The Inheritance

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.

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Source:  Peabody Elementary; Career Addict; Quote Fancy

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.

 

The Studio

“You don’t have to be a genius to see that this relationship will not last,” commented Marie as she and Caitlin sat in the corner of a trendy restaurant in the fashionable district of Chelsea.  It was celebratory dinner party for the opening of Ava’s boutique in the area.  She had invited Marie, her sister-in-law who had in turn invited Rachel.  They were sitting having non-alcoholic drinks after a delicious dinner while the others were on the dance floor.

Marie’s remark was directed at Ava and her boyfriend, Reid, a businessman/artist.  They had been dating for less than a year now.  They were dancing but he seemed a bit uncomfortable.   Clearly, he didn’t like the public display of affection but Ava didn’t seem to care.  This was her way of letting the other women know that he was not available.

As Rachel watched them, she couldn’t deny that they made a very attractive couple.  Ava had thick dark brown hair that tumbled down in unruly waves down her tanned back.  She looked absolutely stunning in the strapless fuchsia dress.  Several male eyes were on her but she only had eyes for Reid.  Rachel’s gaze shifted to Reid.  He was tall and very attractive.  He looked amazing in the navy blue striped suit, navy blue shirt and matching tie.  His thick dark brown hair was neatly combed as usual.

She remembered the first time she met Reid.  It was at a mutual friend’s place.  It was early autumn and as she came out of the cottage to go for a walk in the gardens, she noticed him standing among stalks of wheat which seemed rather out of place to her.  She expected the grounds to be covered in green grass and surrounded by trees with changing colors.  He was wearing a blue sweater over a checkered shirt and dark blue trousers.  He didn’t notice her at first as she stood there just staring at him and thinking that he was drop dead gorgeous.  Then, he turned his head slightly to the right and their eyes met.

Shortly after, he went over to her, his eyes never leaving her face.  She was wearing a black and white striped shirt and black pants.  She hoped her hair looked fine.  He held out his hand.  “Hello, I’m Reid,” he said.

She smiled as he clasped her hand.  “Rachel.”  After he released her hand, she folded her arms.  She saw the way his eyes slipped over her before they settled on her face again.

“Do you have a jacket?” he asked.  “It’s a bit cool today.”

“It’s inside with my handbag,” she said. “I came out to go for a walk and forgot how cool it was.  I’ll go quickly and get it.”  She went back to the house and when she went back, he was standing where she had left him.

“Do you mind if I join you?” he asked.

She shook her head, smiling.  “I would like the company,” she said.

“Did you come alone?”

“Yes,” she turned to look at him as they headed for the gardens.  “Did you?”

“I came with Ava.”

“Ava Parker?”

“Yes.”

“Do you know her?”

“Not very well.  She’s my friend Marie’s sister-in-law.”

“Yes, I have met Marie.  A very pleasant woman.”

As they walked he asked her questions about herself.  She learned that he met Ava at a gallery where his artwork was on display.  She suddenly stopped and stared at him.  “Are you Reid Faulkner?” She asked.

He nodded with a smile.

“I’ve seen some of your paintings and they are amazing.  They are so real.  My favorite so far is of the homeless young girl.  You did it in black and white.  It was beautiful and haunting at the same time.  It’s now hanging in the National Portrait Gallery in London.”

“I like to paint about current issues,” he said.  “I’m more into realism than the other forms of art like impressionism and romanticism.”

“You captured the sadness in her eyes, the dirty fingernails and the hopelessness of her situation.  Whatever became of her?”

“She’s in a homeless shelter for the youth now.  When she learned that her portrait was in the gallery, she was over the moon.”

“That’s great.  How do you do it—your painting, I mean?”

“I sketch and then, I paint.  I don’t have to have the person pose for me.”

They continued walking and then they decided to head back to the cottage.  When they got there, Ava was waiting in front and as soon as she saw them, she hurried over to Reid.  “There you are,” she exclaimed, slipping her arm in his.  “I was wondering where you had gone off to.  Oh, hello, Rachel,” she said, her green eyes shifting to her and pursing her lips.  The displeasure on her face was unmistakable.  She tugged gently on Reid’s arm.  “There’s someone I’d like you to meet.  Excuse us, Rachel.”

Reid barely got to give Rachel a backward glance before he was whisked away.  They hadn’t had a moment alone after that.  Ava saw to that.  However, she couldn’t prevent them from looking at each other every opportunity they got and on her way home, Rachel couldn’t stop thinking about Reid and how much she wanted to see him again.  And couple months later, here they were in a Chelsea restaurant.

She turned now to Marie who was looking at her.  “You were somewhere else for a bit,” she said.

“I was just remembering something,” she said evasively.  “Why don’t you think their relationship will last?”

“She’s too clingy and men don’t like that.  They don’t like to be smothered.  Besides, I don’t think he’s as into her as she’s into him.  It’s all in the body language, my dear.  Look at him.  The dance is over and he looks relieved.  Why don’t we invite them to join us?”  She waved at the couple as they parted and were heading back to their table.

Rachel’s eyes went immediately to Reid and her heart began to beat fast.  She smoothed her hair down and rubbed the palms of her hands on the skirt of her blue elastic waist dress.  Reid’s gaze went first to Marie and then to Rachel where they remained.  Ava noticed and said, “Why don’t we go over to the bar and sit there or outside on the terrace where it’s a lot cooler?”

At that moment, Marie got up from her seat and said to Ava, “Why don’t we go and freshen up?” and she grabbed her arm and escorted her away before she could object.

Alone, Reid sat down beside Rachel.  “It’s good to see you again,” he said quietly.  “I was hoping that we would meet again.  How have you been?”

She smiled and tried to act calm although she was nervous.  He was staring at her, his expression was intense.  “It’s good to see you again, too,” she admitted, sounding a bit breathless.  “I’m happy to see you and I’ve been doing well.”

“Are you busy tomorrow afternoon?” he asked.

“No.”

“I’d like you to come over to my studio,” he said.  He took out his wallet and removed a business card.  He scribbled something at the back of it and handed it to her.  As she read the name and address of the studio, he added, “I’d like to paint you.”

She glanced up in surprise.  “Paint me?” she exclaimed.  “But why would you want to paint me?”

“You’re beautiful,” he said simply.  “I want to capture that beauty.”

“I’m not sure,” she said, suddenly feeling very self-conscious.  “I’ve never had such a proposition before.” He thinks I’m beautiful.

“Think about it.  I will look out for you tomorrow.  If I don’t see you, I’ll know that you decided not to do it and although, I will be disappointed, I will understand.”

“Thank you,” she said and she put the card in her handbag.  She didn’t feel pressured now.

“If you like, you can still come to my studio just to see my work.”

“I’d like that,” she said.

He smiled and just then, Ava and Marie joined them.  Ava’s eyes flashed at Rachel.

Marie said to Rachel, “I think we should leave now,” she said.  “It’s getting late and I have a busy day tomorrow with the hubby and kids.  Ava, congratulations on your new business venture.  I’ve no doubt that it will be a great success.  Reid, as always it is a pleasure to see you.”

Rachel got up and came round the table so that she was standing next to Reid.  She could feel his eyes on her.  She said goodnight first to Ava whose expression was hostile and then she turned to Reid, holding out her hand.  He took it and her pulse raced when she felt him squeeze it gently.  Their eyes held for a brief moment and then she turned and walked away.

On their way to her car, Marie remarked, “There’s something going on between Reid and you.  I sensed it and I know Ava did too, that’s why she didn’t want to leave the two of you alone.  So, what did he say to you?”

“He invited me to go to his studio tomorrow.  He wants to paint me.”

“Wow, that’s a great compliment.  I wish I had an artist ask to paint me.  Well, are you going to do it or not?”

“I’m not sure…”

“I think you should do it.  It might be fun and besides, it gives the two of you a chance to be alone.”

“But, what about Ava?”

“Ava’s history.  I won’t be surprised if he breaks up with her tonight.”

“I don’t want to be the cause for their breakup.”

“It would have happened even if you weren’t in the picture.  Don’t feel bad about it.  Ava’s not the right woman for Reid.  And that’s a fact that’s clear to everyone, except her, unfortunately.”

Rachel sighed.  “She already doesn’t like me and now I’m giving her a good reason to hate me.”

“Don’t worry about Ava,” Marie advised her.  “She’ll get over Reid in time.”

Rachel thought about it as she lay in bed that night and by morning, she had decided that she would go to the studio.  It was on a quiet street and located on the second floor of a warehouse.  The door was open and she went in.  There was an easel with a blank sheet of paper on it.  Framed paintings stacked against the walls.  Bright light effused the spacious room.  She could smell the paints and she smiled as she looked around.  It was such a treat being in an artist’s studio and seeing his work.  There were a couple of floor lamps, chairs, a stool and a table with the paints.

As she was studying and admiring the paintings on the wall adjacent to the windows, Reid came in.  He smiled when he saw her.  “Hello,” he said.  “I’m glad you came.  I hope you didn’t have any trouble finding the place.”

She turned toward him, thinking how sexy he looked in the black shirt and blue jeans.  “No, I didn’t have any trouble finding it.  It’s a really nice with lots of natural light.  I was just admiring your work.  Some of them, I recognized.  Has Ava ever been here?”

“Once.  Would you like something to drink?”

She shook her head.  “Not right now, thanks.”

“So, what have you decided?”

“I’ve decided to let you paint me.”

He grinned, rubbing his hands together.  “Splendid.  Now, all you have to do is sit on the stool over there and try not to move.  You can set your handbag and jacket on the chair over there.  Thanks for agreeing to do this, Rachel.”

She did as he instructed and climbed up on the stool.  As she sat down, she was glad that she had worn jeans instead of the long black skirt with the side slit.  She watched as he mixed the paints and then stood behind the easel and got to work.  After two hours of not moving, she was relieved when he set his brush down and stepped from behind the easel.

“We’re done for today,” he said.

She slid down from the stool and stretched.  “How long will it take to complete?” she asked.

“Two weeks.  You don’t have to sit every time because I know you’re busy.  I have a sketch that I can work from.”

“I can come in the evenings after work,” she offered.

“That would be great.  Are you hungry?”

She nodded.

“There’s a bistro around the corner where we can have something to eat or we can order take out delivery and eat here.  Which would you prefer?”

“Take out.”

They had Thai food delivered to them and they sat cross legged on the floor, eating and talking.  It was dark outside by the time they left the studio.  Before they parted, they arranged to meet again at the studio the following day.  For two weeks, she went to the studio and sat for two hours as he painted her.  Finally, the day came when she would see the finished painting.  Excited, she let herself into the studio and closed the door.

She went over to the chair to put her jacket on it when Reid came into the room.  She turned and her breath caught in her throat when she saw that he was not wearing a shirt.  It was in his hand.  He stopped short when he saw her.  “You’re early,” he commented as he pulled it on but didn’t button it.  He went over to where she stood.  Flustered, she turned away.

She felt his hands on her shoulders turning her around to face him.  Their eyes met and what she saw in his made her mouth go dry.  Desire shone in their depths.  “Rachel,” he muttered huskily.  “You must know by now how I feel about you.”

The feelings churning inside her were on her face.  “What about Ava?” she asked, trying not to look at his chest.

“I ended my relationship with her that night at the restaurant.  She blamed you.  She saw the attraction between us.  I told her that I would have ended our relationship even if you and I had not met.  I told her that we were not right for each other.  I felt badly about it but I couldn’t continue pretending that everything was fine when it wasn’t.”

“I feel sorry for her but, I can’t say that I’m sorry that you’re available now…”

“Oh, Rachel…” he moaned before he lowered his head and kissed her.  She kissed him back, her arms going around his neck as she pressed against him.  The sunlight flooded the room, bathing them in its warmth as they exchanged passionate kisses.  “I love you,” he murmured against her lips.

“I love you too,” she whispered.  She had loved him that day when she saw him standing there among the wheat, looking like he just had stepped out of the pages of GQ.

Several hours later, he unveiled the painting and her mouth dropped open when she saw.  Moved to tears, she said, “It’s beautiful.”

His eyes were tender as he looked at her.  “That’s how I see you,” he said quietly. “You’re beautiful within and without.  This painting is going to be for my private viewing.  It’s not going to be placed in any gallery.”

“Good,” she said, putting her arms around his waist.  “I don’t relish the idea of hanging in public for everyone to gawk at me.  Both the painting and I are for your eyes only.” And with that, she reached up and kissed him.

Sources:  End Youth HomelessnessReitman’s; Social Lifestyle Magazine; Albert’s Club

The Ball

Monica was walking on the immaculate grounds of Whitmore Manor where her friend and co-worker Alex invited her to spend the afternoon.  It was the day before the annual charity ball and already there was a sense of excitement and anticipation in the air.  This was to be her first one since she only started working with Alex in autumn of last year.

As she pondered over what to expect, her gaze drank in the beautiful landscape which spread before and around her.  She was so caught up in her surroundings that she didn’t notice the tall man heading towards her until she almost ran into him.

Her eyes flew up from his broad chest to his face.  Her breath caught in her throat when she found herself looking into classic handsome features.  Dark, wavy hair, dark brown eyes, chiseled nose and his lips…she realized that they were moving which meant he was saying something.  She pulled herself together.

“I–I’m sorry,” she apologized.  “I was so busy admiring the place that I didn’t see you until a moment ago.”

His eyes were riveted to her face.  “And, you are?”

She held out her hand.  “I’m Monica.  I’m here because of Alex.”

“Jared.”  He grasped her hand.  “Does he know you are here?”

“Yes.  He brought me here to spend a quiet afternoon.”

“Where is he?  He’s not a very good host leaving you out here by yourself.”

“He didn’t mean to desert me,” she said, trying to act calm when her heart was racing.  Jared was staring at her with those penetrating eyes of his and he was still holding her hand.  “He had to run an errand and said that he would be back shortly.”

He released her hand then and shoved both of his in the pockets of his trousers.  “So, how long have Alex and you known each other?” he asked.

She put her hands behind her back.  “September will make it a year,” she said.

“You’re different from his other girlfriends,” he noted as he studied her face.

She was about to tell him that she was not Alex’s girlfriend when Alex himself showed up.

He came from behind Jared.  He grinned at Monica.  “I see you have met my big brother,” he told her.  He turned to Jared.  “Thank you for taking care of Monica while I was gone.”

Jared inclined his head.  “It was my pleasure,” he said before his gaze shifted to Monica.  “It was nice meeting you.”

She smiled at him.  “It was nice meeting you too.”

“Excuse me.”  He turned and walked away.  Monica was sorry to see him go.

When they were alone, she turned to Alex, “He thinks I’m your girlfriend,” she told him, looking very displeased.  “What gave him that impression?”

“Well, the only women I brought here to meet Mother and Jared were the ones I dated so when he met you, he naturally assumed that you were my current girlfriend.”  He looked at her.  “Does it bother you that he thinks that we are dating?”

“Yes, it does.”

Alex groaned.  “Don’t tell me that you have fallen for his dark, brooding looks too.”

“Is that why you never mentioned to me that you even had a brother?”

“It must have slipped my mind.  Anyway, let’s talk about something else.  Are you all set for the ball tomorrow evening?  I won’t be able to bring you, I’m afraid.  I have to be here, greeting the guests.”

“Yes, I’m looking forward to it.  I’ve never been to a ball before.  Is everyone going to be there?”

“By everyone, you mean Jared.  Yes, he’ll be there–he and his brooding looks which always seems to attract the ladies.”

Monica looked at him.  “Do I detect a little bit of jealousy?”

Alex sighed.  “Yes, I am jealous and have been since we were children.  He was always getting the attention and the girls.  That hasn’t changed.  Just once I would like to find a woman who will be immune to his charms and prefer me instead.”

Monica tucked her arm in his and gave him an encouraging smile.  “I’m sure you will find such a woman.  Now, this woman would like a tour of the grounds, if you don’t mind.”

He smiled.  “It would be my pleasure.”

It was the night of the ball and she entered the room, her eyes wide with wonder as she espied the magnificent room and the beautiful decorations.  When Alex saw her, he whistled.  He was standing by the entrance receiving the guests with his mother and Jared.  She was wearing a strapless cream chiffon gown and her hair was swept up exposing her long, slender neck.   “You look amazing,” he said as he kissed her on the cheek.

She smiled.  “Thank you.”  Her gaze shifted to Jared who was staring at her.  He looked absolutely gorgeous in his black tuxedo.  Even in her heels, she had to tilt her head back to look up at him.  “Hello, Jared,” she said shyly.

“Hello, Monica,” was his quiet reply.  He had a curious expression on his face.  “It’s good to see you again.”

“It’s good to be here.”  She lingered there for a moment before she moved reluctantly away.  She could feel his eyes on her as she greeted his mother.  The older woman beamed at her.  “You look lovely, my Dear,” she said.  “I am delighted that you could come.  I hope you enjoy yourself.”

Monica smiled.  “Thank you, I will.”  She moved on, taking in the atmosphere, the people.  She saw a few of her co-workers milling about and she joined them.  At dinner time, she sat at the same table with the Whitmore family.  She was seated next to Alex and opposite Jared.  Every now and then, she raised her eyes to look at him and found him already looking at her.  Each time their eyes met, she felt her heart race.  No one else seemed to notice.

The food was amazing and afterwards, there was dancing.  She danced a couple of dances with Alex who was in very high spirits.  Then, as she was about to follow Alex back to the table, Jared barred her.  “Dance with me,” he said and wordlessly, she acquiesced.   Her heart did a somersault when he pulled her to him and they moved to the music.

He was a terrific dancer and his movements were fluid.  She was acutely aware of his hand in the small of her back, their bodies inches apart.  He smelled really good.  It felt wonderful dancing with him and she wished that it would last.  At one point she looked up at him and he was looking down at her.  His eyes were dark and smoldering and a muscle throbbed along his jaw line.  They didn’t say anything but the moment was charged as their attraction for each other was palpable.  She saw his gaze lower to her lips and they parted.

“Mind if I cut in?” Alex’s intrusive voice startled her and she felt Jared release her.  Then she was in Alex’s arms and he swirled her away as Jared walked stiffly off the dance floor.  For the rest of the night, Alex tended to her and she didn’t have a chance to dance with Jared again.  She left the ball feeling frustrated, especially after his cold manner toward her when they said goodnight to each other.

She tossed and turned all night and in the morning, she decided that she would go over to Whitmore Manor and straighten things out with him.  She couldn’t let him continue to believe that Alex and she were dating.  Last night it might have seemed that way, though.  She let Alex have it last night when he was driving her home.  He was sorry and he told her to drop by the manor and talk to Jared.

She finished her breakfast, showered and pulling on a pair of dress jeans and a yellow top, she left her condo.  She took the train from London to Surrey and then a short taxi ride to Whitmore Manor.  The place seemed quiet—she supposed it was because it was a Sunday morning.  She hoped Mrs. Whitmore wouldn’t mind her dropping by unexpectedly.  She ran up the steps leading to the front door and rang the bell.  As she waited she looked over at the spot where she first met Jared.  How handsome he looked that day in his denim jacket over a black shirt and tan colored trousers.

The door opened and the butler stood there.  “Good morning,” he said.

“Good morning.  Is Mr. Jared Whitmore at home?” she asked.

“He is but he gave strict instructions not to be disturbed.  Perhaps, you would like to see Mrs. Whitmore, instead.  She’s in the drawing-room.”

“Yes, thank you.” The man stepped aside to let her into the foyer.  He took her to the drawing-room and after informing Mrs. Whitmore that she had a visitor, he left.

Monica went over to the armchair where the woman was seated.  “Good morning, Mrs. Whitmore.”

Mrs. Whitmore smiled when she saw her.  “Good morning, Dear.  How nice of you to drop by this morning.  Did you have a good time at the ball last night?”

Monica nodded.  “I did.”

“It was an extremely good turn out and I believe that this year we received more donations.”

“Mrs. Whitmore, I came to see Jared but was told that he didn’t want to be disturbed.”

Mrs. Whitmore sighed.  “He’s been cooped up in the study all morning.  Can’t imagine what he’s doing in there.  He hasn’t had any breakfast.  I have a good mind to send a tray in to him.  You know, that’s exactly what I will do.”  She pulled the cord beside her.  “He needs to eat something.”

“Mrs. Whitmore, do you mind if I take it to him?”

“No, not at all.  You may be a welcome distraction.”

A few minutes later a maid appeared and Mrs. Whitmore asked her to prepare a tray for Mr. Whitmore and to bring it to the drawing-room.  As they waited, Monica and Mrs. Whitmore exchanged pleasantries and spoke of the ball.

Then, the maid went in carrying the tray.  “Thank you, Janet,” Mrs. Whitmore said. “Set it on the table over there.”  Janet did so and left the room.

Monica went and took it up.  She went to the door but stopped, unsure of where to go.

“The study is down the hall here and on your right.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Whitmore,” she said gratefully before she departed.

Her heart thudded with every step as she went down the hallway.  She set the tray down on the floor, opened the door and pushed it open.  She took up the tray and went inside.  She stood at the door.  Jared was sitting at the desk backing the door but when he heard it open, he said.  “I gave strict instructions not to be disturbed.  I don’t take kindly to having my orders disobeyed…” his voice trailed off when he swung the chair around and saw her standing there.  “What are you doing here?”

She stood there, unsure of what to do next.  He was standing now, his expression guarded.  “I brought this tray for you.  Your mother said you haven’t eaten.  She’s concerned about you.”

His gaze shifted to the tray and then back to her.  “So, she sent you with it instead of sending Janet?”

“I offered,” she told him.   “I needed to speak to you.”

“Set it on the table over there.   What do you need to speak to me about?”

“It’s about Alex and me…”

His expression darkened at once and he dragged his fingers through his hair.  “Never once in all of my years have I ever been jealous of my brother.  Not even when I see how our mother continues to pamper him as if he were still a child, but that all changed when I met you.”

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

“I am jealous of him because of you, Monica.  From the moment we met, I wanted you.  That’s why I said that you were different from his other girlfriends.  I was never attracted to any of them.  You were different because I was immediately and deeply attracted to you.  Last night at the ball, I couldn’t take my eyes off you.  I watched you dancing with him and wished that I was the one dancing with you. Finally, I couldn’t stand it any longer and that’s why I asked you to dance with me.  The way you felt in my arms…” he closed his eyes at the memory.  “It felt so right.  I asked myself how could something that felt so right be wrong.  I wanted to kiss you so badly but just then, Alex came and claimed you and I had no choice but to step aside.  I watched you with him for the rest of the night, kicking myself for falling for a woman who belonged to someone else.”

It took a moment for Monica to answer because she was stunned.  She couldn’t believe what she just heard.  “Jared, I don’t belong to Alex,” she told him.  “He and I are just friends who happen to work together.  When you and I met, you assumed that I was another one of his many girlfriends and when I tried to clear up that misunderstanding, Alex joined us.”

“My brother has a knack for interrupting at the most inopportune moment.”

She took a step closer.  “That’s why I came here this morning, Jared.  To clear things up.  I couldn’t go on letting you believe that I was in a relationship with Alex when I am not.  Alex knows how I feel about you.  He knew it since the first time I met you.”

Jared moved around the desk so that he was standing in front of her.  “How do you feel about me?” he asked, his expression tense.  His hands were at his sides, aching to hold her.

“I never thought it was possible but when I met you it was love at first sight,” she said, her feelings unguarded.

He pulled her into his arms then and he muttered, “I fell in love with you the first moment I saw you and I felt like a heel because of Alex.  That’s why I have been cooped up in here all morning.  I was sitting here, thinking about you and feeling guilty.  And now that I know Alex and you are not romantically involved, I feel like a guilty man who has been granted a reprieve.”

She reached up and cupped his face between her hands.  “You have no reason to feel guilty anymore,” she said, “We are both free and we both know what we want…”

“Yes,” he groaned and his head swooped down.  His mouth closed passionately over hers.

She sighed and closed her eyes as she responded to the kiss which she had been dreaming of since last night at the ball.

Source:  Trainline