Ronald Silas understood goals from the moment his mother taught him success wasn’t possible without them, and he’d set one for himself ever since. He excelled in his exams because failure when he could avoid it wasn’t tolerable. Through dedicated reading and training, he cultivated his mind and optimized his skills, because knowledge was power in itself. Then he mastered the arts of confidence, charm, and self-control—the last because a man was no better than an animal without it.
When his first job landed him in Ducal Enterprises, a property development conglomerate, he set a target he knew would change his life forever. And he worked his way from a lowly entry position to a senior executive in the bid to fulfil it.
Now, when victory was within his grasp, Clara Ani, a woman he barely knew…didn’t know, Ronald remedied the phrase, threatened that target.
Had he kissed her? Or was it she who’d made the move?
With the memory clear in his head, Ronald let himself experience it again.
“I’d like to offer the assurance that I won’t stalk you online, or try to seek you out in any other way.”
The subtle rasp in her voice made him think of a smoker. And although it wasn’t a habit he appreciated in anyone, he thought then that if she did smoke, he’d find it sexy.
“I offer you the same.”
“Thank you.” Her mouth, looking like she’d only bothered with the faintest touch of pink, stretched with a smile. “I’m going to allow myself one last impulsive act and say I wish you would stalk me online. Or ask for my number, and call me before the night is over.”
It was a shock to find he wanted to succumb to the temptation to do the second and then the first. “I won’t,” he said, more as a promise to himself.
“I’m sure.” She flicked a hand for the waiter, requested her bill and made the payment. “Time to go home and hope for luck another day.”
“Love. It didn’t happen tonight, but will another day.”
“Why couldn’t you love him, your boyfriend?” Why did he feel the tug of relief that she didn’t when he didn’t believe in the romantic idea of love?
She moved her shoulders. “I guess they were right who say the heart knows what it wants.”
She reached for her purse. “See you never, Ronald Silas”
He liked her playful humour. “Back at you, Clara Ani.”
She didn’t move.
He didn’t, either.
And then, they both did. Their bodies pushed forward. Their heads tilted slightly. A quiver danced across her lips, a gust of heat, the exact replica of the one that had exploded when she sauntered towards him, released its fire. Slowly, almost hesitantly, their mouths touched, and clung.
Barely a ten-second kiss and Ronald couldn’t erase it from his mind after a week. Impatient with himself, he frowned as he backtracked to his desk and took his chair. Losing Frannie wasn’t an option. He’d worked too hard, gone too far, to mess it up now.
With the discipline mastered over years, he pulled his goals to the fore, redirected his thoughts, and at the rap, smoothed out his expression.
“What’s in the folder?” he asked as his personal assistant strode in.
“The compiled reports on Fenliz,” Ngozi replied and handed it over. “Marketing department brought it in five minutes ago. I figured you would want a meeting with their sales team, so called and arranged one.”
“Good job.” He glanced through a few papers, then closed the folder. That was work for the night before he turned in. “Anything else?”
“Not officially. But you wanted a reminder on your date tonight and you’re to pick up your mother’s new glasses from Clear Lens at Anwai Road.”
“Oh darn, can’t handle that now. I’m having drinks with Odu before dinner with Frannie.”
“I could take care of it, if you hand me the receipt.”
“It’s past five. You head on home, Ngozi. Unless she breaks the spare as well, my mum won’t be needing the new pair this evening.”
“In that case, I’ll see you tomorrow, sir.”
Alone, he went through his desk, secured his drawers, and picked his phone to call Frannie. “Still on for seven?”
“You bet your lucky ass,” she said, and he could hear the laughter in her voice.
“I’ll see you.”
This was his woman. His future. His vision. Nothing—no one was allowed to stand in the way of that.
With legs as shapely as they were long, tawny skin that defied the tanning effects of a tropical climate and curves she knew how to flaunt, Frannie Duke made a man think of sex.
Even now when he’d spent more hours than he cared to thinking about another woman, his body still reacted to the mere sight of her. Some would call it lust and they’d be right, but Ronald knew it went beyond the basic instinct to satisfy a purely human need. He liked and respected Frannie.
Beyond the goal he’d set for himself, he wanted her. she had a smart mind, possessed savvy business skills, and was unapologetically independent. While her father owned a palatial home at the federal housing estate and several other houses within the city, Frannie preferred to pay rent on the two-bed apartment she lived downtown. And preferred to earn the position she had at Ducal Enterprises.
“Do we absolutely have to dine out? I ask because I stand the risk of slobbering all over you somewhere between the main course and dessert.”
Her deep throaty laugh set off a steady burn. “I’ve a feeling we’ll be skipping dessert.” She pressed a kiss to his lips. “I missed you.”
“As I did you.” His conscience wanted to mock, but Ronald silenced it.
“It occurred to me I should have picked you up as dinner is on me.”
“We’ll fix it to be that way next time.” He held open the car door for her, and pleased himself with another kiss before he went around to get in. “Where’s our destination?”
His brows quirked at the mention of the four-star restaurant. “A special evening, is it?”
“An evening that will change our lives.”
“Can hardly wait.”
“Me, either.” Her smile was full of secrets. “Talk to me about Fenliz. I heard you’re wooing them out of the Best Place housing estate deal.”
Happy to oblige, he brought her up to speed on his dealings with the real estate company, and kept up the conversation through the first part of dinner.
“In a minute, I’ll order champagne. The most expensive they have. You want to know why?”
Studying her coy smile, Ronald said, “I most certainly am “I’ll satisfy that curiosity soon.”
He was about to reply with a careless, ‘can’t wait’ when the scent, subtly feminine and suggestively erotic, caught his attention and turned his gaze.
His first thought was, what is she doing here? But he quickly forgot the question when he took notice of the man strolling in with her.
The boyfriend no doubt. The one she’d realised she didn’t want to be with—according to her.
The reminder that it was impolite to stare at another and ignore his date, and the fact that he hated the quick slice of displeasure, returned his attention where it should be.
“I’m about to shock you, but you’re not to panic,” Frannie was saying. “Or if you do, don’t turn tail and run.”
“Only cowards turn tail and run.” In afterthought he added, “Or smart people if they know what’s good for them.”
“You’re not a coward. And I hope you’re smart enough to know what’s good for you.” She reached into her purse and brought out a box. “You know what this is?”
“A nice looking miniature box.” Ronald gave it a curious study. “What’s in it, a belated Valentine’s Day gift?”
“Kind of.” She darted her tongue over her bottom lip, making it obvious she was nervous. “I started to think about what I want to give you for Valentine this year, and suddenly knew what I wanted. You. I want you to be my Valentine always.”
The words didn’t jump off his tongue, but they screamed in his head. He dropped his gaze to the box and panic cut through him. Swift, sharp, and terrifying.
Frannie was about to propose to him.
“This is highly unorthodox, and most likely the craziest thing I’ll ever do. But here goes.” She opened the box and held it out to him. “Until I met you, I didn’t think of marriage or sharing my life with a man for the long term. But you changed that. You’re everything I didn’t think I’ll find in a man, and all I want forever. Will you marry me, Ronald?”
He stared at the empty box. Then he lifted his gaze, but instead of Frannie, he looked across the room, and locked on Clara.
When she’d walked in, it had been patterned trousers in yellow and brown with thin-straps top, and heeled pumps which put her at head length with her date. So different from her sensually feminine look on Valentine’s Day.
Different, yet she still was the same. Her scent seducing his senses when she strolled past and her stare from across the room freezing his thoughts.
Like that evening, he thought of kisses. And like the days that followed that evening, he thought of the one they’d shared.
Ronald said her name in his head, and remembered Frannie as he did so. Frannie, she was what was important. Who was important.
“I can’t believe you’re insane enough to do this.” He made himself smile at her. “We’ve got people staring, you know.”
“Forget people. In this moment, there’s only you and me.”
Only him and Frannie.
Stay with the plan, he told himself. She opened the door to the future.
“You do know there’s no ring in the box, don’t you?”
“It’s for you to provide the ring. Stop hedging before you give me a cardiac arrest. I want your answer.”
He was tempted to look Clara’s way again. Tempted to stride over to her, take her in his arms, away from the man she sat with, and plunder her lips with kisses, marking her as his.
Tempted. But Ronald didn’t get to where he was today without having honed the skill to resist temptation.
“Yes. I’d be most honoured to marry you.” Rising to take her in his arms, he kissed her.
When he raised his head, his gaze, of its own will, slid to Clara. Disappointment gleamed in her eyes, and it was a shock to feel it inside him.
Darn you, Clara Ani, Ronald silently cursed.
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