Risking it All

Her grandmother always told her that “falling in love is risky but you have to be brave.”

Well, Grandma, it has finally happened to me.  I have fallen in love with an incredible man, but the problem is…he’s Megan’s man.  Megan was her best friend.  Sighing heavily, she thrust aside the magazine she had been trying to read and got up from the sofa.  She walked over to the windows and stood looking out at the street below, though her mind was miles away.  She was thinking of the first time she met him.

It was several weeks ago and she was on the rooftop of the office building, just getting a breath of fresh air when she heard footsteps behind her.  She turned to see Megan coming toward her and she wasn’t alone.  A tall and very attractive man was with her.  He was dressed in a light pinstriped suit, white shirt and blue tie.  When he got closer, she noticed that he had the most beautiful eyes she had ever seen—they were tawny colored almost like a lion’s.  His thick brown hair moved slightly in the light summer breeze.

“One of your co-workers told me I would find you up here,” Megan said.  “Rebecca, you finally get to meet Lex.  Lex, this is my best friend, Rebecca.”

Rebecca smiled and held out her hand.  “Lex, it’s a pleasure to meet you.  I’ve heard so much about you.”

He smiled and grasped her hand in a firm handshake, his eyes meeting hers.  “It’s a pleasure to meet you too.”  When he released her hand, Megan moved closer to him and slipped her arm through his.

“Lex and I were on our way to have lunch when I thought it would be a great idea to stop by your office first.”

Rebecca folded her arms and tried not to stare at him.  She wished she had worn her light blue skirt suit instead of the black pants suit and had done something with her hair which was not having a good day.  “Well, enjoy your lunch and thanks for stopping by.”

“I’ll call you later,” Megan promised.  She looked great in her hot pink skirt suit, and white strappy sandals.  And her chestnut hair fell in thick waves about her shoulders.  As usual, Rebecca felt awkward around her.

Lex said goodbye to Rebecca before he turned and walked away with Megan clinging to his arm.

After they left, Rebecca turned back to face the view she had been admiring before but she didn’t see it.  All she saw was Lex.  For the rest of that afternoon, she thought about him and wondered when she would see him again.  She chided herself for having such thoughts but she couldn’t help it.  That night when she was lying in bed, he filled her mind and when she eventually drifted off to sleep she dreamt about him.

The ringing of the telephone jolted her back to the present and she walked over to see who was calling.  Megan’s number showed up on the display.   She was tempted to let the machine pick up because she felt so guilty but she decided to pick up.  “Hello, Megan.”

“Rebecca, please tell me that you don’t have any plans for Saturday night.”

“I don’t—”

“Great!  The four of us are going for dinner and dancing.”

“The four of us?”

“Yes.  Lex, me, Paul and you.”

“Who’s Paul?”

“He’s Lex’s friend.  I think he’s from Haiti or Kenya.  I can’t remember which.  He’s a really nice fellow.  I’m sure you’d like him.  Wear something sexy or stunning to impress him.  Lex and I will pick you up at seven-thirty and we’ll meet him at the restaurant.”

“Megan, I really don’t want—“

“Sure you do.  It will be fun.  See you on Saturday. ‘Bye.”  She hung up before Rebecca could say anything else.

Signing, Rebecca placed the phone back in its cradle and went over to the sofa where she stretched out, her hand to her head which was throbbing now.  Well, you wanted to see Lex again, a traitorous voice reminded her.  You can dress sexy for him to get him to notice you.

Flustered, she sat up and turned on the television to tune out the unwelcomed thoughts.  She made a mental note of all the dresses she had in her closet and decided that none of them would do.  She had to get a new one which meant she had to get a new pair of shoes and she had to make an appointment to get her hair done.  It needed relaxing.

Friday came and went quickly and then it was Saturday morning.  She woke up early and did her housekeeping.  She went for groceries and then for her hair appointment.  She grabbed lunch at a bistro before heading to the stores to buy her new outfit.

As seven-thirty approached, the excitement and apprehension she was feeling increased.  She was excited about seeing Lex again but she was not looking forward to meeting her date.  At six-fifteen, she took one last look at herself in the full-length mirror in the hall.  The black, sleeveless cocktail dress with the scoop neck flattered her figure.  Her hair fell in thick waves about her face.  And the peep toe shoes completed the outfit very nicely.

Satisfied with how she looked, she took up her clutch bag from the bed and left the room.  She got a few looks as she stepped on and out of the lift.  She said hello to the guard at the concierge watching her as she walked past and she could feel his eyes still on her as she went through the doors leading out to the courtyard.

At precisely seven-thirty, a sleek black Rolls Royce drove up and Lex got out.  He walked to the passenger behind the driver’s seat and held it open for her.  As she walked toward the car, her heart was pounding and her legs felt wobbly.  She plastered a smile on her face, hoping that she looked like she had it all together.  Her eyes travelled over his tall frame, thinking how gorgeous he looked in the charcoal grey suit, black dress shirt and black tie.  He smiled at her now.  “Good evening.”

“Good evening,” she replied.  Before she climbed into the car, she caught a whiff of his cologne.

“You look great, Rebecca,” Megan said when she got into the car.  “I’m sure Paul will be very impressed.”

“Thank you.” Rebecca hoped that her friend didn’t think she had dressed like this for Paul.

“We’re going to The Fresh Vine,” Megan told her.  “I booked a table in the VIP section in the nightclub.  So, while we are eating, we can enjoy the music and then dance afterwards.   Lex doesn’t like to dance but I manage to get him up on his feet at least for a couple of dances.”

Lex was quiet on the drive over.  Megan did most of the talking.  Rebecca was relieved when they finally got to the restaurant.  Rebecca watched as Megan came out of the car.  She looked stunning in an off the shoulder, cherry shaded dress with a flare skirt and her hair was in an updo with a few tendrils framing her face.

As planned Paul was waiting at the entrance for them.  He waved when he saw them.  Rebecca looked him over as they approached him.  He was medium height.  He was dressed in a black suit and a grey tie.  He shook Lex’s hand and hugged Megan who then introduced him to Rebecca.

His smile broadened when he saw Rebecca and he shook her hand rather enthusiastically.  “It is a pleasure to meet you,” he said with an unmistakable Kenyan accent.

Rebecca smiled.  “It’s a pleasure to meet you too,” she said while thinking that he was holding her hand a little long.  He walked alongside her as they made their way into the restaurant and downstairs to the nightclub.   It was a really nice place—warm, modern, friendly ambience.  Paul sat down next to her while Lex and Megan sat across from them.  Rebecca was thankful that she wasn’t sitting directly opposite Lex.  She would feel nervous eating in front of him.  A couple of times when she looked across at him, she found that he was already looking at her.  Perhaps he was checking to see how she and his friend were getting along, she thought.

Dinner was very tasty.  She thoroughly enjoyed it.  She treated had the same dessert as Megan while the men opted passed on it.  Then, Paul asked her for a dance and she stood up, feeling Lex’s eyes on her but she didn’t turn to look at him.  She thought it best not to.  It felt good stretching her legs after sitting for so long.  Paul was a very good dance and they danced a few dances and then they returned to the table.

Megan and Lex were heading to the dance floor.  “The two of you looked great out there on the dance floor,” Megan commented as she passed them.

Rebecca sat down, glad to be off her feet and watched them.  She tried to pay attention to what Paul was saying.  For someone who didn’t like dancing, Lex was excellent at it.  His movements were fluid and she found herself wishing that it was her he was dancing with instead of Megan.  What would it be like to feel his hand pressing into the small of her back holding her against his firm body as they moved to the music?  She shook her head and quickly turned away.  Paul asked her if she wanted another drink and she said yes.  It would be good to be alone for a few minutes, she thought.  It was hard trying to be attentive to one man when you wanted to be with another.

While he was gone, Lex returned alone to the table.  “Megan went to freshen up,” he explained as he sat down.  “Where’s Paul?”

“He went to get me another drink.”

“So, what do you think of him?”

“He seems like a really nice man,” she said.  But, he’s not the man for me.

“Are you going to see him again?”

“I don’t know.”  Now, why did she say that?  She wasn’t planning on going out with Paul again.

Lex’s expression changed.  “What if I told you that I don’t want you to go out with him?” he asked quietly and she looked at him in surprise.

She opened her mouth to ask him why when Paul returned to the table.  Paul handed Rebecca her drink and sat down beside her.  She sipped her drink while the two men talked and then Megan joined them.  It was after midnight when they left the place.  Paul took her home this time and when he offered to see her to her door, she politely turned him down.  She thanked him for a pleasant evening and bade him goodnight.

The next morning Megan called her to find out what she thought of Paul.  “He’s a nice man but I’m not attracted to him. “Sorry, Megan.”  They spoke for a while then they rang off. Rebecca got busy fixing dinner and getting ready for work the next day.  She tried to busy so that she wouldn’t think about Lex.  It didn’t work.  That night, she laid awake, thinking about him and wondering if he was with Megan at that very moment.  Jealousy tore at her and she groaned, burying her face in the pillow.

On Monday around noon, she was standing at her usual spot looking out at the landscape and surrounding buildings when she heard footsteps behind her.  Her heart lurched and then began to beat fast when she turned and saw Lex striding towards her.  Her eyes eagerly drank in every detail of his appearance.  Dressed in a navy blue striped suit, matching tie and light blue shirt, he looked very corporate and very attractive.  She wondered if he had any idea of the effect he had on her.  “What a pleasant surprise,” she said when he reached her.  She was smiling but the smile faded when she saw his face.  He looked very serious.

“I had to see you,” he said.  “I spoke to Paul last night.  He called me and told me that you made it clear that you weren’t interested in him.  He said that you were very diplomatic about it and it was obvious to him that there was someone else in the picture although you didn’t come right out and say so.  It was a strong feeling he had.  Is he right?  Is there someone else?”

Instead of answering his questions, she said, “I thought you would be pleased.  That night at the restaurant you said you didn’t want me to go out with him, don’t you remember?”

“Yes, I remember,” he muttered tightly.  “I also remember how beautiful you looked and how hard it was for me to keep my eyes off you.  It drove me insane thinking that you were dressed like that for Paul.”

Her mouth dropped open.  “What?”

“It was torture watching you with him,” he continued, his eyes darkening at the memories.  “I wanted to be the one sitting next to you, dancing with you and buying you a drink.  I wanted to be in his place.”

She stared at him, hardly believing what she was hearing.  Was this another one of her crazy dreams?  “I can’t believe this,” she said more to herself than to him.

“It’s all true.  I have feelings for you, Rebecca, and I’ve had them since we first met.  I never intended for that to happen because of my relationship with Megan.  I don’t know how to be around her now without feeling guilty.  Is there another man in your life?”

She shook her head.  “No, there isn’t.”

“So, Paul was mistaken, then?”  He looked hopeful.

You might as well fess up.  She sighed.  “No, he was right.  I am stuck on a man I have no business being stuck on—” Her voice trailed off when Lex went right up to her and grabbed her shoulders.

“Who is this man?” he demanded, almost beside himself with jealousy.

She closed her eyes in defeat.  “It’s you, Lex,” she admitted huskily.

Me?”  He gazed at her, his expression incredulous.  “Look at me and tell me that you want me,” he demanded thickly, his breath quickening.

She opened her eyes, the feelings churning inside her were now written all over her face.  “I want you, Lex.”  Her voice was barely above a whisper.

Lex’s eyes darkened in desire, “And I want you too,” he moaned.  His hands left her shoulders and cupped her face.  She closed her eyes, groaning when she felt his mouth moving hungrily on hers.  She wrapped her arms around his waist, pressing into him, loving the feel of his strong body against hers.  They stood there for a long time, kissing each other with total abandon as their feelings for each other poured out like water breaking free from a dam.

Then an image of Megan’s face swam into focus, a stinging reminder of her treachery and with a cry of self-recrimination, Rebecca pulled forcibly away from him.  “We can’t do this,” she gasped, fighting for air.  “As long as you and Megan are together, you and I can’t see each other.”

He nodded, his face flushed and his breathing labored.  “You’re right,” he agreed.  “I have to end my relationship with her.”

“Are you sure?”

He reached out and touched her cheek.  “Yes,” he murmured.  “I can’t continue seeing Megan when I feel this way about you.  It wouldn’t fair to her.  She deserves better.”

Rebecca felt tears prick her eyes as she concluded, “She’s going to hate me.”

“And me.  You and I never meant for this to happen.  It just did.”

“After you tell her could we wait for a while before we start seeing each other?” she asked.

He nodded.  “Okay.  Call me when you’re ready,” he said.  He pulled her against him and kissed her hard and long on the mouth before he turned and walked away.

A month later, she called him and they began to see each other.  Megan confronted her the day after Lex broke up with her.  It was an ugly scene.  Megan was extremely hurt and angry.  She said hurtful things and then stormed out of Rebecca’s flat and out of her life.  Their friendship was over.

After Megan left, Rebecca broke down and cried bitterly.  She learned that it wasn’t the one taking the risk of falling in love who could end up getting hurt, but those close to them.  She had gambled on love and it was her friend who lost.  She hoped that one day Megan would find it in her heart to forgive her and Lex for hurting her.  They never meant to fall in love with each other but it happened.

Source:  Fantasy Name Generators;

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The New Mrs. Cavendish

“She has ascended far above her station, while he, unfortunately has fallen far below his.”

“She’s just a slip of a girl.  What on earth does he see in her?”

“How could she satisfy a man like Maxwell Cavendish?”

“She’s not at all what I expected.  When I think of all the beautiful and glamorous women Maxwell use to be seen with, I’m at a loss as to why he should end up marrying such a simple little creature.”

“I felt sure that my dear Caroline would have been the next Mrs. Cavendish.  You can imagine how shocked the entire family was when we heard of Maxwell’s marriage to that French girl.”

“She probably speaks English rather poorly or doesn’t understand a word of it.”

“Well, I heard that she didn’t know that Maxwell was the son and heir of Lord and Lady Cavendish until after they were married.”

“I heard that they met at the cafe where she worked.”

“Well, I think that she knew who Maxwell was and that’s why she married him.  She’s tired of being a waitress and living at a boarding house in Paris.”

“Married to a waitress.  How disgraceful!”

Yvette sat there, listening them gossip about Maxwell and her, angry tears pricked her eyes.  How dared they presume to know anything about her?  They looked down on her because she wasn’t rich like them or British or glamorous.  They made being a waitress sound like one of the worst job for a woman.  They had no idea that she worked as a waitress during the summer when she was not attending university and she shared a room at a student residence because it was more feasible than renting a room on her own.

Now she understood why Maxwell spent so much time away from his family and their snobbish and pretentious friends who spent most of their time gossiping and looking down at those whom they considered to be beneath them.

It is true that they met at the café where she worked.  It was in the heart of the Latin Quarter.  He walked in one afternoon shortly after she began her shift.  He was wearing an orange sweater over a blue and white shirt and a pair of white pants.  His sandy colored hair was nearly combed.  He looked so out of place in the café but he didn’t seem to mind.  He went and sat at a table beside the window.  She waited a few minutes before she went over to him to see if he was ready for her to take his order and a pair of the most incredibly beautiful green eyes looked up from the open menu.  For a brief moment, he just stared at her.

She was mesmerized by his good looks and those eyes.  He looked to be in his mid-thirties.  Her gaze quickly dropped to his left hand to check for a wedding ring and was surprised to see none.  There’s no way that he was unattached yet, here he was alone.  She raised her eyes to his face again and smiled.  “Are you ready to give me your order, Sir?” she asked.

He smiled and her heart melted.  “Yes, thank you,” he said in a proper British accent.  “I’ll have the house salad and the Rib Steak.”

“And to drink?”

“A glass of red wine.”

She took his order, the menu and left.  It was tricky concentrating on the other customers when he was there.  Every time she passed his table, their eyes met.  When his salad was ready, she took it to him, her heart pounding with excitement.  She set it down in front of him, feeling his eyes on her.  She smiled shyly at him before she walked away.

“What is your name?” he asked in French moments later when she took the rib steak to his table.

“Yvette,” she answered.

“Maxwell,” he said.  “How long have you been working here?”

“Since I started going to university.  It helps with my expenses.  I work during the week and in the summer.”

“Are you still in university?”

“Yes. I graduate next year.  Your French is very good,” she added in English.

“Do you live with your parents?”

“No, I share an apartment with another student on Rue de l’Universite near Quai d’Orsay. Your French is very good.”

“Thank you.  So is your English.”

She left him to enjoy his meal.  When he asked for the bill, she was sorry.  She wondered if she would ever see him again.  She took it to him and left him to it.  “I hope you enjoyed your meal,” she said, returning a few minutes later.

He looked up at her.  “I enjoyed both the meal and the service,” he told her, his expression serious.   “I hope you don’t think me impertinent, Yvette, but I was wondering if you would let me take you out for dinner on Saturday, if you don’t have plans.”

She smiled.  “I don’t have any plans,” she said. “I will meet you at the front of the apartment building.”

“I will be there at seven,” he promised as he stood up.  “Au revoir, Yvette.”

“Au revoir, Maxwell.”

On Saturday, he met her outside of the student residence and they went to a popular Creole restaurant where they enjoyed a very pleasant evening together.  Afterwards, they went for a walk along the Seine.  When he took her home, they made plans to see each other again.  They saw each other every day and on the days when she was working at the café, they met after her shift ended.

She didn’t know at what point she had fallen in love with him but she knew that she loved him deeply and hoped that he felt the same way.  She still couldn’t believe that he was attracted to her, a twenty-two year old when he could have any woman he wanted.  These were the misgivings she couldn’t seem to shake so it was a complete shock for her when one night, he proposed to her.

They were standing in front of the Eiffel Tower watching as it lit up when he suddenly dropped to his knee.  She stared at him, her eyes huge.  When he pulled out the box and took out the ring, she began to cry.  After he popped the question, she managed to say yes, and he rose to his feet and cupping her face between his hands, he kissed her.  It was the first time they had ever kissed and was far beyond what she had imagined.  Her head was spinning, her heart was racing and her senses were swimming as she kissed him back, oblivious to the stares and smiles of those who passed by or stopped to take photos of the Tower.

A few months later they got married at the Notre Dame Cathedral in a touching ceremony attended by his friends, his cousin Elliot and his wife, Louise, Yvette’s aunt, her room-mate, a few friends from the university, a couple of co-workers and the manager of the café where she worked.  The reception was held at Elliot’s estate.  It was a magical evening which Yvette didn’t want to end.  After the reception, they went to Maxwell’s chateau in Champagne where they spent their first night together as a married couple.

When they reached the master bedroom overlooking the gardens and the gazebo, he opened the door and then picked her up and carried her to the bed which was covered with red rose petals. Moonlight streamed through the windows bathing the bed in its silvery light.  She was a little nervous but he took his time.  And afterwards, she held him as he buried his face in her neck and they drifted off to sleep.

The next morning, they drove to Nice where they spent their honeymoon.  He didn’t take her to Monte Carlo but to St. Paul de Vence and they stayed at the Villa St. Maxime.  From their room, they had a view of the Mediterranean Sea.  It was a magical, entertaining and enjoyable week and she was sorry to leave.  Maxwell promised her that they would return for their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.

It was one afternoon when they were strolling in the grounds of the chateau in Champagne when Maxwell announced that they were going to London and then to Yorkshire to see his family.  Yvette hid the trepidation that she felt but that evening, she called Louise who had been so warm and friendly towards her at the wedding her and shared her concerns with her.  “What if they don’t like me?”

“It’s very possible that they might not,” Louise told her.  “When Elliot introduced me to his parents and the rest of the family, it was very clear that they didn’t approve of me—for three reasons, I was older than him, divorced and French.  They all treated Elliot as if he had committed a crime and became estranged to him.  The only one who remained loyal and stood by him was Maxwell.  He welcomed me with open arms and reminded me that what really mattered was not what the family thought about me but that Elliot and I loved each other.  It’s the same with Maxwell and you.  I’ve never seen him so happy, Yvette.  You’re good for him.  Don’t let those stuck up ignoramuses make you doubt yourself or question Maxwell’s feelings for you.  It’s as plain as the nose on your face that he is madly in love with you.”

Talking to Louise made her feel better and she felt that she was ready to step into the lion’s den.  So, on the train ride to London she was in better spirits.  A car met them at the station and took them to Yorkshire.

“Has anyone seen my wife?”  The sound of Maxwell’s voice brought her back to the present and pulling herself together, she got up from the chair.  He was in front of the fireplace, looking around at the sea of faces when he spotted her.  “Oh, there you are, darling.”  All eyes followed his gaze to where she stood in the doorway leading out to the terrace.

With her head held high, she walked past the women sitting there and joined him.  She turned to face them, observing with some satisfaction the red faces and the expressions of disconcertment as it dawned on them that she had been on the terrace all that time when they made those unkind remarks about her.

Maxwell put his arm around her waist and drew her closer.  “Some of you have already met Yvette and this afternoon, some of you are meeting her for the first time.  I know it must have come as a surprise to all of you when my parents told you about our marriage.  I never imagined that when I walked into the café that afternoon, I would meet the girl of my dreams.  There she was, standing over me, waiting to take my order.  She took my breath away. My life has not been the same since.  I’m not here to ask for your blessing but I do ask that you show Yvette the same courtesy you would show me.”

When he was finished speaking some of the people in the room got up and went over to greet Yvette and extend warm wishes while others didn’t budge.  Instead, they sat there bristling, determined not to welcome her into their society.  Lord and Lady Cavendish saw their behavior as an affront to them and no longer welcomed them in their home.  It took a while but Yvette’s in-laws finally warmed up to her and by the time Maxwell and she were expecting their first child, she and Lady Cavendish had become very close.

Sources: Erasmusu; Le Petite Cafe; Wikipedia; Kiss Me in Paris; Trip Advisor

Family Affairs

“You’re the most infuriating, insufferable, arrogant man I have ever met,” she fumed.

He looked unperturbed.  “Is this what you came all the way over here to tell me?” he asked.  “You could have just as easily phoned me and save yourself an hour’s drive.”

“I wanted to tell you what I think of you to your face,” she retorted.

He moved closer.  “Why don’t you admit it, Debra?”

“Admit what?” she asked, eying him suspiciously and warily.  He was a little too close for comfort.

“That you want me as much as I want you.”

Alarm filled her and for a brief moment, she was at a loss of words.  Then, lifting her chin, she declared, “You’re mistaken.”

“I’m not afraid to admit that I want you.  I wanted you from the first time I saw you.  Feel what you do to me.”  He took her hand and pressed it against his heart.  It was pounding wildly—like hers.

She tried to pull her hand away but his grip tightened.  Her eyes flew up to his face and her mouth went dry when she saw the unbridled passion shining in their depths.  Desire coursed through her body and she tugged at her hand, desperate to put as much distance between them as possible.  “Please let go of me,” she begged.

“Why?” he asked thickly.  “Am I making you feel things you don’t want to feel?”

Just then, the sound of someone clearing his throat came from the doorway.  Then, a voice called, “Mr. Rhys, Sir?”

Without turning his head, Rhys said, sounding somewhat put out at the interruption, “Yes, Albert, what is it?”

“You have a telephone call.”

“I’ll take it in the study.  Thank you, Albert.”

When Albert left, she tugged at her hand again and he released it this time.  She stepped back, grateful to Albert for the interruption.

Rhys watched her.  “Will you wait here until I return?”

“No,” she said crossly.  “I have things to do.”

“Have dinner with me tonight,” he said quietly.

She glared at him.  “Even if my life depended on it, I will never have dinner with you.  Good day.” She stormed past him and out of the room, leaving him watching after her, his expression a mixture of irritation and longing.

On the drive back to London, she fretted and fumed at herself for the brief betraying moment when she wanted to succumb to the feelings he aroused in her.  If Albert hadn’t interrupted when he did she would not have been able to resist him any longer and that scared her.  She didn’t want to have feelings for the man who was responsible for her sister’s misery.

Her sister was the reason why she went to Surrey to see him.  She had meant to find out why he was opposing Vanessa’s marriage to his brother, Mark but when she saw him, she just lost it.  She hoped she hadn’t make things worse.  Just who did he think he was?  Insufferable man.  How she disliked him.  Yet, how was it possible to loathe a man and want him at the same time?

She didn’t go back to her flat, instead, she went over to her friend Marcy’s cottage.  “You look fit to be tied,” her friend exclaimed when she saw her.  “Come on in.  A cup of tea would do you some good, I think. Come to the kitchen and tell me what’s on your mind while I get the tea ready.”

Debra sat down at the table while Marcy put the kettle on.  “I went to see Rhys,” she said, trying to be calm.

“You mentioned that you were going to find out why he was stalling his brother’s wedding plans.  What did he say?”

“I didn’t give him a chance to say anything.  I just laid into him because he got me so mad.”

“What did he do to get you so mad at him?”

“Well, nothing, really,” she said.  “When I saw him, looking so smug, I lost it.”

“So, you didn’t find out why he is stalling the wedding?”

“What other reason could there be besides the fact that he doesn’t think that my sister is good enough for his precious brother?”

“Deb, you can’t assume that’s the reason.  It might be something else.”

“What other reason could there be?  Mark and Vanessa love each other.  They have been dating since high-school and all through university.  No one was surprised when they announced their engagement.  Plans have already been put in place for a spring wedding and now, they have been put on hold because of Rhys.  He acts more like Mark’s father than his older brother.”

“I guess he feels responsible for him because after their parents died, he raised him.  It’s only natural that he wants what’s best for his little brother.”

“Doesn’t he think that marrying my sister would be the best thing for his brother? Is it because she’s not from rich family like Mark and he?”

“Deb, you and I can sit here all morning and speculate about Rhys’ reasons for putting everything on hold.   There’s only one way to find out for sure and that’s to talk to him.”

Debra took the steaming cup of coffee from Marcia.  She didn’t relish the idea of seeing Rhys again but if she wanted to get to the bottom of this, she had to.  “I’ll stop by his office tomorrow during my lunch break,” she sighed.

The next day, she made sure she called Rhys first to find out if it was all right with him to stop by his office around twelve-thirty.  He sounded surprised to hear from her but said that he was free to see her at that time.  She got there at about twelve thirty-five and was shown into his office which modern, spacious and had a remarkable view of the city.  He was sitting behind the desk but stood up when she walked in.  He went over to the door and closed it.  Then, he offered her a seat.  “What a pleasant surprise,” he remarked.  “What brings you here?”

She sat down and came straight to the point.  “I want to talk to you about Mark and Vanessa.  Why are you standing in the way of their happiness?”

He sat down behind the desk, his expression serious now.  “I’m not opposed to their happiness,” he said.  “But I do have my misgivings.  I think they are too young to get married.  He’s twenty-three and your sister is twenty-two.  Mark has a trust fund which doesn’t have full access to until he’s twenty-five. Right now, he can live comfortably from the money in the trust fund but with marriage comes so many responsibilities that I’m not sure he’s ready for.”

“So, your objection is based solely on their age and not on their suitability for each other.”

He nodded.  “I have always heard of many cases where young marriages don’t work out.  I just don’t want Mark and Vanessa to be one of those couples.”

“But how long do you expect them to wait?  Until they are in their thirties?  That doesn’t seem fair.  Those marriages you mentioned failed most likely because the couples were not mature.  Mark and Vanessa are mature and very sensible beyond their years.  If you still have misgivings why don’t you consider having them go for pre-marital counseling?  I have a friend who has counseled many couples, including those in their twenties.  I could arrange for her to see Mark and Vanessa.  The sessions will determine whether or not they are ready for marriage.”

“That would be very helpful,” Rhys agreed.  “It would put my mind at rest.”

“All right, I will call my friend this evening.”  She got up.

He stood up too.  “Are you leaving so soon?”

“I have to head back to the office.  Thanks for taking the time to see me.  Rhys…” she looked at him, feeling a little embarrassed.  “I wanted to apologize for the way I spoke to you yesterday.”

He came around to where she was and stopped a few feet away from her.  “I will accept your apology on one condition,” he said quietly, his eyes studying her face.  “Have dinner with me tonight.”

“All right,” she said.

“I’ll see you at seven-thirty, then.”

She turned and crossed the carpet towards the door with him following closely behind.  The same time she reached for the knob, he did and his hand covered hers.  Heart leaping in her chest, she turned her head to look up at him and met his penetrating gaze.  Without saying anything, he took her hand and pressed it against his thumping heart then without any warning, he reached over and kissed her.

Unable to help herself she turned so that she was facing him and her arms reached for him as she responded to his fiery kisses.  Several minutes later, she felt herself pressed up against the hard surface of the door while his hands on her hips held her tightly against him as he ravaged her lips.  Then, his lips were hot against her neck and she groaned, reaching up to bury her fingers in his hair.

A knock on the door jolted them and he pulled away, his face flushed.  He took a few moments to control his breathing and regain his composure before he moved to open the door slightly.  “Yes, Betty?”  Betty was his secretary.

“They are waiting for you in the boardroom, Mr. Yardley.”

“Okay.  Thank you, Betty.  Inform them that I will be there shortly.”

“Yes, Sir.”

He closed the door and turned to Debra.  He ran his fingers through his hair.  “I forgot that I have a board meeting at one,” he said.  “I’m sorry.”

She smoothed her hair and straightened her white top with the V neck and her navy blue skirt.  “I should be heading back now,” she said, stooping down to pick up her handbag which had dropped to the floor.

“I look forward to seeing you again later,” he said quietly.  He held open the door for her and she glanced at him before she went out.

On the way back to her office, all she could think about was the kiss and how much she wanted him.  She couldn’t wait to see him later.  When she got to her desk, the first thing she did was to call her friend, the marriage counselor.

At exactly seven-thirty he was at her flat.  He looked amazing in a fitted black suit, white dress shirt and no tie.  His hair was slicked back, giving him a polish and slightly rakish look.  His eyes slipped over her when he saw her in a short navy blue dress with a beaded neckline which flattered her figure and her hair pulled back at the nape with a clasp.  She looked simple but elegant.  “You look incredible,” he commented as they walked to the lift.

She smiled.  “Thank you,” she said.  “So do you.”

He took her to his favorite restaurant which offered them privacy, spectacular view of the city of London and food to die for.  They talked and opened up to each other.  She mentioned to him that she had called her friend and that whenever Mark and Vanessa were ready, she would see them.  “I really believe that things will work out for them,” she said.

“I hope you’re right,” he said.

“I was wrong about you,” she admitted.  “I thought you were causing problems for my sister because you didn’t think she was suitable for your brother.”

“That couldn’t be farther from the truth.  I like Vanessa.  She’s a remarkable girl.”

Debra smiled.  “Yes, she is.  Sometimes when I look at her, I can’t believe that she’s that kid that used to follow me around and look up to me.”

“It was the same with Mark.  I was his role model.  My good opinion and approval meant a lot to him.  He turned out to be a very fine young man.  I’m very proud of him.”

“Here’s to the two remarkable young people in our lives.” Debra held up her glass and they made a toast.

“And here’s to us,” he said, his expression serious as he returned her gaze.  Their glasses touched and then, he signaled to the waiter for the bill.

They left the restaurant and went back to her flat.  As soon as she closed the door and locked it behind her, he grabbed her, pulled her roughly against him, muttering “I’ve been dying to do this all evening,” before his head swooped down and his hungry lips sought hers.

She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him back, her fervor matching his.  As they exchanged feverish kisses, she kicked off her shoes while he dragged off his jacket and tossed it on the floor.  Then, breaking off the kiss, she drew back, almost fighting for breath and without saying a word, she grabbed his hand and led him toward the hallway to her room where they spent the rest of the night.

The following year, on a beautiful day in May, Mark and Vanessa tied the knot.  The service took place at the church where his parents got married and the reception was held at their home in Surrey.  It was a happy occasion.  The pre-marital counseling had really paid off and after receiving assurance from the counselor that the couple was ready for marriage, Rhys happily gave his consent and the wedding preparations went ahead.

As Rhys stood beside Debra at the foot of the steps leading down from the front entrance, he turned to her, “It looks like you’re next,” he commented, indicating the bouquet which she had caught.  “When would you like to get married?  In the spring like your sister or in the summer?”

She stared at him.  “Stop teasing me,” she scolded him.

“I’m not teasing you,” he said and he pulled out a small velvet box from his pants pocket.  “I was planning to give you this later after dinner but I don’t think I could wait until then.  Come with me.”  He grabbed her hand and led her off to a quiet spot out of ear shot of the wedding guests.

He got down on his knee, opened the box and took out the ring.  “Will you marry me, Debra?” he asked huskily, his eyes tender as he looked up at her.

“Yes,” she cried, laughing as the tears ran down her face.  “Yes, I will marry you.”

He put the ring on her finger and then stood up.  “I love you,” he murmured before he kissed her.

“I love you too,” she answered when he drew back.  She reached up and touched his face.  Then, the sounds of voices reached them.

“They’re leaving,” Rhys said.  “Let’s go and say goodbye.”  He took her hand and they hurried off to say goodbye to the happy couple as they came down the stairs laughing as rice grains were thrown at them.

Debra hugged Vanessa tightly.  “I’m very happy for you,” she said.  “You make such a beautiful bride.  I wish you great happiness.”

“Thank you, Deb.  And I wish you the same.”  When she saw her sister’s engagement ring, she was so overjoyed.  She hugged her again.  “Congratulations.   Rhys is twice my brother-in-law.  I couldn’t be happier.”

Later that evening as she stood on the terrace, looking out at the grounds, Rhys joined her.  He put his arms around her waist and she leaned against him.  “That night when you agreed to have dinner with me, did you do so because you felt badly about the way you spoke to me?” he asked.

She turned around then and faced him.  “No,” she said softly.  “I did it because my happiness depended on it.”

“So did mine,” he murmured before he took her up in his arms and carried her into the bedroom.

Sources:  The Telegraph; To Love Honor and Vacuum; Guide Doc

The Nutcracker

It was on a Saturday night at the London Coliseum where Alexis and her sister Gwen ran into Mrs. Bannister, Alexis’ music teacher, a wonderful lady who didn’t look as if she had aged very much at all.

She was delighted to see her former pupil, her face beaming and her light blue eyes sparkling.  “Hello My Dear,” she said, “What a lovely surprise and on my birthday too.  How are you?  Are you still practicing on the piano?  You were a very promising student and one of my favorites.”

“It’s so good to see you, Mrs. Bannister,” Alexis said as they hugged.  “Happy birthday.”

Mrs. Bannister turned to the young man who was standing beside her.  “This is my grandson, Jeremy.  He brought me to the ballet this evening for my birthday.  He has always been a very thoughtful young man.  Jeremy, this is Alexis.”

Alexis’ attention shifted to the older woman’s companion.  He was tall and very handsome.  His thick brown hair was a bit long but it suited him.  He was wearing a fine and rather expensive looking dark grey suit, blue shirt and tie.  His light green eyes met hers and she thought she saw admiration shining in them.

He took the hand she proffered and shook it.  “A pleasure,” he said with a cultured English accent.

She smiled.  “It’s nice to meet you.   This is my sister, Gwen,” she said.  He acknowledged Gwen with a smile and shook her hand.  Then, he returned his attention to Alexis.

“Did you enjoy the ballet?” he asked.  “Grandmother has always wanted to see The Nutcracker and I promised her that one year I take her for her birthday.”

“Yes, I enjoyed it very much.  I’ve always wanted to see it too.  It was my good fortune that my brother-in-law is not a fan of ballet or musicals so Gwen asked me to come with her.”

“I should thank your sister for bringing you tonight,” he said quietly.  “I got to meet you.”

She smiled, not sure of how to respond to that remark.  He was staring at her making her feel both nervous and flattered.  She had never had a man this young interested in her before.  He had to be at least ten years younger than her.  “Are you and your grandmother close?” she asked.

“Very,” he said.  “She always says that I’m her favorite.”

“Do you have any brothers or sisters?”

“I have an older brother and a younger sister.  Do you have other siblings?”

“No, Gwen is the only one I have.  We were very close growing up.  Now she is married with two girls and a boy.”

He glanced down at her hand.  “I see that you’re not wearing a ring,” he said.  “I guess you’re not married.”

“No, I’m still single.”  She didn’t mention that she was once engaged but she broke it off when she found out that her fiancé was two-timing her with his new assistant.

Just then, Mrs. Bannister said to her, “Alexis, how would you like to have tea with me tomorrow afternoon, if you have no other plans, of course.”

Alexis smiled.  “I would be delighted,” she said with a big smile.

“Splendid.  So, I shall see you tomorrow afternoon at two.  Gwen, it was a pleasure to meet you.   Come, Jeremy, it is past my bedtime.  Thank you, Dear, for a lovely evening.  I shall never forget it.”

Jeremy said goodnight to Alexis and Gwen, his eyes lingering on the former before he took his grandmother’s arm and led her away.

Gwen looked at her.  “Mrs. Bannister seems like a really nice lady, very gracious and friendly.  I had a rather nice chat with her.  Her grandson is very handsome.  I noticed him paying you a lot of attention.  What did you think of him?”

“He’s very handsome and polished.”

“Were you attracted to him?”

It was no use denying it.  “Yes, very attracted, a lot good it would do me.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Well, for one thing, he’s younger and another, he’s upper crust.”

“It seemed like neither of those two things mattered to him and if he’s anything like his grandmother, I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t at least entertain to idea of dating him.  Don’t allow what happened with Sidney prevent you from having a love life.  I never did like him.  Good riddance to him, I say.  You can do much better.  So, if you happen to see Jeremy again and he asks you out, don’t turn him down.”

Alexis looked unconvinced.  “I don’t know if I will see him again and even if I do, I don’t think he’ll ask me out.  No, I’m not going to get my hopes up.  I’ll go and see his grandmother tomorrow and we will spend a pleasant afternoon together, catching up.  Now, what do you say, we grab a bite to eat before you head home to your brood?”

The next day, Alexis drove over to Mrs. Bannister pretty cottage, nestled among thick foliage and surrounded by immaculate gardens.  She had a live in housekeeper who opened the door and showed Alexis to the drawing-room where the lady of the house was seated.

Mrs. Bannister’s face lit up when she saw her.  “Hello, my Dear.  Come and sit beside me and by the fire.  It must be cold outside and grey too.”

Alexis went over to her and after hugging her warmly, she sat down on a chair close to the one the elder woman was occupying.  “What a lovely home you have,” she remarked.  “I couldn’t help admiring your gardens.  I imagine that your grandchildren must have loved playing in them when they were young.”  She wanted to ask her so many questions about Jeremy and what he was like as a boy but thought better of it.

Mrs. Bannister nodded, smiling.  “Oh yes, they loved playing in the gardens which they were children.  Jeremy’s favorite spot was the lake. He would swim there sometimes.  He was always scampering about the place, vexing his mother who thought he was a bit too wild.  I always told her that he was a boy and boys were supposed to be a little unruly.  When he comes he could take you for a walk on the grounds and show you the lake.”

Alexis’ heart lurched.  “Jeremy’s coming here?” she asked.  The thought of seeing him again thrilled and terrified her at the same time.  She couldn’t believe that she was behaving like this over a younger man.

“Yes, he said that he would stop by around three.  He doesn’t usually come and see me on a Sunday so I was quite surprised when he called me this morning to tell me that he was coming over this afternoon.  I’ll ring for our tea now.”

They had their tea and sandwiches as they talked about old times and other things.  The time went by very quickly and Alexis had just finished drinking her tea when Jeremy walked into the drawing room.  He went over to his grandmother and hugged her.  When he drew back she looked up at him, beaming.  “It’s good to see you, Dear.”

“I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon,” he said, smiling at her.  Then he turned to Alexis.  “Have you had a chance to see the gardens?” he asked.

She shook her head.  “I saw them when I was coming up the driveway.  They look amazing.”

“I told Alexis that you would take her for a walk in the gardens and show her the lake where you used to swim as a child.”

“I’d be happy to,” he said, his gaze still on Alexis.  “Shall we?”

She got up and after excusing herself, she followed him out to the foyer.  She got her coat and scarf from the closet.

“I won’t keep you outside too long,” he promised.  “It’s very nippy.”

They walked through the gardens and to the path which led to the lake.  She looked around her in wonder.  Autumn in Surrey was breathtaking.  The thick foliage on the opposite side of the lake was cloaked in rich, bright colors.  The air was cold but very fresh.  “I can see why you loved coming here,” she commented as they stood there watching two swans gliding through the gold lake.  It was so peaceful out there.   It was a nice change from the city.

“Yes.  I used to come out here all the time and swim or feed the swans.  I loved being here more than at my parents’ estate in Yorkshire.  Yorkshire is even more beautiful in the autumn but I prefer being here in Surrey.  You’re right about it being peaceful here and that’s why this is still my favorite place to relax and think about things.”

“Do you still swim in the lake?”

He smiled and shook his head.  “I stopped doing that when I turned thirteen.  Besides, I don’t want to scare away the swans.”

“This is a nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon,” she remarked.  “Your grandmother was surprised that you visited her today.  She said that you don’t usually visit her on a Sunday.”

“She’s right.  I’m usually at home or out with my friends but I came here today because of you.”

She swallowed.  “Me?”

“Yes, I wanted to see you again.”

A slight breeze started blowing and she shivered.  She pulled the hood over her head and shoved her hands in the pockets of her coat, wishing she had worn her gloves.

“You’re cold,” he observed.  “Let’s go back to the cottage.”

He helped her remove her winter gear and then he took off his coat and hanged everything in the closet.

When they went into the drawing-room, Mrs. Bannister was not there.  She went over to the fireplace to warm her hands.  He joined her.  He turned toward her and took her cold hand in his and rubbed it between his.  Her heart was pounding as she watched his long fingers move slowly but vigorously to warm hers.  Then, she raised her head to look up at his face and her breath caught in her throat when she met his smoldering gaze.  “I want to kiss you,” he muttered thickly.

She trembled at the thought.  “Your grandmother could return at any minute,” she said, trying to remain rational in spite of her senses which were screaming at her to let him kiss her.

“You’re right,” he admitted.  “It would be awkward if she were to walk in and find us kissing.  Have dinner with me tonight, Alexis.”

“Yes,” she said simply.  She gave him her address and he made a mental note of it.  “I think she’s coming.”  He released her hand and moved away from the fireplace just as his grandmother entered the room.

“Did you enjoy your walk?” she asked as she went over to the chair she had vacated and sat down.

“Yes, I did.”

“Good.  You must come in the summer.  It’s really nice then.”

“Mrs. Bannister, I must be leaving now.  Thank you for inviting me to tea.  I had a wonderful time.”  She went over and kissed her on the cheek.

“Goodbye, Dear.  Jeremy will see you off.”

He walked with her to her car and held open the door for her to get in.  As she was about to, he leaned down and kissed her on the cheek.  She closed her eyes at the sensation of his warm lips against her skin.  When he drew back, their eyes met and held for a while.  “I’ll pick you up at seven,” he said quietly.  She nodded and got in the car.  He stepped back and watched as she drove off.

When he returned to the drawing-room, he sat down in the chair Alexis had occupied and looking at his grandmother, he said, “Grandmother, I’m in trouble.”

“You are attracted to Alexis, aren’t you?” she asked.  “I noticed the way you looked at her last night.”

“I couldn’t help it.  That’s why I’m here today.  I wanted to see her again and I asked her to have dinner with me tonight.”

“Now, that wasn’t a wise thing to do.”

“I know and I feel like such a fraud,” he muttered, exasperated.  “She has no idea that I am engaged.”

“Well, from where I’m sitting, you have only two options—break off your engagement to Bridget or forget about Alexis.”

“I can’t forget about Alexis.  And I can’t marry Bridget.”

“It seems then, that you have made your decision.  I never did think that Bridget was the right girl for you.  I imagine that the engagement was all your mother’s doing.  Well, it’s time you started making your own decisions.  You’re old enough now.  You should go and deal with Bridget right now.  And when the time is right, you can tell Alexis everything.”

He got up and hugged her.  “Thanks, Grandmother.  I’ll go and see Bridget now.”

“Be gentle, Dear.”

“Yes, Grandmother.”

His meeting with Bridget went better than he expected.  She too had been having second thoughts about their engagement but didn’t know quite how to tell him.  They parted on amicable terms.  They realized that what all this time their feelings for each other had been platonic rather than romantic.  He let her keep the ring.

Over dinner at a trendy and romantic French restaurant, he told Alexis everything.  “I’m so thankful I met you,” he said.  “If I hadn’t, I would have married the wrong woman.”

“So, the two of you never slept together?”

“No.  We had decided that we would wait until we were married but I never wanted her.  Yet, I wanted you from the moment I saw you.  After I took my grandmother home, I went down to the lake to figure out what I was going to do.  I was engaged to one woman but had fallen hard for another.  I didn’t want to hurt Bridget but I couldn’t get you out of my mind.  When I saw you again the next day, I knew that I couldn’t give you up.”

“Where do we go from here?” she asked.

“I want to see you—go out with you,” he said, covering one of her hands with his, his expression earnest.  “I want to be in a relationship with you.”

She covered his hand.  “I want that too,” she admitted.

After dinner that night, they became romantically involved and a year later, they got married.  His father, brother, sister, grandmother and Bridget attended the simple wedding but his mother was conspicuously absent.

 

Affairs of the Heart

When Bianca went out on to the balcony of her friend Connie’s spacious flat, she was pleasantly surprised to see Chandler sitting there.  He looked so elegant although he was dressed very casually in a tan colored jacket, denim shirt and jeans.  The brown belt he wore matched the spiffy shoes she saw on the mat by the front door.  He was so handsome, she thought, her eyes eagerly drinking in each feature—the thick, silky dark hair, the incredible light grey eyes, olive skin and his lips…She started when she realized that she was staring.

For his part, he was staring at her too.  “It’s good to see you, Bianca,” he said as he got up and went over to her.  He put his arms around her and hugged her.  She hugged him back, closing her eyes and breathing in his fragrance.  He smelled so good.  It felt so wonderful being in his arms and held closely against him.  She put hers around his waist and wished that they could stay like that for a long while.  But just then, Connie’s voice reached them and Chandler drew back, releasing Bianca, his expression tense as he looked at her.  He moved away from her and stood leaning against the rail with his hands shoved in his pockets, a muscle pulsating along his jawline as he watched Connie approach.

Bianca sat down in the chair closest to her, her legs trembling.  She had to pull herself together before Connie saw her.  It was a hug between two friends but there was something else.  She felt it and sensed it.  At one point, she felt his arms tighten around her and his face in her hair.  What would have happened if Connie hadn’t been there?

She joined them now, her gaze going immediately to Chandler, her regard for him very evident on her face.  Then she turned to Bianca, her expression changing.  She doesn’t seem very pleased to see me, Bianca realized in surprise.  Perhaps it is because I didn’t call to tell her that I was coming over.

“Bianca, what are you doing here?” she asked.

Bianca got up from the chair, feeling a little embarrassed now.  “I’m sorry I didn’t call before I popped over but it was when I was on the tube, that I decided I would stop by your flat and ask you if you wanted to go with me to the Jazz concert in Chelsea.  It’s free and it sounds like fun.”

Connie shook her head at once.  “No thank you, Bianca.  I will pass.  Besides, I have already made plans.  Chandler and I will be spending the afternoon together.”

Chandler spoke up, “The Jazz concert sounds like a good idea.”

Connie pursed her lips.  “Jazz gives me a headache.  I prefer to go somewhere less crowded and I know the perfect place.  Well, Bianca, I guess you had better be heading off to your concert.  Call me later and let me know how it was.”

Bianca got up from the chair, wishing now she hadn’t bothered to come but then, she wouldn’t have seen Chandler.  Her eyes sought him and her heart lurched when she found him looking at her.   She went over to him and said, “It was good seeing you as usual, Chandler.”

“I hope we see each other again soon,” he replied.  And he reached out and caught her hand.  From where Connie stood she couldn’t see what he was doing but it was all Bianca could do to keep her composure.  It was hard when his thumb was caressing the back of her hand, stirring up all sorts of sensations.  The expression on his face made her mouth go dry. His light grey eyes were dark and stormy.  It was so obvious that he was attracted to her.  And it must be obvious to him that she was attracted to him too.  What about Connie?  Her gaze shifted to her friend and was mortified when she saw the hostility and jealousy in her countenance.  Yes, Connie had noticed the attraction between Chandler and her.

“I’d better go,” Bianca murmured looking away.  “I don’t want to be late for the concert.”

He released her hand with some reluctance and watched as she hurried past Connie. They heard the door close.  “You were a bit rude to her,” he said with some displeasure.

Connie glared at him.  “I saw the way you were looking at her,” she cried.  “You want her don’t you?  Well, you are wasting your time.”

He frowned.  “What do you mean?”

“She has a boyfriend.”

He grew pale.  “Are you sure?” he asked.

“Of course, I’m sure.  His name is Darnell.”

Chandler ran his fingers agitatedly through his hair.  “I had no idea,” he said in disbelief.

“Well, now you know.”

Chandler turned away and his hands gripped the rail as bitter disappointment filled him.  He closed his eyes but they soon opened when he saw Bianca’s face and remembered the look on her face when he was caressing her hand.  She could not have been in any doubt that I have feelings for her, he thought, and I could tell that she has feelings for me too but how could I pursue a relationship with her when she’s already in one? What a wretched business this thing called love is. He swung round to face Connie.  “I’m afraid I will have to cancel our plans,” he told her.

Connie stared at him in dismay.  “But, why?” she cried.

“I don’t feel up to going anywhere now,” he said simply.  “I’ll call you tomorrow.”

“You’re cancelling on me because of Bianca?” she demanded.  “I knew her showing up here unexpectedly today was going to be a problem.   Now what am I going to do for the rest of the afternoon?”

“I’m sorry, Connie.  I’ll take a rain check.”  He walked past her and a few minutes later the door closed behind him.

Her face beet red, Connie marched into the living room, took up a vase of flowers and threw it on the floor.

Bianca sat at the concert, oblivious to the turmoil she was causing elsewhere.  Her mind and attention were not on the smooth sounds she was hearing but on Chandler.  This was the first time Connie and she wanted the same man.   They had been friends since high school but that friendship was in serious jeopardy now.  She would never forget the look on Connie’s face when she saw the attraction between Chandler and her.  Bitter resentment and jealousy marred her features.  She wondered what happened after she left.

She left the concert feeling that it was a waste of an afternoon.  When she got home, she was surprised to hear a message from Connie on her answering machine.  It said, “Well, Bianca, I hope you’re happy.  Chandler canceled our plans.  I can’t imagine why.  I saw the way you were looking at him.  If you want to remain my friend, you will forget about Chandler and set your sights on someone else.  Goodbye.”

Bianca stared at the machine.  All this time she thought Chandler and Connie were spending the afternoon together.  As she removed her jacket, she couldn’t help wondering why the sudden change of plans.  Connie didn’t seem to know or if she did, she wasn’t saying.  Perhaps, something unexpected came up and Chandler had to be somewhere else.  Whatever the reason, she couldn’t deny that she was relieved that they weren’t together now.  I wonder when I will see him again.  Then, she reproached herself for thinking such thoughts.  I must forget about him.  Connie met him first and they are more suitable for each other.  They are from the same pedigree.  I’m way out of my league.  What he feels for me may just be a physical attraction—nothing more.” The thought that his interest in her might just be purely sexual hurt but she had to be sensible about this. 

So that very day, she resolved to stay away from Chandler, not only because Connie requested it but to spare herself any heartbreak.  For the next several weeks, she avoided the usual crowd where she was sure to run into him.  She and Connie met for lunch once and she heard nothing but how much time Chandler and her friend were spending with each other.  She had to sit there and listen to Connie talk about how amazing Chandler looked in his swimming trunks and how wonderful it felt when he put sunscreen on her back.  “His hands felt so good on my skin,” she said, her eyes almost glazed over at the memory.  Bianca smiled but inside she was hurting.  The jealousy stabbed at her like a knife.  After that lunch, whenever Connie wanted them to meet up again, she always found an excuse not to.  She wasn’t going to sit there and listen to Connie talk  incessantly about her relationship with Chandler.

During the day, it was easy to occupy her mind but in the nights, her thoughts were filled with him, wondering if he ever thought about her.  Nothing had changed for her. She still loved and wanted him and it pained her to no end.  She lay awake for hours before drifting off into a fitful sleep.  How she longed to get away—go somewhere far but she knew that it wouldn’t make a difference.  No place existed where she could go and forget about Chandler.

One night, she was lying on the sofa, watching the television but not paying attention.  It was just background noise.  The doorbell rang and she sat up, wondering how it was.  She hoped it wasn’t Connie.  She really wasn’t in the mood for one-sided conversations.  She got up from the sofa and went to the door.  Her eyes widened and her heart somersaulted when she saw Chandler standing there.  How on earth did he find out where she lived?  It couldn’t have been from Connie.  She would never do that.

Taking a deep breath, she opened the door, her heart pounding.  How good he looked in the black shirt and dark blue jeans.  His face looked drawn and it seemed to her that he had lost a little weight.  Alarmed, she asked, “You’re not ill, are you?”

He shook his head.  “No, I’m not ill,” he told her.  “It’s nice to know that you still care.”

She stared at him, looking confused.  “What do you mean?”

“Each time Connie told me she saw you, I asked if you inquired after me and she said no.”

“She never gave me a chance.  All she talked about was your relationship and all the great things you were doing together.”

“We don’t have a relationship.  I admit that I tried to get forget you with her and she was quite willing to help.  One night at her flat after dinner, we started to get undressed—“

Bianca turned away, agitated.  “I don’t want to hear this,” she cried as the pain and jealousy tore through her.

He moved so that he was standing in front of her, his eyes dark and tormented.  “I thought that making love to her would get you out of my system,” he muttered tightly.  “But, I couldn’t go through with it. When I was kissing her, all I could see was your face.  I put my shirt back on and ran out of there as if the devil were chasing me.  I haven’t been in touch with Connie since.  This was about a month ago.  These past few weeks have been hell for me, Bianca.  I can’t stop thinking about you and wanting you.  I tried to stay away out of respect for Darnell but I had to see you one last time.”

She looked at him then, “Darnell?” she repeated.  “What do mean out of respect for him?”

“You have no idea how much the mere sound of his name torments me,” Chandler told her, his eyes were haunted as they met hers.  “Ever since I found out about him, I haven’t stopped thinking about how lucky he is to have an exceptional woman like you.  Many times I have wished that I could trade places with him.”

She was really confused now.  “What are you talking about, Chandler? “

He looked frustrated now.  “I’m talking about Darnell,” he muttered tightly.  “Connie told me about him.”

“What exactly did Connie tell you about my brother?”

He stared at her as if he hadn’t heard correctly.  “Darnell is your brother?”

“Yes.  He’s my older brother who lives in Manchester with his wife, my niece and nephew.  What did Connie tell you about him?”

He muttered something under his breath, his expression thunderous.  “She told me that he was your boyfriend.”

“My boyfriend?” she was aghast.  “Why would she do that?”

“No doubt, she did it out of jealousy.  She knew how I felt about you so she wanted to make sure that nothing would come of it.   It never occurred to me that she was lying.  All this time, I thought you were in a relationship and that drove me mad because I wanted you so much.”

“Chandler, is it just desire you feel for me?” she asked warily.

He shook his head and she could see the sincerity in his eyes as he answered, “No.  I feel a deep and consuming love for you, Bianca.  I have never experienced love before but I know that what I feel for you real.”

She reached up and touched his face, her eyes filled with the love which burned in her heart.  “I love you, Chandler.  I tried to get over you because of my friendship with Connie and because I was afraid of getting hurt.  I wasn’t sure that your feelings for me were more than physical.”

He lowered his head to kiss her.  She closed her eyes when she felt his warm lips on hers and her arms went around his waist, holding him closely against her.  They exchanged hungry kisses and then he raised his head to gaze down in her face.  “I love you, Bianca but as much as I am dying to show you how much, I think we should wait.”

She nodded.  “Why don’t we go for a walk in the park,” she suggested.  “It’s safer and it looks lovely outside.”

He smiled.  “Okay.  And we can stop somewhere and have a bit to eat as well.”

A couple weeks later they got engaged and after six months of trying to abstain from lovemaking, they got married.  Connie was not invited.  Bianca’s friendship with her ended the day when she found out about the lie she told Chandler.

They spent their honeymoon in Sorrento.  On the first night there, they went for a walk after dinner, holding hands and strolling through the little streets lined on both sides with shops.  They walked to a quiet spot where they stood watching the silent and looming Mount Vesuvius in the distance and the setting sun as it hovered over the Bay of Naples.  They sat on the bench for a little while just enjoying the pleasant evening and the view.  Then, they bought two gelati and ate them on the way back to the hotel.

As soon as they got back to their room, Chandler picked Bianca up and carried her over to the bed.  “Now, I finally get to show you how much I love you,” he murmured, his eyes darkening on her face.

She reached up and pulled his head down to hers, thinking no one else in the world could be as blissfully happy as she was at that very moment.

 

Tamed

“Channing is back in town,” Sheila announced, rubbing her hands together in glee.

Alanna frowned.  “Who’s that?”

“He’s Fletcher’s older brother, the wild one.  Many women have tried to tame him but to no avail.  His mother has given up all hope that he’d ever settle down and get married.  He’s quite a catch, mind you–drop dead gorgeous.  Wait until you see him.”

“Where has he been all this time?”

“He’s been on a world cruise from Los Angeles to London.  He just came back.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard Fletcher mention him.  Is there bad blood between them?”

“No. They get along well enough.  I heard that Fletcher’s wife, Daphne had her eye on Channing but he wasn’t interested in her so she turned her attentions to Fletcher.”

“That’s terrible.  Does Fletcher know?”

“No.  She had decided that it would best for everyone that he shouldn’t.”

“What about Channing?  Why didn’t he say something?”

“He tried to but Fletcher was so besotted by the dazzling Daphne that he didn’t want to hear anything unsavory about her.  So, Channing gave up and the two got married a couple of months later in a big and extravagant wedding.”

“Does Daphne still have feelings for Channing?”

“I don’t know.  It wouldn’t do her any good if she does. Anyway, Mrs. Beauchamp is throwing a welcome home party for Channing and we have been invited.”

“When is it?”

“Saturday evening at 7.  There will be a buffet dinner and dancing.  It promises to be a very fun but elegant affair.  Do you have an evening gown?”

“An evening gown?” Alanna repeated, looking alarmed.  “No.”

“Nor do I.  Tomorrow at lunch, you and I will go shopping at this place where they sell the most fabulous gowns.”

Alanna was beginning to feel nervous now.  She had never been to such an elaborate affair and felt that she would be out of place.  As if sensing her trepidation, Sheila gave her a reassuring smile.  “Don’t worry, Lana.  You’ll be fine.  I’ve been to these types of social affairs before.  Just follow my lead.”

For the rest of the day, Alanna thought about the party and the next day, she felt a twinge of excitement as she went with Sheila to the dress shop in Chelsea.  She managed to find a gown within her budget.  It was.   When she tried it on, Sheila whistled.  “What a lovely gown,” she exclaimed.  “It’s perfect for you.  What do you think of mine?”

“It’s beautiful, Sheila.  It looks like it was made for you.”

After they left the shop with their gowns, they popped into another store to buy shoes and matching handbags.  By the time they got back to the office, Alanna was really excited and looking forward to the party.  Saturday couldn’t come soon enough.

It was during the summer so the sun was still bright and shining when they arrived at the impressive mansion.  As Alanna stepped out of the taxi, she looked up at the Georgian façade.  It was magnificent and imposing.  It reminded her of Mr. Darcy’s residence in Pride and Prejudice.  And the grounds, from what she could see, seem to stretch for miles.

As she went up the steps, she looked at the other women in their gowns.  They were of many colors, styles, some simple, some showy and others sophisticated.  She was quite pleased with the one she was wearing and smiled as she caught a few curious looks from the women and admiring glances from the men.

Inside there were more gowns and more people.  She looked around her, taking in the décor.  At the entrance to the room where the guests were to assemble stood Mrs. Beauchamp, Fletcher and Daphne.  As she followed Sheila through the archway, a tall and rather handsome man joined them.  “That’s Channing,” she whispered.  “Didn’t I tell you that he’s gorgeous?”

Alanna was greeted warmly by Mrs. Beauchamp, a petite and very regal woman in the shimmering and beaded white gown that matched her white hair swept back in a chignon.  Fletcher shook her hand enthusiastically and said that he was delighted to see her while Daphne gave her a more reserved acknowledgement.  She was a very attractive woman. Tall with auburn hair that was pulled back in a French knot and the ice blue gown she wore suited her rather well.  Then, her gaze went to Channing.  He was chatting with Sheila who turned to her and said, “This is my friend, Alanna.”

He turned to Alanna and she felt her heart melt.  Unusual but incredibly beautiful blue eyes met hers and they seemed to penetrate her soul.  Handsome was not adequate a word to describe him.  He was beyond handsome.  She had never seen a man with his physical looks in her life.  It was as if he were not real but existed in her imagination.  Thick black hair framed a face with fine features.  He looked chic and sexy at the same time in the white dinner jacket, white shirt, black trousers and black tie.  He took her outstretched hand and raised it to his lips, his eyes never leaving her face.  “A pleasure to meet you, Alanna,” he said as he released her hand.

Alanna blinked, her skin tingling where he kissed.  For a mad moment, her gaze lowered to his mouth, wondering if it felt as good as it looked and then, she caught herself and looked away.  “I’m—I’m pleased to meet you too,” she stammered.

Sheila chimed in. “It’s good to see you, Channing.  We look forward to hearing about your vacation.  When you can tear yourself away from your guests, come and join us.”  She took Alanna’s arm and pulled her away.  As they made their way to the cocktails, Sheila said to Alanna, “He seemed quite taken with you.”

Alanna was still remembering every detail of his countenance and the feel on his lips on her hand.  She wondered if the feelings he stirred inside her were evident on her face.  “You weren’t exaggerating when you spoke of his looks,” she acknowledged.

“I saw the way you looked at him.  You’re quite taken with him too.  Aren’t you glad you came now?  You would have missed out on what promises to be a very interesting night.  Now, that you’ve found your Prince Charming, I shall look for mine.  I hope he’s here and I hope it will take as little effort to find him as it took you to find yours.  They say it’s when you’re not looking that you find him so maybe, I shouldn’t look.  Instead, I’ll just stand here and look good.”

They stood there sipping their cocktails and then it was time to have dinner.  The table was arrayed in dishes upon dishes of eye pleasing and mouthwatering delicacies from Europe, Asia and South America.  They managed to find two chairs where they sat and enjoyed the food.  Afterwards, there was a toast to Channing, welcoming him back home after being away for so long.  He gave a brief thank you speech and then they had dessert.

It was when Sheila and Alanna were returning from freshening up in the washroom when Channing and a friend joined them.  He introduced his friend who seemed to have eyes only for Sheila who liked what she saw too.  While they were busy admiring each other, Channing took Alanna’s hand, his eyes meeting hers in a steady gaze.  “Dance with me,” he said and before she could say anything, he started walking toward the dance floor, taking her with him.

The music was salsa and as they moved to it, their eyes were locked.  It was as if they were the only two people there—everyone else had faded into the background.  They were oblivious to the attention they were drawing to themselves.  All she was aware of was his hand in the small of her back, his smoldering eyes on her and the seductive movement of his hips as they moved in one fluid movement on the dancefloor.  When it was over, they stood still for a long moment, staring at each other, not hearing the smattering of applause around them.  Then, taking her hand, he led her off the dancefloor.  Instead of returning to where they had left Sheila and his friend, he was heading in another direction.  “Where’re we going?” she asked breathlessly.

“I thought you might like to come with me for a walk,” he said.  “It was getting a little hot in there.  A breath of fresh air would do us some good.”

Once they were outside, he released her hand and they walked side by side over the sprawling grounds.  The sun was setting and the immaculate lawns were bathed in the golden light.  “What a beautiful place this is,” Alanna remarked.  “What was it like growing up here?”

“It was fine,” he shrugged.  “After a while, though, I became restless and wanted to venture out into the world.  Before I went to University, I went away for the summer.  I travelled with my friends to Asia.  We visited India, China.  I caught the traveling bug and each summer while I was in university, I would fly off to a different part of the world.  After university, I got a job and moved into my own flat.  I have stayed put for these past years but I got restless again and decided to take a long vacation and travel to other parts of Europe.  And here I am back in England.”

“Until you get restless again,” she said looking at him and her heart leapt when she saw the expression on his face.

“I don’t think I’ll be getting restless again,” he said.  “Not after meeting you.”  He reached out and held her hand, his fingers lacing hers.  “Do you have a boyfriend?”

She swallowed hard.  “No,” she said, shaking her head.  The feel of his warm palm against hers was very stimulating and distracting.

“I want to see you again,” he said quietly.  “Do you have any plans for tomorrow evening?”

Again she shook her head.

“Good.  I’d like to take you out for dinner and then dancing afterwards.”

That sounded good.  They continued walking.  “Which places did you visit this time?”

“I visited the South Pacific, the Cook Islands, New Zealand, Australia to name a few.”

“What were your favorite places?”

“New Zealand, Thailand, Egypt, Italy, Spain and Portugal.”

“Did you see any beautiful women in these places?”

“Yes, I did.  But they pale in comparison to you.  Tell me about you, your family.”

They walked over to a bench and sat down.  She told him about herself and her family, thinking how dull their lives seemed in comparison to his.  He was very attentive.  They talked about other things and then it was time to return to the party.  It was after mid-night when it began to die down and people were starting to leave.  Channing made sure that Sheila and Alanna got a ride home from his friend who was very obliging because it gave him more time to get acquainted with Sheila.  Alanna gave Channing her address and phone number before they bade each other goodbye.  She was looking forward to seeing him the following evening.

On the ride home, she sat in the back of the car, dreaming of him and wondering what she was going to wear for their date.  She lay in bed, her mind spinning and it was after two when she eventually drifted off to sleep.  The day couldn’t go by fast enough and then it was evening.  He showed up promptly at seven-thirty.  He looked amazing in his black jacket, black silk shirt and black dress jeans and she could tell that he liked the dress she was wearing.  They could hardly take their eyes off each other.  They went to a popular Cuban restaurant where after an excellent dinner, they enjoyed listening and dancing to live salsa music.  It was a fun evening.  Neither wanted it to end.

They began seriously dating after that first date.  Then, one afternoon when they were having a picnic in the park near where she lived, he said to her, “You have succeeded in doing what many other women have tried to do but failed.  You’ve tamed me.”  He reached in to his shirt pocket and pulled out a little black box.  Her eyes grew big and her hand flew up to her mouth when he opened it and showed her the exquisite ring inside.   She didn’t realize that she was crying until he reached out and brushed the tears from her cheeks.  He raised himself up on one knee and took her hand.  “Alanna Campbell, I love you and want to spend the rest of my life with you.  Will you do me the honor and marry me?”

“Yes,” she cried.  After he put the ring on her finger, she reached up and pulled him down, hugging him tightly.  “I love you and I will marry you, Channing Beauchamp.”  And she showered his face with kisses.  She didn’t care that people were passing by and watching them.  She was on top of the world.

Sources:  Casa CubaViking Cruises Canada

World Mental Health Day

“The deepest pain I ever felt was denying my own feelings to make everyone else comfortable.”

Today is World Mental Health Day and the theme for this year is Mental health in the workplace.

It is so important for those who are living with mental illness work in environments that are supportive and conducive to their well being and productivity.  We spent more time with our co-workers during the week than we do with our families so it helps when employers and managers put initiatives in place that would promote mental health.  A negative working environment can lead to physical and mental health problems, drive people to abuse substances, alcohol, skip work or perform their jobs poorly.

A friend of mine was working in a negative environment which may have contributed to her relapse.  The last time I saw her, it was obvious that she was not taking her medication.  She suffered from bipolar disorder.  She had personal issues as well which could have also been a contributing factor.  Another woman who used to work in the same department also suffered from mental illness.

You can look at people and not know that they have mental illness until something happens and they have a breakdown.  We can’t tell who is living with depression, anxiety disorders or other mental issues.  There is still a stigma attached to mental health and those suffering with it may not feel comfortable disclosing their struggles.  The platform for them to do so may not be there.  This is why World Health Day is observed on October 10 every year to raise awareness and mobilize efforts in support of better mental health.

What can you do to support mental health in your workplace?  The Mental Health Foundation offers helpful tips for those who have mental illness and for those who work with them.

1. Talk about your feelings

2. Keep active

3. Eat well

4. Drink sensibly

5. Keep in touch

6. Ask for help

7. Take a break

8. Do something you’re good at

9. Accept who you are

10. Care for others

 

You can support a colleague by:

  • Asking the person how they are doing.  Be warm and sincere.
  • Setting a time and place that is most comfortable for the person.
  • Active listening.  Give your undivided attention.
  • Managing your own feelings.  You want the person to feel that they can talk to you about anything without fear of judgment.

If your co-worker says that he or she is having suicidal thoughts or you suspect that they are thinking of committing suicide, it is very important that you encourage the person to get help.

You can keep in touch with co-worker who has been away from work by calling or sending cards.  When they return, you could help them to get back into their work routine.  For the co-worker who you see on a day to day basis, you can check up on them informally and find out how they are doing.  You can offer to help them as a mentor or coach or friendly support on an ongoing basis.  You could ask them if there is any way you can support them as they manage their condition such as spotting signs that they may have missed which indicate that they are becoming unwell.

My sister suffers from bipolar disorder.  I will never forget the time when she was having a breakdown and she just clung to me.  I held onto her.  It was heartbreaking. Mental illness affects not only those who have it but those around them.  We have to be there to offer them our love, support and whatever they may need.  We have to be sensitive to what they are going through.

 “We feel alone because due to the illness we have lost loved ones, families, friends, jobs, and it has created broken hearts & shattered dreams. We feel extremely unwanted for something we didn’t ask for and trying so hard to cope with. Believe us, if we could snap our fingers and make it disappear, it would be a wish come true. But that only happens in fairy tales.”

“Those who suffer from mental illness are stronger than you think. We must fight to go work, care for our families, be there for our friends, and act ‘normal’ while battling unimaginable pain.”

“Ignore those who say just get over it. Healing is a process.”

“The only thing more exhausting than having a mental illness is pretending like you don’t.”

“You keep a lot to yourself because it’s difficult to find people who understand.”

“This disease comes with a package: shame. When any other part of your body gets sick, you get sympathy.”

“The strongest people are not those who show strength in front of the world but those who fight and win battles that others do not know anything about.”

Quotes on Mental Health Stigma by Healthy Place

 

confident black career woman

Sources:  World Mental Health Organization; Mental Health Foundation; Healthy Place;