Gera Aketch’s footsteps trudged along the Kisumu-Kakamega road, her whole body tired and sweating from the afternoon sun. She did not even have an exact destination in mind, but one thing was for sure, she was not going back home. Her mother and sister had made it clear that they wanted nothing to do with her. After all, she was twenty-one years old and could fend for herself, right?
In a way, this brought relief, that no one was expecting anything from her, but in some other way, it also made her lonely, with no shoulder to lean on. Then again, she was used to being alone. She even wondered if it was her fate to always be alone—a very depressing thought, which only made her feel sorry for herself. She shrugged and continued walking.
When she reached Mamboleo Estate, she felt too tired and hungry to move a further step, but this also made her realize she was desperately in need of food and a place to rest. The passers-by kept glancing at her suspiciously, and she momentarily forgot about fatigue and hunger. Her white floral dress looked tattered, in dire need of washing. Her feet were covered with dust, and she wore red slippers on one foot and a blue one on the other. What!
After the confrontation with her mother earlier in the morning, she had been in such a hurry to leave that she had not bothered to take care of her looks. She had wanted nothing more than to distance herself from her so-called home in Rongo as soon as possible. Home was no longer a safe haven to shield her from the dangers of the world. The orphanage had felt more like home than the mabati house her mother now lived in.
Deep inside, she knew that home was more than just a structure. A home constituted of people who cared for and loved one another. Her mother’s cold eyes held no warmth or even love—she’d realized the woman wasn’t capable of loving anybody else but herself.
Gera wanted fun, happiness, and love. She had once read about that place called happiness, and she hoped with the whole of her heart that she was going to find it. Mama Jane from the orphanage had also believed in that place where everything was going to be perfect with the world.
The rumbling of her stomach reminded her to deal with first things first. At the moment, her hunger took priority. The problem was, there was no food in the vicinity, unless she climbed the mango tree just a stone’s throw away. The tree had juicy fruit, and she was already salivating. It was immodest for a girl to go on climbing trees, but to Hell with modesty. Desperate situations called for desperate measures.
She freed herself of her slippers and started her climb, then accidentally stepped on a feeble branch and almost lost her grip. Her poor heart raced, but the loud rumbling of her stomach could not allow her to surrender. One more step, she convinced herself, and she would be at her target—a big, yellow mango.
She stretched her hand some more and plucked it, munched on the fruit ferociously, drawing in as much juice as she could. She did not mind that it had not been washed; after all, germs could wait. Right now, she was dealing with her state of emergency. She ate more than five mangoes before she could even start to get satisfied.
She was onto the seventh one when she had this sudden feeling of someone watching her. The thing was, she did not know whether this inkling had been concealed by hunger and she had been watched for a while. She became paranoid all of a sudden, looked about her with keen interest, taking in the details of her surroundings for the first time. Unfortunately, she could not see anyone, and that only worried her more.
Someone cleared his throat from below the tree, and she quickly looked down. Why had she not thought of that? Blame it on the mango. She smiled when she remembered the pastor preaching about God hiding things by putting them close to us.
Under the tree, she saw what some girls would call a tall, dark, and handsome man. He wore a very expensive dark suit with a white button-down shirt, no tie, and the first four buttons of his shirt were open, revealing some dark chest hair. On the right hand, he held the coat to his suit.
When their eyes met, he smiled knowingly at her. Gera felt all the blood rushing away from her head. Just one look and a smile from a handsome man, and she got dizzy—what was wrong with her?
Brandon Odhiambo had been standing there for a long moment, wondering what on Earth somebody was doing on his mango tree. He did not have much to do in the office today and had therefore decided to return home to rest, only to spot someone in the branches.
At first, he had thought it was the mischievious neighbors’ children. As he’d moved closer to get a clearer view, he’d been astonished to find that the culprit was an adult. To add further intrigue to the mystery, it was a lady. He could not have been more amused—not every day that you came home from work to find a lady on your tree.
“What are you staring at?” she shouted from up there.
He thought he heard a tremor in her voice. Was she scared? She was a vulnerable woman, and here he was, a man sent to come and save the damsel from her distress. He was going to be the knight in a shining armor, or so he thought.
On the other hand, he was answering her question in his head—she looked at him pointedly. Why could he not stare? She was tall, about five-foot-eight, and her smooth, dark skin reminded him of a bar of chocolate. Her dress was riding high on her thighs, exposing thick flesh, and he swallowed the lump that had formed in his throat. Her nipples were also poking at her dress, standing tall. She was a beautiful girl.
No, not a girl, he corrected himself. This was a beautiful woman.
“You are on my land, young lady, and on my tree, if I may remind you,” he told her, trying to maintain a no-nonsense tone and failing miserably, since he couldn’t contain his smile. There was just something sexy about a woman on top of a tree. Maybe because it defied what was considered normal. It was out of the ordinary—extraordinaire.
“Okay, so what if I am on your land and on your tree? What are you going to do about it?” she retorted, not the least scared, it appeared.
This surprised him. In place of that tremor in her voice, he heard a tough, defiant tone. The vulnerable woman had disappeared just as she had appeared. This woman’s neck had stretched high, her eyes glittering with courage and stubbornness. She seemed perfectly capable of taking care of herself, not in need of a knight. This intrigued him even more. He did not know which one of the two he liked more: the vulnerable woman, or Miss Independent. He was yet to find out.
“I could sue you for trespass, you know?” he went on, wanting to have a spar with this war-hungry woman.
She did not seem moved by his words at all.
“I could also sue you for sexual harassment! Go ahead and call the police, it would be my pleasure to accompany them,” she retorted.
He was amazed. This girl had a sharp tongue, and he really admired her courage.
On second thought, he was no longer interested in being the knight in shining armor. He liked this fire-spitting woman more. He, too, was stubborn and liked having his own way. He had finally found his match and was suddenly interested.
Ooh. Sexual harassment! He had not committed any sexual harassment offence. He was just a man responding to nature. With a woman this curvaceous, which man in his right senses would not be tempted to stare longer than was considered morally acceptable?
When the man did not respond, only stared more, Gera broke eye contact first and glanced away. No one had ever looked at her like that, as if he were undressing her, yet her clothes still clung perfectly to her body.
Time to go. They could talk the whole day, it seemed, good company for each other. If she was to find shelter in good time, she had better get moving.
It was then that she realized she was very high on top of the tree. The problem was that she did not know how to get down now. She was damned if she was going to ask for help from him, especially after posing as Miss Independent.
She did not have any doubt in her mind that he could help her down effortlessly. With a torso like this one and the able, muscular arms, she would be feather weight in his grip. She particularly liked his broad chest. It seemed powerful enough to shield her from the harshness of the world. And only God knew how much she wanted a safe harbor.
She regretfully dragged herself out of the dreamy land and back to reality.
“Owner of the land and tree, I am climbing down and off your land before you can bat an eye,” she told him, plastering a smile on her face.
She started climbing down more carefully, not wanting to parade her fundamentals around this man, especially this man. After the ogling he had done, she was not in the mood to give body to his imagination.
He just nodded—seemed to her in disbelief. But damn, this was hard to do. The fact that she was also holding her dress as she climbed made it almost impossible to get down.
She was doing quite well with her descent until she touched something warm and rough. She gasped in terror and quickly withdrew her hand. Her first thought was that it was a snake, only to find a fat, brown chameleon. She always saw chameleons, but not at this close range. The animal looked ugly, with big, protruding, round eyes staring at her. She grew very afraid it was going to charge at her.
Given the stories she had heard that once a chameleon sticks on you, there was no way of getting it off, and only thunder and lightning could scare it away, she peered up. A look at the clouds revealed no sign of rain. How could she have been so stupid? Where had she been looking at that she had not seen the chameleon beforehand?
But playing blame games with herself was not going to save her now, she concluded. Plus, the chameleon had camouflaged to the color of the tree, and she had also been keen on holding her dress. She did not know whether to scream or jump. Screaming would have been of no consequence while jumping was only going to break her legs.
But wait. The man!
“Help me, you moron! Can’t you see I’m in trouble?” she cried out.
She did not like being in a situation like this one, helpless. Now, she had no option but to ask for his help. But one thing was for sure, she was not going to beg.
“Oh, miss, I do not think I can,” he said, smiling his drop-dead smile as if just to annoy her.
And he succeeded. The man thought that he was some god and without him, she could not get down the tree. Well, he was yet to meet this lady from the lakeside. She was going to show him that she was made of tougher stuff. She was not like some timid girls he probably encountered every day.
She looked at the chameleon once more, and to her chagrin, it had not moved even an inch from her. It was still staring at her with those big compound eyes. She moved her hand, and the chameleon also moved some more towards her. She trembled in fear. Where was that tougher stuff right now? Maybe it had been wrong putting up that façade of courage that she did not feel right now. But what was a girl to do?
“All you have to do is ask for help. But it is up to you. It’s not like I’m the one on top of a tree within a spitting distance of chameleon,” he advised her.
The chameleon came charging at her before she could utter a reply. She had no option but to jump.
The man seemed to respond purely on adrenaline. He dove to break her fall, and her weight made them tumble down beneath the tree. This sent the chameleon flying to the nearby thicket.
It took her a while to come to, and when she did, she found herself atop the stranger. It then hit her that she had not broken even a bone because he had helped her. She was safe and sound.
She then decided to put her pride aside and focus on her knight. When she looked into his face, she found him watching her keenly. What was wrong with this man and him ogling her? Did he know what that did to her? Maybe he knew, and that’s why he kept at it.
She was about to reprimand him when she saw his blood-soaked shirt on the right shoulder. For once, she was humbled. She had been rude to this man just moments ago, this stranger who had come to her rescue. He was injured because of her. Just how many wrongs could a woman commit in a day? She grew utterly ashamed.
Brandon had a bleeding shoulder, but that somehow did not bother him at the moment. It was the effect of this girl on top of him. He had never felt a fit so right in a very long time. Since Jackie—Shit!
Why did Jackie have such wrong timing of popping into his head? He had to admit that he had kissed so many girls, a number he had lost track of, not that he was counting, yet none of those had felt this right.
“What are you ogling at?”
He just chuckled to himself. This girl was a lot to handle, he had to agree. She then seemed to realize she was still on top of him—a very compromising position. She slowly got up, trying to feel if she had injured any body part. She looked fine, though. He was disappointed when she moved away from him, but there was nothing he could do about it. It had been good while it lasted.
He tried to sit up, but the pain proved too much, and he had to lie on his back again.
“Let me help you, please,” she urged, already moving closer to help him.
“I can take care of myself, don’t worry. You can get on your way to wherever you were going to,” he retorted.
He was not an invalid. He was a man from South Nyanza, and according to the culture, a man was supposed to be the protector and not the casualty. His ego could not allow him to accept help from her. He was supposed to be her knight and not the other way round.
“I can take care of myself,” she mimicked, and he had to laugh.
She just had a way of getting onto his nerves. She smiled sweetly at him, and he discovered just how beautiful she was. Her smile could lighten up a gloomy day.
“This is entirely my fault. I would like to help you so as to clear my conscience,” she said at last.
“Yes, Miss Nurse,” he told her, letting her off the hook.
He could have gone on giving her hard time, but she seemed very tired. He wondered where she had come from, where she was headed to, and what she had done to make her so exhausted. He dared not ask.
She held his left arm and helped him to a sitting position, then onto his feet.
“Thank you,” he mumbled. His shoulder was stinging like hell. He motioned towards a magnificent black gate.
When he rang the bell, the watchman quickly came to open it, horrified when he saw the blood-soaked shirt, but Brandon quickly assured him it was nothing serious.
As they went in, her eyes could not help but wander, and he understood why. The house was painted white and had red roofing. The compound had beautiful, multicoloured foliage consisting of red roses, yellow, white, and pink flowers. The green, well-maintained grass just added to the beauty of the place. A narrow pavement wound around the house.
If he dared say so, it did look rather spectacular.
Gera had never seen such a beautiful house. This felt like home. It beckoned to her. For a moment, she wondered whether this was that place called happiness.
The man cleared his throat, interrupting her thoughts.
“I take it you like my home,” he commented.
She just shrugged, like it was nothing, then proceeded with him to the front door. He got his keys from his pocket and unlocked the door. A sweet, flowery scent wafted in the air as they went into the house which was very cool. An L-shaped red leather seat in the living room only went further to convince her that this was a very rich man. This house was Heaven on Earth.
She had to lead him to his room and therefore did not have time to look around. Maybe on her way out. His bedroom was the epitome of the house for her. A king-size, four-poster bed occupied the center of the room. On the wall, beautiful pictures of dolphins covered one side to the other with the blue background. The floor had a soft maroon carpet which felt heavenly under the feet.
She helped him onto the bed and then knelt down to help him remove his shoes. Once he was safely on the mattress, she went in search of the bathroom. She saw a door and made an intelligent guess that it must lead to the bathroom, and she was right.
The space had a big white bathtub, and she felt she needed a bath badly—she reeked of sweat and dust. On the floor were white tiles. She took a small basin and half-filled it with hot water. No sooner had she turned to go back to the bedroom than she found herself face to face with him. The water sloshed onto her dress, and she cursed under her breath.
“Aren’t you supposed to be lying down?” she asked, and hated that she sounded like his mother. But this man was just difficult.
“I just thought you needed help finding your way around the house,” he said, leaning more onto the doorpost.
“Okay, then, let’s go,” she told him, helping him back into the bedroom.
When his back hit the bed, she started unbuttoning his shirt so as to attend to his injury.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“What does it seem like I’m doing? You think I want to rape you?” she asked, getting angry without meaning to.
“I had not thought of that. If we are to go towards that direction, I like to engage in consensual sex,” he said under his breath, as if knowing that was going to make her angrier.
Anger did indeed get the better part of her, and she yanked off the shirt, hurting his shoulder a second time. But this time, she was not sorry. He writhed in pain, and she smiled, knowing now they were even. Mama Jane would have not been very proud of her right now, but the man was so annoying.
“I bet you have learnt your lesson. We can now get down to business,” she told him and liked the rage she saw in his eyes. She knew vengeance was nigh, yet it seemed they brought the worst in each other.
Since she had been a scout at Nyakach Girls’ High School, she had ample knowledge of how to dress injuries. She dipped the cloth into the basin containing warm water mixed with Dettol then gently wiped around the cut, being careful not to hurt him.
The first time the cloth came into contact with his cut, he groaned in pain that however seemed to subside after a while. The second time he groaned, she quickly looked into his face and saw his eyes darken, his jaws clenching and unclenching.
“Am I rough?” she asked softly, afraid that she had hurt him.
He shook his head, and whatever she had seen in his eyes disappeared, so that for a moment, she wondered if she had imagined it.
“What’s your name?” he asked, watching her intently.
“Geraldine Aketch, although my friends call me Gera,” she said, smiling.
“I am Brandon Odhiambo. It’s a pleasure to know you, Gera.”
“It’s a pleasure to know you, too.”
TITLE: A Place Called Happiness
AUTHOR: Diana Anyango
GENRE: Contemporary Romance
TAGS: single dad, small town
PUBLISHER: Love Africa Press
RELEASE DATE: 25 Sept 2020
Abandoned in an orphanage as a child, Geraldine Aketch’s scars are deep and still hurting. When the architect of her pain, her mother, crawls back seeking forgiveness, Geraldine is not ready to let her into her life and leaves home.
Brandon Odhiambo is a broken man. His wife ran off with his best friend and he must stay strong to take care of his daughter. Love is the last thing on his mind. Until he meets Geraldine.
Desire so strong brews between them. But their past lives intrude, and love is put to the test. Can they find a place called happiness, together?
ADD TO GOODREADS TBR
Ever since Diana Anyango read Nicholas Sparks' 'Message in a Bottle' after completing Class 8, she has been an avid romance reader. When she got to Form 3, she started visualizing her own characters and decided to put pen to paper. The journey has been long and tough but she believed in her characters and knew that one day she would share them with the world.
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