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She jogged across the street, trying to keep her heart steady as her braided bun bobbed rhythmically atop her head as her feet hit the pavement. This was her third time jogging down this street and she was scared that she might just bump into the last man on earth she wanted to meet. Tunde Halliday. She frowned as a shiver skittered up her spine at the mention of his name, slowing her pace. His black eyes nudged her to accept his offer, having seen him again at the library two days after their first meeting. She scolded herself as she smiled briefly at a mother pushing a baby-stroller opposite her. It was definitely time to pick a new study spot.

Maybe the school library instead, she told herself and continued on, glancing back and forth at the quaint houses surrounding her. This was a wonderful neighborhood and she’d once thought of moving to one of those houses once she could afford it. Eyes focused on the road, ears attentive to the rhythm of her feet, she cut a corner and sprinted across the street to the other side.

Swinging to the left as a large, flying object surged toward her face, Anaya didn’t have time to duck as the plastic object hit her on the side of her temple. She swallowed a scream as she toppled over the sidewalk and fell hard on her right ankle. A sharp pain shot up the side of her leg as she shifted unto her backside, immediately reaching for her assailed ankle.

“Geez, are you okay?” a young teenager called over furious barking from the dog beside him, his face red from either perspiration or embarrassment. He stepped forward, bending at the waist as the woman touched her ankle. “I’m so sorry, lady…” He reached tentatively at her shoulder and feeling her flinch, he stepped back as if she was on fire.

“No really… I’m fine.” Anaya groaned, lifting a free hand to touch the side of her head where the Frisbee had clunked her.

“Uh… You need some help?” the boy stuttered, shifting the Frisbee in his hands helplessly. “Be quiet, Bettie!” he snapped at the barking terrier dog, hoping beside him.

“No, that’s not necessary—” She started to say through the piercing pain.

“Don’t worry about it, Jace… I’ll help her,” drawled an all-too familiar voice behind her and Anaya’s face burned as she tried to scramble to her feet. Just as she was about to stand, two strong hands braced her waist and lifted her up effortlessly as if she weighed less than a feather. Glancing over her shoulder, her eyes narrowed immediately as the wide grin of Tunde Halliday. Although they’d just seen each other a few days ago, she was struck over how dark his eyes were; dark pools of beautiful ebony. Suddenly she jerked her head down, flabbergasted over her wayward thoughts.

Tunde struggled to keep a straight face, liking that Anaya wasn’t trying to push away to run but instead leaned against him. It was obvious she was uncomfortable, squeezing her shoulders close together to avoid the inevitable proximity especially since his hands braced her waist. He had just finished his three-mile run and was heading towards his house when he spotted Anaya and with a mischievous look on his face, he began jogging after her, planning how to surprise her. Apparently both he and Anaya didn’t expect the Frisbee that had attacked the startled beauty as she headed towards her car by the park. Tunde had been trying to talk to her all week, grateful that his job offered him the opportunity of using the public library to meet this shy beauty. Now standing right next to her, Tunde rejoiced inwardly at this divine opportunity. What were the odds running into her here? In his neighborhood of all places.

“Gee, Tunde… I’m sorry, man,” the apologetic teenager said over Tunde’s thoughts, his eyes shifting nervously from his friend to the quiet woman in his arms. “I didn’t mean to hit your girlfriend… I was hoping Bettie would catch it,” he said, glancing down at his dog.

Tunde smiled, noticing the drawn lines around the boy’s mouth as he expressed his regret. He quickly glanced at Anaya who turned her head away and returned his smile back to the penitent young man . “Still trying to train that dog, I see…”

The teenager shrugged, glancing once towards the park and then groaned as his terrier had now left his side and was sprinting across the park, “Oh no…” he groaned, glancing back frantically towards his friend. “I gotta go, man… Bettie’s scaring an old lady.” He didn’t waste a minute and split across the park to rescue the woman, or rather his dog now being shooed away by the cranky woman’s assailing cane.

Tunde smirked while watching the teenager receive a sharp scolding from the flustered old lady. He then turned back to Anaya who still hadn’t lifted her eyes to look at him. He sighed, glancing down at her foot that she held up off the ground, “Does it hurt, Anaya?”

She quietly squirmed in his arms but his steady hands stilled her, compelling to look at him. “Does it hurt?” he repeated firmly.

Anaya bit her lip before nodding silently, tears from the frustration and pain throbbing at her ankles.

He searched for the truth in her almond eyes and gently squeezed her waist. “Okay. It’s alright. Let’s go to my place. It’s just around the corner.” Tunde held back a laugh as she jerked in his arms, “Relax, Ana… I won’t attack you. There’s a first aid kit back there. Except if you want to wait here while I get it.” He smiled then as she skittered her eyes towards him as if weighing his words. “Come on…” he urged and smiled when her feet moved beside his. Ignoring her protest, he tugged at one of her arms, draping it over his shoulder to make her more comfortable for the long walk to his house.

Minutes later upon arriving at the bottom steps of Tunde’s brick house in the same neighborhood she’d been dreaming about, Anaya heaved a sigh. Tunde allowed her a moment to lean against the banister and turned to open the front door before holding out a hand towards her.

Hesitantly, Anaya placed her hand in his and he helped her over the threshold to a piquant smell of cinnamon spice. She wrinkled her nose instantly, a look gone unnoticed by Tunde as he pulled the door wider to accommodate both of them entering together. “Welcome to my humble abode…” he watched silently then as her eyes wandered around the foyer of his house.

“It’s… nice,” she allowed herself to say, feeling awkward that she’d inadvertently invited herself into a stranger’s home. All because of this blasted ankle. Eyes avoiding his open scrutiny, she glanced down at their still-joined hands and quickly jerked her hand apart.

Tunde bit the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing and then gestured towards an open archway.

“Uh… Why don’t I show you the living room? You can sit there and relax while I hunt out the first aid.” Without waiting for a word from Anaya, Tunde placed a hand on her waist and led her slowly to the living room, still dim from the drawn curtains. He guided her to the sofa closest to the archway, before stepping around the couch to open the blinds.

A smile crossed his lips as he watched she quietly peruse his family room. His heart jumped at the thought of wanting her to approve of his home. Face warming at the many thoughts that crossed his mind, Tunde cleared his throat, causing her eyes to return to him. “I better get the first aid kit… I’ll be back.”

Anaya’s eyes followed him silently as he scampered off out the door, clad in a fitted white V-neck tee that clung to his subtle muscles, narrow hips and jogging pants that outlined his slim legs. Her heart jumped at the sight of him and she bit her bottom lip as the searing pain reminded her of the real reason she was here in Tunde Halliday’s home. Just days ago, she’d done everything to avoid him. Now she was sitting in his living room with no real means of escaping.

Choosing to detract her attention from her pain and the man rattling up the stairs, she glanced around her surroundings and smiled inwardly. The white bare walls were just waiting for someone to make them cozy and inviting. She scanned the room, spotting some photos by the fireplace mantle and with curiosity nipping at her one good heel; she slowly rose to her feet, shuffling towards the picture display.

There were photos of Tunde standing in front of an open field with his arm slung over the shoulder of another tall, dark slim man, both with matching low-cut hair and dark sideburns emphasizing their chiseled features. Brothers, she noted, scanning their identical faces. They were clad in their native attire, a bright indigo with white streaks on the fabric, and of course, Tunde looked like a dashing prince with his lanky, toned frame and dark looks. Her heart skipped a beat as she studied his smiling eyes that never ceased to invoke fluttering in her. Did he know he had that affect on her? Without thinking, her fingers moved to touch the frame.

“We took that picture a year ago on a trip back home. That’s me and my brother, Silas,” his voice said softly from the door and she gasped, snapping her hand back too quickly. Her eyes widened as the frame teetered at the edge of the mantle and before she could reach for it, the picture frame fell safely onto the carpet.

“Oh…” she breathed sharply, bending to pick it up and to hide her burning face.

“Don’t worry about it, Ana. I’ll get it,” his voice got closer and his warm breath caressed her ear as he bent beside her. With one hand firmly by her elbow, he helped her up. Then after replacing the picture back to its rightful place and she turned her eyes towards him, Tunde grinned causing again, her foolish heart fluttering in response. She needed to get out of here and fast.

“I have the first aid kit,” Tunde said casually though his eyes stared deep into hers for a moment, drinking into its chocolate pools. For a moment, he wanted to hold her closer to him. Instead, he gestured towards the couch and she silently let him lead her back to her seat.

She could feel her face heating up under his unwavering gaze. Why was he staring at her so intently? She was already nervous enough with him hovering.

Kneeling now in front of her, Tunde lifted her foot and framed her ankle in his hands. He winced at the sight of swollen flesh. “You seemed to have sprained it badly but I don’t think it’s broken…” he paused as she sucked in air. Glancing up quickly when she stiffened, he took in her wrinkled brow and tense jaw. “I’m sorry,” Tunde said softly, loosening his hold on her ankle.

“It’s…okay,” she bit her bottom lip as Tunde gingerly rubbed salve on her skin and began to wrap her sprained ankle with gauze.

After a few moments of silence as he tended to her ankle, Anaya closed her eyes and found herself leaning against the soft cushion of his olive-colored, suede couch. Trying not to shiver as his warm, callused hands brushed her ankle while tending to it, she attempted to remember the list of drugs that would appear on her test next week. Hydrochlorothiazide—a diuretic powder, Amitriptyline… a dibenzocycloheptadiene derivative is used for intramuscula—

“Anaya…” Tunde’s soft voice interrupted her thought. Instinctively Anaya snapped her injured foot, hitting Tunde in the chest, causing him to lose his balance. His right shoulder slammed against the coffee table behind him.

Anaya gasped as a sharp pain shot up her leg, “Oh no… I’m sorry,” she started, leaning forward to touch his arm as he regained his balance. “I-I’m sorry… What did you say?” her heart jumped as his eyes openly searched her face.

Tunde chuckled softly as he scuffled forward and his hand stretched to the side of her face. “I was going to ask if you needed something on that bump by the side of your forehead…”

She winced when his hand reached up to touch her temple. “No… I’m fine…”

He cocked his head to look at her, making her shift uncomfortably at his scrutiny. “What were you just saying a moment ago? What is dibenzo…” he wrinkled his nose at the word.

“Dibenzocycloheptadiene,” she found herself smiling as his eyes widened at the ease it took for her to pronounce the complex word. “It’s a specific group of structurally related drugs that include antidepressants… It’s complicated,” she shrugged as he watched her mouth, an inquisitive brow raised.

“Wow,” he breathed softly. “You’re a smart woman, Anaya…”

Anaya shrugged against her cheeks warming at his praise, “I was just studying for my test next week—” she bit back the rest of her sentence. I’m sure he really doesn’t care to hear the rest of your life’s story, Ana…

He smiled, “You’re in pharmacy school, I presume?” he said softly, utterly surprising the poor girl.

She blinked at him. “How did you know—“” Then she remembered their first meeting and the book he’d held up from her. “Uh… well, it’s okay. Tough,” she supplied, her eyes now avoiding his.

Sensing her discomfort as he leaned close to hear her, Tunde finally stood to his feet, “I bet you’re hungry… Do you want something to eat—I have something other than cinnamon buns…” He peered down at her, and again stared at her mouth.

Anaya shook her head helplessly, glancing down at her watch. “No, I really should be going…” She placed both hands to brace herself as she tried to stand to her feet.

Tunde hurried to aid her by placing his hands by her waist, catching a faint whiff of her flowery perfume. As Anaya straightened herself up, he looked down and his eyes moved from her chocolate-brown eyes, down to her straight, narrow nose and then to her perfectly, full dark lips. Lips that formed her words eloquently. He’d always heard that Fulani women were striking, but this one that haunted his thoughts ever since he’d seen her crossing the library that first day, he could testify that she was probably the most beautiful of them all. His eyes lingered there for a moment, his face only a few inches from hers and glancing once to her eyes that were now focused on his own lips, he felt his head involuntarily descending.

Anaya’s eyes widened and she placed a hand on his chest to stop him. “Wait…”

Tunde snapped his head back and his eyes skittered to hers once again. “What?”

“Don’t do that,” Anaya replied, taking one step backwards, only to have her legs to hit the sofa behind her, sending her toppling onto the sofa.

Tunde’s heart jumped as he stepped toward her. “You okay?” he knelt once again to check the damage at her ankle. “I’m sorry,” he repeated helplessly.

Then all of a sudden, Anaya started to laugh. A low but amused one that Tunde glanced up curiously to stare at her. She shook her head weakly even as she continued cackling hysterically, lifting a hand out to him. “I’m so clumsy.” Her heart was beating like an Amazon drum as he placed her hand in his and lifted her up to her feet, this time keeping some distance between them. A jolt of electricity shot through both hands at contact and all laughter faded as Tunde suddenly jerked his hand away as if on fire.

“I’ll take you home,” Tunde said softly as he watched her regain her balance. Then he stepped around her to retrieve his keys by the door.

<< Part 1 || Part 3 >>

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