What did they call the woman who brazenly invaded a committed relationship and brought it to an end these days?
Plain-Jane, little Miss Nobody tramp?
Frannie Duke winced at the last thought. It was as untrue as it was spiteful and vindictive. The woman ten feet away at another aisle, with half of her face angled away as she studied a box of chocolate, was not plain.
She was…pretty, Frannie allowed. Trim, with adequate curves to take her from slender to lush, and a face that drew attention with its coffee rich texture. Frannie remembered it from the only time they met.
At her eye clinic, and because Frannie had wanted a look at the tramp who’d seduced her fiancé and come between them. Discounting Ronald’s denial, she had thought of her as a tramp.
Only it wasn’t seduction. Nor was Roland a mindless puppet pulled by her strings. He had fallen in love with her, and she with him.
Growing up, Frannie had taught herself to evade the lure of that crippling sentiment, because a woman had to be strong, practical and clever, not soft-hearted and quixotic. Roland, himself, had claimed he didn’t believe in it. Well, until he met Clara Ani–that was her name. Dr Clara Ani, optometrist with a clinic at Anwai Road.
Frannie started to turn, having no desire to prolong her regression into the past, and the woman lifted her hand to put back the box.
She wore an engagement ring.
It had to be impossible to feel the sting of the slap on her face. But Frannie felt it, and heard the ringing in her ears.
They were engaged?
Roland gave her a ring. Her, not Frannie.
Ah, God, why did it all come back like it happened yesterday?
The shock. The pain. The humiliation.
They were getting married. Frannie would bet every kobo she owned he’d made the proposal. He wouldn’t go down on one knee. No, Roland Silas didn’t do the common and expected. He, probably, stared deep in her eyes and told her he wanted to spend the rest of his days with her.
Frannie stood there, shocked, hurt, and humiliated, when Clara Ani turned a sideways glance, her gaze widened with recognition, and…dang it, she headed in her direction.
It might have occurred to her to walk away, but she had no intention of letting the woman think she’d caught her floundering in small-minded jealousy and otiose resentment.
“Hello.” It took the coffee rich, averagely pretty face two seconds before it settled into a smile.
Frannie studied the cordial expression for any trace of triumph and found none.
Mollified, although she’d never admit it, she said, “Hello, Dr Clara Ani. Congratulations are in order from the ring on your finger. You must be happy.”
“I am.” Her smile warmed after another fugitive pause. “He proposed on New Year’s Day. And I don’t need to provide you that information. I apologise.”
“We brag without being aware we do most times.” On New Year’s Day? She’d been too quick to be mollified.
“It wasn’t bragging as Roland is not a prize. I blurted it out because the moment feels awkward.”
“Does it? I suppose it must be tough to live with your conscience.”
“On the contrary, I’ve no problem living with my conscience.”
Why would she, when she had a ring on her finger, and no doubt, the promise of love and fidelity?
“You could try to place yourself at the receiving end of the blow. It’s wonderful to be the woman he chose, but not so much when you’re the one left alone.”
“No, it can’t be.” Her gaze flickered with remorse. “I’m not weighed down by guilt, but I still wish you didn’t have to get hurt in the process of us getting together. For that pain, I am sorry.”
“Your selective regret and kindness continue to be spurious. Respecting the boundaries of a relationship would be more admirable.”
“I agree with you. But it’s hard to not be happy we took a chance with each other.”
“And your happiness is all you’re responsible for, am I right? Not to worry. I remain obliging and offer my best wishes on your union. I hope you stay happy forever.”
Ah, shut-it. Like she wanted her graciously said thank-you. And she wanted even less to think about her ex marrying the woman he left her for, so Frannie turned all attention to work as she drove back to the offices of Ducal Enterprises. Good thing she had that two p.m. meeting with the chairman and CEO. Frannie stopped at her office to pick the required reports, and to give herself another minute to regroup. Then she was on her way.
“Hello, Mrs Akah,” she said, smiling at the chairman’s longtime executive assistant. “Is he in?”
“Your father’s on seat, Miss Duke. You may go through.”
“Thank you, ma’am.”
Her father. Frannie never allowed herself to think of Igho Basil Duke as her father when at work. He was her employer, her overall boss, the same as he was to every member of staff.
She rapped on the door, opened, and walked in.
Ah, darn, it had to be her day to run into her least favourite people in the world.
Ejaife Godfrey, the director of projects and property management, and her old schoolmate. They shared a mutual dislike for one another.
“I was under the impression this was to be a meeting between the chairman and myself,” she said.
“You were wrong.” He turned his head to look at her, and it happened again, the fleeting moment of a heated stare, and then his gaze went opaque. “A major part of the agenda surrounds the project owned by my team, so I’m expected to be present.”
They shared a mutual dislike and mutual sexual attraction, as testified by the graze of warmth along her skin. A pesky, negligent reaction, Frannie thought.
“As financial and business operations manager, I cover the interest of every sector of the company. You don’t have to fear your interest will be poorly represented.” Settling on the chair next to his, she swivelled it to face him, and crossed her legs.
He may not have wanted it to, but his gaze flicked downward and lingered a good second.
“We had a budget cut with the Union House project. It doesn’t look like we’re well represented.”
“That was two months ago. The company’s financial responsibilities demanded it, and may I point out that your project did not suffer.”
“Only because we pulled out all the stops to make sure it didn’t.”
And just like that he returned his attention to his tablet.
Frannie wondered what his reaction would be if she kicked him on the shin. Yelp, curse and glower, she imagined. A pity adults weren’t given the same leeway as children.
An even greater pity he possessed such good looks.
When it came to particular taste Frannie’s gravitated toward men who carried more bulk, with skin shade closer to expresso than honey glazed brown. And she preferred stylishly trimmed facial hair to a long, chin strap beard. Yet, Ejaife Godfrey managed to be the exception to the rule.
Irritated with the sudden desire to tease the curl of hair on his jaw, Frannie demanded, “Where’s the chairman?”
“He excused himself to take a personal call.” He jerked a nod toward the CEO’s conference room.
Following the head gesture, Frannie noticed the seated silhouette through the glass doors. “I’ve not had the chance to congratulate you on the Red Velvet Hotel project,” she said, determined to keep him talking. “It’s a big win.”
“Congratulations goes to the team.”
Ah, yes, he was a fervent advocate of team work and a huge team player. While it made him popular among the staff, Frannie respected more his work ethics and excellent supervision skills. He kept hawk eyes on every one of his projects, and delivered on them.
“Going through your budget plan, the twenty-one month mark created some concern. If the project’s deadline is twenty-four months, I do believe we can play safe with a projected timeline of, say, twenty-three months.”
“You do not think I was thorough in my cost budget plan?” He pinned a cool stare on her.
“That’s not it. I, as a matter of fact, find you to be very detail-oriented. I am only offering an opinion based on the natural possibility of a force majeure.”
“Then allow me to assure you that we regularly take such matters into cognizance. In this case, we’re targeting a nineteen-month timeline and rely on the extra two months to handle whatever unavoidable obstacles arise.”
“That assurance eases my disquiet.” Could he not sound austere for once?
She was saved having to make a complaint because the door to the conference room opened.
They both stood as the chairman and CEO of Ducal Enterprises, Igho Basil Duke stepped into the room. He cut an impressive figure in his senator-styled attire and wore an easy expression that sold the notion he was calmly affable when he was, in reality, a hard-nosed business man.
“I apologise for keeping you both waiting. Frannie.” He turned to her with a pleased smile. “I have to say good job on the alliance with Elkani.”
“We have an alliance with Elkani Mechanical and Electrical Contractors?” Ejaife asked.
“Thanks to Frannie we’ll be signing a formal contract this Thursday, and also a five-year finance alliance with Atlantic Capital Investments.”
“That’s impressive work, Frannie.” He managed to look impressed and remote at the same time.
“I believe it is.” She sent him a saccharine smile.
“On that pleasant note, let’s get started,” the chairman said, taking his seat and gesturing for them to do the same.
The meeting lasted fifty-five minutes. In her office, Frannie took her phone to check on her messages. The one from her girlfriend, Victoria, offered the invitation to join their clique of single friends if she had no plans for Valentine’s Day.
Frannie had intentionally not thought about Valentine’s Day the last couple of weeks. It brought back bad memories and she hated being alone on special days.
Roland wouldn’t be alone tomorrow. He would have Clara Ani with him, and they would likely do something special together.
Did Ejaife have a woman in his life?
The thought was so out of the blue that Frannie jolted, and frowned down at her desk. Where did that come from?
Apparently nowhere. But she’d thought it and wanted the answer to the question.
Did he have a girlfriend?
A woman he was engaged to, and would marry soon?
Or was he single? Like her.
Frannie reread the message with a considering expression. If Ejaife was single, as she was, and he had no plans, like she didn’t, they could be company for each other and not be alone. They did share that mutual sexual attraction. Chemistry.
One night together to have a taste of what simmered underneath the surface.
Frannie waited for the burst of laughter at the totally outrageous and insane idea. But it didn’t come. She didn’t laugh, or wave it off.
She began to give it a harder thought instead.
Her Love Story is available on: OKADABOOKS