Two Brothers

“Young people these days, gallivanting all over the place.  In my day, unmarried people didn’t go on holidays alone.  They got married first.”

“Oh Mother, you have such an archaic view of relationships.  Nowadays lots of unmarried couples go away together and society doesn’t see anything wrong with it.”

“Well, society definitely isn’t the way it used to be in my day.  Nowadays people are living how they please with no thought of the consequences or how it could reflect badly on them and their poor families.”

Emile sat in the armchair beside the window, catching snippets of the conversation between his mother and sister.   They didn’t draw him into it because they could see that he was preoccupied.  He was thinking about Celine.  This morning, he finally faced the truth.  He was in love with her.  It wasn’t something he wanted to happen.  After all, she was Théo’s girlfriend.

He never imagined that his life would change forever because of the afternoon he went with Théo to the restaurant where Celine worked.  He had heard so much about her that he was curious to meet her.

“I told her that we were coming,” Théo told him when they were sitting at a table.  The place was busy as usual for a Saturday.

“I hope she doesn’t mind you bringing me here to meet her.”

“Not at all.  In fact, she’s looking forward to meeting you.”

Emile looked around.  “I notice that the staff is mostly students,” he remarked.

“Yes, that’s because the university is close by which is one of the reasons why Celine is working here.”

“How does she manage working here while going to school?”

“Flexible hours.”

“This is the first time I’ve been here but I’ve heard about it.  They serve Italian food.”

“Yes.  Oh, there she is.”  He waved and a few minutes later Celine was standing at the table.   He smiled up at her before turning to Emile who stood up.  “Emile, this is Celine.  Celine, my brother, Emile.”

Emile felt his breath catch in his throat when he looked down into those big and beautiful brown eyes framed by long lashes.  She was young and beautiful.  Her skin was smooth and flawless.  He wondered if it felt as soft as it looked.  Her neck was long and slender.  And her lips, he saw them part to reveal even white teeth.  She was smiling at him and holding out her hand.  He took it, marveling at how small and slight it felt in his.  Clearing his throat, he muttered, “I’m pleased to meet you, Celine.”

“I’m pleased to meet you too, Emile,” she said.  “Théo promised me that he would bring you around today.  I’m happy he kept his promise.  I hope you will like it here and will come again.”

“I’m sure I will,” he replied.  He tried not to stare and after he released her hand, he sat down.

She turned to Théo.  “You didn’t mention that he was this handsome,” she said, teasingly.  “Is that why you didn’t bring him around to meet me before today?  Were you afraid that I might like him better than you?”

Théo grinned.  “Something like that.”

She smiled.  “It would serve you right if I did.  Anyway, what would you like to drink?”

“The usual.”

“All right.”  She looked at Emile who hadn’t been able to take his eyes off her.  “What about you, Emile?”  Just the way she said his name made his heart skip a beat.

“I’ll have a French limonade, thank you.”

“I’ll get your drinks while you take a look at the menu.”  She excused herself and went away.

As soon as she was gone, Théo remarked, “She’s a lovely girl, isn’t she?”

Emile kept his eyes on the menu.  “Yes, she is.”  He wondered if his brother had noticed the way he kept staring at her.

A few minutes later she returned with their drinks and took their orders.  Before she moved off, her eyes lingered on Emile who felt his face grow hot.  He knew then that he had to go back to the restaurant—just to see her again.  And he did the following night.  He was alone and he sat at the same table.  She looked surprised but very pleased to see him.

“Back so soon?” she said as she stood at the table.  “I guess you enjoyed your dining experience yesterday.”

He nodded.  “Yes, I did.  I enjoyed the food and really liked the service.”

She smiled.  “Thank you.”

“What do you recommend that I try this time?”

“Try the Penne with basil and Home Provencal tomato sauce.”

“Sounds good.  I’ll have that.”

“I’ll be right back.”

When she returned, he asked, “What time do you get off of work?”

“I get off at nine.”

“That’s an hour from now.  Do you have a ride home?”

“I usually take the train.”

“May I give you a ride home?”

“Sure.  Thank you.” She excused herself to go and wait on the other tables.

He watched her as he ate, thinking that she looked even more beautiful than yesterday.  He glanced at his watch.  He couldn’t wait for nine o’ clock to come so that he could be completely alone with her.  For dessert he had a fruit salad and then paid the bill.  He gave her a generous tip which she was very appreciative of.  He waited for her at the door and together they stepped out into the warm night.  They walked to where his car was parked.  He held the door for her and their eyes met briefly before she got in.  He lowered his tall frame behind the wheel and soon they were merging into traffic.

“Do you live alone?” he asked.

“No, I live with my aunt on my mother’s side.”

“Do you have other family here in Paris?”

“No.  The rest of my family is back in Guadeloupe.”

“Do you visit them?”

“Yes, but only at Christmas time.  It’s the only time I can get away.  I stay here during the summer to work full-time at the restaurant.”

“Do you have any siblings?”

“I had a younger sister but she died from pneumonia when she was eight.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.  It must have been a great tragedy for your family.”

“Yes it was a great loss for us.  I know my mother wished she had let Louise come to Paris with me.  She believes that Louise would still be alive.  About a year ago something really weird happened to me.  I was on my way to church when I saw a woman and her daughter.  The little girl was my sister’s doppelganger.  I stood there staring at her because her resemblance to Louise was uncanny.  If I believed in ghosts, I would have sworn that I was looking at my dead sister.  It still gives me the chills.”

“I have heard of such things.  They say that everyone has a twin somewhere out there.   My sister said she saw someone who looked exactly like her sister-in-law one day in the shopping mall and she called out to her but the woman didn’t look around.  When she spoke to Marie the next day, she learned that she was in London at the time.  I hope I don’t have a double.”

She laughed.  “What about Théo?  Can you imagine two of him?”

“It would be double trouble, for sure.”

“Growing up with him must have been fun, though.”

“Yes, it was.   He mentioned that you are in your second year of university.  What are you studying?”

“Hospitality and Leisure Management.  There are two areas which I’m interested in–hotels and restaurants.”

“Is that why you’re working at the restaurant?”

“Yes.  Next year, I’ll work at a hotel.”

“I have no doubt that you would be exceptional in both of these areas.”

She smiled.  “Thank you, Emile.”

She was such a refreshing change from the women he used to date, most of whom were all airs and graces.  He liked that she was down to earth and modest.  She was easy-going, charming and self-assured.  Théo was a very lucky man.  “So, what do you do when you’re not studying or working?”

“I read, go for walks, shop and watch television.”

“And spend time with Théo.”

“Yes.  What about you?  What do you like to do in your spare time?”

“I like to read, hike, play tennis, swimming, cycling, going to motor and art shows and eating out.”

“Sounds like you have a very active life of leisure.  Do you have a girlfriend?”

Her question caught him by surprise and it took a few moments for him to answer.  “No, I don’t have a girlfriend.”  And I wish you didn’t have a boyfriend.

“I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to be so nosy.”

“It’s all right,” he said quietly.

“Here we are,” she said, pointing to the apartment building on the right.  He slowed down and pulled up alongside the curb.  She turned to him.  “Thanks for the lift, Emile.”

He looked at her, his expression tense.  “When can I see you again?”

“I’m not busy tomorrow,” she informed him.  Tomorrow was Saturday.

“How would you like to visit the Chateau de Saint-Germain-en-Laye?

“I would like that very much.  I’ve always wanted to visit the musée d’Archéologie nationale. ”

“I will pick you up at nine.”  He turned away to open the door and get out.  He walked around to open hers.  After she stepped out he said,  “Goodnight, Celine.”

“Goodnight, Emile.” She smiled up at him before she walked away. He watched her until she went inside and then he got back in the car and drove off. As he headed back to his apartment, he tried convince himself that there was no harm in going on an excursion to Saint-Germain-en-Laye.  It was all perfectly innocent.  She always wanted to visit the museum and he merely giving her what she wanted.  Surely Théo wouldn’t have a problem with that. Besides, he wasn’t interested in this sort of thing.

They ended up spending the entire day in Saint-Germain-en-Laye.  They visited the chateau and the museum before having lunch at a nearby restaurant.  After lunch, they stopped by composer Debussy’s childhood home and museum where many of his personal possessions were kept.  They visited the Eglise Saint Germain and the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, one of the oldest churches in Paris.

Before heading back to the car, they strolled through Place des Marchés, having ice-cream, soaking up the atmosphere.  On the drive home, they talked about all they had seen and how much they enjoyed the excursion.  Outside of her flat, they faced each other.  He wanted so badly to lean over and kiss her but it wouldn’t be right.  Instead he reached for her hand and raised it to his lips.

“Thank you for a lovely day,” she said, her eyes wide as they met his.  She sounded a little breathless.

“It was my pleasure,” was his quiet reply.  He was still holding her hand which he was reluctant to let go of.  “Is it serious between Théo and you?”  He had to ask.

The expression on her face could only be described as baffled but why should she be?  It took a moment for her to say something.  “Why do you ask?”

He released her hand then.  “You’re right.  I shouldn’t have asked the question.  Goodnight, Celine.”

“Goodnight, Emile.”

He turned and walked away.  In the lift, he leaned against the wall as he dragged his fingers through his hair.  He promised himself that he would stay away from Celine.  He had to.

Several weeks passed and he kept busy so that he wouldn’t think about her and miss her but at nights it was torture.  He had sleepless nights.  When he saw Théo, he resisted the temptation to ask about her but one afternoon while they were having lunch at a bistro close to where he worked, his brother said to him, “Celine has been acting very strange lately.  She isn’t her usual upbeat self.  Something’s troubling her but she won’t tell me what it is.”

Emile tried to appear calm but his heart was racing at the mere mention of her name.  Perhaps she was feeling guilty about going to Saint-Germain-en-Laye with him.  “Maybe she has a lot on her mind.”

“Well, I’m taking her dancing at Le Bal Swing tonight.  Hopefully that will cheer her up.”

Emile didn’t answer and he hid his face behind the menu so that Théo couldn’t see the downcast expression on his face.  That night he stayed home, wondering if Celine was having a good time dancing the night away with his brother.  The following day, he drove over to the family chateau to visit his mother.  His sister, Ines was there and now they were having a very heated debate over something or the other.

“What’s the matter?” he asked.  Their raised voices had intruded upon his thoughts.

His mother looked at him, exasperated.  “Well, it’s nice of you to finally join us,” she said crossly.  “Perhaps you can talk your brother out of flying off to St. Barts.”

A surprised expression crossed Emile’s face.  “Théo is going to St. Barts?” He wondered why he hadn’t mentioned that to him.

“Yes, he decided this morning that he was going to take a trip.”

“What’s wrong with him going to St. Barts?”

“Exactly!” Ines chimed in.

Her mother humphed at her before saying to Emile, “I wouldn’t object if he were going alone or with his friends but he’s going with some girl–”

Emile stiffened at once.  “Do you know who she is?”

“Her name begins with a C.”

“Celine?” he asked tightly, his expression taut as he met his mother’s gaze.

“Yes, that’s it.  I told him that I didn’t approve of him going on vacation with a girl he wasn’t married to and–”  She broke off when Emile got abruptly to his feet and stared up at him in surprise.  “What’s the matter?” she asked.

“I have to leave, Mother.”

“Where are you going?” she demanded.  “We haven’t even had dinner as yet.”

“I’m sorry but I can’t stay.  Goodnight.”

“Are you all right?” Ines asked as he walked past her.

Without turning around, he bid her a terse “Goodnight.”

She stared after him, bewildered.  “What do you suppose is the matter with him?”

Her mother shrugged her shoulders.  “He seemed fine until I mentioned the girl.”

Ines looked at her.  “Mother, you got her name wrong.  It’s Celeste, not Celine.”

“Well, the names are so similar, it’s easy to get them confused.  I wish Emile hadn’t run off like that.  What could be more important than having dinner with us?”

Emile hurried to his car and got in.  For a few minutes, he sat there, trying to process what he had just learned.  Théo and Celine were flying off to St. Barts together.  It seemed as if his brother had succeeded in cheering her up last night.  His fingers gripped the steering wheel as jealousy ripped through him.  He had no right to be feeling like this but he couldn’t help it.  He was in love with her and the thought of her with his brother on a beautiful island was unbearable but what could he do about it?  The best thing for him to do was to get over her.  Perhaps, I should fly off somewhere too just to get her out of my system.

He gunned the engine and raced away.  Instead of heading home, he found himself going in the direction of Théo’s flat.  What was he going to say to him when he got there?  He had no clue.  All he knew was that he had to see him.  When he got there and stood outside of the door, he hesitated.  This was not a good idea.  He should turn around and go home.  Just as he made up his mind to do just that, the door opened and Théo stood there.  He was surprised to see him.  “I was just on my way out,” he said.  “Celine is here, though.  I’m sure she would be happy to see you.”

Hearing that Celine was there got his heart racing.  “Where are you going?  Will you be gone long?” he asked his brother.  He was afraid of being alone with her.  There was no telling what he might be tempted to do.

“I have to run an errand.  I should be back in about forty-five minutes or so.  Oh, did I tell you that about the trip to St. Barts?”

Emile shook his head.  “No, you didn’t.”

“I meant to when we had lunch yesterday but it slipped my mind.  The flight is tomorrow night.  Anyway, go on in and make yourself at home.”  He held the door open for Emile to step in and then he closed and locked it behind him.

Emile stood in the foyer for a few minutes before he removed his shoes and went into the living-room where Celine was.  She turned when she heard him.  He closed the distance between and they stood there staring at each other.  The air was palpable between them.  She was wearing a black top and a denim skirt which revealed shapely legs.  His felt his body respond and he released a shaky breath.

“I didn’t expect to see you,” she said.

“I didn’t expect to see you either,” he replied.  “I thought you might be home packing for your trip.”

She stared at him.  “Trip?” she repeated.  “What trip?”

“The one to St. Barts with Théo.

“I’m not going to St. Barts with Théo.”

He looked at her, confused now.  “But Théo said…”

“Théo couldn’t have said that I was going with him. He’s going with Celeste.”

“Celeste?”

“Yes!  She’s the girl he’s been dating for some time now.”

“But you and he went dancing last night.”

“Yes.  Celeste was there too.”

He ran his fingers through his hair, trying to make sense of this.  “When my mother mentioned that Théo was going to St. Barts with someone, I–”

“You made the assumption that it was me.  Why?”

“I thought you were his girlfriend, Celine.”

“No, Théo and I are just good friends.  Is that why you haven’t been in touch with me?  After we spent such a lovely day at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, I thought that we would see more of each other.  I thought you liked me, Emile.”

He stared down into her face, incredulous.  “Like you?” he exclaimed.  “Celine, I’m in love with you.  I wanted to see you again but I couldn’t because of your relationship with Théo.  I truly believed that you and he were romantically involved.”

“All this time you thought I was in love with your brother when it was you all along.  I fell in love with you when he showed me your photo.  I wanted to ask him if I could keep it but I decided that would seem a bit weird.  I kept hounding him to introduce us and he finally did.  When I saw you in person, I fell harder for you.  Your photo didn’t do you justice.   You were reserved but very charming.  I couldn’t keep my eyes off you that night and I was so happy when you came by the following night.  And when you offered to give me a ride home, I was ecstatic.  I got a chance to know you better and I was on cloud nine when you asked me to go to Saint-Germain-en-Laye with you.”

He took her hands in his and drew her towards him, his eyes darkening on her upturned face.  “I’m thankful that I came over here tonight because we cleared up some misunderstandings.  I would have continued to believe that you were Théo’s girlfriend and that you went away with him to St. Barts.”

“Yes.  I would have continued feeling miserable because I thought you were no longer interested in me.   Théo suspected that my troubles had to do with a man but I didn’t tell him who it was.   He tried to cheer me up by taking me dancing but I couldn’t stop thinking about you and missing you.  I left him and Celeste there and took a taxi home.”

He released her hands and cupped her face between his, his eyes searching hers.  “I feel as if I have been waiting for you all of my life.” he murmured huskily.  “I want to court you for a while and then I want to marry you.”

She smiled up at him as she put her arms around his waist.  “When I asked God to give me someone that I could love with all my heart and who would love me in return, someone I can grow old with, to spend the rest of my imperfect life with,  He gave me you.  I will be eternally grateful to Him.”

“Yes, I too am eternally grateful to Him because He blessed me with you.”  He lowered his head and kissed her then.  As their lips locked, he knew that if he were to ever lose his memory, he would never forget their first kiss.

 

Sources:  My University Money; Bistrot 77; École normale supérieure; Top Universities; Solo Sophie; Hostel Geeks; Wikipedia; Culture Trip; Poem Hunter; Simply Love Quotes

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The Meeting

She watched Mr. Falconer as he sat there,

proud upon the magnificent steed, her heart

pounding against her ribs.  Face flushed, she

waited with bated breath to see if he would

even notice that she was there.  It was by no

accident that she was walking through this

part of the forest.  She had come this way,

hoping to accidentally on purpose bump

into him.

 

For the umpteenth time she asked herself why

she was subjecting herself to this rigmarole.

He was far above her station.  As the heir

of Merrymede estate and Yorkshire’s

most eligible bachelor who had a bevy of refined

and amiable women to choose from, she didn’t

stand a chance.  She was a lady’s companion of

Lady Allen.   This was a foolish idea.  She should

turn around right now and return from whence she

came before he spotted her.

 

Resolute, she lifted up her skirt and was about to

turn and sprint through the forest, when he caught

sight of her.  I should have left when I had the

chance, she thought.  She watched now as he

dismounted the horse, led it to a part of the

field where it could gaze before he sauntered

over to where she stood, wishing she could

disappear like a vapor.

 

He looked very handsome in his riding outfit.

his thick black hair glinted like velvet in the

afternoon light and the white shirt contrasted

sharply with his swarthy complexion.  His

steely grey eyes met her large brown ones

as he stood a few breaths away from her.

“Miss Howard,” he said in that deep, cultured

voice of his.  “What an unexpected pleasure.”

 

“Mr. Falconer.”  She curtsied.  Being alone with

him like this was both awkward and nerve racking.

Usually, when they saw each other, it was within

society–at some function or other.  The last time it

was at the Grenshaw’s Spring ball and he had on his

arm the beautiful and honorable Miss Emma Jones.

What a handsome couple they made and there were

some whispers of an attachment forming between

them.  She had hoped that there was no veracity to

these speculations.

 

“You are looking very well, Miss Howard.”

 

“Thank you, Mr. Falconer.  I believe that eating

well and exercise does one wonders.”

 

“How is Lady Allen?”

 

“Her constitution is very good as one would

hope after her temporary bout with the flu.”

 

“Miss Howard, I was wondering if you would

tarry a little while longer?”

 

She nodded, surprised at his request.  “Yes, Mr. Falconer.”

“There is a fell tree over there by the clearing,” he said

pointing behind her.  “We can sit there.”

 

She could not help but wonder what her employer

would say if she knew that she was alone in the forest

with Mr. Falconer.  She could almost hear her say, “My

Dear girl, it is not proper for a young lady to be in the

company of a gentleman unchaperoned.”  So, it

would be in her best interest if Lady were to have

no knowledge of this meeting.  And she knew she

could rely upon Mr. Falconer’s discretion.

 

She followed him over to the log and sat down.

He sat beside her.  From where they were, they

could see his horse happily grazing.  “Miss Howard,

how do you like being in the employ of Lady Allen?

 

“I like it very much indeed.  She is very good and

Kind and treats me as if I were her daughter.”

 

“Yes, I have heard the sad account of her own

daughter’s demise at a very young age.  Lord

never recovered and died shortly afterward.

For years, Lady Allen mourned the losses of her

daughter and Lord .  During those dark

Times, my mother called upon her and

slowly drew her back into society.  It was

at my mother’s suggestion that Lady

advertised for a lady’s companion.”

 

“And it was the Vicar who recommended

me for the post and I shall always be

indebted to him.”

 

“Miss Howard, pardon me if my next inquiry

may appear impertinent but necessity compels

me to voice it.”

 

She stared at him, wondering at the urgency

in his demeanor.  “Please make your inquiry

since it is so urgent in nature.”

 

“Do you have any gentlemen callers?”

 

His question startled her and it took a few

minutes for her to reply, “No, I do not.”

 

“Then, do I have your permission to call

upon you tomorrow afternoon?”

 

She stared at him.  He wanted to call upon

her?  But what about Miss Jones?  She hadn’t

realized that she has spoken audibly and was taken

aback when she heard him say, “Miss Jones and I are

merely friends.  Contrary to what you may have

heard, there is no romantic attachment between us.”

 

Joy and relief filled her heart and she couldn’t

Prevent the smile from spreading across her

lips or the sparkle in her eyes which her

companion found very becoming.  “This is

very good news indeed,” she remarked.

 

“Does this mean that you will permit me to

call upon you?”

 

She nodded at once, hardly able to contain

her enthusiasm.  “Yes, Mr. Falconer, you have

my permission to call upon me tomorrow

afternoon.  I shall look forward to seeing you.”

 

He smiled.  “Very well, then, Miss Howard. I

shall be there at three.”

 

The sun was beginning to set.  She put her bonnet

back on her head and stood up.  “I really must

be going now.”

 

“I shall take you back.  You’re not afraid of

Horses, are you?” he asked when he saw her

look over at his steed.

 

Her gaze shifted back to him as he towered over

her.  “No, no,” she assured him.  “I used to ride

when I was a child.  My father taught me.  I love

horses.  They are magnificent and gentle animals.”

 

“Perhaps you and I can go riding sometimes,” he

said as they walked toward the horse.

 

She smiled.  “I would like that very much,” she

said as he helped her onto the horse before he

mounted it and took the reins in his hands.  She

put her arms around his waist as they cantered off.

 

When they got to the manor, he helped her down,

His hands strong and firm on her waist and their

Eyes met for several minutes before he bade her

Goodnight and galloped off.

 

The following afternoon, he called on her.  And

every afternoon after that until one day in the

garden under the watchful eye of a chaperon,

he proposed.  Their announcement caused quite

a stir but the wedding was a beautiful and elaborate

affair attended by his family, Lady Allen and Miss Jones.

 

When they had their first child, Lady Allen held her and

tears rolled down her cheeks when she learned that

she was named Emily after her beloved daughter.

 

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Sources: Geri Walton;  Classroom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Weekend

When Deandra took her niece to see the musical, Aladdin, for her thirteenth birthday, she certainly didn’t expect to bump into Harrison and his date.  It was when they were leaving the theatre.

As they were going down the stairs, she asked Maya, “So how did you like the show?”

Maya shrugged.  “It was okay,” she said.  “I prefer the movie with Robin Williams as the genie.”

“Me too.  Well, I hope you had a good birthday anyway.”

Maya smiled.  “Yes, I did.  Thanks for taking me for dinner and bringing me to the theatre.”

Deandra put her arm around her shoulder.  “It was my pleasure.  I can’t believe you’re thirteen.  Where does the time go?  It seems like only the other day you were wearing pampers.”

“That’s right, Dee.  I’m not a baby anymore.”

“You’re growing up.  Soon you’ll be dating.  Any cute guys at your school?”

“Well, there’s this one guy in my Math class that I really, really like.”

“What’s his name?”

“Curtis.”

“Does Curtis like you too?”

“I think so.”

“Did you tell your Mom about him?”

Maya shook her head.  “You know how Mom is.  She will just tell me to concentrate on my school work and that there is plenty of time for boys when I’m much older.  You’re the only one I’ve told about Curtis.  You’re cool, Aunt Dee.  I can talk to you about anything.”

“There’s nothing wrong with being interested in boys at your age as long as it doesn’t interfere with your school work.  I know you’re a very sensible girl.”

“Thanks, Aunt Dee, for having such faith in me.  I wish my parents were the same.”

“I know how you feel.  My parents were very strict with your Mom and me, but with me especially because I was younger.  I got spanked and grounded a lot.  I kept thinking how unfair and unreasonable my parents were until I grew up and realized that everything they did was for my good and that’s why I turned out the way I am—a relatively decent person.”

“Okay, Aunt Dee, I’ll go easy on my parents and try to remember what you said the next time I get a lecture.”

Deandra smiled.  “Good.  Always remember that they love you even when it doesn’t feel like it.  It’s the same with God.  Remember where it says that getting chastised doesn’t feel good but God does it out of love and for our benefit.”

“Isn’t that Harrison over there?” Maya asked suddenly, startling Deandra who looked around in panic.  Harrison here?

“Where?” she demanded.

“Over there.”

Deandra followed her gaze and her heart somersaulted when she saw the tall, familiar figure standing close to the exit.  Her eyes shifted to the woman standing beside him and jealousy ripped through her.  Another one of his conquests, no doubt.  The man was incorrigible.  Grabbing Maya’s hand, she urged, “Let’s get out of here before he sees us.”

“Too late,” Maya announced.  “He saw us and is coming over.  Who’s that with him?  She looks familiar.”

“How should I know?” Deandra muttered irritably.  The last thing she wanted was to face Harrison Reed and his date.  Why did she have to run into him?  She watched him approach, her heart beating so fast that she felt a little out of breath.

“Aunt Dee, you’re crushing my hand,” Maya said.

“Sorry,” Deandra mumbled, letting it go.  She shoved her hand into the pocket of her coat and tried to appear calm.

Harrison and his date were standing in front of them now.  The thinning crowd leaving the theatre walked around the four of them.  He smiled his disarming smile—the one that made her go all weak and chide herself for it.  “Good evening, Ladies,” he said in that silky voice of his.  “Maya, it’s good to see you.  You’ve grown a lot since the last time I saw you.”

Maya smiled.  “I turned thirteen today,” she informed him.

His eyebrows arched.  “Happy birthday.”  He reached down and hugged her.

“Thank you, Harrison,” she said when he drew back.  “Deandra treated me to dinner and this.”

“That was very nice of your aunt,” he commented, turning to look at Deandra.  Their eyes met and held for several minutes.  Then, he turned away to introduce his companion.  “Deandra, Maya, this is Eva.  Eva is in London for a couple of weeks.”

Eva gave them a dazzling smile and held out a bejeweled and well-manicured hand to Deandra who shook it and forced herself to smile in return.  The woman was stunning, exotic with lustrous black hair that fell about her shoulders.  “Pleased to meet you,” she said in a soft voice with a hint of a Spanish accent.  “Happy birthday,” she added when she shook Maya’s hand.

Maya stared at her.  “Now I remember where I’ve seen you before,” she said.  “You’re Eva Vasquez, the Mexican model on the cover of the latest issue of Cosmopolitan.”

Eva nodded.  “Yes.”

Maya began to ask her all sorts of questions and while the two of them chatted, Deandra’s eyes shifted to Harrison who was staring at her.  “What happened to that reporter you were seeing last month?  Wasn’t she exotic enough for you?” she asked in a low, tight voice.

“You sound upset,” he remarked.

Her mouth tightened.  “I’m not upset,” she retorted.  “What possible reason could I have for being upset?”

“It’s that green eyed monster called jealousy—”

It took supreme effort not to raise her voice.  “Don’t be ridiculous,” she replied angrily.

He moved a little closer, his eyes riveted to her face.  “When are you going to admit that you’re attracted to me?”

“Attracted to you?  Don’t make me laugh.”

“I’m attracted to you, Deandra.  I have been since we met three years ago at Rachel’s engagement party.”  Rachel was his older sister who was married to Deandra’s brother, Kenneth.”

Her breathing was unsteady now and her resolve weakening.  “Yes, you’re so attracted to me that every time I see you, you’re with a different woman.”

“I would rather be with you, Deandra,” he admitted huskily.  “I’m going up to the cabin this weekend.  Come with me.”

She swallowed hard.  “I-I can’t—”

“Can’t or won’t?  How long are you going to run away from me and your feelings?”

“I’m—I’m not running away from anything,” she denied weakly.

“Okay, prove me wrong by coming with me to the cabin this weekend.”

“But what about Eva?”

“There’s nothing going on between Eva and me.  We’re just friends.”

“Let-let me think about it and-and I’ll call you in the morning.”

“Please don’t pass up something that can be amazing for both of us.  I’ve never been more serious about wanting to be with a woman as I am with you.  I want to be in a relationship with you, Deandra.”

“I’ll call you in the morning,” she said.

“All right,” he conceded, a muscle pulsating along his jawline as she turned away to interrupt Maya’s conversation with Eva.  At least she’s going to think about it, he thought, consoling himself.

“Well, young lady, it’s time I took you home.”

Maya turned back to Eva, “It was really nice meeting you.”

Eva hugged her.  “The pleasure was all mine.  You’re a lovely young lady.  Don’t ever change.”

Maya said goodnight to Harrison.

Deandra shook hands with Eva and then she turned to say goodnight to Harrison before walking away with Maya.

After they were gone, Eva went up to Harrison and slipped her arm through his.  Looking up at him, she inquired, “So, did you ask her?”

He nodded.  “She said she would think about it.”

“I have a feeling that you won’t be going up to that cabin alone.  I saw the way she looked at you and I could tell that she was jealous of me.  No woman is jealous over a man unless she has feelings for him.”

“You’re not just saying that to make me feel better, are you?”

“No, you should know by now that I don’t tell people what they want to hear.”

“So, you think I have a chance with her?”

“Absolutely.  Now let’s go to that little café around the corner and have cappuccinos with cream and bits of chocolate on top.”

“Aunt Dee, I had a great evening and birthday.  Thank you.”  They were outside of Maya’s home.  “I can’t believe I met a famous model too.”

Deandra smiled.  “I’m happy that you had a good time.  Say goodnight to your Mom and Dad for me.  Tell your Mom that I will call her on Sunday night.”  They hugged and then she waited until Maya went inside the house before she drove off.

On the ride home, she thought about what Harrison said.  Was she really running away from her feelings for him?  Was that why she automatically turned him down the first time he asked her to go to the cabin with him?  She panicked and said the first thing that came to her head.  The thought of being alone with him for an entire weekend terrified her.  She hated to admit it but he was right.  She was attracted to him.

When they first met, her attraction for him had been immediate, much to her chagrin, because of the stories she had heard about him and his bevy of women.  She had tried really hard to fight it because she didn’t want to have feelings for a man who seemed to go through women like he went through his wardrobe.  But it seemed that the more she tried to fight her attraction for him the stronger it got.  Seeing him with the other women drove her mad with jealousy and tonight was no different.  She couldn’t hide her feelings from Harrison and she could tell that he didn’t buy her feeble attempt to deny them.

What was she going to do now?  Should she call him tomorrow and tell him that she couldn’t go to the cabin or should she throw caution to the wind?  Right now her mind and emotions were in a fierce battle.  She would have to sleep on it although she couldn’t imagine getting any rest.  Why out of all the men in London, did she have to want Harrison Reed?  No man ever made her feel the way he did.  He filled her thoughts, her senses and her heart…She sighed heavily.  Yes, she was in love with him too.

When she got in, she went straight to bed but as expected, she couldn’t sleep.  The following morning, she rolled on to her side, blinking as the sunshine streamed into the room.  She must have fallen off to sleep at some point.  She glanced at the time on the alarm clock.  It was eight.  She stared at the phone.  Her heart racing, she picked up the receiver.  Her fingers trembled as she punched in the numbers.  He answered on the second ring.  “Good morning, Deandra.”

“I-I hope I didn’t wake you.”

“I’ve been up since six.” A pause and then, “So, what have you decided?”

“I’ll come to the cabin.”  I hope I’m not making a terrible mistake. She had wrestled all night because her mind was telling her one thing and her feelings another.  Her feelings won.

When he spoke again, she could hear the relief in his voice.  “You won’t regret it, Deandra. I promise.  I’ll pick you up at ten-thirty.”

“All right.” She hung up and got out of the bed.  After packing an overnight bag, she showered and had a light breakfast before heading down to the lobby to wait for him.

At exactly ten-thirty, Harrison walked into the lobby.  At once her heart began to pound wildly.  He looked sexy in the brown leather jacket with the white fur trimmed collar, white turtleneck and faded jeans.  His hair was slightly damp and tousled.  He took her bag from her and they walked out of the building to where his jeep was parked.  He opened the door for her to get in before putting her bag in the trunk.

When he got behind the wheel, she glanced at him and their eyes met for a few minutes before she looked away.  He donned his sunglasses before firing up the engine and pulling out of the parking lot.  Soon they were on their way to the cabin which was about a 90 minute drive from the city.  “What are you in the mood for?” he asked and she looked at him, startled.

“I beg your pardon?”

“What type of music are you in the mood for?”

“Oh, um. Something relaxing, I guess.”

He turned on the radio, searched until he found a station which played Smooth Jazz.  For a while only the sound of the music and the muffled traffic outside filled the silence and then, he said, “What made you decide to come with me?” he asked.

“I wanted to come,” she said simply.  No use beating around the bush.

He glanced at her.  “I didn’t expect you to say that,” he told her.

She returned his stare, “What did you expect me to say?” she asked.

“That you wanted to prove me wrong about what I said about you running away from me and your feelings.”

She turned away.  “I’m not a coward,” she muttered.  “I don’t run away from anything.”

“I didn’t say that you were a coward.  All I did was to challenge you.”

“I’m not here to prove anything,” she insisted.  “I’m here because I want to see the countryside.”

He decided to change the topic. “You’ll like the countryside.  It’s a welcome change from the city.”

“Am I the first woman you’ve invited for a weekend at the cabin?”  She had to ask.  It had been bothering her ever since last night.

“You’re the only woman I’ve invited to the cabin.”  He reached for her hand but she jerked away at once, her eyes wide as they met his.  He didn’t get upset.  He waited until she put her hand back on the seat and he held it.  This time she didn’t pull away.  Her fingers felt soft and small in his.  How he longed to press his lips into the palm but he didn’t want to rush things.  He had waited too long to be with her to blow it all now.

She turned to look out of the window.  After traveling on it for about half-hour, they turned off the road which ran parallel to railway tracks and turned onto another one.  All around them was land that seemed to stretch for miles and miles.  She saw sheep and cattle grazing, bales of hay and rolling hills.  It was a beautiful, sunny day.  This was the first time she had ever been to the mountains and it was a marked change from the hectic pace and feel of the city.  Now she could understand and appreciate why so many people owned or rented cabins on the outskirts of the city.  It was their way of escape.

“We should be there in about ten minutes,” Harrison said.  And she sat up, her eyes glued to the window as she waited to catch the first glimpse of the cabin.

About ten minutes later, she saw it.  It sat there, quiet and secluded, nestled amongst the birch trees with a pond beside it.  He pulled up at the side of the cabin and turned off the engine.  He glanced at her as she stared at the cabin, her eyes wide with wonder and he smiled before opening his door and stepping out.  He walked round to open the passenger side door for her to climb out.  “So, what do you think?” he asked.

“I like it,” she said.  “It’s very quiet around here, except for the chirping of the birds.”

“This evening you can see the deer come down the hills to graze.”

“I can see why you like to come here.  It’s so peaceful and the views of the hills are stunning.”

“I promise you will enjoy the weekend so much that you will want to come again.”

“Thank you for inviting me,” she said.

“I’ve wanted to for a very long time but I’m happy that you’re finally here.  Let me take the bags out of the trunk and then we’ll go inside.”

She went with him to the back of the jeep and would have reached for her overnight bag when he prevented her.  “Let me take some of the groceries in then,” she offered.

He gave her the lighter bags while he carried the rest.  He went back for her overnight bag and slammed the trunk shut.  He opened the door to the cabin and pushed it open for her to go inside. After all the bags were inside, he closed the door and locked it.  “Let’s put these in the kitchen.”

As she followed him, her eyes traveled over the rustic interior of the cabin.  It was quite spacious and lots of natural light streamed through the windows.  It was cozy and nicely furnished.  She loved the kitchen with its breakfast nook and open concept.  He took the parcels from her and put them on the counter.  “Let me give you a tour and then take you up to the guest room.”

He took her into the rustic living-room with its high ceiling and large windows looking out at the birch trees and the hills in the distance.  There was an electric fireplace incased in stone facing modern furniture.  Glass doors opened on to the landing.  “Do you eat out there?” she asked.

“Yes, sometimes.  During the summer, of course when it’s warm.”  He took her upstairs and showed her the master bedroom which was enormous with a view of the hills.  He showed her the guestrooms and the one closest to the bathroom was the one he chose for her.  It was a lovely room, big with its own fireplace and a bed facing a large window from which she could mountains in the far distance.   They were still covered with snow in some areas.  He looked at her.  “I hope you like the room,” he said.

She nodded.  “Yes, I like it very much.”

“Good.”  He went and got her bag and brought it into the room.  “I’ll give you a chance to settle in while I go and get lunch ready.”

When he was gone, she closed the door and went into the bathroom.  Ten minutes later she went back into the room, feeling refreshed after washing her face.  She unpacked her bag and then she stood, looking out of the window for a while before heading downstairs to the kitchen.  Lunch was on the table and Harrison was just pouring what looked like Cranberry Juice in glasses.  “Have a seat,” he said.  “I hope you don’t mind having take-out.”

She sat down beside the window, her back to the kitchen.  “I don’t mind.  It smells really good.”

“It’s what I consider to be the best authentic Greek food.”

He was right about that.  It was the best Greek food she had ever had.   While they ate, they talked about different things.   After lunch, they went for a walk and then returned to the cabin.  They spent most of the afternoon watching movies and then Deandra went upstairs to take a nap.  While she was upstairs, Harrison went to his study where he spent a couple of hours doing some work before preparing dinner.

It was after six when Deandra woke up.  She had a shower and then went downstairs.  Harrison met her at the bottom of the steps.  He looked extremely attractive in the white shirt and black jeans.  His eyes traveled over her in the red top and denim skirt which revealed long legs.  “We’re having dinner in the dining-room,” he informed her.  They went into the dining-room with its two-sided fireplace.  The table was set.  He pulled out the chair for her to sit before going into the kitchen to bring out two salads followed by the main course which was Seared Tilapia with Spiralized Zucchini.  It tasted as good as it looked and smelled.

“This is delicious,” she exclaimed before taking a sip of the sparkling white wine.  “Rachel mentioned that you’re an excellent cook.  I thought she was just being bias because she’s your sister but she wasn’t exaggerating.”

He smiled.  “It’s something I learned to do years ago when I moved out of our parents’ home.  Over the years I have come to really enjoy it.  And this would be a tremendous blessing for the woman I marry because she won’t have to do all of the cooking.”

“I can’t imagine you getting married,” Deandra interjected.

“Why not?”

“You’re too much of a ladies’ man to ever settle down with one woman.”

He didn’t answer.  Instead, he took a couple of sips of wine before continuing to eat the pasta.  In the background classical music played.  “In about twenty minutes you will see the deer coming out to graze,” he told her.

“I’m looking forward to seeing that.  The only deer I’ve seen were in movies.  How long have you had this cabin?”

“I’ve had it for about seven years.”

“And in all that time, you’ve never brought a woman here before?”

He shook his head, his expression serious. “No.”

“Okay.  I believe you.”

He glanced at his watch.  It was eight o’clock.  “If you go to the window now and look out, you will see the deer.”

“I’ll help you clear the table first,” she said, putting her napkin on the table and getting up.  She took up the empty salad bowls and glasses while he carried the rest of the things into the kitchen.  While he stacked them into the dishwasher, she took a damp cloth and wiped the table down.  When she was done, she hurried over to the window and looked out.

Harrison joined her.  A few minutes passed and then, she saw something move.  It was a deer. She leaned forward, pressing against the window in her eagerness as she watched the magnificent animal made its way down to the grassy slope, her eyes shining.

Harrison watched her, thinking that she never looked more beautiful.  “Deandra…”

She turned her face toward him and her heart lurched when she saw the expression on his face.

“I want to kiss you so badly,” he murmured huskily.

“Is that what you usually say to a woman before you sleep with her?”  The minute she said those words, she was mortified and wished she could take them back, especially when she saw the hurt look on his face.  “Harrison, I’m sorry—”

His face was flushed and he raked his fingers through his hair in frustration, his eyes flashing at her.  “You have a really low opinion of me, don’t you,” he muttered angrily.  “To you I’m a libertine, a Lothario who wants to bed every woman he meets.  For your information, the number of women I’ve slept with isn’t as high as you may think.  And since I met you, I haven’t bedded any.  Maybe bringing you here wasn’t such a good idea.  I should take you home.  I wouldn’t want you to spend the weekend with a man you so obviously despise.”

“Harrison, I don’t despise you,” she protested and reaching out, she caught him by the arm.  She could feel his muscles contract underneath the material of the sweater.  His eyes darkened on her upturned face and a muscle was throbbing along his jawline.  “I’m sorry for what I said.  I regretted it the moment I said it.”

“Why did you say it then?”

“I was jealous.”

“Jealous?”

“Yes, I’m jealous of the women you’ve been with.”

He groaned.  “Oh Deandra, what will it take for you to believe that you’re the woman I want to be with.  Those other women are in my past.  My present and future are with you.”  He reached up and cupped her face between his hands and his eyes met hers as he whispered, “I love you.”

She began to cry.  “I love you too,” she sobbed.  “That’s why I’m acting like a jealous fool.”

No woman is jealous over a man unless she has feelings for him.  Eva was right.  Deandra loved him.  The realization filled his heart with joy and unable to help himself, he lowered his head and kissed her.  When he felt her immediate response, the kiss became more intense.  They stood there in front of the window, exchanging wild and fiery kisses.  Then, he picked her up and carried her upstairs to the master bedroom where in the throes of unbridled passion, they made love.

When they were lying spent in each other’s arms, he murmured, “I want you to know that being here at the cabin with you means a great deal to me and I hope that this is the first of many weekends that we will spend together.”

She raised herself up to gaze down at him and lightly traced her finger along the tattoo just below his right shoulder blade.  “You know I’m not crazy about tattoos,” she said.  “Promise me that you won’t get any more.”

“I promise.  I got this one when I was in high-school.  I was trying to impress my girlfriend at the time.”

“Speaking of girlfriends, you’re officially off the market.”

He smiled.  “Does this mean that we are officially a couple?”

“Yes,” she said before he reached up and pulled her head down to his.  What was that quote she read the other day—oh yes, it went something like this, “The Only Happy END That I Know It’S The WeekEND”

 

 

Sources:  Eagle Brae; Aneilve; Houzz; Woman’s Day; The Fresh Quotes

A Father’s Wish

The arias which always helped him to relax and enjoy his evenings did nothing to quell the uneasiness plaguing him.  He switched off the radio and the silence which followed was a painful reminder that he was alone.  It was near mid-night and she wasn’t home as yet.  Where on earth could she be?  He had tried calling her cell many times but it was turned off.  When he came home that afternoon, she wasn’t there but he thought nothing of it.  She was probably with her friends or at the library.  However, as it got late and she hadn’t come home or called, he began to get worried.  A couple of hours earlier, he looked across the street and saw a group of young people congregate outside of his neighbor’s home but she wasn’t among them.

He put off calling her friends because he didn’t want to come across as overprotective but eventually, he had no choice.  None of them knew where she was but promised to call him if they heard anything.  He closed his eyes in despair.  Tonight was supposed to be a special one.  He was going to tell her that he loved her but first they were going to enjoy the dinner he had prepared for them.  It was probably cold by now.  Oh, Rebecca, where are you?  Why don’t you call me?  It was not like her to do this.  He was out of his mind with worry.

The last time he felt like this was nine years ago when they were in the shopping mall and somehow they got separated.  One minute she was right there beside him and the next she was gone.  Frantic, he went through the mall, looking for her until finally, he went to the courtesy desk and asked them to make an announcement.

Ten minutes later, the embarrassed and distressed twelve year old showed up.  After hugging her tightly, they left the mall with him holding her hand in a firm grip.  He didn’t lecture her right away because she was visibly upset.  Suffice to say, they never got separated again whenever they went out together.

He would never forget the first time he met Rebecca.  She was eight at the time and it was at the company’s annual summer picnic.  Her father brought her with him that year.  It was two years after her mother died.  She and her father have moved out of the house and to a flat in the old neighborhood where he grew up.  He and her father worked together and over the years, they had become very good friends.  He always used to tell him, “I hope that Becky ends up marrying a good man like you, Noel.”

Rebecca stared up at him with those huge brown eyes and stole his heart.  So, three years later on that fateful day in the hospital when Clyde asked him to become her guardian he said yes.  Clyde died two days later and was buried next to his beloved wife.  Noel took Rebecca home and raised her as if she were his own daughter.  He was thirty at the time.

They had a very close and loving relationship. He took her to museums, concerts, operas, on day trips and the movies.  His life was never the same and he was thankful for that.  She filled his heart and home with such joy.  Whenever they visited her parents’ graves, he would silently thank Clyde for bestowing such an awesome responsibility on him and promised him that he would make sure that Rebecca married a good man.

He knew that she still missed her father, especially when it was his birthday or Father’s Day and she always talked about how conversant he was with movie classics and that it was from him that she developed her love for them.  So, whenever it was her father’s birthday or Father’s Day, they would watch old movies on TCM in his memory.

Things continued in much the same vein until Rebecca turned eighteen.  That’s when his feelings toward her began to change.  It became increasingly hard for him to be around her and not want her.  He continued to kiss her on the forehead as they bid each other goodnight every evening but how he ached to kiss her on the lips.  He considered sending her away to college in Washington, but quickly squashed the idea because their separation would be unbearable for him.  They still spent a lot of time together but he encouraged her to hang out more with people her own age.  At first, she protested, preferring to be with him like old times but he insisted so, she acquiesced.

He remembered one night when she came home from a friend’s birthday party and was aghast at the dress she was wearing.  Her hair was pulled up in a ponytail, she wore makeup, the gold earrings he had given her as a birthday present and the dress–if you could call it that, was short, hugged her figure and had fine straps.  Her cleavage was there for the entire world to see.

His face suffused with color and he took a deep breath before he muttered, “Please go and take off that dress.”

She went and ten minutes later, she was wearing a pair of pajamas, her face was scrubbed clean and her hair fell about her shoulders.  She watched him warily.  “You’re angry with me,” she said.

He dragged his fingers through his hair as he struggled to remain calm.  His heart was racing.  He wasn’t upset with her only but with himself because of his body’s response to seeing her in that dress.  He was relieved to see her in the pajamas because they were a bit loose on her.  “Rebecca, what were you thinking wearing a dress like that?”

“I’m sorry,” she mumbled.  “I wanted to look good.”

“Wanting to look good doesn’t mean you should expose yourself like that.  That dress was tacky.  You’re a beautiful young woman, Rebecca.  You don’t need to flaunt yourself in order to fit in.  I don’t care if your friends are wearing those kinds of dresses, I only care about you and so, I don’t ever want to see you in a dress like that ever again.”

She nodded.  “All right, Noel.  I won’t dress like that again, I promise.”

“Do you still have the receipt?”

“Yes.”

“Okay.  Tomorrow, I would like you to return it.  I’m surprised they sold it to you.”

“I’ll return it right after school.”  She went over to him, her eyes wide as they met his.  She put her arms around his neck and hugged him, burying her face in his chest.

At first he stood there, stiff as a board, unresponsive and then he put his arms around her waist and hugged her tightly, closing his eyes as strong emotions washed over him like a tidal wave.  After several tortuous minutes, he extricated himself and put a little distance between them, his eyes dark and stormy as they returned her gaze.  “Goodnight, Rebecca,” he said quietly.

“Goodnight, Noel.” She hesitated for a moment and then turned and walked out of the room.  He watched her go.  He had dared not give her the usual kiss on the forehead because he might have ended up devouring her lips instead.

The loud peal of the phone jolted him back to the present and he grabbed the receiver, his heart thudding.  “Hello?”

It was Chloe, one of Rebecca’s friends.  “Hello, Mr. Harding.  I’m sorry to be calling at such a late hour but I thought you might want to know that one of our friends saw Becky talking to a woman right outside of the university campus.  She said they looked like they were having words and then Becky ran off, very upset.”

“Did you friend describe what this woman looked like?”

“She said that she was blonde, stunning and drove a red Porsche.”

His fingers tightened around the phone.  Emma.  “Thank you, Chloe, for calling and letting me know.”

“Has Becky come home as yet?” She sounded very concerned.

“No, I’m afraid not.  When she does, I will have her call you in the morning.  Goodnight, Chloe.”

“Goodnight, Mr. Harding.”

As soon as he rang off from Chloe, he dialed Emma’s number, fuming.

“Hello, Noel.  Why are you calling me instead of coming over?”

He ignored her question.  “Why were you here this afternoon?”

“I stopped by to see you, of course.  Where were you?”

“What do you say to Rebecca?”

“Why what did she tell you?”

“I haven’t seen her since this morning and I’m out of my mind with worry.”

“Well, she’s probably doing this to spite you.  When I came by, she looked at me as if I were trespassing and when I told her that we were seeing each other, she as much as called me a liar.  So, I showed her a photo of the two of us together–you know the one I asked the waitress to take of us when were having dinner at that Italian restaurant? You should have seen her face.  I told her that she was only there because of the promise you made to her father–”

“How dare you tell her that?” he demanded furiously.  “I agreed to be her guardian because I loved her.   She means the world to me.  Damn you, Emma.  Don’t ever show your face around here again.”  He slammed the phone, shaking.  He could kick himself for ever getting involved with her.

He went to the window and looked out, his forehead pressing against the glass.  It was then in a moment of sheer desperation, that he mouthed a silent prayer, his eyes squeezed shut.

“Noel?” a timid voice called behind him.

Swinging around, he found himself staring at Rebecca.  For a moment, he thought it was a figment of his imagination.  Had God answered his prayer that quickly?  In a flash, he was across the room and pulling her roughly in his arms.  “Oh, Rebecca,” he moaned.  “Where have you been?  Have you any idea of the torment you’ve put me through?”  He drew back to stare down into her face.  She had been crying.  Her eyes were red and swollen.  Even now, tears were glistening in them.

“I’m-I’m sorry,” she cried.  “I didn’t mean to worry you but I was so upset this afternoon.  I had just come home from the library when I heard the doorbell.  It was a woman I’d never seen before.  She asked for you and when I asked her who she was, she told me that the two of you had been seeing each other.  I didn’t want to believe her and told her that she was lying.  She showed me a photo of the two of you and I realized that she was telling the truth.  I got so jealous and upset that after she left, I left too.  I couldn’t stay here.  I had to get out and go somewhere–anywhere.

“I went to Daddy’s grave and stayed for a long time, telling him about you and how much it hurt that you were with someone else.  On the day after my eighteenth birthday, I told him that I was in love with you and that I’d loved you since I was eight.  That day when I first saw you, I thought that you were the tallest and handsomest man I’d ever seen.   And you were so kind to me.  Next to my father, you were the only other person I really and truly loved.   I love my mother but I didn’t know her.

“Anyway, I told my father things that I never told another soul.  I know he can’t hear me but it helps to talk about things whenever I visit his grave.  I imagine that he’s listening.  This afternoon being at his grave didn’t help so I left there and went to the park you used to take me to when I was a child.  I sat in the same bench we used to sit on and I wished that you were there so that I could yell at you, let you see how much I was hurting inside.

“After I left the park, I just wandered all over the place, trying to forget about you and her but I couldn’t get the photo out of my mind.  You had your arm around her shoulders and you were smiling.  You looked happy…” her voice broke and a sob rose from her throat.  Tears fell afresh down her cheeks and she tried to push him away.

He caught her hands and held her immobile, his own emotions evident on his face.  “She doesn’t make me happy,” he told her thickly.  “You do.  My life wasn’t complete until you came into it, Rebecca.  You filled it with so much joy.  The moment I met you, my heart belonged to you.  I loved you as a father loves his beloved child but when you grew up, that love changed.  It turned into the love a man has for a woman.  What I’m trying to say, Rebecca, is that I love you and I want to spend the rest of my life with you–not as your guardian but as your husband.”

She blinked at him.  “You want to marry me?” she asked.

He nodded.  “Yes.”

“Oh, Noel,” she cried, her heart in her eyes which were sparkling now.  She reached up and kissed him on the mouth.

Groaning, he released her hands and cupped her face between his hands as he kissed her passionately, letting go of all the pent up feelings he had kept bottled up inside for so long.  For several minutes, they exchanged hungry kisses and then, he raised his head to gaze down at her, his face flushed and his eyes dark with desire.  “I won’t make love to you now although I want to very badly,” he muttered, breathing heavily.  “I want us to wait until we are married.”

Disappointment clouded her face.  She was on fire and ached for him.  “I don’t know if I can wait,” she admitted, trying to catch her breath.

“We’ve waited for four years, so six months wouldn’t hurt–”

Six months,” she exclaimed.  “That’s too long.”

“That’s when you turn twenty-two,” he reminded her.

“I can’t wait until then.”

“What about three months?”

“Two weeks.”

“A month.”

“What about three weeks?”

He smiled.  “All right, three weeks, it is.”

She smiled because they had reached a compromise.  In three weeks, she was going to marry the man she had loved for most of her life.  “I love you, Noel,” she whispered.

“I love you too, Rebecca,” he replied before he lowered his head and kissed her.

Three weeks later, as they faced each other at the altar in front of their friends and his family, he smiled as he imagined Clyde saying to him, “I got my wish, Noel.  My girl is marrying a good man.”

Getting Away

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

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

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

“Is she a friend of yours?”

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

“Are you in love with her?”

“Yes.”

“Does she know how you feel?”

“No.”

“Are you going to tell her?”

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

“How do you know that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hello Brittney.  Paul is in Paris.”

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

“No.  He needed to get away.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So, it’s over between him and you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

The Announcement

Ingrid wished she hadn’t come here tonight.  She felt so out of place.  The black lace off the shoulder dress looked great on her but she felt too exposed in it and chided herself for not wearing a shawl to cover her back and shoulders.  People were milling around, talking and laughing.  She stood in a corner watching them, purse clutched in one hand and a glass of mock-tail held in the other.

Why did Amanda invite her to this shindig?  The two of them didn’t get along because Amanda was condescending and made it painfully obvious that didn’t like her.  She had no idea what she had done to make the older woman so hostile toward her.  This is why she was shocked when she received an invitation in the mail two weeks ago.   She knew that Seth was the only reason why she was there.  Seth was Amanda’s younger brother.  Unbeknownst to Amanda, Ingrid and he were seeing each other.

They started seeing each other the day after they met.  They met at the company’s picnic and were immediately attracted to each other.  He was alone and so was she.  He was leaning against the wall, watching her before he walked over to where she stood and introduced himself.   They got to talking and then they arranged to have dinner the following evening.  Dinner was at a popular French restaurant where they enjoyed a delectable meal before heading to a nightclub.  It was a wonderful evening and the first of many dates.  Last night when he was at her place, she meant to tell him that she would be here tonight but she never got around to it.

Since she arrived at the party, not once did Amanda go over and talk to her.  She was going about the room, chatting with the other guests but she seemed to ignore her.  On one occasion she walked right past her to say greet a couple standing nearby.  It was humiliating.  I don’t need this, Ingrid decided after standing there alone for half-hour.  She put her glass down on the window seat.  I’m going home.  I’m sure no one will even notice that I’m gone.  I was really hoping to see Seth tonight but he can come over to my place later.

Just as she was heading for the door, she heard Amanda call for everyone’s attention.  After asking people to gather closer she said she had an announcement to make.  Curious, Ingrid stood still to hear what she had to say.  Amanda invited Seth to join her.  Ingrid stared at Seth.  When did he get here?  She hadn’t noticed him until now.

Amanda looked very pleased.  “I’m very pleased to announce my baby brother’s engagement to…Brooke–where are you?  Come up here and join us.”

Ingrid felt sick.  She didn’t wait to see who this Brooke was.  She stumbled to the door and found her way to the bathroom where she dissolved into tears.  The door to bathroom opened and she tried to compose herself.  She felt two hands on her shoulders turning her around.  It was Seth and his face was pale.  “You can’t be in here,” she protested.  She tried to pull away but his grip was firm.  “Please let me go.”

“Let’s go somewhere quiet where we can talk.”  He took her hand and led her out of the bathroom.  Curious eyes followed them as they left the building and went to his car.   When they were seated in the car, he gave her his handkerchief which she used to wipe her eyes.  “I didn’t know that you were going to be here,” he said.

“I meant to tell you last night but I forgot.”  The pain was unbearable and she wanted to get as far away from him as possible.  It hurt too much to be with him knowing…”Why didn’t you tell me about Brooke?” she demanded tearfully.

“Brooke and I used to date but we broke up long before you and I met.”

“Why did Amanda announce that you are engaged to your ex?”

“That was for your benefit.”

She was confused.  “What do you mean?”

“Amanda knows about us.  A friend of hers saw us together and reported back to her.  When Amanda confronted me about it I admitted that we are in a relationship.  She was livid and tried to convince me that Brooke was better for me but I made it very clear to her that I loved you.  I told her that I was going to ask you to marry me.  She stormed out of my flat and I thought that was the end of it.  Then, she pulls this stunt, making everyone believe that Brooke and I are engaged.  I should have known she was up to something when she said she had an announcement to make and invited me to join her.  I saw her looking across the room at you and the smug smile on her face.  When I saw you leave the room, I had to follow you and undo the damage she did.”  His eyes darkened on her face and he reached out and held her hands in his.  “I’m sorry about what Amanda did.  I love you and I want to spend the rest of my life with you if you’ll have me.”

Tears welled in her eyes and she put her arms around his neck.  “Of course, I’ll have you,” she said huskily.  “I love you too.”

He reached into his pocket and took out a box.  “I was going to propose later when I came by your place but now is a good time, I think.  Will you marry me, Ingrid?”

“Yes,” she cried and she drawing back as he took the ring out of the box and placed it on her finger.  The sun hadn’t set as yet so she could see the ring and how exquisitely beautiful it was.  Then, it became a blur.

Seth reached out and cupped her face between his hands.  “I love you so much,” he murmured before he lowered his head and kissed her.

She put her arms around his waist and returned his kisses, her heart bursting with joy.  Just a few moments ago, her world was torn apart by an announcement.

The Room in Venice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How long will you be gone?”

“I don’t know,” he replied shortly.

“Where will you go?”

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

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

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

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

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

She looked nonplussed.  “What do you mean?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I love you too.”

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

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

“Yes, they are.”

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

“Why this room?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

 

 

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