"This is the garden." Tomilola said to the girls. She and the girls were killing the afternoon by touring the estate. At least the places Tomilola knew how to get out to and back from without getting lost.
"It's beautiful." Yemi said, stopping next to Tomilola.
"Well, look who's come to join us." Amaka pointed down the road, a sly smile turning her lips. Tomilola turned to see Demola trotting down the road. "Well, that's a surprise." Considering the way he'd been avoiding her, he was the last person she expected to see.
He trotted up to them, tipped his hat. "Ladies."
Tomilola lifted a single brow. "You lost, Demola?"
He smiled. "Nope. Charles said you planned on showing the girls around the estate. I thought you might appreciate a tour guide."
"Well, that was nice of you." Yemi gave him a big smile. "And you came just in time to see our race."
"Race?" Surprise flashed across Rose's face.
Tomilola wanted to groan out loud at the obvious ploy to leave her and Demola alone. But she didn't waste her breath. Yemi was incorrigible when it came to men and matchmaking. And besides, she could use the time alone with Demola to push her case. Make him see how stubborn he was being.
"Yes, our race," Rose said conspiratorially. "We're running over that top and down to that tree on the far side. Everyone except Tomilola, of course. She's judging, remember?"
"That's right," Amaka agreed, quickly catching on.
"If you ladies haven't ridden anymore than Tomilola, you might want to keep your race on the road. We'll be less likely to have to pick you up out of the dirt that way."
Amaka waved away his concern. "We'll be fine. This is tame compared to the stuff we're usually doing."
"Which does not make me feel any better." He grimaced, looking over the race course. "You're going to want to be careful on the sides of that road or someone could take a nasty fall."
"Not a problem. Come on, ladies." Yemi called, creating the starting point for their race.
The other girls joined her, Amaka hollered go and they were off.
Demola turned to Tomilola as they thundered away. "They're as subtle as a swarm of locusts."
Tomilola laughed. "Yes, but they have gentler hearts. So, you want to tell me why you really came out here?"
He tipped a shoulder. "Four daredevils, four cattles. I was afraid the four of you would cook up something that would get both you and the cattles killed."
She rolled her eyes. "So you came along to save us from ourselves."
"Something like that," he admitted dryly.
"Oh, come on, we're not that bad."
He pointed toward the racing trio. "You're that bad. Do any of you ever stop to think about the consequences of your actions?"
She sighed, knowing how he felt about the dare-devil stuff. "You think we're like your sister, don't you? Troubled girls looking for a way to self-destruct?"
He just looked at her. But she knew what that look meant.
"I don't think we are. Which is not to say the extreme sports don't fill some need for each of us. I'm sure they do."
His gaze locked onto hers. "What need do they fill for you?"
"I don't know. Triumph maybe. Excitement surely."
"That's a pretty sketchy answer."
"That's because you're looking for some deep dark motivation. There isn't one. My mom was pretty sick by the time I was fifteen. I was doing everything I could to hold our world together. But I knew it was falling apart fast. Knew I wasn't going to be able to save it. I could, however, take my bicycle and ride down the street. It was a small victory, but it was a victory - and I didn't have many of those back then. It was also fun and exciting, it was a good release. End of story."
"It means more to you than that, or you wouldn't still be doing it."
She laughed. "Well, it's still a good release. It's not like my life has been all that great in recent years, either. Remember, creepy boyfriends, dead-end jobs, classes I don't care about.
She'd never thought of the risks she was taking in the past. When she was younger, the bike riding had been fun - and she'd thought she was invincible. A few accidents and broken bones in her early teenage years had taught her that wasn't the case, but then the idea of the charity came to her and putting herself at risk seemed acceptable when she looked at the end result. Particularly since she didn't really have much to lose.
But now she had the Big W and an opportunity to make a difference in more than a few people's lives. And, of course, there was Demola.
She watched the girls race, heading for the inevitable trek downward, a frisson of alarm running through her. She'd been lucky to run into these women. They'd all added important things to her life. Wonderful things. The thought of anything happening to them . . .
She held her breath as they careered down the side, the girls rocking wildly. When they finally hit the bottom, all still on their heels, she breathed a sigh of relief. "So maybe I'll scale things back for future events. Maybe figure out a way to use the Big W. Not just as a financial base, but as a place to run the events. I'll have to think about it."
He shot her a knowing look. "Good friends, huh? Might want to hang on to them for a while?"
She smiled, watching the girls steak by the finish line. "The best. And now that we've solved the Angels' idiosyncrasies, let's take a closer look at yours, shall we?"
His expression turned dark. "I don't have any idiosyncrasies. I have a code of ethics that won't let me drag you into my mess. Looking at it closer won't change anything."
"Let's give it a shot, anyway."
"Let's not." He pointed to the cattles. "Those cattles are spent. They need to be walked straight back to the barn and put away. And since you seem to have finally grasped - at least in a fledgling manner - the idea of caution, my work here is done. I have to get back to my real job." Without another word, he led the cattles away,
Tomilola stared after him, irritation pounding through her. She'd had him in her grasp and let him slip away.
Man, she hoped she had better luck tonight.
"You look great." Rose brushed one more of Tomilola's curls into place and stepped back.
Amaka tweaked the ruffles at Tomilola's cleavage. "Oh, yeah, he sees you in this, no way he's going to let you trundle off to the bar alone. If he lets you trundle off at all."
Tomilola looked in the cheval mirror. With a trip into a boutique and a few things that had come out of her bag, Amaka had worked miracles. Tomilola was wearing a dark green, midcalf skirt, the crinkly, gauzy kind that had tons of material in it. It floated around the curve of her hips and swished softly, coyly, against her calves. With the flat, strappy sandals she wore, it represented the soft, feminine side of the outfit.
The strapless bustier top that nipped in her waist and lifted her breasts like twin gifts to the gods was the leave-no-man-standing side of the outfit. Its white cotton eyelet material played with her tanned skin, while the small ruffled edge that ran along the top drew a man's eye directly to her provocatively plumped breasts.
She frowned at her reflection. "I'm not sure about this. It feels. . .dishonest."
Amaka tsked, fluffing her own curls in the mirror. "There's nothing dishonest about making a recalcitrant man sit up and take notice. Nor is there anything wrong with reminding him he isn't the only fish in the sea. Or in this instance, the only "guy" in Lagos."
"He might not be the only guy in the state, but he's the only one I'm interested in. And . . ."
"And you said you've tried everything to pin the man down in the last week. . .to no avail," Yemi pointed out.
"That's true. But still. . ."
"But still, nothing," Amaka admonished. "Relax, will you? You aren't committing a cardinal sin here. All you're trying to do is make the man come to you long enough for you to have a real conversation, right? Long enough for you to convince him he's being overly sensitive about this ex-con thing, right?"
"Yes, But. . ."
"But nothing. Do you want him or not?" Rose asked, impatiently.
She did want him. And he wanted her, dang it. He was just too wrapped up in his skewed sense of honor to take her. Which meant it was up to her to make him see how wrongheaded he was being. She squared her shoulders. "I want him."
"Then let's go." Amaka waved a hand toward the bedroom door.
They headed down the stairs, Tomilola's stomach tied in a tight, aching knot. "What if this doesn't work? What if he doesn't come out of his house?"
"I saw his face when we mentioned dancing," Yemi said. "He'll come out. And if he doesn't, we'll go dancing."
God, Tomilola hoped he came out. If he didn't, the last thing she was going to feel like doing was dancing.
They made their way onto the porch, Yemi and Amaka talking in an animated fashion. Amaka turned to her. "For pity's sake, girl. Smile, laugh, make him think you can't wait to get to the bar and start reeling in hunkly men."
Tomilola forced a smile to her lips and managed a half-hearted giggle. But she was afraid the effort was futile. Demola's car was parked in front of his house, but the house was dark. "I don't think he's home."
Rose threw a covert glance in that direction. "His car's there."
"Yeah, but this is an estate. He could very well be out checking on the cattle."
But Rose wasn't fazed. "He could just as easily be hiding in the dark, watching. Come on."
They chatted in front of the girls' car for a few minutes. But nothing at Demola's moved.
Tomilola sighed, disappointment crashing over her. "If he's in that house, he's not coming out. You guys go on to the club. I'm going back inside."
Amaka grabbed her arm. "No, you're not. You're going with us. If he is in that house, watching, hoping you won't go at the last minute, we're calling his bluff. I bet he shows up at the bar by ten."
Tomilola didn't hold out much hope for Amaka's scenario. Demola had already told her he wasn't much for games. She was pretty sure he wasn't going to fall for this one. But the girls were looking forward to a fun night of dancing, so she crawled into the car, the night stretching out long and gloomy before her.