A New Relationship

Paulette walked into Antonio’s office to place some files on his desk.  He wasn’t there.  It was half-past eight.  He usually got in around eight forty-five.  She went over to the windows and looked out at the bustling city below.  Five years ago, fresh out of university, she had stood there on the sidewalk staring up at this very building, nervous and excited about starting her first day here.  It was hard to believe that so much time had passed.  She loved working at the company but she knew that the main reason was Antonio why she looked forward to going into the office every weekday.

She didn’t kid herself that he would show any interest in her other than professional because of their age difference.  At the age of thirty-nine, he was twelve years older than her.  She wanted him to see her as a woman—a woman who loved him so much it ached.  Until she met him, she had no clue of what it meant to be in love.

When her friends talked about falling in love, she couldn’t relate because it hadn’t happened for her.  She envied them, though, wondering what it would be like to experience what they were experiencing.  And then, she met Antonio and it was then that she realized that love at first sight wasn’t a myth.  She knew that she loved him the first time she saw him.  It was a surreal experience. Everything seemed to be at a standstill and it felt as if they were the only two people in the world.  Everything else faded in the background and all she could see was him, coming toward her, his hand extended and an incredible smile on his face.

And that deep, sexy voice of his and the way he said her name still made her shiver.  She could almost hear it now and then she started when she realized that he had walked into his office and was standing beside her at the window.  Feeling embarrassed, she turned toward him, hugging the files which she was supposed to have left on his desk.  “I’m sorry,” she apologized.  “I-I didn’t hear you come in.”

He looked so good in his navy blue suit, black shirt and matching tie.  His thick dark hair glistened damply in the light and she caught a whiff of his aftershave.  Yes, he looked and smelled good…She realized she was staring and looked away.

“Something out there really got your attention,” he said as he walked over to his desk.  “I was calling you but you didn’t hear me.”

“I was just watching the people below and thinking about when I first joined this company.  I can’t believe it has been five years.”

“Yes, you’ve been with us for that length of time.  I hope you still like working here.”

“I do, very much.”  I can’t imagine being anywhere else.  Working with you is sheer bliss. She realized that she was staring again and that she really ought to be getting back to her desk.

Walking over to his desk, she set the files down.  She could feel him watching her and raised her head to look at him.  Her heart skipped a beat when she saw his gaze leave her face and travel over her before returning to her face.  She hoped she looked fine in the light grey long sleeved top, black pencil skirt and black knee high boots.  “I’d-I’d better get to back to my desk.”

“Are you going to Rita’s Christmas dinner?” he asked as she was about to turn away.

Rita was a retiree who used to at the firm.  She retired two years after Paulette starting working there.  Paulette was sorry to see her go but they kept in touch.  She was like a mother to her.  This year she was having a dinner and dance party at a banquet hall in London.  Paulette had received her invitation in the mail a week ago and had started shopping around for a dress to wear.  She wanted to wow Antonio, if he was going. “Yes, I’m going.  Are you?”

“Yes, I am.”

She wondered if he was taking anyone.  It would ruin her night to see him with another woman.

“Are you going alone?” he asked, glancing up from the papers he had been going through.

She shook her head.  “No.”

“Why don’t we go together?” he suggested much to her surprise.

“Together?” she repeated.  The thought of going with him thrilled and made her nervous at the same time.  It would be the first time that they would be seeing each other outside of the office.  What were they going to talk about on the ride over to Rita’s place?  Would there be an awkward silence?  She heard herself say, “Sure.  That’s a great idea.”  No chance of him showing up with someone else.  Tomorrow evening she was going to dazzle him.

“Good.  I’ll pick you up at seven.”  He returned to sorting through the papers which was her cue that she should get to work.  She turned and walked quickly out of his office, her heart pounding with excitement.  She couldn’t wait for tomorrow to come.

The day went by very quickly and it was like a blur for her.  All she could think about was seeing Antonio tomorrow.  She imagined them staring at each other across the table and slow-dancing afterwards.  Oh, stop daydreaming and concentrate on your work, she chided herself.  It was hard concentrating but she forced herself to do it and in no time it was the end of the work day.  She cleared her desk, turned off her computer, locked her drawers and stood up to pull on her scarf and coat.  After turning off the lamp on her desk, she grabbed her handbag and walked over to Antonio’s office to say goodbye.

He was typing something and stopped when she poked her head in.  “Goodnight.”

“Goodnight.  See you tomorrow.”

She smiled as she walked to the lift.  Yes, I don’t have to wait until Monday to see you.  When she got home, she took out the dress she was going to wear.  It was perfect.  When she tried it on and examined herself in the mirror, it looked great on her.  The champagne color suited her complexion and the style of the dress flattered her figure.  She didn’t bother trying on any other dresses.  This was the one.  She hung it carefully back in her wardrobe and slid the doors shut.

After fixing herself a sandwich and salad, she sat down and ate while watching the news on TV.  She decided to turn in early although she knew that it would be a while before she fell asleep because she was so excited about tomorrow.  It was around mid-night when she finally drifted off, a smile on her face.

Saturday came and she spent the day, cleaning the flat, doing laundry and grocery shopping.  Then, it was time to get ready for the dinner/dance.  Excitement filled her as she got dressed.  For a few minutes she looked at herself in the mirror before she left her room.  She had just put on her coat and grabbed her clutch purse when the doorbell rang promptly at seven.  Immediately, her heart began to beat fast and she felt a little nervous as she opened the door.

Antonio smiled.  “Good evening,” he said.  His eyes lingered on her face before shifting to her hair which was in an updo with a few tendrils framing her face.  She saw what looked like admiration flicker in them.  She couldn’t wait to see his reaction when he saw her dress.

“Good evening.”  She stepped out into the passageway, closing the door behind and turned to lock it.  She turned and saw that he was still watching her and she smiled.  This was going to be a very exciting evening.  They walked to the lift and as they rode down in the lift, they exchanged glances but didn’t say anything.  It was a bit cold when they got outside but she soon felt warm in his car as they drove off.  Smooth jazz filled the car.

“How come you don’t have a boyfriend?” he asked suddenly, startling her.

“I don’t know.  My mother has asked me the same thing.”

“Speaking of family, are you an only child or do you have siblings?”

“I’m the younger of two daughters.  My older sister, Pam is married and has three children.  She was with my mother when she took in ill.  I was away on a trip at the time and had to fly back immediately.”

“What happened?”

“This was a few years ago—during my senior year at university.  My mother suddenly collapsed and had to be rushed to the hospital.  We weren’t sure that she was going to make it but her pastor encouraged us to pray for her and she made what could only be called a miraculous recovery.”

He glanced at her.  “I’m happy to hear that your mother recovered.  Are the two of you close?”

“Growing up, I was closer to my father but after he died, my mother and I became close.  Almost losing her has made me cherish every moment I have with her now.”

“Yes, family is very important.  Both of my parents are dead but I have two brothers and a sister.  They are all back in Italy.  I try to visit them when I can.”

They talked more about his family and why he left Naples to come to London, especially since he had many fond memories of growing up there.  She laughed as he imitated his father who was very strict and his mother who was always complaining about something or the other.  He still missed them although they had died over ten years ago.  His father died of a heart attack and his mother was devastated.  She couldn’t survive without him and died the following year.  “I have a photo of them in my wallet,” he told her.  “It was taken the year before Dad died.”

Paulette stared at him, touched that he carried a photo of his parents in his wallet.  She didn’t say anything.  She didn’t know what to say and they had reached the banquet hall.  He parked the car, got out and walked around to open the door for her.  As they walked to the entrance, she felt the nervous excitement rising in her.  They went to the coat room to check in their coats.  With trembling fingers, she unbuttoned hers and removed it.  After she handed it to the girl there, she turned and looked at Antonio who was staring at her.  She saw his gaze travel slowly over her– the beaded bodice, the plain long skirt with the side slit which reveal her leg as she stood there.  He looked amazing in the black dinner suit and as he walked over to her, she felt her mouth go dry when she saw the expression on his face.

“You look amazing,” he said quietly, his eyes meeting hers.

“So do you,” she said, sounding a little breathless.

They stood there staring at each other and then he extended his arm.  She took it and they walked to the hall where they heard voices and laughter.  Rita was at the entrance greeting everyone.  She was delighted to see them.  “You look handsome as usual,” she said to Antonio before hugging him.  Then, she turned to Paulette, her eyes widening.  “And you, my Dear, you look absolutely stunning.  That dress was made for you.”  They hugged.  “I think Antonio agrees with me,” she said in a low voice so that he couldn’t hear.  “He can’t stop staring at you.” She drew back and addressed them both.  “It’s great to see you both.  You’re both sitting at my table but not next to each other.  I hope you don’t mind.”

They both assured her that they didn’t mind although Paulette was disappointed but it turned out that he was sitting directly opposite her.  She was seated next to Rita’s grandson while Antonio was sitting next to Marissa, a co-worker.

Every now and then, when Paulette looked over at Antonio she found him staring at her.  She wished it were just the two of them having a romantic, candlelight dinner with soft R&B music playing in the background.  Rita’s grandson, Mark was talking to her and she tried to be attentive but she couldn’t help being distracted.  When dinner was over, she excused herself and went to the bathroom to freshen up.  When she returned, people were dancing and Mark asked her to dance.  She was about to open her mouth to turn him down when, she felt a hand on her arm and turned to find herself staring up at Antonio.  “I believe you owe me this dance?” he said.

Heart thudding, she allowed him to escort her to the dancefloor.  He turned after finding a spot and his hand found the small of her back as they moved to the music.  It was a slow number, one of her favorite songs.  She couldn’t imagine dancing it with anyone else.  She put her arm round his shoulder and just allowed her body to follow his lead.  It felt so good being in his arms.  She felt like Eliza Doolittle, wishing she could dance with him all night.

They danced until the slow music ended and faster music replaced it.  The rest of the night was spent at the table talking and having non-alcoholic drinks.  When it was time to go, she had mixed feelings.  She was beginning to feel a little tired and wanted to go home but it meant that her evening out with Antonio was over.  Rita hugged them and wished them a Merry Christmas.  She hoped to see them again soon.

It had gotten colder so Paulette was huddled in her coat as she followed Antonio across the parking lot to where his car was parked.  She was thankful when she climbed in and sank down against the soft leather.  The car was soon suffused with warm air.  On the drive home, they talked about the dinner party and both agreed that they it was a success.  She planned on calling Rita tomorrow to thank her for a wonderful evening.

Twenty minutes later, they were standing outside of her flat.  She had unlocked the door and stood on the threshold, facing him.  The place was quiet because it was near one in the morning.

“Goodnight,” he said softly.

“Goodnight,” she replied, wishing he would stay.  They stared at each other and then she was in his arms and he was kissing her.

She threw her arms around his neck and they tightened as she kissed him back passionately for several minutes.  Then, she broke off the kiss, grabbed his hand and pulled him inside the flat, closing the door behind them.  She fumbled with the lock before turning to face him, her eyes feverish as they met his.  She reached for him and felt his arms encompass her waist, pressing her into him as she pulled his head down to hers, her fingers gripping his hair.  He was kissing her like a mad man, unable to contain himself.  They stood there kissing for a long time and then they released each other long enough to remove their coats and discard them on the floor.  She kicked off her shoes while he removed his.

“I want us to start seeing each other outside of the office,” he muttered thickly as he removed his dinner jacket and tossed it on the floor.  His tie soon followed.

She nodded.  “Yes,” she gasped when he scooped her up and strode through the living-room.  “Third door on the left.”

That was the beginning of their new relationship.

 

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The Retreat

She stood there admiring the bright yellow mixed in with flaming orange and red leaves on the trees as they dotted the green landscape and stood proudly over the still water of the lake, seeming to admire their reflections.  It reminded her of a giant water color painting.  It was so peaceful there.  Coming to this retreat for a week was a blessing.

It was her friend Maura who suggested it.  She and her husband were there last year and absolutely loved it.  She had watched videos on the website, the acres of land with its natural beauty and the promise of refuge and renewal and peace and presence sold her.  And here she was, away from the hustle and bustle of the city and enjoying quiet time with the Lord and nature.

She got up early and came down here just before sunset.  After she finished praying, she glanced up and saw the sun rise.  It was the first time she had ever seen a sunrise.  For several moments, the sun appeared to be sitting on the water before it rose higher in the sky.  What a breathtaking scene and display of God’s power.  She lingered there for a while longer and then headed back to the lodge to have breakfast.

When she was leaving the dining room, a tall and very handsome man walked in.  He was alone.  He was wearing a blue sweater and jeans.  As she approached him, he turned and looked at her.  Their eyes met and held for several moments.  He smiled at her and she smiled back.  This close she saw that he had beautiful brown eyes.  “Good morning,” he said.

“Good morning,” she replied and then she walked past him and out of the dining-room.  She could feel him watching her.  He really was quite good-looking and seemed very nice.  Then, she chided herself.  You’re here to commune with God. Don’t get distracted.  She went to her room to freshen up and then to the bench facing the stream where she planned to spend the rest of the morning.

This time she took her Bible and a notebook.  The warm sunshine on her face felt good and a sigh of satisfaction, she sat down.    After she finished reading the first two chapters of the Gospel of Mark and taking notes, she set her Bible and notebook aside.  As she sat there, gazing at the lake, her thoughts drifted to the guy she saw in the dining-room.  Who was he?  Was he single?  Was he here alone?

He was the first man she was attracted to since Reuben.  It was strange but when she thought about Reuben, she didn’t feel anything.  He was like a distant memory now.  She could hardly remember what he looked like and when she tried, she saw the other guy’s face instead.  It was five years since Reuben broke up with her.  They had been dating and everyone thought they would have gotten married.  She did too and then, he shocked her by telling her that he was in love with someone else.

It turned out that while they had been dating, he had been giving Bible studies to a woman who lived in his building.  Feelings developed between them and he realized that she was the one he wanted to be with.  She was devastated but with the love and support of her church family, she was able to pick up the pieces and get on with her life.  Reuben transferred to another church and the last she heard of him, he and the woman were married and had two children.  She wished them well.   It was clear to her now that Reuben and she were not right for each other.  He was with the person he was meant to be with and one day, she would be with the person she was meant to be with.

“Do you mind if I join you?” a voice broke into her reverie and she looked around, her heart skipping a beat when she saw that it was the guy from the dining-room.

She shook her head.  “No, not at all.”  She moved her Bible and notebook closer to her, leaving enough room on the bench for him to sit down.  When he lowered his tall frame on to the seat beside her, she caught a whiff of his aftershave.  Her heart was pounding and her pulse was racing.  She realized then that Reuben never had such an effect on her.  Her hands were clasped tightly in her lap to stop them from trembling.  She could feel him watching her and she turned her head.  Their eyes met and held.  She wondered if she looked as nervous as she felt.

He held out his hand, “Brandon Lee.”

She took his hand and felt his firm clasp.  “Esther Richards.”

“Nice to meet you, Esther.  Is this your first time to the retreat?”

“Yes.  A friend of mine was here last year with her husband and she encouraged me to come.   I’m very happy I did.  It’s a beautiful place and it’s nice to get away from the city.  What about you?” She knew she sounded a little breathless but she couldn’t help it.  His closeness had that effect on her.  She couldn’t decide as yet if he was a Godsend or if he was a distraction.  She truly hoped that it was the former.

“I was here once with a group of people from my church.  It is a great place–so much to see and enjoy.  This is actually my favorite spot.  I could sit here for hours.”

“What church do you go to?” she asked.  He told her and she told him the name of her church.  “Are you involved in any ministries?”

“Yes, I am the leader of our Youth Ministry. ”

“I am involved in the Women’s Ministry and I sometimes lead out in our weekly Bible Study group meetings.  For our next Women’s Ministry retreat, I will recommend that we have it here.”

“Are you here alone?”

“Yes.  And you?”  Do you have a girlfriend?

“Yes.”  I hope she doesn’t have a boyfriend.  “Do you have family here?”

“Yes, I have lots of aunts and uncles and cousins here but my parents live in Florida.  They moved there after I graduated from university.   I usually spend Christmas with them.”  I’m glad I didn’t move to Florida too or I wouldn’t have met you.

“No siblings?”  Thank You, God for keeping her here in London or I wouldn’t have met her.

“No, I’m an only child.  What about your family?”

“My parents live in Yorkshire and I visit them on the weekends.  I live in London and my sister and her family live in Manchester.  We spend the Christmas holidays in Yorkshire.  Speaking of Christmas, have you finished your shopping as yet?”

She laughed.  “I haven’t even started.   I have no clue what I will get everyone.”

“I’m done.  My advice to you is to get gift cards.  Once you know what people, like, you just get gift cards instead of trying to figure out what they would like.  For my nieces and nephew, though, I don’t mind spending hours browsing toy stores.”

“Gift card?  I never thought of that.  Thanks for the suggestion.”

Talking to him had relaxed her to some degree.  He was easy to talk to.  She enjoyed his company.  They sat there, chatting about other things and then it was time to go for lunch.  They sat next each other at a table and continued talking to each other and some of the people around them.  After lunch, he invited her to go for a walk with him.

From that day on, they spent time together, going for walks, praying, worshipping, studying the Bible and joined in fun activities with other singles such as Finish the Sentence, Bible Pictionary, True or False, Bible Telephone, Bible Hangman, Name Game, Who Am I, Bible Bingo, Bible Scavenger Hunt, Name That Hymn and Bible Scene.  Her favorite was Finish the Sentence and when it was her turn to finish the sentence, I am blessed, she said, “I am blessed because God has shown me favor.” and she looked at Brandon when she said this.  I’m blessed because God has brought us together.  His answer was, “I am blessed because God has brought new joy into my life.”  His eyes were on her when he said that.

They spent the evenings alone together–talking or going for walks.  On the last evening before they were to leave the retreat and return to London, Brandon stopped and turned to her as they strolled the grounds.  It was beautiful night.  The full moon cast a ghostly light on them and the still water of the lake.  He reached out and took her hands in his.

“Esther, these past few days with you have been the happiest of my life.  I had planned to come to the retreat next week but I felt a very strong impression to come this week and I am thankful that I did because I met you.  I don’t want to say goodbye to you.  I want to continue to see you.  I’m not in a relationship.  Am I safe to assume that you’re not in one either?”

She shook her head.  “I’m not in a relationship,” she confirmed.

“I want to be in a relationship with you, that is if, it’s what you want too.”

“I-I want to be in a relationship with you too.”

“Good.  Tomorrow, we drive back to London together.”  He raised her hands to his lips and kissed them before they continued their stroll.

She raised her head to the starry sky and silently mouthed a prayer of thanks.  Coming to he retreat had changed both of their lives.

 

Sources: Ashburnham Place; Christian Camp Pro

The Ranch

As Mr. McGregor riffed on about how much America had changed under Trump, Leah stole a glance at Garrett and her heart skipped a beat when she found him watching her.  They hadn’t said much to each other since they arrived yesterday.  They were staying at his father’s ranch for the Christmas holidays.  It was the second year in a row that she had been invited and she had looked forward to it because it meant she would get to see Garrett.

Last year when she was here, he took her to the stables and showed her the horses.  He offered to teach her how to ride but at the time she was terrified.  They went for walks over the grassy fields, pausing so that she could admire the picturesque surroundings.  He took her bird-watching and hikes along the trails and hills.  Sometimes, they had picnics by the lake or the creek.  They had so much fun together but then, it all changed when his younger brother, Austin showed up.

Austin was outgoing, funny and good-looking but he didn’t make her heart skip a beat every time she saw him or wish for him to hold her hand or kiss her.  She liked him but wasn’t attracted to him.  She only had eyes for Garrett.   She remembered one night after dinner, she was outside on the porch to enjoy the night air when Austin joined her.

“Lovely night, isn’t it?” he commented.  “One of the reasons why I like to get away from the city and come out here, is I can look up and see the stars.”

“I know what you mean.  I lived in New York before moving to Texas and I couldn’t see the stars or the moon in the nights.  The city lights took care of that.”

“When I came outside just now, you looked disappointed when you saw me,” he said, startling her.  “Were you expecting someone else—Garrett, maybe?”

“Well, yes.  He and I would usually come out here after dinner for a while.”

“I don’t think he’ll be joining you tonight.  I thought I saw him heading out.  Maybe he’s gone to see Madison.”

“Who’s Madison?” she asked calmly.

“She’s a former Texas beauty queen whom Garrett has been dating.”

Her legs seemed to give way and she sank heavily down in one of the chairs.  “He never mentioned…”

Austin sat down beside her.  “Are you all right?” he asked.

“I’m—I’m fine.”

“Didn’t Garrett tell you about Madison?”

She shook her head.  She shivered although it was very warm outside and she felt him put his arm around her shoulder.  Just then, Garrett walked out on to the porch.  He froze when he saw them and before she knew what was happening, Austin was yanked to his feet and sent flying across the floor.  Garrett stood over him, his fists clenched, breathing heavily and his expression thunderous.

After recovering from her shock, she went over to Austin who was nursing his jaw. “Are you badly hurt?” she asked, kneeling beside him.

He sat up.  “I’m fine,” he said, sitting up.

She helped him up and he leaned against the wooden structure for a moment.  “Are you sure you’re all right?”

He nodded.  “I’m fine except for my jaw.  I’ll go and put an icepack on it.  Excuse me.”  He walked slowly into the house.

As soon as he was gone, Leah rounded angrily on Garrett.  “Why did you hit him?” she demanded.

“He had his hands on you,” he muttered tightly.  “Or hadn’t you noticed?”

“I was upset and he was just trying to help.”

“I know my brother and I can see that he was making moves on you so I thought I would put a stop to it.”

“Well, I can take care of myself,” she retorted.  “I don’t need you to go around beating up guys for me.”

“Why didn’t you push his arm away?”

“You didn’t give me a chance to do anything.”

“What were you so upset about that he felt he had to comfort you?”

“He told me about Madison.”

“Madison?  What did he say about her?”

“He told me that she was a former beauty queen and that you’re dating her—”

“It’s true.  She and I used to date.”

“Austin told me that you had probably gone to see her tonight.”

“And you believed him?” He raked his fingers through his hair, his face glowering.  “When it comes to my brother, I’m always dubious of his intentions.  He may seem charming but that could prove to be very detrimental for the gullible.”

She glared at him.  “Are you saying that I’m gullible?” she retorted.

“I didn’t say that you were but you should be on your guard with Austin is concerned.”

“I hope he’s all right.  You shouldn’t have hit him.  What got into you?”

His mouth tightened.  “If you’re so concerned about him, why don’t you go and see how he’s doing.”  He started to walk away.

Alarmed, she called out, “Where’re you going?”

“Out,” was the terse reply before he left the porch and disappeared around the corner.  Moments later, she heard his car.

Tears of frustration sprang to her eyes.  What a disaster this evening had turned out to be.

The sound of laughter brought her back to the present.  She started when she saw that Garrett wasn’t there.  Getting up, she quickly left the room.  On her way to the porch, she run into Consuela, the housekeeper.  “Hi Consuela, do you know where Garrett went?”

“Yes, he said that he was going for a ride.  He’s in the stables.”

“Thank you, Consuela.”

She left the house and headed for the stables, her heart pounding with excitement and trepidation because she didn’t know what kind of reception she would get. He was leading the horse out of the stables when he saw her.  He stiffened and his expression was wary.  Hands shoved deep in the back pockets of her jeans, she approached him.  “Hi Garrett,” she greeted him huskily.  How she longed to throw herself in his arms.

“Hi,” he said.  “Why aren’t you in there with the others?”

“I wanted to see you.”

“I’m going for a ride.  It’s too beautiful a day to stay cooped up inside.”

“Take me with you.”

He looked surprised.  “I thought you were afraid of horses.”

“I’m not afraid of horses,” she denied and as if to prove her point, she reached out and gingerly rubbed the horse’s side.  “You once offered to teach me how to ride.  Is that offer still open?” She was willing to do whatever it took just to be with him.

“Yes,” he said.  His expression was still guarded but at least he was thawing toward her.  “Are you sure?”

She nodded. “Yes.”

“I’ll go and saddle Sadie for you.  She’s a gentle one.  You’ll be safe with her.”  He was about to turn and head back into the stables when Austin walked up to them.

Her heart sank and she watched him warily.  He cast a sidelong glance at Garrett who was watching him then he turned to her.  “So this is where you wandered off to.  You promised me a game of pool, remember?”

Blast.  She had forgotten all about the darn pool game.  She opened her mouth to say that she had changed her mind when, Garrett grabbed the reins of his horse and led it away.  “Go and play your game of pool,” he muttered before he mounted the horse and galloped off.

Austin gazed after him.  “Just as I suspected,” he said, turning to look at her.  “You know he’s in love with you, don’t you?”

She stared at him.  How she wanted to throttle him for ruining things between Garrett and her again.  “What are you talking about?” she snapped.

“Why do you think he punched me the last time we saw us together?  He was fit to be tied.”

“He thought you were coming on to me and just now, he was going to teach me how to ride but you came along then and now.  Why did you have to follow me out here just to remind me about a stupid pool game which could have waited until later?  Do you enjoy ruining things for your brother and me?  Does it give you some sick thrill?”

“Whoa, whoa, calm down,” he said raising his hands.  “I had a theory and just wanted to prove it.”

“And what theory is that?” she really was in a foul mood now and wanted him to go away.  She was wondering if she should wait for Garrett out here or in the stables.  Would he be gone long?

“I suspected that Garrett was in love with you.  His behavior has that I’m right.  Granted he didn’t swing for me just now but the expression on his face was a dead giveaway.”

“He practically threw us together,” she said, feeling dejected now.  “He doesn’t care what I do or whom I do it with.”

“You really check for him, don’t you?  I’m sorry that I made a mess of things.  What can I do to make up for it?”

“Nothing.  I think I’ll go up to my room and lie down.”

“Leah, I know my brother and I’ve never seen him fly into a jealous rage over a woman before—not even over Madison.  Garrett is in love with you.  I’m sure of it.  Don’t give up on him.  Chances are he’s not sure how you feel about him and he doesn’t want to get hurt.  I’ll stay out of your way.”

She looked at him and saw that he was serious and sincere.  “Thanks, Austin.”

“You should probably wait until tonight to talk to him.  Give him time to cool down.  I’ll make sure Consuela lets him know that you went straight up to your room when you got back to the house.  That way he’ll know that you and I didn’t play pool.  Then, I’ll head into town for a while and be back before dinner.”

She smiled at him and then turned and walked away.  In her room, she lay on the bed, staring up at the ceiling, thinking about what Austin had said.  Could it really be true? She wondered.  Was Garrett in love with her? Oh, I hope so, she sighed, closing her eyes.  I love him so much.

She sat up with a start.  She must have dozed off.  A quick glance at her watch told her that she had less than twenty-five minutes to get ready for dinner.  Scrambling out of the bed, she rushed into the bathroom after quickly straightening the bedspread.  As she showered, she thought again about what Austin had said.  Tonight, she was going to straighten things out with Garrett.  She had to let him know how she felt about him.  Her heart began to thud heavily against her chest at the thought of facing him again.  She hoped he had had time to cool off.

When she went downstairs to the drawing-room, everyone was there except Austin.  Her eyes immediately went to Garrett who was standing by the fireplace looking handsome as usual in a black suit, black shirt and tie.  They eyes met and held for several minutes and then he looked away, his body and demeanor rigid.  Her heart sank and her resolve to settle things with him began to weaken.

Austin walked in just as it was time to go into the dining-room.  He kept his word and stayed clear of Leah.  All through dinner, she kept glancing over at Garrett who seemed to be avoiding looking in her direction.  Although the food was scrumptious as usual, she couldn’t enjoy it and longed for dinner to be over so that she could be alone with Garrett.  Finally, it was and as the others filed out of the room, she made her way over to Garrett.

She stood next him and when he turned to look down at her, his expression impenetrable, she said, “I’d like to speak to you.  We can go to the study.”  She knew that the study would be empty as everyone else would be in the drawing room or on the porch.  Besides, she had a very good reason for wanting to talk to him there.

He didn’t say anything but aside so that she could precede him out of the dining room.  Her legs were trembling as they walked down the hallway, her heart accelerating with each step.  When they got to the study, she closed the door and turned to face him.  “We’re standing under mistletoe.”

He glanced up and saw it hanging from the ceiling right above their heads.  His gaze returned to her face, his eyes darkening.  “You want me to kiss you?” he asked thickly.

She moved closer, her heart was pounding wildly.  “Yes.”

“What about Austin?”

“Do you want me to kiss him instead?” She didn’t know why she said that.  Perhaps, she wanted to see how he would react or maybe she was feeling reckless now.  Her mouth went dry when she saw the expression on his face.

“No,” he groaned before he reached for her and pulled her roughly against him.  Her eyes closed just as his mouth closed hungrily over hers.  She put her arms around his neck and hugged him tightly as she responded to his kisses.  They exchanged wild, passionate kisses as the feelings that they had harbored for so long came gushing out, threatening to sweep them away.

Finally when he raised his head to catch his breath, she asked, “Are you in love with me?”

He nodded.  “Yes.  I have been since we met.”

“So, Austin was right.  He said you were and that’s the reason why you punched him.”

“When I saw the two of you together, I saw red.  And when you made such a fuss over him, I was mad with jealousy.  I thought you had feelings for him.”

“How could I when I was madly in love with you?  You had no reason to be jealous of Austin then and now.”

“And you have no reason to be jealous of Madison.  She and I are not even in touch with each other.  Austin said that we were just to stir up trouble between you and me.  Unfortunately, it worked.”

“Let’s put all that behind us.”

“Yes,” he agreed.  “Let’s forget about Austin and Madison and just concentrate on each other.”  He bent his head and kissed her.

 

 

Source:  Brushy Top

The Room in Venice

Friends since they were children, Monica and Russell were inseparable.  They went to the same schools and university and moved from Manchester to London after they graduated from university.  Whenever people saw them together, they always assumed that they were a couple and they would quickly inform them, “We’re just friends.”

They dated other people but the relationships never worked out and their respective exes always blamed their friendship.  Once, Monica’s ex-boyfriend accused her of sabotaging their relationship because she was secretly in love with Russell.  She had a run once in with Samantha, a model he was dating who informed her that she didn’t believe that they were just friends.  “A person would have to be blind not to see that there is something going on between you two,” she said.  “And which woman in her right mind could be just friends with a guy like Russell?”

Russell and Monica laughed about it but as time passed, they realized that there was some truth to what others were saying.  They stopped dating other people because they didn’t feel any connection with them and it was beginning to affect their friendship.  Russell found himself getting jealous of the men Monica dated and she hated seeing him with other women.  So, to safeguard their friendship, they remained unattached.   Instead of going to dinner with other people they went each other.  They went to the theatre, concerts and now, here they were in Italy for a three week vacation.

Monica stood now on the Spanish Steps as Russell snapped photos of her.  He looked so handsome in the white shirt and light blue jeans.  She noticed women walking by and casting admiring glances his way.  Jealousy gnawed at her although he seemed oblivious to them.  She knew she was being ridiculous but she couldn’t help it.  She always worried that one day he would meet someone else and fall in love with her.  Not wanting to spoil the moment, she smiled and posed for the photos.

The day went pleasantly as they visited the Pantheon and had lunch at a trattoria near the Piazza Navona.  After sharing a pizza, she went to the washroom.  On her way back to the table, a local looked up at her and said, “Ciao Bella ragazza.”  She glanced at him and then continued to where Russell was.

He stood up when she reached him.  “What did that man say to you?” he asked.  His expression was guarded.

“It sounded like, ‘Ciao bella ragazza,’” she told him.

Russell didn’t answer.  Instead, he put on his sunglasses and preceded her out of the trattoria.  They went for a walk along Castel Sant’Angelo before they went back to the hotel.  They went to their respective rooms until it was time for dinner.  The following day, they left Rome and went to Florence where they spent their second week.  The highlight for her was Michelangelo’s David.  She stood there for a long time just studying it.  Afterwards, they visited the Uffizi Gallery.  The following day, they took a trip to Milan and after visiting the Santa Maria delle Grazie where Da Vinci’s Last Supper hung, they stopped by the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.  Russell took a photo of Monica outside of Prada.  From Florence, they went on a day tour to Pisa, Siena and San Gimignano.  They had dinner in Siena in a trattoria in Piazza del Campo.

The week went by very quickly and Monica was sorry when they left Florence but looked forward to seeing Venice.  They took the train early in the morning and while Russell read a magazine, she took a nap.  When they arrived in Venice, they found out that they had to share a room because the hotel was fully booked.  That made Monica very nervous but she was relieved when she saw that there were two separate beds.

They spent their first day in Venice at Piazza San Marco, reputed to be one of the most beautiful squares in the world.   They visited the Basilica of San Marco.  Before going inside, they took photos of its architecture which was a mixture of Byzantine, Roman and Venetian, the impressive work of artists and craftsmen who came from all over.  Monica was enthralled by the dome and could have stood there all day just staring up at it.

When they came out of the basilica, Russell pointed to the one of the arches above the entrance where there was a marble statue of an old man biting his hand.  “The legend says that he was relieved of his duties when he said that he would be able to build it even more beautiful.” They had lunch at a restaurant in the square, enjoying the sunshine and watching other tourists.  They finished their sightseeing for the day climbing the Campanile for the breathtaking view of the city and the lagoon.   They stayed there for a while.

It was late afternoon when they returned to the hotel.  They relaxed on the terrace and then it was time to get ready for dinner.  It felt strange getting in the bathroom while Russell got dressed in the bedroom.  She had to make sure it was safe to come out once she was finished.  He looked handsome as usual.  And she saw his gaze travel over her.  “You look great,” he remarked before turning away.  “I was thinking that after dinner, we can go to a church concert.”

She smiled.  “That sounds great.”  Venice was beautiful at night so it was nice walking to the square.  How she longed to hold Russell’s hand, especially when they passed other couples who were holding hands.  They had dinner at an elegant restaurant.  As they enjoyed the Chicken and Mushrooms and Pasta & Oca respectively, they talked about the places they had visited that day and where they planned on going the next day.  For dessert, they had Rosada cream with orange.  Afterwards, they walked to the church where they spent the next hour or so listening to uplifting music in a lovely atmosphere.

It was late when they got back to the hotel and she was tired.  On the way up to their room, she kept yawning and as soon as they got in she, took out a nightgown from her suitcase and headed straight for the bathroom.  She quickly changed out of her dress and into her nightgown and brushed her teeth.

She walked into the room and stopped short when she saw Russell standing there half-naked, holding his pajama shirt.  She turned away, flustered but not before her gaze swept irresistibly over the broad shoulders and wide chest.  He watched her, his expression tense and a muscle throbbed alongside his jawline.  It took every ounce of willpower on his part not to go over there and take her in his arms.  Instead, he went into the bathroom and closed the door quietly behind him.

As soon as he was gone, Monica hurried over to her bed and climbed in, pulling the cover up to her throat.

A few moments later, the door to the bathroom opened and Russell stepped into the room.  She watched as he walked past her bed to his.

“Goodnight, Russell,” she said, looking over at him as he pulled back the cover and got in.  His back was turned to her.

“Goodnight.”  He closed his eyes as his body reacted to the memory of her in the champagne colored silk nightgown.  He didn’t know how much longer he could continue being just friends with her when he wanted her.

She lay there on her back, staring up at the ceiling, unable to fall asleep.  She couldn’t get the image of him out of her mind.  When she saw his bare torso, her mouth went dry and what felt like a bolt of electricity surged through her.  She had turned away because she was afraid that her feelings would betray her.  She wished she had the courage to tell him how she really felt about him but she didn’t want to jeopardize their friendship.

Sometime later, she heard him stir and then get up.  In the faint light, she watched him tiptoe over to the chair where his shirt and pants were draped.   As he started to get dressed, she sat up, alarmed.  “Where’re you going?” she asked, turning on the lamp beside her.

He didn’t turn around.  “I thought you were asleep.  I can’t sleep so, I’m going out for a bit.”

After he pulled on his shirt and tucked it in his pants, he turned to face her, his eyes wary.  “I’ll try not to disturb you when I come back.”

“How long will you be gone?”

“I don’t know,” he replied shortly.

“Where will you go?”

“I don’t know.  Maybe I’ll go to Piazzale Roma or the Rialto or San Marco.”  He was about to walk past her when she quickly climbed out of the bed and stood in front of him.

“What’s wrong, Russell?” she asked.  “You seem upset.”

He kept his eyes on her face, not daring to let them go lower.  “I’m not upset.”

“I think you are, “she insisted.   “Please tell me what’s wrong.  We’re supposed to be friends—”

His expression darkened.   “I know we’re supposed to be friends,” he snapped.  “But right now, I don’t feel like a friend.”

She looked nonplussed.  “What do you mean?”

This is what I mean,” he muttered before he grabbed her by the shoulders and pulled her roughly against him, making her gasp.  His head swooped down and his mouth closed hungrily over hers.

Monica clung to him, kissing him back eagerly, feverishly.  As they exchanged kisses, he picked her up and carried her over to her bed.  He put her gently down on it and then drew back to remove his shirt.  She reached for him, pulling him down to her, her fingers digging into his back as he pressed his lips hotly against her neck.

They made mad, passionate love and the next morning when she woke up, she was alone in the bed.  She lay there for a moment thinking it had all been a dream.  Then she sat up and realized that she wasn’t wearing anything under the cover.  She looked over and saw Russell standing by the window.  He was wearing a robe.   He turned when he heard her.

He left the window and came and sat down on the bed beside her.  His expression was serious when he met her gaze.  “Do you regret what happened between us?” he asked.

She shook her head.  “No,” she murmured huskily, reaching out and brushing the hair back from his forehead.

He leaned over and kissed her on the shoulder, making her shiver.  “Me neither,” he said.  “I wanted to make love to you for a very, very long time but you insisted on us being just friends—”

“I thought that was what you wanted,” she said.  “You never came out and said otherwise.”

“Do you have any idea how hard it is to be a friend to you when I want to be more?  That’s why I couldn’t sleep last night.  When I saw you in that nightgown, I wanted you so much.  I had to get out of here before I lost my mind.”

“I couldn’t sleep either because I kept thinking about how sexy you look without a shirt…”

His eyes darkened and cupping her face between his hands he lowered his head and kissed her.  “I love you, Monica,” he whispered, raising his head to look into her face.  “I wanted to tell you that so many times but my courage failed me.”

“I love you too.”

“I just wish we hadn’t wasted so much time dating other people when we should have been dating each other.”

“Let’s not waste any more time having regrets.  Things are different between us now.”

“Yes, they are.”

“You know, if anyone were to ask me what the most memorable part of my vacation is, I would tell them that it was the room in Venice.”

“Why this room?” he asked.

“It’s where you and I first made love and declared our feelings for each other.  I will always remember this room for those two reasons.”

His eyes darkened.  “Let’s have a late breakfast,” he suggested as he removed his robe.

“Or we can order room service,” she said, settling back against the pillows.

“Room service, then,” he agreed before his mouth found hers.

 

 

Sources:  Cabragadin Hotel; Ciao Florence; Italy Guides; Veneto Inside; Bistrot de Venise; Classic Tic; Rick Steves

 

Family Affairs

“You’re the most infuriating, insufferable, arrogant man I have ever met,” she fumed.

He looked unperturbed.  “Is this what you came all the way over here to tell me?” he asked.  “You could have just as easily phoned me and save yourself an hour’s drive.”

“I wanted to tell you what I think of you to your face,” she retorted.

He moved closer.  “Why don’t you admit it, Debra?”

“Admit what?” she asked, eying him suspiciously and warily.  He was a little too close for comfort.

“That you want me as much as I want you.”

Alarm filled her and for a brief moment, she was at a loss of words.  Then, lifting her chin, she declared, “You’re mistaken.”

“I’m not afraid to admit that I want you.  I wanted you from the first time I saw you.  Feel what you do to me.”  He took her hand and pressed it against his heart.  It was pounding wildly—like hers.

She tried to pull her hand away but his grip tightened.  Her eyes flew up to his face and her mouth went dry when she saw the unbridled passion shining in their depths.  Desire coursed through her body and she tugged at her hand, desperate to put as much distance between them as possible.  “Please let go of me,” she begged.

“Why?” he asked thickly.  “Am I making you feel things you don’t want to feel?”

Just then, the sound of someone clearing his throat came from the doorway.  Then, a voice called, “Mr. Rhys, Sir?”

Without turning his head, Rhys said, sounding somewhat put out at the interruption, “Yes, Albert, what is it?”

“You have a telephone call.”

“I’ll take it in the study.  Thank you, Albert.”

When Albert left, she tugged at her hand again and he released it this time.  She stepped back, grateful to Albert for the interruption.

Rhys watched her.  “Will you wait here until I return?”

“No,” she said crossly.  “I have things to do.”

“Have dinner with me tonight,” he said quietly.

She glared at him.  “Even if my life depended on it, I will never have dinner with you.  Good day.” She stormed past him and out of the room, leaving him watching after her, his expression a mixture of irritation and longing.

On the drive back to London, she fretted and fumed at herself for the brief betraying moment when she wanted to succumb to the feelings he aroused in her.  If Albert hadn’t interrupted when he did she would not have been able to resist him any longer and that scared her.  She didn’t want to have feelings for the man who was responsible for her sister’s misery.

Her sister was the reason why she went to Surrey to see him.  She had meant to find out why he was opposing Vanessa’s marriage to his brother, Mark but when she saw him, she just lost it.  She hoped she hadn’t make things worse.  Just who did he think he was?  Insufferable man.  How she disliked him.  Yet, how was it possible to loathe a man and want him at the same time?

She didn’t go back to her flat, instead, she went over to her friend Marcy’s cottage.  “You look fit to be tied,” her friend exclaimed when she saw her.  “Come on in.  A cup of tea would do you some good, I think. Come to the kitchen and tell me what’s on your mind while I get the tea ready.”

Debra sat down at the table while Marcy put the kettle on.  “I went to see Rhys,” she said, trying to be calm.

“You mentioned that you were going to find out why he was stalling his brother’s wedding plans.  What did he say?”

“I didn’t give him a chance to say anything.  I just laid into him because he got me so mad.”

“What did he do to get you so mad at him?”

“Well, nothing, really,” she said.  “When I saw him, looking so smug, I lost it.”

“So, you didn’t find out why he is stalling the wedding?”

“What other reason could there be besides the fact that he doesn’t think that my sister is good enough for his precious brother?”

“Deb, you can’t assume that’s the reason.  It might be something else.”

“What other reason could there be?  Mark and Vanessa love each other.  They have been dating since high-school and all through university.  No one was surprised when they announced their engagement.  Plans have already been put in place for a spring wedding and now, they have been put on hold because of Rhys.  He acts more like Mark’s father than his older brother.”

“I guess he feels responsible for him because after their parents died, he raised him.  It’s only natural that he wants what’s best for his little brother.”

“Doesn’t he think that marrying my sister would be the best thing for his brother? Is it because she’s not from rich family like Mark and he?”

“Deb, you and I can sit here all morning and speculate about Rhys’ reasons for putting everything on hold.   There’s only one way to find out for sure and that’s to talk to him.”

Debra took the steaming cup of coffee from Marcia.  She didn’t relish the idea of seeing Rhys again but if she wanted to get to the bottom of this, she had to.  “I’ll stop by his office tomorrow during my lunch break,” she sighed.

The next day, she made sure she called Rhys first to find out if it was all right with him to stop by his office around twelve-thirty.  He sounded surprised to hear from her but said that he was free to see her at that time.  She got there at about twelve thirty-five and was shown into his office which modern, spacious and had a remarkable view of the city.  He was sitting behind the desk but stood up when she walked in.  He went over to the door and closed it.  Then, he offered her a seat.  “What a pleasant surprise,” he remarked.  “What brings you here?”

She sat down and came straight to the point.  “I want to talk to you about Mark and Vanessa.  Why are you standing in the way of their happiness?”

He sat down behind the desk, his expression serious now.  “I’m not opposed to their happiness,” he said.  “But I do have my misgivings.  I think they are too young to get married.  He’s twenty-three and your sister is twenty-two.  Mark has a trust fund which doesn’t have full access to until he’s twenty-five. Right now, he can live comfortably from the money in the trust fund but with marriage comes so many responsibilities that I’m not sure he’s ready for.”

“So, your objection is based solely on their age and not on their suitability for each other.”

He nodded.  “I have always heard of many cases where young marriages don’t work out.  I just don’t want Mark and Vanessa to be one of those couples.”

“But how long do you expect them to wait?  Until they are in their thirties?  That doesn’t seem fair.  Those marriages you mentioned failed most likely because the couples were not mature.  Mark and Vanessa are mature and very sensible beyond their years.  If you still have misgivings why don’t you consider having them go for pre-marital counseling?  I have a friend who has counseled many couples, including those in their twenties.  I could arrange for her to see Mark and Vanessa.  The sessions will determine whether or not they are ready for marriage.”

“That would be very helpful,” Rhys agreed.  “It would put my mind at rest.”

“All right, I will call my friend this evening.”  She got up.

He stood up too.  “Are you leaving so soon?”

“I have to head back to the office.  Thanks for taking the time to see me.  Rhys…” she looked at him, feeling a little embarrassed.  “I wanted to apologize for the way I spoke to you yesterday.”

He came around to where she was and stopped a few feet away from her.  “I will accept your apology on one condition,” he said quietly, his eyes studying her face.  “Have dinner with me tonight.”

“All right,” she said.

“I’ll see you at seven-thirty, then.”

She turned and crossed the carpet towards the door with him following closely behind.  The same time she reached for the knob, he did and his hand covered hers.  Heart leaping in her chest, she turned her head to look up at him and met his penetrating gaze.  Without saying anything, he took her hand and pressed it against his thumping heart then without any warning, he reached over and kissed her.

Unable to help herself she turned so that she was facing him and her arms reached for him as she responded to his fiery kisses.  Several minutes later, she felt herself pressed up against the hard surface of the door while his hands on her hips held her tightly against him as he ravaged her lips.  Then, his lips were hot against her neck and she groaned, reaching up to bury her fingers in his hair.

A knock on the door jolted them and he pulled away, his face flushed.  He took a few moments to control his breathing and regain his composure before he moved to open the door slightly.  “Yes, Betty?”  Betty was his secretary.

“They are waiting for you in the boardroom, Mr. Yardley.”

“Okay.  Thank you, Betty.  Inform them that I will be there shortly.”

“Yes, Sir.”

He closed the door and turned to Debra.  He ran his fingers through his hair.  “I forgot that I have a board meeting at one,” he said.  “I’m sorry.”

She smoothed her hair and straightened her white top with the V neck and her navy blue skirt.  “I should be heading back now,” she said, stooping down to pick up her handbag which had dropped to the floor.

“I look forward to seeing you again later,” he said quietly.  He held open the door for her and she glanced at him before she went out.

On the way back to her office, all she could think about was the kiss and how much she wanted him.  She couldn’t wait to see him later.  When she got to her desk, the first thing she did was to call her friend, the marriage counselor.

At exactly seven-thirty he was at her flat.  He looked amazing in a fitted black suit, white dress shirt and no tie.  His hair was slicked back, giving him a polish and slightly rakish look.  His eyes slipped over her when he saw her in a short navy blue dress with a beaded neckline which flattered her figure and her hair pulled back at the nape with a clasp.  She looked simple but elegant.  “You look incredible,” he commented as they walked to the lift.

She smiled.  “Thank you,” she said.  “So do you.”

He took her to his favorite restaurant which offered them privacy, spectacular view of the city of London and food to die for.  They talked and opened up to each other.  She mentioned to him that she had called her friend and that whenever Mark and Vanessa were ready, she would see them.  “I really believe that things will work out for them,” she said.

“I hope you’re right,” he said.

“I was wrong about you,” she admitted.  “I thought you were causing problems for my sister because you didn’t think she was suitable for your brother.”

“That couldn’t be farther from the truth.  I like Vanessa.  She’s a remarkable girl.”

Debra smiled.  “Yes, she is.  Sometimes when I look at her, I can’t believe that she’s that kid that used to follow me around and look up to me.”

“It was the same with Mark.  I was his role model.  My good opinion and approval meant a lot to him.  He turned out to be a very fine young man.  I’m very proud of him.”

“Here’s to the two remarkable young people in our lives.” Debra held up her glass and they made a toast.

“And here’s to us,” he said, his expression serious as he returned her gaze.  Their glasses touched and then, he signaled to the waiter for the bill.

They left the restaurant and went back to her flat.  As soon as she closed the door and locked it behind her, he grabbed her, pulled her roughly against him, muttering “I’ve been dying to do this all evening,” before his head swooped down and his hungry lips sought hers.

She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him back, her fervor matching his.  As they exchanged feverish kisses, she kicked off her shoes while he dragged off his jacket and tossed it on the floor.  Then, breaking off the kiss, she drew back, almost fighting for breath and without saying a word, she grabbed his hand and led him toward the hallway to her room where they spent the rest of the night.

The following year, on a beautiful day in May, Mark and Vanessa tied the knot.  The service took place at the church where his parents got married and the reception was held at their home in Surrey.  It was a happy occasion.  The pre-marital counseling had really paid off and after receiving assurance from the counselor that the couple was ready for marriage, Rhys happily gave his consent and the wedding preparations went ahead.

As Rhys stood beside Debra at the foot of the steps leading down from the front entrance, he turned to her, “It looks like you’re next,” he commented, indicating the bouquet which she had caught.  “When would you like to get married?  In the spring like your sister or in the summer?”

She stared at him.  “Stop teasing me,” she scolded him.

“I’m not teasing you,” he said and he pulled out a small velvet box from his pants pocket.  “I was planning to give you this later after dinner but I don’t think I could wait until then.  Come with me.”  He grabbed her hand and led her off to a quiet spot out of ear shot of the wedding guests.

He got down on his knee, opened the box and took out the ring.  “Will you marry me, Debra?” he asked huskily, his eyes tender as he looked up at her.

“Yes,” she cried, laughing as the tears ran down her face.  “Yes, I will marry you.”

He put the ring on her finger and then stood up.  “I love you,” he murmured before he kissed her.

“I love you too,” she answered when he drew back.  She reached up and touched his face.  Then, the sounds of voices reached them.

“They’re leaving,” Rhys said.  “Let’s go and say goodbye.”  He took her hand and they hurried off to say goodbye to the happy couple as they came down the stairs laughing as rice grains were thrown at them.

Debra hugged Vanessa tightly.  “I’m very happy for you,” she said.  “You make such a beautiful bride.  I wish you great happiness.”

“Thank you, Deb.  And I wish you the same.”  When she saw her sister’s engagement ring, she was so overjoyed.  She hugged her again.  “Congratulations.   Rhys is twice my brother-in-law.  I couldn’t be happier.”

Later that evening as she stood on the terrace, looking out at the grounds, Rhys joined her.  He put his arms around her waist and she leaned against him.  “That night when you agreed to have dinner with me, did you do so because you felt badly about the way you spoke to me?” he asked.

She turned around then and faced him.  “No,” she said softly.  “I did it because my happiness depended on it.”

“So did mine,” he murmured before he took her up in his arms and carried her into the bedroom.

Sources:  The Telegraph; To Love Honor and Vacuum; Guide Doc

The Nutcracker

It was on a Saturday night at the London Coliseum where Alexis and her sister Gwen ran into Mrs. Bannister, Alexis’ music teacher, a wonderful lady who didn’t look as if she had aged very much at all.

She was delighted to see her former pupil, her face beaming and her light blue eyes sparkling.  “Hello My Dear,” she said, “What a lovely surprise and on my birthday too.  How are you?  Are you still practicing on the piano?  You were a very promising student and one of my favorites.”

“It’s so good to see you, Mrs. Bannister,” Alexis said as they hugged.  “Happy birthday.”

Mrs. Bannister turned to the young man who was standing beside her.  “This is my grandson, Jeremy.  He brought me to the ballet this evening for my birthday.  He has always been a very thoughtful young man.  Jeremy, this is Alexis.”

Alexis’ attention shifted to the older woman’s companion.  He was tall and very handsome.  His thick brown hair was a bit long but it suited him.  He was wearing a fine and rather expensive looking dark grey suit, blue shirt and tie.  His light green eyes met hers and she thought she saw admiration shining in them.

He took the hand she proffered and shook it.  “A pleasure,” he said with a cultured English accent.

She smiled.  “It’s nice to meet you.   This is my sister, Gwen,” she said.  He acknowledged Gwen with a smile and shook her hand.  Then, he returned his attention to Alexis.

“Did you enjoy the ballet?” he asked.  “Grandmother has always wanted to see The Nutcracker and I promised her that one year I take her for her birthday.”

“Yes, I enjoyed it very much.  I’ve always wanted to see it too.  It was my good fortune that my brother-in-law is not a fan of ballet or musicals so Gwen asked me to come with her.”

“I should thank your sister for bringing you tonight,” he said quietly.  “I got to meet you.”

She smiled, not sure of how to respond to that remark.  He was staring at her making her feel both nervous and flattered.  She had never had a man this young interested in her before.  He had to be at least ten years younger than her.  “Are you and your grandmother close?” she asked.

“Very,” he said.  “She always says that I’m her favorite.”

“Do you have any brothers or sisters?”

“I have an older brother and a younger sister.  Do you have other siblings?”

“No, Gwen is the only one I have.  We were very close growing up.  Now she is married with two girls and a boy.”

He glanced down at her hand.  “I see that you’re not wearing a ring,” he said.  “I guess you’re not married.”

“No, I’m still single.”  She didn’t mention that she was once engaged but she broke it off when she found out that her fiancé was two-timing her with his new assistant.

Just then, Mrs. Bannister said to her, “Alexis, how would you like to have tea with me tomorrow afternoon, if you have no other plans, of course.”

Alexis smiled.  “I would be delighted,” she said with a big smile.

“Splendid.  So, I shall see you tomorrow afternoon at two.  Gwen, it was a pleasure to meet you.   Come, Jeremy, it is past my bedtime.  Thank you, Dear, for a lovely evening.  I shall never forget it.”

Jeremy said goodnight to Alexis and Gwen, his eyes lingering on the former before he took his grandmother’s arm and led her away.

Gwen looked at her.  “Mrs. Bannister seems like a really nice lady, very gracious and friendly.  I had a rather nice chat with her.  Her grandson is very handsome.  I noticed him paying you a lot of attention.  What did you think of him?”

“He’s very handsome and polished.”

“Were you attracted to him?”

It was no use denying it.  “Yes, very attracted, a lot good it would do me.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Well, for one thing, he’s younger and another, he’s upper crust.”

“It seemed like neither of those two things mattered to him and if he’s anything like his grandmother, I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t at least entertain to idea of dating him.  Don’t allow what happened with Sidney prevent you from having a love life.  I never did like him.  Good riddance to him, I say.  You can do much better.  So, if you happen to see Jeremy again and he asks you out, don’t turn him down.”

Alexis looked unconvinced.  “I don’t know if I will see him again and even if I do, I don’t think he’ll ask me out.  No, I’m not going to get my hopes up.  I’ll go and see his grandmother tomorrow and we will spend a pleasant afternoon together, catching up.  Now, what do you say, we grab a bite to eat before you head home to your brood?”

The next day, Alexis drove over to Mrs. Bannister pretty cottage, nestled among thick foliage and surrounded by immaculate gardens.  She had a live in housekeeper who opened the door and showed Alexis to the drawing-room where the lady of the house was seated.

Mrs. Bannister’s face lit up when she saw her.  “Hello, my Dear.  Come and sit beside me and by the fire.  It must be cold outside and grey too.”

Alexis went over to her and after hugging her warmly, she sat down on a chair close to the one the elder woman was occupying.  “What a lovely home you have,” she remarked.  “I couldn’t help admiring your gardens.  I imagine that your grandchildren must have loved playing in them when they were young.”  She wanted to ask her so many questions about Jeremy and what he was like as a boy but thought better of it.

Mrs. Bannister nodded, smiling.  “Oh yes, they loved playing in the gardens which they were children.  Jeremy’s favorite spot was the lake. He would swim there sometimes.  He was always scampering about the place, vexing his mother who thought he was a bit too wild.  I always told her that he was a boy and boys were supposed to be a little unruly.  When he comes he could take you for a walk on the grounds and show you the lake.”

Alexis’ heart lurched.  “Jeremy’s coming here?” she asked.  The thought of seeing him again thrilled and terrified her at the same time.  She couldn’t believe that she was behaving like this over a younger man.

“Yes, he said that he would stop by around three.  He doesn’t usually come and see me on a Sunday so I was quite surprised when he called me this morning to tell me that he was coming over this afternoon.  I’ll ring for our tea now.”

They had their tea and sandwiches as they talked about old times and other things.  The time went by very quickly and Alexis had just finished drinking her tea when Jeremy walked into the drawing room.  He went over to his grandmother and hugged her.  When he drew back she looked up at him, beaming.  “It’s good to see you, Dear.”

“I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon,” he said, smiling at her.  Then he turned to Alexis.  “Have you had a chance to see the gardens?” he asked.

She shook her head.  “I saw them when I was coming up the driveway.  They look amazing.”

“I told Alexis that you would take her for a walk in the gardens and show her the lake where you used to swim as a child.”

“I’d be happy to,” he said, his gaze still on Alexis.  “Shall we?”

She got up and after excusing herself, she followed him out to the foyer.  She got her coat and scarf from the closet.

“I won’t keep you outside too long,” he promised.  “It’s very nippy.”

They walked through the gardens and to the path which led to the lake.  She looked around her in wonder.  Autumn in Surrey was breathtaking.  The thick foliage on the opposite side of the lake was cloaked in rich, bright colors.  The air was cold but very fresh.  “I can see why you loved coming here,” she commented as they stood there watching two swans gliding through the gold lake.  It was so peaceful out there.   It was a nice change from the city.

“Yes.  I used to come out here all the time and swim or feed the swans.  I loved being here more than at my parents’ estate in Yorkshire.  Yorkshire is even more beautiful in the autumn but I prefer being here in Surrey.  You’re right about it being peaceful here and that’s why this is still my favorite place to relax and think about things.”

“Do you still swim in the lake?”

He smiled and shook his head.  “I stopped doing that when I turned thirteen.  Besides, I don’t want to scare away the swans.”

“This is a nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon,” she remarked.  “Your grandmother was surprised that you visited her today.  She said that you don’t usually visit her on a Sunday.”

“She’s right.  I’m usually at home or out with my friends but I came here today because of you.”

She swallowed.  “Me?”

“Yes, I wanted to see you again.”

A slight breeze started blowing and she shivered.  She pulled the hood over her head and shoved her hands in the pockets of her coat, wishing she had worn her gloves.

“You’re cold,” he observed.  “Let’s go back to the cottage.”

He helped her remove her winter gear and then he took off his coat and hanged everything in the closet.

When they went into the drawing-room, Mrs. Bannister was not there.  She went over to the fireplace to warm her hands.  He joined her.  He turned toward her and took her cold hand in his and rubbed it between his.  Her heart was pounding as she watched his long fingers move slowly but vigorously to warm hers.  Then, she raised her head to look up at his face and her breath caught in her throat when she met his smoldering gaze.  “I want to kiss you,” he muttered thickly.

She trembled at the thought.  “Your grandmother could return at any minute,” she said, trying to remain rational in spite of her senses which were screaming at her to let him kiss her.

“You’re right,” he admitted.  “It would be awkward if she were to walk in and find us kissing.  Have dinner with me tonight, Alexis.”

“Yes,” she said simply.  She gave him her address and he made a mental note of it.  “I think she’s coming.”  He released her hand and moved away from the fireplace just as his grandmother entered the room.

“Did you enjoy your walk?” she asked as she went over to the chair she had vacated and sat down.

“Yes, I did.”

“Good.  You must come in the summer.  It’s really nice then.”

“Mrs. Bannister, I must be leaving now.  Thank you for inviting me to tea.  I had a wonderful time.”  She went over and kissed her on the cheek.

“Goodbye, Dear.  Jeremy will see you off.”

He walked with her to her car and held open the door for her to get in.  As she was about to, he leaned down and kissed her on the cheek.  She closed her eyes at the sensation of his warm lips against her skin.  When he drew back, their eyes met and held for a while.  “I’ll pick you up at seven,” he said quietly.  She nodded and got in the car.  He stepped back and watched as she drove off.

When he returned to the drawing-room, he sat down in the chair Alexis had occupied and looking at his grandmother, he said, “Grandmother, I’m in trouble.”

“You are attracted to Alexis, aren’t you?” she asked.  “I noticed the way you looked at her last night.”

“I couldn’t help it.  That’s why I’m here today.  I wanted to see her again and I asked her to have dinner with me tonight.”

“Now, that wasn’t a wise thing to do.”

“I know and I feel like such a fraud,” he muttered, exasperated.  “She has no idea that I am engaged.”

“Well, from where I’m sitting, you have only two options—break off your engagement to Bridget or forget about Alexis.”

“I can’t forget about Alexis.  And I can’t marry Bridget.”

“It seems then, that you have made your decision.  I never did think that Bridget was the right girl for you.  I imagine that the engagement was all your mother’s doing.  Well, it’s time you started making your own decisions.  You’re old enough now.  You should go and deal with Bridget right now.  And when the time is right, you can tell Alexis everything.”

He got up and hugged her.  “Thanks, Grandmother.  I’ll go and see Bridget now.”

“Be gentle, Dear.”

“Yes, Grandmother.”

His meeting with Bridget went better than he expected.  She too had been having second thoughts about their engagement but didn’t know quite how to tell him.  They parted on amicable terms.  They realized that what all this time their feelings for each other had been platonic rather than romantic.  He let her keep the ring.

Over dinner at a trendy and romantic French restaurant, he told Alexis everything.  “I’m so thankful I met you,” he said.  “If I hadn’t, I would have married the wrong woman.”

“So, the two of you never slept together?”

“No.  We had decided that we would wait until we were married but I never wanted her.  Yet, I wanted you from the moment I saw you.  After I took my grandmother home, I went down to the lake to figure out what I was going to do.  I was engaged to one woman but had fallen hard for another.  I didn’t want to hurt Bridget but I couldn’t get you out of my mind.  When I saw you again the next day, I knew that I couldn’t give you up.”

“Where do we go from here?” she asked.

“I want to see you—go out with you,” he said, covering one of her hands with his, his expression earnest.  “I want to be in a relationship with you.”

She covered his hand.  “I want that too,” she admitted.

After dinner that night, they became romantically involved and a year later, they got married.  His father, brother, sister, grandmother and Bridget attended the simple wedding but his mother was conspicuously absent.