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Skyline





By







Nia Eze

Skyline

By Nia Eze

Copyright 2017 Nia Eze

All Rights Reserved.

Cover page Art courtesy of www.nairaland.com

Digital Edition

ISBN 9781370754441

Without limiting the rights under copyright preserved above, no part of this book may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means, (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright holder and the publisher of this book.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

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TABLE OF CONTENT

MEET THE CREW

CHAPTER 1

CHAPTER 2

CHAPTER 3

CHAPTER 4

CHAPTER 5

CHAPTER 6

CHAPTER 7

CHAPTER 8

CHAPTER 9

CHAPTER 10

CHAPTER 11

CHAPTER 12

CHAPTER 13

CHAPTER 14

CHAPTER 15

CHAPTER 16

CHAPTER 17

CHAPTER 18

CHAPTER 19

CHAPTER 20

CHAPTER 21

CHAPTER 22

CHAPTER 23

CHAPTER 24

CHAPTER 25

CHAPTER 26

CHAPTER 27

CHAPTER 28

CHAPTER 29

CHAPTER 30

CHAPTER 31

CHAPTER 32

CHAPTER 33

CHAPTER 34

CHAPTER 35

CHAPTER 36

CHAPTER 37

EPILOGUE

MEET THE CREW

ALERO BEKEREShe’s ambitious and driven. She wants what she has lived in the midst of all her life but never really had; affluence. The kind that seemingly makes you as impervious as an igneous rock

BANJO ADENIRAN Brilliant, scion of a legacy and Alero’s love interest.

EMILY OLAOYE - Lawyer per excellence. She is truly her father’s daughter.

KENNETH RUEBEN OKORIE - CEO/President of his own company and conglomerate and Emily’s love interest.

MAUREEN OKWARA - also known as Maggie by her cronies. She is an international model. BFF of Alero (the kind that will give you the shirt off her back, her family are long standing friends with the Adeniran family. She is very vocal.

OLIVER (OLLY) OKWARA – He is Maggie’s older brother and Banjo’s very good friend. He has had a crush for Alero for years even though he never did make his feelings known to her.

QUINN ROBINSON- He is Maggie’s fiancée and later, husband. .He caused quite a rave among her family and friends.

PATRICIA ADENIRAN - Banjo’s younger sister. She is soft-spoken and unassuming. She idolizes her elder brother but is intent on making her own way even though she had a very sheltered upbringing.

CHIEF MRS ADENIRAN (BANJO’S MUM) - is a widow and is reputedly a bit snobbish. She has had to bear down under the weight of circumstances. She is the Boss-lady in charge of the family’s chains of businesses. Her husband had been openly and spectacularly unfaithful to her during his lifetime. Life hasn’t always treated her kindly.

MAZI OKORIE - Kenneth’s dad. Extremely proud of his son, widower, single parent, never remarried. He paid the bills for his son’s success as a company man. He is a contented man. Enjoys the perks his son’s wealth affords him.

DR. AND MRS. BEKERE - Alero’s mum and dad. They have been married happily for just over 30yrs. They are proud of their daughter but also wary of the pitfalls of modernity on her behalf

ALERO’S SIBLINGS - Toritseju, Oritsegbegbemi, Oritsejeminetemi (also known as Toju, Gbemi and Temi) all idolize their big sis.

BOLANRE OLAOYE - Emily’s dad, solicitor per excellence, founder of chambers. He has never been married legally and enjoys his bachelorhood to the hilt.

CHAPTER 1

“He graduated magna cum laude from the American university he attended.”

“He. Is. So. Cute!!”

“Oh my goodness! They’re like…super wealthy.”

“My elder sister used to date one of their cousins.”

Alero placed a hand to her forehead. It was official. It she heard one more thing about the Adenirans and their golden son, she was just…

“Alero! I’ve been looking all over for you.” Maggie, Alero’s best friend for years and years scolded as she sashayed towards her.

“Was right here.” Alero smiled. “It was getting somewhat stuffy so I came out for some fresh air.”

Maggie cut her a skeptical look that communicated her patent disbelief.

“You were a bit overwhelmed.” She chided. Alero began to deny it but Maggie cut into her. “They are a bit much. You get used to them though.” She continued. “Give it time.” She admonished.

Alero shrugged her shoulders. It did not matter to her one way or another. She was probably not going to ever be friendly with the Adenirans. The only reason she was at this party was because she had been at Maggie’s place for the week and it would have been awkward to leave her at home while the rest of the family went out for the evening and so she had tagged along.

“Come on. I want you to meet Banjo and his sister. They’re pretty nice people so no worries.” Maggie said as she pulled Alero along, half dragging her actually.

Sensing that there was no escape, Alero relented and followed docilely feeling like she was being led to slaughter.

“Hey! You guys! Don’t you dare start without me!” Maggie yelled as they reached the group hanging around Banjo. It was a pretty exclusive circle of super rich kids. Alero had indeed met some of them before while hanging out with Maggie.

She had never really gotten comfortable with this clique. She had met Maggie on the playground of the nursery school they had both attended and it had been love at first sight for both of them. They had been best friends ever since. Over the years, Mr. Okwara, Maggie’s dad, had made a killing in the financial market. Money had become available to them in abundance and the Okwaras had moved up in life. They had relocated from the Average middle class neighbourhood where Alero and Maggie had grown and moved to the highbrow enclave reserved almost exclusively for the supper rich with the occasional high ranking government official thrown in. It was a testament to the love between both girls that their friendship had withstood the rigours of cross-city visits and the really wide change in their social status.

“Where did you get off to Maureen?” someone asked.

“Had to go get Alero.” Maggie responded.

“Hey Alero!” Mide, one of the guys sitting in a loose circle around the star of the moment hailed. She had met him a few times at Maggie’s as he was good friends with her brother.

“Hello Mide.” She responded, a shy smile touching her lips.

“It’s been awhile since we saw your pretty face around these parts.” He commented. “Asked Maggie after you and she was babbling something.”

That earned him a hard rap on the arm from Maggie. “I do not babble. And stop making those gooey eyes at my friend! Alero ignore him. He’s an inveterate flirt!”

Alero wished the ground would open and swallow her up right that moment as it seemed to her that all eyes turned to the ‘intruder’. The girls seemed to eye her up as if she were a potentially dangerous rival that had snuck up on them unsuspected while the guys seemed to look at her again just to be sure they hadn’t missed something.

“So you’re Maggie’s friend we’ve heard so much about.” A voice drawled.

Had Alero been told that a body could react sexually to a voice, she would have insisted that it was not possible. Her pebbled nipples would have mocked that belief. She turned slowly, mortified at her own body’s reaction to face the speaker. It was Banjo. She knew that. She had just spent about half an hour outside with girls that had giggled every time he walked by or looked in their direction.

“Ally, the dude here is Banjo.” Mide indicated with his thumb. “Banjo, Ally.”

Alero had to smile at that. Only Maggie and their families called her ‘Ally’. To everyone else, she was Alero. What did Mide mean by calling her Ally just now? She peeked a glance at him and he winked at her in response. She quickly averted her eyes back to Banjo, Adebanjo Adeniran of the great Adeniran dynasty. She had to disagree with those girls, he was not cute. Cute, was something two year old boys were and this specimen, was definitely older, much older than two years old. She began to smile a greeting at him when the look in his eyes stopped her cold. Gone was the drawling, charming young man and in its place was…disdain. Alero resisted the urge to look down at herself to see if her embarrassing reaction to him was on display.

“Hello.” She said coolly.

To which he responded with a nod and continued his conversation with his friends. Clearly, she had been dismissed. Alero looked around till she spotted Maggie holding court at a corner of the living room. The parents were at the swimming pool area at the back of the house carrying on with their own party leaving the young adults all to themselves indoors. Alero slowly made her way to where Maggie chatted vivaciously with her friends. For the first time in all their years of friendship, Alero felt resentment for her friend. The burn of the snub she had just been given seemed too much for her to bear. It hadn’t been the first time. There had always been subtle shade thrown at her over the years as she had become Maggie’s ‘tag-along’ friend but she had never let it get in the way of her friendship with Maggie. But suddenly it mattered! Oh, how it mattered and she had had enough of it.

She tapped Maggie on the shoulder to get her attention.

“Hey Ally. I thought the guys intended to keep you for a bit there. They all….”

“Would it be alright if I went on home…to your house?” Alero interrupted. Maggie’s smile immediately extinguished.

“Why? What’s wrong?” she asked, concern marring her beautiful features.

“I just…I’m feeling a bit dizzy. Perhaps I just need to lie down for awhile.” Alero finagled.

“Did you eat something…? Did something happen over there?” she indicated the group Alero had just left with a jut of her chin. Alero felt her head turn involuntarily and her gaze clashed with Olly, Maggie’s elder brother. The slight frown of concern on his face was the final straw for Ally.

“I can go on by myself. You don’t need to leave on my account. And it isn’t that far. I know my way home…to your house.”

“Ally?” Maggie asked her frown of consternation deepening.

Alero just waved away her concern and left. As she stepped outside, it felt like the slight breeze washed away the bitterness and pain of the burn she had just been dealt. She may not have realized it then, but in that moment, a few things shifted in her mind that would significantly shape her perspective of life.

CHAPTER 2

Alero’s laughter into the phone was pure joy. The thrills of shared mirth and happiness echoed back from the other end.

“Oh Maggie! I’m so excited for you!” she exclaimed. “Do you need me to pick you guys up?”

“And my mother will let you, how?” Maggie laughed. “Just meet us back at the house. Quinn will be glad to see you again. He couldn’t stop raving about you to his boys here. Actually, a few of them are quite looking forward to meeting you. You know I rub off on you in a good way.”

Alero felt the now familiar twinge that such comments elicited. She knew Maggie meant no disrespect but she couldn’t help but feel slighted.

“Okay, okay. We’ll see at house. Girl, it will be soooo exciting! I really have missed you guys.” She thrilled.

“And whose fault is that? Cancelling on me at the last minute like that. I should be really mad at you, you know.” Maggie scolded and then chuckled girlishly. “You know I can’t stay mad at you for long. Between you and Quinn, I’m just a sap!”

Alero looked up at the clock hanging on her wall. “Maggie I’ve got to go. I have a meeting in a few and if I hope to be any kind of prepared, I need to hang up now!”

“You work too hard!” Maggie whined.

“Says the pot calling the kettle black!” Alero responded sharply with a smile in her voice. “Love you girl! Keep me posted!” she said and made kissy noises into the phone before clicking the disconnect button. She shook her head wryly. Maggie could go on for days. That girl never seemed to run out of conversation fodder.

The intercom phone on her desk rang out and she picked it up even as she went through the papers on her desk. Her secretary’s voice came through. “Your 10 ‘o’ clock is here madam.”

“Oh. Ah…give me a few minutes and then send her in.” Alero instructed.

“Yes madam.” The phone clicked off.

Alero sorted through the papers she needed for the interview she was about to conduct and collected herself mentally. It was a huge compliment from her director that she was left alone to conduct this interview for a prospective hire. When she had joined the firm of architects and civil engineers, she had been not only the youngest but also the only female architect on the team. There had been a couple more female hires since then but they had not stayed on longer than a couple of years. It would be Alero’s sixth year with the firm in a few months and she was scrabbling to make junior partner. She hoped that by her tenth year, she would be a senior partner in the firm.

So many people exclaimed at how ‘lucky’ she was to be a part of Skyline Architectural. She scoffed softly. Lucky indeed! She had busted herself up to get to where she was today. She had no friends other than her family and Maggie and lately, Quinn. Every other moment was consumed with Skyline and her big dreams for it and for herself. If she had anything to say about it, and she had a lot, this generation would know Alero Bekere’s name before she was through.

There was a soft rap on her door followed by the sound of the door opening. A young lovely looking lady walked in closing the door smartly behind her. Alero put on a smile as she stood to welcome her.

“Good morning Ma’am.” The young lady greeted with a decidedly American accent.

“Good morning,” Alero peeked at the papers on her desk, “Patricia. Sorry for keeping you waiting a bit.” She indicated the seat in front of her desk as she took her own seat.

“It was no problem.” The young lady demurred.

“Thank you.” Alero said as she turned to pick up the file on her desk. “I have been looking at your submissions and I have to say, I am impressed.” She smiled. “Tell me a bit more about yourself.”

And so the interview began and lasting for the better part of an hour. Alero had been so rarely impressed by colleagues and the young girl seating across from her had blown her away over the course of the past one hour.

“If you ask me,” she concluded, “I’ll say you’re ideally suited for this firm but, the final decision is for Mr. Wanigo.”

Patricia nodded her understanding.

“I’d like to say, welcome to Skyline though. I have a feeling that this interview was just a formality. He seemed very impressed by you when we spoke earlier.”

“I’d be really excited to work here.” Patricia gushed before she could get a hold of herself.

Alero stood to shake her hand and formally end the interview. As she walked around her desk to show her to the door, Patricia turned to her.

“I don’t mean to be forward but I wonder if you know Maureen. Maureen Okwara.” She asked a surprised Alero.

“Yes, yes I do.” Alero answered wonderingly. “Do you know her?”

“Our families have been friends for years.”

“Oh really? It’s a small world.” Alero said.

“That it is.” Patricia responded. She made to turn and stopped at the last minute. “Will you be at her place then? She’s coming into the country with her fiancé this weekend.”

“Definitely. She’d probably be upset if I didn’t show. But how did you know I knew her?” Alero asked.

“You used to come to her house when we were much younger.” Patricia answered.

“Oh my goodness!” Alero exclaimed. “I am so not good with faces! Oh dear! Don’t tell me I met you there and then I just went and forgot your face!”

Patricia chuckled. “We never exactly met per say. I just used to come visit Jacinth.” Calling the name of one of Maggie’s younger siblings.

“Oh dear, oh dear! I’m so sorry.” Alero apologized.

“Ah! I wasn’t exactly…you know, we were younger, Jacinth and I.”

“I’m so not good with faces.” Alero reiterated ruefully. “So till the weekend then or maybe even before.”

“Thank you. Enjoy the rest of your day.” She greeted and walked out of the office.

Alero settled back down to work on her desk only to find that she couldn’t see properly as the light coming into the office seemed to have dimmed. She looked to the window and realized that the weather had changed to cloudy during the course of the interview. In fact, a good thunderstorm was imminent.

She stood and walked to window to adjust the slats that directed sunlight into the room. She wondered briefly how Patricia was going to fare if the rains started before she could exit the building. As she made to turn away from the window, she noticed her figure walking briskly towards a car that was parked in the visitor’s car park. A male figure got out of the car and enveloped her in a hug. They spoke briefly and Patricia indicated the building as she spoke to him. He looked up and Alero was glad for the slats that would shield her from his view. Adebanjo Adeniran!

She gasped in surprise as she watched him get back into the car and call out something to Patricia. The memory of the burn from that long ago day some ten years before skittered through her mind. Suddenly it clicked into place. Of course! Patricia Adeniran. She was his kid sister.

Alero did not know how she felt about that.

CHAPTER 3

Emily patted at the sweat trickling down her face. She had been trying to reach Banjo all day to no avail. It was either a busy signal or no response at all. She listened as the phone rang out for the umpteenth time that day.

She began to gather her things together from her desk. It was almost time to call it a day anyway. She would go by his house. If she saw him face to face, he would be unable to avoid her.

She had just made it to the door when it swung inwards to reveal her father with a thundercloud expression on his face.

“Good evening dad.” She greeted. “You don’t look at all happy.”

Her dad huffed and stormed past her into her office. She had no option than to shut the door and go back to her desk.

“Where you on your way somewhere?” he asked.

“Yes I was…going to go by Banjo’s place.”

“Oh. I had no idea you had a date today.” Her dad commented.

“No I don’t.” Emily replied “And you don’t always know when I have plans for the evening dad!”

“Says who?” her dad chided. “Believe what you may Emily but that’s not why I came to your office.” He slammed a bunch of files he had been holding in his hand on top of her desk. “Nobleson.” He announced with all the angst he could summon.

“Nobleson?” Emily asked as she came forward to pick the files from her desk. “What’s the problem with them?”

“None at all.” Her father said wryly. “They want these papers sent over to their office pronto.” He said.

“Why is that a problem? A dispatch rider can go deliver it.” Emily said as she browsed through the documents.

“Ordinarily, yes, however, this young man, the CEO, didn’t get to look over the contract before and so, he wants to review it now, when he has barely forty eight hours to do so.”

“This is for the petroleum deal they are entering into with the Asian company right?” Emily asked as she snapped the file she held in her hand shut.

“Yes it is.”

She looked up at her dad, a sly smile playing on her lips. “Aannnndd…?”

“Don’t sass me young lady! That young man gets on my nerves. I don’t know what he thinks he is, something precious apparently but I have had as much of him as I can handle for the week.” He complained.

“Daddy, you want me to go meet with him instead because you have a date.” Emily chided.

“Young lady, is this how you talk to your dad?!” her father’s eyebrows shot up to his hairline as he tried on a stern expression for size.

“Dad, I’ll go have this meeting for you but I really would need to go by Banjo’s today.”

“Has he been avoiding you again?” her father asked sympathetically.

Emily sighed. “I don’t know what to think.” She raised her hands up in bewilderment. “We…everything seemed fine! All of a sudden…I just don’t know!” she turned to look at her dad “Perhaps he’s just extra busy.” She said quietly, her voice clearly unconvinced.

Her dad shrugged and opened his arms to her for a hug and she walked into them for the comfort she knew will be waiting for her there.

“Never chase after a man Emily. We don’t respond well to being idolized.” He said even as he ruffled her hair.

“Aww daddy!” Emily shrieked. “Now I have to take the time to straighten it out.” She checked her watch as she hurriedly fumbled in her bag for a comb. “And it’s almost close of business!” she whined.

“Pfft!” her father dismissed. “Young man is a workaholic. He’ll probably be waiting still if you even took an hour.”

Emily checked that she had straightened her hair properly before replying. “We are professionals! We do….”

“Spare me the lecture.” Her dad said as he walked towards the door. “I trust that you’ll handle it excellently.” He paused at the door and looked back at her. “If I did not believe that, you can be sure that you wouldn’t be representing us at Nobleson.” He smiled as he stepped out of her office shutting the door behind him.

When she recovered from the surprise of that compliment, Emily danced a small jig to the thrill of satisfaction racing through her. ‘Legal Luminary, here I come!’ she thought as she walked briskly out of her office, battle ready.

CHAPTER 4

Emily shut off her cell phone. Again, Banjo had not picked up the call. She sighed as she checked her reflection in the rear view mirror one more time before exiting the car.

She looked up at the imposing building in front of her and took a bracing breath.

As she walked into the reception lobby and approached the receptionist, she could not help but admire the ambience of the entrance lobby around her. This was what she hoped that Olaoye and Co. would be able to afford in the not too distant future.

“Good afternoon. How may I assist you?” the smartly dressed receptionist asked her.

“I…good afternoon. I would like to speak with the president?” Emily requested.

“Do you have an appointment?”

“I imagine so. Olaoye and Co. Legal practitioners.” Emily responded.

The receptionist consulted the computer in front of her and turned to Emily with a smile.

“You do. In five minutes. Please use the elevator to the fifth floor. There will be someone to direct you once you get off.” She directed.

“Thank you.” Emily said as she made her way toward the bank of elevators tucked away at the end of the lobby. The receptionist barely acknowledged her greeting as she was back on the phone apparently directing someone else.

On exiting the elevator at the fifth floor, she was met by a dapperly dressed young man who asked her to follow him. They went down the corridor making a couple of turns before entering yet another elevator. Emily felt her eyebrows rising. She wondered at the reason for all the security controls. ‘Hey! Who’s after his life?’ but on second thought, she guessed one could not be too careful at his level of success.

The elevator noiselessly came to a stop and slid open to a wide space even more breathtaking than the lobby she had so admired below.

“Good afternoon Ms. Olaoye.” A genteel looking lady greeted in very cultured tones. Before Emily could respond to the greeting, she continued. “Your father had called ahead and Mr. Okorie is expecting you. This way please.” She directed. Soon, Emily stood in front of a wide double door, a little intimidated at this point.

“You may go in now.” The lady said as she turned and went back to her desk.

Emily rapped her knuckles on the door and walked into yet another beautifully appointed office. And oh my! The view out of the floor to ceiling window! She had been to this place a few times but had never realized that there was a large expanse of property at the back of the building. Someone had paid good money to have it beautifully landscaped.

She turned now to look at the ‘person’ who controlled the big bucks with her most professional smile plastered on her face. Her smile almost stuttered. She had no idea what she had been expecting but it was not him. He was…ordinary, almost plain to look at. He was not ugly but neither was he what you could call handsome. But he held himself with such dignity that for all his plain looks it somehow projected that you were in the presence of ‘someone’.

“Good evening Sir.” Emily greeted unable to help herself as she stared at him with undisguised curiosity.

“Good evening. You have the contract with you?” he asked. Apparently he was economical to the point of gruffness with his words.

“Yes I do.” Emily responded and moved forward to hand over the file she had retrieved from her briefcase to him.

“Please sit down.” He said. His voice was coarse and a bit gravelly. It was a distinctive voice and such a contrast to his physical appearance that Emily had to smile at it.

He remained standing behind his desk as he thumbed through the papers in the file. He then took out the first one and walked over to an arrangement of settees that faced out towards those beautiful windows.

“I’ll just go through and we can finalize this.” He said and proceeded to do just so.

Finding that he did not immediately require her attention, Emily turned back to admire her surroundings. The softness of the plush rugs that seemed to invite her to lie down, the marble that peeked through the scattering of those rugs, the huge ‘in-your-face’ desk which surprisingly looked like it was really a workstation not just an ode to ostentation, the artwork strategically displayed on the wall and around the office, she was sure she recognized the works of an up and coming local artist that was making a name for himself both locally and internationally.

She had not realized that time had indeed flown by until Mr. Okorie got up and walked back towards her.

“I…this should be fine. I made a few adjustments. Have it sent back to me for signing tomorrow. Before twelve noon.” He instructed as he handed over the file back to Emily. Emily glanced at her wristwatch and was amazed to discover that she had spent almost two hours at his office.

She got up, thanked him and made her way out of the office. She supposed that she should be bristling. Her father had made it sound like she was going to have to explain and argue some points with him but she found that her enjoyment of the scenery doused any irritation that she may have been wont to feel.

As she made her way down the elevator, she briskly went over the adjustments he had made. She had to admit that he was a keen businessman. He definitely seemed to know what he wanted and how to get it.

It had begun to rain while she had been making her way down and it was pouring cats and dogs. She would have to wait for the rain to subside before she could reach her car at the back of the parking lot. As she waited, it began to get dark and yet, the rain just kept pouring. She was just about to go in and ask the receptionist for an umbrella when the swing doors behind her opened and the lady herself stumbled out clutching a cell phone to her ear.

“No Sir. He hasn’t arrived.” She responded to someone on the other end of the line. “I’m outside sir.” “No, I can’t see him.” she sighed softly. “I’ll do that Sir.” She announced as she turned to stalk back into the building.

Emily toggled the wisdom of going after her in her mind and decided to wait out the rain. She sighed and leaned against the columns at the side of the canopied entrance.

“You are still here.” The receptionist said as she came back out of the building.

Emily lifted her hand to indicate the rain by way of response.

The young lady made some non-committal sounds that sounded like commiseration or something just as polite.

Her cell phone rang again and she picked it up.

“Yes Sir.” She answered. “I’m standing outside.” “No Sir. Just the lady that came to see you earlier this evening.” “From the law firm, yes sir.” “Oh! Okay…” she turned to Emily, “Did you come in a car?” she asked.

Emily nodded her head in intrigued stupefaction.

“Yes, she did Sir.” She listened for a moment and nodded. “Alright Sir.” She clicked off the phone.

“Please, if you don’t mind, can you wait for my boss to come down here?”

“Alright.” Emily shrugged. What difference would it make? She obviously was not going to make it to Banjo’s house this evening anyway.

In no time at all, Mr. Okorie was standing beside her.

“I was wondering if I could catch a ride with you?” he asked.

Emily peered at him in the gathering dusk to determine how serious he was. He was peering back at her!

“Ehm…Okay.” She answered dubiously.

Kenneth sighed. “My driver is stuck in traffic somewhere and I need to leave now.” He turned towards her more fully. “I really…can you help me?” he asked.

“Oh! Okay.” Emily said. Luckily, he had an umbrella with him which he opened and held over both their heads as they made their way to the car. It was while he tried to fit himself into her car that Emily came to a startling realization. He was a big man physically as well. Somehow, that had escaped her notice at the office.

“Ah…you’ll need to fasten your seat belt.” She admonished as she turned the ignition on the car. Kenneth scrambled around his seat a short while before he was able to snap the seat belt on. He peered through her windscreen and then turned to peer at her. A small frown appeared on Emily’s forehead.

“Is there a problem Sir?” Emily asked.

“No. Why?” he answered his eyes going owlishly wide.

“Ah…it’s nothing. Where do you live?” she asked in turn.

“Shoreline.” He responded looking back as she backed out of the parking space.

“I really do know how to drive.” Emily remarked in a conversational tone. He turned to her in surprise, a small smile flitting around his lips.

“Obviously. You drove yourself here didn’t you? And through rush hour traffic.”

“I just wanted to reassure you.”

He huffed out a small laugh and settled back in his seat.

“I would have wondered.” He said softly, his voice more gravelly for the softness.

“Wondered what exactly?” Emily asked amazed at her own boldness.

“If you were really Bolanre Olaoye’s daughter.” He replied.

It was Emily’s turn to huff out a laugh. “Indeed I am.” She smiled as she drove out into the street. She noticed him peering out the windscreen again.

“Why do you keep doing that?” she asked.

“What?” he asked an eyebrow raised in an expression so boyishly cocky that it almost made him handsome.

“Peering, squinting at my windscreen.”

He was quiet for a moment and Emily thought he was not going to respond.

“I forgot my glasses at home today.” He said and Emily turned in amazement to look at him. Fancy that! The Almighty Mr. Okorie was shortsighted! For some reason, it was so incongruous to Emily that she burst out laughing hysterically over it.

“And it’s amusing because?’” he asked in a mildly offended tone.

“Of all things, it was just the last thing I would have thought. Short sighted?” she hiccupped.

He did not bother responding to her, just turned back to look out the windscreen a puzzled frown and a small smile playing across his face.

CHAPTER 5

Banjo watched Emily's face for any clue of what she was thinking after he had finished his rehearsed speech. He had finally done it. He had been itching to do this for almost a year but had not known how to broach the subject. He had been surprised that Emily had not seemed to notice his gradual withdrawal from her over the past year but if her earlier questions and comments were anything to go by, she had. She just had not said anything about it.

"Emily, please say something." he entreated.

"What would you have me say?" she responded in a quiet voice, a wounded voice. They lapsed into silence once again. The noise of the party seemed jarring in Banjo's ear. He wished they were somewhere more private than at a welcome party at the Okwaras' for Maggie and her beau.

She jerked up from her seat and began to walk away. Banjo let her go. He did not know what to say to her and to be honest he was relieved that she was not creating a scene. He had fully expected her to throw some sort of tantrum. He leaned back on his chair and contemplated how soon he could leave the party. He had said his hellos to the Okwaras and especially Maggie and Quinn. He seemed like a nice enough man. He was happy for Maggie. She looked as though she were floating on a cloud.

"You have the looks of a man in deep contemplation." Olly boomed as he took the seat beside him. "Planning your escape already?" he continued.

Banjo held out his hand for a bro handshake. "Not exactly." he smiled, "Just thinking about the possibility."

Olly snorted and took a swig from the bottle he was holding. "So what do you think?" he nodded towards where Maggie and Quinn were chatting with a group of their friends or rather, Maggie was holding court and Quinn and all the others were just part of the retinue. Banjo smiled wryly. While Maggie was as lovely inside as she was outside, she was a bit much to take in one large dose. She'd go straight to your head like extra mature brandy. He hoped Quinn would be able to keep up. So far, he looked like he was hanging in there nicely.

"He seems like a cool dude. If a bit of a...it's not the right word but, dandified?" he turned to Olly as he shrugged wryly. He figured Olly would get what he was trying to say.

"Yeah." Olly nodded his agreement. "I wouldn't have thought he'd be Maggie's type."

Banjo pondered that comment for a moment and frowned mildly at his friend. "Maggie has a type?" he asked.

Olly gave him an 'are-you-kidding-me' look. "What do you think? Doesn't everyone?"

Just then, a pretty dark skinned lady joined the group gathered around Maggie and Quinn. Maggie's squeal of delight could not be masked by the thumping beat of the afro-centric music booming around them.

"Wondered when she would show up." Olly commented dryly even as he tensed in his seat beside Banjo. Banjo eyed him and took his tense posture and the tone of his voice in as he said.

"She looks pretty familiar. I can't seem to place her though. Who is she?"

"Ally. Alero, Maggie's friend." Olly responded a strange emotion in his tone as his eyes remained locked on the young lady even as she took a seat that Maggie had squeezed out beside her.

Banjo looked across at the young lady, her features falling in place with the memory of the young girl in his mind. Why had he not realized that she would grow up some, just like he had done?

He whistled his appreciation. "She grew up nice." he said as he looked at her sitting primly beside Maggie while the other went on about something, her mouth, hands and shoulders all moving in cadence with whatever she was saying. Alero was nodding and smiling and laughing out occasionally as she let her friend go on and on. She turned and smiled at Quinn including him in the conversation that Maggie was having.

"They are still friends then? I thought they had drifted apart when she stopped coming around." Banjo commented as he took his eyes away from her to look at his friend. He found that Olly had been watching him speculatively. There was something else lurking at the back of Olly's gaze but Banjo couldn't quite put a finger on it. He raised a questioning eyebrow at him.

Olly drew a deep breath and took another swig from his bottle. He shrugged as he got up from his seat and stretched his taut muscles. Olly had grown into a real bear of a man. He could be a teddy bear when he was in a good mood or a grizzly when riled. He was good looking though, and if the numbers that constantly flung themselves at him were any indication, he had the right pull with the ladies.

"I'm going over to say hello. You want to come along?"

Banjo shuffled his options with lightening speed in his head. Did he want to get sucked into Maggie's orbit or did he make good his escape now? Just as he was about to decide to leave, Alero looked towards them, apparently drawn by Olly when he had stood to stretch. Her eyes took in the picture Olly made as he stretched in his snug t-shirt and well fitted jeans. It was a fine picture. She looked at Banjo as he shifted on his seat. Her eyes had widened slightly and then she gave him a cursory once over and looked away disinterestedly, or not. There had been a sheen of something decidedly interesting in her eyes as she had flicked it away from him back to Olly. She smiled cheerily at Olly as he finally abandoned his friend and made his way over to her. It was her that Olly was making his way over to. Not the group, but her.

Banjo cocked his head interestedly and stood to follow his friend towards the group. He suddenly needed to see how this played out.

At another corner of the lounge area, another pair of eyes tracked them with unwavering intensity as they made their way over to the group.

CHAPTER 6

Alero listened with half an ear to what Maggie was telling her about hers and Quinn's holiday at the Bahamas with his family. She had been surprised to learn that she was as well acquainted with them as that. Apparently, she had gone over with Quinn for an extended stay earlier in the year when she had taken some time off her hectic schedule rather than come home to Nigeria. Alero wondered how her parents had felt about that but she made no comments. No need to rock the boat if the waters were calm enough.

She noticed when the fine specimen of male seated across from her stood to stretch and she turned to admire his physique. She was pleasantly surprised to see that it was Olly. As she watched him, she noticed there was someone seated next to him. She extended her gaze lazily to him as well. Olly had always had good looking friends. If Maggie had expressed her love for beautiful things by taking the fashion and modeling world by storm, Olly had done his own expression by way of his collection of friends. Olly had the most astonishing collection of eye candy as friends. Her breath hitched when she realized who she was looking at. She would have imagined that after the years that had passed since she had last seen him, she would have been...maybe mildly surprised to see him but not this shocked. It was the pain of the pent up breath she was holding that forced her to start breathing again. She removed her gaze from his as calmly as she could focusing on keeping her breathing even as she tried to focus her scrambled senses on something else. Her eyes latched on to Olly as he made his way towards her. She smiled widely at him in relief that was quickly replaced by tension when she realized that Banjo had unfolded himself from his seat and was coming after Olly.

"Hey Ally! So this is you?!" Olly's loud voice exclaimed as he got to them. Ally stood up as he reached her as was soon wrapped up in a warm hug. She sank into that hug and was overwhelmed by the feeling of nostalgia. In a lot of ways, Olly had been the older sibling she had longed for when growing up. There had been times when life had been pretty overwhelming to the shy, introspective girl she had been. Those times when she had longed for a not-so-older someone to take the pressure off of her and Olly had always stepped in where he could.

"You ran away from us because Maggie left." He reproved mildly as he slowly disentangled them and held her away to eye her critically.

"Yes, she's taking good care of herself." Maggie quipped from beside Alero as she dragged her back down to sit with her, answering the unspoken question his assessing look had seemed to be asking.

"I wasn't talking to you." Olly reprimanded his sister as he went to sit on the handle of a chair close to Alero. The female occupant of the seat squealed in patently feigned affront which Olly turned to assuage with a debonair charm.

Maggie's gasp drew attention to her again as she jumped up and went to say hello to some long missed friend who had just walked in leaving an empty space beside her which Banjo promptly slid into.

Alero stiffened as his sides bumped into her. She tried to look unaffected as she turned to him. "Hello." she said abruptly and turned away.

"Hello yourself." He responded sounding mildly amused. Alero turned a sharp gaze on him at his tone wondering if he was laughing at her. His face seemed bland enough and so she relaxed into her seat and proceeded to 'ignore' him.

"Didn't think you still hung around these parts." he commented as he leaned forward in order to make room for her on their shared seat and turned back towards her.

"Oh." she responded nonplussed for what to say when he continued to talk to her. "I still do from time to time." she said with a small, polite smile.

He nodded as he hunched over as if intending to settle into a long conversation with her.

"When Maggie is home." he said just as Olly interrupted.

"So Ally, what's happening with you these days? I hear you're the next big thing at that firm of yours."

Alero turned a relieved smile to him. "You heard from where exactly? Have you been listening to gossip?" she chided jokingly.

Olly scoffed at her. "Men do not gossip." he stated emphatically at which it was Alero's turn to scoff. They kept up the banter amongst themselves as other friends and acquaintances from their growing years joined in. Maggie and Quinn also found their way back to the group and everyone shuffled around to make room for them. Banjo remained fairly quiet by her side, occasionally laughing out loud at some of the funnier comments but not contributing much to the conversation otherwise. She had begun to relax when he suddenly tensed up beside her. She could feel his muscles go rigid against her.

"Hey Maggie, I'll be leaving now." a sweet, quiet voice spoke into the bantering voices. Alero looked up even as Maggie jumped up to acknowledge the young lady who had spoken. She was neat looking, was the thought that sprung into Alero's mind. She could not remember her from the early days, but then she had the sort of features that would not jump at you in a crowd. As Maggie led her away chattering a mile to a minute, she felt Banjo's muscles slowly lose their rigidity. She turned to look at him curiously but he was surreptitiously watching the pair of Maggie and the young lady as they walked towards the main entrance. She shrugged inwardly as she wondered at Banjo's strange reaction to the young lady who had looked non-threatening enough. She looked around the group and noticed that Olly was staring questioningly at Banjo who was trying hard not to look in his direction.

Presently, Maggie came back into the lounge and was hijacked by another group of departing guests. Alero checked her wrist watch and realized that the night was indeed far spent. She made to get up but was checked by Olly's voice.

"Leaving so soon Ally? I thought you were at least going to spend the night."

"Hah! In whose room? Madam over there..." she began only to have Olly stand and hurriedly put a finger to his mouth in a shushing motion.

"Don't let my mother hear. As far as she is concerned, her daughter is innocent." he reprimanded jokingly at which Alero laughed out loud.

He held out his hand to help her up from her seat. Alero took it and allowed herself to be pulled up.

"I don't have any change of clothes." she said.

"So? You can steal some of Maggie's. She probably won't even realize they belong to her." Olly said.

"Deceive yourself! Maggie? Not recognize her own clothes? You're just a joker." she teased as they walked hand in hand to find Maggie.

Banjo watched the pair as they made their way towards where Maggie had just exited. They were a fine looking pair. As he wondered if she would make just such a fine pair with him, he spluttered.

Where had that thought come from?

CHAPTER 7

"Coming!" Alero yelled as she dashed for the door wondering who could be leaning on the doorbell so early in the day. She swung the door open ready to tackle the person on the other side verbally only to see that it was Maggie, Maggie almost bursting at the seams with excitement. She brushed past Alero buzzing the air beside her cheeks as she stepped into the living room.

"Oh wow! Like these new furnishings." she said as she went over to a sofa and sat down.

"Good morning Maggie. Yes, I slept well in case you were about to ask." Alero chided as she shut the door and came over to join her friend in the sitting area.

"Good morning Ally." Maggie responded in dulcet tones. "And why wouldn't you sleep well?" she asked seemingly nonplussed.

"Have you really stayed so long in America or are you just being deliberately obtuse?" Alero asked coming to a stop beside the sofa Maggie had chosen.

Maggie made a dismissive wave with her hand. "I have gist!" she said excitedly motioning Alero to take the vacant seat on the sofa. Alero sat down curious as to what had Maggie so excited, not that it took a lot to set Maggie off.

"What's the emergency?" Alero asked.

"Banjo broke up with Emily." She announced with all the pizzazz of a journalist giving a Nobel-prize winning performance.

Alero squinted at her and cocked her head to the side. "And this is world changing news because?" she asked in befuddlement.

"What do you mean it isn't worl...okay, so not world changing but...IT'S A BIG DEAL!!!" she said as she stood up in agitation, paced a few steps and slumped back down on the seat. Alero shook her head in consternation at her friend.

"Why? People get together and break up all the time?" she said in bewilderment.

"Yes, people. But Emily and Banjo have been together for so long! I think they started dating as far back as secondary school! Everyone thought they would be thinking of heading to the altar any moment now and instead Banjo is breaking things off with her?" Maggie sounded as bewildered as Alero felt. She turned to look at Alero for confirmation that perhaps all was not right with the world. Alero stared back at her in confusion as to how she was supposed to react.

"Maggie," she began in a quiet, soothing tone. "It might have escaped your notice that I don't really know these folks all that well. At least, not as well as you do!" she defended at Maggie's raised eyebrow. "It's sad, I'm sure, what has happened but is that why you drove all the way from the Island?"

"Not exactly." Maggie sighed. "It was Olly who mentioned it last night and he said a few things that have me a bit bugged."

Alero settled into her seat. "Bugged? How?" she hugged a throw pillow to herself.

"Did something...? Olly thinks...argghh!!" Maggie groaned.

Alero burst out laughing at her friend's discomfiture. "Okay, out with it already." she said gently pushing at Maggie's shoulder with the throw pillow.

"Olly...you do realize he has always had this crush on you?" Maggie blurted out. Alero could feel her jaw drop in shock. "Really? You had no idea? And you'd call me obtuse!" Maggie chided.

Alero shook her head as if she hoped the action would unclog her brain somehow.

"Well Olly says that Banjo had just been coasting along in the relationship for awhile. That he had not known how to break things off with her. Okay so, he did at my welcome party. But now, Olly says he has been asking questions about you. You didn't tell me that Patricia was coming to work with you guys." she accused.

"It didn't come up." Alero defended even as her brain seemed to become even more clogged with confusion. "Why would he be asking after me? Did his sister say something to him?"

"I don't know. I thought you would have some answers." Maggie threw back at her.

"What sort of questions is he asking?"

Maggie eyed her cynically and said "What other sort? Is she seeing anyone? Did she used to date so and so? Those sorts of questions. Did you guys talk about anything like that that night of the party?" Alero shook her head in the negative her confusion mounting even as she felt a thrill go through her body.

Okay. So she was still as mind-bendingly attracted to the man as she had once been to the boy. Still did not make sense why he was asking after her.

"Ally?" Maggie called out. "Did you hear me at all?"

"No. What were you saying?"

"Do you think that he might want to ask you out?" Maggie repeated her question.

Alero stared at her friend in confusion. "I have no idea." she replied.

"Hmm!" Maggie frowned in thought. Just as suddenly her expression cleared. "Well, there's no need borrowing trouble. Let's see what is happening. It might actually be nothing at all." she said her voice getting more cheery as she went on.

"What do you mean, borrowing trouble?' Alero asked.

"Ah! Family issues. You know how these old moneyed people behave. They act as if their children can't ever, fall in love and marry outside of their clique. You should hear some of the remarks I have heard about Quinn. What do his parents do dear? Oh! Where exactly do they live? We met some really nice folks at the Polo club we stayed at when we last were there!" she mimicked the tones in which those questions had been asked. Alero did not know whether to be amused or dismayed. She knew Maggie well enough to know that she may have skin as tough as a rhino when it came to herself but for her friends and loved ones, her skin was as soft as a newborn baby. And she loved Quinn. Alero needed no further convincing on that score.

"So you think that should he be planning on asking me out, they would have a collective heart attack?" Alero asked her nerves thrumming with a tension that she did not want to examine too closely.

Maggie waved her hand dismissively. "Not all of them. But seeing as how they've been the sweetheart couple for so long...like I said, we are not even sure why he's asking those questions. It's just Olly thinks he might be interested? Don't know why I pay him any mind!"

"Because he's your brilliant big brother?" Alero teased at which Maggie scoffed.

"What's for breakfast? I left before I could have some and I'm hungry!" she said as she got up and walked towards the kitchen.

"I'm surprised you were able to drag yourself away from Quinn to get here this early." Alero said as she followed her into the kitchen.

"Wash your mouth! You want to give my mother a heart attack?!" Maggie jokingly rebuked.

"You can't honestly believe that your mother thinks that you and Quinn are not shagging?" Alero asked a naughty note in her voice.

"Hiahn! She doesn't know o! And we'd like to keep it that way please." Maggie finished on a mischievous smile. "I can see ripe plantain there in the store. Do you have the makings for egg sauce?"

Alero shook her head in wry amusement as she set about making breakfast. She figured she could as well make enough for everyone for when they eventually woke up.

"You don't get to stand there and order me about. Get your knife!" she commanded to which Maggie responded with a cheeky salute and a search for a suitably sharp knife among her mother's collection.

CHAPTER 8

It was a dreary Monday morning and Alero was quite cross at the weather. It had rained all weekend and had quite spoiled the plans she, Maggie and Quinn had made. They had less than a week left in Nigeria and Alero had wanted to treat them both to a fun weekend before they left. Her father had laughingly said to her, 'It's the season. Let it rain!' Alero still felt like sticking out her tongue at her father as she remembered his hilarity at her angst.

"Good morning." came the quiet greeting as Alero rushed into her office. She was a bit late and had less than fifteen minutes to prepare for a meeting. She turned to acknowledge the greeting in passing but came to a skidding halt when she saw who was greeting. Patricia Adeniran. It clicked in Alero's mind as she pasted a welcoming smile on her lips. Yes, she was to resume today. She had been marking the date for almost a month now, since her boss had told her that he had decided to hire her. 'Imagine forgetting all about it today.' Alero thought.

"Hey, good morning." she greeted cheerily. "So how...you know what? Let me catch up with this meeting. We'll talk when I get out." She said as she rushed on into her office. Time always seemed to speed along when you were short of it she noted. She had barely ten minutes left to grab her things and join the meeting. She picked up her notepad and grabbed a handful of pen and pencils that she kept handy on her desk. She was contemplating the sense in taking her digital notepad as well when Patricia walked in.


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