31st March 2012
He didn’t do short term relationships…
Until he met her!
Two divergent cultures, two different races, two career-driven professionals, only one chance at true love—will they find the faith to take it, or will their hearts be sacrificed on the altar of financial success?
"An enchanting interracial romance." ~ Taylor Jones,Reviewer
"An interesting read with a nice ring of truth." Regan Murphy, Reviewer
Kotoka International airport, Accra, Ghana:
The heat and the heaviness of the air stunned Thane Aleksander as he stepped off the Boeing seven-four-seven. Whew! He took a moment to readjust his breathing with the yoga exercises he tried to practice every now and then. He’d been briefed about his new country of residence, but nothing could have prepared him for the instant perspiration as he descended the vibrating airplane stairs.
He slung his laptop bag over his shoulders and slipped on his sunshades. Within minutes, his hair was damp, with beads of sweat congregating on his forehead and sideburns. His shirt clung to his skin. He grimaced, thinking of the sweat stains he’d have to take care of later on.
His business outside the US had so far been conducted in Europe and Asia, and he knew some adjustments would be necessary—not the least being the weather—but it was the humidity that was killing him.
Luckily, a shuttle arrived to transport passengers from the tarmac to the main airport building, but despite the air conditioning, the temperature inside didn’t seem to be much of an improvement over the heat and humidity outside. He felt faint.
Entering the immigration hall, he scowled. There was only one counter for “Foreign Nationals?” He muttered an expletive and took a place in the queue. Had this been JFK, he’d have waltzed through with a “welcome home,” from the customs officer.
But it wasn’t America, he reminded himself. This was Africa, the place where, most local companies were considered to be either high-risk or incompetent. Until recently, only large consumer products manufacturers—who needed a global consumer base to remain profitable—had ventured into the territory. However, since attending an international advertising seminar in Egypt two years ago, Thane had been studying the market and tracking the exponential growth in the service industry here. If that trend continued—which he expected it to—in a decade, Africa would become the new China.
His turn. Finally. He handed over his passport.
The immigration officer, wearing an unflattering green uniform, scrutinized the document, flipped to the photo page, paused for a few seconds before looking up. “Why are you visiting Ghana?”
“Business.” As stated in his visa—if the officer would read it.
The man nodded. “When are you leaving?”
What the hell? Talk about hostile. You’d think they intentionally hired obnoxious people to work in airports. Was there some international law that justified this kind of antagonism?
“I’ll be here for six months.”
The man scanned through the passport once more and finally settled on a fresh page. He stamped it and handed it back. “Welcome to Ghana.”
Thane nodded and retrieved his passport.
Moments later, he stepped through the final exit and back into the prickling heat. It made him think of how much he’d like to take a dip, or at least, settle into his air-conditioned hotel suite as quickly as possible.
Casting a glance into the small crowd at the exit, he briefly registered emotional reunions and the eager looks of those still waiting for their loved ones to walk out. His gaze settled on a group of uniformed chauffeurs holding out large name cards. Those were the ones he was interested in, for he had no loved ones here. In fact, aside from his parents back home, he had no loved ones; period. And that was the way he intended to keep it.
He spotted his name, and an unexpected flush of relief flooded him.
“Mr. Alexander?” the man holding the card asked.
“Aleksander,” Thane corrected. It was a common error, one he never seemed to get used to.
“Akwaaba. I’m here to take you to La Paulanda Hotel.” The stocky chauffeur eagerly took charge of Thane’s luggage.
The transport turned out to be a cozy minibus whose AC blasted cold air. Thane leaned back, sighing deeply. Now that’s what I’m talking about. He made a mental check of his belongings: laptop, AC adapter, thumb drives, sunscreen, mosquito repellant, cortisone...nothing missing so far. Not that he’d expected otherwise, but the check was a calming down mechanism.
He didn’t know why he felt more than a little nervous about being in Ghana. After all, it had been his idea to come here. Based on his recommendations, Black & Black, the advertising agency he worked for, had decided to expand their operations to Africa. Thane had been working with the agency as the International Account Director for five years now, a role that made him responsible for business development outside the US. He’d championed their expansion to Europe and Asia through affiliations with local agencies, personally handling the negotiations as he was about to do with Media Image Advertising—or MIA as it was commonly called—one of the largest advertising agencies in Ghana.
He’d negotiated plenty of deals with huge European companies and done business with many non-American organizations. Yet it seemed a daunting idea that he was here to do...pretty much what he did best. He attributed the attack of tension to this being his very first time in Sub-Saharan Africa.
His discomfort only increased when he arrived at the hotel and was informed by the reception desk that the presidential suite he’d reserved wasn’t available. Briefly, he considered changing hotels. He wanted the larger accommodations in case he needed to hold meetings at the hotel, but he’d picked La Paulanda for its nearness to Media Image Advertising. Eventually, proximity and fatigue won out over space, and he accepted another suite—a much smaller one.
“Sir, if you’d like, I can check whether the presidential suite will become available during your stay at the hotel,” the front desk clerk offered as she checked something on her computer screen. A frown settled on her features before she looked up. “Excuse me a moment, sir.”
Picking up the phone, she made a call. She spoke in a local language, and even with several English words punctuating her sentences, it was impossible to decipher what she was saying.
Finally she hung up, giving him an apologetic smile. “Sorry, sir, the suite isn’t going to be available for ten days, but if you really do need the space, there’s an adjoining room to your suite, which is unoccupied. We can give both to you for the same rate as the presidential suite.”
There was some logic in that. An extra room solved the problem of space, while providing some privacy. “I’ll take it. Thank you.”
The clerk answered him with a pleasant smile and handed him a key card. “Akwaaba.”
There was that word again. Since they said it with a smile, he assumed it meant something along the lines of “enjoy your stay.” Not that it mattered. This wasn’t a pleasure trip.
When Thane called MIA office the next morning to announce his arrival in Ghana, he could feel their alarm right through the phone. The panic attack was understandable, he supposed. He was a week earlier than expected and would be making his first visit to them in just a few minutes.
He’d decided on a formal dress code despite the heat and cranked up the AC in the rented BMW. As the car eased to a smooth stop in front of the building, he ignored the curious stares he was attracting. All that mattered was his work and what lay ahead. The successful completion of this deal could be the determining factor in his making partner at Black & Black.
Black, Black, & Aleksander. A little long, but it had a nice ring to it. Having his name on one of the fastest growing advertising agencies in the US was a stepping-stone to becoming a major force in the industry.
Today, he planned to acquaint himself with the people at MIA, but mostly he wanted to go through the agency’s files. He exited the car and walked into the building.
“Mr. Aleksander.” The receptionist, her voice filled with panic-stricken awe, stood when he introduced himself. Fumbling with the intercom, she announced his arrival to Mr. Boateng, the acting managing director.
The short and plump man hurried into to the reception area, his arm extended. “Mr. Alexander.”
“Aleksander,” Thane corrected, giving the man’s pudgy hand a shake.
“Yes.” Mr. Boateng didn’t seem to notice he was being corrected. “Akwaaba. ‘Welcome’ in English.”
Thane smiled. “Thank you.”
He followed Mr. Boateng into an office elaborately decorated in what he would previously have referred to as “African décor.” After his one-night stay at the La Paulanda, however, Thane suspected the hand-carved ornaments and paintings were specifically indigenous to Ghana.
Talking to Mr. Boateng, and subsequently meeting the staff and familiarizing himself with the agency infrastructure, took nearly two hours, after which Thane retreated to his new office. Having asked not to be disturbed, he studied the company’s files with an eye toward efficiency and productivity.
After three straight hours of work, exhaustion began to set in. It didn’t help that his body was still functioning on Eastern Daylight Time. He sat back, gently rubbing his temples. Many things needed reworking. The accounting system was different from what he was used to, so it was a good thing Ty would be arriving in a few weeks’ time. With Ty’s knowledge of international accounting practices, Thane could really use him.
He needed someone who understood the system—someone he could trust. Still, he could tell that the expenses were high. And a few suspicious practices needed further investigation. The due diligence paperwork MIA had sent to him in the US didn’t support what he saw now. Could someone have intentionally misrepresented the state of the company to the partners? Running his fingers through his hair, Thane tried not to fuel his aggravation with negative thoughts. He hoped this trip wouldn’t turn out to have been a waste— not when he had something as important as his career riding on it.
A picture sticking out of a pocket in his briefcase caught his eye. Pulling it out, he frowned. Arlene? He hadn’t realized her photo was hidden in his briefcase. No doubt she’d put it there. Was it before or after she decided she didn’t love him enough to stay with him? Or respect him enough to tell him she’d found someone else.
He stared at her bikini-clad image—the woman he’d once loved. The picture had been taken on their last vacation to Hawaii eighteen months ago. His heart hardened in anger. Even now, thoughts of her betrayal left a bitter taste in his mouth. He’d even introduced her to his parents—the first girlfriend he ever took home. He’d planned on marrying her and had taken it for granted that she wanted to marry him, too.
Shoving those thoughts out of his mind, he considered keeping the photo as a reminder of why he’d sworn off women, why he was absolutely not allowing any woman into his heart again. Hell, he wouldn’t let a woman into his life. Period. He was done being vulnerable. His mother thought he’d get over it in time, but he didn’t intend to. Deciding he didn’t need a reminder, he tossed the picture into the trash.
He needed a drink and a long, cold shower then he’d work into the night. Time to return to the hotel, he thought and made a mental note to look for an apartment. Staying at a hotel could get expensive even with the more than favorable exchange rate.
Naaki Tabika woke early. She even had time to take a shower before her alarm went off. The countdown was finally over. She was about to get a foot in the door of her dream agency—Media Image Advertising. Excitement shimmied in her belly as she put on a touch of make-up. Then she slipped on the soft-peach blouse she’d picked out last night before heading to bed. Her suit was made of a colorful batik fabric—one of many such suits she owned. If she wanted to be taken as a professional, it was important to dress the part.
Dressed, she headed to the dining room for breakfast. While the pot of lemon grass tea brewed, she flipped through the Daily Graphic, circling some mildly interesting job prospects, none of which compared with MIA, but she needed to fulfill the internship requirement of her Chartered Marketing Certification course. If she didn’t get into MIA—
The thought didn’t fully materialize, as a news item caught her attention.
“In the final stage of the Media Image Advertising’s makeover, Thane Aleksander, the International Account Director of US advertising firm, Black & Black, will be arriving in Accra...” she read the article aloud, noticing the spelling of the man’s last name.
It was almost two years ago that the first news item about corruption at MIA had hit the newsstands. MIA, the acronym that used to elicit admiration and pride was now laughingly referred to as “Missing In Action” or worse. Granted, the General Manager had embezzled client funds and housed his mistress in a company-paid apartment, among other things. Negative relations between him and his staff had caused several of them to quit. Eventually, the agency’s directors had come together and forced him to resign. They’d hired an acting managing director, while attempting to build a new management team.
Despite this, Naaki still held a great deal of admiration for the company, its history. Judging from the very positive outlook of the article in the papers today, MIA was well on its way to becoming the top agency again, and she wanted to be part of the process.
Heart pounding, she brought the large mug of steaming lemongrass tea to her mouth and took a sip, as if it would calm her mounting excitement. Her interview was in a few hours, and the thought of it filled her with a raging mix of exhilaration and nervousness.
Her cell phone rang. She answered it without checking the display since her mother always called to wish her luck whenever Naaki had a big day.
“Hi, mum.” A smile tugged at the corner of her lips.
“Hello,” her mother’s gentle voice said. “How are you feeling?”
“Good. You’ve done your homework, and I know you’ll do well in the interview.”
Naaki smiled again, although in her mind, she kept wondering what would happen if they picked someone else, someone better than her. For one, it would mean starting job hunting anew, which in turn meant a delay in her internship and her attainment of the esteemed title of Chartered Marketer—a title that would open many doors for her professionally.
Last year had been her first attempt at doing her compulsory internship towards her certification, although at the time she’d just wanted to get it over with. Then MIA had announced, after a three-year hiatus, that they’d be taking one intern this year. Since then, she’d spent her job hunting time researching MIA.
Working there had been her desire for a long time. Well...in the days when working there had been so prestigious that you practically had to know or be someone to get hired. All her career plans began with her at MIA. To think she might actually get in now rather than in five years’ time! If she got in.
She sighed. “With the change of management, who knows how stringent the hiring criteria had become?”
Her mother gave a soft chuckle. “If they fail to see what an asset you’d be to their company, it will be their loss and some other company’s gain.”
Except, Naaki thought, there were no other interviews. She hadn’t applied anywhere else—perhaps, in hindsight, not the wisest move. Well, today would determine the extent of her genius...or idiocy.
She couldn’t bring herself to tell her mother what a major setback a rejection would be, so she said, “I know.”
“Well, good luck, although you don’t need it.”
Warmth flowed into Naaki’s heart. Her mother’s confidence in her always boosted her morale. “Thanks, mum.”
Returning to her breakfast after the call, she finished reading the newspaper article. Her three-month internship would be taking place smack in the middle of all the upcoming changes at MIA. She couldn’t have planned it better.
Thane Aleksander. The name popped into her mind and she was surprised to discover she liked the sound of it. She knew of Black & Black from a few articles she’d read online. The agency was one of the most respected in America. With their rapid expansion into Europe and Asia, they had begun making waves in the industry worldwide. And according to the paper, Thane Aleksander had been at the forefront of that strategic expansion.
His coming to Ghana would no doubt be a big boost for MIA’s damaged reputation, not to mention the country’s advertising industry as a whole. Still, the thought of him filled her with a slight sense of...well...concern. What if he was just some hotshot with nothing but grand ideas, swooping in and tossing about words like “change” and “improvement?” She’d seen it happen many times before and not just in business. Americans slapped “expert” onto their titles and tried to force their western values on the local people regardless of the styles or cultures of the countries those people were in.
Naaki just hoped Aleksander made an effort to understand the local customs rather than simply imposing his company’s policies on MIA. By the time she got into her car, she felt bold and confident—well, maybe just a tad nervous, judging from the rate of her heartbeat. Hopefully, Aleksander was impressed with her résumé.
“Only one way to find out,” she muttered and started the car.
Thane pondered the work that would have to be done at MIA. The current clientele was too small to support a twenty-five-person workforce. They needed more clients, but in the meantime, though he didn’t like it, they might have to lay people off. He tried not to get emotional about layoffs, but he hadn’t thought it would be necessary here.
Now, he realized MIA needed a makeover. So far the agency was running a charity organization. They had to weed out some current personal and bring in a few key people who could move the agency forward.
Speaking of new personnel. He sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. Five candidates would be coming in to interview for a marketing internship today. MIA had to be careful whom they selected. They couldn’t afford to waste time and money training people they wouldn’t want to employ permanently.
He glanced at his watch. Damn, as much as he wanted to sit in on the interviews, he needed to go convince an angry client not to make good on their threat to drop the agency. If MIA lost any clients, Black & Black would lose interest in the merger, which could affect his chances of making partner any time soon.
As he headed for the door, he grabbed the banana that had been part of his official ‘Akwaaba’ gift basket. He’d missed breakfast, so the fruit was very welcome. Trying to ignore the receptionist who apparently worshipped the ground he walked on, he gritted his teeth and kept walking, certain that her attitude would begin to irritate him soon.
He pulled his car key out of his pocket. It slipped through his fingers and he swore. As he bent over to pick them up, the banana peel fell beside the keys. Muttering another curse, he impatiently tossed it aside, aiming for a large garbage can.
Then he noticed her...suit. A business suit for all intents and purposes except it was very colorful—made out of some tie-dyed-looking fabric. Against her dark skin, the effect was arresting. He stared.
In corporate America her clothes would probably not go down too well. Even students in business school were specifically advised to keep their attire to the traditional black or navy-blue suit. But somehow in Ghana, everything seemed more...vibrant and alive.
She wore her hair pulled back and walked with precise steps, clutching a manila folder. The combination of the woman, her suit, and her composure were...perfect.
Fashionable shades concealed her eyes but accentuated the soft curves of her cheekbones and her button nose. For a moment, he envisioned her black hair cascading down her shoulders, bouncing around her oval face as she made her way toward him. In fact, he wouldn’t have minded helping her undo the bun.
He shook off the image. This was, he assumed, one of his co-workers. Even if he didn’t have a “no dating” policy, he certainly didn’t get frisky with co-workers. Arlene had taught him that. Thane stood up. Wait a minute, had he just described the woman approaching as perfect? As he walked toward her, he wondered if she’d noticed him at all, but when she passed without even an acknowledging nod, he assumed not.
Then he heard her voice.
“Excuse me, sir.”
His heart did what felt suspiciously like a flip. What the—
She’d spoken in the most musical voice he’d ever heard. He turned to face her.
“I don’t know where you come from, but I would think throwing a banana peel at someone without apologizing would be considered rude, especially when that person is your elder.”
“What—” Thane glanced over at where the banana peel had fallen and noticed, only then, there was a man sitting a few feet from the trash can. Who the hell was he and why was he sitting there?
“A man is a whole lot more than a business suit,” the mystery woman said, disapproval lacing her words, although what struck him more was the charming accent. There was something proper about the way she spoke, not prissy like the British. More...exotic. “And swearing like that...how would it look to a client?”
She left him standing there, staring after her. Had she just called him rude? Thane was usually unfazed by what people thought of him or what names they chose to call him. Yet having this beautiful stranger call him rude, elicited feelings strangely close to hurt. How could he be so affected by her words? Or was it rather the disappointment in her voice that struck a chord? He went to pick up the banana peel and dropped it in the trash where it should have landed in the first place. He apologized to the man who seemed good-natured about it.
Thane didn’t look forward to meeting Ms. Perfect—officially, that is. No doubt she was the finance manager he hadn’t yet met. Except, from everything he’d heard, his expectations were of someone older. Then a thought occurred to him that sent a discomforting chill down his spine. What if she wasn’t just a colleague? How would this look to a client, she’d said. Great! Second day on the job and a client thought he was rude. Way to go, Aleksander. He could already see her contemplating ways of dropping MIA; although a nagging, uncharacteristic thought remained on his mind. Was a client considered a co-worker?
“Aw hell,” he muttered. This was quickly looking unlike his usual business trips in more ways than one.