Following his announcement about her friend luring the baddies away, Karen reverted to silence. At first, he assumed she was reeling in shock and decided to leave her to her thoughts. But after an hour passed, Karen kept her face to the window.

“You okay?” he finally spoke up.

“No.” Karen heaved a deep sigh. “We need to go back.”

He spied on the sleeping children before answering. “Why would we do that?”

She shifted to face him. “I can’t leave my friend there.”

Clement frowned. “He left without you.”

“Because I said he should go without me.”

“For goodness’ sake, Karen. Why would you—Are you crying right now?”

Karen swiped a hand across her face. “It’s my fault that he ended up in this mess. He was just supposed to drop me off, but ended up saving my life twice. I should’ve never gotten him involved.”

“First off,” Clement interjected. “He’s a grown man who made the choice to follow you here. Secondly, if he hadn’t been there, God knows what would’ve happened to you.” He paused, glancing her way again. “How did he save your life the first time?”

“It’s a long story.”

“We’ve got fourteen hours to go. Tell me.”

“We have to go back, Clement.” She grabbed his shoulder. “Please. We can’t let him get hurt. If anything happens to him, I won’t forgive myself.”

“I’m sure he’s fine, Karen.” He patted her knee. “Why don’t you call him?”

“I can’t. I don’t know his number, and I lost my phone.”

Clement sighed. “Okay, do you at least remember the name of the cab company you called before he came to get you?”

“I can barely remember all that’s happened in the last 48 hours, why would I remember the name of a cab company?”

“Then what do you want me to do?”

“Turn back around.”

“I can’t. The moment we step into that town, there’s a high possibility of us not being able to get out. Same for these five. I won’t risk that.”

Karen glared at him. “So we sacrifice my friend and the four children he saved so that we can live?”

“So that we and the five with us can live.” Clement paused when she scoffed in disgust. “Who’s to say he’s even back there? For all we know, he’s long gone and safe from the bad guys, like we should be. I’m sorry but I have a responsibility to make sure you and the—”

“No one asked you to be responsible for me,” Karen snapped, turning to face the window. She folded her arms across her chest, fuming inwardly although he had a good point. Quietly hoping Ashon was indeed far away from Finch’awa and safe with the children he’d stashed away, she leaned against the window and observed at the shadow of trees as the car zipped past meadows and plains.

“So I guess you’re not gonna tell me the story?”

“Not now, Clement.”

“You need time,” Clement replied. “That’s fine. Let’s drive in silence.”

But his decision to leave her to her thoughts lasted for a moment. “Are you angry?”

“No.”

He smirked, grateful she wasn’t the kind to stew in silence unlike Priscilla. “So you’re just thinking?”

Karen sighed. “I’m trying to remember the cab company.”

Clement held back a laugh; she was adorable. “Nothing yet?”

“Nope.” She tapped her forehead and groaned. “It’s official, I’m getting old.”

He cleared his throat. “You sure don’t look it.”

“Whatever.” Karen glanced his way. “I really hope for your sake Ashon’s okay.”

“Me too. Don’t worry too much about it. When it’s daylight, I’ll call my friend to check on the cabs in Nairobi. He’ll find something useful.” Her silence had him looking over at her staring at him. “What?”

Karen shook her head. “I still can’t wrap my head around you being here, doing this.”

He evaded her probing stare. “Crazy, right?”

“How did you make the decision? Isn’t it dangerous?”

“It’s dangerous, but as you’ve witnessed, it’s more dangerous for the innocent children.” He exhaled a harsh breath. “Did you know my siblings and I are adopted?”

“I didn’t until Darah’s father-in-law mentioned it. Y’all seem as close as birth siblings.”

Clement nodded. “All thanks to our parents and Abe who took over when they passed on.”

“I’m sorry for your loss, by the way.”

“It’s okay… Y’know, Abe was stolen as a child.” He nodded when she gasped. “I couldn’t believe it either. But the evidence proved it to be true.”

“Your parents were involved?”

“No. He was stolen outside a small village near the capital and given to a family from in Wisconsin. But when relocating to Australia, they couldn’t take him for whatever reason—it doesn’t matter what it was—he was abandoned and taken into the foster system for years before our parents adopted him at thirteen.”

Karen shook her head in disgust. “That’s horrible.”

“What’s even crazier is that his birth parents are still alive.”

“What?!” Karen realized she’d exclaimed too loudly and covered her mouth. Her gaze darted behind to the sleeping children before swinging back to Clement’s shadowed face. “Are you kidding me?”

“I wish I was…”

“Does your brother know?”

“I haven’t told him yet. Don’t know how to bring it up.” He exhaled.

Perplexed, Karen sat back. “I mean how would you tell him something like that? I don’t envy you.”

“I stick my neck out there, risk everything so to speak, because of this. Because they are plenty Abes’ out there, living without the knowledge that their folks never abandoned them.”

The bitter undertone in his voice made her look up. “Is he the only sibling with that story…?”

“Bart’s folks died in a car accident. Darah’s in a fire. Eleazar’s mother died of a drug overdose and his father a no-show.”

Karen blinked. “And you?”

He was silent for too long and Karen immediately regretted asking. Then he shook his head. “They’re still alive. Just don’t care what they’re up to, and I’m sure they’d say the same about me.”

Hidden pain lived in Clement’s past and though not her business, she wished to know the reason for it. On the surface, Clement Teka seemed like a normal guy; as normal as any other man. Broad-shouldered and sturdy, he had pleasant features and a nice smile. Nothing really that impressive.

Yet from their first meeting at Mr. Obed’s hospital room where he acted as chaplain and bedsitter, Karen was intrigued by the man with a charming personality who entertained her once cranky patient. Though she’d once dreaded attending to Mr. Obed in the beginning, Karen found herself volunteering more often for the duties while Clement was visiting.

Her interest grew while watching him interact with not only Mr. Obed but also his family. Though third in his family, he spoke with a level of authority that made anyone stop to listen; a trait necessary for a pastor. He wasn’t the type to hold back his thoughts but he never forced his opinions on others. Either you liked him or you didn’t; that was your business, not his. Though self-aware and self-secure, his dauntless nature masked the hurt in his past and made him seem older and more mature. The rare glimpses of his guardedness was the main intrigue and Karen, a self-professed sleuth, wanted to learn more.

“So, you ready to tell me the story?”

Karen smirked at him. “Fine… But promise not to freak out.”

He shrugged a shoulder. “Depends on how bad it is.”

“Well I’m still alive, so it can’t be that bad.”

Clement hesitated too long and Karen nudged his arm. “You don’t want to wake the children.”

“They’ll wake up soon anyway… tell me.”

Karen drew in a breath and released it slowly. “Okay. So where do I start?”

“Start from the time you dropped my call to answer another.”

“So yeah, I got a call from this lady asking if I was still in Nairobi and she needed assistance. I agreed and she gave me the address. I took a cab, Ashon was the driver, and hurried to meet her…”

Minutes later Clement drew in a shaky breath, a poor attempt to summon a calm that refused to come. His fingers tightened around the steering wheel, his mind reeling over what Karen shared.

The grim image of a burly man towering over her with his big hands squeezing her neck made his blood run cold. Even though she’d boasted that her red belt in taekwondo caught the big man off guard and off his feet, Clement agonized over the fact that she’d suffered by herself in the last 48 hours. What started out as a simple cross-country adventure to Africa had almost cost her life.

“And then you were there, shoving my face against the wall!” Karen finished with a soft laugh.

Clement grimaced, finding no humor in any of it. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. If I wasn’t already injured or caught off guard, I’d have done the same to you.”

The image of her pushing him against the wall made Clement glance her way. “Good thing we’re on the same side then. I’m sure that guy regrets messing with you.”

Karen giggled. “Ashon thinks I’m a scary woman so maybe the guy’ll think twice before he tries to put someone else in a chokehold.”

Clement heaved a sigh, wishing to dispel the image of Karen being strangled. It irked him that she’d been put in such a frightening situation. A part of him wished he’d been there to take care of the man himself.

“I have no doubt God was there, protecting me the whole time.”

“The birds?”

“Oh yeah.” Karen nodded, smiling. “If they hadn’t attacked him, I wouldn’t have made it out alive.” The sun was slowly rising on the east, casting a soft orange light on her features. Her smile was serene. Beautiful.

Clement quickly looked away. “Well, He works in mysterious ways.”

“Do you really believe that?”

He nodded. “I do.”

“Then why do you take matters into your own hands?”

Conviction gripped him in response to her probing question. Dula, Ejigu and even that soft voice in his heart he’d long since ignored, had all echoed the same sentiment. He sighed deeply. “Because I’m not one to sit around and twiddle my thumbs doing nothing.”

“Look, I get it. You’re a man of action, and that’s admirable. And I can’t blame you for wanting to do something but buying them, Clement… what makes you different from them?”

“The kids get to go home, to their parents,” he answered, risking a glance at her. “Sure it’s not an ideal situation. There’s the chance that I might never make it home after a botched operation… but that chance to return a child home is the reason I do what I do.”

Her expression was thoughtful, her bottom lip pressed between her teeth. Clement shifted his gaze from her mouth. “I don’t expect you to understand. It isn’t for everyone.”

“So when we get to your place and you’ve finally reunite the children with their parents, what’s next? You go back and do it again?”

“Would you be okay living your life knowing you could’ve saved more?”

Karen shook her head, expression solemn. “I didn’t heed Ashon’s advice because I had to do something.”

“Then, you understand.”

“I do understand, Clement,” Karen turned fully to face him. “I totally get it but if you go back, they’ll kill you. Your disguise is a bust, and no doubt they’ll be careful about letting just anyone to bid in the auction.”

Clement nodded. “I’ll figure out another way.”

We’ll think of something.”

He glanced her way. “No. You’re heading on the next flight back to Houston. I’ll think of something.”

Karen rolled her eyes. “As you said, I can’t go on living as if none of this happened. How could I face my niece and nephew, knowing that there are many kids their age sold to slavery and God knows what else?” She shook her head. “I’m not going anywhere. Not until I can sleep knowing every child is safe.”

“That’ll be for a while, Karen. This has been going on for years.”

She folded her arms and sat back. “I know that, Clement. Besides, I can’t leave the country as it is right now.”

“Why not?” He noted the sign ticking off 50 kilometers from their journey toward Bichena.

“I left my passport in Ashon’s cab.” Karen shrugged when he gaped at her. “You’re stuck with me until further notice.”

<<Chapter 22 || Chapter 24>>

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