The Next Level

awake-at-night2He sat in the dark living-room, watching as the rain fell, droplet by droplet down the windowpane.  He couldn’t sleep.  All he could think about was her.  She was out there somewhere with another man.  Was she having a good time?  Did she have any idea of how much this was hurting him?

It was after mid-night.  He should hit the sack but he couldn’t sleep.  He dragged his fingers through his hair, his expression drawn.  Why did he have to go and fall in love with her?  Life was less complicated when they were just friends.  Then, one night, they were goofing around and the next thing he knew they were kissing wildly.  They ended up in bed.  Immediately after, she got dressed and got out of there fast.

For several weeks she avoided him.  She didn’t return his calls or answer his texts and emails.  And when he finally got through to her, she informed him that she was going on a date with some guy a co-worker set her up with.  When he asked her about what happened between them, she said that it was a mistake and that they should cool things off for a while.  That hurt like hell.  After she hung up, he went to a bar and got plastered.Black woman in the rain

The next morning, he woke up with a terrible hangover.  How he managed to get through the day, he had no idea.  As soon as five o’ clock rolled around, he walked out of the office.  He was tempted to go to a bar but headed straight home.  When he got in, he fixed himself something to eat but had to force himself to eat it.  After he cleaned up, he took a long, hot shower.

He tried to read but couldn’t concentrate.  He went on his laptop for a while but ended up going on his Facebook page to look at pictures of them together.  They looked so happy.  Agitated, he logged off and got up from the desk.  He went back into the living-room, turned on the television but he was distracted.  He turned it off and switched off the lights.  It was ten-thirty when he climbed into bed.  He lay on his back.  Outside the rain was falling.  He could hear it hitting against the window.  He closed his eyes but sleep evaded him.  He glanced at the clock.  It was eleven-fifteen.

Throwing off the covers, he climbed out of the bed and left the room.  He went into the drawing-room and sat down on the sofa.   He watched the rain droplets running down the windowpane.   At first, he thought he had imagined it.  Then, he heard it again–faint.  Someone was ringing the doorbell.  He got up and went to see who it was.  His eyes widened and his heart skipped a beat when he saw who it was.  He opened the door.  His eyes ran over her.  She was drenched.

“You’re soaking wet,” he exclaimed as he grabbed her by the arm and pulled her inside.  After he closed the door, he took her into the bedroom.  He turned on the light.  “You need to get out of that wet dress.  While you do that I’ll get you a towel to dry your head.”

He went and got a towel and took it back to the room.  He handed it to her.  She took it.  “Haydn, I’m sorry…”

“For what?” he asked, his expression tense as his eyes met hers.

“For the way I’ve been treating you.”

“When I wanted us to take our relationship to the next level, you made it painfully clear that you didn’t.”

She dropped the towel on the bed.  “I haven’t been honest with you.  After what happened between us that night, I panicked.  I didn’t know how to handle it so I needed a break.”

“I could understand you needing a break but why did you have to go on a blind date?  Do you have any idea how much that hurt me?”

“I’m sorry, Haydn.”  She moved towards him.

“Is that why you came?  To apologize?”

“Yes and to tell you that I’m ready to take our relationship to the next level if you still want to.”  She was standing very close to him now, looking up at him.

His eyes darkened on her upturned face and reaching for her, he moaned thickly, “Of course, I still want to.  Oh, Malika…”  He held her tightly against him as he kissed her passionately.  She put her arms around his neck and kissed him back.

As they exchanged kisses, he backed her over to the bed.  Then, he broke off he kiss long enough to strip and undress her before they were under the sheets making love love.  Outside the rain continued to fall.

He later found out that Malika had changed her mind and didn’t go on the blind date.  The two friends became lovers and the following year, they got married.

This was written for the Ragtag Daily Prompt for today’s prompt, Droplet.  If you’re interested in participating, click HERE for more information.

Lunch with Marcia

pensive-man-looking-at-computer-screen

I was so engrossed in the article I was reading on my laptop that I didn’t even notice that Marcia had walked into my office.  I looked up when she tapped on the door frame.  She was smiling broadly.  “It’s April 12 today,” she said.

I stared at her blankly.  She looked great as usual.  I wonder if she knows that I have a “thing” for her.

She came over to my desk.  “Today is my tenth anniversary with the company,” she said.  “Didn’t you read my email?”

“No, I didn’t.  Sorry,” I mumbled as I quickly pulled up my emails and sure enough, there was an unopened one from her.  It wasn’t there before or I would have definitely opened it.  I opened it and read it.  It said, Guess what, Ramesh.  Today’s my tenth anniversary with Catapult.  To celebrate I was wondering if you would like to join me for free barbecue lunch at Joe’s right down the street?

My heart was beating fast with excitement now.  She wanted to celebrate her anniversary with me.   I looked up at her.  “Sure, I’d love to join you,” I said, eagerly.

She smiled, making my heart skip a beat.  “Great.  We’ll leave at twelve-fifteen and get there for Twelve-thirty.  I’ll come and get you.”

I smiled and nodded.  After she left my office, I turned my attention back to the article I was reading but couldn’t concentrate.  I got up from my desk and walked over to the window.

As I looked down at the busy street below, I thought about the times when I wanted to ask Marcia out but was too chicken to do.  I had no idea how she felt about me.  I didn’t know if she would be interested in going out with me.  I’m floored by the fact that she asked me out.  The thought scared and excited me at the same time.  I didn’t want to get my hopes up.  Maybe this was just what it was–I was going for a free barbecue lunch with a co-worker and nothing more.  Still, the way she looked at me when she was standing in front of my desk and the fact that she came to my office when she didn’t receive a reply to her email encouraged me.

I glanced at my watch.  Two hours to go.  I hope they go by quickly.  I was anxious to leave my office and step out into the bright sunshine.  It was a beautiful day, not your typical spring day, mind you, it was mild.  The weather was in double digits.

I returned to my desk and tried to get some work done.  I will finish reading the article another time.

smiling black woman

I was ready when she popped by my office and as I followed her to the elevators, I felt like I was on my first date with a pretty girl whom I had a major crush on.  I was nervous and prayed that I wouldn’t make a fool of myself.  I tried not to stare at her when we were in the elevator but it was hard not to.  She looked amazing in the sleeveless dress which was knee length, revealing very long and shapely calves.  Her thick curly hair fell in unruly waves about her shoulders.  I was tempted to touch them but I kept my hands to myself.

I felt a little hot in my jacket but I wanted to look presentable.  It was a pleasant walk to the restaurant which was filled but we were able to get a table by the window.  Over mouthwatering beef and lamb ribs we talked animatedly about a lot of things.  We had such fun getting to know each other better and sharing funny stories about family and friends.  I was sorry when it was time to head back to the office.

We were alone in the elevator this time.  I turned to her.  This was my chance.  “Marcia, thank you for inviting me to lunch.  I had a great time.  If you’re not busy tomorrow evening, I was hoping that you would have dinner with me.”

She smiled.  “I thought you’d never ask,” she teased.  “Of course, I’d love to.”

My chest swelled and as we exited the elevator and I walked to my office, there was a little spring in my step.  I couldn’t wait for tomorrow evening to come.

This was written for the Ragtag Daily Prompt for today’s prompt, April.  If you’re interested in participating, click HERE for more information.

An Old Crush

He had just finished making a business call when he noticed Cyiarra.  She was sitting alone at a table having a glass of wine.  It had been a year since the last time he saw her.  He walked over at once and her face broke out into a big smile.   When he reached her, she got up and exclaimed, “Ajay, fancy running into you here,” before she hugged him.

He hugged her back, thinking she felt really good.  “You look great,” he remarked when they separated.  She did in that black dress which hugged her figure and she had taken out the braids.  Her natural hair looked better.

“Thanks.  I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how gorgeous you look.”

He felt his face get hot.  “Are you waiting for someone?”

She nodded.  “Yes, but you can sit and chat with me until he gets here.”

He sat down.  “So, who’s the guy you’re waiting for?”

“Someone a co-worker set me up with.”

“So, this is a blind date.”

“Yes.  What about you, what are you doing here?”

“I’m having dinner with a client.”

“Man or woman?”

“Woman.”

“Is she single?”

“Yes.”

“Beautiful?”

“Yes.”

“Are you sure it’s just a business?”

He smiled.  “It is, I swear.”

She didn’t look very convinced.  “I always thought that you were a bit of a flirt when we were at high school and it got worse when we were in university.  I used to watch you.  You were always surrounded the cheer leading type of girls.”

“Were you jealous?”

“Yes.  You must have known that I had a huge crush on you.”

“I didn’t.  You had a funny way of showing it.  Every time I saw you you were talking to that guy, what’s his name.  The one who won the ugly sweater contest two years in a row.”

She laughed.  “Oh, that was Malcolm.  He was a really sweet guy.”

“He was always hanging around you.  It was obvious that he had a crush on you.”

“I guess he did.  I’m surprised you noticed, though.”

“I noticed everything about you.”

Her heart skipped a beat when she saw the expression on his face.  “So, why didn’t you ask me out?”

“I don’t know.  I guess I was nervous and afraid that you’d turn me down.”

“Turn you down?” she exclaimed.  “Are you serious?  I would have jumped at the chance to go out with you.”

“What about now?” he asked.  “Would you jump at the chance to go out with me?”

“Are you asking?”

He was about to answer when his date walked in.  “She’s here.”

Cyiarra followed his gaze.  The woman making her way over to the table by the window was stunning.  The elegant red slim pants suit flattered her slim figure and accentuated her olive skin.  Her black hair fell in thick waves past her shoulders.

Cyiarra looked at Ajay.  “She’s stunning.”  She couldn’t help being jealous.

“Yes, she is but I’m not attracted to her or anyone else.”  His eyes were riveted to her face.  “I’ve eyes only for you, Cyiarra.”

Cyiarra’s pulse quickened.  She took a sip of the wine.

He reached into his pocket for his wallet.  He opened it and took out a business card.  He jotted down his number on the back and gave it to her.  “This is in case things don’t work out between you and this guy.”

She looked at him.  “Are you hoping that they won’t?”

“Yes,” he admitted before standing up.  “It’s good to see you, Cyiarra.”

“It’s good to see you too.”  She didn’t tell him to enjoy his dinner.

He walked away.

Cyiarra watched him, wishing that she was having dinner with him instead of this other guy.  She glanced at her watch.  He was five minutes late.  Not good.  It would be embarrassing if he didn’t show up.  She was about to take another sip of wine but decided that it would be a good idea having too much on an empty stomach.  She was hungry.  Where was he?

Just then, a tall and very attractive African American man suddenly materialized in front of her.  “Good evening,” he said.  “I apologize for being late.  The traffic was bad.  I hope you haven’t been waiting too long.”

She waved his apology aside.  “No, I haven’t been.”

He stretched out his hand.  “Cyiarra, it’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you too, Keenan.”

He sat down.  “Brie didn’t mention how beautiful you were.”

Cyiarra smiled.  He seemed like a nice guy but every now and then, her eyes drifted over to the table by the window.  A couple of times she noticed that Ajay was looking in her direction.

Dinner was pleasant but by the end of it she knew without a doubt that it wouldn’t be a second date.  She smiled at Keenan.  “Keenan, thanks for a lovely dinner.  I enjoyed it very much.  You’re a really nice guy but…”

“…but, you’re not interested.”

“Sorry.”

“Well, it was nice meeting you any way.  I wish you all the best.”

“Thank you, Keenan.  It was nice meeting you too.”

“Do you need a ride?”

“To the subway would be fine, thank you.”

While he paid the bill, she pulled on her jacket and grabbed her handbag.  As she stood up, she looked across the room at Ajay.  He was watching her.  She wanted to go over and say goodnight but decided not to.

She called him in the morning.  That evening they went for dinner and dancing.  A year and a half later, they got married.

Kadisha Gets Noticed

happy-african-american-woman

“Take a look at that gorgeous guy who just walked in,” Rita said to her friend, Kadisha as they sat  at a corner table having dinner.  It was a Friday night and they had decided that they would treat themselves to a nice dinner before heading home.  They were at a Middle Eastern restaurant which a co-worker had recommended.

Kadisha followed her gaze and her heart leapt and started pounding wildly when she recognized the tall, athletic figure following the waitress who led him and his date to their table.  It was Fadi.  He looked gorgeous in the burgundy sports jacket, black shirt and black pants.  Her eyes shifted to his date.  She was tall and beautiful with thick, shoulder length black hair.  The black cocktail dress she wore flattered her figure and gave her a look of elegance.  Was she his girlfriend?  Kadisha wondered and sighed.  “That’s Fadi, the guy I’ve been telling you about,” she told her friend.  “Remember I told you that we work on the same floor but in different departments?”

That’s him?” Rita exclaimed, staring at her.  “None of the men I work with look anything like that.  Who’s that with him?”

“I don’t know.”

“You’re still interested in him, right?”

“Yes, but as you can see, he’s with someone.”

“Is he married?”

“No.”

“That’s good.  Most of the men in my department are married and the single ones stay clear from single women like me.  I think I scare them because I am a single mother.  Most men or at least the ones I’ve met don’t want to date single mothers.  They avoid us like we’re a plague.”

Kadisha looked at her friend.  “I’m sorry that things didn’t work out between Jim and you,” she said.

Jim was the man whom Rita had been in a relationship with and the father of her now teenage son.  It turned out that Jim was married but separated from his wife.  He met Rita at a resort and they became involved.  They dated for a while and then the relationship ended when Jim reconciled with his wife.  It took Rita a long time to get over the hurt but Kadisha had been there for her, helping her to pick up the pieces and encouraging her to concentrate on raising her son.  Rita found it difficult to get back into the dating game.  The men she met lost interest soon after they learned that she had a son.  She never heard from any of them again, not even the ones who were fathers themselves.  They were running away from blended families.

Rita shrugged, “I guess he wasn’t the one for me, after all,” she said.  “We wouldn’t have been happy.  His wife would have always been between us.  If there’s a man out there for me, I will find him someday. Until then, I can live vicariously through my friends.  So, what are you going to do about Fadi?”

Kadisha picked at the Eggplant dish with almond yoghurt and pickled chilli which smelled and looked appetizing. “Nothing,” she said.  “He’s never really shown any interest in me.  We say hello to each other and exchange pleasantries.”

“Do you know anything about him?”

“A co-worker told me that his parents are expatriates from Lebanon.  They came to America when he was a baby.  He has two older brothers.”

“I wonder if his brothers are as handsome as he.”

“I don’t know.”

“Don’t look now but I think he just noticed you.  Ahh.  He’s getting up and—he’s coming over.”

tusharBy now, Kadisha was in quite a state.  Her heart was beating at an alarming rate and her hands began to tremble.  I must keep calm, she told herself.  She looked up the same time he arrived at their table and smiled.  He was looking at her.  “Hello, Kadisha,” he said, smiling which made her heart melt.

“Hello, Fadi,” she said, barely audibly.  She turned to Rita, “This—this is my friend, Rita.”

Rita beamed up at him, holding out her hand which he clasped in a firm handshake.  “It’s nice to meet you,” she said.

“Likewise,” he replied.  He turned his attention back to Kadisha.  “I didn’t notice that you were here until just now.  If I had seen you earlier, I would have come over earlier to say hello.  Is this your first time here?”

Kadisha nodded.  “Yes, it is.”

“I’ve been here before.  How do you like it?”

“I like the place, the food and the people.”

“Well, I hope you both enjoy your dinner,” he said, although his eyes were still trained on Kadisha.  Then, he excused himself and returned to his table.

As soon as he left, Rita looked at her.  “I thought you said he has never shown any interest in you,” she scolded her.  “The man couldn’t take his eyes off you.”

“If he’s interested in me, why is he here with her?” Kadisha demanded.

“Have you ever given him any encouragement?  Does he have any idea that you are interested in him?”

“Well, I didn’t want to make it obvious since he never showed me any signs that he was interested.”

Rita rolled her eyes.  “At the rate the two of you are going, nothing will get resolved.  Either you or he has to make the first move.”

“It’s not going to me as long as he is dating someone else.”

“I wonder why he didn’t bring her over to meet you.”

“I expect he has his reasons.  Let’s change the subject, please.”

“All right.  This short rib in the beetroot glaze is delicious.  I love Middle Eastern food.”

They talked about other things during the rest of their dinner and Kadisha tried to avoid looking over at the table across the room.  She enjoyed her Chipotle chicken pastille with fennel and pickled blackberries while Rita delved into the Lamb rump with sorrel pesto and vanilla-braised chicory.  For dessert they both had the Roasted pineapple, macadamia, coconut ice cream.  Rita signaled for the waiter and after splitting the bill, they grabbed their handbags and left the table.

As they approached Fadi’s table, he saw them and stood up.  Rita said to Kadisha.  “It looks like we’re going to meet his companion after all.”

Kadisha had no choice but to stop at the table.  Up close his date was even more stunning.  I don’t stand a chance, she thought.

“I’d like you to meet Gaelle, my sister.  Gaelle, this is Kadisha, my co-worker and her friend, Rita.”

Kadisha stared at him.  “Your sister?”

“Yes, Gaelle is my sister.  Her fiancé was supposed to be having dinner with us but something came up and he couldn’t make it.”

“I thought you only had two brothers.”

“Yes, I have two older brothers and a younger sister.  She was born here long after we came to America.”

Relief washed over Kadisha and her face brightened.  Turning to Gaelle, she held out her hand.  “It’s really nice to meet you,” she said.

Gaelle smiled at her.  “I’ve heard so much about you,” she said, much to Kadisha’s surprise.  She turned to her brother.  “Now’s your opportunity to ask her,” she told him.

Fadi took Kadisha’s arm and drew her aside. He lowered his head so that he could speak softly in her ear.  Her skin tingled where he touched her arm and her pulse raced because of his proximity.  She could smell his cologne.  “I was wondering if you would like to have dinner with me tomorrow night.  ”

Kadisha nodded.  “I–I’d like that very much,” she said.

He seemed very pleased and relieved.  “I’ll pick you up tomorrow evening around seven.”  He gave her one of his business cards to write her address and phone number on the back.  After she jotted down the information, she returned the card to him and he placed it in the breast pocket of his jacket.  “Good night,” he said.

She said goodnight to him and to his sister and then preceded her friend out of the restaurant. As they walked to the parking lot, Rita nudged her, laughing.  “See, I was right about him liking you,” she said.  “His dinner companion turned out to be his little sister.  And while you and he were talking, I confirmed with his sister that he isn’t dating anyone.  So, there’s no reason for you not to go out with him.”

“He invited me out for dinner tomorrow night.”

“And did you accept?”

“Of course, I did.  I’d be a fool not to.”

“This is so exciting.”

They reached the car and after they were strapped in and pulling out of the parking lot, Kadisha sighed.  “Now, I just have to figure out what to wear.”

“If you like, I can come up with you when we reach your apartment and see what you have.  You want to dazzle and impress him at the same time.”

Kadisha mentally sorted through the outfits she had in her wardrobe.  “I think I have a couple of dresses that may work.  If I run into any trouble, I’ll call you later and there’s a boutique round the corner where I live just in case I need to buy something.”

“Okay, so if I don’t hear from you later, it means you found something to wear but I want you to call me on Sunday and give me the juicy details of your evening out with your handsome co-worker.”

Kadisha laughed.  “I will,” she promised.  “Have a good night, Rita.” She got out of the car and waved as her friend drove off.

As soon as she got to her flat, she went straight to her bedroom and pulled open the doors to her wardrobe.  She went through the dresses hanging there, praying that she would find something.  Her eyes fell on the burgundy halter dress with the flare skirt.  It was fairly new—in that she had only worn it once and it was simple but elegant.  She would wear her hair up.  The silver metallic strappy sandals would complete the outfit.  Satisfied and relieved, she closed the doors and went to take a quick shower.  She stayed up to watch the news and then went to bed.

The next day, she cleaned the apartment, did laundry and went grocery shopping.  The time went by very quickly and seven o’ clock soon arrived and so did Fadi.  When she opened the door and saw him standing there, her heart stopped.  He looked absolutely gorgeous in the dark blue suit, light blue shirt and no tie.  His gaze traveled over her and she could tell that he liked what he saw.  “You look very beautiful,” he commented softly.

She suddenly felt very shy.  “Thank you,” she said before she turned to close the door and lock it.  Although she was wearing high heels, he still towered over her.  They walked to the lift and rode it in silence to the lobby.

In the car, they talked about different things and then, he said to her, “Kadisha, I want to date you.”

“I want that too.”

He smiled.  “Good.” Then, he reached out and taking the hand resting on the seat beside her, he raised it to his lips.  She trembled when she felt them brush against her skin in a gentle caress.  Their eyes met for an instant and locked in a steady gaze.  Then, he released her hand turned his attention back to the road ahead of him.  She sat there, her mind whirling and her heart pounding.  Tonight’s dinner was just the beginning of what promised to be a very exciting relationship.

 

 

Sources:  Expat.com; Trip Advisor

Guarded

Marisa was sitting in the armchair in the drawing-room, waiting for Ewan when his older brother, Reed walked in.  Immediately, her heart and pulse began to race.  He wasn’t handsome like Ewan but his virility and sophistication made him more attractive.  She remembered Ewan telling her that most of the women he dated ended up falling for Reed and the first time she met him, she could see why.

I’m not immune, she thought now as she watched him walk over to the window and look out.  She liked the way he moved–like a jaguar.  He looked amazing in the expensive grey suit, matching tie and white shirt.   His dark brown hair was neatly in place as usual.  As he stood there, with his chiseled looks, she thought that he could have been a model.

He turned suddenly, startling her.  They stared at each other for what seemed like eternity before he walked over where she sat and stood above her, making her really nervous.  This close, he was even more devastating and he smelled good too.  “I’m waiting for Ewan,” she said to break the silence.  She sounded a little breathless.  Maybe that was because of the way he was looking at her.  She knew she looked great in the black cocktail dress with the spaghetti straps.  It reached just below her knees but had ridden up a bit as she was sitting down, exposing her legs where she saw his gaze linger for a moment before returning to her face which felt hot.

“My brother’s a very lucky man,” he muttered.  There was envy and something else lurking on his face.  It was the something else that made her heart skip a beat.  “So, where is he taking you tonight?”

“We-we’re going for dinner at a new Spanish restaurant and then dancing afterwards.”

“He’d better watch out for other men.  They won’t be able to take their eyes off you.”  He was staring at her intensely and she could feel the tension between them.  It was so palpable.  She knew that if he were to touch her now, she wouldn’t be able to resist…

“Reed, Darling, I’ve been looking all over for you.”  It was Imogen.  She sailed into the room, looking glamorous in a lilac pants suit which flattered her figure.  Her shoulder length chestnut hair fell in thick, luxuriant waves about her heart shaped face.  She threw her arms around Reed and hugged him for several minutes before she drew back.  It was then that she noticed Marisa who had gotten up from the chair.  Her green eyes narrowed and her lips pursed in disdain, her gaze critical as it swept over her.  She turned to Reed.  “And who is this?”

“Marisa.”

“Another one of your conquests?” she inquired.  She sounded jealous.

“She’s Ewan’s girlfriend,” Reed informed her.

Marisa stared at him.  He thinks I’m Ewan’s girlfriend.  Why would he think that?

“That’s a relief,” Imogen said and turning her back on Marisa, she put her arms around Reed’s neck and kissed him on the lips.

Marisa turned away, seething with jealousy.  Why is he standing there, letting her kiss him?  

“Sorry to keep you waiting,” Ewan apologized as he walked into the room.  “Oh, I see you’ve found him, Imogen.”

“Yes,” she said, turning to face him as she slipped her arm through Reed’s.  She was sticking to him like glue.  “This was the first place I had looked but it was empty at the time.  And then I was heading outside when I passed by here and saw him.  I thought he was alone.”  Her gaze shifted to Marisa, unable to hide her displeasure.

Marisa hurried over to Ewan and hooked her arm through his.  “Ready?” she asked.  She just wanted to get out of there.  She couldn’t stand seeing Reed with Imogen any longer.  It was frustrating.  I know he’s attracted to me and yet, he wasn’t rejecting Imogen’s advances.  Why?  Maybe he was still attracted to her.  Ewan had mentioned that they used to be in a relationship.  The thought of Reed still being attracted to his old flame distressed her.

Ewan nodded.  “Yes, let’s go.”  He looked at the other two.  “Have a good evening, you two.”  Then, Marisa and he left the room.

As soon as they were gone, Reed extricated his arm from Imogen’s hold and walked over to the window.  He stood there, gazing down into the courtyard.  He leaned against the window seat, his palms resting on it as he watched for them to appear.  Ewan’s Bentley was parked there.

“What are you looking at so intently?” Imogen asked and then she joined him.  At that moment, Ewan and Marisa were walking to the car.  She watched as he held the door for her.  After he shut it, he walked round to the driver’s side.  He paused and glanced up.  He waved at them before getting into the car.  A few minutes later, it was speeding down the winding driveway.

Imogen looked at Reed.  He was still looking in the direction of the car which was no longer in sight, his expression inscrutable.  “You’re attracted to that girl, aren’t you?” she said, breaking the silence.  “I saw the way you looked at her.  It bothers you that she’s with Ewan, doesn’t it?”

Reed straightened up and turned towards her.  It was no use denying it.  “You’re right.  I’m attracted to her and it kills me to see her with him.”

Her face grew pale.  “It’s more serious than I thought,” she replied.  “You’re not just attracted to her, you’re in love with her.”

A muscle began to throb along his jawline and he ran his fingers through his hair, his expression taut.  “Rather foolish of me, isn’t it–to fall in love with my brother’s girlfriend.”  He moved away from the window and started towards the door.

“Where are you going?” she asked.

“For a walk.”

“May I join you?”

“I’m sorry, Imogen but, I’d rather be alone.”  He walked out of the room, leaving her standing there, bereft.

A week later when Marisa had just come out of the tube and was heading towards her flat when she heard someone call her name.  She turned and surprised to see Imogen hurrying towards her.  What does she want?  Trying not to show her annoyance, she stood aside and waited for the other woman to catch up to her.  “I’d like a word with you,” Imogen told her.

“I’m actually in a hurry,” Marisa told her.  The last thing she wanted was to talk to this woman who made it very obvious that she didn’t like her.

“This won’t take long,” Imogen replied.  “It’s about Reed.”

Marisa frowned.  “What about him?”

“Before I answer that, let me ask you a question.  Is it serious between Ewan and you?”

“I don’t see how that’s any of your business.”

“It is when it concerns Reed.”

“How does it concern him?”

“It bothers him that you’re with Ewan.”

“It does?  Why?”

“Believe it or not, he’s in love with you.”

Marisa’s mouth dropped open.  “He’s in love with me?”

“Yes!  And he’s beating himself up about it because of your relationship with Ewan.”

“My relationship with Ewan?”

“You’re his girlfriend, aren’t you?”

Marisa shook her head.  She was in a daze.  Reed was in love with her?  “No, I’m not Ewan’s girlfriend.  We-we’re just friends.  Did Reed really tell you that he was in love with me?”

“Yes and it was like a knife turning in my stomach because I want Reed.  Right now I want to scratch your eyes out but what good would that do me?  You’re the one he wants.  You’re the one he’s in love with.”  Her gaze swept over Marisa contemptuously.  “I never once imagined that a man like Reed would fall in love with someone like you.”

Marisa’s mouth tightened.  “Clearly you didn’t know him as well as you thought you did.  Excuse me.”  She turned and walked briskly away, fuming.

It was almost nine o’clock when Reed went into the living-room and stood at the window, looking out at the flickering lights in the distance.  She was out there somewhere, he thought.  Was she alone or was she with Ewan?  He closed his eyes at the thought, the jealousy almost suffocating him.  He had to get her out of his mind, his thoughts, his system–the ringing of the doorbell startled him.  He hoped it wasn’t Imogen.  He was really not in the mood to deal with her right now.

He went to answer the door and was surprised when he saw Marisa standing there.  Unable to help himself, his eyes traveled over her, thinking how good she looked in the off the shoulder print summer dress.  And her legs…His eyes darted back up to her face. “What are you doing here?” he asked tightly.  “Are you here to remind me of what I can’t have?”

“I’m here to set things straight,” she informed him.  She tried to appear calm but her heart was pounding.  He looked so good in that white shirt, unbuttoned at the neck and the jeans which hugged his narrow hips and muscular thighs.  She wanted to throw her arms around his neck and kiss him so badly.

He stepped aside so that she could go inside and closed the door behind her.  They stood in the foyer facing each other.  He leaned against the door with his arms folded, trying to appear nonchalant when his heart was racing and his body was aching for her.

“Does Ewan know that you’re here?”

“Yes, he does.”

“And it doesn’t bother him?”

“Why should it?”

His expression changed and he lowered his eyes so that she wouldn’t see the pain in them.  “You’re right,” he muttered tautly.  “He has nothing to worry about where you and I are concerned, does he?  He can trust you implicitly even though you’re alone with a man who wants you.”

“You want me?”

He raised his eyes to look at her.  “You know I do,” he replied.  “I let my guard down that day in the drawing-room before Imogen walked in.  I couldn’t hide my attraction for you from her.”

“Is there something going on between you and her?”

He shook his head.  “No.  We’re just friends.”

“It’s very obvious from the way she kissed you last week Saturday in the drawing-room that she wants to be more than friends.  And you just stood there and let her.”

He studied her.  “It was a harmless display of affection.”

A harmless display of affection?  She was practically throwing herself at you.  It makes me wonder how far she would have gone if I hadn’t been there.”

“Is that why you’re here now, Marisa?  Did you come to rake me over coals because of Imogen?  Don’t you think you’re being rather presumptuous, considering that Ewan is the one you’re involved with and not me?”

“I’m not involved with Ewan,” she was quick to correct him.  “He and I are just friends.”

“Just friends?” he exclaimed.  “I thought you and he were…”

“No, we’re just friends.  We go out sometimes but as friends, nothing more.  As a matter of fact, I’m thinking of setting him up with my co-worker, Ginny.  I think they’d hit it off.”

“So, there’s nothing between Ewan and you?” He wanted to be dead certain before he did anything.

She shook her head.  “No.  That’s why I came tonight. I wanted to set the record straight.  I don’t want you to continue thinking that I’m Ewan’s girlfriend when I’m in love with you and—” The rest of her words were smothered beneath his lips.  It had happened so quickly.  One minute they were standing apart and the next, she was in his arms and he was kissing her.  She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him back.

They kissed for a while before he raised his head to gaze down into her upturned face and confessed, “I love you.  I fell in love with you the first moment I saw you.”

She smiled.  “I never would have guessed,” she teased.  “You were so standoffish with me.”

“I had to be on my guard.  I didn’t want anyone to know how I felt about you, least of all, you.”

“Well, I’m happy that you don’t have to be on your guard anymore.”

“Me too” he agreed before he lowered his head and kissed her.  She gasped against his lips when he swept her off her feet and carried her to his room.

A year later, they got married.  Ewan was the best man.  Not surprisingly, Imogen didn’t attend the wedding although she was invited.

 

 

Breaking the Mold

It was around noon and Rory Bentworth was walking and texting, not really looking where he was going.  He barely heard the words, “Watch out,” before he glanced up and narrowly missed walking straight into the woman who was carrying some books.  A couple of them fell on the ground along with his cell phone.

Apologizing profusely and feeling very embarrassed, he stooped down and picked up the books.  “You know you really ought to look where you’re going,” she said.

He looked up and found her standing over him, gazing down at him.  She didn’t look angry.  In fact, there was a slight smile on her face.  She was stunning.  The attraction was immediate for him.  He stared at her, tongue tied.

“What’s your name?” she asked.

“Rory.” He didn’t tell her that his last name was Bentworth because the inevitable question would have been, Are you by any chance related to Elizabeth Bentworth? The late Elizabeth Bentworth was the renowned mystery writer whose books were bestsellers, many of which were adapted to film.  And being Elizabeth Bentworth’s grandson meant that her only son, Arthur, once reputed to be London’s finest barrister, was his father.  He wanted this beautiful woman standing over him to be interested in him, not in his family connections.  He was determined to see her again.

“Rory, may I have my books, please?”  She held out her hand.

“Sorry,” he mumbled, his face turning beet red, he handed her the books.  She took his breath away.

“Thanks.  Don’t forget your cell phone.”

He scooped it up and got to his feet.  He dropped it in his pocket, his eyes never leaving her face.  She was looking at him.  “What’s your name?” he asked.  His heart was racing.

“Kristen.”

“Is this where you work?” he asked indicating the building they were standing in front of.

She nodded.  “Yes.  What about you?  Do you work close by?”

He shook his head.  “No, I work about twenty minutes from here.  I was on my lunch break and heading back to the office when I literally bumped into you.”

“Well, I’d better go.”

“I see that you’re not married.  Are you seeing anyone?” He wasn’t usually this forward but he had to know if she was in a relationship.

She laughed.  “You’re not shy, are you?” she commented.  “No, I’m not seeing anyone.”

“Nor am I.  Can I see you again?”

She studied him for a moment and then she said, “Come with me.”  She turned and walked towards the steps leading to the building where she worked.  He followed her, admiring her slim figure in the navy blue skirt suit and the long shapely calves in the black high heeled shoes.  Her hips swayed slightly as she walked.  They went through the revolving doors and up to the reception desk.  She set the books down on the counter and asked the guard on duty for a pen and paper.  When he handed them to her, she scribbled something down, folded the paper and gave it to Rory.  She picked up her books and smiled at him.  “It was nice meeting you, Rory,” she said.  “I’ll see you around.”  And then, she walked away.

He stared after her until she disappeared from his view and then, he opened the sheet of paper she had given him.  On it she had written her name and number and the words, I’m free for lunch tomorrow at twelve-thirty. I will meet you down here in the lobby. Grinning broadly, he folded it and put it in his wallet.  He couldn’t wait for tomorrow to come.  On his way back to work, he stopped by a bake shop and bought a funnel cake which he finished eating by the time he reached the office.

The next day, he was in the lobby waiting anxiously for her.  He was nervous and excited at the same time.  He felt like a lovesick schoolboy.  He hoped he looked good in the charcoal grey suit, black shirt and matching tie.  When he saw her coming towards him, his heart began to race and his gaze eagerly travelled over her.  She was wearing a black skirt suit with a light blue shirt underneath.  Her hair was pulled back and she was wearing pearl earrings and a matching necklace.  She looked amazing.  She smiled at him now.  “Hello, Rory,” she said.  “You’re very punctual.  I like that.”  She was standing in front of him now and he towered over her even though she was wearing heels.

“Hello, Kristen.”  He wondered what she would say if she knew that all morning he had been looking at his watch, anxious for noon to come so that he could head over here.  Last night he thought of nothing else but seeing her again.  And here they were standing in the lobby of the building where she worked about to go for lunch.  “Where would you like to go for lunch?”

“There’s an Italian restaurant just ten minutes from here.  They serve the best pasta dishes.”

He knew the one she meant.  He had passed it several times but never went in.  “Sounds good.”

“Let’s go,” she said and preceded him to the revolving doors.  When they were outside, she put on her sunglasses which made her even more alluring.   It was a beautiful summer day.  The sun was shining and many people were milling about, simply enjoying the weather.  “So, how come a handsome guy like you doesn’t have a girlfriend?” She asked as they walked.

He shrugged.  “I don’t know.  I guess I haven’t met anyone I liked until now.”

She glanced at him when he said that.  “And you like me?”

“Yes.”

“Even though you hardly know me.”

“You hardly know me but, we are having lunch together.”

Touché,” she said smiling.

“What about you?  How come you’re not in a relationship?”

“My work keeps me busy and the last relationship I had didn’t work out.  We wanted different things.  Besides, he hadn’t gotten over his ex.  The last I heard, they are back together.  I wish him well.  Here we are,” she added as they approached the restaurant.  “It’s not very crowded now.”

He held the door open for her and she went in, removing her sunglasses.  They chose a table by the window.  It was a nice, pleasant and bustling place.  Immediately, a waitress went over to their table with the menus and took their orders for drinks.  When she returned they gave her their orders.

“I know it must have been hard for you but I’m glad that things didn’t work out between him and you.  We wouldn’t be here together if they did.”

Kristen studied him.  He had such a gorgeous face and his hair.  It was so thick and unruly.  She wanted to reach over and ran her fingers through it.  She was extremely attracted to him but he looked young.  “How old are you?” she asked.

“Twenty-eight.”

“I’m older than you,” she informed him.  “I’m in my late thirties.”

“I guess this means you’ve never dated a younger man before.”

She shook her head.  “The men I’ve dated were either my age or older.  I never once considered dated a man younger than me.”

“What about now?” he asked, his expression serious as he looked at her.  “Would you consider it now?”

This guy didn’t waste any time going after what he wanted.  She found that very exhilarating.  “I might,” she said.  It flattered her that someone his age wanted to go out with her.  Their orders came then and they ate.  They talked about other things.  Thankfully, she didn’t ask him about his family and they didn’t talk about work.  There were other, more interesting topics they discussed and the time went so quickly—too quickly.  It was time to leave.  Reluctantly, they paid the bill and walked out into the sunshine.

“Have dinner with me tonight, Kristen,” he asked as they were standing in the lobby fifteen minutes later.

“I’m sorry but I can’t have dinner with you tonight,” she said.  “I have to work late but how about tomorrow night?”

“Yes, tomorrow night is fine.  I’ll pick you up at seven.”  He wanted so much to hold her hand but he didn’t want to rush things.

She wrote her address on the back of her business card and put it in the breast pocket of his jacket.  Their eyes met and held for several minutes before she said goodbye.  She turned and walked away.  Before she rounded the corner, she glanced back to find him still standing there, watching her.  She turned away, smiling.

Rory hurried from the building, excited.  When he got back to the office, he saw that his mother had called.  He dialed her number and he was connected to her right away.  “Hello, Mother. You called?”

“Yes, I called to let you know I have a speaking engagement this evening, so I wouldn’t be able to have you over for dinner tonight.”

He had completely forgotten that he was supposed to have dinner with her tonight.  He would have gone to dinner with Kristen if she hadn’t other plans and wouldn’t have remembered to call his mother to cancel his plans with her.  “We can do it another time,” he said.

“What about tomorrow night?”

“Sorry, Mother, but I have plans.” He hoped she wouldn’t ask any questions.

“Well, if there are with Isabella, I have no objections.  I will call you on Sunday.  Goodbye.”  She rung off and he hung up the phone.

Why was she always pushing Isabella Stanton on him?  Isabella was a nice girl, smart, easy going, not at all snobbish like her parents and older sister but he wasn’t attracted to her.  Why his mother would assume that his plans were with Isabella, he had no clue.  He had never given her any indication that he was the least bit interested in her friend’s daughter.  He wonder what his mother would do if she knew that Isabella was in love with a law clerk?  He knew exactly how she would react if she knew about his attraction for Kristen.  She would have a fit.  Kristen was older than him and of a lower social status.  She was a far cry from Isabella Stanton.

Yet, it was Kristen who stirred in him feelings he had never experienced before in his life.  She filled his thoughts and aroused fierce desires in him, making him yearn for her.  Whenever they were apart it was torture for him because the hours seemed to drag.  And when they were together the time went by so quickly.   And it seemed like he was waiting for weeks instead of hours for Saturday evening to come.  And when it finally did, he was standing outside of her flat at promptly seven.

He was dressed in a black suit, black shirt and no tie.  His hair which had a proclivity to be tousled in a very disarming way was slicked back, giving it a sleek look.  His brown eyes complimented his olive complexion.  Kristen couldn’t stop staring at him.  Her heart was racing, especially when she saw the way he was looking at her.  There was admiration in the depths of his eyes and something else.  It was the something else which made her senses tingle in excitement.  She was wearing a black figure hugging black dress with a V-neckline.  Her hair was swept back in an up hairdo.

“You look amazing,” he told her, his face riveted to her face as she gazed up at him.  He wanted to kiss her so badly.

“Shall we go?” she said, sounding a little breathless.  She knew that if they stayed there any longer, they would probably end up going inside her flat instead of going out for dinner.  No, she had to keep a cool head.

“Yes,” he muttered and stepped aside so that she would precede him to the lift.  How on earth was he going to get through dinner when all he wanted to do was take her in his arms and…?  He had to keep a cool head.  This evening was another opportunity for them to get to know each other better and depending on how it went Kristen would determine whether or not she wanted to have a relationship with him.  He couldn’t afford to allow anything to ruin his chances with her.  He had to take it slow.

They went to a Cajun/Creaole restaurant where the food was excellent.   The atmosphere was warm and friendly.  Over tasty and spice dishes and mocktails, they laughed and talked.  She never had so much fun and she was still laughing when they walked through the lobby of her building.   “I had a really great time tonight,” she said as they stood in front her flat.  “Thank you.”

“I had a great time tonight too,” he said, his expression tense as he met her gaze.  He didn’t want to leave.

Kristen saw the look on his face and her heart ached.  He looked so forlorn.  She would be a fool to send him away now, especially when she desperately wanted him to stay.  She pushed open the door and grabbing his hand she pulled him inside the flat.  After slamming the door and locking it, she turned towards him.  Their eyes locked for several palpable minutes and then they came together like two magnets, drawn together by a force they were powerless to resist.  All of her reservations went out of the window as she gave into the passions that raged inside her.  As they exchanged feverish kisses, he removed his jacket.  In a matter of minutes, their clothes were strewn on the floor and they were on the rug in front of the sofa, making love.

After that night, they became involved.  It was his first serious relationship.  And he hoped, his last.  He knew without a doubt that Kristen was the one.  He fell in love with her that day when he ran into her.  Meeting her that day had turned his world upside down.  He couldn’t imagine his life without her.  It seemed to him that he had been waiting for her all of his life.   He knew his mother would have a problem with his relationship with Kristen but he had to follow his heart.  Right now, he was blissfully happy, lying on his back on the sofa with his head on her lap, his eyes closed as she played with his hair.

“You’re Amanda Bentworth’s son, aren’t you?” the question jolted him and he sat up, swinging so that his feet were on the rug so that he could face her.  She was watching him curiously.

“How long have you known?” he asked warily.

“Since this morning.  Heather, a co-worker, mentioned that she had gone to a luncheon where the guest speaker was Philanthropist and Women’s Rights advocate, Amanda Bentworth.  She showed me the brochure and said that it was a very well attended affair and that Mrs. Bentworth was a great speaker.  Then, Heather asked me if I had ever seen Mrs. Bentworth’s gorgeous son, Rory?  I didn’t recall ever seeing him so she brought up an image of your mother and you at your father’s funeral.  Why didn’t you tell me that you’re a Bentworth?”

“I wanted you to be interested in me not in my family name.  And I was afraid that if you knew who I was you wouldn’t want to see me.”

“I admit that finding out that you are from a famous family floored me but it doesn’t change anything.  To me, you’re simply Rory.”

He took her hands in his, his eyes searching her face.  “How do you feel about marrying a Bentworth?” he asked huskily.

She swallowed.  “No way in particular,” she said quietly.  “I’d marry you no matter what your name was.”

He raised his hands to cup her face between them, his eyes darkening on her face.  “I love you,” he muttered thickly.

She placed her hands on his thighs.  “I love you too.”

He reached over and kissed her.  “Marry me,” he murmured against her lips.

“Yes,” she whispered and then they were kissing.

They got married the following year in the spring.  At first, his mother was determined not to attend the wedding because she was still upset with him for falling in love with another woman when she had her heart set on him marrying Isabella.  However, when she learned of Isabella’s engagement to a law clerk, she decided that she would not have been a suitable match for Rory, after all.  And when she attended the wedding and saw how happy he was as he danced with his bride, her resentment gave way maternal pride when it dawned on her that Rory was the first Bentworth who had married for love.

 

office woman

 

 

 

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 Antonio was the main reason 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 with anyone?” 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 revealed 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.