“Channing is back in town,” Sheila announced, rubbing her hands together in glee.
Alanna frowned. “Who’s that?”
“He’s Fletcher’s older brother, the wild one. Many women have tried to tame him but to no avail. His mother has given up all hope that he’d ever settle down and get married. He’s quite a catch, mind you–drop dead gorgeous. Wait until you see him.”
“Where has he been all this time?”
“He’s been on a world cruise from Los Angeles to London. He just came back.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard Fletcher mention him. Is there bad blood between them?”
“No. They get along well enough. I heard that Fletcher’s wife, Daphne had her eye on Channing but he wasn’t interested in her so she turned her attentions to Fletcher.”
“That’s terrible. Does Fletcher know?”
“No. She had decided that it would best for everyone that he shouldn’t.”
“What about Channing? Why didn’t he say something?”
“He tried to but Fletcher was so besotted by the dazzling Daphne that he didn’t want to hear anything unsavory about her. So, Channing gave up and the two got married a couple of months later in a big and extravagant wedding.”
“Does Daphne still have feelings for Channing?”
“I don’t know. It wouldn’t do her any good if she does. Anyway, Mrs. Beauchamp is throwing a welcome home party for Channing and we have been invited.”
“When is it?”
“Saturday evening at 7. There will be a buffet dinner and dancing. It promises to be a very fun but elegant affair. Do you have an evening gown?”
“An evening gown?” Alanna repeated, looking alarmed. “No.”
“Nor do I. Tomorrow at lunch, you and I will go shopping at this place where they sell the most fabulous gowns.”
Alanna was beginning to feel nervous now. She had never been to such an elaborate affair and felt that she would be out of place. As if sensing her trepidation, Sheila gave her a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry, Lana. You’ll be fine. I’ve been to these types of social affairs before. Just follow my lead.”
For the rest of the day, Alanna thought about the party and the next day, she felt a twinge of excitement as she went with Sheila to the dress shop in Chelsea. She managed to find a gown within her budget. It was. When she tried it on, Sheila whistled. “What a lovely gown,” she exclaimed. “It’s perfect for you. What do you think of mine?”
“It’s beautiful, Sheila. It looks like it was made for you.”
After they left the shop with their gowns, they popped into another store to buy shoes and matching handbags. By the time they got back to the office, Alanna was really excited and looking forward to the party. Saturday couldn’t come soon enough.
It was during the summer so the sun was still bright and shining when they arrived at the impressive mansion. As Alanna stepped out of the taxi, she looked up at the Georgian façade. It was magnificent and imposing. It reminded her of Mr. Darcy’s residence in Pride and Prejudice. And the grounds, from what she could see, seem to stretch for miles.
As she went up the steps, she looked at the other women in their gowns. They were of many colors, styles, some simple, some showy and others sophisticated. She was quite pleased with the one she was wearing and smiled as she caught a few curious looks from the women and admiring glances from the men.
Inside there were more gowns and more people. She looked around her, taking in the décor. At the entrance to the room where the guests were to assemble stood Mrs. Beauchamp, Fletcher and Daphne. As she followed Sheila through the archway, a tall and rather handsome man joined them. “That’s Channing,” she whispered. “Didn’t I tell you that he’s gorgeous?”
Alanna was greeted warmly by Mrs. Beauchamp, a petite and very regal woman in the shimmering and beaded white gown that matched her white hair swept back in a chignon. Fletcher shook her hand enthusiastically and said that he was delighted to see her while Daphne gave her a more reserved acknowledgement. She was a very attractive woman. Tall with auburn hair that was pulled back in a French knot and the ice blue gown she wore suited her rather well. Then, her gaze went to Channing. He was chatting with Sheila who turned to her and said, “This is my friend, Alanna.”
He turned to Alanna and she felt her heart melt. Unusual but incredibly beautiful blue eyes met hers and they seemed to penetrate her soul. Handsome was not adequate a word to describe him. He was beyond handsome. She had never seen a man with his physical looks in her life. It was as if he were not real but existed in her imagination. Thick black hair framed a face with fine features. He looked chic and sexy at the same time in the white dinner jacket, white shirt, black trousers and black tie. He took her outstretched hand and raised it to his lips, his eyes never leaving her face. “A pleasure to meet you, Alanna,” he said as he released her hand.
Alanna blinked, her skin tingling where he kissed. For a mad moment, her gaze lowered to his mouth, wondering if it felt as good as it looked and then, she caught herself and looked away. “I’m—I’m pleased to meet you too,” she stammered.
Sheila chimed in. “It’s good to see you, Channing. We look forward to hearing about your vacation. When you can tear yourself away from your guests, come and join us.” She took Alanna’s arm and pulled her away. As they made their way to the cocktails, Sheila said to Alanna, “He seemed quite taken with you.”
Alanna was still remembering every detail of his countenance and the feel on his lips on her hand. She wondered if the feelings he stirred inside her were evident on her face. “You weren’t exaggerating when you spoke of his looks,” she acknowledged.
“I saw the way you looked at him. You’re quite taken with him too. Aren’t you glad you came now? You would have missed out on what promises to be a very interesting night. Now, that you’ve found your Prince Charming, I shall look for mine. I hope he’s here and I hope it will take as little effort to find him as it took you to find yours. They say it’s when you’re not looking that you find him so maybe, I shouldn’t look. Instead, I’ll just stand here and look good.”
They stood there sipping their cocktails and then it was time to have dinner. The table was arrayed in dishes upon dishes of eye pleasing and mouthwatering delicacies from Europe, Asia and South America. They managed to find two chairs where they sat and enjoyed the food. Afterwards, there was a toast to Channing, welcoming him back home after being away for so long. He gave a brief thank you speech and then they had dessert.
It was when Sheila and Alanna were returning from freshening up in the washroom when Channing and a friend joined them. He introduced his friend who seemed to have eyes only for Sheila who liked what she saw too. While they were busy admiring each other, Channing took Alanna’s hand, his eyes meeting hers in a steady gaze. “Dance with me,” he said and before she could say anything, he started walking toward the dance floor, taking her with him.
The music was salsa and as they moved to it, their eyes were locked. It was as if they were the only two people there—everyone else had faded into the background. They were oblivious to the attention they were drawing to themselves. All she was aware of was his hand in the small of her back, his smoldering eyes on her and the seductive movement of his hips as they moved in one fluid movement on the dancefloor. When it was over, they stood still for a long moment, staring at each other, not hearing the smattering of applause around them. Then, taking her hand, he led her off the dancefloor. Instead of returning to where they had left Sheila and his friend, he was heading in another direction. “Where’re we going?” she asked breathlessly.
“I thought you might like to come with me for a walk,” he said. “It was getting a little hot in there. A breath of fresh air would do us some good.”
Once they were outside, he released her hand and they walked side by side over the sprawling grounds. The sun was setting and the immaculate lawns were bathed in the golden light. “What a beautiful place this is,” Alanna remarked. “What was it like growing up here?”
“It was fine,” he shrugged. “After a while, though, I became restless and wanted to venture out into the world. Before I went to University, I went away for the summer. I travelled with my friends to Asia. We visited India, China. I caught the traveling bug and each summer while I was in university, I would fly off to a different part of the world. After university, I got a job and moved into my own flat. I have stayed put for these past years but I got restless again and decided to take a long vacation and travel to other parts of Europe. And here I am back in England.”
“Until you get restless again,” she said looking at him and her heart leapt when she saw the expression on his face.
“I don’t think I’ll be getting restless again,” he said. “Not after meeting you.” He reached out and held her hand, his fingers lacing hers. “Do you have a boyfriend?”
She swallowed hard. “No,” she said, shaking her head. The feel of his warm palm against hers was very stimulating and distracting.
“I want to see you again,” he said quietly. “Do you have any plans for tomorrow evening?”
Again she shook her head.
“Good. I’d like to take you out for dinner and then dancing afterwards.”
That sounded good. They continued walking. “Which places did you visit this time?”
“I visited the South Pacific, the Cook Islands, New Zealand, Australia to name a few.”
“What were your favorite places?”
“New Zealand, Thailand, Egypt, Italy, Spain and Portugal.”
“Did you see any beautiful women in these places?”
“Yes, I did. But they pale in comparison to you. Tell me about you, your family.”
They walked over to a bench and sat down. She told him about herself and her family, thinking how dull their lives seemed in comparison to his. He was very attentive. They talked about other things and then it was time to return to the party. It was after mid-night when it began to die down and people were starting to leave. Channing made sure that Sheila and Alanna got a ride home from his friend who was very obliging because it gave him more time to get acquainted with Sheila. Alanna gave Channing her address and phone number before they bade each other goodbye. She was looking forward to seeing him the following evening.
On the ride home, she sat in the back of the car, dreaming of him and wondering what she was going to wear for their date. She lay in bed, her mind spinning and it was after two when she eventually drifted off to sleep. The day couldn’t go by fast enough and then it was evening. He showed up promptly at seven-thirty. He looked amazing in his black jacket, black silk shirt and black dress jeans and she could tell that he liked the dress she was wearing. They could hardly take their eyes off each other. They went to a popular Cuban restaurant where after an excellent dinner, they enjoyed listening and dancing to live salsa music. It was a fun evening. Neither wanted it to end.
They began seriously dating after that first date. Then, one afternoon when they were having a picnic in the park near where she lived, he said to her, “You have succeeded in doing what many other women have tried to do but failed. You’ve tamed me.” He reached in to his shirt pocket and pulled out a little black box. Her eyes grew big and her hand flew up to her mouth when he opened it and showed her the exquisite ring inside. She didn’t realize that she was crying until he reached out and brushed the tears from her cheeks. He raised himself up on one knee and took her hand. “Alanna Campbell, I love you and want to spend the rest of my life with you. Will you do me the honor and marry me?”
“Yes,” she cried. After he put the ring on her finger, she reached up and pulled him down, hugging him tightly. “I love you and I will marry you, Channing Beauchamp.” And she showered his face with kisses. She didn’t care that people were passing by and watching them. She was on top of the world.
Sources: Casa Cuba; Viking Cruises Canada