He stood there, leaning against the tree, hands in pockets, watching her with his younger brother. They were walking in the garden having what appeared to be a very deep conversation. Try as he did, he couldn’t deny that it bothered him to see them together. It wasn’t because he shared his mother’s theory that Rhonda was only interested in his brother for his money. Granted, William would be left a sizable inheritance when their mother died but that wasn’t what troubled him as he observed them. It was what he planned to do that concerned him.
He wanted to prove that his mother was wrong about Rhonda and the only way he could think of doing that was to spend more time with her. While William and the rest of the family were away on the annual winter vacation in the Grand Cayman, he would remain here.
You know that proving your mother wrong isn’t the only reason why you want to get close to Rhonda. You are in love with her and that’s why it bothers you to see her with William. He closed his eyes as the truth he had tried to suppress rose to the surface, unrelenting. He remembered exactly the moment when he realized that he was in love with her. It was last year Autumn when she had wandered into the library by mistake when she was looking for the drawing-room. He was sitting in the armchair, reading a book when she walked in.
She looked surprised but very pleased to see him. Or maybe it was wishful thinking on his part. He must have appeared rather calm to her but his heart was pounding. She had that effect on him. His eyes were riveted to her face. Such a lovely face. She laughed, apologetically. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to disturb you. I was looking for the drawing-room. This is only my second time here so I still have trouble finding my way around.”
“When you leave here, turn left and the drawing-room is two doors down the hall on your right.” He hoped she would stay for a while.
She lingered. “What are you reading?” she asked. He showed her the cover and she read the title out loud, “The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush.” A curious expression came over her face. He could tell that it wasn’t what she expected him to be reading.
“It’s for my students,” he explained. “A fellow teacher recommended it. So, I’m reading it first to get ideas and then I will get copies for my students. This book will help them to learn, accept and appreciate other cultures and differences in others. It will also help them with their language and writing skills.”
She smiled. “Oh yes, you teach Primary School. How do you like it?”
“It’s very rewarding. Sometimes, I learn from them.”
“My sister is a teacher too and she loves it. How long have you been teaching?”
“For twelve years. It’s not the lucrative job my mother was hoping that I would have. She would have preferred that I were an airline pilot or a medical practitioner or a lawyer or even a broker.”
“Then, I guess she’s happy that William is a barrister.” She was a court clerk and that was how they came to know each other.
“Yes, she is.” She is happy about his career choice but not about his relationship with you. He could still see the expression of disapproval on his mother’s face whenever she thought of William with Rhonda. She insisted that she had nothing against the young woman but she really was not suitable for William who would be far better off with a young lady came from a similar background as his.
He knew how his brother felt about her but he wasn’t sure how she felt about him. A part of him hoped that she reciprocated William’s feelings and another part of him hoped that…He didn’t finish the thought as guilt filled him. Instead, he closed the book and set it aside. He got up from the armchair and walked over to the window where he stood looking out at countryside beyond the garden. It was a warm, dry sunny day. Perfect for a walk.
Rhonda joined him at the window. She was wearing a light brown plaid jacket over a green turtleneck, brown corduroys and brown boots. Her thick, short brown hair framed her face. She looked amazing. He tried not to stare but he couldn’t help it. She was by far the most beautiful woman he had ever seen and it was at that moment he knew that he was in love.
She turned her head and their eyes met. They stood there staring at each other for a long time and then, William walked into the room. He looked from one to the other before inquiring of her, “Are you ready for that walk?”
She nodded and before moving away from the window, she glanced up at him again. He saw something flicker in her eyes as she said quietly, “It was good seeing you again, Ambrose.”
He swallowed. “It was going seeing you again too.” I hope I see you again soon.
She moved away from the window and walked over to William who inclined his head at him before they left the room. He had stood there for several minutes, watching the door and thinking how empty the room felt without her.
“Ambrose.” The sound of his name brought him back to the present. His eyes flew open and he straightened away from the tree when he found himself staring into William’s face. Rhonda was standing beside him, looking concerned. “You look like you were out of it for a moment there. Are you all right?”
Ambrose ran his fingers through his hair. “I’m fine,” he assured him. “I think I’ll head back inside now. It’s getting colder.”
“I need to talk to you when I come back from taking Rhonda home.”
“I’ll be in the library.” He looked at Rhonda. “Hello.”
“Hello. I don’t have trouble finding my way around the house anymore,” she told him. She was visiting more frequently, much to his mother’s chagrin. Fortunately, the lady of the house wasn’t home today.
He smiled. “You’re always welcome to come to the library even if you don’t get lost.”
She smiled in return and then she was quickly following William across the lawn. It seemed like he was always watching her walk away from him, leaving him forlorn and aching for her. Sighing heavily, he walked slowly back to the house and when he reached the library, he sank down in the armchair. He sat there until William joined him some time later.
After closing the door and approaching Ambrose, William got straight to the point. “While I’m away, I’d like you to take care of Rhonda. I don’t want her spending the Christmas holidays alone. And as far as I know, you don’t have any plans, so the two of you can be company for each other until I come back. What do you say?”
Ambrose stared at his brother. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. This was precisely what he had thought of doing—getting closer to Rhonda and here the opportunity was being offered to him. How uncanny this was. “I don’t mind doing you this favor but what about Rhonda?”
“I spoke to her about it and she was up for it. She’s very fond of you.”
Ambrose turned away so that William wouldn’t see the expression on his face. I want her to love me the way I love her, he thought and then chided himself for wanting something he shouldn’t. “As long as she agrees to this, then, I have no objections.
“Thanks, brother,” William said, sounding very appreciative.
They talked about other matters and then he excused himself to go and start packing for the trip. They were leaving that evening. The house was going to be awfully quiet after they were gone but then, Rhonda was going to be there. Ambrose’s heart skipped a beat when he thought of spending time alone with her. He planned to invite her over to the manor for lunch tomorrow and after lunch he could take her for a drive to Cotswold which looked very picturesque in the winter. His mind was swarming with ideas of how they were going to spend the Christmas holidays together. He tried not to think about how hard it would be for him once William returned from vacation and things returned to normal. Later that evening, after dinner, he called her and invited her to have lunch with him the next day. She readily accepted and they spent over an hour on the phone talking.
The following day, she came and they had lunch before they headed off to Cotswold where they spent the afternoon. The snow covered village reminded her of a postcard. It was very quaint. She loved it. They visited the German Christmas Market where she ended up buying hand painted Christmas decorations. When they returned to the house, they put up the Christmas tree and she put the decorations she bought on it. They had dinner and sat in front of the fireplace, talking and making plans for the rest of the week. It was after ten when he finally took her home.
One morning, they went to the Christmas festival where they enjoyed street entertainment, carolers, tasty food, cakes and other festivities. She picked up gifts and when they returned to the manor in the evening, she went into the library where she wrapped them while he went to the kitchen to see about dinner. When she was finished, she placed the gifts under the tree. After they ate, they went to the library where they planned to spend the rest of the evening until it was time for him to take her home.
“I had a wonderful time today,” she told him. “Cotswold is such a wonderful place. The people are warm and friendly and there’s so much to do and see. It’s my second favorite place.”
He smiled. “What’s your first?”
“This library,” she said. It’s my favorite place because of you. “I could spend hours in here, reading. Have you read most of the books on the shelves?”
He nodded. “Yes, most of them.”
She got up from the chair and walked over to one of the shelves, her eyes scanning the scores of massive volumes and worn leather-bound books. “I was wondering if I could borrow that book I saw you reading—the one you said you would use for your class.”
“The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush. Sure, I’ll find it for you.” He got up and went over to the bookcase. “I believe it’s on this shelf.”
“I think I see it.” They reached for the book at the same time and their hands touched.
Mesmerized, she watched as his hand moved so that his fingers closed around hers. She trembled as he pressed his lips against her palm. They felt so warm. She longed to feel them on her lips. As if he read her mind, he released her hand to cup her face between his hands and his mouth was on hers. He was ravenous, all the pent up emotions he had kept bottled up inside came gushing out and when he felt her feverish response, he lost his head. She reached under his sweater and tugged his shirt out of his pants. Her hands were on his bare skin, her nails digging into it as she kissed him back wildly. It was then, that he pulled away, breathing harshly, his face flushed and his eyes dark with the emotions churning inside him.
When she would have reached for him, he groaned and moved away, tucking his shirt back in his trousers. “We can’t do this,” he muttered thickly although his senses were screaming at him to continue.
She looked at him, bewildered. “Why not?” She asked. She ached to be in his arms again, kissing him.
“We can’t because of William.”
She stared at him. “William?”
“Yes, you’re his girlfriend—”
“I’m not William’s girlfriend,” she told him. “He and I are just very good friends.”
He pushed his fingers through his hair as he tried to digest what she was saying to him. “You’re telling me that you and William are not in a relationship?”
She shook her head. “No. So, your mother has nothing to worry about—at least, not where William is concerned.” She moved closer to him. “I wonder what she’s going to do when she finds out that it’s her older son that I have my eyes on. Is she going to think that I’m after you for your money too? Yes, I know what she thinks about me,” she added when she saw the expression on his face. “William told me.”
“I was going to get close to you just to prove that she’s wrong about you and then William asked me to take care of you while he was gone…”
“William knows how I feel about you, that’s why he arranged things so that we are spending so much time together.”
He moved closer to her. “How do you feel about me, Rhonda?” he asked. He knew she was attracted to him but he wanted more—much more.
“I’m in love with you,” she said huskily, reaching up and touching his face, trembling as he turned his head and pressed his lips against her palm.
He pulled her into his arms, his expression darkening. “I’m love with you too.”
She put her arms around his neck and pressed against him. “So, you don’t mind being with a woman of meager means?” she asked.
He shook his head, “Having your love is more valuable to me than having all the money in the world. If my mother decides to disinherit me, then you and I will live a simple but extremely happy life together on our meager salaries.”
“Yes. Money is not the most important thing in the world. Love is” she murmured before she reached up and kissed him.