When Aubrey got the job of photographer at Harper Magazine, she didn’t expect to meet Olivia Cromwell, the famous mystery writer or fall in love with her brother, Brent. The way Brent and she met was quite unexpected. It happened one afternoon when she had accompanied Susannah, her employer to the Cromwell estate in Yorkshire.
It was Aubrey’s job to take the photos while Susannah did the interview. So, after meeting Olivia and taking photos of her, Aubrey left the Victorian style drawing-room to explore the rest of the manor. She wanted to take pictures of the study where the writer spent most of her time, working on her novels. And of course, she had to explore the sprawling and immaculate grounds and see the gazebo where the wedding ceremony scene from Olivia’s latest book was filmed.
She went into different rooms, admiring them and taking pictures. It felt really good having the freedom to do this and was grateful to Olivia for being so accommodating. Not everyone liked having a perfect stranger roaming about unsupervised in their homes. As she wandered down the hallway, she hoped that she would find her way back to the front foyer from where she could access the grounds. She would just have to rely on her memory and sense of direction.
There was a door straight ahead. It wasn’t open like the others but slightly ajar. Was someone in there? She approached it cautiously. When she reached it, she nudged it open a little wider and looked in. It appeared to be empty. She went inside what turned out to be a fairly large sun-room. Antique and modern furniture were juxtaposed with very impressive results. Bright sunshine streamed through the large French windows.
She crossed the carpet to look out and was greeted with an obstructed view of the grounds and the looming mountains in the distance. How pleasant it must be to see this every day. Life in the countryside must be very peaceful and stress free. What a welcome break it was from the hustle and bustle of the city. It was so quiet, you could hear a pin drop…
She heard a sound behind her and swung around, startled. A tall figure had stepped into the room from an adjoining room. He was wearing a white vest and held a blue shirt in his hand. Heart thudding she watched him warily, wondering who he was and why Olivia hadn’t mentioned that he was here. Suddenly, she felt like an intruder and her gaze shifted to the door she had come through, desiring to leave. But, she stood there, rooted to the spot, transfixed as their eyes met and held for what seemed like eternity.
He was very attractive and looked to be in his mid to late thirties. There was something very familiar about him. Where had she seen him before? She wished he would put on his shirt. The wide shoulders, broad chest and bare chiseled arms were very distracting, not to mention the narrow hips and long, muscular legs in the faded jeans. His hair was slightly damp as if he had just taken a shower. When he pulled on his shirt and began to button it, she couldn’t prevent the sigh of relief which escaped from her lips and she saw his mouth twitch.
“Are you lost?” he asked.
She shook her head. “No, I’m not lost but I feel as if I’m intruding so, I’ll leave—”
He moved closer. “No, please don’t leave on my account.” A pause and then, “Which publication are you with?”
She blinked at him. “Publication?”
“I assume that you belong to some publication and that the reason you’re here has to do with my sister. She mentioned that someone was coming over today to interview her.”
“Yes. I’m Brent Montague.” He finished tucking his shirt in his jeans. “Now you have me at a disadvantage. You know who I am but I don’t know who you are.”
“I-I’m Aubrey Williams and I work as a photographer for Harper Magazine.”
His gaze dropped to the camera in her hand before they returned to her face. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Aubrey,” he said, extending his hand.
They shook hands. “I didn’t think that anyone was here or I wouldn’t have come inside,” she said.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said quietly. “It’s not every day that I walk into this room and find a beautiful girl with a camera.”
He was still holding her hand as he staring down into her face. She wondered if he could hear how fast her heart was beating. “Do you live here?”
He shook his head. “No, I’m just visiting.”
“I-I really must go now,” she said, looking down at their hands, hers buried in his.
“Why are you in such a hurry to leave?” he asked.
“I’m not in a hurry,” she protested. “I just wanted to take a walk on the grounds before Susannah is ready to leave. I was hoping to see the gazebo where the scene of the wedding in Olivia’s book took place.”
“Would you like me to show you around?”
“Yes, thank you.”
He released her hand and she preceded him out of the room. They walked down the hallway, through the foyer and out of the house. There was so much to see. The immaculate landscape seemed to stretch endlessly, dotted with colorful flowers and she paused at the fountain. It was truly a work of art, reminding her of the ones she saw in Rome. She felt as if she had stepped into a Jane Austen movie. He took her to the gazebo and stood on the small, arched footpath, watching as she snapped pictures from different angles. “It’s a perfect place for a wedding,” she remarked as she walked over to him. “Has anyone ever gotten married here?
He shook his head. “No, but my niece Marianne would have been the first if her fiancé hadn’t broken off their engagement a month before the wedding.”
“Yes, it was a terrible shock for everyone. It will take some time for Marianne to recover. Right now, she’s in Barcelona.”
“Do you know why he broke it off?”
“I think he got cold feet.”
“Does Olivia have other children?”
“Yes, two sons. One lives in Paris and the other in Barcelona.”
She wondered if he was married or had a girlfriend. She couldn’t imagine that a man like him would be unattached. After casting a furtive glance at his hand and not seeing a ring, she asked him, “Have you read any of Olivia’s books?”
He nodded. “Yes. She dedicated the first one to me. When we were children, she used to read bedtime stories to me. One night, she decided that instead of reading from a storybook, she would make up a story. Her stories were so exciting that I didn’t want to go to sleep so our mother ended up reading to me but whenever we were alone, Olivia would tell me her stories. I encouraged her to become a writer because she had such a master at it.”
“And now she’s a very successful one. I’m a big fan.”
“If you don’t mind my asking, how old are you?”
“You look much younger.”
“Is that why you called me a girl when we were in the sun-room?”
He smiled slightly. “I believe I called you a beautiful girl.”
Suddenly feeling very self-conscious she looked away, her pulse quickening.
“I’m sorry, Aubrey. I didn’t mean to embarrass you.”
“I’m not embarrassed,” she replied. “I’m very flattered.”
“I can see that you’re not used to compliments. Don’t you receive any from your boyfriend?”
“I don’t have a boyfriend.”
“Good. Then, there’s no one to object to my inviting you to have dinner with me tonight.”
She blinked. “Dinner with you tonight?”
“Yes. That unless you have another engagement.”
She shook her head. “I don’t.”
“Then, it’s settled. I shall see you this evening at seven. Where do you live?”
She gave him her address. “I’d better join the others now.”
“I will escort you back.” He started back to the manor, walking at a leisurely pace so that she could keep up with him. In the foyer, he bade her goodbye, adding, “I’m looking forward to seeing you later,” before he headed off in the opposite direction.
When she joined them in the drawing-room, Susannah and Olivia were waiting for her. “Ah, the wandering photographer has returned,” Olivia remarked.
“We were beginning to wonder why you were,” Susannah said. “You must have gotten quite a lot of photos in the time you were gone.”
Aubrey nodded. “I did and I met your brother,” she said to Olivia.
“Ah, yes. Brent. He’s very charming, isn’t he?”
“Yes.” And very exciting. Just talking and thinking about him made her stomach do somersaults.
“Is he still dating that French model?” Susannah asked.
Aubrey held her breath as she waited for Olivia’s reply.
“Heaven’s no,” Olivia said, waving her hand dismissively. “He ended that relationship ages ago. Don’t know why he got involved with her in the first place. I never did like the girl. She was vain, possessive and not very bright.”
“Is he seeing anyone now?” Susannah asked.
“No. He’s put relationships on hold, I think. Now, I shall ring for some tea and scones which we can have on the patio. It’s such a lovely day. Too lovely to be cooped up inside. Oh, Aubrey, dear, do you know where Brent is?”
Aubrey shook her head. “We parted company in the foyer.”
“What a pity. I was hoping that he would join us. Oh, well. I suppose he had some errands to run or something.”
Tea arrived about five minutes later and as they chatted over mouth watering scones, Aubrey wished that the rest of the afternoon would pass quickly. She couldn’t wait to see Brent again.
It was five minutes to seven and she was ready. She stood in front of the full length mirror to make sure she looked all right. He called her a beautiful “girl” but tonight she wanted him to see a beautiful “woman”. The knee length navy blue, wrap dress with the V neckline and spaghetti straps hugged the contours of her body and the nude strappy sandals flattered her shapely calves. Her hair was slicked down, giving her a classy, twenties look. No makeup, only lip gloss and simple but elegant jewelry adorned her ears and neck.
The doorbell rang. She glanced at her watch. It was exactly seven. He was very punctual. After another quick glance over her reflection, she went to answer the door, her heart racing. When she opened it, her eyes ran involuntarily over Brent’s tall frame. He was dressed in a black paisley dinner jacket, black silk shirt, no tie and black trousers. His hair was slicked back, giving him a polished look. Her heart was in her throat and she seem to have trouble breathing when she saw the way his eyes traveled slowly over her and then alighted on her face. She saw admiration and something else shimmering in their depths. “Hello,” she managed to say.
“You look ravishing,” he muttered, his expression tense.
“Thank you. And–and you look very handsome.”
His expression remained unchanged. “Thank you.”
She excused herself and went for her handbag. After closing and locking the door, she preceded him to the lift, aware of his eyes on her. She was so nervous. This was her first date ever. She hoped he wouldn’t find her company boring or tiresome or regret asking her to dinner.
Thankfully, the evening went much better than she anticipated. Over a sumptuous meal, he helped her to relax by telling her funny and entertaining stories.
When they were having dessert, he said to her, his expression serious, “I want to see you again, Aubrey.”
She looked at him. “I want to see you again too.”
“Do you know that after we parted company this afternoon, I couldn’t stop thinking about you? I kept wishing the hours would go by quickly so that I could see you again.”
She laughed. “I was wishing the same thing too,” she confessed.
“I don’t know what it is about you, Aubrey Williams, but you got to me in a way no other woman has ever done before. I felt it this afternoon when I first saw you.” He reached over and took her hand in his, his eyes intent on her face. “I hope I’m not moving too fast for you.”
She could hardly think straight with him caressing her fingers with his thumb. It was having a curious effect on her stomach. “You’re–you’re not,” she managed to say breathlessly.
“It’s just that I’ve never felt this way about anyone before.” And it scares me. “I want more of this. More of you, more of us. Together.”
“I want this too,” she said, her heart racing.
He raised her hand to his lips and kissed it. The feel of his lips on her skin made her tremble and she felt that strange sensation at the pit of her stomach again.
After dinner he took her dancing. That night marked the beginning of the rest of their lives together. Visitors to their home couldn’t miss the beautiful framed wedding photo of them kissing in the “perfect place for a wedding”— the Gazebo which was decorated with flower garland. At the bottom of the photo on the right side were the words, Happily Ever After.