Demola sat on the 747, his seat belt buckled, his hat resting on one knee, waiting for Tomilola to show up for the 9:00am flight. After he'd spoken to her yesterday afternoon, she'd demanded he hand over her ticket and told him she'd see him on the plane. She had a lot to think about, she'd told him, and she didn't want any disturbances or distractions while she did it.
He hadn't liked the idea, but when he'd tried to reason with her, convince her that he should stay close in case she had any questions, she'd made it clear his presence anywhere near her was a deal breaker. So he'd left the lodge and headed back to his hotel, where he'd spent the rest of the day and most of the night wondering if she'd show up this morning.
It wasn't looking good.
He glanced at his watch. The plane was scheduled to take off in ten minutes, which meant they'd be shutting the hatch and taxiing to the runaway any minute. And Tomilola still wasn't here.
If she didn't show up soon, he'd have to leave the flight to chase her down, which, since he'd been stupid enough to check his damned duffel, would no doubt raise a thousand red flags with airport security. He'd probably find himself locked in a room with ten burly guards determined to prove he was a big terrorist.
He glanced at his watch. Again. Come on, Tomi. Don't let me down. I have an aversion to burly guards with an agenda.
Just as he was preparing to stand up and walk off the plane. Tomilola strode on.
He watched as she made her way down the aisle, doing her best to keep her small bag and purse from bumping the seated passengers. Her shoulders were slumped, a dead giveaway that she'd had a long night. And the slight red rim to her eyes told him she'd spent at least part of it crying. Damn. He wished he knew a little about her so he could make this easier for her. Unfortunately, beyond the fact that her mother had died seven years ago, he didn't know a damned thing.
Tomilola finally made it to her seat - the one right next to him. She acknowledged him with a short, curt nod, stowed her bag in the overhead and sat, her shoulder brushing his. His body completely overreacted to the casual touch, heat and need surging through him. He closed his eyes, ruthlessly stomping on the futile response. A response that would make the next six months damned uncomfortable if he didn't get a handle on it. And soon.
As if sensing his reaction Tomilola shifted positions, moving to the far side of her seat, disconnecting their shoulders. The move didn't surprise him. He knew she felt the sexual awareness that arced between them, too. He'd seen the interest in her gaze when she'd spotted him across the room. Felt the throbbing pulse of intimacy that had enveloped the office when she'd shut the door. Luckily, for whatever reason, she was ignoring the attraction as studiously as he. Staring straight ahead, she drummed her fingers on the seat's plastic's arms. She was wound tighter than a rattler ready to strike. And he was pretty sure the energy snapping between them wasn't the only thing responsible for her obvious case of nerves.
He turned to face her, ready to take the bull by the horns. "Long night?"
She looked at him, raising a single delicate brow. "Did you expect anything else?"
"No," he admitted. "That' why I wanted to be on hand. In case you had questions. Or just needed someone to talk to."
"What I really needed was someone to scream at."
Her lips twisted unhappily. "Or punch."
He checked the smile that pulled at his lips. Her dad hadn't seen her since she was two, but he'd known her pretty well. Wale had dreamed of finding his daughter and having her run into his arms, thrilled to be united with her old man again. But he'd told Demola on more than one occasion that as much a he wanted that to happen, he didn't expect it to.
"The first time she see me she'll probably want to tear my heart out." Wale had told him once. And when Demola asked why, Wale had just shrugged, and said, "Are you kidding? I don't know what her mom has been saying about me all these years, but considering everything, I doubt it's been good. The fact that I've never heard from either of them pretty much bears that out. And, of course, whether their lives have been good or bad, there's the little fact that I haven't contributed a damned thing to it. She'll want her pound of flesh for that."
It looked like Wale was right. And because Demola knew the old man thought she deserved that pound of flesh, he hooked his thumb toward the back of the plane. "Would you feel better if you took me in the back and pummeled me for a while?" Not that he couldn't think of a far more enjoyable way to dispel the tension in her, but. . .
Not an option.
She shot him a dry, challenging look. "What if I said yes?"
"When the plane's in the air and the seat belt light goes off I'll be happy to oblige. I can't guarantee the hostesses won't round us up, open the hatch and toss us out. Or that our fellow passengers won't perceive a threat and beat us to death, but I'm willing to give it a try."
One of her brows arched in surprise. "My, my, my, you must be a loyal dog. The old man's dead and you're still willing to take a beating for him."
There was a time when her dog comment would have gotten her a fight. He wasn't sure that wasn't her intention now. But he'd learned the hardest way imaginable that anger just dug whatever hole you were in deeper. Besides, he was a loyal dog. Wale had pulled his sorry self out of a deep, deep hole when everyone else was shoveling dirt on top of him. He owed the man.
He shrugged and shot her a teasing smile. "I don't know that it's a very good test of my loyalty, I don't imagine you hit very hard."
She huffed. "Don't bet on it. Right now I feel like I could knock out a trailer."
He did a quick survey of her slight five-foot-four inch frame. Her small hands. Not a chance in hell. But he didn't dismiss her anger so easily. Anger, he knew, masked pain. If she was ready to take on the heavy-weight champ, she was obviously in a world of hurt. And how could she be anything else? She believed her father had abandoned her.
"Look, Tomilola, there's a lot you need to hear about your mom and dad. About their marriage. About their breakup."
Anger flashed in her eyes. "How would you know anything about my mother and father's breakup? Were you there?"
"No. But I know what your father told me. And. . ."
"And I know what my mother told me. And trust me, if I'm going to believe anyone's story, it's going to be hers." Dark shadows skidded across her green eyes. "She might have had her faults, but at least she didn't abandon her child. She didn't throw me out to fend for myself on a dark, rainy night with nothing but the clothes on my back."
Neither had her father. But the path to that truth was so long and filled with ugly patches. With other passengers already starting to glance in their direction, now wasn't the time to try to get down it. "This isn't the time or place to discuss this. But you have to realize there are two sides to every story. You ought to at least hear your father's perspective on what happened all those years ago. Then you can decide where the truth lies. My guess is you're going to find it in the middle of the story that your mother told you and the story Wale told me."
She shook her head. "I'm not interested in Wale Adeyemi's excuses, Adenuga. I know where the truth lies. I lived it as a child growing up. The only thing that interests me is how much money I'll make selling the old man's estate."
Wale had stipulated she could sell the estate after six months, but it sure as hell hadn't been his intention. He'd wanted his daughter to fall in love with the Big W. He'd wanted her to stay on the place, learn to run the company and someday get married and raise her children there. And somehow, Demola had to lead her to that decision.
And not just for Wale. The dark shadows in Tomi's eyes, the turmoil he felt boiling in her told him Tomilola needed the Big W as much as any of the workers on it need it. For many of them, it had been a saving grace.
"So, how big is this place?" Tomilola asked.
He pulled his thoughts from his musings. "The Big W?"
"Two Thousand acres."
Her eyes went wide. "Wow. That is big. That ought to bring in lots of money."
He tipped his head. "As I said, one of the biggest in Nigeria."
She shot him a skeptical glance. "You've been running the company since my father's death, right?"
"Yes, but I'm not the boss, you're the boss now. It's your job to make sure everything is running smoothly."
"Fine. As your boss I'm instructing you to keep on as you have since my father's death, making the best decisions for the company without consulting me or waiting for any decision on my part whatsoever." She shot him a sugary sweet smile. "Any questions?"
He shot her a saccharine smile of his own. "Just one. Do you really think I'm going to let you sit on your cute little derriere while everyone else at the company works their tail off?"
She smiled that sugary sweet smile again. "Of course I do. I'm the boss, right?"
"Well, there's no such thing as a nonentity. Within days of your arrival everyone will know everything there is to know about you. And they're going to expect you to pitch in and work, just like they are. Your father might have been the owner of the company, but he worked just like everyone else."
"Well then, Mr. Adenuga," she said in a voice almost as syrupy sweet as her smile. "You can bet your own cute little derriere that I will let myself be skinned alive before I lift so much as a finger on anything that has to do with work." She snatched the hat from his knee, leaned back in her chair and placed the black hat over her face.
He leaned back in his own chair, stifling a groan. Perfect.
Just damned perfect.