Posts tagged “adventure

Sanctuary, Chapter 32

Posted on 17/08/2017

Clement rolled his eyes as Bart’s laugh carried on longer than appropriate. He cast him a quelling glare that had his older brother finally ease off the laughter. “You done?” he drawled, not the least bit amused.

Bart dropped a hand on Clement’s shoulder and flashed a cavalier smile. “Not even close.”

Clement tossed an exasperated glance to the flight listings. “I don’t even know why I invited you here.”

“I just think it’s funny how you gave me such a hard time about Geri and you think I’m gonna let you off the hook now.” He nudged his younger brother. “Besides who else would keep you company on this drive?”

“I’ve driven to the airport by myself many times.” He glanced at Bart askance. “Can’t I greet my woman alone? Is that too much to ask?”

“Not at all… but then I distinctly recall saying the same thing and everyone ignoring me to go escort my woman from the airport while I was forced to stay at home.”

“To prepare for your proposal. And it was only a few months. I haven’t seen Karen in six months.”

“I could argue that’s your fault for sending her away.”

Clement sighed deeply, acknowledging his part to play in the prolonged separation. Bart patted his brother’s shoulder. “Your waiting is over. Does she have any idea what you’re planning?”

He didn’t answer, focused on the group of passengers exiting the arrival gates. Spotting Karen right away, a grin formed and he waved, moving toward her. She looked like sunshine in her yellow sundress and braids swinging as she rushed to meet him.

Catching her by the waist, Clement lifted her in his arms. A smiling Bart hung back, watching his brother and his girlfriend openly express how much they’d missed each other. Karen showered Clement’s face with kisses and Bart chuckled, marveling that this brother had once professed to remain a bachelor for life.

Love certainly had a way of changing a man’s plans. A good thing, in his opinion. His gaze shifted to the couple standing behind Karen and he smiled, stepping forward with a hand out. “You must be Mr. Wells. I’m Bart, Clement’s older brother.”

The man dragged his stare from his daughter to the man standing before him. A wistful smile twitched his lips as he returned the handshake. “Nice to meet you. Call me Gabriel. And this is my wife, Deidre.”

“Good to meet you both,” Bart said, giving Karen’s mother a smile. “I assure you, he’s not always this rude.” He cleared his throat and patted Clement’s back. “Junior, ease up.”

Clement lowered Karen to her feet and glanced over, realizing belatedly that her parents accompanied her. Releasing Karen’s waist, he moved to her parents. “I’m sorry about…that.”

Deidre looked more amused than her husband and tugged Clement into a hug. “Any man that greets his woman like that’s a winner in my eyes. Maybe Gabriel can learn a thing or two.”

“Dee…” Gabriel tossed his wife a warning look she ignored.

Bart gave Karen a hug. “Welcome back to Ethiopia.”

Karen acknowledged Clement’s older brother with a beaming smile. “Thanks Bart. You weren’t jetlagged?”

“Not really. We’ve been busy getting acquainted with everyone at the church.” He turned back to Karen’s parents. “I can assure you Karen’s in good hands. Junior and the guys have prepared a nice suite for you.”

Gabriel and Deidre smiled, albeit strained. They still battled over their second daughter being so far away from home. Gabriel draped an arm around his wife’s shoulders.

“I can’t wait!” Karen exclaimed, tucking an arm under Clement’s. Her parents glanced once at each other. It was plain to see what made their daughter overjoyed and excited for the first time in a long time. This man and this place were the source of her joyful smiles and longing sighs.

“Also, Karen, allow me this opportunity to thank you for saving my bro from bachelor—” Bart grunted when Clement ribbed him in the side. “Okay, yeah… l’ll go get your bags.”

Gabriel exchanged a look with Clement before steering his wife in the same direction as Bart’s, leaving the couple alone. Karen giggled as Bart gave Clement a thumbs-up before he ushered her parents toward the baggage claim. “I forgot how funny he was.” She gazed up at Clement. “I’m excited to see everyone. Not more than you, of course.” She lifted a hand to his cheek. “I missed you like crazy, you have no idea.”

“I think I do,” Clement brushed a kiss on her palm. “Only Abe, Geri and Bart are here. The children stayed behind with the rest.” Clement steered her toward the baggage claim. “How are your siblings?”

“Bummed they couldn’t come. Sammy kept whining about it until we had to board the flight.”

He smirked. “Same with Darah. She made us swear to let her visit once she weans Anwar.”

“We’ll have a vacation for everyone once we’re settled…” She paused, sneaking a look at him. Her boyfriend’s expression was distant as if his attention was on anything but what she just said. Karen didn’t complain, content to finally be with him again. Six months was too long a separation, even if it was necessary.

After the first few calls from Clement and some groundwork on her part, her parents grew supportive about her move to Ethiopia. The months flew by, and her time with family and friends seemed too short. Clement was supportive and understanding, allowing her to cry and whine throughout the grueling process of breaking her lease and moving her things back up. Tying up loose ends would’ve been more painful than it was, and having Clement in her ear and on her mind made it easier. Their prayers late at night and early in the mornings were something she looked forward to. His love and respect for God strengthened hers also.

Overcome with love for her man, Karen squeezed his hand. “You shaved again. Did you miss me?”

Clement glanced down with a smile, showing he was listening after all. “That’s not even a question.” His gaze shifted and Karen turned to see Bart dragging two suitcases. Her parents trailed behind with theirs.

“Is this all you’ve got?” Bart asked, a furrow in his brow. “Your entire life fit in two bags?”

“Mom’s got one of my bags. Besides, a missionary doesn’t need much. Right Babe?”

“Right,” Clement echoed, a proud smile on his face.

Bart snorted. “Alright, Mrs. Missionary. Let’s get going. Everyone’s waiting to see you.”

She watched as Clement relieved her parents of their luggage and followed his brother outside. Giving her parents an assured smile, Karen tucked her arms under theirs and walked with them outside. She was happy.

Thanks to both Darah and Samina, she had imagined Clement waiting for her at the arrivals gate on bended knee, holding a diamond ring. Seeing him with Bart was not exactly how she’d envisioned their reunion after six months but just the sight and the feel of him was enough to dispel the initial disappointment.

A day later, Karen stared gobsmacked at Clement kneeling before her. She barely register the ring box. Tears pooled in her eyes and her tongue was stuck to the roof of her mouth.

Clement took her shocked silence in stride and reached for her hand. “I love you, Karen, and I don’t want to be parted again. Be my partner in life and service. Marry me?”

“Say yes!” Geri and Wubit called out, and laughed together. The Bichena orphans chanted the same words.

Karen laughed shakily as she looked with blurry eyes at her parents, Clement’s brothers and sister-in-law, and even the Bichena church community. Abe and Bart waved their phones, revealing that the proposal was livestreaming to the rest of the family overseas. She squinted at one screen, spotting a beaming Samina. The other was of Darah and Phoebe, cheering silently.

Clement tugged on her hand to get her attention. “So will you?”

“Of course,” Karen said easily and watched as he stood. She let him embrace her and the tears fell.

He leaned back and wiped her tears. “Today?”

Karen paused. “What?”

“Will you marry me today?”

Her mouth dropped open and she really looked at him, realizing only now that he was wearing a navy suit and she a white floral tea-length dress. She gasped and smacked a hand to her mouth. Everyone cheered.

Karen sought her parents, gaze settling on her teary-eyed mother and smiling father. “Guys…”

Gabriel stepped forward, looking dashing in his formal attire. “Ready to get married, my Princess?”

“Daddy…” Karen burst into tears, realizing that it’d all been planned. Her heart soared with joy amid the cheering and jubilating. She was getting married today!

Clement encircled her waist. “Ready?”

“Been ready six months ago,” Karen said, earning laughs and giggles from their family and friends. She only had eyes for Clement. “I can’t believe you planned this behind my back. I love you.”

“I love you too.”

“Let the festivities begin!” Bart called out and everyone cheered as the couple embraced once again.

Dula presided over the ceremony, giving a brief message on the blessed gift of marriage from God to man. She felt the gentle squeeze of Clement’s hand around hers and marveled at how blessed she was to have met and fallen in love with such a man.

“If there be any among us who doesn’t think these two be wed, speak now or forever hold your peace…” Dula smiled at the worried look on Karen’s face. “Priscilla sends her congratulations.”

Karen let out an audible sigh of relief and could’ve sworn Clement choked on a laugh. She pinched his hand but kept her face forward.

“Keep going, Pastor!” Geri called behind them and both Clement and Karen chuckled along with their guests.

Dula nodded. “By the power vested in me by the constitution of the Federal Democratic Repub…” He paused when Clement cleared his throat and smirked. “Under God our Father and Creator, I now pronounce you man and wife. Mr. Clement Teka, you may now kiss your bride.”

Their family and friends, both present and via Wi-Fi, cheered as Clement gathered Karen in his arms.

Five months later.

Eleazar set his bags on the stone floor and scanned the humble furnishings of his older brother’s living room. Noticing the wedding frame propped on the cabinet, he studied it closely.

Half the family attended the impromptu wedding ceremony. He couldn’t since his passport hadn’t processed by then. Eleazar suspected Abe purposefully delayed finding his birth certificate in time.

The door opened and a bearded stranger stepped inside with a welcoming smile. “You must be Eli, the little brother.”

Travel-worn and hungry, Eleazar merely arched a brow.

“I’m Dula,” the man continued. “A good friend of Brother Clement. Did you enjoy the ride over here?”

“It was decent,” Eleazar answered, looking past him at the open doorway. “Where is my brother?”

“He’s… out.”

Eleazar arched a brow at the slight hesitation. “When is he coming back?”

It was already suspicious that Clement had sent another bearded stranger to meet him at the airport, and even that one named Ejigu, gave him a roundabout answer of his brother’s absence.

He squinted when Dula silently shrugged in response. “And you don’t know when he’s coming back?”

“It’s… hard to say. It’s been two days, but that’s normal.”

“Okay…” Eleazar frowned. “What about my sister-in-law?”

“She’s… out also.”

Just then, a girl stepped around Dula, carrying a bottle of cold water and a bowl of popcorn.

“This is Eddie,” Dula gestured to the girl. “She lives and works with us here at the church.”

She flashed Eleazar a welcoming smile and approached the table in front of him. Eleazar watched as she set down the refreshments, flashed him another smile and retreated from the room. Dula eyed him openly.

Face burning, Eleazar feigned nonchalance. “So are they together at least?”

“Your brother and sister-in-law? Oh yes, they’re always together when they go out.”

His brow furrowed. “And you don’t know where they are or when they’ll be back?”

“Nope.” Dula gestured to the snacks. “Why don’t you refresh yourself while my wife makes your dinner? Hopefully they will be home this evening.”

Eleazar warily eyed the man before lowering to his seat and reaching for the bottle of water. Gulping down the refreshing liquid, he continued his open perusal of the bungalow.

“We expanded the living quarters before your brother got married,” Dula said as Eleazar attempted to read the Amharic print on one of the snack bags. “Then we built this left wing for him and Sister Karen just a few months ago. And then he told us you were coming to visit for a month or so.”

Eleazar paused at opening the snacks. Although he’d agreed to stay just a month, he hoped Clement would let him stay longer. He couldn’t go back home now, not when—

A door slammed outside and Dula smirked wryly. “That must be your brother now.”

Eleazar shot to his feet as his brother and wife stepped inside and beside Dula, both covered in dirt and grass with their clothes disheveled and frayed. He gaped openly at them, not knowing what to say first.

Unfazed, Clement smiled in welcome. “You’re here.”

“Hi Eli.” Karen grinned through the grime on her face. “Welcome to our humble abode. Salam, Dula.”

Salam,” Dula answered, amusement clear in his tone. “Although I think you scared the boy to silence.”

“Oh right. Eli, we’ll chat later. Uh, Dula, could you help me and Ejigu with something outside…”

“How many do you bring this time?” Dula asked, following her out through the door.

Once the two exited the room, Eleazar turned to Clement with a frown. “Did you go mud sliding?”

Clement chuckled. “You don’t know the half of it.” He gestured for his brother to sit. “How was your flight?”

“Decent,” Eleazar sat down and noticed the glint of Clement’s wedding ring. “Congratulations again.”

“Thanks,” Clement perched on a chair, regarding Eleazar openly. “What’s the plan for your month here?”

Eleazar shrugged, reluctant to divulge his plans just yet. “Not much. Maybe chill and relax. See the sights.”

“Sights? Chill?” Clement smirked, not buying it one bit. “Hate to break it to you but Bichena is not a chill-and-relax type of place. And you forget I know you better than anyone else. What’s really going on?”

“I’m serious. It’s just for a break.” Eleazar shoved popcorn into his mouth.

Deciding he had time to figure out why his youngest brother sought refuge a thousand miles from home, Clement nodded. “Fine.” He smacked his palms on his thighs and stood. “Let’s get you settled in first.”

“Aren’t you gonna take a shower first? You smell horrible.”

“After we eat. I’m starved.” He slung an arm around his brother’s neck and tugged him toward the exit.

Eleazar wrinkled his nose but let his big brother lead him out to the adjoined living area where Karen, Dula and the tour guide Ejigu awaited them. They turned toward him and Clement froze. Eleazar stopped also, noting of their worried expressions. Karen looked especially conflicted as her eyes darted between Clement to Eleazar. Taking a hint, Eleazar turned to Dula. “Mind showing me the kitchen? I’m starved.”

“Okay!” Dula said with a bright smile. His gaze flitted over the couple and back at Eleazar. “Let’s go eat.”

They waited until both exited the room. Then Ejigu turned to Clement. “Ashon just called, he needs backup.”

Clement’s stomach flipped. They just came back. “Where?”

“East of Debre,” Karen replied. “He sighted someone resembling Petra at another auction. But Eli just got here. How do we explain leaving again?”

He frowned down at her flat stomach. “We are not leaving. You’re staying and I’m—”

“You got to be kidding me.” She scowled. “I already told you I’m not leaving you—”

“I’ll go,” Ejigu smiled when they looked at him. “Sister can’t go in her condition—”

“So I’m the last one to know my wife is pregnant?” Clement frowned at Ejigu. “What were you thinking not telling me about this? You knew and kept quiet, knowing it was dangerous.”

Ejigu held up both hands. “I was sworn to secrecy.”

“Way to go throwing me under the bus, Ejigu.” Karen rolled her eyes. “Relax. I was careful.”

“Careful is staying home and taking care of yourself and our baby.”

Ejigu cleared his throat, uncomfortable as always when they argued in front of him. “I’ll tell Brother Ashon that I am coming. We will take care of it. You two stay low and spend time with your brother.”

Karen placed a hand on Clement’s arm, silencing his protest. “Let them do it this time. They can handle it.”

“And you’ll be careful,” Clement said firmly to Ejigu. “Don’t do anything stupid this time.”

Something akin to regret flashed in Ejigu’s eyes and he nodded solemnly. Clement warily eyed his friend’s barely-healed arm from the gunshot and nodded. “When will you leave?”

“As soon as I get two servings of Wubit’s porridge,” Ejigu grinned and walked out to join the others.

Karen turned Clement to face her and framed his face between her hands. “Don’t worry. They’ll be fine.”

“I know.” His eyes moved over her face, his expression remorseful. “Sorry for freaking out earlier.”

She smiled, love shining in her eyes. “It’s my fault. I should’ve told you even if you’d make me stay behind.”

“At least you know.” He brushed a thumb over her mouth, silencing her protest. “You’ve made me a happy man, Karen.” He pulled her into his arms. “Happy and blessed.”

“You and me both, Babe,” Karen said as she leaned into him, content in his embrace.

– The End –

<<Chapter 31 || Story Page>>

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Sanctuary, Chapter 30

Posted on 15/08/2017

Karen gaped at the lumberjack of a man prone at her feet. He was dead; the sole bullet hitting him square in the chest. She looked up at the wide-eyed Jennifer whose trembling hand held the smoking gun. Quickly recovering from her shock, Karen moved slowly toward her friend. “It’s alright. You’re alright…” She skirted the barrel of the gun while inching closer to a dazed Jennifer.

Her hand hovered Jennifer’s and slowly lowered until their fingers touched. Her eyes remained on the girl’s face, watching the tears sliding free down her face. “You’re okay…” she whispered. “Let go.”

As if realizing what she’d done, Jennifer quickly relinquished hold of the weapon and staggered back, tripping over the edge of her bed. She choked on a sob and began to hyperventilate.

Karen slowly placed the gun aside and hurried to Jennifer’s side. Holding her by the shoulders, Karen glanced once at the closed door of Jennifer’s bedroom. She could faintly hear the fire alarm. Her eyes skimmed the very dead body of the man that once held Jennifer prisoner. “We need to get out of here. We don’t have time.”

Jennifer shook her head, freeing herself from Karen’s light hold. “You… need to go.”

“I won’t leave you here,” Karen said firmly. “There’s a fire and we need to get out of here.”

“I have a score to settle.”

Karen noted the gleam in Jennifer’s eyes. “There’s no need for that. Revenge is mine, says the Lo—”

“Shut up, Karen.”

“Girl!” She scowled as Jennifer grabbed the gun and started for the door. “We need to find Clement and get out of here!” She caught up with Jennifer, though careful not to touch her in her agitated state and with a loaded gun, for that matter. “We don’t have time for a revenge plot, Jennifer.”

They turned the corner and both women halted in step. The hallway was completely black with smoke. Karen tugged the collar of her shirt over her mouth and held it there. “It’s no use. Let’s turn back and find another way–!” She scowled as the young woman walked forward. “Jennifer!”

She groaned as Jennifer disappeared in the thick smoke and tossed an exasperated glance heavenward before stepping in after her. The smoke pervaded the thin barrier of her clothes and assailed her nostrils. Coughing violently, Karen squinted against the sting and forged on. Attempting to call out to Jennifer, much less see her, was almost impossible now.

Karen staggered against a wall and dropped to her knees, feeling her way forward. Her sense of direction muddled as oxygen depleted. Karen lowered to her belly, attempting to stay close to what was left of the only breathable air, all the while praying for relief.

Just when she was ready to give up and succumb to the suffocating smoke, a hand grabbed her upper arm and yanked her into a room. Karen rolled onto her back and attempted to expel the polluted air from her lungs. The coughs racked her body and she moaned, clearing her throat.

“You okay?”

Her eyes shot open at the familiar voice and connected with Clement’s beautiful face. Karen couldn’t help it; she burst into tears. Clement didn’t hesitate grabbing her by the shoulders, pulling her up and against him. Karen wrapped her arms around him, clinging to his shirt. She wept against his shirt, afraid and grateful at the same time. He was okay!

She was okay. Clement held her tightly as she wept against him. He tossed a silent prayer of thanks and pressed his lips against her temple. That gunshot wasn’t hers. She was alive! Drawing back, he cupped her face between his hands and searched her face, checking for injuries on her. “You’re okay.”

Karen couldn’t stop crying, her blurry vision feasting on his face. “You’re… okay.”

“Of course I am,” Clement said, pulling her back into a tight embrace, rejoicing that she was better than okay. He whispered yet another prayer and pressed a kiss to her temple, letting her cry it out.

After a few minutes, Clement noticed the black smoke seeping from the crack under the door. He reluctantly loosened his hold on Karen and held her at arm’s length, gazing down at her. “I wish we could stay here but we have to move.”

Karen sighed. “The fire’s spreading too fast. I didn’t expect that…”

Frowning, Clement searched her face. “You… started the fire?” Her rueful expression invoked a laugh. Her slight frown made him smile. His thumb caressed her cheek. “Let’s get out of here, okay?”

She silently nodded, taking the hand he held out to her and allowed him to help her stand. She didn’t let go of his hand, her eyes roaming on his handsome face. Relief swept over her as she verified that his face was intact except for a cut near the corner of his mouth. “I’m glad we’re okay.”

“You and me both, babe.” Clement squeezed her hand and tugged her toward the door. “Cover your face.”

Karen barely recovered from the pet name. “Do you know where to go?”

Clement nodded. “Cover your face.”

“Wait, we need to find my friend Jennifer.”

His brow furrowed. “I want you out of this burning building first, and then I’ll find—”

“I’m not letting you go,” Karen insisted. “Either we do this together or we don’t go at all.”

Clement squinted at her and then sighed deeply. “I see you’re gonna be a handful. Come.” He tugged on her hand and opened the door. Karen quickly covered her face and Clement did also, except for his eyes. It felt like forever before the two staggered to another end of the hallway not covered in smoke. Falling to their knees, the couple bowed over and violently coughed out the smoke from their lungs.

Karen grimaced as Clement pounded on her back but didn’t scold him. Holding up a hand, she gestured for him to turn and pounded on his back until both of them could breathe a bit easier. Then sharing a smile, they interlocked their fingers and stood to their feet. “Where to?” Karen asked, glancing behind them.

“Where did you say she was going?”

“To find her moth—” another gunshot rang in the air. Karen and Clement glanced once at each other and then raced toward the sound, Karen fearing for Jennifer’s life. Though his legs were longer and he covered a larger distance than her, Clement never released her hand until they came to another end of the hallway.

“What kind of maze is this?” Karen protested, gasping for air. She tugged her hand free and pounded at her chest. Her eyes scanned the doors. “Which one?”

One of the doors down the hall opened and Clement grabbed Karen’s hand, yanking her to one corner. He pushed her against the wall and covered her with his body. Karen’s breath caught in her throat, her face pressed against Clement’s chest. She could hear his rapid heartbeat in sync with hers.

Clement peered around the wall and frowned. “It’s just Mrs. Badri and her henchman.”

Karen recovered and shoved at Clement’s chest. He stepped back and she started for the open door when Clement grabbed her hand to stop her. She pulled at her hand. “Let me go.”

“Shh!” Clement glanced over her shoulder. “Do you want us to be killed?!”

“Jennifer’s in there,” Karen’s eyes filled with tears. Clement released her hand and she hurried inside, falling to her knees at the sight of Jennifer’s prone body. The tears fell free as she gathered her friend in her arms. Clement stepped inside and knelt beside her, his eyes moving over the woman’s body.

“I don’t see any gunshot wounds but…” he paused, holding two fingers against her jugular.

Karen held her breath, watching his brow furrow. “Is there a pulse?” She looked down at Jennifer’s face.

“She’s alive. Strong pulse.”

Karen sagged with relief and held Jennifer close. “Thank God.” Her eyes lifted as Clement stood. “Where are you going?”

“Stay with her. I’m going after Mrs. Badri.”

“Not without me.”

Clement sighed exasperatedly when she slowly lowered Jennifer to the floor before standing. “What about your friend?”

“You’re my first responsibility. I’m not losing you again.” Karen took his hand. “We’ll come back for her.”

For a moment, Clement just stared. He’d known Karen was strong and brave after the incident in Finch’awa, but it was as if he looked at her with different eyes. His heart skipped a beat when her beautiful eyes openly searched his face.

Her brows hitched in his silence. “What?”

Clement kept staring, the awareness of his feelings for her rendering him speechless. He loved Karen. Probably had for some time.

Karen rolled her eyes and tugged at his hand. “The sooner we get this done, the sooner we can leave this burning place—” the rest of her words were muffled as Clement pressed his lips to hers. Her eyes widened momentarily and then shut, leaning into his kiss.

When Clement lifted his head, Karen’s eyes fluttered open. It took a moment before she could finally speak. “What… what was that for?” her voice was barely over a whisper.

His lips twitched, sending her heart racing all over again. “I’ll tell you later.” He tugged her toward the door.

Karen dug her heels, stopping him. “No, tell me now. Why’d you kiss me?”

Clement sighed deeply but turned to face her. “Why do you think I kissed you?”

Her mouth moved but no words came. It was though she was afraid to articulate it for fear it wasn’t true.

His expression softened and he lifted a hand to her cheek, his thumb caressing her skin. “Let’s discuss this afterwards, okay?”

Before she could protest, a round of gunshots split the air. Clement stiffened and Karen noted the fear flit in his eyes. “No, Ejigu!” He dropped his hand and started down the hallway.

Karen had no choice but to follow.

Reaching the west wing, Clement and Karen stopped as a uniformed man dragged a Kutfi soldier in handcuffs walked past them. Clement placed a hand in front of Karen as though to shield her, but the officer barely gave them a glance as he shoved the handcuffed soldier forward. A step behind his comrade, yet another uniformed officer pushed his prisoner. Three more police officers ushered their prisoners out of the lobby and out to the front of the mansion.

Hand against Clement’s back, Karen looked up at Clement. It was over and Clement squeezed her arm as if to prove it wasn’t a dream. They moved quickly toward the opening, the scene before them stopping both in their tracks. More police officers filled the room, ushering bound and injured Kutfi soldiers toward the exit. Taking Karen’s hand, Clement steered her away from their path.

“Brother!”

Clement followed the sound and his eyes widened at the sight of Dula and Ashon, standing beside a uniformed officer. Ejigu was nowhere to be found. His eyes scanned the room, searching for his friend.

Ashon smiled at the sight of Karen and waved. “Missy!”

Karen waved back, grateful to see her friends again. She started toward them, tugging Clement along. Then released his hand to give Ashon a hug. “I’m so glad to see you again.”

Ashon patted her back and looked over her head at Clement. “You okay?”

Clement nodded. “Where’s Ejigu?” The hesitation in the man’s face had him seeking Dula. “What happened?”

“He was shot.”

Karen gasped, a hand to her mouth. Clement resembled a gutted man.

“He’s fine,” Dula assured both. “It’s a flesh wound. He’s with Priscilla and the police now.”

Clement didn’t relax yet. “What about Mrs. Badri? And Mahmoud?”

Karen held her breath, fearing that she’d escaped. Clement’s grip tightened around her hand, he also worried that their work had been for naught.

“In custody,” Dula responded. “They found Ejigu holding them hostage, and the officers mistakenly thought he was one of them and disarmed him. Priscilla let them know he wasn’t before they shot him dead.”

“I guess even Ethiopian police are trigger-happy,” Karen mused aloud, rubbing Clement’s arm with her free hand. “Thank God he didn’t die… although I’m still angry with him.”

Ashon and Dula chuckled. Clement only smirked, his gaze fixed on her.

Karen gasped and tugged her hand free from Clement’s. “Jennifer!”

Clement watched as Karen raced out the door and started for her when Dula put a hand to his shoulder.

Dula’s eyes roamed his friend’s face. “You okay Who started the fire?”

“We’re okay. I’ll explain later.” With a smile revealing what was inside, Clement hurried after Karen.

Jennifer managed a smile as Karen dabbed the handkerchief against her cheek. “Thanks…”

“Not a problem,” Karen said gently and sat back in the chair beside her hospital bed. Her eyes swept over Jennifer’s face. “You’re gonna be okay.”

“I don’t know about that.” Her brow furrowed, conflicted. “I thought I could get to know her, maybe develop a relationship with her but… she left me there to die. Let that man knock me out and left me there. Abandoned me for the second time.”

Karen reached out to cover Jennifer’s cool hand with hers. “She may have given birth to you but she’s not your mother. Remember?” She squeezed her hand and offered her a gentle smile. “I know you will. It’ll hurt for a minute but you’ll be just fine.”

Jennifer sighed heavily and lay her head back. “I’m tired.”

“I’ll let you sleep.” Karen released her hand and stood. After one look at her friend, she turned and walked out of the hospital room. Clement stood on the opposite wall, waiting. He looked up when she closed the door and she gave him a smile. “How long have you been waiting here?”

Clement only answered with a smile and held out his hand to her. Karen didn’t hesitate taking it and let him lead her on a walk down the hallway. A technician pushed a cart towards them. Karen bit back a smile when he laced their fingers and tugged her closer to him, avoiding the cart by an inch.

She glanced up at him but didn’t say a word, admiring his handsome profile.

He led them to the front exit of the hospital and down a winding path to a small bench overlooking a body of water. Djibouti was nothing like Bichena or Kenya, but the scenery was still beautiful. Or maybe it was an effect of her floating on cloud nine.

Clement gestured for her to sit and sat beside her, their hands still joined. He placed his other hand on top, thumb caressing her palm. “You okay?”

Karen still couldn’t believe this was happening. She’d reasoned that it was the spur of the moment and Clement’s relief that made him kiss her, but here he was being so attentive and sweet and…

He was looking at her now, brow furrowed. “Are you?”

His look of concern melted every ounce of anxiety and she smiled. “Better than okay. You?”

Clement nodded with a ghost of a smile. “Me too.” He sobered. “I thought I lost you. When Ejigu came back looking the way he did, and you weren’t with him, I…”

“We made it alive, Clement. Thank God. And thank you for coming for me.”

“I had to.” His gaze searched hers. “Karen, I think I love you.” He shook his head. “No, I know I love you.”

She smiled, heart soaring with elation. “I’m glad you corrected yourself or else.”

He arched a brow. “Or else what?”

Karen grinned fully. “I love you too, Clement. Very very much.”

Clement responded by pulling her close until their faces were inches apart. Karen forgot to breathe, her eyes wide and searching his. He chuckled and lowered his face until their lips touched. She sighed against him, grateful it wasn’t a dream.

Then he embraced her close, placing butterfly kisses against her temple. Karen smiled, hooking her arms around his waist. Her eyes took note of the blue sky and she immediately thought of Bichena’s beautiful plains and valleys. “When are we going home?”

He pulled back a bit to look down at her. There was a slight wrinkle in his brow and Karen mirrored it. “What?” When he didn’t answer, Karen pulled away. “What is it, Clement?”

“I want you to go home—wait,” he added before she could protest. “I want you to go home and rest for a bit. Spend time with your family, I know you miss them.” He lifted a hand to cup her cheek, his thumb brushing her skin. “You need your time with them.”

“We just got started,” Karen whined shamelessly. “You’re sending me home after telling me you love me?”

“Woman, can you let me finish?”

“If you’re gonna say more foolish stuff…” Karen heaved a sigh. “Fine, finish.”

Clement fought a smile and gave her a quick peck, unable to help himself. He then lifted his head and watched her eyelashes flutter. His grin widened. “Being a missionary isn’t easy. Heck, life with me won’t be a walk in the park… which is why I’m giving you the break you’ll need.”

Dubious, she arched a brow. “How long of a break is it gonna be?”

“You decide how long,” Clement replied. “Just know when you return, we’re hitting the ground running. We’ve still got work to be done.”

“Like finding Alice and Petra. Even if Mrs. Badri’s in jail, there are many like her out there.” Karen then frowned. “Wait-a-minute. That better not be a proposal. Are you being serious?”

Clement choked on a laugh. “You’re gonna be such a handful.” His kiss cut off her protests and he pulled her into an embrace. Life with Karen was going to be an adventure of a lifetime and he sincerely couldn’t wait.

<<Chapter 29 || Chapter 31>>

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