The Foolish Plan

“What could they still be talking about for so long?” Yolanda grumbled as she looked over at the closed door.  “He’s been in there with her for almost an hour.”

Doris observed her as she sat there craning her neck to see what was going on inside the office while her fingers danced over the keyboard.   “You’ve really got it bad for him, don’t you?” she said.

Yolanda looked at her.  “I don’t,” she denied albeit not convincingly.

“Then why are you getting so upset because he’s in his office with Paulina?”

“I’m not upset.  I was just wondering why they are in there for so long.  Doesn’t she have any work to do?  And how would he like it if I were to spend such a long time in Max’s office, for example?”  She sighed.  “Then, again, he probably wouldn’t even notice.”

“I’ll have to disagree with you on that one.  I think he has a thing for you too.”

Yolanda stared at her.  “Seriously?” she said, incredulous.

“I’ve seen the way he looks at you when he thinks no one is watching.”

Yolanda shook her head.  “No, I don’t stand a chance–not when Paulina is around.  I mean look at how different we are.  She’s tall and beautiful and I’m short and dumpy.”

“I think that you’re pretty and vivacious.”

“Thanks, Doris, but I’m no match for Paulina’s beauty and elegance.  I might as well be invisible for all the notice he pays me when she’s around.”

“All right, have it your way.”

Yolanda glanced at her watch.  “I’d better be leaving now.  I promised Kenneth that I would meet him for lunch at twelve.”

“Who’s Kenneth again?”

“He’s a guy I went to university with.”

“I’ll let Leif know that you’ve gone out for lunch, if he asks.”

Yolanda got up from the desk.  “I doubt that he will,” she said dryly as she grabbed her handbag.   Just as she was about to walk away, the door to Leif’s office opened and Paulina stepped out.  She looked stunning in the white slim fit pant suit that hugged her curves and the matching white strappy sandals.  Her strawberry blonde hair fell in thick waves about her shoulders.  She was laughing at something Leif said.  He was standing in the doorway looking gorgeous as usual in a charcoal grey suit, matching tie and black shirt.  They looked really good together.

Jealousy ripped through her like a knife.  She turned and quickly walked away.

Kenneth was in the lobby, waiting for her.  He looked great.  They hugged.  He was a welcome distraction but looking at her, he could see that something was wrong.  He decided to wait until they were having lunch before he broached it.

“It’s good to see you too,” he said, smiling and they left the building.  It was a mild, sunny day.  They walked to the bistro around the corner and got a table at the back in a corner.   After they ordered, he looked her straight in the face and asked, “Okay, who’s the guy?”

She stared at him, startled.  “How can you tell?”

“I have seen that look many times.  You’re in love.  So, who is he?”

She sighed.  “His name is Leif and he’s my boss.”

“So, what’s the problem?  Is it against the company’s policy for you and he to date?”

“No.  A few of my co-workers are dating each other.”

“So, why do you look like you’ve just come from a funeral?  Is he married or already in a relationship?”

“No, none of those things.  I’m just not sure how he feels about me.  Doris, my co-worker told me that she has seen him looking at me on the quiet and seems to think that he’s interested.  And then, there’s Paulina.  She’s more his type.”

“If she’s his type, how come they’re not dating?”

She shrugged.  “I don’t know.  They were in his office for a long time today, though.”

“Well, there’s only one way to find out where you stand with this guy,” Kenneth declared as their orders arrived.  “Let him think that there is someone else in your life.  If he thinks that another guy’s interested in you, it may push him to act.”

“You mean try to make him jealous?”  She shook her head.  “Bad idea.”

“Do you have a better one?” he demanded.

“And what if it doesn’t work?”

“Then, you wouldn’t have to wonder any more about how he feels about you and you can move on.”

She shook her head again.  “I don’t like the idea.  If he’s interested, he will make it clear to me.”

“What if he doesn’t because he isn’t sure about your feelings for him?”

“Kenneth, I don’t want to play any games.  We’re not going to try to make Leif jealous.”

Kenneth shrugged.  “It’s your call but if you change your mind, let me know.”

“I won’t change my mind,” she insisted and changed the subject.

They talked and reminisced about their time at university, the professors they liked and those they couldn’t stand, the friends they lost touch with and those they connected with on Facebook.  The hour went by very quickly and soon they were heading back to her office.

“Come up and meet Doris,” she said when they were in the lobby.  “She’s a really nice lady.”

“Sure.”  Kenneth walked with her to the lift.  He hoped he would get to see her boss as well.  His curiosity was piqued.

Doris was at her desk and she was very pleased to meet Kenneth.  “You didn’t tell me that he was this good looking,” she remarked as they shook hands.  They chatted while Yolanda removed her jacket and put away her handbag.

“I’ll walk you to the lift,” Yolanda said to Kenneth when she saw that it was getting late and she needed to get back to work.

After Kenneth and Doris expressed mutual appreciation of meeting each other, Yolanda walked with him to the lift.  As they waited, he asked her, “Does Leif have red hair, dresses really well and sort of looks like Kenneth Brannagh?”

She raised her eyebrows.  “Kenneth Brannagh?”

“Okay, maybe he doesn’t quite look like Kenneth Brannagh.  Anyway, your boss is coming over.”

Immediately, her heart began to beat faster.  She turned around to find Leif striding toward them.  He looked grim, or was that her imagination?

He glanced at Kenneth and then at her.  “I see that you made it back for the meeting.”

She stared at him.  Meeting?  What meeting?  Behind her, she heard Kenneth clear his throat.  “Oh, Leif, this is Kenneth.  Kenneth, Leif.”

The two men shook hands and exchanged pleasantries although Leif wasn’t smiling.

Kenneth turned to Yolanda.  “I’ll call you later,” he promised.  They hugged and as she was about to pull away, he bent his head and kissed her on the lips.  The lift came just then and Kenneth stepped into it, turning to wink at her just as the doors closed.

She stood there, aghast for several minutes, painfully aware of Leif standing behind her.  She was embarrassed to turn around and face him.  When Kenneth called her later, she was going to give him a piece of her mind.

Taking a deep breath, she turned to face Leif.  He was staring at her, his face glowering.  Before she could say anything, he snapped, “My office, now,” before turning and walking away, his back rigid.

What on earth was the matter with him?  And who did he think he was talking to her like that?  She had a good mind not to go to his office but, he was her boss.  She headed there now.

He was standing in front of the window and turned when he heard her enter the room.  “Close the door.”

She closed it quietly behind her and then walked over to where he was.  “Okay, is this where we’re having the meeting?”

“There is no meeting.”  He wasn’t wearing his jacket or the tie and had loosened the top two buttons of his shirt, exposing his neck.  She tried not to let her gaze go below his jawline.

“But, you said—”

“I know what I said,” he retorted.

She raised her hands.  “Okay, no need to bite my head off.”  What had gotten into him?  He seemed really angry about something.  Boy, was he attractive when he was angry–

“When you speak to Kenneth later, kindly let him know that the next time he wants to make out with you in public to do it somewhere else.  This is not the place for it.”

That set her off.  Her hands clenched into tight fists as she glared up at him.  “For your information, I am not in the habit of making out in public.  And I don’t care if you’re my boss, it doesn’t give you the right to insinuate what you like about me or talk to me anyhow.  And next time you want me to get back to work, just say so instead of making up some stupid excuse.”  After casting him a withering glance, she turned and stalked off, leaving the door wide open.

Instead of going straight to her desk, she went to the washroom to compose herself.  She felt so humiliated at that moment.  Renewed anger toward Kenneth filled her.  His foolish plan had backfired as she knew it would.  Leif was livid, yes, but he was not jealous.  This whole disaster just reinforced what she had thought all along–Leif wasn’t romantically interested in her.  He would have reacted differently if it had been Paulina instead of her.

She stood there for several minutes, then, taking a deep breath, she turned and walked out of the washroom.  Once she was at her desk, she buried herself in the work and it kept her busy until it was time to leave.  Doris encouraged her to have a good weekend and then left.

Yolanda switched off her computer, packed up her bag, pulled on her jacket and got up from her desk.  As she walked past Leif’s office, she said goodnight to him and left the building.  On the bus ride home, she tried to read the novel Doris lent her but her mind kept going on Leif.  Their working relationship was ruined now.  Maybe she should start looking for another job.  It wouldn’t make sense to continue working there now.  Over the weekend, she would do some job hunting on the Internet.

When she got home, she showered, changed into a plaid flannel nightshirt and had dinner.  After watching some television, she picked up the phone and called Kenneth.  As soon as he answered the phone, she said to him, “Your plan didn’t work.  You didn’t make Leif jealous.  I told you that it wouldn’t work but you didn’t listen to me.  You went ahead and did what you wanted to do just so you can prove that you were right.  Do you have any idea how humiliated I was?”

“Calm down, Yolanda and just tell me what happened.”

She told him what Leif said.  “I was so hurt and angry.   I wish I hadn’t taken you upstairs to meet Doris.  If I hadn’t, none of this would be happening.”

“When did he tell you this?  Before or after the meeting.”

“There wasn’t any meeting.”

“Then why did he tell you that there was?”

“I don’t know.”

“Yolanda, did it ever occur to you that he made the meeting up as an excuse to get rid of me?”

“Why would he want to get rid of you?”

“Because he was jealous and didn’t like seeing us together–”

“No, enough of this jealousy foolishness.  Why can’t you admit that your brilliant plan didn’t work–?”  She broke off when she heard the doorbell ring.  “Someone’s at the door.”  She went to see who it was and her heart skipped a beat when she saw Leif.  “He’s here.”

“Who’s there?”

“Leif.  What’s he doing here?  I’m not dressed for company,” she added, flustered as she glanced down at her bare legs peeping out from underneath her nightshirt.  “I have to put on a pair of jeans or something.”

“Why do you suppose he showed up at your place now?”

“I don’t know,” she snapped.  “I’ve got to go.”

“Call me and let me know what happened.”

“Yes,” she said and hung up.  The doorbell rang again.  She turned off her cell phone and hurriedly placed it on the table before dashing off to her room to pull on a pair of leggings.  Then, she rushed to open the door.

As she stood there watching Leif who looked amazing in the turquoise v-neck sweater and blue jeans, the anger she felt toward him dissolved.  “I didn’t expect to see you,” she said, sounding a little breathless.  She stepped aside so that he could go in and closed the door behind him.  She turned and faced him.

“I should have called first instead of just showing up like this,” he said quietly, his eyes restless on her face.  “I wanted to apologize for my behavior earlier today.”

She leaned against the door.  “You seemed very angry,” she said.

“I was but it doesn’t excuse the way I spoke to you and I’m very sorry.”

“I accept your apology.”

“Is Kenneth your boyfriend?”  The suddenness of his question startled her and a few minutes went by before she answered.

“No, we’re just friends.”

“Then why did you let him kiss you?” he demanded.  His hands were shoved deep in his jeans pockets, his body stiff and his expression dour.

“I didn’t let him kiss me.  He took me completely by surprise. ”

“If the two of you are just friends what possessed him to kiss you like that?  Are you sure you didn’t encourage him?”

Her mouth tightened.  “I didn’t encourage him.  He kissed me because he wanted to make you jealous.”

“Well, it worked.   I was jealous from the moment I saw the two of you together.  That’s why I came over and told you that there was a meeting.  I had to have a reason for interrupting your little tête-à-tête.  And when he kissed you, I saw red.”

She gaped at him.  “But, what about Paulina?”

He frowned.  “What about her?”

“I thought you and she—”

“Paulina is a very beautiful woman, yes, but I’m not attracted to her.  You, on the other hand, are a different story.  I’m deeply attracted to you.  I have been for a very long time.”

Her heart was pounding now.  “I didn’t think you even noticed me.”

He looked surprised.  “Not notice you?  Have you any idea of how hard it is for me to be around you and not want to touch you?  Like right now.”

Her chest was rising and falling swiftly now and she seemed to have trouble breathing normally.  “All this time I thought you had a thing for Paulina,” she said, swallowing hard when she saw the expression on his face as he moved closer to her.

“No, it has always been you,” he muttered thickly and then, his hands were pulling her against him, making her gasp.  His mouth closed hungrily over hers and she kissed him back, wrapping her arms tightly around his neck.  She was wedged between him and the door.  As they exchanged passionate kisses she had to admit that if it weren’t for Kenneth, this wouldn’t be happening right now.  His foolish plan had worked after all.

 

 

 

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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 Fashion Show

Martin glanced at his friend, Albert and was amused when he saw him staring at Brenda who was strutting down the runway, hands on hips and big smile on her face as she modeled the black and white 50’s looking dress.  The fashion show was actually a charitable event and sponsored by Martin’s company.  After much cajoling, he managed got his friend to come.  Until now, Albert had seemed unimpressed and rather bored with the fashion show.  None of the beautiful women who walked past him got his notice.  And then, Brenda walked out.  Albert glanced up with the same bored expression on his face which immediately changed when he saw her.  His eyes followed her up and down the runway.

Martin leaned over and said in a low voice.  “She’s a stunner, isn’t she?”

Albert didn’t answer.  He watched as she paused at the end of the runway before heading back in his direction.  As she drew nearer, he sat forward, anxious to see her.  She stopped right in front of him.  After acknowledging Martin, she shifted her attention to Albert.  Their eyes met and he felt his heart stop when she smiled at him.   Then, she was gone.

“Would you like to meet her?” Martin asked him.

Albert watched her retreating figure until she disappeared from view before he turned to his friend.  “Yes.”

Martin grinned.  “Good,” he said.  “You’ll meet her after the show.”

“Is she going to come out again?”

“I don’t believe so.”

Albert looked disappointed.  He sat back in his seat, anxious for the show to be over so that he could meet the model who had captivated him.

She was standing on the terrace, looking down at the gardens when they joined her half hour later.  She was wearing a simple orange pant suit which complimented her complexion and flattered her figure.  As she watched them approach, her gaze went to the tall and attractive man with the thick dark brown hair, dressed in the dark grey sweater over a white shirt and dark grey trousers.  The glasses he wore suited him.  She didn’t usually go for the preppy, nerdy type but something about his guy made her pulse race and heart do somersaults.  He looked shy.  She liked that. He would be a welcome change to the obnoxious and overbearing men who usually hit on her.

“Brenda, thank you for being a part of a very worthy cause,” Martin said when they joined her.  “You looked really great out there.  Have you ever considered modelling for a new career?”

She laughed.  “No, the thought never occurred to me.  Besides, I’m too short.  Thank you for giving me the opportunity.  I had fun.” Unable to resist, her gaze shifted to his friend who was watching her.  Behind the eyeglasses, she could see that he had beautiful, expressive eyes.

Martin observed them, smiling.  “Brenda, this is my good friend, Albert.”

Albert was nervous.  He tried not to stare but he couldn’t help himself.  His gaze was riveted to her face.  “Hello,” he said when what he really wanted to say was, I’m so very pleased to meet you.  He took the hand she offered and clasped it in a firm handshake.  Her fingers felt small and delicate in his, yet they had the power to stir feelings in him which he never experienced before.  His heart was pounding and he began to worry that he might make an utter fool of himself.  In all of his forty years, not once had he had ever been tongue-tied or nervous around a woman.

She smiled at him.  “I’m very pleased to meet you, Albert,” she told him.  “Did you enjoy the fashion show?”

He realized that he was still holding her hand and he released it.  He put his hands behind his back in an attempt to appear relaxed.  “The last bit of it,” he said.  He didn’t want to admit that until she walked out, he was bored out of his mind.

“I’m not into fashion shows but I don’t mind doing them if it’s for charity.”

Martin chimed in.  “If you two will excuse me, I have to go and find Margot.” He left them and headed off to find the fashion photographer whom he was currently dating.  Margot used to be a model until she decided that she liked being behind the lens better.

Alone together, Albert and Brenda became intensely aware of each other.  They couldn’t hide their attraction for each other even if they tried.  “You really are very beautiful,” Albert said to her, his expression tense.

She had been paid many compliments before but she was never affected by them as she was by his.  Albert made her feel beautiful just by the way he said it and the way he looked at her as he said it.  “Thank you,” she replied.

“I’m not usually this bold,” he sounded apologetic, “but I was wondering if perhaps, we can go for a walk in the gardens?”

“Yes, I’d like that.”

“What do you do when you’re not modeling for charity?” he asked as they strolled across the well manicured lawn.

“I work at a law firm.  When I’m not working, I like to curl up with a good book.  What about you?”

“I’m a Financial Director at Shadoworks Company.  I like to write essays in my spare time.  Just recently, I wrote how the words of Christ, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, would be the panacea for the social ills plaguing our society such as abuse, bullying, racism, violence, oppression, sexual harassment.”

“And gender inequality, rape and human trafficking.  This world would be such a different place if we all were to follow the teachings of Christ.  I’d like to read your essay.”

He smiled, flattered that she wanted to read something he had written.  “It’s in the Opinion section of the April 4 issue of the Daily Observer.

“I like the Daily Observer.  It has great articles and it’s not afraid to address sensitive issues.  Yesterday I read a very frank and informative article on sexual harassment in the workplace.  At my firm, we deal with hundreds of cases of sexual discrimination and harassment and bullying in the workplace.”

“I would imagine that it becomes overwhelming sometimes, having to deal with such cases.”

“It does.  I still remember the case of a lawyer whose was being sexually harassed by one of the partners at the law firm where she used to work.  She sued him and the firm and won.  Now she has her own practice helping women who are victims of sexual harassment, discrimination in the workplace, including law firms.”

“It’s unfortunate but sometimes people have to go through terrible experiences so that they could turn around and help others.  But, you like what you do.”

“Yes.  I like being a part of the solution.  Although I have been working there for four years, compared to the others, I am still the neophyte of the firm but every day I am learning and growing.”

They found somewhere to sit and talked for a long while about different things, learning more about each other and finding that they have a lot in common.  Then, he glanced at his watch and an expression of deep regret came over his face as he looked at her.  “I’m afraid that I must go,” he said apologetically.  “I have a pressing engagement.  It’s my niece’s piano recital,” he added quickly when he saw the look on her face.

She smiled, relieved and stood up.  “How old is your niece?” she asked as they started back to the building where the crowd was starting to disperse.

“She’s fourteen.”

“What is she playing?”

“I believe it’s a piece by Mozart.”

“I wish I learned how to play the piano.  It’s my favorite musical instrument.  I am a big fan of Chopin.”

“I’m more partial to the violin and Bach.”  They were standing at the foot of the steps now.  “Do you need a lift to anywhere?” he asked.

She shook her head.  “Thank you, but my sister, June is meeting me here in about fifteen minutes.  I’m spending the rest of the day with her and her family.”

“I really enjoyed our time together,” he said quietly, his eyes serious on her face.

“Me too.”

There was a pause as he seemed to be contemplating something. “Will you have dinner with me tomorrow evening?” he asked, his expression hopeful and apprehensive at the same time.

“Yes, I will,” she said.  She opened her handbag and after tearing out a sheet of paper from the back of her address book, she wrote her address and phone number.  She folded it and gave it to him.

“I’ll pick you up at seven” he said as he took the paper and tucked it in his wallet.  “I’ll see you tomorrow then.”

“See you tomorrow.”  She watched him ascend the steps and waved when he stopped to glance back at her.  When he disappeared from her sight, she stood there for a moment, thinking about him and how much she had enjoyed his company.  Then, she went to meet her sister at the front entrance of the building.  As soon as she got into the car, she said to her, “I met him today.”

June stared at her.  “Who’re you talking about?” she asked, pulling away from the curb.

“The man I’m going to marry.”

June laughed.  “Really?” she exclaimed, sounding very skeptical.  “And what made you come to that conclusion?”

“I used to think that love at first sight was a foolish romantic notion but today it happened to me.”

June glanced at her and realized, “You’re serious, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I am.  We spent about an hour just talking and getting to know each other.  I loved being with him. He’s so different from the men I usually go for.  We had the most stimulating conversation and I could have sat there all day just talking to him but he had to go to his niece’s recital.  He asked me to have dinner with him tomorrow evening.”

“Wow.  I wish I’d come earlier to meet him.”

“Don’t worry.  You’ll meet him.”

“Does he know that he’s going to marry you?” June teased her.

“Maybe not as yet”

She thought about him for the rest of the day, wondering how his niece’s recital went and if he was thinking about the time they spent together.  She looked forward to seeing him the following evening and was thankful when it arrived.

He showed up at promptly seven wearing a black suit over a white shirt and no tie.  His hair was slightly damp, a few tresses falling across his forehead and he was not wearing his glasses.  He looked so handsome that she couldn’t stop staring.  “I’m wearing contacts,” he said unnecessarily.  Perhaps he was as nervous as she.

Her heart was pounded wildly, especially when she saw his eyes travel over her and the expression in them when they returned to her face.  She was wearing a Burgundy Long Sleeve Shift Dress with rounded neckline and long sleeves with lightly puffed shoulders.  Long, shapely legs clad in sheer hosiery, peeped out from under the hem and black dress pumps completed the outfit.  “I didn’t think it was possible for you to be even more beautiful than you already are.”

“Thank you,” she said, sounding a little breathless.  He offered her his arm which she took and they walked to the lift.  Fortunately, for her it was a balmy evening but she had brought her shawl just in case.  On the way to the restaurant she asked him about his niece’s recital and as he talked about it, she could tell that he was very proud of her.

They went to a modern French restaurant in Covent Garden.  It was reputed to be the world’s most romantic restaurant.  They started with the Crispy Parmesan Polenta & Saint Marcellin Cheese and for the main course, she had the Oven Roasted Free Range Chicken Leg Stuffed with Duck Liver & Truffle while he had the Pan Roasted Organic Irish Sea Trout as they each enjoyed a glass of white wine.  They had a lively conversation and made plans to see each other again.  For dessert, they had both had the Greek Yogurt & Lemon Zest Mousse, Yuzu Curd & Honey Comb.

After dinner, they drove to Canary Wharf.  He parked the car and took her on a little tour of the office district, showing her the building where he worked.  The place looked beautiful at night and the tall office buildings reminded her a little of Manhattan.  “How long does it take you to drive to work?” she asked as they walked back to the car about half-hour later.

“Approximately 35 minutes, depending on the traffic.  Longer during the winter.”

“I like it here.  Very busy, upscale and lots to see.”

“I will bring you here again another time and we can spend a longer time, walking around and perhaps go to a concert, if you like that sort of thing.  We can grab dinner afterwards.”

“That sounds wonderful,” she said smiling as she got into the car.  “Thank you for dinner.”

“It was my pleasure.  Do you have any plans for tomorrow?”

“No.”

“I was thinking that we can go on the Little Venice to Camden Walk.  Someone at work mentioned it to me a while ago and I have been meaning to look into it.  Afterwards, we can visit the Waterside Café before the walk.

“I didn’t know that there was a Little Venice in London.  Sounds very interesting.  I would love to go.”

“I read online that it was named such by the poet Robert Browning who lived overlooking the canal in the 1800s. I’ve never been to Venice but hope to one of these days.”

On the drive to her flat, they talked more about their plans for the following day.  Outside of her door, he said goodnight and then leaned over and kissed her on the cheek.  They held each other’s gaze for several minutes before he turned and walked away.  She watched him go, touching the side of her face where his lips had been before she went inside her flat.

They went for the Little Venice to Camden Walk and had a wonderful time.  After that, they started seeing each other on a regular basis and by the end of the year, they were dating each other exclusively.  Spring of the following year came and it was when they were in walking in St. James’ Park that he turned to her and said, “I have been meaning to say something to you all morning.”  They were standing at the western end of the park from where they had a clear view of Buckingham Palace.

She stared up at him, wondering what was on his mind.  He looked very serious, nervous.  He took her hands in his and clasped them.

“I love you, Brenda,” he confessed.  “I fell in love with you the first time I saw you.  You came into my life and changed it completely.  The times you and I have spent together have been the happiest for me.  I can’t imagine my life without you in it.  So, if you have no objection and I hope and pray that you don’t, I am asking you to marry me.”

Tears sprang to her eyes.  She raised their entwined hands to her lips and kissed his.  Her heart was in her eyes when she raised them to his face.  “I love you too, Albert,” she admitted huskily.  “Until I met you, I didn’t believe in love at first sight.  Of course, I will marry you.  You’re the man for me.”

Albert released an unsteady breath and letting go of her hands, he hugged her around her waist and pulled her against him.  He bent his head and kissed her.  She put her arms around his neck and kissed him back.  For several minutes they stood there, kissing while the ducks waddled about the grass before some of them headed for the pond.

At length, he drew back and said, “I have something for you.”  He reached into his pants pocket and took out the box with the ring.  He opened it and her eyes widened when she saw the exquisite diamond.  He took it out and taking her hand, he gently slid it down her finger.  It was a perfect fit.  When he raised his eyes to look at her, they were filled with emotions.  “I love you.”

She swallowed.  “I love you,” she managed to say and then he kissed her again.  They left that spot a few minutes later, his arm was around her shoulder and hers was around his waist.

They had a summer wedding.  June was her matron of honor.  When they had a chance to speak, Brenda said to her with a smile and a wink, “I told you that I was going to marry him.”

June laughed.  “Yes, you did.  And after meeting him and getting to know him, I can see why he’s the one you ended up with.” She hugged her younger sister tightly.  “I wish you both the very best and God’s many blessings.”

“Thank you.”

It was a lovely reception and afterwards, they left for their honeymoon in Venice.  They did return to Canary Wharf and it was when they were sitting on a bench, having sandwiches that she told him they were going to have their first child.  She laughed when he almost choked on his.  He quickly put it back in the paper and put it down on the seat beside him before turning to hug her tightly, burying his face in her neck.  She hugged him back as she felt his tears wet her neck.  They sat like that for a long time.

Sources:  Fantasy Names Generator; Findlaw; Lulu’s Fashion; YouTube; Trip Savvy

The Cafeteria

He was always having lunch by himself every time she went to the cafeteria.  She would pass his table and he would look up.   Their eyes would meet and then she would smile.  He smiled back and she continued walking until she reached the table where she usually sat with Angie, her co-worker.

On day, Angie wasn’t there, so she was sitting at the table alone.   She was about to tuck into the Fettuccine with Spinach, Ricotta, and Grilled Eggplant when she heard someone ask, “May I join you?”

She looked up and her heart leapt when she saw that it was him.  Up close, he really was very attractive.  He had beautiful eyes and a pleasant face.  “Sure,” she said.

He pulled out the chair opposite her and sat down.  “That looks really good,” he said, looking at her plate.

She nodded.  “Yes, it does.  I couldn’t decide between it and the BBQ Chicken Salad.”  He was having the Greek Yogurt Chicken Salad Sandwich which looked very appetizing.  She made a mental note to try it the next time it was on the menu.

“How long have you been working at the company?” he asked.

“For a year and a half.”

“Really?” He sounded surprised.  “How come I haven’t seen you before?”

“It’s only recently that I started coming to the cafeteria to have lunch.  I eat at my desk until my co-worker encouraged me to have it here instead.”

He smiled.  “You must thank your co-worker for me,” he said.  “I wouldn’t be having lunch with you now if it weren’t for him or her.”

“Her.  What about you?  How long have you been working here?”

“About five years.”

“Which department are you from?”

“Engineering.  And you?”

“Marketing.”

“What’s your name?”

“Samantha.  My friends call me Sam.”

“Graham.  May I ask you a question?”

“Sure.”

“Are you seeing someone?”

She shook her head.  “No.”

“I’m not seeing anyone either.”

The rest of their time together went pleasantly now that they were each aware that the other was not already in a relationship.  He asked her questions about herself and she learned that he was the fourth of six children.  His mother was Argentinian and his father was British.  He still had relatives in Italy and visited them every year in the summer.  He used to play soccer but stopped when he turned thirty.  In his spare time he liked to watch sports, especially English football or going for long walks or spending time with his family or playing video games with his nephews. They shared the same birthday in November and love for classical movies, art, food and travel.

Then it was time to go back to work.  “Will you have lunch again with me tomorrow?” he asked as they cleared the table.

She nodded.  “Yes.  I’ll be here at the usual time.”

He walked with her to the elevator.  “It was really nice meeting you, Sam.”

“It was really nice meeting you too, Graham.”

The doors to the elevator opened and she stepped in.

“See you tomorrow,” he said.

“See you tomorrow.”  The doors closed and she was on her way back to her cubicle.

Suffice to say, she couldn’t wait for the following day to come.  This time she was there before him.  “Sorry,” he apologized.  “I had a meeting at eleven.  I rushed out of there as soon as it was over.”

“I got here a couple of minutes ago,” she told him.  They went to buy lunch and sat at his table which was in a better area.  She had a salad and a chicken burger while he had soup.  They talked about all sorts of things.  At one point he made her laugh so hard that tears came to her eyes.  She thoroughly enjoyed his company.

They met for lunch every day that week and the subsequent weeks.  When her Angie returned from vacation, Samantha told her that she was having lunch with someone else.  Angie was thrilled for her.  “I know him and he’s a really nice guy.”

One day at lunch, he asked her, “Do you like dancing?”

She nodded.  “I love it.”

“I’d like to take you out for dinner and dancing on Saturday.”

“I would like that very much,” she told him, her eyes bright with excitement.  Finally, they were going to see each other outside of the cafeteria.

“Good,” he said smiling.  And they continued talking and eating until it was time to go back to work.

On Friday, she gave him her address and phone number.  That night she sorted out what she was going to wear and then turned in early.  Saturday came, bright and sunny and she got up, her thoughts immediately falling on Graham.  She wondered if he was as excited about tonight as she was.  She couldn’t wait for seven o’clock to come and when it did, she was ready and waiting.

When she opened the door and saw him standing there, she couldn’t help but exclaim, “You look amazing.”  He did in the black silk dress shirt and black dress pants, no tie or jacket.  The top button of the shirt was undone, exposing his throat and the area just above where his chest hairs would begin.  He looked sexy.

He smiled and allowed his eyes to travel slowly over her.  The red cap sleeved dress fitted her nicely and flattered her coloring.  The elegant black dance shoes with the low heels completed the outfit.  His gaze lingered on her legs before they returned to her face.  “You look beautiful,” he said, looking serious now.  “I wouldn’t be able to take my eyes off you.”

She laughed.  “That’s the idea,” she told him before locking the door behind her.  As they walked down the hallway, she could feel him staring at her.  When they were in the lift, she looked at him and her heart began to pound when she saw the expression on his face.  He moved closer to where she was, his eyes lowering to her lips which had parted and for one heart stopping moment she thought that he was going to kiss her but just then the doors opened.   She preceded him out of the lift on trembling legs.

It was a warm evening.  The sun was going to set in about an hour.  His car was parked on the street.  He held the door open for her to climb in before he walked round to the driver’s side and got in.  And off they went to restaurant where they served up good food and salsa for those who loved to dance.  She had the Chicken Escalope while he opted for the Chimichurri Half Chicken.  She ordered a virgin Pena Colada and he had Sangria made with pomegranate juice instead of wine.  Like her, he didn’t drink alcohol.  They talked as they ate and afterwards, they went downstairs to the nightclub where the music was pumping.  Samantha was ready to let loose.  After they secured a table, they went on to the dance floor.

Graham took her hand and twirled her around, their bodies moving to the pulsating Latin beat.  He was a terrific dancer and made it easy for her to follow him.  She watched his hips, their movement almost hypnotic and moved hers to match them.  They danced for a while until she needed to take a break.  While she sat down at the table to catch her breath he went to the bar and ordered two virgin Chi Chi drinks.

As they nursed their drinks, they watched other people dance.  Then, they danced a couple more songs before calling it a night.  It was near two in the morning when he took her home.  It had been ages since she had stayed out so late and it was obvious.  At the door, when they said goodnight, he leaned over and kissed her on the cheek.  She closed her eyes as the feel of his warm lips against her skin awoke all sorts of sensations.  When he drew back, his eyes were dark.  “Good night, Sam,” he said quietly.

“Goodnight, Graham.”  She watched him walk away and then went inside, leaning against the door after she locked it.  It had been a lovely evening, one she would always remember.

The next day, he called her and they spoke on the phone for hours before he rang off.  She busied herself with housework, laundry, cooking and getting ready for work the following day.  That night, she lay in bed, thinking about him and their night together.  She couldn’t wait to see him tomorrow.

As soon as the time display on her monitor read 12:00, she got up from her desk and rushed down to the cafeteria.  He was already there.  “Hello,” he said when she joined him.

“Hello,” she said.

They went and bought their lunches and then sat down.  “I wrote you a poem,” he said, pushing a neatly folded piece of paper across the table toward her.  “Please don’t read it now.  I shall be very embarrassed if you do.”

She smiled and put it in her handbag.  “I look forward to reading it.”

They talked about their evening at the restaurant and made plans to go out again.

As soon as she got home, she took the note out of her bag and eagerly unfolded it.  She didn’t get past the first couple of lines before she began to cry.

Into my boring life you came,

your beautiful smile and face I see.

My world will never the same

because of the joy you bring me.

 

There’s not a day that goes by

when I don’t think about you

which lifts my spirit up high

fills my heart with love anew.

 

Words alone cannot express

what I feel for you in my heart

They fill my thoughts to excess

but are difficult for me to impart.

 

I have written a poem to tell you

how much you mean to me

I hope that in time you too

Will see that we are meant to be.

 

She read it over and over, the page becoming a blur as the tears ran down her cheeks then she folded it and held it against her chest.  I have to see him now, she thought.  I have to let him know that I read this and that I love him too.  Brushing aside the tears, she rushed over to the phone and called for a taxi.  After hanging up, she hurried into the bathroom, hurriedly got undressed and took a quick shower.  She dragged on a shirt and pair of jeans.  After putting the poem in her handbag, she left the flat and went downstairs to wait for the taxi.

On the way over to Graham’s flat, she read the poem again and when the tears threatened to fall again, she put it back in her handbag.  After paying the taxi driver, she ran up the steps and pushed open the doors, anxious to get to him.  Thankfully, there was no one else in the lift so she went straight up to his floor.  She rang the bell and waited, her heart racing.  The door opened and Graham stood there, staring at her in surprise.

“Hello,” he said.  “What a lovely surprise.”

“I had to see you,” she said in a choked voice.

He stepped aside for her to go in and closed the door.  When he turned to face her, she was crying again and he became alarmed.  “What’s the matter?” he asked.

She took out the poem and showed it to him.  “I read this,” she said.  “It’s so beautiful.”

“I didn’t mean for it to upset you,” he said, looking troubled.

“I’m not upset,” she told him as she put the poem back in her bag and pulled out a tissue to wipe her eyes.  “I came over here to tell you that I read it and that I love you too.”

Graham’s eyes darkened and he moved closer to her.  “You love me?”

“Yes, I do.”  She dropped her handbag on the floor and went up to him.  Reaching up, she pulled his head down to hers.

He groaned against her lips and his arms went round her waist, pulling her tightly against him as he kissed her back.   They stood there for a long time, hungrily exchanging kisses.  Then, he raised his head to gaze down into her upturned face.  “I love you, Sam,” he said huskily.  “I think I loved you the first time I saw you.  When you smiled at me my heart stopped.”

“I have to remember to thank Angie for encouraging me to have lunch in the cafeteria.  It changed my life.”

“And mine,” he rejoined before kissing her again.

 

 

 

Source:  Bar Salsa

A Misunderstanding

“Is your uncle at home?” Ashley asked casually as they walked the grounds on a beautiful, sunny spring afternoon.  She was wearing a denim jacket because it was still a bit cool.  They were at Eastwell Manor where Bradley was staying with his uncle until he found his own flat.  It was a magnificent place surrounded by acres of land, immaculate gardens and rolling hills.  She had been here several times and loved it here.  It was peaceful and the air was crisp and fresh.

Bradley glanced at her.  “You’ve got a thing for him, haven’t you?” he teased. “Most women who meet him do.  My uncle is cordial toward them but expresses no romantic interest whatsoever in any of them.”

“How long were he and your aunt married?”

“Fifteen years.”

“And they never had any children?”

“No.  Aunt Carol couldn’t have any.  What a great pity.  She would have been an excellent mother.”

“How did she die?”

“It was a car accident.  She was on her way home when an intoxicated teenager ran the red light and plowed into her as she was leaving the intersection.  She died instantly.  Uncle Anthony was a wreck.”

“What was she like?”

“She was a lovely woman, kind and very generous.  She adored Uncle Anthony and he adored her.  She was my favorite aunt.  She was like a mother to me.  I adored her.”

“How very sad.  I don’t think your uncle approves of our friendship.”

“Why do you think so?”

“I see the way he looks whenever we are together.  There’s disapproval written all over his face.  I can’t imagine why he should have any objections.  Perhaps he thinks you spend too much time with me and should be in the company of a girl closer to your age.”

“I haven’t met any girls my age that I am interested in as yet and besides, I enjoy your company.  We have known each other for some time now and I can’t imagine not having you around.  I can talk to you about anything.  You’re like a sister to me.  I don’t know why my uncle would disapprove of me having a friend such as you—unless, he thinks we are more than friends, though, I still can’t imagine why that should be any concern of his.  He’s not my father and I’m not a child.”

“Your uncle just wants what’s best for you.”

“I know.”

They continued walking and talked about other things.  Then it was time for her to leave.  As they walked toward the mansion, Bradley suddenly grabbed and dipped her before he bent his head and kissed her squarely on the mouth.  She clung to him to keep her balance.  It lasted a few seconds and then he raised his head, straightening and then releasing her.  She glared at him, her chest heaving in indignation.  “What on earth did you do that for?” she demanded.

“It was for my uncle’s benefit,” he told her.  “He was in the study watching us through the window.”

She swung round and looked up at the window where she knew the study to be.  There was no one there.  She turned back to Bradley.  “What you did was childish and very insulting to me.”

He looked contrite.  “I didn’t mean to upset you, Ash.  I was miffed at him for thinking that he can control my life simply because I am living under his roof.  When it comes to my friendship with you, I will not put up with his interference.”

“What will he think of me now?” she wondered.

“What does it matter?  He already thinks that we are a couple.”

“But, we’re not.  We’re just friends.”

“Why does it matter so much to you what he thinks?” Bradley pressed.  “Is it because you’re in love with him?”

“Yes,” she admitted.

“All right.  Would you like us to go and clear up this misunderstanding right now?”

Her heart lurched at the idea of seeing Anthony Eastwell after what just happened.  She couldn’t imagine how he would look at her now.  She shook her head.  “I can’t face him right now,” she said.  “I’m going home.” She turned and walked away.

Bradley followed her.  “I’m sorry, Ash,” he said, his expression apologetic.  “Please forgive me for acting like a fool.  I will straighten things out with Uncle Anthony, I promise.”

She looked at him.  “I’m very upset with you right now,” she said.  “But, I’ll get over it.  Call me later.” She was about to walk off when she froze.  Anthony Eastwell was walking toward them.

Immediately, her heart began to pound wildly and her breath quickened.  He always had that effect on her.  In spite of her distress, she couldn’t prevent her gaze from traveling over his tall frame and thinking how disturbingly attractive he looked in the tan ribbed sweater and navy blue slacks.

He stopped abruptly in front of Bradley who watched him warily.  “Please wait for me in the study,” he instructed in a tight voice.

Without saying a word, his nephew turned and walked toward the house.  Anthony waited until he was gone before he turned his attention on Ashley.  To say that he was angry would have been an understatement.  His brown eyes were dark with fury and his face was flushed.  “What do you mean by making a spectacle of yourself with my nephew out here in plain view for everyone to see?” he demanded.

She swallowed hard.  “He kissed me and I—”

“Don’t tell me that you put up a fight.  I saw you from the window and it was clear to me that you welcomed his advances which leads me to believe that your relationship is not platonic as you would have me believe.”

“Please, you don’t understand—”she protested.

“I understand perfectly,” he muttered thickly.  “You would rather be with him than—” He broke off and turned away, dragging his fingers through his hair as he struggled to compose himself.  Several minutes passed before he faced her again.  “If you are going to throw yourself at my nephew, I would prefer if you did it somewhere else.”

That was when she got upset.  “For your information, I’m not throwing myself at your nephew,” she retorted.  “I don’t make it a habit of throwing myself at any man, no matter how attracted I am to him.”

“So, you admit that you’re attracted to Bradley?”

“I’m not admitting anything.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, Mr. Eastwell, I have to go.”  She turned and strode off.

He stood there watching her, his face now pale and his eyes filled with torment.  How he longed to go after her and tell her how he really felt but pride kept him where he was.  He remained there for a while before he went back to the manor.

Bradley was standing by the window when he joined him in the study.  “Uncle, I hope you weren’t too hard on Ashley,” he said.  “The kiss was my idea not hers.  She was very upset with me.”

Anthony looked unconvinced.  “What are you talking about?” he demanded.  “From where I was standing the kiss looked mutual.  I saw her clinging to you.  That was not the action of a woman who didn’t want to be kissed.”

Something about the way he spoke and the expression on his face made Bradley stare at him closely.  “It upset you to see us together, didn’t it?” The look in his uncle’s eyes was all the confirmation he needed.  “Uncle Anthony, this has all been a terrible misunderstanding.  You see, Ashley and I are just friends.  I kissed her because I was angry with you.  I didn’t like you interfering in my friendship with her.  Ashley is not interested in me.  I’m like a little brother to her.  She’s in love with you.”

Anthony looked stunned now.  “In love with me?” he exclaimed.  “Are you sure?”

“Yes, I am.  I can tell from the way she talks about you and when she’s around you. I’m surprised you haven’t noticed.  Besides she admitted it to me.”

“I thought it was you she cared for,” he said.  “I had hoped but never imagined that she would have feelings for me.”

“Do you love her?”

“Yes.  I have loved her since the day we met.  I didn’t think it was possible to fall in love again after losing your Aunt Carol but it has happened.”

“Why don’t you invite Ashley over for dinner tonight and tell her how you feel?”

“After what I said to her earlier, I’m not sure she would want to see me. I’m afraid I wasn’t very pleasant.  I was acting out of jealousy.”

“Then, you can go over to her flat and see her.  She won’t refuse to see you once you turn up.  I’ll give you her address.”

“All right.  I’ll go and see her this evening and hopefully straighten things out with her.”

“I’m sorry, Uncle Anthony, this was entirely my fault.”

Anthony patted him on the shoulder.  “Don’t worry about it,” he said.  “All is forgotten.  I have been interfering in your life and I’m sorry.  You’re free to do as you wish as long as it doesn’t get you into any trouble. No hard feelings?” He held out his hand.

Bradley smiled and shook it.  “No hard feelings,” he said.  “I’m happy that you’ve found love again.  Ashley is a remarkable woman.”

“I know.”

It was after seven when Anthony showed up at Ashley’s flat.  In his arms he carried a box of red roses which he handed to her when she opened the door.  “These are for you,” he said simply as she stood there gaping at him.  “May I come in?”

She blinked.  “Yes, yes.  Come in.” She moved aside so that he could step inside and she closed the door behind him, hardly able to believe that he was here.  She opened the box and gasped when she saw the big, beautiful red roses.  There were a dozen of them.  “They’re beautiful,” she exclaimed.  “Please make yourself comfortable while I go and put them in some water.” As she hurried to the kitchen, she couldn’t deny that she was thrilled to see him, in spite of their earlier exchange.  She hadn’t expected to see him again.

She filled a vase with water, cut the ends of the roses and then placed them in the vase.  She went back into the living-room and put the vase on top of the faux fireplace mantle, stepping back to admire them.  They added more color and a pleasant aroma to the room. She turned to find Anthony standing by the sofa watching her.  She allowed her gaze to travel over him.  He was wearing a navy blue suit, blue tie and white shirt.  His hands were in his pockets and his expression was both serious and sheepish as he looked at her.

“I owe you an apology,” he said quietly.  “I acted like an unreasonable fool this afternoon.  My only excuse is that I was jealous.”

Her eyes widened in surprise.  “Jealous?” she cried.

“Yes.  When I looked out of the window and saw Bradley and you kissing, I was consumed with jealousy.  I couldn’t bear to watch so I moved away from the window.  I didn’t know what to do.  For a few minutes, I just paced up and down in the study and then I decided that I would confront the two of you.”

She watched him, her heart pounding. This seemed so surreal.  “I always thought you disapproved me because of my friendship with Bradley,” she said.  “I thought it was my age which made me unsuitable for him.”

“You’re right.  I disapproved of your relationship with him but not for the reason you thought.  I didn’t know that you were just friends.  I thought you were romantically involved.  In the garden this afternoon, I said the things I did out of jealousy and when you walked away, I wanted to come after you and tell you how I felt but pride prevented me.  I didn’t want to throw myself at the woman whom I thought cared for my nephew.”

“I do care for Bradley but I don’t love him.  What I feel for him is affection and what I want from him is friendship, nothing more.”

Anthony’s countenance changed.  Hope flickered in his eyes.  “I didn’t come over here just to apologize,” he said, moving closer.  “I came to tell you that I love you.  I’ve loved you since the first time we met.”

She moved closer.  “I love you too.  I have since the first time I saw you.  I didn’t think I stood a chance, though, because of your wife.  I feared that I would end up like those other women whose feelings for you were not reciprocated.”

“I didn’t think I could love again until I met you.  You stirred feelings in me that I thought had died with Carol.  What I feel for you is a deep and consuming love.”  By now he had closed the distance between them and was standing in front of her.  He reached out and caught her by the waist, pulling her against him.  His smoldering eyes met hers before he lowered his head and kissed her.  She clung to his shoulders, her fingers gripping the material of his jacket as she responded to his hot, searing kisses.

After a while he raised his head to gaze down into her face, his eyes dark and stormy and his face flushed with desire.  “Do you think you could get used to being Bradley’s aunt?” he asked.

She nodded, smiling.  “It would feel weird at first but I can get used to it,” she said breathlessly.

“Good,” he murmured before he kissed her again.

Sources:  Fantasy Name Generator; Pinterest

Friends and Co-Workers

Alain and Andrea were co-workers who became fast friends because they got along very well and enjoyed each other’s company.  Sometimes they went out for lunch at a bistro just around the corner from the office.  It became their favorite place.

Soon their time together wasn’t limited to lunch at the bistro.  Alain invited her to a concert and then treated her to dinner afterwards.  At the office she won two tickets in a draw to the exclusive screening of the first episode of season three of Outlander UK and asked him to go with her.  Over dinner, they talked animatedly about the show and how they got to see some of the cast.

They saw each other practically every day and on the odd day when they couldn’t see each other, they would talk for hours on the phone.  Andrea cherished the five years of friendship she was enjoying with Alain.

It was a late Saturday afternoon and she was just about to ring the doorbell to Alain’s flat when the door opened and a man she had never seen before but who looked a bit familiar stepped out into the hallway.  Alain was standing behind him. The stranger smiled at Andrea.  “Hello,” he said, pleasantly, looking her over and clearly liking what he saw.  He held out his hand.  “I’m Henri, Alain’s baby brother.”

She smiled and shook his hand.  “It’s nice to meet you, Henri.  I’m Andrea.”

Alain pursed his lips.  “Henri was just leaving,” he said, looking at his brother.

Henri rolled his eyes.  “That’s my cue,” he said.  “And just when things are starting to get interesting.”

Andrea laughed.  “Well, I hope we meet again,” she said before she walked past him and into the flat.

“I thought you said you didn’t have a girlfriend,” Henri said in a low voice.

“Andrea’s not my girlfriend.  She’s a very close friend.”

Henri’s face brightened.  “She’s cute and hot,” he commented.  “Do you think she would go out with me?”

Alain’s expression darkened.  “She has a boyfriend,” he told him abruptly.

Henri looked surprised.  “If she has a boyfriend, what is she doing here alone with you in your flat?”

“Her boyfriend trusts me.  Goodbye, Henri.”  He went back inside the flat and closed the door quietly behind him.

Henri stood there for a moment, looking puzzled, and then he shrugged his shoulders and walked away.

Andrea was standing at the window looking out when Alain joined her.  She turned and smiled at him, thinking how good he looked in the black shirt and light blue jeans.  “So, that’s your brother.  There is a slight resemblance.  Which one of you was the troublemaker?  Let me guess, you?”

Alain laughed.  “I was a bit of a rebel growing up but I wised up when I turned fifteen.  Henri was the quiet one who didn’t get into any trouble.  Now, it seems like we have switched personalities.  Now, I’m the quiet one and he’s the outgoing one.”

Andrea shook her head.  “I never would have pegged you for a bad boy,” she said.  “I bet all the girls were into you.  I know I would have been.”

“You were into bad boys?”

“Yes, because they were more exciting.  It was true that the nice guys finished last.”

“What about now?” he asked.  “Is there a particular type of man you are attracted to?”

She wanted to say you.  “I’m attracted to the introverted man—he’s easy to be around, intellectually stimulating, has a sense of humor and self-assured.

He turned away so that she couldn’t see the expression on his face.  “Sounds interesting.  Have you met anyone like that as yet?”

Yes…you.  “I’m not looking.” That was the truth.  “So, what would you like to do now?”

“Let’s go to the cinema and then afterwards have dinner at one of those riverside restaurants.”

“Sounds great.”

The weather was so pleasant that they went for a walk before going into the cinema.  A couple of hours later, they sat enjoying a tasty meal on the riverside terrace of a restaurant with an unobstructed view of the Tower Bridge.  It was while they were walking back to the car that she asked him, “What type of woman are you looking for?”

He glanced at her but she was facing straight ahead.  “I’m not looking,” he said quietly.  I have already found her.

“If you were looking, what would you look for?”

“I would look for a woman who is outgoing, intelligent, assertive and resourceful.”

“Sounds interesting.” And they walked on in silence until they got into a discussion about the foreign film they went to see.

It was Monday and Andrea was in high spirits.  She was still thinking of yesterday when Alain and she took a full day trip to Windsor, Stonehenge and Oxford.  It was while they were having dinner on Saturday night that he told her about the trip.  He remembered that she had always wanted to visit Windsor Castle and Stonehenge.  Touched, she got up, went round to where he sat and leaning over she hugged him.

She wanted to thank him again so she left her desk and was heading toward his office when she overheard someone ask for Sophie.  Sophie was a pretty blonde who recently started working there.  She heard the other person say, “She mentioned something about lunch and then I saw her leave with Alain.”

Andrea froze in her tracks.  Alain went for lunch with Sophie?  She had seen them talking a couple of times but had thought nothing of it.  Yet, the thought of them having lunch together made her jealous.  She went back to her office and sank heavily down into the chair behind her desk.  She was staring out the window but not seeing anything when there was a knock on her door.  She swung her chair around to see who it was.  It was Henri.

“Henri,” she greeted him and getting up from the behind the desk, she went over to where he stood in the doorway.  “Come in.  It’s good to see you.  Come and have a seat.”

“I hope I’m not disturbing you,” he said as he followed her over to the desk.  He waited until she was seated before he took the chair in front of her desk.

“Not at all.  What brings you here?”

“I’m here to meet Alain.” He glanced at his watch.  “I made sure I got here at least ten minutes early.  I didn’t want to keep him waiting.”

“I’m sorry but Alain is not here.  He’s gone out for lunch with Sophie.”

Henri looked surprised and a little put out.  “Well, how do you like that?  He and I were supposed to grab lunch.  I guess he forgot, although it’s not like him to do so.”  He glanced at her.  “I would ask you to have lunch with me in his place but I doubt that your boyfriend would like that.”

She stared at him.  “I don’t have a boyfriend.  Who told you that I did?”

“Alain.”

She looked puzzled. “Why would he say that?” she wondered.  “He knows that I’m not seeing anyone.”

“That’s what he told me when I asked him if you would go out with me.  Maybe he doesn’t want me to take you out because he likes you himself.”

She shook her head.  “I don’t think so.  He sees me as a very good friend, nothing more.  Besides, he went out for lunch with Sophie.”

“You’re in love with him, aren’t you? I can see it on your face and when you mentioned Sophie.”

“Yes, I am,” she admitted, sighing heavily.  “A lot of good it’s doing me.”

“Why don’t I take you out for lunch and we can talk more about this?” he suggested.  “I’m a great listener.”

At first she hesitated but he was so persuasive that she gave in.  They walked to the nearby bistro and over tasty pasta dishes they talked about Alain.

“It’s possible that you’re wrong about Alain and Sophie.  They may not even be together now.”

“Someone said she saw them leave together.”

“They may have left together but that doesn’t mean that they are together.  Don’t jump to conclusions before talking to Alain first.  I still think he lied about you having a boyfriend because he has feelings for you.”

“Well, I hope you’re right.”  She glanced at her watch.  “I should be heading back to the office now.  Thanks for lunch and for being such a good listener.  I’ll let Alain know that you came by the office.”

After a warm hug, they parted company.  When she got back to the office, she went directly to Alain’s office to see if he was there.  He was.  She went in and closed the door behind her.  He looked up from what he was doing as she crossed the carpet to stand in front of his desk.  He smiled and gave her his trademark wink.  Usually, she would respond with a wink and smile but this time she didn’t.  She was miffed with him.

“Did you have a good lunch with Sophie?” she demanded.

He frowned.  “Sophie?” he repeated.  “Why do you think I had lunch with her?”

“One of the women, I think it was Sharon, said that she saw the two of you leave together and seemed to think that you were going out for lunch together.”

“Well, Sharon or whoever said that was mistaken.  Sophie and I left at the same time, yes.  We rode the lift together but then she went off with Tony from Accounting and I went in the opposite direction.  I had an errand to run.”

Relief washed over her.  Henri was right.  “Henri came by,” she told him.  “You two were supposed to have lunch together.”

“The errand took longer than I anticipated.  I didn’t get back here until around twelve-forty-five.  We were supposed to meet at twelve-thirty.  I thought he would have waited.  Was he terribly upset?”

“He was surprised and a little put out.”

“I’ll call him later and apologize.  So, what did you do for lunch?”

She hesitated, suddenly feeling guilty.  “I went for lunch with Henri…” Her voice trailed off when she saw the expression on his face.

He got up from the desk and came round to where she was standing, his face glowering.  There was anger and something else in his eyes.  “You went out for lunch with Henri?”

She involuntarily stepped back, her eyes wary as they met his.  “I didn’t have any plans so when he asked me, I—I accepted.”

“Where did you go?”

“To the bistro around the corner—”

“You took him to our place?”

“I’m sorry.  I didn’t want to go too far.”

“Instead of having lunch with him, why didn’t you have him wait here in my office until I got back?”

“I thought you went for lunch with Sophie, remember?”

“Then, you should have let him leave instead of going for lunch with him.”

“Why are you so upset?” she asked.  “And why did you tell him that I have a boyfriend?”

“I don’t want you to see my brother.”

“Why not?” she asked.  “He’s nice and very good-looking.” She knew she was goading him now but she wanted to find out if Henri was right about his brother’s feelings for her.

Alain’s eyes darkened.  “Are you trying to get a rise out of me?” he demanded, the jealousy eating up his insides.

“I’m sorry,” she said, contrite.  “I just want to know why you’re so upset.”

“Do you want me to tell you or show you?”

She swallowed.  “Show me?”

“Yes, show you,” he muttered thickly and then, he reached out and pulled her roughly against him, making her gasp.  His mouth found hers and hungrily devoured it while his hands held her tightly against him.

Andrea closed her eyes and kissed him back, savoring the moment she had dreamed of for so long.  It made her heart sing to know that Alain returned her feelings.

After several minutes, Alain raised his head to look at her, his face flushed and his breathing labored.  “I’m in love with you,” he confessed.  “I have been for quite a long time.”

She gazed up at him, her eyes misty.  “I have been in love with you for a long time too,” she told him.

“Dinner at my place tonight?”

She nodded and then reached up and pulled his head down to hers.

 

 

Sources:  Telegraph; Good Men Project; Trip Advisor;

The Cruise

He sat back in the chair, arms over the sides, his long legs crossed, watching her as she did her stretches on the deck.  He watched her, wanting her and kicking himself for it.  His attraction for her was like a fever, burning him up inside and a sickness that seemed to grow worse.  At nights it was torture.  He would lay awake, thinking about her and wishing that she was lying next to him instead of Moira.  When Moira and he made love, he imagined that it was Yasmin and felt like a heel afterwards.

Yasmin noticed Adam sitting there and that he was alone.  She wondered where Moira was.  The strawberry blonde was constantly by his side.  However, today, he was by himself and she could feel him watching her and it thrilled her.  He looked sullen as usual but she wasn’t going to let that bother her.  She finished her exercises and went over to him.  Smiling, she greeted him, “Good morning, Adam.”

She saw his gaze travel over her slim figure clad in a red tank top and black capri leggings.  He looked like a preppy dressed in a navy blue jacket with a handkerchief in the pocket, a pink sweater over a blue and white striped shirt and green shorts.  It seemed like too many colors to be wearing at once but he managed to pull it over.  A pair of expensive looking brown loafers completed the look.  His thick, silky dark hair was off his forehead as he had a habit of combing it back with his fingers.

“Good morning,” he replied, his expression guarded.

She sat down.  “Where’s Moira?”

“She was here on the deck with me earlier but began experience motion sickness so I took her back to the cabin.  I gave her some Gravol and she’s having a lie down.  Colette is with her now.”

Yasmin took a couple of sips of her water before she replied.  “I hope she feels better.  It’s a good thing that we are at sea all day today.  It would be a shame for her to miss any of the sightseeing.”  She leaned back in the chair.  “It’s a beautiful morning, isn’t it?”

“I suppose it is,” he conceded, somewhat reluctantly.  He was trying not to stare but he couldn’t help himself.  The face that haunted him, intruded upon his dreams and thoughts was right in front of him.  Part of him wished that she would go away and leave him alone and the other part wanted her to stay.

“What do you plan on doing now that Moira is indisposed?”

“I don’t know.  Perhaps, I will stay here for a while, then return to the cabin and stay there until it’s time for lunch.”

“Do you mind if I keep your company?” she asked.

He shook his head.  The part of him that wanted her to stay was stronger.  This was the first time that they were alone together and opportunity for him to learn more about her.  “Is this your first cruise?”

She nodded.  “Yes, it is.  I was so excited when Colette told me about it last year.  I’m looking forward to visiting Italy and France.”

“It’s a pity that Le Havre isn’t one of the ports we will stop at when we reach France.  You would have been able to see Paris.  Do you know why it’s really called the ‘City of Lights’?”

She shook her head.  It was so pleasant being with him like this and actually having a conversation, the two things she hadn’t been able to do until now.

“It was referred as the City of Light, not the City of Lights because of its leading role during the Age of Enlightenment and it was one of the first European cities to light its boulevards and streets with gas lamps.”

“So you’ve been to Paris before.  What other places have you been to?”

He told her about the different countries he traveled to and she listened, enthralled.  The way he described the various places was so vivid and detailed that she could almost imagine herself being there.  She could have sat there and listened to him talk for ages but he turned the conversation over to her by asking questions about her.

Her life sounded so ordinary compared to his and when she learned that he was a barrister, she smiled as she pictured him wearing the white wig.  Intrigued, she asked him what it was like to be a barrister.  As she listened to him talk about the 12 month training, what it was like shadowing his supervisor and when he was able to practice, her job as an editor for a fashion magazine seemed dull.  They talked for a long while and then it was almost time for lunch.

He walked her back to her cabin and while he went to his to see if Moira was up for going to lunch, she went to change and freshen up.  Colette was there.  Together, they went to Adam’s cabin and found Moira and him waiting.  “You’re feeling better, I see,” Yasmin commented.

Moira smiled.  “Yes, the Gravol helped.  I’m hungry.”

Colette put her arm around her.  “Good.  You got your appetite back.”

Adam and Yasmin followed them.  As they walked beside each other down the corridor, he looked at her the same time she looked at him.  Their eyes were locked in a steady gaze for a several minutes and then she looked away.  He turned to look straight ahead of him, a muscle throbbing along his jawline and his eyes dark with the emotions that were raging inside him at the moment.

The four of them had lunch together and afterwards, Adam and Moira went back to the cabin while Yasmin and Colette went to the boutique.  “They have a suite,” Colette was telling her as they went on the deck where they planned to relax for the rest of the afternoon.  “I felt as if I were in a hotel.  They have a balcony too.”

Yasmin was thinking about Adam what had transpired between them in the corridor a while ago.  The look they had exchanged.  It was charged.  Is that why he went back to the suite with Moira instead of hanging out with Colette and her?  “How long have they been dating?” she asked.

“About three years.”

“Do you think they will get married?”

“I don’t know.  Look here’s a nice spot.” Colette went on to talk about other things and then she leaned back and covered her face with her hat.

Yasmin sat there, her mind muddled.  The last thing she wanted to do was fall for a guy who was already in a relationship.   She resolved then not to be alone with him for the rest of the cruise.  That night at dinner, she tried to act nonchalant around him and spent most of her time talking to the two brothers who shared their table. The next day when they stopped in Gibraltar, Colette and she accompanied the two brothers to the summit of the rock and the four of them stood there admiring the spectacular views.  She was aware of Adam standing close by and when she came down from the rock and walked past him, she could feel him watching her.

It was hard avoiding him but she felt that it was the sensible thing to do.  When they were on the sandy beach of Costa Blanca, he managed to get her alone.  The others were walking along the stretch of white sand, taking photos, dipping their feet in the water.  As she would have walked past him, he caught her by the arm, forcing her to stop and look up at him.  “Why are you avoiding me?” he demanded, his eyes smoldering as they met her gaze.

“Am I?” she asked.

“You know you are,” he hissed.  “And I want to know why.”

“Please, let’s join the others before they start to wonder—”

“By others do you mean Tom?  You have been spending a lot of time with him lately.”

She turned her head away.  If she continued looking at him, her resolve would crumble.  “Unlike you, Tom isn’t in a relationship.  Now, please let go of my arm.  They are looking at us.”  She tugged at her arm and he released it.  She hurried away, almost running, anxious to get away from him and the feelings he stirred in her.

He watched her go, his heart pounding wildly and his breathing harsh.  How he longed to go after her and tell her how seeing her with Tom pained him. Frustrated, he ran his fingers through his hair and closed his eyes as the struggled to compose himself before he joined the group.

That night at dinner and subsequent night after that he sat there, watching her with Tom and wondered how much more he could endure.  When they were in Rome, he was distracted by Tom taking photos of Yasmin in front of the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps.  He hardly noticed his surroundings with their rich history and stunning architecture.  Every place they visited was a blur for him.  He was actually thankful when it was the final night on the cruise.

The group decided to go to the nightclub that night after dinner.  He wasn’t in the mood for dancing and preferred to sit at a table and nurse his virgin daiquiri.  The four of them chatted, reminiscing about the different places they had visited.  Then, Tom and his brother came over to the table and asked Yasmin and Colette to dance.  Yasmin hesitated for a second and then she got up.  Adam watched her go.  Jealousy tore through him as he watched Tom put his hand on her waist and they moved to the music.  His fingers tightened around the glass.

“It’s late,” Moira said.  “I think we should turn in now.  We have a very early day tomorrow.” She stood up.

Adam finished his drink and stood up as well.  After casting one last look at the dance floor, he followed Moira out of the nightclub.  Back in their suite, not much was said and when Moira turned in, he went out on the balcony and stayed there for a while, staring at the ocean, wondering if Yasmin was still at the nightclub with Tom.  It was late when he finally turned in and even then, he didn’t fall asleep for a while.

At breakfast, Moira and he sat with Yasmin and Colette.  Colette did most of the talking while Yasmin toyed with her breakfast, her eyes downcast as she avoided looking at Adam.  When they said goodbye to each other, she managed to smile but inside she was hurting.  She didn’t feel right hugging Moira so she just squeezed her hand and then walked away.  She and Colette were going to spend the day in Southampton before taking the train back to London.

When they were in the car that would take them from Southampton to London, Moira said to him, “I know that you don’t love me, Adam.  You care for me but you don’t love me.  You never did.  I realize that now.  I want to be with a man who loves me the way I love him.”

Adam looked at her, his face pale.  “I’m sorry,” he said quietly.

“I’m sorry too,” she said and looked away.  A few moments of silence passed and then she turned to him.  “It’s Yasmin, isn’t it?  I saw the way you looked at her.”

“Yes,” he admitted.  It was no use denying it now.  He was hopelessly in love with her.

“It explains the recent cacophony between us.  You were acting differently toward me and I couldn’t explain why until last night on the ship.  I saw your reaction to Yasmin dancing with Tom.  You were jealous.  You couldn’t hide it.  It was there on your face.  What I would have given for you to look that way for me.”

Adam reached out and covered her hands as they lay clasped in her lap.  “I’m so very sorry, Moira” he said again.  “I never meant to hurt you.”

“I know,” she said.  “You have no reason to be jealous of Tom or any man.  It’s obvious that Yasmin is in love with you too.”

Adam stared at her.  “Thank you,” he said.

“For what?” she asked, not looking at him.

“For being so kind to me when I really don’t deserve it.”

“I still love you,” she said.  “And I want you to be happy even if it’s not with me.”  After that she said nothing else for the rest of the drive.  Her face was turned to the window so that he wouldn’t see the tears in her eyes.  When the car pulled up outside her building, he came out and they hugged.  “Goodbye, Adam.”

“Goodbye, Moira.”

Adam got back into the car and after he watched her disappear into the building he told the driver to take him to his flat.

Hours later, Yasmin was in her flat.  She had just finished taking a shower when the doorbell rang.  She hurried to the door and peered through the keyhole, her heart skipping a beat when she saw who it was.  She unlocked the door and opened it.  “What are you doing here?” she asked.

Adam’s eyes were restless on her face.  “I have something I need to say to you.”

“I think I said all I needed to say where we were on that beach.”

“May I come in?”

She stepped aside to let him in and then she closed the door.  Leaning against it, she asked, “What do you have to say to me?” She tried not to notice how handsome he looked in the white shirt and dark jeans.  His hair was slightly tousled.

“I love you, Yasmin,” he muttered thickly.  “I love you and I want to be with you.”

She swallowed, her heart racing now.  “What about Moira?” she asked.

“Moira and I are no longer together.  She figured out that I am in love with you.”

Yasmin tried to process what she was hearing.  “How did she take it?”

“She was heartbroken but bore no grudge toward me.  She is a fine woman and I hope that one day she would find a man worthy of her.”  He moved closer, his hands aching to touch her.  “She told me that I have no reason to be jealous of Tom or any man.”

“She’s right,” Yasmin told him.  “I love you, Adam.  Tom knew that too.”

He groaned, reaching for her and pulling her into his arms.  “You have no idea how seeing you with him has tormented me.   That day on the beach, I was almost out of my mind with jealousy because you were spending so much time with him and avoiding me.”

“I had to stay away from you because of your relationship with Moira.”

“There’s no reason for us to stay away from each other now,” he muttered before he lowered his head and kissed her.

As his mouth moved furiously and feverishly on hers, she moaned, closing her eyes and kissed him back.  She reached up and buried her fingers in his thick, silky hair, the nails digging into the scalp as they exchanged hungry kisses.

That morning, when she said goodbye to him, she thought that it was the last time she would ever see him.  Yet, here he was, in her flat and in her arms, as much in love with her as she was with him.  The bleak future which, moments ago, she had foreseen for herself had turned into a very bright one.

 

young couple on cruise ship

Sources:  Royal Caribbean; Wikipedia; Royal Caribbean; Chambers Student; Wikipedia; Wikipedia;