Demola let her go, his arms suddenly cold and empty. She'd felt so right there. So damned right. He could have held her all night. Just held her.
A ruthless laugh echoed through his head. Yeah, right. He could have kept her in his arms all night, no problem. But holding would have turned into something much more active before long. And that was a trait he couldn't go down. Not with Tomilola Daniels.
She already had enough complications in her life; she didn't need more. And sleeping with him was loaded with complications. So he let her go and promised himself he'd keep his comforting on a verbal level from now on. Safer for both of them. He watched her stride toward the sofa where he'd dumped her bag. She swiped at the tears wetting her cheeks. "I'm sorry, I don't know what got into me. Hysterical, crying female isn't usually my style." Her voice was soft, embarrassed.
He didn't want her to be embarrassed. Didn't want her to think she had to hide her emotions from him. "Don't be silly, you've had a trying twenty-four hours." She hung her hands on her hips, staring at the mess her outburst had created. "God, you must think am a meniac."
"I think you're tired and sad and angry."
She expelled a long, shaky breath. "Yeah, I am. And with that in mind - " She picked up her bag. "I think I'll head upstairs.. Those are the bedrooms up there, right?" She pointed to the doors lining the back balcony wall.
"Yep, take your pick."
She waved a hand toward the front door. "Come on I'll walk you out."
"Go on to bed, I'll stay and clean up the glass."
She shook her head. "I clean up my own messes, Demola. "I'll get it tomorrow morning. Now go on, I'm tired." She shooed him toward the door.
He strode across the marble floors, his boots echoing in the room He wasn't thrilled about the idea of leaving her alone all night. Not as upset as she was. But short of camping out on the living room sofa, something he was sure she'd be just tickled pink about, he didn't have much choice.
At the door's threshold he hesitated, looking back to her. "If you need anything, my number is one on the speed dial. Don't be afraid to call, any time of the night. I'm a light sleeper and I'm right across the road."
She nodded, a faint smile turning her lips. "Got it. Good night."
He closed the door behind him and strode toward the house he'd lived in for the last several years. The small log house that had been Wale's original home stead. Halfway there, he stopped and turned back to the big house. He imagined Tomilola in the bedroom, unpacking her bag, getting ready for bed.
She'd looked tired, beat, when she'd closed the door on him. Like she was holding on to her poise by the barest of threads. And he suspected she was. With good cause. She believed her father had not only abandoned her and her mother, but hung them out to dry during their most desperate hours.
It was a belief he was going to have to straighten out. But it wasn't going to be easy. Or fun. Showing Tomilola that the parent who'd raised her, the parent she'd obviously loved so dearly had been the one keeping them in poverty, the one who'd lied to her all these years, was going to take everything she believed to be true and shred it to pieces.
His gut clenched. He was good at shredding people's lives. But putting them back together? A cold sweat broke out on his palms. God knew, he hadn't been able to put his sister's life back together. He'd only taken a bad situation and made it worse. Far, far worse.
He clenched his fists and stared up at the stars appearing in the sky. "If there's a heaven up there, Mr. Adeyemi, and you're in it, you had better be paying attention." His voice echoed fiercely as dusk faded to night. "I don't save damsels in distress, dammit. If you want me to tear this girl's life up, I expect you to be around to help put it back together."
The next morning, Tomilola flipped off the water in the fancy, glass-brick enclosed shower. After the last day and a half of extreme sports, mad travel and emotional turmoil, she was drained. She'd hoped a hot shower would revive her. But she still felt physically exhausted and emotionally bruised.
She stepped out of the tile-and-glass cubicle, the house's air-conditioning bringing goose bumps to her skin. She grabbed the towel hanging on the brass rack and started to towel herself dry, shaking her head at the ridiculously thick folds of terry cloth. The obvious wealth surrounding her made her angry and uncomfortable. She wanted out of this house. The need to run from its opulence had pushed at her all night long. But she didn't know where to go.
A walk had seemed like a good idea around mid-night. But when she'd stepped out on the porch and discovered there were still a few cowboys strolling between the corrals, she'd retreated back into the house. She hadn't been up to facing more men like Demola. Men who were loyal to her father. Nor did she want to see them this morning. She pulled on her panties and hooked her bra. She needed a day to regroup. A day to let the emotions swirling inside her settle before her head exploded and she did something she'd really regret. Like burn down this house and the rest of the ranch with it. She headed out of the bathroom into the adjoining bedroom.
The sound of male voices drifted through her closed door. She stopped in her tracks, looking over toward the wooden portal. Was someone in the house? No. Surely not.\
But the voices certainly sounded like they were coming from downstairs. She quickly strode to the bed and pulled on the jeans and shirt she'd laid out. The tinkle of broken glass filtered through the door.
Oh, man. Someone was in the house.
Forgoing shoes, she padded out of the room to the narrow balcony that ran in front of the upstairs rooms and peered over the railing. Two guys were working diligently to clean up the mirror she'd shattered last night. One crouched low, holding a dust pan, while the other swept the broken glass in it. She didn't know the guy pushing the broom, but she recognized the broad back f the one holding the dustpan. "I thought I told you I clean up my own messes."
Both men looked up.
Demola straightened and turned to her, dustpan in hand. "And I would have let you, but then Charles showed up and he's never been able to let a mess sit."
She shifted her gaze to the man standing behind Demola. He had neither Demola's height nor mass, but there was a bearing to him, a quiet confidence, that required neither to make his presence known. His six-foot frame was broad-shouldered, narrow-hipped and lean. The face that went with it, finely chiseled and, except for a scar arcing through one brow, classically handsome. She imagined he'd turned more than one woman's head,
But she wasn't interested in his good looks. "And what were you doing in the house, Mr. Charles? Did my father have an open-house policy? Anyone could wander in at will?" Despite her intention to keep her voice even, a bit of challenge sneaked in.
The man's expression turned sheepish. "My apologies. It wasn't my intention to disturb you. Your dad did have an open-door policy for the men who had regular business with him or needed access to the estate's offices. I take care of the company's books." He waved a hand to the wall beneath the balcony. "I didn't stop to think you might want to change that policy." His accent wasn't as deep as Demola's; but he was obviously not a native. But he'd been here awhile. And she was no doubt stepping on his toes. She was the interloper here. The one who didn't belong. She plowed her fingers through her hair. "I won't be here long enough to change anything, Mr. Charles. Feel free to go about your business. But, please, leave the mirror where it is. I'll put on some shoes and clean it up."
"Forget the mirror for now," Demola said. "You can clean it up later. I thought you might like an early morning ride. A little fresh air to clear your head."
"I have no objections to that. Give me a minute to get dressed." Tomilola said, leaving the two men and returning almost immediately.
Charles put out his hand just as she was about to stride past. "I just wanted to say welcome to the estate, Miss Adeyemi. And offer my condolences for the loss of your father."
She tromped on the urge to tell the man she didn't need any condolences, but she wasn't up for that fight this morning. She shook his hand. "Thank you, Mr. Charles, I appreciate the sentiment. But it's Daniels. Tomilola Daniels." She followed Demola out the door, pulling it close behind her.
As she strode over to where Demola was standing in front of the horses, she glanced inside the house. Charles was standing where they'd left him, his gazed fixed on the broom leaning against the wall by the shattered mirror. She shook her head. "He's not going to leave that mirror for me to clean up, is he?"
Demola shrugged. "Probably not. Charles has this thing about order. But a little clean up won't kill him, so quit worrying about the mirror and pay attention.
As they got farther from the buildings, she began to relax and enjoy the view around her. And the scenery directly in front of her . . .
She smiled, studying Demola. His shirt pulled tight across his shoulders, accenting their broadness and defining the hard muscles of his arms and back. Was there anything more sexier than Demola?
Not on this planet. And with each step they took away from the estate, she became more aware of that insidious little fact. More aware of the man in front of her. His quiet strength and the sexual tension that crackled around him like heat lightening gathering for a storm. She shook her head. No doubt about it, the devil had his tempt-the-sex-starved-woman down to a fine, fine art.
She closed her eyes, struggling to block out the images of Demola streaming through her head. Images of those lean hips rocking against her. But it wasn't easy, and as they got farther and farther from the estate, closer and closer to the moment when they would slip around the base of the hill and find themselves alone, the thought got harder and harder to control. Maybe coming on this ride hadn't been such a good idea, after all.
She peeked over her shoulder, gazing back at the estate. The men working in and around the corrals were still visible. She looked over to her father's house, its giant glass windows glinting richly in the early morning rays, shouting money and power and brutal betrayal. Nothing but tortuous reminders for her there.
She gritted her teeth. It was going to be a long, long six months.