Getting Away

He had just walked out of the synagogue when he saw them.  Arrested, he stood there watching Brittney with her ex-boyfriend, Andre, his heart breaking.  Burning jealousy swept through him.  They were standing a few yards away but she didn’t see him.

His sister, Anna joined him, saw his face and followed his gaze to where the couple stood talking.  Then, she looked back at him, concerned.  “Who is she?” she asked.

It took a moment for him to speak because he was so upset.  “Brittney.”

“Is she a friend of yours?”

“Yes.”  He turned away, unable to watch them any longer.  He started walk away and Anna followed him.

“Are you in love with her?”

“Yes.”

“Does she know how you feel?”

“No.”

“Are you going to tell her?”

“What’s the point?” he snapped.  “She doesn’t feel the same way.”

“How do you know that?”

“We just saw her with Andre, her ex.  It’s clear that she hasn’t gotten over him and I was a fool to believe that she had.”

“Oh, Paul, I’m so sorry.  What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know.  I need time to think.”

“Why don’t you go to Paris for a few days?  You haven’t taken a vacation in ages.  You’re long overdue for one.”

He glanced down at her.  “You’re right,” he said.  “I need to get away and try to figure out what I’m going to do.  If I stay here in London, I will be tempted to go to her and I can’t bear to see her right now.  It hurts too much.”  A muscle began to throb along his jawline and he quickly turned away.

Anna reached for his hand and held it tightly.  It hurt to see her brother like this.  He was a brilliant businessman but when it came to matters of the heart, he lacked good judgment.  This wasn’t the first time a woman broke his heart but it seemed that he fell really hard for this one.  Hopefully, he would get over her as soon as possible.  He deserved better.  The trip to Paris would do him good.  She went back to his flat with him and while he changed, she got his lunch ready.  She had just put a plate of food she had prepared yesterday and brought on the table for him when the phone rang.

“Do you mind answering that for me?” he called from the bedroom.

“Hello?” she listened for a moment.  “No, you have the right number.  This is Anna speaking.  Hold one moment, please.”  She placed her hand over the mouthpiece.  “It’s Brittney,” she said when he came into the living-room.

He shook his head, indicating that he didn’t want to talk to her.

“I’m afraid he’s not available at the moment.  Perhaps he will call you back later.  Goodbye.”  She replaced the receiver into the cradle and turned to look at him.  “Are you sure you don’t want to talk to her?”

He shook his head.  “I can’t right now.  I need to clear my head first.  I’ll call her when I come back from Paris.”

“All right.  Do you need me for anything?”

He smiled.  “No, Anna.  I’ll be fine.  You should go home to Peter and the kids.  I will call you tomorrow when I check into the hotel.”

She hugged him tightly.  “I love you,” she said drawing back to look up at him.

“I love you too.  And thanks for the food.”  He followed her to the door and they said goodbye.  He shut the door and leaned against it for a moment.  Why did Brittney call him? Was it to tell him that she was back with Andre.  He closed his eyes in despair.  It would kill him if she was.

Brittney stared at the phone, her mind swirling with all sorts of thoughts and questions.  A woman named Anna had answered Paul’s phone.  Who was she?  Red, hot jealousy surged through her and she was tempted to go over to his place right now and find out.  Then, she remembered that he had a sister and her name was Anna.  Relief washed over her.  Paul wasn’t seeing another woman.  But why hadn’t he come to the phone?  She looked at the clock above the mantelpiece, debating whether she should call again or wait for him to call.  It was after seven.  She decided that she would let him call her.  In the meantime, she fixed herself a light dinner and ate it in front of the television.

When ten o’clock came and she still hadn’t heard from him, she began to worry.  It wasn’t like him not to call.  It was too late for her to call him.  She would have to wait until the morning to do so.  Disappointed, she turned off the television and went to bed.

The next morning, she got up, showered, dressed and had breakfast.  After she was done, she hurried to the phone and called Paul but there was no answer.  When the machine came on, she left a message.  She went to church and as soon as she got home, she called but still no answer.  She tried his cell but it was turned off.  She tried all day calling both his home number and his cell until finally, in the evening, she decided to go over to his flat.  She rang the bell and knocked but it was clear that Paul wasn’t there.  Where could he be?  After standing there for a while, she left.  She was worried and had a restless night.

The next morning, she called him but got the same results.  She got ready for work.  On her way to the office, she called his cell but it was still turned off.  Intermittently, throughout the day, she tried to reach him but to no avail and by the time the workday was over, she was very anxious.  Why wasn’t he answering his phone and why hadn’t he called her back? When she got home, she decided that she would call his sister.  She took out the phone directory and searched for her name. She remembered that Paul said that she lived in South Kensington, twenty minutes from where he lived and that she was married to Peter Goldstein, the reporter from the Times.  She searched under Goldstein and found the number.

A woman answered and she recognized her voice.  “Hello, Anna, this is Brittney.  I spoke to you yesterday evening when I called for Paul.  Do you know where he is?  I have been trying since Saturday to reach him.  I’m out of my mind with worry.”

“Hello Brittney.  Paul is in Paris.”

“Paris?” Brittney exclaimed.  “What is he doing there?  Is he there on business?”

“No.  He needed to get away.”

“What did he need to get away from?” she asked, bewildered.  “It’s not like him to go away and not tell me.  And he didn’t return my call on Saturday.  Is-is he seeing someone?”

“No.  He went to Paris alone.  Brittney, I was with him on Saturday when he came out of the synagogue and saw you with Andre.  It upset him so much that I suggested that he should take a break and go to Paris.”

“Oh no,” Brittney groaned.  “He saw me with Andre and thought—”

“That you were back with him.  He was devastated.  I probably shouldn’t even be telling you this but Paul is in love with you.”

“And I’m in love with him.  I have been for a long time.”

“He thinks that you’re still in love with Andre.”

“I’m over Andre.  I have been for a long time now and it’s because of Paul.  Meeting Paul and his friendship has changed my life.  And seeing Andre again made me realize that the feelings I had for him are nothing compared to my feelings for Paul.  Andre wanted us to pick up where we left off but I told him that I was in love with someone else.  I wished him well and then, I walked away.  My past with Andre is over and done with.  My future is with Paul.  Anna, please tell me where he’s staying.  I want to go to him.”  Her life felt so empty without him.  She missed him so much it ached.  How she longed to be with him.

There was a brief moment of silence and then, Anna told her the name of the hotel where he was staying.  After Brittney thanked her profusely, she said, “I’m very relieved to know that you love my brother and I wish you two all the happiness in the world.”

Brittney thanked her again and rang off.  She quickly called the office and informed her assistant that she was taking the rest of the week off.  Then, she dialed the number to book the first available flight for the following day to Paris.  She packed a bag, her heart thudding with excitement.  She was going to see Paul in a matter of hours.  I can’t wait to see him.

Paul stood on the terrace looking at the city bathed in the crimson glow of the setting sun, wishing she was there with him.  “Oh, Brittney,” he whispered brokenly, dragging his fingers through his hair as he ached for her.  Paris was a city for lovers.  If only Brittney and he were lovers instead of just friends.  If only she were with him instead of Andre…

Frustrated, he went back into the room and was going over to the bed to lie down when he heard a knock on the door.  Frowning, he went to answer it.  Opening it he was startled to see Brittney standing there, luggage in tow.   He blinked, thinking he was imagining things.  She couldn’t possibly be here in Paris.  Then, she said, “Hello Paul.” She reached up and touched his face, her gaze almost a caress.

He eyes darkened and he caught her hand to draw her into the room.  “What are you doing here?” he asked when he had closed the door and was facing her.

“I had to come.  I called your sister and she told me where you were.  I had been calling for you since Saturday but when I couldn’t reach you, I got really worried.  I went by your flat but you weren’t there so when I got home.  I called your sister on Monday and we spoke for a while.  She told me that you were here in Paris and explained why.  You saw me with Andre.”

His expression became drawn at the memory.  “When I saw you with him, I felt as if someone had pushed their hand into my chest and ripped out my heart.”

She moved closer to him.  “I’m so sorry that you saw us,” said, wringing her hands.  “It wasn’t at all what you thought.  Andre wanted to resume our relationship but I told him that I was in love with someone else.”

“And what did he say?” he asked as he moved closer, his heart pounding.

“Nothing but I wished him well and walked away.”

“So, it’s over between him and you.”

“Yes and it has been over for a long time now.”

He was standing right in front of her now, their bodies inches apart.  Wordlessly, he pulled her against him and his head lowered towards hers.

She watched transfixed as his face drew closer to hers, her gaze dropped to his mouth.  Her eyes closed as waves of indescribable pleasure undulated through her body when she felt his lips brush against her.  Putting her arms around his neck, she responded passionately to his kisses.  They stood there in the room in the dappled shade of the setting sun as it streaked through the windows, exchanging feverish kisses.

“I love you,” he muttered when at length, he raised his head to gaze down into her upturned face.  “I love you so very much.”

She smiled at him.  “I love you too,” she told him.  “That’s what I came to Paris to tell you.”

“It’s funny but just a few minutes ago, I was wishing that you were here with me in the City of lovers and then you show up.”

“Yes.  You came to Paris to get away from me and here I am.”

“Yes, here you are.  I never want us to be apart again.  It was foolish of me to think that coming here would help in some way.  I missed you so much even when I thought you had gone back to him.”

“Let’s not think about when we were apart but enjoy being together now,” she suggested huskily.  “We are in the city of love so let’s do what lovers do.”

“Yes,” he whispered and picked her up in his arms.

 

 

 

 

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The Cabin

Bethany lay there, thinking about Lysander and his winsome smile.  Groaning, she turned over in the bed, burying her face in the pillow.  She was mad at him yet, she missed him so much.  She knew that if she weren’t laid up here in bed, her body covered in hives, she would be driving up to the cabin to see him.  Why on earth did she have the chocolate dipped strawberries for dessert, knowing that she was allergic to them?  She blamed it on what happened between Lysander and her.   Depressed, she thought having what used to be her favorite comfort food would help her to feel better.  It didn’t.  She was still depressed.  Sighing heavily, she allowed her thoughts to drift back to that last visit to the cabin…

It was a mild winter day so she decided that she would drive up to the cabin.  She had a proclivity for showing up unannounced, especially after she had a row with her sister-in-law.  Her teeth gritted when she thought of Cicely.  Who was she to tell her that she shouldn’t go about throwing herself at Lysander, a man who was so much older than her?  She wished Cicely would stop telling her to date a guy at her university or trying to set her up with her friends’ sons.  She was old enough to know what she wanted and she wanted Lysander.

She had known him since she was a child but fell in love with him when she became a teenager.  He was her brother’s best friend and best man at his wedding.  Lysander was always very nice to her but he treated her like a little sister which frustrated her.  Sometimes she felt like they were Almonzo and Laura Ingalls Wilder from Little House on the Prairie before Almonzo noticed Laura.  Would the same thing happen for her?  Would there come a time when Lysander would see her as a woman instead of a little girl?

All of these thoughts were running through her mind as she made her way to the cabin which was about an hour’s drive from the city.  It was a cozy place in the woods and very peaceful.  It was no wonder that Lysander spent so much of his time there.  He was there every weekend and during the holidays.  When she visited they would go for long walks and then return to sit outside for hours, talking, having lunch or playing card games.  She was looking forward to seeing him and her foot pressed down a little harder on the accelerator.

Soon the cabin was in sight and her heart began to pound.  As she pulled up, she saw his jeep and the door on the driver-side was open.  He was either on his way out or had just arrived home.  She stopped the car a little distance away and turned off the engine.  After fixing her hair and checking her face in the mirror, she grabbed her handbag and got out of the car.  He was still sitting in his jeep so she walked over to him.  “Hello, Ly,” she called out, smiling.  Her smile soon faded, though, when she saw the expression on his face.  He wasn’t smiling at all.

“What are you doing here, Beth?” he asked.  She couldn’t tell if he was getting in or out of the vehicle when she showed up.  She hoped that it was the latter.

“I came to see you, of course,” she replied flippantly although she was wary.  She had hoped that he would be pleased to see her. They hadn’t seen each other in about two weeks.  He had been out of town on business and got back yesterday.  Didn’t he miss her?  She had missed him like crazy.  Her gaze slipped over him as he got out of the jeep.  He looked sexy in the tan colored jacket with the fur trimmed hood and collar and the leather pants.  How she longed to run over and throw her arms around him but his demeanor was not forthcoming and she doubted that he would welcome such a display of emotion.   “Aren’t you happy to see me?”

“You can’t keep dropping by unexpectedly like this,” he said.  “What if I had company?”

She stiffened.  “What do you mean?” she asked.  “Are you seeing someone?”  The thought of him seeing another woman was unbearable.

He sighed.  “Beth, you and I can’t continue seeing each other like this.”

“Why not?” she asked in a trembling voice.  This couldn’t be happening.

His eyes darkened as he gazed down into her face.  “My feelings for you have changed.”

She swallowed hard, her heart pounding.  “They have?”

“Yes.  I’m deeply attracted to you.” His gaze lowered to her lips and his parted.  Dragging his fingers through his hair, he said to her, “I think it would be best if you go now.”

Shaking her head, she reached up and held his face between her hands.  “Don’t send me away, Ly,” she pleaded huskily.  “Let me stay.  I want to be with you.”  Before he could say anything, she pulled his head down to hers and kissed him.  She moaned when she felt his response and his hands go around her waist, pressing her tightly against him.  They stood there in the crisp wintry air with the sun bathing them, exchanging passionate kisses.  She loved and wanted him so much it ached.

Lysander continued to kiss her and then he pulled away, his face flushed.  It took a moment for him to catch his breath.  “We can’t do this,” he muttered thickly.  “Please go.”

“But, I don’t want to go,” she protested, reaching for him again but he stepped back.  “I love you, Ly.  I love you so much.  Please let me stay.”

“No!” he cried, startling her.  “I’m too old for you.  You should be with someone your own age.”

“I wish you would stop using our age difference as an excuse,” she retorted.  “I’m twenty-four years old and you’re forty.  So, we have sixteen years between us, why is that such a big deal?”

“You should be with someone your own age,” he insisted.

“So, you are willing to throw away what you and I could have because of something as stupid as our age difference?” her voice was trembling now.  She was hurt and angry.

“I doing what I think is the only viable thing to do.  In time you will get over me.”

“Fine,” she cried.  “I will go away and leave you alone–” her sob rose to her throat before she could stifle it and she turned and ran back to her car, ignoring him as he called after her.  She yanked open the door and got in, slamming it behind her.  Her fingers shook as she put the key in the ignition and turned it.

The tears were falling now and almost blinded her.  She saw him coming towards the car and she quickly reversed and raced off down the gravel.  When she got back to the city, she went to a secluded spot where she broke down and cried.  Her heart ached for Lysander.  Her lips still felt tender from his kisses and she knew that if he were to call her on her cell then and asked her to go back, she would in a heartbeat.

That was three weeks ago.  She hadn’t seen nor heard from him since that awful day.  And now she was stuck in the house because of a bowl of strawberries.  The antihistamine she had taken seemed to be working because the headache was gone and the swelling was going away.  In a matter of hours or in a day or two she should be back to normal.  Until then, she didn’t want to see anyone.  She closed her eyes.  When she opened them again, it was morning.

She sat up and stretched.  It looked like another beautiful sunny day.  I wonder what Lysander is doing now.   Is he thinking about me?  Probably not.  She felt her eyes well with tears at the thought but she quickly blinked them back.  I’m not going to cry.  The hives on her body were fading, thank goodness.  She threw back the covers.  The hives on her body were fading, thank goodness.  She got out of bed.  After soaking in a warm, oatmeal bath, she got dressed in loose clothing and went downstairs to have breakfast.  Cicely was sitting at the kitchen table having hers.  “Good morning,” she greeted her sister-in-law.

“Good morning,” Cicely said, watching her as she helped herself to some scrambled eggs, toast and tea.  “How are you feeling?”

“Much better, thanks.  By tomorrow, the swelling and the hives will be completely gone.  Where’s Derek?”

“He had to take the car to the mechanic.  It has been giving trouble again.  I have been telling him to get rid of it and buy a new one”

“He loves that car.  He’s had it for years.  I can’t see him buying a new one any time soon.”

“Buying a new car would be better than wasting money on a beaten up old one but it’s his decision, I guess.  So, do you have any plans for today?”

Bethany shook her head.  “I don’t plan on going anywhere until my skin clears up.  I’ll just catch up on my reading and do some studying.”

There was a pregnant pause and then, “Lysander was here last night.”

Bethany stared at her.  “Ly was here?” she exclaimed.  “When?” It must have been when she was sleeping.

“Around eight-thirty.  He stopped by to see Derek but he asked for you.”

“What did you tell him?” she asked, her heart racing.  How she wished she had been awake when he came by.  She would have gotten out of bed, dressed and gone downstairs just to see him.

“I, um—told him that you weren’t at home—”

“Why did you tell him that?” she demanded.  “He must have seen my car parked in the driveway.”

“Well, I told him that you were on a date—”

Bethany glared at her.  “Why did you do that?” she demanded.  “Are you trying to ruin my life?  You know I love Lysander and that he’s the only man I want to be with.  Why did you make him believe that I was seeing someone?  Do you dislike me that much, Cicely?”

“I don’t dislike you, Bethany and I’m not out to ruin your life.  I still think that Lysander is too old for you but after seeing his reaction to what I said, I realize that your feelings for him are not one-sided.”

“What do you mean?” Bethany was on the edge of her chair now.

“I believe that Lysander is in love with you.  When I saw the look on his face when I told him that you were on a date, he looked hurt, devastated.  I felt bad for lying to him and wanted to tell him the truth but he said he had to go and to give his apologies to Derek and then he left.”

Bethany pushed back her chair and got up.  She had lost her appetite.

Cicely looked up at her.  “Where are you going?” she asked.

“Where do you think?” Bethany retorted, giving her a withering look.  “To see Lysander.”

“Do you think you should drive all that way now—so early in the morning?”

“When do you think I should go or do you even think I should go at all?”

“Well, I think it would be best for you to see him somewhere else rather than driving over to his place.  A girl your age shouldn’t be alone with a man as experienced as Lysander—”

“I’m not a girl and this isn’t the 1800s.  Now, you have interfered in my life for the last time, Cicely.  As soon as I graduate in the summer, I will find a job and move out.” She turned and marched out of the room, her expression thunderous.

In ten minutes, she was on her way to the cabin.  She had no idea of what kind of reception she would get but she had to see him and clear up the misunderstanding.  What he must think of her now, especially after her declaration that she would never get over him.  How could she say she would love him for the rest of her life and she was out on a date just three weeks later?

She gripped the steering wheel as fresh anger toward Cicely consumed her.  When Lysander asked for her, why couldn’t she have told him that she was not feeling well or come and let her know that he was there?  No, she decided to take it upon herself and tell him an outright lie.  Oh, Ly, she cried, tears stinging her eyes.  I hope Cicely is right and that you love me too.

When she got there, his jeep was parked outside. Relieved, she quickly parked her car and ran to the front door, letting herself in.  It was nice and toasty in the living-room.  She removed her coat and boots and then went over to the fire to warm her hands.  She looked around.  Why was Lysander?  It was so quiet.  Perhaps he was still sleeping or maybe he was outside getting more wood for the fireplace.

She went to the window and looked out.  There was no sign of him.  It was such a beautiful sunny day, albeit a bit nippy.  Perhaps he went for a walk.  Then, she heard a sound in the bedroom and she hurried to investigate.  The door was ajar and she opened it wide enough to go in.  Her breath caught in her throat when she saw Lysander.

He was standing in front of the bureau.  His broad, bare back was toward her and she allowed her gaze to travel slowly over his muscular frame clad only in a pair of jeans.  He had taken a sweater out of the drawer and was about to pull it on.  She watched him, her heart pounding wildly.  How she longed to go up behind him and put her arms around him while she buried her face in his smooth skin…

He turned around and started when he saw her standing there, gawking at him.  Dragging on the sweater, he demanded, “What on earth are you doing here?”

“I—I came to see you.”

He pulled the sweater down, covering his torso as he watched her, his expression inscrutable.  “When did you get here?  I didn’t hear your car.”

“I came about ten minutes ago.  You were probably in the shower when I arrived.”  His hair was glistening damply in the light coming through the windows.  Her fingers itched to run themselves through the silky strands.  “It has been three weeks since we last saw each other, Ly.  How have you been?”

“I’m fine,” he said curtly.  “I don’t have to ask you how you’ve been.”

Her eyes widened.  “What do you mean?”

“You’ve been dating.  You don’t waste any time, do you?” His face was glowering now.

“That’s not true,” she protested, crossing the carpet to stand a few feet away from him.  “I’m not dating.”

“When I stopped by last night, Cicely told me that you were out on a date.”

“She lied to you, Ly.  I was upstairs in my room sleeping when you stopped by.  I came down with hives because I ate too many strawberries.  If you don’t believe me, I will show you the rashes on my arms.  They are going away but you can still see them.  I haven’t been anywhere since I got them a couple of days ago.”

“Why would she lie to me?”

“She lied to you because she thinks that I should be with someone my own age.”

“Perhaps she’s right—”

“No, she isn’t.  I don’t want to be with anyone else, Ly.  I love you and I want to be with you.  If you don’t feel the same way about me, tell me now and–and I will go away.”  She moved closer and her mouth went dry when she saw the expression on his face.

He reached for her and pulled her roughly against him.  “I can’t let you go,” he told her thickly.  “I love you, Beth.  That’s why I came to see you last night.  I wanted to tell you that I was sorry about the way I acted that day at the cabin.  As soon as you drove away, I was afraid that I was making a terrible mistake.  I wanted to come after you but I decided that it was probably the best thing for us not to see each other for a while until I could really think things through.  During the time when we didn’t see each other, I nearly went out of my mind thinking about you and missing you.  Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore and that’s why I decided to come to you.  When Cicely told me that you were on a date, I was blindsided.  It was the last thing I expected to hear, especially after you told me that you loved me.  I realized then that in spite of what I said to you, the last thing I wanted was for you to be with someone else.”

She put her arms around his neck and pressed against him, loving the feel of his firm body against hers.  “The important thing is that we’re together now,” she told him huskily before she pulled his head down to hers.  They exchanged hungry kisses and then, he picked her up and carried her over to the bed.

The following week, they got engaged and in the summer after she graduated from university, they got married in a small, intimate wedding ceremony.  Derek was the best man.  After they returned from their honeymoon in Nice, Lysander sold his flat in London and they moved into the cabin.

The Breakup

She stood there watching Philip and his date.  They were at his sister’s Julia’s engagement party.  Julia and she were friends since high school and it was during the summer holidays at a beach resort where she first met Philip.  The attraction was immediate and they wasted no time getting to know each other.  After dinner, they would go for strolls along the beach or to a nightclub.  One night they enjoyed the percussive guitar playing of a Cuban artist.  Afterwards, they went back to his bungalow and made love.  No one suspected that anything was going on between them.  She slipped out after dinner and he followed some time later.

They began a torrid romance which lasted for little over a year.  She should have known what was coming, especially since Philip was adamant that they kept their relationship a secret.  They always met at his flat because she roomed with Julia.  He would take her home but never see her to the door.

She closed her eyes as she recalled that evening when he broke her heart.  They were sitting in his car outside of the apartment building where she lived.  They had just come from his flat.  As she turned toward him, he said, “I don’t think we should see each other anymore.”

She swallowed hard, her heart thudding.  Dread filled her.  “Why?” she asked in a trembling voice.  She loved him so much.  The thought of not being with him anymore was unbearable.

“I’m so much older than you,” he said.  “You’re twenty-one and I’m thirty-nine.  I’m going to forty in December.”

“Our age difference doesn’t matter to me,” she cried.

He turned to look at her then.  “But, it does to me,” he said quietly.  “You should be with someone closer to your age–”

“I don’t want to be with someone closer to my age,” she cried.  Tears sprang to her eyes.  “I want to be with you, Philip.”

He closed his eyes.  “Please don’t make this harder than it already is.”

She stared at him for a long time and grabbing her handbag, she turned and pushed open the door.  “Goodbye, Philip,” she said before jumping out of the car and slamming the door.  Blinded by tears, she ran towards the entrance to the building and ran all the way to the lift.  Thankfully, no one was in the lift but still she tried to hold it in.  After fumbling with the key in the lock, she let herself in and headed straight for her room.  Fortunately, Julia wasn’t there.  She closed the door, flung her bag on the floor and threw herself on the bed, her body racked with the sobs she had held back.

That was three months ago.  Now, here she was watching the man she still loved with someone else.  She turned away, blinking back the tears that threatened to fall.  He didn’t waste any time, she thought.  Here she was pining over him and he was with a tall, statuesque redhead.  How could he?  He knew that she was going to be there tonight.  How could he flaunt his new love interest in her face like that?  How she wished she could hate him but try as she did, she couldn’t stop loving him.

She wanted to get out of there but what would Julia think?  As she stood there, wondering what to do, David, Julia’s other brother joined her.  David was a nice guy and wanted to go out with her but she wasn’t interested in him.  “What’s the matter, Daniela?” he asked, looking a bit concerned.

“I–I’m not feeling very well,” she said.  “Maybe a bit of fresh air will help.”

“You seem upset about something.  Is it Philip?”

She looked at him, startled.  How on earth did he guess that Philip was the source of her distress?  “Philip?” she repeated, feigning ignorance.

“Yes.  I saw when the two of you went to his bungalow in the Bahamas.  I had gone for a walk and was on my way back to mine when I saw you.”

She was speechless.  David had seen them.  David knew about them.  Yet, he hadn’t said anything until now.  “How come you didn’t say anything?”

“I wanted to confront you about it but decided that it would be wise to hold my tongue.  I was upset, though, for again I was the underdog because another girl I had a high regard for had fallen for my big brother.  I regret to say that I was hoping that things wouldn’t work out between you and him. ”

“Well, you got your wish,” she said in a choked voice.  “He dumped me.”

David looked contrite.  “Daniela, I’m sorry.”  He reached out and put his arm around her shoulder.

She felt the tears coming and was desperate to get out of there.  “Excuse me,” she said and quickly walked away.  The terrace was empty and she leaned against the rail, her fingers gripping it as she let the tears run unabatedly down her cheeks.  The pain in her chest was almost suffocating.  How on earth was she going to go back in there and face everyone when she was in such a state?

She heard footsteps behind her and after quickly wiping away the tears she turned, stiffening when she saw that it was Philip.  He stopped a few feet away from her, observing her closely.  “You’ve been crying,” he said.  He made a move to touch her face when she away.  “You don’t want me to touch you yet, you didn’t seem to mind David touching you.”

“David didn’t touch me.”

“I saw him put his arm around your shoulder.  Are you in a relationship with him?”

“I don’t see how that is any of your business,” she said.

“It is,” he muttered tightly.  “Are you and he seeing each other?”

She swung round then to face him, her chest rising and falling swiftly as all sorts of conflicting emotions surged through her.  She wanted to slap him and then kiss him.  “What does it matter to you?  You dumped me, remember?”

“If you and David are in a relationship, I want you to end it.”

You don’t get to tell me what to do,” she retorted.  “You lost that right when you ended our relationship.  Besides, David cares for me—”

His expression darkened and his fingers clenched into tight fists at his sides.  “What about you?” he asked tensely.  “Do you care for him too?”

His question upset her.  Did he really think that she had gotten over him as easily as he had her? “Why don’t you leave me alone, Philip?  Go back to your date.  She’s probably wondering where you are.”

He stared at her.  “My date?”

“Yes!  The beautiful redhead I saw you with.  You didn’t waste any time jumping into bed with someone else, did you?”

“That redhead happens to be my cousin,” was his terse reply.  “She flew in from Paris alone.  Her husband is away on business.  That’s why I brought her to the party.”

“She’s your cousin.”

“Yes.  I want you to stop seeing David.”

“I see.  So, that’s how it’s going to be.  You don’t want me but you don’t want anyone else to have me.”

He moved closer, his eyes darkening on her face.  “You think I don’t want you?” he asked.

“Yes,” the word came out as a sob.

Muttering under his breath, he reached out and pulled her roughly against him.  “Does this feel as if I don’t want you?” he demanded thickly.

Her breath caught in her throat and her eyes were wide as they met his stormy ones.  Then, he was kissing her and in spite of herself she responded.  Her arms went around his neck and she felt his hands pressed her even tightly against him.  They exchanged frenzied kisses as if to make up for the time they had been apart.  The hurt and anger she had felt just a few moments ago dissolved and in their place was the satisfaction of knowing that Philip still wanted her.

It was a long time before they broke off the kiss and stared at each other.  “I was fool to let you go,” he said huskily.  “I allowed our age difference to come between us.  Seeing you tonight made me realize how I had allowed fear to jeopardize my happiness.”

She crinkled her forehead.  “Fear?” she repeated.  “What were you afraid of?”

“I fell hard for you—a girl so much younger than me and I was afraid that after a while your feelings for me would change.  I feared that you would wind up falling in love with another guy—one closer to your age.  So, to save myself the trouble waiting until that happened I decided to end the relationship when I did.  Believe me, it wasn’t easy but I felt I had no other choice.  I was so afraid of getting hurt that I didn’t consider that you were getting hurt in the process.  I thought that in time you would get over me.”

“That night when you broke up with me was the worst night in my life.  I felt as if my heart had been ripped out.  I wasn’t infatuated with you, Philip.  I loved you.  I still love you and will never stop loving you.  I have seen many guys on campus and off campus and some of them have asked me out but I turned all of them down.  David asked me out and I turned him down.  I couldn’t go out with any of them because of you.  I didn’t want to be with anyone else.  And tonight when I saw you with the woman I thought was your date, I was hurt and angry.  It seemed as if you had gotten over me very easily.”

“I haven’t been with anyone else,” he told her.  “I could have dated several women but I didn’t because I couldn’t stop thinking about you and longing for you.  Many times I was tempted to stop by your flat on the pretext of visiting Julia.  I often wondered how you were and if you were dating anyone.  Whenever I saw Julia, I wanted to inquire about you but was afraid that I would give my feelings away.  I knew that I was going to see you tonight and braced myself for the possibility that you would show up with someone.  And when I saw you with David, I assumed that you were involved.  When I saw him put his arm around you, I was out of my mind with jealousy.  I walked to come over there and separate you but I saw you leave.  I followed you.   I had no idea what I was going to say to you because it has been months since we last saw each other but I just knew that I had to be alone with you.”

“I was angry with you just now when you asked me about David.  You seemed to think that I was so fickle that I would go from one brother to the next, sort of on a rebound.”

“I was speaking out of jealousy,” he said.  “I thought what I had feared had come true—that you had gotten over me with David.  When I saw that you had been crying, I thought it was because of him and when I tried to comfort you, you recoiled from me.”

“I was crying because of you.  David saw that I was upset and guessed that you were the reason.  He told me that he saw us going into your bungalow.  He knows about us.  I told him that you ended our relationship and then I left and came out here.  I didn’t want you to touch me because I knew that if you did, I wouldn’t be able to help myself.”

“I’m sorry I hurt you,” he muttered thickly.  “That night when you said goodbye and left my car, it took superhuman strength for me not to get out and run after you and tell that I had made a terrible mistake.  During the months we have been apart, I have been kicking myself for letting you walk out of my life.”

“So, where do we go from here?” she asked.

“I want us to get married,” he said.  “I don’t want to waste anymore time.”

Tears of joy came to her eyes.  “Are you sure?” she asked.

“Yes, I’ve never been surer of anything in my life.  I love you, Daniela.”

She smiled through the tears.  “I love you too, Philip,” she said huskily.

He lowered his head and kissed her.  Her arms around his neck tightened as she kissed him back.

 

Love in the Office

When she went to the kitchenette to fill her bottle with water, Anton was there telling a couple of people about his camping trip with his friends.  She couldn’t help but smile.  He was such a droll when it came to telling stories.  She filled her bottle and turned so that she was facing the group.

“Sounds like you had a lot of fun on your camping trip,” she said a few minutes later, when they were alone.

He went over to where she was.  “I did,” he said, his eyes riveted to her face.

She wondered if he knew how much his closeness affected her.  “Good,” she said, sounding a little breathless.  “Where did you go camping?”

“Wild Boar Wood in West Sussex.”

“So, were there any women on your camping trip?” She had to ask.

He shook his head.  “No, just the guys.”

She couldn’t hide her relief and she saw his expression change.

“Even if women were there, I wouldn’t have been interested in any of them,” he said quietly.  “You must know by now, Tina, that I’m deeply attracted to you.”

Her chest began to rise and fall quickly and she seemed to have trouble breathing.  “I’m your supervisor,” she reminded him.

“Yes, I know that we have a working relationship but we can’t deny how we feel about each other.  I know that you’re attracted to me.  I saw the look on your face when I told you that there weren’t any women on the camping trip.  You don’t want me to be with another woman any more than I want you to be with another man.  You can’t deny that you have feelings for me, Tina.  I can see it on your face.”

Her resolve was beginning to weaken.  “I’m older than you,” she said.

“Age is just a number,” he said dismissively.  “Have dinner with me tomorrow night.”

“All right,” she acquiesced.  “You win.” She was no match for the emotions that raged within her or his power of persuasion.

He smiled.  “Good.  I’ll pick you at seven-thirty.”

“I think we should get back to work now,” she said.

“Right,” he agreed.  “I’ll get started on the report you asked me for.”  He excused himself and quickly walked away.

For several minutes, she stood there, wondering if she had acted wisely.  She couldn’t get past the fact that she was his supervisor and that there was a considerable age difference between them.   Yet, try as she did, she couldn’t deny her feelings for Anton.

From the moment she first saw him, she knew that she was in trouble.  His good looks, charm and friendly disposition made him irresistible.  Working with him was a challenge.  Many times, she found herself watching him and wondering if he had a girlfriend.  She couldn’t imagine that someone like him would be unattached.  It bothered her to see him talking to other women in the department, especially the younger ones.

Just yesterday, she had walked by the photocopier on her way to the boardroom for a meeting when she saw him standing there talking to Wendy, a pretty redhead.  He had his back turned to her so he didn’t notice her.  Her steps faltered and as she watched them talking, red, hot jealousy raged inside her.  She was tempted to go over there and interrupt them but she came to her senses and hurried away before he saw her.  When she was in the meeting, she had to literally force herself to focus on the business at hand and put the sight of Anton and Wendy out of her mind.  Later when they were alone in her office going over some files, she said, “Wendy’s pretty, isn’t she?”

He glanced up at her.  “I suppose so,” he said.

“I saw the two of you at the photocopier earlier today.  I think she likes you.”

“Are you trying to set me up with her?” he asked, startling her.

“No,” she protested.  “I—I was just making an observation.”

“Wendy’s a very nice girl but I’m not attracted to her.”  He was staring at her now and the expression on his face made her heart palpitate.  That was the first time she became aware of his attraction for her.

“Tina, Mr. Foster is waiting for you in your office.”  Annette’s voice brought her back to the present.

“Thanks, Annette,” she said and followed her out of the kitchenette.

Several hours later when it was time to leave, Anton stopped by her office.  She was straightening her desk.  He went over to her.  “Normally, I would tell you to have a good weekend,” he said.  “But, I’ll be seeing you tomorrow.”

“Yes,” she said.  She handed him a slip of paper with her address on it.  When he took it, their fingers touched and her breath caught in her throat.  Her skin seemed to burn.  Their eyes met and held for a long time before she turned away to remove her jacket from the back of her chair.   “Goodnight.”

“Goodnight, Tina.”  She heard him leave and turned round when he closed the door behind him.

Her skin still tingled where his fingers had touched it.  She traced the area, her heart pounding when she remembered the expression on his face as they stared at each other.  The desire she saw there was unmistakable.  She wondered what would have happened if she hadn’t turned away.  On the drive home, she mulled over it and nervous excitement rose in her whenever she thought of seeing Anton the following evening.  What on earth am I going to wear? She wondered, racking her brains to see if there was an outfit that would be suitable.  It had been ages since she had been on a date and it felt very strange going on one with someone she worked closely with.

As soon as she got home, she searched for something to wear and settled on a dress she had bought a month ago and had worn only once.  It was a black slash neck dress with a flare skirt.  On Saturday evening, she put it on and was satisfied with how it looked.  She wore her hair in a chignon, allowing a few tendrils to frame her face.  The strappy black and silver heels completed the outfit.  The doorbell rang just as she took one last look at herself in the mirror.  When she opened the door and saw Anton standing there, her heart leapt.  He looked gorgeous in the charcoal grey suit with the black dress shirt and black tie.  His eyes slid over her and when they returned to her face, admiration and desire shone in their depths.   “You look amazing,” he said quietly.

“So do you.”  As they walked to the lift, she could feel him watching her and she smiled, flattered.

The restaurant, set in a snug 18th century townhouse, was atmospheric in that the tables candle lit.   Over dinner, he told her about himself.  His father was British and his mother French.  He had an older brother and a younger sister.  He asked many questions about her and her family.

When they were having dessert, he said with a serious expression on his face, “I want to have a relationship with you, Tina.  I know that you are hesitant because we work together and the age difference but we can’t deny how we feel about each other.  It’s so hard for me to be around you and not want to touch you or kiss you.  Quite a few people in our department are dating each other.  At least, let’s give it a try and see what happens.   What do you say?”

She toyed with her Black Currant Sorbet for a moment and then, looking up at him, she nodded.  “Yes, let’s give it a try.”  He was right.  There was nothing to prevent them from having a relationship except her own misgivings which she knew had to do with her fear of getting hurt.  She still couldn’t believe that he was attracted to her instead of someone closer to his age.

He smiled and reaching over, he caressed her hand, making her pulse race.  They spent the rest of the night talking about all sorts of things and made plans to see each other the following day.  When he took her home, he leaned down and was about to kiss her on the cheek when, heart thudding, she turned her head so that their lips touched.

Groaning, he deepened the kiss while backing her into the flat.  Once they were inside, he kicked the door shut, his mouth moving feverishly over hers.  She clung to him, kissing him back while her hands removed his jacket.  His tie and shirt soon followed and then, she broke off the kiss, panting and grabbing him by the hand, she took him to her room.

The following day at the office, they smiled and kept exchanging knowing looks.  She felt like a lovesick schoolgirl.   When other people were around, they acted professionally around each other as before. They spent every evening together, either at her flat or his.  Over the weekends, they went for drives, to the cinema, dinner, the theatre, concerts and nightclubs or for walks along the Quay.  Tina knew that she was falling in love with him and hoped that he was with her.  Once when he was taking a shower, she joined him and as he gazed down into her face, the water beating on his back, she saw the look in his eyes before he kissed her.  There was no doubt in her mind that he cared for her.

One afternoon, she was on her way home to visit her sister, Vivien when she spotted Anton in front of a café.  He was not alone.   There was a traffic signal right there and she stopped as the light turned to red, craning her neck to see him and the girl he was with.  She watched as he leaned over and said something to the pretty brunette, making her throw back her head and laugh.  Then, she saw the girl reach up and put her arms around his neck, hugging him closely.  Her fingers gripped the steering wheel as jealousy ripped through her.

The honk of a car horn behind her startled her.  Dragging her eyes from the two figures on the sidewalk, she glanced up and saw that the light had changed to green.  She pressed her foot on the gas and drove off.  All sorts of thoughts were running through her mind.  Who was the girl and what was he doing with her?  And what about me?  Is he getting bored of me?  But he couldn’t be—not after the way he made love to me last night.  She trembled at the memory.  Is he seeing the both of us at the same time?  Is he sleeping with her too? The pain and jealousy almost suffocated her.

How she managed to get to Vivien’s home without getting into an accident, she had no idea.  As soon as her sister opened the door, she broke down.  Concerned, Vivien hugged her for a moment until she had calmed down, then she put her arm around her shoulder and led her over to the sofa.  “Tell me what’s got you so upset,” she encouraged her gently.  She handed her the box of tissues that was on the coffee table and waited patiently while she dried her eyes and wiped her nose.  “I’ve never seen you like this before.”

Taking her time, Tina told her everything.  “I love him, Vivien.  It really hurt to see him with her.”

“Does he love you?”

She shrugged her shoulders.  “I don’t know.  He hasn’t said so as yet.”

“Based on what you have told me, it’s obvious that he has feelings for you.  There might not be anything going on between him and the girl.  It may all turn out to be innocent.  When you see him tomorrow, ask him about her.”

“And what if he’s seeing her?”

“Then, you must end your relationship with him.” She reached out and covered her hands.  “I hope it all works out for you, Tina.”

Tina didn’t answer.  At that moment, her world was in an upheaval and she didn’t know what she was going to do if it turned out that Anton was two-timing her.

She drove to work the next day, feeling awful.  She hadn’t slept a wink at all last night.  Anton wasn’t at his desk when she got in and she went into her office and closed the door.  She knew she couldn’t avoid him but she dreaded the moment when she would have to talk to him.  Once when he knocked on the door and poked his head in, she pretended that she was on the phone.  He didn’t disturb her after that.

It was after twelve when she came out of her office and stopped short when she saw the same girl she had seen Anton with sitting in a chair next to his desk.  What is she doing here, she wondered, resentfully.  The girl didn’t see her.  She was sitting with her back turned to her and was on her cell phone texting.

She was tempted to walk over to her and find out who she was.  As she stood there, trying to figure out what to do, Anton came up behind her.   She felt him caress her arm and she swung round to face him.

“What’s the matter?” he asked when he saw the expression on her face.

“Who’s the girl over there at your desk?” she demanded in a low, angry voice.  She couldn’t hide her jealousy.

He looked over her shoulder and then back at her.  “You mean my sister?” he asked, raising his eyebrows quizzically.

She gaped at him.  “Your sister?” she repeated, wondering if she had heard correctly.

“Yes, my sister.  Come, let me introduce you.”  He took her by the arm and led her over to the brunette who glanced up at them.  “This is my sister, Louise.  Louise, this is Tina.”

Louise smiled and held out her hand.  “It’s nice to meet you, Tina.  Anton has told me so much about you.”

Tina shook her hand, dazed and feeling like a complete fool.  “It’s nice to meet you too,” she murmured.

Anton turned to her, “Louise and I are going to have lunch.  Would you like to join us?”

She shook her head.  “Thank you, but I already had my lunch and I have a meeting in about fifteen minutes.”

Anton grabbed his jacket and pulled it on.  “I’ll see you when I get back.”

Louise stood up.  She was a tall girl.  “I hope to see you again, Tina,” she said.

Tina managed a smile.  “Me too.”  She watched them as they walked away and then went back into her office.  She sat down at her desk and leaned her head against the leather upholstery, her mind whirling.  The heaviness which had been on her heart was gone.  She went to her meeting in better spirits.  When it was over, she went back to her office and waited for Anton to return from lunch.

When he did, she called him on his extension, asking him to go in and see her.  He went in right away and walked over to her desk.  “You’ve been avoiding me all morning,” he said, “and I’d like to know why.”

She got up from the desk and went up to him.  “I have a confession to make,” she said quietly, wringing her hands nervously.  “Yesterday I saw you with Louise, only I didn’t know at the time that she was your sister and I thought…”

“And you thought that I was seeing another woman behind your back.  Oh, Tina,” he groaned, raking his fingers through his hair in frustration.  “How could you think such a thing?  Can’t you tell by now that I love you?”

Her heart stopped.  “You love me?”

“Yes! I love you so much that I ache inside.”

“I love you too.  I’m sorry for being such a jealous fool.  When I saw you with her, I was so hurt, so jealous.  I—I was going to talk to you about it today but I couldn’t seem to work up the courage to do so.”

He reached for her and pulled her into his arms.  “There’s no reason for you to be jealous of other women,” he told her huskily.  “I love you.  I want to be with you.  I want to marry you.”

She stared at him.  “Marry me?”

“Yes.  That’s why you saw me with Louise yesterday.  She went with me to De Beers to help me to choose a ring for you.  I was planning to propose to you tonight over dinner at my place.  Afterwards, we went to a cafe.  You must have seen us just before we parted company.”

She began to cry and he hugged her tightly.  “I’m so sorry,” she sobbed.

He drew back to look down at her.  “What are you sorry about?” he asked.

“I’m sorry for ruining your surprise and for doubting you…”

“Don’t  cry,” he said.  “You haven’t ruined anything and I would have reacted the same way if I had seen you hugging a strange man.

She smiled at him through her tears.  “I’m so lucky to have you,” she cried.

He cupped her face between his hands and rubbed the tears away with his thumbs.  “I’m the lucky one,” he muttered thickly before he lowered his head and kissed her.  Wrapping her arms tightly around his waist, she kissed him back.

Slide1

 

Sources:  Time Out;Ali Express; Andrew Edmunds; De Beers

 

The Flirtation

Christian was pulling on his shirt when the doorbell rang. He quickly buttoned it and tucked in his trousers before leaving the bedroom to go and open the door. He peered through the keyhole and smiled when he saw that it was Amanda.

He buttoned his cuffs after opening the door and stood there in the aperture, his gaze travelling over her slim figure in the light grey skirt suit and the dark purple tee top underneath. “Good morning,” he said softly. “To what do I owe this pleasure?”

Amanda tried to ignore the fact that he looked incredibly handsome in the stark white shirt that accentuated his olive skin and tried to avoid looking into those amazing eyes of his which seemed to see right through her. She showed him the folder she had in her hand. “I brought over the proxy form for you to take with you to the shareholders’ meeting in Boston. Your uncle has already signed it.”

Christian glanced down at it. “You didn’t have to bring it over here, you know,” he said. “I could have easily dropped by the office before heading to the airport.”

“I wanted to save you the trouble,” she said, still avoiding his eyes.

“Well, thank you for taking the trouble. I appreciate it. I would ask you to come in but I am pressed for time.”

“I didn’t come to stay,” she replied shortly. “I just came to drop this off. I have to be heading to the office now.” She held the folder out to him.

He took it but not without deliberately brushing his fingers against her hand. It was then that her eyes flew up to his face and his darkened when he saw what was reflected in them. “Before you leave, let me give you something to think about,” he muttered and before she knew what was happening, he put one arm around her waist and pulled her roughly against him, making her gasp. Then his mouth was on hers, moving passionately and unable to help herself, she responded.

They stood there for several minutes exchanging feverish kisses and then, he raised his head to stare down into her upturned face, his own flushed. “I’ll see you when I get back,” he said and released her.

She stood there, trying to catch her breath. Her legs felt like jelly and without saying a word, she turned and made her way to the lift. She pressed the button frantically and was relieved when the doors opened. She stepped inside and after pressing for the lobby, she leaned against the panel. Her lips were throbbing from the onslaught of his and her hand still tingled where his fingers had caressed it. She hadn’t seen that coming. He had always flirted with her but she didn’t think he was serious. A moment ago, she was proven wrong. It was very clear that he was attracted to her and she couldn’t hide the fact that she was attracted to him too. Now what? She worked for his uncle. Would the old man approve?

Widowed and childless, Christian was all the family he had and he treated him more as a son than a nephew, no doubt planning to one day leave the business to him. He seemed to have Christian’s future all planned and it wouldn’t surprise her if he had someone in mind for him to one day marry. Perhaps, he already did. Her mind went to Hope, the pretty blonde whom she had seen Christian with on several occasions.

Mr. Walker seemed very taken with her and always talking about how lucky the man who married her would be and following that latter remark, his gaze would immediately alight on his nephew, leaving no doubt that he hoped for a match between them. Amanda would say nothing. It wasn’t her place to but the idea of Christian marrying Hope bothered her more than she cared to admit.

Christian didn’t flirt with her when his uncle was around. Usually, they were alone when he did and it disconcerted her because she didn’t know if he was simply amusing himself at her expense. Now she knew that his interest in her was real and not a game. The doors drew open and she stepped out of the lift. She stumbled down the steps and climbed into the taxi cab waiting at the curb.

As it headed to the office, she leaned her head against the back of the seat and closed her eyes. How she was going to get through the day now, she had no idea. Her thoughts would be filled with Christian and what happened between them in the hallway outside of his flat. Already, she missed him and he hadn’t even left the country as yet. He would be gone for a week. She hoped the days would go by quickly so that she could see him again.

When she got to the office, Mr. Walker was already there. She opened her desk drawer, put her handbag in before she went to see him. He smiled as she approached his desk. “Good morning, Amanda,” he greeted her jovially. “Did you have a good weekend?”

“Good morning, Mr. Walker. Yes, I had a good weekend, thank you. I wanted to let you know that I dropped off the proxy form at Christian’s flat.”

“That’s fine, fine. I think it would be good experience for him to AGM meeting for a change. I have been attending them for years. It’s time for someone younger and just as capable to attend in my absence. And it’s good for our business partners to get better acquainted with Christian who will soon be taking over the reins—it’s only a matter of time.”

She stood there not sure of what to say next. “I have been Boston and it’s a great city,” she finally remarked. “I hope he will set aside some time for sightseeing.”

“Yes, yes,” he agreed. “It’s too bad Hope isn’t with him. I’m sure she would enjoy seeing something of the city too.”

It was then that Amanda decided to excuse herself. She didn’t want to hear him go on and on about Hope. At her desk, she got busy with work, although more frequently than not, her mind drifted to incident between Christian and her. She closed her eyes every time she remembered the sensation of his lips on hers. Once when she did that, she was startled when she suddenly heard Mr. Walker’s voice above her.

Flustered, she apologized to him and tried to concentrate on what he was instructing her to do. For the rest of the day, she forced herself to focus on her job and to put Christian out of her mind. At home, when she was alone, she could afford to think about him as much as she wanted.

She was relieved when Friday evening came and looked forward to a quiet weekend. The phone rang when she was about to fix herself something for dinner. “Hello?”

“Hello Amanda.” It was Christian.

Her heartbeat began to accelerate. He was calling her from Boston. “How do you like Boston?” she asked, sinking down to the floor and leaning against the wall.

“It’s nice but would be much nicer if you were here with me,” he said. “I miss you, Amanda. Do you miss me?”

“Yes,” the word came out as a breathless whisper.

“I can’t stop thinking about what happened between us the day you came to my flat.”

“I—I think about it a lot too,” she admitted.

“I want to see you as soon as I get back.”

“When will you be back?”

“On Sunday around noon or early afternoon. I want to see you in the evening.”

“Okay. I’ll-I’ll be here.”

They spoke for a while later and then he had to go. “Good night, Amanda.”

“Good night, Christian.”

After she hung up the phone, she sat there for a long while, trying to process what had just happened. Christian had called her from Boston just to tell her that he missed her and wanted to see her when he got back. She wondered what Mr. Walker would say if he only knew. He would have a fit. As fond of her as he was, she wasn’t a suitable choice for his beloved nephew. He would definitely fire her. Standing up, she decided that she wouldn’t worry about Mr. Walker just yet. Instead, she would plan a nice homemade dinner for Christian.

Sunday afternoon, she prepared the Baked rice with chicken and chorizo. It took two hours to cook so by the time Christian showed up it would be nice and hot out of the oven. After she showered and got dressed she shared the dinner out and sprinkled the chopped parsley on top. She served it with a green salad.

Just as she put the stuff out on the table, the doorbell rang. She glanced at the clock. It was exactly six. Christian was always very punctual. Excited, she rushed to the door and opened it. Her eyes ran eagerly over his tall frame. He looked gorgeous in the black silk shirt and black jeans. His hair was slightly damp and a few strands fell rakishly across his forehead.

Pulse racing and heart pounding, she pulled him inside and closed the door. After locking it, she turned to face him and he reached for her, pulling her against him. Their lips locked in a heated kiss which lasted for several minutes before she drew back to gasp, “I made dinner. It’s on the table.”

He smiled. “I didn’t realize that I was hungry until you mentioned dinner.”
She took his hand and led him over to the dining table which was nicely set and ready for them to sit down and eat. Two glasses were on the table and a bottle of non-alcoholic wine. They sat down and after she sat Grace they tucked into the salad first and then the pasta dish.

“Hmmm, this is delicious,” Christian said.

She smiled. “Thank you. It’s a recipe I have been meaning to try for a long time.”

“I’m honored,” he said and had another mouthful.

As they ate, he told her what it was like being at the AGM meeting and the places he was able to visit in Boston during his free time. For dessert she served Roasted banana & cinnamon ice cream. After placing the dirty dishes and glasses in the dishwasher, she joined him on the terrace where he stood, looking out at the city lights and the Tower Bridge in the distance.

He turned when he heard her and reaching for her he held her in his arms. She put her arms around his neck. “You know your uncle would have a fit if he saw us together like this,” she remarked.

“It doesn’t matter what he thinks,” Christian told her. “I’m not a child. I know he has plans for me but I have my own plans.”

“He has his heart set on you marrying Hope–”

“I don’t love Hope. I never did. We went out a few times but it was never serious for me.”

“I’m happy to hear that don’t love her.”

“Why is that?” he asked. “Why are you happy that don’t love Hope?”

She swallowed. “Because I love you,” she admitted.

He groaned. “And I love you.” He lowered his head and kissed her.

They kissed for a long time and then she drew back to ask him, “What are you going to tell your uncle?”

“I’ll simply tell him that I love you and that I want to marry you.”

She blinked. “Marry me?”

“Yes. As a matter of fact, I have the ring here with me.” He reached into his pants pocket and produced a black box. “I bought it when I was in Boston.”

She gaped at the diamond ring as he took it out of the box.

“Will you marry me, Amanda?” he asked. “I know we haven’t dated but I don’t want to be your boyfriend, I want to be your husband. I know without a doubt that you’re the woman for me. I knew it since the first time we met.”

She managed to say “Yes.” Tears sprang to her eyes as he slipped the ring on her finger and then his lips were on hers again. She closed her eyes and hugged him tightly around the neck as she responded to his kisses.  It didn’t matter what Mr. Walker did now.  He couldn’t prevent the inevitable from happening.

Sources:  Jamie Oliver; Lux Bond & Green

Affairs of the Heart

When Bianca went out on to the balcony of her friend Connie’s spacious flat, she was pleasantly surprised to see Chandler sitting there.  He looked so elegant although he was dressed very casually in a tan colored jacket, denim shirt and jeans.  The brown belt he wore matched the spiffy shoes she saw on the mat by the front door.  He was so handsome, she thought, her eyes eagerly drinking in each feature—the thick, silky dark hair, the incredible light grey eyes, olive skin and his lips…She started when she realized that she was staring.

For his part, he was staring at her too.  “It’s good to see you, Bianca,” he said as he got up and went over to her.  He put his arms around her and hugged her.  She hugged him back, closing her eyes and breathing in his fragrance.  He smelled so good.  It felt so wonderful being in his arms and held closely against him.  She put hers around his waist and wished that they could stay like that for a long while.  But just then, Connie’s voice reached them and Chandler drew back, releasing Bianca, his expression tense as he looked at her.  He moved away from her and stood leaning against the rail with his hands shoved in his pockets, a muscle pulsating along his jawline as he watched Connie approach.

Bianca sat down in the chair closest to her, her legs trembling.  She had to pull herself together before Connie saw her.  It was a hug between two friends but there was something else.  She felt it and sensed it.  At one point, she felt his arms tighten around her and his face in her hair.  What would have happened if Connie hadn’t been there?

She joined them now, her gaze going immediately to Chandler, her regard for him very evident on her face.  Then she turned to Bianca, her expression changing.  She doesn’t seem very pleased to see me, Bianca realized in surprise.  Perhaps it is because I didn’t call to tell her that I was coming over.

“Bianca, what are you doing here?” she asked.

Bianca got up from the chair, feeling a little embarrassed now.  “I’m sorry I didn’t call before I popped over but it was when I was on the tube, that I decided I would stop by your flat and ask you if you wanted to go with me to the Jazz concert in Chelsea.  It’s free and it sounds like fun.”

Connie shook her head at once.  “No thank you, Bianca.  I will pass.  Besides, I have already made plans.  Chandler and I will be spending the afternoon together.”

Chandler spoke up, “The Jazz concert sounds like a good idea.”

Connie pursed her lips.  “Jazz gives me a headache.  I prefer to go somewhere less crowded and I know the perfect place.  Well, Bianca, I guess you had better be heading off to your concert.  Call me later and let me know how it was.”

Bianca got up from the chair, wishing now she hadn’t bothered to come but then, she wouldn’t have seen Chandler.  Her eyes sought him and her heart lurched when she found him looking at her.   She went over to him and said, “It was good seeing you as usual, Chandler.”

“I hope we see each other again soon,” he replied.  And he reached out and caught her hand.  From where Connie stood she couldn’t see what he was doing but it was all Bianca could do to keep her composure.  It was hard when his thumb was caressing the back of her hand, stirring up all sorts of sensations.  The expression on his face made her mouth go dry. His light grey eyes were dark and stormy.  It was so obvious that he was attracted to her.  And it must be obvious to him that she was attracted to him too.  What about Connie?  Her gaze shifted to her friend and was mortified when she saw the hostility and jealousy in her countenance.  Yes, Connie had noticed the attraction between Chandler and her.

“I’d better go,” Bianca murmured looking away.  “I don’t want to be late for the concert.”

He released her hand with some reluctance and watched as she hurried past Connie. They heard the door close.  “You were a bit rude to her,” he said with some displeasure.

Connie glared at him.  “I saw the way you were looking at her,” she cried.  “You want her don’t you?  Well, you are wasting your time.”

He frowned.  “What do you mean?”

“She has a boyfriend.”

He grew pale.  “Are you sure?” he asked.

“Of course, I’m sure.  His name is Darnell.”

Chandler ran his fingers agitatedly through his hair.  “I had no idea,” he said in disbelief.

“Well, now you know.”

Chandler turned away and his hands gripped the rail as bitter disappointment filled him.  He closed his eyes but they soon opened when he saw Bianca’s face and remembered the look on her face when he was caressing her hand.  She could not have been in any doubt that I have feelings for her, he thought, and I could tell that she has feelings for me too but how could I pursue a relationship with her when she’s already in one? What a wretched business this thing called love is. He swung round to face Connie.  “I’m afraid I will have to cancel our plans,” he told her.

Connie stared at him in dismay.  “But, why?” she cried.

“I don’t feel up to going anywhere now,” he said simply.  “I’ll call you tomorrow.”

“You’re cancelling on me because of Bianca?” she demanded.  “I knew her showing up here unexpectedly today was going to be a problem.   Now what am I going to do for the rest of the afternoon?”

“I’m sorry, Connie.  I’ll take a rain check.”  He walked past her and a few minutes later the door closed behind him.

Her face beet red, Connie marched into the living room, took up a vase of flowers and threw it on the floor.

Bianca sat at the concert, oblivious to the turmoil she was causing elsewhere.  Her mind and attention were not on the smooth sounds she was hearing but on Chandler.  This was the first time Connie and she wanted the same man.   They had been friends since high school but that friendship was in serious jeopardy now.  She would never forget the look on Connie’s face when she saw the attraction between Chandler and her.  Bitter resentment and jealousy marred her features.  She wondered what happened after she left.

She left the concert feeling that it was a waste of an afternoon.  When she got home, she was surprised to hear a message from Connie on her answering machine.  It said, “Well, Bianca, I hope you’re happy.  Chandler canceled our plans.  I can’t imagine why.  I saw the way you were looking at him.  If you want to remain my friend, you will forget about Chandler and set your sights on someone else.  Goodbye.”

Bianca stared at the machine.  All this time she thought Chandler and Connie were spending the afternoon together.  As she removed her jacket, she couldn’t help wondering why the sudden change of plans.  Connie didn’t seem to know or if she did, she wasn’t saying.  Perhaps, something unexpected came up and Chandler had to be somewhere else.  Whatever the reason, she couldn’t deny that she was relieved that they weren’t together now.  I wonder when I will see him again.  Then, she reproached herself for thinking such thoughts.  I must forget about him.  Connie met him first and they are more suitable for each other.  They are from the same pedigree.  I’m way out of my league.  What he feels for me may just be a physical attraction—nothing more.” The thought that his interest in her might just be purely sexual hurt but she had to be sensible about this. 

So that very day, she resolved to stay away from Chandler, not only because Connie requested it but to spare herself any heartbreak.  For the next several weeks, she avoided the usual crowd where she was sure to run into him.  She and Connie met for lunch once and she heard nothing but how much time Chandler and her friend were spending with each other.  She had to sit there and listen to Connie talk about how amazing Chandler looked in his swimming trunks and how wonderful it felt when he put sunscreen on her back.  “His hands felt so good on my skin,” she said, her eyes almost glazed over at the memory.  Bianca smiled but inside she was hurting.  The jealousy stabbed at her like a knife.  After that lunch, whenever Connie wanted them to meet up again, she always found an excuse not to.  She wasn’t going to sit there and listen to Connie talk  incessantly about her relationship with Chandler.

During the day, it was easy to occupy her mind but in the nights, her thoughts were filled with him, wondering if he ever thought about her.  Nothing had changed for her. She still loved and wanted him and it pained her to no end.  She lay awake for hours before drifting off into a fitful sleep.  How she longed to get away—go somewhere far but she knew that it wouldn’t make a difference.  No place existed where she could go and forget about Chandler.

One night, she was lying on the sofa, watching the television but not paying attention.  It was just background noise.  The doorbell rang and she sat up, wondering how it was.  She hoped it wasn’t Connie.  She really wasn’t in the mood for one-sided conversations.  She got up from the sofa and went to the door.  Her eyes widened and her heart somersaulted when she saw Chandler standing there.  How on earth did he find out where she lived?  It couldn’t have been from Connie.  She would never do that.

Taking a deep breath, she opened the door, her heart pounding.  How good he looked in the black shirt and dark blue jeans.  His face looked drawn and it seemed to her that he had lost a little weight.  Alarmed, she asked, “You’re not ill, are you?”

He shook his head.  “No, I’m not ill,” he told her.  “It’s nice to know that you still care.”

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

“Each time Connie told me she saw you, I asked if you inquired after me and she said no.”

“She never gave me a chance.  All she talked about was your relationship and all the great things you were doing together.”

“We don’t have a relationship.  I admit that I tried to get forget you with her and she was quite willing to help.  One night at her flat after dinner, we started to get undressed—“

Bianca turned away, agitated.  “I don’t want to hear this,” she cried as the pain and jealousy tore through her.

He moved so that he was standing in front of her, his eyes dark and tormented.  “I thought that making love to her would get you out of my system,” he muttered tightly.  “But, I couldn’t go through with it. When I was kissing her, all I could see was your face.  I put my shirt back on and ran out of there as if the devil were chasing me.  I haven’t been in touch with Connie since.  This was about a month ago.  These past few weeks have been hell for me, Bianca.  I can’t stop thinking about you and wanting you.  I tried to stay away out of respect for Darnell but I had to see you one last time.”

She looked at him then, “Darnell?” she repeated.  “What do mean out of respect for him?”

“You have no idea how much the mere sound of his name torments me,” Chandler told her, his eyes were haunted as they met hers.  “Ever since I found out about him, I haven’t stopped thinking about how lucky he is to have an exceptional woman like you.  Many times I have wished that I could trade places with him.”

She was really confused now.  “What are you talking about, Chandler? “

He looked frustrated now.  “I’m talking about Darnell,” he muttered tightly.  “Connie told me about him.”

“What exactly did Connie tell you about my brother?”

He stared at her as if he hadn’t heard correctly.  “Darnell is your brother?”

“Yes.  He’s my older brother who lives in Manchester with his wife, my niece and nephew.  What did Connie tell you about him?”

He muttered something under his breath, his expression thunderous.  “She told me that he was your boyfriend.”

“My boyfriend?” she was aghast.  “Why would she do that?”

“No doubt, she did it out of jealousy.  She knew how I felt about you so she wanted to make sure that nothing would come of it.   It never occurred to me that she was lying.  All this time, I thought you were in a relationship and that drove me mad because I wanted you so much.”

“Chandler, is it just desire you feel for me?” she asked warily.

He shook his head and she could see the sincerity in his eyes as he answered, “No.  I feel a deep and consuming love for you, Bianca.  I have never experienced love before but I know that what I feel for you real.”

She reached up and touched his face, her eyes filled with the love which burned in her heart.  “I love you, Chandler.  I tried to get over you because of my friendship with Connie and because I was afraid of getting hurt.  I wasn’t sure that your feelings for me were more than physical.”

He lowered his head to kiss her.  She closed her eyes when she felt his warm lips on hers and her arms went around his waist, holding him closely against her.  They exchanged hungry kisses and then he raised his head to gaze down in her face.  “I love you, Bianca but as much as I am dying to show you how much, I think we should wait.”

She nodded.  “Why don’t we go for a walk in the park,” she suggested.  “It’s safer and it looks lovely outside.”

He smiled.  “Okay.  And we can stop somewhere and have a bit to eat as well.”

A couple weeks later they got engaged and after six months of trying to abstain from lovemaking, they got married.  Connie was not invited.  Bianca’s friendship with her ended the day when she found out about the lie she told Chandler.

They spent their honeymoon in Sorrento.  On the first night there, they went for a walk after dinner, holding hands and strolling through the little streets lined on both sides with shops.  They walked to a quiet spot where they stood watching the silent and looming Mount Vesuvius in the distance and the setting sun as it hovered over the Bay of Naples.  They sat on the bench for a little while just enjoying the pleasant evening and the view.  Then, they bought two gelati and ate them on the way back to the hotel.

As soon as they got back to their room, Chandler picked Bianca up and carried her over to the bed.  “Now, I finally get to show you how much I love you,” he murmured, his eyes darkening on her face.

She reached up and pulled his head down to hers, thinking no one else in the world could be as blissfully happy as she was at that very moment.

 

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