Her brows crashed together in surprise. "My father?"
Old anger ran through her. She shook her head. "You must have the wrong person. I haven't seen my father since. . .Well, I don't actually remember ever seeing my father." Bitterness sounded in her voice. "He sent me and my mother packing when I was two."
"That's not quite the way it happened." he said "And I don't have the wrong person. Your father's name was Wale Adeyemi, correct?"
Apparently, it had been. It was a little fact Tomilola had learned when she'd found the name Adeyemi on her mother's marriage certificate and Tomi's birth certificate after her mother's death, When she'd seen that name she'd understood for the first time why she'd never found her father when she'd searched for him under the name Wale Daniels. She'd also understood the care her mother had taken to make sure Tomi never came face to face with her father. And the only reason Tomi could think of for that, was that her mom hadn't wanted Tomi to hear with her own ears that her father didn't want her.
She nodded. "Yes, Wale Adeyemi is my father. Biologically, anyway. The old man certainly was nothing more than a sperm donor. I can't imagine why he'd be looking for me now. Unless..." She shot the stranger a hard look. "If he's after a portion of the Angels money you can tell him I don't keep any of it. None of us do. A hundred percent of it is donated. And my job as a waitress at the little shop where I live in Port Harcourt barely keeps me in living expenses. I don't h have much more money now than my mother did the day he kicked us out on the street."
The stranger grimaced. "Your father didn't send me to squeeze money out of you."
She raised a skeptical brow. "No? Then why are you here?"
"I'm here because I am the executor to your father's estate, and the acting chairman of his company."
The executor to her father's estate? The world tilted. Her father was dead? She rocked back, trying to keep her balance, but the room spun and her knees went weak, making her sway on her feet.
Demola rushed around the desk with a soft curse, his arms stretched out to catch her.
She quickly lowered herself into Segun's chair before he reached her. She definitely didn't need to add the stranger's touch to her already careening world. She held her hands up to ward away his help. "I'm okay, just..." Stunned.
He dropped his hands to his sides, but his gaze stayed locked on her, watchful, concerned as he stood beside her.
She closed her eyes, blocking him out. Blocking out his intense gaze and his concern and his overpowering maleness as she tried to sift through the emotions swirling inside. Like most kids with a missing parent she'd thought of her father often over the years. On birthdays, she'd wondered if he ever thought of her. Or if he'd wiped her and her mother so completely from his mind, he wouldn't even notice the day.
And she'd had the usual childish dreams of reunion. That her father would wake up one morning and realize what a precious commodity he'd thrown away. That he'd come after them, begging for forgiveness, begging them to return to his life. Promising he'd love them forever and ever. But mostly she'd thought of Wale Adeyemi in anger. Anger that she'd had to watch her mother struggle to keep them fed and clothed and have a roof over their heads. Anger that she'd had to watch her mother die far before her time because they hadn't been able to afford the treatments and medication her mother had needed.
And now this stranger had shown up with the announcement that Wale Adeyemi was dead. She didn't know what to feel. Didn't know whether to be mad or sad or whether she should feel anything at all.
She opened her eyes and met the stranger's gaze head-on. When she'd first seen the stranger across the room, she'd feared he would knock her moratorium on men off balance. Now she feared he was about to throw her whole world off balance. Her stomach tying itself into knots, she said, "I think you better tell me what this is all about."
"As the executor of your father's estate-and his friend-I promised to keep your father's spread running until the lawyers found you. And once they found you, I promised to bring you home."
"Home?" The word was a hoarse whisper on her tongue. "Home to the Big W. Your father's estate. Home to your father's company."
Her heart squeezed. "My father owned a company?" Demola Adenuga nodded, his gaze intensifying, becoming more concerned as he watched her response. "One of the biggest in Lagos."
Anger, old and true, began to gather inside her. "My father owned one of the biggest companies in Lagos?"
While my mother and I scraped for every meal we ever ate?
His gaze turned cautious. "Yes. But it's yours now. If you meet the stipulations in the will."
She laughed humourlessly. "Stipulations?" The bastard had washed his hand off her twenty-two years ago. Now he was trying to control her from the grave?
He nodded. "You have to live on the estate for six months, full-time, before it becomes yours. At that time, the deed will be signed over to you and you can do whatever you want with it. Keep it. Sell it. Burn it to the ground."
She quirked a brow. "That has a certain appeal."
"Your father wasn't a fool. He thought it might. But he also thought if you spent six months there, you'd come to love it. Love the work and the land. He said his blood ran in your veins, too."
A shiver ran through her. A shiver of pure outrage and revulsion. She pushed herself up from her chair and leaned across the desk. "The man abandoned his wife and child, Mr. Adenuga. I hadn't thought of his blood running in my veins, but now that you've pointed it out, a transfusion doesn't sound like a bad idea. As for the company, I don't want it. Not even to burn to the ground. Sorry you wasted your time." She straightened and strode around the desk, heading for the door.
"So you're just going to walk away from it? The estate? Your father's wishes? Your heritage?" His tine was calm, reasonable, but he wasn't fooling her. She could sense the tension in his body as he pivoted on his heel, tracking her progress. She stopped with her hand on the doorknob. Her heritage? Her father had kicked her and her mother out of his house - or off his precious estate, apparently - with nothing but the clothes on their backs. And the few times her mother had tried to contact him for help, he'd refused to take her calls.
Tomilola swung back to the stranger with a feral snarl. "That estate isn't my heritage. It's my father's attempt to salve his guilty conscience for throwing a helpless woman and her two-year-old child out on the street. His feeble attempt to keep the fires of hell from licking at his boots. Well...I hope those fires burn him to a crisp." She spun back to the door. But before she could slip through, the stranger's hand landed above her head, pushing the door shut again.
His body loomed over her, his heat soaking into her back, his breath rustling her hair. "You may want your father to burn to a crisp, Ms. Daniels. Hell, maybe you have that right. But before you make a rash decision based on nothing but raw emotion, you might want to think of the broader picture. If you spend six months at the estate - and still want nothing to do with the place - do you know how many boys just like that little boy you could save by selling it instead of burning it to the ground?"
She'd been about to send her elbow into the domineering stranger's ribs. But now she went still, his words knifing through her anger.
She'd had to stand by, watching her mother suffer through the debilitating and painful symptoms of MS because they couldn't afford the medicine to help control the disease. And she'd had to accept the reality that her mother had died months, possibly years, before her time because she couldn't afford the medical treatments that would have prolonged her life.
She hated the thought of others facing that ugly reality. It's why she'd started the Angels. Reluctantly, the tight hold she had on the doorknob relaxed.
Sensing her capitulation, Adenuga backed up. But he didn't go far. Definitely not far enough. She could still feel the coiled tension radiating from his body, still smell his spicy aftershave as she turned around to face him, tipping her head up to meet his gaze.
He watched her through narrowed eyes. He was playing dirty and he knew it. The tight line of his mouth made her think he didn't like it. But the hard core of determination in his eyes told her he'd play even dirtier if necessary.
But she was no pushover. She raised her chin. "You haven't won yet, Mr. Adenuga. How much is the estate worth?"
"If you sell smart, invest smart, a couple millions, maybe more."
"A couple millions?" the surprised exhalation whispered from her lips. Dear God. How could she possibly justify turning her back on that?
A wry laugh echoed through her head. As if she would have turned her back on the deal if she could have saved only one. She sighed in defeat. "All right, Mr. Adenuga, you've won. Where's this estate? And how do I get there?"
He pulled two plane tickets from the back pocket of his jeans. "Not a problem. I'll take you."
She stared at the two tickets in his hand. Well she'd managed to send the stranger right back to his range, all right. Only problem was, he was taking her with him.