London, United Kingdom
“A person will be remembered for his or her actions rather than intentions.”
Those words from Zain’s late father had formed the foundations for his life, and they stayed on his mind as he strode into the Bar Atlantic’s members’ lounge.
Good intentions. He’d had plenty of those.
Snubbing Ruby and threatening to spank her the night she’d served him two months ago had been driven by a worthy purpose.
He’d intended for her to stop working at the VIP bar because nothing good could come from seeing her every Friday night coupled with their weekly encounters in class. How long would he have been able to resist her? How long before he would have embroiled himself in something dangerously illicit?
His plan had worked.
Ruby had returned to serving drinks at the dance club. He hadn’t seen her up here since then.
“Good evening, sir,” the barman greeted when he approached. “What can I get you?”
“Evening, Ryan.” He read the man’s nametag pinned to his black vest. “Is Ruby working tonight?”
“Yes, sir. I believe she’s on the lower floor.”
“Please arrange for her to come up here. I’d like her to serve me tonight.”
One of the perks of being a member was that he could choose his wait staff as long as he or she was on duty and available.
“Of course, sir. If you take a seat, I’ll send her to you.”
“Thank you.” Zain headed across the lounge and exchanged greetings with other members he recognised.
When he reached his favourite armchair in the corner, he removed his suit jacket and hung it on the chrome rack to his right. He paid extra above his membership fee to reserve this particular seat because of its unrestricted view of the party below.
For the past two months since the incident with Ruby in the bar, he’d come here and sit in this chair every Friday night.
The first time had been surprisingly excruciating when he couldn’t find her in the VIP Lounge or downstairs. He’d been worried that she might have lost her job until the bar manager had informed him that she’d gone away on holiday. Of course, he’d forgotten about the school break.
The next weekend, he’d been back and had puffed out a relieved breath on seeing her balancing a tray of empty bottles as she sashayed to the staff exit.
His relief had been short-lived.
On the first day of lectures after the holiday, he’d strode into the hall, carried out his usual routine—satchel down, jacket off, writing on the board, sweeping the theatre with his gaze—and his heart had stopped.
Ruby hadn’t been sitting in the front row as usual.
Where was she? Did something happen to her? Worry had rippled through him as he’d scanned the row again.
When she didn’t materialise in the designated spot, heart pounding in his chest, he scanned the rest of the room.
And found her sitting in the last row with all the latecomers and timewasters.
Any respite he’d felt by discovering her alive and well and in attendance had been overtaken by annoyance.
What the fuck was she doing back there?
She had a pen in her hand, and it moved across the notebook on the desk, her body leaning forward.
He’d stared at her for seconds longer than he would normally.
As if she sensed him, she defiantly lifted her head and held his gaze before averting her eyes.
In those couple of heartbeats that their gazes had connected everything had become apparent. He’d read her fiery emotions, seen the depth of her anger directed at him.
He’d understood, and allowed them to wash over him.
She’d wanted something—him—and he hadn’t obliged her.
The cues had been there right from the start of the year. He’d ignored them the same way he’d ignored all the other students covertly seeking more than he would give.
However, the night he’d given her a lift home, something had changed between them.
First of all, he’d broken his rule. He’d shown some interest in his student even if it could be brushed off as harmless.
Ruby could have misread his intentions.
She’d invited him in for coffee, and by doing so, had laid her cards on the table.
She’d wanted him.
When he’d seen her in the Members’ Lounge, she’d been there because of him, which would explain her reaction to Karidja’s presence.
Still, he hadn’t caved in, couldn’t allow sentiments to overrule his judgement.
No matter how upset she’d seemed, he’d done the right thing by not indulging the attraction between them. Hadn’t he?
He shook his head as he remembered everything that had happened since that night. Concern burned his heart, making him want to rub his chest.
It seemed his once great idea had unleashed a hellion.
Ruby’s rebellion had gotten progressively worse.
She never returned to the front ro, and she stopped engaging in class.
She refused to look him in the eyes, refused to volunteer for anything or participate in the class debates.
Tired of the silent treatment, he had forced her hand by asking her a direct question once.
She’d glared at him as she’s answered.
Her fury had burned through him, providing a balm to his troubled soul at hearing her voice in class after several months of her reticence.
He hadn’t realised he would miss her engagement in his class so much.
Still, he’d noticed her protests for attention, and had ignored them.
She wasn’t his to protect or cherish, never mind that his gut twisted at the thought.
Their brief encounter in the car months ago didn’t translate to anything beyond what it had been—a man helping a young lady caught in bad weather.
During his visits, instead of interacting with other guests, he’d settled for watching Ruby through the Perspex as she went about her duties at the club.
Her hair was always pulled back in a bunch. The staff wore white shirts and black vests with black trousers or skirts. Although they were supposed to be uniform, her clothes moulded her curves in the most alluring way. Some wore their skirts a lot shorter than she did.
He had eyes for her alone.
On many occasions, he’d imagined moulding the flesh of her bare breasts and bum cheeks with his palm. Pictured mapping out every mound and crevice of her body with his mouth and hands.
Once he’d conjured up the image of her spread across his lap, he’d yearned for it to become a reality even when he’d known doing so would break one of his principles.
Barely functioning, she’d become an obsession he couldn’t possess.
At least at the club, he breathed the same air as she did.
Then this week, she did something worse.
Something he couldn’t ignore.
Now his heart raced and his mouth dried as he waited, knowing he’d see her soon.
What if she didn’t show up?
For the first time since he made the decision to speak to Ruby at the club, uncertainty rippled through him.
What if she didn’t want to see him?
How far would he go to talk to her?
He might have read the situation wrong.
No coercion. He wouldn’t force her into his presence.
Hopefully, he would get to resolve the problem tonight because there was a problem. He was absolutely sure of it.
Ruby’s grades had taken a jump off the cliff, and final exams were only weeks away.
He wouldn’t sit back and watch one of his most promising students self-destruct.
His chest tightened, and his fingers twitched as he edged towards desperation.
What was wrong with him? How could a woman ten years younger than him turn him into such a mess that he would be driven to rash actions?
Still, here he was waiting in anticipation for her arrival.
He sucked in a deep breath, held it for a count of five and puffed it out again.
Once he’d steadied himself, he relaxed back into his seat only for his heart to pick up speed as Ruby entered the lounge and sashayed in his direction with poise and confidence.
She was dressed in the usual uniform with hair tied back and black ballet pumps on her feet. She stopped the other end of the side table and pulled out a small notepad, pen in hand.
Her eyes had dark circles, and she stared straight ahead, not blinking much, not smiling. “Good evening, sir. What can I get you?”
She seemed to have lost some of her fire and defiance.
Still, she stood with poise, an African queen who had just granted him an audience, a beautiful sight to behold.
Warmth radiated through him, and he felt rejuvenated. Some of his worries vanished.
“Good evening, Ruby. How are you?” he said in a light tone as he beamed a smile at her.
Her eyes widened in surprise as she looked at him, and then they narrowed in suspicion. “I’m ... okay, sir.”
“Don’t look so worried. I’m not going to make you do anything you don’t want.”
She exhaled, relaxing her shoulders. “Okay.”
“I’d like to discuss something with you if you don’t mind,” he said.
She shifted from one foot to the other. “My shift ends in a few minutes.”
He leaned into his chair. “When your shift ends we can talk if you’d rather clock out first.”
She kept her gaze averted. “No, I don’t. I have a date.”
He flinched as if she’d slapped him and blurted out in surprise, “A date?”
She was dating? Of course, she would date.
After all, he’d been seeing other women until two months ago.
Until he couldn’t get the image of Ruby prone across his lap out of his mind.
“Yes, a date.” She shifted again and lifted her pad and pen. “Do you want me to get you a drink before I go?”
“No.” There was no mistaking the order.
She stiffened. “Okay.”
Damn it. No coercion, remember?
Still, he couldn’t let her go. Not yet. Not until he’d solved the mystery of her declining academic standards.
He gentled his voice. “Postpone your date.”
He wanted her to cancel it altogether. But he’d settle for a compromise.
“Why should I?” She tilted her chin, the fire back in her gaze.
That’s my girl. His soul cheered at the challenge in her voice.
He’d missed the passion she exuded during her debates in class.
“We need to talk,” he said, matter of fact.
“You said that already,” her tone was flippant.
“Watch your tone, young lady,” he warned.
“Or what? You’ll spank me?” She held his gaze, daring him without fear to step up and take charge of the situation, of her.
He wouldn’t disappoint her. “Yes, I will.”
Her eyes widened, and she blinked several times. Then she lowered her gaze. “I’m sorry, sir.”
The air around them seemed to crackle as the dynamic between them shifted in a positive direction for the first time in months.
“Apology accepted,” he said.
“Thank you, sir.”
A sizzle went down his spine at the softness of her voice.
“Look at me, Ruby.” He wanted her to see that he meant no harm.
She lifted her head, her beautiful almond-shaped eyes filled with curiosity shadowed by sorrow.
“Will you stay and chat with me, please?” He could charm when he wanted to do so.
She didn’t say anything for a few heart-thumping seconds before she tilted her lips upwards. “I’ll stay.”
“Good. First, please bring me a bottle of coke, and you can take a drink for yourself, on my tab, of course. When you come back, please take a seat in the chair.”
“Yes, sir. I’ll be right back.”
His heart danced as she walked away, and he had to stop himself from thrusting a fist skyward. But the grin stayed on his face until she returned with two Coca Cola bottles and glasses.
She placed his on the small table beside his chair before doing the same with hers. Then she sat in the other armchair at a right angle to his.
He poured his drink into the glass and waited for her to do the same. Then he lifted the glass. “Salut.”
“Cheers.” She said.
He took a sip of the cola, and they sat in silence, the music not loud enough to intrude.
She didn’t try to speak, which made him happy. She seemed content to let him lead.
After a minute or so, he said, “You missed the lecture this week. Why?”
She grimaced and didn’t meet his gaze. “I went to a protest march.”
He twisted, not believing what he’d heard. “You ruined your one hundred per cent attendance record because of a demonstration?”
“We demonstrated to get Justice for Darfur against the Sudanese government that refused to hand over to the ICC the war criminals responsible for the persecutions, rapes and murders of civilians in West Darfur villages. It’s a good cause.”
She turned to him, face and body animated. The first time he’d seen her passionate about any topic in months. This was the Ruby he missed in class.
Instead of directing her passion to the debates in the school, she missed lectures and joined a protest rally. Dangerous. He couldn’t condone her actions.
“I’m aware of the ongoing conflict in the Darfur region and the human rights atrocities allegedly committed by certain individuals—”
“Allegedly?” She interrupted him and jabbed her left arm in the air. “The named men have systematically killed Darfuri men, women and children. They are committing genocide, for goodness sake.”
“Regardless.” He sharpened his tone as a warning. “As a future lawyer, you should know that until they have their day in court and are found guilty, the accusations are just allegations.”
“I know. That’s why we want the Sudanese government to hand them over to the International Criminal Court at The Hague so that they can stand trial. I was doing the right thing.”
He puffed out an exasperated breath. “You may have had the right intentions, but you did the wrong thing—”
“I didn’t.” She shook her head, watching him.
It was almost as if she was pushing the boundaries and testing the limits of what she was allowed to do.
He leaned back into his chair, picked his drink and took a sip. He allowed the quietness between them to stretch so she could reflect on her words and actions. Other sounds from the venue intruded, conversations, laughter and music.
She shifted in her seat and fiddled with her glass but didn’t drink from it.
After a minute, he spoke. “Ruby, are you ready to listen?”
She drew in a long breath and puffed it out. “Yes. I’m sorry for interrupting you.”
He nodded. “I’ll let it pass this time. My concern is for your wellbeing. At the start of this year, you were on track for a First Class Honours. Now, your work standards have dropped. You’re late to class. You don’t participate. And you think skipping class altogether is a good idea. What is going on with you, Ruby?”
She glanced at him and lowered her gaze.
He didn’t miss the shimmer of tears in her eyes. His chest tightened, and his fingers itched to reach out and touch her. Soothe her.
Still, he needed to give her room to express herself or not.
“I’m not doing great,” she said in a croaky voice. “I just want this school year to end already so I can go home.”
The melancholy in her voice twisted his gut. “Why? What’s wrong?”
She shrugged again. “I ...”
“It’s okay. You can tell me. I won’t judge. I just know there’s something wrong and I want to help.”
“I’m sorry, sir. I just.” She puffed out a breath. “I fell in love with a guy. I thought there was going to be something between us. But he’s not interested. It’s hard to see him sometimes when I know he’s with other women.”
His heart twisted that she was in love with someone else. Probably another student. He wanted to find the guy and crush him.
He yearned to pull her into his arms and tell her that he had more love to offer than a thousand young men could give her.
What the hell?
When did this become about love?
It wasn’t that he couldn’t love her, although he shouldn’t.
It was just that he didn’t have time for love.
He was a busy man with goals and ambitions. He didn’t have time for commitment.
This was the reason he settled for the Bar Atlantic encounters—brief, swift, and pleasurable with no strings attached.
A girl like her came with strings.
Strings that would bind them for a lifetime.
He should just enjoy her company for these few minutes and move right along.
He should send her back downstairs.
Instead, he reached across and cupped her cheek, stroking his thumb down the soft skin. “I’m sorry for your heartache, M’orae. But you shouldn’t waste your heart on a guy who can’t fall in love with a creature as beautiful and intelligent as you.”
For the first time in weeks, months, she smiled at him, her tawny eyes catching the light as her lips bowed sensually. Her long black lashes fluttered against the flawless copper-hued skin.
She was such a gorgeous creature.
All his yearning for her returned and hit him with the force of one of those new high-speed trains, leaving him breathless.
“Thank you,” she said in a low voice.
He had to strain to hear it the words.
“You’re welcome.” He withdrew his hand and picked up his drink again. “I need you to make me a promise.”
“Oh.” She sat up, turning her body in his direction. “What is it?”
“Hello, Zain.” A female voice called out. He glanced up as Karidja approached. “It’s good to see you again. May I join you?”
“I’ll leave you to it,” Ruby muttered in a sharp tone as she stood.
Zain grabbed her arm, preventing her from walking away. “There’s no need for you to leave. Sit, please.”
She stared from him to Kari and back again before she returned to the chair, her lips in a tight line.
He tilted his head to look at the new arrival. “Hello, Kari. It’s good to see you again too. But I was having a conversation with Ruby, so perhaps another time.”
Kari’s jaw tightened. She didn’t look pleased. Still, she plastered a smile on her face and said, “Of course. Catch you later.”
She swivelled and walked away.
He loosened his grip on Ruby’s arm and twirled his thumb around her wrist.
Underneath, her pulse thumped fast and hard. Her breath caught, but she didn’t lift her head.
“Ruby, look at me.”
She turned slowly, and her chin jutted out, her eyes glaring.
“I’m sorry about the interruption,” he said in a placating tone.
Kari shouldn’t have tried to insinuate herself into their discussion. And it seemed Ruby didn’t like the woman anyway considering her behaviour the last time.
“Your apology is accepted,” she pronounced with the haughtiness of a queen.
He hid his smile. She was adorable. He wanted to build a palace for her and give her a kingdom.
“Good. But next time, don’t get up from your seat unless I give you permission.”
“Or what? You’ll spank me?” Her eyes held no fear, only challenged him.
This was the second time tonight she’d mentioned the punishment.
His heart thumped hard. Did she want his hands on her body, coaxing her into submission?
He nodded. “That’s one of the possibilities if we were lovers.”
He wouldn’t discipline someone he had no interest it.
Here it was a prelude to more, a kind of foreplay, as long as all parties involved were willing.
“Oh.” Her eyes widened, riveted to him as she tucked the corner of her bottom lip between her teeth. “So my disobedience is an invitation for you to take it further?”
He continued stroking her wrist, her pulse beating fast against his thumb. “I told you before, naughty girls get punished. Is that what you’re doing, Ruby? Are you misbehaving because you want my attention?”
Her throat rippled as she swallowed and then she shrugged. “You wanted me to make a promise. What was it?”
He allowed the change of topic. In any case, he’d come here because of his worry about her school work. Nothing more.
He released her arm and relaxed again.
“Firstly, you will not miss any more lectures, and I’m not talking about mine alone. I will check your attendances with the Faculty office.” He counted them off on his fingers. “Secondly, you will be punctual, return to sitting in the front row and participate in my classes. Thirdly, you will not attend any more demonstrations for the rest of the semester. Instead, you will focus your efforts in preparing for the upcoming examinations.”
She grimaced as he listed out the items, staring at a point on the floor. Then she turned to him. “I’m going to make the promise on one condition.”
“Name it,” he said, curious to know what she’d ask for. He would grant her the world if he could.
“Promise me that you will not have sex with Kari or anyone else anymore.” She made a strong demand, didn’t flinch or hesitate.
“You can’t ask me to do that.” His denial was driven by shock more than anything else.
He could harp on about being her lecturer, about ethics and morals, about rules and regulations.
Then again, he’d blurred the lines a long time ago. She’d said nothing he hadn’t already thought.
She stiffened and glared at him. “Can’t I? You told me I was beautiful and intelligent just minutes ago. Was that a lie?”
“Of course not.” His forehead furrowed in a frown. He would never lie to her.
“You look at me as if I am the most fascinating thing on the planet.” She stabbed her chest with her thumb. “I think you’re sexy and smart and one of the best lecturers I have. I know wanting you is wrong but I can’t stop.”
She wanted him?
She wanted him.
His heart soared, his skin warming. Not to mention his suddenly tight trousers, strangling his blooming cock.
She paused, staring at him as if she tried to read him.
He kept his expression schooled although he wanted to pull her up and take her for a spin around the dance floor. He should kiss her and spank her and love her.
She huffed out air, pushed off the chair and stood. “If you’re going to pretend there’s nothing between us, that’s your headache, but I’m done.”
“I warned you not to do that.” A surge of adrenaline went through him as he grabbed her arm, tugged her back and upended her over his lap.
Her head and arms were on the floor while her hips and legs dangled from his lap over the other side.
Her protest cut off as soon as he brought his hand down on her bum in hard swats. She didn’t fight or struggle. Her body stayed limp, only jolting with the impacts of his palm on her yielding flesh, through the fabric of her skirt.
He didn’t stop until he got to ten, his palm tingling.
Nobody intervened. After the initial curiosity by the other guests, they went back to their previous activities. Even the service employees ignored him.
“You can stand up now,” he said when he finished.
Slowly she pushed off and swayed as she stood, looking spaced out.
“Ruby, sit on my lap,” he ordered.
She lowered her body on his thighs, winced and then shifted as she tried to get comfortable.
He wrapped his left hand around her body, letting her soft curves settle on him. “Do you understand what just happened?”
He’d just staked his claim on her, and he wanted to be sure they were on the same page.
She nodded and tucked her face into his shoulder.
“I want words.” He insisted and tugged her so he could see her expression.
She looked everywhere but at him. “I ... I ...”
Large drops spilt from her eyes as she trembled with quiet sobs.
He tugged her head back onto his shoulders and stroked his hands down her back.
“That’s okay ... Let it all out ... Tears are good.”
“It’s just,” she spoke between sobs. “The past few months have been tough. I felt so stressed out.”
“I know. I’m here,” he said in a soft voice as he continued caressing her skin. “You’re mine, now. I won’t let you suffer again.”
“Do you promise?” she sniffed into his shirt.
“I promise.” He didn’t hesitate.
He put his life and his career on the line for her. If anyone ever found out, he would lose his tenure, no doubt, even though this was the first time he’d held her.
He needed her, and she seemed to need him in return.
He was done watching her from a distance.
Her body stopped trembling, and after a few inhalations, she calmed.
He dug out his handkerchief and handed it to her, and she wiped her face.
He cupped her cheek. “Are you feeling better now?”
“You’re welcome, M’orae.”
“Good evening, Zain. Is everything alright here?”
Zain glanced up.
The owner of Bar Atlantic looked at them with enquiring eyes, hands in his trouser pockets. Kehinde ‘Kenny’ Cruz was an old friend. They had met a long time ago as law students before Kenny had joined the Nigerian Armed Forces like the rest of his military-orientated family. But he’d resigned his commission a few years ago, moved to London and set up this club.
The man knew Zain well enough that he would never overstep his boundaries at the club. But it was a member of his staff sitting on Zain’s lap, so he was entitled to ask questions.
“Hello, Kenny. Yes, everything is wonderful. I was just taking care of my precious here. Ruby, please let Kenny know how you’re feeling. Don’t be afraid. Just tell him the truth.”
She lifted her head, blinking slowly. “I’m feeling good, Mister K. Just a little wobbly, that’s all.”
“Good. Do you need anything,” Kenny said.
“Please get her a glass of water,” Zain said. “Also, I’d like to take her home. So if someone can bring her items, I’d be grateful.”
“It’s not a problem. I’ll get that sorted for you. It was nice seeing you again, Zain. We must catch up soon.”
“Sure. We’ll do that, Kenny.”
The man gave them one last look before striding away.
A waiter brought a glass of water and Zain thanked him before giving it to Ruby. She emptied the glass but didn’t attempt to get up from his lap.
“Good evening, sir. I brought Ruby’s stuff.” A waitress arrived with her coat and tote.
Ruby lifted her head. “Amara.”
“Are you okay?” Amara asked as she glanced for her to him.
“Yes, I’m okay. Thanks for bringing my stuff.” She shifted. “Sir, can I get up now?”
“Sure.” He let her go although he wanted to hold onto her for a few more moments. But that would have to wait. “Are you going to introduce me to your friend?”
“Yes. Of course. This is my friend. Amara, this is Mister Zain.”
“It’s nice to meet you, sir,” the girl said.
“It’s nice to meet you too, Amara. Thanks for bringing her bag.” He stood too. “I’m going to pay my tab and then we’ll head out shortly.”
He wanted to give them a chance to talk and also give Ruby the option of changing her mind. The experience of the last few minutes must be overwhelming for her.
He left them and strode over to the bar where Kenny stood chatting to the manager.
“I’d like my bill,” he said to the barman before turning to Kenny. “I’m sorry to drag one of your staff away.”
He hadn’t planned for the evening to progress in this direction. But he had no regrets.
Kenny grinned at him. “For the past few weeks, you turn up and just sit in a chair staring at her like a lovesick lion that isn’t sure if he wants to maul the goat or take it home as a pet. I’m glad you finally made up your mind.”
Zain chuckled as he slotted his card into the machine and tapped his pin on the pad. “Trust you to hit the nail right on the head.”
He had been acting forlorn the past weeks. He just hadn’t thought anyone noticed.
“How did you know I was watching her?” he asked as he glanced at Ruby who was still chatting with her friend. He put his card back in his wallet along with the receipt. “You have other staff working on that floor.”
“When she asked to change floors, I suspected something was up and told the manager to keep an eye on her. And then after her interaction with you that one week she asked to be reassigned back downstairs. And then you show up, and you don’t mingle with the other guests and spend your time watching through the glass. That could only mean one thing.”
“And what’s that?”
“You have it bad for her.”
Zain scratched his chin and grinned. “I do.”
“So which one did you decide? Are you mauling her or keeping her?”
He pushed away from the bar. “That, my friend, would be telling. See you another time.”
“Take care.” They embraced before he headed back to his chair.
“I’ll see you at home, Amara.” Ruby shrugged on her coat and picked up her bag.
“See you later.” Her friend said before returning to her duties.
He took Ruby’s hand. “Are you sure about this? You can change your mind, and we can forget tonight ever happened.”
She shook her head as she held his gaze. “I’m not changing my mind. Tonight is the best thing that has happened to me in months. I don’t want to forget about it. I want to be with you. You promised you wouldn’t let me suffer again. Were you telling a lie?”
“No. I will never lie to you. I keep my promises.” He pushed a stray curl of hair behind her ear and stroked the lobe. Her breath hitched. His lips curled into a smile at her responsiveness. “Being with me means you also have to keep some promises. Are you going to adhere to the items I listed?”
She tilted her head to the side and smiled shyly. “I’ll be good. I promise I’ll do everything you mentioned. But ...” She bit the corner of her lower lip.
He tilted her chin up. “What is it?”
“What about Kari?”
“You shouldn’t worry about her. I haven’t been with her or anyone else in months.”
Her eyes glittered in the low light as her lips curled in a slow smile. “Are you serious?”
He lowered his hand and slapped her bum. “Do you doubt me?”
“Ouch.” She winced. “No.”
“That’s good.” He grinned as he placed his arm around her shoulders and guided her towards the exit.
She tucked her body into him, her arms going around his back as they headed down the stair and did the short walk to the underground car park.
Then he opened the door for her and waited for her to settle before shutting the door and walking over to the other side.
And as he drove out of the car park, he glanced at her smiling face.
For the first time, he’d given in to a whim. His life would never be the same again.