“Nick, what is this you tell me?”
Camilla was staring at Dominic with perplexed eyes. She had lifted off the edge of his desk though and was gawking down at him since he remained seated.
“You are married?” The words tumbled out of her trembling lips. “You cannot be married! No, you cannot be married It is impossible!”
It was a rejection of a fact that bewildered, a denial of a truth that frightened. Dominic saw the confusion in her hazel-coloured eyes, the fear that trembled in them and then, the fury that was building up. He expelled a breath, pushed back his chair and stood up.
“Camie, let us sit and talk.”
He reached for her hand but she wrenched free of his hold.
“What is that ring you’ve got on your finger, Dominic?” She demanded, her voice rising a notch even as the fury gained place in her eyes. “What is this nonsense you tell me? Que droga!” She spat out in Portuguese and then followed the swear word with a stream of cusses.
Dominic sighed and strolled to the grey, linen Chesterfield sofa and lowered into it, leaned on its rolled arm and watched her as she poured out her fury with unspeakable cuss words and rhetoric questions, her hands flailing and demonstrating as temper surged out of her. She looked beautiful—as she always did—impeccably garbed in a dress he knew can only be designer-designed. She must have purposefully chosen this dress, Dominic mused. She must have chosen it just for today. Maybe it was even a new one, he had never seen it before.
Camilla liked to charm as much as she liked to seduce. She’d wanted to seduce him; that was the purpose of the deep plunged sleeveless snugly-fitted dress. She’d wanted to seduce him because he’d been away and had been ignoring her on his trip. She was afraid to lose him, Dominic realised that fact not with pride and pomposity but with a wash of pity and compassion that rose from the fact that he knew how shocking his news must be for her. He might not have really cared for her—not with deep, real emotion—and he wasn’t ashamed to admit that.
She was a beautiful woman, very much so, and he liked beautiful women and enjoyed the pleasure of being with a beautiful woman. But she hadn’t been the only beautiful woman in his life all these months either. A fact she’d known and chosen to turn a blind eye on. It had mostly been an amusement for him, seeing how determinedly she clung to him and refused to let go no matter how often he strayed. It had been amusing because he sensed… no, knew, that she was only looking to ensnare him for herself. She wanted Dominic Kojo-Edwards, not the man inside of him, but the name behind the man. Dominic knew that and had been partially amused to let her belief that she could win him over at the end.
It hadn’t been any hardship to do so since he had found her utterly attractive and had had an unquenchable passion for her for while—and maybe he still did, he mused.
Now she had lost him, lost the chance to play out her game and have him where she wanted him. That was the reason for her fury, and of course, the fact that no woman—or man for that matter—cared to be treated like a fool and left standing in the cold. It was why he felt sorry for her.
And allowing that compassion to take the wheel, Dominic decided to calm and placate her. “Querida…” He stopped and frowned even as he’d already lifted to his feet and was moving towards her. He called Kaine that now. She’s been the only one he’d been calling that for the last couple of days and he felt odd using same term for Camilla now.
He’d done so in the past. He was after all Brazilian and Brazilians are affectionate people. Endearments meant nothing much. Nothing extraordinary unlike with non-Latin nations with whom endearments depicted sentiments.
Yet knowing this, he still felt uncomfortable using same term for her, so he switched. “Caro, come let’s sit and talk. I guess I must have shocked you.” Though she resisted, he still managed to grab a flailing hand and hold onto it. “I was brutal in my announcement. I should have been more delicate… more sensitive.” He gently pushed her into the sofa and still holding her hand, touched her cheek which was now red from the force of her temper. “I am sorry I did not find a better way to tell you, caro.”
“There is no better way to tell me this… this terrible news, Nick.” Camilla’s eyes still sparkled with rage. “How can you do this, Dominic? How can it even be true? You were gone barely two weeks and you come back and tell me—you are married?”
Dominic sighed and dropped his hand. So, she will not be charmed into letting this go, fine. Maybe the truth will help. “I am told that love and marriage are not longevity-dependent.” He began with a teasing smile that was met with glare. “The fact is that I am married, Camie, it doesn’t matter how long I was gone or for how little a time I knew my bride before I wedded her. I am still married.”
“Then you just met her?” Camilla stared him through narrowed, searching eyes.
She was looking for the truth in his expression and so, he gave it to her. “Yes, I just did. I met her exactly ten days ago.”
“What!” Camilla sprang off the sofa, her fury bouncing back. “You met her only ten days ago and you already married her? Who the hell is she, Nick? What kind of a woman is she? What power does she possess that she can get Dominic Kojo-Edwards, the playboy-bachelor of the Cape Verde Islands, to marry her in just ten days?”
“Actually I married her on the third day of my knowing her.” He wickedly added that bit because she’d purposely insulted him with that playboy bit. He liked women and enjoyed being with them but he was not a playboy and hated to be called one, especially by a hypocrite like Camilla who’d enjoyed her fair share of men too.
“Droga!” Camilla exploded in Portuguese, trembling with the surge of fury. “I want to know who the heck she is, Dominic! I cannot believe that you just met… this woman and you already wedded her. Where did you meet her? Did you two connect here via Facebook or some online nonsense before you travelled to Nigeria? Where is she from? Is she the daughter of the President of Nigeria? Are her family billionaires you want to do business with?” She stopped her pacing, stormed back to the sofa and flung herself into it. “Who is she, Nick? Who is this woman that you had to marry her?”
Tears shimmered in her eyes and once more, Dominic felt the spurt of compassion. And maybe it was that quick rush of pity or the sight of her tears that made him say the next words… or maybe it was just that crave to give her the true facts, he would never understand why, but he only heard himself say.
“She was Tobi’s woman. They had a baby together and I had to bring that baby home with me.”
Camilla’s jaw dropped even as her eyes widened in astonishment. “What… what do you mean?” She finally stuttered out.
Dominic moved his shoulders. With the words out, he already regretted them but could not take them back. “My wife was my late brother’s girlfriend. They had an affair, she got pregnant but couldn’t reach him, had the baby and later sent him a mail. Mama and I saw the mail some weeks back and we knew if there was a Kojo-Edwards, a son of Tobi, out there, we must bring him home.”
“So, why didn’t you do just that?” Camilla was still staring at him with dazed disbelieving eyes. “If it was just about bringing home your nephew, why didn’t you pay her off and take the baby? Why did you have to marry her?”
“Because she would not accept a payoff.”
“Besteira!” Camilla snorted her disbelief of his reason. “You should have offered her good money. Money that she cannot resist.”
Dominic stared at her and realised that she really believed there was a price for everything, even a price for one’s own child. And it struck him that she was that much of a mercenary. He’d known she craved wealth and pursued it, but he hadn’t realised how much she craved it and how much she would give to have it. If she was in Kaine’s place, she would have accepted his offer of compensation… darn it, she would never have allowed herself to become pregnant let alone have such a baby, if she was in her place.
The realisation made him push up from the sofa as he suddenly needed some distance between them so his disgust does not spill forth.
“Not every woman is overcome by the desire to acquire wealth, Camilla.” He told her, walking back to his desk. “Not every woman would sell her child for whatever price. Kaine couldn’t bear to be separated from her son… she would not accept any price for him and so, we got married.” He slid into his chair, swivelled it around so he faced her. “I must say that I am glad that she proved herself a worthy mother for my nephew.”
The insult behind the words were clear and they weren’t lost on Camilla. She let out a hiss and rose to her feet. “You’re so naïve, Nick. You think because she did not accept whatever payment you offered her, she is some kind of saintly woman?” She let out a derisive laugh. “Gosh, you men can be so stupid! She just played you, Dominic. Why accept little money when as your wife she will have more, eh? Do you see her game now?”
Because that had been his thinking—and he still thought it every now and then—Dominic dropped his head and moved closer the file on his desk. “The fact is that I am now married, Camilla, and so, whatever is between us is over.”
“You are telling me that you want to faithful? You will be faithful to this woman you only married so you can provide a home for your nephew?”
He raised his head and met her scornful gaze. “A Kojo-Edwards only marries once—and I am now married. Kaine is now my wife and forever, she remains my wife.”
Camilla stared a long moment at him and then curved her coral-red painted mouth into a smirk. “You’re not the kind of man to be satisfied with just one woman, Nick. Especially when that woman isn’t entirely yours. And this woman isn’t really yours, she belonged first to your brother.” She sniggered. “You will never to able to stay true to her, Nick. Not when you still have me.”
And without another word, she marched to the door in long, confident steps, pulled it open and flounced through it.
Dominic dropped his head on his hand and groaned. Darn it, why had he told her the real reason for marrying Kaine? Why couldn’t it have sufficed to say that he was married and it was over between them? Now, she thinks she still has a hold on him.
Was that why he’d done it? Because he too still felt an attachment to her?
Confused and irritated at his confusion, he groaned again and muttered a curse.
“You have a beautiful night?”
Kaine stared at the maid who’d brought in medication and a sweetened drink she said cured hangovers. Catia—that was her name—and she seemed to be the housekeeper, though she looked quite too young for such a position and to manage such a large house. Kaine thought she couldn’t be older than twenty-five. She had a brown complexion and long curly hair that was packed up in a bun. She was pretty, very pretty in Kaine’s estimation and much too knowing too.
She frowned at the knowing gleam in her eyes now. “Yes, I did. I had a good night’s sleep.”
“But did not sleep much, no?” Catia sent her a wink as she slipped another dress onto the hanger and hung it up. “I know it’s not first night with Boss but still newlywed, no? Love is sweeter when it is new and men cannot keep hands off new, beautiful woman.”
“Ah…” Kaine’s cheeks flamed and heated. Were servants here this bold with their… what was she here anyway? Her real mistress was Mia and not her. And she didn’t even want to be anyone’s mistress for heaven’s sake.
“I see the night was too passionate for speech.” Catia let out a delighted laugh. “I understand, Brazilian men too passionate. They have much passion and know best how to love a woman.”
“Nick isn’t really Brazilian.” It was safer to stick to the mundane issue. “His father was a Ghanaian, you know.”
“True.” Catia nodded her head. “But Boss thinks himself more Brazilian than Ghana-man. And even Master—Boss’s father—he thinks himself Brazilian too. He lived long in Brazil before they come here, you see.”
“You knew his father?” Kaine recalled Nick saying his father had died eight years ago. Had Catia been here that long?
“I do, yes. I was here two years before he died. It was so sad because Master was a great man—very generous and always good to servants.” Catia’s expression turned sad but only briefly before the gleam and enthusiasm returned. “Boss like him too. He’s always good to us, never treat anybody bad but he is too much man… you know, too much of a lover.”
Kaine’s mouth dropped open. Dominic slept with the servants?
“Oh no! Not what I mean. Boss not my lover. Never has been.” Catia obviously noticed her shock. “He is Boss, you see, and don’t do that. I mean, boss loves woman… no, women—plenty women. He always has a beautiful woman with him. Some come here to dine with him and Senhora. Not many though, Senhora don’t much like his women. No good women, you understand? Too cheap… give body easily… so Senhora don’t like them for her son.” She made a face as if she too didn’t quite like such women. “But you’re different, yes? Senhora very much pleased. She’s much happy yesterday. Boss is at last married and to a very beautiful good woman.”
“Ah…” what should she say? Thank you? “I think we should hurry up with this. I want to go downstairs and check on Tobi.”
“Ah, little baby fine.” Catia assured, hanging up another dress. “He is with Senhora, no? Nothing happen to him. And Raquel there too to take care of him. No worry, Raquel very good with babies. She got many brothers and sisters, yes? Raquel from big family. I am from big family too, but only three brothers and two sisters. You come from big family, Madame?”
“Ah… no, no.” Kaine shook her head. “I am from a small family. It was just me and my si… my father.” She quickly amended. She had to be careful, the way Catia talked she could spill everything she heard from her to Mia or even worse, Dominic. “Maybe I should leave this for you to finish? I really have to go check on Tobi and make sure he’s not needing me.” She was already on feet and stepping back from the closet.
“You can leave it for Catia, Madame. I take care of everything for you, you have no worry.” Catia waved a dismissive hand. “You go check on baby but baby fine, I tell you. Still, go… a mama must always worry for her babies, no?”
Convinced now that the no? and yes? weren’t exactly questions, Kaine only sent her a smile and hastened for the door. She stepped out of the room and blew out a long breath. Dear God, what a talkative! And there was no sacred subject with her. Maybe she would have to set the limit. Maybe it was up to her to set the limit what they can talk about and what they can’t. Kaine didn’t know and wasn’t sure how to do it anyway. She wasn’t used to servants or even to having many people around her. She would see how Mia related with them and possibly, take a cue from her.
“Bom dia, Madame.” A dark-skinned maid greeted as she stepped down the last stair.
Kaine sent her a smile, not exactly sure how to respond. But she knew the greeting meant good morning because Catia had greeted her thus and had explained the meaning. “Ah… mama? Mama and baby?” She gestured wildly.
The young girl beamed a dimpled smile. “Senhora outside with baby. They in garden.”
“Oh, they are in the garden.” Kaine was relieved that she’d understood her. “Which way, garden?”
“Come, Nala show you.” And she grabbed Kaine by the hand and pulled her towards a side glass door with yellow wood panels. They walked down a long corridor as Nala assured her again and again that she see Senhora soon.
But before Kaine could see Senhora, she saw the extensive, beautiful garden and she was instantly dazzled. There were flowers and plants she’d never seen before everywhere and each one on a defined, straight line standing either inside a pot or sunk into the rich dark. There were crawling ones too and they rolled over their pots and floated down in interwoven strands. It was a gorgeous sight and Kaine drank it in, smiling as they walked down a stone-tiled pathway and towards the canopy-covered shed at the far end of the garden.
“Ah, you’re out of your room at last.” Mia sent her a wide smile as soon as she saw them. “Obrigada, Nala.” She said to the girl, who murmured some words in Portuguese, giggled and then started back to the house. “Nala says that new mistress is very beautiful.” Mia told her, grinning. “She is right too. I love the dress you have on, you do justice to it. Come sit with us.” She patted the space on the high-back bench. “Tobi and I have been getting better acquainted. Not so, little one?”
Kaine sat down on the bench opposite and watched as she gurgled at Tobi and the baby beamed and let out equally delighted noises. Catia was right, her little baby was just fine and looked like he’d been having a great time with his grandma.
“Good morning, mama.” She greeted now with a shy smile. “I’m sorry I woke up late. I fear I must have drank too much wine last night and so, overslept.”
“No need for apologies, we were celebrating after all. And I’m sure you two had some more celebrations by yourselves before going to sleep.” Mia was watching her with same knowing twinkle she’d seen in Catia’s eyes. “But have you had breakfast though?”
Relieved at the switch in topic, Kaine eagerly nodded. “Yes, I have. Catia brought up breakfast for me. Of course, I’m not used to being served my meals or taking them in bed and I wouldn’t have—”
“Oh, that is Catia spoiling you.” Mia dismissed her explanation. “She will spoil you and then talk your head off while doing so.” She let out a laugh. “I tell her she’s a parrot and I’m going to one day clip off her beak… but she never changes, the chatterbox.”
Kaine heard the affection she had for the young housekeeper in her voice and saw it in her eyes. And she knew that should there be a need for a set-limit, Mia wouldn’t bother with it. She was that generous of spirit.
“Are you feeling better though? Nick said you had a bad headache before he left.”
“Yes, I feel much better. The headache is gone.” Kaine smiled. “Catia brought me some medications and a drink she said cured hangovers. I mean… I wasn’t hung-over… that would mean I was drunk, which I wasn’t… I just had a headache from the too many glasses of wine…” She broke off when she saw the laughter dancing in Mia’s brown eyes. “I guess I am protesting too much, right?”
“You are. But I like that you have the good manners to want to do so.” Mia adjusted Tobi in her arms and settled back against the bench. “You know, I worried briefly if I was going to like you.”
“Oh.” She didn’t know what else to say.
“Yes, I did.” Mia smiled. “I wasn’t sure I quite understood your demands from your mail and I worried that you might be a woman after money. But you aren’t, are you?”
Kaine met the eyes that studied her closely. “No, mama, I am not after money. I am not concerned with money… yes, I always dreamed of making my own money one day but not by sponging off people or by selling off my son.”
“And you didn’t—sell off your son, I mean. And knowing you’d rejected the compensation we were willing to offer, I finally became convinced that you’re a good girl… a good woman. A woman with morals. And I saw how my little boy could have fallen for you.” Her smile turned a little sad. “Tobi always loved beautiful ladies, like his brother and his father.” She rolled her eyes suddenly and laughed. “They’re Casanovas until you capture their hearts and then, they love only you and their gaze remain forever steadfast on you.”
Kaine wondered what it will be like to capture Dominic’s heart, to have his gaze rest steadily on her. And because she felt embarrassed at thinking such before his mother, especially with the true reason behind their union, she made an indistinct murmur and sent her a small smile.
“Love will come, you know.” Mia said now. When she looked at her, she inclined her head. “Yes, it will come. I know this marriage was spontaneous, sudden and not really for the right reason. But love comes, whatever the reason for a union. Love comes if we give it the chance to come. You want to learn how to love my son, Kaine?”
“Ah…” Did she? “I want to get along with him. I want us to have a good relationship. I guess that is important in marriage.”
“Avoiding a direct response, I see.” Mia chuckled. “It could mean many things but I believe it means that you’re still trying to know the man you have married. That is good. But do not harden your heart. Open it, give love a chance… give Nick a chance.” She hefted Tobi up and settled him against her shoulder. “Now, let’s go inside, I’ll show you family photos. Show you when Nick was a little boy and Tobi too and we’ll have some chocolate and gossip like women love to do.” She sent her a wink as she strolled ahead.
Kaine followed her and wondered if she exactly wanted to gossip. She enjoyed a good gossip—she was a woman after all—but how can you gossip and keep up with your lies? Especially with someone so open and friendly like Mia?
Dear Lord, she was in trouble with these many lies. God give her wisdom!
*** ~~~ ***
Que droga!: Goddamn it!
Droga!: Damn it!
Caro: Dear (my dear).
Bom dia: Good morning.