place to begin, from the now.”
“Okay,” she said again, giving a smile before she slipped her hand out of his and backed away. “We will begin here, and maybe we will get around to where it actually all began.”
He thought he saw a fierce glint in her eyes. Then it wasn’t there after a blink, and he figured he must have imagined it.
“Maybe we will.”
He stepped away to open the door for her.
SHE KEPT HIM AWAKE most of the night and it took a horrible movie on TV to lull his roaming mind and send him off to sleep.
That he couldn’t keep her out of his mind wasn’t, of course, a surprise as he’d been thinking of her since getting her message.
What was surprising was how much longing accompanied those thoughts. It was the kiss. It had him wanting things he wondered if it was in his best interest, or hers, to want.
“How was your date with your former school crush?” Rachel Ozie, colleague, married with a kid, nosy as an old woman, asked as she strolled into the office they shared with another staff.
She was also a close friend, so he’d told her about Dinah’s message, and her visit, and the truth about the letter.
“I don’t know if I’ll call it a date, but it went well. Or I think it did, if where this appears to be going is the direction it should be heading,” Oliver added, frowning.
“Where does it appear to be going?”
“Like we’re interested in starting a relationship. I don’t know if I am, or if I should be.” He recalled wanting her in his bed all those years ago.
He’d also wanted other things, Oliver reminded himself.
“Why shouldn’t you be?” Rachel demanded. “I saw her pictures and she’s one pretty woman, doing well career-wise, and seems to have a thing for you as you do for her.”
“I had a thing for her when I was twenty-three. I don’t know if it’s still a thing now. That’s not entirely true,” he said, sighing because he couldn’t lie to himself. Or to Rachel. “I think I still have a thing for her. Maybe it’s just a thing and nothing I should pursue.”
“Did you tell her the truth about the letter?”
Oliver knew Rachel’s gaze would be thoughtful and raised his head to stare at it. “Of course, I didn’t. She travelled down from Asaba on account of that letter. She contacted me because of it. Can you imagine how she would feel if she hears it was a stupid prank?”
“It wasn’t a prank. It was the self-absorbed egotistical act of immature boys playing with innocent girls,” Rachel said.
Without heat. But Oliver still felt the sting of her words enough to grimace. “It was the stupid act of a stupid young man, and I’d thought at the time that she didn’t fall for it and chose to ignore me.
“The fact is she didn’t see it, and when she did ten years after, she believed it to be true. She’s…touched by it, and to tell her it was all nonsense would be mortifying; grievously so for her.”
“You’re saying that you’re not going to tell her. Didn’t she ask you about it?”
“She did, directly after making references to it more times than I was comfortable with.” Oliver scowled because Rachel snorted. “It was uncomfortable hearing her repeat how touching it was.”
“And that uncomfortable feeling made you a coward. So, you told her what when she directly questioned you about it?”
“Don’t call me a coward, or by God, I will find ways to make you work overtime my last two days here.”
“As I’m counting on closing early today and tomorrow, I will refrain from repeating it,” Rachel said with a grin.
She rolled her eyes but didn’t tease again, only asked, “What did you tell her?”
“We should focus on the present and future, which are more important.”
“Smart evasive answer. Not so smart if you are considering a relationship with her. Because, my dear friend, troubles postponed only become bigger troubles.”
“There won’t be any trouble if we begin where we are now in the present.” It did feel like the coward’s way out, but Oliver didn’t see the need to bother with unimportant facts. “It may be this is our chance to explore what this thing is we have for each other and see where it takes us.”
“Mmm. It’s possible life is giving you a second chance. Nothing can make it clearer than the fact you’re moving to Asaba. It’s why I’m advising you tell her the truth about the letter.”
Adamant about not towing that path, Oliver shook his head. “I have no interest in discussing that darned letter. If we can’t have a relationship without delving into the past, then it’s best to forget it altogether.”
“I don’t know why you’re so reluctant to come clean to her, but that’s your choice. Meanwhile, imagine when Declan hears you’ve reconnected with your Dinah.”
“Please, don’t call her my Dinah. She’s not mine. And don’t you dare tell Declan anything about this,” Oliver said, and added with a glare when she only grinned, “I do mean it, Rachel. No talking about this with that lunatic brother of yours. You hear me?”
Rachel made a noise in her throat and turned to her computer.
Oliver let out a deep groan. She was going to tell him, and her equally mischievous brother would find ways to tease and torment him over the matter.
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