Nicholas couldn’t help stealing glances at Nalia. He drove with care, keeping to the speed limit, not overtaking at will. A smile tagged his lips, Eli would be proud, he thought.
Nalia sat with her hands on her lap. Her fingers were in tight fists, her gaze fixed outside the window. She hadn’t spoken much after her consultation with Eli.
Eli resisted his efforts to discover what they discussed in privacy. Instead, Eli had given Nalia his card and made her promise to call him.
Nicholas stopped the car at the first bus stop he found on the main road. Parking on the curb, he turned to Nalia.
“Do you live close?” he asked.
She nodded, but didn’t say a word.
Reaching into his jacket, Nicholas got his wallet and found a five hundred shillings note.
“Will this be enough?” he asked, holding it out to her. “It should get you home—
“That’s too much,” Nalia said. “Two hundred is fine.”
“I don’t have change.”
She frowned at him.
He didn’t like those little frowns of hers. She had to think him stuck-up or something worse.
“Take the money, Nalia,” he urged.
She scoffed and took it with a short jerk.
“I’ll pay it back.”
“Are you always this stubborn?” Nicholas asked. “You don’t want help from anyone. Who lives like that?”
“Me,” she said and reached for the door handle.
The surge of panic that flooded him was new. Nicholas was sure he would never see her again, and…he wanted to see her again.
“Wait,” he said, when she opened the door.
“For what?” she asked, jumping out of the truck.
She held the passenger door open and met his gaze.
“Thank you,” she said. “You’ve been very kind to me.”
Nicholas nodded and watched as she closed the door and took two steps back. She had his card, he thought. She had insisted on it, to be able to pay back the money she borrowed.
A matatu stopped in front of his car, and he watched Nalia hurry to board. Nicholas smiled when she paused at the last minute to look back at his car. She gave him a short wave and he scoffed at the little flutter in his chest. The matatu took off as fast as it had shown up. He didn’t get a chance to see what number it was.
Nalia was intriguing.
She was a woman who took the time to bake to thank him for being kind. Her sense of humor made him laugh, not to mention she was beautiful in her own right. The bruise on her face brought a frown, and Nicholas wondered what it was Eli had learned about that bruise.
Domestic violence came to mind. He wondered what kind of man dared to hit a woman like Nalia. Would that bastard do it again? Nicholas frowned, staring after the retreating matatu.
Maybe he shouldn’t have let her go.
“Come to your senses, Nick,” he murmured and started his car. “She’s a stranger you met last night.”
Turning the car around, he drove back to the villa and his renovation plans.
Malik was gone.
Nalia stood in their living room staring at the plates she dumped on the living room floor. She leaned down and righted one of the two dining room chairs they owned. She rubbed her arms looking around the little living room that could fit in the bathroom she had used to clean up hours before.
Her home was small, but she had once thought to be happy here. Now this small space felt cold. Colder than the rain she had ran through last night.
Ignoring the mess on the floor, Nalia went to the single bedroom she shared with Malik. The bed was unused. Malik hadn’t slept here. She stepped over Malik’s soiled shirt on the floor and sat down on their bed. The clothes she fought to keep neat in their tiny closet were falling out. The room was messy.
Nalia shook her head.
Just like her life was messy, she thought. It was time she did something about it.
“What kind of woman runs out in the rain?” Malik demanded later that day when he got home. “You made a mess, and then left me to clean it up. What did you think was going to happen?”
Nalia sat at the small dining table peeling potatoes for dinner. She kept her gaze on the potato peels, refusing to look at Malik.
Her husband was drunk. He had come home from one of his binges at the bar. Something was either right or terrible wrong. She didn’t dare ask. Her cheek was starting to heal. She didn’t need a fresh bruise.
“Are you just going to sit there?” Malik asked, standing over her. “All you do is cook and clean. You have no time for me. Why did we get married again? You don’t even try to look pretty anymore.”
Nalia closed her eyes and forced her fingers not to stiffen on the knife she held.
“You should go rest in bed,” she said. “You must be tired.”
“Sleep here?” Malik scoffed. “This shack we call a home is not comfortable anymore, Nalia. What do you want to do about that?”
Nalia’s eyes opened and she dropped the knife on top of the potato peels.’
“What do I want to do?” she asked, her tone sharper than she had intended.
Damn it, Malik was a spoiled man. She couldn’t stand it anymore. Malik blinked staring at her.
“What am I to you?” she asked, pushing her chair back and getting on her feet. “A punching bag? A private chef? Your architect?”
“Stop this foolishness,” Malik commanded, waving his hand. “You still haven’t told me where you were last night. No descent woman sleeps outside—”
“Whose fault is it I went running out in the first place?” Nalia demanded. “I’m tired of this, Malik!”
Malik stared at her.
“Tired of what?” Malik asked, his gaze dropping to the peeled potatoes. “Cooking?”
“No, being your slave,” Nalia snapped. “I want a divorce.”
(To be continued)