Dionne was having lunch with her friend, Mavis when Fenton Hardy walked into the cafe. He looked disturbingly handsome in the grey jacket, pale blue shirt and jeans. This was the first time she had ever seen him dress casual and it suited him. His dark hair with streaks of grey added to his attraction. And like clockwork, her heart began to pound and she placed her hands in her lap so that Mavis couldn’t see that they were trembling. He always had this effect on her. She would never forget the first time his son, Joe introduced them.
He was dressed in an expensive pinstriped grey suit and black shirt, no tie and had just walked into the library where she were searching the internet for information for a research paper Joe was doing. They both glanced up when they heard him and Joe got to his feet. “Hello, Dad,” he greeted him, getting up and extending his hand.
“Hello, Joe.” They shook hands and then Joe’s father’s gaze shifted to Dionne who was staring at him and thinking what a handsome man he was. Their eyes met and held for what seemed like eternity.
“Oh, Dad, this Dionne. Dionne, this is my father.”
She got up and held out her hand. “Pleased to meet you, Mr. Hardy. Joe has told me so much about you.” What piercing blue eyes he had.
His hand clasped hers in a firm grip, his gaze riveted to her face. “A pleasure to meet you, Dionne.”
“I-I was just helping Joe with a research paper he’s doing,” she stammered. His palm felt warm against hers and she was acutely aware of him. His cologne and nearness titillated her senses, making it hard for her to think straight. She was relieved when he released her hand and stepped back. She sank heavily back into the chair and gripped the edge of the desk. Her legs felt like jelly.
“Well, don’t let me interrupt you,” he said to Joe, although his eyes were on Dionne. “Will you be joining us for dinner?”
She looked at Joe. “Well, I–”
“Yes, she’ll be joining us.”
“All right. I’ll let Mildred know. Excuse me.” He turned and walked out of the room.
After he left, Joe returned to the desk and sat down beside Dionne who was still trying to recover from meeting his father. She had heard so much about him but never once did she ever imagine that she would be attracted to him. He looked young for his age which was somewhere in the mid-forties. He was a widower. His wife died eight years ago in a skiing accident. Joe was their only child. He lived there at the manor with his father and was currently in university. He and Dionne met through a mutual friend and they hit it off. They have been friends for two and a half years now.
“Are you okay?” Joe asked her, looking at her with a frown on his face.
“Yes, I’m okay. I finally got to meet your father.”
He studied her closely and then groaned, “Oh, no, not you too!”
She stared at him. “What do you mean?” she asked warily.
“I’ve seen that look before. You find him attractive, don’t you?”
“Well, he is very handsome,” she replied defensively, turning her head away.
“And what am I? Chopped liver?”
“You’re very cute but–”
“Cute?” he exclaimed, shaking his head. “A baby is cute but I’m a grown man.”
She laughed. “Okay. You’re drop dead gorgeous.” He had his mother’s Scandinavian looks.
His mouth twitched and his eyes twinkled. “That’s much better.”
“Let’s finish up here,” she suggested.
“Yes, we should. I’m glad you’re staying for dinner.”
“What time is dinner?”
“It’s at seven.”
She glanced at her watch. It was six forty. In twenty minutes she was going to see Fenton Hardy again. Her heart lurched at the mere thought.
Dinner was served in a fine dining room with a crystal chandelier hanging low over a long antique dining-table covered in a lovely snow white lace table cloth, massive oil paintings adorned the walls and a decorative arched ceiling above their heads. Her surroundings reminded her of Downton Abbey. I feel I should be wearing a gown, she thought, glancing down at her white blouse and navy blue skirt. I’m being ridiculous. Joe was dressed in a shirt and jeans and his father…she started when she glanced at him and caught him watching her. He had changed into a brown shirt and tan colored pants. His hair looked damp as if he had just taken a shower. Her fingers itched to run themselves through the thick strands to see if they felt as soft and silky as they looked…
A tap on her arm brought her back to the present and she looked blankly at Mavis. “Wow, you were gone for a while.”
Dionne shook her head. “I’m sorry,” she mumbled. “My mind wandered for a moment.”
“It seemed more than a moment.”
“I saw someone I know and it brought back memories.” She wanted to get up and go over to him as he stood in the line but courage failed her.
“I was thinking of going to Walthamstow Market after I leave here to pick up some fabric. Did I tell you that I bought a sewing machine and have decided that I’m going to make my own clothes?”
Dionne found it difficult to concentrate on what her friend was saying because her mind was on Fenton Hardy. “Yes, I think you did.” What if he leaves without seeing me?
Suddenly, Mavis leaned over and whispered conspiratorially, “I meant to tell you that a very handsome man has been staring at you since he came into the cafe and now he’s coming over.”
Dionne’s heartbeat accelerated at once and her breath quickened. She fought to stay calm as she waited for Fenton to come over. When he did, she smiled nervously as she glanced up at him. He towered over her. His eyes held hers in a steady gaze. “Hello,” she greeted him, thinking she sounded a little breathless.
“Hello,” he replied quietly. He had a cappuccino in his hand.
She turned to Mavis. “This is my friend, Mavis. Mavis, this is Fenton Hardy, Joe’s Dad.” She watched they shook hands.
“I saw you when I came in but I wanted to grab this first before coming over and saying hello.”
Mavis suddenly got up. “I’ll be right back,” she said and hustled off before Dionne could say anything.
Alone with him made her even more nervous. She didn’t know what to say, except invite him to sit down in the seat Mavis just vacated.
He leaned forward, his eyes meeting hers directly. “I want to ask you something,” he said. “It has been on my mind since we met.”
“What-what do you want to know?”
“Are Joe and you more than friends?”
His question startled her and a few minutes passed before she answered. “No, we’re just friends. Why-why do you ask?”
“I wanted to make sure before-before I asked you to have dinner with me.”
“Dinner?” she repeated, swallowing hard, her mind reeling. He’s asking me to have dinner with him.
His expression was serious. “Yes, I would like you to have dinner with me, Dionne.”
“Yes,” she replied simply.
“Tomorrow evening at seven?”
He smiled. “I’ll pick you up at six.”
She gave him her address.
He got up just as Mavis returned. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” he told Dionne before saying, “It was nice meeting you, Mavis.” And then, he turned and walked away, leaving the two friends and other women in the cafe staring after him.
After he was gone, Dionne turned to her friend, her eyes shining with excitement. “He asked me to have dinner with him,” she gushed. “This means that he’s interested, right?”
Mavis sat down, grinning at her friend who was beside herself. “Yes, he’s interested. I saw the way he was looking at you and it’s obvious that he’s got a thing for you.”
“What am I going to wear?” She racked her brains, trying to figure what was in her wardrobe.
Mavis patted her hand. “Don’t worry,” she told her. “I’m sure you will find something to wear. I hate to cut this short, Honey, but I really have to go.”
They split the bill and left the cafe. When they were in the parking lot, they hugged and promised to meet up again.
She had just finished getting dressed when the phone rang. As she hurried to answer it, she prayed that it wasn’t Fenton calling to cancel their date. “Hello?”
“Hello, Dee.” It was Joe. Relief washed over her.
“Hi, Joe. I’m just on my way out.”
“I know. That’s why I’m calling. I know that you’re having dinner with Dad and I just wanted to say that I—approve.”
“Believe it or not, I do. You’re the first woman my father has shown any interest in since my mother died. Until he met you, he was living like a recluse, only leaving the house to go to work. He didn’t socialize nor have friends come over. He spent most of his time in the study or going for walks on the grounds. It was as if he stopped living after my mother died. That afternoon in the study, I saw the way he was looking at you and at first, I was miffed because as you know, I’m smitten with you but when it became very clear to me that you were attracted to him, I decided that I would do the honorable thing and step out of the way. My father is a terrific person and he deserves to be happy again and if you’re the woman who could make that possible, then you have my blessing. He’s going to show up looking very dapper and that’s thanks to yours truly. I told him he had to dress to impress. He’s really nervous, so go easy on him and have fun.”
This was so typical of Joe, always saying something that either made her laugh or cry and that was why she loved him dearly and cherished their friendship. Blinking back tears, she muttered, “Thank you, Joe. Having your blessing means a lot to me.”
“Now, don’t go getting all sentimental on me. I’ll call you during the week. Take care, Dee.”
“Bye, Joe.” She hung up and finished getting ready, her heart skipping a beat when she saw that it was five minutes to six. Fenton would soon be there.
As he rode up in the lift to her flat, Fenton leaned against the wall, his heart thudding. He felt as nervous as a young man going on his first date. It had been a very long time since he had asked a woman out. After Caryn died, he hadn’t been interested in dating until now. When he met Dionne, he was taken aback at how deeply attracted to her he was. It blindsided him. And when he shook her hand, feelings he had never experienced before surged through him like a flood. When Joe’s other friends were over at the house, he never asked any them if they were staying for dinner but it was different with Dionne. He wanted her to stay and, besides, it felt good having another woman besides Mildred, in the house again.
All during dinner, he could hardly keep his eyes off her and after she left, he couldn’t stop thinking about her or wondering when he would see her again. It was purely by chance that he saw her today. He was on his way home when he decided to stop in the cafe and grab a cappuccino. When he saw the long lineup, he decided that he would go somewhere else when he spotted her. He couldn’t pass up an opportunity to talk to her so he went in.
He watched her as he stood in the line, wishing she were alone. After he bought the cappuccino, he went over to her table. When she looked up at him and smiled, his heart stopped. He couldn’t stop staring at her and he was so nervous. He was relieved when her friend left them and he seized the opportunity to ask her the question which had been plaguing him since they met. He wanted badly to ask her out but he had to make sure that there was nothing between Joe and her. He never imagined that he and his son would be attracted to the same woman but it thrilled him to know that Dionne was attracted to him too.
And now here he was, on his way up to her flat to take her out for dinner. The lift stopped and the doors slid open. He walked through them, his heart accelerating with each step closer to her flat. After taking a deep breath, he raised his hand which trembled slightly to ring the doorbell. The door opened and Dionne stood in its aperture, smiling up at him. His eyes darkened on her face. He wanted to kiss her so badly. “Good evening,” he said.
His eyes slid irresistibly over her slender figure in the flattering black long sleeve knot dress which hugged her in all the right places and revealed a pair of long, shapely legs. She looked amazing. How he was going to get through dinner without wanting to touch her, he had no idea.
She couldn’t get over how gorgeous he looked in the black jacket, black silk shirt unbuttoned at the neck and black pants. His silky dark hair was slicked back with a few strands falling across his forehead giving him a rakish look. She wanted to brush them back. Realizing that she was staring, she lowered her eyes as she replied, “Good evening.”
She stepped out into the hallway, pulling the door in behind her before she turned and locked it, her hand trembling slightly. When she turned to face him, he was staring at her and the expression on his face made her knees go weak. For several minutes, they stood there, their eyes locked and the attraction between them palpable. Then, the sound of voices reached their ears and they moved away from each other and walked to the lift.
On the ride over to the restaurant, they were intensely aware of each other and many times, their eyes met, the air between them charged. By the time they got to the restaurant, they could hardly think about anything except how much they wanted each other. Dinner was at a French restaurant, the dim lights and décor added to its warm and romantic ambiance.
Over non-alcoholic wine and a sumptuous meal, they got to know each other. She learned that he was the second of eight children and that his parents met in high-school and got married after they graduated. All of his siblings were married with families. His parents died before he got married so they never met Caryn or Joe. He and Caryn met at a mutual friend’s wedding. He was the best man and she was one of the bridesmaids. They hit it off immediately. They began dating and two years later they got married. Joe came along in the third year of their marriage.
“Caryn’s family was from Norway. After her parents died, she moved to London. She shared a flat with another girl until she got a job and was able to afford one of her own. Every winter, she loved to go up to the ski lodge and always got me to go along although I’m not a fan of skiing. The year she had the accident, I wasn’t with her. I was out of town on business and Joe was spending the weekend at a friend.”
Instinctively, she reached out and covered the hand which was resting on the table. He looked down at their hands and then up at her, his expression inscrutable. “I’m sorry,” she mumbled, withdrawing her hand.
He was sorry that she removed her hand. It felt so soft on his. “I’ve told you about me and now I want to hear about you.” He asked her many questions about herself, eager to learn everything he could about her. He sat there, listening to her talk, thinking how lovely she looked, especially when she talked about her father to whom she was very close, her eyes sparkling as she shared childhood memories of him. She had an older married brother who lived in New York and her mother had moved to Fort Lauderdale to live with her sister and her family.
“So, I’m the only member of my family still living here in London,” she said, concluding her life story.
“I’m happy that you didn’t leave London or we wouldn’t have met.” His expression became intense now as he returned her stare. “Dionne, you’re the first woman I’ve looked at since Caryn died. I’m deeply attracted to you and I would like to be in a relationship with you.” He reached for her hand.
Her pulse was racing and she could hardly think with him holding her hand. “I—I would like that too,” she replied breathlessly.
He smiled then. “Good.” At that moment, dessert arrived and they talked more as they savored the French Lemon Tart. Then, it was time to go.
Thirty minutes later they were standing outside of her flat. She invited him inside for a nightcap.
“Thank—thank you for a lovely evening,” she said, her heart pounding. “I—I had a wonderful time and—” Her words were cut off when he pulled her roughly against him, making her gasp and his head swooped down. His mouth closed hungrily over hers and she responded wildly, eagerly, putting her arms around his neck.
Desire coursed through Fenton like a wild fire, consuming him and making him reckless. All evening he had yearned to take her in his arms, feel her body against his and kiss her. No woman had ever made him feel this way, not even Caryn.
A door closed, jolting them and he raised his head, his breath harsh and unsteady. “I’d better go,” he muttered.
She shook her head. “Let’s go inside,” she gasped. She pulled away from him and fumbled in her handbag for the key. She opened the door and they went inside. After she closed and locked the door she turned to face him. Then, she was in his arms again and they were exchanging passionate kisses.
After several minutes passed, Fenton broke off their kiss, his face flushed as he met her gaze. “I want this, I want us, I want you…forever,” he muttered thickly.
“You have this, you have us and you have all of me…forever,” she murmured before reaching up to pull his head down to hers, her fingers gripping his hair as their lips locked.