Posts tagged “girlfriend & boyfriend

Refuge: Chapter 10

Posted on 07/11/2018

He hadn’t dated Zoey for long; barely over a year since the hurricane that nearly tore his city apart. But Eli prided himself in knowing the woman he was dating. He wouldn’t have traveled clear across the world if he didn’t know her well.

But he couldn’t recognize the woman sitting across the room, legs crossed and back straight, with a stiff smile tacked on her face. Several times during the course of the evening, Eli tried to catch her gaze–he needed to talk with her, check her pulse. But her gaze never wandered to his corner of the room. It was as if they were in two different parties.

Zoey epitomized native opulence after changing to native clothing similar to her cousin, the one getting married. Makeup and jewelry adorned her, erasing the carefree and bare-faced beauty that he was so fond of. Even her laugh sounded fake, barely reaching the eyes that would always light up upon hearing a joke. She wasn’t comfortable; that much was clear… and he sought to rescue her, if only she would look his way.

“Hey, Lover boy,” Nwando’s stern voice pervaded his thoughts, followed by an elbow shoved against his side.

He barely caught the plate from sliding off his lap and glared at Nwando who sat beside him. “What?”

Both her brows raised inquisitively. “Chill. You’re staring.”

Eli scowled. “I can’t stare at my own girlfriend?”

Nwando frowned and leaned in to whisper. “She’s not your girlfriend here, remember?”

His scowl only deepened, recalling the plan they’d settled on without his input. “This is ridiculous.” He didn’t travel all the way here to be hidden.

“Well tough, EJ.” She gnawed at the large cowbone. “You’re here and you can either make the best of it or go home.”

Eli squinted at her, knowing he had little choice on the matter. “That’s not my name.”

“It is for now,” Nwando replied and sucked noisily on the bone.

He grimaced at the sound and shifted in his seat, gaze skimming Zoey as he turned toward the television where a soccer match was playing.

The younger guests, except Zoey and her cousin, had congregated to one side of the room to watch the game. Law and Dom sat in the middle of the group, adding colorful commentary on the live action.

Although Eli had no interest in the game and would’ve preferred going to Zoey for an explanation, he couldn’t do anything about the situation except mope. He hated moping.

“Stop moping.”

Eli tossed a glare over his shoulder at Nwando. “I’m not.”

Nwando snorted. “Yeah right, dude. Do you need me to explain–”

“I’m Law’s friend visiting the city from Brooklyn and have never met any of his family members before tonight. Got it.” He returned his gaze to the television.

“Well, you’re a smart cookie. Don’t worry, a week will come and go faster than you think.” Her greasy hand patted his shoulder and it took everything in him not to push her hand off. The dinner plate was like dead weight on his lap; his appetite for copulent goat meat and seasoned rice lost.

His smartwatch vibrated and he took it as a sign to escape from the disorganized noise. Holding the plate, he stood and set it back down on his chair.

“Where you going?”

“International call.” He strode past her, this time succeeding in not glancing Zoey’s way as he sought out the nearest exit.

Cars packed like sardines filled the veranda outside and with a drawn-out sigh, Eli manuevered around the vehicles to seek a quiet, empty corner. Finding one near the gate, he leaned against the brick post and unpocketed his phone.

Darah’s number flashed on the screen. He hesitated only a moment before answering. “Hello?”

“Oh great! It works!” her voice came out clear.

“Of course it works. It’s wi-fi.”

“Brat. How are you?”

Eli shrugged even though his sister couldn’t see. “I’m okay.”

“Sounds like you’re not. I was expecting loud tribal music and laughter but it sounds so quiet over there.”

“I’m in the middle of nowhere.”

“What?!”

Eli huffed a sigh. “Zoey’s parents, they…” He paused, not sure what words he could use to describe Zoey’s wealth.

“What, Eli? Are they treating you bad? Eleazer, are you okay?”

He shook out of his reverie. “Yeah.”

“They’re treating you bad?!”

Eli shook his head. “No! It’s not that.”

“Ugh, I knew you should’ve stayed home. I’ve heard about Nigerian parents looking down on us and act like we’re nothing… I should’ve said something before you got that visa.”

Eli frowned. “Wait what? What do you mean they look down on us? Who’s us?”

Darah paused a little too long and then sighed. “J.R.’s giving me a look. I should stop.”

“No, you can’t do that.” He pushed off the post and placed one hand on his hip. “Tell me now.”

“There’s no point telling you now. Ugh, I need to learn when to shut up. Darn it, Darah.”

“Hey!” he interjected, not in the mood for her introspective sililoquies. “Tell me.”

She groaned. “Leave me alone, Jay, he said he wants to know. I can’t stop him from–” she sighed again. “So apparently, Nigerian people–well, to be fair, the older generation–don’t really care for us. And I mean, African Americans as a whole. They even have a word for us. Dunno remember what it’s called but I’m pretty sure it’s not a nice word.”

Eli frowned. “But don’t they get called African-booty scratchers?”

“Well, that’s true. Yeah… I guess we both have issues with each other.”

“Not me,” Eli countered, frowning at the mansion before him. He recalled the strange but curious looks he’d received upon arrival. “I’ve never met these people before in my life, why should I have an issue with them?”

Darah sighed. “You’re so naive, Eli, and I love you for it, but that doesn’t change things, sweet one. J.R.’s extended family used to look at me funny whenever I came around. I remember asking him about it and he said they’re just not used to black girls. It’s almost impossible to see an Indian man marry outside his race, much less a black woman. Maybe it’s the same over there.”

“But I’m black, Darah, just like them.” Zoey’s words from earlier echoed against his and Eli’s frown deepened. “How are we different?”

“Well, you could honestly pass for a white man, especially in winter!” Darah chuckled and Eli’s mood soured. “Anyway, I’m worried about you, Eli. What if Zoey’s parents are that kind?”

“What kind…?”

“The kind that have preconceived notions about people they don’t understand. The kind that’ll make your relationship with Zoey difficult. In my case, both J.R. and his dad were supportive and firm when we received any pushback. If Zoey’s not firm enough, it’ll be hard for you. Now tell me, are they treating you good?”

“EJ!” Nwando’s voice interrupted before Eli could answer. He squinted as the young woman squeezed through the jam-packed cars to reach him. “Goodness, what’s going on with you, man?”

“Who’s that? Zoey?”

“No.” He eyed Nwando who bent over to catch her breath. “Darah, let me call you back.” He disconnected over his sister’s protests. “What is it?”

Nwando released a breath and straightened. “Well you’ve done it. I knew your staring would blow your cover. Someone wants to see you.”

Eli frowned. “What are you talking about?”

“Zoey’s father wants to see you. Now.”

Under the weight of her father’s glare, Zoey was tempted to seek an escape but she remained firm, annoyed that she even had to hide. Beside her father, her mother scowled at her. She couldn’t even pay attention to Aunty Sophia’s hand on hers as silent support. Her attention was focused on the door, awaiting the arrival of Nwando and Eli.

“So you guys are really pausing my door-knocking because Zoey brings an American guy home?” Paula shrugged off her fiance’s hand off her shoulder. “Are you serious?”

“Cool down, Paula,” Aunty Sophia said gently.

“This is crazy! It’s my wedding!” Paula burst into tears and rushed off towards the kitchen. Her frazzled fiance hurried after her.

“I can’t believe you, Ezinne,” Aunty Nneoma practically screamed, her face tight. “How dare you usurp my child’s happiness?!”

“Abeg, sharrap,” Zoey’s mother shouted back, piercing her sister’s face with her dark glare. “This is my house and I can do whatever I want.”

“You’re selfish, Ezinne. Always have, always will be. I don’t even know why I bother with you.”

“I don’t know why I bother with you either. Ungrateful–”

“Enough!”

The women flinched at the loud bark of Honorable Festus Smith. In all the years Zoey lived under her father’s discipline, he hardly raised his voice.

“Zoey.”

She lowered her head. “Y-yes Dad.”

“In all my years at the bank and in the court, have you ever heard of me cheating anyone?”

“No, sir.”

“Have you seen me tell falsehoods or deceive anyone?”

Zoey swallowed hard. “No sir.”

“So when did you start telling lies?”

“It’s because of that akata.”

Zoey cringed and squeezed her hands together. That word had never hurt like it did now.

“Ezinne, that will never be a word we use here. Not now, not ever. Understand me?”

Her mother kissed her teeth in muted rebellion. She may be a chief’s daughter but her husband’s authority would always supersede hers.

Her father sighed. “Where is he?”

“I think Nwando went to find him,” Law answered.

“And you,” her father growled. “Adding to the deceit. So what did she offer you? Don’t you look at me like that, I know you.”

Law didn’t answer, undoubtedly evading his father’s stern glare pinned on him.

“I had always prided myself as a man of integrity. To think that my own children are sneaky and deceitful is beyond disappointing.” His feet shifted to turn and Zoey looked up.

Her stomach somersaulted. Nwando stepped inside with Eli in tow. Zoey’s father gestured for Eli to come forward.

When Eli stepped around Nwando to approach her father, she tried to catch his gaze and somehow give him strength–perhaps garner some for herself.

Eli didn’t look anywhere but her father’s face.

“I want the truth and nothing but the truth. Understood?”

Eli nodded without blinking. “Understood.”

“Are you my son’s friend?”

“No, I’m not.”

A chorus of muttering filled the silence that followed, and Eli’s shoulders visibly stiffened. Zoey wished to go near him but Aunty Sophie’s hand rested firmly on hers.

“Then who are you and why are you here?”

Zoey silently pleaded for Eli to look her way; she needed him to pin his beautiful hazel gaze on her.

Eli shifted his weight, the only visible sign of his nervousness. “My name is Eleazar Teka, from Houston. I was invited to Zoey’s cousin’s wedding.”

“So who are you to Zoey?”

Eli’s hazel gaze finally shifted to her, expression unreadable. “Her boyfriend, I guess.”

“You guess?” her father prodded.

Her mother clucked her tongue in disapproval.

Eli’s gaze remained on Zoey for only a second before he swung it back on her father. “With all due respect, may I ask one question before I answer yours?”

The sound of a pin dropping to the floor could be heard in the silence that followed Eli’s question. Everyone, including Zoey, gaped at him.

“Go ahead,” Zoey’s father answered a moment later.

“If I was one of yours and not an ‘akata’, would I be treated this way?”

Zoey nearly staggered back, Eli’s use of the word piercing her deeper than her mother’s. Her widened gaze swung to Nwando who wouldn’t meet her eyes, confirming her one of her fears.

Eli had come to understand the definition of that very ugly word.

“In what way are you treated, Eleazar?” her father inquired, his tone steady as though speaking to a client.

“From the minute I stepped inside your house, some of y’all were staring like I was some strange creature.”

“We can’t help the way some ignorant people choose to behave, Eleazar. Did I look at you as though you were a strange creature?”

There were times Zoey appreciated her father’s moderate tone, but at this moment he sounded painfully placating. She was sure Eli would only be provoked.

“No, Mr. Smith, you didn’t.”

“So I would appreciate we speak like man to man. Have I or my children treated you in a way that made you ask that question?”

Eli’s jaw tightened visibly and Zoey squeezed her hands together. “No, I can’t say you had the chance to form an opinion about me. But I would say that the opinion was made for you.” His gaze skimmed over Zoey’s mother, Aunty Sophia, Nwando, and Law. “Like I don’t deserve to be anything but her brother’s friend from America.”

Zoey’s heart tripped over when his hazel eyes pinned hers.

“If that’s true then, I’m wasting my time here and I think it’s best that I go back home.”

Her stomach dropped, Eli’s pained gaze and words confirming her other fear. She’d made him feel as unwelcome here as those she worried would not accept him.

<<Chapter 9 || Chapter 11>>

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Refuge: Chapter 9

Posted on 01/11/2018

A young man edged around the crowd surrounding Zoey and eventually maneuvered his way into the middle, swooping in to grab Zoey in a hug sweeping her off the ground.

Eli stiffened as Zoey squealed and the crowd erupted in laughter. As the man spun her around as if she weighed little to nothing, Eli caught a glimpse of Zoey’s delight. Still his shoulders didn’t loosen up. Not even when Nwando’s hand rested there. He certainly didn’t remove his gaze from Zoey’s bright and unrestrained smile; it was the most genuine one she’d had since they arrived in Lagos. Who was that man to invoke a smile usually reserved for him on special occasions?

“Don’t be weird, lover boy,” Nwando advised near his shoulder. “That’s Law, Zo’s only brother.”

Her words quelled the suspicion. Eli watched the siblings grin at each other as Law lowered his older sister back on her feet.

“It’s been ages since they saw each other. Those two act like twins,” Nwando continued, a smile evident in her voice. From the bright smiles all around, Eli knew that Zoey was indeed the gem of her family.

Nwando tapped his shoulder, commanding his attention. One brow was raised even as she appraised him from head to toe. “I still can’t believe you made it here…” Her gaze pinned his. “Did she explain everything?”

He didn’t understand what she meant by ‘everything’ but had a feeling Zoey had barely scratched the surface about her family. The smirk that formed on Nwando’s lips confirmed his suspicion. “I guess not,” he answered glibly.

Both brows raised. “I can tell you’re not too happy to hear that–” she paused as the crowd erupted in a chorus of laughs. Her eyes redirected back to him, scanning him from head to toe. Then she wrinkled her nose and shook her head. “No good. One look at you and they’ll know exactly who you are.” She glanced over his shoulder and gestured for someone behind Eli.

Eli started to ask why he had to hide who he was or be relegated to standing in the shadows with someone he’d only just met when a hand clapped over his shoulder. He whipped around.

“Whoa, men!” laughed a bearded man with sunshades. He had both hands up. “Easy, men”

“Shh!” Nwando nudged Eli’s fist. “This isn’t fight club. Dom, do me a favor.”

The man edged close to Nwando. “Sure, baby. ’Sup.”

Eli frowned as the man leaned in close to Nwando who looked anything but welcoming.

Nwando turned to the man named Dom. “How many times did I tell you not to call me that?”

“Men, stop trippin’ baby. Y’know you want me, men.”

“You stop tripping with that fake American accent.”

Eli arched a brow. That sounded absolutely nothing like–

Dom laughed and edged even closer, practically brushing his nose against Nwando’s braided up-do. “Y’know you like it, men.”

Eli grimaced out of second-hand embarrassment for the guy failing his attempt at flirting. He turned his attention back to Zoey fully occupied with her welcoming committee. It seemed she’d forgotten all about him.

A finger poked his shoulder. Eli turned back to see Nwando scowling at him while Dom held a hand over his right eye. His widened and stood alert. “Yes?”

Nwando squinted at him. “I know you came here with Zoey but you’re going to have to focus. Go it?” She lifted two fingers.

Eli flinched beside himself.

She rolled her eyes and turned it to hers. “Keep your eyes on me for tonight. You’re my guest.”

Nwando looked anything but accommodating and Eli nodded, careful not to argue or look at Dom now sporting an eye injury.

“Good,” she said. “Once Dom gets over himself, he’ll help you get fitted and then I’ll introduce you to the other guests.” She turned toward Dom. “Get him something to wear. And stop exaggerating. I barely touched you.” With that, she spun about and pushed forward to join the group greeting Zoey.

Eli finally turned to Dom who was rubbing his eye. “You okay?”

Dom snorted. “Deadly Naija babes.” He lowered his eye and re-adjusted the shades. “Come, let’s be going.” The awkward inflection in his voice was replaced with a more natural accent. Sizing Eli once from head to toe, Dom turned and walked into the shadows.

Eli refrained from looking for Zoey and followed after Dom.

The laughter and music trailed their path down the dimly-lit hallway. Pictures, paintings and tribal artifacts lined the walls on either side but Eli didn’t stop to investigate. He’d find a chance later on to tour the mansion. Dom was taller and bulkier than Eli. His long-legged pace kept him at a distance for Eli who had to pick up his feet just to catch up. At the end of the hallway, he finally did.

Dom glanced his way before facing the path around the corner to climb a flight of stairs. “So you from Brooklyn.”

Eli choked on a breathless laugh. “What? No. Houston.”

“Ah ok, Houston.” His heavy footsteps thudded loudly, echoing in the empty stairwell. “Beyonce’s hometown.”

“Yeah… you like Beyonce?”

There was a pause before Dom replied. “Tiwa’s better.”

Eli shrugged and followed Dom yet another flight of stairs. More pictures lined the walls up to the next floor and Dom took a turn instead of going up another flight of stairs. Eli blew out a breath and kept pace.

“Eh ya, Ezinne. How do you feel now that your baby has returned from America?”

The woman sitting on one of the oversized leather sofas merely crossed her arms. She eyed Zoey from head to toe and kissed her teeth. “It’s not her first time leaving me. I’m used to it.”

Aunty Nneoma snorted, sitting on the opposite end of the couch. “Stop forming, Zine. We all know how you get when Zobo’s away.”

Ezinne Smith glared at her sister. “Did anyone ask you?”

The ladies tittered in response, all accustomed to the daily feuding between the sisters. They watched in amusement as the two glared at each other over their wine glasses.

Another woman, this one sitting closer to Zoey, nudged her arm. “Do something about your mama. She’s been sulking all day!”

“Sorry Auntie,” Zoey answered, winking at her mother who only rolled her eyes. “Only my dad can appease her. Where is my dad anyway?”

“Settling bride price,” Aunty Nneoma answered, examining her nails.

“Still?!” a young woman dressed more formally than everyone else stepped into the circle. “When will they finish?”

The women erupted in laughter. Aunty Nneoma gestured for the scowling girl. “Paula, my dear, come and sit first. You know as the eldest of Late Chief Nnamdi’s grandchildren, this is our customary tradition. Your aunty Ezinne had the same and you must as well, even if our father is long gone. It is your way of honoring him and us, so relax.”

The sulking bride sat in a slump between her mother and aunt. Then she flung a glare at Zoey. “Lucky you.”

Zoey held up both hands in surrender. “Ah, what did I do?”

Paula rolled their eyes. Aunty Nneoma cooed at her daughter, pulling her into her arms. “Pele, my baby.”

The women tittered again, some working to coax a smile out of the bride.

Forcing to hold a smile that made her cheeks hurt, Zoey turned to look for her friends. Nwando walked past the back of the couch and she grabbed her arm. “Where’s Eli?” she whispered, glancing around for her boyfriend.

“Who?” Nwando blinked at Zoey. “Shh. Eli’s not your friend.”

“Excuse me?”

“What’s going on, Zoey?” her mother’s voice sounded behind her.

“Nothing.” Zoey frowned at Nwando, silently demanding an explanation for her strange behavior.

Nwando sighed heavily and turned her hand to grab Zoey. “Come here.” She smiled over at Ezinne. “We’ll be right back.” tugged on Zoey’s arm, pulling her away from the group and to one corner near the doorway. “Here’s the deal.”

“Yeah, what’s the deal?” A frowning Zoey folded her arms across her chest.

“Your parents and everyone in this room has their eyes on you. Maybe that’s why Paula’s ready to fight you, but imagine when their eyes land on Eli. They’ll be ready to tear him to pieces.”

Zoey grimaced. There were a few women in the room whose bite was as painful as their barks. Aunty Nneoma was one, and her mother was another. She shuddered.

“So here’s the plan.” Nwando glanced around once and then leaned in close. “Eli is Dom’s Internet buddy touring Lagos for the week. He’s a creative.”

“Huh–mmmff!” Zoey scowled, yanking Nwando’s hand off her mouth. “I can’t believe you–”

“Stop making a scene. Your mom is looking this way,” Nwando entreated softly, lowering her hand to her side.

Zoey dared not glance over her shoulder–her mother could read faces too well.

“Their guards will be down because he’s Dom’s friend.”

“Who happens to be Law’s friend. So how do you explain Law not knowing Eli?”

Nwando frowned and Zoey mirrored her expression. “You hadn’t considered it?”

“Wait… is Paula pregnant?”

“What–” Zoey glanced over her shoulder to catch her cousin fidgeting in her seat. “Why would you say that?”

“Think about it. She’s increasingly cranky, her courtship was so short, and even the wedding festivities are rushed. Not to talk of her boobs looking gigantic.”

“Crazy girl.” Zoey kissed her teeth in annoyance. “They’ve been dating for ages, Nwando.”

“Hence the pregnancy. I’m surprised at your Aunty though, throwing a big party when her daughter is–”

“My God, Nwando, focus!”

Nwando flinched. “Cool down, girl.”

“Focus,” Zoey gritted through clenched teeth. “Where. is. Eli?”

“I told you, he’s upstairs with Dom. Don’t worry.”

“Don’t worry?” Zoey echoed, gaping at her friend. “This is the same dude you swear is a biggest creep in all of Lagos. And you entrusted my guy with him? Are you okay in your head?”

“Relax. He’s only a creep with girls. Eli’s fine.”

“How comforting.” Zoey folded her arms across her chest. “Doesn’t explain how we get Law onboard.”

“Get Law onboard about what?” her only brother’s voice sounded from the shadows, and he stepped out, holding a bottle of Coke in one hand and a beef kebab in the other. His gaze moved over Nwando and landed on Zoey’s face. He chuckled. “Oh right. You need my help covering for your American boyfriend?”

He snorted in full laughter and pointed at them with the kebab stick. “You should see your faces.”

“Shh!” Nwando roughly grabbed his hand, attempting to put him in a choke-hold.

He easily stepped out of it and bit into the meat. “I never thought I’d see the day you’d bring a white boy home. Didn’t think you had it in you really.”

The warm welcome he’d just given her faded away and Zoey wanted nothing more than to wipe that smug look on his face. She squinted at him. “I didn’t think you’d be this close-minded. And he’s not white.”

“Who cares? He’s not African and you know what happened with Aunty Nneoma.”

Nwando scowled. “Stop Lawrence.”

“Keep calling me that and I’ll squeal.” He smacked his lips loud. “I can just imagine Mom’s face. Man, Dad will freak.”

Zoey swallowed hard. “Law, please.”

His face suddenly changed at her soft plea. “Please what?”

The two siblings stared at each other, both knowing what they’d have to do. Zoey hating every second that stretched between them. Law wouldn’t budge first and she hated giving in to him so easily.

“We’re back,” Dom announced behind them.

Zoey lifted her eyes, taking in the sight of Eli dressed in native attire that fit him perfectly. She gasped inwardly. The perfectly-fitted outfit was one of Law’s favorites!

Law started to turn.

“Fine!” she answered. “I’ll do anything you want.”

She could feel Nwando’s stare at her but didn’t shift her gaze. Law turned to her, his widened slightly.

“Anything?”

Zoey could only imagine what his thoughts conjured up and bravely nodded. Her gaze flickered once to Eli eying her curiously. She tamped a sigh and faced Law squarely. “Keep your promise.”

“It doesn’t matter, we’ll discuss my request later,” he answered, a devilish glint in his eye. “Sure, I’ll pretend your boyfriend is my friend visiting Lagos for a week.”

“Actually, he’s Dom’s–”

“Shut up Nwando,” Zoey snapped, annoyed she had to bargain in the first place. “And if Mom and Dad ask you anything?” She couldn’t afford to look at Eli right now or Law would find another weak point to prod and manipulate.

Law shrugged. “You know they won’t. They don’t care about my friends like they do yours. Point in case, Dom.”

“Enh? What does that mean?”

“Shut up, Dom.”

Zoey sighed, the tension in her shoulders loosening. “Okay. Deal.” She extended a hand to her brother.

“American tin,” he laughed before holding her hand in a firm grip.

“Keep your word,” Zoey prodded, tightening hers.

“You got it,” he squeezed her hand.

“When I see my children shaking hands, something tells me there’s trouble brewing,” a deep and hoarse voice sounded behind Zoey.

Zoey whipped around and flung herself into her father’s arms. He laughed and enveloped her in a hug.

Law grinned cavalierly. “Ah c’mon Dad, we’re just conversing.”

“Deals are made in the banks not at your cousin’s door-knocking ceremony.” He sounded cross in his reply but his hold about Zoey was gentle. Drawing back, he smiled gently. “My princess.”

“Hi Daddy,” Zoey smiled back, scanning her father’s weathered features and snow-white beard. “You shaved your head?”

A smile resembling Law’s but warmer formed on her father’s lips. “Why hold on to hair that isn’t holding onto me?”

Zoey and Nwando laughed nervously. Law snorted. “The bald look is trendy, Dad.”

“Of course it is. Welcome home.” He kissed her forehead and his eyes zeroed in on the quiet one beside Dom. “And who’s this? Haven’t seen him before.”

Zoey stiffened, breath baited. She peeked once at Eli who was watching her and quickly looked away, cheeks aflame. No doubt he’d rip her one later. But right now, she needed her brother to make good on his word. Her eyes pierced his face.

Law cleared his throat. “This is EJ from Brooklyn. He’s my friend, Dad.”

Their father was quiet for a moment and then nodded. “You are welcome, EJ.”

Dom nudged Eli in the side and to Zoey’s relief, Eli nodded. “Thank you.”

Then the elder returned his focus to Zoey. “Have you eaten?”

Zoey managed a smile, suddenly feeling light-headed. “Uh, not yet.”

He slung an arm around her shoulders and drew her into his side. “Then let’s get something. We’ve decided on your cousin’s bride price.”

“Ooh, is it high?” Law asked, walking on the other side of their father.

Feeling the burn of Eli’s gaze on her, Zoey swallowed the dread in her throat and let herself be dragged back to the party.

<<Chapter 8 || Chapter 10>>

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