It was after five on a Friday and everyone had gone. Just Lydia and her boss, Maksim were there. She was clearing her desk when he stuck his head out of his office. “Are you doing anything tomorrow evening?” he asked.
She shook her head, wondering if he wanted her to come and work tomorrow. It had happened before.
“A good friend of mine is having a dinner party tomorrow evening and I was wondering if you would like to go with me.”
Lydia stared at him for several minutes, wondering if she had heard correctly. This was the first time since they had been working together that he had ever asked her to go anywhere with him. She was both nervous and excited at the same time. This seemed too good to be true. Had his date cancelled on him?
“No one cancelled on me,” he said, startling her. She hadn’t realized that she had voiced her thoughts. “You’re the only one I’ve asked. If you don’t want to go, it’s fine. I’ll go by myself.”
“No, I want to go,” she said. “It’s been a while since I’ve been anywhere interesting.”
“I’ll pick you up at six-thirty. Goodnight.”
“Goodnight,” she replied and watched as he went back into his office. Then, she finished clearing her desk, took out her handbag and locked her drawer. He was on the phone when she walked past. As she walked to the lift, she wondered what she was going to wear to the dinner party. Maksim was such a stylish man her outfit would have to be classy.
As soon as she got home, she went straight to her wardrobe and scanned the clothes hanging there. Her eyes settled on the soft blossom, strapless ruffle hem dress which she had recently bought and had never worn before. It would go well with her sliver sandals and matching clutch purse. As for her hair, she would just pin it up. Satisfied that she had something to wear tomorrow evening, she drew the doors shut and undressed. After taking a quick shower, she had something light to eat before settling down on the sofa to watch the News.
At eleven-thirty, she turned in but didn’t go to sleep right away. She lay there thinking about tomorrow, thrilled that she didn’t have to wait until Monday to see Maksim. Maksim. He was easily the most attractive man she had ever known and she was drawn to him from the very first time they met.
Her thoughts went to this morning and the way he had looked at her as she walked over to his desk to leave some papers there for to look over. He was on his cell phone but he was watching her. She wondered if he had any idea of how sexy he looked at that moment or the effect he always had on her. When she turned and headed to the door, she could feel his eyes on her. There were times when they would exchange looks and other times when she found excuses to go to his office. However, it seemed like nothing would come of it and she wondered if it had to do with the fact that he was her boss.
She was really looking forward to seeing him tomorrow. Hugging her pillow, she tried to imagine the expression on his face when he saw her in her dress. She hoped he would be impressed. It was near one when she finally drifted off to sleep.
The following day, she busied herself with housekeeping and cooking. The day seemed to drag. Finally, it was time to get ready for her date. Excitement filled her as she got dressed and she checked herself in the mirror to make sure everything was fine before she left her room. As she put her shawl around her shoulders, the doorbell rang. Her heart skipped a beat. She hurried to the door and opened it. Her mouth went dry when she saw Maksim standing there looking drop dead gorgeous in the navy Mohair dinner suit with black silk. She saw his gaze travel slowly over her and the admiration shining in their depths. “You look amazing,” he said quietly.
She smiled, feeling very pleased. “Thank you,” she said as she closed and locked the door behind her. As they walked to the lift, a group of women passed them and cast admiring glances at Maksim but he appeared not to notice them. Lydia looked over her shoulder. Eat your hearts out, ladies.
On the ride down the lift, he leaned against the panel and looked at her. “The friend whose dinner party I’m taking you born in Vladivostok like me. We were neighbors until my parents migrated to England when I was three. After his father died, his mother brought him and his sister here. My parents helped them to settle and he and I went to the same school and university.”
“You don’t have a Russian accent,” she commented. “I guess it’s because you came here as a small child.”
“Yes, but when I speak with my parents you can hear it. Vasily has a strong accent because he came here as an older child. His wife Anna is from the Ukraine. They have two children—a boy and a girl. You’ll like them.”
“Have you been back to Vladivostok since you left?” The doors to the lift opened then and he allowed her to precede him before he followed her. He placed his hand on her elbow, making her skin tingle. His fingers felt warm and firm. They walked to his car—a sleek black jaguar. He held open the door and she climbed in. Briefly, his gaze dropped to her legs before he closed the door.
He got in beside her and turned on the key in the ignition. The engine purred to life and he drove out of the parking space. “I went back a few years ago when I visited Moscow. I took the train from there to Vladivostok and spent a week. It felt strange being there. The city centre is decaying and badly in need of a scrub and the building where my family and I lived looks rundown. I was happy to leave although there are some attractions that I couldn’t miss like the Arsenyev Regional History Museum where there’s a battle scene between a Siberian tiger and a bear. I have a photo of it. Remind me to show you sometime. You have to see it to believe it. I also visited the Triumphal Gates of Nikolai, reputed to be one of the most beautiful and magnificent buildings in Vladivostok. They were built in 1891 to commemorate the heir’s to the Tsar’s throne Nicholas Alexandrovich’s who later became Russian Imperator Nicholas II. I visited other places of interest then I returned to Moscow.”
“What about your parents? Would they go for a visit?”
He shook his head. “No. They don’t want to travel anywhere now because they are old.”
“I like your parents.” He had brought them to the office a couple of years ago to meet his co-workers and because he was taking them out for lunch to celebrate his mother’s eightieth birthday. They hardly spoke any English but were very warm and friendly.
He smiled. “Yes, they are good people.”
“What about your sister, did she ever go back home for a visit?” He had an older sister whom she heard him talk about on several occasions but never met. She lived in Manchester.
“Yes, a few years ago with her family. She had a better experience. She didn’t bother to visit our old neighborhood. Instead, she and her family did a lot of sightseeing. The kids loved it, especially the dolphin show at the oceanarium.”
They talked some more about his childhood home and then they arrived at his friend’s house. It was an attractive, stately home with a winding driveway. Several cars were parked and as they walked up the stairs, they could hear voices and peals of laughter. She felt butterflies in her stomach and she glanced at him. “Don’t be nervous,” he said. He reached for her hand and held it the rest of the way.
As she looked around her in wonder at the décor and the different people there in their fine outfits, he escorted her to their hosts. They were an attractive couple. Vasily was tall, blonde and regal in his white dinner jacket and Anna was medium height with dark brown hair swept back in a chignon. She was wearing a beautiful maroon sequenced ankle length dress with cap sleeves. Her eyes twinkled when Maksim introduced Lydia. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Lydia,” she said. “What a lovely dress.”
Lydia smiled. “Thank you.” She turned to Vasily who smiled and shook her hand warmly. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Likewise,” he said. “Maksim, where have you been hiding her?” He teased his friend.
Maksim replied first in Russian, “v moyem serdtse” and then in English, “We work together.” Vasily looked at him for a few minutes and then said, “Well, it’s good to have you both here tonight.” Maksim took Lydia’s arm and led her over to meet some of the other people in the room.
There was one particular woman there who seemed especially pleased to see him and she completely ignored Lydia who looked her over. She was petite, curvy and had thick, unruly black hair that tumbled around her bare shoulders in tight curls. The red strapless dress hugged her and flattered her olive complexion. She put her red lacquered nails on Maksim’s arm as she reached up and planted a kiss on his cheek. “Maksim, what a pleasure it is to see you,” she said in what sounded like a Spanish accent. “It has been a while. How have you been?”
Maksim smiled. “Hello, Camila. Allow me to introduce you to Lydia.”
It was then she seemed to notice that someone was standing beside him. Her dark brown eyes swept over Lydia and the expression on her face had changed dramatically. There was hostility and disdain written all over it. She didn’t smile or offer her hand. Instead, she said grudgingly, “Hello, Linda.”
Lydia bristled but she maintained a calm composure. “Lydia,” she corrected her. “My name’s Lydia.”
Camila didn’t say anything. Instead, she turned her attention once again to Maksim who was watching Lydia. “Well, Maksim, I expect to have a least one dance with you tonight,” she said, touching his arm again. “That’s if your date doesn’t object.” She said the word “date” as if it were a dirty word. Before he could answer, she excused herself, then turned and sauntered away.
Lydia shook her head. She didn’t know that women like her actually existed. “Are you going to dance with her?” she asked Maksim who looked amused. Did he find Camila attractive? She noticed he hadn’t seem at all put out by her obvious flirtation with him.
“I don’t think so,” he said emphatically. “Don’t let her upset you or spoil your evening.” “I’ll try not to.”
Just then, dinner was announced and they were ushered into an enormous dining-room with a long table covered in a white cloth, elegant dinnerware and vases with red flowers. She sat between Maksim and a very nice lady whom he had introduced her to earlier. Thankfully, Camila was seated several chairs away. The dinner consisted of three scrumptious options—the Sole Meuniere with Rice Pilaf, Grilled Flatiron steak with tomatoes and spiced vinaignette for the meat lovers and Cider Braised Chicken with apples and Kale. For the vegetarians, the choices were the Rigatoni with peas and porchini mushrooms in a creamy asparagus sauce and the Papardelle with shallots wild mushrooms and tarragon. Lydia opted for the Sole while Maksim had the steak. And following dinner the Mini Lanoffee Pie was served. It was the best dessert she had ever had and promised herself that she would make it one of these days.
After dinner, they filed into the large room where there would be dancing for those who wanted to dance and comfortable chairs for those who just wanted to sit and chat. Lydia excused herself and went to freshen up.
When she returned, Maksim reached for her hand. “Let’s dance,” he suggested quietly, his expression serious. Pulse racing, she put her handbag on a seat nearby and followed him to the dance floor. She followed his lead and their bodies moved in unison to the music. The feel of his hand pressing into the small of her back and his firm body against his made her senses swim. He smelled really good and her arm tightened slightly around his neck as they moved around the dance-floor. The hand holding hers felt so warm and pleasant.
At one point he drew back to gaze down at her. She raised her head to look up at him. Their eyes locked for several minutes as they continued to move as one to the music. His eyes were darker and she saw something in them which made her heart pound wildly against her ribs and swallow hard. Her chest began to heave when she saw his gaze drop to her lips which parted. Color flooded his cheeks and she felt his grip on her back tighten even more until she was pressing into his body. She couldn’t be certain if the heavy breathing she heard was his or hers.
The music ended and several minutes passed before he released her. He was still holding her hand and instead of going back to where the others were sitting, he took her in the opposite direction. He took her out on to the terrace where it was dark except for the light coming from inside. No one was out there. They were alone.
Without saying a word, he stopped abruptly, pulled her against him and began to kiss her hungrily, feverishly. She hugged him tightly around the neck and kissed him back. They stood there for a long time, just kissing while inside people were chatting, laughing, dancing and enjoying themselves.
At length, Maksim raised his head to look down into her upturned face, his breathing harsh and unsteady. “I have wanted to do that for a very long time,” he confessed huskily. She reached up and kissed him.
“Me too,” she said.
“Remember when Vasily asked me where I have been hiding you?” he asked. “I said something to him in Russian.”
“Yes, you did but I thought you said it in English afterward. You told him that we work together.”
“I said that afterwards but when he asked me where I have been hiding you, I said, in my heart.”
She stared at him. “In your heart?” she repeated.
“Yes, that was my way of telling him that I love you.”
Her breath caught in her throat. “I love you too, Maksim,” she said. “I fell in love with you the first time I saw you.”
“It was love at first sight for me too but I kept it to myself because I didn’t know how you felt about me or if you would feel comfortable being in a relationship with me.”
“It doesn’t matter to me that you’re my boss,” she said. “I love you and I want to be with you.”
He groaned. “I want to be with you too,” he muttered thickly. “Tonight changes everything between us.”
“Yes, it does,” she agreed. She closed her eyes in sweet anticipation as he lowered his head again to kiss her.