I gaped at him, unsure of what I’d just heard. He stared back at me, expectantly as if he thought I understood him. “Repeat that please.”
Elijah narrowed his eyes, rather impatiently too. “You heard me.”
“No, I don’t think I did.” I lifted the mug to my lips, frowning at how my arms tingled.
He sighed. “The only time we both can go is next week… or next year, around this same time.”
I nodded, realizing I’d heard him after all. Shaking my head, I lowered the mug to the table and sighed, leaning back in my chair. “And the reason for this is because…?”
I threw a scowl at him. “Of course.” Somehow, I’d forgotten Elijah was an accountant and a competent one at that. Not only did he take care of our company’s accounts, other businesses sought his help around the dreaded tax season. I could recall countless times he’d gone MIA because of the overwhelming requests for his assistance and counsel on tax-related matters. “Then I’ll go alone.”
He scoffed lightly, eyeing me with skepticism. “Like your dad’ll let you.”
I narrowed my eyes at him. “Whether he or you want to believe it or not, I’m a grown woman.”
His eyes swept over me and then his lips quirked up in amusement. “No one said you weren’t.”
I bristled at his candid statement and spun my chair around, glaring at the window behind me. Then realizing with rising annoyance that I was somehow hiding, I pushed away from the chair and strode around the desk toward him. “In any case, I don’t need either my dad’s permission or yours,” I jabbed my index finger against his chest. “To go across the world for my story.”
Eli only smirked and brushed my hand from his chest, walking around me to sit on my chair. He crossed his arms over his chest. “Sure you can, but will you go alone?”
“Why the heck not?” I jammed my hands to my hips, glaring at him. I didn’t understand why he had that annoying smug look on his face but I sure wanted to wipe it off, trying to ignore the niggling inside that he knew something I didn’t.
He had the audacity to shrug nonchalantly and sweep his eyes around the room as if he’d just come in for the first time. “Well… isn’t it you that despises snakes? Or is that Tessie?”
I glowered down at him, not sure what to be annoyed that he dared to mistake me for Tessie or that he teased me over a pesky phobia. “What about it?”
“Gabon is known for its creepy crawlies.”
Cold shivers immediately trickled down the base of my feet and I inadvertently lifted my right leg. The smile he tucked away only made me more annoyed that I barely registered what he’d just said. Then his smile widened a roguish smile once it finally hit me. I inhaled sharply. “What?”
“Vipers, Jemimah. Pythons. With black eyes and long split tongues.”
I shuddered inwardly, my stomach churning. My skin was suddenly plagued with goose bumps that pressed against my clothes. I moved toward the door as if his words were what I wished to escape from. “That’s not funny, you jerk.”
His face was void of any mischief now. “I’m serious.” He sighed, looking down. “I should’ve realized sooner you wouldn’t know.”
My knees trembled as I imagined thick-bodied reptiles slithering toward me. My worst nightmare was being surrounded by serpents of every color, every blasted one of them marking me as their prey. A whimper escaped my lips and I shook my head in attempt to clear my mind. I barely noticed Elijah standing until he was beside me. I blinked, catching a whiff of Eli’s cologne. Meaning he was either standing too close or I was on the verge of swooning.
I straightened my back and stepped away from him. “I’m fine.”
“I’m fine,” I clipped in return and swung a glare at him. “No thanks to you.” I plucked at my shirt, not liking the way everything pressed against my tingling skin. “Ugh,” I said in mid-shudder. “I really hate you. Why’d you tell me that?”
“Would you have preferred being greeted by one instead?”
I seared him with another glare, wanting to box his ears. Rolling my eyes, I moved to my desk and scooted on top of it, raising my feet from the floor. At a muffled cough, I looked up to see Eli struggling not to laugh. “You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?” I couldn’t help glancing down around my feet.
“Your phobia for snakes is mildly amusing, yes.” He strolled toward me and I scooted away, still glaring at him. He rolled his eyes and reached for my hand. I moved it away from his reach and he laughed openly then. “Oh boy… I guess we’re not going anymore?”
I had to think. It was more than just a phobia that often gripped me with fear. The thought of going alone to a foreign country, regardless of my need for this story, was daunting. A crippling thought. I eyed the man before me, his morose gaze focused only on mine as if my next words would determine what he’d do. As much as I disliked the idea of him trailing after me all month in a foreign country, I disliked me going alone even more. He would no doubt be annoyingly overprotective and would probably get on my nerves every second of the day as he charmed the locals all the while acting like the appointed big brother. But he’d be there. With me.
“Well…?” his probing voice shoved through my thoughts.
I lifted my eyes to his face and sighed heavily. “Alright.”
He dared to raise those thick brows at me. “Alright what?”
I tossed an exasperated glance to the ceiling. “Let’s go.”
“Next week then?”
“Yeah sure.” I fought a grimace at the fleeting image of snakes pooled around my feet.
“We’ll be fine,” he said with a smile in his voice.
I gave him a wary glance, not sure whether to trust him like a fool for the sake of hope. It was for the story that would propel me out of the bottomless, disparaging pit of writer’s block. “If you say so.” There was no turning back now.