Updated: Jul 27
As we approach the release of Screwdriver, I'm sharing the opening chapter. Here's the first part.
“This is so exciting!” Oumou Merije squealed from the back seat of the SUV.
Yahya Ruga exhaled a sigh, barely concealing his lack of enthusiasm. He couldn’t summon any energy for the change in his plans. What had started as a trip to watch his cousin Danai play rugby—a game he loved—had turned into something else. Something he hadn’t planned for and, more importantly, didn’t need.
He was a creature of habit and found exhilaration in routine and planning. Abrupt alterations unsettled him, drained him of energy. As a teenager, he’d get anxiety attacks if there were massive revisions to his daily pattern. However, he’d learned to cope with sudden deviations as an adult. Changes were integral to life, no matter how much he disliked them.
Still, they sapped his vitality because his mind would play tricks on him, making him obsess about the missed activities rather than enjoy the deviations. So, he had to actively force his thoughts away from the compulsion.
Like now, he sat in the vehicle next to a liveried driver, a Bagumian royal family employee driving through a dark tree-lined tunnel into the mountain enclave. The swishing wipers focused his gaze out of the rain-splattered windscreen and helped to keep his mind away from compulsive thoughts. The headlamps illuminated a similar blacked-out car in front, part of the multiple vehicle convoy travelling from Darusa to Beya.
“It should be a good night. That’s if the rain doesn’t spoil it,” Danai’s voice drew him back into the vehicle. She sounded less enthusiastic, perhaps sitting on the fence between Oumou’s outright exuberance and Yahya’s guarded disinterest. Much like the bridging role she’d taken up in their three-way connection over the last few years.
“The rain can’t spoil a party hosted by Prince Zik himself. Pa posib.” Not possible. Oumou slipped into the local Creole briefly before continuing in English. “This is going to be lit.”
“You’re right.” His cousin snickered. “You can’t rain on Prince Zik’s parade. The man knows how to have fun.”
“That’s what I’m talking about.” Oumou burst into laughter.
The blissful sound turned Yahya’s stomach into warm goo like it sometimes did. Not an unwelcome sensation, yet not something he would acknowledge openly. Ignoring the feeling, he glanced at the women in the back row. Their effervescent joy was contagious.
He shook his head, unable to hide his slow smile, his wariness forgotten for the moment. One advantage of hanging out with his cousin and her bestie, their familiar presence took the edge of his unease.
It’s Oumou’s presence…
No! He squashed the thought before it could wander into fantasy territory.
This was about the group. He’d known Danai all his life, and they were tight. Their fathers were brothers—Hissene was older and his parent, while Ngarta was Danai’s dad.
Oumou had come along as a teenager when she’d moved to their hometown of Bali with her mother. She’d seemed lost, but Danai had taken her under her wings, and she’d become part of their little club. All three would hang together after school, mainly around Wandjoun Road, where Oumou’s mother had her kiosk next to Uncle Ngarta’s mechanic shop.
Things changed when Danai moved to Darusa, the Bagumian capital city, first to study at the university and then to work at the Bagumi Intelligence Service.
Yahya had taken up an apprenticeship at his uncle’s garage and qualified as a certified mechanic before eventually becoming a partner in the business. Oumou had gone to the local college while working with her mother to grow the convenience shop into the mini supermart she now owned.
Over the years, their childhood friendship drifted. He couldn’t pinpoint the reason, except that they grew up. They lived in the same small town and saw each other regularly—Oumou’s supermart was across the road from Yahya’s auto-shop. Yet, they barely spoke to each other, except at family gatherings or when Danai was around.
To be fair, they had little in common besides Danai. Although Oumou’s mother had married Danai’s father, making her family.
His gaze returned outside as the car drove past a sign written in English, French and Beya. It announced: ‘Welcome to Beya Castle, home of Queen Obiong the Lion-Heart.’
They pulled into a gravelled clearing illuminated by security lights, and the car stopped outside the entrance of the impressive three-level mansion. The former gatehouse to the mountain fortress, the home of one of Bagumi Kingdom’s most remarkable monarchs, Queen Obiong, had been refurbished recently and renamed Beya Castle. Even on a dark, rainy night, the majestic opulence of the place was evident.
His scalp prickled, his unease returning. This was not his scene at all.
“Kisa n ap fè isit la?” What are we doing here? Yahya asked gruffly in the pidgin he preferred before he could think better of it, another consequence of his agitation. The Creole came naturally to him since he spoke it daily. However, English was the official language, and French was spoken in some regions. Sometimes conversations involved all three at once, and there were other local languages, so most Bagumians were multilingual.
“Prince Zik invited us to the post-match party, remember?” Oumou scoffed. “Seriously, you’re so boring. We’re not even inside yet, and wap plenyen deja.”
Yahya’s spine stiffened, and his body overheated. He tugged at the shirt collar. “I’m not complaining.”
Sure, he was a private person and could be reclusive, limiting social interactions. He preferred to focus on work and tune out the world. Attending this party with strangers was a break from his humdrum life and made him uneasy. So perhaps he was boring, but he was happy with his dull life.
It wasn’t that he wasn’t sociable. He just preferred those he knew, people he trusted. Unfortunately, these wealthy royals were not his people. They lived in a different stratosphere and were known to be unapproachable.
“You can go home.” Oumou rolled her eyes heavenwards. The car doors opened, and she stepped out.
I can’t, Yahya refrained from saying, biting his tongue instead.
Danai’s new job at Darusa Palace as Prince Zawadi’s chief bodyguard meant she participated in today’s exclusive rugby event. She’d sent invitations to Yahya and Oumou. Since they lived in the same town, Yahya had offered to drive. No point in making the four-hour round trip in separate cars. He’d assumed they would travel back to Bali straight after the game. Instead, Prince Zik had invited his winning teammates and their guests to his party, so here they were.
But Yahya wasn’t a party animal. Hanging out with over-indulged princes was not him, no matter how much he respected the Bagumian royal family. He had nothing against them. Still, he didn’t want to necessarily spend his free time with them and their friends. He was a simple man. He would rather have headed home and gotten some sleep. Unfortunately, he had to rise early tomorrow to make the return journey because his business was short-staffed. One of his most-experienced mechanics was unwell. The others couldn’t handle everything themselves.
But he wouldn’t bother explaining himself to Oumou. He didn’t care if she thought he was boring.
You care, the small voice reminded him.
Author: Kiru Taye
A Royal House of Saene spinoff
Genre: Steamy Contemporary Romance
Tropes: friends-to-lovers, opposites attract, blue-collar, small town, forced proximity
For most of her adult life, boss-lady Oumou has wanted to leave her hometown in pursuit of big-city fame. All her closest friends are doing bigger and brighter things elsewhere; one is even dating a prince. However, her plans to leave small-town Bali are put on hold when the pandemic hits. At least there are some positives. She’s enduring lockdown with her friend, Yahya, who is her exact opposite in personality. But he’s sexy, easy on the eyes, and cleans up his messes. Opposites attract, right?
Mechanic Yahya has two obsessions—fixing damaged cars and his hometown of Bali. He has no desire for fame or fortune. Nevertheless, since flamboyant Oumou set up shop right across the road from his auto garage, he’s developed a new obsession with her. Each day at work, he glimpses her glorious smile and the temptation for her spirals. But why bother? She won’t even consider him—someone she labels as dull—and they are just too different to work.
Then Yahya and Oumou are stuck together as quarantine buddies, and their attraction combusts in the confines of the apartment. Soon the man so skilled at unscrewing her wheel-nut becomes the sexy hunk satisfying her every fantasy. But what happens when reality kicks in the door and their differences threaten to tear them apart?
Add to Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/59479939-screwdriver