5

Chapter5️⃣



MEREDITH



"So you're telling me that you think Sebastian Miller is back into your life because of some piazza coupons?" Leigh-Anne looked at me like I was completely out of my mind.


"We always went to Patsy's Pizzeria for our datesdinner or anything.And we always ordered white truffle and gold pizza.It has to be him.Don't you also find this very odd?I mean my rent and Gabriel's tuition has been paid out of nowhere.Who else is capable of doing something like that?"I carried my hazelnut flavoured coffee to the table and sat down.


"It might be a coincidence.Maybe someone with similar taste as youjust took a wild guess.And they paid out of the goodness of their hearts.Why are you even stressing about this anyway?Your rent has been paid and that means minus one problem.You won't have to worry about Gabriel's tuition or rent for a whole year.How great is that?" Chicago shrugged.


"Its not great if Sebastian was the one who paid for it.That means he will be trying to make a comeback.Are there chances that I might lose Gabriel if Sebastian wants him?"


Chicago shook her head. "He will not win.He gave up his parental rights.But in case he wanna fighthe will have to prove that he was not in his right state of mind during the time he signed the documents.Still that doesn't hold much water.I will tear his case apart if uses that as a counterargument.Besideshe never did anything for Gabriel since he was bornthat says a lot about him as a father.You're not going to lose Gabriel.For a man its difficult to get custody of the child if they gave up their rights.Its different for a woman because you can use Post Natal Depression as an excuse.You have nothing to worry about really."

That made me feel a lot better because ever since I got the coupons I was unsettled thinking that Seb was back for Gabrielbut if there was little to no chance of him getting my son's custody then there was nothing to worry about.


"I will kick his ass if he comes back.There is nothing really to worry about." Leigh-Anne made her thoughts very clear.She wore her heart on her sleeves all the time.And if Seb was to show upshe was indeed going to kick his ass.


"Now we have a date to worry about.Let's get you changed."


I got excited thinking about my date with Benedict.It has been a long time since I went out on a date.Even when I was with Herman we didn't go out on a date.If I remember correctly the last time I went on a date was when I was with Sebastian and that was four years ago.Now that I was thinking about itI realise why Herman said I was boring.I didn't have time to go out on a date with my boyfriend.


"Girls I can't possibly wear this.Anyone can see right through it."


"No.Its just got a nude slip.No big deal." Chicago told me firmly.


"Its provocative and sexy and you look stunning in it.Lookanyone can see through itbut all you can actually see is the nude lining not the skin.It isn't as though you're showing masses of cleavage.The only bits of you that are really bare are your arms and legs."

I did look stunning in it.Leigh-Anne determinedly turned me around the mirror and commanded.

"You must wear it.It makes you look like you should look.Its sexy but its also stylish and elegant not sleazy as you seem to be trying to say."


I looked at the empire waist place pink dress that hugged my body. "Its amazing like you said but it looks too sexy for just a date.Like..."


"The purpose of this date is for you to get laid.Soyou have to look the part." Chicago interrupted.


I chuckled. "I don't want to get laid.I just want to have some fun."


Leigh-Anne frowned. "Sowhat is fun to you?Its getting laidright?"


"Fun is not all about sex.My God Leigh-Anne.I only want to enjoy spending time with him.I'm not looking for sex or a relationship.If its heading to the right direction then I might consider a relationship."


She threw her hands up in the airlaughing. "All I know is that going out on a date is just gonna end up in bed.You will have your main course meal at the restaurant and have Benedict for dessertend of story."

We all laughed.


My phone rang and _Benedict_ flashed on the screen.I checked the time and it was still fifteen minutes until twelve o'clock.


"Hey." I said softly with a smile.


"Put him on speaker." Leigh-Anne whispered.


I chuckled and did as asked.

"Hey Meredith.I'm parked at your place.I hope I'm not too early.I just couldn't wait to see you." He said with a soft chuckle.


"Ohh no its okay.Give me five minutes and I will be there."


"Okaythanks."He hung up and the girls screamed.


"Ohhh my God I love his voice.Its so dreamyso lazy.My gosh.I hope he is as sexy as his voice sounds.I need to sneak a peek." Leigh-Anne screamed fanning herself.


"I agree this Benedict has a sexy voice but he still got nothing on my boss.Mr Jalal talks bullshit but his voice is to die for.In fact he is to die for.Pure and raw masculinity."


Leigh-Anne nodded. "You're right that guy is arrogant but he is gorgeous.Anyway right now we are focusing on Benedict and I'm sure he is as sexy as he sounds.I'm going to check him out."


I turned around on the mirror one more time.I put on my heels which were old but after a good shine they looked as good as new.I grabbed my clutch and looked at the girls with a smile.I was a bucket of nerves.My heart pounded like crazy and my palms were sweaty.

"So this is it girls."


"Go girl.Enjoy yourself alright."


"Yeahow can you enjoy just talking to someone.I'm not getting you there." Leigh-Anne shook her head.


"Bye." I smiled before walking out.When I got to the apartment's parking lotI found him leaning on his convertibleone hand in his pockets and the other holding roses.It was sexy.This man had to seriously consider doing commercials for men's cologne.He had the looks for a magazine cover.He wasn't in a suit but a simple black T-shirtdark jeans and a navy blue casual blazer.


He lifted his gaze to look at me and those grey eyes looked deep into my soul.He smiled politely and met me halfway to greet me.We shared nonsexual brief kiss on the cheeks and he handed me the roses.

"These are for you."


"Thank you." Since I couldn't go back upI placed the flowers at the backseat of the car.He opened the door for me.Okay he was a gentleman.

"Are you ready?"


"Yes." I smiled.He drove around the blocktapping his fingers on the steering wheel.He stole a few glances at me and we shared a few words here and there.After a thirty minutes or so he drove into some fancy place.A Mexican bistro with an Italian menu. searched for a parking spot.

"We are here."He once again opened the door for me and we walked towards the entrance hand in hand.As we walked in I pausedtaking in the woody décor and colourful paintings.Interior designing was my second preference if I didn't go for accountancy and business.Yes I know the two courses had nothing in common but I was good in bothonly that I didn't pursue in being an interior designer.The course was expensive.


"Table for two." Benedict talked to the hostess.He appeared to be a regular because the stuff gave him familiar smiles.


"Surethis way." The hostess stepped around the podium then walked with us through the restaurant.The floor was made with white marble sparkling tilesthe tables were blackand a grand white piano was on the center of the room.It was fancy.It wasn't really my scene because I was used to the downtown Delhi's but then I appreciated this place because it had a different section which was quieter with tables spread much further.I liked the privacy.We were directed to a private boothwhere we both sat and let our hair down.


A waiter came to our table."Can I interest you in a bottle of wine?"  


Benedict looked at me. "Do you drink?"


I shook my head. "No but nonalcoholic red wine will be fine."


"We will have the bottle.Let's do an appetizer too.Whatever you recommend." He ordered without taking his eyes off me.


"Very well." The waiter walked away.We were silent until the waiter returned with the bottle of wine.

"The appetizer will be here shortly." He walked away again.


Benedict held his glass to his lips for a moment staring at mebefore taking a sip. "Sowho is Meredith?"


I gave a half shrug. "There is nothing really much to tell.I'm American by birth but I'm half Egyptian.I'm 23 and a single mom to a four year old boy.I can't really describe my character.You will be the judge of it in the future.But with mewhat you see is what you get.I'm an open book like that.And I'm also a staunch believer of the truth.I think that basically sums it all up.And I'm also interested in knowing who Benedict Salvatore is."


He chuckled. "So you see me in your future.I like that."

We were silent when the waiter served us our appetizers.


"What else can I tell you." He pressed his fingers on his lips."I'm thirty and I'm half Italian and half Arabian.My dad was Italian and my mom is Arabian and also American.SoI'm a little bit of everything.I have a ten year old son who has been pushing me to go on dates.He will be glad to hear that I'm on a date right now." We both chuckled. 


"So do you have that Italian accent?" I asked.


He laughed. "What's with women and an Italian accent?In fact what's with women and Italians?" He said with a sexy Italian accent that I was surprised.


"You have the accent." I laughedmesmerized.


"Ohhh yea I have many accents.It was my uncle who taught me." Fluidly he switched into a Middle eastern accentpronouncing each syllable with perfection as if he'd been born speaking that way.

"I have a British accent too.I work with a lot of different people from different places.Accents are important.They allow you to be accepted into different cultures more readily." He changed againsounding like a British lad.


"Wow.Anyway that brings me to my second question.What do you do?" I took a few bites of the bruschetta.


He took a sip of his wine. "I mostly work for myself.A family company.My father started the company that I own now.It was much smaller at the timebut I turned it into the behemoth it is todaywith the help of my uncle.Managing it all can be difficult but I love business.The competitiveness.The politics.All ups and downs.I'm my own boss." He said with a shrug.I nodded approvingly.


For our main course we both ordered steakmedium rare and the date continued.The lunch date was only intended to last for a few hoursat most.Neither one of us had intended on staying very long but before we knew itthe sun started to drop and we were still in our private boothchatting and laughing.I now knew about his life as the only child for his motherhaving a step brotherhis son Guyhis love for his unclethe death of his father and his bad track record with women before.I was surprised he was honest about the last part though he didn't go much into the details.In returnI shared my feelings about my parents' divorce when I was nineadmitted to sometimes feeling like a failure and my feelings towards the possibility of a new relationship.I wasn't ready yet and he said he was willing to wait until I was.As the night fell I forgot about my night shift at the casino and a small night crowd started filtering in.And all the while I sat across from himour knees kept brushing against each othersending sparks across my skin.There was undeniable chemistry and he could sense it too.Benedict paid for our food without giving me the opportunity to even grab my wallet.I was going to make sure that next time I pay.Even if I overdrafted my account it was better than mooching off of him.


He smiled. "You're a hard worker you know.I like that about you.Regardless of the nature of the jobyou work with everything in you.That's not easy to pull off.I also liked how sincere you seemed when you told me about how much you love your mother and how your parents' divorce affected you.Most importantly you're very beautiful.I love your smile and your eyes."


I felt my cheeks heating up.Soon enough I knew I had two tomato brands on my cheeks.Unlike other women who blushedI probably looked like I was having an allergic reaction. "Thank you.And you're gorgeous too.The first time I saw youI thought maybe I saw you on some magazine cover." 


He grinned like he got his favourite toy on Christmas. "I actually did commercials for Giorgio Armaniso maybe you did see me somewhere.But that was long ago in my early twenties."


"Ohh my God really?Anyway I liked your honestyeven if it didn't paint you in the best light.Honesty is so rare these days that it practically doesn't exist.You're a hardworker too from what I picked.I also feel like you had so much responsibilities growing up."


"That's true to some extent."


"So you took over the family business the second you were an adult?"


"Yea you can say that but for the most part I took a few years off.After my dad dropped dead from a heart attackmy uncle helped me out during that time.Now its almost a decade and so much has changed."


I smiled. "You must really love your uncle."


He sighedsadly. "Yea."


We ate our dinner in comfortable silencestealing glances at each other across the table.Most of his salad had been eatenso he set his fork on his tray and put his entire focus on me.


I pulled my phone and looked at the time. "Ohh my God its 8:30.I need to put my son to bed."


"Alright." He paid for our dinner too.We left the booth and walked outside.He drove us back to my place.


Like the last time he walked me up to my front door and gave me my flowers."I really had fun today and I would love to do it again and again."


I smiled. "Me too."


"Sowould you like to come to my place next weekend for lunch?I make good chicken Marsala."

Knowing we would possibly be alone made me feel kinda of uneasy.

He must have detected my unease. "I won't do anything.I won't try to make it happen."


That was a relief.I had thought I would have to keep my guard up the entire time.Having this lunch with him was so nice because there were no expectations. "Then I would love to but how about we have lunch at the restaurant of my choice too and then we will then go to your house."


"Great then.Have yourself a good night."


"You too Benedict." We shared a tight embrace and that kiss on the cheek.When I stepped into my small living room two figures stepped forward.


"Ohh my God he is hot." Leigh-Anne fanned herself.


"And you spent the entire day together.Did you get laid?I can smell him all over you." Chicago askedmunching on some snacks.


"Please tell me you got laid?You can't let that good dick go to waste."Sometimes I found it unbelievable that Leigh-Anne was the oldest.She was 27 but at times acted like a horny teenager.And Chicago was 25.HoweverI strongly believed that I was the oldestwhere our levels of maturity were concerned.


"I had fun.My own version of fun."


"Ohh here we go again." Chicago shook her head.


"Aren't you guys going to work tomorrow?" I removed my heels.


"I'm going in late tomorrow." Chicago said.


"And I'm going in the afternoon."


"Okis Gabriel asleep?"


Chicago nodded. "He was running around the whole day so he slept early."


"So its girls' night today.Come on and tell us everything we have to know about this Benedict." Leigh-Anne walked over to the fridge.


***


The following morning I woke up and did my usual routine.I dropped off Gabriel at his day care using Chicago's car.On my way back I passed by mama's house and checked on her.Now I was preparing to go to work when my phone rang on the nightstand.


"Please answer your phone." Chicago groaned in annoyance.They crushed at my place and now my bedroom was looking like it has been hit by a tornado.It was a struggle to handle them when they got drunk.


"Hello." I had no idea who had calledand it was a landline number.


"This is Jalal luxury Chain of resorts admin speaking.Am I talking to Meredith Burnett?"


I smiled widely and jumped up and down. "Yes this is Meredith Burnett speaking." I said calmly.


"Great.You applied for the position of the receptionist and your profile interest us.We would like to have you for an interview tomorrow at 8:30 am."


"Ohh my God thank you so much.I will definitely be there.Thank you."


"You're welcome." She hung up.


"They called me girls.They called me." I jumped on the bed with excitement.


Leigh-Anne frowned. "Who called youObama?"


"No silly.Jalal resorts called me for an interview tomorrow.Ohh my God!!!" I screamed.


"We will celebrate once you get the job alright.Right now let me sleep I need to nurse my hangover." Leigh-Anne covered her head with a pillow.


"Don't burst my bubble.I received a call for the first time since I graduated.That's something.Anyway I'm going to work.Your breakfast is in the microwave."


I walked out of my bedroom and on cuethere was a knock.To my surprise it was Megan.Looking fly as always.Clad in ankle boots with her typical skyscraper heels.Then her longskinny legsshown to great advantage in a pair of dark leggings that hugged every inch of them and showing that thigh gap.Then her teeny-tiny waist was wrapped in some kind of complicated metal belt that made it look more slim and narrow.


"HelloI wasn't expecting you.You should have called because I'm about to go to work.But anyway come on in." I smiled and paved way for her.


She walked insideher sky-high heels clicking. She looked around my place with a frown and then looked at me. "How do you manage to live in such a lunchbox?You should find a better and bigger place."


I sighed and rolled my eyes. "What do you want Megan?I need to go to work."


"It won't take long." She applied sanitizer on her hands and hesitantly sat on my couch.It was so offending but I chose not to say anything.


"Okayshoot." I sat down.


"I need some advice." That came as a shock to me.Megan needed my advice.


"What?!"


"Yea.Relationship advice.It has never been my style to be serious with a man but I think I found the one.He needs to be tamed and that's what I want to learn.How do you do it?"


I chuckled in disbelief. "YouMegan is asking me for some relationship advice?"


"Of coursefatty." She trilledusing that awful nickname that she had bestowed upon me since we were kids. "I mean just look at you.All fat and unattractive but somehow you manage to get the best men out there.Sebastian being the top pick.Herman is not so bad either.How do you do it?That's what I wanna know."


Until that moment I had believed I was looking good.Better than good.I had tamed my hair into heavy curls.I was wearing my best pair of my uniform that made all my curves sing.And now I hated the fact that one snide comment from my sister made me doubt what I had seen with my own eyes in my mirror that morning.

"Are you here to ask for help or throw shade Megan?I'm starting to get confused."


She rolled her eyes. "I only throw shade to what shines sweety.All I'm saying is that you're not the gorgeous thing out there.If I was a guy I wouldn't look at you twice but somehow you dated a gorgeous guy so I'm kinda curious.Do you do cartwheels in bed?Share the secret."


I felt my hands tightening into fists and ordered myself to breathe.To claw back some control.I wasn't ten anymore.I was thirteen years older that I had been thenand these days I knew how to handle bitter words.


"But the guys don't stick aroundright?I mean come to think of it.Its hilarious.Look at you and Sebastian.That was doomed to fail right?" She waved her hand up and downtaking me in with a loopy gesturemaking me feel tiny and hugely fat. "But anyway that is not why I'm here.Please start talking."


"I'm going to be a bigger person and ask you to leave before this escalates to something very ugly.You can't come into my house and say bullshit about me while you need me to help you.Who do you think you're Meganto speak to me like that?Please get out."


Her pretty face twisted in something like disgust.Or maybe it was pure rage.She stood up and starting poking my forehead. "Ohh you think you're better than me huh?You think because you had a baby with a handsome man you're better than me."


I moved backleaving enough distance between usfighting odd the urge towards violence. "Please leave.I don't know why you came here in the first place.Maybe you wanted to vent out your frustrations on me but I'm not your garbage cane anymore Megan.We are no longer kids.I know very well how to fight back so don't test me."


Megan looked surprised for a momentbut then she laughed. "What do you think you can do fatty?" You will always be that..."


I silenced her with a slap that made her stagger.My hands shook as I gave her another deadly slap that instantly made her perfect nose bleed.I walked towards the door and opened it. "Do you want me to drag you out?Or you're going to leave on your own?And go report to daddy.Leave!!!"


She wiped her nose and closed the door behind her.And she was gone leaving nothing but the faint scent of her perfumea bit of something flowery.Of course everything about her was calculated to be effortlessly lovely.


"I'm glad you slapped her.I was about to interfere.Don't let what she said get to you.She is just a bitter person." I looked at Chicago and sighed.


"Its okay.I'm going to work."





*CHICAGO*




My office landline rangpiercing my thoughts and bringing me back abruptly to the present.Quickly I picked the receiver.


"Why have you not returned my calls?" I listened to the plaintive voice of Claude.

"When will you be free to have dinner with me?"


I laughed. "Not this week I'm sorry."


"But I have missed you.Its been so long."


"Claude you're two rooms away and stop trying to flatter me.I know how you French men are.You have scores of women besides me so don't tell me that you have been spending your evenings  alone and lonely at homethinking about me."


He chuckled. "HeyI'm only half French and it's my American parent who is a slut.AnywayI need your help with something.My boss is in a meeting right now which could drag on and I will use that time to discuss this case with you."


I laughed. "I knew you needed some help.Come to my office.I'm free right now."


"This is an extremely serious case.Ashley and I are working so hard on it but we need your input."


I frowned. "You're coming with Ashley to my office?"


"Isn't she your sister in law or something.She is dating your brother right?"


I rolled my eyes. "Merlin is not my brother."


"I knowand I see you.We will be there in three minutes." He teased and hung up.


"Hmmm..this looks interesting." I said going through their case.

"I see we are getting an increasing number of farming clients applying for change in building permission for what they claim as their agricultural land."


Ashley nodded. "Yes and there has been a lot of controversy about it with a huge continuing debate in the local press.Those against any kind of new building on the farmland are claiming that there is plenty of land that should be used up firstwhile we are insisting that the land they are talking about simply isn't adequate to cope with the infrastructure.Geographically the land is not suitable for any form of building."


"I should imagine the argument is something of a double-edged sword.Its going to be a long-running battle.But all you have to do is make this farmers realize how it is to their advantage to have this company in their area.They get employment and compensation.Talk to both parties and settle out of court.Offer them a huge compensation and you will save yourselves months of an ongoing battle.If that doesn't work thenthere will be no point in trying to persuade them.You will just have to bite the bullet and go to court.I will go through the case and give you some pointers.This is a great financial investment.The farmers are too stupid to see that.The land they want to fight for is no longer fertile to give them a good yield.I will go through it after my meeting.I will read up as much as I can on the rightsand of courseall the other legal facts that cover the situation.I will prepare several briefs for you on the subjectand I will also get hold of the legal histories that the other party might use as counterarguments."


They both nodded. "I knew we could rely on you.Let me go back and work.We need a raise.Connelly firm is overworking us." Claude always complained about something.


"You're just lazy Claude." I laughed.He gave me a middle finger and walked out.


I looked at Ashley. "Andis there anything else that I can help you with?"


She sighed sadly. "I need some advice because I'm running out of ideas."


I leaned in my chair. "Okayshoot."


"Merlin and I are growing apart.I don't know what I'm doing wrong or what I should be doing.HonestlyI don't know anymore.He is just detaching himself from me.I love that man Chicago you know that.We have been together for years and suddenly he seems to be no longer into me anymore.I'm scared because we have MJ to think about.I don't know what I should do and I was hoping maybe you could help me since you guys practically grew up together.What should I do?"


Abruptly I looked down and fiddled with my fingers as a wave of guilty weighed heavily on my conscience. "Maybe you should talk to Meredith.She knows her brother better than anyone else.She might tell you what you should do and shouldn't do "


Ashley shook her head. "Meredith and I aren't that close.I mean we are just awkward.She is a quiet person and I'm a loud mouth.I don't even know how to start talking to her.Please help me Chic.I was thinking maybe I should get pregnant again.If I do that he won't leave me because that man respects family more than anything.He experienced how painful it is to live in a broken home and I'm sure he will never let his kids go through the sameright?"


I sighed. "I don't think its a good idea using someone's weakness against them.Why don't you take a vacation insteadand try to spice things up.Talk to the guy and go for counselling or something."


She nodded. "That sounds like a good idea.I will start looking for places to go to.After this case we will go.Thank you friend.I knew I could rely on you." OkayI was her friend now.


"You're welcome."She smiled and walked out.


I breathed.Jesus Christ.I shrugged away the conversation I had just had with Ashley awaytrying to clear my conscience.I might have been over Merlin in the sense that I was no longer suffering from the massive crush which almost caused me to make such an idiotic fool of myself but I was certainly far from over what happened two nights ago.I would certainly never make that mistake again.Never allow myself to become such a victim such a slave of my emotions and hormones.I didn't really understand how it happened in the first place.

I frownedmy thoughts switching to the present as my phone rang.I looked at the screenthe name _Merlin_ flashed.I sighed and ignored it.


"Aren't you going to answer that?" Gareth Connellymy other boss was leaning on the door looking at me.Yes that Gareth.The one responsible for my best friend's verdict four years ago.He was my other boss now and I didn't tell the girls about it.And that's not all.I felt guilty for not telling the girls about it but I believed that it was better that way.I looked at himhis dark tailored suit emphasized the masculine power of his shoulders.Beneath the crispiness of his shirt I could still see his chest rising and falling as he breathed.Was it still bisected? Did he still...?"

I shook my head. "What do you want?"


He sighed. "Wow and I thought I was going to get an apology but I get some attitude instead."


"What are you talking about Gareth?"


He looked wounded."Ohh you forgot?Wow.You stood me and my parents up two nights agoChicago.I had invited you for dinner with my parents remember.Does that ring a bell?"


I looked down. "Gareth I'm sorry I messed up.It slipped my mind.Let me fix it.We can do dinner againtoday."


He chuckled bitterly and shook his head. "Its too late Chicago.I didn't ask you to pretend to be my girlfriend or anything.You just had to show facethat's all.The one time that I needed you the mostthat's all.The one time that I needed you the mostthe one timeyou weren't there.Where were you at?But if you need something you expect me to drop everything I'm doing and be there for youno questions asked.You need some advice about something whether legal or notI give it to you.You need some supportyou wanna cry on my shoulderI give it you.You need somebody to fuck to get over your crushI'm your guyright?"


"Gareth I'm sorry.Something came up.I..."


He interrupted gently. "You were probably with himright?" He looked down at the top of my head and sighed. "Anyway don't be sorry.I was stupid to think that you would actually do this one thing for me.I thought you would come through for me but I guess I was wrong.To you I will always be that guy you hate because he was only doing his jobfour years ago."


"Gareth..."


"Talking about jobs.I'm here to brief you on the possible legal complexities of this proposed change in the trading rights between Mexico and the US government.You wanted something challenging as a barrister there you have it.I also want you to accompany me to this afternoon's meeting.There has been a good deal of political argument brought up by some other committee members for this case.Our chairman is Mexican and the existing trading rights are Mexican too.There is also a chance that we are going to have that old accusation of colonialism thrown at us.So be prepared for anything.Its not going to be easy.You don't have any business as of now with Mr Jajalright?" He slammed the file on the table.


I agreed tensely keeping my face averted from him. "Yes.Anyway it looks like I'm going to be doing a lot of reading."


He nodded. "You need the kind of challenge this case specifically will provide.You will manageI know you will.If you don't understand anythingyou know where to find me." He walked outnot giving me a second to say anything else.


***


After work I went to my apartment and saw the woman who gave birth to mewaiting on my doorstep.This woman abandoned me for some dead beat toy boy and took offleaving me with my grandmother.She was drunk as always.


"What do you want Chelsea?How did you go past the security?" I frowned.


She staggered. "Yea my daughter may be doing well but I don't see no benefit from it.You would think my darling professional lawyer daughter might share her wealth but noshe pretty much ignores me."


"What do you want?"


"Some money for giving birth to you.I should have aborted you piece of shit but I didn't." She almost fell. "I gambled today and I lost.You're the collateral.If you're not going to give me money to pay off my debtthey are going to come and get you.I need $500 000."


I sighed feeling tears threatening to come out.She abandoned me when I was nothing but a few weeks old.My grandmother raised me but unfortunately died before she could get a taste of the fruits of her labour.Even when grandmother died Chelsea didn't show up.26 years later when I had made it in life alone this woman just showed up and started mooching off of me.At first I was desperate because I too needed mother's love even if it meant I had to pay for it.As time went byI got used to the fact that I will never have a mother and a father because she didn't even remember who my father was.

"I'm not going to give you money so that you will gamble it away with your toy boys.You're on your own Chelsea."I slammed the door on her face and asked the concierge to take her away.

Afterwards I showered and cleaned the apartment.There was no evidence that I looked like hell.I vacuumed and destroyed all signs of my laziness and misery. After two days my place started to look and smell like a home.If my girls had witnessed itthey would definitely crack a joke or two about it.I sat on the couch with two open bags of potato chips.I missed my girls but they were both at work.We were friends since junior school and we were practically family but that didn't fill the void inside of me.That emptiness couldn't go away.My uncles and aunts from my mother's side only cared about me when they needed money.I knew nothing about my fatherso I only mattered to me.It was even more serious now that granny was no longer here.While I was munching on my chips the intercom went off and I answered it.


"Yeswho is it?"


"Chicago its me." He saidhis voice sounding deep even through the intercom.


"We talked about thiswhat are you doing here?"


"We need to talk."


"We can't..."


"Please.We really need to talk.Let me in."


I sighed and pressed the button to let him in and called the concierge to let him come up.When he knocked on the doorI opened it and let him inside.Normally I would hug him right away but the memory of what happened two nights ago was still heavy in my mind.So I stepped back.


"Hey.I knew you would be munching on those potato chips so I brought you some food that mama prepared." He carried the plastic bag of food to the table.He walked past me slowly enough that the scent of his musky and spicy perfume flavoured the breathe I took.


"You shouldn't be here.We talked about this."


He stood in the middle of the room and turned to look at me.His presence dominated every inch of the room.He wore a pale grey T-shirt  and faded dark jeans with a hole at the knee and a black biker's jacket.His hair was a rumbled mass of brown curls on the center.He looked good.Too damned goodand that was part of the problem.


"I couldn't stay away." Merlin said towering over me.I was tinywith a petite body that I took after my mother.He was tallmuscularmaking me feel tinier.


I took another step back. "We agreed that it wouldn't happen again.You shouldn't have  come.Ashley is starting to see that you're being distance and she came to me for advice Merlin.She is my workmate.Do you realise what this is starting to make me look?That woman loves you and she has always been there for you.Sleeping with you was a mistake and it shouldn't happen again."


He ran his hand through his hair and bit his lower lip. "I'm thinking of breaking up with her.I know this may not put me in the best light but I can't continue lying to her and myself.My feelings for Ashley started fading way back before I even realised my feelings for you or your feelings for me.I can't keep lying to myself alright."


I held my waist. "Are you listening to yourself right now?How do you think your mother will take this?What about Meredith?Ashley has always been there for you and they both love her so much.They will hate me if they find out that we slept together in the first place.A lot of people will be hurt.Have you thought about MJ?He is grown enough to understand things.I can't do that to him.He will hate me."


He sighed. "I will talk to them without involving you.I can't keep on lying to Ashley.When I'm with herI'm always thinking about you.When I touch herits your skin that I feel on my fingertips.That night was incredible I know you felt the same way."


"You can't possibly try to ruin everything and hurt people just because of one night of sex.Besidesthe sex wasn't even that great." Yea I lied.My heart took a tumble.Pitiful.I told myself with a heavy inward sigh.How could I feel so much for a man who wasn't mine?He never looked at me at least that's what I believed up until two nights ago.He came to see me for some legal advice and then one thing led to another.


He chuckledshaking his head."You're lying.And you know what the funny part isyou may lie all you want but your pussy will never lie to me.You were drenched just for me."


The words only were enough to send sparks all over my skin. "Merlinplease just leavealright."


He grabbed my arm and yanked me against the wall of my apartment.His huge body crowded mine until I was cornered.His brown eyes looked menacing.He pressed his face close to minehis warm breath falling all over my skin. "I'm here nowso you're going to have to deal with it.".


I tried to shove himbut he was too heavy and powerful.This guy lifted metal car parts all day long so there was no way I could overpower him.

"I can't get over you alright.And its not just about the sex.When you were growing up with my little sister I forced myself to see you as my sister but as you grew olderI started seeing you as a woman.Everything is just so bleakI don't know what else to do."

He rubbed his finger across my chin and kissed me.I felt the electricity immediately surge down my spine.I squirmed halfheartedly against him for a second or two.But the moment was gonemy guilt evaporated as I wrapped myself around himarms locked around his neck and my legs hooked around his waist.His hands dropped to the curve of my ass and he held me theretightly against his erection.


"Do you still want me to leave?" He whispered against my neck.


"No..don't."



LEIGH-ANNE



I worked in the delivery room and helped out the other doctors with patients who needed C-sections.I also had a lot of patients with Endometriosis and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS).I filled chart after chart but I enjoyed what I did.Being an OB-GYN (Obstetrician and Gynaecologist) was what I loved to do.I was lucky to have managed to secure a position in one of the most expensive and popular hospitals in the cityNYC health+hospitals.But like any other jobbeing OB-GYN also had its downsides.Like being called for an emergency during your downtime when you're extremely tired.


"We need you at the 5th floor.There is a patient who is giving us a hard time here.She is just impossible.And can you believe itshe travelled knowing she was close to her due date.They had to bring her herestraight from the airport."One of my colleagues complained.


"I will be there in a second." I hung up and took my coat before heading for the elevator. Five minutes or soI was on the 5th floor.


I went through the chart of the patient with a frown.Who travels when they are almost due?Majesty Zulu.

When I walked towards her roomI almost stopped on my tracks when I saw the hallway packed with seven men and five women.What the hell?She was indeed her majesty.They all turned and looked at me.The men were chocolate and caramel skinnedand handsome as hell.


"You're the doctor right.Go check on her quickly.She has been in there for hours.You people should do your job.She is in fucking pain!!!" One of the caramel skinned guy approached me and half yelled at me.


"Nigger stop yelling at me.What the fuck?!Back offyou're in my personal space." I yelled back and he looked at meshocked.He has never met a doctor who cusses?He would be surprised.I walked past the crowd and went to scrub up and wearing my scrubs before walking into the delivery room.The woman was grunting and cussing while who I assumed was her husband was holding her handtrying to calm her down.She was very beautiful but labour pains will humble you.The man was gigantic and intimidating but I didn't cower.Living in fear is not living at all.


I looked at the three nurses who were looking completely helpless. "Did you time her contractions?And how far is she?"


"She is seven centimeters Dr Gold.The baby is crowing nicely."


"Okay.Then we will wait." I sat leg crossed on the stool besides her.


The husband looked at me. "Aren't you supposed to check her or something?"


Majesty grunted as she surged forwardgripping on the handles attached to the bed. "Get this...thing...out of me.."


I chuckled. "GirlI wasn't there when you were getting it in. " I opened her legs and felt her stomach. "The baby is crowing nicely.A little help from you we will be done here. " I sat down.


"I ....hate..you...urgggh!!!" She strained and heavedvowing to kill me.


"I hate you too sweety.Who travels when their due date is close?I need to talk to your doctor."


"Go...to...hell..Lindani...get it out..."


"Baby just breathe." The husband brushed her forehead.


"I'm breathing you fucking asshole...I'm tying my tubes after...this..." She grabbed the handles as another contraction hit her tortured body.


I bent and looked at her again.I exchanged an exasperated look with one of the hovering nurses.


"Looks like we missed again.Its not time yet."


"Are you fucking kidding me?...." She gasped out.

"Someone inform this baby...not to take ...its own sweet time.."


I sighed. "Come on.My butt's growing numb sitting on this stool."


She wailed angrily. "You're..uncomfortable?You're complaining...about your fucking ass..Ohh I will show you discomfort.."


I nodded to the other three nurses.On cue my senior doctor walked in. "That's my girl!Get mad."


Doctor Jackson laughed. "You have started again Leigh-Anne."


I shrugged. "Annoying them always works.Its working." We all surrounded her as the husband held her hand.


"Come on girl.I'm tired of waiting."

The chuckle that followed my outrageous taunt was her last straw.She became mad and with a hiss of rageshe followed the contraction forwardlunging for me and unwittingly propelling the baby into my waiting hands.In triumphI held the newborn baby boy high.He was covered in blood and a white cheesy substance.I slapped his butt and his cries filled the room.I always loved that part.


Majesty stared at her son with a smile.We gave her her son while the father helped in cutting the cord.

"I think she is going to faint." One of the nurses said.


"It wouldn't be the first time. " Dr Jackson saidsounding amused.


"Check her blood pressure and give her a shot of happiness.She has earned it." I looked at the husband. "Congratulations sir."


"Thank you."


I noddedremoved my scrubs and walked out leaving the nurses and Dr Jackson cleaning her and the baby.The husband followed and said something to the crowd on the hallwayin a language that I didn't understandbut I guessed it was African because it had a lot of clicks in it.They all cheered and I figured he had just told them that they had a baby boy.


"I fucking told you that the little motherfucker will have a dick.I want my money Lwandile."


I chuckled and shook my head before walking away.


***


"My gosh did you see them.I would give up everything just for one night with one of those guys.They are super sexy.I really need to go to Africa for a holiday.I heard they are from Africa.Do you know most of the guys from Africaare always packing down there.I bet they feed them herbs and shit." The nurses worked around mechattering and gossiping as they went about their routine cleanup.


"It seems the girls are excited about the men on the 5th floor.They have been the talk of this entire hospital." Cheyenne our older receptionist said.


I rolled my eyes. "They are hot I agree but not worthy to drop pants for."


Cheyenne laughed. "You will never know.Tell me something Dr Gold.Do you date?"


I gave her a confused look. "Huh?"


She chuckled. "Do you ever accept invitation from eligible young bachelors to have coffee or lunch.Do you date Dr Gold?"


I shrugged with a smile. "I hate coffee Cheyenne."


She laughed as I walked away.


***


I clung onto my coat as I walked out of the hospital towards my car The wind gave me the chills despite the thick tights that I wore.Winter was approaching and I didn't shave.During this time of the year it was time to let hair grow enough to braid.Which said a lot about my dating life.It was nonexistent and I was last laid three weeks ago.Something seriously had to be done.I had to go out there and get a one night stand maybe I would stop being so grumpy.


I lived in an old duplexprobably one of the original cottages first built in my neighborhood. I liked it because it was well kept casual and welcoming.It was old but cosy and beautiful.When I arrived I just went straight to the shower.There was no need for me to cook because I had food at the hospitals canteen.I only fed my cat Ally.After my shower I emerged out of the bathroom barelegged and with clean underarms.My cat let out a soft purr and came to molest my foot.


"I can't play with you right now sweety.Mommy needs to go out there and get laid.You gonna be alone tonightsorry Ally."


I transformed into a black backless skin tight dress and sky-high needle-thin heels.I was giving myself a man for the night.I called an uber and after some minutes I walked inside the Jefferson Street Pub.From the inside of door I could see the fancy bar.GreatI needed some liquid courage first.I ventured closer to the shiny wooden bar and slid into the bar's velvet stoolsvery well aware of the fact that my tiny dress was riding up my thighs.They would be strong shame.A man in a suit eyed my legs but I looked away because I was definitely not interested.


"Double scotch on one rock please." I said to the bartenderAaron according to his name tag.


He smiled. "Coming right up."


As I drank my scotch I scanned the bar.There was nothing interesting.Only beer belly men gazing at anything in a skirt.


"I will pay the pretty girl's drink." The man in the suit walked towards me and placed his hand on my thighs and his grip tightened on my arm.


"What the fuck?I'm not interested." Irritation ran through my skin.Apparently he thought I was a hooker but no thanks my dress wasn't that short.


"Come on sweet pie.I saw you checking me out earlier." He moved his hand up my thigh.


"Hey asshole I said I'm not fucking interested." I was about to grab his balls and claw them out when a deep voice curled around me.


"If you don't want to be still picking your teethI suggest you walk out while you're still able to.I'm giving you ten seconds or I will shove that glass up your ass."


In one swift move the guy was gone before I could blink.I turned and looked at the owner of that voice.Holy wow.

"Put her drink on my tab and that fool's too." He ordered the bartender his hazel eyes trained on me.My gosh those eyes.I looked at him up and down.He stood six-foot-three frame full of muscle and power.He was muscular and strongwith hands big enough to crush a skullbut his face was beautiful with caramel chocolate skin and hazel eyes.Gosh those eyes.He was so built solidly.He was in a white V-neck and black jeanshis muscular size undeniable.The cut of his shirt showed he had ink to his collarbone.His left hand was covered too in blank ink.I didn't need to be told twice.This was a bad boyend of story.My eyes dropped lower to the bulge in his jeans.I swallowed and looked at his face instead.A hint of recognition tugged at the edges of my scotch drenched brain.


"You look familiar." His hazel eyes burnt into mine.


"Yea we met in the afternoon.You're the doctor who helped my sister in law deliver a baby boy."


Now I was drinking a glass of martini "Okayno need to remind me that I look at vaginas for a living.Its a boner killer."


He chuckled and sat besides me. "What are you doing here at this hour?Don't you know its not safe for pretty girls like you."


I laughed. "Trust meit's you who is not safe when I'm around."


He looked at my thighs. "Yaa I can see that.But you didn't answer my question.Why are you here dressed like you want to torture every men who looks at you?"


"I came here to find a hot single man who looks like he can handle himself and see where the night takes us."I swirled the liquid in my glass then brought the cocktail pick to my lips and sucked one of the olives into my mouth.I chewed it keeping my gaze on him and then took another sip.

"You think you might be that guy?"


He chuckled. "Wowa woman who says exactly what a man wants to hear when he is sitting next to a beautiful woman in a bar." He scooted at the very edge of the stool then gripped the back of my head lightly before he pressed his mouth against mine.My mouth treasured the initial contactthe surprise in my lips as they parted slightly.His lips tasted like toffee.So sweet and addictive that it made me wonder if he tasted like that everywhere.He ended the kiss abruptly.

"Do you think I'm the guy."


"Let's get out of here."


He chuckled. "Your place or mine."


"Yours."


***


Dawn crept into the room and I woke up immediately.Turning my headI studied the man besides me.He looked sexy.Dangerous.Like the hard man he was.But I needed to leave than waste my time drooling over a man I would never see again.I crawled off the bed and sat down for a while trying to gain some energy.My limps involuntary shook and I could still feel him.When I had gathered enough strength I stood up but winced quietly.The pain between my legs was excruciating.This man was an animalnot only was he huge but he was aggressive too.I wore my clothes and did the walk of shame.Noscratch thatI did the limp of shame.When I had made it out of his apartment I called an uber and went home.


After taking a shower and getting ready for my morning shiftI called the girls.I explained my situation while they laughed at me like I was joking.


Meredith laughed. "Leigh-Anne you're the gynae you know what to do when you get torn."


I winced. "I'm serious right now girls.This isn't a joke.I can't even walk properly and my knees are shaking.He is so huge and has a crazy sex drive.He kept me up all night.I have never experienced anything like that.When I saw it for the first time I was terrified.I almost ran out."


Chicago laughed even more. "You wanted to get laid and you did.It will last you for the next three months.But you enjoyed him though right.All the pain can't be for nothing."


"Of course I did.He was really good but the aftermath is not so good.He tore me apart.He destroyed me for the next men." They both laughed.


"You love things too much.Anyway I gotta go.I have to go shower now." Meredith hung up.


"I'm sorry my girlsit in cold water and salt."Chicago laughed and hung up too.


***


Driving was torture because even sitting was painful.When I limped to my office I felt like people could see right through me.


"And then?What happened to you?" Cheyenne asked.


"I twisted my leg.I missed a step."


She chuckled. "Okay Missy.Anyway your PA asked me to brief you on your schedule.She will be in late because of traffic.You have a cesarean section at exactly 8:00.The patient has preeclampsia and its a vertical incision.All the information is in this folder." She gave me a blue folder.


"Okay thank you Cheyenne." I limped into my office.


On cuemy landline rang.I knew who it was. "Leightonif its about the family dinner don't bother.Youyour wifeMr Gold and his girlfriend will have it without me."


Leighton my older brother sighed. "Leigh-Anne you need to let it go.It happened 27 years ago and dad asked for forgiveness.For how long will you be angry at him."


"Let what gohuh?At least you have some memories with mama and I have none.I don't even know how her face really looked likeall I see are the pictures.That man is the reason why she died.If he didn't cheat on her then mama who wouldn't have gave birth to me prematurely and die on the operation table while that man was out there whoring around.I will never forgive him for that.He made this future happen.Who cheats on their pregnant wife?Who does that?" I fought the tears that were threatening to come out.I found out about this truth when I was thirteen.I overhead Mr Gold and his sister talking about it.I never forgave him since that day.And I vowed to myself not fall prey to the fate.If my own father could cheat on his wife who was pregnant with his babywhat would stop a stranger from hurting me?I wasn't going to fall for victim to deadbeat pricks who thought it was okay to hurt other people for no reason.My mothers experience taught me a lot.

"I'm not coming so don't bother calling.Pass my regards to Liam and your wife." I hung up and prepared myself for surgery.


***


After surgery I was exhaustedmy lady parts were still sore.All I wanted was a good nap in my office.When I walked towards my office there was some kind of commotionnot in the traditional sense of the word but the nurses were whispering gossiping and pretending to be cleaning the hallway.I frowned and walked towards the reception only to halt on my tracks.You gotta be kidding me?!

Dressed in a deep blue T-shirt with black jeans that showed his tent he leaned on the reception deskchatting and laughing with Cheyenne.His broad shoulders were clear in that body hugging T-shirt and his height towered over anyone else who was standing.His hazel eyes were set on me as I limped towards the reception.He had a triumph smirk on his face.


When I approached Cheyenne smiled. "You didn't tell me you were expecting a visitor Dr Gold.The young man here has been waiting for you for an hour.He is good company though." I wasn't expecting this visitor Cheyenne.Of course I didn't say that out loud.


"Ohh it slipped my mind." I opened my door and I could feel him towering behind me.


"You're still walking. I didn't do a good job."He said behind me.


When we walked inI locked the door and looked at him. "What the hell are you doing here?"


The corner of his mouth rose in a soft smilegiving me a slightly boyish charm even though he was all man.

"Hi Leigh-Anne Gold.I'm Lwandile Zulu and I'm here to take you out for breakfastlunch or whatever."


"Are you kidding me right now?Are you stalking me?"


He sat on one of the couches and placed his right ankle over his left knee. "Which question should I answer first?"


I looked at himtongue-tied.


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