Andrew Shaka, Dru to his circle of friends, swirled the Merlot in his glass for what seemed like the umpteenth time as he laid back on his seat and tried to focus on the thoroughly spirited conversation at hand on his table. Usually he was a natural at these charitable social events. So much so that he had been labelled the charming sweet-talker. It really was a gift.
BookSmart, a charity whose Dru’s company Shaka Enterprises was a major benefactor, was holding its annual black-tie dinner – a fund raiser that dripped opulence to raise adult literacy awareness – in the ballroom of Westland’s Jacaranda Hotel. The chandeliered ballroom was decorated in magnificent drapery and LED lights finishing off a splendid and intimate overall look.
On this particular day however his wit for all intents and purposes, had totally abandoned him. His tongue felt heavy and for all the buzz surrounding him in the hotel’s ballroom, he felt brutally alone, stuck in his head’s machinations. Unbeknown to him, he was on his fifth glass of wine.
He frowned at the wayward stray of his thoughts. He should have been in his element setting a prime example yet his eyes drifted again to the striking lady across the room posturing at the entrance like she were the prized Monalisa piece to be bestowed all adoration. He guessed he shouldn’t be surprised that the tenacious and resourceful Jane was donating her time to raising literacy. She was an award-winning journalist after all. And it naturally figured she’d be shimmering in a satiny green fitting strapless dress. He couldn’t miss her if he tried. And he surely wasn’t doing much trying.
And it wasn’t just him. In true Jane fashion, she drew attention to her like a moth to a flame and she soaked it all up like a sponge. Her deliberate form-fitting bodice that had cost her an arm and a leg left little to the imagination, fitting like a glove accentuating to the brim all her favored assets. Her hips had a life of their own, if the pointed animated whispers around her were anything to go by. Most of the stewardesses waiting on the room blemished them a monstrosity, really bordering on abnormality, all the while stealing furtive castigating glances. But the boys, well the boys by their tellingly blatant hovering eyes had different ideas, openly staring and damn near drooling. They seemingly wanted to get lost in her larger than life hips and floatingly descend onto her creamy life-saving thighs. Just for the fun of it, she winked flirtatiously at one of them who remained stock still in reverence (and hunger) of her highness as she sauntered her way further into the ballroom.
Jane was in her absolute element. Her guilty pleasure. She loved that she left a trail of almost broken necks, right from the hotel’s parking lot through the magnificent Jacaranda lush compound to the hotel’s entrance and lobby where she instantaneously had people stunned into silence but for the noise of shifting uncomfortably. She swore up and down to anybody who’d lend an ear (and they were in the dozens), that her mixed heritage was the sole cause and effect of her magnanimous hip circumference and light skin color, never mind that a doctor cocooned in some subpar Karen hotel had a tellingly different version of truth. Needless to say that notoriety became her which hardly seemed to hurt her budding career. Bad publicity is still publicity in the social media obsessed millennial age.
The lights blinked in the lobby where the assembling crowd stood around the elevated circular ballroom tables, and the double doors to the vast dinner setting opened, revealing dozens of even more elaborately set tables. The servers ushered the crowd to their seats and started waiting on tables, handing out steaming hand towels to the diners in preparation for the feasting to come. Dru couldn’t help but notice that Jane was avoiding him like the goddamned plague.
Ever since an episode where he had saved a hysterical Jane from the throes of some leering devil, Pretty Face Kevin and literally ushered her out on his shoulders no less, from a popular club joint in Nairobi West, there had been an even further tensile shift in their relationship. At least before then, they had been forcefully cordial for the benefit of his newly engaged fiancée and her best friend Gina. All that feigned hospitality was clearly over and done with.
Jane had figured she couldn’t keep ignoring him, much as she wished on the starry blanket that had enveloped the black night outside. They were bound to run into each other or at least run in some similar circles given he was dating her best friend of over ten years, Gina. She just hadn’t anticipated the momentous occasion to be sooner rather than later.
She felt him approach even before she could set her eyes on him. “I didn’t realize you’d be here,’’. She imagined that was his husky invitation for a civil conversation.
She turned to face him leading with her chin, schooling her face to impassive. “There are lots of empty spaces left.” She nodded to signal the other side of the table and room in general.
He refused to take the bait that she was so effortlessly throwing at him and blatantly ignored her characteristic crass that he had so gotten used to. “This one suits me fine.” He figured it was at least understandable that she’d be slightly miffed at him. What he failed to apprehend was why he was so keen on intriguing her already ruffled feathers.
He rationalized in his diabolical mind that because Jane was his fiancé’s best friend, he was striving to get their relationship on the right footing. Yeah, that was the absolute sole reason why his will and common sense were seemingly in the lap of the gods that had bequeathed all that sensationalism and temptation into one specific lady package.
The first servings of appetizers were going around ranging from soups to scrumptious looking hors d’oeuvres and all manners of salads. Next to him, Jane was nibbling at her Greek inspired salad and purposefully focused her gaze on a gentleman chowing down on the hors d’oeuvres greedily, who if he had to guess was a marketer pitching a proposal. He had more than enough his share of experience evading them skillfully so he could easily tell when someone was prepping to make a sell.
By the time the main course of some aromatic sweet and sour chicken stew was served, he knew it was only a matter of time before Jane had to make some type of conversation with him. For one, just so she could get away from the loud marketer who he could tell was wearing her thin if her furrowed brows and pursed lips were any slightest indication. Two well, because the head of the charity was sitting at their table, and it wouldn’t do well for the newest board member-as he’d recently discovered she was from the charity’s vice president who’d only been too eager to relay any sort of information-to be rude to one of the major benefactors.
From the corner of his eye, he watched her first grimace before gulping down some more of her wine and setting aside her fork and knife from the chicken she’d been devouring, and turning to him. “I didn’t realize you were so involved with this charity.”
He forced himself to hide his amusement. “Philanthropy is a hobby of mine.”
“Charity is a labor of mine,” came her retort.
“Touché,” he murmured. “So how do you devote your time Jane other than being Gina’s bestie?”
Dumb! He chastised himself for that comment, came short of literally slapping his darn self. He wasn’t sure why he had to name-drop Gina out of the clear sky. Nobody really needed the stark reminder, least of all her. Must be all that bloody wine.
She thankfully sidestepped that little snide mention but not so skillful that he failed to notice a hitch in her breath as she grasped her glass tighter, her tell-tale. “I tutor people in English sometimes when I am not being a journalist.” She sipped from her glass of white wine and then returned sweetly. “And how do you spend your time Andrew?”
She had purposefully never called him by his short-hand Dru. She’d felt it too personal and resigned to the more formal Andrew. It beat logic to get any more personal in their dealings with one another.
The corners of his lips lifted, “I write a check with lots of zeroes so these people,” he nodded to the thronging congregation around him in the now enclosed ballroom, “can fund libraries and buy books.” If she was taken aback by his response, she didn’t show it.
The networking crowd was getting livelier and mingling while shoving and shuffling business cards among themselves. The dance floor was well and magnificently lit and one by one, people made their way onto it against the backdrop of some melodic jazzy tunes courtesy of a live band playing, that definitely helped to shift the ambience in the ballroom to a more intimate one. The stewards were already clearing some emptying plates, making room for the dancing couples.
“I hope our newest board member is doing her best to persuade you that we do great work here Andrew,” Njuguna, the bulky President of Booksmart beamed from the other side of the table. “We want you to know how much we appreciate and need your help.”
“No worries, Jane has made it clear I play a key role.” He shot a look at her slightly embarrassed face. “She’ll be a charming addition.” All Jane managed was a polite nod and an accompanying politely endearing smile.
The marketer took the opportunity to ask an eager Jane to dance. As he watched them move together across the well-lit floor, he tried to stir up thoughts of Gina and the pomp and extravagance that had coated their still newly scented engagement that had so coincidentally happened at the same Jacaranda Hotel’s branch in the lavish outskirts of Diani Beach at the Coast. What had been a 5-day excursion had peaked when things had progressed to an elaborate and ‘surprising’ proposal. Maybe not so much of a surprise after a decade of dating. He had pulled out all the stops. If the candlelit dinner setup by the ocean hadn’t sealed it as the most romantic proposal, then the backdrop of a symphony softly humming and singing romantic Swahili tunes definitely did make it worth ten years’ worth of dating. It was the only rational thing to do.
His attention focused back on his present. The marketer’s hand moved lower, dangerously close to covering Jane’s derriere as she continued gliding seemingly oblivious. Dru unbent his six foot two frame from his chair and strode purposefully toward the unaware pair. He could rationalize later.
Dru clamped a hand on the shorter man’s shoulder. “Sorry to cut in sir.” He was anything but apologetic as he firmly steered her away before the poor lad could recover. Looking down into her hesitant eyes he said, “You can thank me later.”
“Thank you? Why in the world would I thank you?” He could detect when indignation crept into her tone.
“He was pawing you.”
“So you saved me so you could paw me instead?” The gall! They didn’t call her Tarzan Jane for nothing.
What she should have done was try and walk away amicably instead of engaging him. Common sense and sheer neutrality demanded that course of action. Sticking around Dru was only going to turn the bad into much much worse. She needed to leave. And she would, just as soon as she could get her body to obey the commands of her brain. But the connection between the two had obviously been blocked or severed or scrambled in some way. Because she didn’t move. She didn’t step back or push him away or voice further rational thinking.
As if inferring her inner turmoil, he cleared his throat, “I apologize for the other day. You know, getting rid of your date. He was a slimeball anyway and wasn’t worthy of your time, I could tell. There, is that better?” That was as good an apology as he was going to offer. He was not going to apologize for the kiss she had offered and had been seared in his brain since, in what had been her drugged state courtesy of Pretty Face Kevin. It wouldn’t have rung true anyway. It had taken everything in him to not further that kiss to the full extent. “Truce?” he offered.
She had been looking over his shoulder, but now her eyes jumped back to his. She looked startled, fidgety even. But then seemed to collect herself. “I-“
He cocked his head to the side, “-accept my apology?” he finished for her when she seemed at a loss.
He felt relief wash over him and wondered why her response had been so important to him. “Let’s start over.”
They lapsed in to silence choosing to fully focus on swaying to the groovy Hart the Band’s tunes as he guided her across the floor. She felt mighty guilty and good in his arms, just relaxed enough to be guided by the subtle pressure of his hand on her lower back, arching her to him.
He enjoyed holding her like this and all thoughts of right and wrong and his engagement were banished. Her body was lightly brushing his as they moved to the rhythm. She was close enough that he could breathe in the soft flowery scent of her. Close enough that he could if he wanted to, brush his lips across her temple and the curling wisps of hair lying there. God, she was magnetic, impossible to shove aside. Plus the way she raised to her tip-toes in an effort to match his height..
The crowd seemed to be thinning out at least according to her. She simply stood there as all background happenings shriveled to a haze and watched his mouth descend as if in slow motion. Stood there and let his lips hover around her face as if giving her enough time to contemplate, let his fingers dig into her hair and lightly brush against her cheek. The teasing and taunting pent the already laden electrified air between them.
Oh this is a bad idea, she thought as her own arms came up to wind around his neck, her fingers toying with the hair at his nape. A very, very bad…
His lips brushed lightly against hers before he could stop himself. No sooner and his tongue twined with hers and she groaned, any semblance of rational thought in either of them flying right out the window. Good or bad, she was in it now with very little might left to fight. She wasn’t even sure she wanted to anymore. Though they were already touching, he tugged her even closer so that her already sensitive breasts flattened against his chest and the evidence of his arousal pressed between her legs.
For long minutes, he kissed her, their breaths mingling, his tongue thrusting, parrying, drawing her into his passionate duel. She lost her breath, her vision, her sanity, her entire world shrinking to the single pinprick of reality that was Dru’s solid and warm embrace. The thrill she was experiencing in that moment was unlike anything she ever imagined.
Being a woman kept her arousal from being obvious but it was there without a doubt. Besides the fact that her heart was pounding wildly and her temperature was slowly reaching the boiling point, inside the cups of her bra her nipples were turning into tight pearls. Lower her knees were weak and her barely there panties courtesy of her bodice, were growing damper by the minute.
The sound of deliberate coughs and other inaudible sounds penetrated her fuzzy brain and the pressure of their kiss eased before finally calling to an end the stolen moment, and crashing back to earth from the clouds where she’d been floating.
“Ahem..” a steward was patting Dru’s back lightly while clearing his throat. By his faltering expression, Jane could tell he would rather be chewing out his toe nails instead. That makes two of us.
Dru and Jane both came to at the same time and realized in dread that the dancing crowd had taken their seats and were staring and giggling in amusement.
Oh no! Jane was horrified, once the tingling stimulating feeling that the kiss had invoked in her died down.
“…please have your seats. The round of speeches are about to begin.” The steward was saying to Dru whose face was set in stone. There was no semblance of any of that smoldering passion that had been reflected in his eyes. Or had she imagined that? Feeling suddenly self-conscious, Jane cleared her throat and stepped back, putting a respectable amount of distance between them. She was still distracted by the lingering remnants of his earth-shattering kiss.
Njuguna was mic’d and had started thanking Shaka Enteprises for their contribution. That was Jane’s cue to tear herself away. While Andrew was being ushered to say a few words, Jane muttered a hasty goodbye and sought the nearest exit with as much dignity as she could muster given the situation. She hurriedly picked her clutch from her table waved goodbye to some of the people and dashed out the double doors. On the other side of the hotel’s hallway, she leaned against the mahogany doors and sighed exasperatedly. No sooner had she gotten herself together than she ran smack into a bewildered Gina who was making her way to the fundraiser.
“What’s going on Jane?’ Gina inquired even as Jane nervously gulped down a swallow. It seemed the universe had an answer for how worse could it get in one night. Turns out, the worse had barely scratched the surface.