Tough Alliance is coming out in a few days and I'm sharing the opening chapters for my followers.
It started with a blind date…
Zoe Himba is working to succeed her father and steer the family empire into the next generation. She has the brains, the beauty and sheer boldness to make it happen.
Nothing will stop her ambition. Not her father’s ridiculous idea to use her as a bargaining chip in a marriage with another powerful family so he can bolster his stronghold. Nor the unfortunate consequence of an anonymous one-night stand.
Certainly not the recent knowledge that the man she spent one glorious sensual night with is Maddox, the Odili enforcer—a family her father despises.
So when he shows up at her home, serious and sincere about marrying her, she rejects his proposal in the most brutal way possible. It’s tough luck if he thinks he can ever be her husband.
It will end in a vendetta…
Maddox Ejiofor does not bear his name lightly. For centuries, his ancestors have been the embodiment of justice in the Yadili secret organisation, and he is proud to be one of the best enforcers of his generation. Family and fairness are two crucial tenets of his existence. He’ll die to uphold them.
So when the Himba’s arrogant contempt threatens his family and blood, he vows to end their iron-fist reign in the central region. But then Zoe shows up, needing his protection. He must apply tough love because he can’t afford to make the mistake of falling for his wife.
Continue reading for chapter one
Not even if you were the last man alive.
The phrase blazed through Zoe’s mind while she typed a brusque, insulting note and sent it to the conceited man who’d dared to ask her on a date. He would not like her barbed words or her rejection.
But to Hell with Abdul Sani. He was widely reputed to be hunting for a wife since his marriage arrangement with Carla Owo fell through after she married Duke Odili.
Zoe didn’t need a husband. Certainly not the insufferable, misogynistic buffoon who acted like he was better than everybody else, all because of his father’s status in the country's north-western region.
With a huff, she tossed the phone on the charcoal-grey modular desk and shut her laptop. The AC hummed quietly, keeping the air in her office close to freezing.
The white walls, tall, dark wooden shelves stacked with Law tomes, and grey metal file drawers created a severe atmosphere. However, the strategically located plants in terracotta pots added colour and warmth.
Her mother's handiwork. Mrs Iyua Himba was a keen gardener. Everywhere she went, she left a little flora and Feng Shui.
After she'd graduated from Law School, Zoe worked at a firm in the Federal Capital Territory for a year before coming home to Lokogi to set up her own operations. Focusing on commercial and property law, her father was her first and most prominent client, although she'd gradually grown her reputation as a fierce professional. In turn, her client list had increased over the years. She now employed fifteen people and was seriously considering leaving suburban Lokogi to set up shop in the metropolitan FCT.
With a distracted smile, Zoe raised her left arm and glanced at the gold wristwatch. Half past six. Damn. She swivelled and looked out of the window. The sky was a purple-orange hue due to the sun setting over the low brick houses in the old city built on the confluence of two major silver rivers.
Where did the time go? She had fifteen minutes to get to her next appointment.
Reaching into the bottom drawer, she grabbed the black leather tote and placed it on the desktop. Then she inserted her laptop into the empty compartment, pushed back her armchair, and straightened.
Phone pocketed, tote in one hand, keys in the other, she headed out.
"Capo." Her personal bodyguard stood outside the door and extended his hand as she exited. A tall, dark-skinned, good-looking man, he wore a black suit over a matching T-shirt, which clung to bulging muscles underneath. Sturdy dark boots completed the monochromatic ensemble.
Despite his hulking size, they stood almost at the same eye level. She wore these impossibly high heels so no man around here would look down at her—physically and figuratively.
"Noah, we're going to the restaurant," she said, handing him the bag before locking the door.
This was their routine. Not the restaurant bit. The carrying-her-items thing.
"Yes, Capo," he replied, tailing her down the corridor.
And the following-her-around bit. He’d been her shadow for almost a decade.
She didn't mind it. Actually, it was a requirement, considering her family's status.
Plus, they had a good relationship. He was one of the only few people she trusted.
Her stilettos tapped on the smooth, glossy, polished flooring. The other offices were empty. The staff had left. It was Friday night, and most people started their weekends early.
Not her. Not usually. She was first in and last out, even as the employer.
There was a lift, but she took the stairs because she always did. Plus, it was only four floors. Their footsteps echoed in the concrete stairwell--tapping and thudding. She liked the sound they made--of familiarity and vitality, of movement and progress.
At the bottom, they exited the stairs and entered the main lobby, where an unfamiliar security man sat behind the large counter. Although the building was owned by Himba Holdings, it housed two other businesses besides Himba Law Associates.
"Good night, Ma," the man behind the counter said, wearing a blue, short-sleeved shirt, black trousers and polished shoes, the standard uniform for their site security team.
Grimacing, she halted halfway through the lobby, swivelling in his direction. "I haven't seen you before. What's your name?"
Standing, he mentioned his name and bowed. “I started yesterday, Madam, on the night shift."
"I can see that." Because every time he referred to her, he used terms she abhorred. Titles she'd banned everyone from using to address her. "My name is Zoe Himba. You can address me as Ms Himba or Ms Zoe. Ma or Madam are for my mother. And I'm definitely not your Auntie."
She added the last comment because 'Auntie' seemed to be the default title for addressing a woman when Ma and Madam were removed from the equation. The informal term implied familiarity, which ultimately bred disrespect.
"Yes, M--Ms Himba," he stammered.
She smiled when he corrected himself. He would learn like everyone else, eventually. "Welcome to Himba House, and have a good night."
"Thank you," he replied as she sashayed out while Noah held the swinging glass door.
Outside, the warm night air embraced her in the concrete forecourt. Her driver hurried over to the SUV, the lights flashing as he unlocked the vehicle. The bodyguard held the back door as she climbed into the seat. He deposited her tote beside her before settling the front passenger position. The chauffeur drove out of the premises, turning right onto the main road as they began the journey from Himba House in the GRA to the riverside where the restaurant was located.
“Noah, why didn’t you tell the new security guard the correct way to address me,” she commented.
Noah was her security chief and, therefore, responsible for anyone involved in her protection, including the chauffeur.
He turned his head to glance at her. “You’re such a great teacher. I didn’t want to deprive him of his first encounter with you. This way, he’ll never forget it.”
Although he kept his tone neutral, she didn’t miss the twinkle in his eyes. She had a reputation as a no-nonsense person, and he was teasing her but didn’t want to be obvious to the driver.
“He better not.” She groused, looking out the window and stifling the smile tugging the corner of her lips.
But instead of admiring the old city's significant landmarks, including the country's first colonial settlement and the governor's residence, she checked her emails on her phone. Most of the messages were work-related. But one stood out and made her heart skip a beat.
Sender: Star Arufin
Subject: You made a match!
Excited and with a trembling finger, she clicked the subject line to read the email.
Congratulations! You passed the screening process, and your application to participate in our Blind Date programme has been approved. Your profile has been successfully matched to another profile that meets all your requirements. He wishes for you to address him as Nnanna.
“Nnanna,” she whispered the name, savouring it with delight as her pulse skyrocketed.
Looking for a secure and discreet dating app, she’d downloaded the Star-Arufin software and registered for their Blind Date programme because it promised anonymity for the users. She could use an avatar instead of her photo, and nothing in her profile could identify her publicly. Hence, she used an abbreviated form of her middle name, Mimidoo, known by her immediate family only.
She didn’t know anyone named Nnanna, but it was an Igbo name. So, was the bearer an Igbo man? It was easy to make the inference, although it could also be a pseudonym. She doubted the person would use his real name or first name.
The driver beeped the car horn, making her look up. They’d arrived at their destination, and the vehicle stopped in the reserved parking spot outside the restaurant named after her.
Quickly, she closed the email app and stowed her phone in her pocket. She couldn’t let anyone glimpse the message or who had sent it. Her father forbade any members of the Himba clan from visiting the Arufin nightclub and its VIP annexe, the Star Club in Lori Osa.
The last time someone—Xandra, their former assassin—had defied the order, she’d been disciplined severely.
Zoe hadn’t approved the punishment meted out to Xan because of her sexual proclivities. The woman was an adult, and whatever she’d done had been between consenting adults.
Yet, her father had ordered their enforcer, Norbert, to punish Xandra and commanded Zoe to ensure the assassin showed up for her penalty. She’d had to obey the order because no one defied the Don.
Afterwards, Zoe regretted her involvement in Xandra’s capture. She’d seen the woman’s life-changing injuries following Norbert’s handiwork and wished she’d warned Xan about what had been in store.
After the incident, Zoe started pushing back on her father’s orders when necessary. She’d convinced Don Himba not to punish the assassin again after Norbert was killed.
Norbert had abducted Xan a second time, and an Odili crew had rescued the assassin, killing the enforcer during the shootout. Afterwards, Zoe persuaded her father to accept Duke Odili's truce to avoid a war between the families.
However, none of her previous defiance would be seen as terrible compared to visiting a sex club. Her father would punish her if he found out, although she doubted it would be as life-altering as what happened to Xandra.
Still, better to be safe and keep it a secret.
Leaving her tote in the back seat, she exited the vehicle. Everything she needed was on her person—phone, weapon, even a stick of lipstick. Nevertheless, she didn’t expect this meeting to take long as she strode along the harbour into the restaurant premises.
The building was part of a row of old structures renovated when the area was gentrified about ten years earlier. The restaurant was built on stilts along the shore to give the illusion of floating. It also came in handy when the river overflowed because they stayed above the embankment.
Outside, her mother’s decorations were evident in the brown wooden boxes of orange tulips and green leaves designed to blend with the wooden facade and terrace.
Her father’s henchmen sat at a table and nodded at her in greeting as she entered. Baba’s offices occupied the top floor, while the restaurant was on the first level.
The brown, orange and green theme continued inside with the velour cushioned chairs, wooden tables and plants. Even the bar area held similar earthy tones.
Talking about the bar, was that her half-brother? She paused instead of heading upstairs.
Vershima sat on a counter stool, sipping an amber liquid from a crystal glass while watching the sizeable flatscreen telly on the far corner.
“Vershy, what are you doing here?” she asked, narrowing her eyes.
He swivelled and straightened. “I don’t know, sis. Baba said I should come and see him. When I showed up, I was told to wait down here until you arrived before going upstairs.”
He sounded grumpy like he didn’t want to be there. Vershima was ten years younger than Zoe and the first son of her father’s second wife. He had recently graduated from university and seemed to spend his time partying and chasing women instead of finding a job.
“Then why are you drinking if you’re here to see Baba?”
“What else is there to do? I was bored.”
“You were bored!” Instinctively, she shoved her hand inside her jacket.
Her fingers curled around the contours of the handgun hidden in the pocket. But she didn’t pull it out. Anyone else, and she wouldn't hesitate to whip them into shape with her weapon.
Still, this was her brother.
Instead, she got into his face. Although he was slightly taller than her, her heels put them at the same eye level. “Do you think you’re a baby? You’re going to see The Don, and you’re stinking of alcohol?”
At his age, she’d been working. She would not have gotten away with half the things he did, even as the sole daughter of the Himba patriarch.
He wasn’t bothered about taking up responsibilities, although he spent the money happily. And there appeared to be different rules of engagement for him, as a male child, which rankled.
“Dide, get him some mouthwash!” she snapped at the bartender.
“Yes, boss,” the man replied before disappearing through the staff-only door at the back of the counter.
“Go with him and freshen up. You have five minutes,” she ordered Vershy.
“Why are you always giving me a hard time?” he grumbled, following Dide.
Zoe suppressed the eye-roll. She had a good mind to ban her brother from drinking at the restaurant. But she knew it would be unenforceable because the staff would give him drinks unless the order came directly from their father.
Unfair and annoying.
Did you enjoy it? READ chapters 2 and 3 right now