SHOTS FIRED

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Chapter Six

Ben’s weekend had been quiet. Thank God. There’d been no weird dreams, no sneaky thoughts of crazy women, no hangouts, as James had also been tired after their busy Friday facilitating deliveries of programmes and souvenirs for weddings. Though most times they worked through the weekend, but this one had been one of the rare free ones; there’d just been his TV, food and sleep.

Well, he might have wondered...briefly, why the crazy woman hadn’t called Kate, but he’d shoved it off his mind, it really didn’t matter. After all, he was never seeing her again.

He was starting this new week with fresh goals, renewed energy and a positive mindset. The cold July morning was a welcome bonus. Ben tapped his horn in greeting to the security guy as he drove through the gate. His heart flipped when he saw a vehicle parked beside his parking spot, same place Rita Ukara had parked her car the previous week and this early too.

Apart from the print workers who sometimes worked overnight shifts to complete jobs on schedule, he’d been the only person to arrive the premises before seven. Again, his heart flipped because Rita had been another person. But he calmed at seeing the Honda Ridgeline truck; crazy Rita had a salon car.

As he fitted his uncle’s borrowed Toyota Venza SUV in his spot, he flicked an admiring glance at the rugged lines of the grey-coloured truck. He loved trucks and owned a 2014 Toyota Tundra truck, left behind at Lagos when he’d relocated in a hurry. He hoped his uncle would keep to his promise of sending it over. Seeing the truck increased his nostalgia for his while causing a bitter taste in his mouth as he recalled why he’d had to move from Lagos.

Ben turned off the ignition and just sat there, wondering as he’d done a million times, how his life had tumbled this far from a night that remained hazy in his memory but the consequences were glaring it hurt. And as the previous million times he’d had this thought, there were no answers and he struggled to be grateful that he’d not been arrested or sacked from the company.

He wanted to be grateful. It could’ve been worse, he might have been having this thought behind bars but he was here in his home town, in a position higher than the one he’d handled at the Lagos branch. His uncle had insisted he was lucky to be related to the owner of the company and had laughingly told him he was just a chip of the family block...if there was such a thing. It still didn’t make sense that he’d never had such an urge in his life and suddenly, he was being accused of it. Also, he was yet to wrap his head around the justification his uncle had to slap him on the back with a proud smile and ask him not to worry about it. That single act of acceptance, like the terrible thing he’d been accused of was a normal thing, made Ben view his uncle without rose tinted glasses.

Tapping his head on the headrest of the luxurious car, Ben blew out air and inhaled in four second successions. It calmed him as always and the worry dropped into the darkest recess of his mind, clearing his head for the tasks of the day. There was no point dwelling on what he couldn’t immediately change when there was work to be done.

He grabbed his laptop bag and suit and stepped out of the vehicle. He was flipping his key-ring for the key to the entrance when a vaguely familiar scent hit his nostrils. Ben instinctively sniffed to, perhaps jog his memory, and his peripheral vision caught movement by the truck.

“You took a while in there. Is everything okay...Ben?”

***

Rita watched him bristle at the fact that she knew his name, and bit her lower lip to curb her smile. For a minute there, she’d thought she’d have to go knock on the window. But watching his shock and consequent control which erased all emotion from his face, was worth the wait.

“How do you know my name?”

Rita thought she saw a flicker in his eyes, but she couldn’t be sure. Maybe, he’d not wanted to ask that question. She got the vibe that Ben would love to just ignore her all through, if he could.

Smiling amiably, she raised and lowered her brows. “Our mutual friend, Kate Usoro, gave it and your contact to me.”

A frown fleeted over his brows, but he said nothing. Rita felt obliged to fill the silence.

“So, don’t be shocked when you get a message or call...from me.” She patted her yoga pants, a black, thick-material, skin tight thing that ended mid-calf. At this point, she’d have enjoyed the comfort of sliding her hand into a pocket. But she settled on scuffing her white exercise sneakers and pulling the tail of her long, white flair, cotton top.

The silence seemed to go on for hours but it’d only been seconds.

“Why would I be...shocked that a strange woman I have no business with, would send me a message or call?”

Rita launched into uncontrollable giggles. He’d delivered the question so matter-of-factly that it’d almost seemed sincere. She held her belly to curb the mirth while her left hand shadowed her mouth to hide bared teeth while giggling.

“Oh, that was good.” She finally looked up and caught a lip twitch but nothing else from Ben. “You should totally teach the subtle art of sarcasm. You would make so much money from it.”

Ben sighed and scratched the edge of his well carved hair which was just a brushed layer on his head. “I assume you’re here for a reason?” His fingers lowered to his trimmed beard and Rita got the feeling he’d been about to start twisting the brittles, but he kind of curbed the desire and dropped his hand. The man possessed serious control.

“Yes, actually, Kate asked me to wait in your office for when she arrives.”

“Absolutely not. She wouldn’t do that?”

Right, not so much control after all, Rita thought, enjoying that he’d cracked, even for a second before he pulled out his phone from his grey suit pants. “Was that a question?”

Ben narrowed his eyes at her as he placed his phone on his ear, probably waiting to speak with Kate. The action was sexy. Everything he did, even his frown was sexy.

Apparently, Kate hadn’t answered her call, because he removed it from his ear, dialled and placed it back. This time though, he didn’t just stand there, he flipped his key ring and approached the main entrance to unlock the gate.

Rita’s eyes immediately tracked his broad shoulders, muscular back, lean hips, to his gloriously tight butt. She bit her lower lip, admiring how his pants moulded his thick, muscular thighs...hello there.

“What did you say?”

Had she said that out loud? Her eyes flew from where it been stuck on his arse to his eyes, having turned and caught her staring.

His eyes narrowed, “Where you just staring at my arse?” he sounded appalled.

Rita cleared her throat, shifting from one sneakered foot to the other. The embarrassment rose like heat to her face. This man made her make a fool of herself whenever they occupied the same space. But, enough; if she continued being embarrassed, she’d never get to proposition him and that meant she’d never get to feel if his muscles were as strong as they looked.

She rejected the possibility that he would refuse, and probably slut-shame her in the process or perhaps have a girlfriend since no ring meant he wasn’t married. Never mind that she also needed to get close to him to get to the owner of Global press, that plan seemed like a distant memory as Ben occupied a large space in her mind.

Her shrug was insouciant, “I did say I liked your arse; I wasn’t joking.”

“Oh, Jesus Christ,” he muttered, almost dropping his keys but managing to catch it last minute.

“A woman hasn’t come on to you before? You’re handsome,” she pointed out. “I believe you should be used to admiring females and perhaps, feel some pride at the fit.”

“I don’t even know you.” He snapped, fiddling with his phone, probably still trying to reach Kate.

“That can be arranged,” Rita smiled, enjoying his discomfort.

“Kate isn’t answering.” He blew out breath.

“I’m not going to bite, Ben.” His gaze said he didn’t believe her. “Well, unless you ask me...nicely,” she added, biting her lip and mock batting her lashes.

Ben breathed out noisily through his nose. He looked up the stairs while his teeth scraped a corner of his lower lip, forward, backward, over and over. The action made her breath hitch as she imagined him doing that to her lips.

He stopped the action, looked down and muttered something under his breath. Then he looked up, his eyes were hard. “How long will this take?”

Her heart leaped that her plan had worked. “Well, depends on Kate.”

Rita was sure he cursed but she’d not caught the words. He breathed out noisily from his nose, “Alright, let’s go.” He got into the door and headed to the stairs, Rita’s eyes immediately riveted below his belt.

Ben stopped suddenly and she almost barged into him. “After you,” he said, waving up the stairs courteously while his eyes pinned her with suspicion. He knew she’d been staring.

Rita raised an eyebrow, “What, so you could retaliate and stare at my arse?”

His mouth dropped open. Ben shook his head, cursed again and flew up the stairs two at a time, his movement a blur, therefore she couldn’t admire anything except his dexterity up the stairs.

“Kill joy.” She muttered and climbed the stairs at a sedate pace.

***

Silent my foot.

She’d promised she’d be as silent as a mouse when she’d gotten to his office five hours ago. It was his own fault for believing her, but how could he have suspected what would happen when James arrived?

They’d hit it off like long lost friends. One minute, Ben had stepped out to accounts and the next, he’d returned to find them chuckling together and making his usually comfortable office, unbearable for him.

Where the hell was Kate?

She had returned his call to explain that she’d resumed work at a site instead of at the office and had confirmed that she’d indeed asked Rita to wait at his office as she trusted him. Ben had been flattered at the compliment, but it hadn’t erased the itching need to rave at Kate for giving Rita his contact.

As though she’d read his mind, Kate had explained that she’d given Rita his contact to call in case he’d not arrived the office as at the time Rita would show up, not knowing he was first at the office every single day and that her client was bent on being a nuisance. She’d apologised for not clearing from him first before giving Rita his contact.

Kate had promised that she’d send one of her workers with her company keys so that Rita could go wait there for her. That phone call had been three hours ago.

Ben looked up at them from his laptop. Now they were discussing the merits of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as Manchester United’s coach for the new season. It was, sort of, nice that she followed football, but it was unfortunate they’d never be friends as they supported different football clubs.

Shit. Why would he even think something like that? Like he would have loved to pursue friendship with her after today? Impossible. Their unceasing conversation was messing with his head.

“You know you can go to his office to have this conversation, right?” Ben snapped harder than he’d meant.

Both of them pinned him with varying degrees of disgusted gazes. James leaned his hip on his table while Rita sat in front of it. He suddenly felt like a kill joy. God damn it. What if he was? After all, she’d called him that in the stairwell; he was just living up to the tag.

“Kate asked me to wait in your office.” Rita smirked at his frown.

“Well, keep it down, some of us have to work,” he pinned James with a pointed look; the idiot laughed.

“Hey, it’s lunch time,” he shrugged in a don’t-blame-me manner.

“I should go.” Rita announced, grabbing her knapsack from the tiled floor of his office.

His heart leaped and he deduced it as gladness she was leaving at last. But then his heart twisted painfully at James’ next comment.

“Let me treat you to lunch.”

“Err...some other time, perhaps?”

Ben had no idea when he’d fisted his hand but it released at her reply; weird.

“This week I hope,” James pushed, guiding her out of his office with his hand on her lower back, close to the curve of her buttocks.

He didn’t hear her reply. He shouldn’t have wanted to fling off James hand from her body and hear her reply so bad he almost got up from his seat. But she chose then to look over her shoulder at him, her hazel eyes catching him and staying his movement.

“See you later, Ben,” she waved, grinning when James repeated her words and led her towards the stairs.

He hadn’t answered. He couldn’t. Not when his throat had suddenly clogged for no reason. It must be overwhelming relief at her departure, Ben surmised and leaned back in his chair, breathing deep to calm his palpitating heart. A text entered his phone and he had to sit up to get it.

It was an unsaved number. He didn’t feel it strange as he dealt with prospective customers all week long. He clicked it open and burst into uncontrollable laughter. Rita had sent it.

Stop frowning so hard, Ben. There’s no need to wrinkle your poor, innocent behind.

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