The Date

Alessandro came out of his office to see if Belinda was there.  Today was the day he was going to ask her to have dinner with him.  His heart skipped a beat at the thought.  To say that he was very nervous was an understatement.  For the longest while he had wanted to ask her out but never worked up the courage.  They had been working together for six years and she was the best assistant he ever had.  She joined the firm fresh out of university.

He wasn’t exactly sure when it happened but one afternoon while he was sitting in his office, he realized that he was in love with her.   The realization floored him.  He never imagined that he would fall in love with someone so young.  She was in her late twenties and he was approaching forty.  He sat there that day, mulling over the matter until it was time to leave.  He didn’t know how she felt about him.  She was always pleasant and seemed to enjoy working with him.  She was a breath of fresh air and every day he looked forward to seeing her.

All of last week, they worked late and during those times, he would stare at her as she pored over the paperwork.   She didn’t have a boyfriend and he had made sure that she knew that he wasn’t in a relationship.  Once when they were working late, they both reached for the same file and their hands touched.  Immediately his eyes flew up to her face and found her staring at him.  For one tremulous moment, the air was charged between them and he wanted so badly to lean over and…there was a knock on the door.  It was the food he had ordered being delivered.

The sound of voices interrupted his thoughts now and he stood there, his heart thudding as he waited for Belinda to appear.  She did a few minutes later, laughing and talking to Lindsey.   As she approached her cubicle, she saw him and she said something to Lindsey before she went over to him after placing her handbag on her desk.  “Sorry, if I’m a little late,” she apologized.  “Lindsey treated me to lunch today and I guess the time went by very quickly.  Do you need me for anything?”

He nodded.  “I need to ask you something,” he said quietly.  “Come and see me in my office when you have a chance.”  He turned and went back into his office.

She removed her jacket as she walked back to her cubicle and draped it over the chair.  She put her handbag in one of the drawers, logged on to her computer to see if she had any urgent messages before she got up and went to his office.

He was standing at the window, looking out with his hands clasped behind his back and turned when he heard her go in.  She closed the door behind her and then crossed the carpet to where he stood.  Their eyes met and held for several minutes.  “Do you need me to work late again this week?” she asked.  “I have plans this evening with Marco but—”

His expression changed.  “Marco?” he repeated.  “You have plans with Marco?” Marco was his nephew.  He had introduced them two weeks ago when Marco stopped by the office to see him.  “You’ve been in touch with him?”

She watched him warily.  He didn’t seem at all pleased.  “He came by yesterday to see you but you were at the conference.  He said that he would call you later in the week.  Before he left, he told me that he had two tickets to a basketball game and asked me to go with him.  I didn’t have any plans so I said yes.”

He ran his fingers through his hair as he tried to remain calm.  Jealousy burned through him like a wild fire.  “And what do you plan to do after the game?”

“I–I don’t know.  Alessandro, if you need me to work late tonight, I can cancel my plans with—”

He held up his hand.  “No, don’t cancel your plans on my account.  Go and have a good time with Marco.”  He turned and walked over to his desk.  He pulled out the chair and sat down.

Belinda stared at him for a while, longing to tell him that she would rather work late with him than go to the basketball game with Marco but at that moment, he reached for the phone and turned his chair so that he was backing her.  She turned and walked quickly out of the office, tears pricking her eyes.  How she wished she hadn’t accepted Marco’s invitation.  Marco was a nice guy but she wasn’t interested in him at all.  She was in love with his uncle.

Instead of going back to her desk, she went into the washroom where she stayed for a little while, leaning over the sink, trying to pull herself together.  The expression on Alessandro’s face when she told him about Marco was one she would never forget.

As soon as she had gone, Alessandro hung up the phone and leaned back in the chair, closing his eyes.  He felt as if he had been punched in the stomach.  Marco?  She was going out with Marco.  He hadn’t seen that coming.  It hurt like hell.  And to think he was going to ask her out for dinner.  He saved himself the humiliation of being turned down in favor of his nephew.  Anger toward Marco burned in him even as he realized it wasn’t his fault that Belinda preferred to be with him instead of his uncle who should have known better than to fall in love with a girl so much younger than he.

How was he going to get through the rest of the day?  He couldn’t, he decided and getting to his feet, he grabbed his keys and left the office.  Belinda wasn’t at her desk, so he said to Lindsey, “Please let Belinda know that I’ve left for the day.  If anything urgent comes up, she can reach me on my cell.” And he was gone.

When Belinda returned to her cubicle a few minutes later, Lindsey relayed the message.  “He didn’t give any reason why he was leaving so early?” she asked and Lindsey shook her head.  Belinda sat there, trying to understand why Alessandro had left.  It wasn’t like him.  She picked up her phone and called Marco.  “Hi Marco, I’m calling to tell you that I can’t come to the basketball game with you.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” he said.  “Is everything all right?  You sound upset.”

“I am,” she said in a trembling voice.  “It’s Alessandro.  I think he was very upset when I told him about you and the basketball game.  I offered to cancel our plans but he told me not to do so on his account but I could tell that he was upset.”

“You’re in love with him, aren’t you?  I could tell by the way you talk about him.  Do you want me to talk to him?”

“He’s not here.  He left for the day.”

“Wow, he must really be upset.  It’s not like him to leave work for any reason.”

“What should I do, Marco?”

“Go and see him later.  Tell him how you feel about him.”

“Okay.  I will.”

“Good luck, Belinda.”

“Thanks, Marco.”  She hung up.  Yes, she was going to go over to Alessandro’s place later.  Hopefully, he would be there.  If not, she would talk to him tomorrow in his office.  Either way, she had to straighten things out with him.

Alessandro had just stepped out of the shower and was getting dressed when the doorbell rang.  He quickly buttoned his shirt and tucked it into his jeans before he left his room and went to answer the door.  After peering through the keyhole, he unlocked the door and opened it.  His expression was tense as he stared down into Belinda’s face.  His heart was pounding as he ached to touch her.  What is she doing here?  Why isn’t she at the basketball game with Marco?

She swallowed hard, her pulse racing.  “May I come in?” she asked.  How she longed to reach up and touch his face–the face she loved so much.

He stepped aside to let her into the foyer and then he closed the door behind her.  After sliding the latch back into place, he turned to face her.  “What are you doing here?” he asked quietly.  “Won’t you be late for your date with Marco?”

She put her handbag on the table and met his gaze head-on.  “I don’t have a date with Marco.  I called and told him that I can’t go to the game.  He was cool about it.  I’m sure he found someone else to go with or maybe he ended up going alone.  I don’t know.  I’m here because I have something important to tell you.”

A muscle was throbbing along his jaw line now.  “What do you need to tell me?” he asked tightly, his eyes were restless on her face.  He wanted so much to take her in his arms.  It was torture standing there, looking at her and wanting to feel her body against his.

She took a deep breath, her heart was beating so hard that it felt as if it would fall out of her chest.  Her palms were sweaty.  She was so nervous but she had to say what she went there to say.  “I–I love you, Alessandro.  That’s what I came here to tell you and–” Her voice ended in a gasp when he pulled her roughly into his arms and held her tightly against him.

His eyes were dark and smoldering when they met hers.  “I love you too,” he muttered thickly.  “Oh, Belinda,” he groaned before his head swooped down and his mouth sought hers, moving hungrily and feverishly when he felt her fiery response.  Her fingers were in his damp hair, gripping the silky strands as they exchanged hot kisses.

After a long time, he raised his head to gaze down into her face, breathing heavily.  “Can you stay for dinner?” he asked.

She nodded.  “Yes,” she gasped, trying to catch her breath.  “And for breakfast.”

He smiled and picking up her in his arms, he said, “I hope you don’t mind having a late breakfast.”

 

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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 Age Difference

“I wish you were going with me,” Michelle sighed, looking at Connie as she lay on the sofa with her injured leg elevated on a couple of cushions.

“Even if I weren’t laid up here with a bad leg, I wouldn’t go with you,” she told her.

Michelle’s eyes widened in surprise.  “Why not?”

“You’re running away.”

“Running away from what?”

“You mean, from whom.  You’re running away from Paul.  No matter where you go, you can’t run away from your feelings for him.”

Michelle got up in agitation and went over to the window, looking out at the quiet street outside.  “He’s so young—”

“Michelle, he’s ten years younger than you, not twenty!”

Michelle shook her head.  “I should never have gotten involved with him.  I should have followed my mind and kept our relationship platonic but…”

“…You love him and he loves you.  Don’t let your age difference prevent you from being happy.  Besides, you don’t look your age at all.  You look younger.”

“I’m thirty-five years old and in love with a guy who graduated from university just three years ago.”

“So what?  He’s very mature for his age.”

Connie was right.  Paul was very mature for his age.  Still, she wished he were older. “I wish he were older.”

“So, you are going to throw away your happiness because of his age?  Would you feel better if he were to date a girl his age?”

The thought of him with someone else filled her with jealousy.  “No, I won’t,” she admitted.  “I don’t want him to be with someone else.”

“You can’t have it both ways, Michelle.  Either you hold on to him or you let him go.”

“That’s why I think I need to go away for a while.”

“Have you told him that you’re going away?”

“Not yet.  I’m going to tell him tonight.”

“Well, I hope you know what you’re doing.  He’s a terrific guy and he loves you.”

Michelle went over to the sofa, “I’ve got to go now,” she said.  She reached down and kissed the top of her friend’s head.  “Thanks for everything.”

“Call me and let me know how things turned out.”

“I will,” Michelle promised before she left.

It was around eight that night when Paul went over to her place.  He smiled when she opened the door.  After she closed it, he was about to pull her into his arms and kiss her when she pulled away.  “I need to talk to you,” she said, turning away.  For a brief moment, she closed her eyes as her feelings for him enveloped her.  I must do this, she told herself.   Her back was stiff, her hands were clenched and her heart was pounding as she walked toward the living-room.  He followed her.  She sat down on the sofa and he sat beside her, his expression troubled when he saw her face.

“What’s wrong, Michelle?” he asked.  He reached for her hand and was startled when she moved it away.

“I’m going away,” she said, not looking at him.  She was afraid to.  She knew that if she did, her resolve would weaken.

“Where?” he asked.  “For how long?”

“New York and for two weeks.”

“Are your parents all right?” he asked.  “Did you get bad news?  Is that why you’re going?  Let me come with you, Michelle–”

“No, Paul” she cried, getting up hastily from the sofa then and hurrying over to the window, wanting to put as much distance between them as possible.  “I’m going alone. Paul, I don’t think we should see each other anymore.”  There, she had said the words that had been playing over and over in her mind but the pain they invoked was unbearable.

In a flash he was beside her and turning her round to face him.  Tears were running down her face.  She tried to pull away but he refused to let go.  “Why must we stop seeing each other?” he demanded.  His face was pale and his eyes were filled with anguish and confusion.  “I love you, Michelle and I know that you love me.  Why do you want to end our relationship?”

“I’m much older than you,” she muttered.  “You should be with someone your own age.”

A muscle throbbed along his jawline.  “I don’t want to be with someone my own age,” he retorted.  “I want to be with you.”

Michelle closed her eyes as she felt her resolve crumbling.  “Paul, please…” her voice trailed off when she felt his lips on hers and unable to help herself, she responded wildly and the hands that had been about to push him away were pulling him closer.

When at length, he raised his head to look down into her face, his own flushed, he asked, “Do you still want to end what we have?”

She shook her head at once.  “No, Paul,” she cried.  “I won’t let my age come between us anymore.”

An expression of relief came over Paul’s face.  “So, no trip to New York?”

She shook her head.  “I’ll cancel it first thing in the morning,” she promised.

“Good.”  He swept her up into his arms.  “We belong together, Michelle.”

She wrapped her arms around his neck as he carried her out of the room.