“This is the garden.” Tomilola said to the girls. She and the girls were killing the afternoon by touring the estate. At least the places Tomilola knew how to get out to and back from without getting lost.
“It’s beautiful.” Yemi said, stopping next to Tomilola.
“Well, look who’s come to join us.” Amaka pointed down the road, a sly smile turning her lips. Tomilola turned to see Demola trotting down the road. “Well, that’s a surprise.” Considering the way he’d been avoiding her, he was the last person she expected to see.
He trotted up to them, tipped his hat. “Ladies.”
Tomilola lifted a single brow. “You lost, Demola?”
He smiled. “Nope. Charles said you planned on showing the girls around the estate. I thought you might appreciate a tour guide.”
“Well, that was nice of you.” Yemi gave him a big smile. “And you came just in time to see our race.”
“Race?” Surprise flashed across Rose’s face.
Tomilola wanted to groan out loud at the obvious ploy to leave her and Demola alone. But she didn’t waste her breath. Yemi was incorrigible when it came to men and matchmaking. And besides, she could use the time alone with Demola to push her case. Make him see how stubborn he was being.
“Yes, our race,” Rose said conspiratorially. “We’re running over that top and down to that tree on the far side. Everyone except Tomilola, of course. She’s judging, remember?”
“That’s right,” Amaka agreed, quickly catching on.
“If you ladies haven’t ridden anymore than Tomilola, you might want to keep your race on the road. We’ll be less likely to have to pick you up out of the dirt that way.”
Amaka waved away his concern. “We’ll be fine. This is tame compared to the stuff we’re usually doing.”
“Which does not make me feel any better.” He grimaced, looking over the race course. “You’re going to want to be careful on the sides of that road or someone could take a nasty fall.”
“Not a problem. Come on, ladies.” Yemi called, creating the starting point for their race. The other girls joined her, Amaka hollered go and they were off.
Demola turned to Tomilola as they thundered away. “They’re as subtle as a swarm of locusts.”
Tomilola laughed. “Yes, but they have gentler hearts. So, you want to tell me why you really came out here?”
He tipped a shoulder. “Four daredevils, four cattles. I was afraid the four of you would cook up something that would get both you and the cattles killed.”
She rolled her eyes. “So you came along to save us from ourselves.”
“Something like that,” he admitted dryly.
“Oh, come on, we’re not that bad.”
He pointed toward the racing trio. “You’re that bad. Do any of you ever stop to think about the consequences of your actions?”
She sighed, knowing how he felt about the dare-devil stuff. “You think we’re like your sister, don’t you? Troubled girls looking for a way to self-destruct?”
He just looked at her. But she knew what that look meant.
“I don’t think we are. Which is not to say the extreme sports don’t fill some need for each of us. I’m sure they do.”
His gaze locked onto hers. “What need do they fill for you?”
“I don’t know. Triumph maybe. Excitement surely.”
“That’s a pretty sketchy answer.”
“That’s because you’re looking for some deep dark motivation. There isn’t one. My mom was pretty sick by the time I was fifteen. I was doing everything I could to hold our world together. But I knew it was falling apart fast. Knew I wasn’t going to be able to save it. I could, however, take my bicycle and ride down the street. It was a small victory, but it was a victory – and I didn’t have many of those back then. It was also fun and exciting, it was a good release. End of story.”
“It means more to you than that, or you wouldn’t still be doing it.”
She laughed. “Well, it’s still a good release. It’s not like my life has been all that great in recent years, either. Remember, creepy boyfriends, dead-end jobs, classes I don’t care about. She’d never thought of the risks she was taking in the past. When she was younger, the bike riding had been fun – and she’d thought she was invincible. A few accidents and broken bones in her early teenage years had taught her that wasn’t the case, but then the idea of the charity came to her and putting herself at risk seemed acceptable when she looked at the end result. Particularly since she didn’t really have much to lose.
But now she had the Big W and an opportunity to make a difference in more than a few people’s lives. And, of course, there was Demola.
She watched the girls race, heading for the inevitable trek downward, a frisson of alarm running through her. She’d been lucky to run into these women. They’d all added important things to her life. Wonderful things. The thought of anything happening to them . . .
She held her breath as they careered down the side, the girls rocking wildly. When they finally hit the bottom, all still on their heels, she breathed a sigh of relief. “So maybe I’ll scale things back for future events. Maybe figure out a way to use the Big W. Not just as a financial base, but as a place to run the events. I’ll have to think about it.”
He shot her a knowing look. “Good friends, huh? Might want to hang on to them for a while?”
She smiled, watching the girls steak by the finish line. “The best. And now that we’ve solved the Angels’ idiosyncrasies, let’s take a closer look at yours, shall we?”
His expression turned dark. “I don’t have any idiosyncrasies. I have a code of ethics that won’t let me drag you into my mess. Looking at it closer won’t change anything.”
“Let’s give it a shot, anyway.”
“Let’s not.” He pointed to the cattles. “Those cattles are spent. They need to be walked straight back to the barn and put away. And since you seem to have finally grasped – at least in a fledgling manner – the idea of caution, my work here is done. I have to get back to my real job.” Without another word, he led the cattles away,
Tomilola stared after him, irritation pounding through her. She’d had him in her grasp and let him slip away.