His words stuck with me for hours after he’d spoken them.
You heard those songs about the bad boys warning the girls not to fall in love with them because they would do them all manner of harm. I had never looked to see such a man in Dom.
That was, until I thought back to Hilda.
I had not seen her again since that day but I knew that she and Dom still kept in contact with each other. I had no idea what kind of friendship they had but it always nagged at me that she was still there.
How did people even remain friends after they’d slept together?
It was clear that she had feelings for him – or at least, she had still carried that torch when she’d approached me last year. Whether or not she slept with him, I didn’t think it was easy to just go on with life after loving Dom.
Hilda had been right about what she said about him – he was powerful.
He was like a drug when you needed it most.
He took my breath away and reminded me to breathe.
Could I ever keep living my life if we didn’t work out? Would I be the one running flat out around a large field just to keep myself from imploding?
I had received all that knowledge with an air of detachment and I knew that I hadn’t truly confronted it, not until he had said what he’d said.
Just what manner of a man was Dominick Tyree that he could have Hilda warning me to compromise myself to be with him, yet have his brothers doing all they could to preserve what good there was in him?
How could a person have two opposing opinions of him like that?
I was curious and fearful at the same time.
Which one was the mask, if he wore one at all?
Despite all these questions, I found myself still wanting to be with him. I found myself grateful to have known him and fortunate to have been chosen by him, whether it lasted or not. I wanted to show him that whatever his past was, I was here now, like he’d said.
And I was going to start by putting in a little effort with the things he liked.
That day, I returned to my flat and cleared up the mess I lived in.
I put my shoes in one place in a sensible order and folded the clothes in my wardrobe. I cleared up all the dirt that had caked in the places I didn’t touch and took it upon myself to make this a habit.
And then I went in search of Maria.
“Ooooh,” she said. “I’ve been meaning to ask you where you went to last night! Did you bath that man?”
I burst out laughing. “That would have been a big mistake.”
“Because I would have died of respiratory failure because I forgot how to breathe,” I said in one breath. As she laughed, I continued. “I need your help.”
She was already on her feet. I put my cause forward to her and she listened intently.
“Let’s do this,” she said.
* * *
A week later, I was standing on shaky legs in the elevator.
I could feel the still air on my bare legs and I swore my toes were beginning to withdraw into themselves, the way that they were so exposed.
My toe nails were painted crimson red, just like my fingernails and were perfectly cut and shaped. I didn’t have any real makeup on but for mascara on my lashes.
I wore only two pieces of jewelry. The first was a black leather wristband with a large bow on it, at the center of which, was a flower made of soft, white material. The second, was the bracelet he’d given me.
I had redone my hair, made the braids thinner and darker – the darker the better, the lady at the salon had said.
It made my skin look like chocolate, apparently.
And my hair was done up in a soft and simple ponytail.
The dress was a –
Okay, it could hardly be called a dress because I’d seen dresses and this was not a dress.
It was a gown.
A proper, evening gown.
It was a short-sleeved affair that barely swept the floor, made of material that was so delicate and soft that I was almost too afraid to breathe in case I ripped it with any sudden movements.
The waistband of the dress rode high on my body, almost right under my bosom, embellished in silver in an intricate pattern that gave the impression that the dress was hugging my body. The material hung from my bust and all around the bodice, hanging in a pleated sheath that parted only slightly, tapering off toward the bottom.
I could not wear heels – I had not yet learnt how to walk in them – so I paired the dress with simple Gladiator sandals, silver like the designs on the dress.
And the dress itself was sheer white.
I had never felt so much like a princess than I did in that moment.
And I had a clutch – a clutch!
In it, was my cell phone, my ID book, my debit card, lip gloss, a small bottle of perfume and a lifesaver.
And the clutch was silver.
Was this what it was like to be a socialite? Wearing dresses like this one all the time?
And with no pockets!
The lift doors opened and I snapped my face forward, my breath caught in my throat as I prepared to walk out of the building and –
Dom was standing in the foyer.
He was wearing a suit, of course, but not like his usual ones.
This was a tuxedo.
It was black.
So black, in fact, that I was sure that it was absorbing all the light in the room.
He paired this with new, clean, shoes and a white shirt and a black bow-tie.
His hair was freshly cut and I almost wanted to reach out and touch his skin, the way it looked –
But it was his eyes that did me in.
Those beautiful, beautiful hazel eyes.
My breath was lost in my throat and I stopped moving altogether.
I didn’t know what he was thinking.
He said nothing, letting out his hand for me to take.
And I did.
I closed the distance between us and we exited the building and headed toward the waiting car.
It was a limousine.
The drive over was quiet and tense.
He did not look at me and I was too afraid to look at him.
Did I do it wrong?
Was he not impressed with what I was wearing? Should I have gone through on my request to show him my dress?
And we had yet to greet each other!
He hated it!
He hated it!
I was so caught up in my own fear that I didn’t realize that the car had stopped until I was met with a gentle breeze when the door on my side was opened.
With extreme trepidation, I exited the vehicle, taking the hand that was offered to me without checking who it belonged to.
When did he get out of the car?
Cameras were flashing and people were shouting and I could hear music drifting lightly on the night’s air.
Dom was talking and I was smiling and waving and he was answering every question that I could not hear and eventually, we were inside the opulent ballroom that was housed inside the Da Vinci.
I was swept away by the splendor of everything.
Crystal and flowers and candles and music and chiffon drapes hanging from the ceiling.
And he still held my hand.
I remember being introduced to people, lots and lots of people.
We began the evening with a dance, all of us, to a slow, jazzy, song with no words and a saxophone. He held me close to him, our bodies pressed flush against each other.
This was not the behavior of someone who didn’t like what he was seeing.
He was looking right at me, only at me.
And I was too high-strung to look back at him.
He was so close.
It wasn’t like we hadn’t been closer than this before but in those moments, I knew that he wanted me and I wanted him. Right then, I was in a place that I had never been before with a man who was a master at masking his feelings.
And even in my fear that he didn’t like me this way, I was still blazing, being this close to him.
I felt like I was hearing his voice for the first time.
I trembled where he held me and his grip only tightened a bit more as we swayed.
He pressed his forehead to mine and I closed my eyes, feeling that contact – needing it.
When he lifted his head I looked up at him. “Dominick,” I said.
“You look – you are, gorgeous.”
My breathing eased a little.
“Thank you,” I said.
He pulled my hand to his lips and pressed a lingering kiss to my fingers.
“You know what’s interesting about the fact that this dress looks beautiful on you?”
“The same thing that’s interesting about how everything looks on you – I want to take it off of you and see how you look like out of it.”
My mind was hit hard with all the memories of his fingers on my buttons and my clothes sliding to the floor, even when he was simply helping me into more comfortable clothes.
And I remembered the first time I’d felt his mouth on my core.
“I want to kiss you, right now, like nobody’s watching…”
And I knew how he kissed me when nobody was watching.
I learnt how hot my body could get under the command of his lips.
My body tingled.
“I’m stopping,” he said, a very dark smile on his face. “I’ve stopped.”
He resumed his quiet contemplation of the universe with his eyes on me.
And I was at peace. I was content. I didn’t care that he had the ability to change my mood, I felt good.
I felt sexy.
This was how I affected him?
I liked it.
Why did I like it?
It was not the greatest thing in the world to be the one who led someone into temptation of any kind, but this was Dominick. This was a man who could literally have anybody that he wanted and here he was, telling me –
I stopped my brain when the clapping started.
Speeches and music and food and mingling.
Aiden was here somewhere and apparently, so were the Tyree Seniors. But I had yet to meet them. There were so many people everywhere and each and every one of them seemed intent on talking to the Tyrees.
And it was here that I learnt that they were the hosts of this gig.
It was for a children’s hospital that wasn’t that far from the Medical School Campus.
And it was beautiful.
The food was delicious and as I sat next to him in a circle of people whom I had only just met that night, I remembered how he enjoyed food and how I loved watching him cook.
And then we were dancing again.
“I think maybe you may have gotten your culinary skills from whoever catered this party,” I joked. He smiled at me and it oozed charm.
“What if they learnt from me?”
Yes, that would be believable.
“Okay,” I chuckled. “Okay, maybe.”
He laughed at that.
And then he stopped moving and looked over his shoulder.
And then he stepped aside, never letting go of my hand.
“Dilia,” he said. “This is my father, Liam Tyree.”
They looked the same.
Or this was how Donny would look like when he was older – and this was how his younger brothers would look like also. His temples were greying but he had a full head of hair. He was slightly lighter than his sons and his eyes were brown. He held himself like the soldier that he was and his eyes are just as sharp.
And I wanted to run.
Did he disapprove?
I shook his hand and his grip was firm, his smile was charming as his son’s.
“May I have this dance, Dilia?”
I thought I wanted the ground to swallow me whole.
I had never danced with anyone’s father before.
He maintained a respectable distance.
I didn’t know what to say or what to do.
This was bad.
“So,” he began. “I know that my son must have told you that I was in the Military.”
“Yes,” I said, hoping that my voice wasn’t as shaky as it sounded.
“Do not worry,” he said. “I will not – what is the word? – flip out on you..?”
I laughed at that and so did he.
“We aren’t as cold and unsocial as we appear.”
“I’ve never really met any other soldier besides your son,” I said. “So I cannot say that I have any particular thoughts on the matter.”
“Good answer,” he said.
And now I laughed.
“Are you enjoying yourself tonight?”
I nodded my head.
“Surprisingly so, Sir,” I told him. “My speed is much slower and a whole lot less brighter than this, but I am enjoying myself indeed.”
“Aaah,” he said. “Then we have done our jobs indeed. My sons organized this gala event.”
“Then you have scored them some extra cool points,” I joked.
“No,” he said, shaking his head. “This is all my wife. This is her influence.”
“Then she has done a brilliant job with them,” I said, genuinely.
“And I do not dispute that.”
And then he spun me.
I laughed, enjoying myself, truly.
“Forgive my candor, but you do not look like you are a native.”
I shook my head.
“I am not,” I told him. “Not really. I was born and raised here, I speak nothing but English, but my family is originally from Uganda.”
“Oh!” he said, his eyes brightening with his smile. “Then we are family already!”
I laughed at that, sure that I was blushing underneath my skin, shy all at once.
“And of which tribe are you?”
“I am a Nambiro, of the Hippos.”
The song chose this moment to end and we were clapping our hands for the band again.
“It was a pleasure meeting you, Miss Nambiro.”
He gave my hand a gentle squeeze before handing me back to his son.
Dom took my hand and I walked into his hold.
But then I froze as I realized who he had been dancing with.