Save My Heart

Leila Karani fell in love thinking it was forever. She got pregnant, and went to see her boyfriend Nathan Njeru thinking he’d support her and their baby, but she was wrong. Nathan doesn’t love her anymore and instead urges her to abort their baby.

Eight years later, Leila is a single mother running a fabric and tailoring shop in Nairobi city, and the only thought in her mind is the happiness of her child. When a Fashion Design opportunity comes her way, she runs into Nathan again. Now she must decide what is best for her daughter, especially when she learns why Nathan was cruel to her.

Can Leila learn to forgive and allow her heart to love a man she’s hated for so long?

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Chapter One

Leila Karani shifted the bag filled with shopping from one hand to the other, as she crossed the busy street outside the lifestyle mall in Nairobi.  She power walked along the sidewalk, headed for Biashara Street.

Stealing a glance at her cell phone, she grimaced when she saw the time.  She was running late for her next appointment.  She hoped her client was running late too.

Adjusting her grip on the shopping bag, she increased her pace.

At twenty-eight, Leila was the proud owner of a successful fashion business called Leila Fashions.  Her store sold bespoke clothes, cut and tailored to each client’s measurements.  She also sold fabrics.  The store enjoyed a steady income, managing to pay her bills, salaries for four tailors, two assistants.

Leila could afford a comfortable life for her daughter, Sonya, and her mother, Sonya’s grandmother.

Sonya remained her unexpected gift, Leila thought, as she adjusted the weight of the shopping bag in her hand.  The shopping she carried were party items for Sonya’s eighth birthday party scheduled for the next day.

Leila got pregnant at twenty while she was in college studying to be a teacher.  She tried not to think about Sonya’s father, preferred to imagine his existence away but it did not always work.  Still she tried not to think of him.

Leila pulled her thoughts away from the growing pit of anger at the thought of Sonya’s father, and concentrated on the good things in her life.

Despite how she got pregnant, getting Sonya remained the best decision of her life.

Her daughter filled her days with joy and excitement.  She could not wait to see Sonya’s face on Saturday when she saw all the gifts for her birthday.

A smile gracing her lips, Leila hurried into her shop, happy to see her two sales assistants hard at work attending to walk in customers.  Their daily sales came from selling fabrics and small items like threads and needles.

“Did you manage?” Terry Lenku, her best friend and business manager, asked from the bespoke section of the shop.  She was writing down measurements in their order book.

“The line at checkout was too long at the supermarket, I almost left,” Leila said.  “I didn’t.  We need paper cups, plates and party hats.  Am I late?”

“No.  She hasn’t come in yet,” Terry said, knowing Leila was talking about their important client.  “A delivery guy brought a letter for you.  Have you ordered anything?”

Leila took the envelope Terry held out with a frown.

What order would arrive in such a small envelope? Unless it was a payment.  Her name was printed on the envelope along with her shop’s name.

“Miriam is here,” Terry said.

Leila turned around and smiled at the tall elegant woman who walked into her shop.

Miriam Nderitu, soon to become Miriam Mwangi, worked at a bank doing finance management.

Leila loved Miriam’s style, which consisted of tidy tailored skirts, blouses, and fitted dresses, which hugged her figure to perfection.  Leila liked designing clothes for Miriam, especially since Miriam had the height, and the looks.

In another lifetime, Miriam would have made a perfect model.

Instead, Miriam used her dark classic beauty and brilliant mind to conquer the corporate world.

“I hope I’m not late,” Miriam said, glancing at a delicate gold watch on her left wrist.  “I’m needed for a meeting in exactly thirty minutes.”

Leila nodded in understanding and led the way to the back of the shop.  They entered an elegant sitting room with a dressing room she used for fittings.  Dumping her shopping bag and the mysterious letter on a table by the window, Leila threw herself into the important work of fitting the delicate white organza dress designed for Miriam’s wedding.

She spent the next thirty minutes making changes and listening to Miriam’s suggestions.  After the fitting ended, and Miriam left, Leila spent her afternoon adjusting the wedding dress.  Usually she liked making any changes right away in order to keep up with her orders.

She was busy working on the side zipper on the dress when Terry walked in.

“It’s five o’clock,” Terry said, her tone full of unbridled pleasure.

Leila glanced up at Terry and poked her finger on her needle.  She sighed and sucked on the painful prick, giving up on the wedding dress for today.

“Are the ladies done with cleanup out there?”

“Yes, I’ve closed down the till.  How’s it going?” Terry asked, coming to her workstation.  “It’s so beautiful.  I love the skirts and the ruffles on them.  Miriam looked pleased with your work.”

“We made an adjustment at her chest and waist.  The zipper also had a problem,” Leila said standing up.

She placed the wedding dress on a hanger and carried it to a rack with five more wedding dresses in various stages of completion covered with a white sheet.  Miriam’s dress was the most complete one.

“I can’t believe we’re almost done,” Leila said, making sure the wedding dress was hanging right.  She pulled the white sheet to cover Miriam’s dress too.

Stretching her hands over her head, Leila groaned when her shoulder muscles complained.

“Do you need a ride?” she asked Terry, as she moved to switch off her sewing machine and removed the apron she wore over her neat blue blouse and matching skirt.

Leila cleared her workstation with quick practiced movements and folded the apron.

“Not today,” Terry said, a wide grin appearing on her pretty face.  “I have a date.”

Ah, that’s why the grin, Leila thought in amusement, she headed for the table with her shopping.

“Who is it?” Leila asked as she checked on her purchases.

“Remember Tim from the Co-op Bank down the street?” Terry asked.

“You mean the one who wanted to open saving accounts for us by force?” Leila asked with a chuckle.

“He was trying to get customers.”  Terry defended Tim.  “Anyway, he asked me out.  Nothing fancy, we’ll probably eat some chips and chicken then go home.”

“Sounds like fun,” Leila said in approval.  She then remembered it was Friday and Terry’s habit of being carried away. “Don’t leave your drink unattended.”

“Yes, Mom,” Terry teased with a shake of her head.  “How come you don’t go on dates?”

Leila tied the shopping bag and lifted it with a sigh.

“I have a kid, Terry, there’s no time for dates in my life.  Besides, once the date finds out I have a child, he runs off.”

“Come on, Leila.  No sane man will walk away from a hardworking and pretty woman.  You’re not giving them the time of day.”

“I don’t need to,” Leila said, her gaze on the mysterious letter sitting on the table.

She placed her shopping bag back on the table and picked up the white envelope.  She used her nail to rip it open and gasped when a gold invitation card and letter fell out.

Leila picked up the letter and read it with barely restrained excitement.

“What is it?”

Terry moved closer to read the invitation.

Leila held the letter with trembling hands, as Terry read the gold invitation aloud.

“The Kenya National Fashion Association (KNFA) invites you to participate in the Fashion Competition to be held in two months.  Afri-Fabrics Industries has sponsored your participation.  If you win, you and your business will get a chance to showcase your work at an international level.”

Terry gripped Leila’s right shoulder tight.

“Is this for real?” Terry asked.

Leila held out the formal letter attached to the invitation.  It was as real as it was going to get, she could barely believe it.  The letter had a request to appear at the KNFA offices on Saturday morning at eight for a briefing.

“Do you know what this means for us?” Terry asked, on the verge of jumping up and down.  “House of Leila is what it means.  You’ll become a household name.  Fashion designer, Leila Karani. I can see it right now.”

Leila laughed.

“You’re getting ahead of yourself,” Leila said.  “We haven’t even confirmed if this is true.  They always choose well-known designers.  Maybe they made a mistake choosing our small shop.”

“The Kenya National Fashion Association is real, Leila.  I know it’s not easy to get into their competition unless you’re a bona-fide fashion house or you’re oozing with money,” Terry said.  “What we should wonder about is why Afri-Fabrics Industries chose to sponsor our shop.”

Terry shook her head and brought the invitation card to her lips.  She pressed a kiss on the expensive paper and shrugged.

“On the other hand, I don’t care,” Terry said.  “Whoever Afri-Fabrics Industries is, they are a godsend.  It’s about time someone recognized Leila Fashions.”

Leila reread the letter again.

A national competition would give her the chance to display her designs on a larger platform.  It would give her a better chance to get her business name out there.  She glanced at the wedding dress designed for Miriam on the rack.  Unable to keep the excitement at bay, she hugged the letter and turned to Terry.

“This could be real,” Leila whispered.

“It is real,” Terry said, hugging her.  “This is the best news for a Friday evening.  We should go out to celebrate.”

“I can’t,” Leila said with a sigh.  “I promised mom I’ll go home to help prepare for Sonya’s birthday party tomorrow.  You’re coming right?”

Terry squeezed Leila’s shoulders and stepped away.

“See, there is a reason to believe this is real.  Your dear Sonya will definitely have a solid future when you win this competition.  And yes I’m coming to the party.”

Leila picked up the invitation from the table and stared at the elegant embossed words on the gold paper.

She gave up dreams eight years ago.  If it were time to pick them up again, winning this competition would be a perfect dream to try.  However, where would she find the time?